[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----N.C., N.J., TENN.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Wed May 7 19:19:12 CDT 2008
Lawyers under scrutiny in overturned death sentences
The release last week of the third death row inmate in 6 months in North
Carolina is raising fresh questions about whether states are supplying
capital-murder defendants with adequate counsel, even as an execution in
Georgia ended a 7-month national halt.
In all three cases, North Carolina appeals courts found that prosecutors
or investigators had withheld evidence from defense lawyers that would
have favored the defendants. In two of the cases, including that of Levon
Jones, who was released Friday after 14 years on death row, the courts
said the defendants' lawyers had failed to mount an adequate defense.
Nationwide, Jones's release was the 6th in a year.
John Holdridge, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Capital
Punishment Project, which provided representation for Jones, said the
successful appeals showed that the problem with the death penalty was not
the method of execution - the issue ruled on by the U.S. Supreme Court in
April after the hiatus - but instead "poor people getting lousy lawyers."
"All these states are gearing up to start executing people again and
nobody seems to be concerned about these systemic problems," Holdridge
On Tuesday evening, after the Supreme Court declined to stop it, the State
of Georgia conducted the first execution since the court ruled in April
that a method of lethal injection was not unconstitutional. William Lynd,
53, was put to death by injection for the killing of his companion, Ginger
Moore, in 1988. No prisoners had been executed in the United States since
last September, while the court considered the issue.
During that same period, a new public defender system in Georgia came
under attack by politicians and was recently forced to cut more than 40
positions. That system, established after a series of lawsuits, was
patterned after one North Carolina put in place in 2001, which was
considered a national model.
But not many other states have followed suit, said Robin Maher, director
of the American Bar Association's Death Penalty Representation Project.
"I wish I could say that things have gotten a lot better, but in fact I
can say with confidence that things have changed not much at all," Maher
said. "We are seeing the same kinds of egregiously bad lawyering that we
saw 10 or 15 years ago, for a variety of reasons, including inadequate
Of the 36 states that allow the death penalty, only about 10 have
statewide capital-defense systems, one of the practices recommended by the
The 3 men released in North Carolina had all been convicted in the
mid-1990s, before a barrage of criticism of the state's capital punishment
system, including an investigation in 2000 by The Charlotte Observer that
showed that 16 death row inmates had been represented by lawyers who were
North Carolina made a number of changes that included establishing the
statewide defender system and broader discovery rules for defense lawyers.
Beginning in 1996, defense lawyers working on appeals in death penalty
cases were permitted to view all investigative files pertaining to the
case, and in 2004 the same right was extended to the defense in all
Joseph Cheshire, the lawyer for one of the three released men, Jonathon
Hoffman, credited the discovery rules with bringing to light what he
called a pattern of wrongful convictions.
The court-appointed trial lawyers for Hoffman, who was convicted of
killing a jewelry store owner during a robbery, were not told that the
main witness against him had been paid for his cooperation and given
immunity from prosecution and a reduced sentence for bank robbery.
Cheshire said a copy of the district attorney's notes was altered to
conceal those facts before they were provided to the defense for
discovery. Hoffman was released in December.
Cheshire is also the chairman of the state's Indigent Defense Services
Commission. Thanks to those two changes, he said, "The likelihood today of
someone being convicted who's innocent is far less than it was 5 or 6
The man who prosecuted Jones, however, does not concede that the defendant
was innocent. The prosecutor, Dewey Hudson, said he still believed that
Jones had been involved in the murder, but that he could not retry him
because key witnesses had died and one had recanted.
"It has taken 15 years for the court system to make the determination that
Mr. Jones's original counsel was ineffective," Hudson said in a statement
released Friday. "As a result of this delay, the state has been severely
handcuffed in its obligation to prosecute Mr. Jones for the murder of
Cassy Stubbs, the American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who represented
Jones, said all the witnesses from the initial trial were still alive.
Jones was convicted of robbing and shooting Grady, a bootlegger. The main
witness against Jones was a former companion, Lovely Lorden, who testified
that she had gone with him to Grady's house the night of the killing and
heard gunshots while waiting outside.
State courts rejected Jones's claims of ineffective legal counsel. But a
federal judge, Terrence Boyle, later found that Jones's trial lawyers
failed to do a background check that would have revealed Lorden's criminal
background, failed to interview her before trial, and failed to obtain
copies of inconsistent statements she made. They also failed to present
evidence that Jones might be mentally ill, cognitively impaired, or had a
history of substance abuse, the judge found, information that could have
saved him from a death sentence.
"Jones received 2 appointed attorneys that spent virtually no time or
effort investigating the offense or his background," Boyle said.
In subsequent hearings and affidavits, it became clear that Lorden was a
frequent police informant and that, contrary to testimony at the trial,
she had known when she came forward in the Grady case that there was a
$4,000 reward available. Though Stubbs said that there was evidence that
pointed to another man in the killing, Hudson said in a telephone
interview that he considered the case closed.
The release of Jones came on the heels of that of Glen Chapman, who was
convicted of killing 2 women, Betty Jean Ramseur and Tenene Yvette Conley,
in 1992. Judge Robert Ervin of State Superior Court ruled in April that
Chapman's lawyers had failed their client, noting that one of them could
recall interviewing only one witness and had visited the crime scenes for
the 1st time 2 weeks before trial. The lawyers had both admitted to heavy
drinking during other trials.
(source: International Herald Tribune)
Death penalty foe: Happy in fight
Her remarkable life has taken her to the forefront of one of the most
contentious battles in American life, but Sister Helen Prejean, who became
world famous after her memoir was made into the Hollywood film "Dead Man
Walking," told a packed house in Jersey City last week that she was happy
just where she was.
"There is no place I would rather be than here with you," Prejean told a
crowd of about 100 at the York Street Project's 19th annual Spring Event
at the JPMorgan Chase Newport Conference Center on the waterfront.
"I have always loved what I've done," she added.
Author of the best-selling book, "Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account
of the Death Penalty in the United States," Prejean has spent her life
fighting against the death penalty and trying to help those less
"God hides where the poor are," she said. "All of our poor have voices
across the land."
Prejean's prison ministry began in 1981 through a correspondence she
maintained with a convicted murderer, Patrick Sonnier, who was sentenced
to the electric chair. The experience, Prejean said, gave her greater
insight into the process involved in executions and she began speaking out
against capital punishment.
"I became witness to a man's intentional death," she said during
Prejean has served on the board of the National Coalition to Abolish the
Death Penalty for 10 years.
Throughout her ministry, she has received numerous honorary degrees from
universities across the country, and many international awards. She is
also the founder of Survive, an organization devoted to providing
counseling to the families of victims of violence.
(source: Jersey Journal)
Attorney for Tenn. death row inmate to fight new trial
An attorney for a Tennessee death row inmate says he will ask a federal
judge not to give prosecutors more time to retry Paul House, who's been
imprisoned over 22 years and could be released later this month.
House's attorney Stephen Kissinger said Wednesday he would file the motion
this week with U.S. District Judge Harry S. Mattice Jr.
In December, Mattice ordered the state to retry House or release him based
on a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that House's jury didn't hear testimony
that could have exonerated him in the 1985 slaying of a Union County
The state appealed Mattice's order but lost on Monday. A hearing has been
scheduled for May 28 to set the conditions of House's release.
District attorney general for Union County Paul Phillips said Wednesday he
plans to pursue a new trial against House despite the developments in the
(source: Associated Press)
More information about the DeathPenalty