Pennsylvania Death Penalty News

Started by Jeff1857, December 04, 2007, 03:27:19 PM

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Jeff1857

Speaker backs alternate to Senate's approach on death penalty


Pennsylvania House Speaker Dennis O'Brien says murder defendants shouldn't be allowed to argue they are retarded, and therefore exempt from the death penalty, until after they're convicted.

O'Brien appeared at a Capitol news conference today with district attorneys and victim advocates.

He says he also supports having juries, rather than judges, determine if defendants are retarded.

The U.S. Supreme Court banned execution of mentally retarded defendants 5 years ago.

The justices left it to states to determine court procedures in such cases.

A bill passed the state Senate in October allowing defendants to have a judge determine if they're retarded prior to trial.
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I don't know if I really see a difference between prior to trial or after the trial to see if someone is "retarded". Anyway it's Pennsylvania, they don't execute anyone anyway. What do ya'll think would be the best way?

tramoore

I feel it should be done prior to a trial.  Trials cost a lot of money, which falls onto the tax payers to cover costs.    Also if it's pretty obvious that someone is mentally unstable, mentally handicapped, etc., then why waste the time of a trial, when there are perfectly "sane" people who deserve and need a trial. 

Jeff1857

#2
January 02, 2008, 03:04:06 PM Last Edit: May 24, 2008, 12:18:19 AM by Jeff1857
PHILADELPHIA | - Although New Jersey recently abolished the death penalty, no such move appears likely in Pennsylvania, where the state Supreme Court affirmed the sentence in several year-end rulings.

Prosecutors around the state say they are working to have the executions -- which remain rare -- carried out.

''I don't think the death penalty is going away in Pennsylvania,'' said Senior Deputy Attorney General Jonelle Eshbach.

Pennsylvania has 228 inmates on death row, the fourth-largest number in the country. But only three people have been executed since the death penalty was reinstated in 1978, and all three gave up their appeals.

The state's high court issued a flurry of rulings in recent days that affirmed four death sentences while ordering new hearings in two other cases, including that of George Banks of Luzerne County.

Banks, 65, was convicted of a 1982 shooting rampage that killed 13 people, including five of his own children. He has been on death row since 1983, but the state Supreme Court ordered a new hearing to determine if he is mentally competent to be put to death, in keeping with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

The court also ordered a new hearing for Willie Cooper of Philadelphia due to what it called ''egregious and bizarre'' remarks made by his trial lawyer. The lawyer, seemingly damning his own client, told jurors that the Biblical reference to the term ''an eye for an eye'' referred only to someone who had killed a pregnant woman. Cooper was accused of just that.

The state court rejected death penalty appeals in four other cases: Mikal Moore and Ricardo Natividad of Philadelphia, David Copenhefer of

Erie County and Edwin Rios Romero of Allentown, convicted of killing Allentown architect and landlord David Bolasky in 1995. However, each still has other appeals to pursue.

Death row appeals typically allege trial errors such as substandard work by defense lawyers.

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments this month on another key death penalty issue: whether lethal injection is a form of cruel and unusual punishment.

Also, a key decision in the celebrated case of death row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal could come early this year from the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Abu-Jamal, convicted of killing Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner in 1981, argues that his trial was tainted by racial bias and flawed jury instructions.

New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine last month signed a law abolishing the death penalty, making New Jersey the first state in more than four decades to reject capital punishment. The law replaces capital punishment with life in prison without parole.
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I won't be impressed with Pa until they execute someone that hasn't volunteered.

Jeff1857

In the nearly 26 years since his conviction for the murder of Officer Daniel Faulkner, the international tempest over Mumia Abu-Jamal has fixed primarily on this question: Did he do it, or was he framed by Philadelphia police?
Yet inside the chambers of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, Abu-Jamal's innocence or guilt is not the issue. Since May, three judges have been weighing whether to reinstate his death sentence, overturned in 2001. If they do, his last hope will be the U.S. Supreme Court, which hears fewer than 2 percent of all petitions filed each year.

The Third Circuit's decision, expected soon, will be based on knotty constitutional questions relating to the fairness of his 1982 trial in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court and subsequent state appeals:

Were the jury instructions confusing?

Was the trial judge biased in a later hearing?

In addressing the jury, did the prosecutor downplay the likelihood of a capital sentence's ever being carried out?

And - a key contention in Abu-Jamal's appeals - were African Americans purposely excluded from the jury?

He was convicted by 10 white and two black jurors on July 2, 1982. They sentenced him to death the next day.

The subject of racial discrimination in jury selection dominated the spirited oral argument in May between Abu-Jamal's legal team and the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office before the Third Circuit panel.

Defense lawyers contended that, particularly through the mid-1980s, Philadelphia prosecutors routinely excluded black jurors, long viewed as less likely than whites to convict. Prosecutors countered that Joseph McGill, the assistant district attorney who tried the case, had no such bias.

A third black juror had been impaneled, but was replaced by a white juror after she left the hotel where the jury was sequestered. While discussing her, according to the trial transcript, McGill told Common Pleas Court Judge Albert Sabo, "I wanted to get as much black representation as I could that I felt was in some way fair-minded."

Until 1986, proving racial discrimination in jury selection was almost impossible. But in Batson v. Kentucky, the U.S. Supreme Court said that if a defendant could show the likelihood that black jurors had been excluded for race, prosecutors could be questioned about their reasons. If the prosecution failed to offer race-neutral reasons, the remedy should be a new trial.

State and federal judges have awarded new trials on that basis to 10 convicted murderers from Philadelphia. Abu-Jamal is one of more than a dozen others hoping for the same outcome.

Death-row inmate Donald Hardcastle, for example, was awarded a new trial - three times - by state and federal courts. A panel of 11 white jurors and one African American had condemned him in 1982 on charges that he hacked to death a couple in their North Philadelphia home. His case is now before the Third Circuit, where the District Attorney's Office is continuing its opposition to relief for Hardcastle.

Batson "was an important decision symbolically as well as practically," said JoAnne Epps, a Temple University law professor and former assistant U.S. attorney. Prosecutors' "sensitivities are much more finely attuned these days."

The same year as the Batson ruling, Abu-Jamal's attorneys brought up discrimination in jury selection during an appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The court, which already had upheld the conviction, rejected their claim.

In its argument to the Third Circuit, the District Attorney's Office said that Abu-Jamal should have challenged the jury selection at the time of his trial, and that because of the passage of time he was not entitled to even a hearing on the matter.

If the Third Circuit orders a hearing, it will be a victory for Abu-Jamal, possibly adding years to his appeals.

His future is in the hands of the chief judge of the federal appeals court, Anthony J. Scirica, appointed in 1987 by President Ronald Reagan, Robert E. Cowen, also appointed in 1987 by Reagan and Thomas L. Ambro, a 1999 Clinton appointee.

In previous murder cases from Philadelphia courts, each has voted to grant relief to defendants who argued that black jurors had been excluded because of race.

During his appeal, Abu-Jamal remains one of 228 inmates on Pennsylvania's death row, the nation's fourth-largest, behind California, Florida and Texas. The last person executed in the state was Gary Heidnik, a convicted murderer from Philadelphia who gave up his appeals and died by lethal injection in 1999.

A former radio journalist, Abu-Jamal was working as a cab driver in Center City early on Dec. 9, 1981. At his trial, the prosecution contended that Faulkner had just pulled over a car driven by Abu-Jamal's brother when Abu-Jamal ran toward them from a parking lot across the street and shot the officer. Faulkner, in turn, shot Abu-Jamal.

The defense said another man in the car had killed Faulkner and fled.

Since the trial, Abu-Jamal has generated one appeal after another in state and federal courts. He still has a petition pending in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, but in his three previous forays there, he lost.

The decision under review by the Third Circuit was made in 2001 by U.S. District Judge William H. Yohn Jr., who upheld Abu-Jamal's conviction but overturned his death sentence. Although he rejected 28 of 29 defense arguments, Yohn said a new sentencing hearing was necessary because the jury might have mistakenly believed it had to agree unanimously on "mitigating" circumstances.

If the Third Circuit decides in Abu-Jamal's favor and does not reinstate his death sentence, he could get a chance to persuade a new jury to give him a life term, and perhaps a hearing on whether black jurors were intentionally excluded.

He also could be awarded a new trial, though most do not expect that. Any ruling in Abu-Jamal's favor would likely prompt the District Attorney's Office to ask the Supreme Court to intervene.

Whatever the judges' conclusion, the international network of Abu-Jamal supporters is planning to turn out en masse when it is announced, to celebrate or to protest. Rallies are slated for Philadelphia, New York and San Francisco for the day after the pivotal ruling.

Maureen Faulkner, the slain policeman's widow, said she, too, was feeling the anticipation. "Waiting for the phone to ring can be a very stressful thing," she said Friday.

"The fact that we're still waiting for a decision indicates that it's not an easy case," said former Third Circuit Judge John J. Gibbons, a lawyer in North Jersey who became an opponent of capital punishment after he left the court and worked to abolish the death penalty in New Jersey.

Former Third Circuit Judge Arlin M. Adams called eight months "a little on the long side" to wait for a ruling. But no doubt, he added, the judges are being cautious, especially since the U.S. Supreme Court could review whatever they do.

"This case has gotten a lot of attention - internationally and nationally," said Adams, a lawyer in Center City. "They want to get it right."


Jeff1857

#4
May 23, 2008, 09:15:04 PM Last Edit: May 24, 2008, 12:20:17 AM by Jeff1857
Death penalty law change sought for killers of elderly


State legislators said today they are backing an amendment to Pennsylvania judicial procedure that would make the first-degree murder of a person over 60 years old or of the infirm an aggravating circumstance allowing juries to consider the possibility of the death penalty upon a guilty verdict.

The proposal -- House Bill 2464 -- was proposed by state Rep. Matt Smith, D-Mt. Lebanon, in response to the June 4, 2003, beating and stabbing murder of Jean Heck, 78, in her Upper St. Clair home by her landscaper. Her killer, Patrick James Stollar, 29, was sentenced to death by the jury on Feb. 22 because there was an aggravating circumstance -- the killing was committed during the commission of a felony, the home-invasion robbery and burglary.

Despite that outcome, the prosecutor in the case, Allegheny County Deputy District Attorney Mark Tranquilli, said the bill would close a loophole of age-based protection that currently applies only to the very young -- the murder of anyone under 12 is an aggravating circumstance, but not killing an elderly person. And, it would give prosecutors statewide one more tool in such cases, he said at a news conference today in Mt. Lebanon, called by Rep. Smith to discuss the legislation.
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I really like this bill. I think Alabama is trying to do something similar as well. The only problem with Pennsylvania is they don't execute anyone. It's too bad Mumia is not up first.


Jeff1857

Pa. court OKs forced drugging of death row inmates


The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Tuesday said the state may force 2 death row inmates to take anti-psychotic medication in order to render them mentally competent to proceed with their cases.

The high court, by a 4-2 decision, overturned rulings by the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas in 2 similar cases.

Thavirak Sam was convicted of killing his mother-in-law, brother-in-law and 2-year-old niece in 1989. Herbert Watson was convicted of the 1982 shooting death of his estranged girlfriend. Both were sentenced to death but later found incompetent to participate in appeals filed on their behalf.

"The jury's lawful verdict here was death," the majority opinion in Sam's case written by Chief Justice Ronald Castille said. "... That judgment and sentence have not been executed, nor can they be executed so long as (a post-conviction appeal), which appellee never authorized, sits in stasis in perpetuity ... as a roadblock to the execution of a lawful judgment."

In both cases, the court instructed lower courts "to order that appellee be administered, involuntarily if necessary, anti-psychotic medication to render him competent." If the treatment succeeds, courts must find out whether the inmate wants to proceed with appeals, and if so, whether he can help his attorney in doing so, the high court said.

The majority opinion was joined by justices Thomas G. Saylor, J. Michael Eakin and Seamus P. McCaffery. Justices Max Baer and Debra Todd dissented.

Baer said "the governmental interest in carrying out the sentences of death fails to outweigh the violation of Sam's and Watson's liberty interests in not having psychiatric medication forced upon them."

The majority opinion said medicating the inmate so that he could decide whether to pursue post-conviction appeals was in his own interest. Baer, however, said the defendant "has as much of an interest in avoiding an unwanted and forced drugging as he has in pursuing collateral relief."

Watson's attorney, Samuel C. Stretton, said he was "very disappointed" by the decision and was inclined to pursue an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, although he planned to do more research before deciding to do so.

"I'm worried about this decision," he said. "I think it sets a very bad precedent."

The justices relied on a 2003 U.S. Supreme Court ruling limiting when mentally ill criminal defendants can be forcibly medicated to make them well enough for legal proceedings. Stretton said the Pennsylvania ruling pushed the federal high court's reasoning "to the outer limits."

Stretton said that even though his client had repeatedly said he wanted to be executed, medical expert witnesses had found him incompetent. A prosecution expert said treatment could help, but the judge sided with two defense experts who said he would not get better with treatment, Stretton said.

"It's a very serious issue involving life or death, and courts overruling lower courts ... and now ordering forced medication for the purpose of potentially executing someone," Stretton said. "It's very worrisome to me."

Sam's attorney, Jules Epstein, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

(source: Associated Press)


kanga


PENNSYLVANIA----re: foreign national and death sentence

Death penalty upheld for Mexican citizen in Blair County case


The Mexican government cannot appeal a death penalty case on behalf of a Mexican citizen who killed 3 men at a social club in Blair County, the state Supreme Court ruled.

The state's highest court quashed a motion filed by Mexico, ruling it did not have the standing to intervene on behalf of Miguel Padilla, 27, who was convicted of killing 3 men near Altoona in August 2005 after his friend wasn't allowed into a social club.

The court did allow his other appeals to continue. Padilla, who had been in the United States illegally since he was a boy, was convicted of killing club owner Alfred Mignogna, 61; doorman Fredrick Rickabaugh Sr., 59; and patron Stephen M. Heiss, 28.

(source: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)


63Wildcat

Ya know... if we keep vaccinating these guys that are coming across the border and murdering our citizens maybe they'll get the idea that they just might want to become citizens instead of illegals and lead a law abiding life.. but I kinda doubt that any of that statement will ever happen...
"..the death of any public servant or innocent is a tragedy... the death of a murderer is a mere statistic..."  -63Wildcat

AS OF TOMORROW I'M TURNING GRAVITY OFF...

Michael

I ask myself what Mexiko expects from these guys? Why save their asses? Do they think theyīll be productive members of the mexican societey? Or should the u.s. taxpayer spend the cell until they die? I donīt see the target of the mexican strategy IF itīs a serious one. Maybe itīs just politics and the mexican gouvernant acts just that the mexican media canīt blame them.

Thereīs no doubt on this guys guilt, so act in his favour?

Best

Michael
Iīm not sure if thereīs a hell, but I believe in executed murderers.

Aussie4DR


I ask myself what Mexiko expects from these guys? Why save their asses? Do they think theyīll be productive members of the mexican societey? Or should the u.s. taxpayer spend the cell until they die? I donīt see the target of the mexican strategy IF itīs a serious one. Maybe itīs just politics and the mexican gouvernant acts just that the mexican media canīt blame them.

Thereīs no doubt on this guys guilt, so act in his favour?

Best

Michael


Precisely Michael.
All about the politics and the Mexican governments pride.
But yeah... Why on earth would they want him back?  ???
Thanks for your time
And you can thank me for mine
And after that's said
Forget it.

Michael

Maybe animal experiments are forbidden in Mexico...  ;D

Michael
Iīm not sure if thereīs a hell, but I believe in executed murderers.

Heidi Salazar

#11
January 27, 2009, 04:06:51 PM Last Edit: January 27, 2009, 04:11:19 PM by Heidi
Partial article

http://www.law.com/jsp/article.jsp?id=1202427767804


Pa. Justices: OK to Execute 'Mentally Deficient' People


Leo Strupczewski
The Legal Intelligencer
January 27, 2009

 

In a decision that may prove to be a lightning rod in the debate over Pennsylvania's use of the death penalty, the state Supreme Court has ruled that any criminal defendant with mental impairments, short of being legally defined as "mentally retarded," can be executed for capital offenses.

A dissenting justice accused the majority of being "draconian" and warned the ruling might lead to putting mentally retarded people to death.

The justices in the 5-2 decision in Commonwealth v. Vandivner ruled that those seeking waiver of the death penalty must show records noting a defendant's mental illness began before his or her 18th birthday -- a decision Justice Max Baer labeled as problematic for certain defendants.

"To say this is troubling is an understatement," Baer wrote in his concurring and dissenting opinion. "Many defendants, such as appellant, were not afforded the specialized expert attention, IQ tests, or adaptive assessments memorialized in school records, required by the majority to corroborate their claim of mental retardation."

Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille said that the U.S. Supreme Court's 2002 decision in Atkins v. Virginia allowed states to define "mental retardation" and that his ruling merely followed the definition set forth by the state Supreme Court in 2005 in Commonwealth v. Miller.

The Miller ruling, he wrote, requires a defendant to prove three things -- that his or her IQ is roughly at or below 70, that he or she has limited adaptive behavior skills and that he or she has had such problems since before his or her 18th birthday.

In James W. Vandivners case, the debate centered on whether Vandivner was diagnosed as mentally retarded before his 18th birthday.


Here is the link to the courts opinion

http://www.pacourts.us/OpPosting/Supreme/out/J-114-2007mo.pdf

Moh

Why hasn't Pennsylvania had any non-volunteer executions? The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has frequently upheld death sentences. The US Third Circuit has allowed non-volunteer executions to go ahead in neighboring Delaware. Since Governor Casey left office, Pennsylvania's governors haven't hesitated to sign death warrants. I just don't understand where the hold-up is.

63Wildcat


Why hasn't Pennsylvania had any non-volunteer executions? The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has frequently upheld death sentences. The US Third Circuit has allowed non-volunteer executions to go ahead in neighboring Delaware. Since Governor Casey left office, Pennsylvania's governors haven't hesitated to sign death warrants. I just don't understand where the hold-up is.


Cause they let JT and me in there to talk to em. That's why they're volunteering. We just haven't gotten to talk with the others yet.... ;)
"..the death of any public servant or innocent is a tragedy... the death of a murderer is a mere statistic..."  -63Wildcat

AS OF TOMORROW I'M TURNING GRAVITY OFF...

Moh

Why hasn't Pennsylvania had any non-volunteer executions? The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has frequently upheld death sentences. The US Third Circuit has allowed non-volunteer executions to go ahead in neighboring Delaware. Since Governor Casey left office, Pennsylvania's governors haven't hesitated to sign death warrants. I just don't understand where the hold-up is.

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