Governor of the State of Montana
Office of the Governor
Montana State Capitol Building
P.O. Box 200801
Helena, MT 59620-0801
Re: Ronald Smith
Dear Governor Schweitzer:
We write to urge you to commute the sentence of Ronald Smith.
The cornerstone of human rights is respect for the inherent dignity of all
human beings and the inviolability of the human person. Human Rights Watch
opposes capital punishment in all countries and in all circumstances because
the inherent dignity of the person is inconsistent with the death penalty.
Those responsible for serious crimes should be fairly and appropriately brought
to justice, and the victims of crimes and their families should have access to
the mechanisms of justice and redress. But it is increasingly recognized around
the world that the death penalty is a fundamental assault on the right to life
found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international human
The death penalty is unique in its cruelty and finality, and it is inevitably
and universally plagued with arbitrariness, prejudice, and error. Innocent
people have been sentenced to death in the United States. The inherent
fallibility of all criminal justice systems assures that even when full due
process of law is respected, innocent people are likely to be executed. Because
an execution is irreversible, such miscarriages of justice can never be
Race, poverty, and geography are inexorably intertwined with the death penalty.
Defendants whose victims were white are more likely to be sentenced to death
than those whose victims were members of a minority group. Poor defendants are
generally represented by government-appointed counsel, who are often overworked
and underpaid for the weighty responsibility of defending a person faced with
the possibility of execution. Prosecutors in certain counties are more likely
to seek the death penalty than those elsewhere in the same state. The accident
of geography, and no other aspect of a particular crime, can mean the
difference between life and death for the defendant.
The United States stands increasingly alone among democratic countries in its
continued use of the death penalty. By retaining capital punishment in a world
that has largely turned its back on this barbaric practice, the US damages its
reputation, causes friction with its closest neighbors and allies, and
undermines its efforts to promote human rights at home and abroad.
For these reasons, we strongly urge you to commute the sentence of Ronald
Director, US Program
Human Rights Watch
(source: Human Rights Watch)
DA: Death penalty out in all but 1 of 4 torture slaying suspects
Death is no longer a possible fate for 3 of 4 defendants in the January 20007
torture slayings of a Knox County couple.
Assistant District Attorney General Leland Price has filed notice of an
intention to seek the death penalty as punishment in the deaths of Channon
Christian, 21, and boyfriend Christopher Newsom, 23, only against alleged
ringleader Lemaricus Davidson.
Price this month notified attorneys for Davidson's brother, Letalvis Cobbins,
and Cobbins' friend, George Thomas, that he will push for a fate in their cases
no more than life without possibility of parole. Because Cobbins' girlfriend,
Vanessa Coleman, was acquitted of a direct role in the deaths, Price hasn't
filed a notice of punishment sought in her case.
The move comes after a special judge ordered up new trials for all 4 defendants
in the wake of a prescription pill abuse scandal involving the judge who once
presided over the case. The pleadings filed by Price seem to settle the
question of whether retrials might serve up a 2nd shot at death as punishment
for all 4 defendants.
Jurors chosen from 2 different counties rejected death as punishment in the
cases of Cobbins and Thomas at their trials, presided over by Knox County
Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner in 2009. A jury for 4th defendant
Coleman also was chosen from outside Knox County and acquitted Coleman of any
direct role in the slayings of Christian and Newsom.
Davidson, on the other hand, inexplicably sought a jury from Knox County, where
upset over the killings ran high. He was sentenced to death.
Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner, who presided over all 4 trials,
admitted last year that he, too, was a criminal addicted to prescription
painkillers. As a result of the myriad crimes a Tennessee Bureau of
Investigation Probe showed Baumgartner had committed while on the bench,
Special Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood late last year ordered up new trials for
Davidson and his alleged crew.
Under Tennessee law, only a jury can impose death or life without parole as
punishment. In cases where either penalty is sought, a prosecutor must convince
the panel that certain "aggravating factors" listed in state law outweigh any
"mitigating factors" also cited in state law before determining death as
Price's filings solidify what most courtroom watchers had opined — the
so-called double jeopardy provisions of the U.S. Constitution that prohibit a
retrial of a defendant declared innocent also apply when a jury rejects death
The state Attorney General's Office is asking the state Court of Criminal
Appeals to put on hold Blackwood's retrial rulings pending appeal. The
appellate court has not yet issued an opinion on the issue.
(source: Knoxville News Sentinel)