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U.S. Supreme Court Denies Rehearing in Kennedy v. Louisiana Opinion

On October 1, the U.S. Supreme Court denied Louisiana's request for a rehearing of the Court's ruling striking down the death penalty for non-homicidal offenses against individuals. Louisiana contended that a recent adjustment to military law that continued to allow the death penalty for child rape should have been taken into account by the Court, resulting in a different opinion. The Court slightly modified both the majority and dissenting opinions to include reference to the military code. The Court issued a statement, leaving intact its decision not only reversing Patrick Kennedy's death sentence for child rape, but also holding that the death penalty would be disproportionate for any crime against an individual in which the victim is not killed.  The statement said, in part:

[A]uthorization of the death penalty in the military sphere does not indicate that the penalty is constitutional in the civilian context. The military death penalty for rape was in effect before the decisions in Furman v. Georgia, 408 U. S. 238 (1972) (per curiam), and Coker v. Georgia, 433 U. S. 584 (1977); and when the Court surveyed state and federal law in Coker, it made no mention of the military penalty.

. . .

That the Manual for Courts-Martial retains the death penalty for rape of a child or an adult when committed by a member of the military does not draw into question our conclusions that there is a consensus against the death penalty for the crime in the civilian context and that the penalty here is unconstitutional.


On June 25, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional the Louisiana statute that allowed the death penalty for the rape of a child where the victim did not die. The Court held that all such laws, where the crime against an individual involved no murder or intent to murder, were not in keeping with the national consensus restricting the death penalty to the worst offenses. As a result, the only two people sentenced to death for this crime in the modern capital punishment era no longer face execution. Both were sentenced under the Louisiana statute that was found unconstitutional. Today, no one is on death row for any offense not involving murder.

The Court noted that the defendant, Patrick Kennedy, had been sentenced to death under a law that was not embraced by 44 out of the 50 states. The Court pointed to the danger in laws such as Louisiana's, which allowed the death penalty where no murder was committed: "When the law punishes by death, it risks its own sudden descent into brutality, transgressing the constitutional commitment to decency and restraint."

Victims' groups and child advocates had concluded that the death penalty for child rape could actually harm children, rather than protect them. Some of the reasons they cited included a possible decrease in reporting, re-victimization through the lengthy appeals or re-trials, and that equating rape to muder sends the wrong message to child victims.

(Kennedy v. Lousiana, 07-343 U.S. (2008); Order modifying the opinion and dissent, Oct. 1, 2008). See Supreme Court and DPIC's Kennedy v. Lousiana page.


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Federal Judge Sharply Criticizes Texas System in Ordering Stay of Execution

Jeff Wood’s execution was stayed with only hours remaining by U.S. District Court Judge Orlando Garcia of San Antonio. The judge chastised the Texas courts for their refusal last week to hire mental health experts to determine whether Wood (pictured) was insane or appoint a lawyer to represent him for a competency hearing. The state courts had ruled that Wood had to show he was insane before they would appoint a lawyer and a psychologist to help prove he was insane. Judge Garcia's opinion said such a system is absurd, “With all due respect, a system that requires an insane person to first make ‘a substantial showing’ of his own lack of mental capacity without the assistance of counsel or a mental health expert, in order to obtain such assistance is, by definition, an insane system.”

In their appeal, Wood’s attorneys argued he is too delusional to understand why he is to die. Attorney Scott Sullivan said, “He will become delusional and deny the apparent reality right in front of him,” adding that Wood believes he is the victim of a Freemason conspiracy. In granting the stay, the court noted that Wood's bizarre statements at his trial and in prison, “at least arguably suggest the petitioner lacks a rational understanding of the casual link between his role in his criminal offense and the reason he has been sentenced to death.”


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U.S. to Seek Death Penalty under New Military Commissions

The U.S. government has decided to seek the death penalty against six Guantánamo detainees who are accused of having central roles in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The defendants will be tried before Military Commissions, which are neither part of the federal criminal justice system nor the military's justice system for its own members. The laws and procedures under the Military Commission Act of 2006 have not been tested and had to be re-written after the government's first attempt was found unconstitutional. One person has been convicted under the new act following a guilty plea.

Some experts have stated that the trials of the detainees will be a “historic challenge” for prosecutors. Eric Freedman, a Hofstra University law professor who has consulted with the detainees’ lawyers, noted that a decision to seek the death penalty will draw “intense scrutiny” to the proceedings “both legally and politically from around the world.” Seeking the death penalty could also bog down the military court system, noted Tom Fleener, a former military defense lawyer, particularly since there are many unanswered legal questions such as how to handle evidence obtained through coercive methods. He stated, “Neither the system is ready, nor are the defense attorneys ready to do a death penalty case in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.”


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Crimes Punishable by the Death Penalty News and Developments: 2007

Supreme Court Asked to Review Unusual Death Sentence  Attorneys for Patrick Kennedy, the only person on death row in the U.S. for a non-homicide offense, have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review whether a death sentence for a crime where the victim was not murdered is constitutional. Kennedy was convicted of raping his 8-year-old step-daughter in Louisiana in 1998. Only a handful of states have laws that would allow a death sentence for such a crime. No one has been executed for a non-homicide offense since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, and Kennedy is the only person under a death sentence for such an offense.


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Those Executed Who Did Not Directly Kill the Victim

Everyone who has been executed since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976 participated in a crime in which at least one victim died. In most cases, the person executed directly killed the victim. In a small minority of cases, the person executed ordered or contracted with another person to carry out the murder. In another group of cases, the person executed participated in a felony during which a victim died at the hands of another participant in the felony. The defendant in such cases was typically found guilty of "felony murder" or under the "law of parties," and in some states can receive the death penalty, despite not having killed or directed the killing of the victim. The US Supreme Court has restricted the use of the death penalty in such cases. See Enmund v. Florida and Tison v. Arizona.

We list below the cases that we are aware of in which the defendant was found guilty of felony murder. We separately list the cases in which the person executed contracted to have the victim killed, though these cases do not fit under the class of felony murder and are not meant to imply less culpability. We welcome any additions or corrections to these lists.

 

See also DPIC's page Kennedy v. Louisiana regarding the Supreme Court decision striking down statutes that allowed the death penalty for non-homicide crimes against individuals.


Felony Murders


 

  Name State Race of
Defendant
Execution Date Description of Crime
1. Doyle Skillern TX White 1/16/1985 Accomplice in the murder of an undercover narcotics agent. He was waiting in a car nearby when the murder happened. The shooter is serving a life sentence, but eligible for parole. ("Killers' Fates Diverged; Accomplice Is Executed; Triggerman Faces Parole," Washington Post, January 16, 1985).
2. Beauford White FL Black 8/18/1987 Stood guard while two men went into a house looking for drugs and then killed six of the house's occupants. The two shooters were executed as well. ("Florida Prisoner Executed after 10-year Fight for Life," St. Petersburg Times, August 29, 1987).
3. G.W. Green TX White 11/12/1991 Participated in a robbery, where one of his accomplices shot the probation officer who owned the home. The shooter was executed on 9/10/87 and another accomplice is serving a life sentence. ("15 Years After Crime, Texas Inmate Is Executed," New York Times, November 13, 1991)
4. William Andrews UT Black 7/30/1992 Participated in a robbery and torture, but his accomplice murdered the victims after he left. The shooter was executed as well. ("Utah Execution Hinges on Issue of Racial Bias," New York Times, July 19, 1992)
5. Carlos Santana TX Latino 4/23/1993 Participated in a robbery. During the robbery his accomplice murdered a security guard. His accomplice was executed on December 8, 1998.  (Texas Department of Criminal Justice)
6. Jessie Gutierrez TX Latino 9/17/1994 Participated in a robbery with his brother, Jose Gutierrez, who killed the victim.  Jessie was apparently present during the murder and even brandished a gun while continuing with the robbery.  Jose was also executed (in 1999). (Texas Attorney General press release, Nov. 17, 1999).
7. Gregory Resnover IN Black 12/8/1994 A police officer was killed when trying to arrest Resnover and Tommie J. Smith. Smith and Resnover both fired shots at the police, but Smith was convicted as the one who fired the fatal shoot. Smith was executed on 7/18/1996. ("Capital Punishment in Indiana," Indy Star, June 15, 2007).
8. Steven Hatch OK White 8/9/1996 Steven Hatch with his co-defendant Glenn Ake participated in a home invasion. After abusing the family for several hours, Hatch went out to the car while Ake killed the parents. Ake is serving a life sentence. ("Oklahoma Justice: Should Crime Partner Get Death Penalty," Christian Science Monitor, August 7, 1996).
9. Dennis Skillicorn MO White 5/20/2009 Skillicorn and co-defendants Allen Nicklasson and Tim DeGraffenreid kidnapped Richard Drummond, who had stopped to help the three with their broken down car. While Skillicorn and Graffenreid waited in the car, Nicklasson led Drummond a 1/4 mile away and shot the victim. ("Missouri is about to execute Dennis Skillicorn. The state’s death penalty may not outlive him very long.," Kansas City Pitch, May 12, 2009).
10. Robert Thompson TX Black 11/19/2009 Thompson and co-defendant Sammy Butler entered a Seven Evenings convenience store in Houston with intent to rob. Thompson shot one clerk who survived the attack. On the way out, another clerk came out firing shots at the vehicle. Butler shot and killed that clerk. Butler was given a life sentence. The Texas Board of Pardon and Paroles recommended clemency for Thompson, which Texas Governor Rick Perry rejected. ("Killer executed after Perry rejects panel's advice," Houston Chronicle, November 20, 2009).


 


Contract Killings


 

  Name State Race of
Defendant
Execution Date Description of Crime
1. Anthony Antone FL White 1/26/1984 Planned the Murder of a former Police Detective. The shooter committed suicide while in jail. ("Contract Murderer Dies in Florida," New York Times, January 27, 1984).
2. Mark Hopkinson WY White 1/22/1992 Convicted of ordering the bombing deaths of a family. The bomber died before he could be questioned. Hopkinson was executed proclaiming his innocence. ("Executed in Wyoming," The Washington Times, January 23, 1992).
3. Larry Heath AL White 3/20/1992 Contracted for the murder of his wife. The shooter was given a life sentence. (HEATH v. ALABAMA, 474 U.S. 82 (1985))
4. Robert Black Jr. TX White 5/22/1992 John Wayne Hearn placed an ad in Soldier of Fortune magazine offering his skills as a mercenary. Black contacted him and paid him to murder his wife. Hearn is serving a life sentence in Florida. ("Killer Tells of Requests for His Help in Crimes," New York Times, February 21, 1988).
5. Markham Duff-Smith TX White 6/29/1993 Contracted for the murder of his adoptive mother. Of the co-defendants, one was given a 30-year sentence and another was paroled after serving three years in prison. The shooter was executed on 7/24/2003. ("Murderers Are Put to Death in Texas and Georgia," New York Times, June 30, 1993).
6. David Fisher VA White 3/23/1999 Contracted for murder to collect a life insurance policy. The shooter received a life sentence. ("Virginia Executes Man Who Arranged Murder for Hire." The Washington Post, March 23, 1999).
7. Marilyn Plantz OK White 5/1/2001 Conspired with two men to have her husband killed, allegedly to collect insurance money that they would share in.  One of the killers (her lover), William Bryson, was also executed. ("Oklahoma Executes Second Female Priosoner," Washington Post, May 2, 2001).
8. Clarence Ray Allen CA Native American 1/19/2006 While in prison, Allen contracted Billy Ray Hamilton to murder witnesses who had testified against him. Hamilton also received a death sentence, but died of cancer while on death row. ("Death Row Inmate, 58, Dies of Cancer," The Los Angeles Times, October 26, 2007).
9. Gregory Lynn Summers TX White 10/25/2006 Contracted for the murder of three family members. The shooter was given a death sentence as well. (Texas Department of Corrections: Texas Offender Information).
10. Teresa Lewis VA White 9/23/2010 Contracted for the murder of husband and adult stepson.  The two shooters received life without parole sentences. ("Virginia executes Teresa Lewis for role in slayings of husband, stepson in 2002," Washington Post, Sept. 23, 2010).
11. Kelly Gissendaner GA White 9/30/2015 Arranged to have her boyfried kill her husband. The boyfriend received a life sentence after a plea bargain. ("Georgia Executes Woman on Death Row Despite Clemency Bid and Pope’s Plea," N.Y. Times, Sept. 30, 2015).


Source: Pre-2000 cases were identified in "Death Row USA," Further research on these and subsequent cases is from DPIC.


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