OHIO----stay of impending execution
Clemency appropriately applied by the governor
Ross Geiger took the extraordinary step of writing to the governor last week.
On Thursday, John Kasich responded in a considered and appropriate way. The
governor issued a temporary reprieve for Raymond Tibbetts, who was scheduled
for execution by lethal injection next Tuesday. Now the Ohio Parole Board will
revisit the Tibbetts case.
In his 4-page letter, Geiger offered a unique viewpoint. He served on the jury
that convicted Tibbetts for 2 killings and sentenced him to death 2 decades
ago. Geiger explained to the governor that the jurors had no doubt about
Tibbetts' guilt. He and another juror did have concerns about a death sentence,
yet they eventually joined their colleagues in the required unanimity.
What spurred him to write was his look at the documentation accompanying the
most recent clemency hearing. Geiger told the governor that he learned things
for the 1st time, so much that he concluded: "Based on what I know today I
would not have recommended the death penalty. ..."
A trial involving the death penalty has 2 phases, the first deciding whether
the defendant is guilty, and the 2nd, if needed, to weigh whether a death
sentence fits according to the law. A defendant has the opportunity to present
mitigating evidence. What Geiger discovered is how little of the available
mitigating evidence reached the jury.
Tibbetts didn't just have a tough childhood. It was filled with trauma almost
from the start, including repeated abandonment, abuse that continued in foster
homes, drug and alcohol addiction. Yet his trial attorneys brought just 1
witness, a psychiatrist, before jurors to discuss these circumstances. Geiger
told the governor he was shocked to learn that Tibbetts' sister was available
to testify, but she wasn't called to the witness stand.
That left 2 impressions: No one cared enough about Tibbetts to prevent his
execution and that prosecutors must be right, the Tibbetts siblings, in
contrast, leading normal lives. Now Geiger knows differently, the siblings with
their own troubled lives.
The point Geiger makes about these and other failings in the trial process
isn't to excuse somehow the awful crime committed by Tibbetts. Rather, his
concern goes to whether Ohio should execute Tibbetts. He reasonably asks the
governor: "... if we are going to have a legal process that can send criminals
to death that includes a special phase for mitigation shouldn't we get it
One of the virtues of giving the governor the power of clemency is that it
provides a backstop for justice, in particular, when information emerges after
a conviction and avenues to the courthouse essentially are closed. The governor
ends up as the one authority in position to assess all that is known.
In this instance, John Kasich has exercised that power just as it should be
done. Now the parole board must do its part, giving the Ross Geiger letter the
weight it deserves, Ray Tibbetts spared execution for life without parole.
(source: Beacon Journal/Ohio.com editorial board----ohio.com)
Ohio Delays Execution After Ex-Juror Seeks Reprieve for Death Row Inmate
Ohio Governor John Kasich on Thursday postponed next week's scheduled execution
of a convicted double murderer in light of a letter from a juror in the man's
trial asking that he not be put to death because the jury was not given
information pertinent to his sentencing about his troubled childhood.
Kasich, a Republican, issued a temporary reprieve to Raymond Tibbetts, moving
the execution date from Feb. 13 to Oct. 17 and asking the state's Parole Board
to hold a hearing in the meantime to consider the letter's contents, the
governor's office said in a statement.
In the letter sent to the governor on Jan. 30, former juror Ross Geiger said
there was no question Tibbetts committed the murders but that factors about the
defendant's upbringing were omitted or distorted by prosecutors in the trial's
Tibbetts was convicted of fatally beating and stabbing his wife, Judith
Crawford, and fatally stabbing Fred Hicks, a man for whom she provided care.
Geiger said the defense presented only one witness in the sentencing phase, a
psychiatrist who testified Tibbetts had a tough upbringing related to
inattentive parents and poor foster care.
Prosecutors then told jurors many people with tough childhoods turn out fine,
including Tibbetts' four siblings, and that placing the convicted murderer in
foster care as a child was the best thing for him, the letter said.
Geiger said several years later he read a publicly available clemency report
from 2017 that showed a history of abandonment for Tibbetts starting at age 2
and that of the 4 siblings, 1 committed suicide, another spent time in prison
and another is essentially homeless.
He faulted the defense team for not calling the one sibling of Tibbetts who is
leading a stable life and was willing to testify during sentencing about the
difficult childhood they all shared.
Geiger said Tibbetts deserves to be in prison but based on what he knows today,
"I would not have recommended the death penalty."
Erin Barnhart, an attorney for Tibbetts, lauded Kasich, saying the governor had
acted "in the interests of fairness and justice."
"Because a juror from the original trial recently revealed flaws in the
proceedings, there is now incontrovertible proof that Mr. Tibbetts never would
have ended up on death row had the system functioned properly," Barnhart said
in a statement.
(source: US News & World Report)
Governor John Kasich announced he will grant a reprieve until October 17, 2018
to Ray Tibbetts, who had been scheduled for execution on???Tuesday, February
13, 2018. The purpose of this temporary reprieve is to allow the Ohio Parole
Board convene a hearing to consider new evidence bearing on Ray's clemency
Following is a statement from Erin Barnhart, attorney for Ray Tibbetts:
"Governor Kasich acted in the interests of fairness and justice by recognizing
new information provided by a juror from Mr. Tibbetts' trial merits careful
additional consideration. Because a juror from the original trial recently
revealed flaws in the proceedings, there is now incontrovertible proof that Mr.
Tibbetts never would have ended up on death row had the system functioned
properly. This juror - whose single vote for life would have made Mr. Tibbetts
ineligible for the death penalty under Ohio law - was shocked when he saw
evidence that Mr. Tibbetts' abuse and abandonment continued throughout his
childhood, even once the State placed him in foster care. The juror also
learned that this horrible environment had devastating consequences for all of
the Tibbetts children. Even more, Tibbetts' severe addiction problems were not
fully addressed, particularly in regard to the dangers of prescribing opioids
to people with a history of addiction. Mr. Tibbetts' attorneys failed to
present this evidence at trial and the prosecutor misstated the facts. Juror
Geiger's view of the case provides compelling reasons for the exercise of the
Governor's reprieve power to allow the Ohio Parole Board to convene a hearing
to consider this new information. We are confident that after doing so, the
Board and the Governor will agree that clemency is appropriate to correct the
failures in the legal process in this case. Governor Kasich has done our State
a great service today by ensuring that careful consideration is given to this
-Erin Barnhart, Attorney for Ray Tibbetts and Assistant Federal Public
Defender, CapitalHabeas Unit, Federal Public Defender's Office for the Southern
District of Ohio
Warrant of Reprieve for Raymond Tibbetts: http://bit.ly/2nMheUo
Letter from Gov. Kasich to Chairman of Ohio Parole Board: http://bit.ly/2EbROcZ
(source: Ohioans to Stop Executions)
Death sentence in murders of Sandusky family upheld
The conviction and death sentence will stand in the 2012 murders of a
23-year-old Sandusky woman and her 2 young children.
The Ohio Supreme Court on Thursday rejected arguments from Curtis L. Clinton
that prosecutors should not have been able to combine the trials for the
strangulation murders with that of a separate rape of a 17-year-old girl he
committed a week earlier.
The court noted the similarities in the choking and rape between the prior rape
victim and the 3 murder victims.
Clinton faces lethal injection for killing Heather Jackson and her 2 children,
Celina, 3, and Wayne, Jr., 20 months, on Sept. 8, 2012 in the hours following a
party celebrating their move into a new home. He was convicted of the 3
murders, 2 rapes, and aggravated burglary.
Evidence from the prior crime helped connect him to the murders.
"The rapes of the (prior rape victim) and the murder of the Jacksons occurred
less than a week apart in Sandusky and involved an assailant driving a white
Cadillac," Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor wrote. "Although the crimes differed
in some respects, '(a)dmissibility is not adversely affected simply because the
other (crimes) differed in some details'."
The court was unanimous in its upholding of the convictions, but now resigned
Justice William O'Neill dissented when it came to the death sentence. He
offered no explanation beyond pointing to prior opinions in which he opined
that Ohio's death penalty is unconstitutional.
The court found that aggravating circumstances favoring imposition of the death
penalty outweighed mitigating circumstances arguing against death. At trial,
Clinton had refused to allow his lawyers to formally present mitigating
evidence, but his lawyers urged the high court to consider his abusive and
violent childhood, his stay in a psychiatric hospital following a suicide
attempt, and a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and
"We conclude that the aggravating circumstances as to each aggravated-murder
count clearly outweigh the mitigating factors beyond a reasonable doubt," Chief
Justice O'Connor wrote. "With respect to Jackson's murder, the
course-of-conduct and the aggravated-murder-during-rape (related to the rape of
C.J.) specifications strongly outweigh the mitigating factors.
"The 3 specifications that apply to C.J.'s and W.J.'s murders - course of
conduct, murder during a rape, and child murder - overwhelm the mitigating
factors," she wrote, referring to the deaths of Celina and Wayne, Jr.
(source: Toledo Blade)
Arkansas justices seek $135,000 to pay defense team in suit filed by judge
barred from hearing death penalty cases
Arkansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Dan Kemp is asking the Legislature for
more than $135,000 to pay a team of lawyers defending the state's top justices
in a federal lawsuit brought by Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen.
Griffen, an outspoken judge, blogger and preacher, sued the Arkansas Supreme
Court's 7 justices in October -- several months after the high court stripped
Griffen of his ability to hear cases involving the death penalty.
The punishment came after Griffen made a public display of his opposition to
the death penalty by laying prostrate on a cot in front of the Governor's
Mansion, on the same day he issued an order that temporarily halted the state's
ability to carry out a series of planned executions. Griffen says the justices
violated state and federal laws by stripping him of cases.
Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, whose office typically represents state
officials in lawsuits, is also the lead attorney in the state's push to carry
out executions. She recused from the case last year, and Gov. Asa Hutchinson
allowed the justices to seek outside counsel.
Those debts associated with paying the justices' lawyers -- who hail from
around Arkansas, Colorado, New York and Washington, D.C. -- now add up to
$135,744.62, according to a letter Kemp sent Tuesday to the leaders of the
Legislature's Joint Budget Committee.
That amount is what's left after the court spent all of the $25,000
appropriated to the Supreme Court's Professional Services Appropriation in the
current fiscal year. The Legislature is sent to convene in a fiscal session
starting next week to approve a budget for the next fiscal year, which begins
Kemp also said in his letter that he will ask that the Professional Services
Appropriation be increased by $250,000 this fiscal year and next.
The chief justice did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
One of the co-chairmen of the Joint Budget Committee, Sen. Larry Teague,
D-Nashville, said he was "a little frustrated" by the cost and the number of
attorneys the justices had hired. But he did not expect the committee to refuse
to appropriate the money.
Conservative lawmakers, irate at Griffen's outspokenness off the bench, called
for his resignation last year.
Sen. Trent Garner, R-El Dorado, repeated his call for impeachment on Twitter on
Tuesday, saying it is "unbelievable that the tax payers of Arkansas have to
front the bill for Judge Griffen's attention-seeking frivolous lawsuit."
Griffen's attorney said justices had alternatives.
"The Court says that Judge Griffen's lawsuit is baseless and yet it has
retained 10 or so expensive attorneys, some from Washington DC, New York City
and Denver, CO, for its defense," said Griffen's attorney, Michael Laux, in an
email. "Each of these defense attorneys does his own legal work and further
presumably bills for review of each other's work, and so on and so on. So, for
instance, one pleading from Judge Griffen equals ten attorney's bills for
review. This is what has caused the costs of which Chief Justice Kemp
complains. As we have previously stated, Judge Griffen's lawsuit does not seek
monetary damages. The Court could have reinstated Judge Griffen, which would
have cost literally zero."
Reached by phone Wednesday, Garner said he thought the legal fees were in line
with what an ongoing federal case should cost and that the appropriation should
pass easily in the Republican-majority Legislature.
"It's on Judge Griffen," Garner said.
According to records, 11 attorneys represent the justices in the case before
U.S. District Judge James Moody Jr.
All of the justices, and the Supreme Court as a whole, are represented by
Robert S. Peck, an attorney at the Center for Constitutional Litigation in New
4 justices -- Courtney Goodson, Josephine Hart, Karen Baker and Rhonda Wood --
also have their own private attorneys. It's unclear if Kemp's request for funds
would pay those attorneys as well.
According to online records, Goodson is being represented by Michael W. Kirk,
David Thompson and William C. Marra of the Washington, D.C.-firm Cooper & Kirk;
and D. Matt Keil of her husband's Texarkana firm, Keil & Goodson.
Hart is being represented by Alfred F. Thompson III and Kenneth P. Castleberry
of the Batesville firm Murphy, Thompson, Arnold, Skinner & Castleberry; and
Robert L. Henry III of Little Rock's Barber Law Firm.
Wood is being represented by David Brandon Meschke and Christopher O. Murray of
the Denver firm Brownstein Hyatt Ferber Schreck.
Baker is being represented by the Little Rock attorney Timothy O. Dudley.
Frias could face death penalty if convicted in double homicide
A man charged with murder in connection to the Jan. 5 double homicide in Sioux
Falls made his initial court appearance Thursday.
Manuel Jesus Frias, 34, was charged with 1st-degree murder, 2nd-degree murder
and 4 counts of manslaughter.
The Sioux Falls man faces life in prison or the death penalty if convicted of
the charges he faces in Minnehaha County.
Frias is accused of killing one person in a "drug rip gone bad," police say.
His bond is set at $1 million, cash only. A preliminary hearing is set for Feb.
Authorities arrested Frias on Jan. 16, after a 3-hour standoff in Nebraska
involving 2 police departments, 2 sheriff's offices and the U.S. Marshals.
2 others wanted in connection with the double homicide were arrested in January
as well. Maria Shantel LeClaire was arrested by local law enforcement in Red
Wing, Minn., after someone tipped off police to her location. She arrived at
the Minnehaha County Jail on Jan. 13 on charges of 1st-degree robbery.
Crystal Habben was booked into the jail on Jan. 9 on charges of misprision of a
felony - failing to report knowledge of a felony to authorities.
Police say Samuel Louis Crockett, 28, died at a hospital and Corey James
Zephier, 30, died on the scene after being shot outside an apartment building
in the 700 block of West Rice Street.
Court documents say a cell phone located near the victim's bodies that belonged
to Crockett contained text messages discussing a meth deal with Habben, who
said she knew someone who could sell it to them.
Documents say Zephier, LeClaire and Frias then left to case the location where
they planned to rob Crockett.
At some point, documents say, the robbery went wrong, and police were told
Crockett was being held up by Zephier when Crockett grabbed his gun from his
waistband and shot Zephier. Frias then shot Crockett.
(source: Argus Leader)
Judge rules prosecutors can seek death penalty in 1987 Chico killings
A Butte County judge ruled Thursday that prosecutors can again seek the death
penalty against a man facing retrial in the 1987 killings of a Chico doctor and
Superior Court Judge Tamara Mosbarger made the ruling after defense attorneys
for the man, Steven Crittenden, 50, filed a motion seeking to preclude
prosecutors from seeking the death penalty in the case.
Mosbarger also denied a separate motion by defense attorneys seeking to bar the
local District Attorney's Office from participating in Crittenden's retrial.
Crittenden, a former Chico State University football player, was convicted in
1989 of murder and sentenced to death in the stabbing and beating deaths of Dr.
William Chiapella, 68, and his wife Katherine Chiapella, 67, in Chico.
Crittenden's conviction was later overturned by a federal district court that
found the original prosecutor at Crittenden's trial, Gerald Flanagan, was
motivated by race when he excluded the only prospective black juror at
Crittenden is black.
Crittenden's attorneys, Jeffrey Thoma and Jodea Foster, argued that removing
local prosecutors from the case would be appropriate after the federal district
Foster argued in court Thursday that Flanagan's conduct amounted to
"prosecutorial misconduct," adding that removing the District Attorney's Office
from the case and/or keeping it from seeking the death penalty would be an
appropriate legal solution for the harm Crittenden suffered by having lost his
right to a fairly chosen jury.
Thoma further argued that the likelihood of prejudice in Crittenden's case is
"severe," adding that prosecutors have broad discretion in seeking the death
penalty, which leaves room for racial prejudice.
"Although African-Americans make up only 12 percent of the total population of
the United States, they have been victims in about 1/2 of total homicides in
this country in the last 35 years," Thoma said. "Yet 85 % of the cases in which
the death penalty has been carried out have involved white victims."
District Attorney Mike Ramsey said in court that accusations that Flanagan, the
original prosecutor, was racially prejudiced "is insulting to Mr. Flanagan,
it's insulting to the Butte County District Attorney's Office, it's personally
insulting to me."
Ramsey added that it is false to claim that the death penalty was sought
against Crittenden because of racial bias.
"The death penalty was sought because two elderly victims ... were found
tortured and brutally murdered," the district attorney said. "And after his
arrest and during his prosecution, Mr. Crittenden escaped from his cell no less
than 2 times in Butte County, and 1 attempt in Placer County."
It was for those reasons, Ramsey said, that prosecutors sought the death
penalty against Crittenden.
Lawyers are due back in court March 22, when a judge will consider a motion by
prosecutors seeking to hold Crittenden's retrial in Butte County.
Crittenden's original trial was held in Placer County instead of Butte County
in part because of extensive pretrial publicity. But prosecutors say enough
time has passed for Crittenden to receive a fair trial locally.
Crittenden remains in custody at San Quentin State Prison.
'Nothing but hate.' Prosecutors aim to get death penalty for admitted cop
With confessed cop killer Luis Bracamontes watching quietly from the defense
table, prosecutors began a methodical closing argument Thursday designed to
send him to the death chamber at San Quentin.
"By the time Luis Bracamontes and his wife had made it to Sacramento, he had
thought about killing...," Placer County prosecutor Dave Tellman told the jury.
"He had nothing but hate."
The closing arguments are expected to last through Thursday morning, and there
appears to be little suspense about how the jury may respond.
Bracamontes has blurted out repeatedly that he killed 2 Sacramento-area
deputies on Oct. 24, 2014, and his own lawyers have conceded he is responsible
for their deaths.
But prosecutors are intent on showing that Bracamontes acted in a decisive and
intentional manner during the crime spree that stretched from an Arden Way
Motel 6 to a remote cul de sac in Auburn.
"This is nothing but willful conduct from start to finish," Tellman said.
The 1st killing - in which Sacramento sheriff's Deputy Danny Oliver was shot in
the head in the motel parking lot as he approached Bracamontes' car - was
premeditated and intentional, Tellman argued.
"The defendant fired that gun that killed Danny Oliver," Tellman said. "When he
did so, he had the intent to kill."
Bracamontes and his wife, Janelle Monroy, are charged in the crime spree that
left a motorist and another deputy gravely wounded.
Monroy, who faces murder and other charges in the slaying of Placer Detective
Michael Davis Jr., is awaiting a verdict from a jury that began deliberations
Her attorney, Pete Kmeto, has argued she was a victim of Bracamontes' violent
rages and helped carry a rifle that Bracamontes used to kill Davis only because
she feared for her life.
Prosecutors dispute that, saying she was a willing participant and "the CEO" of
the couple as they traveled from Salt Lake City to Sacramento.
Tellman and Sacramento prosecutor Rod Norgaard are intent on convincing the
jurors that Bracamontes had long talked of killing police officers.
They also are trying to stave off the inevitable appeals that Bracamontes'
lawyers are expected to pursue with claims that their client is mentally ill.
The defense has tried repeatedly in the past to enter a plea of not guilty by
reason of insanity, but Bracamontes has refused to allow it and the judge has
found Bracamontes competent to stand trial.
The defense presentation Thursday is expected to be brief; Bracamontes' public
defenders, Norm Dawson and Jeffrey Barbour, offered no defense witnesses during
the trial, and the defendant himself has made no effort conceal his guilt.
He has loudly proclaimed through court hearings for years that he killed the
deputies, has threatened to kill more, and has threatened the deputies'
families and jurors.
Sacramento Superior Court Judge Steve White banished Bracamontes from the
courtroom for a few days, ordering him to watch the proceedings from a cell
with a video feed.
But he has allowed Bracamontes back into court this week, and the defendant is
no longer making any effort to wear street clothes, as he did at the start of
On Thursday, he appeared in a white t-shirt and striped jail trousers.
Bracamontes sat chained to a chair at the defense table with 2 deputies seated
directly behind him, while Tellman stood with his back to him as he addressed
"We have done our best to leave you with absolutely no doubt as to what
happened," Tellman told jurors, noting that Bracamontes, has repeatedly
threatened his jailers as he awaited trial.
He recounted Bracamontes' profane outbursts at deputies in the jails he has
been housed in and his written threats that the Sinaloa cartel is watching
"This is unadulterated hate," Tellman said. (source: sacbee.com)
How Prosecutors are Making Intellectually-Disabled African-Americans on Death
Row Smart Enough to Kill
IQ tests have long been plagued by claims of cultural and racial bias. Critics
from a wide range of arenas, including academia, psychology, psychiatry and
activism have characterized these controversial assessments as ineffective,
inappropriate and skewed toward a normative white standard. Still, the tests
have endured in many fields, including criminal justice, where they act as a
criterion for determining if a person convicted of a capital offense is
intellectually competent enough to receive the death penalty given these
assessments are commonly acknowledged to offer value in establishing a basic
competency. In Atkins v. Virginia, the U.S. Supreme Court codified this upon
ruling that executing the intellectually disabled violated the Eighth Amendment
and qualified as cruel and unusual punishment.
However, in a cruel and unusual legal twist, it is this charge of racial bias
in IQ testing that is now being used by a growing number of American
prosecutors to ensure more African-American and Latinx capital inmates are put
Referred to as "ethnic adjustments," this practice automatically boosts IQ
scores, often by 5 to 15 points, for African-American and Latinx inmates
convicted of capital crimes. To win a death sentence against an accused,
prosecutors in at least eight states - Alabama, California, Florida, Missouri,
Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Texas - have increasingly resorted to the
summoning of expert witnesses who testify to the racial biases of IQ testing.
Though these health experts commonly have no interaction with the defendants at
any point, they generally argue that such racial bias accounts for the
sub-competent performance on previous IQ tests for African-American and Latinx
defendants and, therefore, their scores would have likely been higher if not
for the bias. Such ethnic adjustments enable the capital sentencing of those
who'd otherwise be deemed intellectually unfit.
"In my opinion, ethnic adjustments are outrageous," said Robert M. Sanger, a
prominent trial lawyer and professor of law and forensic science at Santa
Barbara College of Law in California. His 2015 article in the American
University Law Review was largely responsible for drawing attention to the
prosecutorial use of ethnic adjustments. "What these so-called experts do is
say that, because people of color are not as likely to score as well on IQ
tests, you should, therefore, increase their IQ scores from 5 to 15 points to
make up for some unknown or undescribed problem in the test," explained Sanger,
noting there is no scientific, "legal or intellectual basis for this."
Scientific or not, Sanger has documented numerous cases where such adjustments
were employed including Hodges v. State, where the Florida Supreme Court ruled
that the legal significance of an African-American defendant's low IQ score
could be discounted after a prosecution expert testified, "IQ tests tend to
underestimate particularly the intelligence of African-Americans." While this
claim, in itself, may certainly have merit, Sanger is more concerned with its
selective legal interpretation and application.
He cited a number of cases where the Supreme Court consistently rejected the
adjusting of test scores on the basis of race, the most prominent being
Washington v. Davis, where District of Columbia police officer candidates
claimed a skills test was racially discriminatory, as African-Americans were 4
times less likely to pass than white candidates. The high court ultimately
concluded that, despite a Fifth Amendment equal protection component
"prohibiting the government from invidious discrimination, it does not follow
that a law or other official act is unconstitutional solely because it has a
racially disproportionate impact regardless of whether it reflects a racially
The African-American candidates, recounted Sanger, felt "their scores should be
adjusted upward so they could get a job, but the Supreme Court said, 'No, we
can't do that.' So it's sort of outrageous that you can adjust scores upward so
you can be killed, but not so you can get a job."
In America, the racially discriminatory impact of capital punishment policy has
been an ongoing source of outrage as well. The nonprofit Death Penalty
Information Center reported that despite constituting only 13 % of the
population, in 2016 41.8 % of the 2905 prisoners on death row in the United
States - and more than a third of those executed since 1977 - were Black.
In Georgia, American Bar Association (ABA) data revealed that among all
homicides with known suspects, those suspected of killing whites are almost
five times as likely to be sentenced to death as those suspected of killing
African-Americans. Similarly, in Alabama, over 82 % of those executed since
1976 were convicted of killing white people even though more than 65 % of all
murders each year in Alabama involve Black victims. And 80 % of the state's
current death row population was convicted of murdering white people.
"The race-conscious use of the death penalty in Alabama has always been a
widespread problem," said Angie Setzer, senior attorney with the Equal Justice
Initiative, a Montgomery-based nonprofit providing legal representation to
individuals and communities impacted by poverty and unequal treatment. Setzer
detailed ongoing racial disparities and inequitable practices in the state's
administration of criminal justice. "We see this playing out in the way people
are charged and convicted, and we see this in the process of discriminatory
jury selection," she acknowledged. "So it's occurring at all of these different
levels in the context of a criminal case," stressed Setzer, noting the Alabama
court system's tolerance and use of "racially biased experts is a clear example
of this larger problem."
It is a problem compounded by the wide variety of disabilities across a range
of categories including, but not limited to, physical, intellectual and mental,
that capital inmates commonly suffer from. While no comprehensive accounting
has been attempted, the Fair Punishment Project (FPP) did reveal that at least
40 % of the death row inmates in the 16 American counties with the most
executions suffered from intellectual disabilities, severe mental illness or
Additionally, 2/3 of those on death row in the state of Oregon exhibited "signs
of serious mental illness or intellectual impairment, endured devastatingly
severe childhood trauma, or were not old enough to legally purchase alcohol at
the time the offense occurred." FPP further noted the "U.S. Supreme Court has
held that regardless of the severity of the crime, imposition of the death
penalty upon a juvenile or an intellectually disabled person, both classes of
individuals who suffer from impaired mental and emotional capacity relative to
typically developed adults, would be so disproportionate as to violate his or
her 'inherent dignity as a human being.'"
Consistently, the 2002 Atkins ruling and its interpretive evolution a dozen
years later in Hall v. Florida produced a more structured and clinical
framework for both defining and determining intellectual disabilities in
capital cases. This framework held that those with "significantly subaverage
intellectual functioning" - generally yet not strictly recognized as an IQ of
70 or below - were ineligible for the death penalty provided they met 2
additional criteria, these being compelling "deficits in adaptive functioning"
and the "onset of these deficits during the development period." In other
words, a low IQ could combine with certain inabilities to socially function and
reason within one's environment, particularly those stemming from an earlier
developmental stage like childhood, to prohibit a defendant's eligibility for
the death penalty.
But with ethnic adjustments, prosecutors are finding a way to artificially
inflate these IQ scores in order to execute more African-American and Latinx
capital inmates. Such controversial tactics are a particularly pressing concern
for Sanger, who commonly represents African-American capital defendants with
serious intellectual disabilities stemming from traumatic childhoods.
"We're not taking the worst of the worst, which is what the death penalty is
supposed to be all about, which is to get the people who committed the worst
crimes with intentionality and evil," said Sanger. "Instead, we're getting the
people who are marginalized in society, and, ironically, they are often the
same people who are subject to these same deprivations that would, in fact,
cause them to have deficits in their IQ scores and adaptive behavior.
"If you look at the demographics of our death row inmates, you're taking a
segment of society from a lower economic strata that disproportionately suffers
from mental health issues and has an IQ that is close to the limit or below the
limit," continued Sanger, noting that "maybe those 5 or 10 points that pushed
them down there [below the score of 70] might have been a result of their
exposure to these environmental issues.
"But you don't add them back in."
The Former Death Row Prisoner Making Rings for the Exonerated----Kirk
Bloodsworth makes custom jewelry for men who went to jail for crimes they
Dennis Maher isn't the kind of guy who typically wears rings. He's a diesel
mechanic for waste management; if he were to wear them, he might lose a finger.
He doesn't even wear his wedding band.
In the past year or so, though, when he's asked to talk at a university or to
attend a reception, he'll slip a 28-gram sterling silver ring on his right
hand. The word "exoneree" is engraved on its face. People will ask him
questions about it and, if they don't already know, he'll have to tell them how
he spent 19 years, 2 months, and 29 days in prison for violent sex crimes that
he didn't commit. He was exonerated, and became a free man on April 3rd, 2003,
1 of the thousands of men and women who have been wrongfully convicted in this
Maher, who is 57 and lives in Tewksbury, Massachusetts, about an hour northwest
of Boston, compares his ring to a Super Bowl championship ring - and it's as
big as one, too. But there's a key difference between them. "To me, it's worth
more," he said recently. "I didn't get paid for what was done to me. And I
survived. And I wear it with pride."
The ring is one of dozens that have been hand-made for exonerees by Kirk
Bloodsworth, the first US death row prisoner to be cleared through DNA. In
fact, it was on death row that he dreamed of receiving a Super Bowl
championship ring from the football commissioner. He never expected that years
later, he would take up silversmithing and make his own commemorative rings for
And while commemorative rings have long been used to mark an important event or
person, Bloodsworth???s rings may be unique by marking the painful experience
of wrongful incarceration. He has promised to give a ring to each exoneree in
the US, at no cost to them, by raising money online and from friends; each ring
costs $100 to make.
"Why shouldn't they get something that signifies what they endured?"
Bloodsworth said. "A lot of these people have spent many, many years in a place
where they didn't belong."
More than 2,000 people in the US have been exonerated for crimes they did not
commit, according to the National Registry of Exonerations. Some have been
cleared by DNA, others through investigations and hard-won court battles by
attorneys working with law clinics throughout the country. The majority of
those who have been wrongfully convicted were the victims of mistaken identity,
perjury or false confession, or official misconduct.
Bloodsworth spent 8 years, 10 months and 19 days in prison after being
sentenced to death in Baltimore, Maryland, for the 1984 rape and murder of
9-year-old Dawn Hamilton. He was proven innocent by DNA in 1993, and granted a
full pardon by Maryland's governor a year later. In 2003, DNA testing linked
another inmate who had been serving time in the same prison as Bloodworth to
the girl's brutal killing.
After his release from prison, he worked as a fisherman, driving trucks, as a
machinist, and for a now-defunct nonprofit committed to criminal justice
reform, the Justice Project. But about four years ago, inspired by a girlfriend
who gave him a set of beading equipment, he began to dabble in jewelry making.
One day, he was inspired to look up the craft online and came across a video on
how to make silver rings, by Lance Johnson. That was just the beginning of his
journey into silversmithing. "I watched YouTube videos for a year," he said by
phone from his home in eastern Pennsylvania. He figures he watched several
hundred clips from jewelers like Soham Harrison and Peter Keep, all the while
trying out the techniques that he was learning about from watching them.
"I never thought in my late 50s I'd be doing this," he said. "I wish I had
discovered this years ago." He formed his own silversmithing workshop, Bloods
Stones Creations, in 2015, after making his 1st piece of jewelry: a silver
band. Today his collection includes rings, earrings, bracelets, and pendants,
one of which is shaped like a DNA strand.
In 2016, he attended the acclaimed Revere Academy of Jewelry Arts in San
Francisco, California, where he studied with master goldsmith and founder of
the school Alan Revere.
"The people who receive them as a token have been through hell and for no
reason at all."
In an email, Revere praised his former student's efforts to make rings for
exonerees. "I find this to be absolutely fascinating," he wrote. "We jewelers
have been making commemorative items for thousands of years, but this is a
first. The people who receive them as a token have been through hell, and for
no reason at all."
The design of the rings is exacting: The words "exoneree" or "death row
exoneree" are engraved on their faces over a prison cell door; a teardrop
represents the exoneree's wrongful conviction; and 3 drops of blood represent
the person's past, present, and future. The rings are made in batches from an
original mold and cast in wax by a former teacher in California, then shipped
back to Bloodsworth to be finished and signed. It takes about a month to make
each batch. The biggest challenge of making them may be having to get them the
right size for each person. Rings can be customized by the wearer.
A service courtesy of Washburn University School of Law www.washburnlaw.edu
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