Sunday, December 8, 2019

Some DA's still aggressively pursuing the death penalty

The number of people on death row in the U.S. is at a 27-year low, but Franklin County District Attorney Ron O’Brien sought the death penalty in 10 cases from 2014 through 2018, according to an analysis of court records by The Appeal. But O’Brien, who has served as the DA since 1997, secured a death verdict in just one of the 10 cases. Eight resulted in a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.
In August, a jury returned a death verdict in the case of Kristofer Garrett, convicted for murdering his girlfriend and their 4-year-old daughter in January 2018. Garrett was the first person since 2003 to be sentenced to death in Franklin County, the most populous county in the state with more than 1.3 million residents.
One death penalty case brought by O’Brien is currently awaiting trial.
O’Brien’s relentless pursuit of the death penalty makes Franklin County an outlier in the U.S., according to Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.
Under O’Brien, Franklin County joins other outlier counties like Cuyahoga County, Ohio, which Dunham said currently is the most prolific county in seeking the death penalty, and Caddo Parish, Louisiana, where the death-seeking rate between 2006 and 2015 was eight times greater than the rest of the state. Despite accounting for only 5 percent of the state population, nearly 40 percent of people sentenced to death in Louisiana during that time came from Caddo Parish. In 2015, James Stewart was elected Caddo district attorney. Since then, Stewart has continued to seek the death penalty but in a more limited capacity than the previous administration. But Stewart has sought the death penalty in cases originating prior to his tenure and continues to support death sentences imposed before he took office.  
Dunham said fewer than 2 percent of counties in the U.S. account for approximately 60 percent of all people currently sentenced to death row. More than 80 percent of counties have not sentenced anyone to death in more than 40 years and roughly 85 percent of counties have not carried out an execution.
According to a recent ACLU report, only three counties—Los Angeles, Riverside (California) and Maricopa (Arizona)—had more than 10 death sentences from 2014 to 2018.
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Saturday, December 7, 2019

GateHouse: Turley: Jumping in bed with Ukraine not impeachable offense

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
December 6, 2019
George Washington University Law Professor Jonathan Turley testified this week before the Judiciary Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, relative to the impeachment of President Donald Trump.
There were four legal scholars called to testify. Three selected by the Democrats and Turley by the GOP. Turly tweeted the day after the hearing, “My call for greater civility and dialogue may have been the least successful argument I made to the committee. Before I finished my testimony, my home and office were inundated with threatening messages and demands that I be fired from GW.”
Why would Turley’s phones blow-up after his testimony? Some will say that the partisan divide is so wide that common ground is a thing of the past. In the politics of the 21st century, “You are either with me or against me.”
However, could the animus toward Turley have some merit? You would expect that a legal scholar may disagree with his or her colleague’s interpretation of the Constitution, but their position should be consistent.
A review of Turley’s position regarding impeachment seems to be inconsistent. In Turley’s opening statement before the House Judiciary Committee regarding the Trump impeachment he said:
 “I’m concerned about lowering impeachment standard to fit a paucity of evidence and an abundance of anger. I believe this impeachment not only fails to satisfy the standard of past impeachments, but would create a dangerous precedent for future impeachments. This would be the first impeachment in history where there would be considerable debate, and in my view, not compelling evidence, of the commission of a crime.”
In 1998, Turley testified in front of the same committee during the impeachment hearings of President Bill Clinton. Turley said, as reported by The Nation, “No matter how you feel about President Clinton, no matter how you feel about the independent counsel, by his own conduct, he has deprived himself of the perceived legitimacy to govern. You need both political and legal legitimacy to govern this nation, because the president must be able to demand an absolute sacrifice from the public at a moment’s notice.”
In 1998, according to Turley, Clinton lost his legal legitimacy to govern, because he lied about a sexual liaison with a young female staffer.
Twenty-one years later, Turley is concerned that a president who withheld military aid for a foreign government, in exchange for the foreign government conducting a dubious investigation of the president’s political opponent, does not rise to an impeachable offense.
It is easy to understand why people are calling for him to step down from his position at George Washington University.
In the hyper-partisan world of American politics, we expect elected officials to ignore facts, or the law, to advance their political agenda - be they Democrats or Republicans.
Should we accept, with a shrug of the shoulders, a member of academia who adjusts his interpretation of the Constitution to advance the position of a public official or political party?
Turley said in his opening remarks to the committee, “I have spent decades writing about impeachment and presidential powers as an academic and as a legal commentator. My academic work reflects the bias of a Madisonian scholar.”
Turley was referring to James Madison, America’s fourth president, and author of the Federalist Papers, along with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay.
John Avlon, a CNN senior political analyst, recently wrote, that Madison argued in his “Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention,” “for the necessity of impeachment because elections may not be enough to constrain a chief executive. And the influence of foreign powers in our domestic affairs - as well as corruption and loss of capacity might be ‘fatal to the Republic.’”
What is most troubling is that Turley appears to invoke Madison when it suits his political interests.
Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book “The Executioner’s Toll, 2010” was released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at www.mattmangino.com and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewTMangino.
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Friday, December 6, 2019

Tennessee executes legally blind inmate by electric chair for 1991 killing

The 21st Execution of 2019
Tennessee executed death row inmate Lee Hall in the electric chair on December 5, 2019, marking the fourth time the state has used the method since 2018, reported The Tennessian.
Hall, 53, was pronounced dead at 7:26 p.m. CST, according to the Tennessee Department of Correction. Media witnesses described what appeared to be a faint trail of white smoke rising from Hall's headeach time the lethal current coursed through his body.
One witness described seeing what appeared to be a drop of blood on Hall's white shirt as the second current was applied. 
Hall, also known as Leroy Hall Jr., was sentenced to death for killing his ex-girlfriend Traci Crozier in 1991. He was found guilty of first-degree murder and aggravated arson by a Hamilton County jury in 1992.
Hall was the 138th person put to death in Tennessee since 1916, and the sixth inmate executed since the state resumed capital punishment in August 2018. Hall also is believed to be only the second legally blind death row inmate executed since the U.S. reinstated the death penalty in 1976.
Tennessee was originally set to execute Hall in April 1998, and again in 2016. Legal delays blocked those dates, but the courts and Gov. Bill Lee refused to intervene this time.
Executions have become a grim routine in Tennessee since the state resumed them in 2018.
Much of Hall's execution matched others that preceded his, according to the six media witnesses. But the smoke they described was unusual. Federal public defender Kelley Henry said it was evidence of torture.
Henry represents many death row inmates and has witnessed an electrocution in Tennessee. She said the smoke could be a sign that the execution team did not douse Hall with enough saline solution, which is used to conduct electricity, or that the sponge strapped to his head had melted.
Department of Correction spokesperson Dorinda Carter, who witnessed Hall's execution, said the vapor was "a small amount of steam, not smoke, which is a natural function of the combination of solution and heat.
In an emailed statement, Carter said the execution "went as designed without any complications."
Tennessee has used the electric chair to execute four death row inmates, including Hall, since 2018. None of the witnesses at the other three executions reported seeing smoke or steam.
Before he died, Hall struck a conciliatory tone with his last words.
"I think people can learn forgiveness and love and make the world a better place. That's all I have to say," Hall said. 
After the execution, Crozier's sister Staci Wooten said 28 years of pain had ended for her family.
“Our family’s peace can begin, but another family’s hell has to begin,” she said, reading
Hall released his own statement apologizing to Crozier's family. His attorney John Spragens shared it after the execution.
“I’m sorry for the pain I caused," Hall's statement read. “I ask for your forgiveness, and I hope and pray that someday you can find it in your heart to forgive me."
Hall also apologized to his family, including his brother David who attended the execution.
"I hope this brings peace," Hall's statement read. "I don't want them to worry about me anymore."
A month ago, David Hall sat in a Chattanooga courtroom while his brother's attorneys spun out the late plea for a new trial, hoping to delay the execution to allow the case to be heard.
On Thursday, David Hall sat stoic in the front row of the viewing room, holding a tissue as his brother said his last words and was put to death. 
rn his conviction and block the execution, saying a juror in his 1992 trial was unfairly biased against him.
Defense attorneys in new filings requested to vacate the original conviction on Oct. 14, just a month and a half before Hall's execution. 
An unnamed female juror from Hall's original trial said her own history of violent rape and abuse at the hands of her first husband prejudiced her against Hall. She had not described her history of abuse during jury selection — it came to light for the first time in September.
Attorneys requested Hall's original case be reopened as part of a post-conviction relief appeal, which could have delayed the execution.
Courts rejected that argument. The U.S. Supreme Court issued a two-sentence order Thursday night declining to step in.
In a statement Wednesday, the governor said the case had been fully and fairly litigated for nearly 30 years.
“The judgment and sentence stand based on these rulings, and I will not intervene in this case," Lee said Wednesday afternoon.
Hall's death part of a trend in Tennessee, but not the nation
Tennessee is an outlier in the nation, carrying out executions at a steady clip since 2018 despite the fact that most states have backed away from the practice.
Hall's choice to die by electrocution is another sign that Tennessee is bucking a national trend — no other state has used the electric chair since 2013.
Hall was one of dozens of inmates who challenged the state's controversial lethal injection method in court, saying it caused unconstitutional torture.
Hall is now the fourth inmate to choose the electric chair over lethal injection, which is the state's default execution method.
Lethal injections take several minutes. Electrocutions are quick by comparison.
Inmates are strapped into the chair with crisscrossing belts. Their arms are bound to the chair, and their legs are wrapped in sponges and shackled.
The execution team douses the inmate in water and places a sponge, helmet and shroud over their head. 
The chair delivers two cycles of electric jolts — 20 seconds of 1,750 volts, a 15-second gap and then 15 more seconds of electricity.
The horror of Hall's crime has remained prominent as state and federal courts weighed the latest wave of legal questions. The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals described Crozier's death in visceral detail in an order Wednesday. 
Hall, then 24, and Crozier, 22, had lived together for five years before she moved in with her aunt the month before her death.
On the night of April 16, 1991, Hall threw a "jug full of gasoline that Hall lit with a paper-towel fuse" into her car, the court's order read. She suffered burns over 95% of her body and died hours later.
Emergency room doctors at Erlanger Hospital in Chattanooga said she had the worst injuries they'd ever seen.
Hall initially denied involvement in the fatal fire but then told police that he intended only to destroy the car, not to kill Crozier. His family reiterated that account in a statement released after the execution.
Hall later told police he made the homemade gas bomb as protection from her uncle but threw it at Crozier after she laughed at him and refused to reconcile their relationship. Hall also left threatening messages for Crozier ahead of the murder.
Wooten, Crozier's sister, told reporters that Hall was often abusive to Crozier and the rest of their family after the pair met in high school.
To Wooten, the only way justice could come for her sister was with the death sentence carried out. 
"He's nothing to me," Wooten said in a recent interview. "I just want him dead, and then I'll be a happy person."
Traci Crozier's father, Gene Crozier, said in a recent interview his daughter got along with everyone.
"She was just a free spirit," he said. "She never missed a day of class."
Every day since her death, Traci Crozier's family has mourned her loss. They have hoped the execution would provide relief from overwhelming grief.
To read more CLICK HERE

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Legal scholars testify before Congress about impeachable offenses

Three of the lawyers were chosen by Democrats, one by Republicans, and the experts split much like the committee, along partisan lines, over whether Trump committed an impeachable offense when he asked the president of Ukraine to investigate his political rival Joe Biden.
The lofty arguments about the Constitution were frequently interrupted by partisan sniping among committee members.
Here are some takeaways from the hearing, according to The Associated Press:
HIGH CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS
The four law professors who testified brought history lessons to the hearing, with talk of American Founding Fathers and British monarchs, of the 18th-century Constitutional Convention and the 20th-century impeachment proceedings of Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton.
Their testimony had a contemporary purpose, too, as Democrats look to bolster the argument for impeachment by having outside constitutional experts make the case that Trump committed an impeachable offense.
Three of the witnesses made clear they thought Trump’s conduct met the definition of an abuse of power that the constitutional framers had in mind for removal of a commander in chief. They said the president’s interaction with Ukraine amounted to high crimes and misdemeanors, the impeachment standard set out in the Constitution.
“If what we are talking about is not impeachable,” said Michael Gerhardt, a University of North Carolina law professor, “then nothing is impeachable.”
Pamela Karlan, a Stanford Law School professor, said the Founding Fathers were particularly concerned about foreign interference in American politics.
“The very idea that a president might seek the aid of a foreign government in his reelection campaign would have horrified them,” Karlan said. “But based on the evidentiary record, that is what President Trump has done.”
The lone dissenter was Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University professor, who said that although he is not a supporter of the president, he found the case against Trump legally weak and warned that it would “collapse” amid an absence of criminal intent.
BRIBERY IN THE CONSTITUTION
The three Democratic witnesses agreed that Trump could be impeached for bribery as it is defined in the Constitution. Democrats have hinted that bribery could be one of the articles of impeachment.
Noah Feldman of Harvard Law School said the “clear sense” of the framers on bribery was “when the president corruptly asked for or received something of value to him from someone who could be affected by his official office.”
“So if the House of Representatives and the members of this committee were to determine that getting the investigations either announced or undertaken was a thing of value to President Trump, that was what he sought, then this committee and this House could safely conclude that the president had committed bribery under the Constitution,” Feldman said.
Karlan said that if Congress concludes that Trump asked for the investigations of Biden and his son to aid his reelection, “then yes, you have bribery here.”
Turley disagreed, warning against using a “boundless interpretation” of bribery.
“The statement has been made, not just by these witnesses but Chairman Schiff and others, that this is a clear case of bribery. It’s not,” Turley said.
ANY QUESTIONS?
There may have been four law professors at the hearing, but many of the lawmakers limited their questions to witnesses summoned by their own party — and some asked none at all.
Several GOP lawmakers, bypassing the chance to pose questions to witnesses, used their five-minute allotments with speeches that defended the president and attacked the impeachment proceedings as partisan and rushed.
Republican Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio praised the testimony of Turley, the GOP-selected witness, but didn’t actually direct any questions to him.
Republican Rep. John Ratcliffe of Texas asked a series of questions of Turley but also chose to ignore the three witnesses Democrats relied on to make their impeachment case.
Democrats mostly did the same, focusing their queries to witnesses brought in by their party. Rep. Cedric Richmond, of Louisiana, brought up Turley several times but asked other witnesses — not him — about his testimony.
Still, there were some notable exceptions, such as when Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida challenged the witnesses on what he said were Democratic biases and anti-Trump leanings. H e asked Gerhardt and Karlan about contributions they’d made to Democrats including President Barack Obama.
He also asked all the witnesses to raise their hands if they had personal knowledge of the events at hand; none did.
“And let the record reflect no personal knowledge of a single fact,” Gaetz said.
When it was his turn, Rep. Eric Swalwell, a California Democrat, confronted Turley directly on his past statements — and even legal involvement — in prior impeachment proceedings.
MUELLER IN THE MIX
Democrats have been debating whether to include an article on obstruction of justice as laid out in the report by special counsel Robert Mueller.
That report, released in April, laid out potential acts of obstruction but declined to make a determination one way or the other about whether the president had illegally subverted the Russia investigation, with Mueller citing Justice Department guidelines that a sitting president cannot be charged with a crime. He essentially left it up to Congress to decide.
Nadler signaled that he believes Mueller’s findings should be included, saying in his opening statement that Trump took “extraordinary and unprecedented steps” to obstruct the special counsel’s investigation.
He said that Trump not only “welcomed foreign interference in the 2016 election” — the focus of Mueller’s investigation — but also “demanded it for the 2020 election.”
Democrats haven’t yet decided whether to include Mueller’s investigation in any articles of impeachment. But many members have argued that it should be included.
To read more CLICK HERE

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

AG Barr: Lack of respect for police could mean no protection from police

U.S. Attorney General William Barr said recently, according to the HuffPost, that if some communities don’t begin showing more respect to law enforcement, then they could potentially not be protected by police officers.
The country’s top cop made the questionable remarks while giving a speech at the Attorney General’s Award for Distinguished Service in Policing
So according to the AG, the police could abandon communities that have some unknown member of inhabitants that don't show respect to the police.  So, those vulnerable members of the community who want, need and appreciate the help and protection of the police will be ignored?
 “But I think today, American people have to focus on something else, which is the sacrifice and the service that is given by our law enforcement officers,” Barr said. “And they have to start showing, more than they do, the respect and support that law enforcement deserves ― and if communities don’t give that support and respect, they might find themselves without the police protection they need.”
The Justice Department did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for clarification on who specifically Barr was referring to when he mentioned “communities” and what he meant by people finding themselves without police protection.
But American Bridge, a liberal super PAC that first flagged the comments, said the attorney general was referring to communities of color that have historically had a contentious relationship with law enforcement due to police brutality, mass incarceration and racial profiling.
“The Attorney General isn’t being subtle and that shouldn’t surprise us considering this administration’s record,” American Bridge spokesperson Jeb Fain told HuffPost in a statement. “When it comes to communities of color, he sees justice and equal protection under the law as subject to conditions. 
“Barr’s words are as revealing as they are disturbing ― flagrantly dismissive of the rights of Americans of color, disrespectful to countless law enforcement officers who work hard to serve their communities, and full of a continuing disregard for the rule of law.”
The attorney general has proved before that he does not support the more humane criminal justice reform that’s coming to states, counties and local jurisdictions across the country. Since taking over as attorney general in February, Barr has maintained the “tough on crime” approach that President Donald Trump has adopted.
To read more CLICK HERE

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Kansas man with Alzheimer's disease facing execution by federal government

A federal death row inmate who confessed to killing and dismembering a Kansas City teenager has advancing Alzheimer’s disease and does not understand why the government wants to execute him, his attorneys said in a new lawsuit, reported the Kansas City Star.
Lawyers for Wesley Purkey, 67, said his scheduled Dec. 13 execution would therefore violate his constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, which bars the death penalty for someone who is incompetent.
Purkey believes the government wants to execute him in retaliation for making complaints about prison conditions, his lawyers said.
“Wes Purkey is a severely brain-damaged and mentally ill man who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease,” Rebecca Woodman, one of his attorneys, said in a statement. “He has long accepted responsibility for the crime that put him on death row, but as his dementia has progressed, he no longer has a rational understanding of why the government plans to execute him.”
Purkey was sentenced to death in January 2004 after he was convicted in federal court of kidnapping 16-year-old Jennifer Long, whom he raped and killed in 1998. He was also convicted in Wyandotte County District Court of murdering 80-year-old Mary Ruth Bales, a Kansas City, Kansas, woman who was killed with a hammer.
Purkey’s execution was set to be among the first carried out by the federal government in 16 years. The death sentences have been temporarily halted by a judge as a lawsuit continues over how the government intends to carry them out. The Trump administration has appealed the judge’s ruling.
In a lawsuit this week, Purkey’s attorneys challenged his competency to be executed under the Eighth Amendment. They are seeking a hearing to address the issue as soon as possible.
Among his life’s trauma cited in the lawsuit, Purkey was molested by a priest, his alcoholic mother and a friend of his brother. Purkey suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression and psychosis, his attorneys said. Records document his multiple suicide attempts, psychiatric symptoms and his longstanding mental illness.
Purkey grew up in the prison environment, where his “breaks with reality” have been repeatedly documented, his attorneys said. He has believed that correctional officers and inmates have tried to poison him, that prosecutors and judges have retaliated against him for his legal complaints and his own attorneys — who are trying to save his life — are “part of the conspiracies against him.”
“He lacks the ability to know who is trying to hurt and who is trying to help him,” a forensic psychiatrist determined.
Purkey, the practitioner said, believes he is going to be executed “in retaliation for his legal work, to prevent him from being a hassle for the government.” He has had hallucinations of prison staffers confirming that distorted perception, according to the lawsuit.
His attorneys say they have witnessed his accelerating physical and mental decline. He slurs his words and struggles to remember the names of the most important people in his life, including relatives and the lawyers who have represented him for five years, according to the lawsuit.
Purkey remains at the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana.
To read more CLICK HERE


Monday, December 2, 2019

SCOTUS to hear arguments on the Second Amendment

It has been almost 10 years since the Supreme Court last heard a Second Amendment case. Today, a transformed court will return to the subject and take stock of what has happened in the meantime, reported The New York Times.
The nation has had a spike in gun violence. And lower courts have issued more than 1,000 rulings seeking to apply the justices’ 2008 decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, which established an individual right to own guns but said almost nothing about the scope of that right.
The new case concerns a New York City ordinance. Fearing a loss in the Supreme Court, to say nothing of a broad ruling from the court’s conservative majority on what the Second Amendment protects, the city repealed the ordinance and now argues that the case is moot. But the court may be ready to end its decade of silence, elaborate on the meaning of the Second Amendment and, in the process, tell lower courts whether they have been faithful to the message of the Heller decision.
Proponents of gun rights and some conservative justices say lower courts have been engaged in lawless resistance to the protections afforded under the Second Amendment by sustaining unconstitutional gun-control laws.
To read more CLICK HERE