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West Virginia Capital Punishment News
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  1. #1
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    West Virginia Capital Punishment News

    Recent Eastern Panhandle vigil highlights a growing trend to reinstate the death penalty in West Virginia.

    By Misty Higgins
    The State Journal

    MARTINSBURG -- For months Elizabeth Devonshire has quietly supported her husband, Sidney, as he's undertaken a passionate effort to reinstate capital punishment in West Virginia.

    But on a recent night in a Martinsburg park, Elizabeth took a more public stance. With 6-month-old grandson Daronte White cradled in one arm, Elizabeth gently stepped to the podium, placed her free hand over her heart, looked toward the crowd of more than 100 and found her voice.

    Firm yet soft-spoken, Elizabeth shared a mother's worst pain: the brutal murder of her daughter and grandchild.

    The Devonshires organized the Oct. 17 Community Candlelight Vigil at War Memorial Park. The event included songs and prayers, as well as remarks from local religious and political leaders and from family members who have lost loved ones to violence.

    The evening's dual aim was to remember the victims and to unite the survivors on the controversial issue.

    Those who organized the vigil believe that by adding capital punishment as an option to judges and juries, criminals would be less likely to commit murders and other violent crimes. West Virginia, they say, would be safer.

    "If I can touch one person tonight, it can be a link in the chain of change," Sidney said.

    Deborah Newell clutched a picture of daughter Jessica and gave an emotional testimony about her 7-year-old's 1997 murder at the hands of her uncle, Michael Newell, who received a life sentence for the crime. Deborah and husband, David, support the return of capital punishment to the state.

    "We need it here," David said.

    Katherine Sharp was stabbed to death in June of 2009 by an ex-boyfriend with a decades-long record of violence in his hometown of Winchester, Va. Sharp's family members say the two life sentences that Donald Surber received for the crime are not enough.

    "It was a brutal, brutal murder," said Patricia Madison, Sharp's mother.

    During the vigil, three Republicans who serve in the House of Delegates from Berkeley County -- John Overington, Walter Duke and Jonathon Miller -- all voiced their support of the death penalty.

    Overington, who has worked for decades to get the issue before the House, said he is encouraged by the rising level of support he's seeing in the Panhandle.

    "Sometimes some bills take a year or three years or five or 10 years. This could take 25 or 30 years," Overington said.

    Added Overington: "Sidney provides a great testimonial on why we need capital punishment. We have not had this sort of momentum before. I'm excited."

    The Devonshires, who live near the Virginia border in Bunker Hill, said they hadn't thought a lot about capital punishment until their daughter, Angela, 22, and grandson, Andre Jr., 3, were found slain four months ago.

    Since then, they've set out on a mission to gain support for House Bill 2802.

    As a state without the option of capital punishment, West Virginia stands alone among its immediate neighbors. Hundreds of inmates are on death row in Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Ohio.

    A man Angela had been dating -- Antonio Prophet, 34, of Lorton, Va. -- has been charged with two counts of first-degree murder and is being held without bond at Eastern Regional Jail in connection with the crime. During the vigil, the elder Andre White tearfully talked about the pain of losing his older son and the mother of his children.

    "There is not a day that goes by that I don't think about Angela," he said. "Or Andre."

    Rumors abound that the murders had a possible drug connection, but the Devonshires want to protect their daughter's reputation even as their efforts on behalf of capital punishment makes their private pain very public.

    "Angela had her struggles," Elizabeth told the crowd gathered at the vigil. "But I'm very proud of my daughter. And that little boy was my joy."

    Although a reinstatement of the death penalty wouldn't apply in the legal case against the man accused of killing their daughter and grandson, the Devonshires say they will remain steadfast in their fight.

    "We have come together saying we in West Virginia are not going to let people come in and just take our loved ones," Elizabeth explained following the vigil. "I am going to stand beside my husband if it takes 10 years. They have got a fight on their hands."


  2. #2
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    Petition asks Overington to file bill to reinstate death penalty

    Father of a woman and grandfather of a baby boy who were killed in June gathered more than 1,000 names

    Sidney Devonshire, the father of a woman and grandfather of a baby boy who were killed in June, presented a petition to Del. John Overington on Saturday asking him to file a bill reinstating the death penalty.

    Overington, R-55th, a longtime proponent of capital punishment for West Virginia, has filed similar bills seeking the reinstatement every year for the last 25 years to no avail.

    "The leadership has always opposed it," he said. "They are thwarting the will of the public."

    Overington, now armed with a petition that includes more than 1,000 names, said Devonshire "is extremely motivated and is working hard generating interest in reinstating the death penalty. He has a good case for why we need it."

    Devonshire, 51, of Sidney's Way in Bunker Hill, W.Va., started the petition drive on behalf of his daughter, Angela, 22, and her son, Andre White, 3. Their bodies were found in a fire-gutted garage apartment at 69 Sidney's Way, according to court records. The woman's throat appeared to have been cut, according to court records.

    Antonio Prophet, 34, of 7627 Fairfield Woods Court in Lorton, Va., is charged with murder in their deaths, according to court records. Devonshire said Prophet and the victim "were friends. They only knew each other for a couple of weeks."

    The fire originated in the living room area of the residence. It appeared that the victims fell through the burned-out floor of the apartment, according to court records.

    Devonshire said family members and friends circulated the petition in the Eastern Panhandle.

    He gave his petition to Overington in a brief ceremony Saturday during a Christmas celebration for family and friends in the victims' honor at the Purple Iris, a restaurant and event center at 1956 Winchester Ave.

    "We are here today so we can stay close and embrace as a family," Devonshire said. "This is our 1st Christmas without Angela and Andre. We put up Christmas lights. It's sad that they weren't with us."

    "I know there are different types of crimes, but I really believe that for a harsh murder like the situation with Angela, that something should be done ... ," said Diane Manpugh, Sidney Devonshire's sister. "The family is devastated. Every time I think about it ..."

    Among those attending Saturday were David and Deborah Newell of Martinsburg. Their 7-year-old daughter, Jessica, was kidnapped from a bowling alley and killed Sept. 18, 1997. Her body was found three days later on North Mountain.

    The girl's uncle, Michael Newell, was convicted of the crime and was sentenced to life in prison.

    "Life is not good enough," she said. "I think of Jessica every day. It never goes away."

    West Virginia is one of 15 states that does not have capital punishment.

    (Source: The Herald-Mail)

  3. #3
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    Death penalty gaining support as legislative session nears

    MARTINSBURG - Even in the small communities of the Eastern Panhandle, their paths might never have crossed save for the tragic circumstances that have brought them all together.

    A politician, some random families and one man willing to take a stand have become unlikely friends and allies in a mission to bring the death penalty back to West Virginia after 45 years.

    Delegate John Overington, R-Berkeley, has been trying unsuccessfully for more than two decades to gain consideration from the House on the issue of capital punishment.

    Sidney Devonshire is a God-fearing, working man who had a plan to live out his quiet life in the dream house he was building for his family and grandchildren.

    That all changed when Devonshire woke in the early morning hours of June 6 to an inferno blazing at the garage apartment on his Bunker Hill property. His daughter Angela, 22, and grandson, Andre White, 3, were later found dead.

    Antonio Prophet, 34, is being held without bond at Eastern Regional Jail, having been charged with two counts of first-degree murder.

    Joining forces with Overington and other families who have lost loved ones to heinous crimes in the Eastern Panhandle, Devonshire is petitioning voters and putting pressure on lawmakers to consider House Bill 2802, outlining the death penalty as an option for certain heinous murders. Capital punishment was abolished in 1965 in the state. In recent months, the group has drawn attention from the media and is looking toward gaining support statewide after collecting more than 1,000 signatures locally on a petition in support of the death penalty.

    As the next legislative session nears, Devonshire and the other families are drawing a collective breath.

    Overington said he is "cautiously hopeful" he may at least win a public hearing following a conversation Monday with House Judiciary Chair Tim Miley, D-Harrison, who Overington described as sympathetic when discussing the issue.

    Overington said he is merely representing the views of his constituents. He said a yearly poll of his district indicates 80 to 95 percent of voters are in favor of capital punishment. He said it is his duty as a public servant to continue to pursue the issue year after year.

    Overington's official stationary is embellished with a quote stating that government's most basic task is to protect its citizens from violence. He believes that to be true. And while some of the victims' names have long been out of news headlines, violence has no doubt taken a toll on Eastern Panhandle families.

    Little Jessica Newell was a perfect angel, her mother said, recalling how the 7-year-old had noticed that one of her schoolmates could use some clothes and arranged for her mother to give clothes to the girl.

    Several days later the child told Deborah Newell that she had seen the girl in one of her dresses. "She said, 'I didn't even say anything,' realizing she might embarrass the girl. 'I just told her that she looked pretty,'" Deborah Newell said during a recent interview, expressing the thoughtful and insightful nature of the child. "She had the biggest heart."

    Jessica Newell was brutally murdered and left on a mountainside Sept. 18, 1997, by her uncle, Michael Newell, who received a life sentence for the crime.

    Miana Stewart's favorite color was purple. The 14-year-old was an honor student at Musselman High School with lots of friends. She loved to ride her horse. She played the violin and clarinet. She was active in her church, and one of her most prized possessions was a cross she wore around her neck, said her mother, Mary Stewart.

    Miana Stewart died as a result of injuries from being beaten and strangled during an Oct. 10, 2005, home-invasion robbery. Mary Stewart, beaten and strangled herself, managed to escape and call for help, but it was too late. The last memories she has with her daughter are those of being tied up and bleeding from her head after having been beaten with a bat and dragged down the stairs. As her daughter lay bound nearby, she watched as Miana was strangled with a rope, and she listened as her only child struggled to take her last breaths.

    Roger Dwayne Smith was sentenced to life in prison for the crime.

    Paula Rolls, 42, of Jefferson County, worked with Katherine Sharp at a local dentist's office. She said Sharp, 35, had worked there since age 17. According to Rolls, Sharp had never met anyone who didn't immediately love her.

    "She had the brightest smile. She made such an impact on everyone," Rolls said in an interview earlier this year.

    Donald Surber, 38, of Winchester, Va., killed Sharp the evening of June 14, 2009, at her home off W.Va. 9 west of Martinsburg, police said. A standoff with police, which spanned more than 24 hours, ended the afternoon of June 15.

    The West Virginia Office of the Chief Medical Examiner determined Sharp's cause of death to be multiple stab wounds. Surber, who was Sharp's boyfriend, reportedly mutilated her body.

    While asking the court to order Surber to serve the maximum sentence, Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely said the medical examiner told her that the homicide case was "one of the most horrific, violent crimes" the death investigator had ever handled.

    Games-Neely said the circumstances of Sharp's death were particularly troubling because Surber, while holding her hostage, subjected friends and family to phone calls in which they heard Sharp suffering and begging for her life. Surber received two life sentences for the crime.

    "I've never really thought about capital punishment. It was never on my mind," Rolls said. "But people are dying. I don't remember growing up and hearing about people dying this way. There is something wrong with our society that (Surber) is eating and breathing and we are paying for it. This was so brutal. He should have been put to death - and that was a view that was shared by many."

    Nellie West, 59, of Bunker Hill, didn't think there was anything she could do following the death of her brother, Ray Marple, 20, back in 1973. She attended a meeting that included Devonshire, Overington, Delegate Walter Duke, R-Berkeley, and some others Dec. 11 at The Purple Iris in Martinsburg, where Overington was presented with the petition signatures supporting the death penalty and the group discussed the next strategy to raise awareness.

    "When I saw what Sidney was doing, I knew I had to do something," she said.

    Mary Stewart was there too. "Besides missing her every day, I also miss what I will never get to have. I will never get to see her go on a date or get married. I will never get to have a grandchild. That day changed my life so drastically. Why don't the politicians understand that this should be prevented from someone else going through? Don't let murderers out of jail early and support capital punishment," Stewart said. "Aren't the people and children of West Virginia worth it?"

    Deborah Newell says there is too much killing going on. "I will move forward with this as long as it takes," she said. "By Sidney doing this, it's given me leverage to speak up."

    Then there's more. There were those who didn't speak up at the Purple Iris. There were those who didn't speak up at the candlelight vigil held in October. There were those who have yet to speak with reporters. But they have shown up. Their eyes and grief-stricken faces give them away. They are one of "them," those who have suffered loss at the hands of another. And they too are demanding change. Even their silence is being heard loud and clear.

    As Jan. 12, 2011, approaches and the 60-day legislative session begins, Overington reflected on the 20-plus years he has been working for capital punishment. Thirty-five states have the death penalty. All of West Virginia's bordering states have the death penalty. Overington has modified his bill over the years and, with medical advances in DNA along with the aggravating and mitigating circumstances outlined in the bill, argues that it would be impossible that an innocent person would be sentenced to death.

    While Overington has the support of some Eastern Panhandle politicians and co-sponsor Larry Barker, R- Boone, he is quick to note that statewide support is lagging.

    There are some things yet uncertain going into the legislative session with some positions likely to change as Earl Ray Tomblin takes over as acting governor. And Overington will be focusing on other issues like jobs and taxes - the usual areas of concern for those he represents. But there will no doubt be a watchful eye over events of the next month for those seeking answers to question of the return of the death penalty to the state.

    Will capital punishment be reinstated in this West Virginia? Will this finally be the year Overington's persistence on the issue pays off? And in terms of Sidney Devonshire, can one man really make a difference?

    These are some of the questions on the minds of the families involved. Overington said he already knows the answer to one of them.

    "Sidney Devonshire is key. I think we have more momentum than we have ever had," he said. "One man can make a difference."


  4. #4
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    W.Va. House of Delegates Committee to Host Hearing on Capital Punishment

    The hearing is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Feb. 15 in the House chambers.

    The State Journal

    BUNKER HILL – Sidney Devonshire’s worst nightmare became reality on the morning of June 6, 2010, when his daughter, Angela, and grandson, Andre, were found murdered in the charred remains of a garage apartment on his property.

    Antonio Prophet, a northern Virginia resident who had been dating Angela, is being held without bond in Martinsburg’s Eastern Regional Jail, charged with two counts of first-degree murder in connection with the crime.

    In the midst of grieving those deaths, Devonshire banded together with other area families of murder victims and Delegate John Overington, R- Berkeley, on a crusade to bring the death penalty back to West Virginia.

    That work is starting to gain traction. According to Overington, House Judiciary Chairman Tim Miley, D-Harrison, has scheduled a public hearing on capital punishment for 2:30 p.m. Feb. 15 in the House chamber.

    Overington said the hearing marks the first time in about 15 years state lawmakers have hosted a hearing about the issue.

    A long-time advocate for the death penalty, Overington has had little individual success in the past two decades of getting fellow lawmakers to support a capital punishment bill. And family members of murder victims said they thought there was nothing they could do to change state law.

    Even Devonshire said he didn’t know if he could make a difference, but he was willing to try. Now he finds himself the centerpiece to what is a controversial issue gaining some momentum from the Eastern Panhandle to Charleston.

    This year, Overington introduced House Bill 2526 outlining capital punishment as an option for certain heinous crimes. He said the bill specifies aggravating and mitigating circumstances that would make it impossible for an innocent person to be sentenced to death. The bill has 11 sponsors, a fact Overington said indicates more people are interested in the state re-examining its position on capital punishment, which was abolished here in 1965.

    Overington said hearings usually are scheduled only for issues relating to bills already on a committee agenda. Overington’s bill currently is sitting in the judiciary committee, and he said he isn’t sure whether it will get on the committee’s agenda this session.

    But he said he is pleased legislators think the issue is relevant and deserving of a hearing.

    “If they are going to give our side a chance to be heard, it shows they are trying to accommodate the people who have shown they support this. It looks like that’s what they are trying to do with this. After that, I’m not overly confident that the committee chair will put the bill on the agenda,” Overington said.

    Devonshire, who has already collected more than 1,000 signatures on a petition supporting the death penalty, plans to testify at the hearing along with 15 to 20 other residents from the Eastern Panhandle who have lost loved ones to violence. Devonshire said he was both pleased and surprised the request was granted.

    He said he hopes the hearing will draw attention to the issue.

    “We know that bill is probably not going to go anywhere this year. But with more statewide support we think we can take it somewhere. It’s one step for us. It’s a small step but we’ll take that,” Devonshire said.

    Overington echoed the same hopes for public awareness.

    “Hopefully, we will be able to get the message out that people are interested and that they need to contact their legislators to make sure their interest gets known,” Overington said.

    He and Devonshire know they have a long road ahead.

    “We are just going to work harder,” Devonshire said of his plans following the current legislative session. “It’s taken John Overington 20 years to get somewhere with this. I think I have 20 years in me.”


  5. #5
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    Death Penalty Could Make a Comeback

    It has been 46 years since the Mountain State abolished the death penalty, but here in 2011 it could make a comeback.

    The House of Delegates will hold a public hearing Tuesday, February 15 that would restore capital punishment for first degree murder. The bill would require lethal injection in cases involving at least one of thirteen possible aggravating circumstances.

    These include killings during a felony, when the defendant is an inmate or drug offender, and when the victim is a hostage or is killed in the line of duty.

    A defendant's age, criminal history, and mental capacity would be among eight mitigating factors.


  6. #6
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    Officials Contemplate West Virginia Death Penalty

    West Virginia hasn't had the death penalty since 1965 and local law enforcement officials have mixed opinions on whether the state should bring it back.

    An effort to reintroduce the death penalty failed last year in the state legislature.

    Marion County Prosecuting Attorney Pat Wilson said he can see valid arguments to each side of the issue.

    "Certainly, there are horribly, heinous crimes that very well might warrant that severe of a penalty," Wilson said.

    But, on the flip side, Wilson said many studies have shown that the death penalty is not effective in deterring murder. Plus, there's the added cost of the appeals involved.

    Monongalia County Prosecuting Attorney Marcia Ashdown said she personally would not favor the reintroduction of the death penalty in West Virginia.

    "It adds very big stakes to any prosecuting and a great deal of complexity," Ashdown said.

    Appeals in death penalty cases go on for years and years, she added. If studies don't show the death penalty to be a deterrent to murder, Ashdown said she's not sure the entire process would be worth all of the effort, since West Virginia law allows juries the option of sentencing someone convicted of first-degree murder to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

    Star City Police Chief Vic Propst, however, thinks the death penalty would be a deterrent.

    "I've always felt I could support it," he said.

    An uninformed opponent is a dangerous opponent.

    "Y'all be makin shit up" ~ Markeith Loyd

  7. #7
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    Delegate fighting to reinstate death penalty

    With neighboring Maryland about to become the sixth state in as many years to abolish the death penalty, one West Virginia delegate is on a quixotic quest to resume executions in his state for the first time in a half-century.

    This year marks the 27th in a row that Republican Del. John Overington has introduced a bill to reinstate capital punishment. It has rarely progressed far and is unlikely to pass this year, even with the minority GOP steadily making gains in the legislature. Still, Overington said he will continue pushing such bills because he thinks the state would be better served if it could execute convicted murderers.

    "You want to live in a just society that is fair, and capital punishment, if somebody is murdered, I think there's a perception that you have fairness if that person is put to death," Overington said. "It sort of adds to the fairness of our society and helps make it work. If you feel that our justice system is fair, it helps you believe in it."

    Since 2007, New Jersey, New York, New Mexico, Illinois and Connecticut have abolished the death penalty. In Maryland, the legislature has passed a bill repealing the death penalty, and the governor has promised to sign it. There are official moratoriums on the death penalty in California and Oregon, and there are legislative efforts to repeal the death penalty in at least 14 other states.

    West Virginia abolished the death penalty in 1965 and has not executed a prisoner since 1959.

    Overington isn't worried about bucking that trend because he says the public supports capital punishment. He proudly points to faded newspaper clippings in his office with poll results showing majorities of West Virginians favoring capital punishment. And every year, Overington sends everyone in his district a "citizens' poll" soliciting their opinions on current issues - he said capital punishment always gets overwhelming support.

    He said his interest in bringing back the death penalty goes back to the case of Ron Williams, who killed a police officer in Beckley in 1975. Four years later, he orchestrated a mass escape from the prison in Moundsville and killed an off-duty police officer. He killed another person in Arizona in 1981 before being caught in a gunfight with federal agents in 1984.

    "So if we had had capital punishment for that first killing in cold blood in Beckley, we'd have another policeman that would be alive today," Overington said.

    Other than Maryland, all of West Virginia's neighbors still have the death penalty - and Overington said he fears that West Virginia invites killers by not having capital punishment as a deterrent. However, West Virginia's homicide rate for the past 10 years is lower than that of all neighboring states, according to FBI data.

    There have been many studies both touting and discounting the death penalty's role as a deterrent. In 2012, a National Research Council report concluded that none of those studies - either for or against capital punishment - was statistically sound enough to be useful.

    "That was a pretty definitive review of these studies," said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, an anti-death penalty advocacy group. "Ultimately it may be impossible to know if deterrence occurs, but we haven't proven it."

    Overington, with 29 years in the House, is the longest-serving member of the chamber. And Republicans have made steady gains in the House, now just five seats shy of a majority. Nonetheless, his measure stands little chance of passing.

    Republican Del. Ron Walters said his party would be misguided to risk their electoral gains by pushing controversial social issues like the death penalty. And the bill has been assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee, where Chairman Tim Miley said it is unlikely to proceed.

    The bill has one Democratic co-sponsor, Del. Rupert Philips, who said that people he's talked to while campaigning seem to support it.

    "When's enough enough? We're wasting tax dollars trying to prosecute them," Philips said. "An eye for an eye."

    However, most studies show that death penalty prosecutions are far more expensive than sentencing someone to life in prison. That's because states often spend years fighting inmates' appeals, sometimes all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

    Miley also said many people are hesitant to reinstate the death penalty to avoid executing someone who was falsely convicted, citing the example of a West Virginia state police crime lab technician who was found to have falsified evidence in at least 134 cases that led to convictions.

    Since 2009, 14 prisoners nationally who spent time on death row have been exonerated, many of them as a result of DNA testing. The first man ever exonerated from death row by DNA evidence, Kirk Bloodsworth, has become both a rallying call and a key lobbyist in the effort to repeal Maryland's death penalty.

    Still, Overington said he's determined to make attempt No. 28 next year if his bill fails yet again.

    "Some bills I've pushed I get passed the first year and some the second or third year and some take a little longer," Overington said. "But it is my intention to try again next year."

    An uninformed opponent is a dangerous opponent.

    "Y'all be makin shit up" ~ Markeith Loyd

  8. #8
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    Co-sponsors of death penalty bill hope to take burden off state

    Felons convicted of first-degree murder could face the death penalty in West Virginia if the Legislature approves a bill calling for its implementation.

    Delegate John Overington, R-Berkeley, has introduced House Bill 2595, a piece of legislation that would make the death penalty a sentencing option for people convicted of first-degree murder. The bill’s co-sponsors include Delegate Joe Ellington, R-Mercer; Delegate John Shott, R-Mercer; and Delegate Marty Gearheart, R-Mercer.

    “I have been a supporter of that, a co-sponsor, if you will,” Gearheart said Monday. “Delegate Overington has supported this every year he has been in the Legislature. It appears to me an appropriate deterrent to the most heinous crimes, where there is no possibility of reforming a person back into society.”

    The death penalty would be for the worst cases, he said.

    “We’re talking about the most heinous individuals who are going to be a burden to the state of West Virginia for many, many years to come with their incarceration and the cost associated with it,” Gearheart said.

    The bill would amend the state’s constitution, said Ellington, who added he has co-sponsored the bill for several years.

    “It would be in cases where it was clear cut first-degree murder, no doubt,” Ellington said.

    Like Gearheart, Ellington said the penalty would be available for extreme cases.

    “Some people feel we should have that as a possibility,” he said.” Not that we want to terminate people, but there are probably some bad characters out there we don’t want to let back into society. It gives us an extra tool, rather than settling on life in prison at taxpayer expense; especially since we have overcrowded jails.”

    An uninformed opponent is a dangerous opponent.

    "Y'all be makin shit up" ~ Markeith Loyd

  9. #9
    I live in West by God Virginia. This bill has a real chance of passage. This is a 6 year itch midterm election year with a left of center democrat in the whitehouse. WV Dems are to the right and have been tacking further that way for a while now. They have only slim majorities in both houses of the legislature and stand a real chance of losing both. I think the GOP will find just enough support from democrats for passage.

  10. #10
    Administrator Moh's Avatar
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    Oct 2010
    With GOP in power, will W.Va. restore death penalty?

    MARTINSBURG – In Delegate John Overington’s 30 years in the Legislature, he’s always fought to restore the death penalty. Now that his fellow Republicans are in power, he’s hoping this is the year he sees success.

    “The Democrats have not been supportive,” explained Overington, who has represented Berkeley County since 1985. “They knew there was public support, but didn’t want their members on the record. There were public hearings, but that was it.”

    West Virginia abolished the death penalty in 1965.

    After so many heinous crimes over the years in West Virginia and nationwide, the death penalty ought to be on the table in the Mountain State, Overington said.

    Overington can point to many examples of defendants he believes deserved the death penalty. There’s the Eastern Panhandle case of Antonio Prophet, the Lorton, Va., man convicted in 2012 of killing 22-year-old Angela Devonshire and her 3-year-old son Andre White by setting their Bunker Hill home on fire in 2010.

    He points to repeat offender Ronald Turney Williams. “He murdered a Beckley police officer in 1975, escaped from prison, murdered a West Virginia state trooper, [then] murdered a man in Arizona who caught Williams burglarizing a home,” Overington said. “If we had the death penalty, two people would still be alive.

    “When you have a repeat offender, that’s a compelling reason for the death penalty on a number of levels. It’s not revenge. It’s a sense of justice.”

    Overington’s latest death penalty bill calls for the punishment under certain conditions, including when a murder is especially “atrocious or cruel”; when it occurs while the defendant is incarcerated or is an escaped convict; when the victim is a firefighter, peace officer, correctional officer, parole officer, judicial officer or anyone killed in the performance of his or her duty; or when the defendant has a significant history of felony convictions involving violence or the threat of violence.

    “The death penalty would take place when there is no question of guilt,” Overington said.

    Some opponents of the death penalty point out there’s no cost-savings to executing convicts because the appeals process typically lasts for years and costs more than what’s spent on decades of incarceration. Overington believes the appeals process needn’t drag on.

    “I would like to see the appeal process in death penalty cases shortened by making sure the defense is well-organized and funded so that there is only one appeal instead of years of appeals, which is tremendously expensive,” he said.

    For Overington, the needs of survivors and victims’ families looms large.

    He cites mass murderer Richard Speck who tortured, raped and murdered eight student nurses from South Chicago Community Hospital in 1966. Speck was sentenced to death, but the sentence was overturned due to issues with jury selection and he died in prison in 1991.

    “One nurse survived the attack by hiding under a bed,” Overington said. “She lived her life in a self-imposed witness protection program. She was terrified while Speck was alive.

    “The death penalty gives closure.”

    Overington said he also believes in representing the people who sent him to Charleston.

    “I’m marveled at candidates who are elected and don’t do what the public wants them to do,” Overington said. “I have a citizens poll each year and the response has been overwhelmingly in favor of the death penalty.”


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