[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----TEXAS, IND., ALA., ILL., OHIO
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sat Sep 3 11:59:39 CDT 2005
ABA President Calls for Stay of Texas Woman's Execution
LETTER OF ABA PRESIDENT MICHAEL GRECO TO TEXAS GOVERNOR RICK PERRY AND THE
PARDONS BOARD CONCERNING THE UPCOMING EXECUTION OF FRANCES NEWTON
August 31, 2005
BY FAX: 512/463-1849
The Honorable Rick Perry
Office of the Governor
P.O. Box 12428
Austin, Texas 78711-2428
BY FAX: 512/463-8120
Chairwoman Rissie Owens
Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles
Executive Clemency Unit
P.O. Box 13401
Austin, Texas 78711
Re: Francis Newton
Dear Governor Perry and Chairwoman Owens:
As President of the American Bar Association, I write to express the
concern of the ABA about the case of Francis Newton, an African-American
woman who is scheduled to be executed on September 14, 2005. Our concern
arises from our understanding that arguably significant and compelling new
evidence regarding Ms. Newton's case has not yet been evaluated by Texas
courts. This new evidence includes forensic evidence and evidence of a
lack of motive, both of which are made more serious by Ms. Newton's
continuing and unwavering claim of innocence.
We are also concerned that this evidence was not discovered earlier
because of the negligence of her appointed lawyer, Ron Mock. Several
months after Mr. Mock's appointment, Ms. Newton wrote a letter to the
trial judge expressing concern that no investigation of her case was
occurring. On the day of trial, Mr. Mock could not name one witness he had
interviewed. He did no investigation whatsoever, and therefore, did not
place before the jury the evidence that now casts doubt on Ms. Newton's
involvement in this crime.
Mr. Mock was later barred from handling capital cases.
Longstanding ABA policy states the importance of providing all criminal
defendants with qualified, competent counsel and protecting the innocent
from wrongful execution. An abundance of caution should be exercised
whenever there is doubt. Last December, you agreed to a 120 day delay of
Ms. Newton's execution because you were persuaded that such doubt existed.
Some testing was impossible because the evidence had been contaminated.
More testing has been requested and compelling new evidence has been
discovered since December.
We are not in a position to comment on the merits of the new evidence.
That is a role for officials in your state. But we believe that carrying
out the execution of Francis Newton without a full review of this new
evidence is inconsistent with principles of fundamental fairness and due
process. Because reasonable doubt exists, we urge you to vacate her
execution date so that the newly discovered evidence can be tested and
properly evaluated by Texas courts.
Thank you for your consideration.
Michael S. Greco
American Bar Association
(source: Death Penalty Information Center)
Global actions demand: Stop the execution of Frances Newton
Support for Frances Newton grows daily. From every corner of Houston, the
4th-largest city in the country, people have been moved by Newtons case
"and have turned their disbelief and outrage at the injustice done her
into action to stop her Sept. 14 execution.
>From around the United States and the world people are responding to an
email campaign on the FreeFrances.org web site and the iacenter.org web
site. They are sending postcards to the governor and showing DVDs of
Frances Newton, who has maintained her innocence, is scheduled to be put
to death by the state of Texas for the 1988 killings of her husband
Adrian, her 7-year-old son Alton, and her 21-month-old daughter Farrah.
Her state appeal was denied in August. Her case in now in the federal
She would be the 1st African American woman executed in Texas since 1854,
when an enslaved Black woman named Lucy was hanged in Galveston.
In July, Newtons attorneys filed an addition to an application for a writ
of habeas corpus when it was discovered Assistant District Attorney Roe
Wilson, who handles all death row appeals from Houston, had admitted to a
Dutch journalist what Newtons family had known for 18 years: There was
another gun involved in the murders.
Frances Newton wound up on death row because she was forced to take
court-appointed attorney Ron Mock, known for his incompetence and arguably
one of the worst defense lawyers in Houston. 16 of his clients, including
Shaka Sankofa who was executed in 2000, were sent to death row. Only 4 are
Newton tried to have Mock replaced after her family finally scraped enough
money together to hire a private attorney, but the trial judge refused to
The state says Newton killed her family. Her mother says its impossible.
"Frances adored her children," says Jewel Nelms. "Frances was a
conscientious mother who took such care with her children, including their
education. It is not possible she could have harmed them."
On Aug. 27, Newtons supporters from Houston and Austin marched on the
governors mansion to put Texas Gov. Rick Perry on notice that if he allows
the execution to take place, he will have the murder of an innocent woman
on his hands.
The Houston-based Com mittee to Free Frances Newton left early from the
S.H.A.P.E. Community in Houston for the trip to Austin. On the bus, each
person took the microphone and told what had gotten her or him involved in
trying to stop this execution.
One of them was Karen Preston. She went to high school with Newton. "Every
class reunion, we talk about Frances and how we cant believe she would
ever harm her family. I have to step up and try to stop her execution."
Armed with banners and signs and an unstoppable spirit, the group was
joined by anti-death-penalty activists in Austin.
After a march up Congress Avenue, the crowd rallied across the street from
Perrys home. Speakers included Barbara Acuna, whose son Robert Acuna was
the last juvenile sentenced to death in Houston before the U.S. Supreme
Court outlawed the practice in October 2004. Also, Delia Perez-Meyers
talked about her brother Louis Meyers, another innocent person on death
row in Texas. Perez-Meyers presented Acuna with a beautiful drawing made
by Gary Sterling, who had been executed 2 weeks earlier.
Speaking for Newton was Nelms, who thanked everyone for their commitment
and activism on behalf of her daughter.
After the rally, Nelms left to go visit Newton. "She's doing really good
and is so excited about whats going on in Houston and in Austin. Frances
is doing well. She still has a wonderful, beautiful smile. Her spirits are
high. She knows that the truth is on her side," Nelms said.
Nelms noted the next day: "All the things are finally coming out that
Frances and I have been knowing for a long time. Like the D.A. finally
admitting another gun was recovered from the crime scene.
"It's been a little frustrating with other people not knowing about what
really happened when you know it is a fact. And when you know that those
facts could change my daughters life."
On the Aug. 27 bus ride back to Houston, activists mapped out plans for
the next 2 weeks. There will be rallies and pickets and city council
appearances. There will be a hip-hop program for the youth, and a tent at
a community festival.
"I am so thankful for all the people coming together," said Nelms. "I am
thankful for all the people who are coming forward and standing up and
looking at the case and voicing their opinions."
Letters of support can be sent to: Frances Newton (#922), Mountain View
Unit, 2305 Ransom Road, Gatesville, TX 76528.
(source: Workers World)
5TH CIRCUIT----Court to temporarily relocate here; Flooding makes its New
Orleans offices inaccessible
Court officials decided Friday to make Houston the temporary home of the
5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which was driven from its New Orleans
offices by flooding.
The court will resume operations in Houston on Sept. 14 and remain here
for at least 2 months before moving to Baton Rouge, La., Chief Judge
Carolyn King said.
King said Baton Rouge was first choice among court employees who want to
be close to their homes as the recovery effort progresses, but that
housing there wasn't immediately available.
The 5th Circuit, which handles federal appeals from Texas, Mississippi and
Louisiana, suspended operations for a week after flooding from a broken
levee made the John Minor Wisdom Courthouse in New Orleans inaccessible.
King said officials at the federal courthouse in Houston, headquarters for
the Southern District of Texas, have made arrangements to accommodate
about 70 clerks from the 5th District.
"I think that in a matter of a month we will be running at full speed,"
King said the court will need a special appropriation from Congress to
cover the cost of the move, which includes housing for relocated
Most of the court documents are backed up electronically on remote servers
and most of the paper documents were moved from the 1st floor to the 2nd
floor of the New Orleans courthouse, she said.
But many documents could not be moved in time, she said, and she feared
they may be damaged.
(source: Houston Chronicle)
Door open for change----Governors commutation could start talk on mental
illness and the death penalty.
People who are delusional are no more able to comprehend the consequences
of their actions than children or the retarded. That needs to keep being
said until somebody listens.
The Supreme Court has finally barred execution of the latter two groups.
But nobody wants to talk about the death penalty and the profoundly
mentally ill. Juries are allowed in all 38 death-penalty states to
consider "mental impairment" as a mitigating factor in capital cases, but
they rarely do. That leaves it up to governors, and, according to the
Death Penalty Information Center, only 5 commutations nationwide in the
past 30 years have specifically referred to mental illness.
Including the commutation by Gov. Mitch Daniels this week of convicted
killer Arthur P. Baird II.
Kathy Bayes, president of the Fort Wayne chapter of the National Alliance
for the Mentally ill, believes Daniels actions was "absolutely,
absolutely, absolutely" great, not just because it spared the life of a
delusional man (both now and at the time of his crimes), but because it at
least opens the door for the start of a conversation public officials have
been reluctant to have. The governor did not endorse a broader
consideration of mental illness and capital punishment; he narrowly
tailored his comments to cover this specific case - "life without parole"
wasn't available when Baird was convicted, and his victims relatives and
all jurors who have made their wishes known would prefer that sentence for
him. Bayes understands this: "He's a politician, so he didn't go one step
extra that he didnt have to."
But the governor did mention mental illness: "Courts recognized Mr. Baird
as suffering from mental illness at the time he committed the murders, and
Indiana Supreme Court Justice Ted Boehm recently wrote that Mr. Baird is
'insane in the ordinary sense of the word. It is difficult to find reasons
not to agree." That's enough of an acknolwedgment, Bayes says, to
encourage an effort to get something done.
A local NAMI committee has been formed as part of a statewide effort to
get a change in Indiana law (a change no other state has enacted yet),
taking delusional conditions into account changing law governing the death
penalty. Bayes says the group will try to get the changes, based on
language from an American Bar Association task force and a report by the
American Psychiatric Association, through the General Assembly this year.
It wont be an easy sell. Legislators first have to be persuaded that such
delusions are even real. "One of the main issues is whether someone can
fake it. They can't, but that's what worries a lot of people," Bayes says.
That fear was evident in comments from one of the parole board members who
recommended against clemency for Baird. "From the very beginning, Arthur
Baird . . . has played an elaborate game of deceit and misrepresentation,"
the member said. Bayes said the attitudes expressed by board members
favoring Bairds execution showed a frightening "lack of understanding
about the effects of serious mental illness. And even if a convincing case
can be made that profound mental illness is sometimes present in people
who commit horrific crimes, there is still another hurdle. "The response
has usually been, 'So what if there is mental illness?'," says attorney
Alan Freedman. "The law just leaves it up to jurors and governors.
Freedman, with the Midwest Center for Justice, is attorney both for
convicted Fort Wayne killer Joseph Corcoran, whose execution is on hold
pending federal appeal, and Alan Matheney of Mishawaka, scheduled to be
executed later this month. Both cases are remarkably similar to the Baird
case in the types of mental illness in the killers. It remains to be seen
whether Daniels' granting of clemency for Baird will affect these two
cases, but Freedman says "the action was very helpful" and should help
move the debate forward.
Freedman is also optimistic that attitudes can be changed across the
nation. More people are beginning to accept that there are delusions that
cant be controlled. Another factor, he said, "is that most of these are
old cases, from a time when there was a drive to just put these people on
death row. I think we're going to start seeing fewer of them go there.
Things like Indiana's addition of life without parole are a help."
Bayes stresses that the Indiana group is not seeking a broad change in the
law. "We're not trying to end the death penalty. We just want to do this
"Defendants shall not be sentenced to death or executed if, at the time of
the offense, they had a severe mental disorder or disability that
significantly impaired their capacity (a) to appreciate the nature,
consequences or wrongfulness of their conduct, (b) to exercise rational
judgment in relation to their conduct or (c) to conform their conduct to
the requirements of the law. A disorder manifested primarily by repeated
criminal conduct or attributable to the acute acts of voluntary use of
alcohol or other drugs does not, standing alone, constitute a mental
disorder or disability for the purposes of the provision."
(Proposed model law from the American Psychiatric Association)
(source: Editorial, Fort Wayne News Sentinel)
Jury recommends life in prison for Lynch after murder conviction
A Morgan County jury recommended Friday that 27-year-od Charles Lynch
spend the rest of his life in prison, with no chance of parole, for the
death of a Somerville woman.
The jury returned its recommendation after Lynch's mother had urged them
to spare her son's life. The jury could have recommended life without
parole or death in the electric chair. The final sentencing decision will
be made by the trial judge.
"Please do not kill my son. He is my eldest son, and I am begging you
today, please don't kill him," Charles Lynch's mother, Della Moore, told
the jury Thursday.
Moore testified during the sentencing phase after the jury voted to
convict Lynch, 27, in the Oct. 20, 2000 death of Tamika Evans.
During his closing argument, Chief Assistant District Attorney Paul
Matthews urged the jury to recommend death.
"In his last minutes, he'll have a preacher with him," Matthews said. "He
won't be on a couch with a gun pressed against his face with his children
in the next room. These were Tamika Evans' last moments."
During her closing argument, Defense Attorney Sherryl Caffey asked the
jury not to recommend death, citing a statement the jury sent to the judge
earlier this week.
"When you raised that question, that was an indication that there was
reasonable doubt," Caffey said. "I know deep down in my heart that some of
you still have reasonable doubt, and if you kill him you'll never be able
to live with yourselves."
(source: Associated Press)
Local attorneys attend death penalty course
Stephenson County State's Attorney John Vogt and Assistant State's
Attorney Joe Lentz recently attended a special training course in Oak
Brook they say has made them much better prepared to prosecute local death
Attending the course is part of the overall process of joining the Capital
Litigation Trial Bar of the State of Illinois, a recently created
organization that aims to better prepare attorneys for death penalty
cases. As state's attorney, Vogt is automatically qualified to handle a
capital litigation, but assistant state's attorneys like Lentz have to
become members of the Capital Litigation Trial Bar to participate in death
Both Vogt and Lentz are in the process of applying for membership in the
bar, and attended the 2-day training seminar Aug. 25-26 as part of that
process. Attorneys must fill out an 11-page application to join, and meet
various requirements, as well as attend the training course every 2 years,
To Vogt, it was necessary that he and Lentz participate in this process so
they could be able to participate in a local death penalty case, if one
were to arise. Death penalty trials are very different from other trials
and it's important for prosecutors to learn as much as they can about
those differences, Vogt said.
"I think it's important for us to be qualified so we could play a role if
anything happened," Vogt said. "That doesn't mean that we would be the
sole prosecutors by any stretch. ... If anything were to happen in
Stephenson County, we feel it would be our obligation to be competent
(with) respect to having knowledge of the death penalty issues, the
process, and so forth."
About 200 people were in attendance at the training course, which was
called "Capital Litigation Training: The Need for Effective Advocacy &
Professionalism." The course was sponsored by the Cook County State's
Attorney's Office and the Illinois State Appellate Prosecutor and featured
many expert speakers who covered myriad topics related to the prosecution
of death penalty cases, officials say. Topics included jury selection,
pre-trial motions, DNA evidence and issues in forensic pathology.
"The presenters are people with much capital litigation experience," Lentz
There are numerous differences between how death penalty cases and regular
cases are prosecuted, Vogt said. For example, a death penalty trial has
three phases, including a guilt-innocence phase, eligibility for the death
penalty, and aggravation and mitigation, each of which require separate
verdicts. Also, the discovery rules and jury selection process are
different, Vogt said.
"Almost every stage of the proceeding is different," Vogt said. "Plus,
everything you do in a case like that is put under a tremendous
To Lentz, one of the most interesting parts of the course was the
information regarding how careful prosecutors now must be when making
arguments. The appellate courts have reduced the latitude prosecutors have
in making arguments, and if an argument is considered too inflammatory the
case may have to be tried again, Lentz said.
"The point that they were trying to focus on is that you've got to be
careful about your arguments," Lentz said. "If it's too inflammatory or
anything like that, it might be a boomerang case. You might have to do it
Another interesting topic covered in the course, Vogt said, included rules
about mental deficiencies in death penalty cases. In Illinois, someone
with an IQ of 75 or below shows "presumptive evidence of mental
retardation" and should not be put to death. However, other factors could
be brought into the trial to make that person eligible for the death
penalty, Vogt said.
All in all, becoming members of the Capital Litigation Trial Bar will make
Vogt and Lentz better able to handle death penalty cases, even though they
would likely seek the help of the Illinois Attorney General's Office if
such a case came up, as these cases are very "time-consuming," Vogt said.
"If there is a capital crime in this county, Joe (Lentz) would be able to
participate and I would feel by going to the course and doing some of
these other things that we would at least be competent to participate in
the trial," Vogt said.
(source: The Journal-Standard)
AG offers to participate in new hearing for Spirko
Attorney General Jim Petro said his office would participate should the
Ohio Parole Board grant a new clemency hearing for a man sentenced to
death for the 1982 murder of a northwest Ohio woman.
Petro made his offer to the board in a letter Friday, responding to the
defense's request that the board conduct a 2nd review of John Spirko's
case and petition the Ohio Supreme Court to delay his scheduled Sept. 20
In a 6-3 vote Tuesday, the parole board recommended that Gov. Bob Taft
deny clemency for Spirko, 59. He was convicted in the stabbing death of
Betty Jane Mottinger, 48, who was in charge of the post office in Elgin.
Defense attorney Thomas Hill says Petro's offer was basically an admission
that the board's vote was based on reportedly inaccurate information
provided by Timothy Prichard, the attorney general's senior deputy.
The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer reported last weekend that Prichard, in his
presentation to the board on Aug. 23, made false statements and
mischaracterized evidence regarding what Spirko knew about the murder and
his whereabouts on the day of the killing. The newspaper wrote its story
after comparing Prichard's statements to the parole board with the case
In his letter to the board, Petro said he stands behind Prichard's
presentation and is convinced there was no attempt to deceive the board.
But he proposed to make his attorneys and all the evidence available
should the board decide to hold a second hearing.
Parole board spokeswoman JoEllen Lyons said the board is reviewing its
options and probably will respond in the coming week.
Prosecutors have acknowledged that no physical evidence links Spirko to
the murder, but say he has confessed to the crime and knew details that
only the killer would know. The defense said he admitted to the crime only
to win freedom for his girlfriend in an unrelated case and cut a deal for
himself. Spirko's lawyers also say prosecutors withheld evidence that
could have helped their client.
(source: Associated Press)
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