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).


Oprah, Can You Hear Me?

May 8, 2007

The strange case of Guy Tobias LeGrande goes on. In 1996, Guy LeGrande was sentenced to death in Stanly County for the murder of Ellen Munford. (Incidentally, the man who hired LeGrande and provided him with the murder weapon – Munford’s husband – was convicted only of second-degree murder.) LeGrande fired his court-appointed attorneys and was allowed to represent himself over their protestations that he was severely mentally ill.

The jury never heard evidence that LeGrande believed he was receiving signals from Dan Rather and Oprah Winfrey through the television. They did not know that he had long suffered from delusions and extreme mood swings. LeGrande represented himself while wearing a Superman t-shirt, and his ranting arguments drew comments even from the judge who’d found him competent. LeGrande challenged the jury to sentence him to death, telling them, “All you so-called good folks can kiss my natural black ass in the showroom window of Heilig-Myers” and “Pull the damn switch and shake that groove thing.” They obliged after 45 minutes of deliberation. After his conviction, LeGrande continued to represent himself, and failed to preserve any of the legal issues that might have won him relief in federal court.

Over the years, attempts have been made to intervene. Attorneys have visited LeGrande in hopes of helping him with appeals. LeGrande refused assistance, but told the lawyers that he could see people’s thoughts and desires, that he was expecting a settlement to his multi-billion dollar lawsuit against the State any day, and that he could see a circle of smoke around one lawyer’s head. Doctors have tried to evaluate Mr. LeGrande, some finding him incompetent, others finding him competent, but all agreeing that he is severely mentally ill. They noted hypomanic behaviors and grandiose delusions. LeGrande has a family history of mental illness – his sister has bipolar disorder, and his half-sister suffers from chronic paranoid schizophrenia.

Eventually, a federal court tired of the frivolous lawsuits LeGrande continually filed, and appointed counsel to represent him. By this time it was too late – federal courts can only consider issues that have previously been raised in state court, and LeGrande had failed to do so. Guy LeGrande was scheduled for execution in December of 2006. In late November, a judge declared a 60-day stay, asking three doctors to evaluate LeGrande and decide whether he was competent to be executed. The stay was extended due to difficulties in evaluating LeGrande. Thus far, LeGrande has refused to meet with the doctors, and until recently, their only opportunity to observe him has been to watch videotape – without audio – of LeGrande’s activities in his cell over a 30-day period.

Last week, the judge in the case sought further information through a hearing. LeGrande’s lawyers over the years, all of whom he refuses to acknowledge, testified about their interactions with him. One said that LeGrande does not believe he will be executed, instead he will be pardoned, given billions of dollars, and enjoy his first free meal with the Governor himself. It has been reported in the past that LeGrande can be seen marching around his cell for hours at a time, and that he anticipates living out the rest of his days on the beachfront property he will purchase with his settlement from the State. LeGrande has suggested that certain employees of the Department of Corrections have ESP, and has opened letters: “From the Constitutional and Civil Rights Office of the Director for the National Coalition of Black Secret Agents Enslaved at Central Prison.”

For its part, the State insisted that LeGrande is an intelligent man who took deliberate steps to avoid capture. (The State seems to confuse mental retardation with mental illness, and conflates competency to stand trial with competency to be executed.) Ellen Munford’s parents and children have been very vocal about their desire to see LeGrande executed.

The most interesting aspect of the hearing is that LeGrande agreed to be questioned by the judge. His statements have been described as “articulate, but rambling.” Although able to cite statutes by number, LeGrande made off references to Albert Einstein and Clarence Thomas. He refused to directly answer the judge’s questions about whether he believes he will be pardoned and other significant matters. He used profanity in court. Although LeGrande grasped that the purpose of the hearing was to examine the issue of his competency, he didn’t seem to think he was a necessary part of the process. He referred to himself as a “conscientious observer” and spent much of the hearing leaning back and swiveling in his chair.

Doctors say that LeGrande most likely suffers from one of the following: (1) Schizoaffective Disorder, Bipolar type, (2) Bipolar 1 Disorder, Manic with psychotic features, or (3) Delusional Disorder. All of these would affect Mr. LeGrande’s ability to understand the fact of his impending execution, and perhaps also to understand the real reason for it. At trial, of course, these disorders would have impaired his ability to work with counsel, much less represent himself, but that issue is moot now.

The United States Supreme Court recently heard the case of Scott Panetti, a schizophrenic Texas man allowed to represent himself at trial, with much the same result as Guy LeGrande. The Court is re-examining the standard for competency to be executed, and considering, in light of its decisions about the mentally retarded (Atkins) and juveniles (Roper), whether the execution of the mentally ill serves any legitimate purpose. This blog entry gives information on recent reform efforts in North Carolina. (That bill is still in committee.)

As for Guy LeGrande, the State has made it clear that they intend to execute him as soon as possible. If the court finds LeGrande competent, the State will set an execution date to be carried out when the lethal injection debate is resolved. LeGrande insists there is a method to his madness. (When asked about a time he claimed to see anvils falling from the sky, LeGrande said, “When I make these little conundrums, these riddles, I’m alluding to another situation.”) He says that if he is executed, it will not be because he chose to represent himself. “I didn’t fail, the law failed.” At least he’s right about one thing.


Media Skewers N.C. Prosecutors

May 7, 2007

News Update 5.07.07

North Carolina

From the editorial desk: N.C. Prosecutors Ask to Cheat

Hoping not to get Nifonged, North Carolina’s district attorneys are asking to get rid of rules that protect the innocent. Protecting the innocent, after all, can undermine prosecutions and spoil political careers. The N.C. Conference of District Attorneys finds this intolerable.

See also.

Elsewhere

From Arkansas, an interesting article featuring interviews from prosecutors, judges, and defense attorneys taking thoughtful approaches to the death penalty. If only it was like this everywhere in the South.

In California, a bishop’s visits to death row bring transformation to both parties. To mark its 50-year opposition to capital punishment, the United Methodist Church’s Council of Bishops has asked each bishop to visit a death row inmate.

This Thursday, New Jersey may take a big step towards becoming the first state to legislatively abolish the death penalty in the modern era. Those now on death row would be re-sentenced to life without parole. The money saved from not bankrolling capital prosecutions could go to victims’ services.

In Tennessee, a federal judge has given Philip Workman five more days to live. The judge granted a temporary stay of execution to allow for arguments on whether the State’s new execution protocol is in keeping with the 8th Amendment.


The Nifong Protection Act

May 4, 2007

News Update 5.04.07

North Carolina

Prosecutors lobby for what some call the Nifong Protection Act. The bill would allow prosecutors to conceal potentially exculpatory evidence from the defense by deciding, as Nifong did, that certain information just isn’t important. Prosecutors say that the current law is too confining, but of course they’ve still be able to convict people since the law was passed. By legitimizing Nifong’s behavior, prosecutors hope to go back to an era when hiding evidence was the rule rather than the exception.

Elsewhere

Reflecting on the recent studies, one of which shows that a Tennessee inmate “was probably awake, suffocating in silence and felt the searing pain of injection of intravenous potassium chloride” during his execution, Philip Workman tells CNN, “It almost makes me want to choose the electric chair.”


Nebraska > Texas

May 3, 2007

News Update 5.03.07

North Carolina

Today in the General Assembly…a whole lot of nothing. House Judiciary II cancelled this morning’s meeting in which they would have discussed the Racial Justice Act. The House as a whole rescheduled its discussion of the Proportionality Review bill it was to debate this afternoon.

House Judiciary II will meet again next Tuesday. Discussion of the Proportionality Review bill is slated for next Wednesday.

Elsewhere

Nebraska, the only state that relies exclusively on the electric chair for carrying out death sentences, stayed the execution of Carey Dean Moore last night. The State Supreme Court was moved to consider the constitutionality of this method of execution by a request from a state senator.

In Texas, the state is planning to seek the death penalty against Anthony Graves (again) – even though they have “lost” all of the (largely exculpatory) physical evidence in the case. The prosecutor involved has already sent at least one innocent man to his death.


Three Steps Forward, One Step Back

May 2, 2007

News Update 5.02.07

North Carolina

Yesterday was a big day for justice in the General Assembly. The House passed two good bills – H784 and H786 – out of committee, and a third – H1625 – was passed by the entire House unanimously.

House 784 simply brings the murder statute into line with the Supreme Court’s decision in Roper v. Simmons, which barred the execution of persons who commit murder while under the age of 18. Previously, North Carolina executed people as young as 17.

House 786 requires law enforcement to turn over their complete investigation file to the prosecutor. While that seems like common sense, there have been situations in the past where police, knowing that the defense would have access to the prosecutor’s file, concealed evidence of innocence from the prosecutor.

House 1625 changes the way law enforcement agencies handle eyewitness identifications of suspects. We all remember the situation in the Duke case when the accuser was shown pictures only of lacrosse players to identify her alleged attackers. The bill requires that live and photo lineups be conducted by a neutral person, that the eyewitness be given specific instructions, that the lineup procedure be videotaped whether a suspect is identified or not, and so forth.

In sadder news, a Cumberland County jury deliberated for less than four hours yesterday before sentencing Eugene Williams to death.

Elsewhere

In Alabama, legislators refuse to consider a bill that would take the life-or-death decision out of the hands of elected judges and put it where it belongs – with the jury. 20% of the people on death row in Alabama were sentenced to death by the judge even though the jury recommended life.

A roundup of what’s going on in Texas
* Reaction to the cert grant in Medellin
* SCOTUS vacates death sentence of Ronald Chambers

Federal judge says there are no winners in death penalty trials. “If you can be in a room, surrounded by that kind of pain, and you’re not moved by it, then I think you’re the wrong person to be the judge,” he said.

For those who like to keep up on recent scholarship, go here for links to articles on everything from mental health to the war on terror.


Tennessee Moratorium Ends, State Prepares to Execute Man Who Never Killed Anyone

May 2, 2007

In February, Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen called for a 90-day halt in executions. He wanted time to examine how Tennessee goes about executing inmates. The moratorium expires today, and many are saying that it’s time for Bredesen to focus on the who rather than the how.

Philip Workman is scheduled to be executed on May 9th. Workman was sentenced to die for the killing of a police officer, Lieutenant Ronald Oliver, during the robbery of a Memphis restaurant in 1981. Although Workman never denied that he robbed the restaurant, he has steadfastly maintained that he is innocent of shooting the officer. The only eyewitness to the shooting has since recanted his testimony. Forensic analysis – conducted only after the trial – has shown that Philip Workman could not have fired the bullet that killed Lieutenant Oliver. Even the former district attorney whose office prosecuted Workman said that his life should be spared and offered to serve as lead counsel in Workman’s clemency efforts.

The video below, titled Deadly Silence, was produced in 2003. Although it’s slightly out of date as to the legal status of Mr. Workman’s case, it presents an excellent argument for clemency. Learn more about the case. Learn about the parole board that failed to consider Mr. Workman’s evidence impartially – or at all. Hear from Lieutenant Oliver’s daughter, who believes that Philip Workman should not be executed. Hear from the man whose perjured testimony put Philip Workman on death row. Hear from one of five jurors who say that if they’d known then what they know now, they wouldn’t have convicted Philip Workman of capital murder, much less sentenced him to death. Hear from Philip Workman.

Several execution dates have been set for Philip Workman in the past – he once came within 42 minutes of execution – but the only person who can save Workman now is Governor Bredesen. Please contact the Governor’s office and urge him to spare the life of Philip Workman.

Governor’s Office
Tennessee State Capitol
Nashville, TN 37243-0001

Phone: 615.741.2001
Fax: 615.532.9711
Email: phil.bredesen@state.tn.us


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