Friday, 23 October 2009
Sunday, 18 October 2009
Locals in Corsicana are circling the wagons on the Todd Willingham case, and they've enlisted the enthusiastic assistance of the local newspaper, The Corsicana Sun, to their cause. It's hard not to conclude the paper is embarrassing itself, their town and the state with ignorant, hyperdefensive attempts to counter conclusions by arson experts in the Todd Willingham case. (Indeed, I find such bad reporting nearly as noxious as Willingham's turncoat defense attorney, who Anderson Cooper said sounded more like a Sheriff in the case than a defense lawyer.)
Virtually everything the Sun publishes about Todd Willingham comes off as a parochial, naive, one-sided defense against recent challenges to the forensics presented at trial. I have no beef with advocacy journalism, so part of me thinks that the Sun adopting that role could serve a productive function. But in practice, they frequently allow local sources to make demonstrably inaccurate claims without contradiction. It's like they fantasize their readers won't also see coverage from the Dallas News or CNN, so they can just ignore widely reported facts instead of confront them.
The one that put it over the top for me came this week in a story titled "Affidavits dispute claims of innocence," in which the Sun published a five-year old affidavit based on disputed hearsay:
Stacy gave an interview to the Corsicana Daily Sun on February 8, 2004—the very day that Ronnie Kuykendall claimed Stacy had told him that Willingham had confessed. In the interview, she said that during her visit with Willingham he maintained that the fire was accidental and that their daughter Amber had likely caused it
There's lots more to talk about on this case than I have time to focus on, but the MSM and blogosphere are buzzing about it. If you're looking for more, Steve Hall at the Stand Down Project is pretty constantly rounding up coverage. Also check out:
- David Grann, The New Yorker: What Stacy Said
- Scott Cobb, Burnt Orange Report: Todd Willingham's defense lawyer embarrasses Texas justice system.
- Glenn Smith, DogCanyon: Supreme Court Judge David Medina, Once Indicted for Arson, Was Perry's General Counsel when Willingham Stay Denied.
- Scott Greenfield, Simple Justice: Never smear your own client
- Mark Bennett, Defending People: Willingham's trial lawyer speaks up
- Gardner Selby, Austin Statesman: Opportunities missed in fatal Texas arson case
- CNN: Willingham juror no longer sure of his guilt in Texas case
Lawyers Speaking Out in Response to Todd Willingham's Trial Attorney's "Utterly Disgraceful" Performance on CNN
Early Friday morning, we posted the video from last Thursday's CNN AC 360 program when Todd Willingham's trial lawyer was on the program and made remarks that we thought violated his attorney-client obligations, which bind a lawyer even after his client has died. Now, some attorneys have begun posting about David Martin and some also seem to agree that Martin violated his ethical obligations as an attorney to his former client.
Yesterday, TMN sent an email to attorney and blogger Mark Bennett with a link to the CNN video and asked if he saw an ethics violation. He replied by posting his thoughts on his blog here.
My position is that a) all facts the lawyer learns in the course of representation is privileged; and b) this privilege survives the end of representation and the client’s death. So, for example, the fact that the defense team did its own pseudoscientific experiment would be privileged and not something that the ex-lawyer would be free to reveal (without the client’s permission).At least three other lawyers have now also posted their thoughts on David Martin. Here is one on her blog "Preaching to the Choir".
I have nothing nice to say about David Martin after watching this appalling performance, so perhaps I should not say anything at all. Except, I have no duty of loyalty to David Martin. But I do feel a duty of loyalty to my profession. I happen to think that defending people is one of the most noble things you can do. I can go on quite a tear about how we defenders of the constitution are the true patriots and the most noble actors of all in the criminal justice system. I take my job seriously. Very seriously. My clients trust me with their lives, just as Todd Willingham had to trust David Martin. As much as I rail against prosecutors and cops who bend the rules or cut corners, no one offends me more than the defense attorney who does not live up to my high ideals for the profession. From what I've seen in this video, David Martin is the kind of defense attorney I don't ever want to be.Here is another, Scott Greenfield, who says
Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that Martin has no grossly improper motive, like he's been promised a judgeship by Perry if he does everything in his power to undermine the evidence of Willingham's innocence. If Martin truly believes what he's saying to be true, his statements are the most irresponsible, unethical, improper I have ever heard from the mouth of a criminal defense lawyer. Outrageously wrong. Utterly disgraceful.Here is a third, Jeff Gamso:
So we know that Martin was spouting bullshit. (He claimed to have just returned from "chasing cows," so maybe there's a reason.) We also know that at least one thing he talked about, the lighter fluid experiment, is covered by the work-product privilege. It's a secret. He had no business telling anyone. A clear violation of his ethical obligations.We hope many other lawyers speak up and that some of them file a complaint with the Texas Bar against David Martin.
And then there's the matter of going on the air to declare his client guilty. Why in the world would he do that? To garner business? Unlikely. That's not the way you attract clients. For the glory of national television? Some people just can't resist. Whatever the reason, he was wrong. Whatever he was thinking, he wasn't thinking enough. That duty of loyalty. That obligation not to disadvantage. That lack of judgment. That putting his own interests before his client's.
Eileen Smith of Texas Monthly has also written about Martin, saying in her blog "In the Pink":
Willingham’s trial lawyer David Martin is such a caricature of what people think of Texans that I was mortified watching it. Haven’t we been the posterior region of enough jokes this year, what with all the secession talk and Dancing With the Stars? And I’m not even a native Texan. So really, you guys should be extra-extra mortified.Sign the petition to Governor Rick Perry and the State of Texas to acknowledge that the fire in the Cameron Todd Willingham case was not arson, therefore no crime was committed and on February 17, 2004, Texas executed an innocent man.
Right from the start of the interview, you just know it’s going to be bad. For one, Martin is wearing a cowboy hat that’s about to fall off his head. And two, the guy’s drunk as a Honduran skunk.
Anderson Cooper: “David, you always believed that your client was guilty. Now after a half dozen experts have come forward to say there’s no way the fire was arson, you still say he was guilty. Why?”
Martin: “Uh, Anderson, excuse my informal attire, we’ve been out checking cows… uh… tell me your question again?”
Anderson: “About a half dozen fire experts around the country have looked at this case now, and say the evidence that was used… simply is not accurate…”
Martin: “Ohhhh, no, that’s not what I glean from these reports here…”
We plan to deliver the petition at the 10th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty on October 24 at 2pm in Austin at the Texas Capitol.
What is the grievance system?
The grievance system is designed to protect the public from unethical lawyers licensed to practice law in Texas. Lawyers are held accountable to a set of rules, called the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct. Lawyers who violate those rules are prosecuted under a set of rules, called the Texas Rules of Disciplinary Procedure. Much like the criminal system, you, as the aggrieved, are not a party to the disciplinary action; you are a witness.
To download these two sets of rules click here, Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct (PDF) and Texas Rules of Disciplinary Procedure (PDF). For instructions on how to download Adobe Acrobat, click here.
Allegations of misconduct by an attorney are taken very seriously, and are reviewed and investigated carefully by the Office of the Chief Disciplinary Counsel. If you believe that an attorney has violated the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct, you may report this information in writing to the State Bar in the form of a grievance.
Some examples of Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct violations
- Conviction of a serious crime or other criminal act;
- Engaging in fraud, deceit or misrepresentation;
- Obstructing justice;
- Influencing improperly a government agency or official;
- Engaging in barratry; and
- Practicing law when the lawyer is on inactive status or has been
It is important to note that malpractice and attorney misconduct are not necessarily the same. An attorney can commit legal malpractice and not be in violation of the disciplinary rules, or he ir she can be in violation of the disciplinary rules without having committed legal malpractice.
Texas sollte zugeben dass Todd Willingham unschuldig war
Eine Petition an Gouverneur Rick Perry und den Staat von Texas anzuerkennen das dass Feuer in dem Cameron Todd Willingham Fall kein Fall von Brandstiftung war. Folgendermassen wurde kein Verbrechen am 17. Februar 2004begangen und Texas hat einen unschuldigen Mann hingerichtet.
An: Texas Gouverneur Rick Perry
Cameron Todd Willingham wurde in 2004 fuer Mord hingerichtet nachdem er fuer Brandstiftung verurteilt wurde welches zum Tod seiner drei Kinder fuehrte. Den Untersuchungen von mehreren Brand Experten zum folge allerdings, inklusive eins vom der Texas Forensic Science Comission von Dr. Craig Beyler, war das Feuer keine Folge von Brandstiftung. Wir, die Unterzeichneten, fordern Sie auf die Ergebnisse der Experten, welche klar und deutlich aufweisen das es sich hier nicht um einen fall von Brandstiftung handelt, anzuerkennen und oeffentlich die Unschuld von Cameron Willingham zu bezeugen.
In Anbetracht dieser neuen erkenntnisse das es sich hiebei nicht um Brandstiftung handelte sondern ein Unglueck war, sollte der Staat von Texas alle hinrichtungen suspendieren. Willingham wurde fuer Brandstiftung/Mord hingerichtet. Da keine Brandstiftung stattgefunden hat ist somit hier kein Attentat begangen worden und Texas hat einen unschuldigen Man hingerichtet.
Gouverneur Perry, Sie haben die Verantwortung alle erdenklichen Massnahmen zu ergreifen und zu verhindern das Texas keine unschuldigen mehr hinrichtet. Als Gouverneur dieses Staates haben sie die Aufgabe sich aktiv am Beheben eines gebrochenen Systems zu beteiligen.
Das System in Texas welches Menschen hinrichtet muss suspendiert werden. Gouverneur Perry, Sie sollten eine erwogene und unabhaengige Commission ernennen, dessen Aufgabe es sein wird das Texas Hinrichtungs System zu untersuchen um zu ergruenden was in dem Willingham Fall schief gelaufen ist und wie die Hinrichtung von weiteren unschuldigen Menschen verhindert werden kann.
Texas Should Admit Todd Willingham was Innocent
To: Texas Governor Rick PerryCameron Todd Willingham was executed for murder in 2004 after being convicted of starting a fire that killed his three children. However, a number of reports by respected fire experts, including one delivered to to the Texas Forensic Science Commission by Dr. Craig Beyler, concluded that the fire that killed the Willingham children was not caused by arson. We, the undersigned, urge you to accept the findings of the experts about the lack of arson and publicly acknowledge the innocence of Cameron Willingham. We should not compound the injustice of executing an innocent man by continuing to tarnish his name.
The State of Texas should halt all executions in light of the news that the investigator hired by the Texas Forensic Science Commission has concluded that the fire in the Cameron Todd Willingham case was accidental and not arson. Willingham was executed for arson/murder, when in fact there was no arson, so there was no crime. Texas executed an innocent person.
Governor Perry, you have the responsibility to take action to ensure that Texas does not execute another innocent person. As Governor of this state, you have the duty to actively pursue and repair the flaws of a broken system.
The Texas system of carrying out executions must be suspended. Governor Perry, you should appoint a balanced and independent commission to examine all aspects of the Texas death penalty system to determine what went wrong in the Willingham case and how to prevent the execution of innocent people.
Friday, 16 October 2009
Is the Governor trying to cover up the exceution of an innocent man?
Todd Willingham's Defense Lawyer Embarrasses Texas Justice System on National TV; Juror Now Has Doubts, says "may have to face my God and explain"
Tonight on CNN AC360, Todd Willingham's trial lawyer David Martin, the person who was supposed to have vigorously defended his client, made an appearance on national TV arguing for his former client's guilt. Martin, appearing in a cowboy hat, drawled that the report submitted to the Texas Forensic Science Commission by Dr Craig Beyler was one of the "least objective reports" he has ever read. "This is supposed to be a scientific report?", said Martin.
Steve Mills of the Chicago Tribune, then said that the arson investigation methods used in 1991 were not based on science. "That is absurd" said Martin.
You have to see the shocking video of Martin's appearance. This shows why the Texas death penalty system can allow innocent people to be executed. Willingham did not have a chance with Martin as his lawyer. Anderson Cooper at one point said, "you don't sound like a defense lawyer, you sound like a sheriff".
Martin said, "this is riduculous. This is absurd. The defense lawyer doesn't have to believe the client. This is an absurdity."
Click here to watch the video on YouTube.
Also on tonight's AC 360, they reported on a juror from Willingham's trial that told them she now has doubts about Wilingham's guilt. The juror also says that she was allowed to be a juror even though her family was good friends with the fire investigator whose testimony helped convict Willingham. Her family's close relationship with Doug Fogg would have likely been grounds for overturning his conviction and getting Willingham a new trial if it had been raised before his execution.
the controversy has led juror Dorenda Brokofsky to think twice about the decision she made in a jury room in 1992.Also today, the Dallas Morning News ran a column by Lynn Wooley in which he speculates that Rick Perry's handling of the Willingham case and Kay Bailey Hutchison's so far less than fully energetic campaign effort, could cause some new candidates to enter the race for the Republican nomination for Texas governor. He says both Perry and Hutchison "have issues that must be cleared up – and soon – or other big names are going to enter the race."
"I don't sleep at night because of a lot of this," Brokofsky said. "I have gone back and forth in my mind trying to think of anything that we missed. I don't like the fact that years later someone is saying maybe we made a mistake, that the facts aren't what they could've been."
"I do have doubts now," she said. "I mean, we can only go with what we knew at the time, but I don't like the fact now that maybe this man was executed by our word because of evidence that is not true. It may not be true now. And I don't like the fact that I may have to face my God and explain what I did."
What if the commission concludes that Willingham was innocent – and the voting public concludes that Perry's move to replace the chairman and three other members of the commission might have been a blocking tactic? The Hutchison campaign is already saying, "It gives the appearance of a cover-up."
This sordid affair might prove very useful to Hutchison in her campaign to unseat the governor, except for the fact that she seems to have no fire in the belly to pursue the race. In a radio interview with WBAP's Mark Davis, she said she isn't sure when she will leave the Senate to pursue the governor's race full time. She isn't certain about what Congress will do with health care, and she wants to "stay and fight with every bone in my body against a government takeover."
Sign the petition to Governor Rick Perry and the State of Texas to acknowledge that the fire in the Cameron Todd Willingham case was not arson, therefore no crime was committed and on February 17, 2004, Texas executed an innocent man.
Plan to attend the 10th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty on October 24 in Austin at the Texas Capitol. We plan to deliver the petition that day. Members of Todd Willingham's family are expected to attend the march and rally and help us deliver the petition signatures.
Todd Willingham was executed for arson/murder on February 17, 2004. He professed his innocence from his arrest until he was strapped down on the execution gurney. Now, we know for certain that he was telling the truth. On August 25, 2009, Dr Craig Beyler, the investigator hired by the Texas Forensic Science Commission to review the Willingham case, released his report in which he found that “a finding of arson could not be sustained” by a scientific analysis (Read the report here). He concluded that the fire in the Willingham case was accidental and not arson. In fact, there was no arson, so there was no crime. Texas executed an innocent person. The proven execution of an innocent person should mean the end of the death penalty in the United States.
Thursday, 15 October 2009
Klick on the link to watch the video.
Lawyers for a mentally ill British man facing execution in China on drug trafficking charges renewed their appeal on Tuesday for his psychiatric condition to be taken into account.
Akmal Shaikh, from London, is believed to suffer from bipolar disorder, which makes him prone to delusions and impairs his judgement
He was arrested on September 12 2007 in Urumqi airport in China after 4kg of heroin was found in a suitcase he was carrying.
Legal action charity Reprieve is campaigning on his behalf, calling on the British government to intervene and appealing directly to Chinese President Hu Jintao.
Mr Shaikh, who had a long history of erratic behaviour, had left Britain to start up an airline in Poland, despite the fact he had no resources to do so.
He also had a plan to publish a song he had written.
Once there, Reprieve says, he unwittingly became involved with drug smugglers who said they would help him if he came to China and carried a suitcase for them.
Suspicious, even in his impaired state, Mr Shaikh examined the suitcase and was satisfied that it did not contain contraband. However, when he arrived in China, officials discovered the heroin.
Reprieve argues that Mr Shaikh was manipulated and is clearly unwell and is concerned that the Chinese authorities have so far declined to approve a psychological examination.
Mr Shaikh's appeal was rejected this week and he now faces imminent execution.
At a press conference in London on Tuesday, Mr Shaikh's brother Akbar said: "We are devastated. I would like to plead with the Chinese authorities to show compassion.
"Akmal is a kind person who got in with a bad crowd in Poland. He has always had delusions and suffered from irrational behaviour."
Dr Peter Shaapveld, a psychologist who has studied the case, said he was convinced of Mr Shaikh's illness.
Reprieve legal director Clive Stafford Smith said: "This is a quite desperate situation.
"We respect the right of China to hold a trial, of course, but Akmal seems to be suffering from a very serious mental condition. We are not here to rubbish China but they need to take this information into account."
He urged the British government to do its utmost and not to be "afraid of doing so."
A Foreign Office spokeswoman said it had made representations to China on the matter and that the Prime MInister had taken a personal interest.
Source (http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/ )
Texas moet toegeven dat Todd Willingham onschuldig was.
Een petitie aan gouveneur Rick Perry en de staat van Texas om te erkennen dat de brand in zaak van Cameron Todd Willingham geen brandstichting was. En omdat er geen misdaad was gepleegd, er op 17 Februari 2004 in Texas een onschuldige man is geexecuteerd.
Aan: Gouveneur van Texas, Rick Perry
Cameron Todd Willingham werd in 2004 geexecuteerd voor moord, na veroordeeld te zijn voor het aanstichten van een brand dat zijn drie kinderen het leven nam. Maar een aantal verslagen van gerespecteerde brand experts, waaronder een van Dr. Craig Beyler welke is afgeleverd aan de Forensisch Onderzoeks Commissie in Texas, waaruit geconcludeerd werd dat de brand die de Willingham kinderen het leven nam niet was veroorzaakt door brandstichting. Wij, de ondertekenden, sporen u aan de bevindingen over het ontbreken van brandstichting van de experts te accepteren en publiekelijk de onschuld van Cameron WIllingham toe te geven. We moeten niet nog meer onrecht doen aan de onschuldige geexecuteerde man, door zijn naam door het slijk te halen.
De staat Texas zou alle executies stop moeten zetten na het nieuws dat de onderzoeker ingehuurd door de Forensisch Onderzoeks Commisie te Texas heeft geconcludeerd dat de brand in de zaak van Cameron Willingham een ongeluk was en niet brandstichting. Willingham is geexecuteerd voor brandstichting/moord, maar er was eigenlijk geen brandstichting en dus geen misdaad. Texas heeft een onschuldig persoon geexecuteerd.
Gouveneur Perry, u heeft de verantwoordelijkheid acties te ondernemen zodat Texas niet weer een onschuldig persoon executeerd. Als gouveneur van deze staat heeft u de taak om de tekortkomingen van een beschadigd systeem te repareren.
Het systeem in Texas waarbij executies worden uitgevoerd, moet worden stopgezet. Gouveneur Perry, u zou een gebalanceerd en onpartijdige commissie moeten starten die alle aspecten van het Texas doodsstraf systeem onderzoekt, erachter komt wat er fout is gegaan in de zaak van Willingham en hoe de executie van onschuldige personen in de toekomst kan worden voorkomen.
Wednesday, 14 October 2009
Published: October 14, 2009
Floridians who support the death penalty are understandably frustrated by the seemingly endless appeals that can delay justice for decades.
Still, Gov. Charlie Crist sends a dangerous message when he allows petition drives to influence the signing of death warrants. Allowing public outrage to affect signings diminishes the justice system and politicizes the gravest of decisions.
Last week Crist signed a death warrant against the killer of a Polk County sheriff's deputy and two others during a vicious 1981 crime spree. The decision came about a week after Polk Sheriff Grady Judd started an online petition drive urging the governor to sign the warrant.
A coincidence? It doesn't look that way.
As the Tribune's Ray Reyes reported, Judd said he talked to Crist about the case in August, and "he told me he would be all over it." A spokeswoman for the governor downplayed the timing of Crist signing the warrant, saying the Polk case and others had been under review for some time.
But it wasn't until a week after the sheriff started his petition - which was signed by more than 2,050 residents and attracted press coverage - that the governor felt obligated to put his signature on paper.
The inmate, Paul Beasley Johnson, deserves to pay the ultimate penalty. But the timing by the self-proclaimed "people's governor" is suspicious, and Johnson's attorney says he hasn't exhausted all his appeals.
Now, as a result of the grandstanding Judd's efforts, a petition drive has been launched to persuade Crist to schedule the execution of a man who killed a state trooper near the Interstate 75 bridge over the Manatee River in 1987.
The Bradenton Herald reported that the family of the slain trooper, Jeff Young, started the petition after seeing a news report about Judd's effort.
Crist needs to discourage this death-by-petition movement. Otherwise, grieving families will feel compelled to undertake similar campaigns. The governor's decision on when to sign a death warrant should not be based on which case has generated the most public outrage.
First-degree murder and death penalty statutes are complicated by design and allow for several appeals. That's because nothing can be left to chance when someone is sentenced to die. Whether the right person has been convicted and the condemned receives a fair trial have to be examined in detail.
Appeals must be exhausted, and cases must be thoroughly reviewed by attorneys before a governor should sign a death warrant and schedule an execution.
Yes, it is absurd that someone can remain on death row for decades after a conviction.
And yes, the system does seem tilted in favor of the defendant, forcing survivors to relive their nightmares far too many times.
But if Crist - a lawyer and former Florida attorney general - is facing such a backlog of death row cases that he needs more lawyers to help him review them, he should hire them.
Public sentiment should have nothing to do with when the governor decides to sign a death warrant.
In fact, such poor policy could result in yet more appeals - further delaying the justice sought by the victims' families.
Monday, 12 October 2009
Why is Bobby Jindal’s administration determined to keep Albert Woodfox in permanent lockdown?
What's left of Albert Woodfox's life now lies in the hands of a federal appeals court in New Orleans. By the time the court hears his case on Tuesday, the 62-year-old will have spent 36 years, 2 months, and 24 days in a 6-by-9-foot cell at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola. An 18,000-acre complex that still resembles the slave plantation it once was, the notorious prison, immortalized in the film Dead Man Walking, has long been considered one of the most brutal in America, a place where rape, abuse, and violence have been commonplace. With the exception of a few brief months last year, Woodfox has served nearly all of his time there in solitary confinement, out of contact with other prisoners, and locked in his cell 23 hours a day. By most estimates, he and his codefendant, Herman Wallace, have spent more time in solitary than any other inmates in US history.
Woodfox and Wallace are members of a triad known as the "Angola 3"—three prisoners who spent decades in solitary confinement after being accused of prison murders and convicted on questionable evidence. Before they were isolated from other inmates, the trio, which included a prisoner named Robert King, had organized against conditions in what was considered "the bloodiest prison in America." Their supporters believe that their activism, along with their ties to the Black Panther Party, motivated prison officials to scapegoat the inmates.*
Over the years, human rights activists worldwide have rallied around the Angola 3, pointing to them as victims of a flawed and corrupt justice system. Though King managed to win his release in 2001, after his conviction was overturned, Woodfox and Wallace haven't been so lucky. Amnesty International has called their continued isolation "cruel, inhuman, and degrading," charging that their treatment has "breached international treaties which the USA has ratified, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention against Torture." Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, has taken a keen interest in the case and traveled to Angola last spring to visit with Woodfox and Wallace. "This is the only place in North America that people have been incarcerated like this for 36 years," he told Mother Jones.
Klick on the heading to watch the video on YouTube.
October 10, 2009 rally speakers included the oldest son of Reginald Blanton and his mother Anna Terrell. Gloria Rubac is also in this video.
Reginald Blanton is scheduled for execution in Texas on October 27, 2009.
Join the October 14 Day of Action to Save Reginald Blanton by calling Gov. Rick Perry's office at 512-463-1782 or sending faxes to 512-463-1849. Also, call the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles at 512-406-5852 or fax 512-467-0945 and tell them to grant Reginald Blanton clemency.
Pétition au Gouverneur Perry: “reconnaissez l’innocence de Todd Willigham et suspendez les exécutions!”
Use google translation.
Le Texas doit reconnaître l’innocence de Todd Willingham et suspendre les exécutions
Une pétition adressée au Gouverneur Rick Perry et à l’Etat du Texas afin qu’ils reconnaissent que l’incendie dans l’affaire de Todd Willingham n’était pas d’origine criminelle, que par conséquent un homme innocent a été exécuté le 17 février 2004.
A l’attention du Gouverneur Rick Perry
Cameron Todd Willingham a été exécuté pour meurtres en 2004 après avoir été condamné pour avoir provoqué l’incendie qui a tué ses trois enfants. Pourtant un nombre d’expertises réalisées par des experts renommés, y compris celui remis à la Texas Forensic Science Commission par le Dr. Craig Beyler, ont conclu que l’incendie qui a provoqué la mort des enfants Willingham n’était pas d’origine criminelle. Nous, les sous-signés, vous demandons instamment d’accepter les conclusions de ces experts et de reconnaître publiquement l’innocence de Cameron Willingham. Nous ne pouvons pas aggravé l’injustice causée par l’exécution d’un innocent en continuant à salir son nom.
Suite à cette information fournie par l’enquêteur nommé par la Texas Forensic Science Commission et qui a déterminé que l’incendie dans l’affaire Willigham était d’origine accidentelle et non criminelle, l’Etat du Texas doit suspendre les exécutions. Willingham a été exécuté pour avoir déclenché un incendie alors qu’en fait il n’y a pas eu de crime. Le Texas a exécuté un homme innocent.
Gouverneur Perry, vous avez la responsabilité d’agir afin d’assurer que le Texas n’exécute pas un autre innocent. En tant que gouverneur de cet état, vous avez le devoir de poursuivre cette enquête et de réparer les erreurs d’un système floué.
La machine du Texas qui poursuit les exécutions doit être arrêtée. Gouverneur Perry, vous devez nommer une commission indépendante et équilibrée afin d’examiner tous les éléments de la peine de mort au Texas pour déterminer ce qu’il s’est passé dans le dossier Willingham et prévenir l’exécution de personnes innocentes.
Scott Cobb: "I did feel some pressure from them, yes," says Former Chair of Texas Forensic Science Commission about Rick Perry
The Chicago Tribune, which wrote a lengthy article about Todd Willingham in December 2004 that first brought the case to national attention, has a new article quoting the replaced chair of the Texas Forensic Science Commission, Samuel Bassett, saying that Governor Rick Perry pressured the committee.
Bassett told the Chicago Tribune that months earlier, he was twice called to meetings with the Republican governor's top attorneys. At one meeting, he said, they expressed unhappiness with the course of the commission's investigation.and
"I was surprised that they were involving themselves in the commission's decision-making," said Bassett, an Austin attorney. "I did feel some pressure from them, yes."
According to Bassett, the governor's attorneys questioned the cost of the inquiry and asked why a fire scientist from Texas could not be hired to examine the case instead of the expert from Maryland that the panel ultimately settled on.Sign the petition to Governor Rick Perry and the State of Texas to acknowledge that the fire in the Cameron Todd Willingham case was not arson, therefore no crime was committed and on February 17, 2004, Texas executed an innocent man.
Following the meeting, a staffer from the general counsel's office began to attend the commission's meetings, Bassett said.
And although Bassett said he had hoped his work on the commission would focus solely on forensics, the meetings he described likely will add to questions about Perry's moves.
Bassett told the Tribune the governor's attorneys at the meetings were then-General Counsel David Cabrales and Deputy General Counsel Mary Anne Wiley, one of Perry's top advisers on criminal justice issues. Cabrales, now in private practice, and Wiley referred questions to the governor's press office. A Perry spokeswoman said the governor was not aware of the meetings and called them "regular, routine and expected."
In December, Bassett's nine-member panel voted to hire Craig Beyler of Hughes Associates Inc. to analyze the fire investigation and write a report. That report, made public in late August, contained withering criticism of the fire investigation, and added to a drumbeat of findings critical of the investigation.
Beyler was scheduled to discuss the case at an Oct. 2 commission meeting in Dallas, but three days before the meeting, Perry replaced Bassett and two other commission members, Alan Levy, a prosecutor from Fort Worth, and Aliece Watts, a forensic scientist. Perry named John Bradley, a conservative prosecutor, to replace Bassett as chairman.
Perry called the moves routine but was immediately criticized for actions that seemed aimed at reining in the commission.
Bradley's first order of business was to cancel the public meeting early this month at which Beyler was scheduled to discuss his investigation with the commission.
The inquiry focuses on the fire investigation that led to the conviction and execution of Willingham, who was put to death in February 2004 for setting a 1991 fire that killed his three children in their Corsicana, Texas, home.
The Tribune, which learned of the case after Willingham had been executed, published a story in December 2004 that showed how the original investigation of the fire was deeply flawed, with state and local investigators relying on principles of fire behavior later disproved by advances in fire science.
After that report, the Innocence Project, a New York-based group, and national media outlets began to report on flaws in the case.
Bassett's commission set out to conduct its own investigation.
But, Bassett said, Cabrales told him in February that the Willingham investigation was not the kind of work the legislature intended for the commission.
"I politely said that I'm not sure I agree with that but that I'm certainly willing to go back and look at the statute," Bassett said. A week later, he sent Cabrales and Wiley a letter with a copy of the law creating the commission.
Wiley also questioned the cost of the investigation and, according to Bassett, called the pay to Beyler a waste of state money. Bassett said he defended Beyler as an independent expert. He said he also responded that the commission had unanimously voted to hire Beyler.
Another concern Bassett said he heard from Wiley was possible influence from the Innocence Project, a group that helps free innocent inmates.
Bassett, an attorney who practices criminal defense and family law in Austin, said he agreed about the potential for the Innocence Project to push its own agenda, but he defended the commission's ability to act independently.
Bassett said he was called back to the general counsel's office March 19. At that meeting, Wiley was more cordial, Bassett said, but she also talked about legislators' concerns about the commission's role and hinted the commission's funding might be in jeopardy.
Wiley told Bassett the Willingham investigation should be a lower priority, he said. Other issues, including those directly dealing with crime labs, could be given more attention.
Beyler's report was made public Aug. 24, and questions about how Perry had handled the case grew more intense. The commission planned to study Beyler's report and write a report to be delivered after the new year.
Bassett had told reporters the commission's report would focus on forensics and not decide Willingham's guilt or innocence. He said he had not made up his mind about the case; it was possible, he said, that both sides in the death penalty debate could be dissatisfied with the commission's final report.
He said he is reluctant to tie political motives to what happened. But he said it is a "reasonable conclusion" that the meetings, the commission's push on Willingham and the dismissal of the three commission members are connected. Mostly, though, he said he is worried the commission will not be allowed to finish its work.
According to a Sunday report from CNN:
Texas Gov. Rick Perry has removed a fourth member of a state commission charged with investigating claims that an innocent man may have been executed, his office said.
The Texas governor has now replaced all of the four members that, under law, he is allowed to appoint to the commission. The remaining five members are appointed by the state's lieutenant governor and attorney general.
Perry's critics say his actions are politically motivated, a charge he denies.
Washington - The United States does not often find itself in a league with China, Iran, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia.
But as international human rights groups and a number of countries, particularly in the European Union [EU], prepare to mark World Day Against the Death Penalty Saturday, that list of the five countries where nearly all of 2008's executions were carried out is where the US finds itself.
Proponents of abolishing the death penalty worldwide say the global trend is in their favor, and they claim the march of countries putting an end to executions is accelerating.
But even though a large majority of known executions carried out last year were in China, the US remains a key target of the abolition campaign as a country that in most other instances is seen sharing values with other Western powers.
"The death penalty is being progressively abolished worldwide, and at an accelerating pace," says Sweden's ambassador to the United States Jonas Hafström, who joined European Union officials in Washington Friday to promote a global focus on ending the death penalty.
Noting that 139 countries – more than two-thirds of the world total – have abolished the practice, Ambassador Hafström adds that more than 80 percent of known executions last year were carried out in five countries, including the US.
Of 2,390 known executions in 2008, according to Amnesty International, 1,178 took place in China, while the US counted 37. That number was still enough to put the US on Amnesty's top-five list.
European officials say the point of abolition events in Washington is not to single out the US, but to further the EU's goal of achieving a global end to the death penalty.
"This is not to point fingers at the US – this is a commitment worldwide," says Stig Berglind, press counselor for the Embassy of Sweden.
Still, EU officials emphasize the growing number of cases in the US where prisoners on death row have been exonerated and released based on new evidence or investigative techniques not available at the time of their trials.
"Miscarriages of justice are inevitable in any legal system, and any miscarriage of justice that results in the death penalty is irreversible," says John Bruton, the EU's ambassador to the US.
In its annual report on the death penalty and executions worldwide, Amnesty International reports that in 2008 four prisoners facing the death penalty in the US were released on grounds of newly determined innocence, bringing to more than 120 the number of such cases in the US since 1975.
Amnesty also reports that the number of death sentences handed down in the US has continued to fall since a peak in the mid-1990s. Still, it notes the widely varying use of the death penalty among states, with Texas regularly topping the list of executions carried out. In 2008, Texas counted 18 of the 37 executions carried out in nine states.
Ohio's Review After Botched Injection May Have Wide Impact.Romell Broom knew he was about to die when the Ohio prison warden came to his cell, escorted by guards, and read his death warrant. A court had rejected his final appeal.
Soon, two nurses arrived and told Broom to lie down as they tried to insert a needle into his arm, readying a vein to receive the three drugs that would knock him out and eventually kill him.
The protocol is a familiar one, used by 35 states and the federal government, but the nurses working on Broom on Sept. 15 could not find a suitable vein. They jabbed his arms, his hands, his right ankle and his left leg. Once, they hit a bone. Broom tried to help, then cried.
After about two hours, unable to establish an intravenous connection, authorities called off the execution. Gov. Ted Strickland (D) granted a one-week reprieve, since extended while a federal court considers a defense claim that a second execution attempt would amount to cruel and unusual punishment.
Strickland's decision to delay two more executions and review the way Ohio has executed 32 prisoners since 1999 could influence the way condemned prisoners elsewhere are put to death, according to experts on the death penalty.
"Everything's on the table at this point," said Julie Walburn, spokeswoman for the Ohio corrections department, which has overseen two similar situations since 2006. In the other cases, technicians eventually found veins, and the prisoners were executed.
Walburn said the Strickland administration is all but certain to revise its protocols to deal with cases like Broom's. State officials are also analyzing the effectiveness of the existing three-drug combination and other ways to kill a person with a lethal injection.
"We are taking a very studied approach. This is a complex issue, and we are certainly not going to rush our examination," Walburn said, explaining that Strickland is prepared to delay the scheduled Dec. 8 execution of Kenneth Biros if the new rules are not ready.
"Other states will be watching," said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, who reported that several states, including Maryland, are working on lethal injection protocols. "Waiting an hour or two hours for this to end, that just doesn't seem right."
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7 to 2 in April 2008 that injecting condemned Kentucky prisoners with the typical sequence of three drugs does not meet the Eighth Amendment threshold of cruel and unusual punishment.
"Simply because an execution method may result in pain, either by accident or as an inescapable consequence of death, does not establish the sort of 'objectively intolerable risk of harm' that qualifies as cruel and unusual," wrote Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.
The two Kentucky inmates had not asked to avoid execution. Rather, they requested one massive dose of barbiturates, the method used to kill animals.
The current protocol uses thiopental, a barbiturate, to render a condemned inmate unconscious. Pancuronium bromide stops the inmate's breathing and potassium chloride stops the heart.
Attorneys for death row inmates contend that if the initial dose of thiopental does not work properly, the inmate feels "conscious paralysis" and intense pain when the next two drugs are injected.
Mark Dershwitz, a Massachusetts anesthesiologist who advises authorities in Ohio and elsewhere, said last week that a switch to a large dose of thiopental alone is "certainly feasible and plausible."
"The downside is it will take longer for the person to die. A few minutes," Dershwitz said. "The advantage is there's no chance they could be made uncomfortable or pained by the second or third drug, because they're not given."
Most executions by lethal injection occur without complications, but Broom's attorneys contend that he endured a "horrific and torturous event" during last month's failed execution and that it would be unconstitutional to try again. A hearing is scheduled for November.
Broom, 53, was sentenced to die for raping and murdering Tryna Middleton, 14, in 1984. When he woke up on the morning of his scheduled execution, he showered and talked with his brother. Word came that his last appeal had failed.
In a 31-paragraph affidavit drafted two days later, Broom described repeated attempts to locate a vein, interspersed with breaks while nurses and correctional officers collected themselves.
"The male nurse kept saying that the vein was right there, but they could not get it. I tried to assist them by helping to tie my own arm," Broom recalled. "The death squad leader advised me that we were going to take another break and again told me to relax."
Broom said he screamed when nurses mistakenly hit bone and muscle. Other times, he simply wept. After the execution was halted and the nurses left, officers offered him coffee and a cigarette and moved him to the prison hospital.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit reviewed Broom's experience and last week granted death row inmate Lawrence Reynolds a stay of execution pending a review. The same day, Strickland moved Reynolds's date with the death chamber to next year.
Judge Jeffrey S. Sutton dissented, maintaining that Reynolds was unlikely to prevail. He also wrote that Ohio's lethal-injection protocol had been proven humane -- and constitutional -- by the fact that Strickland called off the execution.
"That approach removes the foundation for an Eighth Amendment claim," Sutton wrote. "It does not lay the groundwork for one."
Some proponents of the death penalty have asked why there is so much hand-wringing. A letter to the editor of the Zanesville Times Recorder said, "If the death row inmate thinks lethal injection is cruel and unusual punishment, give them the option of dying in the same manner in which they slew their victim."
Ohio's "troubling difficulties" in executing Broom and two other inmates, as the 6th Circuit put it, have not led any other governors to delay executions. When Alabama executed Max Payne on Thursday, he became by Dieter's count the 40th person in the United States to die by lethal injection this year.
(CNN) -- Texas Gov. Rick Perry has removed a fourth member of a state commission charged with investigating claims that an innocent man may have been executed, his office said.
The Texas governor has now replaced all of the four members that, under law, he is allowed to appoint to the commission. The remaining five members are appointed by the state's lieutenant governor and attorney general.
Perry's critics say his actions are politically motivated, a charge he denies.
The investigation into claims that faulty evidence led Texas to execute an innocent man in 2004 was at a "crucial point" when the shakeup occurred, one of the replaced members said.
The commission was to hear from the author of a scathing report in the case of the executed man, Cameron Todd Willingham, when Perry announced on September 30 that he would replace three members.
The session was postponed indefinitely because of the new appointments, and Perry's critics accused him of trying to quash the Willingham probe.
"I think people are making a lot of this issue," Perry said earlier.
Commissioner Alan Levy was replaced by John Bradley, a district attorney who was also named commission chairman. Aliece Watts was replaced by Norma Farley, chief forensic pathologist for Hidalgo and Cameron counties. Perry said at the time the replacements were "pretty normal protocol."
In a statement Thursday, Perry's office said he had appointed attorney Lance Evans of Fort Worth to replace former commission chairman Samuel Bassett of Austin, and that Randall Frost of Boerne, chief medical examiner for Bexar County, would replace commissioner Sridhar Natarajan.
"If you've got a whole new investigation going forward, it makes a lot more sense to put the new people in now and let them start the full process, rather than bring people in there for a short period of time and then replace them," Perry said two weeks ago. "I think it makes a whole lot more sense to make a change now than to make a change later."
But the Forensic Science Commission began investigating the Willingham case in 2008, hiring Maryland fire investigation expert Craig Beyler to examine the evidence used to convince a jury the fire that killed Willingham's three daughters was deliberately set.
Levy said at the time of his replacement he had told Perry's office "that it would be disruptive to make the new appointments right now."
"The commission was at a crucial point in the investigation," he told CNN. Asked about the future of the Willingham investigation, he said, "I don't know if it will ever be heard."
Both Levy and Bassett said they had asked to remain on the board.
Evans declined to give an opinion on the Willingham controversy when contacted by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram for a story Friday, saying all he knows on the matter is what he's read in the newspaper.
"Because I haven't had involvement with the commission, I can't really comment on what's been going on in the commission in the past," he said. "I will work very hard to make sure the duties of the commission ... as given by the Texas Legislature are carried out."
Beyler's report -- the first commissioned by a state agency -- is the latest of three to conclude that arson was not the likely cause of the 1991 fire.
Death-penalty opponents say an impartial review of Willingham case could lead to an unprecedented admission -- that the state executed an innocent man. The Beyler report concluded that the ruling of arson at the heart of Willingham's conviction "could not be sustained" by modern science or the standards of the time.
Perry, who faces a Republican primary challenge in his bid for a third term next year, refused to issue a last-minute stay of execution for Willingham in 2004 and has said he remains confident that Willingham was guilty. So have authorities in Corsicana, south of Dallas, who prosecuted Willingham in his daughters' deaths.
Asked earlier whether the governor wants to see the Willingham investigation go forward, Perry spokeswoman Katherine Cesinger told CNN, "That's a decision of the commission."
However, the first replacements raised concern among Willingham's relatives, who worked to avert his execution and to clear his name after his death.
"It sounds like someone made Governor Perry mad," his stepmother, Eugena Willingham, said after hearing the news during an interview with CNN at her home in Ardmore, Oklahoma.
"I think it's going to delay things," she added. "It makes me wonder why."
Neither Bassett nor Levy would say whether they believed political considerations were behind their replacement, though Bassett said in a written statement that the investigation should not be dropped "because there might be political ramifications."
Bradley told CNN at the time of his appointment he did not believe it was meant to stall the Willingham probe."People tend to read into these things the kind of preconceived notions they come to these issues with," Bradley said. "They're not going to change those positions overnight. They're going to watch how the commission does its work." He said if he does his job right, the commission will "probably satisfy most of those people."
Just 88 minutes before the February 2004 execution of Cameron Todd Willingham, Gov. Rick Perry's office received by fax a crucial arson expert's opinion that later ignited a political firestorm over whether Texas, on Perry's watch, used botched forensic evidence to send a man to his death.
In a letter sent Feb. 14, three days before Willingham was scheduled to die, Perry had been asked to postpone the execution. The condemned man's attorney argued that the newly obtained expert evidence showed Willingham had not set the house fire that killed his daughters, 2-year-old Amber and 1-year-old twins Karmon and Kameron, two days before Christmas in 1991.
On Feb. 17, the day of the execution, Perry's office got the five-page faxed report at 4:52 p.m., according to documents the Houston Chronicle obtained in response to a public records request.
But it's unclear from the records whether he read it that day. Perry's office has declined to release any of his or his staff's comments or analysis of the reprieve request.
A statement from Perry spokesman Chris Cutrone, sent to the Chronicle late Friday, said that “given the brevity of (the) report and the general counsel's familiarity with all the other facts in the case, there was ample time for the general counsel to read and analyze the report and to brief the governor on its content.”
A few minutes after 5 p.m., defense lawyer Walter M. Reaves Jr. said he received word that the governor would not intervene. At 6:20 p.m. Willingham was executed after declaring: “I am an innocent man, convicted of a crime I did not commit.”
Summaries of gubernatorial reviews of execution cases previously were released as public records in Texas, most recently under former Gov. George W. Bush. Yet Perry's office has taken the position that any documents showing his own review and staff discussion of the Willingham case are not public — a claim the Chronicle disputes.
Without those records, the question of how much — or how little — Perry considered the newly obtained evidence in his decision to proceed with execution will remain forever a state secret.
Perry has presided over more than 200 executions during his time as governor; Willingham was one of three people put to death in February 2004 alone.
Reaves first alerted Perry about the new arson analysis three days before the execution and requested more time to develop it.
“There is nothing more I would like than to be able to present you with evidence of actual innocence,” Reaves wrote Perry, according to a document released to the Chronicle. “I think we are close … The death penalty whether you agree with it or not, should be reserved for the most serious crimes. More importantly, it should be reserved for those crimes about which there is no doubt about the guilt of the person.”
By execution day, Perry was Willingham's last chance. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals had rejected a reprieve, calling the arson expert's report “no more than an opinion.”
Willingham, then a 23-year-old unemployed mechanic and father of three, claimed to have been asleep on the morning his house in Corsicana, just south of Dallas, caught fire on Dec. 23, 1991. Willingham escaped with burns, but his three tiny daughters died. A profane man with a history of minor offenses in his native Oklahoma, the grieving father quickly became the target of a capital murder investigation based on the finding of arson, a history of beating his wife even while pregnant and other bizarre behavior.
At trial, prosecutors argued that Willingham had deliberately trapped his children inside a burning house to free up time to play darts and drink beer. Willingham repeatedly professed his innocence and refused the offer of a life sentence.
His 2004 execution gained renewed prominence this year after the newly formed Texas Forensic Science Commission, created by the Legislature to explore and fix forensic flaws, released a report that criticized the arson evidence. Two days before the panel was to review that report, Perry abruptly replaced three members, including the chairman, and the meeting was canceled. The governor also attacked the report, according to other media reports.
Yet the 2009 report was only the latest in a string of expert opinions that suggested arson investigators had relied on outdated and discredited techniques in the Willingham case.
Similar flaws found
The five-page opinion faxed to Perry's office on Willingham's execution day in 2004 was the first. It said investigators made “major errors” and relied on discredited techniques akin to an “old wives tale.”
It was authored by Dr. Gerald Hurst, an Austin-based arson expert who holds a doctorate in chemistry from Cambridge University.
By 2004, Hurst already had received national media coverage for helping to obtain a string of high-profile exonerations by debunking arson evidence in other criminal cases. Hurst said in an interview that his previous analysis of flaws in another Texas arson-murder case had helped prompt the Board of Pardons and Paroles in 1998 to free a woman convicted of setting a fire that killed her infant son. She had served six years of a 99-year sentence.
Opposing lawyers concur
The dispute over the arson evidence in Willingham's case likely would have died with him. But six months after the execution, Hurst was hired to review the evidence in another death row arson case. By October 2004, Ernest Willis was freed after Hurst found flaws eerily similar to those he had previously found in Willingham's case.
Records released by the governor's office do not show whether Navarro County case prosecutor John Jackson, now a senior judge, was consulted about Willingham's reprieve. Jackson remains skeptical of the arson experts' criticism and convinced of Willingham's guilt, but had offered a life sentence and knew about Hurst's report at the time.
He told the Chronicle he doesn't recall getting a call: “I probably wouldn't have had any problem either way.”
In the days before the execution, members of the Board of Pardons and Paroles voted by fax against clemency, Reaves said. But Texas law gives governors the right to delay an execution for 30 days without board approval.
Both Jackson, the original prosecutor, and Reaves, the last defense attorney, called for the governor to release all information on his review.
“From a fairness and honesty and integrity standpoint, there are very few circumstances where these things should not be made public,” Jackson said, “and I see no reason why not in this case.”
Sunday, 11 October 2009
HOUSTON — A Texas man condemned to death for killing his father 25 years ago in a shooting spree that also killed his stepmother and a half brother is headed off death row after accepting a plea deal that gives him three life prison terms.
Gene Wilford Hathorn Jr., 49, spent more than half of his life on death row for the 1984 slaying of his father, Gene Hathorn Sr., 45. He was charged in but never tried for the deaths of his stepmother, Linda Sue Hathorn, 35, and his half brother, Marcus, 14.
All three were shot 25 years ago Friday at the family home in Nogalus Prairie, a farming community northeast of Groveton in Trinity County, about 90 miles north of Houston.
The plea agreement was finalized last week in state district court in Groveton, Hathorn's attorney, David Sergi, said Friday.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals earlier this year ruled that Hathorn was entitled to a new punishment hearing because jurors at his 1985 trial weren't given adequate instructions and should have been allowed to more thoroughly consider evidence that he was abused as a child.
Evidence at his trial claimed the slayings were provoked by childhood abuse at the hands of his father, leaving him with "long-standing hatred for his family," according to earlier court documents.
"It was a good result for all concerned," Sergi said. "He didn't want to put the family through any more pain and suffering.
"He wanted to reach out to his mother's family and let them know he wanted to man up and accept responsibility."
The three sentences were stacked, meaning they will run consecutively and remove the likelihood Hathorn ever would be paroled. He was one of the longest-serving of the state's 337 condemned prisoners.
Hathorn was tried during a period when the trial rules for Texas capital cases were evolving, particularly in the area of mitigating evidence and how it should be applied to punishment. The U.S. Supreme Court has considered the issue several times, refining trial procedures through their rulings, and several cases of that era have been returned to trial for new punishment hearings.
Hathorn and a co-worker at Rusk State Hospital, James Beathard, were sentenced to die for the 1984 rampage. Beathard was executed in 1999.
Court records indicated Hathorn supplied Beathard with illegal drugs for him to sell on commission. They also show that during their friendship Hathorn talked of his desire to kill his father, stepmother and half brother.
Evidence showed Hathorn hoped to collect a $150,000 inheritance from his father and offered to share some of it with Beathard. What he didn't know was his father recently had cut him out of his will.
Hathorn achieved some notoriety last year when a Danish artist told a London-based newspaper devoted to art issues that the inmate had agreed, if he was executed, to give his body to the artist so it could be frozen and so visitors at an exhibition could use it for goldfish food.
Saturday, 10 October 2009
They have tried to raise awareness of the dangers of capital punishment and tried to mobilise public opinion against this practise.
Clive Stafford Smith is the founder and director of Reprieve, a UK-based legal charity, and has spent 25 years working on behalf of defendants facing the death penalty in the US.
He tells Al Jazeera why he believes capital punishment is a "horrific" act.
It is rather easy, looking back, to identify the beliefs that our ancestors clung to with a fervent faith.
No doubt, 400 years ago, those who burned witches at the stake thought they were righting evil in society.
Four centuries on, the history books are not kind to them. We know the "witches" were innocent, since no coven of witches actually existed. We now recognise that any trial that sent its victim to the stake was derived from a "witch hunt" that served no possible penal purpose.
It is more difficult, perhaps, to identify our modern "flat earth" beliefs - those present day certainties that will look very foolish when viewed from a globe that is self-evidently spherical.
However, I have absolutely no doubt that when the history books are written 100 years hence, the fact that we were killing our fellow human beings in the name of "just punishment" will be viewed with a mixture of bemusement and horror.
When we think of how our ideal society would behave, does anyone imagine it would include ritual executions?
Divergence of opinion
Amongst the large and ever-increasing body of people who oppose the death penalty, there is considerable divergence of opinion.
There are those who believe that it is state-sanctioned murder, pure and simple; those who oppose it on religious grounds (including the Pope); and those who think it is inevitably beset by racial or economic discrimination (how many millionaires does one encounter on Death Row?).
There are those who also recognise its non-existent deterrent value; those who believe that the diverse frailties of human beings guarantee that there will be mistakes; and doubtless many other variations besides.
When I held a purely theoretical opposition to execution, I used to indulge in all these arguments. When - 22 years ago now - I watched my first client being executed, it rather changed my perspective.
Edward Johnson was young, personable, black, and almost certainly innocent. I was a young lawyer then, and had taken on his case close to the end.
I had failed him. As the gas wafted up toward his lungs in the execution chamber at the Mississippi State Penitentiary, I was utterly disgusted.
How could anyone possibly think this a civilised way to deal with any problem? It was not just about how wrong it seemed - it was how utterly pointless and barbaric.
Mad or bad?
I have represented over 300 prisoners facing execution, and I am more interested in those who are not entirely innocent. Only someone who has never taken the time to meet these people can pretend that they are a distillation of the "pure evil" of society.
And only those who do not care to learn the truth can see these people as devoid of humanity. Just as each victim of murder is a unique human being, so is each person charged with the crime.
And each person tells a story.
Reprieve is currently trying to halt the imminent execution of a British man, Akmal Shaikh, in China. Mr Shaikh suffers from bi-polar disorder, just as my father did before him.
The Chinese court did not even know this when Akmal was sentenced to be shot in the back of the head for allegedly smuggling drugs.
He insists he is innocent, but let us assume he is not: only someone who has never had dealings with a floridly psychotic person could possibly believe he should be executed.
Akmal Shaikh is one of many. Mental illness is prevalent monist most prison populations, but is higher still monist those awaiting execution.
Just as our ancestors preferred to believe that strange happenings were caused by witches, so we do not like to accept the reality of mental illness. It is inexplicable, and we are more comfortable saying people are bad, rather than mad.
Indeed, it takes great courage for the victims of crime to recognise that their own suffering has no rational basis.
In 1992, Ricky Langley was sentenced to death for killing six-year-old Jeremy Guillory. Before Ricky was born his parents were involved in a car crash. Two children died, including the six -year-old Oscar Lee.
The mother suffered horrific injuries and was in a full body cast when Ricky was conceived.
Her pregnancy went undetected for five months, during which time she and her foetus had been prescribed powerful drugs and bombarded with x-rays.
The doctors advised an abortion; her husband, a Catholic, strongly objected. Ricky was therefore born to almost inevitable mental illness.
His parents could neither understand nor accept it, and thought it merely odd when he announced at the age of 11 that he was not actually Ricky Langley, but his dead brother Oscar Lee.
Jeremy Guillory's mother, Lorilei, was desperate to understand why her child had been torn from her. In the end, she spent three hours with Ricky, and realised that he was truly insane.
She too was a Catholic, and opposed the death penalty. But gradually she came to believe what society tells us: that the insane should not be sent to prison, but rather to hospital.
Crying out for help
She testified on Ricky's behalf. I asked her whether she felt that the killer of her child had been mentally ill when he did it.
"I think that Ricky Langley has been crying out for help since the day he was born," she said, turning to the jurors. "And for whatever reason, his family, society, the legal system has never listened to him. And as I sit on this chair, I can hear the death cries of my own child, Jeremy; but I can still hear Ricky Langley crying out for help."
The prosecutor said she was an unfit mother for saying that. I said she was one of my heroes. We cannot expect everyone to invest as much compassion in such a tragedy, but we can tell the difference between our ideal society and the dark world that some would have us inhabit.
And Lorelei points the way toward our salvation. In 2008, around the world, 2,390 people were killed by the machinery of the state.
That is probably one person executed for every million crimes that were committed. Did this ritual sacrifice purify our world? Or did it merely prevent us from seeing as clearly as Lorilei Guillory?
Hanging was the worst use a man could be put to.
- Sir Henry Wotton, The Disparity Between Buckingham and Essex (1651)
It is so easy to view the death penalty as nothing more than a means to an end that we sometimes overlook the fact that it should not be an unpleasant experience for the person involved. Thanks to Romell Broom we have been reminded of its niceties and the importance of administering it humanely. Not, however, that everyone agrees that it needs to be a pleasant experience. Indeed, in the death penalty's most recent experience in the United States Supreme Court it was met with a somewhat callous approach by a majority of the members of the Court.
The case involved death by lethal injection and whether, as presently administered, it constitutes cruel and unusual punishment thus violating the prospective decedent's rights. The issue was not complex and has been examined here and elsewhere over the years. At issue is the second drug that is administered in the three-drug cocktail that dispatches the participant. It is pancuronium bromide and it paralyzes the skeletal muscles but not the brain or nerves of the chemical's recipient. Unable to move or speak, the participant cannot let onlookers know that contrary to appearances, what the participant is undergoing is extremely painful. In Tennessee its use is prohibited when euthanizing non-livestock animals because, as the American Veterinary Medical Association said in a 2000 report, "the animal may perceive pain and distress after it is immobilized." The Court, and others are not troubled by this. Their position was neatly articulated in 2006 by New York Times reporter Denise Grady. In a column addressing the use of lethal injection she observes: "At the core of the issue is a debate about which matters more, the comfort of prisoners or that of the people who watch them die. A major obstacle to change is that alternative methods of lethal injection, though they might be easier on convicts, would almost certainly be harder on witnesses and executioners. With a different approach, death would take longer and might involve jerking movements that the prisoner would not feel but that would be unpleasant for others to watch."
When considering Base et al vs. Rees, a Kentucky case involving the three drug cocktail, Chief Justice John Roberts observed that: "Some risk of pain is inherent in any method of execution . . . . It is clear, then, that the Constitution does not demand the avoidance of all risk of pain in carrying out executions. Simply because an execution method may result in pain, either by accident or as an inescapable consequence of death, does not establish the sort of ‘objectively intolerable risk of harm' that qualifies as cruel and unusual." Justice Antonin Scalia, ever compassionate, observed during oral argument: "This is an execution, not surgery. . .. Where does that come from, that you must find the method of execution that causes the least pain?" In a 7-2 decision the court upheld the use of all three drugs in lethal injections. And now an up-date, courtesy of Mr. Broom.
Mr. Broom was convicted of the 1984 of the rape and killing of a 14-year old girl abducted in Cleveland. He was convicted and sentenced to death, his execution to take place on September 15 2009. The attempted execution began at 2:01 PM with executioners searching in vain for the vein that would serve as a conduit for the magic liquor that would extinguish his life. Mr. Broom was cooperative and did everything he could to help including flexing his fingers and guiding the tube up his arm, all to no avail. After two hours the execution was called off. Shortly thereafter the governor of Ohio granted Mr. Broom a one-week reprieve, a reprieve that was followed by subsequent stays of execution.
In addition to giving Mr. Broom additional time to contemplate the error of his ways, the stays provide his attorneys the opportunity to attempt to halt all further attempts at execution. A report in the New York Times says his attorneys will argue that (a) he needs more than 7 days to recover from the physical and emotional trauma of the executioners' failed attempt (a recovery that some might think would actually be helped by a successful subsequent and prompt execution), (b) that Ohio's lethal injection system is critically flawed, and (c) that lethal injection is cruel and unusual punishment. (The Supreme Court decision in the Brees case may dispatch two of those arguments more swiftly than Mr. Broom will be dispatched.) As a result, Mr. Broom, who had no right to expect to see another day, may live to see another day in court.
The foregoing proves that although we are the only Western nation that believes the death penalty is the best cure for recidivism, we are also a compassionate people and want to make sure that recipients of its benefits are given every possible consideration before receiving them.