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ARBITRARINESS: Woman Faces Federal Death Sentence While Triggerman Receives 17 Years

Donna Moonda (pictured) is facing the federal death penalty in Ohio for hiring a man to kill her husband.  The person who actually shot and killed the victim, Damian Bradford, received a sentence of only 17.5 years in exchange for his testimony against Moonda.  Moonda and Bradford were convicted in separate trials of orchestrating and carrying out the plot to kill Dr. Gulam Moonda in an alledged effort to share his estate. The two defendants met in a drug rehabilitation center. Donna Moonda is now in the sentencing phase of her capital trial, and could receive either the death penalty or life in prison without parole.  Moonda's defense attorneys maintain that Bradford is a thug, womanizer, and a drug dealer, and the state acknowledges that he was the person who killed Dr. Moonda. During the sentencing phase of Moonda's trial, jurors are expected to hear from prison experts who will describe the harsh conditions endured by those serving life in prison without parole.
(Tribune-Chronicle, July 16, 2007).  Update: Ms. Mooda received a life sentence from the jury on July 18, 2007.  See Women, Federal Death Penalty, and Arbitrariness.

 


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Texas Court Grants Stay on Basis of Possible Innocence

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stayed Cathy Henderson's scheduled execution of June 13 and has remanded her case back to the trial court for a more careful review of new scientific evidence that casts doubt on the state's claim that she intentionally killed Brandon Baugh, an infant in her care. The appeals court decision was largely based on a recent affidavit submitted by former Travis County medical examiner Dr. Roberto Bayardo (pictured), whose expert testimony was crucial to the state's case against Henderson. In his new sworn statement, Dr. Bayardo recanted his original testimony that the child's injuries were the result of an intentional act by Henderson, and stated that new evidence suggests the infant's injuries could have been the result of an accidental fall, a claim that Henderson has maintained since her 1994 arrest.


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Texas Medical Examiner No Longer Stands by Testimony that sent Woman to Death Row

Just weeks before Texas is scheduled to execute Cathy Henderson (pictured) for the murder of a child that she was babysitting, the medical examiner whose testimony helped send her to death row has said he no longer stands by his original opinion that the child's death resulted from an intentional act on Henderson's part. In light of new scientific evidence showing that Brandon Baugh's death could have resulted from an accidental fall, retired Travis County chief medical examiner Roberto Bayardo has submitted an affidavit to the court stating, "Had the new scientific information been available to me in 1995, I would not have been able to testify the way I did about the degree of force needed to cause Brandon Baugh's head injury. I cannot determine with a reasonable degree of medical certainty whether Brandon Baugh's injuries resulted from an intentional act of an accidental fall."


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Texas High Court Dismisses Woman's Death Sentence As Unsupported by the Evidence

In an important ruling, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has thrown out the death sentence of Kenisha Berry, who was sentenced to death in 1998 for the murder of her infant son, Malachi. The 5-4 decision stated that Jefferson County prosecutors misstated the special issue presented to jurors regarding Berry's likelihood of being a future danger to society, one of the key questions Texas jurors consider when they are deliberating a death sentence. Berry's attorneys argued that there was insufficient evidence of future dangerousness because Berry, a former corrections officer and day care worker, had no previous criminal record and defense experts testified that she had a low risk of committing future acts of violence, especially within the confines of prison. The court's majority opinion, written by Judge Cheryl Johnson, agreed. 

Johnson wrote, "While the state quite certainly proved that (Berry) showed a pattern of keeping the children sired by one man and discarding the children sired by other men, it did not prove that any other stimulus led to a violent or dangerous act in any other context. . . . We rarely reverse a judgment on a claim of insufficient evidence to support a finding that the defendant will be a danger in the future, and we do not do so lightly. In this case, we understand the jury's decision in response to the death of one infant and the abandonment of another, even if that decision is not supported in law."

Berry was one of 10 women on the state's death row, and she will now serve a life term in prison for her crime. Texas has executed three women since it resumed executions in 1982. Next month, the state has scheduled the execution of Cathy Henderson, who was given the death penalty for the murder of an infant she was babysitting.

(Dallas Morning News, May 23, 2007). See Women.


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Upcoming Texas Execution Raises Questions of Appropriate Sentence

UPDATE: Henderson's execution date of April 18 was stayed in order to consider new defense motions in the case. A new execution date of June 13 was tentatively set.
Upcoming Texas Execution Raises Questions of Appropriate Sentence
Cathy Henderson (pictured with Sr. Helen Prejean) is scheduled to be executed in Texas on April 18 for the 1994 murder of Brandon Baugh, an infant she was babysitting. Henderson would be the 12th woman put to death in the U.S. since capital punishment was reinstated. (See DPIC's updated page on Women and the Death Penalty). Since her arrest, Henderson has maintained that the child's death was accidental. Henderson said that she is sorry for Brandon's death and that she feels regret every day for the pain she caused his family. Watch an interview of Henderson with the Kansas City Star (Windows Media Player).


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Babysitter Scheduled for April Execution in Texas

Cathy Henderson (pictured with Sr. Helen Prejean) is scheduled to be executed in Texas on April 18 for the 1994 murder of Brandon Baugh, an infant she was babysitting. Henderson would be the 12th woman put to death in the U.S. since capital punishment was reinstated. Since her arrest, Henderson has maintained that the child's death was accidental. She said that she dropped the baby, fracturing his skull, and then panicked after realizing she could not revive him. She then buried the boy's body and fled to Missouri, where authorities captured her nearly two weeks later. Henderson said that she is sorry for Brandon's death and that she feels regret every day for the pain she caused his family. She notes, "I wish there was something I could do to comfort them, and if it's going to comfort them to end my life for an accident, I hope this gives them comfort."

Henderson's spiritual advisor is Sister Helen Prejean, well-known author of "Dead Man Walking."  Sister Helen believes Brandon's death was an accident. She said that the public needs to understand that Henderson is not a monster. "It's easy to kill a monster. It's hard to kill a real human being," she noted.

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Henderson's final appeal. She is seeking clemency from Texas Governor Rick Perry.
(Kansas City Star, March 1, 2007). See DPIC's updated page on Women, and Arbitrariness . View a video interview of Henderson by the Kansas City Star (Windows Media Player.


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BOOKS: "The Fairer Death: Executing Women in Ohio"

The Fairer Death: Executing Women in Ohio is a new book by Victor Streib, a professor at the Ohio Northern University College of Law.  The book explores Ohio’s use of the death penalty for women and examines the implications for women on death row throughout the country.  Streib carefully describes the cases of all four women executed by Ohio in its history and those of the 11 women sentenced to death in the state during the modern death penalty era (1973-present).

Professor Streib’s analysis of two centuries of Ohio’s use of the death penalty reveals no clear intent to exclude women, but, nonetheless, shows the strong possibility of gender bias.  The book provides insight into the national experience of applying the death penalty, invoking questions about the rationale for the death penalty and the many disparities in its administration. National reviewers have characterized the book as a "magnificent work" with "richly detailed" and "vivid portraits" of Ohio's condemned women. (Ohio University Press, 2006). See Women and Books.


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Women News and Developments: 2004 - 2003

Groups Issue Report on Women Facing Execution


(Note: Dec. 1 execution of Frances Newton was stayed by the governor.) As Texas plans to carry out the scheduled execution of Frances Newton on December 1, a new report documenting the results of a national survey of women currently on death row found that many women have been subjected to harsh living conditions and that most were sentenced for the murder of someone they knew. The report, The Forgotten Population: A Look at Death Row in the United States Through the Experiences of Women, was preapred by the ACLU and details the experiences of 56 women living on death row. It also reviews the cases of the 10 women who have been executed since 1976. It found that while women face problems similar to men's, such as inadequate defense counsel and struggles with drug and alcohol addiction, women are often subjected to harsher living conditions because of their small numbers. The following are among the key findings of the report:

  • Women on death row often had ineffective counsel and were victims of misconduct by prosecutors or law enforcement.
  • More than half of the women had suffered regular physical abuse by family members or spouses.
  • Half of the women on Death Row acted with at least one other person, but in most of those cases, the co-defendant received a sentence other than death - even in cases where they appeared to be equally culpable.
  • Many women on death row live in almost complete isolation, which puts them at a serious risk of developing mental illness, or exacerbating existing mental illness.

The report recommends establishing a training program for defense lawyers to encourage investigation of abuse of their female clients and the raising of this issue at trial; integrating women on death row into regular prison units and providing them with opportunities to work; adopting prison staffing policies to prevent abuse; and amending the Prison Litigation Reform Act to provide women who are sexually abused in prison with access to the court. Since 1973, 148 women have been sentenced to death in the United States. There are currently 50 women on death row, and Newton would be 11th woman executed in the U.S. since 1976. (ACLU Press Release, November 29, 2004). Read the report. See Women and the Death Penalty. Note: the Texas Board of Pardon and Paroles has voted 5-1 in favor of granting Newton a 120-day stay. The governor's response is expected soon.



Charlize Theron Critizes Death Penalty After Movie Role

Charlize Theron, who recently won a Golden Globe Award for her portrayal of executed Florida death row inmate Aileen Wuornos in the movie "Monster," has stated that making the movie made her more aware of how "ineffective" capital punishment is. Theron, who is opposed to the death penalty, was only 15 when her own mother shot and killed her drunken father after he threatened to kill his wife and daughter. "I don't think condemning people who murder and then killing them necessarily sends out the right message. And I have a huge problem with the way these people are used as political pawns," said Theron, a native of South Africa. Theron's portrayal of Wuornos showed her as a homeless prostitute who was sentenced to die for a series of murders she committed after a killing in self defense. Theron has also been nominated for a best actress Academy Award. (Reuters, February 8, 2003) See New Voices and Women and the Death Penalty.


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Women News and Developments: 2005

Texas Woman Facing Execution Had One of the Worst of Texas' Lawyers

As Texas prepares to execute Frances Newton on September 14, the Austin American-Statesman editorialized about the poor quality of representation she received at trial and the doubts that this raises about her conviction. The paper noted:

Maybe Frances Newton shot her husband and two children to death in 1987. Maybe she didn't. The public cannot be certain of her guilt, but she's going to die for the crime anyway.

Newton was denied a basic requirement for a fair trial — a competent lawyer. Her attorney at trial was the notorious Ron Mock, whose shoddy work in capital murder trials is well known in legal circles. He has been repeatedly disciplined by the State Bar of Texas, and has since been disqualified from handling capital cases. No less than 16 people whom Mock represented were sent to death row. Mock apparently did no investigation of Newton's claims of innocence. When asked by a trial judge, he could not name a single witness he had interviewed on Newton's behalf.

How many times must this scene be repeated before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the state Board of Pardons and Parole or the U.S. Supreme Court intervenes in death sentences won on defense incompetence?

A competent lawyer should be provided for defendants facing the death penalty. The rule of thumb in Texas seems to be that only those who can afford a competent lawyer are entitled to one. Newton couldn't afford a good lawyer, so the state appointed Mock to represent her.

She is scheduled to be executed on Wednesday despite plenty of doubt her new lawyers have raised regarding the triple murder for which she was convicted. Tom and Virginia Louis, the parents of the man Newton was convicted of killing, have their doubts.

"We are the parents of Adrian Newton and the grandparents of Alton and Farrah Newton . . . We were willing to testify on Frances' behalf, but Frances' defense lawyer never approached us," they said in a letter to the Board of Pardons and Parole asking for leniency.

Indigent defendants must rely on the state system. The state's court-appointed lawyer system has improved significantly in the past five years because of legislation aimed at weeding out incompetent lawyers and recruiting better lawyers for people who can't afford to hire their own. The 2001 Texas Fair Defense Act does set minimum requirements for attorneys representing capital murder defendants. (The emphasis is on "minimum.")

But those who were convicted before 2001 were under a system that declared any lawyer with a pulse and law license competent. That included lawyers who slept during trial or were doped up as they prepared for trial. It included lawyers who did little or no investigation.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals refuses to hear any new evidence or facts in Newton's case — and many others like it — because those facts were raised after court deadlines expired.

And that's the rub. The state appeals court is not deciding Newton's case based on the merits of new facts or legal issues. It has rejected her appeal because she missed a deadline.

We've said it before, but it's worth repeating: Race, ethnicity, income and geography are all factors in the imposition of death sentences.

As long as Texas has a death penalty, capital defendants should have access to competent legal counsel. Newton didn't get that. For that reason, she should be spared.

(Austin American-Statesman, September 12, 2005). See Women and Representation.

ABA President Calls for Stay of Texas Woman's Execution

LETTER OF ABA PRESIDENT MICHAEL GRECO TO TEXAS GOVERNOR RICK PERRY AND THE PARDONS BOARD CONCERNING THE UPCOMING EXECUTION OF FRANCES NEWTON

August 31, 2005

BY FAX: 512/463-1849
The Honorable Rick Perry
Office of the Governor
State Capitol
P.O. Box 12428
Austin, Texas 78711-2428

BY FAX: 512/463-8120
Chairwoman Rissie Owens
Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles
Executive Clemency Unit
Capital Section
P.O. Box 13401
Austin, Texas 78711

Re: Francis Newton

Dear Governor Perry and Chairwoman Owens:

As President of the American Bar Association, I write to
express the concern of the ABA about the case of Francis
Newton, an African-American woman who is scheduled to be
executed on September 14, 2005. Our concern arises from
our understanding that arguably significant and compelling
new evidence regarding Ms. Newton's case has not yet been
evaluated by Texas courts. This new evidence includes forensic
evidence and evidence of a lack of motive, both of which are
made more serious by Ms. Newton's continuing and unwavering
claim of innocence.

We are also concerned that this evidence was not discovered
earlier because of the negligence of her appointed lawyer, Ron
Mock. Several months after Mr. Mock's appointment, Ms. Newton
wrote a letter to the trial judge expressing concern that no
investigation of her case was occurring. On the day of trial, Mr.
Mock could not name one witness he had interviewed. He did
no investigation whatsoever, and therefore, did not place before
the jury the evidence that now casts doubt on Ms. Newton's
involvement in this crime. Mr. Mock was later barred from
handling capital cases.

Longstanding ABA policy states the importance of providing
all criminal defendants with qualified, competent counsel and
protecting the innocent from wrongful execution. An abundance
of caution should be exercised whenever there is doubt. Last
December, you agreed to a 120 day delay of Ms. Newton's
execution because you were persuaded that such doubt existed.
Some testing was impossible because the evidence had been contaminated.
More testing has been requested and compelling
new evidence has been discovered since December.

We are not in a position to comment on the merits of the new
evidence. That is a role for officials in your state. But we believe that carrying out the execution of Francis Newton without a full
review of this new evidence is inconsistent with principles of
fundamental fairness and due process. Because reasonable
doubt exists, we urge you to vacate her execution date so that
the newly discovered evidence can be tested and properly
evaluated by Texas courts.

Thank you for your consideration.

Respectfully yours,

Michael S. Greco
President
American Bar Association

 

WOMEN AND THE DEATH PENALTY

"I am comparing the death penalty system to the levees in New Orleans. They told us they would work, but they didn't."

-Sr. Helen Prejean, Chicago Tribune, Sept. 9, 2005
Useful Links:


dot Mother Jones article on the second thoughts of the man who introduced lethal injection-Need code: MJ9ASW

dot ABA President's Letter to Gov. Perry regarding upcoming execution of Frances Newton
WOMEN AND THE DEATH PENALTY

There were 54 women on death row across the country as of July 1, 2005 (NAACP Legal Defense Fund).

The next scheduled execution of a woman is:
Frances Newton in Texas on Sept. 14, 2005.

There have been 10 executions of women in the U.S. since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. The most recent such execution was:
Aileen Wuornos in Florida on October 9, 2002.

Among the women executed were:

tucker
Karla Faye Tucker, right, with Sister Helen Prejean
Executed February 3, 1998 in Texas

 

beets


Betty Lou Beets
Executed February 24, 2000 in Texas

 

allen


Wanda Jean Allen
Executed January 11, 2001 in Oklahoma



Lena Baker was executed in Georgia in 1945. The state has called her execution "a grevious error" and will grant her a pardon.





See DPIC's Women and the Death Penalty
See also Prof. Victor Streib's "Death Penalty for Female Offenders" (pdf)


Texas Woman Faces Execution Despite Questions Regarding Her Guilt

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.

At the time of her initial trial, there were indications that an unreported second gun was recovered at the crime scene, but Newton's court-appointed defense attorney, Ron Mock, - who was later barred from capital cases - failed to investigate the matter. Newton's current defense attorneys note that such evidence would have had to be turned over to the defense, but was not, and that the wrong gun could have been tested in the case.

In addition to new questions about a possible second gun recovered at the crime scene, Newton's defense attorneys have a sworn account from a relative of their client who was incarcerated in the Harris County jail in 1987 and 1988. The statement tells of a cellmate who had boasted of going to the Newtons' house the night of slayings to collect a drug debt "with orders to kill everybody present if the man did not have the money."

Newton has maintained her innocence since her arrest. Three jurors from the case now say that they would not have voted to convict her if they had known of all the evidence, and two former Texas criminal justice officials are urging the state to spare her life because she does not pose a future danger to society, a necessary finding for execution. Newton was originally scheduled for execution on December 1, 2004, but was granted a rare 120-day reprieve by Governor Rick Perry to allow time to review disputed evidence. (New York Times, August 25, 2005). See Innocence and Women.

Georgia Board To Pardon Woman 60 Years After Her Execution

The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles has announced that it will issue a formal pardon this month for Lena Baker, the only woman executed in the state during the 20th century. The document, signed by all five of the current board members, will note that the parole board's 1945 decision to deny Baker clemency and allow her execution was "a grievous error, as this case called out for mercy." Baker, an African American, was executed for the murder of Ernest Knight, a white man who hired her . Baker was tried, convicted, and sentenced to die in one day by an all-white, all-male jury. Baker claimed she shot Knight in self-defense after he locked her in his gristmill and threatened her with a metal pipe. The pardon notes that Baker "could have been charged with voluntary manslaughter, rather than murder, for the death of E.B. Knight." The average sentence for voluntary manslaughter is 15 years in prison. Baker's picture and her last words are currently displayed near the retired electric chair at a museum at Georgia State Prison in Reidsville. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, August 16, 2005). See Race, Clemency and Women.

Mentally Ill Woman Dies After 20 Years on Nevada's Death Row

Priscilla Ford, who suffered from a variety of mental illnesses and who was the lone woman on Nevada's death row for more than twenty years, died of apparent complications from emphysema on January 29, 2005. A prison spokesman said, "She had been quiet for so long. No one ever had any problems with her (in prison). I don't remember hearing about her violating any rules." Ford was sentenced to death row after she was convicted of killing 6 people and injuring 23 others by driving her car down a crowded Reno sidewalk on Thanksgiving Day 1980. Following the crime, a judge ordered that she receive mental health treatment so she would be competent to stand trial. Ford had been a gifted teacher until her mental illness emerged around 1970. During her 6-month trial, it was revealed that Ford had been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic with violent tendencies, but she would not stay on the medication that controlled her condition. She had been treated and released from seven different hospitals prior to her crime. Ford told people she was Christ, that she was the reincarnation of the founder of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and that she had God-like powers and would smite her enemies.

Washoe County Assistant District Attorney John Helzer said Ford's case and the subsequent appeals cost taxpayers a lot of money and unfairly caused victims' families to relive the tragedy. "That was such a sad case. It was such a tragedy for so many people," Helzer noted. Ford's death leaves 83 men on Nevada's death row. (Reno Gazette-Journal and Associated Press, January 30, 2005). See Women, Life Without Parole, and Mental Illness.


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Books: Women  

 

 

  • The Fairer Death: Executing Women in Ohio is a new book by Victor Streib, a professor at the Ohio Northern University College of Law. The book explores Ohio’s use of the death penalty for women and examines the implications for women on death row throughout the country. Streib carefully describes the cases of all four women executed by Ohio in its history and those of the 11 women sentenced to death in the state during the modern death penalty era (1973-present). Professor Streib’s analysis of two centuries of Ohio’s use of the death penalty reveals no clear intent to exclude women, but, nonetheless, shows the strong possibility of gender bias. The book provides insight into the national experience of applying the death penalty, invoking questions about the rationale for the death penalty and the many disparities in its administration. National reviewers have characterized the book as a "magnificent work" with "richly detailed" and "vivid portraits" of Ohio's condemned women. (Ohio University Press, 2006).
  • Women and the Death Penalty in the United States, 1900-1998 by Kathleen A. O'Shea. This book looks at the penal codes in the various states that have given women the death penalty and the personal stories of women who have been sentenced to death, executed, or are currently on death row. Published by Praeger Publishers, Westport, Conn.
  • Lowry, Beverly: "Crossed over: a murder, a memoir"; Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1992

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