The North Carolina State Bar has charged two former Union County prosecutors with lying, cheating, and withholding evidence in a 1996 murder case that ended in a death sentence. The charges state that former Union County District Attorney Kenneth Honeycutt and his assistant, Scott Brewer, each committed 23 violations of the rules that govern lawyers during their 1996 prosecution of Jonathan Hoffman, who was sentenced to death for robbery and murder.
John Spirko is scheduled for execution on September 20 in Ohio but the state's Attorney General, Jim Petro, has recommended further review of the case because his senior deputy misrepresented evidence to the Parole Board. The Board voted 6-3 against leniency for Spirko, who received a death sentence for a 1982 murder. Other national leaders, such as former FBI Director William S. Sessions, have also urged the state to investigate the case more closely. In a letter to Ohio Governor Bob Taft, Sessions asked that Spirko's sentence be commuted, noting, "I believe that John Spirko may have been unjustly convicted." Sessions is one of four retired federal judges who have questioned Spirko's conviction. Defense attorneys assert that Spirko's conviction was based on faulty eyewitness identification and the testimony of jailhouse informants who received leniency and later recanted.
Edna Weaver, whose daughter was murdered in New Jersey, expressed relief that the defendant was spared the death penalty. She said that she did not want William Severs Jr. executed for killing Tina Lambriola in 2002 because she wanted to spare his mother the pain of losing a child. "I'm so thankful it came out the way it did. . . . I wouldn't want another mother to feel like I do -- it's a feeling I could never put into words. . . . At least his mother will be able to write to him, she will be able to send things to him," Weaver stated.
As Iraq resumed carrying out the death penalty with the execution of three nationals on September 1, the European Union (EU) expressed its hope that Iraq would abandon capital punishment. In a statement released after the executions, the EU noted, "The EU is of the view that the death penalty does not serve as an effective deterrent and any miscarriage of justice, which might arise in any legal system, would be irreversible. The EU therefore regrets that the government of Iraq has elected to implement the death penalty in these cases. ...The EU is strongly opposed to the death penalty and condemns its use. While recognizing the sovereign right of the government of Iraq to decide on judicial sentencing, we strongly urge that the death penalty should be abolished."
A recent editorial in The Washington Post praised Indiana Governor Mitchell Daniels for commuting the death sentence of Arthur Baird, who suffers from severe mental illness. The editorial noted:
Indiana Gov. Mitchell E. Daniels Jr. (R) acted wisely and humanely this week in commuting the death sentence of one Arthur Paul Baird II. There is no question that Mr. Baird killed his parents and his pregnant wife back in 1985. There is also little question that he is seriously mentally ill and was so then. His mental illness was clearly a significant factor in the killings and just as clearly led directly to his death sentence. Because of his delusional state, Mr. Baird inexplicably rejected a plea deal the state had offered him that would have spared his life. Jurors in his case have indicated that had life in prison without parole -- not an option in Indiana at the time -- been available, they would have chosen that rather than death. Family members were similarly inclined. Yet the state parole board recommended against clemency on a 3 to 1 vote, and the Indiana Supreme Court, also divided, likewise declined to step in. Mr. Daniels deserves credit for taking responsibility for preventing Mr. Baird's execution.
Benjamin Wittes, editorial page writer for The Washington Post, discusses the death penalty in light of recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions in the October 2005 issue of The Atlantic Monthly. He states that the Court has "shifted gears on capital punishment" and predicts that this trend will continue through a series of decisions limiting the death penalty and addressing systemic flaws that continue to surface. Wittes writes:
Arthur Baird, who was to be executed on August 31 for murdering his parents in Indiana, received a commutation to a life sentence from Governor Mitch Daniels. (WishTV.com, Ch.8, Indianapolis, Aug. 29, 2005). Two members of the Indiana Supreme Court had written that Baird was "only marginally in touch with reality," in a decision in which the majority had allowed the execution to go forward. A report to the court from Dr. Philip M. Coons, a professor emeritus of psychiatry at the Indiana University School of Medicine, found Baird to be "grossly psychotic and delusional" and mentally unfit to be executed. Indiana's parole board had recommended against a commutation.
Update: Frances Newton was executed in Texas on September 14, 2005. As Texas prepares to execute Frances Newton on September 14, her attorneys have raised questions in a clemency petition about her guilt based on new evidence, including conflicting accounts of whether investigators recovered a second gun at the crime scene. Newton, who would be the first black woman executed in the state since the Civil War, was sentenced to death for the 1987 killings of her husband and her two children.
Bill Wiseman, the former Oklahoma legislator who introduced lethal injection as a method of execution in the U.S. in order to make death row inmates' deaths more humane, now regrets having pushed the concept into law. He notes that he introduced the measure in order to ease his shame for having voted to restore the death penalty in Oklahoma, stating, "I'm sorry for what I did. I hope someday to offset it by helping us realize that capital punishment is wrong and self-destructive." While discussing recent court challenges regarding lethal injection practices, Wiseman stated, "I'm aware of my responsibility. It keeps me tied to the problem. And the problem is that we're killing people. That's what's wrong, not how we're doing it." Wiseman is no longer an elected official and was recently ordained as an Episcopal priest.