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Monday, June 29, 2009


Georgia Death Row Inmate, Troy Davis, Safe Until September

Today the US Supreme Court revealed that there will be NO DECISION on the Troy Davis case until the court reconvenes in September. Supporters of Davis have been rallying for the Court to take up his case in order that evidence of his innocence finally be heard.

Below is an article about about today's press conference in Savannah, Georgia, where thousands of petitions were delivered to District Attorney Larry Chisholm.

Monday, Jun. 29, 2009
60,000 signatures supporting Troy Davis delivered
By RUSS BYNUM - Associated Press Writer

SAVANNAH, Ga. -- Supporters of death row inmate Troy Anthony Davis delivered petitions with 60,000 signatures Monday to the office of Chatham County's district attorney, who's being pressured to consider a new trial for Davis based on questions raised in his appeals.

About 25 people from groups such as the NAACP and Amnesty International handed a stack of petitions more than two feet high to spokeswoman for District Attorney Larry Chisolm at a news conference outside the Chatham County courthouse.

"We have sufficient evidence, we believe, to show that Troy Anthony Davis is innocent," said Prince Jackson, president of the NAACP's Savannah branch. "We are asking that he be given a chance. After all, his life is at stake."

Davis has spent nearly 18 years on death row for the 1989 slaying of Savannah police officer Mark MacPhail. His attorneys say he deserves a new trial after several witnesses at his trial recanted their testimony.

Though the U.S. Supreme Court has yet to rule on whether it will hear Davis' latest appeal, his supporters are already working to put pressure on Chisolm, who was elected Chatham County's first black district attorney last year with much of his support coming from black voters in Savannah. Davis also is black.

A decision from the high court was expected by Tuesday, as justices are taking off on their summer break. If the court rejects Davis' case, it would clear the way for Georgia to set a new execution date for Davis, who has been scheduled to die by lethal injections three times since 2007 but was spared when courts intervened.

Martina Correia, Davis' sister, said her brother was in decent spirits and "praying for the best" when she visited him over the weekend. Correia said she hoped Chisolm would give weight to the petition signatures, 11,000 of which Davis' supporters said came from Chatham County.

"He's a fresh pair of eyes taking a look at this case," Correia said.

Chisolm's predecessor, Spencer Lawton, was district attorney when Davis was convicted in 1991. Prosecutors under Lawton, who retired last year, rejected Davis' claims of innocence and labeled statements by recanting witnesses as "suspect."

Chisolm's spokeswoman, Lydia Sermons, said Monday the district attorney had no comment. She has previously said that Chisolm wasn't sure he had the legal authority to halt Davis' execution, and that he would not comment until after the Supreme Court ruled.

MacPhail was slain 20 years ago while working off-duty as a security guard at a bus station. He had rushed to help a homeless man who had been pistol-whipped at a nearby parking lot, and was shot twice when he approached Davis and two other men. Witnesses identified Davis as the shooter at his 1991 trial.

But Davis' lawyers say new evidence proves their client was a victim of mistaken identity. They say three people who did not testify at Davis' trial have said another man confessed to the killing.

The case has attracted worldwide attention, with calls to stop Davis' execution from former President Jimmy Carter, Pope Benedict XVI and Nobel Peace Prize-winner Desmond Tutu. Rallies have been held as far away as Paris.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


Court Rules the Convicted Have No Right to DNA Tests

On Thursday, June 18th, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that those convicted of a crime do not have the right to obtain DNA testing on evidence that could prove their innocence. The 5-4 decision involved the case of William Osborne, an Alaskan man convicted of assault, kidnapping, and sexual assault in 1993. Though the victim did identify Osborne as one of her two attackers, court documents also reveal that her identification was questionable. The victim's eyesight was poor and the attack occurred at night when visibility was limited.

In 2001, Osborne sought DNA testing that could prove his innocence for the assault. He filed suit in federal court because he contended that the state of Alaska had no provision for post-conviction DNA testing. Although the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision did not completely deny that there is a constitutional right to DNA testing, it found that Osborne’s constitutional rights were not violated. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in his majority opinion that Osborne should have exhausted his avenues for appeal in the Alaska courts. Roberts added that defendants have no freestanding right to DNA testing under the Constitution's Due Process Clause.

According to the Innocence Project, an organization that assists prisoners who might be proven innocent through DNA testing and who represents Osborn, to date there have been 240 people nationwide who have been exonerated through DNA testing. In all, 47 states and the District of Columbia have passed statutes granting access to post-conviction DNA testing, and a federal law granting access in federal cases was passed in 2004. Thursday's ruling will not affect those laws. The three states without statutes granting post-conviction access to DNA testing are Alaska, Massachusetts and Oklahoma

Tennessee currently allows a defendant to obtain DNA testing of biological evidence during pre-trial discovery or during post-conviction proceedings. Strict pleading requirements, however, have the potential to preclude inmates from successfully obtaining post-conviction DNA testing. For example, the court will summarily dismiss the petition seeking post-conviction DNA testing if the petitioner failed to allege or satisfy a pleading requirement. Most significantly, the court is never required to hold a hearing on the merits of an inmate’s petition for DNA testing (The Tennessee Death Penalty Assessment Report, American Bar Association, March 2007).

Read more about this case.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


New Study Reveals Lack of Support for Deterrence Effect of the Death Penalty

Yesterday a new study entitled, “Do Executions Lower Homicide Rates? The Views of Leading Criminologists,” was published in Northwestern University School of Law’s Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology. The study is authored by Professor Michael Radelet, Chair of the Department of Sociology at the University of Colorado-Boulder, and Traci Lacock, an attorney and Sociology graduate student in Boulder. The Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) has a copy of the study on its web site.

The study’s findings include the following:
  • Eighty-eight percent of the country’s top criminologists do not believe the death penalty acts as a deterrent to homicide
  • Eighty-seven percent of the expert criminologists believe that abolition of the death penalty would not have any significant effect on murder rates.
  • Seventy-five percent of the respondents agree that “debates about the death penalty distract Congress and state legislatures from focusing on real solutions to crime problems.”

The study surveyed the most pre-eminent criminologists in the country, including: Fellows in the American Society of Criminology; winners of the American Society of Criminology’s prestigious Southerland Award; and recent presidents of the American Society of Criminology. The American Society of Criminology is the top professional organization of criminologists in the world. Respondents were not asked for their personal opinion about the wisdom of the death penalty, but instead, were asked to answer the questions only on the basis of their understandings of the empirical research.

The study concluded: “Our survey indicates that the vast majority of the world’s top criminologists believe that the empirical research has revealed the deterrence hypothesis for a myth … The consensus among criminologists is that the death penalty does not add any significant deterrent effect above that of long-term imprisonment.”

The murder rates across the nation provide further evidence that the death penalty is not a deterrent to violent crime. The South carries out 80% of the executions in this country while continuing to have the highest murder rate of the nation's four regions. The Northeast, which has only had 4 executions since the reinstatement of the death penalty, has the lowest murder rate.

What we do know is that states continue to spend millions of dollars that they don't have to maintain death penalty systems which do not deter crime instead of spending those dollars on efforts that actually can prevent violence--such as mental health care, drug treatment, education, and resources for law enforcement. Rather than pouring our money down the black hole of the death penalty, let's get proactive about how we address the root causes of violent crime and actually prevent some of these horrible tragedies from happening at all. One way or the other, we, as a society, must be willing to spend the resources to provide hope and opportunity for those who often have neither. We can either provide those resources when they can still make a difference or after a horrible crime has been committed and it is too late.

The evidence is in. The choice is ours.

Monday, June 08, 2009


Connecticut's Governor Vetoes Abolition Legislation

On June 5, Connecticut's Governor, Jodi Rell, made good on her promise to veto legislation that would have abolished the death penalty in that state. The Governor had expressed her opposition to the measure all along and issued her promised veto last week. Supporters in the General Assembly said they did not have the two-thirds majority of votes to override the veto. The bill, repealing Connecticut's death penalty and replacing it with life in prison, passed 19-17 in the Senate and 90-56 in the House last month. Connecticut has 10 death row inmates and has only executed one inmate since the U.S. Supreme Court allowed for the reinstatement of capital punishment in 1976.

Despite having a brand new Executive Director and a Governor who maintained her steadfast support of the death penalty, the Connecticut Network to Abolish the Death Penalty (CNADP) rallied the people of Connecticut from all across the state to speak out for repeal. The network organized murder victim family members to speak out about how the death penalty fails to meet the needs of victims. Law enforcement held their own press conference saying it was not a worthwhile law enforcement tool and a waste of resources in these hard economic times. Attorneys reminded the lawmakers that only a month had passed since a wrongful conviction for murder was exposed after more than a decade. The national NAACP teamed up with the state group to highlight Connecticut's failure to address its troubled history with race and the death penalty. And, three times as many people contacted the Governor in support of the bill compared to those who opposed.

In just a few weeks, the citizens of Connecticut almost abolished the death penalty, demonstrating that when enough people speak and act, lawmakers listen. Though abolition didn't happen this year, Connecticut is positioned to make abolition a reality in the very near future. Congratulation to the CNADP and the citizens of Connecticut for taking a stand to end this failed system.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009


Generations Against the Death Penalty TCASK Benefit Concert Review

Yesterday evening, June 2, nearly 120 people gathered in the Belcourt's 1925 Hall to hear the musical styling's of parent-child duos, Rodney Crowell and Chelsea Crowell, and Ranger Doug (from Rider's in the Sky) and James Green. The musicians, in collaboration with TCASK board member, Lauren Brown, developed a two-hour "in-the-round" style performance that touched the hearts of cowboy-western music enthusiasts and caressed the ears of lovers of poetic lyrics.

Both families spoke out against the death penalty and graciously gave of their time and talents to share with the crowd a bit about why they oppose this form of punishment. Rodney Crowell paused before the final song to say "in my years I have seen that forgiveness and love are a lot stronger than the vengeance that is sought as retributive justice."

Singer-songwriters Beth Nielsen Chapman and Gary Nicholson emerged from the audience to join the group on stage, each sharing a song that spoke to them about the power of forgiveness and love. Also in the audience was 1984 Figure Skating Olympic Gold Medalist, Scott Hamilton.

All in all it was a great night. Many thanks to the musicians who shared their gifts with us, the Belcourt Theater for graciously allowing us to use their space and again, TCASK board member, Lauren Brown for her work to organize this "cool" event!

Monday, June 01, 2009


Answering the hard questions: Myth or fact?

Myth: The death penalty deters crime.

Fact: Studies have repeatedly shown that the death penalty does not deter violent crime any more than other punishments such as life imprisonment. Eighty-eight percent of the country’s top criminologists do not believe the death penalty acts as a deterrent to homicide (Radelet and Lacock, 2009).

Myth: Race has nothing to do with capital punishment.

Fact: The death penalty is used primarily to punish those who kill Euro-Americans. Whites make up roughly half of murder victims nationally, but over 80% of death row inmates are there for the murder of a white victim. A defendant accused of murdering a white victim is more than 3 times as likely to face the death penalty as a defendant accused of the murder of a person of color (David Baldus).

Myth: The death penalty doesn’t make mistakes.

Fact: During the modern execution era (1973-present) over 130 people have been exonerated from death row after evidence of their innocence came to light. This is roughly 1 exoneration for every 9 executions.

Additionally, strong evidence has been unearthed demonstrating that innocent men may have been executed in several states (“Innocent and Executed,” NCADP).

Myth: Public opinion supports the death penalty.

Fact: The May 2006 Gallup poll found support for the death penalty was 65% (down from 80% in 1994).

The same poll found that, when respondents were given the choice of life without parole as an alternative sentencing option, more chose life without parole (48%) than the death penalty (47%). A poll conducted by the American Bar Association in Tennessee in 2007 shows 66% of Tennesseans support a moratorium on the death penalty in order for the system’s problems to be addressed.

Myth: Executions are cheaper than life imprisonment.

Fact: It costs far more to operate a system that utilizes the death penalty rather than life without parole as its maximum punishment. A study in New Jersey found that $253 million had been spent on the capital punishment system above and beyond the costs of life without parole from 1983 through 2005. The majority of the costs of the death penalty system occur at the initial trial, which must be separated into two stages and requires far more hours of work from lawyers, expert witnesses, and special investigators.

Myth: The Bible supports the death penalty.

Fact: Although isolated passages of the Bible have been invoked in support of the death penalty, most religious groups in the United States regard executions as immoral. Literal interpretations of selected passages from the Bible used to defend capital punishment corrupt the compassionate spirit of Judaism and Christianity -- a spirit which urges humane and effective ways of dealing with crime and violence.

If we take the Bible literally, we are also obligated to impose the death penalty in cases of adultery (Lev. 20:10), blasphemy (Lev. 24:15), working on the Sabbath (Ex. 35:2), refusing to obey a priest or judge (Deut. 17:12), disobedient children (Deut. 21:18), fornication (Deut. 22:23), and 16 other offenses.

Myth: The death penalty is fair.

Fact: Only one out of every 100 convicted murderers is sentenced to death. Those perpetrators sentenced to death are not those whose crimes were the “worst of the worse.” Instead, they are disproportionately the poor, people of color, those with mental illness, and those whose victims are white. More than 90% of those on death row were financially unable to hire attorneys to represent them at trial.


Answering the hard problems: Race and the death penalty

"By reserving the penalty of death for black defendants . . . or for those convicted of killing white persons, we perpetuate the ugly legacy of slavery - teaching our children that some lives are inherently less precious than others."-Rev. Joseph E. Lowery, Former President, Southern Christian Leadership Conference

Since 1977, the overwhelming majority of death row defendants (80%) have been executed for killing white victims, although whites make up only 50% percent of all homicide victims. In a 1990 report, the non-partisan U.S. General Accounting Office found "a pattern of evidence indicating racial disparities in the charging, sentencing, and imposition of the death penalty."

A North Carolina study, based on data from 502 murders occurring between 1993 and 1997 found that defendants whose victims are white are 3.5 times more likely to be sentenced to death than those with non-white victims.

Underlying the statistical evidence is the differential treatment of African-Americans at every turn:

  • All of Tennessee’s District Attorneys General are white. These are the people who decide whether or not to seek the death penalty.
  • African Americans make up 43% of Tennessee’s death row population but only 17% of its total population.
  • African Americans make up 35% of those executed in the U.S. since 1976.

Race in Tennessee Death Penalty Cases

E.J. Harbison, a poor, African- American man with no prior criminal record, was sentenced to death in 1983 for his role in the murder of Edith Russell, an elderly, white woman. Although the state claimed the murder was premeditated, Harbison did not carry a weapon; Russell was killed with her own vase during the botched burglary.

Erskine Johnson was convicted by an all-white jury in Memphis, a city with a majority black population. Although half a dozen black witnesses testified that Johnson was in St. Louis at the time of the crime, the jury relied on largely circumstantial evidence and coerced testimony from supposed co-defendants and sentenced him to death.


Answering the hard questions: Mental illness

"Over the past thirty years, the number of people with mental
illness and other mental disabilities on death row has steadily increased." -Mental Health America

International law clearly outlaws the execution of persons with mental illness. Virtually every country in the world prohibits the execution of those who are considered "insane." However, our legal understanding of mental illness has not kept pace with our medical knowledge. Thus, to be deemed "mentally competent" to face execution, a person is only required to know that he/she is going to be executed and why.

In Ford v Wainwright (1986), the U.S. Supreme Court determined that "inflicting the death penalty upon a prisoner who is insane" violates the U.S. Constitution. However, it is estimated that 5-10% of death row inmates suffer from serious mental illness (Mental Health America's "Position Statement 54: Death Penalty and People with Mental Illness").

At least 100 of those executed in the U.S.A. since 1977 suffered from mental illness, representing about 10% of those put to death nationwide during this period. (Amnesty International's Report "The Execution of Mentally Ill Offenders," 2006).


Robert Glen Coe, the first person Tennessee executed in the modern era, suffered from serious mental illness. At his trial, some experts testified that he was psychotic and schizophrenic. In 1975, Coe was found incompetent to stand trial in Florida on another charge. Coe was executed on April 19, 2000.

In 2008 Richard Taylor had his conviction and death sentence reversed by an appeals court and was sentenced to life imprisonment. Taylor, twice forced to stand trial despite his serious mental illness, agreed to a sentence of life without parole in exchange for pleading guilty to the 1981 murder of a Tennessee correctional officer— a crime committed only after prison officials stopped giving Taylor his anti-psychotic medication.

In 2001, Gregory Thompson was so mentally incompetent that he was appointed a conservator to make decisions about what medications he should take. He suffers from delusional thought processes, psychosis, auditory and visual hallucinations, and is suicidal. The state now claims that Thompson is sane enough to be executed.

Abu-Ali Abdur'Rahman has a history of serious mental problems. He was physically tortured by his father as a young child. As part of his post- conviction appeals, six mental health experts have diagnosed Abu-Ali Abdur'Rahman as suffering from post- traumatic stress disorder and/or borderline personality disorder. He has been on death row for over 20 years.


The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) believes the death penalty is never appropriate for a defendant suffering from a serious brain disorder or for those suffering with serious mental illness.

Mental Health America believes that mental illness can influence an individual's mental state at the time he or she commits a crime, can affect how "voluntary" and reliable an individual's statements might be, can compromise a person's competence to stand trial and to waive his or her rights, and may have an effect upon a person's knowledge of the criminal justice system.

The American Psychological Association (APA) calls upon each jurisdiction in the United States that imposes capital punishment not to carry out the death penalty until the jurisdiction implements policies and procedures that can be shown through psychological and other social science research to ameliorate the deficiencies identified in its 2001 resolution on the death penalty.


Answering the hard questions: Innocence

"If statistics are any indication, the system may well be allowing some innocent defendants to be executed." -Justice Sandra Day O’Connor

Consider the following:

Because human beings administer the death penalty system and because human beings are fallible, innocent people may have been executed in the past and will continue to be executed in the future.

Since 1973, more than 130 people in 26 states have been released from death rows across the U.S. after evidence of their wrongful convictions emerged. This represents approximately 1 exoneration for every 9 executions. In April 2002, Ray Krone became the 100th person to be released from death row since 1973. Krone spent 10 years in prison in Arizona, including time on death row for a murder he did not commit. DNA testing finally demonstrated his innocence.

The exonerations of 13 Illinois death row inmates led Governor George Ryan to declare a moratorium on executions in the State of Illinois. Calling the death penalty process "arbitrary and capricious, and therefore immoral," Governor Ryan cleared Illinois' death row in January 2003, commuting 167 condemned inmates' sentences to life in prison.

The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty published a report titled Innocent and Executed which details the cases of four executed individuals who were most likely innocent, including Carlos De Luna.


In 2007, Michael McCormick was found not guilty in a new trial after spending 20 years fighting his death sentence in Tennessee. DNA evidence ultimately led to his acquittal. He became the 125th person released from death row nationwide.

Paul House was on Tennessee's death row for 22 years though evidence indicating his innocence (including DNA) had been uncovered in the 1990's. In 2006 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that "this is the rare case where—had the jury heard all conflicting testimony—it is more likely than not that no reasonable juror would have lacked a reasonable doubt." In other words, House would not be found guilty in a fair trial with all the evidence properly introduced. His conviction and sentence were thrown out by a federal district court judge in December 2007, and he was released on bond in July 2008 to await a retrial. Finally, in May 2009, the district attorney dropped all the charges against House making him the 132nd person released from death row nationwide and the second in Tennessee.

Factors leading to wrongful convictions include:

  • Inadequate defense
  • Police and Prosecutorial misconduct
  • Perjured testimony and mistaken eyewitness testimony
  • Tainted jailhouse testimony
  • Suppression of mitigating evidence and misinterpretation of evidence
  • Death qualified juries
  • Lack of or unreliable eyewitness testimony


Answering the hard questions: Cost

Capital Punishment is a far more expensive system than one whose maximum penalty is life without the possibility of parole.

According to a New Jersey study conducted by New Jersey Policy Perspectives, between 1983 and 2005, N.J. taxpayers paid $253 million more for their death penalty system than they would have for a system that only seeks life without parole as its maximum punishment.

A 1993 North Carolina study conducted by Duke University found that the state spends $2.16 million more per execution than on a non-death penalty murder case.

A 2008 Maryland study conducted by the Urban Institute found that the total cost of the death penalty to Maryland taxpayers for cases that began 1978 to 1999 to be at least $186 million. Furthermore, the total cost to the taxpayers of Maryland per death penalty case is $3 million, more than $1.9 million more per case than a no-death-notice case.

A 2004 study by the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury concluded that:

  • The Office of Research was unable to determine the total, comprehensive cost of the death penalty in Tennessee. Although noting that, "no reliable data exists concerning the cost of prosecution or defense of first-degree murder cases in Tennessee." The report concluded that capital murder trials are longer and more expensive at every step compared to other murder trials.
  • Death penalty trials cost an average of 48% more than the average cost of trials in which prosecutors seek life imprisonment.

A report to the Washington State Bar association regarding costs found, that at the trial level, death penalty cases are estimated to generate roughly $470,000 in additional costs to the prosecution and defense over the cost of trying the same case as an aggravated murder without the death penalty and costs of $47,000 to $70,000 for court personnel. On direct appeal, the cost of appellate defense averages $100,000 more in death penalty cases than in non-death penalty murder cases.

The greatest costs of the death penalty are incurred prior to and at trial, not in post-conviction proceedings.

  • Under a death penalty system, trials have two separate phases (conviction and sentencing). Special motions and extra jury selection questioning typically precede these trials.
  • More investigative costs are generally incurred in capital cases, particularly by the prosecution.
  • When death penalty trials result in a verdict less than death or are reversed, the taxpayer incurs all the extra costs of capital pretrial and trial proceeding and must then also pay either for the cost of incarcerating the prisoner for life or the costs of a retrial (which often leads to a life sentence).

The death penalty diverts resources from genuine crime control measures. Spending money on the death penalty system means:

  • Taking it away from existing components of the criminal justice system, such as prosecutions of drug crimes, domestic violence, and child abuse.
  • Reducing the resources available to states for crime prevention, education and rehabilitation, law enforcement, drug treatment programs, care and follow-up of people who have been released into the community, and victims’ compensation funds.


Answering the hard questions: Deterrence

"I have inquired for most of my adult life about studies that might show that the death penalty is a deterrent. And I have not seen any research that would substantiate that point." -U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, January 21, 2000

Consider the following:

Generally, states without the death penalty have consistently lower murder rates than states with the death penalty. A New York Times review in 2000 of murder rates over the past 20 years found that the murder rate in states with the death penalty has been 48% to 101% higher than in non-death penalty states.

Consistent with previous years, the 2006 FBI Uniform Crime Report showed that the South had the highest murder rate and accounts for over 80% of the executions in the nation. The Northeast, which has less than 1% of executions, again had the lowest murder rate.

The U.S. with the death penalty has a much higher murder rate than countries in Europe which do not have the death penalty.

According to a survey of the former and present presidents of the nation’s top academic criminological societies, 88% of these experts rejected the notion that the death penalty acts as a deterrent to homicide. ("Do Executions Lower Homicide Rates? The Views of Leading Criminologists," Northwestern University School of Law’s Journal of Criminal Law and Criminologyby Professor Michael Radelet and Traci Lacock, June 2009).

Researchers Find Flaws in Studies Claiming Deterrent Effect

In an article entitled, "The Death Penalty: No Evidence for Deterrence," John Donohue and Justin Wolfers examined recent statistical studies that claimed to show a deterrent effect from the death penalty. The authors conclude that the estimates claiming that the death penalty saves numerous lives "are simply not credible." In fact, the authors state that using the same data and proper methodology could lead to the exact opposite conclusion: that is, that the death penalty actually increases the number of murders. The authors state: "We show that with the most minor tweaking of the [research] instruments, one can get estimates ranging from 429 lives saved per execution to 86 lives lost. These numbers are outside the bounds of credibility."

The authors conclude that the evidence of deterrence is far too weak to rely on as a justification for the death penalty:

The view that the death penalty deters is still the product of belief, not evidence. The reason for this is simple: over the past half century the U.S. has not experimented enough with capital punishment policy to permit strong conclusions. Even complex econometrics cannot sidestep this basic fact. The data are simply too noisy, and the conclusions from any study are too fragile. On balance, the evidence suggests that the death penalty may increase the murder rate although it remains possible that the death penalty may decrease it. If capital punishment does decrease the murder rate, any decrease is likely small.

John Donohue is a professor at Yale Law School and a Research Associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research. Justin Wolfers is a professor at the Wharton School of Business and a Research Affiliate at the National Bureau of Economic Research. (The Economists' Voice, April 2006).


Perry Anthony Cribbs: A case of inadequate defense and faulty eyewitness testimony

In November 1994, Perry Anthony Cribbs was convicted of killing Linda Harris in Memphis, Tennessee, with no physical evidence linking him to the crime. Cribbs' conviction was based on the questionable eyewitness identification of Harris' husband and the unreliable testimony of Cribbs' then mentally ill, drug addicted girlfriend. Because Cribbs' attorneys failed to investigate his case, the jury never heard testimony from an alibi witness or a witness who had information that others, including Mrs. Harris' husband committed the crime. The jury never heard from Linda Harris' family and friends who knew that Harris' husband had motives to have her killed.

Linda Harris was shot and killed between 1:30-2:00 a.m. on January 2, 1994 after returning home from a party with her husband. According to Mrs. Harris' husband, Sidney Harris, two men wearing black ski masks were inside the house when he and his wife came home. There were no lights on in the house. The only light into the house came from the carport. Linda Harris was fatally shot first, and then Mr. Harris was shot in his left shoulder and lost three fingertips. The day after his wife's murder, Mr. Harris told police that he could not identify the perpetrators as they were wearing black ski masks.

After a fight between Perry Cribbs and his girlfriend, Jacqueline "Jackie" Cannon, Jackie's brother called Crime Stoppers and reported that Mr. Cribbs was involved in Linda Harris' murder. He told police that his sister told him that Perry told her he was involved. Jackie and her brother received $1,000 which they split. Ms. Cannon did not go to the police after talking to her brother. When police tracked her down six weeks after the murder, Ms. Cannon told them that Perry confessed to killing Linda Harris. Jackie Cannon was addicted to crack cocaine both when she made her statement to police and when she testified against Cribbs at trial. Three witnesses testified at a post-conviction hearing that Ms. Cannon was addicted to crack cocaine and had paranoid hallucinations. She was later diagnosed with schizophrenia. Cribbs' trial attorneys were aware that Cannon was addicted to crack but never investigated her drug use or mental state.

After his arrest, Cribbs' photo was released to the media and shown on the local news. Mr. Harris, who previously told police that he could not identify the perpetrators, was shown a photo lineup of suspects and then identified Perry Cribbs as the shooter. At the trial, Mr. Harris testified that he could identify Cribbs because the perpetrators wore nylon masks, testimony completely inconsistent with his original statement to police that he could not identify the perpetrators because they had on black ski masks. Additionally, the murder weapon was never found nor did the police ever arrest anyone else, though Mr. Harris told police there were two perpetrators.

When Perry Cribbs was arrested he told police that he was playing basketball with his friend, "Frog," who real name is Eugene Bowen, on the night of the murder. However, Cribbs' attorneys never attempted to contact Mr. Bowen. At the post-conviction hearing, Mr. Bowen testified that he and Cribbs spent New Year's night drinking beer and playing basketball which they were playing into the early morning hours of January 2, 1994.

On February 12, 1994, two days before Cribbs' arrest, a Shelby County jail inmate named James Parker contacted Memphis homicide detectives and told them that he was present when a man he identified as Sidney Harris asked a drug dealer to find someone to kill his wife. According to Mr. Parker's statement, Sidney Harris owed the dealer money.

Mr. Parker said he was also present days later when three men, who he identified by nicknames, talked about killing Linda Harris. They said they should have killed the husband too instead of only wounding him. The detectives assigned to the case did not follow up on the lead nor did Cribbs' trial attorneys ever attempt to contact Parker or anyone named in his statement. At the post conviction hearing, Mr. Parker stated that he served his time for the petty crime for which he was in custody and did not expect to receive a deal for providing information to the police. Other witnesses testified at the post-conviction hearing that Sidney Harris was involved in the sale of drugs.

Neither the state nor Cribbs' attorneys talked to the family and friends of Linda Harris, several of whom, at the post-conviction hearing, testified to the problems in the Harris marriage and about Sidney Harris' behavior before and after his wife's death. Sidney Harris did not have a job, often left home for long periods of time, and had at least one girlfriend of whom Linda Harris was aware. One of Linda Harris' sisters testified that on one occasion, Mrs. Harris called her crying because Sidney had hit her head into the window. In the weeks before her death, Linda Harris wrote a letter to her sister expressing concern about what would happen to her daughter if something happened to her. Family members were aware that Linda Harris' life insurance was changed before her death and that there was a gun in the home. Sidney Harris did not attend his wife's funeral even though he had his doctor's permission to do so, and even Mr. Harris' own brother called police and told them that he did not think his brother was telling everything he knew about the murder.The police still never pursued Harris as a suspect, and again, Cribbs' trial attorneys never investigated Harris or talked to his brother, even though they were aware of his brother's statement.

One week before trial and with an incomplete investigation, Cribbs' lead attorney withdrew from the case due to illness, and second counsel took over. New counsel did not ask for a continuance in order to complete the investigation. Another attorney was appointed as co-counsel but did not have time to prepare before trial. Co-counsel considered herself to be a "water girl," as she was only there to "carry water" for the lead attorney.

Perry Cribbs maintains that he is innocent of this crime and has no knowledge of Linda Harris murder. This case demonstrates the problems that currently plague the death penalty system, including grossly inadequate representation at trial and faulty eyewitness testimony. With no physical evidence connecting him to the crime, Cribbs received a death sentence. Perry Cribbs deserves a new trial with effective attorneys in order to get a fair hearing and to present the overwhelming evidence of his innocence.

On December 21, 2009, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that Perry Cribbs should get a new sentencing hearing in this case. The case will be remanded back to the trial court for sentencing.


Paul Gregory House: A case of wrongful conviction and exoneration

In June of 2006, the United States Supreme Court ruled that in the case of Paul House "no reasonable juror viewing the record as a whole would lack reasonable doubt." In other words, no juror in America would find Paul House guilty of the 1985 murder of Carolyn Muncey. One would think that when the highest court in the land says a person is not guilty, that person would be released from death row. Sadly, in the case of Paul House, another three years would pass before House would be a free man.

This ruling was not the first time House had been forced to accept unfair treatment from the Federal Court system. In 2002, the United States Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in a 7 to 4 decision ruled that House deserved to have new evidence of his innocence examined by Tennessee state courts. Nearly two years later, with 4 new appointments to the Sixth Circuit, the state of Tennessee responded that it would "respectfully decline" to act on the court's mandate.

House was convicted of the 1985 murder of Carolyn Muncey, a woman who lived near him in Union County. The state presented rape as the motivation for the murder and as the aggravating factor that called for a sentence of death. While no eyewitnesses were available, two pieces of physical evidence pointed (supposedly) to House: semen from the victim's body matching House's blood type, and blood found on the victim's pants matching House. In recent years, however, all of this evidence has been called into question.

DNA testing has conclusively proved that Paul House did not rape Carolyn Muncey. The semen from the body actually belonged to Muncey's husband, Hubert. This fact calls into question the state's entire theory of the crime and puts suspicion on Hubert Muncey.

Since the time of the trial, two witnesses have come forward and testified that, while drunk, Muncey admitted to them that he killed his wife in a drunken argument. Muncey was widely known to be an alcoholic who routinely hit his wife. Another witness has come forward and testified that Muncey requested that she provide him with an alibi for the night of the murder, and three other witnesses have implicated Muncey.

The blood on Paul House's pants brings up even more questions. While the blood did come from Carolyn Muncey's body, the AP has reported that the pants may have been tampered with by officers. Four vials of blood were taken from the body after death, but, by the time the vials arrived for expert testing, only two and a half could be accounted for by anyone, and one empty vial showed evidence of leakage. Forensics experts have testified that the blood was likely spattered from those vials, and did not come from Muncey's body while she was alive.

In his time on death row, Paul House has been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. He is now confined to a wheelchair, is unable to bathe or shave himself, and has difficulty speaking.

In December 2007, Federal Judge Harry Mattice ruled that the state had 180 days to re-try House or release him. The state appealed the ruling to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals who quickly upheld the Judge's ruling. The state determined to move to re-try House on first degree murder but not seek the death penalty. House remained in state custody until bail could be set.

On July 2, 2008, after nearly 23 years on death row, Paul House was freed from prison when an anonymous donor paid his bond. House moved into the home of his mother, Joyce, under house arrest while he awaited retrial. More physical evidence in the state's possession since 1985, including a hair found in the victim's hand as well as fingernail scrapings were tested and were not a DNA match to House.

Finally, in May 12, 2009, District Attorney Paul Phillips dropped all charges against House making him the 132nd person freed from death row nationwide and the second in Tennessee.


Steve Henley: The Troubling Reality of Sentence Disparity

Steve Henley and Terry Flatt were convicted of the 1985 murders of Fred and Edna Stafford, an elderly couple living in Jackson County. All the evidence, including the motive for the crime, was provided by Terry Flatt, who made a deal with prosecutors and served just over five years. Steve Henley, who has maintained his innocence from the beginning, received the death sentence. Henley and Flatt had known each other about three months prior to the murders. What happened on July 24, 1985, is in dispute.

Terry Flatt's Account: Flatt and Henley bought and sold a transmission that day and were headed toward Pine Lick Road where Henley's grandmother and the Staffords lived around 6:30 p.m. Flatt said that Henley stated that there were some people there who owed him money and had wronged his grandmother. They passed the Stafford's house and noticed neighbors were visiting. Henley let Flatt out of the truck on the road near Henley's grandmother's driveway. Henley was gone about 5 to 10 minutes and came back with a .22 rifle. Henley drove about 50 or 75 yards down the road, put more shells in the rifle, filled a plastic jug with gasoline from a five gallon gas tank in his truck, and headed towards the Stafford's home around 7:00 p.m. The Staffords were standing in the road by a newly opened bridge. Henley took a pistol from the truck and forced the Stafford's toward the house, ordering Flatt to get the rifle. About 30 feet from the house, Henley told Flatt to give him the rifle and to get the gas can. Henley then shot both the Staffords inside the house. When Flatt returned with the can, Henley threw him the rifle and shot Mrs. Stafford with a pistol in the hallway. The house was then set on fire.

Flatt and Henley left and hid the guns along Keeling Branch road as they headed to Gainesboro, about 15 minutes away, for Henley to see Harold Hix about a job. Upon leaving Hix's house, they met a patrol car who pulled them over and asked where the Stafford's lived. Henley then showed the officers Pine Lick Road.

Problems with Flatt's testimony: Flatt initially lied to authorities about his involvement in the murders saying, "I don't know nothing about no shooting." However, after he implicated himself, he then provided information to the Sheriff. He also acknowledged in his testimony that when he talked to the Sheriff he may have brought up how he could get less time and in another statement said "nothing has really been promised, but we kindly had a little bit of an agreement, some kind of agreement." The jury believed that Flatt would receive a 25 year sentence for his testimony, yet he was paroled after only 5 years in prison. Flatt also admitted to injecting Dilaudid, a powerful painkiller, twice the day of the murders, including a strong injection at 4:30 p.m. He had been using Dilaudid for seven or eight months prior to the crime. Flatt contradicted himself in his testimony stating on his way to Henley's grandmother's house, his mind was not very clear because of the Dialudids and beer. Flatt later stated the events of the day were clear in his mind.

Steve Henley's Account: Henley spent the day preparing to work on a sprayer for a friend's father and purchasing a transmission to sell. He picked up Terry Flatt in the morning because he thought he would need help loading the transmission. After picking up the transmission, he and Flatt bought a six pack of beer, and the two headed to Cookeville to sell the transmission. Later, Henley and Flatt headed to his grandmother's house to pick up some parts for the sprayer. On the way, they stopped for more beer and when Henley came out of the market, Flatt was injecting Dilaudid. They arrived at his grandmother's at around 6:30 p.m. Henley denies having any problem with the Staffords. Because Flatt was intoxicated, Henley did not want him near his grandmother so he dropped Flatt off below the bridge that goes to his grandmother's house past the Stafford's house. Henley kept a .22 rifle in his truck between the gear shift columns because he used it to shoot rabbits in his grandmother's garden. Flatt wanted to keep the rifle in case he saw a rabbit to shoot. Henley and his grandmother both testified that he was with her for 30-45 minutes. His grandmother stated that he did not have the gun at her house that evening. Henley went back down to the spot where he dropped Flatt off, and Flatt stepped out of the corn field across from where Henley left him. Flatt put the rifle behind the seat and got in. Flatt wanted to go to Gainesboro away from the Stafford house, but Henley wanted to go see Harold Hix about a job which took them by the Stafford's. Henley didn't notice anything unusual at the Stafford's since the corn was high and obscured his view. Henley came down Keeling Branch towards Hix's house, and the two stopped to go to the bathroom just off the road. They arrived at Hix's house, and while Henley talked to Hix about the job, Flatt was in and out of the truck outside. Henley stated that he did not have a plastic container to transfer any gas. When they drove back from Hix's house, a patrol car pulled them over, and officers asked where Fred Stafford lived. Henley drove them to the road, pointing toward Pine Lick Creek. He and Flatt headed toward Gainesboro, stopping for more beer. Henley only had $5 so he charged $2.50 to his friend's account, though Flatt testified that Henley had $131cash on him that he took from the Staffords.

Problems with the investigation: On August 1, after Henley and Flatt were arrested, Flatt told Ishmul Wood of the Fire Marshall's office that he poured gasoline in a general area of the house though Wood took no samples nor did Wood take samples from the road where the gasoline had reportedly been poured from one can to another. The shell casings were found on August 2, only after Flatt told authorities his story. Wood testified that he could not say whether the shells were placed at the scene before or after the fire and had no evidence that the fire was arson. The pistol was discovered a day or two after the rifle when the Sheriff instructed officials to go back and search the location of the rifle again. Henley testified that he did not recognize the pistol. Only one shell casing was found inside the house, the others outside. Of the nine shells which were tested, only one was fired from the rifle, and it was not tested to see if it endured a fire. Further testimony revealed that the crime scene may not have been secured during the investigation. The state never produced the plastic gas can which Flatt claims Henley used. Furthermore, Henley interacted with a variety of people around the time of the murders, and no one noticed anything unusual about his behavior. Henley was picked up by the police a few days later on a contempt of court charge for owing money to Production Credit Association for a farming debt. Henley had filed for bankruptcy over his farming losses and was in a dispute over what he owed. His only prior conviction was for transporting stolen property across state lines in 1981, for which he got a two year sentence on probation.

In his sentencing hearing, Henley's attorney made grave errors which led to Henley's death sentence. His attorney never spoke to Henley's family about testifying but in court, called Henley's mother to the stand with no preparation. She asked the attorney to leave the courtroom to talk with her and was so terrified of saying something that would hurt her son that she would not take the stand. This decision left the jury with the impression that Henley's mother did not want to testify on her son's behalf, which could not have been further from the truth. His attorney then called Henley's grandmother, who was also unprepared but did testify. This grossly inadequate representation by his attorney at sentencing led to a reversal of Henley's death sentence by the Criminal Court of Appeals in 1996 only for it to be reinstated by the Tennessee Supreme Court.

How can two men who were together on the night of the murders receive two such different sentences? How can the word of a drug addict who implicated himself in the crime and with everything to lose secure another man's death sentence? Steve Henley should not be executed with this much doubt in the case. In fact, a majority of appellate court judges (5-4) have ruled that Henley sentence should have received a life sentence.

The state of Tennessee executed Steve Henley by lethal injection on February 4, 2009 even though the state's lethal injection protocol was being litigated.


Paul Reid: A case of long-term, severe mental illness

Paul Dennis Reid suffers, not only from severe mental illness, but from a congenital brain defect. His brain is physically deformed as he is missing a portion of his left temporal lobe – the part of the brain that processes information from other regions of the brain, facilitates memory, and helps integrate emotions with cognition. Throughout his life, Reid has displayed symptoms of severe mental illness and has been given a number of psychiatric diagnoses. He lives in a delusional world where an invisible force that he calls "Scientific Technology," operated by the government, videotapes everything he does, inserts thoughts into his brain and excruciatingly painful sensations into his body, and toys with him as part of a bizarre experiment in which he is treated as a lab rat.

In his world, everything that happens is scripted by "Scientific Technology." The prosecutors, the judge, his lawyers, and everyone else involved in his case are "scripted" by "Scientific Technology" as part of its experiment. He believes that when the experiment is over, he will be released from prison and given a multi-million dollar award. In the meantime, he insists that "Scientific Technology's" surveillance videos of every moment of his life would exonerate him, if only the government would release the video tapes.

Reid's life-long mental illness was recognized more than two decades ago when the Texas courts twice found him to be incompetent to stand trial. He spent an extended period of time in a psychiatric correctional facility receiving Thorazine and other powerful antipsychotic medications.

Simply put, Reid is out of touch with reality. Every independent medical expert who has examined Paul in recent years agrees that he lives in a world unknown to the rest of us. Paul's delusional disorder brings on profound suffering.

The Supreme Court says that it is unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment to execute the insane – inmates who are so detached from reality that they cannot possibly understand or appreciate what is happening to them. Reid clearly falls within this category.

Yet, the State of Tennessee persists in trying to execute Paul Reid. He was most recently scheduled for execution when he dropped the appeals of his conviction for the 1997 murders of Angela Holmes and Michelle Mace who were kidnapped from a Clarksville Baskin Robbins. Reid's sister, Linda Martiniano, filed a petition as a "next friend" because he is not competent to make decisions about his case. Martiniano said that her brother "is severely mentally ill. He does not think or act in a rational manner. It seems that everything he does is guided by his belief in a government conspiracy against him to bombard him with 'Scientific Technology'." Reid tries to defy "Scientific Technology", which is his primary motive in dropping his appeals. He is certain that he will be released from prison, and he does not want to cooperate further with "Scientific Technology's" experiment.

Sadly, Paul Reid's case is not unique. Across the country, 5-10% death row inmates suffer from serious mental illness (Mental Health America's "Position Statement 54: Death Penalty and People with Mental Illness"). In Reid's case, as in the case of so many others, proper mental health treatment was never made available. His case illustrates the tragic failures of our mental health and criminal justice systems.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Mental Health America, the American Psychological Association (APA), and the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) all oppose the execution of those with serious mental illness.


Olen Hutchison: A case of severe sentencing disparity

Seven people were convicted of murdering Hugh Huddleston in 1988. Today, only Olen Hutchison faces the death penalty for that crime. Mr. Hutchison's death sentence is unjust when the major participants in the murder are either free or are eligible for parole.

Olen Hutchison and several codefendants were convicted of conspiring to murder Hugh Huddleston for the proceeds of two life insurance policies of which Hutchison and another codefendant were beneficiaries.

Two of the codefendants, Gaylor and Miller, had known Huddleston since they were teens. Evidence also showed that Gaylor and Miller would appear at Hugh Huddleston's place of employment on paydays to get money from Huddleston. According to Miller they received $100-$150 weekly from Huddleston, who even provided blank signed personal checks for Gaylor's use. When Gaylor was 19 years old Huddleston made Gaylor the beneficiary of a life insurance policy Huddleston had through his employer. In his will, Huddleston left everything to Gaylor.

Evidence and testimony from a number of witnesses showed that Miller and Gaylor regularly threatened, terrorized and abused Hugh Huddleston and that the night of the murder was not their first attempt to kill him. On one fishing trip, Miller said he was a short distance from Gaylor and Huddleston when he heard Huddleston cry out. Miller saw Huddleston (who could not swim) in the water. Gaylor said Huddleston slipped and fell in. Huddleston said he had been pushed into the water by Gaylor. Miller claimed that up to that point he thought Gaylor had been joking about killing Huddleston.

Eventually Huddleston spent all the money he could earn or borrow on Gaylor and Miller. Huddleston's trailer was repossessed, and he moved into his mother's house. When Gaylor and Miller could no longer count on receiving money from Huddleston, the plot to kill Huddleston took shape in earnest.

On August, 14, 1988, Huddleston rented a pontoon boat for a night fishing trip arranged by Gaylor. However, Gaylor never intended to be on the boat that night because, as Huddleston’s heir, he had the most to gain from Huddleston’s death. Suspicion would be too great. Miller and Huddleston were on the boat when Hatmaker and Rollyson approached in another boat. Miller said Hatmaker and Rollyson were friends of his and invited them to board the pontoon boat with Miller and Huddleston.

Miller left shortly thereafter in his small "jon" boat, which was being towed behind the pontoon boat. His supposed mission was to return to the marina for food and bait. Hugh Huddleston's body was recovered from the lake later that day.

It was Miller who accused Olen Hutchison of being involved in the scheme to kill Hugh Huddleston. At the time Miller accused Olen Hutchison, Miller was under indictment for Huddleston's murder. Huddleston had borrowed money from Hutchison and, as collateral, had taken out a life insurance policy naming Hutchison as the beneficiary. Miller had a prior criminal history of second-degree burglary, grand larceny, selling drugs and 12 juvenile charges, yet he became the state’s chief witness. Rollyson’s criminal history included theft and aggravated assault convictions.

DefendantPrior Criminal HistorySentence Received in the Death of Hugh HuddlestonPresent LocationTime Served
Charles Gaylor(none known)Life Sentence for First-Degree Murder + 10 years for conspiracy to take lifeSoutheast Tennessee State Correctional FacilityCurrently serving sentence, eligible for parole in 2020
Wilbur HatmakerSelling Cocaine and MarijuanaLife Sentence for First Degree MurderBrushy Mountain Correctional FacilityCurrently serving sentence, eligible for parole in 2019
Ricky MillerTwelve juvenile charges, Second Degree Burglary, Grand Larceny, Selling Drugs17 years in County Jail for Conspiracy to Commit First Degree MurderOneida, TNReleased 12/22/93 after serving two years in county jail
Johnny RollysonTheft, Aggravated Assault17 years in State Prison for Conspiracy to Commit First-Degree MurderClinton, TNReleased 3/10/98 after serving six years
Phillip VarnadoreCultivating Marijuana, Aggravated Assault, Possession of Drugs for Resale, Carrying Arms for Purpose of Going Armed, Selling Marijuana and Cocaine17 years in state prison for Solicitation to Commit First-Degree MurderKnoxville, TNReleased 8/12/98 after serving six years

Varnadore, another codefendant who knew Hutchison as well as Hatmaker and Rollyson, had a criminal background including aggravated assault, possession of drugs for resale, going armed, selling marijuana and cocaine, and cultivating marijuana.

Olen Hutchison, the man accused by Miller as being the mastermind of the scheme, had no criminal record. Olen Hutchison was not on the boat, was not at the marina, was not even in the same county.

Miller, Rollyson and Varnadore, despite their criminal backgrounds and their direct and admitted involvement in Hugh Huddleston’s killing, are today free men. Olen Hutchison has been facing execution since 1991 while others have been freed or will be eligible for parole.


Abu-Ali Abdur'Rahman: A case of ineffective assistance of counsel, prosecutorial misconduct, and severe mental illness

Abu-Ali Abdur'Rahman was convicted in 1987 of the murder of Patrick Daniels, who was stabbed to death in 1986.

The quality of Abu-Ali Abdur'Rahman's representation at the guilt/innocence stage of his trial as well as the sentencing phase have been called into questions when his lawyers were supposed to defend him from the death penalty.

At the sentencing phase, the defense presented none of the abundant mitigating evidence available. As a child, Abdur'Rahman had suffered appalling abuse at the hands of his father, a military policeman. This included being stripped, tied up, and locked in a cupboard; being struck on the penis with a baseball bat; and being made to eat a pack of cigarettes as punishment for smoking, and when he vomited, forced to eat the vomit. The jurors were also left unaware that Abdur'Rahman had suffered serious mental health problems, as had his brother and sister. His brother committed suicide as an adult. His sister attempted suicide many times. Abu-Ali Abdur'Rahman has been diagnosed as suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

In 1998 a US District Judge overturned the death sentence, writing that Abdur'Rahman had been "seriously prejudiced by utterly ineffective assistance of counsel at his sentencing hearing". He is the only judge to have heard live testimony from the numerous defense witnesses who were not called at the original trial. He said the "overwhelming" nature of their testimony and other evidence "compels" the conclusion that the death sentence "cannot stand". In Tennessee, only a unanimous jury can pass a death sentence. If the trial lawyers had presented the mitigating evidence, the judge wrote, "there is more than a reasonable probability that at least one juror would have voted for a life sentence rather than the death penalty".

It would seem that he was right. Eight of the nine jurors contacted by the appeal lawyers now say that they might or would not have voted for death if they had heard the evidence in question. In his affidavit, for example, the foreman of the jury states: "It is my belief and opinion that this evidence would have made a significant difference in the sentencing phase of the trial. Further, given the nature of the evidence I would further offer for consideration that the death penalty be overturned in this case".

The death sentence has nevertheless survived the appeal process. In 2000 a three-judge panel of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the District Judge's 1998 ruling and reinstated the death sentence. One of the three judges issued a strong dissent, citing the "constitutionally inadequate" defense Abdur'Rahman had received at the sentencing phase.

Doubts persist as to whether Abu-Ali Abdur'Rahman was the person who actually stabbed Patrick Daniels. The Davidson County prosecutor mainly relied on the testimony of Abdur'Rahman's co-defendant, Devalle Miller, to persuade the jury that Abdur'Rahman had wielded the knife. Miller avoided the death penalty in exchange for his testimony and a guilty plea to second-degree murder, for which he was paroled after six years in prison. The unreliability of such testimony is reflected in rules recently adopted by the Davidson County prosecutor's office: "The death penalty will not be sought in cases where the evidence consists of the uncorroborated testimony of a single eyewitness or of a cooperating codefendant or accomplice". Under these rules, it is unlikely that the prosecutor could have sought the death penalty for Abu-Ali Abdur'Rahman in the first place.

Addtionally, the coat Abu Ali wore when the offense occurred was tested by the state and was found to have no blood stains. The prosecutor, and a forensics expert, both have said that the person who killed the victim would have had blood stains on his clothes. It appears, therefore, that Abu Ali was not the assailant.


E.J. Harbison: A Case of Ineffective Counsel and Arbitrary Sentencing

E.J. Harbison, a poor, borderline mentally retarded, African-American man, with no prior criminal record, is currently scheduled to be executed in Tennessee pending the outcome of litigation concerning Tennessee's lethal injection protocols. Proponents tout the death penalty as being reserved for the worst of the worst, but Harbison's case demonstrates the emptiness of this claim.

In 1983, Harbison was convicted in Chattanooga of the murder of Edith Russell - an elderly, white woman - during a botched burglary. Although the state claimed the murder was premeditated, Harbison did not carry a weapon. Russell was killed with a vase from her house. While Harbison was sentenced to death, co-defendant David Schreane, whose criminal history included armed robbery and multiple burglaries, accepted a plea and served only six years. Worse still, Harbison's lawyer never told the jury about Harbison's background of horrific child abuse nor was the jury told that in adulthood, he assisted his father on handy-man jobs and was caretaker to his mentally disabled sister and girlfriend's children. Until recently, no one was aware that Harbison's attorney also represented another man who admitted involvement in the same crime but was never charged.

As a child, E.J. Harbison suffered emotional and physical abuse by his alcoholic parents. He and his siblings lived in poverty and often went without food. Juvenile Court records describe the Harbisons' home life as "horrible in all areas imaginable." Harbison was forced to become a defender and intervene in fights between his parents. He often sustained the brunt of those fights and was injured by a a power drill, among other means of attack, used by his father against his mother. He was shot by his father, set on fire by his brother, and beaten regularly. His 14 year old sister, who was terrified of her father, murdered her toddler and newborn in the room next to E.J. She later hung herself in a mental institution. Because of attorney error, neither the jury nor the courts have ever considered these facts, which legally support a sentence of less than death.

Even without such clear mitigating evidence, the sentencing disparity in the case is disturbing. The vehicle observed near the victim's home at the time of the crime was a car Schreane had borrowed. The police ultimately arrested Schreane and searched his sister, Janice Duckett's home. Duckett was also Harbison's girlfriend. Schreane then led the officers to the location of the murder weapon - the vase — and fingered Harbison for the murder. Harbison later confessed after police threatened to have Duckett's children taken from her and placed in foster care.

To complicate matters, police records, first requested before trial, were not turned over to Harbison until 1997, 14 years after they were requested. In the police file, counsel discovered than an eyewitness placed Schreane across the street from the victim's house near the time of the crime and did not identify Haribson as the man with him. Schreane, himself, first told police a different person was with him. Yet, Schreane served only six years, while Harbison faces death. The police file showed substantial involvement by another man, Ray Harrison, who was seen near the victim's house around the time the crime was committed. Harbison's direct appeal attorney also represented Ray Harrison concerning this crime, presenting an obvious conflict of interest. The police extradited Harrison to Florida when Schreane implicated Haribson.

Harbison's death sentence is inequitable. Instead of imposing death upon those who commit the worst crimes or present the greatest danger to society, Haribson, a poor African-American man with a history of abuse, made an easy target for prosecution in this murder.


Andrew Thomas: A case of flawed testimony

Andrew Thomas was convicted and sentenced to death in 2001 for the April 1997 robbery and shooting of an armored truck guard, James Day, while Day was leaving a Memphis Walgreens with a money deposit bag. However, new evidence calls this conviction into question.

Following the shooting, Day was released from a rehabilitation center in July 1997 with a neurogenic bladder as well as a bowel condition. Nearly 2 and 1/2 years after the shooting, Day was hospitalized with blood in his urine as well as heart disease and diabetes. When he did not improve, surgery revealed a large tear in his bladder with high levels of bacteria in his bloodstream. Day died on October 2, 1999.

On April 21, 1997, Day was shot in the head and robbed outside a Memphis Walgreens but was conscious and alert when he arrived at the hospital. A woman saw the shooter grab Day's bag and get into a white car. She said that the driver was a heavyset black man, age 30-35. Another eyewitness viewed a photographic spread on two occasions, identifying the man in one photo as the driver of the getaway car--Bobby Jackson.

On the afternoon of the robbery, Keith Echols went shopping with his friend Anthony Bond. Bond bought a used car and other items, refusing to say how he had obtained the money for his purchases. Three weeks later, Bond told Echols that he was the one who shot the armored truck guard at Walgreens. Three months after the Walgreens robbery, Bobby Jackson was arrested and charged with a similar crime against an armored truck guard. While in custody awaiting trial, Jackson told an inmate that this was not his first time to commit such a robbery but was his first time to get caught.

In October of 1997, Anthony Bond was arrested for a different robbery. Memphis police compared his fingerprints with a print lifted from a passenger-side door of the Walgreens getaway car. The prints matched.

Anthony Bond became a suspect in the Walgreens robbery nearly two years before Mr. Day's death. Bond admitted that he had participated in the crime but told police that he drove the getaway car. Bond alleged that the shooter was Andrew Thomas. In Bond's typed confession, he claimed that he and Thomas planned the robbery, and that, after the robbery, they went to the home of Angela Jackson, Thomas's girlfriend at the time, and split the money in Angela Jackson's presence.

After James Day's death, Bond and Thomas were tried together before a single jury.

Bond's trial strategy was to admit participation in the crime but to deny that he shot Day instead claiming that Thomas was the shooter. When Bond opted not to testify, the State presented to the jury a redacted version of his typewritten confession which implicated Thomas, whose trial attorneys did not object. The jurors did not hear from eyewitnesses who remembered the driver of the getaway car as a heavyset black male, a description that fit Bobby Jackson but not Anthony Bond, who is six feet tall and quite thin. Nor did the jurors hear from Keith Echols, the man to whom Bond had admitted that he shot the armored car guard.

Regarding the death of James Day, the jurors heard testimony from the State's two medical experts, Dr. O.C. Smith and Dr. Cynthia Gardner. Smith testified that Day died as the result of an unbroken series of events that began with the gunshot wound. Smith concluded that Day's death was a homicide. When Gardner testified, she repeated that Day's blood pressure had dropped, causing an injury to Mr. Day's spinal chord. She explained that injuries in the lower thoracic spinal region commonly give rise to neurogenic bladders. Andrew's attorneys did not call any expert witnesses to challenge the testimony of Smith and Gardner. The jury found Bond and Andrew Thomas guilty of felony murder. On September 26, 2001, the jury returned a sentence of death for Thomas and a sentence of life without parole for Bond.

After the trial, Thomas wrote letters to various attorneys asking for help, consistently maintaining his innocence. He attracted the attention of his current attorneys at the Winston & Strawn law firm. Thomas had received a letter from Bond who admitted that he and Angela Jackson lied about the Walgreens robbery. "Me and . . . Angie played you playa," Bond wrote. "Its a cold game and a cold world and we in both of them so its freezing." Investigators had wanted a shooter, Bond said, "so I gave them you." Bond said he knew that Thomas had made advances toward his girlfriend. "Since you tried to cross me I crossed you," he wrote. Bond went even further in his letter. "Angie knew that me and Bobby hit the Fargo truck," he wrote. In fact, Bond explained that Angela Jackson had been fooling around with Bobby Jackson behind Andrew's back. So, "Angie didn't snitch on Bobby even though she knew the business." Bond's letter is now the centerpiece of Andrew's attempt to get his conviction overturned. In the fall of 2007, Bond admitted under oath that he was the writer of another handwritten letter that Andrew's lawyers had obtained. Experts then compared the two letters and concluded that the same person wrote both of them.

A second focus of Andrew's appeal is the trial testimony of the State's medical experts. Serious flaws in their testimony about the cause of James Day's death exist. In fact, Day's medical records do not support the claim that his blood pressure dropped as the medical examiners stated nor that his lower thoracic spine was damaged. Instead, records show his blood pressure was briefly elevated, and then returned to a normal range. The records also show that Day had an injury to the central part of his thoracic spine, not the lower part. The records do not establish any connection between this injury and the gunshot wound, nor do they support Gardner's testimony that an injury to the lower thoracic spine caused Mr. Day's neurogenic bladder.

Thomas's lawyers have also raised questions about the quality of the medical care that Day received during the years leading up to his death and during his final medical crisis. In the years before Day's death, why weren't his diabetes and heart disease diagnosed and treated? When Day had blood in his urine and was taking Coumadin, a potent anti-coagulant, why did his urologist recommend that he drink more fluids? Together with the flaws in the testimony of the State's medical experts, these and other questions cast a clearly reasonable doubt on the theory that Day's death was a homicide.


Pervis Payne

Pervis Payne

In 1988, Pervis Payne, an African-American, was convicted in Shelby County and sentenced to death for the 1987 murders of Charisse Christopher, a white woman, and her two-year-old daughter, Lacie. He was also convicted and sentenced to thirty years for the attempted murder of Nicholas Christopher, Charisee Christopher's three-year-old son.

On June 27, 1987, Payne went to his girlfriend's apartment in Millington to wait for her to return from a trip. His girlfriend's apartment was across the hall from the Christopher family. Later, around 3:00 p.m., the prosecution argued that after a day of drinking and injecting cocaine, Payne entered the Christopher apartment and made sexual advances toward Charisse. When she refused him, the prosecution argued that Payne stabbed Charisse repeatedly with a butcher knife. The attacker also stabbed the two children. Lacie died in the attack, but her brother Nicholas survived. According ro prosecutors, Payne was discovered by police as he was leaving the building with blood on his clothing and an overnight bag in his hand. When Payne was confronted, he struck the officer with the bag and fled, only later to be arrested.

At his trial, Payne denied killing the Christopher family. His girlfriend, Bobbie Thomas, testified that such violence was inconsistent with Payne's character, as both she and her children had only experienced love and care from him. Three other witnesses testified on Payne's behalf denying that he was a drug user and commenting on his church attendance, as his father is a Memphis pastor. At the time of his trial, Payne had no prior criminal record, and though he had a low IQ, was deemed to be mentally competent.

During the trial, Charisse Christoper's mother was allowed to testify concerning the effect of the murders on Nicholas, the only survivor of the attack. In the sentencing phase, the prosecution argued for the death penalty in part because of the ongoing psychological trauma to Nicholas. Payne was sentenced to death on both murder counts.

Attorneys for Payne later argued to the Tennessee Supreme Court that the victim impact statement from Chariesse's mother violated his Eighth Amendment rights while also violating an earlier U.S. Supreme Court decision in Booth v. Maryland, barring such statements. However, the Tennessee Supreme Court upheld both Payne's conviction and sentence. The case was ultimately decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision, overturning the earlier Booth decision. Justice Thurgood Marshall lamented that "power, not reason, is the new currency of this Court's decisionmaking."

In 2005, the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals granted Payne a new sentencing hearing, but the court reversed itself and disallowed the sentencing hearing based on a new U.S. Supreme Court decision. The case of Pervis Payne highlights the inconsistency of the courts in applying the law in death penalty cases and the constitutional pitfalls of allowing victim impact statements to influence convictions and sentences.

Pervis Payne has filed a lethal injection lawsuit challenging the same lethal injection procedures found to be unconstitutional in the case of E.J. Harbison. Payne is also requesting that DNA from the crime scene be tested.