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Death Penalty, judge ready to rule on Death Penalty, Lynchings

Death Penalty

At least 20% of blacks on death row are innocent under the doctrine of reasonable doubt. I'm speaking of a minimum. I won't offer my guess as to the highest likelihood. I hope you've managed to see two films entitled "Whitewash: The Clarence Brandley Story" on the Show channel and Murder on a Sunday Morning, the French made documentary on a capital frame up in Florida. If you have, I hope you don't see these cases as anomalies. These films almost certainly reveal the bare tip of a societal nightmare.

What's most important about these films is the way in which they bare the totally calloused ways in which southern judges, DAs, police, and white juries are perfectly willing to kill perfectly innocent black people. Keep in mind that many thousands of blacks were lynched from the emergence of the KKK up through the 60s. My educated guess is that over 10,000 black males were lynched. Most of these brutal killings were done as a form of sport by roving gangs of young white males. One common practice was to cut off the victim's testicles and force him to eat them before he was strung up. I won't describe the worst of the tortures performed before cheering crowds of whites. Forgive me for mentioning such a horrible act, but it's important to know these things in order to appreciate the degree of hatred toward blacks that still exists in small towns in states like Texas.

Permit me to hammer away once again at one of my political axioms: the state will invariably abuse any power we give it. For that reason, we have to exercise extreme caution in giving the state powers over our lives. To grant the state the power to legally kill its own citizens strikes me as madness.

I'm sending you a list of only a few likely innocents who have been executed. I've attached sundry commentaries to the commentaries.

Executed Despite Doubts About Guilt

There is no way to tell how many of the over 500 people executed since 1976 may also have been innocent. Courts do not generally entertain claims of innocence when the defendant is dead. Defense attorneys move on to other cases where clients' lives can still be saved. [All materials in the evidence files are normally destroyed following an execution, making it nearly impossible to prove the innocence of somebody once he or she has been executed.] Some of those with strong claims include:

Roger Keith Coleman      Virginia       Conviction 1982      Executed 1992

Coleman was convicted of raping and murdering his sister-in-law in 1981, but both his trial and appeal were plagued by errors made by his attorneys. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider the merits of his petition because his state appeal had been filed one day late. Considerable evidence was developed after the trial to refute the state's evidence, and that evidence might well have produced a different result at a re-trial. Governor Wilder considered a commutation for Coleman, but allowed him to be executed when Coleman failed a lie detector test on the day of his execution.

[What the sly governor never seems to mention is the fact that the test was given only three hours before Coleman was to be executed. Polygraphs are notoriously unreliable. When the person being tested is in a high state of anxiety, they are nearly worthless. When your answer to a key question will send you to your death within three hours, it just might make you nervous. Governor Wilder ranks with Clinton in his sleazy coldness and crass machinations. I've reviewed this case, and I believe Coleman was probably innocent. The case against him was so weak it garnered a cover story in Time. There was reasonable doubt in spades. His execution caused a furor all over Europe.]

Joseph O'Dell      Virginia      Conviction 1986      Executed 1997

New DNA blood evidence has thrown considerable doubt on the murder and rape conviction of O'Dell. In reviewing his case in 1991, three Supreme Court Justices, said they had doubts about O'Dell's guilt and whether he should have been allowed to represent himself. Without the blood evidence, there is little linking O'Dell to the crime. In September, 1996, the 4th Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals reinstated his death sentence and upheld his conviction. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to review O'Dell's claims of innocence and held that its decision regarding juries being told about the alternative sentence of life-without-parole was not retroactive to his case. O'Dell asked the state to conduct DNA tests on other pieces of evidence to demonstrate his innocence but was refused. He was executed on July 23rd.

[Sometimes convictions have been partly based on old blood tests that merely indicated same blood types. In some cases, out-of-date DNA testing was done. Early on, DNA testing was very primitive and did not produce strongly convincing degrees of probability or improbability. The refusal to conduct modern DNA tests to supersede out-of-date tests is not rare. This refusal has been absolute following executions. Opponents of the death penalty have fought hard to obtain DNA tests in several cases where the guilt of the executed person has been highly dubious but could be finally determined with modern DNA tests. The state almost invariably refuses to conduct such tests. A test that absolutely exonerates an innocent person would be a tremendous weapon in the hands of those of us who want to take away the power of the state to legally kill Americans. Fear of this happening probably led the LAPD to destroy over 1,000 DNA samples. Every prisoner on death row wherein key DNA evidence has been "lost" should have his sentence commuted to life. There is an evidentiary doctrine known as "consciousness of guilt." It applies in spades to the corrupt LAPD's actions.]

David Spence      Texas      Conviction 1983?      Executed 1997

Spence was charged with murdering three teenagers in 1982. He was allegedly hired by a convenience store owner to kill another girl, and killed these victims by mistake. The convenience store owner, Muneer Deeb, was originally convicted and sentenced to death, but then was acquitted at a re-trial. The police lieutenant who supervised the investigation of Spence, Marvin Horton, later concluded: "I do not think David Spence committed this crime." Ramon Salinas, the homicide detective who actually conducted the investigation, said: "My opinion is that David Spence was innocent. Nothing from the investigation ever led us to any evidence that he was involved." No physical evidence connected Spence to the crime. The case against Spence was pursued by a zealous narcotics cop who relied on testimony of prison inmates who were granted favors in return for testimony.

[Cellmate testimony has always had a bad smell. In my humble opinion, the judge's instructions should include a warning to the jury that such testimony is unreliable, especially when it is shown that such a testimony has obtained positive gains for the testifier.]

Leo Jones      Florida      Convicted 1981      Executed 1998

Jones was convicted of murdering a police officer in Jacksonville, Florida. Jones signed a confession after several hours of police interrogation, but he later claimed the confession was coerced. In the mid-1980s, the policeman who arrested Jones and the detective who took his confession were forced out of uniform for ethical violations. The policeman was later identified by a fellow officer as an "enforcer" who had used torture. Many witnesses came forward pointing to another suspect in the case.

[This case reminds us that torture is horrendously unreliable for extracting the truth. Nearly every person has a breaking point. There are many examples of innocent people confessing guilt to stop endless pain. The prisons in Saudi Arabia are doubtlessly filled with innocent people. The Saudi police are highly skilled at torture, and they have forced many perfectly innocent people to confess. The same goes for the Egyptian police. The fact the US is now taking prisoners to Egypt for interrogation is an abomination.

[The HBO French-made documentary, "Murder on a Sunday Morning" reveals how effective torture and intimidation can be with a 15-year-old black boy, especially when conducted in dark woods with no witnesses.

[I found it fascinating that a French production crew  was able to film this case from day one. I suppose ever since the media has pilloried Oliver Stone for suggesting some ugly truths about our government, no American filmmaker dares to even hint at actual government conspiracies. Speaking of Stone, I found it interesting that the prosecuting attorney compared the public defender to Oliver Stone during her summation to the jury; however, I guess the jury figured out conspiracies really do happen in our judicial system.]

Gary Graham       Texas        Convicted 1981       Executed on June 22, 2000

Gary Graham was executed in Texas, despite claims he was innocent. Graham was 17 when he was charged with the 1981 robbery and shooting of Bobby Lambert outside a Houston supermarket.  He was convicted primarily on the testimony of one witness, Bernadine Skillern, who said she saw the killer's face for a few seconds through her car windshield, from a distance of 30 -40 feet away.  Two other witnesses, both who worked at the grocery store and said they got a good look at the assailant, said Graham was not the killer but were never interviewed by Graham's court appointed attorney, Ronald Mock, and were not called to testify at trial.  Three of the jurors who voted to convict Graham signed affidavits saying they would have voted differently had all of the evidence been available.

[Bush knew damned well Graham was innocent. I lump Governor Bush with Governors Clinton and Wilder for icy cold cruelty. Bush might as well have stood next to gurney and stuck the needles in. Any rational person looking into this case would clearly see there was an overwhelming amount of reasonable doubt. The two best eyewitnesses could have offered powerful exculpatory testimony if they had been allowed to testify. The key incriminating witness was worthless.

[This execution caused a worldwide revulsion. There was international recognition Graham had been railroaded by a corrupt Texas judicial system. By the way, there's an excellent documentary on this case that's sometimes shown on cable TV (possibly HBO). Watch for it. It might come back one of these days, even though the Graham tragedy has long faded from the interest of the fickle American public.]
Provided by Richard Franklin, a retired muckraker whose skin is "white" who is a passionate advocate for African Americans
Judge ready to rule death penalty unconstitutional
by Frank J. Murray
The Washington Times

A U.S. District Court judge who says innocent people are convicted of murder gave the Justice Department "one last opportunity" yesterday to persuade him not to declare the federal death penalty unconstitutional.

Judge Jed S. Rakoff, a 1995 Clinton appointee, said he took that drastic step because he believes innocent prisoners were executed and more face death without a full opportunity to prove their innocence, if only by technology not yet discovered.

That violates the Fifth Amendment right to "due process," he said, since some will die before completion of a process the judge seemed to say must be endless.

Advances in science and criminology can help "only if such persons are still alive to be released," Judge Rakoff said.

He gave government lawyers until May 15 to reply in an order based largely on a much-criticized Columbia University study that found a 68 percent "prejudicial error" rate in capital trials, and review of Web site reports of prisoner releases.

The judge said he would block the prospect of a death sentence at the impending capital-murder trial of Alan Quinones and Diego Rodriguez on charges they killed police confidential informant Eddie Santiago in June 1999 to protect a Bronx heroin and cocaine ring. Eight co-defendants pleaded guilty.

The order offered the government the unusual option of accepting Judge Rakoff's ruling by Wednesday and beginning an appeal then, or filing a reply by May 15 to change his decision.

Federal prosecutors were reviewing the 11-page ruling and had no comment, said U.S. Attorney's Office spokesman Marvin Smilon.

Two civilian federal prisoners were executed by injection at the Terre Haute, Indiana, federal penitentiary last year Ð Timothy McVeigh and Juan Garza Ð and
24 are on death row now. Judge Rakoff's action, if upheld on appeal, would have the effect of also blocking executions in states where the NAACP Legal
Defense Fund says 3,687 inmates wait on death row.

Kevin McNally, the Frankfort, Kentucky, defense lawyer who raised an issue so novel that both sides agree it never has been tested, said Judge Rakoff believes "it's inevitable that the innocent will be executed and they have."

"Even members of the Supreme Court are talking out loud about the number of innocents on death row so maybe it's time to take another look at this disastrous problem," Mr. McNally said yesterday.

Richard Dieter, who heads the Death Penalty Information Center, said "something needs to be done about an issue rumbling out there among the public, the courts and in the legislatures."

At a hearing March 15 Judge Rakoff told lawyers he was hesitant to grant Mr. McNally's request because of its "novelty."

Yesterday Judge Rakoff said emergence of DNA analysis in the last decade presages still unknown criminology advance. He said DNA analysis vindicated "actually innocent" men from death row and 20 others have been released in cases not involving DNA.

"The inference is unmistakable that numerous innocent people have been executed whose innocence might otherwise have been similarly established, whether by newly-developed scientific techniques, newly-discovered evidence, or simply renewed attention to their cases," the judge said.

DNA analysis was used in the Santiago case solely to identify the victim. Judge Rakoff dismissed as obsolete the Supreme Court's 1993 Herrera decision, a 5-4 ruling that declared remote the likelihood an innocent person would be executed.

Justices Sandra Day O'Connor and Anthony M. Kennedy supported execution in that case because mistakes seemed unlikely, but their concurring opinion declared "the execution of a legally and factually innocent person would be a constitutionally intolerable event."

Judge Rakoff said things have changed since the justices voiced optimism. "That assumption no longer seems tenable," he wrote. "Evidence has emerged that innocent people Ð mostly of color Ð are convicted of capital crimes they never committed, their convictions affirmed, and their collateral remedies denied, with a frequency far greater than previously supposed."

After the changes wrought by the 60s, illegal lynchings had to be replaced by "legal" lynchings. As of a week or so [this was written on May 3, 2002], a total of 100 men have been rescued from death row since 1976, many of them through DNA tests. Pause for a moment and think about what would have happened had DNA testing not been developed. Think about what was happening before DNA testing arrived.

Also keep in mind that most of these men have been poor blacks. When somebody admonishes me for my criticisms of contemporary America by telling me this is the best country in the world to live in, I usually reply, "For whom?" I can remember when talented black musicians moved to Europe in droves to renounce their US citizenships. Paris teemed with great black entertainers who had found France to be an infinitely better place to live. Of course, if you're a middle class white who doesn't care about what happens to a poor black janitor in Condore, Texas, I suppose you can comfortably buy into the usual mythology about the American system of justice.
Provided by Richard Franklin


TRUE DEMOCRACY Summer 2002 Copyright © 2002 by News Source, inc.