Tuesday, February 28, 2006

And then there were 123

Yesterday the Death Penalty Information Center announced that John Ballard has become the nation's 123rd wrongly convicted person freed from death row in what we call the "modern" era (since executions were allowed to resume in 1976).

Here's the first two graphs of the DPIC press release:
WASHINGTON, DC – After three years on Florida’s death row, John Ballard has become the nation’s 123rd person freed from death row according to the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC). The Florida Supreme Court unanimously overturned Ballard’s conviction and acquitted him of all charges on Thursday, February 23, concluding that the state did not present enough evidence to convict Ballard and that the trial judge should have dismissed the case immediately. Shortly after the Florida Supreme Court’s decision was announced, the State Attorney General’s office said that it would not challenge the ruling. Ballard was released from Union Correctional Facility on Saturday, February 25.

“This case demonstrates that innocent people still face a significant risk of execution in this country,” said Richard Dieter, Executive Director of DPIC, “For every eight people executed, we find one person on death row who should never have been even convicted.”
If you want to read more about the death penalty and the innocent people who have been convicted and sentenced to die, go here. Meanwhile, as my friend Karl noted last week, Ballard needs financial support, because the state of Florida only gives wrongly convicted people something like $100 upon release. If you scroll down, you can find out how to help.

New blog

Here's what we believe is a first: There's a new blog out there dedicated to abolishing capital punishment throughout Asia. It's called the Asia Death Penalty Blog and its description is as follows:

The death penalty is a cruel, futile and dangerous punishment, and the Asian region is home to some of the world's leading executioners. This blog provides information about the death penalty across Asia, supporting the campaign to end executions in the region.

You can visit the blog here. We'll link to it as soon as we come up for air around here!

Monday, February 27, 2006

Hitchhiking and organizing for abolition

Every now and again, when perusing the handful of anti-death penalty blogs that are out there, one stumbles across something that is truly unique.

And so was the case when we noticed this blog entry posted by Alex, a young person who works for the Tennessee Coalition to Abolish State Killing. Seems that Alex, for some reason we aren't even going to speculate over, decided he wanted to hitchhike from Nashville to Mobile, Alabama. Along the way, he envisioned the many similarities between hitchhiking and organizing to abolish the death penalty:

To begin with, in a lot of ways, the goals are similar. In both cases we
are trying to build a relationship of trust with people, either to get them to
share their time and stories with us, or to get them to trust me enough to let
me into their car. And we're doing it for a purpose, a strategic goal (get to
Mobile, abolish the death penalty, etc.)

To read the whole thing -- and this is a fun read, believe us -- go here.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Quote of the day

comes from former special prosecutor Kenneth Starr:

"Society is not equipped to handle death penalty cases because of resources. Large law firms are not willing at this stage to take these cases on, at a cost of many thousands of dollars, in order to make sure that if the public wants the death penalty, it is not administered with arbitrariness and caprice."

Thursday, February 23, 2006

We're seeing more of this too

Florida death row prisoner John Robert Ballard was acquitted today by a unanimous decision of the Florida Supreme Court, which ordered his conviction overturned due to a lack of evidence connecting him to the crime. After serving more than 3 years on death row for a crime he did not commit, Ballard is expected to be released as the Florida State AG's office this afternoon filed notice that they will NOT seek a re-hearing in the case.

The State of Florida will give Mr. Ballard a paltry $100 in cash when they free him after more than 3 years of incarceration. In order to assist Mr. Ballard and others like him, an "Exonerated Prisoner Relief Fund" has been established for Florida's exonerated inmates. Details are available at http://www.fadp.org/relief_fund.html or by calling 800-973-6548.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

We're going to see more of this

There's a fascinating profile in Mother Jones of Dianne Clement, head of the Houston-based group called Justice For All, which lobbies aggressively for executions to be carried out. I'd recommend it to everyone, whether you're pro-dp or anti. You can access it here.

Here's one paragraph I found interesting:
As for all the people freed from death row, Clements couldn’t agree more that it proves capital defendants need good legal representation. "I think they’re kind of the Antichrist," she says of death penalty defense lawyers. "But you do want the very best representation, because…you want their convictions not to be overturned." Even if it were ever proved that an innocent person had been executed, she says, she’d still support the death penalty.
That's what Clements says now. But that's not what she told the Houston Chronicle in 2003:
"If I believed we executed an innocent inmate, I couldn't support the death penalty."
Normally I would just say "gotcha" and move on. But the fact is, we're going to see more of this duplicity as the number of innocent people freed from death row continues to climb. Death penalty proponents are going to be forced by circumstances to acknowledge not just wrongful convictions but also executions of innocent people. Some of them will change their minds on the issue. Others, however, will dig in and make the argument that if we are going to have the death penalty then of course we will mistakenly execute innocent from time to time.

Just watch.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Molly Ivins and AEDPA

Today columnist Molly Ivins takes on the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA). For those who may not have heard of this wretched and patently un-American law, AEDPA severely restricts the ability of any person convicted of a felony crime to present evidence of innocence or wrongful conviction in federal court.

Some of Molly's choice morsels:
The notorious inability of prosecutors to admit that they are ever wrong is a fact of life. What is far more horrifying is the refusal of judges and courts to look at evidence that proves innocence. Can you imagine how that must feel - to be in prison for a crime you didn't commit and to finally be able to prove it, only to have a court refuse to consider the evidence?

Most of this is a consequence of a noxious law that Congress rushed through after the Oklahoma City bombing. Called the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, the law was aimed at the ability of federal judges to second-guess state courts and at the ability of prisoners to file endless habeas corpus claims challenging the constitutionality of their convictions. (Habeas corpus is a Latin phrase meaning "you have the body" and goes back hundreds of years in common law as well as being in the Constitution. It means that if you can show you were unfairly tried, you have a remedy through the courts.)

True, the right has been abused for nitpicking purposes by some lawyers, but to effectively abolish the right is a dreadful abrogation of freedom. Where in the world are the militia folks now that we need them? Where are all those right-wingers who claim freedom as their most cherished possession?

The trouble with the 1996 law is that it was poorly written and has been subject to conflicting interpretations by the lower courts. The law says that a federal judge can reverse a state court conviction only if it was contrary to federal law or if it applied federal law in an "unreasonable" way.

The Fourth Circuit, one of the most conservative courts in the country, has ruled that this means state courts have applied the law in ways that "all reasonable jurists would agree is unreasonable." As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg pointed out, reasonable jurists always disagree on constitutional issues.

The film "The Hurricane," with Denzel Washington, is about a case in point. Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, a contender for the middleweight boxing title, was wrongfully convicted of a 1966 triple murder. He spent 19 years in prison before he was finally released.

The movie depicts the conviction as a frame-up by one racist cop, but as Selwyn Rabb, who originally covered the story for The New York Times, wrote: "The actual story is more harrowing because it exposes an underlying frailty in a criminal justice system that convicted Mr. Carter not once but twice. The convictions were obtained not by a lone, malevolent investigator but by a network of detectives, prosecutors and judges who countenanced the suppression and tainting of evidence and the injection of racial bias into the courtroom."

Under current interpretations of the 1996 law, Hurricane Carter would not be free today.

The most thoughtful comment in the PBS documentary came from a law professor concerned about the criminal justice system's refusal to consider its own errors. He pointed out that in most other systems, when something goes horribly wrong - a plane falls from the sky, a type of car begins bursting into flames, a hospital patient dies from gross malpractice - there is a system in place to deal with the error. There are investigations, reports and ultimately corrections made to prevent recurrence.

In the criminal justice system, there are only denials and strenuous efforts to prevent the exculpatory evidence from being presented in court. The ease with which our criminal justice system can nail the wrong person has been painfully demonstrated time and again.

(Henry Lee Lucas, the serial liar, provided one of the most bizarre examples. He claimed to have committed more than 600 murders. Police in 26 states closed the books on 229 murders, and he was convicted of 11 of them before it occurred to anyone to wonder if he was telling the truth. Physical evidence against him was found in two cases. The state of Texas managed to convict him for a murder committed while he was quite demonstrably in another state and had to let him off Death Row.)
Ivins concludes by noting that in most instances, when an innocent person is released from death row, the case is not reopened -- meaning that for every such case, a murderer walks among us.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

state death penalty org calls for ...

the truth -- just the truth ...

is that so hard a request from district attorneys and former attorney generals???

apparently so.........

but the tennessee affiliate of the ncadp is on guard duty ... here's our blog close from thursday on this issue -

"So never fear, seekers of truth and justice, the TCASK blog is here. We will not allow these sorts of comments to go unchallenged. Someone looking for information on Al Schmutzer has already found this out, and I hope that a search for John Ashcroft and Vanderbilt will yield us a result as well."

check out the entire post at... www.tcask.blogspot.com/2006/02/government-officials-beware-tcask-blog.html

peace out - <3

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The death penalty reconsidered

Do some people -- people who commit the most gruesome of crimes, the most egregious of murders -- deserve to die? Perhaps a better question is, do we deserve to kill them?

Today we're posting, in its entirety, a really interesting op-ed by an English professor out of Corpus Christi, Texas:

The death penalty reconsidered

Scripps Howard News Service 15-FEB-06
The recent execution of Crips co-founder and murderer Stanley "Tookie" Williams reminded me of a drizzly Friday night last winter in Corpus Christi, Texas, when Sister Helen Prejean addressed a modest crowd at a local church about her opposition to the death penalty.

For two hours, Prejean described her path from a protected childhood to a quiet life of prayer to her role as one of the country's most active opponents of capital punishment. Eventually she wrote "Dead Man Walking," the book that inspired the movie.

We assumed that she would be preaching to the choir, and for the most part, she was. It wasn't hard to sense sympathy for her story among the sort of people who would show up at a church on an inclement winter evening to hear a lecture on capital punishment.

But as soon as she finished speaking and invited questions, a young woman sitting in the row directly behind us stood up and faced the audience. She displayed a framed photograph of another young woman, her sister, she said, who had been one of at least five victims of a serial killer in Baton Rouge.

She described the murder in extensive and gruesome detail, a slow death that included torture and inexplicable brutality. The killer is still on death row, but he continues to threaten and intimidate the victims' families, she said, and she will never feel safe until he is dead. When she finished, her hands were shaking, but her voice was steady.

Her stunning testimony was an uncomfortable jolt to the convictions against the death penalty that many in the audience had undoubtedly been developing or reinforcing over the past two hours.

Of course, Prejean's arguments are good ones: the death penalty doesn't deter crime, we've never found a way to administer it without regard to race or social class, and it's inevitable that we'll occasionally execute innocent people. But in the face of the story told by the victim's sister even the most avid opponent of capital punishment must sometimes wonder: Don't some people just deserve to die? Probably. Occasionally my students will write about the death penalty, and many of them aren't shy about invoking the Old Testament's "an eye for an eye." They argue that those who rape, torture, and murder deserve not only to die, but also to suffer the same sort of brutal tortures that they committed against their victims.

They have a point. Fortunately, one of the great triumphs of our Constitution is that it outlaws the cruel punishments that were common in the 18th century. We take the enlightened view that extreme punishments like drawing and quartering or burning at the stake, however well deserved they may be, have dehumanizing effects that violate our sense of what a civilized society should be. Therefore, we remain frustrated in our attempt to set things truly right again after brutal murders like the one we heard described. But it's the price we pay to be who we are.
So if we take the emotion and Old Testament justice out of the picture, Prejean's arguments are reasonably convincing. But if we don't execute someone like Williams, what do we do with him? To oppose the death penalty isn't necessarily to be soft on crime. Many prisoners in our penal system should never be released, either because they are still dangerous or because they haven't been punished sufficiently. Williams was a bad man, and he probably deserved never to be free again.

On the other hand, buried somewhere in our penology is the notion of rehabilitation. Ordinarily we're more successful with punishment, but rehabilitation is still a reasonable secondary goal. If we were better at rehabilitation, prisoners _ even the lifers like Williams _ would be easier to control and could serve as excellent examples for other prisoners of the idea that lives can be turned from crime to productivity, whether on the inside or outside. And successfully rehabilitated prisoners might serve as role models who help prevent youngsters from pursuing a life of crime.

Now that I think of it, Williams was probably an excellent example of a rare successful rehabilitation, someone who appears to have worked hard to dissuade teenagers from following his misguided path. In fact, we could probably point to Williams with considerable pride as a fine example of what successful penal rehabilitation could look like.

But now, of course, he's dead.

(John M. Crisp is a professor in the English Department at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Texas.)

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

MTV to cover Alternative Spring Break?

Last week we wrote about "Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break," which is scheduled for March 13 to 17 in my previous home town of Austin. Basically, it's an opportunity for high school and college students to come together and organize against the death penalty.

Now Hooman Hedayati, who's with Texas Students Against the Death Penalty, informs us that MTVU, which is MTV's university station, may cover Alternative Spring Break. A producer writes:

"When people think of Spring Break the vision of beaches, night clubs and drinking until you drop usually comes to mind. MTVU wants to put a new spin on the typical Spring Break stereotypes by showcasing college students from around the country with alternative plans. The new Spring Break trend has students using their time away from school for more meaningful purposes -- whether volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, helping restore properties affected by Hurricane Katrina or protesting a cause they believe in. We want to showcase these unique Spring Breaks by following students on their adventures. We’ll not only shoot the events they’re partaking in but also get the back stories for why these students chose their plans, how they feel throughout the trip and what they come away from the trip with. It's time to put the spotlight on students who are getting more than a great tan out of their Spring Break!"

It sounds great. To learn more about Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break, go here and scroll down a bit.

Monday, February 13, 2006

All we're sayin' is, this guy's a reformer

We're not, of course, going to comment on the accident over the weekend involving Vice President Cheney and the quail hunt. This is a strictly nonpartisan blog -- there are Republicans who oppose the death penalty and Democrats who favor it and we want to build a big tent that includes everyone who opposes it -- libertarians, religious conservatives, religious progressives, secular folks, everyone.

That said, my friend in Austin, Steve Hall, reports that Harry Whittington, the guy Cheney accidentally shot, has been a longtime proponent of reform of Texas' criminal justice system.

For example, he once testified against executing people who have severe mental retardation. Excerpts from his testimony follow:

"I am appearing here today as someone who has had years of experience in dealing with mental retardation and Texas government. First, as a parent of a 45-year-old mentally retarded daughter; second, as a solo-practitioner lawyer who has gone to court for disadvantaged and uninformed clients; and third as a veteran of almost a quarter of a century of service to our state as a member of the Prison Board, Public Finance Authority and Funeral Commission.

"For the past 24 years, I have been an advocate for the proposition that Texas has been woefully deficient and backward in the way it fails to recognize and properly treat its mentally retarded citizens, especially in its criminal justice system.

"During this time, I have been sadly disappointed over the number of state leaders and judges who confuse the irreversible condition of mental retardation with the disease of mental illness.
This began when I started visiting prisons and seeing first-hand how callused and unfair our prisons were by expecting mentally retarded inmates to have the same comprehension and ability as the typical street-wise and smarter offenders. It became obvious to me that our state's criminal justice system had simply not been designed to provide them with equal treatment under the law.


"Two years ago, the Texas Legislature continued with forward progress by joining 16 of the 38 states who have death penalties in setting public policy against the execution of inmates who have childlike minds; unfortunately, the legislation was vetoed by Gov. Rick Perry. This policy was confirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2002, making it the law of the land.


"Those of us who are on the same side of this issue before you today are the same ones who argued in past sessions that the state should set a higher moral standard for justice because the execution of adults with the minds of children was cruel punishment beneath the dignity of the State of Texas. Those on the other side are the same ones who have appeared every year and opposed any reform legislation which could possibly be interpreted as being soft on crime.

"Our side has never argued that the mentally retarded should not be punished. We have only said that they should not be executed because they are incapable of understanding the seriousness of their crimes. We continue to believe that since the death penalty is the ultimate punishment imposed on those criminals who are the most accountable for their actions, all possible doubts about due process should be removed from the trial procedure as offenders with metal deficiencies make their way through the criminal justice system.

"My experience and my knowledge of the law and constitution convinces me that it would be grossly unfair to an offender with the mind of a child to have his retardation determined by the same jury that has heard and seen how violently and brutally his adult body has wrongfully acted. In your deliberations, please keep in mind that the mentally retarded have the same physical desires, weaknesses and temptations as the rest of us.

"If our state truly opposes the execution of mentally retarded offenders, we should remove all doubts about protecting them from a jury that has become biased because of the evidence they have heard in a courtroom. This is the humane and compassionate position that a large majority of Texans support."

Sunday, February 12, 2006

50,000 and counting!


Sometime during the wee hours of this morning -- about the time that the Eastern Seabord was getting pummelled by a major snowstorm -- this little blog received its 50,000th visitor.

Whether you favor the death penalty, oppose it, or you stumble in here because you're just curious about the issue, we welcome you. And we'll endeavor to keep making this blog interesting and worthy of your continued visits!

Friday, February 10, 2006

Shout out to Radley Balko

Radley Balko, who runs The Agitator and who broke the Cory Maye story about a person wrongfully convicted and death-sentenced in Mississippi, was in our office today. He was talking with my colleagues about how to advance the Cory Maye story among grassroots activists. The Cory Maye story has the ability to bring progressives, libertarians and conservatives together because it involves both misappropriation of police power (they served a warrant on the wrong house) and evidence of wrongdoing by police and possibly others.

So, shout out to Radley. And keep up your good work!

Oh, and you can sign the petition to free Cory Maye here. 645 signatures as of this posting.

Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break

If you're a young person and you're in Texas (or maybe you're not in Texas but you want to visit) here's an interesting idea. A coalition of groups including the Texas Moratorium Network, Texas Death Penalty Education and Resource Center, Campaign to End the Death Penalty - Austin Chapter and Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty are sponsoring the 2006 Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break in Austin from March 13-17. (Man, I miss the South. Technically, winter isn't over until March 20, but they're already starting to think about spring down there.)

Anyway, this is the third year in a row that this event has been held. Its purpose is to bring high school and college students to Austin for five days of anti-death penalty activism and education.

Hooman Hedayati, head of Texas Students Against the Death Penalty, explains it this way:

"We will provide participants with workshops that will teach them skills they can use to go back home and set up new anti-death penalty student organizations or improve ones that may already exist. Participants can apply what they learn to organize against the death penalty or in their activities involving other issues.

Activities include various workshops, a bus trip to Huntsville to protest an execution on March 15, and a Lobby Day in Austin.

More information and a registration form is available on the TSADP website

Also -- and how cool is this -- they've started their own blog. As soon as I have time and come up for air, we will link.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Quote of the Day

Quote of the Day:
"Capital Punishment in America is withering towards its death – slowly, gradually, incrementally, but surely nonetheless." -- J. Richard Broughton, Assistant United States Attorney, Capital Case Unit, United States Department of Justice, Washington, D.C.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Core Maye petition

The blog "What is Liberalism" has a petition going to free Cory Maye, the wrongfully convicted person on death row in Mississippi. You can sign it by going here.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Murder victims' family members

People often assume that family members of murder victims invariably support the death penalty for the person who killed their loved one.

This perception could not be further from the truth. Witness, for example, the people who are on my organization's Board of Directors. We have Bill Pelke, the chairman of our board, who lost his grandmother to murder. He opposes the death penalty. We have Renny Cushing, the vice chair of our board, who lost his father to murder. He opposes the death penalty. We have board member Bud Welch, whose daughter, Julie, died in the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. He opposes the death penalty.

Now comes Toni Boscoe, who lost her son and daughter-in-law to murder. She recently submitted the following testimony to Congress:

United States Senate
Committee on the Judiciary
Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Property Rights

Hearing on “An Examination of the Death Penalty in the United
States” February 1, 2006

Testimony of Antoinette Bosco

I am the mother of murder victims, opposed to the death penalty.

In August 1993, I got the word that my son John and his wife Nancy had been murdered in their Montana home. It turned out that the killer was 18-year-old Joseph “Shadow” Clark, the son of the people from whom they had just bought their home. After confessing to this horrible crime, he faced the death penalty.

The day I got the news of the brutal murders, I learned a new definition of torment. My beloved son and his beautiful wife were dead at the hand of someone I could only believe to be, at that moment, an agent of Satan.

I found myself screaming, sometimes aloud, sometimes with silent cries
tearing at my insides. I tormented myself, wanting to know who was
the faceless monster that had brought such permanent, unrelenting pain into my family. I wanted to kill him with my own hands. I wanted him dead.

But that feeling also tormented me, for I had always been opposed to the death penalty. I felt now I was being tested on whether my values were
permanent, or primarily based on human feelings and expediency.

It was when I went to Montana and stood in that room of death with two of my sons that I was overpowered with a sense of the evil I felt there. In that room, I was able to grasp truth again, that unnatural death at the hands of another is always wrong, except in a clear case of self-defense. The state is no more justified in taking a life than is an individual. Killing can’t be “sanitized” by calling it “official” and “legal.”

I and my family were relieved when Shadow Clark took a plea bargain, and thus avoided the death penalty. He is now serving a life sentence.
He has written to me from his prison cell, asking forgiveness. His latest
letter arrived on January 25, 2006, and he writes: “Not a day goes by that is free from the pain of what I did. I was a very foolish kid and I truly regret my actions.”

I’ve heard all the arguments for the death penalty and I don’t dismiss
these lightly. You can't arrive at opposition to this form of punishment with blinders on.

When it hits you personally, the anger and pain of your loss makes you want to tear apart that person who stole your loved one and your happiness. But does this do any good in the long run? And should we be in the business of killing people? We have the right, and the responsibility, to punish, and I believe murderers should be given life, confined away from society, without parole. But executions? Never. It is only a delusion to believe that one’s pain is ended by making someone else feel pain.

I have long reflected on what Supreme Court Justice Harry A.Blackmun wrote in the mid-90’s, that nearly "twenty years have passed since this Court declared that the death penalty must be imposed fairly, and with reasonable consistency, or not at all, and despite the effort of the states and courts to devise legal formulas and procedural rules to meet this daunting challenge, the death penalty remains fraught with arbitrariness, discriminations, caprice and mistake."

That well expresses why I urge our nation to abolish the death penalty.
Thank you.
Antoinette Bosco is author of “Choosing Mercy, A Mother
of Murder Victims Pleads to End the Death Penalty”
(Orbis Books)

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Suddenly, race-based attacks


It began as a trickle but now it has become a river: We have received a bunch of comments to this blog during the past day or two invoking racial epithets, often using the "n" word and often using profanity.

Let me be clear here and state the obvious. Most people who favor the death penalty would not use this language. But the death penalty proponents who are visiting this blog are using it. I guess the only thing I am thankful for is that 95 percent of the people who visit this blog do not read the comments.

High school students working on term papers, and sometimes even junior high school students, visit this blog. Should we therefore delete the hateful comments?

I quite honestly do not believe we should.

I believe we need to show the face of hate and of racism. Being a white guy, I don't really know what it means to be a victim of racism. But these email messages and comments do help drive it home. So, the comments will not be deleted.

A strange and sad note: If you scroll down, you wll see a letter from Vernon Evans' lawyer explaining the problem with his conviction. Not a single person has written in to refute this lawyer's reasoning. Instead, it is "n word" this and "n word" that.

Death penalty proponents: Please. You are not putting your best face forward here. I know this is not the best you have to offer. Is it?

Friday, February 03, 2006

Vernon Evans: Too much doubt for execution

We've received a handful of email messages (I think three in all) that basically say, "Fry Vernon Evans."

Leaving aside the fact that hardly anyone electrocutes people anymore, I'd like to call people's attention to the following letter to the editor, which was published in yesterday's Washington Post.

As you read it, keep in mind that Maryland has what's known as a "triggerman" law. Unlike Texas, in Maryland in order to receive the death penalty, you can't merely be an accomplice to the shooting. You have to have caused another person's death yourself. (By contrast, Texas, which has a "law of parties," allows a person to be executed if they accompanied the triggerman, assuming that it can be proved that they were engaged in behavior that knowingly could lead to another person's death, i.e., armed robbery.)

Here's the letter:

Too Much Doubt for Execution

Maryland is poised to execute Vernon Lee Evans Jr., who was convicted of two murders in Baltimore County in 1983. A judge has signed a warrant for the execution during the week of Feb. 6. As Mr. Evans's lawyer, I have brought a number of challenges to the constitutionality of his conviction and sentence, so far to no avail.

But a death sentence should be intolerable in this case -- even if, as the courts have thus far ruled, the mistakes that infect the sentence do not make its imposition unconstitutional. Although a jury convicted Mr. Evans and sentenced him to death, the only eyewitness in the case has sworn, under oath and in open court, that the man she saw shoot the victims was a lot taller than Mr. Evans, who at 5-foot-2 is nicknamed "Shorty." The witness also said that the killer was dressed differently than Mr. Evans was on the day of the crime. But the jury never heard from that eyewitness, whose testimony is corroborated in important detail by two others.


According to the lawyers who were defending Mr. Evans then, she "fell between the cracks" and was never even interviewed.

No one, certainly not the state, has ever argued seriously that the process that has led to a scheduled execution for Vernon Evans was anywhere near mistake-free. That is hardly unusual in cases involving death sentences. Because clearly guilty defendants typically plead out to sentences less than death, it is only the closer cases -- cases with hard issues and contested evidence -- that generally go to trial and result in sentences of death. It is in precisely those cases that mistakes are most likely -- and most deadly.

The possibility that this imperfect process may result in the government-sponsored taking of a life should be acceptable to no one -- conservative, moderate or liberal.

Chevy Chase

The writer is an attorney for Vernon Evans .

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Quote of the day

"Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."

--John Donne, English poet