Day: September 28, 2012

Louisiana death-row inmate Damon Thibodeaux exonerated with DNA evidence


september 28, 2012

NEW ORLEANS — A Louisiana death-row inmate convicted of the rape and murder of his 14-year-old step-cousin in 1996 on Friday became the 300th person exonerated on the basis of DNA evidence in the United States — and the 18th death-row inmate saved from execution by DNA.

Damon Thibodeaux, now 38, confessed to the brutal attack on his cousin after a nine-hour interrogation in 1996 by detectives from the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office. He recanted a few hours later and has maintained since that his confession was coerced. Despite his recantation, Thibodeaux was indicted four days after his arrest. In 1997, a jury found him guilty of murder and rape, largely on the basis of his confession. He was sentenced to death.

Thibodeaux walked out of the death-row unit of Louisiana’s Angola prison farm on a rainy Friday afternoon, free for the first time after 15 years, during which he was kept in solitary confinement 23 hours per day.

In an interview minutes after he left the prison, Thibodeaux said he struggled to control his emotions during the years he waited for exoneration.

“For the first couple of years, it takes a lot of getting used to. Sometimes, it seemed like it wasn’t going to happen. You think, they’re going to kill you and just accept it,” he said. “But as things started to accumulate, you start, you know, gaining hope.”

He said the detectives who questioned him in 1996 took advantage of his exhaustion and fed him details of the crime to include in his confession.

“They look for vulnerable points where they can manipulate you, and if you’re sleep-deprived or panicked, or you’re on something or drunk, it makes it that much easier to accomplish what they want to accomplish,” Thibodeaux said. “At that point, I was tired. I was hungry. All I wanted to do was sleep, and I was willing to tell them anything they wanted me to tell them if it would get me out of that interrogation room.”

Thibodeaux said that he hoped his case could help lead police agencies to be more careful not to induce false confessions.

The detectives involved in Thibodeaux’s interrogation could not be reached Friday. Earlier, a spokesman for the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office declined to comment on the agency’s handling of the case and said the investigators would not be made available.

Thibodeaux’s exoneration came after an unusual five-year joint reinvestigation of the case by the office of Jefferson Parish District Attorney Paul Connick, which brought the charges, and a team of defense lawyers and investigators, including the New York-based Innocence Project.

During the reexamination of the case, during which Thibodeaux put his formal appeals on hold, investigators concluded that his confession was riddled with glaring errors, such as the manner and time of death and the identification of the murder weapon, and did not match the crime scene and other evidence. Most remarkable, the investigation found that the sexual assault to which Thibodeaux also confessed — making him eligible under Louisiana law for the death penalty — never occurred.

“The 300th exoneration is an extraordinary event, and it couldn’t be more fitting that it’s an innocent man on death row who gave a false confession,” said Barry Scheck, a founder of the Innocence Project and one of the lawyers who worked on the case. “People have a very hard time with the concept that an innocent person could confess to a crime that they didn’t commit. But it happens a lot. It’s the ultimate risk that an innocent man could be executed.”

New DNA testing conducted during the inquiry on the clothing worn by Thibodeaux on the night of the murder and virtually every other piece of evidence collected by police established no links to the crime — so the absence of DNA became a powerful element of evidence itself. A DNA profile was also obtained from a tiny sample of blood on a piece of the wire used to strangle the victim. It did not match Thibodeaux.

The reinvestigation totaled more than $500,000, a cost shared by the defense and prosecution, according to lawyers involved in the case.

The dismissal of Thibodeaux’s case comes amid a flurry of such exonerations across the country and at a time when doubts about the reliability of American courts in determining guilt and innocence appear to be growing.

Early this week, John Edward Smith was released from a Los Angeles jail nearly two decades after being wrongly imprisoned for a 1993 gang-related drive-by shooting. Prosecutors in Chicago moved to dismiss murder charges against Alprentiss Nash in August, 17 years after he was convicted of a murder that new DNA analysis indicates he did not commit. In Texas last month, David Lee Wiggins was released after DNA testing cleared him of a rape conviction for which he had served 24 years.

In July, a D.C. judge declared Kirk L. Odom innocent of a 1981 rape and robbery for which he had served more than 22 years in prison. The same week, the Justice Department and FBI announced they would reexamine thousands of cases after The Washington Post reported widespread problems in its forensic examination of hair fibers over several decades. That came on the heels of a conclusion by the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan that five people convicted in the 1995 murder of a taxi driver and imprisoned since are innocent.


OKLAHOMA – Attorney General seeks execution date for death row inmate – Gary Allen

September 27, 2012

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt asked a state appeals court Thursday to set an execution date for a man convicted of fatally shooting his fiancée almost 26 years ago.

Pruitt filed the request with the Court of Criminal Appeals a day after a federal judge rejected Gary Thomas Allen‘s request for a hearing on his claim that he is mentally incompetent and ineligible for the death penalty.

U.S. District Judge David Russell ruled Wednesday that Allen, 56, had not shown that a jury impanelled in 2008 acted unreasonably when it found him sane enough to be executed. Russell also lifted a stay that postponed Allen’s most recent execution date.

Pruitt said Russell’s ruling concludes Allen’s court appeals. “After a thorough review of this case, my office has concluded that the execution should be carried out,” the attorney general said.

Allen’s attorney, Randy Bauman, did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment.

Allen was convicted and sentenced to death for the November 1986 murder of Lawanna Gail Titsworth in the parking lot of an Oklahoma City day care. Titsworth, 24, had moved out of the home she shared with Allen and their two sons four days before her death.

Court documents indicate the two were arguing when Allen shot Titsworth twice in the chest. Titsworth ran with a center employee toward the building, but Allen pushed the worker away, shoved Titsworth down some steps and shot her twice in the back at close range, records show.

A police officer responding to a 911 call tussled with Allen before shooting him in the face, according to court documents. Allen was hospitalized for about two months for treatment of injuries to his face, left eye and brain.

Allen entered a blind plea of guilty to first-degree murder and was sentenced by a judge to die. But Allen’s attorneys have argued he was not competent enough to enter the plea.

A district judge in Pittsburg County stayed Allen’s original May 19, 2005, execution date after a psychological examination at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary indicated Allen had developed mental problems. The U.S. Constitution forbids the execution of inmates who are insane or mentally incompetent.

Three years later, a 12-member jury rejected Allen’s argument that he should not be put to death. Last December, the Oklahoma Appeals court ruled that an appeal of that decision was not authorized by law. The court said there is no procedure in state law to appeal a finding that a person facing execution is sane.

The state Pardon and Parole Board had voted in April 2005 to recommend that Allen’s death sentence be commuted to life without parole. That clemency recommendation wasn’t acted on until this year, when Gov. Mary Fallin denied it.


Gary Allen execution stayed in april


ARIZONA – Death-row inmate suspected in Tempe slaying in 2000 – Albert Carreon

September 27, 2012

Tempe police have arrested a gang member on suspicion of first-degree murder in the slaying of a man 12 years ago, using DNA and other evidence.

But suspect Albert Carreon, 50, wasn’t very hard to find. He already is on death row after his conviction and sentencing in a gang hit in Chandler 11 years ago.

Carreon, a New Mexican Mafia member, is now accused of first-degree murder in the slaying of Jose “Joey” Gonzalez, 20, who was found dead in a parked car on Dec. 20, 2000 at the Fiesta Village Townhouse complex in the 1400 block of West La Jolla in Tempe.

“The DNA is what really made the case. This guy was looked at as a potential suspect in 2005,” said Sgt. Jeff Glover, a Tempe police spokesman.

He said detectives determined that Gonzalez was shot to death at a different location, placed in a car he had borrowed from his girlfriend and driven to the townhouse complex, where his body was abandoned.

Jurors sentenced Carreon to death in April 2003 after finding him guilty of first-degree murder in the slaying of Armando Hernandez inside a Chandler apartment. The victim’s girlfriend testified that Carreon stepped out of a bathroom with his gun drawn, accused Hernandez of being a snitch, shot him to death and then shot her four times.

Although the girlfriend was left for dead, she survived her wounds and testified against Carreon in a Maricopa County Superior Court trial. Carreon and Hernandez had been housed in adjoining cells in a maximum security prison in Florence.

A prosecutor argued during that trial that Carreon was hired to kill Hernandez by a gang member who believed that Hernandez was responsible for the arrest and conviction of the gang member’s brother.

Carreon’s disciplinary record in prison includes three major violations, including two assaults and a drug possession or manufacturing infraction.


At UN, French minister meets with ex-death row inmate

September 27, 2012 AFP

NEW YORK — France’s foreign minister met Thursday with a former US death row inmate as he launched a campaign at the United Nations calling for a universal ban on executions.

Laurent Fabius spoke for half an hour with Kirk Bloodsworth, an American sentenced to death for the murder of a young girl before being the first to be exonerated by a DNA test after nine years behind bars.

The minister praised the courage of the wrongfully convicted man, who has campaigned against capital punishment since his 1993 release.

“It’s an issue dear to our hearts because the death penalty is inefficient, irreversible and inhumane,” Fabius said.

“There’s no better place than the United Nations to launch this fight.”

He spoke after meeting with his counterpart from Benin, Nassirou Arifari Bako, as well as some 50 countries on the sidelines of the annual United Nations General Assembly to convince them of the need to abolish the death penalty.

Other international gatherings are planned in the context of the campaign, including one in Paris on October 9 followed by others in Rabat and Madrid, according to Fabius.

France, which abolished capital punishment in 1981, is a major proponent of abolishing the death penalty, with media regularly reporting about executions. During their meeting, Bloodsworth thanked Fabius for the country’s efforts.

In a recent interview with AFP in his small apartment in Mount Rainer, near the northeastern city of Baltimore, Kirksworth spoke of nightmares that still haunt him to this day.

“I used to have very bad dreams, sweating, screaming,” he said. “I’d wake up thinking they’d drag me to the gas chamber.”

After being pardoned by the governor of Maryland and receiving $300,000 for his lost years — a sum he said that constituted about $3.72 an hour — Bloodsworth now takes his message to schools, universities and even to the world stage at the United Nations.

“Obviously my biggest reason for ending the death penalty is that we could execute an innocent person, we’ve already done that,” he said. “I believe in punishment but the death penalty is not right, not in a country that has so many different ways to take care of prisoners.”

Executions Rarely Reason for Leaving Pa. Death Row

September 27, 2012

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) – Two-hundred Pennsylvania convicts are sentenced to die, but they’re less likely to be executed than to be removed from death row for other reasons. State Corrections Department spokeswoman Sue McNaughton, who has kept records on death-row prisoners since 1985, said Wednesday 184 inmates have left death row in that time.

The largest proportion – 133 inmateswere resentenced to life imprisonment. That’s what condemned killer Terrance Williams is seeking in court and from the governor as Williams’ Oct. 3 execution date draws near.

McNaughton says 12 other former death-row inmates were resentenced to other penalties and nine death sentences were vacated.

Twenty-four death-row inmates died of natural causes, three committed suicide and three were executed.

Ohio man on death row for killing 11 women challenging conviction with court filing- Anthony Sowell

Anthony Sowell

September 27, 2012

CLEVELAND — An Ohio man sentenced to death for killing 11 women whose remains were found in and around his Cleveland home is now challenging his conviction.

WEWS-TV reports Thursday ( that lawyers for Anthony Sowell (SOH’-wehl) of Cleveland filed a petition to have his conviction overturned and win a new trial.

Such filings are common for those sentenced to the death penalty and often are turned down.

Prosecutors said Sowell, who was convicted last year of killing 11 women, lured the victims to his home by promising them alcohol or drugs.

The murdered women began vanishing in 2007. Police discovered 10 bodies and a skull at Sowell’s house in late 2009 after officers went there on a woman’s report that she had been raped at the home.