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America Is Stuck With the Death Penalty for (At Least) a Generation

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With Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement, the national fight to abolish capital punishment will have to go local.
When the Supreme Court revived capital punishment in 1976, just four years after de facto abolishing it, the justices effectively took ownership of the American death penalty and all its outcomes. They have spent the decades since then setting its legal and constitutional parameters, supervising its general implementation, sanctioning its use in specific cases, and brushing aside concerns about its many flaws.
That unusual role in the American legal system is about to change. With Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement from the court this summer, the Supreme Court will lose a heterodox jurist whose willingness to cross ideological divides made him the deciding factor in many legal battles. In cases involving the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, his judgment often meant the difference between life and death for hundreds of death-row pr…

California: 60-year-old death row inmate dies in cell at San Quentin Prison

San Quentin Prison death row guards
San Quentin Prison death row guards
A death row inmate who went on a three-week crime rampage in Los Angeles in 1978 that included the fatal shooting and beating of a USC student died in his cell Tuesday at San Quentin State Prison, authorities said.

Stevie Lamar Fields, 60, was found unresponsive at 5:38 a.m. in his single cell, said Lt. Sam Robinson with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Paramedics tried to resuscitate him, but Fields was pronounced dead about half an hour later. The cause of death is pending the results of an autopsy, Robinson said.

Fields had been on California’s death row since Aug. 27, 1979.

He was sentenced to death by a Los Angeles County judge for a string of crimes that occurred from Sept. 28 to Oct. 5, 1978.

Fields was convicted in the kidnapping, robbery, rape and murder of 26-year-old USC student Rosemary Janet Cobb.

Fields was also convicted of the kidnapping, robbery and rape of Gwendolyn Elaine Barnett, Cynthia Marie Smith and Colleen Coats, and in the robbery of Clarence Gissendander, according to the corrections department.

He had been out on parole for a manslaughter conviction for two weeks when the crimes occurred.

Since 1978, when California reinstated capital punishment, 71 condemned inmates have died from natural causes, according to the corrections agency. There are 750 offenders on California’s death row.

Source: Los Angeles Times, Ben Poston, February 28, 2017


California killer Stevie Lamar Fields dies on death row


Condemned killer Stevie Lamar Fields, 60, was pronounced dead Tuesday on San Quentin State Prison's death row, the California Department of Corrections reported.

The cause of death is unknown, and an autopsy will be conducted, the agency's press release said. Fields was found unresponsive in his cell at 5:38 a.m. Tuesday. He did not have a cellmate.

In 1984, Fields had come within 42 hours of execution before the state Supreme Court approved a stay.

Fields had been on death row since 1979, convicted of the kidnapping, rape and killing the previous year of Rosemary Cobb, a 26-year-old student librarian at the University of Southern California.

He also was convicted of 12 other felonies, including 2 rapes and 3 kidnappings that occurred in an 8-day period after the murder.

The Los Angeles spree took place 2 weeks after he was paroled from a manslaughter sentence.

The California Supreme Court affirmed his conviction and death sentence in December 1983. A year later, less than 2 days before his scheduled execution, he received a stay to give his lawyers a chance to work on new arguments in the case.

His lawyers filed several appeals in the following decades in attempts to overturn his death penalty. Among the claims were:

-- Failure of his lawyer to investigate potential evidence concerning psychological damage caused by Fields' cruel childhood.

-- Bias by a juror whose wife had been a crime victim.

-- Improper injection of religion into the proceedings by a juror who cited biblical quotations during the penalty phase.

In the last action on his case, the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008 let stand without comment a federal appeals court's reinstating of Fields' death penalty.

Source: Mercury News, March 2, 2017

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