Hearing in Army Fragging Case

March 21, 2008

News Update 03.21.08

North Carolina

Yesterday a pretrial hearing was held at Fort Bragg for Staff Sergeant Alberto Martinez, accused of killing two superior officers in Iraq. His attorneys urged the judge to keep gruesome crime scene photos out of evidence, and also asked that Martinez’s expert be allowed to review evidence off-base, to ensure that communications between counsel and the expert remain confidential. Meanwhile, prosecutors asked the judge to reconsider his earlier decision to suppress a statement made by Martinez shortly after the explosion. He declined. A court martial is scheduled for late June, but could be delayed if prosecutors decide to appeal the judge’s ruling.


The Supreme Court ruled in Snyder v. Louisiana (opinion here, SCOTUSWiki background here) on Wednesday. The Court did not address the “sexiest” issue in the case; that the prosecutor made reference to OJ Simpson in a case involving a black man tried before an all-white jury. Instead, the decision focused on the State’s use of a peremptory challenge to remove an African-American from the jury pool, and whether the trial court properly ruled that it did so for non-racial reasons. You can read analysis from SCOTUSBlog here. The decision could be said to essentially be a reaffirmation of Batson and Miller-El (see below), with the happy addition of Justices Alito and Roberts on the side of good. CDW notes some other possible interpretations.

In Georgia, Republican legislators have put a bill through the House that would allow a person to be sentenced to death even if two members of the jury voted for life. Georgia would become only the fifth state to allow a death sentence by means other than a unanimous jury vote. You can read the bill here. I note that the bill started off as a perfectly reasonable measure, which would have allowed prosecutors to seek life without parole in aggravated murder cases without first seeking the death penalty.

In Texas, Thomas Miller-El (of Miller-El v. Dretke) has entered a plea to the murder for which he was originally sentenced to death. Three years ago, the US Supreme Court reversed Miller-El’s death sentence after finding that jury selection at his trial had been tainted by racial bias. The Court found that the prosecutor questioned black and white prospective jurors differently, claimed to strike black jurors for reasons it did not strike white jurors, and that the prosecutor’s office had engaged in pattern of racially discriminatory jury selection over the years. The opinion is online here. Miller-El will serve life in prison.

Charles Triplin Not Guilty

December 6, 2007

News Update 12.06.07

North Carolina

Yesterday, a Cumberland County jury found Charles Triplin not guilty of the crime for which he has spent more than four years behind bars. Until a month before trial, Triplin faced the death penalty for the 2003 murder of Shelly Wooten. The jury reported that they did not believe the testimony of the State’s two main witnesses, both of whom received plea deals in exchange for their testimony, that Triplin was with them on the night of the murder. Said Triplin on his way out of the Cumberland County Jail, “I only came to Fayetteville three times in my life, and I ain’t coming back.”


In Tennessee, Michael McCormick was found not guilty of a murder for which he spent 16 years on death row. McCormick received a new trial after it was revealed that a hair found in the victim’s car, used at his first trial to tie McCormick to the scene, came from someone else. The real killer has not been identified.

The Supreme Court has stayed the Alabama execution of Tommy Arthur, until such time as the Court takes action on Arthur’s lethal injection lawsuit. The order is here.

The transcript of the oral argument in Snyder is available online here. Media coverage here.

Court Asked to Reverse Council of State

December 4, 2007

News Update 12.04.07

North Carolina

Attorneys for five inmates on North Carolina’s death row have asked the Wake County Superior Court to review the Council of State’s February decision to approve a new lethal injection protocol. The complaint raises several issues: that the agency’s final decision was issued after the statutory deadline to do so had expired, that a member of the Attorney General’s Office engaged in ex parte communications with one or more members of the Council, that the Council ignored the valid opinion of the Administrative Law Judge, and that the Council failed to consider any of the evidence presented by the inmates. You can read the complaint here.


Kentucky has filed its brief in Baze v. Rees. The argument section of the brief begins, “Petitioners have been sentenced to death. Kentucky seeks to execute them in a relatively humane manner, and has worked hard to adopt such a procedure.” I was unaware that the constitutional standard is whether you did a decent job and tried real hard. For the record, at the end of its brief, Kentucky completely mischaracterizes the factual situation surrounding the BIS monitor in North Carolina. The federal court did not force DOC to use a BIS monitor, DOC bought one of their own volition and lied to the court about how it would be used. But I digress.

The US Supreme Court heard arguments in Snyder v. Louisiana this morning. The case revolves around racial discrimination in jury selection, but is more widely known due to the prosecutor’s comparison of the defendant to OJ Simpson, whom the prosecutor said had gotten away with murder. Snyder, a black man, was tried by an all-white jury after the prosecutor removed all eligible people of color from the jury pool.

Jerry Guerinot has had more clients sentenced to death than have been executed by Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Kentucky, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, and Wyoming combined. The Guardian takes a look at his representation of Linda Carty, a British citizen on death row in Texas. The article notes that while Houston accounts for 1.3% of the US population overall, the city has produced 10% of our nation’s executions. (c/o CDW and Grits)

Texas recently marked the 25th anniversary of its first lethal injection.


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