death penalty

Death penalty data might surprise you


April 13, 2021

For some, an “eye for an eye” is justice. To others, it makes the whole world blind.

Last month, Virginia became the 23rd state to abolish the death penalty, and first to do so in the South — where four times more people are executed than the rest of the U.S. combined. That’s a big change for a state second only to Texas in executions since 1976.

American public opinion is increasingly turning against the death penalty.

A 2020 Gallup Poll found 55 percent of Americans support the death penalty in general, down from a peak of 80 percent in 1994. And for the first time, a majority (60 percent) say life imprisonment without parole is a better punishment for murder than execution.

Seventy percent of nations have ended the practice (although 60 percent of the world’s population live in death penalty nations), according to Amnesty International.

Unlike other issues, this doesn’t fall perfectly along party lines. While Democrats are less likely to support the death penalty over a life sentence, Gallup surveys show the percentage of Republicans who feel the same increased 10 points since 2016. Reasons for opposition are complicated, spanning generational, statistical, and moral grounds.

Fewer executions. According to U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, between 2010 and 2020 death sentences imposed nationwide numbered fewer than half of the decade before. Some states such as California have it on the books, but rarely use it or have a moratorium now.

Generational shift. The death penalty is one of those issues with an age divide. Gallup polls indicate Americans between 18 and 34 support the death penalty at almost half the rate (24 percent) of their older peers (40 percent).

Racial justice. Young adults also tend to be more passionate about racial justice, especially when it’s so final. A 1990 U.S. Government Accountability Office study found defendants of any race who murdered white people were more likely to be sentenced to death than those who murdered Black people.

Recent studies reported in the New York Times and The Monitor Weekly came to similar conclusions. Latinos, Native Americans and the poor are also disproportionately represented on death row. (A long history of race-dissimilar treatment in the justice system for other crimes was echoed in the oft-cited book, “The New Jim Crowe.”)

Debates in the legislature noted of nearly 1,400 people Virginia executed since 1608, it wasn’t until 1997 that a white man was executed for killing a Black man.

What if they’re innocent? Justice is earnest, but fallible. An average of four people on death row each year in the U.S. are exonerated. History has uncovered others who were exonerated too late. You don’t have to be young to feel the heartbreak in that.

Life in prison is cheaper. Because of high costs associated with capital trials and statutory appeals, life incarceration costs states less than execution. Virginia expects to save $4 million per year. Capital trials may also be more taxing on victims’ families, typically lasting up to four times longer than non-capital trials.

After two Idaho death-row inmates were released from prison in one year, Idaho’s bipartisan Joint Legislative Oversight Committee studied cases between 1998 and 2013. Their 2014 report concluded Idaho death penalty trials take an average seven months longer than non-capital murder trials, and appeals took about 50 percent longer.

Of the 251 defendants charged with first-degree murder during that period, 16 percent faced the death penalty and less than 3 percent received it. Of 40 sentenced to death in Idaho since 1977, three have been executed (21 got a new sentence on appeal). The JLOC reported other states had results similar to Idaho’s.

“Pro-life” consistency. Some conservatives oppose capital punishment on religious or moral grounds. Republican legislators in red states such as Wyoming, Kansas, Kentucky, Montana, and Missouri have sponsored legislation to abolish it. Pro-life, they reason, applies to every life, not just the innocent unborn. And as death can’t be undone, life’s too precious (or constitutionally protected) to risk a mistake, they say.

Still, Republican majorities remain strongly in favor. Supporters say the death penalty is a just punishment for murder. And while life in prison can feel like a kind of hell, execution is seen as the only way to ensure the convicted will never kill again.

Is it a deterrent? Logic would presume yes, but states with death penalties don’t have lower crime rates. FBI Uniform Crime Report data culled by Deathpenaltyinfo.org indicate murder rates per population in death penalty states were consistently higher than in non-death penalty states between 1990 (4 percent higher) and 2018 (30 percent higher).

Do victims’ families want it? Numbers aside, closure and healing for victims’ families is high priority. Individual circumstances make it hard to gauge. Some ask prosecutors not to seek the death penalty — including a group of victims’ families who lobbied the Virginia Legislature to abolish it. Yet others vehemently want it, saying it’s the only way they can feel closure.

A 2012 study of 40 families by the universities of Texas and Minnesota found families in life-without-parole cases reported being able to move on sooner than those in the death-sentence cases. The death penalty case families said they felt continually retraumatized by the longer process.

Psychological and sociological research on closure suggests the legal process in general isn’t a reliable source to achieve it either way. It can feel symbolic and reassuring to seek justice, but the law doesn’t allow much room for emotion (Bandes, 2008).

This shifting trend is yet another illustration of American society’s impassioned debate with itself. Maybe we aren’t so “hopelessly divided” as we are experiencing growing pains in a rapidly shifting world.

OHIO – Death penalty stays on table for Bryant


March 21, 2021

Faces trial in murder of 4-year-old boy

A judge denied a defense request that possibility of the death penalty be removed from the aggravated murder charge Kimonie D. Bryant faces in the shooting death of Rowan Sweeney, 4.

Bryant also is charged in the attempted murder of four adults.

Attorneys for Bryant, 24, of Struthers, filed a motion seeking dismissal of the death penalty and made oral arguments during a hearing before Judge Anthony D’Apolito in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court.

Bryant is accused of killing Rowan on Sept. 21, 2020, at the home Rowan shared with his mother and her boyfriend on Perry Street in Struthers. Bryant also is charged in the shootings of Rowan’s mother and three other adults who were there.

D’Apolito has been holding monthly hearings in the case and plans to continue to do so up to the Sept. 13 trial date.

He denied the defense’s request this week.

In their defense filing, attorneys for Bryant noted that this murder is “not a popular case” in that it involves the killing of a 4-year-old, which has prompted “Justice for Rowan” yard signs in Struthers and elsewhere.

“But the job of the lawyers and (judge) is the same in this and every case: to do the job effectively, objectively and without regard to personalities.”

It adds: “If someone else entered the home and did the shooting, as was testified to at the bindover hearing of Brandon Crump, then death would be an unjust penalty.”

Authorities have described Crump, 18, who is charged with aggravated robbery connected to the incidents that resulted in Rowan’s death, as a co-defendant of Bryant. He is not accused of shooting anyone.

Law enforcement officials have not specified how Crump’s alleged robbery is connected to the shootings, but Mahoning County Prosecutor Paul Gains said at the time Bryant was indicted that investigators believe about $5,000 in cash was in the home at the time of the shootings.

After Bryant is accused of fleeing from the home, the cash on the coffee table was gone, Gains said.

Judge Theresa Dellick of Mahoning County Juvenile Court has bound over Crump’s case to adult court, meaning he will be tried as an adult if a grand jury indicts him. Crump was originally charged in juvenile court because he was 17 at the time of Rowan’s death.

The filing says that when the death penalty was “reinvented” in the 1970s after being “invalidated” in most states in a 1972 U.S. Supreme Court decision, state legislatures sought to “rake in political capital that executing people yields.”

The filing called Ohio’s death penalty statute “vague and unconstitutional” and asked D’Apolito to remove the death penalty from Bryant’s indictment.

The filing argues that courts that have “rebuffed constitutional challenges to the death penalty have (strayed from) the concept of limited government ordained by the Constitution.”

Ohio’s death-penalty statute fails to genuinely narrow the class of individuals who are eligible for the death penalty, the filing states. “By failing to do so, the statute permits arbitrary and capricious imposition of the death penalty.”

The suspect in the Atlanta-area shootings could face the death penalty


March 18, 2021

robert aaron long

  • Robert Long, 21, was charged with eight counts of murder by Georgia prosecutors Wednesday.
  • Eight people, six of whom were Asian, were killed at three Atlanta massage parlours on Tuesday.
  • Long said he did it to remove sexual temptation but prosecutors are considering hate crime charges.

The suspect in Tuesday night’s Atlanta-area shootings could meet the threshold for receiving the death penalty under Georgia law.

On Wednesday, prosecutors charged Robert Aaron Long, 21, with eight counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault after shootings took place at three massage parlors across the city area.

In a press conference on Wednesday, law enforcement officials said that Long admitted to carrying out the attacks. However, he has yet to enter a plea to the charges.

He is due to appear in court Thursday, where he may issue a plea but does not have to.

If Long is ultimately convicted, the charges open him to Georgia’s death penalty. Prosecutors would have to choose whether to pursue it, and so far have not discussed the matter in public.

Robert Long Georgia Shooting
Security footage released by the Cherokee Sheriff’s Office in Georgia shows the 21-year-old suspect, Robert Long, getting into a car. Cherokee Sheriff’s Office

Under title 17 of the 2010 Georgia Code, most murders do not qualify for punishment by death.

But if one of 11 criteria are met, then it can be considered. They are listed here by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which also reported that Long could face the death penalty.

Some of the criteria – such as if the offender was on the run from prison, or if the victim was a police officer – appear not to apply. Others are broader, such as if the killings took place during another crime, or using a particularly dangerous weapon.

In Georgia, the death penalty is carried out by lethal injection. As of January, 39 men and one woman were on death row, state Department of Corrections data shows.

Out of the eight people killed on Tuesday night, six were Asian women, meaning prosecutors are deciding whether to charge Long with a hate crime, The Atlanta Journal Constitution and 11Alive reported.

Long told law enforcement that race did not play a part in the attack, saying instead that he was a sex addict and wanted to remove temptation.

“During his interview, he gave no indicators that this was racially motivated,” Frank Reynolds, Cherokee County Sheriff, said Wednesday.

“We asked him that specifically and the answer was no.”

The attack on Tuesday is the latest in a series which indicates attacks on Asian Americans in the US is on the rise.

As of Thursday morning, four of the Atlanta-area victims had been identified: Xiaojie Tan, 49, Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33, Paul Andre Michels, 54, and Daoyou Feng, 44.

David Barkley, senior Southeast counsel for the Anti-Defamation League, told the AJC: “We would urge the local prosecutor to bring hate crime charges along with the other charges.”

Wyoming considering repeal of death penalty


The state has had only one execution in 55 years.

March 9, Wyoming may become the next state to outlaw capital punishment.

bill was introduced in the state Senate last week by Republican Sen. Brian Boner that would end the death penalty as potential punishment for a murder conviction. Boner told ABC News that the current law, in effect since 1976, is antiquated and costs taxpayers over $750,000 a year.

In the last 55 years, the state has only held one execution, back in 1992, a nonpartisan nonprofit that tracks death row inmates.

“We are dealing with a significant budget crisis, and we’re looking at old rules that don’t work,” Boner told ABC News. “It’s time to get rid of it.”

The bill passed the state Senate’s revenue committee with a 4-1 vote on March 4 and will move on to a full vote. The legislative session ends April 2.

If the bill passes and is signed into law, Wyoming would become the 24th state to abolish the death penalty since the federal government allowed it in 1973.

Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, testified at the committee hearing. He told ABC News that Wyoming is following a similar path to one seen across the country, with fewer juries and judges giving out death penalty sentences. That decrease has garnered the attention of politicians on both sides of the aisle, Dunham added.

“We have seen an abolition in practice follow by an abolishing in the law,” Dunham said.

Dunham added that there is an increased sense of morality when it comes to executions because, on average, there has been one exoneration for every eight executions.

“It is no longer debatable that innocent people are going to be sentenced to death. It is no longer debatable that innocent people have been executed,” he said. “That’s given legislators of all political and philosophical beliefs great pause.”

Boner agreed and said that eliminating the death penalty in Wyoming would create a “more efficient criminal justice system.” Two years ago, a similar measure passed in the Wyoming House but failed in the Senate with a vote of 18-12. Boner said a lot has changed since then, particularly during the pandemic.

Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon told legislators last summer that he was “very seriously” considering imposing a moratorium on the use of capital punishment, claiming it is “a luxury that we cannot afford.”

Dunham said that there will likely be a bigger push from advocates to repeal the law and more pressure on other states to re-examine their policies. Last month, Virginia’s Legislature passed a bill to end death penalty in the state.

“Regardless of what the outcome is,” Dunham added, “what we are seeing in Wyoming is the declining support of capital punishment across all demographic groups.”

EXECUTED – ‘Tourniquet Killer’ set to be executed in Texas – Anthony Shore 6:28 p.m


 

JAN. 18, 2018

In his final statement, Shore, 55, was apologetic and his voice cracked with emotion.

“No amount of words or apology could ever undo what I’ve done,” Shore said. “I wish I could undo the past, but it is what it is.”

He was pronounced dead at 6:28 p.m. CST.

Texas’ “Tourniquet Killer” is set for execution Thursday. It would be the first execution under Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg, a Democrat who oversaw the first year without an execution in the county for more than 30 years.

Death row inmate Anthony Shore.

 

The first execution of 2018 in Texas and the nation is expected to take place Thursday evening for Houston’s “Tourniquet Killer.”

Anthony Shore, 55, is a confessed serial rapist and strangler whose murders went unsolved in the 1980s and 1990s for more than a decade. With no pending appeals, his execution is expected to be the first under Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg, a Democrat who took office last January and has said she doesn’t see the death penalty as a deterrent to crime.

Still, she has said the punishment is appropriate for Shore, deeming him “the worst of the worst.”

“Anytime a person is subject to government’s greatest sanction, it merits thoughtful review,” Ogg said through a spokesman Wednesday. “We have proceeded as the law directs and satisfied all doubts.”

Shore wasn’t arrested in the murders until 2003, when his DNA was matched to the 1992 murder of 21-year-old Maria Del Carmen Estrada, according to court documents. His DNA had been on file since 1998, when he pleaded no-contest to charges of sexually molesting his two daughters. After his arrest, he confessed to the murders of four young women and girls, including Estrada.

Between 1986 and 1995, Shore sexually assaulted and killed 14-year-old Laurie Tremblay, Estrada, 9-year-old Diana Rebollar and 16-year-old Dana Sanchez, the court documents said. He also admitted to the rape of another 14-year-old girl, but she managed to escape after he began choking her. The murder victims’ bodies were all found in various states of undress behind buildings or in a field with rope or cord tied around their necks like tourniquets.

Though he doesn’t argue that his client is innocent or undeserving of punishment, Shore’s lawyer, Knox Nunnally, said Wednesday that he was surprised Ogg continued to pursue the death penalty for Shore based on her previous statements on capital punishment. Ogg’s first year in office also coincided with the first year Harris County didn’t carry out an execution in more than 30 years.

“Many people in the death penalty community were expecting other things from her,” Nunnally said.

Though she has said the death penalty is “pure retribution,” Ogg told the Texas Observer last year that she still believes in it. But in two major death penalty cases that made their way to the U.S. Supreme Court, Ogg opted for reduced punishments.

After the high court ruled death row inmate Duane Buck should receive a new trial because an expert witness claimed he was more likely to be a future danger to society because he was black, Ogg offered a plea agreement in October to a sentence of life in prison rather than holding a new death penalty trial. The next month, Ogg asked the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to reduce the death sentence of Bobby Moore, whose case had earlier prompted the Supreme Court to invalidate Texas’ outdated method of determining intellectual disability in death-sentenced inmates.

But for a “true serial killer” such as Shore, Ogg said in a July statement that he was “a person deserving of the ultimate punishment.”

Shore’s execution was originally set for October, but Ogg postponed it after Montgomery County District Attorney Brett Ligon requested a delay from her and Gov. Greg Abbott. Ligon was concerned that Shore might falsely confess to the Montgomery County murder of Melissa Trotter, potentially disrupting the existing death sentence for the man already convicted in Trotter’s murder.

“We knew that was not true, but, that said, we knew that if we didn’t investigate it, it would look like we ignored potential evidence,” Ligon said.

Ligon said that after Shore talked to Texas Rangers and his office, investigators were convinced that Shore was not responsible for Trotter’s death or any other open murder cases. Nunnally said Shore never confessed to Trotter’s murder.

Now, Nunnally says he thinks he’s done everything he can for Shore. He had hoped to ask for a delay if the U.S. Supreme Court elected to hear a case out of Arizona that questions the constitutionality of the death penalty as a whole, but the justices have yet to make a decision and don’t meet again until Friday — the day after his scheduled execution.

Shore’s execution will the be the first in 2018, following a years-long trend of fewer executions in Texas and across the country. Four other executions are scheduled in Texas through March.

Should New Mexico bring back the death penalty?


Yes, bring back the death penalty 63%
No, it should remain abolished 38%
I don’t know 0% | 0 VOTES

New Mexico lawmakers will consider a bill to restore the death penalty, which was made illegal in the state nearly a decade ago. See the story in the Thursday (Jan. 11) edition of The Taos News.

Florida Death Row Inmate Gets New Sentencing Hearing


December 21, 2017

TALLAHASSEE, Fla.  — The Florida Supreme Court is ordering a new sentence for a man involved in the deadly kidnapping of a young couple from South Beach.

The court on Thursday upheld the conviction of Joel Lebron, but tossed out his death sentence. The 39-year-old man is getting a new hearing because a jury recommended the death penalty by a 9 to 3 vote.

Authorities say 17-year-old Nelson Portobanco and 18-year-old Ana Maria Angel were walking back to their car after a date in 2002 when they were forced into a pickup by Lebron and four other men.

Authorities say Lebron stabbed Portobanco and left him for dead, but the teen survived. Angel was repeatedly raped and taken to a retaining wall beside Interstate 95 where Lebron killed her with a single gunshot.

Howland woman condemned to death row asking for another appeal


 

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Lawyers for Ohio’s only condemned female killer have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to accept her appeal.

Death row inmate Donna Roberts was convicted of planning her ex-husband’s 2001 killing with a boyfriend in hopes of collecting insurance money.

Roberts’ death sentence was struck down in the past after the state Supreme Court said a prosecutor improperly helped prepare a sentencing motion in her case.

The court also said a judge hadn’t fully considered factors that could argue against a death sentence.

Earlier this year, the Ohio Supreme Court once again upheld the death sentence for the 73-year-old Roberts.

She was sentenced to death for the third time in 2014 but appealed that decision.

Watch: Testimony from Roberts’ appeal

Roberts was accused of planning her ex-husband’s murder with her boyfriend Nathaniel Jackson. The killing happened in the couple’s home in Howland.

Jackson was also sentenced to death.

In the past, the court said a prosecutor improperly helped prepare a sentencing motion in Roberts’ case and that a judge hadn’t fully considered factors that could argue against a death sentence.

Justice Terrence O’Donnell, writing for the majority, rejected arguments that allowing a new judge to sentence Roberts after the original judge died was unconstitutional.

Justice O’Donnell explained that Roberts helped Jackson plan Fingerhut’s murder in a series of letters and phone calls while Jackson was in prison on an unrelated charge. She actively participated with Jackson in the killing by purchasing a mask and gloves for him and allowing him into the home, evidencing prior calculation and design, O’Donnell said.

The court ruled 6-1.

The Court also pointed out that although Roberts expressed sadness for Fingerhut’s murder, she never accepted responsibility for it and denied her scheme to kill Fingerhut, “notwithstanding overwhelming evidence to the contrary.”

The Court concluded the death penalty was appropriate and proportionate to the death sentence imposed on Jackson.

The state is expected to oppose Roberts’ latest request.

 

Mississippi Man Back on Death Row, Mental Evaluation Ordered


JACKSON, Miss. — The Mississippi Supreme Court on Thursday reinstated the death sentence of an inmate convicted of killing a prison guard.

Justices also ordered a state circuit court judge to hold another hearing on the mental capacity of Willie C. Russell , who came within hours of being executed more than two decades ago.

Russell, now 57, was convicted in the 1989 killing of Argentra Cotton, a guard at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman, where Russell was imprisoned for armed robbery, escape and kidnapping convictions in Hinds County.

A federal appeals court blocked the execution in January 1997 after Russell claimed he didn’t have a lawyer to appeal his death sentence. Russell later claimed he was intellectually disabled and could not be executed.

Sunflower County Circuit Judge Betty W. Sanders agreed and overturned the death sentence, and Russell remained in prison. On Thursday, justices said Sanders should have heard more testimony.

A majority of justices wrote that Russell underwent psychological testing in 2006 in an aggravated assault case, but he never underwent an assessment of intellectual disability.

In 2014, Sanders denied the state’s request for Russell to be evaluated for intellectual disability, saying the previous testing was sufficient. Five of the nine justices said Thursday that the judge conducted a “one-sided” hearing about Russell’s mental capacity before she overturned his death sentence.

However, four justices wrote a dissent, saying Russell had undergone enough psychological testing in 2006, and results of those tests could be used to determine whether he has an intellectual disability.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that it is unconstitutional to execute a person who has intellectual disabilities.

Sanders is retired from the bench. A majority of justices said Thursday that an expert chosen by the state must be allowed to evaluate Russell before a circuit judge holds new hearing about his mental capacity.

 

Officials urging mercy for death row inmate convicted under ‘law of parties’ now include prosecutor


December 14.2017

There is no dispute over whether Jeffery Lee Wood ever killed anyone.

He did not. He didn’t pull a trigger, didn’t wield a knife, didn’t take any direct action that caused another person’s death.

But twice now, Wood, 44, has come within only a few days of being executed by the state of Texas. He was convicted under Texas’ felony murder statute, informally called the “law of parties,” after he waited outside in a truck while an accomplice robbed a Kerrville convenience store in 1996 — and ended up killing a clerk named Kriss Keeran.

A growing bipartisan chorus agrees that, while Wood was complicit in a crime, he does not belong on death row.

One of those voices belongs to the prosecutor who put him there. Last week, The Texas Tribune reported that Kerr County District Attorney Lucy Wilkehas joined a long list of Texas officials who want to see Wood’s death sentence reduced to life in prison.

In a letter co-signed by the Kerrville police chief and the district judge overseeing Wood’s appeal, Wilke — a young, relatively inexperienced prosecutor at the time of Wood’s 1998 trial — says life imprisonment is the appropriate punishment in this case.

Wilke’s change of heart is not based solely on misgivings over the law of parties used in Texas murder trials. She has also expressed concern over testimony supplied by forensic psychiatrist James Grigson — “Dr. Death” — whose methods and credentials were later called into question.

But her letter urging the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to recommend that Gov. Greg Abbott reduce Wood’s sentence to life in prison specifies that “the offender was not actually the person who shot the victim” as a factor in her request.Wilke’s letter reflects a fair and candid evolution of thought about appropriate use of the death penalty in Texas, an evolution she shares with many others.

Honest disagreement remains over capital punishment in this state. This editorial board has urged its discontinuance; many others believe just as strongly that it should be preserved.

But all thoughtful people can agree that the death penalty, if used, should be applied carefully, sparingly, and reserved for the “worst of the worst” offenders — a standard that Wood, while culpable, does not meet.

“At the time of the jury trial in this case, I was a newly licensed attorney with 13 months of experience … the decision to seek the death penalty was mine,” Wilke wrote. “Again, I now respectfully request that this offender’s death sentence be commuted to a capital murder life sentence.”

Unfortunately, in spite of strong bipartisan efforts, state lawmakers passedon an opportunity to reform the Texas statute regarding the law of parties’ use in capital cases during their most recent session. It’s an issue that must be revisited.

In the meantime, a growing number of voices that bridge the political spectrum is calling on Abbott to intervene in this case.

Abbott, sensitive to protecting his red-state bona fides, has not reduced a capital sentence to life since he took office in 2015. But the case of Jeff Wood would be a sensible and honorable place to start.