Archive for Thursday, December 8, 2005

Kansas death penalty debated in D.C.

December 8, 2005


— A Lawrence lawyer squared off against Kansas Atty. Gen. Phill Kline before the U.S. Supreme Court Wednesday in a case that considers whether Kansas' death penalty law unfairly directs jurors to choose death over a life sentence.

The state Supreme Court ruled 4-3 last year that the death penalty law was unconstitutional because it told jurors to impose a death sentence if they found that aggravating evidence of the crime's brutality and mitigating factors explaining a defendant's actions were of equal weight.

Kline argued that the state law met constitutional standards as long as it allowed a jury to consider mitigating factors.

"It is undisputed that the ... mitigating evidence was presented to the jury in full, and the jury was specifically instructed to give weight to all of that evidence," Kline said.

Lawrence resident Rebecca Woodman, of the Kansas Capital Appellate Defender's Office, told the justices that was not enough. She argued that the state law interfered with a jury's ability to reach a decision by requiring a sentence of death when aggravating and mitigating factors were equal.

"In other words, if the decision is too hard to make, the sentence must be death," Woodman said.

Kline faced tough questions from Justice David Souter, who said the law seemed to create "a presumption of death." Justice Stephen Breyer also raised concerns that the law might conflict with the Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

"You do not sentence someone to death unless the jury decides that the circumstances have made the person somewhat worse ... than the typical person," Breyer said.

Kline said the law did not carry a presumption of death and argued that the burden remained on the state to show mitigating evidence did not outweigh the aggravating factors.

Chief Justice John Roberts wondered how likely it was that a juror who found the factors were perfectly balanced would conclude the state had made its case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Justice Antonin Scalia said jurors under the Kansas scheme always had a way out: They can grant mercy to a defendant in any case.

"I really don't know what complaint you have then," he told Woodman.

Woodman said the state law encouraged jurors "to abdicate their decision as to whether there should be a death sentence or not."

The case involves Michael Lee Marsh II, who was convicted in the June 1996 killings of Marry Ane Pusch and her 19-month-old daughter, M.P.

Pusch was shot, stabbed and her throat slit. Then she was doused with lighter fluid and set on fire. Her daughter, who suffered severe burns in the fire, died later.

Marsh confessed to shooting Marry Ane, but denied that he stabbed her or set the fire. He was eventually sentenced to death for killing M.P. and life in prison for killing Marry Ane.

His case is already headed for a new trial on the capital murder charges because the trial judge did not allow evidence that Marry Ane's husband may have been involved in the murders.

If the high court upholds the Kansas law, the sentences for seven men on death row will stand. If they affirm the state court's ruling, the seven will be resentenced and death will not be an option.

Fifteen states have filed a friend of the court brief supporting Kline's position. They argue a ruling against Kansas would call into question their own death penalty statutes.

The Kansas case is one of two death-penalty cases the Supreme Court heard Wednesday. The other, from Oregon, involves a convicted murderer's ability to present alibi testimony during the sentencing phase of a capital trial.

Kannon Shanmugam, a Lawrence High School graduate who works in the office of the U.S. Solicitor General, was scheduled to argue before the court in the Oregon case.

The high court is not expected to rule on either case until spring.

Kansas Death row

A list of the seven convicted killers on death row in Kansas whose sentences would be affected by a U.S. Supreme Court decision: ¢ Michael Marsh II, of Wichita. He was sentenced to die for the June 1996 deaths of his former best friend's wife, Marry Ane Pusch, 21, and child, Marry Elizabeth Pusch, who was 19 months old. ¢ Reginald and Jonathan Carr. They were sentenced to death for killing three men and a woman on Dec. 15, 2000, as the victims knelt side-by-side on a snow-covered soccer field. Another woman survived the execution-style shootings. ¢ John Robinson Sr. was sentenced to death for the murders of two women whose bodies were found in barrels on his property. He also was convicted in Johnson County of first-degree murder in the death of another woman whose body has never been found. Across the state line in Missouri, Robinson pleaded guilty to five counts of first-degree murder in exchange for sentences of life in prison without parole on each count. ¢ Douglas Belt was sentenced to death last month for killing a Wichita housekeeper whose decapitated body was found two years ago in an apartment where she worked. ¢ Gavin Scott was sentenced to death in August 1999 for shooting Doug and Beth Brittain as they slept in their home on Sept. 13, 1996. ¢ Phillip D. Cheatham was sentenced to death in October for killing Annette Roberson, 38, at a Topeka duplex in December 2003. He received a "hard 50" life sentence for killing Gloria Jones, 42, meaning he would not be eligible for parole for at least 50 years. A third victim played dead and survived with 19 gunshot wounds. ¢ Gary W. Kleypas had his sentence overturned in 2001 and was awaiting resentencing, with death still an option. It was his case in which the court first identified the problem. While his conviction was upheld, the court ordered that he be resentenced with revised jury instructions. That has not yet happened.


Kathleen Christian 12 years, 4 months ago

When I was younger murder, rape and kidnapping warranted a death penalty senctence. Today murder may get you 99 years with a parole of 25 - what a joke. Since the laws on death penalty have loosened or in some states abandoned, criminal activity (murder, rape, kidnappings) have climbed. More criminals are released back on the streets to recommit their crimes. When are lawmakers going to wake up to this fact? I WANT to see murder, rape and kidnapping put back on the death penalty roll. I care less what the circumstances are in a murder or rape (especially of a child), If someone kills another person they take away the most precisous thing from a human-being possesses (the gift of life) not to mention destroys their loved ones. Who are they to continue to walk on this earth? What right does a person such as this mentality have? I know this sounds unconstitutional and I don't mean to come across this way, but (I referring to after a person is convicted and it is obvious of their guilt of the crime). Personally I think it is humaine to put these people to death and put them out of there evil misery. Folks there is no CURE for murderers, rapists and pediphiles - these people who are just plain bad. We need to get them off the streets and out of society - they are like a disease of humanity. We kill diseases don't we?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 12 years, 4 months ago

The rate of recidivism (repetition of crime) among murderers is the lowest of all types of crime. State-sponsored murder has been shown to have very little if any deterrent effect. But it does force state employees to engage in highly organized murder rituals.

Think about how well those people sleep. Do they suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome? Would you want to have one of these people living next door, their kids playing with yours? I don't hear much about this effect of state-sponsored murder.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 12 years, 4 months ago

I'd prefer to save some taxes by not having endless court battles over whether to murder him or not. But since you're so into the murder thing, maybe you could apply to be state executioner. I'm sure when the question comes up over what you do for a living, it would be a real conversation starter.

badger 12 years, 4 months ago

Murder, I'm torn on with the death penalty. Sometimes the death penalty is an appropriate punishment, but sometimes it's not.

But please for the love of all that's holy, not rape or kidnapping. Please, please, please no.

If rape and murder carry the same sentence, and that sentence is death, you simply provide an incentive to a rapist to make sure he doesn't leave a witness who can identify him.

I support limited use of the death penalty, but only in very severe cases.

Jamesaust 12 years, 4 months ago

Hmmm.....a 99 year sentence, even with parole 'possible' after 25 years is no "joke". The average person will get out after virtually all of their life has passed.

Hanging them higher doesn't make them any more dead.

Kathleen Christian 12 years, 4 months ago

With DNA at our disposal I think there will be less incidence of someone being falsely accused. What about the many, many innocent that are killed and raped? That outways someone who may be a small criminal falsely accused. And I was referring to criminals who have obviously, without a doubt are guilty of the crime of murder and rape. It's easy for someone to say put them in prison for life when they have never been a victim of losing someone to a senseless murder or having your child kidnapped and raped by some maniac. 50 years ago murder and rape were on the death penalty rolls. I don't recall hearing in the news about so many senseless murders and so many rapes. Don't you think criminals would think twice before commiting these crimes if they thought their consequences would ultimately be death? I do.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 12 years, 4 months ago

Whose job description is it? And when the position comes open, since it's a state job, they have to advertise it. How do you suppose that is worded?

Needed: Cold-blooded murder. Must be good with needles, have good interpersonal skills, some typing required. Must be drug free.

Kathleen Christian 12 years, 4 months ago

State-sponsored murder, Oh please who created this pollitically accepted words. Give me a break. They do a job they have to, I don't think it is one they particularly have fun with. Someone have to pull the plug. I'd do it to a murderer, child rapist in a minute.

Do you know of the actual statistics from 50 years ago compared to today's? Compared them yourself. I'm saying that the death penalty is a deterrent to more severe crimes such as murder, kidnapping and rape.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 12 years, 4 months ago

Sorry if you don't like the simple and direct description of what capital punishment is, katybleu. It's premediated, ritualized, state-sponsored murder-- nothing more, nothing less.

badger 12 years, 4 months ago

katybleu said:

"It's easy for someone to say put them in prison for life when they have never been a victim of losing someone to a senseless murder or having your child kidnapped and raped by some maniac."

It's also pretty easy to assume that people who don't see things the way you do don't have a personal experience with the situation that you feel would change their minds.

You could not be more wrong in that assumption if you tried. I have gone through the aftereffects of rape with family members, friends, and significant others. I have arrived half an hour too late to stop a rape, and had to pick up a woman who was like my sister off the floor and help her call the police, and hold her hand at the hospital, so please don't dare assume that my opposition to the death penalty for rape is borne out of some ignorance or naivete regarding 'how it feels to have someone you love raped by some maniac.'

I oppose it, and will continue to do so until the day that I die, because I sincerely believe that if someone is already moved to commit a violent rape, that someone may have the capacity for murder as well if pushed in the right direction, and the knowledge that you will be put to death either way provides what I consider to be a credible push in that direction. I believe that if someone is enough of a 'maniac' to kidnap a child, then he may well be enough of one to kill that child, and dispose of the body, and I don't want to push those people any farther towards killing people than they already are.

People play on the heartstrings, and play on fear, and tar their opponents with, "Well, if it had ever happened to you, you would think differently." You know what? Talk to more people it has happened to, and you may be surprised to find that a lot of people who are the victims of violent crime advocate life sentences instead of the death penalty. No, of course it's not all or even the vast majority of victims. But assuming that 'anyone with real experience with it' would support your position is just flat wrong.

Steve Jacob 12 years, 4 months ago

One reason why I support the death penalty is between current DNA test and giving defendens better lawyers, I trust the court system more.

I just don't understand why 20 years ago, the courts gave people up for the death penalty the worst lawyers.

Amy Bartle 12 years, 4 months ago

Why are so many people who are in favor of the death penalty are also against abortion? Attachment to religious traditions leads to very clear anti-abortion sentiment, but it does not issue a consistent ethic that connects opposing abortion and opposing the death penalty. In 1995 in the book, The Gospel of Life, Pope John Paul II writes that opposing capital punishment should be part of a pro-life witness for a culture of life that promotes human dignity and solidarity.

Amy Bartle 12 years, 4 months ago

Back in 1930 Texas led the nation in the most executions in a state by executing 633 people. Next closest state was Georgia with 402 executions. Then in 1977 Texas executed 336 people. Next closest state was Missouri with 61. But even being the leader by far in executions has not made Texas the safest state to live in. Most dangerous states to live in, in 2005: Texas is the 11th most dangerous state out of 50. In the year 2000 Texas had the 8th highest total Crime Index [per capita]. For Violent Crime Texas ranked the 13th highest occurrence for Violent Crime among the states.

As of 2003 The Texas murder rate was 6.4, tied for 8th highest murder rate in the nation, while the states with equal or higher murder rates were: Arkansas, 6.4 Alabama 6.6 Tennessee 6.8 Illinois 7.1 Georgia 7.6 Maryland 9.5 Louisiana 13.0 DC 44.2 All the other states had lower murder rates in 2003.

I think this is good evidence that the death penalty is not a deterrent to crime.

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