Day: June 2, 2012

MISSISSIPPI – Miss. court sets execution dates for 2 of 3 men

May 24, 2012 Source :

From left: Brawner, Simmons and Jackson

From left: Brawner, Simmons and Jackson / Miss. Dept. of Corrections

Mississippi will not execute three men on three consecutive days in June, after the state Supreme Court set execution dates a week apart for two men and declined to set a date for a third.

Attorney General Jim Hood’s office had asked earlier this month that justices set execution dates for Henry Curtis Jackson Jr., Gary Carl Simmons Jr. and Jan Michael Brawner on June 12, 13 and 14, respectively.

Justice David Chandler, joined by Justices James Kitchens and Leslie King, dissented, citing claims that Brawner’s case, in its early stages, was handled by a law clerk who hadn’t yet passed the bar exam.

“Because the issue of whether a non-lawyers purported representation of Brawner during critical stages of the proceedings never has been addressed by this court and the issue is now clearly before the court, we would allow Brawner to file a successive motion for post-conviction relief on this issue,” Chandler wrote.

  • Brawner, 34, was convicted of the 2001 killings of his 3-year-old daughter, ex-wife and former father-in-law and mother-in-law in Sarah, a Tate County community west of Senatobia.
  • Brawner went to his former in-laws’ home after learning that his former wife planned to stop him from seeing their child, trial testimony showed. He also had no money and contemplated robbing his former in-laws, according to testimony. Brawner admitted to the killings at trial and told a prosecutor he deserved death.
  • Jackson, 47, was convicted of stabbing two nieces and two nephews, ranging in age from 2 years to 5 years, at his mother’s home near Greenwood in 1990. He also was convicted of stabbing his adult sister and another niece, who both survived. Prosecutors said Jackson, 26 at the time, planned to steal his mother’s safe and kill the victims.

On Wednesday, the court set June 5 as the execution date for Jackson on an 8-0 vote. It also set a June 12 execution for Brawner on a 5-3 vote. Meanwhile, it ordered Hood’s office to reply to Simmons’ claims that his original lawyers were ineffective at trial and that he never later had lawyers good enough to point out shortcomings.

Current lawyers argue Simmons should get a chance to be resentenced because they have evidence that Simmons may have post-traumatic stress disorder or other mental illnesses and had suffered from abuse as a child. They’re also seeking a court order allowing access to an expert for a mental evaluation.

  • Simmons, 49, was convicted for shooting and dismembering Jeffrey Wolfe. Wolfe was killed in August 1996 after he went to Simmons’ Pascagoula home to collect on a drug debt, according to court records. Timothy Milano, Simmons’ co-defendant and the person authorities said shot Wolfe, was convicted on the same charges and sentenced to life in prison.
  • Simmons worked as a grocery store butcher when he and Milano were charged with killing Wolfe. Police said the pair kidnapped Wolfe and his female friend and later assaulted the woman and locked her in a box. Police found parts of Wolfe’s dismembered body at Simmons’ house, in the yard and in a nearby bayou.

Simmons and Brawner both said their legal causes suffered in part because of ineffective assistance by Bob Ryan, formerly head of the state office meant to handle post-conviction appeals for people sentenced to death. Five justices, though, said Brawner’s claims have already been litigated and that courts had decided against them.

MISSOURI – Another Canadian on U.S. death row fights to stay alive – ROBERT BOLDEN

June 1, 2012 Source :

Robert Bolden, a Canadian on death row in the U.S. A lawyer representing a Canadian on death row in Indiana wants Ottawa to advocate to save her client's life. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO

While Alberta-born killer Ronald Smith awaits the outcome of his high-profile bid to avoid execution for a 1982 double-murder in Montana, the U.S. government is engaged in a court battle with another Canadian citizen facing the death penalty in a little-known case in Indiana — ensuring that the controversial issue of capital punishment will be kept alive for years in Canada regardless of Smith’s fate in the coming months.

The case of Robert Bolden — a 48-year-old, Newfoundland-born man convicted of killing a Missouri security guard during a botched bank robbery in St. Louis in 2002 only recently came to the attention of the Canadian government, partly because Bolden moved to the U.S. as a toddler with a drug-addicted mother who used forged documents to emigrate from Canada.

Bolden’s lawyers have launched an appeal aimed at winning a new trial and overturning his death sentence, largely on the basis that he was “deprived” of what could have been “vital” consular assistance by the Canadian government when he was arrested almost 10 years ago and later in his bid to avoid execution.

“The consulate’s assistance would have been critical to Mr. Bolden’s defence,” states a petition filed on behalf of the Canadian death-row inmate by Jennifer Merrigan, a lawyer with the Kansas City-based Death Penalty Litigation Clinic.

The petition was backed by a detailed affidavit from Gar Pardy, a retired Canadian public servant who headed the consular affairs section at the federal Department of Foreign Affairs from 1995 to 2003, during which time he led several diplomatic missions to prevent Canadians from being executed abroad.

But in a 200-page counter-argument filed last week at the U.S. District Court in Missouri, the U.S. Department of Justice insisted that prosecutors “had every reason to believe that Bolden was a United States citizen” at the time of his arrest, and that defence claims that the death sentence might never have been pursued or secured because of Bolden’s Canadian citizenship are unfounded.

Bolden alleges that the (U.S.) government deprived him of the ‘unique and pivotal role’ of the Canadian Consulate, violating his due process right and right to a fair trial,” states the Department of Justice submission. “This claim is facially implausible. The ‘unique and pivotal role’ the consulate plays is to inform a foreign national of his rights as a defendant in the United States and explain the differences in the American legal system.”

Bolden “had no need for a ‘cultural bridge’,” the statement contends, “because he was very familiar with our legal system. Bolden had been convicted of three prior felonies and has been arrested numerous times.”

The Department of Justice submission recalled Ley’s “unique qualities, his aspiration to become a police officer, his exceptional gift of helping others, the excruciating pain he suffered after Bolden shot him twice in the head, and the catastrophic impact of his death on his family.”

Bolden was born in Stephenville, Nfld., in June 1963. His mother, identified in court documents as “S.D.” Decker, is described as a heroin-addicted, white prostitute who died in the U.S. in 2001. Bolden’s father was an unidentified black American soldier stationed at the U.S. military’s former Harmon Air Force Base in Stephenville, which was closed in 1966.

Alleged racism directed at Decker because of her biracial child appears to have prompted her move to the U.S. around 1966, according to Merrigan.

Bolden was principally raised by the St. Louis-based family of another U.S. soldier with whom Decker  had a fleeting relationship in Newfoundland.

In an interview with Postmedia News, Merrigan said the option of life imprisonment was never adequately explored in the Bolden case because Canadian officials didn’t get a chance — due to the actions of prosecutors and the oversights of defence lawyers — “to weigh in on whether the U.S. government should pursue the death penalty.”

She added that a thorough investigation of Bolden’s early childhood in Newfoundland by his original defence lawyers would have illuminated deep-rooted social and psychological challenges flowing from his mother’s troubled background — a potentially mitigating factor in death-penalty cases in the U.S.

The Decker family’s history of interpersonal violence, verbal abuse, mental illness, addiction, and diabetes — none of which was explored by counsel — is the genetic and psychosocial cornerstone of Robert Bolden’s life story,” states the petition to overturn his death sentence.

John Babcock, a spokesman for Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Diane Ablonczy — who oversees consular issues for the Conservative government — confirmed that Bolden is a Canadian citizen and added: “Mr. Bolden was convicted of the very serious charge of murder. Canadian officials are providing Mr. Bolden with consular assistance, and will continue to do so.”

Bolden is being held in a federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana.

Until October 2007, the Canadian government’s long-standing policy was to automatically seek clemency for Canadians facing execution in foreign countries.

Then, in response to a Postmedia News story about Canadian diplomats lobbying Montana’s governor to commute Smith’s sentence, the Conservative government halted those efforts and declared a new policy of reviewing clemency requests on a “case-by-case” basis — which Prime Minister Stephen Harper said was more in keeping with his government’s tough-on-crime agenda.

The Federal Court of Canada later ruled that the government had acted unlawfully by ending its support for Smith and ordered it to resume clemency efforts.

In December, ahead of Smith’s clemency hearing last month in Montana, the Canadian government sent a letter requesting that Smith be spared execution for “humanitarian reasons.” But opposition critics and Smith’s lawyers panned the letter as a lukewarm expression of the Canadian government’s formal opposition to capital punishment, which was abolished in this country in 1976.

Montana’s parole board has recommended to the state’s governor, Brian Schweitzer, that Smith be denied clemency. But Schweitzer, whose final term as governor automatically ends on Dec. 31 this year, is not likely to be in office by the time an outstanding lawsuit related to Montana’s lethal-injection is resolved early next year, clearing the way for an execution date to be set for Smith.

FLORIDA – George Zimmerman’s Bond Revoked In Trayvon Martin Case

June 1, 2012

A Florida judge on Friday afternoon revoked bond for George Zimmerman, the man charged with second-degree murder in the death of Trayvon Martin, and ordered that he turn himself in within 48 hours.

Prosecutors had asked Seminole County Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester Jr. to revoke Zimmerman’s bond because they contend that he was disingenuous at an earlier bond hearing when Zimmerman’s family and attorney claimed that he was cash broke. The motion filed by prosecutors claims that Zimmerman “misrepresented, mislead [sic] and deceived the court.”

During a bond hearing on April 20, Lester set Zimmerman’s bond at $150,000, and days later Zimmerman walked free. It was later revealed that Zimmerman had received upward of $200,000 from supporters, a sum that he did not reveal to the judge or to his own attorneys.

At that April hearing, defense attorney Mark O’Mara questioned Shelly Zimmerman, George Zimmerman’s wife, who said she had no idea how much was in the account.

Prosecutors claimed that Zimmerman and his wife knowingly colluded to hide those funds, collected through a Paypal account attached to a website that Zimmerman launched to raise funds for his defense and thank his supporters.

“This court was led to believe they didn’t have a single penny,” Prosecutor Bernie De la Rionda said at Friday’s hearing. “It was misleading, and I don’t know what words to use other than it was a blatant lie.”

According to the conditions of Zimmerman’s release, he was to be monitored by GPS and surrender his passport.

During Friday’s motion hearing, prosecutors said that Zimmerman also failed to disclose or turn over a second passport in his possession. According to the motion, Zimmerman acquired a second passport in 2004 after filing a claim with the State Department that his original passport was lost or stolen.

But, according to prosecutors, while Zimmerman was in custody at the Seminole County jail on April 17, he had a conversation with his wife in which the couple discussed the second passport. The conversation was recorded by jail officials:

Defendant: Do you know what? I think my passport is in that bag.Shelly Zimmerman: I have one for you in safety deposit box…

Defendant: Ok, you hold on to that.

“It really is important what the judge did, because this whole case — the crux of this case — is about George Zimmerman’s credibility,” Benjamin Crump, an attorney for Martin’s family, told The Huffington Post not long after the judge’s ruling. “The court found that Zimmerman was dishonest, that he lied in court.”

Zimmerman, who was arrested 44 days after the Feb. 26 shooting in Sanford, Florida, has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

At Friday’s hearing, prosecutors asked that a list of witnesses’ names and other evidence, which per Florida law would be part of the public record, not be released; defense attorney O’Mara also asked that the records be kept sealed. But a number of news organizations — including national news outlets such as the Associated Press,The New York Times, CNN and CBS News, as well as local agencies like the Orlando Sentinel — have filed a legal motion to ask that the judge allow all such documents to be made public.

The evidence, according to the Sentinel, includes five statements that Zimmerman gave authorities, crime scene photos that show Martin’s body and cellphone records for both men.

De La Rionda said that to make those records public could jeopardize the state’s case against Zimmerman.

“What’s occurring, unfortunately, are cases are being tried in the public sector as opposed to in the courtroom,” De La Rionda told Lester. “We are in a new age with Twitter, Facebook and all these things I’ve never heard of before in my career. Everybody gets to find out intimate details about witnesses. That never occurred before. Witnesses are going to be reluctant to get involved.”

TEXAS – State Backs DNA Testing for Hank Skinner

June 1, 2012 Source :

Reversing its decade-long objection to testing that death row inmate Hank Skinner says could prove his innocence, the Texas Attorney General’s office today filed an advisory with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals seeking to test DNA in the case. 

“Upon further consideration, the State believes that the interest of justice would best be served by DNA testing the evidence requested by Skinner and by testing additional items identified by the state,” lawyers for the state wrote in the advisory.

Skinner, now 50, was convicted in 1995 of the strangulation and beating death of his girlfriend Twila Busby and the stabbing deaths of her two adult sons on New Year’s Eve 1993 in Pampa. Skinner maintains he is innocent and was unconscious on the couch at the time of the killings, intoxicated from a mixture of vodka and codeine.

Rob Owen, co-director of the University of Texas at Austin’s Capital Punishment Clinic, said he was pleased the state “finally appears willing to work with us to make that testing a reality.”

The details of the testing, he said, will still need to be arranged to ensure the evidence is properly handled and identified.

“Texans expect accuracy in this death penalty case, and the procedures to be employed must ensure their confidence in the outcome,” he said in an emailed statement. “We look forward to cooperating with the State to achieve this DNA testing as promptly as possible.”

State lawyers have opposed testing in the case, arguing that it could not prove Skinner’s innocence and that it would create an incentive for other guilty inmates to delay justice by seeking DNA testing. Today, though, the state reversed its course and has prepared a joint order to allow the tests.

Since 2000, Skinner has asked the courts to allow testing on crime scene evidence that was not analyzed at his original trial, including a rape kit, biological material from Busby’s fingernails, sweat and hair from a man’s jacket, a bloody towel and knives. Owen told the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals last month that if DNA testing on all the evidence points to an individual who is not Skinner, it could create reasonable doubt about his client’s guilt. 

The advisory comes a month after that hearing before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, in which the judges on the nine-member panel grilled attorneys for the state about their continued resistance to the testing even after a spate of DNA exonerations in Texas. In Texas, at least 45 inmates have been exonerated based on DNA evidence.

“You really ought to be absolutely sure before you strap a person down and kill him,” Judge Michael Keasler said at the May hearing.

State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, praised the Texas Attorney General’s move on Friday. Legislators last year approved a bill that Ellis wrote amending the state’s post-conviction DNA testing law to allow for such analysis in cases like Skinner’s. Under the measure, inmates can obtain testing even in instances where they had the chance to test the DNA at trial but did not do so and in cases where the DNA was tested previously but new technology allows for more advanced testing.

In Skinner’s case the state had long argued that he should not be allowed to test the DNA evidence because he had the opportunity to do so at his trial but chose not to. He sought testing again after the DNA measure was approved last year.

“Now we will have certainty in the Skinner case because we will have analyzed all the evidence,” Ellis said in a statement. “There should be no lingering questions in capital cases.”