Monday 31 January 2011

Fredrick Bell - Mississippi Death Row Update.

Today (Monday January 31) Road2Justice received an e-mail from Fredrick Bell's legal team. They note, the delay in a judgement from the Supreme Court on the filing made in November suggests the Justices' realise there are some serious issues. They also pointed out, while this delay is no guarantee of success, it is highly unusual in capital cases.
We will keep you updated as and when we can. 

Women and Prison: A Site for Resistance

The Women and Prison project is a website, installation + zine created entirely from the work + lives of America's incarcerated women. Women and Prison: A Site for Resistance is a project of  Beyondmedia Education.  Learn more about the project.

A Challenge to Post-Conviction Indigent Defense in Mississippi

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Mississippi consistently has appointed unqualified, underfunded and overburdened attorneys to represent death row inmates in their appeals, a petition filed Monday with the state Supreme Court says.

The brief was filed on behalf of 15 death row inmates challenging the systemwide failure to provide them with competent counsel during their appeals after conviction.

The death row inmates are: Steve Knox, Michelle Byrom, Blayde Grayson, Benny Joe Stevens, Jan Michael Brawner, Rodney Gray, Jeffrey Harvard, Richard Jordan, Thong Le, Willie Manning, William Mitchell, Stephen Powers, Larry Matthew Puckett, Gary Carl Simmons and Alan Dale Walker.

"The remedies sought ... are to correct the harm they suffered as a result of the state's failure to do what it promised to do: provide them with competent and conscientious counsel before executing them," according to the 51-page document filed by Jackson attorney Jim Craig and attorneys from Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C.

An injunction is sought to ensure that all prisoners sentenced to die receive competent and conscientious counsel for future proceedings.

In May, a lawsuit was filed in Hinds County Chancery Court on behalf of 16 death row inmates, including Gerald James Holland, who was facing execution.

Chancery Court Judge William Singletary dismissed the suit, citing lack of jurisdiction, and Holland was executed days later.

Court papers filed with the state high court argue that the Chancery Court erred in its decision.
Glen Swartzfager, director of the Office of Capital Post Conviction Counsel, has acknowledged in court papers that some death row inmates appeals weren't adequately represented during previous administrations.

Swartzfager, who became director in 2008, was out of the office Monday and unavailable for comment.

The office was created in 2000. From the inception of the Office of Capital Post Conviction Counsel, the state set out to destroy the office's ability to provide competent and conscientious representation, the lawsuit says.

The appeal says the state:

# Failed to provide essential staff.

# Failed to provide critical funding.

# Appointed the office to represent more death-sentenced prisoners than it could competently and ethically represent at one time.

# Interfered with the performance of the duties of the director and the staff of the office.

# Failed to take corrective action once it became obvious that the office was failing to provide competent and conscientious counsel.
"15 Mississippi death row inmates challenge legal help's adequacy," is the AP report, via the Clarion-Ledger.
The original lawsuit included 16 inmates. One of the plaintiffs, Gerald James Holland, was executed May 20.

None of the remaining 15 inmates has had an execution date set through Monday.

The lawsuit claims the Mississippi Office of Capital Post-Conviction Counsel was inadequately staffed and funded and its attorneys were not versed in handling death row appeals.

The state office was created in 2000 to lift the burden off counties to pay for continuing death row appeals.

The attorney general's office will file a response to the appeal sometime later.

In the appeal, which gives only one side of the legal argument, Jackson attorney Jim Craig said the state has consistently appointed unqualified, underfunded and overburdened attorneys who cannot provide the "competent and conscientious" post-conviction counsel mandated by law.

The Office of Capital Post Conviction Counsel represents death row inmates in state post-conviction proceedings. In a post-conviction petitions, an inmate argues about new evidence – or a possible constitutional issue – that could persuade a court to order a new trial.

The inmates allege in the complaint that the Supreme Court itself has faulted MOCPCC counsel for filing petitions that are incomplete, contain misspellings and lack in key arguments and evidence.

Illinois one signature away from abolition

Illinois is just one signature away from becoming the 16th state without the death penalty.  On January 11, 2011, the General Assembly passed legislation repealing the state's death penalty.  The bill now awaits the signature of Illinois Governor Pat Quinn.
Because it is clear that the death penalty cannot be administered fairly and accurately, it should be abolished.
Race continues to play a significant and inappropriate role in the administration of capital punishment.  Across the country, people of color are sentenced to death at disproportionate rates.  Eighty percent of those who have been executed since 1976 were convicted of killing a white person, even though African Americans represent over half of homicide victims.  And people of color are all but wholly excluded from the decision about whether or not to seek the death penalty, as 98% of the chief district attorneys in death penalty cases are white.
Illinois' death penalty is no different.  On January 31st, 2000, then governor George Ryan relied upon a high number of death row exonerations to justify his decision to impose a moratorium on the use of the death penalty and to commute the sentences of everyone on death row to life imprisonment. 
Eleven years later, it is time for us to do our part to help finish the job and make Illinois the 16th state without the death penalty.
Please call Governor Quinn to tell him you hope he'll sign the death penalty repeal bill.
You can say, "I want Gov. Quinn to sign the legislation to end the death penalty."

Darlie Routier - Texas death row petition

In the early morning hours of June 6th 1996, Darlie Routier and her two sons, Damon and Devon were brutally attacked as they slept in their Rowlett Texas home. As of result of this attack, Damon and Devon died. Darlie was stabbed repeatedly, her throat slashed within 2mm of her carotid artery. 

Within hours of this horrid attack, the Rowlett Police Department focused on Darlie as being the attacker. No other persons were sought in the double murder of Damon and Devon Routier. The State of Texas believed Darlie Routier killed her sons, stabbed herself repeatedly and slashed her own throat. Darlie was convicted in Kerrville Texas and sentenced to death row. Her trial was media based so she was unfairly convicted of murder. 

We the undersigned believe that the State of Texas and the Rowlett Police Department had not investigated the crime properly. Evidence was contaminated at the crime scene by the Rowlett Police Department. The first expert on the scene told the police that the crime scene was contaminated and so the Rowlett Police decided not to hire him. 

We ask that the State of Texas re-open the case of Darlie Routier. We ask that she be granted a new trial so sufficient evidence and DNA testing can prove her innocence. Darlie Lynn has a right to be home with her remaining son Drake, and family members. We believe a terrible injustice has been bestowed upon Darlie Lynn Routier. 

We ask the State of Texas to investigate the wrong doings of the Rowlett Police Department, i.e., the illegal bugging of her sons grave sites, officers taking the 5th on the stand at the trial, not following leads because they had their mind set it was Darlie Routier, these are just a few examples of the poor investigation. 

We ask that the State of Texas examine evidence and test ALL DNA and that will prove Darlie Lynn Routier to be an innocent VICTIM of this tragedy. 

Evidence that supports her innocence includes: 
* bloody fingerprint at crimescene that did not
match any family members or police 

* bloody sock 75 yards down the alley from the
house found within an hour that has boys and
Darlie\'s DNA on it as well as a limb hair and
deer hair

* 911 tape played at trial had portions removed 
that jury did not hear that strongly supports
Darlie\'s innocence

* unidentified facial and pubic hairs at

* Darlie\'s nightshirt that has not been tested 
for DNA . 

DARLIE LYNN ROUTIER IS AN INNOCENT WOMAN ON DEATH ROW IN TEXAS. Darlie has never admitted to this crime and never will because she simply didn\'t do it. Please help her. 


Prison nurseries cut female inmates’ risk of reoffending

Women who give birth in the prison system and are separated from their newborns are three times as likely to reoffend as women who live with their babies in prison nurseries.
This is according to a 10-year study from the Nebraska Correctional Center for Women, a York, Neb., facility that opened a prison nursery in 1994.
“Our nursery moms typically don’t come back,” said Mary Alley, parenting coordinator for the Nebraska women’s prison.
New York has allowed babies to stay with inmate moms since the early 1900s, but Nebraska is part of a new wave of states opening nurseries. Since 1994, nine other states, including California, Indiana and Illinois, have launched programs where babies live with their moms for up to 24 months.
Prison nurseries are gaining ground because of evidence they reduce recidivism, which saves the cost of housing repeat offenders. If such a program can keep five women from coming back to prison, it could save $100,000 to $150,000 a year, said Joseph Carlson Jr., a University of Nebraska-Kearney professor who conducted the 10-year study.
“If we can keep two-thirds of the people out, at a minimal cost, it’s fantastic for taxpayers,” Carlson said.
Iowa does not have a prison nursery and has no plans for one, said Fred Scaletta, spokesman for the Iowa Department of Corrections.
“Many years ago the topic had been brought to our attention about mothers staying with their babies in prison,” Scaletta said. “It’s not really an option we’ve explored here in Iowa.”
Iowa does have a halfway house in the Des Moines area where women can live with their children. Nearly 80 inmates have given birth in Iowa’s prison system in the past five years. Inmate moms turn their babies over to family members to raise, seek temporary foster care or, in rare cases, give them up for adoption.

These mothers don’t get to bond with their babies, which makes it easier to ditch the children for drugs or other vices when they get out of prison, Alley said.
Inmates in the Nebraska nursery who have had previous children “feel a difference with the baby they have here. They feel responsible,” she said.
Prison nurseries are open to non-violent offenders with short sentences. Nebraska nursery moms must take parenting classes and work toward GEDs if they haven’t graduated from high school.
The Indiana Department of Corrections has a waiting list for the Wee Ones Nursery it opened in 2008.
Besides 10 offenders and their babies, the unit houses four nannies, who are female inmates who help care for the children when the mothers meet with prison staff. Babies sleep in cribs in their mothers’ cells. There is a shared dayroom and an outdoor space separate from the general inmate population, said Betty Cunningham, public information officer for Indiana corrections.
“We were looking for a way to break the cycle,” Cunningham said. Indiana also offers extended visiting hours and summer camps for inmates and their children to help maintain family bonds.
The cost of prison nurseries is minimal, Carlson said. Nebraska launched its nursery with a $24,000 grant and some supplemental support from the state Legislature. The annual cost for running the 15-mother unit is $102,000, which includes other programming for families.
The average annual cost for one inmate in Iowa’s prison system is $31,500.
The Women’s Residential Correctional Facility in Des Moines is the only Iowa program that allows offenders to live with their children. The minimum-security facility opened in 1993 and houses up to 48 women, who are on probation, work release or who are serving short drunken-driving sentences.
There is room for eight women and their children ages 5 and younger, said Peggy Urtz, residential manager. She said moms must find child care and hold down jobs but can get parenting support and advice from staff.
“They get an opportunity to do the real-world stuff with some help,” she said.
Khrista Erdman, a 32-year-old inmate at the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women in Mitchellville, wishes Iowa was like other states with prison nurseries. She gave birth Dec. 26 at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics and gave her baby to her husband two days later.
“I’m not really ready to let her go,” Erdman said Dec. 27. She is serving time for forgery and burglary as a habitual offender and will have her first chance at parole in June 2012.
Prison nurseries aren’t without critics. A West Virginia legislator bashed a plan there, saying that prisons were designed to punish criminals, not cater to their desires.
Carlson was not a nursery supporter when he started his research in 1994.
His study, published in 2009 in the Corrections Compendium, shows that half the 30 mothers who gave birth from 1991 to 1994 in Nebraska prisons violated their parole and ended up back in prison, compared with just 16.8 percent of 65 women who lived with their babies in the Nebraska nursery.
“The bottom line is that it reduces recidivism,” Carlson said.

UVa law students helping man on death row

A group of University of Virginia students provided legal legwork in the case of a Northern Virginia man facing the death penalty.
The 12 students in the Innocence Project Clinic at UVa’s law school searched for improperly withheld evidence in the case of Justin Wolfe, who was convicted in 2002 of murder-for-hire. They are now waiting for the ruling of a Norfolk federal judge after a Nov. 2 hearing during which the shooter in the incident recanted his prior testimony that Wolfe hired him to commit murder.
Students listened to hours of police interview audiotapes, read police reports, tracked down police reports and worked with the defendant’s lawyers to create a legal strategy for the evidentiary hearing. Matthew Engle, the clinic’s legal director, said the work that the students did for the defense team at the King & Spalding law firm in Washington, D.C., is experience they would need as lawyers.
“They need to interview witnesses and be comfortable with that,” Engle said. “Apart from the clinic setting, you don’t get a chance to do that in law school.”
The clinic, which takes second-year and third-year law students, focuses on cases in which defendants are trying to prove their innocence. Alan Dial, one of the D.C. firm’s partners, said the clinic had been working on other cases with the firm when the judge permitted Wolfe’s defense team to review the prosecutor’s files for evidence that hadn’t been released.
“They were an incredible resource for us to have and they were instrumental in our effort to present a strong case for Justin,” Dial said. “The stakes were very high. On several occasions, they were working around the clock.”
Wolfe was accused of hiring Owen Merton Barber IV to kill 21-year-old Danny Petrole for drugs, cash and to repay a debt. Petrole, who was shot and killed in 2001 after he pulled up to his townhome, was reportedly Wolfe’s main drug connection.
Michelle Harrison, a second-year law student, said she was assigned to review documents related to Petrole’s roommate. Harrison, who read through documents multiple times to see how the drug trade evolved over time and find inconsistent statements, said the clinic has provided her with her first opportunity to see what happens in a courtroom.
“It’s definitely the most meaningful thing I’ve done so far,” she said.
Other students had to interact with witnesses directly. Deirdre M. Enright, the clinic’s director of investigations, said that process wasn’t always easy.
“There were extremely willing witnesses and extremely unwilling witnesses,” Enright said.
All 12 clinic students attended Wolfe’s hearing in November. Bernadette Donovan, a third-year law studentwho worked on a brief that the clinic prepared before the start of classes, said her experience in the clinic has convinced her to change her career path from commercial litigation to post-conviction appellate work.
Wolfe’s case is now in the hands of the judge, who Engle said indicated that he thought he would have a quick ruling. In the meantime, Donovan said, there is more work to be done.
“Unfortunately, we never run out of wrongfully convicted people,” she said.

February Execution dates.

Next scheduled execution Michael Hall Texas Feb 15

9*      Roy Blankenship           Georgia (stayed)

9*      Martin Link               Missouri (executed)
15*     Michael Hall              Texas

17*     Frank Spisak              Ohio
22*     Timothy Adams             Texas

23      Milton Montalvo           Pennsylvania

24      William Housman           Pennsylvania

Eleven year old in Pennsylvania U.S. may face life imprisonment without parole.


Jordan Brown was just eleven when according to prosecutors 
he shot and killed 26-year-old Kenzie Houk as she slept in her 
home, near Pittsburgh, in February, 2009. Houk was pregnant 
with a nearly full-term child at the time.
Jordan was charged with two counts of homicide. 
When Jordan claimed he was innocent the judge decided to 
try him as an adult. Some news reports make it sound as if the evidence is quite strong against Jordan but some blog sites give quite different story showing that the evidence is actually 
But even if he were guilty the sentence is regarded by many 
human rights groups as too harsh and even that a life sentence could violate international law.
Brown's lawyers have argued that the judge's decision to try 
Brown as an adult based upon his refusal to admit guilt 
violated his right to be presumed innocent and his right 
to avoid self-incrimination as well.
Susan Lee of Amnesty International said:"It is shocking that 
anyone this young could face life imprisonment without parole, 
let alone in a country which labels itself as a progressive force 
for human rights," Amnesty noted that the U.S. is one of only 
two countries in the world to refuse to ratify the UN 
Convention on the Rights of the Child. The other country 
is Somalia!
Although Jordan Brown is the youngest person known to 
Amnesty at risk to be sentenced to life without parole 
there are already 2500 people in the U.S. serving life 
without parole for crimes committed when they were 
juveniles. There are 450 in Pennsylvania, more than 
any other state.
The Sentencing Project in Washington claims that only 
the U.S. has juveniles serving life without parole and 
said:"That leads to only two conclusions: either kids 
in the US are far more violent than those in the rest 
of the world, or the US has developed uniquely 
harsh sentences." Another conclusion is possible. 
The politics of fear can be very successful at advancing 
the cause of the prison industrial complex.

Jordan Brown.

Oklahoma in 10 top for wrongful convictions, Innocence Project officer says

Oklahoma is among the top 10 states in the nation in known wrongful convictions of innocent people, the executive director of the New York-based Innocence Project said last week in Oklahoma City.

                                                                                Larry Hellman

“There have been 18 wrongful convictions in Oklahoma,” Madeline deLone said.

“Those are people who are convicted of serious sexual assaults and murder and who served time in prison for crimes they did not commit.”
These people spent an average of 13 years in prison, she said. Some were incarcerated as long as 30 and 32 years, she said.

The Innocence Project is a nonprofit, national litigation and public policy organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted people through DNA testing and reforming the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice.

DeLone was speaking at the Oklahoma City University School of Law to help promote the university’s efforts to start an Oklahoma Innocence Clinic.

OCU has been planning and raising money for at least three years to start a clinic that will work to identify and rectify wrongful convictions in the state.

Law students will handle case work while supervised by a team of attorneys and clinic staff.

OCU Law Dean Lawrence K. Hellman said he has raised $1.5 million to fund the program he anticipates will start this fall.

He plans to hire a clinical professor. This is the first innocence project in Oklahoma.

Innocence clinics are based at 50 law schools.

“It will give prisoners in the state prison who have been wrongfully convicted a hope that one day they may be free,” deLone said.
“These are long struggles. The people who do get help have endured unbelievable experiences.”

Ten of the 18 people determined wrongfully convicted were freed by DNA testing. There have been 266 DNA post-conviction exonerations across the country.

“If an innocent person is in prison, the true perpetrator is at large possibly to do further crimes,” Hellman said. “We know of 91 cases around the country where that has happened.”

The clinic is designed to help all involved: victims, prosecutors, law enforcement and the innocent.

“We believe that those who commit crimes should be brought to justice,” Hellman said. “When an innocent person is convicted of a crime, there is a defect and it needs to be fixed.”

Prison system to add random drug tests for guards, officers

In a push to bolster security and curb contraband in Texas' massive prison system, officials for the first time plan to order random drug tests for a majority of the state's 41,000 corrections employees including all guards and parole officers.
Bryan Collier, deputy director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, said Thursday that the policy to be unveiled next week is designed to raise staffing standards inside Texas' 112 state prisons.
Like other state prison systems, Texas' state-run lockups have had chronic problems with contraband — highlighted two years ago when a death-row convict used a smuggled cell phone to call a key state senator.
A zero-tolerance policy since then has resulted in the seizure of thousands of weapons, drugs, phones and other illicit materials. But a smuggled gun used in an escape and other incidents have made prison contraband a continuing public safety issue. Several guards have been fired or forced to retire for involvement in contraband smuggling and related infractions.
The drug testing "will cover a majority of the agency's employees," Collier said. "Any of us who are in this business, if people are doing drugs, we don't want them working in the institutions. It's not safe."
The agency has more than 41,300 employees, including more than 29,200 correctional officers and supervisors and nearly 1,300 parole officers.
Collier and other officials said the testing program will take effect later this summer, with employees selected by a computer-generated list. Employees who are asked to take a drug test will go to a private lab chosen by the state and provide a specimen.
Additional details are expected to be made public next week during a meeting of the prison system's nine-member governing board.
Prison officials said the cost of random testing is still being calculated. Union officials suggested the program could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.
"At a time when they're not filling positions, and a lot of people expect there could be layoffs, is this the best time to do this?" asked Brian Olsen, executive director of a correctional employees' union that represents more than 6,000 prison workers. "We have a lot of questions about how this will be done."
Convicts and parolees have been subject to random drug testing for years, but the new policy marks the first time that employees — from rookie guards to Executive Director Brad Livingston — will face the same mandate. The agency has for some time required pre-employment drug tests, and it has tested some workers for cause — if there was suspicion that they might be using drugs.
Initial response from prison employees has been mixed, although Collier and other officials said they are confident most workers will embrace the policy once the details are announced.
House Corrections Committee Chairman Jim McReynolds, D-Lufkin, said he has been told the random testing will begin on or before Aug. 31. He said he pushed for the policy after quizzing a warden last spring about what he needed to stop the flow of contraband into his prison.
"He said: 'Random drug tests,' " McReynolds said. "This is a no-brainer. It should have been done a long time ago. ... My son is with the Lufkin Fire Department. They do random testing. Other state agencies do random testing of employees. It makes sense we should be doing this in our prison system."
McReynolds and Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire, D-Houston, said they think the random tests will help curb contraband.
"If the leadership believes that this will deter contraband and create a safer working environment for correctional officers, who could oppose it?" Whitmire asked.
McReynolds said "we may have an exodus of (correctional officers), but I don't think we care about that."
"Anyone who would object to this testing at the largest agency in the state probably shouldn't be working there."
As word about the change trickled out, some correctional officers questioned whether their rights will be adequately preserved. Will they be allowed to take a second test at a lab of their own choice if the first one registers positive for drugs? How will the same testing standards be maintained statewide if as many as 100 labs are involved? Will employees be allowed to use their own labs instead of a state-designated lab?
"Most states do some form of testing, and that's not the issue," Olsen said. "We want to make sure the standards and procedures are fair and that they're fairly administered."