Category Archives: Capital punishment

Friday’s Quick Clicks

  • This is weird.  Bill pending in Tennessee would allow inmates cleared by DNA testing to bypass the governor and be exonerated by the legislature.  Articles suggest currently governor is only options for such inmates.  A quick look at the Tennessee rules seems to suggest that such a motion could only be brought in the court system if it were made within 30 days of sentencing.  WTH?  That’s awful.  Tennessee needs an innocence organization to fix that situation and get a real “motion for new trial” rule passed in that state.
  • ‘Global epidemic’ of US-style plea bargaining prompts miscarriage warning
  • Oklahoma Commission Issues Report Findings: ‘It is undeniable that innocent people have been sentenced to death in Oklahoma’
  • Exoneree Marty Tankleff passes the NY bar exam!!!

Monday’s Quick Clicks…

Maryland Justice Professional Opposes Revisiting Death Penalty

“At a time when there are calls for criminal justice reform, it is important to ensure any reforms are based on sound research and data-driven, fact-based information. Calls for re-establishment of the death penalty in Maryland are not based on the aforementioned.” — Karl Bickel

Karl Bickel, a career law enforcement officer and former proponent of the death penalty, has offered a well-researched argument against making any exception to the repeal of Maryland’s death penalty, implemented in 2013. The state has opted for life in prison without the possibility of parole for its worst offenders. House Bill 881, introduced on February 6, 2017, calls for an exception for first-degree murder cases in which the victim is a law enforcement officer, correctional officer, or first responder.

A key issue for Bickel is avoiding the risk of wrongful conviction and execution of an innocent.

Bickel is retired from the Department of Justice, and has been a major city police officer, an assistant professor, and second in command of the Frederick County (MD) Sheriff’s Office.

Read his commentary here.

The National Registry of Exonerations has identified 116 cases in which a person was wrongly convicted of murder and sentenced to death, before being exonerated.

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Jim Petro commentary: Death penalty is in decline, but problems remain

Jim Petro, former Ohio attorney general, comments today in the Columbus Dispatch on problems with Ohio’s death penalty, including unaddressed recommendations to reduce the risk of executing the wrongly convicted…

Columbus Dispatch

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Post Exoneraton Developments in the Debra Milke Case

I hope that by now, everybody knows that Debra Milke, previously convicted and inprisoned in Maricopa County, AZ, for contracting the murder of her young son, has been exonerated.

We’ve posted about the Debra Milke case on this blog several times previously. In chronological order –  here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here(The red link is particularly germane to the subject of this post.)

Pursuant to her wrongful conviction, wrongful imprisonment (22 years on death row), and eventual exoneration, Debra filed suit with five claims against four defendants, including two former Phoenix police officers and the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office (Bill Montgomery), stating that that she was denied a fair trial and due process of law. The two police officers and the Maricopa County Attorney filed a motion with the court to dismiss the suit. Judge Roslyn O. Silver of the United States District Court for the District of Arizona has denied the motion to dismiss, and is allowing the suit to go forward.

See the story from azcentral here.

You can read the decision by Senior United States District Judge Roslyn O. Silver here:  97-OrderreMotionstoDismiss


On Death Row for a Murder that Wasn’t?

Rodricus Crawford sits on Louisiana’s death row, awaiting execution for the murder of his one-year-old son, Roderius

But although Roderius (affectionately called “BoBo”) is dead, he likely was not murdered – not by his father. Or by anyone else.

Dale Cox was the Lousiana prosecutor against Crawford, a case which rested almost exclusively on the testimony of a state forensic pathologist who claimed that bruises on the child’s lip were consistent with death by smothering.  It was undisputed that Bobo had fallen the day before, a fact confirmed by the child’s mother and a fact that explained the bruised lip. More importantly, BoBo also was found to have pneumonia is his lungs, a fact that the same state forensic pathologist dismissed as mere “coincidence.”

Another forensic pathologist, Daniel Spitz, disagreed.  After reviewing the case, Spitz concluded that BoBo died of pneumonia. Spitz added that, in his opinion, there:

wasn’t enough evidence to even put this before a jury. You didn’t have anybody who thought this guy committed murder except for one pathologist who decided that it was homicide on what seemed like a whim.

And it is not just Spitz. Other pathologists agree that BoBo likely died of pneumonia.  The Innocence Network filed an amicus brief on behalf of Crawford, in which they too argue that BoBo died of an illness, not murder.

So why is Crawford still sitting on death row?

The answer may be as twisted, as it is true: he had the misfortune of being prosecuted by Cox.

Lousiana’s use of the death penalty has been on the decline in recent years.  But not in Caddo Parish, a county in Louisiana, which is responsible for most of the state’s death sentences.  Between 2010-2015, 8 out of 12 death sentences came from Caddo Parish. Of those eight death sentences, Dale Cox was responsible for four.

Cox is an ardent believer in capital punishment who proudly believes “we need to kill more people.”

And he doesn’t just believe in the death penalty.  He believes that people who are sentenced to die should physically suffer, a philosophy long-ago rejected by the Supreme Court.  After Crawford was sentenced to die, Cox wrote to the state’s probation department: “I am sorry that Louisiana has adopted lethal injection as the form of implementing the death penalty,” because “Mr. Crawford deserves as much physical suffering as it is humanly possible to endure before he dies.”

Many folks who have reviewed Crawford’s case would strongly disagree; it is no “mere coincidence” that Crawford has been featured as an example of the death penalty gone terribly wrong, and that he is currently the subject of two different petitions to gain his release.

The potentially good news is that there’s a new prosecutor in Caddo now.

James Stewart, an African American, was elected to be the District Attorney of Caddo Parish for the next five years.  Cox is no longer with the office.

With a new DA, there is a new opportunity for a second-look at Crawford’s case. And with a just announced death penalty moratorium in Louisiana due to questions about its execution methods, now is the perfect time for Stewart to reexamine whether Crawford should even be in prison, let alone on death row.

Ten people have already been exonerated from Louisiana’s death row.  Perhaps Stewart will help Crawford be its number eleven.


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Anatomy of a Confession – The Debra Milke Case

Gary Stuart, author and Professor of Law at Arizona State University, has just published a book about the Debra Milke case.    See our previous post here:

anatomy of confession

“Anatomy of a Confession is the story of the 1990 murder trial of Debra Milke. Two men—Debra’s boyfriend at the time and a friend of his—murdered Debra’s four year-old son in the Arizona desert. One of them implicated the boy’s mother. Even before Debra was questioned, the police hung a guilty tag on her. Debra Milke spent twenty-three years on death row for the murder of her four year-old son based solely on a confession she never gave. This is also the story of Detective Armando Saldate, his history of extracting forced confessions, and the role the Phoenix Police Department played in the cover-up and misconduct in its handling of the Milke investigation. Anatomy of a Confession is a vivid and shocking reminder of what America’s vaunted presumption of innocence is all about.”

It’s available on Amazon here.

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