July 18, 2008
News Update 07.18.08
Mecklenburg County prosecutors have announced that they will not seek the death penalty against Michael Arthur Howell, who is accused of killing a state insurance examiner who was auditing his Charlotte business. Sallie Rohrbach disappeared during her investigation of Howell; her body was found in South Carolina days later. Howell still faces a penalty of life without the possibility of parole if convicted.
In developing news, the Racial Justice Act has stalled, but death penalty supporters managed to sneak a new capital aggravating factor through the Senate at the last minute. The new agg is now in the House rules committee. More on this if it passes, but the bill would make some domestic killings automatically death-eligible. It does nothing to address the larger problem of violence against women.
Texas Governor Rick Perry has announced his intention to go forward with the executions of five Mexican nationals, despite pleas from Washington and abroad. Earlier this week, the International Court of Justice in the Hague ordered the United States to stop the executions of persons who had been denied their rights under the Vienna Convention. Among those Texas has decided to execute anyway is Jose Medellin.
It has been learned that former Maryland governor Robert Ehrlich wasted some 300 hours of police time when he ordered surveillance of local peace activists and death penalty opponents. No illegal activity was observed, and the operation was eventually terminated when the officers assigned to the detail complained that perhaps their time was better spent pursuing actual criminals.
May 21, 2008
News Update 05.21.08
In a highly unusual turn of events, the Charlotte man accused of killing a state insurance investigator who was conducting an audit of his business has been denied the assistance of a public defender. According to Judge Bill Costagny, Michael Arthur Howell makes too much money to be entitled to assistance in hiring a lawyer. Howell apparently makes over $70,000 a year, but his expenses are greater than his income. Furthermore, the cost of a proper first-degree murder defense (not to mention a capital trial) far exceeds what almost any individual short of O.J. Simpson is capable of paying out of pocket. If the case goes capital, Howell’s savings will quickly be depleted and he will eventually be appointed a public defender. By then we will be several months down the line, the crime scene may have changed, critical witnesses or evidence might have disappeared. Rather than saving taxpayers money, perhaps the only thing Judge Costagny will have accomplished is giving Howell a built-in issue for appeal.
Meanwhile, the folks at NC Policy Watch are always good for a laugh:
Relatedly, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has this reflection on Georgia’s rush to the death chamber, which is particularly disturbing in light of the near-collapse of the state’s public defender system.
Earl Wesley Berry is scheduled to be executed in Mississippi tonight. His lawyers have filed a petition with the Supreme Court, arguing that in light of the court’s ban on the execution of the mentally retarded in Atkins v. Virginia, Berry cannot be executed until he has received a proper hearing on the issue.
Amnesty International discusses the pending execution of Percy Levar Walton, a severely mentally ill man in Virginia. You can learn more about Mr. Walton’s case here. Walton is slated to become the 100th person executed in Virginia in the modern era.