News Update 11.20.07
Lee Wayne Hunt narrowly avoided the death penalty 21 years ago when he was convicted and sentenced to life without parole for the execution-style killing of a Fayetteville couple. The only forensic evidence against Hunt and his co-defendant were bullets found at the scene, which an FBI agent testified matched a box of bullets belonging to Hunt’s co-defendant. In 2003, the co-defendant, Jerry Cashwell, committed suicide in prison. His lawyer then revealed Cashwell’s confession that he acted alone and Hunt was not involved. In 2004, the FBI’s method of bullet matching was declared scientifically invalid.
Prosecutors say other evidence justifies Hunt’s continued stay behind bars. Among the witnesses who connected Hunt to the scene are a man who was rewarded for his testimony by not being punished for crimes including accessory to murder, drug crimes, weapons offenses, and probation violations. At a 2007 hearing, the other main witness against Hunt was prepared to say what really happened, but was silenced when the prosecution threatened to charge him with perjury. The judge at the hearing threatened to file bar charges against Cashwell’s lawyer, held that the State’s fake science was irrelevant to Hunt’s conviction, and refused to consider the testimony of Cashwell’s attorney. Hunt’s conviction was upheld. Today, the lawyer is under investigation by the North Carolina State Bar, but the State is not investigating why Hunt may spend the rest of his life behind bars for a crime he did not commit. Hunt is appealing to the North Carolina Supreme Court, but the Court is not required to hear the case.
The California Supreme Court has asked the state legislature to consider an amendment to its constitution, allowing the CASC to share the burden of reviewing death sentences with lower courts. California has the largest death row in the nation, in part because it takes so long to get through the appeals process. Observers note that the delay has as much to do with the shortage of lawyers as it does the backlog in the courts. Others question whether the ultimate punishment should be in the hands of anyone other than the state’s highest court.
Louisiana has filed its brief in Kennedy v. Louisiana, in which the U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether death is the appropriate punishment for child rape. Patrick Kennedy is currently the only person in the United States on death row for a non-homicide crime. Among others, Kennedy is supported by social workers, who fear that making the rape of a child a capital offense will encourage molesters to kill their victims. Click here for a review of what crimes are death-eligible in various U.S. jurisdictions.
Texas executed 180 people for murder between 2000 and 2006. In the same time period, 120 people were sentenced to probation for murder. Dallas County put twice as many murderers back on the streets as they did on death row. Often the question is not whether there is sufficient evidence to convict the killer, but how much society values the life of the victim. Equal justice, indeed. (c/o DPIC)
SCOTUSblog reports that Baze will be the very first case heard in the Supreme Court’s January term. Oral arguments will begin at 10 am on January 7, 2008.
The federal government has decided that a doctor banned from participating in lethal injections in Missouri – the only person in the entire country specifically prohibited from doing so – is the ideal person to administer lethal injections to federal inmates. Dr. Alan Doerhoff has been the target of more than 20 malpractice suits, is barred from practice in two hospitals, and was reprimanded by a state agency for lying to patients about his shady past. Good enough for government work.