Report highlights 'broken' death penalty appeals process
A new report is raising concerns about an appeals system for death penalty
cases in Texas. The analysis from the non-profit law firm Texas Defender
Service found issues with the legal representation for defendants sentenced to
death and who cannot afford attorneys. The report concludes that the mandatory
appeals process in Texas death penalty cases called "direct appeal" is failing.
"We have attorneys that submit briefs that reuse the same losing arguments over
and over again," said Kathryn Kase, executive director of Texas Defender
The report states that some attorneys have skipped oral arguments or taken on
case loads big enough for 3 or more attorneys to handle.
"These deficiencies reflect systemic problems with the state's indigent defense
apparatus and not merely isolated failures by a handful of attorneys," the
Anthony Graves spent more than 18 years in prison. He was sentenced to die for
multiple murders in Somerville, Texas - murders he did not commit.
"I lost the opportunity to see my kids grow up," Graves said in a Skype
interview with KXAN.
Graves says he looked at the report from Texas Defender Service. Graves also
did not succeed in his direct appeal.
"At the end of the day it's a rubber stamp system," Graves said.
"The easy fix is to establish a statewide office responsible for representing
death sentenced inmates," said Jordan Steiker, co-director of the Capital
Punishment Center at the University of Texas School of Law.
Now, it will up to the legislature to decide whether to establish such an
office. A member of Texas Defender Service estimated the office would likely
need a budget of around $500,000 per year.
Austin lawyer Ariel Payan, who has defended clients in death penalty cases,
says he agreed with the findings he was able to examine in the report. He
believes the system needs changes. However, he questions how a centralized
office for direct appeals would work.
KXAN News also reached out to staff at the Texas District and County Attorneys
Association and Travis County District Attorney's Office, but did not
immediately hear back.
(source: KXAN news)
A death penalty story
Since 1976, 156 death row inmates have been released from American prisons
because new evidence proved their innocence. One of them will be in New
Hampshire later this month to show a documentary film about his narrow escape
In 1985, Kirk Bloodsworth, a former Marine with no prior criminal record, was
erroneously convicted of murder and sentenced to death. He spent nearly a
decade in prison, including 2 years on death row, before DNA evidence
New Hampshire is the only New England state that hasn't abolished the death
penalty. As citizens of New Hampshire, we must ask ourselves whether we're
willing to be complicit in the practice of legalized killing in retribution for
crime. Is justice really served by taking a human life? Should we accept the
occasional, but inevitable, execution of an innocent person as the price of
retaining the capital punishment option?
Please spend an evening with Mr. Bloodsworth and hear his perspective on these
issues. He'll be showing his film and answering questions at Southern New
Hampshire University in Manchester (Robert Frost Hall) on Thursday, Sept. 29,
at 6 p.m. Admission is free. Go to nodeathpenaltynh.org for more information,
including additional dates and times.
MARY WILKE, Concord
(source: Letter to the Editor, Concord Monitor)
NC attorney general hopefuls debate: When is it OK not to defend a state law?
There's no incumbent in this year's attorney general race, but a debate Tuesday
night between the 2 candidates for the office largely centered on Roy Cooper's
Cooper, a Democrat, is running for governor after 12 years as attorney general.
Republican Sen. Buck Newton of Wilson and former Democratic Sen. Josh Stein of
Raleigh are vying to replace him.
Newton repeatedly criticized Cooper during the debate, which was held in
Asheboro and is the only forum featuring the attorney general race.
Newton said Cooper has refused to defend laws such as voter ID that he
disagrees with. Cooper has defended the laws but declined to pursue some
appeals sought by Republican lawmakers.
"As an attorney general, your job is to defend the laws of this state," Newton
said. "It's a very dangerous thing for the concept of rule of law if you have
an attorney general deciding which law fits their agenda."
Stein defended Cooper's approach, noting that the incumbent defended the voter
ID law in court for 3 years, but he declined to appeal further after a federal
court ruled it discriminated against black voters.
"When you've been told that you're denying people their constitutional rights,
it's an appropriate time to step back," Stein said. "The role of the attorney
general is not to make policy but to defend the state. When the state is sued,
the attorney general will defend that, but it has to be consistent with the
Stein criticized Newton for focusing on Cooper. "By the way, my name is Josh
Stein, not Roy Cooper," he said. "You are running against me, not him."
Newton responded by pointing to Stein's 8 years working under Cooper as a
deputy attorney general.
"Perhaps I'm running against someone who was very happy to work for him, who
was very happy to be mentored by him," Newton said.
Stein, however, touted his experience. "I will not need on-the-job training as
attorney general because I already know the job," he said. "My opponent has not
worked a day as an assistant attorney general or a day as a criminal
Newton has been an attorney in private practice for 16 years. He has chaired
judiciary and public safety committees in the Senate.
While both Stein and Newton said they support the death penalty, they disagreed
about the Racial Justice Act, which allowed criminals facing the death penalty
to get a sentence of life in prison by proving that race played a role in their
jury selection. The law was passed by Democrats, including Stein, in 2009 and
repealed in 2013 after Republicans took control of the legislature.
Stein says the law was needed to "ensure no one is put to death based on the
color of their skin." But Newton said the law didn't work.
"This law allowed convicted white murderers of law enforcement officers to
appeal their death sentence, simply because they said there weren't enough
white people or black people on the jury," he said.
While both candidates have made House Bill 2 a frequent topic in their
campaigns - Newton helped sponsor it and Stein is a vocal critic - debate
moderators failed to ask about the controversial law.
The debate was broadcast live only by radio, but it will be televised Thursday
night at 9 p.m. on UNC-TV's North Carolina Channel.
Death penalty hearings delay local murder trial
The trial of a man accused of 3 murders across the Panhandle will be pushed
back as the U.S. Supreme Court assesses Florida's revision to its death penalty
The attorney for Derrick Ray Thompson, 43, appeared in court Tuesday on his
behalf because Thompson is being housed in Santa Rosa County as a high-security
prisoner. He is charged with 3 1st-degree murder charges stemming from July
2014, including the shooting death of a former Bay County sheriff's officer and
nightclub owner, 66-year-old Allen Johnson. Thompson faces the death penalty,
but his trial date is now in limbo as the U.S. Supreme Court looks over
revisions to the state's capital trial procedures.
Prosecutors in Santa Rosa County also are pursuing the death penalty for
Thompson in connection with the fatal shootings of Milton residents Steven
Zackowski, 60, and Debra Zackowski, 59. A trial date in that case has yet to be
During Tuesday's hearing, prosecutor Larry Basford said Thompson first will be
tried in Santa Rosa on those charges. However, both circuits have concluded
that taking the case to trial before a ruling on Florida's death penalty cases
could be time-consuming and costly.
"We certainly want to get this case to trial, but we don't want to try it
twice," he said.
Basford said he expects a ruling some time in November. A follow-up hearing was
scheduled for January.
(source: Panama City News Herald)
Future of death penalty fuzzy as challenges delay executions
Like a prisoner awaiting execution, the death penalty may not have much time
Executions nationwide are on track to hit a 25-year low this year, caused by a
mixture of drug shortages, poorly executed executions and legal changes in how
death sentences can be imposed.
The state of Florida is dealing with all 3 of those issues, but the latest
trouble comes from legal challenges. In January, the U.S. Supreme Court decided
in a case known as Hurst v. Florida that it is unconstitutional for Florida
judges alone to impose death sentences, without the recommendation of 10 out of
Out of nearly 3 dozen states that have the death penalty, Florida is 1 of just
3 - including Alabama and Delaware - that do not require a unanimous
recommendation for death, even with the new ruling.
Under Florida's old law, jurors by a simple majority could recommend the death
penalty. Judges would then make findings of fact that "sufficient" aggravating
factors, not outweighed by mitigating factors, existed for the death penalty to
Only one execution has taken place in Florida this year, after 7 and 8 in 2013
and 2014, respectively, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, a
national nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., that collects
information and data about capital punishment.
Robert Dunham, the center's executive director, said Florida will have a number
of important choices to make, including what to do with the nearly 400 death
sentences that have been unconstitutionally imposed in the state.
"One way or another, the state has a problem because it will either declare
Hurst v. Florida to apply retroactively, in which case most people on death row
will be removed from the row, or it will say that it is OK with us to execute
people despite the fact that we now know that they were not fairly sentenced to
death," Dunham said.
"Either way, that's a significant problem," he said.
In a prepared statement, Gov. Rick Scott's office said his stance on the death
sentence has not changed.
"Signing death warrants is one of the governor's most solemn duties," the
statement read. "His foremost concerns are the families of the victims and the
finality of judgments."
Stacy Scott, Alachua County's public defender, said she hopes the execution
rate continues to decline.
"I hope that Florida joins the rest of the country in taking away the penalty,"
She also said the Legislature has the power to make that happen, if legislators
have the will.
Besides legal troubles, Florida has, along with other states, faced drug
Up until 2013, states nationwide used a drug called pentobarbital sodium that
was manufactured by Danish-based drug company Lundbeck. States had to switch to
other substances once Lundbeck began to refuse to sell pentobarbital sodium for
use in executions after it discovered the drug was being used for that purpose.
The 3-drug cocktail that many states switched to contains a new drug called
midazolam hydrochloride, which has brought its own host of challenges. The 1st
death row inmate injected with the drug was a Florida man named William Happ,
in 2013. After he was injected with the drug and declared dead, he continued to
move back and forth, even after his breathing stopped. Other states that have
seen a dropoff in executions include Ohio, where the last execution took place
in January 2014. The man put to death, Dennis McGuire, gasped and snorted
repeatedly during a 25-minute execution that used a 2-drug combination that had
never been tried before.
There have been 15 executions in the U.S. so far this year, and at the current
pace there would be 19 by the end of 2016. That's far from the peak of 98, back
Dunham said that he believes the death penalty may be on its way out. He notes
that the punishment is being used in fewer places, is being sought by
prosecutors less frequently and juries are increasingly reluctant to impose it.
"At some point, if these trends continue, the U.S. Supreme Court is going to
review whether there is now a national consensus against the death penalty that
would cause it to declare the practice unconstitutional," Dunham said.
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said in an interview with The
Associated Press in July that she believes the death penalty may be fading
away, based on the reduction in states that are enforcing the sentences.
"The executions that we have are very heavily concentrated in a few states and
even a few counties within those states," Ginsberg said.
Trial set to begin for dad facing death penalty
Opening statements are set to begin Wednesday morning in the trial of a
34-year-old man facing the death penalty in the killing of his 2-year-old
daughter who officials said was starved and tortured most of her life.
Glen Bates and his girlfriend, Andrea Bradley, are charged with aggravated
murder in the 2015 death of their daughter, Glenara. Both have turned down plea
deals that would have removed the option of death sentences. Bradley's case is
being handled separately. On Monday, Bates for a 2nd time turned down a plea
If Bates had pleaded guilty Monday, he would have faced at least 15 years to
life in prison.
Officials have said Glenara likely had gone days without food or water before
she died. It was Bradley who on March 29, 2015, brought her cold and limp body
to Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.
They were living in a rented house in East Walnut Hills with Glenara and
Bradley's 5 other children, although Bates told detectives he???d only been
living there about 2 weeks.
Hamilton County's coroner has said Glenara had no muscle mass, and was
"literally skin over bones."
The case is in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court before Judge Megan Shanahan.
Jury selection began Monday; a jury was finalized Tuesday.
Reginald Clemons will face retrial in 1991 Chain of Rocks Bridge killings next
St. Louis Circuit Judge Rex Burlison on Tuesday granted a 6-month trial date
extension for Reginald Clemons in the 1991 killings of 2 sisters on the Chain
of Rocks Bridge.
At the end of a nearly 2-hour hearing Tuesday, Burlison tentatively set an
August trial date for Clemons, 45, in the killings of Julie Kerry, 20, and
Robin Kerry, 19. Clemons was convicted of the crime in 1993 but the Missouri
Supreme Court in November overturned that conviction and sent the matter back
to circuit court.
Clemons' trial date had been set for Feb. 23. His public defender, Charles
Moreland, argued Tuesday that he needs more time to prepare a defense in the
high-profile death penalty case. Moreland elicited testimony Tuesday from a top
state public defender about the office's caseload and travel time and the
complexity of defending death penalty cases.
The age of the crime is also a factor, Don Catlett, who supervises a division
that handles capital cases, testified Tuesday.
"The older a case, usually the more time-consuming it is," he said.
Moreland also said additional time was needed because Clemons has retained pro
bono legal help from a Washington, D.C., law firm.
Rachel Smith, chief prosecutor for Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce, objected to
any delay, arguing that the victims' family have "a right to move this case
forward. They have waited months and years." She said Clemons' decision to
retain free, private counsel should not delay the trial further.
"We really need to keep this trial date," Smith said. "This isn't an
opportunity for Mr. Clemons to shop around and add new lawyers to his team."
The Missouri Supreme Court overturned Clemons' conviction last year, based on
the findings of a "special master" assigned to review the case. The judge found
Clemons did not prove he was innocent but that prosecutors had wrongly
suppressed evidence and detectives had beaten Clemons into confessing to the
Joyce announced in January her office would retry the 1st-degree murder charges
against him and seek the death penalty again.
Her office added charges of rape and robbery in the case, which Burlison said
would not be tried until after the retrial of the murder case. Under Missouri
law in effect at the time of the crime, a 1st-degree murder charge must be
Clemons was in court Tuesday. In July, Burlison granted Clemons' request to be
moved from the Potosi Correctional Center to the St. Louis city jail to await
Authorities have said Clemons was among 4 men who encountered the Kerry sisters
and their cousin on the closed bridge, attacked them and forced them to jump
into the Mississippi River. 1 of the other defendants was executed, 1 is
imprisoned for a life term and 1 served his time and was released.
A service courtesy of Washburn University School of Law www.washburnlaw.edu
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