Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Major driver behind decline of death sentences in Pennsylvania is Philadelphia

In Pennsylvania, where Gov. Tom Wolf is blocking new executions, defendants are still being sent to death row, though the pace of those being condemned to death has slowed.
Since Wolf put a moratorium on the death penalty in 2015, six convicted killers have been sentenced to death, mostly in rural places like York and Pike counties.
A new report from a group that tracks the death penalty in America finds that executions have reached the lowest point since 1991, reported WHYY-FM in Philadelphia.
For the forth year in a row, there have been fewer than 30 executions in the U.S., coming just as public opinion polls show that support for the death penalty is waning.
Texas put more people to death — 13 — than any other state. That was more than half of the nation’s 2018 executions.
Robert Dunham, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, the group that prepared the report, said Wolf’s moratorium had less of an impact on the number of people sitting on death row than another factor: convicted killers in Philadelphia are being sentenced to death far less often than in years past.
In the 1990s, around 10 defendants a year received death warrants after murder convictions. In recent years, the number has been, on average, less than one a year.
It’s a movement not expected to change soon. Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner has vowed never to pursue the death penalty, likening the practice to “lighting money on fire.”
Dunham said the trend toward fewer capital cases in Philadelphia resulting in death sentences reflects patterns nationwide.
“I don’t think the moratorium has had a significant impact in the reduction in the number of capital prosecutions and the number of death sentences. It has had some impact,” Dunham said. “But the major driver of the decline of death sentences in Pennsylvania is Philadelphia.”
This summer, state officials in Harrisburg released a report finding capital punishment in Pennsylvania deeply flawed. It concluded that many of those sitting on death row have intellectual disabilities, even though mental illness is supposed to legally shield a defendant from the death penalty.
The last person to be executed in Pennsylvania was Gary Heidnik, in 1999. The convicted killer tortured, raped, and kidnapped women. His gruesome acts inspired the horror film the Silence of the Lambs.
Records from the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections show that there are 144 convicted murderers on death row. Data from prison officials show that 73 of the death row inmates are black and 55 are white. Two people on death row are Asian and 14 are Hispanic.
In Philadelphia, among the last 46 defendants sentenced to death, 44 have been people of color, according to Dunham.
“Even as the death penalty has been imposed less and less,” he said. “It’s been imposed even more disproportionally among people of color.”
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Monday, December 17, 2018

Death penalty on the decline nationwide

For the fourth year in a row, U.S. courts imposed fewer than 50 new death sentences and states performed fewer than 30 executions in 2018, according to a year-end report from the Death Penalty Information Center.
In fact, the center’s report said support for the death penalty is eroding, reported the ABA Journal. The death-row population is at a 25-year low, according to the report. In 2018, Washington became the 20th state to abolish the penalty. And in October, a Gallup poll found that only 49 percent of Americans think capital punishment is “applied fairly,” the lowest level in the 18 years that Gallup has asked that question.
“Death row in the U.S. has decreased in size every year since 2001, even as the number of executions remains near a generational low,” the report said. “The combination of court decisions reversing convictions or death sentences, deaths from nonexecution causes, and exonerations now consistently outpaces the number of new death sentences imposed.”
Since 1973—the year after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down capital punishment laws in Furman v. Georgia—American courts consistently handed down more than 100 death sentences per year, often more than 200. Use of the sentence peaked in 1996 with 315 sentences but began a sharp decline around 2000 and has been under 50 new sentences since 2015. In 2018, the report said, the number of new death sentences is expected to total 42, once a three-judge panel in Ohio makes its ruling Dec. 28.
The reduction in sentences and executions may stem from a reduction in popular support for the death penalty. In addition to the Gallup poll, the report cites election results in Colorado—where governor-elect Jared Polis had promised to abolish the death penalty—and in three states where efforts to reinstate the death penalty were defeated. Pope Francis, the leader of the Catholic Church, formally condemned executions, calling them “an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.”
Also slowing the rate of executions was the controversy over lethal injections. As pharmaceutical companies have started declining to sell drugs to states wanting to use them for executions, states have turned to compounding pharmacies with safety problems—an issue in Missouri and Texas, the report said—or lied to suppliers about the purpose of the drugs. Both Nevada and Nebraska were sued by drug companies that said the states misrepresented their purchases.
And courts have weighed in, too. Most prominently, the Washington Supreme Court abolished the death penalty in the state, in October, saying it was “imposed in an arbitrary and racially biased manner.” In addition, the U.S. Supreme Court stayed the execution of a man who is unable to remember his crimes because of dementia and a series of strokes. The high court heard oral arguments on whether executing such a person violates the Eighth Amendment.
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Mangino on WFMJ-TV21 Weekend Today

Watch my interview with Steve Vesey on WFMJ-TV21 Weekend Today on Sunday, December 16, 2018.  
To watch the interview CLICK HERE

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Mangino analyzes Denise Williams trial for Law and Crime Network

Watch my segment on the Denise Williams murder trial on Law and Crime Network.  To watch the interview CLICK HERE

House Democrats push for funding research on gun injuries and deaths

Energized by their midterm victories and a focus on gunshot victims highlighted by a growing chorus of medical professionals, House Democrats say they will push for legislation to fund research on gun injuries and deaths, reported The Hill.
Making gun violence a public health issue is seen as unlikely to cause divisions between liberal and centrist Democrats, some of whom are wary about moving too far to the left ahead of their 2020 reelection bids.
But with a divided Congress starting in January, Democratic leaders will have to tamp down expectations for achieving gun-related legislative goals of any kind since their bills will be landing in a GOP-led Senate.
Most legislation around gun violence was off the table for eight years of Republican rule in the House as GOP leaders sided with the powerful gun lobby against any new firearm restrictions, including federal funding for research.
Now, Democrats are united around making gun violence about public health, with some looking toward background checks as well. 
At a recent press conference, Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) said the incoming Democratic majority offers new possibilities
“We have an opportunity to pass background checks for every firearm purchase,” said Swalwell, a progressive who is openly considering a 2020 presidential bid. “We have an opportunity to finally study gun violence in America to see what we can do.”
The U.S. has seen a long string of high-profile mass shootings at various venues and locations in recent years: an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.; a nightclub in Orlando, Fla.; a church in Charleston, S.C.; country music festival in Las Vegas; a high school in Parkland, Fla.; and a synagogue in Pittsburgh.
An analysis of government data this week found that gun-related deaths in the U.S. last year reached their highest level in almost four decades, with nearly 40,000 people killed.
As mass shootings have become more common, public opinion has evolved. Many of the newly elected Democrats from conservative districts embraced new restrictions on gun purchases while on the campaign trail without facing the previously feared backlash on Election Day.
Rep. Conor Lamb (D-Pa.) ran on support for universal background checks, and Rep. Charlie Crist (D-Fla.), a member of the moderate Blue Dog Coalition, was a co-sponsor of universal background check legislation this year.
With measures like those failing to make their way through Congress, Democrats are looking to start with appropriating government funds to study gun violence.
Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), the likely chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee next year, said appropriating funds fort he Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to study gun violence will be a priority in the new Congress.
“We have tried repeatedly over the last few years” to get authority and funding for research on gun violence, “and every time we try to do it we were turned down by Republicans,” Pallone said.
Long-standing restrictions have effectively prevented the CDC from conducting any kind of gun violence protection research. The so-called Dickey amendment, inserted into a 1996 government funding bill by the late Rep. Jay Dickey (R-Ark.), has been renewed in subsequent years.
The provision states: "None of the funds made available in this title may be used, in whole or in part, to advocate or promote gun control.”
Although the provision doesn’t explicitly ban research into gun violence, public health advocates and Democrats say there’s been a chilling effect in place for more than 20 years that’s proven difficult to overcome.
When the Dickey Amendment first found its way into law, CDC researchers stopped working on gun-related projects. Congress moved the $2.6 million earmarked for gun violence and prevention studies into a fund to study traumatic brain injuries.
The agency has gone without dedicated funding for firearms research ever since.
Republicans say the CDC has always had the authority to conduct research into gun violence and that the agency has essentially engaged in self-censorship.
In addition to CDC funding, Pallone said the committee might take up legislation sponsored by Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Ill.) that would mandate the U.S. surgeon general submit an annual report to Congress on the effects of gun violence on public health.
“We’re going to authorize the legislation we have not been able to move because of Republicans,” Pallone said at recent a press conference on gun violence. “That will make sure that kind of funding is available through the CDC.”
Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), who is expected to be chairwoman of the Appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over the Department of Health and Human Services, said she hopes gun research can be bipartisan.
“If the claim by Republicans and the agency is that they have the authority to do it … then let’s provide them with the resources,” DeLauro told The Hill. “My hope is you can get bipartisan support on some very very basic issues.”
Democrats' larger plans for gun reform legislation are less clear.
Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) said lawmakers are still “just laying out various bills at this point.” On top of research funding, he said he expects to see legislation regulating bump stocks and other types of policies that have strong public support.
Bump stocks, which modify certain semi-automatic weapons to fire much more rapidly, were used in the October 2017 Las Vegas shooting that left 59 people dead and more than 500 wounded.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said the House will vote on gun violence legislation and has indicated universal background checks will be part of it.
“We will pass common sense gun violence prevention legislation soon, and it will be bipartisan,” Pelosi said at a press conference last week.
Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), head of the party’s task force to prevent gun violence, said the results of the November midterms speak to a need to act on gun reforms.
Thompson sponsored a background check bill this year and in 2016, and he will likely take the lead on it next year.
“There’s a new majority in the House of Representatives, and we will pass gun violence prevention legislation that will make our communities safer, that will respect the 2nd Amendment and that every American can be proud of,” Thompson said recently.
While gun bills are likely to pass the House, leaders will have to compromise on their priorities with the GOP-controlled Senate.
The midterm elections added to the GOP's Senate majority, and the incoming Republicans are all gun-rights promoters supported heavily by the firearms lobby, posing challenges for Democrats on the research-funding front.
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said he doesn’t think the Senate would take up a House bill with gun research provisions.
“I can’t imagine that that would be something we’d add specifically to the bill,” Blunt said. “They have the authority to do gun violence research … if they want to.”
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Saturday, December 15, 2018

GateHouse: A Florida murder trial, life imitating art

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
December 14, 2018
There is a trial going on in Tallahassee, Florida, that has all the twists and turns of a Hollywood movie. Denise Williams is standing trial for plotting to kill her husband Mike Williams.
Brian Winchester murdered Mike Williams - this much is known from dramatic testimony offered by Winchester during the ongoing Williams trial.
This past week, I was able to watch the testimony of Bran Winchester live while doing a segment on Law and Crime Network, a network that covers trials and crime 24/7.
Mike Williams went on a duck hunting trip the evening of Dec. 16, 2000, his wedding anniversary with his high school sweetheart, the Defendant Denise Williams. He told his wife he would return from the hunting trip at a nearby lake in time to leave for their planned anniversary getaway. Williams never came back. His friends and family, including Winchester, and his father, headed to the lake to find him.
Winchester and Mike were best friends. Winchester even sold Mike some of his life insurance, totaling $1.75 million. Winchester said that he and Mike Williams spoke nearly every day.
According to Winchester, the two had something else in common, they both were in love with the same woman - Denise Williams.
Eighteen years after Williams’ disappearance, Winchester, under the protection of immunity, confessed on the witness stand to fatally shooting Williams in the head after pushing him into the water during the hunting trip, then leaving Williams’ boat in the water to mislead investigators.
Winchester didn’t stop there - he testified that Denise was involved in every aspect of planning the killing over a period of 18 months. He even said at one point that Denise was “morally” opposed to divorce - but apparently not murder.
As Winchester calmly testified in detail about the events leading up to Mike Williams’ death, I thought this story - although diabolical - is made for the big screen. Then it struck me - this movie has already been made.
Seventy-five years ago, Paramount Pictures released a film noir classic, “Double Indemnity.” The star-studded cast included Edward G. Robinson, Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray.
Had Denise Williams and Brian Winchester watched “Double Indemnity” they might have thought twice about their ill-fated plan.
Fred MacMurray played the role of an insurance agent who sold a life insurance policy to Barbara Stanwyck’s husband - sound familiar. Stanwyck and MacMurray’s characters become involved in a romantic relationship.
The two hatched a plan to throw Stanwyck’s husband from a train while on a business trip. They pulled off the murder and tried to cash in on the insurance. However, MacMurray’s boss, Edward G. Robinson, smelled a rat and began to investigate the insurance claim.
The scheme begins to unravel and MacMurray, having been shot in a confrontation with Stanwyck, returns at night to his office mortally wounded and begins to dictate his confession - not unlike Winchester’s testimony in court - into a recorder for Robinson’s character to receive.
Unlike the movie, Winchester and Denise Williams married after Mike’s murder. The marriage fell apart and Winchester kidnapped her in hope of winning her back. He is now serving 20 years in prison for that decision.
Denise Williams’ attorney suggested in his opening statement that Denise had nothing to do with Winchester’s plot to kill her husband. The only person to accuse her of conspiring to kill Mike was Winchester - a confessed killer and convicted kidnapper.
Playwright Oscar Wilde wrote in “The Decay of Lying,” “Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.”
This is real life. A Florida jury will decide if this was a plan between two people to kill another human being for lust and money, or a fiction created by a desperate man to avoid responsibility for killing his friend.
Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book The Executioner’s Toll, 2010 was released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at www.mattmangino.com and follow him on Twitter @MatthewTMangino.
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Friday, December 14, 2018

Florida carried out the 25th and final execution of 2018

The 25th Execution of 2018
Jose Antonio Jimenez was the 1,490th person executed in the United States since 1976, the 97th person executed in Florida, and the 1,313th person executed by lethal injection.
Florida executed Jimenez by lethal injection on December 13, 2018, 26 years after he viciously stabbed a woman to death during a burglary, reported the Miami Herald.
Jimenez was pronounced dead at 9:48 p.m. The execution, originally set for 6 p.m., was delayed by a last-minute request to the U.S. Supreme Court to stay the execution. The court declined.
The 55-year-old condemned killer declined to make any last statements. The nephew of victim Phyliss Minas watched from the front row of a viewing area, separated from Jimenez by a large, thick glass window.
“Mr. Jimenez has shown no remorse or repentance for his crime,” nephew Alan Partee said in a written statement released by the Florida Department of Corrections after the execution. “His execution will allow closure to a painful memory of the vicious murder ... My family hopes he has made peace with himself and to whatever power he may or may not believe in. We pray for his soul and feel justice has been rightfully served.”
Jimenez was convicted of the 1992 murder of 63-year-old Minas, a clerk at the Miami-Dade criminal courthouse who was home alone when he broke in. He stabbed her eight times, including two fatal thrusts to the heart.
At his 1994 trial, a neighbor testified he saw Jimenez, who lived in the building, climbing down from Minas’ apartment. His fingerprint was also found on the interior of her front door.
His defense attorneys have long insisted that Jimenez was not the killer, and the circumstantial case did not prove he was to blame. A jury, nevertheless, voted 12-0 to sentence him to death.
Jimenez was the fifth killer executed since Florida changed how it administers lethal injections, a process that critics say may be cruel and unusual punishment. In 2017, the state added a drug called etomidate — intended to induce unconsciousness — to the lethal cocktail administered to inmates during execution.
In arguing against the drug, Jimenez’s lawyers cited the last execution of a Florida inmate: Eric Branch, who was put to death in February for the 1993 murder of a college student. According to defense lawyers, Branch screamed and his head, body and legs shook as the drug was administered.
The Florida Supreme Court, however, rejected the claim, saying it had already “fully considered and approved” the current method of execution.
Gov. Rick Scott originally scheduled Jimenez’s execution for July 18, but the Florida Supreme Court issued a stay as his defense lawyers claimed that North Miami hadn’t turned over key police records. The high court rejected the appeal in October, paving the way for Thursday’s execution.
Jimenez, a former house painter with a history of crack-cocaine addiction, was also convicted of the 1990 murder of a woman on Miami Beach. He was sentenced to 17 years in prison for that killing.
Jimenez woke up Thursday about 7:30 a.m., and later met with a Catholic spiritual adviser. “His mood was calm. His mood was in good spirits,” Florida corrections spokeswoman Michelle Glady said at an afternoon press briefing.
His last meal: a Cuban sandwich, bacon, five over-easy eggs, french fries, vanilla-chocolate ice cream and chocolate syrup.
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