The City of Georgetown is shocked and saddened by the events that occurred on October 26, 2007, involving former Sergeant Jimmy Fennell. While no profession is immune from unlawful or unethical conduct from its members, we recognize the badge of the police department as a symbol of public faith and trust and believe our officers should be exemplary in obeying the law as well as the regulations of the police department.
Upon learning of the allegation against Sgt. Fennell, the Georgetown Police
Administration requested that the complaint against the Sergeant be investigated by the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office and the Texas Rangers. Sgt. Fennell resigned from the Georgetown Police Department on January 10, 2008.
The City is facing civil litigation arising from the October 26, 2007 incident and is
represented on that matter by Richard South of the law firm of Wright & Greenhill.
Because of the pending litigation, the City of Georgetown and the Police Department will not be making any additional comments and will not be doing on camera interviews.
Friday, September 26, 2008
By Isadora Vail | Friday, September 26, 2008, 10:58 AM
Former Georgetown Police Sgt. Jimmy Lewis Fennell Jr. showed little emotion this morning as state District Judge Burt Carnes sentenced him to 10 years behind bars.
Fennell pleaded guilty in May to felony charges of kidnapping and improper sexual activity with a person in custody. The charges come from an Oct. 26 incident in which Fennell responded to a domestic disturbance call at a woman’s home, and according to court documents, he forced the woman to come with him in his patrol car, dance for him and have sex with him.
Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley said today despite what he calls a flawed investigation by the Georgetown Police Department, he was satisfied with the case.
“I think this case shows that officers are not above the law in Williamson County and they do not get treated differently from other offenders,” Bradley said in a press conference after the sentencing.
Bob Phillips, Fennell’s defense attorney, said his client chose not to say anything for the duration of the near year-long case because of a pending federal lawsuit against Fennell and the Georgetown Police Department.
“My client made some horrible and inexcusable mistakes,” Phillips said during closing arguments, though he chose not to expand on what those mistakes were.
Outside of the courtroom, Phillips added that he does not expect Fennell to appeal the judge’s decision since he pleaded guilty to the charges.
Thursday, September 25, 2008
Irrespective of the Supreme Court decision, Austinites will gather at 5:30 pm on Monday, September 29th at the south-side Capitol steps in support of Troy Davis.
Davis was sentenced to death in 1989 for the murder of Police Officer Mark MacPhail. There was no physical evidence and the weapon used in the crime was never found. Davis maintains his innocence and since his conviction, 7 out of 9 trial witnesses have recanted their testimony and cited police coercion in sworn affidavits. One of the two remaining witnesses, Sylvester 'Red' Coles, is the chief alternative suspect, according to the defense, against whom there is new evidence implicating him as the gunman. Nine individuals have signed affidavits implicating Coles.
Monday's Austin protest is part of a National Call to Action for Troy Davis.
The Campaign to END the Death Penalty is a grassroots organization dedicated to the abolition of capital punishment in the United States.
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
The following is Atlanta Journal-Constitution's editorial on Troy Davis' execution:
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
If Troy Anthony Davis had occupied a higher rung on the social ladder, he probably would not have been convicted of murder in the August 1989 shooting death of a Savannah police officer. If Davis were a doctor or lawyer or college professor, it’s unlikely police would have targeted him on the word of a small-time thug.
But Davis isn’t a member of the tony set; he is neither educated nor affluent. He grew up in a tidy if modest neighborhood with a father who worked in law enforcement, but by adulthood, he had acquired a petty rap sheet. At the time of the tragic murder of police officer Mark Allen MacPhail, Davis was working for meager wages and looking for a better job.
So when Sylvestor Nathaniel “Redd” Coles coolly walked into a police station hours after the murder, accompanied by a lawyer, and identified Davis as the shooter, Savannah police had no trouble taking his word for it, even though Coles had a rap sheet of his own. They set out to collect evidence against Davis, and by the time the case came to trial, they had nine witnesses, including Coles, to testify against him.
Since then, however, seven of those nine witnesses have recanted or contradicted their testimony, and Davis’s current attorneys now believe Coles actually killed MacPhail. Most of the recanting witnesses claim that they feared the police in 1989 and that they were coerced into giving statements implicating Davis. Given that a fellow officer had been killed, it hardly seems implausible that Savannah police exerted pressure to get the testimony needed for a conviction.
Most chilling is the recollection of Tonya Johnson, who says she didn’t tell police all she knew back then. She now says that she saw a man running from the direction of the shooting that night, and that she saw him hide two guns behind the screen door of an abandoned apartment next door. According to Davis’ attorneys, that man was Coles. They believe Johnson feared retribution from Coles if she had testified to the truth.
Despite the recanted testimony, the state Supreme Court refused to grant Davis a new trial earlier this year, and, on Monday, the state Board of Pardons and Parole reaffirmed its decision to deny a petition for clemency. Davis was scheduled for execution last night, but the U.S. Supreme Court intervened with a last-minute stay.
Americans fed a steady diet of Hollywood-concocted police procedurals and crime dramas have come to expect that police will always find, if not a smoking gun, at least a few damning pieces of forensic evidence. Real life is rarely so satisfying. In the Davis case, there was precious little physical evidence — no DNA, no fingerprints, not even the murder weapon.
The jury based its decision on those witnesses, who swore Davis was the man who pulled the trigger, or that at the very least he had a gun that might have been the murder weapon. (The killing had occurred at night, in a poorly lit parking lot, in the midst of a scuffle. Officer MacPhail, working an extra job, had intervened to try to break up a fight in a commercial area near a Burger King and a Greyhound station.)
Even under the best of circumstances, eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable. More than 75 percent of the people exonerated by DNA evidence had been falsely convicted by bad eyewitness testimony in their original trials.
With no DNA in this case, there is no way to know for sure. Despite all his protestations of innocence, despite the celebrities who appealed for clemency, despite the recent revisions of testimony, it’s certainly possible that Davis shot a young police officer several times on a hot August evening in 1989. It’s certainly possible that he finally may get the punishment he justly deserves.
But it seems equally plausible that Davis was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, fingered by the real criminal and convicted by a criminal justice system eager to put a cop-killer behind bars.
If so, the U.S. Supreme Court has just prevented the state of Georgia from murdering an innocent man.
— Cynthia Tucker is the editorial page editor. Her column appears Sunday and Wednesday.
ORDER LIST: 554 U.S.)
TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 23, 2008
ORDER IN PENDING CASE
08-66 DAVIS, TROY A. V. GEORGIA
The application for stay of execution of sentence of death
presented to Justice Thomas and by him referred to the Court is
granted pending the disposition of the petition for a writ of
certiorari. Should the petition for a writ of certiorari be
denied, this stay shall terminate automatically. In the event
the petition for a writ of certiorari is granted, the stay shall
terminate upon the issuance of the mandate of this Court.
Davis, 39, sits on death row for the Aug. 19, 1989, killing of Officer Mark Allen MacPhail. He is scheduled to be put to death by lethal injection at 7 p.m., even though questions linger as to whether he was MacPhail’s killer.
Since Davis’ trial, seven of nine key prosecution witnesses who testified against him have recanted their testimony. But the state Board of Pardons and Paroles has denied clemency to Davis.
Chatham County prosecutors say they are certain that Davis fired the fatal shots into MacPhail, before the officer could draw his gun. MacPhail, 27, a father of two, was working off-duty as a security guard when he was gunned down in a Burger King parking lot in Savannah.
Today, a number of groups plan to picket Rainbow Medical Associates’ offices in Jonesboro. Rainbow Medical provides medical personnel for state executions at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson.
Phone calls to Rainbow Medical this morning were not returned.
Rainbow Medical provides two physicians and two registered nurses for each execution, Department of Corrections spokesman Paul Czachowski said. The company is paid $4,000 if the execution occurs on time and $6,000 if it is delayed for more than two hours. It makes $2,000 if the execution is stayed and not carried out, the spokesman said.
The company’s nurses prepare the intravenous lines for the lethal injection and the doctors do not participate in the execution, Czachowski said. They are there to check on the inmate to make sure he is deceased and are there for any emergency, he said.
Picketing at Rainbow Medical’s offices will be representatives from Georgians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, the NAACP’s Georgia chapter and other opponents of capital punishment.
“As long as the state continues this futile and brutalizing exercise in vengeance, we will continue to take a public stand against killing Troy Davis in our names,” Sara Totonchi, chair of Georgians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, said.
On Monday, Totonchi called for prison officials and medical personnel who help carry out the execution in Jackson to call in sick today. But Czachowski said no one had done so.
Early this afternoon, opponents of Davis’ execution plan to stage a “Die-In” at the state Capitol. Tonight, vigils are planned at the Capitol, Athens, Americus, Jackson, Augusta, Clarkesville, Dawson, Marietta and Savannah.
Monday, September 22, 2008
By Patrick Dyer
Today I visited Troy Anthony Davis on Georgia's death row, a little over 48 hours before the state plans to put him to death for a crime he didn't commit. As I traveled the highway, through the red clay and green pine trees of Georgia this mild autumn Sunday morning listening to Bob Marley, I pondered what it might be like as an innocent man facing an execution in two days. Soon enough I arrived at the front wall of the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison, located in Butts County, GA. The scenery just inside the front gate on Prison Boulevard, with pond, trees, flowers, and chirping birds belies the heinousness of what lies at the end of the road - a massive penitentiary housing the state's death chamber for it's ritual execution of prisoners.
After parking, I stood outside the entrance area with a small group of people who were waiting to visit other prisoners. One of those waiting referred me to the sign-in sheet, then added, "they'll get you when they feel like it". While I waited for the next 20 minutes I conversed with the group awaiting entrance, all of them upset and shocked that Troy was denied clemency. Biding my time, I stared at the words "wisdom", "justice", and "moderation" etched on Georgia's state seal.
One of the first couple of his visitors to arrive, I met Troy Davis for the first time. Thanks to the relentless campaign waged by Troy, his family, and supporters, the name Troy Davis is known around the planet. Yet the person I met was humble and down-to-earth, quick to begin talking about the help that other death row prisoners need. Troy struck me immediately as a warm and compassionate person. He spent almost as much time talking about the injustice of other cases as he did about his own, repeatedly saying "this is much larger than Troy Davis."
Troy told me that he wanted me to tell people that it's time to say "enough is enough!" and to "demand a complete change in the system". We talked about all the support he has on the outside, with people around the world fighting for his life. Troy then spent time talking about some of the many injustices of his case, a legal lynching to be sure. He said that he, like so many others stuck on death row, were legally incapacitated by "procedural defaults" from their attorneys, many of them the fault of the Georgia Resource Center. Once an attorney with his legal team returned to court after lunch so intoxicated that her eyes were bloodshot and she reeked of alcohol.
At his habeas hearing held in a prison shack-turned-into-a-courtroom just off death row, Troy anxiously awaited the arrival of his family, who had spent their own money to rent vans to transport witnesses from Savannah. But as Troy walked into the shack-courtroom, his attorney was saying that neither his family nor his witnesses would be allowed to appear, given that it was "too expensive" to transport the witnesses.
By the time effective legal counsel got on board with his defense, Troy's case was too far gone. In fact, one attorney with his private Washington, DC law firm told him that had they gotten the case five years earlier, Troy would be home by now.
"And even if none of those witnesses recanted", Troy emphasized with his southern drawl as he leaned closer to me, "my fingerprints still don't match".
Troy also gave his analysis of why the Parole Board refused to grant clemency. Given that the board, appointed by Gov. Sonny Perdue, is stacked with "ex"-law enforcement and prosecution types, it's no surprise. "The police and prosecution tactics used in my case are the same ones they used and that are used all over. If they stop my execution because of the police interrogation methods and prosecutor misconduct, it exposes their entire system."
Over the course of the next hour, Troy's mother, sisters, brother, niece, nephew, and numerous supporters joined us in the caged visiting room. The six hour visitation flew by with a positive atmosphere of love and support. Most of the time was spent laughing, joking, and telling family stories that included childhood nicknames, teenage dating escapades, high school prom dates, and more.
Eventually visiting hours wound down, and Troy was handcuffed then taken inside the entrance to one of the prison corridors, where we were allowed to join him for photographs. As a fellow prisoner snapped pictures, Troy arranged different combinations of his family and supporters for each picture, as prison guards observed from the perimeter.
When the photo session ended, it was time for us to hug Troy goodbye. In a stirring and emotion-packed series of hugs, we all took turns saying goodbye. Two prisoners began printing the pictures as guards led Troy away. "Troy is such a good guy" one of them commented while we waited. Then suddenly someone yelled, "He's waving", and family members all strained to look through the prison bars down the long hallway to death row, seeing Troy's smiling face as his handcuffed hands waved goodbye.
Saturday, September 20, 2008
Troy Davis, who was convicted of shooting a police officer to death in the parking lot of a Burger King in Savannah, Ga., is scheduled to be executed on Tuesday.
There is some question as to his guilt (even the pope has weighed in on this case), but the odds of Mr. Davis escaping the death penalty are very slim. Putting someone to death whose guilt is uncertain is always perverted, but there’s an extra dose of perversion in this case.
The United States Supreme Court is scheduled to make a decision on whether to hear a last-ditch appeal by Mr. Davis on Sept. 29. That’s six days after the state of Georgia plans to kill him.
Mr. Davis’s lawyers have tried desperately to have the execution postponed for those few days, but so far to no avail. Georgia is among the most cold-blooded of states when it comes to dispatching prisoners into eternity.
So the lawyers are now trying to get the Supreme Court to issue a stay, or decide before Tuesday on whether it will consider the appeal.
No one anywhere would benefit from killing Mr. Davis on Tuesday, as opposed to waiting a week to see how the Supreme Court rules. So why the rush? The murder happened in 1989, and Mr. Davis has been on death row for 17 years. Six or seven more days will hardly matter.
Most of the time, the court declines to hear such cases.
If that’s the decision this time, Georgia can get on with the dirty business of taking a human life. If the court agrees to hear the appeal, it would have an opportunity to get a little closer to the truth of what actually happened on the terrible night of Aug. 19, 1989, when Officer Mark Allen MacPhail was murdered.
He was shot as he went to the aid of a homeless man who was being pistol-whipped in the parking lot.
Nine witnesses testified against Mr. Davis at his trial in 1991, but seven of the nine have since changed their stories. One of the recanting witnesses, Dorothy Ferrell, said she was on parole when she testified and was afraid that she’d be sent back to prison if she didn’t agree to finger Mr. Davis.
She said in an affidavit: “I told the detective that Troy Davis was the shooter, even though the truth was that I didn’t know who shot the officer.”
Another witness, Darrell Collins, a teenager at the time of the murder, said the police had “scared” him into falsely testifying by threatening to charge him as an accessory to the crime. He said they told him that he might never get out of prison.
“I didn’t want to go to jail because I didn’t do nothing wrong,” he said.
At least three witnesses who testified against Mr. Davis (and a number of others who were not part of the trial) have since said that a man named Sylvester “Redd” Coles admitted that he was the one who had killed the officer.
Mr. Coles, who was at the scene, and who, according to authorities, later ditched a gun of the same caliber as the murder weapon, is one of the two witnesses who have not recanted.
The other is a man who initially told investigators that he could not identify the killer. Nearly two years later, at the trial, he testified that the killer was Mr. Davis.
So we have here a mess that is difficult, perhaps impossible, to sort through in a way that will yield reliable answers. (The jury also convicted Mr. Davis of a nonfatal shooting earlier that same evening on testimony that was even more dubious.)
There was no physical evidence against Mr. Davis, and the murder weapon was never found. As for the witnesses, their testimony was obviously shaky in the extreme — not the sort of evidence you want to rely upon when putting someone to death.
In March, the State Supreme Court in Georgia, in a 4-to-3 decision, denied Mr. Davis’s request for a new trial. The chief justice, Leah Ward Sears, writing for the minority, said: “In this case, nearly every witness who identified Davis as the shooter at trial has now disclaimed his or her ability to do so reliably.”
Amnesty International conducted an extensive examination of the case, documenting the many recantations, inconsistencies, contradictions and unanswered questions. Its report on the case drew widespread attention, both in the U.S. and overseas.
William Sessions, a former director of the F.B.I., has said that a closer look at the case is warranted. And Pope Benedict XVI has urged authorities in Georgia to re-sentence Mr. Davis to life in prison.
Rushing to execute Mr. Davis on Tuesday makes no sense at all.
GEORGETOWN, Texas (KXAN) -- Jimmy Fennell pleaded guilty and that is the verdict the judge handed down to the former Georgetown police officer.
"Jimmy Fennell decided to plead guilty and open to the judge this morning," said Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley. "The judge found him guilty of improper sexual activity and kidnapping."
In May 2008, Fennell admitted to taking a woman to a secluded area, making her dance for him and then sexually assaulting her. Fennell entered a guilty plea, but Judge Burt Carnes rejected a plea agreement. That agreement would have given Fennell a two year prison sentence, ten years of probation and a $5,000 fine. A jury trial was set for this month.
"Mr. Fennell saw that a jury trial was going to make for a very difficult trial for himself and decided to waive a jury trial and plead guilty to the judge," said Bradley.
Fennell's attorney would not give many details because of the upcoming sentencing. He said that both the defense and prosecutor came to what they call a "compromise settlement". In that agreement, both sides waive a jury trial. The prosecutor will not seek a lengthy sentence and his client agrees to plead guilty. Fennell faced a 200 year sentence, if a jury had found him guilty.
With the new deal, he faces 10 years in prison for kidnapping and two years for the improper sexual activity charge.
His sentencing his set for Friday, Sept. 26th at 9 a.m
Thursday, September 18, 2008
- - - - -
ANOTHER INMATE EXONERATED FROM DEATH ROW AS DNA EVIDENCE LEADS TEXAS TO DROP CHARGES
Michael Blair's Exoneration Brings Innocence List Total to 130
WASHINGTON, DC - A Collin County court in Texas has dismissed capital murder
charges against Michael Blair who had been on death row for the 1993 murder of
Ashley Estell. After more than a decade of legal appeals and requests for
DNA testing, the hair evidence that had been used to convict Blair was shown
to be mistaken. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals found that no reasonable
jury would convict Blair based on the existing evidence.
The District Attorney's office filed a motion to dismiss the charges on August
25 stating, "It has been determined that this case should be dismissed in the
interest of justice so that the offense charged in the indictment can be
further investigated." The Plano Police Department is now reinvestigating the
15-year-old case to find the true killer. The DNA evidence that cleared Blair
indicates that another man, now deceased, is a plausible suspect in the girl's
death. Referred to only as "Suspect 4" in court documents, this possible
perpetrator showed an obsession with the victim and bought a grave plot as
close as he could get next to her resting place. He has been deceased for at
least 10 years.
The case was made famous in the mid-1990's by a series of legal reforms known
as "Ashley's Laws." Named after the victim Ashley Estell, these laws created
longer prison sentences and lifetime sex offender registration requirements.
"This case demonstrates that innocent people still face a significant risk of
execution in this country," said Richard Dieter, Executive Director of the
Death Penalty Information Center. "For every nine people executed, we find
one person on death row who should never have been convicted."
According to DPIC's innocence list, Blair is the fourth person to be
exonerated from death row in 2008 and the ninth in Texas since the death
penalty was reinstated. His case brings the total number of exonerations from
death row to 130 since 1973. Blair remains in prison on other charges.
DPIC's innocence list consists of those former death row inmates who have been
acquitted of all charges related to the crime that placed them on death row,
who have had all charges related to the crime that placed them on death row
dismissed by the prosecution, or who have been granted a complete pardon based
on evidence of innocence.
This dismissal comes on the heels of a statement by Dallas County District
Attorney Craig Watkins that he will re-examine nearly 40 death penalty
convictions and would halt executions, if necessary, to give the reviews time
to proceed. After an exoneration of an innocent man in his first week in
office and a total of 19 DNA-based (non-death penalty) exonerations in his
county, Watkins wanted to ensure that no innocent people were executed during
his tenure. "I don't want someone to be executed on my watch for something
they didn't do," explained Watkins. Texas leads the country in executions
with 414, including 9 this year.
To arrange an interview with DPIC's Executive Director, for more information
about the innocence list, or contact information for Michael Blair's attorney,
Phillip Wischkaemper, please contact Corinne Farrell at (202) 289-2275 or
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Wait a minute! A stay of execution for convicted murderer Charles Hood raises troubling questions of judicial integrity
Tuesday evening, 24 hours before he was due to be put to death by lethal injection, convicted murderer Charles Dean Hood was granted a stay of execution by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. In light of the serious questions raised about the fairness of his trial, that was the correct decision.
What was startling however, was that the court stayed Hood's execution for a reason completely unrelated to those questions. Meanwhile, they dismissed altogether the credible evidence that an improper relationship existed between the judge and prosecutor trying the defendant's capital murder trial.
Attorneys for Hood had argued that a clandestine romantic relationship between the judge, Verla Sue Holland, and prosecutor Thomas S. O'Connell Jr. in Hood's 1990 trial in Collin County just north of Dallas was grounds for a reprieve. But the court dismissed that pleading out of hand.
Instead, the justices revisited a ruling they made in a 2007 pleading in which they rejected Hood's request for a new sentencing hearing. In their latest ruling, the court cited "developments in the law regarding (jury) nullification instructions" as the rationale for stopping the scheduled execution.
This dismissal of substantiated evidence of judicial and ethical misconduct flies in the face of the Texas Constitution, which demands that a judge who presides over a case not only be absolutely impartial, "but must appear to be impartial so that no doubts or suspicions exist as to the fairness or integrity of the court."
Apparently, few in the Collin County legal community were unaware of the relationship between Holland and O'Connell, but no one came forward until early June, when a former assistant district attorney testified that it was "common knowledge" in county legal circles that the pair had a "romantic relationship" for several years, including during the time of the trial.
The defense had a difficult time finding a civil court judge willing to compel the pair to testify about their relationship. Finally, state District Judge Robert T. Dry accepted the case.
Two weeks ago he set a hearing for Sept. 12. If the Texas high court had not stayed the executioner's hand this week, that hearing would have come a full two days after Hood's death by lethal injection.
"In reality, you are exploring a civil lawsuit for the estate of Mr. Hood," Dry told defense counsel. The judge also acknowledged that he knew both Holland and O'Connell well, raising legitimate questions about his own impartiality.
Last week, Dry suddenly recused himself, after admitting that he also had been close friends and business partners with Holland's now deceased husband.
The case was transferred to state District Judge Greg Brewer, who held a hearing on Sept. 8 that resulted in Holland and O'Connell being ordered to testify about their relationship. (The affair was confirmed in depositions by both the judge and the prosecutor last week, but that information came too late to be included in the most recent defense pleadings.)
Even without that confirmation, judicial ethics experts from around the country have endorsed the view that the relationship between the judge and the prosecutor would render the trial invalid. Texas' own Attorney General Greg Abbott agreed. In a letter to the Collin County district attorney, Abbott wrote that the "unique" circumstances of the case warranted a closer review to "protect the integrity of the Texas legal system."
Hood was convicted of the 1989 murder and robbery of Ronald Williamson and Tracie Lynn Wallace, a couple he lived with in a Dallas suburb. His fingerprints linked him to the crimes, and he was arrested the next day driving the murdered man's car. The facts of the murders for which Hood was convicted are not in dispute.
What is at stake now is not only his fate, but the integrity of the Texas judicial system. Now that the fact of a relationship between the judge and prosecutor has been established, the Court of Criminal Appeals should reconsider its denial of Hood's claims on this matter and grant him a new trial.
Hood may be guilty. But the public should not be satisfied on that point in the absence of a fair trial where the prescribed sentence for a guilty verdict is lethal injection. Even the most wretched murderer deserves to be tried before a judge whose impartiality is not impaired by an intimate relationship with the very prosecutor working to send him to death row.
By Steven Kreytak
Thursday, September 18, 2008
Prosecutors in the cases against two men facing retrial in the 1991 Austin yogurt shop murders have yet to figure out whose DNA was discovered this year in swabs taken from one of the four teenage victims, according to lawyers in the case.
Joe James Sawyer, who represents Michael Springsteen, said after a pretrial hearing in a Travis County court on Wednesday that prosecutors have ordered the DNA compared with that of 90 people and found no matches. Later Wednesday, prosecutor Gail Van Winkle said that number was greatly inflated but declined to say by how much.
This year it was disclosed that investigators had discovered unknown male DNA in swabs taken from the body of 13-year-old victim Amy Ayers. It did not match co-defendants Michael Scott or Springsteen — or Forrest Welborn or Maurice Pierce, who were previously charged in the case.
Sawyer and Scott's lawyers say the evidence exonerates the men; Van Winkle disagrees.
The lawyers spoke about the evidence after the hearing in which state District Judge Mike Lynch, at the defense's request, clarified a recent order that relaxes restrictions on lawyers' out-of-court statements.
Lawyers now may discuss evidence in the case but may not share documents, photographs or other evidence with anyone not directly associated with the case.
Also at the hearing, Lynch told defense lawyers and prosecutors to declare by the next hearing, set for Oct. 29, what further forensic testing they want done. No trial dates have been set, but Lynch suggested that Scott's case could be set early next year, with Springsteen's to closely follow.
Ayers was killed along with Eliza Thomas, 17, and sisters Sarah and Jennifer Harbison, 15 and 17, during a robbery at the I Can't Believe It's Yogurt store near Northcross Mall. The store was set on fire, destroying much of the physical evidence.
The case stymied police until 1999, when they arrested the four men.
Scott and Springsteen were both convicted of capital murder, based mostly on their confessions. Lawyers for the men said their statements were coerced and noted that police had received dozens of other confessions that were discounted.
Both convictions were tossed after appeals courts ruled that Scott's statement was inappropriately introduced at Springsteen's trial and Springsteen's statement was inappropriately introduced at Scott's. (Charges against Welborn were dismissed after a grand jury declined to indict him; prosecutors dismissed an indictment against Pierce.)
The cornerstone of Scott's and Springsteen's defense at trial will likely be the still-unknown DNA taken from Ayers' body.
Sawyer said the state has compared it with DNA profiles of Ayers' friends and family members, as well as of people who may have come in contact with Ayers' body or the sample, including police officers, lab technicians and prosecutors.
Van Winkle declined to say whose DNA has been compared with the sample taken from Ayers; she said the testing is ongoing.
Kenneth "Haramia" Foster, Jr.
It dawned upon me that the one-year mark of my 2007 scheduled execution was approaching. The emotions of that day still have not resided and perhaps they never will, though I find myself getting stronger each day and my vision is getting clearer.
I've never been much for celebrating "events" in prison. I can't relate to most holidays and I never feel enough freedom to experience TRUE joy in my celebrating. But, I have found ways to smile and enjoy the beautiful things that we pull out of this type of situation. When the joy and pain combine it's kind of like something a man named Walter S. Landor said: "A smile is ever the most bright and beautiful with a tear upon it."
So, I decided to enjoy myself. I decided to let the disciplines down for a moment to pull back into myself and rejoice in what has manifested for me. I had to tell myself- "OK, no level 2 or level 3. No hunger strike right now. Enjoy the moment."
What better way to set things off than with some celebration cake? So, the first thing I did, a few days before the anniversary day, was to buy me a cake (OK, it was more so a pie). There's some creative cooks around here. When you have very little to deal with I suppose you become a genius at making something out of nothing. So, I ended up with a banana pudding pie, which I sinfully ate. But, no regrets this day. It was a day to enjoy.
I let a few days pass before I went into mode 2. I decided to cook a special meal for me and my cellmate. That would be accomplished with what I have coined as: the double decker pizza. For those that have tasted this, this has become a favorite request from me (yeah- I've picked up some of those creative cooking skills too). What was strange about this day was I had somehow thought that it was the 30th. I can't explain how I lost a day. I can only think that perhaps it was all the anticipation I had approaching my review. But, maybe it was something else that caused me to wake on the 29th and begin my celebration. I wouldn't catch that understanding until later that day when a comrade inquired about why I was celebrating that day. With a "You don't know why" expression on my face I lifted my left arm and showed him the Texas Tears tattoo on the back of my arm and highlighted the 8.30.07 date inked into my skin. He left off a little smile and told me- "But today is the 29th." Like Homer Simpson- "DOH!" But, it wasn't as bad of a bungle as I thought. When I later told another comrade of mine about the event he gave me this:
"You didn't mess up. You celebrated just right. You see- the 29th is the TRUE day that you went through your trauma. It's the day they kidnapped you and it's the day you were dragged into the death house. It was the day that you first saw the death chamber room. So, you can see the 29th as your demise and you can see the 30th as your resurrection."
And there it was. Everything was as it was supposed to be. I went to bed with a smile on my face and in my heart. By the time the 30th came I felt like I had celebrated plenty with cake, pizza and excitement, so I took this day to simply reflect on my life and give thanks for having this opportunity. Looking at those that have been murdered after me, looking at the complications with the Jeff Wood case I still wonder how/why I am here. I realize it's due to something greater than me and I realize that this doesn’t come free for me. There's not a moment that thanks is not emitted from my heart and I realize that I have to do all I can to show that. For those that campaigned for me a year ago I understand how potent this was to them. I understand the power of August 30th (as Bryan McCann would demonstrate to me when he tattooed 8.30.07 on his left arm). 8.30.07 has become a mantra.
I would end my day with prayers and appreciation and also the hope that one day I will celebrate 8.30.07 in the company of my loved ones and also the masses. It's something that I am fighting for and it's something that I can't surrender. And I do realize that this is only the beginning. August 30, 2008 was a great day, but the best is yet to come.
Level Review 8.30.08-9.5.08
For those that have remained posted to my situation you will know about how I had been kept on Close Custody for a year- an environment that was only slightly different from the one I just left. It was a test of all tests. Mentally and spiritually. What these people attempted to place on me as only a year was in fact something way beyond that- it was a 12-year wait. It was a 12-year wait that should have never had to be.
The weekend had passed and the 2nd had approached. Usually when you have an appointment somewhere (Medical, Attorney visit- amongst a few things) you receive a notice the day before. I didn't receive a notice that I would be attending Classification on this day, so I was caught off guard when an officer came to my cell and said I was wanted for Classification review. I had thought that maybe they would purposely make me wait until the last date for the review- the 5th. But the day had come.
I put on my best whites and took the stroll to the Classification office. There I was faced with the same Major (Ambriz) that I had when I was denied at my 6-month mark. This time he was flanked by 2 new women. I was told to take a seat and my file was gone through. At our last meeting 6 months ago my review ended with a denial and a verbal protest from me. I didn't know how this one would end. While I knew I had a chance to get my full level I didn't expect it. I expected a partial upgrade and in the back of my mind I expected some excuse for another denial.
The Major went through my file and stated- "The computer suggests G2." I didn't give the slightest response. I knew that there had to be 2 out of the 3 agreeing, but I also know that they make these decisions ahead of time. The woman to Abriz's left asked if there was any disciplinary. Ambriz responded only one, but it was minor and had no bearing. So, with that no more inquiry was given and Ambriz marked on the paper- "G, line 1." When he did that the lady looked up at me and I couldn't help but to at that point let off a slight smile. "You can take the cuffs off of him now." And that's what it was. My files were wrapped up and the Major excused me on my way. Without as much as a peep I slid on out the door with some pep in my step and I hit the pavement for the first time without the steel rings around my wrist. In the short time that I've been on the Unit I've come to know a few people- many guys having read about my case in Texas papers and when they saw me on the sidewalk they couldn't help but to extend a fisted salute and a smile. Without a doubt I reciprocated it.
I returned to my cell, packed all my property and left Close Custody. I gave my greetings to those I associated with and walked out the door with a lot of support from those that knew what I had been through. As one brother would tell me in a heartfelt way- "You have to remember, you're an inspiration to a lot of us."
I was immediately sent to 4 building- A.side of the prison. A.side being what's considered the "good" side of town- whereas 8 building (close custody and majority medium custody) is known as the not-so-good side. The ghetto of the city! It's a whole different way of life on this side- clean walls, jobs, but sadly all coated with a mentality that you better not mess up otherwise all of this can be taken from you at the blink of an eye. I was already prepped by brothers who had been over here about the officers that abuse their authority and also like to be playful. Neither of these things are things that I'm used to, but I realize that if I am to put myself in a position where I can enjoy the fruits of my and my people's struggles then I must be smarter than my adversaries. As Ralph W. Trine said: "When apparent adversity comes, be not cast down by it, but make the best of it, and always look forward for better things, for conditions more prosperous." I realize everyday will be a struggle, so like a babe once again I take baby steps.
I spent my first few days walking around to chow, just soaking up the days. By this time I had hugged and been hugged at least 100 times by brothers I knew or had heard about me. Men I didn't even know came up to me and shook my hand because they had read about my struggle. One guy had read about my daughter in the Bay Review! It was all a beautiful thing. But at the same time I was as lost as a kid in an amusement park. I had to ask some of the brothers where to go, what such and such means and how to do this or that. It's often followed by a little laugh from them, but always by a pat on the back, because they realize for the last 8 years I have been boxed within a box. In all actuality out of my 12 years of incarceration I had only spent maybe a little over 3 years around other inmates (before the isolation at Polunsky in 2000- and those 3 years include the 11 months I spent in the county jail). So, this is an accomplishment beyond words- no more cuffs everywhere I go. No more isolation. Of course, anything could happen from day to day to drop my levels again. I know that. All I can do is walk my walk and deal with what comes my way. I definitely am not entertaining any thoughts that my struggles are over forever.
I was immediately given a job working in the kitchen (not that I need to be around any food judging by some of the teases I've gotten from the few pounds I've put on. I guess some people forgot that my greyhound look back then was compliments of Polunsky oppression that we had to protest and go and entertain hunger strikes and no commissary for months at a time. That's caustic humor for those that didn't know. I don't regret any of it.) The kitchen would prove to open a few other doors to me (not just the refrigerator ones). I came across 2 guys that I knew on death row- Johnny Bernal and Raymond Cobb. Both were freed from death row in 2005 when the juveniles were freed. These weren't close friends of mine, but were guys I had met. Nevertheless we hugged each other like we were long lost brothers. We spoke a bit about our personal situations back then and currently and then parted to finish work (though we'll definitely be seeing more of each other from day to day). But again, the best was yet to come.
It had been awaited for longer than I could remember. Now as a G2, line 1 I could qualify for contact visits and my day had come. September 6th I was called from work for my first visit as a G2. I went back to my cell, showered and pulled on my freshly starched whites. I adorned my boots- checked the mirror one last time and walked with a mean swagger to my visit. Once there I would be told to go to table 15; and there was the greatest thing in the world waiting for me- my amazing grandfather who had raised me and been my rock for the majority of my life. I walked up behind him and gave him a hug. He rose with a great smile and hugged me back. We embraced even tighter and I gave him a kiss on his cheek. The smiles between us could have lit a black hole in the universe. We clasped hands and rejoiced at the day. We sat down, ate together, had a bunch of laughs and had a great visit. I remember there were days that I never thought I'd be able to touch my grandfather again. All of this has come with many losses too- my grandmother being riddled with Alzheimer's disease so bad to where she can't leave home for such visits. It's a pain (almost like my mother's death) that I will have to carry with me for the rest of my life. My victory hasn't come without scars as well.
It was hard to let go, but we said our goodbyes for the day. I hugged my grandfather- the man I love the most- tightly and gave him a kiss on the cheek as we parted. It was a beautiful day and all the brothers asked me how I felt. Again- it's something beyond words. I am thankful beyond words.
Now I only await the final pieces to this puzzle and that's to be able to hold my daughter and wife. But of course there are so many others that I too would like to be able to spend time with. God willing it will all happen. But for now I just take things one day at a time. Little by little I will adjust to my surroundings and I hope to be able to take full advantage of what is available to me.
As I close out Resurrection Week I bow my head and say a silent prayer for those that couldn't be here and amongst all the ups and downs, struggles and glories I do realize- as I've said thus far- the best is till yet to come.
Stay Tuned...the struggle continues
Sunday, September 14, 2008
I want everyone to know that we are still fighting for Troy, you have not heard from me in two days because I have been trying to answer so many calls and get rest in between. I went to see Troy yesterday and he is in good spirits, prayerful and saying "we can never give up. They can take my physical form but nothing else." But this is not the time to think he will be executed. We have to fight them and we have to fight hard.
I want to first tell you that something strange has taken place with the Parole Board, as we went in the Chair Gale Buckner said they had a lot of information to review and a decision would not be made on Friday. The lawyers presented the additional witnesses who told accounts of police detectives threatening them with guns and the DA threatening with purjury if they changed their testimonies against Troy, most of these people were teenagers, one guy who testified was 15 years old at the time and admitted that he ad he friends were the ones involved in a shooting earlier that night and they threw shell casings near the scene that of course did not have Troy's prints on them.
The lawyers showed how they put Troy's picture on wanted posters after Coles pointed the finger at Troy and they took a polaroid out of my mom's house and they only showed the witnesses that photo to identify Troy several days after he had turned himself in. So Troy was never picked out of lineup. The police detectives merely brought the one picture after his face in newspaper etc and said is this the guy.
We were so very confident when we left the room it was no way Troy's sentence should not have been commuted. Then less than 30 minutes after DA's side left the Parole Board held a press conference and denied Troy, a reporter said Martina It was like all the air was sucked out of the room no one thought Troy would remain in prison and the Parole Board offered no reason, because they do not have to. The Parole Board in Georgia meets in closed doors, no recorded meetings, no transcripts, and no accountability.
When Troy got the first stay, they said there would be no executions in Georgia when there is some doubt, well with the two hearings there is more than some doubt. There is overwhelming doubt of Troy's innocence so why would they deny him without explanation. I think because three of the members are former prosecutors and two are former police from the Georgia Bureau of Investigations, some sort of deal was made against Troy. I think they wanted to flex their muscle because they have no one to answer to.
WE HAVE TO KEEP FLOODING THEM WITH LETTERS AND FAXES TO RECONSIDER BECAUSE THEY CAN STILL STOP THIS EXECUTION. WE HAVE TO HOLD THEM TO THEIR WORD NO ONE WOULD BE EXECUTED WHEN THERE IS DOUBT.
Plan of actions:
1. HOLD ACTIONS, DEMONSTRATIONS WITH MEDIA IN PLACE TO TELL WHAT THE PAROLE BOARD DID AND HOW THEY HAVE NO ACCOUNTABILITY.
2. CONTINUE TO HAVE PEOPLE SIGN LETTERS TO THE PAROLE BOARD THERE WILL BE A NEW LETTER ON AMNESTY SITE ASKING THE BOARD FOR RECONDISERATION. YOU CAN ALSO WRITE YOUR OWN LETTER. STATING REASONING IN 100 YEARS OF GEORGIA'S DEATH PENALTY THERE HAS NEVER BEEN A CASE OF 7 RECANTATIONS, NO PHYSICAL EVIDENCE, NO WEAPON AND YOU SEEK DEATH.
3. MASS LETTERS TO US ATTORNEY GENERAL ASKING FOR IMMEDIATE INTERVENTION IN THIS CASE DUE TO PROSECTORIAL MISCONDUCT. CC. GEORGIA ATTORNEY GENERAL
4. MASS LETTERS TO WHITE HOUSE ASKING FOR INTERVENTION IN THIS CASE
5. CONTACT EVERY MEDIA OUTLET YOU KNOW MASS LETTERS TO CNN
INTERNATIONAL, OTHER NATIONAL MEDIA ND CELEBRITY OUTLETS THAT CAN GIVE US A PLATFORM TO GET WHAT HAPENNED OUT TO MASSES.
6. THERE WIL BE A RALLY IN ATLANTA PROBABLY THURSDAY EVENING CONTACT AMNESTY , JESSICA COHN JCOHN@AIUSA.ORG OR LAURA MOYE LMOYE@AIUSA.ORG .
ANOTHER GROUP IS PLANNING PROTEST IN FRONT OF CNN IN ATLANTA ON SATURDAY THE 20TH CONTACT Lawyer Henderson email@example.com OR 678-437-6256,
7. THOSE WHO HAVE CONTACTS WITH US SUPREME COURT MEMBERS, OR OP-EDS TO MEMBERS, WE NEED THEM TO ACT EMEREGENCY STAY AND IF WE CAN MAKE ENOUGH NOISE, RAISE ENOUGH ATTENTION, HOPEFULY THEY CAN TAKE TROY'S CASE
IT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE REVIEWED BY THEM ON SEPT 29TH. THE DA IN SAVANNAH MOVED DATE OF EXECUTION UP WHILE US SUPREME COURT WAS ON VACATION.
8. THE LAWYERS THINK IT IS A SLIM CHANCE THE US SUPREME COURT WILL ACT SO WE HAVE NOTHING TO LOSE BY MAKING AS MUCH NOISE AS WE CAN.
ANY AND ALL IDEAS YOU HAVE WE HAVE TO GO FOR IT TO SAVE TROY, SO AS ACTIVISTS I SAY DO WHAT YOU DO!!!!!
Attorney General, Michael B. Mukasey 202-514-2001
OR Office of the Attorney General - 202-353-1555
Georgia Attorney General Thurbert E. Baker 404-656-3300 Fax 404-657- 8733
President George W. Bush
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
TTY/TDD Comments: 202-456-6213
Please send your Fax: 404-651-8502
comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Georgia Parole Board Fax 404-651-8502
I will get you more parole board numbers
People can go on Amnesty Website to sign petitions or fax their own letters. I will send numbers in next email. Or Text the parole board from your cell phone. Go t send message type the name TROY, then send to 90999.
We still have Fight in Us and we will FIGHT!
Thank you all for everything you are doing TROY SAYS NO MATTER WHAT WE HAVE TO FIGHT BECAUSE THIS IS BIGGER THAN TROY. THIS IS A BATTLE FOR HUMAN TIGHTS AND TRUE JUSTICE AND WE ARE WINNING SMALL BATTLES EVERYDAY!
Friday, September 12, 2008
Thursday, September 11, 2008
Now, Troy's life is in the hands of the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles, which meets on Friday, September 12 and will make a decision some time before his scheduled execution date.
On Wednesday, September 10 and Thursday, September 11, people all over the country will be taking action to stop
Troy's execution and let Georgia officials know that we are watching to make sure they do not execute an innocent man. Here are suggestions for what you can do:
*Call, fax and email the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles to call for clemency. Also get in touch with the
Chatham County District Attorney's Office and the Georgia Attorney General's Office and demand they rescind Troy's execution warrant.
* Send an automated email message via Amnesty International's action center at:
CONTACT INFO FOR GEORGIA PUBLIC OFFICIALS:
Board of Pardons & Paroles:
Chairman Gale Buckner
State Board of Pardons and Paroles
2 Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive, SE
Suite 458, Balcony Level, East Tower
Atlanta, Georgia 30334-4909
Chairperson L.Gale Buckner-- email@example.com
Garland Hunt-- firstname.lastname@example.org
Robert Keller-- email@example.com
Milton Nix-- firstname.lastname@example.org
Garfield Hammonds-- email@example.com
Telephone: (404) 657-9350
Fax: 404-651-6670; (404)651-8502; (404) 651-5282; (404) 463-6627
Thurbert E. Baker
Office of the Attorney General
40 Capitol Square, SW
Atlanta, Ga 30334
Spencer Lawton, Chatham County District Attorney
Chief Assistant District Attorney David Locke
133 Montgomery Street
Savannah, Georgia 31401
Phone: (912) 652-7308
Fax: (912) 652-7328 or (912) 447-5396
Texas Department of Criminal Justice
TDCJ Evacuates Additional Prison Units in Preparation of Hurricane Ike Landfall
Sept. 11, 2008 – Texas Department of Criminal Justice officials began evacuations early Thursday of three TDCJ units located in areas likely to be affected by Hurricane Ike.
The Terrell and Clemens units in Brazoria County and the Carole S. Young Medical Facility Complex in Galveston County began evacuations early Thursday morning. The 1,561 offenders from Terrell, located at 1300 FM 655 in Rosharon, were en route to units in the Huntsville area while 1,068 inmates assigned to Clemens, located at 11034 Highway 36 in Brazoria, were en route to units in the Palestine area. Evacuations are expected to be complete by early Thursday afternoon.
A total of 402 female offenders assigned to the Young Unit were transported to the Gatesville Unit in Gatesville. Those evacuations were completed at 9:30 a.m. Thursday.
Weekend visitation will be canceled at the following TDCJ prison units, although it is advised that visitors contact the unit prior to traveling to ensure visitation has not been canceled at other TDCJ facilities not listed below.
Beto Unit in Tennessee Colony
Briscoe Unit in Dilley
Byrd Unit in Huntsville
Central Unit in Sugar Land
Clemens Unit in Brazoria
Coffield Unit in Tennessee Colony
Connally Unit in Kenedy
Darrington Unit in Rosharon
Eastham Unit in Lovelady
Ellis Unit in Huntsville
Estelle Unit in Huntsville
Ferguson Unit in Midway
Gatesville Unit in Gatesville
Goree Unit in Huntsville
Hightower Unit in Dayton
Hilltop Unit in Gatesville
Hobby Unit in Marlin
Hodge Unit in Rusk
Hospital Galveston in Galveston
Huntsville Unit in Huntsville
Jester I Unit in Richmond
Jester III Unit in Richmond
Jester IV Unit in Richmond
LeBlanc Unit in Beaumont
Lewis Unit in Woodville
Luther Unit in Navasota
Lynaugh Unit in Fort Stockton
McConnell Unit in Beeville
Michael Unit in Tennessee Colony
Mountain View Unit in Gatesville
Murray Unit in Gatesville
Pack Unit in Navasota
Polunsky Unit in Livingston
Powledge Unit in Palestine
Ramsey I Unit in Rosharon
Scott Unit in Angleton
Segovia Unit in Edinburg
Skyview Unit in Rusk
Stevenson Unit in Cuero
Stiles Unit in Beaumont
Stringfellow Unit in Rosharon
Terrell Unit in Rosharon
Vance Unit in Richmond
Wynne Unit in Huntsville
Carole S. Young Medical Facility Complex in Texas City
Duncan Unit in Diboll
Fort Stockton Unit in Fort Stockton
Garza East Unit in Beeville
Garza West Unit in Beeville
Goodman Unit in Jasper
Gurney Unit in Tennessee Colony
Holliday Unit in Huntsville
Marlin Facility in Marlin
Glossbrenner Unit in San Diego
Gist State Jail in Beaumont
Henley State Jail in Dayton
Kegans State Jail in Houston
Lopez State Jail in Edinburg
Lychner State Jail in Humble
Plane State Jail in Dayton
Woodman State Jail in Gatesville
Willacy County State Jail in Raymondville
Cleveland Unit in Cleveland
Diboll Unit in Diboll
East Texas Treatment Facility in Henderson
South Texas Intermediate Sanction Facility in Houston
Jefferson County Leased Bed Facility in Beaumont
Newton County Leased Bed Facility in Newton
Family members needing information on incarcerated offenders may contact TDCJ’s 24-hour Hurricane Hotline at (936) 437-6127.
Earlier in the week, TDCJ officials had taken the precaution of evacuating 12 female dialysis patients from the Young Unit to the Estelle Unit in Huntsville . On Wednesday, an additional 1,336 offenders from the Stevenson Unit in Cuero were evacuated to the McConnell Unit in Beeville and the Connally Unit in Kenedy, and 597 offenders at the Glossbrenner Unit in San Diego were evacuated to the Briscoe Unit in Dilley.
Tuesday, September 09, 2008
Why You Should Oppose the Death Penalty!
The capital punishment system is plagued by wrongful convictions. Innocence, racism, lack of adequate defense, mental illness, and numerous crime lab scandals, have all helped to create a system rife with error. In addition, not much is being done to reduce the causes of crime. The death penalty is not the solution to societal problems. The CEDP is a group dedicated to ending capital punishment and reforming the justice system. To find out about joining our group or for a simple discussion on this issue:
Wednesday, September 10 at 7PM
CMA Rm 3.112 (25th and Whitis)
A family emergency in the Scott family has necessitated a change of plans for the rally scheduled on the 13th of September at DA’s office and city hall. The rally will be rescheduled, and we will let people know about the new date as soon as possible.
A Texas death row inmate whose lawyers argued a secret romantic relationship between the judge and prosecutor at his trial tainted the proceedings 19 years ago won a reprieve Tuesday from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals that blocked his lethal injection set for the following day.
The state's highest criminal court, however, stopped Charles Dean Hood's execution not because of the alleged affair between retired Judge Verla Sue Holland and former Collin County District Attorney Tom O'Connell, but because of what it said were "developments in the law regarding (jury) nullification instructions."
The Austin-based court, where Holland once served as a judge after her stint as a district judge in the suburban Dallas county, said it would be "prudent to reconsider the decision we issued" in previously dismissing Hood's appeal that challenged jury instructions.
At the same time, the court dismissed claims Hood's attorneys filed that he was denied a fair trial because of what would be a legally unethical relationship between Holland and O'Connell and arguments that Hood's execution set for Wednesday would twice put his life in jeopardy.
Monday, September 08, 2008
Judge Holland's Shockingly High Recusal Rate Warrants Full Investigation into Alleged Affair with D.A.
Judge Holland's Shockingly High Recusal Rate Warrants
Full Investigation into Alleged Affair with D.A.
New Data Supports Charles Dean Hood's Claim that
Judge and Prosecutor at His Trial were Romantically Involved
(Austin, Texas) Attorneys for Charles Dean Hood filed an Application for Writ
of Habeas Corpus and Motion for Stay of Execution (attached) today in the
Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas with new data indicating that his rights to
an impartial judge and a fair trial were violated in his capital murder trial.
During her tenure as a judge on the CCA (from 1997 to 2001), Verla Sue Holland
recused herself from four out of every five cases from Collin County, where
she is alleged to have had a romantic relationship with District Attorney
Thomas O'Connell. Hood is scheduled for execution on September 10.
Data recently collected by the Texas Defender Service reveal that Judge
Holland recused herself from nearly 80 percent of the cases coming from Collin
County, where D.A. O'Connell was prosecuting cases and she previously served
as trial judge. In comparison, Judges Price and Keasler who - like Judge
Holland - served on the district court bench before they were elected to the
CCA, recused themselves in less than one percent of the cases that came from
Dallas County, where they previously sat. Court records show:
-- Judge Holland recusal rate: 78.6% (381 recusals out of 485 Collin County
-- Judge Price recusal rate: 0.42% (28 recusals out of 6,641 Dallas County
-- Judge Keasler recusal rate: 0.50% (37 recusals out of 7,396 Dallas County
"Judge Holland's recusing herself at a rate nearly 160 times more than her
fellow jurists cries out for an explanation, especially in light of the
evidence Mr. Hood has previously presented in support of his judicial bias
claim. The simplest explanation is the most plausible one: Judge Holland
recused herself at such an off-the-charts rate, because she had previously
been romantically involved with [D.A. O'Connell]," Hood states in today's
Hood's petition requests a stay of execution and a remand to the convicting
court for further proceedings, including depositions or an evidentiary hearing
where Judge Holland and Mr. O'Connell would be subject to questioning under
oath. If Hood's claim is proven, his rights to an impartial judge and a fair
trial were violated and his conviction and sentence are null and void.
Hood's attorneys also filed a Motion to Recuse eight of the nine judges on the
Court of Criminal Appeals from hearing Hood's habeas corpus petition because
they served with Judge Holland and their personal knowledge of the facts may
create the appearance of impropriety.
Also today, Judge Greg Brewer of the 366th Judicial District Court in Collin
County is expected to hold a hearing on Hood's civil petition seeking
permission to depose Mr. O'Connell and Judge Holland. Both parties have been
ordered to appear and be prepared to give sworn depositions, but scheduled
hearing remains uncertain, because in an attempt to avoid giving depositions
under oath, Judge Holland and Mr. O'Connell have asked a federal court to
remove Judge Brewer's jurisdiction over the case.
Last week, thirty former federal and state judges and prosecutors delivered a
letter to Governor Perry urging him to grant a 30-day reprieve to Hood to
allow time for a court to conduct a meaningful review of the allegations of a
secret romantic relationship between Judge Holland and Mr. O'Connell.
Following the delivery of the letter, the Texas Attorney General's office
filed a brief in support of Hood's request for a hearing, noting that the
integrity of the Texas criminal justice system is at stake.
The nearly 500-member Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers and
three dozen of the nation's leading legal ethicists have stated that the
relationship between Judge Holland and Mr. O'Connell constitutes a violation
of Hood's constitutional rights and called for an investigation and expedited
On June 3, 2008, a former Collin County assistant district attorney filed an
affidavit stating that "[i]t was common knowledge" that Judge Holland and Mr.
O'Connell were having an affair, including at the time of Hood's trial. This
affidavit marked the first time a former employee of the D.A.'s office was
willing to speak on the record and under oath about the relationship.
Saturday, September 06, 2008
Media Advisory for Oct 3 Gathering in San Antonio of Victims' Families Opposed to Death Sentences for the Mentally Ill
For October 3, 2008
Who: Members of Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights (MVFHR) and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
- Amanda Wilcox, mother of victim who was murdered by someone with mental illness
- Lois Robison, mother of mentally ill son who was executed in Texas
- Kim Crespi, mother of victims murdered by her husband, who suffers from mental illness
- Bill Babbitt, MVFHR board of directors, brother of mentally ill man who was executed
- Renny Cushing, MVFHR Executive Director
- Ron Honberg, NAMI Legal and Policy Director
- 20 families of victims and families of the executed from around the U.S.
What: Event marking the official launch of collaborative project between national organizations Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights and National Alliance on Mental Illness opposing the death penalty for persons with severe mental illness. Public testimony from families of victims killed by persons with severe mental illness and families of persons with severe mental illness who have been executed, followed by remembrance ceremony in which participants from around the U.S. will honor their loved ones lost to murder or state execution.
Why: Texas ranks 47th nationally in per capita spending in mental health care and 1st nationally in number of executions carried out during the modern era. MVFHR, a national organization of family members of murder victims and families of the executed, and NAMI, the nation’s largest grassroots organization for people with mental illness and their families, chose Texas as the location to announce their new collaborative project in which victims’ families from around the U.S. will oppose death sentences for mentally ill offenders. Families of victims and families of the executed know the tragedy of murder, mental illness, and the death penalty first hand, and their testimony draws attention to a critically important issue in the death penalty debate and in the field of mental health.
When: Friday, October 3, 3:00-5:00 PM
Where: San Antonio, University of the Incarnate Word, Bonilla Science Hall auditorium, room 129, Hildebrande just west of the Broadway intersection
Friday, September 05, 2008
The Texas attorney general's office on Thursday took the unusual step of joining the defense in saying that death row inmate Charles Dean Hood should not die until after an investigation into an alleged romantic relationship at the time of his trial between the prosecutor and judge.
Although noting that the facts of the murders of Ronald Williamson and Tracie Lynn Wallace are not in question, Attorney General Greg Abbott wrote in a letter to Collin County District Attorney John Roach, "The impartiality of a defendant's trial and conviction must be beyond reproach."
The letter said that the attorney general's office would file a legal brief today asking that the trial court fully review the matter, even if it means delaying the execution.
"Because of the unique nature of the issues in this matter – and to protect the integrity of the Texas legal system – we will ask the court to thoroughly review the defendant's claims before the execution proceeds," the letter said.
The Hood case has drawn intense scrutiny from legal ethicists, as well as death penalty advocates and opponents who keep a close eye on the nation's busiest death chamber.
The case drew national attention in June when Mr. Hood came within hours of execution as attorneys wrangled over final appeals, including one related to the alleged romance. Though Mr. Hood was cleared for execution, his death warrant expired before the sentence could be carried out.Attorneys stunned
Defense attorneys for Mr. Hood, who have been hammering at the wall of silence surrounding the alleged relationship, were stunned by the attorney general's action.
"I had no idea this was coming," said Greg Wiercioch. "I'm just pleased that the attorney general's office is doing the right thing in this case. I'm astounded."
Whether the unusual move will save Mr. Hood, who is set for execution Wednesday for the 1989 slayings, is unclear. The attorney general's office does not have jurisdiction in the case, but Mr. Wiercioch said the move should make it easier to obtain a stay of execution from either the governor or the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.
Defense attorneys say Mr. Hood's trial would not have been fair if the judge and prosecutor were romantically involved.
Earlier Thursday, District Judge Greg Brewer scheduled a hearing for Monday to consider whether depositions from former Judge Verla Sue Holland and former Collin County District Attorney Tom O'Connell should be taken for a possible civil action.
If Judge Brewer grants the defense request to take depositions, they would be taken immediately after the hearing.
Accordingly, he ordered Judge Holland and Mr. O'Connell to "bring with them" all letters, cards and gifts exchanged between them, all credit card or store receipts for any gifts, all photographs and videotapes depicting the two together, and all e-mails or text messages from the two pertaining to allegations about the romantic relationship.
"We're getting an opportunity for the first time, which is all we've asked for, and that is to argue that we should be entitled to take these depositions before the execution date," Mr. Wiercioch said.
The judge could deny the request to take depositions, or the depositions might not reveal anything helpful to Mr. Hood.
Even if the request to take depositions is granted and information about the alleged affair is revealed, Judge Brewer has no authority to order a stay for Mr. Hood's execution.
Depositions taken in civil court could be used to get a stay in a criminal court proceeding.'Improper lawsuit'
Defense attorneys are not the only ones who have been frustrated by the case. Wednesday is Mr. Hood's sixth scheduled execution date, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. His case has been grinding through the criminal justice system for 18 years.
Earlier Thursday, before the attorney general's letter was released, Collin County Assistant District Attorney John Rolater said "this is an improper lawsuit" that belongs in criminal court, not civil court.
"They can have a hearing, but this is not where the case belongs," he said. "They're just forum shopping and manipulating the system."
He later declined to comment on the attorney general's letter.
Neither Judge Holland nor Mr. O'Connell returned calls for comment.
Rumors about the alleged affair have circulated for years but never gained any traction in criminal court.
Shortly before Mr. Hood's scheduled execution in June, a former assistant district attorney said in an affidavit that the relationship was "common knowledge" around the courthouse.
Defense attorneys tried to use the affidavit to halt the execution so the allegations could be explored, but the courts refused, saying the affidavit contained nothing new because it provided no direct knowledge of the alleged relationship.
Mr. Hood's execution eventually was halted by prison officials who said they ran out of time to conduct the execution before the death warrant expired at midnight.
Defense attorneys then turned to civil courts to get direct information but were once again rebuffed. Many of the judges involved in the case in recent months have recused themselves because they know the two parties involved.
On Wednesday, Judge Robert Dry recused himself, citing a previous business relationship with Judge Holland's ex-husband. Before his recusal, however, he had set a hearing for two days after the scheduled execution.
The same day, 22 former judges and prosecutors, including Judge William Sessions, former
director of the FBI, wrote Gov. Rick Perry asking him to stop the execution.
Thursday, September 04, 2008
Chuck Lindell is reporting that Judge Greg Brewer has scheduled a hearing for next Monday, which is before the scheduled execution of Charles Hood. Austin-American Statesman also published a long article about the case in today's paper.
Death row inmate Charles Dean Hood will no longer have to wait until after his Sept. 10 execution date to argue that his trial judge and prosecutor should be forced to answer questions about their alleged relationship.
Hood claims he was denied a fair trial because former Judge Verla Sue Holland and former Collin County District Attorney Thomas O’Connell were in a secret relationship during his 1990 trial.
Judge Robert Dry had scheduled a Sept. 12 hearing on Hood’s request to compel Holland and O’Connell to testify, but Dry recused himself from the case Wednesday.
Hood’s new judge, Greg Brewer, on Thursday set a hearing on the matter for 9 a.m. Monday in Collin County.
Hood was sentenced to die in the 1989 shooting deaths of his boss, Ronald Williamson, and Williamson’s girlfriend Tracie Wallace in their Plano home.
Hood’s bloody fingerprints were found inside the home. When he was arrested a day after the killings, in Indiana, Hood had the victims’ car, clothes, jewelry, camera and credit cards.
See today’s story on the Hood case here.