Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Sanders: Another troubling Dallas case

Thats the title of Bob Ray Sander's column in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram against the execution of Carlton Akee Turner.

The case of Carlton Akee Turner, who is scheduled for the Texas death chamber Thursday evening, presents the state and its noble citizens a whole set of conundrums:

What really should be done with troubled youths who commit horrible crimes?

Do we truly care about the feelings of the victims’ families and how they view "closure"?

How should our highest criminal court deal with cases from Dallas County particularly, with its history of racism, terribly flawed investigations and what some see as true "criminal" prosecution tactics of the recent past?

At what point do the people of Texas say "enough is enough" when it comes to capital punishment, even for those who committed a crime, as Turner most certainly did?

Many of you will remember the case of the Irving teenager arrested and charged with murdering his own parents, two revered people in the community who had adopted him as an 11-month-old baby.

The news shocked North Texas, and many people were asking at the time, "How could he have done that?" That question still haunts Turner family members, many of whom want to see the young man’s life spared.

Turner, called "Akee" by family members, was born on an Indian reservation in Utah on Independence Day, 1979, according to a clemency petition filed with the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles by representatives of the University of Texas School of Law Capital Punishment Clinic.

"As a child of a Native American woman and a black man, he was not accepted by his mother’s tribe," the petition said.

Carlton Turner Sr. and his wife, Tonya, and the child moved around the country because of the elder Turner’s military career. And they often visited family in Pennsylvania together.

Other family members saw a happy couple with a delightfully "cute" child — a stable household with no problems.

But, according to the petition, "While Tonya and Carlton presented the picture of a happy well adjusted family, troubles started at an early age. Akee exhibited learning and behavioral problems as early as elementary school. These continued throughout his school years. His problems were only exacerbated by his father’s strict and abusive punishments. He suffered broken fingers, cuts, bruises and a broken leg (after his father threw him to the ground when he was seven years old), and endured many trips to the hospital as a result of his father’s punishment."

Turner, 19 at the time he shot his parents, testified about the abuse and said he killed his father in self-defense. He said he didn’t know why he killed his mother.

After the shooting, he dragged their bodies to the garage, where police found them three days later after obtaining a search warrant.

The facts about the crime were presented in court and don’t really play a part in the requests for clemency, something rarely granted in Texas under any circumstance.

Maurie Levin, an attorney with the UT law school’s Capital Punishment Clinic, argues in the petition and a supplement that Turner’s sentence should be commuted to life on two grounds: Dallas County’s history (including in this case) of excluding black people from juries in capital cases, and the fact that relatives of his dead parents — also members of his family — don’t want him executed.

Turner was convicted by an all-white jury, and anecdotal evidence suggests that no black people even made it to the voir dire (or questioning) part of jury selection. Jurors who expressed reservations about capital punishment on their questionnaires, a disproportionate number being African-American, were rejected "despite the fact that they may have been legally qualified to serve," the attorney said in her supplement to the petition.

Because of the practice of excluding blacks from capital cases in Dallas County, both prosecutors and defense lawyers were complicit in this tainted procedure, the petition says. "The capital prosecution of an African American man by an all white jury from a jurisdiction with such an extensive record of discrimination in exactly that arena should cause doubts in the first instance," the petition said. "Where . . . there is evidence of a deeper level of discrimination that is, by its nature, well camouflaged, a call for a halt to Mr. Turner’s scheduled execution is compelled, at least until further investigation can be conducted."

Noting a quote from Gov. Rick Perry that we "never forget the impact felt by crime victims," the attorney points out that the "vast majority" of Tony and Carlton Turner Sr.’s family members do not want to see the couple’s son executed.

"Executions are held out as a talisman that will provide the victim with closure," said the petition. "This belief serves in part as a rationale for executions. But, in Mr. Turner’s case, an 'eye for an eye’ truly does leave a family blind, twice robbed of their own."

Affidavits from three family members were submitted with the petition.

Kelly Johnson of Philadelphia, Tonya’s brother, wrote: "I do not wish to see my sister’s only child executed. I believe in my heart that my sister would only have wanted Akee to receive the help that he needed to restore his mind to a sound state."

Tonya Turner’s first cousin and close friend, Krishell Coleman of Lawrenceville, Ga., said, "I don’t think Carlton should be executed. I don’t want him to be executed. Now that I know more of the details that led to the murders, I realize that he needs help. Killing him is just another murder. Nothing is going to bring my cousin back. Killing him will just hurt our family again, the way Tonya and Carlton’s murders did."

The Board of Pardons and Paroles should recommend that the governor commute the sentence, and Perry should heed that advice.

Bob Ray Sanders’ column appears Sundays and Wednesdays. 817-390-7775


Hannah Zimmerman said...

Reading this reminds me of this blog I read this morning on the Pitch website about a district attorney in KC screwing up any chance of this guy getting the death penalty. It is an interesting blog, here is a link if you would like to take a

Anonymous said...

Seriously, one of my best friends was gunned down in 1994 by Johnnie Bernal who you have listed on this sight as being someone who should not be on death row because he was 1 day short of his 18th birthday. He was the one that was seen pointing the gun out of the window by the other people who were there. They obviously did not see who pulled the trigger because they were all running away from the car that pulled up and demanded money. You'll also never hear that race had something to do with it because they were a few white kids who just finished shooting pool at one of the kids parent's pool hall in a primarily hispanic neighborhood. Bernals handprints were all over the gun. The gun and bullets were found in his drawer at his home... So some retard prosecutor decided to hang his case on bullet markings from the gun... The only defense that Bernal had was he noticed someone else left the gun and he was going to return it to him, who he conveniently blames for the shooting because the little (explicative) ran off to mexico. My point is while looking up this case 14 yrs later the only thing that you read about is that this guy was wrongly convicted and sent to death row because he was 1 day short of being 18 yrs old, and that he's some kind of innocent saint... Now I did some really really stupid things when I was in my late teens but I knew better than to demand money from someone and commence to shooting them in the back when they ran in absolute terror. That's heartless and cowardess. Was it premeditated? probably not, Racially motivated? Yes. does he deserve to die? ...

Tracey said...

I'll probably never get a response to this - but whoever posted the "anonymous" blog above - I couldn't agree with you more.

I was Lee's girlfriend at the time of his murder. He and I went to SFA together.