Representation News and Developments: 2005
NEW RESOURCE: ACLU Expands Capital Punishment Project
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is expanding its Capital Punishment Project to include litigation in addition to its already established public education efforts. The expanded program will be led by John Holdridge, who has been named the Capital Punishment Project's new director. "John Holdridge is one of the nation's premier death penalty litigators. He has fought the death penalty in courtrooms around the country for more than a decade and now brings that expertise and commitment to the ACLU," noted ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero as he announced Holdridge's appointment. The ACLU stated that in addition to its broad public education efforts related to capital punishment, it now plans to expand its scope to include focusing on legal cases that highlight the unfairness and inequities of the death penalty system. (ACLU Press Release, "ACLU Expands Capital Punishment Project," December 9, 2005). See ACLU Capital Punishment Project's Web site. See also Representation and Resources.
Pennsylvania Man Becomes the 122nd Inmate Freed From Death Row
than 16 years after a Pennsylvania jury returned
three death sentences against Harold Wilson (pictured), new DNA
evidence has helped lead to his acquittal. Yesterday, Wilson became the
nation’s 122nd person freed from death row according to the Death
Penalty Information Center (DPIC). During his 1989 capital trial,
Wilson was prosecuted by former Philadelphia Assistant District
Attorney Jack McMahon, a man best known for his role in a training
video that advised new Philadelphia prosecutors on how to use race in
selecting death penalty juries.
In 1999, Wilson’s death sentence was overturned when a court determined that his defense counsel had failed to investigate and present mitigating evidence during his original trial. A later appeal led the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to call for a new hearing because of evidence that McMahon used racially discriminatory practices in jury selection. In 2003, a trial court found that McMahon had improperly exercised his peremptory strikes to eliminate potential black jurors and granted Wilson a new trial, a decision that the District Attorney’s office did not appeal. The court stated that in the new trial the death penalty could not be sought. The jury in this most recent trial acquitted Wilson of all charges on November 15, 2005, after new DNA evidence revealed blood from the crime scene that did not come from Wilson or any of the victims, a finding suggesting the involvement of another assailant.
Wilson is the second person to be freed from death row this year, and the sixth Pennsylvania death row inmate to be freed since 1982. (Source: Federal Defender Association of Philadelphia, November 16, 2005). Read DPIC's Press Release. See Innocence. See also, "Blind Justice," DPIC's latest report that examines the problems of the death penalty from the perspective of jurors.
Texas Woman Facing Execution Had One of the Worst of Texas' Lawyers
As Texas prepares to execute Frances Newton on September 14, the Austin American-Statesman
editorialized about the poor quality of representation she received at
trial and the doubts that this raises about her conviction. The paper
Maybe Frances Newton shot her husband and two children to death in 1987. Maybe she didn't. The public cannot be certain of her guilt, but she's going to die for the crime anyway.
Newton was denied a basic requirement for a fair trial — a competent lawyer. Her attorney at trial was the notorious Ron Mock, whose shoddy work in capital murder trials is well known in legal circles. He has been repeatedly disciplined by the State Bar of Texas, and has since been disqualified from handling capital cases. No less than 16 people whom Mock represented were sent to death row. Mock apparently did no investigation of Newton's claims of innocence. When asked by a trial judge, he could not name a single witness he had interviewed on Newton's behalf.
How many times must this scene be repeated before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the state Board of Pardons and Parole or the U.S. Supreme Court intervenes in death sentences won on defense incompetence?
A competent lawyer should be provided for defendants facing the death penalty. The rule of thumb in Texas seems to be that only those who can afford a competent lawyer are entitled to one. Newton couldn't afford a good lawyer, so the state appointed Mock to represent her.
She is scheduled to be executed on Wednesday despite plenty of doubt her new lawyers have raised regarding the triple murder for which she was convicted. Tom and Virginia Louis, the parents of the man Newton was convicted of killing, have their doubts.
"We are the parents of Adrian Newton and the grandparents of Alton and Farrah Newton . . . We were willing to testify on Frances' behalf, but Frances' defense lawyer never approached us," they said in a letter to the Board of Pardons and Parole asking for leniency.
Indigent defendants must rely on the state system. The state's court-appointed lawyer system has improved significantly in the past five years because of legislation aimed at weeding out incompetent lawyers and recruiting better lawyers for people who can't afford to hire their own. The 2001 Texas Fair Defense Act does set minimum requirements for attorneys representing capital murder defendants. (The emphasis is on "minimum.")
But those who were convicted before 2001 were under a system that declared any lawyer with a pulse and law license competent. That included lawyers who slept during trial or were doped up as they prepared for trial. It included lawyers who did little or no investigation.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals refuses to hear any new evidence or facts in Newton's case — and many others like it — because those facts were raised after court deadlines expired.
And that's the rub. The state appeals court is not deciding Newton's case based on the merits of new facts or legal issues. It has rejected her appeal because she missed a deadline.
We've said it before, but it's worth repeating: Race, ethnicity, income and geography are all factors in the imposition of death sentences.
long as Texas has a death penalty, capital defendants should have
access to competent legal counsel. Newton didn't get that. For that
reason, she should be spared.
EDITORIAL: Alabama's Death Penalty Representation System in Disarray
The Birmingham News
Alabama's system of representation in death penalty cases, saying that
the public should be outraged. A lack of even minimal resources
and pay has caused attorneys to withdraw from cases and to decline
representation to indigent defendants. The paper wrote that this
shortage of attorneys could result in more trial errors and longer
appeals, putting an undue strain on victims' families and the entire
system of justice. The editorial stated:
What would it be worth to you to have a good lawyer if you were charged with a heinous crime and were facing the death penalty? Would any amount be too much? Probably not.
But few of us can afford a money-is-no-object defense. As taxpayers, there's a limit, too, in what we can afford to spend collectively for court-appointed lawyers who represent poor people in criminal cases.
Even so, what's happening in Alabama is ridiculous.
Lawyers who represent poor defendants are paid the lowly sum of $40 an hour for out-of-court work and $60 an hour for in-court work. That's a fraction of what lawyers earn when defendants hire them. But until recently, the court-appointed lawyers were at least able to supplement the indigent rates by getting payments (on average, $29 an hour) to cover overhead expenses such as rent, insurance and office staff.
The overhead pay ended in February when Attorney General Troy King issued an opinion saying state law banned the practice.
Criminal defense lawyers warned that cut in pay would dry up the pool of those willing to take court-appointed cases, particularly complicated ones like those involving the death penalty. The warnings have been, unfortunately, borne out.
Lawyers across the state have withdrawn from capital cases. Among them was William Pfeifer, who had represented one of the defendants in a robbery-murder case in Mobile that captured more attention than most; the victim was allegedly killed for being a homosexual.
"Counsel is not financially able to subsidize the state of Alabama in its efforts to execute persons charged with capital offenses, nor as a matter of conscience is he willing to do so," Pfeifer wrote in his motion withdrawing from the case.
Concerned, the Senate passed a measure this summer to restore the overhead pay. But the legislation didn't have enough support in the House of Representatives to come up for a vote, thanks, in part, to opposition from the Christian Coalition of Alabama. "In our view, it was not good stewardship at the time," said the coalition's president, John Giles.
And here we thought the Christian Coalition was against gambling. While the group opposes gambling with money, it apparently doesn't mind gambling with the lives of poor defendants - at least not enough to let the state spend as much as $28 million over 2 years to pay indigent lawyers a decent wage.
People in Alabama ought to be outraged. If they can't work up a tear for the defense lawyers or the poor defendants, Alabamians should at least be concerned for themselves and for victims' families. Paying for a second-rate defense may seem like a good idea, but it ends up costing more over the long haul, with retrials that drain more resources and place an undue strain on the families of victims and defendants alike. In addition, a shortage of lawyers in these cases will only make the wheels of justice grind more slowly.
It's not only wrong for Alabama to shortchange indigent defendants; it's dumb. The overhead pay needs to be restored. The sooner, the better.
(Birmingham News, August 17, 2005). See Representation and Costs.
Editorial Criticizes Proposed Bill to Limit Death Penalty Appeals
A recent Philadelphia
editorial criticized the proposed "Streamlined Procedures Act," federal
legislation that would deny or sharply restrict the reach of federal
judges in hearing habeas-corpus claims from those on death row. Noting
that the measure would increase the possibility of executing an
innocent person, the editorial stated:
Amid Washington lawmakers' latest drive to further restrict the appeals of (capital) defendants, they need to recognize what could be at risk with their tough-on-crime crackdown - innocent lives.
In both Senate and House versions, the innocently titled Streamlined Procedures Act amounts to an unconscionable assault on federal court oversight of the fairness of criminal trials in the state courts.
The Republican-sponsored measure would deny or sharply restrict the reach of federal judges in hearing habeas-corpus claims from convicts. These claims range from whether adequate legal counsel was provided to indigent (and often minority) defendants, on up to whether an innocent person may have been convicted wrongly.
In death-row cases, the stakes are as high as they come. In other criminal matters, the federal judiciary's policing of such cases assures that our criminal justice system is truly just.
Strict limits on such appeals were already imposed in 1996 under a post-Oklahoma City bombing, Clinton-era antiterrorism law - and there's no good reason to tighten them further.
At a recent Senate hearing, proponents argued unimpressively that the appeals delayed "closure" for crime victims, while running up government legal bills.
Isn't the cost of responding to appeals simply the price of successful anticrime efforts that have put 2.1 million people behind bars? Lock up the bad guys, by all means, but don't turn around and scrimp on fairness.
The impact of lengthy appeals on crime victims cannot be ignored. But there is a psychological toll, too, on convicts sitting behind bars who know they are innocent, some of them on death row.
There have been dozens of people exonerated while awaiting execution in recent years, often after years of painstaking appeals and probing of their claims of innocence. What if these inmates had not succeeded in their appeals in time?
Surely advocates of limiting convicts' federal appeals don't mean to respond to the troubling fact of death-row exonerations by strapping the possibly innocent to a gurney sooner.
Isn't it odd how some in Congress - mostly Republicans, but some Democrats, too - regard the federal courts as the best venue for class-action lawsuits involving consumer-product safety, environmental pollution and civil rights. Yet they don't want to bother the same highly regarded federal bench with cases concerning the fundamental rights of life and liberty?
A system of justice streamlined to the degree proposed under this measure would not be justice at all.
(Philadelphia Inquirer, July 23, 2005) See Innocence, Representation, Recent Legislative Activities.
U.S. Supreme Court Overturns Death Sentence in Pennsylvania Based on Poor Representation
The U.S. Supreme Court has ordered a new sentencing trial for Pennsylvania death row inmate Ronald Rompilla after finding that he was inadequately represented by counsel during his 1988 capital trial. The 5-4 ruling marks the second time in one week that the U.S. Supreme Court has overturned a death sentence citing improper actions at trial. The Court noted that Rompilla's trial attorney failed to investigate records showing possible mitigating evidence of mental retardation and a traumatic upbringing, even after prosecutors gave warning they planned to use the same documents against him. "We hold that even when a capital defendant's family members and the defendant himself have suggested that no mitigating evidence is available, his lawyer is bound to make reasonable efforts to obtain and review material that counsel knows the prosecution will probably rely on," wrote Justice David H. Souter, who authored the majority opinion. (Associated Press, June 20, 2005). See Supreme Court and Representation.
Texas Court Rules That Half of the Defense Team Can Be Asleep
Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has ruled that a man whose attorney
slept through portions of his 1992 death penalty trial should not get a
new trial because he had another less experienced attorney who remained
awake. In its ruling, the Court denied George McFarland's
(pictured) claim of ineffectiveness of counsel and upheld his death
sentence. "We conclude
one of his attorneys slept through portions of his trial, applicant was
not deprived of the assistance of counsel under the Sixth Amendment
because his second attorney was present and an active advocate at all
times," wrote Judge
The opinion stated that John Benn, the 72-year-old attorney representing McFarland, was first observed sleeping during jury selection and the napping got worse as the trial progressed. At times the bailiff would nudge Benn's chair to awaken him, and the judge admonished him during the trial. Benn's co-counsel during McFarland's trial, Sanford Melamed, was appointed by the trial judge. Cochran wrote that the court agreed that McFarland "did not have Mr. Benn's active assistance during his postprandial naps and that those naps occurred during 'critical stages' of this trial." She also noted that Melamed was a less-experienced attorney. At a hearing on McFarland's motion for a new trial, Benn explained, "I'm 72 years old. I customarily take a short nap in the afternoon."
In August 2001, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit ordered a new trial in the Texas case of Calvin Burdine, whose attorney also slept through portions of his death penalty trial. (Houston Chronicle, May 19, 2005). View a short video clip about the McFarland case, including statements from John Benn, George McFarland, and a witness to the trial. See also, Representation.
NEW VOICES: Louisiana Chief Justice Demands Fair Trials for the Poor
Chief Justice Pascal Calogero of the Louisiana
Supreme Court called upon the state legislature to provide adequate
funding for indigent defendants in his State of the Judiciary
address. The court had earlier ruled that judges may halt
prosecutions in cases where funds have not been made available for an
adequate defense. The Justice concluded:
As a Supreme Court Justice, I must be an advocate of compliance with the mandates of our state and federal constitutions, and therefore, I admonish you, simply, to do the right thing. Provide for a workable and adequately funded indigent defense system, so that another victim does not have to go through the agony of an overturned conviction and repeat of grueling trial testimony, or so that an innocent person is spared the ordeal of an unjust conviction and punishment. This is just one of your many challenges, as well as your responsibility. Let us show the people that our State is more than up to that challenge.
(2005 State of the Judiciary Address to the Louisiana Legislature, Pascal F. Calogero, Jr., Chief Justice, Supreme Court of Louisiana, May 3, 2005). See also Representation and New Voices.
Death Penalty Prosecutions May be Halted if Funding is Inadequate
The Louisiana Supreme Court recently ruled that trial judges can halt prosecutions of poor defendants until the state comes up with the money to pay for an adequate defense. Louisiana has in the past failed to adequately fund indigent defense programs. "I think it's a warning," said Phyllis Mann, appointed counsel for Benjamin Tonguis and Adrian Citizen, two death penalty defendants whose cases were reviewed by the state supreme court. "The court is saying as plainly as they possibly can not to let people languish." Tonguis and Citizen have been awaiting trial with limited or no funds to prepare a defense since their arrests in April and October 2002. When funding for these two cases ran out, the trial judge tried to tap into a parish-imposed tax. He ordered the Calcasieu Parish Police Jury to provide $200,000 for appointed counsel and $75,000 to be placed in escrow for other case-related expenses, but the Louisiana Supreme Court forbid such a tax because it is the state legislature's responsibility to fund indigent defense expenses. (ABA Journal, April 15, 2005). See Representation.
Georgia Death Penalty Conviction Overturned Because of Prosecutorial Misconduct
Georgia Superior Court overturned the murder
conviction of death row inmate Willie Palmer after finding that
prosecutors hid a $500 payoff to the state's key trial witness, an act
the judge said was "in defiance of (the state's) legal and ethical
duties." The judge also threw out Palmer's death sentence on the
grounds that his trial lawyer failed to investigate and present
evidence of Palmer's mental retardation.
In his opinion, the judge noted that prosecutors "intentionally hid" a deal made with the a state witness, and that prosecutors "aggressively resisted" the deal's disclosure until a hearing that took place 6 years after Palmer's 1997 trial. "It appears logically inescapable that the state knew, only too well, how extremely material this evidence was in this case. It is difficult, if not impossible, to conceive of how this suppression could have been done in good faith.... Without the jury being informed that the state has provided an important witness a pecuniary motivation to testify, the trial transforms into a basically corrupt process in which the jury is deprived of a major key to seeking and deciding the truth - and determining a man's fate," the judge wrote in ordering a new trial for Palmer. The State Attorney General's Office is appealing the ruling.
(Atlanta Journal-Constitution, April 4, 2005). See Representation and Mental Retardation.
ABA Study Faults Inadequate Legal Defense Across the Country
A new American Bar Association study has found that
thousands of suspects, including some who are later given death
sentences, risk wrongful conviction because they are pressured to
accept guilty pleas or have incompetent attorneys. After surveying 22
states, the ABA committee leading the study stated that legal
representation for indigent defendants is in "a state of crisis."
In its report, the ABA featured a number of wrongful conviction cases, including the recent release of Lousiana death row inmate Ryan Matthews, to underscore the need for Congress and local governments to spend more money and create oversight groups to guard against shoddy legal representation. The study asked judges to be more vigilant in ensuring that defendants have competent counsel, and it noted that no formal training for indigent defense counsel is offered in Louisiana, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania and Texas, the state that carries out the most executions each year. The ABA report criticized "meet 'em and plead 'em lawyers" in parts of the South who often negotiate a plea agreement on the first day they meet their client, and it found disparities in compensation between prosecutors and public defenders. In California, for example, defense counsel average $60.90 for every $100 the prosecution receives.
"The fundamental right to a lawyer that Americans assume appl[ies] to everyone accused of criminal conduct effectively does not exist in practice for countless people across the United States. All too often, defendants plead guilty, even if they are innocent, without really understanding their legal rights," the study states. (Associated Press, February 11, 2005). Read the Executive Summary of the ABA's Report, "Gideon's Broken Promises: America's Continuing Quest for Equal Justice." Read the Complete Study. See also Innocence, Representation, and Studies.
NEW VOICES: President Bush Expresses Concerns about Racial Disparities, Fairness and Adequate Representation in Death Cases
During his recent State of the Union
address before Congress, President George W. Bush raised concerns about
race, wrongful convictions, and adequate representation for those
facing the death penalty:
Because one of the main sources of our national unity is our belief
in equal justice, we need to make sure Americans of all races and
backgrounds have confidence in the system that provides justice.
In America we must make doubly sure no person is held to account
for a crime he or she did not commit -- so we are dramatically
expanding the use of DNA evidence to prevent wrongful conviction.
Soon I will send to Congress a proposal to fund special training
for defense counsel in capital cases, because people on trial for
their lives must have competent lawyers by their side.
(Washington Post, February 3, 2005). See also DPIC's Summary of the Justice For All Act, a more comprehensive approach to the same problems passed into law in 2004. See also, Innocence.
Kentucky Sentences Man to Death After 10 Years in Mental Hospital
Though he has spent more than a decade in mental hospitals and his trial was postponed for 18 years due to questions regarding his sanity, Sherman Noble was recently sentenced to death in Kentucky after serving as his own defense counsel. In 1988, Noble was declared incompetent to stand trial and was placed in a mental hospital for further evaluation and treatment. He was later declared competent in 1997. Noble attempted suicide on the day of his sentencing and appeared in court in a wheelchair. The issue of whether Noble should have been allowed to serve as his own attorney is expected to be a key issue in his appeals. (Courier-Journal and 4Fox 41 News, February 7, 2005). See Mental Illness.
NEW VOICES: Kenneth Starr Calls for "Utmost Caution" and "Absolute Certainty" with Death Cases
Kenneth W. Starr, a former federal judge and U.S. Solicitor General,
recently represented Virginia death row inmate Robin Lovitt before the
U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit. Though he supports capital
punishment, Starr stated that "the death
penalty has to be administered with the utmost caution and reserved for
the gravest offenses. This is not that kind of case. Robin Lovitt
maintains his innocence, and evidence that might prove his innocence
been destroyed. I'm very distressed by that.... Society had better be
absolutely certain before they put someone to death who is maintaining
his innocence. I feel very passionately about that."
He urged the judges to overturn Lovitt's conviction because prosecutors failed to tell the defense that their own expert concluded that the scissors allegedly used by Lovitt could not have been the murder weapon. Starr argued that Lovitt's rights were also violated when a courthouse clerk threw away all of the evidence before his appeals were complete. Starr, who does not specialize in criminal law and has never represented an inmate on death row, became involved in Lovitt's case when his law firm took the case free of charge. (The Washington Post, February 2, 2005). See Innocence.
Florida Supreme Court Judge Criticizes "Worst Lawyering I've Seen"
Justice Raoul Cantero (pictured), recently appointed
to Florida's Supreme
Court by Gov. Jeb Bush, criticized the quality of private lawyers
handling the appeals of death row inmates, noting that some attorneys
botched cases, muddled and omitted key arguments, and generally
performed "the worst lawyering I've seen." He also seriously questioned
Bush's effort to replace the state-run regional offices that handle
penalty appeals with private attorneys as a cost-cutting measure.
To date, lawmakers have closed one of Florida's three Capital Collateral Regional Counsel offices. The state has registered 150 private lawyers to take over the cases formerly handled by that office, as well as to handle any overflow cases from the remaining two regional centers. Cantero stated that the minimal qualification standards for attorneys wishing to be listed on this registry have resulted in some of "the worst briefs that I have read." He emphasized that an attorney familiar with a few burglary trials does not have the skills to replace someone devoted to the highly specialized death row appeals process, which takes years to master. Cantero noted, "I'm not sure we have enough quality lawyers out there that would be able to pick up the slack.... Some of the registry counsel have little or no experience in death penalty cases. They have not raised the right issues. Sometimes they raise too many issues and still haven't raised the right ones. In arguments, they're unable to respond to questions, or they don't know what the record shows. They don't have a real good understanding of death penalty cases.... For us to wade through the morass of baseless claims takes a lot of work for the justices and eventually leads to a lot of inefficiencies in the process. That takes a lot of time that we can be spending on civil cases, on other criminal cases, on important issues."
Governor Bush is seeking to close all three of the state's Capital Collateral Regional Counsel offices and to completely privatize appellate representation. Representative Joe Negron, a top-ranked Republican who supported closing the first regional center, stated that Cantero's remarks would "carry a lot of weight" as lawmakers decide this spring whether to proceed with plans to close the remaining two offices or eliminate the privatization plan.
(Miami Herald, January 28, 2005). See Representation.
NEW VOICES: Federal Judge Calls for More Resources for Texas Death Penalty
Judge Patrick Higginbotham of the U.S. Court of
Appeals for the 5th
Circuit called on Texas to
pay more than 'lip service' to providing individuals facing the death
penalty with a truly fair and constitutional trial. He stated
that more resources must be placed on training attorneys and judges at
the trial level in order to protect against executing the innocent.
Higginbotham, writing along with attorney Mark Curriden of Vinson &
Elkins, noted that during the past three years, the U.S. Supreme Court
has reviewed seven
capital cases from Texas and reversed all seven. Moreover, "the Supreme
Court and lower courts
have overturned 165 Texas death
penalty convictions or sentences since capital punishment was
reinstated three decades ago."
"The cases include instances in which defense attorneys slept through trial, came to court intoxicated, or did very little work on their clients' behalf. There are cases in which prosecutors withheld evidence or allowed witnesses to fabricate testimony. And there are cases in which judges misinterpreted the law, mishandled jury selection, or issued flawed jury instructions."
They highlighted the training programs of the Center for American and International Law, a nonprofit corporation that promotes continuing legal education. The Center will conduct programs for defense attorneys, judges and prosecutors in 2005. (The Dallas Morning News, January 23, 2005). See Representation, Innocence, and Costs.
POSSIBLE INNOCENCE: Federal Appeals Court Reverses Capital Conviction of British Foreign National
A federal appeals court has ruled that Ohio must either retry
British foreign national Kenny Richey within 90 days or free him
from death row. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit threw out
1987 conviction and death sentence in the arson death of 2-year-old
Cynthia Collins, ruling that prosecutors failed to offer sufficient
Richey's guilt. The court also found that his
court-appointed attorney was "outside the wide range of professionally
competent assistance" because he failed to challenge the state's
evidence. The opinion stated: "The record indicates that a
expert - fully informed and supervised, and using the methods available
to him at the time of the trial - would have all but demolished the
state's scientific evidence, and with it a large part of the case
against Richey.... Based on the state of the law at the time of his
actions, the only way that Richey could have been constitutionally
convicted of aggravated felony murder would have been upon a showing
that Richey intended to kill the person that actually died. Because it
is undisputed that there was no evidence to that effect, Richey's
conviction necessarily lacked the support of sufficient evidence."
Richey is the only British foreign national on death row in the United States, and his case has been closely monitored in the United Kingdom. In response to the ruling, Alistair Carmichael, a member of the British Parliament who visited Richey in 2004, stated that it was "excellent news for all of us who have campaigned to highlight the flaws in the conduct of Kenny Richey's initial trial. Where so much doubt exists about the safety of a conviction it would be an offense against humanity to carry out a death sentence." (Toledo Blade, January 26, 2005). See Foreign Nationals and Innocence.
Georgia's Death Row Faces a Crisis Without Adequate Legal Representation
Seven people on Georgia's
death row are without legal representation as they face their final
rounds of appeal. Georgia does
not guarantee publicly funded lawyers for death row inmates beyond the
first round of appeal. According to many legal experts, including
retired Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold Clark, the failure
to provide legal counsel increases the likelihood of a wrongful
execution. "It's a very important check in the system that's
There can be slips in the process along the way. When you've got a
person sitting on death row who shouldn't be there, I can't think of
many things more serious than that," said Clark.
Currently, the Georgia Appellate Practice and Educational Resource Center represents 55 of the state's 113 death row inmates, but the lack of sufficient funding and staff prevent it from taking all the cases on death row. The Center has asked Georgia's legislature for a 25% increase in its budget to offset the loss of three attorneys who had been funded through fellowships. If the funding increase is denied or if the Center's budget is cut, dozens of others on Georgia's death row could be without legal representation. "That would be a public disaster," said Emmet Bondurant, who chair's the Center's board. "You'll be basically increasing the odds that people will be executed whose constitutional rights were violated or who, as the DNA exoneration cases have shown, may be...actually innocent."
(Associated Press, January 18, 2005). See Representation.
Former Death Row Inmate Wilbert Rideau Freed After 44 Years
Following a manslaughter conviction for a crime
committed when he was 19 years old in Louisiana in 1961, Wilbert
Rideau, the acclaimed prison journalist, was set free by the trial
judge on Saturday, January 15. His conviction carries a maximum
sentence of 21 years and Rideau has already served 44 years in prison,
primarily in Angola. Rideau, who is black, was originally convicted and
sentenced to death by an all-white, all-male jury for killing a white
woman. His death sentence was overturned when the U.S. Supreme Court
found that the death penalty was being applied in an arbitrary manner
in 1972. He has had three previous trials. In 2000, a federal appeals
court granted him a new trial because blacks had been excluded from the
original grand jury that indicted him in 1961. In his current trial, he
faced a mixed-race jury for the first time.
During his years in Angola, Rideau served as the editor of the prize-winning publication, The Angolite, and has received numerous awards for his writing and his part in producing the documentary "The Farm" about life in the prison. (Washington Post-AP, Jan. 16, 2005).