Players in a Death Penalty Case

Over in California, lawyer Scott Glovsky creates podcasts of his talks with fellow trial attorneys, those he considers to be the great trial lawyers in the United States today, published on his site as "Trial Lawyer Talk." 

Terry Lenamon Interview: "Trial Lawyer Talk"

This month, he spoke with Terence Lenamon.  It’s a lawyer to lawyer chat.  And it provides fascinating details of how these capital cases are investigated as well as tried. 

It’s a death penalty lawyer going into detail about a specific capital case. 

The interview covers 36 minutes and can be heard here, as episode 38, where Terry discusses (1) facts of the case as well as (2) his experience in defending Byron Burch, who was accused of killing his elderly aunt in a horrific manner.  What about DNA?  What about mental illness?

Burch was convicted of the crime, but Terry successfully blocked the state’s desire for capital punishment in the case.  Instead, Burch was sentenced to life in prison without parole.  

This was a hard-fought victory for Terry, where Florida law at the time allowed a jury to vote 7 to 5 in favor of death for the state to win its desire for capital punishment.  Things have changed since then, of course. 

Opening Statement in Terry Lenamon’s Online Library

What more details?  You can read his opening statement in the Burch case as well as the state’s opening to learn what the jury heard in that case. 

Watch the Burch Penalty Hearing

There is also a YouTube video of the actual penalty hearing if you want to watch how these things progress, and see Terry in action. Watch it here: 

This week, the Marshall Project published an op-ed by Susannah Sheffer entitled "After Executions, Defense Attorneys Have Their Own Grief: a therapist on the emotional price lawyers pay to defend individuals sentenced to death."

 
As she points out so well, things are different for lawyers like Terry Lenamon who have dedicated their legal careers to defending men and women accused of capital crimes and for whom the prosecutor seeks the death penalty.  
 
Emotional Toll
 
There is the emotional toll that must be respected and cannot be underestimated when the death penalty defense attorney and his team does all that they can do, and still their client enters the execution chamber.  
 
From the article:
 
"Defense attorneys are not at the center of the death penalty story, but the penalty’s impact on these unique stakeholders is significant. It demands that we take seriously the wide-ranging implications of each execution."
 
Pressures of the Practicalities of the Practice
 
Another factor that adds more stress to the death penalty defense lawyer’s daily life which is not mentioned in her article is how these lawyers have to be savvy and smart in how they do their job, because they are dealing (for the most part) with indigent clients.  There’s not much money in the budget and there’s a life on the line.  
 
Defending against death in any scenario is emotionally harsh, but consider how difficult it is for the cases where you have to monitor how every single dime is spent and still maintain a standard of excellence?
 
Think about it.  
 
Indigent Defense in Capital Cases: Florida’s JAC
 
For more on this issue, see "Who is the JAC? What is JAC vs. Lenamon? Should You Care?" and read Terry’s amicus brief in Fletcher v. JAC for additional discussion. 

 

 In our last post, we discussed the upcoming August 2017 trial of James Bannister and gave some background information for the continuance motion filed and argued by Terence Lenamon as defense counsel for Mr. Bannister.  

It looked pretty solid then that the trial would begin this month.  

Things have changed.  

Continuance Motion Granted: Bannister Trial Rescheduled

Terry Lenamon filed another motion for continuance, and it has been granted.  Now the trial is scheduled to begin in October.  

For details, read today’s coverage in the Ocala Star Banner in an article written by Katie Pohlman entitled "Quadruple murder trial pushes to October."

Just one more lesson in how complex these capital cases are — not only factually, but procedurally.

What’s happened?  

As you will discover if you read the Ocala article, the Judge announced that there are two reasons for the trial delay.

1.  The Medical Examiner’s Schedule; and 

2.  The 11 Motions to Suppress Evidence filed by Lenamon.

Judge Pope, as quoted in the news piece, stated from the bench that both sides have "put forth a valiant effort" to get the case to trial.  

An Alibi Defense

One other factor here:  the defense’s need for additional time to investigate an alibi defense.  That’s right: an ALIBI.  

 

Update 08/10/2017

 

The Fourth Motion for Continuance (and the earlier motions as well) have been added to the Terence Lenamon Online Library.

For those of you interested in reading the actual filed motion (or to learn what a continuance motion looks like in Florida death penalty cases), here it is:

 

https://www.scribd.com/embeds/356019698/content?start_page=1&view_mode=scroll&access_key=key-ejG5qGrjW7LsBmOdFSRA&show_recommendations=true

 Last week, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) published its decision in McWilliams v. Dunn, a capital case coming out of Alabama where Death Row Inmate James McWilliams argued  and won that his sentencing was unconstitutional.  He did not challenge his conviction.

Independent Mental Health Expert for Death Penalty Defendants in Capital Cases

He asserted that he had a right to an independent mental health expert in his defense against the death penalty.  By not having his own psychiatrist or psychologist to investigate his history of neurological issues (including a traumatic brain injury), the defendant could not fully assert mitigating factors going against a death sentence.  

In the majority opinion (written by Justice Breyer, SCOTUS explains:

1.  If the defendant is indigent, then the state must provide a defendant with access to a mental health expert who is sufficiently available to the defense and independent from the prosecution to effectively “conduct an appropriate examination and assist in evaluation, preparation, and presentation of the defense," citing Ake v. Oklahoma.

2.  Ake requires more than just an examination. It requires that the State provide the defense with “access to a competent psychiatrist  who will conduct an appropriate [1] examination and assist in [2] evaluation, [3] preparation, and [4] presentation of the defense.”

3. The court is not deciding whether Ake requires a State to provide an indigent defendant with a qualified mental health expert retained specifically for the defense team.

Read the opinion here. 

For more on mitigation in a death penalty case’s sentencing phase, read our earlier posts including discussions on the issues of indigent defense funding; QEEG brain mapping; and the importance of mitigation specialists.

Over in Texas, the worst nightmare for any death penalty defense attorney is being played out in real life:  the allegations that a prosecutor committed serious misconduct during the capital trial, which resulted not only in the conviction of an innocent man, but his execution.

Cameron Todd Willingham was executed in 2004 for the arson deaths of his three young daughters.  He maintained his innocence always.

The Innocence Project began investigating claims of prosecutorial misconduct several years ago.  That led to a grievance being filed before the State Bar of Texas which included supporting evidence to allegations that the prosecutor that include:

1.  he made a deal with a jailhouse snitch to testify against Mr. Willingham in exchange for favorable treatment of the snitch; and 

2.  used various kinds of junk science to argue that the father had set fire to the home, killing his children.

Read the details in the Washington Post piece, " A Texas prosecutor is on trial for alleged misconduct," by Radley Balko published on May 3, 2017.  

Today, shocking many, the jury returned without any punishment for the prosecutor.  

Which makes the efforts of capital defense lawyers like Terence Lenamon all that more important and vital….

 Markieth Lloyd wants Terence Lenamon as his defense counsel – and only Terry Lenamon. 

Terence Lenamon is not discussing this issue with the media and he’s not issuing any kind of news release here. 

This post shares this current development with the blog’s readers and refers them to the following news stories for details:

"Markeith Loyd asks Miami capital punishment lawyer to represent him," by Emilee Speck, published April 3, 2017, on ClickOrlando.com. (Also published by Local10.com); and

" Markeith Loyd Told A Judge He Wants A Specific Lawyer," published April 3, 2017, at NewsTalkFlorida.com. .

The court will rule on this matter on April 12, 2017.

 

With all the hoopla surrounding the Florida death penalty statute (see our prior posts), some may be wondering what capital defense lawyers in Florida are doing right now.  Well, there are those sentencing hearings, right? 

Lenamon is Defending a Murder Case in Miami

And there are still murder trials.  The prosecutors are still busy trying homicide cases in Florida, no matter what controversy surrounds seeking the death penalty right now. 

Like the one that Terence Lenamon is involved in this month over in Miami. 

Back in 2008, a North Miami pawn shop owner named Marty Sprung was shot and killed.  Check out the 2008 Spot Crime report here.

Last Thursday trial began in the murder trial where Stevenson Charles is being accused of killing the pawn shop owner.  The District Attorney’s Office is seeking life imprisonment for the crime.

Terry Lenamon is defense counsel in the murder mystery case. 

Read the details of the story here in the Miami Herald coverage, "Who killed pawnshop owner? Miami jury to decide identity of killer."  It’s a real life whodunit in the article by David Ovalle, published on January 19, 2017.

 

CBS has made not only the video of its 60 Minutes story but the full transcript from “30 Years on Death Row” available online. 

It first aired back in October 2015, but you may have seen it earlier this month, when they shared it a second time.

Wrongful Conviction and 30 Years in Solitary Confinement on Death Row

It’s the story of how a man named Glenn Ford spent 30 years in solitary confinement on Louisana’s Death Row.  He was wrongfully convicted.  An innocent man.

Prosecutor Interview: "I was arrogant, narcissistic, caught up in the culture of winning.."

Key here is the interview the prosecutor in that case, as he explains the trial tactics and perspective of the state’s attorney in a capital case. 

Another vital message here: the fact that the defense attorneys not only had no capital murder defense expense, they did not practice criminal law at ALL.  These were two civil attorneys, going into court against an experienced prosecutor with a man’s life at stake.

Read the Transcript here.

Watch the Video here.

A new report has been published by Harvard Law School, and it should give anyone concerned about capital punishment in this country some food for thought.

As part of its "Fair Punishment Project," Harvard Law studied all those prosecutors in offices all across the country who prosecute capital crimes and have the power to seek the death penalty in these cases. 

It’s only when a Notice of Intent to Seek the Death Penalty is filed that capital punishment and killing the accused for his alleged crime becomes an issue.  If the prosecutor doesn’t decide to ask for death, then it’s not on the table.

Harvard Report: Five Deadliest Prosecutors

The results of the Harvard study?  They found that FIVE people tally up putting 440 individuals on Death Row.  That’s right.  Just 5 state attorneys — and they are spotlighted in this new report, "America’s Top Five Deadliest Prosecutors."

Read the report online here. 

Four Men and One Woman and 440 Death Sentences

In case you’re wondering, none are from Florida; one is from Texas.  The five are:

  1. Joe Freeman Britt — Robeson County, North Carolina (Lumberton);
  2. Donnie Myers — Lexington County, South Carolina (Lexington);
  3. Bob Macy — Oklahoma County, Oklahoma (Oklahoma City);
  4. Lynne Abraham of Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania (Philadelphia); and
  5. Johnny Holmes of Harris County, Texas (Houston).

Three More Prosecutors With High Death Penalty Conviction Rates

The report also offers the names of three more prosecutors who "… if they continue on their current trajectories, may soon join the ranks of the deadliest prosecutors in America."  They are:

  1. Bernie De La Rionda — Duval County, Florida (Jacksonville);
  2. Jeannette Gallagher – Maricopa County, Arizona (Phoenix);
  3. Paul Ebert, Prince William County, Virginia (Manassas).

 

 

 

When I asked Terry what he thought about the recent Slate article, “ The Worst Lawyers: Death sentences are down across the country—except for where one of these guys is the defense attorney,” he said that what law professor Stephen Bright wrote twenty years ago is still true today: all too often, the death penalty is handed down not “for the worst crime, but for the worst lawyer.” (Bright is quoted in the Slate article).

It goes without saying that capital punishment is sought in cases where all too often, the defendant is indigent. That means that they are appointed counsel as their constitutional right.

In what situation can you imagine where it’s more important to have a dedicated, compassionate, experienced, and smart lawyer than in a case where the prosecution is seeking the death penalty?

Yet all too often, as Terry pointed out, there are some very bad (I won’t use his exact adjectives; explicatives deleted) lawyers out there who are all too happy to take on capital punishment representations.

That’s one end of the continuum. But there IS a continuum.

Some of the Best and the Brightest Defend Capital Cases

There are lawyers in this country who are dedicated to representing people who are facing death penalty convictions (or are trying to have death penalty sentences reversed on appeal). They are not choosing this practice area because they want money or glory — if they were, there are plenty of other areas of the law that are better suited to those goals.  

They made a choice.  Or maybe their hearts made the decision for them.  

These are top-notch lawyers who enter a courtroom where the battle isn’t for money or years behind bars: it’s life versus death. They are passionate — and very good at what they do.

Yes, the Slate article is right. But it’s not the whole story.

Good lawyering is paramount in capital cases; and while there are bad lawyers representing defendants in capital cases, you will find some of the most honorable and (yes) noble of our profession are doing the same thing.

Do You Know About the Florida Capital Resource Center?

Like Terence Lenamon.  Like those that work for and/or support the non-profit organization Terry co-founded, the Florida Capital Resource Center.

Maybe you know a few names to add to that list; feel free to share them in the comments. 

From the Florida Capital Resource Center website:

History & Overview | Where we began & where we are going…

Florida Capital Resource Center was founded in 2009 by Terence "Terry" Lenamon, a renowned capital defense attorney in Miami, Florida, and Cynthia "Cindy" O’Shea, a talented defense attorney-turned-mitigation specialist who works with Terry on many of his capital cases.

Terry and Cindy believed that Florida’s capital justice system was (and still is) in a state of emergency because capital defense attorneys are often underfunded, under-qualified, or simply unmotivated to provide effective representation, particularly in cases involving indigent defendants.

Though vast amounts of taxpayer dollars are spent on the administration of Florida’s death penalty, budget cuts and poor legislation have reduced critical public defender resources and act to discourage talented private attorneys from registering for court-appointment.

To help counter that growing and alarming problem, Terry and Cindy decided to create a nonprofit organization that would provide a place where capital defense attorneys could find death penalty-related information and trial materials. They commissioned a website designed to house a clearinghouse of materials, and those materials are constantly expanding.

Since its inception in 2009, FCRC’s mission has expanded and its goals have broadened. Today, the mission of Florida Capital Resource Center is to assist indigent defendants facing the death penalty by providing consultation, research, training, advocacy, and other necessary resources to capital defenders state-wide.

Recognizing the "uneven playing field" inherent in the defense of impoverished individuals on trial for their lives (and the gross limitations of post-conviction remedies, even in the most constitutionally-violative cases), FCRC attempts to ensure that long-standing inequities are mitigated or abolished.

FCRC operates in multiple venues, including standing with those seeking statutory and rule changes intended to remove injustice from all relevant aspects of death penalty law and practice.

Working with other organizations (both local and national), FCRC seeks to protect the constitutional rights of Florida’s capital defendants by increasing access to critical resources, thereby improving the level of representation provided by Florida’s capital defense bar.