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News Scan

Illinois Repeal of Capital Punishment:  Following up on yesterday's post, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed legislation yesterday putting an end to capital punishment in the state, making it the third state to abolish the punishment since 2007.  Quinn commuted the sentences of the state's remaining death row inmates to life in prison without parole.  The law becomes effective July 1, 2011.  State Senator William Haine, one of several Democrats to oppose repeal, said Quinn should have pushed for a statewide debate and a referendum on whether to keep capital punishment.  "This removes a remedy of the people of Illinois for great and evil acts of a unique kind: wanton cruelty, terrorism, rape and murder, the butchery of small children, mass murder," said Haine. "It removes a remedy for the community to seek the penalty of death in which someone forfeits one's life for these great wrongs committed to innocent people."  Matt Smith of CNN has this story.

Federal Prosecutors to use "Silent Witness" Procedure in Leak Trial:  Josh Gerstein of Politico reports on a courtroom tactic federal prosecutors are seeking to use to keep secret evidence from the public in the trial of a former senior National Security official, Thomas Drake, who's accused of illegally keeping classified documents at his home, lying to FBI agents investigating the case, and destroying evidence.  The "silent witness" procedure, allows courtroom to be kept open but sensitive evidence is referred to in a code only the judge, lawyers, defendant, and jury can understand.  "The evidence is presented in a public courtroom, but none of the participants are able to talk about what they're reading out loud or show the evidence, yet it's taking place in a so-called open court proceeding," said Jay Ward Brown, a media lawyer in Washington.  The last time the procedure was permitted at trial was in 2005 in the case of an Al Qaeda operative accused of plotting to kill President George W. Bush.  In this case the Judge Richard has yet to rule on allowing it.

Bill Proposed in Connecticut to Collect DNA From Felony Arrestees:
  Debra Bogstie of NBC Connecticut reports Jayann Sepich, the mother of a murdered New Mexico woman, is urging Connecticut state lawmakers to pass a bill requiring DNA to be collected from suspects arrested for serious felonies.  As of now, Connecticut requires DNA samples to be taken only from convicted felons.  Sepich's daughter Katie was 22 when she was beaten, raped, and strangled in New Mexico.  The case went unsolved for three-and-a-half years until the suspect was convicted of another crime and was forced to submit a DNA sample that ended up matching Katie's case.  Sepich says that if the sample had been collected upon arrest, the case would have been solved three months after her daughter's death and would have saved police about $200,000 in investigatory costs.  If the bill is passed, Connecticut would be the 25th state to collect DNA samples after serious felony arrests. 

Rhode Island Town Fights the Early Release of Child Killer: Abby Goodnough and Katie Zezima of The New York Times report on the possible early release of Michael Woodmansee, who was convicted of killing a 5-year-old Rhode Island boy in 1975. Woodmansee lured the boy into his home and stabbed him to death. The boy's bones were later discovered in Woodmansee's house. Woodmansee was also charged with the attempted murder of a 14-year-old paperboy. South Kingstown police chief Vincent Vespia, who has read Woodmansee's journal detailing his crimes, says that the shortening of his sentence is "mind-boggling." See prior post here. John Foreman, Jason's father, has threatened to kill Woodmansee if he is released. Locals have planned a rally at the Rhode Island Statehouse in protest to the "earned-time law."

Ohio Carries Out Nation's First Pentobarbital-Only Execution: Jim Provance of The Toledo Blade reports Johnny Roy Baston was pronounced dead at 10:30am this morning, becoming the first inmate in the U.S. to be executed solely by a dose of pentobarbital, a powerful anesthetic. See Kent's post here. Baston was convicted of murdering Chong-Hoon Mah, a former South Korean journalist who emigrated to the U.S. and owned a local shop in downtown Toledo. For 17 years Baston admitted only to the robbery of Mr. Mah and maintained that another man had killed him. But on Friday, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction said that Baston had confessed to the slaying after his legal team and family arranged for him to have a polygraph test. Governor John Kasich denied Baston's petition for clemency, after the Ohio Parole Board unanimously recommended against it.

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