[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----VA., MD., ARK., PENN., ILL.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Wed Jan 25 10:57:30 CST 2006
Va. Places Last In Funding For Court-Appointed Defense
Virginias current earning caps for court-appointed attorneys are at odds
with defendants rights to adequate representation, according to a
nationwide group of criminal defense attorneys, and several who practice
In Virginia, court-appointed attorneys earn $90 an hour for criminal
cases, but payments stop after a set number of hours, which varies
depending on what their client is charged with.
After that, the lawyer is working for nothing, attorneys say.
"It puts me and anybody else who does court-appointed work in an automatic
conflict of interest," said Darren Bostic, a criminal defense attorney in
Harrisonburg since 1991. "Its in my best interest to settle a case, and
settle it quick."
The caps, which judges cant overrule, make Virginias court-appointed
attorneys the lowest paid in the nation, said Steven Benjamin, chairman of
the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers indigent defense
Shortchanging court-appointed attorneys ultimately hurts poor defendants,
said Benjamin, who practices in Richmond.
"Our system is broken," he said. "[Virginias] criminal justice system no
longer can reliably and accurately determine guilt or innocence."
He points to the recent exoneration of convicts as evidence of a system
that makes mistakes.
In December, Gov. Mark Warner announced that two men convicted of sexual
assault had been cleared by DNA evidence. The men, whom the governors
office didnt name, were 2 of 31 cases chosen at random for DNA testing.
An upward trend of DNA exoneration in Virginia is alarming, Benjamin says,
because most cases dont have DNA to examine and maybe free those who are
But all defendants facing incarceration in Virginia courts do have an
attorney. Underpaying those attorneys makes wrongful convictions more
likely, he said.
Earning limits apply to all court-appointed, criminal cases except death
penalty cases, regardless of the hours the attorney works, Benjamin said.
Attorneys that defend clients facing more than 20 years in jail are capped
at $1,186, said John Hart of Hart Law Offices in Harrisonburg.
Cases where defendants face less than 20 years are capped at $428, he
said. Misdemeanor charges are capped at $112 in district court and $148 in
A study commissioned by the American Bar Association and released in
February 2004 said the Virginia system discourages "counsel from spending
more than a few hours on circuit court cases and even less on district
Bob Spangenberg, director of the Massachusetts-based law
enforcement-consulting group, said his study drew the same conclusion that
similar ones have made since the early 1970s.
"They all find the same thing," he said. Virginia defense attorneys are
"horribly under-funded and something has to be done, but nothing has been
Jeff Bradley, who practices in Harrisonburg, says low pay is also hard to
understand since the state is reimbursed for a lot of fees paid to
The lawyers fees are included in court costs that defendants must pay back
to the state when theyre released from jail, Bradley said.
"It takes them a while," he said. "But theres a pretty continuous stream
of reimbursement being paid the government."
Defendants who are acquitted dont pay court costs, he said.
Off The Clock
Several defense lawyers who practice in Harrisonburg said they hope
legislators will allow judges to override caps in certain cases.
After 14 years practicing in Harrisonburg, Bostic continues to take
court-appointed cases. The work keeps him on his toes, and sometimes leads
to paying clients.
In some cases, he says, the job can be done quickly and the pay is fine.
But often, he says, its not.
In those cases, lawyers continue working long after theyve earned the
maximum available for that charge, Bostic said.
But Bostic and several others say they challenge themselves to do the same
job they would if they were retained by paying clients.
"Youre charged with looking out for your clients best interest," Bradley
said. "The court is not forcing anyone to take these cases; we do it
because we want to."
Sometimes fulfilling that obligation means lawyers must work long hours at
In one trial, Bostic photographed a crime scene and argued his case in a
preliminary hearing. Before trial, he wrote jury instructions, crafted
arguments and even went clothes shopping for his client, who was charged
with malicious wounding.
After a trial, then a sentencing hearing, Bostic won a reduced charge for
his client. For more than 40 hours of work, he says he was paid $428 to
cover wages, business expenses and film.
The court reimbursed him for the clothes he bought at a secondhand store.
But Bostic says he isnt the only attorney working overtime.
Long hours and low wages led John Holloran to quit non-capital
court-appointed work in 1995.
"The amount that I would end up earning, for the hours I spent, was little
more than what a taxicab driver could make," he said.
John Hart says the low wages are a reminder that indigent defense is a
calling as much as a profession.
"You really have to like what youre doing," he said. "Its satisfying
because youre helping people who have no one else to turn to."
Still, Hart and Holloran say the problem shows legislators arent doing
enough to ensure the constitutional right to a fair trial and adequate
counsel to all Virginia residents.
(source: The Daily News Record)
Pursuing Justice in Virginia
Former Virginia governor Mark R. Warner (D) should be applauded for
authorizing post-execution DNA tests on evidence in the case of Roger
Keith Coleman ["DNA Tests Confirm Guilt of Man Executed by Va.," front
page, Jan. 13]. I hope Virginia remains committed to finding truth in its
justice system, something that was not always the case.
In 1997 I was one of the lawyers representing Michael Satcher, who was
accused of the rape and murder of an Arlington woman along a bike path in
Rosslyn. We sought post-conviction DNA testing for three years before his
execution. Virginia had no statute for DNA testing then, but we had
evidence indicating that the initial DNA test that implicated Mr. Satcher
was flawed and that he could be innocent. The test was denied, and Mr.
Satcher was put to death on Dec. 9, 1997.
After his execution, I called for a DNA testing statute in Virginia and
sought post-execution testing through negotiations with the Office of the
Commonwealth's Attorney in Arlington. Those efforts failed.
The question then as now is, "Was Michael Satcher innocent?" Because the
DNA sample from the horrible crime is unlikely to be in the files, we may
never know. And that should be unacceptable to us all, Mr. Coleman
LEE ANN ANDERSON McCALL----Washington (source: Letter to the Editor, The
Washington Post - The writer is chair of the screening committee of the
Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project)
Escaping from death row
When the 300-pound steel prison door closed on Kirk Bloodsworth in the
fall of 1994, he had little to live for.
Addressing an audience of around 40 people, Bloodsworth spoke about how
his life as a commercial fisherman in Cambridge, Md., ended when he was
wrongfully convicted for raping and murdering a 9-year-old girl.
The former death-row inmate joined a forum on judicial review at the Iowa
City Public Library, 123 S. Linn St., titled "The Death Penalty and The
He remained collected as he described his 9 years behind bars and his
eventual release as the 1st death-row inmate exonerated in the United
States because of DNA evidence.
At times, he was even humorous, recalling the public defender who was to
serve as his defense counsel.
"He told me he knew his way around the court room and the criminal-justice
system," Bloodsworth recalled. "Then he took his hand off the dividing
glass, turned around, and ran directly into the wall. Considering he
couldn't find his way around the courthouse, I knew I was doomed."
Still, Bloodsworth - a former Marine - had the facts on his side. A
composite police sketch described the suspect as 6-5, slim, and tanned,
with curly-blond hair. Bloodsworth stood 5-11, was a redhead with facial
hair, and weighed 225 pounds at the time.
But then 5 eyewitnesses identified Bloodsworth in a police lineup and in
the courtroom. 2 weeks after his trial began, in March 1985, he was
convicted of arguably the worst crime in Maryland history and condemned to
the gas chamber.
"The gavel came down on my life," he said, assuming a solemn tone for the
1st time Monday night. "And the courtroom filled with applause."
But amid the grim situation and mounting obstacles, Bloodsworth received
three books via mail, which were probably ordered by the cell's former
In the one of the book's pages, he found his way to freedom. It described
how English authorities identified a killer of young girls by testing the
DNA of the town's inhabitants.
Bloodsworth called his lawyer.
After numerous setbacks, the underwear of the murdered Maryland girl,
which had been "conveniently lost by the presiding judge" - were found and
tested, revealing traces of another man's semen.
After 9 years in federal prison, Bloodsworth was set free - sort of.
"People were saying that DNA wasn't good science, that I had found a
loophole," Bloodsworth said. "People wrote 'child killer' in the dust on
my truck, while I was at work. I couldn't take it anymore."
After numerous attempts, Bloodsworth persuaded prosecutors to conduct
further testing on the semen. The matching man was a fellow inmate and
convicted sex offender who the 5 eyewitnesses had deemed to be "too short"
to be the suspect.
Bloodsworth to speak again
Discussion of dramatic life on death row:
- Today at 12:40 p.m. - The College of Law will sponsor a forum in the
Boyd Law Building Levitt Auditorium.
Hancher Auditorium is also presenting a play on the death penalty.
- Today at 7:30 p.m. - The Exonerated will be produced in Hancher.
(source : The Daily Iowan)
Exonerated inmate tells of life----Reading, DNA evidence saved death row
Kirk Bloodsworth said he well remembers the night of July 25, 1984.
That evening, 9-year-old Dawn Hamilton was found murdered in a wooded area
near Cambridge, Md. Bloodsworth, then 22 and a commercial fisherman,
immediately became the main suspect.
"A former Marine, discus champion, with no criminal record," Bloodsworth
told the gathering of about 100 students and teachers at Tate High on
Monday morning. "Now I was accused of being a child murderer."
Bloodsworth, now 45, was at Tate High as part of the University of Iowa's
"The Exonerated" series that highlighted those freed from death row as
they awaited execution. Bloodsworth was the 1st person in the United
States to be exonerated from a death sentence through the use of DNA
evidence. He was convicted of murder and sexual assault in the case and
sentenced to die in March 1985.
"I crawled underneath my bunk and cried myself to sleep," he said of
arriving at the prison. "I was going to die in the prison one way or
While in prison, Bloodsworth said he was assaulted and stabbed by fellow
inmates, whom he said despised child killers. Along the way, he discovered
he liked reading and began to immerse himself in reading any book he could
find, including law books. A chance encounter in 1989 with Joseph
Wambaugh's "The Blooding," a non-fiction account of the first use of
genetic fingerprinting in Great Britain, caused him to begin searching for
ways to use DNA evidence in his defense.
"A light bulb went off in my head that day," Bloodsworth said. "I wanted
to find out everything I could about DNA testing."
Eight years later, he was released after DNA testing and a second trial
revealed he was not the killer. The real killer of Dawn Hamilton, he said,
turned out to be a fellow prison inmate who had been in prison after being
convicted in another sexual assault. That person was convicted in 2004 and
is now serving a life sentence in Maryland.
Bloodsworth, retired from commercial fishing, is a program officer with
the Justice Project in Washington, D.C., a group of veterans working to
correct injustice, according to the group's Web site. He helped push the
passage of the Innocence Protection Act of 2000 in Congress, which
provides funding for DNA testing of death row inmates.
Throughout his ordeal, Bloodsworth said he learned the value of education
as he served as the prison librarian for 7 years of his time in prison.
"Anybody that has an opportunity to say anything in a high school should
do it," he said after the program. "They are our future. They should know
about the world's injustices."
Tate High students said they were impressed to meet the man they had heard
about during the last month. Teachers at the school had read from the
story of his experiences in Tim Junkin's "Bloodsworth," during classes
since returning from the winter break.
"He's willing to come around to places and describe his life," said Roy
Gorvin, 15, a sophomore. "It was a good experience to meet him."
Junior Amanda Blakley, 16, said she learned more about the justice system
from Bloodsworth's talk.
"You can't really say somebody's guilty unless you have direct proof," she
(source: Iowa City Press-Citizen)
Former MISFITS Frontman To Hit The Road In Support Of WEST MEMPHIS THREE
On March 31, 2006, former MISFITS frontman Michale Graves will spearhead a
2-month-long national campaign to promote Damien Echols' new book, "Almost
Home". The tour, tentatively dubbed "Almost Home 2006", will hit 55 cities
across the country.
Commented Michale, "It is my intent to reach out to as many people as I
can, as so many others have in the past, using the media, the Internet,
spoken word, music and activism to give Damien's words and story a greater
chance of being heard and continue this fight for truth and justice where
there has been none so far. I urge everyone to help, contribute and get
involved in this anyway that they can."
For over 10 years Damien has been an inmate on death row for a crime many
believe he did not commit. He, along with Jason Baldwin and Jessie
Misskelley, have become known as The West Memphis Three, and though the
story of their arrest and conviction is widely known, most people don't
know the real people behind the soundbites and the TV news segment clips.
"Almost Home" is a message to you from a faraway place. It is a message
from a 12-foot by 9-foot cell in a cinderblock building surrounded by
coils of razor wire in the middle of a dirt field in Arkansas. A young man
named Damien Echols wrote it and it chronicles his life and his
experiences in a way that clearly illuminates him, not as a monster, but
as a human being.
Please take the time to review the facts of this case by starting with
this web site: www.wm3.org. Additional information can be found in 2
excellent documentary films directed by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky:
"Paradise Lost: The Child Murders At Robin Hood Hills" and its sequel
"Paradise Lost: Revelations" and the book "Devil's Knot" by Arkansas
journalist Mara Leveritt.
Tour dates and more information can be obtained by visiting
Philly Man's Death Warrant Signed
Gov. Ed Rendell signed an execution warrant Monday for a Philadelphia man
convicted of killing his father.
John Wesley Brown, of Philadelphia, was scheduled to die by lethal
injection March 23. Brown, 59, is jailed in the Greene State Prison.
He was convicted in 1991 of shooting to death his father, 77-year-old
Wesley Brown, inside their home the previous year. The murder followed an
argument over using the father's car as an unlicensed taxicab. Brown was
arrested 2 days later at a road checkpoint in Georgia.
There were 224 people on Pennsylvania's death row as of Jan. 4. 3 people
have been executed in the state since the death penalty was reinstated in
Rendell has signed 48 death warrants during 3 years in office.
(source: The Associated Press)
Lehigh County's last execution was in 1910----George N. Schaffer was
hanged on Feb. 10 for killing a salesman in Schnecksville.
Q: My good friend, Mae Boemio, was born on Feb. 10, 1910. Her parents told
her that is the same day as the last official hanging at the Allentown
prison. True or false, and if true, what was the criminal's offense that
got him hanged?
A: Rick, to paraphrase super sleuth Sherlock Holmes, the collection of
Lehigh County murders in our files is a fine one.
The homicide you are interested in took place on a Schnecksville farm in
1908. And the hanging of its perpetrator, George N. Schaffer, on Feb. 10,
1910, was, as far as I can tell, the last execution at Lehigh County
The details of the case were particularly vivid and grisly. In the fall of
1908, Leopold Ermann, a traveling jewelry salesman from Philadelphia, was
making his peddler's rounds in rural Lehigh County. He was known as "Old
Leopold" and had traveled the back roads of the county for 25 years.
His brother Jacob, in Philadelphia, became concerned when he had not heard
from Leopold for about a week. Jacob knew Leopold was carrying about
$1,000 worth of jewelry. Jacob offered a $200 reward and contacted
Allentown police detectives, who went north into rural Lehigh County.
In January of 1909 their leads took them to the Schnecksville chicken farm
of Schaffer. Questions about the crime only seemed to make the slender
24-year-old with wire-rimmed glasses nervous. Police took Schaffer to
Allentown. The same day a farmer who said he had psychic powers told
police he had a dream that Ermann's body was under a concrete floor in
On Jan. 12, 1909, Ermann's dismembered remains were found two feet under
the pigsty floor. Thousands were drawn to the site.
"From early morning to late at night they tramped over the place in the
mud," reported The Morning Call.
>From the newspapers, the public learned that Schaffer's photo album
contained a picture of Ermann. Witnesses said the two were thought to have
been friends. Newspapers offered close-up photos of the murder weapon, a
Philadelphia reporters were drawn to the region, and one of the big-city
papers ran a picture of Ermann's remains. The Morning Call did not go that
Schaffer's trial began on June 15, 1909, to a packed courthouse. Trolleys
between Slatington and Allentown were running late because of the country
Judge Frank Trexler, Gen. Harry Trexler's brother, was on the bench.
Lehigh County District Attorney Fred Gernerd handled the case. Schaffer's
attorney was Marcus C.L. Kline, a former congressman.
When Gernerd presented Schaffer with the murder weapon, Schaffer did not
"The prisoner has throughout shown himself a most inscrutable fellow,"
reported The Morning Call.
On June 18, 1909, the jury found Schaffer guilty of murder in the 1st
degree. The defendant fainted when he heard the verdict.
Jan. 6, 1910, was the date set for execution. The gallows went up and a
special hangman, James Van Hise of Jersey City, N.J., was to perform the
execution. Three days before he was to be hanged, Schaffer confessed he
had murdered Ermann for the money he carried. Schaffer asked that his
execution be delayed a month so he could make his peace with God.
The governor granted the request, but Van Hise was unimpressed.
"I've hanged 88 men and there was never one that didn't join the salvation
crowd just before the time came to be shuffled off," he told the press.
On the morning of Feb. 10, 1910, Schaffer, in black suit, white shirt, tie
and white sweater, had a black hood placed over his head. Singing a hymn,
he walked to the gallows with his minister, the Rev. Robert M. Kern of St.
Andrews Reformed Church, at his side.
"Goodbye, George, may God have mercy on your soul," a deputy sheriff said
to him. "Goodbye," Schaffer said as Van Hise placed his neck in the noose.
At 10:05, the trap was sprung and Schaffer, the last man hanged in Lehigh
County Prison, was dead.
In 1915, the state changed the mode of execution from hanging to the
electric chair. On Jan. 6, 1917, Jonas Brobst became the 1st Lehigh
Countian to be executed by electrocution. It occurred at the Western
Penitentiary at Rockview, Centre County.
(source: Morning Call)
Downstate grand jury takes new look at '86 murder case
30 months after a former Death Row inmate's controversial conviction was
overturned in a Downstate double-homicide case, a special prosecutor has
convened a grand jury to probe the murders.
Michael Metnick, an attorney for former inmate Gordon "Randy" Steidl,
accused the state appellate prosecutor's office of using the grand jury as
a tool to help the state fight a federal civil suit filed on behalf of his
"I think it's pretty clear that they are using the grand jury as a
discovery process in the civil suit," Metnick said. "When everything is
written, what we are going to see is a tremendous abuse of the system by
the appellate prosecutor's office."
Among those issued grand jury subpoenas was retired Illinois State Police
Lt. Michale Callahan, who during his investigation concluded that Steidl
and one-time co-defendant Herb Whitlock were innocent.
He later won a federal civil suit against two of his superiors, whom he
accused of thwarting his efforts to investigate an alternative potential
suspect. That verdict is under appeal.
Callahan's allegations are mentioned in Steidl's suit and could be a
significant issue when it goes to trial.
John Baker, Callahan's attorney, said the subpoena seeks all of Callahan's
records related to the 1986 murders of Karen and Dyke Rhoads, who were
stabbed to death before their Paris, Ill., home was set on fire. It orders
Callahan to appear before the grand jury Feb. 22.
Special prosecutor David Rands of the appellate prosecutor's office said
he could neither confirm nor deny the existence of a grand jury, but his
name was on the subpoena issued to Callahan.
"I can say, categorically, that I would never" use a grand jury to gather
evidence for a civil case, he added. Revealing information gained through
a grand jury would be illegal, Rands said.
"I am speechless [Metnick] would stoop so low as to make an accusation
like that," he said.
In June 2003 a federal judge overturned Steidl's conviction in the Rhoads
murders. "Acquittal was reasonably probable if the jury had heard all of
the evidence in the case," U.S. District Judge Michael McCuskey wrote.
McCuskey's ruling prompted Atty. Gen. Lisa Madigan's office to investigate
the case. In March 2004 her office dropped its appeal of McCuskey's
ruling. "Information favoring the defense was never disclosed," Madigan's
Two months later, the appellate prosecutor's office announced it could not
retry Steidl within the 120-day deadline set by McCuskey, and Steidl--who
had spent 17 years behind bars, including 12 on Death Row--was released.
Steidl, 54, filed a federal lawsuit last year, alleging that police and
prosecutors "sought to frame" him and Whitlock.
Whitlock, who turned 60 Wednesday, remains in prison. He has appealed an
Edgar County judge's recent denial of his request for a new trial.
Madigan's office confirmed Friday that it continues to look into the
Whitlock case. Whitlock's attorneys have asked her office to intercede and
"confess error," which would lead to Whitlock's freedom.
If Steidl wins his suit, damages against authorities in Edgar County,
where Paris is the county seat, and Illinois State Police, which helped
probe the murders, could reach tens of millions of dollars, based on
"standard" awards in such cases, said Flint Taylor, one of his attorneys.
Steidl also renewed his petition for clemency, in which he seeks a pardon
"based on innocence." His second hearing before the Illinois Prisoner
Review Board, which makes confidential clemency recommendations to Gov.
Rod Blagojevich, was scheduled for Monday.
But Steidl's attorneys agreed to delay the hearing until April, said Karen
Daniel, one of his attorneys.
Special prosecutor Ed Parkinson, also of the appellate prosecutor's
office, said he hoped the reinvestigation of the homicides, which became
public at Steidl's first Prisoner Review Board hearing in October, would
be wrapped up by April.
Metnick questioned why the reinvestigation started after Callahan won his
suit and not as soon as Steidl was released.
Prosecutors have said Steidl is still a suspect, and state police have
been interviewing his former cellmates.
"Every indication is that this so-called reinvestigation has uncovered no
evidence of Randy Steidl's guilt," Daniel said. "He is innocent. ... He's
not likely to be re-indicted for that reason."
No physical evidence has linked Steidl or Whitlock to the murders,
according to court records.
(source: Chicago Tribune, Jan. 23)
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