[Deathpenalty] death penalty news-----TEXAS, OKLA., TENN., GA.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Thu Dec 18 11:36:46 CST 2008
Judge says defense attorney in Medina death penalty case was qualified
A Dallas County judge quickly ruled Wednesday that the lead defense
attorney in the Hector Medina death penalty trial was qualified for the
job, even though her name was not on a list of attorneys approved to
handle capital punishment cases.
Donna Winfield was on the list a few years ago, has experience and
attended continuing education classes to prepare for the trial. As a
result, state District Judge Andy Chatham said, she was qualified and
capable of doing the job. Dallas County prosecutors agreed.
But a question remains as to whether Ms. Winfield purposely threw in the
towel during the punishment phase of Mr. Medina's trial. He was sentenced
to death in October for fatally shooting his two children outside his
Irving home in March 2007 after their mother left him.
At punishment, Ms. Winfield said that her key witness, a
neuropsychologist, was working on a military trial in North Carolina and
could not be here until January. She asked Judge Chatham for a three-month
delay, a request he promptly denied.
So the defiant attorney called no witnesses, refused to proceed with the
capital murder trial and was thrown in jail for a few hours by the judge
for contempt of court.
"I wasn't going to put on a disjointed defense of Mr. Medina," Ms.
Winfield said Wednesday at a hearing in Judge Chatham's courtroom to
request a new trial. "That wasn't fair to him or to the jury."
Kim Schaefer, an appellate attorney for Dallas County, questioned Ms.
Winfield during Wednesday's hearing about her strategy and pointed out
that other witnesses were available and in court, including another
medical expert, character witnesses and jail officials who could speak to
Mr. Medina's threat as a continuing danger to society.
Ms. Winfield, who testified for more than three hours Wednesday, stressed
that she believed her defense case was strong and that Mr. Medina was a
prime candidate for life in prison with no opportunity for parole, the
only other punishment option the jury had. But she said her entire case
hung on that one expert witness who would not be available until January.
Mr. Medina's appellate attorney, John Tatum, said in court documents that
Ms. Winfield was forced to be an ineffective counsel after her request for
a delay was denied.
Judge Chatham will continue to hear testimony today and make a
recommendation to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals as to whether he
thinks a new trial should be granted.
Longtime defense attorney Doug Parks is working with the defense appellate
team on this case and told the court Wednesday that lost in the
back-and-forth between prosecutors and defense attorneys is Mr. Medina.
"He is entitled to a fair punishment hearing," Mr. Parks said. "Regardless
of fault or finger-pointing, he has not had that, through no fault of his
(source: Dallas Morning News)
Watkins should be honored
Who could be a more deserving Texan of the Year than our humanely
conflicted Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins?
Like many Texans, Watkins doesn't believe executing people in the 21st
century should be Texas' claim to fame. Yet, having sworn to uphold the
law, Mr. Watkins argued for death in a case where the crime was heinous
and the defendant's guilt not in doubt.
To exemplify the ambivalence of many Texas about executions while
faithfully fulfilling his oath, Mr. Watkins deserves to be Texan of the
Year. Ken Duble, Dallas
(source: Letter to the Editor, Dallas Morning News)
Dying by degree: Capital punishment waning in popularity
The great debate of our time is whether the state has any business bailing
out private companies such as automakers. The great debate for many
generations is whether the state has any business executing cold-blooded
In Oklahoma, there remains little debate about the rightness of capital
punishment, but even here support is softening. Elsewhere, the death
penalty itself is on death row.
In 2007, New Jersey repealed its mostly unused capital crime provision.
Maryland and New Mexico are expected to be the next states to do so.
The death penalty divide in this country is not unlike the Red State-Blue
State divide, with Republican-leaning states especially willing to put
killers to death and Democrat-leaning states especially loathe to do so.
This year will end with the fewest executions of any year since 1994.
Oklahoma's execution rate will be the lowest since 1997, and juries here
are increasingly reluctant to impose the ultimate penalty.
Still, there is no serious debate in Oklahoma about doing away with the
death penalty. Just as liberals hung their heads in shame about the state
being John McCains best, they are embarrassed that we join Texas and a
handful of other Southern states in believing that killers who deserve to
die should die.
State executions have become a regional phenomenon: All but 4 of the 37
executions through early December were in the South.
This is no cause for embarrassment it reflects the peoples will but we
wonder how much longer our citizens will be willing to embrace capital
(source: Editorial, The Oklahoman)
Cone death penalty case shows priority of authorities is really to protect
Julien Ball [Administrative Coordinator, Campaign to End the Death
Penalty]: "The State of Tennessee wants to execute Gary Cone on a
technicality. It is beyond dispute that the prosecution withheld crucial
evidence in the case. Cone argued that he suffered from amphetamine
psychosis when he committed a double murder and should be spared the death
penalty. The prosecution withheld a witness statement confirming Cone's
drug use, yet called his claim of drug addiction "baloney." Now, because
he did not introduce evidence of which he had no knowledge earlier in the
appeals process, the State claims that his grounds for appeal are
"procedurally defaulted." In other words, the State of Tennessee would
rather send a man to his death than allow a remedy to its own misconduct.
Unfortunately, the prosecution is not exclusively to blame for this
miscarriage of justice. A number of courts have ruled against Cone,
forcing the U.S. Supreme Court to hear oral arguments on the case last
week. Sadly, the court system often values finality over fairness. Georgia
death row prisoner Troy Davis, for example, has received 3 execution dates
because no court will admit evidence from seven witnesses who have
recanted their testimony. In Chicago, Illinois, dozens of men languish in
Illinois prisons because Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan will not
initiate evidentiary hearings for prisoners with strong evidence of
electro-shock, suffocation and beatings at the hands of Chicago police.
The priority for too many police, prosecutors and judges is to protect the
convictions that they and their colleagues helped secure, not to ensure
justice. A criminal justice system that operates in this fashion is unfit
to decide who lives and who dies. The time to abolish the death penalty is
(source: The Jurist)
Brian Nichols and the death penalty
A funny thing happened in court the other day. A long and costly trial
with the prosecution's sights leveled on killing a man failed in its task.
But the curiosity is not that the jury deadlocked 9-3 against killing
Brian Nichols, who shot 4 people in the process of escaping custody in
2005. Fulton County jurors have a history of being difficult when it comes
to the death penalty.
What stands as curious is the scrambling of prosecutors, lawmakers, and
government-assisted suicide aficionados to find a way to still kill
Nichols. Hopes now hinge on a federal prosecution, as one of the four
victims was a federal agent. Depending on how well US attorney's can spin
the status of the agent, David Wilhelm, at the time of his death, Nichols
may yet trade his life for the offense. See, Wilhelm was not anywhere near
the courthouse when Nichols escaped, killing the other 3 victims. He was
renovating his North Atlanta home. Clearly a victim, yes, but was he
acting in his capacity as a federal agent when he and Nichols crossed
The 1st thing that came to mind when I read about the possibility of a
federal trial was the Fifth Amendment, which prohibits double jeopardy
(amongst other things the government sees fit to ignore from time to
time). For anyone unfamiliar with the concept of double jeopardy, look no
further than the cracking film of the same name, starring Tommy Lee Jones.
The entry of federal prosecutors onto the scene is by no means a
proverbial "slam dunk." It may still be an uphill battle. Surely, if
unable to hand down the death penalty in not one but 2 venues, prosecutors
will allow the original sentence to commence, that of life in prison.
Moments after the sentencing of Nichols to 485 years in prison, plus
another a slew of additional life sentences, Fulton County District
Attorney Paul Howard said in a news conference, "There should be some
consideration of non-unanimous verdicts so that the minority of people
that don't consider death won't get a chance to decide the outcome." What
he's saying, shaken and upset by his inability to adequately convince all
twelve jurors that death was a suitable punishment, is that in cases such
as this, judges ought to be allowed to sentence death anyway. That,
essentially, there should be laws in place to keep juries from interfering
with the intentions of prosecutors.
He's not alone. There is a growing movement among policymakers to attach
just such a "safety-valve" to capital punishment cases. State Rep. Barry
Fleming, representing Harlem (um.... Harlem, Ga.), thinks that instances
such as the deadlock in the Nichols case show us we're dealing with a
changing society." A society that will not, on occasion, opt to kill a man
for his crimes, however obvious, "must be dealt with accordingly. Perhaps
with the removal of the jury entirely? Instead, legislate into being a
venue where the prosecutor levies charges and the judge hands down a
sentence. They could even keep the defense from viewing evidence against
their client, for matters of security. Simple. No costly, drawn out
proceedings, no housing jurors during protracted deliberation. It's a
At this point, I could easily start listing statistics on how killing
people for killing other people does not, in any way, deter more people
from killing still other people. There are also convincing arguments for
the relative haste in handing down death sentences in much less prominent
cases, how staggering the number of these cases are overturned even when
DNA evidence was used in conviction (especially when DNA evidence was
used), or how the burden of proof is on the state to convince a jury and
that jury has not only the right but the duty to nullify what they see as
an unjust law or punishment. Forget about all that. The information is out
there and readily accessible to even the most cursory of searches.
The prosecutors and policymakers should be fine with not getting their
way. They did, after all, manage to convict Nichols of 4 murders. The
aforementioned life sentence, so structured that it may as well read
"infinity + one", is a weighty and severe punishment. It is even suspected
that Nichols may serve this time in a federal maximum-security prison in
Colorado known as Supermax. Regardless of whether or not Nichols is sent
to that institution, he will be institutionalized for the rest of his
life. The dehumanization and recidivism that is bred within the prison
system is also a matter of cursory searching. What prosecutors are
suggesting is that somehow opposition to capital punishment equates to an
opposition to justice. The idea that we should legislate away the only
failsafe to an overzealous criminal justice system should be cause for not
just pause, but alarm.
(source: Pine Magazine, Dec. 16)
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