Utah Death Penalty News

Started by Jeff1857, May 10, 2008, 04:36:00 PM

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May 10, 2008, 04:36:00 PM Last Edit: May 24, 2008, 01:01:19 AM by Jeff1857
Opponents of proposed constitutional amendments designed to streamline death penalty appeals said Thursday that the measures are too broad and would upset the balance of powers among the three branches of government.
    The proposal could allow the Utah Legislature to eliminate the authority of judges to consider claims, after a certain time, that an inmate is innocent, Salt Lake City attorney Alan Sullivan told the Constitutional Revision Commission.
    "It's important for courts to correct their mistakes," he said.
    The proposal by the Utah Attorney General's Office to modify the state constitution would allow the Legislature to set limits on post-conviction relief petitions, a type of appeal.
    A two-thirds vote by state lawmakers is required to put the measure on the 2010 ballot.
    The Constitutional Revision Commission serves as an advisory body to the Legislature.
    The changes would apply to post-conviction appeals in all criminal cases, but are aimed particularly at death penalty cases.
    Lawyers from the appeals division of the Utah attorney general's office, which proposed the revisions, argue that they strike a balance between providing inmates with a "generous" opportunity to correct serious constitutional errors in their convictions and giving crime victims finality and closure.
    "We have the death penalty on the books, but no death penalty," Fred Voros said, adding that inmates delay executions for years with appeals.
    Thomas Brunker, an assistant attorney general, disputed that any legitimate claims of innocence would be blocked.
    He pointed out that there is a state law that allows convicted criminals to request DNA testing of old evidence that might exonerate them.
    The commission scheduled a July meeting for further discussion of the proposal.
It's the case in many of the Western states with never ending appeals or so it seems. I know the Cali Chief Supremes Justice wants changes made there as well. I hope they can pass some of these amendments to streamline some of these long drawn out appeals.


State Rep. Carl Wimmer, who sponsored Jessica's Law legislation in Utah, wants to make the worst sex crimes against children punishable by death.
    The U.S. Supreme Court is considering the issue in the appeal of Patrick Kennedy, 43, on Louisiana's death row for the 2003 rape of his 8-year-old stepdaughter.
    Kennedy is the only person on death row for a rape that didn't result in murder, and argues it's unconstitutional for him to receive the death penalty.
    The high court banned capital punishment for rape of adult victims in 1977. Five states - Louisiana, Montana, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Georgia - still allow for the death penalty if the rape victim is younger
than 12.

It was Christmas Eve of 2005 when the 6-year-old worked up the courage to tell her mom she had been repeatedly raped by her mother's boyfriend.
    James "Jim" Scott - a 39-year-old man her mother had met on the Internet and allowed to move into the family's home - told the child he'd "go to the electric chair" if she told anyone how he had conditioned her to perform the worst of sexual activities with him, said the girl's grandmother. "He told her he loved her and he loved her body," the grandmother said. "You feel so angry, and you just want to go and do away with him."
    Scott is serving three consecutive 10-to-life terms in prison - not nearly enough, say his victim's relatives.
    As of May 5, committing rape, sodomy or object rape on Utah children is punishable by a minimum sentence of 25 years. The 34th state to pass so-called Jessica's Law legislation, Utah is the only state with minimum sentences for offenders who plead guilty to a lesser attempted charge.
    State Rep. Carl Wimmer, who sponsored Jessica's Law, says he'll try to go one step further next session by pushing to make the same crimes punishable by death if the U.S. Supreme Court rules the practice constitutional in a pending Louisiana case.
    Two years ago, child rapists in Utah faced a "pathetic" sentence of three years to life in prison, said Wimmer, R-Herriman. While the politically popular Jessica's Law will apply to a small fraction of crimes against children prosecuted in Utah, it is aimed at the most egregious.
    Its passage marked a policy shift: The state tried mandatory terms for child sex crimes from 1983 to 1996 before returning sentencing discretion to judges and the state's five-member parole board, who ultimately decide the length of an offender's punishment.
    Wimmer won over opponents through a provision that makes sentences for attempted rape, object rape or sodomy of a child punishable by 15 years to life with judges allowed to lower the amount in certain circumstances. Other states have been criticized for letting offenders plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge carrying little jail time.
    An automatic 25 years to life in prison in other states meant an offender had little to lose by going to trial, said Paul Boyden, director of the Statewide Association of Prosecutors. The traumatic experience of reliving a rape in court was enough to make some victims balk at moving forward with a case.
    "You have to have options for plea negotiations, whether you like it or not," Boyden said.
    Victims also welcome flexibility in pleading down, particularly because sexual abuse in the vast majority of cases is by a family member or close friend, said Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings.
    "I think it's surprising, more often than people would think, that people want leniency for the perpetrator," Rawlings said.
    Fred Metos, a Salt Lake City criminal defense attorney and former member of the Utah Sentencing Commission, is among those favoring leaving sentencing decisions up to judges and the parole board.
    "[It] gives prisoners some incentive to participate in therapy, to not behave badly in prison, knowing they can earn their way out on parole through good behavior and rehabilitation," he said.
    The new law may also be pricey for the Utah Department of Corrections, forced to house an inmate convicted under Jessica's Law for at least 25 years even if the person has been treated and rehabilitated, Metos said.
    Utah Department of Corrections Director Tom Patterson said it's difficult to predict the final impact of the law for the state's prison system. It costs about $25,000 per year to incarcerate an inmate, so serving 25 years instead of 15 for child rape offenses could be spendy for Corrections later.
    Patterson said he's optimistic the Legislature will appropriately finance the prisons if Corrections starts feeling a pinch down the road because of Jessica's Law offenders.
    Young victims may grapple with the effects of sexual abuse for a lifetime, said Doug Goldsmith, executive director of The Children's Center in Salt Lake City. The center provides mental health care services to about 1,500 children each year, many of whom are victims of sexual abuse, he said.
    Many children struggle with guilt. "Maybe because I didn't say no, that's why I got abused," Goldsmith said.
    Children often worry their abuser will come back for them after leaving jail because offenders threatened to "get them" if they reported their abuse, Goldsmith said.
    "Some feel better knowing their abusers are in jail. But there's also worry about 'What happens when he gets out? Am I going to be in trouble?' " Goldsmith said.
    The family of the 6-year-old victimized by Scott says the girl still suffers. She tested positive for chlamydia and deals with ongoing health issues, her grandmother said.
    While the girl just finished fourth grade and did well in school, her grandmother worries that there's an emotional toll yet to come. Even so, the young victim told her grandmother she'll be ready when Scott goes before the parole board.
    "She said, 'I'm going to be there to tell what he did to me,' " the girl's grandmother said.

    Utah is the 34th state to pass so-called Jessica's Law legislation, and is the only state with minimum sentences for offenders who plead guilty to a lesser attempted charge.
    25 years
    As of May 5, committing rape, sodomy or object rape on Utah children is punishable by a minimum sentence of 25 years.
    It costs about $25,000 per year to incarcerate an inmate, so serving 25 years instead of 15 for child rape offenses could be spendy for Corrections later.

Granny B

"The new law may also be pricey for the Utah Department of Corrections, forced to house an inmate convicted under Jessica's Law for at least 25 years even if the person has been treated and rehabilitated, Metos said."

Child sexual predators rehabilitated!?!?!?  Who the hell are they trying to kid on this one.  They may pretend it does, but it Doesn't happen! :D
" Closure? Closure is a misused word in the English language.  There is no such thing as closure for the family of a murder victim.  There will never be any closure for the death of our loved ones until we are dead ourselves.  The families have a lifetime sentence of anguish and sadness." 
Susan Levy


     An attorney for condemned killer Ron Lafferty, claiming there is too much secrecy shrouding executions in Utah, won a partial victory Thursday in his quest for a long list of facts on how the ultimate penalty is carried out.
    The state Records Committee ruled that the Department of Corrections should turn over a range of documents, from the process for selecting execution "team" members to any written reviews and performance of the team following an execution.
    The committee voted 3-2 to make those documents public, after portions identifying execution participants or giving away security secrets were blacked out. At the same time, the panel rejected attorney Ken Murray's request for other records, including handbooks, training manuals and the personnel files and employment files of execution team members.
    The split decision may well be appealed to 3rd District Court "because of the extreme seriousness of the issue," assistant Attorney General Sharel Reber said after the hearing.
    The state argued the documents requested were exempt from open-records laws and outside the jurisdiction of the committee because of security risks associated with their release.
    Lives are at stake, argued Tom Patterson, Corrections executive director. "Certainly a death row inmate has nothing to lose, so we have to plan for the worst," he said.
    "Some of them have said they will take out an officer before they go down," said Reber, adding that before a scheduled execution, inmates call officers "murderers."
    Any identifying leak of an execution participant's identity, she said, would mean "a death warrant."
    Murray, an assistant federal public defender representing Lafferty, said he had no interest in compromising prison security, but said there is an overriding societal concern in being able to scrutinize the state's execution process and procedures.
    "Government has to be held accountable for the decisions it makes," he said in an interview after the hearing. "If they're doing it right then there's nothing to hide."
    But, said Murray, "there have been problems across the country, especially with lethal injections. . . . We want to make sure if this is done, it is done in a manner that is humane and consistent with our societal standards."
    In a general summary of Utah's execution procedures prepared for the governor and released to Murray, the attorney found a serious discrepancy with standard procedures for lethal injections. Instead of a muscle-relaxing drug being administered prior to a deadly dose of heart-stopping potassium chloride, the document indicates it is given after the lethal chemical.
    Tom Anderson, a Corrections official who helped prepare the document, said it was a simple clerical error, and assured that the drugs are administered in proper order.
    But he also acknowledged that changes to the procedure may have been made subsequent to those detailed in the document.
    "We still don't know how they do it in Utah," said Murray. The document made public "raised more questions than it answers."



Concerned about the lack of qualified lawyers willing to represent indigent death-row inmates, the Utah Supreme Court warned Friday it might be forced to reverse capital sentences.
    In the case of condemned killer Michael Anthony Archuleta, a unanimous court said low pay and the complexity of such cases have shrunk the pool of Utah attorneys who will accept them. Associate Chief Justice Michael Wilkins wrote the justices may soon be "forced" to rule a lack of able and willing attorneys is grounds to reverse a death sentence and impose life without parole instead.
    State lawmakers have the duty to provide adequate resources to train and compensate death-penalty lawyers, the high court said.
    "It falls to us, as the court of last resort in this state, to assure that no person is deprived of life, liberty, or property, without the due - and competent - process of law," Wilkins wrote. "Without a sufficient defense, a sentence of death cannot be constitutionally imposed."
    Friday's ruling involved a request by lawyers with the Utah Attorney General's Office for sanctions against two appellate attorneys for Archuleta, who tortured and killed Gordon Ray Church, a 28-year-old Southern Utah University theater student in 1989.
    Thomas Brunker, an assistant state attorney general, alleged the two misstated the law and the evidence in some of the claims in
Archuleta's post-conviction appeal, then refused to correct the misinformation. The appeal contained about 120 claims, some of which had previously been rejected by the Supreme Court, he said.
    Attorneys Ed Brass and Lynn Donaldson have responded they simply were providing aggressive and responsible representation of Archuleta. At arguments before the Supreme Court in September, Brass pointed out that if defense attorneys fail to raise all possible claims in an appeal, those claims could be barred in later proceedings.
    Fourth District Judge Donald Eyre found there was no unethical behavior and declined to impose sanctions. The Attorney's General's Office appealed that decision, which led to Friday's ruling upholding Eyre.
    Brunker said he viewed Friday's decision as a win: He had asked for a ruling that court rules barring attorneys from pressing claims with no evidentiary support applied to lawyers in capital cases. The high court affirmed it did.
    Archuleta, whose conviction has already been upheld, has claimed previous lawyers were ineffective and is seeking a new sentencing hearing.
    Justice Ronald Nehring recused himself from hearing Friday's case and was replaced by 3rd District Judge Paul Maughan.

Source: (Salt Lake Tribune)


Jeff, this was in the German press

On Friday judge Michael Wilkins of the uppermost court of law of Utah warned about the danger that the court could be made lift death sentences and cover for this prison sentences for life. Reason of the concern is the absence of certified lawyers who are ready to represent impecunious defendants in capital punishment cases. In the case of Michael Anthony Archuleta the court said unanimously that bad payment and the complexity of such cases has reduced the pool of the lawyers who would be ready to represent juridically them. The court said, the legislator would have the duty to provide adequate means to the education and payment of capital punishment lawyers. The judge wrote, without adequate defence the capital punishment cannot be covered according to constitution.

"If you can't explain it to a six year old, you don't understand it yourself." Albert Einstein


Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff says he wants to amend the state constitution to limit appeals to speed up execution of convicted criminals.

Outlining his proposal Monday, Shurtleff said that appeals are so drawn out that the state effectively has no death penalty, The Deseret News reported. The amendment would put appeals for post-conviction relief in the hands of the Legislature instead of the courts, except when someone has evidence of actual innocence.

There must be an end, Shurtleff said. When it comes to the most violent crimes, there is no justice in Utah.

Barbara Noriega, whose mother and sister were killed in 1990 by a man whose death sentence is still under appeal, supported Shurtleff's proposal. She spoke to the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.

The guilty are manipulating the system and the courts are enabling them, she said.

But critics said that the plan may be unconstitutional and is too drastic, the Deseret News said. Former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Zimmerman called it doing brain surgery with a meat ax instead of a scalpel.
Get it done!!



Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff says he wants to amend the state constitution to limit appeals to speed up execution of convicted criminals.

Good idea Mr. Shurtleff!!!  :-*

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


A visibly upset Attorney General Mark Shurtleff left the House Thursday morning after representatives shot down a constitutional amendment that would streamline the post-conviction death penalty appeals process.

"This is a travesty. It's a huge blow to the victims," said Shurtleff, who was surprised at the outcome after having commitments from enough lawmakers to get the two-thirds majority needed to pass the bill. "I was sitting next to the parents of [murdered] Maureen Hunsaker, and they wonder if they will live long enough to see justice. They get lip service, but nothing done for them."

Many lawmakers said they had deep sympathy for victims' families, but didn't want to circumvent the legislative process. The Constitutional Revision Commission had not ruled on the constitutionality of the bill, but Rep. Sheryl Allen, R-Bountiful, who sits on the commission, said it had many unintended consequences.

"Words matter, and we need to look at this very carefully," said Allen, pointing out that a house committee had not vetted the bill.

She and several others also argued that the amendment will not be on the ballot for voter approval until November 2010, and that there was no need to rush.

Shurtleff called that a "misrepresentation," pointing to the fact that the Constitutional Revision Commission already met four times on the bill and didn't take any action.

"They said we have time to do this next year, and you had better believe it will be back next year in force, but the Constitutional Revision Commission has no intent to support this bill or have meaningful discussion on this bill," Shurtleff said.



More information about that (itīs interesting)...

Utah bucking U.S. death penalty trend

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


Thank you, Michael, for the link to the article.  Verrrrrry interesting!  I applaud the citizens of Utah for maintaining their stance on Capital Punishment.  After I read the article, I read most of the comments posted by some of their readers.  Some of them would feel very much at home on our site.  Some of them are ardent antis with the same old stuff. 


Lawyers propose new measure to limit death-row appeals---They propose solution for cases that drag on for years.

Opponents of a proposed constitutional amendment that would limit criminal appeals were adamant that changing the Utah Constitution was the wrong way to deal with death penalty cases that drag on for years.

On Thursday, they switched tactics and proposed their own constitutional amendment.

While presenting the measure to the Utah Constitutional Revision Commission, the authors -- former Utah Supreme Court Justice Michael Zimmerman and Salt Lake City attorney Troy Booher -- still insisted it was better to just leave the Constitution alone. But, they said, if the commission does ultimately recommend a constitutional amendment, they want it to be theirs.

A proposed amendment by the Attorney General's Office would allow the Legislature, rather than the courts, to limit the claims in all criminal cases that could be considered in post-conviction relief petitions, which are brought after a conviction and sentence have been upheld.

The counterproposal by Zimmerman and Booher would put a time limit on raising challenges to a capital conviction or sentence, rather than a limit on the issues that can be raised.

In addition, their amendment would apply only to death penalty cases and let judges continue to rule on what claims are allowed. Booher said there is no incentive for delay in non-death penalty cases because the inmates already are serving their prison sentences.

The commission, which is an advisory group to the Legislature, has previously taken comments from supporters of the A.G.'s proposed constitutional amendment. Commission Chairman Jon Memmott, a 2nd District Court judge, said Thursday the group will try to have a decision this fall on a recommendation.

A 2/3 vote by state lawmakers is required to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot. The earliest voters could consider the measure is 2010.

The A.G.'s proposal was introduced at the last legislative session as SJR14. The bill narrowly passed the Senate but was defeated in March by the House.

10 Utah inmates currently are under a death sentence. The dates of their crimes range from 1984 to 2004.

(source: Salt Lake Tribune)

Granny B

I hope the new counterproposal by Zimmerman and Booher that would put a time limit on raising challenges to the capital conviction or sentence, rather than a limit on the issues that can be raised, is passed and voted on by the people of Utah.  That should settle their hash. 
" Closure? Closure is a misused word in the English language.  There is no such thing as closure for the family of a murder victim.  There will never be any closure for the death of our loved ones until we are dead ourselves.  The families have a lifetime sentence of anguish and sadness." 
Susan Levy

heidi salazar

Death penalty appeals plan faces easier hurdle

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - A legislative advisory panel has been told that a plan to limit death penalty appeals in Utah could take effect without a state constitutional amendment.

Rep. Kay McIff told the Utah Constitutional Revision Commission on Thursday that the appeal process can be streamlined with a simple change to Utah Supreme Court rules and a state statute.

The commission, which has been wrestling with the issue for two years, unanimously approved the proposal.

Chairman Jon Memmott, a 2nd District judge, says the panel would draft a letter to the Legislature recommending the plan.

Supporters of the proposal say Utah effectively has no death penalty because convicted killers have been allowed repeated appeals.

Ten inmates currently reside on Utah's death row.


heidi salazar

House committee passes bill that would limit death-row appeals

A proposed change in state law designed to reduce appeals in criminal cases, especially those filed by death-row inmates, got a favorable recommendation Wednesday by the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee.

The 10-0 vote moves the measure to the full House.

House Bill 19 tweaks the Post-Conviction Remedies Act, which limits the claims that defendants can raise after they have been convicted and lost an initial appeal.

The bill would allow a state court judge to dismiss a petition for post-conviction relief on a procedural basis, such as missing a filing deadline, without assessing the merits of the appeal. Both the act and the bill's proposed change allow an exemption for defendants claiming their lawyers provided ineffective assistance.

The legislation was written to work in conjunction with a change to Utah Supreme Court rules that went into effect on Jan. 4. That rule change also provides a procedural basis for a state judge to dismiss a post-conviction appeal without a merits review.

The measure could end a long battle over a proposal by Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff to amend the state constitution to allow the Legislature, rather than the courts, to limit the claims in all criminal cases.

Shurtleff wanted the constitutional change to streamline death-row appeals, which can delay executions for years. Opponents had argued that amending the Utah Constitution could eliminate the ability of judges to consider innocence claims in any criminal case and would upset the balance of powers among the 3 branches of government.

The chief sponsor of HB19 is Rep. Kay McIff, R-Richfield, a lawyer who studied the issue last year with a task force of lawmakers, lawyers, legal experts and court representatives.

(source: Salt Lake Tribune)

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