Friday, August 31, 2007

Moon suits: Florida goes to great lengths to protect doctors' anonymity

The Associated Press
Tuesday, August 28, 2007

JACKSONVILLE, Florida: At all Florida lethal injections, a man in a purple moon suit leans over the dying inmate to listen for a heartbeat and feel for a pulse. After a few seconds, he nods, and the witnesses are informed that the death sentence has been duly carried out.

The man is a doctor and the gear shields his identity — not just from the prisoner's family and friends, but from the American Medical Association, whose code of ethics bars members from participating in executions.

Most states take steps to shield the identities of doctors taking part in executions. Some draw curtains or remove the witnesses before the doctor emerges.

But death penalty experts say Florida is the only state that uses a moon suit to preserve the doctor's anonymity.

The practice, employed for about a year, reflects the strong passions surrounding the role of physicians in executions, and the conflicting pressures that prison officials around the country are increasingly feeling.

On the one hand, prison systems are facing demands from judges that they make sure executions by injection do not cause undue pain. At the same time, states are having difficulty recruiting doctors to oversee executions because of the medical profession's objections.

Some of those issues are likely to play out at a hearing in state court this week on a Florida Corrections Department plan aimed at avoiding another botched execution like the one last December of Angel Diaz.

A judge last month ordered the state to update its lethal injection protocol in light of the Diaz case. Diaz, who killed a Miami topless bar manager during a 1979 robbery, took 34 minutes to die — more than double the normal time — and needed an extra dose of drugs because the executioners mistakenly pushed the needles clear through his veins into his flesh.

The state is proposing to add more doctors, nurses, phlebotomists (people trained to draw blood) and other medical professionals to its lethal injection teams — something that is already done in some other states.

Under Florida's proposal, the doctors could be used to insert the intravenous lines and keep them flowing. A doctor or pharmacist would be responsible for buying and mixing the lethal chemicals.

However, department officials told The Associated Press that even though the plan allows greater participation, the doctors would still be used only to pronounce death.

The whole idea is offensive to the AMA.

"We are a profession dedicated to healing. Participation in an execution is an image of a physician with a dark hood," said Dr. Mark Levine, chairman of the AMA's Council of Ethical and Judicial Affairs.

Levine said doctors participating in executions must decide if they are "an instrument of the state or a member of a profession dedicated to preserving and protecting life. You can't be both."

The AMA and other medical groups can revoke membership for ethics violations, but they have no licensing authority in Florida or anywhere else. And membership in the AMA is not required to practice medicine.

But because of those objections, doctors at Florida executions wear plastic moon suits, similar to those used by hazardous materials teams, that cover them from head to toe. Goggles worn beneath the clear plastic face shield conceal the doctor's identity even further.

Florida has 381 men awaiting execution. Next up is Mark Dean Schwab, scheduled to die Nov. 15 for the 1992 kidnapping, rape and murder of a child.

Thirty-seven of the 38 states with capital punishment have adopted lethal injection. (Nebraska still uses the electric chair.) Many states use doctors and other medical professionals, though their duties vary.

Some, like Texas, have the doctor simply pronounce death. But Tennessee allows doctors to cut open an arm or a leg to find a suitable vein. Many use doctors because a court has ordered them to. In North Carolina, a debate over whether a doctor must monitor an inmate's level of consciousness has stopped executions.

In any case, most states try to shield the doctor's identity.

Missouri recently passed a law that will allow executioners to sue anyone who discloses their identity. That came after a St. Louis newspaper revealed the name of a doctor who had participated in dozens of executions. It reported that he had been sued more than 20 times for malpractice.

The doctor also said that he was dyslexic and occasionally altered the amount of anesthetic given to inmates.

Missouri officials said that without the law, it would be difficult to find a doctor with the expertise in anesthesia to assist in executions, as a federal judge there has demanded.

In Alabama and Ohio, a curtain is drawn after the execution so the doctor cannot be seen by the witnesses.

Bill Allen, a professor of bioethics in the University of Florida's College of Medicine, said he is not sure there is a solution that will satisfy those who want physicians barred from death chambers, because "doctors and medical professionals are the best trained to perform the functions to carry out a lethal injection."

"It's a fundamental conflict," Allen said.

Child Killer Appeals, Cop Killer's Conviction Upheld


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Child killer and rapist Mark Dean Schwab on Thursday asked the Florida Supreme Court to block his November execution, the first set in Florida since a botched lethal injection more than eight months ago.

Schwab kidnapped, raped and murdered 11-year-old Junny Rios-Martinez in Cocoa on Florida's Space Coast in 1991.

Gov. Charlie Crist ended a moratorium on executions in July when he signed a death warrant for Schwab, 36. His execution date is Nov. 15.

The Supreme Court also Thursday unanimously sustained death sentences for two other convicted killers, but neither is facing imminent execution. One is Billy Leon Kearse, 34, who fatally shot Fort Pierce police officer Danny Parrish during a traffic stop in 1991.

The justices also upheld the death sentence of prison poet Stephen Todd Booker, who will turn 54 Saturday. Booker, whose work has appeared in several respected literary publications, raped and fatally stabbed 94-year-old Lorine Demoss Harmon in her Gainesville Apartment in 1977.

Florida had stopped executing prisoners after it took 34 minutes -- twice as long as normal -- for Angel Diaz, 55, to die on Dec. 13. An investigation showed needles had been pushed through Diaz's veins into the flesh of his arms, reducing the effectiveness of three chemicals used in the lethal injection process.

The Department of Corrections has modified it's procedures including improved staffing and training, but death penalty opponents argue they remain insufficient to prevent inmates from suffering painful deaths.

Schwab's lawyers plan to raise that issue in his appeal of an Aug. 17 decision by Circuit Judge Charles Holcomb, who denied a motion to stay or vacate his death warrant. Defense lawyers also argued that new evidence shows Schwab suffered from brain impairment that made the death sentence unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court has tentatively set oral argument for Oct. 11 in Schwab's appeal and another lethal injection challenge from death row inmate Ian Deco Lightbourne, who was convicted of killing Nancy O'Farrell in 1981 after breaking into her Marion County home.

Lightbourne's case, based on what happened to Diaz, is awaiting a decision by a circuit judge in Ocala.

The Supreme Court rejected Kearse's post-conviction appeal, which previously had been denied by a trial judge. It's the third time the high court has ruled in his case. The justices in 1995 vacated his initial death sentence. After he was resentenced, they voted 4-3 to sustain it in 2000.

Kearse also challenged the lethal injection procedure. The justices rejected those claims but noted they did not consider new issues that may be raised in Lightbourne's case or any subsequent challenge by Kearse.

Misgivings raised as U.S. prepares to speed death penalty appeals


The Associated Press
Friday, August 31, 2007

WASHINGTON: Since capital punishment was reinstated in the United States three decades ago, 124 people awaiting execution have been exonerated. For some prisoners, the appeals process provided time to prove their innocence.

Now a move by the government to speed up appeals has alarmed death penalty opponents, and even some supporters, who worry that innocent people could be put to death.

The unease involves a new law that would give the U.S. attorney general, instead of judges, the power to shorten some deadlines for appeals if programs are established to ensure convicts get competent lawyers.

Supporters of the law argue that families of victims suffer when executions are delayed, because they have to wait for perpetrators to face justice. Proponents also say that the long wait between sentencing and execution blunts the deterrent effect they believe makes criminals think twice before murdering.

"These cases are being reconsidered in a lot more detail than they need to be," says Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, a victims' rights group based in California. "Justice can't take this long."

Some lawmakers, defense lawyers and human rights groups believe the attorney general, as the supervisor of U.S. prosecutors, should not be made responsible for ensuring the rights of convicts.

Some of these opponents hope Monday's resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales could provide an opportunity to alter or repeal the law.

The law, approved last year but not yet implemented, would affect only appeals in state courts, which try most death penalty cases. Thirty-eight of 50 U.S. states allow the death penalty, though some have suspended executions. While polls show most Americans favor capital punishment, support has been eroding amid reports of injustices.

Among the concerns, some death row convicts have lost their chances to appeal because of mistakes by state-appointed lawyers. Last year, the American Civil Liberties Union documented 16 death penalty cases in Florida alone, where lawyers missed deadlines.

Critics of the law say that moving up deadlines without guaranteeing that defendants have competent lawyers would be reckless.

Death-row inmates spend an average of 10.5 years in the legal system before execution, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, a research group that opposes capital punishment. The 124 people who were exonerated spent an average of 9.2 years to overturn their sentences, the center says.

"If you speed it up, you are going to make more mistakes and execute innocent people," said Brian Evans of Amnesty International.

The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Democrat Patrick Leahy, recently told The Associated Press that he would use hearings to expose the law's problems and push to repeal it. He could have an opportunity to raise the issue when his panel holds confirmation hearings for nominees to replace Gonzales and for other vacant senior Justice Department posts.

Although the law has been passed, the Justice Department has not finished writing the rules needed to implement it. Nevertheless, a published draft of those rules already has heightened concerns.

On Monday, the American Bar Association, the U.S. legal profession's largest association, called the rules "deeply and fundamentally flawed" for not ensuring that convicts have competent attorneys.

"The rules open the scary possibility that the states are going to wave their arms, and the Department of Justice is just going to let them speed appeals," said Robert Litt, a criminal defense lawyer who helped write the ABA comments.

A Justice Department spokesman, Erik Ablin, would not comment on the ABA's criticism but said the department would consider it before completing its rules.

States were given the opportunity to try to speed appeals under a 1996 law. But they have been unable to take advantage of the law because federal judges have repeatedly found that states did not provide sufficient legal protections to defendants.

"Now instead of making states do better, you are changing who decides," said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.

Bruce Fein, a senior Justice Department official under the late Republican President Ronald Reagan, supports the death penalty. But he agrees that the attorney general should not have this power to shorten appeal deadlines.

"Judges — since it's their business — pay attention to the law," he said. "But the motivation of an attorney general in making this decision could be: 'Let's show that we are tough on criminals.'"

Lunsford killing inspires law makers


Editor’s note: The following article is the first in a three-part series concerning new Texas State laws effective September 1.

Danie M. Huffman
wdreporter2@yahoo.com

When 9-year-old Jessica Marie Lunsford was killed, her story aired nationally and sparked state legislators to reconsider current laws across the United States.
Lunsford was kidnapped, molested then murdered in Florida by John Evander Couey, 49. He buried Lunsford alive in his back yard after binding her hands and wrapping her in two trash bags.

A Florida judge sentenced her kidnapper, molester and killer to death last week.
Couey was a convicted sex offender with accusations of abducting a child dating back to 1978, and more charges of fondling a child in 1991.

Many concerned law makers around the nation gathered after the incident to improve state laws relating to child sex offenders, cracking down on their punishment.

For the past four years, Parker County Assistant District Attorney Jeff Swain has volunteered to update Parker County law enforcement officers of new state laws.

“I try to make sure officers are up to speed as much as possible on the changes of the law,” Swain said.

Weatherford Police Capt. Wayne Slimp said he is grateful for Swain’s help.
He said the DAs office has done so for more than a decade.

“It’s very important for us to know updates prior to when the laws come into effect,” Slimp said. “We’re always appreciative of Jeff and the DA’s office. They’re always cooperative and make themselves available to us day and night on questions concerning the law.”

Beginning Saturday, Sept. 1, “Jessica’s Law,” becomes effective in Texas.
Also known as House Bill 8, Jessica’s Law will include numerous provisions to current Texas laws.

Section 21.02 of the law states “continuous sexual abuse” elements to include two or more acts of sexual abuse committed against the same or two separate victims at least 30 days apart. The defendant must be 17 or older and the law pertains to victims younger than 14.

It explains the acts of abuse as aggravated sexual assault, sexual assault, aggravated kidnapping with intent to commit sexual abuse, burglary of a habitation with intent to commit sexual abuse and indecency with a child only by contact of the genital area.

The law does not include exposure offenses.

If convicted, punishment rules are mandated to 25 to 99 years or life in prison. Probation or deferred adjudication sentences are no longer possible.

An exclusion, called the “Romeo and Juliet Exception,” consists of stipulations as an affirmative defense if the defendant is within 5 years of age of the victim, did not use force, duress or threaten the victim during the commission of the offense and was not a registered sex offender prior to the crime. The exception does not change the existing three-year age difference rule for other offenses. The law also has an enhancement for “super” aggravated sexual assault crimes against children.

The penalty enhancement applies if the victim is younger than 6 years old or is younger than 14 and the crime causes serious bodily injury or attempts to cause death, threatens to kill, kidnaps, uses or displays a deadly weapon or uses a date-rape drug during the course of the offense.

The “super” penalty carries the same sentencing as other offenses related to Jessica’s Law.

HB 8 also includes second offenders under “super” charges of being eligible for the death penalty.

Other various changes were added with Jessica’s Law. After two strikes of indecency with a child, as with most other child sexual abuse offenses, a convicted offender will receive an “automatic life sentence.”

Stacking provisions will include continuous sexual abuse and online solicitation of a minor. A sexual performance by a child offense enhancement means an increase of penalty range by one level if the victim is 13 or younger.

For example, if the crime is a second degree felony, and the child is 13 or younger, the penalty will rise to a first-degree felony.

The final provision of the law states online solicitation will now include text messaging, also with the same penalty increase of one degree for second-time offenders.

Protective orders are now available for victims of continuous abuse by the separate order of HB 1988, for up to the life of the victim or the offender.

Changes to the statute of limitations were made for child victims of injury, increasing it to 10 years from their 18th birthday.

For child victims of sexual performance and those 17 years old or younger of aggravated kidnapping and burglary of a habitation with intent to cause serious bodily injury or sexual abuse, the statute increases to 20 years.

Other changes were made to HB 8 regarding probation.

Pertaining to trial cases, a jury may no longer assess a probated sentence for a defendant accused of the following crimes to children younger than 14:

- Indecency with a child by contact
- Aggravated sexual assault
- Sexual assault
- Aggravated kidnapping with intent to cause serious bodily injury
- Sexual performance by a child

A judge can still assess a deferred adjudication sentence under certain circumstances.

According to Swain, the changes may be the best thing to happen this legislative session.

“We recently had about a quarter of our jury panel disqualified because they could not consider assessing a probation sentence in an aggravated sexual assault case,” Swain said. “Under the law, the judge had no choice but to let them go. These would have been solid pro-law enforcement jurors who couldn’t serve because of this one issue. In some cases, that can be the difference between a good outcome and a bad one.”

“What Jessica’s Law does is enhances the penalties which already exist,” said Mike Wintemute, community director for Lt. Governor David Dewhurst. “What it’s got the most attention is for giving prosecutors the option of the death penalty in certain cases.”

Dewhurst pushed for Jessica’s Law during his campaign.

“Last year I presided over an execution involving a repeat sex offender,” Dewhurst said. “After reviewing the gruesome details of this case, I started asking questions and was shocked to learn that Texas has 46,000 registered sex offenders, more than half of which have molested children.”

According to Dewhurst, Texas’ version of Jessica’s Law is among the toughest in the nation, sentences could include the death penalty.

The last section concerning Jessica’s Law stated the Texas Attorney General’s Office shall offer assistance with sex cases involving children 17 and younger if requested by prosecutors.

* New State laws, provisions and updates were provided by Parker County District Attorney Jeff Swain.

For complete versions of the new laws, log onto www.capitol.state.tx.us.

Supreme Court rejects prison poet's death penalty appeal


Stephen Todd Booker, a murderer who has spent 26 years on death row, is imprisoned in Raiford, Fla.


By BILL KACZOR
Associated Press Writer

Convicted killer Stephen Todd Booker has become an accomplished and nationally published poet since first going on death row 29 years ago, but Thursday the Florida Supreme Court said that's no reason to spare his life.

Booker, who will turn 54 Saturday, raped and fatally stabbed 94-year-old Lorine Demoss Harmon in her Gainesville Apartment in 1977.

After his murder conviction the following year, Booker began writing poetry on topics ranging from life in his native Brooklyn, N.Y., to his romance with a Japanese woman while a soldier stationed in Okinawa.

His work has been published in The Kenyon Review, Seneca Review and other respected literary publications. In 1994, the Wesleyan University Press published a book of his poems, which won an endorsement from poet Gwendolyn Brooks, the first African-American to win a Pulitzer Prize.

The high court's 7-0 ruling upholding Booker's death sentence disappointed Southern Methodist University English Professor Willard Spiegleman. He is one of six poetry experts who testified for Booker when he was resentenced after a federal court in 1991 reversed his initial death sentence.

"If a case can be made for a prisoner rehabilitating himself through study, then Stephen Todd Booker would certainly qualify for that," Spiegleman said. "It seems to me to be a case of pure vengeance. He's no threat to society."

Booker's lawyer, Harry Brody, said he plans to ask the Supreme Court to rehear the case or appeal to the federal courts.

Booker challenged his death sentence but not his guilt. The only other sentencing option is life in prison.

"When I got to death row, I couldn't blame it on society," Booker said in a 2004 interview with The New York Times. "I knew I'd put myself in prison."

He raised a variety of issues including a claim his death would violate the First Amendment right of the public to read his work. He also contended his former lawyer was ineffective because he failed to call three additional witnesses, all experts on the poet Ezra Pound. They would have compared him to Pound, who "had been freed from a death sentence," Booker argued.

Pound was charged with treason for criticizing the U.S. government in radio broadcasts from Italy during World War II. Writer Ernest Hemingway and other supporters suggested Pound plead insanity. He was found insane and the charges were dropped after he spent 13 years in a mental institution.

The Supreme Court wrote in its unsigned opinion that calling more witnesses would have added little to the case because another expert, Oberlin College Professor Stuart Friebert, already had testified Pound was "pardoned."

Also, the justices noted Circuit Judge Robert P. Cates, who resentenced Booker after a jury voted 8-4 for death, gave the argument little weight.

"The fact that one has learned a skill, whether it's poetry or cabinet-building or whatever it may be, the practice of law, is not a reason not to impose the death penalty," Cates then said. "If Shakespeare had committed this crime, regrettably, I think we would be missing a lot of enjoyable plays."

Also, Cates gave no weight to a plea for mercy from the victim's great niece, Page Zyromski. The judge did give great or substantial weight to other mitigating factors including Booker's extreme mental or emotional disturbance and a childhood that included sexual and physical abuse.

Cates found those circumstances, though, were outweighed by the heinous nature of the killing and other aggravating factors: the victim was raped and her home broken into and Booker committed the crimes while on parole for prior violent felony.

The justices also found Booker failed to offer legal support for his free press argument and a claim that his literary accomplishments constituted new mitigating evidence.

Brody said the free press issue underlies the entire case.

He also cited the prestige of the publications that published Booker's poetry and the academic credentials of his expert witnesses. They include Syracuse University Professor Emeritus Hayden Carruth who called Booker "a person of consequence" in the literary community.

"That voice will be silenced," Brody said. "This is not just jailhouse jive that we're talking about here."

Thursday, August 30, 2007

State supreme court denies appeal from man who killed Fort Pierce sergeant


By Derek Simmonsen

Originally published 12:04 p.m., August 30, 2007
Updated 12:04 p.m., August 30, 2007

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The Florida Supreme Court denied an appeal Thursday from a man who shot a Fort Pierce police sergeant to death during a routine traffic stop in 1991.

Billy Leon Kearse, 34, is on death row for the murder of Sgt. Danny Parrish, who he shot 13 times after Parrish pulled him over for driving the wrong way down a one-way street in downtown Fort Pierce.

Kearse’s first death sentence was overturned by the Florida Supreme Court, which ruled the shooting was not “heinous, atrocious and cruel,” one of the aggravating circumstances prosecutors argued in pushing for death. After a second penalty phase in 1995, he was again sentenced to death. After that sentence, he received an automatic appeal to the Florida Supreme Court, which upheld the sentence.

On his current appeal, his lawyers argued his death sentence should be overturned because his trial attorney did not do a proper job. They said critical mental health information was not stressed enough during the penalty phase of the case.

The state countered that Kearse’s trial attorney did a professional job and provided sufficient mental health evidence in the form of two expert witnesses.

In its opinion release today, the Florida Supreme Court found there was no evidence that Kearse’s trial attorney was not prepared, failed to call enough experts, presented enough evidence or that he made poor strategy decisions.

The court ruled “new evidence” that an expert witness who testified against Kearse gave biased testimony in favor of the state at a trial in New Mexico was not strong enough that it would likely give Kearse an acquittal in his case.

The court also denied claims that his death sentence and the lethal injection procedure are unconstitutional.

Prisoner dies while in custody


August 30, 2007

ORANGE COUNTY

A 24-year-old prisoner at the Central Florida Reception Center near Orlando died while in custody of the state Department of Corrections, authorities confirmed Wednesday.

Tony Littles Jr. of Deltona died Aug. 20 of natural causes in the prison's infirmary after being admitted there for ongoing health problems, said Jo Ellyn Rackleff, a Corrections Department spokeswoman.

Rackleff would not elaborate on Littles' condition before his death, citing privacy laws.

Littles was serving a 10-year sentence for drug and theft convictions, Rackleff said. In June 2005, Littles was arrested by the Volusia County Sheriff's Office for taking a relative's car, abandoning it in Sanford and stealing a second car. He was also convicted of stealing a purse from an elderly woman in Orange City around the same time.

Gary Taylor, Bianca Prieto, Katie Fretland, Amy L. Edwards, Rachael Jackson and Henry Pierson Curtis of the Sentinel staff contributed to this report.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Lawyers for killer Ian Lightbourne tour execution chamber


BY MABEL PEREZ
Star-Banner

OCALA - Attorneys for Ian Lightbourne took a field trip this morning to Florida State Prison to view the execution chamber and chemical rooms involved in the lethal injection procedure.

Later this afternoon, lawyers will question witnesses about execution policy, in light of the botched Angel Diaz execution and the recently updated lethal injection manual.

The hearing began at 8 a.m. today in front of Circuit Judge Carven Angel in the Marion County courthouse. For the first two hours, lawyers argued about which witnesses could testify, public records requests and other items related to the background of people on the execution team.

Suzanne Keffer, of the Capital Collateral Regional Office, argued people on the execution team should testify to talk about what really happens in the chamber and what their background is. The team members' identities are protected and have not bee released by DOC.

"We maintain we would still like these people's testimony," Keffer said. "These people are directly responsible, who are directly making those decisions ... and directly involved in the Angel Diaz execution," she said.

Angel ruled CCR can't call those witnesses.

Deputy Attorney General Kenneth Nunnelley appeared annoyed at times. At one point he called CCR's requests "ridiculous."

"How much is enough and what is too much," Nunnelley argued. The prosecutor thinks Lightbourne's lawyers are going overboard in their evidence requests.

"We don't have to look at ... the execution chamber when we have photographs available," he said. Nunnelley criticized CCR for wanting to photograph the area themselves rather than use DOC photos.

Keffer argued that DOC had a specific bias or interest and they wanted to photograph the area themselves.

Angel sided with defense lawyers, stating attorneys had a right to view the area and photograph it in light of the serious nature of the case.

"Everyone takes photos in an automobile case. I don't know how to not allow that in a death penalty case," the judge said.

Still, DOC officials felt attorneys taking photographs created security problems and instead offered to take photographs for the private lawyers at their request. The lawyers who requested to take photographs are the same lawyers who regularly visit their clients on death row.

Last month, Angel ordered DOC officials to rewrite portions of Florida's execution protocol manual. Angel criticized the vague nature of the manual and asked officials to spell out detailed information about the execution team, its members and their training, among other items.

Those updates will be addressed this week.

A day after the Diaz execution, the CCR office, which represents dozens of death row inmates, filed petitions on behalf of all their clients claiming the penalty was cruel and unusual. The same day, Dec. 14, the court chose the Lightbourne case to argue the issue.

It took Diaz, 34 minutes to die after an unusual second dose of chemicals. Then-Gov. Jeb Bush suspended all Florida executions later that month after a medical examiner said prison officials botched the insertion of the needles.

Last month, Gov. Charlie Crist cleared the way for Florida executions to resume. He signed a death warrant for Mark Schwab. Schwab, 38, was sentenced to death in 1992. He kidnapped, raped and killed 11-year-old Junny Rios-Martinez, of Cocoa, by smothering or choking the boy.

Debating the death penalty

Hearing begins in state challenge to capital punishment

BY MABEL PEREZ
STAR-BANNER

OCALA - Attorneys for Ian Lightbourne took a field trip Tuesday to Florida State Prison to view the execution chamber and chemical rooms involved in the lethal injection procedure.

Today, they will question warden Timothy Cannon, the warden in charge of future executions, about protocols and policy in light of the botched Angel Diaz execution and the recently updated lethal injection manual.

The hearing begins at 8:15 a.m. in front of Circuit Judge Carven Angel in the Marion County Courthouse and will last through Friday. Deputy Attorney General Kenneth Nunnelley will also have a chance to present witnesses.

In September, Angel is expected to rule whether Florida's current execution procedure is "cruel and unusual." Last month, the judge ordered the Department of Corrections to rewrite portions of its manual and to specifically detail the role of each execution team member.

In December, it took Angel Diaz 34 minutes to die after an unusual second dose of chemicals. Then-Gov. Jeb Bush suspended all Florida executions later that month after a medical examiner said prison officials botched the insertion of the needles.

The botched execution prompted officials to look at the execution procedures and also caused the Capital Collateral Regional Office, which represents dozens of death row inmates, to file petitions on behalf of all its clients claiming the penalty was cruel and unusual. The same day, Dec. 14, the Supreme Court chose the Lightbourne case to examine on this issue.

The Ocala judge must make a ruling on the execution issue by September. Angel's ruling will come just two months before the first scheduled execution. The Supreme Court wants to review Angel's ruling, court transcripts and other testimony from the Ocala hearings.

Last month, Gov. Charlie Crist signed a death warrant for Mark Schwab, 38, who was sentenced to death in 1992 for the kidnapping, rape and murder of an 11-year-old child.

Lightbourne, 47, was sentenced to death in 1981 for the murder of Marion County horse breeder Nancy O'Farrell, the daughter of a prominent horse farming family.

Schwab is scheduled to die in November. The Supreme Court will hear arguments in the Schwab and Lightbourne cases in October.

Tuesday, CCR lawyers argued about which witnesses could testify, public records requests and other items related to the background of people on the execution team.

Suzanne Keffer, of CCR, argued that people on the execution team should testify to talk about what happens in the chamber and their backgrounds.

"These people are directly responsible, who are directly making those decisions .Ê.Ê. and directly involved in the Angel Diaz execution," Keffer said.

Angel ruled that CCR can't call those witnesses.

Deputy Attorney General Kenneth Nunnelley appeared annoyed at times. At one point he called CCR's requests "ridiculous." The prosecutor thinks Lightbourne's lawyers are going overboard in their evidence requests.

"We don't have to look at .Ê.Ê. the execution chamber when we have photographs available," he said. Nunnelley criticized CCR for wanting to photograph the area themselves rather than use DOC photos.

Keffer argued that DOC had a specific bias or interest.

Angel sided with the defense. Still, DOC officials felt attorneys taking photographs created security problems and instead offered to take photographs for the private lawyers at their request. The lawyers who requested to take photographs are the same lawyers who regularly visit their clients on death row.

Mabel Perez may be reached at mabel.perez@starbanner.com or 867-4106.

Man gets death in buried-alive slayings


Defense attorney Richard Kuritz (left) talks to his client Michael James Jackson as the jury was deliberating Monday.


2 hours, 15 minutes ago

A man was sentenced to death Wednesday in the kidnapping and slayings of a couple who were buried alive in rural Georgia after their bank account was cleaned out.

Michael James Jackson, 25, was convicted of first-degree murder, robbery and kidnapping but said he only planned the robbery and did not participate in the slayings of James and Carol Sumner in 2005.

Jackson told authorities he saw the couple being buried alive and heard Carol Sumner moaning inside the pre-dug grave in a remote area of Charlton County, Ga., near the Florida line. He said he did not try to stop the slayings because he was afraid he would be next.

The Sumners, both 61, were abducted, loaded into their car's trunk and forced to reveal financial information. Prosecutors said Jackson used the Sumners' bank card and PIN number to withdraw money from their account and still had their financial records when he was arrested at a South Carolina hotel.

Jackson's lawyer, Richard Kuritz, said he planned to appeal.

Three others were also charged in the case. One of them, Bruce Kent Nixon, 19, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, robbery and kidnapping after leading police to the bodies. He agreed to testify against Jackson and two others.

Examining doctors' role in executions


Their identities are protected from inmates' families - and fellow physicians.

By Ron Word
Associated Press

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - At all Florida lethal injections, a man in a purple moon suit leans over the dying inmate to listen for a heartbeat and feel for a pulse. After a few seconds, he nods, and the witnesses are informed that the death sentence has been duly carried out.
The man is a doctor and the gear shields his identity - not just from the prisoner's family and friends, but from the American Medical Association, whose code of ethics bars members from participating in executions.

Most states take steps to shield the identities of physicians taking part in executions. Some draw curtains or remove the witnesses before the doctor emerges.

But death-penalty experts say Florida is the only state that uses clothing more commonly associated with highly infectious diseases to preserve the doctor's anonymity.

The practice, employed for about a year, reflects the strong passions surrounding the role of physicians in executions, and the conflicting pressures increasingly felt by prison officials nationwide.

On the one hand, prison systems are facing demands from judges that they make sure executions by injection do not cause undue pain. On the other, states are having difficulty recruiting doctors to oversee them because of the profession's objections.

Some of those issues are likely to play out at a hearing in state court this week on a Florida Corrections Department plan aimed at avoiding a botched execution.

A judge last month ordered the state to update its lethal-injection protocol in light of the case of Angel Diaz last December. Diaz, who killed a Miami topless-bar manager during a 1979 robbery, took 34 minutes to die - more than double the normal time - and needed an extra dose of drugs because the executioners mistakenly pushed the needles clear through his veins and into his flesh.

The state is proposing to add doctors, nurses, phlebotomists (people trained to draw blood), and other medical professionals to its lethal-injection teams - something that is done in some states.

Under Florida's proposal, the doctors could be used to insert intravenous lines and keep them flowing. A physician or pharmacist would be responsible for buying and mixing the lethal chemicals.

Department officials told the Associated Press, however, that while the plan allowed greater participation, doctors would still be used only to pronounce death.

The whole idea is offensive to the AMA.

"We are a profession dedicated to healing," said Mark Levine, chairman of the Council of Ethical and Judicial Affairs. "Participation in an execution is an image of a physician with a dark hood."

Levine said doctors participating in executions must decide if they are "an instrument of the state or a member of a profession dedicated to preserving and protecting life. You can't be both."

Medical groups can revoke membership for ethics violations, but they have no licensing authority in Florida or anywhere else. And the AMA is simply a professional association, albeit one with a high profile; membership is not required to practice medicine.

But because of those objections, doctors at Florida executions wear plastic suits, similar to those used by hazardous-materials teams, that cover them from head to toe. Goggles worn beneath the clear plastic face shield conceal identity even further.

A middle ground might not be possible.

"It's a fundamental conflict," said Bill Allen, a bioethicist in the University of Florida's College of Medicine.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Florida Doctors Wear "Moon Suits" to Hide Participation in Lethal Injections


In Florida, doctors hired to monitor and participate in lethal injection executions wear purple "moon suits" and goggles to conceal their identities from witnesses and circumvent an American Medical Association (AMA) code that forbids participation in executions, according to the Associated Press. Though Florida and other states say the participation of medical personnel ensures "a dignified and humane death" for those facing execution, the AMA, the American Nurses Association, the American Society of Anesthesiologists, and the Florida Medical Association all disagree.

"We are a profession dedicated to healing. Participation in an execution is an image of a physician with a dark hood. . . . It is part of the role of a physician, helping people, preserving life and maintaining the trust and respect of the people we serve. We do not feel killing people is appropriate in that context," said Dr. Mark Levine, chairman of the AMA's Council of Ethical and Judicial Affairs. He added that doctors must decide whether they are "an instrument of the state or a member of a profession dedicated to preserving and protecting life. You can't be both."

The role of medical personnel in executions is a key concern for states reworking lethal injection protocols after existing procedures were challenged as violating the Constitution's ban on "cruel and unusual punishment." A growing number of states have proposed lethal injection procedures that would allow medical personnel to perform a variety of tasks, including the insertion of intravenous tubes, performing "cut down" procedures to locate useable veins, observing heart monitors, tracking an inmate's consciousness, purchasing and maintaining drugs used in the lethal cocktail, and pronouncing death. All of these tasks present tough questions for medical associations, which hold the power to revoke memberships for ethics code violations. With that in mind, a number of states are taking steps to protect the identities of medical professionals who agree to participate in executions. For example, in Missouri, a new law allows executioners to sue anyone who discloses their identity, legislation authored after a St. Louis paper revealed the name of a doctor who had participated in dozens of executions. In Alabama and Ohio, a curtain is drawn after the execution so doctors examining the inmate are not seen by witnesses. Florida is the only state to require that medical personnel wear a moon suit similar to those worn by biohazard teams.

Florida Governor Charlie Crist, the son of a physician, admits that finding doctors willing to assist in lethal injections is difficult. When asked about the ethical dilemma faced by physicians, he said, "I don't know. It's pretty hard . . . the oath is taken to save life, of course."
(Associated Press, August 26, 2007). See Lethal Injection.

Vigil marks Trenton's disappearance


August 28, 2007

LEESBURG

The one-year mark of Trenton Duckett's disappearance came and went Monday with no sign of the missing toddler.

Friends and family of the boy planned to gather downtown Monday night for a candlelight vigil and prayer for Trenton's safe homecoming.

Trenton was reported missing Aug. 27, 2006, from the Griffin Road apartment of his mother, Melinda Duckett. She killed herself almost two weeks later at her grandparents' Villages home as she began to emerge as the prime suspect in her son's disappearance.

During the past year, the search for Trenton has sent police halfway around the world and sparked national attention after Duckett's hostile interview with cable-TV-show host Nancy Grace.

Detectives in Leesburg and Marion County say they will continue to look for Trenton.

"The case is not going to be closed until there's resolution to it, and when I say resolution, that's finding Trenton," said Leesburg lead Detective Rich Giles. "We are still getting information in . . . A lot of times it's leads that have already come in. They've already been checked, but as long as there's information coming in."

Giles added, "Is the case considered cold? No. Is it cool? Yeah."

Anyone with information about Trenton's disappearance is asked to call the Leesburg Police Department at 352-787-2121.

To learn more about Trenton's case, visit www.helpfind trenton.com.

Trenton's third birthday was Aug. 10.

Christine Dellert and Katie Fretland of the Sentinel staff contributed to this report.

Police: Ex-Marine killed consultants, self

Police: Ex-Marine killed consultants, self
Jason Drake's motive remains unclear, they say

Henry Pierson Curtis

Sentinel Staff Writer

August 28, 2007

A former U.S. Marine shot and killed two political consultants before killing himself last week but investigators still cannot say why, the Orange County Sheriff's Office announced Monday.

Forensic evidence identified Jason Drake as the killer of Republican strategists Rafael "Ralph" Gonzalez and David Abrami, sheriff's Cmdr. Joe Picanzo said.

"What prompted him to go in and commit that crime remains undetermined and may never be known," Picanzo said. "We have had so many different and conflicting statements from people."

All three men died in Gonzalez's home on Hickory Oak Boulevard on Aug. 21, but the bodies were not discovered until Thursday.

"All three associated socially and professionally to some degree," said Picanzo, who did not know how the three met.

Gonzalez, 39, was the president of Strategum Group and a former head of the Republican Party in Georgia. He managed U.S. Rep. Tom Feeney's 2002 campaign and the 2003 Orlando mayoral campaign of advertising executive Pete Barr.

Abrami, 36, an attorney who previously worked with Orlando political consultant Doug Guetzloe, had a room in Gonzalez's house. He graduated from the University of Central Florida and Washington & Lee University School of Law and clerked for a federal judge in Alabama before practicing antitrust law in Atlanta, according to his online resume.

Drake, 30, a graduate of St. Cloud High School, installed tile and wood flooring and lived in east Orange County, according to family members.

A handgun and ammunition found in a backpack near his body belonged to Drake, according to the Sheriff's Office. Picanzo said Drake did not leave a suicide note.

"The investigator told me this morning, and I'm having a hard time believing it," Drake's stepfather, George VanDriessch, said in a telephone interview. "The guy was the most upstanding guy I ever met -- you'd want to salute him when he walked up to you."

Gonzalez was buried Monday in Miami.

A memorial service for Abrami is scheduled for 2 p.m. today at First Presbyterian Church of Orlando,106 E Church St., according to his family.

"The family and friends of David Abrami are overwhelmed by the outpouring of prayers and love expressed in celebration of David's life," they said in a written statement. "This support has been extremely helpful in getting through this very difficult time."

Drake, who served in Kosovo with the Marines in 1999, will be buried Sunday or Monday in Rutherfordton, N.C.

"He'll be buried in the family plot where the soldiers in our family have been buried since the Revolutionary War," said his aunt, Cynthia VanDriessche.

Henry Pierson Curtis can be reached at hcurtis@orlandosentinel.com or 407-420-5257.

Deputies: 5th-grader had knife

August 28, 2007

ORANGE COUNTY

- A fifth-grader at Little River Elementary School in east Orange County was arrested Monday after he took a 41/2-inch steak knife to school hidden in a stuffed animal, authorities said.

According to the Orange County Sheriff's Office, the 10-year-old hid the knife in a stuffed monkey. The student was arrested about 8:30 a.m.

It was unknown whether the child will face disciplinary action from the school.

Henry Pierson Curtis, David Damron, Robert Perez, Bianca Prieto and Rene Stutzman of the Sentinel staff contributed to this report.

Monday, August 27, 2007

A new look at a 10-year-old murder conviction plants seeds of doubt


By MEG LAUGHLIN and DON MORRIS, Times Staff Writers
Published August 26, 2007

The prosecutor ate Leo Schofield alive. Friends and neighbors testified that they had seen Leo slap his wife, pull her hair and break furniture in the months before her murder.

The parade of witnesses masked the state's utter lack of physical evidence -- blood, fingerprints, hair -- connecting Leo to the murder of Michelle Saum Schofield.

The state did have a crucial witness, a neighbor. Alice Scott testified that she heard bumping in the Schofield trailer and heard Michelle yell, "No, Leo, don't. ..."

Peering out her bathroom window, she said, she watched Leo emerge carrying "a heavy object ... like a sleeping child ... wrapped in something." He dumped it in the back of their Mazda and drove off.

The car was found abandoned on an exit ramp of Interstate 4. After three days searching with friends and family, Leo's father found Michelle's body in a canal.

Leo's alibi depended on his parents, who were with him the night Michelle disappeared. But his father told stupid lies and lost all credibility.

Police said he told them Michelle was floating on her back, smiling; she was on her stomach and definitely not smiling. Police said he told them he searched ditches and turned over refrigerators, but they said no ditches or refrigerators were in the area.

He testified that a premonition led him to Michelle's body, but jurors believed the prosecutor instead -- that Leo Sr. knew exactly where to look because he had helped Leo dispose of the body.

Police found fingerprints inside Michelle's Mazda that didn't match anybody who used the car. Leo's attorney said the prints belonged to the unknown murderer and asked jurors: "Wouldn't you like to know whose fingerprints those are in the Mazda?"

Unimpressed, the jury took just two hours to pronounce Leo Schofield guilty of murder one.

He was packed off to prison for the rest of his life. The unmatched fingerprint cards were packed off to storage.

* * *

High school dropouts, they met in 1986, less than a year before her murder. Michelle Saum was 17 and into Cyndi Lauper. Leo Schofield was 20 and into Ozzy Osbourne. She drank Boone's Strawberry Hill Wine from a screw-top bottle. He drank Busch in the can.

He painted houses and played lead guitar in a band called RYNO, for Rock Your Nuts Off. She worked at Burger King and hoped to get free of the deep fryer when he hit it big.

He grew up in Massachusetts and didn't move to Lakeland until he was 15. She was local; to her crowd, he was "a fast-talking outsider from up North."

Leo and Michelle moved in together and attended the Southside Assembly of God Church in Lakeland. To get them to "quit living in sin," church members offered to pay for a wedding and to provide them a free, freshly painted efficiency. The young couple took them up on it.

They fought over who would use the Mazda. They fought over money. They fought over Michelle's tendency to show up late and over Leo's possessiveness. They fought over fighting.

Michelle scratched and slapped Leo a few times, and he slapped her and pulled her hair.

Six months into the marriage, Michelle walked more than 2 miles and showed up after midnight at her friend Lee Underwood's home. "She said she wanted the party life with the old gang back," he says. Then, she went home to Leo.

Two weeks later, Feb. 24, 1987, she clocked out of her waitress job at Tom's, a burger drive-in. She left about 30 minutes later in the Mazda with a soda and $3 worth of gas. She called Leo an hour later, told him she had made $13 in tips and was on her way to pick him up at band practice.

She never made it.

Two days later, on the exit ramp of I-4 at State Road 559, police found her abandoned Mazda, the boosters for the stereo speakers missing. The next day, Leo's father found Michelle in a canal, 7 miles from the car. She had been stabbed 26 times, her wedding ring still on her index finger, her tip money gone.

* * *


In the early 1990s, Crissie Carter taught high school students in Immokalee and prisoners at Hendry Correctional Institution.

Teaching inmates resume writing and checkbook balancing, she had as one of her aides Leo Schofield, who told everyone he met that he was innocent.

Crissie looked into the case and was intrigued. She thought the prosecution's time line didn't add up. Police had Leo in his trailer killing Michelle at the same time Michelle's father, David Saum, said Leo was at his house.

Crissie wrote to Schofield that she believed him. He wrote back that he thought that improved computer technology might identify the fingerprints and the real killer.

She called the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Polk County Sheriff's Office. Couldn't they try to match the prints?

She didn't get anywhere. "I got put on hold a lot."

Leo transferred to DeSoto Correctional Institution. In 1995, six years into his life sentence, he and Crissie married in the prison chapel.

Marry a man doing life for murdering his wife? Crissie worried about the stigma, but ... "I believe he is innocent and I love him."

She hired a lawyer, thinking a professional would have better luck getting the fingerprints run. But he came up empty-handed, trapped in a Catch-22: To persuade a judge to order the old fingerprint evidence reviewed, the lawyer had to come up with some other, new evidence.

In 2004, Crissie vented her frustration to an old friend, Capt. Synda Williams of the Hendry County Sheriff's Office. Williams investigated cases involving abused children; Crissie used to help prosecutors prepare the kids to testify.

Williams was shocked to learn whom Crissie had chosen for a spouse. "I'd known Crissie to be a smart person with excellent judgment," Williams says. "I was worried."

Looking into the prints not only might help Crissie, Williams figured, it might ease her concerns about her old colleague.

But protocol says police in one county can't run fingerprints from a case in another county. All Williams could do was ask a detective how to get the fingerprints run. She says the detective misunderstood and went ahead and ran the prints. And got a match.

"I practically passed out when I found out who they belonged to," says Williams.

Crissie visited Leo in prison. "His body convulsed with sobs when he got the news," she says. And he told her: "At last, someone might listen to me."

Might listen.

* * *


If Leo wanted to invent an alternate suspect for who might have murdered his wife, he could not have concocted a better choice than Jeremy Scott.

His rap sheet dates to when he was 11. It includes armed robbery, assault and battery, plus two murders. He was acquitted of one murder charge, from when he was 15 - his ex-girlfriend says he bragged that he got away with it -- and the other murder charge brought a conviction and life sentence.

In February 1987, when Michelle was murdered, Scott was 18. He lived with his grandmother in a trailer 1.7 miles from the canal where Michelle's body was dumped. The trailer park was on the road Michelle would have taken to pick up Leo at band practice. Scott frequently hitchhiked.

"He was into drugs and would do anything to get money, even a small amount," says his grandmother, Earline Sandage. "What could you expect from a kid whose mother ran over him on purpose when he was a toddler?"

An ex-girlfriend, Jami Nelams, said Jeremy called the canal where Michelle was found "his hangout." Nelams said he liked to take her to the canal for sex and would choke her into unconsciousness.

"Jeremy was an extremely violent person," Nelams told investigators. "He struck me too many times to count -- with his hands, a belt, my boots, a baseball bat. He was going to kill me. I was going to end up dead."

Wendy Zieman, 35 and living in Nebraska, says she'll never forget when she was 14, the night at her Lakeland house that she says Scott sexually assaulted her. She didn't fight back because he said he'd kill her if she screamed, and she believed him.

"He was a friend and he turned on me," says Zieman, who did not call police.

Her best friend was Robert Morales. Now a sergeant in Iraq, Morales says she told him of the sexual attack right after.

"I believed Wendy because I knew how violent Jeremy Scott could be," Morales says. "He couldn't stand it when he didn't get his way, especially with a girl."

Jeremy Scott left fingerprints at the murder he was convicted of, and he left prints at the murder he was acquitted of. He left prints at two robberies he was convicted of.

And the prints in Michelle's Mazda? The ones that Leo's attorney asked the jury: "Wouldn't you like to know whose fingerprints those are?"

Jeremy Scott left those prints, as well.

* * *


Not only did the defense not know to name Jeremy Scott as an alternate suspect, but defense attorney Jack Edmund was also in the dark about the mental health issues of the state's star witness, Alice Scott.

Family and friends say she had been involuntarily committed and spent time in mental institutions for being delusional.

Alice Scott no relation to Jeremy Scott lived in a trailer 50 yards from the Schofields. She testified that seated on her bathroom counter, she looked out a narrow window, saw Leo arrive home with Michelle, heard yelling, then saw him carry out "a heavy object" wrapped in cloth and drive away.

Her husband, Ricky Scott, repeatedly told police he didn't want Alice to get involved as a witness. But he didn't say why, until now.

"I was with her in our trailer when she said she saw Leo arrive home with Michelle then carry something out to the car that was supposed to be her body, and I didn't believe Alice," he says. "I knew how she twisted the truth."

He and Alice are divorced with two grown daughters, but they "get along," says Ricky, and he wants that to continue for their children's sake. Besides, he says, he once saw Leo pull Michelle's hair and never liked him.

"But I have to tell the truth: No way Alice could've seen and heard from that little bathroom window what she said she heard and saw at the Schofields' that night. She took a little something and exaggerated like she always did," he says.

Ricky's sister, Linda Sells, was Alice's friend and neighbor. At the trial, she testified that she had come from work late at night and seen Leo carry something "wrapped in a sheet" from the trailer. She and Alice talked about it over the fence.

But Sells testified that Alice may have had the wrong night: Sells didn't think it was the night Michelle disappeared because Sells had not worked that night. In other words, Michelle was alive after the time Sells and Alice saw Leo carry something in the sheet.

"Alice's version of what happened that night is not completely reliable because she'll say anything to be the center of attention," says Sells.

Yes, Alice Scott says it's true: She has had her "share of nervous and emotional problems over the years," which caused her to be hospitalized.

Told that her ex-husband detailed how it would have been impossible for her to see from the bathroom window, she changed her story: "When I couldn't see and hear from the bathroom window that good, I walked to the screened porch where I could."

She had never said that before, not to police, not at the trial. She was always sitting on a counter looking out a narrow bathroom window.

Her explanation for changing her story: "Maybe I didn't say it right back then, but I am now."

Prosecutor John Aguero says he doesn't remember if he was aware of Alice Scott's mental problems at the time of the trial. "But even if I was, it wouldn't necessarily mean that Alice Scott's mental issues kept her from being a credible witness."

Besides the mental issues, there is a question about her motives. She was a confidential informant for the police agency investigating the murder, according to police documents and her former police supervisor. But her status did not come out at trial.

She denies she was a confidential informant: "I think I'd remember that."

Alice says the prosecutor should have gotten Leo Schofield sentenced to death. "If Aguero had done what he was supposed to and executed Leo Schofield," she says, "we wouldn't have to be dealing with this mess now."

* * *


Put a microscope to the case and problems crop up, one after another.

The medical examiner said Michelle was stabbed 26 times and bled five pints of blood, and the prosecutor said she was killed in the couple's trailer. But there was no blood in the trailer. Nor was any blood on Leo, who wore the same clothes until the next day.

The medical examiner said Michelle was "certainly" killed no more than a day or two before the autopsy and dragged to the canal five to 10 minutes after she died. But the state said she was killed three and a half days before and was dead more than an hour when dragged to the canal.

Time and again, witnesses say they did not tell police what police put in their reports. Some examples:

Michelle worked at Tom's Restaurant. A police report said Tom's owner saw Michelle drive away in the Mazda right after 8:15 p.m., then he went to his apartment over the restaurant. But the owner, a Thai man named Aumnuay Artyamosoal, said through a translator that he told police no such thing.

He said that when Michelle got off work, she didn't drive away, she was "waiting for someone" at a table behind the restaurant. And he said he could not have gone to an apartment over the restaurant because it's a single-story building.

Police wrote that a waitress at Tom's, Marin Suparatana, said she saw Michelle drive away in her car right after she got off work. But she says she told police no such thing. She only worked the morning shift and wasn't there in the evening.

Police said they talked to the Roach boys, who, they said, saw Michelle in the restaurant parking lot about 7 p.m. the night she was killed. Police said that they went to the Roach home and talked to them with their parents.

But the four people in the Roach family say police never came to their home. They say the police phoned, and spoke only with the mother of Steven and Phillip Roach. Steven says that he and his brother talked to Michelle outside the restaurant close to 9 p.m., not around 7 p.m., as police said.

Beyond those discrepancies is a whopper: Trying to make the case that the real killer left the mysterious fingerprints in the Mazda, the defense attorney cross-examined the senior investigator on the case, Polk sheriff's Detective Richard Putnel.

Edmund: "To your knowledge were there any other cases in Polk County at that time that involved stab wounds of the nature of Michelle Schofield's?"

Putnel: "No, sir."

Edmund: "How about subsequent to that time, did you ever work any cases or become aware of any cases around that time frame that were similar to Michelle Schofield's?"

Putnel: "No, sir."

At the time, there were unsolved murders of three other young women in the area. Like Michelle, all died of multiple stab wounds to the upper body. Like Michelle, all had rings on and $5 to $20 missing. Like Michelle, none was sexually assaulted.

Michelle disappeared on Feb. 24, 1987.

Four months earlier, Oct. 26, 1986: Teresa Scalf was stabbed in her home, 4 miles south of Michelle and Leo's trailer.

Five weeks before Michelle's murder, Jan. 16, 1987: Catherine Rodgers was stabbed in her home, 25 miles away in northeast Hillsborough County. Detectives in the Polk Sheriff's Office knew about the case because Hillsborough detectives contacted them to compare similarities.

One month after Michelle's murder, March 24, 1987: Karen Ann Watson was stabbed in her home, 2 miles east of where Michelle's car was found.

Unlike Michelle, huge amounts of blood were found in the homes of the other three victims.

"If there hadn't been blood in the house from the murderer that didn't match mine, they might have sent me away for life," said Watson's widower, Chuck Watson, who was a suspect until 2002.

Nobody was ever charged in Watson's or the other cases.

Why did Putnel testify that there were no other stabbing murders of women in the area? Putnel said he doesn't remember what he testified.

"That was a long time ago -- too long to remember," he says. "Don't call me again."

* * *


John Aguero has tallied convictions in over 50 murder cases. What does he say about the fingerprints and the contradictions?

"The issue we're looking at now is reasonable doubt," he says. "Would what we know now have produced an acquittal, if we had known it then?"

He says no. After the fingerprint match was made to Jeremy Scott, a detective was assigned to review the case. He and Aguero interviewed Scott more than a year ago, and they're certain he didn't commit the murder. The prosecutor says two points are key.

"Michelle Schofield had her rings on when her body was found, which isn't Jeremy Scott's style. He would've stolen them," Aguero says. "Also, there is no connection, no nexus, between Michelle Schofield and Jeremy Scott. He didn't know her and had no reason to kill her."

But the evidence and witnesses contradict Aguero on both points. Stealing a small amount of cash but leaving jewelry behind is actually Scott's style. And multiple witnesses say Michelle and Jeremy Scott knew each other.

On the jewelry: When Scott was 15, his fingerprints were in the Winter Haven home and on the broken eyeglasses of 78-year-old Jewel Johnson, who was shot, hit over the head and strangled. According to the medical examiner's report, police found her diamond ring on her finger and a gold necklace around her neck. Missing was $42 in coins, which police found in Scott's possession. His defense suggested an alternate suspect, and Scott was acquitted of all charges.

When Scott was 18, again in Winter Haven, he clubbed 37-year-old Donald Moorehead over the head with a grape juice bottle while he slept in a lounge chair. Scott finished him off by dragging him with a telephone cord wrapped around his neck. He stole about $20 from Moorehead and his Chevrolet sedan.

Scott left Moorehead's jewelry behind, according to Bruce Tipton, the neighbor who discovered the body. "Besides the watch he wore, Don's bracelet and ring were on the counter in plain view," Tipton says.

Larry Hall, who is serving a life sentence for helping Scott cover up Moorehead's murder, agrees with Tipton: "Jeremy didn't steal his jewelry."

On Aguero's second point, that Scott didn't know Michelle: Several mutual friends say they ran in the same crowd before Michelle Saum married Leo Schofield.

It was a wild group of more than a dozen Lakeland kids, most high school dropouts. They hung out around the public boat ramps, a Circle K and the homes of the more permissive parents. Most of them drank; some smoked marijuana. A few, like Jeremy Scott, smoked crystal meth and stole to support their habits.

Many of the old gang placed Jeremy and Michelle together.

Wendy Zieman and Tammy Erickson each remember parties at their homes that Jeremy and Michelle both attended. Says Tammy: "I was friends with both of them, and they knew each other."

Dawn Browning, 37, was close friends with Tammy and lived behind a homeless shelter called the Talbot House. Browning remembers Jeremy Scott, who frequently stayed there, and she remembers Michelle Saum. "We all knew each other," she says.

Says Larry Hall, Scott's murder accomplice: "Jeremy used to talk about liking a girl named Dawn who lived behind the Talbot House and her friend Michelle."

And there's the state's key witness, Alice Scott: "I knew Jeremy Scott. So did Michelle. I saw him over at Leo and Michelle's trailer at parties before Michelle was killed."

Aguero says he was not aware that Jeremy Scott and Michelle Schofield probably knew each other: "That's information I don't have," he says.

Regarding the jewelry, Aguero says that when he said it was Scott's style to steal jewelry, he was unaware of evidence to the contrary. "At this point I don't have much to say on the topic."

Jeremy Scott said he had plenty to say about the Schofield murder but would talk only if he were paid.

In a recorded prison phone call to his grandmother in 2005, Scott said detectives told him they didn't think he killed Michelle, but thought he "knew something about it."

He told his grandmother he could have stolen the stereo from Michelle's car and left his fingerprints, but he was innocent of murder. Still, he told her, he wasn't about to talk to the cops.

"Even if I did know something, I wouldn't tell them."

* * *


Before Leo Schofield was charged with murdering his wife, he had never been charged with a crime. On the eve of the trial in 1989, the prosecutor offered a deal: Plead guilty to second-degree murder for a sentence of 12 to 17 years. With time off, it would've been less than 10.

Schofield turned it down and chanced the death penalty. "I couldn't bring myself to say I did something I didn't do."

Now, 19 years later, he is doing life in Hardee Correctional Institution, 35 miles south of Lakeland.

"I was self-centered, possessive and immature," he says. "But I didn't kill Michelle, and I don't know who did."

Prison staff say he is "well-behaved and helpful." Over the years, he has played guitar at prison Mass on Sundays and been an AIDS and peer counselor. He is a certified welder and a paralegal.

"In here," he says, "you can make your life worthwhile as long as you make up your mind not to be bitter."

* * *


His hope for a miracle rests with Polk Circuit Judge Dick Prince. Based on the fingerprints and other new evidence, attorney Richard Bartmon of Boca Raton has asked the judge to grant Schofield a new trial.

"The fingerprints need not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Jeremy Scott killed Michelle Schofield," Bartmon wrote. "But they could raise reasonable doubts about Leo's guilt."

The state responded that the defense should have identified Jeremy Scott's fingerprints before the 1989 trial or in the appeals right after, and now it's too late.

The judge is expected to rule in the next few months.

Williams, the sheriff's captain who stuck her neck out to figure out how to identify the fingerprints, says she's not in any hurry to meet Leo Schofield. "But I do know that our justice system should work, and if he has been in prison for 19 years and didn't kill Michelle, that's wrong."

Aguero says the system did work: Both sides presented their cases, the jury spoke, and nothing has convinced him to upend the verdict.

Five months after he got a jury to convict Schofield, Aguero got a jury to convict Jeremy Scott of crushing Donald Moorhead's skull. Scott was sentenced to death but had it reduced to life after a hearing in 1992.

Aguero argued against commuting the sentence because, he said, Scott was a "cold-blooded criminal ... who couldn't be trusted."

Yet Aguero says he trusts him about the Schofield case. He interviewed Scott in 2005, after his fingerprints from the Mazda were identified: "I looked Jeremy Scott in the eye and asked him if he killed her, and he looked me in the eye and said he didn't do it. And I believed him."

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Meg Laughlin can be reached at mlaughlin@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8068. Don Morris can be reached at dmorris@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8888.

About this story

Information came from police reports, court files, court transcripts and depositions, law enforcement agency records, prison and medical examiner records.

Dozens of people were interviewed in person, including many not in the story.

Interviewed by phone were Alice Scott, Leo Schofield Sr. in Idaho, Wendy Zieman in Nebraska, Lee Underwood in Wisconsin and Robert Morales in Ramadi, Iraq.

Leo Schofield and Larry Hall were interviewed in prison.

Jeremy Scott declined to be interviewed. Jami Nelams could not be located. Jack Edmund was killed in a traffic accident in 2002.

In the property room in the basement of the Polk County Courthouse, the Times was given access to all the trial evidence and exhibits.

The maps in the multimedia presentations with this story are the maps the state used at trial. The fingerprints reproduced are the prints lifted from Michelle Schofield's Mazda and Jeremy Scott's known fingerprints.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

CNN's lawyers defend Duckett mom interview


Stephen Hudak

Sentinel Staff Writer

August 8, 2007

OCALA

Lawyers for CNN and talk-show host Nancy Grace defended the caustic commentator's grilling of Melinda Duckett a day before her suicide, urging a federal judge to throw out her family's lawsuit.

Lawyer Judith Mercier cast Grace, a former prosecutor, as a journalist devoted to finding Duckett's missing 2-year-old son, Trenton.

"The law does not permit people to recover money from reporters who ask routine questions while covering ongoing stories of national significance to the public," Mercier wrote in a brief that assailed the family's lawsuit as "misguided."

Melinda Duckett's adoptive parents, William "Jerry" and Beth Eubank, sued the cable giant and Grace in November, accusing them of pushing Duckett, 21, to suicide with an aggressive interview that their lawyers characterized as an "ambush."

They also seek damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress and for misappropriating Melinda Duckett's image and interview in ensuing broadcasts.

The young mother emerged as the prime suspect in her son's disappearance after she killed herself at her grandparents' home in The Villages on Sept. 8, the day the taped interview was broadcast.

Trenton was reported missing about 9 p.m. Aug. 27 from his bed in his mother's apartment in Leesburg. Police officially list the toddler as missing. His third birthday is Friday.

Grace's lawyer said the lawsuit focuses on the mother's suicide and not "the real center of this terrible story," the missing boy.

Mercier said Melinda Duckett appeared on the program voluntarily and that Grace grew more persistent "only when the mother's answers were less than forthcoming . . ."

She said courts have repeatedly upheld a journalist's right to use "aggressive and abrasive [interview] tactics in an attempt to ferret out information from reluctant individuals."

Kara Skorupa, the Eubanks' lawyer, could not be reached for comment.

Mercier, who also asked U.S. District Court Judge William Terrell Hodges to schedule an oral hearing, said the lawsuit could "severely chill" media efforts to find missing children if it stops reporters from asking tough, aggressive questions.

She submitted a DVD and a transcript of the broadcast as evidence.

In the fist-pounding interview, Grace challenged Melinda Duckett's reasons for refusing to take a polygraph test and chastised her for providing vague answers about her itinerary the day her son disappeared.

Duckett had said she had been shopping with the boy but would not name the specific stores.

But Grace pressed on.

She pointed out that a store surveillance camera might have captured video of someone watching, following or lurking behind the young mother and her son.

Stephen Hudak can be reached at shudak@orlandosentinel.com or 352-742-5930.
The last photo ran on page B2 of Local.

Talk-show host or journalist?

BY MABEL PEREZ
STAR-BANNER

OCALA - Is Nancy Grace a real journalist?

That could end up being the million-dollar question a federal judge must answer in determining whether Melinda Duckett's family has a right to sue the spitfire talk-show host in the wrongful death case.

Duckett, 21, was on Grace's show in September because her son, Trenton, was missing. The interview, according to Duckett's family, turned ugly when Grace "verbally assaulted" and "harassed" Melinda Duckett. The family also claims Grace's behavior made Duckett distraught enough to commit suicide, just one day after the interview.

Grace was trying to get Duckett to fill in the blanks about her missing son in a crucial timeline, but the Leesburg woman refused to talk in detail about her whereabouts in the hours leading up to Trenton's disappearance. She claimed her lawyer told her not to discuss it.

Leesburg police investigators named Melinda Duckett as their prime suspect after her suicide. Trenton, who turns 3 today, is still missing.

Lawyers for CNN and Grace want U.S. Magistrate Judge Gary R. Jones to to throw out the case because, to them, Grace is protected under the press protections of the Constitution.

"The law does not permit people to recover money from reporters who ask routine questions while covering ongoing stories of national significance to the public," wrote CNN attorney Judith Mercier.

So the question becomes, is someone like Grace, whose career has been practicing law, entitled to the same protection as other reporters just because she has a news commentary show?

"I think Nancy Grace, I think there's an aspect of entertainment to her show. But as over the top as she is at times, she is still serving a public interest," said Clint Brewer, president-elect of the Society of Professional Journalists and executive editor of The City Paper in Nashville.

"I think the question of who's a journalist and who's not is less relevant nowadays than the question who's involved in active journalism. . . It matters more whether a person is acting as a journalist," Brewer said.

Al Tompkins, broadcast and online group leader for Poynter Institute, a school for journalists, said the judge's ruling on the issue could have an impact on journalists. He also said he couldn't understand why anyone would go on the show not thinking they would be grilled.

"If we're going to be civilly responsible for asking tough questions of a person who voluntarily goes on a show, then I don't know what the purpose of journalism is," Tompkins said. "Should we be submitting a list of questions beforehand to people to make sure our questions aren't offensive?"

Attorneys for Melinda Duckett's family think Grace needs to be held responsible.

Their lawsuit filed on Nov. 21 in the 5th Judicial Circuit Court in Lake County alleges that Grace inflicted emotional distress and misappropriated the likeness and images of Melinda Duckett, Trenton and the parents of Melinda Duckett. It named Grace, Cable News Network and Trenton's father, Joshua Duckett, as defendants.

The suit also accused Joshua Duckett of misusing funds meant to help investigate his son's disappearance. Melinda Duckett's estate made a donation to the T.D. Family Charitable Trust Fund and now wants the court to "ensure that all funds donated for locating [Trenton] are used for said purposes and not for any ill-conceived or improper purpose." Jones has ruled that Joshua Duckett is to be taken off the suit.

On Dec. 20, Grace lawyers had the case moved to federal court.

The attorney for Melinda Duckett's estate, Kara Skorupa, could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Her adoptive parents filed the suit.

CNN attorney Judith Mercier has declined to comment on the case to the Star-Banner.

"CNN and Nancy Grace have complete protection under the law to ask tough questions and inform the public in a diligent and sincere effort to find this missing little boy," Mercier wrote in court documents. "Indeed, the media's efforts to located missing children unquestionably serves the public interest, and this lawsuit could severely chill those efforts."

Mabel Perez may be reached at mabel.perez@starbanner.com or 867-4106.

Police Renew Push To Find Trenton

LEESBURG, Fla. -- Less than one week shy of the one-year anniversary marking the disappearance of a Central Florida 2-year-old boy, police are renewing their push to find him.

Trenton Duckett, who turned 3 years old earlier this month, disappeared from Leesburg a year ago this coming Monday, and Leesburg police will release new information, including photographs, at a news conference on Tuesday in their search to locate him.

"We have not forgotten about Trenton, and we don't want anybody else to," said Joshua Duckett, Trenton's father.

Trenton was last seen with his mother, Melinda, leaving her grandparents' home in Lady Lake, according to authorities.

Detectives said they considered Melinda Duckett the prime suspect in the case, but two weeks after Trenton disappeared, Melinda killed herself, leaving few clues in a suicide note about what may have happened to Trenton.

"We have followed up on basicallay everything. We don't have, necessarily, any leads that are pending at this point," Leesburg police Maj. Steve Rockefeller said.

"It's been our goal all along to keep his name out there and keep his photo going and just to generate as much (interest) as we can. That's what we continue to do everyday," Joshua Duckett said.

Watch Local 6 News for more on this story.

Trashed Pictures Released In Duckett Case

POSTED: 3:35 pm EDT August 21, 2007
UPDATED: 11:09 am EDT August 22, 2007


LEESBURG, Fla. -- Several months ago, investigators went through the trash of Trenton's mother, trying to get clues about what might have happened to the 2-year-old.

Photos found in the trash were released Tuesday that show things like toys and baby pictures -- things many said a mom waiting for her son to be returned to her would not throw away.

She has since taken her own life, and remains the prime suspect in his disappearance.

Not quite a year since Trenton disappeared, police wanted the community to know they still need help -- they also wanted to announce what they’ve ruled out.

"Evidence does not support an abduction. Signs of staging were too overpowering," Maj. Steve Rockefeller of the Leesburg Police Dept. said.

Abduction was the theory thrown out by Trenton's mom. She said a screen on his bedroom had been cut.

Police said the screen may have been cut for their benefit.

"These are the things that that raised an alarm for our investigators," Rockefeller said.

"Melinda Duckett is our prime suspect in what happened to Trenton. She is our sole suspect," Rockefeller said.

Throughout the year, others have said Trenton may have been handed off to a Duckett friend. Police said that's also fiction.

"We cannot find any evidence of a hand-off -- nationally or internationally," Rockefeller said.

Police said the case isn't cold, but it's cooled.

They hope the one year anniversary of Trenton's disappearance will kick start the investigation.

Investigators said the photos found in Melinda Duckett's trash reveal her state of mind in the minutes and hours after she reported her 2-year-old son missing.

They also said that evidence makes it hard not to draw the conclusion that Trenton was not coming back.

Sources said it was clear that in the hours after she reported Trenton missing, Melinda Duckett was getting rid of any evidence that he had ever lived there.

To comment on this story, send an e-mail to Dave McDaniel.

Family Celebrates Trenton Duckett's 3rd Birthday


LEESBURG, Fla. -- Birthdays are usually a time for happiness, but it's not the case for Trenton Duckett's family Friday.

For the first time, they are celebrating Duckett's birthday without him, WESH 2 News reported.

Duckett disappeared on Aug. 27 last year. His mother, Melinda Duckett, committed suicide two weeks later, police said.

"We're still trying to keep it out there, keep everyone aware of what's going on," Josh Duckett, the boy's father, said. "This is another way that we can keep his picture out there and get people to hear more and to see that we're still searching so everyone else needs to."

Duckett's grandmother brought a cake and decorations to the Leesburg Police Department to keep the search for Duckett fresh in everyone's minds.

Leesburg, Marion investigators differ over Trenton's disappearance

BY AUSTIN L. MILLER
Star-Banner

LEESBURG - Trenton Duckett was not abducted or handed off to someone else, Leesburg police said during a news conference Tuesday.

But Marion County Sheriff's investigators say they believe that Melinda Duckett may have given the boy to someone else before she committed suicide days after his disappearance.

Monday marks the one-year anniversary of the mystery that has haunted a bitterly divided family and stumped investigators.

Melinda, who would become the prime suspect, reported he was snatched from his bedroom at her Leesburg apartment on Aug. 27, 2006. She killed herself with a shotgun at her grandparents' home in The Villages on Sept. 8.

Police Department spokesman Maj. Steve Rockefeller said Tuesday, "The evidence doesn't suggest abduction. We continue to find no evidence of a handoff," he added.

And police Tuesday released photos of some evidence never before made public. The images showed trash bags and other containers loaded with items belonging to Trenton that were thrown away by either Melinda or a friend of hers.

The discarded items include clothing, frozen foods and vitamins. Rockefeller said most of the clothing was Trenton's that he had outgrown.

The items that were trashed have been a sore point with some, who wondered if she was trying to get rid of the things in an attempt to deflect suspicion or because she was psychologically cutting herself off from the child she knew she would never see again.

Melinda Duckett's grandparents, Bill and Nancy Eubank, dispute those theories, however. During an interview with the Star-Banner last Wednesday, they showed clothing, toys and a sonogram they said came from Melinda's apartment.

Nancy Eubank said some things were thrown out because when detectives came to the apartment to conduct a comprehensive search, they left a tremendous amount of black powder on the items. The powder, she said, was hard to remove.

"It was all over the doors, toys, everywhere. It was almost impossible to wash off," she said.

But there were other, deeply personal items that were thrown out that would seem to defy explanation, including a photo of Melinda and Trenton, a photo of Trenton as an infant and a Mother's Day card that read, in part: "For You, Mommy From Your Special Little Guy." There was also a freshly printed flier seeking information about his disappearance.

One reason for the speculation about her giving the child to someone else was because she had been locked in a bitter custody battle with her estranged husband, Joshua Duckett.

It's a theory that has been investigated by Marion County sheriff's detectives. It was discovered that cell phone towers picked up calls from Melinda in the Ocala area in the hours before she reported him missing.

Two employees at a Wendy's restaurant in Belleview reported seeing Trenton and his mother going through the drive-through on Aug. 27. One of the workers took and passed a polygraph test, making her a credible witness, Marion sheriff's officials said.

Leesburg police officials, however, have dismissed the Wendy's sighting and eliminated it from their timeline.

"We believe the witness was mistaken," Rockefeller said.

He said the woman at Wendy's told investigators she saw Melinda Duckett three times at the restaurant. Rockefeller said that couldn't be true because Trenton's mother was seen by her neighbor at the time of one of the reported sightings.

Maj. Chris Blair, head of Marion County Sheriff's Office major crimes bureau, said his agency believes in the handoff theory for several reasons. For starters, Blair said, Melinda Duckett's suicide notes were written in the present tense.

"The main reason I'm doing this is because even after my baby is found, I would not be a good mother," she wrote in one letter.

Second, he said, they have two witnesses who saw Melinda and Trenton at Wendy's.

In addition, after interviewing family and friends, they have no evidence indicating the young mother would harm her child. There also is no evidence to indicate Trenton is dead because there's no body and no sign of foul play, he said.

Rockefeller said the number of tips coming in has cooled off. Within the last six months, investigators have received 40 tips. He said resources have scaled back, but stressed that doesn't mean police have stopped looking. Rockefeller insisted his agency remains optimistic and officials are not viewing Trenton "as a statistic."

Joshua Duckett was absent from the news conference, but was represented by his mother, Carla Massero, who said the family continues to believe Trenton is alive. They celebrated his third birthday earlier this month.

"We're not going to give up hope," Massero said.

She said her family doesn't believe in the abduction or handoff theories because they have not seen any credible evidence.

The Eubanks, on the other hand, believe Trenton was abducted and he is alive. "I believe he's alive, and we pray for him everyday," Bill Eubanks said.

Anyone with any information about the case can call the Marion County Sheriff's Office at 732-9111 or the Leesburg Police Department at 787-2121, or go to the Team Trenton Web site, www.helpfindtrenton.com.

Austin L. Miller can be reached at austin.miller@starbanner.com and (352) 867-4118.

Florida Cops Rule Out Theories, Narrow Search for Missing Toddler Trenton Duckett


LEESBURG, Fla. —

A central Florida toddler missing for almost a year was not abducted by a stranger and was not handed off to someone else by his mother, who killed herself as authorities focused on her as a suspect in the disappearance, detectives said Tuesday.

The fate of Trenton Duckett, whose third birthday was Friday, remains unclear, Leesburg police Maj. Steve Rockefeller said. There have been no confirmed sightings of Trenton since he left his great grandparents house Aug. 26, 2006.

Click here for photos of police evidence.

His mother, 21-year-old Melinda Duckett, reported him missing a day later.

"We're still looking," Rockefeller said. "Our primary mission is to bring him home."

Click here for FOXNews.com's Crime center.

Detectives on Tuesday released photos of toys, birthday cards, photos and children's food they believe Duckett threw in the trash after reporting Trenton missing. Duckett, who killed herself Sept. 8, is the only suspect in the toddler's disappearance, Rockefeller said.

He said detectives ruled out theories that Trenton was taken by a stranger or that Duckett handed Trenton off to a friend or relative to keep him from his father, 22-year-old Joshua Duckett. The Ducketts were separated when Trenton vanished.

Melinda Duckett fatally shot herself shortly after intense questioning by CNN talk-show host Nancy Grace. Her family is suing Grace and the network, alleging the host's intense questioning caused severe emotional distress that led to the suicide on the day the taped interview aired. CNN and Grace have asked a federal judge to dismiss the lawsuit.

1 Year Later, Trenton Duckett Is Still Missing

LEESBURG, FL (AP) -- One year later, authorities are still asking: Where is Trenton Duckett? Tomorrow marks the first anniversary of the Leesburg boy's disappearance.

The toddler's disappearance gained national attention after his mother's suicide following a contentious interview with CNN Headline News host Nancy Grace.

Investigators say they haven't had a solid lead the day Melinda Duckett committed suicide.



Associated Press

AMA code of ethics on capital punishment


The American Medical Association's code of ethics says that while it is an individual decision whether to support the death penalty, doctors should not participate in executions because they are members "of a profession dedicated to preserving life when there is hope of doing so."
It defines participation as:

- Any action that would directly cause the death of the condemned.

- Assisting, supervising or contributing to the ability of another person to cause the death.

- Any action that could cause an execution to be carried out.

- Monitoring vital signs.

- Attending or observing an execution as a physician.

- Offering technical advice.

- Selecting injection sites or starting intravenous lines.

- Prescribing or preparing lethal drugs or supervising their injection.

- Consulting with or supervising the lethal injection team.

AMA members who violate the ethics code can have their membership revoked.