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NEW VOICES: 'Zachary's Law' Case Settles with a Life Sentence; Victim's Family Given Finality

Todd Snider, the father of Zachary Snider, who was killed at age 10 by Christopher Stevens in Indiana, accepted final resolution of the case against Stevens when a settlement was reached for a sentence of life without parole. “Our family has suffered enough and would like for this to be resolved once and for all," Mr. Snider said about the life sentence. "This will give our family finality. Chris Stevens will die in prison and will never have the opportunity to destroy people's lives again."  The 1993 murder led to the passage of Zachary’s Law, creating Indiana's sex offender registry.  Stevens was originally sentenced to death, but the sentence was overturned in 2007 because Stevens' attorneys had not adequately presented evidence of the defendant's mental illness.  Putnam County Prosecutor Tim Bookwalter said he “believe[s] it was probable that another jury would have given Mr. Stevens the death penalty, but it would have caused the Sniders to go through a lengthy jury trial, and then if convicted, a new set of appeals could have gone on another 10 years. With the plea, this case is over. There are no more appeals and the Sniders should never have to deal with Stevens again."


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OPINION: San Francisco Chronicle Addresses "The High Cost of Vengeance"

John Diaz, the editorial page editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, recently questioned the wisdom of spending hundreds of millions of dollars on the death penalty in California. Diaz pointed to the enormous expense of maintaining capital punishment in the state: "Today, California has nearly 700 inmates on death row, more than any other state, with their cases in varying levels of appeal. The housing of an inmate on death row is more than triple the $40,000 annual cost of incarcerating others. This state is contemplating a new, $400 million death row. And none of this includes the legal bills for the trials and appeals that are - by constitutional right - more exhaustive in capital cases."  He called for an open debate, “At some point, California needs to have a forthright debate about the cost and efficacy of the death penalty. That moment,” he wrote alluding to upcoming elections, “maybe coming in 2010.” He noted that executions are too rare in California to be a plausible deterrent.  The percentage of Californians who believe the death penalty is a deterrent has dropped from 79% to 44% in the last twenty years.


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BOOKS: "The Crying Tree"

The Crying Tree is a new novel by Naseem Rakha that raises the real-life question: Could you forgive the man who murdered your son?  Rakha is an award-winning broadcast journalist whose work has been heard on NPR's "All Things Considered" and "Morning Edition." The story of her novel is told through the lives of a mother whose son was murdered and the superintendent of a state penitentiary where the defendant's execution is to take place.  Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking, said in review, "For anyone who has ever wondered how forgiveness is possible, even when the pain is overwhelming, wonder no more.  The Crying Tree takes you on a journey you won't soon forget."


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Family of Six-Year-Old Murder Victim Doesn't Want to Seek Death Penalty

The relatives of a six-year-old child who was murdered in Georgia expressed their wishes that the death penalty not be sought against his killer and said they wanted “people to know the true story” of what happened to the child. “Me and the father and the mother, none of us want the death sentence,” said Thomas Murphy, the boy’s uncle. “We want him to live knowing what he [has] done. We want him to live every day of his life knowing what he [has] done to this child. Death is too easy.”  The child, Michael Levigne, and his grandmother were allegedly shot by his grandfather Robert “Bobby” Clark over a family dispute regarding a watermelon.  The grandmother is expected to survive.  


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BOOKS--The Ride: A Shocking Murder and a Bereaved Father’s Journey from Rage to Redemption

The Ride: A Shocking Murder and a Bereaved Father’s Journey from Rage to Redemption is a new book by Brian MacQuarrie that explores a parent's grief and subsequent transformation through the story of Robert Curley in Massachusetts.  Curley's 10-year-old son, Jeffrey, was a victim of abduction and murder in 1997.  The murder shocked and outraged the community of East Cambridge outside of Boston.  MacQuarrie explores the father's evolution “from grief to anger to activism against predators,” and from being an outraged father demanding the death penalty for his son’s murderer to an outspoken critic of capital punishment.  Delving deeper into the issue, the author looks at the struggle of Massachusetts residents as they decide whether to reinstate capital punishment.  Senator John Kerry calls the book, a “compelling and deeply moving…story of Bob Curley’s journey to hell and back.”  Sister Helen Prejean said "Robert Curley's radical transformation is a lesson for us all."


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Death Penalty Abolished in New Mexico--Governor Says Repeal Will Make the State Safer

Governor Bill Richardson signed the bill abolishing the death penalty in New Mexico on March 18.  New Mexico now becomes the 15th state to abandon capital punishment and the 3rd in the last 2 years, following recent actions in New Jersey and New York in 2007. The new law substitutes the punishment of life without parole for the death penalty in future cases.  In a statement, Gov. Richardson cited the 130 inmates freed from death row since 1973 and added, "The sad truth is the wrong person can still be convicted in this day and age, and in cases where that conviction carries with it the ultimate sanction, we must have ultimate confidence, I would say certitude, that the system is without flaw or prejudice. Unfortunately, this is demonstrably not the case.Many family members of murder victims applauded the repeal: “This is recognition of the false promise that the death penalty offered, and a realization of how murder victims’ family members’ needs can truly be served,” said Lorry Post, Executive Director of Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation (MVFR). Cathy Ansheles of Santa Fe and a member of MVFR, reacted to the bill’s passage, “It’s a great relief to know that families will no longer be put through the turmoil of the death penalty. Finally, resources can be directed to where they will really do the most good.”


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Ohio Governor Grants Death Row Inmate Clemency

Governor Ted Strickland of Ohio has granted clemency to death row inmate Jeffrey Hill (pictured), who was scheduled to be executed on March 3. “After the review of extensive material associated with this case, I concur with the unanimous rationale and recommendation of the Ohio Parole Board,“ Strickland said in a statement.  The Board had voted unanimously for Hill’s commutation in part because of the victim’s family’s testimony that they wished Hill’s life be spared.  The Governor explained in his statement, "The Parole Board cited five basic reasons for its recommendation: the views of the victim's family, the lack of adequate representation by counsel at Mr. Hill's sentencing, the remorse demonstrated by Mr. Hill regarding his actions, the lack of proportionality of the sentence of death in this case when compared with similar murder cases, and the expressed views of two justices of the Ohio Supreme Court which reviewed this case on appeal."


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Ohio Parole Board Unanimously Recommends Clemency For Death Row Inmate

The Ohio Parole Board unanimously recommended that Jeffrey Hill's death sentence be commuted to life in prison with the possibility of parole. Hill, who is scheduled to be executed on March 3, was convicted of murdering his mother while under the influence of drugs.  The parole board noted the “compelling and unanimous opinion” of the victim's family that her son and killer should not be executed.  The board said, "They have suffered tremendous loss, and execution would add further to their suffering.”  In a letter to a local paper’s editor last month, the victim’s brother and Hill’s uncle, Eddie Sanders, pled for clemency. "For 18 years, we have grieved Emma's passing," Sanders wrote. "As a family, we have gone through enough. Executing Jeffrey will not bring Emma back or negate our suffering.  We already have suffered through the burial of a dear loved one. Our family hopes the state of Ohio honors Emma's wishes and does not force us to bury another." 


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Victims' Families Ask State to End Death Penalty and Solve Cold Cases Instead

A bill is being introduced in Colorado to end the state’s death penalty and to use the resultant savings to investigate the state's more than 1,300 unsolved crimes.  More than 500 residents who have lost friends and family to unsolved murders are pushing for the bill, which is expected to be introduced by House Majority Leader Paul Weissmann.  The proponents estimate that 3 in 10 killers in the state walk free, and catching more killers would be a more effective deterrent than capital punishment and a better use of state funds.  Weissman says abolishing capital punishment could save the state $2 million a year and local authorities another $2.5 million.  “Any other program that cost that much and was used so little would be the first to go,” said Weissman, whose 2007 version of the bill died narrowly on the House floor.  Howard Morton, of Families of Homicide Victims and Missing Persons, said, "Our position is very simple. Why talk about penalties when we haven't even caught [them]? Let's do first things first. These murderers are living in our neighborhoods."


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