Sunday, April 22, 2007

Sunday news round-up

Rounding it all up:

Monday will almost assuredly mark the 200th exoneration by DNA -- both capital & noncapital -- in the modern era:

Jerry Miller spent 25 years behind bars for a rape he has long maintained he didn’t commit. His fight to prove his innocence finally will pay off Monday when prosecutors, acting on new DNA tests that ruled out Miller as the attacker, will ask a judge to erase his conviction.

The expected exoneration on Monday will be the 200th in the nation based on DNA evidence, according to the nonprofit Innocence Project in New York. Miller talked about how he has rebuilt his life in an interview with the Chicago Tribune published in its Sunday editions.

Miller, 48, works two jobs and lives with a cousin in the south suburbs. Since his release on parole last year, he has relearned to drive and he used a cell phone for the first time.

He said he feels blessed that the DNA tests cleared him, calling the exoneration “the hand of God.”

“I am not angry. I am thankful and I feel proud of myself,” he told the newspaper. “I accomplished what I set out to do to show that they lied on me. … I made it. I’m not swept under the rug anymore.

“Prosecutors in Cook County agreed to the new DNA tests when approached by the Innocence Project last year, said John Gorman, a spokesman for the Cook County state’s attorney. He confirmed that the test, on a semen sample collected from the victim’s clothing, excluded Miller as the rapist.

“We’ll move to vacate” Miller’s conviction on Monday, Gorman told The Associated Press on Saturday.

Miller’s case involved a mistaken identification by two parking garage employees who rescued the rape victim from the trunk of her car after they saw a man flee from a car. Mistaken eyewitness identifications are involved in three out of four wrongful conviction, according to an analysis by the Innocence Project.

The DNA test for Miller did result in a cold hit in the DNA database of the real perpetrator.

[via Taking Down Words] Indiana’s solution to the lethal injection row in that state — double the amount of sedatives:

“State lawyers defending a legal challenge to Indiana’s execution process have disclosed that prison officials plan on doubling the amount of anesthetic administered during lethal injections.

“David Leon Woods, whose execution is set for May 4, is among three condemned inmates who claim in a federal lawsuit that the state Department of Correction’s execution protocol constitutes cruel and unusual punishment as it will not prevent inmates from feeling unnecessary pain.

“While the state attorney general’s office has denied that argument, the amount of sodium pentothal to be injected during executions is being increased from 2.5 grams to 5 grams, according to federal court records. Sodium pentothal is intended to make the inmate unconscious as the first of three chemicals given during an execution.

“Thomas Quigley, a deputy attorney general, disclosed the change last week during a telephone conference with federal Judge Richard L. Young and Linda Wagoner, an attorney for Woods.

“Woods has asked the judge to block his execution and his attorneys have asked state officials to explain why the dosage has been changed and whether they have evidence to back up its effectiveness.”

Press accounts note that an all white jury has decided not to kill Daphne VanderGeisen, a deaf, black lesbian woman convicted of the murder of an alleged rival. DQN notes:
“That’s probably one of the most difficult things I’ve, as a person, you never think you’re going to be the one that convicts someone of first-degree murder. Premeditated murder. You just don’t want to say that to another human being,” Van Zanten says.
“I think that brought her to a level that we had not seen before,” Dolan says. “And it brought more of a humanization to her rather than looking at her like some sort of a monster.”
But the jury’s job wasn’t done yet. They still had the penalty phase of the trial, which began with Darlene VanderGiesen’s parents sharing how their daughter’s murder affects them.
“I don’t think there was anyone in that courtroom who wasn’t brought to tears,” Kirkus says. “Listening to the VanderGiesens actually took a weight off the jury’s shoulders. The couple from Rock Valley seemed so genuine. So forgiving.”
“You didn’t feel any hatred. They just miss their daughter. And that helped us in deliberation. Because we weren’t trying to vindicate Darlene by punishing Daphne. Because we knew the VanderGiesens didn’t want that,” Frost-Elshami says.

“What John Q. Public thinks doesn’t matter that much to me,” Nelson says. “In the end, I wanted to make sure Darlene’s parents supported what we decided as well. They meant more to what I think than anybody.”

After about five hours the jurors unanimously decided Wright had a depraved mind when she killed VanderGiesen. That made the case eligible for the death penalty. It would have taken another unanimous vote for Wright to die. But seven of them chose life.

“In the end, we made the right choice,” Dolan says.

“And in the end, we were the 12 people that were looking at Daphne,” Frost-Elshami says. “We saw her mother.

We saw her history. We saw a lot about the person that we would have sentenced to death. And you can’t lose sight of the fact it’s a person.”

Still, it was largely important that, this time, the jury read Wright the verdict.

“I wish we could have tagged on a little part at the end of it saying that we showed mercy on Daphne that she didn’t show on Darlene,” Nelson says. “And I hope she realizes we didn’t have to do that.”

They didn’t have to, but in putting an end to the saga has affected so many, these jurors spared Daphne Wright’s life.

“We wanted the killing to stop,” Frost-Elshami says.

The jurors say they kept their votes in the death penalty phase anonymous. But two of them said from the beginning of deliberations that they wouldn’t switch their vote to death.

The Tennessee Dude at Amnesty International’s death penalty blog notes:

“If it were up to the state of Pennsylvania, I’d be dead today.”

yep, that’s what harold wilson and jay c. smith said together as they gathered at the liberty bell in philadelphia with other members of a small club they wish they failed to qualify for - wrongfully convicted human beings sent to death row for a crime they didn’t commit…and finally exonerated…

for smith it was a box of detective’s notebooks, found in the officer’s dusty attic, that showed there was evidence to question his guilt…for wilson there were 16 years at the philadelphia industrial correctional

[DPIC has more on the topic]

In brief I should also note:

  • James Filiaggi is a borderline volunteer. Borderline because he has apparently not wanted to aggressively fight to save his own life but has permitted some “appeals” of his underlying conviction and death sentence. ODPI notes Filiaggi is now try to join a lethal injection lawsuit just four days before his April 24 scheduled execution. All other recent Ohio execution dates save one have been effectively stayed in light of the lethal injection suit; the one remaining unstayed serious date is scheduled for the end of May — that of Christopher Newton. In advance of the scheduled execution of James Filagi, the Associate Press examines Ohio’s six volunteers to be executed.
  • Press accounts note that in Horn v. Mumia Abul Jamar the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office–which apparently represents Horn — has asked the Third Circuit to recuse itself because Abu-Jamal contends that city prosecutors routinely engaged in racial discrimination during jury selection at the time of the 1982 trial. Gov. Rendell was district attorney at that time & his wife, Judge Marjorie O. Rendell, now sits on the federal appeals court. In a brief order the Third Circuit said that Judge Rendell and three other judges - Theodore A. McKee, D. Michael Fisher, and Richard L. Nygaard - are recused from the case - but not because of the district attorney’s request. There is an unusually strong Batson claim in play on appeal.
  • Colorado State “lawmakers killed a plan to slash the number of prosecutors in the state’s death-penalty unit on Wednesday, despite claims the money could be better used for a cold-case unit to pursue the 1,200 unsolved murders in Colorado. Rep. Paul Weissmann, D-Louisville, said the state could save millions of dollars yearly that is spent prosecuting and defending death penalty cases. He said the money could be better spent catching criminals still walking the streets. Weissmann said only two people on death row in Colorado and it’s not worth having a four-member capital crimes unit. Weissmann tried to cut the number in half, but the House killed the bill (House Bill 1094).”
  • .Amnesty International has blasted Iraq’s death penalty scheme which has already earned that nation the distinction of being the fourth largest executioner in the world (and that isn’t even counting extra-judicial killings) for the last year.
  • Saudi Arabia executed two men from Chad on Friday for armed robbery and kidnapping, raising to at least 36 the number of people put to death in the Islamic kingdom this year.
  • Media sources note that Tanzania is beginning to review its position on outlawing the death penalty after being put under pressure from human rights watchdogs.
  • In a case that has arisen some ire over at the Weekly, 0n April 13, 2007, the Fifth Circuit issued an opinion denying David Lee Lewis -- who is purportedly mentally retarded -- because although counsel mailed to the court the petition within the period governed by the statute of limitations it was not docketed until one day after the period had run. Had counsel filed electronically or driven to the courthouse it would have been timely. In re Lewis, ___ F.3d ___, 2007 WL 1098434 (5th Cir. April 13, 2007).

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