[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----TENN., USA, FLA., MISS., KY.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sat Mar 25 02:14:42 EST 2006
Man sentenced to death, exonerated after 17 years to speak
during----Vanderbilt University lecture series on crime and punishment
Juan Melendez spent 17 years, eight months and one day on Floridas death
row for a crime he did not commit. He will share his story Thursday, April
6, at 7 p.m. in Vanderbilt Universitys Sarratt Cinema.
The event is free and open to the public.
Melendezs talk is part of the Project Dialogue series, a yearlong,
university-wide program that seeks to involve the entire Vanderbilt
community in public debate and discussion, and attempts to connect
classroom learning with larger societal issues. This years theme is "Crime
& The Ultimate Punishment."
Melendez was exonerated and released from death row on January 3, 2002
after a transcript of a taped confession by the real killer was discovered
in September 2000. There was no physical evidence linking Melendez to the
crime and it was ultimately revealed that the real killer made statements
to several people either directly confessing to the murder or stating that
Melendez was not involved.
When he was released from prison, Melendez became the 99th death row
inmate in the country to be exonerated and released since 1973.
Melendez has traveled the country sharing his story with others. He also
works at home in Puerto Rico in a plantain field where he counsels
troubled youth who work alongside him.
Project Dialogue, which started in 1989, is held every other year at the
university and allows each student generation the opportunity to
participate in 2 Project Dialogue series while attending Vanderbilt.
Other speakers featured as part of this years Project Dialogue series have
included attorney and best-selling author Scott Turow, renown FBI criminal
profiler John Douglas and former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft. For
more information about upcoming events in the Project Dialogue series,
visit www.vanderbilt.edu/dialogue/. (source: Vanderbilt (University) News)
Who's Really on Trial? Moussaoui death case tells us more about FBI
Someone must be dealt the ultimate penalty for the 9/11 atrocity. The
stunning number of innocent deaths - and the sheer affront of attacking
the U.S. on its own soil - demands it, many Americans would say.
Unfortunately, the 19 men who hijacked jets and crashed them into
America's soul died in the act. Osama bin Laden, head of the terrorists
who plotted and executed the crime, remains frustratingly out of reach.
For now, all we have is Zacarias Moussaoui. If someone must pay, he'll
have to do.
He helpfully pleaded guilty to conspiring with al-Qaeda to hijack planes
and commit other crimes, although he denies direct connection to the
attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The part of his trial under way in Alexandria,
Va., is only to determine whether he spends life in prison or is put to
The problem for government prosecutors is that old lawyer adage,
paraphrased: When the law is against you, argue the facts. When the facts
are against you, argue the law. When both are against you, bang your fist
on the table.
The crux of their case is that if Mr. Moussaoui had only told
investigators in August 2001 what was planned, they could have at least
tried to prevent it. That, they argue, is enough to sentence him to death.
Instead, testimony has revealed more about FBI blunders and bureaucratic
resistance. If there's any benefit, it provides a how-not-to-do-it primer
for future terrorism investigations.
FBI Special Agent Harry Samit told jurors that supervisors'
"obstructionism, criminal negligence and careerism" hindered his
investigation, despite weeks of warnings. The next day, Michael Rolince,
now a retired FBI supervisor, testified that he never saw a critical memo
Agent Samit sent to his office.
And they were witnesses for the prosecution.
Their testimony pokes two more holes in the bag of sand that is the case
against Mr. Moussaoui. Day after day, more grains sift to the floor.
Today, Michael Fortier walks the streets a free man. By the government's
logic, he should have been put to death for withholding prior knowledge of
the Oklahoma City bombing.
Instead, only the actual perpetrator, Tim McVeigh, was executed. That
satisfied our need for justice in a way Mr. Moussaoui's death never would.
(source: Editorial, Dallas Morning News)
Filmmaker focuses on 'Gainesville Ripper'
Josh Townsend remembers what it was like growing up in Gainesville during
the 1990 student murders. It was the stuff of a horror story, he recalls,
and one he wants to bring to the big screen.
Others who also lived through the killing spree of convicted murderer
Danny Rolling and years of the inmate's subsequent death penalty appeals -
including a relative of 1 of 5 college students who were slain - don't
Townsend, 32, graduated from high school and attended Santa Fe Community
College in Gainesville before moving about three years ago to
Jacksonville, where he said he works with local filmmakers. A short film
he made about gangsters, "Loyalty," was shown last year at the 2005 film
festival Fantasia in Montreal.
Now, recalling how he was a Gainesville high school student when the
murders occurred, he's turning his attention to making a full-length,
independent film called "The Gainesville Ripper" that would be based on
the killings. He plans to begin filming next month and hopes to have the
movie ready for this winter's film festival circuit.
"It's going to be a horror movie, and it's going to be scary. I don't want
to pretend in any way that that's not the case," Townsend said.
The movie would include details about Rolling's life and how he came to
Gainesville. Actor Zachary Memos, who has hosted Cox Cable's Unique
Discoveries and is a stand-in in the upcoming film "Larry the Cable Guy:
Health Inspector," has been cast to play Rolling. The movie will be made
for under $100,000, with Townsend putting up some of his own money, and
most will be shot in Jacksonville, although some exterior scenes likely
will have to be filmed in Gainesville, he said.
Townsend also said he doesn't know how graphic the movie will be. "I'm not
just going to show them stuck in their apartments and 'cut,' that's it,"
he said of scenes involving the murders.
But, he said, "I'm going to be doing my best to be respectful to the
families and the victims."
To do that, he said he will change the names in his movie of those Rolling
killed in Gainesville. In addition, he intends to donate 5 percent of the
film's profits to either a relief fund for the victims or a permanent
memorial for the victims, noting that a memorial on Gainesville's SW 34th
Street Wall to the slain students is repeatedly painted over and has to be
Memos said his portrayal of Rolling will not be sympathetic. "People like
Danny are monsters and they need to be portrayed like that," he said.
"What Danny did was absolutely evil."
Townsend noted he's no fan of Rolling and doesn't plan to try to interview
the inmate, who is awaiting execution in the Florida prison system.
"I do not like the guy. I'll be one of the ones out there clapping my
hands when he dies," he said.
Ann Garren, the mother of one of the students killed by Rolling, said she
doesn't care if Townsend changes names in a movie. She doesn't support the
idea of making a film about events involving the death of her daughter,
Why would anyone want to make a film about a brutal attack on five people,
instead of focusing on making movies like family films, Garren wondered.
"If he's making a horror flick, there's no way I would sign off on that,"
said Spencer Mann, an investigator and spokesman for the State Attorney's
Office in Gainesville.
Mann was working as a public information officer for the Alachua County
Sheriff's Office when the murders occurred almost 16 years ago.
"I think anything that glorifies an incident like this is exploitative in
nature. Just the very fact that he would be saying he would be putting
together a horror flick based on this account, I don't see how that
couldn't be exploitative."
Mann said there have books and television shows about the student murders,
but he didn't know of any films.
Soon after the murders, a made-for-TV production was in the works. The
students' families couldn't stop the movie but made a deal to keep control
over the production's content.
In the end, Garren said, the production closed down because the families
wanted a lot of input that the makers didn't want to give.
If Townsend's film pushes forward, Garren said it's likely the students'
families would come together again to deal with its production.
"I know they're not going to be happy we're making a movie, no matter
what," Townsend said about relatives of the college students Rolling
But, he said, "At least I can tell it half-respectfully, I believe, living
here through all of that."
"I'm just hoping they'll give me a chance and leave me alone and maybe let
me contribute the profits," he said.
(source: Gainesville Sun)
Celtic to be tenor of evening of music
When the Celtic Tenors performed "Danny Boy" for former President Bill
Clinton several years ago, "he was only a few feet away and he had tears
in his eyes," said tenor Niall Morris.
While many people, Irish and otherwise, are moved to tears by the
plaintive ballad, those feelings aren't always due to warm 'n' wistful
thoughts about the song and its tale of a lad leaving the Emerald Isle.
Though the Celtic Tenors' new CD calls "Danny Boy" "Ireland's most
treasured folk song," tenor James Nelson admits the song can spur a mixed
The song boasts "a traditional Irish melody but its words are by an
Englishman, so I suppose it's a bit dodgy in that sense," Nelson said by
phone from Chicago, during a stop on the tenors' current tour. That tour
brings the trio -- Irishmen Nelson, Morris and Matthew Gilsenan -- to
Daytona Beach tonight for a concert at News-Journal Center.
"Originally it was, of course, on a short list to be the Irish national
anthem, way back in the 1920s when we got independence (from Britain),"
Nelson said. "But Fred Weatherly, who wrote the words, never even set foot
in Ireland. So, it's a shame -- even though it's a traditional tune, the
'Derry Air' or the 'Londonderry Air,' depending on whichever side of the
border (between Ireland and Northern Ireland) you come from."
Though Irish singer Maura O'Connell loathes "Danny Boy," such reactions
didn't prevent the Celtic Tenors from recording the song on their 1st
album 5 years ago, and recording an a cappella version on their new CD,
"The whole sentiment of the song is a father sending his son off to war,
wondering if he'll ever see him again," Nelson said. "It seems to be
poignant, we think anyway, that three guys are singing it. It's not a
typical love love song. It's a fatherly love, really. We've literally sung
it in every single show ever since (the first album). People expect to
People may not expect to hear other songs on "Remember Me," the tenors'
third studio album. The CD also includes such classical crossover works as
"Ten Thousand Tears" and "Non Siamo Isole/We Are Not Islands" (sung in
English and Italian); "You Raise Me Up," an inspirational song performed
with Irish pop-soul singer Samantha Mumba; a version of "All Out of Love,"
that 1980 hit by the pop duo Air Supply; and "Eric's Song," a work with
music by the tenors melded to lyrics by Eric Nance, an American who was
convicted of murder and executed in Arkansas last November.
Nelson realizes far more controversy may swirl around "Eric's Song" than
"I've always had a serious problem with the death penalty," Nelson said.
"I just feel it's wrong to kill on either side. Killers are wrong, but I
also think we don't have the right to play God."
10 years ago, he joined Lifelines, an organization which works to link
death-row inmates with correspondents. Nelson begin exchanging letters
with Nance, a prisoner in Arkansas who "was a drug addict found drugged
out at the scene of the murder -- there was never a DNA test conducted."
Last fall, the tenors came to the U.S., and Nelson was able to visit Nance
"As he said, his mind had been killed a long time ago," Nelson said. "His
eyes were kind of hollow when I met him, but eventually he started to
smile and even laugh and then he cried."
After the execution, Nelson and his tenor mates set one of Nance's poems
to music and decided to include the song on the new CD. Nelson doubts the
tenors will perform the song in concert, but if they do, "I'm not going to
be political," Nelson said.
"I think there's nothing more of a turn-off. We toured with Dionne Warwick
in the UK, and she started from the stage saying, 'Shame on George Bush'
and everything. Anytime she was heckled from the audience, she'd say,
'I've got a microphone, you don't.' She was quite aggressive about it.
"I thought, 'Oh gosh, don't do this. This is not a soapbox. You're a
musician.' We should get up and sing. I can have my views, I can have my
faith, I can have my spirituality. But I'm not going to start telling
people to be born again or whatever."
For their current tour, the Celtic Tenors will be joined by 18-year-old,
Irish-born soprano Donna Malone, and their musical director and pianist,
(source: Daytona Beach News-Journal)
AGs office may take over new trial of ex-Miss. death row inmate
The Mississippi attorney general's office will be asked to take over the
prosecution of former death row inmate Kennedy Brewer, who will be retried
Sept. 11 on charges of killing of his girlfriends daughter.
Columbus attorney Carrie Jourdan and District Attorney Forrest Allgood
agreed Wednesday that Allgood would recuse his office from prosecuting
Brewer, a Brooksville man who was convicted of capital murder in 1995 and
won a new trial with the help of new DNA evidence.
Brewer, 34, was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death in 1995
in Lowndes County for the 1992 rape and strangulation of his girlfriends
3-year-old daughter, Christine Jackson.
The Mississippi Supreme Court in 2002 denied Brewer's request for a new
trial but granted a hearing after Brewer's attorney, Carrie Jourdan,
presented the DNA evidence to the court. A Lowndes County judge ordered a
new trial and moved it to Noxubee County.
Jourdan requested the district attorney's office no longer be allowed to
prosecute because Rhonda Hayes-Ellis, who is now an assistant district
attorney on Allgoods staff, represented Brewer in his initial appeal to
the Mississippi Supreme Court.
In June 2001, Jourdan said she received documents by Reliagene
Technologies in New Orleans saying DNA tests on semen removed from the
child's body were from 2 unknown people but not from Brewer.
Authorities said Brewer was baby-sitting Jackson and at least 2 other
children when Jackson was strangled and raped.
Prosecutors have said while the DNA tests excluded Brewer, they are not
convinced Brewer had nothing to do with the crime.
Brewer has been held at the Noxubee County jail without bond pending his
(source: Associated Press)
Demanding justice----Hundreds of people, angry in the wake of a jail
homicide in Gulfport, gather to call for sheriff's removal
A rainbow audience more than 700 strong cheered and clapped as a veteran
police officer apologized for the death of Jessie Lee Williams Jr. and for
the misconduct in general of law enforcement officers everywhere.
As officer DeLacey Davis led the crowd in a lively civil rights revival
Thursday night at Good Deeds Community Center in North Gulfport, at least
100 men and women lined the walls , waiting to give sworn statements of
abuse at the Harrison County jail. At least 75 people waited to fill out
paperwork to expunge 1st-time felony convictions so they can apply to have
their voting rights restored.
The occasion, "And Justice For All," was a multi-purpose gathering
sponsored by the NAACP Gulfport branch in response to the homicide of
Williams, a 40-year-old laborer and father who was escorted into the
county jail on misdemeanor charges Feb. 4. He was taken out by ambulance
in a coma, clinically brain-dead.
Three jailers are named in a wrongful-death lawsuit; it alleges one jailer
in particular relentlessly beat and tortured Williams and that no one made
the jailer stop.
"The penalty for misdemeanors in Mississippi is not the death penalty,"
said Davis, an East Orange, N.J., police officer and founder of Black Cops
Against Police Brutality.
"We don't need a long, drawn-out investigation to figure out what
happened," Davis told the crowd of mostly black residents interspersed
with dozens of white residents and several Hispanics.
"We need someone to stand up and hold people accountable."
"Law enforcement doesn't apologize," said Davis. "We should. We shoot you
in the back when you're unarmed because we're scared. Police misconduct is
unacceptable in the 21st century. To not apologize when it happens is
Michael W. Crosby, an attorney representing Williams' estate, drew a
standing ovation as he stepped to the lectern. He described a deputy
towering over Williams, reading him his rights, as Williams' battered body
lay limp, blood streaming from both ears as he struggled to breathe.
"On behalf of Jessie, we waive that right to remain silent," Crosby said,
encouraging residents to stand united in seeking justice in Williams'
death and to insist law enforcement officers be held accountable for
misconduct and excessive use of force.
Rip Daniels of radio station WJZD-94.5 emceed the program as residents
arrived to find standing room only. Some rolled people in wheelchairs.
Some pushed strollers with babies. A couple waved handmade signs
proclaiming "justice delayed = justice denied" and "justice for Jessie
Roderick Miller of Biloxi expressed relief as he exited a private room
where he gave sworn testimony with documents and pictures showing he was
beaten while jailed on a misdemeanor charge that later was dismissed.
Miller said he wanted to do his part to help bring about a change.
A translator relayed a Hispanic man's testimony of how he was struck at
the jail booking room. A jailer claimed he was disobeying an order. The
man doesn't understand English, explained Andy Guerra of the Gulf Coast
By the 1st hour of the 3-hour event, more than 250 people had signed a
petition asking for the removal of Sheriff George H. Payne Jr., who called
in state and federal investigators to review what happened after the
altercation involving Williams.
Felicia Dunn-Burkes, an NAACP official, said the number of signatures
"Whatever that number is, the sheriff cannot ignore what a number of his
Burkes said the gathering isn't the end of efforts to seek change.
"We will continue to work for the betterment of the lives of all the
citizens in Harrison County," she said.
Walter Atkinson of the U.S. Justice Department's community relations
service said he was pleased at the turnout. His job is to serve as a
mediator and reconciliator in communities with actual or perceived tension
involving civil rights issues.
(source: The Biloxi Sun Herald)
Court orders retrial for Ragland -- Evidence faulted in DiGiuro murder
Shane Ragland, serving 30 years in prison after being convicted of
murdering a University of Kentucky football player 12 years ago, must
receive a new trial or be set free, the Kentucky Supreme Court has
In a ruling released yesterday, the court said that a Fayette Circuit
Court judge erred by admitting scientific evidence -- now discredited --
that jurors were told linked Ragland to shards of the fatal bullet.
It's the 2nd time the high court has ordered a new trial for Ragland, 32,
convicted of murdering Trent DiGiuro, from Goshen, in 1994 in retribution
for getting him blackballed from a UK fraternity years before. The court
agreed to reconsider the retrial decision because its membership changed.
Guthrie True, Ragland's attorney, said the decision makes it much more
difficult for the prosecution to prove its case.
"This was the only piece of significant physical evidence to tie Shane to
the crime scene," True said.
Fayette County Commonwealth's Attorney Ray Larson wouldn't discuss the
ruling yesterday, instead calling a news conference this morning.
But DiGiuro's father, Mike DiGiuro, said he believes a jury will convict
Ragland even without the disqualified bullet evidence.
"I don't think that evidence played a significant part" in the first
trial, he said.
True said it's too early to say when he will try to have Ragland released
from the Eastern Kentucky Correctional Complex in West Liberty.
Prosecutors have 20 days to request a rehearing.
The court ordered yesterday's opinion published, which means it can serve
as a precedent in other cases.
That gives hope to others in Kentucky who have been convicted in part
because of bullet lead analysis evidence that the Supreme Court ruled was
untrustworthy. Among those convicted is Ronnie Lee Bowling, who is on
death row for the 1989 murders of two Laurel County gas station
"Certainly, if it's significant in one case, it's going to be significant
in other cases where this evidence was used," Public Advocate Ernie Lewis
DiGiuro was murdered July 17, 1994, at a home he and other UK football
players rented near campus. He was celebrating his 21st birthday.
The case went unsolved for six years before a former girlfriend of
Ragland's came forward and told police that he had confessed the murder to
Ragland was convicted in 2002 and sentenced to 30 years in prison.
In November 2004, the Supreme Court ruled 4-3 that Ragland should get a
new trial because Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Mike Malone
intentionally referred in closing arguments to Ragland's decision not to
testify in his own defense.
But the court agreed 3 months later to reconsider the matter when its
membership changed after the 2004 election.
Yesterday, the court ruled that Malone's error wasn't serious enough to
warrant a new trial.
But the court also decided that Judge Thomas Clark should not have allowed
former FBI metallurgist Kathleen Lundy to testify in the trial.
The bullet that killed DiGiuro was too badly mangled to say definitively
that it was fired by the gun that authorities found at the home of
Lundy testified that trace elements found in the fatal bullet were similar
to a bullet in the gun and to nine bullets found in the home -- linking
Ragland to the crime.
Defense experts testified that the FBI bullet lead analysis was based on
bad science. Since then, the National Research Council has said the test
In September 2005, the FBI announced it no longer would conduct the bullet
lead analysis tests.
The court also ruled that Clark should not have admitted the evidence
because of errors that Lundy made during a pretrial hearing to determine
whether the bullet lead analysis was admissible.
In that hearing, Lundy testified incorrectly about the manufacturing
process used to make the bullets, even though she had been told previously
that similar testimony was incorrect.
Lundy eventually left the FBI lab and pleaded guilty to testifying falsely
in the Ragland hearing.
(source: Louisville Courier-Journal)
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