Criminal justice

For some on death row, vindication comes too late By OSCAR EASON JR.

March 14, 2014

Immediately following Gov. Jay Inslee’s announcement of his moratorium on the death penalty, cheers could be heard in certain African-American communities throughout the state and elsewhere.

That should have surprised few, considering the statistics on who is being sentenced to occupy space on death rows these days. Nationally, 470 African Americans have been executed since 1976 compared to 767 whites — although African Americans are only 13 percent of the nation’s population. Sixty-six whites and seven African Americans have been executed in Washington; the African-American population in this state reached 3.9 percent only in recent decades.


Racial discrimination remains a dominant feature of criminal justice in the United States. The process of having biased death sentences handed down in the criminal justice system may not always be the fault of sentencing officials; the outcome involves arresting officers, the compiling and arranging of factual evidence by prosecuting attorneys, and jury selection, all of which are required before a judgment is reached.


People of color continue to be excluded from jury service in our state because of their race, especially in serious criminal trials and death penalty cases. The jury-selection process has been a major concern in Washington’s African-American community for decades owing to how jurors are selected and the fact that race in trials is often a factor — consciously or unconsciously.


Most juries hearing capital cases where African Americans are involved have few or no African Americans. As the case moves along a path toward the judge, there are unlimited opportunities for biases. Mandatory sentencing may also enter into the equation in some states.


Regardless of whether Inslee’s moratorium was a wise political decision, claims that the death penalty is an effective crime deterrent have not been proven. This experiment is flawed, inhuman and costly.


An increasing number of states have already legally ended executions, with others likely to follow this year. Human lives are at stake, and one would think that any process holding such high risks and vulnerabilities would be completely abolished in modern society.


Too many people found guilty of capital crimes and placed on death row in the last decade were later found to have been wrongly convicted. Others have been exonerated posthumously. Some were sentenced to death and had their sentences overturned by acquittal or pardon.


Just this week, Louisiana freed Glenn Ford, a man who had spent nearly 26 years on death row. An all-white jury convicted him for a murder the state now says he did not commit.


One who was not so fortunate was Troy Anthony Davis, an African-American man convicted of and executed for the murder of a police officer Savannah, Ga., though there was ample evidence presented to prove his innocence. The NAACP’s struggle to save him failed. We must work to ensure that this tragedy is not repeated here in Washington. Inslee’s moratorium provides that guarantee.

Oscar Eason Jr. is chairman of the Washington State Commission on African American Affairs.

Death penalty Focus

Today, in the United States, we celebrate freedom. At DPF, we are celebrating the freedom of exonerees like Obie Anthony, who spent 17 years in prison for a crime he did not commit.We also remember that there are thousands of other wrongfully convicted people, still sitting behind bars, trying to prove their innocence. We will keep fighting for their freedom, and for a criminal justice system that is more fair and just.

We hope you have a great Fourth of July, and thank you for joining us in the fight for justice!

BOOKS part3: news books 2012 Death row’s testimony – death penalty

A new book by Professor Robert Bohm of the University of Central Florida looks at death-penalty decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court prior to the modern era of capital punishment that began in 1968. In The Past As Prologue, Bohm examines 39 Court decisions, covering issues such as clemency, jury selection, coerced confessions, and effective representation. These early decisions have shaped modern rulings on capital punishment, and the book provides an analysis of these effects. In addition, the cases provide an historical perspective on prior death penalty practices. Bohm is a Professor of Criminal Justice and has published widely in this field and on capital punishment.

Survivor on Death Row, a new e-book co-authored by death row inmate Romell Broom and Clare Nonhebel, tells the story of Ohio‘s botched attempt to execute Broom by lethal injection in 2009. In September of that year, Broom was readied for execution and placed on the gurney, but the procedure was terminated after corrections officials spent over two hours attempting to find a suitable vein for the lethal injection. Broom was removed from the death chamber and has remained on death row ever since.  In the book, Broom discusses his troubled childhood and his life of over 25 years on death row, including his repeated requests for new DNA testing and a new legal team. Broom has always maintained his innocence.  Jon Snow, a reporter for Channel 4 News in England, called the book “A horrifying story embracing all the evils of the death penalty. Bad forensics, dodgy DNA, awful lawyers, render this a must-read.”

A new book by Larry Koch, Colin Wark and John Galliher discusses the status of the death penalty in the U.S. in light of recent legislative activity and court decisions. In The Death of the American Death Penalty, the authors examine the impact of factors such as economic conditions, public sentiment, the role of elites, the media, and population diversity on the death penalty debate. The book highlights the recent abolition decisions in New York, New Jersey, New Mexico, and Illinois, and the surprising decline of the death penalty even in the deep South. James R. Acker, Distinguished Teaching Professor in Criminal Justice at the University at Albany, said, “Support for capital punishment in this country, as measured by the laws authorizing it, prosecutors’ enthusiasm for seeking it, jury verdicts that dispatch it, and executioners’ final deliverance, has eroded rapidly in recent years. A decade after the publication of its predecessor and carrying on in that volume’s fine tradition, The Death of the American Death Penalty provides detailed explanations—the where, how, and why—of these dramatic developments in death penalty laws and practices.”

A new book by Professor Harry M. Ward of the University of Richmond examines the death penalty in Virginia at a time when executions were carried out for all to see. In Public Executions in Richmond, Virginia: A History, 1782-1907, Ward provides a history of the hangings and, during the Civil War, firing-squad executions in Virginia’s capital city. Thousands of witnesses attended the executions, which were seen as a form of entertainment. Public executions ended with the introduction of the electric chair in 1908. In 1995, Virginia adopted lethal injection as its primary form of execution.

Long-time death penalty scholar Hugo Adam Bedau died on August 13, 2012 . Dr. Bedau had been the Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy at Tufts University, and is best known for his work on capital punishment. Dr. Bedau frequently testified about the death penalty before the U.S. Congress and many state legislatures. He authored several books about the death penalty, including The Death Penalty in America (1964; 4th edition, 1997), The Courts, the Constitution, and Capital Punishment (1977), Death is Different (1987), and Killing as Punishment (2004), and co-authored In Spite of Innocence (1992).  This last book, written with Prof. Michael Radelet of the University of Colorado and Constance Putnam (Dr. Bedau’s wife), contained one of the best early collections of people who had been wrongly convicted in death penalty cases. In 1997, Bedau received the August Vollmer Award of the American Society of Criminology, and in 2003 he received the Roger Baldwin Award from the ACLU of Massachusetts.  Dr. Bedau was a founding member of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

A new book by Professors Saundra Westervelt and Kimberly Cook looks at the lives of eighteen people who had been wrongfully sentenced to death and who were later freed from death row. In Life After Death Row: Exonerees’ Search for Community and Identity, the authors focus on three central areas affecting those who had to begin a new life after leaving years of severe confinement: the seeming invisibility of these individuals after their release; the complicity of the justice system in allowing that invisibility; and the need for each of them to confront their personal trauma. C. Ronald Huff, a professor at the University of California, Irvine, noted, “The authors skillfully conduct a journey inside the minds of exonerees, allowing readers to see the world from their unique perspectives.”

A new electronic book by former journalist Peter Rooney offers an in-depth look at the case of Joseph Burrowswho was exonerated fromIllinois’s death row in 1996. In Die Free: A True Story of Murder, Betrayal and Miscarried Justice, Rooney explains how Burrows was sentenced to death for the murder of William Dulin based on snitch testimony.  He was convicted primarily on the word of Gayle Potter, who recanted her testimony eight years later and admitted to committing the crime herself. According to one review, “Rooney makes it clear his book Die Free isn’t an argument against the death penalty, but simply another example of why such an extreme punishment should be re-evaluated. His points are made clearly and with merit as he details obvious evidence withholding by an over-aggressive district attorney, threats and intimidation of a borderline mentally challenged man, and the old school thoughts of little women versus big, burly men.”   Rooney is a former staff writer for the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette and is currently the director of public affairs at Amherst College.  Joe Burrows died at age 56 in 2009.  This case, and similar exonerations, led to the abolition of the death penalty in Illinois in 2011. The book is available for electronic download on

A new book by Clive Stafford Smith, a British lawyer who has defended death row inmates in the U.S., offers an in-depth view of capital punishment in America. In Injustice: Life and Death in the Courtrooms of America, Stafford Smith examines the case of Kris Maharaj, a British citizen who was sentenced to death in Florida for a double murder, to expose problems in the justice system. The book reveals disturbing details of Maharaj’s case, including anomalies in the prosecution files–witnesses with exculpatory testimony who were never called, falsified and suppressed evidence, and reports that a witness to the shootings failed a lie detector test. Maharaj’s death sentence was later commuted to life without parole. Stafford Smith is the Legal Director of Reprieve, which provides legal assistance in death penalty cases. In 2005 he received the Gandhi International Peace Award.  He was a founder of the Louisiana Crisis Assistance Center, defending death row inmates in that state.

 American Bar Association recently published The State of Criminal Justice 2012, an annual report that examines major issues, trends and significant changes in America’s criminal justice system. This publication serves as a valuable resource for academics, students, and policy-makers in the area of criminal justice, and contains 24 chapters focusing on specific areas of the criminal justice field. The chapter devoted to capital punishment was written by Ronald Tabak, special counsel and pro bono coordinator at Skadden Arps. Tabak addresses the decline in the use of the death penalty, the geographic, racial and economic disparities in implementing capital punishment, important Supreme Court decisions, and other issues such as the continuing risk of wrongful executions. In concluding, he writes, “Ultimately, our society must decide whether to continue with a system that has been found in study after study, and has been recognized by a growing number of leading judges, to be far more expensive than the actual alternative – in which life without parole is the most serious punishment. In view of the lack of persuasive evidence of societal benefits from capital punishment, this is one ineffectual, wasteful government program whose elimination deserves serious consideration.”

ALABAMA – Prison chaplain questions death penalty value

June 14, 2012 Source :

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama — In 1981, Philip Workman walked into a Wendy’s restaurant in Memphis, brandished a gun, and had the employees hand him the money out of the cash drawer.
Cornered moments later by police officers in a corner of the parking lot, Workman fired the gun. A police officer fell.

In 2007, Workman was executed for that homicide.

Trouble is, says the Rev. Joseph Ingle, who will speak in Huntsville Tuesday, Workman’s gun is not the one that killed that police officer.

The officer, according to forensic evidence analyzed after Workman’s ‘82 trial, was killed by the kind of bullet that is in police pistols, not Workman’s. The officer, in short, appears to have been killed by another officer’s shot.

Ingle’s latest book, “The Inferno: A Southern Morality Tale,” chronicles what happened between that moment in the parking lot and Workman’s execution by lethal injection 26 years later.

“It was pretty much a nightmare,” Ingle said this week from his home office in Nashville. “If you ever think the issue of capital punishment and our criminal justice system aren’t politically fraught, you need to take another look. It is beyond appalling.”

Ingle himself never had taken a look until his senior year in seminary. That’s when, to satisfy a requirement, he began volunteering in a jail in Harlem for 20 hours a week for a year.

“Meeting those men just changed my life,” Ingle said.

It also changed his ministry. Rather than take a United Church of Christcongregation, Ingle chose to become a self-supporting prison chaplain. He volunteers in Riverbend Maximum Security Prison in Nashville. From 1974 until 1983, he was the executive director of the Southern Coalition on Jails and Prisons, a multi-state organization that sought to abolish the death penalty.

Abolishing the penalty makes sense not only to avoid executing people for crimes they didn’t commit, but also in simple dollars and cents.

“Nationally, there is a move away from capital punishment,” Ingle said, “but you don’t see that in the South. Since 1977, more than 93 percent of the executions in the U.S. have been in the South.”

And patterns for those executions follow disturbingly familiar paths of racial discrimination.

“If you kill a white person, you are 11 times more likely to die for that crime than if you kill a black person,” Ingle said. “And it’s even worse if you’re a black person and you kill a white person. Then you are 22 times more likely to die.”

Ingle said that the current mood in the U.S. of distrusting government should extend to this issue.

“Think about it,” Ingle said. “We don’t trust the state with our taxes, and we’re going to trust the state to say who lives or dies?”


Plea-bargain decision underscores right to justice

march 29, source :

For those fortunate few who’ve never been exposed to the criminal justice system, it might seem odd to learn that more than 90 percent of all criminal convictions in federal and state courts are the result of plea agreements with prosecutors.

Because of the crushing volume of cases, the courts would not work without the use of “plea bargains” that avoid the necessity of time-consuming trials.

Now come two rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court that underscore what should be obvious: Defendants have a constitutional right to effective counsel by their attorneys when considering plea negotiations, the Journal’s Michael Hewlett reported. The rulings are expected to change the way pleas bargains are handled, which may mean more work for defense attorneys but perhaps a better system of justice overall.

The revelation of so many wrongful convictions in recent years makes the idea that defendants have a right to a clear understanding of any plea offer a no-brainer — and long overdue. Criminal defense lawyers should be expected to do a thorough job briefing their clients when prosecutors offer plea bargains.

“This could affect every defendant in the system,” Ron Wright, a professor at Wake Forest University School of Law, told the Journal. It won’t bring the system to a halt, he said, but defense attorneys likely will have to file more paperwork and take more time to ensure their clients get the right legal advice regarding plea offers. That’s a worthy goal.

In one of the cases the high court ruled on, Anthony Cooper rejected a plea offer because his attorney told him that prosecutors could not prove the crime. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison instead of the seven years he could have received under the plea.

Cooper’s attorney “had no business practicing criminal law if he didn’t know better than that,” Pete Clary, Forsyth County’s public defender, told the Journal. Clary said defense attorneys have an ethical obligation to present all plea offers to their clients and advise them accordingly.

Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O’Neill said plea offers are written down and placed in the public court file, and the defendant is informed of the plea offer in open court.

If that is accompanied by a defense attorney’s consultation with his client on the pros and cons of the offer, then the defendant has been treated fairly and equitably by our system of justice. That should be a given