Thursday, April 17, 2014

Update: Another murder behind the Pine Curtain

The State of Texas murdered Jose Villegas last night. They strapped him down to a gurney, put an IV into his arm and pumped him full of what is supposed to be pentobarbital. Of course since the US Supreme Court decided that no one in Texas - outside of prison officials - has any right to know who produced the drug and whether it was what it was supposed to be, we don't know what was pumped into his veins.

We do know that something wasn't quite up to snuff because Mr. Villegas complained of a burning sensation as the death drug took its toll.

The murder of Mr. Villegas was put on hold for almost an hour as the Supreme Court considered an appeal from Mr. Villegas' attorneys arguing that to allow the execution would be to allow the state to take the life of a mentally retarded man. An IQ test taken this past February indicated that Mr. Villegas' IQ was 59 - well below 70, generally recognized as the indicator of mental retardation.

Texas officials argued that Mr. Villegas' attorneys had plenty of time to raise the issue of mental retardation before filing a last-minute appeal based on the February test.

Of course if he's retarded then he's retarded - whether a test was taken 10 years ago or last week. And, if the Nine in Robes have proclaimed that we shalt not execute a mentally retarded person, then Mr. Villegas shouldn't have been strapped down and murdered.

Yes, his crimes were heinous. He killed an ex-girlfriend, her child and her mother. But killing him didn't bring any of them back. Killing him didn't fill the hole that was left in the hearts of the victims' family and friends. Nueces County District Attorney Mark Skurka proclaimed that justice was done - after complaining that the murder of Mr. Villegas seemed so clinical.

What a funny concept of justice Mr. Skurka has. How does the murder of a person equate to justice? Revenge maybe, but certainly not justice. And ultimately that's what the execution of Mr. Villegas was all about - an exercise in public revenge. This is the point to which our society has evolved after thousands of years - we still consider revenge to be a perfectly acceptable goal in our criminal (in)justice system.

While doing some research on Mr. Villegas earlier this week I ran across a blog post from Laura Dimon that paints a chilling picture of the process of execution. I believe most of the material in her piece came from a radio documentary that first ran back in 2000. The documentary, Witness to an Execution, features interviews with prison officials and guards in Texas who facilitate executions.

Jeffrey Toobin expressed his opinion on state-sponsored murder when he stated that no matter how "humane" you try to make the process, you can never erase the fact that you're strapping a person to a table in order to kill him.

From Ms. Dimon's post:
Similarly, Toobin calls the search for humane execution "oxymoronic." He wrote, "It’s understandable that Supreme Court Justices have tried to make the process a little more palatable; and there is a meagre kind of progress in moving from the chair to the gurney. But the essential fact about both is that they come with leather straps to restrain a human being so that the state can kill him. No technology can render that process any less grotesque."
And so, when Mr. Skurka wants to complain that the process is too humane he's missing the point entirely. But sometimes knuckle-draggers can't quite grasp those higher levels of thought. Murder is murder - it doesn't matter who's doing it. It doesn't matter how they do it.

Deliberately taking the life of another is murder. And regardless of how you want to disguise the issue, everyone who participates in the execution of an inmate is an accessory to murder.

I leave you with this excerpt from Ms. Dimon's post:
One warden said, "You'll never hear another sound like a mother wailing when she is watching her son be executed. There's no other sound like it. It is just this horrendous wail. It's definitely something you won't ever forget."

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Criminalizing thoughts and speech

Frazier Glenn Cross is not a particularly nice person. He is a former grand dragon of the KKK and he's been charged with the murder of three folks in Missouri. Apparently he decided he wanted to kill some Jewish folk prior to Passover.

If Mr. Cross pulled the trigger and killed three people then he should be convicted of murder in a Missouri court. He should receive whatever punishment the court deems appropriate. So long as he is afforded due process of law, he will deserve whatever he gets in state court.

But los federales want to charge him with a hate crime. The government says that because he said he wanted to kill Jews that his sentence should be enhanced. Let's forget for a second that we have something called the First Amendment that protects our right to say things that others disagree with.

The ultimate irony, of course, is that none of the three people he killer were Jewish.

The federal hate crimes statute - and the hate crimes statutes in various states - are all appalling violations of the First Amendment. Mr. Cross should be punished for what he did this past weekend. Murder is still against the law in Missouri. Punishing him for what he was thinking - or what he said - is wrong.

The fact that a person spouts racist ideas before pulling the trigger doesn't change the outcome of his actions. He pulled a gun, aimed it and pulled the trigger. A person is dead because of it. Whether he said "Kill the Jews!" or "Kill the blacks!" or kill some other ethnic, religious or gender-based group doesn't matter. The only thing that matters is whether he pulled the trigger with the intent to kill someone.

We don't need to be in the position of policing thoughts and speech. We don't need to prosecute folks because of what they said or thought at the time. The only thing that should matter is what the person did given the chance.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Execution Watch: 4/16/2014

On Wednesday night, the State of Texas will kill again...

JOSE VILLEGAS, condemned in the slayings of his ex-girlfriend, her son and her mother. Villegas lost his bid to delay his execution date when a Corpus Christi district court judge ruled last week against his attorneys' assertions that he was unstable and not mentally competent to understand what he was doing when he committed the stabbings in 2001. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the Constitution prohibits the execution of anyone deemed mentally incompetent.

We still don't know who produced the drug, how the state acquired it or whether its efficacy has ever been tested. But I guess that's just a bunch of 8th Amendment technicalities that we don't need to worry about.


RADIO SHOW PREVIEW
EXECUTION WATCH
Unless a stay is issued, we'll broadcast live:
Wednesday, April 16, 2014, 6-7 PM Central Time
KPFT-FM Houston 90.1 Online...

Monday, April 14, 2014

What day is it?



These are the signs that greeted visitors to the Austin County Courthouse in Bellville, Texas last week. I'm sure those signs had no effect on the jury pool.


This is a sign that greeted visitors at the Harris County Criminal (In)justice Center last week.

So when do we get to celebrate National Victims of Prosecutorial Misconduct? What about a week in remembrance of the Fourth Amendment? Maybe Forensic Junk Science Month?

Friday, April 11, 2014

Some more burnt ends

Some things you just can't make up. You might try to put an ironic twist on something but it never comes together in a coherent way. Or else the premise is just so far out there that no one's buying it.

But then there are times that irony and premise intersect.

And that's what happened when three security guards at the Harris County Criminal (In)justice Center were arrested. It's bad enough that folks accused of committing a crime are forced to stand in ridiculously long lines because the architect of the building had his head up his ass and because the judges don't seem to understand that forcing defendants to come back to court for meaningless settings every three to four weeks feeds the problem. Now it turns out that contract security guards were stealing from them.

One security guard made off with an iPad while another pocketed a flat iron (of all the things one could steal she chose that?). These items either belonged to defendants or to their family members or friends. What could be lower than that?

A third security guard was charged with tampering with a government document when she altered a log that is filled out whenever someone places money in the security scanners. Of course the question of why someone would carry $1,000 into a criminal courthouse is a valid inquiry.

Now the three of them will enjoy the experience of trying to get into the criminal courthouse in time to answer the docket.

Over at the University of Houston there is a new man in charge of the basketball team. Former OU and Indiana coach Kelvin Sampson was hired to replace (retread) James Dickey earlier this month. This is, of course, the same Kelvin Sampson that left both the OU and Indiana programs in turmoil when he left thanks to his attempts to skirt NCAA recruiting rules. I'm sure nothing like that could ever happen again.

But that's not the story.

You see, coaches are free to walk away from jobs and walk into new jobs without penalty. Both coaches and schools routinely ignore those pesky little contacts everyone signed when they were hired whenever it suits their interests. When a coach sees a better opportunity it's easy for him to pack his bags, turn his back on the players he recruited and head for greener pastures. When a school is fed up with losing there is nothing to prevent them from cutting the coach loose for the next flavor-of-the-month. A little money exchanges hands according to the buy-out provisions and everyone is happy.

But the players aren't so lucky. When they signed their commitment letters they were handed a one-year scholarship that could be renewed year-to-year by the school. It's the NCAA's way of making certain that college athletes "know their place" in the universe.

Danual House and TaShawn Thomas wanted to transfer away from UH after the school hired Mr. Sampson as its new basketball coach. But the school wouldn't allow them to do so. Without providing any reason, the University denied both transfer requests. Now Mr. House and Mr. Thomas must appeal the decision if they want to go elsewhere to play and go to school. And, even if they win their appeal, UH can still block them from transferring to certain schools.

The decision by UH is but the latest example of how life on the plantation is for college athletes. Neither of these players is paid by the school. In exchange for playing basketball they both received the promise of a free education. But, while the university can cut them loose at any time for any reason, the players don't have the right to leave the university and transfer elsewhere when they decide that the school is no longer such a great fit.

There is no excuse for the actions of the UH athletic department. The decision to deny the transfers was made just to show the players whose in charge on Cullen Boulevard. Everyone who had a hand in that decision should be ashamed of themselves.

For those who were outraged by the NLRB decision that student-athletes at Northwestern were university employees, this is an example of why such protections are needed.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Another innocent man freed from prison

How many more stories are we going to have to read about innocent men and women being released from prison after serving two decades or more because prosecutors failed to disclose exculpatory evidence at trial? How many more lives are we going to allow to be ruined because prosecutors are more interested in winning a case than they are in getting it right? And I'm not just talking about the wasted years of the innocent man - I'm talking about the enormous cost to his family.

Jonathan Fleming was convicted of the 1989 murder of Darryl Rush in Brooklyn. For more than two decades he missed every birthday, wedding, graduation and funeral for his family and friends. Those are 24 years of wasted memories that he can never get back.

When Mr. Fleming was accused of the murder he told the police he was in Florida. A review of the file revealed that the police had a hotel receipt from the day of the shooting and a note from the Orlando Police Department that hotel employees remembered seeing him that day.

Those items were never turned over to Mr. Fleming's attorneys. Despite his protestations, Mr. Fleming was convicted.

Even after a witness admitted to lying on the stand after the conviction, prosecutors continued to defend the conviction.

Mr. Fleming's conviction was overturned as the result of a review of questionable convictions from the Kings County District Attorney's Office. But for that investigation by the Conviction Review Unit, Mr. Fleming might still be behind bars today.

Mr. Fleming has announced that he will sue everyone he can for the injustice he was forced to endure for almost a quarter-century. But all the money in the world can never give him back the thing he lost - time.

As for the prosecutors who tried the case, the only appropriate remedy is disbarment. What they did was so reprehensible there is a special ring in Dante's hell for them. To the ADAs who handled Mr. Fleming's case, he was nothing but a case number. I'm sure they tossed out numbers to his attorneys like they were candy. What the hell, it's not like it would affect them one little bit. Close out one case and pick up the next one.

They betrayed their oath of office. They betrayed their oath to uphold the law and the constitution. They betrayed their profession. They betrayed themselves. They are scum and they don't deserve to call themselves lawyers anymore. Until we decide to put some teeth into Brady and our criminal discovery statutes, this will continue to happen. Until courts decide to impose sanctions on prosecutors who play hide-the-sausage with exculpatory evidence, this will continue to happen.

The other day Scott Greenfield wrote about a judge who did just that when he found out that a prosecutor withheld exculpatory evidence. Of course his sanction - banning the prosecutor from his courtroom - wasn't nearly harsh enough.

And still they went on practicing law like nothing happened. It didn't bother them that an innocent man was sitting in prison because they didn't hand over exculpatory evidence to the defense. It's not like they even gave a fuck that the evidence didn't support their theory of the case.

And let's take a wild guess at what kind of testimony it was that led to Mr. Fleming's wrongful conviction -- could it possibly have been eyewitness testimony? Isn't that another link with most of the publicized exoneration cases? In many cases it was the DNA evidence that proved innocence after eyewitness testimony put them behind bars.

While we should take pleasure in Mr. Fleming's exoneration, we can never forget that this incident serves as yet another indictment of our criminal (in)justice system.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Trusting blindly and swallowing whole

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.  - Fifth Amendment, US Constitution
Back in September 2011 a US drone flying over Yemen fired a missile at a car in which two American citizens were riding. The blast killed Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical cleric who may or may not have had ties with al-Qaeda and Samir Khan. Two weeks later another drone fired a missile into a crowd at an outdoor cafe killing Mr. al-Awlaki's 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman, who was also an American citizen.

The US government claimed that Mr. al-Awlaki was in a leadership position in al-Qaeda and that his murder was justified in protecting the national security of the United States. The government also claimed that it had no idea that al-Awlaki's son was in the cafe when it was attacked.

The decisions to kill these Americans was made by a small cabal of government officials huddled in the White House. There were no formal charges. There were no indictments. There were no probable cause hearings. There was no discovery. There was no trial. There was nothing but a star chamber who looked over a list of names and decided who would live and who would die.

Mr. al-Awlaki's parents brought suit against the United States government for the murder of their son and grandson. They alleged that the government's actions had amounted to depriving Mr. al-Awlaki and his son life without due process of law.

Last week US District Court Judge Rosemary Collyer of the District of Columbia tossed out the lawsuit. She chose not to believe that the government had deprived both Mr. al-Awlaki and his son of their due process rights. She fell lockstep in with the official line that we live in dangerous times and that we should trust our government to make the right choices.

In her opinion, Judge Collyer ran through a list of government entities that had looked into Mr. al-Awlaki's background and status. She fully accepted the proposition that if a government agency investigates a matter and draws a conclusion that the conclusion must be accepted as valid.

She, of course, never seemed to give a second thought to the idea that sometimes the government gets it wrong. Everyday across this country there are juries who return verdicts of not guilty in criminal cases because they didn't believe the government had proved its case beyond all reasonable doubt. There are cases dismissed in courts across their country every day because prosecutors come to the realization that they just can't prove their case.

But for Judge Collyer you don't even have to go that far. In her mind the allegation alone - if it is repeated by enough people - is sufficient to prove guilt.

The evidence supporting the government's allegations against Anwar al-Awlaki was never tested in the crucible of trial. The government's witnesses were never challenged on the stand. Mr. al-Awlaki was never given the opportunity to respond. In short, the system of laws that we have in place to "protect" those charged with criminal offenses was ignored by a judge who was looking for any reason to dismiss the case.

In this case the US government exercised its most invasive power - the power to determine who should die - against three American citizens without affording them due process of law. And a judge who swore she would uphold the law and the constitution blindly accepted the government's story without so much as a doubt.

The message is quite clear. The government is here to protect you. Such quaint notions as due process only make it harder for the government to do its job. Besides, why would anyone from the government lie?

Cameron Willingham was accused by the State of Texas of setting his house on fire and killing his children. He was indicted. He was tried. He was convicted. He was murdered by the state. And he was innocent. Sure, he was afforded his due process rights - and look how much good it did him.

Michael Morton was accused by the State of Texas of killing his wife. He was indicted. He was tried. He was convicted. He sat in prison for 25 years before he was exonerated when his attorneys discovered the games that Williamson County prosecutors played during the investigation and during trial. He was afforded his due process rights - and he lost 25 years of his life.

Anthony Graves was accused by the State of Texas of murder. He was indicted. He was tried. He was convicted. He was sentenced to death and sat on death row for more than two decades when his attorneys uncovered the illegal and unethical actions taken by the prosecutor. He was afforded his due process rights - and stared death in the face.

But still Judge Gallyon thought it was enough that someone from the government said that Anwar al-Awlaki was a bad guy and deserved to die. And that is a very frighting notion. The fact that it was a judge makes it even worse.

H/T Democracy Now! and Center for Constitutional Rights

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Execution Watch: 4/9/2014

On Wednesday night, Texas is set to kill again...

RAMIRO HERNANDEZ. A native of the state of Tamaulipas in northern Mexico, Mr. Hernandez was convicted in the Oct. 15, 1997, beating death of a man in Kerrville. Appellate attorneys from the Cornell Death Penalty Project have argued that Hernandez, who literally grew up on a toxic waste dump, is mentally retarded and therefore ineligible for execution.

Last week Federal District Judge Vanessa Gilmore issued a ruling ordering the State of Texas to turn over details of how the state acquired new supplies of pentobarbital, including the name of the compounding pharmacy. The ruling temporary halted the scheduled executions of Tommy Sells and Ramiro Hernandez. After the 5th Circuit set Judge Gilmore's ruling aside - and after the US Supreme Court refused to get its hands dirty, the executions of both Mr. Sells and Mr. Hernandez were put back on the calendar.

We still don't know who produced the drug, how the state acquired it or whether its efficacy has ever been tested. But I guess that's just a bunch of 8th Amendment technicalities that we don't need to worry about.


RADIO SHOW PREVIEW
EXECUTION WATCH
Unless a stay is issued, we'll broadcast live:
Wednesday, April 9, 2014, 6-7 PM Central Time
KPFT-FM Houston 90.1 Online...

Monday, April 7, 2014

More problems for the HPD Crime Lab

Could the news be any better for the Houston Police Department Crime Lab? After having its DNA lab shut down due to faulty storage and testing issues and after cutting loose a technical supervisor who had the nerve to say that the intoxilyzers in HPD's batvans were faulty, now comes word that an analyst has been cut loose for not following procedures.

According to this story from KRIV-26 in Houston, an analyst who had been with the lab for two years resigned in mid-March amid allegations he (or she) mishandled evidence. The situation was so bad that Irma Rios, the lab's director, wrote in a memo that she would not recommend the worker be rehired.

Unfortunately the station declined to name the analyst leaving us all in the dark as to who mishandled the evidence and whose cases were affected. None of the local news operations seem to have any qualms about putting the names of those arrested for alleged criminal activity all over the television and newspaper, but heaven forbid we publish the name of a crime lab analyst whose work may have tainted dozens or more criminal cases.

Interestingly enough the resignation of this analyst and the sudden departure of Michael Manes, the lab manager at the HPD crime lab, seem to have fallen into the same window of time. Mr. Manes, who had been with the lab in its various incarnations for around 30 years, has left the building and is now working in Montgomery County with the Sheriff's Office or as a forensic-analyst-for-hire depending on who you talk to.

It's all a bit interesting considering that a current case of mine has a lab report that was Mr. Manes performed the technical review (looking at the paperwork) last summer but was was suddenly re-reviewed by a new supervisor in mid-March with no apparent explanation.

This latest incident is just one more reason that crime labs need to be taken out of the hands of the police departments and be run as independent labs with no loyalty to any agency or office. If the purpose of scientific evidence is to get us closer to the truth, then we need to end this cozy arrangement between crime labs and law enforcement agencies.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Postscript: US Supreme Court refuses to block execution

Tommy Sells was murdered by the State of Texas last night. He was killed after the US Supreme Court rejected his appeal of a ruling by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals that vacated Federal District Judge Vanessa Gilmore's order for the state to disclose the source of its death drug.

The State of Texas relied on the specious argument that disclosing the source of the death drugs would expose the compounding pharmacy (or pharmacies) that supplied the drugs to violence. The real argument was that compounding pharmacies wouldn't provide the drugs if their names were to be made public. 

It's just not that great for business when a pharmacy is linked to executions. I've said it before, pharmacists have an obligation to do no harm. Some would rather have the money. If there's enough money on the table, a whole lot of ethical dilemmas seem to go the way of the dinosaurs. But if those arrangements are made public those same pharmacists would back away from the table and slink back into the night.

That is the fear of state officials. They know the price of the drugs would escalate dramatically if the suppliers knew their names would be released. And the higher the cost, the harder it is to justify the expense.

The US Supreme Court apparently couldn't be bothered about another Eighth Amendment challenge to lethal injection. Maybe the justices were still recovering from the strange contortions and genuflections they were forced into when claiming that money is speech. I mean, hell, it's a whole lot more important to ensure that candidates can be openly bought and sold by the highest bidder than it is to think about the legal implications of allowing states to keep the names of their drug suppliers secret.

There are far too many things we let the government keep to itself. When you think about it, the very notion that some things are far too sensitive for the government to inform the governed about turns representative democracy on its head. Never forget that the government works for us; not the other way around. The default position should be "no secrets." It shouldn't be up to the public to demand to know what the government is doing behind our backs with our money; it should be the government's burden to show why certain things should be kept secret.

The question gets more tortured when the focus is on the manner in which the government exercises its most intrusive power - the power to take a life - and not on some shadowy alleged threat from overseas. The name of the compounding pharmacy that produced the death drug isn't a matter of national security. The financial arrangements between the state and the pharmacy aren't matters of national security. Whether the drugs were ever tested to make certain they did what they were supposed to do (and how they were supposed to do it) isn't a matter of national security.

Those are matters of political expediency. Keeping those matters secret means it will cost the state less money to convince a pharmacist to rationalize his choice to aid in the murder of another person. As my mama used to tell me, if you'd be ashamed to do something in public, you probably shouldn't be doing it in private.

But what does it matter? Condemned prisoners aren't lining up to take advantage of the Supreme Court's emasculation of campaign finance laws.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Update: On the other hand, who cares where the drugs came from?

In a shocking move, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Federal District Judge Vanessa Gilmore's order blocking two executions until such time as the state turns over details regarding the acquisition of the death drugs to the attorneys for Tommy Sells and Ramiro Hernandez-Llanas.
"Until Plaintiffs have full disclosure of their product with which Texas will cause their death, they cannot fully develop a challenge to its process. The question is not whether some error may cause a significant chance of pain in the execution procedure, but whether even a properly conducted execution will result in intolerable pain because of the standard used." -- Judge Vanessa Gilmore
So, according to the prosecution-friendly 5th Circuit, it doesn't matter how the state acquired the drugs. It doesn't matter from whom they acquired the drugs. It doesn't matter whether the drugs have been tested. It doesn't matter whether the drugs do what they are advertised to do. According to the 5th Circuit, the only thing that matters is making it easier for the state to kill inmates.

Pending an appeal to the US Supreme Court, the scheduled murder of Tommy Sells is back on the calendar. The status of Mr. Hernandez-Llanas date with the executioner is unknown.


"Justice" of the peace?

Oh, where to begin?

The other morning I had a client in traffic court out in West Houston (Precinct 5, Place 2 for those keeping score). He's a "frequent flier" and he, and his friends and family, provide a nice bit of pocket change over the course of the year.

He was cited for failure to control speed - he rear-ended another vehicle on the highway.

The driver of the other car showed up in court. The prosecutor chatted with him. I then went to the back room to chat with the prosecutor.

The case was simple enough. The driver of the other car had to slow down for traffic and my client hit him from behind. The damage to the other driver's car had been repaired and he wasn't out of pocket. But the prosecutor wasn't willing to let the case go so she offered my client a 90-day deferral with a fine of $50 plus court costs. If my client managed to go 90 days without getting another ticket in that court the case would be dismissed.

He took the deal.

So I had him stand in line for the clerks and headed downtown to take care of a couple of cases at the criminal courthouse. Before I ever made it to the freeway (just a few miles), I got a call from my client. In broken English he told me that the clerk said he would have to pay more money and take a defensive driving class. I told him that wasn't our deal. Eventually the clerk got on the phone and I explained to her what the agreement was. I thought the matter was resolved.

I was wrong.

On my way downtown I got another call from my client. They wanted him to pay more money and take the defensive driving class. I told him to wait for me. I told him it would be a couple of hours before I could get back to the courthouse.

As I was parking my car downtown I got yet another call from my client. He told me that the clerk said he needed to go back and talk to the prosecutor. I told him he was to do no such thing.

I then called the court and the phone was answered by an intern who had absolutely no clue as to what she was doing. She tried to explain to me (after speaking to someone else) that the court's standard offer would require my client to pay a higher fine and take a defensive driving class. I told her that wasn't the deal the prosecutor had made with us and that if that's how they wanted to play then we would just go to trial.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I was not the best behaved person on the phone. I was pissed and I said some things I shouldn't have said. In no way would I try to imply that my choice of language was either professional or appropriate. But this situation was ridiculous.

I called my client back and told him to meet me at the courthouse at 1pm - the scheduled time for the actual trial docket.

I was quite surprised when I got to the courthouse at 1pm and my client handed me a reset form with a new trial date. I was even more surprised when the clerk behind the window told me that prosecutor had left for the day. I asked to see the jacket so I could get the information on the other driver.

So I sat and waited. And waited. A supervisor finally came out and told me the file was with the judge and he was at lunch and they were trying to get his attention (oops, I think that's the equivalent of being sent to the principal's office). By this time I had wasted nearly 30 minutes at the courthouse and I had had enough. I told her no thank you and my client and I left.

One of two situations occurred behind the scenes that morning - but neither was handled according to the law. Either the clerk took it upon herself to change the terms of the plea bargain agreement or the judge rejected the deal. If the clerk did the deed then she was practicing law without a license. She may also have altered a government document. The clerk had no business getting involved in the plea agreement between the district attorney and my client. The ADA reviewed the case, spoke with the witness and discussed the matter with me before making her offer. She made an offer that she thought was reasonable and appropriate given the circumstances. The clerk, on the other hand, just sat behind a window and called out "next."

The clerk was also out of line when she told my client that he needed to speak to the district attorney about the deal. He was represented by counsel. The clerk knew he was represented by counsel. The clerk also knew (after speaking with my client) that English wasn't his first language. That makes her conduct even more deplorable.

The alternative was that the judge rejected the offer when it came across his desk. If that was the case then my client (and me) should have been told the court rejected the offer and my client had the right to withdraw his plea. That didn't happen. No one from the court ever called me to say that the judge rejected the offer.

Yes, attorneys tend to gum up the works in traffic court - whether it be municipal or justice - but, if you love the Constitution, that's a good thing. Judges would probably prefer that attorneys didn't get involved - we tend to lower the overall revenue of the court by our meddling. But if the court's are going to have so-called "standard offers" then the attorneys representing the state are no longer acting as attorneys - they are nothing more than glorified clerks.

This is the result of judicial efficiency being placed higher on the pedestal than fairness and equity. This is what happens when a court develops an attitude of us-against-them when it comes to dealing with criminal defendants.

This just goes to prove, that in the courthouse, there is no justice. There's "just us."

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Update: Federal judge tells Texas to put up or shut up

Tomorrows's scheduled execution of Tommy Sells has been blocked by US Federal District Judge Vanessa Gilmore who ordered the State of Texas to disclose the names of the suppliers of the state's death drugs as well as other details related to the state's acquisition of the drugs.

Judge Gilmore's order also puts next week's scheduled execution of Ramiro Hernandes-Llanas on hold.

Attorneys for the condemned men filed a federal lawsuit after the Texas Supreme Court reversed the Third Court of Appeals' decision that the state had to disclose the information.

Judge Gilmore's decision is a rebuke to the notion put forward by the state-sponsored murder machines that the public doesn't have the right to know the details of how the states acquire their death drugs. It is also a sign that the courts are going to take seriously the fact that drugs produced by compounding pharmacies are not regulated.

Could this be another nail in the coffin?

Execution Watch: 4/3/2014

On Thursday Texas is set to kill again...

TOMMY SELLS. The Oakland, California, native was convicted in the slaying of a teenage girl in Del Rio on New Year's Eve 1999. Under questioning by police, Sells took responsibility for dozens of slayings around the country, though his appellate lawyers asserted that detectives pressured him to make the grandiose statements. They also argued that his attorneys failed to represent him effectively at trial and early in the appeals process.

RADIO SHOW PREVIEW
EXECUTION WATCH
Unless a stay is issued, we'll broadcast live:
Thursday, April 3, 2014, 6-7 PM Central Time
KPFT-FM Houston 90.1 Online...

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

On irony and ethics

There are some things you just can't make up -- and this is one of them. Robert Bennett is, or, more accurately, was, an attorney in Houston who defended attorneys brought before the State Bar's disciplinary committee as part of his practice.

But Mr. Bennett's own problems before the Bar proved too much to overcome and he was disbarred by the State Bar on March 21, 2014 following a trial on allegations that Mr. Bennett failed to follow the state's disciplinary rules regarding termination of representation and taking actions that unreasonably increased the cost of litigation.

Despite the State Bar only asking for a two-year suspension, Bexar County District Judge Carmen Kelsey signed an order disbarring Mr. Bennett. The matter is being appealed. Should the disbarment be upheld, Mr. Bennett would have to wait five years to gain re-admittance to the bar.

The dispute arose when a Bennett client, Gary Land, requested arbitration to resolve a fee dispute. Mr. Land went to the State Bar after Mr. Bennett declined to pay the judgment entered against him. The matter was eventually appealed to the state Supreme Court who declined to hear the case.

Now Mr. Bennett has found a new line of work. His new firm, Bob Bennett Licensing Services for Professionals, represents professionals who find themselves afoul of their state licensing agency.
Mr. Bennett is the owner of Bob Bennett Licensing Services for Professionals. The counselors in this licensing services are especially proficient in cases involving, matters before the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel, the Texas Medical Board, the State Board of Law Examiners, and other Boards involving professionals and DTPA violations, ethics defense, and white-collar criminal defense.
The Bob Bennett Licensing Services for Professionals concentrates on representing attorneys, doctors, judges, and other professionals who have professional discipline issues responsibility and find themselves the subject of federal and state investigations. This includes representation of both law students and medical students who have run afoul of the Texas Board of Law Examiners or Texas Medical Board. Medical students and doctors who have issues with the United States Medical Licensing Examination, the National Board of Medical Examiners, or the Federation of State Medical Boards have retained the Firm. Whether the matter involves a grievance hearing before the Texas Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel or a privilege hearing before a hospital committee, the Firm is known for aggressive representation and success. See client reviews and peer recommendations: www.avvo.com. 
Specialties: Representing law students and lawyers before the Board of law Examiners or cases with the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel or before the Texas Board of Medicine
Interesting that there's no mention in his blurb on Avvo that mentions the disbarment - but why bring up such an issue when there's money to be made?

A quick glance to the law firm's website shows that Mr. Bennett is still advertising his law practice despite the disbarment. Mr. Bennett is also still listed as an attorney with the firm - despite no longer having a law license. Might that lead to a new problem down the road?

In the interest of full disclosure, Mr. Bennett did represent former death row inmate (and exoneee) Anthony Graves. Mr. Graves walked out of prison after it was disclosed that the prosecutor in his case, Charles Sebesta, withheld evidence during the trial that led to Mr. Graves' conviction.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Texas Supreme Court strikes a blow for government secrecy

As frequent contributor Lee pointed out in his comment to my posting about the court decision compelling the State of Texas to release the name of all pharmacies supplying its death drugs, the state Supreme Court obtained a ruling that (at least for now) keeps the names under wraps.

There were a couple of things that fascinated me about this story, however. The inmates who sued have a right to know who made the drugs the state plans on using to kill them and whether those drugs do what they are advertised to do. The only way to do that is to release the name of the compounding pharmacy so that the inmates' lawyers can look into things.

The original decision was made by State District Judge Susan Covington. The state then filed a writ of mandamus against Judge Covington that was denied by the Third Court of Appeals out of Austin. The state then filed the writ with the state's highest civil court and argued that releasing the names of the pharmacies would harm the owners of those pharmacies and make it more difficult for the state to acquire its drugs of death.

And, might I add, making it harder to acquire the drugs is the whole idea. If pharmacies know their names are going to be released to the public, it might just make them think twice before taking the state's money to be accessories to murder.

The Supreme Court ruled in the state's favor and stayed Judge Covington's order. But the more I thought about the situation, the more I questioned whether or not the ruling was legal.

The state argued that releasing the names of the pharmacies might expose the pharmacists who work there to violent acts of reprisal for their role in aiding the state's killing machine. The state argued that there had been credible threats when The Woodlands Compounding Pharmacy was named as the state's supplier earlier this year.

But even if the state's allegation is true, the harm would appear to be to the pharmacies, not to the state. There were no allegations that the representatives of the state were being threatened for their role in murdering inmates. The harm, if any, would be to the reputations of the pharmacies who decided to play along with the state. But the pharmacies aren't the ones who filed suit to prevent the release of their names.

Should the Supreme Court have even considered the matter in light of the fact that the state may not have had standing to file suit in this matter. The only possible harm to the state would be the reluctance of pharmacies to provide the death drugs - but is that enough harm to warrant the Supreme Court staying the ruling of an appeals court?

When the European suppliers cut off delivering pentobarbital due to philosophical issues with the death penalty the ability of states to kill inmates was impaired. But that was a business decision and the states had no recourse to the courts. If the names of the compounding pharmacies are released it may very well make it more difficult for the state to acquire the drugs, but that, too, would be a business decision.

The Supreme Court's ruling was wrong for any number of reasons. And so is the death penalty.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Update: Judge orders state to disclose supplier of death drugs

On the same day that the State of Texas murdered yet another inmate, a state District Judge ordered the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to release the name of the supplier of the latest batch of lethal drugs.

Anthony Doyle was strapped down and a lethal dose of pentobarbital procured from an as-of-yet undisclosed supplier was pumped into his veins. With no knowledge of where the drug came from and who manufactured it, there is no way to know whether or not the drug was what it was purported to be. There is no way to know whether it worked as advertised.

The state argued during a hearing earlier in the day that the identities of drug suppliers should be kept confidential because of alleged threats made to suppliers of lethal drugs in Texas and in other states. Last year's supplier, a compounding pharmacy in The Woodlands, decided not to supply the state with pentobarbital after a spate of bad publicity and alleged threats. State officials are worried that should the name of the supplier be made public that the pool of available suppliers would dry up due to bad publicity and threats.

To which I say, so what? No one is forcing a compounding pharmacy to become complicit with state-sponsored murder. That is a business decision made by the owners of the pharmacies. But if they are willing to prostitute themselves for the public's money, then they need to act like big boys and take their lumps in the media. Not only does the public have a right to know what their money is being spent on, the men and women on death row have a right to know what's being pumped into their veins and who's supplying it.

There is a reason for the negative reaction of the public when the identity of one of these compounding pharmacies is made public. Support for the death penalty is waning. Now there are still way too many folks stuck back in the Middle Ages when it comes to their notions of how the criminal (in)justice system should work, but more and more people are turning against the death penalty in light of the number of exonerations of death row inmates we've seen over the last few years.

We like to think our criminal (in)justice system is the best in the world (or at the least worst), but there is no way to ensure that an innocent man isn't convicted. If you've ever sat through voir dire you know that prosecutors and judges love to tell prospective jurors that proof beyond a reasonable doubt isn't nearly as high a burden as we'd like to think it is. They both do all they can to minimize the importance of the burden of proof.

And, thanks to this relaxed attitude there are innocent men and women in prison. There are innocent men and women on the nation's death rows. There has been at least one innocent man, Cameron Willingham, executed in Texas.

Innocent men and women can be released from behind bars - although in many cases decades have been thrown away because of prosecutorial misconduct and jurors who just didn't give a damn. But you can't release an innocent man who's been executed. That is the ultimate finality.

Since we can't guarantee that an innocent man won't be convicted, we need to take a long, hard look at our obsession with killing inmates. One innocent man who loses his life at the hands of the state is one too many. Judges, attorneys and juries are all flawed. No one should face death in such a system.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The gospel of the corporate church

On Tuesday the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the latest challenge to President Obama's tragically flawed Affordable Care Act. The antagonist this time was Hobby Lobby, the chain of craft stores, who challenged the law's mandate that employers provide contraceptive coverage for their employees.

To set the stage for yesterday's challenge, the Obama administration exempted churches and faith-based non-profits from the contraceptive mandate. That fight opened the door for for-profit companies to try to avoid the mandate.

Hobby Lobby is a closely-held corporation whose main owners are over-the-top superstitious devoutly religious. They are opposed to abortion and believe that the IUD and the so-called morning after pill are abortions by a different name. They sought to challenge the mandate on the grounds of religious freedom.

Now, before we go any further, I find it quite interesting that the first justification any group seeking to limit the rights of others is religion. That was the justification for the proposed law in Arizona that would give business owners the right to refuse to serve gays and lesbians. You see it wasn't because there are a bunch of bigots living in the desert, it's because they are all such devout Christians that they feel the need to discriminate against those who don't believe as they do.

Hobby Lobby's argument is that the law infringes upon the religious freedom of the corporation. Nevermind the fact that if Hobby Lobby had its way it would be forcing the religious beliefs of its owners on its employees. Apparently that's perfectly acceptable for the bible-thumpers.

There are three points that stick out in those arguments. The first is that religion serves primarily to divide people. Sure, we're fed the line that religion brings us all together but that belief couldn't be farther from the truth. Religion creates an us-against-them dynamic everywhere it's practiced. Christians engage in holy wars against Muslims. Muslims and Jews fight over miles and miles of sand. Catholics and Protestants argue about who's right and who's wrong. And bigots hold their bibles high in the air and argue in favor of segregation, racism, intolerance and prejudice. Oh, and pass the plate while you're at it.

The second point is the notion that corporations are people. Yes, the Supreme Court held in a 19th century case that a corporation is an artificial person for legal purposes. That ruling allows corporations to sue, and be sued, and allows the government to tax their profits. But corporations can't vote (though it is permissible after the Citizens United case for corporations to buy elections). And, I would argue, since a corporation is business structure in which multiple shareholders own the company and share in the decision-making and the profit-taking, and not a person, it is impossible for a corporation to be superstitious religious. Therefore, since a corporation is not a corporeal being capable of having beliefs, a corporation has no First Amendment right to freedom of religion.

My final point is this case, and the others that will follow, point out the reason the ACA is doomed to failure. The use of private employers and insurance companies as delivery devices for health care coverage is an idea that will never provide health care coverage for everyone. Health care is a human right and should not be conditioned upon one's ability to get a job or pay an insurance company for coverage. The decision to use that model will continue to fuel lawsuits against various portions of the law for years to come. Access to health care should have been severed from employers and insurance companies.

The only way to guarantee universal coverage is to eliminate the profit motive from the delivery system. As it stands right now, your health care options are dictated by bean counters sitting in the corporate suites of the health insurance companies and for-profit hospitals. Those decisions have everything to do with profits and nothing to do with your health.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Execution Watch: 3/27/2014

On Thursday Texas is set to kill again...

ANTHONY DOYLE. Mr. Doyle was convicted of beating to death a doughnut delivery woman in suburban Dallas when he was 18 years old. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals turned down his appeal in July, rejecting arguments that his confession was involuntary, his legal help at trial was deficient, and his sentence was unconstitutional.

RADIO SHOW PREVIEW
EXECUTION WATCH
Unless a stay is issued, we'll broadcast live:
Thursday, March 27, 2014, 6-7 PM Central Time
KPFT-FM Houston 90.1 Online...

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Practical realities

Overheard in an undisclosed courthouse located somewhere on the outer edge of civilization...

First attorney: Y'all know who Grover Norquist is? He's that conservative guy who makes candidates sign a pledge that they'll never raise taxes. I heard him on the radio say he was in favor of legalizing marijuana.

Second attorney: Just take a look at how much money Colorado's made with it. Make it legal and tax the hell out of it.

Third attorney: It's never made sense that liquor's legal but marijuana isn't. But I don't want to see it legal - I've got three kids I'm putting through college.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Jim Crane's secrets to successfully running a baseball team (into the ground)

Well, as we get nearer and nearer to the real Opening Day in Cincinnati, it's probably about time we took a little time to look at the prospects of our beloved Houston Disastros. The club is coming off an unbelievable three-year run of 100+ losses and looking to make it four-in-a-row.

But where to begin? First we have Jim Crane dealing with the grease fire that is the sports network the Astros set up with the Rockets and Comcast. The teams got together to create their own regional sports network because they thought the rights fees Fox was paying wasn't what the market would bear.

The Rockets have been a mediocre team for years and, while popular, the asking price for cable and satellite companies to carry Rockets' games was, shall we say, on the pricey side. As for the Astros - let's just say when you've had back-to-back 100+ loss seasons you aren't exactly bargaining from the best position.

The sports network is now in bankruptcy and Jim Crane is attempting to get the Astros out from under the wreckage while the Rockets are hoping a carriage deal will be worked out through the bankruptcy proceedings. As things stand currently, only about 40% of the Houston market has access to the channel.

This thing spiraled out of control because the Astros got greedy. The former owner, Drayton McLane, got the ball rolling figuring the team could make more money selling commercials during the broadcasts than by selling the television package to a third party. But the situation was a bit more complicated than that.

The Astros and the Rockets both own roughly 40% of the network and Comcast owns the remaining portion. The network was supposed to pay the rights fees to the teams and broadcast the games. To date the network owes millions of dollars to both teams in unpaid broadcast rights fees - but the network doesn't owe the teams nearly the amount they claim because both teams are, to some degree, paying themselves to broadcast the games.

The Astros also find themselves in hot water over the way they've treated young outfield hotshot George Springer. Mr. Springer was Houston's most potent AAA player last year and should have been playing on the expanded 40-man roster in September. But, instead, he found himself playing in Oklahoma City as the season wound to an end. It was just a bit odd that a team struggling to beat anyone down the stretch would leave their best prospect off the roster when the season was already a lost cause. Even more odd is that Mr. Springer was optioned back down to Oklahoma City during spring training when the Astros are looking at another cellar-run in 2014. Something just wasn't adding up.

It turns out that the Astros offered Mr. Springer a 7-year contract worth about $23 million in September. The deal was intended to lock in Mr. Springer for a number of years at a (fairly) low cost. Mr. Springer turned down the offer because he didn't want to get stuck in a very team-friendly contract throughout his 20's. He wanted a shorter deal for more money so that he would have a chance to test the free agency waters as he was hitting his prime.

But once he rejected the Astros' offer, Mr. Springer was left at AAA while the dumpster fire that was the 2013 Houston Astros continued to burn. One reason for leaving Mr. Springer off the expanded roster in September was to keep his major league service days low in order to keep him from becoming "arbitration-eligible" a year before the Astros wanted. Now the Players' Association is looking into the way the Astros handled the situation. The interesting thing is that Mr. Springer was never a member of the union because he had never played in a major league contest during the regular season.

Finally, after purchasing a mini-ticket package last season I was looking forward to doing it again this year. My package included Opening Day and one game a month during the season. Our seats were in the mezzanine in center field right underneath the giant scoreboard. But when I got a call from a ticket rep back in January I was disappointed to find that the package I subscribed to last year wasn't being offered this season. There was another package that included Opening Day (which has become a tradition for my oldest daughter) but something wasn't right.

For one, seats in the mezzanine area weren't being offered. The other problem was the price. When the ticket rep asked me if I'd be interested in signing up for the new package I asked her if the Astros were still charging "dynamic" pricing for the package (which means more money for games against popular teams and a shitload more for Opening Day). She told me that they weren't.

But when I went to the Astros website I found a different story. For more that what I paid last year for my package I could get the new package in worse seats. For a lot more I could get tickets in good seats. I told her thanks, but no thanks. I've got better things to do with my money that pay more money to see a crappy team. So, for the first time in about five years, my oldest daughter and I will not be attending Opening Day. Thanks, Jim Crane.

Crane's idea of operating a baseball team is to bleed everyone dry bit-by-bit. As I wrote last year, so-called dynamic pricing is a way to squeeze more money out of fans to see the away team. Strangely enough, even though the prices go up when a popular team comes to town, they never drop below the base value when a dog comes to town to play - even though there will be thousands of empty seats when the dregs of the American League set foot on the field.

I figure there's no way in hell the Astros will lose 100+ games for a fourth year running. I think they can knock the loss total into the 90's this season (which is still nothing to be proud of). But I do predict that Jim Crane will make out like a bandit thanks to the network television money that is divided up among the teams. So long as the Astros' payroll is under $45 million, Jim Crane will make money without selling a single ticket.

And that is Jim Crane's definition of success.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Killing on the down low

It's no secret that the available supply of drugs used to murder inmates is shrinking and that states who insist on killing their prisoners are having to get creative in acquiring the necessary drugs.



According to this report from the Colorado Independent, relying on documents acquired by Oklahoma investigative reporter Katy Fretland, back in 2011 Oklahoma officials asked for tickets on the 50-yard line for the annual Texas-OU game in exchange for setting up Texas with death drugs.

In the meantime, as I have written about before, states are beginning to turn to local compounding pharmacies to produce the drugs needed to kill inmates. The drugs produced by these pharmacies aren't regulated by the federal government and there are no guarantees that they will act as advertised.

Even more disturbing is the ways in which states have devised methods of acquiring the drugs that shield the identity of the suppliers from the public. Some states, such as Georgia, have passed laws making the identity of drug suppliers a state secret. Others have taken to taking money from the petty cash drawer and crossing state lines to make their purchases.
Under the cover of Oklahoma’s 2011 secrecy law, the state in 2012 bought 20 rounds of pentobarbital for $40,000 from an unknown supplier with a check from a petty cash account that shields the identity of the seller. It’s unclear whether the injections were made in a compounding pharmacy or whether a lack of oversight – compared to lethal injections sold by highly regulated pharmaceutical companies – led to the whole-body burning sensation Wilson described in the death chamber.
Why the secrecy? Why the intrigue?

If the public is so in favor of the death penalty why should anyone be hiding from the light like a cockroach?

In Colorado, the governor refused to reveal the protocol to be used in killing an inmate until a court ordered him to do so. Instead of complying with the order, Gov. Hickenlooper granted a reprieve.
Last year, before Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper blocked what would have been the state’s first execution since 1997, his administration refused to disclose which lethal injection drugs it would be using and who was making the drugs. The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado sued for the information, and continued the lawsuit even after Hickenlooper granted convicted murderer Nathan Dunlap a temporary reprieve. A court ordered the state to reveal the protocols it had planned for Dunlap’s execution. The corrections department, in turn, has said it will update its protocol before any future execution. 
Documents revealed that Colorado queried compounding pharmacies across the state for sodium thiopental, pentobarbital or similar drugs. Compounding pharmacies generally mix special-order drugs for patients’ needs. A lack of regulation for these types of pharmacies came to light in 2012 when a compounded drug was linked to a deadly meningitis outbreak.
Once upon a time executions were held in the middle of the day, attracting crowds numbering in the hundreds and thousands to witness the hanging. Long before the death penalty was abolished (temporarily) in the 1970's states had moved their executions to the middle of night in order to keep prying eyes away. With the advent of lethal injection many states have moved their executions from the middle of the night to early in the evening - I guess to afford the US Supreme Court time to consider any last minute appeals so they can still get the killing done before midnight.

Unlike state officials from Texas and Oklahoma who thought Team Pentobarbital was just a gas, I don't find anything about the death penalty to be even slightly amusing. There is nothing funny about the taking of a life -regardless of how worthy you may or may not think that person of living. The most intrusive power the state has is to take a life and yet some among us have chosen to be flippant about it.

These attempts to avoid public scrutiny of the source of death drugs and the protocols used to murder inmates are a blight on both our criminal (in)justice system and our very governance. If you're going to kill people in the name of the state, the very least you should be able to do is stand up and say how you're going to do it and who supplied the drugs.

If the negative publicity forces compounding pharmacies to just say no to being complicit in murder, so much the better.

H/T Democracy Now!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Update: Texas kills again

The State of Texas felt the need to exact its revenge last night by murdering Ray Jasper who had been sentenced to death for the 1999 slaying of David Alejandro.

Mr. Jasper was the only one of the three men charged with the murder to get the needle. One co-defendant took an offer of life and the other was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. While Mr. Jasper admitted slashing Mr. Alejandro's throat, he has always claimed that the victim died as the result of stab wounds he received from one of the co-defendants.

The murder of Mr. Jasper did not bring about any closure to Mr. Alejandro's family - who are opposed to the death penalty. Instead of driving out to Huntsville to watch the execution, they stayed in San Antonio. Whatever happened to listening to the victim's family when determining the appropriate punishment in a case? Isn't that what prosecutors tell us they have to take into account when making an offer in a particularly heinous case? But who listens to those family members when they don't want what the prosecutors want?

What possible satisfaction could that bring to those who feel the need to kill inmates? How dare the family of the victim not share in the collective sense of revenge and bloodlust? Can it be possible for the family of a victim to put the death of their loved one behind them and concentrate on living their lives in the present?

So what did the murder of Ray Jasper accomplish?

Nothing.

Meanwhile, across the Red River, the State of Oklahoma was forced to delay the scheduled executions of two inmates due to an inability to obtain the drugs needed to kill them. The recent spate of publicity that compounding pharmacies that provide the drugs of death to prisons may have served to cool their entrepreneurial spirit. It certainly can't be good for business to be associated with making the drugs used to execute prisoners. It is ethically questionable at best.

Slowly but surely we are emerging out of the 19th century when it comes to our notions of punishment. One day we will join the enlightened world and realize that we were only serving to demean our own lives by exacting revenge in the name of the state.

We have become far too willing over the past few decades to use mass incarceration as a tool of social and political control. The continued use of the death penalty is nothing more than legalized lynching. And neither benefits society.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Let's talk

I'm in the middle of trial right now so there's not a lot of time to put together a full post. Last night while I was driving out to meet with a client I caught the end of the TED Radio Hour on the local NPR station. Bryan Stevenson, the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, was the subject of the last segment.

His story and his talk were fascinating. Here's the link.



That then led me to this TED talk from David Dow who has dedicated his professional life to fighting the power of the state to kill inmates. Based on his conversations with death row inmates, Mr. Dow speaks about how to prevent murders in the first place.



And, in true web fashion, that then led me down the rabbit hole to Daniel Riesel's talk on "The neuroscience of restorative justice."




Enjoy.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Execution Watch: 3/19/2014

On Wednesday the Texas killing machine goes back online...

RAY JASPER. A rap artist born in the Netherlands, Mr. Jasper was 18 when, according to police, he and two others committed a 1998 robbery in which a business partner of Mr. Jasper's who owned a San Antonio recording studio was killed and his equipment stolen. Two other man charged in the slaying received life sentences. Mr. Jasper's attorneys argued that a potential juror at his January 2000 trial was excluded improperly because he, like Mr. Jasper, was black. They also contended that Mr. Jasper had poor legal help at his trial.

For more information about Ms. Jasper's case, click here.

RADIO SHOW PREVIEW
EXECUTION WATCH
Unless a stay is issued, we'll broadcast live:
Wednesday, March 19, 2014, 6-7 PM Central Time
KPFT-FM Houston 90.1 Online...