How someone gets convicted of anything based on these facts:
On March 19, 2005, the victim had fallen asleep on the living room couch in her mother’s home. Her mother awoke her and instructed her to go upstairs to bed so that the defendant could sleep on the couch. The victim went upstairs but later went to the basement to smoke a cigarette. The defendant came to the basement, sat beside the victim on a couch and also smoked a cigarette. The victim and the defendant played a card game, and the defendant offered the victim a glass of beer, which she refused. The defendant also asked the victim if she wanted to take the drug ecstasy, which the defendant did not have in his possession, but attempted unsuccessfully to get via the telephone.
The defendant noticed a ‘‘hickey’’ on the victim’s neck and asked how she got it. The victim responded that her boyfriend had given it to her. The defendant touched the ‘‘hickey’’ and looked at the victim in a manner that she considered weird. The defendant kissed the ‘‘hickey,’’ released the victim’s bra, touched her breasts and placed his mouth on them. The defendant talked to the victim about her being his wife, marriage, children and getting a place together. The defendant also removed the victim’s pants and asked the victim for a condom, which she did not have and refused to get from upstairs. The victim asked the defendant what he was doing. The defendant assured her that it was all right, as she was his wife. The defendant removed a tampon from the victim and performed cunnilingus.
Although the victim resisted the defendant’s advances, she did not fight or try her hardest to stop him. She did not call for her mother, who was upstairs sleeping. The defendant’s sexual assault lasted approximately one-half hour. The victim then put on her clothing, went upstairs to her older sister’s bedroom and fell asleep.
Story or truth?
The first half of the title of this post (shamelessly plagiarized from our good friends at CapDefWeekly) should come as no surprise to anyone. Texas is a powerhouse when it comes to executions, rapidly putting people to death.
The second half of the title should also come as no surprise, though. And there’s a new report to back it up [here's a link to the actual report]. The man in question is Cameron Todd Willingham, convicted of setting fire to his house that killed his children in 1991. The new report states that Texas fire marshals had no basis to conclude that the fire was set intentionally and in all likelihood was an accident. Willingham was executed in 2004, maintaining his innocence to the end.
Among [Craig] Beyler’s key findings: that investigators failed to examine all of the electrical outlets and appliances in the Willinghams’ house in the small Texas town of Corsicana, did not consider other potential causes for the fire, came to conclusions that contradicted witnesses at the scene, and wrongly concluded Willingham’s injuries could not have been caused as he said they were.
The state fire marshal on the case, Beyler concluded in his report, had “limited understanding” of fire science. The fire marshal “seems to be wholly without any realistic understanding of fires and how fire injuries are created,” he wrote.
The marshal’s findings, he added, “are nothing more than a collection of personal beliefs that have nothing to do with science-based fire investigation.”
And it isn’t Beyler alone. Nine of the nation’s top fire scientists reviewed the Willingham case and concluded that “the original investigators relied on outdated theories and folklore to justify the determination of arson.”
And that’s not all. There was some other evidence of his guilt: jailhouse snitch testimony. That doyen of reliable information. To paraphrase Radley Balko, junk science and a jailhouse snitch do not a reliable conviction make.
Good job Texas. Good job death penalty advocates.
Links to stuff I don’t care to make into full-fledged posts:
I’m a little late in “reporting” on this, but it’s worth pointing out. The esteemed Heritage Foundation has issued a new report/study/propaganda piece/Robert Ludlum laugh-a-thon titled “Adult Times for Adult Crimes: Life Without Parole for Juvenile Killers and Violent Teens”. That title is just as long and unwieldy as some of my titles, which tells you much about the substance (hint: it’s useless).
There’s so much rhetoric in this report that misses the point of not sentencing kids to life in prison that it makes my head spin (and as a by-product, makes the report very difficult to take seriously).
Here’s a sample: Continue reading
This post has been a long time in the making. Over the past few months, I’ve had to deal with clients – and have observed other lawyers dealing with their clients – who have severe mental health problems. And each one of us can tell you that there’s nothing more difficult – or more heartwrenching – than coming to an appropriate resolution of a criminal case involving a defendant with mental health problems.
Not only does one have the normal problems of communicating with a person who may be hearing voices, or who may believe that he is an FBI recruit who has to save the world while the Russians are tracking him with embedded micro-chips, but one also struggles with the failings of a system that has no room for clients like that.
While I usually decry the heartlessness of prosecutors and judges on this blog, I have to say my experiences in this area have been to the contrary. While they don’t get in the way, they do join the defeaning chorus that reminds us of the futility of our efforts. Continue reading
Orin Kerr leads a discussion at Volokh.