Sunday, 7 October 2007

Mom won't give up death-penalty fight

By BRANDON PUTTBRESE — Brandon Puttbrese, 615-278-5153

While Tennessee officials ramp up for a court battle to keep its lethal-injection process, the mother of a convicted death-row inmate is calling for an end to the death penalty.

Joyce House says DNA evidence proved the innocence of her son, Paul House, who was convicted of raping and killing his neighbor, Carolyn Muncey, 22 years ago in Union County in East Tennessee.

"People don't think an innocent person could get convicted," the mother said Saturday, speaking to students at MTSU during a conference sponsored by the Tennessee Coalition to Abolish State Killing.

Joyce House says the death penalty should be done away with because the court system sometimes sentences innocent people to death such as her son.

More than a decade after the conviction, DNA evidence proved Paul House didn't rape Muncey, taking away the prosecution's motive for the killing, his mother said.

A medical examiner said during court testimony the bloodstains on House's clothing were planted during a crime-lab mishap. DNA tests concluded the semen found on the victim came from her husband, Hubert Muncey Jr., according to previous reports.

Paul House remains on death row at Riverbend Maximum Security Institution in Nashville, watching his appeals wind through the judicial system, which recently barred executions in Tennessee's using the three-drug method of lethal injection.

U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger found last month the injections amount to cruel and unusual punishment due to the state's problems with training and medical expertise to ensure painless executions.

Isaac Kimes, an organizer with TCASK, applauded Trauger's ruling.
"Pets are euthanized in a more humane way than people are in this state," he said.
Robert Cooper, the state's attorney general, filed a motion Friday telling the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals he will appeal the court decision.

The challenge was brought by death row inmate Edward Jerome Harbison, who was convicted in the 1983 beating death of an elderly woman in Chattanooga.
Attorney General spokeswoman Sharon Curtis-Flair said details of the state's arguments have not yet been filed.

Trauger ruled that Correction Commissioner George Little did not give enough consideration to a recommendation to discard the standard three-drug lethal injection cocktail in favor of a single drug method.

Tennessee law allows death row inmates to choose between lethal injection and electrocution if their crimes were committed before 1999.

A legislative committee will study the state's death penalty system later this month and is expected to report back to the General Assembly.

Any changes to the death penalty system will be decided by the Legislature.
State Rep. Jason Mumpower, R-Bristol, said he's glad to hear the state will appeal Trauger's ruling.
"With the exception of a few ardent members who are opposed, I think most members see (the death penalty) as a valid form of punishment," Mumpower said. "It is about the end of a long process — acquiring justice for the voiceless victims of tragic crimes."

Joyce House hopes the Legislature will consider outlawing the death penalty in Tennessee, not only for her son, but also for other wrongfully accused people on death row. There are 98 people on death row in the state, according to TCASK figures.

"When Paul gets out, I'm not going to stop. I'm going to keep going on because I don't support the death penalty," she said.

The group says 124 people sentenced to death have been exonerated by evidence after their convictions.

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