Saturday, May 04, 2002

THOUGHTS ON DINING from the Wall Street Journal's "Best of the Web."

Death Is Irrevocable. So Is Life.

Several readers took issue with our Friday remarks on capital punishment (Those remarks: A judge said Thursday he was ready to declare the federal death penalty unconstitutional unless government lawyers could explain why so many condemned inmates turn out to be innocent," MSNBC reports. This even though there is no evidence that any innocent person has actually been executed in America since at least 1950). Judge Jed Rakoff threatened to declare the federal death penalty unconstitutional because some people sentenced to death have later been exonerated. By this reasoning, we argued, imprisonment would also be unconstitutional, since innocent people have spent time behind bars.

The readers' retort was that the death penalty is different; as the ACLU puts it, "Unlike all other criminal punishments, the death penalty is irrevocable." This seems like an obvious point, but it's actually much less compelling in practice than in theory.

It is of course true that a sentence of death is irrevocable--once it's been carried out. But the same is true of a prison term or any other deprivation of liberty. In Massachusetts, a state that lacks capital punishment, Gerald Amirault has been in prison on phony child-abuse charges since 1986. If he were freed tomorrow, he would still have irrevocably lost 16 years in the prime of his life.

To be sure, if Amirault had been executed instead of imprisoned in 1986, all hope for any measure of justice in his case would have been extinguished. But America's justice system does not execute criminals hastily. In practice, a death sentence amounts to a long prison term during there are ample opportunities for an innocent inmate to exonerate himself, or for a judge to discover or contrive a technical problem with the original trial and invalidate the sentence, if not the conviction.

Contrary to the ACLU, a death sentence in America is actually more revocable than a prison term. "Because of the complexity and the potential punishment, defendants in death penalty cases are in some jurisdictions afforded better than average lawyers and greater than average resources," acknowledges David Feige of the Bronx Defenders, a nonprofit criminal-defense law firm, in a New York Times op-ed. "Many appellate courts look more closely at a case when the defendant has been sentenced to die."

In 1997 the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ordered that Gerald Amirault stay in prison in the interest of "finality." Would the court have been so untroubled by the punishment of an innocent man if his life, rather than just his freedom, had been at stake?

Dateline: Cambodia


Cambodian court releases accused crematorium cannibals

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Two men accused of eating human body parts, washed down with a bottle of wine, were freed by a Cambodian provincial court on Saturday because there was no law against cannibalism, a public prosecutor said.

The two men, both crematorium workers, were arrested last week for eating fingers and toes of a body they were cremating.

Military police chief Rath Sreang said police in Banteay Meanchey province, 220 km (140 miles) northwest of Phnom Penh, were alerted to the case by villagers, who said the men often ate human parts after relatives of deceased had left the crematorium.

Eating human parts was common during the 1975-79 Khmer Rouge "killing fields" rule, when an estimated 1.7 million people died from torture, overwork, disease, execution and widespread famine.

May 3, 2002


LAST MEAL: Fried shrimp, fried oysters, french fries, chocolate cake and iced tea.

Trooper's murderer executed

THE SKINNY: Richard Charles Johnson was put to death Friday evening for killing a state trooper in 1985 despite a confession from one of Johnson's former co-defendants. Johnson's appeal to the state Supreme Court was rejected Monday, and Gov. Jim Hodges denied a request for clemency on Thursday. Then Friday morning, the U.S. Supreme Court turned down three appeals from Johnson's lawyers. Johnson died by lethal injection at 6:18 p.m. Friday, a prison official said.

A hitchhiker Johnson had picked up along the highway, Connie Sue Hess, originally testified that Johnson killed the officer. But years later, while being treated at a mental facility in Nebraska, Hess said she killed Smalls. A jury never heard the claim, though, and that was the crux of most of Johnson's appeals and the rallying cry of those who lobbied against his execution.

LAST WORDS: "It is hard to explain how frustrating it is to be here year after year when you have no memory of what happened and not to be able to defend yourself," Johnson said in his final statement, read by his lawyer John Blume. "It is also hard to understand a system that would allow two people charged with a crime to go free and take another man's life."

Before he died Friday, Johnson, strapped to a gurney, mouthed a conversation with his brother John, who was in the front row of the viewing area. Although they were separated by glass and metal bars, Johnson told his brother, "I love you" and "I'll see you later." Johnson touched his chest over his heart, and his brother responded by touching his own chest.

Nine witnesses watched Johnson's seemingly lifeless body for 14 more minutes before a doctor pronounced him dead with a nod.

FACTOIDS: Defense attorneys managed to stop Johnson's October 1999 execution a day before it was supposed to happen when they produced Hess' sworn statement saying she killed Smalls. The state Supreme Court assigned a judge to decide whether Hess' confession was credible. He ruled Hess had told so many different stories about what happened that day that her testimony could not be believed.

Johnson was the 26th man executed since South Carolina resumed capital punishment in 1974. No state has sent that many men to death without a single offer of clemency.

After Hodges' decided not to grant Johnson clemency, Blume blasted the Democrat for putting his re-election campaign before justice. "We can only believe that clemency was denied out of fear that the governor's political opponents might use the commutation against him," Blume said in a written statement. Already this campaign season, a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate has been attacked by his Republican opponent for opposing capital punishment.

"Ricky Johnson is to be sacrificed at the altar of election-year politics," Blume said.

Friday, May 03, 2002

Dateline: Iran

Iran Hangs Serial Prostitute Killer

TEHRAN (Reuters) - A convicted serial killer who strangled 16 Iranian women with their headscarves was hanged on Wednesday, state radio said.

Saeed Hanai confessed to picking up the victims, mostly prostitutes, on the streets of the holy city of Mashhad, luring them back to his home while his wife and three children were away, strangling them and dumping their bodies on waste ground.

Under Iran's strict Sharia law, victims' relatives can ask for "blood money" instead of the death penalty. But only four of the 16 families demanded the payment, the radio said.

The killings were dubbed the "spider murders" because the killer used his victims' headscarves to entangle and suffocate them as a spider weaves a web to trap its prey.

The murders met mixed reactions in Mashhad, Iran's holiest city and a center for Shiite Muslim pilgrimage. They struck fear into many residents, but others in the Islamic Republic proclaimed the women got what they deserved.


From this week's Spike Report, a regular feature of the Online Journalism Review, which mines the best of the web.

....Jeffrey Dahmer was not a popular kid, says artist John Backderf.

Backderf, who (as "Derf") draws the syndicated comic strip "The City," grew up with Dahmer near Cleveland. Backderf's new graphic novel, "My Friend Dahmer," is based on the artist's teenage acquaintance with the future serial killer; the comic depicts Dahmer as an alcoholic loner with no social skills, largely ignored and avoided by his classmates.

"I first met Dahmer in seventh grade, when the wretched contents of the district's three elementary schools were hurled together into the hormonal hell that is junior high." a href="">The first chapter of Backderf's raw, grim and unsettling Dahmer comic is posted on the artist's Derfcity site.

As DME readers may, or may not, remember, Jeffery Dahmer was denied his last meal when he ended up on the business end of a jailhouse shank.


Council of Europe states sign up to total death-penalty ban

VILNIUS, Lithuania - Delegates from 36 Council of Europe countries on Friday committed themselves to abolishing the death penalty in all circumstances, including during times of war.

Capital punishment already has been struck from the books in the vast majority of the 44 nations belonging to Europe's top human right's body, though some have allowed for it in extreme cases.

A protocol signed Friday established a total ban in the participating countries. Russia, Turkey, Bulgaria, Croatia, Slovakia, Albania, Armenia and Azerbaijan — declined to sign.

Russia and Turkey are the only Council of Europe states that haven't signed the original code that banned the death penalty in all cases — except during war, during the imminent threat of war and in other extreme instances.

But the two countries have refrained from carrying out executions in recent years. The last execution carried out in a Council of Europe member state was in 1997 in Ukraine.

The Council of Europe was founded in 1949 to promote democracy, human rights and the rule of law on the continent.

Dateline: Saudi Arabia



Saudi man beheaded for murdering his mother, four others

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia - A Saudi man convicted of murdering his mother and four other people with a knife was beheaded Tuesday in southwestern Saudi Arabia, the Interior Ministry said in a statement

One after the other, Eid bin Abdullah Asiri killed his mother, his uncles, an aunt and a Pakistani man identified as Mohammed bin Aslam Fadhel, the statement said. It did not provide other details.


Saudi man beheaded for murder

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia - A Saudi man convicted of fatally shooting a compatriot was beheaded Friday near the holy city of Mecca, the official Saudi Press Agency reported.

It said Ibrahim bin Omar bin Yahya al-Barakaty took Ahmed bin Ali bin Mohammed al-Omari to a remote desert area and shot him three times in the head. The agency did not provide other details.

Al-Barakaty's execution raised to 11 the number of convicts put to death this year in the kingdom.

Last year, at least 81 people were beheaded in the oil-rich Arab nation, which follows a strict interpretation of Islam and imposes the death penalty for murder, rape, drug trafficking and armed robbery.

Executions are performed in public with a sword.

Thursday, May 02, 2002


As earlier noted, Robert "Baretta" "Don't Do the Crime, If You Can't Do the Time..Don't Do It!" Blake is not last meal eligible, but thanks to the National Enquirer we know what his "first" day of meals in the big house was....

"oatmeal for breakfast, cold cuts on a roll for lunch and a hamburger casserole for dinner."


Oklahoma Court Orders New Sentence for Mexican
Mexican praises re-sentencing for Oklahoma death row prisoner
Wed May 1,11:11 PM ET

MEXICO CITY - Mexico's Foreign Relations Department praised what it called "an unprecedented decision" Wednesday by an Oklahoma court to order the re-sentencing of a Mexican death-row inmate, in part because his consulate wasn't notified of the arrest and thus couldn't submit key evidence.

Earlier Wednesday, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that Valdez should be re-sentenced because he was not properly informed of his rights, nor were Mexican officials able to present evidence of his mental impairment.

The Mexican government learned of Valdez's case in April 2001, three years after his 1989 arrest. He was convicted of killing Juan Barron in Valdez's home in Minco, Oklahoma.

The Mexican government later found that Valdez suffered from severe organic brain damage, was born into extreme poverty, received limited education and grew up in a family plagued by alcohol abuse and instability.

The court said it cannot ignore the significance and importance of the evidence discovered with the assistance of the Mexican consulate.

Valdez could still be given the death penalty when he is sentenced again.

He was condemned for killing Juan Barron after Barron allegedly made sexual advances. Prosecutors said Valdez tried to convince Barron that Christianity condemned homosexuality, then shot him twice in the head, cut his throat and hid the body in a barbecue pit.


The U.S. Supreme Court granted a last-minute reprieve Wednesday to a death row inmate whose attorneys say is mentally retarded.

Curtis Moore, 34, was already in a small holding cell adjacent to the death chamber when he got the news less than three hours before his scheduled execution.

Attorneys claim Moore is mentally retarded. They cited a Virginia case now before the high court questioning the constitutionality of executing the mentally retarded as reason to look at Moore's case.

State prosecutors questioned why the issue should surface now because Moore's mental capacity was not addressed at his trial.

The reprieve will remain in effect until the court decides whether to review Moore's case. If the court refused to review the case, the reprieve would be canceled and a new execution date could be set.

A decision in the Virginia case is expected before July.

Moore was convicted of killing three people in a pair of drug-related shootings in 1995 in Fort Worth. According to information provided by the Texas Attorney General's office, Moore and his nephew, Anthony Moore, met with Truevillian, Darrel Hoyle and Roderick Moore (no relation) to make a cocaine deal on the night of Nov. 29, 1995. About five minutes after Truevillian, Roderick Moore and Hoyle arrived at the house where the deal was supposed to be made, Curtis and Anthony Moore pulled out guns and robbed the three men. Anthony Moore then tied up the three men and helped Curtis Moore place the three men in Hoyle's car. Hoyle and Truevillian were placed in the trunk of the car, while Roderick Moore was put in the back seat.

Eventually, the two men drove the car to Roderick Moore's house. During his testimony, Hoyle said he heard a gunshot, followed by Roderick Moore's girlfriend LaTanya Boone (who was in the house) screaming. Hoyle said he then assumed Boone and Moore were placed in another car, because he did not hear them again.

At about 2 a.m. on Nov. 30, Curtis Moore stopped the car on Wilbarger Street in southeast Tarrant County. Hoyle testified Moore opened the trunk, shot at him and Truevillian and shut the trunk again. Hoyle testified Truevillian then cried out, "oh, I'm hit."

Curtis Moore opened the trunk again, poured gasoline on Hoyle and Truevillian and used a lighter to ignite the gasoline. Moore attempted to close the trunk, but Hoyle kicked it open.

Hoyle testified he grabbed Truevillian and attempted to flee. Moore caught the two and threatened to kill Hoyle. After Hoyle played dead for a few moments, Moore went back to the car. After Hoyle's car exploded, he testified he saw Moore running toward the highway. In spite of being burned over 60 percent of his body and falling into a six-day coma, Hoyle survived.

The next day, police found the bodies of Boone and Roderick Moore not far from where Truevillian was shot. Armed with Hoyle's statement, Curtis and Anthony Moore were arrested on Dec. 12, 1995. After his arrest, Anthony Moore led police to a 9mm pistol which was later found to have been used in the killing of Boone and Roderick Moore.

April 30, 2002
Rodolfo Hernandez

Dead Man Walk...uh, Hopping, Call the Colonel, 4th Texan in a row orders the fried it the special herbs and spices?

The Crime: Condemned to death by a Comal County jury after being found guilty for the murder of 20-year-old Victor Cervana, Mexican national in 1985. According to information provided by the Texas Attorney General's office, Hernandez met Cervan and four other young Mexican men who had entered the United States illegally after they disembarked from a train in San Antonio.

For a fee, Hernandez offered to drive the men to Denton, where they hoped to find work. Hernandez and his brother-in-law, Jesse Garibay, drove the men to a secluded area near New Braunfels, where they stopped the car and pretended they were having car trouble. Hernandez and Garibay ordered the men out of the car at gunpoint and robbed them.

One of the men attempted to run away and was shot by Hernandez in the back. The other four were ordered to lay on the ground, and Hernandez shot each of them in the neck, killing Cervan. Four of the injured men survived and testified against Hernandez at his trial.

After returning to San Antonio, Hernandez boasted to several people about his role in Cervan's death. After watching a news report about the shootings, Hernandez told his sister that he was "a gunslinger" and had been told by President Ronald Reagan that "Texas was overpopulated and to get rid of some of San Antonio's illegal aliens."

A Jackie Robinson Moment: He became the first amputee to die by lethal injection inside the Huntsville "Walls" death house. Hernandez, who lost his left leg to complications from diabetes last July, had at one time hoped to be fitted with a prosthetic leg. Medical complications put an end to that possibility, and Hernandez was wheeled into the room, denying him a request to be fitted with a prosthetic device so he could walk to his death "like a man". Hernandez accused the state of refusing to fit him with an artificial leg because of the expense -- $8,000.

Last Words and Words and Words: Noting the tightness of the bonds holding him to the gurney on Tuesday, Hernandez said, "You've got me strapped down like I want to escape. I don't want to escape. I want them to do what they're going to do. I know the procedure." Looking at his friends, Hernandez said, "Thanks to everybody." "Everybody will be all right, because y'all are going where I'm going," he said. "Remember what I said, I want to see you all where I'm going. I'll be all right."

Hernandez then repeated the phrase, "Here I am God, I'm coming to do your will," three times in a weakening voice. Hernandez grunted loudly twice as the fatal dose of drugs was started at 6:12 p.m. He was pronounced dead at 6:23 p.m.

The Alibi: "I was there, but not as the shooter," Hernandez said. "I was identified by those men, but it was all a mistake. They were not in this country legally and they would tell the police anything you want them to say. If I had a lawyer, we could get DNA evidence to clear me."

Last meal: Two double meat cheeseburgers (all the way), french fries, three beef skirt tacos, guacamole salad, salt, and two fried chicken breasts.

Factoids: Forty days after winning a rare reprieve from the governor Hernandez was executed. Days before his scheduled March 21 execution, Hernandez told San Antonio police he had information about numerous murders in his hometown. When some of his details checked out, police asked Gov. Rick Perry to halt Hernandez's punishment. Perry agreed, using his authority to issue a one-time 30-day reprieve. San Antonio police looked into Hernandez's claims of participating in or witnessing at least 12 murders but have said very little about their probe.

Hernandez was the 10th person put to death this year in Texas, which leads the nation in capital punishment, and the 266th since the state resumed executions in 1982, six years after the U.S. Supreme Court lifted a national death penalty ban.

Sunday, April 28, 2002

England looks at an old diner.

Court of Appeal reconsiders murder case 40 years after execution of accused

LONDON - The case of a man who was hanged for murder 40 years ago went to the Court of Appeal on Monday as his family and supporters try to prove he was unjustly convicted.

James Hanratty, 25, went to the gallows April 4, 1962, for the murder of scientist Michael Gregsten, who was shot dead, and the attempted murder of his mistress, Valerie Storie.

Prosecutors said Hanratty surprised the lovers during a tryst in a cornfield in southern England he forced them to drive to an area where they were shot.

Since Hanratty's execution, his family and supporters have fought to prove that, though a petty crook, he was not a killer.

Lord Woolf, the Lord Chief Justice, and two other judges in the Court of Appeal are re-examining Hanratty's conviction.

Opening the appeal, Hanratty lawyer Michael Mansfield said, "the material that provided the foundation for the conviction that led to the execution was in fact fatally flawed. "It was fatally flawed in the sense that there was extensive and inexcusable non-disclosure," Mansfield said.

"In the light of material that has now become available — and which to a large measure was available at the time," Mansfield said, Storie's identification of Hanratty "cannot necessarily be regarded as reliable."

Hanratty claimed he was 250 miles (400 km) from the scene at a bed and breakfast hotel in north Wales at the time of the attack.

The landlady backed up his claim, and in the years after his execution, numerous witnesses came forward to support the story.

Pro Diner thoughts about Illinois

The report released by Governor Ryan's commission includes some worthwhile reforms, several very bad ideas, and quite a bit of misinformation about the fairness of trials in that state.

Studies finding ''serious flaws'' in death penalty cases have counted every case where a conviction or sentence was overturned, correctly or incorrectly, by another court. The commission's own report agrees the errors cited in the vast majority of cases had nothing to do with the innocence or guilt of the defendants.

The commission's suggestion that murders committed in conjunction with rape, hijacking, drive-by shooting or by contract should not be eligible for the death sentence is extraordinary. It is hard to imagine that anyone who supports the death penalty for any crime would not believe these kinds of murders should be included.

Independent studies released in the past two years by economists at Emory University and the University of Houston have found that enforcing the death penalty is a deterrent to murder. The Emory Study concludes that for each murderer executed, 18 murders are deterred. The Houston study demonstrated that a one-year moratorium on executions in Texas in 1996 resulted in more than 200 additional murders in that state.

Well, if you've already cooked.....

Nine executions in Texas in next 4 1/2 weeks
Sun Apr 28, 4:09 PM ET
By MICHAEL GRACZYK, Associated Press Writer

HUNTSVILLE, Texas - In a spurt of capital punishment that should ensure Texas reclaims the distinction for the year as America's most active execution state, nine condemned killers --including a Frenchman -- are set to die over a 31-day period starting Tuesday.

Among the convicted murderers facing lethal injection is a San Antonio man with one leg who earlier this year was spared from the death chamber by telling authorities he had knowledge of other slayings.

Texas, by far the nation's leader in capital punishment with 265 lethal injections since executions resumed in 1982, put 17 prisoners to death in 2001, one fewer than Oklahoma.

So far this year, nine of the 22 executions in the United States have been in Texas. Missouri is second with four.

If all nine executions are carried out, it would be the most prolific series of punishment in Texas since 12 inmates were put to death over a 29-day period in May and June 1997.

"Any date is serious," says Brian Davis, condemned for a Harris County slaying. "I don't want to die. But the way I look at it is if you ask most people, they'd like to die in their sleep. I'm going to die like most people want to die. I know when, and I know how."

Other than their fate and the fact that their appeals are running out, the inmates share little in common. Two are white, four black and three Hispanic. Three had been to prison before. Seven were born in Texas, one in Nevada and one in Paris, France.

They are among at least 15 prisoners with death dates pending in Texas. Another four are scheduled for June and two more have August execution dates in what could be a year that threatens the record 40 lethal injections administered in Texas in 2000.

The timing of the punishments is coincidental. Dates are set by local trial court judges.

The inmates facing death over the next 4 1/2 weeks are:

_Rodolfo Hernandez, 52, who would be making Tuesday his second trip to the death house. He was spared March 21 moments before he was to have been executed for his role in the 1985 robbery and fatal shooting of an undocumented immigrant in Comal County. The reprieve came from Gov. Rick Perry after Hernandez told San Antonio police earlier that week he had information about other killings in his native city. Hernandez, 52, lost a leg to diabetes and prison officials have said a recurring infection has prevented him from getting his wish: an artificial leg so he can walk himself to the death chamber.

_Stanley Baker, 35, born in Paris, France, and facing injection May 30 for the September 1994 robbery and shooting death of a clerk at a College Station adult video store.

_Curtis Moore, 34, facing death Wednesday for the November 1995 abduction and shooting deaths of three people in two separate killing sprees. In one of the cases, a shooting victim who had been doused with gasoline and set afire survived to testify against his attacker.

_Davis, 33, set to die May 7 for the fatal stabbing of a mentally retarded man he and his girlfriend picked up at a Houston bar in August 1991. The victim told Davis he'd provide gas money for a trip home. When he said later he had no money, he was stabbed 11 times and had a swastika carved into his abdomen.

_Reginald Reeves, 28, with a May 9 execution date for the September 1993 rape-strangulation of a 14-year-old girl who had run away from a group home in Paris, Texas. Her body was found at a vacant house. Reeves was 19 at the time.

_Henry Dunn, 27, with a May 14 death date for the abduction and fatal shooting in November 1993 of a Tyler man. Dunn also was 19 at the time of the slaying. Prosecutors said he justified the murder because the victim was gay.

_Ronford Styron, 32, facing execution May 16 for the beating death of his 11-month-old son in October 1993. He told police he did not believe the child was his own offspring and took out his anger on the infant.

_Johnny Martinez, 29, with a May 22 execution date for the July 1993 fatal stabbing of a Corpus Christi convenience store clerk during a robbery.

_Napoleon Beazley, 25, set to die May 28 for the 1994 shooting death of a Tyler businessman during a carjacking outside the victim's home. Beazley was 17 when he killed 63-year-old John Luttig, father of a federal appeals court judge in Virginia. Death penalty opponents worldwide have rallied behind Beazley, contending it would be cruel to execute him because he was a child when the crime occurred.