Day: April 28, 2012

DALLAS – 2 men to be exonerated in Dallas sex assault case

april 27 source :

Two men convicted of raping a woman outside a Dallas bar almost 30 years ago will be declared innocent after DNA testing implicated two other men in the attack, authorities said Friday.

James Curtis Williams and Raymond Jackson received life sentences for the November 1983 assault but were recently released on parole.

They will be formally declared innocent in Dallas County court Monday morning. The two other men,Frederick Anderson and Marion Doll Sayles, will be charged with attempted capital murder, authorities said.

Dallas County has now exonerated 32 people since 2001, most during the tenure of District Attorney Craig Watkins. Almost all of those exonerations have involved faulty eyewitness identifications.

Authorities say the woman was forced into a vehicle at gunpoint and later sexually assaulted by two men. She was then shot and left for dead in a field.

Williams and Jackson had been implicated in another sexual assault case and were placed in a photo lineup for this one, said Russell Wilson, the prosecutor in charge of Dallas County’s conviction integrity unit. The victim picked them out of the lineup.

The Associated Press does not name victims of sexual assault.

DNA collected from the woman’s clothing and a rape kit exam was preserved and later tested. Tests linked the DNA to Anderson and Sayles.

After they were convicted, Williams and Jackson pleaded guilty in the other sexual assault case and received shorter sentences that have since expired, authorities said. The men didn’t challenge their convictions in that case and will still have to register as sex offenders because of that crime, said Julie Doucet, an attorney in the Dallas County public defender’s office.

“They’re extremely happy to finally be cleared of this crime,” she said.

Williams, now 54, will no longer be on parole after Monday. Jackson, 67, will for a robbery committed in 1970, Doucet said.

The charges to be brought against Anderson, 52, and Sayles, 55, are rare. Despite the high number of exonerations in Dallas County, only three people have been prosecuted in cases where someone was wrongfully convicted, said Jamille Bradfield, a spokeswoman for the Dallas County district attorney.

In this case, prosecutors are charging Anderson and Sayles with attempted capital murder because that crime doesn’t carry a statute of limitations, Wilson said.

Anderson is being held in the Dallas County jail, and a bench warrant has been issued for Sayles, Wilson said. Neither man had an attorney listed in online jail records.

MONTANA – Ronald Smith makes his final bid to escape execution

April 27 source


Albertan Ronald Smith is the only Canadian on death row in the U.S. He has finally exhausted his legal appeals to avoid execution for the 1982 murders of two men, but is seeking executive clemency. Ronald  Smith  is the only Canadian on death row in U.S

It happened along the highway that cuts through a picturesque mountain pass in northwest Montana, not far from the Canada-U.S. border south of Lethbridge, Alta., in a roadside stand of trees located almost exactly on the Continental Divide.

The place where 24-year-old Albertan Ronald Smith murdered two young Montana men in August 1982 was, looking back over nearly 30 years, a portentous setting: Smith’s cold-blooded killing of Blackfeet Indian cousins Thomas Running Rabbit, 20, and Harvey Mad Man, 23 — whose fatal mistake was kindly offering a lift to the drunk and drugged-up Canadian hitchhiker and his two friends from Red Deer, Alta. — has underscored North America’s deep continental divide over capital punishment, which is still in use throughout much of the United States but was abolished in Canada in 1976.

Now 54, Smith is the only Canadian on death row in the U.S. He has finally exhausted his legal appeals to avoid execution for his horrific crimes, but is seeking executive clemency — and a new sentence of life imprisonment — at a Montana parole board hearing to be held on Wednesday in Deer Lodge, a city in the Rocky Mountain foothills where the state’s maximum-security prison is situated.

The three-member parole panel — which will make its recommendation to Gov. Brian Schweitzer, who ultimately decides Smith’s fate — will hear arguments from state justice officials, members of the victims’ families and others who believe Smith should, as originally sentenced three decades ago, be put to death by lethal injection in the prison’s execution chamber.

“This is the first time that we get to, as a family, sit in the judicial system to face the guy that murdered our boys,” Gabe Grant, uncle to both Running Rabbit and Mad Man, told Postmedia News this week. “We intend to go down there (to Deer Lodge) and be strong. We intend to be adamantly and unitedly joined in denying his clemency.”

The 62-year-old Grant, a housing administrator with the Blackfeet Nation in Browning, Mont., said he will speak at the clemency hearing to describe how his nephews’ deaths were “devastating” for members of their large extended family and led to the “early deaths” of his two sisters — the mothers of Mad Man and Running Rabbit.

“It drove them to break down. They were seemingly normal people back then. But when this happened, it completely devastated their lives,” he recalled.

“We used to do all kinds of family things — the sisters and brothers. Our mother was the hub of our family, Cecile, and when this happened, it put a screeching halt to family activities because of the impact of what happened. We eventually recovered to a certain point, but never to the fullest extent of the good times that were enjoyed prior to that.”

Montana state attorneys will lean heavily on the family’s anguish in arguing to parole officials that Smith does not deserve clemency.

The Alberta-born killer “remorselessly took the lives” of two cousins, Montana’s justice department states in its written submission to the clemency panel, obtained this week by Postmedia News.

Running Rabbit and Mad Man “were loved by countless family members and friends,” the document states, noting how the victims’ “loved ones have suffered the pain and agony of their deaths for over a quarter of a century, a pain that never ends. They can never be replaced.”

Smith confessed to the gunshot murders of the two men. And he initially asked for the death penalty before changing his mind and launching what became a decades-long legal struggle to avoid execution for a crime he claimed was carried out in a haze of drug- and alcohol-fuelled “foolishness.”

Smith’s legal team — including Montana-based defence attorney Greg Jackson and Texas human rights lawyer Don Vernay — will argue that the Canadian inmate is a model prisoner and a transformed human being, a man so filled with regret and remorse over his murderous actions 30 years ago that the state should give Smith what he so brutally denied Mad Man and Running Rabbit: a chance to keep living.

“We would never, ever question the horrendous nature of the crime and the horrendous impact it had on the community,” Jackson said Friday. But echoing several points made in the 19-page clemency application he filed on Smith’s behalf in January, Jackson highlighted the “tremendous growth and rehabilitation” and “exemplary behaviour” the Canadian inmate has exhibited during his incarceration, as well as “the remorse and repentance” he has shown.

“He’s a changed man,” the lawyer said.

Others will address the hearing, possibly Smith’s daughter and sister — both of whom recently told Postmedia News that they’ve nurtured close relationships with Smith despite his long incarceration — as well as advocates on both sides of what has become a lively death-penalty debate in Montana and the broader United States.

But conspicuously silent during the proceedings will be the Canadian government, which recently — and only reluctantly — sent a letter to Montana officials seeking clemency for Smith.

The letter, signed by Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, stated that while the Canadian government “does not sympathize with violent crime,” it is seeking clemency for Smith “on humanitarian grounds.”

Baird’s letter also noted that the government’s backing of the clemency bid “should not be construed as reflecting a judgment on Mr. Smith’s conduct,” and stipulated that his department was, in fact, “ordered” by the Federal Court of Canada in 2009 “to support Mr. Smith’s case for clemency.”

In effect, the Conservative government has made clear that if its court-forced request to spare Smith’s life is ignored by Montana officials, it won’t be terribly miffed.

“Ultimately, decisions regarding Mr. Smith’s case lie with the relevant U.S. authorities,” a Foreign Affairs spokesperson told Postmedia News earlier this month. “Mr. Smith pleaded guilty and was subsequently convicted of murdering two people. These were admitted crimes.”

Jackson called the Canadian government’s grudging, quasi-backing of Smith “a tremendous disappointment,” adding: “The statement they’ve made (in the letter) is the statement we’re stuck with.”

Opposition critics have condemned the government’s lukewarm efforts in support of Smith’s clemency bid as a “deplorable” indication of the Conservative party’s ambiguous stance on capital punishment and as a “cynical” strategy that could, in fact, “sink” Smith’s petition to avoid execution.

Nevertheless, obtaining even Canada’s nominal endorsement for the clemency initiative was a significant achievement for Smith’s legal team after the Conservative government’s previous decision, in October 2007, to halt diplomatic efforts to prevent Smith’s execution.

That move was prompted by a Postmedia News story that detailed fresh efforts by Canadian diplomats to convince Schweitzer to commute Smith’s sentence and transfer him to a prison in Canada.

At the time, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said his government’s decision to abandon Smith was driven by concerns that lobbying for the killer’s life would “send the wrong signal” to Canadians about violent crime.

“We have no desire to open the debate on capital punishment here in Canada — and likewise, we have no desire to participate in the debate on capital punishment in the United States,” Harper stated at the time. “The reality of this particular case is that were we to intervene, it would very quickly become a question of whether we are prepared to repatriate a double-murderer to Canada. In light of this government’s strong initiatives on tackling violent crime, I think that would sent the wrong signal to the Canadian population.”

But the Federal Court ruling in a lawsuit later launched by Smith’s legal team said the government’s withdrawal of support for clemency was “unlawful.” The decision compelled Canadian officials to restart talks with Montana — and eventually forced Baird’s hand in the December letter that officially, if not insistently, asked the state not to put Smith to death.

Grant acknowledged that critics of capital punishment have a point when they say innocent people are sometimes executed in the United States.

“It’s not that in this case,” he said. “Ronald Smith, right from the get-go, said ‘I did it.’ He boasted about it. He jumped up and down and said, ‘Take me — give me the death penalty.’ So it’s not a case of executing somebody innocent.

“He was not remorseful then. I don’t believe he’s ever been.”

BOOKS : “The Death Penalty Failed Experiment: From Gary Graham to Troy Davis in Context”

A new book published in electronic format, The Death Penalty Failed Experiment: From Gary Graham to Troy Davis in Context by Diann Rust-Tierney, examines the problem of arbitrariness in the death penalty since its reinstatement in 1976. Through an analysis of the cases of Gary Graham and Troy Davis, the author argues that race, wealth and geography play a more significant role in determining who faces capital punishment than the facts of the crime itself. Both defendants had significant claims of innocence; both were black defendants who were ultimately executed in the South; in both cases, the victim in the underlying murder was white.  Graham was executed in Texas in 2000 and Davis was executed in Georgia in 2011.  Rust-Tierney writes, “How do you administer the most severe punishment imaginable in a manner that is accurate, free from bias and demonstrably fair? Until we are all seen and treated as equal, we cannot afford to keep capital punishment.”  Ms. Rust-Tierney is an attorney and Executive Director of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. Download a copy of the ebook here.

(D. Rust-Tierney, “The Death Penalty Failed Experiment: From Gary Graham to Troy Davis in Context,” McKinney & Associates, April 2012).  The Death Penalty Failed Experiment is the second publication in McKinney & Associates’ Voice Matters: An eBook Series on Public Relations with a Conscience.  See Arbitrariness and Race.  Read more Books on the death penalty.  Listen to DPIC’s Podcast on Arbitrariness.