DNA and Dirty Prosecutors

May 16, 2007

News Update 5.16.07

North Carolina

Timothy Hennis is back in court this morning, 22 years after he was first arrested for a triple murder near Fort Bragg. The case appears to turn on DNA evidence, but the exact nature of that evidence is as yet unknown. The Fayetteville Observer has a special report.

A judge has upheld the dismissal of ethics charges against former Union county prosecutors Kenneth Honeycutt and Scott Brewer stemming from the trial of Jonathan Hoffman. Hoffman was sentenced to death for the robbery-murder of a jewelry store owner. According to the article, the State Bar believes that,

Honeycutt agreed to reward (Johnell) Porter for his testimony at trial with immunity from state and federal prosecutions, money, and a reduction in his federal sentence. Porter said in a 2006 interview that he made up the testimony about Hoffman to get the deal.

Porter’s prison sentences were reduced by at least 15 years. He was not prosecuted for at least a dozen serious crimes in Charlotte. And he pocketed several thousand dollars in reward money.

The bar charged that Honeycutt and Brewer hid the deal from the jury, the trial judge and Hoffman’s lawyers, lied to Judge William Helms and concealed the deal by altering documents they gave to the judge.

The charges were dismissed, as death penalty supporters like to say, on a technicality.

Elsewhere

In New Jersey, Byron Halsey has been released from prison after nearly two decades behind bars. Halsey was wrongfully convicted – based on the testimony of the actual perpetrator – of the rape and murder of two children in 1988. As with North Carolina’s Darryl Hunt, the state sought death, and Mr. Halsey might well have been executed by now had the jury not decided to spare him. See what innocence looks like here.

Author John Grisham believes that the death penalty should be abolished. “I think the system is so badly flawed that all executions should be stopped. . . . Let’s start with the basic concept of a fair trial. We are so far away from that in every state in this country.” Grisham’s latest book tells the true story of Ron Williamson, who was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to die in Oklahoma.

California has released its proposed new lethal injection protocol.


New Online Death Penalty Curriculum

May 15, 2007

News Update 5.15.07

North Carolina

Nothing to report.

Elsewhere

The Death Penalty Information Center has launched an exciting new project called Capital Punishment in Context. CPIC is a free online college-level curriculum anyone can use to gain a deeper understanding of the death penalty.

Capital Punishment in Context is designed to supplement a variety of college courses. It contains cases of individuals who were sentenced to death in the United States. Each case presents a narrative account of the individual’s crime, trial and punishment, along with guidelines for analysis, discussion and further research on issues raised by the case. The narratives are supplemented by resources such as original police reports from the homicide investigation and transcripts of witness’ testimony. After reading the case, you can further explore issues by following a series of links to additional information. Each case, with its related materials, opens a path through the criminal justice system.

Capital Punishment in Context contains video interviews with key figures in the case, such as attorneys, jurors and witnesses. There are also videos featuring legal experts, illuminating such complex subjects as the capital trial and appeals process. Along with the links to primary source materials, these videos add richness and depth to the cases.

In Tennessee, the state medical examiner’s office is still fighting Philip Workman’s family for custody of his body. According to the article, “The state medical examiner’s office has said it wants to perform the autopsy and obtain blood and other fluids from Workman’s body to confirm that the three-drug lethal injection cocktail was properly administered and did not amount to cruel and unusual punishment.” Isn’t it a little late to worry about the constitutionality of the execution when the inmate is already dead?

Information on yesterday’s Supreme Court decision in Schriro v. Landrigan can be found here and here. In brief, the primary issue before the Court related to the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, but the issue gaining the most attention is whether a defendant, by voicing opposition to the presentation of mitigating evidence at trial, waives all later claims of ineffective assistance of counsel for failing to adequately investigate mitigation. Despite prior decisions that would indicate otherwise, five justices said yes.


Hearing Scheduled for Tim Hennis

May 14, 2007

News Update 5.14.07

North Carolina

As soon as this week, the Army could release information about why it has decided to try Tim Hennis for the 1985 murders of an airman’s wife and daughters. Hennis was originally convicted and sentenced to death for the killings in 1986, but his conviction was reversed and Hennis was found not guilty at a second trial. After his acquittal, Hennis went on to serve in the Gulf and retired from the Army in 2004. He was recalled to active duty in 2006 solely for the purpose of facing renewed murder charges. Double jeopardy does not apply between military and civilian courts. See also.

The heavily armed assault on a Wilmington apartment complex last week resulted in no arrests. Suspects were apprehended later, elsewhere, and without incident.

Some press on House Bill 533/Senate Bill 1075 which would prohibit the execution of the severely mentally ill and severely mentally disabled. Defendants could still be sentenced to life in prison, but would not be eligible for the death penalty if their condition made them unable to appreciate the wrongfulness of their conduct, to use rational judgment, or to conform their conduct to the law.

Elsewhere

Excerpts from the new lethal injection protocol established by Florida in the wake of the botched execution of Angel Diaz.

An AP interview with five men on Missouri’s death row. Each has his own view of his crime and his fate – interesting reading.

Last week, an Oklahoma judge ordered the release of Curtis E. McCarty, who was convicted and sentenced to death twice for a murder he did not commit. DNA evidence exonerated McCarty nearly 22 years after a police lab analyst falsified test results and hid or destroyed evidence to ensure his conviction. The prosecutor in the case, who has sent more people to death row than anyone else in America, has said that he believes it is worth executing an innocent person to maintain the institution of capital punishment. More here.

There will be a hearing this week for Pennsylvania’s Mumia Abu-Jamal, arguably America’s most famous death row inmate. The Third Circuit will consider whether to reverse a lower court’s decision to vacate Abu-Jamal’s death sentence, and will examine issues including whether the jury properly considered mitigating circumstances, unconstitutional racial discrimination in the selection of the jury, and possible judge bias.

In Wyoming, a federal judge heard the case of James Harlow, who was sentenced to death for the murder of a prison guard in 1997. The State refused to hand over the records of inmates who testified against Harlow, one of whom prison records showed suffered from “a grave mental illness” and communicated with an imaginary friend. “The trouble I have with all of this is that I have always believed that in this kind of trial, you play the cards face up, not face down,” U.S. District Judge Clarence Brimmer said. “And it looks like they did the opposite.”


Wilmington Police Serve Warrant Via Tear Gas Canister

May 11, 2007

News Update 5.11.07

North Carolina

In Wilmington, police use helicopter, sniper, tear gas, shields, dogs, and assault rifles to serve a warrant in an unsolved homicide case. Police have not said who they were seeking, which murder they were investigating, or why extreme force was necessary. “You don’t expect that stuff except on TV,” said a neighbor.

Elsewhere

In Florida, reporters who witnessed the torture-execution of Angel Diaz have been subpoenaed to testify about what they saw. The media is resisting, saying that being called to testify would “impede” their work. Those seeking the testimony say that no one else who witnessed the execution – prison officials, loved ones of the victim and defendant, etc. – is neutral enough to provide accurate testimony about what happened in the death chamber. More here.

In Texas, the Court of Criminal Appeals issued a surprise decision blocking execution for Jose Angel Moreno. Moreno was about three hours away from being strapped to the gurney when the Court, likely influenced by the US Supreme Court’s recent actions in Texas cases, decided to reconsider whether Moreno was properly sentenced to death.

Head on over to Capital Defense Weekly for the skinny on New Jersey’s steps towards abolishing the death penalty. It’s by no means a sure thing, but even having a serious debate about abolition is progress.


Pigs, Purgatory, and Pizza

May 10, 2007

News Update 5.10.07

North Carolina

Nothing to report. Don’t forget to contact your legislators!

Elsewhere

Florida puts dress on pig, prepares to execute inmates again. Execution team members will get more training, but the lethal cocktail won’t change. Executions could resume in as little as 14 days.

In Iraq, a young woman on death row says she was tortured into confessing to a murder she didn’t commit. Wednesday is gallows day, and because the condemned are not told of their executions in advance, she wonders each week if it will be her last.

In lieu of the traditional last meal, Philip Workman asked that a pizza be delivered to a homeless person in the vicinity of the facility where he was being held. Tennessee refused, saying that they don’t donate to charity. The citizens of Nashville took it upon themselves to grant Workman’s selfless last wish, delivering hundreds of pies to area homeless shelters.


Big Activity in the General Assembly

May 9, 2007

News Update 5.09.07

North Carolina

Yesterday, a House committee voted unanimously to advance a bill that seeks to reduce the effect of race and racism on the death penalty. North Carolina would become only the second state in the nation to offer such protection.

On a related note, the Carolina Justice Policy Center is asking people to contact their legislators and support several death penalty-related bills before the General Assembly.

* House Bill 1291: The NC Racial Justice Act favorably and unanimously passed the NC House Judiciary II committee on Tuesday, May 8th. This bill will allow defendants to provide statistical evidence of racism in capital cases similar to housing and employment discrimination cases to determine if racial bias was a factor in the imposition of the death penalty. I ask that you support this bill when it comes up on the House floor.
* House Bill 341: Proportionality Review considers both capital cases and factually similar cases in which life without the possibility of parole was imposed. It passed favorably in the House Judiciary I committee and I ask for your support when it comes up on the House floor.
* House Bill 787: Eliminate Felony Murder as Death Eligible Offense. This bill is in the NC House Judiciary I committee. I ask for your favorable support of this bill in committee and on the floor. This bill will require life imprisonment without parole for a person convicted of a murder that was not premeditated or deliberate, but committed in the perpetration of a serious felony such as arson, rape, robbery or kidnapping. Currently, men and women sit on death row who were not the ‘triggerman’ and who did not premeditate crimes while the actual ‘triggerman’ received a lesser sentence.
* Senate Bill 1075 / House Bill 553: Prohibit Execution/Severe Mental Disability. These companion bills would prohibit executions for people who are severely mentally disabled and both bills are in the Judiciary I committees in the House and Senate respectively. I ask for your favorable support of this bill in committee and on the floor.
* House Bill 1526: Streamlined & Cost-Effective Capital Case Act. This bill saves state dollars by narrowing the aggravating circumstances that make crimes death eligible and by using valuable state resources on only those cases most likely to result in capital trials under the current system. This bill is in the House Judiciary I committee and I request your favorable support in committee and on the House Floor.
* House Bill 1626: Enhance Reliability of Interrogations. This bill requires “the creation of an electronic record” of the complete interrogation whenever a person is in custody to protect the innocent and to increase the reliability of interrogations. It is in the House Judiciary I committee and I request your support of this bill in committee and on the House Floor.
* House Bill 1691: Suspend Executions Bill. If critical reforms are not passed to address the well known problems in North Carolina’s death penalty system, North Carolinians must demand a formal two year halt to enact these critical reforms. This bill is in the House Judiciary I committee and I request your support in committee and on the floor.

Find out who your representatives are here.

Elsewhere

In California, judge stops trial to encourage federal prosecutors to reconsider seeking the death penalty. It’s the second time in the past year that a judge has spoken out against the Justice Department’s expensive decision to seek death in cases that don’t deserve it.

In Maryland, prosecutor tells jury, “Anything short of the death penalty is not justice.” Jury disagrees.

In Tennessee, courts decide that Philip Workman isn’t entitled to a hearing, but his brother is. Unfortunately, the brother’s hearing will pertain to what should be done with Workman’s body now that he’s dead.

In Texas, missing evidence found – tossed inside a cell that had been welded shut in an abandoned jail. The evidence includes clothing worn by the victims and the defendant, as well as hair, fiber, and blood samples that attorneys say will exonerate their client.


“James Johnson is innocent. For them to keep holding him is a crime in itself.”

May 8, 2007

News Update 5.08.07

North Carolina

Kenneth Meeks has said repeatedly that he alone killed Brittany Willis, and that he only claimed James Johnson was his accomplice because he was angry at Johnson for turning him in. So why is James Johnson still in jail three years later? Click here to see a letter Meeks wrote to a local paper.

Elsewhere

In Tennessee, the State House Judiciary Committee unanimously passed a bill that would establish a commission to conduct a thorough examination of the state’s death penalty system. However, the Sixth Circuit has lifted Philip Workman’s stay of execution. Workman will be killed in two days unless the Supreme Court or Governor Bredesen intervenes.

American Medical News, a publication of the American Medical Association, on physician participation in executions. (Unfortunately, the full text is available only to AMA members.)

The Los Angeles Times on how the Supreme Court’s vague standard for mental retardation is applied differently in different states. Did SCOTUS only create more disparity in capital sentencing?

Time Magazine asks whether making child molestation a capital crime will only encourage molesters to kill their victims (or victims to keep silent or juries not to convict).


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