Life Sentence for Neil Sargeant

April 25, 2008

News Update 04.25.08

North Carolina

In Watauga County, Neil Sargeant has been sentenced to life without parole for the 2005 murder of Appalachian State student Stephen William Harrington. Harrington was bound, suffocated, and set on fire as part of what may have been a drug-related assault. After Sargeant was found guilty of first-degree murder earlier this week, Harrington’s family approached the DA, told him that nothing would bring their son back, and asked him not to proceed with the portion of the trial that could have resulted in a death sentence.


In Alabama, Daniel Lee Siebert has died on death row of natural causes. (c/o How Appealing)

From Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights, the story of a former prosecutor and defense attorney whose brother was murdered, and how that experience affected her views on the death penalty.

The New York Times on the cruel and unusual history of the death penalty. The article discusses a number of botched executions, most interestingly the executions of men on whose cases the Supreme Court relied in its recent Baze decision.

Death Row Exonerees Tour NC

October 29, 2007

News Update 10.29.07

North Carolina

People of Faith Against the Death Penalty is hosting a tour of death row exonerees which will be making stops in Chapel Hill, Davidson, Durham, Greenville, Wilmington, Greensboro, Raleigh, Carrboro, Hickory, and Jacksonville over the next few days. Speakers include Ray Krone, Jay Smith, and Greg Wilhoit. For more information contact organizer Amanda Lattanzio at 919-933-7567 or


The Fifth Circuit (which handles federal appeals from Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas) has once again stolen the Supreme Court’s lunch money. In refusing to grant a stay of execution for Earl Wesley Berry, the 5th stomped its foot and declared that SCOTUS can’t tell it what to do. Advocates on both sides hope that SCOTUS will stand up to the bully and hold on to its PB&J. (That is, we hope that the Supreme Court will seize this opportunity to clarify whether its cert grant in Baze was intended to stay all executions until the lethal injection question has been decided.) (c/o CDW, SCOTUSblog, and SLAP)

The full Eleventh Circuit (which handles federal appeals from Alabama, Florida, and Georgia) will hear arguments on the stay of execution for Daniel Lee Siebert. Although the decision to rehear the case en banc nullified the order issued by a three-judge panel of the Court and vacated the stay issued by that panel, the Court immediately issued another stay of execution, pending the as yet unscheduled hearing. (c/o StandDown and CDW) Among the state-of-the-art procedures that Alabama says should exempt its new execution protocol from a Baze stay: calling the inmate’s name and pinching his arm to make sure he is unconscious. (c/o Abolish)

In Connecticut, an anti-death penalty congregation struggles with the violent deaths of three cherished members.

Alabama Execution Blocked, Mississippi Next?

October 25, 2007

News Update 10.25.07

North Carolina

Nothing to report.


The 11th Circuit stayed the execution of Alabama’s Daniel Lee Siebert, pending the resolution of Baze. You can read the per curiam decision here. Attorneys are still trying to procure a stay for Earl Wesley Berry of Mississippi. (c/o CDW)

Berry is one of three inmates whose executions are scheduled to go forward by the end of the year. Arkansas’ Don William Davis and Flordia’s Mark Dean Schwab have also not yet received stays of execution.

Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights was in Massachusetts this week, testifying before the state legislature as it considered a bill to reinstate the death penalty. Among the speakers was Robert Curley, whose son’s brutal murder in 1997 sparked the push to bring capital punishment back to the Bay State. In the decade since his son’s death, Curley has become an opponent of the death penalty due to its disproportionate application to the poor.

The Onion (a satirical newspaper) shows the hidden consequences of a pause in executions: “To all outward appearances, “Kevin” is a typical Southern state governor. He enjoys vetoing bills, attending ribbon-cutting ceremonies, and hanging out with friends. But the recent suspension of lethal injections in 10 states has put Kevin’s political life in serious jeopardy. Unable to wait for the U.S. Supreme Court to determine whether the practice constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, Kevin, like many young governors who find themselves saddled with an unwanted death row inmate, has been forced to take desperate action and obtain an illegal back-alley lethal injection.” (c/o SLAP)

(For the record, this is DeathWatch’s favorite criminal law-related Onion article ever.)

Choosing Who Should Die

October 23, 2007

News Update 10.23.07

North Carolina

In Nash County, prosecutors have announced their intent to seek the death penalty against Tommy Lee Holiday, who is charged with stabbing two women – one fatally – at a church soup kitchen. The announcement came as little surprise, given that both the Governor and the Attorney General attended the victim’s funeral.

Last week, Wake County prosecutors announced which of the 32 murder cases before them is worthy of death. Mwanza Rama Bennett will face the death penalty in the stabbing death of his ex-girlfriend. The five men charged with murder in the shooting of a 13-year-old girl and a woman who killed her ex-husband in front of their two children will not be charged capitally.

Juan Melendez, who spent 18 years on Flordia’s death row for a crime he did not commit, will be speaking in Chapel Hill and Greensboro. The Chapel Hill event will be held at UNC Law School, room 4085, on October 30th at 5:45 PM. The Greensboro event will be held on November 1st at UNC-Greensboro in room 160 of the Bryan Building at 6 PM. Melendez was the 99th death row inmate to be exonerated in the modern era.


The New York Court of Appeals has struck down the death sentence of John B. Taylor, the last remaining person on New York’s death row. Taylor became the row’s sole occupant in 2004 when the Court ruled that the jury instructions used in the other inmates’ cases were unconstitutional. In its opinion, The Court found that although slightly different instructions were used in Taylor’s case, he was still convicted under an unconstitutional statute. His case will be remanded for a new sentencing hearing.

In Georgia, the state Supreme Court has halted the execution of Curtis Osborne. Meanwhile, Alabama is moving forward with its plan to kill Daniel Lee Siebert this Thursday. Siebert has terminal cancer, and Alabama doesn’t want to miss out on its chance to kill him before the disease does. (c/o SLAP)


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