Archive for April, 2008

It is a sad and tragic day in America, as the United States Supreme Court has decided that it’s time to start killing more of our brethren.

According to msnbc.msn.com, executions that have been on hold since September, could resume shortly.

The Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in a case from Kentucky that the lethal injection protocol used to execute convicts does not create a substantial risk of severe pain and therefore is constitutional. The approved process utilizes an anesthetic to render an inmate unconscious, followed by a paralyzing drug that halts breathing and by a third chemical that stops the heart.

Many condemned prisoners, however, contend in lawsuits that the process lacks safeguards to make sure the anesthetic is effective, creating the risk that the inmate will remain conscious and in agony while dying – and because of the paralyzing drug, they will be unable to physically cry out

NOT CRUEL OR UNUSUAL

A majority of the court said the possibility that the anesthetic could fail does not amount to cruel and unusual punishment, even if other procedures exist that might reduce the risk that an inmate will suffer pain.

Courts cannot function as “boards of inquiry charged with determining ‘best practices’ for executions” and should avoid “scientific controversies beyond their expertise,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in his lead opinion. He said the courts would be justified in intervening only if an inmate could show that a method of execution presents a “substantial risk of severe pain,” and that the state could easily avoid that risk.

WHAT ABOUT IN CALIFORNIA?

The Supremes ruling for the time being cleared the way for executions to resume in states like Alabama, Mississippi and Texas. But there’s still a question as to what the status on executions in California will be. A federal judge’s ruling has already forced the state to overhaul its lethal injection procedures and build a new execution chamber and another judge has told the state to seek public input before changing its rules.

California has the nation’s largest Death Row, with 669 inmates. But executions have been on hold since February 2006, when the courts granted a stay to Michael Morales, convicted of raping and fatally beating 17-year-old Terri Winchell of Lodi in 1981. Prosecutors say four or five other condemned prisoners have lost their appeals and are in line to be executed after Morales.

THERE WILL ALWAYS BE PAIN

Noting that “some risk of pain is inherent in any execution,” Roberts said a state doesn’t have to adopt any alternatives that would diminish the likelihood of pain, only those that would significantly reduce a substantial risk of severe pain and can be readily implemented.

The Constitution bars only execution methods that are “objectively intolerable,” and procedures that states widely use will generally pass that test, the chief justice said.

Roberts rejected arguments by the Kentucky prisoners also advanced in the California case – that the three-drug combination poses an unconstitutional risk of pain because there is an alternative. That alternative would be a single, massive dose of the sodium pentothal anesthetic already used in lethal injections, which could kill a prisoner painlessly but take longer than the current procedure.The paralytic drug used in executions, pancuronium bromide, serves only to mask the pain of a conscious prisoner and is barred in most states in euthanasia on animals, the inmates’ lawyers said.

But Roberts said states are not required to switch to untested methods, such as one-drug executions. He said veterinary standards are “not an appropriate guide to humane practices for humans.”

But killing them, and possibly inflicting them with unbearable pain while they are paralyzed and unable to ask for help, is. Way to go Supremes!!! Just missed again.

 

Hi Mr. Mehas,

I just got done reading your latest blog and article about the case update, so I thought I’d drop you a line…   I can imagine you’ve been pretty busy with the newest developments in the case.  I’ve been very busy with school and family situations, so I haven’t been able to comment on any of the blogs, but I’ve enjoyed reading them very much.

With all of the violence that is plaguing our society in this day and age, it is very important that voices of reason and non-retaliation are heard.  Recently, in my Argumentation and Debate class, I debated the topic of whether or not the Death Penalty should be enforced in every state.  Being from the Detroit area, many people in the class seemed to view the Death Penalty as a way of deterring crime that has immensely hurt the city and state for years.  Since I was arguing for the Death Penalty to be completely abolished in every state, I thought it was relevant to bring up an article I read about Mrs. Markowitz at the sentencing of Ryan Hoyt.

The article stated that Mrs. Markowitz felt no happiness after the verdict that Ryan Hoyt would be placed on Death Row, for it would never bring back her son.  I felt this was an extremely important idea to elaborate on.  I cannot begin to imagine the pain the Markowitz family has felt from this horrible and senseless tragedy.  Losing a family member at the hand of another human being has to be one of the most awful feelings any person could ever experience.  But, as you have stated all along, will ending the life of the one who committed the atrocious act ever truly bring closure to the  family of the victim?

Perhaps it is because I was able to read Stolen Boy, but in many ways I view every person involved in this crime as a victim.  Ryan Hoyt, who committed the horrible act, appeared to be an abused young man who never felt wanted or loved by anyone.  I very much felt bad for him and the childhood he had after reading the details in your novel.  This in no way justifies his or any of the others’ sins, but it should make someone reevaluate their beliefs.  Being raised in a very devout Catholic home and attending Catholic school all the way through high school, I have always been taught to embrace Pro-Life and realize that all life is precious.

While many refuse to compare the death penalty to abortion, I feel it is imperative to never lose sight of the importance of not taking any life.  I am very much behind you in your advocacy of saving all individuals involved in this case from the death penalty, as well as abolishing it all together.  You are in no way taking on an easy stance or position to defend, but I just wanted to let you know you are agreed with and respected for your efforts.  Hope all is well and look forward to talking to you again soon.  Your friend from Michigan, 

Jim Walrad

 

It happened at the Ronald Reagan Building in downtown Los Angeles, where the Court of Appeals, 2nd District sits. Last week, that was where the California Supreme Court heard final arguments in the Jesse James Hollywood death penalty case. In the next ninety days, the Supremes will most probably make important law regarding how prosecutors, and even defense attorneys, will be allowed to deal with the mass media while handling high-profile cases. It is a decision that is long overdue.

Law enforcement officials and prosecutors have no business trying and convicting defendants through the mass media. The court of public opinion, which apparently includes television, films, books, radio, and newspapers, is an improper venue to conduct criminal court proceedings from. Law enforcement officers do not belong on TV. They should not be demonizing individuals accused of crimes. They should not be allowed to do what they did to Jesse James Hollywood, which is why I became involved in his case in the first place.

Because of all the information I had accrued for the movie Alpha Dog and my book, I knew this case not to be what the mass media and law enforcement officials had made it out to be; it was not a case of someone murdering a child out of revenge for a drug debt. This was a tragedy made from fear. And this major discrepancy had to be made clear.

There’s also another very important reason for this court decision to come down. It will soon set in motion the wheels that will allow the case to move closer to a legal resolution. Which will eventually give the families of the participants an opportunity to move forward in their lives. But in the same breath, moving forward also means our continued efforts to do what we can to make sure no more deaths result. This is what I hope we accomplish for both Jesse Hollywood, who now faces the death penalty, as well as Ryan Hoyt, who presently resides on death row.

It is also important for Jesse Hollywood’s parents. For Jack and Laurie – and all their family – to know that their much-loved son will not face the prospect of state-sanctioned murder. That he be allowed to remain alive so that they may continue to feel the joy of life, and to help spread this precious feeling to everyone they touch.

Susan and Jeff Markowitz too deserve a respite from the insanity. They are two beauteous and strong-willed people who have come so far in this ordeal, and, for them, it will soon be over. And when that time comes, five young men will pay for what happened to their son. These young men should pay for what they did. But none of them should die as a result of their actions. Another death would only tarnish the memory of their son.

Nicholas Markowitz had a lot of life left to give. He was a bright kid, talented and good-looking. Nick’s memory stands for many wonderful things to many people, but one thing it should never stand for is another death. Nick would not have wanted to be remembered as one of several boys to die as a result of this tragedy. He just about told me as much when I was writing Stolen Boy. His inspiration and intuitive connection provided me with the strength and endurance I needed to finish a very difficult book in an effort to bring out a greater semblance of truth as to why these guys did what they did to Nick.

Nick’s should be the only death in this Greek Tragedy. His memory will glow so much brighter if we find the willpower to hold back our anger and desire for revenge. This will enable Nick to stand atop our pedestal of memory and love, a place he harbored in life, a place for him to stand alone in death.

 

Jesse James HollywoodLOS ANGELES — The California Supreme Court heard oral arguments Tuesday on whether a prosecutor in the Jesse James Hollywood murder case should be thrown off it because he cooperated with a Ventura screenwriter who co-wrote the movie “Alpha Dog,” which was based on the crime.

In looking at the Hollywood matter and a similar case — both involving actions by senior deputy district attorneys in Santa Barbara County — the justices appear to be weighing whether to set a standard of behavior that might have broad implications on how much information California prosecutors can reveal about cases going to trial.”Where do we draw the line?” Justice Carol A. Corrigan asked during the hearing.

While the 2nd Court of Appeal in Ventura removed the Santa Barbara prosecutors in both the cases, the “conflict of interest” that underpins the standard for throwing them off was not clearly identified.

Gerald Franklin of the Santa Barbara District Attorney’s Office and David Glassman of the California Attorney General’s Office both argued that while the behavior might not have been appropriate, there was no conflict of interest identified.

More importantly, the rights of the two criminal defendants in the separate cases were not violated, they said.

Both cases involve pretrial revelations by prosecutors.

Hollywood, now 28, is accused of orchestrating the August 2000 kidnapping and murder of 15-year-old Nicholas Markowitz. Hollywood fled after the crime but was caught in 2005 in a Brazilian beach town after spending five years on the run and being on the FBI’s Most Wanted list. He is now being held in Santa Barbara County Jail, awaiting trial. Hollywood could face the death penalty if convicted.

The parents of both Hollywood and Markowitz attended the state Supreme Court hearing Tuesday at the Ronald Reagan Building in downtown Los Angeles. Jeff Markowitz said the process has taken too long.

“They’re really drawing this out,” he said.

Four other young men were all quickly caught and convicted for their involvement in the crime and are serving time. One of them, Ryan Hoyt, is on death row.

Senior Deputy District Attorney Ron Zonen handed over what amounted to his whole case file to screenwriter and lawyer Michael “Mic” Mehas, who was working with filmmaker Nick Cassavetes on the outline of the script for the 2007 film “Alpha Dog.”

Mehas, who was at Tuesday’s hearing, also has recently written a book, “Stolen Boy,” that closely mirrors the details of the crime.

Although he benefited from the cooperation with Zonen, Mehas said Tuesday that he hoped the justices would do something about reining in pretrial publicity by prosecutors.

A strong advocate against the death penalty, Mehas said he has helped Hollywood create a record that might help him on appeal if he is ever sentenced to death.

The other case involved Senior Deputy District Attorney Joyce Dudley, who wrote a book called “Intoxicating Agent” that had parallels to a rape case she was trying.

While Justice Kathryn M. Werdegar noted that such behavior by a prosecutor “seems unseemly,” it wasn’t exactly clear how the actions of Zonen and Dudley amounted to a conflict of interest.

In the case of the rape trial, the prosecutor gave a sworn declaration saying the similarities in the case were merely coincidental. In the Hollywood case, the prosecutor said he’d cooperated with the filmmakers in an effort to attract attention to the suspect, who was still at large at the time. Zonen was not paid for his cooperation.

But James Blatt, an Encino attorney representing Hollywood, said the two cases might not clearly meet the traditional standard of conflicts of interest because they are so unprecedented.

“This is the first time something like this has ever happened in this state. It’s never happened in this country before,” Blatt said. “It’s truly unique.”

According to Blatt, a prosecutor has never before acted, in essence, as a “co-producer of a film” based on a case he or she is about to try. Blatt said the conflict was on several levels, but they all boil down to a debasement of the justice system.

He wants the prosecutor and Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office thrown off the case.

The court will rule whether Zonen and Dudley should be barred from trying the cases. And in the Hollywood case, the justices also will consider whether the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office should be prohibited from handling the prosecution. The decisions are expected within the next 90 days.

By Scott Hadly (VenturaCountyStar.com)

 

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A 15-year-old boy is dead. And a 14-year-old is alleged to have killed him.

A child killing another child is nothing new. In fact, we see it all the time. Our newspapers and television news shows scream more of these headlines than we’d probably ever want to admit. It’s disheartening for sure, but, somehow, we always manage to get through it. We feel empathy for those who might have been involved with the tragedy. But, being desensitized by all the violence we experience in our daily lives, we find a way and the will to move on. And that’s just the way it is. Things get going so fast sometimes that we have to move on as a mechanism to survival. And our children are paying for it dearly.

Troubled children

They’re confused and they’re troubled. They’re doing more drugs and more alcohol at younger ages in their lives than ever before. Our children are committing more violent crimes than at any time in history and they’re using weapons while they’re doing them. A child killing another child happens every day, and it happens all over the world. In other countries, it’s usually a product of wartime. Where mere kids are marched onto the killing fields, bearing arms against one another in the name of some god or greedy adult representing government or business.

But here, in America, the dirty work between our children is done in the classrooms, in our shopping malls and in our homes.

Why?

Brandon McInerney had barely turned 14 when, on Feb. 12, he allegedly walked into a classroom at E.O. Green Junior High School in Oxnard and shot several bullets into the head of his classmate. Some immediately pointed a finger of justification at the fact that 15-year-old Larry King’s sexual orientation had been in question. These same people surmised that a lack of tolerance by some of his peers might have led to his violent demise. And even if there were a smidgen of truth to this, again, we find ourselves asking the same question. Why?

On the other side of this crimson-smeared coin we find a 14-year-old boy with a purported sketchy background involving a dysfunctional childhood, divorcing parents, violence, alcohol, drugs and guns. Throw in the average violent television show and violent video games that we subject our kids to on an everyday basis and we might begin to see the formula capable of influencing a child to commit murder.

In our own life’s experiences, we learned that the moods and emotions of our parents and those other influential people we grew up around had all played major roles in our own emotional and psychological development. If our parents or family members had anger-management problems that spilled over to us, odds are we grew up with our own set of anger-management issues. If our parents showcased a lackadaisical attitude regarding the use of drugs or alcohol or guns to solve their problems, then we most probably followed suit.

Cause and effect

Just like in the movies, life has its cause-and-effect relationship. When confronted with negativity, most of us like to blame the world around us. We act as though we’re at the center of the universe, affected by everything that floats around us. If the world didn’t act a certain way, we might say, then I wouldn’t have acted the way I did. A “his fault, not mine,” kind of attitude.

But this is a skewed version of any rose-colored reality. Because when we learn to add up the experiences in our lives, we learn to appreciate the fact that we create what happens. It doesn’t create us. For those of us who experience so much personal suffering, this is not always a pleasant idea for contemplation. We don’t always want to accept the responsibility for what happens to us. But when we start to look around, it begins to makes sense. Why wouldn’t our reality generate from the energies we expend into the universe?

This means that our thoughts and our beliefs and our desires and our expectations all play major parts in creating the forces that materialize around us. Which holds true for our children as well. Those who learn to live through the principles of love and respect and compassion will encounter like energies on their road through life. Where, on the other hand, hatred and fear and intolerance will breed their own kind of ugly existence.

Which is, of course, where our children find themselves at the end of the day. Twisting in the wind of erratic emotions, hormones and ideas. And this becomes our invitation to step in, to play a more meaningful role in the development of their lives. To spend a few more minutes each day communicating with our children on a deeper level than ever before. To help transform ours and their consciousnesses into something more positive. To learn to experience compassion in our own lives, and to share this experience with others.

Compassion required

It is the same type of compassion that we need to now apply to Larry King’s family. And, maybe even more importantly, to Brandon and his family and loved ones, who now face the biggest challenge of their lives. The Ventura County district attorney wants to try young Brandon as an adult and they want to put him in prison for the rest of his life.

Do we destroy another child?

Which, of course, brings up another even more important question. Even if the child is found guilty, do we really want to do to Brandon what he is alleged to have done to Larry? Do we destroy him? And what about his parents? And all those who love him? We can only begin to empathize with the pain Larry’s family must be feeling. But do we make a victim’s family out of Brandon’s family as well?

He is only 14. Which is really beside the point because we’re talking about a human’s life here. All human life has tremendous value. And the compassion we choose to exercise now, both toward our children and toward the Larry Kings and Brandon McInerneys of the world, will probably go a long way toward determining how quickly we change the reality that surrounds us. And isn’t that what we’re really all about anyway?

— Michael Mehas of Ventura is an attorney, and associate producer of the film “Alpha Dog” and author of the award-winning novel “Stolen Boy,” both based on Jesse James Hollywood, who faces the death penalty in Santa Barbara for allegedly orchestrating the abduction and murder of 15-year-old Nicholas Markowitz. He can be reached at http://www.MichaelMehas.com.

For more on Brandon McInerney please read related articles:
In Brandon McInerney’s Defense, a Defense Fund
Brandon McInerney is Worth Saving
Brandon McInerney’s Legal Court Brief for July 24, 2008
Let’s Not Destroy Brandon McInerney