December 17, 2008

Of late, DW has refocused its efforts, blogging only about death penalty-related events in North Carolina.  But sometimes a story comes along that’s just impossible to ignore.  Grits for Breakfast reports, “Police in Albuquerque, N.M. have become so reliant on snitches to solve cases that when they couldn’t generate enough informants organically they began to advertise in the local paper.”

The ad?


Would it have cost extra to add “truth-telling optional?”

Paid informants have been responsible for sending untold numbers of innocent people to prison, sometimes even to death row.  (Just ask Bo Jones and Jonathan Hoffman.)

The Albuquerque police are taking the documented unreliability of informants to a whole new level.  As noted in the original USA Today article, offering easy money in these tough economic times is especially likely to lead to false information.  The brazenness of the ad makes me wonder if this is even a concern for the APD.  And as Grits points out, since when is “drug use OK” from the perspective of law enforcement?

The ACLU has some thoughts on how to reform the informant system here.

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.

2007 Death Penalty Quick Facts for North Carolina

January 1, 2008

Total number of executions: 0

Total number of new death sentences: 3

Persons released from death row: 2

Persons no longer on death row for other reasons: 3

Other victories

Not half bad.

More on Jonathan Hoffman

December 12, 2007

News Update 12.12.07

North Carolina

Jonathan HoffmanAll charges were dropped yesterday against Jonathan Hoffman, who spent seven years on death row for the murder of a jewelry store owner. Defense attorneys suspect that the real killer is a relative of one of the main witnesses against Hoffman at his original trial. Media reporting here and here. Past articles about the problems with the case against Hoffman are here and here. You can learn more about the victim, Danny Cook, here. (Photo credit: News & Observer)

Triangle residents – don’t forget tonight’s panel discussion, Doctors in the Death Chamber, hosted by St. Francis of Assisi in Raleigh. The balanced panel will include a doctor, a defense attorney, a prosecutor, and a legislator. Possibly also a butcher, a baker, and a candlestick maker. Starts at 7. (919) 847-8205


On his last day in office, Kentucky Governor Ernie Fletcher granted clemency to death row inmate Jeffrey Devan Leonard. Leonard, a brain-damaged man with no prior criminal history, will have his sentence commuted to life without parole. Leonard was represented at trial by an attorney who has since been brought up on perjury charges and disbarred.

The State Senate of New Jersey voted 21-16 to abolish the death penalty earlier this week. The State House could vote as soon as tomorrow. Since reinstating the death penalty in 1982, New Jersey has spent $253 million on capital prosecutions, but has not executed anyone because nearly all of the death sentences obtained were determined to be faulty on appeal.

Charges Dropped Against Jonathan Hoffman

December 11, 2007


All charges have been dropped against Jonathan Hoffman, who was sentenced to die in 1996 for the murder of a jewelry store owner in Union County. Read the press release here. No physical evidence linked Hoffman to the crime. Prosecutors sent him to death row by deceiving the judge, the jury, and the defense about the true motives of the witnesses against Hoffman.

The decision came a week after a judge ruled that testimony given at Hoffman’s first trial by a witness who has since died could not be used against Hoffman at his retrial. The prosecution hid evidence that the witness, the only person linking Hoffman to the murder weapon, was seeking reward money in exchange for his testimony. Hoffman was granted a new trial in 2004 because prosecutors failed to reveal that another witness had been rewarded for his testimony with immunity from state and federal prosecution, thousands of dollars, and a reduction in his federal prison sentence.

Kenneth Honeycutt and Scott Brewer were the original prosecutors in the case. Attorneys Joseph Cheshire and David Rudolph, now representing Mr. Hoffman, credit current district attorney John Snyder for having the courage to do the right thing.

You can read prior reporting about the Hoffman case here and here. More detail on the case is available in this 2003 article on prosecutorial misconduct from Joseph Neff at the News & Observer.

Hoffman Prosecutors Seek Testimony of Dead Witness

November 12, 2007

News Update 11.12.07

North Carolina

Jonathan Gregory Hoffman was convicted and sentenced to death in Union County in 1996, based in part upon the testimony of a root doctor who claimed he sold Hoffman a magical charm that would keep him from getting arrested. (For those not from the Deep South, a root doctor or rootworker is a sort of folk healer/magician.) Hoffman was given a new trial in 2004 because prosecutors Kenneth Honeycutt and Scott Brewer failed to reveal that rewards were given to their star witness in exchange for his testimony. That witness has since recanted his testimony, so in retrying Hoffman, prosecutors want to use the old statements of the now-deceased root doctor. Trouble is, prosecutors didn’t turn over evidence that he, too, was seeking a reward.

Editorials on Glen Edward Chapman’s removal from death row here and here.

Upcoming events:

  • Parade, a Tony award-winning musical about a man facing the death penalty in the early 1900s, will be performed tonight and tomorrow night at UNC-CH’s Memorial Hall at 7:30 PM.
  • St. Francis of Assisi Church in Raleigh is hosting a panel discussion entitled Doctors in the Death Chamber on December 12 at 7:00 PM. The panel will include defense attorneys, prosecutors, medical ethicists, elected officials, and more.


Florida‘s Mark Dean Schwab has filed his application for cert with the US Supreme Court. Schwab notes that Florida’s three-drug cocktail is identical to the one at issue in Baze, and that his objections to lethal injection have been brought before the Court well in advance of his execution date. The application was filed with Justice Clarence Thomas, and will likely be referred to the full court for review.

Last night, 60 Minutes examined the case of Greg Thompson in Tennessee and asked: if it is unconstitutional to execute the insane, is it constitutional to medicate a person to restore their sanity and eligibility for execution? (c/o CDW)


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