Attorneys Seek New Trial for Phillips

February 16, 2010

Mario Lynn Phillips was sent to death row in 2007 , but his new lawyer says that the jury might have reached a different conclusion if they’d had  more information.  The problem was that the only person who could have testified to that information at trial was Phillips’ old lawyer, and it’s not possible to represent a client and testify on his behalf at the same time.

The officer who arrested Phillips testified that he was calm and not obviously impaired by alcohol or drugs.  However, the officer had previously told Phillips’ trial attorney that Phillips was “wired” and “stoned out of his mind.”  Phillips confessed to the crimes shortly after he was arrested, but if he was intoxicated when he gave the statement, that makes it less reliable.  Given that the only way the court and the jury could have heard this information was through the trial lawyer’s testimony, new counsel argues that he should have withdrawn from the case.

The North Carolina Supreme Court is expected to rule on the case later this year.

Life Sentence for Sean Ray

February 21, 2008

News Update 02.21.08

North Carolina

In Moore County, Sean Maurice Ray has entered a life-saving plea agreement for his role in a 2003 quadruple homicide. Ray, who is mentally retarded, was sentenced to four consecutive terms of life without parole. His co-defendant Mario Lynn Phillips was tried and sentenced to death in October. A third co-defendant will serve a minimum of twelve years behind bars for her role in the crimes.

For folks in the Durham area, the 16th Annual Vigil Against Violence is taking place tonight at Carr United Methodist Church. Hosted by the Religious Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham, the vigil will honor the 33 people slain in the Bull City last year.

Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation is hiring an organizer for North Carolina. MVFR is a national organization of family members who have lost loved ones to murder or execution. Interested persons should contact Lorry Post at


Lawyer types will be interested in yesterday’s Supreme Court decision in Danforth v. Minnesota, which held that even where federal courts do not apply a new rule of criminal law or procedure retroactively, state courts may elect to do so. As always, my first stop was with from the folks at SCOTUSblog. Background is available at SCOTUSwiki, and further analysis can be had at Capital Defense Weekly.

When researchers from California‘s Pepperdine Law School tried to gather information on how prosecutors select the cases in which to seek death, what was most striking was not any particular response, but rather the lack thereof. Only 14 of 58 counties responded to the survey in a meaningful way. A lack of transparency in the prosecutorial decision-making process can only contribute to concerns that inappropriate factors like race and gender influence the decision to seek death.

Christianity Today explores the spectrum of views on the death penalty within the faith. (c/o DPIC and StandDown)

Tonight’s scheduled execution of Karl Chamberlain in Texas has been postponed pending the resolution of Baze v. Rees.

Lisa Greene Jury to Begin Deliberations

January 24, 2008

News Update 01.24.08

North Carolina

In Concord, the defense has given its closing argument in the trial of Lisa Greene. The prosecution will continue its argument today. If convicted, Greene could be sentenced to death.

Throughout Lisa Greene’s murder trial, prosecutors have suggested Greene, a professional photographer who uses props in her work, may have staged a fire at her house to make it look accidental.

On Tuesday, Greene’s attorneys told jurors that prosecutors had done the staging, twisting witnesses’ statements to make it look as though Greene intentionally set the fire that killed her children.

One of Greene’s attorneys, Lisa Dubs, compared a statement Greene signed — in which Greene says she set the fire Jan. 10, 2006 — to the Salem witch trials in 17th-century Massachusetts, in which people were forced into falsely confessing they were witches.

If Greene’s alleged confession is accepted as credible, “then we haven’t learned anything in 315 years about how valid a confession that looks like this really is,” Dubs said.

Raymond Christian Jedele, a former Kitty Hawk police officer, will face the death penalty if convicted of the 2007 kidnapping and murder of Donald Bradley Smithwick. Smithwick’s ex-wife, Janet Denise Harrell, has been charged with accessory after the fact.

Meanwhile, the Onslow County District Attorney has announced that he will not seek the death penalty against Caesar Laurean, who stands accused of killing a fellow Marine, if Laurean is captured in Mexico. Laurean would still face the death penalty if captured in the US. Mexico, which abolished the death penalty in 2005 after not putting anyone to death since 1961, will not extradite defendants to the United States in cases where the death penalty is sought. The United States agreed to respect its neighbor’s position on capital punishment in a 1980 treaty.

District attorneys announced this week that they will not be seeking death in a number of other cases.

  • Renee Yvette McLaughlin will spend less than sixteen years in prison for her part in a quadruple murder that landed Mario Lynn Phillips on death row. Prosecutors believe that McLaughlin had a minor role in the killings and did not herself injure any of the victims.
  • Ryan Jermar White will not face the death penalty for his role in a September killing, but at least two of his co-defendants will. White still faces first-degree murder charges, even though prosecutors say he wasn’t at the home where the death occurred.
  • The Onslow County District Attorney felt it necessary to announce that he will not be seeking death in two cases for which the law does not permit capital punishment. Casey Rafael Tyler was under the age of 18 when he committed his crime, and Kenneth Gordon Waid, Jr.’s crime did not involve any aggravating factors.


After ten years on Virginia’s death row, Daryl Atkins has finally had his death sentence converted to life without parole. Atkins did not get relief under the famous case which bears his name – prosecutors still maintain that Atkins is not mentally retarded – but because his co-defendant’s lawyer was finally able to come forward with the truth: prosecutors coached the co-defendant’s testimony against Atkins, telling him that his original story wasn’t good enough and helping him act out the crime to come up with something better. Legal ethics prevented the lawyer from coming forward until his client’s appeals had concluded.  Only fate kept Atkins from being executed before the truth was known.

In California, many are unhappy with the growing cost of building a new death row at San Quentin State Prison. The current estimate is $356 million, $19 million more than last year and roughly $27 million for each inmate California has actually executed in the modern era. Governor Schwarzenneger has vetoed a bill to delay construction on the present site while more cost-effective alternatives are researched. Said one observer, “At a time when the governor’s budget is going to put children on the street, it is absurd to be spending $400,000 a bed for condemned prisoners.” (c/o CDW)

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.

Death Sentence in Moore County

October 18, 2007

News Update 10.18.07

North Carolina

A Moore County jury sentenced Mario Lynn Phillips to death yesterday. Phillips and two friends were charged with killing four people in 2003. There have been two other death sentences handed down in 2007, Eugene Johnny Williams of Cumberland County, and Byron Lamar Waring of Wake County.

The North Carolina Medical Board met this week in Raleigh to decide whether it would appeal a judge’s decision that the Board cannot discipline doctors who participate in executions. Many expressed concerns about letting people without medical training decide what is and isn’t a medical procedure. Meanwhile, Dr. John Faulkner of Raleigh likened the presence and participation of doctors in executions to the aid rendered by paramedics at Carolina Hurricanes hockey games.

BREAKING – The Medical Board has announced that it will appeal Judge Stephens’ decision. More here.


The Supreme Court stayed the execution of Virginia‘s Christopher Scott Emmett. Order here. SCOTUSblog analysis here, Washington Post here.

Upcoming DP Events Statewide

October 17, 2007

News Update 10.17.07

North Carolina

In Davidson County, Sister Helen Prejean will be speaking at the Duke Family Performance Hall (207 Faculty Drive, Davidson College) on October 30th at 7:30 PM. The event is free. See the Piedmont Liberal Forum’s website for more information.

Upcoming North Carolina screenings of Love Lived on Death Row:

In Moore County, a jury is deliberating Mario Phillips’ fate. Calling on the jury to sentence Phillips to life without parole, his attorney said, “You have the power to determine the extent of Mario Phillips’ life forever. What you decide will not only decide Mario Phillips’ life forever, but will decide your life forever. You will forget names, dates, small things. There is one thing that I am confident you will never forget as long as you live. That is that, in 2007, you sat on a jury to decide how Mario Phillips will die. That choice is stark. It is whether you will decide Mario Phillips will die or will live. I will ask you to decide, under the evidence, that Mario will live.”


The Baze confusion continues. Courts in Virginia and Georgia have refused to grant stays of execution to inmates raising Baze claims. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has refused to vacate the stay of execution granted to Jack H. Jones, Jr. in Arkansas. In the sole dissent, Justice Scalia indicated that he believes the cert grant in Baze does not entitle every inmate to a stay of execution, only those who had the amazing foresight to raise a lethal injection challenge before the Supreme Court acknowledged the validity of the issue. (c/o SLAP and CDW)

While executions may or may not be on hold here in the States, things are moving full speed ahead for our death penalty pals Afghanistan and Iran.

Upcoming elsewhere screenings of Love Lived on Death Row:


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.