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.