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In the Bible Belt, Christmas Isn’t Coming to Death Row

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When it comes to the death penalty, guilt or innocence shouldn’t really matter to Christians.  

NASHVILLE — Until August, Tennessee had not put a prisoner to death in nearly a decade. Last Thursday, it performed its third execution in four months.
This was not a surprising turn of events. In each case, recourse to the courts had been exhausted. In each case Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, declined to intervene, though there were many reasons to justify intervening. Billy Ray Irick suffered from psychotic breaks that raised profound doubts about his ability to distinguish right from wrong. Edmund Zagorksi’s behavior in prison was so exemplary that even the warden pleaded for his life. David Earl Miller also suffered from mental illness and was a survivor of child abuse so horrific that he tried to kill himself when he was 6 years old.
Questions about the humanity of Tennessee’s lethal-injection protocol were so pervasive following the execution of Mr. Irick that both Mr. Zagorski and M…

Last juvenile sentenced to die in Washington re-sentenced to 48 years

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PORT ORCHARD — The last juvenile to receive the death penalty in Washington was re-sentenced to 48 years in prison Friday, marking the end of a long road for the family members of the woman he was convicted of raping and murdering.

Kitsap County Superior Court Judge Sally Olsen sentenced Michael Furman to a minimum of 48 years to life, which means he will be eligible for release in about 18 years. He has already served about 30 years.

Furman was 17 when he raped and killed 85-year-old Ann Presler in her home on April 27, 1989. Furman had been going door to door looking for odd jobs, and Presler had agreed to pay him to wash her windows. While working inside, Furman bludgeoned Presler to death with several different objects.

In 1990, Furman was charged as an adult and was sentenced to death after a jury found him guilty of aggravated first-degree murder. However, the state Supreme Court outlawed the death penalty for juveniles in 1993, and Furman was given a sentence of life in prison without parole.

A 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Miller vs. Alabama, found that juveniles convicted of aggravated murder cannot be automatically sentenced to life in prison. The decision held that sentencing courts must consider juveniles’ “diminished culpability” before handing down a life sentence.

The ruling allowed Furman and 30 other inmates in the state to be resentenced, and it called back to the courtroom Presler’s descendants, who have been fighting for years to keep him in prison.

“We're part of the third generation,” said Amy Jones, who was 9 when her great-grandmother was killed. “It's haunted all of us our whole lives.”

Jones attended the hearing Friday alongside several of Presler’s other grandchildren and great-grandchildren to hear Olsen’s decision.

At a hearing in March, prosecutors asked for a 60-year to life sentence, meaning Furman wouldn’t be up for parole until his late 70s. Furman’s attorney, public defender Steve Lewis, argued that a 60-year sentence was unconstitutional and Furman should be eligible to apply for release now.

In her decision, Olsen discounted Furman’s age as a mitigating factor in the crime. While research has shown that younger people tend to have poorer impulse control and judgment than adults, Furman was only two months shy of his 18th birthday when he killed Presler, she said.

The deliberate nature of the crime also showed Furman’s responsibility, Olsen said. Before he beat Presler with several different vases, Furman wrapped the objects in rags to not leave fingerprints. He also disposed of his clothing after the fact and initially lied to detectives about whether he was in the home.

“This is not a reckless or impulsive act, but rather one of a clear, cold, calculating decision of a mind fully cognizant of future consequences,” Olsen said.

Olsen did consider Furman’s upbringing, which he told the judge in March was disturbing and violent. Furman’s stepmother renamed him “Jason” because her own son was named Michael, and she made him sleep in the garage. She also made him shoot a litter of puppies they couldn’t afford. Furman began abusing drugs at a young age.

“The defendant experienced chronic instability, neglect, physical, sexual and emotional abuse, and there's no doubt it impacted his psychological development,” Olsen said.

Olsen cited a specific Washington court case that ruled that a defendant who would be up for parole at age 68 amounted to a “de facto” life sentence. Under the new sentence, Furman would be eligible to apply for release when he is 65.

In an email to the Kitsap Sun, Lewis said Furman was "disappointed beyond measure" at Olsen's ruling and plans to appeal the sentence. 

"We respectfully disagree with the conclusion that providing an opportunity for release for the first time at age 65 for a juvenile offender is providing that juvenile offender a “meaningful” opportunity at parole," Lewis wrote.

Presler’s family watched in silence as the sentence was handed down. Furman was not in the courtroom but joined in by phone from Clallam Bay Correctional Facility. Afterward, the family described Olsen’s ruling as “fair.”

“What’s good for one person is good for the other, and this is not just for our family, this is for all the other families, heaven forbid, that have to go through this,” Jones said.

The horror of Presler’s death and subsequent trial have dominated most of the memories of their great-grandmother for the past several decades. Jones' sister Robin Adams was 11 when Presler was killed. The oldest family members present at the hearing were in their 20s.

“We don't really talk about her life as a family because her life is so wrapped up in her death, and it's made it really hard, especially for us younger grandchildren,” Jones said.

The family hopes this will be the last time they’ll have to revisit Presler’s death. If Olsen’s sentence is found to be unconstitutional, the family would have to come back to court.

“We’re in a club that no family ever wants to be in, which is murder,” Adams said. “The problem is that it will never end for us until he dies.”

For now, the sentence ensures Furman will remain in prison. But the family is still struggling with closure. Younger members of the family don’t know much about Presler, because her grandchildren want to avoid passing along painful memories.

“We hope that the fourth and the fifth generation, that this is not something that's ever on their plate, that they ever have to think about,” Jones said.

Source: Kitsap Sun, Christian Vosler, June 9, 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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