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History > 2008 > USA > Justice > Death penalty (II)




As Texas Execution Nears,

Hearing Is Set on a Claim

That Judge and Prosecutor Had Affair


September 5, 2008
The New York Times


HOUSTON — With less than a week to go before the scheduled execution of a man who contends his murder trial was tainted by a love affair between the judge and the prosecutor, a state judge on Thursday ordered a hearing into the accusation and the Texas attorney general called for a review of the fairness of the trial.

The judge’s order and the attorney general’s request are the latest twists in a complicated legal drama that has prompted criticism from prosecutors, judges and experts on legal ethics across the nation. They argue that if the love affair occurred, the condemned man did not receive a fair trial.

On Wednesday, 22 prominent former judges and prosecutors — among them the former F.B.I. director William S. Sessions — urged Gov. Rick Perry to put off the execution to allow more time for a hearing to determine if the claim of an affair is true.

“It is an irrevocable wrong to send a man to his death without ever hearing this critical evidence,” the group said in a letter to Governor Perry, a Republican.

Late on Thursday, the attorney general, Greg Abbott, said he agreed. In a letter to local prosecutors, Mr. Abbott said the state would ask the district court to “thoroughly review the defendant’s claims before the execution proceeds” in order to “protect the integrity of the Texas legal system.”

“The impartiality of a defendant’s trial and conviction must be beyond reproach,” Mr. Abbott said. “Thus, before the state carries out the ultimate, irreversible punishment, the appropriate trial court should thoroughly review this matter.”

The convicted murderer, Charles D. Hood, 39, is scheduled to be executed on Wednesday for the murder and robbery in 1989 of a couple he lived with in Plano, just north of Dallas.

Fingerprints linked Mr. Hood to the murders, and he was arrested the next day in Indiana driving a car belonging to the murdered man, Ronald Williamson, who had been Mr. Hood’s supervisor at a strip club where they both worked. Mr. Williamson’s girlfriend, Tracie Lynn Wallace, a former dancer at the club, was also killed.

Having exhausted all other appeals, Mr. Hood’s lawyers have tried to prove in recent months that Mr. Hood’s trial in 1990 was tainted because the judge, Verla Sue Holland, and the Collin County district attorney at the time, Thomas S. O’Connell Jr., were having an affair.

Neither Judge Holland, who is retired, nor Mr. O’Connell, who is in private practice, returned calls seeking comment.

Lawyers for Mr. Hood contend that the affair, first reported in 2005 in the online magazine Salon, was long rumored in Collin County’s legal circles, but no one with evidence about it had been willing to testify under oath.

“It’s a wall of silence we have been trying to break down,” said Greg Wiercioch, one of Mr. Hood’s lawyers.

In June, Mr. Hood’s lawyers got a sworn affidavit from a former assistant district attorney, Matthew Goeller, who said the romantic relationship “was common knowledge in the district attorney’s office, and the Collin County bar, in general,” at the time of the trial. Mr. Goeller said the affair was going on when he came to the office in 1987 and continued through 1993.

With this testimony in hand, Mr. Hood’s lawyers asked the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the state’s highest court, to stay the execution, but it rejected the motion, saying that the argument should have been raised sooner and that it relied on hearsay.

Mr. Hood’s lawyers then filed a motion in the county’s civil court that sought to compel Mr. O’Connell and Judge Holland to testify about their relationship.

That motion landed in the courtroom of Judge Robert T. Dry, who last week set a hearing date for two days after the scheduled execution, remarking, “In reality, you are exploring a civil lawsuit for the estate of Mr. Hood.”

Judge Dry also acknowledged that he knew Judge Holland and Mr. O’Connell well. “It is likely that every local judge knows them,” he wrote.

On Wednesday, Judge Dry suddenly recused himself, saying he had also been close friends and business partners with Judge Holland’s former husband, Earl Holland, who is now dead.

The case was then transferred to Judge Greg Brewer, who quickly ordered a hearing to be held on Monday to decide whether to require Mr. O’Connell and Judge Holland to testify.

    As Texas Execution Nears, Hearing Is Set on a Claim That Judge and Prosecutor Had Affair, NYT, 5.9.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/05/us/05texas.html






Execution by Military Is Approved by President


July 29, 2008
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — President Bush on Monday approved the first execution by the military since 1961, upholding the death penalty of an Army private convicted of a series of rapes and murders more than two decades ago.

As commander in chief, the president has the final authority to approve capital punishment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and he did so on Monday morning in the case of Pvt. Ronald A. Gray, convicted by court-martial for two killings and an attempted murder at Fort Bragg, N.C., the White House said in a statement.

Although the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the death penalty in the military in 1996, no one has been executed since President Ronald Reagan reinstated capital punishment in 1984 for military crimes.

The last military execution was ordered by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1957, although it was not carried out by hanging until 1961. President John F. Kennedy was the last president to face the question, in 1962, but commuted the sentence to life in prison.

“While approving a sentence of death for a member of our armed services is a serious and difficult decision for a commander in chief, the president believes the facts of this case leave no doubt that the sentence is just and warranted,” the White House press secretary, Dana Perino, said in a statement after the decision was first reported by The Associated Press. “Private Gray was convicted of committing brutal crimes, including two murders, an attempted murder and three rapes.”

Mr. Bush, a supporter of the death penalty, approved the sentence after Private Gray’s case wound its way through the Army’s legal bureaucracy and the military’s courts of appeal. The secretary of the Army sought Mr. Bush’s final approval.

There are six people on the military’s death row at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. but Private Gray was the first whose sentence went to the president. Unlike in the civilian courts, where the president can overturn or commute a sentence, in the military system, he is required effectively to approve it.

It can still be appealed, which the White House suggested was all but certain, meaning an execution is not expected to occur soon, possibly not during Mr. Bush’s remaining months in office.

The military death penalty has been dormant for so long that it was also unclear what the method of execution would be.

Ms. Perino declined to discuss the decision further, citing the potential for appeals. She added that Mr. Bush’s “thoughts and prayers are with the victims of these heinous crimes and their families and all others affected.”

Private Gray was accused of four murders and eight rapes from April 1986 to January 1987 while serving at Fort Bragg.

According to the White House’s chronology of the case, he pleaded guilty to two murders and five rapes, among other offenses, in state court in North Carolina and was sentenced to life in prison.

He separately faced court-martial in two murders and an attempted murder, involving three women, two of them Army soldiers, the other a civilian taxi driver whose body was found on the post.

In 1988, he was convicted, and his sentence has since been approved by his command, the Army Court of Military Review, and the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces. In 2001, the United States Supreme Court declined to hear his case.

Mr. Bush’s decision clears the way for a new round of appeals in civilian courts, beginning with the Federal District Court, said Eugene R. Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice, a nonprofit organization in Washington. Among the issues, Mr. Fidell said, was the fact that Congress has since required capital cases to be considered by a 12-member jury, not the smaller ones that previously decided cases.

    Execution by Military Is Approved by President, NYT, 29.7.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/29/us/29execute.html?hp






Texas Turns Aside Pressure on Execution of 5 Mexicans


July 18, 2008
The New York Times


HOUSTON — Despite pleas from the White House and the State Department, as well as an international court order to review their cases, Texas will execute five Mexicans on death row, a spokeswoman for the governor said Thursday.

The first of the executions — that of José Ernesto Medellín, 33, convicted in the 1993 rape and murder of two teenage girls here — is scheduled for Aug. 5.

The decision by Gov. Rick Perry to allow the executions is the latest twist in a long-running battle between Mexico, which has no death penalty, and the United States over the fate of 51 Mexicans facing capital punishment in several states, including 14 in Texas.

On Wednesday, the International Court of Justice at The Hague ordered a review of five of the Texas cases after Mexico complained that the convicts, all men, had not been allowed a chance to talk to a Mexican consul after their arrests, as required under the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.

But that argument holds little sway in Texas, a place with a long history of upholding the death penalty and of telling other governments to mind their own business.

“This ruling doesn’t change anything,” said Mr. Perry’s spokeswoman, Allison Castle. “This is an individual who brutally gang-raped and murdered two teenage women. We don’t really care where you are from; you can’t do that to our citizens.”

The ruling went further than a 2004 decision by the international court, which again sided with Mexico, ordering a review of all 51 cases to determine if a consul’s intervention might have changed the outcome.

President Bush, who as Texas’ governor oversaw 152 executions, ordered his home state to comply with the international court. But Texas refused and fought Mr. Bush’s order in court. In March, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the president had overstepped his powers and that only Congress could require the state to change its judicial procedures to comply with the 1963 treaty.

On Monday, Representative Howard L. Berman, Democrat of California, submitted legislation to deal with the Supreme Court’s ruling. The bill, though, is not expected to come up for a vote anytime soon, especially in the charged atmosphere of an election year, aides to Mr. Berman said.

State Department officials said the execution of Mr. Medellín and the other four convicted killers might erode the ability of the United States to help people accused of crimes abroad.

Mr. Perry, a Republican, stood firm, saying the Supreme Court ruling in March had freed Texas to go ahead with the executions, starting with that of Mr. Medellín, one of six young men that a jury found had raped and strangled Elizabeth Peña, 16, and Jennifer Ertman, 15, in a park one night.

Mr. Medellín was 18 at the time and had lived most of his life in Texas; he signed a confession in English.

A spokesman for the Mexican Embassy in Washington, Ricardo Alday, accused Texas of “an irreparable breach of international obligation” if it did not delay the executions until Congress could act on Mr. Berman’s bill.

A lawyer representing Mr. Medellín, Donald Francis Donovan of New York, said he would seek such a delay in Texas state court.

“Everyone agrees that the U.S. made a deal here,” Mr. Donovan said, “and for Texas to breach that deal when it was made by the people of the United States as a whole would not be right.”

For relatives of the murdered girls, questions about international relations seem irrelevant.

“This has nothing to do with the World Court; it has nothing to do with the U.N.,” said Jennifer’s father, Randy Ertman. “This has everything to do with what Mexico wants, not what Texas wants. The people of Texas want the death penalty.”

Ashley Marchand contributed reporting.

    Texas Turns Aside Pressure on Execution of 5 Mexicans, NYT, 18.7.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/18/us/18texas.html






Supreme Court Rejects Death Penalty for Child Rape


June 26, 2008
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court ruled, 5 to 4, on Wednesday that sentencing someone to death for raping a child is unconstitutional, assuming that the victim is not killed.

“The death penalty is not a proportional punishment for the rape of a child,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the court. He was joined by Justices John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer.

The court overturned a ruling by the Louisiana Supreme Court, which had held that child rape is unique in the harm it inflicts not just upon the victim but on society and that, short of first-degree murder, no crime is more deserving of the death penalty.

Justice Kennedy, while in no way minimizing the heinous nature of child rape, wrote that executing someone for that crime, assuming that the victim was not killed, violates the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment, which draws its meaning from “the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.”

“When the law punishes by death, it risks its own sudden descent into brutality, transgressing the constitutional commitment to decency and restraint,” Justice Kennedy wrote.

The relatively small number of states that allow the death penalty for the rape of a child demonstrates a “national consensus” against it, Justice Kennedy wrote. Moreover, he wrote, sentencing someone to death for raping a child could have terrible, unintended consequences, given the years that typically go by between a crime and the execution of the defendant.

“Society’s desire to inflict death for child rape by enlisting the child victim to assist it over the course of years in asking for capital punishment forces a moral choice on the child, who is not of mature age to make that choice,” Justice Kennedy wrote.

The dissenters were Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr., generally regarded as the conservative wing of the tribunal.

Justice Alito wrote a dissent lamenting that the majority had ruled out executing someone for raping a child “no matter how young the child, no matter how many times the child is raped, no matter how many children the perpetrator rapes, no matter how sadistic the crime, no matter how much physical or psychological trauma is inflicted, and no matter how heinous the perpetrator’s prior criminal record may be.”

The dissenters rejected the majority’s reasoning that the small number of states allowing execution of child rapists showed a consensus against the custom. Justice Alito noted that some of those state statutes were enacted even while the constitutionality of capital punishment for crimes other than murder was in doubt — thus reflecting a strong feeling in those states that the ultimate penalty was justified for such terrible harm to a child, in the dissenters’ reasoning.

Not since 1964 has anyone been executed in the United States for a crime other than murder, and of about 3,300 inmates now on death row, only two are facing execution for an offense that did not involve a killing — and both of those inmates are in Louisiana. One is the man involved in the case the court decided, Patrick Kennedy, who was sentenced to death for the rape of his 8-year-old stepdaughter, and the other is Richard Davis, who was condemned for assaulting a 5-year-old girl.

The case decided on Wednesday, Kennedy v. Louisiana, No. 07-343, does not overturn the defendant’s conviction. Rather, it returns the case to the Louisiana courts for resentencing. In practical terms, Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Davis will both be resentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, according to the Capital Appeals Project, which represents indigent death row defendants in Louisiana.

The Supreme Court ruled in 1976 that capital punishment is not unconstitutional in and of itself. Kennedy v. Louisiana was the latest in a series of cases in which the justices have weighed particular applications of the ultimate penalty. In 2002, for instance, the Supreme Court barred the execution of mentally retarded defendants, and in 2005 — in a ruling written by Justice Kennedy — it banned the execution of people for crimes they committed before they were 18.

But, as Chief Justice Roberts observed when Kennedy v. Louisiana was argued on April 16: “This is quite different. It is focused on the nature of the offense.” Indeed, a theme that ran through the argument was that, while the death penalty is a punishment like no other, the rape of a child is a crime like no other.

Justice Kennedy observed on Wednesday that Patrick Kennedy’s crime “cannot be recounted in these pages in a way sufficient to capture in full the hurt and horror inflicted on his victim or to convey the revulsion society, and the jury that represents it, sought to express” by sentencing the defendant to death.

In 1977, the Supreme Court banned death sentences for rape. But the victim in that case, Coker v. Georgia, was a young married woman, and the ruling did not specifically discuss the rape of a child. Over the past 13 years, several states have reacted to public outrage over crimes against children by amending their statutes to make the rape of a child punishable by death.

Louisiana was the first state to do so, amending its death-penalty law in 1995 to include rape of a child under the age of 12. But unlike Louisiana, the other states with similar provisions (Georgia, Montana, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas) generally limit the death penalty to defendants previously convicted of sex crimes against children.

Mr. Kennedy’s lawyer, Jeffrey L. Fisher, argued before the justices that it was “at odds with national values” for the state to execute his client, who had never committed such a crime before.

But Justice Scalia pressed Mr. Fisher on that assertion, noting that the recent trend has been “more and more states permitting the capital punishment” for the rape of a child.

As for the case at hand, Juliet L. Clark, an assistant district attorney from Gretna, La., countered that Mr. Kennedy, who weighs 300 pounds, had committed “a very savage rape” that caused serious injuries to his victim. And R. Ted Cruz, the Solicitor General for the State of Texas, who argued as a “friend of the court” on the side of Louisiana, said that Mr. Kennedy (like Mr. Davis, the other child-rape defendant on Louisiana’s death row) had “committed crimes that are just unspeakable.”

Not only did Mr. Kennedy rape his stepdaughter in 1998 but he took elaborate steps to try to cover up his crime, prosecutors said.

Responding to a question from Justice Ginsburg during the argument, Ms. Clark said the Louisiana child-rape law could apply regardless of the sex of the criminal or that of the victim.

Ben Cohen of the Capital Appeals Project said that, in light of the Supreme Court’s decision on Wednesday, “we can only hope that the money that Louisiana has been spending drafting and defending this anomalous and unconstitutional statute will be reallocated to efforts at treatment for victims of sexual abuse and for measures that actually reduce the risk of such abuse in our communities.”

As for the last executions for crimes other than murder, Ronald Wolfe was executed in Missouri’s gas chamber on May 8, 1964, for rape, and James Coburn died in Alabama’s electric chair on Sept. 4, 1964, for robbery, The Associated Press reported, citing data from the Death Penalty Information Center.

A specialist in criminal law and the death penalty, Professor Kyron James Huigens of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University, said that Wednesday’s ruling was “a bit of a surprise coming from the Roberts court but not a surprise that Justice Kennedy was the deciding justice.”

Justice Kennedy “tends to be pretty liberal on Eighth Amendment issues,” Professor Huigens said, citing his stance three years ago against executing people who were juveniles when they committed their crimes.

    Supreme Court Rejects Death Penalty for Child Rape, NYT, 26.6.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/26/washington/26scotuscnd.html?hp






Judge Orders Ohio to Alter Its Method of Execution


June 11, 2008
The New York Times


Ohio must stop using a common combination of three chemicals to execute condemned inmates because they may produce excruciating pain, a state court judge there ruled Tuesday.

Then, in what legal experts said was a first, the judge instead ordered the state to start using a single large dose of barbiturate, common in animal euthanasia.

The decision is an exception to recent judicial trends in the wake of the United States Supreme Court’s decision in April in Baze v. Rees, which upheld Kentucky’s lethal injection protocol, similar to the one used in Ohio.

There have been five executions — two in Georgia and one each in Mississippi, South Carolina and Virginia — since Baze ended a de facto seven-month moratorium. And Texas is to resume executions on Wednesday.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals issued rulings Monday that rejected challenges from five death row inmates to lethal injections there, which also rely on the three-chemical cocktail. Karl Chamberlain, who raped and murdered a 30-year-old woman in 1991, is scheduled to be executed on Wednesday.

The Baze decision did not foreclose all challenges to lethal injections under the Eighth Amendment, which bars cruel and unusual punishment. But it said challengers must show a demonstrated risk of severe pain along with a feasible alternative that would significantly reduce that risk.

The Ohio judge, James M. Burge of the Lorain County Court of Common Pleas in Elyria, appeared to concede that a constitutional challenge to the Ohio protocol would fail under Baze. Judge Burge based his decision instead on an Ohio law requiring that lethal injections use “a drug or combination of drugs of sufficient dosage to quickly and painlessly cause death.”

Baze, Judge Burge wrote, said the Constitution did not require the avoidance of all risk of pain. The Ohio law, by contrast, he said, “demands the avoidance of any unnecessary risk of pain and, as well, any unnecessary expectation by the condemned person that his execution may be agonizing or excruciatingly painful.”

The three chemicals used in Ohio and elsewhere are a sedative, a paralyzing agent and a drug that stops the heart. If the first is administered improperly, Judge Burge wrote, the second and third chemicals can give rise to suffocation and intense pain.

Commissions appointed to study lethal injections have questioned the three-chemical combination, as have some judges, saying it is cumbersome and risky. But Judge Burge was the first judge to require a sedative-only protocol, experts in the field said.

The case was brought by Ruben O. Rivera and Ronald McCloud, who have been charged with capital crimes but have not yet been tried. The state had sought to halt the proceeding before Judge Burge as premature, but the Ohio Supreme Court declined to intercede. Mr. Rivera is charged with killing a man during a robbery. Mr. McCloud is charged with raping and killing a woman.

Elisabeth A. Semel, the director of the Death Penalty Clinic at the University of California, Berkeley, welcomed Judge Burge’s ruling.

“It is likely to reduce the risk of executions that cause suffocation and excruciating pain,” Professor Semel said.

A spokeswoman for the Ohio attorney general’s office said lawyers there were reviewing the decision.

The last execution to be carried out before the de facto moratorium was in Texas, and it was the subject of controversy. The presiding judge on the Court of Criminal Appeals, Sharon Faye Keller, closed the courthouse at its regular time, 5 p.m., turning back an effort by a death row inmate to file appeal papers a few minutes later. The inmate, Michael Richard, was executed that evening.

Opponents of the death penalty in Texas said they had hoped the criticism that followed that episode would inform the court’s decisions on the recent lethal injection challenges.

“Those of us who thought the court was taking a thoughtful and rigorous look at this were wrong,” said David R. Dow of the Texas Defender Service. “I don’t think the court has shown the interest in really developing a coherent body of law, but instead reacts from one decision to the next like a pinball.”

Mr. Chamberlain, scheduled to die on Wednesday, would be the 406th prisoner to be executed in Texas since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.

“Texas is still Texas,” said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes capital punishment. “They are the ones with the most dates coming up, and by the year’s end I’m quite confident they will lead the country in executions.”

    Judge Orders Ohio to Alter Its Method of Execution, NYT, 11.6.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/11/us/11death.html






As Executions Resume, So Do Questions of Fairness


May 7, 2008
The New York Times


RALEIGH, N.C. — The release of the third death row inmate in six months in North Carolina last week is raising fresh questions about whether states are supplying capital-murder defendants with adequate counsel, even as an execution on Tuesday night in Georgia ended a seven-month national suspension.

In all three cases, North Carolina appeals courts found that evidence that would have favored the defendants was withheld from defense lawyers by prosecutors or investigators. In two of the cases, including that of Levon Jones, who was released on Friday after 14 years on death row, the courts said the defendants’ lawyers had failed to mount an adequate defense. Nationwide, Mr. Jones’s release was the sixth in a year.

John Holdridge, director of the A.C.L.U. Capital Punishment Project, which provided representation for Mr. Jones, said the successful appeals showed that the problem with the death penalty was not the method of execution — the issue ruled on by the Supreme Court last month — but instead “poor people getting lousy lawyers.”

“All these states are gearing up to start executing people again, and nobody seems to be concerned about these systemic problems,” Mr. Holdridge said.

On Tuesday evening, after the Supreme Court declined to stop it, the State of Georgia conducted the first execution since the court ruled last month that a method of lethal injection was not unconstitutional. William E. Lynd, 53, was put to death by injection for the 1988 killing of his girlfriend, Ginger Moore. No prisoners had been executed in the United States since last September, while the court was considering the issue.

During that same period, Georgia’s new public defender system came under attack by politicians and was recently forced to cut more than 40 positions.

That system, established after a series of lawsuits, was patterned after one North Carolina put in place in 2001, which was considered a national model. But not many other states have followed suit, said Robin Maher, director of the American Bar Association’s Death Penalty Representation Project.

“I wish I could say that things have gotten a lot better, but in fact I can say with confidence that things have changed not much at all,” Ms. Maher said. “We are seeing the same kinds of egregiously bad lawyering that we saw 10 or 15 years ago, for a variety of reasons, including inadequate funding.”

Of the 36 states that allow the death penalty, only about 10 have statewide capital-defense systems, one of the practices recommended by the Bar Association.

The three men released in North Carolina were all convicted in the mid-1990s, before a barrage of criticism of the state’s capital punishment system, including an investigation in 2000 by The Charlotte Observer that showed that 16 death row inmates had been represented by lawyers who were later disbarred.

North Carolina made a number of changes that included establishing the statewide defender system and broader discovery rules for defense lawyers. Beginning in 1996, defense lawyers working on appeals in death penalty cases were permitted to view all investigative files pertaining to the case, and in 2004 the same right was extended to the defense in all criminal cases.

Joseph B. Cheshire, the lawyer for one of the three released men, Jonathon Hoffman, credited the discovery rules with bringing to light what he called a pattern of wrongful convictions.

The court-appointed trial lawyers for Mr. Hoffman, convicted of killing a jewelry store owner during a robbery, were not told that the main witness against him had been paid for his cooperation and was given immunity from prosecution and a reduced sentence for bank robbery. Mr. Cheshire said that a copy of the district attorney’s notes was altered to conceal those facts before they were provided to the defense for discovery. Mr. Hoffman was released in December.

Mr. Cheshire is also the chairman of the state’s Indigent Defense Services Commission. Thanks to those two changes, he said, “the likelihood today of someone being convicted who’s innocent is far less than it was five or six years ago.”

The man who prosecuted Mr. Jones, however, does not concede that the defendant was innocent. The prosecutor, G. Dewey Hudson, said that he still believed that Mr. Jones was involved in the murder, but that he could not retry him because crucial witnesses had died and one had recanted.

“It has taken 15 years for the court system to make the determination that Mr. Jones’s original counsel was ineffective,” Mr. Hudson said in a statement released Friday. “As a result of this delay, the State has been severely handcuffed in its obligation to prosecute Mr. Jones for the murder of Leamon Grady.”

Cassy Stubbs, the A.C.L.U. lawyer who represented Mr. Jones, said all of the witnesses from the initial trial were still living.

Mr. Jones was convicted of robbing and shooting Mr. Grady, a bootlegger in Duplin County. The main witness against Mr. Jones was a former girlfriend, Lovely Lorden, who testified that she had gone with him to Mr. Grady’s house the night of the killing and heard gunshots while waiting outside.

State courts rejected Mr. Jones’s claims of ineffective legal counsel. But a federal judge, Terrence W. Boyle, later found that Mr. Jones’s trial lawyers failed to do a background check that would have revealed Ms. Lorden’s criminal background, failed to interview her before trial and failed to obtain copies of inconsistent statements she made. They also failed to present evidence that Mr. Jones might be mentally ill, cognitively impaired, or had a history of substance abuse, the judge found, information that could have saved him from a death sentence.

“Jones received two appointed attorneys that spent virtually no time or effort investigating the offense or his background,” Judge Boyle said.

In subsequent hearings and affidavits, it became clear that Ms. Lorden was a frequent police informant and that, contrary to testimony at the trial, she had known when she came forward in the Grady case that there was a $4,000 reward available.

Though Ms. Stubbs said that there was evidence that pointed to another man in the killing, Mr. Hudson said in a telephone interview that he considered the case closed.

Mr. Jones’s release came on the heels of that of Glen E. Chapman, who was convicted of killing two women, Betty Jean Ramseur and Tenene Y. Conley, in Union County in 1992. Judge Robert C. Ervin of State Superior Court ruled in April that Mr. Chapman’s lawyers had failed their client, noting that one of them could recall interviewing only one witness and had visited the crime scenes for the first time two weeks before trial. The lawyers had both admitted to heavy drinking during other trials.

Judge Ervin also found that Dennis Rhoney, then a police detective, knowingly presented false and misleading information on the stand. The State Bureau of Investigation is reviewing perjury claims against Mr. Rhoney.

    As Executions Resume, So Do Questions of Fairness, NYT, 7.5.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/07/us/07execute.html?hp






U.S. executes first inmate after moratorium


Tue May 6, 2008
9:56pm EDT
The New York Times
By Tami Chappell


JACKSON, Georgia (Reuters) - Georgia executed a convicted murderer on Tuesday, the first person to be put to death in the United States since the Supreme Court ended a de facto moratorium on capital punishment last month.

William Earl Lynd died by lethal injection at a prison in Jackson, central Georgia, at 7:51 p.m. Lynd, 53, was convicted of shooting his girlfriend to death in December 1988.

"Under the order of the court, the execution of William Earl Lynd has been carried out," said Paul Czachowski, public affairs manager at the Georgia Department of Corrections.

"The condemned declined to make a statement or offer a prayer," he said, adding the execution began at 7:34 p.m.

In the hours before Lynd died, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a final request for a stay filed by his lawyers.

Lynd's execution is the first since the same court on April 16 rejected a challenge to the cocktail of three drugs used in most U.S. executions, which opponents had argued inflicted unnecessary pain.

A nationwide pause in executions had been in effect since shortly after the court said on September 25 it would hear an appeal by two death row inmates in Kentucky against the use of the lethal drugs.

Last year, 42 people were put to death in the United States, the lowest number since the 31 executions in 1994. But the 2007 number was artificially low because of the Supreme Court case.

Fewer than 20 protesters opposed to the death penalty demonstrated outside the prison in Jackson where Lynd was executed in an apparent indication that the subject arouses few passions.

Demonstrators said they also planned protests in five other cities in the state.

"It's sad that the state of Georgia has put someone to death and is leading the United States in the resumption of executions," said Laura Moye, chairwoman of Georgians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. "It is said it is a resumption of justice but instead we are being brutalized."



After shooting Ginger Moore three times in the head and face, Lynd buried her in a shallow grave. Soon afterward, as he drove to Ohio, he allegedly shot and killed another woman but was never convicted of that crime.

The Georgia Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected a bid by Lynd's lawyers to stop the execution. They argued that experts who described the murder scene in court had exaggerated.

Several states have scheduled executions since the moratorium ended, including Virginia and Texas, which carries out more executions than any other state.

Lynd is the 1,100th person put to death since the Supreme Court lifted a temporary ban on capital punishment in 1976. Since then, Texas has had 405 executions, followed by Virginia with 98.

Lynd's last meal consisted of two pepper jack barbecue burgers with crispy onions, baked potatoes with sour cream, bacon and cheese, and a large strawberry milkshake, prison authorities said.

(Additional reporting by Matthew Bigg in Atlanta; Editing by John O'Callaghan)

    U.S. executes first inmate after moratorium, R, 6.5.2008, http://www.reuters.com/article/domesticNews/idUSN0543004320080507






FACTBOX: The death penalty in the United States


Tue May 6, 2008
8:13pm EDT


(Reuters) - Georgia executed a convicted murderer on Tuesday, the first person to be put to death in the United States since the Supreme Court ended a de facto moratorium on capital punishment last month.

Following are some facts and figures about the death penalty in the United States since 1977, when executions resumed following the lifting of a ban on the practice by the U.S. Supreme Court the previous year.

- There have been 1,100 executions in the United States since 1977. The peak year was 1999, when 98 were carried out. No inmates were put to death in 1978 and 1980.

- 42 people were executed in the United States in 2007, the lowest number since 1994 when 31 were put to death.

- 2005, the last year for which data is available, saw 128 death sentences imposed, the lowest number over the past three decades. The peak year was 1996 when 317 were handed down.

- The death penalty is sanctioned by 37 of the 50 states, as well as the U.S. government and the military. Lethal injection is the main method used by all of the death penalty states except for Nebraska, which uses the electric chair.

- The standard method involves administering three separate chemicals: sodium pentothal, an anesthetic to make the inmate unconscious; pancuronium bromide, which paralyzes all muscles except the heart; and then potassium chloride, which stops the heart, causing death.

- Texas has been by far the most active death penalty state in the post-1976 era with 405 executions. Virginia is a distant second at 98.

- Amnesty International this week issued a report that ranked the United States fifth in the world in the number of executions in 2007, behind China (470), Iran (317), Saudi Arabia (143) and Pakistan (135). These five countries accounted for 88 percent of all known executions.

(Sources: Death Penalty Information Center, Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Amnesty International, Reuters)

(Writing by Matthew Bigg; editing by Jim Loney and Eric Beech)

    FACTBOX: The death penalty in the United States, R, 6.5.2008, http://www.reuters.com/article/domesticNews/idUSN0650002620080507






FACTBOX: Pending executions in the United States


Tue May 6, 2008
8:13pm EDT


(Reuters) - Georgia executed a convicted murderer on Tuesday, the first person to be put to death in the United States since the Supreme Court ended a de facto moratorium on capital punishment last month.

The execution is the first of a series of pending executions that were put on hold. Following is a list of those due to take place in May and June.

May 27 - Kevin Green (Virginia) - Convicted of capital murder and robbery after robbing a convenience store in 1998.

June 3 - Derrick Sonnier (Texas) - Convicted for the 1991 rape and murder of a woman and the death by stabbing of her son in a Houston suburb.

June 10 - Percy Walton (Virginia) - Pleaded guilty to four counts of capital murder. All of the victims were neighbors. Has been on death row since 1997.

June 17 - Terry Lyn Short (Oklahoma) - Sentenced to death in 1995 for throwing a homemade bomb into an Oklahoma City apartment building, resulting in one death.

June 17 - Charles Hood (Texas) - Convicted of murdering two people in 1989 in a Dallas suburb.

June 25 - Robert Yarbrough - (Virginia) - Convicted of killing a convenience store owner during a robbery in 1997.

(Sources: Death Penalty Resource Community and Death Penalty Information Center)

(Editing by Jim Loney and Eric Beech)

    FACTBOX: Pending executions in the United States, R, 6.5.2008, http://www.reuters.com/article/domesticNews/idUSN0651797920080507





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