Fundraiser for Ed Chapman

February 18, 2011

In 2008, Glen Edward Chapman was exonerated and released from death row after spending 15 years behind bars for two murders he did not commit.  He has yet to be compensated by the State of North Carolina.

On March 31st, the Grey Eagle in Asheville is hosting the third annual Freedom Ball in Mr. Chapman’s honor.  Performers will include singer-songwriter David LaMotte, the surf/psychobilly band The Krektones, and reggae/dub act Kinjah.

You can buy tickets online here.  Even if you can’t attend, please consider purchasing a few tickets as a donation.


Faulty Forensic Evidence in Cases of Three NC Executed

August 18, 2010

A report released today by two former FBI agents, commissioned to review North Carolina’s State Bureau of Investigation laboratory in the wake of the Greg Taylor exoneration, finds that the convictions of three people executed in North Carolina were based in part on forensic reports and testimony that were, to be kind, misleading.  The report is available online here.

The executed persons identified in the report are Desmond Carter (report confirmed the presence of blood on an item when the test was in fact negative), John Rose (report stated that there were chemical indications for the presence of blood and no further tests were done when in fact further tests were done and were negative), and Timothy Keel (report stated that blood test was inconclusive when in fact subsequent tests were negative).

The report also identified four current death row inmates whose cases involved similar errors by the SBI, as well as five potentially innocent people who died in prison before this information came to light.

The report is focused on one test performed by one division of the lab between 1987 and 2003, and only looked into cases in which certain language, identified as misleading in the Taylor case, was repeated in the lab’s report.  Still, the survey identified 269 defendants who were charged based on faulty evidence.

Imagine how many more potentially innocent persons could be identified through a more comprehensive review.


Possibly Innocent Death Row Inmate Granted New Trial

June 17, 2009

David Gainey has been on North Carolina’s death row since 1999, facing the ultimate punishment for a crime his brother may well have committed.  Thanks to Judge Gregory Weeks, he will now have a chance to prove his innocence.

Harnett County prosecutor Peter Strickland had evidence that it was Michael Gainey, not David Gainey, who killed Dwayne Winfield McNeill in 1998.  He hid this information from David Gainey’s defense team, and allowed a prosecution witness to testify falsely about whether anyone else had been linked to the crime.  Strickland also concealed evidence that McNeill was seen alive by his grandparents after prosecutors alleged that David Gainey killed him.

David Gainey confessed to killing Dwayne McNeill under pressure from police officers, but David was unable to provide accurate information about the location of the shooting, the time it happened, or the number of times McNeill was shot.  Despite this, David Gainey’s trial attorneys failed to obtain an expert in false confessions.  The murder weapon was never found and there was no physical evidence linking David Gainey to the shooting.

The court’s order is available here.

(For more information on false confessions, click here.  You may think that an innocent person would never confess to a crime they did not commit, but in 25% of cases where the defendant was later fully exonerated by DNA, s/he confessed to police.)


DP Event in Asheville

June 8, 2009

Death row exoneree Edward Chapman will be joined by North Carolina Representative Susan Fisher and others this Saturday at Nazareth First Baptist Church in Asheville.  The event, called Let Justice Roll: The Church Speaks out for Racial Justice in Our Court System, is being held in support of the Racial Justice Act which is pending in the NC legislature.

You can learn more about Edward Chapman here, here, and here.


Where the Death Penalty Stands in North Carolina

May 15, 2009

It has been more than two years since anyone was executed in North Carolina. In the last few weeks, several legislative actions and court decisions have made it seem likely that executions will resume in the near future. What is really going on?

Medical Board

On May 1st, the North Carolina Supreme Court issued its decision in a lawsuit between the North Carolina Medical Board and the NC Department of Correction. The Medical Board, an agency responsible for licensing and regulation of doctors in North Carolina, had issued a policy stating that doctors cannot ethically participate in executions. The Department of Correction claimed that it was unable to find a doctor willing to assist with lethal injection, and that it was therefore unable to execute its inmates. The DOC sued, and the NCSC ruled that because the legislature has required physician participation in executions, it is not within the power of the Medical Board to sanction doctors for doing so.

Council of State

On May 13th, Wake County judge Donald Stephens issued a decision denying and dismissing the claims brought by several death row inmates against the Council of State, a body of elected officials responsible for, among other things, approving North Carolina’s lethal injection protocol. The inmates had alleged that the Council did not follow proper administrative procedure in approving the protocol. Judge Stephens found that the inmates did not have standing to challenge the Council’s decision, and that the Council’s approval was not subject to further review by any court.

Lethal Injection

Judge Stephens also issued an order setting a hearing during the June 1 session of court for oral argument on the remaining 8th Amendment issues in the inmates’ case. Both parties are expected to brief the impact of the US Supreme Court’s decision in Baze v. Rees on the question of whether the North Carolina lethal injection protocol is cruel and unusual.

Legislature

The Senate chamber of the North Carolina General Assembly voted this week to approve the Racial Justice Act, which would allow pre-trial defendants as well as death row inmates to challenge the decision to seek or impose the death penalty in their case if it was based on impermissible racial bias. The bill passed with an amendment which prohibited the Medical Board and other health care agencies from disciplining medical professionals involved in executions, removed the requirement that the Council of State approve the execution protocol, and mandated that executions cannot occur more than once every 30 days.

What Happens Now

There will be no appeal in the Medical Board litigation, but it is possible for the inmates to appeal Judge Stephens’ decision in the Council of State matter; some of Stephens’ findings were contrary to an earlier ruling by another judge.  A specific date has not yet been set for the hearing on the 8th Amendment issues related to lethal injection. Finally, the House has yet to pass the Racial Justice Act, and if it does, any discrepancies between the House and Senate versions of the bill will need to be worked out.

It is hard to say exactly if or when executions will resume in North Carolina.  Injunctions are still in place preventing the State from re-setting executions dates for the six residents of death row who were scheduled to be executed before the moratorium began.

What we do know is that our system of capital punishment remains imperfect. In the years we have been without executions, three innocent men were freed from death row, having served a combined 41 years and faced death for crimes they did not commit.  Many of those who will face execution when the moratorium ends were convicted in an era when the standards for performance by defense counsel and fairness from prosecutors were far below what they are today.  No one should be executed until all litigation is resolved and the known flaws with North Carolina’s death penalty have been remedied.


Freedom, Year One

April 2, 2009

One year ago today, Glen Edward Chapman walked off of North Carolina’s death row.  Chapman had spent the last fifteen years behind bars for two murders he did not commit.

Chapman had last been a free man in 1992.  The first George Bush was president.  Cell phones and the internet were not in common use.  Edward Chapman was entering a world he could hardly recognize, with nothing to show for the last 15 years and few possessions besides the clothes on his back.  It seemed like a recipe for failure.

Today, Edward Chapman lives and works in Asheville, North Carolina.  He has a full-time job at a prestigious local hotel, and rents a home where he lives alone.  Chapman no longer struggles with the addictions that plagued him before his incarceration, and he is not bitter about the years he has lost.  “I can forgive.  Does it mean I have to forget?  No, but I can use that as a lesson to teach someone else,” he said.

You can read past articles about Chapman here, here, and here.


NC Death Penalty Year in Review 2008

December 18, 2008

It has been an exceptional year for life in North Carolina.  No one was executed, and only one new person was added to death row (the lowest number since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1977).  This year, as many capital defendants were acquitted as were sentenced to death.  More death row inmates were exonerated than executed.  North Carolina should be proud.

Nationally, executions began again following the Supreme Court’s decision in Baze v. Rees, but lethal injection remains stalled in North Carolina due to litigation by inmates subject to the procedure as well as the doctors forced to participate in it.

Capital Trial Statistics

Life without parole – 9 (Kenneth Hartley, Charles Dickerson, Eric Oakes, Jakiem Wilson, James Stitt, Robert Windsor, Lisa Greene, Neil Sargeant, James Blue)

Sentences less than life -3 (Pliney Purser, Jonte McLaurin, John Chavis Ross)

Death -1 (James Ray Little)

Military capital trial acquittals – 1 (Alberto Martinez)

Post-Conviction Statistics

Executions – 0

Exonerations – 2 (Levon “Bo” Jones, Glen Edward Chapman)

Death row inmates getting new trials – 2 (John Conaway, William Moore)

Death row inmates getting new sentencing hearings – 1 (William Gray)

Otherwise removed from death row – 2 (Clinton Smith, Carlos Cannady)

Incompetent for execution – 1 (Guy LeGrande)

Deaths from natural causes – 3 (Gary Greene, Leroy McNeill, George Page)

If you would like to be part of making 2009 another Year of Life, please consider making a donation to NC-based groups like the Fair Trial Initiative.


Edward Chapman – Life After Death Row

August 14, 2008

News Update 08.14.08

North Carolina

A truly stunning profile of North Carolina death row exoneree Glen Edward Chapman appears in this month’s Details magazine. Chapman spent nearly 14 years on death row for two murders he did not commit (one of which was not even a murder). He was released with less than $200 to his name, no apology, and nowhere to go. Four months later, Chapman has a job, a house, and an inspiring perspective on the time he served and the road ahead.

The article begins:

The sergeant says, “Pack up.”

Glen Edward Chapman has no idea what’s going on. It’s a sunny afternoon in April, and he has just come in from playing basketball with some of the other inmates at the maximum-security state penitentiary in Raleigh, North Carolina. He’s still drying off from his five-minute shower—if you let the water run too long, they extract 10 bucks from your prison account—and he’s confused. He knows that a judge has ordered a new trial, but nobody’s said anything about when it will be.

Pack up?

“I’ve been packed up for a long time,” Chapman says to the sergeant. As one of his small gestures of mental independence, he’s never gotten around to arranging his personal items in a neat space under the bed—that would suggest he plans on sticking around. Instead, he’s kept everything in a bag for close to 14 years while he’s gradually morphed from a wiry and wide-eyed 26-year-old into a stocky, bespectacled 40-year-old. A guard leads him out of Unit III. Chapman expects the two of them to turn right, toward Safekeeping, where prisoners are housed when they’re awaiting trial, but they turn left, toward Shipping. The guard is as nonchalant as a shopkeeper telling a late-night customer that it’s closing time. “See you later,” he says. “You’re going home.”

(As a side note, DW encourages folks to pick up a paper copy of the mag; there are incredible photographs of Mr. Chapman which do not appear in the online version.)

Reactions to the State’s decision to seek death for Demario Atwater are here and here. From the Charlotte Observer article: “If my loved one were murdered, my gut would tell me to find the person responsible and exact some old-fashioned, Biblical vengeance, “an eye for an eye.” Then, I would hope and pray that some other emotion took over, one that rejects legal as well as illegal violence in a world that has always had more than its share of both.”

Elsewhere

Amnesty International and StandDown reflect on the predicament of Raymond Riles, a Texas inmate who has languished on death row for 33 years because even Texas agrees he’s too mentally ill to execute. Still, Texas will not allow Mr. Riles to be moved from death row, the restrictive conditions of which only exacerbate his paranoia and delusions, to a psychiatric prison facility.

From the company we keep department, Iran is taking steps towards ending the practice of stoning condemned prisoners. Relatedly, SLAP links to this article, which notes the decline of the death penalty in Asia, even in China, which executes more people than any nation on Earth.


Racial Justice Act Press Conference

May 23, 2008

(from a press release)

RALEIGH, NC – Senator Vernon Malone, Representative Larry Womble, NAACP-NC President Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II and other leaders will hold a press conference in support of the NC Racial Justice Act (HB 1291) on Tuesday, May 27 at 1:00pm in the Legislative Press Room of the Legislative Building.

Also in attendance will be recent exonerees Jonathan Hoffman, Glen Edward Chapman, Levon Jones and Darryl Hunt.

The Racial Justice Act, which has passed the House of Representatives, allows a defendant facing the death penalty to challenge his conviction or death sentence if he can show that it was based on inappropriate and unacceptable considerations of race. As in housing and employment discrimination cases, the Racial Justice Act will allow defendants to use statistical proof of racial bias.

In the last six months, three North Carolina death row inmates have been exonerated. All three men are African-American. In all of the cases, at least one of the victims was white. One of them had an all-white jury. A recent landmark study by UNC professors found that a defendant’s odds of receiving the death penalty increase significantly if the victim was white.

##

Following the press conference, there will be a screening of Love Lived on Death Row and a panel discussion including the filmmaker and members of Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation.


Murder Defendant Denied Counsel

May 21, 2008

News Update 05.21.08

North Carolina

In a highly unusual turn of events, the Charlotte man accused of killing a state insurance investigator who was conducting an audit of his business has been denied the assistance of a public defender. According to Judge Bill Costagny, Michael Arthur Howell makes too much money to be entitled to assistance in hiring a lawyer. Howell apparently makes over $70,000 a year, but his expenses are greater than his income. Furthermore, the cost of a proper first-degree murder defense (not to mention a capital trial) far exceeds what almost any individual short of O.J. Simpson is capable of paying out of pocket. If the case goes capital, Howell’s savings will quickly be depleted and he will eventually be appointed a public defender. By then we will be several months down the line, the crime scene may have changed, critical witnesses or evidence might have disappeared. Rather than saving taxpayers money, perhaps the only thing Judge Costagny will have accomplished is giving Howell a built-in issue for appeal.

Meanwhile, the folks at NC Policy Watch are always good for a laugh:

Stop them!

Elsewhere

Relatedly, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has this reflection on Georgia’s rush to the death chamber, which is particularly disturbing in light of the near-collapse of the state’s public defender system.

Earl Wesley Berry is scheduled to be executed in Mississippi tonight. His lawyers have filed a petition with the Supreme Court, arguing that in light of the court’s ban on the execution of the mentally retarded in Atkins v. Virginia, Berry cannot be executed until he has received a proper hearing on the issue.

Amnesty International discusses the pending execution of Percy Levar Walton, a severely mentally ill man in Virginia. You can learn more about Mr. Walton’s case here. Walton is slated to become the 100th person executed in Virginia in the modern era.


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