Day: March 8, 2014

Death penalty trial in child’s beating death set to start in capital punishment-free Hawaii


march 7, 2014

HONOLULU (AP) — A Honolulu courtroom is set to become the scene of a death penalty trial even though Hawaii abolished capital punishment in 1957.

Opening statements are scheduled for Tuesday in the trial of a former Hawaii-based Army soldier accused of beating his 5-year-old daughter to death in 2005. But because the crime allegedly took place on military property, Naeem Williams is being tried in federal court — a system that does have the death penalty.

It’s rare for the government to seek the death penalty in a state that doesn’t allow it. Only seven of 59 inmates currently on federal death row are from states that didn’t have the death penalty at the time the sentence was imposed, according to the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C.

While the Williams case hasn’t received much publicity, the death penalty circumstance gives it something in common with a more high profile case for federal prosecutors: the Boston Marathon bombing.

“You have a population in Massachusetts and in the city where they’re not used to having the death penalty,” said Richard Dieter, the Death Penalty Information Center’s executive director. “It just makes it a little harder to get these kinds of death sentences.”

But Kenneth Lawson, associate director of the Hawaii Innocence Project, noted that someone who considers the death penalty immoral can be disqualified from serving on the jury.

“How do you get a jury of all of your peers when the only ones who can sit on there are those who believe in capital punishment?” he said.

Attorneys in the Williams case began questioning prospective jurors in January.

Talia Emoni Williams died in July 2005 after she was brought to a hospital unresponsive, vomiting and covered in bruises. A criminal complaint by federal investigators accuses her then-25-year-old father of beating the child to discipline her for urinating on herself. Federal investigators wrote that military law enforcement agents found blood splatters in the walls of the family’s home at Wheeler Army Airfield from Talia being whipped with Williams’ belt.

Delilah Williams, Talia’s stepmother, was also charged with murder but pleaded guilty in a deal with prosecutors. She’s expected to be sentenced to 20 years in prison after she testifies against Williams at his trial, said her federal public defender, Alexander Silvert.

The Army agreed the case should be prosecuted in the civilian justice system so that the father and stepmother could appear in the same court.

“I am shocked that this case has not received more attention from the public and more attention from those groups in Hawaii that are anti-death penalty,” Silvert said. “No one’s in protest. To me, the lack of interest in the community is troubling.”

Talia’s biological mother, Tarshia Williams, is expected to testify for the prosecution, her attorneys said. She filed a civil lawsuit against the government over Talia’s death. It has been put on hold until after the criminal trial. The mother’s lawsuit claims the military didn’t report to the proper authorities that Talia’s father and stepmother “abused and tortured” her throughout the seven months she lived in Hawaii before she died.

Alberto Gonzales, the U.S. attorney general during President George W. Bush’s administration, made the decision to seek the death penalty against Naeem Williams.

“Under Bush’s administration, the philosophy was the federal death penalty should be spread out among all the states,” Dieter said.

Legal observers say it’s surprising that the current government continues to seek the death penalty against Williams. “It’s disappointing the federal government is choosing to move forward with a death penalty case in a state that so clearly and constantly has rejected that as a form of punishment,” said Rick Sing, president of the Hawaii Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

The last time the federal death penalty was approved for a Hawaii case was against Richard “China” Chong. But before he went to trial in 2000, he agreed to plead guilty to a 1997 drug-related murder and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. He died of an apparent suicide about three months later.

Hawaii’s history with capital punishment goes back long before statehood. There were 49 executions dating in Hawaii dating to 1856, with the last one recorded in 1944, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

The final execution of Ardiano Domingo — a Filipino who was hanged for killing a woman with scissors in a Kauai pineapple field — helped prompt Hawaii’s territorial lawmakers to abolish the death penalty in the state, said Williamson Chang, a University of Hawaii law school professor who teaches a course on the history of law in Hawaii.

Chang said before the law changed, Hawaii disproportionally executed people of color, mostly Filipinos, Japanese and Native Hawaiians.

Because of that history, Chang said he believes Hawaii jurors will struggle with the Williams case.

“We’re used to a society which does not put people to death,” he said. “It’s a slap in the face to the values of Hawaii.”

(AP)

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Florida’s Death Row For Women Is For Sale


march 7, 2014

You in the market for a new home? How about, instead of buying a house with a pool and a white-picket fence, you buy yourself and your family a prison that used to hold female serial killers? It’s plenty spacious! And it has a yard!

 

Apparently the old Broward Correctional Institution is going to be put up for sale at the end of March.

 

There’ll be a 60-day marketing period, of course, but then you’ll be free to own your very own 66-acre prison.

According to the Daily Business Review, Florida Department of Corrections is looking for a buyer for the prison that once held female prisoner’s sentenced to death by the state.

 

The FDC is even putting together advertisements and bod documents for the prison, which boasts
a 224,497-square-foot prison campus. A property appraisal is still in the works, and there’s yet to be a minimum bid range set, so if you wanna get in on this, do it now while the iron is hot!

 

The prison, which is located on 20421 Sheridan Street near State Road 27, was opened in 1977, but forced to close in 2012 after budget cuts.

 

Earlier this month, the state hired real estate brokerage house CBRE Inc. to market the prison and find a buyer.

 

According to Florida Department of Environmental Protection press secretary Patrick Gillespie, the property must be made available first to other state entities. After that, the county will have the chance to buy it at the appraised price.

 

If no one wants it then, it’s up for grabs to whoever feels like owning a prison.

 

And, Gillespie said, there’s virtually anything you can do with this place once it’s yours.

 

“If the state puts it for sale to a private bidder, there’s typically no restriction on uses,” he said. “It would just depend on the bidder.”

 

“Our role is really just to sell it” and “get the best value for the state,” Gillespie added.

 

Let’s all pool together some money and turn it into an amusement park!

 

SHANK-LAND would be a great name for it, we think.

(browardpalmbeach.com)

Cheatham defense attorney challenges death penalty in Kansas


march 7, 2014

A defense attorney for capital murder defendant Phillip D. Cheatham Jr. said Friday that Cheatham’s case should be dismissed because capital punishment in Kansas is unconstitutional due to it being racially discriminatory.

In Kansas, 37.5 percent of the men on death row are black, while black men make up 5.5 percent of the Kansas population, John Val Wachtel argued during a motions hearing in the Cheatham case. The motions hearing is a precede to the retrial of Cheatham, 41, who is charged with killing two women and severely wounding a third.

“Kansas has become what Georgia was when Furman (v. Georgia) was handed down,” Wachtel said, referring to the 1972 U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning the death penalty based on a finding it was cruel and unusual punishment. Part of the decision focused on the arbitrary nature of imposition of the death penalty, often indicating a racial bias against black defendants.

In Kansas, application of the death penalty is discriminatory, Wachtel said, and in all Kansas death row cases, at least one white woman was a victim.

The death penalty “is racist in Kansas as applied,” Wachtel said.

Kansas hasn’t executed an inmate since 1965.

Jacqie Spradling, chief deputy district attorney for Shawnee County, countered that Cheatham can’t show the capital murder charge is unconstitutional. That fails because the district attorney doesn’t charge a defendant based on the race of the defendant or the victim.

“We don’t pick our victims, we don’t pick our defendants,” Spradling said. “But we do prosecute defendants. What I hear is noise of no value.”

Cheatham is charged with capital murder in the killings of Annette Roberson and Gloria A. Jones; two alternative premeditated first-degree murder counts in the slayings of Roberson and Jones; attempted first-degree murder of Annetta D. Thomas; and aggravated battery of Thomas.

Following his first trial, Cheatham was sentenced on Oct. 28, 2005, to the “Hard 50” prison term for the killing of Jones, as  well as the death penalty for the slaying of Roberson. Both were shot to death Dec. 13, 2003, at a southeast Topeka home.

Cheatham’s convictions and death penalty sentence were overturned in 2013 after the Kansas Supreme Court ruled he received ineffective assistance of his attorney during his first trial.

In another motion, Spradling sought to admit evidence of theft of drugs from Cheatham and theft of drug proceeds, both from his safe. Spradling said she wanted to present that evidence to show Cheatham’s motive to commit these crimes.

The theft of money and drugs from Cheatham, in turn, left him in debt to his drug supplier, Tracy Smith, who had placed a gun to his head and told him he was dead if he didn’t pay her back, a prosecution filing said. Cheatham was obligated to Smith to kill the women to show he was an honorable and reliable drug dealer, Spradling said.

Wachtel also objected to anticipated testimony by Thomas about her crack cocaine use and the impact the death of Roberson had on her. Spradling said she wouldn’t seek Thomas’ comments about the impact on her but would question her about her drug use and what she did to support her drug use.

District Court Judge Mark Braun took the motions under advisement. Cheatham next will appear in court May 9 for another motions hearing.