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.


Lisa Greene Sentenced to Life In Prison

February 8, 2008

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.


Greene Jurors to Decide Life or Death

February 7, 2008

News Update 02.07.08

North Carolina

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.

Elsewhere

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)


Tim Hennis Argues Army Has No Jurisdiction

February 5, 2008

News Update 02.05.08

North Carolina

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.

Elsewhere

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.

(c/o StandDown)


No Mistrial for Greene

February 1, 2008

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.


State Seeks Death Against Tommy Lee Holiday

January 31, 2008

News Update 01.31.08

North Carolina

Nash County prosecutors have formally announced their intent to seek death against Tommy Lee Holiday, who is accused of killing a Meals on Wheels worker in 2007. Another woman survived the attack. The case has gained attention from white supremacists because Holiday is black and the victims are white. (An informal announcement of intent to seek death was made a week after the crime occurred.)

Carlos Canady, who was sentenced to death in 1999, has entered a plea to life in prison plus 40 years. Canady’s conviction was overturned by the North Carolina Supreme Court in 2002, which found that his trial had been “riddled with errors,” so much so that the Court didn’t bother to discuss them all before granting relief. “We are satisfied with [the plea],” said a member of the victims’ family. “Our main concern was that he was not out on an early release and then somebody else have to go through this.”

Judge Quentin Sumner has imposed a gag order in the case of Mark Bowling, who stands accused of having his mistress kill his wife. “The case will not be tried in the press. It will be tried in the courtroom,” the judge said. The case has attracted a tremendous amount of publicity in the Rocky Mount area, where Bowling was a well-known businessman.

More on the conviction of Lisa Greene here and here. Jurors will hear evidence in the sentencing phase of the trial beginning on Friday.

Elsewhere

SCOTUSBlog has all you need to know about Callahan v. Allen. James Callahan’s attorneys have filed their petition to the US Supreme Court, asking that the Court delay his execution until they can file a proper appeal from the 11th Circuit’s surprise decision two days before Callahan’s scheduled execution. Callahan’s future petition will raise three issues: 1) whether the 11th Circuit erred in vacating his stay of execution based on a particular statute of limitations; 2) whether a state statute of limitations is properly applied to a claim based in federal civil rights; and 3) whether a statute of limitations can fairly begin to run when the claim is not ready for review because the method of execution remains uncertain. Callahan’s execution is set for 6:00 PM tonight.

Meanwhile back in Alabama, two state lawmakers have introduced bills to change the state’s capital punishment system. Senator Hank Sanders is proposing a moratorium on executions and a study on the fairness of the administration of the death penalty, while Representative Randy Wood is proposing legislation to expand the death penalty statute to include child rape. Click here for more information about the death penalty in Alabama.

The US Supreme Court has issued its argument calendar for April. Kennedy v. Louisiana, the case testing whether a person can be sentenced to death for a non-fatal crime, will be heard on April 16th.

How Appealing has the goods on Judge Hilton Fuller’s surprise decision to step down from the Brian Nichols/courthouse shooting case. Fuller has come under a great deal of fire over the last several years for having the audacity to, among other things, suggest that Nichols’ lawyers should be paid for their work. The final straw was a recent article in The New Yorker, which published comments made by Fuller to the effect that insanity is Nichols’ only possible defense because, “everyone in the world knows he did it.” The search for a new judge is not expected to be easy.


Lisa Greene Found Guilty

January 30, 2008

The six men and six women chosen to sit on Lisa Greene’s jury have found her guilty. Just two hours earlier they reported to the judge that they were deadlocked – it is unclear what happened to change their minds.

Greene was found guilty of two counts of first-degree murder, one count of first-degree arson, and two misdemeanor drug charges.

The trial will proceed to the sentencing phase, where the jury will decide whether Greene will be sentenced to death or serve life in prison without the possibility of parole.


Lisa Greene Jury Reports Deadlock

January 30, 2008

After 12 hours of deliberations, jurors in the trial of Lisa Greene have reported that they are at an impasse. The judge ordered the jury to take their lunch break and return to deliberations this afternoon.

Greene stands accused of killing her two children, Addison and Daniel, by setting fire to their home. The defense has presented evidence that the fire started accidentally from a candle in the children’s room.

The jury has four options – to convict Greene of first-degree murder (for which she could face the death penalty), to convict her of second-degree murder, to convict her of involuntary manslaughter, or to find her not guilty.

Greene also faces arson and misdemeanor drug charges. The jury reported that it has reached a verdict on one charge, but it has not been revealed which.


Biblical Evil

January 29, 2008

News Update 01.29.08

North Carolina

“I do believe that there is biblical evil that lives among us, and for some crimes you give up the right to be here on the earth.” You might expect these words to pass the lips of a conservative, Religious Right Republican, but it was a little shocking to hear them from Richard Moore, Democratic candidate for Governor. It was perhaps more surprising that Moore uttered these words in response to a question about James Johnson, who sat in jail facing the death penalty for three years despite not having killed anyone, at a debate hosted by the NAACP. (Moore at least bothered to show up, unlike three of the four Republican candidates.)

Deliberations continue in the trial of Lisa Greene. On Friday, jurors asked to see photos of the fire damage and a copy of one child’s autopsy report, among other evidence. Deliberations were canceled on Monday after a juror got into a car accident en route to the courthouse. The juror was not seriously injured, and deliberations will begin again today.

The North Carolina Supreme Court has refused to hear the appeal of Lee Wayne Hunt, who has been imprisoned since the mid-80s for a double murder he may not have committed. No matter that the forensic evidence has been proven faulty and the co-defendant said he acted alone. The Court offered no explanation for its decision.

Elsewhere

In other thwarting innocence news, Congress would like to know why the Department of Justice has failed to distribute any of the $40 million Congress provided for DNA testing in possible false conviction cases. The Kirk Bloodsworth Post-Conviction DNA Testing Program is named for the first person to be freed from death row after DNA conclusively proved his innocence. Despite his innocence, Bloodsworth was convicted not once but twice of raping and murdering a nine-year-old girl.

From The New Yorker, another look at the Brian Nichols/Atlanta courthouse shooting case – the defendant, the witnesses, the lawyers, the judge, the financial meltdown of Georgia’s indigent defense system. Simply put, if you’re going to have capital punishment, you have to do it right, and doing it right is very, very expensive. Georgia seems to be struggling with whether it wants to do things right, or just quickly.


Lisa Greene Jury to Begin Deliberations

January 24, 2008

News Update 01.24.08

North Carolina

In Concord, the defense has given its closing argument in the trial of Lisa Greene. The prosecution will continue its argument today. If convicted, Greene could be sentenced to death.

Throughout Lisa Greene’s murder trial, prosecutors have suggested Greene, a professional photographer who uses props in her work, may have staged a fire at her house to make it look accidental.

On Tuesday, Greene’s attorneys told jurors that prosecutors had done the staging, twisting witnesses’ statements to make it look as though Greene intentionally set the fire that killed her children.

One of Greene’s attorneys, Lisa Dubs, compared a statement Greene signed — in which Greene says she set the fire Jan. 10, 2006 — to the Salem witch trials in 17th-century Massachusetts, in which people were forced into falsely confessing they were witches.

If Greene’s alleged confession is accepted as credible, “then we haven’t learned anything in 315 years about how valid a confession that looks like this really is,” Dubs said.

Raymond Christian Jedele, a former Kitty Hawk police officer, will face the death penalty if convicted of the 2007 kidnapping and murder of Donald Bradley Smithwick. Smithwick’s ex-wife, Janet Denise Harrell, has been charged with accessory after the fact.

Meanwhile, the Onslow County District Attorney has announced that he will not seek the death penalty against Caesar Laurean, who stands accused of killing a fellow Marine, if Laurean is captured in Mexico. Laurean would still face the death penalty if captured in the US. Mexico, which abolished the death penalty in 2005 after not putting anyone to death since 1961, will not extradite defendants to the United States in cases where the death penalty is sought. The United States agreed to respect its neighbor’s position on capital punishment in a 1980 treaty.

District attorneys announced this week that they will not be seeking death in a number of other cases.

  • Renee Yvette McLaughlin will spend less than sixteen years in prison for her part in a quadruple murder that landed Mario Lynn Phillips on death row. Prosecutors believe that McLaughlin had a minor role in the killings and did not herself injure any of the victims.
  • Ryan Jermar White will not face the death penalty for his role in a September killing, but at least two of his co-defendants will. White still faces first-degree murder charges, even though prosecutors say he wasn’t at the home where the death occurred.
  • The Onslow County District Attorney felt it necessary to announce that he will not be seeking death in two cases for which the law does not permit capital punishment. Casey Rafael Tyler was under the age of 18 when he committed his crime, and Kenneth Gordon Waid, Jr.’s crime did not involve any aggravating factors.

Elsewhere

After ten years on Virginia’s death row, Daryl Atkins has finally had his death sentence converted to life without parole. Atkins did not get relief under the famous case which bears his name – prosecutors still maintain that Atkins is not mentally retarded – but because his co-defendant’s lawyer was finally able to come forward with the truth: prosecutors coached the co-defendant’s testimony against Atkins, telling him that his original story wasn’t good enough and helping him act out the crime to come up with something better. Legal ethics prevented the lawyer from coming forward until his client’s appeals had concluded.  Only fate kept Atkins from being executed before the truth was known.

In California, many are unhappy with the growing cost of building a new death row at San Quentin State Prison. The current estimate is $356 million, $19 million more than last year and roughly $27 million for each inmate California has actually executed in the modern era. Governor Schwarzenneger has vetoed a bill to delay construction on the present site while more cost-effective alternatives are researched. Said one observer, “At a time when the governor’s budget is going to put children on the street, it is absurd to be spending $400,000 a bed for condemned prisoners.” (c/o CDW)


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