[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----IND., ILL., LA., MASS.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Tue Jun 21 10:59:29 CDT 2005
State asks high court to let execution proceed
The Indiana attorney general's office filed new documents Monday in an
effort to persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse the postponement of
Michael Allen Lambert's execution.
"The right courts have already decided that (death) is the appropriate
sentence," Deputy Attorney General Stephen Creason said. The attorney
general's office appealed to the Supreme Court on Friday after the 7th
U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago granted a stay.
Lambert, 34, convicted of the 1990 murder of Muncie Police Officer Gregg
Winters, had been scheduled for execution at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday.
Defense attorneys said Lambert was placed on death row by judges, not a
jury. That's forbidden under today's death penalty rules. Lambert's
lawyer, Alan Freedman, said Lambert deserves a chance to argue his case.
"We may ultimately lose and Michael may be put to death," Freedman said,
"but when a conservative court like the 7th Circuit says, 'Time out; we
want to consider this,' they should be listened to."
(source: Indianapolis Star)
Will taping interrogations fix the system?----Law requires police to also
record questioning, and some hope it prevents false confessions
The videotaped statement in which Kevin Fox implicated himself in the June
2004 murder of his 3-year-old daughter, Riley, runs 20 minutes.
The interrogation that preceded it played out over 14 hours.
Fox was released Friday after DNA tests cleared him and charges against
him were dropped. On Monday, Will County sheriff's officials said they
would review how the investigation was handled, including how detectives
obtained Fox's confession.
The Fox case is another example of how videotaping confessions--without
also taping the interrogations that led up to them--can produce results
that are misleading, if not altogether false.
But beginning next month, state law will require police across Illinois to
videotape interrogations in all murder investigations.
It is a change borne of a long national record of false confessions,
including false videotaped confessions. Among the cases: that of Corethian
Bell of Chicago, who was exonerated by DNA in early 2002 of killing his
mother; and the New York Central Park jogger case, in which 5 men admitted
the crime on videotape only to be exonerated later.
How successful the law will be in eliminating false confessions will
depend on how strictly judges enforce it and how they interpret numerous
Under the new law, a confession is presumed inadmissible as evidence if
the police interrogation is not videotaped. But if police and prosecutors
can show a suspect chose not to be videotaped, a judge could allow the
confession into evidence.
"There are concerns that law enforcement will try to coerce or persuade
suspects that it's not in their best interests to speak on tape," said
Steven Drizin, the legal director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at
Another exception allows for police and prosecutors to show that it was
not feasible to videotape a confession, such as a claim that a videocamera
was not available.
Drizin, who has assembled a database of more than 150 false confessions,
is nevertheless optimistic.
"I tend to think," said Drizin, "that given the amount of money and
resources throughout the state to get ready for this statute, law
enforcement officers are going to put their best foot forward and utilize
this equipment and record a majority of interrogations in homicide cases."
What may not change with the law is the view that, in the world of
evidence, the confession is king. Bell's confession is a case in point.
Bell confessed on videotape to the stabbing death in 2000 of his mother,
Netta, saying he had killed her because she was using cocaine.
It was not until DNA tests cleared Bell that he was set free. DNA
eventually pointed to another suspect, who pleaded guilty to the murder.
The case was the first videotaped confession in Illinois to unravel. It
was so compelling that the Cook County state's attorney's office used it
to help teach prosecutors how to recognize the signs of a false
But in sworn depositions last year as part of a lawsuit Bell has filed
against Chicago police, the officers involved said they still believed in
Bell's guilt, saying the confession was not entirely undermined by the
"Why would anyone tell us that they would kill their mother if they didn't
do it?" one of the detectives said in his deposition.
Even a prosecutor who worked on the case said he still believed Bell had
some role in his mother's death in light of the video confession.
As Fox said happened to him, Bell gave in after a long interrogation.
Bell, who his lawyers say is of low intelligence and suffers from mental
illness, called Chicago police after he found his mother dead.
Police placed him in a small windowless room and interrogated him
intermittently for hours, leaving him alone when he was not being
Detectives, according to Bell's lawyers, told him that his alibi did not
check out and that he had failed a lie-detector test. At one point, the
lawyers alleged in his lawsuit, he was struck in the face. After 50 hours,
Bell gave the 20-minute videotaped confession.
"What they are designed to do is to place a person in the position where
he believes his best alternative is to confess, and that if he doesn't
confess he will be abused and in even greater trouble with the
authorities," said his attorney, Locke Bowman, of the MacArthur Justice
Like Fox, Bell thought he could prove his innocence to a judge.
"He thought," said Bowman, "this is a terrible situation but people will
understand because I didn't do it. If it wasn't for the DNA, there'd be no
explaining it at all."
Bowman said the video does not show what happened to Bell.
"It doesn't begin to tell what happened to him," he said. "That video is
20 minutes at the end of a 2-day and 2-hour process that takes him from
numerous denials of this accusation to finally knuckling under."
The Fox case is particularly significant because, unlike Bell, Fox does
not suffer from mental illness or have a low IQ, two factors that experts
say frequently contribute to suspects making false confessions.
Drizin said the tactics police used in the Fox case are often used in
interrogations. The Fox case "should put to rest the myth that is promoted
by law enforcement officers that false confessions are not the result of
interrogation techniques," he said. "Law enforcement officials would like
the public to believe only the mentally retarded or juveniles or other
vulnerable suspects are likely to falsely confess when pressured by
Fox's attorney, Kathleen Zellner, said his interrogation began after he
had worked all day. He had not eaten dinner. While he was being
questioned, day had turned to night and back to day again.
The detectives, according to Zellner, said that Fox would be raped in the
County Jail, showed him photos of the dead girl bound with duct tape, and
told him if he did not confess he risked losing his only chance at a deal
with the prosecutors.
Officers told him that his wife and family were abandoning him, Zellner
"He was so hopeless. He felt like there was no way out," said Zellner, who
has represented other men who have made false confessions and been
exonerated. "But he figured he'd bond out and then prove he was innocent.
"They said, you're going down for this, one way or the other," she added.
"They told him there was a train leaving and he could either get on or get
off. ... And they turned the cameras on for just the last 20 minutes."
In the videotape, said Zellner, Fox appears with his head down and his
hand over his mouth, mostly mumbling. He does not explain how the murder
happened in a narrative; instead he mostly gives brief assents.
What is missing from Fox's confession, according to Zellner, is mention of
a key element of the crime that might have indicated that Fox was
involved: the location of the underwear and capri pants his daughter was
wearing the day she died.
The clothes, said Zellner, were not recovered. The real killer, she said,
could have told police where they are. But the police do not ask Fox about
"It didn't have the crucial detail: Where were her underpants and her
capri pants," Zellner said. "That would have been the thing that would
have nailed it. That was the one thing the killer could have told them
that they didn't already have.
"Everything else, they already knew about and fed to him."
(source: Chicago Tribune)
Bill would assist wrongly convicted----Senator: Innocent deserve 'head
People freed from prison after proving they had been wrongly convicted
would be entitled to up to $150,000 in restitution from the state, as well
as job training and educational benefits, under legislation approved
Monday by the Senate.
House Bill 663 by Rep. Cedric Glover, D-Shreveport, creates an Innocence
Compensation Fund that would be tapped to pay for these expenses, while
setting the guidelines for who would qualify. Any money put into the fund
could come from state government or private sources.
Approved on a 30-5 vote, the legislation heads back to the House for
consideration of Senate changes.
Only people who are "factually innocent" of the crime they were convicted
for could receive compensation. The bill defines factual innocence as a
person who "did not commit the crime for which he was convicted and
incarcerated nor did he commit any crime based upon the same set of facts
used in his original conviction."
Sen. Joel Chaisson II, D-Destrehan, said it is necessary to do something
for people trying to re-enter society after having been wrongly
imprisoned. "The least we can do is give them a head start," he said.
Glover has said there are 19 former inmates who would qualify under the
bill. If their application is approved by a civil court judge at the 19th
Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge, they would be eligible for $15,000
for each year they were incarcerated, up to $150,000. They could also
receive tuition money to attend a public university in Louisiana, as well
as medical assistance and job training.
But Sen. Bob Kostelka, R-Monroe, a former judge, said anybody who is
convicted in a court after a "fair trial" is legally guilty. He also said
that some convictions are tossed out not because a person is innocent but
for procedural reasons.
"These issues are overblown by a lot of press," Kostelka said.
But Chaisson countered that the bill is drafted to ensure that only people
who are innocent could receive money. "We are not talking about people who
have had convictions set aside on technicalities," he said.
The Senate took out a provision in the bill that would have required
former inmates to get a recommendation from the state Pardon Board.
Chaisson said that is unnecessary because they will already have been
found to be not guilty by a criminal court, and will have petitioned the
civil court in Baton Rouge.
(source: New Orleans Times-Picayune)
Reilly accused of funds delay for ex-inmates
6 months after Massachusetts agreed to compensate wrongly convicted
felons, 10 former inmates who have applied for money have not received a
dime, prompting their advocates to accuse Attorney General Thomas F.
Reilly of putting up roadblocks.
The former prisoners -- 2 of whom spent about 19 years each behind bars
for crimes they did not commit -- have filed claims dating back to January
under a law that provides a maximum of $500,000 for erroneous convictions.
However, Reilly, who represents the state in such claims, appears to be
adopting an adversarial approach, according to lawyers for the former
inmates and lawmakers.
The law, which went into effect Dec. 30, set up a system for wrongly
convicted felons to seek compensation at civil trials. The former inmates'
lawyers and sponsors of the bill said they expected the attorney general
would simply approve claims filed by defendants later found not guilty
through incontrovertible evidence like DNA rather than litigate them. But,
the lawyers said, Reilly has gone so far as to ask the Superior Court to
slow the process in the case of at least 1 defendant cleared by
"Instead of accelerating the process so that these individuals could be
properly compensated, the Commonwealth has attempted to move these cases
onto a slower track," said Robert Feldman, a lawyer for two men who filed
claims and cofounder of the New England Innocence Project. "These
individuals have lost 5, 10, 20 years of their lives and are released from
prison with nothing, absolutely nothing."
Corey Welford, a spokesman for Reilly, defended the attorney general's
handling of the claims. He said Reilly has to verify that each individual
was wrongly convicted, run criminal background checks, and comply with a
requirement that the former inmate committed no other crimes in the cases
that sent them to prison.
"These are very sensitive cases, and everyone can understand why the
plaintiffs would want the decision immediately," Welford said. "But we
also have a job to do, and our job is to gather the information to make
sure the plaintiffs meet the requirements laid forth in the statute."
At least 23 people in prison have had their convictions overturned in
Massachusetts over the past 23 years, according to the New England
Innocence Project. Of the 10 people who have filed claims, 6 were Suffolk
County cases. The rest were from Middlesex, Hampden, and Plymouth
For 6 years, civil liberties groups and advocates for wrongly convicted
prisoners lobbied lawmakers to provide compensation to people who lost
years of their lives behind bars. But it was not until last December that
the Legislature, spurred by several high-profile exonerations, passed a
law that Governor Mitt Romney signed. Massachusetts is among 20 states
with such laws.
To qualify for compensation under the new law, individuals must establish
through "clear and convincing evidence," either through a court order
overturning the conviction or a governor's pardon, that they were wrongly
convicted and did not commit the crimes that sent them to jail.
The civil trials would take place in superior court, where those filing
claims would have an option of a jury or bench trial. The former prisoners
can seek up to $500,000 from the court, which is to take into account lost
income, prison conditions, and other factors.
By mid-February, six wrongly convicted men had filed claims. All sought
$500,000, except for Dennis Maher, who was wrongly convicted of two rapes
and a sexual assault and filed three claims totaling $1.5 million. Maher
spent more than 19 years in prison until he was freed in 2003 after being
cleared by DNA evidence.
Maher, 44, who lives in Tewksbury and works as a late-shift mechanic for a
trash company, said he would use the money to buy a house to live in with
his 5 1/2-month-old son and his fiance, who is pregnant with their second
He said he cannot understand why nothing appears to have happened with his
claim and questioned whether the political ambitions of Reilly, a Democrat
considered a likely gubernatorial candidate, could be a factor.
"He's running for governor," Maher said. "Would [agreeing to an award]
make it like he's being easy and giving away money?"
Welford, Reilly's spokesman, said the suggestion his boss was playing
politics was "ridiculous."
Maher is being represented by Feldman, who also filed a claim for Stephan
Cowans, a Roxbury man freed from prison last year after Suffolk
prosecutors acknowledged the fingerprint used to convict him of shooting a
Boston police officer seven years earlier was not his.
He said he was stunned when Reilly filed a motion in March to transfer
Cowans's claim to a slower track in the court to obtain more information.
Feldman filed court papers pointing out that Suffolk District Attorney
Daniel Conley issued a public apology to Cowans after he was freed from
prison and that Reilly was quoted in the Globe as calling Cowans's case
"just a terrible tragedy [that] never should have happened."
The judge rejected Reilly's motion to slow the process as "inappropriate."
Last month, Feldman filed a motion asking the court to grant Cowans's
claim as a matter of law. Reilly filed a response in which he agreed that
Cowans was entitled to an award but reserved the right to contest the
Feldman said Cowans desperately needs money so he can finish his training
as a barber, a pursuit he took up behind bars.
Barry Scheck, a founder of the Innocence Project based at the Benjamin N.
Cardozo School of Law in New York, said he is puzzled that none of the
former prisoners in Massachusetts has received any money.
The systems for compensating the wrongly convicted vary across the
country, he said, but in Texas people sometimes receive awards in a month
2 Massachusetts lawmakers who crafted the law, Representative Patricia
Jehlen and Senator Dianne Wilkerson, said they were also surprised and
Wilkerson said she might understand Reilly scrutinizing a case involving a
defendant who was wrongly convicted because of, say, a flawed police
investigation. But most of those who filed claims under the new law were
exonerated because of airtight DNA evidence. "It's been established: These
people are innocent," she said.
(source: Boston Globe)
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