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ARTICLES:The Story of a Death Row Inmate Who Wanted to Die

In 1996, Illinois Governor Jim Edgar commuted the death sentence of Guin Garcia to life without parole, even though Garcia herself had stopped fighting for her life. Garcia would have been the first woman executed in the U.S. in twelve years. She had been convicted of killing the man who had physically abused her, but she had dropped her appeals because she said she was done “begging for her life.” Chicago Sun-Times reporter Carol Marin followed Garcia's case after the commutation and recently wrote about the changes in Garcia's life. Marin told the story of Garcia's early life: her mother's suicide, sexual abuse by her uncle, becoming an alcoholic and prostitute by age 16. Last month, Garcia received an associate degreee in liberal studies from Lake Land College at a graduation ceremony at the Dwight Correctional Center. Fellow graduates at the ceremony pointed to Garcia, now 49, as the reason they earned their GED’s, professional certificates, and furthered their education. They called her “Granny” and said she demanded they straighten out their life as she led through example.

The complete article appears below:

A commuted sentence, and a life reborn

By CAROL MARIN | Sun-Times columnist | [email protected]

Ten days ago, I took a trip I wouldn't have predicted. This is a story about a
near-execution, a graduation and a decision by former Gov. Jim Edgar that has
delivered unexpected consequences.

It's a story about rising up and reaching down.

In January 1996, Guin Garcia, an inmate on Death Row at Dwight Correctional
Center in Downstate Illinois, was on the verge of execution.

Months earlier, Garcia, a 36-year-old convicted double murderer, had dropped
her court appeals, said she was done "begging for her life" and put the wheels
in motion for her death by lethal injection. It would mark the first execution
of a woman in the U.S. in two decades. It became an international story.

Garcia's biography wasn't pretty.

At age 2, she saw her mother jump out a window and die.

Her father split. She was reared by grandparents and an uncle. The uncle began
raping her when she was 7, giving her alcohol to calm her and shut her up.

Family members confirm the grandmother knew but did nothing.

By 16, she was an alcoholic and a prostitute. By 17, she was married and
pregnant.

Her baby, Sara, was not yet 1 when she suffocated her with a plastic dry
cleaning bag rather than face the prospect of DCFS taking Sara away to live
with the grandmother and the pedophile uncle.

She confessed, went to prison for 10 years, married one of her tricks, an
older man named George Garcia, who once, according to Supreme Court records,
genitally mutilated her with a broken bottle.

Drunk one night, she shot and killed George.

Her sorrow over Sara is something Guin Garcia lives with every day. She is not
sorry about George.

Fourteen hours before her scheduled execution in 1996, Gov. Edgar, who had
signed off on the executions of four men, suddenly stopped the wheels from
turning on this one. For a Republican who supported the death penalty, it was
not an easy decision. Edgar commuted her sentence to natural life.

Last week, I went back to the prison at Dwight. With a 3.95 "A" average,
Garcia was graduating magna cum laude from Lake Land College.

Dressed in caps and gowns, marching to "Pomp and Circumstance," 57 other women
received GEDs and certificates in computer technology, commercial cooking, dog
training and business management.

Friends and family filled the prison gym. Small children were in their Sunday
best, waving to their mothers. There aren't many happy days in prison, said
Warden Mary Sigler. This was one.

As one of the inmates rose to claim her diploma, a young man in a back row
proudly cried out, "That's my Mom!"

Garcia was last to be called up, the only one that day to accept a college
degree, an associate in liberal studies.

You might be asking, what's the point? Why waste tax dollars on a lifer?
There's an answer.

It's what Pulitzer Prize-winning author Anna Quindlen calls "Rising up,
reaching down."

Graduates I talked to that day, including one who is 28 and has been locked up
since she was 15, told me the reason she earned her GED last year and got a
certificate in professional dog grooming this year was that Garcia, whom
younger inmates call "Granny," demanded that she straighten up and fly right.

Garcia's quest for education helped motivate hers.

That young woman -- a slight, pretty African American -- will get out in two
years better prepared to go forward because Guin Garcia, in life's depths,
somehow found it in herself to rise up and reach down.

Today, Garcia is 49, with no illusions about getting out. And yet, thanks to a
decision by a pro-death penalty governor to spare one life, new life has been
given.

Rise up. Reach down.

It can happen anywhere.

(C. Marin, ”A commuted sentence, and a life reborn,” Chicago Sun-Times, June 8, 2008). See Life Without Parole and Clemency.


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NEW RESOURCES: Women and the Death Penalty

Victor Streib, who has been researching the subject of women and the death penalty for 20 years, has released an updated version of his report “Death Penalty for Female Offenders.” In his research, Prof. Streib, a professor at Elon University School of Law in North Carolina and Ohio Northern University’s Pettit College of Law, has found that women are significantly less likely than men to receive a death sentence, possibly because prosecutors seem less inclined to seek the death penalty against female offenders. He noted , “Women [are charged with] roughly 10 to 12 percent of the murders in the country. They get about 2 percent of the death sentences and get less than 1 percent of the actual executions.” He also noted that it is impossible to know why prosecutors decide to seek the death penalty in some cases but not others.


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Women News and Developments - 2007

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.

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.

Dr. Bayardo's affidavit noted, "Since 1995, when I testified at Cathy Henderson's trial, the medical profession has gained a greater understanding of pediatric head trauma and the extent of injuries that can occur in infants as a result of relatively short distance falls . . . I cannot determine with a reasonable degree of medical certainty whether Brandon Baugh's injuries resulted from an intentional act or an accidental fall. In fact, 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."

The new hearing ordered by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals will take place before the same judge who presided over Henderson's original trial in 1995. It will likely be months before the hearings take place.
(KVUE News, June 12, 2007, and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruling, June 11, 2007). Read the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Order. See also, Women and Innocence.

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."

Since her arrest nearly 13 years ago, Henderson has maintained that Brandon Baugh's death was the result of a tragic accident. She claims that the infant accidentally fell from her arms after she stepped on a toy while spinning him around. During her trial, Bayardo testified that Baugh's injuries could not have resulted from a short distance fall, as Henderson claimed. Now, based on recent studies and biochemical analysis, four experts in the field of forensic pathology have concluded that Bayardo erred in concluding that the injuries sustained by the infant could not have come from a "short distance fall" of four feet or less.  One of the experts, Dr. John Plunkett, stated in an affidavit, "It is impossible for any qualified scientist or physician to conclude, whether to a reasonable degree of medical certainty or beyond a reasonable doubt, that any intentional and deliberate act caused Brandon Baugh's death."

Henderson's execution is scheduled for June 13. She has petitioned the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to stay her execution and review her case based on the new scientific evidence.
(Court TV.com, May 30, 2007). See Court TV's Web page about this case.  See also Women. 

Two New Federal Death Sentences in Non-Death Penalty State

On May 29, 2007, a jury in Charleston, West Virginia, recommended death sentences for George Lecco and Valerie Friend for the murder of Carla Collins in order to protect their drug ring.  Prosecutors maintained that Lecco arranged to have Collins killed and that Friend did the shooting in 2005.  Formal sentencing was scheduled for August 23.  The judge is required to follow the jury's recommendation.  These are the first federal death sentences in West Virginia since the federal law was reinstated in 1988.  (Charleston Daily Mail, May 29, 2007).  West Virginia is the sixth state without its own death penalty to have a federal death sentence handed down.  All such sentences have come since 2000.  Valerie Friend will be the second woman on federal death row.  See Federal Death Penalty.

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 (pictured), 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.

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.

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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