Sunday, July 31, 2011

Iranian Woman Forgives


While not usual post, this one certainly speaks to one of our major themes: forgiveness. Iranian blinded by acid pardons her attacker - GO here

NEW: Larry Swearingen execution stalled (Texas)


Photo found at Justice Denied dot org

Larry Swearingen’s Execution Is Stayed So His Actual Innocence Claim Can Be Considered

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has issued a stay of Larry Swearingen’s execution scheduled for August 18, 2011. The Court’s Order issued on July 28 was based on Swearingen’s writ of habeas corpus filed on June 22, 2011 that raises a single claim: he is actually innocent of murdering Melissa Aline Trotter because at the time of her death he was in the Montgomery County Jail.

Larry Swearingen during prison interview on July 27, 2011 (Justin Dehn)

Texas is one of eight states that allows a free-standing claim of actual innocence, and the Court ordered the stay so that the new due process violation alleged in his petition — that he is actually innocent — can be reviewed and resolved by the trial court.Swearingen was convicted in 2000 of murdering Ms. Trotter, a 19-year-old freshman at Montgomery College in Conroe, Texas.

Ms. Trotter was last seen by family and friends on December 8, 1998, and her clothed body was found on January 2, 1999 by hunters in the Sam Houston National Forest north of Conroe. Swearingen was a friend of Ms. Trotter’s and he was seen with her on the college campus the day she disappeared, but he wasn’t seen leaving with her. Three days after she was last seen the 27-year-old Swearingen was arrested on December 11 for outstanding traffic tickets. He was in custody from then until Ms. Trotter’s body was found three weeks later. He was subsequently charged with kidnapping, raping, and murdering her.

The prosecution’s case during Swearingen’s trial was circumstantial because there was no direct evidence he was Ms. Trotter’s assailant and DNA tests excluded him as the source of blood under her fingernails and of a pubic hair recovered from a vaginal swab. READ rest of article here


Photo/article also found at Death Penalty Information Center)

CA Death Pen. Law author has deep regrets

Donald Heller: My view is that as a civilized society, we've reached the point where capital punishment should be completely abolished. And we are a civilized country, with some idiosyncrasies, capital punishment being one.

Author of CA Death Penalty Law Has Change of Heart

Los Angeles Times columnist and radio personality, Patt Morrison, interviewed Donald Heller, author of California's current death penalty statute, on July 16th about why he no longer supports capital punishment.

In the interview Heller cites "the enormous toll it [takes] on people involved" including defense lawyers, judges and other players in the system, the high cost and the risk of executing the innocent.

Heller, a former prosecutor, only became vocal about his opposition to the death penalty after the execution of Thomas Thompson in 1998, a man Heller believes was innocent. He admits, "The way I look at it, what I created can and may already have resulted in the death of an innocent person. And that's pretty heavy."

"The thing I regret most that I cannot change -- except by what I do now -- was drafting the death penalty initiative," Heller laments.

Read the full interview with Donald Heller posed at death penalty dot org here

Find another link here

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Crime victims’ rights “...symbolic, says Texas

Stroman's last words reflect Bhuiyan's campaign message: "Hate is going on in this world and it has to stop. Hate causes a lifetime of pain." (Director of the SMU Embrey Human Rights Program and former Amnesty International, Chair Rick Halperin, Ph.D., became involved in Bhuiyan's campaign...)

Crime victims’ rights “essentially” symbolic, says Governor

By Patricia Boh

Email: pboh@smu.edu

Published: Friday, July 22, 2011

"Arab slayer" turned peace seeker, Mark Stroman, was executed by the state of Texas on July 20th for shootings that killed two men and seriously injured a third in 2001.

His death sentence has garnered intense media coverage due to the aggressive campaign for life in prison without the possibility of parole instead of the death sentence.

Stroman's main defender is none other than his only living victim, Rais Bhuiyan.

Stroman's last words reflect Bhuiyan's campaign message: "Hate is going on in this world and it has to stop. Hate causes a lifetime of pain."

Following the 9/11 attacks, Mark Stroman went on a Dallas-area shooting spree with the intention of gunning down people of Middle Eastern descent "as a patriotic response to terrorism."

The shootings took place in the Dallas area during September and October 2001.

Stroman, an alleged member of the Aryan Brotherhood, was free on bond for a gun possession arrest at the time of the shootings.

All three of Stroman's hate crime victims were South Asian convenient store workers. Both Waqar Husan, a Pakistani immigrant, and Vasudev Patel, a naturalized U.S. citizen from India died. Bhuiyan was critically injured. He survived the shooting, although he is now blind in one eye and still has 35 shotgun pellets embedded in his face.

During his recovery, Bhuiyan, a devout Muslim, pledged to "dedicate his life to the poor and needy."

Embodying this new resolve, Bhuiyan, as well as the families of Husan and Patel, took legal action to dispute the death penalty sentence.

Under the Texas Code of Criminal Procedures, article 56.02, crime victims have the right to seek mediate with their attacker. Bhuiyan claims that this right was violated. The plaintiffs claim that the prosecutor never consulted regarding the death penalty charge. Members of the jury also claim that they would have honored the families of the victims and not agreed on the death penalty charge.

Bhuiyan appealed to have the death penalty charge changed to life in prison on grounds of clemency. Gov. Rick Perry and other Texas officials ignored Bhuiyan's campaign.

In response, Bhuiyan filed a lawsuit against the state, claiming his rights were violated. Unfortunately, all efforts failed to prevent the state's decision to execute Stroman.

Director of the SMU Embrey Human Rights Program and former Amnesty International, Chair Rick Halperin, Ph.D., became involved in Bhuiyan's campaign a year ago. A well-known human rights activist and advocate for abolishing the death penalty, Halperin is "not surprised but […] extremely disappointed in the callousness that the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and Gov. Perry have taken toward these specific pleas for mercy and compassion and life from both the survivor and the victims' family members."

"The governor of the state is an enemy of human rights, apparently no friend of crime victims, and [presents] a fraudulent picture of himself as a champion [of crime victims' rights]," said Halperin.

Perry has been a strong advocate of crime victims' rights in the past. In response to Bhuiyan's claims of his violated rights, Perry's legal team stated, "the ‘right' [guaranteed to crime victims] is essentially symbolic . . ."

This is the eighth execution in the state of Texas this year. During his tenure as Governor of Texas, Perry has overseen 233 executions.

Bhuiyan, a native of Bangladesh, became a naturalized US citizen last year. This fall, he will attend SMU to study journalism and human rights.

GO here

Also see the ACLU blog for July 23 or Go to the preceding posts on The Journey of Hope blog

Victim Forgives yet Texas Kills

Victim Forgives, Texas Executes
Fri Jul 22, 2011 14:18
78.35.100.163

Jul 21st, 2011
Posted by Anna Arceneaux, Capital Punishment Projectat 2:45pm
CAPITAL PUNISHMENT
Victim Forgives, Texas Executes

Last night, Texas executed Mark Stroman for a string of hate crimes against men he thought were Arab-Americans, including two murders, in the wake of the September 11 attacks. Texas went through with the execution despite a powerful plea for clemency from a surviving victim of Stroman’s attack, Rais Bhuiyan. Joined by family members of the deceased victims, Bhuiyan called on Texas Gov. Rick Perry and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to halt Stroman’s execution and commute his sentence to life imprisonment without parole. Bhuyian, drawing from his Muslim faith, wanted to do more than forgive Stroman, he wanted to save his life.

Unfortunately, in the eyes of the Texas officials who rejected clemency for Stroman, Bhuiyan became, as we warned against last week, another irrelevant victim. Had Bhuiyan supported the death penalty, it’s much more likely he would have had a seat at their table.

The Texas Department of Corrections also denied Bhuiyan the opportunity to meet with Stroman before his death, though the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure guarantees him that right as a crime victim. Bhuiyan challenged the denial in court, but his“poignant testimony was cut short” last night by order from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

One of the jurors in Stroman’s trial also came forward to speak out against his execution and expressed her deep regrets in participating in the decision to sentence Stroman to death. She had no idea that Bhuyian and relatives of the other victims wanted to forgive Stroman, and, in fact, had the opposite impression based on the prosecution’s presentation of the case. Gov. Perry ignored her calls too.

The State of Texas may have taken the life of Mark Stroman yesterday, but it can not take away Rais Bhuiyan’s courageous message of extraordinary compassion and forgiveness. The story of this relationship born of the hatred of one but ending in reconciliation is a lesson for us all, and Bhuiyan’s quest to end the cycle of hatred and violence in this country will live on.

Find a posting on aclu.org blog here

Find earlier story on this blogsite or Go here

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Victim of Post-9/11 Shooting Seeks to Prevent Execution

Rais Bhuiyan, Victim of Post-9/11 Shooting, to Sue the State to Try to Spare Attacker's Life By Anna Merlan
published: Thu., Jul. 14 2011 @ 9:31AM

​At 10 this morning on the steps of the Heman Marion Sweatt Travis County Courthouse, Rais Bhuiyan, who was shot in the face by white supremacist Mark Stroman as part of a post-September 11, 2001 shooting spree, will announce that he's filing suit today against Gov. Rick Perry and other state officials. The suit is a last-ditch effort to prevent Stroman's execution, which is scheduled for July 20 in Huntsville.

Bhuiyan, who was working behind the counter of a Pleasant Grove convenience store when he was attacked, says in the pleading that Perry has violated his rights as a victim of a violent crime by ignoring his requests to meet with Stroman for mediation, something he's entitled to by law. "Victim restoration," improving the quality of care for victims of violent crime, is something Perry has long said is part of his platform as governor. An excerpt from the suit:

Plaintiff wishes to see reconciliation with Mark Stroman, and to pursue fill mediation with him. Plaintiff feels this way because his parents raised him with the religious principle that he is best who can forgive easily. He believes, as a Muslim, that human life is precious and that no one has the right to take another's life.

Plaintiff also seeks solace for the widows and children of murder victgims Vasudev Patel and Waqar Hasan, who are also victims in this tragedy, and who support Plaintiff in his efforts to seek reconciliation.

Plaintiffs is strongly motivated by his religious beliefs. Forgiveness is strongly motivated by his religious beliefs. Forgiveness is a long standing mechanism within many faiths, Islam being one of them, toward the healing of the soul. As a Muslim, Plaintiff is of the belief that when he forgives or promotes mercy for his attacker, the government should no longer have a duty or a right to exact the ultimate punishment upon Mr. Stroman.

We couldn't reach Bhuiyan this morning, but he and his attorney have sent a statement explaining the motivations behind the suit -- and offering a defense of Stroman's actions that resulted in two men dead and another blinded in one eye.

Bhuiyan's lawyer, Khurrum Wahid, said in a statement, "It is ironic that Rais Bhuiyan was shot by someone thinking it was a blow against Muslims, yet Islamic law would respect Rais' desire for forgiveness. The state of Texas has failed him as a victim. After suffering such a traumatic experience, surely we should respect Mr. Bhuiyan, rather than traumatize him again. We often hear, 'What about the rights of the victim!' The victim has rights even when his voice is not one of vengeance but one of forgiveness."

A press release sent last night lays out in more detail what Bhuiyan's camp says were the circumstances surrounding Stroman's state of mind before his shooting spree, which left two other men dead and Bhuiyan blinded in one eye and disfigured. Says the release:

"Fueled by his addiction to methamphetamine, which he used to medicate his post-traumatic stress disorder, Mark Stroman was close to the edge when he caught his girlfriend having an affair. Then came 9/11, and Mark Stroman responded to the fact that his half sister was killed in the World Trade Center by setting out take revenge on 'Arabs." He killed two innocent men and tried to kill Mr. Bhuiyan."

It remains unclear if Stroman's claim to have lost his half-sister on September 11 was ever verified.

Bhuiyan and his lawyer contend that the the Dallas County District Attorney's Office "pushed forward with the death penalty" without consulting him or the families of the other victims, who he says support his campaign. They also charge that Stroman's lawyer put up a "desultory" defense.

In recent weeks, Bhuiyan has taken his campaign to save Stroman's life internationally, with profiles appearing in both The Guardian and The Independent. The last time he spoke to Unfair Park, Bhuiyan said he was moved by the support he's received in his quest. "This cause is truly a human cause," he said. In the statement he released yesterday, Bhuiyan added that "along with the families of the other victims in the case, I have been ignored and sidelined, year after year. My parents taught me to believe passionately in compassion and respect. If Governor Perry really means it when he says victims' rights are a priority, we need action rather than hollow words.
END article

See Bhuiyan Vs. Perry here

COMMENTS are running over 50 last I looked. GO here

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Struck By Lightning: Commentary of New DPIC report




Original post:
Tue, July 12, 2011 1:22:08 Capital Punishment In The U.S. Found in The U.S. Public Record GO here

Struck By Lightning: Capital Punishment In The U.S.
By William Fisher
The Public Record
Jul 12th, 2011

It couldn’t have taken more than a two-minute visit to the web site of The Innocence Project to persuade most rational adults that the death penalty is not only cruel and unusual, but a costly and ineffective way to deter murder.

That’s the gist of a new report from the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC). It’s entitled “Struck by Lightning: The Continuing Arbitrariness of the Death Penalty Thirty-Five Years After Its Re-instatement in 1976.” Richard Dieter, DPIC’s executive director, is the report’s author.

For those whose memories may be a bit hazy on this subject, the U.S. did have a moratorium on executions from 1972 to 1976, when the United States Supreme Court approved the reinstatement of the death penalty.

The moratorium came about in a 1972 court case, Furman v. Georgia, in which the United States Supreme Court decision that ruled on the requirement for a degree of consistency in the application of the death penalty. The case led to a de facto moratorium on capital punishment throughout the United States,

The moratorium came to an end when Gregg v. Georgia was decided in 1976. The Supreme Court consolidated Jackson v. Georgia and Branch v. Texas with the Furman decision, and thus also invalidated the death penalty for rape.

Gregg v. Georgia, et al reaffirmed the United States Supreme Court’s acceptance of the use of the death penalty in the United States, upholding, in particular, the death sentence imposed on Troy Leon Gregg. Referred to by a leading scholar as the July 2 Cases and elsewhere referred to by the lead case Gregg, the Supreme Court set forth the two main features that capital sentencing procedures must employ in order to comport with the Eighth Amendment bar on “cruel and unusual punishments.” The decision essentially overturned the de facto moratorium on the death penalty imposed by the Court in its 1972 decision in Furman v. Georgia 408 U.S. 238 (1972).

The report notes that by the end of the 1960s, all but 10 states had laws authorizing capital punishment, but strong pressure by forces opposed to the death penalty resulted in an unofficial moratorium on executions for several years, with the last execution during this period taking place in 1967. Prior to this, an average of 130 executions per year occurred.

From 1930, the first year for which statistics are readily available from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, to 1967, 3,859 persons were executed under civil (that is, nonmilitary) jurisdiction in the United States. During this period of nearly half a century, over half (54%) of those executed were black, 45 percent were white, and the remaining one percent were members of other racial groups — American Indians (a total of 19 executed from 1930-1967), Filipino (13), Chinese (8), and Japanese (2), the report says, adding:

The vast majority of those executed were men; 32 women were executed from 1930 to 1967. Three out of five executions during that period took place in the southern U.S. The state of Georgia had the highest number of executions during the period, totaling 366 — more than nine percent of the national total. Texas followed with 297 executions; New York with 329; California with 292; and North Caroline with 263. Most executions — 3,334 of 3,859 — were for the crime of murder; 455 prisoners (12%) — ninety percent of them black — were executed for rape; 70 prisoners were executed for other offenses.

Athough the death penalty had earlier been held unconstitutional because of its arbitrary and unpredictable application, the Court was willing to sanction new systems that states had proposed to make capital punishment less like “being struck by lightning” and more like retribution for only the “worst of the worst” offenders.

The Court also deferred to the states’ judgment that the death penalty served the goals of retribution and deterrence.

After three and a half decades of experience under these revised statutes, the randomness of the system continues. Many of the country’s constitutional experts and prominent legal organizations have concluded that effective reform is impossible and the practice should be ended. In polls, jury verdicts and state legislative action, there is evidence of the American people’s growing frustration with the death penalty. A majority of the nine Justices who served on the Supreme Court in 1976 when the death penalty was approved eventually concluded the experiment had failed.

Nonetheless, in 1976, the newly reformed death penalty was allowed to resume. However, it has proved unworkable in practice. Keeping it in place, or attempting still more reform, would be enormously expensive, with little chance of improvement. The constitution requires fairness not just in lofty words, but also in daily practice. On that score, the death penalty has missed the mark.

Four states have abolished the death penalty in the past four years, and nationwide executions and death sentences have been cut in half since 2000. A review of state death penalty practices exposes a system in which an unpredictable few cases result in executions from among thousands of eligible cases. Race, geography and the size of a county’s budget play a major role in who receives the ultimate punishment.Many cases thought to embody the worst crimes and defendants are overturned on appeal and then assessed very differently the second time around at retrial. Even these reversals depend significantly on the quality of the lawyers assigned and on who appointed the appellate judges reviewing the cases.

In such a haphazard process, the rationales of deterrence and retribution make little sense.

In 1976, the newly reformed death penalty was allowed to resume. However, it has proved unworkable in practice. Keeping it in place, or attempting still more reform, would be enormously expensive, with little chance of improvement. The constitution requires fairness not just in lofty words, but also in daily practice. On that score, the death penalty has missed the mark.

The latest edition of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund’s “Death Row USA” shows that the number of people on death row in the United States is continuing to slowly decline, falling to 3,242 as of October 1, 2010. In 2000, there were 3,682 inmates on death row. Nationally, the racial composition of those on death row is 44% white, 42% black, and 12% Latino/Latina. California continues to have the largest death row population (714), followed by Florida (394) and Texas (322). Pennsylvania (220) and Alabama (204) complete the list of the states with the five largest death rows in the country. California and Pennsylvania have not carried out an executiion in over five years. Death Row USA is published quarterly by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. The report contains the latest death row population figures, execution statistics, and an overview of recent legal developments related to capital punishment.

Four states in the past four years have abolished the death penalty, bringing the total of states without capital punishment to sixteen. As growing costs and stark unfairness become harder to justify, more states are likely to follow that path.

The post-Gregg death penalty in the United States has proven to be a failed experiment.

The theory that with proper guidance to juries the death penalty could be administered fairly has not worked in practice. Thirty-five years of experience have taught the futility of trying to fix this stem. Many of those who favored the death penalty in the abstract have come to view its practice very differently. They have reached the conclusion that if society╩╝s ultimate punishment cannot be applied fairly, it should not be applied at all.

There have been 272 post-conviction DNA exonerations in the United States.

The first DNA exoneration took place in 1989. Exonerations have been won in 34 states; since 2000, there have been 205 exonerations.
17 of the 272 people exonerated through DNA served time on death row.
The average length of time served by exonerees is 13 years. The total number of years served is approximately 3,521.
The average age of exonerees at the time of their wrongful convictions was 27.
Races of the 272 exonerees:

161 African Americans
80 Caucasians
21 Latinos
2 Asian American
4 whose race is unknown
The true suspects and/or perpetrators have been identified in 122 of the DNA exoneration cases.
Since 1989, there have been tens of thousands of cases where prime suspects were identified and pursued—until DNA testing (prior to conviction) proved that they were wrongly accused.
In more than 25 percent of cases in a National Institute of Justice study, suspects were excluded once DNA testing was conducted during the criminal investigation (the study, conducted in 1995, included 10,060 cases where testing was performed by FBI labs).
About half of the people exonerated through DNA testing have been financially compensated. 27 states, the federal government, and the District of Columbia have passed laws to compensate people who were wrongfully incarcerated. Awards under these statutes vary from state to state.
22 percent of cases closed by the Innocence Project since 2004 were closed because of lost or missing evidence.
Seventeen people have been proven innocent and exonerated by DNA testing in the United States after serving time on death row. They were convicted in 11 states and served a combined 209 years in prison – including 187 years on death row – for crimes they didn’t commit.

Kirk Bloodsworth served eight years in Maryland prison – including two years on death row – for a murder and rape he didn’t commit, before he was exonerated in 1993.

Rolando Cruz, and his co-defendant Alejandro Hernandez, served more than 10 years on Illinois death row for a murder they didn’t commit before DNA testing proved both men innocent in 1995.

Verneal Jimerson and Dennis Williams were sentenced to death in the infamous Ford Heights Four case in Illinois for a pair of 1978 murders they didn’t commit. Jimerson was cleared in 1995 after a decade on death row and Williams served more than 17 years on death row before he was freed in 1996.

Robert Miller spent nine years on Oklahoma’s death row for a murder and rape he didn’t commit before he was cleared by DNA testing in 1998.

Ron Williamson spent a decade on Oklahoma’s death row for a murder he didn’t commit before DNA testing secured by the Innocence Project proved him innocent in 1999. His co-defendant, Dennis Fritz, was sentenced to life and spent 11 years in prison before DNA cleared him as well.

Ronald Jones, an Innocence Project client, served a decade on Illinois death row for a murder and rape he didn’t commit before DNA testing proved his innocence and led to his release in 1999.

Earl Washington, a Virginia man with limited mental capacity, was sentenced to death after he allegedly confessed to committing a 1982 murder he didn’t commit. He served a decade on death row, once coming within nine days of execution before receiving a stay. He would serve a total of 17 years behind bars before DNA testing obtained by the Innocence Project cleared him in 2000.

Frank Lee Smith died of cancer on Florida’s death row after serving 14 years for a murder and rape he didn’t commit. He was cleared by DNA testing obtained by the Innocence Project 11 months after his death.

Charles Irvin Fain served more than 17 years on death row in Idaho for a murder and rape he didn’t commit before DNA testing proved his innocence in 2001.

Ray Krone served a decade in Arizona prison – including four years on death row – for a murder and rape he didn’t commit before DNA testing proved his innocence in 2002.

Nicholas Yarris served more than 21 years on Pennsylvania’s death row before DNA testing proved his innocence and led to his release in 2003.

Ryan Matthews served five years on Louisiana’s death row for a murder he didn’t commit before he was exonerated by DNA testing in 2004. His co-defendant, Travis Hayes, was sentenced to life in prison and served eight years before he was cleared in 2007.

Curtis McCarty served 21 years in Oklahoma prison – including nearly 18 years on death row – for a murder he didn’t commit before DNA tests secured by the Innocence Project led to his exoneration in 2007. He was convicted twice and sentenced to death three times based on forensic misconduct.

Kennedy Brewer, an Innocence Project client, served 15 years behind bars – including seven years on death row – for a murder and sexual assault he didn’t commit before DNA testing from 2001 finally led to his exoneration in 2008.

Michael Blair served 13 years on death row for a murder he didn’t commit before DNA testing obtained by his lawyers at the Innocence Project proved his innocence and led to his exoneration in 2008.

These DNA exoneration cases have provided irrefutable proof that wrongful convictions are not isolated or rare events, but arise from systemic defects that can be precisely identified and addressed. For more than 15 years, the Innocence Project has worked to pinpoint these trends.

Eyewitness Misidentification Testimony was a factor in 75 percent of post-conviction DNA exoneration cases in the U.S., making it the leading cause of these wrongful convictions. At least 40 percent of these eyewitness identifications involved a cross racial identification (race data is currently only available on the victim, not for non-victim eyewitnesses). Studies have shown that people are less able to recognize faces of a different race than their own. These suggested reforms are embraced by leading criminal justice organizations and have been adopted in the states of New Jersey and North Carolina, large cities like Minneapolis and Seattle, and many smaller jurisdictions. Read more.

Unvalidated or Improper Forensic Science played a role in approximately 50 percent of wrongful convictions later overturned by DNA testing. While DNA testing was developed through extensive scientific research at top academic centers, many other forensic techniques – such as hair microscopy, bite mark comparisons, firearm tool mark analysis and shoe print comparisons – have never been subjected to rigorous scientific evaluation. Meanwhile, forensics techniques that have been properly validated – such as serology, commonly known as blood typing – are sometimes improperly conducted or inaccurately conveyed in trial testimony. In other wrongful conviction cases, forensic scientists have engaged in misconduct.

False confessions and incriminating statements lead to wrongful convictions in approximately 25 percent of cases. In 35 percent of false confession or admission cases, the defendant was 18 years old or younger and/or developmentally disabled. Twenty-two of the first 265 DNA exonerees pled guilty to crimes they did not commit. The Innocence Project encourages police departments to electronically record all custodial interrogations in their entirety in order to prevent coercion and to provide an accurate record of the proceedings. More than 500 jurisdictions have voluntarily adopted policies to record interrogations. State supreme courts have taken action in Alaska, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Wisconsin. Illinois, Maine, New Mexico, and the District of Columbia require the taping of interrogations in homicide cases. Read more.

Snitches contributed to wrongful convictions in 19 percent of cases. Whenever snitch testimony is used, the Innocence Project recommends that the judge instruct the jury that most snitch testimony is unreliable as it may be offered in return for deals, special treatment, or the dropping of charges. Prosecutors should also reveal any incentive the snitch might receive, and all communication between prosecutors and snitches should be recorded. Fifteen percent of wrongful convictions that were later overturned by DNA testing were caused in part by snitch testimony.

When the death penalty was permitted to go forward in 1976, many distinguished legal scholars warned that the task of creating an objectively fair system for deciding which criminals deserved to die and which should be allowed to live was impossible. A majority of those on the Supreme Court that approved the experiment ultimately concluded the attempt to fix the death penalty had failed.

Thirty-five years later a strong body of empirical evidence confirms that race, geography, money, politics, and other arbitrary factors exert a powerful influence on determining who is sentenced to death. This is the conclusion not only of experts, but increasingly that of the general public as well. Unfairness ranks near the top of the American public╩╝s concerns about the death penalty.

As the use of the death penalty has declined, the rationale for its continuation has disappeared. With defendants already facing life without parole, no one is likely to be deterred by an added punishment that is rarely imposed and even more rarely carried out many years later, and that is dependent on so many unpredictable factors. Nor does the wish for retribution justify a death penalty that is applied so sporadically. The reality is that those in society generally, and those families of murder victims in particular, who look to an execution to counter a terrible homicide will very likely be disappointed.”

Thus, the report concludes, receiving the death penalty is still like being struck by lightning.

William Fisher, a regular contributor to The Public Record, has managed economic development programs for the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development in the Middle East, Latin America and elsewhere for the past 25 years. He has supervised major multi-year projects for AID in Egypt, where he lived and worked for three years. He returned later with his team to design Egypt’s agricultural strategy. Fisher served in the administration of President John F. Kennedy. He reports on a wide-range of issues for numerous domestic and international newspapers and online journals. He blogs at The World According to Bill Fisher.

--

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Death Penalty, Still Racist and Arbitrary - NYTimes

Photo of David Dow by Katya Glockner

Over the past two decades, Dow has represented more than 100 death row inmates as an appellate lawyer.

July 8, 2011
Death Penalty, Still Racist and Arbitrary By DAVID R. DOW
Houston

LAST week was the 35th anniversary of the return of the American death penalty. It remains as racist and as random as ever.

Several years after the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, a University of Iowa law professor, David C. Baldus (who died last month), along with two colleagues, published a study examining more than 2,000 homicides that took place in Georgia beginning in 1972. They found that black defendants were 1.7 times more likely to receive the death penalty than white defendants and that murderers of white victims were 4.3 times more likely to be sentenced to death than those who killed blacks.

What became known as the Baldus study was the centerpiece of the Supreme Court’s 1987 decision in McCleskey v. Kemp. That case involved a black man, Warren McCleskey, who was sentenced to die for murdering a white Atlanta police officer. Mr. McCleskey argued that the Baldus study established that his death sentence was tainted by racial bias. In a 5-to-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that general patterns of discrimination do not prove that racial discrimination operated in particular cases.

Of course, the court had to say that, or America’s capital justice system would have screeched to a halt. Georgia is not special. Nationwide, blacks and whites are victims of homicide in roughly equal numbers, yet 80 percent of those executed had murdered white people. Over the past three decades, the Baldus study has been replicated in about a dozen other jurisdictions, and they all reflect the same basic racial bias. By insisting on direct evidence of racial discrimination, the court in McCleskey essentially made the fact of pervasive racism legally irrelevant, because prosecutors rarely write e-mails announcing they are seeking death in a given case because the murderer was black (or because the victim was white).

In Texas, though, they do come close. In 2008, the district attorney of Harris County, Chuck Rosenthal, resigned after news emerged that he had sent and received racist e-mails. His office had sought the death penalty in 25 cases; his successor has sought it in 7. Of the total 32 cases, 29 involve a nonwhite defendant.

Since 1976, Texas has carried out 470 executions (well more than a third of the national total of 1,257). You can count on one hand the number of those executions that involved a white murderer and a black victim and you do not need to use your thumb, ring finger, index finger or pinkie.

Well, you might need the pinkie. On June 16, Texas executed Lee Taylor, who at age 16 beat an elderly couple while robbing their home. The 79-year-old husband died of his injuries. Mr. Taylor was sentenced to life in prison; there he joined the Aryan Brotherhood, a white gang, and, four years into his sentence, murdered a black inmate and was sentenced to death. When Mr. Taylor was executed, it was reported that he was the second white person in Texas executed for killing a black person. Actually, he should be counted as the first. The other inmate, Larry Hayes, executed in 2003, killed two people, one of whom was white.

The facts surrounding Lee Taylor’s execution are cause for further shame. John Balentine, a black inmate, was scheduled to die in Texas the day before Lee Taylor’s execution. Mr. Balentine’s lawyers argued that his court-appointed appellate lawyer had botched his case, and that he should have an opportunity to raise issues the lawyer had neglected. Less than an hour before Mr. Balentine was to die, the Supreme Court issued a stay.

Lee Taylor’s lawyers watched the Balentine case closely; their client too had received scandalously bad representation, and, they filed a petition virtually identical to the one in the Balentine case. But by a vote of 5-to-4, the justices permitted the Taylor execution to proceed. If there were differences between the Balentine and Taylor cases, they were far too minor to form the boundary between life and death. But trivial distinctions are commonplace in death penalty cases. Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr., one of the five justices in the McCleskey majority, retired from the court in 1991. Following his retirement he said he had voted the wrong way. If Justice Powell had changed his mind a year sooner, Warren McCleskey, who was executed in Georgia in 1991, would still be alive.

And because of a vote from a single Supreme Court justice, John Balentine lives while Lee Taylor died. When capital punishment was briefly struck down, in 1972, Justice Potter Stewart said the death penalty was arbitrary, like being struck by lightning.

It still is, and it’s the justices themselves who keep throwing the bolts.

David R. Dow, a professor at the University of Houston Law Center, is the author, most recently, of a memoir, “The Autobiography of an Execution.”

For information on the memoir GO here and for more BIO GO here

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Monday, July 04, 2011

CELEBRATE JOURNEY OF HOPE

POST to be updated soon...

photo is from abolition.org Fast and Vigil page

Meantime, there's a lot of activity currently on the JOH facebook page Please GO Journey of Hope...From Violence to Healing here

And here's the newest RIGHT link THANX largely to Gilles Denizot here

Journey of Hope...from Violence to Healing is an organization led by murder victim family members joined by death row family members, family members of the executed, the exonerated, and others with stories to tell, that conducts public education speaking tours and addresses alternatives to the death penalty.

Journey Storytellers come from all walks of life and represent the full spectrum and diversity of faith, color and economic situation. They are Real People who know first hand the aftermath of the insanity and horror of murder. They have Real Stories that recount their tragedies, and their struggles to heal as a way of opening dialogue on the death penalty in schools, colleges, churches and other venues.

The Journey spotlights Real People with Real Stories. Some choose not to seek revenge, and instead select the path of love and compassion for all of humanity. Some see forgiveness as strength and as a way of healing. Others come by different paths. Listen to the Voices of Experience because all reject the Death Penalty as Bad Public Policy and believe...

YES, there's a better way and PEOPLE of all sorts including Victims Family Members, former Death Row prisoners and many other "types" are a part of the healing and change together.