Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Accused Killers’ Attorneys Object to Death Penalty Process

The Citizens' Voice is reporting that attorneys for accused killers Harlow Cuadra and Joseph Kerekes filed a brief Monday attacking the methodology used by Pennsylvania courts to determine whether a defendant is sentenced to death — a system they said violates Constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment.

“Statistical data and studies show Pennsylvania’s capital sentencing scheme creates an undue risk that innocent people will be executed and deprives innocent people of a significant opportunity to prove their innocence,” the attorneys said.

Between 1973 and 1995, 55 percent of the death sentences imposed in Pennsylvania were overturned through appeals, post-conviction relief or the granting of habeas corpus, the legal process by which a person can seek relief from unlawful detention, the attorneys said.

“The high rate of error, coupled with the prolonged delay before such errors are detected in capital sentencing creates an undue risk,” the attorneys said.

Cuadra, 27, and Kerekes, 34, both of Virginia Beach, Va., face the death penalty for the alleged killing of rival gay pornography producer Bryan Kocis in his Dallas Township home in January 2007. They are scheduled to stand trial together beginning Sept. 2.

Under state law, “a sentence of death must be imposed if the jury unanimously finds one or more aggravating circumstances which outweigh any mitigating circumstances.”

Mitigating circumstances are factors that can influence the commission of a crime, such a diminished mental or psychological capacity. Under state law, defendants must prove mitigating factors by a preponderance, or majority, of the evidence.

“The imposition of this burden of proof imposes a barrier, in a constitutionally and statutorily mandated individualized sentencing process, to the introduction of mitigating evidence, including evidence of a defendant’s character and background,” the attorneys said.

“This ‘burden of proof’ barrier actually expands rather than narrows the circumstances under which a penalty of death can be imposed by precluding individual jurors from considering and giving effect to credible, relevant mitigating evidence,” the attorneys said.