[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----S. DAK., CONN., USA, ARK.
rhalperi at smu.edu
Sun Oct 16 11:59:37 CDT 2011
Objections overruled; cameras in for 1st time----Historic access for Minnehaha
A motions hearing in the capital murder case of Eric Robert was the 1st in
Minnehaha County to be filmed and broadcast.
The coverage was made possible by a rule change instituted this summer by the
South Dakota Supreme Court.
It also was made possible by Robert himself, who wrote a letter to Judge
Bradley Zell approving a request by several media outlets to bring video and
still cameras to court.
The new rules, adopted July 1, allow for expanded media coverage under a
specific procedure. First, members of the media ask for audio, video and/or
still camera coverage at least seven days before the hearing.
Next, lawyers on both sides have the option to approve or object. If either
side raises an objection, video and still cameras are out.
In this case, Robert's lawyers initially opposed expanded coverage.
After that, the judge has the discretion to decide whether audio-only coverage
will be allowed. Either side can object to that, too, but it's ultimately the
Judge Zell approved requests for audio coverage during the Sept. 16 hearing in
which Robert pleaded guilty to killing 63-year-old senior corrections officer
Robert's letter to Zell, coupled with no objections to expanded coverage by
Attorney General Marty Jackley, led to the decision to open the courtroom.
The approval for Friday's hearing does not clear the way for camera coverage of
every hearing in Robert's case, however.
At the hearing, Jackley asked Zell to consider closing this month's sentencing
hearing to expanded coverage during the presentation of autopsy photos and
photos of Johnson's grandchildren. He also asked that expanded coverage be cut
off when 3 women victimized by Robert take the stand, saying the disturbing
nature of their testimony would make it inappropriate for children and could
Robert's lawyers did not object to the first 2 requests, but said the testimony
should be open.
"If they are showing up to testify, I don't think that's something we need to
be overly concerned about ... the choice to re-victimize them is the state's by
calling them," said Minnehaha County Deputy Public Advocate Mark Kadi.
Zell said he'd take the matters under advisement. He has asked media
organizations to submit separate requests for expanded coverage for every
"Just because the court has granted that access doesn't mean that won't change
in the future," Zell said.
(source: The Argus Leader)
Death Penalty Opponents Offering False Arguments
Joshua Komisarjevsky is a murderer.
We all knew that. We knew it before his trial began, before the jury heard its
first piece of evidence, before they ever began deliberations, and before they
rendered a verdict.
To only the most naïve was Komisarjevsky's guilt ever in question.
Yet, because he had not yet been tried and convicted, every sentence begun in
regards to Komisarjevsky had to include the word “alleged” before murderer.
Now, with the jury coming to a decision, finding the man guilty on all 17
counts against him, no such need for decorum exists. He is a murderer,
responsible for the heinous killings that ended the lives of three Cheshire
women well before their time. No more pretense is needed. No more wild
fantasy's about “not wanting anyone to die,” should be repeated. He is guilty.
He is a killer.
The question is, will Komisarjevsky receive the death penalty? That question is
far less simple to answer than guilt or innocence. One can believe
Komisarjevsky is a killer and not that he deserves the death penalty.
That's because, when it comes to capital punishment, it isn't about the law or
evidence or testimony: it's about moral viewpoints. No one can now question
whether Komisarjevsky is guilty of his crimes. But, does every juror charged
with deciding his fate believe the death penalty is acceptable?
The issue is one that evokes a tremendous amount of emotion on both sides. Yet
there are those who seem to be uncomfortable admitting the truth about the
debate: that it comes down to a personal choice.
Since the Komisarjevsky verdict was rendered, many have offered their opinion
on the matter, and a few popular arguments against capital punishment have
The first deals directly with Komisarjevsky himself. The defense made it a
point to paint their client as a broken man who had been sexually abused as a
child. That, they claim, set the wheels in motion for a life of crime, one that
eventually led to the Petit home on July 23, 2007.
Because of that trauma, Komisarjevsky should be spared death, the reasoning
But, what about all the other people who have experienced similar trauma in
their lives? What of the millions of men and women who have unfortunately
experienced sexual and physical abuse at the hands of adults? Are all of them
criminals? Are all of them murderers? Of course not. So, even if Komisarjevsky
were actually sexually abused as a child (an unsubstantiated claim that
emanates solely from him) it doesn't mean he was set down this depraved path
with no recourse to turn back. To say as much would be to ignore the good,
decent, moral people who routinely overcome all sorts of tragedy in their life;
events that could, if allowed, offer an excuse for immoral actions. Instead,
these people strive to grow and become better. Komisarjevsky chose to become a
violent man with no regard for other human beings.
That was his choice. He wasn't driven to it.
The 2nd argument was offered up in an editorial in The Hartford Courant on
Friday. In the piece, the paper stated that, since the death penalty in
Connecticut is a “joke,” it shouldn't be on the books any longer. The point of
the argument is to say that death row inmates are not put to death anyway,
except under the rare circumstance that they request the penalty be carried
out, such as in the case of serial killer Michael Ross, the last man to be
executed in the state. So, with no real intent to execute, keeping death row
open just wastes taxpayer dollars.
The premise of the Courant's editorial is sound. The state's death penalty is,
at this point, in name only. It is highly unlikely that either Steven Hayes or
Komisarjevsky will ever be executed. Instead, they will go through decades of
appeals and spend their years wasting away in their cell. But, the solution to
this problem isn't necessarily ridding the state of the death penalty. The
Courant even admits that the state legislature could untangle the legal cobwebs
that surround capital punishment cases and make the appeals process more
efficient. However, the editorial then does what so many seem willing to do in
cases like this: it throws its hands in the air and says “but that will never
Why not? Why do we continue to expect so little of what is right and decent
from our elected officials? How have we gotten to a place where we decide an
issue as important as capital punishment based on the notion that our
representatives won't put their political interest's aside?
The state legislature shouldn't be rewarded for creating and then supporting an
ineffectual legal system when it comes to capital punishment, and then using
that as the very excuse for its dissolution. That shouldn't be acceptable.
The final argument that has been championed is that capital punishment doesn't
dissuade anyone from committing crimes and, in fact, only prolongs the
suffering of the victim's family. Again, this is a dubious claim, at best.
The truth is, studies on both sides of the issue have offered dissenting
opinions. Some have pointed to no correlation between capital punishment and a
decrease in crime. Others have suggested that the death penalty does prevent
crime on a wide spread scale.
Here's the point: none of these studies mean a darn thing. How can you possibly
ever know whether capital punishment reduces crime? Is there anyone in America
that would admit to a study group, “Yeah, I was perfectly willing to kill that
shop keeper, but I knew the state had the death penalty, so I decided against
Without any verifiable evidence when it comes to motivations, one is left
simply with hard data. Yet, data only tells us what did happen, not what might
have happened. If a particular state with the death penalty has X amount of
murders, we have no idea how many murders or capital felonies might have been
avoided because the death penalty was on the books. Was it one, 100, 1,000? Was
it zero? Who knows. There is no way.
So, anyone who says that the death penalty doesn't dissuade those from
committing murder are simply offering up a guess, no better or worse than
someone who guesses that it does.
Common sense would dictate that, the harsher the penalties, the more likely one
is to prevent some crimes from occurring. However, no one knows for sure.
And as far as family pain is concerned, again there are 2 schools of thought.
Some family members of murder victims have worked to end the death penalty.
Others, like Dr. William Petit, have become strong advocates for it. Do
legislators really feel comfortable telling Dr. Petit that his feelings on the
matter count less than those fighting against capital punishment? Is his belief
that the death penalty will provide the justice he desires in his long,
drawn-out tragedy less credible?
Capital punishment is a belief based on one's own spiritual or moral beliefs.
Some feel that the state simply should not be in the business of death, and
that such matters should be left solely to God or nature. Others believe that
those who participate in an act depraved enough to warrant a death penalty
sentence from a jury of his or her peers has forfeited the rights of common
man. It is a worthy debate to have, since it goes to the core of what we are as
However, offering up false arguments does no one any good. If those arguing
against capital punishment cannot argue their side based on their true
motivations, then how concrete can their arguments be to begin with?
(source: Editor John Rook, Cheshire Herald)
Unreliable eyewitnesses put defendants on death row
Does the routine use of eyewitnesses in American criminal cases contribute to
trials that put innocent people behind bars -- even on death row? Evidence
suggests it does.
The U.S. Supreme Court is getting ready to hear a case out of New Hampshire
that deals with a subtle but important point in the witness process.
Lawyers for a hapless burglar say the case asks whether the due process -- or
fair trial and procedure -- guarantee in the 14th Amendment bans the use of all
"unreliable eyewitness identification" arising from "impermissibly suggestive
circumstances and which are very substantially likely to lead to
misidentification, or only to those identifications which are also the product
of 'improper state action?'" -- meaning police manipulation.
But in a larger sense, the whole idea of eyewitness evidence is under attack in
the case, scheduled to be heard Nov. 2.
"DNA analysis in particular has demonstrated that misidentifications by
eyewitnesses continue to lead to a high incidence of miscarriages of justice,
as previously recognized" by Supreme Court precedent, the New Hampshire
defendant's merit brief to the U.S. Supreme Court said.
"In a study of 250 cases in which defendants were exonerated after conviction,
[University of Virginia law] Professor Brandon L. Garrett stated that the 'role
of mistaken eyewitness identifications in these wrongful convictions is now
well known. Eyewitnesses misidentified 76 percent of the exonerees [those
proven innocent through DNA] (190 of 250 cases).' Furthermore, Professor
Garrett's original study of 200 cases indicated that eyewitness
misidentification evidence was the leading contributing factor to wrongful
convictions and was four times more likely to contribute to a wrongful
conviction than a false confession."
The study is included in Garrett's recent book, "Convicting the Innocent." The
blurb promoting the book on the Harvard University Press Web site says, "DNA
exonerations have shattered confidence in the criminal justice system by
exposing how often we have convicted the innocent and let the guilty walk free.
"Very few crimes committed in the United States involve biological evidence
that can be tested using DNA," the blurb argued. "How many unjust convictions
are there that we will never discover? 'Convicting the Innocent' makes a
powerful case for systemic reforms to improve the accuracy of all criminal
The book in part deals with the case of Earl Washington who was "defended for
all of 40 minutes by a lawyer who had never tried a death penalty case [and
was] found guilty of rape and murder in the state of Virginia and sentenced to
death." Washington spent nine years on death row before relatively
unsophisticated "DNA testing cast doubt on his conviction and saved his life.
However, he spent another eight years in prison before more sophisticated DNA
technology proved his innocence and convicted the guilty man."
The defendant's merit brief also cited a U.S. Department of Justice study of 28
felony convictions overturned by DNA evidence that found "85 % of the
convictions resulted primarily from erroneous eyewitness identifications.
Attorney General Janet Reno explained: 'Recent cases in which DNA evidence has
been used to exonerate individuals convicted primarily on the basis of
eyewitness testimony have shown us that eyewitness evidence is not infallible.
Even the most honest and objective people can make mistakes in recalling and
interpreting a witnessed event; it is the nature of human memory.'"
The brief also cites the 2009 Innocence Project study of more than 200 cases
"in which convicted defendants were exonerated by DNA evidence, mistaken
eyewitness identifications accounted in whole or in part for 75 % of the
wrongful convictions. Specifically, the Innocence Project found that [more
than] 175 people have been wrongfully convicted based, in part, on eyewitness
misidentification and have been later proven innocent through DNA testing."
In a friend of the court brief supporting the New Hampshire defendant, the
American Psychological Association said: "That the various factors that can
cause eyewitness error have actually resulted in false identifications is not
simply a theoretical possibility. Indeed, more than four decades ago this
[Supreme] Court observed that 'the annals of criminal law are rife with
instances of mistaken identification.'
"Studies released as early as 1932 and as recently as 2008 confirm that
observation, documenting wrongful convictions that rest largely or wholly on
The APA brief added: "Although DNA testing for innocence claims has been
available only since the early 1990s -- and only a small fraction of cases are
suitable for testing because DNA was not collected, has deteriorated or was
lost or destroyed -- proven post-conviction DNA exonerations in the United
States exceed 270."
The friend of the court brief said examples aren't limited to the United
"For example, one analysis of 1,561 identification attempts by witnesses
viewing lineups in England found that 39 % correctly identified the suspect, 20
% incorrectly identified a 'filler' [someone selected at random to fill out the
lineup], and 41 % made no identification -- meaning that at least 33.9 % of the
identifications were wrong (20 % divided by 59 %, with the denominator being
those who made some identification, correct or incorrect)."
The U.S. Supreme Court, of course, hasn't been deaf to the DNA debate. The
justices blocked a Texas execution 45 minutes before it was set to be carried
out, then ruled 6-3 in March earlier this year that prisoners at least have the
right to use federal civil rights law to force DNA testing.
The Death Penalty Information Center, though not part of the New Hampshire
case, lists the names of 138 men who have been released from death row since
1973 for various reasons -- charges dismissed, eventual acquittal and pardons.
Seventeen of the releases were substantially driven by DNA testing.
Hey, wait a minute, New Hampshire said in its merit brief. Let's look at the
Following a jury trial in a New Hampshire court, Barion Perry was convicted of
one class B felony count of theft by unauthorized taking, "which was subject to
an extended term of imprisonment because he had two prior convictions for theft
by unauthorized taking and one prior conviction for burglary. ... The court
sentenced him to serve three to 10 years in the New Hampshire State Prison."
At an evidence suppression hearing, a judge heard that at 2:53 a.m. on Aug. 15,
2008, "Officer Nicole Clay from the Nashua, N.H., Police Department was sent to
the back parking lot ... to investigate 'a report about a black male looking
through vehicles and attempting to gain entry into vehicles.'"
She parked her cruiser and walked around the back of the building, where she
heard what "sounded like a metal bat hitting the ground," and then saw Perry
"carrying two amplifiers and walking toward her from between 2 vehicles."
Perry told her he had "found" the amplifiers, and had "seen a couple of kids
leaving the parking lot."
Both the officer and Perry walked to a nearby street then back to the parking
lot. A resident, Alex Clavijo, walked over and said "that his neighbor had told
him that someone had broken into his car. He also said that the amplifiers
[Perry] had been carrying and a large wooden box with two speakers mounted
inside had been taken from his car."
When another officer arrived, Clay left him with Perry while she and Clavijo
went inside the building to talk to the neighbor.
Nubia Blandon, who spoke only Spanish, told Clay through Clavijo that she had
seen "a tall, black man walk through the parking lot, look into all the cars,
circle Clavijo's car, and then open the trunk of Clavijo's car and remove a
large box. Blandon also said that the man had been carrying a bat."
Police said Blandon was not told about Perry remaining in the parking lot. But
when Clay asked her for a description of the man she had seen, Blandon said,
"It was the man that was in the back parking lot standing with the police
officer," pointing to the window that overlooked the lot.
"At some point, Blandon's husband, Joffre Ullon, who had called in the initial
report about a man trying to break into cars, returned from getting coffee,"
the state's brief said. He also identified the man among the cars as the "the
man standing outside with the police officer."
A month later, Blandon was unable to pick Perry's picture out of a photo array.
Ullon successfully picked out Perry's picture.
Eventually, the New Hampshire Supreme Court refused to throw out the eyewitness
"The New Hampshire Supreme Court correctly concluded that the due process
clause of the 14th Amendment does not require that all identification evidence
must be deemed reliable before it is admissible in a criminal trial," the
state's brief said. "Instead, as the New Hampshire Supreme Court held,
identification evidence needs to be deemed reliable only in cases where the
police obtained the challenged evidence as the result of an improper -- that
is, unnecessarily suggestive -- procedure."
A friend of the court brief filed by the Obama administration echoes the state
Perry's case may seem like small potatoes -- to everyone except Perry, of
course. But the implications in his case are huge.
Georgia executed Troy Davis in September despite pleas to spare him from a
variety of heavyweights, ranging from the pope to former President Jimmy
Carter. To the end, he insisted he was innocent.
"While his execution alone -- no matter how passionate his supporters -- won't
bring the death penalty to an end, there is one area where activists are hoping
to use Davis' death as an ongoing and emotional rallying cry for reform:
eyewitness identification," Time magazine opined.
"In the 48 hours leading up to Davis' execution, the nation heard that the case
against Davis was built entirely on eyewitnesses who said they saw Davis gun
down off-duty police officer Mark McPhail [who had tried to rescue a homeless
man being pistol-whipped by Davis]. But of the 9 witnesses who testified
against Davis in his original trial, 7 would go on to change their minds and
recant. As many outside observers pointed out, they were either lying on the
stand, or lying now."
Virtually all reporting on the killing contained that fact -- that the
unusually high number of nine witnesses swore at trial they saw Davis kill the
young police officer, and that seven later recanted -- without going into the
details surrounding those accounts.
Under what circumstances, and under what pressure, did the eyewitnesses
originally identify Davis under oath? And under what circumstances, and under
what pressure, did they allegedly recant?
(source: United Press International)
************************** Consider victims of murder
I must take exception to the Oct. 2 column, "Time to abolish the death
I agree with the position that improvements need to be made with the system,
and that it's absurd that years go by without the death penalty being carried
out in many cases.
However, contrary to the writer's stance, I feel the death penalty is an
essential part of our judicial system. As he pointed out, the argument against
the death penalty has valid points, but I do not think that they outweigh the
form of justice that the death penalty constitutes in 2011. Yes, in the past
there have been instances of those who served time on death row, and sometimes
met their end, as the wrongly convicted. But with advances in forensic science
and investigative practices, today those instances are rare.
The death penalty for serious crimes has been a part of judicial systems
throughout the history of civilization. In the United States, procedures for
execution are far less cruel than the executions in some countries. I believe
-- and possibly many other readers believe -- in the importance of this level
of justice. In some cases, it is simply owed to the victims who suffered, or
lost their lives, because of the acts of those who have been convicted of these
most heinous of our society's crimes. The death penalty serves as a deterrent,
and if we did not have the delays in our present court system, then
overcrowding and terrible conditions on death row would not be an issue.
I do understand, and even agree, with many of the writer's points, but I feel
his opinion does not take into account the victims of those on death row.
(source: Letter to the Editor; Paula Livingston is a photography student at
Daytona State College---Daytona Beach News-Journal)
A Death-Row Love Story
The letter came through a slot in the cell door. It was early 1996. Damien
Echols looked at the postmark — Brooklyn, N.Y. — and the name on the return
address: Lorri Davis. He opened the envelope and examined the messy
“Damien, I can’t say that I believe in ‘God,’ but something has brought you
into my life,” Davis wrote. “As daunting as that is to me sometimes, I know it
is a good thing.”
She had seen him on a film screen in New York. “I don’t see many documentaries,
but a friend of mine had tickets to see ‘Paradise Lost,’ and for some reason I
really wanted to see it.”
“Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills” follows the case of
three young boys who went missing from West Memphis, Ark. The boys were second
graders, Cub Scouts, and their bodies were found naked and hogtied in a
drainage ditch. The police believed a satanic cult was responsible because of
all the strange wounds and markings. The investigation floundered. Then a
teenager, Jessie Misskelley Jr., told the police that he saw his friend, Jason
Baldwin, and another teenager, Damien Echols, go into the woods with the boys
and rape them. Misskelley later recanted, claiming that the police coerced the
confession. But the West Memphis Three, as they became known, were convicted of
the crimes. Misskelley, 18, and Baldwin, 16, were given life sentences. Echols,
who was deemed the ringleader, was sentenced to death. He was 19.
“They had a question-and-answer session after the movie, and everyone more or
less voiced the same opinion: How could this happen?” Davis wrote him. “I came
home that night and couldn’t sleep.”
She was adamant.
“Damien, I’m prone to being maybe a bit obsessive, maybe a bit too idealistic,
definitely too sensitive, but . . . I couldn’t stop thinking of you in that
place — knowing — it was all so very wrong. . . . It breaks my heart that you
are where you are and forced to endure it, so I am committed to doing whatever
I can to make your life a little more bearable. ”
She was optimistic.
“Damien, I honestly believe that undying hope can do wonders in this world.
Now, I see and hear and read about injustices all the time. . . . And yes, I
hate it — but nothing has ever gotten through to me like you did. Maybe it’s
because you remind me a little about myself, maybe growing up the way we did.”
Davis and Echols were each from a small town, but Davis grew up middle class in
West Virginia, while Echols lived in poverty. One of his early homes was a
rusted-out sharecropper shack with an outhouse. He spent days walking along the
highway and the train tracks, lingering in cemeteries or abandoned warehouses.
He dropped out of high school after his freshman year. He wore his hair long,
wore eye shadow, dressed in black and was interested in witchcraft. He spent
his afternoons in the West Memphis Public Library, reading about religion,
spirits and sorcerers, magical characters that could transport him out of his
home in Lake Shore Trailer Park.
When Davis contacted Echols, she was living in Park Slope and working as a
landscape architect for a firm in Manhattan. Her free time was filled with
yoga, after-work drinks, film festivals and gallery openings. After an amicable
divorce, she had a few relationships, and photographs show her happily posing
on vacations in Paris and on the beach with her jeans rolled up. But she often
felt alone, even in the company of others.
“No one really knows what to say to me,” she would later write. “I’ve always
been really quiet around them. . . . Last year someone called me a kite without
Soon enough, an envelope from the penitentiary appeared in her mailbox. The
handwriting was styled like old Gothic print, the kind you’d find on a
Halloween greeting card. Before she opened the envelope, Davis made sure she
“I’ve been waiting,” Echols wrote her. “I knew that sooner or later someone
would take notice. . . . Do you have any idea how it feels to be called a
killer by everyone who sees you, even though you know you’re innocent? I go
through hell every day, sitting here waiting to die for something I didn’t do.
It’s a nightmare. . . .”
She wrote back immediately. “Please excuse my ignorance,” she wrote, “I just
want a semblance of what your life is like presently.”
The fluorescent lights in his cell came on for breakfast at 2:30 a.m.; lunch
was at 9:30 a.m., dinner at 2:30 p.m. He rarely ate, and he’d lost some 50
pounds, going down to 130. There was a small television inside his cell.
“I’ve taken the habit of watching ‘The Price Is Right’ in the mornings,” he
wrote. “Sometimes I even talk to Bob.”
She sent more letters, often twice a day, stuffing them with surprises.
“I just got . . . the basil leaf,” he wrote. “That thing sure is stinky.”
Soon there were so many letters going back and forth between them that it was
hard to keep the conversation straight.
“My favorite color is blue,” she wrote.
“I knew you were going to say your favorite color is blue,” he wrote. “It
belongs to you. My favorite colors are black and crimson. I love deep, dark red
things made of red velvet.”
“It’s great, isn’t it?” she wrote. “Getting to know someone by writing. It’s
quite wonderful and mysterious. . . . Could you try and explain what your
beliefs are? . . . I was raised in a family of Southern Baptist born-again
Christians, but no one could answer my questions. . . .”
“I wanted to be a priest,” he wrote. “All my entire life all I’ve ever had were
questions that no one could ever answer. . . . I began to look at other
religions, searching for something I could believe in and put faith in. That’s
how I became a Wiccan. We believe in the creative force of life, which we call
the mother goddess.”
When his letters arrived, she tore the envelopes open in the same place on the
left, then sniffed. The air inside smelled like cloves.
Echols tried to pick up her scent on the paper too. To him she smelled like the
sun does, like honey, like warmth.
“Still can’t get over the fact that you try to smell me,” she wrote. “It’s so,
so lovely to me — lovelier than anything you could have told me.”
The 1st time they met in person, they stared at each other through the glass
partition in the prison visiting room. It had been 5 months since the 1st
letter. To him she did not look too different from the pictures she’d sent:
pretty, with light brown hair and blue-green eyes. He had changed since the
documentary, his skin even paler from the lack of sunlight and his frame more
Under the glass, there was a mesh net. He put his fingers there. She blew on
“I’ve never seen a more beautiful creature,” he wrote after that. “I wanted to
hold my breath every time you moved. The only reason your age ‘freaked me out’
is because I feel so much older than you.” Davis was then 33, Echols 21.
“I now firmly believe with all my being that I had to come here to find you,”
he wrote. “Your words are like a million tiny spider legs tickling their way
across my brain. . . . It’s frightening to think that any one person could have
such power over me . . . you are forcing me to feel. . . . You are dragging me
(kicking and screaming) back into life. . . . I’ve become utterly intoxicated
by you. . . . I never want it to end.” In another letter he wrote: “I feel as
if I am hanging over an abyss by a thread. Sometimes I feel that you are the
abyss into which I will fall forever, and other times it’s as if you are the
thread, the only thing that keeps me from falling into the abyss.”
He decided to quit his two-and-a-half-pack-a-day smoking habit, to remove all
the toxins from his body. “I have to purify myself in every way, because I
would never want to stain you or defile you in any way.”
“I’m glad I’ve never done drugs,” she wrote, equating her love for him to an
addiction. “I would have never realized how wonderful the real thing is.”
“You were talking about falling in love. I’ve been steadily falling deeply in
love with you ever since you asked me about chastity belts, whirling dervishes,
17-year locusts, and Paganini. . . . The only thing I ever want to do anymore
is disappear inside your head and heart, to live there. . . . I’m falling
apart, but at the same time being reconstructed into something new. ‘Damien’
doesn’t exist anymore.”
“My Dearest Damien,” she wrote. “You are safe now, here inside me, where you
will be from here on.”
She wanted to get closer. In 1998, she quit her job in New York and moved to
Little Rock, only an hour from his prison. For work, she designed parks and
bicycle paths for the city.
“Wow,” she wrote. “I haven’t been poor in such a long time. It’s time to face
up to it. It is. I’m poor. I’m poor. I’m poor. There. Is that so bad? I’ll get
used to it, I will.”
She lived as he did. She did not decorate her small apartment. She did not
socialize often. For solidarity, they meditated at the same times. Soon their
schedules were synchronized.
“I am shedding the old life for you,” she wrote.
The only way to be closer still, they decided, was to marry: a husband and wife
would be allowed “contact visits.” The ceremony, held in the prison visiting
room on Dec. 3, 1999, was the first time they had been together without the
glass between them. At a reception in Little Rock, Davis carried a framed
picture of Echols to remind her friends and family for whom she was fighting.
By this time Davis had begun to manage Echols’s legal efforts and to coordinate
the movement dedicated to his release. One early supporter was Eddie Vedder of
Pearl Jam, who offered the assistance of his lawyers and started visiting
Echols in prison. Johnny Depp, Patti Smith and Natalie Maines of the Dixie
Chicks offered financial support, too, and gave interviews about his case.
Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh, the New Zealand-based filmmakers behind “The Lord
of the Rings,” would also spend years bankrolling his defense.
All the attention turned Echols into a celebrity himself. One day, he received
180 letters from supporters. Another time, he was summoned to the warden’s
office after women’s underwear was found in a letter sent to him.
Some of the attention made Davis jealous. With her letters, she had created a
world for the two of them to live in together. Now it felt compromised.
“My love. . . . I cannot do this anymore,” she wrote. “I must stop before
irreparable damage is done. . . . I cannot have these people in here anymore. .
. . If I don’t stop I’m going to break, I am going to crack in more places than
“I’ve been pushed, and I’ve pushed myself, as far as I can go,” he wrote her.
“I’m on the edge of a cliff, tired, worn out, fed up, running on pain, hatred,
anxiety, fury, rage, paranoia and contempt. . . . Sometimes lately I want to
start screaming so loud you have no choice but to hear — WAKE UP! WAKE UP! — I
see me screaming so loud it looks like the wind is blowing through your hair.”
He shaved his head like a monk and began studying Buddhism. His letters grew
“I just want you back,” she wrote. “I don’t want the Buddha. I just want you to
look at me. My name is Lorri and I am your wife, and you fell in love with me a
long time ago with such passion.”
“My love. . . . You and I both know that the letter I got from you today was
nothing but [expletive],” he wrote. “You keep saying you’re not a part of this
world, but you’re far more attached to it than I’ve ever been. . . . I have no
use for this world. . . . I have no place in it. I want to crush it, erase it.
. . . It amazes me that you love it so much.”
The letter-writing eventually slowed down. She was visiting him in prison on
such a regular basis that she would often arrive before her letters would.
Grateful as he was for the support, Echols tired of corresponding with so many
people. “I swear that I hate having to pick up this pen,” Echols wrote. “I’ve
been writing letters seemingly nonstop, and it never, ever ends. I believe it
would be worth it to break my hands just so I wouldn’t have to do so much as
think about writing for a couple of months.”
The focus was now on his legal appeals. Scientists hired by his defense team
could find no DNA evidence linking Echols or his co-defendants to either the
victims or the crime scene. Other experts for the defense analyzed the wounds
and markings found on the children and concluded they had come not from humans
but from animals. The entire theory of the murders as a satanic ritual was now
open to challenge.
In prison, Echols entertained the possibility of his release. He thought about
standing in the rain and feeling the water on his skin. Or watching the Red Sox
take the field at Fenway Park. He’d never driven a car, flown in an airplane.
Now 36, he’d spent half his life on death row.
As the defense prepared for a hearing last December, an unusual deal was
struck: If Echols and his co-defendants pleaded guilty — while being permitted
to maintain their innocence — and if they agreed not to sue the state for
financial damages, they would be released from prison. Echols considered
fighting for full exoneration, but he and Davis and his co-defendants believed
it was too risky, and they ultimately accepted the bargain.
The week before Echols got out of prison was the hardest stretch. He couldn’t
sleep, petrified that somehow the deal would fall through. But on Aug. 19,
Echols and his co-defendants appeared before a judge, issued their pleas and
walked out of the courtroom. The next day, Echols and Davis flew on Eddie
Vedder’s private jet to Seattle for a weekend celebration. Then it was off to
Manhattan, where they now live.
“What’s a tuna burger?” Echols asked a week after his release. It was the first
time I saw him as a free man. Over the summer we met several times in prison,
and I read the voluminous correspondence between him and Davis, who shared the
letters with me.
Now sitting in a banquette in a TriBeCa bistro, he contemplated this exotic
sandwich. When the tuna burger came, he put it close to his nose and sniffed
it. Same with a stalk of grilled asparagus. He eyed the crèmelike substance in
the silver cup next to the tuna burger suspiciously. “What’s this?”
“Wasabi,” Davis said. “It’s like a spicy mustard sauce.”
He sniffed, dipped a finger in to taste.
“I’m trying not to coddle him too much,” she said. “It’s like ‘E.T.’ —
everything is so new, it’s so much fun.”
As a couple, they are still adjusting to being together. She has learned to
tolerate some of his passions (“I’m eating pizza every day”) and the occasional
violation of etiquette.
“I’m not used to eating with utensils,” he said.
He hoped they would spend more time alone together, just absorbing each other
up close. But there were so many things to do. Adventures. Errands. Japanese
food. That Red Sox game.
They talked about seeing a movie later that evening. “I want to see ‘Fright
Night,’ ” he said. “They’re rereleasing it in 3-D!”
Davis gave him a look. “ ‘Fright Night?’ ”
“She tries to introduce me to all these highbrow novels and these foreign films
and stuff — and Woody Allen,” he complained. “You know, these stories that are
all about the human condition and slices of life. They’re so boring! No wonder
everyone in New York is depressed!”
“Listen,” she said. “You better get this stuff out of your system. I’m giving
you a grace period. You have a couple weeks, then. . . .”
He still had yet to venture out alone. “I’m almost ready,” he said, and reached
under the table to hold Davis’s hand.
They still write. One of Echols’s favorite places in New York is Gothic
Renaissance, a costume shop in the East Village. Davis goes with him, and
sometimes they get separated. One day recently, amid the Halloween masks, Davis
noticed that she had received another note from him. It was a text message.
“Where are u? I’m near the front.”
(source: New York Times)
More information about the DeathPenalty