Thursday, October 29, 2009

America’s Real Death Panels

Diana Novak, a fall 2009 editorial intern at In These Times and a contributor to Chicago INNERVIEW has writen the following article about jurors in the capital cases.

Next spring, Texas will decide whether or not to become the first state to admit it executed an innocent man.

Cameron Willingham was put to death in February 2004, 12 years after being convicted of killing his three infant children in a fire at their Corsicana, Texas, home.

In August, the International Association for Fire Safety Science (IAFSS) released a report that concluded none of the evidence from the fire indicated it was set intentionally and that the state fire marshal who testified the fire was arson lacked “any realistic understanding of fires.”

The IAFSS was asked to investigate the case by the Texas Forensic Science Commission, which was created in 2005 to re-examine questionable forensic evidence. The TFSC plans to continue its examination of the fire, but admits the report is a “major step” toward exonerating all that is left of Willingham: his name.

As in any jury trial in the United States, Willingham, who maintained his innocence to the end, was convicted by a group of his peers—12 men and women who supposedly represented the community in which he lived. However, the prosecution in his case sought the death penalty, and that automatically changed the pool of people allowed to serve on his jury.

For capital cases in which the jury will debate whether or not to sentence a convicted defendant to death, the Supreme Court mandates that jurors be “death-qualified”—that is, they must pledge during the jury selection process that they morally support capital punishment and that they would have no problem signing a sentence that will result in the death of another human being.

Social science research indicates that this selection process seriously limits juries in capital cases to people who share similar moral viewpoints. During the last four decades, U.S. researchers have found that in capital cases the people most likely to be chosen during the jury selection process are those with “authoritarian” personality types—people who believe that strict enforcement of laws is needed to maintain social stability. Authoritarians follow convention. They think the function of disciplinary action is to control criminals. They predictably tend to convict anyone (both the guilty and the innocent) who is unfortunate enough to be indicted and brought to trial before a jury. In other words, they believe one is guilty until proven innocent, and are thus more likely to accept the prosecution’s case rather than the defendant’s.

Psychologist and litigation consultant Brooke Butler’s research has shown that those on death-qualified juries tend to believe in a fundamentally just world—people get what they deserve and that everything that happens in a person’s life is a direct result of things they control. She found that such jurors are more likely to make decisions based on aggravating circumstances (the morbid facts surrounding a victim’s death, etc.) rather than mitigating ones. They are more racist, sexist and homophobic than their unselected counterparts, and less likely to accept mental illness or age as a defense. Death-qualified jurors are typically “male, Caucasian, moderately well-educated, politically conservative, Catholic or Protestant, and middle-class,” she says.

Victoria Springer, social science researcher and sentencing expert, argues that the people with authoritarian personality types who are typically selected to serve on death-qualified juries will face a serious mental conflict. These pro-crime-control jurors are required to “adopt the attitude that the individual to be tried before them is innocent until proven guilty—which stands in direct opposition to their attitudes, orientation, and personality that has been specifically selected for.”

From there, it is easy to understand how for such people the fundamental presumption of innocence conflicts with what the prosecution presents to them as “the facts”—the evidence, regardless of strength. Springer says that if the assumption of innocence clashes with the death-qualified juror’s desire to remove a criminal from the streets, then the decision to render a guilty verdict reinforces what these jurors feel is their purpose on the jury in the first place.

Cameron Willingham, wrongfully convicted and executed by a Texas jury selected through the filter of “death qualification,” was robbed of the right to have a jury of his peers decide his fate. Instead, he was put to death by those of his neighbors who innately believe that the American judicial system is a bastion of truth.

Video: 10th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty

Exonerated death-row inmates and family members of inmates on death-row leaded the 10th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty on October 24, 2009 at the Texas Capitol in Austin.

Click here to watch the video on YouTube

The Prison Machine: Teach-in explores hyper-incarceration in U.S

The Student Prison Caucus is holding a teach-in presentation and dialogue about the hyper-incarceration phenomenon in the United States and the Prison Industrial Complex. The teach-in will provide an opportunity for dialogue between those presenting, the Student Prison Caucus, and students and community members who are interested in learning about or being involved in the movement to stop hyper-incarceration.

Time: Noon-2 p.m.
Location: School of Social Work (SSW) at the University of Texas at Austin, Room 2.112

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Video of Last Night's Protest in Austin as Reginald Blanton was Executed in Huntsville; Reginald's Mother and Supporters from their Chuch Attended

Last night in Austin, Reginald Blanton's mother and members of her church from San Antonio joined more than 60 supporters at the Texas Capitol to stand protest as the execution of her son was taking place in Huntsville Texas. Also in attendance to protest the execution were two innocent, exonerated former death row prisoners, Shujaa Graham and Curtis McCarty. Shujaa spent 3 years on death row in California and Curtis spent 19 years on death row in Oklahoma.

Reginald's last words:
Yes I do. I know ya'lls pain, believe me I shed plenty of tears behind Carlos. Carlos was my friend. I didn't murder him. This what is happening right now is an injustice. This doesn't solve anything. This will not bring back Carlos. Ya'll fought real hard here to prove my innocence. This is only the beginning. I love each and everyone dearly. Dre My queen. I love you. Yaws, Junie I love yall. Stay strong, continue to fight. They are fixing to pump my veins with a lethal drug the American Veterinary Association won't even allow to be used on dogs. I say I am worse off than a dog. They want to kill me for this; I am not the man that did this. Fight on. I will see ya'll again. That's all I can say.
Reginald became the 442nd person executed in Texas since 1982 and the 203rd person executed since Rick Perry took office. Rick Perry himself was in New York last night, so he does not very care much about his responsibilities as governor when it comes to capital punishment.

Watch video of last night's protest on YouTube. The video was taken by Hooman Hedayati.

Anna Terrell also delivered a powerful speech at the 10th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty Saturday calling for Rick Perry to stop the execution of her son and calling for an end to capital punishment (video on YouTube).

Breaking News: Charges Dropped in the Yogurt Shop Case

Our members at the Travis County courthouse are reporting that Judge Lynch has dropped all charges in the the Yogurt Shop case. Robert Springsteen and Michael Scott are both a free man!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Not Another Legal Lynching! Save Reginald Blanton!


Texas plans to take the life of death row prisoner Reginald Blanton on October 27th. Reginald’s case is riddled with injustice. He was convicted of killing his best friend Carlos Garza over jewelry. The evidence against him is of two witnesses, his brother and his brother’s then pregnant girlfriend. Both have said they were threatened by the police with being charged with the crime, and both had recanted their statements by the time of trial. He was convicted by an all white jury as a result of jury shuffles to exclude African-Americans from the jury. There was no DNA, no fingerprints, no murder weapon found. The only physical evidence, a shoe print on the door of Mr. Garza’s apartment, failed to match to Reginald. In addition, there were glaring problems with his appeals attorney at the state level.

Reginald’s case is also important because he is an activist on death row who helped found the DRIVE Movement which has held numerous hunger strikes and protests on death row.

Now is the time to put the pressure on. The Texas Death Penalty and Rick Perry, in particular, have come under public scrutiny because of the 2004 execution of Cameron Todd Willingham. Willingham was executed for a fire that killed three of his children. The Texas Forensic Science Commission recently discovered that the fire was accidental, making Cameron Todd Willingham INNOCENT. Perry has since tried to cover up this state-sponsored murder by changing around the personnel on the Commission. We cannot let Perry kill another innocent man!

A detailed description of Reginald's case was written by Cartel Pargel and can be read here: (Spanish translation here:

More claims about Reginald's innocence have been made by Liliana Segura:

and Mark Clements who spent 28 years in prison for a crime he did not commit:

Reginald's mother, Anna Terrell, delivered a powerful plea for her son's life in front of the crowd that gathered yesterday in Austin, TX to demand the abolition of the death penalty.

Part 1

Part 2

Join us in telling the state of Texas that Reginald Blanton deserves a new day and court and to STOP THE EXECUTION!

Please write a clemency letter today, and be ready to bombard the office of Rick Perry and the BPP with phone calls and faxes next Wednesday. Together we can save the life of Reginald!!!!! And please, please, forward far and wide, to all your lists serve, forum, blogs, from here all the way to China.

Make phone/fax calls to Gov. Rick Perry’s Office:
Call 512-463-1782
Fax 512-463-1849.

Office of the Governor Main Switchboard: (512) 463-2000 (office hours are 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. CST)

Contact the Texas Board of Pardons & Paroles and tell them to grant Reginald Blanton clemency:
Call (512) 406-5852
Fax (512) 463 8120

March to Abolish the Death Penalty in the News

"Protesters voice concerns about death penalty," is Bobby Longoria's article in today's The Daily Texan.

Hundreds of signs adorned with crossed out nooses and photos of executed men were held by protestors on the steps of the state Capitol on Saturday as they called for the exoneration of executed Texas man Cameron Todd Willingham.

Anti-death penalty activists have gathered in Austin every October since 2000 to show support for the abolition of the death penalty. This year’s March to Abolish the Death Penalty marks the event’s return to Austin after two years in Houston.

The march was sponsored by more than 50 organizations and included appearances by three exonerated men and the families of current death row inmates.

“I’ve lost all my friends, I lost my family and I am angry,” said Curtis McCarthy, who spent 19 years on death row in Oklahoma before being exonerated in May 2007 by DNA evidence. “I know how the family of Willingham feels. I don’t know what to do about it ... I am here. I don’t know what else to do.”

Willingham was a resident of Corsicana who was convicted of capital murder of his three daughters who were killed in a fire at their home Dec. 23, 1991. Willingham was accused of setting the fire and spent more than 10 years in the trial process claiming he was innocent.

After unsuccessful appeals, Willingham was executed Feb. 17, 2004. The incident has been given increased attention after several independent reviews of the arson investigation claim it based its conclusions on faulty reasoning.

Demonstrators also voiced their opposition to Gov. Rick Perry’s comments and actions this month regarding Willingham’s execution.

At a press conference after a Texas Association of Realtors luncheon two weeks ago, Perry called Willingham “a monster” and said that multiple testimonies and the fact that the court upheld the jury’s verdict proved that Willingham was guilty. Perry told the media to not be misled by anti-death penalty “propaganda.”

The Texas Forensic Science Commission hired Baltimore fire expert Craig Beyler to investigate Willingham’s case.

“The investigators had poor understandings of fire science and failed to acknowledge or apply the contemporaneous understanding of the limitations of fire indicators,” Beyler said in his August report. “A finding of arson could not be sustained.”

On Sept. 30, two days before the commission was set to meet and review Beyler’s report, Perry removed three members of the commission, including the chairman, who he replaced with Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley. Bradley canceled the Oct. 2 meeting, which has yet to be rescheduled.

“If we had any of the number of experts that have come forth now and given testimony in this case, Todd Willingham would have never been convicted. He would have never been executed. He probably never would have even been tried,” said Walter Reaves, Willingham’s lawyer during the appeals process.

Reaves said he is seeking post-mortem exoneration of Willingham as well as a formal apology. He said that reports by arson experts indicating that Willingham did not set the fire were not given a fair consideration during the appeals process.

“[Lawmakers] need to fix the procedural problems with police and prosecutorial misconduct in this state before we even think about executing people,” said Jeff Blackburn, chief counsel to The Innocence Project of Texas.

After an examination of Willingham’s case, the project believes he was unjustly put to death, Blackburn said.

Multiple families appeared at the event showing support for men currently on death row including Rodney Reed, who is accused of the 1996 rape and murder of Stacey Stites.

“I am out here every chance I get and I am going to keep on doing it even after my brother comes home because the death penalty is wrong,” said Roderick Reed, Rodney Reed’s brother. “I got involved because of my brother, but I am going to stay with it until the end to see it is abolished.”
Bruno Mortan/The Daily Texan
Jane Chamberlain holds her homemade
sign as exonerated prisoners talk about their
experiences on death row during an anti-death penalty

march held on Saturday afternoon.

Joshua Sander's of the Austin American-Statesman has an article in the front page of Sunday's Metro section titled, "Protesters march to call for an end to executions."

Anti-death penalty protesters gathered at the Capitol on Saturday in part to voice their disapproval of Gov. Rick Perry's remarks this month regarding Cameron Todd Willingham, the Corsicana man convicted of setting a fire that killed his three young children on Dec. 23, 1991.

The 10th annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty occurred in the midst of a renewed debate over capital punishment, largely spurred by Willingham's case. Most recently, former Texas Gov. Mark White said the state should reconsider its use of capital punishment "so we don't look up one day and determine that we, as the State of Texas, have executed someone who in fact was innocent."

White's comments came as Perry has been criticized for replacing four members of the Texas Forensics Commission and delaying consideration of a fire scientist's report questioning the 2004 execution of Willingham. Perry has described Willingham as a "monster" and said he is certain of his guilt.

One of the lawyers who represented Willingham in his appeals disagreed.

"Todd Willingham was a person who deserved to be treated fairly, and he didn't get that," said Walter Reaves, Willingham's appellate attorney. "No one could ever make the case that if we knew then what we know now that he would have been convicted, tried and executed."

Jeff Blackburn, founder of the Innocence Project of Texas, a nonprofit group that works to overturn wrongful convictions, said that the Willingham case "represents an opportunity for Texas to fix a broken criminal justice system."

Scott Cobb, president of the Texas Moratorium Network, a nonprofit organization that aims to mobilize support for a moratorium on state executions, said about 50 organizations were responsible for organizing Saturday's march.

The event attracted hundreds of people, who carried signs with photographs of inmates currently on death row and posters bearing slogans such as "Stop All Executions."

About a dozen protesters sat on the steps of the Capitol, holding white posters with lists of the hundreds of inmates who have been executed in Texas since 1982, when the state resumed executions.

Austinite Jeanette Popp, 60, came to the march with a different perspective.

On Oct. 24, 1988, Popp's 20-year-old daughter, Nancy DePriest, was found dead with her hands bound behind her back at the North Austin Pizza Hut where she worked. Two men were wrongfully convicted of her death and served 12 years in prison. They were freed in 2001, after DNA evidence implicated another man.

The confessed killer, Achim Josef Marino, said that he had shot DePriest as part of a satanic sacrifice. Eventually, Popp lobbied for Marino to be spared the death penalty, which he was.

Despite the time that has passed, Popp said, the conversation on capital punishment has not changed.

"It's the 21st anniversary of my daughter's murder, and we're still talking about murdering people with the murdering machine," she said.; 445-3630

"Protesters march against the death penalty" is Tristan Hallman's article in the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News.

AUSTIN — A crowd of anti-death penalty protestors, fueled by the controversy over the 2004 execution of Cameron Todd Willingham and changes to the Texas Forensic Science Commission that is looking into the case, gathered at the steps of the Capitol on Saturday for the 10th annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty.

Dozens of protesters marched down South Congress Avenue and recited chants for an end to capital punishment and declared that Gov. Rick Perry was guilty of homicide. The goal, said Scott Cobb, president of the Texas Moratorium Network, was to make Perry admit to Willingham’s innocence and to end the death penalty, which several speakers called corrupt, racist and biased against the poor.

Willingham was convicted of the murder of his three young daughters by setting fire to his Corsicana home in 1991. Recent investigations have questioned the charge of arson.

“We’re certainly convinced now after a review by expert scientific investigators that there is no evidence of arson,” Cobb said.

Joining the protesters were exonerated ex-death row inmates Curtis McCarthy, Ron Keine and Shujaa Graham. Corey Session, brother of Timothy Cole, a man who died in a Texas prison in 1999, spoke as well. Cole’s posthumous exoneration has led to the creation of the Timothy Cole Advisory Panel on Wrongful Convictions, which held its first meeting Friday. Session said he believed Willingham would be exonerated if his case were heard by an advisory panel.

Willingham’s appellate attorney, Walter Reaves, and Willingham’s pen pal and frequent death row visitor, Elizabeth Gilbert, spoke at the event. Gilbert, who said she has three binders full of letters from Willingham, said that after looking into his case, she’s convinced of his innocence.

“Todd was a very caring person,” said Gilbert, who began corresponding with and visiting Willingham in 1999 after getting his information at an anti-death penalty demonstration in Philadelphia. “He was a considerate, polite, funny, smart person. He was a real human being.”

Eugenia Willingham, mother of Willingham, originally was scheduled speak but decided not to. She said she canceled at the last minute in part because she was tired and the drive from her home in Ardmore, Okla., was long. She also said she didn’t want to be a distraction from the focus on her son’s case.

However, Willingham said she also isn’t entirely against the death penalty.

“I feel there probably should be a death penalty,” she said. “But I feel like the system should be reformed in a way so that innocent people aren’t executed. I feel like there are too many people on death row that are innocent.”

Although there had been speculation that the case against Willingham was flawed, much of the national attention on Willingham came after Perry’s decision to not reappoint four state forensic panelists while they were investigating the case. Perry said they were replaced because their terms had expired.

Craig Beyler, a Maryland-based arson expert who had been hired by the Forensic Science Commission, has spoken out against Perry’s action and, in his report, questioned the finding of arson.

Perry responded to Beyler’s criticism by calling Willingham a “monster” and saying Beyler is politically motivated. Beyler has denied those claims.

Perry spokesman Allison Castle said Perry stands by his support for the death penalty. Castle noted that Willingham’s conviction was upheld by nine courts and the death penalty has been upheld as a punishment by the U.S. Supreme Court.
"Death penalty opponents rally at Capitol" is Jay Root's article for the Associated Press.

Willingham was convicted of capital murder for the 1991 deaths of his three children in a fire at their Corsicana home. Forensic scientists have called into question arson evidence used to convict Willingham, who maintained his innocence until his death by lethal injection.

Dozens of protesters marched from the Capitol down Congress Avenue, waving placards and chanting “Hey hey, ho ho, the death penalty has got to go.”

Organizers of the rally said they want to bring attention to the Willingham case and Gov. Rick Perry's shakeup of the commission that was investigating the science used to convict him.

“We urge the people and the governor to take a look at this case and examine the new evidence,” said Scott Cobb, president of the Texas Moratorium Network. “There is no scientific evidence of arson in this case, and if there was no arson, there was no crime ... We want Texas to admit that it's made a tragic mistake here.”

The governor has come under fire for replacing members of the Texas Forensic Science Commission just before they were to review a new report critical of the arson science used in the capital murder case. Perry has dismissed the criticism as anti-death penalty propaganda, and says the panel will move forward with the investigation. Speaking at a news conference this month, Perry called Willingham a “monster” who beat his wife and then killed his children.

One of the speakers at the event, Willingham friend Elizabeth Gilbert, said she was sickened by Perry's comments. Gilbert, a Houston teacher, befriended Willingham when he was behind bars and became his advocate, helping to spearhead a re-examination of his case.

“They are still continuing to throw mud at Todd to keep people's attention away from the fact that there wasn't an arson case,” she said.

Perry spokeswoman Allison Castle, noting that Willingham's conviction was upheld despite numerous appeals, said the governor believed he was guilty.

“Like most Texans, Gov. Perry supports the death penalty for those who commit the most heinous crimes,” she added.

Willingham's mother, Eugenia Willingham, had been scheduled to speak at the rally but was unable to attend. In a written statement released by event organizers, she told of letters she had received from death row inmates saying her son's execution has caused appeals courts to take a closer look at their cases.

“This won't bring Todd back, but I take comfort in knowing that others may be freed because of him,” she wrote.
UPI: "Texans rally against death penalty"

AUSTIN, Texas, Oct. 25 (UPI) -- Anti-execution activists say the state of Texas must end its death penalty practices.

The 10th annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty held Saturday in Austin drew hundreds of anti-death penalty activists, many spurred by the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed in 2004 after a scientific report cast doubt on his 1991 triple murder conviction, the Austin American-Statesman reported.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry has been criticized for allegedly failing to read a fire scientist's report questioning Willingham's then-pending execution for the deaths of his three daughters in a house fire. Perry has responded by describing Willingham as a "monster" and saying he is certain of his guilt.

Jeff Blackburn, founder of the Innocence Project of Texas, attended the march and told the American-Statesman the Willingham case "represents an opportunity for Texas to fix a broken criminal justice system."

The newspaper said some protesters carried posters bearing the names of hundreds of inmates executed in Texas since 1982.

Front Page of Dallas Morning News

Dallas Morning News has published a large picture from the 10th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty in the front page of their Sunday paper. The image appeared along side an article titled, "Willingham's innocence in fire unclear."

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A Mother's Plea - Save Reginal Blanton

Reginald Blanton is scheduled for execution in Texas on Tuesday, October 27, 2009. On Oct 24, Anna Terrell, the mother of Reginald Blanton, spoke at the 10th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty at the Texas Capitol in Austin. She was allowed to see her son for the first time in over a year on Friday, October 26.

Call Governor Rick Perry at 512 463 1782 or send him an email through his website urging him to stop the execution of Reginald Blanton to allow him more time to prove his innocence.

Watch Part One on YouTube.

Part Two on YouTube.

Robert, Reginald's older brother

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Today is the 10th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty in Austin at 2 PM at the Texas Capitol

Today! October 24, 2009 at 2 PM

Austin, Texas

Texas State Capitol Building South Side (11th and Congress)

Three innocent, exonerated former death row prisoners will be among the special guests today at the Tenth Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty October 24, 2009 at 2 PM in Austin, Texas at the Texas Capitol on the South Steps at 11th and Congress. Also attending will be the penpal of Todd Willingham, Elizabeth Gilbert, who first investigated his innocence. Plus, Todd’s last lawyer Walter Reaves. Please attend the march to support the Willingham family as they fight to prove that Todd Willingham was innocent.

Speakers and other confirmed attendees at the march will include three innocent, now-exonerated death row prisoners (Shujaa Graham, Curtis McCarty and Ron Keine), Jeff Blackburn (Chief Counsel of the Innocence Project of Texas), Jeanette Popp (a mother whose daughter was murdered but who asked the DA not to seek the death penalty), Elizabeth Gilbert (the penpal of Todd Willingham who first pushed his innocence and helped his family find a fire expert to investigate), Walter Reaves (the last attorney for Todd Willingham, who fought for him through the execution and continues to fight to exonerate him), Terri Been whose brother Jeff Wood is on death row convicted under the Law of Parties even though he did not kill anyone, and Anna Terrell the mother of Reginald Blanton who is scheduled for execution in Texas on Oct 27 three days after the march, plus others to be announced.

The march starts at 2 PM on October 24 at the Texas Capitol. We will gather at the Texas Capitol at the gates leading into the Capitol on the sidewalk at 11th Street, march down Congress Avenue to 6th street, then back to the South Steps of the Capitol for a rally to abolish the death penalty.

Panel Discussion: The night before the march, there will be a panel discussion on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin at 7 PM with Shujaa Graham and Curtis McCarty. (Thank you to Bill Pelke and the Journey of Hope for helping bring them to Austin for the march.) Shujaa and Curtis will speak about what it is like to be innocent and sentenced to death. The panel is in the Sinclair Suite (room 3.128) of the Texas Student Union on Guadalupe. Call if you need more directions 512-552-4743.

Post-march Strategy Meeting: Immediately after the march on October 24, we plan to hold a networking and strategy meeting inside the capitol. Everyone is invited to attend the strategy session and help us plan how to move forward towards abolition in Texas. The strategy session will start about 30 minutes after the last speaker at the march.

Now is one of the most critical times ever to march against the death penalty.

We just learned from a state-funded report that Texas executed Todd Willingham for arson/murder even though the fire was not arson it was just a fire, so Texas executed an innocent person.

From today's Waco Herald Tribune:

Rally scheduled for Corsicana man executed in 2004 in arson case

Saturday, October 24, 2009

By Cindy V. CulpTribune-Herald staff writer

The case of a Corsicana man executed in 2004 for arson murder will be at the center of an anti-death penalty rally today at the Texas Capitol.

Local attorney Walter M. Reaves Jr., who represented Cameron Todd Willingham during the final part of his appeals process, planned to attend the 10th annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty, along with four people who were exonerated after being on death row. The event is being organized by a number of groups that oppose the death penalty.

As part of the event, activists plan to deliver a petition to Gov. Rick Perry that urges him to say that the 1991 fire that killed Willingham’s three young daughters was not arson, said Scott Cobb, president of the Texas Moratorium Network. It will also ask for Texas executions to be suspended and for Perry to appoint an impartial body to examine the state’s death penalty system, he said.

Willingham’s case, and the role Perry has played in the execution and subsequent investigation into whether it was flawed, has been in the national spotlight. Attention started mounting earlier this month after Perry abruptly replaced four people on the nine-member Texas Forensic Science Commission, including its chairman.

The upheaval came shortly before the commission was set to hear a report from a fire expert hired by the panel. That expert said the arson finding was not scientifically supported, giving further weight to those who say the Willingham case offers the first credible proof of wrongful execution in modern U.S. history.

Reaves said he was initially reluctant to participate in the rally because it could detract from the facts of Willingham’s individual case. He decided to attend, however, because it is another forum to continue pressing Willingham’s case and rebut arguments from the governor’s office, he said.

Also highlighted at the rally will be the cases of four people who spent time on death row before being exonerated.

If Texans take time to listen to people who have wrongly faced execution, public opinion of the practice will change, Cobb said.

“We tell the actual facts about the death penalty, and the fact is that innocent people get convicted and get sentenced to death. And, in some cases, they are not able to prove their innocence before they are executed,” Cobb said.

For more information about the rally or petition, go online to

Friday, October 23, 2009

Former Texas Governor Mark White Approved Execution of Man Who Did Not Kill Anyone But Was Convicted Under the Law of Parties

Former Texas Governor Mark White has recently been in the news because he has changed his mind on the death penalty and now believes that a sentence of life without the possibility of parole is an acceptable substitute for the death penalty as a way "to make certain we didn't have unfortunate execution of an innocent person", (NPR, October 21, 2009, "Former Texas Governor Rethinks Death Penalty").

Our question to Mark White, "Do you still think that someone convicted under the Law of Parties but who himself did not kill or intend anyone to be killed deserves the death penalty?" "Governor White, do you regret signing off on the execution of somone who did not kill anyone?"

One of the people executed when Mark White was governor was a person who had been convicted under the Law of Parties, but who did not himself kill anyone or intend that anyone be killed. Doyle Skillern was executed on January 16, 1985. Skillern's case is similar to the cases of Kenneth Foster, Jr and Jeff Wood, in that all three of them, in their separate cases many years apart, were sitting in a car when a co-defendant killed someone. Skillern's co-defendant, Charles Sanne, testified that he (Sanne) was the triggerman, and that fact was not in dispute, as you can read in Skillern's appeal in the U.S. Fifth Circuit. The appeal also explains that
the charge emphasized that capital murder requires that the accused "intentionally kills or causes the death of another" while in the course of robbing another, paragraphs 6 and 7 of the charge permitted the jury to find Skillern guilty of the triggerman Sanne's killing, under the Texas law of criminal responsibility, as a conspirator in a robbery attempt equally guilty of the murder by his coconspirator if the killing "was committed in furtherance of the unlawful purpose [of the robbery] and was one that should have been anticipated as a result of the carrying out of the conspiracy."
From The Nation - Texan Executed for Killing:
Doyle Skillern, condemned to die for a murder in which the confessed triggerman may soon go free, was executed by lethal injection for the 1974 slaying of Patrick Randel, an undercover narcotics officer. Skillern, 48, died at 12:23 a.m. CST in the Huntsville, Tex., death chamber. Both Gov. Mark White and the U.S. Supreme Court had rejected a reprieve. Testimony showed that Skillern waited in a car while Charles Sanne, 51, shot Randel. Sanne was sentenced to life in prison.
Would Governor White testify in favor of a bill in the next session of the Texas Legislature that would ban executions of people convicted solely under the Law of Parties? In the last session of the Texas Legislature, such a bill was authored by Rep Terri Hodge and it passed the entire Texas House but died in the Senate after Governor Perry threatend to veto it if it reached his desk. The bill would have banned executions of people convicted solely under the Law of Parties.

Panel Discussion Tonight: What's It Like to Be Innocent on Death Row?

Tonight, October 23, 7:00 PM
UT campus, Texas Union building, Sinclair Suite (room 3.128)


Shujaa Graham was exonerated in 1981 from California's death row. As a prisoner at San Quentin in the 70's Shujaa was active in the Black Prison movement and in the Black Panther Party. After being framed for jailhouse murder, Shujaa was sent to death row. Since his release from prison, Shujaa has remained a committed fighter against injustice and the death penalty.

Curtis McCarty spent 22 years in prison, 19 of those years on Oklahoma's death row, for a crime he didn't commit. He was exonerated in 2007 through the testing of DNA evidence. He has toured and spoken about his case, along with several exonerated prisoners with the Witness to Innocence Project.

Elizabeth Gilbert is a Houston teacher and playwright, who befriended Texas death row prisoner Cameron Todd Willingham and is featured in a New Yorker article by David Grann about the case. She became convinced of his innocence and was able to push for a new arson investigation that exonerated him. However, the State failed to halt his execution in 2004. Further investigations have upheld that he was innocent.

Panel sponsored by the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, Texas Moratorium Network, Texas Students Against the Death Penalty, Kids Against the Death Penalty, Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement and the rest of the March to Abolish the Death Penalty Coalition.

Tonight on CNN AC360: Randi Kaye Will Report on Todd Willingham; She Interviews David Martin in His Waco Office

From the AC 360 Blog.

Program Note: Watch Randi Kaye's full report – including her interview with David Martin tonight on AC360° at 10 p.m. ET.

A photograph of Cameron Todd Willingham.
A photograph of Cameron Todd Willingham.

Randi Kaye| BIO
AC360° Correspondent

I came to Texas this week to look deeper into a story I’ve been covering for a few years now for AC360°.

It’s the story of Cameron Todd Willingham, a father of three who was executed in February 2004 for setting a fire that killed his three daughters. But what if he didn’t set it? What if he just got a lame defense? Is it possible?

We wanted to know why he was convicted of “arson homicide” even though since the trial nine leading arson experts have said the fire showed no evidence of arson. So why was he executed?

We went straight to one of Willingham’s defense attorneys, David Martin, for some answers. We met at his Waco office, hours away from where the fire took place in the tiny town of Corsicana. Martin’s office was true Texas. It felt more like a ranch than a law office. We sat down in a couple of over-sized chairs (everything is bigger in Texas, you know) and talked about the case.

I asked Martin how it was possible that the prosecution put two experts on the stand who said the fire was arson, and yet Martin didn’t put anyone on the stand to refute their arguments. Why no expert to say the fire wasn’t arson in Willingham’s defense?

Martin told me, “We couldn’t find one that said it wasn’t arson.”

As a court-appointed attorney, Martin said money was hard to come by and he only had enough funds to hire one expert. And it turned out that the expert ended up agreeing with the prosecution’s experts about the fire being arson so he never put him on the stand.

“You’re just going to abracadabra an arson investigator up to put on the stand? You have to get money,” Martin said.

So who did Martin end up putting on stand in Willingham’s defense? A felon who was in prison with Willingham and the family’s babysitter.

Martin told me that he thought Willingham was guilty from day one and he believed that the patterns on the floor of the house showed that an accelerant had been used. If he thought he was guilty, could he have given him a good defense?

He said he tried everything he could to defend Willingham. He explained it this way, “you don’t have to believe somebody to defend them. You think Bailey and Cochran believed Simpson? No!”

Martin seemed to be enjoying our back-and-forth so I thought I’d press him on one last issue.

A juror told me just last week that she was having doubts about whether or not Todd Willingham really set the fire and was losing sleep over it all these years later. Willingham was convicted in 1992 and spent 12 years on death row before he was executed in 2004.

Martin’s response to this? “She doesn’t need to have no doubts in my mind. He really was guilty and it doesn’t matter how many people talk about it. The evidence is irrefutable.”

But what about the fact that this juror also told me her family was friendly with one of the prosecution’s key witnesses, Deputy Fire Marshall Doug Fogg. She said she told both the prosecution and the defense about this connection but was still chosen to be on the jury.

I asked Martin if that would be grounds for a mistrial. Without missing a beat, he told me absolutely not. He said it wasn’t a conflict of interest because “In a small town like Corsicana, lots of people knew Doug Fogg,” and “look at the evidence that was presented at trial. Would any reasonable mind conclude after the presentation of the evidence that he was not guilty?”

Before our interview was finished, Martin went on to call Todd Willingham a “monster” and a “sociopath”. He said Willingham was his own worst enemy and that he had so many conflicting accounts of the fire that the jury didn’t believe him.

Sound like a defense attorney to you? Or does David Martin sound more like a prosecutor? Martin said it’s not his job to “swallow” whatever story his client tells him, but he insisted he did his best to keep Todd Willingham off death row.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

DPIC Releases New Report on Costs of the Death Penalty and Police Chiefs' Views

The Death Penalty Information Center has released its latest report, "Smart on Crime: Reconsidering the Death Penalty in a Time of Economic Crisis." The report combines an analysis of the costs of the death penalty with a newly released national poll of police chiefs who put capital punishment at the bottom of their law enforcement priorities.

Click here to read the report.
Click here to read DPIC's press release.
Click here for the Executive Summary of the report.

(DPIC, "Smart on Crime: Reconsidering the Death Penalty in a Time of Economic Crisis," released Oct. 20, 2009). See other DPIC reports.

Tonight on CNN Anderson Cooper 360: Randi Kaye Sits Down with Todd Willingham's Unethical Trial Attorney David Martin

Tonight on CNN Anderson Cooper 360, Randi Kaye sits down with Todd Willingham's trial attorney David Martin, the one who made such a fool of himself last week on CNN. He likely will try to look less crazy tonight, but he will probably continue his unethical behavior of attacking his former client and revealing confidential attorney-client communications.

Here is what happened after David Martin's last appearance on CNN. One blogger named him the "Worst Defense Lawyer In The World".

Last Friday morning, we posted the video from last Thursday's CNN AC 360 program when Todd Willingham's trial lawyer was on the program and made remarks that we thought violated his attorney-client obligations, which bind a lawyer even after his client has died. Now, some attorneys have begun posting about David Martin and some also seem to agree that Martin violated his ethical obligations as an attorney to his former client.

After reading this blog post, if you are think David Martin should be investigated, click here to download a grievance form and send it to the Office of the Chief Disciplinary Counsel, State Bar of Texas.

Yesterday, TMN sent an email to attorney and blogger Mark Bennett with a link to the CNN video and asked if he saw an ethics violation. He replied by posting his thoughts on his blog here.
My position is that a) all facts the lawyer learns in the course of representation is privileged; and b) this privilege survives the end of representation and the client’s death. So, for example, the fact that the defense team did its own pseudoscientific experiment would be privileged and not something that the ex-lawyer would be free to reveal (without the client’s permission).
Todd Willingham's appellate lawyer, Walter Reaves, has also now responded to what David Martin said on CNN,
as a lawyer you ought to have some duty to not damage your client. At the very least, Mr. Martin is damaging Todd's reputation, and his ability to obtain some relief in through the forensic commission. The fact that he aligning himself with Gov. Perry ought to tell you something.
At least three other lawyers have now also posted their thoughts on David Martin. Here is one on her blog "Preaching to the Choir".
I have nothing nice to say about David Martin after watching this appalling performance, so perhaps I should not say anything at all. Except, I have no duty of loyalty to David Martin. But I do feel a duty of loyalty to my profession. I happen to think that defending people is one of the most noble things you can do. I can go on quite a tear about how we defenders of the constitution are the true patriots and the most noble actors of all in the criminal justice system. I take my job seriously. Very seriously. My clients trust me with their lives, just as Todd Willingham had to trust David Martin. As much as I rail against prosecutors and cops who bend the rules or cut corners, no one offends me more than the defense attorney who does not live up to my high ideals for the profession. From what I've seen in this video, David Martin is the kind of defense attorney I don't ever want to be.
Here is another, Scott Greenfield, who says
Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that Martin has no grossly improper motive, like he's been promised a judgeship by Perry if he does everything in his power to undermine the evidence of Willingham's innocence. If Martin truly believes what he's saying to be true, his statements are the most irresponsible, unethical, improper I have ever heard from the mouth of a criminal defense lawyer. Outrageously wrong. Utterly disgraceful.
Here is a third, Jeff Gamso:
So we know that Martin was spouting bullshit. (He claimed to have just returned from "chasing cows," so maybe there's a reason.) We also know that at least one thing he talked about, the lighter fluid experiment, is covered by the work-product privilege. It's a secret. He had no business telling anyone. A clear violation of his ethical obligations.

And then there's the matter of going on the air to declare his client guilty. Why in the world would he do that? To garner business? Unlikely. That's not the way you attract clients. For the glory of national television? Some people just can't resist. Whatever the reason, he was wrong. Whatever he was thinking, he wasn't thinking enough. That duty of loyalty. That obligation not to disadvantage. That lack of judgment. That putting his own interests before his client's.
We hope many other lawyers speak up and that some of them file a complaint with the Texas Bar against David Martin.

Eileen Smith of Texas Monthly has also written about Martin, saying in her blog "In the Pink":
Willingham’s trial lawyer David Martin is such a caricature of what people think of Texans that I was mortified watching it. Haven’t we been the posterior region of enough jokes this year, what with all the secession talk and Dancing With the Stars? And I’m not even a native Texan. So really, you guys should be extra-extra mortified.

Right from the start of the interview, you just know it’s going to be bad. For one, Martin is wearing a cowboy hat that’s about to fall off his head. And two, the guy’s drunk as a Honduran skunk.

Anderson Cooper: “David, you always believed that your client was guilty. Now after a half dozen experts have come forward to say there’s no way the fire was arson, you still say he was guilty. Why?”

Martin: “Uh, Anderson, excuse my informal attire, we’ve been out checking cows… uh… tell me your question again?”

Anderson: “About a half dozen fire experts around the country have looked at this case now, and say the evidence that was used… simply is not accurate…”

Martin: “Ohhhh, no, that’s not what I glean from these reports here…”
Sign the petition to Governor Rick Perry and the State of Texas to acknowledge that the fire in the Cameron Todd Willingham case was not arson, therefore no crime was committed and on February 17, 2004, Texas executed an innocent man.

We plan to deliver the petition at the 10th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty on October 24 at 2pm in Austin at the Texas Capitol.

The Texas Bar website explains how to file a complaint.

What is the grievance system?
The grievance system is designed to protect the public from unethical lawyers licensed to practice law in Texas. Lawyers are held accountable to a set of rules, called the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct. Lawyers who violate those rules are prosecuted under a set of rules, called the Texas Rules of Disciplinary Procedure. Much like the criminal system, you, as the aggrieved, are not a party to the disciplinary action; you are a witness.

To download these two sets of rules click here, Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct (PDF) and Texas Rules of Disciplinary Procedure (PDF). For instructions on how to download Adobe Acrobat, click here.

Allegations of misconduct by an attorney are taken very seriously, and are reviewed and investigated carefully by the Office of the Chief Disciplinary Counsel. If you believe that an attorney has violated the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct, you may report this information in writing to the State Bar in the form of a grievance.

Some examples of Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct violations

  • Conviction of a serious crime or other criminal act;
  • Engaging in fraud, deceit or misrepresentation;
  • Obstructing justice;
  • Influencing improperly a government agency or official;
  • Engaging in barratry; and
  • Practicing law when the lawyer is on inactive status or has been

It is important to note that malpractice and attorney misconduct are not necessarily the same. An attorney can commit legal malpractice and not be in violation of the disciplinary rules, or he ir she can be in violation of the disciplinary rules without having committed legal malpractice.

Uncomfortable jokes about executing prisoners by former Texas Death House warden

The following in Stephen Dean's report on Jim Willet's recent talk at the University of Houston.

Joking about executions was more than some students and college professors were ready to hear, especially when the stand up comic was in charge of executing so many Texas prisoners.

The warden who oversaw the Walls Unit in Huntsville, giving the order to go ahead with 89 executions, joked about sending inmates to their death as he spoke to a University of Houston Downtown lecture Tuesday night, but some students and staff expressed discomfort as they talked about it outside the event.

Jim Willett had copies of his two books for sale as he addressed the UHD Criminal Justice Lecture Series.

Now head of the Texas Prison Museum in Huntsville, he never focused on one single theme or message as he addressed a room full of around 80 students, faculty and visitors. He began telling several stories and then stopped, midway, and told the audience he needed to back up or he had forgotten details.

In answering one student's question, Willett said an inmate had clearly told the prison chaplain minutes before his execution that he was innocent of the crime he was about to die for. As the audience sat and digested his statement, he said he meant to say that the inmate had admitted his guilt.

Willett was responding to a question about whether he ever gave the command to execute an inmate that he believed may be innocent. Willett said the inmate in his botched story had told the chaplain that he really was guilty, but he gave a final statement professing his innocence because he just couldn't stand the thought of telling his family he was guilty.

While joking or making fun may be an understandable part of on-the-job stress relief for prison workers when no one else is around, Willett's jokes about sending prisoners to their death took students, faculty and others in attendance by surprise.

He said that one inmate was strapped to the gurney and asked for a piece of gum because his mouth was so dry. In a move of compassion, the executioner stepped up and unwrapped a piece of candy that was plopped into the inmate's mouth. The warden said that inmate just started chewing and chewing on that candy.

Then Willett said he stepped around to the inmate's other shoulder and asked the inmate if that happened to be a Livesaver.

While a few uncomfortable laughs were heard in the UHD auditorium, others looked to the floor.

Willett then continued his story and said the inmate replied that he was hoping that it was, indeed, a Lifesaver, but he didn't think it was working.

Willett also says he joked with another inmate who was about to die, over the gesture the warden would give to start the execution. He said that the inmate had heard a national radio interview, in which Willett said his signal to the executioner was to simply take off his reading glasses when the inmate's final statement was finished. When the glasses come off, the executioner starts the lethal drugs flowing through the IV.

Willett gleefully said he asked this particular inmate how he'd know when the final statement was finished, and he said the inmate replied that he would just tell the warden to take off his glasses.

But that joke wasn't over for the UHD crowd.

Willett said he sternly told the inmate not to say such a thing during his final statement to the witnesses in the execution chamber. He said he was very firmly telling him not to do something, but he chuckled with the UHD college crowd and said he found it strange that he was threatening an inmate who was about to die. After all, said Willett, what could he possibly threaten this person with anyway?

Willett's story about taking off his glasses to signal the executioner has been repeated many times since he started selling books. He told a KPRC Local 2 interviewer about his trademark move for a report that aired after his retirement from TDCJ. It was also immortalized in that radio broadcast that the now deceased convict had mentioned hearing, since that NPR broadcast received a Peabody Award.

At the UHD event, he admitted that he copied that move from the past warden. Perhaps that past warden didn't take so much joy in telling about this move, which is why it's ripe for this warden to use as new material.

Willett also said he followed the advice of that past warden by waiting exactly three minutes from the time the inmate appears to die before calling in the doctor to pronounce the inmate dead. He said the past warden had indicated this was 'just to be safe' so he figured he should follow that protocol.

On the first execution he presided over, he said it was the longest three minutes of his life.

Willett told several stories of how he was compassionate in the final hours or moments of a convict's life, almost as if he was bragging. In one case, he says he allowed a series of phone calls that are normally off limits, in other cases he says he allowed cigarettes for the condemned even though TDCJ has been smoke free since the 90's.

At first, Willett said there were almost never any problems in finding a vein to insert needles on both arms of the inmate. Then later, he was asked a specific question and he admitted one instance where veins could not be easily found so only a single needle was inserted in one arm. After he gave the order to start the execution, he said the inmate turned to him and announced the needle had fallen out.

Willett said he closed the curtains to shield the witnesses, and those witnesses were led out so that they could be led in to start all over again once the needle had been replaced.

He said he often tapped people who are not state employees to help him with the difficult task of starting the final IV's for executions under his watch. When pressed for exactly what he meant, he remained vague but he said he would sometimes find people who had experience in starting IV's during the Vietnam War since they would be perfect for the task in the stressful Texas Death Chamber.

On the subject of needing to round up help in executing convicts, Willett said several employees who executed Karla Faye Tucker asked to be removed from the execution detail. He said some called in sick the following day and others sought counseling, while others said it changed how they looked at executions.

Tucker was one of two women to be executed on Willet's watch. The other, he said, went smoothly. However, Tucker's was complicated by the immense national media attention since she had claimed to be a born-again Christian and shots of her praying were all over the national news as her execution approached in 1998. She was condemned for a barbaric 1993 drug-fueled pickax slaying of two people.

Willett said his entire 'strap down team' and anyone having any part of the execution always handled it with professionalism and that was always important to him. He said that he would watch carefully because anyone who seemed to enjoy executions had no place in the execution process.

He said he would quickly call them in and take them off the execution detail if they seemed like they'd be unprofessional about such a somber task.

In this reviewer's opinion, Willett should follow his own advice and take himself off the execution detail for his book tour.

From a reporter who has been an official witness of two executions and covered dozens more: This UHD book-selling lecture was likely the worst example of insensitivity and glee from a TDCJ Death House employee being on display in such a disturbing manner.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Message to 10th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty Participants from Bill Pelke, President of Journey of Hope … From Violence to Healing

Congratulations to all participants in the 10th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty.

Thank you for your stand on this human rights abuse. I wish I could be there today but family circumstances prevent it. I have had the pleasure of participating in several other marches in the past.

The Journey of Hope…from Violence to Healing is represented on the march by Journey board member Shujaa Graham who is a murder victim family member and an exonerated death row inmate. Journey members Curtis McCarty, Delia Meyer Perez and other Journey members are present.

Murder victim family members who oppose the death penalty in all circumstances lead the Journey of Hope. Death row family members, exonerated and other activists who share their stories to put a human face on the death penalty issue, join us on our speaking tours. There have been three Journey of Hope speaking tours in Texas, the leading execution state in America, and we will keep coming back until the death penalty is abolished.

Many people who want the death penalty do so as a matter of revenge. Revenge is never, ever the answer. The answer is love and compassion for all of humanity.

Thanks again for your abolition work.

Bill Pelke
President, Journey of Hope…from Violence to Healing

Tenth Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty
October 24, 2009 at 2 PM
Austin, Texas
Texas State Capitol Building South Side (11th and Congress)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Daily Texan: March Against the Death Penalty

The following is Hooman Hedayati's column in today's The Daily Texan about the 10th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty.

Would you oppose the death penalty if it were proven that Texas has executed an innocent man? If so, remember this name: Cameron Todd Willingham. He was innocent and Texas executed him. There are plenty of executed death-row inmates with strong claims of innocence, such as David Spence, Ruben Cantu, Carlos De Luna and Gary Graham. But the state of Texas has never admitted to killing an innocent person. Willingham’s case could become the first case in which the state of Texas will have to admit that it made
a mistake.

Willingham was executed for arson and murder in 2004. He professed his innocence until he was strapped down on the execution gurney, saying “I am an innocent man — convicted of a crime I did not commit. I have been persecuted for 12 years for something I did not do.”

Now, we know that he was telling the truth. In August, Craig Beyler, the investigator hired by the Texas Forensic Science Commission to review the Willingham case, released his report in which he found that “a finding of arson could not be sustained” by a scientific analysis. He concluded that the fire in the Willingham case was accidental and not arson. In fact, there was no arson, so there was no crime.

David Grann wrote a 16,000-word article for The New Yorker in which he discredited all the evidence used to convict and sentence Willingham. Barry Scheck, co-director of the Innocence Project said, “After reading Grann’s report, fair-minded people will know beyond a reasonable doubt that an innocent person was executed.”

The proven execution of an innocent person should have resulted in a call by Gov. Rick Perry for a statewide moratorium on executions and a commission to conduct a comprehensive study of the Texas death penalty system. But shortly before a scheduled Texas Forensic Science Commission meeting to discuss this case, in a move that looks like an election-year cover-up, Perry replaced several members of the commission with his own political allies, including John Bradley, a tough-on-crime Williamson County defense attorney, as chairman. Bradley canceled the public hearing indefinitely, leaving the investigation in limbo.

Scott Cobb, director of the Texas Moratorium Network, said, “No matter how things turn out, people are looking at the death penalty in a new light. They’re thinking if it could have happened to Willingham, then it could happen to many other people.”

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in 2006 that in the modern judicial system there has not been “a single case — not one — in which it is clear that a person was executed for a crime he did not commit. If such an event had occurred in recent years, we would not have to hunt for it; the innocent’s name would be shouted from the rooftops.”

This Saturday, at the 10th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty, people from all walks of life and all parts of Texas, the U.S. and other countries will gather at the Texas Capitol to raise their voices and shout out Todd Willingham’s name. The march is a gathering of activists, exonerated inmates and family members of the victims and those on death row.

Eugenia Willingham, mother of Todd Willingham, will be among the special guests at the march on Saturday at 2 p.m. on the South Steps of the Capitol.

On Friday, students can also join a panel discussion with exonerated death-row inmates Shujaa Graham and Curtis McCarty (7 p.m. in the Texas Union’s Sinclair Suite, Room 3.128).

I encourage everyone to attend the march to support the Willingham family as they fight to prove that Todd Willingham was innocent.

For more information and to sign a petition, visit and

Hedayati is a government and Middle Eastern studies senior and member of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Rick Perry's General Counsel on Day of Todd Willingham's Execution Later Cleared in Own Arson Case

The news video below talks about Texas Governor Rick Perry's then-general counsel David Medina's role in advising Perry on the day of Todd Willingham's execution. Medina was later appointed to the Texas Supreme Court by Perry. In 2007, Medina's wife was charged with arson and Medina himself was charged with records tampering after their home burned down. The charges were later dropped against Medina's wife, Francisca, after an arson investigator hired by Medina found that arson could not have been the cause. Charges were dropped against David Medina for insufficient evidence.

Here is how Glenn Smith at Dog Canyon explains it:
His (Medina's) wife, Francisca, was cleared of arson charges based on an independent forensic and arson investigator’s report. The expert found the fire might have been accidental.

Willingham was convicted and sentenced to death for a fire that killed his three children. A report from an independent forensic and arson investigator sent to Perry and Medina 88 minutes before the execution said the fire was probably accidental. Perry and Medina ignored it as irrelevant. Perry has subsequently mocked independent scientists.

Now Perry has publicly admitted Medina’s role in the 2004 Willingham execution. There could be no greater or more tragic example of our unequal, two-tiered system of justice. I don’t know if the Medinas set the fire or not. I don’t know if Willingham was guilty, although all the independent experts say the fire wasn’t even arson, meaning no crime was committed.
The Medina arson case shows how different an outcome can be when a defendant has the financial means to hire a good trial lawyer and a scientifically trained fire investigator. If Todd Willingham had had a good trial lawyer or had been able to hire a scientifically trained fire investigator in 1991, then charges against Willingham would also likely have been dismissed, just like they were dismissed in the case of the lawyer who on the day of Willingham's execution counselled Rick Perry not to stop the execution of Todd Willingham.

Sign the petition to Governor Rick Perry and the State of Texas to acknowledge that the fire in the Cameron Todd Willingham case was not arson, therefore no crime was committed and on February 17, 2004, Texas executed an innocent man.

We plan to deliver the petition at the 10th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty on October 24 at 2pm in Austin at the Texas Capitol.

Speakers at the march include Walter Reaves, Todd Willingham's last attorney - the one who handled his final appeals. Reaves fought through the execution to prove Willingham's innocence and is continuing to fight to exonerate his former client, in contrast to Willingham's unethical trial lawyer, David Martin, who went on national tv and revealed confidential work product from the Willingham case while arguing that Willingham was guilty.

Capital Defense Weekly for the weeks since September 21, 2009

The following is Capital Defense Weekly 's email announcement for the weeks since September 21, 2009.

This edition leads off with developments in Ohio. A Sixth Circuit panel stayed the upcoming execution of Lawrence Reynold due to concerns about a repeat of Mr. Broom's botched execution. Governor Strickland then stayed all imminent executions in light of the problems with the botched execution of Mr. Broom. At this point uncertainty reigns about what will happen next in one of 2009's busiest execution chamber.

The Ninth Circuit has granted two Arizona inmates new penalty phase trials. In Danny Lee Jones v. Ryan a panel holds trial counsel failed to adequately investigate, prep and present petitioner's horrific childhood abuse, extensive head injuries and trauma, ongoing drug abuse, cognitive difficulties, and a host of mental and emotional disorders. A second Ninth Circuit Panel in Laurence K. Libberton v. Ryan likewise grants penalty phase relief as trial counsel missed, in this multiple defendant homicide, (A) petitioner's role as a mere follower; (B) that he had suffered an abusive childhood including brutalization by his father, and (C) also missed other evidence as to his mental and emotional state that could have been presented.

Two other notable grants of relief are had. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted sentencing phase relief in Ex parte Carl Wayne Buntion as "[t]he nullification instruction given to applicant's jury was not a sufficient vehicle to allow jurors to give meaningful effect to the mitigating evidence presented by applicant." The Sixth Circuit in William T. Montgomery v. Bagley reverses both guilt and penalty phase verdicts as the State with held a crucial exculpatory police report

Oral argument in Smith v. Spisak is scheduled by the Supreme Court for Tuesday on IAC and Mills claims. An odd vehicle for certiorari, all eyes watching the Mills claim in this case.

In the news, Todd Willingham's probable wrongful execution continues to reverberate, Stand Down as the compete details In Arizona a state trial court judge denied relief on whether Jeffrey Landrigan''s claims that Arizona's lethal-injection procedure is unconstitutional. In Arkansas the state supreme court heard argument on whether a new law clarifying the state's lethal injection procedures is constitutional Despite problems elsewhere, Nebraska corrections officials propose to use a 3-drug combo for its new execution protocol. Finally, Michael Roy Toney died in a freak one-vehicle rollover crash in Texas one month after his release from Texas's death row.

This edition is abbreviated as I am in the middle of a "two day trial" that now appears likely to go three weeks. As always, thanks for reading. - k
Pending Executions
27 Reginald Blanton* (Texas)

4 Paul Johnson* (FL
5 Khristian Oliver* (Texas)
10 Yosvanis Valle* (Texas)
10 John Allen Muhammad* (Virginia)
17 Gerald Eldridge* (Texas)
18 Danielle Simpson* (Texas)(V)
19 Robert Thompson* (Texas)

2 Cecil Johnson Jr.* (Tenn)
8 Kenneth Biros * (Ohio)
9 Devin Banks (Tenn)

Recent Stays & Reprieves
1 Jerome Marshall (Penn)
3 William Wright (Penn)
22 Noel Matos Montalvo (Penn)
22 Romell Broom* (Ohio)
24 Donald Mitchell Tedford (Penn)
24 Kenneth Mosely* (Tex)
30 John Balentine* (Tex)

5 Larry Bird Elliott* (Virginia)(reprieve until at least mid-November)
9 Lawrence Reynolds, Jr.* (Ohio)
22 Christopher Kennedy (Penn)

10 Darryl Durr* (Ohio)

Recent Executions
8 Max Payne* (Alabama)
* "serious" execution date / (s) stay believed likely / (V) Volunteer / note this list may exclude any recently added execution date
(note that none of the Pennsylvania dates listed are likely actual execution dates)

Week of October 5, 2009 – In Favor of the Accused or Condemned (initial list)

Lawrence Reynolds v. Strickland, 2009 U.S. App. LEXIS 21816; 2009 FED App. 0356P (6th Cir. 10/5/2009) (dissent) "An Ohio inmate's motion for a stay of his execution is granted and remanded for fact-finding and evidentiary hearings on the merits in light of Ohio's revision of its execution protocol in May 2009 where the state experienced serious and troubling difficulties in executing at least three inmates, giving rise to at least two questions: 1) whether Ohio is fully and competently adhering to the Ohio lethal injection protocol given (a) their failure to have a contingency plan in place should peripheral vein access be impossible, (b) issues related to the competence of the lethal injection team, and (c) other potential deficiencies; and 2) whether these instances present sufficient new, additional factors to revive petitioner's Eight Amendment claims otherwise extinguished by Cooey v. Strickland, 479 F.3d 412 (6th Cir. 2007)." [via FindLaw]

Week of October 5, 2009 In Favor of the State or Government (initial list)

Derrick Lon Jackosn v. Thaler, 2009 U.S. App. LEXIS 22287 (5th Cir 10/9/2009)(unpublished) COA denied "on the district court's rejection of his arguments that the 2007 judgment against him was void pursuant to Rule 60(b)(4) and should be set aside pursuant to Rule 60(d)(3) because his court-appointed attorneys perpetrated a fraud on the court."

John Alvalos Alba v. Thaler, 2009 U.S. App. LEXIS 22263 (5th Cir 10/8/2009) (unpublished) COA denied on "1. The State's decision to seek the death penalty was racially motivated 1 and therefore violated his rights under the Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, Thirteenth, and Fourteenth Amendments" and " 2. Racially motivated imposition of the death penalty is contrary to "evolving standards of decency" and violates the Eighth Amendment."

Ex parte Bobby Wayne Woods, 2009 Tex. Crim. App. LEXIS 1432 (Tex. Crim. App. 10/7/2009) "[W]e decide that applicant's additional evidence does not compellingly or dramatically undermine the previously considered substantial evidence that supports a finding that applicant is not mentally retarded. Even with a consideration of applicant's additional evidence, a rational finder of fact could still find that applicant is not mentally retarded and that applicant manufactured a mental-retardation claim in an attempt to escape the ultimate punishment for the brutal murder of an eleven-year-old girl. Applicant's current successive habeas corpus application, therefore, does not meet the requirements of Article 11.071, § 5(a)(3). " More at the CCA blog, including the oral argument.

Commonwealth v. John Amos Small, 2009 Pa. LEXIS 2105 (Penn 10/5/2009) (dissent) "A post conviction court erred by granting defendant a new trial regarding his murder conviction as defendant failed to show that the outcome of the trial would have been different had two particular witnesses been called, his then-wife's testimony did not meet the exception under 42 Pa.C.S. § 5914, and no conflict of interest was shown." [via Lexis]

Week of October 5, 2009 – Other (initial list)

Bigler Jobe Stouffer II v. Workman, 2009 U.S. App. LEXIS 22188 (10th Cir 10/8/2009) (unpublished) In Oklahoma, a death row inmate "is not entitled to earned credits because his death sentence is not a "term of imprisonment" within the meaning of Okla. Stat. tit. 57, § 138."

State v. Fry, 2009 Ohio 5315; 2009 Ohio LEXIS 2824 (Ohio 10/7/2009) Motion for continuance of oral argument denied.

Week of September 28, 2009 – In Favor of the Accused or Condemned

Danny Lee Jones v. Ryan, 2009 U.S. App. LEXIS 21634 (9th Cir 10/2/2009) "The 9th (Thomas joined by B. Fletcher and Hawkins) finds IAC in the sentencing phase of this capital prosecution for two murders. The defense lawyer failed to (1) secure appointment of a defense mental health expert; (2) seek neurological and neuropsychological testing; and (3) present additional mitigation witnesses and evidence. The mitigation related to petitioner's horrific childhood abuse, extensive head injuries and trauma, ongoing drug abuse, cognitive difficulties, and a host of mental and emotional disorders. Congratulations to AFPDs Letty Marquez and Sylvia Lett of the FPD Arizona Capital Habeas Unit." [via the Ninth Circuit blog]

Laurence K. Libberton v. Ryan, 2009 U.S. App. LEXIS 21633 (9th Cir 10/2/2009) "The 9th (W. Fletcher joined by Clifton and M. Smith) finds IAC in the sentencing phase of this capital murder. The murder was committed by three co-defendants. There was extensive evidence, not used by counsel, that the petitioner was a mere follower, and that one other co-defendant was the leader, and the other co-defendant had a violent background and was threatening to the petitioner. Petitioner also suffered from an abusive childhood, was placed in CPS for years as a result, and was brutalized by his father. Further, there was evidence as to his mental and emotional state that could have been presented. The 9th did deny relief on the guilt claims, finding that the "deal" between one co-defendant and the government was not disclosed, but was harmless given the nature of the statement the co-defendant had made previously. The 9th also found that AEDPA controlled one guilt claim because the claim had been dismissed." [via the Ninth Circuit blog]

William T. Montgomery v. Bagley, 2009 U.S. App. LEXIS 21314; 2009 FED App. 0348P (6th Cir. 9/29/2009) Relief granted in light of Brady.Specifically "The District Court issued the writ based on a finding that the State, in violation of Brady v. Maryland." "In this capital case, the State is unable to effectively rebut three crucial propositions that control the outcome: (1) the withheld report is exculpatory and should have been disclosed before trial, (2) it is "material" because, if true, it would likely change the outcome of the trial, and (3) the ultimate determination concerning the truth of the withheld report — i.e., what actually happened — is for the state courts to resolve. Because, like the District Court, we believe that the withheld, exculpatory report "undermines confidence in the verdict" as to both the guilt and sentencing phases of Montgomery's trial, we hold that Montgomery deserves a new trial where all of the relevant evidence is considered by the jury. For the reasons that follow, we affirm the District Court's issuance of the writ and later denial of the State's motion to reconsider. We pretermit the remaining issues raised in Montgomery's cross-appeal. "

Ex parte Carl Wayne Buntion, 2009 Tex. Crim. App. Unpub. LEXIS 635 (Tex. Crim. App. 9/30/2009) (unpublished) "The nullification instruction given to applicant's jury was not a sufficient vehicle to allow jurors to give meaningful effect to the mitigating evidence presented by applicant. Because the mitigating evidence presented at applicant's trial is the type of evidence for which he was entitled to a separate vehicle for consideration, we remand the case to the trial court for a new punishment hearing."

Week of September 28, 2009 – In Favor of the State or Government

Frederick Bell v. Epps, 2009 U.S. App. LEXIS 21331 (5th Cir 9/28/2009) (unpublished) Relief denied. "His argument that his trial counsel was inadequate for failure to investigate witnesses to corroborate his alibi is [ ] both waived and procedurally barred." The state supreme court's adjudiation of claims "that his trial counsel was ineffective at sentencing for failure to develop additional testimony on potential mitigating factors" was not unreasonable.

Randy Lamont Lewis v. State, 2009 Ala. Crim. App. LEXIS 123 (Ala. Crim. App. 10/2/2009) Relief denied on claims including: (A) Method of execution; (B) "Lewis's second argument is that indicting him for, convicting him of, and sentencing him for three counts of capital murder violated double jeopardy principles;" (C.) that "the State did not present sufficient evidence to support his capital murder conviction;" (D) "his trial attorneys did not properly investigate the statements of the witnesses; that, based on that failure, his trial attorneys were not able to find the cameraman from WBRC-TV Fox 6 News who videotaped Vontricesa saying that she did not know the man who was charged with killing Taurus Frost until the end of the defense testimony; that he was not able to subpoena the cameraman to authenticate the videotape; and that he was not able to introduce the videotape for the purpose of impeaching Davis;" and (E) Statutory review. Convictions vacated for robbery and kidnapping as they were subsumed in the charges of capital robbery-murder and capital kidnapping-murder.

Vernon Lamar Yancey v. State, 2009 Ala. Crim. App. LEXIS 126 (Ala. Crim. App. 10/9/2009) On return from remand, judicial override of sentencing jury's life recommendation affirmed. Remand previously had to reweigh and memorialize the weight given sentencing jury's life recommendation

Commonwealth v. Craig Williams, 2009 Pa. LEXIS 2096 (Penn 10/2/2009) (dissent) "Relief denied on a fairly strong claim about failure of trial counsel to conduct a reasonable investigation. Good language about the judicial adoption of the prosecution's proposed order on postconviction review. An order of the Post-Conviction Relief Act, 42 Pa.C.S. § 9541 et seq., court denying appellant a new penalty hearing on remand was upheld since each of his claims of ineffective assistance of counsel were found meritless under 42 Pa.C.S. § 9543." [via Lexis]

Commonwealth v. Cam Ly, 2009 Pa. LEXIS 2043 (Penn 10/1/2009) (dissent) Relief denied, most notably, as the dissent notes, on claims relating to "trial counsel [ ] conducted effectively no pre-trial penalty-phase investigation and, indeed, did not so much as ask Appellant about his background. It is undisputed that, prior to the penalty hearing, counsel also did not even attempt to learn what aggravating circumstances the Commonwealth intended to pursue." Lexis examines the decision this way: "[u]nder U.S. Const. amend. XIV, conflicting identifications made by a witness of another person involved in a shooting should have been disclosed because they could have been used to question her identification of appellant as the shooter. Appellant was not prejudiced, however, as the witness never wavered in identifying appellant as the shooter."

Commonwealth v. Jerry Chambers, 2009 Pa. LEXIS 2039 (Penn 9/30/2009) "On direct appeal, there was sufficient evidence to support defendant's death sentence and conviction for first-degree murder (18 Pa.C.S. § 2502) based on the evidence that he beat the three-year-old victim regularly, struck her so hard on the night of her death that she hit a radiator and was thrown behind a bed where she suffocated." [via Lexis]

Ex parte Rubern Ramirez Cardenas, 2009 Tex. Crim. App. Unpub. LEXIS 652 (Tex. Crim. App. 9/30/2009) (unpublished) Relief summarily denied.

Ex parte Sheldon Aaron Ward, 2009 Tex. Crim. App. Unpub. LEXIS 640 (Tex. Crim. App. 9/30/2009) (unpublished) Relief summarily denied.

Ex parte David Lee Powell 2009 Tex. Crim. App. Unpub. LEXIS 632, (Tex. Crim. App. 9/30/2009) (unpublished) Relief summarily denied.under Article 11.071, § 5.

Week of September 28, 2009 – Other

State v. Neyland, 2009 Ohio 5015; 2009 Ohio LEXIS 2686 (Ohio 9/25/2009) Order enlarging the record.

Week of September 21, 2009 – In Favor of the Accused or Condemned
  • People v. Laurence Lovejoy, 2009 Ill. LEXIS 1302 (Ill 9/24/2009) The People committed a discovery violation in not turning over certain purported conclusions reached by its experts. Specifically, the prosecution furnished in discovery an expert's report indicating that the substance in which a footprint, linked to the Defendant, was made was not blood, at trial, however, the expert would testify the substance in which the print was made was indeed blood. The trial court denied defense requests to strike the testimony, grant a continuance to bring in a defense expert, and reopen proofs. The State supreme court orders a new trial ordered in light of the discovery violation and because the Defense's request for a continuance should have been granted.

Week of September 21, 2009 – In Favor of the State or Government
  • United States v. Alfonso Rodriguez, Jr., 2009 U.S. App. LEXIS 20921 (8th Cir 9/22/2009) (dissent) Relief denied on this direct appeal, most notably on, the Government's closing, its denigration of mitigation, and its use of banned argument (including arguing nexus between mitigation and the events of the crime). The Clerk's Office notes that the "[d]istrict court did not err in denying defendant's motion for a change of venue based on pretrial publicity; court did not abuse its discretion by denying defendant's request for additional funding for further venue studies; jury selection plan did not systematically exclude minorities and did not violate defendant's right to a fair and impartial jury; district court did not err in denying defendant's Batson challenges as the government offered race- neutral grounds for its strikes; district court did not err in excluding two venire persons who expressed reservations about their ability to impose the death penalty; no error in admitting acid-phosphate evidence under Rule 702; no err in admitting evidence of defendant's two prior sexual assault convictions; no error in admitting victim impact statements during the penalty phase of this death penalty case; victim's father's act of shaking hands with the prosecutor after the completion of his testimony did not improperly bolster the father's testimony or suggest that the family desired a death sentence; prosecutor's comments did not misstate the law concerning the burden of proof for mitigating factors and did not direct the jurors to disregard the factors if they did not have a nexus to the killing; government's comments about sentences for kidnapping and kidnapping resulting in murder misstated the law, but did not require a new trial; prosecutor's comment regarding the effect a death sentence might have on defendant's family were not improper in context of the court's comments and the prosecutor's clarification of the argument; in any event, the jury found the impact on defendant's family was a mitigating factor, thereby showing it did not disregard the factor as irrelevant; prosecution's comments on the fact that defendant offered to plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence (thereby showing the mitigating factor of acceptance of responsibility) did not prejudice defendant or require a mistrial; while the prosecution should not disparage the defendant's mitigation evidence by arguing that he was just "put[ting] stuff up and hop[ing] it sticks," or suggesting counsel was "selling" the case, the comments did not require a new trial; asking the jurors to imagine what the victim went through was permissible; while asking the jurors to imagine the victim's "raw fear" was an impermissible "golden rule"argument, as the government did not produce any evidence of her fear, the comments did not affect defendant's substantial rights; a prosecutor's brief claim to "speak for" the victim is improper if, in the context of the surrounding statements, it appeals excessively to the jurors' emotions; here, however, the surrounding statements focused on the government's case, not sympathy for the victim or her family, and the comment was not improper; any error in the prosecutor's comments characterizing defendant's prior criminal history for sexual assault was harmless; no error in admitting defendant's prior convictions to establish the aggravating factor in 18 U.S.C. Sec. 3592(c)(4) as the previous victims' testimony established they suffered serious bodily injury during defendant's sexual assaults; no error in penalty-phase instructions; constitutional challenges to federal death penalty rejected. Judge Melloy, concurring in part and dissenting in part."
  • Mack Arthur King v. State, 2009 Miss. LEXIS 449, (Miss 9/24/2009 ) (dissent) Relief denied on a substantial Ake v. Oklahoma challenge as to experts and "the opportunity to fully develop evidence of mental retardation." Other claims on which relief is denied include: A.) "Mississippi's lethal injection procedure creates a substantial risk of serious harm in violation of the Eighth Amendment;" B.) "The trial court erred in failing to allow presentation of mitigation evidence;" C.) Ineffective assistance of counsel ("King asserts that counsel was ineffective for failure to: 1) challenge the sufficiency of the indictment; 2) preserve the issue of residual doubt for appeal; 3) challenge Mississippi's lethal injection protocol; 4) raise Panetti v. Quarterman on rehearing; and 5) properly litigate King's mental retardation claim."); D.) King is mentally retarded as defined by state case law; E.) Cumulative error; and F.) Proportionality.
  • Jonathan Kyle Binney v. State, 2009 S.C. LEXIS 463 (S.C. 9/24/2009)(dissent) "In this case, we granted a writ of certiorari to review an order of the post-conviction relief (PCR) court denying Petitioner's motion for (1) the return of his trial file from the Attorney General's Office (AGO) and (2) the disqualification of the AGO attorneys who viewed the file. Petitioner argues that his attorney-client privilege was violated when, after he filed an application for PCR, trial counsel turned over his entire trial file to the AGO. We find that Petitioner's attorney-client privilege was not violated by the disclosure of his entire trial file to the AGO and affirm the PCR court's order." "Petitioner completely waived his attorney-client privilege pursuant to S.C. Code Ann. § 17-27-130 because the allegations made in his application for PCR were so broad as to encompass in effect nearly the entire scope of trial counsel's obligations in Petitioner's defense."
  • Christopher Coleman v. Thaler, 2009 U.S. App. LEXIS 20991 (5th Cir 9/22/2009)(unpublished) The use of Rule 60(b) in this case was tantamount to successive petition.
  • Arthur Tyler v. Strickland (Cooey II v. Strickland), 2009 U.S. App. LEXIS 21140 (6th Cir. 9/23/2009) (unpublished) Lethal injection challenge denied in this post-"Broom botch" case to Ohio death row inmate holding that Circuit precedent does not recognize exceptions to the circuit precedent sought by Tyler.
  • Duane Buck v Thaler, No. 06-70035 (5th Cir 9/25/2009)(unpublished) Application for COA denied on "whether he was deprived of due process or equal protection by the prosecution's reference to Dr. Quijano's testimony citing race as a future-dangerousness factor."
  • Michael James Jackson v. State, 2009 Fla. LEXIS 1578 (FL 9/24/2009) Relief denied on "the following issues: (1) whether the trial court erred in denying Jackson`s motion for judgment of acquittal; (2) whether the trial court erred in failing to suppress evidence found in a locked safe inside a South Carolina motel room; (3) whether the trial court erred in failing to suppress recordings of telephone calls made by Jackson while he was incarcerated in South Carolina; (4) whether the trial court erred in admitting evidence that Jackson solicited his cellmate to assist him in escaping from jail; (5) whether the trial court erred in introducing the out-of-court statements of a non-testifying codefendant in violation of Jackson`s confrontation rights; (6) whether the trial court erroneously gave great weight to the jury`s recommendation without providing an alternative means for the jury to be advised of the available mitigation evidence; (7) whether this Court`s comparative proportionality review is unconstitutional; (8) whether Jackson`s death sentences are disproportionate; and (9) whether Florida`s capital-sentencing scheme violates due process, the Sixth Amendment, and Ring v. Arizona."
  • Ray Jackson v. State, 2009 Fla. LEXIS 1577 (FL 9/24/2009) "On appeal, Jackson presents the following claims: (1) he is entitled to a new trial because of improper impeachment by the State coupled with improper argument to the jury by the prosecutor; (2) the trial court erred in allowing into evidence matters that were irrelevant and prejudicial; (3) the trial court erred in denying Jackson's request for an instruction regarding circumstantial evidence; (4) the trial court erred in denying Jackson's motion for judgment of acquittal on the ground that evidence failed to show that the victim died by the criminal agency of another; (5) the trial court erred in denying Jackson's requested jury instructions in the penalty phase; (6) the trial court imposed the death penalty upon an erroneous finding that the murder was committed in a cold, calculated, and premeditated manner (CCP); and (7) Jackson's sentence of death is disproportionate."
  • William Matthew Wilson v. State, 2009 Miss. LEXIS 450 (Miss 9/24/2009) "Wilson raises five assignments of error for this Court's review: (1) whether the trial court abused its discretion and arbitrarily refused to accept the first guilty plea on March 5, 2007, thus preventing Wilson from accepting the plea-bargain agreement for life imprisonment, or in the alternative, Wilson was denied effective assistance of counsel that resulted in his loss of the enforcement of the original plea-bargain agreement, all in violation of the state and federal constitutions; (2) whether the prosecution committed misconduct by improperly cross-examining a mitigation witness, thus depriving Wilson of a fundamentally fair sentencing hearing; (3) whether the admission of testimony by Dr. Hayne was improper and a result of ineffective assistance of counsel; (4) whether the victim impact testimony was improper and in violation of Wilson's constitutional rights; and (5) whether cumulative error requires reversal of Wilson's conviction and death sentence."
  • State v. Ronald Davis, 2009 Ohio 5175; 2009 Ohio App. LEXIS 4385 (Ohio 5th App 9/24/2009) "[T]he trial court was without jurisdiction to hear Appellant's motion for new trial . . . .the trial court did not err in denying Appellant's request for leave to file said motion."

Week of September 21, 2009 – Other
  • State v. Rodriguez, 2009 Ore. LEXIS 287 (Ore 9/24/2009) State mandatory minimum disproportionate under Article I, Section 16 of the state constitution.

  • Gattis v. Phelps, 2009 U.S. App. LEXIS 20402 (3rd Cir 9/14/2009)(unpublished) Remand ordered on section 1983 claim as to Delaware death row inmate's access to certain "First Amendment" materials. "Here, the District Court dismissed Gattis' complaint during the § 1915 screening process, assuming that administratively segregated prisoners are subject to the same rationale as the plaintiffs in [prior cases]. On remand, the District Court should consider whether the defendants should be afforded an opportunity to develop the factual record and explain how, if at all, the regulation reasonably applies to inmates in Gattis' situation."
  • Wagner v. Smith, No. 07-2129 (6th Cir 9/24/209) "In habeas proceedings arising from petitioner's murder conviction, district court's denial of relief is vacated and remanded as three of petitioner's claims have not been properly exhausted because the claims were not fairly presented to the state courts." [via FindLaw]

  • US v. Katz, No. 08-2341 (7th Cir 9/22/2009) "In a prosecution for possession of firearm by a felon, district court's denial of defendant's motions for judgment of acquittal and for a new trial is reversed and remanded for the district court to enter a judgment of acquittal on the felon-in-possession count as the evidence was not sufficient to support the verdict." [via FindLaw]

  • US v. Gray, No. 08-3598 (8th Cir 9/21/2009) "Defendant's firearm possession conviction is reversed where the district court failed to inform defendant, prior to accepting his guilty plea, of the maximum sentence he could face if found to be an armed career criminal under 18 U.S.C. section 924(e), or of the court's obligation to calculate the applicable Sentencing Guidelines range and to consider such range, possible departures under the Sentencing Guidelines, and other sentencing factors under 18 U.S.C. section 3553(a)." [via FindLaw]

If you have problem with this edition it is available at for printing. We'd simply ask that before printing consider our environment and saving our trees. If you find this email useful, feel free to forward it or excerpt it. We prefer attribution, but don't require it. - k

As a reminder,we don't charge a subscription fee, but if you find the weekly useful we'd appreciate even a nominal tax deductible donation to a nonprofit involved in some aspect of the capital punishment issue, such as Pennsylvanians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (website/donate)(where I'm currently the co-chair) or the Fair Trial Initiative (website/donate). On each of the above links you're able to donate as little or as much as you want, or even set up a monthly automated giving amount. As always, thanks for reading, and special thanks go to Steve Hall whose Stand Down website is often borrowed from here, as well as our "researchers" and "reporters" who have asked not to be named. - k

We've been at this 11+ years now. Thanks to all those whose time, efforts, and contributions have made it possible.

SUBSCRIBING & ARCHIVES: The summaries above are normally published forty (40) times (or so) a year. To subscribe: