Will the U.S. Finally End the Death Penalty?

In the past, abolition efforts have faced a backlash—but Gavin Newsom’s moratorium may be different.
The American death penalty is extraordinarily fragile, with death sentences and executions on the decline. Public support for the death penalty has diminished. The practice is increasingly marginalized around the world. California, with its disproportionately large share of American death-row inmates, announces an end to the death penalty. The year? 1972. That’s when the California Supreme Court declared the death penalty inconsistent with the state’s constitutional prohibition of cruel or unusual punishments—only to have the death penalty restored a year later through popular initiative and legislation.
On Wednesday, again, California walked back its commitment to the death penalty. Though not full-fledged abolition, Governor Gavin Newsom declared a moratorium on capital punishment lasting as long as his tenure in office, insisting that the California death penalty has been an “abject…

For victims' families, no easy answer on whether the ordeal of a death penalty case is worth it

Jury box
The parents of the murdered students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have been asked — directly by prosecutors, indirectly by defense lawyers, and while talking amongst themselves — whether the young man responsible for mercilessly slaughtering their children should be executed for the crime.

At stake is more than just the life of the killer, Nikolas Cruz. Whenever the death penalty is ordered in Florida, the case is automatically appealed, guaranteeing the victims’ families will be locked with Cruz in a lengthy process that can take years or even decades to resolve.

It’s a position no one envies, but some who have been through similar ordeals say the Parkland parents cannot give a wrong answer, no matter what they decide.

The South Florida Sun Sentinel talked to family members of three victims whose accused killers faced the death penalty. They agreed that the process is long, grueling and takes an emotional toll. Yet none regret their decisions to ask prosecutors to seek a death sentence.

The Broward State Attorney’s Office already announced that it plans to seek the death penalty against Cruz, 19, who killed 14 students and three staff members at the Parkland high school. Prosecutors won’t say whether the families’ input could change the strategy.

And Broward Public Defender Howard Finkelstein, whose office is representing Cruz, has offered to have him plead guilty in exchange for a sentence of life in prison.

Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jaime was among the dead, said Finkelstein’s offer is tempting.

“I support the death penalty,” he said. “But I don’t want to pursue it in the case of my daughter’s killer. … If there’s a chance Cruz is willing to take a plea deal, I say go for it.”

Guttenberg said his main concern is having to relive the case at every stage — a trial, followed by a penalty phase, followed by appeals, the specter of a retrial, repeating the process from the beginning, “only to end up at what is likely to be a life sentence anyway.”

Andrew Pollack, who lost his daughter, Meadow, in the shooting, said he is willing to yield to the position of the majority of Stoneman Douglas families. “The death penalty is too easy for him,” said Pollack, who refuses to refer to Cruz by name or even as a person. “I’m not going to worry about what happens to this thing anyway. One day he’ll get what’s coming to him.”

Pollack said he’ll avoid reliving the crime by staying away from the trial.

Crowley's advice

For Chris Crowley, staying away wasn’t an option. Crowley waited 27 years to see his sister’s killer executed in 2013. William Frederick Happ confessed in the execution chamber and begged for forgiveness before he was put to death by lethal injection.

His victim, Angela Crowley, had lived in Lauderdale Lakes for just a few months and was working at a travel agency in the spring of 1986. She was on her way to visit a friend in Citrus County when she was abducted and murdered by Happ.

Chris Crowley, 61, said watching Happ die gave him a kind of closure he never could have gotten had he known the killer was in a cell getting three meals a day.

“He would have had the possibility to kill again,” Crowley said. “The possibility of escape. The possibility of a commuted sentence. With the death sentence, there’s finality.”

Morrissey’s advice

Linda “Kay” Morrissey, whose husband, Joseph, was murdered in April 2010, wasn’t supposed to live long enough to see the sentencing of his killer, Randy W. Tundidor, according to trial testimony. Tundidor was in the process of getting evicted from his home by Morrissey, his landlord. So Tundidor and his son kidnapped the couple, forced them to withdraw money from an ATM, and brought them home.

Tundidor stabbed Morrissey to death and set fire to his Plantation home, intending to kill his landlord’s wife and 5-year-old son. The pair escaped the burning house.

Tundidor was sentenced to death in 2014. He is still awaiting execution.

Three years later, Morrissey has no regrets about seeking death for her husband’s killer.

“A lot of people think, ‘Maybe you can change him. Why does he need to die?’” she said. “Why should I? He put himself there.”

Morrissey said she has one wish — that the execution take place before her son, now 14, legally becomes an adult who can witness it without her permission

“That is something I would not want him to see,” she said. “I won’t even go myself.”

The Parkland families need to make their own decision about whether they want Cruz to be executed, she said.

“No matter what they decide to do, they’re not wrong,” she said. “They need to do what is right for them.”

Bowie’s advice

Deborah Bowie calls her situation “the textbook case for everything that is dysfunctional about capital punishment.”

Bowie’s sister, Sharon Anderson, was murdered in 1994 along with two others in what became known as the Casey’s Nickelodeon murders. The other victims were Casimir "Butch Casey" Sucharski, former owner of the popular Pembroke Park bar that gave the case its nickname, and Marie Rogers.

Two men, Seth Penalver and Pablo Ibar, were initially accused of the crime. They were tried together in 1997, but the jury could not reach a unanimous verdict. Penalver was tried separately in 1999, convicted and sentenced to death. Ibar was tried in 2000, also convicted and sentenced to death.

But those three trials were not the end. Both defendants worked on appeals. Penalver was granted a new trial. He went back before a jury in 2012 and was acquitted. Now Ibar has been granted a new trial as well. His next court date is in June.

“It’s a marathon every time,” said Bowie. “I feel for any family that is starting a death penalty case at the beginning. They have no idea what they’re in for.”

There was a time when Bowie said she would accept nothing but execution for her sister’s killers. Today, six years after Penalver’s acquittal, she’s less rigid. “The peace is not going to come from the death penalty. The peace comes from – I really do believe in the system. I still am hopeful that this jury will get it right. And that might include something other than the death penalty.”

Source: Sun Sentinel, Rafael Olmeda, May 21, 2018

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"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed,
but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." -- Oscar Wilde

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