Tuesday, March 30, 2010
We continue to be grateful for Governor Clement's leadership on the issue of the death penalty in Tennessee which has helped to keep Tennessee's execution rate lower than other Southern states. I hope that as more people understand the failures of the current system, Tennessee can become the first Southern state to repeal the death penalty.
Read the article here.
Monday, March 29, 2010
The reality of the death penalty is that it drains state resources away from those measures that have been shown to prevent crime and is a public policy failure. We can do better.
Read the full story here.
Click here to vote in the Fox News poll on the death penalty
Thursday, March 25, 2010
Toxicology tests from Skinner showed that he was passed out on the couch, nearly in a coma from a mix of vodka and codeine, at the time of the crime. He argues that the real murderer attacked Busby and her sons while he was passed out. And the ex-girlfriend who testified against him at the trial later recanted her story.
Skinner is convinced that the real killer was Busby’s uncle, Robert Donnell, who was killed in a 1997 car crash. Donnell had a violent past, an incestuous relationship with Busby, and had made unwanted drunken advances toward her at a party the night of the murders.
Larry King Live featured this story last night. Watch it here.
You can read more about this case here.
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
We also heard a moving tribute to the late Representative Larry Turner by his wife and current state representative, Johnnie Turner. Larry Turner always addressed TADP on Justice Day, and last year, he spoke at the TADP Justice Day press conference about his support and sponsorship of moratorium legislation. Yesterday, Johnnie reiterated how much Larry believed in abolition, even though his own brother had been brutally murdered just a few years ago while on the job in Memphis. Larry’s opposition to the death penalty never wavered. We all joined Johnnie in remembering and giving thanks for Larry, for his convictions, his witness, and his service to the state of Tennessee.
After the morning session, we made our way through the halls of Legislative Plaza to meet with legislators concerning a bill repealing Tennessee’s death penalty sponsored by Rep. Jeanne Richardson and Senator Beverly Marrero. The conversations were informative and encouraging. The personal stories told by surviving family members of murder and by the sister of an executed inmate, were particularly compelling to legislators, many of whom had never met anyone whose loved one had been executed. Concerns about the cost of capital punishment also became a key point of discussion considering Tennessee’s budget woes. TADP participants agreed legislators seemed more open to considering the problems with Tennessee’s death penalty system than last year, and we hope that trend will continue next year.
Thanks to all who participated in some part of Justice Day on the Hill! Because of you, we are moving closer to the day when the death penalty in Tennessee will be repealed.
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Thursday, March 11, 2010
On Christmas night, 1997, hundreds of people attended a Christmas party at Crumpy's Comedy Club. As the party was winding down, Donald Williams, an off-duty Memphis police officer moonlighting as a security guard at the club, was shot point blank in the back of the neck and was fatally wounded by an assailant whose face was obscured. Within hours, Memphis police identified 23-year old Timothy Terrell McKinney as a suspect.
McKinney became a suspect because police believed him to be a man with whom Williams had quarreled in the club's parking lot a few hours prior to the shooting. After the shooting, as the assailant fled, another off-duty officer providing security, Frank Lee, exchanged gunfire in the alley with the assailant before he got into a car and sped away. Witnesses, including Lee, initially described an assailant dressed completely in black, which did not match McKinney's outfit that night. Lee later identified the man as Timothy McKinney. The description of the getaway car also changed over time and became an exact match for McKinney only after his driver's license was matched with the vehicle he owned. By the time of the trial, however, Lee's description of the assailant's clothing matched what McKinney was wearing that night. Lee told detectives that he was about three car lengths away from the getaway car and fired two or three more shots after the shooter had gotten into the car. Yet McKinney's car, which Lee said he was able to identify because of its tail lights, showed no bullet strikes or damage when it was seized by the police.
Lee testified at trial that the only altercation with a party patron was with McKinney, thus, giving him a motive to kill Williams. However, at the post-conviction hearing, the club owner, Crumpy, testified under oath that he personally ejected an intoxicated party guest from the club then saw an encounter between the man he had ejected and Williams. Crumpy witnessed McKinney taken into custody and told police at the arrest that McKinney was not the man he had thrown out of his club that night.
An officer testifying that he saw McKinney arguing with the victim, according to the police dispatch logs, did not in fact arrive at the club until 2:01 a.m., much later than when he claimed to see McKinney. Radio dispatches to police place the shooting at approximately 2:30 a.m. or even earlier. Yet, at trial, the State placed McKinney at his girlfriend Debra Kimble's house at 2:15 a.m. It is virtually impossible for McKinney to have arrived at Kimble's house by 2:15 a.m. and then return to Crumpy's Comedy Club, park his car in the alley, sneak up on and shoot Officer Williams by 2:30. In addition, McKinney's lawyers never used a statement made by Kimble to a defense investigator that she argued with him for 20 minutes. That would have meant that McKinney was at her house at the time of the shooting.
McKinney's clothing worn that night were seized and logged into evidence, but the State did no scientific testing on the sweater that Lee said McKinney was wearing the night of the shooting. His pants and vest were sent to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) for analysis, but the scientist could not testify conclusively to the presence of gunshot residue. Though eyewitness reports and the testimony of the medical examiner would suggest that the murder weapon was a .38 caliber revolver, no gun was ever found, and there wasn't enough left of the bullet that struck Williams to determine conclusively the type or caliber of the weapon. No blow-back of blood spray, typical of close gunshot wounds, was found on any of McKinney's clothing.The State testified that no forensic testing was ever done on McKinney's car nor on the skid marks at the crime scene. Incredibly, McKinney's car was sold at a police auction on March 3, 1998, just two months after the shooting and McKinney's arrest.
McKinney's court-appointed attorney presented no evidence during the guilt phase of the trial. His attorneys did not call any witnesses who could have rebutted the prosecution. His lead attorney said that if McKinney was innocent, he didn't have anything to worry about and that the prosecution couldn't prove its case. His defense attorneys did not do an independent investigation of the facts nor did they interview any of the people who could testify to McKinney's alibi and version of the events. His attorneys were reluctant to ask for the records or subpoena police reports and dispatch logs that would have enabled the defense to create an accurate timeline of the events that night. And, in an inexplicable legal move, his attorneys actually agreed in writing not to pursue discovery of those items or of the witness statements that could have contradicted the official account at trial.
After his conviction and death sentence, McKinney was appointed the Post-Conviction Defender (PCD) to represent him. The PCD discovered numerous documents which were never turned over to the defense prior to his 1999 trial, including police dispatch and 911 logs that establish a much shorter timeline for McKinney to commit the crime; statements from other witnesses describing a shooter not matching McKinney or his car; and the revelation that the lay eyewitness who testified at trial did not identify McKinney in the first photo lineup she was shown.
A post-conviction hearing was held in early 2006 with forty-two witnesses testifying. McKinney's lawyers argued that he had received ineffective assistance of counsel at both his trial and direct appeal, and that there had been numerous violations of both the Tennessee and U.S. Constitutions. Despite these efforts, on August 31, 2006, McKinney was denied relief by the post-conviction trial judge. A brief in the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals was filed in 2007 by the New York Firm Davis Polk appealing the denial of post-conviction relief.
Yesterday, the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals ruled in Timothy McKinney's favor concluding that the defendant was “deprived of effective assistance of counsel at both the guilt and penalty phases of the trial. Accordingly, the judgment of the post-conviction court is reversed and the matter is remanded for a new trial.”
Tuesday, March 09, 2010
The story raises troubling issues about these cases and provides yet more evidence that innocent people are sitting on Tennessee's death row.
Watch the story here. Once you are on the website, to see both parts of the story, look at the column on the right under the date March 5. Then, click on "Inmates on Death Row: Is Harlan to Blame" and next click, "20/20 Confronts Dr. on Charges" You will be amazed by what is revealed.
Regardless of one's position on the death penalty, such troubling cases as these are more evidence of a system that is completely broken and cannot be trusted to always get it right. With alternatives available, why take such risks?
Monday, March 08, 2010
Gaile suffered abuse as a child and ultimately married a man who was also abusive. Her husband not only abused Gaile sexually but also had affairs with other women that he flaunted. Despite this treatment, Gaile did her best to be a good wife and mother. She finally came to a breaking point when she discovered her husband with another woman with whom he had had an extended affair. His response to her was to curse Gaile, throw her against a car, and tell her to stay out of his business.
Gaile takes full responsibility for her actions which led to her husband's death. She understands how much this decision hurt her children and Ron Owens’ friends and family. Because of her remorse and hope to spare everyone involved the pain of a trial, Gaile decided to accept a deal offered by the District Attorney to plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence. However, her co-defendant would not accept a deal. Because the District Attorney wanted them to plead together, the deal was not honored, and she was forced to go to trial.
Because Gaile’s attorneys believed that she was pleading guilty in exchange for a life sentence, they did not prepare, recording only two hours of sentencing investigation—two hours to defend her life. Each of her attorneys believed the other was responsible for the sentencing hearing so neither prepared for it either, spending no time collecting records respecting Gaile’s background and character.
Her attorneys never mentioned the abuse she had suffered even though she told them about it. And, when one of her lawyers argued that Gaile’s allegations of abuse entitled her to some kind of expert inquiry, the trial court refused. With no expert inquiry, no investigation, no document gathering, and no real legal representation, Gaile Owens was found guilty and sentenced to death by a jury who did not know who she was, what she had endured, or why she did what she did.
The legal system never worked for Gaile. Not only were her own trial lawyers unprepared, but she learned during post-conviction proceedings that the prosecution had withheld critical information about Ron Owens’ affairs. The state possessed love letters between Ron Owens and his mistress but withheld these letters from Gaile, leaving her unaware of documented evidence supporting her allegations of Ron’s sexual perversions and her suspicions of his unfaithfulness.
Gaile Owens takes full responsibility for her actions and is deeply remorseful for the pain she has caused. She is seeking what she has always sought—a life sentence. Gaile does not want media attention nor does she want her children and family to be dragged through the media circus that would accompany her execution. Gaile is an exemplary inmate at the Tennessee Prison for Women where she works as a clerk.
Please write to Governor Bredesen and ask him to commute Gaile Owens’ death sentence to life. Letters should be written to Governor Phil Bredesen and sent to:
Tennessee State Capitol
Nashville, TN 37243-0001
Call Governor Bredesen at 615-741-2001 or
Also, check out www.friendsofgaile.com
Attorneys for John Edward Green Jr. argued Texas' death penalty statute is unconstitutional because it violates their client's right to due process of law under the 5th Amendment since hundreds of innocent people around the country have been convicted and sent to death row and later exonerated.
Judge Fine stated that he believes that innocent people have been executed and goes on to say:
"Are you willing to have your brother, your father, your mother be the sacrificial lamb, to be the innocent person executed so that we can have a death penalty so that we can execute those who are deserving of the death penalty?" he said. "I don't think society's mindset is that way now."
Judge Fine stated that his guidance in making a decision is what has been provided by the U.S. Supreme Court "that places a duty on trial courts to act as gatekeepers in interpreting the due process claim in light of evolving standards of fairness and ordered liberty."
Hear Judge Fine remarks here.
Tuesday, March 02, 2010
In 2007, District Court Judge Aleta Trauger ruled that Tennessee's lethal injection process did risk torture, violating Harbison's Eighth Amendment rights. She agreed that the current three drug protocol did pose "substantial risk of unnecessary pain" to the inmate. However, the Sixth Circuit Court later overturned the ruling after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Kentucky's protocol, which is similar to Tennessee's, is constitutional.
Recently, Ohio has moved to a one drug protocol that does not include the controversial paralytic, pavulon, which is currently used in Tennessee's protocol.
Read more here.