Defense points to trial errors as man's execution date nears
Sunday, Jun 10, 2007 - 12:01 AM
By FRANK GREEN TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER
Christopher Scott Emmett is set to die by injection Wednesday night for beating a man to death with a brass lamp during a robbery in a Danville motel room.
Emmett, 35, was sentenced to death for the April 27, 2001, capital murder of John F. Langley, a roofing crew co-worker. His execution is scheduled for 9 p.m. in the death chamber of the Greensville Correctional Center in Jarratt.
He has an appeal pending in the U.S. Supreme Court and a clemency petition before Gov. Timothy M. Kaine. If carried out, it would be the first execution in the state this year and the 99th since Virginia resumed capital punishment in 1982.
Emmett confessed to striking Langley in the head five or six times with the lamp and taking his wallet after Langley refused to loan him money to buy cocaine. The two shared a motel room while working on a roofing job. Emmett had lived in Roanoke Rapids, N.C., where Langley lived at the time of his death.
Emmett's plea to the U.S. Supreme Court reiterates complaints about Emmett's trial lawyer who, Emmett alleges, failed to adequately defend him by fully informing the jury a full picture of his abusive, impoverished childhood and other problems.
The clemency petition includes affidavits from two jurors shown a summary of Emmett's social history -- information they were not given during the trial.
"It was a waste of our tax dollars and a waste of my time to have listened to such a one-sided case. Mr. Emmett's lawyer should have done so much more for him," said one juror.
She added, "if I had been presented with the evidence [of Emmett's background], I would not have voted for the death penalty."
Another juror said that if the information was true and the jury heard it, "I might have voted for a life sentence without parole instead of the death penalty."
"If Mr. Emmett's lawyer had access to this information and did not use it, someone ought to hang him," said the juror.
The lawyer, Lawrence Gott, then a public defender in Danville, said Wednesday that he could not comment because the case is still in litigation.
Matthew Engle, one of Emmett's current lawyers, said the jurors asked that their names not be publicly released. Kaine, however, knows their identities.
Engle said only one juror need have opposed the death penalty for Emmett to have been given life without parole.
David E. Clemenston, a spokesman for Virginia Attorney General Bob McDonnell, said in an e-mail that the presentation of two anonymous, recently obtained juror affidavits "should be viewed with caution."
"The documents purporting to be from two jurors, years after the case, reflect that each was approached separately and that they were given a single version of events that has been rejected by every court that has reviewed Emmett's case," he wrote.
Clemenston said contacting jurors was "troubling."
Engle countered that the juror who urges Kaine to grant clemency has agreed to speak with Kaine or his counsel if they have any questions.
He also said that no court has rejected the information about Emmett's childhood. It is based upon juvenile probation and social service records and corroborated by interviews with his juvenile probation officer, a social worker and family members.
According to Emmett, Gott failed to interview relatives on his father's side of the family, obtain family social-service records or interview state probation officers and social workers who dealt with Emmett's family.
Three years ago, the Virginia Supreme Court found that Gott failed to provide Emmett constitutionally acceptable representation by failing to make sure the jury got appropriate verdict forms.
However, the justices ruled that the error could not have changed the outcome -- a death sentence.
In upholding the death sentence, courts have noted that Gott interviewed Emmett's mother, stepfather and a half sister, and not only did they did not tell him about the abusive childhood, neither did Emmett himself.
In a dissent earlier this year, Judge Roger Gregory of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said he believes Gott's performance was so poor that it compromised Emmett's defense.
It is one thing to make a strategic decision not to use a witness, wrote Gregory, but it is another to make such a decision based on an inadequate investigation.
Contact staff writer Frank Green at firstname.lastname@example.org or (804) 649-6340.