Capital punishment

Court Says A Potentially Innocent Man May Be Executed Because ‘Law Favors… Finality Of Judgment’


Finality of judgment. Sounds like something out of a dystopian novel, not America as we know it.


Barring extraordinary events, Richard Glossip will be executed on Wednesday, despite deep uncertainty about whether he is actually guilty of the crime that led to his murder conviction. Glossip was convinced largely on the testimony of Justin Sneed, who claimed that Glossip hired him to kill their boss. Since then, however, Sneed has bragged about setting up Glossip to save his own life. A recording also reveals Sneed bargaining with a detective to reduce his own sentence in return for implicating Glossip.

Though the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, the state’s highest court for criminal law matters, briefly stayed Glossip’s execution a little less than two weeks ago, a majority of the court held on Monday that Glossip’s execution may move forward. “We find that the law favors the legal principle of finality of judgement,” Judge David Lewis wrote in an opinion emphasizing several legal rules that erect barriers to people seeking post-conviction relief. In a separate concurring opinion, Judge Robert Hudson notes that a statement from another inmates revealing that Sneed bragged about framing Glossip is hearsay, and therefore has very limited value in court.

These are not frivolous arguments, at least for judges applying existing law. Once a criminal defendant is convicted of a crime, the law’s presumptions shift to make it very difficult to challenge that conviction.

Nevertheless, in a dissent, Presiding Judge Clancy Smith argued that her court should have treated this case differently. “While finality of judgment is important,” she wrote, “the State has no interest in executing an actually innocent man.”


Scalia’s perfect capital-punishment case falls apart

The lethal injection chamber of the South Dakota State Penitentiary in Sioux Falls on Oct. 9, 2012. Photo by Amber Hunt/APMaddow Blog


A little over two decades ago, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was dismissive of then-Justice Harry Blackmun’s concerns about the death penalty. In fact, Scalia had a case study in mind that demonstrated exactly why the system of capital punishment has value.
As regular readers may recall, Scalia specifically pointed to a convicted killer named Henry Lee McCollum as an obvious example of a man who deserved to be put to death. “For example, the case of an 11-year-old girl raped by four men and then killed by stuffing her panties down her throat,” Scalia wrote in a 1994 ruling. “How enviable a quiet death by lethal injection compared with that!”
For Scalia, McCollum was the perfect example – a murderer whose actions were so heinous that his crimes stood as a testament to the merit of capital punishment itself.
Yesterday, McCollum was pardoned. Scalia’s perfect example of a man who deserved to be killed by the state was innocent. North Carolina’s News & Observer reported:
Gov. Pat McCrory on Thursday pardoned two half-brothers who were exonerated of murder after spending three decades in prison.
The governor took nine months to make the decision, saying he thoroughly reviewed the pardons sought by Henry McCollum and Leon Brown. Both men are intellectually disabled.
If this story sounds at all familiar, it was last fall when a judge ordered the men released. The confessions appeared to have been coerced 30 years ago and new DNA evidence implicated another man whose possible involvement had been overlooked at the time.
As recently as 2010, the North Carolina Republican Party used a McCollum photo on campaign fliers to attack a Democratic candidate as “soft on crime.”
McCollum hadn’t done anything wrong.
The pardon is a welcome development, though the News & Observer added that the middle-aged men, after having spent most of their lives behind bars – and on death row – for a crime they didn’t commit, are struggling.
[T]he men have been living with their sister, who has struggled to pay rent and utilities on her home in Fayetteville. The Center for Death Penalty Litigation established a fund to help them survive.
Each man now qualifies for $50,000 for each year they were imprisoned, up to a maximum of $750,000. They needed a gubernatorial pardon in order to collect the compensation.
As best as I can tell, Scalia has not yet commented.
H/t: DB

Executing the Insane Is Against the Law of the Land. So Why Do We Keep Doing It?

Brian Stauffer

Mother Jones

Such “mindless vengeance,” the Supreme Court points out, “simply offends humanity.”

SIX YEARS BEFORE he shaved his head, donned camo fatigues, and fatally shot his in-laws in front of his estranged wife and daughter, Scott Panetti piled up furniture and valuables in his yard in Fredericksburg, Texas, and sprayed it all down with water to get rid of the devil he was sure had possessed the house.

It was hardly the first time he’d done something bizarre. Starting in his early 20s, Panetti had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, delusions, auditory hallucinations, and manic depression—he was hospitalized at least 14 times. Two years prior to the murders, he was involuntarily committed after swinging a cavalry sword at his wife and daughter. After he turned himself in for the 1992 killings, he blamed the crime on “Sarge,” one of several personalities he was convinced shared his body. The state charged him with capital murder.

The trial was a farce. Over even the prosecutor’s objections, Judge Stephen Ables let Panetti act as his own lawyer, and allowed him to continue representing himself after he went off his antipsychotic medication. The defendant showed up in court decked out in what a family friend described as a 1920s-era cowboy outfit: “He wore a large hat and a huge bandanna. He wore weird boots with stirrups—the pants were tucked in at the calf,” she later testified. “He looked like a clown.”

Standing before the jury, Panetti called himself “Sarge” and rambled incoherently for hours about everything from the TV show Quincy, M.E. to castrating a horse, with little interference from the judge—who did, however, intercede to question the relevance of belt buckles. In addition to his veterinarian, Panetti subpoenaed Jesus, John F. Kennedy, and the pope, and issued a stream-of-consciousness description of the crime:

Sarge is gone. No more Sarge. Sonja and Birdie. Birdie and Sonja. Joe, Amanda lying kitchen, here, there, blood. No, leave. Scott, remember exactly what Sarge did. Shot the lock. Walked in the kitchen. Sonja, where’s Birdie? Sonja here. Joe, bayonet, door, Amanda. Boom, boom, blood, blood.

Demons. Ha, ha, ha, ha, oh, Lord, oh, you.

It’s hard to blame the jury that sentenced Panetti to die. At the time, Texas had no option for life without parole, and some of the jurors stated they were scared he’d get out someday. But whether or not Texas executes a schizophrenic man isn’t simply about that man and his crimes. It’s about the moral ground on which America’s legal system rests.

Executing the insane,  Justice Marshall wrote, “has questionable retributive value, presents no example to others…and simply offends humanity.”

That’s essentially what the United States Supreme Court ruled in the 1986 case of Ford v. Wainwright. Citing centuries of English common-law precedent, the court pronounced that a civilized society cannot condone the execution of a person with so weak a grasp on reality that killing him, as Justice Thurgood Marshall concluded for the majority, “has questionable retributive value, presents no example to others, and thus has no deterrence value, and simply offends humanity…Whether the aim is to protect the condemned from fear and pain without comfort of understanding, or to protect the dignity of society itself from the barbarity of exacting mindless vengeance,” the Constitution forbids it as cruel and unusual punishment.

How is it, then, that Scott Panetti has spent nearly two decades on death row, even though the justices have since reaffirmed the ban on executing the insane—in aruling on his specific case? How is it that he came within eight hours of lethal injection this past December, only to be saved by a last-minute stay? And how is it that numerous seriously mentally ill people have been put to death in recent years, in defiance of the law of the land?

The short answer is that, despite its lofty rhetoric, the Supreme Court punted on how states should determine whether someone is sane enough to be killed. In fact, were it not for the persuasive powers of Marshall, who had handled capital cases as anNAACP lawyer, the court wouldn’t have even taken the Ford case—let alone cast five votes in the petitioner’s favor. But Marshall couldn’t convince the holdouts, including Justice William Rehnquist, who pointed out in his dissent that death row inmates were liable to simply fake mental illness. Giving them an opportunity for a preexecution sanity hearing, he wrote, “offers an invitation to those who have nothing to lose by accepting it to advance entirely spurious claims of insanity.”

In the end, the court offered little guidance on how to define insanity for legal purposes. Marshall had suggested that a prisoner too impaired to assist in his own defense could not be executed. But the legal test that most of the lower courts ultimately adopted was that of Justice Lewis Powell: The offender had to be “unaware of the punishment they’re about to suffer and why they are to suffer it.” That is “an extremely low standard,” explains Phillip Resnick, the director of forensic psychiatry at Case Western Reserve University’s medical school. “You can be quite psychotic and still know those two things.”

Further muddying the waters, the Supreme Court left the interpretation of its ruling to state court judges, who are often elected and who can share the public’s misconceptions about psychiatric illness—not understanding, for instance, that even highly delusional people can seem normal in certain settings. (Prosecutors in Panetti’s case recently exploited this misunderstanding by citing lucid snippets from a taped conversation with his visiting parents to argue that he is not insane, even though, in the same conversation, Panetti recalls grooming steers with former CIA agent Valerie Plame.)

“The law is still basing decisions on folk psychology,” notes Christopher Slobogin, a professor of law and psychiatry at Vanderbilt University. Some judges, he says, “worry that mental illness is this very wide-ranging concept that could apply to a huge percentage of the population depending on how it’s defined.”

The result of all of this ambiguity has been a steady stream of executions of profoundly mentally ill people, some of whom—like Nollie Lee Martin, a Florida man executed in 1992—were literally missing pieces of their brains. According to a studypublished in the Hastings Law Journal this past June, 18 of the 100 most recently executed convicts had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, PTSD, or bipolar disorder. Another 36 had other serious mental-health problems or chronic addictions that in some cases had rendered them psychotic.

FOLLOWING HIS CONVICTION, Panetti tried to waive his right to a lawyer for the appeal (a move akin to suicide), but Judge Ables ruled him too mentally incompetent to make that choice. After many more appeals, Ables set a 2004 execution date and ruled, without a hearing, that Panetti was sane enough to die. The case ultimately landed before the Supreme Court, where Texas Solicitor GeneralTed Cruz (now the state’s junior US senator) defended the state’s right to execute Panetti.

In 2007, the court ruled 5-4 that Judge Ables not only had unjustly denied Panetti a hearing on his mental state, but that the federal court reviewing the decision had applied an incompetency standard that was too restrictive. It wasn’t enough that Panetti knew the state was going to execute him for the murders of his in-laws, the court said. After all, it acknowledged, Panetti could regurgitate these facts. But he also sincerely believed that the state wanted to execute him to stop him from preaching the Gospel.

Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedyproclaimed, “A prisoner’s awareness of the State’s rationale for an execution is not the same as a rational understanding of it.” The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals had ignored the reality that “gross delusions stemming from a severe mental disorder may put that awareness in a context so far removed from reality that the punishment can serve no proper purpose.” The 5th Circuit was ordered to further investigate Panetti’s mental state based on this new “rational understanding” standard.

But the Supreme Court’s attempt to codify and expand upon the vague guidelines it set out in the Ford case has made little difference in practice. Judges often ignore the new guidelines, or rule in a way that simply reiterates Ford. Cornell law professor John Blume recently did some number crunching involving “Ford claims,” the last-ditch defense petitions arguing that a person is too insane to be executed. He found that the Panetti decision had little impact on the outcomes, especially in the states with the most active death chambers.

Florida, third in the nation in executions last year, has never found anybody too insane to execute. Nor have Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, or Utah. In Texas, themost prolific killer of convicts, the last time a prisoner prevailed on such a claim was back in 2006, a year before the Panetti decision—which so far hasn’t even saved Panetti himself.

So how do judges decide whether a prisoner is too delusional for a civilized society to execute? Often, it turns out, they rely on psychiatrists whose recommendations seem to have little basis in science—hired guns whose testimony can give pro-death-penalty jurists cover for rulings that otherwise would seem to contradict the dictates of the Supreme Court.

Following a conservative outcry, Scott Panetti’s execution was put on hold. Michael Stravatro/New York Times/Redux

Consider Dr. Alan Waldman, a forensic psychiatrist and neurologist whose testimony has helped send at least three mentally ill men to their demise, and whom Texas hired to evaluate Panetti in advance of a 2008 hearing on the prisoner’s fitness for execution. Waldman spent his early career working in various hospitals and clinics, including a stint with the Florida Department of Corrections. Today, he works in private practice and serves as an expert witness for both prosecutors and defense lawyers, holding himself out as an expert in the detection of malingering—feigning or exaggerating symptoms of illness—although he admitted during the Panetti hearing that he’d never published anything on the subject in a peer-reviewed journal. In fact, the only published work since 1993 listed in Waldman’s public resume is an article in a prosecutors’ newsletter.

When I reached out to Waldman, he directed his secretary to tell me that he would not talk to me under any circumstances and “don’t call back.” But he has a considerable public track record, having served on “competency commissions”—panels of psychiatrists convened to assess whether an inmate is too insane to execute—in three Florida death penalty cases. Like Panetti in Texas, each of these three prisoners had a long history of mental illness. But Waldman deemed all of them legally sane.

To evaluate Panetti’s sanity, Texas hired a psychiatrist who’d been arrested for threatening a teen with an AK-47 following a traffic incident.

One of them was Thomas Provenzano, an Orlando man who signed documents “Jesus Christ” and showed pictures of Jesus to his nephews and nieces. “That’s me,” he’d whisper. “A five-year-old kid could tell my brother had mental problems,” his sister, Catherine Forbes, told me.

In the mid-1970s, Provenzano checked himself into a mental hospital because he was hearing voices. He was eventually released, but his behavior grew increasingly bizarre, to the point where his sister begged the doctors to have him committed. (They demurred.) In 1983, he was arrested for disorderly conduct after screaming obscenities at pedestrians and leading police on a car chase. Following the arrest, he started dressing like Rambo and hanging out at the courthouse, obsessing over his legal file and the officers who’d apprehended him. In early 1984, he smuggled three guns into an Orlando courthouse, where he shot and killed one man and critically injured two other people before an officer shot him in the back. In the ambulance en route to the hospital, he yelled, “I am the son of God! You can’t kill me.”

In 1999, then-Gov. Jeb Bush signed Provenzano’s death warrant and appointed a competency panel that included Waldman. After evaluating Provenzano, Waldmanreported that he was malingering.

The prisoner’s sister was dumbstruck. She tearfully recounted to me how her brother had spent more than 15 years on death row sleeping under his cot with a box on his head because he was hearing voices. But the Florida Supreme Court sided with Waldman, and Provenzano was executed in June 2000.

About six months later, Waldman had his own run-in with the law. He allegedly cut in front of a teenage girl at a red light, and she believed he’d clipped the front of her purple Saturn. But rather than pull over, she said, he took off when the light changed. Incensed, she followed him home to try to get his insurance information. According to a police report, Waldman emerged from his front door carrying an AK-47. He pointed the gun through the car window. “He was so close I could feel him spitting at me,” she told me.

She drove away and called the cops, only to be told that Waldman had reported her first, saying he was scared for his life. After corroborating the gist of her account, they arrested Waldman instead. The young woman, who asked me not to use her name, decided not to press charges, but says she’s still traumatized by the episode.

In 2012, Florida executed John Ferguson, who had a long history of paranoid schizophrenia. His last words: “I am the Prince of God and I will rise again.”

In 2012, Florida Gov. Rick Scott appointed Waldman and two other psychiatrists to evaluate John Ferguson, a prisoner with a 40-year history of paranoid schizophrenia who had once received free legal helpfrom John Roberts Jr., now chief justice of the Supreme Court. Ferguson had killed eight people after he was released from a mental institution over the warnings of state doctors, including one who said he was homicidal and “should not be released under any circumstances.” After a 90-minute interview, Waldman and his colleagues concluded that Ferguson was legally sane. He was executed the following year. His last words: “I am the Prince of God and I will rise again.”

When Waldman evaluated Scott Panetti in 2007, the prisoner insisted on calling him “Dr. Grigson” after the late James Grigson, a.k.a. “Dr. Death”—the discredited Texas psychiatrist who inspired the Errol Morris film The Thin Blue Line. Grigson was known for testifying in capital trials, where he would almost invariably argue that the defendant was an incurable sociopath who would certainly kill again if allowed to live.

Waldman noted in his report that Panetti had answered most of the questions about his crime with Bible quotes and made-up stories, and had claimed JFK had once cleaned his burns. He’d talked like a cowboy, and said the other inmates hated him for his faith. (Prison staffers told Waldman the inmates didn’t like Panetti because “he screams and yells and is constantly disturbing the unit by preaching the Gospel.”) Panetti also told Waldman that “Sergeant Iron Horse” was his in-laws’ real killer.

Nevertheless, Waldman claimed that Panetti demonstrated “organized” thoughts and displayed no evidence of serious mental illness. Furthermore, the prisoner’s repeated references to Grigson proved that he was malingering. Waldman was unaware, he later admitted, that Grigson had in fact testified at Panetti’s trial, and that Panetti had been obsessed with him ever since.

For his efforts, Waldman charged the state at least $23,000. (The federal courts allotted Panetti a total of $9,000 to hire his own experts.) When Panetti’s lead lawyer cross-examined Waldman in federal court before Judge Sam Sparks, she demonstrated that Waldman was unfamiliar with key details of the case and hadn’t given Panetti a single test or standard psychological exam, even though such tests—including one to assess whether a patient is faking schizophrenia—are used regularly in the field. When the attorney asked about the AK-47 incident, Sparks cut her off. He found Panetti eligible for execution.

Last November, a state court judge in Indiana offered a glimpse of what a competency process conducted in the spirit of the law might look like.

Panetti’s lawyers appealed again. But the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers the busy death penalty states of Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, ruled that Panetti was sane enough to die, quoting Waldman at length—even though he was the only one of six experts to testify that Panetti wasn’t affected by any psychotic disorder. Last October, the Supreme Court declined to reconsider his case, and Texas moved to execute him on December 3. Only after a national uproar that drew in prominent conservatives—among them former Texas congressman Ron Paul, former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, and Maggie Gallagher, cofounder of the National Organization for Marriage—did the 5th Circuit hold up the execution.
SO WHAT MIGHT a competency process look like if it were conducted in the spirit of the law? This past November, Jane Woodward Miller, a state court judge in Indiana, gave the nation’s judiciary a glimpse.

The Indiana Supreme Court had appointed Miller to determine the mental competence of Michael Overstreet, a man convicted of abducting, raping, and murdering a college student. Overstreet had shown symptoms of psychosis at 17, had been in a mental hospital prior to the murder, and, once in prison, was repeatedly diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia by state doctors. By 2013, he had intractable hallucinations of “shadow people” and firmly believed he was already dead and in a coma. He thought his execution would free him from purgatory and bring him back to be with his family—and this was when he was on his meds.

To assess whether Overstreet was sane enough to execute under the Panettistandard, Miller held a hearing lasting four days (twice as long as Panetti’s). It involved 13 witnesses and nearly 1,300 pages of medical records. The state, which acknowledged that Overstreet suffered from severe mental illness, could rally but a single mental-health expert, a doctor with limited experience in forensic psychology.

“The idea that this convicted rapist murdering monster is too sick to be executed is nothing short of outrageous,” a local prosecutor complained.

Although the case itself was similar to Panetti’s, the outcome was entirely different. The judge personally watched hours of video of the doctors interviewing Overstreet. She also scrutinized their credentials and grilled them on their understanding of the Supreme Court’s Panetti decision. Her 137-page opinion determined that the state’s mental-health expert’s report wasn’t especially thorough or his conclusions especially credible. And while Overstreet knew the state wanted to execute him and why (the test Powell had suggested in Ford), that wasn’t enough to justify his execution under the Panetti standard. “This Court concludes Overstreet means exactly what he said: He is dead, in a coma,” she wrote. “And that is a delusion…Delusions or other psychotic symptoms cannot simply be discounted because a petitioner has a cognitive awareness of his circumstances.”

One of the local prosecutors went ballistic, texting to the Indianapolis Star, “the idea that this convicted rapist murdering monster is too sick to be executed is nothing short of outrageous and is an injustice to the victim, her mother, the jury, and the hundreds of people who worked to convict this animal.”

But in December, state Attorney General Greg Zoeller announced that Miller had done such a good job of adhering to the Panetti ruling that there was nothing to appeal. Overstreet will remain in prison for life, and cannot be executed unless he one day recovers his sanity, which isn’t likely.

As for Panetti, he remains on death row, growing increasingly paranoid and delusional, according to court filings, as he waits for a panel of federal judges to decide whether the Supreme Court case bearing his name might, in fact, apply to him.

Scalia Once Pushed Death Penalty For Now-Exonerated Inmate Henry Lee McCollum

Supreme Court Justices like Scalia, Roberts and Thomas can literally do whatever they want politically and judicially with impunity…

The Huffington Post

A North Carolina death row inmate exonerated by DNA evidence on Tuesday was once held up by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia as an example of someone who deserved to die.

When the court declined to review an unrelated death row case out of Texas in 1994, Justice Harry A. Blackmun issued a dissenting opinion arguing that capital punishment is cruel and unusual, and therefore unconstitutional.

Scalia answered back with an opinion of his own:

“For example, the case of an 11-year-old girl raped by four men and then killed by stuffing her panties down her throat,” Scalia wrote in Callins v. Collins. “How enviable a quiet death by lethal injection compared with that!”

He was referring to Henry Lee McCollum, who at the time had already been on death row for 12 years. McCollum’s conviction was overturned on Tuesday when DNA evidence implicated another man in the case.

McCollum had been on death row for almost 30 years.

Superior Court Judge Douglass Sasser also overturned the conviction against McCollum’s half-brother, Leon Brown, who has been serving a life sentence in connection with the case.

Blackmun later responded to Scalia, writing of the flaws in the case as well as McCollum’s mental capacity.

“That our system of capital punishment would single out Buddy McCollum to die for this brutal crime only confirms my conclusion that the death penalty experiment has failed,” he wrote. “Our system of capital punishment simply does not accurately and consistently determine which defendants most ‘deserve’ to die.”

Scalia has been a frequent and vocal supporter of the death penalty and even once suggested that an innocent man had never been put to death, at least in recent years.

“It should be noted at the outset that the dissent does not discuss a single case — not one — in which it is clear that a person was executed for a crime he did not commit,” Scalia wrote in the 2006 Kansas v. Marsh case. “If such an event had occurred in recent years, we would not have to hunt for it;  the innocent’s name would be shouted from the rooftops by the abolition lobby.”

Rick Perry On Clayton Lockett Execution: ‘I Don’t Know Whether It Was Inhumane Or Not’

I’m confused by Gov. Perry’s well publicized  “pro-life philosophy:  In the case of terminating a pregnancy, to him the loss of life is abominable.   Yet, the whole capital punishment debate is cut off before it begins.    Not to mention the cost to human lives in his state for refusing to accept (at no charge to the state) Medicaid Expansion.  

Right-wing Philosophy:  Life for some but not for thee?

The Huffington Post

Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) defended the use of capital punishment and lethal injections Sunday, after the disastrous execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma on Tuesday renewed a national debate on the practices.

Perry, whose state has put more prisoners to death than any other since 1976, acknowledged that Lockett’s execution was “botched” but stopped short of calling it “inhumane.”

“I don’t know whether it was inhumane or not, but it was botched,” Perry said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “There’s an appropriate way to deal with this and obviously something went terribly wrong.”

Lockett’s execution took more than 40 minutes after his lethal injection went awry. According to witnesses, he twitched and gasped and said “oh man” after officials deemed he was unconscious. Lockett was found guilty of shooting a 19-year-old woman and burying her alive in 1999.

Texas has executed more than 500 people since the Supreme Court affirmed the practice’s constitutionality in 1976. Perry himself has been a staunch defender of executions, and he’s closely linked with capital punishment in the public mind. During a 2011 Republican presidential primary debate, Perry was applauded for the amount of people Texas has put to death.

On Sunday, Perry said that Texas had “an appropriate process in place” and that the state’s procedures were “very different” from those in Oklahoma.

“In Texas, our citizens have decided that if you kill our children, or kill our police officers, for those very heinous crimes the appropriate punishment is the death penalty,” Perry said. “I think we have an appropriate process in place, from the standpoint of appeals, and the process of the actual execution is very different from Oklahoma. We only use one drug. I’m confident that the way that executions are taken care of in the state of Texas are appropriate and humane.”

In Colorado, Blacks Make Up 4 Percent Of The Population And 100 Percent Of Death Row

The reality is this:  The stats in the title of this article are not surprising to the African American community because:

–  54% of African Americans graduate from high school, compared to more than three quarters of white
and Asian students.

–  Nationally, African American male students in grades K-12 were nearly 2½ times as likely to be suspended from school in 2000 as white students.

–  In 2007, nearly 6.2 million young people were high school dropouts. Every student who does not complete high school costs our society an estimated $260,000 in lost earnings, taxes, and productivity.

–  On average, African American twelfth-grade students read at the same level as white eighth-grade students.

–  The twelfth-grade reading scores of African American males were significantly lower than those for men and women across every other racial and ethnic group.

–  Only 14% of African American eighth graders score at or above the proficient level. These results reveal that millions of young people cannot understand or evaluate text, provide relevant details, or support inferences about the written documents they read.

–  The majority of the 2.3 million people incarcerated in U.S. prisons and jails are people of color, people with mental health issues and drug addiction, people with low levels of educational attainment, and people with a history of unemployment or underemployment.


Think Progress

In March, Colorado came close to becoming the 19th state to abolish the death penalty, but the bill failed after Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) voiced opposition and suggested a possible veto. A few months later, Colorado’s death penalty is still firmly in place, and the state is poised to complete what would be only the second execution in 45 years (the last was in 1997). Few dispute that Nathan Dunlap committed a horrific crime and murdered several people at a Chuck E. Cheese. But judges, university professors, and other prominent state leaders are urging Gov. Hickenlooper to commute Dunlap’s sentence, both because crucial errors that defined his trial may have led him to get a harsher sentence than others, and because killing anyone under the perverted state system would be a miscarriage of justice. According to letters filed with Hickenlooper’s office:

  • All three people on death row are black men. In a state that is only 4.3% African American, Colorado’s death row is 100% African American.
  • All three men on death are from the same one county, out of Colorado’s 64.
  • All three men committed their crime when they were under the age of 21.
  • Two law professors who studied Colorado’s application of the death penalty concluded it was unconstitutional, after finding that prosecutors pursue the death penalty in less than one percent of the cases where it is an option, and that the state failed to set “clear statutory standards for distinguishing between the few who are executed and the many who commit murder.”

“It appears that race, geography and youth largely determines who gets the death penalty in Colorado,” wrote a group of NAACP leaders in a letter urging Gov. Hickenlooper to grant clemency. They note that not a single black juror served on the panel that sentenced Dunlap to death.

In addition to the injustices that define the Colorado system, a group of former Colorado judges also point out that Dunlap’s bipolar disorder and psychotic tendencies were not even mentioned at trial. In fact, according to their letter, Dunlap’s lawyer told the jury that there was no explanation for his violence.

The judges add that “no clear evidence exists that the death penalty deters violent crime. What it does in our current system, as in this case, is to drain our judicial system of millions of dollars as mandatory appeals drag on for decades.” Studies have shown that the death penalty does not lower the homicide rate. In fact, the murder rate is lower in states without the death penalty. Hickenlooper says he continues to wrestle with the death penalty, and whether to commute Dunlap’s sentence.

10 things you need to know today: May 10, 2013

The Week

Prosecutors consider seeking the death penalty for Cleveland abduction suspect, hackers loot $45 million from ATMs, and more

A global gang of cyber thieves stole $45 million from thousands of ATMs in a matter of hours, authorities in New York said Thursday. The thieves allegedly withdrew $2.4 million from 2,904 machines in New York City alone after hackers wiped out withdrawal limits on stolen prepaid debit cards. The details were revealed when federal prosecutors unsealed an indictment against eight members of a street crew that allegedly went around the city withdrawing cash and stuffing it into backpacks. [New York Times]


Cuyahoga County, Ohio, prosecutor Thomas McGinty said Thursday he might seek the death penalty against Ariel Castro, the Cleveland man accused of kidnapping three women, then raping and imprisoning them at his home for a decade. Castro, who’s being held on $8 million bail, could face hundreds of charges — even thousands. McGinty says he might file charges of aggravated murder, a capital offense, because the women say Castro beat them when they were pregnant to force them to have miscarriages. [CBS News]


The body of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who was killed in a shootout with police, has been buried following a lengthy search for a cemetery willing to take his remains. Worcester, Mass., police declined Thursday to disclose the location of the grave, although they said it was not in their city. “A courageous and compassionate individual came forward to provide the assistance to properly bury the deceased,” said Worcester Police Sergeant Kerry Hazelhurst. [Boston Globe]

State Department officials on Thursday ordered Defense Distributed, a Texas nonprofit, to take down online instructions on making its 3D-printed plastic gun, which can evade metal detectors. Government regulators argued that making plans for the pistol available worldwide amounted to illegal weapon exports. Defense Distributed complied — but not before the blueprint for the fully functional firearm, The Liberator, was downloaded more than 100,000 times. [New York Daily News]

Minnesota’s Democrat-led House of Representatives approved a bill legalizing gay marriage on Thursday. State senators plan a vote on Monday, and supporters of the proposal say they have the votes to pass it. If they succeed, Democratic Governor Mark Dayton has vowed to sign the bill into law. Minnesota would become the 12th state to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples, and the third state to do so this month, after Delaware and Rhode Island. [Reuters]

Rescuers pulled a woman alive from the rubble of a Bangladesh factory building on Friday, 17 days after the structure collapsed. The death toll has climbed to 1,038, and crews are still searching for more bodies. Hundreds of relatives remain camped out around the Rana Plaza complex, which housed four garment factories, awaiting word on workers still missing in the worst industrial accident since India’s 1984 Bhopal disaster. [Associated PressReuters]

Rescuers in Australia suspended a search on Friday for two Carnival Australia cruise ship passengers who fell overboard on the last night of a Pacific islands tour on Wednesday. Footage from security cameras reportedly shows the couple — Paul Rossington, 30, and Kristen Schroder, 27 — going over the side of the Carnival Spirit one after the other at 8:50 p.m., although they weren’t discovered missing until the ship docked in Sydney 12 hours later. [The Australian]

North Korea on Friday resumed its bellicose rhetoric after a brief lull, calling this week’s meeting between President Obama and his South Korean counterpart, Park Geun-hye,”a curtain-raiser to a dangerous war to invade” the North. Pyongyang called Park’s visit to Washington a “despicable sycophantic trip to please her master.” Obama and Park urged Pyongyang to join talks on dismantling its nuclear program, as a nuclear-powered U.S. carrier headed to South Korea for joint naval exercises. [Associated Press]

A 36-year-old British sailor was killed on Thursday when the high-tech catamaran he was on capsized in San Francisco Bay while he was practicing for this summer’s America’s Cup, sailing’s most prestigious trophy. Andrew “Bart” Simpson, an Olympic gold medalist who was serving as race strategist for the Swedish team, was trapped underwater for 10 minutes by the capsized yacht’s platform. One other sailor in the crew of about a dozen suffered minor injuries. [Associated Press]

Randy Jackson, the last original judge remaining on American Idol, says he’s leaving next season. The announcement comes following reports that Fox wants to replace all four judges on the reality singing competition TV show, which suffered a 25 percent ratings drop this season. Jackson, who helped launch the once-hot show on a panel with Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul, says he plans to focus on his record label, Dream Merchant 21, and other projects. “It is time to leave,” he said. [E Online]

James Holmes offers guilty plea to avoid death penalty


USA Today

Attorneys for Denver-area theater shooting suspect James Holmes have offered to have him plead guilty and be jailed for life to avoid the death penalty, KUSA-TV is reporting.

The prosecution has not yet responded to the offer, which came in a court filing Wednesday.

“Mr. Holmes is currently willing to resolve the case to bring the proceedings to a speedy and definite conclusion,” the filing reads.

The defense team said the case could end Monday if the Arapahoe County district attorney accepts the deal. Prosecutors planned to announce Monday whether they would seek the death penalty.

Holmes, 25, is charged with first-degree murder for the July 20 rampage that killed 12 moviegoers and wounded nearly 60 others at the premiere of the latest Batman film at a multiplex in Aurora.

On March 12, a judge entered a not guilty plea on Holmes’ behalf but said Holmes could enter a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity later.

Trial is set for Aug. 5.

KUSA, a Denver TV station owned by Gannett, USA TODAY’s parent company, notes that a similar plea deal was offered to Jared Loughner, the man charged in a Tuscon mass shooting. The federal government withdrew the death penalty after he pleaded guilty to killing six and wounding 13, including former U.S. congresswoman Gabby Giffords, in January 2011.

Loughner was sentenced to seven consecutive life terms and an additional 140 years.

Arizona authorities have just released crime reports from the case, which had been sealed by court order.

All In Favor Of Public Hangings, Say “Aye”

As usual Mario Piperni sees things more clearly and logically than the Republicans he draws in his illustrations.   He writes about their weird and sometimes crazy antics and depicts it perfectly with his drawings.

There’s no secret that I am a die-hard Piperni fan.  Here’s yet another example…

Mario Piperni

From the compassionate conservative wing of the Republican party, Rep. Larry Pittman of North Carolina  speaks out .

“We need to make the death penalty a real deterrent again by actually carrying it out. Every appeal that can be made should have to be made at one time, not in a serial manner,” Pittman wrote in the email. “If murderers (and I would include abortionists, rapists, and kidnappers, as well) are actually executed, it will at least have the deterrent effect upon them. For my money, we should go back to public hangings, which would be more of a deterrent to others, as well.”

How long before execution by guillotine for liberals and atheists is proposed by Republicans?

The surprise or concern is not that wingnut politicians say stuff like this. Republicans have been running on CRAZY for a while now. No, the real worry should be that enough Americans voted for this guy to get him elected.

Newt Gingrich Proposed the Death Penalty for Pot — Even Though He Admitted to Smoking It

English: Former Speaker of the House at CPAC in .

Image via Wikipedia

This is just one example of Newt Gingrich’s outrageous proposals.  This particular one is  from 1997…


Newt Gingrich proposed the death penalty for marijuana in 1997, and yet he is one of the 100 million Americans who have smoked marijuana.

Over the weekend, struggling Republican presidential candidate Gary Johnson reminded MSNBC viewers that GOP frontrunner Newt Gingrich had once to called to punish some drug offenders with death.

“Newt Gingrich, in 1997, proposed the death penalty for marijuana — for possession of marijuana above a certain quantity of marijuana,” Johnson explained. “And yet, he is among 100 million Americans who’ve smoked marijuana.”

“I would love to have a discussion with him on the fact that he smoked pot, and under the wrong set of circumstance he proposed the death penalty for, potentially, something that he had committed. I have troubles with that,” he added.

Johnson, a former New Mexico governor who has advocated for marijuana legalization since 1999, is at least partially correct about Gingrich’s position.

As Speaker of the House, Gingrich introduced the “Drug Importer Death Penalty Act of 1996.”

The bill would have required a “sentence of death for certain importations of significant quantities of controlled substances.” It would have applied to anyone convicted more than once of carrying 100 doses — or about two ounces  — or marijuana across the border. Defendants would have had a window of 18 months to file their one and only appeal.

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