Welcome to Archived Volume 2 Issue 4
Table of Contents:
Directly from the desk of Clara Thomas Boggs A Report To Our Loyal Readers And Tribute to JD Team.
Herman Bassette was profiled in Volume 2 Issue 3 of Justice Denied
Tommy Dotson, Convicted By The Testimony Of The Self-Confessed Murderer No physical evidence, no impartial witnesses and a strong alibi were not enough to avoid a murder conviction for Tommy Dotson. The testimony of the self-confessed murderer, looking to avoid a life sentence, was enough to end his freedom.
The David Allen Keen Story DNA testing continues to be denied for Virginia man sentenced to two life sentences plus twenty years for rape of elderly woman.
In February of 2001 Michael Rene Pardue finally became a free man.Read his inspiring story.
Updates in this issue:
Earl Washington is FREE!
Philip Workman Update
Bruce Clairmont -- An Update
"Prosecutorial Infallibility" Fosters Unjust System. A guest editorial by David Swanson
Hero at the Bar: Jeff Adachi The Lifer and the Lawyer Who Won't Quit
Harvard Law School Conference -- A special report By Carol Clairmont Weissbrod
Why Books and Movies about Innocent People are Important By Hans Sherrer. By shining the light of publicity on real-life cases of wrongful conviction, Justice: Denied is contributing to chronicling how regularly that injustice occurs in state and federal courts nationwide.
Snow Falling on Cedars and In the Name of the Father reviewed by Hans Sherrer
Snapshots --The Wrongly Convicted in the News.
This month in Snapshots:
Illinois Supreme Court Adopts New Rules Governing Death Penalty Cases
Texas Senate Committee Unanimously Approves DNA Testing Bill SB 3
Texas Senate Passes DNA Testing Bill
Tennessee Considers Moratorium Legislation
Corrections for Volume 2 Issue 3
JEFF ADACHI: The Lifer and the Lawyer Who Won't Quit
By Linda Cordero, JD Guest Contributor
After 10 years behind bars, J.J. Tennison still maintains his innocence, and his public defender is still fighting for him.
In August 1989, Roderick Shannon was beaten and killed in San Francisco's Visitacion Valley neighborhood. The attack claimed two lives and sent nine others to the hospital with gunshot wounds. In late 1990, two young men were convicted of the killing and sentenced to 25 to life. Ten years later, both men maintain their innocence.
At trial, the prosecution relied extensively on the ever-evolving testimony of two young thieves in obtaining convictions. Jeff Adachi, a new public defender with only three years experience, was assigned to represent J.J. Tennison. He found a case riddled with inconsistencies, contradictions, and stories that often made no sense. Believing the prosecution had a flimsy case, the young attorney didn't mount a major-league defense. He figured his client would walk. The jury ruling finding J.J. Tennison guilty stunned his legal team.
When a client is found guilty, the public defender nearly always washes his or her hands of the matter, strolling off as the former client is led away. Appeals are left to state-paid lawyers or private counsel. Not so here, where Jeff Adachi immediately met with his investigator and committed to start over, excavate fresh evidence and reconstruct the case.
A month later, San Francisco police officers picked up Lovinsky Ricard, Jr. on a routine drug warrant. Ricard confessed to the killing of Shannon, just like in the movies. However, a judge found the confession unreliable and refused Tennison's request for a new trial. Three years later, as the investigation continued, an eyewitness stepped forward with a detailed version of the killing, confirming that the convicted men had no part in it. Surely Tennison could go free, now. Wrong again -- the district attorney didn't feel the witness' narrative was strong enough to reopen the case.
Adachi states that he will never, ever, give up on his client. "I don't care what it takes. I could be 80 years old. I'll never give up."
Over the last decade, four courts have vetoed Tennison's bid for a new trial. Last month, the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, the highest-ranking federal court in the western United States, overturned the ruling of the trial court, instructing them to review J.J. Tennison's situation. It's not freedom, nor necessarily a new trial. It does require the trial court to examine the new eyewitness' sworn statement and Ricard's confession to determine whether a retrial should be ordered.
Dedication, persistence and responsibility to clients above and beyond the "call of duty," of which this case is but one example, have earned Jeff Adachi my respect and admiration, and my nomination as a Hero at the Bar.
A Report To Our Loyal Readers And Tribute to JD Team
Greetings Kind Readers.
You'll notice that for this issue, I've given the editorial platform to David Swanson. I hope you're as pleased as I am with what he says.
Giving the opportunity to various JD staff members to take on more aspects of JD is part of the plan for JD's future. I have always said that JD belongs to those who care about it and who work for it.
A great example of this is the Prisoner Mail Team we just put together. In our long-ago beginning, I was the one handling everything, including prisoner mail. This soon became impossible, but it wasn't until more than a year passed that we finally had Phyllis Lincoln to put everything in order and begin a program of replying to prisoner mail. Soon, it was too much for Phyllis as well, and Kay Ryder (on temporary leave right now) joined us. Soon, it was too much for both Phyllis and Kay, and we asked for volunteers among the staff. Blessedly, five of the staff volunteered. You will see their names on the contacts page.
One area where we are still not doing well is in getting together the group we need to do our large run. I hate to think that we may lose our grant because we don't have someone to head up this project. Reality, however, bids us to face this possibility. We may need to later apply for another grant. In the meantime, a donor who wants to remain anonymous has given us a contribution toward building the funds we need for this important project. We always maintain hope, and this is what has kept us strong for more than three years now.
Yes, do you believe it? We've now been around for three years. In the business world, enterprises that last that long are said to have "made it." In other words, they're viable.
To judge by the loyalty and determination of this remarkable group we call the JD Team, we'll keep on plugging away at injustice together.
JD Magazine not only belongs to the team members, but it also belongs to all those who support us, believe in us, and vote with their dollars by buying subscriptions or making donations. We're in this together, and we are making a difference.
Thank you, loyal readers and thank you JD Staff.
Clara Alicia Thomas Boggs
"Prosecutorial Infallibility" Fosters Unjust System
By Guest Editor David Swanson, JD Team member
The fact that innocent people are convicted of crimes in the United States is now widely known. This is largely due to the magic of DNA testing, and its powers are also widely recognized. But the number of DNA exonerations each year will soon stop increasing and begin decreasing. This is because DNA is more often being used to prevent wrongful prosecutions. However, the majority of cases involve no biological evidence. When state legislatures make exceptions to their laws to allow DNA testing for the accused and convicted, they are making exceptions to a fundamentally flawed system. Rather than addressing the unjust judicial system that DNA testing has laid bare, they are tacking DNA testing onto an unjust system in hopes of making it look presentable.
In Virginia, for example, the legislature has just passed an exception to its 21-day rule for DNA evidence. This means that if you produce any kind of evidence of your innocence other than DNA, but 21 days have passed since your conviction, you are still out of luck. And it means that underpaid state-appointed defense lawyers can be expected to remain grotesquely incompetent except that they will utilize DNA testing where possible. Earl Washington was recently freed after serving time on Virginia's death row, because new DNA results could not be ignored. But the technology was not needed. Blood type testing proved Washington's innocence 18 years ago, and his lawyer neglected to mention it at the trial. Appeals courts deemed this an insignificant mistake.
We need something more than DNA if we are going to protect innocent people. One thing that is absolutely necessary is the destruction of the idea of prosecutorial infallibility. Even if this idea only remains alive in the minds of prosecutors themselves, it continues to do enormous damage and to block possibilities for reform. Earl Washington's trial lawyer has more or less admitted that he might have screwed up. The prosecutor has not. Neither have the police who elicited his "confession." The state can pardon and free a prisoner and nonetheless claim that he was guilty.
Of the 95 innocent people freed since 1973, I have not heard of any case other than that of Anthony Porter in Illinois (when another man's confession helped produce a well publicized exoneration) in which the case was reopened and someone else prosecuted for the crime.
Some advocates for innocent people, opponents of the death penalty, and opponents of brutal incarceration think of prosecutors as eager to inflict suffering. Prosecutors are much more eager to appear infallible than they are to punish. They will take a plea bargain rather than risk losing a case, and they will let a guilty party go free rather than draw attention to a previous error -- even one by a different prosecutor.
There may be another reason the state prefers not to draw attention to the person who may have committed the crime with which Washington was framed: he may have committed similar crimes years after the state could have identified him had it made a minimal effort. Publicizing this fact -- that additional victims were created -- would call into question the state's routine zeal to prosecute someone, anyone, on behalf of a past victim.
Meanwhile, the former husband of the woman who was raped and murdered has lost faith in police and prosecutors. He believed what the police told him about Earl Washington, and has now expressed a desire that the real criminal be found and prosecuted. He is likely to be disappointed.
Some of the same advocates who helped Earl Washington have expressed a reluctance to push for prosecution of the real criminal. There may be a number of reasons. If you oppose the death penalty, it may be hard to push for prosecution of a capital crime. If you oppose our incarceration system, it may be hard to push for prosecution of any crime. However, not to do so is shortsighted. Unless the aura of prosecutorial infallibility is shattered, you will never land more than a glancing blow to the system. If it is shattered, great possibilities will open up.
I do not want to suggest that enough has yet been done for the innocent, or even for the innocent who have biological evidence to test. Many have not obtained testing that could be done. Some have been proven innocent and remain in prison. Some have been released but have not been compensated, much less received an apology. But the broad goal of the work of freeing innocent people has to be the restructuring of a system that produces, by most estimates, thousands of innocent convicts. This goal cannot be achieved unless activists push for the reopening of cases following exonerations.
Earl Washington is free!
By David Swanson, JD Staff
For the first time, someone has moved from Virginia's death row to exoneration, pardon, and freedom. The case of Earl Washington Jr. has generated a great deal of press and some limited legislative efforts to find other innocent people in Virginia prisons and to prevent future false convictions. Action appears unlikely on three fronts: halting executions, seriously reforming the judicial system, and prosecuting the perpetrator of the crime for which Washington was falsely convicted.
On February 12, Washington walked out of a Virginia prison and headed to Virginia Beach, where his lawyers had found a home for the mentally retarded man. Plans to travel straight to the U.S. Capitol to testify about his experience were canceled because the state of Virginia forbade it. While he is out of prison, Washington is still on parole and must obtain permission to leave the Virginia Beach area.
The parole is for an assault conviction, a crime Washington has admitted he committed. It was that crime which led to his being questioned by police in Fauquier County almost 20 years ago. Those police claimed he confessed to several sex-related crimes in the area. However, witnesses in all but one of those cases said he was not the man. In one case, the only witness was dead, having been raped and murdered. A trial ensued which defense lawyers and activists for criminal justice have pointed to as an extreme example of a justice system gone bad. Washington's trial lawyer did not mention during the trial that his client's blood type did not match the evidence at the crime scene. Nor did he question the police officers' techniques in eliciting Washington's "confession." Washington ended up on death row and came within nine days of being killed. He was not pardoned until repeated rounds of DNA testing cleared him and pointed to another man.
One of the lawyers who have donated their time to free Washington, Eric Freedman, said: "This case illustrates everything that is wrong with the death penalty system. The pressures of interrogation led a mentally retarded black man to confess falsely to the rape and murder of a white woman. Then, after the incompetence of his trial lawyer resulted in his conviction and death sentence, the legal system refused to address the injustice and left him to the tender mercies of politically-driven officials....
"The state has taken every possible step to defend this indefensible conviction to the last gasp, and there are obviously officials who are still frustrated that it was not Mr. Washington's gasp. Virginia refused to spend the few thousand dollars that it would have cost to give Mr. Washington justice. As a result, an array of volunteer professionals had to donate some $10 million worth of services, Mr. Washington lost almost 18 years from the prime of his life, and the true killer remains unidentified. If Virginia is going to retain the death penalty, it has an obligation to implement meaningful reforms to assure that such a breakdown can never occur again."
Another of Washington's lawyers, Barry Weinstein, told Justice Denied: "The 12th of February was a very 'blessed' day for Earl and for those that labored for years to gain Earl's freedom. A long overdue release! Earl is adjusting quite well to his new environment in Virginia Beach. I spent some time with him after his release and watching Earl gain some perspective of his new life and surroundings was awesome."
One woman recognized and walked up to Washington in a supermarket and asked if she could hug him. He said this sort of thing made him nervous.
Washington was unable to travel to the US Capitol to meet with Sen. Patrick Leahy (D, Vermont) and Rep. Bobby Scott (D, Virginia) in support of a federal bill revising death penalty law. Leahy commented on Virginia's refusal to let Washington travel: "This is indicative of a system that is not known for admitting its mistakes." Leahy contended that the state was determined to "not even let him tell his story to the American people."
Scott, who traveled to Virginia Beach to meet Washington, said, "Mr. Washington should have been out 10 years ago." The congressman pointed out that Washington had served twice the average time for his assault conviction before finally being released on parole.
The Washington case has given a big push to reform efforts in Virginia. On Feb. 21, the Harrisonburg/Rockingham County Bar Association passed a resolution calling for a moratorium on the death penalty. This was the second local bar association in Virginia to do so. Charlottesville/Albemarle County Bar passed a resolution in April 1999.
Also on the 21st, Earl Washington appeared before the General Assembly and the House Courts of Justice Committee.
On the 22nd, the Lexington City Council passed a resolution calling for a moratorium. The Charlottesville City Council had passed a resolution in January 2000.
On Feb. 26, The Fredericksburg Free Lance Star joined a growing number of Virginia newspapers calling for a moratorium.
From Feb. 18 to Feb. 25, Death Penalty Awareness Week in Lynchburg included a debate by the Liberty University Debate Team (Jerry Falwell's university) on whether there should be a moratorium on the death penalty.
But real reform, which looked somewhat likely a few weeks back, as of late February, looks unlikely. The state is studying the death penalty and plans to release a study in December. At least until that happens, reforms are expected to be quite limited.
Bills to abolish the death penalty and to call a moratorium on its application have been defeated in committee.
Efforts to repeal the 21-day rule (which bans the introduction of new evidence more than 21 days after a conviction) have failed. However, a bill that would create an exception to the rule for DNA evidence has passed unanimously in both chambers. It now requires only the signature of Governor Jim Gilmore, who has firmly defended the fairness of the death penalty system, and who has said the death penalty is needed in order to "demonstrate the value that we place on life."
The bill, should Gilmore sign it, will require the storage of biological evidence used at trials so it can be recalled should scientific advances yield better DNA testing methods. The bill would also allow courts to order retesting, now done at the governor's prerogative. Inmates who claimed to have new evidence would be able to appeal directly to the state Supreme Court.
State Delegate James F. Almand said, "This is an important first step. There's no flexibility now, just a resort to clemency or pardon by the governor."
The Virginia Supreme Court is also considering changes to expand the rights of death-row inmates to make appeals after the 21-day deadline.
Unfortunately, most criminal cases involve neither biological evidence nor death row. For these cases, the 21-day rule will remain in place, the toughest in the nation.
Meanwhile, there have been no indications that Virginia or Culpeper County will prosecute anyone for the rape-murder with which Washington was framed. This is puzzling, since the DNA tests that finally freed Washington identified a man who is in a Virginia prison for another rape conviction. The state has not released this man's name. However, it is standard practice across the country for prosecutors to refuse to reopen cases in which people have been convicted and exonerated.
Activists who work hard for legislative reform and to free the innocent are often uninterested in prosecuting the guilty. Henry Heller of Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, when asked if he would push for the case to be prosecuted, replied, "The guy who did it is in prison for another crime," and seemed satisfied to leave it at that.
On the other hand, Weinstein, Washington's lawyer, told Justice Denied: "We -- as everyone including Rebecca's [the victim's] family -- are still waiting to hear what develops with the re-opening of the Rebecca Williams' murder as ordered by Gilmore back in 2000. Or is the case lying dormant? It would not surprise me if the case is never solved or aggressively investigated. This is what usually happens with cases when exoneration occurs -- nothing. For if law enforcement would catch the killer, they would have to admit that their initial investigation and subsequent arrest of Earl was 'dead wrong.' This they will never admit."
Sources: The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Justice Project, Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.
Philip Workman Update
By Stormy Thoming-Gale
The latest news, Philip Workman receives a stay at the last minute. Read an update in the next issue of Justice Denied.
In the last update published in JD, Volume 2 Issue 2, we told you that Philip had received an execution date of January 31, 2001, because of a September 5, 2000 federal appeals court 7-7 split decision regarding a new trial for Philip. The split decision, or en banc tie, meant that Philip's conviction and death sentence remained and he was given a new execution date.
Philip then had a clemency hearing, but the results were not good. On January 25, 2001, the Board of Probation and Parole voted unanimously not to recommend clemency for Philip.
The recommendation to deny clemency was given to Governor Sundquist but he did not have a chance to give his recommendation. On January 26, 2001, the next day, the appeals court agreed to delay Philip's execution indefinitely to give the U.S. Supreme Court time to consider his appeal.
The federal appeals court is comprised of 14 appellate court judges. These are the same judges who originally deadlocked in a 7-7 vote on whether or not Philip should get a new hearing. Although the court agreed to grant Philip a stay, the vote was not released.
Immediately after the court issued the stay, the state attorney general appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, saying Philip should only get a stay if he can show he will most likely win on appeals, which the state attorney general says Philip has not shown.
In another interesting turn of events, despite receiving the stay on 1/26/01, Philip has been moved from his death row cell to deathwatch. Philip's attorney, Jefferson Dorsey, said the move violates a federal court order.
The policy states an inmate will not be moved to deathwatch while there is a stay and that the attorneys will be notified BEFORE a move takes place.
The stay was issued January 26, 2001. The next day, Philip's attorney specifically requested notification of any move but did not receive any notice.
In response to questions about moving Philip to deathwatch in violation of the policy, a spokesman for the Correction Department said that the plans for Philip's execution would continue in case the stay was lifted.
On January 30, 2001, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to lift the stay of execution granted by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to Philip. The decision was issued with not one judge providing a dissent. On this same day, Philip was moved off deathwatch back to a regular death row cell.
Philip's attorneys have said they are hopeful that the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to leave the stay of execution in place means Philip has a better chance of winning one of his remaining appeals.
Philip has two petitions before the Supreme Court, neither of which was addressed when the Supreme Court decided to leave Philip's stay of execution in place.
February 20, 2001 is the earliest Philip will know if the high court will hear either of his appeals. If the court decides to hear one or both appeals oral arguments will be scheduled. If the court decides not to hear his appeals, the stay would be dissolved and a new execution date for Philip would be set.
One of the appeals asks the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse the 7-7 decision by the 6th Circuit last fall. That decision denied Philip a full hearing on the new evidence in his case.
The second appeal claims Philip's constitutional right to a fair trial was violated when he was convicted on perjured testimony. The State's key witness, Harold Davis, made a videotaped recantation of his testimony in 1999. He says he did not see Philip shoot anyone during the attempted robbery of a Wendy's in 1981 and that the Shelby County prosecutors coached him to say that he saw the shooting from a few feet away.
The governor's office has received more than 15,000 letters, 8,000 cards and 1,600 e-mails in the past two months urging for clemency of behalf of Philip.
In the course of appeals over the last year, two Tennessee Supreme Court justices have also been in support of Philip getting a new trial and have urged the governor to grant clemency.
If the U.S. Supreme Court agrees to hear Philip's case it could help clarify how federal courts handle questions of innocence and new evidence in death penalty cases nationwide.
Philip's attorneys are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to decide whether the federal Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, which narrowed access to the federal courts for prisoners on death row, can deprive a condemned prisoner of a federal forum for claims establishing that he is innocent.
Also in question is whether a conviction can be overturned if prosecutors unwittingly put on perjured testimony at a trial.
Veteran death penalty lawyer Stephen Bright said the fact that the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals split 7-7 last fall on whether to grant Workman a hearing on his defense team's evidence supports his argument that he has an important issue that ought to be resolved in the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court agrees to hear only a handful of death penalty cases each year. The cases are taken because of the way a particular case will affect the system as a whole. Philip's case demands an answer to what role the federal courts will play in capital cases where innocence is an issue.
The Supreme Court issued a decision on Monday, February 26. The court decided not to hear Philip's appeals. Philip's case was denied without comment or dissent. The Tennessee Supreme Court will set a new execution date for Philip.
On Wednesday, February 28, the Tennessee Supreme Court set a new execution date:
"It appearing to the Court that on February 26, 2001, the United States Supreme Court denied the petitions for writ of certiorari and for writ of habeas corpus, it is hereby ORDERED, ADJUDGED and DECREED by a majority of this Court that the Warden of the Riverbend Maximum Security Institution, or his designee, shall execute the sentence of death as provided by law on the 30th day of March 2001 unless otherwise ordered by this Court or other appropriate authority."
As has been the case in earlier decisions in Philip's case, Justice A.A. Birch was the lone dissenter. He said the case presents "extenuating circumstances" and recommends that Governor Sundquist commute Philip's sentence.
Philip's life is in the hands of Governor Sundquist. Some think that the ongoing controversy about this case makes it more likely that Governor Sundquist will commute Philip's death sentence to life imprisonment if he has to make that choice.
How can you help Philip? Prayers and letters. Letters need to be sent to Governor Sundquist asking that he spare the life of an innocent man. America simply can not allow an execution to go forth that was based on perjury.
Write letters to Governor Sundquist at:
Governor Don Sundquist
Nashville, Tennessee 37243-0001
Philip's new address:
Philip Workman # 95920
Riverbend Maximum Security Institution
7475 Cockrill Bend Blvd.
Nashville, TN, 37209-1048
Sources: Associated Press, The Tennessean, and Knoxville News-Sentinel
Bruce Clairmont -- An Update
By Carol Clairmont Weissbrod
The following is a brief update to an article which appeared in the September, 1999 issue of Justice Denied. Click here to read his original story. In that article, I indicated that Bruce would most likely be eligible for parole in early 2000.
Since that time, Bruce has faced the parole board twice: once in February, 2000, and again in February, 2001.
In Massashusetts, there seems to be a double standard for inmates who have been convicted of sex offenses. "Sex offenders" must admit their "guilt" and take a sex offender rehabilitation course before they'll be considered for parole. Innocent people are caught in a catch-22 in that if they're innocent, the only way out of prison is to admit guilt.
The first time we tried to make the parole board understand Bruce had committed no crime and he deserved his freedom. About thirty of Bruce's friends and relatives wrote to the parole board, explaining what had happened to Bruce during a divorce with a custody battle. Everyone professed belief in Bruce's innocence. In addition to the positive letters, the parole board received two letters from former employers offering Bruce full-time employment upon his release.
Not unexpectedly, he was denied parole. The members of the parole board told him that it was not their responsibility to determine his innocence or guilt, but to decide if he is a threat to society.
It appears they have determined Bruce is a threat to society because he has refused to admit his "guilt" and take the required sex offender rehabilitation course. Apparently, the obvious thought that an innocent man was never a threat to society to begin with has escaped them.
This year, Bruce declined to ask his friends to waste their time writing letters. Instead, Bruce wrote a letter to the parole board stating his innocence and his refusal to lie in order to obtain parole. One person on the board asked him what treatment he had sought for his "condition". Again, they failed to understand that he committed no crime. Again, parole was denied.
As I stated in the previous article, Bruce will serve the entire twelve year sentence rather than admit to a crime that never happened.
A motion for new trial is now being prepared by Bruce's attorneys. After all state remedies have been exhausted, we'll move on to the federal courts to seek justice.
A defense fund has been set up on Bruce's behalf. Contributions may be sent to:
Bruce Clairmont Defense Fund
c/o Carol Weissbrod
1866 Washington Mt. Rd.
Washington, MA 01223
Illinois Supreme Court Adopts New Rules Governing Death Penalty Cases
By Barbara Jean McAtlin, Justice: Denied Staff
"There are no easy solutions to the problems presented by this State's present death penalty law. Our Court can only change the things we have the power to change, and our power to change the law is narrowly limited... Ultimately, the fate of the State's death penalty statute will be a matter for the General Assembly and the Governor to resolve." (Excerpt from the written statement of Illinois Chief Justice Moses Harrison.)
Nearly one year after Illinois Governor George Ryan called an indefinite halt on executions in that state, the Illinois Supreme Court has adopted new rules to dictate how capital punishment cases will be dealt with in Illinois. The Court approved the new rules after they were proposed by a 17-member panel of trial judges who were appointed to make recommendations for mending their broken death penalty system. Illinois has exonerated more death row prisoners than it has executed since capital punishment was reinstated there in 1977.
According to an Illinois Supreme Court spokesman, the new rules will take effect in March of this year and are to be the first phase in a series of significant changes that are being designed to improve Illinois' death penalty system. Death penalty experts agreed that the new rules are among the most progressive in the United States, however, some death penalty opponents are concerned that lawmakers may try to use the new rules as a springboard to resuming executions in Illinois. Until the new rules have been thoroughly reviewed by Governor Ryan and the General Assembly, they will not affect Governor Ryan's moratorium.
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE FIRST PHASE OF THE NEW RULES
· Establish minimum standards of training and experience for defense attorneys and prosecutors in death penalty cases. The lead council of both parties will be required to have at least five years of training and experience in criminal litigation that includes at least two murder trials.
· Mandate special training for attorneys who are to be assigned to death penalty cases.
· Require that prosecutors make a "good faith effort" to release to the defense any evidence that may help a defendant's case. In theory, this rule will give a defense team a much broader idea of the type of evidence that will be used against their client at trial and give them a fair chance to refute it.
· Require prosecutors to quickly notify defendants that they will seek the death penalty against them so they may begin forming their defense.
· Create informative seminars for trial judges who may preside over capital punishment cases.
· Establish new standards for the disclosure of DNA evidence.
· Allow trial judges to decide if defense lawyers can question witnesses before a trial.
Although the new rules fail to address some of the key problem areas in regard to death penalty cases (unreliable eyewitness accounts, racism and the use of jailhouse informants), Illinois will now join the small group of states that have written rules and training requirements for capital punishment cases. Currently, only New York, California and Nevada have set written standards regarding the death penalty process.
A spokesman for one of the groups appointed to study the Illinois death penalty system said the Court's latest move is a significant step in solidifying the new system while Republican State Representative Jim Durkin said that Illinois can now be seen as a leader in death penalty reform as opposed to being an example of problems.
Source: Associated Press
Texas Senate Committee Unanimously Approves DNA Testing Bill SB 3
By Barbara Jean McAtlin, Justice: Denied Staff
The Texas Senate Jurisprudence Committee unanimously passed a bill recently that would permit eligible prison inmates to receive free DNA testing. Because the measure received full support by the Committee, it is expected to pass easily in a full Senate vote.
By declaring the bill an emergency issue, Governor Rick Perry pushed SB 3 on its way by cutting the bureaucratic red tape that normally accompanies legislative matters and guaranteed a speedy vote by the Committee members. The bill's sponsor said speeding the bill through the legal process is important because of the impact it could have for wrongfully convicted prisoners.
Prisoners would be eligible for the testing if DNA testing was not available at the time of their conviction or if DNA testing was performed with outdated technology and the results were inconclusive. Prisoners would also be allowed the tests if they have not received DNA testing through no fault of their own.
If the bill passes into law, it will take effect immediately.
Source: Houston Chronicle
Texas Senate Passes DNA Testing Bill
With the promotion of "Compassionate Conservative" George W. Bush to U.S. President, Texans are finding their voices and turning the tide on the unjust and unfair practices implemented by their former Governor.
By Barbara Jean McAtlin, Justice: Denied Staff
On February 19th, the Texas Senate unanimously passed a measure automatically giving Texas prisoners the power to request DNA testing of the biological evidence used in their cases. The bill has now been sent to the House where it is also expected to pass.
In the last seven months, three Texas prisoners have used DNA test results to have their convictions tossed out. Existing Texas law gives prisoners no automatic right to DNA testing. Therefore, it was necessary for the men to petition prosecutors and judges to have the tests performed.
Texas Senator Robert Duncan, the author of the DNA bill, called the measure a "good criminal justice bill" that would help assure Texas prisons were occupied only by those who deserve to be there. He also added that since January 9th (when the Senate session began), Texas has seen two people exonerated of crimes because DNA evidence conclusively authenticated the fact they had not committed the crime for which they had been convicted.
In an extremely un-Texas-like move, the Texas Legislature has announced it will also be considering banning the death penalty for the mentally retarded, improving legal representation for poor people who have been accused of felonies and providing a life-without-parole sentencing option in death penalty cases.
Tennessee Considers Moratorium Legislation
By Stormy Thoming-Gale, JD Staff
State Representative, Rob Briley is sponsoring a measure that would order a study of the death penalty and place a moratorium on executions until the study is complete and presented to the legislature.
If the measure passes it would mean executions in Tennessee could be blocked for a year while a legislative committee studies whether people faced with death sentences are receiving fair trials.
The measure is in response to the death penalty moratorium in Illinois. The Illinois moratorium has shed light on the death penalty in general, prompting lawmakers in other states to take a look at the fairness of capitol punishment in their states.
Ninety men and women sit on death row in Tennessee.
Hedy Weinberg, Tennessee director of the American Civil Liberties Union, has pointed out there is no question the death penalty is meted out unfairly. She said many people on death row are there because they are poor, because they are people of color, or because they had incompetent counsel and other problems in their trial.
State Representative Rob Briley, has agreed to sponsor the bill on behalf of a coalition of 20 different organizations, including the ACLU and religious groups.
State Senator Douglas Henry agreed to back the legislation in the senate, if it is without the moratorium provision. The ACLU has arranged to meet with Senator Henry and several Catholic Bishops in an effort to persuade Henry to back the legislation, moratorium included.
Included in both Senator Henry's and Representative Briley's bills is a provision that would set up a committee with fifteen members, the Death Penalty Fairness Study Committee, to look into such issues as competent legal counsel, execution of mentally retarded inmates and racial bias issues.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C., many similar government-ordered capital punishment studies are under way in Illinois, Nebraska, Maryland, Arizona, North Carolina and other states. Illinois is the only state that has added a moratorium to a study.
The proposed Tennessee bill would require the committee to report its findings and recommendations to the Governor and the General Assembly by April 1, 2002.
Source: The Tennessean
Michael Pardue Update
By Anne Good
In our first feature article about Michael Pardue (Michael's story), we asked the rhetorical question, "How many times must a man look up before he can see the sky?" We thought the answer was "blowing in the wind," but now the state of Alabama has finally given definition to that elusive question: it's twenty-eight years; it is 330 months; it is 10330 days.
In February of 2001 Michael Rene Pardue finally became a free man.
Pause for just a moment and think, really think, about TWENTY-EIGHT YEARS. In that time we all learned to walk, talk, and eat with utensils. Most of us completed grade school, high school, under graduate school, grad school, got married, had children, and moved upward in our chosen professions. It's almost a lifetime.
When Michael went into prison at the tender age of seventeen:
a. Computers were the size of a small house. The term "PC" didn't exist.
b. Watergate was the name of an expensive and relatively unknown hotel in Washington DC
c. US troops still occupied Vietnam.
d. Bill and Hillary were going steady.
e. Calculators were about to hit the market.
f. Harry Truman was still alive.
g. DNA was unheard of.
h. Atari introduced an innovative game called "Pong" that could be played on a television set.
i. Minimum wage was $1.75
j. AIDS was an unknown virus.
Twenty-eight years is indeed a very long time.
On February 16 at 5:00 p.m. Michael Rene Pardue finally walked out of prison -- free at last to look at the sky without razor wire in his view and handcuffs on his wrists.
The staff at Justice: Denied takes great delight in wishing Michael well as he embarks on this new phase of his journey, with his wife Becky at his side. It has been a long, arduous battle fraught with many obstacles. Michael and Becky overcame them one by one, united by love and a quest for justice.
In this world of instant gratification, let Michael remind us how to keep our "eyes on the prize." Let him inspire us to keep putting one foot in front of the other, even though we may feel like giving up. Let his journey prove to us that dreams do come true, even against all odds.
However, as we share in this joyful celebration, let us not forget that twenty-eight years is a very, very long time. The face of the world has changed in three decades but one fact remains constant -- Michael was innocent when he walked into prison and he was innocent as he walked out.
More information on Michael's remarkable story can be found at: www.MichaelPardue.com