Louisiana

Shreveport man freed from death row files suit in hopes ‘injustice never happens again’


December 5, 2017

SHREVEPORT — The lawsuit filed by former death row inmate Rodricus Crawford is about more than justice for Crawford; it’s about getting Caddo Parish officials to change their death-penalty-dealing ways, one of the now-freed man’s attorneys said during a recent interview.

“Rodricus seeks justice not only for himself and for all that he lost, but also for people who might – God forbid – face similar circumstances,” Crawford’s attorney David J. Utter, counsel with The Claiborne Firm in Savannah, Georgia, said during a Louisiana Record email interview. “This lawsuit provides parish and city officials do the right thing by examining what went wrong in Rodricus’ case, and instituting checks and balances to ensure such an injustice never happens again.”

Those checks and balances were severely lacking when a Caddo District Court jury handed down the capital punishment sentence the following year against the Shreveport man in the 2012 death of his 1-year-old son Roderius “Bobo” Lott, according to Crawford’s lawsuit.

“Mr. Crawford was convicted and sentenced to death based upon false evidence as a result of the failure of Defendants to conduct an unbiased autopsy based on professional standards of practice, and to properly train and supervise prosecutors in Caddo Parish,” said the lawsuit filed Nov. 16 in U.S. District Court for Louisiana’s Western District.

“Because of the lack of training and supervision and adherence to professional standards, the prosecution was illegally based upon both race and religion, and a complete indifference to the evidence. In addition, Mr. Crawford raises state law negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress claims; but for the reckless and willful conduct of defendants, Mr. Crawford would not have been prosecuted let alone convicted of capital murder.”

In his lawsuit filed on behalf of himself and his minor daughter, Crawford claims he did not receive his constitutionally guaranteed right to a fair trial. Named defendants in the case include Caddo Parish Coroner’s Office, Caddo Parish District Attorney’s Office, Caddo Parish District Attorney James Stewart, former Caddo Parish District Attorney Dale Cox, Shreveport Fire Department and Coroner James Traylor. Crawford’s lawsuit asks for a jury trial.

The Caddo Parish District Attorney’s office did not respond to a Louisiana Record request for comment.

“Defendants knowingly participated in the investigation, arrest and capital prosecution driven by Caddo Parish, Louisiana’s well-known history of racism and the arbitrary application of the death penalty,” Crawford’s lawsuit said. “But for Defendants’ actions, no prosecution and conviction of Mr. Crawford would have occurred.”

Crawford was taken into custody after bruises and other injuries were discovered on the child’s body. Crawford reportedly told police his son had fallen in the bathroom and Crawford consistently maintained that he had never harmed his son.

His attorneys also consistently maintained that the jury relied on bad forensic science, and pointed to strong medical evidence that the child was suffering from pneumonia and died of sepsis.

“The conduct of the officials in this case, particularly the coroner Dr. Traylor and the prosecutor, were particularly egregious, outside the norm of a mistake or error,” Utter said. “There was intentional misconduct.”

By the time Crawford’s conviction was overturned by the Louisiana Supreme Court in November 2016, Caddo Parish juries were widely noted for having sentenced five people to death in six years, 38 percent of the state’s total death sentences.

The state’s highest court ordered a new trial for Crawford after finding serious issues with the case, including unconstitutional exclusion of black jurors. Louisiana prosecutors dropped charges against Crawford this past April and he was freed soon after that.

“As the result of Defendants’ unconstitutional, negligent and intentional acts, Mr. Crawford spent 4 years, 9 months, and 6 days illegally in custody,” Crawford’s lawsuit said.

Utter credited Baton Rouge lawyer Cecilia Trenticosta Kappel, his co-counsel in Crawford’s lawsuit who is active with the Capital Appeals Project and the Promise of Justice Initiative, for much of the work done to exonerate Crawford.

“Cecelia is the real hero amongst the lawyers on the case,” Utter said.

Crawford’s lawsuit is necessary to get defendants and others to do the right thing, Utter said.

“Unfortunately, many innocent people who spent time in jail or prison have to file a lawsuit before officials will do what is right,” Utter said, referring to the overturned murder conviction of Sabein Burgess in Maryland.

“Rodricus only filed because the officials responsible for this miscarriage of justice failed to apologize and offer to discuss a settlement that provided justice to him, his family and ensure something like this never happens again in Shreveport,” Utter said.

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Death row inmate in ‘Angola 5’ case wants Louisiana Supreme Court justice recused over death penalty comments


November  21,2017

Update, 2 p.m. Tuesday

Louisiana Supreme Court Justice Scott Crichton recused himself on Tuesday from the pending appeal of death row inmate David Brown in the “Angola 5” prison-guard murder case. Read the latest here. 

Original story

Louisiana Supreme Court Justice Scott Crichton has proven a popular guest on local talk radio in his native Shreveport, frequenting the airwaves with his views on hot-button legal issues since long before he reached the state’s highest bench three years ago.

But his on-air defense last month of capital punishment has spurred attorneys for death-row inmate David Brown to call for Crichton to be sidelined for Brown’s pending appeal in the “Angola 5” prison-guard murder case.

Crichton, a former Caddo Parish prosecutor and district judge, mentioned the Angola 5 case on the KEEL morning show on Oct. 23 to illustrate his view that the death penalty can be a valuable deterrent. He agreed with a show host that “if you’re in for life, you have nothing to lose” without it.

Brown was serving a life sentence for a different murder when Capt. David Knapps was killed inside a bathroom at the state penitentiary.

In a 24-page motion filed late Monday, his attorneys argue that Crichton’s mention of the Angola 5 case alone warrants his recusal. Crichton went further, however, and Brown’s attorneys argue that his other on-air remarks reveal at least the appearance of bias in Brown’s case, and perhaps in any capital case that reaches the court.

n the Oct. 23 show, Crichton first acknowledged that he “can talk about anything other than a pending case before the Louisiana Supreme Court,” then mentioned the Angola 5 case. He went on to lament the lengthy appeals process in death-penalty cases and argued for well-publicized executions.

“If it’s carried out and the public knows about it, I believe it’s truly a deterrent,” he said. “What really boggles my mind is the inmate who has committed capital murder who is on death row who is begging for his life. Think about the fact that the victim gets no due process.”

Crichton suggested a workaround to problems many states have had in acquiring one of three drugs in a commonly used “cocktail” for state killings — a shortage he blamed on drug companies being “harassed and stalked” by death-penalty opponents.

Crichton said he favors giving condemned inmates a choice in their death: the cocktail; a new method using a single drug, nitrogen hypoxia; or another, time-tested execution method.

“Firing squad is one,” he said.

Brown had joined other prisoners in an escape attempt but claimed he wasn’t there when Knapps was killed inside an employee restroom in the prison’s Camp D building on Dec. 28, 1999. Brown helped drag Knapps there and got the victim’s blood on his prison garb, but said he’d left before other inmates killed Knapp.

The state never accused him of striking Knapps but argued he had joined in a plot with a specific intent to kill. A West Feliciana Parish jury convicted Brown and sentenced him to death in 2011. Jeffrey Clark, the other Angola 5 member sentenced to death, lost his appeal before the Louisiana Supreme Court last year.

Crichton was among the majority in a Supreme Court decision last year that reinstated the death penalty for Brown. The court upheld an appeals court’s reversal of a decision by retired Judge Jerome Winsberg to scrap Brown’s death sentence but not his conviction.

Winsberg cited a statement from another inmate that Brown’s trial attorneys never received. Inmate Richard Domingue claimed that Barry Edge, who also was accused in the murder, had confessed that he and Clark alone decided to kill the guard.

The withheld statement left a “reasonable probability that the jury’s verdict would have been different had the evidence not been suppressed,” Winsberg ruled. But the Supreme Court found that Domingue’s statement “provides no additional evidence as to who actually killed Capt. Knapps” and “simply does not exculpate Brown.”

The U.S. Supreme Court last year declined to hear Brown’s case. His direct state appeal, a different legal phase, landed with the Louisiana Supreme Court in May. One of Brown’s lawyers, Billy Sothern, wrote that he plans to raise several issues in an appeal brief due next month that Crichton alluded to on the radio. Among them: Whether a death sentence is disproportionate to Brown’s role in the killing, and the constitutionality of lethal injection.

Brown’s attorneys solicited an affidavit from a Northwestern University law professor, agreeing that Crichton should recuse himself. Professor Steven Lubet, who co-authored a 2013 text called Judicial Conduct and Ethics, said Crichton’s “impartiality might reasonably be questioned” over his mention of the Angola 5 case, and when he said about the death penalty, “If we’re gonna have it, use it.”

The other six justices would rule on the request if Crichton decides not to recuse himself. Crichton could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

LOUISIANA – Man freed from death row blames conviction on racial bias


November 21,  2017

A biased autopsy and a prosecutor’s racism and religious fervor corrupted the murder case against a black man freed from Louisiana’s death row, a federal lawsuit says.

Rodricus Crawford, 29, sued the Caddo Parish coroner and district attorney’s offices last Thursday, one year after the Louisiana Supreme Court overturned his first-degree murder conviction in the death of his 1-year-old son.

Crawford’s lawsuit claims authorities recklessly disregarded medical evidence that his son, Roderius Lott, had pneumonia and died of natural causes. Investigators accused Crawford of smothering the child at their Shreveport home in February 2012.

The suit also says Crawford was deprived of a fair trial by a prosecutor with a “racist world view” who followed a “biblical command” to secure the death penalty against black defendants.

That prosecutor, former acting District Attorney Dale Cox, is an outspoken advocate of the death penalty who told a reporter he believes the state needs to “kill more people.” Cox personally prosecuted one-third of the Louisiana cases that resulted in death sentences between 2010 and 2015, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Caddo Parish has a “well-known history of racism and the arbitrary application of the death penalty,” the lawsuit says.

The night before his son’s death, Crawford and the child were sleeping in a fold-out couch. Relatives called 911 after Crawford woke up the next morning and noticed his son wasn’t moving or breathing.

The parish coroner had a “preconceived suspicion” that the child had been smothered to death based on the family’s race and neighborhood where they lived, the suit says. The forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy didn’t take routine tissue samples that would have shown the timing of the child’s injuries, the suit says. The pathologist also falsely claimed that bacteria found in the child’s blood may have come from a contaminated sample, it adds.

Their “preconceived expectations and theories were based on race and racism, and they operated with deliberate indifference to these accepted professional standards of practice,” the lawsuit says.

The suit describes Crawford as a “proud and loving father” and accuses Cox of falsely portraying him as an absentee dad during his trial.

“This argument was based on racial stereotypes and animus, and not upon the facts of this case,” it says.

Cox said Monday that he hadn’t seen the lawsuit and couldn’t comment on its allegations. John Prime, a spokesman for both the coroner and district attorney’s offices, said he can’t comment on pending litigation.

James Stewart, who also is named as a defendant in the suit, became the first black district attorney in Caddo Parish after Cox decided not to run for election.

Crawford was sentenced to death in November 2013 and remained on death row until the state Supreme Court reversed his conviction last year. The district attorney’s office declined to retry him.

LOUSIANA : No A/C for death row inmates at Angola: decision made final, barring another appeal


August 17, 2015

Death row inmates at Louisiana State Penitentiary who claimed in a federal lawsuit that triple-digit temperatures inside their cells at Angola amounts to cruel and unusual punishment have been denied a rehearing of their case.

The decision by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals not to re-examine the case, which was handed down Friday (Aug. 14), upheld a decision delivered July 8 by a three-judge 5th Circuit panel. The July 8 decision found heat indices reaching up to 108 inside the inmates’ cells did, in fact, violate the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. However, the panel explained in its July 8 decision, the prison should not be required to install air-conditioning on death row to remedy the violation.

U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson had earlier ruled the conditions were unconstitutional and ordered the state to create and implement a plan, which included air conditioning, for cooling off death row.

The state appealed Jackson’s decision, but in the meantime, a plan was drafted. Death row tiers, built in 2008, are only heated and ventilated. The plan would have also provided inmate with chests filled with ice and allowed them daily cold showers. An appeals court intervened on behalf of the state before the prison ever put the plans in place, halting the implementation with an injunction while agreeing to take a look at the case.

The 5th Circuit on July 8 offered a few reasons why installing air conditioning on death row would have gone too far to provide relief for the plaintiffs. Air conditioning would be available year-round, when temperatures were often not extreme; it would cool off inmates who didn’t have medical conditions worsened by heat; and air conditioning “of course is expensive.”

Attorneys for the inmates argued in their request for a rehearing that Jackson’s order for air conditioning was less intrusive — and involved more micromanaging — than the remedies suggested by the panel.

The three inmates who filed suit, Nathaniel Code, 57; Elzie Ball, 60; James Magee, 35, all have medical conditions, such as diabetes and hypertension, that can be exacerbated by high heat. 

It’s unclear, the inmates’ attorney Mercedes Montagnes indicated, whether or not the inmates will appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“We…have not yet decided our next step,” she said in an emailed statement.

Louisiana inmates ask for rehearing on death row heat case


State corrections officials complained last fall to a federal appellate court that a Baton Rouge federal judge was micromanaging the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola by ordering heat indexes on death row at the Angola prison not top 88 degrees (31° C) from April through October.
Now, the 3 death-row inmates whose 2013 lawsuit against the state prompted Chief U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson’s December order are claiming the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals also is trying to micromanage the prison.
A 3-judge 5th Circuit panel ruled last month that Jackson’s order effectively required the state to air-condition death row. The panel sent the case back to the judge to consider other remedies to correct the state’s violation of the 3 condemned prisoners’ constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment.
Those prisoners have medical conditions, and they claim the sweltering heat on death row exacerbate those ailments.
The appeals court panel said remedies that Jackson could consider include diverting cooler air from the guards’ pod on death row into the death-row tiers; air-conditioning one of the four death-row tiers for the benefit of prisoners susceptible to heat-related illness; giving inmates access to cool showers at least once daily; providing ample supplies of cold drinking water and ice at all times; supplying personal ice containers and individual fans; and installing additional ice machines.
In asking the 5th Circuit panel or the entire appeals court to rehear the case, attorneys for death-row inmates Elzie Ball, Nathaniel Code and James Magee argue Jackson’s order was less intrusive than the remedies suggested by the panel.
“The remedies that the Court suggests – in addition to being insufficient to remedy the constitutional violation – require more micromanaging of the prison’s operation of death row tiers than air conditioning,” the prisoners’ lawyers contend in petitions filed recently at the New Orleans-based 5th Circuit.
Attorneys for the state said 5th Circuit rules do not allow the state to file a response to the petitions unless the court orders a response. The state did not ask for a rehearing.
Jackson approved the state’s court-ordered remediation plan for death row last year, which included adding air conditioning, providing ice chests filled with ice and allowing death-row inmates cold showers once a day. The 5th Circuit halted the plan’s implementation last summer while the case was being appealed.
“The district court did not order air conditioning,” the inmates’ attorneys stress in asking the entire 5th Circuit to vacate the panel’s decision and rehear the case. “The district court made factual findings that a maximum heat index of 88 degrees was necessary to remove unreasonable risks, then gave the prison full latitude in the method of achieving this objective. Defendants chose air conditioning. This distinction is critical.”
The prisoners’ attorneys say the condemned men are confined to their cells for 23 hours a day; have “extremely limited access” to ice, and their drinking water is lukewarm; their lone daily shower is maintained between 100 and 120 degrees (37,7° – 48,8° C); the death-row tiers are equipped with 1 non-oscillating, 30-inch fan for every 2 inmates, and the fans do not provide equal air flow to each cell; and the windows on the tiers are louvers that do not open wide and do not provide the same air flow as traditional windows.
The inmates’ attorneys say Jackson’s establishment of a maximum heat index of 88 degrees must be upheld, and they claim that an increased risk of serious harm from heat-related illness is “widespread” among the 80-plus prisoners on death row.
The state Department of Corrections says it provides constitutionally appropriate accommodations to its inmates. The department also contends that constitutional mandates and established case law do not require air conditioning for death-row prisoners.
Source: The Advocate, August 10, 2015

 

LOUISIANA -Freedom After 30 Years on Death Row – Glenn Ford


A case involving a black man convicted by an all-white jury in Louisiana decades ago may be reopened.

march 11, 2014

UPDATE: Glenn Ford was indeed released from prison late Tuesday afternoon local time. The same judge who denied him relief in 2009 was the one who signed the order authorizing his release.

ORIGINAL STORY: Glenn Ford, a black man wrongfully convicted of murder by an all-white jury in Louisiana in 1984, a man who has spent the last 30 years on death row for a crime he did not commit following a trial filled with constitutional violations, is on the verge of being set free. Once that happens (and it could happen as soon as tomorrow after a hearing in the case) he will become one of the longest-serving death row inmates in modern American history to be exonerated and released.

Ford’s dogged lawyers and enlightened parish prosecutors in Shreveport both filed motions late last week informing a state trial judge that the time has come now to vacate Ford’s murder conviction and death sentence. Why? Because prosecutors now say that they learned, late last year, of “credible evidence” that Ford “was neither present at, nor a participant in, the robbery and murder” of the victim in his case, a man named Isadore Rozeman.

Prosecutors believe the recent account of a confidential informant who claims that one of other four original co-defendants in the case, arrested long ago along with Ford, was actually the person who shot and killed Rozeman. This is not news to Ford. For three decades, stuck in inhumane conditions on death row in the state’s notorious Angola prison, he has insisted that he had nothing to do with the murder and that he was involved in the case only after the fact.

Any exoneration is remarkable, of course. Any act of justice after decades of injustice is laudable. It is never too late to put to right a wrong. But what also is striking about this case is how weak it always was, how frequently Ford’s constitutional rights were denied, and yet how determined Louisiana’s judges were over decades to defend an indefensible result.

Isadore Rozeman, an elderly white man with cataracts, a man fearful of crime in his neighborhood, was murdered in his small jewelry and watch repair shop in Shreveport on November 5, 1983. Ford had done yard work for Rozeman and several witnesses placed him near the scene of the crime on the day of the murder. When he learned that the police were looking for him he went to the police station where, for days, for months, he cooperated with the investigation.

Ford told the police, for example, that a man he identified as “O.B.” had given him jewelry hoping that he, Ford, could pawn it. The police would later discover that this jewelry was similar to merchandise taken from Rozeman’s store. Ford identified one possible suspect in Rozeman’s murder, a man named Jake Robinson, and later suggested that “O.B.” was Robinson’s brother, Henry, who also may also have been up to no good.

With all signs pointing to the Robinsons, and with police under the impression that the one or both of the brothers still possessed the murder weapon, Ford was not immediately charged with Rozeman’s murder. He and the two Robinsons were instead charged three months later—only after Jake Robinson’s girlfriend, Marvella Brown, incriminated them by telling the police that Ford was with the Robinsons, and in the possession of a firearm, on the day of Rozeman’s murder.

Louisiana also relied on “experts” to build its case. The first, the parish coroner who had not personally examined Rozeman’s body, testified about the time of death and the fact that the shooter was left-handed. The second expert found a few particles unique to or characteristic of gunshot residue on Ford’s hands. The third, a police officer not certified as a fingerprint expert, concluded that a “whorl” pattern on Ford’s fingers was consistent with a single partial fingerprint lifted from a bag the police believed was used in the murder.

There was no murder weapon found. There were no eyewitnesses to the crime. There were legitimate reasons why Ford would have been around Rozeman’s store. The primary witness against Ford was a person, Brown, whose credibility and reliability were immediately challenged. Expert opinions were not definitive. The police had reason to believe that one of the Robinsons had killed Rozeman. And most of all Ford had not acted suspiciously in any way.

Ford’s murder trial was constitutionally flawed in almost every way. The two attorneys he was assigned were utterly unprepared for the job. The lead attorney was an oil and gas attorney who have never tried a case—criminal or civil—to a jury. The second attorney, two years out of law school, was working at an insurance defense firm on slip-and-fall cases. Both attorneys were selected from an alphabetical listing of lawyers at the local bar association.

During jury selection, prosecutors used their peremptory strikes to keep blacks off the jury. The reasons they gave for precluding these men and women from sitting in judgment of Ford were insulting and absurd. And leading up to and during the trial Louisiana did not share with the defense all evidence favorable to it as they were required to do under the United States Supreme Court’s constitutional command in Brady v. Maryland.

The prosecution’s case was based largely on the testimony of Brown, the girlfriend. Under cross-examination, however, she told jurors that the police had helped her make up the story she had told about Ford. When Ford’s attorneys later called her to the witness stand, she told jurors that a bullet left from an old gunshot wound to her head had affected her thinking. “I did lie to the Court… I lied about it all,” she said in court (remember, it was Brown’s story that led to Ford’s arrest).fter Brown’s credibility imploded on the stand, prosecutors turned to their “experts.” It was a case that cried out for rebuttal experts to make simple and obvious points. A coroner who did not examine the body could not accurately determine time of death or whether the shooter was left-handed. That sort of thing. But no experts testified for the defense. Why? Because Ford’s lawyers believed, mistakenly, that they would have to pay for the costs of these experts.* (Many years later, in a post-trial hearing, the experts Ford’s finally did hire profoundly undermined the conclusions reached by Louisiana’s trial experts.)

Ford was quickly convicted. At the sentencing phase of his trial, the lack of competent defense counsel again played a factor. The best mitigation witnesses who might have testified for him lived out of state—but Ford’s lawyers were unsure about the process for subpoenaing them to testify in Louisiana. It took that all-white jury less than three hours to recommend a sentence of death for the man they believed murdered Isadore Rozeman.

As it is in most capital cases, the appellate history of the case is tortuous. All through the years, in both explicit and implicit ways, the Louisiana appellate courts expressed their unease with the results of Ford’s trial. But no court, ever, reversed the conviction and sentence against him and ordered a new trial. This is so even though the first court to review the case, the Louisiana Supreme Court itself, concluded it had “serious questions” about the result.

Most people believe that ineffective assistance of counsel only occurs at trial. That’s not true. In these cases the incompetence that occurs at or before trial often is compounded by poor appellate work and that initially happened here— the same system, in other words, that can tolerate an oil and gas man handling a capital murder case can tolerate giving a convicted murderer an appellate lawyer who also doesn’t know what the hell he is doing.

But the fair trial issues Ford raised were so strong that in many respects he got lucky. For example, the justices in Washington ordered a hearing on his claims about race bias in jury selection– only to see the Louisiana courts back up the preposterous claims of prosecutors that there were neutral reasons for the jurors they selected and rejected. Only black juror was rejected, for example, because a prosecutor said he felt “uneasy” about her and thus did not look her in the eye.

And the Louisiana Supreme Court ordered a hearing on his claims about ineffective assistance of counsel and the prosecution’s failure to disclose exculpatory evidence– only to see the trial court again back up prosecutors by interpreting precedent in a way that renders meaningless the right to counsel and the Brady rule. (The irony here is profound; we now know, from the prosecution’s filing this week, that there is additional evidence that would have decided the outcome of the case.)

It was this ruling, in October 2009, that perhaps best illustrates the farce this case was. Yes, a Louisiana judge conceded, Ford would have been benefited from having those California witnesses testify for him during the mitigation phase of his trial. Yes, he would have benefited had his lawyers hired their own experts. But none of this constituted “ineffective assistance.” The Louisiana Supreme Court, in a two-word order, accepted this dreadful interpretation of law.

Neither prosecutors nor defense attorneys are providing much public detail about the circumstances surrounding this “confidential informant” and why the case has turned so suddenly after all these years. My sense is that prosecutors in particular want to keep things quiet now to ensure they properly proceed against the person(s) they now believe murdered Isadore Rozeman. But soon, I hope, they will have to answer all the new questions this twist raises.

Like whether the murder weapon, never found in 1983 or anytime thereafter, was in the possession of one or both of the Robinsons at the time of Rozeman’s death. And whether the “credible” evidence prosecutors have just discovered was discoverable 30 years ago. What took so long for this information to come to light? Why did it come to light now? What is so credible about this new witness? What do old-time Shreveport law enforcement officials think about all this?

In the next few weeks, as this story spreads, the focus naturally will be on the ending of it—Ford’s first steps toward freedom. What few will focus upon, sadly, is why it took 30 years for justice to shine through here or why anyone (in or out of Louisiana) ought to have any confidence in a judicial system that so mightily defends verdicts like this one. Sure, a judge here and there piped up. Hearings were held. But precisely what good did it do Ford?

This is a sad story with a happy ending. But it’s a story I’ve written before. And it raises the inescapable question of how many other condemned men and woman are sitting on death row in the nation’s prisons, after sham trials like this, after feckless appellate review, waiting for lightning to strike them the way it has Glenn Ford. How many men, that is, who have not yet been executed despite being innocent of murder.

Until the very end what happened here was neither law nor order. It was instead something arbitrary and capricious, like the application of the death penalty itself. For Glenn Ford, the man Louisiana now says is innocent of murder, once faced a death warrant—on February 28, 1991. Had that warrant been executed who exactly would have known of the injustice of that act? Twenty-six other Louisiana death row inmates were killed during his decades on death row—eight by lethal injection, 18 by the electric chair.

What a waste—of a man’s life, of million of dollars in prison costs, of thousands upon thousands of hours of work by lawyers and judges and investigators and experts, all because the criminal justice system failed 30 years ago to provide to Ford with even a remotely fair trial. Soon it will be the first day of the rest of Glenn Ford’s life. He’ll try to make the best of it. Which is about all you can say, too, about the men and women responsible for Louisiana’s justice system.

(theatlantic.com)

Louisiana: To cut heat threat, air-conditioning proposed for Angola’s death row


february 18,2014

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — The state corrections department said Monday the only way it can lower heat levels on Louisiana’s death row to a federal judge’s requirements is by installing air conditioning.

U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson ruled in December that death row gets so hot it violates U.S. constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment.

He demanded a plan that will cool the cells at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola so the heat index never goes above 88 degrees, a plan that state prison officials filed Monday with the court.

Windows and fans are currently the primary sources of ventilation on death row, which was built in 2006.

The heat remediation proposal submitted by the Department of Corrections and the Angola prison would involve buying air conditioning units and a climate monitoring system for the cells.

“The heat and humidity sensors will transmit their readings to the building’s existing Johnson Control energy management system every 15 minutes. The system is capable of producing graphs showing temperature/humidity conditions over any time period,” James Hilburn, a lawyer for the state, wrote in a document filed with the plan.

The 22-page plan, devised by an outside engineering consultant, didn’t include a price tag. Estimates during the trial ranged from $550,000 to as much as $2 million to install air conditioning on the death row tiers.

Jackson said he wouldn’t consider cost as a factor in his review of the plan.

Lawyers for condemned killers Elzie Ball, Nathaniel Code and James Magee argued the heat could worsen the men’s health conditions, which include high blood pressure and other ailments.

Prison officials said the conditions might be uncomfortable during the hottest summer months, but they are safe. They said the inmates have access to medical care and none of the three plaintiffs have ever been diagnosed with adverse heat reactions.

In his December ruling, Jackson said the heat data collected by a court-ordered contractor in July and August showed that inmates housed in the death row cell tiers are subjected to temperatures and heat indices that are in the National Weather Service’s `caution,’ `extreme caution,’ and `danger’ zones. He said state prison officials must change those conditions.

The corrections department is appealing Jackson’s ruling, but wasn’t able to postpone filing the cooling plan. The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals refused last week to order a stay in the case, saying it was premature.

But the appeals court cautioned Jackson about requiring the Angola penitentiary to make the changes it will propose in its plan while the appeal was pending.

Jackson traveled to Angola, 60 miles north of Baton Rouge, to check out the cell blocks for himself before issuing his ruling.

The federal judge also is considering ordering sanctions against attorneys for the state, questioning whether they “conducted themselves with honesty and candor” during the court proceedings and trial last year. A hearing on that issue is set for March 12.
(Source: AP)

How hot is death row?


A federal judge Tuesday ordered temperature data be collected for 21 straight days in advance of an Aug. 5 trial of a lawsuit by three condemned killers who claim extreme heat indexes at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola amount to cruel and unusual punishment.

The suit, filed last month, alleges heat indexes on death row at the prison reached 172 degrees Fahrenheit (172 °F is equal to about 77.8 °C) last year and 195 degrees (90.5) in 2011. The suit contends the heat index on all six death-row tiers was above 103 degrees every day last August, and that inmates on one tier endured heat indexes of more than 126 degrees “on 85 days between May and August.”

Chief U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson’s order Tuesday came at the conclusion of a court hearing during which an attorney for the state Department of Public Safety and Corrections and the prison called the inmates’ data “greatly exaggerated,” “faulty” and “generally incompetent.”

A lawyer representing death-row inmates Elzie Ball, James Magee and Nathaniel Code countered that the men, each of whom suffers from hypertension, face the very real possibility of heat-related illness — including heat stroke, paralysis and heart disease — and even death.

The suit asked Jackson to issue an order compelling prison officials to maintain a heat index on death row of no more than 88 degrees.

“The court will not grant the injunction today. That is the fair and appropriate thing to do,” the judge told both sides Tuesday while noting that even death-row inmates are entitled to constitutional protections. He said more evidence on the suit’s claims needs to be gathered.

Jackson ordered the two sides to meet and file a joint plan by July 9 concerning what evidence will be collected and shared. If a plan is submitted, the judge said, he will approve it July 10. Otherwise, Jackson said he will issue his own plan on that date.

The judge specified that he wants temperature data collected for three straight weeks beginning July 15. He scheduled an evidentiary hearing, or trial, for Aug. 5. Jackson also urged the parties to try to settle the case.

Nilay Vora, an attorney for Ball, Magee and Code, argued to the judge that the air temperature at Angola’s death row is “consistently” above 90 degrees, with heat indexes even higher.

Jacqueline Wilson, an attorney for state Department of Public Safety and Corrections and the state penitentiary, noted that the death-row tiers offer industrial-sized fans — one for every two cells, ice in coolers and inmates are allowed to take one shower per day.

“There is moving air,” she said of the cross-ventilation system.

“That can be hot air,” the judge shot back.

Vora argued that blowing hot air can increase the likelihood of heat-related illness. He also alleged that the water temperature of the showers is 106 to 117 degrees, and added that the temperature range for a “cold” shower should be in the 70s.

Each death-row inmates’ cell has running hot and cold water, Wilson added.

Vora noted that 10 heat-related deaths in Texas prisons have been reported over the years.

“How about in Louisiana? How about at Angola?” Jackson asked.

Vora, who did not cite any heat-related prison deaths in the state, said the plaintiffs’ attorneys would be happy to work with the state defendants to come up with a plan to ease the heat issue at the prison’s death row.

“The department takes its job very seriously,” Wilson argued during the hearing, stressing that corrections officials want inmates to serve their sentences “in a humane way.”

Ball, 60, has been on death row since August 1997 for the May 15, 1996, shooting death of beer deliveryman Ben Scorsone during the armed robbery of a lounge in Gretna. Witnesses said Ball knocked Scorsone to the floor before firing three shots.

Magee, 35, was convicted for the April 2007 shotgun murders of his estranged wife, 28-year-old Adrienne Magee, and their 5-year-old son, Zach, on a street in the Tall Timbers subdivision north of Mandeville.

Code, 57, is on death row for the 1985 murders of four people at a house in Shreveport. A jury convicted Code for the bathtub drowning of Vivian Chaney, 34; the stabbing and slashing death of Chaney’s 17-year-old daughter, Carlitha; and the shooting deaths of Chaney’s brother, Jerry Culbert, and Chaney’s boyfriend, Billy Joe Harris.

Medical records for Ball, Magee and Code show none of the men lodged heat-related complaints over the past several years, according to documents filed by the state in response to the suit.

Records filed by the state also indicate there are 82 men on death row at Angola. Those inmates are allowed out of their cells one hour every day and are allowed to go outside for one hour three times a week. (The Advocate)

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Louisiana death-row inmate Damon Thibodeaux exonerated with DNA evidence


 

september 28, 2012 http://www.washingtonpost.com

NEW ORLEANS — A Louisiana death-row inmate convicted of the rape and murder of his 14-year-old step-cousin in 1996 on Friday became the 300th person exonerated on the basis of DNA evidence in the United States — and the 18th death-row inmate saved from execution by DNA.

Damon Thibodeaux, now 38, confessed to the brutal attack on his cousin after a nine-hour interrogation in 1996 by detectives from the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office. He recanted a few hours later and has maintained since that his confession was coerced. Despite his recantation, Thibodeaux was indicted four days after his arrest. In 1997, a jury found him guilty of murder and rape, largely on the basis of his confession. He was sentenced to death.

Thibodeaux walked out of the death-row unit of Louisiana’s Angola prison farm on a rainy Friday afternoon, free for the first time after 15 years, during which he was kept in solitary confinement 23 hours per day.

In an interview minutes after he left the prison, Thibodeaux said he struggled to control his emotions during the years he waited for exoneration.

“For the first couple of years, it takes a lot of getting used to. Sometimes, it seemed like it wasn’t going to happen. You think, they’re going to kill you and just accept it,” he said. “But as things started to accumulate, you start, you know, gaining hope.”

He said the detectives who questioned him in 1996 took advantage of his exhaustion and fed him details of the crime to include in his confession.

“They look for vulnerable points where they can manipulate you, and if you’re sleep-deprived or panicked, or you’re on something or drunk, it makes it that much easier to accomplish what they want to accomplish,” Thibodeaux said. “At that point, I was tired. I was hungry. All I wanted to do was sleep, and I was willing to tell them anything they wanted me to tell them if it would get me out of that interrogation room.”

Thibodeaux said that he hoped his case could help lead police agencies to be more careful not to induce false confessions.

The detectives involved in Thibodeaux’s interrogation could not be reached Friday. Earlier, a spokesman for the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office declined to comment on the agency’s handling of the case and said the investigators would not be made available.

Thibodeaux’s exoneration came after an unusual five-year joint reinvestigation of the case by the office of Jefferson Parish District Attorney Paul Connick, which brought the charges, and a team of defense lawyers and investigators, including the New York-based Innocence Project.

During the reexamination of the case, during which Thibodeaux put his formal appeals on hold, investigators concluded that his confession was riddled with glaring errors, such as the manner and time of death and the identification of the murder weapon, and did not match the crime scene and other evidence. Most remarkable, the investigation found that the sexual assault to which Thibodeaux also confessed — making him eligible under Louisiana law for the death penalty — never occurred.

“The 300th exoneration is an extraordinary event, and it couldn’t be more fitting that it’s an innocent man on death row who gave a false confession,” said Barry Scheck, a founder of the Innocence Project and one of the lawyers who worked on the case. “People have a very hard time with the concept that an innocent person could confess to a crime that they didn’t commit. But it happens a lot. It’s the ultimate risk that an innocent man could be executed.”

New DNA testing conducted during the inquiry on the clothing worn by Thibodeaux on the night of the murder and virtually every other piece of evidence collected by police established no links to the crime — so the absence of DNA became a powerful element of evidence itself. A DNA profile was also obtained from a tiny sample of blood on a piece of the wire used to strangle the victim. It did not match Thibodeaux.

The reinvestigation totaled more than $500,000, a cost shared by the defense and prosecution, according to lawyers involved in the case.

The dismissal of Thibodeaux’s case comes amid a flurry of such exonerations across the country and at a time when doubts about the reliability of American courts in determining guilt and innocence appear to be growing.

Early this week, John Edward Smith was released from a Los Angeles jail nearly two decades after being wrongly imprisoned for a 1993 gang-related drive-by shooting. Prosecutors in Chicago moved to dismiss murder charges against Alprentiss Nash in August, 17 years after he was convicted of a murder that new DNA analysis indicates he did not commit. In Texas last month, David Lee Wiggins was released after DNA testing cleared him of a rape conviction for which he had served 24 years.

In July, a D.C. judge declared Kirk L. Odom innocent of a 1981 rape and robbery for which he had served more than 22 years in prison. The same week, the Justice Department and FBI announced they would reexamine thousands of cases after The Washington Post reported widespread problems in its forensic examination of hair fibers over several decades. That came on the heels of a conclusion by the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan that five people convicted in the 1995 murder of a taxi driver and imprisoned since are innocent.