States grapple with restitution for the wrongfully convicted

Glen Edward Chapman’s story is repeated across the country.

COLORADO SPRINGS — Robert Dewey spent almost 18 years in prison for a murder he did not commit. Now he spends his time waiting. Waiting for food stamps, or his monthly $698 disability check. Swallowing painkillers and waiting for his wrenched back to stop aching. Waiting for the state to repay him for lost time.

…. Colorado is one of 23 states that have no system to compensate the wrongfully convicted. It does not provide a formal network of counseling, education or other assistance, which advocacy groups like the Innocence Project say aggravates an already difficult and meager transition back to civilian life.

To read the rest, click here.

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Former executioner changes sides

Jerry Givens executed 62 people.

His routine and conviction never wavered. He’d shave the person’s head, lay his hand on the bald pate and ask for God’s forgiveness for the condemned. Then, he would strap the person into Virginia’s electric chair.

Read the rest of the story here.

Prosecuting the prosecutor

This is the prosecutor who put Michael Morton in a Texas prison for 25 years by suppressing evidence. Here’s a story by Joe Nocera, from The New York Times.

-CB

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In just about a month from now, Texas will witness a rare event: a former prosecutor is going to be held to account for alleged prosecutorial misconduct.

He is Ken Anderson, who for nearly 17 years was the district attorney in Williamson County, a fast-growing suburb of Austin. (In 2002, Gov. Rick Perry made him a district judge.) As Pamela Colloff writes, in a brilliant two-part series in Texas Monthly, Anderson was the kind of prosecutor who “routinely asked for, and won, harsh sentences and fought to keep offenders in prison long after they became eligible for parole.”

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(This is the famous case in which a bloody bandana was found near the scene, but its existence was hidden for years.)

Later in the NYT story we read:

In truth, Anderson isn’t the only Williamson County prosecutor who faced consequences as a result of the Morton case. His successor, John Bradley, was the one who had fought for years against the DNA testing of the bandana. Seven months after Morton was set free, Bradley, who had always been a shoo-in for re-election as district attorney, was resoundingly defeated.

To read the rest of the story, click here.

Another innocent man finally freed

Damon A. Thibodeaux,  who spent 15 years on death row for a murder he did not commit was released Friday from prison in an exoneration brought about by the Innocence Project.

Read the rest of the story here.

Great coverage of Ed Chapman’s story

Glen Edward Chapman, or “Ed,” was exonerated in 2008 after spending 15 years on death row for crimes he did not commit. Though North Carolina is one of the 27 states with statutes that provide some level of compensation for the wrongfully convicted, the state continues to refuse Chapman any compensation for the loss of his freedom, reputation, family, friends and much more.

Click here for the full story.

RJA saves a life

Those of you involved in advocating for the passage of the NC Racial Justice Act in 2010 can take heart! The first case to be tested under its auspices has resulted in commutation to life without parole.

Read the story here.

Fourth Annual Freedom Ball!

Judge overturns 1991 murder conviction, death sentence

WILMINGTON – The second-longest serving inmate on Delaware’s death row may be freed on bail as soon as next week.

At a hearing that left prosecutors speechless today, Superior Court Judge John A. Parkins overturned the conviction and death sentence against Jermaine Marlow Wright for the 1991 slaying of liquor store clerk Phillip Seifert. To read the full story, click here.

Racial Justice Act ‘fix’ would in essence end it

Racial Justice Act ‘fix’ would in essence end it

North Carolina’s prosecutors apparently don’t want to defend their death-penalty decisions against claims of racial prejudice. Simple justice demands otherwise. The General Assembly should leave the state’s Racial Justice Act alone.

The 2009 law allows the use of statistics to demonstrate that racial bias played a significant role in either sentencing or in prosecutors’ decision to seek the death penalty. If a claim is successful, the inmate’s sentence is reduced to life without parole.

A Michigan State University study showed that a North Carolina defendant is 2.6 times more likely to be sentenced to death if at least one of the victims is white, and that of 159 people on death row at the time of the study, 31 had all-white juries and 38 had only one person of color on the jury.

Not surprisingly, almost every African-American on death row is seeking a review. Prosecutors claim, in a letter to the state Senate seeking repeal of the law, that this will clog the court system.

“If you do not address this issue quickly, the criminal justice system will be saddled with litigation that will crush an already under-funded and overburdened system,” wrote Johnston County District Attorney Susan Doyle, president of the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys.

The biggest problem yet visible has been caused by the prosecutors themselves. In Cumberland County they tried to stall proceedings by asking that a judge be disqualified because he might be a witness. The judge had nothing to do with the original case. He is, however, an African-American.

House Republicans have tried to undermine the law by changing a Senate-passed bill dealing with synthetic marijuana to instead require that defendants challenging actions under the Racial Justice Act prove discriminatory intent. This would be a virtually insurmountable barrier.

The purpose of the parliamentary maneuver is to get around the rules that only bills already passed in both houses can be considered during the special session at month’s end. “The House is attempting a procedural maneuver to eliminate public debate,” said Sen. Floyd McKissick, D-Durham, an architect of the act.

“There is agreement that occasionally race plays a role in sentencing,” House Minority Leader Joe Hackney, D-Chapel Hill, said during a visit to the Citizen-Times editorial board. “(The Racial Justice Act) is an appropriate exercise of caution.”

The Racial Justice Act cannot set anyone free, despite claims made in an incendiary mailer delivered to voters late in the 2010 campaign against then-Sen. John Snow, D-Murphy. Most Death Row inmates were convicted since North Carolina eliminated parole for capital murder in 1994, and even those convicted before 1994 would have to go through a parole hearing before release.

The Senate already has twice refused to vote on the bill, each time sending it to the Judiciary Committee. Senate Majority Leader Phil Berger, R-Eden, doesn’t know if it will come up this month, but “It’s certainly on the radar screen.”

It should stay in committee. North Carolina must not backslide in this important move toward racial justice.

Death Penalty Debate: New Study On Race & Jury Selection

Executions have been on hold in NC for the past five years and some new information may further complicate the issue. Central Prison in Raleigh is home to North Carolina’s 157 death row inmates. Some of them have been there since 1985. Twenty-eight of them, all convicted of first degree murder, are from Eastern Carolina. But with the death penalty on hold the debate rages about what exactly to do with these killers, and what it means for all involved.

Tom Bennett is the Executive Director for the NC Victim Assistance Network. He says, “Crime victims are getting yanked around emotionally and it’s despicable. It’s a terrible thing to do to people.” While Bennett advocates for crime victims and their families, others fight for those facing death. Tye Hunter is the Executive Director for the Center for Death Penalty Litigation. Hunter says, “Are we going to kill people based on, ya know they’re probably right?” Hunter’s center represents 40 people currently on death row.

“When people support the death penalty one of their assumptions is there’s no question about the person’s guilt, that any questions about the person’s guilt has been resolved in the accused’s favor and that lots of courts and judges have looked at this. But our system, it’s not that accurate.” Hunter says the cases of death row inmates having their convictions tossed out and set free are a clear example of a broken system. Some of those exonerations helped lead to the current death penalty moratorium. Since then, three more people have been set free, while others wait. So where ultimately is the debate over the death penalty headed? More litigation certainly could be filed, but Bennett suggests letting voters decide.

“I would love to see this state have a referendum on the death penalty and abide by whatever the public decides.” But Hunter says it’s not quite that simple. Several current legal challenges need to be resolved in the courts, such as how North Carolina executes those on death row, execution protocol, and whether lethal injection constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. And the argument over the role race plays is about to be ratcheted up. Hunter says, “We’re gonna show the court system some things and they are not going to like it. I don’t like it. It’s uncomfortable.”

Video available here: Death Penalty Debate: New Study On Race & Jury Selection.