Time to Rethink Death Penalty For Arizona?

Nicholas Condorcet February 27, 2013 0

By Nicholas Condorcet
Arizona Community Press | www.azcommunitypress.org

Seventeen U.S. states, including New Mexico and Connecticut, have abolished the Death Penalty.  Across the nation concerns about wrongful convictions, the cost of the long appeal process, questions about the effectiveness as a deterrent to crime and moral concerns have led to a decrease in executions.  According to Amnesty International, “Since 1973, over 130 people have been released from death rows throughout the country due to evidence of their wrongful convictions. In 2003 alone, 10 wrongfully convicted defendants were released from death row.” Here in Arizona concerned citizen groups like Arizona Death Penalty Alternatives and the Arizona Friends Services Committee have been active in seeking an end to capital punishment.

States that have ended capital punishment sometimes have different reasons for doing so.  New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson stated on ending capital punishment in New Mexico, “Regardless of my personal opinion about the death penalty, I do not have confidence in the criminal justice system as it currently operates to be the final arbiter when it comes to who lives and who dies for their crime”.  In 2012 Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy noted “the people of this state pay for appeal after appeal, and then watch time and again as defendants are marched in front of the cameras, giving them a platform of public attention they don’t deserve.”  Illinois Governor Pat Quinn stated that “there is no way to design a perfect death penalty system, free from the numerous flaws that can lead to wrongful convictions or discriminatory treatment, I have concluded that the proper course of action is to abolish it”.

In Arizona 125 inmates await the death penalty after being convicted of taking a human life.  However, most convicted murders are not sent to death row as Arizona sees over 300 murders per a year.  The long process between conviction and execution has many inmates waiting decades.  In 2012 six Arizona inmates were executed.  Each was guilty of murder, but this is true of many who got lesser sentences.  Murdering multiple people does not seem to be a factor with 4 of the 6 only killing one person.  One detail that seems to stand out is that of the 6 executed, 4 had accomplices in murder 3 of which are now free men.

Many feel that the main difference is those who took a plea deal and/or confessed to the police received lesser sentences and those who did not received death. Thomas Kemp was on death row for 20 years for murdering and kidnapping a college student.  His accomplice, Jeffrey Logan, confessed to the crime and received a lesser charge. Daniel Wayne Cook was on death row 25 years for the murder of 2 co-workers; his fellow co-worker and partner John Matzke took a plea deal and is now free. Robert Towery and his partner took part in an armed robbery at a home; both men knew the witness would have to be disposed of but Towery ultimately was the one to do the killing so his partner Randy Allen Barker is now free. Richard Stokely and partner Randy Brazeal raped and killed victims; Randy cooperated with police and has been released while Stokely was executed for the crime. Many feel it is unfair and dangerous to society that men who are equally dangerous killers to those executed have been released.

When we see cases where the difference between a plea/or confession instead of mounting a court fight is this clear no deterrent exists? Those individuals who went to trial and have been executed often had no choice but to fight in court as their partner made a plea/confession first. Those who went to court may also have little chance of winning a fair trial as those facing the death penalty often had court appointed lawyers. Daniel Wayne Cook represented himself on the grounds that his appointed lawyer was drinking heavily. Cook appealed asking for new representation but was denied and executed August 2012.

On January 8th, 2013 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on the cases of two death row inmate’s, including Arizona inmate Ernest Valencia Gonzales, who have been found mentally incompetent of assisting in their defense.  Gonzales was accused of stabbing an Arizona couple in front of their child resulting in the fathers death.  The Court ruled it is unconstitutional in cases like that of Gonzales because defendants who are mentally incompetent cannot necessarily understand the proceedings against them or assist their lawyers in finding evidence or witnesses. The decision leaves open the potentiality whether such suspensions may sometimes be warranted, but it said that they should not be indefinite. Writing for the court, Justice Clarence Thomas noted  “Where there is no reasonable hope of competence, a stay is inappropriate and merely frustrates the state’s attempts to defend its presumptively valid judgment.”

Here in Arizona the practice of execution of death row prisoners continues. On March 6th Edward Schad is scheduled to be executed for the 1978 murder of Lorimar Groves, a 74-year-old Bisbee resident. His clemency hearing will take place on Wednesday, February 27th in Florence. Death Penalty Alternatives for Arizona will hold a vigil for Schad on March 5th at the Arizona State Capitol lawn.

In response to concerns over the continued use of capital punishment several bills have been introduced during the 2013 session of Arizona Legislature. SB1338 would place a moratorium on the Death Penalty in Arizona until 2028. The bill notes that the high financial cost of death penalty cases, including the long appeal process, could be better used.  “The Arizona criminal justice commission shall distribute the cost savings to local law enforcement agencies to fund cold case investigations.”  Arizona Senate Bill 1048, titled the “death penalty repeal”, would eliminate the death penalty not only for future cases but would also apply to those currently on death row. Senators Ableser, Gallardo, Hobbs and Meza also introduced a resolution SCR1001, titled “death penalty; prohibition”, that would require that “the Secretary of State shall submit removing the Death Penalty to the voters at the next general election.”

Arizona is not the only state considering changes to the death penalty. Across the country legislators in Alabama, Kentucky, Texas and Colorado have proposed bills to abolish or reform death penalty in 2013. Amnesty International USA argues a case for abolishment of the death penalty stating that “In the U.S., the application of the death penalty is marked by gross racial and economic bias, arbitrariness, and human error. It is very expensive (more than permanent imprisonment) and wastes resources that could be better used to prevent violence, support victims’ families, and foster prisoner rehabilitation. “