Woman Faces Death in Cabarrus

October 16, 2007

News Update 10.16.07

North Carolina

In Cabarrus County, the capital trial of Lisa Greene is set to begin today. She stands accused of killing her children by setting the family home on fire. More information here.

Elsewhere

The execution of William Castillo has been stayed in Nevada. Castillo had been served his final meal, and was 90 minutes from execution when the court’s order came down. Meanwhile, the execution of Christopher Scott Emmett will go forward in Virginia tonight unless the governor steps in.

On Monday, the Supreme Court declined to hear the case of Smith v. Arizona, which asked whether spending a prolonged period of time on death row is, in and of itself, cruel and unusual punishment. Joe Clarence Smith has spent 30 years waiting to die, about three times the average stay on death row. Justice Breyer dissented. Read more about “death row syndrome” here and here. (c/o SCOTUSblog [scroll down a bit] and SLAP)

TCASK, StandDown and MVFHR have info on the first meeting of the Tennessee Death Penalty Study Commission. The group, comprised of prosecutors, defense attorneys, victims’ advocates, and lawmakers, is the first of its kind in any Southern state.


Formerly Condemned Man Freed

October 11, 2007

News Update 10.11.07

North Carolina

Rex Penland, who spent 11 of the last 15 years on death row for a Stokes County murder, was set free last week. Penland, who maintains his innocence, entered an Alford plea to charges including second-degree murder. Given his good behavior and the time already served, he was released almost immediately. Penland was convicted of the 1994 rape and murder of Vernice Alford based on the testimony of his twin nephews. In 2004, DNA testing showed that the semen in the rape kit was not Penland’s, and that the blood on Penland’s pocketknife did not come from the victim. The true source of the semen has not been identified.

In Nash County, a juror was arrested in the middle of James Wesley Stallings’ murder trial. First the juror fell asleep during testimony. Then, during a break called so that he could wake up, the juror had a conversation with someone connected to one of the parties in the case. The juror and the audience member spent the night in jail, but the judge declined to declare a mistrial.

Elsewhere

Yesterday, the Supreme Court heard arguments in the case of Medellin v. Texas. Medellin, like many other foreign citizens sentenced to death in the United States, was not advised of his right to speak with someone from the consulate after his arrest. The Court has already decided that the denial of one’s rights under the Vienna Convention is tough tomatoes. Medellin asks whether the analysis changes when the President steps in and directs the states to re-examine an inmate’s Convention claim. Background info at ScotusWiki.

Michael Richard was executed in Texas on September 25, the same day that the Supreme Court announced it would consider the constitutionality of lethal injection. Judge Sharon Keller of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals refused to accept Richard’s plea for a stay, which was filed 20 minutes late due to catastrophic computer problems at his attorney’s office. Keller did so without notifying other judges who were awaiting the filing, including the judge appointed to handle Richard’s case. Her fellow judges were not amused. Yesterday, a judicial conduct complaint was filed accusing Keller of violating Richard’s right to due process. (c/o StandDown and CDW)


Floyd Brown Freed!

October 9, 2007

News Update 10.09.07

North Carolina

Floyd BrownRegular readers may recall the case of Floyd Brown, who has been locked up in the state mental hospital for 14 years because he is too mentally retarded to stand trial for a murder he likely did not commit. (Prior reporting here, here, and here.) Mr. Brown was facing the death penalty until the Atkins decision in 2002.

Yesterday, Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson dismissed the charges against Mr. Brown and ordered him released from custody.

(Image from WRAL.com. Go here for video.)

A psychiatrist testified that Mr. Brown is not and never will be competent to stand trial. A doctor and a social worker who work with Brown regularly at the hospital (and who are employed by the State) testified that Brown is mentally retarded and could not have given the detailed confession that is the only evidence connecting him to the crime. An expert in forensics, previously employed by the North Carolina Department of Justice, testified that the performance of Anson County law enforcement in investigating the murder of Katherine Lynch was so far below standards as to border on incompetency. He suggested that an innocent man has been incarcerated for fourteen years while the real murderer has run free.

A woman employed by an agency that helps the mentally retarded find services in their communities told the court that she had found a group home that agreed to take in Mr. Brown and monitor him 24 hours a day, but that after a visit from District Attorney Michael Parker, the home suddenly refused to help. Now that the charges have been dropped, Brown’s family is looking for another placement. Everyone who testified said that Brown is not a danger to himself or others.

The State called no witnesses. Two members of the Attorney General’s Office simply argued that Judge Hudson did not have jurisdiction to decide the matter. Hudson took exception to the notion that a nonviolent person could be locked up forever without a trial, and that the courts would be powerless to help. When the judge announced his decision, Mr. Brown’s attorneys and family burst into tears of joy. “The system we looked to protect him just failed. Anybody who looked could see he didn’t do it, but nobody cared,” said Brown’s sister, Frances Staton. “The 14 years are gone. I can’t bring them back. The main thing now is, he’s free.”

In Cabarrus County, the death penalty has become increasingly rare.

In Charlotte, Ricky Graham received a life sentence.

In Jacksonville, a call to end the death penalty.

Elsewhere

The American Bar Association has released its report on the use of the death penalty in Pennsylvania. Problems noted in the report include: inadequate protections for the innocent, limited access to competent counsel, and racial and geographic disparities in the implementation of capital punishment.

The US Supreme Court has amended its grant of certiorari in the Baze lethal injection case. The court dropped the fourth question, whether States are obligated to be prepared to stop an execution and begin life-saving procedures if a stay should be granted after the injections have begun.

Despite the cert grant, Georgia is preparing to execute two inmates. Jack Alderman and Curtis Osborne are scheduled to be killed later this month. Mississippi plans to execute Earl Wesley Berry on Halloween.

Amnesty International has released a report on the 25-year history of lethal injection, including information on botched executions and legal developments worldwide.


More on the Council of State, Active Cases

October 3, 2007

News Update 10.03.07

North Carolina

The folks at People of Faith Against the Death Penalty noted the following during the Council of State meeting yesterday:

Apparently forgetting the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech and the right “to petition the government for a redress of grievances,” NC Secretary of State Elaine Marshall commented that she had received “in excess of 200 emails” from concerned citizens and called the messages “inappropriate.” She said she opened two of them “by mistake” and did not read them.

Secretary Marshall’s admission reflects the confusion and ignorance that surrounds the Council of State’s actions on this issue so far.

NC Labor Commissioner Jim Long, the only Council member to vote against the motion, noted that the Council could probably feel the meeting table shaking from his cell phone as he received more emails from concerned citizens during the meeting.

He added that because the US Supreme Court was considering Kentucky’s lethal injection protocol, which is the same as North Carolina’s, “We are probably just spinning our wheels.”

Meanwhile, NC prosecutors are seeking death in at least two trials underway at the moment. A jury is deliberating Ricky Graham‘s fate in Mecklenberg County, and Mario Lynn Phillips‘ attorneys are arguing for his life in Moore County.

Elsewhere

CDW warns us to be on the lookout for low-flying swine: the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted a stay of execution for Heliberto Chi, which could mean that the most active death penalty state in the nation is entering a period of moratorium. More from StandDown and NYT.

MVFHR is starting of its Voices of Families of the Executed series this morning with words from Lois Robison, whose son Larry was executed in 2000.

The folks at SCOTUSblog have launched ScotusWiki, a source for quick and comprehensive coverage of cases before the Supreme Court. (a work in progress)


Council of State Approves Lethal Injection Protocol

October 2, 2007

The Council of State voted this morning to reject the recommendations of an Administrative Law Judge and approve the Department of Correction’s proposed lethal injection protocol. Of the nine-member Council, only Commissioner James E. Long voted against the DOC.

General info on the meeting here.

More on the proceedings before the ALJ here.

Older blogging here.

WRAL reports that after a “brief discussion,” the Council decided that the ALJ “lacked jurisdiction.”  Attorney Elizabeth Kuniholm expressed frustration that the Council refused to address the issue on the merits (N&O).

The case will return to Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens.


Bazed and Confused

October 1, 2007

News Update 10.01.07

North Carolina

Nothing to report.

Elsewhere

Following its grant of certiorari in Baze v. Rees, the Supreme Court declined to stop the execution of Michael Richard.  It appears that Richard was executed in large part because the computers at his attorneys’ office crashed and they were unable to file his petition until 20 minutes after the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals closed for the night.

On Thursday, the Court saw fit to stay the execution of Carlton Turner, Jr., but offered no explanation for its decision. Texas still plans to execute Heliberto Chi later this week. More here.

Meanwhile, Alabama Governor Bob Riley granted a brief stay to Thomas Arthur, but only to give the state more time to spiffy up its new lethal injection procedure. Riley reasserted his confidence in Arthur’s guilt, but continues to deny DNA testing that would prove guilt (or innocence) conclusively.

Other states are debating what steps to take next. No one really knows what’s going on, which is ironic given that part of the reason for granting cert in Baze was to clear things up.

Michael RichardsCarlton TurnerHeliberto ChiTommy Arthur
Michael Richard, Carlton Turner , Heliberto Chi, and Thomas Arthur

(photos from Departments of Corrections)


Executions – October 2007

October 1, 2007

3 – Heliberto Chi (TX)

9 – Anthony Washington (PA – stay likely)

11 – Raymond Solano (PA – stay likely)

15 – William Castillo (NV – volunteer)

16 – Jack Harold Jones, Jr. (AR)

17 – Christopher Scott Emmett (VA)

18 – Romell Broom (OH – stayed)

24 – Michael Joe Boyd (TN – commuted)

25 – Daniel Siebert (AL)


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