Category Archives: death penalty

Death by any means

It’s bad enough that the duty of prosecutors to disclose and give to the accused any exculpatory and impeachment evidence is entirely self-regulated. It’s quite another when prosecutors flout that requirement to obtain convictions while hiding behind the quickly falling veil of justice. It’s worse yet when they intentionally hide evidence in a case in which they are seeking to murder the accused.

This may sound familiar to you and that’s because I wrote back in February about Virginia prosecutors and their quest to kill Justin Wolfe. If only this were a follow-up to that post. It is not. This is yet another instance of prosecutorial hide-the-ball in a death penalty case, this time from Colorado in the case of Sir Mario Owens1.

Determined to demonstrate just how far he believed Arapahoe County prosecutors had strayed over the line in the effort to obtain the death penalty against his client, defense attorney Jim Castle resorted to a visual aid. During a hearing late Friday, he presented District Judge Gerald Rafferty with a wheeled cart piled with documents that he said prosecutors were obligated to turn over to the defense before trial but failed to do so — a transgression of due-process rights known as a Brady violation.

“There are so many violations in this case, I can’t cover them all,” Castle said. “How did this happen? This shouldn’t happen. If it’s allowed, we will accept a new low for justice in Colorado.”

I’m not going to go into a long-winded rant about the injustice of this. I’ll just let you see how outrageous it is.

  • [Co-defendant] Robert Ray’s wife, LaToya Sailor, testified that she wasn’t willing to come forward about what she knew until after Owens was arrested because she feared Owens would harm her son. Despite the fact that police documents indicate Sailor was already cooperating with authorities prior to Owens’ arrest, prosecutors made her supposed need to be protected from Owens “an issue in the case” and hammered away at it to the jury.
  • Another document withheld from the defense indicated Sailor, the beneficiary of a car from then-District Attorney Carol Chambers, had initially offered to assist in an accessory case against Ray but didn’t want to tie him directly to the Marshall-Fields shooting. (Ray was sentenced to death for Marshall-Fields’s murder and received a life sentence for Wolfe’s death.)
  • Witness Jamar Johnson was facing two counts of conspiracy to commit murder if he failed to cooperate in the Ray-Owens prosecution, but defense attorneys weren’t made aware of that possible motivation or how it might have shaped his testimony.
  • Greg Strickland, the only witness to identify Owens as the shooter of Marshall-Fields and Wolfe, testified that he’d received no assistance in any of his own cases in return for his testimony. But records indicate he received a plea deal in Adams County in exchange for his cooperation.

Some prosecutors take the position that if they don’t ask or know about information that would tend to prove the accused’s innocence, then they don’t have to abide by the Constitution. DA Carol Chambers apparently subscribed to that school of thought, because this isn’t the first case in which her ethics were called into question.

It is precisely this blood-lust that leads to a convict-at-all-costs attitude. And when the priority is a conviction, it is justice that dies.


More than 3.5 million reasons why the death penalty should be abolished

The death penalty is crazy. It’s barbaric. It’s sanctioned murder.

urkel-gifWe should end it.

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Here are more than 3.5 million reasons why:

1-3.5 million: $3.5 million is how much the defense expert billed the public defender services for his work in the racial disparity hearings. Of course, the Courant when writing about it, misses the mark entirely (again) in its description of the need for this sort of work:

For many taxpayers, it’s an unwelcome fact of life that they bear the cost of preserving the legal rights of convicted killers. The counter to that is that it’s the price of being civilized. And if an exclamation point is needed to punctuate either statement, it could be the story of the recent payment to Donohue.

The most obvious explanation, completely glossed over, is that it’s the price we have to pay for having a death penalty. It’s not the rights of convicted killers, it’s the cost of a death sentence. If the state wants to prosecute people and kill them for those crimes, it shares the responsibility and burden of making sure those convictions are legal. Why is there no blame on the prosecution for this cost?

And it’s a cost incurred to ensure that the death penalty isn’t racist. Which, you know:

thats-racist

3,500,001-????: We actually don’t know how much the prosecution spends on the defense of murde the death penalty, but it stands to reason that they too spend a lot.

There are still plenty of death penalty appeals pending, perhaps with some retrials to come. There is decades worth of work to be done fighting against the death penalty. That means lots more money.

It’s not the defense’s fault. The state is trying to kill someone. We’re trying to prevent further murder.

Channel your outrage accordingly.

 

On lethal injections: academia vs. reality

The Wood botched execution in Arizona and others elsewhere have shocked many and rightly so. But it’s also opened up an interesting debate in the legal world. On the one hand, you have academics arguing the academia and the technicalities of the law and the meaning of words and on the other, you have former lawyers turned professors who are arguing that, really, what we should do is avoid torturous executions. The latter is a post at the ACS blog which I’d recommend that you read in its entirety. It is long and technical, but it really is worth reading to understand why the secrecy surrounding the lethal injection protocol is dangerous and cannot be tolerated.

H/T: Nancy Leong

Cruel and unusual: the new lows we hit in our thirst for blood (updated)

The death penalty is a disgusting, cruel and barbaric business. It is nothing more than a manifestation of our basest instinct for revenge, wrapped in primal anger and fear. It is the worst of us.

In this pursuit of revenge under the guise of justice, the depths we have fallen to are stunning: state governments are sanctioning secret protocols to poison people to death, just so their nefarious concoctions cannot be questioned by those who are subject to die by them.

Our blood-thirst has driven us so mad that we are willing to make threats about impeaching state supreme court justices for staying executions and those justices are willing to back down rather than ensure that no person suffers torture.

So it was, in a sense almost inevitable that the debacle in Oklahoma would occur, an event that was so eerily foreshadowed by a statement of the attorney for one of the condemned.

I can’t reproduce anything more poignantly than those who were covering it live, so there it is:

lockett

and

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What have we done? What are we doing? Is this who we want to be? As CT’s Supreme Court considers the continued viability of capital punishment for the 10 remaining on death row, it would do well to keep in mind the kind of inhuman torture that we are endorsing – explicitly or implicitly – by keeping this punishment alive.

Of course, this puts the latest findings that a full 4% of death row inmates may be actually innocent in a disturbing and urgent light.

Shame on us all. Today is a day future generations will turn away from in history books and shed a quiet tear. For today was the death of humanity.

Update: See this post by Gamso and this by Philip Bump at The Atlantic Wire. Both must reads.

Death penalty in CT still alive

Pardon the pun, but the state’s abolition of the death penalty in 2012 was always an incomplete measure, in part because of the 10 or so men on death row who weren’t pardoned by abolition and because of the one remaining pending capital case of Richard Roszkowski.

Roszkowski killed three people, but got the death penalty for only the killing of one of them: 9-year old Kylie Flannery. This was the second penalty phase trial for him, the first also having ended with a death sentence, but that was reversed by the trial judge because of incorrect jury instructions.

It’s quite illogical to argue that our standards of decency have so evolved that we no longer consider death an appropriate punishment in the State of Connecticut, except for those people who committed their offenses before a certain date.

Ironically, I’ve been told that Roszkowski’s lawyers weren’t allowed to argue to the jury that the State has abolished the death penalty and thus they shouldn’t impose a sentence of death.

I guess when you get the taste of blood in your mouth, it’s really hard to let go.

And so now we have yet another deeply mentally disturbed man on death row, over whose murder we will spend decades and millions of dollars.

Because vengeance is more important. And killing is wrong. So we must kill to enforce that message.

The persecution of justice (updated)

i-dont-want-to-live-farnsworth

One of the more important things I write about here at ‘a public defender’ is the notion that “Justice” is a complicated concept. It is not limited to what you are fed through your televisions and it is certainly not a government-centric idea.

Justice takes many obvious forms, such as the apprehension and conviction of a criminal. But limiting the definition of justice to something as simplistic as “good guys vs. bad guys” leaves you with a very narrow worldview and an over-inflated sense of morality.

Justice can mean that the right person was punished and that the punishment was just. Justice can mean standing up for unpopular causes, maybe sometimes precisely because they are unpopular.

The persecution of this nuanced meaning of justice, however, has never been more fervent than in this day of “speak by shouting at others” discourse and base politics that pander to ever-extreme hysterical idiots who have found a sure-fire method of whipping up political points and ire by removing any semblance of complexity from American politics and intellectual discussion.

I speak, of course, of the shameful defeat of the president’s nomination of Debo Adegbile to head the civil rights division at the Department of Justice. Joined by 7 democrats, Republicans torpedoed this highly qualified, lifelong public servant from running the civil rights division because a long time ago, he spent some part of his career working for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, during which time he worked on a brief seeking to overturn the conviction of “noted cop-killer” Mumia Abu-Jamal.