death penalty news-----TEXAS, MD., VA., CALIF., DEL., USA
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Thu Jan 12 14:57:17 CST 2006
TEXAS----new execution date
Raymond Martinez has been given a March 28 execution date; it should be
seen as a serious date.
(sources; TDCJ and Rick Halperin)
Suspect is arrested in '94 slaying of teen
In Fort Worth, after spending more than 11 years as a fugitive, a
28-year-old man was arrested Wednesday in the attempted carjacking and
fatal shooting of a 16-year-old boy in 1994.
Rudy R. Perales, who was 17 at the time of the shooting, was arrested on a
capital murder warrant by the U.S. Marshal's task force shortly before
noon after he was seen leaving the Motel 6 at 6600 S. Interstate 35W.
He is accused of fatally shooting Belarmino Zavala in the head while
attempting to steal a car Sept. 21, 1994.
"I know our fugitive unit has put in a lot of time and effort searching
for him over the years," said homicide Sgt. J.D. Thornton, who was the
lead detective on the case in 1994.
"They'd received information that he had fled to places as far away as
Chicago and Mexico," Thornton said. "All information that we received was
followed up on no matter where the sighting was. I'm glad he was finally
According to an arrest warrant affidavit obtained by police in 1994,
witnesses said Perales was in a group drinking in an abandoned house. He
and another teen began talking about "jacking somebody" and drove in a
white Oldsmobile Cutlass to the 1300 block of West Hammond Street. Perales
got out of the car and, concealing a handgun, walked up to Zavala, the
Perales pointed the gun at Zavala and said, "Give me the keys to your
car," and then shot Zavala, according to the affidavit. Perales fled in
the Oldsmobile, which was abandoned behind a church at 711 W. Gambrell St.
Thornton got arrest warrants for Perales and the driver of the Oldsmobile,
16-year-old Stanley Garcia, on the day of the slaying.
Garcia surrendered to police and was certified to stand trial as an adult
on a capital murder charge. He was convicted of the lesser charge of
robbery with bodily injury in 1995 and was sentenced to 3 years in prison.
In 1999, Garcia fatally shot 29-year-old Horacio Perez outside the 4010
Club after Perez tried to intervene in an argument between Garcia and
Perez's sister, Tarrant County court records show. Garcia was convicted of
murder and sentenced to 25 years in prison.
When Perales could not be located after Zavala's slaying, the FBI obtained
an additional arrest warrant for unlawful flight, officials said.
Fort Worth police fugitive Sgt. Joe Thornton said the FBI recently
received information that Perales might have returned to Fort Worth. In
addition, Crime Stoppers received 2 tips just before Christmas that he had
returned, he said.
Task force officers learned that he was staying at the Motel 6, Joe
Thornton said. Perales was arrested without incident.
Perales gave a statement about his involvement in the slaying to cold case
Detective Manny Reyes, J.D. Thornton said.
Perales remained in the Tarrant County Jail on Wednesday night on the Fort
Worth and federal warrants. No bail was set.
Amber's abduction, killing reverberate 10 years later
A branch on a tree in Jim and Glenda Whitson's front yard juts off to the
south, lower than the other limbs and in the opposite direction,
conspicuous in how it hangs alone.
The branch has needed trimming for years, but the couple's granddaughter,
Amber Hagerman, liked to climb the tree and sit on that branch. So it
In Hurst, her mother keeps 27 Barbie dolls in a box near a scrapbook with
Amber's school certificates, principal's awards and report cards.
Her clothes are folded in drawers, and her pink bicycle is in storage.
"We just can't bring ourselves to throw it away," Glenda Whitson said.
Friday, national Amber Alert Day, is the 10th anniversary of her
abduction, and the death still reverberates. The new Amber Alert postage
stamp will be unveiled in Washington on Friday.
Through the alert system named for the Berry Elementary School 3rd-grader,
broadcasters nationwide have volunteered to interrupt programming to
transmit descriptions and suspect information after child abductions.
Amber's death binds her family, the investigators who still hunt her
killer, the grateful parents of children returned to them by a public
alert system named for the Arlington girl and the faceless man in a black
truck who set all this in motion.
Around 3 p.m. Jan. 13, 1996, Amber rode off on her bike from her
grandparents' central Arlington home. Eight minutes later, a man yanked
the 9-year-old from the bike and into a black pickup.
Her body was found four days later on the bank of a north Arlington creek
east of Texas 360 and north of Green Oaks Boulevard Northeast. Her throat
had been slashed. She wore only a sock on her right foot.
Amber's mother Donna Whitson, now Donna Norris, gives speeches around the
country on child safety and the Amber Alert system when she can afford to
take time off from her job cleaning houses.
Her husband of five years, Randy, writes her speeches. He works on oil
rigs by trade, but she said his words have moved many to tears.
"He never met Amber, but it's still hard for him," Donna Norris said. "He
cries and he has to stop. But he likes to help me, and her."
Norris still has fliers seeking information about Amber's killer ready:
printed and stacked neatly. She hands them out occasionally. They list a
$75,000 reward for information leading to a conviction.
There is no sketch of the suspect. No name.
All that is known is that he looked Anglo or Hispanic and he drove a black
late-model pickup, possibly a Ford, on that day in 1996. He headed west on
Abram Street. That was according to one witness who saw the kidnapping
from a distance while standing in his backyard.
The rest of the description on the flier came from psychological profiles.
CHARACTERISTICS: Approximately 25 years or older, carries a knife, erupts
violently, probably lives alone, possibly recently lost his job or had a
The creek where Amber was found was swollen with recent rain, making
forensic evidence difficult to collect.
Arlington police Sgt. Mark Simpson, who headed his department's Amber Task
Force, now supervises the crimes against persons unit. This crime is the
one that haunts him the most.
"Some things are just beyond the pale," he said.
Beyond the gruesomeness, Simpson said, he is frustrated that a suspect
can't be nabbed in such a haphazard crime.
Amber was taken in broad daylight, along a main thoroughfare. The ramp at
the abandoned Winn-Dixie was in plain view of traffic on Abram Street, a
highly trafficked laundromat and the yards of at least 5 neighbors.
Amber's wounds suggested that the killer was not skilled or experienced
and was perhaps new to this type of crime.
But he got away, despite a task force of 45 officers and four sergeants
working alongside FBI agents and profilers. The city spent more than $1
million to find him. Investigators followed more than 6,000 tips and
leads, and took more than a dozen false confessions.
"The community was just absolutely outraged," Simpson said. "We had every
indication that this guy was not going to stop. And the longer this guy
was out there, the more likely it was that someone else was in danger.
"I have every reason to believe he is still out there," Simpson continued.
"Until I've got him in custody, I'll assume he's a danger to society."
Detective Jim Ford was the lead investigator on the case. Of the 49
Arlington police officers who worked the task force, Ford is the one who
is left working the killing as part of the cold case unit.
Ford has investigated homicides for 23 years and estimates he has worked
on more than 300. He said Amber's case, "without a doubt," is the one that
keeps him up nights.
There is a picture of Amber in his cubicle. He still visits the site of
the kidnapping and Amber's grave. He said he receives about one tip per
month, which is investigated and added to the still-operational database
of Amber information.
"There is nothing worse than a child being brutally murdered," Ford said.
"Everybody went all out, trying to help. There were lots of volunteers and
various businesses put up reward money. We all really wanted to solve this
Killers such as this typically don't stop, Simpson said. Officers have
kept up on similar crimes around the nation but haven't found any
connections that held up on inspection, he said.
There were some promising leads. One of the strongest led to a former
Arlington resident who was convicted of a string of sexual assaults of
children and two killings in Florida. But he had an alibi for the day
Amber was abducted, police said.
The high profile of the case drew distractions, in addition to the false
confessions, which criminologists say is normal. Insistent tipsters kept
reporting the same suspects. A lawyer who swore he knew who killed Amber,
but whose tip did not check out, was killed in a shootout with Bedford
police in 2000.
"This case was an anomaly," Ford said. "It brought up all kinds of
problems that we never had before."
The child who refused to come down from her tree branch when she didn't
want to leave Grandma and Grandpa's house would have graduated from high
school last summer.
She looked forward to graduating from Brownies to Girl Scouts and loved to
rake leaves into piles and jump in them. Her family thinks she would have
been in college somewhere by now.
"She was A-B honor roll," said her grandfather, Jim Whitson. "She always
liked school, got good grades."
Her mother said, "If she got a B, it broke her heart."
Amber's favorite subject was writing.
Gathered in Norris' home in Hurst last week, the Whitsons, Donna Norris
and Amber's aunt, Tammie Vasilio, laughed and sobbed simultaneously as
they imagined Amber learning to drive, discovering boys and getting into
Norris flipped through the scrapbook full of Amber's papers, awards and
report cards, stopping at stories she wrote titled Shop Bugs and The Big
Brown Teddy Bear.
There was a homemade Mother's Day card with a drawing on the back of a
very small globe with people circling it, holding hands. Above the
drawing, Amber wrote, "This is the world I want to be in."
Norris paused as she got to the last full page. More than half the book
Norris said it's the Amber they never knew who was stolen from them - the
Amber who would have developed goals, interests and inspiration.
"I was cheated out of that - getting to see her graduate from high
school," Norris said. "I never got to teach her how to put makeup on, or
to see her fall in love for the 1st time.
"She wasn't just my little girl. She was my dreams."
(source for both: Fort Worth Star-Telegram)
Glendening says state still needs moratorium ---- Ex-governor's concerns
on death penalty bias persist
With Maryland preparing to execute its second death row inmate in two
months and other states raising questions about the death penalty process,
former Gov. Parris N. Glendening said yesterday that Maryland should
reinstate the moratorium that he imposed on executions until the state can
guarantee a system free from discrimination and doubts about convicted
Glendening expressed disappointment that the issues raised in a University
of Maryland study that he commissioned on the state's application of
capital punishment have not been addressed by the governor or General
Assembly. And he voiced concern that statistics on the number of death row
inmates exonerated in recent years suggest the likelihood that an innocent
person has been put to death somewhere in the United States.
"At some point, I have no doubt, our state will come together more as a
civil community and demand that these issues be addressed," he said
yesterday in an hourlong interview in Annapolis. "It would be nice if it
was sooner rather than later because people will be sentenced and people
will be executed under what has proven itself to be a discriminatory
A spokesman for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said it's no surprise that
Glendening would support another moratorium, considering that's the action
he took while in office.
"His position has not changed," Greg Massoni said of the former governor.
"Our position has not changed either, and that is that we look at each
Ehrlich has declined to intervene in the scheduled executions of two death
row inmates, including Wesley Eugene Baker, who was put to death last
month for the 1991 killing of a grandmother outside a Baltimore County
During his 8 years in the governor's mansion, Glendening declined to stop
the executions of two men - Flint Gregory Hunt and Tyrone X. Gilliam - and
commuted the death sentence of another convicted killer - Eugene Colvin-el
- whose guilt he questioned. When Baker's case came across his desk in May
2002, Glendening stayed the scheduled execution and imposed a moratorium
to allow a University of Maryland death penalty study to be completed and
The state-funded study, which was released eight days before Glendening
left office in January 2003, found no evidence that the race of the
defendant matters in the processing of capital cases in Maryland but that
statistically, black defendants who killed whites were the most likely to
be charged with capital murder and sentenced to death. The researchers
also found that Baltimore County prosecutors are far more likely than
their peers elsewhere to seek the death penalty.
Opponents of capital punishment have since complained that nothing has
been done in response to those findings.
Sen. Lisa A. Gladden, a Baltimore Democrat, said yesterday that she
intends to refile this year a bill that she introduced during the last
legislative session to abolish capital punishment in Maryland. She said
she expects a similar bill to be filed in the House.
Glendening, who has spent his time since leaving office working as
president of the Smart Growth Leadership Institute and serving on the
American Bar Association's death penalty advisory committee, said he has
watched with interest the debate over capital punishment taking shape in
He mentioned in particular Virginia Gov. Mark Warner's request for DNA
testing on evidence in the case of a coal miner convicted of raping and
murdering his sister-in-law and executed by the state in 1992, as well as
the case of Ruben Cantu, a convicted killer put to death in Texas in 1993.
The Houston Chronicle reported in November that the only eyewitness to the
murder for which Cantu was executed has recanted his statement to police,
suggesting that Texas might have killed an innocent man.
Other states have imposed or are considering moratoriums.
In 2000, then-Illinois Gov. George Ryan called off all scheduled
executions in his state, commuted the death sentences of the 167 prisoners
on Illinois' death row and proposed overhauling the death penalty system.
Ryan's successor, Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich, has continued the moratorium,
according to news reports.
New Jersey lawmakers voted Monday to suspend executions while a task force
studies the fairness and costs of the death penalty, the Associated Press
reported. And in California, a state Assembly committee approved a bill
Tuesday that would impose a 2-year moratorium on the death penalty while a
state commission completes a review of California's executions, according
to news reports.
In Maryland, a Baltimore County judge signed a death warrant Monday for
Vernon L. Evans Jr., scheduling the longtime death row inmate's execution
for the week of Feb. 6. Convicted of the 1983 contract killings of 2
Pikesville motel clerks, Evans would be the 2nd black man put to death in
Maryland for killing white victims since the release of the University of
"Increasingly, as a nation and as a state, we ought to focus on this, give
a lot more thought to it than we have and get away from some of the pure
anger, some of the eye-for-an-eye anger, and say as rationally as
possible, 'Do we want this?'" Glendening said of the death penalty.
If the answer is yes, he said, then states must be able to guarantee that
there is no question of the guilt of the inmates on death row and no
question that the system under which they were sentenced is not
"That probably means," he said, "that we should have a significant pause
in executions nationwide."
(source: The Baltimore Sun)
DNA tests confirm man executed in 1992 was guilty
New DNA tests confirmed the guilt of a man who went to his death in
Virginia's electric chair in 1992 proclaiming his innocence, a spokeswoman
for the governor said Thursday.
The case had been closely watched by both sides in the death penalty
debate because no executed convict in the United States has ever been
exonerated by scientific testing.
The tests, ordered by the governor last month, prove Roger Keith Coleman
was guilty of the 1981 rape and murder of his sister-in-law, Gov. Mark R.
Warner's spokeswoman Ellen Qualls said.
Coleman was convicted and sentenced to death in 1982 for the murder of
19-year-old Wanda McCoy, his wife's sister, who was found raped, stabbed
and nearly beheaded in her home in the coal mining town of Grundy.
The report from the Centre of Forensic Sciences in Toronto concluded there
was almost no conceivable doubt that Coleman was the source of the sperm
found in the victim.
"The probability that a randomly selected individual unrelated to Roger
Coleman would coincidentally share the observed DNA profile is estimated
to be 1 in 19 million," the report said.
A finding of innocence would have been explosive news and almost certainly
would have had a powerful effect on the public's attitude toward capital
punishment. Death penalty opponents have argued for years that the risk of
a grave and irreversible mistake by the criminal justice system is too
great to allow capital punishment.
"We have sought the truth using DNA technology not available at the time
the commonwealth carried out the ultimate criminal sanction," Warner said
in a statement. "The confirmation that Roger Coleman's DNA was present
reaffirms the verdict and the sanction. Again, my prayers are with the
family of Wanda McCoy at this time."
Initial DNA and blood tests in 1990 placed Coleman within the 0.2% of the
population who could have produced the semen at the crime scene. But his
lawyers said the expert they hired to conduct those initial DNA tests
misinterpreted the results.
The governor agreed to a new round of more sophisticated DNA tests in one
of his last official acts. Warner, who has been mentioned as a possible
Democratic candidate for president in 2008, leaves office on Saturday.
Coleman's case drew international attention as the well-spoken inmate
pleaded his case on talk shows and in magazines and newspapers. Time
magazine featured the coal miner on its cover. Pope John Paul II tried to
block the execution. Then-Gov. L. Douglas Wilder's office was flooded with
thousands of calls and letters of protest from around the world.
Coleman's attorneys argued that he did not have time to commit the crime,
that tests showed semen from 2 men was found inside McCoy and that another
man bragged about murdering her.
"An innocent man is going to be murdered tonight," the 33-year-old said
moments before he was electrocuted on May 20, 1992. "When my innocence is
proven, I hope America will realize the injustice of the death penalty as
all other civilized countries have."
4 newspapers and Centurion Ministries, a New Jersey organization that
investigated Coleman's case and became convinced of his innocence, sought
a court order to have the evidence retested. The Virginia Supreme Court
declined to order the testing in 2002, so Centurion Ministries asked
Warner to intervene.
(source: Associated Press)
Times Up, Clarence----Why the crowds arent shouting to spare an aged
Unless Gov. Arnold Schwarzeneggers recent motorcycle accident jarred him
into a different mentality, a 75-year-old blind and feeble man will be
pushed in his wheelchair into the death chamber at San Quentin and, on
January 17, become the second man in five weeks to be executed at the
And while the debate for clemency of the last man lethally injected at San
Quentin, the notorious Westside Crips leader and later anti-gang spokesman
and children's book author Stanley "Tookie" Williams, made national
headlines, little is being made of the impending death of Clarence Ray
Part of the reason is Allen is not a charismatic leader of an infamous
street gang, nor a symbol of redemption to many, nor a Nobel Peace Prize
nominee, like Williams was.
Another reason is that Allen, though old and weak, is in many ways the
poster boy for death-penalty advocates. He gives them the single best
reason to extort the virtues of the death penalty over a life sentence.
While serving a life sentence at Folsom State Prison for a murder for hire
in Fresno, he arranged for the killings of the witnesses in his case. His
apparent rationale was that he would get a retrial and, boom, voil, there
would be no witnesses because they had all been mysteriously murdered. Not
the brightest guy in the joint, this Allen.
The tragedy starts in 1974. According to court documents, he enlisted the
help of his son Roger and two employees to rob Fran's Market, a store east
of Fresno owned by Ray and Fran Schletewitz, whom Allen had known for
Roger Allen invited the Schletewitz's son, Bryon, to a party. While Bryon
was swimming, someone took his keys. The Allen clan then robbed the store.
Later, Roger's 17-year-old girlfriend, Mary Sue Kitts, confessed to Bryon
that she helped cash money orders stolen from the store. Bryon confronted
Roger Allen, and also mentioned that Kitts had told him what happened.
Clarence Ray Allen then ordered that Kitts be killed. She was strangled.
When Bryon learned Kitts was missing, he went to the authorities.
In 1977, a jury convicted Clarence Ray Allen of burglary, conspiracy and
1st-degree murder. He was sentenced to life without parole.
In Folsom State Prison, Allen befriended fellow inmate Billy Ray Hamilton,
who was soon to be paroled. Allen told him his plans to kill the
witnesses, and arranged for Hamilton to be supplied with guns and $25,000.
Not long after his release, Hamilton entered Fran's Market, brandished a
sawed-off shotgun and led Bryon Schletewitz and other employees into the
stockroom as he searched for a safe. According to documents, Hamilton shot
and killed Bryon Schletewitz, Douglas White, 18, and Josephine Rocha, 17.
Hamilton also shot a 17-year-old clerk, who was left for dead but
survived. A neighbor who heard the shotgun blasts went to investigate.
Hamilton shot the neighbor, who then shot Hamilton.
Days later, a wounded Hamilton was arrested while robbing a liquor store.
Police found a list of names and information on 8 people who had testified
against Allen, including Bryon Schletewitz and his father, Ray
Both Allen and Hamilton were eventually convicted of the killings and
sentenced to death row at San Quentin. They both have outlived the parents
of Bryon Schletewitz.
"Bryon's mom, Francis, she just went into shock," said Clayton
Schletewitz, 1st cousin to Bryons father, Ray. "She set up a shrine to
Bryon. Her and Ray turned gray. They became reclusive. They just fell
Francis died several years ago, but Ray hung on, propelled by the January
17 death date for the man who ordered the death of his son.
"The only thing I'm living for is January 17," the 71-year-old Ray
Schletewitz told his cousin Clayton about 4 months ago. He had planned on
going to the death chamber to witness the execution.
It was not to be. In fall 2005, while riding a bicycle, Ray Schletewitz
was struck and killed by a car.
"He had expected to be there," said Clayton Schletewitz. "I wasn't going
to go up there, but the only reason I would go would be to represent Ray
Allen is the oldest inmate on death row in San Quentin. He would be the
2nd-oldest inmate executed since the U.S. Supreme Court made capital
punishment legal again in 1976, according to the National Coalition to
Abolish the Death Penalty. The oldest was John Nixon, who was 77 when he
died by lethal injection on December 14 for a 1985 Mississippi murder.
And that's basically the foundation for his attorney's appeal for
"He's been reduced to an incapacitated old man, near death already,"
Allen's appeals attorney, Michael Satris, told USA Today. "To put him to
death on top of that is beyond the borders of civilized behavior."
Bryon Schletewitz's family doesn't see it that way.
"If justice would have been done 25 years ago, if he was given the death
sentence for his 1st murder, Bryon would be alive today and he would be
the one who could have grown old," said Clayton Schletewitz, 71, a farmer
and former Quaker minister. "The administration of justice is so long in
coming, it's become an injustice. This whole thing has been outrageous.
The death penalty doesnt seem to be working because we really aren't
(source: LA Weekly)
Jurors less likely to vote for execution -- Exonerations based on DNA
evidence turned tide since 1990s
An effort to sentence Thomas J. Capano to death could be more difficult
now than it was in 1999 because of waning public support for executions,
Gallup Poll results released in October show that 64 % of Americans
support the death penalty. It was the lowest level in 27 years, down from
a high of 80 % in 1994, said Gallup editor Frank Newport.
"There's still a significant portion of Americans who support the death
penalty, but it has come down from some higher measures in the 1990s,"
That change in public opinion can be traced to several high-profile
exonerations because of DNA evidence, said Richard Dieter, executive
director of the Death Penalty Information Center, a nonprofit research
organization that opposes the death penalty because of flaws in the way it
In 2 cases in August, judges freed a Pennsylvania man after 19 years in
prison and a Florida man after 26 years. Both had been convicted of rape
but were exonerated by DNA evidence.
"The DNA cases give people a lot of confidence that these exonerations are
firm and believable, and they hint that other cases could be in doubt,"
Dieter said. "All of that is causing some hesitation."
Death penalty supporters, though, offer a different explanation. Because
crime rates are down, the public is less worried about crime and more open
to softer penalties, said Michael Paranzino, president of Throw Away the
Key, which supports the death penalty.
"People feel a little safer than they did 10 or 15 years ago," Paranzino
said. "There's still broad support for the death penalty," adding 64
percent of Americans in support is a strong finding.
The focus of the public debate about capital punishment has shifted in
recent years, experts said. Arguments about the deterrent effect of
executions has been replaced by concerns over the reliability of evidence
in death penalty cases.
New Jersey lawmakers Monday suspended executions while a task force
studies the fairness and costs of imposing the death penalty.
In 2000, Illinois then-Gov. George Ryan suspended all executions after
several death penalty convictions were overturned by DNA evidence. During
the Republican governor's final hours in office 3 years later, he commuted
the sentences of all of Illinois' 167 death row inmates.
In August, U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens said he was
disturbed by "serious flaws" in capital punishment. Other justices,
including Sandra Day O'Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, also have voiced
concerns that murder defendants are not represented adequately at trial.
In Virginia, state officials are awaiting the results of a DNA test that
could prove whether Roger Keith Coleman raped and murdered his
sister-in-law in 1981. Coleman was executed in 1992, but he always
maintained his innocence.
DEATH PENALTY IN DELAWARE
- 15 men and 1 woman are on death row.
- The average length of time between conviction and execution is 7.8
- A 1986 state law made lethal injection the method of execution. Before
that, hanging was used. Inmates sentenced to death before 1986 could
choose between hanging and injection; the last hanging took place in 1996.
- It costs about $66 a day to incarcerate a death row inmate -- including
food, security and health care.
- Death row cells are about 13 feet long, 7 feet wide and 8 feet high.
They have a bunk with a mattress, a stainless steel sink and toilet, a
desk, a locker and a television.
- YOUNGEST, Craig Zebroski was 19 when he was sentenced to death Aug. 18,
1997, for killing Joseph S. Hammond, a 59-year old gas station attendant,
during a botched robbery attempt.
- OLDEST, Linda Lou Charbonneau was 56 when she was sentenced to death
June 4, 2004, for masterminding the killings of her former husband, John
Charbonneau, and her husband, William Sproates III, 45.
- MOST RECENT, Brian D. Steckel was executed Nov. 4 for the 1994 rape and
murder of Sandra Lee Long, 29.
(source: The News Journal)
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE---JANUARY 11, 2006
AIUSA Press Office
Claims of Innocence Based on Recent DNA Testing are a Chilling Reminder of
Flaws in the Death Penalty
Today Dr. William F. Schulz, Executive Director of Amnesty International
USA (AIUSA), released the following statement as the Supreme Court heard
oral arguments in the case of Paul Gregory House, the first death row
inmate to bring DNA evidence before the court as proof of innocence:
"The fact that DNA evidence tested long after Paul Gregory House's trial
casts shadows of doubt on his actual guilt or innocence is further
evidence that the death penalty system is plagued by widespread flaws. To
date, 122 wrongfully convicted inmates have been released from death row
in the United States. It is chilling that in our current system, innocence
is not a good enough reason to be spared the death penalty. Cases such as
this one should give us pause about a system in which there is such
callous disregard for human life.
It starkly demonstrates the central reason why the death penalty should be
Americans growing wary of death penalty
The Delaware Supreme Court overturned the death sentence of lawyer turned
murderer Thomas Capano on Wednesday.
Earlier this week the New Jersey Legislature approved a moratorium on the
death penalty in that state.
There have been death penalty moratoriums in Maryland and Illinois.
California is considering a moratorium, and there has been talk about such
a moratorium in Pennsylvania.
In Virginia, Gov. Mark Warner has ordered that DNA evidence be retested
because of concern that Roger Coleman, who was executed in 1992, was
All of this is happening as U.S. public support for the death penalty has
fallen to a 27-year low of 64 %, according to Gallup polls conducted in
Americans are growing increasingly wary of executing criminals when there
is an option of a life sentence without parole. They believe there is no
evidence that the death penalty deters violent crime, its imposition is
inconsistent, and many abhor the possibility that people could be executed
for crimes of which they're innocent.
Innocent people have been released from death row, so there's no reason to
doubt that some of the innocent have been executed. According to one
report, 122 people nationwide since 1973 have been released from death row
after evidence surfaced that they might be innocent.
The justice system might be good, but it's not perfect. The execution of
one innocent man or woman is one too many.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center, Pennsylvania's death
row population of 233 last July 1 was the 4th largest in the nation. It
trailed only California (648), Texas (414) and Florida (388).
The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections lists the current death row
population as 224.
Yet, Pennsylvania carries out comparatively few executions.
The last man executed in the state was Gary Heidnik in 1999. Keith
Zettlemoyer and Leon Moser of Montgomery County were executed in 1995.
They were the first to die since 1962 when Elmo Smith was executed for the
rape and murder of a Manayunk teenager.
Prior to the U.S. Supreme Court's reinstatement of the death penalty in
1976, Pennsylvania carried out 1,040 executions going back to Colonial
One of the last public executions in the state was that of Lino Amalia
Espos y Mina in Doylestown on June 21, 1832.
2 Pennsylvania inmates are scheduled to be executed next month and 3
others in March.
The Death Penalty Information Center believes the scheduled executions of
Shawnfatee Michael Bridges on Feb. 16, Ronald Taylor on Feb. 28, Daniel
Dougherty on March 2, Connie Williams on March 7 and Christopher Roney on
March 9 are likely to be stayed.
If not, they'll die, adding to the death count that makes the United
States one of the leading executioners in the world, behind only China,
Iran and Vietnam.
(source: The Intelligencer - Lou Sessinger is a columnist with The
The Trouble with 'Innocence'----Excellent new doc shows that being
exonerated is only half the battle
Back in 1988, Errol Morris received great acclaim for The Thin Blue Line,
a documentary that reopened the murder case against Randall Adams, who was
serving a life sentence for a crime he didnt commit. It was a riveting
film, with arguments so compelling that Adams was eventually exonerated
and freed. (Ironically, he then got involved in litigation against Morris
over the rights to his story.)
Jessica Sanders's new After Innocence is, in a sense, a braid of seven or
eight Thin Blue Lines, though, in all but one case, the wrongly convicted
men had already been freed before Sanders started filming their stories.
As a result, the movie is at least as much about the difficulty of picking
up ones life after being released as it is about the flaws (and often the
bad faith) of the criminal justice system and its enforcers.
Sanders focuses on the work of the Innocence Project, founded in 1992 by
Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld, a few years before the pair achieved their
greatest fame - or notoriety - as part of the O.J. Simpson defense team.
The project has been involved in many of the 150 cases where the
relatively new technique of DNA testing has led to definitive exoneration.
Its stepchild, the nationwide Innocence Network, doesnt limit itself to
DNA cases. (This is presumably the model for the "National Justice
Project" on the new ABC series In Justice.)
Of course, lots of guilty convicts claim to be innocent. Why not? They
have everything to win by doing so and nothing to lose. Unfortunately,
this creates a lot of background noise drowning out the pleas of those who
genuinely are innocent.
Most of the men in the film heard about the Innocence Project through
Scheck's 1993 appearance on The Phil Donahue Show. Ever since, the group
has been swamped by more mail from desperate inmates than the staff can
Sanders's selection of cases is demographically interesting. All are men;
6 of the 7 were convicted of rape (usually with other related charges), 1
of 1st-degree murder. It's not stated, but one can guess that this is
because rape cases are likeliest to have preserved evidence that would
include DNA samples.
For whatever reason, 3 of the 7 are black, the other 4 white. Racial and
ethnic factors are never addressed; the film wants to make it clear that
you dont have to be poor and black to get railroaded by the system. In
short: It could happen to you.
The most compelling example of this is Scott Hornoff, who is not only
white and middle-class, but - brace yourselves - a cop. Hornoff found
himself serving a life term for the murder of a former girlfriend. After 6
years, he was released when the actual killer, picked up on other counts,
confessed in a fit of remorse. Had Rhode Island allowed capital
punishment, he would have certainly received a death sentence and might
have been executed before the real perp revealed himself.
Hornoff used to believe in capital punishment; not surprisingly, he's
changed his mind.
A repeated theme in the film is that getting released doesn't obliterate
the injustice. Some of these guys served more than 20 years, barely out of
their teens when they entered and in early middle age when released.
They've missed the prime decades for beginning a career and a family. They
are owed bigtime, but most states offer no compensation for the years
spent in stir. A bus ticket home, and that's all she wrote.
In addition, they often have a tougher time post-incarceration than the
genuinely guilty, and not merely because they are understandably more
bitter. There is a whole bureaucracy in place to deal with parolees, but
none for those who are exonerated. Most of these guys either manage to put
aside their anger and get on with their new lives or funnel their rage
into political activism directed toward preventing others from getting the
same raw deal.
Sanders spends most of the first hour introducing the men and telling
their stories one at a time. In the final half hour she intercuts shorter
segments of their progress. Of the cases, the most compelling - it somehow
seems in dubious taste to say "exciting" - is that of Wilton Dedge, who
served 22 years for rape, based on flimsy evidence. What's amazing is
that, after DNA testing had shown that the only physical evidence linking
him to the crime - a strand of hair - couldn't have been his, the state of
Florida - loath to admit a mistake - still refused to release him for
another 3 years on various technicalities.
None of the men believes his case to be unique or even unusual; all have
no doubt that thousands of other inmates are innocent.
Sanders has assemble a consistently interesting, often gripping and
moving, film of the sort that presents some difficulties to a reviewer.
That is, it's hard to call it great, no matter how effective it is,
because of its virtues. Sanders has a point to get across, and she does so
with focus and clarity, never getting in the way.
In contrast, The Thin Blue Line was criticized in many circles for
aestheticizing its presentation. Morris included beautifully shot, heavily
stylized reenactments of events to accompany voiceovers by various people
involved in the case. It was a risky technique; it may have made the film
more powerful, but it also made it seem "less real." (To be on the safe
side, Morris refused to call it a documentary.)
I'm glad that Sanders didn't gussy up After Innocence with flashy devices,
even though it ends up feeling more like PBS reportage than cinema art.
This is a fairly frequent issue for documentaries that have a political or
social agenda: In many cases, they are most praiseworthy when plain and
most dubious when too conscious about being "art." This is by no means a
putdown of documentaries, simply an observation that I have trouble
assessing them in the same way I would assess a fictional film. After
Innocence is terrific agitprop journalism/analysis, which is nothing to be
After Innocence. Directed by Jessica Sanders. Written and produced by
Jessica Sanders & Marc Simon. With Herman Atkins, Wilton Dedge, Scott
Hornoff, Dennis Maher, Vincent Moto, Calvin Willis, and Nick Yarris. At
(source: Andy Klein, LA CityBeat)
Freedom Without Apology----No restitution, no clean records, not even a
simple sorry for the wrongly incarcerated in Jessica Sanders documentary
Ever since Jessica Sanders' After Innocence debuted at last year's
Sundance Film Festival, her documentary about the tough, post-prison lives
of seven wrongly incarcerated men has played to two kinds of audiences:
film festival-goers and, in private screenings, legislators and
public-policy makers, who often come away chastened by the searing message
onscreen - that most U.S. states treat criminal ex-cons better than
innocent ones. With the help of Sanders' film and others working on the
issue, the policy is starting to change. Last month, Florida bestowed $2
million in compensation to one of the exonerees profiled in After
Innocence: Wilton Dedge, who spent 22 years in prison for rape until a DNA
test proved they'd jailed the wrong man.
Recently, Sanders, 28, sat down for a late breakfast at Swingers coffee
shop near her home in Santa Monica. There she talked about her purposeful,
no-frills documentary, which opens Friday at the Nuart theater.
L.A. WEEKLY: Explain how the social services offered to the guilty are
different from those an innocent person gets when he or she is exonerated
and leaves prison.
JESSICA SANDERS: Guilty people get parole, which is set up to help people
get housing and jobs, therapy. Because innocent people aren't eligible for
parole, they dont get anything. For instance, Nick Yarris, who spent 23
years on death row in solitary confinement and was the 1st DNA death-row
exoneree, was given $5.37 and literally just let out on the street.
Luckily, he had a family to pick him up and take him home. But a lot of
exonerees dont have families [and end up] on the streets, homeless.
How did you end up making a film about this subject?
My best friend's sister went to law school with my producing partner, Marc
Simon, who was a student [intern] with the Innocence Project. He just kind
of e-mailed me randomly and was like, "Oh, I have this idea . . ." Then I
started reading about these cases. I learned that they still have criminal
records, can't get jobs; they're treated worse than guilty people, who get
services and help. That's the story that hadnt been told. As a filmmaker,
I thought it was an amazing story.
You didn't have full financing when you started filming.
I was pretty naively gung ho about it. It's a documentary. You can't wait
to get money. It's happening. You're going to miss it. So I just jumped on
a plane to film [outgoing Illinois Governor George Ryan as he commuted the
sentences of all of the states death-row inmates]. A couple of months
later, after I started writing a treatment, I filmed the first scene of
the movie, where 30 DNA exonerees got together for the 10th anniversary of
the Innocence Project. I cut down [the anniversary footage] and put
together a promo piece. That's how we got all of our grants. The funny
thing is that [the footage] was very similar to the film. The whole
opening I cut on Final Cut Pro at home is actually the opening to the
How did you pick your subjects?
Geography and diversity were important. So were different types of
experiences that reflected the universal experience. We made a chart and
tracked people: Were they compensated? Did they have families that
believed in them? I wanted to get a death-row person in there. When I met
Scott Hornoff [a white police officer who served 6 1/2 years of a life
sentence for a murder he didn't commit], I thought, "If it could happen to
him, it could happen to anybody." That's a theme throughout the film:
These guys could be anybody. They just happened to be, like, wearing the
You worked on an NBC documentary series called Crime & Punishment, which
followed the prosecution side of criminal trials. What did you learn about
that side of the justice system?
I was a producer [as well] as a camera operator in the courtroom, and I
filmed over 40 brutal trials. I sat there for hundreds of hours through
horrible stuff - murder trials, rape trials. It's easy to point your
finger at these bad people. But the flip side is that they often get the
wrong person or theres overzealous prosecution or police work. I saw
people high-fiving each other when theyd get someone the worst sentences
possible that didn't necessarily reflect the crime. I just saw that it was
In After Innocence, an exoneree named Dennis Maher - who was wrongfully
incarcerated for 19 years - speaks to a class taught by his Innocence
Project attorney, Aliza B. Kaplan. His obvious gratitude toward her makes
it one of the most unexpectedly moving scenes in the documentary.
[Dennis and his girlfriend] are having a baby, and they're naming it after
Aliza. Hes one of the sweetest guys because he had so much therapy while
he was in prison. He's so in touch with his emotions. He cries a lot in
the film. It's amazing. When he got out, he even had his family go through
Was there a shot that you almost didnt get?
The most important shot was one of the last - Wilton Dedge getting out of
prison. The prosecution was so sneaky. He'd been cleared. But they held
him in the jail for 16 hours because they didn't want him to get out in
the daytime, when thered be media. They let him out at, like, 4 in the
morning. He'd been sitting for hours in this holding cell. I was on the
phone with a bailiff I'd made friends with. I said, "Can you please let
our cameras get inside with Wilton when he walks out?" He said, "If you
share that footage with the news people . . ." and I was like, "Okay." So
we got access because either Florida is very lax or we were very nice.
That combination helped us get a golden shot.
Your parents are documentary filmmakers Terry Sanders and Freida Lee Mock,
who won an Oscar for their film Maya Lin: A Strong, Clear Vision. And you
produced your mothers short-subject documentary Sing!, which was nominated
for an Academy Award in 2002. What was it like growing up in your
Our fridge at home didn't have much food, but it always had film stock.
They were the kind of parents who just slung their kids on their shoulders
and went to work. I grew up traveling the world and meeting amazing
people. There's a film about Aaron Copland that features me at 1, sitting
on his lap. What I learned [growing up in] a documentary family was that,
with documentaries, it's about trust, more than anything. And listening.
You're giving people attention, caring about them and their stories.
You're always a guest in someone elses life, so act like a houseguest.
Say, "Thank you."
In 2003, the Wisconsin Innocence Project helped free a man named Steven
Avery, who was found to have been wrongly convicted of sexual assault in
1985. Recently, he was charged with the murder of a young woman. Was this
considered a blow for the Innocence Project?
Out of the 162 people, Steven Avery is 1 of only 2 people who committed a
crime afterward. I think it's damaging. But I'm surprised that you can
spend 22 years in prison and come out okay. I mean, I've met about 60 of
these people, and theyre for the most part incredibly positive, not bitter
Why do you think that is?
There's a theory: What kept them going in prison, this positive "I'm going
to get out, I'm going to research every option that I have, I'm going to
the law library every day, I'm going to think of something to get me
through this horrible experience" quality, thats the same quality that
stays with them on the outside. All of them say that if they were pissed,
angry and broken, theyd have died in prison [years before they were
exonerated]. You cant survive like that. Theyd have been eaten alive by
depression. A huge part is that they all have family on the outside
believing in them. If they came out a changed, broken person, then thered
be no point to even wanting to get out.
After Innocence had its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. What was
It was one of the most emotional experiences. I got into Sundance on a
rough cut. No one except my producing partner, my editor, my parents and
Showtime had seen the film before. None of the guys in the film had seen
it. So they all flew out. Their families, girlfriends. You know, you make
a film that you think works, but you don't know how the people in it are
going to feel. So I was sitting there at Sundance, and I looked down [the
aisle] and theyre all crying. They're on the big screen; their stories are
being told. Afterward, they all got up onstage. One of them, [Los
Angeles'] Herman Atkins, said, "I didn't shed a tear for 13 years in
prison, but I just cried like a baby for 2 hours." This woman stood up,
crying, and said, "I'm a prosecutor for the L.A. District Attorneys
Office, and on behalf of all of you, I want to apologize." Someone asked
me if she was a plant. I was like, "What!?" For the most part, district
attorneys and legislators, those who shape public policy, tend to be
reluctant to admit mistakes. How do you get these people to attend your
My producing partner Marc Simon and I are working with the Innocence
Project on its "Life After Exoneration Program," and [another] group,
called Active Voice, which helps organize outreach to universities and
other groups that would be interested in the subject matter and helping to
create change. We had a judge whod seen the film at Sundance and felt
passionate about having all the judges see it. We've had police officers
who've seen it and felt that every police officer should see it. I invited
[L.A. District Attorney] Steve Cooley to a screening and Q&A with me at
the Academy [of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences].
What did Steve Cooley say?
He expressed his concern about the injustice of the Florida prosecutors
trying to resist [the release of] someone who is innocent. He also used
the opportunity to say that L.A. is very progressive in its approach to
the [DNA] requests of the innocent.
Whats the policy in California toward people whove been wrongfully
California has compensation, but its not necessarily adequate. You have to
prove that you didnt contribute to your conviction. I dont even know what
After your film was screened in Florida, the state finally did right by
Wilton Dedge, with $2 million in compensation for his 22 years in prison.
How did you learn about the decision?
I talked to Wilton two minutes after. I got an e-mail saying, "Great
news!," so I just called him and he was surrounded by press. He was like,
"It's really crazy here! Im kind of in a daze!" He was given a private
bill for $2 million. He's giving 20 percent of it to his parents, who
spent their life savings getting him out. Basically, the Innocence Project
wanted to set the bar very high to set off a blanket compensation for all
exonerees in Florida.
Does Wilton credit After Innocence?
Hes like, "I'm surrounded by reporters and I've been telling them about
the film! I'm plugging the film!" I don't know if anybody sees it as a
direct result, but its definitely part of the mix, and were proud of that.
After Innocence is one of 15 documentaries that have been shortlisted for
an Academy Award. How did you hear about it?
I got a call on my cell phone. First, I told my parents. Then I called my
producing partner. Now all the exonerees know, and they all want to go.
First, you have to get nominated, and I don't even know about getting
tickets. But they're all like, "We're getting our tuxedos!"
After Innocence (New Yorker Films) opens at the Nuart Theater in Santa
Monica on January 13.
(source: Margy Rochlin, LA Weekly)
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