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.
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Another black man was lynched last night….

His name was Troy Davis.

Remember that when the last death chamber in this country is dismantled one day.

It will be soon...


Condolences to Troy’s family and loved ones, from Phoenix….

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.

Deseret News: 2011 Utah legislative outlook on crime

By Paul KoeppDeseret News

The Utah Department of Corrections is requesting from Utah lawmakers an additional $4.9 million to shift inmates to county jails. The state prison is over capacity, with the Board of Pardons and Parole starting early releases of prisoners in the past year. If the prison system stays over capacity for 45 days, state law would trigger an emergency release.

UDOC has also requested approval to build a 300-bed facility, similar to a halfway house, somewhere along the Wasatch Front to house parole violators short term instead of sending them back to prison.

Read the rest here.

Judge denies stay of execution for Gardner

Written by: Dan Metcalf Jr.
Email: dan.metcalf@abc4.com
ABC4.com

A judge denied a stay of execution for Ronnie Lee Gardner on Tuesday.

Third District Court judge Robin Reese denied the motion after hearing arguments last week.

Gardner is scheduled to executed by firing squad on June 18th.

An death sentence appeal for Gardner will be heard in the Utah Supreme Court next week.

Gardner was convicted for killing a lawyer during a court house escape attempt in 1985.

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