innocent

More evidence emerges that Texas almost certainly executed an innocent man. Todd Willingham-Yet another reason why our error-prone justice system should never have to the power over life and death.


february 27, 2014 (nytimes)

In the 10 years since Texas executed Cameron Todd Willingham after convicting him on charges of setting his house on fire and murdering his three young daughters, family members and death penalty opponents have argued that he was innocent. Now newly discovered evidence suggests that the prosecutor in the case may have concealed a deal with a jailhouse informant whose testimony was a key part of the execution decision.

The battle to clear Mr. Willingham’s name has symbolic value because it may offer evidence that an innocent man was executed, something opponents of the death penalty believe happens more than occasionally. By contrast, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote seven years ago that he was unaware of “a single case — not one — in which it is clear that a person was executed for a crime he did not commit.”

Mr. Willingham was convicted on charges of setting the 1991 fire in Corsicana, Tex., that killed his three children, and was sentenced to death the next year. The conviction rested on two pillars of evidence: analysis by arson investigators, and the testimony of a jailhouse informant, Johnny Webb, who said that Mr. Willingham had confessed the crime to him.

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Mr. Willingham was convicted and executed in the killings. Credit Associated Press

The arson investigation has since been discredited; serious questions were raised about the quality of the scientific analysis and testimony, which did not measure up to the standard of science even at the time. But the prosecutor who led the case shortly before Mr. Willingham’s execution argued that even though the arson analysis had been questioned, the testimony of Mr. Webb should be enough to deny any attempt for clemency.

In recent weeks, as part of an effort to obtain a posthumous exoneration from the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and Gov. Rick Perry, lawyers working on Mr. Willingham’s behalf say they have found evidence that Mr. Webb gave his testimony in return for a reduced prison sentence. Evidence of an undisclosed deal could have proved exculpatory during Mr. Willingham’s trial or figured in subsequent appeals, but Mr. Webb and the prosecutor at trial, John Jackson — who would later become a judge — explicitly denied that any deal existed during Mr. Webb’s testimony.

In September, lawyers from the Innocence Project in New York filed an official request with the board to exonerate Mr. Willingham, citing the flawed fire science and Judge Jackson’s subsequent actions in the Webb case: efforts to cut Mr. Webb’s prison time and to downgrade the charges after the Willingham trial. The Innocence Project also contends that prosecutors suppressed an effort by Mr. Webb to recant his testimony.

But recantations in criminal cases are relatively common, said Walter M. Reaves Jr., a criminal defense lawyer who has worked on Mr. Willingham’s case, so the biggest open question has been whether Judge Jackson and Mr. Webb had made a deal. Judge Jackson, who has retired from the bench, continued to insist there was no deal, even in an interview last year.

What has changed is that investigators for the Innocence Project have discovered a curt handwritten note in Mr. Webb’s file in the district attorney’s office in Corsicana. The current district attorney, R. Lowell Thompson, made the files available to the Innocence Project lawyers, and in late November one of the lawyers, Bryce Benjet, received a box of photocopies.

As he worked through the stack of papers, he saw a note scrawled on the inside of the district attorney’s file folder stating that Mr. Webb’s charges were to be listed as robbery in the second degree, not the heavier first-degree robbery charge he had originally been convicted on, “based on coop in Willingham.”

Mr. Benjet recalled a “rush of excitement,” he said, and thought, “This is what we’ve been looking for.”

The Innocence Project submitted the note, which is not dated or signed, in a new filing to the board asking that it be included as part of its September request for a pardon.

Barry Scheck, co-founder of the Innocence Project, called the note a “smoking pistol” in the case.

“We’re reaching out to the principals to see if there is an innocent explanation for this,” he said. “I don’t see one.”

Judge Jackson did not respond to several requests for comment.

Mr. Thompson, the district attorney, said that while he willingly complied with the request for the Webb files, he had no opinion as to what happened during the Willingham trial in 1992. “I wasn’t even a college graduate yet,” he said.

As for Mr. Webb, he said, the robbery that put him in a cell with Mr. Willingham was not his only brush with the law. “I’ve also prosecuted him,” he said. “The D.A. before me prosecuted him, and the D.A. before him prosecuted him.”

Mr. Scheck said that the Willingham case suggested a fundamental weakness in the justice system: If Mr. Webb’s testimony “was really based on a deal and misrepresentation, then the system cannot be regulated,” he said. Under those circumstances, “you cannot prevent the execution of an innocent person.”

Even if the board ultimately agrees with Mr. Willingham’s advocates, the final decision will rest with Governor Perry (who has called Mr. Willingham “a monster” who killed his children) or with his successor in 2015.

Mr. Willingham’s stepmother, Eugenia Willingham, said: “I’m real thrilled that all this has come to light. We’ll see what happens. I can’t help but be hopeful.”

His cousin Patricia Cox said that if an exoneration does occur, the family has no plans to press for damages. “We’re not asking compensation,” she said. “We’re asking justice.”

After Death Row in Texas, I’m Fighting to End the Death Penalty – Kerry Max Cook


february 22, 2014

My name is Kerry Max Cook, but for two decades, I was known as “Cook, Execution number 600.” Innocent of the murder and rape I was accused of in 1977, my home became a tiny death row cell in Texas, the state that kills more people than anywhere else in the U.S. by far — including 141 of my fellow inmates before my release in 1999. By then, my only brother had been murdered and my Dad had died of cancer. My Mom died soon after. I was stabbed, raped and routinely abused on death row. My ordeal spanned two generations of the Smith County District Attorney’s office, two wrongful convictions, two reversals of conviction, a walk to the execution chamber, and three capital murder trials. My legal team and I have been unable to find a worse case of prosecutorial misconduct in Texan history.

I avoided a fourth trial only by pleading no contest, while making no admission of guilt. I have never been officially exonerated. Author John Grisham said, “If it were fiction, no one would believe it …”

I am, in fact, innocent. Another man’s DNA was found on the victim’s clothing two months after my release. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals accused Smith County prosecutors of “willful misconduct” in my case. Nonetheless that office remains determined to stop me clearing my name. My lawyers are working to file an application for writ of habeas corpus in coming months, hopefully prompting the appeals court in Austin to officially exonerate me and end my 36-year-old nightmare.

It all began in 1977. I was 20 and working as a bartender when a waitress said the manager wanted to see me. I stepped into a pitch-black room that was usually lit by fluorescent lighting and fumbled for the switch. Suddenly, hands reached out to grab both sides of me. The silver Smith & Wesson handcuffs crashed down on my wrist and I heard the detective’s words, “Kerry Max Cook, you’re under arrest for the capital murder of Linda Edwards” — a name I didn’t even recognize.

At the police station, they used my head as a toilet plunger. I knew the policeman was lying as he rammed my head repeatedly down the bowl filled with dark urine, screamed at me to confess and told me they had found my DNA on the body. I wept for my mother and father, for anyone, to help.

Even though I still bear the mental and physical scars and ongoing indignities of my wrongful conviction and imprisonment, I consider myself lucky. I have a wife and son. I have powerful allies — including Amnesty International, which found me in a dark cell and helped raise awareness of my wrongful conviction in 1991. It literally saved my life. I was so proud to be introduced by Susan Sarandon at Amnesty’s Bringing Human Rights Home concert in Brooklyn February 5 and address the audience as my 13-year-old Kerry Justice Cook looked on. I was proud to honor a powerful, global movement of activists who carry Amnesty’s torch for human rights — including my right to life. That is why I support Amnesty’s abolition work and the efforts by courageous activists on the ground, most urgently in New Hampshire, where a repeal vote in the state House is anticipated early next month.

The death penalty should be abolished across the United States, and everywhere. We do not need any more mistakes. We know that 143 people have served time on US death rows for crimes they were wrongfully convicted of. And imagine this. On appeal, the only question becomes whether the defendant received a fair and impartial trial. So if the evidence is made up, like in my case, you die.

The price of this system is a life. Of course the odds are stacked in your favor if you have access to financial resources, but you won’t be surprised to hear that you don’t meet too many people like that on death row.

One of death row’s other dirty little secrets is that it is a repository for every conceivable mental illness. Its population consists largely of untreated, traumatized children who grew up into broken adults. There are exceptions, of course, but I do not believe that even the guilty on death row are irredeemable. As Rosalind says in Shakespeare’s As You Like It, “Time is the old justice that examines all such offenders.” If my case proves anything, it is that only time can tell if someone is guilty.

No prosecutor should have the power to end another human life. No other living soul should endure what I did. So I am praying now for victory, by Amnesty International USA and all those who are pushing to end this barbaric practice, in New Hampshire, and everywhere. Then, my nightmare will be over.

Click here to read more about Kerry’s fight for justice, and here to read about his work on self-empowerment.

REMEMBRANCE : Troy Davis


R.I.P Troy

We must all fight for justice, freedom, humans rights, Troy Davis must remain an example for the fight against the mistakes of U.S. laws! there are still many of “Troy Davis” in the death Row. Do not close our eyes because innocent people waiting for someone to lend a hand.

In 2000 Illinois discovered we had 13 innocent men on death row waiting to be executed


And when I say innocent I don’t mean they got off because of a technicality or something like that. I mean they were truly innocent of the crimes they were scheduled to be put to death for. Think Illinois is the only state this kind of stuff happens in ?

Don 

source : http://www.democraticunderground.com

from Innocence Project, u can find exonerations by state (289)

http://www.innocenceproject.org/news/StateView.php

The Wrongful Conviction of David Thorne


David Thorne is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole for allegedly hiring an acquaintance to kill the mother of his son, however, he never hired anyone nor did the acquaintance do the crime.
Sometime between the evening hours on March 31, 1999 and 12:00 p.m. on April 1, 1999, Yvonne Layne, a mother of 5, was murdered in her home with one solid and steady slit to her throat. 
David Thorne was convicted of complicity to aggravated murder/murder for hire on January 25, 2000 by a 12 person jury.
The police investigating the crime had tunnel vision throughout their investigation, narrowing in on David from the beginning. The investigators were unable to get David to confess, so instead they went after his acquaintance, Joseph Wilkes, who was barely 18 years of age and a high school dropout.  After a lengthy interrogation, during which they told Joseph that David was “next door ratting him out”, he confessed, utilizing the story that the police had fed to him to what the police were telling him happened. Joe took a plea deal and David went to trial.  Despite the lack of physical evidence of either Joe or David being at the scene and a poor police investigation, with very weak circumstantial evidence, an innocent man was convicted. (Read on – click to jump to Case Summary)

Antony Graves – wrongfully convicted


Anthony Graves, who was sentenced to die for a crime he did not commit, and after over 18 years in prison was finally released and totally exonerated in October 2010.

Hey fb go to my website: AnthonyBelieves.com and sign up to keep up with my travels as I speak around the world about the barbaric practice known as the death penalty. I will be speaking in Dallas Monday-stay tune.

US – 10 convicts presumed innocent after execution


Carlos De Luna
Executed in 1989

Carlosdeluna Bookingphoto

In February 1983, Wanda Lopez, was stabbed to death during her night shift at the gas station where she worked. After a brief manhunt, police found De Luna hiding under a pick-up truck. Recently released from prison, he was violating his parole by drinking in public. De Luna immediately told police that he was innocent and he offered the name of the person who he saw at the gas station. Police ignored the fact that he did not have a drop of blood on him even though the crime scene was covered in blood. De Luna was arrested too soon after the crime to clean himself up. The single eyewitness to the crime, Kevin Baker, confirmed to police that De Luna was the murderer after police told him he was the right guy.

At trial De Luna named Carlos Hernandez as the man he saw inside the gas station, across the street from the bar where De Luna had been drinking. Hernandez and DeLuna were strikingly similar in appearance but, unlike DeLuna, Hernandez had a long history of knife attacks similar to the convenience store killing and repeatedly told friends and relatives that he had committed the murder. Friends confirmed that he was romantically linked to Lopez as well. De Luna’s lawyers knew of Hernandez’s criminal past but never thoroughly investigated his previous crimes. On December 7, 1989, Texas executed 27-year old Carlos De Luna.

Executed in 1995

Larry Griffin

On June 26, 1980 in St. Louis, Missouri, 19-year-old Quintin Moss was killed in a drive-by shooting while allegedly dealing drugs on a street corner. The conviction was based largely on the testimony from Robert Fitzgerald, a white career criminal, who was at the scene at the time of the murder. He testified that he saw three black men in the car when shots were fired and that Griffin shot the victim through the window of the car with his right hand. This was Griffin’s attorney’s first murder trial and he did not challenge the testimony even though Griffin was left-handed. He also failed to bring forth an alibi witness who was with Griffin at the time of the murder.

Griffin’s fingerprints were not found on the car or the weapon – all evidence against him was circumstantial. There is evidence that suggests Fitzgerald was promised a reduce sentence in exchange for his testimony. The prosecution also failed to address that there were two other witnesses who confirmed that Griffin did not commit the murder and they were able to name the three men who did.Appeals courts upheld his conviction and death sentence. Griffin was executed by lethal injection on June 21, 1995. Griffin maintained his innocence right up to his execution. In 2005, a professor University of Michigan Law School reopened the case. His investigation concluded that Griffin was innocent.

Executed in 1993

Ruben Cantu

On the night of November 8, 1984, Ruben Cantu and his friend David Garza, broke into a vacant San Antonio house under construction and robbed two men at gunpoint. The two victims, Pedro Gomez and Juan Moreno, had been workmen sleeping on floor mattresses at a construction site, guarding against burglary. As they tried to take their cash, they were interrupted by Gomez’s attempt to retrieve a pistol hidden under his mattress. The boys shot both men killing Gomez instantly. Thinking they had killed both men, the two teens then fled the scene.

The police showed Moreno photos of suspects, which included Cantu’s picture, and he was unable to identify his attacker. On the basis of no physical evidence, no confession, and only Moreno’s subsequently recanted testimony, a jury convicted Ruben Cantu of first-decree murder. Juan Moreno now says that he had felt pressure from the police to finger Cantu. David Garza, Cantu’s codefendant, has since admitted involvement in the burglary, assault and murder. He says he did go inside the house with another boy, did participate in the robbery, and saw the murder take place, but that his accomplice was not Ruben Cantu.On August 24, 1993, Ruben Cantu at the age of 26, was executed by lethal injection. His final request was for a piece of bubble gum, which was denied.

David Spence
Executed 1997

Dspence

In 1982, David Spence was accused of the rape and murder of two 17-year-old girls and one 18-year-old boy in Waco, Texas. He received the death penalty in two trials for the murders. Muneer Deeb, a convenience store owner, hired Spence to do the murders and he was also charged and sentenced to death. He received a new trial in 1993 and was later acquitted.

The prosecution built its case against Spence around bite marks that a state expert said matched Spence’s teeth and jailhouse snitches. Two of the six jailhouse witnesses who testified at trial later recanted, saying they were given cigarettes, television and alcohol privileges, and conjugal visits for their testimonies. Spence’s post-conviction lawyers had a blind panel study in which five experts said the bite marks could not be matched to Spence’s. Even the original homicide investigator on the case said he had serious doubts about Spence’s guilt and a former Waco police detective involved in the case said he did not think Spence committed the crime. David Spence was executed by lethal injection on April 14, 1997.

executed in 1990

Jesse-Tafero

On the morning of February 20, 1976, Highway Patrol officer, Phillip Black, and Donald Irwin, approached a car parked at a rest stop for a routine check. Tafero, his partner Sonia “Sunny” Jacobs, and Walter Rhodes were found asleep inside. Black saw a gun lying on the floor inside the car so he woke the occupants and had them come out of the car. According to Rhodes, Tafero then shot both Black and Irwin with the gun, which was illegally registered to Jacobs, led the others into the police car and fled the scene. All three were arrested after being caught in a roadblock. The gun was found in Tafero’s waistband.

At their trial, Rhodes testified that Tafero and Jacobs were solely responsible for the murders. Tafero and Jacobs were convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death while Rhodes was sentenced to 3 life sentences. Rhodes was eventually released in 1994 following parole for good behavior. Because the jury had recommended a life sentence for Jacobs, the court commuted Jacobs’ sentence to life in prison, but not Tafero’s. She was later released after agreeing to a plea bargain. Prior to his release, Rhodes confessed several times to lying about his involvement in the shooting. Even Sunny Jacobs claimed that Rhodes, not Tafero, carried out the shooting as well. Rhodes was the only person on which traces of gunpowder were found. Tafero was executed by electric chair on May 4, 1990. The chair malfunctioned causing the process to take over 13 minutes.

Read more : Listverse.com