death penalty news----NEB., TENN., CALIF., ILL., IND.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Wed Jan 11 19:17:14 CST 2006
Everyone's born free'----Tolerance of diversity is more than looking past
"Diversity and acceptance goes beyond black and white," Beatrice State
Developmental Center CEO Vince Benjamin said Tuesday evening prior to a
Symposium on Human Rights in the 21st Century sponsored by the BSDC
Diversity Committee in partnership with Beatrice Public Library and
Southeast Community College-Beatrice Campus. About 50 people attended the
evening's events at Valentino's.
He said it was important to include all people in activities about
diversity and to remember that diversity includes such things as culture,
ethnicity and station in life.
"I think it's good to reach out and include everyone. We need to reach out
to each other and develop relationships that really focus on dignity and
respect for each other," Benjamin said.
NAACP Lincoln Chapter President Leroy Stokes, speaking during the
symposium, said the NAACP, founded more than 95 years ago, was founded by
a diverse group of people and continues to be a multicultural
"Anyone can be a member," he said.
A precursor organization to the NAACP was formed in 1895 to help fight an
uprising of racist behavior in Springfield, Ill. Stokes said that 1st
meeting had to be held in Niagara Falls, Canada, because it was illegal
for them to gather in the United States.
One of the chief objectives of the NAACP is to help people vote, he said,
to make sure that those people eligible not only register to vote but
actually get out to vote.
Stokes said that growing up, his father couldn't vote because of barriers
like poll taxes and voter tests that were used to prevent certain people
Ensuring that those barriers no longer exist is an important mission of
the NAACP, he said.
Racial profiling is another issue the NAACP is working to eradicate, and
the organization is against the death penalty, Stokes said.
He said one of the biggest concerns with the death penalty is that the
people who are on death row end up there not because of the crimes they
commit, but because they couldn't afford a proper defense.
The NAACP also helps people with financial planning, deals with housing
discrimination and works for better education and improved health care for
everyone, Stokes said.
Nebraska Equal Opportunity Commission Unit Director Gretchen Eure said the
NEOC is a civil rights organization that helps people fight discrimination
in the public arena based on state laws protecting people from
discrimination on the basis of national origin, race, color, religion,
sex, disability, mental status, age or orientation.
"People are born free," she said, and it's important that everyone be
treated equally in terms of dignity and rights.
Eure said there's not one city she's gone to in the state where there
wasn't some sort of discrimination in housing, such as unwillingness to
rent to people with children or not allowing pets in cases where a person
uses an animal to help them deal with a disability.
Benjamin said BSDC holds a lot of diversity activities on campus, and
Tuesday's night symposium was an opportunity to reach out to all of the
"We are part of the community," he said. "We've felt too long that BSDC
has been like a stepchild (in the community)."
Benjamin said the symposium is a chance for BSDC to reach out and share
something with the community.
He said the community of Beatrice was growing and changing, and activities
like the symposium can help the community adapt to its changing
The program, which ran from 5:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m. also included music by
Christopher Bratcher of Beatrice, a portrayal of Martin Luther King Jr. by
the Rev. Darryl Eure of Omaha, and a presentation on Cultural and Racial
Identity Development Theories by SCC Dean of Student Support Services Tom
(source: Beatrice Daily Sun)
Tennessee death row case to test DNA impact -- U.S. Supreme Court to hear
On a muggy July night about 20 years ago, Carolyn Muncey disappeared from
her home in northeast Tennessee - slipping away from her two sleeping
children and into peril.
The next morning, suspicion first fell on her husband, whom official
documents would later say was an abusive alcoholic. But it quickly swung
to a newcomer in the area, Paul Gregory House, after witnesses said they
spotted him near the Muncey home - walking up a creek bank, wiping his
hands on a dark rag.
The young mother's bludgeoned body, still in her nightclothes, was found
later that day at the bottom of that embankment, partially hidden under
brush, 100 yards from her doorstep.
Within a year, House was convicted of 1st-degree murder. He has spent
almost 20 years on death row for a killing he says he did not commit.
Today, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on whether the
convicted killer, now ill with multiple sclerosis, should be executed or
get a new trial.
Advocates on both sides of the death penalty issue across the country are
watching to see how the case unfolds. It has drawn the attention of The
New York Times and The Washington Post in recent weeks.
The court's decision on the murder in the mountainous, tobacco-growing
hamlet of Luttrell, Tenn. - famous as the home of guitar legend Chet
Atkins and country crooner Kenny Chesney - could become a landmark that
has repercussions in death penalty cases across the nation.
It will be the 1st time the nation's highest court decides a case in which
a death row inmate uses DNA evidence in arguing that he should be given a
new trial. And it is the 1st time in a decade that the court will consider
what standards of evidence a death row inmate must meet before a case can
be reopened to present claims of innocence.
It is one of a handful of death penalty cases the Supreme Court is
handling in its 2005-06 term, and 1 of 2 such cases the high court has
left to hear in this session.
Prosecutors maintain House did kill Carolyn Muncey. In his trial 20 years
ago, they told a Union County jury that the semen on the woman's nightgown
could have been House's, based on blood tests.
The jury convicted House of murder and sentenced him to die, citing rape
as an aggravating factor that merited capital punishment.
Sometime in the late 1990s, DNA tests concluded the semen came from
Carolyn's husband, Hubert Muncey Jr., not the man convicted of the murder.
Other revelations - the origin of degraded blood samples and new witnesses
- poked holes in the largely circumstantial case that had been presented
by prosecutors, House's lawyers say.
In 2004, when the case was appealed to the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of
Appeals, the court divided, 8-7, along partisan lines.
8 Republican-appointed judges were not swayed, and held that House should
The new DNA evidence "does not contradict the evidence that tends to
demonstrate that he killed her," Judge Alan E. Norris wrote for the
majority. Likewise, the DNA does not "contradict the notion that the
murderer lured Mrs. Muncey from her home with a sexual motive."
Of the 7 Democratic-appointed judges, six felt so strongly about the newly
discovered evidence they believed House was innocent and should be freed.
"The new evidence so completely turns the case around that the proof is no
longer constitutionally sufficient to warrant a conviction or imposition
of the death penalty," Judge Gilbert S. Merritt of Nashville said in
writing for the 6 dissenters. "Thus, House should be immediately
The seventh, Judge Ronald L. Gilman, in saying House should get a new
trial, described the case as a "real-life murder mystery, an authentic
'who-done-it' where the wrong man may be executed."
Yet House remained on death row in Nashville, where 5 years ago the state
last put to death a convicted killer, Robert Glen Coe.
House has been as close as five days from execution before filing an
appeal, one of several in his time on death row, where he has spent nearly
1/2 his life.
A former prosecutor in the case, Glenn Pruden, does not think House should
have made it to the highest court, calling the new DNA evidence a "red
And the Union County prosecutor who first sent House to prison in 1986
said the semen stain was never an important part of the case.
"I'm strongly in favor of DNA work in any case, and if I thought this was
a case of innocence, I would very much join in the defense effort for this
conviction to be overturned," said Paul Phillips, a district attorney
"But we're convinced this man is guilty."
One night in Luttrell
House spent 4 or 5 years in a Utah prison for aggravated sexual assault
before moving in with his mother and stepfather in 1985 in the Luttrell
community 25 miles north of Knoxville.
In Utah, he had raped two women and attempted to rape another, but he was
caught on the woman's roof, Phillips said. His explanation to police was
that he had been assaulted by some strangers and he escaped by scaling to
the top of the house.
Once in Tennessee, the 23-year-old paroled rapist sometimes worked as a
He later moved into a girlfriend's trailer, just two miles from the home
of Hubert and Carolyn Muncey, who also went by the nicknames "Little Hube"
and "Bubbie." House and the Munceys had casually socialized before.
What happened the night of Saturday, July 13, 1985, is in dispute today.
According to interviews and court records, the Munceys' daughter, already
in bed, overheard a man with a deep voice call to her mother from the
gravel road that ran below their house.
There was no air conditioning in the weathered plank home - it was little
more than a shack - and the windows were open that night.
Where is Hube?, the daughter overheard the man ask.
Digging a grave, Carolyn replied.
He's wrecked down at the creek, the man said.
Oh my God, Carolyn cried out.
1--year-old Lora - the spelling of her name varies in court documents -
said she heard her mother sobbing as she ran down the steps and away from
The man talking was House, prosecutors contend.
Still in her night clothes, Carolyn followed House down the country lane,
they say. Along some stretches, she had to peer over the edge to see down
to the creek below.
"When he gets her down to the location, they're out of sight," Phillips
said yesterday. The case is one of 6 involving the death penalty that he
has tried in his 27 years as district attorney.
House lured her to a secluded, hidden spot below the road and tried to
rape her, Phillips said.
Carolyn, in her late 20s and strong from many hours working in the tobacco
fields, fought back fiercely.
Finally, he hit the left side of her head with something blunt-shaped and
knocked her out, Phillips said. He also choked her, an eerie similarity to
the Utah rapes, where his victims were choked into submission.
When her bloody, battered body was found the next afternoon, there were
bruises on her inner thighs, a sign of a sexual assault, Phillips said.
Limbs and bushes were piled on top of her.
2 miles away, sometime after 10:45 p.m. that same night, House told his
girlfriend, Donna Turner, that he was going out for a walk.
When he returned around midnight, he was out of breath, sweating and
disheveled. His shoes and shirt, a dark blue tank top, were gone, and his
finger was swollen. There were other bruises and scratches on his hands
House told her he had been assaulted by some men and had escaped through
the woods - a tale that Phillips said sounded similar to his account to
Utah police that he was fleeing muggers when he ended up on the roof of a
The next day, Hubert Muncey and other family members began searching for
Carolyn. Soon, dozens in the Appalachian community were looking for her.
That afternoon, a friend of the Munceys, Billy Ray Hensley, spotted House
coming up an embankment near their home, wiping his hands on a dark cloth,
and ultimately marking the spot where Carolyn's body would later be
House flagged down the friend and told him he was looking for Hubert
because he had heard Carolyn was missing. Later that day, Hensley returned
to the site where he said he saw House.
There, Hensley and another man, Jack Adkins, found Carolyn's body.
Prosecutors contend House had returned to the crime scene to retrieve his
missing tank top, saying that was the dark rag House had in his hands.
Under cross-examination, Hensley changed his statement, saying he did not
actually see House climb up the creek bank but instead he appeared "out of
nowhere" and that he only saw him for a second or 2.
House, nervous because of his parole status from Utah, did not make a good
case for himself when confronted by sheriff's investigators and agents
with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation that day.
They caught him in at least two lies: He told them he had never left his
girlfriend's trailer that night. And he said he was still wearing the same
clothes from the night before.
When investigators found his jeans in a laundry hamper, blood on the pants
matched Carolyn's, according to FBI Agent Paul Bigbee, an expert in blood
The agent also told the jury that semen found on Carolyn's nightgown and
underwear were consistent with House's blood type and could have come from
New evidence, new day in court
The DNA evidence that connects the semen found on Carolyn's clothing to
her husband does not exonerate Paul House.
His own attorneys concede this.
But, according to them, it undercuts the central motive in the
prosecution's case - that House lured Carolyn to rape her, then killed her
when she resisted.
It is one more piece of evidence that points to Hubert, not House, as
Carolyn's killer, they say.
New attorneys for House gathered the new evidence in the late 1990s to
present during federal appeals.
"What's really important about the DNA evidence is that it doesn't just
take away the most critical part of the state's case to convict him, but
how do you put someone to death when critical scientific evidence the jury
saw was shown to be false?" said Nina Morrison, an attorney with the New
York-based Innocence Project, a nonprofit legal clinic that works to
exonerate death row inmates through DNA evidence.
Bloodstains on House's jeans, another key exhibit, came not from a
struggle the night Carolyn died, but from blood samples contained in vials
that were taken during Carolyn's autopsy, a state assistant chief medical
examiner said in federal testimony.
"The jury never heard that," said Miriam Gohara, co-counsel for House and
an attorney with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. House and the Munceys are
white, but the NAACP has interceded on behalf of death row inmates because
of its concerns over the fairness of the death penalty.
Wounds on House's hands - which looked suspicious to his girlfriend - were
not related to the crime, the same medical examiner said. They were
several days old.
Five new witnesses came forward and implicated Hubert, providing other
accounts of what may have happened that July night.
One witness, Mary Atkins, said she saw the couple argue after Carolyn
showed up at the dance where Hubert was that night. He hit his wife, and
she walked away. A police officer working security there said Hubert left
the dance between 9:30 and 10:30 p.m.
Another witness said Hubert came to her house the next morning and asked
her to provide a false alibi. Tell anyone who asks, he told her, that she
had seen him at the dance and then he had eaten breakfast at her house at
These witnesses were longtime friends of Hubert's and lifelong residents
of the area. They would have no reason to finger their friend and side
with House, a newcomer to their community, said Stephen Kissinger, the
federal public defender representing House.
Finally, two others, Penny Letner and Kathy Parker, said Hubert tearfully
confessed to them at a party in 1985 after Carolyn was killed.
Hubert said he and his wife argued in the kitchen over a fishing trip the
night she died.
He smacked her, and she fell. When he realized she was dead, he panicked,
dragged her body to the creek bank, and hid it.
"He said, 'I didn't mean to do it, but I had to get rid of her because I
didn't want to be charged with murder,'" Letner told a federal court.
Parker said she went to the Sheriff's Department to report what Hubert
said, but was ignored.
"Absurd," responded Phillips, the district attorney general.
Young Lora testified that she heard her mother leave and she and her
brother went to a neighbor's house until their father came home, Phillips
She never heard them arguing that night, Lora testified.
"There was no sign whatsoever of any struggle or anything out of place in
the house," Phillips said.
A federal judge didn't buy it, saying he was "not impressed with the
allegations of individuals who wait over 10 years to come forward."
If House had been charged with raping Carolyn, the new DNA test would be
persuasive evidence that House was innocent, said Pruden, a former
assistant in the Tennessee attorney general's office, who prosecuted House
in federal court.
But that wasn't the case - House was charged with 1st-degree murder.
And no matter what the DNA shows, it doesn't prove House didn't kill her,
As to the blood-stained jeans, "They attempted to put forth some kind of
theory - I'm not sure if they were claiming it was spilled on there or if
they're trying to say police planted (Carolyn's) blood on the jeans,"
"I don't think he brought forth any evidence - reliable, new evidence -
that he was not guilty of Carolyn Muncey's murder," Pruden said.
Although this is the 1st time the Supreme Court will consider DNA evidence
as it relates to innocence, such tests have changed the landscape of the
criminal justice system, especially on death row.
Since 1992, DNA testing has been used to exonerate 172 convicted felons,
including 14 people who were at one time sentenced to death, all in lower
courts, according to the Innocence Project.
Last week, Virginia Gov. Mark Warner ordered DNA evidence retested to
determine whether Roger Keith Coleman, who was executed in 1992, was
House's attorneys want the Supreme Court to make clear that the
Constitution guarantees those with strong claims of innocence, including
DNA evidence, will get new trials, or at least a new hearing to raise
"If he prevails, it sends a clear message to every court in the country
that DNA evidence is really different from other types of evidence because
juries value science to a large degree," Morrison said.
Phillips, who will be at the Supreme Court hearing today, said this is the
wrong case to make that argument because the semen stain was not a big
part of the case.
"It was never an important part of the evidence. We did not emphasize it
in our arguments," Phillips said.
The two Muncey children believe the right man is behind bars for their
mother's death. Hubert, for his part, has remarried and stopped drinking,
Phillips said. They all still live in the area.
"Lora and her brother have indicated they don't have any doubts about his
guilt," Phillips said. "They're bewildered by all the - skepticism about
Death row in Tennessee
- There are 107 death row inmates in Tennessee, according to the
Administrative Office of the Courts.
- The last execution in Tennessee was in 2000 when Robert Glen Coe was put
to death, the state's only execution in 45 years. Coe was convicted for
the rape and murder of 8-year-old Cary Ann Medlin in 1979.
- The next inmate scheduled for execution in Tennessee was Gregory
Thompson, convicted in 1985 of abducting Brenda Blanton Lane, 28, in
Shelbyville and stabbing her in Coffee County. However, his Feb. 7
execution date may be put off because a federal judge in East Tennessee
issued a stay in his case last Thursday.
- Next up: The state attorney general's office has asked the Tennessee
Supreme Court for an execution date for Sedley Alley, given a death
sentence in 1985 for killing a 19-year-old female Marine in Millington, a
Shelby County town north of Memphis.
Pro and con
The U.S. Supreme Court today will consider the strength of new evidence in
the case of Paul House, a Tennessee man on death row for the 1985 murder
of Carolyn Muncey of Luttrell, Tenn.
Heres a look at some of the key pieces of new evidence that emerged after
the state trial convicted House, as well as arguments provided by his
defense seeking to free him and by prosecutors who want to see him put to
Semen on Carolyn Munceys nightgown
Prosecution: Blood tests showed it could have come from House.
Defense: New DNA tests show the semen belonged to Carolyns husband, Hubert
Muncey, refuting the prosecutions claim that House raped or tried to rape
Carolyn and killed her when she resisted.
Blood on Houses jeans
Prosecution: Carolyns blood was found on a pair of jeans that House tried
to hide from police.
Defense: A new analysis showed the blood may have come from evidence tubes
containing Carolyns blood that was taken during her autopsy, not during a
life-and-death struggle between the two, according to Dr. Cleland Blake,
who was an assistant chief medical examiner for the state.
Prosecution rebuttal: The blood stains were spotted on the pair of pants
by a TBI agent when the jeans were retrieved from a laundry hamper. A
blood spatter analyst, Paulette Sutton, said the blood markings were not
caused by "spillage."
Injuries to House
Prosecution: House had a swollen finger and scratches and bruises when he
returned from a walk the night Carolyn was killed.
Defense: The wounds were at least 2 to 7 days old, Blake said. Houses most
severe injury, a swollen finger, does not match the kind of injury someone
would get from hitting a person, he said.
Defense: 5 people came forward implicating Hubert Muncey, including two
women who said he confessed to them shortly after Carolyn was killed that
he killed her after a fight and was sorry. The two women say they
immediately tried to tell law enforcement agents, but were largely
Prosecution rebuttal: Investigators worked the case aggressively but never
heard about the allegations involving the husband. Also, the women waited
several years before telling anyone what he had told them.
(SOURCE: Court documents, interviews)
Paul Gregory House
Incarceration: Riverbend Maximum Security Institution, Nashville.
Criminal record: Aggravated sexual assault conviction, 1981, in Utah.
TIME LINE OF CASE
July 13, 1985: Carolyn Muncey is killed in Union County, Tennessee.
July 14, 1985: Paul Gregory House is questioned about the killing and
February 1986: House is tried and convicted of 1st-degree murder. He is
sentenced to death.
June 28, 2005: U.S. Supreme Court agrees to hear case.
Today: Oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court.
To learn more
Don't reach for the remote if you want to see what happens today at the
U.S. Supreme Court in Paul House's case - you won't find live broadcasts
on CourtTV, CNN or anywhere else. The Supreme Court doesn't allow cameras
in the courtroom and doesn't do any live video feeds on the Web, either.
But you can read more about the high court, its rules and other cases
before the court at www.supremecourtus.gov/.
(source: The Tennessean)
Not Crazy Enough----Death row inmate Greg Thompson is a diagnosed
psychopath, but the state says hes sane enough to execute
Last week, R. Allan Edgar, a senior federal district judge in Chattanooga,
granted a 30-day stay of execution in the case of death row inmate Greg
Thompson, likely to be the the last reprieve for a murderer first
scheduled to be executed 20 years ago. The stay provides defense attorneys
with one last chance to prove Thompson is too mentally ill for capital
punishment, even though previous state and federal judges have ruled
Thompson is sane enough for the state to kill him.
Diagnosed as bipolar and schizophrenic, Thompson's illness appears to be
more severe than Robert Glen Coe's, the Memphis-area pedophile whom one
court-appointed psychiatrist could find nothing wrong with other than
nicotine addiction and a propensity to masturbate in public. Thompson, on
the other hand - who, after Coe, would be only the 2nd person executed in
Tennessee since 1960 - was so crazy several years ago that the Attorney
Generals office asked the court to appoint a conservator to force him to
take powerful antipsychotic medications like Lithium and Prolixin.
The paradox of Thompson's case is that since hes improved enough to end
the conservatorship, the Attorney Generals office has pushed to have him
executed. "The drugs the state is pouring into Greg cause chemically
created behavior that masks his tortured insanity," his federal public
defender, Dana Hansen Chavis, says. "Without this pharmacy of
anti-psychotic drugs the state is pumping into him, he would return to the
insane nightmare he was experiencing at the time of the murder. He would
not know where he is, or even who he is. The state gives Greg one regimen
of chemicals in the hope that it will get the green light to administer
another set of chemicals that will kill him."
Since medieval times, courts have disapproved of executing the insane for
a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that it's offensive to
humanity. But executions of the insane are still common, mainly because
the threshold to be considered competent for execution is extremely low.
One of the better known examples involved Bill Clinton, who raced home
during the 1992 presidential campaign to oversee the execution of a cop
killer who blew away part of his brain during a suicide attempt. The
Arkansas man was so delusional he asked that a piece of pecan pie be left
in his cell to eat after he was executed.
The standard for determining competency to be executed is rather simple
and easy for prosecutors to demonstrate. Does Thompson know why he is
being executed? Does he remember the murder and his connection to it? If
Thompson is medicated, his answer to both questions is yes.
Not even a reversal in judgment by the man who prosecuted him, Buck
Ramsey, or the claim by his defense attorney in trial that he was poorly
represented, have been enough to persuade the court system to commute his
sentence. Ramsey, who retired in the early 1990s, says he believes
Thompson was beginning to show psychotic symptoms at the time of the
murder because of damage to his frontal lobe, removing inhibitions to
commit crime. Thompson is much different, Ramsey says, than another death
row inmate, Wayne Lee Bates, whom Ramsey convicted 2 years after Thompson.
Bates was an escaped convict who shot a female jogger in the back of the
head, stole her car and drove to Baltimore before being captured.
"Thompson was not a career criminal by any means," Ramsey says. "He was
the wrong man at the wrong place at the wrong time."
The wrong time was New Years Day, 1985, and the wrong place was the
sidewalk in front of the Wal-Mart in Shelbyville, a town less than an hour
south of Nashville known for walking horses and the manufacturing of
pencils, Sharpies and other writing utensils.
Thompson was then a 23-year-old black man from rural Georgia who held a
series of meaningless jobs after being discharged from the Navy in 1982.
On one of the jobs he met Joanne McNamara, a chubby, brown-haired
15-year-old who abandoned a newborn in Marietta to run away with Thompson
to Shelbyville. Witnesses would later recall they easily remembered
Thompson and McNamara at the Wal-Mart because he was tall and black, she
short and white.
They made an odd couple, or at least the kind of pair not often seen in
Shelbyville in the mid-1980s.
Thompson and McNamara arrived at the Wal-Mart anxious to escape town. The
2 spent several nights at the home of an adult friend of McNamara's, Willa
Mae Odum, who alerted police that McNamara was a runaway when she
discovered the couple were not married, as McNamara had claimed.
With no money or means of transportation, they decided to steal a car.
Thompson had packed a rusty butcher knife hed brought from Georgia for
cooking, he'd later say, and for self-defense. He convinced McNamara to
distract a victim long enough so he could get close with the knife.
The victim they chose was a small, pretty public relations employee,
Brenda Lane, who was buying aluminum foil and shampoo before her husband
Steve came home from work. McNamara approached Lane in a poorly lit corner
of the parking lot. She asked directions to a hospital, allowing Thompson
to flash the knife and force Lane into her yellow Chevy Cavalier.
They drove around for more than an hour looking for a place to drop off
Lane. Because Thompson and McNamara traveled to Shelbyville by bus,
neither was oriented to rural Tennessee. They initially drove toward
Murfreesboro but circled back and wound up in the soybean fields of Coffee
Lane got out of the car. Thompson followed a short distance, and, on
impulse, he has since claimed, grabbed Lane around the throat with one arm
while stabbing the rusty knife in her back 4 times, puncturing her lungs
twice. At least one of the wounds went 6 inches inside Lanes body,
cracking a rib.
Thompson hopped into Lanes Cavalier and, looking into the rearview mirror,
could see she was still alive. He put her car in reverse and tried to run
her over. But Lane was lying on a mound of dirt, which Thompson mistook
for her body. He would later tell police he ran over her when he didn't.
Lane lived for another 10 minutes, according to the coroner who examined
her. When police found her two days after the murder, they could tell she
had turned herself over. Her back was arched, her eyes stared vacantly
into the sky. Even today, lawmen said they can remember the horror on
Lane's face when they first saw her.
After stabbing Lane, Thompson and McNamara found Interstate 24 and headed
south toward Marietta. At 8:25 p.m., about an hour after murdering Lane,
they were stopped by state trooper Roy Phillips for speeding. Phillips
noticed the Cavalier didnt belong to Thompson, but he didnt run the plates
because Thompson was polite and calm and relaxed. Nothing appeared out of
the ordinary. Sitting in the patrol car, Thompson bummed a cigarette and
explained hed bought the car in Tennessee but would register it in
The couple were allowed to continue to Marietta, where they decided to
torch Lanes Cavalier. They doused the inside with gasoline, but the fire
didnt cause much damage because the windows were rolled up. Witnesses
remembered seeing a tall black man and short white girl walking away from
the burning vehicle.
When police in Tennessee were alerted, one of them remembered that a black
man and white girl had pawned stolen property in Shelbyville. The cop
pulled the report and found the names the pawnshop owner had given: Greg
Thompson and Joanne McNamara. Once provided with the names, Marietta
police easily captured the 2. Police found the speeding ticket in one of
McNamara confessed first. In a halting, tight-lipped interview, Thompson
eventually described for police the location of Lanes body, an event
police videotaped. Thompson would later argue his confession should be
dismissed because he thought he was talking to a defense attorney, not a
Cobb County prosecutor. But the judge ruled in favor of the prosecution
and the confession was presented to the jury.
The confession hardly mattered. Thompson's guilt was obvious and easily
proved. At trial, his court-appointed attorneys, Tom Parsons and Doyle
Richardson, didn't bother to feign innocence. "He does not deny the
commission of the acts involved in this tragic situation, and he'll not
try to," Parsons said in his opening statement to the jury. Instead, the 2
attorneys, who had never tried a capital case, presented Thompson as a
country boy not much different than jury members. The lawyers had traveled
to Thompson's hometown and interviewed his teachers, noting with amazement
the high schools 13-1 student-to-teacher ratio and how well Thompson
performed as a student. "I'd be proud if my kids did that well," Parsons
The defense attorneys devised a stray kitten theory, claiming Thompson's
nurturing personality led him to be overprotective of McNamara, forcing
him to panic once he thought police would take her from him.
The all-white jury dismissed the idea. In their minds, Thompson couldn't
have murdered a less deserving person. Not only was Brenda Lane a newlywed
about to begin a family, she was voted 1982 Outstanding Young Woman of
Bedford County. She was a church secretary, a soloist in the choir and a
features reporter for the Shelbyville daily before becoming a United
Methodist Church public relations employee. Her uncle was Shelbyville's
police chief and her family members remain pillars of the Shelbyville
The 2 prosecutors who tried Thompson - Buck Ramsey and J.W. Luna - were
tenacious in the pursuit of the death penalty, but neither relished the
job. Both cried outside the courtroom after the verdict was read. They had
to ask for the death penalty, they felt, because Tennessee law didn't
offer convicted killers the chance of life without parole in 1985. Their
choices were limited to the electric chair or, much more unlikely, to ask
a jury and family members to accept the possibility Thompson might one day
be released on parole. (In fact, Joanne McNamara, Thompsons accomplice,
was released from prison last May.)
Before trial, 2 mental health experts examined Thompson. The 1st was Dr.
Robert Watson, a psychologist with the Middle Tennessee Mental Health
Institute, who, after a 30-day analysis, found Thompson to be a disordered
thinker, slightly paranoid and delusional. Thompson's personality profile,
the doctor wrote, indicated a "malingering in the mental health
direction." In other words, Watson thought Thompson was faking mental
illness and concluded he was able to stand trial.
Thompson's attorneys, unwilling to trust Dr. Watson, who was considered to
be a prosecution witness, hired George Copple, a Vanderbilt psychologist.
Copple's main objective wasn't to analyze Thompson's mental state but to
judge in which ways he was suitable for prison - evidence that might be
presented to a jury deciding whether Thompson's life was salvageable.
Copple found Thompson possessed an unusually strong need to nurture and
liked activities like drafting and sketching. He reported no behavioral
In any event, prosecutors already had a failsafe plan to ward off charges
of insanity. Thompson had sat in a state troopers patrol car, smoking a
cigarette, an hour after brutally murdering a helpless woman. This wasn't
the work of a raving lunatic, they were prepared to argue, but a
cold-blooded killer in complete command of his mental faculties.
After trial, Tom Parsons did something unusual for a defense attorney. He
personally argued during the appeals process that his bad lawyering had
landed Thompson on death row. Parsons claimed hed failed to present
evidence that Thompson had shown signs of mental instability from
childhood. As a child, Thompson was known to bang his head on a wall,
trying to remove "demons" he thought were inside, and hed also hit his
head during an automobile accident.
While in the Navy several years before the murder, Thompson began suddenly
to lash out violently. He pulled a knife on roommates for turning on a
light while he was sleeping. He was eventually kicked out of the Navy for
body-slamming a petty officer on a flight deck in Barbers Point, Hawaii.
Thompson was "considered to be an extremely violent and dangerous
individual who has no place in the U.S. Armed Services," one of the
officers discharging Thompson wrote. Before leaving Hawaii, he'd also
pulled a knife on his girlfriend during an argument in their kitchen.
Contemplating how to use the case history, Parsons ran into the same
life-with-parole sentencing problem prosecutors had faced. How could the
defense attorney convince a jury to send a violent crazy man to prison if
they knew he might one day be paroled? "It would have been much more
likely to convince a jury to send him to prison if he could never get
out," says Parsons, who remains a father figure to Thompson to this day.
Judges at various stages of Thompson's appeals process have ruled against
Parsons' ineffective counsel claim, saying that choosing a tactic that
still landed Thompson on death row didnt mean Parsons was ineffective.
Immediately after he was sentenced, Thompson began to display symptoms of
mental illness. Less than a month after trial, he complained to prison
officials he had an insect in his ear when, on inspection, there was
nothing inside. A psychologist attributed the incident to anxiety over
Thompson's original execution date, Jan. 1, 1986.
Brenda Lane was a newlywed on the cusp of motherhood when she encountered
Greg Thompson at a Shelbyville Wal-Mart. By the following summer, Thompson
had tried to kill himself three times. He was placed on the mood
stabilizer Lithium and diagnosed with a bipolar disorder. Over the next
few years, psychiatrists reported he claimed to be delusional, saying he
had snakebites on his finger, believing himself to be God and hearing
voices. A K-9 bit him several times when he attacked the dog, which was
called upon to quell a disturbance Thompson caused in his cell. Thompson
told doctors he stopped taking Lithium because he thought it reduced his
By 1990, Thompson's condition had deteriorated to the point where he'd set
his cell on fire, creating 2nd degree burns on his arms and singing his
facial hair. He claimed he was a songwriter and the president. He said he
built the space shuttle. He could communicate for about 5 minutes, then
would descend into psychobabble (what psychiatrists call "word salad").
Doctors weren't sure whether he suffered from bipolar disorder or paranoid
schizophrenia but continued to prescribe medications like Haldol for mania
and hyperactivity, Mellaril for hallucinations and disorganized thinking
and Tegretol for jaw pain.
Over the next decade, Thompson's mental problems fluctuated, more or less,
depending on whether he was taking his medications. In his worst moments,
he threw body fluids on a prison chaplain, set his cell on fire again,
threatened prison guards and complained of seeing God, the devil and
eyeballs. He had crying spells, paced in his cell and boasted of writing
songs for the now-defunct hip-hop group Arrested Development.
By 2001, Thompson had become such a problem for prison staff that, at the
request of the state Attorney General's office, a conservator was
appointed to make medical decisions on his behalf. By this time, Thompson
was easily agitated, slept very little, talked to the walls, called
people's names as if they were in the cell with him and said he'd be
released from prison because "Big Bird was on his side." Prison doctors
reported they looked for signs of malingering but could find none.
With a conservator forcing Thompson to take medication, his mental
condition stabilized. He wasnt as hostile to prison staff and took
medications on his own. In the fall of 2003, he was given a clean bill of
health and the conservatorship was dissolved, which also meant Thompson
could be regarded competent to be executed.
Greg Thompson today is much different than the lithe young man videotaped
confessing to a Cobb County prosecutor in humiliated, halting words 20
years ago. His nickname around Unit 2 of the Riverbend Maximum Security
Institute is Jellyroll because of Thompsons large girth. He turned 44 last
month but could easily pass for 65. His beard is gray and his hairline has
receded to the middle of his head.
Thompson is crazy, but not in the way you might expect. He doesn't slobber
or tic or punch the glass separating him from visitors. His eyes are clear
but sedate. He says he sleeps most of the day. He is heavily medicated,
and among his regimen is a drug that supposedly relieves shaking caused by
the anti-psychotics, though his hands shake anyway.
Like Lennie in Steinbecks Of Mice and Men, Thompson is eager to please and
impulsive. He jumps to his feet at one point during an interview, asking
the Scene's photographer to film an appeal to Gov. Phil Bredesen. The
digital camera is standard-issue for print journalists, but Thompson
speaks into it as if it were a television camera. "Governor, if you can
see me, if you can hear me, I apologize for anything I've done. I wish
you'd help me out. I don't know what you know about my case, but I wish
you'd help me out." Then, preparing to sit down, Thompson adds to the
nuttiness of the appeal by saying, "There. Now they can't say I didn't
It is obvious he's obsessed with two issues: sex and race. He hates black
people, he says, because they "make stupid decisions." When its pointed
out he is black, Thompson says, "I know it. I was black [at the time of
the murder], fucking up. I loved all my black brothers but fought against
my own mind."
He blurts out an outrageous theory he has repeated many times before. He
claims he's written every song on the radio. "Rock, blues, jazz, classic,"
he says. "Been doing it for 30-something years." He says he sent Brenda
Lanes family a check from his royalties to compensate for their loss.
Other flights of fancy arent as innocuous. He says Lane wasn't the 1st
person he'd killed. One of his alleged victims he shot while stationed in
the Navy in Mountain View, Calif., another he stabbed four times while
stationed in Hawaii. (Police in both jurisdictions say they have no open
murder cases like those Thompson described to the Scene.) He also said he
had sex with Brenda Lane 4 times before killing her. (Evidence of rape has
never been presented in court, and prosecutors strongly deny Lane was
raped.) "I just want to put that on the record," Thompson said. "I did it.
I don't know why they havent fingered me for that."
It's these kinds of delusions that Thompsons defense team emphasize to
show just how off the charts he is. Faye Sultan, a Charlotte psychiatrist,
has examined Thompson dozens of times. She says Thompson has told her he
murdered more than 20 people after killing Brenda Lane. "He's a mentally
ill man," Sultan says. "Why that idea appeals to him that he tells it
proudly I have not a clue. When he's medicated, hes the gentlest man in
the world. But even medicated, he is so psychotic he talks about crimes
he's committed that we know for a fact hes never done. That's how crazy he
Tennessee law is clear that a stay of execution based on competency does
not void a death sentence. Thompson cannot become a ward of the Department
of Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities because that would take an
act of the legislature, not a judge's signature. His only hope is probably
Gov. Phil Bredesen, who has commuted only one sentence since taking
office. Clark McMillan of Memphis was exonerated last year when DNA
evidence cleared him of robbery and rape charges. Tom Parsons, Thompson's
attorney, doesn't expect Bredesen, a centrist pro-death penalty Democrat,
to add Thompson to the list. "He's the best Republican we ever elected,"
Parsons says with a bit of contempt.
Last week, before the stay was granted, Thompson was mostly resigned to
the fact he would soon be put to death. "I have to die someday anyway," he
says. "If the family still wants me to die, I'll go." Asked if being
executed would put him out of his misery since insanity is its own prison,
Thompson said he was actually beginning to enjoy incarceration. "I get up
every morning and the coffee is ready. I have a smile on my face. I was
born to be here. I was born to do what I want."
It's the kind of logic only a madman would argue with.
(source: Nashville Scene)
Calif. lawmakers: No more executions until we rethink the death penalty
The debate over the execution of Stanley "Tookie" Williams may have
subsided, but for Californians a period of intense soul-searching over the
death penalty may just be starting.
A month after the Crips founder was executed by lethal injection, state
lawmakers are scheduled to begin hearings Tuesday on a bill which would
place a moratorium on all executions until Jan. 1, 2009.
The debate comes on the heels of the New Jersey legislature's approval of
a similar moratorium Monday.
The legislation in California, Assembly Bill 1121, would give a newly
created bipartisan body - the California Commission on the Fair
Administration of Justice - a chance to study California's capital
punishment system and make recommendation for reforms, according to
Assemblyman Paul Koretz, one of AB 1121's co-sponsors, said he is not
trying to subvert the state's death penalty law, which has been on the
books for 28 years, but rather fix a system so that no innocent inmates
He said a high percentage of capital punishment cases are marred by
troubling patterns, including unqualified defense attorneys and
overreliance on testimony from disreputable jailhouse snitches.
"We want to give the commission a chance to do their work," he said. "It
doesn't make common sense to allow that you do have problems with the
system, and in the meantime keep executing people. It makes sense to take
a short break. These people are on death row an average of 17 to 20 years.
What is an extra couple of years?"
A long appeals process
But opponents of the moratorium argue that California has a painstaking
appeal process in capital cases. Death row inmates, including the state's
most famous prisoner, Scott Peterson, have an opportunity to make no fewer
than six appeals, and the cases typically take two decades from sentencing
In fact, while the state has the nation's most populous death row, with
647 inmates, capital punishment in California has been a rare occurrence.
In the 28 years since it became legal, only 12 death row inmates have been
executed in California. Texas, by contrast, has put to death 355 prisoners
"We have 6 steps we go through to protect us," said Harriet Salarno, who
founded a group called Justice for Murder Victims in 1979 after her
daughter was killed. "If you look at our capital-case appeals process, it
speaks for itself."
Michael Rushford, executive director of the pro-death penalty Criminal
Justice Legal Foundation, said polls have consistently shown that 60 to 75
% of Californians support the death penalty. He argues that the recent
attention on Williams only strengthened the case for the death penalty.
"They really picked a bad guy when they picked Tookie," he said. "I think
it blew up in their faces."
But Assemblyman Mark Leno, chairman of the assembly's public safety
committee and a sponsor of AB 1121, said the time is right for a
moratorium. He cited a Field Poll survey finding that a temporary death
penalty moratorium has the support of 73 % of California voters, including
40 % who support the death penalty.
Leno said similar moratoriums have either been passed or are under
consideration in New Jersey, Alabama, North Carolina, Illinois, and
He said studies have consistently shown that those convicted of killing
whites are more likely to be put to death than those found guilty of
killing blacks, and the death penalty is more likely to be applied in
rural murders than urban cases.
"No one on death row is going anywhere, and no one who is scheduled for an
execution is going anywhere," he said. "We just want to make sure there
are no mistakes being made."
The moratorium has also attracted unlikely support from attorney Donald
Heller, who wrote California's death penalty law.
"I think [the system] is broken and beyond repair," Heller said. "I think
there is a real possibility we could execute an innocent person. Unless
you have lot of money, you're hampered in putting up a reasonable
Executions to go forward
Even if the moratorium passes the assembly, it would need approval from
the state senate and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has not yet granted
clemency in any capital case.
Moreover, the bill would not pass in time to spare the life of Clarence
Ray Allen, slated to be executed on Jan. 19, or Michael Morales, who faces
lethal injection on Feb. 17, according to Nathan Barankin, spokesman for
California Attorney General Bill Lockyer.
"[AB 1121] is not an issue in the Clarence Ray Allen case, and it's not
going to be an issue in the Morales case, absent any new evidence,"
Barankin said. "I don't see that happening. What I do see the bill doing
is prompting the difficult moral discussion people should be constantly be
Allen, a Choctaw Indian who ran a ruthless robbery gang in California's
Central Valley, was serving a life sentence for murdering his son's
girlfriend in 1980 when he ordered the deaths of eight witnesses to the
crime. A hired hit man Allen met in prison carried out 2 of those murders
and also fatally shot two teenagers who happened to be on the scene.
Allen, 76, is blind, confined to a wheelchair, and has advanced diabetes.
While proponents argue that the state should not kill an elderly disabled
man, others point out that Allen has already proven he can kill behind
"He illustrated exactly why you should have the death penalty and why he
should have been executed 2 decades ago," Rushford said. "He is the best
argument I can think of for the death penalty."
Patricia Pendergrass, the sister of Bryon Schletewitz, one of Allen's four
victims, said she opposed the moratorium. Pendergrass said she does not
object to the commission's study, but feels the executions should continue
while the system is being examined. As it is, she said, the death penalty
process is so lengthy that both her parents did not live long enough to
see Allen's execution.
"They never saw justice done. It's been a cloud that has just hovered over
us," she said. "[Allen] has never shown any remorse at all, and it's my
opinion that he still thinks he will get out of this somehow."
She said she is ready to see him die.
"A week from today I will be going to San Quentin," Pendergrass said.
"It's not a good feeling, but I think there will be some sort of relief."
(source: Court TV)
Death Row's oldest inmate loses appeal----Argument was that execution
would be cruel and unusual
The state Supreme Court turned down an appeal Tuesday by condemned inmate
Clarence Ray Allen, who argued that his scheduled execution next week
would be cruel and unusual because of his advanced age and health
The court's unanimous decision, issued without comment, means that Allen,
the state's oldest death row inmate at 75, is running out of legal options
to block his execution. Allen, who is legally blind and uses a wheelchair,
ordered 3 murders from his prison cell in 1980.
Defense attorney Michael Satris said Tuesday that he would explore other
issues related to Allen's death sentence in the federal court system.
"I'm not being surprised or unsurprised by anything," Satris said. "You
Allen's request for clemency by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is pending. The
governor will not hold a clemency hearing for Allen but will instead
review written arguments before deciding whether to spare Allen's life,
his office says.
His attorneys have said Allen would be the oldest and sickest man
California has ever executed and the second-oldest to go to any U.S. death
chamber in the last 30 years. Allen will turn 76 on the eve of his
scheduled execution at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday at San Quentin State Prison.
"To wheel Mr. Allen, a blind, aged, crippled and enfeebled man, into the
execution chamber at San Quentin to be put to death would be a bizarre
spectacle that shocks the conscience and offends fundamental notions of
human decency," defense lawyers wrote in an appeal.
Attorneys for the state have argued that Allen's crimes showed he was a
menace even in prison, and that his age and illness should not spare him
from his punishment.
"Mr. Allen has shown that imprisonment is simply no guarantee of public
security," Deputy Attorney General Ward Campbell wrote in a letter to
Schwarzenegger. "The fact that Allen has been able to live his life after
depriving so many innocent people of theirs is no reason to show him mercy
Allen was a businessman who became the leader of a theft ring in the San
Joaquin Valley and was convicted of ordering the 1974 murder of his son's
While serving a life sentence at Folsom Prison, he was convicted of
ordering 3 more murders at a Fresno supermarket in 1980, including the
killing of a witness from his earlier trial. The gunman, Billy Ray
Hamilton, is also on death row.
(source: San Francisco Chronicle)
'I Didn't Do It' -- Exclusive Interview With Clarence Ray Allen
[Interview/Commentary, Michael Kroll, New America Media, Jan 10, 2006]
(Editor's Note: Clarence Ray Allen, scheduled for execution at San Quentin
State Prison on Jan. 17, has steadfastly refused all media interviews.
Until now. For the first time, Allen himself tells his story to writer
Michael A. Kroll. In a small cell at the prison, the man who could soon
become the 13th prisoner put to death in this state since the death
penalty was re-instated in 1977 tells a harrowing story of medical neglect
and malfeasance -- and reaffirms his insistence that California is about
to execute an innocent man.)
Part I: Death by Execution -- or Medical Malfeasance?
The "People of California" are in a morbid race with God to see who can
kill Clarence Ray Allen first. With the date for his execution only a week
away, God may still get there first. Just 4 months ago, on Sept. 2, the
condemned man suffered a massive, near-fatal heart attack. "My heart
stopped 3 times when those doctors at Marin General worked to save my life
in September," he told me.
This week, I had the opportunity to sit with the nearly blind,
wheelchair-bound Allen in a small cage inside San Quentin, just a few
yards from the gas chamber (now converted into a lethal injection
chamber), awaiting the Jan. 17th date -- just over a month since it was
last used to kill Stanley "Tookie" Willliams.
Unless the court -- or the governor -- intervenes to stop or postpone it,
Allen will become the oldest prisoner California has ever put to death.
Whether by coincidence or design, the last full day of his life on Jan. 16
is also his 76th birthday. His family will be able to "celebrate" with him
until 6 p.m., when they will be ushered out of the prison where his
execution is scheduled to take place at one minute past midnight.
Besides his advanced years, Allen's physical deterioration is also the
product of grossly deficient health care provided to prisoners throughout
California's massive prison system. In an ongoing but separate civil suit,
Plata v. Schwarzenegger, presiding Federal Judge Thelton Henderson took
the unprecedented step in July 2005 of taking control of the California
prison health care and putting it under federal receivership. Citing
scores of preventable deaths, the judge called the prisoners' health care
system "deplorable" and guilty of "outright depravity."
Allen's heart is not all that is failing. Advanced diabetes has left him
unable to walk. Yet, following his September heart attack, San Quentin
inexplicably stopped providing his daily insulin shots -- which were just
as inexplicably resumed a week later. He is losing his hearing, and his
failing vision has rendered him legally blind. He wears very dark glasses
to protect what's left of his deteriorating sight. He told me he could
only make out my silhouette, though he sat just a foot from me. Laser
surgery could restore his vision; San Quentin's own ophthalmologist
recommends it, but the state has failed to provide it.
Though cardiologists at Marin General Hospital recommended open heart
surgery for a coronary artery bypass following his heart attack, officials
instead took the ailing old man on a bizarre journey lasting nearly two
weeks -- from Marin General back to San Quentin, from San Quentin to
Napa's Queen of the Valley Hospital (where he was told he would be
operated on the next day) and then back to San Quentin, from San Quentin
on an excruciatingly painful 5-hour drive to Corcoran State Prison ("They
took me to die," he told me), followed several days later by an equally
painful return trip to San Quentin. He never received the recommended
The odyssey prompted Allen to post a "Do Not Resuscitate" order on his
cell wall. Doctors have warned that the exertion and stress of the
preparations required to execute him may be enough to trigger a fatal
heart attack. "If I was to have a heart attack in my cell or any place,"
he told me, "let it happen. I never want to see that prison hospital
Allen's failing health not only promises the unseemly spectacle of the
state putting to death an enfeebled invalid, but it also provides some
significant legal issues -- if any court is willing to look at them.
There is evidence that Allen suffers from neurological brain damage, the
result of a prolonged childhood bout with encephalitis. But the state has
barred the neurological testing required to determine if, and to what
extent, his brain function has been impaired. (Some of these tests require
a visual acuity he no longer possesses, again because prison officials
refuse to provide the laser surgery to restore his sight.)
Fighting to present "the full picture of Mr. Allen's case for clemency,"
his legal team has just asked the California Supreme Court to stay the
execution, and to compel San Quentin to provide the recommended eye
surgery and to permit testing of Allen's brain. Citing the Eighth
Amendment bar against cruel and inhuman punishment, Allen's attorneys
asserted, "...the extraordinary duration of Mr. Allen's impairments, and
the State's unconscionable contributions to his failing health (together)
render executing him under the present circumstances unconstitutional."
Part II: "I Didn't Do It"
Ray Allen has been on death row for more than 23 years. During all those
years, he has steadfastly insisted that he is innocent. Another man, Billy
Ray Hamilton, and a woman, Connie Barbo, carried out the actual homicides
in 1980 that Allen was convicted of orchestrating from his Folsom prison
cell where he was serving time for a prior murder conviction. Barbo
testified in her own trial that Allen had nothing to do with the crime,
that his name had never come up. Allen's jury never heard this testimony,
however, because his lawyer never called Barbo as a witness in his trial.
Barbo is now serving a life sentence without parole. Hamilton, who is
under sentence of death, never implicated Allen in the murders, though two
other witnesses did -- his own son, Kenneth Allen, and Gary Brady.
Kenneth was implicated in a conspiracy with Hamilton to kill those who had
testified against his father in the crime for which Ray Allen was serving
time in Folsom. Threatened with a possible death sentence, the younger
Allen agreed to testify against his dad in exchange for leniency. Ray
Allen encouraged his son to make the deal. "I told Kenneth to go ahead and
tell them what they wanted to hear," he told me, "because I didn't want
him to get the death penalty, and I knew I was innocent. I thought I could
prove it in court. I didn't know they'd bring in a paid informant." He was
referring to Gary Brady who, in exchange for testifying that Allen had
confessed to him at Folsom, had drug charges then pending against him and
his wife resolved. "I never spoke to that man, ever!" Allen insisted.
Allen's jury never heard, in the words of the federal district court, that
Brady suffered from "brain damage, memory lapses, and low intellectual
functioning, and that Brady avoided a felony conviction based on a finding
of insanity," because the district attorney failed to disclose the
information -- and his own attorney never bothered to find out.
After implicating his father at the preliminary hearing, Kenneth Allen
attempted to recant his testimony, writing to his father: "I'm going to
tell them the real truth the next time we go to court, and that should
clear you." But his attempt to clear his father was deemed by the district
attorney a breach of their "agreement." Instead of the promised leniency,
the younger Allen was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole,
which he is now serving in Corcoran State Prison. Father and son exchange
letters weekly. "I told Kenneth not to let it pass his mind," Ray Allen
told me. "He did what he had to do."
But it was during the penalty phase of the trial that the jury was most
severely deprived of the kind of mitigating evidence that so often results
in verdicts of life over death. A long list of potential witnesses were
prepared to paint a complete picture of a young, impoverished Indian boy
(Allen's mother is part Choctaw, his father part Cherokee) who attended
church, worked tirelessly picking cotton from the age of eleven to provide
for his family, was a devoted father and then grandfather, and numerous
other qualities the federal court described as revealing "a human side to
petitioner not previously presented."
Instead, his attorney -- admitting that "he did nothing to prepare for the
penalty phase until after the guilty verdicts were rendered," in the words
of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals -- called but a single witness for
the jury to hear. This, the court found, made it "overwhelmingly plain...
that Allen's representation fell below an objective standard of
Allen reminisced with me about those formative years, which the jury heard
next to nothing about. With the horsehair headband he always wears, the
beaded choker and beautiful abalone shell necklace strung with blue beads
given to him by Indian inmates on the mainline, he smiled as he remembered
standing in a circle at age 6 doing the Eagle Bone Whistle Dance in
Oklahoma. "Everybody who knows me calls me Running Bear," he told me.
"It's the name my mother gave me, Yea-Nu-Ai-Dasi."
He recalled seeing his future wife for the first time picking cotton when
he was 17 and she 18. He recited a poem he wrote for her nearly 60 years
ago called "Cotton Picking Machine":
"The first time that I saw her/ She was in a cotton patch/ Picking beside
her daddy/ And never looking back/ She was the fastest picker/ That I had
ever seen/ Right then and there/ I fell in love/ With this Cotton Picking
Machine/ We were married in '47/ Lived in a tent behind my dad/ We kept on
picking cotton/ 'Cause that's all the work we had/ We would start picking
at daylight/ And wouldn't stop 'til the sun went down/ And when we'd weigh
our last sack up/ She would beat me by a hundred pounds!"
As our interview was coming to a close, I asked Ray if he was willing to
express remorse. He said, "I'm terribly sorry for all that happened. But I
can never express remorse for this crime because I didn't do it. I'm
remorseful about many things, but not for a crime I didn't commit. I'm so
sorry it all happened. I hope to meet the victims in the afterlife and
explain to them I never plotted to harm them and I never wanted them to be
As the guards approached to take him back to his cell, he said, "Being in
here is like living in hell. It's time to go to a better place. If it
comes to that, the last words I'll speak is an old Indian saying,
Hok-Ah-Ei, it's a good day to die."
(source: New America Media - PNS contributor Michael Kroll works with
incarcerated juveniles who write for The Beat Within, a PNS project. He is
the founding director of the Death Penalty Information Center in
Choctaw/Cherokee death row inmate has appeal rejected----Lawyers say Allen
is too old and sick to be executed
A Native American death row inmate in California with Oklahoma roots has
had a stay of execution request denied. That means that barring a reprieve
from a higher court or from California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger,
Clarence Ray Allen will die later this month.
Allen, 75, says his mother is part Choctaw and his father is part
Cherokee. He was born in Blair, Oklahoma. The 75-year-old is imprisoned
for a series of crimes that resulted in the deaths of multiple people.
In their appeal, Allen's lawyers said their client is elderly and
afflicted with health problems including diabetes, and that executing him
would be cruel and unusual punishment that is not consistent with
"civilized behavior.: Allen also recently suffered a stroke and is now
confined to a wheelchair.
Allen received a sentence of life in prison in 1974 after he ordered the
slaying of his son's girlfriend because he believed she had told police
about a burglary he carried out. Eight years later he commissioned a hit
man he met in prison to kill the witnesses in the 1974 case. The hit man,
Billy Ray Hamilton, killed 1 of the witnesses, along with 2 other people
unrelated to the case.
Hamilton was arrested a short time later and implicated Allen. Allen was
sentenced to death.
"Evidence of Allen's guilt is overwhelming," wrote the California Supreme
Court in 1987. "Given the nature of his crimes, sentencing him to another
life term would achieve none of the traditional purposes underlying
punishment. Allen continues to pose a threat to society, indeed to those
very persons who testified against him."
Allen was recently interviewed in his San Quentin cell by Michael Kroll,
an anti-death penalty advocate. Kroll reported that Allen wears an
"abalone shell necklace strung with blue beads given to him by Indian
During the interview Allen spoke about growing up in Oklahoma and
performing the Eagle Bone Whistle Dance at the age of 6.
"Everybody who knows me calls me Running Bear," Allen told Kroll. "It's
the name my mother gave me, Yea-Nu-Ai-Dasi."
Even though several courts have affirmed Allen's guilt, he maintains his
"I'm terribly sorry for all that happened," he said. "But I can never
express remorse for this crime because I didn't do it. I'm remorseful
about many things, but not for a crime I didn't commit. I'm so sorry it
all happened. I hope to meet the victims in the afterlife and explain to
them I never plotted to harm them and I never wanted them to be harmed."
He also told Kroll that he was tired of prison and ready to die.
"Being in here is like living in hell. It's time to go to a better place.
If it comes to that, the last words I'll speak is an old Indian saying,
Hok-Ah-Ei, it's a good day to die," he said.
The scheduled execution has reignited another debate over capital
punishment just weeks after gang leader Stanley Williams was put to death.
"If ever there were a case that reduces capital punishment to its essence,
this is it. Ray Allen lost his liberty and his future 32 years ago. We
cant deprive him of his ability to communicate; his sight and hearing are
gone. We can't take his mobility, that's gone too. Good health? Gone,
swept away by diabetes and hypertension," wrote Rick Wise.
Prosecutors in the case, however, said Allen "deserves to die for his
(source: Native American Times)
Death Penalty Questioned for Elderly as New Records Set in Senior
Executions----Oldest in modern era executed last month, California
prepares for state record
Is it appropriate to execute the old and infirm? That is a question asked
by attorneys for Clarence Ray Allen, nearly deaf, blind and
wheelchair-bound, who will turn 76 the day before he is to become the
oldest person executed in California on Jan. 17. The plea does not seem to
be helping Allen, as it failed to save John B. Nixon Sr. in Mississippi,
as he became, at age 77, the oldest person executed in the United States
since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.
The plea by California's Allen, a Choctaw Indian sentenced for ordering
the 1980 murders of 3 witnesses to the 1974 burglary that he was convicted
of committing, is not winning support for him either. Although, he says he
A California online poll on TheKSBWChannel.com asks "Should Clarence Ray
Allen's death sentence be commuted to life in prison?" Voters have two
choices: "Yes. He's too old and sick to be executed" or "No. He should pay
the price for his crimes."
As of this morning, an overwhelming majority - 82% - say he should pay the
price for his crimes.
Allen's plea is winning some public support, however, and an interview
with the condemned senior citizen was published yesterday by New America
Media. The Idriss Stelley Foundation has set up a yahoogroup to build
support in order to save Clarence Ray Allen, and to "allow him to die with
dignity when his ancestors will call him to join them."
"Allen 'flatlined' (died) from a heart attack, and was resuscitated by the
medical staff, so he can be executed in January. The San Quentin
Correctional Facility has issued a statement that Mr. Allen, although
wheelchair bound, will have to walk 15 feet to the death gurney, because
the death chamber is not wheelchair accessible," according to a report by
"The death row population is aging, and prison conditions are not
conducive to good health. There are now 5 condemned men in California who
are over 70 and nearly 3 dozen in their 60s. Since California reinstated
capital punishment, 31 men have died on death row of natural causes and 11
have been executed. The oldest person executed in California in the modern
era was 62-year-old Donald Beardslee, who was executed in February of
2005," reports Indybay.org.
Yesterday, however, the California Supreme Court refused to block his
execution. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger says he will not hold a clemency
hearing for Allen, but will make his decision on the basis of written
materials. Allen has asked for clemency on grounds of his age, serious
illnesses and the alleged unfairness of his 1982 trial.
Still, California will not claim the U.S. record for killing the oldest
person in this modern era. That record is held by Mississippi for the
execution of Nixon last Dec. 14, who was on death row for 20 years.
Nixon was convicted in 1985 for the slaying of Virginia Tucker. Gilbert
Jimenez, who later testified against Nixon, and his sons John B. Nixon Jr.
and Henry L. Nixon, also were convicted in connection to the murder. They
were allegedly paid to do the killing by Tucker's former husband.
Nixon maintained his innocence and said, just before his execution, that
another of his sons committed the murder.
(source: Senior Journal)
Ryan May Testify In Torture Investigation----Police Facing Mistreatment
Attorneys for former Chicago police officers accused of torturing suspects
want former Gov. George Ryan to testify about his decision to pardon past
death row inmates now suing the officers.
A special prosecutor has been investigating for nearly 4 years claims of
torture by a unit led by former Chicago Police Lt. Jon Burge, who has
denied any misconduct but was fired in 1993 for mistreating a suspect.
Burge and the officers are facing civil lawsuits by 4 pardoned men, who
claim they were tortured into making false confessions and plan to use
Ryan's pardons as evidence of their innocence.
In court papers filed last week, Burge attorney Terrance J. Sheahan argues
that Ryan should be forced to testify about his decision to pardon the men
because the former governor discussed his reasoning on the Oprah Winfrey
Show in 2003 and other public arenas, such as universities.
Ryan's lawyers have argued that forcing him to testify would "chill"
governors faced with examining other cases to determine whether a pardon
Burge's attorneys also have subpoenaed Illinois Prisoner Review Board
recommendations made to Ryan.
The lawsuits against the officers are filed on behalf of Aaron Patterson,
Stanley Howard, Leroy Orange and Madison Hobley. Their pardons were
granted in January 2003, when Ryan also commuted the death sentences of
167 others just before leaving office.
(source: Associated Press)
Condemned man seeks clemency, says he's innocent
An Indiana death row inmate facing execution in 2 weeks for the 1981
killings of a Howard County man and his pregnant wife has asked Gov. Mitch
Daniels for clemency, arguing that he is innocent.
Marvin Bieghler, 58, contends in a petition filed Monday that he was
convicted despite contradictory testimony during his trial on charges that
he killed Tommy Miller, 20, and his wife, Kimberly Jane Miller, 19.
He contends that courts have ignored testimony that showed the couple was
alive after the time a witness said Bieghler killed the couple, who were
found dead Dec. 11, 1981, in their mobile home near Russiaville, about 10
miles west of Kokomo.
Authorities maintained that Bieghler, a reputed marijuana dealer, was
convinced Tommy Miller told police officers about his drug operation.
Although innocence is one of Bieghler's primary arguments, Earl Coleman,
the assistant for the state Parole Board, said it's not the job of the
parole board to retry the case before making a recommendation to the
"We try to let the courts decide guilty or not guilty. We like to think of
clemency as a sentence-review process," Coleman said. "We don't want to be
in the position of being the super Supreme Court."
But Bieghler's attorney, Brent Westerfeld, said this is a unique case
because courts have refused to remedy mistakes made during the trial.
"The problem is in this case we don't have something we can test. There
are cases where 10 years later or 15 years later where they've got a piece
of scientific evidence or a piece of trace evidence they're going to trace
for DNA," Westerfeld said. "It's our belief that the court got it wrong
the 1st time. The problem is, no one's ever gone back and looked at it."
Bieghler's death by chemical injection is set for Jan. 27 at the Indiana
State Prison in Michigan City. He is scheduled to appear before the parole
board Jan. 20 at the prison.
The board is to hear additional testimony Jan. 23 in Indianapolis and vote
on its recommendation to Daniels later that day.
The state carried out 5 executions last year under Daniels, the most since
the death penalty was reinstated in the 1970s.
But Daniels in August commuted the death sentence of Arthur Baird II to
life without parole less than 36 hours before he was to be executed for
killing his parents in 1985. Baird's lawyers primarily argued that he was
mentally ill, but the state Parole Board had voted 3-1 to recommend that
the execution be carried out.
Bieghler contends in his petition that he should be granted clemency for a
similar reason. He states that one of the key witnesses against him,
Scotty Brook, at first denied any knowledge of the crime, then said he
dreamed about being there.
Bieghler claims Brook only agreed to testify against him as part of a deal
with prosecutors to avoid criminal charges.
Westerfeld said Bieghler "wasn't there at all" for the killings.
He said Brook's testimony showed the murders had to have taken place
before 11 p.m. But Tommy Miller's mother, Fay Nava, a neighbor and the
couple's landlord all testified the Millers were alive after 11 p.m.
"Why would Fay Nava be untruthful or be inaccurate about the last time she
spoke to her son?" Westerfeld said. "Why would a neighbor lie?"
(source: Associated Press)
Inmate says prison officials reading his mail 'final straw'
Having his mail reviewed by prison officials was the final thing that
drove convicted murderer Charles E. Roche Jr. to "check out early,"
according to his alleged suicide note.
Roche's defense attorney Lemuel Stigler said he received a 4-page letter
Tuesday written by Roche that stated why he planned to take his own life.
The letter, dated Friday, Jan. 6, was given to Stigler on Tuesday by
Roches daughter, the attorney said.
The letter did not appear to have been opened, Stigler said.
Roche was found dead in his cell at Indiana State Prison in Michigan City,
the victim of an apparent suicide.
Roche's letter, which he asked be released to reporters, said he "could
not take the head games of prison officials any more. They have begun a
new policy which now invades the most basic privacy right we had which was
being able to send out our mail sealed. Now all our personal letters must
be mailed out open for staff to go through."
Roche also wrote he couldn't take the emotional pressure of making friends
with fellow inmates on death row.
"I'm Tired of getting close to these guys in here and then watch them
slowly crack as they near their fate. Thats worse (than) a death
Roche criticized Gov. Mitch Daniels for what he believes are deteriorating
conditions in the prison system.
"Thanks to 'Cut Back Mitch' our medication has been cut or replaced
because they want everyone on the same 'formulated' meds they want to pay
Roche explained to his attorney that he had reached the edge.
"I am always treated different, Mr. Stigler, and I can't take it no more.
If these people ain't stopped soon more lawyers will lose clients. This
mail - is the final straw for me."
The letter directs Stigler to make sure his body is released to a friend
who is listed as next of kin so he can be buried outside Indiana.
Attached to the letter is a page titled "last will and testament" and
lists his personal belongings and who he wants to receive them. Among the
items are a handmade wishing well for his mother, Joanne Gulley, a color
TV to his daughter, Crystal Lynn Roberts, a Celtic cross with medals and a
wooden rosary which he was wearing when he killed himself, and a King
James Version pocket Bible to a friend.
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