[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----GA., N.C., USA, MD.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sun Oct 22 23:51:26 UTC 2006
Feds taking over prosecution of 3 Whitehead defendants
The state's case against 3 defendants in the slaying of a Bibb County
deputy was put on hold Friday, with prosecution of the 3 now headed to
Judge Tommy Day Wilcox signed an order placing cases against Cynthia
Greene, Thomas Mason Porter Jr. and Hassan Shirell Harclerode on the dead
docket. In layman's terms, that means that for now, the state's
prosecution of those 3 defendants in Superior Court is on hold. The order
was filed late Friday afternoon.
The 4, along with Damon Jolly, 20, and Antron Dawayne Fair, 21, were
charged in the shooting death of Bibb County sheriff's deputy Joseph
Whitehead. The deputy was shot March 23 while he and other deputies were
conducting a drug raid on Atherton Street on the edge of Macon's
Prosecution of cases against Green, Porter and Harclerode is expected to
move to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
"They are in federal custody and will be charged Monday with federal
offenses, at which time we will defer our prosecution in lieu of theirs,"
said Howard Simms, Bibb County's district attorney.
Max Wood, the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia, confirmed
that the 3 will appear in federal court Monday afternoon but would not
"That's really all I want to say," he said.
Simms said his office will still prosecute Jolly and Fair in the slaying.
The state is seeking the death penalty against the 2 men if they are
convicted of murder in the case.
(source: Macon Telegraph)
Legal ordeal torments murder victim's family: Killer who pleaded guilty
after three death sentences were overturned will be able to seek parole in
It was dark when Matthew and Ruth Brooks pulled in at the Mid-Carolina
Motor Inn in Lexington County on Nov. 19, 1984.
Matthew, stiff from 10 hours of driving, wanted to stretch his legs. Ruth
grabbed her pocketbook, and the couple walked.
The next thing Ruth remembered was looking up as blood gushed into her eye
and seeing 19-year-old Raymond Patterson beating her husband.
"I have never seen anything in my whole life to compare the way that he
was beating him," she testified during Patterson's trial. "And I just
couldn't stand to look."
Patterson got away with a comb, $30 and a black rain bonnet. He left
behind 66-year-old Matthew Brooks, mortally wounded, with a bullet hole in
his left eye.
In the 20 years since, 36 jurors have signed warrants authorizing
Patterson's execution - 3 trials, 3 death sentences.
All were overturned.
On July 19, Patterson pleaded guilty to murder and was given a life
sentence, resolving the decades-long legal battle.
Ruth Brooks, weary from three emotional trial testimonies, died in 2001,
leaving no eyewitnesses for a fourth trial.
Her daughter, Jenny Ruth, had disappeared. Family members haven't heard
from her in years.
Her son, Matthew Brooks Jr., committed suicide shortly after the 3rd
"He just couldn't handle it anymore," said David Brooks, Matthew Brooks'
nephew. "The way they kept overturning it, and his father being gone. He
A special plea deal ensures Patterson will stay in prison until at least
2019, when he is 54.
That means David Brooks has a new hobby. He vows to keep Patterson in jail
for life. He said he owes it to his parents and his uncle.
"I'll still be here until the day I can't," he said. "I'll be there
Ruth Brooks was 67 in 1984. Born and raised in West Virginia, she was
married to Matthew Brooks for 38 years.
Matthew Brooks retired from his job as a conductor for the N&W Railroad in
West Virginia in 1983. He came to South Carolina in 1984 to help his
brother, Linsay Brooks, mourn the death of his wife. He hadn't seen Linsay
in 7 years.
Matthew and Ruth figured they did not have to make hotel reservations.
They drove around the Columbia area until they found the Mid-Carolina
Motor Inn on St. Andrews Road, off Interstate 26.
Ruth wanted to make a fruitcake, and Matthew wanted to eat, so the couple
decided to go for a walk as soon as they arrived. When they got back to
the motel, they stopped to get their nightclothes out of their car's
Down the hill, Patterson was sitting in a car while his brother-in-law,
Dwayne Keels, pumped gas.
Patterson had been on parole for two months for breaking into a house.
Carrying a long-barreled, Western-style .45-caliber pistol that he had
stolen from a car a few weeks before, Patterson saw the hotel and told
Keels he was going to "look around."
He found Matthew and Ruth Brooks.
When Patterson tried to take Ruth Brooks' purse, her husband fought back.
Patterson beat Matthew Brooks, shot him and fled.
Across the river, David Brooks was at a funeral home making final
arrangements for his mother when two sheriff's deputies arrived to tell
him and his father that Matthew had been shot.
"It was everything I could do to compose myself and keep my dad composed
because we weren't even through with the arrangements for my mom yet," he
said. "We immediately got up and went to the hospital. We thought there
was a chance of him making it."
Matthew Brooks died the next morning. Linsay Brooks carried a vendetta
against Patterson to his grave. His goal was to live to see Patterson
However, when Ruth Brooks died, Linsay's son knew that would never happen.
He just didn't have the heart to tell his father.
Linsay Brooks died last year.
Patterson's 1st trial began Sept. 3, 1985. It was doomed from the start.
Eleventh Circuit Solicitor Donnie Myers dismissed the only black juror in
the jury pool. Patterson is black. Matthew Brooks was white.
That juror, a woman identified only as Leaphart in records, never clearly
said if she could vote for the death penalty. Myers struck her from the
pool of prospective jurors, saying she was against the death penalty.
"I had a valid reason," Myers said. "I want to try to judge (jurors) on
the basis that they will listen to the evidence and if the death penalty
is warranted, they can vote for it, or if life in prison is warranted,
they can vote for that."
On Sept. 7, 1985, a jury decided Patterson should die.
But during the sentencing phase of the trial, the judge had refused to
allow a psychologist to testify about how Patterson would adapt to life in
prison. The state Supreme Court ruled that was improper, so Patterson had
to be resentenced.
That meant Ruth Brooks had to come to Lexington for another week of
She didn't want to do it.
"Me and a Lexington County deputy flew up there to bring her back, gave
her police protection," David Brooks said. "Mentally, she was just very
unstable. She didn't trust anybody."
Patterson's 2nd sentencing trial began Nov. 2, 1987, and Ruth Brooks was
there to tell her story.
"The most difficult part of the case was the cross-examination of that
poor widow," said attorney John Delgado, who represented Patterson in his
3 trials. "She was a very decent human being and didn't deserve any of
On Nov. 7, 1985, a jury again decided on the death penalty for Patterson.
In 1986, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled prosecutors could not disqualify
potential jurors on the basis of race. In 1990, the justices ordered the
state Supreme Court to reconsider Patterson's 1985 conviction because the
black juror, Leaphart, was dismissed from his trial's jury pool.
At first, the state Supreme Court sided with Myers, ruling a juror of any
race would have been disqualified for making the statements Leaphart had
made. But, in 1991, the U.S. Supreme Court told the state Supreme Court to
reconsider its ruling. It did, and, in 1992, the state's highest court
ruled Patterson should get a new trial.
Prosecutors, defense attorneys - and Ruth Brooks - had to do it all over
"It's the most convoluted case I've ever seen," Myers said.
The third trial started in February 1995.
Ruth Brooks was in her 70s and in a wheelchair. She told prosecutors she
"We started selecting the jury, and I pretty much knew that if she wasn't
here by Wednesday that I would have to take a life sentence," Myers said,
adding, "He (Patterson) deserved the death penalty."
Ruth Brooks changed her mind, and Patterson was sentenced to death a 3rd
time on Valentine's Day 1995.
The trial saga would have been over had it not been for a diagram in the
jury room. Introduced by the defense, it showed Patterson's record of good
behavior while in prison. It also showed his parole eligibility -
something jurors cannot factor into their decision.
"It was a mistake," defense attorney Delgado said.
The mistake meant Patterson could get a 4th trial. But without Ruth
Brooks, who died in 2001, Myers didn't have a case.
Patterson has never denied his guilt. However, he says he never meant to
shoot Brooks. Instead, Patterson said, his gun went off while he was
beating Brooks, according to Delgado.
"None of these issues were about guilt or innocence. They were about trial
error," said Laura Hudson, spokeswoman for the S.C. Victim Assistance
Network. "It really disturbs me."
Delgado said Patterson's case did not warrant the death penalty. He said
capital cases are expensive and time-consuming and shouldn't be used in
cases like Patterson's.
"Raymond's case is the epitome of the irrationality of our capital
procedure in South Carolina," he said. "This matter could have been
resolved long ago with the savings of innumerable hours and time and cost
to the system if the prosecution had allowed a life sentence in 1985."
That wasn't an option for the Brooks family. They wanted Patterson to die
for taking Matthew Brooks' life. But they didn't know it would take three
trials and more than 20 years to be done with the case.
David Brooks lives in Columbia and works for the State Budget and Control
Board. He didn't know his uncle Matthew Brooks very well, meeting him a
few times at family reunions. But for 22 years, he has fought for his
uncle, and he is not going to stop. He plans to oppose any effort by
Patterson to win parole from prison when he becomes eligible in 2019.
"I feel a responsibility to my dad, my uncle," he said. "I don't believe
(they) are really ever going to be at rest."
(source: Charlotte Observer)
Justice Kennedy holds key to high court
There is nothing of the buttoned-down manner of Chief Justice John
Roberts, the professorial mien of Ruth Bader Ginsburg , the biting wit of
Antonin Scalia .
Yet after 18 years on the court, at age 70, this spectacled, gray-haired
justice has emerged in recent months as the court's new power center.
Lawyers dissect his past writings for clues into how to carry the day
before the high court. There is as much talk about the "Kennedy Court" as
there is about a "Roberts Court." <>P> In truth, Kennedy long has been in
the court's philosophical center, a key vote in determining whether its
more liberal or conservative justices will prevail. But Kennedy's pivotal
role was largely overshadowed by that of fellow centrist Sandra Day
O'Connor Sandra Day O'Connor, who retired this year.
The question being asked in this first full term of the Roberts court is
whether Kennedy, already considered somewhat unpredictable in his rulings,
will adjust his style or jurisprudence now that he is the lone man in the
"Justice O'Connor didn't like it, either," he said in an interview with
The Associated Press last week. "It indicates some sort of a vacillation,
but in my own view, my jurisprudence is quite consistent. It just happens
that the cases happen to swing from one side to the other of what I think
is a well-grounded philosophy."
"Justice Kennedy likes to wander all over the constitutional law like an
errant voyager," John Yoo, a former Justice Department official in the
Bush administration, said at a recent forum. "No one knows where he is
going to end up."
In assessing where Kennedy may go from here, a Supreme Court historian
points to the example of O'Connor. Her early dissents on abortion and, to
some extent, on race tended to be more conservative than were her opinions
in later years once her vote became controlling, said David Garrow of
Pepperdine law professor Douglas Kmiec said he did not think Kennedy would
change his style "in the least. I think what will happen is that we'll
come to know it more and understand it better."
Kennedy, who was appointed by Republican Ronald Reagan , most often votes
with the court's conservative bloc. But he has inflamed the right by
voting against its interests on issues such as abortion, school prayer and
In this term, Kennedy's vote will be watched closely in cases that
challenge a type of late-term abortion and the use of race in assigning
students to public schools. When the court last faced those issues,
Kennedy sided with the conservatives, in dissent.
"I don't think the court has to issue broad, earth-shattering decisions in
the abortion and affirmative action cases, but I think it could, and if it
does, those cases could not only define Kennedy's role but define for the
foreseeable future the image of the Roberts court," said Stephen Wermeil,
a law professor at American University.
Kennedy's clout came into focus in the last term, when he voted with the
majority in 94 percent of the court's high-profile cases, according to an
analysis by the Supreme Court Institute at Georgetown University's Law
Center. Often, his vote determined which side would be in the majority.
Kennedy, a California native, spent 13 years as a judge on the U.S. Court
of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. He emerged as Reagan's third-choice
nominee for the Supreme Court after the Senate rejected Robert Bork and
Douglas Ginsburg withdrew.
Reagan, who had promised to appoint conservative justices, got to know
Kennedy when the young lawyer provided legal help when Reagan was
Kennedy was confirmed unanimously by the Senate. His early voting pattern
on the high court made him a faithful ally of the court's conservative
leader, William Rehnquist . But while Kennedy still is no liberal, over
the years he has repeatedly disappointed conservatives, perhaps most
notably in the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey ruling that upheld the
constitutional right to an abortion.
Scalia, known for his sharp pen, has derided Kennedy's writings more than
once. In a 2005 case that outlawed the death penalty for juveniles, for
example, Scalia's dissent called Kennedy's majority opinion a "mockery"
based on "on the flimsiest of grounds."
If Kennedy's personna is unassuming, his prose is not.
His style is to write for the history books, law professor Wermeil said.
Sometimes Kennedy lays out both sides of a case before coming down on one
side or the other, to the dismay of some and admiration of others.
Kmiec says those who brand Kennedy as something of an ambivalent Hamlet do
not understand his style, which is to set out the limitations of his own
rationale and allow that a future case may need to be resolved
"That's frustrating for somebody who may want a rule book, but it may well
be a model of the closest thing a modern justice can give us of a
Solomonic approach," he said.
For now, says political scientist Yalof, Kennedy's "movements back and
forth are likely to shift the court with him." But further turnover on the
court could abruptly end that phenomenon. If, for example, 86-year-old
Justice John Paul Stevens were to be replaced by a Republican conservative
nominee, Yalof said, Kennedy "will no longer be the pivot vote very
In unusually frank public comments about his role, Kennedy painted a
portrait of isolation in the spotlight.
"There is a loneliness," he told The New York Times in June 2005. "You can
have all the clerks and all the colleagues you want, but in the end the
decision is yours to make."
In the AP interview, conducted in the library of his old law firm in San
Francisco, Kennedy stressed that while the court often handles cases with
huge political implications, justices decide them in "content neutral
He shied away from discussing his own judicial approach, and glanced
around the library for a set of "those books" - the U.S. Supreme Court
U.S. Supreme Court Reports - saying, "we are judged, or should be judged,
evaluated, assessed, understood, by what is written in the United States
"We don't have the tradition of going out and saying how wonderful my
dissent was or how unconvincing the opinion on the other side was," he
said. "You know, we're judged by what we write."
(source: Associated Press)
Lethal practice----Health workers cross line on death
In North Carolina, a physician monitored a condemned inmate's brain waves
as the drugs that would bring death were about to be added to the IV. The
doctor was prepared to direct executioners to inject more anesthesia if
the prisoner remained conscious.
Doctors in Georgia have gradually taken on larger roles in state
executions, starting intravenous lines when nurses could not and, on one
occasion, even ordering a second dose of potassium chloride after a
prisoner's heart did not stop.
In Maryland, a team of correctional officers, prison officials and hired
nursing assistants and paramedics carries out executions. Although a
doctor is present, her only role has been to pronounce death.
Across the nation, doctors are crossing a line that has existed for more
than 2,000 years in the view of most medical professionals, violating an
oath to do no harm to patients by participating in executions.
Even the limited role of declaring that a prisoner has died is prohibited
by the American Medical Association and other professional organizations
that have taken firm positions against any involvement by doctors and
nurses in the administration of capital punishment.
Now, in a case challenging Maryland's lethal injection procedures, lawyers
representing state prison officials and attorneys for death row inmate
Vernon L. Evans Jr. are facing off in federal court over whether
physicians and highly trained nurses are needed for Maryland's executions.
Even the judge hearing the case has asked whether medical professionals
who live by the Hippocratic Oath can be persuaded to help put a man to
Indeed, the question of whether physicians could or should participate in
executions has become an issue in the long-running national death penalty
debate, with opponents arguing that lethal injection procedures as
currently carried out in many states by individuals with little or no
medical training represent unconstitutionally cruel and unusual
The presumption has been that doctors don't participate. But, in death
chambers across the country, some have.
"I had no qualms," one nurse, who started an IV in an inmate who was about
to be put to death in a prison out West, told a surgeon and medical school
professor who wrote an article about physician participation in executions
for The New England Journal of Medicine. "If this is to be done correctly,
if it is to be done at all, then I am the person to do it."
The nurse - like nearly everyone who has taken part in executions, whether
in Maryland or elsewhere - remained anonymous. Of the 15 medical
professionals Dr. Atul Gawande located for his article, only five agreed
to speak to him, and only one allowed his name to be used.
That physician, Dr. Carlo Musso, compared his role in executions in
Georgia to any other "end-of-life issue" that he faces in his practice of
medicine, and said a condemned man is "no different from a patient dying
of cancer - except his cancer is a court order."
"When we have a patient who can no longer survive his illness, we as
physicians must ensure he has comfort," Musso, a death penalty opponent,
was quoted as saying. He told Gawande that he had done nothing during the
six executions in which he had participated but watch inmates' heart
rhythms on a cardiac monitor to determine when the prisoners had died.
Attempts to reach him for this article were unsuccessful.
But physicians who participate in executions - even just to pronounce
death - do so in violation of many professional medical associations'
codes of ethics.
Dr. Arthur Zitrin, a New York psychiatrist and clinical professor who has
lodged complaints with medical licensing boards against the few doctors
who have been publicly identified as execution participants, explained:
"In the event that the condemned inmate is not dead, the obligation of the
physician would be to say, 'Get more drugs' or recommend that the
execution process continue. ... The obligation of the physician would be
to make a recommendation to kill a person. He's becoming an executioner,
Gawande, a Boston surgeon and Harvard Medical School professor who spent
more than a year trying to find doctors and nurses who participate in
executions for his New England Journal article, said in an interview that
some agree to take part out of the belief that their involvement will help
ensure that the lethal injection procedures are carried out as painlessly
and humanely as possible.
According to Gawande's article, 2 doctors had become involved at the
request of their patients, who happened to work at prisons where
executions were performed. Another of the doctors told his wife about the
job right away but could not bring himself to tell his children until they
were adults. And one, after having to give a deposition in a court
challenge to a lethal injection, came to work one day to find a sign on
his clinic door that read, "The Killer Doctor."
"The 4 physicians and one nurse all were people like colleagues I have,
and had thought through the problem in their own ways," Gawande said.
"What I found was that I respected them and, by and large, they were
thoughtful people who were really trying to grapple with a fundamental
In Evans' federal case in Baltimore, the testimony of 11 past and current
execution team members has offered an unprecedented glimpse into who does
what behind the curtains and mirrored glass of Maryland's death chamber
when the state carries out the ultimate sanction.
A doctor who participated in the lethal injections of Steven H. Oken in
2003 and Wesley Eugene Baker in December testified that her role was
limited to watching the tracings on an EKG machine and notifying prison
officials when the condemned men's hearts had stopped.
Other than that doctor - an internist - the execution team member with the
most medical training is a certified nursing assistant who earned an
associate's degree at a local community college and was taught at the
regional medical center where she has worked for nearly a decade how to
draw blood, insert catheters and start intravenous lines.
Expert medical witnesses testifying for Evans have characterized the
nursing assistant and her execution team colleagues as unqualified and
poorly trained for the jobs they carry out on execution nights. The pair
of physicians criticized execution team members' understanding of
intravenous systems and of signs that an inmate being put to death might
be conscious, and one doctor concluded that some don't even comprehend
their individual responsibilities.
Sentenced to death for the 1983 contract killings of two Pikesville motel
employees in an attempt to silence witnesses in a federal drug case,
Evans, 57, has sued Maryland correctional officials, alleging that the
state's lethal injection procedures, as written and carried out, violate
the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
Lawyers representing the state have argued that an execution is not a
medical procedure and should not be held to the same standards.
Their expert medical witness testified this month that the troubling
scenario raised in Evans' lawsuit - that the convicted killer could be
inadequately sedated but unable to signal his distress as painful
paralyzing and heart-stopping drugs enter his system - was "medically
Legal and medical experts who follow the debate over the involvement of
medical professionals in state executions say it's difficult to tell how
many doctors and nurses are participating and just what their roles are in
the death chambers. Few medical personnel are willing to publicly discuss
their roles, and the corrections departments that hire them zealously
protect their identities.
What is known has largely emerged from lawsuits filed by death row inmates
who, like Evans, have challenged their state's lethal injection protocol.
In Missouri, a federal judge ordered the participation of trained
anesthesiologists after the surgeon who oversaw the state's executions for
years and who prepared the drugs used in each lethal injection testified
in June that dyslexia sometimes caused him to transpose numbers, confuse
dosages and refer to drugs by the wrong name.
In California, execution team members testified last month in a federal
lawsuit that the execution anteroom, where lethal doses of three drugs are
prepared and injected, is packed with people and so dimly lit that one
nurse said she passes syringes to an outstretched hand whose owner she
"The room is darkened so that people can't identify who's doing what,"
said Deborah W. Denno, a Fordham University law school professor and a
national expert on lethal injections.
"There's such an effort to protect confidentiality and diffuse
responsibility that people don't even know what everybody else is doing,"
Several studies, surveys and research papers document the willingness of
doctors and other medical personnel to participate in state executions.
A 2002 study by Denno found that "in general, states allow for substantial
physician participation, although the roles are limited, at least
Her research revealed that doctors declare or "pronounce" the death of a
condemned inmate in 13 states while that task is left to coroners or a
prison warden in six states. In Connecticut, a doctor must certify that
the "executioners are properly trained, including having the ability to
properly insert [an] IV." And in Indiana, a physician must insert the IV
for the administration of the lethal chemicals, according to the study.
A survey of randomly selected practicing physicians published in the
Annals of Internal Medicine in 2001 found that 41 percent of respondents
indicated that they would be willing to participate in an execution and do
more than merely certifying another person's pronouncement that the inmate
was dead. (Certifying death and giving a condemned inmate a sedative to
calm his nerves before an execution are the only roles that the American
Medical Association says do not violate the profession's Hippocratic Oath
to "do no harm.")
19 % of the doctors surveyed indicated that they would agree to administer
the lethal drugs.
To Dr. Jonathan I. Groner, a surgeon and medical school professor in Ohio
who has written about doctors' participation in state executions, nothing
could be more troubling.
Drawing a parallel to German doctors who participated in the Nazis'
program of euthanizing intellectually and physically disabled people,
known as Aktion T4, Groner said, "Most times in history when doctors have
forsaken their ethics to help a government program, it has usually worked
out badly, not only for the doctors but also for society as well."
U.S. District Judge Benson E. Legg, who is hearing Evans' federal lawsuit,
has told the lawyers handling the case that he wonders whether it would
even be possible to find a doctor willing to participate in an execution,
should he order the state to do so.
And although Evans' lawyers have highlighted execution team members' lack
of knowledge or understanding of the overall lethal injection procedure,
the judge has wondered aloud whether that isn't intentional "to lessen the
burden for the responsibility of killing someone."
Judges in California and Missouri have ordered prison officials there to
involve anesthesiologists or similarly qualified medical professionals in
administering the anesthesia and making sure the condemned inmate is
unconscious when the 2nd and 3rd drugs are injected into an IV, paralyzing
the prisoner and stopping his heart. Both states, however, have struggled
to find medical personnel to play those specific roles and are still tied
up in litigation to work out the details.
Lawyers for Evans presented 4 days of testimony in September, and
attorneys representing Maryland prison officials wrapped up their case
Oct. 12. No date had been set for Evans' lawyers to present rebuttal
testimony and for both sides to offer closing arguments.
Hard test for freedom----DNA evidence rarely offers convicted prisoners a
clear route to exoneration
A small meeting room for prisoners and their clients at Roxbury
Correctional Institution in Hagerstown has come to be called the
This is where public defenders with the state's Innocence Project, which
works to overturn wrongful convictions, told James Thompson Jr. this
summer that new DNA test results cast doubt on his rape and murder
conviction. This is where, in 2002, they told Bernard Webster that his DNA
did not match samples collected from the woman he was convicted of raping.
So far, fresh DNA testing has changed the future of six Maryland
prisoners. This month, Thompson, 47, and his co-defendant, James Owens
Jr., 41, took a major step toward joining that group when their defense
attorneys filed motions for new trials. A recent DNA test showed that
semen from the victim doesn't match either of them.
Maryland burst to the forefront of post-conviction DNA testing with Kirk
Bloodsworth in 1991, when the evidence freed him from death row after a
murder conviction and then pointed to another man who eventually pleaded
guilty to being the killer.
Rarely are post-conviction DNA cases so clear-cut; only Webster's has
followed that same track. The others have been shades of gray, with some
prisoners winning new trials thanks to DNA but then pleading guilty - and
accepting sentences of time already served - to ensure their release from
That's what happened in August to Robert C. Griffin, the first Baltimore
man to be granted a new trial because of DNA evidence. Instead of pursuing
a trial, he took a plea deal that ended his life prison term.
As a result, the phrases most closely associated with post-conviction DNA
cases - "exonerated" and "proved innocent" - have different meanings to
prosecutors, defense attorneys and the public.
At a news conference about the DNA results, attorneys for Owens and
Thompson proclaimed their case as "the first double post-conviction
exoneration in Maryland."
"Yet another case of wrongful convictions," announced Nancy S. Forster,
the state public defender.
But city prosecutors said the convicted pair have a long way to go.
"They're getting way ahead of themselves," said Margaret T. Burns, a
spokeswoman for the city state's attorney's office. "To make such sweeping
statements without the necessary and prudent documentation is not in the
interest of justice for the defendants and for the victim's family."
William C. Winkler, the stepfather of Colleen Williar, the woman Owens and
Thompson were convicted of killing, said news of the DNA test results has
dredged up painful memories.
"Why are their attorneys allowed to say that they're innocent?" he said.
"I wish they would tone it down a bit."
Winkler said he sat through every moment of the trials and remains
convinced of the men's guilt. "If I had any doubt in my mind, I certainly
wouldn't want anyone to be convicted of something they didn't do," he
Owens and Thompson were convicted in 1988 in separate trials. Thompson
testified at Owens' trial that he masturbated while Owens raped and then
killed 24-year-old Williar.
Owens was convicted of murder, but not rape, and sentenced to life in
prison without the possibility of parole. There was no scientific evidence
tying Owens to the crime scene, his lawyer Stephen Mercer said last week.
At Thompson's trial, prosecutors said a pubic hair at the crime scene
matched him and that a pair of his jeans was stained with the victim's
blood. Thompson was convicted of rape and murder and sentenced to life in
But Thompson's lawyer, Suzanne Drouet, said last week new testing has
shown the blood was male and therefore could not have been Williar's, and
that the hair evidence was overstated by prosecutors.
At both trials, prosecutors pointed to semen collected from the victim's
body as evidence of a rape, but testing at the time could not show whose
But if Owens and Thompson are seeking compensation like others who have
proven through DNA that they were wrongly convicted, they face a long
Bloodsworth and Webster were eventually pardoned by the governor and
awarded restitution for wrongful imprisonment. In 1994, the state Board of
Public Works gave Bloodsworth $300,000 for his 9 years of prison and in
2003 the board gave Webster $900,000 for his 20 years.
Michele Nethercott, head of the Innocence Project, said she and her
co-workers have reviewed hundreds of letters from prisoners saying they've
been wrongly convicted and have the DNA to prove it. Usually, the requests
In many cases, no samples were collected. If they were, many times they've
been destroyed. A 2002 state law aims to address that problem, but
Nethercott said police departments still routinely destroy the evidence.
Nethercott said the Innocence Project has found saved DNA evidence in 16
cases throughout the state since her unit was formed about 3 years ago.
Next, if DNA evidence exists, the attorney must persuade a prosecutor or a
judge to agree to its release for testing.
Nethercott said testing has occurred in about eight cases pursued by the
Innocent Project. Once, the test showed that the correct man was in jail.
A more common dead end is to have a laboratory return "inconclusive" DNA
results, effectively ending the inmate's post-conviction hopes.
Owens and Thompson have overcome those hurdles. A judge must now decide
whether to overturn their convictions and set new trial dates. Then
prosecutors would have to choose whether to drop the cases, try them again
or offer plea deals.
Faced with the prospect of his new murder trial being postponed, Griffin
decided in August to take a plea in which he did not admit guilt, but did
acknowledge prosecutors had enough evidence to convict him. The
agreed-upon sentence ended with time already served.
Similarly, two Baltimore County men, Gregory Jones and Christopher
Conover, opted for plea deals with no further prison time instead of
trials, through Jones' decision came after a trial that ended with all but
one juror voting to acquit.
Drouet, an Innocence Project public defender who represented Griffin and
Jones, said clients have agonized over that choice.
"They see it as giving up," she said.
Nethercott said "it's not puzzling at all" that someone would choose the
guaranteed freedom over the uncertainty of a trial, even if exculpatory
evidence is solid.
"The system didn't work for them," Nethercott said. "And now they're
supposed to trust that that same system will work?"
Maryland's sixth DNA case involved Anthony Gray Jr., a Calvert County man
convicted of murder in 1991. Eight years later, a DNA test prompted
prosecutors to determine no evidence linked him to the crime, and he was
But Gray never received a pardon from the governor - a necessary precursor
to state compensation for wrongful imprisonment.
Bernard Webster wasn't even 21 years old when he went to prison for the
rape of a teacher in her Towson apartment. His conviction seemed solid:
The victim and two others picked him out of a photo lineup, and a key in a
pair of pants left at the crime scene fit a lock on one of Webster's
But semen collected from the victim's body and preserved for two decades
on a slide at Greater Baltimore Medical Center, where the victim was
examined, showed that Webster was not the rapist. It also revealed the man
who was. Darren Lyndell Powell pleaded guilty to the crime in September
Nethercott recalls clearly the afternoon that Webster walked out of the
Baltimore County Circuit Courthouse a free man. "He was overwhelmed," she
said. "20 years of his life had disappeared."
Thompson's relatives have a realistic take on what he faces if he, too,
makes a similar walk. "I don't think he can have much of a life now," said
his father, James Thompson Sr.
James Thompson Jr. was in his early 20s, a young father and a husband,
when he went to prison. His wife has divorced him, and neither Thompson
nor his relatives has contact with the children.
"His life is ruined," said his aunt, Deonna "Rose" Daughtery. "Once you've
got a record, you've got that record all your life. Nobody wants to hear
what you have to say."
Though Thompson's future as a free man, if that happens, may be bleak,
Drouet said, DNA has at least given him the hope of a life outside prison
And there in "the innocence cubicle," one August afternoon, Drouet said,
Thompson wept for that chance.
(source for both: Baltimore Sun)
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