Wednesday, August 29, 2007

 

Unfair is an Understatement



Tennessee has only executed three people in the past forty years, and yet, this month two executions are pending. Daryl Holton is scheduled to be executed on September 12th and E.J. Harbison on September 26th. Holton's case, having been more recent and involving the deaths of his four children, is one with which many people are familiar. However, E.J. Harbison's case is less well known as his conviction occurred in 1983.

The case of E.J. Harbison is very problematic, involving a variety of issues such as ineffective counsel, racial bias, and arbitrary sentencing. The bottom line is that in 1983, Harbison a poor, borderline mentally retarded, African-American man with no prior criminal record was convicted by an all white jury in the murder of Edith Russell, an elderly white woman, in a botched robbery occurring in Chattanooga.

Although the state claimed that the murder was premeditated, no weapons were brought to the home, and the woman was killed with a vase after she surprised the burglars. While Harbison was sentenced to death after confessing when police threatened to place his girlfriend's children in foster care, his co-defendant, David Schreane--whose criminal history included armed robbery and multiple burglaries--accepted a plea and served only six years.

To make matters worse, police records, first requested before the trial, were not turned over to Harbison until 1997. In those files,counsel discovered that an eyewitness placed David Schreane across the street from the victim's house near the time of the crime and did not identify Harbison as the person with Schreane. Schreane himself, first told police that a different person was with him. The file showed substantial involvement by another man, Ray Harrison, seen around the victim's house at the time of the crime. However, Harbison's direct appeal attorney also represented Harrison concerning this crime, presenting an obvious conflict of interest. The police extradited Harrison to Florida when Schreane implicated Harbison.

Regardless of how one feels about the death penalty, such dramatic unfairness and arbitrariness should not be acceptable to anyone. How does David Schreane, by all accounts a career criminal first arrested by police, end up serving six years and E.J. Harbison, a man with no prior criminal record, end up sentenced to die? Does such an outcome make us safer? Does it serve the needs of the victims' family? Is it justice?

No one knows exactly what happened as the tragic murder of Edith Russell occurred or exactly who was involved. How is justice served by giving one man six years and another death? Never mind that E.J. Harbison is a black man sentenced by an all white jury in the South. Is that fair?

I haven't even discussed the horrific violence and abuse E.J. suffered throughout his life which the jury never heard about...mitigating evidence which might have kept him from receiving the death sentence.

A hearing will be held next week at which Harbison's lawyers will argue that lethal injection is a violation of his 8th amendment rights prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment. The scheduled execution on Sept. 26 will depend, in part, on the outcome of that hearing. Please continue to check our website and blog for updates and actions to take. TCASK will be leading an effort to ask Governor Bredesen to grant clemency to E.J. Harbison if the courts will not intervene. The citizens of Tennessee cannot allow such a travesty of justice to occur in our name.
Comments :
There you go again, smearing law-abiding jurors with unproven allegations of racism.

And as for his co-defendant getting only six years, since when are criminals entitled to fair sentences vis-a-vis their accomplices.
 
I so wish we did live in a world without racism or classism or unfairness. Some people don't like to acknowledge such realities unless they, or someone they love, are directly affected by them.

As far as fair sentences for "criminals", everyone is entitled to fairness. Sentence disparity and proportionality are real issues, whether you choose to believe it or not.
 
And you Stacy, by linking "racial bias" with the "all-white jury", perpetuate racial stereotypes. You owe the folks on that jury an apology.

As for fairness, you miss the point. Obviously, we want to have some sense that outcomes are fair, but this nonsense that because an accomplice got a light sentence another accomplice cannot get death is silly. Take a read of the Sixth Circuit's decision in Getsy.
 
Thanks anonymous, but I will decide to whom I owe an apology.
 
Not surprising--you arrogantly make thinly-veiled accusations of racial bias against 12 people you don't even know and then you arrogantly suggest that no apologies are necessary. And you presume to lecture the rest of us about morality.

This arrogance, in my view, comes from a complete lack of perspective. You view the death penalty as some absolute evil to be opposed by any means necessary, including casually tossing around accusations of racism. But what you fail to realize is that the ends do not justify the means. You complain about prosecutors who are willing to bend the rules to secure a capital conviction. When you make such reckless statements, you are doing something similar, namely resorting to unfair tactics to secure a result you feel is right. (Admittedly, the consequences are a lot less of an issue--false accusations of racism don't put anyone in jail.) The point is that you guys ought to be a lot more circumspect in your tactics, which means reckless charges of racism should not be made. And, by the way, Stacy, whether an apology is owed is a question not dismissed by the childish response of "I don't feel like it."
 
Oh, and Stacy, if you want to see real racial bias in action, check out how the murder of Yankel Rosenbaum by Lemrick Nelson Jr. was punished . . . .

Perhaps you should be more concerned about real bias by real juries . . . .
 
Stacy
I'm starting to become increasingly aware that we're not dealing with the sharpest tool in the shed here but hey it's an open forum until the ignorance becomes just totally abusive. You've made some great valid points and between you and anon, you come out the fair, level headed one.
Keep up the great work!! Someday this barbaric practice of revenge will be no more.
 
Auggie, I am just curious, what is so dumb about pointing out that Stacy is implying that the "all-white" jury was racist and that such accusations, without personal knowledge, should not be made?
 
Hey Stacy,
I think you have hit a nerve.
What is really sad and the thing that I don't understand is that the jury does not get to hear ALL the facts before they sentence someone to death. Why is it we can think it is o.k. to kill someone based on 12 people that only want to hear the facts pertinent to the victim's side of the case?
And again, murder is murder whether it is done by an individual or the state of Tennessee. TCASK did not say it, God did. We just choose to agree.
 
Folks can be racist whether they are black, white or whatever color. An all white jury doesn't mean that it's racist.
I was once shot at by a black man returning from a funeral of a black man who was gunned down by a white man. I think all that black man saw when he saw me was a white man and so he emptied a revolver trying to kill me. I could hear the bullets hitting the ground all round me as I ran.
Imagine if you'd killed a black man and got to the courthouse and the DA and judge were black and ALL the jurors were black. How would you feel? Would you have complete faith in the fairness of each of those folks?
in Philly they found that of murder defendants, if you were black, you were 4 times more likely to recieve the death penalty. Why would this be?
 
Cheryl, do we really need to go over the fact that an execution and a murder are NOT the same thing? I am pro-life, but abortion is not murder.
 
Maybe you need to check the
death certificate on Philip Workman. I think it states
HOMICIDE!
And yes abortion is murder. You need to also check the bible my friend. Before you were conceived in your mother's womb I knew you and knit together every intricate part of your being for my purpose.
Do we need to go back to grade 1 Sunday school anonymous?
Killing is killing whether unborn or in an execution chamber.
 
By the way, that was God speaking in my prior e-mail where it says Before you were conceived.
Wasn't sure you knew who He was.
:-)
 
Cheryl, homicide is not a synonym of murder. And neither is abortion.

And you want to know something, this pro-death penalty, anti-abortion trogolodyte is a card-carrying secular humanist. I have arrived at my moral sensibilities sans the Bible, although I have read it cover to cover.
 
Sorry anonymous,
I cannot relate as I live my life by the Bible, cover to cover.
We can still agree to disagree in a rational manner.
 
And Anonymous,
I don't consult trologodytes for my information.
I consult the Holy Spirit who gives direction and answers to the questions I ask on a daily basis.
I appreciate your opinion and I work with someone just like you.
I don't expect you to change but your opinion does help me learn how to be civil to those who have another way of thinking.
 
I dont see how I have been at all uncivil. The trogolodyte comment was about me, not Jesus Christ.
 
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