death penalty news----TEXAS, USA, CONN., WASH.DC, ILL.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Fri Nov 12 11:21:50 CST 2004
TEXAS----impending female execution
Woman seeks 120-day delay of execution
A 39-year-old scheduled to be the 3rd woman put to death in Texas since
the state resumed executions in 1982 has filed a clemency petition.
In the petition filed Wednesday, Frances Newton claims she is innocent and
wants a 120-day reprieve so her new attorneys can do more investigation
into her case.
Newton, scheduled to die Dec. 1 for the murders of her husband and two
young children, has exhausted her state and federal appeals.
Her petition raises questions about ballistics tests by the Houston Police
Department crime lab, which has faced criticism in recent years for
providing unreliable evidence in some investigations.
Newton's attorneys also claim other problems with the investigation and
argue that those problems were not properly investigated because her trial
attorney was ineffective.
In April 1987, sheriff's deputies found the bodies of Adrian Newton, 23,
and the couple's children, Alton, 7, and Farrah Elaine, 21 months, in the
family's Harris County apartment.
Prosecutors said Newton, convicted of capital murder in 1988, killed her
family to claim $100,000 in life insurance money.
Blood stains were found in several places in the Newtons' apartment, but
none were found on Frances Newton's clothing, according to the petition
filed by defense attorney John LaGrappe and David Dow of the Texas
Innocence Network. About the time of the murders, Newton hid a .25-caliber
pistol in an abandoned house. She hid the gun in full view of her cousin,
and later said she had found the unfamiliar weapon in her home that day
and removed it as a safety measure, her attorneys said.
The petition states that police ballistics tests linking that gun to the
murders may be flawed.
Newton blamed the murders on a drug dealer she knew only as Charlie, to
whom she said her husband, also a dealer, owed money.
Assistant District Attorney Roe Wilson told the Houston Chronicle for its
Thursday editions that the courts have thoroughly reviewed Newton's case.
The petition was filed with the state Board of Pardons and Paroles, which
will review it and make a recommendation to Gov. Rick Perry about whether
to grant the reprieve.
(source: Associated Press)
Lab errors alter views of DNA----Texas Innocence Network takes new stance
3 years ago, the Texas Innocence Network would not have taken on a case
that involved DNA evidence at a trial.
But pervasive problems at the Houston Police Department crime lab have
prompted the student group, which examines possible wrongful convictions,
to reverse such policies.
"We used to operate on the assumption that DNA evidence was bulletproof in
both directions, not only as a tool of exoneration but also as a tool of
conviction," said David Dow, a University of Houston Law Center professor
and director of the Innocence Network.
"We had what has proven to be unfounded faith in the competence of the
analysts who were collecting and analyzing the evidence and testifying."
The DNA division of the HPD crime lab was shut down in 2002 amid concerns
about accuracy. Since then, two men have been released from prison and
questions have been raised about DNA analyses in dozens of cases. Concerns
also have spread to other lab divisions, such as ballistics and
These problems have altered the way organizations such as Dow's view
forensic evidence used against defendants.
In light of the problems at HPD, he said, the change was essential.
The New York-based Innocence Project also has not always accepted cases in
which DNA testing was performed before trial.
"In the earlier days, if somebody had DNA testing and the results
supported guilt, we looked at it differently," said Vanessa Potkins, a
lawyer with the Innocence Project. "But we are taking the cases now
because people were being tried with (older technology), and then there
are situations like in Houston."
(source: Houston Chronicle)
The horrific life of Joe Elton Nixon, briefly referenced last week during
a narrow procedural hearing before the U.S. Supreme Court, is at the heart
of a capital murder case that Eric M. Freedman predicts will be studied in
law schools for years to come.
Mr. Freedman, part of a team of New York attorneys in the cause of winning
Mr. Nixon a new trial in Florida, is a professor of constitutional law at
Hofstra University School of Law.
The Nixon case, he said, "illustrates all the elements that typify death
penalty cases, and the people who wind up getting sentenced to death.
Race, lousy counsel - all the fundamental problems. "We certainly hope the
justices look at it in that context," Mr. Freedman said of Florida v.
Nixon, 03-931, in which he is joined by five pro bono lawyers from Coudert
"The lower courts," he added, "should be persuaded against going off and
killing a guy who's never had his story told."
An immediate question before the high court is whether Mr. Nixon's trial
lawyer in July 1985 was rendered ineffective by conceding guilt without
the explicit consent of his client. According to court papers, Tallahassee
defense attorney Michael Corin took that tack in an unsuccessful effort to
win life imprisonment in lieu of death by electrocution.
The now 34-year-old defendant - a mentally retarded black man who grew up
as a victim of poverty, incestual rape, sexual humiliation, forced labor
in tobacco fields and near-daily beatings at home, on the job, or in
juvenile institutions - was tried in absentia and sent to Florida's death
row for lashing a white woman to a tree with car jumper cables and setting
her on fire, leaving her to die in a secluded woods while he pawned her
The grisly homicide stunned the people and the press of Leon County, Fla.,
and dominated the final years of Jonathan Lang, a Manhattan real estate
attorney who failed in numerous post-conviction proceedings on Mr. Nixon's
behalf. In December 2002, Mr. Lang was suffering brain metastases
associated with lung cancer, a disease he contracted despite never having
smoked. But Mr. Lang rallied himself for victory in the Supreme Court of
Florida in the matter of Nixon v. Florida, SC01-2486, which vacated Mr.
Nixon's conviction and ordered a new trial.
Lawyers for the state of Florida appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Mr.
Lang died at age 51 in March .
For several years in representing Mr. Nixon, however, Mr. Lang was aided
by Edwin S. Matthews Jr., of counsel at Coudert, along with Coudert
partner Edward H. Tillinghast III and associates Damion K.L. Stodola,
Shirin Keen and Annie C. Tsai. In fact, a Coudert office - cluttered with
scores of document boxes but still befitting a senior partner - has long
been maintained for the firm's pro bono commitment to the Nixon case,
which was further aided by several classes of summer associates.
Last week, Mr. Tillinghast and Mr. Stodola went to Washington, D.C. Mr.
Tillinghast, who heads Coudert's global financial restructuring and
insolvency group and who was once a prosecutor in the Suffolk County
District Attorney's Office, argued for Mr. Nixon before the U.S. Supreme
Court. As a prosecutor, said Mr. Tillinghast, "I would have had Joe Nixon
examined by competent psychiatric doctors. That should have been put into
the equation from a prosecution side, and from a defense side. "But the
only exam came during a 45-minute lunch break during his trial," he added.
"There was a psychologist in the courthouse for something else. He wasn't
trained in the criminal context. The judge asked him to talk to Nixon for
Mr. Stodola, a Canadian who opposes capital punishment, jumped at the
chance to assist in the Nixon case, in which he said he has worked
"hundreds of hours a year" for nearly 3 years. "As a young lawyer working
at a large corporate firm, this is a remarkable opportunity, backed up by
the dedicated support of partners. It provides soul to a law firm," said
Mr. Stodola, 31, a graduate of McGill Faculty of Law in Montreal.
"I'm grateful to be able to give voice to my belief that the [death
penalty] is just wrong."
On the narrow issue before the Supreme Court, he and Mr. Tillinghast
explained, the Nixon case claims violation of the defendant's right to
effective counsel under the Sixth Amendment and the due process clause of
the Fourteenth Amendment. Mr. Nixon's trial lawyer, Mr. Corin, could not
be located for comment. Attorneys for the state of Florida declined to
But the U.S. Justice Department filed an amicus brief in support of Mr.
Corin and Florida's official determination toexecute Mr. Nixon. "As a
number of courts have held," wrote then-Solicitor General Theodore B.
Olson in the amicus brief, "when counsel concedes a defendant's guilt as a
'tactical decision, designed to lead the jury towards leniency . . . such
a 'tactical retreat' is 'deemed to be effective assistance.'" [U.S. v.
Tabares, 951 F.2d 405, 409, and U.S. v. Holman, 314 F.3d 837, 840.] The
Justice Department brief noted Mr. Corin's closing remarks at trial.
"Corin argued that [Nixon] should be spared a sentence of death because he
has 'never been' and 'never will be' an 'intact human being,'" the brief
stated. "He ended by stating, 'It's rare when we have the opportunity to
give or take life. And you have that opportunity to givelife. And I'm
going to ask you to do that.'"
According to court papers, Mr. Corin said Mr. Nixon gave silent consent to
the tactic of pleading guilty. But in an early brief on behalf of Mr.
Nixon - a 306-page document filed in 1993 with the Circuit Court for the
Second Judicial District of Florida - Mr. Lang recounted the defendant's
objection to such a tactic by way of refusing to appear in court under
such condition, and his repeated demands for new counsel.
"This was an egregious assault on Mr. Nixon's rights," said Mr. Stodola.
"He never affirmatively assented to that [guilty] plea."
Without explicit consent, Mr. Freedman said, a defense lawyer has no right
to interject his own wisdom for the wishes of the client. "A trial should
give you a high quality outcome, rather than what's happening in the death
penalty system," Mr. Freedman added. Contrary to American Bar Association
guidelines on capital defense procedure, he said, "As it is now, the trial
merely gives us a rough draft, which is then polished through layers of
post-conviction review in the hope of eventually achieving what should
have been put forward in the first place."
Namely, in the case of Mr. Nixon, the mitigating circumstances of lifelong
physical and emotional abuse should have been brought out at trial, said
Mr. Freedman, as well as the client's relationship with his older brother,
According to Mr. Lang's 1993 brief, John Nixon routinely taunted his
younger brother by parading him through thestreets in girl's clothing, and
telling Joe Elton Nixon's friends that he was regularly raped by an uncle
and aunt. John Nixon, a paid informant for the Leon County Sheriff's
Department, was the principal prosecution witness against his brother at
the 1985 trial.
Joan E. Bertin, Mr. Lang's widow, said her husband headed the civil rights
committee of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York when he
took on the Nixon case. At the time, she said, the case was "radioactive."
For his years of work in the Nixon matter and other death penalty defense
work, Mr. Lang was given posthumous honor in September by the National
Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.
Of the Nixon case, said Ms. Bertin, an attorney and executive director of
the National Coalition Against Censorship, Mr. Lang "became convinced that
there was more than met the eye. It took him a long time to get [Mr.
Nixon] to come out of his cell. But he built trust over the years. "Joe
was paranoid - with good reason," she said. "In fairness to [Mr. Corin],
he was asked to an incredibly difficult job in an incredibly hostile
Yet now, 19 years after trial, the state of Florida insists that both the
prosecution and defense of Mr. Nixon was properly conducted, and that the
jury's death sentence is appropriate.
In last week's Supreme Court hearing, justices issued a barrage of
skeptical questions about the position advanced by Mr. Nixon's team. "You
said his lawyer acted without consent . . . but he said nothing," said
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in an exchange with Mr. Tillinghast, according
to the Associated Press. "Where a client doesn't say yes and doesn't say
no, mustn't a lawyer do what he thinks is best to do?" Justice Antonin
Scalia agreed: "According to the lower courts, [conceding guilt] was a
good strategy. I don't know why you want counsel, when a client doesn't
answer, to take a course that gets him executed."
Mr. Stodola suggested a lesson in the exchange. "At this level, you become
very divorced from the facts," he said. "The nuances in legal theory is
what lawyers have to cling to in order to remain at peace with
themselves." And Mr. Freedman suggested a high court decision on the
matter, which he expects to be handed down early next year, is not the
most important detail in the ongoing Nixon case. "If we win in the Supreme
Court, there will be a new trial and a real test," he said. With reference
to ineffective counsel claims under the Strickland standard, set in 1984
by Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 688, Mr. Freedman added, "If we
lose, then left on remand is Strickland. Either way, we expect and intend
that eventually all of Jon Lang's digging and getting to know the client
will come out as the basis of a just outcome."
Mr. Lang never revealed his mortal illness to Mr. Nixon. In a recent
letter from jail, Mr. Nixon said of his lawyer, "When Jon died like a part
on me inside died also, he was alot more than my attorney we were best
friends and family who cherish our time . . . I am familyless."
(source: New York Law Journal)
A mind of their own
It is the job of teenagers to drive their parents to distraction, but it's
not all about hormones, writes Deborah Smith.
Science may have delivered teenagers the perfect excuse for never tidying
their rooms, forgetting to finish their homework, and driving their
parents crazy with their impulsive behaviour.
While 18-year-olds can get behind the wheel of a high-powered car, have
sex, drink alcohol and be sent to war, new research shows that even as
legal adults their brains still have about four more years of rewiring
before they become fully mature.
Scientists have been surprised to find that adolescence is a time of rapid
change for the brain. And the parts that make young people more likely to
plan ahead and consider the consequences of their actions are among the
last to develop properly, in the early 20s.
The research, which is based on new brain imaging techniques, is being
used in the US to make a case against the death penalty for those who have
committed murder as teenagers.
Some Australian experts also believe that brain imaging tests could have a
role to play in issuing driver's licences to young people.
Professor David Bennett is among those hoping the brain studies will
increase society's understanding of normal adolescent behaviour.
"We're watching this area of research with enormous interest," says
Bennett, the head of the NSW Centre for the Advancement of Adolescent
Health at the Children's Hospital in Westmead.
Teenagers' immature brains not only make them prone to a lack of
self-control, "their hormones are also stirring them up and driving them
on to be thrill-seekers, especially boys".
Australian governments have realised the value of support for families
with young children, but have yet to appreciate the need to help parents
of teenagers, says Bennett. "It's a very stressful transition stage for
Because the brain is still being wired, the right intervention, in
particular, firm but warm care, can have life-changing consequences, even
for those who have had a rotten start. "A lot can be put to right at
adolescence," he says.
The brains of babies are still a work in progress. During the first months
of life there is a large spurt of growth in grey matter, so that by age
two children have more neural connections than adults. Then unused
circuitry is gradually discarded during childhood.
For a long time scientists thought that was the whole story. They assumed
a teenager's brain was fully developed by the age of 13 or 14. But six
years ago it was discovered that a second wave of overproduction of grey
matter occurred just before puberty, followed by a 2nd bout of
"use-it-or-lose-it" pruning during the teenage years.
This year, researchers at the US National Institute of Mental Health and
the University of California completed a long study of 13 healthy young
people whose brains they had scanned every 2 years between the ages of
four and 21 using magnetic resonance imaging. They found that from the age
of five, the loss of grey matter moved in a wave from the back of the
brain to the front, as unused neural connections were ditched.
The first brain areas to mature are those with the most basic functions,
such as processing the senses and movement. Areas involved in language and
spatial orientation follow. The brain's centre of reasoning and problem
solving, the prefrontal cortex, is among the last to mature, in young
adulthood, the team reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of
Sciences in May.
Other recent imaging research has revealed that when young people are
shown pictures of frightened people, they process the information in their
amygdala, the emotional centre of the brain that handles fear, anger and
the flight or fight response. Adults, however, also use their frontal
lobes as well to interpret the images, tempering their gut reaction.
Dr John Reid, of the Brain Sciences Institute at Swinburne University in
Melbourne, says the insulating sheaths around nerve fibres in the brain
are also still developing in adolescence. It's like a bare electrical
cable, he says. The electricity leaks out. Transmission of brain signals
is slower than in adulthood. "But adolescents are less able to quickly
think through the consequences of an action or control emotion."
Yet young people are faced with many options, like drinking alcohol,
driving cars or taking part in risky sports. "All are an opportunity to
kill yourself or someone else," he says.
A lot more research is needed to see how the different stages of maturity
of the adolescent brain relate to particular risky behaviours.
Leah Miller, a 16-year-old Sydney student, believes the brain findings
will help parents have more empathy for teenagers.
The year 11 student at Hurlstone Agricultural High School is studying
biology, physics, chemistry, agriculture and maths for the HSC and
recently won an award from the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute to
spend time with scientists in the institute's laboratories. She works a
morning paper run as well as a cleaning job after school to earn money for
university and has written a sci-fi trilogy in her spare time.
Despite these achievements, she still describes herself as messy and
impulsive like most teenagers, recently worrying her parents by accepting
a lift on the spur of the moment with someone she knew but they didn't.
You only have to look as far as the local school gate, she says, to see
kids lighting up cigarettes on impulse despite the high risk they will get
caught by teachers. Young men tend to take the most serious physical
risks, with one she knows having leapt onto a moving goods train.
Some adolescents act out to get their parents' attention, she says. It
would help if worrywart parents not only laid down ground rules, but
explained their reasoning. Kids just want to have fun. "But they don't
realise that sometimes fun has a price tag," she says.
In the US, Christopher Simmons was 17 when he and a mate broke into the
house of woman they were planning to rob. When she woke up and recognised
him, they tied her up and threw her into the local river where she
drowned. He was arrested in 1993 and sentenced to death.
In a case last month before the US Supreme Court that has the backing of
the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the International Justice
Project, Simmons's lawyers drew on the latest brain studies in their bid
to avoid his execution. Teenagers knew the difference between right and
wrong, and should not be excused for violent behaviour, his supporters
said. But their immature judgement meant they should be exempt from death
A University of Sydney psychologist, Professor Dianna Kenny, says there
should be no need to resort to brain science. "To wilfully take the life
of a young person by state-sanctioned means must offend all decent people.
I sometimes wonder what part of the brain American legislators use when
making decisions of this nature."
Her recent research in Australia shows most juvenile offenders have a
mental disorder. At least four in 10 have been physically abused, and
nearly half have parents who have been jailed.
"This is a very deprived, disadvantaged group. Surely society owes a duty
of care to rehabilitate rather than add further to the abuse," she says.
One US judge who was unsympathetic to Simmons's lawyers' pleas to declare
capital punishment for juvenile offenders unconstitutional said he was
concerned that taking away the deterrent of the death penalty could entice
criminals to use teenagers as hitmen.
Reid says armies and terrorists in some countries have long recognised the
value of using teenagers and children to fight. "They know they will do
things adults won't."
In our society we give young people access to a different kind of
dangerous equipment. Reid would like to study the brains of young people
who have been killed in car accidents to see if any link can be made with
the stage of maturity of their brains and crashing.
If there is a correlation, he says, brain imaging could be used in driving
licence assessment. Psychological tests, for example, could identify young
people who are only mature enough to have a restricted licence that limits
the number of passengers or the times they can drive. Those who wanted to
contest the decision could pay for a brain scan to show their capability.
In the meantime, Reid's advice to parents is blunt: "If your teenager has
moments of being feral don't let him drive the high-powered family sedan."
Using a car to get somewhere is OK. "But cruising is a very different
situation. Don't let him go out at night just for a drive, particularly
Bennett, author with Dr Leanne Rowe of What to Do When Your Children Turn
into Teenagers (Doubleday), says parents tend to become very stressed by
normal adolescent impulsiveness and a desire to experiment. Yet this
quality has a plus side, and may account for the idealism and altruism of
Australian research clearly shows that a caring relationship with a warm
adult who has high expectations for a teenager, rather than cold and
punitive parenting, leads to higher self-esteem, less involvement in risky
behaviour and better psychological health as an adult, says Bennett.
"Parents need to keep things in perspective, not take things too
personally and keep their eye on the long-term goal - teenagers who grow
up to be confident and competent in the world."
(source: Sydney Morning Herald)
Date With Death Has Given Ross An Audience
To cover the news, you need access to the news. So whenever there's a
restricted event involving a celebrity, news organizations have to apply
early to get a front-row seat.
That holds true for presidential addresses at college commencements, Dolly
Parton at Mohegan Sun and state-sponsored executions.
Yes, readers, the execution of serial killer Michael Ross is coming up
Jan. 26, and if all goes as planned, the press will be there. As well it
A notice went out this week from the Committee on News Media Access to
Executions - yes, there is such a thing - that news organizations have
until Monday to get their requests in to watch Michael Ross die. Only five
spots are available, so there's sure to be intense competition. But The
Day will presumably have an edge, since the crimes that brought Ross the
death penalty were committed in its circulation area.
No cameras, recorders, pagers, cell phones or other electronic devices
will be allowed, and those selected to cover the big day must agree to
background checks and a pat-down search at the prison.
They also must agree to answer questions afterward at a news conference,
so that journalists who don't get to watch can at least get detail from
I don't question that news organizations belong at the execution scene,
when and if the state's death sentence is actually carried out for the
20-year-old murders of four teenage women. But this "Witness to an
Execution," which is bound to be a huge story, is one more reason I
despise the death penalty.
Mainly I oppose the death penalty because everyone doesn't have good legal
representation, and because inevitably some of the convicted, unlike
Michael Ross, aren't guilty.
My reasons also include basic respect for human life, but not that Ross
would be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment. His crimes were cruel
Ross is a prolific exponent about his nightmarish deeds, and while he has
that right, it has always disturbed me that he has an audience. Besides
the murders that condemned him to death, he has confessed to killing four
other young women, and is serving two life sentences.
Most of you know the details, including rape, strangulation and torture,
because Ross has been in the news practically nonstop since he was
arrested. At one point he claimed to suffer from some rare sexual
compulsion, but never quite explained why he was "compelled" to kill to
cover up his sex crimes.
I submit that while Ross surely has suffered, he has also relished much of
the legal maneuvering that's kept him busy over the years. Doubtless he's
drawing personal satisfaction from his recent well-publicized decision to
"take moral responsibility" for his crimes and not appeal his death date.
Always looking to call the shots, Ross has threatened to change his mind
if he's removed from his "support system" at the prison and put in a
medical unit, on suicide watch, for the remainder of his days. He once
tried to commit suicide, so could be considered at risk now that he's
seemingly given up the fight for life.
Ross is among seven men on death row in Connecticut, another of whom just
lost an appeal. Not only does execution demean us as a people, it has
given Ross, the state's most infamous killer, more attention and
publicity, hence way more self-importance than he deserves.
There will be countless more stories between now and Jan. 26, requests to
interview Ross, and arguments over his fate. Perhaps, after it's over, we
won't hear so much about him. But he will go down as "The First Person
Executed in the State in 40 Years," in capital letters, just as he wants.
(source: Opinion, Bethe Dufresne, The Day)
Campaign to stop the execution of Michael Ross in Connecticut
We are facing the strong possibility that the state of Connecticut will
carry out the first execution in the state and the first in New England
since 1960. Michael Ross has been transferred to the Osborne Prison
facility in Somers, Connecticut where the death chamber is located. Mr.
Ross has decided to end his appeals. Unless he chooses to renew his
appeals, or unless Governor Jodi Rell decides to intervene, Mr. Ross will
be executed on January 26, 2005.
Michael Ross was convicted and sentenced to death in 1987 for kidnapping
and murdering four young women in eastern Connecticut in 1983 and 1984.
The sentence was subsequently overturned due to the court's failure to
allow the jury to consider certain evidence as to his mental state. At a
new penalty phase trial in 2000 he was again sentenced to death.
Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without
reservation. Rational or irrational, a decision taken by someone who is
under threat of death at the hands of others cannot be consensual. What is
more, it cannot disguise the fact that the state is involved in a
premeditated killing, a human rights violation that is a symptom of a
culture of violence, not a solution to it.
Please write courteously worded letters to Governor Rell in your personal
capacity - there is no need to mention Amnesty International for now - and
convey the following points:
* As a matter of principle, you are opposed to capital punishment. No one
has been executed in New England since 1960. It would be a step backward
for the state of Connecticut to execute Michael Ross. This case presents
the State of Connecticut with the opportunity to say that it will no
longer allow those who kill to set society's moral tone.
*The death penalty is a violation of international human rights.
* Governor Rell took office after the previous governor was forced to
resign as a result of criminal and legislative investigations into his
conduct in office. She was not herself directly elected to be governor.
Appeal to her not to allow an execution to take place during her initial
year in office.
* Governor Rell has the authority to put off the execution for thirty
Mr. Ross has suspended his appeals, although he could choose to prolong
appeals process for several more years. There are several substantial
constitutional issues that still revolve around this case and they should
* Connecticut will use lethal injection to kill Michael Ross. Remind the
governor that lethal injection is still a form of torture and that recent
scientific studies confirm that the prisoner being executed suffers severe
pain. No state should have the authority to employ torture and Connecticut
should not have the illusion that lethal injection is any more humane than
other forms of execution, like the electric chair or the firing squad.
The Honorable M. Jodi Rell
Office of the Governor
210 Capitol Avenue
Hartford, Connecticut 06106
salutation: Dear Governor Rell:
You should also feel free to call the governor's office directly and
express your opposition to capital punishment and the execution of
Telephone (860) 566-4840
Toll-Free (800) 406-1527
For further information, contact Amnesty's Northeast Regional Office
Robert Nave, State Death Penalty Abolition Coordinator
Connecticut Network to Abolish the Death Penalty
32 Grand Street; Hartford, CT 06106, www.cnadp.org
robertnave at cnadp.org 203-206-9854
in) WASHINGTON, DC:
Former Inmate Condemns Capital Punishment
Shujaa Graham, an exonerated death row inmate, called the death penalty
discriminatory against Americas minorities and poor when he spoke to a
group of students in ICC Tuesday night.
In an effort to raise awareness and gain support for the abolition of the
death penalty during Death Penalty Awareness Week, Graham was joined by
Mike Stark, regional director of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty,
and Gwendolyn Bates, the sister of a current death row inmate in Maryland.
"I stand here wounded by the blows of the death penalty of racism, trying
to end this awful reality," Graham said.
After being imprisoned for a robbery charge in 1969 when he was 19 years
old, Graham became involved in the Black Panther Party. He said that
because of his political activism, the justice system "tried to
assassinate our voices."
"What I stood for and what I fought for, I would die a million times for,"
After a conflict broke out between inmates and prison guards at the
Soledad Prison in the early 1970s, many outspoken prisoners, including
Graham, were implicated in a series of legal cases.
In a racially-charged trial in 1973, Graham was convicted of killing a
prison guard and sentenced to death.
Graham spent 4 years on death row but was later exonerated because it was
discovered that African Americans had been systematically removed from his
Bates echoed Grahams sentiments of inequality in the justice system.
"Poor people dont have money, so they get inexperienced public defenders,"
Bates said. Such was the case with her brother, Vernon Evans, she claimed.
"I need for you to understand that my brother is innocent of shooting 2
people," Bates said. "How do I know that? Because of the evidence."
Evans was convicted of killing 2 people at the request of Anthony
Grandison, who allegedly hired Evans to kill 2 federal witnesses scheduled
to testify against Grandison in a drug trial in 1984.
Bates said that Evans was convicted based on circumstantial evidence given
by his girlfriend.
In a request to save her brothers life, Bates asked students to write
letters to congressmen and the White House. After 20 years on death row,
Evans faces execution this year because he has exhausted all his appeals.
"They have killed innocent people and it must stop," Bates said. "It could
be your brother, your dad. We need help. We need voices to say this is
wrong. To kill people is wrong."
Stark called the death penalty "one of the crucial social issues of
today," and said he was concerned that the issue has been dropped from
"This gives the appearance that there is no problem," Stark said. "For
every 8 executions, 1 person is exonerated from death row."
Stark also criticized President Bushs handling of the death penalty when
he was governor of Texas.
"152 people were killed under George Bush, and these people are far from
the Ted Bundys of the world," Stark said. He claimed that Bush would
systematically sign off on executions based on a summary given to him from
Stark added that compared to the costs of prison, execution is more
expensive due to all of the appeals that suspect will file in order to
This event was sponsored by The Campaign to End the Death Penalty.
(source: The Georgetown Hoya)
Former Commander Denies Allegations
Carol Marin: Former Chicago police officer William Parker has a story to
It's about what he believes was a man being tortured by Chicago police.
What makes his story so significant is that for all the years suspects
have charged they were tortured by former police commander Jon Burge and
his men, no police officer has ever stepped forward publicly to say it was
true -- until now.
For more than 3 decades, Parker has carried his story with him about what
he said he witnessed in 1973 while working at what was then Area 2 police
headquarters on the city's far south side, Unit 5's Carol Marin reported.
Since the early '80s, Burge and officers under his command have been
accused of torturing suspects to gain confessions. He was fired in 1993
for the abuse of 1 prisoner, but the allegations that many more suspects
were tortured have never gone away, Marin reported.
"What happened was I heard someone cry out," Parker, a 32-year veteran of
the police department, said. "I had never heard a human scream and cry out
that way before. The door was shut, but I just barged on in. Once inside,
I saw directly before me on the floor with his pants open and down, a
black male subject. Standing next to him, which was the first time I saw
[him, was] Jon Burge."
"Do you believe that Jon Burge was in fact torturing the suspect?," Marin
"I do," Parker replied.
"Do you know what ultimately happened to that suspect?," Marin asked.
"No I don't," Parker said. "No I do not."
"There had to be other black officers who were around who had to know what
was going on, didn't there?," Marin asked Parker.
"I would say definitely yes," Parker replied.
Burge has steadfastly denied he ever tortured anyone and currently lives
in Florida, collecting a police pension, Marin reported. Burge's attorney
declined to comment on Marin's report, saying they look forward to trying
the case in court and not in the media.
Attorney Flint Taylor of The People's Law Office said all of the suspects
who claimed they were tortured were black -- while all of the officers
were white. And in some cases, he said they allegedly used a crank-handle
electric generator in a small black box.
Four other officers have now given depositions implicating Burge,
including retired officer Doris Byrd, who said she heard screaming and
hollering, and saw a suspect attached to a steamy radiator, Marin
2 years ago, a special prosecutor began investigating the Burge
allegations, Marin reported. The special prosecutor's office said they are
"getting pretty close to completing" the investigation that began with 64
cases and now number 118 claims of torture. They also acknowledge that
they have been in touch with Parker.
As to the question why no officer until now has spoken out against Burge,
Parker had this answer:
"Well, it takes a great deal of courage, I imagine, for a person to become
an instant outcast if he took a stand like that," Parker said.
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