[Deathpenalty]death penalty news-----TEXAS, FLA., ALA., CALIF.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Fri Dec 30 13:13:14 CST 2005
DA Maness questions capital case
Jefferson County's district attorney Thursday questioned the fairness of a
recent federal appeals court's rejection of a request to remove a Beaumont
man from death row because he is mentally retarded.
District Attorney Tom Maness said he believed capital murderer Marvin Lee
Wilson was not mentally retarded and deserved the death penalty, which he
received in 1994 for abducting and killing a narcotics informant two years
However, Maness questioned whether justice was served when the U.S. Fifth
Circuit Court of Appeals last week rejected Wilson's case because his
lawyers missed the filing deadline.
The U.S. Supreme Court in 2002 outlawed the death penalty for mentally
handicapped criminals with an IQ below 70. Wilson's attorneys in their
appeal contend that their client's IQ is 61.
However, the appeal to have the sentence commuted to life without parole
missed the filing deadline by more than 40 days, the appeals court said in
Wilson, 47, was sentenced to death in 1994 for the abduction and shooting
death of Jerry Robert Williams, a 21-year-old Beaumont resident.
However, in 1996, the Texas Court of Criminal appeals overturned the
conviction and ordered a new trial after determining that prosecutors had
improperly attacked Wilson's attorneys.
In March 1998, a second jury sentenced Wilson to death.
Following the 2002 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, lawyers for death row
clients had a year to file an appeal with a case based on mental
According to the Fifth Circuit court ruling, Wilson's lawyers filed his
case on the last day, in both state and federal appeals courts.
However, the Fifth Circuit court soon dismissed the case, saying that
state-court remedies had not been exhausted.
On Nov. 10, 2004, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied Wilson's
Wilson's lawyers then had one business day to file with the federal
The appeal was filed, but the case did not meet filing requirements laid
out under federal law.
Wilson's attorneys did not properly refile the case until 40 days later,
according to last week's Fifth Circuit ruling.
Maness, whose office won the death penalty in 1994 and 1998 against
Wilson, said he didn't feel Wilson should be punished for his lawyers'
James Delee, one of Wilson's attorneys in the appeals case, did not return
3 calls for comment Thursday.
Maness said that while it is important to have an efficient justice
system, the rules should be flexible when it comes to life-or-death cases.
Fifth Circuit judges in their ruling accused Wilson's lawyers of playing a
game of "brinkmanship," pushing a situation to the limit to gain some kind
of advantage or concession.
However, Maness said that should not prevent Wilson from getting fair
"I'm not opposed to bending the rules in this situation," Maness said. "I
hate to see this harsh result because lawyers were playing games.
"Everyone who goes through the system deserves a fair shake. Our job as
prosecutor is to be advocates and seek justice (for victims), but also we
must see justice is done (to defendants.)."
According to previous Enterprise stories, Wilson and another man shot
Williams, a police drug informant, to death and left his nude body lying
near the curb at Verone and Buford streets, where a bus driver found him
early Nov. 10, 1992.
About a week before that, Williams had provided police with a tip leading
to a drug bust at Wilson's house.
Wilson, who had been heard saying he was going to "get" Williams, left his
stripped body in the street as a message to other snitches, prosecutors
In a letter posted on the Web site www.deathrow-usa.com seeking pen pals,
Wilson downplayed his criminal history and denied having anything to do
with Williams' death.
He attributed his criminal history to an inability to find legal work.
"I enjoy reading, working out, trying to learn how to draw, playing chess,
and I love writing letters, but they are not able to exchange as many
letters as I need to keep me comfortably occupied, so I'm pretty lonely
these days," Wilson said.
(source: The Beaumont Enterprise)
Disciplinary letters detail mistakes made before inmate's escape --
"Enough collective responsibility to go around"
We are learning more about the mistakes made by Harris County Sheriff's
deputies that lead to last month's escape of death row inmate Charles
Thompson. Those revelations are being found through disciplinary letters
written to several deputies.
That escape cost one deputy his job and several others time off work.
After reviewing these documents, we're learning what the sheriff's office
says helped a convicted killer walk free.
Inmate Charles Thompson recalled, "It was real relaxed. They play
videogames. They sleep on the job."
Thompson spoke from his prison cell about how easy it was to escape the
Harris county jail. After that interview, new documents are now revealing
In these just released disciplinary letters, the sheriff's office spells
out what they say lead to Thompson's escape.
Chief Dan Billingsley with the Harris County Sheriff's office said,
"There's enough collective responsibility to go around."
The paper trail begins in the inmate processing center. There, according
to documents, Deputy Michael Collins signed off on Thompson's property
bag, without "properly inspecting and verifying the contents." Collins
even signed for an ID badge that was never in the bag.
The trail then goes to the attorney's booth where Thompson changed into
civilian clothes. There Deputy John Thurmon is accused of not properly
shackling Thompson, even leaving him unsupervised in an unlocked booth.
Thurmon reportedly recalled, "I then left the 2nd floor and subsequently
"The only thing he could have done that he didn't do had he known the door
wasn't locked, was to obtain a key," said Thurmon's attorney Richard Cobb.
>From the booth, Thompson managed to get on an elevator downstairs to the
floor control center. Deputy Tonya Ward was told to verify Thompson's
identity. But, according to her letter, she simply glanced at his ID as he
flipped it, "allowing her only to see the picture."
Thompson would later talk his way past yet another guard and onto his
Cobb said, "There was a series of events that happened that day that lead
to the man escaping and any one act by itself is not the gleaming, smoking
gun type of thing that caused this guy to escape."
(source: KTRK News)
Inmate who shot Austin cop loses appeal
A death row inmate convicted of killing an Austin police officer in 1978
has lost another attempt to have his case overturned.
David Lee Powell was convicted of killing Officer Ralph Ablanedo in May
1978. Powell shot Ablanedo with an AK-47 automatic rifle after a traffic
stop in South Austin.
He has been sentenced to death 3 times.
His appeal claimed, among other things, that in his latest trial in 1999,
jurors could not have found him to be a future danger to society, because
by that time he had been in prison without incident for 20 years.
This week, U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel ruled against Powell and closed
(source: KVUE News)
Activist Dick Gregory Calls for "Death" of Capital Punishment in Texas
Standing outside the Lew Sterrett Justice Center in Dallas, famous
comedian and peace activist Dick Gregory firmly proclaimed that sending
African Americans and poor Whites to death row and killing them is no
His defining words sounded the battle cry for those calling for the
"death" of capital punishment in Texas. "We are here for the cause of
justice and the abolishment of the death penalty," Gregory said. "I have
always been against the death penalty and I cant believe we live in a
country with so many ignorant people that support something that is
Gregory made his appearance in support of Thomas Miller-El, his wife
Dorothy, the Rev. L. Charles Stovall, Beaumont activist Ricky Jason and
David Atwood of the Houston-based Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death
Penalty. Last June, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the conviction of
Miller-El, a former death row inmate based on the fact that Texas
prosecutors unfairly stacked his jury with Whites and issued a harsh
rebuke to the state that executes more people than any other. The court
ordered a new trial for Miller-El, who challenged his conviction for the
1985 murder of a 25-year-old Dallas motel clerk. It was the 2nd time
justices reviewed the case after a lower court refused to reconsider
Miller-El's claims. Family members are seeking the case be dismissed and
Miller-El be released.
The latest concern about Miller-El's case involves the secret closed-door
proceedings and negotiations going on away from the public's eye. Family
members and advocates are seeking help finding trial attorneys instead of
court appointed lawyers for his defense. Gregory, a world renowned author
and researcher, defended that statement pointing to the unbalanced numbers
of African Americans on death row, those who have been executed and the
current criminal justice system that loads the majority of juries at
criminal trials involving African Americans with Whites.
Texas leads the nation in executions with over 350 executions since 1982.
There are currently 410 inmates on death row. Of those, 169 are African
American, 125 are White and 112 are Hispanic with 4 classified as other.
That means 41.2 % of those on death row and awaiting execution are Black,
according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
The top 4 Texas counties where death row inmates were convicted are Harris
County with 143, Dallas County with 48, Bexar County at 38 and Tarrant
with 24 convictions. Mixing class biases, sexism and racism of the issue
makes it even worse, he added.
"If my cousin Jabo Jones came to Dallas today and went to the Ritz Carlton
and killed 24 white folks, we know he would get the death penalty," he
said. "We also know that if Prince Charles' son William came to America
and committed the same crime, he would not get the death penalty and would
not be killed. No Rockefeller, no Mellon, No DuPont, or none of the rich
folks on this planet will ever die as a result of being sentenced to death
Gregory challenged the hypocrisy of blindly accepting and supporting the
unfair use of capital punishment against minorities and the poor.
(source: African-American News and Issues)
Texas' justice system leaves too much room for mistakes
In the week before Christmas, Gov. Rick Perry issued pardons for 14
people. Of the 14, 12 were of just the sort that people like to see:
pardons for those who had, indeed, committed some crime, usually in their
youth, but who had paid their debt to society and lived blameless lives
But 2 of the governor's pardons, with unanimous support from the Board of
Pardons and Paroles, should disturb the state: for Keith Edward Turner,
convicted of a rape in 1983 in Dallas County and sentenced to 20 years in
prison, and for Entre Nax Karage, convicted of a 1997 murder in Dallas
County and sentenced to life. In both cases, the prosecutors and trial
courts supported the pardons.
What's disturbing is that both men were pardoned because they were
innocent - they never committed the crimes for which they were convicted
and served time in prison and on parole. Turner was on parole when he was
pardoned; Karage spent 7 years behind bars.
Prosecutors and juries, no matter how sincere and well-intentioned,
wrongfully branded these 2 men as guilty and sent them to prison. Only the
development of DNA testing enabled these men to prove, finally, that they
It does not suffice to say that mistakes are made and that the criminal
justice system corrected these 2 mistakes. A pardon for innocence does not
correct a mistake that leaves a man in prison for years. The pardon only
acknowledges the error and stops it for that victim.
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice has about 151,000 inmates. The
overwhelming majority is certainly guilty. But if only 1/10 of 1 % is not,
then about 150 people are in prison for crimes they did not commit. That's
150 too many.
The pardons for Karage and Turner come shortly after the state learned
that an inmate executed in 1993, Ruben Cantu, almost certainly did not
commit the murder. Cantu was prosecuted in San Antonio and convicted by a
jury for robbing and murdering a construction worker, Pedro Gomez.
But recently, a witness to the shooting came forward to say that he had
named Cantu only because of police pressure. In addition, a convicted
accomplice to the shooting now says Cantu wasn't present. And the
prosecutor himself has acknowledged error. This mistake cannot be
corrected or stopped, only admitted.
Karage and Turner have escaped their wrongful convictions because of the
development of DNA evidence, which established that they were not at the
scene of the crimes for which they were accused. But defense lawyers say
it remains too difficult to get such tests if prosecutors object. And in
some cases, such as Cantu's, DNA evidence cannot definitively settle the
These latest 2 pardons point again to the need for an Innocence Commission
to evaluate claims from convicted inmates - at least for those sentenced
to death or life imprisonment - that they are not guilty. Such a panel
could focus on evaluating evidence, or the lack of it, rather than making
sure that procedural rules were obeyed.
In any human system, mistakes will be made. But if the state doesn't do
what it can to fix such mistakes, especially in death penalty cases, then
it's no longer just a mistake - it's a conscious indifference to justice.
(source: Editorial, Austin American-Statesman)
Sentinel wrong on death-penalty sentencing
Last week a Sentinel editorial missed the mark in opposing proposed
legislation to require unanimous jury verdicts on the question of death or
life in prison in capital cases. Calling the bill filed by state Sen. Alex
Villalobos a "terrible idea," the Sentinel calls for doing business as
usual in Florida courts handling death-penalty cases. However, Florida is
seriously out of step with the rest of the nation in our capital-case
jurisprudence, and immediate correction is required.
Three years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court capped off a recent line of cases
affirming the Sixth Amendment jury-trial protections by making clear that
unanimous jury determinations are constitutionally mandated in
capital-case sentencing. In a 7-2 decision, the high court rejected an
Arizona sentencing scheme that sidestepped jury unanimity and instead gave
judges ultimate authority. It is clear that the holdings of this case are
now the law of the land. The two dissenters, Sandra Day O'Connor and
William Rehnquist, are no longer court members, so no modification of the
ruling is expected.
After this court decision, remedial action was taken promptly by those
states with statutes that did not require unanimous jury decisions in
capital-sentencing matters. Every state except Florida, that is.
In reviewing cases on appeal, the Florida Supreme Court has wrestled with
the constitutional requirement that juries must be the ultimate sentencers
in capital cases -- while struggling to save the state's
capital-sentencing system. However, it is plain to the court that our
statute must be modified to empower juries to make the ultimate
determination as required by the Constitution. In an opinion dated Oct.
12, and in the spirit of separation of powers, the Florida court called
upon the Legislature to revisit the current state of this state's
Our Supreme Court points out that Florida is now the only state that
permits capital-punishment decisions by a mere majority-jury vote. The
court seems to implore the Legislature to consider whether we really want
to be on the outside, alone, given the Sixth Amendment unanimity
requirements. As an experienced lawyer, Villalobos was merely following
the call of the Supreme Court to point out the infirmities of our capital
laws to his largely non-lawyer legislative colleagues. Despite the parade
of horribles offered by the Sentinel, or the paper's nostalgia for the bad
old days, the Florida statute should be amended to require unanimous jury
verdicts when the question is one of life or death.
The U.S. Constitution requires it.
(source: Letter to the Editor, Orlando Sentinel----Robert Wesley of
Orlando is the public defender of the Ninth Judicial Circuit of Florida)
Film planned about man freed from death row
It's been 19 years since Ronda Morrison was shot to death inside a dry
cleaning business where she worked to help with college expenses.
She tried to get away, but her killer followed her. She was shot 3 times,
the last shot fired at close range.
An arrest eventually was made, but Walter McMillian said he had an alibi.
He said he was with friends at the same time police believe the
18-year-old girl was murdered.
McMillian, known as "Johnny D," was convicted of capital murder. The jury
recommended life in prison without parole, but the judge ignored it and
sentenced him to death.
A young Montgomery lawyer, Bryan Stevenson, went to work trying to free
McMillian. Stevenson, director of the Equal Justice Initiative, was
convinced of his innocence.
Tommy Chapman, the new district attorney who assumed office in the circuit
where McMillian was convicted, reached the same conclusion.
As the 2 men worked toward righting an egregious wrong, Ed Bradley of "60
Minutes" became involved and aired a report on the case. Millions of
Americans became aware of the man on Alabama's death row.
On March 2, 1993, McMillian became a free man after nearly five years on
death row. Other murder cases around the country are similar to
McMillian's, but the one in Alabama had 2 interesting angles that set it
apart -- race and a book.
McMillian is black; the victim white. And the murder occurred in a town
used as a fictional setting for Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prize-winning book
"To Kill a Mockingbird." It's about the wrongful conviction of a black man
accused of raping a white woman.
Author Pete Early learned about the case and his book, "Circumstantial
Evidence," won several awards.
As someone who covered the murder, McMillian's conviction and efforts to
free him, I always felt it had all the elements of a blockbuster movie.
During chats with Stevenson, I mentioned more than once that Academy
Award-winning actor Denzel Washington would be perfect to play him in a
movie about the case.
It might be about to happen but likely without the high-priced Washington
in the lead role. The budget has been set at about $5 million, which is
pocket change in Hollywood these days.
Producer Ron Sapienza of Chicago says filming could begin next year if
everything falls into place. Sapienza said a major motion picture studio
once had an option on Early's book but "sensationalized and fictionalized"
it so much that the film was never made.
"We know what's important in this case, and we don't want to diminish
anything," he said. "If things go according to plans, we could start
shooting next June, and we want to include Alabama in the filming."
There were other elements in the McMillian case, and they may be included
in the proposed movie. One was the murder of another young white girl
about the same time.
Chapman, who wasn't convinced of "Johnny D's" innocence when he assumed
office, changed his mind as he began to take a closer look. He got two
Alabama Bureau of Investigation agents to look into the case, and their
report led to actions that helped free McMillian.
Chapman's conclusion was that local authorities had botched the
investigation so badly that "Johnny D" could never have received a fair
"For one thing, the body was moved," he said. "Fingerprint powder was
everywhere. People walked all over potential evidence."
Chapman was sure the conviction would be overturned and he'd have to retry
McMillian. He didn't feel that would be necessary.
As far as a movie, Chapman says he'll reserve judgment until it's made, if
it ever is.
"I'm not happy about this being dredged up again," he said. "As long as
they do it evenhandedly, it'll be OK, but I don't want to see a black
versus white thing."
In the meantime, Ronda's parents continue to grieve, especially every Nov.
1 on the anniversary of their daughter's murder.
"Johnny D," meanwhile, lives in north Alabama where Chapman said he has
had a stroke.
Who, then, killed Ronda Morrison? That chapter may never be written.
If the guilty party remains free, it would give credence to a criminal
justice verity -- some people do, indeed, get away with murder.
(source: Montgomery Advertiser)
Execution Proves "Terminators" Cold on Redemption, Black Role Models
The execution of Stanley "Tookie" Williams demonstrates the lack of
respect that the state of California, the criminal justice system and the
U.S. Supreme Court has for the true meaning of redemption.
These "terminators" rejected the evidence and neglected the words,
concerns, values and appeals for mercy from superstar actors Jamie Foxx,
rapper Snoop Dogg, Judge Greg Mathis and the Rev. Jesse Jackson to name a
few, who stood pleading for the life of Williams.
Governor "Terminator" decided to give the go ahead to have Tookies voice
silenced forever by allowing the poison liquid of lethal injection
traveled through his system and stopped his heart and breathing. The
"Terminator" made the wrong call. In reading the 6-page appeal from
Schwarzenegger, it was apparent that Tookie's redemption was never really
During his 24 years in prison, Williams, who co-founded the Crips gang,
wrote books instructing readers to avoid the gang lifestyle and stay out
of prison. In 1996, a "Tookie Speaks Out against Gang Violence" children's
book series was published and in 1998, Life in Prison was published. In
2004, Williams published a memoir called "Blue Rage, Black Redemption" and
preached and lived a message of gang avoidance and peacemaking, including
a protocol for street peace to be used by opposing gangs. He did a lot of
good reframing his life, character and working to help youth from making
the same mistakes in life.
However, the governor had his mind made up about Williams and had no
intention of giving him a change for clemency. He questioned whether his
redemption was complete and sincere or just a hollow promise.
Schwarzenegger cited Tookies book "Life in Prison" as proof that the
Williams had not changed his life. In his own words, Schwarzenegger noted
that dedicating the book to Nelson Mandela, Angela Davis, Malcolm X,
Assata Shakur, Geronimo Ji Jaga Pratt, Ramona Africa, John Africa, Leonard
Peltier, Dhoruba Al-Mujahid, George Jackson, Mumia Abu-Jamal and the
countless others who endured hellish oppression living behind bars. He
called the list "curious" since most of the people have violent pasts or
were convicted of murder and killing law enforcement.
"The inclusion of George Jackson on this list defied reason and is
significant indicator that Williams is not reformed and that he still sees
violence and lawlessness as a legitimate means to address societal
problems," Schwarzenegger wrote. Jackson was an activist and prison inmate
who founded the violent Black Guerilla Family prison gang.
He also went on in the statement of decision to cite and Blame Williams
for the "countless murders committed by the Crips, following the lifestyle
Williams once espoused" leading to senseless killing that ruined many
families, particularly in African American communities.
Summing it up, the "terminator" stated, "without an apology and atonement
(from Williams) for the killings, there could be no redemption.
My question for these "terminators" is what does a Black man have to do to
obtain mercy or prove he has changed or rehabilitated?
Given the current state of racism in America and the biases of an
unbalanced criminal justice system, Tookie is a victim of a society that
offer little opportunity for Black males, but continues to persecute
African Americans and view them differently. One of the most important
elements in Christianity is redemption and forgiveness. Even Jesus forgave
the murderous "Jews" and "Romans" who mobbed him and sent him to Golgotha.
Saul, who later became the Apostle Paul, was one who murdered Christians
prior to his conversion experience on the road to Damascus. Paul not only
wrote key New Testament books, but also is one of the most influential
apostles to have ever lived.
Tookie was not one of the chosen 12, but his life and works proved his
redemption. The lives he changed and touched with his words and books
should have meant something. So, many others in prison and on death row do
absolutely nothing and still are allowed to sit in prison on taxpayers.
(Like Sharon Tate and baby murderer Charles Milles Manson and Dennis
Rader, the B2K Killer, both who are white.) Truth is, sparing the life of
a "changed Black mam" and a Black role model is a cold premise among
"terminators," who doubt our sincerity in everything we do.
The "terminators" of the world do not want us to change. The "terminators"
do not want us to get better. As a matter of fact, they take great
pleasure and delight in killing us and watching us die. To them, we can
never change, so they dont ever expect to have to give us any mercy.
It is a shame that a man, who sat in prison for 24 years and took time to
change his life, had the appeals from high profile actors, music stars,
and literary, political and religious leaders to save his life can be
rejected. However, Tookie is gone now, but we can keep his dream alive. We
must commit to being role models, changing young lives and turning others
around for good by getting involved in making a positive difference in our
communities. It is the only way to change our own destiny and future as a
people and a nation - and you know what I mean.
(source: African-American News & Issues)
You can't go home again ----In refusing to stop execution, Gov.
Schwarzenegger made an American, not European, choice
Many immigrants have testified that becoming an American citizen does more
than change one's nationality, it is a philosophical and, for some, a
Immigrants often prize their U.S. citizenship in a way that the nativeborn
The immigrant knows that he has molted in some profound way by shedding
the culture and political system that shaped him and embracing those of
his new home.
Which is not to suggest that such molting is painless. Few can leave their
home behind without regret, sadness and loss.
These costs of becoming American are being felt acutely at the moment by
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who came here decades ago as an
unknown Austrian bodybuilder and transformed himself not only into an
American, but one of the most well-known Americans on the planet.
When, earlier this month, he declined to exercise the gubernatorial power
to prevent the execution of Crips gang founder and convicted killer
Stanley Tookie Williams, Schwarzenegger drew the wrath of much of Europe,
where the death penalty has been abolished.
Nowhere was the vituperation more intense than in his Austrian birthplace,
the city of Graz.
There a stadium proudly bore Schwarzenegger's name. The city's Web site
and promotional materials touted the famous son's name. In 1999, Graz
awarded Schwarzenegger a ring of honor, which he called the "the most
precious award I ever got."
That's all history now. Pre-empting moves to strip him of these honors,
Schwarzenegger sent a letter to city officials on Dec. 19 demanding the
removal of his name from the stadium and ordering them not to use his name
in any way to promote or advertise Graz. He also informed the city that he
would be returning the ring of honor, before the city council there had a
chance to formally withdraw the recognition that the ring signified.
The death penalty is a hard issue, one that sharply divides decent and
reasonable people. But in Europe, the revulsion for it appears to be
Guilt may play a role, because Europe has been a slaughterhouse for
millennia. In living memory, 6 million Jews were murdered there, and
Europeans dithered while Serb-dominated Yugoslavia descended into mass
slaughter just a decade ago.
Could shame and fear of themselves be driving the vitriol Europeans have
directed at Schwarzenegger?
Even before these recent events, there was little doubt that
Schwarzenegger is American to the bone. But his decision in the Williams
case underlined it.
The people of California, their judges and their elected representatives
have decided that capital punishment is moral and just and that it was
deserved punishment in the case of Williams.
Schwarzenegger stood for American democratic principles by refusing to
stand in the way of that judgment.
(source: Editorial, Columbus Dispatch)
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