Sunday, May 13, 2007

Sunday news round-up

As happens most Sundays, a quick round-up of the news making headlines.

The news of the week is a death row exoneration in Oklahoma.
Curtis Edward McCarty,who was convicted twice and sentenced to death for the same murder in verdicts that were both thrown out based on evidence of his innocence and an extraordinary pattern of government misconduct, was released from prison this morning after a judge dismissed the indictment against him that would have led to a third trial. The prosecution said today that it will not appeal the decision – finally clearing McCarty after 21 years of wrongful incarceration, more than 16 of them on death row.

In 1986, McCarty was convicted of a 1982 murder in Oklahoma City and sentenced to die. Citing misconduct by the prosecutor and a police lab analyst, the Court of Criminal Appeals overturned the conviction, and McCarty was retried in 1989. He was again convicted and sentenced to death. In 1995, the appeals court upheld his conviction but threw out his death sentence; in 1996, he was sentenced to death again. In 2005, the Court of Criminal Appeals again overturned his conviction, citing the continued pattern of government misconduct – and new DNA tests showing that semen recovered from the victim did not come from McCarty.

“Every piece of evidence in this case, including evidence that was used improperly to secure convictions, now shows Curtis McCarty’s innocence,” said Colin Starger , the Innocence Project Staff Attorney on the case who argued the motion to dismiss the indictment in a three-hour hearing yesterday afternoon. “Semen recovered from the victim, material under the victim’s fingernails and a bloody print the perpetrator left on the victim’s body all come from someone other than Curtis McCarty.”

Robert H. Macy, who was the Oklahoma County District Attorney for 21 years, prosecuted McCarty in both of his trials. Macy sent 73 people to death row – more than any other prosecutor in the nation – and 20 of them have been executed. Macy has said publicly that he believes executing an innocent person is a sacrifice worth making in order to keep the death penalty in the United States . Macy committed misconduct in the manner that he prosecuted McCarty and presented the case to the jury. His misconduct was compounded when he relied on Joyce Gilchrist, a police lab analyst who falsified test results and hid or destroyed evidence in order to help secure McCarty’s convictions. Gilchrist was the lead forensic analyst in 23 cases that ended in death sentences (11 of the defendants in those cases have been executed)

“This is by far one of the worst cases of law enforcement misconduct in the history of the American criminal justice system,” said Barry Scheck , Co-Director of the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with
Cardozo School of Law. “Bob Macy has said that executing an innocent person is a risk worth taking – and he came very close to doing just that with Curtis McCarty.”

[NewsOK also has a page for continuing coverage of disgraced former police chemist Joyce Gilchrist, here. Gilchrist becomes the 124th person in America who was sentenced to death and to have later been exonerated. Death row exonerations have occurred in 25 states. The Death Penalty Information Center maintains a list of capital exonerations. Eight men have been exonerated and released from Texas death row. Additional coverage at Stand Down, DPIC, the Innocent Project & TalkLeft.]
Three US Newspapers Reverse Stand on the death penalty:

Three established U.S. newspapers, two of them among the 10 largest in the country, in three different states have in the past weeks abandoned their century-old support of the death penalty and become passionate advocates of a ban on state-sponsored killing.

The newspapers – the Chicago Tribune in Illinois, the smaller Sentinel in Pennsylvania and the Dallas Morning News in Texas – announced their change of heart in strongly-argued editorials following a series of investigative articles highlighting the flaws in the death penalty system in their states and country.

"I think in a word it's the issue of innocence that has brought about these editorials," Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, told IPS. "The weight of evidence in death penalty cases as seen and confirmed in DNA testing has made the death penalty too risky."

The Triangle, the college newspaper of Drexel University, asks in an editorial alreay getting much circulation, Why not a death penalty moratorium in Pennsylvania?

New Jersey is poised to become the latest state to impose a moratorium on the death penalty, following the recommendation of a special panel commissioned by the State Legislature. The panel's report points out what other studies have long-since concluded: capital punishment is expensive to taxpayers and ineffective as a deterrent to crime. It also notes that capital punishment appears to be "inconsistent with evolving standards of decency," which is a polite way of acknowledging that virtually every civilized nation in the world has abandoned it.

Governor Corzine supports a moratorium, as do the Democratic leaders of both houses of the Legislature. Nothing is a sure bet in these United States, especially when it comes to rational social policy, but it seems to have a good chance of being passed.

Not so in Pennsylvania. Governor Ed Rendell, finally flushed out on the issue by an NPR reporter, responded that a moratorium would not be appropriate in the Commonwealth because circumstances are "different."

I'll say they are. New Jersey, with a population more than two-thirds the size of Pennsylvania's and twice as diverse, has about a dozen prisoners on Death Row. Pennsylvania's Death Row is more than 220 strong. It's not because the murder rate in the Commonwealth is fifteen times higher than it is across the river. It's because Pennsylvania prosecutors, including former Philadelphia District Attorney Ed Rendell, are as zealous in seeking to extinguish souls as Victorian missionaries were to save them. The current District Attorney of Philadelphia, Lynne Abraham, whose jurisdiction has filled more than half the bunks on Pennsylvania's Death Row, once posed proudly on the cover of The New York Times Magazine as "America's Deadliest D. A.," as if she were J. Edgar Hoover with a Tommy gun.

The counterpart of scalp-hungry D.A.s are inexperienced and ill-funded defense lawyers, mostly court-appointed, who have few resources and little incentive to provide adequate representation for their clients. The Commonwealth does not even require them to practice criminal law. The exception to this is the Philadelphia Public Defenders' Office, which has a professional and committed staff and long years of experience. No Pennsylvanian represented by the Defenders' Office has ever received the death penalty. But, by scandalous agreement with the Pennsylvania bar (which has taken a stand against the death penalty, but does precious little about it), the Defenders' Office is limited to representing no more than 20 percent of capitally accused clients. The D.A.'s Association does not want to see anything even approaching a level playing field when it goes for death. The Pennsylvania bar does not wish to see private attorneys, qualified or not, cut out of the death business. And so, as the late Kurt Vonnegut would say, it goes.

Arguably the world's most high profile death row inmate faces a "pivotal hearing" in his case Thursday. The Philadelphia Inquirer writes:

On July 3, 1982, a Philadelphia jury took just four hours to sentence Mumia Abu-Jamal to death for murdering Police Officer Daniel Faulkner.

Nearly a quarter-century later, Abu-Jamal has remained alive through a series of appeals. His bid to escape the death penalty is now at a critical stage.

The case will be argued this week in the region's federal appeals court, and if Abu-Jamal loses, Philadelphia's most controversial death-row inmate will be in imminent peril of lethal injection.

"He realizes that death is just a few doors away," said his attorney, Robert R. Bryan, a San Francisco lawyer who specializes in death-penalty appeals.

On Thursday, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia will hear legal argument on whether the death sentence should be upheld, or whether Abu-Jamal should get a new trial or a new sentencing hearing.

Bryan said that Abu-Jamal, now 53 and known as "Pops" to younger inmates, realizes that his life is on the line. "He and I are very realistic about what's at stake," said Bryan.

The Washington Post looks at Justice Kennedy's voting record on the death penalty & his broader record as a swing justice:

On the death penalty cases that have come before the court this year, for instance, the conservatives have consistently voted to uphold a state's imposition of capital punishment, while the liberals have sided with inmate complaints that their rights were violated.

"So Justice Kennedy is even more of an important swing vote than he was before," said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes capital punishment.

In two of the cases, Kennedy sided with conservatives; in three he voted with the liberals. There are four others pending.

"It's clearly going to be an important role he's playing," Dieter said. "People are speaking to him in their arguments."

The 5 to 4 decisions totaled 11 in the 2005-06 term, with Kennedy in the majority in eight of them. There already have been that many this year, indicating a divided court and Kennedy's role as the deciding vote. His two dissents -- involving sentencing rules in California and garbage-hauling in New York -- came in cases in which ideological divides played no role.

Press accounts report yet another case where death is off the table to obtain extradition

A Larnaca judge has allowed as evidence assurances from US prosecutors that a Lebanese doctor wanted for the murder of his wife will not face the death penalty if extradited to Ohio.

The decision was made this week despite Yazeed Essa’s defence team’s arguments that their client may be sentenced to death if convicted because prosecutors could amend the charge to one that carries the death penalty once he returned to the US.

Cyprus will not extradite anyone facing a possible death sentence.

Ten days ago, Essa’s defence objected to the submission of a second statement sent to local authorities by Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Bill Mason, reaffirming he would not seek the death penalty against Essa if he was brought back to North America.

Judge Elias Georgiou rejected the defence’s objections and allowed the statement to be submitted as evidence. He said he would decide at a later stage on what significance to give the statement.

The court set May 30 for closing arguments. Mason expects a ruling on Essa’s extradition to be made then.

“We feel very good about our chances of prevailing in the extradition,” Mason told the Associated Press.

Yazeed Essa, 38, has been held at Nicosia’s Central Prison since his arrest at Larnaca airport last October.

The father of two had been on the run since he disappeared from his home in Gates Mills near Cleveland two years ago after he was indicted on aggravated murder charges in Cuyahoga County.

Authorities believe he duped his wife, Rosemarie, 38, into taking calcium tablets laced with cyanide, causing her to collapse and die in her car near their home in February 2005.


Anonymous said...

FRY Mumia!

Justice has been delayed long enough by this thug poster boy for the unwashed Left.

Anonymous said...

we still need the person responsible for pams death what part did eddie play in this is he involved if so he holds the key to close this case up