Category Archives: Capital punishment

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:  https://wrongfulconvictionsblog.org/2015/04/10/interview-with-debra-milkes-attorney/

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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“I’ll fight ‘til my knuckles bleed for others on death row”: The remarkable story of a man once sentenced to die

From: Salon.com by Sean Dunne and Jack Shuler

Wrongfully accused & sentenced to die, now Derrick Jamison is free — and fighting back

Derrick Jamison dresses keenly. Tonight he’s wearing black slacks and polished black loafers with a Cincinnati Reds jersey over a long-sleeve black t-shirt, a large silver cross dangling from a chain around his neck. A brand new flat-brimmed Reds ball cap presses down a large shock of hair that just peaks out from beneath. Derrick is black, six foot four, and almost always grinning. He stands out in most places, but he really stands out in this section of the baseball stadium of mostly white males.

“I’m looking forward to this! It’s been a long time,” Derrick says as we all sit down in the Great American Ballpark, just behind the Mets dugout. “There sure are a lot of Mets fans here. You think they travel with the team?” he says aloud, and then taps a guy in front of him on the shoulder who’s wearing a Tom Seaver jersey. “Are y’all following the Mets around the country?” he asks sincerely.

The Mets fan barks dismissively, “No. I live here,” and turns back around, quickly working into the conversation he’s having with another fan that he was at Game 7 of the 1986 World Series between the New York Mets and the Boston Red Sox. While he was at that game in 1986, Derrick Jamison was on Ohio’s death row.

Since 1977, there have been 155 death row exonerations. Derrick is number 119. In all, he spent twenty years inside, seventeen of them on death row. He had six stays of execution, one of which came just 90 minutes before death. He had already had his last meal and made arrangements for his body.

And yet, here he is now at a Reds game on a cool September evening, on the same day that Pope Francis addressed Congress and called for the abolition of the death penalty. A month from now, on October 25, it will be the ten-year anniversary of his release from prison.

For Derrick though, celebrating that release is a mixed bag. He’s living proof of what’s at stake when we talk about the problems of the death penalty. Derrick was accused of the brutal murder of a Cincinnati bartender named Gary Mitchell,who was killed during a robbery in 1984. Two months later, Derrick was arrested for robbing a Gold Star Chili restaurant, and was wearing Pony shoes, as had been Mitchell’s killer. When a man named Charles Howell was arrested for being an accomplice to the murder, he claimed that Derrick was the killer. Howell got a reduced sentence for his testimony.

Derrick was sentenced to death on October 25, 1985, becoming one of 26 people sentenced to death in Hamilton County, Ohio, between 1981 and 1992. For context, this one county sentenced more people to death than 18 of the 38 states that enforced capital punishment during this time period.

But witness descriptions of the suspects didn’t match Jamison’s actual appearance. When one eyewitness to the robbery and murder was shown photos he identified two men—neither was Derrick Jamison. This evidence was suppressed by the police department. In 2000, Derrick was granted a new trial and a Federal judge said that the prosecutor working on the case, Mark Peipmeier, withheld evidence. The charges were dismissed in 2005.

According to the Innocence Project, over one-third of death row exonerees haven’t been adequately compensated. When Derrick was released, the prison gates were opened, and that’s about it. He received no restitution, no support. Despite enduring six stays of executions, eating what he was told was his last meal each time, and being 90 minutes away from his execution, Derrick received no compensation, because Ohio could claim he would have been incarcerated anyway for robbing the Gold Star Chili restaurant.

A few years later, Derrick was walking across the street from the justice center in Cincinnati and he passed Piepmier. He looked over and it was clear that he recognized him.

“He knew he was wrong, but I don’t hold in anger. How you gonna enjoy life like that? I saw those prison guards and their anger,” he pauses. “They killing people and then going home and kissing their kids goodnight.” Derrick says his faith got him through. And, perhaps, his kindness, his gentle demeanor. While in prison, he helped organize care packages for other inmates who did not have support from the outside. On the way into the ballpark, despite his limited resources, he stopped to talk to a homeless man and then gave him a dollar.

Derrick has a lot that he could be angry about. While on death row, his mother and father passed away—he blames their early deaths on the stress of his situation. “The death penalty not only kills inmates,” he says, “it kills families.” In some strange ways, though, he has a new family—that of death row exonerees, a group that forms a singular tribe of the once-incarcerated. They meditate daily not only on their newfound freedom, but on the fact that they were almost killed.

“Just to be clear, you know, I’m not just an exoneree, I’m an abolitionist. I got friends who are still inside.” After spending 20 years of his life in the system, Derrick spends his time trying to change it. He has spoken in every death penalty state and has travelled to other countries to fight against the U.S. death penalty. “I’ll fight ‘til my knuckles bleed for others on death row,” he says, “but I can’t go back to visit them. I can’t have that door close behind me again.”

Tonight provides Derrick with a temporary break in this fight. Tonight he’s most concerned with his Cincinnati Reds. It’s been a rough season. They’ve traded away starting pitchers Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake. And it shows. They’re at the bottom of the National League Central and the Mets are at the top of the East.

After the Reds got one back to tie the game in the sixth, one of the Mets tossed a ball to our section that was caught by the Mets fan wearing the Tom Seaver jersey. Derrick is delighted to be so close, and after the fan shows it off to one of his friends, he shoves the ball into the side pocket of his cargo shorts. Derrick asks him if he can see it. “No!” he yells back to Derrick, barely turning to look at him.

“There are some rude people in this world,” Derrick mutters under his breath.

Throughout the game, Derrick talks openly about his experience in prison among this crew of Mets fans. He tells a story of his basketball team, the one made of death row inmates who could beat the guards when the general population couldn’t.

At the end of the 7th inning, as the Mets jog off the field to their dugout, second basemen Danny Murphy tosses a ball several rows behind Derrick, there’s a mad scramble, and Derrick, along with Jack and Sean, the authors of this article, turn to their right to see who would catch it. Almost immediately after turning to follow the ball’s path, Sean sees that the ball has been knocked forward by fans competing to catch it and sticks his left hand out to catch it.

Derrick asks, “Where did the ball go?”

“Right here,” Sean says, handing the ball to Derrick. “Now you have your own.”

Derrick is ecstatic.

Soon after, a man who was sitting in our row a few seats down from us approaches Derrick after watching us take photos with the ball.

“Didn’t you talk at our church on Martin Luther King Day?”

“Yes, I did,” he replies.

“I recognized you. It’s good to see you. Congratulations!”

Derrick Jamison’s presence is testimony—an argument for abolishing the death penalty. Exonerees like Derrick give people a name and a face, a story to attach to the numbers and often vague pronouncements about capital punishment.

But since 2005, Derrick’s life has been rough at times. He struggles financially and psychologically, mostly with the personal trauma of being so close to death, and so often.

In the soft glow of the lights in the 8th inning, thumbing the caught ball in his hands, none of that matters. And it doesn’t matter that the Reds are losing. It’s just a game. There will be more chances, more games.

Sean Dunne is assistant professor of Sociology at Shawnee State University. He has published articles in The Irish Times, The Irish Independent, Z Magazine, and elsewhere.

Jack Shuler is author of three books including “The Thirteenth Turn: A History of the Noose” (PublicAffairs, 2014). His writing has appeared in Salon, The Atlantic, Los Angeles Times, Truthout, among others. He teaches at Denison University.

Click here to read the original publication.

 

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

Glossip Execution Stayed in Oklahoma

Please see our earlier post on this subject:  Oklahoma May Be About to Execute an Innocent Man.

An Oklahoma appellate court has granted a two week stay of execution for Richard Glossip while it considers motions filed by his attorneys. See the CNN story here.

 

Oklahoma May Be About to Execute an Innocent Man

Richard Glossip is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection in Oklahoma next Wednesday, 9/16.

He was convicted of a murder-for-hire plot based solely upon the testimony of the actual murderer, who implicated Glossip after coercion by the police, and to save his own skin.

See the CNN story by Helen Prejean here.

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

A Profile in Courage – Ricky Jackson’s 39 Years in Prison

This past Wednesday, I was privileged to be present when Ricky Jackson addressed a group of people at the University of Cincinnati. In November, 2014, Ricky, along with two of his boyhood friends, the Bridgeman brothers, was exonerated of a murder he did not commit, and for which he spent 39 years in prison, including 2 1/2 years on death row.  See the previous WCB coverage of this here. I was so moved, that I felt compelled to write about my impressions.

Ricky spoke at some length about his experiences, his feelings about it all, and his perspectives and future plans.  I must say he is eloquent, articulate, intelligent, compassionate, humorous, and possessed of humility. He is the kind of person I would be honored to call a friend.

I won’t try to relate the details of his case or his experiences. For that, please check the link cited above, and the links within that article.  But know that I sat there in wonder as he spoke about all this without the slightest trace of anger, resentment, or bitterness. How a person can endure what he did, and come out of it with his attitude and perspective is just about incomprehensible to me.

I have to wonder also what this man might have accomplished during those 39 years had he not been in prison. Those 39 years were stolen not just from Ricky Jackson, but from us – all of us – because this is a man who clearly has the ability to have a positive influence on other people and on society as a whole. I’m sure Ricky has very definite knowledge of what this has cost him, but we’ll never know what this has cost us. And on top of that . . . the real murderers are still out there.

And of course, this begs the question – how many more Ricky Jackson’s are there still in prison in this country?

 

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