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

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Wow. I had no idea of the prevalence of perjury. Well, I mean I knew that witnesses lie, but I guess I was just in denial about how often those lies lead to false convictions. 22% of those exonerated when perjury was revealed faced execution. WOW. So, how many people have been put to death or spent the remainder of their natural lives in a prison cell because of another person's lie? URGH.

Most Faulty Convictions Are A Direct Result Of Witness Perjury
Well, it looks like at least one state is taking the United States Supreme Court's 2002 ruling in Atkins v. Virginia seriously. The Court ruled in Atkins that it was unconstitutional to execute the mentally retarded. However, the Court issued no standard for determining the parameters of mental retardation. The ruling has also caused some discussion over whether it applies to mental illness as well as mental retardation. Some states have seemed to just ignore the Atkins ruling altogether. For example, as you may recall, Texas recently executed Kelsey Patterson who was clearly seriously mentally ill. In contrast, according to this article, the State of Mississippi has increased the number of mental exams being done in capital cases. This is apparently happening to assure its cases fall in line with the Court's rulings. In fact, two death row inmates in Mississippi have had their sentences commuted to life due to the results of their post-Atkins mental examinations.

Mental exams in death penalty cases are more common

Randy Steidl

For those of you familiar with the case of Randy Steidl in Illinois, I have attached a link to a very interesting article about his case and about the underlying murders for which he was convicted. Steidl was released from an Illinois penitentiary in May after a federal judge threw out his conviction and ordered him to either be retried or released (it took almost a year before Steidl was released). Steidl served twelve years on death row before his sentence was commuted to life in prison when a court found that he received ineffective assistance of counsel during the penalty phase of his trial. He was imprisoned for over seventeen years total.

From Death Row to Freedom