Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Report: Death Penalty “Enormously Expensive”, “No Clear Benefits”

A new report from the Death Penalty Information Center takes a look at an often-neglected piece of the debate over capital punishment – the financial cost.

The death penalty in the U.S. is an enormously expensive and wasteful program with no clear benefits. All of the studies on the cost of capital punishment conclude it is much more expensive than a system with life sentences as the maximum penalty. In a time of painful budget cutbacks, states are pouring money into a system that results in a declining number of death sentences and executions that are almost exclusively carried out in just one area of the country. As many states face further deficits, it is an appropriate time to consider whether maintaining the costly death penalty system is being smart on crime.

The numbers the study throws around are pretty harrowing. In the most extreme example, California is spending $137 million per year to maintain death row despite having no executions over the last 3 1/2 years. The justification for maintaining death rows in the middle of an economic crisis has become less and less tenable. This is especially true in the wake of revelations about Cameron Todd Willingham, an apparently innocent man who was killed at the hands of the state of Texas in 2004, because so many of the extra costs incurred by the death penalty seek to prevent such circumstances as killing the innocent.

Clearly, eliminating the death penalty cannot solve all of these problems, but the savings would be significant. Where studies have been done, the excess expenditures per year for the death penalty typically are close to $10 million per state. If a new police officer (or teacher, or ambulance driver) is paid $40,000 per year, this death penalty money could be used to fund 250 additional workers in each state to secure a better community.

The study estimates that the total costs one death penalty trial are as much as $1 million dollars extra to the state over a trial where the maximum penalty is life in prison without the possibility of parole. And that’s a low estimate; the number varies depending on the state and its pay scales.

A national poll of police chiefs, released in the report, shows that the death penalty ranks at the bottom of their list of priorities on how to allocate criminal justice resources. In a revealing statistic, 69% of police chiefs agree that politicians support capital punishment simply to portray themselves as “tough on crime.”

Boston man charged with terrorist offenses

A terror suspect has been charged in the US with planning attacks on US shopping centres and American soldiers fighting in Iraq.

Tarek Mehanna from Boston is alleged to have had two co-conspirators and sought training in camps abroad.

District Attorney Michael K Loucks has given more details.

He said “It is alleged that there were multiple conversations about obtaining automatic weapons and randomly shooting people in a shopping mall”.

Loucks also said it was “a planned Jihadist activity, apparently inspired by the DC sniper incidents in 2002″.

The DC Snipers were John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo.

During a three-week period in October 2002 Muhammad and accomplice Malvo shot 13 people, killing 10, in the Washington DC area.

Malvo was sentenced to life in prison, while Muhammad is scheduled to be executed November 10th.

College Student Facing 15 Years for Cutting the Line at Walmart

Heather Ellis, a college honors student in Missouri, is facing 15 years in prison for allegedly cutting the line at a Walmart. We've all been in the supermarket, our favorite retailer and even the bank, and watched people wiggle past us to be served first. Amazingly, in 2009, we're getting arrested, charged and maligned for cutting?

The case started nearly three years after a Kennett, Missouri-based Walmart employee made the accusation. Ellis and her cousin were searching for the shortest line, so they split up. When her cousin found the shorter line, she joined him. That's when things went awry. A manager and security guard got involved and ultimately, the police were called.

It sounds like 40 years ago when "Dr. King was living. It's unacceptable today," said Rev. Dwight Montgomery of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Memphis. Ellis was charged with disturbing the peace, trespassing and two counts of assaulting a police officer. Details surrounding the incident are reportedly unclear.

After rejecting a plea deal on a misdemeanor count, the prosecutor, Stephen Sokoloff, became intent on pushing for a felony trial next month. To make matters worse, the Klu Klux Klan tried to intimidate the family by rallying and making threats. The site has emerged, and her family is rallying to get local and national support. Stay tuned.—Tanisha A. Sykes

NY Times Says Ex-U.S. Atty. Christie’s Key Aide May Have Improperly Helped in His Bid For N.J. Gov

The New Jersey Governors race is everything you might expect:
Christopher Christie
one hell of a fight full of mudslinging between Dem incumbent Jon. S. Corzine and Republican challenger, Christopher J. Christie, the ex-U.S. Attorney.

The New York Times on Tuesday added some mud. The paper reports that’s Christie’s key aide Michele Brown, who remained in the office after his departure,”used her position in two significant and possibly improper ways to try to aid Mr. Christie in his run for governor.” Brown responded by email to the Times by calling the allegations “outrageous and inaccurate”.

For one, the paper reports, that in March when Gov. Corzine’s campaign asked for records about Christie’s expenses and travel, Brown “interceded to oversee the responses to the inquiries, taking over for the staff member who normally oversaw Freedom of Information Act requests, according to federal law enforcement officials in Newark and Washington.”

And then in June, in an equally serious allegation, the paper says “when F.B.I. agents and prosecutors gathered to set a date for the arrests of more than 40 targets of a corruption and money-laundering probe, Ms. Brown alone argued for the arrests to be made before July 1. She later told colleagues that she wanted to ensure that the arrests occurred before Mr. Christie’s permanent successor took office, according to three federal law enforcement officials briefed on the conversation, presumably so that Mr. Christie would be given credit for the roundup.”

Brown has since left the prosecutor’s office.

Bernie Madoff Hanging Out With Mobster and Spy Jonathan Pollard in Prison

By Allan Lengel

No question Bernie Madoff crossed paths with some interesting folks with some interesting stories while schmoozing and gallivanting about in Palm Beach and Manhattan and places afar.

Still, they may not be as interesting as the folks he’s keeping company with these days in federal prison in North Carolina.

The Associated Press reports that the 71-year-old Ponzi schemer is socializing with folks like spy Jonathan Pollard, who was convicted of selling government secrets to Israel, and mobster Carmine Persico, the reputed family boss of the Colombo family.

He also lives on the bottom bunk, shares a cell with a convicted drug offender and eats pizza cooked by a child molester, the Associated Press reported, citing a legal complaint filed Tuesday by Calif. attorney Joseph Cotchett, who represents about a dozen clients who were ripped off by Madoff.

AP reports that Cotchett interviewed Madoff in July at the Butner Federal Correctional Complex in North Carolina.

Fed Judge Jails Ex-NYPD Chief Bernie Kerik For Leaking Sealed Information

By Allan Lengel

When you think of ex-NYPD Police Commissioner Bernie Kerik, you can’t help but think how far he has fallen from the good graces of this nation. After all, at one point he almost became chief of the Department of Homeland Security.

On Tuesday, a federal judge revoked his $500,000 bail and sent him off to jail for leaking sealed information from his pending trial to generate public sympathy, the New York Times reported.

The information was leaked to a lawyer, who has helped raise money for Kerik, the Times reported. The lawyer emailed it to the Washington Times.

The New York Times reported that U.S. District Judge Stephen C. Robinson in White Plains described Kerik, 54, as a ”toxic combination of self-minded focus and arrogance.” Kerik, who became a national hero after 9/11 as the N.Y. police chief, faces three trials, the first of which begins on Monday.

Ex-Fed Prosecutor Gets Break on Running Call-Girl Ring; Still Faces Fed Charges of Murder, Racketeering

By Allan Lengel

The swaggering ex-federal prosecutor Paul Bergrin who authorities say became the go-to defense attorney for Newark street gangs, dodged one bullet Tuesday but awaits still a bigger one that could put him down for good.

On Tuesday, he was sentenced to time served for running an escort service founded by one of his clients, the Associated Press reported. He pleaded guilty in May in New York State Supreme Court to a misdemeanor.

But he remains behind bars awaiting prosecution on federal charges of murder, conspiracy and racketeering relating to allegations that he used threats, bribes and even murder to discourage witnesses from testifying in trial, the AP reported.

Authorities have alleged that he passed on the name of an informant, who was shot to death in Newark in 2004.

Read Newark Star-Ledger Story on Plea in Call-Girl Ring

Poll: Corzine And Christie Tied At 39% Each

The new Monmouth poll shows the New Jersey gubernatorial race tied, with Republican Chris Christie having lost the lead he once held over Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine.

The numbers: Christie 39%, Corzine 39%, and independent Chris Daggett 14%, with a ±3.1% margin of error. Three weeks ago, Christie led by 43%-40%-8%, and he was up by 47%-39%-5% two and a half weeks before that.

The pollster's analysis finds Christie losing Democratic support back to Corzine and even some GOP voters to Daggett, while both candidates have lost independent voters to Daggett: "Democrats who flirted with Chris Christie earlier in the year have come back into the fold. It also looks like some GOP voters may have become disenchanted with their white knight. That's not a good sign for the Republican at this late stage of the game."