The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

State and Nation

August 3, 2013

Fort Hood and the rarity of military executions

(Continued)

The last man executed in the military system was Pvt. John Bennett, hanged in 1961 for raping an 11-year-old girl. Five men are on the military death row at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., but none are close to being executed.

An inmate was taken off death row just last year. Kenneth Parker was condemned for killing two fellow Marines in North Carolina, including Lance Cpl. Rodney Page. But Parker was given life without parole last September by an appeals court. The court found his trial judge should have not allowed him to be tried for both murders at the same time, nor should the judge have allowed testimony that the appeals court said was irrelevant to the crimes.

Parker's accomplice in the killings, Wade Walker, was also sentenced to death, only for the sentence to be overturned.

Examples abound of other death sentences set aside. They include William Kreutzer Jr., who killed one soldier and wounded 18 others in a 1995 shooting spree at Fort Bragg, N.C.; James T. Murphy, who killed his wife in Germany by smashing her head with a hammer; and Melvin Turner, who killed his 11-month-old daughter with a razor blade.

Part of the problem, experts say, is that death penalty cases are rare in military courts.

A study in the Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology identified just 41 cases between 1984 and 2005 where a defendant faced a court-martial on a capital charge. Meanwhile, more than 500 people have been executed since 1982 in the civilian system in Texas, the nation's most active death-penalty state.

While lawyers and judges in Texas may get multiple death penalty cases a year, many military judges and lawyers often are on their first, said Victor Hansen, another former prosecutor who now teaches at the New England School of Law. The military courts that are required to review each death-penalty verdict are also more cautious and likely to pinpoint possible errors that might pass muster at a civilian court, Hansen and Corn said.

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