[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----TEXAS, S.C., GA., ALA., USA
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Wed Jul 28 23:12:21 CDT 2004
Longest-serving death row inmate hopes cartoons are in his future
Texas' longest-serving condemned inmate -- ruled by a state judge as
retarded and ineligible for execution -- is looking forward to something
he doesn't get on death row -- television.
"It'll be all right -- as long as they've got some cartoons to watch,"
Walter Bell said today of his likely eventual transfer to a general
The 50-year-old Bell has been on death row for 29 years, more than any
other Texas prisoner and one of the longest in the nation, for the
slayings of a Port Arthur couple at their home.
State District Judge Charles Carver agreed last week with Bell's lawyers,
ruling he is retarded. The decision likely spares his Bell's life and
possibly makes him eligible for parole.
Besides T-V, he may be eligible for a prison job and get more than the
daily one hour death row inmates are allowed in a tiny recreation cubicle
outside their cells.
(source: KLTV News)
Spartanburg death row inmate loses appeal
A federal appeals court has rejected a South Carolina man's claim that his
trial lawyers did not defend him effectively against charges he killed 2
Spartanburg movie theater employees during a robbery.
A 3-judge panel of the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals denied Richard
Longworth's appeal. Longworth and co-defendant David Rocheville were
convicted of robbing and shooting Alex Hopps and James Greene in January
1991. Rocheville was executed in 1999.
Longworth had asked the court to rule that one of his defense lawyers had
a conflict of interest because he also represented Longworth's parents,
who did not want alcohol abuse or domestic violence in the family to come
up in the trial. The judges also rejected Longworth's arguments that a
mistrial should have been declared after a deputy gave misleading
Longworth can ask the Appeals Court to rehear the case or appeal to the US
(source: Associated Press)
DNA debacle -- Did the execution of Eddie Crawford gut Georgia's new DNA
It was a terrible crime. Everyone can agree about that.
The victim, Leslie Michelle English, was as innocent as victims come, a
2-year-old girl snatched in the middle of the night from her bed, raped,
probably strangled, and dumped in the woods off a Spalding County
Then there's the man convicted of Leslie's murder, her uncle by marriage,
Eddie Crawford. Hours before Leslie disappeared, her mother had denied
Crawford's sexual advances. "I'll get even with you," he responded.
After Leslie's body was found, evidence quickly piled up against Crawford.
A shirt with blood on the hem was found stuffed behind his dresser. Sheets
from his house were near the child's body. Strands of hair closely
matching Leslie's were pulled from his car. Fibers from his car's
upholstery were lifted from her pajama top.
But there is other evidence, evidence not entered at Crawford's trial --
evidence his attorneys say deserves to be tested to determine whether its
DNA actually matches Crawford's.
It's too late for that testing to help him. On July 19, after spending two
decades on death row for Leslie's murder, he was executed by lethal
But even if that evidence fails to exonerate Crawford, the courts' refusal
to grant a hearing to consider the evidence appears to run counter to the
state's year-old, post-conviction DNA testing law. The law was passed in
response to the growing role that DNA analysis plays in exonerating the
innocent -- some of whom have spent decades behind bars.
"The horrible nature of this crime may have caused the courts to engage in
a strained reading of the ... statute," says Sen. David Adelman,
D-Decatur, who authored the legislation.
The law allows inmates convicted of one of seven violent felonies to be
granted a hearing at which DNA testing can be ordered -- so long as the
case meets certain criteria, such as the existence of evidence from which
actual DNA samples can be lifted, and the unavailability of DNA testing at
the time of the original trial.
Crawford's lawyers viewed the new law as a tool to raise questions about
his 1984 conviction. The law was supposed to make post-conviction DNA
testing easier, and Crawford's defense wanted to test crime-scene evidence
that the state allegedly suppressed.
The existence of testable items -- including possible bloodstains on the
victim's mattress pad, as well as a pubic hair found on her body -- was
discovered late last year, through a state Open Records request. But the
defense's efforts to test the items show that getting a hearing under the
new law is anything but simple.
What's more, a state Supreme Court opinion handed down in June, which
denied Crawford a hearing, "just totally gutted what was really a good
piece of legislation," according to Mike Mears, a death penalty expert who
heads the statewide office that provides indigent defense for capital
In the ruling, 5 justices concluded that the DNA law only allows for a
hearing under the narrowest of circumstances. Two dissenting justices read
the law as a guarantee to serious felons that their requests for testing
would be heard.
The differing interpretations can be traced to 2 contradictory passages of
the law. "The language of the statute is, admittedly, a little confusing,"
state Chief Justice Norman Fletcher wrote in the dissent.
One part says that before an inmate is granted a post-conviction hearing
on DNA evidence, lawyers must "show" a judge that the evidence, if tested,
would raise a "reasonable probability" of innocence.
The other part says an inmate "shall" be granted the hearing -- and only
then will face the burden of demonstrating that DNA testing would show a
reasonable probability of innocence.
"By denying Crawford's right to a hearing to determine whether DNA
evidence exists that is testable and might lead to a different result at
trial, the majority ignores this plain language and undermines the very
purpose of the statute," Fletcher wrote.
In the waning days of the fight for the DNA hearing, Crawford's defense
pulled out the big guns. Enter Barry Scheck, a DNA expert who represented
O.J. Simpson and co-founded the Innocence Project, which has used DNA
testing to exonerate 145 inmates nationwide, including 3 in Georgia.
Five days before the execution, Scheck unsuccessfully argued at a closed
hearing before the state Board of Pardons and Paroles that Crawford
deserved a stay to give the Innocence Project time to run DNA tests.
"It would be unconscionable ... to go on with the execution of this
defendant," Scheck said after the hearing. "You want to err on the side of
But Spalding County District Attorney Bill McBroom, who also argued in
front of the Pardons and Parole Board, points out that 4 courts ruled that
the relevance of tests sought by Crawford's defense was negligible.
"Everybody who has looked at this has said the evidence [against Crawford]
is overwhelming," McBroom points out. "You've got to show that what you
want tested has got reliability."
McBroom says he did ask the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to run several
DNA tests last year -- the most conclusive of which shows that DNA from
blood found on Crawford's shirt is a probable match to DNA from a strand
of the victim's hair. Though the results haven't been entered into any
court record, he mentioned them when arguing before the state Supreme
In his dissent, Fletcher says the evidence McBroom raised is "not so
strong as to preclude ... that DNA evidence pointing to another
perpetrator would have resulted in a different outcome."
He points out that the blood on Crawford's shirt is not definitely a match
to the victim's. He also notes that the victim's hair found in Crawford's
car and the fibers from the car found on the victim's clothes might be the
result of 2 car rides the victim took with her uncle in the week prior to
"While these facts do not establish that potential DNA evidence would have
changed this case, they illustrate the need that led to the enactment of
this statute in the 1st place," Fletcher wrote. "In eviscerating [the
law], the majority has made it far less likely that this statute will
achieve its laudable purposes, and far more likely that the execution of
innocent people will occur."
Crawford's attorneys have vowed to continue pushing for the tests, even
after Crawford's execution.
Adelman says that, if re-elected, he intends to introduce an amendment to
clarify the law's language, making it clear that in cases such as
Crawford's, a hearing should be permitted.
(source: Creative Loafing (Atlanta) )
'Live men walking'----Past time to overhaul capital punishment system
Gary Drinkard says he used to support capital punishment.
"I believed that if somebody raped or killed a woman, or especially killed
a child, they should get the death penalty," he says.
Drinkard had a death row conversion.
In 1995, the 49-year-old Elkmont man, represented by a court-appointed
attorney, was convicted of the murder of a junk car dealer in Morgan
County. Drinkard spent the next 7 years and 8 months on Alabama's death
After Drinkard persuaded a team of top-notch lawyers to take on his
appeal, he won a 2nd trial. It turns out Drinkard had been set up by a
stepsister angry with him who was trying to get reduced charges on her own
crimes. A tape she recorded of him had been altered, according to trial
testimony. Drinkard's second team of lawyers also produced new alibi
witnesses. A jury found him not guilty.
Drinkard is 1 of 4 men in the past 8 years to walk away from Alabama's
death row. The stories of these "live men walking," told Sunday by News
staff writers Carla Crowder and Russell Nichols, scream for an overhaul of
the system that sent them to death row.
Attorney General Troy King, the state's top law enforcement officer, must
lead that overhaul to ensure a system that's as fair and foolproof as
possible - especially since he's a staunch advocate of the death penalty.
King should start by making sure those on death row are guilty, have been
provided an adequate defense and have been prosecuted fairly.
The stories of Drinkard and Walter McMillian, Randal Padgett and James
Willie "Bo" Cochran - the 3 other men who walked away from death row -
suggest otherwise. McMillian's appeal, for example, uncovered evidence the
Monroe County sheriff coerced and paid witnesses, investigators pressured
witnesses to lie and they illegally hid evidence from the defense.
A big failure of the system is Alabama's reliance on court-appointed
defenders for those too poor to afford a lawyer. Too often, as in
Drinkard's case, their legal representation is inadequate. Many states,
but not Alabama, have public defender systems that ensure the accused is
defended at least as vigorously as he is prosecuted.
The problems go beyond income. Statistics show black men are much more
likely to be sentenced to death row, and much more likely to be put to
death for killing a white person than for killing another black person.
Alabama is also one of a very few states that allows a judge to override a
jury's decision against death in a capital case. Almost 1 in 5 death row
inmates in Alabama is there because an elected judge (who surely doesn't
want to appear soft of crime) overrode the decision of 12 jurors.
Put it all together and you have a system of capital punishment so deeply
flawed that 4 men in 8 years have walked away from death row. That ought
to trouble King and every Alabamian in favor of a system that metes out
the ultimate penalty.
Courts have saved 4 men in Alabama from that punishment. The biggest
question of all: Are there more "live men" who should be walking?
(source: Opinion, Birmingham News)
Court faces fight over teen executions
In an effort to end America's status as the only Western nation to execute
juveniles, more than 30 religious organizations have come together to urge
the Supreme Court to outlaw the practice.
The coalition of Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist organizations
signed on to a friend-of-the-court brief filed last week, which argued
that such executions should be ruled unconstitutional. Observers are
predicting that the issue will garner more attention and spark more public
debate than any criminal matter slated to be handled by the court during
its upcoming 2004-2005 term.
Coordinated and submitted by the United States Conference of Catholic
Bishops, the brief addresses the case of Christopher Simmons, who was 17
in 1993 when he admitted to murdering Shirley Crook, a 46-year-old
resident of Fenton, Missouri. Simmons broke into the woman's home with a
14-year-old accomplice. The 2 apparently feared that that she had
recognized them. They used duct tape and electrical wire to tie her up,
and then killed her by throwing her off a bridge into a river. Simmons was
sentenced to death. Missouri's Supreme Court overturned the sentence last
August, ruling that the execution of juvenile offenders violates the
Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment. The state of Missouri
appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Upholding the Missouri ruling would require the Supreme Court to overturn
its 1989 decision permitting the death penalty for minors aged 16 years or
The United States is one of very few countries that impose the death
penalty on people under the age of 18. In the past 4 years, only 5 nations
have executed minors: Congo, China, Iran, Pakistan and the United States.
Several Jewish groups endorsed the brief, including the Religious Action
Center for Reform Judaism, the American Jewish Committee, the American
Jewish Congress, the American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists,
Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the National Council of Synagogues and
the Progressive Jewish Alliance.
The Anti-Defamation League decided not to sign the brief because it has no
policy on the death penalty, a spokeswoman for the organization said.
Nathan Diament, the director of the Orthodox Union's Washington office,
said his organization opposes the execution of juveniles, but missed the
deadline for signing on to the brief.
A spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said that
religious organizations were not vigorously solicited to sign the brief.
The brief, he added, was promoted by "word of mouth" through an informal
network of contacts, and organizations that may have otherwise signed on
did not find out about the brief in time.
According to sources familiar with the situation, the Orthodox Union was
not vigorously pressed to join the coalition. Organizers of the brief said
that many organizations were contacted, but no aggressive attempts were
made to have organizations sign on.
The brief brings together a broad interfaith and multidenominational
coalition of religious organizations. Some of these groups oppose the
death penalty on principle, as a matter of faith. Others do not share the
same theological objections. All the organizations, however, were willing
to sign a brief stating "that the execution of persons for crimes they
committed as juveniles cannot be morally justified."
In an unusual move, a collage of opinions by the participating groups,
each attempting to show how the prohibition on punishing minors by death
is anchored in its religious scriptures, makes up the brief.
Several of the larger, conservative religious organizations did not sign
on to the brief. Some declined to do so because they have historically
avoided taking a position on the death penalty.
No religious organizations filed briefs supporting the execution of
minors. That argument was taken up in briefs filed by victims-rights
groups and jurists, arguing that states should have the right to decide
how to punish criminals. 19 states allow the execution of minors who
commit murders, but not all these states implement the punishment.
The religious groups' brief drew less attention than a separate brief
arguing against the execution of juveniles, filed last week by Nobel Prize
winners, many foreign governments, former American diplomats, America's
largest doctors' organization and other advocacy associations. This second
coalition also urged the Supreme Court to ban the death penalty against
people who were minors when they committed severe crimes, stating that
between 1990 and 2003 the United States executed more juvenile offenders
than the rest of the world combined.
In Texas, which executes more convicts than any other state, a dozen men
who were 17 when they committed their crime have been executed since 1982,
when capital punishment was reinstituted in the state. Another 27 convicts
who are currently on Texas's death row were 17 when they committed their
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