Saturday, October 28, 2006

Death penalty double clutch

Here's food for thought concerning when the death penalty is appropriate. What exactly justifies seeking imposition of the death penalty? Whatever standards there might be, are they consistently applied?

No death penalty sought in double slaying


Yakima County Prosecutor Ron Zirkle announced Friday he won't seek the death penalty in the execution-style slaying of a reputed drug dealer and his 3-year-old daughter.

Given pretrial costs of nearly $1.25 million, Zirkle's decision not to seek the death penalty against Junior Sanchez is sure to be seen as controversial. He earlier made the same decision with regard to Sanchez's co-defendant, Mario "Gato" Mendez. The prosecutor said ethics guidelines prevent him from discussing his rationale until the case goes to trial, and he predicted his decision will become more obvious at that stage.

He did say, however, that his decision was not based on any potential concerns prosecutors might have about the strength of the case. Nonetheless, Zirkle acknowledged the case has become controversial because of the enormous costs involved, which might have been avoided with a quicker decision.

"For months I've been trying to think of ways I could end this sooner because of the money that's being spent on this case, but I wasn't able to conclude the process sooner," he said. "These decisions are too important to be made quickly."

Sanchez, 24, and Mendez, 26, both face charges of aggravated first-degree murder in the February 2005 shooting deaths of 21-year-old Ricky Causor and his 3-year-old daughter, Mya. Causor's girlfriend, Michelle Kublic, was wounded in the attack. She was shot four times while shielding the couple's other daughter, 2-year-old Angelica, from the gunfire.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Fiddling while Darfur burns

Enough already! The quote in The Sudan Tribune below from el-Bashir about his promise to God not to let Darfurian suffering be a pretext for foreign intervention is particularly galling. Note to world: DO SOMETHING!

US’s Rice confers with UN’s Annan as Darfur deteriorates

Thursday 26 October 2006 02:30.

Oct 25, 2006 (WASHINGTON) — The Bush administration declared Wednesday the war-torn Darfur region of Sudan is in a dangerous downward spiral. There was no indication, however, that President Omar el-Bashir was relenting in his refusal to accept a U.N. peacekeeping force despite reassurances the peacekeepers would not go after government leaders.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice conferred by telephone with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Afterward, Rice’s spokesman, Sean McCormack, said, "We are very concerned about the situation there. It is not getting any better. We are concerned that it could well be getting worse."

Rice and Annan discussed the forced expulsion of Jan Pronk, Annan’s top aide in Sudan, and the importance of having the post filled quickly, either with Pronk or another U.N. diplomat, McCormack said. Rice called the ouster "extremely unfortunate," McCormack said. Rice and Stephen Hadley, the U.S. national security adviser, met at the White House late Tuesday with Andrew Natsios, Rice’s envoy to Sudan, who also met in Cairo, Egypt, with Arab League diplomats. Even while el-Bashir refuses to admit a U.N. peacekeeping force to take over from undermanned African Union peacekeepers, the United States is soliciting other countries for support in Darfur, particularly Sudan’s neighbors and Arab governments.

But el-Bashir is adamantly against what he calls "foreign intervention." "We have promised before God not to let Darfurians’ suffering be a pretext for foreign intervention or a subject for hostile media," el-Bashir was quoted as saying Tuesday. The Sudanese leader and other top officials have said they are concerned that the U.N. force could be used to track down and arrest leaders of the Sudanese government, McCormack said. "We have said that this is not the mandate of this U.N., force," he said, and the United States has asked Arab governments to reassure them on that score."We ask them to do that in every way that they possibly can," McCormack said.

The conflict in Darfur between government-backed Arab militia and the non-Arab population has killed about 200,000 people in three years and displaced some 2.5 million people.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Yes, there will be a capital court-martial!

The suspense is over. The Army will seek the death penalty against two soldiers for the notorious rape-murder of a young Iraqi girl and her family. Keep in mind that a court-martial proceeds under Article II of the Constitution, not Article III. I will continue to watch this as it proceeds. The implications seem quite large to me on a number of levels. Aside from legalistic considerations, it will be interesting to learn what kinds of mitigation arguments are made if the defendants are found guilty and face the death penalty. Combat stress? Exactly what is combat stress anyway? To be continued.

8 GIs to be tried over killings

The Associated Press WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 18, 2006 EVANSVILLE, Indiana

Eight soldiers from the 101st Division of the U.S. Army will be court-martialed on charges of murdering Iraqi civilians, the military ordered Wednesday. Two of them face the death penalty for allegedly raping an Iraqi girl and killing her and her family.

The military authorities said they would seek the death penalty against Sergeant Paul Cortez and Private First Class Jesse Spielman in connection with the rape and murder in March of Abeer Qassim Hamzeh, 14, at her family's home in Mahmudiya, south of Baghdad. Specialist James Barker and Private First Class Bryan Howard are also accused in the rape and murders but death sentences will not be sought against them, the military said in a statement.

Four other soldiers face a separate court martial for the alleged murders of three men near Samarra. The rape-slaying case set off international outrage and led to a claim by a group linked to Al Qaeda that it had killed three soldiers of the 101st Division in retaliation. The case also increased demands for changes in an agreement that exempts U.S. soldiers from prosecution in Iraqi courts.

Spielman's attorneys expressed shock that their client faced the death penalty, citing evidence from a hearing in August that indicated he was not in the house when the rape and murders occurred. "Even according to the government's evidence that they're putting forth, Jesse isn't even a principal in murder and rape," said Craig Carlson, Spielman's attorney. "It surprises me that they're treating him like they're treating Green."

Former Private Steven Green, who was discharged for a personality disorder and arrested in North Carolina, will be tried in a U.S. court in Kentucky. In affidavits, Green was described as a central figure in the rape and murders. He has pleaded not guilty to one count of rape and four counts of murder.

Ineffective assistance? Not this time!

Well, you can't blame this prominent defense lawyer for trying. Believe me, this is a strategy which has occurred to virtually every trial defense counsel at one time or another. It is ironic that trial defense lawyers are vilified to a "fare thee well" by prosecutors (and often criminal court judges) while the trial is occurring, but they all become Clarence Darrows once the guilty verdict is read.

Lawyer claim that he botched case rejected By Michael Higgins, Tribune staff reporter. Published October 24, 2006

Despite a prominent defense attorney's insistence that he botched a murder trial in 1981, a state appellate court on Monday upheld the conviction in the case and agreed with the trial judge, who called the attorney's performance stellar. Randolph Stone, who directs the University of Chicago Law School's Mandel Legal Aid Clinic, blamed himself for failing to prove that his client was mentally ill and for not cross-examining two key witnesses at sentencing.

Stone took the blame in an affidavit he wrote for the state appellate defender's office, which sought to overturn the conviction of James Ford, 52, based on ineffective counsel. But the 1st District Appellate Court in Chicago, ruling on what it called an unexpected argument, refused to grant Ford a new trial.

"The judge said Stone turned in `a stellar performance' [and] was `on his game,'" Judge Robert Cahill wrote for a unanimous three-judge panel. "Our review of the record leads us to concur with the trial judge. [Stone] has been too hard on himself." Stone, who also has served as the public defender for Cook County, said Monday that he was disappointed in the result.

Read the whole story here.