Day: April 20, 2012

NORTH CAROLINA – Judge Blocks Death Sentence Under Law on Race Disparity

april 20, 2012 source :

Marcus Reymond Robinson

Concluding that racial bias played a significant factor in the sentencing of a man to death here 18 years ago, a judge on Friday ordered that the convict’s sentence be reduced to life in prison without parole, the first such decision under North Carolina’s controversial Racial Justice Act.

Reading a summary of his ruling from the bench, Judge Gregory A. Weeks of Cumberland County Superior Court said that “race was a materially, practically and statistically significant factor in the decision to exercise peremptory challenges during jury selection by prosecutors” when the inmate, Marcus Reymond Robinson, was being tried.

The disparity was strong enough, the judge said, “as to support an inference of intentional discrimination.”

From the jury box where they sat, the relatives of the man Mr. Robinson killed, Erik Tornblom, watched in disappointed silence. Mr. Robinson, wearing all white, was seated with his lawyers, his head lowered as the judge read his ruling.

The state said it would appeal.

The landmark ruling is expected to be the first of many under the law, which allows defendants and death row inmates to present evidence, including statistical patterns, that race played a major role in their being sentenced to death.

Over the course of the hearing, lawyers for Mr. Robinson presented the findings of a study by Michigan State University researchers showing that prosecutors used peremptory challenges to remove blacks from juries more than twice as often as they used such challenges against whites. The study, which Judge Weeks called valid and reliable, found that disparity existed statewide, and to an even greater degree here in Cumberland County and in Mr. Robinson’s trial in particular.

Prosecutors, who have fiercely opposed the law since it was passed in 2009, criticized the Michigan State researchers’ methodology, but, more pointedly, they said that jury selection was a “complex discretionary system,” with thousands of possible reasons to remove a potential juror. To assume that race was the motive behind many of these decisions, prosecutors said, was not only wrong, but offensive.

“They do not have evidence of purposeful discrimination,” Rob Thompson, an assistant district attorney in Cumberland County, said in his closing arguments. “They do not have some secret society of prosecutors maniacally plotting to remove people from juries. They do not have any of that because there is no such evidence. It doesn’t exist. They have numbers.”

FLORIDA – Zimmerman’s Bail Set at $150,000 in Martin Shooting

april 20, 2012 source :

A Florida judge on Friday set George Zimmerman’s bail at $150,000 in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin and imposed restrictions on Mr. Zimmerman’s release from jail.

During the bail hearing, Mr. Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer who has been charged with second-degree murder for shooting Mr. Martin to death, offered an apology to the victim’s parents, who were in the courtroom.

“I wanted to say I am sorry for the loss of your son. I did not know how old he was,” Mr. Zimmerman, 28, said, speaking publicly for the first time about the Feb. 26 shooting. “I thought he was a little bit younger than I am. I did not know if he was armed or not.

Mr. Martin’s parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, showed no emotion during Mr. Zimmerman’s remarks. They left shortly before the hearing ended and were whisked by their lawyer across a parking lot to a waiting car.

In setting bail, the judge, Kenneth R. Lester Jr., said that Mr. Zimmerman could have no contact with Mr. Martin’s family and no access to alcohol or firearms and that his movements would be monitored electronically. Judge Lester also set a curfew that would require Mr. Zimmerman to remain at home from 7 p.m. until 6 a.m. and require him check in with the authorities every three days.

Mr. Zimmerman will not be released from jail on Friday. The judge said that he wanted to make sure that security measures were in place for Mr. Zimmerman, who has received death threats.

Mr. Zimmerman’s family members testified that they would assume responsibility for his whereabouts when he is released from jail.

Testifying by telephone, Mr. Zimmerman’s wife, Shellie Nichole Zimmerman, said that she would also notify the court and law enforcement officials if she lost contact with Mr. Zimmerman for any reason before his trial.

 Judge Lester had agreed to allow Ms. Zimmerman and other members of the Zimmerman family, including his father, Robert, and his mother, Gladys, to testify at the hearing by telephone out of concern for their safety.

Mr. Zimmerman, 28, dressed in a white shirt, dark suit and gray tie, was shackled and wore a somber expression during the proceedings as he sat next to his lawyer, Mark O’Mara.

He showed no expression as his wife calmly answered questions from both Mr. O’Mara and Bernado De La Rionada, an assistant state attorney.

Ms. Zimmerman said she and her husband had been married for almost five years and that she did not believe that he posed a flight risk. She said she spoke with him every day by phone when he was in hiding in the weeks before his arrest.

Mr. De La Rionada asked her whether she believed her husband was a violent person. She replied, “No.”

Mr. Zimmerman has spent nine days in the Seminole County jail since his arrest, which came six weeks after he shot and killed Mr. Martin, 17, who was unarmed and walking through a small gated development in Sanford. Mr. Zimmerman told police he shot Mr. Martin in self-defense.

The case, which led to protests and marches around the country, raised questions about Florida’s expansive self-defense law and racial profiling after Mr. Zimmerman was not immediately arrested after the shooting on Feb. 26 and remained free for weeks. Widely criticized for not moving quickly enough on the case, both the Sanford police chief and the local prosecutor stepped aside.

Gov. Rick Scott appointed Angela B. Corey, a state attorney from the Jacksonville area, as a special prosecutor to manage the case. Ms. Corey brought the maximum possible charge against Mr. Zimmerman, outlining in court papers that he had profiled Mr. Martin based on his race before following him as he walked through the development.

If convicted of second-degree murder, Mr. Zimmerman, could face life in prison.

BREAKING NEWS – Court lifts stay on Johnson’s execution – Executed 2:55 a.m

SMYRNA, Del. — A convicted Delaware killer who waived his right to further appeals and sought to speed his execution was put to death by lethal injection early Friday after a flurry of court filings spurred by federal public defenders seeking to spare his life.

Shannon Johnson was pronounced dead at 2:55 a.m., just minutes before the 3 a.m. deadline for his execution.
Johnson’s last meal was chicken lo mein, carrots, cake, wheat bread and iced tea – the same meal that all other prisoners had – he did not have a special request.
According to a Department of Corrections spokesman, Johnson spent his last few days sleeping, eating, reading, writing letters, watching TV, and speaking with his attorney.
Johnson was already strapped to a gurney when witness were led into the execution chamber.
“Loyalty is important. Without loyalty you have nothing. Death before dishonor,” he said when asked by the prison warden if he had a final statement. Johnson then uttered a few words in Arabic before he closed his eyes and the first of three chemicals began flowing through his veins.
As the sedative pentobarbital was administered, Johnson’s breathing became labored and his chest heaved several times. A few seconds later, he was motionless and showed no more signs of movement. The entire process took less than 15 minutes.

source :

WILMINGTON — The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals lifted the stay on Shannon Johnson’s execution tonight, clearing the way for the lethal injection to take place between midnight and 3 a.m.

The three-judge panel, in a decision handed down just after 5 p.m., wrote that the fact that Johnson himself joined in the appeal filed by Delaware prosecutors seeking to lift the hold on the execution “speaks volumes about the case.”

“From the time of Johnson’s penalty phase to this very day, Johnson has consistently indicated his wish to proceed with his state-ordered execution,” wrote Judge Thomas Hardiman on behalf of the panel.

“[Johnson] has informed every court he has been before and every lawyer involved in his proceedings that he wishes to waive all further … challenges and proceed to execution,” Hardiman wrote.

It is possible the Delaware Federal Defender’s Office – which won a stay from U.S. Chief District Judge Gregory M. Sleet on Wednesday — may now turn to the U.S. Supreme Court to step in and re-impose the stay. Federal defenders, however, were not immediately available for comment.

Johnson’s attorney, Jennifer-Kate Aaronson, said her client, was “very pleased with the ruling and hopes there are no further appeals.”

The Delaware Attorney General’s Office declined comment on the ruling.

Department of Correction officials had been proceeding as if the execution were going to happen tonight and indicated it will go forward as scheduled between midnight and 3 a.m.