Sunday, October 31, 2010

Texas Death Row Inmate Released: "He's an Innocent Man"

Anthony Graves spent 18 years in prison. A significant portion of that time was spent on Texas' death row. He is now a free man.

A federal court had granted him a new trial. According to the Houston Chronicle, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Graves’ conviction in 2006. A three-judge panel said he deserved a new trial after ruling that prosecutors elicited false statements from two witnesses and withheld two statements that could have had an impact jurors.

Recently, prosecutors decided not to re-try Graves. The district attorney for Washington and Burleson counties, Bill Parham, gave Graves his release. "He's an innocent man," Parham said, noting that his office investigated the case for five months. "There is nothing that connects Anthony Graves to this crime. I did what I did because that's the right thing to do," reported the Chronicle.

According to the Chronicle, Graves was convicted of assisting Robert Earl Carter in the slaying of Bobbie Davis, 45; her 16-year-old daughter, Nicole; and Davis' four grandchildren, ages 4 to 9, on August 18, 1992. Carter was executed in 2000. Two weeks before his death, he provided a sworn statement saying that his naming of Graves as an accomplice was a lie.

He repeated the statement while strapped to the gurney minutes before his death: "Anthony Graves had nothing to do with it. ... I lied on him in court."

Charles Sebesta, then the district attorney, did not believe Carter. According to the Chronicle, even after he no longer held the post, Sebesta held to his beliefs, calling Graves "cold-blooded" and taking out an ad in two Burleson County newspapers in 2009 to dispute media reports criticizing the conduct of prosecutors.

According to the Chronicle, the evidence against Graves was never overwhelming, depending mostly on Carter's earlier accusation and jailhouse statements purportedly overheard by law enforcement officers. Even Sebesta acknowledged it was not his strongest case.

"I've had some slam-dunk cases," Sebesta said in 2001. "It was not a slam-dunk case."

To read more:

Advocate: We Can't Afford to Put Everyone in Jail

Pennsylvania had 8,243 Inmates in 1980. It Now has More than 51,000.

Below is an interesting op-ed on Pennsylvania's expanding prison population. The column appeared in the October 31, 2010 Harrisburg Patriot-News written by Eric Epstien a Harrisburg reform advocate and frequent contributor to

Where's the outrage over prison costs?

An old and misguided political adage claimed that Democrats built schools and Republicans built prisons.


Society creates conditions for schools to fail and prisons to thrive, but taxpayers underwrite the unsatisfactory results.

Education funding remains a radioactive public policy issue yet the public and politicians are strangely silent and disconnected from the perennial “corrections” hemorrhage.

As Pennsylvania continues to grow prisons, the national trend is moving in the opposite direction.

Last year, according to the Pew Center on the States, prison population declined for the first time in 40 years. Pennsylvania is now No. 1 in prison growth and the cost to operate its Legislature.

I’ll let the reader decide whether there is a connection.

Last May, then state Secretary of Corrections Jeffrey Beard reported prison numbers that should have set off a political shock wave:

The state had 8,243 inmates in 1980. It now has more than 51,000.

There were nine prison facilities with 1,563 correctional officers in 1980. Now there are 27 facilities and more than 9,400 correctional officers.

The corrections budget was $94 million in 1980 and is now $1.7 billion.

Four more prisons are planned at a projected cost of $800 million.

Where’s the outrage? Where’s the tea party? Where are the fiscal reformers screaming about skyrocketing prison costs?

Nobody argues that criminals should be isolated from society.

I taught in adult and juvenile corrections at the state and local level, and can tell you from experience, there are some people that are beyond repair, who will never get better and should not be released into society.

But Pennsylvania’s prison population is growing largely as a result of the incarnation of minor offenders and mandatory minimums.

There are some people who should not be in prison. What’s more, we stink at making people better, and many minor offenders graduate to major offender as a result of incarceration.

Recently, ran a feature by Tom Dochat, “Calculating by Corrections,” which examined prison growth and casual factors. Dochat noted, “The growth in the state’s prison population has been spurred by the relatively minor offender — a person with a drug possession or driving under the influence charge.”

In his May testimony before the Senate Government Management and Cost Study Commission, then-secretary Beard noted that little more than 2 percent of prison growth in the last decade was attributable to violent crimes while 55 percent of the growth was due to less serious offenses.

Mr. Beard also noted in his testimony the problem with assisting short-termers. “Adding to the phenomenal growth is the fact that more than 3,500 of the inmates we receive each year have less than a year to serve on their minimum sentence. The average time to minimum for these inmates is eight months, which does not give us time to enter these inmates into programming prior to their parole review.”

New Jersey, New York, Virginia and even Texas have taken steps to reduce prison overcrowding.

Among the proactive measures Pennsylvania’s next governor should consider: filtering parole violations for late payment on fees and curfew violations, utilization of alternative settings for short-term offenders, increased transitional services, and, cyber and electronic monitoring.

We can’t afford to put everybody in jail, but we need to strike a balance between keeping people safe and making them broke.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Police Chiefs Espouse Predictive Policing wrote about a recent presentation at the International Association of Chiefs of Police in Orlando. The presentation focused on predictive policing. I have written on the subject in the past,

“What is the number one activity of police officers in U.S. cities? What is the number one thing that they do?” Lincoln, Nebraska Police Chief Tom Casady paused before answering his own question. “It’s driving around aimlessly, burning fossil fuels, waiting for the next call from the dispatchers. For those of you in the room who are Chiefs, how many times have you heard your officers say, ‘We’re going from call to call to call’ and you know that that’s not true. There is an awful lot of driving around aimlessly waiting for something to happen. I don’t think this can last.”

“We’ve got to use our resources more effectively,” Casady explained, “and that means targeting our efforts more intensely on efforts that do not involve simply driving around waiting for something to happen. We’re going to be forced to do more with less, and predictive policing has the potential to help us be more productive and more efficient.” reported that following Casady’s opening remarks, Chief Jim Mallard of the Arlington, Texas Police Department explained that predictive policing is an affordable, doable thing for any agency, no matter what the budget constraints may be. “I’m not saying that you can’t go out to the Expo and spend money on some sort of software with sophisticated mathematical algorithms. You can certainly do that — there are some applications that do some pretty incredible things. But to get into the realm of predictive policing does not necessarily require a huge capital investment in extremely sophisticated software for which there’s no analyst to provide interpretation and context. You can use tools that are less expensive — you can do these types of things and you can be proactive in other ways.”

Casady added, “We know an awful lot about crime and place. We’ve really ratcheted up our ability to predict where crime is going to occur. Give me a bar, tell me what their business model is, tell me what their clientele is going to be like, who they’re going to market themselves to, and I think I can predict pretty accurately whether we will or will not have a hot spot for assaults and disturbances. And we know more about crime and people. When it comes to criminal conduct, past performance is the best predictor of future performance, and we know fairly accurately who the frequent fliers are in our communities. The men and women who are most likely to continue to involve themselves in criminal activity are those men and women who have involved themselves in criminal activity in the past.”

Casady explained further that a recent development in predictive policing is a vastly increased knowledge base about the victims of crime. For example, a person who has been in a relationship in which they were victims of domestic violence, there’s a much greater probability that they’re get into another relationship in which they were victims of domestic violence, reported

To read more:

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Real Force Behind AZ Immigration Legislation

Arizona Policymakers Touted Contrived Crime Problem as Reason for Legislation

NPR spent the past several months analyzing hundreds of pages of campaign finance reports, lobbying documents and corporate records. What they show is a quiet, behind-the-scenes effort to help draft and pass Arizona Senate Bill 1070 by an industry that stands to benefit from it: the private prison industry.

The law could send hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants to prison in a way never done before. And it could mean hundreds of millions of dollars in profits to private prison companies responsible for housing them, according to NPR.

Arizona state Senator Russell Pearce says the bill was his idea. He says it's not about prisons. It's about what's best for the country.

Instead of taking his idea to the Arizona statehouse floor, Pearce first took it to a hotel conference room.

It was last December at the Grand Hyatt in Washington, D.C. Inside, there was a meeting of a secretive group called the American Legislative Exchange Council. Insiders call it ALEC.

It's a membership organization of state legislators and powerful corporations and associations, such as the tobacco company Reynolds American Inc., ExxonMobil and the National Rifle Association. Another member is the billion-dollar Corrections Corporation of America — the largest private prison company in the country, according to NPR.

It was there that Pearce's idea took shape. "I did a presentation," Pearce told NPR. "I went through the facts. I went through the impacts and they said, 'Yeah.'" The they are lobbists, special interests and business leader-not the citizens of Arizona.

I wrote about the contrived crime problem that Arizona Governor Jan Brewer and Senator John McCain and many other policymakers relied on to push for immigration legislation. We learn now that immigration reform in Arizona has little to do with what's best for Arizona or America, but what is best for the businesses that make-up the prison industrial complex.

It makes perfect sense. With crime rates falling and incaraceration rates down for the first time in years. Immigration is the busisness plan for the future of the prison industrial complex.

To read more:

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Not So Fast: Texas Judge Not Cleared Yet

Judge Refused to Leave Office Open to Accept Last Minute Death Row Appeal

In 2007, Judge Sharon Keller, presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals refused to leave the Court open after hours to hear the last minute appeal of condemned prisoner Michael Wayne Richard. I have written on this case in the past, .

Richard was executed, his appeal never reached the court. Richard had what appeared to be a legitimate issue. Earlier in the day the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear Baze V. Rees, 553 U.S. 35 (2008) a Kentucky challenge to lethal injection. The Court ultimately found that lethal injection was not cruel and unusual punishment.

The State Commission of Judicial Conduct, reprimanded Judge Keller with a warning for her conduct. A three judge panel later dismissed the warning suggesting that the commission did not have the authority to issue a "lenient" warning. The commission had a range of censure, removal, or dismissal, all of which are more serious than a warning.

This week, according to the Houston Chronicle,the commission's executive director, Seana Willing, and special counsel John J. McKetta III asked the panel to reconsider its decision to dismiss the case. The two acted as prosecutors in the case.

Willing and McKetta, in their motion for rehearing, disagreed with the decision about the commission's authority to issue a warning. If that is the case, they said, the proper thing would be to send the case back to the commission so it could choose among its more limited options.

"The commission is capable of correcting its error, and on remand can apply the correct range of censure, removal, retirement, or dismissal this Court found is available in formal proceedings," the two prosecutors wrote, as reported by the Chronicle.

This seems like an appropriate response to the panel's decisions. As I wrote in the past, to reward someone with dismissal of the complaint because the commission issued a too lenient admonishment seems illogical or even contrived,

Keller's lawyer, Chip Babcock, told the Chronicle, "I'm surprised and disappointed that the examiner (Willing) is not willing to let this go. … I would have thought they were out of options." No wonder he is surprised he announced this "ordeal" over after the panel's decision.

To read more:

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Condemned Man's Final Words: "Boomer Sooner"

The 44th Execution of 2010

Jeffrey Landrigan was executed in Arizona last night. Landrigan's execution at the Arizona State Prison Complex in Florence moved relatively quickly after the U.S. Supreme Court lifted a temporary restraining order that had been imposed Monday by a U.S. District Court judge in Phoenix and affirmed by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, according to the Arizona Republic.

The court imposed the order as it tried to force Arizona to disclose where and how it had obtained its supply of sodium thiopental, one of three drugs used in Arizona executions. Attorneys had been battling for days over the issue.

The high court, in a terse one-page order issued after 7 p.m. last night, agreed by a 5-4 decision with Arizona prosecutors that there was no reason to force disclosure.

"There was no showing that the drug was unlawfully obtained, nor was there an offer of proof to that effect," the court order said.

Justices Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and John Roberts were in the majority, lifting the stay.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan dissented, voting to keep the stay in place.

Within a matter of hours Landrigan was moved into the death chamber. According to the Republic, he looked quizzically at roughly 27 people gathered to witness the execution. He smiled to friends and family, his lip curling slightly under his reddish mustache.

Landrigan was a native of Oklahoma. The University of Oklahoma Sooners have a storied football program. The last 12 years under head coach Bob Stoops have been truly special for any Sooner fan. Apparently, Landrigan is no exception.

When asked for any last words, Landrigan said in a strong voice with a heavy Oklahoma accent: "Well, I'd like to say thank you to my family for being here and all my friends, and Boomer Sooner," a reference to the University of Oklahoma Sooners. Some would say football is god in Oklahoma, if so Landrigan made his final peace before departing this world.

After his pledge of support to OU, Landrigan looked around and smiled again. Then, as the first drug -- sodium thiopental -- took effect, he slowly closed his eyes. A medical technician entered to check that he was fully sedated. Then the execution continued.

Death was pronounced at 10:26 p.m., according to the Republic. Landrigan was 1,232nd person executed in the modern era of the death penalty.

To read more:

Mangino Featured on WKBN-TV 27

Castle Doctrine Moves Forward, Receives Resistance
Reported by: Sarah Poulton
October 26, 2010

A Pennsylvania leader said she's pleased that a bill she and another state representative have been working very hard to pass may soon arrive on the governor's desk.

State Rep. Michele Brooks (R-17) said legislation move the Castle Doctrine forward passed the Senate by a vote of 45 to 4. Instead of voting on the Castle Doctrine bill, Brooks said the Senate wrote it in as an amendment to House Bill 1926.

According to the State Legislature's website, The Castle Doctrine, also known as House Bill 40, was originally introduced in January 2009. After lingering in the judiciary committee for more than a year, it was voted out by a vote of 22-4 on May 25 and was assigned to the appropriations committee.

The bill states that the Castle Doctrine is a common law doctrine of ancient origins that "declares that a home is a person's castle." In an earlier interview, State Rep. Chris Sainato (D-9) said the bill frees the homeowner of liability and gives the homeowner the right to use self defense.

H.B. 1926 is an expansion of Megan's Law and would further protect citizens against sex offenders. The House is scheduled to vote on this bill November 8.

Brooks, who cosponsored both bills, said adding the Castle Doctrine as an amendment to the Megan's Law bill does not change what the bill will accomplish if passed. Sainato also cosponsored H.B. 40.

"There will be some very good changes made to the Megan's Law bill," Brooks said. "I think we need to vote on both of these pieces of legislation."

The Megan's Law bill, she said, would make improvements to the current laws. Under the new bill, transient sex offenders would have to register each time they moved and homeless sex offenders would also have to register with the state more regularly, Brooks said.

The bill will also allow the state to prosecute an out-of-state sex offender if that person moves to Pennsylvania and fails to register.

"There was some ambiguity in our law about the prosecution being able to prosecute them with our lifetime offender policy," Brooks said.

Other benefits to the bill include regularly updated photographs on the Megan's Law website. You can also sign up for email notifications to alert you if a convicted offender moves into your neighborhood.

H.B. 1926 will be brought to a concurrence vote November 8. If the House passes it without any changes, it will go to Gov. Ed Rendell's desk for him to sign.

Brooks said she hopes the bill is passed without changes.

"They're both common sense pieces of legislation that protect law abiding citizens," Brooks said.

Brooks added that while both bills are good pieces of legislation, it would have been best to pass them separately.

Matt Mangino, former Lawrence County district attorney, said he agrees that the bills should be separated.

Mangino said he thinks the Republican-controlled Senate amended a bill that would overwhelmingly pass to include the Castle Doctrine in hopes that it would tie the hands of those opposing it. Both the District Attorney's Association and police organizations oppose the bill, he said, because it could be abused.

"From a legal perspective, I think, and I don't necessarily disagree with the DAA, which I was a member of, there could be some unintended consequences as a result of this legislation," Mangino said. "You're already permitted to use deadly force in the state of Pennsylvania. It eliminates the responsibility to retrieve first with out using deadly force. There are a lot of instances where this could be abused."

Mangino said when the House returns after the Midterm Election, members may choose not to do anything with the bill. Because Rendell is not running for re-election, and the elections are over, there will be little political pressure to pass the Megan's Law bill, he said.

The Megan's Law bill would repair a lot of loopholes in the current law, Mangino said, and should be an independent bill.

"The legislature has a responsibility to do what is right," Mangino said. "And if closing that loophole in Megan's Law is the right thing to do, they should do it independently. If this is a loophole that needs attention, give it the attention it deserves."

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Biden: GOP Will Cut Funding for Local Police

Vice President Joe Biden stopped in Orlando this week, telling a convention of police chiefs that should Republicans seize control of Congress, federal funding to local law enforcement would likely shrink. Biden said GOP leaders want to scale back federal involvement in local affairs, leaving law enforcement funding to cities and counties, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

He described a "deep, philosophical divide" between the two major parties, saying Democrats see a need to help local police deal with law enforcement issues. Republicans, Biden said, argue that's not a federal responsibility.

"We'll be your back-up," said Biden, whose visit came just eight days before the mid-term elections. "But once again, I'm going to come and ask you for back-up in these fights," reported the Sentinel.

Biden cited the COPS program, rolled out in 1994. The law provided grants to hire more police, and Democrats say between 1995 and 2005 it added some 117,000 officers to police departments spread around the country.

To read more:,0,3465429.story

Monday, October 25, 2010

Miranda Decisions: Evidence of Court's Swing to the Right

Several weeks ago, Barry Friedman and Dahlia Lithwick writing for Slate, "Watch as We Make This Law Disappear--How the Roberts Court disguises its Conservatism", explored the idea of a right leaning U.S. Supreme Court majority of Roberts, Alito, Scalia, Thomas and Kennedy. The article suggests that the conservative voting block is smartly picking its battles to move the Court to the right. Friedman and Lithwick use Miranda as but one example of the Court's maneuvering.

Below is an excerpt from the Slate article:

Here's an example. The conservative justices hate Miranda v. Arizona, a case familiar to any American who has ever watched a cop show on TV ("You have the right to remain silent," etc.). The justices' problem is they can't quite overrule the decision. Why not? Because polls show about 80 percent of the country approves of the rule. Even Roberts' predecessor—the very conservative William Rehnquist, a confirmed lifelong Miranda loather—choked in 2003 when he had the chance to get rid of it. Miranda, he wrote, "has become embedded in routine police practice to the point where the warnings have become part of our national culture."

So, what's a conservative justice to do? Whittle and chip away at the rule any way he can, all the while denying that the rule itself is in jeopardy. But to do their whittling without getting caught, the Roberts Court has been brilliant at stacking the deck—choosing to hear only Miranda cases in which what the police did is so sympathetic, or what the suspect did so awful, it's impossible to side with the suspect. Then, while you're rooting against the suspect, they're getting rid of the rule that you thought you liked.

Take last term's Maryland v. Shatzer[, 130 S.Ct. 1213 (2010)]: Shatzer was accused of molesting his 3-year-old son by forcing him to perform fellatio and by masturbating in front of him. (You already hate the guy, right?) When the cops come to question Shatzer, he asks for a lawyer. The way Miranda works is that as soon as a suspect asks for a lawyer, all questioning must end, until he sees a lawyer. But in this case, the police get new evidence and come back and question Shatzer again, and he says something incriminating. Ordinarily his statement would be inadmissible: Miranda was violated. But—and here's where the court's genius at choosing cases shines through—it turns out Shatzer is already in prison for another crime when police question him the first time, and they don't come back to question him again for almost three years. They read him his rights again, and this time he blabs.

Can the Miranda rule possibly prevent police from questioning a suspect three years later? On these crazy facts, basically the entire court—all nine justices, conservatives and liberals alike—disagree with Shatzer's claim. You might say, who cares: Shatzer deserves what he gets and worse. But that's the point: It isn't just Shatzer who gets it. All of us do. Shatzer gets more time, and the rest of us get the magic disappearing Miranda rule. Many experts who follow the court closely on this issue will tell you that Miranda is today a facade. It looks nice from the street, but there is virtually nothing behind it.

The Court used the three year separation between interviews to establish a bright line rule that two weeks between interviews is adequate. Pursuant to Shatzer, law enforcement can return every two weeks to interview a suspect who has previously requested an attorney.

The U.S. Supreme Court also decided two other Miranda cases, Florida v. Powell, 130 S.Ct. 1191 (2010), ambiguous Miranda warnings by law enforcement are sufficient; and Berghuis v. Thompkins, 130 S.Ct. 2250 (2010), a suspect must be specific when invoking Miranda rights.

All three decisions favor law enforcement to the detriment of the accused.

To read more:

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Challenge to Execution Drug: "Improper Delay Tactic"

Arizona plans to execute Jeffrey Landrigan next week, but his lawyers are arguing that one of the three drugs used for the execution, sodium thiopental, was obtained from an overseas supplier. Therefore, it may be substandard and violate Food and Drug Administration rules for importation.

Shelly Burgess, a spokeswoman for the F.D.A., told the New York Times that imported drugs must go through an approval process before being used in the United States, but added that executions are “clearly not under our purview or authority.”

Kent E. Cattani, an Arizona assistant attorney general, told the Times that the supply of the drug obtained by the state was effective, and noted that the protocol in place involved several methods for determining that the inmate was unconscious before administering the final drug. While an important concern with the administration of powerful anesthetics is that the patient might receive too much, Mr. Cattani explained, “it’s obviously not a consideration here.”

In fact, the amount that is given to inmates is more than 10 times the recommended dose for surgical procedures. “There’s little or no chance that he would regain consciousness,” he told the Times.

The state, in a brief filed last week, declined to identify the source of the drug, citing state confidentiality laws intended to shield those involved in executions from harassment by death penalty opponents. It denied that the drug to be used was substandard, and suggested that the criticism of the drug was an “improper delay tactic.”

To read more:

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Missouri Supreme Court Reviews Juvenile Life WIthout Parole

The Missouri Supreme Court recently heard oral arguments on the issue of juvenile life without parole (JLWOP). Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that LWOP can only be applied to juveniles as punishment for the crime of murder, Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. ____ (2010). Some in Missouri are looking to expand the restriction to all juvenile punishment. I have written about JLWOP for the Youngstown Vindicator and the Pennsylvania Law Weekly.

Missouri law requires people convicted of first-degree murder to be executed or sentenced to life in prison. The problem with mandatory sentences is judges and juries cannot consider the juveniles' age, maturity and other mitigating factors before deciding upon the punishment.

Courts in recent years have focused on how to handle juveniles accused of serious felonies and other crimes. In 2005,the U.S. Supreme Court decided Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005)barring the execution of juveniles, and this year the Court decided Graham.

According to the Associated Press, Missouri Supreme Court Justuce Laura Denvir Stith was among the most active with her questioning during oral arguments Wednesday. She said the next question with juveniles is whether it is acceptable to sentence teens to life automatically without evaluating each defendant.

Missouri Assistant Attorney General Evan Buchheim defended the life sentence Wednesday. He told the state high court that nearly every state has lifetime prison sentences and that the U.S. Supreme Court specifically permitted life sentences for juveniles in murder cases.

Buchheim argued there is little difference whether the punishment is selected or required by state law.

"It seems to me to be the same thing — a mandatory life without parole sentence or a sentence of life without parole," Buchheim said.

Nationwide, more than 2,200 teens have been sentenced to life in prison without parole, according to a 2007 report by the Equal Justice Initiative. The Montgomery, Ala.-based group represents juveniles, death row inmates and the indigent, and opposes the sentencing of young teens to life prison terms without the opportunity for parole, reported the Associated Press.

Besides mandatory life sentences, the Missouri Supreme Court also considered the constitutionality of the state's system for deciding whether juveniles should be prosecuted as adults.

According to the Associated Press, under Missouri law, juveniles are handled by special courts that focus on improving behavior and are not treated like criminal cases.

Children as young as 12 can be charged with a felony as an adult depending on the circumstances of the case. A judge decides whether the defendant should be prosecuted as a juvenile or adult after considering 10 factors, including the seriousness of the alleged crime and the individual's age, sophistication and maturity.

To read more:

Friday, October 22, 2010

Texas Man Executed for 1996 Murders of Elderly Couple

The 43rd Execution of 2010

The Washington Post is reporting a Texas man convicted for the slayings of an elderly couple found brutally beaten and stabbed in their home more than 14 years ago was executed on October 21, 2010.

Larry Wooten was condemned to death for the 1996 murders of 80-year-old Grady Alexander and his 86-year-old wife, Bessie, in the northeast Texas town of Paris.

The Alexanders were beaten with a cast-iron skillet and a pistol, stabbed and had their throats slit and heads almost severed. Prosecutors said Wooten robbed the couple, taking their savings of $500 so he could buy cocaine.

Wooten was the 17th inmate executed this year in Texas the nation's most active death penalty state.

According to the Post, Wooten did not mention the Alexanders during his brief final statement. "I don't have nothing to say. You can go ahead and send me home to my heavenly father," Wooten said.

Wooten cried as the drugs were administered and let out one final gasp as the lethal injection took effect. Nine minutes later, at 6:21 p.m. CDT, he was pronounced dead. He was the 1,231st person executed since the death penalty was reintroduced in 1976.

To read more: Washington Post

WA Justices: Blacks Commit Disproportionate Number of Crimes

Justices Dispute that Racial Discrimination Plays a Significant Role in Incarceration Rates for Minorities.

The Seattle Times is reporting that Washington State Supreme Court justices Richard Sanders and James Johnson stunned some participants at a recent court meeting when they said African Americans are overrepresented in the prison population because they commit a disproportionate number of crimes.

Four-percent of Washington's population is African American. Twenty-percent of the prison population is African American.

Both justices disputed the view held by some that racial discrimination plays a significant role in the disparity.

Johnson also used the term "poverty pimp," an apparent reference to people who purportedly exploit the poor in the legal system, say those who attended the meeting.

Sanders later confirmed his remarks about imprisoned African Americans, saying "certain minority groups" are "disproportionally represented in prison because they have a crime problem."

"That's right," he told TheTimes this week. "I think that's obvious."

Johnson is up for re-election. Sanders was recently re-elected. Johnson explained during the meeting that he had heard the term "poverty pimp" from someone else, Bondon said.

The pejorative label has generally been used to describe individuals who represent the poor for their own gain.

Justice Debra Stephens told the Times she heard Sanders and Johnson make the comments, including Johnson using the words "you all" or "you people" when he stated that African Americans commit crimes in their own communities.

Stephens said she was surprised by the "poverty pimp" remark.

"If that were directed at me, I would have felt accused," Stephens told the Times, adding that she doesn't believe that was Johnson's intent, but instead that he chose an unfortunate phrase.

To read more:

Thursday, October 21, 2010

SCOTUS Hears Arguments on Death Row and DNA

Henry Skinner has always maintained his innocence, despite acknowledging that he was present during the brutal 1993 New Year's Eve murders of his girlfriend, Twila Busby, and her two adult, mentally disabled sons in the Pampa, Texas, home they shared. Skinner was discovered hiding in the closet of a former girlfriend, in bloody clothes and with a gash on his hand, according to the Washington Post.

Skinner contends that during the killings, he was passed out on what tests later showed to be a near-lethal combination of codeine and alcohol and that he could not have overpowered and killed the three in his condition. He said he woke to find them dead; the blood on his clothes came from examining them, the Post reported.

I wrote about the Skinner case earlier this year for the Pennsylvania Law Weekly. Skinner was within one hour of being executed in March when the Supreme Court issued a stay and decided to hear his case.

According to the Post, the drama was missing from the recent oral argument before the High Court. Skinner's attorney Robert Owen told the court that the only issue was whether Skinner could use the federal courts to press his civil rights claim to the DNA evidence. He cited a previous court ruling that gave prisoners access to some evidence as long as the claim would not "necessarily imply the invalidity of a conviction or sentence."

I examined the U.S. Supreme Court decision in District Attorney's Office v. Osborne, 557 U.S. ____ (2009) in the above reference Pennsylvania Law Weekly article. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered Alaska to turn over the evidence requested by Osborne. The matter was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The court never got to the issue of Heck and the right to challenge a conviction through a 1983 claim.

Instead, the court focused on Osborne's contention that, pursuant to the due process clause of the 14th Amendment, he was entitled to retest DNA through a new method at his own expense. The court refused to recognize a free-standing due process right to DNA evidence, separate from a claim seeking vindication.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts wrote for the majority: "Moreover to suddenly constitutionalize this area would short-circuit what has been a prompt and considered legislative response by congress and the states."

Skinner now brings before the court the same issue that the court failed to address last year — can a convicted prisoner seek DNA testing through 42 U.S.C. 1983 or only through habeas corpus?

This presents a difficult manipulation of legal remedies. Ultimately, Skinner wants his conviction overturned. "Turn over the evidence and test it, and let the chips fall where they may," Skinner told CNN in a recent interview. "If I'm innocent I go home. If I'm guilty, I die. What's so hard about that?"

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. said Skinner's request for the DNA could not be separated from his attempt to get off death row, reported the Post. Skinner's statement would seem to support Justice Alito's contention.

"In the real world, a prisoner who wants access to DNA evidence is interested in overturning his conviction," Alito said.

The U.S. Supreme Court's decision is not expected until next spring.

To read more:

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Patriot-News: Say No to Castle Doctrine

Below is an interesting editorial from a leading central Pennsylvania newspaper advocating for the undoing of the Castle Doctrine in the Pennsylvania legislature. The editorial also quotes a GOP district attorney who opposes the legislation. The editorial is worth reading and is set forth in its entirety below.

Harrisburg Patriot-News Editorial Board
October 8, 2010

The legislation, which is sponsored by Rep. Scott Perry, R-York, and allows someone to use deadly force if attacked, passed the House last week 159-38 and now sits in the Senate where it’s likely to pass.

We support the concept of the measure to provide people who are confronted by criminals with protections but agree with the Dauphin County district attorney and state police that the expansion could have unintended consequences and should not become law. Gov. Ed Rendell, who has been noncommittal on the bill, should veto it if it arrives on his desk.

Currently, the law states that unless someone is in their home or vehicle, they have a duty to retreat from an attacker before they can legally use deadly force to defend themselves.

Under Perry’s expansion of the so-called Castle Doctrine, as long as a person is where he or she is legally entitled to be, there is no duty to retreat if attacked.

This bill has been pushed by the National Rifle Association, which calls it a priority for Pennsylvania. But this is not a gun-rights issue.

At the heart of opposition to the bill is trying to stop more encounters from turning into deadly confrontations and not giving criminals a potential defense when they are accused of murder.

Under the legislation, for example, if someone pulled a pocket knife on another person who was carrying a gun, that person would have the right to shoot even if they could have easily retreated instead.

At the same time, people who murder someone without cause could potentially use the law to their advantage, saying the killing was really done in self-defense.

As Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marsico told the editorial board Thursday, not many people wind up on the wrong side of the legal system because they were truly defending themselves as some supporters of the bill imply. He believes the legislation is unnecessary.

If lawmakers really want to stand up for law and order and make a difference there are other bills they should pass. There is the loophole in Megan’s Law that prosecutors have been lobbying our lawmakers to fix.

It is unnerving to know that even though those sentenced to a lifetime of registration for serious sex-related crimes are required to notify authorities in Pennsylvania after moving here from another state, there is no legal penalty if they don’t do it because of a loophole in the law. In May, we saw this firsthand when charges in Cumberland County were dropped against Bryan Shaw Rouse for failing to register as a sex offender after he moved here from Ohio.

He was then re-arrested on charges of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old Mechanicsburg girl.

Then there is the amendment that was struck down during debate of the Castle Doctrine that would have ended the ability of Pennsylvanians who are denied concealed-carry gun permits from obtaining them in states with less stringent standards. That too was worth legislative support.

Lawmakers should stand up against crime but expanding the Castle Doctrine is not the way to do it.

Legislation to expand the Castle Doctrine easily passed the state Senate this month by a vote of 45 to 4.

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Senate used a different procedure to enact the law. Rather than voting on House Bill 40 (the Castle Doctrine bill), the Senate turned the measure into an amendment to another measure, House Bill 1926. Its purpose is to close certain loopholes in Megan's Law, which protects children against sexual predators.

The amended bill now returns to the House for further action, but the House isn't due to return to voting session until Nov. 8. Whether it will approve the Senate's version of the bill remains to be seen.

One reason the Senate used a different legislative "vehicle" was in hopes that Governor Rendell wouldn't veto the bill. The tougher version of Megan's Law contained in the bill could make it harder for him to reject, according to the Post-Gazette.

To read more:

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

New York City: Crime Stats in Question

The concern about manipulating crime reporting in New York City has again reared its ugly head. New York has experienced an unprecedented reduction in crime over the last dozen years. However, the reductions in crime have been marred by allegations of unethical reporting of certain crimes

There is no disputing that the homicide rate is difficult to manipulate. New York's homicide rate has fallen to its lowest levels since NYPD started keeping track. However, are we getting a true picture of NYC overall crime rate?

According to the New York Times, an inspector,two sergeants and two patrol officers face internal disciplinary charges involving the apparent failure to file a robbery complaint. The charges underscore concerns of current and former police officers who say intense pressure to produce annual crime reductions has led some supervisors and precinct commanders to manipulate statistics.

In an academic survey released this year, more than 100 retired captains and higher-ranking officers reported that they were aware of instances of “ethically inappropriate” changes to crime complaints in the seven major felony categories measured by the department’s signature CompStat program. The department has disputed the methodology of the survey, reported the Times.

The issue of crime reporting has been raised in a number of cities. Dallas had a controversy concerning falling crime rates and police reporting. Baltimore is in the midst of a controversy with regard to under reporting sexual assault. The accurate reporting of crime is essential to a transparent criminal justice system.

How can Americans rely on findings by the FBI or Department of Justice (DOJ) if the reporting practices are suspect? The DOJ should adopt funding practices that deter-don't fund-agencies and departments that manipulate the tabulation and reporting of crime data.

To read more:

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Oklahoma Man Executed for 1996 Murder

The 42nd Execution of 2010

A Oklahoma man, Donald Ray Wackerly, convicted for killing a fisherman in 1996 was executed by lethal injection at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester on Thursday October 14, 2010.

Wackerly was convicted in the shooting death of 51-year-old Pan Sayakhoummane during a robbery in Sequoyah County in eastern Oklahoma 14 years ago. The Laos native was shot between seven and nine times with a .22-caliber rifle in the head, back, chest, arm, wrist and hand. His body was found the next day in his partially submerged pickup truck in the Arkansas River.

Early on the day of the scheduled execution the U.S. Supreme court denied a request for a stay.

Wackerly maintained his innocence and claimed he was set up by his wife, who was granted immunity from prosecution and testified against Wackerly during his murder trial.

The Corrections Department says Wackerly requested a medium stuffed-crust pizza with mushrooms, bell peppers, black olives and jalapenos for his last meal. He also requested a Dr Pepper, coconut cream pie and a chocolate shake. He was pronounced dead at 6:12 pm.

Wackerly was the 92nd person executed in Oklahoma since 1976 and 1,230 nationwide executed.

To read more:

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Condemned Prisoner Granted Right to Post-Execution Buddhist Ritual

Donald Ray Wackerly’s execution is set for 6 p.m. today at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, Oklahoma. He sought to have a Buddhist monk inside the death chamber during his execution for the 1996 shooting death of a Laotian fisherman Pan Sayakhoummane during a robbery in Sequoyah County.

U.S. District Judge Stephen Friot dismissed Wackerly's complaint, but an agreement was reached that permits a Buddhist spiritual adviser to conduct several religious rituals on the inmate’s body after his execution.

According to the Associated Press, once Wackerly has been pronounced dead, his spiritual adviser, Thubten Jampel, will be allowed to enter the execution room to perform several rituals.

“Those rituals are consistent with the Buddhist principles that Mr. Wackerly ascribes to,” prison officials told the Associated Press. “It’s part of the agreement that once the physician has pronounced death, that the body will not be disturbed or touched by anybody until after the conclusion of Mr. Jampel’s rituals.”

Prison officials said Jampel will spend 15 or 20 minutes with Wackerly’s corpse.

To read more:

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

BJS: Violent Crime Down According to Victim Survey

The violent crime rate declined from 19.3 to 17.1 victimizations per 1,000 persons during 2009, the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) in the Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice, announced today. This decline continued a longer-run decline from 51.2 victimizations per 1,000 persons in 1994 and brought violent crime rates to their lowest levels since 1973, the first year that BJS collected data from crime victims through its National Criminal Victimization Survey (NCVS).

The property crime rate declined during 2009 from 134.7 to 127.4 crimes per 1,000 households, primarily as a result of a decrease in theft. This decline continued a longer-term trend of declining rates from 553.6 crimes per 1,000 households in 1975.

In 2009, an estimated 4.3 million violent crimes (rapes or sexual assaults, robberies, aggravated assaults and simple assaults) occurred, as well as an estimated 15.6 million property crimes (burglaries, motor vehicle thefts and household thefts) and 133,000 personal thefts (picked pockets and snatched purses). These offenses included both crimes reported and unreported to police.

Violent and property crime rates in 2009 remain at the lowest levels recorded since 1973, the first year that such data were collected. The rate of every major violent and property crime measured by BJS fell between 2000 and 2009. The overall violent crime rate fell 39 percent and the property crime rate declined by 29 percent during the last 10 years.

Between 2000 and 2009, the rate of firearm violence declined from 2.4 incidents per 1,000 persons age 12 or older to 1.4 per 1,000 persons. Offenders used firearms in 8 percent of all violent crimes in 2009.

In 2009, men were slightly more likely than women to be victims of violent crime. Women were more likely than men to be victimized by someone they knew. Seventy percent of all violent crimes against women were committed by a known offender (an intimate, family member or friend/acquaintance), compared to 45 percent of violence against men. Twenty-six percent of the non-fatal violence against women was committed by an intimate (current or former spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend), compared to 5 percent of the violence against men.

Nearly half of all violent crimes and about 40 percent of all property crimes were reported to police in 2009. Of the violent crimes, robbery (68 percent) and aggravated assault (58 percent) were most reported. Fifty-five percent of rape/sexual assaults and 42 percent of simple assaults were reported to the police. A higher percentage of motor vehicle thefts (85 percent) than burglaries (57 percent) and thefts (32 percent) were reported to police.

These findings are drawn from BJS’s National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), the nation’s primary source for information on the frequency, characteristics and consequences of criminal victimization. Conducted since 1973, the NCVS is one of the largest continuous surveys conducted by the Federal government. In 2009, 38,728 households and 68,665 individuals age 12 or older were interviewed twice during the year for the NCVS.

Estimates from the NCVS, which includes offenses both reported and unreported to police, complement those from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Uniform Crime Reporting Program (UCR), which measures crimes reported to law enforcement agencies across the Nation. Unlike the NCVS, the UCR includes crimes against persons of all ages and businesses, as well as fatal crimes. UCR results released by the FBI in September showed a 6.1 percent decline in the rates of violent crimes reported to the police and a 5.5 percent decline in the rates of property crimes during 2009.

The report, Criminal Victimization, 2009 (NCJ 231327), was written by BJS statisticians Jennifer Truman and Michael Rand. Following publication, the report can be found at Criminal Victimization.

For additional information about the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ statistical reports and programs, please visit the BJS on the Web.

Counsel Examines Demise of Miranda

Anthony J. Franze was co-counsel for the defendant in Florida v. Powell, 130 S. Ct. 1195 (2010), one of the three Miranda cases recently decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. Franze examines those three decisions in a recent article in the Harvard Law & Policy Review.

Franze starts off with an ominous warning from an attorney for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, “[a]t this rate, what’s left of Miranda will be only what we see on TV.”

I have written about the "trilogy" of Miranda decisions from the High Court, Florida v. Powell, Maryland v. Shatzer, 130 S.Ct. 1213 (2010) and Berghuis v. Thompkins, 130 S.Ct. 2250 (2010). First, in the Pennsylvania Law Weekly; the Youngstown Vindictor; and this blog.

Franze suggests the following to emphasize the demise of Miranda--consider the new rules resulting from these three decisions: the police can take an individual into custody, read him an ambiguous Miranda warning (Powell), and then question him for hours without a lawyer present. If the suspect does not speak up and unambiguously invoke his right to counsel or right to remain silent, police can persistently question him and use even a single, terse, one-word response after hours of questioning as an implicit knowing and voluntary waiver of his rights (Berghuis). If, by chance, the suspect unambiguously invokes his rights, the police can release him for fourteen days and then pick him up on day fifteen to begin the entire interrogation process anew (Shatzer).

The Supreme Court is chipping away at Miranda. Franze's article is worth reading.

To read the full article:

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Texas Judge "Exonerated" of Misconduct

A special three-judge panel threw out a “public warning” that chastised Texas’ highest criminal judge, Sharon Keller, for violating court procedures and bringing discredit to the judiciary. The ruling prohibits the State Commission on Judicial Conduct from refiling the accusations and the decision cannot be appealed.

According to the Austin American-Statesman, the special review court ruled that the type of proceedings used for Keller can only end in censure, not a public warning, and that the error was so fundamental that the only course was to dismiss all charges. Censure, the court reasoned, requires “a finding of good cause” and seven votes from the 13-member commission, an independent state agency that investigates allegations of misconduct against Texas judges.

Censure is a more serious finding than "public warning." Judge Keller benefits by being subjected to a less serious "public warning" and has all the charges dismissed without the ability to review the decision or appeal.

That is utterly unbelievable. A 13-member commission finds that the chief judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals brought discredit to the judiciary and all the charges are dismissed because the commission chose not to censure her and let her off easy with a warning. She was treated leniently-and the result is to dismiss the charges without recourse.

The reader can judge for herself if Judge Keller deserved more than a slap on the wrist and then a gift of exoneration for her conduct.

On September 25, 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case of Baze v. Rees, a Kentucky case challenging lethal injection as cruel and unusual punishment. On that same day, Michael Richard was scheduled to be executed in Texas. His lawyers wanted to file a motion to stay his execution in light of the Supreme Court's action. In order to file the motion counsel asked the court of appeals to remain open past its regular closing time of 5 p.m.

Judge Keller refused to keep the court open and Richard was executed.

District Judge David Berchelmann Jr ., was appointed to recommend a course of action for the judicial conduct commission after complaints were lodged against Judge Keller.

According to the American-Statesman, after a four-day hearing in August 2009, Berchelmann suggested that Keller should not be removed from office or reprimanded, concluding that although she made several questionable decisions on the night of Richard’s execution, his lawyers bore most of the blame for the missed appeal.

Last June, the commission met in private to consider Keller’s fate. Commissioners had three choices — dismiss the charges, censure Keller or recommend that she be removed from office. The Commission issued the warning in July.

To read more:

Monday, October 11, 2010

Now Is the Time for Criminal Justice Reform

As voters worry about other issues, policy changes should come into focus

Pennsylvania Law Weekly
October 11, 2010

The time is right for Pennsylvania policy makers to pass meaningful criminal justice reform. Voters are open to change that is fiscally responsible and provides for public safety. Most candidates seeking public office or running for re-election have run from any talk of reducing sentences or letting offenders out of prison early.

Many a political career was sunk when the candidate was labeled "soft-on-crime." Mike Dukakis' presidential aspirations faded when America was introduced to Willie Horton. Pennsylvania Lt. Governor Mark Singel's campaign sunk with Reginald McFadden. Every president since Ronald Reagan, Democrats and Republicans alike, have supported the death penalty, including President Barack Obama.

Not only have office-seekers shunned the perception of being soft, many have used "law and order" as a means to get elected. The crimes code in Pennsylvania has more than doubled since 1972. Prisons are overcrowded and the corrections budget in Pennsylvania is approaching $2 billion. There are over 51,000 inmates in state prison. According to state Sen. Stewart J. Greenleaf, the Republican chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the corrections budget in 1980-81 was $110,388,000. Last year, state funding for corrections was $1,785,240,000. That's an astounding 1,517 percent increase.

There is hope, however.

A recent public opinion poll conducted by Public Opinion Strategies, on behalf of the Pew Center on the States, found that public sentiment is shifting away from the tough "lock'em up" mentality of the past to a more pragmatic, fiscally responsible approach that reduces prison population and saves money.

This change in sentiment may have something to do with declining crime rates. The FBI reported that violent crime was down 5.3 percent in 2009. The overall number of crimes in Pennsylvania reported to the state police through the Uniform Crime Reporting System dropped by 5.4 percent in 2009, with violent crimes declining 4.9 percent, to their lowest level since 2003.

Crime is not the political hot potato that it was in the 1990s.

In 1992, then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton left the campaign trail to oversee an execution in his home state of Arkansas. But today, according to the Pew Survey, only two percent of 1,200 voters surveyed nationwide, felt that crime was the most serious issue facing America. This bodes well for many reform-minded policy makers. Voters are not paying close attention to the crime issue in this election cycle.

What is even more significant is that 90 percent of voters believe that fewer low-risk, non-violent offenders should be behind bars and that the savings should be reinvested into parole services and community supervision. There is bipartisan support for this concept. More than half of Republicans and two-thirds of Democrats surveyed agree.

The Pew survey also found that 91 percent of respondents felt the length of sentence for a low-risk, non-violent offender was not as important as whether he would re-offend once he was released. In fact, those responding to the survey believe that one in five inmates could be released today with little or no impact on public safety.

Finally, a telling finding that is a product of America's current economic woes: 75 percent of the respondents condoned reducing the non-violent, low-risk prison population to save money. Three out of four Americans support what has become known as "piggy bank reform."

The time is right for reform, so what is Pennsylvania doing?

There are three criminal justice reform bills that have passed the Senate and are now pending in the House.

Senate Bill 1275 focuses on the recommitment of technical parole violators which has been criticized in some quarters as contributing to prison overcrowding. The bill provides an alternative to recommitting a technical violator back to state prison through a tiered sanctioning process that may be imposed on a parolee who violates the terms and conditions of his parole. The legislation would encourage successful completion of parole in the community. SB 1275 passed the Senate in June.

Senate Bill 1145 would authorize the Pennsylvania Sentencing Commission to develop a worksheet to help judges identify offenders with the lowest probability of being reconvicted of a serious crime. The risk and needs assessment would then be utilized to determine which offenders would be considered for alternative sentencing programs, so that correctional resources are focused on those who pose the greatest threat to public safety and to better utilize alternative sentencing. SB 1145 passed the Senate in June.

Senate Bill 1161 covers a wide swath of criminal justice issues. The bill provides for the adoption of revised guidelines for sentencing; guidelines for state intermediate punishment; the crafting of a risk assessment instrument by the sentencing commission; provides for the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole to use evidence-based practices; and addresses related parole issues such as victim participation in hearings and supervision of offenders. SB 1161 was passed by the Senate June 8 and was reported out of the House Appropriations Committee on September 29, 2010.

Pennsylvania lawmakers have taken on an ambitious package of reforms. However, a note of caution as the legislation makes its way through the law making process. Many efforts at reform have focused on low-risk, non-violent offenders. It is important that a common definition of "non-violent" be established.

While it sounds good to include only non-violent offenders, will legislation actually reduce the number of offenders in state prison? Does non-violent mean that any offender who has ever committed a violent crime will be excluded from early release or alternative sentencing?

A significant number of offenders in Pennsylvania's prisons have committed multiple offenses and have violent offenses in their past, even if the offense that landed them in prison is not necessarily violent. Offenders serving non-violent state prison sentences have usually earned their way to state prison by having a history of offending.

After the violent offenders, sex offenders, gun offenders and high risk offenders have been eliminated, "reform" legislation may apply to very few offenders.

Pennsylvania has a golden opportunity to move away from the labels and rhetoric and enact meaningful criminal justice reform. •

Should Juveniles be Tried as Adults?

The Tennessean recently explored the use of adult penalties for crimes committed by juveniles. Children who kill are a particular concern. In Pennsylvania, there are more inmates serving life without parole for crime committed as juveniles than any other state.

In Lawrence County, a young man is being held for a murder committed at age 11. The Superior Court is considering an appeal requesting the case be remanded to juvenile court.

Experts say the most effective rehabilitation for young criminals comes in a juvenile detention center. At a detention center impressionable children are counseled in a positive environment with one-on-one attention from adult role models. In adult prison, the emphasis is on punishment. More vocational and academic programs have been added, but not every young adult prisoner takes advantage of them.

"They don't do well in prison," said William Bernet,professor of forensic psychiatry at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. He told The Tennessean, grouping teenagers with hardened convicts just doesn't make sense. "They pick up more criminal habits. They identify with the criminal way of life."

Nationally, 10 percent of all murders are committed by juveniles, according to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. That's about 1,043 murders a year.

Violence toward others peaks in adolescent years, Peter Ash of Emory University told The Tennessean.

The good news here is that a violent adolescent doesn't necessarily become a violent adult. Some two-thirds to three-quarters of violent youths grow out of it and become more self-controlled, he said. This, coupled with the efforts to rehabilitate in the
juvenile justice system, is why some say trying children as adults is no benefit to society.

Laurence Steinberg, a psychology professor at Temple University in Philadelphia, helped draft an American Psychological Association brief for a 2005 case in which the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed the death penalty for crimes committed before age 18. Although, the Supreme Court banned the execution of juveniles in Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005)the court did not rely directly on the Professor Steinberg's research concerning juvenile brain development. The research was noted in a footnote. The Court relied on a national consensus that had developed against the death penalty being applied to juveniles. Thirty-five states had banned the death penalty for juveniles prior to the Court's decision.

"I don't think it's ever appropriate to try young kids as adults," Steinberg told The Tennessean. "I think that below 15, I would feel uncomfortable regardless of what they've done."

Obviously, not everyone in Pennsylvania shares Professor's Steinberg's sentiments.

To read more:

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Wife Says Executed Killer Admitted Guilt

Cameron Todd Willingham was executed in 2004. He maintained his innocence until his execution. Some people suggest he was put death for murders he did not commit.

According to the Dallas Morning-News, Willingham was convicted of killing his children – 1-year-old twins Karmon and Kameron and 2-year-old Amber – by setting fire to his family's small house in Corsicana. His lawyers first submitted an expert's report that he was convicted on faulty arson theories to Governor Rick Perry's office days before his execution.

In recent years, the Texas Forensic Science Commission has looked into the case. Last year, the commission's hired expert issued a report identifying numerous scientific shortcomings in the fire investigation. The commission has yet to issue a final report.

In the meantime, State District Judge Charlie Baird has scheduled a hearing to determine whether Texas wrongly executed Willingham.

The Morning-News reported that the critical evidence during the hearing will probably be statements by a string of experts who have found in recent years that fire investigators who testified at Willingham's 1992 Navarro County trial had based their rulings of arson on theories that have been disproved by updated science.

Judge Baird also wants to hear from a man who testified that Willingham confessed to him about burning his house down with his children inside. In addition, Judge Baird may be interested in someone very close to Willingham who has broken her silence.

According to CNN, Willingham's ex-wife, Stacy Kuykendall, has kept a low profile throughout the debate over his execution. But she told reporters outside the Travis County courthouse in Austin that "I am here to make sure that my daughters' voices are heard." She went on to say, "Todd murdered Amber, Karmon and Kameron. He burnt them. He told me he did it -- he stood and watched while their tiny bodies burned."

To read more:

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Judge Permits Oklahoma to Proceed with Execution

Drug Shortage Not a Factor in Next Week's Execution

A U.S District Court judge has authorised the state of Oklahoma to move forward with the October 14, 2010 execution of Donald Ray Wackerly, II. The August execution of Jeffrey David Matthews had been postponed because of a shortage of one of the three execution drugs.

According to the Daily Oklahoman, the main issue argued before Judge Stephen Friot was whether Oklahoma's short supply of a sedative, sodium thiopental, used during lethal injection was enough to move ahead with the execution.

Oklahoma's lethal injection protocol calls for the sedative to be administered first, followed by a drug to halt breathing, then a drug to stop the heart. There is apparently a nationwide shortage of sodium thiopental.

Friot noted the dosage on hand of sodium thiopental is more than enough alone to cause death in most people. "There's no room for doubt in this case that the 5 grams of sodium thiopental would be independently lethal,” he said.

Friot cited Baze v. Rees, 553 U.S. 35 (2008), a Supreme Court case that found Kentucky's lethal injection method constitutional. He said Oklahoma's protocol was "far above” that of Kentucky's method for scrutinizing the safety and ensuring the execution is carried out humanely, according to the Oklahoman.

Interestingly, during previous hearings, prison officials said in light of the drug shortage they would use a different sedative on Wackerly. There doesn't appear to be any reason why Oklahoma or any other state could not use a different sedative. It was widely accepted that all executions were to be carried using the three drug protocol accepted by the Supreme Court in Baze. However, last year Ohio switched to a single drug, sodium thiopental, protocol. There have been no problems in Ohio.

Ohio has carried out a record number of executions so far in 2010. The state has a ninth execution scheduled for November. Maybe Ohio will decide to forge ahead with an alternative execution drug if a shortage persists.

To read more:

Friday, October 8, 2010

Castle Doctrine Passes Pennsylvania House

Only Three Days Left for Senate to Consider Bill

Pennsylvania is one step closer to enacting the Castle Doctrine. The new law would give homeowners the right to use deadly force to protect themselves, their family or home against an intruder.

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the House voted 159 to 38 in favor of House Bill 40, which would expand protections included in the long-held idea that "a man's home is his castle."

Below are excerpts from the Post-Gazette article:

Under present law, homeowners can use a gun or knife or other deadly weapon to defend themselves if they find themselves facing an intruder while in their living room, dining room, den, kitchen, basement or other areas within their house.

But some areas of a house -- a garage, a porch or deck, a driveway, a front or back yard, or a personal vehicle -- are not currently included in the places where an imperiled homeowner can simply fire at an intruder. Before doing so, the homeowner must first "retreat,'' meaning step backward, away from the intruder.

Under his legislation, which now goes to the Senate, a homeowner could use deadly force against an intruder who accosts him in a garage, porch, yard etc. without first having to step back. The "duty to retreat'' would cease and a homeowner could "stand his ground."

The new law also would protect someone who uses a weapon for defense, as long as the owner is in a place where he or she is "legally permitted to be,'' such as being in a store, restaurant or other venue, walking in a parking lot or just walking along the street.

In any case, police and district attorneys would retain the right to investigate any shooting and determine if a would-be victim was justified in shooting a would-be criminal. A district attorney could still bring criminal charges if he thought the potential victim fired his weapon too quickly, without proper justification.

The entire bill can be viewed at and plugging "HB40" into the box at the top.

To read more:

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Judge Accuses DA of Racism

An Allegheny County, Pennsylvania judge challenged a plea offer made by an assistant district attorney-based on his observations of race. He didn't rely on research or an academic study-he relied on anecdotal information about a specific attorney in a specific courtroom.

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported that African-American Common Pleas Judge Joseph K. Williams rejected a deal to allow a white defendant -- Jeffery McGowan, 24, of Franklin Park -- to get three months of probation for an incident in which he is accused of trying to fight with police after a traffic stop.

"(Assistant District Attorney Brian) Catanzarite for some reason comes up with I think ridiculous pleas whenever it's a young white guy," Williams said in open court. "I'm just telling you what my observation is. If this had been a black kid who did the same thing, we wouldn't be talking about three months' probation," reported the Tribune-Review.

Catanzarite explained that he didn't negotiate the plea deal and that he was standing in for another prosecutor, Courtney Butterfield, who negotiated the case.

"Now that the court has essentially called me a racist, I think that's unfair. I don't make offers based on race. I make offers based on facts," Catanzarite said.

Judge Williams was obviously shooting from the hip, without any supporting data, when he accussed Catanzarite of racism. Judges shouldn't shoot from the hip.

The judge did not know the facts before he made the accusation--Catanzarite did not negotiate the plea. This is a question of judicial temperment and judgment. A judge who jumps to conclusions without knowing the facts or having any real evidence to support his conclusion is a threat to justice in Allegheny County.

To read more:

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Ohio Carries Out Record 8th Execution

The 41st Execution of 2010

Ohio has executed a man who bludgeoned his live-in girlfriend to death, threw her body in a river and stole her ATM card to buy crack cocaine, according to the Associated Press.

Michael Benge's lethal injection at 10:34 a.m. Wednesday broke the state's record of the most executions in a year since Ohio resumed capital punishment in 1999. He's the eighth person Ohio has put to death since January. The previous high of seven came in 2004.

Ohio's highest number of executions came in 1949, when 15 men died by electric chair.

The 49-year-old Benge was executed for the 1993 murder of Judith Gabbard. He beat her to death along the Miami River in Hamilton, their hometown in southwest Ohio.

Benge later told authorities he and Gabbard, who were white, had been attacked by two black men.

The Cincinnati Enquirer reported, Michael Benge glanced at members of his victim’s family watching from a windowed room, then at his attorney and a prison chaplain, the two witnesses he chose for his execution Wednesday at the Death House at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility.

Excerpts from the Enquirer article are below:

Strapped to the lethal injection table, Benge spoke with a clear voice into a microphone to begin his final statement at 10:13 a.m.

He first praised God, then acknowledged the pain he has caused the family of his victim.

“I can’t apologize enough. I hope my death gives you closure,” he said. “Praise God, and thanks.”

Shortly after, in an adjoining room, Benge’s unseen executioner released the five grams of thiopental sodium into his veins that would kill him.

Benge murdered his girlfriend, Judith Gabbard, 38, on the shore of the Great Miami River in Hamilton on Feb. 1, 1993, when he bludgeoned her to death with a tire iron, dumped her body into the river and stole her ATM card to buy crack cocaine and snacks.

At his clemency interview in August, Benge told Parole Board members that he accepted full responsibility for his actions. He said he had brought guilt and shame upon himself, and stated that his family and Gabbard’s family deserved to know what happened that night.

The two spent the evening at Riverview Bar, Benge said. At some point in the evening, Gabbard left her jacket unattended and Benge took her ATM card.

They left the bar after midnight and argued over Benge’s drug use. They stopped at the river to discuss the issue. When Gabbard stopped the car, she reached into her coat pocket for cigarettes and discovered her ATM card was missing. She demanded it back, Benge refused, and she slapped him.

He became enraged and slapped Gabbard, then pushed her when she exited the car, causing her to fall to her knees. He followed her out of the driver’s side and beat her with a tire iron, striking her head seven to 10 times, and weighted her body down in the river with a rock. He later used the ATM card to make two withdrawals of $200.

When police apprehended Benge a day after the murder, he was in possession of Gabbard’s ATM card, which he dropped to the ground. He initially told police that two black men robbed the couple and beat Gabbard to death as he swam across the river. Then, he admitted to police that he killed Gabbard, but said he did so after she tried to run him over with her car. Benge used that version when he testified in his own defense at his trial.

For his customary special meal on Tuesday, Benge requested a large chef salad with chopped ham, turkey and bacon bits; a slab of barbecue baby back ribs; two cans of Planters salted cashews; and two bottles of sweetened iced tea.

Benge woke Wednesday at 4:13 a.m. to use the restroom and went back to sleep before getting up at 5:30 a.m., officials said. For breakfast, he selected French toast with syrup and butter, and two milks.

He spent his early waking hours with his mother Juanita Babb, sister Barbara Reid, sister Vicky Rauf, son Michael Benge, daughter Tabitha Saunders and uncle William Chandler. The visits were described as very emotional. Babb took Benge’s personal possessions, except for his Bible, which he gave to his son. Benge declined a sedative.

At 9:45 a.m., Warden Donald R. Morgan read the death warrant to Benge.

Monitors in the witness viewing room flicked on at 10:02 a.m. Benge was splayed on a gurney as prison workers inserted shunts in his arms, which were taped to boards.

Benge took the 17 steps into the death chamber and climbed onto the injection table at 10:13 a.m.

The victim’s witnesses, Gabbard’s brother Frank Nistler, daughter Candy Gabbard and son Steve Gabbard watched impassively.

At the conclusion of his final statement, Benge spoke quietly with Morgan and a prison guard until his eyes closed slowly at 10:17 a.m. His hands relaxed. He gulped several times and his chest heaved for a short period before his body ceased moving at 10:18 a.m.

A worker checked Benge’s pulse with a stethoscope at 10:25 a.m. and heard something that compelled prison officials to take a second reading five minutes later.

The curtain closed at 10:33 a.m., indicating that death had occurred. A coroner behind the curtain confirmed that Benge was dead.

When the curtain reopened, Morgan was facing the gallery. “Time of death, 10:34 a.m.,” he said.

While imprisoned at Mansfield Correctional Institution, Benge worked as a barber, material handler and porter. After his transfer to the Ohio State Penitentiary, his work assignments included library aide and porter. He earned a GED in 2001 and participated in community service projects while incarcerated, and actively participated in religious services.

He was disciplined four times during his 17 years in the prison system. He was involved in a prisoner uprising in 1997 at Mansfield, where officials determined he set up a corrections officer to be overpowered by other inmates in the death row unit. The other offenses involved the improper use of property, disobedience and possession of contraband.

Benge, born Aug. 7, 1961, said he starting drinking alcohol at age 11, smoked marijuana at 13 and began using Quaaludes shortly after that. He began using cocaine in 1989, and crack cocaine a few months prior to murdering Gabbard.

His public defenders said Benge suffered from brain impairment due to his extensive drug use at an early age and physical abuse he suffered as a child at the hands of stepfathers. His sisters confirmed that he and they were abused, prison records show. A psychologist said Benge had a cognitive disorder that made it difficult for him to control his behavior when confronted with stress.

Kathy Johnson, Gabbard’s sister, spoke after Benge was dead and said her family has been waiting for the execution for 17 years.

She thanked all who helped her family, in particular Butler County Prosecutor Robin Piper, who as an assistant county prosecutor tried Benge’s case.

Johnson didn’t believe Benge was sorry.

“I don’t really feel like Mike Benge was ever remorseful,” Johnson said. “I don’t think anything he ever said was true, and I truly do not believe he was sorry for what he did.”

Of the execution, she said, “It makes us feel that there was justice for my sister, and that’s what this was all about."

“It has just been too long, and now my sister can rest in peace.”

Benge is the 41st person executed in Ohio since 1999 and 1,229th executed nationwide since 1976.

Murder Along America's Highways

The USA Today recently wrote about an alarming phenomenon--the proliferation of serial killing along our nations highways. It appears that the job of long-haul trucking has been infiltrated by killers who use their mobility to prey on prostitutes at truck stops.

During the past four decades, at least 459 people may have died at the hands of highway serial killers, FBI statistics show. Investigators do not know how many people may be responsible for the killings but at least one such case — of murder, attempted murder or unidentified human remains — has been reported in 48 states, along roads as far north as Alaska and as far south as Key West. They believe the killers find their victims and dispose of the bodies along highways, sometimes near quiet roadside rest areas or at bustling truck stop, according to the USA Today.

Although the FBI launched the serial killer initiative in 2004, violence along the nation's highways is hardly new. Stopping crime at the thousands of rest areas, truck stops and travel plazas, however, remains difficult. In part, that's because the responsibility for policing rest areas varies from state to state. That often means no consistent records are kept about the rate of crimes, and no single agency takes ownership for fighting it.

According to the USA Today, the crimes are difficult to stop because of the location of the rest areas — along major roadways. That makes getting away easy; just jump onto an interstate and speed off. At some locations, private security guards try to keep watch or police cruise through. Elsewhere, cameras monitor the area. Neither of those approaches offer any guarantees.

Below is an excerpt form a column I wrote for the Youngstown Vindicator in July, 2009:

Recently, the Los Angeles Times reported that the FBI suspects long-haul truck drivers are responsible for the murder of hundreds of women whose bodies have been dumped near highways across the country. This spring the FBI revealed a five year old project known as the Highway Serial Killings Initiative. The Initiative links murder victims that have some connection to highways and suspects who are involved in long-haul trucking.

Information has been collected on more than 500 female victims of murder, some of whom were discovered along major interstates in eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania. According to the Times, most of the victims were discovered at truck stops, nearby motels and along popular trucking routes crisscrossing the country.

What is the correlation between long-haul trucking and serial murder? Long-haul trucking lends itself to predators who want to circulate among strangers in strange places with the maniacal intent to kill and with ample opportunity to evade detection. An investigator told the Los Angeles Times, “You’ve got a mobile crime scene . . . you can pick a girl up on the east coast, kill her two states away and them dump her three states after that.’’ FBI special agent Ann Todd told the Chattanooga Times Free Press, “The mobile nature of the offenders, the high-risk lifestyle of the victims, the significant distances and involvement of multiple jurisdictions, the lack of witnesses and forensic evidence combine to make these cases almost impossible to solve using conventional investigative techniques.”

This is not to suggest that the truck driving profession is filled with diabolical killers. Most truckers are hard working law-abiding citizens who do many more good deeds than bad as they navigate America’s highways.

The FBI also admits that 500 homicides targeted by the Initiative may only be the tip of the iceberg. According to the Washington Post, there may be as many as 40,000 unidentified human remains known to exist nationwide.

The purpose of the Initiative was to help local law enforcement agencies connect the dots between local slayings and similar murders across the country. Originally, the Initiative’s work was only available to law enforcement entities. The FBI revealed the project this spring with the hope that public disclosure might generate additional leads.

To read article:

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Ohio Man Faces Execution for 1993 Murder

The Associated Press is reporting that an Ohio man who bludgeoned his girlfriend to death, threw her body in a river and stole her ATM card to feed his crack addiction faces execution tomorrow.

The Ohio Parole Board has recommended no mercy for 49-year-old Michael Benge of Hamilton, Ohio, in the 1993 murder of Judith Gabbard. Gov. Ted Strickland hasn't announced his decision on whether to grant Benge clemency. Benge has no more legal appeals.

Prosecutors say Benge murdered Gabbard over wanting the bank card. He beat her with a tire iron, weighed her body down with concrete, and slid it in the Miami River. His family members have said the violence was fueled by drugs.

Benge's execution would be the state's 8th lethal injection this year, the 41st since capital punishment was reinstated in 1999. Benge would also be the 41st execution nationwide in 2010.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Federal Crimes Code Expands at Ridiculous Pace

Why are there so many federal criminal statutes?

Legal experts say there are more than 4,450 federal crimes on the books and as many as 300,000 federal regulations that can be enforced criminally. From 2000 to 2007, Congress created 452 entirely new crimes, said Brian Walsh, a senior legal research fellow at the Heritage Foundation who focuses on overcriminalization, according to the McClatchy Newspapers.

"We must put an end to the notion that we need to prosecute every individual for every perceived offense," said Congressman Bobby Scott, a Virginia Democrat who chairs a House Judiciary subcommittee that last week held its second hearing on overcriminalization. "We continue to lock up people for offenses that should not even require incarceration," Scott told McClatchy.

Congressman Scott failed to address the over zealous efforts of his colleagues to boost their "law and order" stature on the backs of ordinary citizens. Overcriminalization is the product of politics. With every politician that wants to be tough on crime; with every knee jerk reaction to tragedy; with every campaign that distorts an opponents record on crime, there is a corresponding increase in the size of the federal crimes code.

To read more:

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Reform Sentencing and Save

Youngstown Vindicator
October 3, 2010

The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections’ budget for 2011 is $1.7 billion. The ODRC pays $66.31 per day per inmate. With more than 51,000 inmates in Ohio prisons, the state pays about $3.8 million a day to house offenders. To put that in perspective, in 2009, Boardman Township spent approximately $12 million in operating costs — a little more than three days worth of state incarceration costs.

In August, the American Civil Liberties Union issued a report, Reform Cannot Wait: A Comprehensive Examination of the Cost of Incarceration in Ohio from 1991-2010. The report is alarming. Ohio’s prison population has quintupled since 1975. Ohio is operating its prisons at 133-percent of capacity and projections indicate that the prison system will be at 141-percent capacity by 2018.

Ohio actually experienced a very modest decline in prison population last year; however, the current rate of incarceration is not sustainable. The state will be forced to build new prisons at the cost of hundreds of millions of dollars. The personnel costs to maintain, manage and supervise additional facilities would surely push the corrections budget over $2 billion a year.

Criminal reform

The ACLU report touts Ohio Senate Bill 22 as a “clear first step towards criminal reform in Ohio.” The bill, written by State Sen, Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, is estimated to save $13.7 million by: increasing earned credit which could reduce the amount of time an offender stays in prison; increased use of community based corrections; an overhaul of Ohio’s drug laws; expanding diversion programs which keep people out of prison; reform medical release procedures for inmates with health problems, and implement inmate re-entry programs.

Seitz was sure to point out that his legislation is for lower level offenders. Violent gun-toting offenders will not benefit from Seitz’s legislation. Does that mean that any offender who has ever committed a violent crime will not be entitled to early release?

Most offenders who are in Ohio prisons have committed multiple offenses and have violent offenses in their past even if the offense that landed them in prison is not necessarily violent. Offenders serving non-violent state prison sentences have usually earned their way to state prison by having a history of offending.

Does Seitz’s legislation eliminate offenders who used a weapon or possessed a weapon? Does the legislation consider large quantity drug dealing a non-violent offense?

Most efforts to deal with prison crowding on the back-end, after sentencing, have had little impact on prison crowding. Those efforts have been more about political posturing than meaningful reform. After the violent offenders, sex offenders, gun offenders, and high risk offenders have been eliminated the “reform” legislation applies to very few offenders, normally the offenders who are already getting out of prison in an expedited manner.

There is no question that prison overcrowding is one of the most significant problems in Ohio and nearly every other state in America. Meaningful reform must come at the front-end, prior to sentencing. The ACLU report alludes to sorting offenders by their risk to public safety. That sorting process should happen prior to sentencing. Judges should have at their disposal evidence-based assessment tools that can help determine an offender’s risk of reoffending.

Sentencing guidelines

Those assessment scores could be factored into sentencing guidelines. An offender’s crime, her history of offending and her risk to the community could be utilized to mold a sentence that would insure the most dangerous offenders spend the most time in prison.

This concept is not new. The Commonwealth of Virginia has used risk assessment in sentencing for 15 years. The higher the assessment score, the less likely the offender will be diverted from prison. In the last dozen years, the United States has witnessed a 26-percent increase in incarceration rates, while Virginia has realized an increase of only 6 percent. During the same time period crime has dropped by an impressive 24-percent nationwide. Virginia, with its spiraling prison population has experienced and even better 26-percent dip in crime.

So why haven’t other states replicated Virginia’s model? Politics. It is difficult to get elected or re-elected by talking about shortening prison sentences. Tinkering with earned time, or re-entry or even parole can provide some political cover. Tinkering with sentencing is too risky for most policymakers.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Joe Ligon: Pennsylvania's Longest Serving Prison Inmate

Convicted at 15 and Behind Bars for 57-years and Counting

This past spring, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Graham V. Florida, 560 U.S. ___ (2010) which banned juvenile life without parole for nonhomicide offenses. There are no juveniles in Pennsylvania serving life for nonhomicide offenses. However, there are 473 juveniles serving life without parole for murder. Pennsylvania leads the nation, in fact, it leads the world in juvenile lifers.

Karen Heller, a columnist with Philadelphia Inquirer, recently wrote about one of those lifers, Joe Ligon. Dwight Eisenhower was in the first year of his Presidency, December 18, 1953, when Ligon was locked up. He was 15-years-old when he and five other guys went on a crime spree that resulted in eight men being stabbed and two of them dying as a result.

Heller's column is compelling. It underscores what can happen when the law is inflexible. Fifty-seven years later, Pennsylvania continues to lock-up juveniles for life. A Lawrence County boy who, at age 11, allegedly shot his step-mother to death faces life in prison without the possibility of parole. Will the Inquirer being writing about him in 2075?

Heller's full column is below:

That Friday night in February, Joe Ligon went drinking.

He tore through the neighborhood, South Philadelphia, with five other teenagers looking for money to buy wine. One boy carried two switchblades.

Something went wrong. By night's end, eight men had been knifed. There's no question Ligon was involved. He admits stabbing Clarence Belvey. Two men, Charles Pitts and Jackson Hamm, died before midnight.

Ligon was 15.

The lawyer instructed him to plead guilty to the murders at the one-day trial. Ligon was sentenced to life without possibility of parole.

In 1953.

Since then, the other defendants have been released or died.

Not Ligon.

He's lived the last 57 years in prison, four decades in Graterford.

In all those years, Ligon never spoke to a reporter.

Until now. When he starts, he cannot stop, and talks himself hoarse. Five hours, without break, a torrent.

He wants to tell his story, especially since May, when the U.S. Supreme Court, in Graham v. Florida, ruled that sentencing a juvenile to life in prison for a non-homicide without possibility of parole is unconstitutional. The decision now makes it likely that the courts will eventually strike down life in prison without the possibility of parole for juveniles charged with homicide.

The United States leads the world in juveniles sentenced to life without parole, a practice condemned by international human-rights groups.

Pennsylvania, with 473 such prisoners, a quarter of all inmates similarly sentenced, leads the nation.

And, in that group, Joe Ligon leads in length of time served.

"No one else was sentenced the way I was sentenced," Ligon said, sitting in a tiny corner room in the visitors area. "We went to court together. Here I am, and they are out."

He's a formal man, voluble, passionate yet never exhibiting anger. Trim, fit, 5-foot-8, his hair is white as down, the hairline retreating north. "I only have but six teeth left in my head."

Ligon entered prison when Eisenhower was in his first year, 10 presidencies ago.

In the trial transcript, defendants are identified as "colored." There are references to a pool hall, a saloon. Ligon attended Thomas Durham, where he was enrolled in the "O.B." program - "orthogenically backward."

On Dec. 18, 1953, when his freedom ended, "I couldn't read or write my own name. I'm one of those slow learners." Today, he reads at a third-grade level, his letters typed by fellow inmates to his dictation.

"I am more, or less, of a loner. I like to do things by myself. I'm not alone in this prison, but I like to be alone when I can. If you don't join a group, you can't get in trouble," he said Monday. "They called us the 'headhunter gang' at the trial, but I was never in no gang."

The son of an auto mechanic and a nurse, the second of four children, he had never been arrested. "I was a mama's boy. She wailed the night they took me."

Ligon's father was murdered in 1977. His younger brother, Jessie, was murdered in the 1960s. His mother passed in 1980. He still has two sisters, and a couple of nieces who come to visit, the last time on July 3.

Ligon refers to his former prisons the way other people speak of their schools: Huntingdon (where he pursued boxing, his true love), Western State, Eastern State, and, finally, Graterford, the massive 1929 concrete fortress up a hill from a farm and the Perkiomen Creek watershed at the edge of Montgomery County. He works there as a janitor. "I love to clean. There's no limit to it."

What is it like to spend 57 years in prison without the possibility of parole for crimes committed at age 15?

"I know what happened that night, how I was feeling, what I was thinking," he said, grasping his thin, immaculately groomed hands. "I don't have no chip on my shoulder. I'm not resentful. I don't show no bitterness. I'm bigger than that. I don't let things get the best of me. I don't take things too personally."

Still, he contends he had nothing to do with the stabbings of Charles Pitts, at 17th and Wharton, or Jackson Hamm, at Wharton and Capital. No witness put him at those crime scenes. He was arrested days before his codefendants, hours before the crime spree ended.

"I took the knife and hit him [Clarence Belvey] in the chest. That was at 16th and Federal. I did that. I did," Ligon said. "I regret that in the first place. I knew I had to do some time. Common sense told me that. I knew that when I stabbed that man."

Ligon, his voice a low scratch, said: "I've been able to deal with this situation because, in my mind and in my heart, I didn't kill somebody. If I had, that would have worried me to death. There's no way I could have done that and survived in here."

He says he's changed. Advocates for inmates like Ligon cite neuroscience demonstrating adolescents' inability to grasp the consequences of their actions. They also cite studies that show teenagers have a great capacity for change as they mature and become adults. They're more prone to being rehabilitated.

"For over 40 years, I've had no citations for misconduct," he said. "I haven't been in solitary confinement for over 50 years." He hasn't had a drink, he said, since Feb. 18, 1953.

In the late 1960s and early '70s, Ligon filed a post-conviction petition based, in part, on making a coerced confession for his guilty plea. Then, for more than three decades, he had no legal representation. Without a lawyer, he would surely live out his days in Graterford.

Pennsylvania spends an average $32,000 annually on each of its 51,000 inmates, far more on older inmates with health issues like Ligon, ironically at the age when they're at the lowest risk of committing violent crime.

Conservatively, it's cost $2 million to lock up Ligon for 57 years. That's without the price tags for a hernia repair and 37 treatments for prostate cancer.

In October 2006, Bradley S. Bridge of Philadelphia's Defender Association took Ligon's case after speaking to a lifers group in Graterford. That was the year after Roper v. Simmons, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that ruled it unconstitutional to impose capital punishment on crimes committed as a juvenile.

Several cases in three separate courts are challenging incarcerating juveniles sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for homicide cases. Last year, State Rep. Kenyatta Johnson (D., Phila.) introduced legislation that would grant juvenile homicide lifers a chance at parole after age 31 if they've already served 15 years.

For Ligon, that moment would have occurred in 1969.

In three to four years, the practice of incarcerating juveniles in homicide cases without the possibility of parole "will be found unconstitutional," his lawyer Bridge said. "I firmly believe Joe Ligon will get out."

What it is like to have hope, after 57 years?

"The world ain't the same. I seen that on TV. I heard that on the radio. I hope I live long enough to see the world change," Ligon said. "One of my main concerns is that no one be ever again treated the way I was treated."