Sunday, 29 April 2007

Arthur still fights system after 25 years

April 29, 2007


Arthur still fights system after 25 years

By Bernie Delinski and Tom Smith, Times Daily

After months of an exhaustive murder investigation that started with a lie
from one of the culprits and evolved into the uncovered truth, authorities
finally had the information to arrest the man who has come to be known as
one of the most notorious criminals in the history of the Shoals.

Investigators also knew exactly where that man -- Tommy Arthur -- could be
found: the Decatur Work Release Center.

Local authorities had Arthur transferred to the Morgan County Jail, where he
officially was arrested on the grand jury indictment for the murder-for-hire
slaying of 35-year-old Troy Wicker.

Arthur would be found guilty of capital murder and sentenced to death.

Little did authorities realize at the time, Arthur's death sentence would
not be carried out to this day -- 25 years to the day after that April 29,
2007, arrest.

Arthur has spent a quarter of a century insisting upon his innocence and
using the judicial system to his advantage, even to the point where he
requested the death penalty in order to gain automatic appeals and better
access to law books.

While waiting for a retrial, Arthur broke out of the Colbert County Jail,
shooting a jailer in the process. While on the run, he was accused of
robbing a bank.

And he has been screaming ever since being captured that he is a victim of
the system and has held firm in his belief that one day he will be freed.

Those who have had contact with Arthur say the unfolding saga serves as a
prime example of the manipulative, cunning nature of the man.

"He was a piece of work, a real piece of work," said James "Jap" Patton, who
was the Colbert County district attorney who prosecuted Arthur for what
would turn out to be the first of three trials in the same case.

"He was a legend in his own mind," Patton said.

"Tommy had a real good personality,

" said Robert Hall, a retired Muscle
Shoals police investigator who was the lead investigator in the 1982 murder

"He would have been a real good salesman, but he just chose to go the other

Hall believes Arthur used that personality as a tool of crime.

"I'm not upholding what he did, don't get me wrong," Hall said. "If you go
back through the history of people on the wrong side of the law, in a whole
lot of cases like serial killers, that cunning, likeable personality is how
they got away with it for so long."

Through the years, Arthur has gone through several lawyers, firing several
along the way. He even represented himself at times.

He is still using the system to at least delay his pending date with death.

His latest attorney, Suhana Han, of New York City, filed a complaint April
12 demanding that evidence collected in the case 25 years ago be submitted
for DNA testing. If the motion is denied, she plans to appeal to the 11th
Judicial Court and ultimately the U.S. Supreme Court.

The complaint is another in the legal maneuvering that has taken place fore
more than two decades. The latest effort comes on the heels of the U.S.
Supreme Court seemingly denying the final appeal in the process.

Han insists the complaint filed in federal court in Alabama is not another
delay tactic.

"What's driving this is the hope that someone will realize Mr. Arthur has
been denied justice," Han said.

Arthur's daughter, Sherrie Arthur, admits now that she initially was "kind
of glad" when her father was found guilty.

"You know, he was not the greatest father in the world, but after reviewing
the facts, I really question whether he is guilty," Sherrie Arthur said.
"All I can do is look at the facts. I can't live in a dream world."

She said those facts, even after 25 years, have not all come to light. For
example, she said there is DNA evidence that has not been revealed to the

The victim's wife, Judy Wicker, also was convicted in the murder, sentenced
to life in prison and has been released after serving 10 years.

Reports indicate Wicker initially claimed a black man broke into their home,
raped her and killed her husband.

She later testified against Arthur and said she had sex with Tommy Arthur
shortly before he killed her husband.

"The rape kit would prove it either way," Sherrie Arthur said, noting that
analysis of the rape kit was never made available to her father's attorneys.

Hall and numerous others involved in the case, however, say the right man
was convicted in the case.

The 1982 incident wasn't the only shooting authorities connected to Arthur.
His criminal past has many twists and turns.

Authorities say within a span of less than 10 years, from 1977 to 1986,
Arthur shot at least four people.

Two died.

The first victim was a woman who was killed in 1977 in Marion County, a
shooting in which he was convicted. Arthur abused work release privileges in
connection with that case to kill Wicker, authorities say. They say Judy
Wicker paid him $10,000.

Another shooting involved a Colbert County guard when Arthur broke out of
the jail in 1986, shortly before the scheduled retrial in Troy Wicker's
shooting. The guard survived a gunshot wound to the neck. The event caused
one of his former attorneys to go into hiding, fearing Arthur might come
looking for him.

Arthur fled to Knoxville, Tenn., where he would mastermind a bank robbery in
which he made off with more than $9,000. That scheme included the abduction
of a 56-year-old woman while stealing her vehicle.

Arthur was captured outside a hotel in Knoxville, wearing an all-white suit
as he was getting into another car that had been reported stolen,
authorities said.

He was found guilty of the robbery in Tennessee, and sentenced to 30 years
in prison.

The retrial in the Troy Wicker murder conviction ultimately took place in
Jefferson County in 1987 after a change of venue. It was one of two retrials
for Arthur in Troy Wicker's shooting.

In the original trial and the retrials, the result was the same: A jury
found him guilty of capital murder.

Through the years, Arthur has exhausted appeal after appeal, taking it all
the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

April seems to be the month of landmark events in Arthur's case.

It was April 29, 1982, when Arthur and accomplice Judy Wicker were arrested
for the murder of Judy Wicker's husband.

It was April 5, 1985, when Arthur's initial conviction was overturned by the
Alabama Supreme Court.

It was April 11, 2001, when the state Supreme Court denied a motion to delay
Arthur's execution, which had been set for 12:01 a.m. April 27. A U.S.
District judge, however, would grant a stay of execution on April 24, and
the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision refusing to lift that stay, just
seven hours before Arthur was to be executed.

It was April 16 of this year when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review
Arthur's death sentence.

The next day, April 17, the Alabama Attorney General's Office officially
requested to the state Supreme Court that an execution date be set for
Arthur. They are awaiting a response.

One reason the Wicker case was tried as capital murder was because of his

Gary Alverson, who was the Colbert County district attorney in Arthur's two
trials in which his capital murder conviction was upheld, said it can be
considered capital murder if you have been convicted of a prior murder
within 20 years of the existing case.

In 1977, Arthur was charged with murder and assault with intent to murder
after the Marion County shooting earlier that year of Eloise West and
Charlotte Harbin.

West, the sister of Arthur's common-law wife, Shirley Dodd, was shot once in
the right eye and killed. Harbin, a cousin, was injured by a single shot
that struck her left arm and side.

The shooting occurred at a mobile home supply company in Bear Creek.
Authorities said Arthur walked into the building and shot the women while
searching for his estranged wife. The women refused to call his wife, so
Arthur pulled guns from each pocket and started shooting.

Arthur initially would plead not guilty by reason of insanity. He later
changed that plea to guilty on what would have been the first day of his

He was sentenced to life in prison. By 1982, he was in a Decatur work
release center.

Authorities said that is when Arthur and Judy Wicker schemed to kill her
husband, apparently so she could obtain his insurance money.

Police said the two had known each other for some time, and Arthur
apparently had bought a car in violation of the terms of his work release.
He would report to work and then leave, authorities said.

Wicker's initial story was that she was attacked and beaten upon returning
to her Muscle Shoals residence at 301 Highland Ave., after taking their
children to school.

Muscle Shoals police Capt. Lanny Coan was a patrol officer at the time. He
was the first officer to enter the house, followed immediately by Capt.
Eddie Lang.

"She was laying right inside the house, on the floor, with a robe on," Coan

They went farther into the house and found Troy Wicker's body, he said.

"The house was turned upside down," Coan said. "Every drawer had been pulled
out and thrown in the floor.

"We thought it was an assault case, where someone had broken in and beaten
her up. Then we found him dead and we didn't know what had happened.

"I'm sure it's one of the most bizarre cases that's ever been in this area."

Later, investigators would learn about the murder-for-hire scheme. Wicker
was convicted of murder in 1982, and paroled 10 years later.

Testimony during Arthur's trial indicated he had arranged the purchase of
bullets in Huntsville that were the same make of those used in the shooting.

Hall and Sheffield Police Chief Doug Aycock remember interviewing Arthur
about the case. Aycock was a Sheffield investigator at the time, and the
department granted a request from Muscle Shoals to allow Aycock to assist
with the case.

Aycock said he'd had previous dealings with Arthur. In fact, Arthur was
arrested in Sheffield on March 11, 1977, in connection with the Marion
County homicide.

Hall and Aycock interviewed Arthur together, and let him know they had
information that put him in Muscle Shoals several times.

They had information from a Huntsville club worker who said she had bought
ammunition for Arthur. The woman told them Arthur said he "had a job to do
in Muscle Shoals" authorities said.

Aycock said a Muscle Shoals police officer saw someone in the car with Judy
Wicker while it was at the school crosswalk when she was dropping off her
kids at school.

Authorities had phone records that tied Arthur and Judy Wicker.

Some $2,000 or more was found in Arthur's locker at the work release center
in Decatur, Aycock said. It was Aycock who was able to fit the pieces of the
puzzle together, having heard from a state trooper that a large sum of money
had been found in the locker.

Yet Arthur never budged during interrogations.

"Every time we interviewed him, he never admitted to anything," Hall said.
"He would always talk to us, but would never admit to anything or tell us
what we needed to know."

The three capital murder trials, themselves, were quite interesting.

Arthur went through several attorneys, starting with two Decatur lawyers
whom he dismissed. Arthur often would try parts of the case on his own.

Shoals attorneys Alan Gargis, Steve Gargis, Billy Underwood and William
Hovater were among those who defended Arthur.

Hovater said the first trial was "just a circus."

"He took over his defense and did a lot of grandstanding," said Hovater, who
was among the defense team in the second trial, after Steve Gargis was
recused from the case.

Hovater said he never had any problems, but Arthur would often butt heads
with his attorneys.

For instance, while the defense would be attempting to file a request for a
change of venue, Arthur would say he wanted it to stay in the Shoals.
Despite his request, his retrials were in Birmingham.

Ultimately, when his attorneys were pleading for Arthur's life after he was
convicted of capital murder, Arthur would stand up and tell jurors he wanted
the death penalty.

"In Birmingham, after I argued against the death penalty during the penalty
phase of the trial, Tommy stood and gave an eloquent speech," Hovater said.
"He told the jury, 'You may not understand my reasons, but I ask you to
sentence me to the death penalty.' "

And they did.

Hovater said prosecutors offered a plea including a sentence of life in
prison without parole before Arthur's retrial.

Arthur didn't mince words in his response, Hovater said. "He told me to tell
them to take it and shove it ."

Underwood said he and Arthur had personality conflicts.

"After three months, his idea of what he wanted to tell the jury and my idea
of the truth were vastly different," Underwood said.

Underwood wouldn't go into detail because of attorney-client privacy, but
added, "I had problems with some things he wanted to say and do in the

"If I think it's so outlandishly a lie, I have a duty to tell him,"
Underwood said.

A full 25 years after his arrest, the Arthur saga continues.

That is much to the disdain of Alabama Attorney General Troy King and others
who argue that it takes too long for Alabama to carry out death sentences.

"Sometimes, doesn't the continued delay of justice result in the denial of
justice (for the victims)," he asks.

"In so many ways, this is indicative of a system that is not perfect," King
said. "The system promises they are going to give them justice. But the
victims and their families continue to wait and wait and wait for justice
and become victims of the system. They become jaded and victims all over

There are 199 inmates on death row in Alabama, according to the Alabama
Department of Corrections. Nine have been on death row longer than Arthur,
with the longest incarcerated May 31, 1978.

The last execution in Alabama was Oct. 26, 2005, according to the

The average stay on death row is 13 years, King said.

"Twenty-five years is too long to wait for justice to be done, especially in
a case as cold-blooded and calculated as this," King said. "This just
magnifies a system out of balance."

He said someone should remain on death row for as long as it takes to be
certain of their guilt. Three juries have done so, and that should suffice,
King said.

"A person shouldn't be allowed to manipulate the system and prolong victims'
agony," he said. "In my judgment, the time has come to deliver justice in
this case."

But, Sherrie Arthur says, it doesn't matter how many trials take place if
all the evidence isn't presented.

She said she would love to find out that her father is innocent. Even if the
evidence shows he's guilty, it would at least bring closure, she said.

"I need to know whether he did that," said Sherrie Arthur, who was arrested
and later acquitted on charges that she smuggled the gun to her father that
was used in the jail break. "I need closure, too. There are two sets of
victims in a murder: the victim's family and the family of the one
convicted. We all want to know the truth."

Arthur's attorney stresses a timeline cannot be placed on a life-and-death

"From our perspective, this is not the end," said Han, who first learned
about the case through Legal Aid attorney Arnold Levine.

She said some people have the perspective that 25 years is a long time to
carry out a death sentence, but there is another way to look at it.

"From Mr. Arthur's perspective, 25 years is a long time to spend in prison
for a crime he didn't do," Han said.

Sherrie Arthur is hopeful, but not optimistic, that Han's request will be

"It'll get turned down," she said. "He'll be executed within the next 30 to
60 days. He doesn't have a chance."


Source : Times Daily

More and more countries have doubts about the death penalty

April 27, 2007


Capital punishment

Here is thy sting

The Economist

More and more countries have doubts about the death penalty

HOURS after being sentenced to death by a sharia court in Somalia last May,
Omar Hussein was publicly executed. He was hooded, tied to a stake and
stabbed to death by the 16-year-old son of the man he had admitted stabbing
to death three months earlier.

In Kuwait, a Sri Lankan was executed last year by hanging, or so the
authorities thought. After the body was taken to the morgue, medical staff
saw he was still moving. He was finally pronounced dead only five hours
after the execution had begun. In Iran, a man and a woman were stoned to
death for extra-marital sex.

The horrors of cruelly administered, or botched, execution are not confined
to developing countries or to lands that follow the letter of hudud,
traditional Islamic punishment. In Florida last December, Angel Diaz was
executed by lethal injection. The three-drug cocktail that is used by 37
American states is supposed first to induce unconsciousness, then to
paralyse muscles and block breathing, and finally to stop the heart. But
after the first injection, Diaz continued to move, squint and grimace as he
tried to mouth words. A second dose was administered; only after 34 minutes
was he declared dead. A post mortem showed the first needle had plunged
through the intended vein, injecting the deadly chemicals into soft tissue
instead. Two days later Governor Jeb Bush suspended executions in the state
and set up a commission with a mandate to consider the humanity and
constitutionality of lethal injections.

According to Amnesty International'

s latest report, "at least" (precise
figures are hard to get) 1,591 executions were carried out worldwide last
year, well down on the previous year, but nearly 40% higher than in 2003.
Yet Piers Bannister, the lobby group's death-penalty specialist, believes
that the world is gradually inching its way towards abolition.

That may sound wildly optimistic. But he says the important point is not the
number of executions, which fluctuates from year to year, but the number of
countries that carry out executions. This total has fallen steadily from 40
a decade ago to just 25 last year. Since 1985, 55 countries have ended the
death penalty or, having already limited it to "extraordinary" crimes (such
as those committed in wartime), have now banned it outright.

During the same period, only four states have reintroduced the death
penalty. Two of them, Nepal and the Philippines, have since abolished it
again; in the other two, the Gambia and Papua New Guinea, there have been no

Big swathes of the world have become execution-free: 89 countries have
abolished the death penalty for all crimes, another ten for all but
exceptional crimes, and a further 30 are abolitionist in practice, having
executed nobody for at least a decade. Louise Arbour, the UN High
Commissioner for Human Rights, has called for the complete abolition of the
death penalty. In Europe, where abolition of capital punishment is a
condition of membership of both the European Union and the 46-nation Council
of Europe (of which Russia is a member), Belarus is the only country that
still uses it. In Africa, only four countries carried out the death penalty
last year. And in the Americas, the United States is the only country to
have executed anybody since 2003. Only Asia and the Middle East seem largely
untouched by the global movement away from the death penalty.

Even China, the world's top executioner-which reports carrying out 1,010
death sentences last year, though the real number may be nearer 8,000-might
be having second thoughts. Since January 1st all death sentences have had
first to be approved by the Supreme People's Court-a practice that had been
suspended after the launch of China's "strike hard" crackdown on crime in
2003, when publicly admitted executions soared to more than 7,000. In their
annual report to parliament last month, representatives of China's chief
legal bodies, including the Supreme People's Court, the public prosecutor's
office and the ministries for justice and the police, urged a reduction in
use of the death penalty (as well as torture).

At a meeting of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva last month, La Yifan,
a Chinese delegate, went quite a lot further; he said he was "confident"
that the application of the death penalty in China "will be finally
abolished"-though this may prove to be window-dressing in the run-up to next
year's Beijing Olympics.

The method used for execution in China is already changing, with a gradual
switch from firing squads to American-style injections. It was reported last
year that China had deployed a fleet of "death vans"-vehicles equipped with
the necessary equipment for lethal jabs-in order to make it easier for rural
communities to dispose of criminals.

Six countries-China, Iran, Pakistan, Iraq, Sudan and the United
States-accounted for more than nine in ten of last year's known executions.
Kuwait, which put just ten people to death last year, had the highest number
of executions per head, followed by Iran. Iraq, where the death penalty was
suspended after the American invasion in 2003, showed the biggest
proportionate leap in executions, up from just three in 2005. Desertion from
the Iraqi army has been made punishable by death.

Methods of execution vary widely. Since 2000, the condemned have been put to
death by stoning (in Afghanistan and Iran), stabbing (in Somalia), beheading
(in Saudi Arabia and Iraq), electrocution (in the American states of
Virgina, South Carolina and Alabama), shooting (in China, Belarus, Somalia,
Taiwan, and other countries), hanging (in Egypt, Iran, Japan, Jordan,
Pakistan, Singapore and elsewhere), and lethal injection (in China,
Guatemala, the Philippines, Thailand and America).

Introduced in America in 1977 as a supposedly more humane alternative to
other forms of capital punishment, lethal injection is now the preferred
method in all but one of the 38 states that retain the death penalty. But
its reliability and painlessness are increasingly being questioned. Eleven
states have already suspended some or all of their executions while awaiting
the outcome of more than 40 legal challenges, based on the constitution's
ban on "cruel and unusual punishment". Given the number of contradictory
rulings by the courts, the matter is bound to end up, sooner or later, in
the Supreme Court.

This week, as two more convicts were executed by lethal injection (in Ohio
and Texas), a new report added fresh scientific evidence. An analysis of 41
executions by lethal injection in California and North Carolina since 1984
found that the three-drug cocktail can cause a slow and painful death from
suffocation while leaving victims conscious, but unable to move or cry out.
Furthermore, the last drug, designed to provoke massive cardiac arrest, does
not always succeed in doing so, according to the Public Library of Science
online journal, PLoS Medicine.

America is one of very few democracies (along with Japan, India, South Korea
and Taiwan) still to have the death penalty. Abolitionists have been
galvanised by findings that many innocent people-more than 120 since
1973-were wrongly sentenced to death. Now questions over America's most
popular method of execution are prompting some campaigners to ask,
hopefully, whether this could be the beginning of the end of capital
punishment. Some states, including New Jersey, Maryland, Montana and
Nebraska, are already moving towards an outright ban. And if injections are
outlawed, then a majority of Americans might prefer life imprisonment
without parole rather than returning to the electric chair, firing squad or
gas chamber. Indeed, there are opinion polls which suggest that half the
electorate already feels that way.


Source : The Economist

Civil rights lawyer Lynne Stewart disbarred after conviction for aiding terror client

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Civil rights lawyer Lynne Stewart disbarred after conviction for aiding terror client
Jeannie Shawl at 9:22 AM ET

Photo source or description
[JURIST] Convicted civil rights lawyer Lynne Stewart [defense website] was disbarred from the New York Bar after her request to voluntarily resign from practicing law was rejected. Stewart was convicted [JURIST report; JURIST video] in 2005 of conspiracy and providing material support to terrorists [18 USC 2339A text] for helping imprisoned Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman [Wikipedia profile] communicate with his terrorist followers. Stewart was also convicted of defrauding the government for violating rules that had been put in place to prevent Abdel-Rahman from communicating with the outside world following his 1995 conviction of seditious conspiracy for plotting to blow up several New York city landmarks. She was sentenced to 28 months in prison [JURIST report] in October 2006.

Stewart has insisted that she "is not a traitor" [letter, PDF] and has said that she was only advocating for her client. She remains free pending appeal of her conviction. AP has more.

HJR 23 Reported Favorable

HJR 23 Reported Favorable

The House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee has favorably reported State Rep. Elliott Naishtat's HJR 23, a proposed constitutional amendment that would give the Texas governor authority to impose a moratorium. It will next go to the House Calendars Committee for possible scheduling for floor consideration. More on HJR 23 is here.

The Dallas Morning News editorial supporting HJR 23 is here.

A statement by Rep. Naishtat and Senate sponsor Eliot Shapleigh is here.

Death Row Scot speaks to stv

April 29, 2007


Death Row Scot speaks to stv

John Kilbride, Scotland Today

(Kenny Richey video report in Windows Media format)

Death Row Scot Kenny Richey says he believes he will be executed or be back
home in Scotland a free man by the summer. He has been locked up 23 hours a
day, seven days a week for the last 20 years for a crime he insists he did
not commit after he was jailed for murdering a two-year-old girl.

stv was given access to Richey as he prepares to start his 21st year behind

The Mansefield Correctional Institution has a website which features a photo
gallery from Death Row. Page after chilling page of doomed faces, convicted
murderers executed by the state of Ohio. For 20 years now, Kenny Richey has
lived with the knowledge that one day he could join them. Thirteen dates for
Richey's execution have been set and postponed. Two years ago, his
conviction was finally overturned, only to be reinstated by another court.

He said: "I can't put into words what happened. I was three days from
leaving here, from going home. I had everything packed, sent home, the
works. You know, you never give up hope. As long as there's breath in your
body, you always have hope."

Asked how he keeps himself sane, under these conditions, he replied: "Deep
down, you find strength within in you that normally you never think you
have. You find a way. You find that strength."

Tomorrow, Kenny Richey starts his 21st year on Death Row. He said: "It's
just another day...Every day is just another day. It shouldn't have gone on
this long but it has. It's the American way of life, I guess. Justice is
paid for like a commodity in this country. You have the money, you can get
justice. You don't, you're pretty much screwed."

For a few hours each day, he mingles with other prisoners. The rest of the
time, he is locked up in his cell, measuring 8 feet by 12. He explained:
"Want to know what it's like? Lock yourself in a bathroom for 24 hours. Have
somebody gie you a tray of food. Try it for a week in fact, 24 hours won't
do it. Lock yourself in a bathroom for a whole week; you can't leave it.
Fifty two weeks, for 20 years. That's what it's like. Drives most people
nuts. Of course, most people say I am nuts."

Somehow, he has retained a sense of humour. Asked what he can find to laugh
at there, he replied: "You laugh at everything you can. If you're no
laughing, you're crying. So you'd best be laughing. Physically I'm not too
good. I'm about 40lb overweight. I'm a fatpot. I've had two heart attacks.
My eyes are black; don't know why. Don't know how I'll get rid of that.
Overall health... I'm not too good. But I'm hoping I'll live long enough to
get out of here."

Richey was convicted of murdering two-year-old Cynthia Collins by setting
fire to the apartment block where she lived. The prosecution alleged he was
trying to get revenge on an ex-girlfriend. He has always denied it, and this
week the court heard the latest stage of his appeal. His lawyers say the
forensic evidence against him 20 years ago was fatally flawed. The fire was
an accident. The state argues that the forensics were just one part of a
compelling circumstantial case.

Richey says that if he loses now, there will be no point launching yet
another appeal. "The US supreme court has just refused to look at it. So
it'll be..."

But recent elections have given him some hope. Ohio has a new governor, a
democrat who has already stayed three executions and, as our interview drew
to a close, he revealed he has allowed himself to believe he could win

He said: "I believe I'll be home this year. Hoping by August. I miss just
walking around the streets. That's one of the things I think I'll do when I
get out. Go on a long walk around Edinburgh."

Kenny Richey is now one of the longest serving prisoners on Ohio's death
row. But the legal process that will decide his fate will not go on forever.
Sooner or later, the state's courts and governor will decide whether his
new-found optimism is justified.


Source : Scotland Today

USA (Tennessee) Philip Workman (m), aged 53

- From Amnesty International USA

To read the current Urgent Action newsletter, go to
For a print-friendly version of this Urgent Action

27 April 2007

UA 100/07
Death penalty/ Legal concern

USA (Tennessee) Philip Workman (m), aged 53

Philip Workman, white, is scheduled to be executed in
Tennessee on 9 May despite compelling evidence that a
key state witness lied at the trial and that the
police officer Workman was convicted of killing may
have been accidentally shot by a fellow officer. If
so, Philip Workman would be innocent of capital murder
and ineligible for the death penalty under US law. He
has been on death row for 25 years. He has been
scheduled for execution a number of times, and in 2001
was less than an hour from execution when a court
issued a stay.

Philip Workman was convicted of the murder of
Lieutenant Ronald Oliver in the course of robbing a
Memphis restaurant on 5 August 1981. Lt Oliver and two
other officers were first to arrive at the scene.
Philip Workman testified at his 1982 trial that as he
ran from the police, he fell, attempted to surrender,
and was struck on the head by an officer. Gunfire
erupted, and Lt Oliver was killed by a single bullet.
At the trial, the two surviving police officers
testified that they had not fired their weapons, but
admitted that they had not seen Workman shoot Oliver.
An alleged eyewitness, Harold Davis, said that he was
standing 10 feet (three meters) away and saw Workman
shoot the officer. The defense lawyers conducted no
forensic or ballistics analysis and did not
investigate Harold Davis. At the sentencing, they
presented no mitigating evidence.

Philip Workman has never denied responsibility for the
robbery that led to Lt Oliver being killed, and has
not denied firing his gun. Since the trial, however,
evidence has emerged which seriously undermines
confidence in the jury's verdict. The prosecution's
key eyewitness, Harold Davis, has retracted his
testimony. The results of a polygraph test reportedly
support his recantation. So does other evidence. No
one, including police officers or civilians, saw Davis
at the scene and his car was not where he claimed to
have parked it. An eyewitness has come forward to say
that at least one of the other officers fired his gun.
This is corroborated by the first police reports,
which stated that ''officers'' had fired their

A nationally renowned forensic pathologist, Dr Cyril
Wecht, has concluded that the bullet that killed Lt
Oliver did not come from Philip Workman's gun. He
bases this conclusion on the fact that the bullets in
Workman's gun were of a type that expand when they
strike a body, and therefore tend not to exit the
body. The bullet that killed Lt Oliver exited his
body, leaving an exit wound smaller than the entrance
wound. Dr Wecht's testimony in 2001 has not been
refuted by evidence presented by the prosecution in
any court.

At the trial, the prosecution presented the bullet
that it said killed Lt Oliver. An employee from a
nearby car parts dealer, Terry Willis, testified that
on the day after the shooting, he found the bullet in
the car park (in the middle of the crime scene that
had been searched the night before). He testified that
he had thought it was a ball bearing and put it in a
toolbox, before considering that it might have
something to do with shooting and calling the police.
However, at a 2001 clemency hearing, a former police
lieutenant said that he, not Willis, had found the
bullet that supposedly killed Lt Oliver. Workman's
appeal lawyers also claim that a digitally enhanced
crime scene photo shows an evidence cup turned upside
down on the car park between the restaurant and the
car parts dealer. However, neither the evidence cup
nor the item it marked appear in the crime scene
diagram, raising questions about whether another
bullet was found that was not revealed at trial.

In 2000, the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
voted on whether to grant Philip Workman a hearing on
the new evidence. Workman required a majority vote to
prevail; the hearing was denied after the vote was
tied at seven votes to seven. In 2004, a judge on the
Tennessee Supreme Court stated that Workman had raised
''valid legal issues'' concerning whether the death of
Lt Oliver was the ''result of 'friendly fire' and not
his own unlawful acts''. Specifically, proof that the
'eyewitness' did not see Workman shoot the officer and
proof that the wound which caused the officer's death
is inconsistent with the type of wound which would
have been caused by a bullet from Workman's gun
dramatically affect the evidence in this case and, in
my opinion, may affect his eligibility for the death
penalty''. Several jurors from the original trial have
stated that they would not have voted for a
first-degree murder conviction or a death sentence if
they had been presented with the evidence that has
emerged since the trial. In 2000, with Philip
Workman's execution looming, the daughters of both Lt
Oliver and Philip Workman united at a press conference
to appeal for clemency. The former District Attorney
of Shelby County, the office which prosecuted Philip
Workman, came forward in 2000 to oppose the execution
because of the post-conviction evidence.

A newly published study, conducted under the auspices
of the American Bar Association (ABA), which takes no
position for or against the death penalty per se, has
found that ''Tennessee's death penalty is plagued with
serious problems''. Among these problems, the study
found, were inadequate procedures to address innocence
claims, inadequate qualification and performance
standards for defense counsel, lack of transparency in
the clemency process, and racial and geographic
disparities in capital sentencing.

Across the USA, legal challenges to the
constitutionality of lethal injection procedures
continue amidst evidence that they do not guarantee
the ''humane'' and painless death that the proponents
of lethal injection claim. On 1 February 2007,
Tennessee's Governor, Phil Bredesen, issued a
statement noting that the state authorities had
''identified deficiencies with our written procedures
that raise concerns that they are not adequate to
preclude mistakes''. In order ''to ensure that no
cloud hangs over the state's actions in the future'',
he said, he issued an executive order suspending
executions while the Department of Correction
conducted a ''comprehensive review'' of Tennessee's
execution procedures. The Commissioner of Correction
is due to report back to the governor by 2 May, only
days before Philip Workman is due to be put to death.

In any event, ''a cloud hangs over'' Tennessee's use
of the death penalty, as shown in the new ABA report,
and as illustrated in Philip Workman's case. The UN
Safeguards Guaranteeing Protection of the Rights of
Those Facing the Death Penalty prohibit execution in
cases where there is a lack of ''clear and convincing
evidence'' of the inmate's guilt ''leaving no room for
an alternative explanation of the facts.'' This is
clearly a case where execution would contravene this
standard. Amnesty International opposes the death
penalty unconditionally. The USA has executed 1,072
men and women since resuming judicial killing in 1977.
Tennessee accounts for two of these executions.

RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send appeals to arrive as
quickly as possible in your own words:

- expressing sympathy for the family, friends and
colleagues of Lieutenant Ronald Oliver;

- expressing deep concern that Philip Ray Workman is
facing execution on the basis of apparently perjured
testimony from the only alleged eyewitness to the

- noting expert forensic evidence that the fatal wound
was not caused by Philip Workman's bullet;

- noting that several jurors have said that they would
not have voted to convict Philip Workman of
first-degree murder, let alone vote for a death
sentence, if they had been presented with the evidence
that has emerged since the trial;

- noting that seven federal judges voted that there
should be a federal evidentiary hearing in this case,
and noting that a Tennessee Supreme Court judge has
questioned Workman's eligibility for the death

- noting the findings of the study conducted under the
auspices of the American Bar Association, including
Tennessee's inadequate procedures for addressing
claims of innocence;

- calling for Philip Workman's death sentence to be

- appealing to Governor Bredesen to extend his
moratorium on executions, at least to allow full
review of the Department of Correction's findings on
the state's execution protocols.


Governor Phil Bredesen
Office of the Governor
State Capitol
Nashville, TN 37243-0001.
Fax: 1 615 532 9711
Salutation: Dear Governor


Tip of the Month:
Write as soon as you can. Try to write as close as
possible to the date a case is issued.

Within the United States:
$0.24 - Postcards
$0.39 - Letters and Cards (up to 1 oz.)
To Mexico and Canada:
$0.55 - Postcards
$0.63 - Airmail Letters and Cards (up to 1 oz.)
$0.75 - Aerogrammes
To all other destination countries:
$0.75 - Postcards
$0.84 - Airmail Letters and Cards (up to 1 oz.)
$0.75 - Aerogrammes

Amnesty International is a worldwide grassroots
movement that promotes and defends human rights.

This Urgent Action may be reposted if kept intact,
including contact information and stop action date (if
applicable). Thank you for your help with this appeal.

Urgent Action Network
Amnesty International USA
600 Pennsylvania Ave SE 5th fl
Washington DC 20003
Phone: 202.544.0200
Fax: 202.675.8566


No on the death penalty

April 29, 2007

New York

No on the death penalty

Albany Times Union

Once again, a state trooper has died in a search for a criminal on the
loose. Once again, the immediate reaction of some state lawmakers was to
call for reinstating the death penalty in New York. Once again, the answer
must be no.

To say this is in no way to diminish the loss of Trooper David Brinkerhoff,
who, tragically, was accidentally shot by one of his fellow troopers in a
shootout Wednesday. His death, regardless of the circumstances, was as much
a loss as would be the death of any of the thousands of police officers, at
state and local levels, who put their lives on the line each day to protect
New Yorkers. He was our neighbor, living in Coxsackie with his wife and
7-month-old daughter. We grieve, just as all New Yorkers do.

Yet that is precisely why this was the wrong time to renew the debate over
the death penalty. Nerves are raw now, and the impulse to subject criminals
to the ultimate punishment is at its peak.

But the argument against reviving the death penalty remains as overwhelming
as ever. It begins with the bitter irony that it would not have applied to
Trooper Brinkerhoff'

s case, even if the suspect, who died in a house fire,
had been the killer and had been sentenced to death. His execution would not
have brought back Trooper Brinkerhoff. No execution will ever bring back any

Nor is the death penalty the deterrent that supporters claim it to be.
Statistics show that states with capital punishment laws often have higher
murder rates than those without them.

What is certain is that the death penalty can be arbitrarily applied. A
prosecutor in one county might aggressively purse death penalty convictions,
while another might not -- a situation that in fact occurred during the
years before New York's reinstated death penalty was struck down by the

Then there is the real possibility that the state may execute innocent
people. Indeed, in recent years numerous death row inmates have been
exonerated by DNA evidence. The numbers were so high in Illinois, for
example, that in 2000, Gov. George Ryan imposed a moratorium on executions.

Finally, there is the difficult question of whether a New York capital
punishment law should apply only in cases in which law enforcement officers
are killed in the line of duty. Yes, society expects a great deal from
police officers, and they are a special breed. But the families of any
murder victim grieve just as deeply for their loved ones and could well ask
why their loss is viewed differently by the state.

Instead of the death penalty, New York should continue to sentence the worst
offenders to life in prison without the possibility of parole. It is heavy
punishment, as the late Thomas Grasso discovered. In the 1990s, while
serving a long prison term in New York, he sought to be extradited to
Oklahoma, where he had been convicted of another capital crime and sentenced
to death. In 1995, the newly elected Gov. George Pataki granted his request.

When state lawmakers call for a capital punishment law, they should remember
Thomas Grasso's choice -- and think again.

THE ISSUE :A trooper's death leads to calls to reinstate capital punishment
in New York.

THE STAKES: Is turning back the clock the right way to carry out justice?


Source : Albany Times Union

Lethal injections may be ruled as unconstitutional

April 27, 2007

Lethal injections may be ruled as unconstitutional

Researchers say executions cause painful, slow death

By Courtney Burks, The California Aggie

Cruel and unusual punishment may be the cause of death for those who are
subject to lethal injections, as a recent study on prisoner execution showed
that the current drug protocol could cause suffocation. On Apr. 24,
researchers at the University of Miami Miller School Of Medicine reported
their findings that lethal injections in the United States may lead to death
by chemical asphyxiation.

According to researchers, the chemicals that are currently used to execute
prisoners on death row subject offenders to a death that can be ruled as
inhumane - as opposed to quick and painless. The three chemicals used in
lethal injections include substances that induce anesthesia, paralysis and
respiratory arrest, or stopping of the heart.

Teresa Zimmers, research assistant professor of surgery at the University of
Miami and head author of the report, said in a press release that the drug
combination in lethal injection executions does not hold any clinical
precedence, was not sufficiently tested on lab animals before official use
and has led to delayed executions - making it a possibly insufficient means
for implementing the death penalty.

"We concluded that the original design of the lethal injection drug protocol
itself is flawed," Zimmers said. "The drug protocol is based on little
clinical and scientific data and contradicts clinical veterinary practice."

The study also indicates a problem with the delivery of the injections,
citing that doctors and nurses do not perform the procedures, but rather
volunteers with unreleased qualifications.

Dr. Leonidas Koniaris, associate professor of surgery at the University of
Miami who is also a senior author of the research findings, said those in
favor of the death penalty or lethal injection are misled into thinking that
the procedures are unproblematic.

"The reason that people support lethal injection is because they perceive it
to be a humane medical procedure," he said. "Here we provide more evidence
that it is anything but that."

Dr. Jeffery Uppington, anesthesiologist for the UC Davis Health System, said
the state of California wishes to employ board-certified anesthesiologists
for the executions in order to ensure the inmate is unconscious when
injected with painful drugs. He said the constitutionality of such a topic
is a question that should be left to the judicial system.

"It's a hugely controversial subject when it comes to a physician's
involvement in lethal injections," Uppington said. "There have been many
ethical debates about it."

The report indicates conclusions that the researchers may view as unlawful
and in violation of the Eighth Amendment, which bans cruel and unusual

"Our findings suggest that current lethal injection protocols may not
reliably affect death through the mechanisms intended, indicating a failure
of design and implementation,

" the study stated. "Potentially aware inmates
could die through asphyxiation. Thus, the conventional view of lethal
injection leading to an invariably peaceful and painless death is


Source : The California Aggie (COURTNEY BURKS can be reached at )

Second man cleared in 1988 killing

April 28, 2007


Second man cleared in 1988 killing

By Jason Lea, The News-Herald

All charges dropped against Robert Gondor in death of woman whose body was
found in Troy Township

All charges against Robert Gondor have been dropped in the 1988 murder of
Connie Nardi, his attorney Steven Bradley said Friday.

Seventeen years after Gondor, 43, and his lifelong friend Randy Resh, also
43, were convicted of various charges in connection with the murder, they
are both free men, Bradley said.

Gondor said he was going to celebrate by visiting his father's grave site
with his brother. His father died in 2002, while Gondor was still in prison.
"It feels like a lot of stress has been lifted," Gondor said.

The announcement ends nearly two decades of scrutiny that began when Nardi,
31, of Rootstown, was found strangled in Troy Township in 1988.

Gondor and Resh, both of Mantua, and Troy Busta of Hiram were all implicated
in the murder. Gondor was convicted of involuntary manslaughter, kidnapping
and obstructing justice; Resh of attempted rape and murder; and Busta of
aggravated murder.

Busta was the prosecution'

s key witness against Gondor and Resh in their
1990 trials, but Busta's story changed several times during the course of
the investigation, according to court records. Busta's plea bargain allowed
him to avoid the death penalty.

The Ohio Supreme Court ruled in 2006 that Resh and Gondor deserved new
trials, in part because their attorneys had been ineffective.

Resh was retried first and found not guilty April 18 in Portage County Court
of Common Pleas.

Gondor was scheduled to appear May 14 before a jury and Portage County
Common Pleas Judge John Enlow, but Friday morning, the charges were dropped.
"Today is the day it finally comes to an end," Bradley said.

Bradley noted he has represented Resh and Gondor for the last four years.
"I can't wait to see (Gondor) as a free man for the first time ever," he

Of the long road to exoneration, Gondor said, "If you fight for something
hard enough - and if you know what you're fighting for is right - you can
win, even if it takes a long time."

Gondor thanked his family, Resh's family, friends, attorneys and other

"It's just mind-boggling to know our lives have affected so many
individuals," he said.

"Once again, I'd like to reaffirm Randy Resh and I are innocent. We didn't
participate in this crime whatsoever."


Source : The News-Herald

Appeals panel denies Jones' stay of execution

April 29, 2007

Appeals panel denies Jones' stay of execution

By Garry Mitchell
The Associated Press

MOBILE -- A three-judge federal panel Friday denied a stay of execution for Alabama death row inmate Aaron Jones, who is scheduled to die May 3 by lethal injection for two killings more than 28 years ago.

His attorneys had asked the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta to block the execution until a lower court hears another prisoner's challenge to lethal injection.

But the 11th Circuit panel refused: "The state and the surviving victims have waited long enough for some closure to these heinous crimes. We will not interfere with the state's strong interest in enforcing its judgment in this case."

An attorney for Jones said an appeal would be filed with the U.S. Supreme Court.

Jones, 54, one of the longest-serving death row inmates in Alabama, is scheduled to die by lethal injection at 6 p.m. (CDT) Thursday at Holman Prison for the gruesome slayings of a Blount County couple and attacks on other family members during a home robbery in 1978.

The 11th Circuit panel agreed with the state's attorneys' argument that Jones had waited too long to challenge the constitutionality of lethal injection, saying Jones could have done that years ago when the state adopted that type of execution.

By waiting until November 2006 to challenge the state's lethal injection procedure, Jones' purpose was to delay the execution, not fight the method, the court concluded.

Opposing any execution delay, state prosecutors said that while Jones and another death row inmate have separate appeals with identical lethal injection claims, each case must be settled on its own merits and Jones should be executed.

The appeals panel agreed, saying the "mere possibility of a trial date in another case does not affect the balancing of the equities in this case."

Jones, who lived in Birmingham, has filed many appeals over the last 27 years, the latest challenging lethal injection as a method of execution. He was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death -- first in 1979 and then in a retrial in 1982.

Jones' pro-bono attorney, Heather K. McDevitt of the New York, had argued in a brief before the 11th Circuit that Jones should be granted a stay of execution until a Montgomery federal judge hears a challenge to lethal injection from another death row inmate, Darrell Grayson, who has a July 26 execution date.

Attorneys from the Atlanta-based Southern Center for Human Rights, representing Grayson, are expected to request a stay of execution on Monday.

Alabama Attorney General Troy King, in a brief filed Friday in the 11th Circuit, said there's no guarantee Grayson will be given a trial on the constitutionality of lethal injection.

U.S. District Judge Keith Watkins has indicated a June 26 trial is a possibility and gave attorneys a timetable to submit briefs. The constitutionality of Alabama's method of execution by lethal injection has never been decided by the courts.

A half-dozen inmates have filed lethal injection challenges in the Montgomery federal court. State's attorneys say each claim is "virtually identical," and they expect more will be filed as the clock ticks down toward an execution date.

Jones' attorney told the 11th Circuit that a stay of execution in his case should be granted until there's a ruling on Grayson's challenge to Alabama's execution procedures.

McDevitt said the state "can point to no legitimate interest in rushing" to execute Jones next week as opposed to two months from now when the matter is decided in the same court in which Jones' challenge was pending.

"To proceed otherwise is unjust and tends to create an appearance that the system is arbitrary and capricious in matters of such grave importance," McDevitt argues.

She said at least eight states have recently suspended execution by lethal injection over concerns about the execution process, saying it has come "under heavy scrutiny in the past year and is a matter of serious, national concern."

In a response, the attorney general's brief says death row inmates "will certainly argue any doctrine available to prevent re-litigation of the same issues, but every death row inmate will inevitably claim that his case is somehow 'different' and that he is entitled to a trial."

However, the state argues, the 11th Circuit has denied stays of execution when inmates could have brought claims in time to permit full consideration without any need to stay their executions.

In Jones' case, U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson in Montgomery earlier denied a bid to block the execution. Thompson said Jones' challenge "is dilatory."

Jones and cohort Arthur Lee Giles, also on death row, shot and stabbed three children, their parents and their grandmother in rural Blount County, a farming area northeast of Birmingham. The parents, Willene and Carl Nelson, died as a result of injuries in the Nov. 10, 1978 attack.

Jones, and Giles, 47, are among the longest-serving inmates on Alabama's death row. Only two out of the 199 inmates on death row have been there longer, according to Department of Corrections records.

Thousands await executions in U.S. prisons

Thousands await executions in U.S. prisons
Malaysia Sun
Sunday 29th April, 2007

Ryan Dickson was killed on Thursday by the State of Texas. The 30 year old double-murderer was put to death by lethal injection in the thirteenth execution in the state this year. Texas currently has 385 prisoners on Death Row, 10 of which are female. Across the United States there are more than 3,000 prisoners under the sentence of death
Ryan Dickson was killed on Thursday by the State of Texas.

The 30 year old double-murderer was put to death by lethal injection in the state’s thirteenth execution this year.

Texas currently has 385 prisoners on Death Row, 10 of which are female. The clearance rate is just as high. Five inmates were put to death last month. 8 will be executed in the next 90 days, two in May, 4 in June, and two in July.

Dickson was 18 at the time of his offence, and had been on Death Row for ten years. He and his 15 year old step brother robbed a grocery store owned by a couple in their sixties in Amarillo in November 1994. They were confronted by the store owner, who was 61. Dickson brought a sawed-off 22-caliber rifle from under his coat and shot the owner in the chest. He then shot the man’s wife, 60, in the face notwithstanding she had all the money from the cash register on to the counter for the robbers to take. For their efforts the Dicksons netted $52 in cash and some beer.

On Thursday, nearly thirteen years later he was injected with sodium thiopental to sedate him; pancuronium bromide to relax his muscles and to collapse his diaphragm and lungs; and potassium chloride to stop his heart beat. It took seven minutes for him to die. The cost for the drugs injected: $86.08.

Three people died for $52, and it cost $86.08 to kill the one who murdered the other two.

Death Row detainees are allowed a last statement prior to their execution. Dickson apologized to his victims and said goodbye to his family.

Many of the last statements are similar, some however are chilling as detainees maintain their innocence or vent their fury at their keepers at the prison.

James Clark who was executed two weeks ago was brief. “Uh, I don't know, Um, I don't know what to say. I don't know. (pause) I didn't know anybody was there. Howdy,” he said. Clark was convicted of robbery, rape, and murder of a 17-year-girl in 1993.

Roy Pippen who was executed two weeks earlier had more to say. “Yes sir, I charge the people of the jury. Trial Judge, the Prosecutor that cheated to get this conviction. I charge each and every one of you with the murder of an innocent man. All the way to the CCA, Federal Court, 5th Circuit and Supreme Court. You will answer to your Maker when God has found out that you executed an innocent man. May God have mercy on you.”

“My love to my son, my daughter, Nancy, Cathy, Randy, and my future grandchildren. I ask for forgiveness for all of the poison that I brought into the US, the country I love. Please forgive me for my sins. f my murder makes it easier for everyone else let the forgiveness please be a part of the healing. Go ahead Warden, murder me. Jesus take me home,” Pippen said.

Pippen who was involved in the Columbian drug trade was convicted of kidnapping and murder.

Vincent Gutierrez who, with two associates, murdered a 40 year old Hispanic man during a carjacking said, “I would like to tell everybody that I'm sorry about the situation that happened. My bad - everybody is here because of what happened. I'd like to thank everybody that's been here through the years. The little kids overseas - they really changed me. Sister Doris, mom, brothers, sister, dad; I love ya'll. My brother... where's my stunt double when you need one? My Lord is my life and savior, nothing shall I fear.”

Charles Neal, who murdered a 25 year old Asian male clerk while robbing a convenience store in Dallas in 1997, in his last statement said, “Ya'll know I love you, you too Ward. You have been a good friend. You are a good investigator. Doug, I thank you for coming from Michigan. Chris and David, I love you. Thank them for their support Doug. Debra, James, I'm not crying so you don't cry. Don't be sad for me. I'm going to be with God, Allah, and Momma. I'm gonna ask dad why didn't give you away at your wedding. Randy Greer, my little brother, I'll be watching you, stay out of trouble. All my nieces and nephews, I love you all. Sammie, Vincent, and Yolanda, I will be watching over you all.”

“The reason it took them so long is because they couldn't find a vein. You know how I hate needles - I used to stay in the Doctor's Office. Tell the guys on Death Row that I'm not wearing a diaper. I can't think of anything else. You all stay strong. Now you can put this all aside. Don't bury me in the prison cemetery. Bury me right beside momma. Don't bury me to the left of dad, bury me on the right side of mom,” Neal said.

“Kim Schaeffer, you are a evil woman. You broke the law. The judges and courts helped you and you didn't have all the facts. hen you look at the video, you know you can't see anyone. You overplayed your hand looking for something against me and to cover it up the State is killing me. I'm not mad or bitter though. I'm sad that you are stuck here and have to go through all of this. I am going somewhere better. My time is up. Let me get ready to make my transition. Doug, don't forget Marcy,” Neal concluded in his last statement.

Robert Perez, who with two associates shot and killed two men as part of an internal power struggle in the Mexican Mafia said, “Yes sir, Ernest, Christopher, Ochente, Mary and Jennifer tell all the kids I love them and never forget. Tell Bobby, Mr. Bear will be dancing for them. Tell Bear not to feel bad. My love always, I love you all. Stay strong Mary, take care of them. I love you too. I am ready Warden.”

Texas, which leads the nation in the number of executions, has been using lethal injections for the last thirty years. Prior to that the state used the electric chair. 361 detainees were electrocuted from the time the electric chair was introduced in 1923. One of the most notorious offenders to be electrocuted was Raymond Hamilton, a member of the 'Bonnie and Clyde' gang. He was sentenced from Walker County and executed on May 10, 1935, for murder. Hamilton and another man had escaped from death row, only to be recaptured and returned to Death Row.

Prior to 1923 those sentenced to death were hanged.

When capital punishment was declared 'cruel and unusual punishment' by the U.S. Supreme Court on June 29, 1972, there were 45 men on Death Row in Texas, and seven in county jails with a death sentence. All of the sentences were commuted to life sentences by the Governor of Texas, and Death Row was clear by March 1973.

In 1973, revision to the Texas Penal Code once again allowed assessment of the death penalty and allowed for executions to resume effective January 1st 1974. Under the new statute, the first man John Devries was placed on Death Row the following month. Devries committed suicide just 5 months later by hanging himself with bed sheets.

As of December 31,1999, the death penalty was authorized by 38 states and the Federal Government.

Texas, California, and Florida have the largest death row populations.

Last year, 53 persons in fourteen States were executed: 24 in Texas; five in Ohio; 4 each in Florida, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Virginia; and one each in Indiana, Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, California, Montana, and Nevada.

3,254 offenders were under sentence of death in the United States as of December 31, 2005.

Letters, faxes, and e-mail

Letters, faxes, and e-mail

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Alabama has been very lucky so far. Its lethal-injection executions have not been as badly botched as the one in Florida last December, which hit the headlines around the world.

But it has come close, and so one would think it would be wise for Alabama to follow the examples of Arkansas, California, Delaware, Florida, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, South Dakota and Tennessee, which have all put executions on hold while reviewing their lethal-injection protocol.

The recent ruling of U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson denying Aaron Jones a stay of execution was based solely on Jones' longevity on Death Row, not because Alabama does not have a problem with its protocol. It does, and Alabama courts have acknowledged this by scheduling to hear this issue in June. Of course, for Jones and others, this will come too late.

It is likely Alabama's luck will run out in its rush to set as many execution dates as possible before the courts halt executions and mandate a thorough review and changes this fall. Alabama often prides itself on its independence, but it will have to rethink how it bucks the tide on the death penalty. God forbid that we have the horror of a botched execution. We will not be able to claim ignorance because we knew we had no protocol and were willing to run the risk of torturing people to death.

One thing we all can be sure: It will hit the headlines nationally and internationally. As it is, the rest of the free world cannot understand our bloodlust, our love affair with the death penalty.

Esther Brown

Executive director

Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty


(Not-so-)shocking execution concerns

(Not-so-)shocking execution concerns

Nebraska, the only state to still rely exclusively on the electric chair for carrying out death sentences, is scheduled to execute Carey Dean Moore on May 8. But, as this AP story details, a new execution protocol is ― surprise, surprise ― prompting legal challenges:

The state's new method of electrocution ― a single, sustained jolt instead of several shorter ones ― could leave the condemned's heart beating well after the shock, backers and foes of the protocol say. The macabre image of a strapped-down inmate, possibly brain dead but with a pulsating heart, could sharpen an already tense debate as Nebraska, the only state with the electric chair as its sole means of execution, prepares to put to death its first prisoner in a decade.

No one's sure the inmate's heart would continue to beat after the current stopped, but the possibility has caused a furor among capital punishment opponents since it was broached by the doctor who almost single-handedly revised Nebraska's execution protocol. Carey Dean Moore is to die May 8 through an untested system of sending 2,450 volts through his body for 20 seconds.

Death penalty opponents are stepping up legal challenges to the execution, mainly on the grounds that the chair is cruel and unusual punishment. And the Legislature narrowly defeated a bill last month that would have repealed the death penalty.

Some related posts about electrocutions and execution methods:

Tuesday, 24 April 2007

Lethal injections may cause suffocation

Study cites flaws in mix used to execute prisoners

By Jane Sutton, Reuters April 24, 2007

MIAMI -- Some prisoners executed by lethal injection in the United States may die of suffocation while they are still conscious and in pain, University of Miami researchers said yesterday in a study that concluded the drugs do not work as intended.

The study, published in the Public Library of Science journal PLoS Medicine, raised new questions about whether the lethal cocktail violates the US Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Lethal injection is the primary method of execution for 37 US states and the federal government, though more than a dozen states have halted or suspended the procedure as a result of legal or ethical questions.

The mix contains an anesthetic, thiopental; pancuronium bromide, to paralyze the muscles and lungs; and potassium chloride, to stop the heart.

First adopted by Oklahoma lawmakers looking for a humane alternative to the electric chair, the combination is supposed to produce unconsciousness and then death due to respiratory and cardiac arrest.

The researchers studied drug dosages and time elapsed until death in 42 lethal injections in North Carolina and eight in California. They concluded the thiopental might have been insufficient to keep the prisoners unconscious in some cases, based on concentrations in their blood after death.

They said the potassium chloride, which causes an intense burning sensation, did not reliably hasten death, finding prisoners given it died no faster than those who got only the other two drugs.

They concluded that the pancuronium was the only reliably fatal part of the cocktail, meaning the executed may actually have died of suffocation as it paralyzed their lungs.

In cases where the injection was botched and the drugs were delivered into muscle or under the skin rather than into a vein, prisoners would be fully aware as the paralysis took hold and the potassium chloride was administered, said Teresa Zimmers, who led the study.

"It would sort of be the equivalent of slowly suffocating while being burned alive," Zimmers said in a telephone interview.

The researchers said that was likely the experience of Florida inmate Angel Diaz, who took 34 minutes to die in December after the needles were inserted improperly.

Doctors and nurses, bound by a medical code of ethics, are barred from administering lethal injections. But even when the injections were done properly, there were doubts the anesthesia was adequate to avert suffering.

It was unclear whether levels measured in the blood after death accurately reflected those before death, the authors cautioned. But they said execution witnesses have reported that some prisoners were visibly distressed even after the anesthesia was injected, and in four cases they tried to sit up.

"The reason that people support lethal injection is because they perceive it to be a humane medical procedure," said Dr. Leonidas Koniaris, associate professor of surgery and senior author on the report. "Here we provide more evidence that it is anything but that."

Since the Supreme Court upheld the death penalty in 1976, the United States has had 1,070 executions, 901 of them by lethal injection, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Monday, 23 April 2007

Mass Murderers and Women: What We're Still Not Getting About Virginia Tech

Mass Murderers and Women: What We're Still Not Getting About Virginia Tech

News: Evidence shows that many mass murderers begin and end their rampages with violence against women. With over 30 dead in Virginia, can we finally begin to take the issue seriously?

April 20, 2007

Of all the lessons contained in the horror at Virginia Tech, the one least likely to be learned has to do with the deadly danger posed by the dismissive way we still view violence against women.

The first person killed by Cho Seung-Ho, a freshman named Emily Hilscher, was initially rumored to be Cho's current or former girlfriend – the subject of his obsession or jealous rage. It now appears that she never had a relationship with Cho, but the rumors were spread quickly, especially by blogs and by the international tabloid press. The UK's Daily Mail headlined the "Massacre Gunman's Deadly Infatuation with Emily," while Australia's Daily Telegraph published a photo of a smiling Hilscher with the line "THIS is the face of the girl who may have sparked the worst school shooting in US history." (The page is still up.) Some accounts stooped to suggesting, with zero evidence, that the victim had jilted Cho, cheated on him, or led him on.

More significantly, local police and university administrators appear to have initially bought this motive, and acted accordingly. In the two hours between the murders of Hilscher and her dorm neighbor Ryan Clark, and Cho's mass killings at another university building, they chose not to cancel classes or lock down the campus. (They did choose to do so, however, in August 2006, when a man shot a security guard and a sheriff's deputy and escaped from a hospital two miles away.) Virginia Tech President Charles Steger said authorities believed the first shooting was a "domestic dispute" and thought the gunman had fled the campus, so "We had no reason to suspect any other incident was going to occur." The assumption, apparently, is that men who kill their cheating girlfriends are criminals, but they are not crazy, not psychopaths, and not a danger to anyone other than the woman in question. (Or, as one reader commented at Feministe sarcastically, "Like killing your girlfriend is no big deal.")

In fact, these attitudes ignore past evidence of both "domestic disputes" and a more generalized misogyny as motives in mass killings. Multiple murders in homes and workplaces often begin with a man killing his wife or girlfriend. Mark Barton, who in 1999 shot nine people in an Atlanta office building, began the day by bludgeoning to death his children and his wife; six years earlier he had been a suspect in the death of his first wife and her mother, who were also beaten to death. In another high-profile case, the December 1989 mass shooting at Montreal's Ecole Polytechnique, Marc Lepine was after women, whom he hated, and had a list of feminists he wanted to kill. He murdered four men and 14 women, and wounded 10 more women. In September 2006, Duane Roger Morrison walked into Platte Canyon High School in Bailey, Colo., and took six female students hostage, killing one. And last October, Charles Carl Roberts IV took over an Amish schoolhouse, let the boys go, and killed five girls.

One warning sign in such cases is a history of stalking and harassment of women. At Virginia Tech, in September 2005, poet Nikki Giovanni had Cho removed from her class at Virginia Tech after female students complained that he was using his cell phone to take pictures of their legs underneath the desks; some refused to come to class while Cho was there. In November and December of that year, two female students reported receiving threatening messages from Cho, and one said he was stalking her. But charges were never filed, and police and university officials didn't seem especially worried about the women. Yet, as Arlen Specter pointed out in comments on the VT shooting made during the Gonzalez hearings Thursday, Cho had been accused of a "crime against the state as well as against the students," and the local DA could have taken up the case.

According to the Stalking Resource Center, one million women are stalked in the U.S. every year. In two-thirds of the cases where a female victim asks for a police protective order, that order is violated. Earlier this month, Rebecca Griego, a researcher at the University of Washington, was murdered in her office by her ex-boyfriend after she had reported his threats to the university police and Seattle police, changed her phone number, moved out of her apartment, distributed photos and descriptions of her stalker, and sought an order for protection.

One third of female murder victims are killed by an intimate partner (as opposed to about 3 percent of male victims). Of these, 76 percent had been stalked by the partner in the year prior to their murder. Murder ranks second (after accidents) as the leading cause of death among young women. And if the Supreme Court and abortion opponents really want to protect the lives of fetuses, they might consider this: Murder is the number one cause of death of pregnant women in the United States.

At least there is some recognition of such statistics in legislation called the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, sponsored by Senators Kennedy and Gordon Smith. If passed (unlike earlier versions, which were blocked by House Republican leadership), this law would finally classify as hate crimes certain violent, criminal acts that are motivated by the victim's gender, gender identity, sexual orientation or disability.

"Whatever helped bring on the Virginia Tech shootings, it certainly wasn't guns." That's the point gun advocates are scrambling to make; if anything, they argue, the shootings prove that we need more gun access. And President Bush fell in behind them after visiting the memorial service at Virginia (a state that is historically Republican turf, lost in the last two years to a Democratic governor, Tim Kaine, and a Democratic senator, James Webb). Bush didn't get into the gun control issue, saying it wasn't the time or place, but an aide made his position clear to reporters afterward. And Senator John McCain, whose imploding campaign has been seeking to recast him as a Bush lookalike, offered, "We have to look at what happened here, but it doesn't change my views on the second amendment except to make sure that these kinds of weapons don't fall into the hands of bad people."

Having been committed to a mental health facility for being a danger to himself and others presented no obstacle for Cho Seung-Hui, who bought one gun at a Blacksburg pawnshop and another—a Glock 9—at a Roanoke gun store. Here's a bare-bones list of state gun rules.

- No limits on assault weapons
- State and federal criminal background checks
- No restrictions on concealed weapons-even snub nosed handguns
- Gun owners are held responsible for leaving weapons around children, but no safety lock requirements exist.
- Cities can't hold gun makers liable for gun violence.
- Can't give kids under 18 handguns or assault weapons, but kids can possess rifles and shotguns.
- Can't sell handguns to kids under 18, but any kid over 12 can buy shotguns, older rifles, and assault weapons, all without parental consent.
- You don't need a license to buy a handgun.
- There are no requirements that gun buyers register. The cops have no idea how many guns there are in the state.

Lax gun laws like these combined with precious little awareness of the role violence against women plays in psychopathic behavior have led to tragic results. Will they again?

James Ridgeway is the Washington Correspondent for Mother Jones.

A clear call for a "Day of Turning"

A clear call for a "Day of Turning"


Dear friends,

In the wake of Virginia Tech, death-a-day murder rates
in our major cities, and the Iraq war, America needs a
National Day of Turning ("tshuvah, repentance") away
from our addiction to violence and its tools.

For the past few years, The Shalom Center has worked
with the Tent of Abraham, Hagar, and Sarah and with a
number of diverse religious and "secular-spiritual"
organizations and communities to encourage shared
observances of the Sacred Season of Sacred Seasons.

This year the cluster of the 9/11 anniversary, Rosh
Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot, Ramadan, Worldwide
Communion Sunday, and the Feast Day of St. Francis of
Assisi falls in the period from September 11 to
October 12.
Perhaps this time of year is the best in which to
fashion a shared Day of Turning.

During the past week, I have of course wrestled with
the Virginia Tech massacre. As I was invited to take
part in a number of radio interviews about it (one
with Rev. Jim Forbes, whose nephew is a student at Va.
Tech) , I began seeing it in the context of a more
systemic disease: American addiction to violence,
expressed also through the Iraq war, the use of
torture by the US government as an act of public
policy, and the gunshot murders of one person a day on
the streets of my city of Philadelphia (and numbers
like that in other major cities).

This terrible event at Virginia Tech was like losing
an eye from some terrible illness. But my own
diagnosis is that we lost the eye because the WHOLE
American body is sick, and we are already losing other
limbs as well to the systemic illness of addiction to

So it is my own assessment that only by addressing the
whole disease can we save ourselves. It is wise for us
to mourn our lost eye, but if we do ONLY that instead
of addressing the disease as a whole, we are far more
likely to lose legs, arms, genitals, hearts, and
souls, as well. (Indeed, we already are.)

We need to be addressing as skilled spiritual
therapists and social activists the plague of violence
in our country.

We could begin imagining, planning, how to seed into
the American universe a day of widespread repentance
for our easy recourse --- I would say, addiction -- to
lethal violence. Guns, bombs, ecocide.

Perhaps we could choose one day in the forthcoming
Ramadan/ Tishrei/ Assisi etc time as a good time for
such a nation-wide self-assessment, a review of what
is corrupting our souls and a profound ritual of

Such a day could include some aspect of fasting,
prayer and meditation, relearning of our visceral
reactions to fear, sorrow, ambition -- and an
outpouring of firm and gentle action toward ending the
war and putting sensible controls on hand guns and
assault weapons.

The Shalom Center has already begun to explore this
with some major leaders in several religious
communities, and the proposal has won interest for
further discussion.

I welcome your thoughts about what it would mean to
put our heads and hearts together to sow the seeds of
such a day.

I invite anyone who is prepared to invest serious time
in working on this, to write me NOT at this return
address but at --

Shalom, salaam, peace -- Arthur

Rabbi Arthur Waskow, co-author, The Tent of Abraham;
director, The Shalom Center, which
voices a new prophetic agenda in Jewish,
multireligious, and American life. To receive the
weekly on-line Shalom Report, click on --