[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----MD., CONN., MISS., LA.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sat Mar 4 13:15:42 CST 2006
Evans' lawyers challenge policy of prosecutors ---- Court of Appeals is
asked to grant new sentencing hearing for convicted killer
In a brief filed yesterday with Maryland's highest court, lawyers for
death row inmate Vernon Lee Evans Jr. asked for a hearing to explore
whether he was unfairly sentenced to death because of the policy of
Baltimore County's top prosecutor as well as statewide racial and
geographic disparities in the use of capital punishment.
The argument is one of four laid out in a 75-page brief submitted to the
Maryland Court of Appeals yesterday - the filing deadline set by the court
when it halted the convicted killer's scheduled execution on Feb. 6 to
hear his legal challenges.
In their filing, Evans' lawyers also asked for a new sentencing hearing,
arguing that the attorneys who represented him at a 1992 sentencing
hearing failed to provide effective counsel.
The filing requests a new trial, arguing that a prosecutor
unconstitutionally stripped the jury of nearly all African-Americans at
his 1984 trial.
Evans' attorneys also asked for an injunction barring state executions
until Maryland's lethal injection procedures are rewritten to correct
flaws that Evans' lawyers say renders the procedure unconstitutional.
Attorneys for the state have until April 3 to file their response. Oral
arguments are scheduled for May.
Evans, 56, was sentenced to death for the 1983 contract killings of two
Pikesville motel employees, David Scott Piechowicz and his wife's sister,
Susan Kennedy. Piechowicz and his wife, Cheryl, had been scheduled to
testify in a federal drug case against Baltimore drug lord Anthony
Grandison was convicted of offering Evans $9,000 to kill the Piechowiczes,
who could have linked Grandison to a room at the Pikesville Motor House
Hotel where federal authorities had discovered heroin and cocaine.
In their brief, Evans' lawyers base some of their arguments on a 2003
state-funded study that found racial and geographic disparities in
Maryland's imposition of the death penalty.
They quote a supplemental report released last year that found that
Baltimore County prosecutors sought a death sentence in 99 of the 152
death-eligible cases handled between August 1978, when Maryland's current
death penalty law took effect, and December 1999.
Researchers found 83 percent of cases involved a black defendant convicted
of killing a white victim, but 60 % of cases involved all other racial
combinations - a practice that Evans' lawyers contend amounts to
unconstitutionally selective prosecution.
But Stephen Bailey, deputy state's attorney for Baltimore County, has
questioned the accuracy of the statistics used in the death penalty study.
He says that Baltimore County prosecutors sought the death penalty in 81
cases - not 99, as the study concludes - between 1978 and 1999. The
difference, he said, lies in the number of cases that were retried and
that researchers counted as separate cases, including one defendant whose
death sentence was overturned four times before he was sentenced to life
Bailey's boss, Baltimore County State's Attorney Sandra O'Connor, began
developing a policy in the early 1980s of seeking the death penalty in
every death-eligible murder case, except when the victim's relatives are
not willing to endure the lengthy appeals process that accompanies capital
cases or when a death sentence could not be secured without the testimony
of a co-defendant.
Evans' lawyers wrote in their brief that they should be granted discovery
- such as documents, depositions and other evidence - to explore the
"factual issues" relating to O'Connor's policy.
(source: The Baltimore Sun)
Peeler seeking friends with online personal ad
Accused of killing an 8-year-old boy and his mother, Adrian Peeler is now
seeking stimulating conversation and friendship.
Peeler, 29, who is serving a 55-year prison term in connection with the
1999 murders of Leroy "B.J." Brown and his mother, Karen Clarke, and for
running a drug ring, has posted a personal ad on WriteAPrisoner.Com.
"I hope that as you're reading this ad you find yourself saying, this is
someone that I would like to get to know," he says in his ad. "I am just
striving to be the best man I can possibly be and - remember, strangers
have become friends in stranger places."
The State's Attorneys Office declined to comment on the posting in light
of the pending death penalty hearing against Peeler's brother, Russell
Peeler Jr., for the crime.
Russell Peeler, the head of a local drug ring, was convicted June 8, 2000,
of ordering the Jan. 7, 1999, murders of Clarke, 29, and her son. The boy
and his mother were shot to death in their North End home. At the time,
B.J. was to be a key witness against Russell Peeler in the March 1998
murder of Clarke's boyfriend, Rudolph Snead Jr., in a Boston Avenue
barbershop. Although he was accused of being the trigger man, a Waterbury
jury convicted Adrian Peeler only of conspiracy in the case. Russell
Peeler previously had a personal ad posted on the same Web site; however,
it was pulled after a story on it in the Connecticut Post sparked public
(source: Connecticut Post Online)
Courage and convictions----The segregated '60s in the Deep South called
out to two young people destined to cross paths with their passion and
their purpose. They'll not forget their turn as Freedom Riders.
ELLENTON -- Winonah Myers, a gray-haired contrarian of 64, wakes long
before dawn. Then she drives her yellow Ford pickup through Manatee County
to the Sunshine Skyway and collects tolls. The best part of her job is
watching the sun come up. The worst part is feeling perpetually sleepy and
having to work in the cramped dimensions of a tollbooth.
She has bad memories of tight spaces. When she was 19, she spent much of a
year in the most notorious lockup in the South, Mississippi State Prison,
better known as Parchman Farm. The gas chamber was a few cells away from
her death row cubicle. At night she whispered through the ventilation
system to an inmate who later was executed. "I was a little baby when I
was in prison," she'll tell you now. "I was scared to death."
On June 9, 1961, Myers and four other young civil rights activists, some
black and some white, walked into a train station in Jackson, ignored the
"colored" waiting room and took their seats in the "white" waiting room.
They were quickly arrested for breaching the peace.
Myers and her friends were known as Freedom Riders. A U.S. Supreme Court
decision prohibited segregation at interstate public transportation
facilities - at airports, train and bus stations - but the law was ignored
in the Deep South. People of color were supposed to know their place, no
matter what federal judges said.
Freedom Riders, including white people like Myers, challenged the
tradition by drawing worldwide attention to the reality of Southern
living. They got themselves arrested. Then they clogged the jails.
Eventually the government was embarrassed into enforcing the law.
Before the year was out, nearly 400 Freedom Riders had been arrested. Many
served brief jail sentences and happily got out. Not Myers, who stubbornly
refused bail, refused even to file an appeal. Jailed on June 11, she
stayed behind bars until Christmas Day.
Of all the Freedom Riders, white or black, she served the longest
* * *
You know what she likes best about winter on Tampa Bay? White pelicans.
Visitors from the north, they migrate to Tampa Bay in late fall and remain
until spring. Some mornings the gargantuan birds, larger than their common
brown cousins, fly over her booth on their way to the feeding grounds. She
can also see white pelicans from her mobile home on the Manatee River.
Myers and her husband, David, sit at their dining room table and admire
them through a big picture window.
Growing up in Ohio, Winonah appreciated nature, too. After prison, she
worshipped it. "The sky," she says. "The fresh air. The birds."
The story of the Freedom Riders for years served as a footnote to the
civil rights movement. New generations learned about Rosa Parks, lunch
counter boycotts and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but the achievements of
the Freedom Riders often slipped through the cracks. Now they are being
talked about again, thanks to a new book by University of South Florida
historian Raymond Arsenault. Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for
Racial Justice has received national attention. Winonah is in the book. So
is her husband, David, 65. He was a Freedom Rider, too.
About half the Freedom Riders were white and half African-American. Many
were college students, preachers and attorneys. David Myers was 21, a poor
Indiana farm boy and one of the few white students enrolled at Central
State University in Ohio. Winonah had grown up in poverty in Cleveland.
She ended up at Central State because it was inexpensive.
"It was an exciting time to be alive," she says. "There was all this
idealism. There was the Peace Corps. There was VISTA. There was the space
program. There was Mahatma Gandhi, John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King.
Life was full of possibilities."
David Myers was a handsome upperclassman, excited about mak "Well, I meant
to," he says.
History happened first.
* * *
David Myers is a talker. He is a dreamer. The wide-eyed boy has heart
disease now, and diabetes, but he still rides his Honda motorcycle every
day. He still likes to canoe. He talks too fast and seldom stays seated
more than a few minutes at a time.
Among mainstream civil rights activists, Freedom Riders were initially
seen as radicals, or fools. It was considered suicidal for black men and
white women, or white men and black women, to travel together into the
heart of Klan country as if they were friends or even intimates.
John F. Kennedy had been elected president in a close race, thanks in part
to black voters casting ballots for the first time. Kennedy felt beholden
to them, but he was also loath to write off conservative white Southern
voters. Meanwhile, the Soviets were active in Berlin and Cuba. The last
thing the Kennedy administration wanted was another racial crisis in the
But that's what it got.
On May 4, Freedom Riders boarded a bus in Washington, destination Deep
South. In South Carolina, the Klansmen waited with clenched fists. While
visiting his family home on Mother's Day, David read in the paper about a
Freedom Ride in Alabama, where activists were beaten with pipes as they
fled a burning bus.
David told his mom he wanted to be a Freedom Rider. "This has to be done."
"But not by my boy," she said.
Over in Ohio, Winonah was having a similar conversation with her mother.
They became Freedom Riders about a week apart. David first.
On May 28, Myers and seven other Freedom Riders boarded a Trailways bus in
Montgomery, Ala. It was escorted by federal troops and law enforcement
officials into Mississippi. David remembers thinking he might be killed,
but nobody approached the bus. Still, the moment they walked into the bus
station in Jackson they were arrested for breaching the peace.
They pleaded no contest and were pronounced guilty. Myers served 32 days,
mostly in city and county jails. He remembers the experience as fairly
pleasant. He shared a cell with 16 other white men - even in jail the
races were segregated. The food was lousy, but conversations were grand.
Jail keepers allowed the national press in. David was flattered to grant
an interview to the famous columnist Westbrook Pegler. Naive, David didn't
know that Pegler had come south to discredit the Freedom Riders. Pegler
lamented that "bands of insipid futilities of the type called bleeding
hearts" were giving Jackson, Miss., a bad name. Working himself into a
tizzy, Pegler complained about Myers and his "wispy whiskers and the start
of beatnik sideburns" and his Quaker background. "His soul suffered at the
thought that someone (God, of necessity) had created a difference between
him and his black brethren." Pegler was so angry he wrote about Freedom
Riders a week later. "They wouldn't fight anybody for anything, but they
didn't think it wrong of them to affront a local social system and kick up
riots and civil war with painful, even fatal results . . ."
Eventually David and other inmates transferred to Parchman, a prison where
inmates often picked cotton by day. Life was especially trying for black
inmates, historically punished with lashings from the whip known as "Black
Annie." The famous bluesmen, Leadbelly, Bukka White and Son House, had
been inmates during the 1930s; Leadbelly's Midnight Special is about life
After an uneventful week, David was returned to the county jail and a few
days later was released.
Winonah's ordeal was only beginning.
* * *
Winonah is usually quiet. Quiet - and taciturn. She'll listen for a while,
maybe as she eats, as everybody else talks. She'll cock her head as she
takes in the bushwa, then she'll interject a sharp remark, accompanied,
perhaps, by a swear word. Eventually the sentences pour out.
On June 9, she and 4 Freedom Riders boarded an Illinois Central train in
Nashville and got off in Jackson. As she remembers it, hardly anyone took
notice in the station except city police captain J.L. Ray. When she mimics
him, he sounds like the white sheriff of In the Heat of the Night. "You in
a heap a trouble, now. Git up and move on."
Nobody in the train station budged.
"I said git up and move on."
"You cain't set here. Ah'm arresting you for breach of peace."
Winonah says forgive and forget, but her tone suggests no forgiveness.
The sheriff escorted everybody to Hinds County Jail. 20 inmates were
housed in a cell intended for 8. 10 days later the women were trucked to
"Female guards strip-searched us. There wasn't a place they missed if you
know what I mean. I was scared to death. They took us to the maximum
security unit - at the other end of the hallway was death row and the gas
chamber. 2 of us shared a cell 6 feet by 9 feet, but that included a
toilet and a sink and 2 beds.
"We never got out of the cell to exercise. We got to shower twice a week.
This was summer with no air conditioning. You got 2 minutes to shower
before the water went off automatically.
"A lot of the other inmates, I mean the Freedom Riders, were kind of,
pardon my French, bitches. They wanted to control every minute and every
hour of every day. Our leaders wanted us to exercise in our cells, all
together, do ballet plies, jumping jacks, you name it. Somebody in another
cell would shout out French lessons. Somebody else lectured on Greek and
Roman mythology. Then we'd have to sing. My cellmate would say, 'Winonah
"One girl had an asthma attack. The other girls began chanting in unison
'E-MER-GEN-CEE!' I could see the guards laughing, so I just grabbed the
bars and rattled my cage, made such a racket they had to come out. They
took the sick girl away and some of the other girls were mad at me. They
said the way I had rattled the cage was uncivilized. I didn't care what
they thought. And after that they left me alone. I didn't mind solitude.
"We had only the Bible to read. I tore out the stiff cardboard
frontispiece and used it to block the light on the ceiling. They left the
light on all night. Shine right in your eyes all night. I had to train
myself to wake up at 2 and at 5 when they did the inspections and take the
frontispiece off the light, else I'd get in trouble.
"Breakfast was always corn bread that had these chunks of corncob still in
it, grits with gravy and fatback. Lunch and dinner were always beans,
potato, something mushy. We drank chicory coffee. Your digestive system
always cycled between constipation and diarrhea.
"We were allowed to write a letter to blood relatives once a week, but
they always censored your mail going out and coming in. We got a piece of
toilet paper 5 feet long every day. One time I wrote a letter to David on
the toilet paper and gave it to an inmate who was being released from
prison. She hid it in a sanitary napkin and smuggled it out. That's how
David found out how I was doing."
Most inmates, feeling like they had sacrificed enough, left prison within
a month, bailed out by the civil rights group, the Congress of Racial
Equality. Winonah remembers being in no hurry to leave. "To stay even
longer was going to be even more dramatic. I did the crime so I was going
to serve the time, so to speak. Let the nation see what they were doing to
us. I stayed. That was it."
Eventually she was the only Freedom Rider in the prison. With no cellmate,
she had room to run in place to keep up her strength. She says she lost
track of time - couldn't have told you if it was Friday or Thursday or
Sunday. Sometimes she talked to the guys on death row through vents. High
school kids, studying civics, toured the prison. Everybody wanted to set
eyes on a real Freedom Rider.
"She don't look very dangerous to me," Winonah heard a student whisper.
Winonah snorted to herself: "You'd be surprised!"
Sometimes the prison matron visited her cell for a talk. The matron urged
Winonah to think about the error of her ways and to repent. The matron
liked to play gut-bucket country music in her office loud enough for
Winonah to hear. One day she must have switched stations by accident
because Winonah suddenly heard Johnny Mathis singing Chances Are.
Winonah burst into tears. She used to listen to that song at home.
* * *
They let her out on Christmas Day. David came to fetch her. From prison
they took a bus to the black part of Jackson and visited friends on Lynch
Street. Winonah enjoyed her 1st bath in more than 6 months. Then they
grabbed a bus back north, eager to escape Mississippi.
She and David married on April 7, 1962. David never finished college, but
had a long career as a newspaper photographer in the Midwest until his
retirement 4 years ago. Winonah finished her education and taught mentally
challenged adolescents and adults for years. She and David had 3 daughters
and now have 3 grandchildren.
David never stops thinking about his days as a Freedom Rider. A few years
ago he was watching television and the documentary Eyes on the Prize came
on. He couldn't stop crying.
Later he talked to a psychologist. The psychologist said, "You feel guilty
that you didn't do more. And only now are you acknowledging how frightened
you were. You also feel that what you did has been sadly unappreciated."
"You hit the nail on the head," David said.
Winonah says she never feels guilty or sad. She says she never cares
whether or not anyone appreciates her.
"When I was mad in the cell, I was mad in the cell. When I was sad in the
cell, I was sad in the cell. When I got out of prison, I was glad."
David keeps his souvenirs in a box in the living room, mostly newspaper
clippings about the Freedom Riders. He prizes those Westbrook Pegler
columns that attacked him as a bleeding-hearted wimp. He wishes he had
kept Winonah's toilet paper letter. He doesn't remember what she wrote.
She doesn't either.
He has a part-time job working for the Department of Agriculture
inspecting fruit flies. Winonah likes her humble job at the tollbooth. It
pays $6.25 an hour but she feels lucky to have it.
When she filled out the application, she answered honestly about her
prison record. The interviewer told her, sorry, we can't hire you.
Winonah, remaining calm, explained the circumstances of her time in
prison. She explained how the Kennedy administration eventually enforced
the desegregation laws in the South. She explained the U.S. Supreme Court
decision that overturned the convictions of every Freedom Rider who had
filed an appeal.
Of course, Winonah's conviction still stands. She never appealed. But she
got the job.
* * *
On a winter morning, the sun rises like a glorious pumpkin over Tampa Bay.
Pelicans glide over the mangroves, and belted kingfishers raise a ruckus
from the power lines. As the morning ripens, Winonah Myers has little time
for watching birds.
All these anonymous people going to work. All these anonymous people going
to play. On a good shift, 1,500 cars driving past her tollbooth for
destinations unknown. Winonah, the taciturn woman, nevertheless wishes
they would stop for a chat. She would tell them: "Prison wasn't all that
bad. In fact, it's a good place for thinking about who you are and what
you did. It really gives you time to ponder life. In a strange way, I
liked it. I learned something about myself. I could survive. I recommend
going to prison."
Of course, Winonah never actually shares her thoughts with anyone passing
in the slow lane.
"Thank you" is all she says, collecting their dollar. "Have a nice day."
Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice, by Raymond
Arsenault. Oxford University Press, $32.50.
Worse than Slavery: Parchman Farm and the Ordeal of Jim Crow Justice, by
David M. Oshinsky. Free Press, $14.
(source: St. Petersburg Times)
Ex-Advocate reporter challenges demand he testify in Gillis trial
A former reporter for The Advocate has filed an opposition to being
subpoenaed to testify at the trial of serial-killer suspect Sean Michael
In January, prosecutor Prem Burns filed a motion in Baton Rouge state
court requesting Josh Noel to testify at the trial. Noel interviewed
Gillis on July 21, 2004, in East Baton Rouge Parish Prison. Burns has said
she wants to ask Noel questions about Gillis demeanor and attitude as well
as any statements made during the interview.
The state of Louisiana has asked for a subpoena to compel Noel to testify.
A hearing on this motion is scheduled for 9 a.m. Wednesday.
According to the motion of opposition, Noel, now an employee of The
Chicago Tribune, is claiming that rights and privileges he has as a
journalist protect him from testifying.
Ed Fleshman, the attorney for The Advocate, filed the motion of opposition
on Noels behalf.
Journalists rights are protected under the First Amendment to the U.S.
Constitution, the Louisiana Constitution and the Louisiana Reporters
There are no confidential sources or informants involved in the issue, but
the state has said it intends to question Noel about unpublished
information gained during the prison interview.
Noels interview with Gillis was 10 minutes long. The interview was not
recorded and Noel did not take notes.
According to the motion of opposition, this type of information is
protected because it is an intrusion of the editorial process.
The motion also states that there is no evidence that Noels testimony is
critical to the states case.
Gillis has confessed to killing 8 women in the Baton Rouge area. The state
is seeking the death penalty against him.
Gillis was scheduled to stand trial last fall in the death of Donna
Bennett Johnston, whose body was found on Feb. 27, 2004, off Ben Hur Road.
Havoc created in the Louisiana court system by Hurricane Katrina forced a
(source: The Advocate)
More information about the DeathPenalty