Day: September 18, 2012

NORTH CAROLINA – man once on death row charged in wife’s slaying – Joseph Green Brown

September 17,2012

Joseph Green Brown refused to run from his troubled past. He’d tell audiences he was only hours from being executed on Florida’s death row. He’d talk about how an appeals court overturned his rape and murder convictions in 1986 and how he walked out of prison a free man – with a goal of ending the death penalty.

Now Brown is back in jail, this time facing first-degree murder charges in the death of the woman he married 20 years ago, Mamie Caldwell Brown of Charlotte.

“This is just horrible,” said Sherry Williams, Mamie Brown’s aunt. “From what we could tell, he was sweet and caring. And now this? We are all in shock. How could this happen?”

Brown was in a Mecklenburg County courtroom Monday for a preliminary hearing. The judge ordered the 62-year-old Brown held without bond until a Sept. 26 hearing. A daughter of the victim shouted, “Oh, my God!”

Mamie Brown, 71, was found dead in her apartment last Thursday after police were asked to check on her. Joseph Brown was arrested late Friday at a hotel in Charleston, S.C.

Joseph Brown was convicted and sentenced to death for a 1973 rape and murder in Hillsborough County, Fla. His conviction was reversed in 1986 because of false testimony from a co-defendant.

During a brief hearing in Charlotte, Brown was escorted into a courtroom in handcuffs. Wearing an orange prison jump suit, he glimpsed at his wife’s family in the courtroom, but quickly turned away.

Outside, Mamie Brown’s family said Brown never hid that he was on death row. In fact, they said, he embraced it.

“He went around talking to groups about it,” Williams said. “He even talked to my church about it. He told people what they had to do to stay out of trouble. He was a good motivational speaker. That’s how he made a living.”

It’s unclear whether Brown had an attorney Monday afternoon.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police are still investigating Thursday’s slaying. District Attorney Bill Stetzer said prosecutors would present the case soon to a grand jury.

Brown’s 1974 conviction and death sentence by a Florida jury was for raping and murdering Earlene Treva Barksdale, the owner of a clothing store. He was scheduled for execution Oct. 17, 1983, but a federal judge ordered a stay 15 hours before he was to be put to death. The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the conviction in early 1986, saying the prosecution knowingly allowed false testimony from a leading witness.

The prosecution decided against retrying Brown and he was released from prison on March 5, 1987.

After his release, Brown took the name Shabaka and frequently spoke out against the injustice and finality of the death penalty, including to a U.S. House Judiciary subcommittee in 1993.

Richard Blumenthal, now a U.S. senator from Connecticut, represented Brown on appeal as a volunteer attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. He was in private practice at the time.

Blumenthal said in 1987 that the Brown case changed his view of the death penalty “because it provided such a dramatic illustration of how the system could be fallible and cause the death of an innocent person.”

Blumenthal declined to comment Sunday on his involvement in the case, and did not respond to requests for comment Monday.

After prison, Brown went to the Washington D.C. area where he met his future wife. They got married about 20 years ago and moved to Charlotte about five years ago, family members said.

“We thought they were happy,” said Marcus Williams, who is Mamie Brown’s cousin.

He said the family didn’t worry about Brown’s past.

“He didn’t seem like a threat. He was upfront about everything. He was always smiling and trying to help people. He was a motivational speaker. He liked to warn people what could happen in the legal system,” he said.

Joyce Robbins, another relative, said she stared at Brown in court.

“He had a blank look. I don’t know that person. I’ve never seen him before,” she said.

J. Michael Shea, a Tampa attorney who defended Brown on the Florida murder charge, said over the years, they appeared together on television shows and spoke at law schools. He said he talked to Brown by telephone at least each Christmas, and last saw Brown about a decade ago when both appeared on the Jenny Jones syndicated TV talk show to discuss the case.

He said Brown cared about his wife.

“I can recall that he cared a lot about this woman. I mean, he always talked very favorably about her. And usually when I talked to him (on the phone) she was there. I could either hear her say, `Oh, hello Michael,’ in the background or she actually got on the phone or whatever. So it was a real shock that this has happened.”

He said Brown was an effective speaker.

“Joe was a good example of why we shouldn’t have it,” Shea said. “It’s a real sad thing that this happened because he was a real champion for the anti-death penalty group.”

DELAWARE – James Cooke receives death sentence on Lindsey Bonistall murder

September 18, 2012

 James Cooke                                                                                                          Lindsey Bonistall

WILMINGTON — Nearly six years ago, more than a year after she was killed, Lindsey M. Bonistall’s family watched the months-long trial and conviction of James Cooke. That was followed by years of appeals, then a second months-long trial and conviction.

On Monday, just like in 2007, a judge imposed a sentence of death by lethal injection.

Superior Court Judge Charles H. Toliver IV on Monday briefly prolonged the agony by announcing his sentences on the non-capital charges first, including burglary and rape, that added up to 127 years in prison.

Then, after a dramatic pause, Toliver told Cooke and the packed courtroom, “I must conclude, as did the jury, the aggravating factors outweighed the mitigating factors … and the defendant, as a result, must be sentenced to death.”

“The evidence presented at trial leads to the inescapable conclusion that the murder of Lindsey Bonistall was committed in an unusually cruel and depraved fashion,” wrote Toliver in his 71-page opinion released afterward.

There were gasps, sobs and one quiet cheer of “Yes” from the side of the courtroom where Lindsey Bonistall’s family and friends were sitting.

The Bonistalls then passed around a box of tissues.

Cooke, 41, did not immediately react.

Lindsey’s mother, Kathleen Bonistall, emerged from the courtroom with her hands raised, announcing, “We did it,” to gathered family and friends. She then exchanged hugs with family and seven jurors who had voted to convict Cooke at the retrial.

Kathy Maguire, who acted as foreperson for the retrial jury, said she was satisfied with the outcome, noting it has been a long journey for the members of the jury – who continue to communicate via social media – and even longer and more difficult for the Bonistall family.

“I think we got it right,” said juror Bilal Hawkins, before correcting himself, “I know we got it right.”

Bonistall said they went in without any strong opinion about the sentence because it was a decision that was out of their control. She said for the family “there is no justice because Lindsey is not coming home with us.”

“This is an end to an arduous process,” she said in the lobby of the New Castle County Courthouse to a swarm of reporters. “We just want this process to end. It has been seven and a half years. I hope this is the end. I hope the Supreme Court will decide this is the end for this particular case.”

She said, from her point of view, the judicial system is broken in that it fails to take into account the rights of victims and their families, noting the difficulty of having to sit through a second trial and hear “lies” told about their daughter by James Cooke.

She said that the judicial process should be made “kinder and gentler” for victims, but said she did not know if that was possible.

According to testimony, early on May 1, 2005, Cooke broke into Lindsey Bonistall’s off-campus apartment near the University of Delaware, beat the 20-year-old student, bound her with an electrical cord, gagged her with a T-shirt and then sexually assaulted her before strangling her to death.

Cooke then set fire to the apartment and Bonistall’s body before fleeing.

The retrial jury voted 11-1 in favor of imposing the death sentence after convicting Cooke of rape, arson and murder.

Cooke’s previous conviction and death sentence in 2007 was tossed out by a divided Delaware Supreme Court in 2009. A majority of the justices ruled Cooke’s first set of attorneys violated Cooke’s rights by entering a plea of guilty-but-mentally-ill over Cooke’s objections.

Death will likely not come quickly for Cooke. Appeals in capital cases generally take a decade or more as they move through the state and federal courts.

More than 15 years after his 1995 conviction, ax killer Robert W. Jackson was taken to the lethal injection chamber at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in 2011. Killer Shannon Johnson was executed in 2012, four years after he was convicted of his crimes, but that quicker result only came after Johnson waived all his appeals in order to speed his own execution. Even then, legal fights over Johnson’s ability to waive those appeals took nearly two of those four years.

Cooke’s first appeal to the Delaware Supreme Court is automatic, according to one of his defense attorneys, Anthony Figliola, who said he will continue to represent Cooke despite the fact Cooke charged in court Monday that Figliola and co-counsel Peter Veith were guilty of “attorney malpractice” in their representation of him.

Cooke again also charged, after Toliver announced the sentence, that he was innocent and that the trial was just a set-up and corrupt. Toliver ended Cooke’s rant with a wave and guards took Cooke from the courtroom.

At the retrial, Cooke maintained on the stand that he did not kill Bonistall and that his DNA was found in her body because they had consensual sex. Prosecutors Steve Wood and Diane Coffey, however, pointed out to the jury that Bonistall was at work when Cooke alleged he was having consensual sex with her.

In his ruling, Toliver noted how Cooke’s version of events “simply lacks credibility” and that Cooke initially denied knowing Bonistall only to allege a sexual relationship after he found out about the DNA results. “Ms. Bonistall was truly an innocent victim of a violent crime,” Toliver wrote. “She had no involvement in and did not contribute to the crimes which ultimately led to her death.”

Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden was in the courtroom for the sentencing.

Biden said he was pleased that the sentence handed down “reflects the brutality” of what James Cooke inflicted on Lindsey Bonistall in 2005.

Ohio death row inmate Ronald Post says he’s too obese for execution

September 17, 2012

COLUMBUS, Ohio   – A condemned Ohio inmate who weighs at least 480 pounds wants his upcoming execution delayed, saying his weight could lead to a “torturous and lingering death.”

Ronald Post, who shot and killed a hotel clerk in northern Ohio almost 30 years ago, said his weight, vein access, scar tissue and other medical problems raise the likelihood his executioners would encounter severe problems. He’s also so big that the execution gurney might not hold him, lawyers for Post said in federal court papers filed Friday.

“Indeed, given his unique physical and medical condition there is a substantial risk that any attempt to execute him will result in serious physical and psychological pain to him, as well as an execution involving a torturous and lingering death,” the filing said.

Post, 53, is scheduled to die Jan. 16 for the 1983 shooting death of Helen Vantz in Elyria.

The prisons department was not aware of the filing and could not immediately comment.

Inmates’ weight has come up previously in death penalty cases in Ohio and elsewhere.

In 2008, federal courts rejected arguments by condemned double-killer Richard Cooey that he was too obese to die by injection. Cooey’s attorneys had argued that prison food and limited opportunities to exercise contributed to a weight problem that would make it difficult for the execution team to find a viable vein for lethal injection.

Cooey, who was 5-foot-7 and weighed 267 pounds, was executed Oct. 14, 2008.

In 2007, it took Ohio executioners about two hours to insert IVs into the veins of condemned inmate Christopher Newton, who weighed about 265 pounds. A prison spokeswoman at the time said his size was an issue.

In 1994 in Washington state, a federal judge upheld the conviction of Mitchell Rupe, but agreed with Rupe’s contention that at more than 400 pounds, he was too heavy to hang because of the risk of decapitation. Rupe argued that hanging would constitute cruel and unusual punishment.

After numerous court rulings and a third trial, Rupe was eventually sentenced to life in prison, where he died in 2006.

Ohio executes inmates with a single dose of pentobarbital, usually injected through the arms.

Medical personnel have had a hard time inserting IVs into Post’s arms, according to the court filing. Four years ago, an Ohio State University medical center nurse needed three attempts to insert an IV into Post’s left arm, the lawyers wrote.

Post has tried losing weight, but knee and back problems have made it difficult to exercise, according to his court filing.

While at the Mansfield Correctional Institution, Post “used that prison’s exercise bike until it broke under his weight,” according to the filing.