Don’t let emotion determine whether Cruz gets the death penalty

I'll never forget standing over my tantrum-throwing toddler, mid-meltdown, and hollering at the top of my lungs, "You must learn how to control your emotions!" Oh, the irony. I pride myself on usually being a pretty logical and thoughtful person, but children have a way of breaking you every once in a while. Or like mine, multiple times a day. Still, I teach my kids that their emotions are good and not something to suppress or be scared of.  At the same time, emotions can't be fully trusted, either. They're like the sails on a ship. Emotions can help determine our course of action and give us the drive to move forward, but without a rational mind at the helm steering those actions, emotions alone can become quite dangerous. I often worry that we're a nation lost at sea because of our emotions. The art of civil discourse and critical thinking have been replaced by regurgitated talking points and knee-jerk emotional responses. I remember a conservative friend once saying that liberals create legislation based on feelings, not facts. That really stuck with me. As we saw another devastating school shooting this week, I watched as the emotional pleas to round up all firearms came flooding in like clockwork from the left. But then something very odd happened. Just a few short days later, I saw the hysteria switch sides. Now suddenly many of my conservative friends -- the ones who pride themselves on their rational thinking and logic-based laws -- were running on pure emotion as 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz appeared in court. They were publicly demanding the death penalty on Facebook walls and in-boxes, refusing to listen to the logical arguments against it. A popular misconception I kept seeing among many people was that housing and feeding an inmate for the duration of his or her lifetime is more expensive than simply putting that person to death. However, if you're looking at this issue from a strictly monetary angle, as these fiscal conservatives might, death row Continue Reading

Top court: Delaware’s death penalty law unconstitutional

The Delaware Supreme Court has ruled the state's death penalty law is unconstitutional – and the only chance at fixing it is to punt the issue to the already-divided General Assembly.The top court released its ruling Tuesday that said Delaware's current capital punishment statute violates the U.S. Constitution by giving judges, and not juries, the final say to impose a death sentence.Supporters of capital punishment will now want the General Assembly to fix the statute's language so the practice can continue. That could be tough since a vocal opposition helped a bill to abolish the death penalty pass the state Senate in 2015, before it failed in a close vote in the House this year.The House sponsor of that legislation, Rep. Sean Lynn, D-Dover, had the option to bring up the bill for another vote, but postponed action to await the Delaware Supreme Court ruling. He said he will review the decision to determine what, if any, action should be taken."Our end goal is to ensure that no death sentences are handed down in the future, and if the Supreme Court's decision accomplishes that, then that is an important consideration," he said.Gov. Jack Markell said he hoped the ruling will mean the state will never see another death sentence.“I applaud the Supreme Court’s finding that the state’s death penalty law is unconstitutional," Markell said in a statement. "As I have come to see after careful consideration, the use of capital punishment is an instrument of imperfect justice that doesn’t make us any safer."Tuesday's landmark ruling stemmed from the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to strike down Florida's death penalty sentencing scheme. That ruling in January left judges, attorneys and defendants in Delaware and Alabama – the only two other states that, like Florida, allow judges to override a jury's recommendation of life – questioning the Continue Reading

Public defenders: Death penalty unconstitutional

Three assistant public defenders have argued to the Delaware Supreme Court that the death penalty law is unconstitutional – and therefore needs to be fixed by lawmakers.The attorneys from the Office of Defense Services filed a written argument Monday explaining why they believe Delaware's capital punishment policy violates the U.S. Constitution, especially in light of a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that deemed Florida's similar scheme unconstitutional."The Delaware statute contains a number of unconstitutional provisions that cannot be exercised by this court in an effort to salvage the statute," the 58-page argument said. "Because these multiple constitutional problems require Delaware’s death penalty scheme to be substantially restructured, that task is for the legislature, not the courts."The Delaware Department of Justice now has 30 days to respond to these arguments.The last execution in the state was in 2012, when Shannon Johnson, 28, was killed by lethal injection. Johnson had been convicted in the 2006 shooting death of Cameron Hamlin, 26, an aspiring musician.Delaware is one of 32 states with capital punishment.The U.S. Supreme Court in January continued a trend of eliminating outlying death penalty practices when it ruled 8-1 that Florida's procedure for death sentences is unconstitutional because it gives too much power to judges, and not enough to juries.The opinion stemmed from the case of Timothy Lee Hurst, who was convicted of the 1998 murder of his manager at a Popeye's restaurant. A Florida jury was divided 7-5 in favor of death, and a judge imposed a death sentence.Delaware, Alabama and Florida are the only states that allow judges to override a jury's recommendation of life and, instead, impose a sentence of death. However, judges in Delaware have not been using that power.After the court reiterated that the Sixth Amendment requires a jury, not a judge, to find Continue Reading

Should Delaware still have the death penalty?

Clayton Lockett was a convicted murderer and rapist who watched as his victim was buried alive after he shot her. But that's not why Clayton Lockett is famous.People know his name because the state of Oklahoma botched his execution. The poison the state pumped into his body went awry, possibly because it was delivered to the wrong spot or maybe the chemicals were bad. He didn't die as easily or as comfortably as the state promised.He lingered on the gurney, thrashing and groaning, for 43 minutes. Oklahoma was set to execute two men that night in April. Given what happened to Lockett, authorities decided it would be wise to put off the second execution for a spell.However, the botched execution made headlines around the world. Newspapers, politicians, artists and regular citizens took the opportunity to thrash the barbarian Americans for their killing ways. Even the United Nations human rights office condemned the atrocity.I don't recall seeing anything about the United Nations human rights office condemning Clayton Lockett for shooting and then burying Stephanie Neiman alive. Ms. Neiman was Lockett's victim. She was 19, just out of high school, and a stranger to Lockett.Everybody knows Clayton Lockett's name. No one knows Stephanie Neiman's.There's something wrong with that.I point this out not to defend the death penalty. On the contrary, I am against it. Primarily for religious reasons. But beyond that, I am troubled by the whole debate on capital punishment in the United States and, especially here in Delaware. I don't think our debates go far enough. Both sides, I think, are guilty of ducking the implications of their viewpoints.A bill outlawing the death penalty in Delaware hangs in suspended animation in a House of Representatives committee. The bill, S.B. 19, has already passed the Senate. If the House passes it before the end of the legislative session on June 30 and the governor signs it, Delaware would join New Jersey, Maryland and a handful of other Continue Reading

Death penalty divides Supreme Court after Scalia’s death

WASHINGTON — The death of Justice Antonin Scalia has left the Supreme Court divided down the middle on the death penalty at a time when its constitutionality is coming under increased scrutiny.The justices deadlocked 4-4 late Thursday night over the scheduled execution of an Alabama prisoner who killed a police officer three decades ago. Without Scalia's vote, they could not overrule a state court that had blocked the execution based on the inmate's mental state.The issue of intellectual disability may return to the court as early as Monday, when the justices could decide whether to hear a case next fall challenging Texas courts' standard for determining mental competency. The state leads the nation in executions with 537 since 1976, including six this year.The Texas case also raises a more far-reaching issue: whether decades in solitary confinement awaiting execution violates the Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.Since Scalia's death in February, the court has deadlocked four times, with more almost certainly to come. The most notable tie vote denied an anticipated victory to opponents of public employee unions who had sought to end mandatory fees from non-members, now required in about half the states.Although Thursday night's tie vote spared just one man — Vernon Madison, convicted of the 1985 murder of Mobile, Ala., police officer Julius Schulte — it highlighted the justices' deep divide over the death penalty.That divide prompted an angry exchange from the bench on the last day of the court's term in June, when the justices ruled 5-4 that states could continue to use a controversial sedative as part of their lethal injection protocols. Four justices spoke up — two in favor, two against — and Justice Stephen Breyer said the court should consider the overall constitutionality of the death penalty.Breyer raised four issues — the potential for Continue Reading

Death penalty decision raises election stakes

For supporters and opponents of the death penalty, the stakes for this fall's elections now may be literally life or death.The Delaware Supreme Court this summer ruled the state's capital punishment law is unconstitutional. That puts the fate of the 13 inmates on death row in limbo — and means, for now, no new death sentences will be issued.The General Assembly could choose to reinstate the punishment by giving only unanimous juries the authority to hand out a death sentence, thus addressing the court's concerns. POLL: Which of these statements do you most strongly believe concerning Delaware's death penalty? OPINION: Hoff: Delaware court verifies wrong of capital punishment STORY: Prosecutors say Delaware's death penalty different from FloridaSupporters of the death penalty say they will try to bring back what they believe is the only appropriate justice for the most heinous crimes. In an open letter to Delawareans issued shortly after the court's decision, 15 of 25 Republicans in the Legislature said they will propose a bill in the next session, which starts in January."There are some people who commit heinous crimes and they are absolutely vicious. In my years in law enforcement, I saw it firsthand," said Sen. Dave Lawson, R-Marydel, and former state trooper. "They don't fear law enforcement, they don't fear the courts, they don't fear jail time. The only thing they fear is that they may in fact suffer the same fate."Those lawmakers will face impassioned opposition from those who would be glad to see a final end to what some call state-sanctioned murder."When you're making a permanent change like killing someone, I think you need a perfect tool, and I don't think we have that," said Rep. Paul Baumbach, D-Newark. "I was disappointed that we in the Legislature couldn't do it, but I was relieved to see the court's decision."A bill to repeal the death penalty passed the Senate but failed in the House last year after some of the most Continue Reading

Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber bans death penalty  for rest of term; morally opposed to capital punishment

SALEM, Ore. — Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber on Tuesday imposed a moratorium on the death penalty for the remainder of his term, saying he’s morally opposed to capital punishment and has long regretted allowing two men to be executed in the 1990s. Kitzhaber’s decision gives a temporary reprieve to a twice-convicted murderer who was scheduled to die by lethal injection in two weeks, along with 36 others on death row. It makes Oregon the fifth state to halt executions since 2007. His voice shaking, the Democratic governor said he has repeatedly questioned and revisited his decisions to allow convicted murderers Douglas Wright and Harry Moore to be executed in 1996 and 1997. “I do not believe those executions made us safer. Certainly I don’t believe they made us nobler as a society,” Kitzhaber said. “And I simply cannot participate once again in something I believe to be morally wrong.” Death penalty proponents criticized the decision, saying the governor is usurping the will of voters who have supported capital punishment. A typically cool and unemotional Kitzhaber fought tears as he said he spoke to relatives of Haugen’s victims, saying they were difficult discussions and his “heart goes out to them.” He declined to discuss them further, calling them “private conversations.” “We’ve been dealing with this since 1981,” said Ard Pratt, Archer’s first husband. “It was almost over. And then he changes it because he’s a coward and doesn’t want to do it.” Kitzhaber is a former emergency room doctor who still retains an active physician license with the Oregon Medical Board, and his opposition to the death penalty has been well-known. In a news conference explaining his decision, he cited his oath as a physician to “do no harm.” Kitzhaber was elected last year to an unprecedented third term as governor after eight years away from public Continue Reading

Death penalty is dead wrong: It’s time to outlaw capital punishment in America – completely

I have studied the death penalty for more than half my lifetime. I have debated it hundreds of times. I have heard all the arguments, analyzed all the evidence I could find, measured public opinion when it was opposed to the practice, when it was indifferent, and when it was passionately in favor. Always I have concluded the death penalty is wrong because it lowers us all; it is a surrender to the worst that is in us; it uses a power  - the official power to kill by execution  - that has never elevated a society, never brought back a life, never inspired anything but hate. And it has killed many innocent people. This is a serious moral problem for every U.S. governor who presides over executions - whether in Georgia, Texas or even, theoretically, New York. All states should do as the bold few have done and officially outlaw this form of punishment. For 12 years as governor, I prevented the death penalty from becoming law in New York by my vetoes. But for all that time, there was a disconcertingly strong preference for the death penalty in the general public. New York returned to the death penalty shortly after I was defeated by a Republican candidate; the state's highest court has effectively prevented the law from being applied - but New York continues to have the law on its books with no signs of a movement to remove it. That law is a stain on our conscience. The 46 executions in the United States in 2008 were, I believe, an abomination. People have a right to demand a civilized level of law and peace. They have a right to expect it, and when at times it appears to them that a murder has been particularly egregious, it is not surprising that the public anger is great and demands some psychic satisfaction. I understand that. I have felt the anger myself, more than once. Like too many other citizens, I know what it is to be violated and even to have one's closest family violated through despicable criminal behavior. Even today, I tremble at Continue Reading

Poll finds broad support among New Yorkers for death penalty in Khalid Shaikh Mohammed terror case

An overwhelming majority of New Yorkers believe the terrorist thugs who planned the 9/11 attacks should and will be sentenced to death - and two-thirds of city residents say they'd be unafraid to serve on the jury. An exclusive Daily News/Marist poll found that 77% of New Yorkers agree with President Obama that alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and his four cowardly cohorts will be found guilty in a Manhattan federal courtroom. "If I'm on that jury, there's no doubt they get a conviction - no doubt," said Larry Amandola, 48, an electrician from Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, and one of a dozen regular New Yorkers interviewed separately by The News. "I had a few friends who died on Sept. 11 and I worked [at Ground Zero] immediately after. The people that suffered through this have a right to judge them." The poll of 811 city residents, conducted Wednesday and Thursday by The Marist College Institute for Public Opinion for The News, did find New Yorkers more evenly split on some underlying policy issues. For instance, 47% of New Yorkers said they agreed with Attorney General Eric Holder's decision to try the 9/11 plotters in a civilian court here rather than a military court. Nearly as many - 41% - disagreed with Holder, and 12% said they were unsure. The poll's margin of error was 3.5 percentage points. Critics - chief among them former Mayor Rudy Giuliani - have argued that a civilian court trial is needlessly risky and expensive for the city and grants the accused too many rights. But with the decision made, most New Yorkers seem eager to send their own message to the thugs who brought down the Twin Towers: It's payback time. "Those guys don't stand a chance," said Henry Romer, 51, a construction manager in midtown Manhattan. "There's no question they'll get the death penalty here." "New York will get it done, because the families of the people that died won't let them do anything else," added Calvin Seibert, 51, an artist who Continue Reading

Trump’s tweets on New York truck attack and calls for death penalty may taint case

WASHINGTON — President Trump wants the death penalty for the suspect in New York City's terror-inspired truck attack, but his advocacy could make a successful prosecution more difficult, legal experts say.As he has done in other cases, such as the immigrant and refugee travel ban and the military desertion of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, Trump appears to have tainted the judicial process, whether by impulse or design."NYC terrorist was happy as he asked to hang ISIS flag in his hospital room. He killed 8 people, badly injured 12. SHOULD GET DEATH PENALTY!" the president tweeted around midnight Wednesday. Trump also suggested sending Uzbekistan native Sayfullo Saipov, 29, to the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, before backing off because of potential delays. On Thursday, he tweeted, "There is also something appropriate about keeping him in the home of the horrible crime he committed. Should move fast. DEATH PENALTY!"The problem with those and other comments, say both defense lawyers and former prosecutors, is that they all but convict Saipov before a trial. And coming from the nation's commander in chief, they can be seen as attempting to influence the judiciary.Rick Jones, president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and an attorney in New York City, called Trump's comments "highly inappropriate and damaging to our system.""We have a justice system in this country that suffers from a lack of confidence and credibility," Jones said. "It doesn't do any good for the president or any executive to behave in a manner that seems to put undue pressure and to question the independence not only of the prosecution but also the judiciary."While the president's comments could undermine the jury process and aid the defense in this case, Jones said, "they ultimately do more harm to the system at large."Trump's angry fusillade on Twitter followed Tuesday's attack on a busy bicycle path leading to the 9/11 memorial in Lower Continue Reading