Accuracy in Media

The sister of a murdered Vermonter says that Howard Dean, who now claims to support the death penalty, “never gave us any support” when her family sought the death penalty for the killer and “couldn’t get us out of his office quickly enough when we tried to talk to him about it.” Barbara Tuttle’s sister, 53-year-old Teresca King, was abducted from Vermont and brutally murdered on November 27, 2000. King was one of three people killed by a drug-crazed duo. Then-Vermont Governor Dean “was of no assistance to us at all,” Tuttle says.

Tuttle’s story exposes Dean’s current pro-death penalty stance as a fraud designed to make him look tough while running for president.

The media portray Dean as a centrist or even a conservative because of his alleged support for the death penalty. But he recently reverted to old form when he said that Osama bin Laden, acknowledged architect of the terrorist mass murder of almost 3,000 people on American soil, should not be judged guilty in advance of a trial. Dean quickly reversed himself, declaring bin Laden guilty and deserving capital punishment.

Despite his alleged support for the death penalty, liberals opposed to capital punishment confirm that Dean never did anything to bring it back to the state. Leslie Williams of the ACLU of Vermont told me, “Howard Dean never tried to reinstate the death penalty while he was governor of Vermont?” Joseph Gainza, the Vermont Program Coordinator of the American Friends Service Committee, said that, “He did nothing to get it in Vermont.” Gainza said that Dean started “rethinking” his position when “he was giving serious thought to running for president.”

Gainza said that there was a triple murder in the state that caused some legislators to introduce a bill to reinstate the death penalty in Vermont. “We organized against it and Dean did nothing to support it and it died in committee, much to my relief,” he explained.

That triple murder involved Teresca King, who was kidnapped by Donald Fell and Robert Lee as she was parking her car and getting ready to go to work in Rutland, Vermont. Fell and Lee, reportedly high on crack cocaine, had already killed two other people, including Fell’s mother, in Vermont. They took King and her car, driving to New York before they mercilessly beat King to death. Fell confessed that they repeatedly kicked her in the head and then crushed her face with a rock.

Dean claims to have started changing his views on the death penalty after the 1993 murder in California of 13-year-old Polly Klaas. Asked if there was a Vermont case where the death penalty was warranted, Dean responded, “probably for the murder of Paulette Crickmore.” This 15-year-old girl was abducted and murdered in 1986 by a convicted sex offender, Edwin Towne, who shot her in the head three times.

Still, there is no record of Dean ever lifting a finger to seek the death penalty in any case. Tuttle said that her family, after writing Dean and requesting and getting a meeting, asked him to support the death penalty. She said his response was that it wouldn’t get through the legislature.

Dean’s position currently is that he supports the death penalty in limited circumstances for extreme and heinous crimes, such as the murder of a child or a police officer. That means that, in Howard Dean’s world, the killers of Teresca King do not deserve capital punishment.

Tuttle said that, fortunately, Attorney General John Ashcroft intervened in the case because the kidnapping and carjacking across state lines made it a federal crime. Ashcroft ordered the U.S. Attorney to seek the death penalty for Fell (Lee hanged himself in jail).

Even though Fell confessed, no trial in the case has yet been held because his taxpayer-funded “public defender” has challenged the use of the death penalty in the federal courts. The so-called “Donny Fell motion,” which has made him a media celebrity and poster boy for the anti-death penalty crowd, led William K. Sessions III, the Bill Clinton-appointed Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont, to rule that the federal death penalty statute doesn’t give criminal defendants enough rights to question witnesses. This ruling is now on appeal.

“The justice system is flawed,” says Tuttle. “There is no justice for the victims. The defendants are the ones who have all the rights.”

But don’t bother telling that to Howard Dean. He’s not listening.

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