Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Supreme Court throws out 3 death sentences

The Supreme Court threw out death sentences from Texas because of problems with instructions given jurors who were deciding between life in prison and death. UT’s Capital Punishment Clinic and the Supreme Court Clinic represented all three cases. For more information about their success read Supreme Persuasion by Laura Castro. Capital Defense Weekly has more information on today's SCOTUS ruling.

Quote of the day is from mayor Bloomberg in response to a reporter's question about the case of Ronell Wilson, who was sentenced last week to die by lethal injection.

I'm opposed to the death penalty. How many times do I have to tell you? I don't need the question every time there is one...You should write it down and share it with your associates. It's not going to change. Okay? My position on every one of these things, you know what they are. Write it down, pull it out of the morgue, put it on your word processor, and hit the button and put it in.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

8-1: I am no Henry Fonda

....taken from diaries of Judge Sharon killer. Also don't forget to check out her updated myspace profile playing The Night The Lights by Vicki Lawrence.

Have you ever seen that old movie with Henry Fonda called "12 Angry Men" about a murder trial where everyone on the jury votes to convict except one person who thinks the person is innocent. He eventually changes everyone's minds and they vote "not guilty" unanimously. I tried to pull that last December on the CCA, but I could not succeed in changing even one person's mind. It was a bit different than in the movie though. Everyone thought the person was innocent, except me. I could not convince one single person that I was right. I need to go rent that movie again so I can get some tips on how to argue better.

I have come to expect the U.S. Supreme Court to overrule me and lower federal courts to overrule me, but this is too much. My very own court all turned against me. The vote was 8 to 1 and I lost. Everyone else thought this woman's conviction should be overturned, but not me. No one wanted to support me. I am the presiding judge and I get no respect on my own court.

Today, I read in The Houston Chronicle that Brandy Del Briggs is seeking to regain custody of the child she had lost custody of after she was "wrongfully" convicted of murdering her other child. Briggs was exonerated and released after spending five years in prison "wrongfully" convicted of killing her other child. I was the only member of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals who voted to deny relief to Brandy Del Briggs. The vote on the court was 8-1 with me being the one. Forget about "12 Angry Men", this was "Rebel without a Cause". Everyone else voted to overturn the conviction on grounds that the "applicant's attorney failed to adequately investigate this case under the standards set out in Strickland v. Washington and Wiggins v. Smith." I argued in my dissent that the trial counsel was not ineffective, but that he was following a "reasonable trial strategy".

Brandy Del Briggs was released in December 2005. Harris County DA Chuck Rosenthal later dropped charges against her because he could not prove she was guilty. The Houston Chronicle wrote an editorial arguing that she should be compensated for the five years she spent in prison:

Whatever Rosenthal's personal beliefs or intuition about the cause of baby Daniel's death, he has admitted he cannot make the case against Briggs. Unless the definition of innocence in Harris County depends on Rosenthal's unsubstantiated opinions, that makes this one-time defendant innocent and qualified for state restitution funds.
Briggs was charged with murder in the May 1999 death of her first son, Daniel Lemons. She pleaded guilty to injury to a child and was sentenced to 17 years in prison.

She denied harming 2-month-old Daniel but said her attorney told her she would receive probation if she pleaded guilty to the lesser charge. The attorney, Richard Anderson, has denied saying that.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned Briggs' conviction last December and she was released. The court cited ineffective counsel, saying her lawyer had not thoroughly investigated Daniel's medical records.

Experts who reviewed the records for her appellate attorney, Charles Portz, said a birth defect had caused a bacterial infection in the infant, who had been in and out of hospitals. They also said a breathing tube mistakenly was inserted in Daniel's stomach rather than his lungs at Lyndon B. Johnson General Hospital, depriving his brain of oxygen for at least 30 minutes.

His death originally was ruled a homicide, but Harris County Medical Examiner Luis Sanchez later changed the ruling to "undetermined," saying he found no evidence of abuse.

What is the point of being the presiding judge if no one listens to me. Am I irrelevant on my own court. Should I just resign? I don't know what to do. Please advise in the comments.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

On Rights (and Wrongs)

TSADP has been hosting a series of death penalty essay contests for the last two years. The TSADP Essay Contest is open to all 11th and 12th grade Texas high school students. To participate, students had to write an essay explaining why a moratorium on executions is necessary in Texas. Essays were judged on both style and content. This year, we received about 45 great essays from Texas high school students.

Recently our panel of judges selected Morgan A. Childs to receive the 1st place award ($200). Morgan is a 12th grade students at the
St. John's School in Houston, Texas. In the following days we will be posting essays from the other awards winners.

I grew up in opposition to the death penalty for the sole reason that mistakes are made. For years, the only way I could convey my concern towards those who disagreed with me was by presenting the facts – mistakes are indeed made, and with some regularity (as of the day I write this, over 123 inmates have been exonerated from death row, their innocence finally proven). I determined that if I grew up in Harris County, the duty was mine to claim some sort of opinion on the matter; ignorance in the thick of things, I realized, was shameful.

David Dow, a death penalty lawyer who lives and works in Houston, writes in his 2005 book Executed on a Technicality: Lethal Injustice on America’s Death Row, “To those with even the most fleeting familiarity with the criminal justice system, any debate that turns on the question of whether innocent people have been or will be executed is truly inane, for the answer is obvious. […] The fact is obvious, yet it is also irrelevant.” I had the invaluable opportunity to hear Mr. Dow speak after reading his book, and what seemed to unsettle the crowd more than figures and statistics was the evidence that the men and women of death row are, without exception, as absolutely human as those of us who sat in the audience. Evidence, indeed, that seems to disappear in the land of capital punishment. “Innocence is not enough,” Mr. Dow reminds us time and time again.

Innocence is no longer enough for me, either. Last March, I went to my first of many execution vigils with the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. To my surprise, the men and women I stood with that day – there were seven others, I think, a number that seemed and still seems awfully small for what is well-known to be the death penalty capital of the Western World – weren’t quite the hard-as-nails protestors I’d imagined. In fact, they were quite the opposite; ten months later, I know them as the most kind-hearted, hopeful people I have had the good fortune to know. They are advocates of a more virtuous system of justice, one in which retribution does not come at the cost of dehumanization. And I want to see them win their battle.

If I’ve learned anything in my brief career as an activist, it’s that the most concrete evidence remains in my favor: the death penalty is not a proven deterrent; it is more expensive to put an man or woman to death than to keep him or her in a maximum-security prison; defendants cannot be ensured competent representation (and often suffer from their lawyers’ incompetence). It did not take long to learn the facts. What has come with my hours holding a “STOP EXECUTIONS” banner is the realization that on any side of a court sits the potential for individual wrongdoing, and that it is our job as advocates of human rights to shed light on the atrocities of both criminal behavior and punishment. My fellow abolitionists are as aware of the personal lives of their contacts on Texas’ death row as they are of the crimes those inmates committed. They, like Mr. Dow, have learned that decency is as vital an aspect of law enforcement as justice.

My own belief is simple. Because universally we are a flawed race, we have an obligation to call into question the very method by which we correct and apprehend the faults – major and minor – of our own kind. Innocence may not be enough, but the whole truth, the facts, the figures, the statistics, are enough to inspire the pause for which we are so overdue. I believe I know what is just, and I believe the next step is learning dignity. My experience with the persevering people of the Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty has renewed my faith in the value of hope, as well as my faith in the good judgment of people – despite all opposition.

Dow, David. Executed on a Technicality: Lethal Injustice on America’s Death Row. Boston: Beacon Press, 2005.

Personal knowledge.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Kerry Max Cook speaks at UT Law school

Reexamining incarceration: A Discussion on Civil Rights and the Prison System
April 17, 2007

12:00 – Catered Lunch (Free!)
Kerry Max Cook, author of Chasing Justice
exonerated after spending two decades on Texas
death row for a crime he did not commit
(Please RSVP for lunch to tjclcr@law.utexas. edu)

1:30 – Panel : “Juvenile Justice: How do we fix this mess?", Eidmann Courtroom
featuring speakers Scott Medlock , Texas Civil Rights Project, Will Harrell, ACLU of Texas, and Isela Gutierrez, Texas Coalition Advocating for Juvenile Justice

3:00 – Panel: “Fighting from the outside: Civil Society Challenges to the Conditions of incarceration” , Eidmann Courtroom

Nicole Porter, American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, Michele Deitch, Professor, LBJ School of Public Policy, University of Texas, J. Rogue, AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, Andria Shively , Inside Books Project

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Dallas Morning News calls for ABOLITION

After 100 years supporting the death penalty, today the conservative Dallas morning News called for an end to Texas' death penalty system. According to their editorial, Death no more: It's time to end capital punishment:
And that uncomfortable truth [the execution of innocent] has led this editorial board to re-examine its century-old stance on the death penalty. This board has lost confidence that the state of Texas can guarantee that every inmate it executes is truly guilty of murder. We do not believe that any legal system devised by inherently flawed human beings can determine with moral certainty the guilt of every defendant convicted of murder. That is why we believe the state of Texas should abandon the death penalty – because we cannot reconcile the fact that it is both imperfect and irreversible.

The state holds in its hands the power of life and death. It is an awesome power, one that citizens of a democracy must approach in fear and trembling, and in full knowledge that the state's justice system, like everything humanity touches, is fated to fall short of perfection. If we are doomed to err in matters of life and death, it is far better to err on the side of mercycaution. It is far better to err on the side of life. The state cannot impose death – an irrevocable sentence – with absolute certainty in all cases. Therefore the state should not impose it at all. • A New Standard: Now that Texas juries have a choice, and life without parole is the superior option. Coming tomorrow.

In a second editorial titled "
A death penalty slowdown, but not in Texas," DMN compares the Texas' number of executions with the national rate, which "leads away from widespread use of the death penalty."

While many states have begun serious soul-searching about killing criminals, no significant effort has begun in Texas.

The response has been markedly different in state capitals nationally, as DNA exonerations chalked up by justice projects approach the 200 mark. Two states – New Jersey and Illinois – have imposed moratoriums. New York's capital punishment law has been declared unconstitutional by the state's highest court. Maryland's governor and his predecessor have urged repeal. Several state legislatures – including those in Colorado, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico and North Carolina – have created death penalty study commissions or advanced abolition measures.

In Texas, state lawmakers are moving in the opposite direction, proposing a law of dubious constitutionality that would open up death row to people convicted of sex crimes with children – a major departure from the modern standard of reserving execution only for killers.

You can read a pro-death penalty viewpoint by Mike Hashimoto a dissenting member of their board titled, "
Opposing a death penalty repeal."

Graphic: Key death penalty statistics (.pdf)
Chart: A dubious distinction (.pdf)

Chat: Editorial page editor Keven Ann Willey answers your questions at 2 p.m. Monday on | Send early questions

Coming Monday: Texas' Next Step: Lawmakers should enact a moratorium and study flaws in full light.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Perry Set to Tie Bush's Execution Record Tonight

Governor Perry is about to equal the record of executions while in office that was set by former Governor Bush. 152 people were executed by Bush while he was governor. On April 11, Perry could reach number 152 if James Lee Clark is executed at 6:00 pm, as scheduled.

Clark would be the 12th inmate put to death this year in Texas, which has accounted for all but one of the nation's executions so far this year. At least nine other executions are scheduled in the state in the coming months.

Click Here to Write Governor Perry to protest execution of James Clark

Monday, April 09, 2007

Anderson Cooper 360*

CNN's Anderson Cooper 360, which airs at 10 p.m. East Coast time (check your local listings) is expected to air an investigative piece on Cameron Todd Willingham tonight.

Willingham – one of four people featured in NCADP’s report, “Innocent and Executed: Four Chapters in the Life of America’s Death Penalty” – was executed in Texas three years ago despite evidence that the fire that took his children’s lives was accidental, not intentionally set. The Chicago Tribune (which this month or next month might be winning a Pulitizer Prize for its death penalty reporting in Texas) broke the story about the faulty arson science behind Willingham’s conviction.

Also, be advised that the report could be canceled is there is a breaking news!

Sunday, April 01, 2007

on execution of Joseph Nichols...

by Charles "Chucky" Mamou

I'm standing on my folded mattress peeking through the thin frame window that is located on the back of my cell's wall. Beyond layers upon layers of gated fences, razor wires, and look-out towers, it seems so peaceful, so radiant, and for a split second, I wish I could have been in an open country field sniffing up the fresh scents from the lilies and other wild flowers-laying on the ground with them, with the sun's rays beaming down upon my face.

Then I grab hold of reality. I had no choice actually, because in my view, pulled up a small white T.D.C.J (Texas Department of Criminal Justice) van. The driver opened the back of the van, and then opened up the doors to the cage inside. If y'all ever saw a dog catcher's van, then the T.D.C.J. van was equal in description. The difference was, no dog was going inside the van, a human being was going to be put inside I watched carefully as each man smiled with each other, picked up on their pants and stood in place like they were a bunch of rodeo cowboys. Their demeanor was of a confident nature, almost overly cocky. I turned my head to see the time on my radio clock, it was now five minutes after noon, and I knew exactly why that van was parked, and why those men were here... today is the execution / murder of Joseph Nichols, whom we all knew as Nick Bey.

When I peeked out my window, a fast moving image caught my attention out of the corner of my right eye: six riot gear officers marched down the gated sidewalk coming from the visitation area, holding Nick Bey by force on a gurney. Quickly , about twenty more officers came out of the building, then several free-world dressed supervisors came out, all talking on their respective cell phones; looking like a bunch of sport agents on draft day. Then two nurses came on the scene, as well as every warden on the unit.

Nick Bey (Joseph) was lying on his stomach as they rolled him into the death row building. An officer Smith cheerfully followed them recording every move on her hand held digital camera. It is policy that all death row inmates, on the day they are designated to be murdered, switch clothes. They are given a different D.R. jumpsuit and are given paper slippers. I have no clue as to why this is so important to these murderous bastards, but it is 12:37 PM. Nick is rolled out of the building with just a pair of state issued boxers on. Since I am located next to the entrance of the building, we could smell the stench of chemical gas…They had gassed Nick Bey because he refused to wear their mockery D.R. clothing. Because Nick Bey revealed to them that he wasn’t just a man, he was an innocent man. An unwilling participant in his own murder. That if he was going to be killed on this beautiful day, he was going to make sure that they were accountable for having his blood on their hands, both literally and figuratively. Oh, I forgot to mention that Nick Bey was heavily handcuffed, and he wasn’t resisting, nor provoking an altercation, but he laid on that gurney in a pool of his own blood.

Do the clarification on your own, just weigh in these truths…It’s the racist South and you have a handcuffed man, who is motionless on a gurney, surrounded by forty red neck white folks and one Clarence Thomas-esque Negro (Captain Bailey) all with smiles on their faces. All of them are shaking hands the way they do on these types of days. A few were giving each other high-five leaping hand claps. They were enjoying this. One warden even had the nerve to demonstrate to his other tie-wearing buddies how they slammed Nick Bey onto the gurney. He got so into it, that his face turned redder than boiled crabs from Louisiana. He had an enjoyable insane look on his face.

The six massive men in riot gear forced Nick Bey up off the gurney, then threw him….did y’all hear what I just said. They threw this man into the van, as if he were a bag of trash. Then they slammed the vans gate. He must have got cut again, because the nurse was called to look at him. I can only assume he ignored her, because she waved her hand in a disgusted motion and walked away. Then the Major took photos of his kill--- I mean, of the bloody man. Another officer came with a different camera and a few of t he ranking officers got on both sides of the van and took more pictures. Once the photo shoot was over, they close the van doors and left. At 12:58 the van slowly rolled away. The crowd that had gathered to view this modern day lynching quickly scattered into different directions, as if nothing ever took place.

I was overcome with a tsunami-like rage of anger that made my heart sad and heavy. The man in me was proud of Nick Bey, for he did not walk the plank to his own murder; he was man enough to make a non-violent stance towards his humanity and his “right to live”. Yet, the warrior in me was angry at all of the cowards that beat Nick Bey without provocation. Even more so at those that threw him into the van without mercy or care. Those that laughed and mocked his existence. He is a creation of God, and they should have recognized that. I wish we could have fought them all. Knowing that I couldn’t help him enraged me even more, because a cloud of hopelessness stormed my inner thinking’s. Soon after, depression engulfed my tiring spirit.

It’s now 2:38 and I’m still standing on my folded mattress peeking still-through the window. I’m once again glaring into the blue skies, although I’m not focused on it, nor am I aware of what I’m looking at. The only thing on my mind is trying to convince myself that at any second, that white T.D.C.J van will pull back up and escort Nick Bey out, admitting that they made a mistake. That everything will go back to normal for me, and that my eyes can somehow erase what I had witnessed. But, even I have to remind myself to “get real”. Anyone that enters that van, hardly, if ever, returns. For all its worth, that death van symbolizes the cliché about the Fat Lady, and how she’s about to sing.

I began to listen to the local news on the radio, only to hear the state argue against Nick Bey. The D.A. admitted that Nick Bey did not kill anyone, in fact, the killer within Nick Bey’s case was executed in 1995. But the state said that the higher courts should disregard that fact, because although Nick Bey did not kill anyone, he was there as an accomplice to the robbery (not Murder) and should be held accountable anyway. Sure its not legally binding, but nothing in Texas is legally comprehensible. You know all those right wing conservatives who support the death penalty are quick to say that every person on death row is guilty of committing murder, and therefore should be murdered. But I question and say how do you explain the case where the accused did not kill anyone? If Nick Bey’s case was in any other state, he would not have been placed on death row.

“ONLY IN TEXAS” is an arrogant saying that is founded on a noose and tree-like mentality that has a belief and agenda rooted in prejudice hypocrisy. Reality will reveal the ‘bigger picture’. That being said, we have been duped into believing in the bureaucratic justice for ‘b.s.’ It’s not about whose innocent or guilty. It’s about politics. We are witnessing a political genocide here in Texas. Where those that are hunted down, beaten, arrested, and executed, are those that are poor (regardless of race), mentally retarded, gullible to their constitutional rights, or some other type of environmental outcast. The same crime Nick Bey is accused of, another guy gets 10 years in prison for. Go figure…

As I began to ramble on within my mind, my neighbor beats on my wall and tells me through a small crack “Chucky, let it go”. Though he can’t see me, he felt that I was looking out my window after witnessing the events earlier in the day, and felt that I needed to let it go.

It was after 6 p.m. that the sun began to dim out, a different work crew was coming in to begin their work shift and the newscast pronounced Nick Bey dead, murdered by the state of Texas. A few minutes later, a profoundly added twist of poetic irony played on the radio in a song by Guns n’ Roses. A song that began saying “I’m a cowboy, on a steel horse I ride, I’m wanted DEAD, or ALIVE” and in Texas “wanted DEAD NOT ALIVE” would be the appropriate alternative.

I said a prayer for Nick Bey, may he rest in peace.