Rigged Texas 'justice' Texas justice, it has long been clear, probably should replace "jumbo shrimp" as the handiest example of an oxymoron. But even by Lone Star standards, the case of Delma Banks is appalling. Until the U.S. Supreme Court overturned his death sentence Tuesday, Mr. Banks had been on death row since 1980, after being convicted of murdering a co-worker at a Texarkana steak house. Mr. Banks came within 10 minutes of execution last March before the Court granted a stay and agreed to hear his appeal. In its 7-2 decision, the Court chillingly concluded that prosecutors had deliberately and illegally failed to share information that would have reduced the likelihood that the jury would have imposed the death penalty. The majority opinion, written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, also condemned the prosecution for allowing its witnesses to testify untruthfully. Moreover, the Court's decision represented a stinging rebuke of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which in 2002 rejected Mr. Banks' appeal, in part on the astonishing grounds that he had failed to uncover the evidence withheld by the prosecution. Significantly, Chief Justice William Rehnquist joined the majority in the Banks ruling, and even Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas were unable to mount much of a dissent. Justice Thomas argued that the undisclosed evidence might not have made a difference, but acknowledged it was "a very close question." (That raises a question of its own: Is it acceptable to execute someone on a close call?) The Supreme Court will have a chance soon to revisit, pardon the expression, Texas justice. The state will figure prominently in the Court's review of executions of inmates for crimes committed while they were juveniles. Texas has proudly amassed over half the nation's total of such executions. During his governorship, George W. Bush shared Texans' unrivaled zeal for the death penalty. It's too bad he lacked the moral compass to challenge the judicial bloodlust that shames his state. (source: The Courier-Journal) Feb. 28, 2004 Rick, John, W and the execution circus By CRAGG HINES, Houston Chronicle As soon as Rick Perry gets through reimbursing rich friends for the Bahamas junket, the governor needs to sit himself down and read Banks v. Dretke. It's much more important than any foolish ethical lapse. It's literally about life and death. The Supreme Court decision last week is yet another indictment of Texas' zealous and, in too many instances, malevolent administration of capital cases which Perry so staunchly and blindly defends. Perry was prepared to let Delma Banks Jr. be killed, despite the glaring mishandling of the murder case against him by Bowie County prosecutors. This is the same Perry who refused to sign into law a bipartisan bill passed in the 2001 legislative session outlawing the execution of the mentally retarded. After Perry has finished reading Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's opinion and has passed it around the Legislature, he needs to send copies to President Bush and Sen. John Edwards, the Democratic presidential contender whose full-throated defense of the death penalty in Thursday night's debate at Los Angeles marks him as his party's latest sellout on one of the central moral issues of our time. Sen. John Kerry, who is the leading Democratic contender and supports the death penalty only in terrorism cases, reminded Edwards that more than 100 death-row inmates have been released in recent years because DNA evidence showed "they didn't commit the crimes of which they were convicted." Edwards said that was "a very serious issue," but he was not to be deterred in his commitment to state-sponsored executions. Given the mountain of evidence that has been piled up about maladministration in capital cases in Texas, the death-league leader, as well as in other states, Bush's claim that he is "absolutely confident" that all 154 persons executed on his watch as governor were guilty is not credible. Banks was within 10 minutes of being executed last March when the Supreme Court, urged on by a group of former federal judges, stepped in and took up a review of his mangled case. Perry, meantime, was prepared, in the state's name, to allow Banks to go to his death despite demonstrable misconduct by prosecutors. Ginsburg, in writing for the 7-2 Banks majority, said district attorneys and their staff have an obligation to "come clean" with defendants. Perry has no less of an obligation. His strenuous support for the death penalty, like that of Bush before him, is not tenable in the face of cases such as Banks'. Perry, Bush and, to some extent, Edwards seem to be saying: Don't confuse me with the facts. Texas governors as well as the state Board of Pardons and Paroles, have an obligation to conduct detailed reviews in captial-punishment cases that come before them. In light of the Supreme Court's detailing of what went wrong in Banks' prosecution, Perry and the board cannot seriously contend that any sort of rigorous analysis occurred in this case. Prosecutors lied and allowed (encouraged, I think we can venture) two of its witnesses to lie at Banks' trial. One was a police informant who lied about being paid by law enforcement officials and whose own drug offenses were excused. A prosecutor assured jurors that the witness "has been open and honest with you in every way." Another witness who couldn't keep his story straight was extensively coached by prosecutors but then lied to the jury about such preparation. No criminal case, but especially one in which the death penalty is sought, can be allowed to stand on such a fraudulent foundation. As Ginsburg wrote: "A rule declaring `prosecutor may hide, defendant must seek,' is not tenable ... ." The Banks case is just one example of how the death penalty, in addition to being state-condoned barbarism, is fatally and irredeemably flawed in terms of fairness and procedure. In that light, it was sad to see Edwards beating the drum for a continuation of the death penalty, a practice that this nation, alone among Western democracies, shares with such exemplary regimes as China, Iran, Egypt and Saudi ("Nothing like a stoning to get the day going") Arabia. In a calculated pander, Edwards invoked the shocking racially motivated 1998 incident from Jasper County. "Those men who dragged James Byrd behind the truck in Texas, they deserve the death penalty," Edward said. That's a cheap, easy position that not even the Byrd family, in its extended torment, took. Edwards belied any racial concern when he refused the opportunity, offered by candidate Al Sharpton, to support a death-penalty moratorium until the manifold problems, including racial disparity, are addressed. "No, I would not," Edwards said. He should be ashamed of himself. ---- Source : Houston Chronicle (Hines is a Houston Chronicle columnist based in Washington, D.C. Feb. 28, 2004 A death penalty disgrace Editorial, The Tennessean Americans may disagree strongly about the death penalty, but they should have no disagreement about the need for prosecutors to treat capital cases with fairness. A 7-2 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court came down this week on the side of integrity in a Texas case where the prosecution's conduct was clearly out of bounds. ''Prosecutors' dishonest conduct or unwarranted concealment should attract no judicial approbation,'' Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in the majority opinion. ''A rule declaring 'prosecutor may hide, defendant must seek,' is not tenable in a system constitutionally bound to accord defendants due process.'' Only Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas opposed the majority on the issue of whether additional information about Delma Banks Jr. would have spared his life. Prosecutors withheld vital information from Banks' lawyers during the sentencing portion of a 1980 murder trial. The defense documented that prosecutors not only allowed key witnesses to lie on the stand, they also hid the evidence over years of appeals. As a result of the ruling, Banks will no longer face the death penalty. With a separate 9-0 ruling, Banks also will be allowed to appeal his murder conviction because prosecutors may have withheld evidence during his trial. Banks was convicted of killing a 16-year-old boy for his automobile. The case is a particularly heinous one. The ruling probably won't change a thing in other death-penalty cases because this is an unusual set of circumstances. Yet, it should change the process in Texas in which execution occurs at a wholesale level. Two years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a federal appeals court decision upholding a Texas death sentence where prosecutors were accused of deliberately purging a jury of eligible blacks. The court's decision in Banks also should be an important lesson for all Americans. The system of capital punishment has long struggled with incompetent counsel. It can't abide dishonest prosecutors. --- Source : The Tennessean