Capital Punishment in the United States Explained

In our Explainer series, Fair Punishment Project lawyers help unpackage some of the most complicated issues in the criminal justice system. We break down the problems behind the headlines - like bail, civil asset forfeiture, or the Brady doctrine - so that everyone can understand them. Wherever possible, we try to utilize the stories of those affected by the criminal justice system to show how these laws and principles should work, and how they often fail. We will update our Explainers monthly to keep them current. Read our updated explainer here.
To beat the clock on the expiration of its lethal injection drug supply, this past April, Arkansas tried to execute 8 men over 1 days. The stories told in frantic legal filings and clemency petitions revealed a deeply disturbing picture. Ledell Lee may have had an intellectual disability that rendered him constitutionally ineligible for the death penalty, but he had a spate of bad lawyers who failed to timely present evidence of this claim -…

How much does the Oregon death penalty cost? New study examines 100s of cases

A new study claims the trial and incarceration costs connected with the death penalty are almost twice as expensive than those for life sentences or other lesser penalties.

Researchers at Lewis & Clark Law School and Seattle University reviewed hundreds of aggravated murder cases from 1984 to 2013 in Oregon. The charge is the state's only crime eligible for the death penalty.

The 18-month study is being released Wednesday, a month after Gov. Kate Brown announced she would continue a state moratorium on capital punishment. The study, funded by the anti-death penalty Oregon Justice Resource Center, aims to provide a data-driven, objective look at taxpayer costs, said law school professor Aliza Kaplan, one of the authors.

Despite the moratorium, the death penalty can still be applied to a defendant by a court. A Marion County jury took less than an hour last week to sentence a man to death after a jail stabbing in 2013, according to the Statesman Journal.

Since 1984, Oregon courts have sentenced 63 people to death. The state executed two in the 1990s by lethal injection; four have died from natural causes while on death row; 21 have had their sentences reduced; and one person was released, according to the study. That leaves 35 people currently on death row.

Researchers at the law school gathered county jail costs per inmate during a death penalty trial, public defender cost per case, and costs from the state Department of Corrections to house an inmate after conviction. Researchers also obtained costs from the state Department of Justice to defend appeals and other filings from defendants during higher court proceedings, such as the state Supreme Court.

What's missing: costs from district attorneys and the courts. Their budgets don't break down expenditures per case, according to the study.

Of 374 aggravated murder trials, 61 death penalty cases cost an average of $2.3 million compared with $1.4 million from 313 cases that resulted in lesser punishments, a $918,896 difference or 1.7 times less, according to the study.

Without prison expenditures, the death penalty cases drop on average to $1.1 million compared to the $315,159 for the lesser sentences, which cost 3.5 times less. The report also looks at a smaller subset of cases from 2000 to 2013.

Source: The Oregonian, Oregon Live, Tony Hernandez, November 16, 2016

David Bartol to become 35th person on Oregon's death row

David Bartol
David Bartol
Marion County Judge Tracy Prall signed a death warrant Tuesday and sent David Bartol, 45, to Oregon's Death Row. And into limbo.

Bartol joins 33 other men and 1 woman in Oregon's prison system who have been sentenced to death. But no execution has been carried out since 1997, and all potential executions have been subject to a moratorium put in place in 2011 by then-Gov. John Kitzhaber.

After taking office, current Gov. Kate Brown upheld the moratorium and made her personal opposition to the death penalty clear.

"(Brown) will continue Oregon's death penalty moratorium, because after thoroughly researching the issues, serious concerns remain about the constitutionality and workability of Oregon's lethal injection law," said spokesman Bryan Hockaday in a recent email.

He said the state's ability to obtain execution drugs was in question, as was the constitutionality of Oregon's current 3-drug protocol.

Brown expects a sea change nationally through legislation and court decisions, he added.

"These national dynamics, together with the very real challenges to carrying out the death penalty in Oregon, informed Governor Brown's decision to continue the moratorium," Hockaday said.

Oregon is among 31 states that have death penalty, however, four of those states, including Washington and Oregon, have a gubernatorial moratorium in place.

Bartol's sentence, after being convicted of aggravated murder for stabbing fellow inmate Gavin Siscel, 33, to death with a homemade knife in the Marion County jail's day room, was the 1st death sentencing in more than 2 years in Oregon.

The 33 men on Oregon's death row are housed at the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem. The only woman on death row, Angela McAnulty, 48, is incarcerated at the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility.

Tonya Gushard, spokeswoman for the Oregon State Penitentiary said Bartol, who was already incarcerated at the penitentiary, will return to special housing and undergo evaluation. After evaluation, which could take up to 30 days, he will be moved to death row.

Oregon's death row inmates are classified as Level 5, the maximum custody designation at the prison. They are housed in single cells and segregated from the general population.

Inmates are allowed a minimum of 40 minutes of inside exercise 7 days a week and 1 hour of outside exercise 5 days a week. Inmates cannot keep a change of clothes in their cell and instead must swap out clothes 3 times a week.

They may call using the inmate telephone system and are allowed scheduled visitations, but all visiting is non-contact.

Additionally, Bartol will be able to purchase televisions, radios and other items from the prison canteen.

Bartol will be provided religious counseling each week. Educational materials are provided to inmates upon written request, and they may also have work opportunities within their housing unit.

A death sentence yields an automatic, direct review to the Oregon Supreme Court, and the ensuing appeals process can last decades.

Since 2011, when Kitzhaber placed a moratorium on death sentence executions, inmates wanting to drop appeals and be executed were left in a waiting game.

When the moratorium was placed, it had already been more than a decade since Oregon executed an inmate. Between 1904 and 1997, 60 men were executed by hanging, gas and lethal injection, but only 2 executions took place after 1962. Both men executed in the 1990s had given up their appellate rights.

Since he began his time as Marion County's District Attorney, Walt Beglau said 21 aggravated murder cases have been tried in the county. Of the 21, evidence for a death sentence has only been presented in seven cases.

In Oregon, death sentences are different, Beglau said. He cited the state's unique, 2-part process for trying cases when the death penalty is on the table. A jury first determines whether or not a defendant is guilty of aggravated murder, then enters a penalty phase where they must consider 4 questions:

1.Was the murder committed deliberately?

2.Whether the killing was unreasonable in response to the provocation, if any, by the deceased?

3.Is there a probability that the defendant would commit criminal acts of violence and be a continuing threat to society?

4.Considering all mitigating and aggravating circumstances, should the defendant receive a death sentence?

All 12 jurors must answer yes to the 4 questions in order for the defendant to be sentenced to death. It has to be 48 to 0 to impose the sentence.

"It's good to have the bar as high as it can be," he said.

The office embarks on years-long, fact-finding investigation that looks at the evidence of the case. Those facts matter because of the severity of the situation, he added.

Some question why the office continues to pursue the death penalty in light of the moratorium. Beglau said it is his legal duty to consider the death penalty for aggravated murder cases. He respects Brown's decision and other moral stances, but has to carry out his legal responsibility.

"We will continue to follow the law," he said, adding that it brings the public justice. "It's what Oregon voters approved, and we're fulfilling it."

The 12 jurors who unanimously found Bartol guilty of the aggravated murder of Gavin Siscel, 33, and sentenced him to death during the 6-week trial were relieved of their duties Thursday, but a handful returned to attend the sentencing. They crowded onto 1 side of the courtroom along with Siscel's family and friends.

Siscel's aunt and childhood friend addressed the courtroom.

Judith Krutsch, Siscel's aunt, thanked the prosecution, jury and others who stood up for her nephew and "delivered justice."

Bartol's attorney, Steven Gorham, said he was disappointed in the outcome and the state's willingness to spend millions of dollars seeking a death sentence.

"In the end, Mr. Bartol will clearly die in prison," Gorham said.

It could be from natural causes. Or he could be executed by lethal injection, but Gorham said, "We both know that's not likely."

After Bartol's attorney spoke, Prall addressed the court.

"The horrific nature of this crime was certainly hard to bear," she said.

She asked Bartol if he'd like to speak on his behalf.

"No, I have nothing to say," he replied.

Source: Statesman Journal, November 15, 2016

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