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Thursday, 30 May, 2002, 09:26 GMT 10:26 UK
Supreme Court to decide fate of killers
Aileen Wuornos (pictures from AP)
Wuornos says she 'seriously hates human life'

An American female serial killer has waived her right of appeal and is now awaiting execution.

But Aileen Wuornos is one of up to 800 Death Row inmates in nine states whose fates depend on the outcome of a Supreme Court test case.

States affected
Arizona
Idaho
Montana
Colorado
Nebraska
Alabama
Delaware
Indiana
Florida

Wuornos, a prostitute, was sentenced to death for killing several middle-aged men while plying her trade along the interstate highways of central Florida in 1989 and 1990.

The Supreme Court is considering the case of Ring v Arizona, which rests on the fact that nine of the 38 states which retain the death penalty leave sentencing up to judges, rather than jurors.

In the case of Delaware, Florida, Alabama and Indiana the jurors make a recommendation to the judge.

In the other five states - Arizona, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska and Colorado - the jurors do not have any input.

Ring v Arizona was heard in the US Supreme Court in April and the judges will announce their judgement by the end of next month.

It will have a huge impact on capital cases in all nine states.

Timothy Ring
Timothy Ring was convicted of murdering a security guard during a robbery
If the court rules in favour of Timothy Ring the death sentences could be commuted to life imprisonment.

But if Ring loses then the brakes will come off and there will be a rash of executions.

Ring's lawyer, Andrew Hurwitz, said the Supreme Court was fairly conservative at the moment but he said: "This is an issue which divides. Trial by jury is something which a lot of conservatives hold dear."

Up to 800 inmates could be affected if the judges chose to make their judgement retroactive.

Mr Hurwitz said while was hopeful of winning but said: "Even if we do, it's questionable whether the court would apply it retroactively."

Linroy Bottoson
Linroy Bottoson was given a stay of execution after Ring v Arizona ruling
Abe Bonowitz, of the pressure group Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, told BBC News Online: "Nobody knows what would happen if the death sentences are quashed.

"They could just be commuted to life. It's possible that they could back up and give new sentencing hearings but that would be incredibly expensive, and would be impossible in some of the older cases."

Three Florida Death Row inmates - Amos King, Linroy Bottoson and Robert Trease - have been given a stay of execution pending the outcome of Ring v Arizona.

Wuornos waived her final appeal in April and is now waiting for Florida's Governor Jeb Bush - brother of President George W Bush - to sign her execution warrant.


It is an election year. So if Ring's case is denied and the status quo stands you can expect half a dozen executions (in Florida) in August and September, including Wuornos.

Abe Bonowitz
Anti-death penalty campaigner
Wuornos, 45, is what is known in the death penalty business as a "volunteer".

She is on Death Row in a women's prison near Fort Lauderdale.

Mr Bonowitz said his group was opposed to the execution of all those on Death Row, including "volunteers".

"If there is somebody who wants to kill themselves give them back their shoelaces but don't make me pull the switch," he said.

Mr Bonowitz said: "It is an election year. So if Ring's case is denied and the status quo stands you can expect half a dozen executions (in Florida) in August and September, including Wuornos."

Florida has only executed one woman since 1848 - Judy Buenoano, who died in the electric chair in March 1998.

Wuornos claimed at her trial she had killed all eight of her victims in self-defence after they assaulted her but later admitted she lied.

Her only motive was robbery and a loathing of men.

The victims
Dec 1989: Richard Mallory
May 1990: Unknown male
Jun 1990: David Spears
Jun 1990: Charles Carskaddon
Jun 1990: Peter Siems
Jul 1990: Troy Burress
Sep 1990: Dick Humphreys
Nov 1990: Walter Antonio
Sacking her lawyers and waiving her right to appeal, she wrote: "There are six cases which had all been unanimously decided for in death, and of which I firmly agreed in with their final decision, since I'm one who seriously hates human life and would kill again."

But the Supreme Court's ruling will have no effect on states like Texas, where executions continue apace.

On Tuesday Napoleon Beazley was executed at the state prison in Huntsville.

Beazley's case had caused uproar among human rights groups because he was only 17 when he committed the murder.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Anti-death penalty campaigner Abe Bonowitz
"Judges are more prone to sentence people to death because they are afraid to lose in the next election"
See also:

30 Mar 98 | Americas
28 Mar 02 | England
13 Mar 02 | Americas
25 Aug 01 | Americas
15 Aug 01 | Americas
Links to more Americas stories are at the foot of the page.


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