[Deathpenalty]death penalty news --- GA; NJ; USA / MIL.

Joerg Sommer j_sommer at gmx.net
Tue Apr 12 14:05:37 CDT 2005

death penalty news

April 12, 2005


State lawyer goes to bat for death penalty defendants

Attorney Chris Adams grew frustrated as he stood in the lobby of police 
headquarters trying to see Atlanta's most infamous man.

Adams claimed to be Brian Nichols' lawyer on March 12 even though the two 
had never met, but he could not get past the lobby. Prosecutors said 
Nichols had a right to see a lawyer only if he asked for one — and he had 
not done so yet.

Thwarted, Adams, the state's capital defender, took his case to the news 
media that had been waiting outside since Nichols' surrender hours earlier. 
He insisted he should be allowed to advise Nichols of his rights.

"It was absolutely clear from watching TV this was a man who desperately 
needed the assistance of a lawyer," Adams said recently.

By throwing himself into the case, Adams was demonstrating the doggedness 
other lawyers and clients have seen in him over the years. Adams has since 
been formally appointed to represent Nichols, who has yet to be indicted in 
the March 11 shooting rampage that began at the Fulton County Courthouse 

It was inevitable Adams would get Nichols' case. The capital defender 
office is responsible for the legal representation of death penalty 
defendants who cannot afford their own lawyers.

Adams, who grew up in Carrollton, was drawn into public defender work in 
Charleston, S.C., and knew he found his calling after visiting new clients 
at the jail one morning shortly after he took the job. Back at the office, 
a colleague asked Adams why he was whistling so much.

"I could see how I was the only person who really cared for many of my 
clients and how much they needed my help," Adams, 38, said in a recent 

Ashley Pennington, who supervised Adams in Charleston, said Adams is 
ideally suited to head Georgia's new capital defender office.

"He's one of the brightest, most gifted lawyers I've ever worked with," 
Pennington said. "He's got great instincts. He's somebody I think is going 
to be a huge asset to the state of Georgia."

Adams began representing capital defendants five years ago when he left 
Charleston to work for the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta. The 
third day on the job, Adams was handed a letter from a death penalty 
defendant in Alabama who said he had been sitting in jail for months 
without a visit from the lawyer assigned to represent him.

Adams drove to Phenix City, Ala., the next day and talked to Albert Joe 
Ryans for several hours. As Adams prepared to leave, Ryans broke down 
crying, Adams recalled.

"Albert, are you OK?" Adams asked his new client.

"My prayers have been answered," replied Ryans, who was accused with two 
other men of killing a Phenix City car wash attendant in 1998.

After prosecutors rested their case during Ryans' trial in 2002, the judge 
handed down a directed verdict of acquittal, dismissing all charges.

Acquittals in capital cases are extremely rare, but it was the second time 
Adams had experienced one.

Adams served as co-counsel for Gary Wayne Drinkard after his murder 
conviction and death sentence were overturned on appeal. During a 2001 
retrial, jurors found Drinkard not guilty of a 1993 homicide.

Don Adams admits to taking a deep breath when he learned his son was 
appointed to be Nichols' lawyer.

"But we also know that everyone deserves the best defense they can get," 
said the elder Adams, who taught education psychology for 20 years at West 
Georgia College, now the University of West Georgia. He said his son's 
faith will help him in his new job.

"It's obvious the Methodist Church had an influence on him and influenced 
him strongly to help his fellow man," Don Adams said. During summer 
vacations from college, Chris Adams worked at Camp Glisson, first as a 
counselor and later as director of the UnitedMethodist Church-based summer 

It was there where Adams met Helen Neill, now the noontime anchor at TV 
station WGCL. They kept in touch after Adams turned down a scholarship at 
the University of Georgia to attend Georgetown University law school in 
Washington and then worked as a public defender in Charleston.

When Adams decided to move to Atlanta in 2000, Neill told him that she, 
too, was returning to Atlanta, leaving a TV station in Columbus, Ohio. They 
were married two years ago.

Adams said the combination of representing Nichols and heading a new office 
has meant long hours. On April 25, he goes to trial in Brunswick, 
representing another client facing capital charges.

Adams declined to discuss the Nichols case, except to say he will do all he 
can to keep Nichols from getting a death sentence.

While Adams was trying to get inside police headquarters on March 12, 
Nichols was giving a statement to authorities. During his interview, 
Nichols admitted to killing Judge Rowland Barnes, court reporter Julie 
Brandau, Sheriff's Deputy Hoyt Teasley and federal agent David Wilhelm, 
authorities have said.

"It's a responsibility I take very, very seriously," Adams said. 
"Obviously, we're going to work around the clock to win justice for Mr. 

(source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution)


Court: Grand juries must make death-penalty decision

The state Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that grand juries must clear all 
decisions to seek the death penalty, a choice that had been in the hands of 
county prosecutors.

The order was part of a 4-to-2 ruling that overturned the death sentence of 
Steven Fortin, convicted in the killing of a 25-year-old Woodbridge mother 
of four as she walked home from a grocery store on Aug. 11, 1994. The 
justices found fault with several aspects of Fortin's death penalty trial, 
including the use of an expert witness by the prosecution.

Public defenders are trying to determine how the ruling applies to the 13 
remaining death row inmates, said Jeff Beach, a spokesman for the state 
public defender's office.

Tuesday's ruling ordered a new penalty trial for Fortin.

Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1982, prosecutors have decided 
whether to seek the death penalty based on several "aggravating factors" 
that would make the crime especially heinous. They include murder for hire, 
killing a police officer and multiple homicides, among others.

Grand juries have determined whether or not enough evidence exists to 
charge a suspect with murder, but the decision to add a capital murder 
charge was left to prosecutors.

(source: AP)

USA --- possible military death sentence

Witnesses Describe Kuwait Grenade Attack 	

One by one, a total of 15 Army witnesses told a military jury about the 
pain and confusion that followed a deadly grenade attack in the Kuwait 
desert carried out by one of their own. Sgt. Hasan Akbar's lawyers said 
their client could not have planned the attack, and hope to spare him a 
possible death penalty for premeditated murder by alleging a history of 
mental illness that was apparent to the military.

"The enemy was in Sgt. Akbar's mind, and had been there 15 years," defense 
lawyer Maj. Dan Brookhart said in his opening statement Monday.

The court-martial marks the first time since the Vietnam War that a soldier 
has been prosecuted for the murder of another soldier during wartime. The 
trial was set to resume Tuesday.

Fourteen soldiers were wounded in the March 2003 attack at Camp 
Pennsylvania in Kuwait, either by the grenades or when Akbar opened fire 
with a rifle in the ensuing chaos. Killed were Army Capt. Christopher 
Seifert, 27, and Air Force Maj. Gregory Stone, 40.

Akbar, 33, confessed several times and allegedly told investigators he 
carried out the attack in the opening days of the Iraq war because he was 
worried that U.S. forces would harm fellow Muslims.

Military prosecutors built their case victim by victim - with 15 witnesses 
testifying Monday, some only a few minutes.

"It was like getting hit by a car," said Capt. Terry Bacon, who had 
shrapnel wounds to his back, legs and buttocks, but didn't realize it until 
he tried to run out of the tent and his legs failed him.

Other soldiers said they were confused about how the enemy could get inside 
the camp and that someone ran by their tent warning of an attack just as 
grenades rolled in.

"I heard something hit the wooden floor of our tent and then bounce. I've 
seen movies, Hollywood movies, and grenades sounded like that," said Capt. 
Mark Wisher, who suffered a collapsed lung, lacerated liver and punctured 

Brookhart said Akbar's mental illness stemmed from the sexual abuse of his 
sister by his stepfather, and as a teenager he was diagnosed with 
depression and an adjustment disorder. He later developed a sleep disorder. 
In the Army, his problems led to Akbar being demoted from a squad leader's 
position and being given menial duties.

"He was basically a failure as a soldier," Brookhart said.

Military prosecutor Capt. John Benson argued the attack was premeditated, 
adding that evidence indicates Akbar did extensive planning. In diary 
entries and actions - which included stealing grenades and turning off a 
generator that lit the camp - Akbar laid the groundwork for his fatal attack.

The brigade was on alert for an enemy attack, Benson said, but "their enemy 
was already inside the wire."

(source: AP / WJLA)

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