Day: July 1, 2013

Daniel Taylor’s 20-year wrongful prison term


A Chicago man who spent 20 years in prison is freed after a new investigation reveals he had an alibi. Daniel Taylor was in police custody at the time and Saturday night he spoke out.

Taylor was 17 years old when he says police coerced him into confessing.

Taylor’s exoneration is the 90th in Cook County since 1989. He is the 34th known to have been wrongfully convicted based on a unreliable confession.

 

Taylor’s fight for freedom began with a letter from prison to the Chicago Tribune. Northwestern University’s Center on Wrongful Convictions then took up his case.

Taylor returned home early this morning

“To get up and use the washroom when I want to, to make a meal when I want to, to go outside and take in the fresh air when I want to,” Taylor said.

Freedom. Something most of us take for granted. Daniel Taylor never will.

The 38-year-old is home after spending 20 years in prison for a 1992 double murder in Uptown. Charges were dropped after Cook County prosecutors interviewed more witnesses and reviewed more documents. But, there is only one document that Taylor and his lawyers say should have cleared him from the beginning.

“I never thought I would need the paper work, the copy they gave you when you leave,” he said.

Taylor is talking about jail records that prove he was in police custody being held on a disorderly conduct charge at the time of the double murder. Despite that, Taylor was charged with several others.

“The level of trickery that they used at the police station with a 17-year-old with a 2nd grade education was beyond me at the time,” he said.

Trickery that Taylor says included being handcuffed to a wall, beaten and coerced into signing a confession.

“I think that maybe the jury couldn’t get passed the fact that he confessed even though there was this evidence he was in custody the whole time,” said Judy Royal, Center on Wrongful Convictions.

After being sentenced to life without parole, Taylor had given up hope. He tried taking his life in prison. TayLor decided to fight for his freedom after getting some advice from a cell mate.

“The only way to get it done is to get it started,” he said.

So the fight began with legal help from Northwestern University’s Center on Wrongful Convictions. Taylor’s hard work and patience finally paid off after two decades behind bars.

“My thing is to move forward,” he said.

Taylor says he is giving himself a three-week grace period to get used to freedom. After that, he says it’s time to work on his future.

Taylor earned his GED in prison and he would like to go to college. His goal is to work with at risk youth, kids similar to him before he went to prison.

Louisiana releases execution protocol; inmate’s lawyer calls it ‘inadequate’


Louisiana corrections officials have released the state’s execution protocol after a lawsuit brought by two death row inmates called for more transparency into the procedure. But the inmates’ lawyers say details released by the state are spotty at best, and that the use of a new lethal drug is not fully explained.

Until this month, the state’s execution protocol was inaccessible by the public, including inmates and their attorneys. The protocol, obtained by NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune on Friday, was released after 2 death row inmates filed suit against the state Corrections Department and Louisiana State Penitentiary, or Angola, to make public the documents.

But, Michael Rubenstein, lawyer for inmate Jessie Hoffman, said the nearly 60-page document he received last week is “woefully inadequate.” While it confirms previous court admissions that the state plans to switch to using a single drug in its lethal injections, it leaves out important details, he said.

“The lethal injection protocol released by the Louisiana Department of Corrections this week fails to provide the most basic information about how it intends to carry out executions,” Rubenstein said Friday.

He pointed to gaps in how lethal drugs will be stored, overseen and administered, and who will have ultimate responsibility over the drugs. He also expressed concerns about the state’s decision to switch from a 3-drug cocktail to just 1 drug.

“We still do not know whether any medical authorities were consulted regarding the incorporation of (pentobarbital); the original source or expiration date of the new drug; how the drug is to be administered; or the training of personnel who will implement the new procedure for the 1st time,” Rubenstein said.

Pentobarbital is a drug primarily used to treat seizures and insomnia. In large doses — such as the 5 grams administered during execution — the drug is lethal. Formerly, it was used primarily in euthanizing animals.

When pentobarbital first began being used in cases of capital punishment, in Oklahoma in 2010, inmate advocacy groups expressed concerns with it being largely untested in large doses. Ohio was the 1st state to use it alone in March 2011, triggering an outcry from advocates.

Louisiana has not yet used the single-drug formula. The last inmate to be executed in the state was in 2010, when the 3-drug cocktail was still in use. The state decided to make the switch after supplies of sodium thiopental — the starter drug in the cocktail — began to run out.

While Hoffman’s execution is not yet scheduled, the other plaintiff in the case, Christopher Sepulvado, was scheduled to be executed on Ash Wednesday this year. But after he joined Hoffman’s suit, the court ordered the state to delay his execution until the protocol was released.

It is unclear whether the state will proceed with Sepulvado’s execution now that the protocol has been released. Part of the attorneys’ argument was based on concerns about the use of pentobarbital, its 3-year expiration date, and who would be monitoring its storage — 3 pieces of information not fully elucidated in the execution protocol.

Pam LaBorde, public information officer for the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections, would not comment on the case Friday, citing “pending death penalty-related issues before the courts.”

In response, Rubenstein said he and his colleagues will “engage in a robust discovery process to uncover the truth” that begins with additional interrogations and documents requests.

Hoffman was sentenced to death for the 1996 kidnapping, rape and killing of Mary “Molly” Elliott, an advertising executive in St. Tammany Parish. Sepulvado was convicted of the beating and fatal scalding of his 6-year-old stepson in Mansfield in 1992.

Source: The New Orleans Times-Picayune, June 29, 2013

Missouri seeks execution dates for 2 before death drug expires


July,1, 2013

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. • Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster wants the state Supreme Court to set execution dates for two inmates before the state’s supply of an execution drug expires.

Koster has renewed a request for execution dates to be set for Allen Nicklasson and Joseph Franklin. The state’s highest court refused to do so last August, citing a legal challenge to the state’s newly planned use of the drug propofol as its execution method.

The attorney general’s office said Monday that the Department of Corrections has a limited supply of propofol and much of it will expire next spring.

Nicklasson was convicted for the 1994 killing of a businessman traveling on Interstate 70 in Callaway County.

Franklin was convicted of killing a man outside a synagogue in Richmond Heights in 1977. He admitted killing Gerald Gordon, who was a 42-year-old father of three young daughters. (Associated Press)

Texas: From America’s Busiest Death Chamber, a Catalog of Last Rants, Pleas and Apologies Texas Department of Criminal Justice


Karl Eugene Chamberlain went to his neighbor’s apartment that night in Dallas under the pretense of borrowing sugar. He returned later, forced her into a bedroom, bound her hands and feet, raped her and then used a rifle to shoot and kill her. His victim, Felecia Prechtl, 29, was a single mother with a 5-year-old son.

11 years after he was convicted of capital murder, Mr. Chamberlain, 37, was strapped to a gurney in Texas’ execution chamber at the Walls Unit prison here and was asked by a warden if he had any last words. “Thank you for being here today to honor Felecia Prechtl, whom I didn’t even know,” he told her son, parents and brother on June 11, 2008. “I am so terribly sorry. I wish I could die more than once to tell you how sorry I am.”

His words did not die with him. Texas wrote them down, kept them and posted them on the Internet.

The state with the busiest death chamber in America publishes the final statements of the inmates it has executed on a prison agency Web site, a kind of public catalog of the rantings, apologies, prayers, claims of innocence and confessions of hundreds of men and women in the minutes before their deaths.

Charles Nealy asked to be buried not to the left of his father but to the right of his mother. Domingo Cantu Jr., who dragged a 94-year-old widow across the top of a chain-link fence, sexually assaulted her and then killed her, told his wife that he loved her and would be waiting for her on the other side.

The condemned praised Allah and Jesus and Sant Ajaib Singh Ji, a Sikh master. 3 cheered for their favorite sports teams, including Jesse Hernandez, whose execution last year made headlines after he shouted, “Go Cowboys!” They spoke in English, Spanish, French, Vietnamese, Gaelic, German (“Meine schone prinzessin,” said Mr. Cantu, German for “my beautiful princess”). They quoted the Koran and the Bible, but also Todd Beamer’s phrase aboard United Airlines Flight 93.

“Sir, in honor of a true American hero, ‘Let’s roll,'” said David Ray Harris, who was dishonorably discharged from the Army and was executed in 2004 for killing a man who tried to stop him from kidnapping the man’s girlfriend.

The execution on Wednesday of Kimberly McCarthy – a 52-year-old woman convicted of robbing, beating and fatally stabbing a retired psychology professor near Dallas – was the 500th in Texas since December 1982, when the state resumed capital punishment after the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. In those 30 years, Texas has executed more people than Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, Oklahoma and Virginia combined.

The state’s execution record has often been criticized as a dehumanizing pursuit of eye-for-an-eye justice. But three decades of last statements by inmates reveal a glimmer of the humanity behind those anonymous numbers, as the indifferent bureaucracy of state-sanctioned death pauses for one sad, intimate and often angry moment.

“I hope that one day we can look back on the evil that we’re doing right now like the witches we burned at the stake,” said Thomas A. Barefoot, who was convicted of murdering a police officer and was executed on Oct. 30, 1984.

Among the death-penalty states, Texas and California are the only ones that make the last words of offenders available on their Web sites. But only Texas has compiled and listed each statement in what amounts to an online archive. The collection of 500 statements, which includes inmates’ verbal as well as written remarks, has been the subject of analysis, criticism and debate by lawyers, criminal justice researchers and activists who oppose the death penalty.

It has spawned at least one blog, Lost Words in the Chamber, which has regularly posted the last statements since 2011. Officials with the prison agency, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, said there were 3 million page views of inmates’ final words last year.

“It’s kind of mesmerizing to read through these,” said Robert Perkinson, the author of “Texas Tough: The Rise of America’s Prison Empire” and a professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. “Most people about to be executed haven’t had a lot of success in school or life. They’re not always so skilled at articulating themselves. There are plenty of cliches, sometimes peculiar ones, like the Cowboys reference. But I think many of these individuals are also striving to say something poignant, worthy of the existential occasion.”

The last statements are not uttered in a vacuum – they are heard by lawyers, reporters and prison officials, as well as the inmates’ families and victims’ relatives. But the power of their words to change the system or even heal the hearts of those they have hurt is uncertain.

Nearly 7 years after he murdered a Houston city marshal who caught him with cash and loose change stuffed into his pockets from the bar he had just robbed, Charles William Bass refused his last meal and told the warden in 1986, “I deserve this.” “I think he was correct,” said Mr. Baker, 63, a minister at the Church of Christ in Emory, Tex., who was 29 when his father was killed. “It’s called capital punishment for a reason.”

Strapped to a gurney in a spare brick room painted dark green, the inmates nowadays speak into a microphone attached to the ceiling, their arms stretched out and buckled into a T-shaped gurney so the drugs flow easily from the IVs into their veins. With the victims’ and the inmates’ witnesses in place in 2 separate rooms, the warden asks the inmate if there is a last statement. The last words are not recorded, but transcribed by hand by staff members listening inside the warden’s office.

Jim Willett, 63, a retired Walls Unit warden, said none of the 89 statements he heard from 1998 to 2001 changed his support for the death penalty.

“You can hear it in their voices sometimes and in their delivery that they are sincerely hurting for the pain that they put their own family through,” said Mr. Willett, the director of the Texas Prison Museum in Huntsville. “I saw the strangest thing one night. You got this little wall here like this, separating those 2 witness rooms. One night I saw the daughter of the inmate and the daughter of the victim, and they were both leaning against that wall. They were that far apart and didn’t even know it.”

Jason Clark, a spokesman for the prison agency, said the last statements were posted to respond to the demand for that information by the public and journalists. But opponents of the death penalty call it a perverse tradition.

“The death penalty is a process, not an act, and posting the final words of a condemned person after a process which has usually lasted a decade or more is simply a disservice,” said Rick Halperin, director of the Embrey Human Rights Program at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. “How is one to assess the phrase of ‘Go Cowboys!’ from a man on a gurney?”

Freddie Webb said 1 word – “Peace” – but James Lee Beathard, who murdered his accomplice’s father, stepmother and half-brother, said 684 of them in December 1999, in a rambling statement that mentioned the embargoes against Iran and Cuba. He viewed his final minutes the way others had – as a fleeting moment on a stage, with a silent, watchful audience. “Couple of matters that I want to talk about,” he said, “since this is one of the few times people will listen to what I have to say.”

(source: New York Times)