[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----TEXAS, MD., VER., US MIL., FLA., GA.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Mon Nov 24 11:20:58 CST 2008
Survivors relieve fatal Tarrant bombing every Thanksgiving
The week of Thanksgiving always brings pain for Susan Blount and Lynne
Wright. But this one with an old capital murder case newly hanging in the
balance could be even tougher than usual.
On Thanksgiving Day 1985, near Fort Worth, a bomb killed Mrs. Blount's
husband and daughter and Mrs. Wright's son.
This year, anger and frustration compound their grief. Michael Roy Toney,
who was convicted of the murders and who has repeatedly declared he was
framed stands a good chance of having his conviction overturned.
The Tarrant County district attorney's office said last month that it
violated Mr. Toney's constitutional rights when it withheld exculpatory
evidence from his lawyers before trial. Prosecutors filed a joint motion
with Mr. Toney's appellate attorneys urging that he be granted a new
A decision from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals is expected within
"They're dragging it all up again," Mrs. Blount, 63, said from her home in
the Pacific Northwest. "It's never going to go away."
>From Texas' death row, Mr. Toney said he awaits vindication.
"Our fight is not over, but we have taken the hill," he wrote in a recent
message to supporters. "Now we must fight the final battle, and through
prayer, resources, truth, determination, dedication and hard work, we will
Such talk infuriates Mrs. Wright, 61, who is Mrs. Blount's sister. Her
son, Michael Columbus, was 18 and studying to be a pilot when the blast
killed him. She and the family still firmly believe Mr. Toney was the
"He hasn't begun to pay for this horrible crime," she wrote in a family
response to the district attorney's admissions. "Their bodies burned
beyond recognition that Thanksgiving Day. ... The huge hole in our hearts
will never heal."
A bomb in a briefcase
A briefcase containing the bomb was left on the steps of the Blount family
trailer at the Hilltop Mobile Home Park, near Lake Worth. Angela Blount,
15, and her brother, Robert, 14, carried it inside. Angela opened the
briefcase. The blast killed her and her father, Joe Blount, along with Mr.
Columbus. Robert was blown from the trailer, alive but so badly burned his
shoes melted to his feet.
Police ultimately came to believe the bomb had been meant for someone else
and had been put at the Blount home by accident. The case remained open
until 1997, when Mr. Toney was charged.
In jail on an unrelated charge, Mr. Toney had told another inmate about
the bombing, and the inmate informed police. Mr. Toney and the inmate
later said it was only a ruse to get the inmate out of jail.
While no physical evidence connected him to the crime, prosecutors relied
on his best friend and his ex-wife, who testified Mr. Toney had a
briefcase near the mobile home park the night of the murders.
Mr. Toney says he had been in the area fishing earlier, but not the night
of the bombing. The witnesses did not get a good enough look at the
briefcase to make it a solid match with the one that held the bomb.
Mr. Toney was convicted in 1999 and sentenced to death.
But the best friend, Chris Meeks, was a heavy drinker who later recanted,
and then reaffirmed his testimony. The ex-wife, Kim Toney Ninham, has
admitted having memory loss caused by exposure to toxic chemicals during
military service in the Persian Gulf War.
Mr. Toney's appellate lawyers discovered that prosecutors failed to give
Mr. Toney's original defense attorneys at least 14 key investigative
One of the documents revealed that Mr. Meeks told police he had once
intended to murder Mr. Toney. Another showed that Ms. Toney Ninham
initially did not recall Mr. Toney carrying a briefcase on the night of
the bombing. Only after an investigator "employed a cognitive interviewing
technique" three days later did she remember the briefcase.
Mr. Toney's lawyers contend that this technique amounted to planting the
idea of a briefcase in the mind of Ms. Toney Ninham.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that prosecutors must reveal any
exculpatory evidence to the defense.
The lead prosecutor in the Toney case, Mike Parrish, has retired. Mr.
Parrish did not respond to phone messages requesting comment.
But in a May 2008 deposition he said repeatedly he could not remember if
he gave Mr. Toney's defense lawyers copies of the documents in question.
Alan Levy, head of the criminal division for the Tarrant County district
attorney, said he does not know if the omission was deliberate or
"It's really not clear what the reasons were," he said.
Family feels in the dark
Mrs. Blount said the mishandling of the case angers her.
Before the 1999 trial, she said, "I looked at Mike Parrish and everyone
else who sat at that table, and I said, 'I want this done the right way,
because I can't see myself going through this again.' "
Robert Blount said the district attorney's office has done little to keep
the family informed.
"They're basically brushing us off like nothing happened," he said.
Mr. Toney, 42, keeps a steady correspondence with supporters, who update
his myspace.com page and distribute his remarks via e-mail.
"I am in no way whatsoever responsible for what someone did to the Blount
family," Mr. Toney wrote recently. "But in their minds all they know is
someone needs to pay for what was done. I agree, someone does need to, but
it must be the person or persons responsible."
Mr. Toney has acknowledged a history of drug use and property crimes. In
addition, numerous former girlfriends and his ex-wife testified at his
trial that he beat them badly.
But the man who once attempted to auction off witness seats to his own
execution now is raising money for his possible new trial, referring
contributors to his PayPal account. "Please, I am urging, no, begging all
of you to pull together while we still have the time," he wrote.
And of the possibility of a new trial, he recently wrote, "I expect them
to use every dirty trick in the book and even create some new tricks."
Mr. Levy said the Tarrant district attorney's office has not determined
whether it will retry Mr. Toney if his conviction is overturned.
"There's going to have to be an extensive review of that file," he said.
"The district attorney himself will have to make that decision, so it's
going to take some time."
If the district attorney chooses not to try Mr. Toney again, he could walk
free after nearly 10 years on death row.
Mrs. Blount said the thought of Mr. Toney being released from prison
initially frightened her, and she asked that her city and state of
residence not be published. Mr. Toney has spoken, in the past, of wanting
to meet with the Blounts, to explain his case to them.
Robert Blount, 37, whose hands still show burn scars from the bomb, isn't
interested in talking.
"All I can say is, let him come to my house," he said. "I'll drag him
inside and I'll beat him within an inch of his life."
(source: Dallas Morning News)
STATE POLICE PROBE ---- Little Data Disclosed In Files, Activists;
Material's Sensitivity Is Cited by Agency
Activists whose names and groups were improperly entered into a Maryland
State Police database that tracks terrorism suspects said yesterday that
the agency has failed to disclose the extent of the surveillance and why
it was done.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland released the police files
of 19 of the 53 people who police say were wrongly entered into state and
federal databases. Attorneys for the civil liberties union, which
represents 28 activists, said the police have not explained why the files
are heavily redacted, raising more questions than answers.
"We are nowhere near approaching full disclosure of what they did, why
they did it and who they did it to," ACLU staff attorney David Rocah said
at a news conference in Baltimore. He called the redactions, the events
police chose to track, and the inclusion of some people in the database
and not others "random and haphazard."
"It was a completely out-of-control agency," Rocah said of the state
State police spokesman Greg Shipley said the agency provided people with
their files on the recommendation of an independent review of a 14-month
surveillance of death penalty and Iraq war opponents disclosed in July.
He said the files were redacted to protect sensitive and confidential
information. "Every individual received their file and the information
that pertained to them and why they were in that file," Shipley said.
The files released yesterday show that police were interested in a variety
of protest groups from 2005 to early last year, suggesting that
intelligence officers were tracking activists for a longer period than was
disclosed last summer.
Among the documents provided yesterday by the ACLU were files on the
leader and faculty adviser of the student chapter of the International
Socialist Organization at the University of Maryland that were created
apparently because they helped organize a campus rally in March 2005
against the scheduled execution of a prisoner. A trooper attended the
forum to determine what protests the activists were planning and whether
they would be peaceful.
"Having the state police come into our meetings at university-sanctioned
events and spy on us for tabling at the student union, that has a chilling
effect on students," said Shane Dillingham, who is now a doctoral student
in U.S. history at the university.
The file of Washington area activist Nadine Bloch lists her primary
"crime" as "terrorism-animal rights," apparently for taking part in a
conference, "Taking Action for Animals," held in July 2005 at the
Renaissance hotel in the District. The event, sponsored by animal rights
groups, included a protest against animal testing by People for the
Ethical Treatment of Animals.
Bloch, who trains activists in nonviolent protest techniques, said that
although she is devoted to many causes, animal rights is not one of them.
She said she did not attend either event.
ACLU attorneys say they will continue to file public information requests
and, if necessary, lawsuits until they get the full accounting they seek.
(source: Washington Post)
Executions costly as well as cruel
As a citizen, I am pleased that the Maryland Commission on Capital
Punishment voted to abolish capital punishment ("Panel's death penalty
backers still in the minority," Nov. 21).
>From the testimony to the commission, it is clear that the death penalty
carries no benefit for the public and is failed public policy.
While I am morally opposed to state killing, I realize that others are
not. So what's increasingly important in these days of austerity is the
cost of the death penalty, which is considerable.
As our country slides into a deeper and deeper recession, it makes sense
for us to use that money to prevent crime in the first place.
(source: Letter to the Editor, Baltimore Sun)
Mello, VLS professor and national death penalty expert, dies.
Michael Mello, a professor at Vermont Law School, died at home over the
Mello was a national expert on legal issues around the death penalty and
had represented inmates on death row.
Mello was also involved in legal and court matters in Vermont. He
testified before the Vermont Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on
Civil Rights this past summer.
And Mello also thought and commented on decisions - particularly
constitutional decisions - made by Vermont and U.S. courts.
"Michael Mello is well-known as a prolific writer on the death penalty and
criminal law matters, but I will remember him especially for his mentoring
friendship for students and his willingness to contribute in myriad ways
to the life of Vermont Law School outside the classroom," Jeff Shields,
the dean of the law school, said in a statement.
It was not immediately known what the cause of death was.
(source: Rutland Herald)
US MILITARY----impending execution
Veterans Call First Military Execution Approved in 50 Years Illegal
Veterans advocates say a signature from George W. Bush cleared the way for
an illegal execution.
A group of veterans advocates say the federal decision to execute a
soldier for crimes he committed 2 decades ago is illegal, and would in
fact constitute Murder, one of the crimes Private Ronald A. Gray was
convicted of committing.
It would be the first military execution in almost 50 years. The last
execution took place in 1961 when a soldier was hanged for raping and
attempting to kill an 11-year old Austrian girl. President Eisenhower
approved that execution.
The announcement that Gray would receive a lethal injection came on July
28th 2008, after George W. Bush approved his death sentence. The President
was known for an enthusiastic approach to capital punishment as the
governor of Texas, when he insisted that mentally retarded criminals would
be executed alongside sane and mentally competent convicts.
Only the President, as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, can approve
the execution of a death sentence under Article 71(a) of the Uniform Code
of Military Justice.
Gray was convicted in both civilian and military courts for the crimes of
Murder and Rape. This is where his rights come into question, according to
veteran's activist Tim Harrington. He is quick to point out that he and
other veterans advocating for the rights of Gray do not in any way
advocate or attempt to excuse his convictions. They just want to see the
federal law that protects the rights of this veteran and all others to
"He was judged by a 'jury' of his peers who had the death penalty as an
option, They elected to give him life sentences. The President of the
United States has over stepped his Constitutional authority and has
through executive power signed his execution order bypassing the
conviction and sentence of the people," Harrington said.
"This does not set him free, this stops a government murder over riding
the Constitution. He has under the law been Attained. A military panel and
a court-martial does not supersede the constitution and the word JURY does
not exist, how do you lawfully take a decision by a court of the people
and use a court-martial to override a lawful verdict and decision rendered
by a judge of the people?"
Harrington says Congress has the power to dictate and oversee the Navy and
land forces, but they do not have the power to change the law of the land
and directly over reach the Framers writings.
"This crime against this man's rights and the Constitution are scheduled
to happen on December 10th. You cannot have a jury of your peers find you
guilty, and give you life sentences, then have your government put you to
death by executive order over riding the very purpose of law. This is
called 'Attainder'" Harrington said.
He believes that the Constitution is very clear and the Supreme Court of
the United States has made these circumstances illegal, adding that it
meets all three requirements under the law of Attainder.
The Bill of Attainder Clause, according to techlawjournal.com, addresses
legislative acts that single out an individual or group for punishment
without a trial.
They say it was intended not as a narrow, technical (and therefore soon to
be outmoded) prohibition, "but rather as an implementation of the
separation of powers, a general safeguard against legislative exercise of
the judicial function or more simply - trial by legislature." U.S. v.
Brown, 381 U.S. 437, 440 (1965).
For its part, the Army says, "The President took action following
completion of a full appellate process, which upheld the conviction and
sentence to death. 2 petitions to the U.S. Supreme Court were denied
during the appellate processing of Pvt. Gray's case."
Regarding the Attainder Clause, Supreme Court Justice William H. Rehnquist
said "Such actions were regarded as odious by the framers of the
Constitution because it was the traditional role of a court, judging an
individual case, to impose punishment."
The Army has scheduled Gray's execution for Dec. 10th 2008 at the Federal
Correctional Complex in Terre Haute, Indiana.
The Secretary of the Army directed that Pvt. Gray be executed by lethal
injection, and the Army will be responsible for conducting the execution
at the Terre Haute facility based on an agreement with the Bureau of
Pvt. Gray is currently housed in the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks, Fort
(source: Salem (Ore.) News)
Marine removed from death row, gets new trial
A former lance corporal sentenced to death for murdering 2 Marines in 1992
will get a new trial for one of the crimes.
Pvt. Wade Walker was convicted at Camp Lejeune, N.C., in July 1993 for the
March 1992 murders of 2 lance corporals in nearby Jacksonville, N.C. The
Navy-Marine Corps Court of Appeals set aside his death sentence this past
summer and ordered a new trial for one of the cases, said 1st Lt. Patrick
Boyce, a spokesman at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va.
Attempts to reach Walkers lead military defense attorney were
The new trial will begin with a fresh Article 32 hearing the military's
equivalent of a grand jury hearing some time next year. While the murder
charge appears on the Quantico legal docket, its unclear where the hearing
will be held, Boyce said.
Walker and former Lance Cpl. Kenneth G. Parker were found guilty of
murdering Lance Cpl. Rodney L. Page with a 12-gauge shotgun, and then
murdering Lance Cpl. Christopher Q. James with the same weapon 4 days
later. Walker was also found guilty of robbery, adultery and kidnapping,
according to court documents.
In 2007, the same appeals court ruled that Parker, the shooter in both
crimes, should remain on death row. He is the only Marine awaiting
execution in the military prison system.
Walker and Parker were part of a group of 6 black Marines who, on March
26, 1992, randomly selected a white person to kill following a session of
heavy drinking and lengthy conversation on the injustices whites inflicted
on blacks, according to an Air Force report detailing racial unrest in the
military. An alleged rumor of white Marines wanting to "lynch" a black
Marine on base during the earlier Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday prompted
their angst, according to testimony in court documents.
One witness testified that he saw 2 black Marines chasing Page near
Snoopys bar in Jacksonville, according to court documents.
One of the four others involved testified that the Marines laughed when
recalling how Page begged for his life. The Marines then robbed Page in an
attempt to make the killing look like a botched mugging.
4 days later, Walker and Parker gunned down James. Again, Parker was
implicated as the shooter.
Walker was having an affair with James' wife, according to court
Military attorneys representing Walker filed a 497-page brief in 2005
arguing that he should be removed from death row and receive a new trial
in the 1st murder based on a host of issues, including his intoxication on
the night of the crime and his defense attorneys inability to question a
crucial witness, according to a source familiar with the case.
"The Government's case against [Walker] was based not on the theory that
he had physically pulled the trigger of either murder weapon, but that he
was guilty ... due to his involvement in the planning and execution of the
crimes, and because he participated in disposing of evidence and
establishing alibis," according to the July 8 appeals court ruling.
As such, the court determined that Walker's intoxication during the 1st
murder may mitigate the premeditated nature of the crime, according to the
source. The appeals court also ruled that the original judge improperly
denied a request for a continuance at Walker's court-martial, which denied
his defense attorneys the opportunity to prepare for trial.
Walker is held at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.
(source: Marine Corps Times)
Inmate again faces execution
A Florida inmate faces execution despite new revelations that the state
prompted a trial witness to lie, according to a news report from the Death
Penalty Information Center.
Inmate Wayne Tompkins was to be executed Oct. 28, but was granted a stay
of execution to allow time for the state Supreme Court to review his case.
Tompkins, 51, has been on death row since September 1985 for a March 24,
1983, murder in Hillsborough County, according to information from the
Florida Department of Corrections.
On Nov. 7, the court denied Tompkins' appeal, even though the court
acknowledged that a state witness, a jailhouse informant, admitted to
providing false testimony at Tompkins original trial in 1985. Justice
Harry Anstead dissented from the courts ruling, noting that jailhouse
informants are often unreliable, and in this case the informant was
apparently prompted to lie, the news report states. He wrote, "Indeed, if
the claim is true, we have a state prosecutor who committed a criminal act
in tampering with a witness. Surely, common sense would tell us this is
the kind of bombshell' disclosure that could change the jury's entire
evaluation of the case."
Tompkins' stay of execution expired Nov. 18.
(source: Bradenton Herald)
What you should know about Troy Davis
GEORGIA DEATH row prisoner Troy Davis' appeal for the court system to
listen to new evidence of his innocence will be heard by the 11th U.S.
Circuit Court of Appeals.
Judges from the federal appeals court stopped Troy's scheduled execution
in late October, the third time in 16 months that he has won a stay within
days or hours being sent to the death chamber. The court notified lawyers
from both sides that a 3-judge panel had agreed to hear oral arguments on
the appeal, which seeks a 2nd opportunity to present the argument to the
federal courts that new evidence of Troy's evidence ought to be examined.
I RECENTLY heard that Troy Davis has been issued another stay of
execution, though I'm not sure of all the details. (Sometimes, news takes
a while to reach the confines of this dungeon.)
I'd like to encourage everyone to go to his support Web site and offer any
help that you can. Remember, inaction is consent and the only way to make
change happen is to be active.
One of the main issues in the Troy Davis case is that seven of the nine
prosecution witnesses have recanted their testimony since his trial. This
fact alone should ensure that he receive a new trial. However, as a
general rule courts give more weight to trial testimony--their reasoning
being that witness testimony at trial is closer to the time of the crime,
so memories are more reliable, and the testimony is given in front of a
judge in open court, with both prosecutors and defense attorneys engaging
The Orwellian double-think justifications that the courts give for
deplorable and unjust actions and ideology never cease to amaze me...It is
true that some memories fade with time, but in many ways, trial testimony
is less reliable than recantation after trial. Also, some witnesses are
more likely to come forward after a trials conclusion. Here are some
examples from the Troy Davis case.
Years after the Troy Davis trial, Tonya Johnson came forward and signed an
affidavit stating that she saw another man come around the corner from the
scene of the crime, sweaty and anxious, and stash 2 guns in a vacant
house. She also has said that she was terrified of this man.
To Ms. Johnson, it was very obvious that this other man, who she knew as
"Red," had committed the murder. Imagine how she felt when another man was
arrested for the crime. Perhaps, she thought she was the only one who knew
the truth--alone with the Truth that a murderer was still free... a
murderer who perhaps was looking to kill any and all witnesses. One can
surely understand her reluctance to come forward.
It took nearly 10 years for D.D. Collins, a trial witness in the Troy
Davis case, to recant his testimony. He has stated that he was "scared as
hell" when police took him in for questioning. Speaking about the
experience of being forced to say what police demanded of him, D.D.
Collins has said: "They told me I would go to jail for a long time, and I
would be lucky if I got out." It should be noted that Mr. Collins was only
16 when he was interrogated, and his parents weren't present.
Imagine how intimidating it would be for a 16-year-old kid to be
interrogated by police who were probably twice his size and who were
telling him he would go to jail if he didn't say what they demanded. Faced
with that type of intimidation, many people will say whatever regardless
of how true it is, just to get out of the police station safe and sound.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
ANOTHER TRIAL witness, Dorothy Ferrell, later recanted her testimony that
implicated Troy Davis. The mother of 4 children, who had a previous
shoplifting charge, has said that she "couldn't go back to jail," and she
felt that she "didn't have any choice but to get up there and testify."
Losing your 4 children and going to jail, or saying whatever the
prosecutors and police demand that you say--many would chose the later.
Interestingly, a former district attorney who worked for the prosecutor's
office that sent Troy Davis to death row has admitted that "the majority
of African Americans don't see police or prosecutors as friends. They
aren't as hawkish. They are more concerned with crime solutions and
fairness." Keep in mind that these are the words of a former prosecutor,
not the rantings of some "far left radical." (This statement is true, but
I would say add that it applies to poor communities of every ethnicity,
not just Black folks.)
All 3 witnesses I mentioned are from a poor area of Savannah, Ga., where
police and the court system are viewed as corrupt. A warranted view, quite
obviously. In the midst of a courtroom full of police and prosecutors, a
person is more likely to side with the state. Cross-examination in front
of a judge only adds to the pressure.
In turn, we must remember that police and prosecutors employ every
manipulation tactic available. Being that I, like Troy Davis, am on death
row unjustly for capital murder of a police officer, I know all too well
what lengths the state will go to in order to achieve their goals and
objectives. They will unrepentantly break laws and intimidate, by any and
all means. They will lie and deceive in every manner imaginable. It's up
to us to shed light on these facts--facts that are painfully illustrated
by the Troy Davis case.
To detail all the problems with his case would take many pages. I urge
everyone to go to his Web site to learn more and then spread the word
about his fight for freedom. Those with a vision of a more just and
peaceful future for humanity have to stand together. It's up to us to make
real social change a reality.
(source: Commentary, Rob Will; Socialist Worker-----Rob Will is a Texas
death row prisoner and member of the DRIVE (Death Row Inner-communalist
Vanguard Engagement) Movement, which engages in nonviolent, direct action
protest to fight for better conditions on death row and in opposition to
capital punishment. He wrote this article about Troy after learning that
the federal appeals court had granted a 3rd stay of execution.)
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