California death penalty: Will state follow Arizona, which has resumed executions after a long hiatus?
by Howard Mintz
When Arizona prison officials injected condemned rapist and murderer Richard Stokley with a single, fatal drug dose last month, it marked the state's sixth execution of the year in the nation's second busiest death chamber.
Now that California voters in November narrowly preserved the death penalty, Arizona's path could foreshadow the future for this state, where not a single one of the 729 death row inmates have marched to execution in seven years.
As in California, interminable legal tangles once shut down Arizona's death penalty system as the state executed only one inmate, who volunteered to die, from 2001 to 2010. But Arizona emerged from numerous court battles that removed all of the legal roadblocks that remain in California.
The result has been 11 executions since October 2010, nearly the number California has carried out since it restored the death penalty in 1978. Significantly, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, often the last word for death penalty appeals in the Western states, has not intervened.
Now, legal challenges holding up California's executions are expected to resume this year.
"I do think eventually the cases all come to an end," said Dale Baich, who heads a unit representing Arizona death row inmates. "But (in California) it might be later than sooner."
In fact, the timetable may still be measured in years, not months. Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye in December told reporters it could take three years for executions to resume, particularly because of the lingering legal cloud over the state's lethal injection procedures.
At least 14 inmates have exhausted all of their legal appeals and would be eligible for immediate execution if California resolves the broader legal challenges over the death penalty. Those include Bay Area condemned killers Harvey Heishman (Alameda County), Robert Fairbank (San Mateo County) and Royal Hayes (Santa Cruz). Several more are close to their last chance in the courts, as the 9th Circuit, which used to overturn death sentences with regularity, has after recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings made it tougher to tamper with death judgments.
But a number of legal factors must be resolved before California can escort those inmates into San Quentin's new lethal injection chamber.
- The ongoing fight over the state's current three-drug execution method. A Marin County judge last year blocked California from using the method, finding the state did not follow administrative rules in adopting new prison procedures. A state appeals court is now considering Attorney General Kamala Harris' appeal, with arguments expected by this summer.
- Once the state court case is resolved, a San Francisco federal judge will reopen the original legal challenge to lethal injection that first put executions on hold.
In addition, Gov. Jerry Brown's administration is developing a single-drug execution method, which has removed legal obstacles in Arizona, Ohio, Washington and other states. But even that switch would have its round of administrative hearings and federal court review.
San Francisco U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson is expected to rule any time on a sweeping challenge to California's death penalty law. The case rests on evidence, gleaned from more than 20,000 homicide cases, that the death penalty statute is so overbroad that virtually any first-degree murder has been eligible, making it unconstitutional under Supreme Court precedent that requires states to adopt narrower death penalty laws.
Legal experts say Arizona, which has 128 death row inmates, wiped away all of these arguments. Kent Cattani, head of death penalty appeals in the Arizona attorney general's office, notes that Arizona had it easier than California because prison officials could switch to the single-drug option with a stroke of a pen, rather than going through California's lengthy administrative process.
But, he adds, if California resolves the lethal injection issue, it appears the 9th Circuit's decisions allowing Arizona executions to proceed would also apply in California.
Death penalty opponents, however, are not conceding California will become the next Arizona. Natasha Minsker, campaign manager for Proposition 34, which sought to repeal the death penalty, promises a return to the voters, although it may be a few years.
And Michael Laurence, head of the California agency that represents death row inmates, considers all of the roadblocks insurmountable. "We're stuck with this dysfunctional system."
Prosecutors and death penalty supporters disagree. Senior Assistant Attorney General Ronald Matthias, who heads the state's death penalty unit, said "there is no significant difference between Arizona and California" other than that Arizona has an approved execution method.
Death penalty advocates such as Kent Scheidegger, legal director for the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, say that it should not take much longer for California to fix that problem.
Barring a political shift that abolishes California's death penalty, most experts say it's just a matter of when, not if, San Quentin's death chamber reopens.
"At some point,'' said Elisabeth Semel, head of UC Berkeley law school's death penalty clinic, "if all of those (legal challenges) fail, we have to face the prospect of executions."
Algerian hostage crisis: 3 Americans among the dead
by Bradley Klapper
WASHINGTON (AP) - Three U.S. citizens were killed in last week's hostage standoff at a natural gas complex in Algeria, while seven Americans made it out safely, Obama administration officials said Monday.
The State Department confirmed that gas workers Victor Lynn Lovelady of Houston, Texas, and Gordon Lee Rowan were killed at the Ain Amenas field in the Sahara. U.S. officials identified Texas resident Frederick Buttaccio as the first death last week.
"I'm glad we were able to get some rescued, but we did lose three Americans," Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said as he was leaving the Capitol, where he attended President Barack Obama's second inauguration. "That just tells us that al-Qaida is committed to creating terror wherever they are and we've got to fight back."
A Colorado man survived the hostage crisis by hiding from the terrorists for 2 ½ days before escaping to a nearby Algerian military base.
Steven Wysocki of Ebert, Colo., worked as a production supervisor at the natural gas field. His wife, Kristi, told ABC World News Monday that, at times, the terrorists were only a few feet from where her husband was hiding. She said she felt that her husband "made it to hell and back."
A U.S. official had told The Associated Press earlier Monday that the FBI had recovered Lovelady's and Rowan's bodies and notified their families. The official had no details on how the Americans died, and their hometowns were not released.
Militants who attacked Ain Amenas had offered to release Lovelady and Rowan in exchange for the freedom of two prominent terror suspects jailed in the United States: Omar Abdel Rahman, a blind sheik convicted of plotting to blow up New York City landmarks and considered the spiritual leader of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, and Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani scientist convicted of shooting at two U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.
The Obama administration rejected the offer outright.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the U.S. was still working with Algeria's government to gain a fuller understanding of the attack and to enhance their counterterrorism cooperation in future.
"We extend our deepest condolences to their families and friends," she said in a statement. "The blame for this tragedy rests with the terrorists who carried it out, and the United States condemns their actions in the strongest possible terms."
Last week's desert siege began Wednesday when Mali-based, al-Qaida-linked militants attempted to hijack two buses at the plant, were repelled, and then seized the gas refinery. They said the attack was retaliation for France's recent military intervention against Islamist rebels in neighboring Mali, but the captured militants told Algerian officials it took two months to plan.
Five Americans had been taken out of the country before Saturday's final assault by Algerian forces against the militants.
The U.S. official said the remaining two Americans survived the four-day crisis at an insecure oil rig at the facility. They were flown out to London on Saturday.
The State Department's Nuland confirmed that seven Americans made it out safely, but said she couldn't provide further details because of privacy considerations.
Algeria says 38 hostages of all nationalities and 29 militants died in the standoff. Five foreign workers remain unaccounted for.
Lovelady, 57, worked at Ain Amenas as a project manager for the Houston-based energy firm ENGlobal Corporation, said CEO William A. Coskey. Rowan's employer wasn't immediately known.
Ohio plans training in cold-case murders
WEST CHESTER, Ohio (AP) — The state of Ohio is beginning its first training session for law enforcement officers working on cold-case homicides.
The state Bureau of Criminal Investigation hosts the Unsolved Homicide Investigative Strategies and Resources course Tuesday in the Cincinnati suburb of West Chester.
It's the first of several regional courses planned throughout the state.
Detectives will be trained on aspects of cold-case investigations, including unsolved homicide methodology, initial assessment and protocol.
A review panel will also look at evidence in a number of open homicide cases and make recommendations.
Community reacts to "community policing"
by Trevor Shirley
BRADENTON - Police around the Suncoast often say a challenge they face is forming meaningful relationships within communities hit hard by crime. People ABC 7 spoke with Monday say there's often a level of mistrust between communities and police, but that they think there are ways to hopefully forge new relationships.
Not long after a man was gunned down in a Bradenton driveway Sunday night, Akeem Richardson was stopped by police. "They were asking us questions, if we knew any shootings around here, but we told them no," said Richardson.
He says he never has much contact with police, and that if he had a problem, he's not even sure he'd feel comfortable asking them for help.
"I don't know," said Richardson, "I think I would but...it's kind of like fifty-fifty."
It's a feeling that's not entirely uncommon among citizens in neighborhoods hit hard by crime.
"I would say they're a little leery of them," said Jennifer Firman, who lives near Sunday night's shooting scene, and says police patrols are normally few and far between. "I would like to see more police presence in this area, because honestly I don't see much unless something's going on."
Residents we spoke to say people don't trust the police because they don't have a visible presence. "I don't think as a whole, the public trusts them as much as they used to," said Karla Pirillo, another Bradenton resident.
Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube is known for holding events to build trust between authorities and the community, but some say more needs to be done.
"Have more of them on bicycles so they can converse with the neighborhood," said Pirillo.
Jennifer Williams say that's a sight that hasn't been seen in North Sarasota in a long time. "Every blue moon I might see them walking," said Williams, who lives in Newtown, "they used to ride the bicycles, they not doing that anymore."
She's says there used to be better relationships between authorities and the neighborhood.
She thinks simple steps can do a lot when it comes to mending fences and keeping everyone safe. "They can walk more, get out of their cars and talk to the kids," said Williams.