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.


Wow.

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?

“[SEEKING] PEOPLE THAT HANG OUT WITH CROOKS TO DO PART-TIME WORK.  MAKE SOME EXTRA CASH!  DRUG USE OK.  CRIMINAL RECORD?  NOT A PROBLEM.”

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.


Jakiem Wilson Sentenced to Life

July 14, 2008

News Update 07.14.08

North Carolina

After deliberating for over a dozen hours about whether to convict him of first-degree murder, it took a Wake County jury less than an hour to decide that life without parole is the most appropriate punishment for Jakiem Wilson. The jury voted unanimously for life after finding none of the aggravating factors required by law to elevate the possible punishment to death.

This week marks the General Assembly’s last chance to pass the Racial Justice Act this session. The bill would allow capital defendants to challenge the prosecutor’s decision to seek death in their case if that decision was based on racial bias. Republicans are attempting to amend the bill to include a provision that would bar the N.C. Medical Board from disciplining doctors who participate in executions.

Elsewhere

The NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund as released Death Row U.S.A. 2008, their annual accounting of changes in death penalty law and death row populations. According to the report, the total number of inmates on death row in the United States is 3,309, down from 3,350 the previous year. As the data was compiled several months ago, the report lists several inmates who are no longer on North Carolina’s death row due to exoneration, re-sentencing, or death from natural causes. These include Carlos Canady, Glen Chapman, Levon Jones, and Gary Greene.

In victims’ rights news, a California judge threatened to throw a widow in jail if she told the jury she did not support the death penalty. Carlton Akee Turner was executed in Texas for the murders of his parents, despite pleas from many family members asking that he be spared.

In Oklahoma, the Pardon and Parole Board voted to grant clemency to Kevin Young, who is scheduled to die later this month. The Board’s decision is only advisory; the final say lies with Governor Brad Henry. Learn more about the case and how to take action 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.


Jury Deliberates Guilt in Stitt Case

May 7, 2008

News Update 05.07.09

North Carolina

In Cumberland County, a jury will soon deliberate whether James Christopher Stitt is guilty of two counts of first-degree murder in the 2005 deaths of his housemates. If found guilty, Stitt will face the death penalty.

Today’s New York Times has “As Executions Resume, So Do Questions About Fairness,” which examines the three exonerations North Carolina has seen in the last six months – Jonathon Hoffman, Edward Chapman, and Bo Jones. A recommended read.

Elsewhere

William Earl Lynd was executed by lethal injection last night in Georgia. Lynd’s execution, which lasted 17 minutes, was the 1100th in the modern era. SCOTUSBlog has the end-phase filings in the case. Lynd is the first person executed since Texas killed Michael Richard on September 25, 2007.

DC sniper John Allen Muhammad has asked prosecutors to help him drop his appeals “so that you can murder this innocent black man.” Which bodes well for his competence to make such a decision.

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ordered that death row inmate Paul House be released or retried within 180 days. The local prosecutor has said that he will retry House, despite evidence that Carolyn Muncie was in fact killed by her husband. Learn more about House’s case here. The District Court ruling is here, and the Sixth Circuit ruling is here.


Death Row Exoneree Bo Jones Speaks

May 6, 2008

News Update 05.06.08

North Carolina

Levon JonesLevon “Bo” Jones, recently released after serving over a decade for a murder he did not commit, held a press conference yesterday in Raleigh. Jones’ attorneys spoke first. Ernest “Buddy” Conner told those gathered how the police failed to dust for fingerprints at the scene and eventually lost what little physical evidence they gathered. He also spoke of the State’s star witness, Lovely Lorden, who unbeknownst to Jones’ trial attorneys was a paid, professional snitch who changed her story several times before trial. Conner noted that this injustice could have been corrected years earlier had North Carolina state courts bothered to consider Jones’ appeals.

Cassy Stubbs noted that Mr. Jones came within weeks of execution in 1997, his life saved only after attorneys Ken Rose and Mark Kleinschmidt intervened and rescued the case from counsel who missed a critical filing deadline. Jones is the third person exonerated in North Carolina in six months, Stubbs said, and in every case proof of innocence was withheld from the defense. Paid informants like Lovely Lorden are the leading cause of wrongful convictions.

Attorney Brian Stull added that Jones’ life was nearly ended because he lost the lottery of assigned counsel that often puts overworked, underfunded, and unprepared lawyers in charge of capital cases. Stull recognized that North Carolina has made great improvements in the last decade, but noted that many on death row – like Jones – were put there before the reforms were implemented. Studies show that a defendant is three times more likely to be sentenced to death if his victim was white. Where the defendant is black and the victim is white, as in Jones’ case, death is even more likely. The police could have investigated another suspect, George Overton, who owed the victim money, went to the victim’s house at least twice that night, lied to police about his activities, and fled the county the next day. But Overton was white. Stull suggested that cases like Jones’ illustrate the importance of passing the Racial Justice Act, which is before the state legislature this session.

Jones spoke only briefly, saying, “”From the day I was locked up, August 14, 1992, I said I was innocent, until this day…I’ve always been innocent. I hope you all believe the same.” In response to questions from the audience, Jones and his attorneys said that they hope there will be consequences for those responsible for putting him on death row, including the DA who prosecuted him despite evidence of his innocence, the attorneys who failed to seek out that evidence, and the lying witness on whose testimony his conviction was based. This befuddled District Attorney Dewey Hudson, who seeing nothing wrong with robbing a man of over a decade of his life responded, “I did my job…The guy’s won. What’s all this bashing Dewey Hudson about? I’ve done nothing wrong.”

(Photo source. See also reporting from The Progressive Pulse.)

Elsewhere

Cuban President Raul Castro commuted nearly all of that nation’s death sentences to terms of 30 years to life. He declared, “This decision was not undertaken because of pressure, but as a sovereign act in line with the humanitarian and ethical conduct that has characterized the Cuban revolution from the start.”

In Virginia, lawyers for Christopher Scott Emmett have appealed to the US Supreme Court, arguing that the Virginia lethal injection protocol is “unique and uniquely dangerous…far more dangerous” than the protocol approved in Baze. The State’s response is here.

Meanwhile in Georgia, a federal judge has found that state’s lethal injection protocol to be constitutional. After being denied clemency by the governor and the Board of Pardons and Paroles, William Earl Lynd is scheduled to be executed at 7 PM tonight.

Execution dates have also been set for Mississippi’s Earl Wesley Berry, Texas’ Jose Medellin, and a number of other inmates.

In Missouri, a new study reveals that race and geography play a significant role in capital sentencing.

After a vicious hacking, DPIC (a wee little non-profit organization) is having to shell out big bucks to beef up security for their site. Pitch in a few duckets to help here.


Levon “Bo” Jones Released from Death Row

May 2, 2008

For the second time in two months, an innocent man is being released from North Carolina’s death row. Levon “Bo” Jones spent 13 years on death row after being convicted of the 1987 murder of Leamon Grady. Federal judge Terrence Boyle vacated Jones’ conviction and death sentence in 2006 after finding that Jones’ trial attorneys “utterly failed” to investigate the crime.  (Read the Order here.)  Duplin County District Attorney Dewey Hudson, who tried Jones in 1993, vowed to retry the case. This week Hudson was forced to admit that he has no evidence against Jones, and is expected to ask the court to release Jones today.

From his appointment until a month before trial, Jones’ lead counsel – Graham Phillips – did virtually no work on the case. According to the District Court’s opinion, Phillips “interviewed no witnesses, filed no motions, sought no evaluation of Jones, and conducted no mitigation investigation.” Phillips did not even request the second counsel to which Jones was constitutionally entitled. The second lawyer, Charles Henderson, was appointed only upon the request of the District Attorney, less than a month before trial.

There was no physical evidence against Jones, and no eyewitnesses to the shooting. The State’s star witness, Lovely Lorden, was Jones ex-girlfriend. Although counsel’s strategy for the trial was to discredit Lorden’s testimony, they never interviewed her. Had counsel bothered to run a simple criminal record check, they would have discovered that Lorden had a number of convictions relevant to her truthfulness, including fraud and worthless checks. Counsel also failed to obtain all of Lorden’s statements to police, which were inconsistent with one another and with her testimony on the stand. Finally, counsel did not investigate Lorden’s history of mental health problems. Counsel failed to cross-examine Lorden about what she claimed to have seen, instead questioning her mainly about the paternity of her children.

Counsel never bothered to review the District Attorney’s file in the case, which contained evidence pointing to the guilt of another man. Allen Bizzell, who along with George Overton led police to Grady’s body, gave four very different statements to police. At first he said that he and Overton left work at 3 AM to buy beer for their boss from Grady. Then he claimed that Overton left work alone and returned ten minutes later with a six-pack he had stolen from Grady. Next Bizzell claimed that Overton left alone and returned acting strangely and asking Bizzell to tell the police that he had accompanied Overton to Grady’s house. FInally, Bizzell told police that Overton returned to work and told him that Grady had been killed, but suggested that they go to his house and “roll” him before calling the police. Overton, too, told different stories to police. He left town shortly after the murder, but was arrested within a week for rape.

From the District Attorney’s files, counsel could also have learned that Lovely Lorden changed her story about who accompanied Jones to Grady’s house that night. At first she identified Larry Lamb and “Tootie” Matthews as Jones’ accomplices. When it was revealed that “Tootie” had an airtight alibi, Lorden shifted her testimony to blame Tootie’s brother, Ernest Matthews. Across five statements, Lorden also changed her mind about the color of the car Jones was allegedly driving, how many shots were fired, what time the accomplices were picked up, and where else they went that night.

In April, Jones’ attorneys provided the court with an affidavit from Lovely Lorden in which she states, “Much of what I testified to was simply not true.” She further asserts that a detective coached her on what to say at Jones’ trial. Had trial counsel looked in the prosecutor’s file, they would have found an SBI surveillance tape of a conversation between Lovely Lorden and Larry Lamb, in which Lorden stated that the police were hassling her about the Grady murder and that she wanted to come up with a plan to save herself and Lamb. Lamb repeatedly denied any involvement in the murder.

Based on Lorden’s testimony, Larry Lamb is now serving life in prison. Ernest Matthews pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was released in 2001.

The Governor’s Office paid Lorden $4000 for her testimony. Will it pay Bo Jones for the 13 years she cost him?


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