The European Union has called for a global moratorium on capital punishment in the wake of the execution of John Ferguson in the US State of Florida.
The 65 year-old man was executed on Monday at Florida State Prison despite a plea by mental health organizations to stop it, saying that executing Ferguson would violate the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which requires an individual to have a rational understanding as to why they are being executed.
A plea by Ferguson’s lawyer calling for the execution to be commuted, mentioning a 40-year history of paranoid schizophrenia, was turned down.
He was convicted in 1978 of first-degree murder after going on a pair of killing sprees. Ferguson shot to death six people execution-style during a drug-related home robbery north of Miami and then six months later, killing two teenagers after they left a church meeting.
EU Foreign Policy chief Catherine Ashton on Wednesday said “The European Union recognizes the serious nature of the crime involved and expresses its sincere sympathy to the surviving family and friends of the victims.” However, the High Representative said “EU opposes the use of capital punishment in all cases and under all circumstances.” She called for a global moratorium as a first step towards its universal abolition. “With capital punishment, any miscarriage of justice, from which no legal system is immune, represents an irreversible loss of human life,” the statement added.
Just two months after his 40th birthday, Dallas County resident Douglas Feldman, rode his motorcycle up next to the cab of an 18-wheeler and fired a half-dozen rounds into the passenger area, killing 36-year-old driver Robert Everett.
Reportedly, Feldman was riding his Harley-Davidson on Dallas’ Central Expressway in August 1998 when Everett sped up next to him and then abruptly changed lanes in front of Feldman, nearly clipping him. Feldman was enraged, according to court records, pulled out a pistol and fired several rounds into the back of the truck before reloading the weapon and speeding up to parallel with the cab to shoot Everett. Feldman then fled. Less than an hour later, and about 11 miles from the scene of Everett’s murder, Feldman passed an Exxon service station, where 62-year-old Nicolas Velasquez, a tanker driver, was replenishing the station’s gas supply. Feldman rode into the station and fired two rounds into Velasquez’s back, killing him; the sight of the man next to the truck sent him back into a rage, he testified at his 1999 trial. More than a week later Feldman shot Antonio Vega, as Vega stood next to an 18-wheeler outside a Jack in the Box restaurant; again, Feldman said the sight of the truck was what compelled him to shoot. Vega survived. A bystander to the Vega shooting called in Feldman’s license plate number and police were able to match Feldman’s gun to all three shootings. Feldman was arrested and charged with capital murder.
Feldman admitted to police that he was responsible for the shootings, and at trial testified in his own defense, “noting that he had not forgiven Mr. Everett for his trespasses,” reads a Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals opinion in the case. “Feldman explained that he had shot Mr. Velasquez because the man was standing beside an [18-wheeler], which caused Feldman to ‘explode again in anger.'” Feldman was convicted and sentenced to die. On July 31, he will become the 503rd inmate put to death in Texas since reinstatement, and the 11th inmate killed by the state this year.
On appeal, Feldman argued that qualified jurors had been improperly excluded from the jury pool, that his attorney failed to present evidence that he suffered from bipolar disorder as possibly mitigating evidence, and that his trial judge erred by not allowing jurors to consider a lesser charge of murder (which would spare Feldman’s life), among other arguments. According to Feldman the murders arose out of a “sudden passion” and thus mitigated his culpability. “Even though sudden passion arising from an adequate cause is not a legally valid defense to capital murder under Texas law, it is definitely a factually valid rational explanation of the causal events leading up to the offense,” Feldman argued in a subsequent, handwritten appeal he filed on his own with the Fifth Circuit. That appeal, too, has been rejected, clearing the way for Feldman’s execution at the end of the month.
Vaughn Ross received lethal injection Thursday evening for the January 2001 fatal shootings of an 18-year-old woman with whom he had been feuding and an associate dean at the university in Lubbock who was with her. He was pronounced dead at 6:38 p.m. CT.
Ross, from St. Louis, came to Texas Tech for graduate work in architecture. Ross was found guilty in the January 2001 fatal shootings of an 18-year-old woman with whom he had been feuding an associate dean at the university who was with her at the time. In his appeal to the high court, Ross argued his previous appeals attorneys neglected to note that his trial lawyers didn’t present evidence that may have convinced jurors to sentence him to life in prison.
A bicyclist spotted the bodies of Douglas Birdsall, 53, the associate dean of libraries at Texas Tech University, and Viola Ross McVade in a car in a gully at a Lubbock park. McVade was the sister of Ross’ girlfriend and was not related to the convicted killer.
Court documents said Birdsall had been looking for a prostitute and that a friend of McVade introduced him to her that evening. Prosecutors contend McVade was the intended target, and that Birdsall was at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Both victims were shot multiple times. Detectives said they linked Ross to the deaths after finding his and Birdsall’s DNA on part of a latex glove in the car. DNA tests on Ross’ sweatshirt also detected blood from both victims.
Ross, from St. Louis, came to Texas Tech for graduate work in architecture. When questioned by detectives, he acknowledged arguing and threatening McVade. He also acknowledged wearing latex gloves but said they were to protect his hands while he was doing some cleaning with bleach.
While in jail, Ross phoned his mother, who asked if he had any involvement in the slayings. He replied he “might have,” according to the tape-recorded call.
“I’ve always said a guy could never lie to his mama,” Matt Powell, the Lubbock County district attorney who prosecuted the case, said last week. “It was the closest thing we had to a confession.”
Authorities believed Bridsall and McVade were ambushed in an alley behind Ross’ apartment after Ross had ordered McVade’s sister to leave. Birdsall’s blood and glass from shattered windows of his car were found in the alley, as well as a shell casing matching casings inside Birdsall’s car.
Prosecutors believed the latex glove was torn when Ross moved Birdsall’s body from the front to the back seat so he could drive the car to the gully.
At least six other Texas prisoners have execution dates set for the coming months, including one later this month.
Source: AP, June 18, 2013
June 26, 2013 truthdig.com
On June 12, the state of Florida executed William Van Poyck. Van Poyck was convicted of killing a corrections officer during a failed attempt to free a prisoner in 1987. He spent 26 years on death row. From 2005 on, he recorded his observations and reflections from inside America’s system of capital punishment in a blog called Death Row Diary.
In a May article, Truthdig columnist Chris Hedges wrote that Van Poyck “spent years exposing the cruelty of our system of mass incarceration.” He “was one of the few inside the system to doggedly bear witness to the abuse and murder of prisoners on death row.”
On June 25, Van Poyck’s sister published his final two letters, addressed to her. We reprint them here in full.
June 3, 2013
Ten days ‘till departure time. You already know that they killed my neighbor, Elmer, 5 days ago. Then they moved me into his cell. After they execute someone they move the rest of us down one cell, working our way to cell#1, the launching pad to the gurney next door. This is a bad luck cell; very few of us get out of here alive! In two days I’ll go onto Phase II and they’ll move all my property from my cell, and post a guard in front of my cell 24/7 to record everything I do. These will be hectic days, freighted with emotion, all the final letters, all the final phone calls, final visits, final goodbyes. Things have become even more regimented as “established procedures” increasingly take over. More cell front visits from high ranking administration and DOC officials asking if everything is O.K., forms to fill out (cremation or burial?). I declined the offer of a “last meal”. I’m not interested in participating in that time-worn ritual, to feed some reporter’s breathless post-execution account. Besides, material gratification will be the last thing on my mind as I prepare to cross over to the non-material planes. Watching Elmer go through his final days really drove home how ritualized this whole process has become; the ritual aspect perhaps brings some numbing comfort – or sense of purpose – to those not really comfortable with this whole killing people scheme. This is akin to participating in a play where the participants step to a rote cadence, acting out their parts in the script, with nobody pausing to question the underlying premise. It’s like a Twilight Zone episode where you want to grab someone, shake them hard, and yell “Hey, wake up! Don’t you know what’s going on here?!!!”
My very accelerated appeal is before the Florida Supreme Court; my brief is due today, (Monday), the state’s brief tomorrow and oral arguments are scheduled for Thursday June 6th (D-Day Anniversary). I expect an immediate ruling, or perhaps on Friday. By the time you read this you’ll already know the result and since there’s no higher court to go to on this you’ll know if I live or die on June 12th. I am not optimistic, Sis. Although I have some substantial, compelling issues, as you know (e.g., my appointed direct appeal attorney who turned out to be a mentally ill, oft-hospitalized, crack head, convicted of cocaine possession and subsequently disbarred whose incompetence sabotaged my appeal) the law provides the courts with countless ways to deny a prisoner any appellate review of even the most meritorious claims. I won’t turn this into a discourse on legal procedures; but many years of observation has taught me that once a death warrant is signed it’s near impossible to stop the momentum of that train. Issues that would normally offer you some relief, absent a warrant, suddenly become “meritless” under the tension of a looming execution date. Nobody wants to be the one to stop an execution, it’s almost sacrilegious.
So many people are praying and fighting to save my life that I am loathe to express any pessimism, as if that’s a betrayal of those supporting me. And, there is some hope, at least for a stay of execution. But honestly my worst fear is a temporary stay of 20, 30 days. Unless a stay results in my lawyers digging up some new, previously undiscovered substantial claim that will get me a new sentencing hearing, a stay simply postpones the inevitable. What I don’t want is to be back here in the same position in 30 days, forcing you and all my loved ones to endure another heart-breaking cycle of final goodbyes. I cannot ask that of them. I’d rather just go on June 12th and get this over with. This may be disappointing to those who are trying so hard to extend my life, even for a few days, but there it is.
Time – that surprisingly subjective, abstract concept – is becoming increasingly compressed for me. I’m staying rooted in the here and now, not dwelling on the past or anxiously peering into the future, but inhabiting each unfolding moment as it arrives in my consciousness (F.Y.I., I highly recommend The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle, for anyone facing imminent execution!) I’m still able to see the beauty of this world, and value the kindness of the many beautiful souls who work tirelessly to make this a better place. I am calm and very much at peace, Sis, so don’t worry about my welfare down here on death watch. I will endure this without fear, and with as much grace as I can summon. Whatever happens, it’s all good, it’s just the way it’s supposed to be.
* * *
June 12, 2013
If you are reading this, I have gone the way of the earth, my atonement fulfilled. When your tears have dried—as they will—and you look up at the sky, allow yourself to smile when you think of me, free at last. Though I have departed my physical vehicle, know that my soul—timeless, boundless and eternal—soars joyfully among the stars.
Despite my many flaws on earth, I was blessed to be loved by so many special souls who saw past my feet of clay and into my heart. Know that in my final hours, it was that love which sustained my spirit and brought me peace. Love, like our souls, is eternal and forever binds us, and in due time it will surely draw us all back together again. Until then, Godspeed to you and all who have loved me!
Light & Love,
June 14, 2013
Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin has chosen not to follow the recommendation of the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board.The Board recommended that death row inmate Brian Davis have his sentence commuted to life in prison without the possibility of parole.Governor Fallin has decided that the execution will proceed as scheduled.
June 7, 2013
The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board voted 4-1 to recommend that death row inmate Brian Davis have his sentence commuted to life in prison without the possibility of parole.The Board’s recommendation now goes to Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin for approval or rejection.Governor Fallin can also grant up to two, 30-day temporary stay of executions in order to review the case before making her final decision.
May 7, 2013
Brian Darrell Davis is scheduled to be executed at 6 pm CDT, on June 25, 2013, at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, Oklahoma.Thirty-nine-year-old Brian is convicted of raping and killing 52-year-old Josephine “Jody” Sanford on November 4, 2001, at his Ponca City, Oklahoma, apartment.Brian has spent the past ten years living on Oklahoma’s death row.
Brian Davis returned home from a night out with friends at a local club in the early hours of November 4, 2001.Davis discovered that his girlfriend, Stacey Sanford, and their three-year-old daughter were missing.Davis, concerned, called Stacey’s mother, Jody Sanford, to see if she knew where they were.Jody told Davis that she did not know.Ten to fifteen minutes later, Davis called Jody again, asking if she would go find them.When Jody was unable to locate them, she went to Davis’s apartment.
The next morning, shortly after 9 am, Stacey returned to the apartment and found her mother dead.Stacey immediately called the police who began investigating.Meanwhile, Davis, while driving Jody’s van, was involved in a single car accident and seriously injured when he was ejected through the front windshield.Davis was arrested and his blood alcohol level was determined to be .09 percent.Davis was transferred to a Wichita hospital for treatment.
What happened from the time Jody arrived to the time that Stacey found her is unclear, as Davis made several conflicting statements of the events that transpired.In his initial statement, given the day of the accident, Davis remembered Jody arriving at the apartment, but nothing after that until he woke up after the accident.Two days later, Davis was again interviewed by the police.Davis initially repeated that he did not remember, however, during questioning, his memory seemed to improve.
Davis said that Jody came over and the two began to talk about religion and his relationship with Stacey.Davis, angry, informed Jody that he was not committed to Stacey.The two began to argue.According to Davis, Jody stood up and continued to “lecture” him.Davis got angrier, accused her of being “in his face” and told her to “back up,” pushing her backwards.Jody then grabbed a knife and cut Davis’s thumb.Davis hit her on chin, likely causing a fracture to her jawbone, and grabbed at the knife.During the struggle for the knife, Davis was cut.Davis eventually got possession of the knife and told Jody to get back, stabbing her in the stomach.Davis and Jody wrestled down the hallway, resulting in Jody being stabbed in the leg.
The two ended up in the bedroom, where Davis told Jody to stop and put the knife down.Jody agreed, if Davis would let her go.When Davis let her go, she ran towards the knife, but Davis grabbed it first, stabbing her in the left side.Jody then told Davis she could not breathe.Davis instructed her to lie down and wrapped her up in a blanket, saying it was to keep her from bleeding to death.Davis said he heard her stop breathing, but then fell asleep.When Davis woke up, he claims he panicked and fled in Jody’s van so he could figure out what to do.
One of the detectives interviewing Davis, showed him evidence that Jody had been chocked and/or strangled.Davis admitted it may have happened while they were wrestling.Davis adamantly denied having sex with her.
In the months that followed, Davis told three different stories to Stacey.First, he claimed he thought Jody was an intruder.Later, he told her a story similar to the one he told the detectives.After DNA testing showed that Davis had sexual intercourse with Jody, Davis told Stacey, that Jody came over and was upset about her husband’s infidelity.Davis claims he tried to comfort her and the two ended up having sexual intercourse.After the encounter, Davis claims he was struck on the back of the head by Jody and events unfolded from there.
A trial, Davis told yet another version, similar to the last story he had told Stacey, but with more details.Davis also maintained that he did not intend to kill Jody; he was just trying to defend himself.
This was not Davis’s first encounter with the police.In 1995, Davis was twice convicted of rape.Also in 1995, he was convicted of unlawful possession of cocaine.He was released after serving two years.