US Supreme Court Finds Prosecution Intentionally Violated Due Process in 20 Yr Old Death Penalty Case

Monday, the Supreme Court heard argument in the Bies case (see 04/27/09 post), and the very next day issued its opinion in Cone v. Bell, 555 U.S. ___ (2009), both capital punishment cases where the defendant argued a diminished capacity of some sort. In today's case, there was an intentional hiding of the ball by the State and a definite due process problem.

Gary Cone was a known drug addict who murdered two people.

It is undisputed that Gary Cone was a Vietnam veteran who returned home to Memphis, Tennessee, and failed to cope well with civilian life. One Saturday morning in 1980, Gary Cone robbed a jewelry store - obviously, not very well - and was promptly pursued by local police in what turned into a high speed chase.

Veering into a residential neighborhood, Cone abandoned his car and shot both a police officer and a Good Samaritan who tried to stop him as Cone fled on foot. On the hunt for another getaway car, Cone tried to carjack someone and when they refused to give them the keys, he tried to shoot them, too, only to find he was out of bullets. By this time, helicopters were flying overhead and the scene was escalating to a frantic pace. (You've seen the reality TV shows like COPS, you can visualize these events.)

Somehow that Saturday afternoon, Cone got away. No one could find him. However, early the next morning, Gary Cone was still in the neighborhood - knocking on the door of an elderly couple, Shipley and Cleopatra Todd. He asked to use their phone; Cleo Todd refused and slammed the door on Cone. Cleo called the cops, and still Cone could not be found.

The tragedy occurred later that same day. Cone returned to the Todd home, forced himself into their house, and beat the two senior citizens to death before tearing their house apart. He shaved there, got himself to the Memphis airport, and was busted while robbing a drug store in Pompano Beach, Florida a couple of days later.

Vietnam Vet Cone Asserted an Insanity Defense - He Didn't Contest His Actions

Vietnam vet Gary Cone was arrested, tried, and convicted of the Todds' murder. He never challenged evidence that showed he committed these horrific acts. What he asserted as his defense was his mental illness: Cone's defense team brought forth evidence to show that Cone suffered from chronic amphetamine psychosis, a mental disorder caused by excessive drug abuse.

Experts testified that the drug use began while Cone was serving in Vietnam, where he was using "horrific" quantities of drugs while dealing with the bodies of dead soldiers. The mental illness caused by this drug use created a level of paranoia and a disorder including hallucinations that would keep Cone from understanding or being able to conform to everyday life and the boundaries imposed by Tennessee law.

In sum, the entirety of Cone's defense was mental illness. He was legally insane when the crimes were committed.

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Will a mentally retarded man, Michael Bies, be put to death in Ohio?

This morning, at 11:00 EST, oral arguments will begin before the United States Supreme Court on whether or not a federal appeals court (the 6th Circuit) interfered with a state court death penalty case where the defendant was found to be mentally retarded. And while that sounds very procedural and legalistic, whether or not Michael Bies will be executed by the State of Ohio is the real issue here.

The case, Bobby v. Bies (08-598), has the Solicitor General of Ohio, Benjamin C. Mizer, arguing for the warden. Professor John Blume, of Cornell Law School, is advocating for Michael Bies.

It's Already Been Decided that the Death Penalty Cannot Be Imposed Upon Mentally Retarded Individuals

Back in 2002, the Supreme Court already held that the execution of mentally retarded individuals violates the due process provisions of the Eighth Amendment (Atkins v. Virginia). Today, the High Court is looking at double jeopardy protections. Specifically, in the Bies case, the focus will be whether or not double jeopardy protects a defendant at a state (not federal) post-conviction hearing where mental competency is being assessed pursuant to Atkins, when the issue of the defendant's "borderline mental retardation" had already been recognized earlier, by the state supreme court.

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The Checklist for Death Penalty Qualified Criminal Defense Attorneys in Florida

So far, we have three posts (03/27/09; 04/16/09; 04/20/09) that deal with the role of a judge - at both the trial and appellate levels - in a death penalty case. There's a lot more to consider about the impact that judges have in death penalty considerations, but before we delve further into their role, it seems wise to bring the attorneys into the mix.

First, the criminal defense attorneys. (Next, the prosecutors.)

Before a lawyer can represent a client who is facing capital punishment in a Florida case, he must meet many, many requirements. Why? The Florida legislature as well as the Florida courts have recognized that when a defendant's life is at stake, his legal counsel plays a vital role in making sure that due process of law is achieved.

Once again, it's about your right to due process of law

Every aspect of due process must be vigilantly protected when the State is seeking to kill a defendant as punishment for actions that defendant has allegedly done. The ability of the government to take a citizen's life must be scrupulously monitored and restrained - this is one of the key purposes of our due process standards.

Remember, as Justice Rehnquist alluded to in the Brady Opinion (04/20/09 post), the focus is on the state, not the individual defendant. Anything but the strictest of due process standards in death penalty cases risks the horrors of a fatal error.

Today, even with our due process standards in place, there are many innocent people who have been sent to Death Row, as the Innocence Project can readily confirm. Some innocent people have been executed in this country. Due process is not perfect - after all, it's a manmade construct -- but it's the standard that we have set in our judicial system. It's the best we can do, and our jurisprudence is always attempting to hone and better our due process standards.

Death Penalty Criminal Defense Attorneys in Florida

Perhaps the most important role from a due process perspective in a death penalty case is that of defense counsel. The trial judge, of course, vigilantly monitors each step of the legal process, but it is the defendant's own attorneys that must make the objections to possible violations, and fill the record for appeal with the proper procedural foundations when errors are made.

A trial judge cannot rule on an objection that is not made. An appellate judge cannot rule a point of error left unaddressed.

Different states have different requirements for their death penalty defense attorneys, as does federal law for federal capital punishment cases. In Florida, a specific checklist provides the legal requirements that a criminal defense attorney must have before he sets as lead trial counsel, trial co-counsel, or appellate counsel for a defendant facing the penalty of death.

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23 Years After Being Sentenced to Die, 55 Year Old Nathan Fields Finally Exonerated

Last week, over in a Chicago courtroom, Nathan Fields stood to hear Circuit Judge Vincent Gardenia find him not guilty of murder. Nathan Fields is 55 years old, and he's finally been cleared 23 years after he was sentenced to death by a notoriously corrupt Illinois judge.

What happened in Nathan Fields' case?

The truth has come to light, and it has been shown that the trial court judge in Fields' initial trial accepted a $10,000 bribe in the case. Judge Tom Mahoney actually took the money to find Fields and his codefendant not guilty, but apparently Mahoney got nervous that he was about to be caught. So, he returned the bribe to its source, went ahead and found both men guilty of a double murder, and sentenced them both to death.

Nathan Fields Spent 7 Years on Death Row and Awaited Retrial for 11 Years

Nathan Fields was granted a new trial in 1998, and he was released pending retrial in 2003 when a fellow Death Row inmate put up his bail. That Death Row inmate who put up the money for Fields to walk free pending full exoneration is a man named Aaron Patterson. He's still on Death Row.

Patterson's generosity allowed Fields to be free in Chicago, with his family, after serving seven years on Illinois' Death Row. Still, it was over ten years before Fields' case came before another judge and his name was cleared of the murder charge.

What are his plans now?

Nathan Fields plans on taking a vacation with his family - he's never seen the ocean or the mountains, he's told reporters. He also plans on opening a construction company with his friend Aaron Patterson - although right now, Aaron Patterson remains behind bars.

Judge Tom Mahoney Fixed Murder Trials for Money

These are all facts that have been established. Judge Mahoney was caught for his evildoing, tried, and found guilty of conspiracy, racketeering, extortion, and obstructing justice in April 1993. Thomas Mahoney spent over 12 years behind bars before he died at the age of 83.

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In Depth Look: Filicide is Different - 3

Progressive postpartum depression is one of the least recognized diseases suffered by young mothers despite the fact that almost 80% of women who give birth experience some form of postpartum upset. Although this symptom picture is well described in the research literature, postpartum depression is not recognized in the mental health professional's legal "bible," the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fourth edition ("DSM IV"). [20] The symptoms of postpartum depression may masquerade as manic-depression (bipolar disorder). Periods of euphoria, agitation, sleeplessness, sexual promiscuity, and hyperactivity characterize the manic symptoms. Poor judgment is a result. [21]

Progressive Postpartum Depression and Psychosis

A common misperception is that the postpartum depression is nothing more than the "baby blues" and will disappear on its own shortly after childbirth. [22] However, if untreated, the disease can develop into a more severe form, progressive postpartum depression or even psychosis. When this happens, the mother suffers from continued episodes of mania or depression, each one progressively worse than the last. Rejections, separations, and losses often trigger subsequent recurrent episodes. Because of the episodic nature, the woman is often untreated or undiagnosed until a tragedy occurs.

Despite the common misconception that only newborns are at risk from this disease, mothers suffering from the more severe form kill older children. The case of Andrea Yates more than amply illustrates this point.

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Texas Chief Justice Sharon Keller's Lesson to Us All About Due Process

Due process under the law has been constitutionally protected since our nation began, although the phrase gets tossed around quite a bit these days without much concern as to its real importance.

Due process is protected by the 5th (federal) and 14th (state) Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, although it is a principle with origins in the Magna Carta. In that historic document, England's King John promised that "...[n]o free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land."

King John signed the Magna Carta over 790 years ago. You'd think that due process of law would be pretty much settled into a traditional, solid role in our society by now. Particularly so, when it comes to those officials in positions of authority. But if you think that, you'd be wrong.

Due Process of Law is endangered in this country.

Never has our sacred right to due process under the law been more endangered than it is today. And no - I'm not about to delve into the current Florida case concerning a young woman awaiting trial for the murder of her child.

Instead, I'm looking over at our sister state, Texas, and what's been going on over there since the afternoon of September 26, 2007.

Texas Chief Justice Faces Criminal Charges, Civil Trial, and Impeachment Arising From Death Penalty Case

Criminal charges were recently filed against Sharon Keller, the Chief Justice of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, by Texans for Public Justice for her actions on the day that Michael Richard was executed by lethal injection. (In Texas, the Court of Criminal Appeals is the highest court for all criminal matters; the state divides its civil and criminal caseloads, and has a separate high court, the Texas Supreme Court, which hears all civil matters as the state court of last resort.)

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The Controversial New Reality TV Show - "Dallas DNA"

Later this month, a new reality-TV show will begin to air on the Discovery channel, called "Dallas DNA." Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins is supportive of this new show; he's quoted in USA Today as saying it " '...makes justice better by showing the good, the bad and the ugly.' " Meanwhile, the chief counsel to the Innocence Project of Texas, Jeff Blackburn, is quoted as believing that the show exists merely to boost Watkins' political career.

What is "Dallas DNA"?

The show itself focuses upon the use of DNA testing to discover individuals wrongfully convicted, particularly those on death row. Law students working with the Innocence Project of Texas, and presumably those working with District Attorney Watkins, will be the series' new reality stars. Their work will be filmed and televised for a profit.

Remember, this is a reality TV show. As is "Survivor," "Amazing Race," and "Dancing With the Stars."

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In Depth Look: Filicide is Different - 2

Subsequent studies agree with Resnick's Classification of Motives in Maternal Filicide Cases

Subsequent studies have agreed on a commonality of motives in cases of maternal filicide.[8] These motives are: (1) the mother's mental illness, often seen as "pathological," "acutely psychotic," or "mentally ill" killings, (2) lack of bonding with the child, manifested as "neonaticide," "unwanted child," or "ignored pregnancy" deaths, and (3) inadequate parenting, resulting in "accidental," "discipline-related," or "neglect" deaths.

Recent Studies Look Not Only at Motive, but at the Nature of the Mother-Child Relationship

Recent studies focus on more than just the motive, but on the nature of the mother-child relationship. Forensic psychiatric evaluations of women criminally charged with the deaths of their children found the following characterizations of the mother-child relationship: abusive / neglectful mothers, psychotic / depressed mothers, retaliatory mothers, psychopathic mothers, and detached mothers.

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Please Check Out My Op-Ed Piece in Today's Orlando Sentinel

I have written an article concerning the impact of media coverage on our constitutional rights to a fair trial - and the presumption of innocence, which appears today in both the print and web versions of the Orlando Sentinel.

It is entitled "Media zap right to fair trial: To wit, Casey Anthony et al. " and you can read it here.

I welcome your thoughts and opinions.

Five Questions to Ask Yourself about the Casey Anthony Case

1. In your jurisdiction, if you are charged with a state crime, will the state's discovery in your case be accessible as a public record, like the "document dumps" made famous in the Casey Anthony case?

2. In your jurisdiction, if you or a family member is charged with a state crime, what are your protections against people going through your trash and demonstrating in front of your home 24/7, as occurred at the Anthony family home after Casey Anthony was arrested on charges of filicide?

3. If you are interviewed by the local authorities, are you being videotaped? Is that videotape available to the media? In the Anthony case, interviews were videotaped and those videotapes have been provided to the media.

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What It's Really Like on Florida's Death Row

There are really two death rows in Florida: one for the men, located at the Florida State Prison and Correctional Institution in Raiford, and a separate facility for the women at the Broward Correctional Facility in Fort Lauderdale. As of today's date, there was one woman on Florida's Death Row and 391 men.

(Who is the only woman on Florida's Death Row? Tiffany Cole, a 27 year old female who was convicted of the kidnapping and murder of a retired Florida couple and sentenced to death for the killing of each victim (receiving two death penalty sentences).)

The Florida Department of Corrections actually provides a virtual tour of a Death Row prison cell, so you can see the tiny area in which these prisoners reside. Measuring 6' (width) x 9'(depth) x 9.5' (height), these cells are where those sentenced to death live - by themselves, they do not share a cell - until it is time for their death sentence to be carried out. Then, they are moved to the Death Watch cell, which is close to the execution site. The Death Watch cell is slightly larger than the Death Row cell.

Those individuals living on Death Row get three meals a day. Breakfast is at 5 a.m., dinner is over by 4:30 p.m. Lunch is somewhere around noon. They can only use spoons to eat their food, which is served to them on cafeteria trays. The food is prepared at the prison cafeteria.

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In Depth Look: Filicide is Different - 1

Filicide, the killing of a child by its parent, has unique characteristics making it different from other forms of homicide.[1] Filicide seems particularly horrifying and inexplicable, especially when the parent is the mother.

Remember first that, in the United States, a staggering number of children go missing each year. In 2001, 797,500 children under 18 were reported missing, resulting in an average of 2,185 children being reported missing each day.[2] Unfortunately, of these missing children, nearly 1,300 were victims of homicide.[3] Nearly half of these children were under the age of five, and a parent killed over half of these.[4] Of all the children under age five killed during the period 1976 to 2000, 31% were killed by fathers, 30% by mothers, 23% killed by male acquaintances, 7% by other relatives, and 3% by strangers.[5]

Maternal Filicide - The Profile of Mothers Who Kill Their Children

A general profile of mothers most at risk of committing filicide has developed. Typically, the mother is young, around 21 years of age. She is single and has had multiple unstable relationships with men. Either she is mentally deficient or an apparently normal young woman, forced to put off high school graduation, college, or career because of pregnancy. She is unemployed and has financial difficulties. She may have suffered from serious mental illness in the past, or only manifested undiagnosed personality changes after the birth of her child. Roughly, one fifth of these mothers have been victims of physical or sexual abuse.

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Jury Votes Federal Death Penalty for Florida Turnpike Killings

There is a federal death penalty, just like there is the option of capital punishment in the majority of states, and Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh comes to mind as a well-recognized example of the federal death penalty statute in action. (McVeigh's 2001 execution was the first exercise of federal capital punishment since 1963.)

However, this week was the first time since federal capital punishment was authorized once again by Congress, over twenty years ago, that a Florida jury actually voted to put someone to death as punishment for their crime.

Perhaps you've heard of the Turnpike Killings.

On March 31, 2009, defendants Daniel Troya and Ricardo Sanchez, Jr. stood to hear an unanimous jury verdict that condemned the two men to death for the killing of Luis Julian Escobedo, 4, and Luis Damian Escobedo, 3, back in October 2006, while voting that the two defendants should receive life sentences for the killings of Luis and Yessica Escobedo. The jury deliberated almost four days before returning with their decision.

Of course, this is a drug-related crime. The Escobedo couple was involved with a drug cartel run by Daniel Varela, who has been sentenced to life in prison on drug trafficking charges, and it is undisputed that the deaths were related to the distribution and sale of cocaine in South Florida.

This is far from over.

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