Welcome to Volume 2 Issue 3 of Justice Denied
Table of Contents:
to write on behalf of those profiled in this issue.
Directly from the desk of Clara Thomas Boggs Two
editorials this month: The Epidemic of Wrongful Convictions: What
You Can Do and Adopting a JD Team Member.
Innocents on Death Row
Commute the Death Sentence of Caruthers Alexander Execution date
URGENT: Plea for Robert Eagle Clayton
Newest Information: The DNA testing requested 1/3/01, the reason for
Robert's stay, was not in his favor and the execution has been
rescheduled for February 2, 2001.
Anthony Apanovitch, Anthony Graves and Michael
Hamilton mentioned in previous issues of JD, still need your help.
Family Fights For Justice In Casey Case Tamela Stanford Carey says
her own relative committed the murder for which Eugene Casey was
convicted. Moreover, the murder victim was 5'11" and had dark brown
hair and eyes, while Troy Stanford, the alleged victim was 5'7" and had
blonde hair and blue eyes. What is going on here?
Testimony Puts Innocent Man Behind Bars For Life -- The Tony Thrash
Story Tony Thrash was convicted and imprisoned for life solely on
the false testimony of one woman -- who secretly received her freedom
in exchange for that testimony.
The New York Boys -- The Story
of Lenworth Edwards, Wrongly Convicted of Murder Imagine yourself
sitting in your car with a friend. An officer of the law, who asks for
your identification, approaches you. You give him a false name because
you are from New York and in Ohio illegally selling drugs so you are
arrested for obstruction of justice. The next thing you know you're
sitting in a jail cell facing an aggravated murder charge that you know
The Herbert Bassette Story In 1992,
Herbert's death sentence was commuted to life in prison without
possibility of parole by then-Governor Douglas L. Wilder after
compelling evidence showed that Herbert was not involved in the crime or
in a previous 1966 crime that had been used as the basis for the jury's
recommendation of death.
Walking Albert Burrell and Michael Graham are FREE AT LAST.
They have spent the last thirteen years of their lives in one of the
most notorious prisons in the country, Angola (Louisiana State
Penitentiary), locked in a 6' x 9' cage for 23 hours a day.
Ochoa --Free At Last. Twelve years after Texas
authorities used the threat of execution to coerce a false confession
from Christopher Ochoa, and five years after another man first wrote a
letter to then-Texas Governor Bush confessing his guilt and exonerating
Ochoa and co-defendant Richard Danziger, Ochoa was ordered released on
Documentary Review A look at "Waiting
for a Miracle" -- The Darlie Routier Story by Nexus Media International
This month in Voices we bring you two
writings from previously profiled inmates, Patrick Swiney and
A Case of Injustice Book
review by Stormy Thoming-Gale. A new book, "A Case of Injustice," has
put numerous Texas officials in the hot seat and kept the author in
Make sure you visit Snapshots --The Wrongly Convicted in the News.
This month in Snapshots: The phenomenon of change blindness... How much
of the world around you do you really see? Majority Favors Moratorium
on Executions and DNA Testing Law in Florida and Tennessee.
Two editorials this month:
of Wrongful Convictions: What You Can Do.
a JD Team Member
The Epidemic of
Wrongful Convictions: What You Can Do.
We commonly think of an epidemic
in terms of big numbers. However, I call your attention to the epidemic
of AIDS. At one time, the numbers of those affected were small, whereas
they now threaten entire populations in areas of Africa and elsewhere.
There have, of course, been
wrongful convictions for decades, nay, hundreds of years. It has been
left to our legal system to perfect the art of wrongly convicting
innocent people. A few years ago, many of us were shaking our heads
over the revelations of some investigations by a few brave newspapers
of the lengths to which prosecutors would go to gain a win even at the
cost of convicting the innocent. We benefited by this knowledge because
it caused many of us to take action and level charges against the
judicial system (one hesitates to call it the "justice" system), if
only in rants against it.
The benefit has been greater
than that, however. Innocence projects have sprung up around the
country and as more people have become concerned, we see the
proliferation of web pages, citizen groups, reform groups and scattered
people taking up the cause of the wronged.
The "epidemic," however, has not
abated. If anything, it is still on the rise as it is fought. Why? In
part, it's because politicians still find crime stopping an easy way to
gain votes. I recently read that politicians use statistics the way a
drunk uses a lamppost -- as support, and not to shed light. Politicos
use our fears to our detriment and to the detriment of the system
because they are certainly not ensuring our safety from crime. Instead,
by locking up more people, they are helping to create entire new
generations of angry people who have self-legitimized reasons to harm
us. Along with the guilty who are loaded down with ever-heavier
sentences, the innocent are also shoveled in.
There was a time within my
memory when the falsely accused or convicted or both believed theirs
was a unique situation. With the help of many television documentaries
and movies, people discovered that they were not uniquely singled out,
but had fallen in with many other hapless folks.
Signs of our times
I live in a very small town.
When word first got around that Justice Denied Magazine was being
launched from here, I began to get isolated calls from people seeking
help in cases of wrongful convictions. Now, in nearby Coos Bay, Oregon,
there is a fledgling group devoted to the wrongly convicted and there
are local people actively working with a human rights committee. I
imagine this scenario is playing out across the country and in some
cases I know this for sure.
What is an epidemic? Isn't it a
disease, hysteria, or other thing that can be spread by infection? For
sure, it is. Many things fall under this heading, including ideas. If
there had been no epidemic of wrongful convictions, a Ramparts Division
scandal in Los Angeles could not have happened, yet it did and those
affected are still sorting themselves out. If there had been no
epidemic, the "Wenatchee Witch Hunt" in Washington would not have
happened. Those folks went years without redress, but after an
Innocence Project Northwest was organized, the house of cards came
tumbling down, and more than two dozen people were freed from prison.
The epidemic has faces.
At JD Magazine, we receive
hundreds of letters from prisoners a year begging for help. Those in
charge of prisoner mail bear the brunt of the cries for justice in
cases where the wrongs are very clear. We cannot help all those who
need our help, and although that's discouraging, we take encouragement
from those we can help, and do the best we can. Recently some of the
prisoners we've profiled have come to the attention of various
television stations, and even Court TV has befriended some of "our"
Stopping the Infection
The first step to take against
an epidemic is to contain it so it does not spread. Unfortunately,
because this infection begins in the hearts and minds of normal people,
we may have no luck on that front. What we can do is to become involved
at whatever level we can. This may take the form of forgoing our normal
reactions of fear and analyzing political rhetoric to find the right
course rather than what seems to be the safe course, for in the end the
right course will be safest for all. For sure, our activism must take
the form of reaching out to the wronged to proactively right injustice.
Those who have already done this for the wronged include the most
ordinary of folks -- grandmothers and grandfathers, teachers and
students, wives and husbands of prisoners, even children (the Bruderhof
children are notable examples), in short, anyone who cares has made and
is making a difference.
The most important way to stop
the epidemic of injustice is to not let it infect us. We must be
careful to be just and fair in our own dealings with others. A small
thing, you say? Not so. We cannot look to our leaders for examples of
honor and justice, for they are often found wanting. A civilization
springs from the hearts of its people. If we set the higher standard in
our own lives, there will be a ripple effect. At JD, we believe in the
power of one person making a difference, and we have seen the payoff
many times now. Because of JD and other groups and people working to
help the innocent, those who are suffering injustice have hope. There
is no getting around the fact that, regrettably, some of those who
sought help from us no longer need it because they have been executed.
Once when that happened, Phyllis Lincoln, who handles our prisoner
mail, was devastated, even questioning if she had what it took to
continue. Fortunately, for us, she has stayed the course and been
rewarded by knowing she has helped. Others at JD have experienced
similar epiphanies, and emerged stronger, more committed to the higher
standard, having understood that they are holding the judicial system
to accountability. In fact, those you see listed on the contacts page
FORM an honor roll of standard-bearers who should inspire us all to do
our best for the world. Justice is a necessity in a free society, not a
luxury. To the extent that we demand a just society, to that extent
will be see justice practiced toward us when we need it.
For the Justice Denied Staff,
Clara A. Thomas Boggs
JD Team Member
Greetings, Kind Readers:
As our work at JD keeps growing,
the demands made on some team members has gotten out of hand. Recently,
after one of the JD Team said she was going to make a pitch to some
people she knew who might contribute to her "staying in business" with
JD, it occurred to me that several of us need to be "adopted" so that
we can cope with the demands coming at us.
Here's the deal: you get to make
a tax-deductible donation to The Justice Institute, and name the JD
Team Member you're adopting. Your pledge can be large or small,
whatever you want to give is more than we have now. Here is a list of
those who need adoption:
Phyllis Lincoln, Manager of
Prisoner Mail, Staff Writer
Kay Echols-Ryder, Assistant for Prisoner Mail, Staff Writer
Stormy Thoming-Gale, Web Site Producer, Co-producer of JD, and Staff
Nancy Sanders, Subscriptions Manager, Email Story Coordinator
Clara A. T. Boggs, Producer, Editor in Chief
Those named are often holding
down one or two jobs, raising children, or are otherwise compromised
for time. If they can receive some recompense, their ability to work
for JD will be expanded.
If subsidizing our worthy work
appeals to you, please make a check out to either
Justice Denied Magazine or The
c/o Nancy Sanders
PO Box 23255
Pleasant Hill, Calif. 94523
We will be grateful for your
support. In the future, we may even put up photos of the staff so that
you may see who you are helping.
Thank you, on behalf of the JD
Clara A. T. Boggs
SnapShots: The Wrongly Convicted in the News
The phenomenon of
change blindness... How much of the world around you do you really see?
Favors Moratorium on Executions
DNA Testing Law
in Florida and Tennessee
The Phenomenon of change blindness...
How much of the world around you
do you really see?
Reporter, Barbara Jean McAtlin
Imagine that you're walking
across a quiet grassy park when a stranger stops you and asks you for
directions. While you're giving directions to the stranger, two men
carrying a wooden door pass between the two of you. You're annoyed for
an instant, but after they move on you finish giving the stranger the
directions for which he had asked. After you're finished, the stranger
says you have just unknowingly taken part in a psychology experiment.
He asks if you noticed anything different after the two men with the
door passed. You tell him no. He then tells you that the man who
initially approached you and asked for directions had walked off behind
the door, leaving him in his stead. The first man now walks up and
joins you. Looking at them standing next to each other, you see they
are of different height and build, are dressed differently, have
different haircuts and different voices.
It may seem impossible, but
psychologists from Harvard University and Kent State University found
that one-half of the people who took part in this experiment failed to
notice any substitution. The subjects had fallen for what is called
"change blindness." This phenomenon, in conjunction with the results of
other recent experiments, suggests that we see much less of our world
than we think we do.
These experiments draw the
conclusion that rather than logging every detail of a particular visual
scene, we are actually quite selective about what we take in. The
impression that we see everything is precisely that -- an impression.
The fact is that we extract a few details about what we see and then
rely on memory or imagination to fill in the missing particulars.
Until the 1990s, vision
researchers thought that seeing was the same as taking pictures in the
brain. This would mean that if we were to build detailed
representations of the world in our brains and compare these
representations over time, we would be able to point out any changes.
In more recent years though, it has been found that we don't actually
store elaborate pictures in our short-term memory. Storing these
pictures is not a necessity and storing them would take up much of the
brain's valuable computing power. It is now believed that we log only
what has changed and assume that the rest of the picture has stayed the
same. When looked at in this way, it is a reasonable certainty that we
will miss more than a few details. Research has already shown that we
may ignore the more insignificant items in our visual field, like a
repeated word or line on a page of text, but nobody had realized just
how little we humans really do "see."
One experiment describes how
people who were shown computer-generated pictures of natural scenes
were blind to changes made literally in the blink of an eye. As a
result, it seems that change blindness is an even stronger phenomenon
than what had been previously thought.
Other examples have shown
researchers just how imaginary our seeing world is. It has also been
proven that the human eye doesn't even need to be moving to be
deceived. In a typical laboratory demonstration, a person would be
shown a picture on a computer screen of children playing on a deck. The
picture would then disappear and be replaced for a mere fraction of a
second by a blank screen. When the original picture reappears it will
have been significantly altered by removing outdoor furniture or one or
two of the children. As the picture changes back and forth, many people
will look at the screen for a full sixty seconds before they see the
changes that were made. Some people never do notice any changes.
To some degree "change
blindness" is unauthentic because the changes are masked in some way.
In real life there tends to be a visible movement that signals changes,
but this is not always so. Almost everyone has had the experience of
not noticing a traffic light change because of briefly looking away.
There is a phenomenon related to change blindness called "inattentional
blindness." Inattentional blindness involves no visual tricks at all.
Inattentional blindness is as simple as, if you are not paying
attention to a particular scene, you will not see it.
Research has shown that
imagining a particular scene activates parts of the brain's visual
cortex in the same way that visually seeing it does. This finding
supports the conclusion that we humans gather only the information we
think is worth saving and then fill in the missing parts using memory
or imagination upon recalling the scene. The belief that humans see
"everything" is partially a result of our using memory and imagination
to fill in the gaps.
By studying the experiment above
that involved the stranger asking for directions, you can see that even
the object to which a person is paying attention may be switched
without his noting it. Despite the fact that the subjects were closely
looking at the man for at least a minute while giving him directions,
fifty percent of them encoded none of the details of his physical
appearance (such as the man's haircut or clothing) that were to change
later. These details were not registered as relevant. What was
registered as relevant was that the man was in a certain location
asking them a certain question. In other words: just because a person
is paying attention to an object does not mean that they notice
everything about it. The experimenters did point out that the subjects
who did notice the switch were people in the same age range as the two
strangers. Being in the same social group, these subjects would
naturally be more inclined to take in certain details, while older
subjects might see the stranger as a student and leave it at that.
There is one thing on which most
researchers agree: since humans have a far less than complete picture
of the world at any one time, there is a serious potential for
distortion and error. This conclusion has many implications, not the
least for eyewitness accounts. If it is possible to stand less than a
yard from someone and talk to him for at least a minute without taking
in more than a few minute details, how reliable is the testimony of a
person who witnesses a scene from a distance -- especially when the
person was oblivious to the scene's significance and only later were
called upon to recall it?
For all our experience in this
visual world, it would seem that human beings actually absorb no more
than a small fraction of actual details about it. If the evidence shown
is correct, the human imagination unwittingly plays a major role in
many types of false memories and mistaken identifications. These false
memories and mistaken identifications come from the natural human
capability of "filling in" the gaps and later recalling not only what
was attended to, but also what was filled in. By using the evidence
shown, it is clear that the human brain does not seem to make any
distinction between these two types of information. When we toss in our
few stored images and our beliefs, we can produce a convincing whole in
which it is impossible to tell what was real and what was imagined.
Source: New Scientist Magazine
Majority Favors Moratorium on Executions
SnapShot by David C. N. Swanson,
Polls indicate that while a
majority (albeit a slimmer majority than in recent years) of Americans
still support the death penalty, a majority also favor calling a
moratorium on executions until a justice system increasingly notorious
for convicting the innocent can be studied and possibly improved. These
two statistics suggest that most Americans believe the system can be
satisfactorily improved and that a moratorium will not be followed by
Many anti-death penalty
activists take a different view. If the injustices of the existing
system are studied, they believe, only one result is possible, namely
eliminating forever the possibility of executing the innocent by
banning forever all executions. The moratorium movement, together with
an increasing public awakening to the long-established fact that the
death penalty does not deter crime, is seen by many as a step in the
direction of abolition.
"We are well on our way to
abolition," said Nadine Strossen, national president of the American
Civil Liberties Union, at a four-day convention of anti-death penalty
activists that was held at the Cathedral Hill Hotel in San Francisco in
Ajamu Baraka, death penalty
director for Amnesty International, agreed, saying, "People are no
longer convinced of the moral rightness of the death penalty . . . as a
consequence of our ability to bring to the American people, for the
first time, the inner workings of this barbaric and backward practice."
Several speakers at the
conference had been on death row. William Nieves, who was freed in
October after six years on Pennsylvania's death row, said, "I promised
a lot of the guys that I wouldn't forget about them, that I would come
out and be their voice."
One of the conference
participants was a pro-death penalty Republican, Illinois Gov. George
Ryan. Ryan declared a moratorium on executions in his state last
January after court rulings, new evidence and investigations by college
students freed 13 death-row inmates.
Source: The San Francisco
DNA Testing Law in
Florida and Tennessee
By Stormy Thoming-Gale, JD Staff
Writer, Co-producer, Site Manager
It seems that the Illinois
Moratorium has prompted other Governors to examine the death penalty in
their States. Florida's Governor is examining the possibility of a DNA
testing law for death row inmates. Tennessee's legislature enacted a
DNA testing law last spring.
Recently, Tennesseans were
polled regarding DNA testing. The poll was conducted for The
Tennessean, the Chattanooga Times and Chattanooga Free Press.
A strong majority of poll
respondents, 64%, said they would favor a state law that would require
DNA testing of every death row inmate prior to an execution. An almost
even percent of respondents were either opposed to the law, 17%, or
were undecided, 19%.
This poll comes after the State
legislature enacted a DNA testing law last spring. The bill's sponsors
said the measure was written, in part, due to the release of several
inmates from Illinois death row last year.
While the bill does not require
DNA testing for every death row inmate, the statute allows those death
row inmates convicted of murder to ask that evidence in their cases be
subjected to DNA analysis if that technology was not available or was
not admissible in court, when they were tried. A judge is required to
allow the testing if the defendant can show that evidence has been
properly maintained, and that identity was the principal issue at trial.
It has been argued that DNA
testing may help only a relatively small number of innocent inmates.
DNA testing is only helpful for cases if there is blood, hair or semen
left at the scene. It is clear that DNA testing would be extremely
helpful in cases where there is a rape or any kind of sexual contact.
However, the current statute allows only convicted death row murderers
to ask for DNA testing. What about those non-death row inmates
convicted of a rape or other sexual assault where murder was not
involved? Or those innocent death row inmates convicted without any
forensic evidence? Those convicted based on faulty eyewitness, coerced
confessions, and perjured testimony or police/prosecutorial misconduct?
While this law may help exonerate a minority of innocent inmates it
does not attempt to address other factors involved in wrongful
It has been noted by Bill
Redick, who headed the Tennessee Capital Case Resource Center, that
there are a lot of cases of innocence where there isn't any DNA to
test. He says it is dangerous to put too much emphasis on DNA as a
solution to the problem. Tennessee does deserve to be commended for at
least making an effort in this direction, most States have remained
silent concerning DNA laws.
Recently, Florida Governor, Jeb
Bush, has given support for required DNA testing.
Unfortunately, the talk only
comes because a month ago death row inmate
Frank Lee Smith, who died in prison of cancer, was completely
exonerated by a single drop of his blood taken by the FBI from his
lifeless body. According to Barry Scheck, founder of The Innocence
Project, 81 people in the United States have been freed by post-
conviction DNA testing, including 10 from death row.
Governor Bush has signaled
support for DNA testing for convicted murderers who may be able to
prove their innocence through science.
State Senator Alex Villalobos
and his criminal justice committee recently began looking at how to
arrange for such testing. In a letter written to Senator Villalobos,
Governor Bush said he has always believed that whenever DNA could prove
the innocence of an inmate, that inmate should be allowed the
opportunity to have the testing done.
Florida is considering a law
that enables DNA testing for death row inmates who can show that DNA
could set them free. Florida would also absorb the $1,500 cost per test.
Governor Bush has said he
supports DNA testing only when the testing is relevant to the case, and
the defendant has shown that test results favorable to the defendant
will establish the defendant's innocence. Villalobos has said that
justice requires you punish the guilty, but if one didn't do [the
crime] that's not justice. He also stated that the technology is
available and it is as accurate as a fingerprint.
Senator Villalobos added that
the price of not doing it [DNA testing] is not only having someone
incarcerated that didn't commit the crime, but also the fact that
society pays for someone guilty going free to commit other crimes. In
his letter to Villalobos, Bush also said his policy as governor is to
see to it that DNA evidence has been examined before he will sign a
Assistant Florida Department of
Law Enforcement Commissioner Daryl McLaughlin said the crime lab would
have the capability to run DNA for every Florida death row inmate who
met the determined criteria.
It is not certain when Florida's
legislature will add a bill requiring DNA testing for death row inmates
but it seems clear we can expect one this year.
The rest of the states will not
be far behind Illinois, Tennessee and Florida in making DNA testing a
requirement for death row inmates, but whether any of the states will
address other issues that allow for wrongful conviction and
imprisonment remains to be seen.
Sources: The Tennessean and the
By Stormy Thoming-Gale, JD
Writer, Co-producer, Site Manager
DNA testing has made miracles
for some death row inmates. Albert Ronnie Burrell and Michael Roy
Graham, Jr. know the miracle. They have spent the last thirteen years
of their lives in one of the most notorious prisons in the country,
Angola (Louisiana State Penitentiary), locked in a 6' x 9' cage for 23
hours a day.
On December 28, 2000 Michael
Graham walked through the gates a free man. Just five days later Albert
William and Callie Frost were
found shot to death in their rural Louisiana home Aug. 31, 1986. Albert
Burrell and Michael Graham were convicted and sentenced in 1987 based
primarily on manufactured evidence and false testimony.
For example the District
Attorney at the time did not inform the defense that a key witness,
Olan Wayne Brantley, was mentally ill and that Brantley made a secret
plea bargain agreement. Brantley got unrelated charges against him
reduced after testifying against Albert and Michael.
Several witnesses either
recanted their testimony or offered statements before the trial that
weakened the prosecution's case, but that information was withheld from
After the trial, the prosecutor
in the case admitted that the case against Burrell and Graham should
never have been taken to the grand jury. The prosecutor did not
disclose the fact that a ruling made in 1976 stated that Michael Graham
was incompetent to stand trial in an unrelated charge, and that Michael
was never reevaluated to determine whether he was competent to stand
trial for the murder charges in 1986. Albert Burrell was not competent
to stand trial due to a diagnosis of his mental retardation.
The physical evidence, including
blood samples and a palm print found at the scene, which would have
helped the defense's case, were kept secret.
In addition, both of Albert's
court-appointed trial lawyers were disbarred and sent to federal prison
later on, and the former sheriff of Union Parish also went to federal
prison on charges that he stole from his office.
When Nick Trenticosta of New
Orleans found out Albert Burrell could not afford an attorney to handle
his appeal, he represented Albert free of charge. Mr. Trenticosta
recruited Minneapolis attorneys to assist him. Albert Burrell's new
attorneys argued in the appeal there was no physical evidence linking
the pair to the murders of Callie and William Delton Frost and
testimony against them was highly questionable.
After investigating the case the
Attorney General's Office found a total lack of physical evidence tying
either Albert or Michael to the murders. They conducted DNA tests on
blood found at the murder scene. The results did not match either
Albert Burrell or Michael Graham.
On December 27, 2000, the state
Attorney General's Office filed documents with the state District Court
in Union Parish dismissing all charges against the men, who both spent
13 years on death row. On December 28, 2000, state District Judge
Cynthia Woodard ruled Michael Graham was entitled to a new trial in
light of the Attorney General's Office findings, and he was released
the same day since the Attorney General's Office said it would not
A spokeswoman for the Attorney
General's Office said that while they did not know if Burrell and
Graham did the crime, it would be difficult to get a grand jury to
believe they did because there is no physical evidence linking them to
the crime. She stated the lack of physical evidence was a problem from
In dismissing the charges
against Michael and Albert, the Attorney General's Office also ordered
the investigation into the murder of William and Callie Frost reopened.
Michael Graham returned to his
family in Virginia upon his release. He had been vacationing at the
time of the murders in 1986.
Angola Warden, Burl Cain, said
it was the first time he had freed a death row inmate.
Albert Ronnie Burrell, who had
once been 17 days from execution in 1996, walked away from Angola's
death row a free man on January 2, 2000.
Albert Burrell seemed close to
tears when he walked through the prison gates. Albert's sister and
stepbrother met him outside the gates. Albert's sister called his
release a day of elation and said they were taking him home to live
with them as long as he likes. She plans to take care of Albert while
he gets used to making his own decisions.
Albert was bewildered by all the
media attention but managed to say that he felt great and he never
thought he would get out of there. A reporter asked Albert what he was
going to do with his new found freedom. Albert said he would like to
repair cars as he used to.
Albert's attorney said the state
legislature should pass a bill to pay for compensating the men for the
years they spent on death row. In fact, he thinks, the state of
Louisiana should give Albert and Michael millions of dollars.
Sources: The Advocate and Reuters
Free At Last: Christopher Ochoa
By William Kreuter
Twelve years after Texas
authorities used the threat of execution to coerce a false confession
from Christopher Ochoa, and five years after another man first wrote a
letter to then-Texas Governor Bush confessing his guilt and exonerating
Ochoa and co-defendant Richard Danziger, Ochoa was ordered released on
While authorities said it was "a
tragic tale of the criminal justice process gone awry," the media have
taken little note of this notorious example of prosecutorial abuse and
the fact that Bush pays little attention to details made available to
him, even when this inattention punishes innocent people. Last year it
was revealed by one investigative reporter that Bush, who had claimed
to thoroughly review every clemency petition sent to him by prisoners
about to be executed and to be convinced of the guilt of each, actually
spent no more than fifteen minutes on the voluminous case files. At
least 5% of the 152 prisoners whose execution Bush approved may well
have been innocent.
Christopher Ochoa, 34, said he
confessed to the rape-murder of an Austin woman in 1988 after a
homicide detective browbeat him for hours, threatening him with the
death penalty. Ochoa pleaded guilty in return for a life sentence and
implicated the supposed accomplice, Richard Danziger, who was convicted
based on Ochoa's testimony and sentenced to 99 years.
In the January 16 proceeding in
Austin, the judge vacated Ochoa's guilty plea at the request of
prosecutors, saying Ochoa "has suffered a miscarriage of justice."
Prosecutors said they also will seek the release of Danziger, now 30,
for whom the case has had an irreversibly tragic result. In the early
1990s, Danziger was assaulted by a fellow inmate and left permanently
mentally disabled, authorities said. He is confined to a prison
hospital. Prosecutors said they will ask a judge to release Danziger
after arrangements have been made for him to reside in a private
Prosecutors said recent DNA
tests have ruled out Ochoa and Danziger as sources of semen found in
Nancy DePriest, a 20-year-old Pizza Hut employee who was slain at her
workplace during a robbery. They said DNA tests have implicated the
current suspect, Achim Josef Marino, 41, who is serving life in prison
for other crimes.
In a series of letters sent to
Bush and other officials between 1996 and 1998, Marino, who is a
stranger to Ochoa and Danziger, confessed in detail to the killing.
Bush ignored the letters.
Sources: Washington Post and
Kreuter is the Washington State Death Penalty Abolition Coordinator for
Amnesty International, and he serves on the steering committee of the
Washington Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. Mr. Kreuter has
contributed many articles to Justice: Denied Magazine.