Friday, December 31, 2004

Here's a quote from a CSI episode I watched tonight. It's not about capital punishment, but its an interesting quote nevertheless.

"Treating another human being like garbage is not a job; its a choice."

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

David Elliot has a link to a great flash video (see the NCADP Blog). I encourage you all to check it out. The video is quite poignant.

What would your last request be?

The Last Request

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Michael Ross

As many of you know, Connecticut has scheduled its first execution since the reinstatement of the death penalty. Michael Ross waived all of his remaining appeals and has requested a death warrant. He is currently scheduled for execution on January 26th.

There has long been speculation that Michael Ross is not mentally competent to waive his appeals and seek death. Dan Ross, Michael's father, is now asking a Connecticut court to appoint him as "next friend" for his son so that Dan Ross may go forward with Michael's appeals and attempt to save his son's life. New London Superior Court is holding a competency hearing today to determine Michael's competency to waive his appeals and proceed to execution. If he is allowed to proceed, Dan Ross is seeking a writ of habeas corpus which claims that Michael's "waiver of the right to seek the writ is not knowing, intelligent and voluntary but is, instead, a product of his desire to commit judicial, state-assisted suicide, which is either a product of or a symptom of his unsound mental state."

Michael Ross' execution has sparked a great deal of controversy. Ross is a convicted serial killer, and many in Connecticut cannot wait to see him die. That said, many in Connecticut are extremely wary of resuming executions in the state. In my opinion, resuming executions for an arguably mentally ill volunteer is an especially wary position. This will set a difficult precedent in Connecticut. It tells the public that the State will only value a life until the individual no longer values his or her own (this is of course setting aside the argument some make that there is no value in the life of a capital all know I disagree). Allowing a death row volunteer to commit state sponsored suicide opens the door for others to choose death over life. We put death row inmates on suicide watch to prevent them from taking their own lives; yet, most states are more than happy to inject them full of poison in front of an audience if the inmate so requests. What, per se, is the difference? I think the answer is obvious, those seeking an execution (volunteer or not) have an insatiable need for public display of the murder. There is this odd fascination with the death of condemned killers. Crowds once gathered to view hangings and burnings in town squares. We would be appalled at such a display today. Again, what is the difference in putting Michael Ross on display? Is it somehow cleaner and less controversial because he is behind a piece of glass strapped to a table and no one can see his body writhing from the chemicals? I suppose for some it is. For me, I see no difference.

Ross' Father Seeks Stay of Execution

Donald Beardslee

California has set the date of execution for Donald Beardslee for January 19th. If it goes forward, it will be the first execution in California in over two years. There is a decent chance at a stay, depending on the results of two court cases, one before the Ninth Circuit and one before a US District Court. The case before the Ninth Circuit asks the court for a new trial because the state Supreme Court dismissed three of four death penalty special circumstances in Beardslee's case in 1991. The case in US District Court claims that lethal injection is inhumane. The most likely scenario for a stay for Beardslee would be because the courts need more time to make their decisions. For continuing information on Donald Beardslee, see the Campaign to End the Death Penalty.

Donald Beardslee: Preparing for death

Monday, December 27, 2004

Troy Kunkle

I've noticed that many of my visitors are looking for information on Troy Kunkle. As an update, Troy Kunkle's execution has been rescheduled for January 19, 2005. I'm sure I'll have more commentary coming up in the next couple of weeks so stay tuned.

Upcoming Executions

Friday, December 24, 2004

Sister Helen Prejean: "Death in Texas"

Attached is a link to an amazing essay written by Sister Helen Prejean about the application of the death penalty in Texas during the reign of then Governor George Bush (known by some abolitionists as the "Texecutioner" because he authorized the execution of 152 individuals during his six years and only granted clemency someone who was innocent of the crime for which he had received his death sentence). Sister Helen takes a heart wrenching look at Bush's approach to clemency and the role his counsel, Alberto Gonzales (now nominated for US Attorney General), played in those clemency decisions. In particular, Sister Helen writes a poignant description of Bush's role in the execution of Karla Faye Tucker. Please do read it, its worth the time.

The New York Review of Books: Death in Texas

As a side note, this essay is adapted from Sister Helen Prejean's upcoming book The Death of Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions, which will be published in January 2005. After reading this essay I am looking forward to reading Sister Helen's book even more than before. In case you are interested, you can preorder the book through at least one of the Internet book sellers.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner! The State of Texas has once again come in as the US leader in executions. In 2004, the state sucessfully killed 23 men. This number is down from the previous year but on track for its decade average.

Wait, how could I forget its not a competition? For a moment there I thought it was.

Texas still No. 1 in executions

Kansas Update

Well, apparently, the Kansas Supreme Court has put its ruling regarding the state's death penalty on hold so that the Kansas Attorney General can pursue an appeal to the United States Supreme Court. It is doubtful that the US Supreme Court will accept this case, but stranger things have happened. It does appear, however, that the Kansas legislature would like to fix the flaws in the law. Of course, I would rather see them decide to keep the death penalty out of Kansas, but I guess sometimes I need to be realistic. At least the legislature recognizes the problem and wants to fix it. For now at least that means no one in Kansas is likely to be executed.

Kansas high court issues death penalty stay

Friday, December 17, 2004

Kansas Christmas Surprise

Well now, color me green and call me a Christmas tree, another state has thrown out its death penalty. The Kansas Supreme Court ruled on Friday that the state's death penalty law is unconstitutional. In a 4-3 decision, the court found that a provision of the law, which provides how jurors should weigh death penalty arguments, violates the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution. The 1994 law states that when a jury finds the arguments for and against a death sentence equal, the jury's decision should favor a finding of death. This provision unfairly (and unconstitutionally) favors the prosecution.

Six different inmates are affected by the Court's ruling. All six will be resentenced immediately without the option of death. The Kansas Court has now left it up to the state legislature to rewrite a constitutional law. Until then, Kansas will be free of new death sentences.

Kansas death penalty ruled unconstitutional (CNN)

Kansas death penalty declared unconstitutional (NY Times)
Here is a great letter to the editor by Robert Nave, executive director of the Connecticut Network to Abolish the Death Penalty. Nave really hits the nail on the head in expressing how I feel about abolition and the death penalty.

You all know that I do not believe any human being should be murdered by the government (or by ANYONE). I do not think we have the right to make that choice, no matter how hideous the underlying crime (and some of the underlying crimes are admittedly so horrid I want to be sick to my stomach). However, this opinion has developed over years of thinking about this issue and is based on all of the things Nave discusses in his very brief but poignant letter. My opinions on the death penalty did not start with "no human being should be murdered," they started with "the death penalty is not a deterrent, that it is racially and economically biased, that it has killed and will continue to kill innocent people and that it is cost ineffective."

Abolition is not about saving the lives of murderers (though it may seem that way from my blog from time to time since I try to put a real life human face on the government's murders), it is about respecting life and living in a society where violence and vengeance are not sanctioned. It is about recognizing that the system is BEYOND flawed. I read somewhere (apologies to the author) that the application of the death penalty is best analogized to a lottery. To me, that's one of the main problems with it. Who decides who lives and who dies? If you believe someone should get death, are you willing to start the injection? Some supporters are...most are not.

Death-penalty Foes Are Victim Advocates

Jeffrey Lee Weaver

Jeffrey Weaver is a no longer a resident of Florida's death row. The Florida Supreme Court has overturned his death sentence and given Weaver a sentence of life without parole. Weaver spent five years on Florida's death row after a judge overrode the jury's recommendation of life in favor of a death sentence. The Florida Supreme Court found the judge's actions improper and ordered Weaver's sentence changed to life. The Court declined to grant Weaver a new trial, finding that his jury had heard enough evidence to support the conviction. Weaver's attorneys continue to believe he deserves a new trial, but are obviously pleased with the Supreme Court's decision to remove Weaver from his death sentence.

Supreme Court overturns death sentence
I have been falling down in my bloggerly duties, but check out David Elliot's NCADP blog. He's been posting like crazy and has some great information on the recent developments on the death penalty in New York. Besides, the NCADP and David Elliot are simply awesome.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

With thanks to the anonymous UM YAH YAH commentator, I thought y'all might be interested in this Sentencing Law Blog run by Douglas A. Berman, Professor of Law at Moritz College of Law at The Ohio State University. The blog contains postings on all different aspects of sentencing and criminal law and includes some postings on recent developments in the study and application of the death penalty.

Sentencing Law and Policy

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Not to break my anonymity, but I noticed today that I've recently had a couple of visitors from my alma mater, a school up here in the frozen tundra. So...thanks for visiting and...UM YAH YAH!

Monday, December 13, 2004

Scott Lee Peterson

Well...I have to eat my words. I was so certain that the Peterson jury would give him life without parole. I was convinced that his middle-class white male status would spare him from a death sentence. I was wrong. California is very unlikely to kill him, but that is not entirely the point.

It is not my practice to post when a defendant is first given his or her sentence. I'm especially loathe to care much about the high profile cases. However, this case has brought a lot of attention and that attention can be used to bring focus to the death penalty and its effect on society. So...I post to note that I'll eat my words. The Peterson jury surprised me.

Joe Elton Nixon

The United States Supreme Court ruled 8-0 today to reverse the Florida Supreme Court's decision to grant Joe Nixon a new trial. The Florida Supreme Court had found that Nixon was denied a zealous defense when his counsel conceded his guilt in an effort to persuade the jury not to give Nixon the death penalty. The Florida court found this tactic denied Nixon of his Sixth Amendment rights to a vigorous defense. The US Supreme Court disagreed. In an opinion written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (arguably the most "liberal" of the Justices on death penalty issues), the Court stated it could not second-guess the attorney's trial strategy. They found the strategy reasonable and noted that Nixon had many opportunities to object.

No new trial for death row inmate, even though lawyer goofed, court rules

Thursday, December 09, 2004

For those of you interested in the valiant work of Amnesty International, I have posted a link to an advisory opinion it provided to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in response to its request for an opinion on legislative or other measures denying judicial or other effective recourse to challenge the death penalty. Most of my writing is about the domestic application of the death penalty, but this report has some very good observations from Amnesty International on the death penalty internationally.

Death Penalty: Protecting the right to life.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

George Emil Banks

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania was scheduled to kill George Banks tonight. However, the state Supreme Court has stopped the execution and ordered the county court to hold a mental competency hearing. The Court has ordered the mental competency hearing to assure that Banks understands the execution and the proceedings. To date, Banks has stated that he does not think he will be executed and that this is just a test of his faith in Jesus. At the time of the murders, he fought with his lawyers when they attempted to argue an insanity defense at trial and he claimed that though he had killed some of the victims, police had killed others and also mutilated the bodies to make the crime seem worse. Since his conviction, Banks has attempted suicide at least four times and has staged hunger strikes which ended in him being force fed.

Court halts Banks' execution

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Frances Newton - STAY GRANTED

Texas Governor Rick Perry surprised the abolitionist community today and agreed with the recommendation of the Texas Board of Paroles and Pardons. Frances Newton will not be executed for at least another 120 days. Perry granted the stay to allow investigation into certain conflicting evidence in Newton's case (including alleged gunpowder on her clothing and concerns with ballistics). This makes today a very good day. No Texas smack down necessary...yet.

Governor puts woman's execution on hold

Frances Newton - 5th Circuit

The United States Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit declined to halt Newton's pending execution. The case will now be turned over to the United States Supreme Court for an emergency stay. Governor Perry will not likely make any decisions until after hearing from the Supreme Court. I will not be able to update throughout the day. For more information, see the NCADP blog.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Frances Newton - Update

The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles has recommended a 120 day stay of execution for Frances Newton. The Board's recommendation now goes to Texas Governor Rick Perry. Perry can either grant the stay or deny it. If he denies it, the execution will go forward as scheduled (unless a court intervenes). Newton has been moved to the Huntsville facility in preparation for the scheduled execution pending word from the governor.

Monday, November 29, 2004

T.C. Bowling

The mother of Kentucky death row inmate Thomas Clyde Bowling had an impromptu meeting with Kentucky Governor Ernie Fletcher. Ida Bowling was attending an anti-death penalty rally at the Capitol. During her meeting with Gov. Fletcher, she told him her son is innocent and asked him to weigh the decision of his death very carefully.

Bowling has an execution date scheduled for tomorrow, but he received separate stays from two different Kentucky courts last week. See below for more information.

Fletcher meets death row inmate's mother

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Frances Newton

I have been avoiding posting about Frances Newton thus far. It tears my heart apart. This woman might actually be innocent. She got nothing close to a fair trial, and her conviction was based on purely circumstantial evidence. Yet, the United States Supreme Court refused to hear her case on November 1st and she is scheduled to be executed by the State of Texas (yup, Texas) this coming Wednesday. Newton has a clemency petition pending before the Texas Board of Paroles and Pardons. Her petition does not ask the board for clemency. Rather, it asks the Board for a 120 day stay of execution to allow Newton's case to be further investigated. If the Board agrees with Newton, the Governor will then have the opportunity to agree with the Board or disagree and deny the petition. You can read Newton's petitionon the NCADP website.

Newton has served over 15 years on death row for the murders of her family (husband and two children). She has maintained throughout that she did not kill anyone. Many convicted murderers do claim innocence, this is true. However, not only does Newton claim innocence, there is a compelling case that she might just be innocent. Not only is there a credible argument that the State's evidence does not point to Newton (or at least only Newton), there is also new evidence that could counteract the State's evidence, provide reasonable doubt, and show Newton's innocence. None of this evidence was discovered in the past because Newton's appointed counsel did not investigate and she has been prevented access to counsel of her choice on more than one occasion. I will do my best to keep you updated as Newton's case progresses.

Death Date Nears For Woman Convicted Of Murdering Family

Marlon Howell

On Monday, the United States Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case of Marlon Howell, a death row inmate from Mississippi. Howell's case argues that juries in Mississippi should be able to convict a capital murder defendant of a lesser crime (simple murder or manslaughter).

Howell was convicted in 2001 of the killing of a newspaper delivery man during a robbery. In 1980, the Supreme Court ruled that a state court cannot refuse to instruct a jury in a capital murder trial about lesser offenses (assuming the evidence warrants the lesser charge). The 1980 case out of Alabama addressed a law which prohibited juries from hearing instruction on lesser included offenses in some capital murder cases but not in others. Howell's Mississippi case is based on a court decision to deny the lesser charge instruction. The lower court's decision was upheld by the Mississippi Supreme Court.

Prosecutors in Howell's case allege that the evidence in the case did not support the lesser charges and so the instructions were not required. As such, in Howell's case, jurors had two choices: (1) first degree murder or (2) not guilty. First degree murder by definition involves a murder. So, if a jury thinks the defendant is guilty of the murder, but perhaps not of first degree murder, they have to make the choice between letting the murderer back on the street or convicting him or her of first degree murder. The burden is on the prosecution to prove the charge; however, a jury who is convinced someone is a killer is not likely to given him or her a not guilty verdict simply because they don't like the option of first degree murder. Can someone explain to me how that is due process? Essentially, this jury of your peers is forced to give you a sentence that might carry a penalty of death, because they only other option is to set you free. Darn hard choice when you think someone killed someone else but you don't think it warrants such a strong conviction and penalty.

It should be interesting to see how the Supreme Court reconciles its precedent. My guess is that there will be some discussion of what the evidence supports. It depends though. The "liberal" four might get O'Connor to go along. She has talked about her frustrations with the justice system's approach to the death penalty and the dangerousness of ineffectiveness of counsel. She was also instrumental in the Ring decision a few years ago which required death sentence decisions to be made by a jury.

Mississippi death row case going before U.S. Supreme Court

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Thomas Clyde Bowling Jr.

Thomas Clyde Bowling Jr. (T.C.) was scheduled to be executed by the State of Kentucky on Tuesday, November 30th. However, two separate courts stayed his execution today. A state district court judge stayed T.C.'s execution based on a finding that the state must examine its methods of execution before executing another inmate. Later in the day, the Kentucky Supreme Court stayed the execution to allow itself time to draft an opinion regarding whether the state is barred from executing T.C. because he may be mentally retarded.

This is good news for T.C. and his family. He will have much to be thankful this Thanksgiving day. With any hope, the governor will never get to issue another death warrant.

Bowling execution halted by 2 courts

Gary Black

Missouri death row inmate, Gary Black, will get a new trial. The Missouri Supreme Court ruled this week and his lawyers did not adequately question conflicting testimony regarding premeditation of the murder he was convicted of. Apparently, the statements given to police by several prosecution witnesses conflicted with the testimony they gave at trial. Black's attorneys did not adequately challenge these witnesses and the Missouri Supreme Court has held that this is enough to overturn the death sentence and order a new trial. The Court's opined that defense counsel should have been more focused on this testimony since premeditation and deliberation were key to the prosecution's case and key to the jury. The Court called such ineffective representation a "substantial error."

Death-row case overturned

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Here is an article on one of my biggest problems with the application of the death penalty in America: how do we decide who lives and who dies? Actually, even thinking about it makes me so angry and I'm not certain what to write.

Here's my deal...I abhor violence. I especially abhor the idea of state sponsored violence. There is just something so backwards about that concept to me that I can't even explain it. As such, I hate the death penalty. Its an aberration of justice. You all know this. However, even if I didn't hate the death penalty purely for what it stands for at the basic premise, I would hate it for what it is in the United States of America. This article touches on the very base of what I hate about what this "punishment" does to our justice system. Who lives and who dies? Prosecutors in this article say that particular cases leave "shades of gray" in deciding whether to apply the available death penalty to a "capital" case. They have to weigh many factors in deciding who to pursue the death penalty against. This article discusses many of them. So, who decides who lives and who dies? Ultimately, a jury makes the final decision. However so much more goes into it before it even makes it to a jury. Some individuals who are accused of committing equally as heinous of crimes as another individual who is currently trapped in a 6x9 cell on death row are not subject to death. Why is that? What are the deciding factors? Perhaps I am cynical, but don't you think (even a little bit), that sometimes it might have to do with the subjective judgment of the prosecutors? Should the decision of who lives and who dies really be left in the hands of the subjective judgment of someone with a bias?

The very concept of a "gray" area means its a judgment call. In this article, a 19 year old male who was convicted of first degree murder in North Carolina will face a death penalty sentencing hearing. In the same county, in the same courthouse, a woman who is accused of killing her husband by poisoning him over a period of months has been told she will NOT face death. Now, am I glad that Ann Miller Kontz is not facing death if convicted? I'm thrilled. I still have to ask, however, why is her life more valuable than Matthew Grant's? In this case, part of it was because the victim's family opposes the death sentence and does not want to see the child of the victim and the accused be orphaned. Huh, I wonder if Mr. Grant has any children. I wonder if that would matter to the prosecutor...or does it only matter when its a woman facing death? Why one and not the other? Is not the essence of their accused crimes the same? One was by shot gun in an instant moment and another was over months as arsenic ate the victim from the inside out.

Of course, I'd really get going if I thought perhaps any of this was race based... However, you are spared my rant because I have no idea of the race of either accused.

Capital cases offer shades of gray, say prosecutors

Troy Kunkle

Those of you familiar with Troy Kunkle or familiar with the 2004 execution schedule may have expected to see Kunkle name in italics in this posting. I'm happy to say that I am hopeful we will never seen Kunkle's name in italics on my website. The United States Supreme Court once again "smacked down" (as David Elliot is fond of saying) the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Forty minutes after when Kunkle was supposed to have been killed, the USSC stayed his execution. In a 5-4 ruling, the Court indefinitely blocked Kunkle's appointment to die.

Kunkle's execution was stopped in large part because of the other recent rulings by the United States Supreme Court which indicated the Court's dismay at the penalty process in Texas. Kunkle's lawyers had argued before the court that his execution should be stopped because jurors in Kunkle's penalty phase had not been allowed to consider relevant information about Kunkle's troubled past.

Death row inmate's execution halted again
Noted abolitionist, Sister Helen Prejean, recently spoke to a group of hundreds of students at the Noble and Greenough school in Massachusetts. Sister Helen's death penalty story became famous through the Sean Penn/Susan Sarandon told story "Dead Man Walking." Sister Helen is a gift to the movement and to many inmates. During her most recent speech she stated: "We've got to ask ourselves, 'If I believe (death row inmates) ought to die, could I do it?'" That's a pretty good question for death penalty supporters. Perhaps it is a more important question for those who "believe" the death penalty is an appropriate punishment but find the system flawed then it is for the hard core death penalty proponents. Could you push the button that starts the poison flowing? No? Then why is it right that someone else does?

Sister fights death penalty

Lawrence Smith

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has awarded Lawrence Smith a new sentencing hearing. While it upheld his first degree murder convictions, it ordered a new sentencing hearing because it found that some of the most damaging evidence presented during the first hearing was not reliable. Specifically, testimony related to the prosecutions assertions that Smith had assaulted another inmate while in the state prison was found flawed because there was no indication that the witness had first hand knowledge of the events in question.

Death row inmate gets resentencing

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Anthony Fuentes - Texas

The State of Texas executed Anthony Fuentes tonight. Fuentes was 30 at the time of his death. Condemed for fatally shooting a man who attempted to catch the robber of a Houston convenience store ten years ago, Fuentes claimed throughout his confinement that he was innocent of this crime. Even in his final statement, he told his family that someday the truth will be revealed.

Convict in 'Good Samaritan' slaying executed
Well, some good news. According to a Justice Department Report, the number of people sentenced to death row in the United States reached a 30 year low in 2003. That's excellent.

Now for the rub... the drop in death sentences does not apply to the State of Texas. In fact, according to this article, there are more people on death row from Harris County Texas than from most other states. Additionally, a survey reports that only 44% of Texans would support a moratorium on the death penalty despite the fact that 7 in 10 believe that Texas has executed an innocent person. Why am I not surprised?

By the way, tonight marks execution number 23 in Texas this year. More on that later.

Death penalty at 30-year low except in Texas
I have updated the quote on my sidebar. If you missed the previous one, I've reposted it here for you. It was made by United States Supreme Court Justice William Brennan. "At bottom, the battle has been waged on moral grounds. The country has debated whether a society for which the dignity of the individual is the supreme value can, without a fundamental inconsistency, follow the practice of deliberately putting one of its members to death."
Many thanks to David Elliot and the NCADP Blog for pointing out this blog. Check out "Grits for Breakfast," the blog of Scott Henson who "spend[s] most of [his] time promoting criminal justice reform in Texas." That's the focus of his blog as well. BIG TASK! Way to go, Scott!

Grits for Breakfast

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Jalil Abdul-Kabir (fka Ted Calvin Cole)

The United States Supreme Court also ordered an appeals court to reconsider the case of Jalil Abdul-Kabir. The Justices ordered the court to reconsider whether Abdul-Kabir should have the opportunity to challenge his death sentence on the grounds that the jury did not take into account his emotional disorders and troubled childhood.
Supreme Court orders more review

LaRoyce Lathair Smith

The United States Supreme Court has overturned the death sentence of LaRoyce Smith of Texas. In a per curiam (unsigned) opinion joined by seven of the justices, the Court held that the jury should have been allowed to hear evidence regarding Smith's IQ scores and his history of participation in special education programs. The Court wrote that a jury may have used this evidence as a reason to give Smith a more lenient sentence than death.

Supreme Court throws out Texas death sentence

Saturday, November 13, 2004

OK, I'm confused. Seventy percent of Texans believe that the state has executed at least one innocent person but yet seventy-five percent of Texans still support the death penalty? Huh... I'm going to assume that perhaps many of those 75% would at least like some reforms with their death penalty before offering their support but they still support the death penalty as a concept. There, I feel better. I think.

Poll: Texans still favor death penalty

Friday, November 12, 2004

Osiris Abu Ameer - "Live from Death Row"

There is blogging going on from Pennsylvania's death row. Osiris Abu Ameer (aka Ronald Gibson) is blogging through the help of a friend on the outside. If you feel so inclined...check it out. Abu Ameer is also a poet. His site with CCADP has some of his poetry and you can also find some at Lamp of Hope.

Incidentally (or not so incidentally), Abu Ameer's case is filled with injustices (starting with his jury selection). He has claimed innocence throughout his confinement.

Live from Death Row

Frank Ray Chandler - North Carolina

North Carolina executed Frank Ray Chandler at 2am this morning. Chandler was condemned for the accidental killing of Doris Poore who surprised him while he was searching her home for drugs. Chandler's family visited him earlier in the evening but did not witness his death. Chandler apparently did not want his family exposed to the horror of his killing.

Chandler was given the death penalty when his jury agreed with prosecutors that Poore's death was based on a desire for pecuniary gain. That's arguable at best. Poore's death was accidental and Chandler's purpose in searching her house was to find drugs, not to make money. Poore screamed when she saw Chandler and, startled, he then swung his hand and hit her in the head. In most states, such a death would be a lower category of murder (perhaps felony murder or manslaughter). Here, in North Carolina, it was eligible for capital status and with the "aggravating factor" of pecuniary gain was eligible for death. If the death penalty is to be reserved for the worst of the worst, was Chandler it?

Frank Ray Chandler executed for 1992 killing of elderly woman
There is quite a battle going on in California over the future of the San Quentin State Prison. The prison at San Quentin houses the state's death row inmates. It is crowded and run down...and placed on what some developers see as prime real estate. For now, the governor has approved the building of a new prison facility. Its difficult to say whether it will go through, however. Opponents of the project feel that the real estate is too valuable and that there is no reason that the state's death row population cannot be housed throughout the state's other prisons.

California currently has the largest population of condemned inmates. That said, it rarely holds an execution. I have mixed feelings about the new prison but 90% of them favor it. The 10% that doesn't is concerned that a bigger prison with more cells and more security will just encourage more death row prosecutions. There probably is no connection, but that's my mind set. The other 90% is gung ho for the new facility (whether at San Quentin or elsewhere in California).

First and foremost, the conditions at San Quentin can use improving (incidentally, from what I understand, conditions there are already better than say Florida and Texas but that doesn't mean they are adequate). Second, I vehemently disagree with the idea of dispersing the death row inmates throughout the California prison system. Such a move would cause these inmates to be lost in the shuffle. I fear that any executions that do occur would be less likely to be subject to media scrutiny. As one source was quoted saying "It's very important that executions not become a total abstraction in the minds of the public. We're talking about living, breathing people with nerve endings and families." My fear is greatly heightened when I consider the fact that rural state prisons make access to the state's court systems and its public defenders much more difficult.

So, do I want them to expand death row? No. Do my feelings about the need for improved conditions override that? For now, Yes.

Death row real estate / Tug of war over San Quentin's future creates unusual alliances

Thursday, November 11, 2004

United States Attorney General?

Those of you who read this blog regularly know that I typically reserve titles to posts for stories having to do with particular death row individuals or the occasional post that I don't want to be overlooked. This is one of those...

President Bush has nominated Alberto Gonzales to be Attorney General of the United States (some say as a precursor to the US Supreme Court). I have much more of an opinion on this topic. Alberto Gonzales is not exactly a friend to the abolitionist movement and some of the greatest controversies over him while he served then-Governor George Bush in Texas involved the numerous memos he wrote to the governor regarding execution clemency requests. As a reminder, President Bush approved over 150 executions while he was governor of Texas.

What do you all think? I know you have comments. Will he be confirmed? Is this better or worse than Ashcroft?

Frank Ray Chandler

Frank Ray Chandler is scheduled to be executed by the State of North Carolina at 2:00am tonight. Governor Mike Easley is currently considering Chandler's request for clemency. There are a great number of concerns about the representation Chandler received (his attorney once used drugs with the state's key witness!). There are also significant concerns over whether his crime was really the worst of the worst and whether it was "deserving" of death.

Easley asked to halt death
The Ohio House has approved a bill which required an in-depth study of the more than 200 cases on death row. The study could lead to changes in the state's judicial system. The bill passed the House 64-30 with bi-partisan support and included "yes" votes from both sides of the capital punishment debate. The Ohio Senate now has only 6-9 days before its session ends to vote on the bill.

Those of you in Ohio, I encourage you to get on the phone to your state senators and encourage them to push this through.

Ohio House approves bill to study death row cases

Walter Bell Jr. and Alberto Valdez

Wow. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals really came through this time. The Court of Criminal Appeals ordered Walter Bell Jr. and Alberto Valdez removed from death row. The Court found that Bell and Valdez are mentally retarded and cannot be executed. Bell has been on death row for 29 years. His IQ is reportedly in the 50s, which is well below the generally accepted, yet somewhat arbitrary, threshold of 70. Valdez has been on death row since the late 80s.

The men will be held on death row until processing of their cases is completed. They will then be moved to the general population to serve life sentences.

Court moves two killers off death row

Frederick McWilliams - Texas

Texas executed number 22 last night and the 2nd in as many nights. Frederick McWilliams died at 6:18 last night. He was 30 years old. Before his death, McWilliams stated, "There are people that will be mad thinking I try to seek freedom from this, but as long as I see, freedom belongs to me and I'll keep on keeping on. The shackles and chains that just might hold my body can't hold my mind, but will kill me otherwise."

Convicted killer in Texas 22nd to be executed

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Demarco McCullum - Texas

21 and counting.

Texas executed its 21st man last night. Demarco McCullum was pronounced dead at 6:17p.m. McCullum was 30 at the time of his death and only 19 at the time of the underlying murder. At one point, McCullum was a standout football star headed to junior college. Now, he's dead.

The victim's mother acknowledged that this execution does not bring "closure." She noted that you can never have closure when your child dies from violence such as this.

Seminary native, 30, executed in Texas

Friday, November 05, 2004

Robert Morrow - Texas

Texas executed its 20th man last night. There are five more executions scheduled in Texas this year.

Robert Morrow was executed last night for the 1996 death of Lisa Allison in Liberty, Texas. Morrow admitted his responsibility for Allison's death. He expressed his remorse to Allison's parents shortly before his death and asked the warden to set him "free."

Texas Performs 20th Execution This Year

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Cecil Emile Davis

Cecil Emile Davis of Washington State will receive a new sentencing trial. Davis was convicted of raping and murdering Yoshiko Couch (the details of which are indeed horrifying)in the late 1990s. The Washington Supreme Court recently upheld Davis's conviction but ruled 8-1 that he should receive a new sentencing trial. In this appeal, Davis alleged several instances of ineffective assistance of counsel as to both the liability and penalty phases of his trial. The justices focused on the potential for prejudice during the penalty phase and Davis's counsel's failure to address this question (racial prejudice and the effect the leg chains Davis was forced to wear had on his jury). Prejudice during the penalty phase, the court said, cannot be overcome by objective evidence.

Though only 8 justices joined the majority opinion, all 9 justices agreed that the penalty phase should be redone. The one dissenting justice differed with the rest of the court and wrote that he felt the entire conviction should be vacated and Davis should be completely retried.

High court OKs new penalty trial

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Lorenzo Morris - Texas

Only in Texas, home of our commander in chief, would you find an execution happening at the same time the election results from the biggest presidential election of my lifetime rolling in.

But I digress...

Texas executed Lorenzo Morris on Tuesday night. Morris died shortly after receiving a lethal injection at 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday. Condemned for the killing of his elderly neighbor, Jesse Fields, in 1990, there was little question about Morris's treatment of Fields. Morris all but admitted to beating Fields and slashing his throat. However, there is significance evidence that Fields did not die from the injuries Morris inflicted. This question may be splitting hairs, but few people have paid attention to it. Perhaps such a question is more academic than practical, but how can an individual be guilty of capital murder when the victim did not die from the inflicted injuries (aside from whether the injuries hurried a death)?

Again, I digress...

Lorenzo Morris was 52 years old at the time of his death. He was the 19th man killed by the State of Texas in 2004.

Texas Executes Man on Election Night

Dominique Green - Texas

I have delayed posting about Dominique Green's execution because it continues to puzzle me. I am continually flabbergasted at how the feelings of the victim's family can play such a limited (if at all) role in the ultimate ending of a prisoner's life. Dominique Green went to his death consistently insisting that he had not been the shooter in the death of Andrew Lastrapes Jr. Green admitted he was involved in the activities surrounding Lastrapes' death but always maintained he had not been the shooter. There were also concerns about the evidence used to convict Green (part of the Harris County evidence astrocities) and questions about possible racism bases for Green's sentence. The toughest part of this to swallow, however, is that the State of Texas gave no credence to the feelings of Lastrapes' family. Both the victim's brother and wife reportedly supported Green's push for clemency. The family recognized Green's humanity and reportedly had even spent time visiting with Green while he was serving on death row. How is is that the State can pay no mind to the wishes of those actually affected by the crime? I guess that in these cases, closure and justice for the victim's family is not a consideration. Instead the consideration is revenge, eye-for-an-eye "justice" and example.

The first article posted on Dominique Green is an editorial in the Houston Chronicle published shortly after Green's death. I don't often have opinion pieces to post after an execution. However, this editorial seems particularly poignant, especially considering it appears in a Texas newspaper. I also like being able to avoid the typical post-execution article about the condemned person's last meal and parting words.

Dominique Green died shortly after 8:00pm on October 26th in Huntsville, Texas. He was 30 years old and had spent almost 12 years on death row. Like James Allridge, Green reportedly had changed his life around during his time on death row. Apparently, he even received a visit from Nobel Peace Prize winner Bishop Desmond Tutu.
Bulletin of a life taken
Green set to die despite HPD concerns
President Bush signed the $1 billion federal DNA testing legislation into law on November 1st.

Well, at least I have one thing about Bush I feel grateful for this week.

DNA legislation signed into law

Florida v. Nixon

Oral arguments were held at the US Supreme Court in the second death penalty case of the year yesterday. The issue before the Court in Florida v. Nixon involves the "right" of a defense attorney to set the strategy for trial with or without his or her client's consent. In Nixon's case, defense counsel conceded Nixon's guilt as part of its defense strategy without Nixon's permission (first of all, the issue in the case is 6th Amendment right to counsel, but how does this not violate the 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination? Because its not testimony of the accused?). The Florida Supreme Court awarded Nixon a new trial by a 5-2 margin. I suspect the U.S. Supreme Court will agree, but you never know. Keep your fingers crossed.

While you're at it...pray (whether you pray or not) that Justice John Paul Stevens is able to keep trucking for many many more years.

Can defense attorney say client's guilty?

Me - Take II

Well. I was going to update postings today. I've been traveling on business and have been preoccupied with the election, so today I was going to try to update all my postings. I'm not sure I can do it. I literally feel sick to my stomach. As a friend of mine said earlier today, "If this was a referendum on values, it was a referendum of hate." ELEVEN states passed anti-gay marriage intiatives or amendments. That's over 20% of the country!

I guess I just don't understand...

Between that and the Texecutioner apparently winning reelection, I'm having a grand day. Updating postings might make me self combust.

Friday, October 22, 2004

Charles Wesley Roache - North Carolina

The State of North Carolina executed Charles Wesley Roache early this morning. Roache had waived all of his appeals (save for the one mandatory appeal required by law). He stated he have given up his right to appeal his sentence in an attempt to show remorse to the survivors of his victims. Roache had asked his lawyers to do nothing to attempt to save his life, but many death penalty opponents argued the state should not put him to death without an evaluation of his mental competency to waive his appeals. Roache was pronounced dead at 2:18am this morning. He was 30 years old at the time of his death.

North Carolina executes killer of six

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Ricky Morrow - Texas

Texas executed its fourth inmate this month tonight, its seventeenth this year.

Earlier this evening, Texas executed Ricky Morrow for the slaying of Mark Frazier in 1982. Morrow claimed the shooting was accidental and that he had not meant to kill Frazier. His attorneys disputed much of the testimony that was used by the jury to convict Morrow of capital murder as opposed to finding him guilty of "only" murder. Three Supreme Court justices favored a delay, but that was not enough for the Court to stay in execution.

Before his death, Morrow addressed his family and thanked his sisters for their support and told them he was headed to a better place. Morrow was pronounced dead at 6:32. He was 53 years old.

Ricky Morrow Executed

Sunday, October 17, 2004


You know, gang, I'm just not sure I can keep up with all of this. I do my searches to see what is new and I'm just overwhelmed by all that is out there. Its so hard to keep up. Part of it is sheer time and energy and part of it is that every article is draining, even the positive ones. I have a very busy couple of weeks coming up at my for-pay job. Then comes the election. Hopefully, I'll be able to keep posting regularly. Maybe I should make a point of posting once a week or something like that. I don't know. There's just too much going on to do that. Truth is, there aren't as many of you reading anymore.

I'm probably just down because of all the deluge of death penalty stuff going on. I'm sure I'll get over it. Sometimes, I still wish I could make this my life's work. You know, move to Texas or Florida or California or Virginia and spend my days running death penalty appeals. Truth is, I'm not sure I can afford that financially or emotionally. I know I would love it though.

I believe in our liberties. They are my biggest fear with this upcoming election. Its more than just capital punishment. Its drug sniffing dogs and injectable health care computer chips and infared cameras. Its wiretaps that were once illegal and now are common place. Its the number of men being held without counsel or trial in the name of "war" and "protection." Its the idea that gay individuals are somehow only half human. Its immigrants crossing raging rivers and the Arizona desert because they desire what the US has to offer but then dying before they ever get here. Its police banging down doors and searching homes in the name of "suspicious behavior" and "emergency." Its police officers following cars with black drivers and shiny wheels because they assume the driver is a criminal. Its black men being killed by police officers because they moved to pull out an ID and white men killing cops because the officers wrongly assumed it was just ID they were reaching for. Its the Federal Sentencing laws treatment of drug crimes as compared to any other crime (including violent ones).

And then, its millions of hungry children. Its homelessness run rampant and the lack of compassion and money to treat the metally ill. Its the idea that somehow you are not as valuable a part of society if you don't put on a suit and work in an office. Its the idea that people of arabic descent are glared at in fear when they travel (or elsewhere). Its the concept that because our "leaders" are Christians, that we must subscribe to their idea of right and wrong. Its the idea that our tax money is better spent on a war to "free" another nation than it is to pay for education, health care and social security here at home. Its those many americans who don't understand why the world hates us...

Of course, for so many voting in this election many of these things are very far away from them. They will never need to worry about having the police break down their door. Their son will never be pulled over simply because he is black (probably because he isn't). They will never lose their health care coverage or their union benefits or their social security. They will never be homeless or mentally ill. They will never have a loved one wrongly convicted of a capital crime (or any crime for that matter).

Ok. I'm done now. I guess I just needed a moment.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Roper v. Simmons: Part II

Here is an article with a snippet of what went on during oral argument of Roper v. Simmons today. It appears that the justices and counsel had quite a lively debate. It will be interesting to read the transcript when it is available (usually about 10 days following argument).

Divided court considers teen executions

Roper v. Simmons: Part I

Here is an excellent article on the issues involved in the execution of juveniles case that was heard before the United States Supreme Court today (Roper v. Simmons). I will have much more to say on this issue (when I'm not drowning in my day job) in the next few days. For now, check this one out. I'll try to post an article about the oral arguments later tonight.

Court to weigh death for juvenile murderers
Here is an article in the Christian Science Monitor regarding the execution of juveniles. It covers both sides of the issue, but concentrates on the effect the question has on the families of the victims and the families of the condemned.

Is it wrong to put a juvenile on death row?
A conference of delegates of the California State Bar Association has voted to call for a moratorium on the death penalty in the State of California. If the State considers the Bar Association's resolution, it will be a powerful statement. 625 people await execution in California.

Conference of Delegates Calls for Moratorium On Death Penalty, Probe Into Fairness, Cost

Adremy Dennis - Ohio

This is one of those where I can only shake my head. Adremy Dennis' crime was a brutal one, and he never showed remorse for it (blaming it instead on the victim). It is one of those times where I am reminded of the sheer violence that happens in our society all around us that we never hear about. Dennis was 19 years old and drunk and high when he shot the victim, Kurt Kyle. How is it that he had a sawed off shot gun in the first place?

Nevertheless, I do not think the State of Ohio had a right to take his life. Who are we to decide? Dennis had no right to decide the end of Kyle's life, and the State has no right to decide the end of Dennis's. That is for a higher authority (even if that higher authority is nature itself).

The State of Ohio executed Adremy Dennis at 10:00am this morning. He was pronounced dead at 10:10. At the time of his death, Dennis was 28 years old. He was the youngest man ever to be executed by the State of Ohio.

State executes youngest inmate ever

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Donald Aldrich - Texas

The State of Texas executed Donald Aldrich tonight for his part in the gay bashing death of an east Texas man in 1994. Aldrich maintained throughout his confinement that he was not responsible for Nicholas West's death. He had admitted to playing a part in the events that led to West's murder but denied being involved in the shooting. There were also serious questions about evidence presented at Aldrich's trial that he was a danger to society. The psychologists who gave that testimony had never met or examined Aldrich. In fact, other reports on Aldrich's upcoming execution indicated that throughout his confinement he has shown no signs of violence. The importance of this question comes from the fact that to condemn a person to death in Texas, a jury must find that he or she would continue to be a violent threat if allowed to live.

Aldrich was pronounced dead at 6:18 pm CDT. He was 39 years old. Though West's family and friends did not attend the execution, Aldrich apologized to them and expressed hope of their forgiveness. I pray that God will be with both families tonight and they deal with the deaths of their sons.

Inmate executed today for slaying of gay man

Monday, October 11, 2004

Hold on to your hats; its a busy week! The United States Supreme Court will hear arguments in Roper v. Simmons on Wednesday (a case addressing the constitutionality of executing those who were juveniles at the time of their crimes). Then on Thursday through Sunday, the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (NCADP) will hold its National Anti-Death Penalty Conference. Sadly, I am not able to attend either event (though I would love to attend both)...darn that day job!
The DNA testing bill that has been sitting before Congress for the last few weeks was finally passed on Saturday. It is now on President Bush's desk for signature. Bush is expected to sign the bill into law. This legislation will be vital in increasing the ability of crime labs to process DNA evidence in a timely manner. It will also provide funding for DNA testing as a part of post-conviction relief for those inmates proclaiming their innocence in federal crimes. A related portion of the bill provides incentives for the individual states to adopt similar policies.

DNA Crime Bill Headed to Bush for His Signature

Paul Gregory House

Attached is an column in The Tennessean about the travesty surrounding Paul House. As some of you may know, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit heard House's habeas appeal en banc and in a sharply divided opinion upheld his conviction. As part of that, six of the judges expressed in a dissent their opinion that House may very well be innocent of the underlying crime. The judges in the majority, however, found that House was properly convicted and should be executed. This is an interesting concept to me: (1) it takes a jury of 12 of an accused peers to agree that beyond a reasonable doubt the accused is guilty; (2) it then takes those same 12 peers to all agree that the accused deserves death for the crime; (3) then, 6 federal appeals judges can express their opinions that a condemned man is innocent and still his case proceeds to execution? Can someone explain this to me? 6 out of 15 judges is 2/5s of the panel. OVER ONE THIRD. Here's hoping the United States Supreme Court accepts review or the governor grants clemency. If not, and he is executed, we will never know if they executed an innocent man (especially considering that the victim's husband has confessed!).

Still on death row though six judges think he is innocent?

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Looks like noted abolitionist and best selling author, Scott Turow, spoke at Stanford this week and explained to students the flaws he sees in the death penalty. Turow assisted with review of the Illinois death penalty system. Before that two year review, Turow was a self-proclaimed "death penalty agnostic." After spending two years reviewing the system and seeing all of its flaws, Turow is now an abolitionist. He is quoted as saying “the state will never be able to exact the ultimate punishment for the ultimate evils without also involving the innocent.”

Innocence is one of the biggest concerns about the application of the death penalty in this justice system (or any). Again, I wonder, why is it even worth the risk? How many innocent people have to be exonerated before our states wake up and realize that we have likely killed an innocent man for a crime he did not commit? What kind of closure and justice does that bring?

Turow Critiques Death Penalty

Friday, October 08, 2004

Edward Green III - Texas

Most of you who keep up with issues around death penalty abolition are aware of the problems with the Houston crime lab. Reportedly, a 280 boxes evidence from crime investigations related to 8000 different crimes was recently discovered. All of this evidence was mislabeled and wrongly stored. The evidence dates back over ten years. Obviously, this creates great problems when reviewing the possible innocence (not to mention the constitutional rights) of those convicted of those crimes. Likely most of those convicted were guilty of the crime. However, just the chance that even one was not is a big big deal. The chance that that one is serving on death row or has already been executed is a change you would think that Texas officials would not want to take. Nevertheless...

Edward Green, a Texas death row inmate convicted in Harris county during the period of suspect evidence, was executed in Huntsville on Wednesday evening. State officials were convinced of Green's guilt despite the evidenciary problems existing in Harris County (Green apparently confessed). Green was only 30 years old on the night of his execution and he was 18 years old at the time of the crime. Apparently, members of his family repeatedly told Green's mother that he was in a better place after his death. How's that for a statement: that her son was better off dead than sitting on death row in Texas. As always when someone is executed, my thoughts are with his or her family. My thoughts are also with the families of the victims and with the hope that now perhaps they will find some closure and peace. Closure and peace for the victim's family is about the only "positive" I can see from an execution (if any).

Most of you who read this know that my feelings about the execution of any inmate are strong. The fact that they may be innocent only increases my objection to their execution and makes me more sad and angry. Green likely was guilty, but there just seems something wrong to me about a system that will not pause for a moment to reexamine itself after a clear mistake has been revealed. I know that the community seems to want "swift justice," but what of the Ernest Willis's out there? If justice had been "swift" in his case, there would have been even more serious injustice than there already was. Why is it we do not take the utmost care?

Houston crime lab concerns don't halt execution

Peter Miniel - Texas

Peter Miniel, who had recently admitted he lied when claiming he was innocent of the murder for which he was convicted, was executed by the State of Texas last night. Like Hocker, Miniel had waived his remaining appeals and had asked to be executed. Though his family attended his execution, Miniel did not speak to them. He also did not address the family of his victim. In his statement confessing to the Associated Press this past month, Miniel claimed to have been high and drunk at the time of the murder. It was a senseless crime with no meaning behind it. Overtaken by drugs and alcohol, Miniel took a man's life. Now, the State of Texas has taken his.

Illinois man executed in Texas

David Kevin Hocker - Alabama

The State of Alabama executed Kevin Hocker on September 30th. Hocker had waived all of his appeals and had not sought Federal post-conviction relief. According to reports, Hocker's execution was the first time an inmate has been executed in Alabama without the Alabama Supreme Court reviewing his or her case. Hocker had admitted his guilt and had stated repeatedly that he wanted to die for his crime. There is also some speculation that he committed the murder in the fashion he did in order to be given the death penalty.

Hocker had no Supreme Court review before execution

Sammy Perkins - North Carolina

The United States Supreme Court denied Sammy Perkins' request for a continued stay to challenge the constitutionality of North Carolina's lethal injection process. Perkins was executed late last night after the governor denied his request for clemency.

U.S. Supreme Court ruling clears way for Perkins' execution

Ernest Willis

Here is another great article on Ernest Willis and his experiences on Texas' Death Row. It overwhelms me how long he spent on death row for a crime he did not commit. He as behind a steel door alone for 23 hours a day. That's one hour of sunlight, one hour of human contact, one hour of hour. I spend one hour a day driving back and forth to work...that's nothing!

Ex-death row inmate enjoying new freedoms

Michael Ross

An execution date has been set for Michael Ross in Connecticut after Ross stated he wanted to stop his remaining appeals. Unless he changes his mind, Ross will be executed in January. He would be the first person executed in Connecticut since 1960. The article contains some good quotes from the NCADP through David Elliot. Specifically, David is quoted regarding the apparent opinion on the death penalty in Connecticut. The fact that there has not been an execution there in over 40 years is a sign of the antipathy toward the death penalty. Connecticut is certainly not Texas or Florida when it comes to the death penalty, but that doesn't change the fact that they will execute someone in the next few months.

Death penalty on trial

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Ernest WIllis

All I can say is "Hallelujah!" Ernest Willis was freed from Texas' death row today after serving there for 17 years. The charges against Willis were dropped yesterday. He is a free man. The district attorney has been quoted as saying that he does not even think a crime was committed and that even if there was that Willis wasn't guilty. There is strong evidence the fire involved was accidental.

Willis was freed today with a set of clothing a $100. He held his wife of four years for the first time. Willis says he is a better man for the time he spent on death row. Still, how do you repay a man for 17 years of his life? He left prison with one set of clothing/shoes and $100. $100 will barely buy someone a night in a hotel and a hot meal. I guess don't get me started...I don't have time.

Death-row inmate freed after 17 years

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Many apologies everyone, my day job has been getting in the way of me keeping up on posting. Its been crazy around here lately. Unfortunately, that means I've missed a lot of news (including the upcoming arguments of Roper v. Simmons). I will be updating shortly and hope to get caught up.

Thursday, September 30, 2004

David Kevin Hocker

This article was published yesterday through the Associated Press, but I just couldn't quite bring myself to post it. Its just such a sad story. A man with mental illness and a serious street drug problem reportedly killed his boss for no reason (except, perhaps, to avoid being put in the general prison population for another charge and let the government commit his suicide for him instead). I have seen my share of addicts and alcoholics. I have seen what alcoholism and mental illness can do to a person. No, not every addict, alcoholic or manic depressive kills someone. However, I think you'd be hard pressed to find one who did who would have also done it had they never been addicted or mentally ill. Perhaps I am exaggerating, perhaps there are some out there who are addicts who would have killed even without the drugs, but it would surprise me. Hocker's is a sad story for both families. He has made changes in his life since being on death row; yet he still wants to die and he's willing to let the State of Alabama kill him. It is certainly an interesting statement on the death penalty when the system is approached with an individual who may have killed his victim in a calculated manner in order to be given the death penalty and let the state kill him instead of killing himself. What does this say about our system? What does it say about our willingness to help the mentally ill? I am glad to know that Hocker's mother has found some sense of peace in her son's impending death. I hope that his victim's family can also find some peace in healing their pain.

Faced with son's execution, mother has only sad keepsakes

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Ronald Rompilla

Good news! The United States Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case of Ronald Rompilla of Pennsylvania. Rompilla alleges that his sentence should be vacated because the jury was not informed that if they gave Rompilla a life sentence, there would be no possibility of parole. As many of you know, this has been a common question in death penalty appeals lately. The US Supreme Court ruled on this question in 1994 (Simmons v. South Carolina), but the opinion came in the form of a plurality and there was no majority opinion on the reasoning behind the holding that Simmons sentence was unconstitutional. The Justices disagreed about when it was necessary for a court to inform the jury of the lack of a possibility of parole. The Court will now be given the chance to clarify the opinion. Its only been ten years, but there has been a change on the Court since the Simmons opinion was drafted. However, Justice Blackmun, the justice who retired, joined in a portion of the opinion which included four justices. It was also the more broad portion of the opinion. In theory, The Chief Justice, Justice Kennedy and Justice O'Connor will all vote similarly to how they did in Simmons. It is also assumed that Justices Scalia and Thomas will vote as they did in Simmons and find the sentencing constitutional. Justice Breyer is only new justice since Simmons and he is likely to vote as Blackmun did. The task of Rompilla's counsel will be to convince one of the other three (The Chief, Kennedy or O'Connor) that he or she should vote differently. O'Connor has expressed concern over the death penalty in the recent past (mostly issues with effectiveness of counsel), so perhaps she has reviewed her opinion on this issue as well. We shall see.

Supreme Court takes on Pa. death sentence

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Ricky Dale Newman

The Arkansas Supreme Court announced today that Ricky Newman would not be executed tonight. Newman had asked to be executed, but the Supreme Court indicated that it needs time to consider a claim that Ricky is mentally retarded and not eligible for execution. The court will also consider whether Newman's aunt can file court papers on his behalf.

Mental Illness Might Save Man From Death Row
This op-ed pleasantly surprised me. The writer very bluntly addresses the time Alan Gell spent on death row in North Carolina. He challenges the readers about their thoughts on whether the innocent are ever convicted and/or executed. Personally, I don't understand how anyone can think that innocent people don't get locked up for crimes they didn't commit. Its been proven that innocent people have been exonerated from DEATH ROW. If you ask me, its probably even more common that innocent people are locked up for lesser crimes. After all, even I will admit that, generally, more time and money are focused on prosecution of a capital murder. Clearly, prosecutors have more incentive to get it right with a death sentence (not to say they always realize that). There are more appeals available in capital cases as well (I'm not saying they are enough or that they make up for the punishment). If you are convicted of a rape or a robbery or an accidental murder that you didn't commit, you don't have all of the same options; and, unless you're Kobe Bryant, the prosecution is probably not going to spend as much time making sure the details of the case are all perfectly in line the way they do with a capital crime. Now, combine that with the fact that the prosecution of capital crimes has been known to be flawed and has put innocent people in the death house, what does that say about those arrested for other crimes? Am I cynical? Yes. Too much so? Well, that remains to be seen.

Injustice deserves jail, too

Monday, September 27, 2004

Apparently, there is a large controversy in Oregon over the application of its death penalty. According to this article, there are difficult issues surrounding who gets the death penalty and why in the State of Oregon. My impression, after reading the article, is that the state's application of the death penalty is horribly arbitrary and unfair. Its clear that prosecutors will let a convicted murderer avoid the death penalty by taking a plea bargain. However, if you maintain your innocence and refuse to take the plea, you get a death sentence (or a sentencing trial anyway). That's a pretty screwed up system. If you are innocent, you're sunk either way. You either get death if you refuse to plea or you end up spending your life in prison with no option of appeal. Obviously, it is not often that an innocent person would be put in this position, but what of his or her constitutional rights if they are? I guess those rights have already been stomped on so much by this time that it doesn't matter either way...6 of one, half dozen of another. At least with the death sentence, you don't admit guilt and you have the option of appeals. Nice first choice eh?

Killers' deals to avoid death put Oregon's system on trial
This is a great article on Paula Cooper, a juvenile who was sentenced to death in Indiana in the 1980s. Her death sentence was later overturned by the state Supreme Court after the Indiana legislature passed a law preventing the execution of those who's crimes were committed as juveniles (Cooper was 15 at the time of her crime). The article discusses at length why the death penalty is not appropriate for juveniles and it tells the encouraging story of Cooper who appears to have rehabilitated. Cooper received a college degree and now works to train assistance dogs. She is eligible for parole in 2015, but her sentence is for 60 years and would not end until 2045.

This quote from Cooper is worth reading:

"Everybody has a responsibility to do right or wrong, and if you do wrong, you should be punished. Rehabilitation comes from you. If you're not ready to be rehabilitated, you won't be."

Incidentally, the authors of this article were all 15 years old--the same age Cooper was at the time of the murder. At one year older, Cooper was on death row.

Inmate has overcome anger while serving time
This is an outstanding article on Rick Halperin. Halperin (for those who don't know) is a professor and human rights activist in Texas. He is president of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty and he once headed up Amnesty International USA. Halperin has dedicated the greater part of his life to abolition of the death penalty. I have a link in my sidebar to his website for those who are interested. Halperin tracks death penalty related news from around the world and keeps links to a myriad of statistics. Here is my favorite quote from the article:

"But for Halperin those are secondary arguments [innocence, racism, cost, etc.]. His revulsion boils down to one fundamental principal: the immorality, he says, of taking a human life at any time and for any reason.

'There is no such thing as a lesser person,' he repeatedly insists. 'There are different people, but they're not lesser.'"

Amen, Rick. Amen.

For Dear Life

Sunday, September 26, 2004

I thought it was time for a new look. I think this suits me a bit better for the time being. I hope y'all like it. The text seems a bit small, but it looks crisper than the last template. I also added a quote that I will change from time to time.


I was looking at the list of scheduled executions for the remainder of the year. Get this, Texas has already executed 13 men this year. There are three months left in the calendar year. In the month of October, Texas is scheduled to execute 5 men. The total is the same for November and then in December the state is scheduled to execute 1 woman. That's 11 more and almost half of its total executions for the one year. It is also 1 more than the total of all other states combined during those same three months (of what is scheduled thus far anyway).
Lee Boyd Malvo, the teenager involved in the Washington D.C. area sniper shootings has agreed to a plea of guilty to two of the shootings in Virginia which will allow him to receive a life sentence and avoid the death penalty. The elder of the sniper shooters, John Muhammad, was convicted and sentenced to death for another of the Virginia murders. Malvo could still be tried for that murder.

Teenage Sniper to Plead Guilty in Two Shootings

Friday, September 24, 2004

Woohoo! Despite Senator Sessions' valiant attempts, the Senate Judiciary Committee sent the DNA bill to the Senate floor today by a vote of 11-7.

Senate Committee Passes DNA Crime Bill
I don't know who wrote this editorial in the Cavalier Daily (newspaper of the University of Virginia), but it pretty much sums up how I feel about things. It is very well written and well argued. Check it out!

Death to death penalty

Thursday, September 23, 2004

David Dawson

David Dawson, who is currently a prisoner on Montana's death row, has asked the court system for a mental evaluation. His attorneys have said he is not competent to waive his appeals and have asked for a competency hearing and permission to hire their own expert. Dawson has asked the court to hire an "unbiased" expert to do the exam so that his record is clear and honest regarding his ability to decide his own fate.

Dawson wants court to order mental exam
Apparently, even folks in Alabama disagree with Senator Sessions' recent stance against the DNA bill (I'm not really surprised to be truthful). Attached is a link to an editorial from the Decator, Alabama Daily News.

Sessions needs to stop blackballing DNA bill

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Andrew Flores - Texas

The State of Texas executed Andrew Flores tonight. He was pronounced dead at 6:20 pm. Before his death, Flores apologized to his victim's family and expressed his love to his friends and relatives. He was 32 years old.

Gang leader who fatally shot store clerk executed
I thought I would cross-post a comment I posted on the NCADP blog. It may spark discussion, it may not. As always, do with it as you will (this was in response to a comment about Senator Sessions' objection to the DNA bill).


Well...that's only partially true. In many cases, there is evidence that only one person was around the victim at the time of the murder. If there was DNA found on the scene (particularly semen), and that DNA is not your's, its pretty good evidence that you were not the one person there. Such evidence is particularly helpful in rape cases. At the VERY least, evidence of another person's DNA at a crime scene provides serious reasonable doubt of the defendant's guilt. Our justice system relies on the burden of proof. A defendant is not to be found guilty if the prosecution cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty. If the jury is given reasonable doubt by the presence of another's DNA, then the defendant should not be convicted. So, even in cases where DNA would not completely exonerate a defendant (there were multiple participants, time is off, etc.), its availability is still strong evidence of reasonable doubt. Do we really want to kill people who we have a reasonable doubt may not have committed the crime?

I don't know about the folks at NCADP, but many of the abolitionists that I know are against the death penalty for a myriad of reasons and not just because the justice system is imperfect. For many, it is just a moral outrage. That said, most of us are not against punishing criminals. Of course, people who commit crimes should be punished. It is, however, a completely different animal to murder someone for a crime that they did not commit. At least if you discover that someone who is punished only by imprisonment is not guilty, you can free the person after you discover their innocence. Once a condemed person is executed, they are gone forever...a mistake cannot be corrected. There is a difference. Personally, I abhore violence of any kind. If you murder someone, you SHOULD be punished. I just do not believe that punishment should involve the taking of your life.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Alan Gell

The two North Carolina prosecutors who helped put Alan Gell on death row are having their actions reviewed before the State Bar disciplinary committee later this week. According to reports, the two prosecutors failed to turn over evidence of Gell's innocence to his defense team. They claim that they were either unaware of the statements or did not understand that they needed to turn the evidence over the defense lawyers.

First, its one of the key protections a defendant in a criminal trial has: the right to any exculpatory evidence. They teach that in criminal procedure 101 and every criminal prosecutor (certainly one trying a capital murder) should know those rules inside and out. If there is any evidence that could exonerate a defendant or shed doubt on his or her guilt, the prosecution is obligated to turn it over (within parameters). This is part of providing a fair and just trial.

Second, there is a great quote in the article that really sums it up for me. It comes from Tye Hunter who heads the NC State Defense Bar. He states "If they had taken 500 bucks from Gell, they'd be disbarred. But they took years of freedom from this man, and there's nothing worse that you can do than deprive someone of their freedom." Gell served 6 years on death row. I don't know how you compensate for even one day on death row, for even one day of contemplating your pending murder for something you didn't do. In every law student's professional responsibility course, he or she is taught the two main rules of professional responsibility: don't sue your clients and don't steal money from them (well, we're also reminded not to sleep with them). A lawyer cannot even borrow so much as $1 from his client's trust account without being subject to disbarrment. The professional responsibility rules are clear on that. Doesn't it seem clear that approaching a man's freedom with such a cavalier attitude should be just as unethical?

Gell Trial Under Review

Andrew Flores

Andrew Flores will be executed tomorrow night by the State of Texas. He has exhausted all of his appeals and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles denied his commutation request 6-0.

Please keep the families of both Mr. Flores and his victim, John Moreno, in mind as the week progresses.

Former gang leader faces execution Tuesday
David Elliot opined today on Senator Sessions' issues with the DNA testing legislation currently before the Senate. Check it out, he writes some good stuff!

Ricky Dale Newman

The Arkansas Post Prison Transfer Board has denied a clemency request made on behalf of Ricky Newman. The request was denied in part because it was not made by Newman or his attorney and in part because Newman has waived all of his appeals and definitively stated he wishes to be executed.

Newman is scheduled for execution on September 28th.

Panel denies death row inmate's clemency application
Here is an outstanding Op-ed in the Toronto Star on the death penalty in the US. Its written by a Canadian Lutheran clergyman.

Capital punishment goes undebated in U.S. election
I hate that I am like this (stereotyping), but frankly, I am not surprised that it is a Republican senator from Alabama who is trying to hold up the DNA testing legislation that is currently before the Senate. Senator Sessions seems to think that testing the backlog of DNA in our nation's crime labs is not worth the money. I wonder how much money it would be worth to him to concretely exonerate someone who was serving time for a crime they didn't commit? How much would it be worth to exonerate a death row inmate who did not commit the murder for which he is held? My guess is that it wouldn't be worth much to Sessions. He strikes me as the kind of death penalty advocate who believes that even if an inmate didn't commit the murder for which they were convicted, they probably did something somewhere else and it'll be no big loss to kill them. Heck, why should the taxpayers pay to free someone like that? Nevermind the fact that our justice system does not work effectively when a key piece of lab work is backlogged. How does a defendant get a speedy trial when the DNA is backed up? ahhhh the could I forget?

Forgive the sarcasm...this is a tiring job sometimes.

Billions to test DNA snagged

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Here is a very interesting article on the differences between John Kerry and George Bush when it comes to the death penalty. Its written for a Catholic website, so it is not unbiased, but then again, neither am I! Our friend, David Elliot, is quoted in the article as saying "Kerry would be the most anti-death penalty president elected in the modern era." I already knew that, but it's excellent to see it getting more publicity.

Kerry, Bush at near-opposite extremes on death penalty

Friday, September 17, 2004

There is another lawsuit to try to prevent use of lethal injection under the 8th amendment. According to the law suit (similar to others filed), lethal injection is cruel and unusual punishment because there is no way to know if the condemned is suffering from the drugs that kill him or her because they are under a paralytic drug that does not allow them to speak or move. There is no way to know if the anesthesia remains effective throughout the application of the other chemicals. Death penalty advocates have called this the death penalty opponent's "case du jour." Its much more than that though. Some argue that lethal injection is the "most humane" way to execute someone. If that is true, and lethal injection may be torturous to the victim, then perhaps the statement is that the "most humane" manner of execution is not humane at all. Perhaps, if the arguments of these lawsuits are true, there is no humane way of executing someone (after all, they are ending the life of a human being).

Lawsuits seek to ban lethal injection

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

This is a very informative article covering the recent survey issued by the Death Penalty Information Center. According to the survey, juries have issued far fewer death sentences in the last few years. The report makes some conclusions about the reasons for this trend, including the possibility that the number of recent exonerations may have played a role.

Fewer Death Sentences Being Imposed in U.S.
Looks like the New York Assembly will not be voting on a "fix" to the death penalty this year. Should I jump up and down or would that just be silly?

New York Death Penalty

Monday, September 13, 2004

This article from a Scottish newspaper is a commentary on President Bush and the "faces" he displays in his campaign (and his presidency). I'm posting the link for the information on GWB and the death penalty. It is not as a comment on GWB himself and I don't feel I can make a statement on the accuracy of the rest of the article. Please, take it for what its worth...

Unmasked: The George W Bush the President Doesn't Want the World To See
The below link is to a very interesting commentary on the Innocent through DNA legislation which is currently before Congress (see below entry about Bloodsworth). The last paragraph of the column is particularly poignant.

DNA Legislation Hits Snags

Friday, September 10, 2004

Kirk Bloodsworth is at the front of a lobbying effort to persuade Congress to pass the Advancing Justice Through DNA Technology Act. As you may know, Bloodsworth was the first former death row inmate who was exonerated through use of DNA evidence. The bill calls for over a billion dollars in federal monies toward the testing of rape kits and other crime scene evidence and to make crime labs more efficient nationwide. It will also allow for post-conviction DNA testing and allow inmates to attempt to prove their innocence through DNA analysis.

I recall reading in the past that this bill may have also included a provision related to efforts to backlog DNA and keep a record of every the DNA of every person arrested for a violent crime in order to use it to track future crimes. From a civil liberties standpoint, I'm not sure what I think of that (I have a good idea though). I'm not sure yet how I think that compares to a fingerprint and the assurance against self-incriminating (although some would argue that the 5th amendment only applies to "testimony"). This is not to mention the constitutional assurances provided under the 4th amendment (search and seizure) and the right to privacy. Obviously, innocent people get arrested for violent crimes. Why should their DNA be on file and their privacy invaded because they were falsely arrested? After all, you don't lose your civil rights (in theory) until you are CONVICTED of a felony (2d amendment rights, right to vote, right to serve on jury, etc.). So, why should you lose the right to keep your DNA private? What level of probable cause should be needed to secure such a sample? Thoughts anyone?

Victims Push for DNA Bill On Hill

Thursday, September 09, 2004

James Edward Reid - Virginia

The Commonwealth of Virginia executed James Reid tonight. He was 58 years old. Reid had been fighting his execution in the courts and the United States Supreme Court had stayed his execution this past December. The Court lifted that stay in August and refused his last attempt at an injunction to stay his execution earlier today. Reid had most recently argued that the form of lethal injection used in Virginia (the actual chemicals) was unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment. According to reports, Reid also had fair arguments under Atkins and other case law that he should have been granted clemency based on his mental status and his IQ. Reid was pronounced dead at 9:12 pm. Please keep his family and the family of his victim in your thoughts.

James Reid Executed

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Alan Gell

This is a great article on the story of Alan Gell who was released from death row in North Carolina back in February after a new trial and a not guilty verdict. Gell has been fighting for a moratorium on executions in North Carolina since his release.

Incidentally, there is a very interesting quote in the article from Gell regarding something the State wrote in one of their responses to his legal papers. The State apparently wrote "So what if he is probably innocent, he got a fair trial." YEESH. That statement on its own says a great deal about the attitude of some people in our criminal justice system: just convict someone, it doesn't matter who.

Gell tells story of freedom
Well, at least they're doing something... The National Institute for Trial Advocacy is holding one of its seminars (famous for boot camp type style) for criminal defense lawyers in Texas to help lawyers represent accused capital murderers. There are 50 criminal defense attorneys going through the program in Houston this weekend.

Class Aims To Improve Defense Lawyers In Death Penalty Cases

James Reid

The sister of James Reid is pleading for her brother's life and asking the governor for clemency. Reid is scheduled to be executed on Thursday evening in Virginia. Reid's sister argues that Reid should be spared because his attorney botched his defense. According to Reid's sister, Reid's counsel put on no defense and at times nodded off at counsel's table. Reid suffered seizures as a child which caused brain damage and has an IQ of 79. During his trial, his lawyers told him he could not receive the death penalty and he had no defense. They encouraged him to file an Alford plead to his indictment before ever reviewing his medical records. An Alford plea is tantamount to a guilty plea where the defendant does not admit the act but admits the prosecution is likely to find him guilty. Reid's counsel apparently advised him that if he made an Alford plea he would probably get a sentence of 20 to life. Since Reid's conviction, his trial counsel has been forced to give up his license for making false statements to the state bar about his representation of Reid.

Sister pleads for stay of execution
The attached article references the penalty phase of Coy Evans in Florida who is being tried for the shooting death of a Tallahassee police sergeant. The article has a very good description of what a lawyer's goals and plan should be in trying to save his or her client's life during the penalty phase.

Trying to make a case for life

Friday, September 03, 2004

Charles Malloy

Pennsylvania death row inmate, Charles Malloy, has been given a new sentencing hearing. Malloy's death sentence was vacated by the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court on Wednesday. The court found that a jury would not have been likely to sentence Malloy to death had they been able to consider all of the available mitigating evidence. Essentially, the court geld that Malloy had had ineffective assistance of counsel during the penalty phase.

Death penalty vacated

Philip Workman

A federal judge has granted Philip Workman a stay of execution. Workman is on death row after being convicted in 1982 of killing a Tennessee police officer. He has come within hours of death on more than one occasion. However, there are serious doubts about his guilt. An eyewitness has recanted and new evidence was discovered after his conviction. Still, the Tennessee Supreme Court voted to set Workman's execution (scheduled for September 22). The federal court entered a stay of execution until the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit hands down its ruling in the case of Abu-Ali Abdur'Rahman.

Workman's execution stayed by federal judge