By Brian Corder Journalism Guild Writer
A Jewish Death Row prisoner’s execution won a reprieve after allegations that the trial judge was anti-Semitic and frequently used racial slurs.
The reprieve came six days before the scheduled execution of Randy Halprin, The Associated Press reported. Halprin was a member of the “Texas 7,” a group that escaped from a South Texas prison in 2000.
The “Texas 7” commit- ted numerous robberies; one resulted in the death of Irving Police Officer Aubrey Hawkins, who was shot 11 times. As officers closed in, one of the seven killed himself just before the six-week man- hunt ended in Colorado. The remaining six, including Halprin, were convicted of kill- ing Hawkins and sentenced to death.
Halprin claims his trial judge, Vickers Cunningham, used racial slurs and anti- Semitic language to refer to Halprin and the other “Texas 7” prisoners.
He was scheduled to receive a lethal injection on Oct. 10,2019. However, The Texas Court of Appeals granted a stay of execution on Oct. 4, 2019. The appellant court vacated the decision and remanded Halprin’s case back to the Dallas County court that convicted him, with instructions to review his claim of the trial judges’ biased against Halprin for being Jewish.
He is seeking a new trial.
One of Halprin’s attorneys, Tivon Schardl, said in a statement, “Today’s deci- sion to stay Randy Halprin’s scheduled execution is a signal that bigotry and bias are unacceptable in the criminal justice system.”
As it relates to California, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People reports there are 2,721 people on Death Row as of October 2018. By halting the Death Penalty in California, Gov. Galvin Newsom’s moratorium affected more than a quarter of the country’s Death Row prisoners. California’s Death Row population is 737 prisoners.
As of May 2019, the United States had executed 1,476 since 1976, according to the Washington Post. Meanwhile, 162 Death Row prisoners have been exonerated.
Governor Newsom’s moratorium on the death penalty in March gave California’s abolition movement new energy.
“There’s this excitement and energy in our movement that we haven’t had in a long time,” said Natasha Minsker, a political consultant and longtime proponent for abolishing capital punishment.
“Grappling with the legacy of their two failed initiatives, advocates are re- assessing their strategy and retooling their message,” said a recent SF Chronicle article. “The governor’s moratorium has given advocates the opportunity to do long-term planning.”
Newsom’s moratorium provided temporary reprieves to more than 730 inmates who sit stationed on San Quentin’s Death Row. The moratorium also removed California’s recently revised lethal injection procedures.
Because the court had recently approved the state’s new lethal injection protocol, Newsom was faced with the reality of overseeing the executions of more than 20 inmates who had exhausted their appeals. The governor said he was not willing to let that scenario happen.
Prior to Newsom’s decision, no one had been executed in California since a federal judge ruled in 2006 that the state’s methods resulted in potentially torturous and painful deaths to condemned prisoners.
Newsom’s moratorium places California’s capital punishment system back into a legal standstill.
Following Newsom’s stand, the efforts of many activists have now been directed to the national stage, where the Trump administration is planning to resume capital punishment.
Three federal executions were scheduled for December before a judge temporarily blocked them. These would have been the first death sentences carried out by the U.S. Government in 16 years.
Prosecution witness recants identification of defendant as the assailant
The death sentence has been overturned for a former deputy sheriff because of unreliable witness testimony at his penalty trial, the California Supreme Court ruled. The court did uphold his conviction of two murders.
The death sentence was overturned July 15 due to the discredited testimony of Tambri Butler, a prosecution witness in the penalty phase of his trial.
Rogers, a former Kern County deputy sheriff, will now serve a sentence of life without the possibility of pa- role unless the prosecution decides to hold a new penalty trial.
“I am now more concerned than ever that I wrongly identified David Rogers as the man who attacked me,” Butler said in a Supreme Court declaration.
Butler’s credibility came into question in 2011, when she claimed she was sexually molested by Rogers multiple times while in custody. Rogers was arrested days after the Clark murder. He confessed, but denied any involvement in the murder of Benintende.
Rogers claimed his gun went off accidentally while he was threatening Clark to perform sex acts for $30.
At his trial his attorneys claimed he had been physically and sexually abused as a child. Mental health professionals testified that Rogers killed Clark while he was in an “impulsive, highly emotional state.”
The California Supreme Court has upheld the death sentence for a man in the death of a prison guard, despite questionable testimony by prosecution witnesses.
The case involves Jarvis Masters, one of three Black Guerrilla Family members convicted in 1985 for the killing of Correctional Sgt. Dean Burchfield at San Quentin.
Andre Johnson was convicted of stabbing Burchfield to death. Lawrence Woodard was convicted of ordering the killing. And Masters was convicted of helping plan the killing, sharpening the knife used in the attack, and giving it to Johnson, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Aug. 14.
Prosecution witness Rufus Willis originally testified that Masters helped in the planning, sharpening the knife before giving it to Johnson. He said later that the prosecutor threatened him, saying he would be sent back to prison if he did not cooperate.
Willis reported he feared for his own life, because he was a known informant.
Three prosecution wit- nesses have recanted, saying they testified falsely at trial.
Bobby Evans also testified against Masters but did not disclose at the time of trial that he had been given a deal in a separate case in exchange for his testimony against Masters.
The court, upholding the conviction and death sentence in 2016, sent the new post- trial allegations for review to former Marin County Judge Lynn Duryee.
“Witnesses against Masters were ‘liars with highly unreliable and selective memories’ ”
After reviewing all the testimony, she concluded that the chief prosecution witnesses against Masters were “liars with highly unreliable and selective memories” as well as “career criminals and well-known snitches.”
The recantations were no more believable than their original testimony, the Chronicle article noted.
The court, upon hearing those findings, reaffirmed Masters’ conviction and sentence.
Justice Goodwin Liu wrote that Masters’ attorney had challenged the credibility of Willis at trial, and presented evidence that Evans had been an informant in other cases.
Having heard all the evidence, the jury still found Masters guilty. The additional evidence reviewed by Duryee would not have changed the outcome.
Justice Liu, joined by Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuellar, wrote in a second opinion that it was understandable that Masters found Duryee’s report unsettling due to the lies she attributed to the star witnesses.
Masters’ attorney Joseph Baxter called the ruling “absurd.”
“The court is saying, if the case is rotten to the core, it doesn’t matter, because the court can’t tell if you’re lying now or if you were lying then. Jarvis Masters has never had a fair trial.”
Masters, now 57, is from Los Angeles. He has become a Buddhist, counseling to ther inmates on Death Row.
A survey of all Death which resulted in the state about capital punishment, Row prisoners in California withdrawing its lethal injection last August, San Quentin produced a divided opinion protocol and closing News surveyed all 737 prisoners, including the women in Chowchilla.
Of the 715 men on Death Row in San Quentin, 68 responded to the survey and of the 22 women on Death Row in Chowchilla, 10 responded.
A sample of capital punishment supporters’ comments:
“Let’s start carrying out these executions!” said a 49-year-old man with 21 years on Death Row. “Governor Newsom had no business go- ing against the people’s will! What good is your vote/voice if people like Newsom will only silence your vote/voice? I guess the people don’t matter.”
A 67-year-old woman with 18 years on Death Row said, “The people voted for it! It should be upheld.”
A sample of capital punishment opponents’ comments:
“It is not a deterrent and is disproportionately used as a sentence against poor minorities as well as a scare tactic tool by politicians with an agenda other than public safety,” said a 45-year-old person with more than 20 years on Death Row. That person also said that the moratorium is “a positive step” and more needs to be done to end capital punishment.
The survey provided space for respondents to write “other” comments:
A majority of respondents (supporters of the death penalty and those in opposition) asked to change the living conditions on Death Row, e.g., better/hot food, more time out of cells, and self- help programs.
• Women’s average age: 54.3
• Women’s average years on Death Row: 20.6
• Men’s average age: 56.2
• Men’s average years on Death Row: 23.1
• Overall average age: 56.1
• Overall average time on Death Row: 22.7
As of April 1, the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) reports that California leads the nation with the number of condemned prisoners— about twice the number of the next closest state, Florida.
DPIC also reports that since 1978, California spent more than $4 billion on the death penalty after considering pre-trial and trial costs, costs of automatic appeals and state habeas corpus petitions, costs of federal habeas corpus appeals, and costs of incarceration on Death Row.
California rejected two initiatives to repeal the death penalty by a vote in 2012 and 2016; in 2016, it adopted another proposal to expedite the appeal process.
The anonymous survey asked:
• What is your opinion on capital punishment?
• Do you favor Gov. Gavin Newsom’s moratorium on capital punishment in CA • What is your age?
• How many years have you been on Death Row?
The survey gave participants five options on their opinion on the death penalty: Strongly agree that capital punishment ought to be a punishment
25% men 10% women 23.1% overall
Agree that capital punishment ought to be a punishment
20% men 30% women
No opinion about it
0% men 0% women
Disagree that capital punishment ought to be a punishment 7.35% men 10%women 6.4% overall
Strongly disagree that capital punishment ought to be a punishment
47.1% men 60% women 48.7 overall
Regarding the moratorium, the survey asked:
Strongly agree capital punishment ought to be ended in California 52.2% men 60%women 53.2 overall
Agree that capital punishment ought to be ended in California 1.5% men 10% women 2.6 overall
No opinion about it
3% men 0% women 2.6 overall
Disagree capital punishment ought to be ended in California
16.4% men 20% women 16.9 overall
Strongly disagree capital punishment ought to be ended in California
21.8% overall 0% overall
CA court upholds death sentence in prison officer murder
By Alfred King Journalism Guild Writer
The governor’s moratorium on executions has not stopped some California district attorneys from seeking the death penalty in new cases they prosecute.
District attorneys “across the state have continued to pursue capital charges against defendants,” the Sacramento Bee reported July 17.
Lawyers working on behalf of Cleamon Johnson asked the state Supreme Court on July 1 to halt such prosecutions, the newspaper said.
Johnson is a Los Angeles manaccusedofkillingfive people.
“In light of this paradigm shift, a California jury in a capital case cannot be expected to provide a fair and reasoned penalty-phase de- termination,’ lawyers argued in a petition to the high court.
The court in a similar case halted the death penalty trial, the story said. Those actions indicate the court is taking the argument seriously, said
Robert Sanger one of Johnson’s attorneys.
Prosecutors in their response to the court wrote any concerns about the governor’s moratorium can be handled during jury selection.
“Jurors are routinely asked to set aside these types of things in order to reach a just verdict based on the evidence and the law,” prosecutors claimed.
“The real goal of this petition is to turn Governor Newsom’s moratorium, which is nominally a reprieve, into a judicial abolition of the death penalty in California,” prosecutors wrote.
Over the last three months, six executions in the United States have been stayed or rescheduled because of constitutional issues regarding the method of execution or who can be present in the death chamber, according to Reuters.
At the helm of this controversy is the state of Alabama, according to recent articles featured in Reuters and Mother Jones.
Christopher Price was scheduled to be executed at the beginning of April. Price filed an appeal when he found out that he was to be lethally injected. He wants to die by lethal gas. The lower courts granted him a 60-day stay of execution. The state of Alabama appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
After some last minute arguing, the court decided 5-4 along ideological lines, with a conservative majority voting to proceed with the execution. The decision, which was issued at 3 a.m., was too late. The death warrant had expired. Alabama will have to set a new execution date.
The Alabama ruling comes at a time when the justices have been clashing over capital punishment. Conservative justice Neil Gorsuch wrote that an eleventh-hour stay of execution should be an “extreme exception.” It appears that the case of Christopher Price did not rise to that standard. The issue for the state of Alabama was the timing.
The state contends that Price and his lawyers had ample time to alert the state and let them know how Price wanted to be executed.
The liberal side of the high court maintained that the hasty decision made in the middle of the night undermined the criminal justice system. Justice Stephen Breyer, one of the liberal justices, called the litigation an example of arbitrary administration of the death penalty. He wrote that Price’s claim failed because of a minor oversight by his lawyer when filing evidence to support his argument.
“To proceed in this way calls into question the basic principles of fairness that should underlie our criminal justice system,” Breyer wrote.
Price, who was convicted of killing a minister, has no objection to dying. He con- tends that the three-drug protocol would cause him severe pain, and that nitrogen hypoxia would reduce that risk.
In a similar case, Russell Bucklew, a convicted murderer, sought to die by lethal gas. He has a rare medical condition that he claims could make his execution by lethal injection “gruesome.” He requested that the execution be delayed 60 days so he could proceed with his request to be executed by lethal gas. The Supreme Court, however, was not persuaded. In a 5-4 decision, the court ruled that the Constitution does not guarantee a condemned prisoner “a painless death.”
Watson Allison, who spent more than 30 years on San Quentin’s Death Row, was one of many in awe of sunset ser- vices for Good Friday — the day Jesus Christ was crucified.
Allison stood inside the Protestant Chapel as light filtered through its blue-tinted windows, dusk approached and men-in-blue mingled. Listening to Raul Higgins slapped the congas, Albert Flagg’s fingers danced on the piano while Greg Dixon rang out his piping organ. Dixon switched to a Fender guitar, adding a new dynamic to the drumming of Sincere Carter over Leonard “Funky Len” Walker’s bass guitar.
Edward Dewayne Brooks stood stage left, clapping and rocking in conversation with fellow ushers, choir members and the Worship Team.
As he listened, Allison said that he felt like he’s on the right path.
“I have a lot of support from people checking-in with me,” he said. “People come over to me just to see how I’m doing. That’s enriching to the soul.”
Nine long, fresh palm branches sat on the chapel stage. They shared the stage with the cross at the center. The palms stretched, nearly touching the chapel ceiling. A lone branch lay sideways on the stage’s steps.
Chaplin Mardi Ralph Jackson stood at the rear of the chapel as 34-year-old Carrington Russelle took the stage to share his addition to the sermon.
“She spends more time with us than she does with her family,” Russelle said about Chaplin Jackson. He encouraged the men-in-blue to take advantage of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice.
“We made some poor choices to get into this blue attire,” Russelle said. “Now you can make the best decision of your life by accepting Jesus.”
He emphasized that Jesus Christ was not murdered–he sacrificed his life to save us.
Vadim Zakharchenko, 32, gave a tearful sermon that brought attending men-in-blue to their feet. Zakharchenko said that, in the past, he came to church only semi-committed to Jesus Christ. He became tired of living that way, and after a conversation with his mother, he became fully committed to Jesus Christ.
George E. Moss, 49, shared his experience in administrative segregation in isolation after catching the flu. The experience restored his faith, and helped him understand God’s wisdom.
Armando R. Gonzalez’s sermon grappled with where true power comes from and why Jesus Christ sacrificed himself.
Two California Supreme Court justices have joined the debate against capital punishment.
“California’s death penalty is an expensive and dysfunctional system that does not deliver justice or closure in a timely manner, if at all,” Justice Goodwin Liu wrote in a published opinion.
The opinion upheld the death sentence of Thomas Potts, convicted of two murders in 1998. Liu’s opinion was cosigned by Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuellar, the San Francisco Chronicle reported March 28.
Liu noted the California execution moratorium imposed by Gov. Gavin Newsom and said it should be a signal for a renewed examination of capital punishment.
Justice Goodwin Liu wrote that he has voted to affirm many death sentences and would “continue to do so when the law requires,” reported the San Francisco Chronicle.
Liu wrote,” I express no view here on the morality or constitutionality of the death penalty,” then derided “the promise of justice in our death penalty system” as “a promise that California has been unable to keep.” He also said the 2016 Proposition 66 initiative aimed at speeding up executions “promised more than the system can deliver.”
Proposition 66, upheld by the courts, limited prisoner appeals and prohibition on regulatory review of one- drug lethal injections. But then the courts rejected its five-year deadline for deciding appeals in state court as being unfeasible and unconstitutional. Liu said the ballot measure’s goal could not be met unless California devotes “considerable additional resources to its judicial branch.”
The opinions were challenged by Kent Scheidegger, a death penalty advocate and legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation in Sacramento. He said other states handle death penalty appeals faster and less expensively, California could follow their example by limiting successive appeals.
Pending in the state Legislature is a measure that would place another death penalty repeal on the November 2020 ballot. A poll by the Public Policy Institute found 62 % of adults surveyed said they would prefer a life-without-parole sentence instead of death for first-degree murder.
Former Chief Justice Ronald George said in his 2013 memoir that the death penalty system “places the ad- ministration of justice… in a very bad light” because of its costs, delays and overall ineffectiveness.
After the governor of Washington declared a moratorium on executions, the state’s Supreme Court struck down Washington’s death penalty law on the grounds it was used in an arbitrary and racially discriminatory manner.