Archive for May, 2006
Yesterday the Memphis Criminal Court rejected Sedley Alley’s appeal for the release of DNA evidence which can prove, once and for all, whether or not he is guilty of the 1985 murder of Suzanne Marie Collins. But Judge Higgs went even further than rejecting the argument. The judge refused to even hear the testimony of two expert witnesses flown in from out of state by the defense.
Gary Harmor, an expert on DNA testing from California, was prepared to testify about the specific items in the state’s possession, what sort of DNA could be extracted and tested from them, and what such DNA would prove. Seems pretty relevant to a decision as to whether or not DNA evidence should be released, right? Apparently not.
The defense also had a private investigator who has been looking into other possible culprits as well as misleading and withheld evidence. Collins had a boyfriend that she was leaving who matched the initial description of her kidnapper, but the police did no investigation of him. Such testimony could certainly help point to the problems in the conviction and explain why the clear cut answer provided by DNA testing was needed, don’t you think? Apparently Judge Higgs disagreed.
There is currently no execution date set for Sedley Alley, but we don’t know how long that will last. If such a date is set, the state of Tennessee may well execute an innocent man. But regardless of what happens over the next few days, it should be clear to everyone at this point that the capital appeals process is not about justice. Is is justice to allow a man to be executed without even testing all available evidence? Is is justice to refuse to hear from experts who have been studying the case?
But then that presupposes that what the state is interested in is justice. When talking about the death penalty, I’ve seen no evidence that that is the case.
ever watch larry brinton’s word on the street commentary on nashville’s nbc affiliate wsmv-tv?
while i’m still trying to wrap my mind around the angle of the hypotenuse from which larry came on this opinion piece – it’s the equivalent of a video blog – he did say something very interesting in the process…
“…executions seem to be more important to the news media than to the general public…”
that sounds like the right angle to me – even if larry and i are coming from different hypotenuses on this one…consider the recent 2005 virginia gubernatorial campaign…
the winner, democrat tim kaine, a catholic, opposed the death penalty on religious/moral grounds (though he was very clear that as governor he would carry out all of the state of virginia’s laws), and the loser, republican jerry kilgore, went out of his way to make his radical support of capital punishment a defining issue in the election – an election that in the end was not even close – virginia voters, roughly the equivalent of tennessee voters, said that the death penalty was a non-issue…
is there a lesson in that race for tennessee politicians???
we think so…check out larry’s piece…
peace out – <3
Just before the long Memorial Day weekend, the state of Tennessee decided to remember a veteran in a special way: with a death sentence. Daryl Holton received a death date of September 19th.
Holton, a veteran of the Gulf War, has been on death row since 1999, and is currently attempting to give up his appeals. Why would someone do this? Perhaps the answer lies in Daryl Holton’s serious mental illness. Holton suffers from serious depression with psychosis. In 1997, he murdered his four children because he believed that, since he and his wife had split up, that the children’s lives were ruined since they had to now grow up in a broken home.
Holton’s mental illness cannot be questioned. He has a long history of suicide attempts, and was in a military psychiatric facilities for a month. At his initial trial, Holton, driven by his mental illness, made all the decisions, rather than allowing for the legal expertise of his counsel to make decisions.
The idea that we could execute a man who is so clearly mentally ill, perhaps who even wants to die, is shocking. Sadly, Daryl Holton’s situation is far from unique. Right here in Tennessee, we have several veterans, including Gregory Thompson and Abu-Ali Abdur Rahman, who suffer from mental illness and yet sit on death row. When we honor our veterans, we need to remember those who suffer from serious mental disorders as well. People who suffer from mental illness need treatment, not executions.
you may have missed this exoneration that occurred almost simultaneously with the temporary reprieve of sedley alley…
DNA Testing Exonerates New York Man Who Might Have Been Executed
After spending more than a decade in jail for a crime he did not commit, Douglas Arthur Warney has been exonerated and will be freed from prison in New York based on DNA evidence. Police maintained that Warney had confessed to the crime. Warney is a poorly educated man with a history of delusions and suffering from an advanced case of AIDS. He originally faced the death penalty for the 1996 stabbing murder in Rochester, but was ultimately convicted of second-degree homicide and sentenced to 25 years in jail.
After spending more than a decade in jail for a crime he did not commit, Douglas Arthur Warney has been exonerated and will be freed from prison in New York based on DNA evidence. Police maintained that Warney had confessed to the crime. Warney is a poorly educated man with a history of delusions and suffering from an advanced case of AIDS. He originally faced the death penalty for the 1996 stabbing murder in Rochester, but was ultimately convicted of second-degree homicide and sentenced to 25 years in jail. Prosecutors tried to block recent DNA tests that revealed that blood found at the crime scene could not have come from Warney. The test concluded that the blood belonged to another man, Eldred L. Johnson, Jr., who has since confessed to being the sole killer in the crime and is in prison for a different killing and three other stabbings.
Though no forensic evidence linked Warney to the crime, prosecutors used his false confession – which defense attorneys say was based on facts fed to him by a homicide detective – to overcome weaknesses in the case. During Warney’s trial, prosecutors said that blood found at the crime that did not match the victim or Warney could have belonged to an accomplice, but that Warney was the killer based on his detailed confession. Despite providing details regarding the crime, Warney’s confession was also filled with inconsistencies. According to trial testimony, Mr. Warney told the detective he had driven to the victim’s house in his brother’s car, although the brother had not owned the car for six years before the murder; he said he disposed of his bloody clothes after the murder in a garbage can, but none were found in a search of the can, which had been buried in snow from the day of the crime; he also said he had an accomplice, naming a relative who, it turned out, was in a secure rehabilitation center.
Warney joins a long list of people who have falsely confessed to crimes they did not commit. “The cops created a false confession by feeding nonpublic details to Doug. Their conduct was criminal, plain and simple,” notes Peter Neufeld of the Innocence Project, one of the attorneys representing Warney. Based on the results of DNA testing and Johnson’s confession to the crime, prosecutors have agreed that the charges against Warney, who is now in a wheelchair, should be dismissed. (New York Times, May 16, 2006). See Innocence.
is a possible title for this stage in the life of paul dennis reid…
i moved to tennessee in july of 1996 and the tragic killings of 7 fast food workers in nashville and clarksville soon dominated the news on my television … eventually paul dennis reid was arrested, convicted and given death sentences for these killings…
it was soon apparent, and documented, that paul reid had serious mental health problems the symptoms of which you can gleam if you read the 92 page hand-written letter he wrote and are part of the court records in his case…
reid has a fatal date with the state of tennessee of june 28th but his sister, linda martiniano, has filed a request of the court to name her as a “next friend”, that would give her standing to intercede on his behalf because he is mentally incompetent…
this petition reveals once again the hidden victims of capital punishment, the family members of the condemned, who are “asked” to become survivors of a homicide victim as a sadly ironic counterpoint to the family members of random murder victims (or survivors of homicide victims)…
the tennessean story is below and tcask will be blogging more about this case, mental illness and the death penalty, and the failure of capital punishment as a policy response for murder victim’s family members … peace out – <3
Sister fights for killer Reid’s life
She seeks to carry on appeals process that he has given up Paul Dennis Reid
By SHEILA BURKE
Published: Saturday, 05/27/06
The sister of seven-time convicted murderer Paul Dennis Reid, who is scheduled to be executed next month after refusing to sign legal papers that would continue his appeals, has picked up the legal battle on behalf of her brother, seeking to stop the execution.
Reid, 48, terrorized Middle Tennessee in 1997, committing a string of fast-food robberies that left seven workers dead and another injured. He is scheduled to die by lethal injection June 28 for the stabbing deaths of two Clarksville Baskin-Robbins employees.
On Tuesday, Reid’s sister, Linda Martiniano, along with a state defense attorney and an investigator, filed a petition in Montgomery County Circuit Court asking a judge to stay the execution. The sister and the other petitioners want the court to designate them as “next friends” – people who know him and are acting in his best interest – because, they say, he is mentally incompetent.
Earlier this month, the Tennessee Supreme Court said Reid and another inmate could give up their appeals if they wished. But the court also allowed a mechanism for people close to them to file the appeals on behalf of prisoners who are not competent.
The legal documents say Reid is mentally ill, brain damaged and believes that he is being monitored and tormented by a military government. Reid also believes he was framed for the murders, the papers state.
“Actually, Paul Reid is at the point where he’s deteriorated so badly, there is no decision he can make free from his illness,” said Kelly Gleason, one of his attorneys.
One victims’ rights advocate, however, said Reid should be allowed to give up his appeals.
“He should be allowed to make the decision for himself,” said Verna Wyatt of You Have the Power. “He was competent when he committed the murders and he tried to cover it up and when he eluded police for several months.”
the tennessean editorializes today that the us supreme court will still have to address whether or not lethal injection is not “fit for a dog” (brad maclean, one of abu-ali’s attorneys) even though it declined to review the lethal injection protocol appeal of abu-ali abdur’rahman. the editorial correctly notes that tennessee attorney general paul summers made a misleading statement when he claimed that the refusal to hear the case confirms that lethal injection is not cruel and unusual … we at tcask reiterate the idea of speaking truth to power … here’s the editorial … peace out – <3
Lethal-injection flaw lingers
Published: Friday, 05/26/06
The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear a Tennessee case about its lethal injection protocol in executions, but that does not settle the issue, and it certainly doesn’t bring an end to similar cases.
The nation’s high court refused, without comment, to accept the case of death-row inmate Abu-Ali Abdur’Rahman. But other cases across the nation will keep the issue alive because of compelling arguments as to whether the method involves an unconstitutional use of cruel and unusual punishment. In fact, another Tennessee death-row inmate, Sedley Alley, is raising the same issue in court appeals.
As more is learned about the protocol, the harder it is to defend. When Bradley MacLean, one of Abdur’Rahman’s lawyers, said the protocol “is not fit for a dog,” he wasn’t being flippant; the drug Pavulon used in the protocol is forbidden from use on animals.
Increasingly, the lethal-injection protocol is being questioned because of concerns that it only masks pain and suffering. Pavulon, which is used after a drug that is supposed to render the inmate unconscious, is a paralyzing chemical; the third drug actually stops the heart. The legal challenges to the protocol claim that rendering a person unable to move, then injecting him with a painful substance is cruel punishment and therefore unconstitutional.
After the court’s decision to not consider the case of Abdur’Rahman was announced, state Attorney General Paul Summers said the decision confirmed that the lethal injection protocol isn’t cruel and unusual punishment. That isn’t true. As MacLean points out, the court said nothing about the merits of the case. Summers’ remarks are misleading. The validity of the argument has not diminished.
At some point, the Supreme Court will have to deal substantively with lethal injections. When that time comes, the constitutional question cannot be ignored. •
To begin, a mea culpa. Earlier this week, we received a distinguished honor, which really is as much due to you, our readers, as to anything that we do here. And yet, we failed to share it with all of you, so today, we make amends.
What we all knew already has finally been publicly acknowledged. The TCASK blog has been named one of Tennessee’s best blogs! This highly prestigious award, I tear up a little just talking about it, is a wonderful acknowledgement of all the work we’ve put in, and I’d like to thank my parents, who always supported me, my high school English teacher who insisted I complete writing assignments, and my wonderful co-poster the Tennessee Dude, a constant inspiration. Finally, we have to thank you, our readers, without whom this blog would not exist. It is due to you that we get to proudly place the best
blog emblem on our posts. Thank you, Tennessee!
It came as a shock. Here we were in the office, having just returned from setting up a tent in preparation for a vigil during the execution of Sedley Alley, and all of a sudden the Governor issued a reprieve. True a temporary reprieve, true he didn’t release physical evidence for DNA testing, but a reprieve nonetheless. Sedley Alley would not be killed by the state that night.
Now, I’d love to believe that the Governor did so because he was moved by idea of extinguishing a human life. I’d like to believe that his sense of justice overrode all political considerations and compelled him to issue the reprieve, but even I am not that naive.
So what did it?
Well, I’ve gotta say that a part of the reason is that it became politically dangerous for him not to. We successfully mobilized enough people to shape public opinion toward favoring a stay. Clearly that’s something we’d like to do more often (if we have to have execution dates set at all), so we want to know how we did it.
A large part is finding the right message, in this case, the fact that there was DNA evidence that had never been tested. But a greater question was how did we mobilize around that message. One of the best tools that we added to our arsenal for this execution was phonebanking. The Sunday before the execution we made calls to well over 1000 people all around the state asking them to call the Governor, and, lo and behold, he had hundreds of messages on his machine when he came into work on Monday morning, and lo and behold again, the next evening he issued the reprieve.
So what made our calls so effective? How did we do it? First, we had a collection of terrific volunteers willing to sacrifice their Sunday evening to make calls. It’s impossible to overstate how important these people are to our efforts. Second we developed a tight phone script that each caller had, so even people who don’t feel to comfortable speaking about a case could participate; all they had to do was read. And third, a crucial part of that phone script was a concrete and simple ask to the people receiving the calls: “Please, when we hang up, call the Governor and tell him to stay the execution and release the physical evidence for DNA testing.” The ask is simple, we gave people the phone number and told them what to say, easy for them to accomplish, they were probably going to get an answering machine so they could just read the message, and immediate, witness “please do it right when we hang up” and the fact that the execution was 48 hours away. These factors, directness, ease, and immediacy, make a good ask, and generated a lot of calls.
There are two other, institutional concerns that really benefited us. The first was a long term commitment to building our database, so when we went to make calls we had hundreds and hundreds of supporters all around the state that we could contact and activate. The second was a relationship with the Nashville Peace and Justice Center. The NPJC has five phone lines which they generously allowed us to use to make calls. Even better would be for organizations to find a Union Local that has a legitimate phone bank and build a relationship with them.
Bringing all of these factors together allowed us to leverage a significant mass of voters to apply pressure to the Governor (or any other political official) when the need arose. We’ll continue to build our database and cultivate the volunteers that make it all possible as we head toward the day when it will never be needed again.
do not leave us a message, we do not want to hear what you, the taxpaying public, have to say…
okay, so actually, the above statement is somewhere between creative interpretation and hyperbole, but it might be what the shelby county district attorney’s office had in mind when it turned off it’s answering machine last night…
why might they do that???
well, on sunday evening, as the lil’ jesuit dude noted, we did some phone banking asking people to call shelby county district attorney william gibbons’ office and ask them to release the suzanne collins’ evidence to the innocence project for dna testing…
and perhaps, just perhaps, they received enough calls from people asking why they oppose the certainty that can come to bear from dna testing that they decided to turn off the answering machine when they left the office … or perhaps not, we don’t know…
what we do know is that last night an action alert went out …
and people who called monday evening could not leave a message for the district attorney if they wanted to …
so keep those calls coming in, only try calling during business hours – surely you can share your opinion then…
peace out … <3
Waking up this morning to NPR’s Morning Edition, I decided not to shave – well actually, I decided I wanted to lay in bed longer, which necessitated skipping shaving in order to catch the bus – but as I lay there, I heard a few stories – more U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq, tension continues to mount in Israel/Palestine, white-collar jobs are getting outsourced and college graduate earnings aren’t rising with the rest of the economy, 40,000 Tennesseans (and 45,000,000 Americans) have no health coverage. And it hit me: the world is not perfect!
OK, I admit, this isn’t much of a revelation, but really it’s just an introduction to the question that I’m asked so often, and that we all ask ourselves: with all these problems facing the world, why work against the death penalty?
The simple answer is that it is wrong. But then so is the lack of health care, worldwide poverty, war, terrorism, etc. And those affect a much larger number of people. No matter how terrible the death penalty is, there are “only” a few thousand people on death rows across America. So, why the death penalty?
To many, the death penalty is emblematic. There are problems throughout our criminal justice system. Problems of racism, problems of economic disparities, problems with a retributive, offender orientation rather than a system focused on healing for victims. The death penalty is the apotheosis of all of these problems, enlarged to (literally) larger than life proportions. We need to address all of these issues, through the entire criminal justice system, but the death penalty, as the most virulent example of this problem, must come first.
Why the death penalty?
The death penalty represents the total disregard for human life and dignity by a society. As a Catholic*, I always say that the death penalty is the ultimate test of our “pro-life” position, which is why nearly every Christian denomination in the country has called for an end to capital punishment, but I think this perspective applies to all people, including those who do not espouse a Christian or religious ethic. When the state takes into its own hands the power of life and death, when it chooses to kill a person who is already incapacitated and helpless, we, as a people, decide that human life can be degraded and stripped away. That there is no inherent dignity to the human person, because such dignity is contingent on something else. If human life and dignity is a right, and I maintain that it must be the foundational principle of our society (by the way, I’m not alone, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says the same), then we cannot accept that any society has the right to kill its citizens as long as there is any alternative available. Strapping an incapacitated person to a gurney and poisoning them clearly violates this principle.
Why the death penalty?
Because it represents the failures inherent in our criminal justice system. Because as a public policy it fails the rubric of deterrence, cost effectiveness, fairness, and justice. Because there is no justifiable reason that the state can provide to violate the most basic rights of human beings. Why the death penalty? I could have spared everyone most of this blog had I stopped with because it is wrong.
*TCASK is a secular organization which welcomes people of all faith perspectives.