COSTS: Indiana Death Penalty Cases Can Cost $1 Million

A single death penalty case in Indiana can cost taxpayers as much as $1 million. In Marion County, the costs of preparation for three potential death penalty trials have reached $659,000 this year alone, according to the Public Defender Agency. A high-profile death penalty case in the same county has cost nearly $850,000 and not all the bills are in. Pursuing a life sentence costs less than the death penalty, even considering the expense of a convict's longer incarceration, according to Indiana studies. Representation is more expensive for death penalty defendants because each must have two qualified attorneys. "Every dollar we spend attempting to do this, that's money we could have spent elsewhere," said Chief Public Defender Robert Hill. "(But) we have a constitutional mandate to defend our clients." Since 2000, Hill's agency reports, defense bills in Marion County death penalty cases have totaled $3.9 million. Statewide, costs to taxpayers for the defense in trials and appeals have been nearly $20 million since 1990, according to the Indiana Public Defender Commission.

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BOOKS: Angel of Death Row

Renowned death penalty defense attorney Andrea Lyon's forthcoming book, Angel of Death Row: My Life as a Death Penalty Defense Lawyer, chronicles her 30 years of experience representing clients in capital murder cases.  In all of the 19 cases where she represented defendants who were found guilty of capital murder, jurors spared her clients’ lives.   Lyon, who was featured in the PBS documentary Race to Execution and was called the "angel of death row" by the Chicago Tribune, gives readers an inside look at what motivates her during these difficult cases and offers behind-the-scene glimpses into many dramatic courtroom battles. Lyon is the founder of the Center for Justice in Capital Cases based in Illinois and a professor of law at DePaul University College of Law.  The book includes a foreword by Alan Dershowitz, who calls Lyon "a storyteller par excellence."

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ARTICLES: "Selective Empathy" at Issue in Recent Supreme Court Opinion

Linda Greenhouse, former Supreme Court writer for the New York Times, recently wrote about the reversal of a death sentence by the U. S. Supreme Court. The Court overturned George Porter Jr.'s death sentence because of the inadequate representation he received and the powerful mitigating evidence in Mr. Porter's life that his attorney failed to investigate and present to the jury considering his client's life.  The Court's opinion noted, "Our nation has a long tradition of according leniency to veterans in recognition of their service, especially for those who fought on the front lines as Porter did." Ms. Greenhouse's article contrasted this ruling with one handed down last month in the case of Robert J. Van Hook, who also claimed inadequate counsel. In his case, the Court overtuned a federal appeals court's grant of relief, concluding that Van Hook's lawyer made "professionally reasonable" decisions regarding his case. Van Hook was also a military veteran, and like Porter, was also a product of a violent and abusive childhood.

Greenwood writes, "Setting the Porter and the Van Hook cases side by side, what strikes me is how similarly horrific the two men’s childhoods were - indeed, how common such childhoods were among the hundreds of death-row inmates… It is fanciful to suppose that each of these defendants had lawyers who made the effort to dig up the details and offer these sorry life stories to the jurors who would weigh their fate. I don’t make that observation to excuse the crimes of those on death row, but only to underscore the anomaly of the mercy the court bestowed…on one of that number."  Read the full article below.

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Mental Retardation and Poor Representation Asserted in Upcoming Texas Execution

Attorneys for Bobby Wayne Woods are seeking to delay his December 3 execution because of his trial lawyer's incompetent representation and the fact that Woods is mentally retarded. Woods' current lawyer is asking the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles for a 60-day reprieve so that it can assess Woods' mental competency for execution. Attorney Maurie Levin, an adjunct law professor at the University of Texas, said that the prior lawyer failed to plead Woods' mental disability, and, according to the clemency petition filed for Woods, "(the former attorney) has been suspended by the state bar and rebuked by and suspended from practice in the federal courts for his egregious missteps and incompetence as an appellate and post-conviction attorney for those condemned to death."  The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that defendants with mental retardation cannot be executed.

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U.S. Supreme Court Reverses Death Sentence Citing Veteran's War Trauma

On November 30, the United States Supreme Court overturned the death sentence of George Porter, a Korean War veteran from Florida who had been convicted of murder in 1988. The Court stated that Porter's trial lawyer failed to investigate and present ample mitigating evidence, including the fact that Porter's battle service in the war left him severely traumatized.  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit had held that such evidence would not have made a difference at sentencing. The Supreme Court accepted Porter's petition and without dissent issued its opinion the same day, stating, "Petitioner George Porter is a veteran who was both wounded and decorated for his active participation in two major engagements during the Korean War; his combat service unfortunately left him a traumatized, changed man. His commanding officer’s moving description of those two battles was only a fraction of the mitigating evidence that his counsel failed to discover or present during the penalty phase of his trial in 1988."

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NEW VOICES: Kentucky Public Defenders Call for Moratorium on Executions

On November 23, Kentucky Public Advocate Ed Monahan and Louisville Metro Chief Public Defender Dan Goyette called on the governor and the state's Attorney General to stay all executions until an assessment team formed by the American Bar Association can objectively review the state's death penalty. Monahan and Goyette wrote letters asking Attorney General Jack Conway not to request any further execution warrants and asking Governor Steven Beshear not to sign execution warrants until the ABA Assessment Team has concluded its study and issued a final report.

“There are serious and disturbing questions about the convictions of a number of inmates facing execution, particularly in those cases that were tried years ago by unqualified lawyers lacking adequate resources,” Dan Goyette said. “We should not proceed with executions until this independent evaluation is completed and we are assured that due process has been fully and properly provided in each and every case. To do otherwise would cast significant doubt on the fairness and propriety of imposing the ultimate punishment. We all have a fundamental responsibility to avoid at all costs the possibility of making an unjust and irreversible mistake.”

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BOOKS: The Last Lawyer--The Fight to Save Death Row Inmates

The Last Lawyer: The Fight to Save Death Row Inmates is a book by John Temple about the courageous work of a death penalty defense attorney in the south.  Ken Rose is an attorney at the Center for Death Penalty Litigation in North Carolina.  He has handled many capital cases, but the focus of this book is his defense of Bo Jones, a mentally handicapped farmhand convicted of a murder that occurred in 1987 and sentenced to death. The case highlights issues such as inadequate defense, mental retardation, mental illness and witness testimony. Based on over four years of behind-the-scenes reporting, The Last Lawyer tells the story of how Rose's work eventually led to the dismissal of all charges against Jones in 2008.




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Supreme Court Decides One Capital Case and Agrees to Hear Another

On November 16, the United States Supreme Court accepted for review and handed down a per curiam decision in Wong v. Belmontes (No. 08-1263). The Court reinstated Fernando Belmontes' death sentence and overturned the decision of the Ninth Circuit granting relief because of ineffectiveness of counsel. Belmontes was sentenced to death for murdering a woman during a robbery in 1981 in California. The appeals court ruled in 2008 that Belmontes' lawyer had represented him incompetently by neglecting to introduce evidence of family strife and depression that would have likely led to a different sentence. The Supreme Court assumed that the attorney should have presented more evidence but concluded it would not have made any difference in sentencing.  Justice Stevens issued a concurring opinion stating that he believed the Supreme Court had erred in a previous consideration of this same case.

On the same day, the Court agreed to hear Magwood v. Culliver (No. 09-158).  Billy Joe Magwood received a death sentence for killing a sheriff in 1979 in Alabama.  At the time, Alabama law required two conditions before the state could sentence a defendant to death, only one of which was satisfied by Magwood's crime.  Magwood's death sentence was overturned on other grounds in 1985, and he was resentenced to death the next year.  However, it was not until 1997 that Magwood's lawyers challenged whether his crime was death-eligible under Alabama law.  Alabama claims Magwood took too long to raise this argument and his appeal is barred by the Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, which imposes strict limits on successive federal habeas corpus petitions. The Eleventh Circuit agreed.  Magwood claims that he is bringing his claim under his new death sentence and therefore is not barred by AEDPA.

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U.S. Supreme Court Restores Death Sentence for Ohio Inmate

On November 9, the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari in the case of Bobby v. Van Hook (No. 09–144) and issued a per curiam opinion overturning a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, which had granted Robert Van Hook a new sentencing hearing based on ineffectiveness of counsel.  Van Hook had been convicted and sentenced to death for a murder committed in 1985 following an encounter in a bar.  The Supreme Court held that, judging by professional standards existing at the time of Van Hook's trial (rather than by more recent American Bar Association standards), the attorneys conducted an adequate investigation and provided sufficient representation.  The Court said, "This is not a case in which the defendant’s attorneys failed to act while potentially powerful mitigating evidence stared them in the face, cf. Wiggins, or would have been apparent from documents any reasonable attorney would have obtained, cf. Rompilla v. Beard. It is instead a case, like Strickland itself, in which defense counsel’s 'decision not to seek more' mitigating evidence from the defendant’s background 'than was already in hand' fell 'well within the range of professionally reasonable judgments.'" (citations omitted).

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Georgia Supreme Court to Consider Effects of Delayed and Unfunded Representation in Death Penalty Case

On November 10, the Georgia Supreme Court will hear arguments from attorneys for a capital defendant, Jamie Weis, and from the state concerning a three-and-a-half year delay in bringing his case to trial.  For two years of that delay, the Weis defense team had no funding, and for 14 months he was completely without representation.  During this entire time, the state was staffed and funded to prepare its prosecution of Weis.  The Court will decide whether Weis's constitutional right to a speedy trial was violated and whether that requires a dismissal of charges, or at least prevents the state from seeking the death penalty.  Weis was arrested and charged with murder in 2006.  He was assigned two attorneys, but because of a crisis in the state's indigent defense system, they were forced to resign and were not reassigned with pay until close to the trial date.  Weis suffers from psychosis, depression and anxiety, and has been detained in a county jail.  He has attempted suicide three times while awaiting trial.

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