Day: February 24, 2014

James Bain – Freed by DNA after 35 years

James Bain’s case is unique. Not because he was wrongly convicted and freed by DNA evidence, overturning the entire case that convicted him. No, that stuff is commonplace now. What makes James unique is that he has the distinction of having served the longest amount of time behind bars who was ultimately freed on DNA evidence. And this highlights a huge problem. James was denied his requests for testing for years, saying that he had waited too long. It wasn’t until Florida passed a new law that allowed cases to be reopened for DNA testing that his fifth and final rejection was overturned on appeal, which led to his freedom. Such laws should be on the books in every state, no questions.


One night in 1974 in Lake Wales, Florida, someone broke into a home and took a 9 year old boy out of his bed to a local baseball diamond where the boy was raped. By the time he returned home, the police were already present. The victim described the perpetrator as between 17-18, whose name was Jim and who had a mustache and sideburns. The victim’s uncle, a principal at James’s school volunteered that that description fit James Bain. From that point forward the victim always referred to the rapist as ‘Bain’. The police went to Bain’s house where they found him. He had been home with his sister since approximately 10:30pm after attending a party and had fallen asleep watching television.

For the official identification of the perpetrator, the police arranged a photo lineup including Bain and only one other man with a mustache and sideburns! This does not make for an impartial identification. Not only that, according to the Florida Innocence Project, the police suggestively and improperly instructed the victim to pick out Bain’s photo (not the photo of the person who assaulted him) which the victim did.

The Trial

The case against Bain consisted mainly of the victim identification and the Serology findings from the victim’s underwear. Regarding the Serology findings, FBI Analyst William Gavin stated that the findings showed a blood group B and that Bain was AB with a weak A. Conversely, the expert for the Defense, Richard Jones testified that Bain was AB with a strong A and that he could not have been the rapist. The DNA evidence has shown which side was correct.

Post-Trial Chaos

As outlined in the opening, James had submitted for DNA testing several times and was each time rejected. I don’t know what it is about this system that makes it seem okay to deny someone DNA testing when their livelihood hangs in the balance. If not for the statute that enabled DNA testing on older cases and the appellate court confirming James’ right to have DNA testing, he would still be in prison today.

Beaming, Bain watched the quick proceedings in a Polk County courtroom, where Judge James Yancey told him, “I’m now signing the order, sir. You are a free man. Congratulations.”

As for Bain’s defense, aside from the defense testimony mentioned above, there were plenty of witnesses to James having been at the aforementioned party prior to going home. The location of the rape was a full two miles from the party James was attending and his presence was noted to the degree that he would not have been able to sneak away, commit the crime, and be home by 10:30pm – Too many people had seen him. However, the defense only called four witnesses for his alibi, most of which were family. In case anyone hasn’t noticed, calling the mother or sister to corroborate an alibi for a man accused of rape just isn’t going to cut it. That is not enough for reasonable doubt for a lot of people. You have to corroborate the alibi with witnesses that have no reason to lie. And you have to bridge these witness statements across one another so that even if one or two are questionable, the whole of the witness statements creates a picture that resonates with the jurors and strikes at the prosecution’s case. Needless to say, that wasn’t done here, and it could have been.


link source :James Bain – Florida Innocence Project

Race factors in execution

february 22, 2014(thedalleschronicle)

SEATTLE — Two years ago, when Washington’s Supreme Court was reviewing the death sentence assigned to a black man accused of raping and murdering a 65-year-old woman, Justice Charles Wiggins found himself troubled by numbers.

Juries in the state were more likely to sentence African Americans, Wiggins noted; they did so in 62 percent of cases involving black defendants versus 40 percent for white defendants. In a dissenting opinion, the justice suggested further study was needed to determine whether the trend was statistically significant.


A new report from a University of Washington sociologist aims to answer the question. It finds that while prosecutors have actually been slightly more likely to seek the death penalty against white defendants, jurors have been three times more likely to impose it against black ones, other circumstances being similar.


Expense, differences in application by county, and the high rate of overturned death sentences — rather than racial disparities — were the main reasons Gov. Jay Inslee cited this month when he announced a moratorium on executions under his watch. But if true, the report’s findings echo his worry that capital punsihment is “unequally applied,” even in Washington, a state many consider to have the nation’s most restrictive death-penalty system.


“It’s positive to see that prosecutors aren’t unfairly considering race in making decisions about when to seek capital punishment,” Inslee’s general counsel, Nicholas Brown, said after reviewing the report. “At the same time, it brings up a lot of unfortunate implications about juries.”


Tom McBride, executive secretary of the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, said he has long known that prosecutors here aren’t more likely to seek execution against black defendants. But the association was less quick to accept the report’s findings on what effect a defendant’s race has on jurors, saying the study failed to control for some key factors that could help explain why some defendants received a death sentence while others didn’t.


The report, by Professor Katherine Beckett, was commissioned by Lila Silverstein and Neil Fox, attorneys for death row inmate Allen Eugene Gregory, a black man convicted of raping and murdering a white woman in Pierce County in 1996. Silverstein and Fox plan to submit the report to the high court as part of Gregory’s appeal next month.


Washington has executed five defendants under its modern death penalty law, adopted in 1981, and nine are on death row. Beckett reviewed the 285 cases involving adult defendants convicted of aggravated murder since 1981 for which trial reports are available. In 88 of those cases, the death penalty was sought, and in 35 of those, it was imposed. Many later had the sentences overturned.


Using the admittedly small sample size, Beckett’s team coded the cases for number of victims, number of prior violent convictions, number of defenses offered and number of aggravating factors alleged by prosecutors, and other circumstances. In a regression analysis, she found that among similarly situated defendants, blacks were three times more likely than whites to be sentenced to death.


“Washington is not a state that tolerates discrimination, even when it doesn’t involve a matter of life and death,” Silverstein said. “We can’t be putting people to death based on their race.”


But Pam Loginsky, a staff attorney at the prosecutor’s association, said Beckett’s report doesn’t prove that’s what’s happening and that it’s impossible to say why a single juror in any case might decide to block the death penalty. Under Washington law, a unanimous jury is needed to impose the death penalty; if there’s a single holdout, the sentence will be the only other alternative — life without the possibility of release.


“I don’t believe there is any conscious consideration of race, and I don’t believe the statistics bear out any impropriety based on race,” she said. “I can’t tell you that an individual juror in a given case doesn’t decide to extend mercy to the defendant because of his race, or because he has a cute smile, or because he resembles her favorite uncle. There can be any reason why a particular juror says, this person merits leniency.”


Loginsky pointed to what she described as several shortcomings with the study, noting that it did not control for factors that might well influence a jury’s determination. Those include the strength of a prosecutor’s case, the vulnerability of the victim, any mental illness of the defendant, and the nature of a defendant’s criminal record: “It lumps prior murderers in with prior robbers,” she wrote in an emailed critique.


Washington’s Supreme Court, which is charged with ensuring that capital punishment is administered proportionally, has previously said that “a review of the first-degree aggravated murder cases in Washington does not reveal a pattern of imposition of the death penalty based upon the race of the defendant or the victim.” But anti-death-penalty advocates are hoping to use momentum from Inslee’s moratorium to push the Legislature to abolish the punishment entirely.


Among the concerns the governor cited was the cost of capital cases and that whether prosecutors seek execution is “sometimes dependent on the budget of the county where the crime occurred.”


Beckett’s report bears out those geographic distinctions, noting that some counties, such as Thurston, request the death penalty in as much as two-thirds of their aggravated murder cases, while Yakima County, for example, has not sought execution at all in its nine death-eligible cases since 1981.


USA: Robert Redford’s “Death Row Stories” to Premiere on CNN

february 23, 2014

“Death Row Stories” is a new 8-part series premiering on March 9 on CNN that will examine actual death penalty cases.

The show is produced by Robert Redford and narrated by Dead Man Walking star Susan Sarandon.

Redford said, “This series is about the search for justice and truth, we are pleased to … tell these important stories and give a voice to these cases.”

Prior to the premiere, CNN is offering interested parties an opportunity for a preview and the ability to participate in a Google Hangout featuring a discussion by the producers and law professors John Blume of Cornell and Robert Blecker of New York Law School. The Google Hangout will be held March 5 at 6 pm EST and is open to the public, but an RSVP is required.

(Source: Death Penalty Information Center)