[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----GA., FLA.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sat Dec 2 17:15:12 UTC 2006
Funds dwindling for death-penalty defense lawyers
Unexpected budget shortages and skyrocketing legal fees including more
than $500,000 for lawyers for accused courthouse killer Brian Nichols may
be breaking the bank for a state fund for death-penalty defense lawyers.
To make ends meet, the new statewide public defender system is cutting the
fees it pays lawyers for defendants in capital cases and is asking some
private attorneys to withdraw from such cases altogether. Some lawyers
worry the cuts may compromise legal representation for indigent
The system's budget is strained by a shortfall of revenue from court fines
and fees, which pay for the public defenders, coupled with legal fees
being paid for Nichols' defense, said Emmet Bondurant, chairman of the
Georgia Public Defender Standards Council, which oversees the program.
"If we don't do something about it, we're going to be out of money,"
Bondurant said Friday. He said he voted against the reductions in
In recent weeks, the public defender council notified private attorneys
assigned to represent indigent death-penalty defendants that their hourly
rates were being cut from $125 to $95.
Jack Martin, a prominent death-penalty lawyer, told the council at a
meeting Friday that the cutbacks could lead to "an ethical and
constitutional crisis" involving death-penalty representation and could
prompt lawsuits filed against the state agency on behalf of capital
"It is exceedingly troubling that in order to save money the council has
endorsed a substantial retreat in the funding of competent representation
in death-penalty cases," Martin said. "It was hoped that the creation of
the council would improve matters, not make them worse."
Called on the carpet
The cutbacks have prompted Gwinnett Superior Court Judge William M. Ray II
to order top officials of the statewide public defender council to explain
their actions, District Attorney Danny Porter said. Ray has ordered Mike
Mears, the council's director, and Chris Adams, who heads the
death-penalty office, to appear Tuesday in a case involving Kayla Sanders
and her brother-in-law, Donald Sanders, both accused in the 2004 killing
of Snellville widow Doris Joyner.
The council's annual budget is tied to court fines and fees collected
throughout Georgia's court system during the preceding year. Last year's
collections ran well short of projections, Mears said Friday.
The shortage left the Office of the Capital Defender with a 2006 budget of
$4.9 million to handle 78 cases. The program started in 2005 with a budget
of $7 million for 40 cases.
The council has spent about 10 percent of that amount on the Nichols case
alone. Records released Friday show-three private lawyers representing
Nichols have been paid $512,285 so far in 2005 and 2006. This does not
include the salary of lead attorney Gary Parker, who is an employee of the
council, or fees paid to experts and investigators.
Total public funds paid for the defense in Nichols' trial, expected to
last several months, could top $2 million. His lawyers are being paid up
to $175 an hour, as ordered by trial judge Hilton Fuller.
Nichols, accused of killing a Fulton County judge and 3 other people in a
March 2005 rampage, is scheduled to go on trial early next year.
Mears: Fees about average
Mears, citing a gag order issued by Fuller, declined comment on the
Nichols case. But he said the cutbacks for death-penalty defense are
"In order to be fiscally responsible, we felt we needed to make
adjustments to the fees that were being paid to outside attorneys," Mears
said. He said a council survey found that the $95-an-hour fee is about the
average for those paid in other Southeastern states. "We will operate
within our budget, even though it may make some attorneys on the outside
angry," he said.
Adams, who heads the capital defender office, explained in a letter last
month to private attorneys in capital cases that a "crisis in funding"
resulted in the cutbacks.
On Friday, Adams told the public defender council's board that 20 private
attorneys have either withdrawn completely or accepted reduced roles in
ongoing cases. Defendants whose attorneys have withdrawn will be
represented by staff lawyers for the capital defender office, most of whom
have less experience in death cases.
A study commissioned by the General Assembly had assumed that collections
from court fines and fees would generate more than $60 million a year,
Adams said. Instead, collections topped just $40 million.
"I understand there may be hurt feelings and concern about your client,"
Adams wrote. "We are trying to navigate the difficult course between
taking care of all the clients, complying with our fiscal reality and
conducting our business in a manner that allows us to be around in the
(source: Atlanta Journal Constitution)
Judge rejects condemned man's appeal
In Miami, a circuit judge on Friday denied a request by a death row inmate
set for execution Dec. 13 to reconsider testimony by a key witness who
Judge Amy Steel Donner also declined to issue a stay of execution for
Angel Diaz, said Suzanne Myers Keffer, his attorney.
Diaz is to be executed for the fatal shooting of a Miami topless club
manager in 1979. A fellow inmate in the Miami-Dade County Jail, Ralph
Gajus, testified at a 1984 trial that Diaz, who spoke broken English, used
hand signs to imply he was the triggerman when he and another man robbed
The Florida Supreme Court voted 5-2 Wednesday to send the case back to the
trial court to consider a recently obtained sworn statement from Gajus
saying he lied on the witness stand.
Diaz has until Monday to appeal the trial court's ruling.
(source: Associated Press)
Tattletail trouble ---- Jailhouse 'confessions' often problematic
Snitching -- the practice of ratting out cellmates in exchange for
favorable treatment -- is endemic in the American justice system.
Prosecutors defend the practice, portraying snitch testimony as a reliable
indicator of guilt.
Maybe they shouldn't. Independent reviews suggest that jailhouse
informants can be wildly unreliable. Some inmates make a practice of
offering "valuable" testimony in exchange for concessions like shorter
Floridians got to know one snitch recently: Clarence Zacke, a convicted
rapist and murderer who tempted prosecutors with news that another man had
confessed to a heinous rape during a prison-van ride. Zacke's testimony
helped keep Wilton Dedge in prison -- until DNA tests proved that Dedge
was not guilty. After serving 22 years in prison, Dedge walked free in
A study by Northwestern University's Center on Wrongful Convictions finds
that snitch testimony is the No. 1 cause of wrongful convictions in
death-penalty cases, with snitches involved in nearly 46 percent of
Other states have put sharp curbs on the use of jailhouse informants.
Florida should. At the least, the Legislature should require a caution to
juries that jailhouse testimony can be highly unreliable and ban
prosecutors from offering any incentive, be it favorable treatment or a
reduced sentence, in exchange for testimony. That prohibition would have
to be carefully crafted, because -- as the Northwestern study points out
-- the system often relies on "implicit" rewards for snitching, rather
than direct promises.
Snitch cases don't always involve innocence. In the case of Angel Diaz,
convicted of the murder of a Miami bar owner along with 2 other men,
snitch testimony means the difference between life in prison and lethal
injection. Unless courts step in, Diaz may well be executed for a murder
where the evidence suggests that he didn't actually pull the trigger.
The only person suggesting that Diaz was the shooter is Ralph Gajus, who
occupied a nearby cell and says Diaz mimed the shooting using his hands.
Gajus has recently admitted that he lied.
Nobody witnessed the shooting except the three defendants and Joseph Nagy,
the man who died. Gajus' testimony -- and the account of Angel Toro,
Diaz's co-defendant -- were the only things suggesting that Diaz fired the
fatal shot. Yet, other evidence indicated that Toro was the triggerman.
Toro is now serving a life sentence.
The Florida Supreme Court has given a Miami-Dade County judge until Sunday
to determine whether Diaz's scheduled Dec. 13 execution should be stayed.
It should be an easy call. The jury that heard -- and presumably believed
-- Gajus' lies voted 8-4 for the death penalty. Without testimony that
Diaz actually pulled the trigger, it seems likely that another jury would
find that Diaz deserves the same sentence as his co-defendants, life in
Meanwhile, state lawmakers and court officials should take a hard look at
the problems inherent in jailhouse testimony and take steps to end it.
(source: Editorial, Daytona Beach News-Journal)
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