Ex-Virginia executioner becomes opponent of death penalty

This comes from the Washington Post:

Feb 11th, 2013, By Justin Juvenal
Jerry Givens executed 62 people.
His routine and conviction never wavered. He’d shave the person’s head, lay his hand on the bald pate and ask for God’s forgiveness for the condemned. Then, he would strap the person into Virginia’s electric chair.
Givens was the state’s chief executioner for 17 years — at a time when the commonwealth put more people to death than any state besides Texas.
“If you knew going out there that raping and killing someone had the consequence of the death penalty, then why are you going to do it?” Givens asked. “I considered it suicide.”
As Virginia executed its 110th person in the modern era last month, Givens prayed for the man, but also for an end to the death penalty. Since leaving his job in 1999, Givens has become one of the state’s most visible — and unlikely — opponents of capital punishment.
His evolution underscores that of Virginia itself and the nation. Although polls show that the majority of state residents still support the death penalty, Virginia has experienced a sea change on capital punishment in recent years that is part of a national trend.
The state has had fewer death sentences over the past five years than any period since the 1970s. Robert Gleason, who was put to death Jan. 16, was the first execution in a year and a half. As recently as 1999, the state put 13 to death in a single year.
Nationwide, the number of death sentences was at record lows in 2011 and 2012, down 75 percent since 1996, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Five states have outlawed capital punishment in the past five years, and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) affirmed plans to push for a moratorium there. Gallup polls show support for capital punishment ebbing.
Givens’s improbable journey to the death chamber and back did not come easily or quickly for the 60-year-old from Richmond. A searing murder spurred his interest in the work, but it was the innocent life he nearly took that led him to question the system. And he was changed for good when he found himself behind bars.
His story helps explain how a state closely associated with the death penalty for decades has entered a new era.
“From the 62 lives I took, I learned a lot,” Givens said.
The first execution
Friends and strangers regularly ask Givens the essential question: What is it like to take another man’s life? In answering, he vividly recalls his first execution, in 1984.

California executions still on hold.

Judge rejects California execution plan

LA Times
December 16, 2011

A judge on Friday threw out California’s new lethal-injection protocols, which have been six years in the making, because corrections officials failed to consider a one-drug execution method now in practice in other death penalty states.

The action by Marin County Superior Court Judge Faye D’Opal sends the state back to square one in redrafting procedures for lethal-injection executions. The death penalty has been on hold for six years in California after a federal court ruling deemed the previously used three-drug method unconstitutional because it might inflict pain amounting to cruel and unusual punishment.

D’Opal said in her 22-page ruling that the state’s failure to consider replacing the former execution practice with a single-injection method violated state law and ignored the courts’ and public criticism of the previous protocols.

The de facto moratorium on executions imposed by U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel in February 2006, when he halted the scheduled lethal-injection execution of convicted murderer Michael A. Morales, has remained in place despite the state’s revision of the procedures to address Fogel’s concerns. Attorneys for Morales and other condemned inmates have made additional challenges to the new execution protocols, and Fogel left the bench earlier this year to head a judicial academic center in Washington.

D’Opal’s ruling, though expected to be appealed by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, would further stall federal court review of the new protocols and ensure that executions won’t resume for years.

CDCR spokeswoman Terry Thornton said corrections officials were reviewing the ruling and had no immediate comment.

Anti-death-penalty activists cheered D’Opal’s decision, casting it as a sharp reminder of the billions of dollars being spent on a broken capital punishment system.

“The time has come to replace the death penalty with life in prison with no chance of parole,” said Natasha Minsker, an American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California lawyer and campaign manager for a voter initiative to repeal capital punishment. “Any attempt to devise new lethal-injection rules will take an enormous amount of public employee time and cost hundreds of millions of dollars.”

A three-year study published earlier this year by a federal judge and a Loyola Law School professor reported that taxpayers have spent $4 billion to carry out 13 executions since capital punishment was reinstated in 1978, and that it costs at least $184 million a year to maintain death row and the capital defense system.

The Costs of Nevada’s Death Row

From: 8News Now, Sept 23rd 2011

LAS VEGAS — Controversy surrounded the death of Troy Davis, executed Wednesday night in Georgia. The death row inmate was convicted in the 1989 murder of an off-duty police officer who was trying to break up a fight involving a homeless man.

Davis maintained his innocence until his final breath inside the George State Prison. No physical evidence ever linked him to the crime, and seven of the nine prosecution witnesses recanted their testimonies.

However, all appeals were denied, including a last-minute decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that decided the case was sound and the execution went forward.

Slideshow: Inside Nevada’s Death Row

Capital punishment is not a common practice in Nevada. In fact, the Silver State is behind the rest of the country in executions. Many death row inmates cases are tied up in appeals for years, costing taxpayers millions.

Since 1976, 12 convicted murderers have died under Nevada’s death penalty, while another 88 sit on death row waiting to die or hoping their sentence will be overturned. Fortunately for them, the odds are in their favor. For the vast majority of Nevada’s death row inmates, they will never see the death chamber in Carson city.

A UNLV study found only one in 13 inmates will see their sentence through. Nationally, the numbers are one in eight.

“A lot of defendants waive their appeals and voluntarily want the death penalty and the Supreme Court still has to take a look at it,” said defense attorney John Momot.

Every capital conviction gets an automatic appeal, but they rarely end there.

“What’s the harm in letting the record be reviewed as many times as possible just to make sure?” said Momot.

Those appeals get expensive. The I-Team reported last year a plan to study Nevada’s capital punishment costs failed in the state legislature in 2009. But research in other states, like Kansas, Maryland and North Carolina, estimated executions average between $500,000 and $2 million more than non-death penalty cases.

“The Ninth Circuit entertains appeals over and over and over again, so there is no finality to capital cases,” said Clark County District Attorney David Roger.

Many inmates spend decades on death row, hoping for their case are overturned.

“If you think sitting in jail with this hanging over your head is something that’s easy, it isn’t. A lot of these people just as soon have it all over,” said Momot.

Read the rest here.

Lundbeck and pentobarbital: pharma takes a stand against executions

The decision by the Danish firm to ban use of pentobarbital as a US execution drug may deal a fatal blow to capital punishment.

The Guardian
David Nicholl, Friday 1 July 2011

Article history
Pentobarbital: Danish manufacturer Lundbeck has now prohibited its use in the US as an execution drug. Photograph: Alessandro Della Bella/AP

The announcement by Danish pharmaceutical firm Lundbeck on Friday that it is restricting the distribution of pentobarbital represents a landmark decision. This is the first time that a major global pharmaceutical company has taken such direct action to tighten up its supply chain to ensure that its drugs are used to benefit the health of patients, not assist in state-sponsored execution. It follows months of pressure from human rights advocates. At the end of last year, US death row states found it difficult to get access to the previous drug, thiopental, for executions following an export ban from the UK.

Lethal injection is perceived as a more medical, and hence humane, method than hanging, stoning, shooting or electrocution. Yet the medicalisation of executions is an abomination of medical ethics, banned by all medical professional bodies, including the American Medical Association. Doctors’ prime purpose is to help patients: “first do no harm” should be a doctor’s credo, not assist in state-sponsored killing. Previously, the attention of human rights campaigners has been directed at the physicians and healthcare staff who have assisted in executions. Lundbeck’s remarkable decision has, in effect, set an industry standard that no drug company should allow their products to be used for executions, even if without their authority.

To date, 17 people have been executed using the novel, and hence untested, pentobarbital regime. The most recent to die, Roy Blakenship, was executed last week. Witnesses reported that he “appeared to grimace” and that he “jerked his head several times throughout the procedure and muttered after the pentobarbital was injected into his veins before he died”. One medical expert, Dr David Waisel, has testified that “I can say with certainty that Mr [Roy] Blankenship was inadequately anesthetised and was conscious for approximately the first three minutes of the execution and that he suffered greatly.”

Few doctors involved in executions have been prepared to go public. One who has, Dr Carlo Musso, was directly involved in Blakenship’s execution. Dr Musso stated his opposition to the death penalty in a 2006 interview. Then, Dr Musso perceived his role as a palliative care physician on death row. “It just seems wrong for us to walk away, to abdicate our responsibility to the patients,” he said at the time.

Read the rest here.

Executing Justice in Illinois.

Congratulations Illinois, for evolving into the 21st century ahead of the rest of us (I’m writing from Arizona – the Deep Southwest). Thanks to all the good souls who weighed in for this fight. I personally think the issue of accuracy when executing people IS an issue of morality, and that the entire criminal justice system should be taking a second look at the problem of wrongful conviction, not just the death penalty.

Prosecutorial and police misconduct were the real reasons for the demise of capital punishment in Illinois. That’s pathetic – and all too common. The US has been imprisoning and executing innocent people for a long time; the folks responsible for locking us away know it and have done little about assuring real justice – evidence that their arrest and conviction rates are far more important than victims’ lives really are. That’s pretty gutless for a crowd that prides itself on fighting crime.

Many in law enforcement and the judiciary stood in the way of abolishing the Illinois death penalty, of course, and are whining about it tonight. Never mind the few innocent folks who might be murdered by the state – or the guilty who got off scott free – they just didn’t want to lose the leverage it gave them to coerce plea deals out of whatever defendants they managed to pin charges on – preferably the very same ones they accused in sensational cases in the media in the first place. They sure don’t want to admit they may have ever made a mistake, either – those cases should never have to depend on resolution from the same people who screwed them up in the first place.

That should be a red flag to us all: any judge or prosecutor who insists that the justice system is always right can’t be trusted by the rest of us – they’re either oblivious or corrupt. In either case, they’re not only failing to protect victims by getting the wrong bad guys and not making it right, they’re creating a whole new class of victims. Incarceration alone is violence, so we’d better get it right if we’re going to isolate, shame, exile and brutalize those we punish in America – particularly if we plan to execute them on top of it…

—————from the Chicago Tribune—————–

What killed Illinois’ death penalty

It wasn’t the question of morality but the question of accuracy that led state to abolish capital punishment

By Steve Mills, Tribune reporter

9:15 PM CST, March 9, 2011

If there was one moment when Illinois’ death penalty began to die, it was on Feb. 5, 1999, when a man named Anthony Porter walked out of jail a free man.

Sitting in the governor’s mansion, George Ryan watched Porter’s release on television and wondered how a man could come within 50 hours of being executed, only to be set free by the efforts of a journalism professor, his students and a private investigator.

“And so I turned to my wife, and I said, how the hell does that happen? How does an innocent man sit on death row for 15 years and gets no relief,” Ryan recalled last year. “And that piqued my interest, Anthony Porter.”

To be sure, by the time Porter was set free, the foundation of Illinois’ death penalty system already had begun to erode by the steady stream of inmates who had death sentences or murder convictions vacated: Rolando Cruz and Alejandro Hernandez in the Jeanine Nicarico case, the men known as the Ford Heights Four, Gary Gauger.

But for decades, the debate over capital punishment rarely strayed from whether it was right or wrong, a moral argument that was waged mostly by a narrow group of attorneys and abolition supporters that could be easily dismissed. Public opinion polls showed little movement. Death sentences and executions hit record levels.

Inmates like the serial killer John Wayne Gacy, whose guilt was never in question, were put to death and caused little controversy. But when a miscarriage of justice was discovered and a death row inmate was set free, the police and prosecutors contended that it was an isolated incident, an anomaly. They got little argument.

In November 1998, the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University hosted 29 exonerated death row inmates at a conference, putting a human face to the death penalty’s errors. Then, with Porter’s case still in the spotlight, plus a series of stories in the Chicago Tribune later that year that illuminated deep frailties in the state’s system of capital punishment, the debate over the death penalty was transformed.

Suddenly, it was about accuracy. No longer were the mistakes anecdotal. The problems were systemic.

Opposition to the death penalty began to win new supporters, people who looked at the issue pragmatically, not just morally, and were dismayed by the mistakes. Politicians no longer saw the issue as a third rail with voters. Ryan, who declared a halt to all executions in 2000, found it did not cost him politically.

A decade after Ryan declared a moratorium, 61 percent of voters questioned in a poll did not even know the state still had a death penalty, reflecting a stalemate of sorts that had emerged between supporters of abolition and those who wanted to bring back capital punishment. No one was being put to death, yet death row again was receiving inmates, though at a slower pace than before the Ryan moratorium.

Had Republican Bill Brady won the November general election instead of Democrat Pat Quinn, the state still would have a death penalty, and the new governor almost certainly would have lifted the moratorium and allowed executions to resume.

Ultimately, supporters of abolition in the General Assembly — frustrated that sufficient reform had not been enacted and stung by the costs of trials and appeals — voted to abolish the death penalty. On Wednesday, Quinn signed abolition into law and commuted the sentences of 15 inmates who had been sentenced to death since the moratorium.

“That isolated image of Anthony Porter is crucial,” said Lawrence Marshall, a former legal director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions and a key player in the abolition of the death penalty. “But it only makes a difference when it comes amidst all of those other incidents. It shows (the problems weren’t) isolated. This was a trend.”

With Quinn’s signature, Illinois became the fourth state to abandon the death penalty over the last decade, and the isolation of the use of capital punishment, mostly in the South, is a national trend, said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes capital punishment.

The New Jersey Legislature voted to drop the death penalty in 2007. A New York appeals court ruled the death penalty unconstitutional in 2004. And in 2009, the New Mexico Legislature voted to repeal capital punishment; Gov. Bill Richardson signed the bill into law.

Other states have convened panels to study the death penalty and have considered legislation to end it, prompted by the exonerations of condemned inmates; capital punishment’s high cost, particularly in a down economy; and the widening support for life in prison without parole as an alternative sentence, Dieter said.

“The life-without-parole option is not going away,” Dieter said last week. “People have a lot of lingering doubts about the possibility of a person being wrongly convicted. They are willing to convict them, but when it comes to the death sentence, they want to be doubly sure of their guilt, even more than the system requires.”

Between Porter’s release and Quinn’s signing of the abolition bill, the U.S. Supreme Court narrowed the use of the death penalty, saying the mentally disabled and those who commit their crimes as juveniles cannot be executed.

The number of death sentences dropped. The number of executions dropped. Even cases thought to be death penalty slam dunks offered surprises that suggested the death penalty was in decline. James Degorski and Juan Luna, the two men convicted in the murders of seven people in January 1993 at a Brown’s Chicken & Pasta restaurant in Palatine, also were spared the ultimate punishment.

Luna, convicted in 2007, and Degorski, convicted in 2009, were sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Even Andre Crawford, convicted of 11 brutal murders on the South Side that made him one of the area’s most prolific serial killers, escaped the death penalty in 2009 when he was given life in prison without parole.

While some observers saw those sentences as signs the death penalty was withering, the truth may have been more complicated. In the Brown’s Chicken cases, the two juries voted 11-1 for death. Crawford’s jury voted 10-2 for death, said the prosecutor in the case, James McKay, chief of the capital litigation task force for the Cook County state’s attorney’s office.

That, he said, was evidence jurors still were receptive to the death penalty but were stymied by holdouts.

“It tells me that our jurors overwhelmingly want the death penalty,” said McKay, a veteran prosecutor.

What’s more, he said, the future without the death penalty may prove more costly than with it.

“These murder trials don’t go away just because the death penalty won’t be a sentencing option,” McKay said. “With the death penalty off the table, there’ll be even more trials. There’ll be no incentive to plead guilty. I do not believe for one second that taking the death penalty off the table will save the state of Illinois any money whatsoever.”

With no death penalty, Illinois’ last execution — its 12th since capital punishment was reinstated in the mid-1970s — will remain that of Andrew Kokoraleis, who was put to death by lethal injection in March 1999, while Ryan was governor, for the mutilation murder of an Elmhurst woman.

And while many people believe Illinois never executed an innocent man, others disagree. The 1995 execution of Girvies Davis for a downstate murder was long controversial and relied heavily on a disputed confession, one the police got when they took him out of jail in the middle of the night and, according to Davis, threatened him.

In fact, Davis confessed to numerous crimes that night and, authorities later acknowledged, many of the confessions were false, with other people later convicted of those crimes. On the other hand, Davis admitted to taking part in other crimes that led to the deaths of innocent people, though he insisted he never killed anybody himself.

One of Davis’ attorneys once wrote in an essay in the Tribune that “nothing short of finding the real murderer would have saved Davis’ life.” So it is that the execution still haunts the lawyer, David Schwartz. He called the death penalty’s end, nearly 16 years after Davis was put to death by lethal injection, “bittersweet.”

“It bothers me when I hear people say that the state of Illinois never executed a person for a crime they did not commit,” Schwartz said. “Because they did with Girvies Davis.”

Tribune reporter Dahleen Glanton contributed.

Executing Mercy: Saving Teresa Lewis.

I received word tonight that the Governor of Virginia has declined to grant clemency to Teresa Lewis, a mentally-impaired woman who was sentenced to death for murders she took full responsibility for planning, but did not perpetrate. The men who actually did the killing got life in prison, instead. Below is my effort to appeal to what he has said his faith is, responding to what Teresa has declared hers to be, in hopes that it helps when joined with others.

Please go to his website and leave your own message – not just a name to be counted against the many more who will register their support for the death penalty in his state, but a voice that might move him to reverse this grim decision. Whatever or whomever she is a channel for, Teresa has been a blessing to other women doing time, and could continue to be so.

You needn’t be “born again” yourself – or even speak the same language – to try to save this woman’s life. I honestly don’t know what it will take – if anything at all will work a miracle with this man. I do think that it matters in the greater scheme of things that we take the time nevertheless, to show that we care.

Teresa is to be executed on September 23, so please act today.




Subject: Executing Mercy

Dear Governor McDonnell,

As you know, Teresa Lewis is scheduled for execution on September 23, 2010. Only you can stop this from happening. She has taken more responsibility for her conduct than most adults ever do, though she has the cognitive abilities of a child.

For centuries people with developmental disabilities have been treated as less-than human; objects of ridicule or curiosity; subjects for experiments and involuntary sterilization; workers to be exploited at slave-wages; scapegoats to carry the burden of our collective failings.

We’ve come a long way in recent decades in how we treat the mentally disabled. Our readiness to execute them, however, indicates that we still have a ways to go.

Virginia has a precious opportunity to secure a place in history by deciding not to dispose of the life of this humble woman who has given of herself to others at a time of their deepest remorse and despair, despite her own predicament.

Teresa is not the one begging you to spare her life – we are. By her faith, her death on earth will reunite her with the Christ in Heaven whose love she is clearly a vessel for now to other women in prison.

What message will carrying out her execution deliver? That there is no room in American justice for mercy, or in the human spirit for transformation, or in the hearts of our people for grace?

We aren’t asking you to end the death penalty in Virginia, or to save this woman’s soul – the latter has already been done. She will die more free than many who demonstrate twice her mental capacity. We’re simply asking you to be a vessel of God, too.

His justice would not exact more of her than of those “normal” men who committed the actual murders. His justice would not value her life less than theirs. He would look across this country at the countless Americans who have taken the time out of their lives to fight for hers, and hope that humanity is on the precipice of learning mercy for the condemned – particularly for those who are so visibly touched by His grace.

Teresa Lewis committed a horrible crime that she cannot compensate her victims for, even by surrendering her own existence, as she did the day she took responsibility for what she had done. If given life in prison she would not harm another human being again, and could even help others heal. It is not her who threatens us any longer – it is our need for vengeance that endangers this nation now.

It takes power to exercise mercy which – throughout the course of human history – has been the quality that distinguishes those who conquer from those who lead. Please reconsider your decision to allow this execution to proceed.

Thank you for your time.


Margaret J. Plews
Phoenix, AZ

Hawaii, Outsourcing Prisoners, and the Death Penalty.

Another great piece from Vorsino in Honolulu. It comes via Ken’s list-serve at Private Corrections Working Group. Hit them up for rap sheets on CCA and all these private prison profiteers, too.

This is a fascinating article about the implications of shipping one’s prisoners out of state – in this case, from Hawaii, which abolished the death penalty, to Arizona, which employs it with glee. It comes down to what we value most – life or profit/”savings”. If Hawaiians value life, they’ll bring their people home sooner rather than later, and keep them there.

Sad to say, but Arizonans don’t value life that much. Not the lives of people of color, indigenous and otherwise. Nor the lives of children, the poor, the elderly, the disabled…

These journalists in Honolulu rock…follow them for news as the Hawaiian prisoner murders unfold.



2 inmates could face death penalty in killing

By Mary Vorsino

POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Jun 16, 2010

Honolulu StarAdvertiser.com

Two Hawaii inmates charged with first-degree murder in the stabbing death of a fellow Hawaii inmate at the Saguaro Correctional Center in Arizona could face the death penalty if convicted.

The two are the first to face capital punishment for a crime committed in a private prison on the mainland since Hawaii started housing inmates out of state in 1995.

Because Hawaii has no death penalty, some legal advocates say the case could be unprecedented in the nation. Some also argue the situation raises new questions about the practice of sending inmates out of state to serve their sentences.

State Department of Public Safety officials say they are monitoring the case, but it doesn’t appear they plan to step in to urge Arizona to take the death penalty off the table.

“When you commit a crime in a different state, it’s a crime that is addressed with that state,” said DPS Director Clayton Frank. “We abide by the laws of that respective state.”

The two inmates — Miti Maugaotega Jr., 24, and Micah Kanahele, 29 — were indicted on first-degree murder and gang-related charges May 20 in the killing of Bronson Nunuha, 26, who was found in his cell at Saguaro on Feb. 18 with multiple stab wounds.

Maugaotega was serving a life sentence for first-degree attempted murder in the June 2003 shooting of Punchbowl resident Eric Kawamoto. Kanahele was serving two 20-year sentences for the October 2003 shooting deaths of Greg Morishima at his Aiea home and Guylan Nuuhiwa in a Pearl City parking lot a week later.

Nunuha was behind bars for three counts of second-degree burglary.

News that Maugaotega and Kanahele could face the death penalty comes as the state is investigating a second killing of a Hawaii inmate at Saguaro.

Clifford Medina, 23, was killed June 8 at Saguaro, and his cellmate, also a Hawaii inmate, is in custody in connection with the case.

Yesterday, Lt. Gov. James “Duke” Aiona, the acting governor while Gov. Linda Lingle is traveling in Asia, said the killings highlight the need to take a closer look at security at Saguaro and could prompt the state to move inmates from the facility.

But he said he would have to do more research before weighing in on whether the state should voice opposition on the two inmates facing the death penalty.

Some 1,871 male Hawaii inmates are at Saguaro, a 1,897-bed prison in Eloy, Ariz., owned by Corrections Corp. of America. About 50 more are at a separate CCA prison in Arizona.

The state spends about $61 million a year to house male inmates on the mainland because there is not enough room for them at Hawaii prisons. Last year, allegations by female Hawaii inmates of widespread sexual abuse by guards and employees at a CCA facility in Kentucky prompted the state to pull all 168 of its female inmates from the prison and bring them back to the islands to serve their time.

A spokesman with the Pinal County Attorney’s Office, which is prosecuting the Nunuha case, said the death penalty is within sentencing guidelines in a first-degree murder case.

He declined further comment because the case is ongoing.

Fifteen states, including Hawaii, do not have the death penalty.

state Sen. Will Espero, chairman of the Senate Public Safety Committee, said the Nunuha case could prompt more discussion on the implications of shipping Hawaii inmates out of state.

Espero added he wants to learn more about the killing before trying to determine whether the state should stand in the way of a death penalty sentencing.

“Quite frankly, it was a cold-blooded murder,” he said. “I’m sure you will find people in Hawaii that say they deserve (to face) the death penalty.”

But, he added, “these cases really do show the need to come up with a plan to bring home our prisoners one day.”

Opponents of the death penalty say the case raises legal questions. In a statement, ACLU Hawaii said it hopes Arizona will “respect Hawaii’s history and tradition of rejecting capital punishment in their treatment of Hawaii’s inmates.”

ACLU also said Nunuha’s killing is “just one of a morbid series of events showing the need for independent oversight” of CCA’s contract with Hawaii. The group urged the governor to sign a bill into law that calls for an audit of the state’s contract with CCA.