Sunday, 28 June 2009

OUR VIEW: Postconviction DNA testing should be available whether it's a constitutional right or not

Posted by The Editorial Board June 27, 2009 2:01 AM

The U.S. Supreme Court says people who were wrongly convicted of old crimes have no constitutional right to the DNA testing that could prove their innocence.

The justices, in a 5-4 ruling last week, said it's not their job to say who should get DNA testing in old criminal cases. Rather, it should be up to Congress and state legislatures to make the call, and the court indicated satisfaction with what it called a "prompt and considered legislative response" on the issue.

Surely, though, the court wasn't thinking about Alabama. This past session, after years of efforts, our Legislature finally passed a postconviction DNA law, and it was one of the last states in the union to do so. (Only three states still don't have such a law. One of them, Alaska, generated the case decided by the Supreme Court.)

Moreover, the Alabama law is extremely limited by design. It allows only those convicted of capital crimes to petition for DNA testing -- and under such narrow circumstances that some experts believe it will be harder to get testing now than it was before the law passed.

In just one example, the Alabama law allows DNA testing only if the guilty party's identity was an issue at trial. That sounds perfectly reasonable on the surface. But some people who have been exonerated by DNA evidence pleaded guilty, so there was no trial, and no "question" about the identity of the perpetrator. What happens to them under Alabama's law?

Certainly, there must be a process with some restrictions, but the goal should be to make this latter-day, crime-solving method available wherever it could exonerate a wrongly convicted person -- and identify the person who got away with the crime.

Don't forget that last part, although Alabama officials sure seem to.

Like a number of their counterparts in other states, many Alabama prosecutors and law officers resist DNA testing in old cases as a matter of course. They are either so convinced they are right, or so worried at the prospect of being proved wrong, they prefer to keep a tight lid on that can of worms.

The U.S. Supreme Court could have pried open the lid for those hoping DNA will clear them of old crimes, and their refusal was a disappointment.

But all is not lost. As the justices said, the court doesn't have to make DNA testing a constitutional right for states to make it available to those who may have been convicted of crimes before the science was adapted for law enforcement.

Alabama can and should make it easier for anyone convicted of a crime involving biological evidence to have DNA tests performed. What is there to lose? If the tests confirm guilt, fine. If they prove innocence, shouldn't we want to find out?

This isn't about defendants' rights; it's about the state's responsibility to ensure that injustice doesn't stand and that justice is done.

Supreme Court Expected to Take Up Davis Case

Seven of nine witnesses have recanted testimony
By AFRO Staff

(June 28, 2009) - The fate of Troy Davis now rests in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court.

The nation’s highest court is expected this week to consider hearing the case of Davis, a Georgia man convicted 20 years ago of killing a Savannah police officer. Davis’ execution has been stayed three times as lawyers ran through options to keep him alive, but his final appeal now rests with the Supreme Court.

Davis, 40, was convicted in 1991 of killing off-duty police officer Mark Allen MacPhail, though no physical evidence at the time linked him to the murder. Since the trial, seven of the nine witnesses against Davis have recanted their testimony.

The Supreme Court will retire for its summer recess Tuesday until September. If it does not make a decision whether to take up Davis’s case, prosecutors could attempt to get a fourth execution warrant for Davis before the court re-convenes.

However, that delay may also work in the favor of Davis’ defense team, Laura Moye of Amnesty International USA’s Death Penalty Abolition Campaign told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“It buys more time for all of the advocates to get more publicity on the case,” Moye said.

Davis’ case has drawn international support, including from former President Jimmy Carter and the Vatican. The NAACP has launched an “I Am Troy” campaign.

In 1991, Chatham County, Georgia jurors took just two hours to decide Davis was guilty, and seven more to sentence him to death, both unanimous decisions. But an Associated Press investigation this week found that at least four have had second thoughts about their choice.

“Maybe I might have voted him guilty, but never, ever the death penalty,” Brenda Forrest, a 53-year-old research and development manager who served on the jury, told the AP. “That part is clear to me. If need be, take this thing back to trial.”

Georgia congressmen John Lewis and Hank Johnson along with NAACP President Ben Jealous met with Davis last month, and all three left the two-hour-long meeting convinced of Davis’ innocence.

Lewis said he planned to talk to leaders of both the House and Senate Judiciary Committees about the case, and said he has considered seeking a presidential pardon but has not spoken to President Obama about intervening in the case.

Jealous said the case is now a national priority for the organization.

“This case stands out,” Mr. Jealous said during a May 29 news conference after he met with Mr. Davis. “Something’s wrong in Chatham County.”

Vermont to California, new laws take effect July 1

Vermont to California, new laws take effect July 1
By The Associated Press – 1 day ago

New laws taking effect in several states Wednesday:


_Makes more women diagnosed with breast or cervical cancer eligible for treatment through Medicaid.


_Bars schools from serving food containing transfats.


_Relaxes schools' zero-tolerance policies by preventing children from being arrested or expelled for insignificant misbehavior such as bringing plastic butter knives to school, drawing pictures of guns or vandalizing property.


_Allows women seeking abortions to see ultrasound images or hear their fetus' heartbeat at least 30 minutes before the procedure.


_Requires the state to pay $50,000 a year, up to $500,000, to people wrongfully convicted of crimes. The compensation must be sought within three years after the person is pardoned or the conviction is overturned.


_Reduces the liability of restaurants, hotel-casinos and other businesses that donate perishable foods such as bread, hot or cold dishes and leftover buffet items.

New Mexico:

_Abolishes the death penalty and replaces it with life in prison without parole.


_Allows the state to consider tolls to pay for major new highway construction projects.


_Permits prosecutors to send teenage cell phone "sexting" cases to juvenile courts to eliminate the stigma of child pornography convictions.


_Specifies that the right to mine or drill for resources has legal precedence over the right to store carbon gas underground. Second law specifies that whoever injects carbon gas underground remains legally responsible for it forever.

Jurors who sentenced man to die for '91 Ga. cop killing now split over appeal

Associated Press Writers

10:49 AM PDT, June 28, 2009

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — Inside the jury room, seven men and five women huddled around a table to discuss a parade of witnesses in the case of an off-duty police officer shot and killed outside a fast-food restaurant.

In just two hours they found Troy Anthony Davis guilty. In another seven, they said he deserved to die. Both times they were unanimous.

Since then, Davis' attorneys have delayed his execution three times — less than 24 hours before he was to be executed, in one instance — by raising doubts about those witnesses.

Davis has drawn support from the Vatican to the European parliament, from former President Jimmy Carter to Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The NAACP has launched an "I am Troy" campaign.

While the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide soon whether to hear Davis' latest appeal, one thing is clear: Those who convicted Davis in 1991 no longer agree on whether they did the right thing.

The Associated Press set out to find the 12 jurors, some of whom are speaking publicly for the first time since the verdict. In interviews or affidavits, at least four said they were having second thoughts, based on claims by Davis' attorneys that key witnesses have backed away from their court testimony. At least two others, including Raleigh W. Powers, stand by the verdict and say Davis should be executed in the killing of police officer Mark MacPhail.

"That's something that I have closed the door on. It's painful enough to make that decision," said Powers, a 78-year-old retired engineer who served as the jury foreman. "As well as I remember, he stood over this young man and shot him in the face. I wouldn't do that to an animal."

For Brenda Forrest, the decision to sentence Davis to death was agonizing — so painful that she didn't tell her husband she had served on the jury until nearly a decade after they married.

Forrest agreed to meet with Davis' lawyers when they tracked her down two years ago in Chicago, where she moved in 1999. After reading two affidavits signed by trial witnesses saying they were coerced by police, Forrest gave a signed statement of her own saying she felt Davis had been sentenced based on "incomplete and unreliable evidence."

In a lengthy interview, she said she has doubts about the testimony she heard nearly two decades ago.

"Maybe I might have voted him guilty, but never, ever the death penalty," said Forrest, a 53-year-old research and development manager. "That part is clear to me. If need be, take this thing back to trial."

Davis' attorneys say seven witnesses who testified against their client have signed affidavits disputing all or parts of their trial testimony. Others who did not testify at the trial have since said another man admitted shooting MacPhail.

Prosecutors stand by their case, saying Davis killed MacPhail, who was working as a security guard on Aug. 9, 1989. That night, the 27-year-old officer was shot twice while trying to help a homeless man who had been pistol-whipped in a nearby parking lot.

They say evidence presented at Davis' trial was solid and allegations that someone else later confessed to the slaying were inconsistent and not admissible in court. Several courts have agreed, including the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which said in a 2-1 ruling in April that it was "unpersuaded" by the affidavits.

The AP sought interviews with the jurors for a clearer picture of what they remember from the 1991 trial — and where they stand on the appeal. Three of them have died. Of the seven reached by the AP, three — Curtis Wilson, John C. Smith and Theodosia Johnston — declined comment.

Two jurors, Michelle Strickland and Cynthia Quarterman, could not be reached. A current phone number and address for Strickland could not be found. Repeated phone calls to Quarterman's house rang unanswered, and there was no sign of anyone at her home when an AP reporter recently visited.

Powers, the jury foreman, cited the testimony of Harriet Murray, who told the jury she saw Davis pistol-whip her friend. And juror William Hilliard said her testimony and others helped sway jurors to sentence Davis to death.

Murray identified Davis as MacPhail's killer in a police photo lineup, and later pointed to him as the shooter in court, saying he had "a little smirky-like smile" when he pulled the trigger.

But Murray, who has since died, signed an unsworn affidavit in 2002 that gives a more vague account of the shooting and doesn't name Davis as the killer. Defense attorneys say it adds to the doubt over Davis' guilt, but prosecutors say it doesn't exclude Davis as the shooter.

Hilliard, a 64-year-old retiree who now lives in California, said he's "100 percent OK with my decision."

"The prosecution 100 percent established the fact that it was Troy Davis," Hilliard said. The jury, he added, "was really satisfied with what we had done. There were no second thoughts."

But some jurors have second-guessed their decision since then. Four of them — Forrest, Wilson, Quarterman and Isaiah Middleton — signed affidavits presented at Davis' clemency hearing before the Georgia Pardons and Paroles board in 2007.

They said questions raised by Davis' lawyers made them doubt the justness of their death sentence, and Wilson urged the sentence be commuted to life in prison.

Middleton, 74, said in his sworn statement he had "genuine concerns" about the fairness of Davis' death sentence and that "another jury should hear all of the new evidence."

In a brief phone interview, Middleton said he suffered a stroke in 2000 and couldn't recall what led him to find Davis guilty. He also said he thought the jury had been charged only with deciding whether Davis was guilty and not whether he deserved the death penalty.

"I thought they were going to give him life, I didn't think they were going to put him to death," Middleton said. "Like I said, I just couldn't make up my mind that he really did it, you know what I mean?"

Powers, Forrest and Hilliard, however, said they understood the death penalty was their decision.

During the trial, Forrest was swayed by the testimony of Dorothy Ferrell, who said she witnessed the slaying from a hotel across the street. On the witness stand, Ferrell said she was "real sure, positive sure" that Davis was the shooter.

Years later, Ferrell signed a sworn statement for Davis' lawyers that she felt pressured by police to name Davis as the shooter because she was on parole for a shoplifting conviction at the time of the trial. Forrest said reviewing Ferrell's statement weighed heavily in her decision to question their verdict.

"If I had known the young lady had issues in her past that made her susceptible to being pushed into something, I would not have put so much emphasis on what she said," Forrest said.

Davis' lead attorney, Jason Ewart, commended those who have stepped forward to change their testimony.

"The vast majority of recantations came from innocent bystanders who don't know Troy Davis from a sack of salt," Ewart said. "This is exactly why Troy Davis needs a court hearing — to set the facts straight."

Hilliard, though, said he is not persuaded by arguments Davis deserves a new trial and is proud of his fellow jurors. He said they took exhaustive notes and decided to sleep on their decision before agreeing to the death penalty. The "legitimate" witnesses, Hilliard said, have not changed their testimony.

"If a person is innocent, naturally you want to save their lives," Hilliard said. "But that's not the case here. Unfortunately, it's not. And the fact that I can say this 20 years later and I don't have any guilt about it says it all."


Bluestein reported this story from Atlanta.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Routier still waiting on DNA testing

Tim Sampson
The Daily Times

Published June 24, 2009

Convicted child killer Darlie Lynn Routier sits on death row waiting for a new round of court-ordered DNA testing a year after the highest criminal appeals court in the state ordered that evidence be re-examined.

Her attorney says the results could substantiate Routier’s claims that an unidentified intruder murdered her two sons.

Arrested for killing her sons in their family home in Dallas in 1996, Routier was tried, convicted and sentence to death in Kerrville. More than a decade later, Routier, 38, continues to advocate her innocence from death row.

In June 2008, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled unanimously that Routier was entitled to re-testing of several pieces of forensic evidence, using more advanced methods not available during the trial.

“DNA testing has improved since those items were originally tested. So the court felt it was appropriate to order re-testing on those pieces of evidence that failed to yield a result the first time,” said Lisa Smith, an assistant district attorney in Dallas.

Following the state court’s decision, a federal judge ordered additional DNA testing of a much broader range of evidence in November 2008. But in April, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals denied Routier funding for the federally ordered testing until after the more limited state testing was completed.

“We were trying to coordinate both sets of tests, and that is what slowed us up there for about six months,” said Stephen Cooper, a Dallas attorney representing Routier.

Cooper said state-ordered tests most likely will be conducted this summer. If those tests fail to exonerate Routier, he said they once again will seek funding for the federal testing.

In June of 1996, Routier’s sons, Damon, 5, and Devon, 6, were stabbed to death in the middle of the night. First responders arrived on scene to find Routier with several less severe knife wounds, including one across her throat, which she claimed to have received while fighting off an intruder.

Days ofer their murder, Routier was charged with the death of both children, but she was only tried and convicted in the death of Damon. Prosecutors pointed toward circumstantial evidence of the family’s sliding financial state as motivation for the killings.

Routier remains on death row at the women’s prison in Gatesville.

Since 1994, 38 individuals have been exonerated in Texas by DNA testing, according to the Innocence Project of Texas.

Dennis Skillicorn's widow reacts to the halting of Missouri executions

By Nadia Pflaum in Follow That Story
Thursday, Jun. 25 2009 @ 6:30AM

Just a little over a month after the state ended the life of Dennis Skillicorn by lethal injection, executions are again on hold in Missouri. Incoming Missouri Supreme Court Chief Justice William Ray Price Jr. told the The Associated Press yesterday that he didn't expect the Court to schedule any executions while the 8th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals weighs an appeal on behalf of death row inmate Reginald Clemons that questions the constitutionality of Missouri's lethal injection protocol.

The stall is temporary relief for Clemons, who was next up to be executed. But the news is bittersweet for Paula Skillicorn, Dennis' widow. "While this is good news for death row families who will be spared -- at least for a while -- the deep pain and horror that our whole family is suffering, the way the Supreme Court handled this shows once again how capricious and inconsistent the system is when it comes to the death penalty," Paula wrote to The Pitch via e-mail.

The Eighth Circuit, without explanation, granted a stay of execution for Clemons on June 5. Attorneys for Clemons, who was sentenced to death as an accomplice in the 1991 murders of two sisters in St. Louis, argue that Missouri's procedures for lethal injection are insufficient.

Missouri's recent history of lethal injections is messy. In 2006, Judge Fernando Gaitan Jr. halted executions in the state after Dr. Alan Doerhoff testified that his dyslexia may have caused him to mix up the dosages of the lethal chemicals he administered to dozens of condemned inmates, potentially causing excruciating pain.

To correct future errors, the Missouri Department of Corrections came up with a new lethal injection protocol, but many objectors, including Doerhoff, considered it insufficient. Clemons' attorneys filed an appeal claiming as much, then filed for a stay of execution for Clemons because the 8th Circuit had yet to rule on the pending appeal.

The sad irony for Jennifer Merrigan, Skillicorn's attorney, is that she'd asked the Missouri Supreme Court to halt her client's execution based on the exact same issue: That because Clemons' appeal was still pending in the 8th Circuit, and its outcome would affect all prisoners awaiting execution on death row, no executions should be scheduled until Clemons' appeal is decided.

"The State itself had maintained (in regard to Clemons' appeal) that prisoners who were not plaintiffs to the suit need not intervene in the suit in order to benefit from a positive ruling, because legally a good result for any of the prisoners would benefit all death row prisoners," Merrigan wrote in an e-mail to The Pitch. "In Dennis' case, however, the State turned around and argued the opposite, that Dennis had no right to benefit from the Clemons litigation."

Judge orders more DNA testing in death penalty case

Judge orders more DNA testing in death penalty case

Florida Supreme Court stayed David Johnston's execution in May.

Sarah Lundy Sentinel Staff Writer
5:38 PM EDT, June 23, 2009

An Orange Circuit Court judge is allowing a lab selected by the defense and another picked by the state to test evidence for DNA in the death penalty case against David Eugene Johnston, whose execution was stayed last month by the Florida Supreme Court.

Johnston was convicted of the murder of 84-year-old Mary Hammond, who was strangled and stabbed in her Orlando home in 1983. He was scheduled to die on May 27.

The Florida Supreme Court stayed the execution so DNA testing could be done. Earlier this month, a state forensic lab recommended more testing with newer technology evaluate the evidence, which included the victim's fingernail clippings. The lab also tested Johnston's shoes, socks and shorts.

Now, a lab in Ohio selected by the defense will test for DNA and a lab in Virginia will test and report back to the court their findings, according to an order signed by Orange Circuit Court Judge Bob Wattles.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Obama names Martin to federal appeals court

Posted on Fri, Jun. 19, 2009


President Obama on Friday nominated U.S. District Judge Beverly B. Martin of Atlanta to fill a vacant seat on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Martin, a former U.S. attorney in Macon, has been on the district court bench since 2000, when she was appointed by President Clinton.

If confirmed by the Senate, the 53-year-old Martin would fill a spot on the 12-member appeals court left by Judge R. Lanier Anderson III, who assumed senior status Feb. 1.

She is Obama's first appointee to the court, which hears federal appeals from Georgia, Alabama and Florida. Among the other 11 active judges, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan appointed one each, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton four a piece, and George W. Bush one, Judge William H. Pryor Jr., who was the last to be named.

Martin was one of two appeals court nominations by Obama on Friday. He also nominated Judge Joseph A. Greenaway Jr. of New Jersey for a seat in the Third Circuit, based in Philadelphia.

"Judge Greenaway and Judge Martin have distinguished themselves as first-rate jurists with unflagging integrity and evenhandedness," Obama said. "I am grateful for their service to the states of New Jersey and Georgia and look forward to adding their considerable wisdom and experience to the Third and 11th Circuit Courts."

Martin grew up in Macon, graduated from Stetson University and the University of Georgia School of Law.

After private practice in Macon, she worked for 10 years as an assistant state attorney general, then served as assistant U.S. attorney and then as the chief prosecutor in the Middle District of Georgia.

As a federal prosecutor, Martin served as the government's lead counsel in a variety of criminal matters, including drug conspiracy, firearms possession, and counterfeiting cases.

Her time on the U.S. District Court bench has been largely uncontroversial. Her rulings include one upholding Georgia's method of lethal injection for executions, in April 2008.

In February 2006, she also rejected an appeal by Wayne Williams, who was blamed in a string of child murders and disappearances in Atlanta 25 years ago, and in 2002 rejected a claim by environmental groups that state and federal agencies violated the Clean Air Act by approving metro Atlanta's $36 billion transportation plan.
© 2009 Ledger-Enquirer and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.

Death penalty decisions loom for Barack Obama

Death penalty decisions loom
By: Josh Gerstein
June 21, 2009 07:03 AM EST

For the first time in his career, President Barack Obama may soon confront one of the most weighty and unsavory decisions that a chief executive must make, whether to put a murder convict to death.

The decision could land on Obama’s desk within a matter of months, due to cases winding their way through the federal courts. And while Obama is on record supporting the death penalty for particularly heinous crimes, that’s a far cry from deciding whether a specific man’s life should be taken or spared.

“The death penalty in the abstract is one thing. The reality of the death penalty and all of its nasty details is a very different thing,” said Dianne Rust-Tierney of the National Coalition Against the Death Penalty. “This is something that this president is not the only one to face…..Having seen this thing in practice, you see it as a very different animal.”

Already, with little press attention or protest from the anti-death penalty camp, Attorney General Eric Holder has authorized federal prosecutors to seek the death penalty for at least four defendants since Obama took office. In all, 55 men and two women are on federal death row, death-penalty opponents say.

But the timing of Obama’s first death-penalty decision is likely to be dictated by a case pending in Washington, involving six federal death-row inmates at most imminent risk of execution. Their sentences were stayed by a federal judge, who is deciding whether to let their executions proceed, despite their challenge to federal execution protocols.

The cases involve three members of a Richmond, Va., gang sentenced to death in 1993 for drug-related murders; two men sentenced to death for abduction, sexual assault and murder of a 16-year-girl; and another man convicted of killing a prison guard. All six defendants are black.

If the stay is lifted and execution dates are set, any of the men could ask the president to step in. And clearly, death-penalty opponents hope they have a sympathetic ear in Obama, despite his support for the limited use of executions. They hope he will try to impose more safeguards in federal capital cases, and even spare some prisoners. And they note that Holder once authored a ground-breaking federal study that found racial disparities in death penalty cases.

As a state senator in Illinois, Obama pressed for death penalty reforms, including a requirement that interrogations in capital cases be audio- or videotaped. He also opposed adding gang-related crimes to those which could prompt the death penalty.

And in his book, “The Audacity of Hope,” Obama said he saw little evidence that the death penalty is a deterrent.

The Politico 44 Story Widget Requires Adobe Flash Player.

Still, he is on record supporting the ultimate penalty for “heinous” crimes — even in some cases where it has been found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. During last year’s campaign, he said he disagreed with a 5-4 decision the justices issued holding the death penalty unconstitutional in a child rape case where the child was not murdered.

“I have said repeatedly that I think that the death penalty should be applied in very narrow circumstances, for the most egregious of crimes,” Obama said following the court’s ruling last June. “I think that the rape of a small child, 6 or 8 years old, is a heinous crime, and if a state makes a decision that under narrow, limited, well-defined circumstances, the death penalty is at least potentially applicable, that that does not violate our Constitution.”

As president, Obama has been silent on the topic. A White House spokesman said the counsel’s office is aware of pending death penalty cases but had not started a formal policy review of how Obama might deal with them.

During the Clinton years, Holder helped oversee what he called a “very disturbing” study on racial disparities in the federal death penalty. Death penalty opponents would like to see Holder order a new study, return more autonomy for death penalty decisions to local federal prosecutors, and agree not to seek the federal death penalty in states which do not have it.

“The Attorney General is reviewing department policies across the board, including those dealing with capital cases, and has made no final determinations with respect to any new policies. As he said at his confirmation hearing, he is open to the idea of a new study,” Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller said. A new study would likely have the practical impact of deferring Obama’s first fateful decision on the death penalty.

But death penalty proponents say they doubt Obama will take a major stand against the death penalty as president.

“I don’t believe that Obama is going to rock the apple cart too much,” said Rusty Hubbarth of Justice for All. “The vast majority of Americans are fully in favor of capital punishment if the safeguards are there.”

One longtime opponent of the death penalty noted that all crime issues have a far lower profile now than in the 1990s – making support or opposition to the death penalty far less of a hot-button for a Democrat like Obama. “Fear of crime was one of the top issues. Now, it’s off the radar. The economy is Number 1, 2 and 3,” said Richard Dieter of the Death Penalty Information Center.

For much of President George W. Bush’s time in office, the federal death penalty was effectively halted while the Supreme Court considered cases challenging the so-called cocktail of lethal injection drugs used by most states and the federal government. In April 2008, the high court cleared away the main obstacle to further federal executions when the justices ruled, 7-2, that the lethal drugs didn’t present an unconstitutional risk of cruel and unusual punishment.

Clearing the way for a death sentence was nothing new for Bush when he took office in 2001. He presided over 152 executions as governor of Texas and three as president.

Likewise, President Bill Clinton was no stranger to what Justice Harry Blackmun once called “the machinery of death.” Clinton oversaw a total of four executions as governor of Arkansas. He famously underscored his tough-on-crime credentials by leaving the presidential campaign trail in 1992 to attend to the execution of a brain-damaged cop-killer, Ricky Ray Rector.

However, no federal inmate was executed on Clinton’s watch, after he twice postponed executions scheduled during his final months in office. .

The execution of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh under Bush in 2001 was the first execution in the federal system in nearly four decades.

Obama will likely be the first presidential novice to face the decision about whether to send a man to death since 1963, when President John F. Kennedy rejected a clemency request from a Michigan man sentenced to death in the federal courts for murder and kidnapping, Victor Feguer. He was hanged.

Even if the Washington cases moved forward, and the six men were cleared for execution, it could take months before it comes to Obama.

Execution dates are typically set by the Federal Bureau of Prisons at least 120 days in advance. Under federal regulations, a condemned inmate has 30 days from the notice to ask the president to commute the sentence, giving the president 90 days to mull the decision. Of course, the president can order a reprieve or commutation at any time, within or outside the official regulations.

Other cases are still in the courts.

In March, prosecutors in San Francisco said Holder “reauthorized” the request for the death penalty for a drug gang leader, Dennis Cyrus, charged with three drug-related murders. Jurors, who convicted Cyrus last month for the murders, are now considering whether to impose death. Holder also authorized seeking the death penalty for a U.S. soldier accused of war crimes in Iraq and for two inmates accused of killing a guard in a California federal prison.

In other cases, Holder has authorized plea bargains and declined the death penalty, including at least one case where Bush Administration officials were pressing for death.

More cases loom. On Tuesday, a federal judge in New York asked the Justice Department to move quickly to decide whether the government will seek the death penalty for a former Guantanamo Bay prisoner just flown into the U.S., Ahmed Ghailani, who is accused of involvement in the bombings of U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998.

And Obama will have to decide whether to pursue the death penalty in new military commissions he has proposed for war-on-terror prisoners still housed at Guantanamo.

Of course, deciding whether to grant clemency to a condemned inmate would not be the first life-or-death decision Obama has faced as commander-in-chief at a time of two wars. And in April, he authorized the use of lethal force against pirates holding a U.S. ship captain off the coast of Somalia. Three pirates were killed.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

NAACP top exec says cop-killer conviction was built on 'lies'

Jan Skutch | Morris News Service

Friday, June 19, 2009 8:42 a.m.

SAVANNAH -- If the conviction of Troy Anthony Davis and his subsequent death sentencing resulted from "lies," then a "cop killer" has remained at large for 18 years, the top executive of the national NAACP says.

That is what occurred, asserted Benjamin Jealous, president and chief executive officer of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and it demands that Chatham County District Attorney Larry Chisolm reopen the case.

"The interest of the state is in the truth," he told the Savannah Morning News in an interview.

Jealous was in Savannah Friday as part of "I AM TROY," a grassroots campaign and petition drive to spare Davis from execution at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison near Jackson.

The campaign is part of a nationwide initiative.

Davis, 38, was convicted and sentenced to die in 1991 for the murder of off-duty Savannah police officer Mark Allen MacPhail.

A litany of appeals has failed to sway various courts, although Davis has evaded execution three times.

On Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to consider the latest challenge by attorneys for Davis.

Jealous, along with state and Savannah Branch NAACP groups, wants Chisolm to reopen the case and find the assailant who is truly guilty.

They say seven of the nine state witnesses at the original trial have recanted their testimony. Execution of Davis will mean a possibly innocent man will die, they further argue.

Central to the position taken by Jealous is the testimony of seven of the nine witnesses.

Their trial testimonies were "lies," he said.

"If Troy Davis was convicted on lies, then the truth is: A killer's on the loose," he said.

The witnesses did not just question their prior statements.

"They contradicted it," he said.

By "voluntarily" coming forward and changing their testimony, each has opened him or herself to prosecution on charges of perjury, Jealous said.

He called it reasonable to believe that if the Davis jury had heard what the witnesses say now, "Troy Davis would not have been convicted."

But Jealous said Georgia courts have not listened to calls to air the new evidence that he called compelling.

He said the questionable testimony resulted from "multiple levels of coercion" - fear of "bad actors in the community," other witnesses or fear of police, he said.

Jealous, whose family was in law enforcement, said he understands the "fraternity" among police officers and the desire for resolution when one of their own is slain.

"I don't ascribe any bad motives," he said.

From the Friday, June 19, 2009 online edition of The Augusta Chronicle

Monday, 15 June 2009

Legal stalling is packing Death Row

Tom Harman

Monday, June 15, 2009

Legal executions have been the law of the land in California since the late 1800s. They were briefly abolished by the state Supreme Court in 1972 and reinstated by the voters in 1978. Yet only 13 executions have taken place in the 37 years since the death penalty was reinstated.

Executions are routinely stalled by legal maneuverings that would try the patience of Job. As a result, Death Row is bursting at the seams - 680 inmates remain there, waiting decades for their appeals to run their course.

Clearly California can't afford the dysfunctional death penalty system in place. One could argue that the endless delays and legal maneuvering by death penalty opponents contribute most to the state's death penalty costs. Nationwide, the average time from conviction to execution is 12 years. In California, it is almost 25 years. If death sentences were carried out at the pace of the rest of the nation, costs to the state would be greatly diminished. Earlier this month, the California Supreme Court upheld the death sentence of Richard Allen Davis, the killer of 12-year-old Polly Klaas. Klaas was kidnapped from her home during a slumber party with her friends and brutally murdered. In the time it has taken California to process Davis' appeal, Polly would have finished high school, college and been on the road to achieving her dreams. Her future was viciously cut short by Davis, yet there seems to be no end to Davis' future in our prison system. This is not right and it is not what the voters intended. It is certainly not what the families of victims should have to endure, as they wait patiently for justice to be done.

In 2008, the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice issued a report stating that the death penalty system in California was failing. In California, as of 2008, 30 inmates had been on Death Row for more than 25 years, 119 for more than 20 years and 240 for more than 15 years. Is California doing something wrong? Absolutely.

Delays in obtaining legal counsel, the appeals process, court-ordered moratoriums and other stalling tactics are routine. These delays ultimately place more value on the life of a convicted criminal than on that of the victim. I believe this is unacceptable to the victims, their families and the voters.

The sad truth in California is that killers on Death Row are far more likely to die of natural causes than at the hands of the state. As the commission noted, the interminable delays that have become the hallmark of the system have weakened the death penalty's effect on deterring crime.

One thing is certain: Californians have not shied away from their support of capital punishment. Since it was reinstated, the voters have made no effort to repeal the death penalty and, in fact, have supported ballot measures such as the "three strikes" law that impose harsher punishments for violent or repeat offenders. The simple fact is that execution for those who commit the most horrible of crimes is the law.

Advocates on both sides of this debate can agree on one point - the death penalty system in California is broken and unworkable. As long as the citizens of California continue to support the death penalty, it is the job of the Legislature to fix this dysfunctional system. If lawmakers don't, then the citizens of California will do it themselves through the initiative process. As it stands now, justice isn't being served for anyone.

Tom Harman, R-Huntingdon Beach, has served in the Legislature since 2000.