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History > 2008 > USA > Justice > States (IV)




O. J. Simpson

offered apologies Friday in Las Vegas

and was sentenced for 12 felonies.


Pool photograph by Isaac Brekken


After Apologies,

Simpson Is Sentenced to at Least 9 Years for Armed Robbery















Al Meyerhoff,

Legal Voice for the Poor,

Dies at 61


December 25, 2008
The New York Times


Al Meyerhoff, a leading labor, environmental and civil rights lawyer who brought a landmark case to stop sweatshop conditions for 30,000 workers on the Pacific island of Saipan, died on Sunday in Los Angeles, where he lived. He was 61.

The cause was complications of leukemia, his wife, Marcia Brandwynne, said.

Mr. Meyerhoff, a loud, friendly bear of a man with a thick mane of tousled hair, rose to prominence in several legal fields. As a civil rights litigator, he successfully challenged a California law that prevented illegal immigrant children from attending public school. As an environmental lawyer — he worked for the Natural Resources Defense Council for 17 years — he challenged the continued use of cancer-causing pesticides.

As a labor lawyer, he was co-lead counsel in suing Gap, Nordstrom, Ralph Lauren and 20 other retailers, accused of obtaining garments from Saipan factories that used guard dogs and had barbed-wire fences. Many of the workers, some of whom Mr. Meyerhoff said were indentured servants, were immigrants from China who had paid several thousand dollars to work in Saipan and were forced to toil 12 hours a day, seven days a week, often without overtime pay.

“Saipan is America’s worst sweatshop,” Mr. Meyerhoff said in an interview with The New York Times in 1999, referring to the island in the Northern Marianas Islands, an American commonwealth near the Philippines. The lawsuit was one of the most ambitious ever brought against sweatshops, sending a signal to sweatshop owners in dozens of countries to improve conditions.

As part of the $20 million settlement, the apparel companies agreed to pay back wages, follow a code of workplace conduct and pay for an independent monitor to inspect the Saipan factories. Mr. Meyerhoff waived any fees.

Over the decades, Mr. Meyerhoff produced numerous op-ed articles for The Los Angeles Times and The Huffington Post Web site, many letters in The New York Times and The Washington Post and articles in law journals and environmental magazines. He also testified 50 times before Congressional committees.

“I was meant to do this work,” Mr. Meyerhoff told online magazine of the Cornell University Law School this year.

Albert Henry Meyerhoff Jr. was born in Ellington, Conn., on Sept. 20, 1947. He told the Cornell Web magazine that as a boy he was harassed by bullies and that as a result he developed “an active dislike of the abuse of power.”

Mr. Meyerhoff graduated from the University of Connecticut in 1969 and from the Cornell law school in 1972. After law school, he turned down a high-paying corporate law job to take a $60-a-week position with California Rural Legal Assistance, which represented migrant workers and the rural poor. In one lawsuit, he challenged the University of California over its underwriting of research on farm mechanization, saying it hurt farm workers and family farms.

In 1981 Mr. Meyerhoff joined the Natural Resources Defense Council and became director of its public health program. He helped pressure the chemical industry to adopt tougher standards on pesticides by invoking a rarely used amendment under the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act that prohibited the use of animal carcinogens in processed foods. His litigation helped persuade the industry to ban several dozen carcinogenic pesticides.

In 1988, he joined Coughlin Stoia, a class action law firm, from which he brought the Saipan lawsuit, sued Enron and challenged Mexican cross-border trucking, asserting that it violated United States health and safety standards.

Besides his wife, he is survived by his daughter, Leah, of New York City, his mother, Ruth, of Ellington, Conn., and his brothers, George of Van Nuys, Calif., and Alan of Panama City, Fla.

“He was a warrior against the chemical industry,” Frances Beinecke, president of the N.R.D.C., said of Mr. Meyerhoff. “He was a champion of the underserved. He fought long and hard to make the world a safer place for farm workers, for kids, for people working in factories and for people living in poverty who couldn’t represent themselves.”

    Al Meyerhoff, Legal Voice for the Poor, Dies at 61, NYT, 25.12.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/25/business/25meyerhoff.html






In Georgia, Push to End Unanimity for Execution


December 17, 2008
The New York Times


ATLANTA — For three and a half years, prosecutors in Georgia carefully built their argument for sentencing Brian G. Nichols to death for a rash of murders in downtown Atlanta in 2005. With Mr. Nichols admitting to killing four government employees, it seemed like an open-and-shut case in a state where the death penalty remains common.

But on Friday, three jurors shocked the legal community here by failing to agree with nine others on a death sentence and therefore, under Georgia law, sparing Mr. Nichols from execution. Without a unanimous sentence from the jury, a judge instead gave him 11 life sentences, plus 485 years in prison without parole.

Now, just days after the decision, Georgia legislators have began lining up to introduce bills eliminating the requirement that juries be unanimous for a death sentence. Hard-on-crime lawmakers have long favored easier rules on death sentencing, but the Nichols sentence has given new urgency to their cause.

“Unfortunately, you have people who say they’re willing to consider the death penalty, but when they get on a jury, it becomes clear that they’re actually death penalty opponents,” said Representative Barry A. Fleming, a Harlem Republican who twice sponsored efforts to revoke the unanimity requirement. Most recently, the proposal died in the State Senate in March.

Jurors in the Nichols trial reported that one juror was so opposed to the death penalty that she plugged her ears with earphones and solved a crossword puzzle during the sentencing phase, said Paul Howard, the district attorney of Fulton County.

Representative David Ralston, a Blue Ridge Republican who is chairman of the House Non-Civil Judiciary Committee, said, “The Nichols case, because it’s so recent and so high profile and the guilt of the defendant is so clear, has provided a great deal of momentum to the supporters of a change.”

Legislators have not decided who will introduce the proposal to end unanimity or how many jurors’ votes it will require for a death sentence, Mr. Ralston said. But if the proposal passes, Georgia will become the only state to allow non-unanimous juries to sentence defendants to death.

The federal government also requires a jury to be unanimous to impose death. (In Alabama, Delaware, Florida, Montana and Nebraska, judges can impose death sentences after a jury issues its recommendation.)

It is not clear, however, that a Georgia proposal can withstand a constitutional challenge. Carol Steiker, a death penalty expert at Harvard Law School, said it could violate the 14th Amendment guarantee of due process and the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Although the Supreme Court allows non-unanimous juries in many cases, Ms. Steiker said, death sentences require the highest standards.

“As the Supreme Court tends to say, ‘Death is different,’ ” she said. “It’s different in severity and it’s different in finality. This case really illustrates one of the problems with states trying to maintain thoughtful and circumscribed death penalty rules. There’s incredible pressure on these legislatures to change the laws at critical moments after high-profile cases.”

Even critics of the death penalty worried about the message sent by Mr. Nichols’s sentence.

“This case shows how arbitrary and irrational the death penalty can be,” said Richard C. Dieter, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. “People shake their heads when they hear that someone got the death penalty for robbing a 7-Eleven, and Brian Nichols got life in prison for his heinous crimes.”

There may be another opportunity for prosecutors to sentence Mr. Nichols to death. District Attorney Howard has suggested that federal prosecutors could try him for one of the killings because a victim, David Wilhelm, was a United States customs agent. The Justice Department will review the evidence before making any decisions, said Patrick Crosby, a spokesman for the department.

Ever since Mr. Nichols shot four people and led the police on a daylong chase across Atlanta on March 11, 2005, his case has generated tremendous attention, for both the brutality of his crimes and the exhaustiveness of his trial.

The county spent more than $3 million on a 54-count trial featuring 144 witnesses and 1,200 pieces of evidence, and much of that money could have been saved had the prosecution accepted Mr. Nichols’s offer to plead guilty in exchange for a sentence of life without parole. Mr. Howard scored a victory by convicting Mr. Nichols on all counts, but his primary goal was always a death sentence.

For years, the case’s length and cost have fueled criticisms of Georgia’s public defender system. State Senator Preston W. Smith, a Rome Republican, accused defense lawyers of spending like “drunken sailors on shore leave” to provide an “O. J. Simpson-style defense, all on the taxpayer’s dime.”

And frustration over the trial’s handling intensified after the sentencing.

Mr. Dieter, of the Death Penalty Information Center, said the case’s outcome demonstrated the growing difficulty of achieving a death sentence, even in the South. Across the country, death sentences have declined steadily over the past decade, to 115 in 2007 from 306 in 1998.

This downward trend reflects the public’s distrust of the death penalty and the increased reliance on the life-without-parole sentencing option, said Stephen B. Bright, a lecturer at Yale Law School and director of the Southern Center for Human Rights, who opposes the death penalty.

“To get 12 people to decide to kill somebody is a difficult undertaking,” Mr. Bright said. “People are overwhelmingly in favor of the death penalty when the Gallup poll calls. But when you ask them in a courtroom to actually impose the death penalty, a lot of people feel very uncomfortable.”

Adam Liptak contributed reporting from Washington.

    In Georgia, Push to End Unanimity for Execution, NYT, 17.12.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/17/us/17death.html






Jury Deadlock in Death Penalty Case


December 12, 2008
The New York Times


ATLANTA — A state jury announced Thursday that it could not reach a unanimous decision on whether Brian G. Nichols deserves the death penalty for committing a spree of murders, assaults and hijackings in 2005 that terrified Atlanta.

The jurors, deadlocked after 20 hours of deliberation, told Superior Court Judge James G. Bodiford that they were split 9-3, but did not say if the majority favored death or life in prison. The defense called for a mistrial, but the judge ordered jurors to continue deliberating until 1:30 p.m. while he met with the lawyers.

The jury convicted Mr. Nichols on Nov. 7 of murdering four people, stealing five cars, kidnapping a woman and evading police in a chase across Atlanta.

He was on trial for rape on March 11, 2005, when he stole the gun of a sheriff’s deputy, shot a judge, a court reporter and a deputy at the Fulton County Courthouse, then killed a customs official during his escape. The spree, known here as the Courthouse Shootings, has transfixed Atlanta for three years and cost the county more than $3 million in legal fees.

Jurors have three sentencing options: the death penalty, life in prison with parole, or life without parole. Under state law, their decision must be unanimous in order for Mr. Nichols to receive the death penalty. If the jury remains hung, the judge will determine the sentence, although he may not select the death penalty.

    Jury Deadlock in Death Penalty Case, NYT, 12.12.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/12/us/12nichols.html?hp






After Apologies, Simpson Is Sentenced to at Least 9 Years for Armed Robbery


December 6, 2008
The New York Times


LAS VEGAS — Four times, in a halting, broken voice, a humbled O. J. Simpson said Friday, “I’m sorry.”

Yet for all his compunction about the September 2007 raid and armed robbery at a casino hotel for which he was convicted of 12 felonies, Mr. Simpson also continued to insist that he did not think at the time that he had done anything illegal.

And so Judge Jackie Glass of Clark County District Court, facing down the man acquitted in perhaps the most-watched murder trial of the 20th century, scolded Mr. Simpson for his arrogance and stupidity and sentenced him to a minimum of nine years in state prison.

“The evidence was overwhelming,” Judge Glass said before pronouncing sentence, first on one of Mr. Simpson’s five accomplices, Clarence Stewart, 54, and then on Mr. Simpson himself.

Both men were convicted by the same jury of the same 12 charges, including kidnapping and armed robbery, stemming from the incident at the Palace Station Hotel-Casino. Mr. Simpson and five men, at least two of whom carried guns, stole a trove of sports memorabilia worth thousands of dollars from two collectibles dealers.

“It was a little-bitty room and a lot of you big guys in that little-bitty room,” Judge Glass said. “That was ‘nobody leave this room.’ That was actually a very violent event. Guns were brought; one was displayed. The potential for harm to occur in that room was tremendous.”

Mr. Simpson’s maximum sentence could be 33 years. Judge Glass sentenced Mr. Stewart to a minimum of seven and a half years and a maximum of 27 years. A Parole and Probation Division report had recommended an 18-year minimum sentence for each man; prosecutors said they had sought at least six years.

“It could’ve been a lot worse,” Mr. Simpson’s longtime lawyer, Yale Galanter, said at a news conference. “It was one of those days where you expect the worst, hope for the best and it turned out better than we thought. Obviously he’s upset by the prospect of facing nine years in prison, but I think he’s really relieved he didn’t get a life sentence.”

Mr. Simpson, a Pro Football Hall of Famer, wore a blue prison jumpsuit and shackles on his legs and wrists. Shortly before he was sentenced, he rose and addressed the court for about five minutes, his first comments in the courtroom throughout the trial, and ones that Judge Glass said later that she had not expected.

Mr. Simpson apologized repeatedly for the trouble he had caused while restating his belief that the items he had sought in the hotel room were rightfully his. They included trophies and family photos that he said were stolen years ago from his Los Angeles home and had ended up in the possession of the collectibles dealers, Bruce L. Fromong and Alfred Beardsley.

“I didn’t want to hurt anybody,” Mr. Simpson insisted. “I didn’t know I was doing anything wrong.”

In remarks leading up to the sentencing, Judge Glass repeatedly insisted that neither she nor the jury had been influenced by the 1995 trial in which a Los Angeles jury acquitted Mr. Simpson in the murders of his former wife Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald L. Goldman.

“That doesn’t matter to me; I want that to be perfectly clear to everyone,” she said, explaining that she gave Mr. Stewart a shorter sentence because she felt he was less culpable.

A hearing to determine in which Nevada prison Mr. Simpson, 61, will serve his sentence will be held in coming weeks. Earlier Friday, Judge Glass denied a defense motion that he be allowed to remain free pending appeal.

The prosecutor, District Attorney David Roger, said he did not think Mr. Simpson would be isolated from the rest of the prison population, and Mr. Simpson’s lawyer Gabriel Grasso indicated that he had not been separated from other inmates in the Clark County Detention Center. He has been held there since he was convicted on Oct. 3, exactly 13 years after his acquittal in the killings of Ms. Simpson and Mr. Goldman. Mr. Simpson has become popular among his fellow jail inmates, Mr. Grasso said, because he buys candy for them with his own commissary money.

Neither Mr. Fromong nor Mr. Beardsley attended the sentencing. Mr. Goldman’s father and sister did, though, and said they were pleased by the outcome.

“There’s never closure; Ron is always gone,” the father, Fred Goldman, said on the courthouse steps. “What we have is satisfaction that this monster is where he belongs, behind bars.”

Four of Mr. Simpson’s accomplices pleaded guilty and testified against him at the trial here, which played out like a very low-key echo of his circuslike trial in Los Angeles in 1995. Even the sentencing drew only a small cadre of publicity-seeking figures, including, appropriately for Las Vegas, an Elvis Presley impersonator.

While many legal experts said they did not think the case would have gone to trial had it not centered on Mr. Simpson, a noted Las Vegas criminal defense lawyer, Dayvid Figler, said he was surprised and impressed that Judge Glass did not go harder on him. “This sentence is not out of line with someone who would be in a similar position as Simpson with those charges having gone to trial,” said Mr. Figler, who also discussed the case on truTV.

Lawyers for Mr. Simpson and Mr. Stewart said they would appeal the convictions on several grounds. They argue that jury selection was manipulated to produce a panel with no African-Americans and that one juror claimed on a questionnaire not to have a strong opinion about the 1995 trial but said in post-trial interviews that Mr. Simpson should have been convicted 13 years ago.

“This isn’t the end for this legal team,” Mr. Galanter said. “This is the beginning. There’s a long way to go. We’re not going to leave any stone unturned.”

In a glittering career as a running back in the 1970s, Mr. Simpson was one of the most famous football players of his generation. But he became the prime suspect in the 1994 murder of Ms. Simpson, who had divorced him two years earlier, and Mr. Goldman, outside her home in the Brentwood section of Los Angeles.

The acquittal of Mr. Simpson, who has always vehemently maintained his innocence in the killings, came at the end of a racially charged trial.

Mr. Simpson was found liable for the deaths in a 1997 civil suit and was ordered to pay damages to the victims’ families totaling $33.5 million.

Little of the civil judgment has been collected, and the Goldman family, which has vigorously pursued Mr. Simpson’s assets, is expected to push for hearings to determine who owns the Simpson-related items seized in the raid.

    After Apologies, Simpson Is Sentenced to at Least 9 Years for Armed Robbery, NYT, 6.12.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/06/us/06simpson.html






Disguised Mother Woos Juror in Bid to Free Son


November 29, 2008
The New York Times


At 46, Doreen Giuliano reinvented herself. She dyed her hair blond and tanned at a salon. She left her white seven-bedroom, colonial-style house for a spare basement apartment three miles away. She took on a new name, and for about a year, she said, she rode her bicycle around her new neighborhood, trying to attract the gaze of a young man whom she badly wanted to get close to.

This was no midlife crisis, though. It was a one-woman sting operation.

Ms. Giuliano is the mother of John Giuca, a Brooklyn man who was convicted three years ago along with another man in the 2003 killing of Mark Fisher, a college student from New Jersey who was found beaten and shot five times after a night out in New York City. Ms. Giuliano claims her son is innocent and has mounted an unstinting campaign to free him from prison, where he is serving 25 years to life. She maintains a Web site to rally supporters of her son, and Mr. Giuca’s lawyers have filed an appeal alleging prosecutorial misconduct.

But in the last two years, Ms. Giuliano’s activism reached dramatic new heights. Having assumed the role of a 30-year-old research analyst from California who wore six-inch heels and push-up bras, she set out to meet a man named Jason Allo, a contractor who lived in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. He was a juror in her son’s trial.

It is unclear why Ms. Giuliano took aim at Mr. Allo, though she said in an interview that she followed two other jurors before him. She rented an apartment near Mr. Allo’s house and said she followed him for months. After they finally met one day in October 2007 — she almost ran down Mr. Allo and a friend on her bicycle — Mr. Allo handed the newcomer his phone number. He did not recognize her, though she had been a constant presence at her son’s trial.

She introduced herself as Dee Quinn.

With that meeting, Mr. Allo took his first step into an intricate trap. Over the course of a flirtatious relationship that lasted more than three months, Ms. Giuliano said, she recorded many of their conversations with a hidden digital device. She said that in those conversations, Mr. Allo told her, among other things, that he knew people who appeared on the trial witness list, and that they “used to abuse” his brother, but he did not disclose that he knew them during jury selection.

Ms. Giuliano called him “grossly unqualified” as a juror, and said that on the recordings, he admitted to guiding the other jurors. “He said, ‘I was the first one to come in with guilty and they were all debating,’ ” she said. “He says — he shouts — ‘I shouldn’t have ever been on that jury.’ ”

After hearing that, Ms. Giuliano said, she went to her home in Prospect Park South, where her husband, who was aware of her activities, was waiting. At 2 a.m., crying, she told him: “I got it. I got it.”

The conversations will be the basis of a request, to be filed next week, that her son’s conviction be overturned. A spokesman for Charles J. Hynes, the Brooklyn district attorney, said, “They have not filed papers with the trial judge on this matter, and if they do, we will respond.”

Until this reporter approached Mr. Allo this week, he did not know that the woman he called Dee, or “Cali,” was Mr. Giuca’s mother.

He said he did not remember all the details of their conversations about the trial, but he denied that he had persuaded anyone on the jury to convict Mr. Giuca, and he said he had never seen any of the witnesses or the defendants before the trial.

Ms. Giuliano pursued him relentlessly, he said, adding that they were briefly involved romantically. “There was something about her that didn’t feel right,” he said.

The story of Dee Quinn and Jason Allo is the latest twist in a murder tale that riveted the city. It began in October 2003, at a bar on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, where Mark Fisher, a 19-year old sophomore at Fairfield University, was drinking with friends. In a series of commonplace but ultimately fateful encounters, Mr. Fisher, a 6-foot-5 football player, met a girl and barhopped in Manhattan. He then shared a cab with the girl and other strangers to the Brooklyn home of Mr. Giuca, Ms. Giuliano’s son. Ms. Giuliano and her husband were out of town.

The trial focused on what happened at the house, and what prosecutors said was Mr. Giuca’s larger role as the leader in a local criminal gang.

Prosecutors said Mr. Giuca was angry when Mr. Fisher drunkenly sat on a table.

In one theory presented by prosecutors, Mr. Giuca handed his friend Antonio Russo a gun and told him to show Mr. Fisher “what was up.” In another theory, they said both men had beaten and shot Mr. Fisher.

Ms. Giuliano said her son “was set up,” and she blamed the news media for portraying Mr. Giuca as a gang leader. In the weeks that followed the conviction, the prosecutor, Anna-Sigga Nicolazzi, started traveling with a bodyguard after Ms. Giuliano showed up at another of Ms. Nicolazzi’s cases. (Ms. Giuliano said she accidentally ended up in Ms. Nicolazzi’s courtroom.)

In an interview on Friday on the steps of her Brooklyn home, Ms. Giuliano would not say why she singled out Mr. Allo, citing legal reasons. Mr. Allo said he did not know either, but he remembered how their conversations turned to Mr. Giuca.

He recalled that she told him she worked as a research analyst, helping failing companies, but later she said she had started working at Brooklyn Law School’s Second Look Program. (The program, which works to free innocent prisoners, is real; her involvement was not.) Mr. Allo mentioned he had been a juror on the high-profile case, and she said she would do some research on it. “She asked if I wanted to be her assistant,” Mr. Allo recalled. Her apartment was a picture of impermanence, he said: a futon on the floor, a “$90 television set,” furniture rescued from the street and nothing but beer in the refrigerator. She never seemed to have a steady cellphone number and she was always disappearing, he said.

Their relationship was flirtatious, and he said that she actively pursued him, telling friends “she was madly in love with me.”

“She was always getting me to drink,” he said. “She was offering me wine, offering to smoke weed.” He said that they “fooled around,” but that he was not especially attracted to her.

Ms. Giuliano admitted to flirting with Mr. Allo, but said the never relationship was never romantic. “He told me he wasn’t interested in me,” she said.

It was not for a lack of trying. As Dee Madison Quinn (the last name was Ms. Giuliano’s maiden name), she wore high heels and tight-fitting clothes and went to the gym. “I got in shape,” she said. “This was a lot of preparation.”

She spent $1,100 a month on her apartment and printed business cards with her assumed name on them. After nights out with Mr. Allo, she would return home to Prospect Park South, drained. Desperation drove her, she said: “My main concern was that John got a fair trial.”

She said she felt bad for Mr. Allo, though her husband told her she should not. She said the judge could not have known about any problem with the juror.

Mr. Allo, she said, “snuck into his courtroom.”

Ms. Giuliano declined Friday to immediately provide the recordings she said she made or any transcripts, saying she first needed to speak with her lawyer. An article about the case posted on Vanity Fair’s Web site on Friday said that Mr. Allo, referring to the defendants, told Ms. Giuliano that he “used to hang out with these guys, not these two exactly. But, like, the clique.”

Mr. Allo also acknowledged that he knew he should not have been on the jury, according to Vanity Fair, because he had been asked during jury selection whether he knew anyone on the witness list.

It is not clear whether Ms. Giuliano’s undercover operation and Mr. Allo’s purported statements, if accepted as true by the court, will be enough to prove juror misconduct. Stanley Neustadter, an appeal lawyer who is the director of the Criminal Appeals Clinic at Cardozo Law School, said such claims are “tough to win,” and require the showing of a reasonable likelihood that the juror could not be fair and impartial.

Mr. Allo, who spoke to this reporter this week outside his Bensonhurst apartment, denied having any previous contact with anyone involved in the case. “I’ve never seen those guys in my life,” he said.

In the interview, he appeared dazed as he sifted through all of Ms. Giuliano’s deceptions. He said he slowly lost touch with Dee — at some point, “she was just gone” — though they continued to communicate via e-mail.

She kept her cover, claiming to call him once from a Los Angeles laundry. In the last few weeks, they spoke again, but she said she had to return to California, to help a friend whose house was threatened by wildfire. “I understand her motivation,” he said. “But that’s not right.”

Alain Delaquérière, John Eligon and William K. Rashbaum contributed reporting.

    Disguised Mother Woos Juror in Bid to Free Son, NYT, 29.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/29/nyregion/29juror.html?hp






Ethics Dilemma for Lawyers When Inmates Seek Death


November 19, 2008
Filed at 2:42 p.m. ET
The New York Times


LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- John Delaney faced the toughest moment of his legal career -- his condemned client wanted to drop his appeals and die by injection, an act Delaney opposed and had been trained to try to prevent.

''What do you say?'' asked Delaney, a public defender in northern Kentucky who represented Marco Allen Chapman.

It's a question that has arisen 131 times since states resumed executions in 1977, and each time it leaves defense lawyers struggling against their training to act in the best interest of their clients and justice.

''We're trained as lawyers to be an advocate for someone and fight as hard as we can,'' said Stephen Harris, a University of Baltimore law professor who represented execution volunteer John Thanos in Maryland in 1994. ''Here's someone who says, 'I don't want you,' then, 'I want to die.'''

The first volunteer after the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976 was Gary Mark Gilmore, put to death a year later by a firing squad in Utah for killing a gas station attendant. The 128 men and two women who have followed suit often gave similar reasons -- mainly remorse, a desire for atonement and not wanting to spend their lives in prison -- according to the Death Penalty Information Center, an anti-capital punishment group that compiles statistics on executions.

About 12 percent of the 1,133 inmates executed in the U.S. since 1977 abandoned their appeals and asked for their sentences to be carried out, said Richard Dieter, executive director of the center and a law professor at Catholic University in Washington. Each time, the inmate either fired the defense lawyer or told them to stop filing appeals.

''It amounts to the same thing,'' Dieter said.

Attorneys are required to follow the client's wishes or have themselves removed from the case, said Michael Mello, a Vermont Law School professor who teaches ethics and death penalty law.

''Their hands are pretty well tied,'' Mello said. ''These are the cases that haunt you. This is the most hideous of cases.''

That's how Gus Cahill felt when his client, Keith Eugene Wells, told him he wanted to die. Wells was convicted of beating a couple to death in 1990 in Idaho. He went through the mandatory appeals, then decided to waive any remaining legal options and was lethally injected in 1994.

''I really liked Keith,'' said Cahill, a public defender in Boise. ''You're just thinking, 'Oh, my God, I feel so sorry for being part of what Keith wanted to do.'''

Harris, who opted not to try to talk Thanos into sticking with his appeals, said cases of death penalty volunteers always come with second thoughts, but knowing that a client went willingly to his execution is something attorneys just have to come to grips with.

''I don't know what was in his mind,'' he said. ''You always have regrets about that stuff. But I think I made the right decision.''

Chapman, 36, is to die Friday at the Kentucky State Penitentiary in Eddyville for killing a 7-year-old girl and her 6-year-old brother six years ago in a crack cocaine-fueled attack on a family for whom he'd worked as a handyman.

Delaney, 49, was assigned the case in 2004, and Chapman quickly made it clear that he didn't want a defense and didn't want his life spared. Chapman said at several court hearings and in letters to judges that he wanted to plead guilty and be sentenced to death.

To Delaney, Chapman's reasoning for dropping his appeals made sense on some level.

''Marc wanted to try to make amends to the family,'' Delaney said.

That didn't make it easy to step out of the way of Chapman's execution. Delaney repeatedly tried to get the inmate to at least let a jury determine what sentence to impose. He refused.

Delaney told Chapman to fire him before pleading guilty.

''I wasn't going to help him,'' Delaney said. ''He wasn't in left field for what he wants, though.''

A judge granted Chapman's request to dismiss Delaney and appointed him standby counsel in case Chapman changed his mind.

Delaney tells himself he did everything possible for his reluctant client.

If the execution goes through as scheduled Friday night, he said, he'll be having a drink and tell himself that at least one more time.

    Ethics Dilemma for Lawyers When Inmates Seek Death, NYT, 20.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/us/AP-Suicide-By-Court.html






Young Killer Pleads Guilty to Michigan Drug Charge


November 17, 2008
Filed at 11:13 a.m. ET
The New York Times


PONTIAC, Mich. (AP) -- A Detroit-area man who committed murder at age 11 has pleaded guilty to drug possession.

Twenty-two-year-old Nathaniel Abraham pleaded guilty Monday to possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance.

Abraham faces a maximum of 20 years in prison at his Dec. 22 sentencing.

The Oakland Press reports Abraham responded ''yes'' when asked if he intended to sell 254 Ecstasy pills found when he was arrested May 30.

Defense attorney Byron Pitts says Abraham is upset about going to prison.

Abraham was convicted of second-degree murder in the 1997 slaying of 18-year-old Ronnie Greene of Pontiac. Abraham finished serving a juvenile sentence in January 2007.

    Young Killer Pleads Guilty to Michigan Drug Charge, NYT, 17.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/us/AP-Young-Murderer-Drug-Charge.html






Man Guilty in Murders at Atlanta Courthouse


November 8, 2008
The New York Times


ATLANTA — A jury on Friday found Brian G. Nichols guilty of murdering four people in 2005 in a spree of violence known here as the Courthouse Shootings.

On March 11, 2005, Mr. Nichols, who was on trial for rape, stole a sheriff’s deputy’s gun and shot Judge Rowland Barnes of Superior Court; Julie Ann Brandau, a court reporter; and Hoyt Teasley, a deputy. Mr. Nichols then fled across the city by foot, car and rail, killing a customs agent, David Wilhelm, and taking a woman hostage before being captured.

Mr. Nichols’s defense team did not contest the basic facts, but argued that he was not guilty by reason of insanity. The jury deliberated for 12 hours before finding Mr. Nichols guilty on all 54 counts against him, including murder, assault, battery, kidnapping and carjacking.

The verdict was a victory for prosecutors who sought to depict Mr. Nichols, 36, as ruthless and calculating but mentally competent. The defense claimed that Mr. Nichols was possessed by psychological delusions that he was a slave rebelling against an evil government.

Judge James G. Bodiford of Superior Court ordered the jury to return Monday to consider evidence on whether to sentence Mr. Nichols to the death penalty or life in prison.

Mr. Nichols sat unflinching for several minutes as the judge ticked off the guilty counts.

Legal experts say the defense faces little chance of avoiding the death sentence for Mr. Nichols.

“I think the defense has got a very big uphill battle to convince even one juror that he doesn’t deserve the death penalty,” said Michael Mears, a law professor at John Marshall Law School in Atlanta. “But one juror is all it takes.”

For three and a half years, the case has gripped Atlanta, which redoubled courthouse security after the murders and spent nearly $1 million on a trial that featured more than 90 witnesses and 900 pieces of evidence. The public cost of the defending Mr. Nichols has approached $2 million, leaving the state public defense system essentially broke.

Judge Bodiford is the second judge to preside in the case. In January, the first, Hilton M. Fuller Jr., resigned after telling a reporter for The New Yorker that “everyone in the world” knows Mr. Nichols committed the murders. Mr. Mears said that after Judge Fuller departed, Judge Bodiford expedited the case without undermining its fairness.

“This has been a supreme test of the judicial system in Georgia,” Mr. Mears said. “So far, I think we’re passing the test.”

    Man Guilty in Murders at Atlanta Courthouse, NYT, 8.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/08/us/08nichols.html






Courts Give Some Addicts

Chance to Straighten Out


October 15, 2008
The New York Times


SEATTLE — It was not your usual courtroom scene. For one thing, the judge choked up as he described one woman’s struggle with opiate addiction after her arrest for forging prescriptions.

Over the last three years, she had repeatedly missed court-ordered therapy and hearings, and the judge, J. Wesley Saint Clair of the Drug Diversion Court, at first meted out mild punishments, like community service. But last winter, pushed past his forgiving limit, he jailed her briefly twice. The threat of more jail did the trick.

Now she was graduating — along with 23 other addicts who entered drug court instead of prison. Prosecutors and public defenders applauded when she was handed her certificate; a policewoman hugged her, and a child shouted triumphantly, “Yeah, Mamma!”

In Seattle, as in drug courts across the country, the stern face of criminal justice is being redrawn, and emotions are often on the surface. Experts say drug courts have been the country’s fastest-spreading innovation in criminal justice, giving arrested addicts a chance to avoid prison by agreeing to stringent oversight and addiction treatment. Recent studies show drug courts are one of the few initiatives that reduce recidivism — on average by 8 percent to 10 percent nationally and as high as 26 percent in New York State — and save taxpayer money.

Since Judge Saint Clair took over the King County drug court here in 2005, the annual number of graduates — drug and alcohol free for at least six months — has more than doubled. His court has been cited by outside experts as one of the country’s best, yet a state budget crisis is forcing a shrinkage in participants.

Since the first drug court began work, in Miami in 1989, the idea has spread to more than 2,100 courtrooms in every state, though they still take in only a small fraction of addicted criminals. Offenders, usually caught in low-level dealing or stealing to support their addictions, volunteer for 9 to 18 months or more of intrusive supervision by a judge, including random urine testing, group therapy and mandatory sobriety meetings. The intent is a personal transformation that many participants say is tougher than prison — and with the threat of prison if they drop out or are kicked out.

“I’ve waited 22 months for this day, and I never thought I’d make it,” Scott Elkins, a 26-year-old hip-hop singer, told the Seattle audience in September. A cocaine user and dealer who had been clean for two years, Mr. Elkins had his felony charges dropped and has a job, his own music production company and marriage plans.

Nationwide, 70,000 offenders are in adult or juvenile drug courts at any given time, with the number growing, said C. West Huddleston III, director of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals. The concept has been supported by the Clinton and Bush administrations.

“To find an intervention that works has generated great excitement in the criminal justice community,” said Greg Berman, director of the Center for Court Innovation, a research group in New York, where Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye has been a strong advocate.

But some scholars say that, because of high up-front costs, the limited success of drug treatment and a shortage of judges with the required personal talents, drug courts are unlikely to make a significant dent in the prison population.

Some lawyers also say the courts can infringe on the rights of defendants given that offenders usually must acknowledge guilt to enter the court, or in some places have already agreed to a plea bargain and sentence. Thus an addict might opt for drug court to avoid prison or with sincere intentions of going straight, but if treatment fails and he is expelled from the program, he must serve a sentence without having seriously fought the charges. His total time in court custody, between drug court and then prison, may be longer than it would have been otherwise. Advocates respond that such offenders are facing a plea-bargaining mill in any case, and are offered an invaluable chance for change.

Critics also worry that the courts can monopolize scarce drug-treatment slots at the expense of other addicts seeking help.

Clearly, the courts do not help everyone. One of the most successful programs is in New York State, where about 1,600 offenders are in adult drug courts. Studies found that while 40 percent dropped out of the program along the way, those who started it, including both dropouts and graduates, had 29 percent fewer new convictions over a three-year period than a control group with similar criminal histories and no contact with drug courts, Mr. Berman said.

In other regions, half or more of those who start the program do not finish. And recidivism rates for participants are reduced by about 10 percent to 20 percent, depending upon the quality of the judges and treatment programs, said John Roman, a researcher at the Urban Institute, based on a recent study.

An earlier review of 57 “rigorous” drug court evaluations around the country, led by Steve Aos of the Washington State Institute for Public Policy, found that recidivism was reduced on average by only 8 percent, but with wide variation.

Yet even that modest reduction in crimes and prison yields cost benefits. The report this year by the Urban Institute found that, for 55,000 people in adult drug courts, the country spends about half a billion dollars a year in supervision and treatment but reaps more than $1 billion in reduced law enforcement, prison and victim costs. A large expansion would yield similar benefits, the report argued.

But some scholars, like Mark A. R. Kleiman, director of the Drug Policy Analysis Program at the University of California, Los Angeles, remain skeptical about the potential and the achievements. He suggests, for example, that success rates of some courts may be inflated because they take in offenders who are not addicted and entered this track only to avoid prison. Dr. Kleiman advocates a slimmed-down system that does not initially require costly treatment, as drug courts do, but simply demands that offenders stop using drugs, with the penalty of short stays in jail when they fail urine tests. Such an approach has shown promise with methamphetamine users in Hawaii, he said, and because it is far cheaper, it can be applied to far more offenders.

Still, several drug-court graduates in Seattle and Olympia, Wash., said the supervision of a judge, ready to praise or jail them depending on performance, was crucial to their success.

Allison Alexander, 26, had parents who were heroin addicts, and she had lived on the streets since age 14, using and selling methamphetamine.

“I couldn’t have stopped on my own; I didn’t know how,” said Ms. Alexander, holding her 16-month-old daughter on graduation day.

“Drug court saved my life,” she told the audience, tears welling up in the eyes of her grandparents and even the prosecutor, and she said she aims for a career in child counseling.

The Seattle court handles about 500 offenders at a time, though state budget cuts will reduce the number to 300 next year. Judge Saint Clair, an animated 57-year-old, said this would cost society more in the long run. He also tried to dispel the notion that drug courts were a free ride.

“Drug courts work, and not because they’re fuzzy — let me tell you, I can be a hard man to deal with,” Judge Saint Clair said to the graduates, their families and friends. “For many of you, it would have been easier just to have taken your prison time.”

In Seattle, most of the offenders are addicted to cocaine, heroin or prescription narcotics. Researchers have not established whether the courts are more effective with one type of drug user or another.

But more than two-thirds of the clients in Thurston County, Wash., south of Seattle, are methamphetamine users. The court there in Olympia is led by Judge Richard A. Strophy, who was recently considering the case of Pepper Johnston, 26, who had lost custody of her baby girl during the three years she was, in her words, “strung out.” Now doing well after nine months in the program, Ms. Johnston meets her daughter after school and dreams of regaining custody.

But the judge told another woman who has missed therapy and urine tests that he might remove her from the program, and had her handcuffed and taken to jail until he decided.

“With meth addicts, who are paranoid and oppositional, you’ve got to force them to change,” Judge Strophy said. “Coerced treatment works.”

Offenders are referred to drug court by prosecutors but participation is voluntary, and some decline because they prefer brief sentences to a year or two under the thumb of a judge, with no guarantee that they will not fail and serve prison time anyway.

At a regular session of the Seattle court, Jenifer Paris, 36, sounded hopeful. She was six months clean, she said, after 22 years of heroin and cocaine use and stretches of homelessness and prostitution. She is in a methadone maintenance program — acceptable to many drug courts — and in therapy.

“You guys are the first people to believe in me,” Ms. Paris said.

“I’m full of gratitude for the opportunity and for you not kicking me out,” she said, eyes sweeping from Judge Saint Clair to the prosecutor and her public defender.

“We’re not done yet,” Judge Saint Clair replied with a hint of a smile.

    Courts Give Some Addicts Chance to Straighten Out, NYT, 15.10.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/15/us/15drugs.html






Many Stark Contrasts

as Simpson Is Convicted


October 5, 2008
The New York Times


LAS VEGAS — By the time O. J. Simpson stood up in court late Friday to hear the spray of guilty verdicts on robbery and kidnapping charges that may send him to prison for the rest of his life, he was already so far removed from the heights of his fame and popularity that an entire generation of young Americans was barely aware that he had ever been a football star.

One measure of his downfall: few cared.

Gone were the adoring fans who lined the streets of Los Angeles more than 14 years ago as Mr. Simpson, a Heisman Trophy winner and National Football League Hall of Fame inductee, led police officers on a slow-speed chase in a white Ford Bronco after they went to arrest him in the murders of his former wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald L. Goldman.

Instead of millions of Americans obsessively stewing over the daily details in the case against him, a city block set aside for news media tents was largely empty for the four-week trial. Mr. Simpson’s comings and goings were barely noticed.

Acquitted in 1995 of murder, Mr. Simpson was convicted on Friday of rounding up five men, most with lengthy criminal records, and bursting into a $35-a-night Las Vegas hotel room to steal a trove of sports memorabilia from two collectibles dealers.

Mr. Simpson, 61, stood up older and noticeably less confident as guilty verdicts were read on all 12 charges than he did when he emphatically declared himself “absolutely, positively, 100 percent not guilty” in the 1994 killings.

This time, he sighed heavily as his sister, Carmelita Durio, sobbed and fainted. He appeared resigned to the idea that the jury of nine women and three men had not believed his argument that he was trying to retrieve personal keepsakes that had been stolen from his home or that he was unaware that two of the five men had carried or displayed weapons.

Judge Jackie Glass of District Court ordered Mr. Simpson remanded into custody until Dec. 5, when she is scheduled to sentence him. The most serious charges, two counts of kidnapping with a deadly weapon, carry a minimum sentence of 15 years to life with parole possible after five years. The dozen charges, which include robbery, burglary, conspiracy, assault and coercion, could carry a total minimum sentence of more than 50 years in prison if sentenced consecutively.

“I don’t like to use the word payback,” said Mr. Simpson’s lawyer, Yale Galanter. “I can tell you from the beginning my biggest concern was whether or not the jury would be able to separate their very strong feelings about Mr. Simpson and judge him fairly and honestly.”

Jurors heard from several witnesses who contradicted themselves, including four of Mr. Simpson’s five accomplices, who had accepted plea deals in exchange for their testimony. Still, the jurors decided after 13 hours of deliberation that Mr. Simpson’s explanation was less credible and that Mr. Simpson and the fifth accomplice, Clarence Stewart, were guilty. Mr. Stewart, 54, faces the same sentences as Mr. Simpson.

One juror, Anne Sorge, 60, a bank employee, disagreed with Mr. Galanter’s remarks, saying the issue of the 1994 murders never came up in deliberations.

“We never once referred to the past,” Ms. Sorge said. “We had so much information in front of us to consider. We had hours of detailed recordings, and we were comparing our notes on what the witnesses said. We watched what would clarify the information more. And remember, we watched and listened to everything in the courtroom a number of times.”

The fact that the key evidence against Mr. Simpson and Mr. Stewart was hours of surreptitious audio recordings of the planning, execution and aftermath of the episode reflected a peculiar reality of Mr. Simpson’s post-acquittal life.

“Many people carry recorders around him to see if they can catch him slipping to make money,” said Debbie Alexander, the former wife of Walter Alexander, 46, one of the four men who accompanied Mr. Simpson on the raid.

Indeed, even the victims in this case were heard on the recordings discussing how they could profit from the crime by selling their stories to tabloid news shows. Mr. Simpson’s solitude was palpable to Dominick Dunne, the Vanity Fair columnist who made a name for himself during the 1995 trial for his forceful denunciations of Mr. Simpson.

“There’s a loneliness, a sadness about O. J. that I never saw before,” said Mr. Dunne, who observed the first two weeks of the robbery trial. “I think he understands how wrecked his life is.”

Public interest in the trial was minimal. Seats in the Las Vegas courtroom set aside for the public were vacant most of the time. One Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist, so disgusted by the matter, declared at the onset that it would be her “first and only” column on Mr. Simpson.

In 1995, Mr. Simpson was a cause célèbre for many blacks who viewed him as suffering a raw deal from a racist judicial system. This time, not a single black activist in Las Vegas picketed, protested or even commented on the case.

“It just sad that it’s come to this, but I can’t say I’m surprised,” said Francisco Rivenia, 54, a Simpson fan who was hanging around the lobby of the Clark County Regional Justice Center.

An hour before the verdict, Mr. Galanter reflected on Mr. Simpson’s bizarre path. The football star parlayed his popularity into an acting career that spanned a part in the miniseries “Roots” and the “Naked Gun” franchise.

But after he was found not guilty in the 1994 murders, he remained a pariah. In 1997, a civil jury found him liable for the deaths and ordered him to pay $33.5 million to the estates of his ex-wife and Mr. Goldman. Mr. Simpson had further run-ins with the law, most notably having been acquitted in 2001 of battery and auto burglary charges stemming from a road-rage incident in Florida. He also appeared in a video that seemed to make light of the 1994 deaths by being seen wielding a knife, and he penned what he called a fictional tell-all book, “If I Did It,” which outlined how he might have committed the slayings.

“As horrible as the murders were, and they were a terrible tragedy, just think about this: What if the jury in L.A. got it right, what if O. J. Simpson didn’t do it?” Mr. Galanter said. “He never got his life back after he was acquitted.”

    Many Stark Contrasts as Simpson Is Convicted, NYT, 5.10.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/05/us/05simpson.html




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