Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Like Most of the Other 999

Firstly, in the obvious way:

And second, in that evidence that could prove or disprove his guilt was not only never examined, it in fact has been -oops- destroyed:

Lovitt's lawyers, who include former independent counsel Kenneth Starr, and anti-death penalty advocates had argued that his life should be spared because a court clerk illegally destroyed the bloody scissors and other evidence, preventing DNA testing that they said could exonerate him.

1000 was Mr. Lovitt's lucky number. 999 other people - 152 under our compassionate, Christian executer-in-chief - were not so fortunate.

An aside - let's not oversimplify the impact of race in capital crimes cases. While 58% of the persons put to death since 1976 in America in fact were white, being black and being charged with a capital crime greatly increases your odds of receiving the death penalty. Even though blacks and whites are murder victims in nearly equal numbers of crimes, 80% of people executed since the death penalty was reinstated have been executed for murders involving white victims.


Blogger Management said...

Can any proponents of the death penalty actually give a good reason for government sanctioned execution when there are so many cases of prosecutorial misconduct in these capital cases?

Clearly, it does not deter crime. States that have the death penalty have higher murder rates than states that do not have the death penalty.

Any symbolic value of executing a convicted murderer is effectively curtailed when innocent defendants are also killed by the state.

From a tax payer perspective, it costs less to incarcerate an inmate for the rest of his or her natural life than it does to execute that same prisoner. Why waste tax payer dollars?

4:00 AM  
Blogger Management said...

Governor spares convicted murderer
Lovitt's defense team included Kenneth Starr

RICHMOND, Virginia (AP) -- Virginia's governor on Tuesday spared the life of a convicted killer who would have been the 1,000th person executed in the United States since the Supreme Court allowed capital punishment to resume in 1976.

Robin Lovitt's death sentence was commuted to life in prison without parole a little more than 24 hours before he was to be executed by injection Wednesday night for stabbing a man to death with a pair of scissors during a 1998 pool-hall robbery.

In granting clemency, Gov. Mark R. Warner noted that evidence had been improperly destroyed after Lovitt's trial. (Watch what fueled clemency decision -- 1:06)

"The commonwealth must ensure that every time this ultimate sanction is carried out, it is done fairly," Warner said in a statement.

Warner, a Democrat, had never before granted clemency to a death row inmate during his four years in office. During that time, 11 men have been executed.

The 1,000th execution is now scheduled for Friday in North Carolina, where Kenneth Lee Boyd is slated to die for killing his estranged wife and her father.

The nation's 999th execution since capital punishment resumed a generation ago took place Tuesday morning, when Ohio put to death John Hicks, who strangled his mother-in-law and suffocated his 5-year-old stepdaughter to cover up the crime.

Lovitt's lawyers, who include former independent counsel Kenneth Starr, and anti-death penalty advocates had argued that his life should be spared because a court clerk illegally destroyed the bloody scissors and other evidence, preventing DNA testing that they said could exonerate him.

Lovitt was convicted in 1999 of murdering Clayton Dicks at an Arlington pool hall. Prosecutors said Dicks caught Lovitt prying open a cash register with the scissors, which police found in the woods between the pool hall and the home of Lovitt's cousin.

Lovitt admitted grabbing the cash box but insisted someone else killed Dicks. Initial DNA tests on the scissors were inconclusive.

Warner said he was "acutely aware of the tragic loss experienced by the Dicks family."

"However, evidence in Mr. Lovitt's trial was destroyed by a court employee before that process could be completed," he said. "The actions of an agent of the commonwealth, in a manner contrary to the express direction of the law, comes at the expense of a defendant facing society's most severe and final sanction."

4:02 AM  
Blogger Management said...

Volume 52, Number 1 · January 13, 2005

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Death in Texas
By Sister Helen Prejean

In the twenty-first century, a state governor represents the last vestige of the "divine right of kings," because he has absolute power over life and death— especially when such power is entrusted to politicians motivated more by expediency than by conscience. Faced with a pending execution, no governor wants to appear callous about human life. So governors appoint pardons boards and meet with legal counselors, who take the political heat for controversial cases. All governors claim to agonize over death penalty decisions. All claim to scrutinize every possible angle of the cases of condemned persons facing execution under their watch.

George W. Bush during his six years as governor of Texas presided over 152 executions, more than any other governor in the recent history of the United States. Bush has said: "I take every death penalty case seriously and review each case carefully.... Each case is major because each case is life or death." In his autobiography, A Charge to Keep (1999), he wrote, "For every death penalty case, [legal counsel] brief[s] me thoroughly, reviews the arguments made by the prosecution and the defense, raises any doubts or problems or questions." Bush called this a "fail-safe" method for ensuring "due process" and certainty of guilt.

He might have succeeded in bequeathing to history this image of himself as a scrupulously fair-minded governor if the journalist Alan Berlow had not used the Public Information Act to gain access to fifty-seven confidential death penalty memos that Bush's legal counsel, Alberto R. Gonzales, whom President Bush has recently nominated to be attorney general of the United States, presented to him, usually on the very day of execution.[1] The reports Gonzales presented could not be more cursory. Take, for example, the case of Terry Washington, a mentally retarded man of thirty-three with the communication skills of a seven-year-old. Washington's plea for clemency came before Governor Bush on the morning of May 6, 1997. After a thirty-minute briefing by Gonzales, Bush checked "Deny"— just as he had denied twenty-nine other pleas for clemency in his first twenty-eight months as governor.

But Washington's plea for clemency raised substantial issues, which called for thoughtful, fair-minded consideration, not the least of which was the fact that Washington's mental handicap had never been presented to the jury that condemned him to death. Gonzales's legal summary, however, omitted any mention of Washington's mental limitations as well as the fact that his trial lawyer had failed to enlist the help of a mental health expert to testify on his client's behalf. When Washington's postconviction lawyers took on his defense, they researched deeply into his childhood and came up with horrifying evidence of abuse. Terry Washington, along with his ten siblings, had been beaten regularly with whips, water hoses, extension cords, wire hangers, and fan belts. This was mitigation of the strongest kind, but Washington's jury never heard it. Nor is there any evidence that Gonzales told Bush about it.

Bush wrote in his autobiography that it was not his job to "replace the verdict of a jury unless there are new facts or evidence of which a jury was unaware, or evidence that the trial was somehow unfair"[2] (italics added). But new information about a mentally retarded man's battered, abused childhood that his jury never got to hear—wouldn't that qualify?

When Berlow asked Gonzales directly whether Bush ever read the clemency petitions, he replied that he did so "from time to time." Instead, Bush seems to have relied on Gonzales's summaries, and they clearly indicate that Gonzales continuously sided with the prosecutors. One third of his summary of Terry Washington's case is devoted to a detailed description of the gruesome aspects of the crime, while he fails to mention Washington's mental limitations and his miserably ineffective defense lawyer. In response to Berlow's direct question, Gonzales admitted that his conferences with Bush on these cases typically lasted no more than thirty minutes. Berlow confirmed this for himself when he looked at Bush's appointment calendar for the morning of Washington's execution and saw a half-hour slot marked "Al G—Execution."

To distance himself from his legal and moral responsibility for executions, Bush often cited a Texas statute that says a governor may do nothing more than grant a thirty-day reprieve to an inmate unless the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles has recommended a broader grant of clemency. But any time he wanted to, Bush could have commuted a sentence or stopped an execution. By the end of his governorship Bush had appointed all eighteen members of the board of pardons. He could easily have ordered a thirty-day reprieve and gotten word to the board that he had doubts about the fairness of a case and wanted an investigation and hearings. But the Texas pardons board has been a farce. In my home state the Louisiana Board of Pardons and Paroles meets and holds hearings. True, they routinely deny clemency, but they at least give the appearance of being a real, working board. The full Texas pardons board never meets to consider a death sentence. A few of them talk to one another on the phone. Sometimes. No one knows whether the clemency appeals are even read. As governor, Bush did nothing to reform the board's procedures.

In the Henry Lee Lucas case in 1998, Bush showed where the real power lay. He intervened with the Texas pardons board before they had a chance to make a recommendation, and after his intervention, the board handed him the decision he wanted: a 17–1 vote for commutation of Lucas's death sentence. The Henry Lee Lucas case gained national attention when it came to light that Lucas had been condemned to death for a Texas murder he couldn't possibly have committed, since he wasn't in the state at the time. Additionally, it was clear that Lucas would never be a threat to society because he was already serving six life sentences for other murders, which he may or may not have committed, since on a fairly regular basis he confessed falsely to hundreds of murders. Bush pointed out that jurors at his trial "did not know" certain facts that later came to light.

To make sure that he never had to examine death sentences seriously, Governor Bush used a legal tactic similar to the one used by the US Supreme Court to block death row petitioners' access to constitutional claims. He restricted the standard for clemency so severely that no petitioner could qualify. He stated that since the courts had "thoroughly examined" every obscure detail of a death row petitioner's claims and found no grounds for injustice, it was not his place to "second-guess" the courts. In his autobiography Bush wrote,

In every [death] case, I would ask: Is there any doubt about this individual's guilt or innocence? And, have the courts had ample opportunity to review all the legal issues in this case?

But, of course, the courts would already have reviewed and rejected the legal issues of death row petitioners' cases before they landed on Bush's desk. As governor, Bush was literally the court of last resort for a condemned man or woman, vested with authority to dispense mercy or withhold it, according to his personal judgment. Unlike the courts, he was not restricted to pure legalities. As far back as 1855, the US Supreme Court saw compassion and mercy as central to the exercise of gubernatorial clemency. This means that governors and their boards are free to consider any basis for mercy: mental handicaps, mental illness, childhood abuse, incompetence of defense counsel, remorse, racial discrimination in juries, signs of rehabilitation.

Not uncommonly, such new mitigating facts come to light only years after the trial, facts that the trial jury has never heard and that appeals courts, following "procedural logic," routinely refuse to consider. In the commutation of Lucas's sentence, Bush well knew how to use "new facts" that the trial jury "did not know" to persuade the Texas pardons board to do his bidding. It was not a lengthy, morally complex process. Bush stated his request and his board delivered.

If the jury that sentenced Karla Faye Tucker—another Texan whose death warrant Bush signed—had known of her drug-ridden childhood prostitution, would they have found mitigating circumstances to spare her life? And if, as her jury considered "future dangerousness," they could have been made aware of the potential for good in her character that would later make her such an exemplary prisoner, would they still have voted to kill her? The jury, deprived of foresight and without thorough investigation into Karla Faye's childhood, did not have access to these "new facts," but George W. Bush did. In the Lucas case, when "new facts" presented themselves, Governor Bush requested the Texas pardons board for commutation. When "new facts" in Karla Faye Tucker's case came to Bush's attention, he turned away, claiming that he was bound to follow the courts' decisions.

Berlow writes, "The fact that courts have rejected a defendant's legal claims arguably places an added burden on a governor—as the conscience of the state...—to conduct a scrupulous review." How, then, could Bush's legal counsel, Alberto Gonzales, systematically neglect to provide mitigating evidence or "new facts" that the petitioners' juries had never heard? For the man who said that the nature of the war on terror "renders obsolete [the Geneva conventions'] strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners" and called the conventions "quaint" when issuing guidelines for the treatment of prisoners at Guantánamo, this is not surprising.

Gonzales routinely produced exactly the kind of clemency review his boss wanted—a purely formal exercise, which never seriously entertained the possibility of real clemency for anyone. When Bush left the governor's office, he had denied clemency in all cases and refused to commute from death to life imprisonment a single death sentence but one—that of Henry Lee Lucas—and that because knowledge of Lucas's innocence of the murder for which he was about to be killed had become the subject of such national scrutiny that Bush could not afford politically to ignore it. Besides, the Lucas case became public during the 2000 presidential campaign, when Bush had begun to portray himself as a "compassionate conservative."

By the time Bush had served as governor for a little over five years, he had already presided over the executions of 130 men and one woman. Using the "thirty-minute formula," the clemency petitions of the men were denied with dispatch, but the plea for clemency by the woman, Karla Faye Tucker, presented a special challenge. By the time Tucker climbed onto Texas's lethal injection gurney, whispering, "Lord Jesus, help them to find my vein," her name had become a household word, not only in the United States, but around the world. Larry King's in-depth interviews with her on CNN made people feel they knew her personally.

Her crime could not have been more brutal. She had killed two people with a pickax as they lay helplessly in bed. But now people were talking about her fate, as arguments for and against clemency for condemned killers crystallized with new intensity.

The argument in favor of clemency for Karla Faye Tucker went like this: Yes, she's guilty of a horrible crime—she killed two helpless people with a pickax—but she seems genuinely remorseful for her crime; she seems to have undergone a genuine, life-changing religious conversion. Even the warden and corrections officers attest that for fourteen years she's been a model prisoner. Couldn't she spend the rest of her life helping other prisoners to change their lives? Is a strict "eye for an eye" always called for?

On television screens across America, people saw Karla Faye Tucker's beautiful face as she talked about reading the Bible in her prison cell (she admitted to stealing the Bible, not realizing it was free for the asking) and discovering Jesus, who "changed my life." In following Christ, she said, she had truly been made into a "new creation."

If only Karla Faye Tucker had not been so sincere, so human.

When Gonzales presented Governor Bush with the Karla Faye Tucker case, a woman hadn't been executed in Texas in more than a hundred years. What was a "compassionate conservative" governor to do, especially one who claimed to be "born again"? Bush the politician knew that once he included religious conversion as a qualifier for clemency, his legalistic formula —stand behind court verdicts no matter what—would go up in smoke: others facing execution could claim that they too had been "born again" and so deserved clemency. Trapped in this political quagmire, he'd surely be accused of "second-guessing" the courts, and pro-death constituents would be displeased. Better, as Justice Scalia did, to stick to the tried-and-true formula of retribution, which justified the sentence of death without reference to whether or not criminals changed their lives while awaiting execution. Retributive justice was just that—justice. You did the crime, you pay the price. By refusing to show favoritism, Bush would demonstrate the moral "toughness" required of a national leader. He could show that he "followed the law" even though his personal sympathies pulled him in another direction. This meant that no matter how strong the opposition to her execution, Karla Faye Tucker had to die.

During her interviews with Larry King, she had looked directly into the camera and in a soft voice, in an unwavering, guileless tone, told the story of her life, presenting, for the first time, horrific childhood experiences her jury had never heard. Her chance for a loving, nurturing family had been shattered early on by her parents, who fought and finally divorced, leaving young Karla Faye and her older sisters on their own to fend for themselves. Karla Faye first smoked pot with her older sisters when she was eight years old. By the time she was thirteen, she was shooting heroin. A year later, she dropped out of school and followed her mother into prostitution. She knew how to fight with her fists. She moved in and out of turbulent relationships with men. There were always drugs. There was always violence.

On the night of June 11, 1983, Karla Faye and friends began a weekend bash of heroin, cocaine, and pills. Two days later at 3:00 AM, sleepless and high on drugs, Karla Faye Tucker and her boyfriend, Danny Garrett, entered the apartment of Jerry Lynn Dean, whom Karla Faye had met two years earlier when he dated her best friend. There had always been animosity between them. On the night of the murders, Karla Faye's original aim had been to steal Dean's motorcycle, but once she was inside the apartment, the plan for robbery escalated into a frenzied act of double murder. Deborah Thornton, who shared Dean's bed that night, became an unwitting victim. Afterward, still high on drugs, Karla Faye bragged to friends that the killings aroused her sexually.

When arrested, Karla Faye Tucker readily confessed to the murders and implicated Garrett. The jury sentenced her to die. Johnny Holmes, the Harris County district attorney, was proud that he obtained more death penalties than any other DA in Texas. For Holmes, Karla Faye Tucker's death sentence was just one more political trophy. He could brag that he was an "equal opportunity" district attorney, unafraid to impose tough sentences on women.

I visited Karla Faye Tucker and the other women on Texas's death row in October 1997, four months before her execution. I had been invited by Pam Perillo, Karla Faye's friend, who was also on death row.[3] Pam told me in a letter how she had watched Karla Faye change. She said that when Karla Faye had first arrived at the Mountain View Unit, "she had the foulest mouth you can possibly imagine" and would "snarl" at anyone who tried to befriend her. "She was far from the Lord," Pamela said, "definitely not saved."

In his autobiography, Bush claimed that the pending execution of Karla Faye Tucker "felt like a huge piece of concrete...crushing me." But in an unguarded moment in 1999 while traveling during the presidential campaign, Bush revealed his true feelings to the journalist Tucker Carlson. Bush mentioned Karla Faye Tucker, who had been executed the previous year, and told Carlson that in the weeks immediately before the execution, Bianca Jagger and other protesters had come to Austin to plead for clemency for her. Carlson asked Bush if he had met with any of the petitioners and was surprised when Bush whipped around, stared at him, and snapped, "No, I didn't meet with any of them." Carlson, who until that moment had admired Bush, said that Bush's curt response made him feel as if he had just asked "the dumbest, most offensive question ever posed." Bush went on to tell him that he had also refused to meet Larry King when he came to Texas to interview Tucker but had watched the interview on television. King, Bush said, asked Tucker difficult questions, such as "What would you say to Governor Bush?"

What did Tucker answer? Carlson asked.

"Please," Bush whimpered, his lips pursed in mock desperation, "please, don't kill me."

Carlson was shocked.[4] He couldn't believe Bush's callousness and reasoned that his cruel mimicry of the woman whose death he had authorized must have been sparked by anger over Karla Faye Tucker's remarks during the King interviews. When King had asked her what she planned to ask Governor Bush, Karla Faye had said she thought that if Bush approved her execution, he would be succumbing to election-year pressure from pro–death penalty voters.

Election-year pressure?

Bush was receiving thousands of messages urging clemency for Tucker, including one from one of his daughters. "Born-again" evangelists such as Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, normally ardent advocates of execution, urged him to commute Tucker's sentence. When Pope John Paul II urged Bush to grant mercy to Tucker, Bush responded disingenuously in a letter to the Pope, saying, "Ms. Tucker's sentence can only be commuted by the Governor if the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles recommends a commutation of sentence." On several occasions, Bush stated publicly that in deciding Karla Faye Tucker's fate, he was seeking "guidance through prayer," adding that "judgments about the heart and soul of an individual on death row are best left to a higher authority."

But there was no way Bush could avoid the godlike power thrust on him as governor. When Russian president Vladimir Putin declared that life-or-death judgments should be "left to the Almighty," he meant that such supposed judgments, even if they are believed to be divine, cannot properly be discerned and administered by flawed human agents. This recognition led him to oppose government executions. But while Bush claimed to leave the judgment of Karla Faye Tucker to God, in reality he exercised his own political judgment and authorized her death.

Karla Faye's death hit me hard. During my visit with her, she and Pam Perillo sat with me in a small chapel and we talked together for an hour. Karla Faye said that she wasn't afraid of dying, but she dreaded the long car trip with the guards to Huntsville. Once before, when they had accompanied her to a court hearing, they had taunted her and delayed when she asked them to stop so she could "go to the bathroom." She said she had "delicate intestines" and a delay in getting to a toilet could prove "disastrous." "During those rides," she explained, "the guards have you in their power. Some are kind, but others are mean and not fond of me because I've gotten so much publicity."

It reminded me of an incident recorded in the account of the martyrdom of Saint Ignatius of Rome, in which the saintly bishop, upon arriving at the Colosseum, where hungry lions awaited, bumped his shin as he stepped out of the carriage. The man was about to be torn apart limb from limb and the hagiographer felt the need to record that he bumped his shin? Yet there it is, the incident forever recorded, one small glimmer of the saint's vulnerable humanity.

Here was Karla Faye, a woman who had transformed her life and would have been a source of healing love to guards and prisoners for as long as she lived, yet the iron protocol of retributive justice demanded that she be put to death. It was as if Bush and Albert Gonzales and the pardons board had freeze-framed Karla Faye Tucker in the worst act of her life, then freeze-framed themselves into killing her. That's the way a machine works, relentless and preordained, with no room for the personal transcendence that conscience gives. It was all so mechanical, so unthinking, so political. That's why on the night of Karla Faye's killing, my anger at George W. Bush turned to outrage when Larry King aired Bush's press statement and I heard the way Bush invoked God to bless his denial of clemency. I already knew the substance of Bush's position toward Karla Faye, but I had never heard the last sentence of his press statement: "May God bless Karla Faye Tucker and may God bless her victims and their families."

Immediately after the statement, King turned to me for a response. When I heard Bush say, "God bless Karla Faye Tucker," I had to struggle to keep a vow I made to reverence every person, even those with whom I disagree most vehemently. Inside my soul I raged at Bush's hypocrisy, but the broadcast was live and global. With not much time to rein myself in, I took a quick breath, said a fierce prayer, looked into the camera, and said, "It's interesting to see that Governor Bush is now invoking God, asking God to bless Karla Faye Tucker, when he certainly didn't use the power in his own hands to bless her. He just had her killed."

As governor, Bush certainly did not stand apart in his routine refusal to deny clemency to death row petitioners, but what does set him apart is the sheer number of executions over which he has presided. Callous indifference to human suffering may also set Bush apart. He may be the only government official to mock a condemned person's plea for mercy, then lie about it afterward, claiming humane feelings he never felt. On the contrary, it seems that Bush is comfortable with using violent solutions to solve troublesome social and political realities.

The aphorism "A hammer, when presented with a nail, knows to do only one thing" applies, par excellence, to George W. Bush. As governor of Texas, Bush tackled the social problem of street crime by presiding over the busiest execution chamber in the country. At the time of the thirteen death row exonerations in Illinois, Bush stated publicly that although states such as Illinois might have problems with a faulty death penalty system, he was certain that in Texas no innocent person had ever been sent to death row, much less executed. That remains to be seen. What is clear is that he had, as governor, no quality of mercy.

[1] See Alan Berlow, "The Texas Clemency Memos," The Atlantic, July/August 2003.

[2] A Charge to Keep (Morrow, 1999).

[3] She has since been resentenced to life imprisonment.

[4] Tucker Carlson, "Devil May Care," Talk, September 1999.

Copyright © 2005 by Sister Helen Prejean

4:03 AM  
Blogger Management said...

And as an aside, a picture of the new Number 1000, Kenneth Lee Boyd:

7:25 PM  
Blogger Management said...

Robin Lovitt
November 30, 2005

Robin Lovitt, a black man, faces execution on Nov. 30, 2005 for the stabbing death of Clayton Dicks in Arlington County. There are many problems with Lovitt’s case and trial. Most distressing is the fact that Lovitt’s has maintained his innocence from the beginning and that the prosecutor’s case against Lovitt is circumstantial at best.
According to Kenneth Starr, Lovitt’s attorney during his appeal to the U. S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, prosecutors failed to tell the defense that their own expert concluded that the scissors allegedly used by Lovitt could not have been the murder weapon. Starr also stated that Lovitt's rights were violated when a courthouse clerk threw away all of the evidence before his appeals were complete.

There is no DNA or other physical evidence that proves that Lovitt was involved in the murder. The prosecution’s case is based on the testimony of a number of potential suspects and a convict that shared a cell with Lovitt in prison. All of these people have reasons to be dishonest in court. By lying in court they either avoid being a suspect themselves or they could earn lenience in any cases they may have pending.

Furthermore, the man who identified Lovitt as the murdered testified that he was only 80 percent sure that Lovitt was the man he saw that night. 80 percent is not certain enough for a capital sentence. Furthermore, according to the physical evidence in the case it is just as likely that this witness was responsible for the murder. Two other witnesses gave contradictory testimony about the time that they left the scene. There is no more evidence incriminating Lovitt than there is to incriminate these witnesses. The case is circumstantial. It is important that a capital case not be based on contradictory, “80 percent certain” testimony from other potential suspects.
Starr is a former U.S. federal judge and U.S. solicitor general who supports the death penalty. However, in this case Starr stated that “the death penalty has to be administered with the utmost caution and reserved for the gravest offenses. This is not that kind of case. Robin Lovitt maintains his innocence, and evidence that might prove his innocence has been destroyed. I'm very distressed by that.... Society had better be absolutely certain before they put someone to death who is maintaining his innocence. I feel very passionately about that.”

Because Lovitt’s case lacks physical evidence and is based on unreliable testimony, Lovitt should not be put to death. Also, because of the issues with evidence tampering, Lovitt should not be executed. The death penalty is an arbitrary and irreversible punishment that cannot be used when a case has not been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

Please write to Gov. Mark R. Warner on behalf of Robin Lovitt.

4:41 PM  

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