Nov. 15


Growing introspection in death-penalty capital

Before each execution in Texas, lawyers plead with the courts to keep
their clients alive. Some claim innocence, others a flawed case. But ever
since 280 boxes of uncatalogued evidence were found disintegrating in a
Houston Police Department warehouse in August, those arguments have taken
on greater meaning in Harris County, long known as the death-penalty
capital of the world.

The dusty boxes - mislabeled and improperly stored - contain biological,
ballistic, and other evidence from 8,000 county cases, mostly murders, of
the past quarter century. So far, officials have not heeded calls to halt
executions until the evidence is sorted through. Meanwhile, a second
Houston man has been released from prison for a rape he did not commit.

These are the latest developments in the saga of the disgraced Houston
Police Department (HPD) crime lab, which was shut down two years ago
following reports of shoddy scientific practices.

And while executions occur here routinely, the crime-lab scandal, and the
cries of bungled evidence that precede each scheduled execution, have sown
new hesitation and doubt among Texans who had come to see DNA evidence as

Whether it will have any lasting impact on attitudes about the death
penalty here is yet to be seen, but opponents of capital punishment are
hopeful. While a new poll shows that 75 % of Texans still support the
death penalty, a growing majority, 70 %, also believe innocent people have
been put to death.

"This is a deeply entrenched issue and it takes a long time to generate
movement," says David Dow, a University of Houston law professor and
director of the Texas Innocence Project. "But we are getting people to
hesitate who would not ordinarily hesitate."

Among those with misgivings are Houston Police Chief Harold Hurtt and John
Whitmire, chairman of the state Senate Committee on Criminal Justice and a
strong death-penalty supporter, who have called for a moratorium on
executions in Harris County until the 280 boxes are sifted through.

In a letter calling for a moratorium, Senator Whitmire told Gov. Rick
Perry that he believes Harris County's criminal-justice system is
"broken." He sees halting executions not only as the moral thing to do,
but also as a matter of credibility for the state.

"I think the state is being harmed when you have the police chief of your
largest metropolitan city recommending a suspension of executions," says
Whitmire. "I can only imagine what people in the rest of the country think
about that."

Governor Perry rejected those calls, saying he is looking at the facts of
each case individually. Since the boxes were discovered, 6 Harris County
inmates have been put to death and three more are scheduled for execution
by the end of the year.

Frances Newton is one of them. She was convicted and sentenced to death
for killing her estranged husband and two children with her boyfriend's
pistol in 1987. The motive, said prosecutors, was their insurance money.

Her lawyers are claiming that the ballistics testing may have been botched
by HPD's crime lab and that the bullets at the crime scene did not come
from the gun in question. Last week, they filed a petition seeking a
120-day reprieve to further investigate the case.

If none of that is resolved and she is executed on Dec. 1, Newton's will
be just one more in a string of death-row cases that may rattle the
residents of Harris County.

"Frankly, there is no way of knowing at the present time how much damage
there will be because of the [Houston crime lab]," says Texas Court of
Criminal Appeals Judge Barbara Hervey.

The question, she says, is whether Texas will be better off. Because of
the growing number of inmates who have been found innocent, her goal is to
make sure that each of the state's nine law schools have innocence
projects, like those at the University of Houston and the University of

To that end, she persuaded the Court of Criminal Appeals to help sponsor a
"how to" conference for law schools last week, and shared a popular
theory: "If there are 150,000 people in Texas prisons and the system is
right 99.9 percent of the time, then 150 people are falsely imprisoned."

Two Harris County inmates have been released from prison since the crime
lab was shut down. Last year, Josiah Sutton was released from a 25-year
sentence for rape that DNA retesting proved he did not commit. And last
month, George Rodriguez, having served 17 years of a 60-year sentence for
kidnapping and rape, was released because of flawed testimony from the

Problems within the HPD crime lab "have changed the entire death-penalty
debate in Texas," says Dow, "but those particular problems are going to
solved. The question is whether Texans will conclude that the
criminal-justice system has been irretrievably damaged or whether they
think it is just an isolated incident and, when it's fixed, it will be
back to business as usual."

(source: Christian Science Monitor)


Sentence of death begets long legal road----Convicted man to learn fate
Jan. 26

Child-killer George Williams Jr. will become the 33rd murderer convicted
in San Diego County to be awaiting execution if a judge follows a jury's
recommendation in two months.

Williams, 49, was convicted Sept. 28 of the 1986 kidnapping, rape and
murder of 14-year-old Rickieann Blake of Chula Vista. The same jury Nov. 8
recommended to San Diego Superior Court Judge David J. Danielsen that the
former Indiana construction worker be executed for his crimes.

Danielsen set a sentencing hearing Jan. 26 at which he has the option of
following the recommendation, as is usually the case in death penalty
trials, or reducing the penalty to life in prison without the possibility
of parole.

Prosecutors said Williams will likely be an old man by the time his death
sentence is carried out, assuming the judge follows the jury's
recommendation and his ruling is not overturned on appeal.

20 years is about how long prosecutors expect death penalty cases like
Williams' case to work through state and federal appeals courts.

"It's too long," said Deputy District Attorney Jeff Dusek, who prosecuted
Williams. "It's extremely frustrating that the punishment is not carried
out in a timely manner, but there's nothing we, as prosecutors, can do
about it."

The 4 San Diego County defendants on death row closest to execution are
"nowhere near" the end, said Gary Schons, supervising assistant attorney
general in the San Diego office.

Brothers Hector and Ronald Ayala, Richard Gonzales Samayoa and Rudolph
Roybal have all been through appeals on the state level. Their appeals are
pending in federal court, Schons said.

He said there's no way to say how long the federal appeals will take, and
Samayoa also has additional matters being heard concurrently at the state

Most of the other San Diego defendants are at far earlier stages, Schons
said. Many are still waiting for the courts to appoint defense attorneys
to their cases.

The Ayala brothers were convicted in separate trials in 1989 for the April
1985 shooting deaths of three people in a Logan Heights automobile repair

Samayoa was convicted in 1988 of fatally bludgeoning a South San Diego
neighbor and her 2-year-old daughter in December 1985.

Roybal was convicted in 1992 of murdering a 65-year-old Oceanside woman in
her home in June 1989.

A 5th death row defendant whose trial was in San Diego, Kevin Cooper, came
within hours of execution in February before a federal appeals court
halted the execution and ordered further review of his claims of

Schons said Cooper isn't considered a San Diego case. His trial was moved
from San Bernardino County because of massive publicity there. Cooper was
convicted of the 1983 murder of four people in Chino Hills.

Death Penalty Focus, a California advocacy group opposed to the death
penalty, contends that it should surprise no one that death penalty cases
take years to move through the courts.

"This is about a process that leads to the death of an individual. This is
not like any other crime," said Lance Lindsey, the organization's
executive director. "This is super due process."

San Diego County accounts for about 5 % of the more than 600 inmates
condemned to death in California.

The only person convicted in San Diego County to be executed since the
death penalty was reinstituted in California in 1978 was Robert Alton
Harris, in April 1992. He was convicted of killing two 16-year-old Mira
Mesa boys in July 1978 after stealing their car. When he was executed in
the gas chamber, Harris was the 1st person put to death in California in
25 years.

The most recent death row inmate to be executed was Steven Wayne Anderson.
Anderson's was the 10th execution in California since the death penalty
was reinstituted. He was convicted in July 1981 of burglarizing the home
of an 81-year-old piano teacher in San Bernardino County, shooting her to
death and then eating a meal of noodles and eggs in her kitchen. He was
executed by lethal injection Jan. 29, 2002.

(source: San Diego Union Tribune)



Since 1989, at least 200 inmates have been released from California
prisons after courts found that they were unjustly convicted. This figure
includes mass exonerations in the Ramparts police scandal in Los Angeles
and in the Kern County ritual child sex-abuse cases, as well as dozens of
individual cases in which an innocent person was erroneously convicted of
murder, sexual assault, robbery, a three-strikes violation, or a less
serious crime. The figure does not include two other types of wrongful
convictions that are more common: people who were denied a fair trial but
were probably guilty, and people who were convicted on more serious
charges than their actual crimes warranted.

In trying to understand the reasons behind California's wrongful
conviction problem, San Francisco did a detailed analysis of 30 cases from
around the state, culled from a variety of sources. All but one of the
cases involved people serving life or very long sentences. We did not look
at exonerations involving death sentences (the single exception: one
inmate whose original sentence of death was reduced on appeal to life
without parole; he served another 11 years before new evidence emerged,
leading to his release). We left out the 100 to 150 Ramparts cases, which
mostly involved shorter sentences, as well as most of the Kern County
sex-abuse cases; both would have slanted the sample, especially the
findings related to police and prosecutorial misconduct.


Factors leading to wrongful conviction:

60 % of the wrongful convictions involved at least 1 mistaken eyewitness

33 % involved false testimony by a key witness at trial

20 % involved false testimony by an informant at trial

63 % entailed misconduct or serious error by police

50 % entailed misconduct or serious error by prosecutors at trial

43 % involved serious errors by defense lawyers at trial

13 % involved incorrect lab results or faulty science


10 % of the wrongful convictions were overturned on direct appeal

63 % were overturned on a habeas petition in the state courts*

27 % were overturned on a habeas petition in the federal courts*

13 % were overturned on a habeas petition by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court
of Appeals*

23 % were overturned as a result of DNA testing

Average length of incarceration: 13 years

Average compensation theoretically owed by state (assuming $100 for each
day of wrongful imprisonment): $474,500

*Includes cases that had multiple appeals.


African American: 43 %

White: 40 %

Latino: 10 %

Asian American: 3 %

Other: 3 %


Los Angeles: 37 % (11 cases, including 4 from Long Beach, or 13 % of

Orange County: 13 % (4 cases)

San Diego County: 10 % (3 cases)

Bay Area counties: 20 % (6 cases)


NAME: Dwayne McKinney

Race: African American

Jurisdiction: Orange County

Crime: 1st-degree murder in the 1980 killing of a Burger King manager
during an armed robbery

Date convicted: 1982; retried and reconvicted in 1987

Sentence: life without parole (D.A. had sought the death penalty)

Release: 2000; Orange County Superior Court

Reason: conviction vacated

D.A. response: when new evidence was presented, D.A. requested that
conviction be vacated and McKinney be released

Reasons cited by court and/or attorneys for wrongful conviction/reversal:
eyewitness error, police misconduct (lineup was tainted, police lied to
witnesses that McKinney had been caught with proceeds), ineffective
assistance of counsel

Years wrongfully imprisoned: 19

Compensation/lawsuit: state claim denied, pending appeal; suit against
trial lawyers arguing ineffective assistance of counsel

Other: the prosecutor in the case - Tony Rackauckas -is now D.A. of Orange

NAME: Oscar Lee Morris

Race: African American

Jurisdiction: Long Beach/Los Angeles County

Crime: 1st-degree murder of a gay man in a bathhouse in 1978

Date convicted: 1983

Sentence: originally death; changed to life without parole by California
Supreme Court in 1988

Release: 2000; Los Angeles Superior Court (habeas)

Reason: conviction overturned, new trial granted

D.A. response: declined to retry

Reasons cited by court and/or attorneys for wrongful conviction/reversal:
perjury by informant, prosecutorial misconduct (failure to disclose
leniency deal)

Years wrongfully imprisoned: 16

Compensation/lawsuit: lost a federal civil rights lawsuit

Other: Although prosecutor Arthur Jean Jr.'s behavior in the case -
withholding evidence that the key witness had been given preferential
treatment - drew the wrath of the California Supreme Court at a time when
it upheld virtually every death sentence, the Court did not grant Morris a
new trial. Jean became a Los Angeles Superior Court judge in 1987.
Morris's conviction was finally overturned after his prime accuser
recanted on his deathbed. As judge, Jean later dismissed the case against
Thomas Lee Goldstein in 2004.

(source: San Francisco Magazine)


Death penalty is the best option

Late last week a California jury convicted Scott Peterson of murdering his
wife, Laci, and their unborn son.

The issue made national headlines shortly after Peterson reported his
27-year-old wife missing on Dec. 24, 2002. Although Peterson assisted in a
month-long search for his wife and maintained his innocence, police
suspected him of her disappearance. He was arrested in April 2003 shortly
after remains of his wife and unborn son had been found along the San
Francisco Bay.

His faade as a victim and loving husband was eventually unveiled. Fresno
resident Amber Frey helped counter his story when she told the world that
she had been having a relationship with Peterson under the assumption that
he had been single. During his trial, it also came out that he had had two
previous affairs during his five-year marriage to Laci.

Throughout the trial, prosecutors worked to prove that Peterson killed his
wife that Christmas Eve morning and dumped her body, along with a homemade
anchor, off the bay.

Numerous books, newspaper and magazine articles and television reports
have shown Petersons web of lies.

I must say, I was glad to hear of the conviction, although I was fearful
after two jurors were replaced. I knew this was a tactic of the defense to
try to stack the jury in their favor. However, like Petersons smug
performance, this ploy failed to provide the desired results.

Justice won, and a man who actually devised a plan to kill his wife and
walk away free will pay the consequences.

The next question, which will be decided later this month, is whether he
should be sentenced to life in prison or given the death penalty.

As a Christian, I value life. But Im afraid I have to lean in favor of the
death penalty.

I must admit, part of my reasoning is materialistic. If Peterson is
sentenced to life in prison, guess who has to pay for it. Yes, the
taxpayers. They would have to pay for his boarding, food and medical
bills. Plus, for some reason, some prisons these days offer cable
television and other amenities. It would seem all one would have to do to
receive an all-expenses-paid vacation is to commit a crime.

My other reason for favoring the death penalty is when it appears that a
person cannot be reformed after committing such a horrendous crime. I find
it hard to believe that someone so devious as to premeditate a murder and
to consider themselves as above the law and society as to think they could
get away with it. Never has Peterson admitted to killing his wife. Not
only that, but the whole incident seemed to be a game to him. He told one
lie after another, all the while thinking the police, both his and Lacis
family, the media and the public were stupid enough to be manipulated by
his "aw shucks" attitude.

That kind of person scares me and, I have trouble believing someone so
devious and calculating can deserve a break.

(source: Cathy Higgins, Sand Mountain Reporter)


Jury rejects death penalty in third trial

After finding Cecil Barriner guilty of 2 counts of 1st degree murder, a
jury on Friday spared his life by handing down 2 sentences of life in

Although he will spend the rest of his days behind bars without chance for
parole, the jurys sentencing decision was a victory for Barriner, who
twice before had been sent to Missouris death row for the brutal stabbing
deaths of two New Madrid County women. The Missouri Supreme Court
overturned both convictions.

In his 3rd trial, Barriner again was convicted of murdering Irene Sisk,
74, and her granddaughter Candy Sisk, 19, in their Tallapoosa home on Dec.
16, 1996. The proceedings were held in Boone County before a jury of seven
men and 5 women chosen in neighboring Callaway County. Barriner, 42, is a
former resident of Poplar Bluff.

The case was submitted to the jury late Thursday afternoon following two
days of testimony. After 7 hours of deliberations that concluded Friday
morning, the jury rendered the guilty verdicts.

When the trial went into the penalty phase, assistant attorney general
Kevin Zoellner urged jurors to sentence Barriner to death.

"Obviously he believes in the death penalty and is willing to impose it on
others," Zoellner said.

Zoellner, who assisted New Madrid County Prosecuting Attorney Lewis Recker
with the case, said the heinous nature of the crimes merited the ultimate
punishment. Both women were bound and then stabbed repeatedly before their
throats were slashed. Candy Sisk was sexually assaulted.

Pointing to Barriner, Zoellner said: "This man here enjoyed it." Defense
attorney Bradford Kessler acknowledged the jury would likely find the
aggravating factors required to impose a capital sentence were present in
this case. Nonetheless, he asked jurors to show mercy and reject Zoellners
call for vengeance.

"He is asking you to reduce yourselves to being the same type of person
you just found Cecil Barriner to be," Kessler said.

In rebuttal, Zoellner dismissed the notion that to sentence Barriner to
die is to become him.

"Mercy is for God," Zoellner said. "Unfortunately, down here on Earth we
have to deliver justice."

After deliberating about 90 minutes on sentence, the jury handed down its
recommendation of life in prison without parole, which was the only option
available other than the death sentence.

Senior Judge Frank Conley is scheduled to formally sentence Barriner on
Dec. 17. Conley has no discretion to set aside the jurys sentence and
impose the death penalty.

Juries in Dent and Warren counties separately convicted Barriner in 1999
and 2002. He received 2 death sentences following each trial.

The Supreme Court voted 5-2 in 2000 to reverse the Dent County verdict.

The court ruled the trial judge erroneously allowed the prosecution to
present irrelevant and prejudicial evidence. The high court overturned
result of the 2nd trial in 2003. The court, in a close 4-3 decision, said
the jury was wrongly prohibited from considering potentially exculpatory

The case is State of Missouri v. Cecil Barriner.

(source: Sikeston Standard Democrat)



CONTACT: National Lawyers Guild

Michael Avery,


National Lawyers Guild Urges Senate to Reject Alberto Gonzales as Attorney
General, Gonzales will Continue Ashcroft Policies that Threaten
Constitutional Democracy

The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) announced that it opposes the nomination
of Alberto Gonzales for the position of Attorney General.

The NLG condemned Gonzales for his approval of the torture of prisoners in
memos he adopted as White House Counsel. The memos explained how American
officials could escape legal liability for torture. Gonzales rejected the
applicability of the Geneva Conventions to prisoners taken during the "war
against terrorism," terming some of the Geneva provisions "quaint." The
Guild said that Gonzales's contempt for accepted international law
principles rendered him unfit to serve as the head of the Justice

NLG President Michael Avery declared that, "The Constitution requires that
the United States treat international treaties that it has signed as the
supreme law of the land in the United States. It is the solemn obligation
of the Attorney General to make sure that the United States complies with
international law. It would be outrageous for the nation's top law
enforcement officer to be contriving theories for American officials to
avoid accountability for actions such as the torture of prisoners."

The Guild also said that it was deeply concerned by Gonzales's record in
reviewing death penalty cases in Texas for then Governor Bush. An analysis
of Gonzales's memos to the governor demonstrated that he repeatedly
suppressed crucial facts that Bush should have considered in determining
whether to grant clemency, such as "ineffective counsel, conflict of
interest, mitigating evidence, even actual evidence of innocence."

The Guild said that Gonzales's radical ideological positions were
responsible for the right-wing litmus test that he employed to recommend
judicial nominees to President Bush. Gonzales's participation in the
drafting of the USA PATRIOT Act demonstrates that he will continue the
Ashcroft policy of sacrificing civil liberties in the name of the "war on

The Guild called upon the Democrats in the Senate to filibuster if
necessary to block the Gonzales nomination. NLG President Michael Avery
said, "The suggestion that has appeared in the media that Democrats may be
afraid to oppose Gonzales because he is a Latino is offensive. If Gonzales
were living in a Latin American country he would no doubt be a member of a
repressive oligarchy. It would be wonderful to have a Latino Attorney
General, but he or she should be someone who respects the rule of law."

The National Lawyers Guild is an association of attorneys, law students
and legal workers dedicated to the proposition that human rights are more
important than property rights.

(source: Common Dreams)


Father Gets Life In Prison For Starving Daughter

An Armstrong County man convicted Thursday in the starvation death of his
4-year-old daughter has dodged the death sentence.

A jury couldn't decide whether to sentence 42-year-old James Tatar to
death by lethal injection or life in prison. Under Pennsylvania law, a
life sentence is automatically imposed if a jury deadlocks on the question
of death.

The same jury decided Thursday that Tatar was guilty of first-degree
murder in the death of little Kristen. The girl's 11-and 1/2 pound body
was found stuffed into a picnic cooler that had been set out behind her
Parks Township house for trash pickup in August 2003, about a month after
she died.

Tatar and the girl's mother, 36-year-old Janet Crawford, were both charged
with criminal homicide in the girl's death.

Crawford pleaded guilty in September but won't learn from a judge until
next week what her sentence is from a judge.

(source: Associated Press)

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