(Pictured left to right, Harold Wilson, Barry Scheck, and Sam Millsap)
A Cincinnati Enquirer investigation of Ohio capital cases found that more death sentences are overturned in the state because of mistakes by defense lawyers than for any other reason. Reporters with the Enquirer found that 15 people on Ohio's death row won federal appeals during the past seven years based entirely or in part on the poor performance of their lawyers. "It's a big, big problem. The lawyers don't have the wherewithal to put on a first-class defense," observed Judge Gilbert Merritt, a semi-retired senior judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit in Cincinnati.
Noting that they "cannot reconcile the fact that [the death penalty] is both imperfect and irreversible," the Dallas Morning News has called on Texas to abandon capital punishment. The paper, which has long supported the death penalty, changed its position after careful consideration of mounting evidence that the state has wrongly convicted a number of defendants in capital trials and has likely executed at least one man who was innocent. The editorial announcing the paper's policy shift stated, "This board has lost confidence that the state of Texas can guarantee that every inmate it executes is truly guilty of murder. We do not believe that any legal system devised by inherently flawed human beings can determine with moral certainty the guilt of every defendant convicted of murder."
On Wednesday, April 18, at 1 PM, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Panetti v. Quarterman. This case focuses on the question of whether an inmate must have a rational understanding of his crime and why he is being punished prior to execution, or whether mere awareness of his situation is sufficient for mental competency. For a fuller description of the case, see Supreme Court (Pending 2007 cases). This page includes links to some of the legal briefs filed in this case. For a broader discussion of issues beyond the limited scope of this case, see Mental Illness. (Posted April 16, 2007).
Kenneth Tinsley pleaded guilty on April 11 to the 1982 rape and capital murder of a Culpeper woman - a crime for which another man, Earl Washington Jr., spent nearly a decade on death row and was nearly executed. Tinsley admitted to the rape of Rebecca Lynn Williams, a 19-year-old mother of 3, and conceded that DNA and other evidence could have proved his guilt of her murder.
He was sentenced to 2 consecutive life terms. Earl Washington, who is mentally retarded, had originally been convicted of the same crime and was sentenced to death before DNA evidence convinced Virginia's governor that he was innocent. Recently, Virginia tentatively agreed to pay $1.9 million to Washington in compensation.
Tinsley, who is already serving 2 life terms for another rape in Virginia, sat in a wheelchair as he told the judge, "I'm sorry for everything I did. The prosecutor said that he hoped the plea agreement would bring closure to the victim's family and to the community.
Challenges to the constitutionality of North Carolina's lethal injection procedures have put executions on hold, and it appears they will remain that way for the foreseeable future. Though some lawmakers are pushing for a legislative "fix" to questions raised about the procedures, Governor Mike Easley and Democratic lawmakers - who control the legislature - have no plans to end the execution standstill prior to clear court action. "The legislature isn't going to be able to move in any direction, really, until it gets some final ruling from the federal and state courts," Easley said. It may be years before a definitive ruling comes down from an appeals court.
Amnesty International has released a new report entitled "Justice Delayed and Justice Denied? Trials under the Military Commissions Act." This report examines whether proceedings under the revised U.S. Military Commissions Act will comply with international standards, especially when the death penalty is sought. In particular, it explores the rights of detainees under international human rights law, the Geneva Conventions and the U.S. Constitution.
The Sentinel newspaper of Pennsylvania is the latest paper
Possibly Mentally Retarded Man to be Executed in Texas, Where Almost All 2007 Executions Have OccurredPosted: April 6, 2007
If James Lee Clark is executed in Texas on April 11, he will be the 12th Texas inmate executed out of 13 executions nationwide in 2007. According to some psychological tests, Clark has an IQ of 68 or lower, which is one of the common criteria for mental retardation. Clark's defense team has asked the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and Texas Governor Rick Perry to halt the execution because of the likelihood that Clark suffers from mental retardation.
From 1999 to 2004, Dr. Johnny Glenn was the only forensic pathologist performing autopsies in the poorest part of Alabama. He was assisted only by lab technicians as he performed hundreds of autopsies annually, including at least one death penalty case. After his abrupt departure, it was discovered that Glenn routinely put aside his notes and often failed to finish final reports or diagrams that are crucial to death investigations.