Arbitrariness

Death Sentence Upheld Despite Abysmal Representation

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit upheld the conviction and death sentence of a death row inmate on a tie vote (7-7), despite the fact that the defendant was represented by an attorney who did not even learn his client's true name.  The defense lawyer misled a reviewing court about his experience in capital cases and has been indicted for perjury.  The defendant, who was tried in Kentucky as James Slaughter but whose real name is Jeffrey Leonard, is apparently brain damaged and endured a brutal childhood.  A number of judges have concurred that the lawyer's investigation into Leonard's background was below Constitutional standards, but there were not enough votes to say that a better investigation would have made a difference in sentencing.

Clemency Urged for Mentally Ill Man in North Carolina

At a press conference on November 1, the North Carolina Black Leadership Caucus called for the governor to commute the death sentence of Guy LeGrande.  Le Grande is scheduled to be executed on December 1.  He was allowed to represent himself at his 1996 murder trial, despite the fact that he claimed to be hearing messages from Oprah Winfrey and Dan Rather through television sets.  His defense lawyer, Jay Ferguson, said LeGrande falsely believes he has already been pardoned and will receive a large sum of money.  "The problem is you have a mentally ill person representing himself," Ferguson said. "When his standby counsel asked the court to review his mental competency, the judge asked the defendant if he wanted to do that and he said no. His response was to tear up the paperwork. So you've got a mentally ill defendant making the call on whether his competency should be examined."

Texas Newspaper Studies State's Death Penalty Appeals Process

The Austin American-Statesman conducted an extensive study of the quality of representation that death row inmates receive in Texas.  The study concluded that:

NEW VOICES: Federal Appeals Court Judge of the Fifth Circuit Expresses Legal and Moral Problems with the Death Penalty

Judge Carolyn Dineen King of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit was the main speaker at the "Red Mass" on October 4 at the Catholic cathedral in Corpus Christi, Texas.  The Red Mass is an annual liturgy held for members of the legal profession near the beginning of the judicial term.  Its traditions extend back to 13th century Europe.  Judge King spoke about the death penalty, both from her perspective as a judge and as a Catholic.  In both areas, she raised strong concerns about the application of the death penalty in the U.S.

Pennsylvania Man Freed From Death Row

Dennis Counterman was freed from a Pennsylvania courtroom on October 18, 2006 after serving many years on the state's death row.  Counterman had been convicted and sentenced to death in 1990 for allegedly setting a fire in his own house that resulted in the death of his three children.  That conviction was overturned in 2001 because prosecutors had withheld evidence from the defense indicating that the oldest child had a history of fire-setting. 

REPRESENTATION: Judges Criticize Incompetent Representation in Texas

One attorney's appeal brief on behalf of a Texas death row inmate was so poorly written that State District Judge Noe Gonzalez of Edinburg wrote that "Applicant totally misinterprets what actually occurred in this case."  A committee of citizens and attorneys filed a complaint about the appellate lawyer with the State Bar of Texas, but nothing was done: the lawyer remains on the state's list of approved death penalty attorneys, and the client remains on death row.

ABA Panel Calls for Extensive Changes in Flordia's Death Penalty System

An eight-member panel convened by the American Bar Association and consisting of prosecutors, defense lawyers, and judges concluded a two-year study of Florida's death penalty system.

BOOKS: "Back from the Dead" by Joan Cheever

Back From The Dead: One woman’s search for the men who walked off America’s death row is the story of 589 former death row inmates who, through a lottery of fate, were given a second chance at life in 1972 when the death penalty was abolished.  Joan Cheever, a former editor of the National Law Journal, who also represented a death row inmate in Texas, traveled the country interviewing inmates who had been condemned to death but whose sentences were reduced to life when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the death penalty in Furman v. Georgia in 1972.

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