[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----MO., OKLA., LA., N.Y.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Mon Nov 29 09:56:40 CST 2004
Wragges fights for fair trial in Missouri death row case
Wragge & Co is advising pro bono on the firms 1st-ever death row case. Tim
Corsfield, a senior Wragges litigator, has teamed up with the Birmingham
branch of death row campaign group Amicus Capital Legal Assistance and the
University of Central England (UCE) to prepare a brief for convicted
murderer Carmen Deck in relation to a decision of the Supreme Court of
Missouri. Deck was sentenced to death after a dual murder during an armed
Decks legal team is preparing an amicus curiae brief to be submitted to
file with the supreme court on Wednesday (1 December) arguing that Decks
human and constitutional rights were breached because he was paraded in
front of the sentencing jury fitted with shackles.
UCE law lecturer Julian Killingley, who is also working on the case,
argued that although it is normal for defendants to be in chains when they
are being transported to the court, chains during the sentencing phase of
a trial is prejudicial.
However, the supreme court has never decided whether defendants should be
forced to appear in front of a jury appearing in chains during the penalty
phase of a hearing.
Defendants may be required to wear chains if the court believes they will
disrupt the hearing, but Killingley argued that there was no evidence
suggesting Deck would be disruptive.
Commenting on Wragges contribution to the case, Killingley said: "They
[Wragges] have an interest in recruiting the best graduates. It is
attractive to potential applicants that the firm is willing to put its own
efforts towards human rights. It doesnt do British law firms any harm to
ensure all countries adhere to human rights."
The head of Wragges' community investments Steve Butts has welcomed the
opportunity for the firm to become directly involved with a death row case
and recalled the telephone call he received from Amicus. "It's one of
those moments when you get a phone call and it sets your heart racing,"
said Butts. "As a lawyer you're genuinely motivated and moved. Primarily
our pro bono work is very locally based. This is a bit different. There
are a significant number of lawyers at the firm who are interested in this
case because it involves human rights."
Wragges commitment to pro bono work has resulted in a commercial property
associate being seconded on a full-time basis to work alongside Butts.
(soure: The Lawyer.com)
Report: Nichols Admits Okla. Bombing Role
Terry Nichols admitted during plea negotiations in his state trial last
year that he played a major role in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, a
newspaper reported Sunday.
Nichols admitted to prosecutors in a signed statement that he helped
Timothy McVeigh make the bomb that killed 168 people in the Alfred P.
Murrah Federal Building in 1995, The Oklahoman reported. McVeigh was put
to death for masterminding the attack.
"McVeigh told me what to do," Nichols said in the statement, which was
prepared with the aid of his attorneys.
Nichols, 49, is serving life sentences without parole for separate
convictions in state and federal courts for his role in the bombings.
Juries in 1997's federal trial and the state trial this June deadlocked
over whether he should be sentenced to death.
According to the statement, Nichols knew of no other conspirators in the
attack and said he did not know which building McVeigh had chosen as a
target until reading about it after the bombing.
Nichols' attorneys claimed in both trials that he had no part in the
attack and suggested McVeigh had help from others and set up him up to
take the blame.
Nichols' admission was made as his attorneys tried to persuade state
prosecutors not to seek the death penalty. His statements are similar to
what McVeigh told biographers before his June 2001 execution.
Negotiations for a plea deal fell through, however, because prosecutors
believed Nichols was not forthcoming enough.
District Attorney Wes Lane said although the document underscores Nichols'
involvement in the bombing, it also reveals how little Nichols was willing
to tell prosecutors, including his refusal to "tell us where certain
bomb-making materials are still hidden, even to this day."
Nichols' attorneys declined to comment for Sunday's story.
In the statement, Nichols admitted he helped McVeigh obtain the bomb's
ingredients: ammonium nitrate fertilizer from a farmers co-op in Kansas
and nitromethane racing fuel from a racetrack in Texas.
He also admitted picking McVeigh up in downtown Oklahoma City on Easter
1995 -- 3 days before the April 19 attack. McVeigh had driven from Kansas
to Oklahoma City to park the getaway car, according to evidence at the
Nichols described in detail how he and McVeigh alone built the bomb in the
back of a rented Ryder truck beside a Kansas fishing lake.
"The bomb was constructed at Geary Lake. The only people present were
Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols," Nichols said in the statement.
Nichols denied knowing anyone else, including McVeigh's friend Michael
Fortier, had a role in the bombing.
Fortier is serving a 12-year federal prison sentence for knowing about the
bomb plot and not telling authorities, for helping McVeigh move and sell
stolen guns and for lying to FBI agents after the bombing. (source:
La. death penalty examined----Review of court records leads to call for
During the past 5 years, twice as many condemned inmates have walked free
from Louisiana's death row than have been executed.
A review of court records since 1999 shows that, of the last 22 inmates
removed from death row when their sentences were finally resolved:
-12 had their death sentences reversed and were ordered to serve lesser
-6 were released after the courts ordered the 1st-degree murder charges
-1 died of natural causes; and,
-3 were executed.
2 of the 3 who were executed were represented by attorneys no longer
allowed to practice law, according to the Louisiana Office of Disciplinary
Counsel. One of the lawyers was disbarred after being found to have
participated in a laundry list of improper behavior involving several
cases. The other lost his license because of mental health problems.
Several death-penalty experts say the data is so shocking that Gov.
Kathleen Blanco should suspend executions. They say the governor should
name a panel to study the issues, as the Republican governor of Illinois
"I would think that Gov. Blanco would be in favor of a study in the form
of a moratorium to find out why is it that we have these kinds of numbers
and what can we do to instill confidence in capital punishment," said Nick
Trenticosta of New Orleans.
He is director of the Center for Equal Justice, which represents some
During her campaign last year, Blanco said she would consider a moratorium
if statistics indicated problems.
Blanco did not return calls to respond to these findings, but she
authorized her spokeswoman Denise Bottcher to say Tuesday that the
governor wanted to see the "evidence that a moratorium on the death
penalty needs to be called."
Attorney General Charles Foti, the state's chief legal officer, did not
return calls, but after 5 days, he said through spokeswoman Kris Wartelle
that he would have no comment.
The lawmaker whose committee considers changes to the state's capital
punishment laws says he's open to the idea of suspending executions.
"I'm here to be convinced that we need a moratorium," said state Rep.
Daniel R. Martiny, R-Metairie, who chairs the House Committee on Criminal
"But I think we should have a moratorium only if we can show that innocent
people are being executed," Martiny said. "I might agree more with the
critics of that situation if we were sentencing them to death and 2 months
later we were executing them. . I'm glad to see these people were
exonerated, that's the way the system is supposed to work."
Prosecutors also see the findings as proof that Louisiana's capital
punishment scheme is working fine.
"The system is designed to catch any error, no matter how small. That's
the way the system is supposed to work, and those numbers show that we're
not executing people willy-nilly," said Pete Adams of Baton Rouge,
director of the Louisiana District Attorneys Association.
"Human endeavor is imperfect," said 19th Judicial District Attorney Doug
Moreau of Baton Rouge. "Our system is designed to eliminate as much
imperfection as possible."
Moreau said statistics have little meaning in a criminal justice context
because each case is unique.
"It may very well be that (what) appeared a proper result to one person is
improper to another," he said.
"That 27 % of all capital convictions led to exonerations is shocking,"
said Stuart P. Green, an LSU Paul M. Hebert Law Center professor
specializing in constitutional and criminal justice issues.
"I can't see how any criminal justice system can tolerate that level of
error, particularly in the matter of the death penalty," Green said. "It
Denise LeBoeuf, director of the Capital Post-Conviction Project of
Louisiana, says she has studied carefully each of the cases of the 22
condemned inmates whose cases have been resolved because her agency
represented most of them during their final court reviews.
She says the numbers are actually more startling because of the way
"finally resolved" is defined by national and international organizations
that collect data on death row cases. Final resolution means no further
legal proceedings are possible, meaning the inmate was either executed or
his death sentence was dismissed.
Another 5 Louisiana inmates had their death sentences overturned by the
courts, but those cases have not been finalized, she said. Those five
inmates still face new trials; therefore, their cases have not been
Even without including those fives cases in the calculation, approximately
one Louisiana death sentence in 10 leads to an execution, LeBoeuf says.
This means that Louisiana has an 86.4 % error rate, she said.
Between 1977 and 2003, 36 % of the 7,061 people sentenced to death in the
38 states with capital punishment had their sentences overturned,
according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
"No matter how you feel about the death penalty, people of integrity want
to make sure that we take particular care when the sentence is death.
These numbers say we are not careful," said LeBoeuf, who joined the call
for a moratorium.
Richard Dieter is director of the Death Penalty Information Center. He
said that, when confronted with similar statistics, the Republican
governor of Illinois ordered a halt to executions until the issue could be
Dieter's Washington, D.C.-based group takes no position on capital
punishment, but is critical of the way it is applied.
Illinois had a death-row population of 159 - nearly double Louisiana's 87.
Then Illinois Gov. George Ryan halted executions because he was troubled
by a system that released 13 death-row inmates in 20 years.
Louisiana has released 6 death-row inmates in 5 years.
Maryland, Indiana and Nebraska also launched government studies that
reviewed their states' death-penalty procedures from start to finish.
The State Bar of Louisiana adopted a resolution in January 2000 asking the
governor to halt executions while re-examining the process. A month later,
then-Gov. Mike Foster refused.
Condemned to death, then freed
Shareef Cousin, convicted in 1996, charges dismissed in 1999.
The then-16-year-old had been convicted and sentenced to death for the
1995 murder of a man outside a French Quarter restaurant based on the
eyewitness testimony of the victim's date. The Louisiana Supreme Court in
1998 overturned his conviction because of Orleans Parish prosecutors'
"flagrant misuse" of evidence used to impeach testimony that Cousin was
videotaped playing basketball at the time of the crime. The district
attorney opted to retry Cousin and dismissed all charges.
Michael Graham, convicted in 1987, charges dismissed in 2000.
Albert Burrell, convicted in 1987, charges dismissed in 2000.
Graham and Burrell were sentenced to death for the 1986 murders of an
elderly couple in Union Parish. An appellate court threw out their
convictions because of suspect witness testimony and a lack of physical
evidence used at trial. DNA tests proved that blood found at the victims'
home did not belong to either Burrell or Graham. The trial attorneys
appointed to defend Burrell were disbarred later for reasons unrelated to
this case. The state Attorney General chose not to retry the case and
dismissed the charges.
John Thompson, convicted in 1985, acquitted in 2003.
5 weeks before his scheduled execution for a 1984 murder during a mugging,
evidence was discovered that New Orleans prosecutors withheld a crucial
blood analysis. The Louisiana Supreme Court in 1998 reduced his sentence
from death to life in prison. An appellate court ordered a new trial in
1999. The new trial in May 2003 included testimony that had been withheld
years before. The jury took less than an hour to acquit.
Ryan Matthews, convicted in 1999, charges dismissed in 2004.
The Louisiana Supreme Court on March 24 found that DNA testing results
available during trial were not properly used by the 17-year-old's lawyer.
When re-processed years later, the DNA excluded Matthews as the murderer
of a Bridge City convenience-store owner during a 1998 robbery. The DNA
evidence, however, pointed directly to another person who had bragged of
the murder at the time and was later convicted of a similar
robbery-murder. Jefferson Parish prosecutors opted not to retry Matthews
and dropped all charges on Aug. 9.
Dan L. Bright , convicted in 1996, charges dismissed in 2004.
Bright was convicted of murdering a man on the streets of New Orleans to
steal $1,000 the victim had won on a Super Bowl bet in 1995. The Louisiana
Supreme Court reversed his death sentence in April 2000 because the
evidence was insufficient. The high court imposed a life sentence. On May
25, the Supreme Court vacated the murder conviction altogether because
prosecutors failed to disclose that their key eyewitness was drunk at the
time of the incident and had a criminal history. Orleans Parish
prosecutors dismissed the murder charge.
(sources: Opinions of the Louisiana Supreme Court and other appellate
(source: The Advocate)
When death sentence means life in prison
Despite the state Legislature delaying until at least the end of January
to amend the death penalty statute, ruled unconstitutional by the Court of
Appeals, two cases in Rensselaer County are progressing.
"Those cases are very much alive and viable," said Sean Byrne, executive
director of the New York Prosecutors Training Institute. "Obviously, they
remain totally appropriate cases for prosecution under murder in the 1st
Last June, the Court of Appeals ruled that instructions given to a jury
during the penalty stage of a capital punishment case could coerce some
jurors into voting for death when they really do not want to.
The Court of Appeals also said the nine other cases where prosecutors
filed a death penalty notice may go forward, but only if the maximum
penalty is life without parole.
District Attorney Patricia DeAngelis decided to seek the death penalty for
2 men after the Court of Appeals' ruling. She would not comment on the
cases or on when the trials would begin.
Authorities charged Michael Hoffler and Gregory Heckstall with last year's
killinh of Christopher Drabik, a confidential drug informant for the
Albany Police Department set to testify against Hoffler. Drabik was
executed in a quiet Lansingburgh neighborhood days before the start of
Hoffler's trial. Regardless, a jury convicted Hoffler of felony drug
charges for the third time, and he is now serving up to 50 years in
A third man, Lance Booker, is also facing a 1st-degree murder charge, but
DeAngelis decided not too seek the death penalty in this case.
Her decision to seek the death penalty against the other 2 came after the
Court of Appeal's decision, but if she waited until the Legislature
amended the statute, which the decision did allow, she would not have been
able to. Prosecutors have 120 days from the arraignment to file a death
notice. It would have expired on July 22 for Hoffler and Aug. 12 for
Byrne said the state's highest court did not change criminal procedure law
in how first-degree murder cases are prosecuted, but changed the
sentencing portion of a death penalty case. Jurors are asked to deliberate
punishment only when it comes to death, in all other cases judges follow
"Death penalty cases can still be brought, however, when it comes time to
go to trial, the Court of Appeals decision will prevent the prosecution
from achieving a sentence of death," Byrne said. "The Court of Appeals
effectively blocked a judge from submitting a death decision to the jury."
It could make the trials more difficult, however, if they start with the
death penalty still in limbo at the Capitol. Just finding a jury without
strong feelings one way or another about putting a person to death can
Since the death penalty was re-instated in 1995 with much fanfare by the
Legislature and Gov. George E. Pataki, there has not been one person put
to death. The way the statute is written, it is very difficult and
expensive to put someone to death in this state.
In a common scenario, Albany County District Attorney Paul Clyne filed a
death penalty notice against convicted cop killer Keyshon Everett, but the
27-year-old who shot Lt. John Finn 2 days before Christmas made a deal to
plead guilty and be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.
The governor and Republican-led Senate agreed to a fix that they claim
would have satisfied the Court of Appeals, but the Democrat-dominated
Assembly scheduled a public hearings on Dec. 15 and Jan. 25. Speaker
Sheldon Silver is a death penalty proponent, but many of the more liberal
members of his caucus are not.
(source: The Troy Record)
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