Death row inmate Gary Dean Greene passed away yesterday after a long illness. He was 59 years old.
News Update 02.27.08
The jury is still out in the Fayetteville murder trial of Jonte McLaurin. McLaurin could face the death penalty if found guilty of shooting Jonathan Kencaid Lee during a botched robbery.
Sister Helen Prejean spoke last night at First Presbyterian Church in Durham. She told the audience of her path to social activism and her hope that more states will follow New Jersey’s lead in abolishing the death penalty.
Of the six Guantanamo detainees who will face death before a military tribunal, only one has a lawyer and none has been able to meet with counsel. Defense lawyers and Navy personnel blame one another for an incident this month in which counsel were turned away from a scheduled visit with their client. No one has explained why five detainees have not been provided with the counsel to which they are entitled. The only trial completed at Guantanamo thus far resulted in a sentence of less than one year, from which the defendant has already been released. (c/o How Appealing)
A recent AP story applauded Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas for not being as garrulous as his colleagues on the bench. Thomas has not asked a single question during oral arguments in the last two years. Instead, he leans back in his chair and stares at the ceiling. I fail to see how non-participation is a virtue, or why a person would be celebrated for approaching every day as if the world had nothing to teach them. Of course, one would think that some shred of intellectual curiosity would also be a prerequisite for being a journalist.
In reaction to the Supreme Court’s decision in Panetti v. Quarterman, South Dakota has laid out rules for how a judge should decide if an inmate is too mentally ill to be executed. (Scroll down to Section 10.) In sum, “The state has the burden of proving the mental competence of the defendant by a preponderance of the evidence. A defendant is mentally competent to be executed if the defendant is aware of the impending execution and the reason for it.” The bill awaits final approval from the Senate. (c/o StandDown)
Given all the flaws with Virginia‘s system of capital punishment, they have manged to get one thing right thus far: Virginia doesn’t kill people who don’t kill people. The state legislature is looking to change that.
The Fordham Urban Law Journal is presenting a truly impressive symposium entitled, The Lethal Injection Debate: Law and Science. Speakers will include law professors and practitioners (Deborah Denno, Douglas Berman, Elizabeth Semel, Richard Dieter, David Barron), judges (Jeremy Fogel, Fernando Gaitan) doctors (Mark Heath, Mark Dershwitz), and leading journalists (Harvey Weinstein, Adam Liptak). Former executioner Jerry Givens will also speak. The symposium will be presented on March 7th and 8th at Fordham Law School.
Orange and Chatham County prosecutors announced yesterday that they plan to seek the death penalty against Bobby Lee Person, who is accused of killing his mother last year. (The two adjoining counties share a district attorney. The crime occurred in Chatham County.)
The announcement was a rare one, as neither county has sought death in the last decade. There is no one on death row from Orange or Chatham County. No one from Orange County has been executed since 1948, and the last person executed from Chatham County died in 1937. Every person executed from Orange or Chatham County on whom data is available has been African-American. (See here.)
The victim’s five sisters have signed a letter opposing capital punishment for their nephew. District Attorney Jim Woodall has indicated that the opinion of victim family members is important to him. but has declined to accept the letter as proof of the family’s wishes in this case because the sisters did not meet with him personally.
In keeping with state law, Person will now be appointed a second attorney to assist in his defense. A 1993 study indicates that the decision to proceed capitally costs the State additional hundreds of thousands of dollars in each case, and approximately $2.16 million more per execution. The price tag is surely greater today.
If convicted of first-degree murder, Bobby Lee Person will die in prison one way or another. The only question is what his death will cost, financially and spiritually. One hopes that District Attorney Woodall will see fit to continue the Orange and Chatham County tradition of encouraging mercy, forgiveness, and healing.
News Update 02.21.08
In Moore County, Sean Maurice Ray has entered a life-saving plea agreement for his role in a 2003 quadruple homicide. Ray, who is mentally retarded, was sentenced to four consecutive terms of life without parole. His co-defendant Mario Lynn Phillips was tried and sentenced to death in October. A third co-defendant will serve a minimum of twelve years behind bars for her role in the crimes.
For folks in the Durham area, the 16th Annual Vigil Against Violence is taking place tonight at Carr United Methodist Church. Hosted by the Religious Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham, the vigil will honor the 33 people slain in the Bull City last year.
Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation is hiring an organizer for North Carolina. MVFR is a national organization of family members who have lost loved ones to murder or execution. Interested persons should contact Lorry Post at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lawyer types will be interested in yesterday’s Supreme Court decision in Danforth v. Minnesota, which held that even where federal courts do not apply a new rule of criminal law or procedure retroactively, state courts may elect to do so. As always, my first stop was with from the folks at SCOTUSblog. Background is available at SCOTUSwiki, and further analysis can be had at Capital Defense Weekly.
When researchers from California‘s Pepperdine Law School tried to gather information on how prosecutors select the cases in which to seek death, what was most striking was not any particular response, but rather the lack thereof. Only 14 of 58 counties responded to the survey in a meaningful way. A lack of transparency in the prosecutorial decision-making process can only contribute to concerns that inappropriate factors like race and gender influence the decision to seek death.
Tonight’s scheduled execution of Karl Chamberlain in Texas has been postponed pending the resolution of Baze v. Rees.
News Update 02.18.08
Victor Streib, a nationally known expert in women and the death penalty, has joined the faculty of Elon University School of Law. North Carolina ranks third nationwide, behind Texas and California, in the total number of women sentenced to death since the death penalty was reinstated in the mid-70s. You can read Streib’s most recent study of women on death row here.
A sampling of stories missed while your humble scribe was out with the flu:
- Former Mississippi death row inmate exonerated (with another to follow?)
- Nebraska Supreme Court pulls plug on the electric chair (see also)
- In Texas, mentally retarded John Paul Penry sentenced to life after almost 30 years on death row (re: how much money was wasted trying to kill him here and here)
- United States military seeks to carry out 9/11 executions at Gitmo (see also here and here)
- Wyoming death sentence tossed after public defender fired for trying to do a good job
From NPR, the must-listen story of how a father came to seek mercy for the man who killed his daughter.
Breaking news here. The decision came about an hour after jurors reported to the judge that they were deadlocked and he ordered them to continue in their deliberations.
News Update 02.07.08
Jurors in the trial of Lisa Greene will begin their deliberations today, deciding whether Greene should be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole or to the death penalty. There are four women on North Carolina’s death row, and over a hundred serving sentences of life without parole.
Chapel Hill residents should take advantage of UNC’s ongoing series of events related to the death penalty. On February 8th, there will be a one-woman performance by Ashley Lucas about the effect of incarceration on families. On the 11th, Scott Langley will present a photo documentary about the death penalty. On the 25th, Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking, will give the keynote address for the series.
Today’s effective allocation of resources award goes to New Hampshire, which has spent $978,000 so far to seek the death penalty against Michael Addison. At least eight attorneys are working on the prosecution side alone. New Hampshire has no one death row and hasn’t executed anyone since 1939. How about you take the death penalty off the table and spend that money on something productive, like trying to find the 264 criminals you can’t seem to locate? (c/o DPIC)
On Tuesday, a Texas court began a hearing to determine whether Scott Panetti, the inmate involved in last year’s Supreme Court decision Panetti v. Quarterman, is too mentally ill to be executed. Although the Court did not lay out a specific test for determining incompetency to be executed, it did say that the inmate must have some rational understanding of why he has been sentenced to die. Panetti, who was hospitalized for schizophrenia 14 times before committing his crime, believes that the forces of Satan have ordered his execution to prevent him from preaching the Gospel to others on death row. (c/o StandDown)
News Update 02.05.08
Yesterday a dozen friends and family members testified on behalf of Lisa Greene, urging the jury to spare her life. Some said they didn’t believe Greene was guilty, others said that the death penalty would only bring more pain to a family that has already endured the loss of two children. Greene’s attorneys have not ruled out the possibility that Greene herself might take the stand today.
At a pretrial hearing yesterday, lawyers for Army Master Sgt. Timothy B. Hennis argued that the military does not have jurisdiction to try him for the 23-year-old triple murder of which Hennis was acquitted in civilian court. The lawyers argued that (1) there was a break in Hennis’s service, which severs the military’s ability to prosecute incidents occurring during the first term of service; (2) the incident occurred off-base and did not involve military personnel, and so did not have the requisite connection to the military; and (3) that the military did not follow proper procedure in pulling Hennis out of retirement back into active duty. The judge did not issue a decision. Hennis’s next pretrial hearing is scheduled for April 8th. Background on the Tim Hennis case is here.
Nebraska will be the next state to abolish the death penalty, if State Senator Ernie Chambers has anything to say about it. Among those speaking in favor of Chambers’ bill: a man who spent 19 years on death row for a crime he did not commit, and a woman whose brother was murdered 23 years ago. Among those speaking against the bill: no one. More on former death row inmate Curtis McCarty here. There are nine people on Nebraska’s death row. Three Nebraskans have been executed since 1976. (c/o SLAP)
The Birmingham News on how a prosecutor’s decision to push for the execution of James Callahan despite the near certainty of a stay of execution brought needless suffering to the families of the defendant and the victim:
By the time the U.S. Supreme Court intervened to block the execution, Callahan was just a little more than an hour away from being put to death. He had visited with his family to say his goodbyes, and the prison system had gone through the necessary motions to prepare for the execution. Even worse, the mother and sister of his victim, Rebecca Suzanne Howell, had already traveled to Atmore to witness the execution. One of them came from Tennessee. The family called the ordeal “cruel and unusual.” They are right, and [Alabama Attorney General Troy] King should be ashamed.
News Update 02.01.08
The State has opted not to seek the death penalty against Dr. Kirk Turner, the Davie County dentist accused of killing his wife in their home last September. Prosecutors are still seeking a sentence of life without parole. Turner’s attorneys presented letters of support from 55 members of the community, and his bond was set at $1 million. Trial has been set for June.
Appalachian State University is presenting a series of events related to capital punishment and wrongful convictions. Discussions, films, and plays are offered (mostly free of charge) as part of a joint effort from the school’s Anthropology, English, History, Political Science and Criminal Justice, Sociology and Social Work, and Theater and Dance Departments. Darryl Hunt is among the featured speakers.
James Callahan received a stay of execution last night, a little more than an hour before he was scheduled to die. The Supreme Court has given Callahan reprieve, at least until he can file a complete appeal of the 11th Circuit’s decision in his case earlier this week. Amnesty International wonders if Alabama is the new Texas, given their recent push for executions and failure to provide counsel to people on death row.
The Texas Prison Museum (now there’s an interesting school field trip) is running a new exhibit called “Last Statement,” which features photographs and statements from the families of murder victims and the families of the executed, alongside facts about the case and a portion of the inmate’s final words. (c/o MVFHR)
The judge presiding over the Lisa Greene case has decided not to declare a mistrial, despite evidence that a juror discussed the case with at least two outside persons, telling them that he was convinced Greene was guilty “from the get-go” and expressing irritation at other jurors who wanted to hear the evidence before making up their minds. Yesterday it was learned that the former girlfriend of Juror Six contacted the State Bureau of Investigation about the misconduct, who in turn reported it to the Court on Monday, while guilt phase deliberations were still going on.
At least once a day, every day, for over two months the judge admonished the jury not to watch TV reports about the case and not to talk to others about the trial. According to his girlfriend, Juror Six broke both of those rules, watching the news with her and telling her and her grandmother that he believed Greene was guilty. Jurors are also told not to decide guilt or innocence until all the evidence has been entered. This is not the first time a problem has arisen with a Greene juror; last month a juror was dismissed after repeatedly falling asleep during testimony. Juror Six apparently also found the trial, in which Greene faces the death penalty, “boring.”
For his part, Juror Six told the judge that he had discussed the case with his girlfriend, but that his comments were not substantive. He added that he once walked in while his girlfriend was watching a news report about the case, but that he promptly left. Juror Six claimed that his ex-girlfriend lied about the misconduct to get back at him for kicking her out of the house. In keeping with his admission that he thought the trial was boring, Juror Six didn’t seem to care what the judge thought of him or whether he was allowed to remain on the jury. “That’s the honest truth,” he said. “If you believe me, cool. If you don’t, that’s cool, too…You can remove me [as a juror]. That isn’t going to hurt my feelings one bit.”
Although the judge found Juror Six’s comments,”troubling, if they are true,” he did not find them sufficiently disturbing to declare a mistrial. However, the judge did find that the juror would be unable to remain impartial in the sentencing phase and replaced him with an alternate. Because he was so impartial in the guilt phase.
Yet another juror wrote a note to the judge this morning, saying that she did not understand the law when she agreed to convict Greene of first-degree murder and other charges. Unmoved by the possibility of erroneous conviction, the judge ordered the trial to continue.