Washington

Supreme Court sides with death row inmate over racist juror claim


JANUARY 8, 2018

WASHINGTON, The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday paved the way for a black Georgia inmate to challenge his 1991 death sentence for killing his sister-in-law after he argued the case was tainted by a racist white juror who questioned whether black people have souls.

The justices, in a 6-3 unsigned decision, threw out a lower court’s decision that had rejected his biased jury assertion. Keith Tharpe was found guilty and sentenced to death by a jury of 10 white people and two black people in Georgia’s Jones County. The allegations of racial bias arose from an interview with one of the jurors years later, not comments made during the trial

Monday’s ruling means the case will return to lower courts and gives Tharpe a chance to avoid execution.

Tharpe had been scheduled to be put to death by lethal injection in a Georgia state prison on Sept. 26 but the Supreme Court granted his last-minute stay application so it could have more time to decide whether to hear his appeal.

Tharpe, 59, kidnapped and raped his estranged wife, Migrisus Tharpe, and used a shotgun to kill Jaquelin Freeman, her sister, in September 1990, according to court records.

Three of the court’s conservatives, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch, dissented from Monday’s decision.

Thomas, the court’s only black justice, is also from Georgia. He pointed out in his dissenting opinion that the court’s decision will “delay justice” for the victim, who was also black.

“The court’s decision is no profile in moral courage,” Thomas said.

In 1998 Tharpe’s lawyers, as they were preparing an appeal in the case, spoke with the trial jurors including a man named Barney Gattie, who has since died.

“After studying the Bible, I have wondered if black people even have souls,” Gattie told Tharpe’s lawyers in an affidavit, according to court papers.

Gattie also told the defense lawyers that there are two kinds of black people, one who he called “regular black folks” and another group he referred to using a racial slur.

“Because I knew the victim and her husband’s family and knew them all to be good black folks, I felt Tharpe, who wasn’t in the good black folks category in my book, should get the electric chair for what he did,” Gattie added.

The 12-person jury, including its two black members, voted unanimously to sentence Tharpe to death.

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


March 14, 2014

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

BREAKING: Washington governor suspends the death penalty in his state!


february 11, 2014 (AP)

Gov. Jay Inslee said Tuesday he was suspending the use of the death penalty in Washington state, announcing a move that he hopes will enable officials to “join a growing national conversation about capital punishment.”

The Democrat said he came to the decision after months of review, meetings with family members of victims, prosecutors and law enforcement.

“There have been too many doubts raised about capital punishment, there are too many flaws in this system today,” Inslee said at a news conference. “There is too much at stake to accept an imperfect system.”
Inslee said that the use of the death penalty is inconsistent and unequal. The governor’s staff briefed lawmakers about the move on Monday night and Tuesday morning.nslee’s moratorium, which will be in place for as long as he is governor, means that if a death penalty case comes to his desk, he will issue a reprieve, which isn’t a pardon and doesn’t commute the sentences of those condemned to death.

“During my term, we will not be executing people,” said Inslee, who was elected in 2012. “Nobody is getting out of prison, period.”

Last year, Maryland abolished the death penalty, the 18th state to do so and the sixth in the last six years.

Nine men await execution at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla. The state Supreme Court just last month rejected a petition for release from death row inmate Jonathan Lee Gentry, sentenced for the murder of a 12-year-old girl in 1988. Gentry could be the first execution in the state since September 2010, when Cal Coburn Brown died by lethal injection for the 1991 murder of a Seattle-area woman. A federal stay had recently been lifted in Gentry’s case, and a remaining state stay on his execution was expected to be lifted this month.

The decision by the governor comes following a recent decision by the state Department of Corrections, which is in the process of changing its execution protocol to allow witnesses to executions to see the entire process, including the insertion of intravenous catheters during a lethal injection.

The new witness protocol, currently a draft that is in its final stages of approval, includes the use of television monitors to show the inmate entering the death chamber and being strapped down, as well as the insertion of the IVs, which had both previously been shielded from public view.

Through public disclosure requests, The Associated Press had sought information about any potential changes to the execution protocols. State corrections officials spoke with the AP about the new procedures late last month.

The change is in response to a 2012 federal appeals court ruling that said all parts of an execution must be fully open to public witnesses. That ruling was sparked by a case brought by The AP and other news organizations who challenged Idaho’s policy to shield the insertion of IV catheters from public view, in spite of a 2002 ruling from the same court that said every aspect of an execution should be open to witnesses.

(Source: AP)

US – Prosecutors help set record number of exonerations in 2013


February 4, 2014 (dallasnews)

ST. LOUIS — A nationwide push by prosecutors and police to re-examine possible wrongful convictions contributed to a record number of exonerations in 2013, according to a report released Tuesday.

The National Registry of Exonerations says 87 people falsely convicted of crimes were exonerated last year, four more than in 2009, the year with the next highest total. The joint effort by the Northwestern University and University of Michigan law schools has documented more than 1,300 such cases in the U.S. since 1989 while also identifying another 1,100 “group exonerations” involving widespread police misconduct, primarily related to planted drug and gun evidence.

The new report shows that nearly 40 percent of exonerations recorded in 2013 were either initiated by law enforcement or included police and prosecutors’ cooperation. One year earlier, nearly half of the exonerations involved such reviews.

“Police and prosecutors have become more attentive and concerned about the danger of false conviction,” said registry editor Samuel Gross, a Michigan law professor. “We are working harder to identify the mistakes we made years ago, and we are catching more of them.”

Texas topped the state-by-state breakdown with 13 exonerations in 2013, followed by Illinois, New York, Washington, California, Michigan and Missouri.

District attorneys in the counties containing Dallas, Chicago, Brooklyn, Manhattan and Santa Clara, Calif., are among those to recently create “conviction integrity” units. The International Association of Chiefs of Police also is pushing to reduce wrongful convictions, joined by the U.S. Justice Department and The Innocence Project, an advocacy group that seeks to overturn wrongful convictions. The association’s recommendations to local departments include new guidelines for conducting photo lineups and witness interviews to reduce false confessions.

Fifteen of the 87 documented cases in 2013 involved convictions obtained after a defendant pleaded guilty, typically to avoid a longer prison sentence. Forty of the cases involved murder convictions, with another 18 overturned convictions for rape or sexual assault.

The number of exonerations based on DNA testing continued to decline, accounting for about one-fifth of the year’s total.

“It’s extremely valuable to use,” Gross said. “But most crimes don’t involve DNA evidence. … DNA hastaught us a huge amount about the criminal justice system. Biological evidence has forced all of us to realize that we’ve made a lot of mistakes. But most exonerations involve shoe-leather, not DNA.”

In Illinois, Nicole Harris and Daniel Taylor each received certificates of innocence from a Cook County judge in January after their respective murder convictions were tossed out in 2013 — a designation that allows both to receive financial compensation from the state. Harris had been convicted in 2005 of strangling her 4-year-old son, who had an elastic band wrapped around his neck. Taylor was released after spending more than 20 years in prison for a fatal robbery that occurred while he was in police custody for an unrelated incident.

In Missouri, former death row inmate Reginald Griffin went free in October 2013 after a small-town prosecutor declined to refile murder charges in connection with a 1983 prison stabbing for which Griffin spent nearly three decades behind bars. Griffin denied his involvement but was convicted after two inmates claimed to have seen him stab the prisoner. One of those inmates later recanted, saying he had not seen the attack. An appellate attorney also discovered that prosecutors had withheld a report that guards had confiscated a sharpened screwdriver from another inmate as he was attempting to leave the area where the attack took place.

Ryan Ferguson, convicted in 2005 in the beating death of a Columbia (Mo.) Daily Tribune sports editor, was freed in November 2013 after a state appeals court panel ruled prosecutors had withheld evidence from his attorneys and that he didn’t get a fair trial. The state attorney general’s office decided not to retry Ferguson, who had received a 25-year prison sentence.

Like their counterparts across the country, Missouri prosecutors are reviewing not just questionable individual convictions but also the broader issues that lead to exonerations, from coerced confessions to contaminated crime labs.

“It’s the duty of police and prosecutors to protect everyone in the community, including victims and defendants,” said Boone County Prosecutor Dan Knight. “We want the process to be as fair and transparent as possible.”

EXONERATIONS  IN 2013 PDF REPORT

California death penalty: State abandons defense of three-drug executions


California has abandoned the legal defense of its delay-ridden lethal injection procedures, moving ahead to adopt a single-drug option that has been embraced by other states trying to enforce their death penalty laws.

The Brown administration has decided against appealing a May ruling that invalidated the state’s three-drug execution method, which has been mired in years of state and federal court legal tangles.

Faced with a Wednesday deadline, the state chose not to seek a California Supreme Court review of the decision striking down the three-drug procedure because state officials failed to follow administrative rules when adopting them several years ago.

A prison system spokeswoman said the governor and other state officials will proceed with working out a method of executing condemned inmates with a single fatal dose of a sedative, which other states — such as Ohio, Arizona and Washington — have adopted to short-circuit legal challenges to their lethal injection procedures. (Mercury News)

Ohio death row inmate Ronald Post says he’s too obese for execution


September 17, 2012 http://www.todaysthv.com

COLUMBUS, Ohio   – A condemned Ohio inmate who weighs at least 480 pounds wants his upcoming execution delayed, saying his weight could lead to a “torturous and lingering death.”

Ronald Post, who shot and killed a hotel clerk in northern Ohio almost 30 years ago, said his weight, vein access, scar tissue and other medical problems raise the likelihood his executioners would encounter severe problems. He’s also so big that the execution gurney might not hold him, lawyers for Post said in federal court papers filed Friday.

“Indeed, given his unique physical and medical condition there is a substantial risk that any attempt to execute him will result in serious physical and psychological pain to him, as well as an execution involving a torturous and lingering death,” the filing said.

Post, 53, is scheduled to die Jan. 16 for the 1983 shooting death of Helen Vantz in Elyria.

The prisons department was not aware of the filing and could not immediately comment.

Inmates’ weight has come up previously in death penalty cases in Ohio and elsewhere.

In 2008, federal courts rejected arguments by condemned double-killer Richard Cooey that he was too obese to die by injection. Cooey’s attorneys had argued that prison food and limited opportunities to exercise contributed to a weight problem that would make it difficult for the execution team to find a viable vein for lethal injection.

Cooey, who was 5-foot-7 and weighed 267 pounds, was executed Oct. 14, 2008.

In 2007, it took Ohio executioners about two hours to insert IVs into the veins of condemned inmate Christopher Newton, who weighed about 265 pounds. A prison spokeswoman at the time said his size was an issue.

In 1994 in Washington state, a federal judge upheld the conviction of Mitchell Rupe, but agreed with Rupe’s contention that at more than 400 pounds, he was too heavy to hang because of the risk of decapitation. Rupe argued that hanging would constitute cruel and unusual punishment.

After numerous court rulings and a third trial, Rupe was eventually sentenced to life in prison, where he died in 2006.

Ohio executes inmates with a single dose of pentobarbital, usually injected through the arms.

Medical personnel have had a hard time inserting IVs into Post’s arms, according to the court filing. Four years ago, an Ohio State University medical center nurse needed three attempts to insert an IV into Post’s left arm, the lawyers wrote.

Post has tried losing weight, but knee and back problems have made it difficult to exercise, according to his court filing.

While at the Mansfield Correctional Institution, Post “used that prison’s exercise bike until it broke under his weight,” according to the filing.