Florida executes Robert Hendrix


April 23, 2014

STARKE, Florida — Florida executed a man by lethal injection at 6:21 p.m. Wednesday at Florida State Prison in Starke. He was convicted of the 1990 murders of Elmer and Michelle Scott at their Lake County home.
The U.S. Supreme Court denied Hendrix’s last-minute request for a stay without comment. He ate a last meal of pork chops, sausage gravy and biscuits, German chocolate cake and a soft drink, state corrections officials said.
Prosecutors said Hendrix killed the couple because Elmer Scott intended to testify against him. But Hendrix’s attorney said there was no forensic evidence linking his client to the murders and that the witnesses against him were unreliable.
Hendrix becomes the fourth person executed in Florida this year and the 16th since Gov. Rick Scott took office in 2011.

Oklahoma governor says executions to proceed despite court-ordered stays


April 23, 2014

A day after the Oklahoma supreme court issued a stay of execution for two convicted killers, the governor issued her own order on Tuesday that the state would carry out their sentences next week, setting up a possible legal confrontation over constitutional powers.

Republican governor Mary Fallin said the state supreme court acted “outside the constitutional authority” of its mandate in staying Clayton Lockett’s execution. She granted a stay of seven days for Lockett, escheduling his execution for 29 April, the same day condemned inmate Charles Warner is scheduled to be executed. But legal experts said the supreme court’s stays must be followed and the governor lacks the power to reset the date.

“Governor Fallin is a politician, and not a lawyer,” said Randall Coyne, a constitutional law expert at the University of Oklahoma. “According to well established precedent of the US supreme court, the courts – not executive officials – have the final word on what is constitutional. She of course has the right to disagree with judicial decisions, but they remain the law. The governor is dangerously close to precipitating a constitutional crisis.”

The day before Lockett’s planned execution, the Oklahoma supreme court on Monday indefinitely delayed his and Warner’s executions while they challenge the constitutionality of a law that keeps secret the source of the state’s execution drugs. The state’s highest court stepped in after two weeks of legal tussles in which it and the court of criminal appeals both said they did not have the authority to grant a stay.

On Tuesday, the office of the attorney general, Scott Pruitt, asked the state supreme court to rehear the case, arguing the court had caused chaos for the bifurcated appeals system of the state. The supreme court denied that petition 6 to 3 on Tuesday, essentially rejecting Pruitt’s questioning of the court’s jurisdiction.

Fallin then stepped in with an executive order, telling Pruitt’s office to file papers with the Oklahoma court of criminal appeals that would give her a blueprint as to how to implement the execution order.

And separately, the Associated Press reported that a member of the Oklahoma House drafted a resolution on Wednesday seeking the impeachment of state supreme court justices who granted the delay.

Republican state representative Mike Christian told The Associated Press that the five justices engaged in a “willful neglect of duty” when they granted stays of execution. An impeachment effort would have no impact on the current proceedings

“This is a case of our state’s judges inserting their personal biases and political opinions into the equation,” Christian told the Associated Press.

Eric M Freedman, a constitutional law expert at Hofstra University, said Fallin’s order is “pure political posturing”.

“The probability that the state will succeed in carrying out the executions in defiance of the stays entered by the Oklahoma supreme court hovers between zilch and zero,” he said.

Lockett and Warner challenged the constitutionality of an Oklahoma law that keeps the source of execution drugs secret. An Oklahoma county district court judge ruled in their favor in March, and judge Patricia Parrish said the statute violated their right to due process. Lawyers for Lockett and Warner say it would be “unthinkable” to carry out the executions while that challenge is unresolved.

Oklahoma attorney Stephen Jones, a Republican who served as counsel to Republican governors, said Tuesday’s developments were about politics, and Fallin has made a power grab of the state judiciary.

“It gives them something to campaign upon,” Jones said.

He said executing the men despite the court’s stay would create a “nasty confrontation” that the governor and attorney general would legally lose.

“She should have stayed out of it and let the courts work it out. She doesn’t really have a dog in the fight. Frankly I think it’s a sign of weakness on the part of the attorney general that he got the governor to do that. Scott Pruitt has not practiced much as a lawyer,” Jones added.

Brady R Henderson, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma, said the governor can delay an execution, but her resetting of the execution date is unlikely to hold up legally.

“The Oklahoma constitution simply does not give her the power to do that,” Henderson said.

“It is important to remember that the entire matter comes from a relatively simple request from two condemned men to find out about the drugs that would be used to kill them,” he said. “There are serious concerns about the conduct of the lethal injection process, and an Oklahoma law attempts to bar the inmates and everybody else from finding out important information about the process. In other words, it puts a veil of secrecy over one of the most grave functions of state government – killing its own citizens.”

Texas prisons violate international human rights standards, report says


April 23, 2014

Summer in Texas prisons is so sweltering that the heat violates international human rights standards and has caused the deaths of at least 14 inmates since 2007, according to a new study.

The extreme temperatures in state-run facilities also breach the US constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishments, said the report released on Tuesday by the Austin-based Human Rights Clinic of the University of Texas School of Law.

It cites a Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) temperature log that showed a heat index of at least 65C (149F) at 10:30am at a unit in Dallas on 19 July 2011. Heat index is a way of measuring how hot it feels by combining temperature and humidity. The National Weather Service issues extreme heat alerts when the index is expected to exceed 105-110F for two consecutive days or more.

“Over the years, TDCJ facilities seem to have seen little improvement, completely disregarding the rights and dignity of its inmates. Since 2007, at least fourteen inmates have died from extreme heat in nine different TDCJ prisons,” the report states.

There are about 150,000 people incarcerated in TDCJ prisons. Most facilities do not have air conditioning other than in medical, psychiatric and geriatric buildings. The study calls for TDCJ to install air conditioning to keep temperatures in housing areas below 85F *(29,4C). Until that is achieved it suggests officials should screen and monitor susceptible prisoners and provide easy access to cool liquids and ice. It also recommends that the TDCJ set a temperature limit for prisoners’ cells, as is the case in county jails and in other states.

“There is no standard of how hot a person could get. That shows that Texas is behind many other southern states – Arizona, Oklahoma, Arkansas, New Mexico, all of them have different standards. Some of them establish 85F as the maximum temperature in a prison,” the clinic’s director, Ariel Dulitzky, told the Guardian.

“We are convinced that Texas is breaking international human rights laws and US constitutional law,” he said. “We believe it’s a lack of political will from the authorities at the TDCJ, they refuse to acknowledge there’s a problem … There’s a belief that everybody suffers extreme heat in Texas and that is true. The difference is that I can be in my office and have air conditioning.”

The report said that 92 correctional officers suffered heat-related injuries or illnesses in 2012. “We’re placing these employees at great risk by working in these type of conditions without any climate control,” said Lance Lowry, a correctional officer and president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union branch in Huntsville, where Texas’s state prison system has its headquarters.

Lowry said that some officers have passed out or vomited. “We’ve had numerous members report getting extremely ill at work from extreme heat. A lot of these officers are in prisons wearing stab-resistant vests which hold a lot of heat,” he told the Guardian, adding that the conditions harmed productivity and safety.

“There’s definitely a problem among inmates who are on psychiatric medications. A lot of those medications are heat-reactive, and what we’ve seen is inmates during hot times will stop taking these medications that normally keep them calm. Once they stop taking these medications they become more aggressive towards staff,” he said.

Lowry thinks that in the long run it would be cheaper to install air conditioning than to keep paying for medical treatment made necessary by the heat.

“The wellbeing of staff and offenders is a top priority for the agency and we remain committed to making sure that both are safe during the extreme heat,” Jason Clark, a TDCJ spokesman, said in a statement.

“TDCJ takes precautions to help reduce heat-related illnesses such as providing water and ice to staff and offenders in work and housing areas, restricting offender activity during the hottest parts of the day, and training staff to identify those with heat related illnesses and refer them to medical staff for treatment. Although a detailed cost analysis has not been done, retrofitting facilities with air conditioning would be extremely expensive.

“Dulitzky plans to submit the report’s findings to the relevant United Nations bodies and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, while the Texas Civil Rights Project has filed lawsuits against TDCJ on behalf of some inmates and their families.

Texas prison officials do appear willing to spend generously on cooling equipment in certain circumstances. It was reported last year that TDCJ signed a $750,000 deal to buy climate-controlled housing for its pig-breeding programme.

“We need to have a grown-up discussion of what’s practical and reasonable and what’s politically acceptable,” Texas senate Criminal Justice committee chairman John Whitmire, a Houston Democrat, told the Houston Chronicle. “But I can tell you, the people of Texas don’t want air-conditioned prisons, and there’s a lot of other things on my list above the heat. It’s hot in Texas, and a lot of Texans who are not in prison don’t have air conditioning.”

theguardian.com)

Prosecutors ask Arizona court to order execution


April 23, 2014

PHOENIX (AP) — State prosecutors are asking the Arizona Supreme Court to order the execution of a man sentenced to death for killing his estranged girlfriend and her father in Pima County nearly a quarter-century ago.

The Attorney General’s Office on Tuesday asked for a warrant scheduling the execution of 55-year-old Joseph Rudolph Wood III for the 1989 killings of Debra and Eugene Dietz.

Appeals courts have upheld Wood’s convictions and death sentence and the Attorney General’s Office says Wood has exhausted his appeals and has no action pending in any court.

A defense lawyer for Wood, assistant public defender Dale Baich (bache), says the Department of Corrections‘ recent decision to use a two-drug combination for executions is “novel and highly untested.”

US – UPCOMING EXECUTIONS MAY 2014


Dates are subject to change due to stays and appeals

April 23

May
13 TEXAS Robert Campbell
21 TEXAS Robert Pruett
21 MISSOURI Russell Bucklew
28 OHIO Arthur Tyler
29 TEXAS Edgardo Cubas (Foreign National) – STAYED

Missouri executes William Rousan


Last meal: Bacon cheeseburger, onion rings, soft drink, and pecan pie

William Rousan’s last words were,

“My trials and transgressions have been many. But thanks be to my Lord and savior, Jesus Christ, I have a new home in his heavenly kingdom.”

April 23, 2014

— Missouri executed an inmate early Wednesday who was convicted of killing a farming couple in 1993 as part of a plot to steal their cows.

William Rousan’s last words were, “My trials and transgressions have been many. But thanks be to my Lord and savior, Jesus Christ, I have a new home in his heavenly kingdom.”

Before he was killed, Rousan, 57, mouthed words to his brother-in-law and a minister he had invited to his execution. As the drug was administered, he breathed deeply twice and then was still. He was declared dead at 12:10 a.m., nine minutes after the procedure started.

Prosecutors say Rousan, his teenage son, Brent Rousan, and his brother, Robert Rousan, murdered Charlie and Grace Lewis on Sept. 21, 1993 as part of a plot to steal their cows. Brent Rousan is serving life in prison without parole, and Robert Rousan served seven years in prison before being released in 2001.

The slain couple’s son and two daughters were among those who witnessed the execution, which took place only a few miles from where their parents were killed. Their son, Michael Lewis, spoke afterward.

“I draw no real satisfaction from Mr. Rousan’s incarceration or execution, for neither can replace or restore the moments lost with my parents or give my sons back the grandparents they never got to know,” he said.

Gov. Jay Nixon declined William Rousan’s clemency request Tuesday evening, clearing the way for the execution to proceed. In a statement explaining his decision, Nixon said he thought Rousan’s sentence was appropriate for his alleged role as the mastermind behind the “cold-blooded plot” that led to the couple’s slayings.

Earlier Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court turned down Rousan’s request to delay his execution.

Efforts to spare Rousan’s life hinged an argument that has held little sway over the courts — concerns about the secrecy used to obtain the execution drug, and the possibility that a substandard drug could cause pain and suffering in the execution process.

Several states, including Missouri, now use compounded execution drugs purchased from unnamed pharmacies. Courts so far have allowed most executions to move forward. However, on Monday, the Oklahoma Supreme Court stayed the executions of two death row inmates who challenged the secrecy surrounding the process of procuring execution drugs.

Missouri has executed one death row inmate each month since November. Another Missouri inmate, Russell Bucklew, is scheduled for execution on May 21. Only Texas, with seven executions, has executed more inmates than Missouri’s four so far in 2014. Florida has also executed four inmates this year.

According to prosecutors, William Rousan masterminded the plot to kill Grace Lewis, 62, and Charles Lewis, 67, at their farm near Bonne Terre. At the time, Rousan also lived in the same area of St. Francois County, about 70 miles southwest of St. Louis.

Authorities say the three men drove by the farm, and William Rousan pointed out the cattle to steal. They parked about two miles away and hiked through the woods to the farm. They watched as the couple returned home. Charles Lewis began cutting the lawn with a riding mower while his wife spoke to the couple’s daughter on the phone.

Brent Rousan, then 16, ambushed Charles Lewis, shooting him six times. Grace Lewis told her daughter on the phone she heard gunfire and stepped outside to check on the commotion. Brent Rousan shot her several times. She managed to go back into the home, but William Rousan followed her, placed a garment bag over her head and carried her outside.

He turned to his son and said, “Finish her off.” Brent Rousan fired a single shot into the side of her head.

The men placed the bodies in a tarp and put them near a shed. Later that night, they returned, along with another Rousan brother, loaded the bodies in the Lewis’ pickup truck, and took two cows, a VCR, jewelry, a saddle and other items.

For almost exactly a year, they got away with the crime. The couple seemingly had vanished without a trace.

In September 1994 investigators received two tips that helped them solve the case: Rousan’s brother-in-law, Bruce Williams, called police to implicate Rousan in the couple’s killings and a sister of William and Robert Rousan sold a VCR to a pawn shop that had been stolen from the Lewises.

The bodies were found buried in a shallow grave covered with concrete and a pile of horse manure on the farm where William Rousan was living at the time. After a four-day manhunt, Rousan was arrested while hiding in a barn on Sept. 20, 1994. He was caught with a .22-caliber semi-automatic rifle and a knife.

Brent Rousan pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Robert Rousan cooperated with prosecutors and pleaded guilty to second-degree murder.

FLORIDA – UPCOMING EXECUTION – APRIL 23 Robert Hendrix EXECUTED


last meal of pork chops, sausage gravy and biscuits, German chocolate cake and a soft drink

April 23,2014

Florida: The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to postpone the execution or Robert Hendrix, who is scheduled to die by lethal injection today at 6 p.m. for the murder of a young Lake County couple nearly 24 years ago.

 Florida executed a man by lethal injection at 6:21 p.m. Wednesday at Florida State Prison in Starke. He was convicted of the 1990 murders of Elmer and Michelle Scott at their Lake County home.
The U.S. Supreme Court denied Hendrix’s last-minute request for a stay without comment. He ate a last meal of pork chops, sausage gravy and biscuits, German chocolate cake and a soft drink, state corrections officials said.
Prosecutors said Hendrix killed the couple because Elmer Scott intended to testify against him. But Hendrix’s attorney said there was no forensic evidence linking his client to the murders and that the witnesses against him were unreliable.
Hendrix becomes the fourth person executed in Florida this year and the 16th since Gov. Rick Scott took office in 2011.

April 22, 2014

Robert HendrixRobert Hendrix (photo prison)

In August 1990, the night before his trial in the armed burglary case was to begin, Hendrix shot Scott in the face in his trailer home, hit him in the head with the gun and stabbed him in the neck, prosecutors have said. He then used a knife to cut the throat of Scott’s wife, Michelle, who fought back before Hendrix shot her three times, they added.

Scott had already made a plea deal with prosecutors in the armed burglary case in which he and Hendrix broke into a house but only Scott was caught. His cooperation led investigators to arrest Hendrix. In the weeks leading up to his trial, prosecutors say, Hendrix told friends he would kill Scott rather than return to prison

But Scott and his attorney, Harry Brody, said the case is plagued by problems.

“There isn’t any real forensic evidence placing him at the scene,” Brody said. “He maintains the state hasn’t proven anything.”

Prosecutors say that on the night of the murders, Hendrix’s live-in girlfriend, Denise Turbyville, drove him from Orange County, where they lived, to the Scotts’ trailer in neighboring Lake County and dropped him off. Michelle Scott welcomed Hendrix into the trailer, and told him Elmer Scott was in the bathroom shaving and would be out shortly. When Elmer Scott came out, Hendrix asked to use the bathroom. When he left the bathroom, Hendrix fired shots at Elmer Scott and then grabbed a knife and attacked Michelle Scott, according to prosecutors.

Brody said the two main witnesses against Hendrix, Turbyville and Roger LaForce, who claimed Hendrix told him details about the murders while they shared a cell in the Lake County Jail, are unreliable. According to Brody, both had a self-interest in testifying for prosecutors.

Turbyville pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree murder and was sentenced to 75 years in prison instead of facing the possibility of the death penalty for a first-degree murder charge. LaForce was a confidential informant for a narcotics task force and stood to gain a lighter sentence for his assistance, Hendrix’s attorneys say.

“These two main witnesses were terribly compromised,” Brody said.

Brody also said the presiding judge had a conflict of interest, Hendrix’s trial lawyer was ineffective at presenting mitigating circumstances during sentencing and that Hendrix was shackled during his trial, leading jurors to a biased impression that he was dangerous.

The conflict of interest claim arises from Hendrix’s assertion that an attorney of Hendrix’s girlfriend had consulted with the presiding judge about the case before the judge joined the bench. The girlfriend, Turbyville, was a star witness for the prosecution. Appellate courts have dismissed the allegation. Hendrix’s attorneys also claimed the judge had presided over a criminal case against LaForce.

During sentencing, Hendrix’s attorneys failed to call witnesses who could have testified that Hendrix was regularly beaten by his father and had a serious drug addiction, factors that could explain his unbalanced mental state, according to court papers filed by Hendrix.

Through the Attorney General’s Office, family members of the victims didn’t respond to a request for an interview.

Prosecutors contend Hendrix’s claims of error during the trial are without merit.

“Hendrix fashions a cumulative error claim but fails to identify where any court has ever found error in any of his claims that would entitle him to relief,” Assistant Attorney General Mitchell Bishop said in a recent court filing.

If the execution is carried out, Hendrix would be the fourth person executed in Florida this year and the 16th since Gov. Rick Scott took office in 2011. A petition is pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, and Hendrix has filed a request for a stay of execution with the Florida Supreme Court.

 

 

 

 

Missouri inmate seeks execution stay after Oklahoma drug secrecy case – William Rousan


April 22, 2014

Lawyers for a Missouri death row inmate on Tuesday were seeking to halt his execution over concerns about the state’s secret lethal injection drugs a day after an Oklahoma court stopped two executions there over similar issues.

William Rousan, 57, is scheduled for execution at 12.01am CST on Wednesday. Rousan was convicted of murdering 62-year-old Grace Lewis and her 67-year-old husband, Charles Lewis, in 1993 in a plot to steal the farm couple’s cattle.

Attorneys for Rousan have argued that Missouri’s secret execution drugs could cause undue suffering. The eighth US circuit court of appeals on Monday rejected Rousan’s appeal, and the case was headed to the US supreme court.

The action follows a decision issued on Monday by the Oklahoma supreme court that halted the executions of Clayton Lockett, scheduled for Tuesday, and Charles Warner, scheduled for April 29. The court said the inmates had the right to have an opportunity to challenge the secrecy over the drugs Oklahoma intends to use to put them to death.

Lawyers for death row inmates in several states have raised a series of arguments against the use of compounded drugs for executions. Many states have turned to the lightly regulated compounding pharmacies for supplies because makers of drugs traditionally used in lethal injections have largely stopped making them available for executions.

But the lawyers argue that drugs obtained for lethal injections from compounding pharmacies could lead to undue suffering, which would amount to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the US constitution. They also say they should have information about the legitimacy of the supplier, and details about the purity and potency of the drugs.

Prison officials have rejected those arguments and have been refusing to reveal where they are getting the drugs.

But Louisiana and Ohio this year have seen executions delayed because of concerns about suffering that might be caused by untraditional drug supplies. The family of one inmate executed in Ohio in January has filed suit against the state because, according to some witnesses, he took an unusually long time to die and appeared to be in pain.

Last year, Missouri started classifying compounding pharmacies as part of its execution team and said the identities of the pharmacies were thus shielded from public disclosure.

GEORGIA – This Man Is About to Die Because an Alcoholic Lawyer Botched His Case -Robert Wayne Holsey


April 22, 2014

When people recount their alcohol consumption after a night on the town, or even a serious bender, they usually think about it in terms of drinks. Very rarely do they calibrate their intake in quarts. So most of us don’t have a good sense of just how much a quart of vodka is—a bit more than 21 shots, as it turns out. That’s the amount of alcohol lawyer Andy Prince consumed every night during the death penalty trial of his client, Robert Wayne Holsey, a low-functioning man with a tortured past who now stands on the brink of execution in Georgia.

When a person drinks that heavily, there’s bound to be collateral damage—and for Prince and his clients the damage was profound. Once a skilled lawyer, Prince already had dug himself a very deep hole by the time Holsey went to trial in February 1997. But the signs of his downward spiral were clear 14 months earlier, back in December 1995, when a Baldwin County judge first assigned him the case. Prince had recently defaulted on a $20,000 promissory note, and Bell South and Vanguard Financial had won separate judgments against him totaling an additional $25,000. And then there was the probate fiasco: In June 1994, a client named Margaret Collins had hired Prince to handle the estate of her deceased common-law husband, which was valued at $116,000. Within a year there was almost nothing left—Prince had spent it all. He never really considered it stealing, he later insisted. He’d always intended to pay the money back when that one big civil case came along.

His deterioration emerged in other troubling ways. In June 1996, after six months as Holsey’s lawyer, Prince got into an argument with neighbors at his apartment complex, cursing at them—”Nigger, get the fuck out of my yard or I’ll shoot your black ass”—and threatening them with a gun. He was a white lawyer defending a black man in the high-profile murder of a white police officer, but nowhere in the Holsey case record was there ever a suggestion that he might be unfit to handle the case. He was simply charged with two counts of pointing a pistol at another, two counts of simple assault, two counts of disorderly conduct, and, of course, public drunkenness.

For Prince, it all came back to alcohol. Three months before he wrote the first of many checks against the estate, conduct that eventually put him in prison, he was hit with a complaint from the Athens Regional Medical Center for his failure to pay more than $10,000 for an inpatient substance abuse program he’d attended in 1993. But the drinking began long before that. By 14 he already had a problem with it, and by his late 30s, he’d lost his battle with alcoholism countless times.

On one occasion, in 1988, Prince staggered into the Athens emergency room with a blood alcohol level almost four times the driving limit, declared that he’d been drunk two months running, and asked to be detoxified. He’d come in before, and, as was his pattern, he signed himself out against the advice of the attending doctors. In May 1993, he upped the ante, arriving at the ER with a near-death .346 blood alcohol level. As Thomas Butcher, a doctor at the facility, noted in his psychological evaluation:

When a very intelligent man whose professional life is spent out maneuvering and out smarting other people repetitively makes a serious judgment error based on a belief that has been repeatedly shown to be wrong, he needs to consider that it may be time for him to do some serious revision of his thinking, that is, if he wants to continue to live.

Butcher added that if Prince “made the kind of mistakes in the courtroom that he makes with his drinking he wouldn’t have a professional career to worry about.”

Three days after the evaluation, Prince checked out of the hospital against doctors’ orders, only to return a week later for three weeks of rehab. The treatment didn’t take. After two months, he was back again (acute intoxication). But Prince was nothing if not resilient. When a physician brought up his struggles—family problems, his disastrous finances, his heavy work responsibilities—Prince insisted he had them “under control.” Events would soon prove otherwise.

Prince was by no means the first drunk to handle a death penalty trial. There are plenty of well-documented examples. Also of drug-addicted lawyers, lawyers who refer to their clients by racial slurs in front of the jury, lawyers who nap through testimony, and lawyers who don’t bother to be in court while a crucial witness is testifying. There are lawyers who have never read their state’s death penalty statute, lawyers who file one client’s brief in another client’s death penalty appeal without changing the names, lawyers who miss life-or-death deadlines, and lawyers who don’t even know that capital cases have separate determinations of guilt and punishment. (See “10 Ways to Blow a Death Penalty Case.“)

There are enough of these cases on record that most people in the legal profession no longer find them particularly shocking. What is more shocking, though, is how commonly courts and prosecutors are willing to overlook these situations as they occur, and how doggedly they try to defend the death sentences that result. Trial judges, of course, are often the ones who appointed the lawyers in question. And prosecutors have little motivation to demand that their courtroom adversaries be qualified and effective. It’s a flawed system that often results in flawed verdicts. For a clear window into it, we need look no further than the Holsey case.In the early hours of December 17, 1995, Robert Wayne Holsey was arrested and charged for the murder of Baldwin County Deputy Sheriff Will Robinson, who pulled over Holsey’s car following the armed robbery of a Jet Food Store in the county seat of Milledgeville. As with any killing of a police officer, it was a high-profile affair. Most of the county’s judges attended Robinson’s funeral, and many sent flowers. To ensure an impartial hearing, the trial had to be moved two counties away.

Like the great majority of people arrested for serious crimes, Holsey could not afford a lawyer; he had to depend on the court to appoint one for him. But it is reasonable to wonder why any court would have chosen Andy Prince for the job. Beyond his chronic alcohol problem and the financial judgments piling up against him, Prince did not generally handle cases in the Milledgeville area.

As it turns out, little thought was given to his suitability. The selection process in the Holsey case conjures up the old military trope about volunteering by means of everyone else taking a step backward. “Because of who the victim was, nobody within the circuit wanted to be appointed to this case,” Prince later testified. “And I told [the judge], sure, I’d take it.”

On one condition: He insisted on picking his co-counsel. Prince had handled capital cases before, and with some success, but he’d only worked on the more traditional guilt/innocence part of the representation—never the crucial sentencing phase. He contacted Rob Westin, the lawyer he’d collaborated with previously. Westin said he’d do it, but then reversed himself in short order. Westin “had gone to the solicitor’s office in Baldwin County,” Prince later explained, “and had been told that they couldn’t believe that he was representing Mr. Holsey and that if he continued to represent him he would never get another deal worked out with that office.”

His next attempt to secure co-counsel failed as well; the lawyer quit after a few months on the case and took a job with the state attorney general’s office. Seven months before the trial date, Prince finally found his “second chair” in Brenda Trammell, a lawyer who practiced in Morgan County, where the case was to be tried: “She was about the only one that would take it.”

As for Trammell, she assumed she was selected “based on proximity,” as she later testified. “I had not tried to trial a death penalty case and I waited for him to tell me what to do, and there really was not a lot of direction in that way.”

There was still one thing missing. What distinguishes capital murder trials from noncapital ones is the penalty phase, wherein the jury hears additional evidence and determines the appropriate punishment—usually choosing between death and life without parole. During this phase, a “mitigation specialist,” whom the American Bar Association (ABA) describes as “an indispensable member of the defense team throughout all capital proceedings,” gathers information that might convince jurors to spare the defendant’s life. Indeed, the court provided Holsey’s defense team with sufficient funds to hire a mitigation specialist, but no one was ever able to account for the money. Prince later said that he didn’t remember what happened to it, only that he was certain no mitigation specialist was ever hired. Which may explain Trammell’s response to this question from Holsey’s appeals lawyer.

Q: When you got into the case, was there any theory with respect to mitigation in the event that he was convicted?

A: No, sir.

Mitigation theory or not, Holsey went on trial for his life in February 1997.
There is a mantra among competent capital defense lawyers: “Death is different.” By this they mean that defending against the state-sanctioned execution of a human being requires extraordinary measures, and that a capital case must be handled with even greater care than a “regular” murder trial. “It is universally accepted,” the ABA states, “that the responsibilities of defense counsel in a death penalty case are uniquely demanding.”

This is not a new concept. More than 80 years ago, in an infamous capital rape case against nine black teenagers dubbed the Scottsboro Boys, a trial judge appointed the entire Scottsboro, Alabama, bar to represent the defendants—a showing of false magnanimity that the Supreme Court ultimately rejected, noting that it fell far short of the constitutional requirement for the appointment of counsel. An accused person “requires the guiding hand of counsel at every step in the proceedings,” the opinion concluded.

But Holsey’s lawyers did not provide that guiding hand. They were an odd couple with an awkward rapport. While Prince was a drunk, Trammell was a part-time minister who eschewed alcohol. She recalled stopping by her colleague’s hotel room once during the trial to find him drinking, and never stopped by again. When he called her at home one night during the proceedings, slurring his words, she told him not to call her there anymore.

Their inability to communicate had a predictably devastating effect. In this exchange, Trammell is responding to questions from an appeals lawyer about her cross-examination of the state’s DNA expert, who had testified that the victim’s blood was found on Holsey’s shoes:

Q: When were you told that you would cross-examine Michele?

A: Before lunch.

Q: When did she testify?

A: She was testifying. We took a break for us to do the cross, for lunch, and during lunch I had to learn about DNA.

Q: Did you know, had you had any training about DNA before that?

A: No, sir.

Q: Did you know anything at all about the DNA process?

A: No, sir…I was calling during lunch the capital defense people, to ask them what am I supposed to ask about DNA?

Q: And did you learn…being thrown into that, that questioning concerning DNA is an extremely technical and complicated area?

A: Definitely.

On February 11, 1997, both sides made their closing arguments and the judge gave final instructions to the jury. Six hours later, the jurors found Holsey guilty of armed robbery and of the deputy’s murder. That was the night Prince called Trammell. Drunk. The only time he ever called her at home. He was concerned, she testified, that the sentencing “was not going to be good.”

The state presented its case for death the following morning. Eight witnesses detailed Holsey’s criminal background. Beyond the crimes for which he had just been convicted, he had pleaded guilty to two counts of aggravated assault 5 years earlier, and an armed robbery with serious bodily injury 14 years earlier. There was considerable dispute over whether the victims in the later incident had initiated the aggravated assaults, but in the end it hardly mattered—Holsey had stabbed a guy four times and admitted to it. By the time they rested their case, the state’s lawyers had painted a stark portrait of a violent man with a violent past who now had murdered a faithful public servant in the line of duty.

The defense barely challenged that portrayal. They called several witnesses to prolong the useless debate over who was at fault in the aggravated assaults. Two employees from the county jails testified that he hadn’t caused any problems at their facilities. Three people from the local Pizza Hut testified that he’d been a good employee for six months or so, until he lost his job when he went to jail for the assaults. The owner of the bar where the assaults had happened said he “had heard something about” Holsey’s bed wetting, and drew some vague conclusions about the mother’s neglect of her children and lack of parenting skills. Angela, Holsey’s younger sister, begged the jury to let him live, but provided nothing compelling about her brother or their family. Which left only one witness to convey anything of substance: his oldest sister,

Regina Holsey should have been a star defense witness. She was a deputy United States Marshal, an ex-Marine, and a veteran of Operation Desert Storm—not to mention a former employee of the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Department, where the victim had worked. Yet her testimony reads like an underdeveloped roll of film: There are hints of powerful evidence that would cast her brother in a more sympathetic light, but the details never fully emerge. Essential facts are mentioned almost in passing: that their father was shot and paralyzed by the police when her mother was pregnant with Wayne. (The family called him Wayne, not Robert.) That he did poorly in school and was considered borderline mentally disabled. That their mother beat the children. That he was a stutterer, and that his sister Angela and mother, Mary, had mental-health problems.

The record reads almost as though Prince felt he was wasting the jury’s time. On four separate occasions, with his most critical witness on the stand, he asked Regina to read from isolated portions of crucial documents rather than guiding her, and the jury, through them:

Q: And I’m not, again, just—I’m going to hit a few highlights. This is a juvenile complaint report dated 6-27-65. And I want you to read just the highlighted portion from that second page of that document. And the jury will be able to read it all, but I’m not going to take that much time. I’m going to hit some of the—would you read those highlighted portions, please?

A: The first part says Mr. Courson advised me that Robert was basically a runaway case. He has no supervision at home and refuses to return home. Says Mrs. Holsey would not go to the school, and sent a note with Robert. Robert was not allowed to return. When he tried to come back, the principal called the police to remove Robert.

Trammell’s closing argument is even more cursory, perhaps because she didn’t learn she was going to present it until the night before. In a nine-and-a-half-page speech laden with religious references—the lawyer/minister uses the word “God” 16 times and “Jesus” another 5—she managed to condense the mitigating evidence for her client into the space of a single paragraph.

Not all of us are abused and neglected, cursed at. Not all of us grow up with no father, with no mother, in essence who are neglected and are left alone, who are beaten. You know, you have got the records of Angela Holsey. Look at those when you go out. With a foster placement plan that says, “We can’t send her back to a parent that won’t encourage her in anything; it in actuality encourages her violence.” Who is borderline mentally retarded. Wayne is borderline mentally retarded. Does that excuse him? No, there is no excuse. Who stuttered, who wet the bed until he was 12, and no one even takes him to the doctor for it. Who grew up by himself.

She ended with a plea for mercy. As inebriated as Prince may have been when he’d called her before, he was correct in his prediction. In less than two hours, the jury returned with a death sentence.
Trouble caught up with Andy Prince shortly after the trial. Still facing tens of thousands of dollars in judgments, he stole the last $800 from the estate he’d already looted. He then accepted a plea deal related to his fight with the neighbors, receiving probation for disorderly conduct. Eight months after Holsey’s sentencing, Prince surrendered his law license, and six months after that, in May 1998, he was indicted for his theft and sent to prison for 16 months. By the time he was called to testify as part of Holsey’s appeal, he was out of prison, sober, and getting by as a freelance paralegal. From the appeals transcript:

Q: Did you attempt to conceal your difficulty with alcohol from [the trial judge]?

A: I didn’t attempt to conceal it. I just didn’t parade it around. At the time, I didn’t consider I was having any trouble with alcohol.

Q: And why is that?

A: You know, I could drink a quart of liquor every night and work all day long. I thought I was doing fine.

Q: Since you have become sober, do you have a different opinion now?

A: Absolutely.

Q: And what is your opinion now?

A: Well, what I considered was doing fine at the time was just barely getting by.

Asked whether he should have resigned the Holsey appointment, Prince, who passed away in 2011, replied, “I shouldn’t have been representing anybody in any case.”

Just as alcoholics see things more clearly when they stop drinking, death penalty cases often come into better focus when good lawyers take over from bad ones. Holsey’s case certainly did. But did it matter? The state of Georgia argued that it didn’t. Sure, maybe Holsey’s lawyer was plastered every night, and maybe another attorney might have handled it better. But Holsey was guilty of murder, the state’s attorneys argued, and the best lawyers in the country couldn’t change that fact. His appeal was little more than crying over spilled milk.

Capital cases are more than questions of guilt or innocence, though. Often the biggest question is whether the guilty should live or die. And the disturbing details of Holsey’s early years only came to light as his appeals unfolded. It turned out, for instance, that his school had promoted him socially year after year despite his inability to grasp basic material. As early as first grade, Holsey was well behind his fellow students—his math and reading abilities never got past the fourth-grade level. As one of his junior high school teachers put it in an affidavit, he “just wasn’t playing with a full deck.” Two doctors testified that Holsey was not merely borderline, but was actually mentally disabled, which by law would make him ineligible for the death penalty.

There was far more the jury never heard—riveting testimony from witnesses who would have gladly shared the information had anyone bothered to ask. Holsey’s mother, Mary, it turned out, was legendary around the neighborhood for the fearsome physical abuse she inflicted on her children. If Wayne opened the refrigerator looking for food because he was hungry, he was beaten. If he crossed the street to pick blackberries, he was beaten. If he wet the bed, which he did until he was a teenager, he was beaten. He was beaten with hands, curling irons, extension cords, high-heel shoes, cooking spoons. In the house, on the corner. The physical abuse was accompanied by verbal brutality: “butthole.” “Sissy ass.” “Motherfucker.” “Dumbo.” “Buck teeth motherfucking monkey.”

All of this was summed up in the affidavit of Sandra Francis, a woman who grew up in the same neighborhood as the Holsey children before going off to college and graduate school in New Jersey: “I remember saying prayers of thanks and gratitude to God that I was not one of Mary Holsey’s children,” Francis testified. “We called her unit in the projects the ‘torture chamber.’”

By the end of the appellate hearing, a much clearer portrayal of Robert Wayne Holsey had emerged: a stuttering, bed-wetting man with very low intellectual function who was raised in poverty and terrorized by a vicious, violent, and psychotic mother. The judge concluded that Holsey’s trial defense team had “failed to prepare and present any meaningful mitigation evidence as a defense to the death penalty…

In light of this lack of any significant preparation or presentation of such defense, no one can seriously believe that the Petitioner received the constitutional guarantees of the Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel.

Holsey was going to get a new sentencing hearing—or was he? The state appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court, which had to consider the same two questions that the court below had just answered “no” and “yes”: Had Andy Prince mounted a competent defense? And would it have made any difference if he had?

 

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Okla. Supreme Court halts execution in a last minute decision


April 21, 2014

One day before Clayton Lockett was scheduled to be executed for the 1999 shooting death of 19-year-old Stephanie Nieman, a sharply divided Oklahoma Supreme Court granted a stay.

The decision also includes a second inmate, Charles Warner, who was convicted in the 1997 death of his roommate’s 11-month-old daughter.

He was scheduled to die on April 29.

The two death row inmates have challenged the secrecy surrounding the source of the state’s lethal injection drugs.

The decision was 5-4.

Last month, Oklahoma County District Judge Patricia Parrish struck down the state’s execution law.

The ruling said the protocol prevented the inmates from seeking information about the drugs used in lethal injections and that violated their rights under the state constitution.

The state changed its execution protocol on March 21 to allow five different potential drug combinations for execution by lethal injection.

The state informed lawyers for the inmates on April 1 that the inmates would be executed using a combination of midazolam, pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride never before used in the state.

Executions have been conducted using the drug combination in Florida with lower doses.

The request filed by the convicts attorney says the inmates “have received no certifications, testing data, medical opinions or other evidence to support the state’s insistence that these drugs are safe, or to prove that they were acquired legally.”

Oklahoma and other states that have the death penalty have been scrambling for substitute drugs or new sources for drugs for lethal injections after major drug companies — many based in Europe with longtime opposition to the death penalty — stopped selling to prisons and corrections departments.

On Friday, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals denied the inmates’ request for a stay in spite of a ruling by the Supreme Court earlier in the week that the appeals court had the authority

 

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