Death Penalty Wrongful Conviction in North Carolina

 
 
Image from NCCADP.ORG:  Henry McCollum, right after he’s been exonerated.
  
DNA Frees 2 Brothers After 30 Years Behind Bars
 
Henry McCollum and Leon Brown are brothers.  
 
For the past 30 years, McCollum has lived on North Carolina’s Death Row after being convicted of murder and sentenced to death back in 1984. Brown lived on Death Row, too, until his murder conviction was tossed.  The crime happened when Henry was 19 and Leon was only 15 years old.  
 
These two men have literally grown up from boys to men behind the bars of a North Carolina prison facility.  And they are innocent of the crimes for which they were charged.
 
They were accused of raping and murdering an 11 year old girl, Sabrina Buie, and each did sign a confession to the crime.  However, both have low IQ scores which immediately bring the “confessions” into question.  (McCollum tests at 60 IQ; Brown at 49).
 
Confession debates can be put aside, however.  DNA testing done by the Innocence Project has proven that these two men are innocent, and that a man named Roscoe Artis — on Death Row for a similar murder — has a match to the DNA found at the scene of Sabrina Buie’s murder.
 
McCollum holds the record as the longest-serving inmate on death row in North Carolina.  Both of the brothers have now been freed.   
 
Another example of the need for warriors like Terry Lenamon out there in the trenches when the Death Penalty is on the table.    
 

 

Great Documentary on the Death Penalty Available on Netflix

Now available on Netflix (streaming) is an amazing documentary on the death penalty that delves into capital punishment through the eyes of the "death house" chaplain -- a man who witnessed nearly 100 executions in his role as chaplain.  

You can watch "At The Death House Door" 24/7 online or via your streaming TV device if you have a Netflix subscription.  

It also discusses the case of Carlos DeLuna (see our post last month on a new book, The Two Carlos, that deals with the travesty of an innocent man being executed in Texas).

Great documentary for anyone interested in death penalty issues:

 

 

 

 

Lethal Injection: If It's Not the Chemicals, It's the Method

Last week, a report was released over in Oklahoma that confirmed that the botched execution of Clayton Derrell Lockett wasn’t the result of any drug or combination of drugs. Nope.

Apparently, the horrific execution of Mr. Lockett was the result of how the IV was inserted into his arm.

You’ll recall that it was only after 45 minutes of obvious pain where the man writhed and struggled against his restraints there on the table that he finally passed away last April.

Now we know that the executioner was not a physician or even a paramedic. In fact, under the current Oklahoma laws, no formal medical training is required for the persons who are responsible for the lethal injection method of execution in that state.

Of course, Oklahoma isn’t alone in horrific executions. Arizona took almost 2 hours to execute Joseph R. Wood III this past July.  

Read the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety Report on the Execution of Clayton D. Lockett here. 

Texas Has A Top-Secret Execution Method

 

 
 
This week, the Associated Press did a nice job of listing the various problems that the lethal injection method of execution has had since it was first used by the State of Texas in 1982.  You can read this reporting here, “Some Lethal Injection Problems in US Executions.”
 
Needless to say, the botched executions that have happened in 2014 are far from the first problems that have resulted while executing a human being by injecting them with chemicals.  It’s an execution method that may be viewed in future years as heinous, cruel, and just plain wrong.  Hints of this include the growing alarm being voiced by medical professionals to lethal injections.  
 
Terry Lenamon has had a longstanding concern about this method of execution — especially when states turned to drugs that vets commonly use to put down pets. See our earlier posts for more on this, including “As These Words Are Being Typed, Ohio Is Killing Ken Biros in an Unvetted Execution Method, Unless You Count Euthanasia of Dogs as Vetting.
 
However, instead of halting executions it appears that capital punishment continues in Texas, Florida, and other states without apparent concern for these lethal injection methods.   Texas has scheduled another execution using lethal injection - the first since April 2014.
 
 
As for what is going to be used for execution?  We don’t know.  
 
 

Is anyone else concerned about this?  

Is anyone else thinking that there’s a constitutional problem with both the secrecy as well as the methodology?
 

 

Doctors and the Death Penalty: Dr. Marc Stern Speaks

Several years ago, Dr. Marc Stern resigned from the Department of Corrections for Washington State, where he worked as its chief medical officer, because he could not jive his professional ethics as a physician with the state’s use of capital punishment.  
 
It’s a big dilemma in the use of lethal injections, particularly, as a means of execution since physicians are committed to health and saving lives, not ending them.  
 
 
 
Image:  States in red have had an execution since 1976.
 
Doctors are against the death penalty, and as Dr. Stern personifies, many also stand against physicians being involved in the supervision of others in any form of execution process (not just lethal injections). 
 
Dr. Stern Explains The Doctor's Dilemma Regarding the Death Penalty
 
 
You can read about Dr. Stern’s resignation in an 2008 piece written by Adam Wilson for the Seattle Times here.
 
To learn more about Dr. Stern’s position on the Death Penalty, particularly in light of recent botched executions, read his Op-Ed piece published last month in the Guardian, “I was told to approve a lethal injection, but it violates my basic medical ethics.”
 

Happy Birthday to Gerry Spence / Trial Lawyer's College

Terry just got back from Gerry Spence's Trial Lawyer's College -- he's a huge proponent of the TLC, having graduated from it back in 2011.

Today, Terry wanted to share this video with you from the Gerry Spence Birthday Tribute:

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The Wrong Carlos: Great Read - and Shows How Important Terry Lenamon's Work Is For Justice

Have you heard about how Texas executed the wrong man (no, not Cameron Todd Willingham)?

Here's a good read for all those interested in the American system of death penalty / capital punishment. It tells the story of Carlos DeLuna, wrongfully executed for murdering a woman named Wanda Lopez.

It was only after an investigatory team at the Columbia Law School looked into Carlos DeLuna's case that it was discovered his claims that the authorities "had the wrong Carlos" were true.

Shows how important a good capital lawyer can be, and how vital Terry Lenamon's work is to the system of justice.

 

High School and College Level Educational Materials on the Death Penalty

Did you know that the Death Penalty Information Center has compiled curricula on the death penalty for both the high school and college level?  

From the DPIC website:

Our award-winning high school curriculum, Educational Curriculum on the Death Penalty, includes 10-day lesson plans, interactive maps and exercises, and a presentation of pros and cons on the death penalty for discussion and debate. It is also available as a free iBook for the Apple iPad. The iBook version incorporates the interactivity and user-friendly interface of a tablet, including touch-screen navigation, access to the full curriculum even when offline, and use of standard iBook features, such as definitions and note-taking. For instructions on downloading the iBook, click here.

Our college-level curriculum, Capital Punishment in Context, contains detailed case studies of individuals who were sentenced to death in the U.S. The curriculum provides a complete narrative of each case, along with original resources, such as homicide reports, affidavits, and transcripts of testimony from witnesses. The narratives are followed by a discussion of the issues raised by each case, enabling students to research further into a broad variety of topics. Both curricula have special materials for those who register. They are widely used by educators in the U.S. and around the world in the fields of civics, criminal justice, sociology, and many other areas.

 

Inspector General's Report of FBI Review of Death Penalty Cases

Last month, the Department of Justice released a report from the Inspector General's Office about the work of the FBI in death penalty cases.  It's shocking.  

READ THE REPORT ONLINE HERE, "An Assessment of the 1996 Department of Justice Task Force Review of the FBI Laboratory." 

 

 Specifically, the Inspector General compiled a report on how the Federal Bureau of Investigation FAILED to give proper notice to Death Row inmates that their cases were being reviewed as possibly having had FBI experts giving bad, wrong, "inaccurate" testimony at their criminal trial.

That's right: the FBI crime lab testimony was wrong in cases where people were facing the death penalty.  

From the Inspector General:  

"[T]he FBI did not take sufficient steps to ensure that the capital cases were the Task Force’s top priority. We found that it took the FBI almost 5 years to identify the 64 defendants on death row whose cases involved analyses or testimony by 1 or more of the 13 examiners.

The Department did not notify state authorities that convictions of capital defendants could be affected by involvement of any of the 13 criticized examiners. Therefore, state authorities had no basis to consider delaying scheduled executions."

How bad is this?  We know of THREE PEOPLE who were executed before the FBI let them or their lawyers know that this review of FBI testimony was underway.  

There may be more.  

The Inspector General is recommending that all physical evidence in a Death Penalty case be re-tested for 24 another Death Row inmates who either died while awaiting execution or who have already been executed. 

Jodi Arias Will Defend Herself in Penalty Phase of Death Penalty Trial

Today, Jodi Arias was granted her request to represent herself in the second part of her Arizona death penalty trial.  The second phase of the trial is called the "penalty phase" and it's here that factors are considered in deciding whether or not she should be sentenced to death for the 2008 crime of killing Travis Alexander.  

For those following the Jodi Arias case, you'll remember that the jury convicted her of first degree murder but failed to come to an agreement on capital punishment.  The prosecution was granted a second trial for the penalty phase, and that's going to go forward now with Arias representing herself.

Stand-by Counsel for Jodi Arias

She'll probably get a stand-by counsel here.  

You'll recall that Terence Lenamon recently acted in this role in the Michel Escoto case, when Escoto was allowed to represent himself here in Florida.  

Watch Terry during his Dateline NBC interview on the Escoto trial here.  

Penalty Phase: What Jodi Arias Must Prove as Her Own Lawyer

During the penalty phase, the prosecution will present aggravating factors that support the death penalty for Jodi Arias.  

She will be responsible for presenting mitigating factors (something that Terry is known to be proficient at -- presenting mitigation as a reason to not sentence someone to death).  

Arizona's mitigating factors are any evidence relevant to “any aspect of the defendant’s character, propensities or record and any of the circumstances of the offense.”

In order for the prosecutor to get a sentence of capital punishment for Jodi Arias, see A.R.S. § 13-751:

There must be 2 findings:

1. proof has been provided beyond a reasonable doubt of one or more aggravating circumstance under the 14 aggravating circumstances listed in A.R.S. § 13-751(F), and

2.  there is no proof of mitigating circumstances "sufficiently substantial to call for leniency.” A.R.S. § 13-751(E).

 

Lenamon's Client, Last Defendant in $200 Million Medicare Fraud Trial, Faces Guilty Jury Verdict

This was a big deal: a $200 Million Medicare Fraud operation where around 40 people have been sentenced to prison time for doing things like submitting false invoices to Medicare for mental health services that never happened.

This week, a federal jury came back with a verdict on the last 2 defendants in this big Department of Justice investigation into this South Florida Medicare Fraud enterprise involving seven American Therapeutic Clinics scattered in different cities and lots of players.

The big guns have already been dealt with by the justice system and are behind bars.

Terence Lenamon represented one of the last two defendants in the sting — Roger Bergman, a 65 year old physician’s assistant, and Mr. Bergman was found guilty by the jury this week. Bergman and his co-defendant, a 55 year old patient recruiter named Rodolfo Santaya, will be sentenced by a federal judge at a sentencing hearing in the future.

SInce this is an ongoing case, Terry Lenamon’s position on Mr. Bergman’s situation in this complicated, immense fraud can best be described by language taken from Terry Lenamon’s Closing Statement in the trial (p. 1242):

Because what's really going on here is Roger Bergman is a physician's assistant trying to make a living. And when he's working day in and day out, he's not thinking about committing Medicare fraud or falsifying information, he's thinking about, you know, my car broke down this morning and I may not be able to make it in. And I got to make up for those files so I can dictate those files because what I do is very simple. This is what Roger Bergman does.

And don't let the government fool you about his responsibility. He's a physician's assistant. He takes the place of a physician legally. He interviews them. He does two things. He does a note and he does an initial evaluation. He gets paid $30 for the initial evaluation and $15 for a note. It may take him five minutes to do a note, it may take him ten, it may take him 15 to do an initial evaluation, it may take him 20.
But when he is done, he writes it on a yellow pad. Those yellow pads are kept, were kept and destroyed by the government. And then he dictates that information and it's supposed to be madeinto a chart. …

Prediction: Win on appeal.

 

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Death Penalty by US County: HuffPo Infographic

 

Florida Supreme Court Changes Rules for Death Penalty Appeals (Read Order)

The Florida Supreme Court  has issued its Order that changes the Florida appellate process in death penalty cases. 

 

The changes include what is required before a Florida attorney can represent someone in a capital case.  approved a series of changes Thursday aimed at improving the death-penalty appeals process.

Read the complete Order here: 

 

Florida Supreme Court Overturns 30-Yr Death Penalty Conviction Orders New Trial for Paul Hildwin

Paul Hildwin resides on Florida’s Death Row, having been sentenced to death for the 1985 killing of Vronzettie Cox who had been raped before she was strangled to death and her body left to be found in the trunk of a car.

 
For three decades, Mr. Hildwin has lived behind bars as a man awaiting execution — until now.
 
The Florida Supreme Court has ordered a new trial for Paul Hildwin and it’s not clear if the Florida prosecutor is going to re-try the case, given the language of the High Court’s opinion.  
 
 
 
 
DNA Evidence and FBI Expert’s Flawed Trial Testimony
 
What’s happened here?  New DNA evidence has been presented that absolutely guts the evidence that was presented by the state’s prosecutors at Hildwin’s criminal trial.  
 
During his 1985 trial, an FBI expert testified that fluids collected at the Hernando County crime scene matched with Mr. Hildwin  — and he also testified that these fluids could not have come from the victim’s boyfriend.  
 
Now, DNA evidence establishes the exact opposite is true.  The fluids could not have originated with Paul Hildwin:  they match the boyfriend, a man already behind bars on two sexual assault convictions.
 
 
In light of the evidence presented at trial, and considering the cumulative effect of all evidence that has been developed through Hildwin’s postconviction proceedings, we conclude that the totality of the evidence is of “such nature that it would probably produce an acquittal on retrial” because the newly discovered DNA evidence “weakens the case against [the defendant] so as to give rise to a reasonable doubt as to his culpability.

In sum, newly discovered evidence now establishes that the DNA found on the victim’s underwear and on the washcloth at the crime scene belong to Haverty.  The fact that the DNA on the washcloth was saliva that matches Haverty is significant because it supports Hildwin’s story that he saw the killer wipe his face with a “white rag.”  In other words, the jury had to decide between two suspicious  people—both of whom had a motive.  
 
Erroneous scientific evidence presented at  trial, in addition to the newly discovered evidence identifying the DNA on both items as Haverty’s, is significant evidence.
 
In considering the evidence at trial, the newly discovered evidence at issue now, as well as admissible evidence previously  discovered in prior postconviction proceedings, we conclude that this newly  discovered evidence “weakens the case against [the defendant] so as to give rise to  a reasonable doubt as to his culpability.”  Jones II, 709 So. 2d at 526.”
 
 
 
  
 

Movie "Dead Man Walking" Now Available on Netflix

 

The movie "Dead Man Walking" is now available for streaming on your smartphone, tablet, computer, or TV, via Netflix.  If you are interested at all in the death penalty or capital punishment issues, then this is a Must See Film.

Click here for details.  

 
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