[Deathpenalty] death penalty news-----VA., TENN.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Mon Jul 16 22:31:33 CDT 2007
VIRGINIA----new death sentence
Man sentenced to death for killing police officer
A judge on Monday imposed the death penalty for a man who killed a Norfolk
police officer in October 2005.
Thomas Porter, 31, was convicted of capital murder in March after he
admitted shooting Stanley Reaves 3 times in the head. A jury in Arlington,
where the trial was moved because of the attention it received in the
Hampton Roads area, recommended the death penalty.
Norfolk Circuit Court Judge Chuck Griffith announced the sentence in a
courtroom crowded with Reaves' friends, family and colleagues. Porter's
execution date, which likely will be delayed by appeals, is set for Feb.
Porter testified that he shot Reaves because he feared for his life during
an altercation with the officer. But prosecutors said Porter shot the
officer because he knew he had an outstanding warrant and was committing a
crime by carrying a gun.
Reaves died instantly, and police later identified Porter in the shooting.
He fled the area and was arrested 6 days later in White Plains, N.Y.
(source: Associated Press) ***************************************
Thomas Porter's death sentence upheld; execution scheduled
Following the recommendation of the jury, Norfolk Circuit Court Judge
Chuck Griffith has agreed with their determination and sentenced Thomas
Porter to die for killing Norfolk Police Officer Stanley Reaves.
His execution has been scheduled for February 4, 2008, but that date will
probably pass uneventfully as the normal process of appeals will likely
push Porter's execution back, perhaps years.
We've also received a statement from the Reaves family following today's
"We would like to extend a heart filled thank you to everyone for their
support and prayers since the tragic loss of our husband and father,
Officer Stanley Reaves. Our family isn't the only one that suffered a
loss, but the City of Norfolk, the Norfolk Police Department, and our
neighboring communities as well. I hope that those of you who were
fortunate enough to have met Stanley will never forget him. We never
(source: WAVY TV News)
Preventing a repeat of injustice
SLOWLY, SLOWLY, Virginia is winding up the embarrassing case of exonerated
death-row inmate Earl Washington Jr.
Revised DNA analysis, excluding Washington in the 1982 murder of Culpeper
housewife Rebecca Lynn Williams: Check.
Guilty plea from convicted rapist Maurice Kenneth Tinsley: Check.
Settlement of $1.9 million with Washington from the state of Virginia:
And now, revised gubernatorial pardon proclaiming Washington innocent of
the crime for which he came within nine days of execution: Thank you, Gov.
Tim Kaine, and check.
Almost 7 years after former Gov. Jim Gilmore pardoned Washington, without
acknowledging his innocence, the wheels of justice have almost spun across
the finish line.
Still, there's one necessary revolution to go.
If Virginia wants to prevent future error based on false confessions, as
happened in the Washington case, then localities from the Eastern Shore to
Lee County need to videotape police interrogations and confessions. No
single reform would do more to guard against similar mistakes.
Several Virginia localities - including Norfolk - have moved in that
direction in recent years. Their experience should provide all the
information the State Crime Commission or Kaine need to advance
legislation requiring such tapings.
Documents unearthed during a civil suit filed by Washington's attorneys
disclosed that a key state police interrogator supplied some of the
details in Washington's confession. Before that moment, prosecutors and
others had insisted that Washington must be guilty, because he knew
details of the crime that "only the killer could have known." Had that
interrogation been videotaped, it would have been quickly apparent the
claim was false.
Virginia is finally making right on the injustice done to Washington. But
if the state truly wants to rectify the mistake, it will videotape
interrogations and confessions to safeguard against a similar breakdown.
(source: The Virginian-Pilot)
Is evidence law too tough?----No inmates have been freed by new petition
process; supporters say system works
Virginia court rejected 1st appeal
3 years after felons were allowed to petition the Virginia Court of
Appeals with non-DNA evidence of innocence, few have done so, and none has
been found innocent.
Critics say that is because the law is impossibly tough; others disagree.
"The criticism from the beginning was that the procedures were too
complicated and the hurdles too high," said Kent Willis, executive
director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia. "While in
principal it was important to pass this bill, the practical effect was
"It was essentially set up to fail by creating too many obstacles," he
said. Not so, said J. Tucker Martin, spokesman for Virginia Attorney
General Bob McDonnell. "The law is working as it should. . . . The fact
that no writs have been awarded is a demonstration that the judicial
system in Virginia is fair and reliable," he said.
Martin said he would not speculate on whether there are innocent people in
Virginia's prisons who cannot be helped by the law. The record suggests
DNA testing has cleared 10 Virginians convicted of rape, murder and other
serious crimes. A sample testing of 31 old cases several years ago cleared
two men of rape who had never sought DNA testing.
A wider testing program of old cases is under way, and the Virginia
Department of Forensic Science expects it to clear more people.
In 2001, after DNA testing led to the pardon of a former death-row inmate,
the legislature made DNA the only exception to a rule barring state courts
from considering evidence of innocence if it was discovered more than 21
days after sentencing.
Inmates with new evidence have always been free to petition the governor
for clemency or a pardon, but not the state courts after the 21-day
"The problem with going to the governor," Willis said, "is that that is
ultimately a political process. The idea behind this law was to create a
presumably fair and objective process by which you could review
convictions based on newly discovered evidence."
Proponents of the 21-day rule argue verdicts must have finality -- that
there must be an end to appeals at some reasonable point. Opponents say
that in a system that is just, innocence must always trump finality.
Most states have no time limits. Virginia's 21-day rule is the toughest in
A problem with limiting exceptions to the 21-day rule to DNA is that most
inmates were convicted of crimes that cannot be cleared up using DNA
testing -- there either was no biological evidence involved or it no
To bring Virginia in line with other states and to assist felons with
non-DNA evidence of innocence, in 2002 the Virginia Supreme Court proposed
doing away with the 21-day rule.
Instead, the General Assembly, after listening to the concerns of
prosecutors, the Virginia attorney general's office and victims' rights
advocates, passed a "writ of actual innocence" law for non-DNA evidence.
Proponents said the new law would be the toughest exception to the
toughest finality rule in the country and that non-DNA evidence virtually
would have to be as persuasive as DNA evidence to prevail.
Critics say it is difficult to imagine how that can happen.
"If you're just going to limit it to DNA evidence, say that," said Betty
Layne DesPortes, a Richmond criminal-defense lawyer and forensics expert.
"Don't give this false hope of a writ of actual innocence that you are
never going to be able to prove."
Among other things, the writ of actual innocence requires that the new
evidence could not have been discovered before the 21-day limit expired
and that, when considered with the other evidence, it proves "that no
rational trier of fact could have found proof of guilt beyond a reasonable
DesPortes noted that if the new evidence was available during the 21-day
period, then the petitioner is out of luck and an innocent client is
punished because of their lawyer's failings, she said.
Also, she complained that the law does not permit anyone who pleaded
guilty -- the majority of those in prison -- to use the law. At least 2
wrongly convicted people cleared by DNA testing had pleaded guilty, one to
avoid a death sentence.
The law took effect July 1, 2004. According to a spokesman for the
Virginia Court of Appeals, as of the end of 2006, 92 petitions had been
filed. 85 were dismissed and seven were pending.
DesPortes suspects that many of the petitions were dismissed because of
filing errors by inmates who had to file papers themselves without the
help of a lawyer. A petitioner only gets one chance, she said.
The cases go to 3-judge panels of the appeals court, which can dismiss
them or ask the Virginia attorney general's office to respond. At that
point, the inmate is assigned a court-appointed lawyer.
Many of the petitions are based on the recantation of the trial testimony
of witnesses or the victim, or new statements from purported witnesses.
A problem, said state Sen. Kenneth W. Stolle, R-Virginia Beach, is that
new testimony and recantations can be subject to abuse and fraud. Stolle
played a key role in drafting the law and tried to satisfy the concerns of
At the time the law was being drafted, there was great concern about its
potential for abuse by inmates. So it was designed to minimize that
potential, he said.
"I think that unless somebody is actually innocent and actually has to a
large degree irrefutable evidence that they're innocent, they will not be
able to take advantage of this writ of actual innocence," Stolle said.
"All things considered, if the testimony of a victim is the only evidence
. . . maybe under that circumstance a recantation could lead to a writ of
actual innocence being granted. But that's so rare . . . it very, very
rarely ever happens."
Stolle added: "It would be very difficult for any other evidence . . . to
rise to the level that DNA evidence rises to reverse the finding of
Stolle, a former police officer, also fought off criticism of the
legislation from state officials.
At one point, opponents got so frustrated they said the law was not needed
for non-DNA evidence because the state does not lock up many innocent
people. Stolle told them that argument was hollow.
The ACLU's Willis said it is time for the legislature to revisit the law
and make it available to more inmates.
"Maybe then we will get a glimpse of how fair the judicial system is in
Virginia," he said.
However, the Virginia attorney general's office sees no need for change,
nor does Stolle.
(source: Richmond Times-Dispatch)
Tennessee appellate court to hear ACLU argument to reverse death
sentence----ACLU argues Taylor was mentally ill at time of trial
The American Civil Liberties Union and the Office of the Tennessee
Post-Conviction Defender will appear in the Tennessee Court of Criminal
Appeals tomorrow to urge the court to reverse the conviction and death
sentence of Richard Taylor.
According to the ACLU, Taylor was severely mentally ill and incompetent at
the time of his 2003 trial. Taylor, who was schizophrenic, delusional, and
heavily sedated by forced medication, represented himself at trial without
even standby counsel to help him. At his trial, Taylor called no
witnesses, introduced no evidence, and presented no defense, and the
questions he posed on cross-examination were delusional. He was completely
silent during the sentencing phase of the proceedings.
The ACLU will also argue that Taylor was improperly denied the right to be
questioned about whether he wanted to have evidence of mitigating
circumstances presented to the jury. Thus, the jury never learned of his
difficult childhood, suicide attempts, psychiatric hospitalizations or
severe mental illness.
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