North Carolina Death Row Inmate's Letter Describing "Life of Leisure" Adding to Death Penalty Debate

We've written about the conditions over on California's Death Row and how at least one inmate has made the news requesting the death penalty because life would be better for him on Death Row rather than serving life imprisonment at another California facility.  (Read our posts about Billy Joe Johnson here.)

Now, a North Carolina Death Row inmate is sharing that spotlight as he writes of how he gets three good meals, naps when he wants, top-notch medical care 24/7, and TV access, in his "life of leisure" on North Carolina's Death Row.

Here is the full text of his letter (no changes have been made to the original handwritten text although we've added breaks to make it easier to read):

My name is Danny Hembree. I was tried in Gaston Co. by twelve of its fine citizens. I was found guilty of 1st degree capital murder and sentenced to death by Judge Beverly Beal on Nov. 18, 2011.

The Great State of North Carolina's Dept. of Corr. was ordered to carry out my murder, or was it, or is it just another piece of the politition political money pie. I wonder if the public is aware that the cost of my first trial was a half a million dollars. Are they aware that the State has in place a system that automatically delays my lawful murder for years so that pieces of the money pie can continue to be passed around. Is the public aware that the chances of my lawful murder taking place in the next 20 years if even are very slim.

Is the public aware that I am a gentleman of lesiure, watching color tv in the A.C., reading, takeing naps at will, eating three well balanced hot meals a day. I'm housed in a building that connects to the new 55 million dollar hospital with round the clock free medical care 24/7. There are a lot of good citizens who bloged on various web sites stating their opinions about me and the punishment that I deserve.

Most of these blogs were made by anonymous cowards, but not all. I laugh at you self righteous clowns and I spit in the face of your so called justice system. The State of North Carolina has sentenced me to death but it's not real. You citizens of Gaston Co. should petition the State and force them to carry out my murder sentence instead of blindly taking it up the XXX from the State or are you to stupid to proceed.

I am a man who is ready to except his unjust punishment and face God almighty with a clear consceince unlike you cowards and your cowardly system. Kill me if you can suckers.

Ha! Ha! Ha!

Sincerely,

Danny Hembree

Death Row Conditions Depend Upon the State

As this letter stirs more controversy and brings a national focus on Death Row conditions in North Carolina, one would hope that the American Public would also be reminded of the Death Row conditions in other states.  States where Mr. Hembree's "life of leisure" does not exist.

Reminds us of the 2002 letter that a Texas Death Row inmate sent to an anti-death penalty advocate about the conditions there: solitary confinement, rotten food, etc. 

And of the 2006 description of his time on Florida's Death Row by Juan Roberto Melendez - who was exonerated after serving 17 years in a Death Row Cell at Raiford. 

Perhaps we need to consider the source and not only his motivations but also his possible mental perspective before any assumptions are made that any state's Death Row is a cushy spot to spend your life. 

2012 Execution Schedule

So far, only one execution has occurred in 2012 in the United States:  the January 6, 2012, execution of Gary Welch by a three-drug lethal injection (using phenobarbital) by the State of Oklahoma.

2012 US Execution Schedule

The Death Penalty Information Center updated its 2012 Execution Schedule on January 23, 2012, and it's pretty amazing to see how short that list is, right now:

January

17 PA Ralph Birdsong - Stayed
18 PA Kenneth Hairston - Stayed
18 OH Charles Lorraine - Stayed
19 KY Michael St. Clair - Stayed
20 DE Robert Gattis - Granted Clemency
26 TX Rodrigo Hernandez
31 GA Nicholas Tate - Voluntarily Waived His Rights to Appeal
 

February
1 TX Donald Newbury
15 FL Robert Waterhouse
16 OK Garry Allen
22 OH Michael Webb
28 TX Anthony Bartee
29 TX George Rivas
29 AZ Robert Moormann
 

March
6 NE Michael Ryan
7 TX Keith Thurmond
8 AZ Robert Towery
8 PA Dustin Briggs - (Stay Likely)
15 OK Timothy Stemple
18 SD Briley Piper - (Stay Likely)
28 TX Jesse Hernandez
 

April
18 OH Mark Wiles
26 TX Beunka Adams
 

May
13-19 SD Eric Roberts
 

June
12 OH Abdul Awkal
 

July
26 OH John Eley
 

September
20 OH Donald Palmer
 

November
13 OH Brett Hartmann

 

Cory Maples Wins at U.S. Supreme Court: A Lesson in Indigent Defense

We've been monitoring the case of  Alabama Death Row Inmate Cory Maples, who had very bad indigent defense counsel even though they were a swanky New York law firm with a prestigious reputation. 

For details, read our earlier post on Mr. Maples and how his mother saved the day - and probably his life.

U.S. Supreme Court Issues Opinion in Maples v. Thomas

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its opinion in Cory Maples' case, and Mr. Maples has won his new hearing. 

Read the full opinion online here.

Included within this opinion, the Justices' ruling on what defense counsel did, or most importantly did not do, in this case.  The High Court found that Sullivan and Cromwell "abandoned" their client. 

Abandoned the client.  That's serious language.

But the High Court doesn't stop there.  In a majority opinion authored by Justice Ruth Ginsberg, the entire indigent defense system of the State of Alabama is also scruntized and found lacking.

Of note, the fact that Alabama law does not insure that the attorneys who represent indigent capital defendants have any special expertise or training, nor does Alabama guarantee indigent defense representation to poor capital defendants in postconviction proceedings.

The clincher:  in the opinion, Ginsberg also criticizes the pay rate for the indigent defense attorneys who take on these death penalty cases.

Which is pointing at the elephant in the room that we've been writing about on this blog for almost three years now. 

 

New Pew Study Has 62% Americans Favor Death Penalty - While Some See De Facto Abolishing of Capital Punishment Today: Is Cohen Right?

The Pew Research Center has just released its latest study, and it's making the media rounds today.  Seems their study finds that a solid majority of Americans - sixty-two percent (62%) -- are in favor of the death penalty. 

Read the Pew report online here, entitled "Continued Support for the Death Penalty."

Which makes it interesting to consider the opinion voiced by New York Law Professor Cohen over at TIME Magazine this week, where Professor Cohen argues that there is a growing "de facto" abolishing of capital punishment in this country.  In his article, "Why the Death Penalty is Slowly Dying," Cohen opines that this is due to three reasons:

  • the increase in Death Row exonerations;
  • the cost to take a case from trial to execution - capital cases are expensive; and
  • what he calls the "ick factor," where he posits that citizens are more squeamish about executions than they were historically.

Is Cohen Right?

Out of the three reasons listed above, money sure does seem like a motivating factor in states that are broke, like California (as we have posted about before).  However, there's a big, big factor in the absence of executions to tally in 2011:  lack of supply for one of the needed drugs in the three-drug lethal injection cocktail that had been pretty much accepted procedure in all U.S. Death Chambers.

In the past year, the inability to buy domestic sodium thiopental has sent execution schedules into chaos - as we've been following along in our posts.

One has to ask:  if states had not lost their steady supply of sodium thiopental, would the execution numbers have gone down?

 

 
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