News

Oklahoma Governor Commutes Death Sentence at Juror's and Parole Board's Request

Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry commuted the death sentence of Kevin Young to life in prison without parole on July 24. Henry stated, "This was a very difficult decision and one that I did not take lightly." He explained that, "after reviewing all of the evidence and hearing from both prosecutors and defense attorneys, I decided the Pardon and Parole Board made a proper recommendation to provide clemency and commute the death sentence." This is only the second time the Governor has granted clemency since taking office.

A week earlier Henry granted a 30-day stay of execution for Kevin Young who was scheduled to die on July 22. The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board recommended clemency for Young after hearing tape recorded statements from jurors stating that they hadn’t wanted to give Young the death sentence but didn’t receive clarification when they asked whether he would be eligible for parole if he was sentenced to life without parole. One juror explained, “We felt that the crime did not warrant the death penalty. We did not want this man on the street ever. Period. When we asked for clarification, we were told that we had all the information that we needed to make a decision. We’re not lawyers, and all we knew is what we saw on TV.”

While the jurors wanted to sentence Young to life without parole so he would not be let out of prison, the lack of information left them believing they had no choice but the death sentence. The same juror said he has frequently looked back on the decision and wished they had come to a different conclusion. When the opportunity arose to make a statement to the Pardon and Parole Board, he felt he had to speak out. “When the opportunity came up to try to right the wrong I took [it],” he said. The Board has only recommended clemency 4 times in the last 5 years. The governor stated he granted the stay because, “This is a life and death matter, and a deliberative review process cannot be completed by the scheduled execution date.” He added, “I take all clemency recommendations very seriously and I will do my best to render a fair and just decision.”
(M. McNutt, "Gov. commutes inmate's death sentence," Oklahoma News, July 24, 2008; see also J. Bisbee, "Clemency bid for Kevin Young brings 30-day execution stay---jurors requested clarification," Oklahoman, July 16, 2008).  See Life Without Parole and Clemency.


Read More 4,691 reads
Execution Stayed Because Jurors May Have Been Misinformed about Life Sentence

Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry granted a 30-day stay of execution for Kevin Young who was scheduled to die on July 22. The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board recommended clemency for Young a week earlier after hearing tape recorded statements from jurors stating that they hadn’t wanted to give Young the death sentence but didn’t receive clarification when they asked whether he would be eligible for parole if he was sentenced to life without parole. One juror explained, “We felt that the crime did not warrant the death penalty. We did not want this man on the street ever. Period. When we asked for clarification, we were told that we had all the information that we needed to make a decision. We’re not lawyers, and all we knew is what we saw on TV.”

While the jurors wanted to sentence Young to life without parole so he would not be let out of prison, the lack of information left them believing they had no choice but the death sentence. The same juror said he has frequently looked back on the decision and wished they had come to a different conclusion. When the opportunity arose to make a statement to the Pardon and Parole Board, he felt he had to speak out. “When the opportunity came up to try to right the wrong I took [it],” he said. The Board has only recommended clemency 4 times in the last 5 years and Governor Henry has only granted clemency once since taking office in 2003. He granted the stay because, “This is a life and death matter, and a deliberative review process cannot be completed by the scheduled execution date.” He added, “I take all clemency recommendations very seriously and I will do my best to render a fair and just decision.” The new tentative execution date for Young has been set for August 21.
(J. Bisbee, "Clemency bid for Kevin Young brings 30-day execution stay---jurors requested clarification," Oklahoman, July 16, 2008). See Life Without Parole and Clemency.

UPDATE: Governor commuted the execution on July 24, 2008.


 


Read More 3,598 reads
STUDIES: Ohio Prosecutors Increasingly Seeking Life Without Parole Instead of Death Penalty

According to a new study by the Associated Press, there has been a sharp drop in the use of the death penalty in Ohio as prosecutors are taking advantage of a new law allowing them to seek a sentence of life without parole without first pursuing the death penalty. The sentence of life without parole used to be only an option for jurors weighing an alternative to a death sentence. According to the AP, “Prosecutors around Ohio, citing the ability to pursue harsh punishment without going through the complication and expense of a death penalty case are starting to take advantage of the 2005 law,” and the “number of death penalty indictments sought statewide dropped 32 percent from 2004 to 2007 . . . .[T]he number of life without parole sentences rose by more than two-thirds in the three years since the law took effect compared with the three years before, when 45 inmates entered prison with the permanent life sentence."


Read More 3,866 reads
STUDIES: Ohio Prosecutors Increasingly Seeking Life Without Parole Instead of Death Penalty

According to a new study by the Associated Press, there has been a sharp drop in the use of the death penalty in Ohio as prosecutors are taking advantage of a new law allowing them to seek a sentence of life without parole without first pursuing the death penalty. The sentence of life without parole used to be only an option for jurors weighing an alternative to a death sentence. According to the AP, “Prosecutors around Ohio, citing the ability to pursue harsh punishment without going through the complication and expense of a death penalty case are starting to take advantage of the 2005 law,” and the “number of death penalty indictments sought statewide dropped 32 percent from 2004 to 2007 . . . .[T]he number of life without parole sentences rose by more than two-thirds in the three years since the law took effect compared with the three years before, when 45 inmates entered prison with the permanent life sentence."


Read More 3,191 reads
Ohio Prosecutors Seeking Life Without Parole Instead of Death Penalty

Ohio prosecutors are taking advantage  of their new option of life without parole, seeking it much more often than the death penalty.  The life sentence without the possibility of parole used to only be an option for jurors weighing an alternative to a death sentence.  “Prosecutors around Ohio, citing the ability to pursue harsh punishment without going through the complication and expense of a death penalty case are starting to take advantage of the 2005 law,” and the “number of death penalty indictments sought statewide dropped 32 percent from 2004 to 2007.”  Clermont County Prosecutor Don White explained, “Life without parole means it’s over.  The only way they’ll get out is in a pine box or if the governor lets them out.”  According to the Associated Press, “A death penalty trial can easily top $100,00 for a county as extra staff, investigators and psychological experts are hired by the defense and prosecutors…[and] can drain the annual budgets of smaller counties.”  North Carolina had recently added the option of life without parole to prosecutors and death sentences there have dropped from 14 in 2001 to 3 in 2007.  Wake County, North Carolina prosecutor Colon Willoughby explained, “Under the old law, I think prosecutors were sometimes forced to try cases capitally in order to be able to get a life sentence, knowing that there was very little chance a jury would render a sentence of death.”  He added that the new option allows for quick justice that saves money and still protects citizens.  Texas, the state that often executes more offenders than all other states combined, only recently put life without parole on its books.  But, it only permits it as an option in cases where the prosecutor seeks the death penalty.  The change in Ohio law was inspired by a murder victim’s mother’s advocacy for stiffer non-death sentence options.   

(A. Welsh-Huggins, “Ohio prosecutors using new life without parole option,” Akron Beacon Journal, June 22, 2008).

See Costs and Life Without Parole.


Read More 5,086 reads
Police Chief Given Life after Victim's Family Speaks Against Death Sentence

A former Pennsylvania police chief was sentenced to life without parole on June 20, 2008, for the murder of his 31-year old ex-wife after the victim's family spoke against a death sentence at the penalty hearing. The district attorney had planned to seek the death penalty against Richard Curran, just as he had for every murder case in the last 13 years. However, Bonnie Smith, the victim’s mother, testified at the penalty phase that her family wanted him to be given life in prison. “Smith made the request to the court after reading a prepared statement on behalf of the victim’s family and an emotional letter from Tina Curran’s 10-year-old daughter, Caitlyn.” After hearing the wishes of the victim’s family, the Northumberland County District Attorney Tony Rosini dropped his plan to seek the death penalty and requested that Curran receive life in prison. Rosini stated he believes justice was served in the case and the punishment was appropriate for the crime. Richard Curran expressed remorse for his actions and thanked the family for helping spare his life.

(M. Gilger, “Curran gets life; family wishes lead D.A. to abandon try for death sentence,” The News Item, June 21, 2008).  See Victims and Arbitrariness.


Read More 3,925 reads
NEW VOICES: Another Texas Death Penalty Official Has Second Thoughts

Larry Fitzgerald served as the official spokesman for Texas executions for eight years. He represented the state through 219 lethal injections. Retired in August 2003, Fitzgerald left with what he refers to as a, “PhD in prison life.” Due to his expertise with the Texas prison system, defense attorneys have been utilizing his testimony in death penalty cases to describe to the jury why the prison system offers a suitable alternative to a death sentence. He testifies about inmate life, educational opportunities in prison, and most of all, about how secure the prisons are. “People,” he said, “just don’t understand all of what goes on inside a prison.” “My testimony [is] to show the prison system works. No matter how bad this person is, the Texas prison system can handle him,” Fitzgerald explained. The former spokesman for Texas’ executions added that he has come to believe that Texas uses the death penalty “way too much.”
(S. Mills, “Voice of death testifies for life,” Chicago Tribune, June 12, 2008) (emphasis added). See New Voices. Other Texas execution officials who have expressed similar sentiments include the former warden of the prison where Texas executions take place, Jim Willet, and former death row chaplain Carroll Pickett.


Read More 2,923 reads
ARTICLES:The Story of a Death Row Inmate Who Wanted to Die

In 1996, Illinois Governor Jim Edgar commuted the death sentence of Guin Garcia to life without parole, even though Garcia herself had stopped fighting for her life. Garcia would have been the first woman executed in the U.S. in twelve years. She had been convicted of killing the man who had physically abused her, but she had dropped her appeals because she said she was done “begging for her life.” Chicago Sun-Times reporter Carol Marin followed Garcia's case after the commutation and recently wrote about the changes in Garcia's life. Marin told the story of Garcia's early life: her mother's suicide, sexual abuse by her uncle, becoming an alcoholic and prostitute by age 16. Last month, Garcia received an associate degreee in liberal studies from Lake Land College at a graduation ceremony at the Dwight Correctional Center. Fellow graduates at the ceremony pointed to Garcia, now 49, as the reason they earned their GED’s, professional certificates, and furthered their education. They called her “Granny” and said she demanded they straighten out their life as she led through example.

The complete article appears below:

A commuted sentence, and a life reborn

By CAROL MARIN | Sun-Times columnist | cmarin@suntimes.com

Ten days ago, I took a trip I wouldn't have predicted. This is a story about a
near-execution, a graduation and a decision by former Gov. Jim Edgar that has
delivered unexpected consequences.

It's a story about rising up and reaching down.

In January 1996, Guin Garcia, an inmate on Death Row at Dwight Correctional
Center in Downstate Illinois, was on the verge of execution.

Months earlier, Garcia, a 36-year-old convicted double murderer, had dropped
her court appeals, said she was done "begging for her life" and put the wheels
in motion for her death by lethal injection. It would mark the first execution
of a woman in the U.S. in two decades. It became an international story.

Garcia's biography wasn't pretty.

At age 2, she saw her mother jump out a window and die.

Her father split. She was reared by grandparents and an uncle. The uncle began
raping her when she was 7, giving her alcohol to calm her and shut her up.

Family members confirm the grandmother knew but did nothing.

By 16, she was an alcoholic and a prostitute. By 17, she was married and
pregnant.

Her baby, Sara, was not yet 1 when she suffocated her with a plastic dry
cleaning bag rather than face the prospect of DCFS taking Sara away to live
with the grandmother and the pedophile uncle.

She confessed, went to prison for 10 years, married one of her tricks, an
older man named George Garcia, who once, according to Supreme Court records,
genitally mutilated her with a broken bottle.

Drunk one night, she shot and killed George.

Her sorrow over Sara is something Guin Garcia lives with every day. She is not
sorry about George.

Fourteen hours before her scheduled execution in 1996, Gov. Edgar, who had
signed off on the executions of four men, suddenly stopped the wheels from
turning on this one. For a Republican who supported the death penalty, it was
not an easy decision. Edgar commuted her sentence to natural life.

Last week, I went back to the prison at Dwight. With a 3.95 "A" average,
Garcia was graduating magna cum laude from Lake Land College.

Dressed in caps and gowns, marching to "Pomp and Circumstance," 57 other women
received GEDs and certificates in computer technology, commercial cooking, dog
training and business management.

Friends and family filled the prison gym. Small children were in their Sunday
best, waving to their mothers. There aren't many happy days in prison, said
Warden Mary Sigler. This was one.

As one of the inmates rose to claim her diploma, a young man in a back row
proudly cried out, "That's my Mom!"

Garcia was last to be called up, the only one that day to accept a college
degree, an associate in liberal studies.

You might be asking, what's the point? Why waste tax dollars on a lifer?
There's an answer.

It's what Pulitzer Prize-winning author Anna Quindlen calls "Rising up,
reaching down."

Graduates I talked to that day, including one who is 28 and has been locked up
since she was 15, told me the reason she earned her GED last year and got a
certificate in professional dog grooming this year was that Garcia, whom
younger inmates call "Granny," demanded that she straighten up and fly right.

Garcia's quest for education helped motivate hers.

That young woman -- a slight, pretty African American -- will get out in two
years better prepared to go forward because Guin Garcia, in life's depths,
somehow found it in herself to rise up and reach down.

Today, Garcia is 49, with no illusions about getting out. And yet, thanks to a
decision by a pro-death penalty governor to spare one life, new life has been
given.

Rise up. Reach down.

It can happen anywhere.

(C. Marin, ”A commuted sentence, and a life reborn,” Chicago Sun-Times, June 8, 2008). See Life Without Parole and Clemency.


Read More 22,278 reads
Texas Jury Chooses Life Sentence In High Profile Case

In a potential death penalty case in Houston, Texas, a jury sentenced Juan Quintero to life without parole on May 20 for the murder of a police officer. One juror, Tiffany Moore, described her experience as very emotional, “I was torn up. I was crying. . . .I still feel we came to the right decision,” she said. “We could never bring Rodney back. I feel very sad for the family, losing a loved one.” Moore added that the sentencing phase was more difficult for the jury than the guilt-innocence decision, adding, “It was very tense…there was a lot of discussion.” Texas added the sentence of life without possibility of parole as an option for juries in September 2005. Over the past three years, the average annual number of death sentences was 13 (though life without parole may have only been an option in the more recent cases in which the crime was committed after the new law). The average number of death sentences in the prior decade was 34 per year.

(M. Tolson, "Quintero Sentence Baffling to Many," Houston Chronicle, www.chron.com, May 21, 2008).

See Sentencing. Death sentences have also been declining around the country, having dropped about 60% since 1999. The sentence of life without parole is available in 35 of the 36 states with the death penalty.


Read More 5,555 reads
NEW VOICES: Author of Arizona's Death Penalty Law Says Time is Ripe for a Re-Examination

Rudolph J. Gerber served as a prosecutor and as a judge on Arizona's Court of Appeals for 13 years.  Earlier in his career, then-state senator Sandra Day O'Connor asked Mr. Gerber to draft the statute that eventually became Arizona's death penalty law.  In a recent op-ed in the Sacramento Bee, he expressed his concerns about the practice of capital punishment and said that states should use the present period in which no executions are occurring as an opportunity to re-examine their commitment to the death penalty.  Excerpts from his article follow:

The [Supreme] court's ruling Wednesday on lethal injection will undoubtedly prompt some eager politicians to schedule executions in the immediate future. The disparity of opinions in that decision - seven differing opinions by the nine justices - suggests, however, that the topic of capital punishment remains such a hot-button issue that agreement on principle and method still escapes us. In particular, Justice John Paul Stevens' opinion ought to give pause to resuming executions: The conservative Republican (when appointed) now says after 33 years on the court, that our executions fail both constitutional and practical tests, and ought to end.
. . .
The halt in executions does demonstrate that the death penalty is not essential to our society. Many people are probably unaware, as its absence has no effect on people's daily lives, that the death penalty has been on hold since September.

The cases, however, are stacking up. At some point, executions may resume in greater numbers than we have been used to. This present period of quiet could be used to reflect on whether the death penalty is doing us any good.

Only 10 states had executions in 2007. The overwhelming number of executions carried out occurred in just one state - Texas. Are the residents of those states with no executions any less safe than the inhabitants of the few states in which executions occurred?

The death penalty without executions is just another term for life without parole. Based on opinion polls, that is already the punishment of choice for the public, and that is the typical punishment that all but a small percentage of people convicted of murder receive.
. . .
Some states have abandoned capital punishment; others may be moving in that direction. In December, the New Jersey legislature voted to end the death penalty; it had not carried out an execution for more than 40 years. It is estimated that capital punishment cost New Jersey $250 million since executions resumed in 1976. The savings can be used to help crime victims and on a host of crime prevention programs.

New York has also given up on capital punishment. It will save tens of millions of dollars that the state spent on the cost of prosecuting and defending capital cases.

North Carolina, Tennessee and California have initiated studies of their death penalty systems.

In other states, the death penalty remains on the books, gathering dust and absorbing millions of dollars, but is rarely carried out. The death penalty is overdue for examination as a public policy - its burdens and alleged benefits should be fairly weighed. For many years, we have only considered the death penalty in theory - whether it might be appropriate for the most horrible crime. But the death penalty in practice is what needs to be examined. The pause in executions presents an excellent opportunity to consider if we need to continue this practice any longer.

(R. Gerber, "Let's stop, reconsider: Should executions continue?", Sacramento Bee, April 21, 2008).  See Lethal Injection and New Voices.


Read More 3,094 reads

Pages