Day: April 17, 2012

US – Convicted defendants left uninformed of forensic flaws found by Justice Dept.

april 17, 2012 source

Justice Department officials have known for years that flawed forensic work might have led to the convictions of potentially innocent people, but prosecutors failed to notify defendants or their attorneys even in many cases they knew were troubled.

Officials started reviewing the cases in the 1990s after reports that sloppy work by examiners at the FBI lab was producing unreliable forensic evidence in court trials. Instead of releasing those findings, they made them available only to the prosecutors in the affected cases, according to documents and interviews with dozens of officials.

In addition, the Justice Department reviewed only a limited number of cases and focused on the work of one scientist at the FBI lab, despite warnings that problems were far more widespread and could affect potentially thousands of cases in federal, state and local courts.

As a result, hundreds of defendants nationwide remain in prison or on parole for crimes that might merit exoneration, a retrial or a retesting of evidence using DNA because FBI hair and fiber experts may have misidentified them as suspects.

In one Texas case, Benjamin Herbert Boyle was executed in 1997, more than a year after the Justice Department began its review. Boyle would not have been eligible for the death penalty without the FBI’s flawed work, according to a prosecutor’s memo.

The case of a Maryland man serving a life sentence for a 1981 double killing is another in which federal and local law enforcement officials knew of forensic problems but never told the defendant. Attorneys for the man, John Norman Huffington, say they learned of potentially exculpatory Justice Department findings from The Washington Post. They are seeking a new trial.

Justice Department officials said that they met their legal and constitutional obligations when they learned of specific errors, that they alerted prosecutors and were not required to inform defendants directly.

The review was performed by a task force created during an inspector general’s investigation of misconduct at the FBI crime lab in the 1990s. The inquiry took nine years, ending in 2004, records show, but the findings were never made public.

In the discipline of hair and fiber analysis, only the work of FBI Special Agent Michael P. Malone was questioned. Even though Justice Department and FBI officials knew that the discipline had weaknesses and that the lab lacked protocols — and learned that examiners’ “matches” were often wrong — they kept their reviews limited to Malone.

But two cases in D.C. Superior Court show the inadequacy of the government’s response.

Santae A. Tribble, now 51, was convicted of killing a taxi driver in 1978, and Kirk L. Odom, now 49, was convicted of a sexual assault in 1981.

Key evidence at each of their trials came from separate FBI experts — not Malone — who swore that their scientific analysis proved with near certainty that Tribble’s and Odom’s hair was at the respective crime scenes.

But DNA testing this year on the hair and on other old evidence virtually eliminates Tribble as a suspect and completely clears Odom. Both men have completed their sentences and are on lifelong parole. They are now seeking exoneration in the courts in the hopes of getting on with their lives.

read full article : click here

US – Lethal Injection As the Death Penalty’s Last Stand

april 16,2012 source : David A. Love *Witness to innocence*

Are we witnessing the beginning of the end of the death penalty in America? All of it might come down to a basic issue of supply.

So, what do you do if you are a hangman who runs out of rope? To put it in more conventional terms, suppose you are a state that executes people by lethal injection, but you’re running out of the lethal chemicals used to put people down like animals.

Perhaps you’d do what some states have done and buy your chemicals on the black market, so to speak.

In March, Judge Richard J. Leon, a federal judge in Washington, D.C., issued an order andopinion banning the importation of sodium thiopental, an anesthetic and the first of a three-chemical cocktail administered to a condemned inmate. Once the inmate is unconscious, he or she is injected with pancuronium bromide, which paralyzes the person, and potassium chloride, which causes death through cardiac arrest.

According to the judge, it was disappointing that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) broke the law by allowing shipments of the drug from foreign countries, unapproved for the purpose of executions. Without FDA approval, according to the judge, the sodium thiopental would fail to put the inmate to sleep, causing “conscious suffocation, pain, and cardiac arrest.”

Judge Leon ordered the FDA to notify state corrections departments that they must surrender the drug to the FDA.

The drug is only available overseas, as the only U.S. manufacturer recently ceased production last year amid controversy over its use. Moreover, the European Union recently announcedrestrictions on export of the drug. But with sodium thiopental unavailable, the most logical replacement is pentobarbital. This replacement drug, which is a more expensive alternative, has been used by 12 states to put 47 people to death since 2010, according to the Death Penalty information Center, and is widely used to put down animals. In addition, the chemical is used to treat insomnia and as a seizure treatment for epilepsy.

Manufacturers of pentobarbital, including Danish manufacturer Lundbeck, Inc., have made it known to various states that they do not want the drug used for executions. States such as Arizona, Georgia and Texas apparently have stockpiled pentobarbital and say they have enough supply for this year’s executions.

Texas apparently bought $50,000 worth last year and wants to block information on its stockpile, and the state has accused the anti-death penalty group Reprieve of “‘intimidation and commercial harassment’ of manufacturers of medical drugs used in lethal injections.” Arizonahas had its lethal injection protocols challenged, as inmates have sued the state for giving the state’s corrections director too much discretion. Meanwhile, Ohio just resumed executions after a federally-imposed six-month moratorium because prison officials were not following proper procedures. And Alabama stayed an execution in March after the condemned inmate argued that Pentobarbital does not completely sedate and amounts to cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment.

With both domestic and international public pressure on the purveyors of death, it seems they’re feeling the heat, as well they should. Willing executioners are in short supply, and former executioners have seen enough to know they want no part of it. Further, they have likely killed innocent people. Many doctors are unwilling to break their Hippocratic oath to do no harm, or are forbidden to do so.

Used to extinguish 1,100 lives in 35 states — some of them most certainly innocent — lethal injection is the prominent form of capital punishment in the U.S. Marketed as the clean, humane form of capital punishment, lethal injection was billed as the friendly, painless type of execution. But we should ask, how harmless can you really make a lynching?

If lethal injection falls out of favor, either through a dwindling supply of the poisonous cocktail of death, lack of public support or a court ruling, what do the states do after that? Do they return to the hangman’s noose? That seems unlikely, reminds us too much of the strange fruit hanging from the trees that Billie Holiday used to sing about.

What about the electric chair, which has been known to cook people alive? Or the gas chamber, like the Nazis used to do?

Then there’s the firing squad. Better yet, how about stoning, or drawing and quartering, which is really old school?

Here’s a better idea. Just get rid of the death penalty for good. America is the only Western nation that executed people last year. And the U.S. is in the top five of nations that execute, putting us in league with China, Iran, North Korea and Yemen. We’ll never get it right with the death penalty because executions are so wrong.

No matter how the state kills a person, you can’t wipe the blood from your hands.

David A. Love is the Executive Director of Witness to Innocence, a national nonprofit organization that empowers exonerated death row prisoners and their family members to become effective leaders in the movement to abolish the death penalty.

FLORIDA – Death row inmate cites conspiracy, wants new lawyer

april 17, 2012 source

After 32 years, convicted murderer Paul Scott finally got the chance Monday to tell a judge about the powers that he says have conspired to keep him on death row.

The 55-year-old, who was sentenced to death for the 1978 bludgeoning death of Boca Raton florist James Alessi, was given the rare opportunity to leave the state’s most secure prison to appear in court to explain why he wanted a new attorney. Strapped in leg-irons with handcuffs tightly binding his wrists, he insisted he was innocent.

“I did not kill Mr. Alessi. I did not help kill Mr. Alessi. I was not there when Mr. Alessi was killed,” Scott said as four supporters looked on, weeping. “Where is justice in this state? I’ve got 32 years for a murder I didn’t do.”

Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Richard Oftedal tried to keep Scott from rehashing one of the bloodiest crimes in county history. He tried to keep him from detailing his contention that co-defendant, Richard Kondian, delivered the fatal blows.

But an emotional Scott insisted that former Gov. Jeb Bush cut a deal with those who were trying to prove his innocence. “If I continued to pursue appeals, I was going to be executed,” he said.

The deal, he said, has prevented his current attorney, Stephen Finta, from vigorously defending him. “I believe this man to be an honorable attorney, but I feel he became afraid,” Scott said.

Finta declined to say whether the alleged deal made him timid. But, in a 2010 letter to the now-defunct Florida Commission on Capital Cases, Finta wrote: “I was told by an attorney in West Palm Beach, Mark Wilensky, that there was an agreement with the state to not press for another death warrant if the defendant’s counsel did not try to reopen the liability phase of the case.”

Reached later, Wilensky declined comment.

Instead of addressing Scott’s allegations, Finta told Oftedal that Scott refuses his advice. With an IQ of 69 and a host of psychological ills, Scott could try to block his execution by arguing that the state can’t kill the disabled. Scott refuses.

Longtime supporters from a Pennsylvania church attended the hearing and said Scott’s death sentence is unjust.

Jane Bunch, said both men killed her brother. Reached after the hearing, she said her parents accepted Kondian’s plea because he was 18 and had no criminal record. Scott, 22, was on parole for a California murder.

“They hurt my brother. They tortured my brother and it was planned,” Bunch said. “He’s a murderer. He should be executed.”

Oftedal said he soon would rule on whether Scott will get a new attorney.


TAMPA – Oscar Ray Bolin back in court

april 16, 2012 source

 It has been 26 years since three young women were murdered in Tampa.

Investigators say Stephanie Collins, Teri Matthews and Natalie “Blanche” Holley were each confronted and attacked by Oscar Ray Bolin.

The former truck driver is now 50 years old, about the same age as two of his victims would have been.

But Bolin is back in a Hillsborough County courtroom, on trial for the 10th time in the murders of the three women.

A jury has convicted him nine times, but he’s been retried trhee times each in the Matthews and Collins cases.

He’s being retried now for the 4th time in the Holley case. The trials were previously overturned for a variety of reasons — basically, mistakes that were found in the trials.

Kim Seace, a former prosecutor and now a defense attorney in Tampa, says it is unusual.

“It’s unusual for it to be overturned that many times, but you have to remember when it’s a death penalty case, it’s held to a very high level of scrutiny at the appellate level. So they are going to scrutinize absolutely everything that took place,” Seace said.

During jury selection on Monday, out of a pool of 70 potential jurors, only 12 were dismissed for having prior knowledge of the case or of Bolin.

But because it was 26 years ago, most of the jurors have no recollection.

Bolin is currently serving two death sentences for Stephanie Collins and Teri Matthews, both of which have been upheld so far.

Kim Seace says the prosecutors may be going for a 3rd death sentence for a few different reasons.

“It’s something they would consult the victim’s family, and take their wishes into account. I think that would be a decision by each state attorney that is prosecuting him. And you don’t want to run the risk something is going to get overturned and you’re not going to have a death sentence in place on him,” Seace said.

OKLAHOMA – Michael Selsor – Board denies clemency

Source : Oklahoma Attorney general

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board today voted 4 to1 to deny clemency for Tulsa County death row inmate Michael Bascum Selsor, Attorney General Scott Pruitt said.

Michael Bascum Selsor, 57, is scheduled to be executed May 1, for the first-degree murder of Clayton Chandler, 55, on Sept. 15, 1975. The U.S. Supreme Court denied Selsor’s final appeal on Feb. 21.

According to the autopsy report, Chandler died after suffering six gunshot wounds. The victim was killed during a robbery of a Tulsa convenience store where he worked. 

Selsor and his accomplice Eugene Dodson, 71, robbed the store and shot two employees. Chandler was killed, and the other employee, Ina Morris, 20, survived after being shot multiple times by Dodson.

In 1976, Selsor was tried by a jury and sentenced to death. He also received life imprisonment for shooting with the intent to kill Ina Morris. Later that year, Oklahoma’s death penalty was ruled unconstitutional by the U. S. Supreme Court, and the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals adjusted Selsor’s sentence to life imprisonment. In 1996, the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Selsor’s conviction. During a retrial in 1998, Selsor was again convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death.

Dodson was acquitted for the murder of Chandler. However, he was convicted of robbery and shooting with intent to kill Morris after a former felony conviction. Dodson was sentenced to 50 years for armed robbery, and 199 years for shooting with intent to kill.

April 16, 2012, source

— An Oklahoma death row inmate’s plea for clemency was rejected Monday by the state Pardon and Parole, which voted 4-1 against commuting the inmate’s death penalty to life in prison without parole.

Michael Bascum Selsor, 56, apologized to family members of 55-year-old Clayton Chandler, the Tulsa convenience store clerk he was twice convicted of killing during a robbery 37 years ago, and reminded board members he had confessed to the crime.

“I didn’t pass the blame, I shared the shame,” he said during a brief appearance before the board via teleconference from the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester.

“Is it too late to say I’m sorry?” Selsor said. “I am truly sorry for the suffering and damage I have caused.”

Selsor said he knows he will die in prison and believes he could be a mentor and friend to young inmates facing lengthy sentences.

“I’ll try to be an example for the young guys,” Selsor said.

But Chandler’s daughters urged the board to not interfere with the death penalty a Tulsa County jury gave Selsor in 1998. He is scheduled to die by lethal injection on May 1.

“I think it’s time to put this to rest,” said Debbie Huggins, who fought back tears as she and her sister, Cathy Durham, remembered their father and asked board members to deny Selsor’s request for clemency.

“When we were growing up, our dad was our best friend,” Huggins said.

“I was his little girl,” Durham said. She said her father’s death had denied him an opportunity to walk her down the aisle at her wedding and get to know his grandchildren.

Huggins said Selsor made a conscious choice when he entered the convenience store where her father worked and repeatedly shot him with a .22-caliber pistol on Sept. 15, 1975. Prosecutors say Chandler suffered eight bullet wounds.

“My daddy had no choice,” Huggins said.

After the women’s presentation, board Vice-Chairperson Marc Dreyer said he was sorry for their loss. Chandler’s widow, Anne Chandler, attended the clemency hearing but did not address the board.

Selsor’s attorney, Robert Nance, invoked Christian religious beliefs and cited biblical scriptures as he urged board members to commute Selsor’s death penalty.

“God can use those who have done evil to accomplish good,” Nance said. “Grace as I understand it is an unmerited gift from God. God does that because he loves us.”

Assistant Attorney General Robert Whittaker reminded board members that while Oklahoma law allows them to extend mercy, it also requires them to uphold lawful convictions and court judgments.

“The Pardon and Parole Board is not church,” Whittaker said.

Selsor was originally sentenced to death following a 1976 trial, but the U.S. Supreme Court later invalidated Oklahoma’s death penalty statute. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals modified Selsor’s sentence to life in prison.

But Selsor initiated a new round of appeals challenging his conviction and in April 1996, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out Selsor’s murder conviction as well as two other related convictions.

Selsor was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death a second time following a retrial. The same jury recommended Selsor serve a life term as an accessory to the shooting of Chandler’s co-worker, Ina Louise Morris, who survived multiple wounds inflicted by a co-defendant, Richard Eugene Dodson. In addition, the jury imposed a 20-year term for armed robbery.

Selsor and Dodson were arrested in Santa Barbara, Calif., a week after Chandler’s slaying. At the 1976 trial, a Santa Barbara police detective testified that Selsor admitted shooting Chandler during the robbery.

Dodson, now 71, was convicted of robbery and shooting with intent to kill and is serving a prison sentence of 50 to 199 years in prison.


Meeting Notice Confirmation 

Name: Date: Time: Location: City, State: DOC #
Michael Bascum Selsor 04/16/2012 12:30pm Hillside Community Corrections Center

3300 Martin Luther King Ave.Oklahoma City, OK91854

read the case :  click here 

FLORIDA – Death Row Inmate’s Best Lawyer Was Himself

april 16, 2012 

WASHINGTON — Albert Holland Jr., a death row inmate in Florida, has no legal training and seems to be suffering from a mental illness“perhaps a disorder involving paranoia or delusional thoughts,” a federal judge wrote recently.

Albert Holland Jr. won a new trial in a capital case.


But he turns out to be a pretty good lawyer. Two years ago, in allowing Mr. Holland a fresh chance to make his case after his court-appointed lawyer blew a crucial deadline, the Supreme Court praised Mr. Holland’s legal acumen. Indeed, Justice Stephen G. Breyer wrote, Mr. Holland  had a better understanding of the complicated time limits for challenging death sentences in federal court than his lawyer had.

Mr. Holland made good use of the opportunity the Supreme Court gave him. A couple of weeks ago, he won a decision granting him a new trial. In the process, he opened a window on the astoundingly spotty quality of court-appointed counsel in capital cases.

The lawyer whose work the justices had considered was the least of it; he had merely been unresponsive and incompetent. Mr. Holland’s earlier lawyers had failed him in much more colorful ways.

Consider Kenneth Delegal, who was assigned to defend Mr. Holland at a 1996 retrial on charges that he killed a Pompano Beach police officer in 1990. Mr. Delegal was removed from the case after being sent to a mental health facility. Later, the two men would see each other at the Broward County jail, where Mr. Delegal was held on drug and domestic violence charges.

The next lawyer, James Lewis, was a friend of Mr. Delegal’s and had shared office space with him. When Mr. Delegal went to court after his removal from Mr. Holland’s case, seeking to be paid about $40,000 for his work on it, the new lawyer testified on behalf of the old one, saying the fees had been “reasonable and necessary.”

Mr. Delegal died of a drug overdose about a month after the fee hearing, and a local paper asked his former colleague Mr. Lewis about his troubles. “I heard some rumors,” Mr. Lewis said, “but I chose not to know.”

This series of lawyers, Judge Patricia A. Seitz of Federal District Court in Miami wrote this month, “does assist in understanding why someone, perhaps predisposed to paranoia due to a mental disturbance, may have wanted self-representation over court-appointed counsel.”

In granting Mr. Holland a new trial, Judge Seitz ruled that a state judge had violated Mr. Holland’s rights under the Sixth Amendment by refusing to let him represent himself.

At the 1996 retrial, which, like the first trial, ended in a murder conviction and a death sentence, Mr. Holland asked to represent himself at least 10 times, saying he did not trust Mr. Lewis and could in any event do a better job.

Judge Charles M. Greene of the state circuit court in Fort Lauderdale denied the requests, saying Mr. Holland did not have “any specific legal training.” That is not the constitutional standard; indeed, the Supreme Court has said that “technical legal knowledge” is not required.

The relevant questions, Judge Seitz wrote, were whether Mr. Holland understood that he had a right to a court-appointed lawyer and whether he was mentally competent to decide to waive that right.

When Mr. Holland was allowed to address the court, he seemed to make sense. He said, for instance, that Mr. Lewis “denied me effective assistance of counsel because his loyalty was impaired.”

Mr. Holland also told the court that his legal research indicated that his indictment on a charge of attempted felony murder was flawed because there was no such crime in Florida. (“It is noteworthy,” Judge Seitz wrote, that “this statement had a factual basis.” Indeed, the Florida Supreme Court had said as much in 1995 in an unrelated case.)

At other times, Mr. Holland exhibited a certain flair, though it was perhaps not to everyone’s taste.

“From what I have seen in the evidence,” he told Judge Greene, “Ray Charles could come in here and represent himself, and Stevie Wonder, so I don’t need much legal training to do all that.”

Judge Greene acknowledged that Mr. Holland had “voiced concerns and issues in a most eloquent manner” and had expressed himself in a “very coherent and organized manner.”

When it came time to sentence Mr. Holland to death, Judge Greene said he gave little weight to Mr. Holland’s history of mental illness, though he had twice been found not guilty by reason of insanity for robberies in Washington and had been involuntarily hospitalized in the 1980s for four years.

As proof that Mr. Holland was no longer mentally ill, Judge Greene praised him as an able advocate who had “correctly argued case law and factual issues to the court.” His legal skills, then, were proof that he was fit to be executed — but not good enough that he be allowed to defend himself.

These days, Mr. Holland is represented by Todd G. Scher, a Miami Beach lawyer who won in the Supreme Court and persuaded Judge Seitz to order a new trial. A spokesman for the Florida attorney general’s office said prosecutors would ask Judge Seitz to reconsider her ruling.

Mr. Scher said he did not know who would represent Mr. Holland at a retrial. For now, he said, what was clear was that a federal judge had found “a blatant Sixth Amendment violation.”

“It shows that he was right,” Mr. Scher said of his client. “He had concerns about his prior series of lawyer, and his concerns turned out to be valid.”