Friday, September 28, 2007

Tickle test?

The death penalty in the U.S. has always been pretty strange. And it just got stranger.

With news that the U.S. Supreme Court is reviewing the adequacy of Kentucky's lethal injection protocol (which is fairly similar to that of most other lethal-injection execution states) prison officials are scrambling to find ways, sometimes innovative, to make sure their protocol passes constitutional muster. In Florida, there already has been talk of a prison official shaking a death row inmate to see if he is fully unconscious before the poisonous drugs are administered. And now, courtesy of the New York Times, we have this from Alabama:

In Alabama, where politicians rarely challenge the death penalty, the state is developing a "consciousness awareness test" for inmates being executed, but state officials maintained that the action was unconnected to the Supreme Court decision.

"Somebody would come in and do something to assess consciousness, after the anesthesia is delivered," Assistant Attorney General Clay Crenshaw said. For now, he said, "the consciousness-awareness is being done visually by the warden."

Like I said. Weirder and weirder.

Texas execution stayed -- others in doubt

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice announced around 10:15 CST Thursday night that Carlton Turner’s execution was stayed.

Attorneys for Carlton Turner Jr., a suburban Dallas man condemned for killing his parents, had appealed to the high court hoping the justices’ review of lethal injection procedures in Kentucky, announced earlier this week, could keep him from execution.

In a brief, one paragraph order the court said it had granted his stay of execution. The order came more than four hours after he could have been executed and less than two hours before the death warrant would have expired at midnight CDT.

Attention now turns to Heliberto Chi’s scheduled execution for next week.

The Houston Chronicle has more.

In light of the “rule of five” for stays of executions at the SCOTUS, I suspect all nonvolunteer executions are at least now in doubt until the lethal injection mess is sorted out. It's late & I am sure NCADP will be sending out an alert in the morning.

Are lethal injections on hold nation-wide?

Sept. 27, 2007, 10:36PM
Condemned Dallas inmate wins reprieve

Associated Press

HUNTSVILLE ­ A condemned killer avoided the nation's busiest death chamber Thursday night when the U.S. Supreme Court gave him a reprieve.

Attorneys for Carlton Turner Jr., a suburban Dallas man condemned for killing his parents, had appealed to the high court hoping the justices' review of lethal injection procedures in Kentucky, announced earlier this week, could keep him from execution.

In a brief, one paragraph order the court said it had granted his stay of execution. The order came more than four hours after he could have been executed and less than two hours before the death warrant would have expired at midnight CDT.

"All I can say is all glory to God," Turner told prison officials.

The Supreme Court order made no mention of its reasons for stopping the punishment....

That's the third Stay this week....


Thursday, September 27, 2007

Stay! Keep Calling for DNA Test

Thanks to all who took action on the case noted in the post below. Earlier today a 45 day stay was granted, but not to check the DNA. See the statement of the Governor, and do keep calling on him to allow the DNA testing requested by the Innocence Project.





Governor Riley Issues 45-Day Stay of Execution


Governor Bob Riley granted a brief stay of execution to Thomas Arthur, a death row inmate who was scheduled to die by lethal injection at 6 p.m. Thursday.

The Governor made the decision to grant a stay of 45 days and met with Commissioner Richard Allen of the Alabama Department of Corrections on Thursday morning.

"The evidence is overwhelming that Thomas Arthur is guilty and he will be executed for his crime. The decision to grant a brief stay is being made only because the state is changing its lethal injection protocol, and this will allow sufficient time for the Department of Corrections to make that change," Governor Riley said. "It is my desire that, as soon as the stay has expired, justice will be administered to Thomas arthur. I have encouraged the Attorney General to make a motion with the Alabama Supreme Court for a new date of execution as soon as possible."

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Innocence Project Raises Questions About Imminent Execution - Take Action!

Curiously, few in the abolition movement are talking about the Alabama execution scheduled for tomorrow (9/27/07), despite the fact that the Innocence Project thinks DNA testing could exonerate Thomas Arthur.

It's not too late to take action....

More on this case is here.


Monday, September 24, 2007

A shout-out to the Innocence Project

Just a shout-out and a big thank you to my friend Eric over at the Innocence Project. They uploaded an "Innocence Matters" video to our YouTube site and they blogged on it. Thanks, guys!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Innocence Matters, Chapter Five

We actually had intended to wrap up our “Innocence Matters” series yesterday, but the strangest things keep falling into our email box. The latest thing is both good news and...well, kind of weird news. Duke University yesterday announced that in the wake of the lacrosse scandal, in which three team players were wrongly accused of rape and vilified in the media and by Durham’s (former) disgraced district attorney, the university will pump $1.25 million over the next five years into merging and expanding its Wrongful Convictions Clinic and Innocence Project.

This is great news. Duke already is a top ten law school in many ways and this will only enhance its reputation. And I like the fact that these are private funds – if the clinic does its work too well, district attorneys won’t be able to lobby state legislators to cut the project’s purse strings.

But I also find this to be somewhat weird news. I’m thinking right now of Samuel A. Poole, Christopher Spicer, Timothy Hennis, Alfred Rivera and Alan Gell.

Who are these people? Five individuals, wrongly convicted and sentenced to death, who later turned out to be innocent and were set free. They could have been executed. And yet, the “Lacrosse 3” were never convicted and never spent a single night in jail.

And lest one fails to make the connection between the lacrosse scandal and the university’s generous largesse, Duke’s public relations office makes it clear in the lead paragraph of their press release:

“DURHAM, N.C. - In the wake of the now-debunked rape case against three lacrosse players, Duke University will establish a center devoted to justice and training lawyers to fight wrongful convictions, president Richard Brodhead said Wednesday.”

Frankly, I don’t want to be too cynical about this. It’s true that class and race matters in our society – matters too much. It’s also true that the clinic wasn’t funded to this extent because of a handful of lower-income, marginalized death row inmates who turned out not to be guilty. It was funded because of the bad things that happened to the three upper-income, affluent lacrosse players, who had the best lawyers money can buy. And bad things did happen to these three young men, no doubt about it. But unlike the death row exonorees, they were never convicted of any crime and they never spent a single night in jail.

But it’s also true that great things will come from this clinic.

For one thing, it will be headed by Law Prof James Coleman and Associate Dean Theresa Newman. Coleman has a great reputation, and according to an in-the-know source of mine, Theresa Newman is a wonderful human being who has done fantastic work with the already-existing, student-run Innocence Project.

So, bully on Duke!

(To see an earlier blog on the Nifong/lacrosse scandal, go here.)

Gabon Abolishes the Death Penalty (or is about to...)

Hey! If Gabon can do it.....

Gabon Abolishes Death Penalty

The Gabonese government at its last weekly meeting announced that it intends to abolish the death penalty from its statute books. The government said the time was ripe for such a move as Gabon had not applied the death penalty in over 20 years.

The necessary legislation is expected to be submitted to parliament over the new few days for ratification. A spokesman for the Gabonese Government said the move was motivated by an "express request" from the Gabonese President Omar Bongo Ondimba.

The abolition of the death penalty will see Gabon join the ranks of countries in Africa that have abolished the death penalty. These include Angola, Cape Verde, Cote d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Seychelles and South Africa.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Innocence Matters, Chapter 4.5

Yesterday we told you about the Troy Anthony Davis Innocence Matters Video Project.

Today we're up to 13 videos. We've gotten a boost from Texas Students Against the Death Penalty and the Austin chapter of Campaign to End the Death Penalty.

Some of the videos are really great. Well, they're all really great, but I particularly like the one from Jeanneruss and the one of the little girl trying to sing "Innocence Matters."

Go here to watch the videos. Scroll down to learn how you can participate!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Innocence Matters, Chapter Four

Readers of this blog -- or members of Amnesty International or allies of NCADP -- are familiar with the case of Troy Anthony Davis. Troy is on Georgia's death row, despite the fact that seven of the nine people who testified against him at trial have recanted their testimony. (An 8th "witness" is missing, while the ninth is thought to be the real killer. No physical evidence whatsoever tied Troy to the crime.)

Troy has an important appeal before the Georgia Supreme Court this fall in his quest to secure a new trial. He narrowly escaped execution earlier this summer.

Today we are asking you to take action on behalf of Troy's life in a fun and creative way.

We're asking you to take part in the Troy Davis Innocence Matters Video Project

October 9th is Troy Anthony Davis’ birthday and in celebration of this occasion we’re asking all of his supporters worldwide to send him a video birthday message and to post that message on YouTube.

The Troy video project is simple. Using a webcam, camera phone, camcorder or any other recording device, simply record a positive video of 60-seconds or less wishing Troy a ‘Happy Birthday’ while reaffirming to the state of Georgia that innocence matters.

With so many Troy supporters around the world, we want these messages to be lively and creative. Feel free to sing it, rap it, play it, draw it, dance it, paint it, shout it from the roof-tops. What you say or how you say it isn’t important. What’s important is that you just say it!

Please keep these messages positive and refrain from bad language and controversial statements that could be viewed as inflammatory. We don’t want to upset people - we just want to show the world that Troy has global support in his fight for justice.

After you’ve recorded this message, please post it on YouTube using this link:

Let’s not only give Troy a “Happy Birthday,” let us also speak loud and clear in one voice that Innocence Matters!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Innocence Matters, Chapter Three

Today and tomorrow we continue our "Innocence Matters" series, but with a twist. We're asking you to take action. Be sure and read all the way through and click on the appropriate links!

Some people reading this blog are aware that the Department of Justice has proposed new guidelines that would restrict a death row inmate's ability to appeal his sentence. In short, if a state proves to the Department of Justice that it is providing competent attorneys for an inmate to appeal his or her conviction and sentence, then that inmate has a shorter period of time to file his appeals.

Sounds good, on paper. After all, many people express confusion over the amount of time it takes for death penalty appeals to run their course.

The devil, as they say, is in the details. First, no state currently is doing an adequate job of providing lawyers for these all-important appeals. (Arizona, arguably, comes closest. But even it is not that close.)

Second, under the guidelines, the prosecution-oriented Department of Justice gets to decide whether a state is doing a good job or not and is allowed to curtail its inmates' appeals. That's a classic case of the fox guarding the hen house.

Third, and this is where innocence comes in, it is really important to note that when cases emerge of innocent people being exonerated from death row, there is no Perry Mason moment, no CSI drama, when the facts of the case emerge. Often, the facts emerge during the lengthy habeas corpus process -- the very process that the Department of Justice (and its former leader, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales) is trying to abridge.

The very best op-ed that has been written on this subject can be found here. It is authored by none other than Duke University Law Professor Erwin Chemerinsky. (I don't want to get too off-topic here, but Chemerinsky has been in the news a lot lately. He was offered the job of dean of the University of California--Irvine law school. Then, the very day that the aforementioned op-ed appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the offer was suddenly rescinded. Now he has been re-offered the job. To follow this very interesting and entertaining saga, which is all the talk in academic and legal circles, go here.)

An excerpt from Chemerinsky's op-ed:

Those who favor the shorter statute of limitations are frustrated by the long delays before executions are carried out. But Gonzales' move is not about preventing delays; at most, it speeds things up by six months. It is about preventing some inmates from having a habeas corpus petition heard at all.

Death row prisoners will still be without free attorneys, trying to file habeas corpus petitions on their own. But that process is rife with complex rules and technicalities. The U.S. Supreme Court, for instance, ruled this year that the habeas clock is ticking even while an inmate is asking for the high court to review state post-conviction proceedings. So inmates have to file both requests at the same time.

All of this creates serious pitfalls even for well-informed and highly diligent prisoners. Six months leaves little room for error. Undoubtedly, many more habeas petitions, including highly meritorious ones, will wind up dismissed, deemed too late.

We now know of more than a dozen innocent people whose convictions were overturned on a writ of habeas corpus in recent years. Last year, John Grisham published a bestselling nonfiction book about one: Ron Williamson, whose death sentence in Oklahoma was overturned by a federal judge. Shortening the statute of limitations risks that others like him will never get their day in court.

Fortunately, there is something you can do about these proposed guidelines. You have until next Monday, Sept. 24, to protest this unfair, insensible and truly outrageous abridgement of what are extremely important and critical habeas appeals. You can go here to send a message to the U.S. Justice Department and tell them you don't want a fast track to executions.

Keep in mind: If these rules are adopted, history aptly tells us that innocence people will be executed. We know that innocence matters. Let's not let this happen.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Innocence Matters, Chapter Two

Radley Balko, who describes himself as a "small-l libertarian," is a senior editor for Reason Magazine. Formerly associated with the Cato Institute, Balko holds the distinction of perhaps being the one and only blogger to have gotten somone off of death row as a result of breaking a huge story with his blog. (Corey Maye, until recently on Mississippi's death row, was wrongly death-sentenced and now faces a new trial.)

But today we're not discussing Corey Maye. No. We are discussing Claude Jones -- the last man executed under the administration of Texas Gov. George W. Bush.

Jones went to his death proclaiming innocence. I do not know if he was. I do not know if he wasn't. I do know that evidence exists that possibly could clear up this question -- if only the state of Texas would test it.

In Balko's words:

Did Texas Execute an Innocent Man? Who Cares!

A judge has blocked prosecutors from destroying a hair found at scene of
the murder for which Claude Jones was convicted, and executed in 2000. DNA
testing will now be done to determine if it matches Jones. It's not just
any hair. It's the hair that prosecutors matched to the defendant at trial
by way of a hair fiber analyst.

Hair fiber analysis is, to say the least, an imperfect science. It has led
to wrongful convictions before, and professional prosecution hair fiber
witnesses have a history of exaggerating the certitude of their findings.

I haven't read enough about this particular case to have an opinion on it.
I note it mostly because of the following passage, which I find absolutely

The groups, represented by attorneys at Mayer Brown LLP, filed the court
motions Friday after the San Jacinto District Attorney refused to agree to
DNA testing - and also refused to agree not to destroy the evidence while
courts consider whether DNA testing can be conducted.

Emphasis mine. Now, I can think of some reasons why a prosecutor would
want to destroy a piece of physical evidence that could prove that the
state executed an innocent man. But none of them are compatible a human being.

Perhaps, for example, the prosecutor was one of the prosecutors who worked
on the case, and doesn't want the stain on his career that might come with
a wrongful execution. Perhaps he wants to avoid the inevitable stain on
Texas' already execution-happy reputation that would come with proof that
the state executed an innocent man. Perhaps he knows that proof of a
wrongful execution will make it much more difficult for him to win death
penalty cases in the future.

But here's the thing: While I can perhaps see a prosecutor harboring such
sentiment deep down inside, I can't possibly conceive of anyone actually
making these sorts of arguments publicly. Or with a straight face.

Because, you see, if Texas did execute an innocent man, all of those
things should happen. Because...well...because Texas...would have executed
an innocent man.

And if Texas did execute an innocent man, that Texans might find out about
it-and subsequently raise understandable questions about the morality and
efficacy of the death penalty-isn't something to be avoided, it's
something that damned-well ought to happen. Because-at risk of repeating
myself--Texas would have executed an innocent man.

What possible not-devoid-of-all-morality argument could a prosecutor
possibly make for being permitted to destroy evidence that might prove an
innocent man was executed?

I really can't think of one.

(source: Radley Balko, Reason Online)

Friday, September 14, 2007

Innocence Matters, Chapter One

Whether you support the death penalty or oppose it, we can all agree that executing innocent people violates our common decency. That's why it is important for Americans to understand not just that innocent people have been sent to death row and later exonerated and released, but that innocent people actually have been executed.

Earlier this month we blogged about a special TV program which aired on the new TV network HDNet. The program is titled, "Dan Rather Reports: Did Texas Execute Innocent Men?"

It focuses on the cases of Ruben Cantu and Carlos De Luna, both executed by the state of Texas and both featured in NCADP's 2006 report, "Innocent and Executed: Four Chapters in the Life of America's Death Penalty."

So far, HDNet only goes into about 400,000 or so American households. So I was pleased to check my email the other day and see that I had a message from Steve Jimenez, who, along with Dan Rather, produced the show. Steve wanted to let all of us know that you can now watch the entire program online.

View the commercial-free program in its entirety by going here.

Does innocence matter? Yeah, it does.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Tennessee's scapegoat

In ancient Athens, pharmakoi, composed of slaves, cripples, criminals and prisoners of war, were ritually expelled or sacrificed when social disorder became unmanageable. With the expulsion or sacrifice of human pharmakoi by a priest-medicine man, law and order was restored. Athenians, uniting against a common enemy, placed the blame for the social ills of their community on powerless scapegoats. The "fix" being temporary, Athenian society eventually collapsed because the ritual cycle of human sacrifice never resolved the social sicknesses of their society.

Nashville, known as the "Athens of the South," with its replica of the ancient Parthenon and its academies of higher learning, has pharmakoi, too. At Riverbend Maximum Security Institution, the state of Tennessee ritually and lethally injects pharmaceutical poisons into death row prisoners while unresolved hatreds pollute the well-being of its people.

The case of Daryl Holton is a classic example of a modern-day scapegoat. Holton has a history of mental illness, had abysmal representation at trial and now faces an execution date and time of Wednesday at 1 a.m.

(Daryl Holton was executed by electrocution early this morning. To continue reading this outstanding op-ed by Rev. Elbon Kilpatrick, published in the Jackson Sun, go here.)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

What is the price of justice?

Late last week, news broke that the three wrongfully accused Duke University lacrosse players -- Reade Seligmann, David Evans and Collin Finnerty -- are seeking a legal settlement with the city of Durham that would force reforms in the system and would pay them $10 million each.

As bad as their experience was -- and I can think of hardly anything worse than being falsely accused of rape -- the three young men did not spend a night in jail.

Contrast that with Juan Melendez. He spent 17 years on death row in Florida for a crime he did not commit. When he was finally released -- after a tape recorded confession made by the real killer surfaced -- the state of Florida gave him $100, a pair of pants and a shirt.

Think about that. $10 million versus $100 and a couple of items of clothing.

What is the price of justice? How should be compensate those who have suffered injustice?

What made me think of this was the following story (hat tip, Steve Hall) that moved yesterday out of Texas. I am wondering if this sort of thing might become the wave of the future:

Unusual Suspects: Men Exonerated By DNA Evidence File Civil Rights Suits Against Attorneys

By Mark Donald
Texas Lawyer

It had to be expected. Thirteen DNA exonerations in Dallas County in recent years; 13 men declared actually innocent by a criminal justice system reluctant to admit its mistakes. It seemed just a matter of time before some of these men turned to lawyers to redress the years of wrongful incarceration they had suffered. Three exonerees have filed civil rights suits in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas against those entities and individuals whom they believe were responsible for their wrongful convictions. Two more are planning to file civil rights suits within the next several weeks, their attorney says.

Lubbock attorney Kevin Glasheen represents Billy James Smith and Gregory Wayne Wallis -- two of those exonerated who filed suits in August -- as well as Andrew William Gossett and James Douglas Waller who are about to file suits. Glasheen has taken an aggressive approach to pursuing these federal civil rights claims under 42 U.S.C. §1983.

Not only has he brought these suits on his clients' behalf against the usual suspects -- governmental entities and their employees -- but in Smith's case, Glasheen also sued Smith's former criminal-defense lawyer, alleging the attorney deliberately sabotaged Smith's criminal trial by acting in concert with the state to deprive Smith of his civil rights. The defendants in Wallis'
case also include a prosecutor who had no courtroom role in Wallis' criminal trial but who allegedly participated in the investigation of the crime.

"We believe the cases against the individual defendants involve bad faith,"
says Glasheen, a partner in Glasheen, Valles & Dehoyos. "And the cases against the municipalities involve a custom or policy such as suggestive identification procedures that in their execution led to a deprivation of civil rights."

In Billy James Smith v. City of Dallas, et al., filed on Aug. 17, Smith sued, among others, the city and four of its police officers, alleging that he spent nearly 20 years behind bars for a crime he did not commit. In the Plaintiff's Original Complaint, Smith alleges, among other things, that the officers fabricated evidence, failed to reveal exculpatory evidence, employed suggestive identification procedures and intentionally denied Smith access to forensic testing after his 1986 arrest for aggravated sexual assault.

You can read the entire story here. (It's long.)

And by the way, you can read about Juan Melendez and about other people who were wrongfully convicted and sent to death row by going here.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Reopening the wound

Reliving the tragedy -- the death penalty's unintended consequence

Blogger's Note: The rare commutation of a death sentence in Texas at the end
of August received widespread media attention. Less noticed was the
profound anti-death penalty significance of the statement of the mother of
the victim. The following essay is authored by Michael Kroll, editor of Beat Within and founding director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C.

"I will mourn my son till I die, but Im not forced any more to relive his
death." These are the words of a mother grieving for her son, Michael
LaHood Jr., murdered in a Texas robbery in 1996 after one of the
co-defendants had his death sentence commuted to life in prison.

Her son's killer, Mauriceo Brown, was executed for the crime in 2006, but
co-defendant, Kenneth Foster, Jr., who did not directly participate in the
robbery/murder was also sentenced to death for the same crime under a
controversial Texas statute called the "law of parties" under which anyone
involved in any way in a capital crime is subject to the penalty of death.
Foster, who was 19 years old at the time of the crime, was scheduled to be
lethally injected on August 30, but received that rarest of interventions
at the 11th hour a commutation to life in prison by Governor Rick Perry
following international protests and a near-unanimous recommendation for
clemency by the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles.

While world-wide attention has understandably been focused on what would
have been the 403rd execution in Texas in the modern era by far the
country's most prolific killer of killers (and non-killers like Mr.
Foster) few will recognize the profoundly anti-death penalty significance
of Mrs. LaHoods lament, "I will mourn my son till I die, but Im not forced
any more to relive his death."

Reliving that death is one of the unintended consequences of the death
penalty. At each stage, the wound is reopened and probed by the media
("How do you feel?") and the prosecutor, who has an interest in keeping
the brutal facts before the voters who put him/her in office. (And, can
any murder be described as anything other than brutal?) While prosecutors
never tire of promoting the death penalty as a means to bring about
"closure," that is a concept that no mother, destroyed by the murder of a
child, can truly embrace. In truth, there is no real closure for the kind
of wound that murder creates.

But, though the hole left behind will never be fully closed, the death
penalty makes any healing that much more difficult by forcing families of
the dead to focus on the brutality of their loss at every legal turning
point. And, because the U.S. Supreme Court has rightly declared that, as
punishment, "Death is different," it requires far more legal turning
points than any other criminal penalty, including years of state appeals
followed by years of federal appeals. "Death is different" because any
errors in the process cannot be undone once the sentence is carried out.

And errors do occur, even in a system with so many built-in safeguards.
According to a report by the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Civil &
Constitutional Rights, more than 120 people have been released from death
row since 1973, most with evidence of their innocence.

Some family survivors, recognizing how the death penalty only serves to
increase their pain and postpone the process of healing, have formed an
organization, Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation, which seeks
alternatives to the punishment of death, not because they have sympathy
for those who took the lives of their children or other family members,
but because they have a need to heal and rebuild their shattered lives. In
states which provide alternative penalties, such as Life in Prison Without
Parole (LWOP), support for capital punishment plummets, one reason being
that the legal process comes to end dramatically sooner. The sentence does
not require multiple reviews by countless judges.

The mother of Michael LaHood Jr. understood this instinctively. Because
the media attention will now move from her sons murder to other endless
and senseless acts of violence, she will be able to move on. Because the
prosecutor no longer has an interest in keeping her pain front and center,
she will be able to start the difficult process of calming the emotional
turmoil she has suffered for 11 years. Or, in her own eloquent but simple
words, she will not be "forced any more to relive his death."

(source: Commentary, Michael A. Kroll, New California Media)

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Sunday morning roundup

After a summer's hiatus, a return of a quick Sunday morning news roundup.
  • PBS Expose looks at 4 states. 80 capital cases. 1 reporter goes inside the criminal justice system, the full show is now online.
  • The Wichita (Kansas) Eagle carries an AP report, “One word at core of death penalty case.” That word is “or.” StandDown has more.
  • The Albany Times Union in New York in Case stirs death looks at Monday’s oral arguments in that state’s sole remaining capital case as does the Times Herald Record in an article entitled Trials and Tribulations: Murder case targets death penalty flaws.
  • In Kentucky the Bowling Green Daily News in an article entitled Public Advocate pushes to abolish death sentence looks at Kentucky’s top public defender, Ernie Lewis, his career, and his unquenchable desire to abolish the death penalty in the Bluegrass state.
  • DPIC has three great posts from earlier in the week: Death Penalty in Flux (detailing all the states in which the death penalty is on hold and noting lots of recent state legislation); Death Penalty for Offenses Other Than Murder (detailing all the state statutes that contain capital crimes other than those involving the murder of the victim); and time on Death Row (detailing the length of time inmates spend on Death Row and the implications of that time). [h/t SLP]
  • TCASK posts at length on the new Tennessee lethal injection protocol.
  • The Montgomery Advertiser notes Alabama’s Attorney General is proposing “for the state to pay $400 an hour to a Massachusetts physician to analyze the combination of drugs used in Alabama executions.” “Under the contract with Attorney General Troy King’s office, Dr. Mark Dershwitz would study the drugs used in Alabama executions.”
  • A Walk to Stop Executions in California is the title of AI’s capital punishment blog’s post on an 800 mile Walk to Stop Executions.
  • Death Watch North Carolina notes two Forsythe County men will spend the rest of their lives in prison following pleas.” Kohumna Hoyle, 34, was sentenced to life without parole in the death of his son, Raynell.” “Daniel Learmond Hayes, 21, will spend the rest of his life in prison for the murder of a [William James Wright]. Hayes’s life was saved in large part by his victim’s children, who told prosecutors to be merciful because they didn’t want Hayes’s family to have to endure the pain of his execution.” David talks about the miracle of forgiveness of William Wright's family here.
  • The World Coalition Against the Death Penalty has launched a global petition as part of the campaign for an international moratorium on executions. ADP has more.
  • Steven Truscott was exonerated in Canada this week after 48 years for a crime committed when he was a teenager. This editorialon “If there is any silver lining to the Steven Truscott miscarriage of justice, it’s that the Canadian didn’t live in Texas. If he had, there’s a good chance he would have been executed despite not having committed a murder. Truscott was acquitted last Tuesday of a 1959 murder after living for nearly half a century as the convicted killer of Lynne Harper.”
  • Finally, a thank you message from Keith Hampton, Kenneth Foster’s attorney.

I would be remiss for not noting that Scott Taylor at Ohio Death Penalty Information, will often have these stories first, even though he is not explicitly cited above. Indeed, of the sites mentioned above many cite to his work as the source & he remains an invaluable addition to Team Abolition.

Friday, September 07, 2007

In North Carolina, forgiveness

From the Winston Salem-Journal we get this story reminding us of the power of forgiveness:

'He's So Young': Compassion, not revenge, stirs family of victim

For $40 and a cell phone that ultimately led to his arrest, 21-year-old Daniel Hayes is going to spend the rest of his natural life rotting in a prison cell.

Incredible as it sounds, that's all Hayes made off with the night of Dec.
19, 2005, after he fired two bullets from a .380-caliber pistol into the back of the head of William James Wright, a 55-year-old cabdriver who was doing nothing other than trying to earn a living.

Perhaps more incredible has been how Wright's adult son and daughter have conducted themselves.

Rather than howling for blood and insisting that prosecutors ask for the death penalty - Wright's killing blew past the legal threshold for capital punishment the instant that Hayes pulled the trigger - Christopher and Jeri Wright asked that Hayes be given the chance to plead guilty and accept life without parole.

"He's so young," said Christopher Wright, a gentle giant who drives a school bus for a living. "I have a soft spot for the youngsters. I just decided that I wouldn't want his mom to have to go through (his execution)."

Meets the standard

If there ever was a defendant whose case screamed out for capital punishment, it was Hayes.

According to Detective Tim Taylor of the Winston-Salem Police Department, Hayes jumped in the back of Wright's cab with larceny in his heart and a loaded gun in his hand.

"He denied it at first. He said he found the cell phone at the Motel 6 on Patterson Avenue," Taylor testified.

Investigators knew that wasn't true; they had a statement from an acquaintance of Hayes who said that he was present when Hayes came to his house with blood-soaked pants and he watched as Hayes burned the inside of Wright's cab.

"He eventually came clean.. He said his plan was just to get the money,"
Taylor said.

Police found Wright's cell phone on the arm of a sofa where Hayes was resting when he was picked up for questioning Dec. 21. Later that morning, they found the murder weapon stuffed under a cushion of that same sofa in the exact spot where Hayes told them they would find it.

Forgive but not forget

Of the 166 inmates on death row, 12 were convicted in Forsyth County - the largest number of any of the state's 100 counties. In other words, if prosecutors chose to push for the death penalty, chances are good that they would have gotten it.

But an incredible thing happened not long after Hayes was charged.

Christopher and Jeri Wright, along with their mother, Edith Littlejohn, stepped forward to tell prosecutors that they didn't want Hayes put to death.

"We thought about how hurt we felt," Jeri Wright said after hugging Taylor and thanking him for seeing that her dad's killer was caught. "We decided pretty quickly that we don't want to cause any pain for anybody else."

The Wrights agreed that the killing was senseless and a tragedy not only for their family but also for Hayes' relatives. How many of us would feel sympathy for the family of a man who admitted killing someone close to us?
Or the killer himself?

Their compassion wasn't lost on Hayes, who took the unusual step of apologizing to them in court.

"Me taking this life (sentence) right here is hard, but it's for my life,"
Hayes said. "I believe I have something out there I can do."

The plea bargain and the life-without-parole sentence handed down to Hayes affords the Wright family something else - a chance to honor their father's memory by moving forward without hatred eating away at them.

"I'm trying to find it in my heart to forgive him for it," Christopher Wright told the court. "It's hard to do.

"Sooner or later, I will forgive. But I won't forget."

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

After Iraq

We've blogged about this before. Military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, untreated, fill our prisons and in some cases our death rows. We've executed a number of veterans who served in Vietnam and a few who served in the first Gulf War. (Two of the three federal prisoners executed in what we refer to as the "modern era" were military veterans.)

And as sure as summer turns to fall, we will execute them again.

This past Sunday, The Washington Post published an opinion piece by a young woman just out of Yale University by the name of Sarah Stillman. The piece takes a somewhat personal look at some of the folks returning home from Iraq. Here are some snippets:

The wounds on my friend Pete Yazgier's head come in as many colors as Cezanne's fruit bowls.

Cherry-hued flecks dot the left half of his skull -- grim mementos of the rocket-propelled grenade that walloped his armored vehicle in Baghdad last September. A bright scar bends like a stalk of rhubarb above his left ear, the result of six surgeries to treat the brain cancer doctors found while ministering to his shrapnel wounds; they fear the tumor was caused by depleted uranium that Pete, 28, handled as an Army mechanic.

And now, a plum-like bulge on his upper right jaw ripens before my eyes. This, oddly enough, is the one that really scares me: It's the aftermath of a Marine's clenched fist that hurled into Pete's face just moments ago.

Only the bar gods know exactly how the skirmish began. But I'm guessing it went something like it did just the week before:

Marine: "Hey, [fornicator], what are you staring at?"

Army guy: "I don't know, you [fornicating] Jarhead, you tell me."

Marine: "I think I'm staring at a [fornication-head] who's about to get his [buttocks] kicked."

Lame invectives turn to blows. Soused onlookers hustle to their buddies' defense. Only when a huge bouncer enters the fray do flying fists cease and desist -- Marines head for the front exit, Army guys to the bar. As I search for ice to press against Pete's busted cheek, the cops appear, looking downright bored by the redundancy of the mayhem.

Yes, sir, it's another Friday night at R.J. Bentley's Filling Station, a cozy bar in College Park, where wounded Iraq and Afghanistan veterans being treated at Walter Reed Army Medical Center come to fuel up on Coronas, honky-tonk dance and the "Rocky"-style pummelings I've seen on half a dozen visits this summer.


Half a decade into the "war on terror," America's bars have become our barometers: instruments that measure the extent to which our veterans have been left to wrestle alone with substance abuse, anxiety disorders and other mental health problems after long tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The men and women who come back from the traumas of war "are often hyper-alert, quick to respond and susceptible to a loss of impulse control," says clinical psychologist Jeffrey Jay of the Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Studies in Washington. "The brain is actually altered by these experiences -- it's part of a survival mechanism, and it's very confusing for them."

It's similarly confusing for watering holes such as R.J. Bentley's, where Pete likes to go because it's the only bar around that occasionally plays the kind of country music he loves. "We've seen a massive rise in customers, thanks to Walter Reed," one bouncer at Bentley's told me. "But we've also seen a rise in fights."

Police and news reports corroborate that fighting has been mounting in nightclubs, restaurants and bars near military bases nationwide: places such as McDonough's Restaurant & Lounge near Fort Stewart, Ga.; O'Blarney's Irish Pub south of Fort Lewis, Wash.; the entire "Strip" near Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas. Drunken driving and bar brawls so plagued the area around Fort Carson, Colo., that a National Guard unit was put on "lockdown status" after returning from Afghanistan in June. In the District, the Hawk 'n' Dove, a Capitol Hill bar, has banned Marines without female dates.

In Massachusetts, meanwhile, the Norfolk County district attorney's office has begun an initiative called "Beyond the Yellow Ribbons" to prepare police and others to deal with struggling vets and the stigmas they face. District Attorney William R. Keating says he has received requests for the program's training video from organizations in more than 20 states, because "the federal government simply isn't providing enough guidance on how to deal with this."


On a recent night at R.J. Bentley's, I perched near a young man nursing a flask of whiskey who told me he'd been ordered to collect his best friend's body parts from the crater of an improvised explosive device, and an older vet with darting eyes who said he'd tried to slit his wrists in Kuwait rather than return to Fallujah. And if you agree that trauma begets trauma, the evening's trajectory won't surprise you: Mix equal parts broken bodies and frayed minds, stir in college kids who couldn't tell an IED from an iPod, add alcohol, and things are bound to get explosive.

I suspect these aren't just the sort of routine bar fights that have typified military culture since George Washington's troops sneaked their first swigs of moonshine. Strike Pete Yazgier, and you may slice your knuckles on his titanium skull. Toss an elbow at the man in the corner, and you could get a shin-kick from his $26,000 motorized foot, an emblem of the spectacular violence that new technologies are helping today's troops survive.

The rough-and-tumble encounters jibe with national statistics on the effects of longer, repeated tours of duty. Soldiers who've deployed to Iraq more than once have a 50 percent higher rate of combat stress, according to one Army study, and soldiers with a higher rate of combat stress exhibit approximately a 10 percent increase in anger-management issues. Simple diagnoses such as "post-traumatic stress disorder" and "generalized anxiety disorder" collapse under the weight of it.

Consider Jonathan Schulze, an Iraq vet with two Purple Hearts who got drunk at a Minnesota bar in January, then went home and hanged himself from an electrical cord wrapped around a beam in his basement. The tragedy unfolded only after the Marine machine-gunner returned from Ramadi with deep psychological wounds, threw a 200-pound potted tree through a window during a brawl, and beseeched the local Veterans Affairs Department for help, only to be told that his suicidal confessions put him 26th on the waiting list for assistance. (According to a recent Pentagon report, suicide rates are 35 percent higher for Iraq veterans than for the general population.)

Then there are cases like that of Spec. Richard Davis, who survived "shock and awe" in Baghdad only to be stabbed to death by his fellow soldiers in 2003 after celebrating his homecoming at a Hooters restaurant and a topless bar near Fort Benning, Ga.

You can read the whole thing here.

Whether you support or oppose the death penalty, whether you support or oppose the war in Iraq, surely we can all agree that our returning soldiers deserve better treatment than they are getting.

Organizing at every opportunity

I stole the following from the TCASK Blog. James Staub, a Tennesse Coalition to Abolish State Killing board member writes that he is preparing for the annual multiple sclerosis bike ride and invites sponsorship. Why is this an abolitionist concern? Read on:

Dear Friends:

In 2003, my third MS bike ride, I finished last. A few years before in my first MS bike ride, I also finished last. It's high time I became "Triple Threat James." I fully intend to finish last in this year's MS "Jack and Back" bike ride, and I need your help.

Please support the fight against MS - and my bike ride - by pledging online. (If that link doesn't work, try and look for the "Donate" link.)

Why do I want to finish last? In 2003, I told other riders about Paul House, an innocent man on Tennessee's death row who has been suffering with MS for the past 15 years. Paul's lawyer describes the medical treatment he receives to help manage the disease as little more than a multi-vitamin and a Tylenol PM. Since that ride, I've met Paul's mom Joyce, who is one of the sweetest women in the world and who is waiting for the day her son comes home so she can take care of him.

I'm going to finish last again this year because I'm going to tell Paul's story to as many riders as I can. I'm going to tell Joyce's story to as many riders as I can.

And I'll be wearing the "Free Paul House" T-shirt from TCASK.

Thank you for your support!
James Staub

So there you have it. James is going to an unrelated event and he will organize the people there by making a connection between the death penalty and the issue close to the heart of those people. We should all take note and look for such opportunities in our own circles. And that's not all. As we talk to people, those who are clearly on our side need to be signed up as members of their state abolitionist organization, and of course, as members of the National Coalition as well!


Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Dan Rather asks: Did Texas execute innocent men?

No kidding. Tonight, a relatively new TV network, HDNet, which only goes into 400,000 households across the country, airs a special, commercial-free, 40-minute report entitled, “Dan Rather Reports: Did Texas Execute Innocent Men?”

The report, partly reported and entirely anchored anchored by Dan Rather, looks at the cases of Ruben Cantu and Carlos De Luna, who were two of the four people included in NCADP’s 2006 report, “Innocent and Executed: Four Chapters in the Life of America’s Death Penalty.”

The program will air at 8 p.m. East Coast time and again at 11 p.m. East Coast time so that people on the West Coast can see it during prime time. The new cable network carrying the report is called HDNet, and is unavailable to most American viewers (it only goes into 400,000 households.)

If you visit HDNets web site, you can see that a lot of restaurants and, strangely, sports bars do carry the network as part of their satellite programming (go here to see what cable systems carry HDNet: And go here to see whether restaurants or bars in your town carry it: )

For those of you who can't get to a place that has HDNet, you can see a clip from tonight's program by going here.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Back in the Saddle

A special shout-out and thank you to my co-bloggers Karl and Abe. They fed the blog and kept it happy while I took a short respite. I'm back now and ready to tackle a frightfully busy September!