Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Constructing the plea mill

Documents obtained by the Houston Chronicle cast new light on the ways Harris County judges systematically refused to grant personal bonds to defendants for years. Many district judges instructed magistrates not to grant personal bonds to any defendant - regardless of the offense and the ability of the defendant to post bond. This is Step One in created a plea mill.

Today, after US District Judge Lee Rosenthal declared Harris County's misdemeanor bond schedule to be unconstitutional, three-quarters of the county's 8,700 inmates are in jail awaiting trial. Think about that for a second. There are more than 6,000 people behind bars who haven't been convicted of anything.

This process came to light when three Harris County magistrates, Eric Hagsteette, Jill Wallace and Joseph Licata III, during disciplinary hearings before the State Commission on Judicial Conduct. The complaints were filed by State Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston). During the hearings the magistrates told commissioners that they were instructed by judges not to grant PR bonds.

The following district court (felony) judges instructed magistrates not to grant PR bonds on cases assigned to their courts:

  • Devon Anderson, former district judge and DA, 2006-2007
  • Mike Anderson, former district judge and DA, 2006-2009
  • Jeannine Barr, 182nd District Court, 2006-2017
  • Denise Bradley, 262nd District Court, 2012-2017
  • Marc Brown, former district judge and current Justice on the 14th Court of Appeals, 2012
  • Susan Brown, 185th District Court, 2006-2012
  • Katherine Cabaniss, 248th District Court, 2014-2017
  • Joan Campbell, former district judge, 2006-2012
  • Marc Carter, 228th District Court, 2006-2014
  • Caprice Cosper, former district judge, 2006-2007
  • Denise Collins, 208th District Court, 2006-2012
  • Mark Kent Ellis, former district judge, 2006-2017
  • Catherine Evans, 180th District Court, 2014-2017
  • George Godwin, former district judge, 2006-2007
  • William Harwin, former district judge, current county court judge, 2006
  • Belinda Hill, former district judge, 2006-2012
  • Joan Huffman, former district judge and current state senator, 1999-2005
  • Hazel Jones, 338th District Court, 2009 and 2012
  • Jan Krocker, 184th District Court, 2006
  • Renee Magee, former district judge, 2014
  • Michael McSpadden, 209th District Court, 2006-2017
  • Ryan Patrick, former district judge and current US Attorney, 2012 and 2014
  • George Powell, 351st District Court, 2017
  • Brian Rains, former district judge, 2006-2007
  • Herb Ritchie, 337th District Court, 2009-2012
  • Debbie Mantooth Stricklin, former district judge, 2006-2009
  • Don Stricklin, former district judge, 2006-2007
  • Brock Thomas, former district judge, 2006-2007 and 2014
  • Vanessa Velasquez, 183rd District Court, 2006-2007
  • Jim Wallace, 263rd District Court, 2006-2017
  • Michael Wilkinson, former district judge, 2006-2007

Each of these judges systematically deprived defendants of bond. Yes, in some cases, individual decisions to deny PR bonds - or bond in general - was correct given the nature of the allegation and the criminal history of the defendant. But, making it a blanket policy to deny PR bonds without taking into account the individual circumstances of each defendant is wrong - and it is a systematic denial of justice.

"The young black men - and it's primarily young black men rather than young black women - charged with felony offenses, they're not getting good advice from their parents. Who do they get advice from? Rag-tag organizations like Black Lives Matter, which tell you, 'Resist police,' which is the worst thing in the world you can tell a young black man... They teach contempt for the police, for the whole justice system."
-- Judge Michael McSpadden, 209th District Court

Judge McSpadden even made a point of defending his position by blaming movements like Black Lives Matter for the problem. He hits all of the dog whistle talking points in his statement without taking into account the institutional racism found in law enforcement, police brutality and violence against unarmed black and brown men or the capricious nature in which bond decisions are made in Harris County.

No, Judge McSpadden, the contempt people of color feel for the criminal (in)justice system has more to do with the acts of those in charge of the system and the systemic racism inherent in the way our courts operate. Denying PR bonds to defendants because of the color of their skin or without regard to their ability to post bond breeds contempt for the system.

Monday, February 26, 2018

God told me I couldn't bake you a cake

Suffer (bring) the children to me.

Love your neighbor as you love yourself.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Those are some of the platitudes in the Bible with regard as to how to treat other people. But apparently not from the Bible that Cathy Miller of Bakersfield (CA) or her ilk read.

For you see, Ms. Miller is just the latest person to claim that her religious beliefs allow her to discriminate against those she just doesn't like. Amazing how we keep running into these folks.

Ms. Miller owns Tastrie's Bakery. A same sex couple came to her shop and asked her to make a cake for their wedding. Being more intent on discriminating against the couple than in making money, Ms. Miller refused. She said that her religious beliefs made it impossible for her to bake a cake for a lesbian couple.

The couple then filed suit against Ms. Miller, arguing that her refusal to make them a wedding cake was a violation of the state's civil rights statute. Ms. Miller, on the other hand, argued that making a cake was an artistic expression protected under the First Amendment which meant she could choose the customers for whom she was willing to bake a cake.

Kern County Superior Court Judge David Lampe ruled in Ms. Miller's favor stating that designing a cake was different than baking a cake as it was an act of artistic expression. He did caution Ms. Miller that she could not refuse to sell a wedding cake to a same sex couple.

But here's the problem. Whether a baker designs a cake specifically for someone or just bakes a cake to put in the display case is a distinction without much meaning. Baking a cake is baking a cake. You throw some ingredients into a bowl, you mix them up and you throw it in the oven. When it's done you take it out and ice it. It appears that the only difference would be whether the baker baked the cake before or after the couple ordered it.

What Ms. Miller did is no different that what white business owners did during Jim Crow and what bankers did for years afterward. She is refusing service because she doesn't like a customer because of her sexual orientation. That is no different than refusing service because a person is black or catholic or a woman.

The fact that she relies on her religious beliefs to just discrimination tells you everything you need to know about religion. The fact that a judge ruled that it was okay for her to discriminate so long as she waved a bible in the air tells you all you need to know about the pernicious effect of religion on civil society.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

UPDATE: Governor commutes death sentence

Less than an hour before Thomas Whitaker was scheduled to die, Gov. Greg Abbott commuted his sentence from death to life in prison. This followed the Texas Board of Pardons and Parole voting unanimously to recommend clemency for Mr. Whitaker.

I must admit that I am surprised that Gov. Abbott granted clemency based on his past actions and pronouncements regarding the death penalty.

For whatever reason, or reasons, he chose to spare Mr. Whitaker from death, I commend Gov. Abbott on his decision. Killing one more person won't bring anyone back to life and won't heal any of the wounds caused by Mr. Whitaker's actions.

Boobies are worse than school shootings

On February 21, 2018, students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School traveled to the state capitol in Tallahassee, Florida demanding action on guns.

The legislative session began with a prayer for the victims and survivors of the shooting. This should have served as foreshadowing of what was to happen.

Rep. Kionne McGhee, a Democrat, introduced a bill to ban assault weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines. The bill was brought to the floor for debate on Wednesday.

However, by a vote of 71-36, legislators voted not to debate the bill and it wasn't considered. So, even though there was a majority who would vote the bill down, those opposed to the bill didn't want to risk a public debate on the merits of it. And they had the gall to do it when the students who survived the shooting were in attendance.

But, not to despair, the legislature did vote for a bill to declare pornography a public health risk.

That's Florida for you. Where boobies are bad but guns are good. In other words, in Florida, the 2nd Amendment trumps all.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Execution Watch 2/22/2018

Tomorrow the State of Texas intends to murder another person...

THOMAS WHITAKER, 38. Mr. Whitaker was sentenced to death for conspiring with a friend in the fatal shootings of his brother and mother. His father, Kent Whitaker, was seriously wounded in the 2003 Houston-area attack. He forgave his son and has since lobbied prosecutors relentlessly to spare his son's life. Thomas Whitaker had undiagnosed mental health issues at the time of the attack, he said, and has proved to be a model prisoner on death row. While in prison, Thomas Whitaker earned a bachelor's degree by mail and was due to receive a master's degree shortly after the scheduled execution.

Thomas Whitaker offered to plead guilty to two counts of murder in exchange for two life sentences, but Fort Bend County prosecutor Fred Felcman decided to go for the death penalty instead.

"I have seen too much killing already,” Kent Whitaker told the American-Statesman. “I don’t want to see him executed right there in front of my eyes. I know Tricia and Kevin would not want him to be executed. I can’t imagine seeing the last living part of my family executed by the state, especially since all the victims didn’t want that to happen in the first place.” 
Whitaker said he, his immediate family and members of Tricia’s family urged Fort Bend County prosecutors to choose a life sentence instead of the death penalty, but to no avail.
This case raises an interesting issue that we see in the courthouse on a regular basis. Prosecutors will listen to victims when they want a harsher sentence. They will cut of plea negotiations with a comment to the effect of the victim won't agree to that deal. However, when the victim asks for leniency or for a case to be dismissed, the prosecutor isn't interested in what they have to say.

Should prosecutors have taken Kent Whitaker's views into account when making the decision to pursue the death penalty against Thomas Whitaker?

On Tuesday, in a surprise move, the Texas Board of Pardons and Parole unanimously recommended that Mr. Whitaker be granted clemency. It will now fall on Gov. Abbott to decide whether to carry forward with the execution or to commute Mr. Whitaker's sentence to life in prison.

Since Abbott calls himself pro-life, my money is on the execution going forward.



Unless a stay is issued, Execution Watch will broadcast live:
Thursday, February 22, 6-7 PM Central Time
KPFT-FM Houston 90.1, HD 3 or online at:

For more information see:

"His son tried to kill him; now father seeks to halt execution," Austin American-Statesman (1/12/2018)

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Checking the medicine cabinet

From the Texas Tribune we have an accounting of the stockpile of drugs Texas has on hand for executions. What we don't have, thanks to the reactionary legislators we are infested with, is the name (or names) of the compounding pharmacies that supplied the drugs to the state.

The names of those pharmacies should be released because residents of this state have a right to know if their pharmacist is assisting the state in killing people. Besides, if state sponsored murder is ordained by God as being good and proper, the people behind the scenes from the pharmacists to the doctors to the nurses to the person pushing the plunger should all have their names made public. The very fact that the state shields their identities tells you all you need to know about the ethics of the death penalty.

I have said it before, and I will say it again. Any doctor, nurse or pharmacist that participates in an execution (in any way) on behalf of the state should be stripped of their licenses because they are violating their oaths and their ethical duties as medical professionals.

Texas currently has 12 doses of pentobarbital stashed away in the medicine cabinet. Eight of those does will expire (according to their labels) on July 20. The other four doses will expire on November 9. Interestingly enough, the expiration dates on six of those doses was extended by the state on January 22, 2018.

There is no reason given for the extension and no explanation of what happens to the drug after it reaches the expiration date. Does the drug lose its potency after the expiration date? Does it happen suddenly or gradually? What effect does an expired drug have on an inmate? What's the criteria for extending an expiration date? Are the drugs testes to determine their efficacy or potency?

With four executions scheduled between now and the middle of May, it's a good bet that the drugs that had their lives extended are drugs that will reach their expiration date on July 20.

These are the moral compromises we make as a society when we decide it's right for the government to take the life of another. If you are religious you should be appalled because it's an out and out violation of one of the Ten Commandments. If you consider yourself to be pro-life, you should be appalled because it's the taking of a life. If you believe in limited government you should be appalled because their is nothing more intrusive the state can do then take the life of someone.

We allow the state to kill in our name because we are angry with someone for what they did. It has nothing to do with punishing someone for their crimes -- it's nothing short of revenge. We are (or at least should be) better than that and one day our children or grandchildren will look at us with contempt for what we sanctioned and ask us why.

Monday, February 19, 2018

The Gun Show

WNYC began producing a podcast entitled More Perfect in 2016. It is an exploration into the Supreme Court.

Last October they did an episode called "The Gun Show" about the history of 2nd amendment jurisprudence. I recommend it highly.

You will find that our modern day interpretation of the 2nd amendment is a fairly recent phenomenon.

Afterwards, ask yourself why the 2nd amendment is treated as sacrosanct while the 4th amendment is treated as an inconvenience.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Losing leverage

The purpose of bail is to ensure that the accused appears in court to answer the charge against him and to ensure the safety of the community.

When courts leave their bail decisions up to a chart without regard to a defendant's ability to pay, the courts are abdicating their responsibility to uphold the law.

Harris County is currently under a court order from US District Judge Lee Rosenthal to release nonviolent misdemeanor defendants regardless of their ability to post a cash bond. Fourteen of the sixteen misdemeanor court judges in Harris County (all Republicans) are waging war against the order because it gums up the works.

On January 31, Dutchess County Judge Maria Rosa ruled that setting bail for defendants without regard to their ability to pay is unconstitutional. The case was brought by the New York Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Christopher Kunkeli who was held for almost three months in the Dutchess County jail because he couldn't afford the $5,000 bail in his case. He eventually pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor with an offer of time served.

According to the NYCLU, 71% of the inmates at the Dutchess County jail had not been convicted of anything. They were behind bars because they couldn't afford to post bail.

Of course the local District Attorney, William Grady, didn't see a problem with holding folks pending trial. It makes his life easier because after a while, most inmates will plead guilty to almost anything in exchange for getting out of jail.

Mr. Grady contends, much like the Harris County judges, that actually following the law is "misguided." What he means, of course, is that having defendants sleeping in their own beds removes the leverage his office had over them when trying to resolve their cases. Now his office might be burdened with the task of proving their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Friday, February 16, 2018

It's a swing and a miss

And it's strike two against Harris County in their efforts to maintain an unconstitutional and discriminatory bail policy in place.

Last June, US District Judge Lee Rosenthal ordered Harris County to change the way in which those arrested for non-violent misdemeanors are treated. Out went the bond schedule that failed to take into account the individual financial circumstances of the accused. In came a system in which folks who couldn't afford bail were released on personal bonds and pretrial release.

Fourteen of the county misdemeanor judges joined together to challenge Judge Rosenthal's order. As noted here, Judge Mike Fields removed himself from the rest of the Republican judges recently.

Now the Fifth US Circuit Court of Appeals has issued its ruling and it affirmed Judge Rosenthal's order. This should be the death blow to the county's attempt to reinstitute the plea mill as no one would ever come to the conclusion that the Fifth Circuit Court is anything other than conservative at heart.

While the Court stopped short of saying that everyone charged with a misdemeanor has the right to pre-trial release, Harris County is required to conduct an individual assessment of each detainee.

The stance of the judges fighting to overturn Judge Rosenthal's order should come as quite jarring when compared to their tame campaign promises to see that justice is done.  The justice these judges have in mind is coercing defendants who can't afford to post bond to plead guilty to criminal acts without having the opportunity to investigate the facts and to hold the state to its burden of proof.

Now the leverage the judges and prosecutors had over many defendants is gone. And that's a very good thing, no matter what the Republican judges tell you between now and November.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Robb Fickman is mad as hell...

For those of you who aren't aware, the Harris County Criminal Courthouse suffered severe damage as a result of Hurricane Harvey. The building received some water on the ground floor and basement. But the bulk of the damage was caused when chilled water pipes burst when the building lost power. Oh, that and the backed up sewer lines (you can't make this stuff up).

The building has been flawed since the day it opened. During Tropical Storm Allison the basement was flooded and took out all the computers and electronics. Who would have thought that the basement of a building built on the shores of Buffalo Bayou would have flooding issues?

I know real estate is expensive in downtown Houston, but a 20 story criminal courthouse doesn't make any sense - especially when most courts call docket at the same time. The elevators were a mess. Security lines often stretched outside the building as the sensitivity of the metal detectors was cranked up.

When the courthouse was closed after Harvey there were calls for it to be torn down and rebuilt. There were calls by others to turn it into a county office building and to build a new courthouse nearby.

Those ideas were all rejected by the Harris County Commissioner's Court (don't ask - it's the county equivalent of a city counsel) who proclaimed the county didn't have the money to do the right thing. The decision was made to shutter the building for a year (now it's looking like two) to remove the mold and fix the damage.

Now the misdemeanor courts are doubled up in the undersized (and severely outdated) Family Law Center while the felony courts are in an uneasy room sharing arrangement with the civil courts in the Civil Courthouse. Meanwhile defendants' lives are made harder by the staggered dockets and lines to get into the courthouses.

But, lo and behold, when it came time to authorize an expenditure of $105 million to renovate the Astrodome into a convention space, there was money!

Now, don't get me wrong. I love the Dome. I grew up attending baseball, football and soccer matches there. I've been to the rodeo, the supercross and I even watched the first Hearns-Leonard fight there with my dad. The coolest thing, though, was the old Houston Press Dome Run - the race finished on the 50 yard line.

But the building has been closed for almost ten years. It sits abandoned next door to the generic NRG (or whoever the sponsor is today) Stadium as a reminder of the greed of Bud Adams and the other owners of professional sports franchises.

I will leave you with Robb's own words:

I hope the Defense Bar, The DAO and the Judiciary vocally express their outrage at this public stupidity and slap in the face. 
Commissioners Court has shown that they do not care about the extreme hardships created for everyone involved in the criminal justice system. Maybe it’s time Commissioners Court heard more vocal uproar from those they were hired to serve.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

More fun with forensics

You can change the name of the lab. You can give them fancy new wraps on their SUV's. You can move them to another building in downtown Houston.

But apparently you can't change the culture of the crime lab itself.

Megan Timlin had been with the Houston Forensic Science Center for two years up until she was fired on January 31, 2018 for shredding her original field notes in a homicide case. During a technical review of her report in that case she was asked to return to the scene to correct some "administrative errors" that had been found in her report.

She returned to the scene, took more notes, amended her report and shredded her original field notes.

Oops. That wasn't the crime lab's policy now, was it?

As a result, Ms. Timlin was fired. The forensic analysis in the case will be redone and the lab will report Ms. Timlin's actions to the Texas Forensic Science Commission as suspected professional misconduct.

According to the lab, the only case affected by Ms. Timlin's actions were the homicide case she was working on, but Ms. Timlin's work on about 100 other cases will be audited.

Okay, in the grand scheme of things, this is a fairly minor problem for the crime lab. However, those original notes were discoverable and there is now no way to determine what may have been changed from the first visit to the second visit. That could be ripe material for cross-examination down the road.

What are the odds that this is the first time Ms. Timlin - or any of the other analysts - destroyed their notes? I suppose it's possible that it had never happened before and that she was just unlucky that her transgression was discovered. But it doesn't seem likely.

Rarely is anyone caught doing something the first time they do it. And if seemingly clear lab rules are being violated with regard to retaining copies of a report, what other lab rules are being flaunted?

As we know, a crime lab is nothing more than the arm of the police  that develops evidence to support arrest decisions and supports efforts to prosecute defendants. Errors in their work can send innocent people to prison. And the problem is only exacerbated by Harris County judges who seem to think that errors in testing and administrative procedures go only to the weight of the evidence and not its admissibility.

It's a sad state of affairs when the civil courts are stricter with regard to the admissibility of scientific evidence than the criminal courts are. I guess money is that much more important in Harris County than lives.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Of split-second decisions

Whenever an unarmed person is shot and killed by police we hear the same old tropes about officers having to make split-second decisions. Grand jurors get to play around with a simulator in which they have to make a decision whether or not to shoot whenever cases involving police killings of unarmed people are to be heard.

In West Virginia, an officer made a split-second decision NOT to pull the trigger and it cost him his job.

On the evening of May 6, 2016, Officer Stephen Mader of the Weirton (W.Va) Police Department answered a domestic disturbance call. A visibly disturbed man named Ronald Williams was at the scene.  Officer Mader ordered Mr. Williams to show him his hands. Mr. Williams was holding an unloaded handgun.

Officer Mader ordered Mr. Williams to drop the weapon. Mr. Williams said he couldn't and asked Officer Mader to shoot him. As it turned out, the 911 caller was Mr. Williams' girlfriend. She called police and told the dispatcher that Mr. Williams had threatened her with a knife. Before the police arrived he retrieved the unloaded gun from his car and told his girlfriend that he was going to make the police kill him. Suicide by cop as we call it.

Officer Mader made the choice not to shoot Mr. Williams who was shot and killed moments later when he waved his gun at two officers who came to the scene after Officer Mader.

One month later Officer Mader was fired from the Weirton Police Department. The police department maintained that Officer Mader was fired because he failed to meet probationary standards and because he had difficulties in critical incident reasoning. Local officials claimed that the incident involving Mr. Williams had nothing to do with the firing.

Mr. Mader sued the city, alleging that he was fired in retaliation for his decision not to shoot Mr. Williams.

Yesterday, the ACLU announced that the city and Mr. Mader had reached a settlement agreement and that the city would pay Mr. Mader $175,000 in exchange for him dismissing his lawsuit.

And this highlights one of the problems with police culture. Instead of shooting Mr. Williams as the result of a split-second decision, Mr. Mader made the decision not to act rashly. He didn't know the gun was unloaded - that fact wasn't revealed to any of the officers at the scene. He made the decision not to escalate the situation in hopes that it could be resolved peacefully. For that he was called a coward by a fellow officer. For that decision not to escalate, he was fired.

Just think about that for a second.

What does that tell us about other police killings of unarmed black men? If someone had exercised the restraint that Mr. Mader did on that May night in 2016, there would have been fewer killings.

Monday, February 12, 2018


Possibly the dumbest tweet ever...

.: "For the first time in generations Americans have reason to believe that our intelligence and law enforcement agencies gravely misuse the powers we have given them."

What else remains to be said?

Maybe if Tucker Carlson spent time with people other than his circle jerking friends at Fox he might realize that millions of Americans live in apprehension of the police.

Police shootings of unarmed black men.

Disparate sentencing for drug cases.

Racial profiling.

Stop and frisk.

For-profit bail bonding.

The Edward Snowden revelations.

The police were used throughout the South during Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement to beat and intimidate those who were fighting for their right to vote and participate in politics.

But now that wealthy white men with ties to Donald Trump are being investigated, well, that's the straw that broke the camel's back. Really?

Friday, February 9, 2018

Tennessee sheriff gets off on killing

Ordinarily, if you tell someone to shoot someone else - and they do - you're going to find yourself in hot water. But Sheriff Oddie Shoupe of White County (you can't make up this stuff), Tennessee is no ordinary person.

You see, Sheriff Shoupe was recorded telling officers to shoot a motorist rather than risk damaging police vehicles to run him off the road. The motorist, Michael Dial, was shot and killed by a deputy after his car ran into a ditch following a chase that rarely topped speeds of 50 mph.

“I love this shit,” Shoupe said, apparently unaware that his comments were being picked up by another deputy’s body-worn camera. “God, I tell you what, I thrive on it. 
“If they don’t think I’ll give the damn order to kill that motherfucker they’re full of shit,” he added, laughing. “Take him out. I’m here on the damn wrong end of the county,” he said.

Now Sheriff Shoupe is on the wrong end of a federal lawsuit alleging that his department violated Mr. Dial's civil rights and that Mr. Dial was the victim of excessive force.

The most shocking thing about this episode isn't that the sheriff said what he said, but that he was dumb enough to say it when his voice was being recorded. And just so there is no misunderstanding, Mr. Dial was pulled over for a traffic violation  - that's it. He was executed for committing a traffic violation.

Now whether you want to argue that Mr. Dial brought this upon himself by driving away from the scene is up to you. The point remains that he was gunned down for a traffic violation because the sheriff didn't want to scratch the paint on a patrol car. You may be a law and order type who doesn't think the Blue Lives Matter movement isn't a polite cover for racism, but there is nothing that Mr. Dial did that deserved the death penalty.

Now the files of every police shooting under Sheriff Shoupe need to be opened up and examined to determine if there is a pattern of this type of behavior in White County. Every officer involved shooting should now be suspect.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Fighting to keep innocent men behind bars

Over in Kentucky we have the latest example of a prosecutor forgetting that seeking justice, not obtaining convictions, is his ethical duty.

Keith Hardin and Jeffrey Clark were convicted of the murder of Rhonda Sue Warford in 1995 in a case that involved allegations of satanic worship and animal sacrifice. Ms. Warford was 19 years old when she complained that an old man had followed and harassed her. Three days later she was found dead, with 11 stab wounds.

Mr. Hardin and Mr. Clark contested their convictions for 21 years - finally winning a reprieve in 2016.

After DNA testing - which prosecutors fought against - proved that a hair found at the scene matched neither Mr. Hardin nor Mr. Clark and that blood found on a washcloth belonged to to Mr. Hardin and no one else.

After Judge Bruce Butler's ruling, Assistant State Attorney General Perry Ryan decided that he wasn't going to let the pair walk away. He refiled murder charges and added charges of perjury and kidnapping.

Last month, Judge Butler ruled that Mr. Ryan had brought the new charges up without merit and that they were filed in a spirit of vindictiveness. The judge called out Mr. Ryan by name and stated that the new charges were filed solely because Mr. Hardin and Mr. Clark had the nerve to contest their convictions.
“This is clear and actual vindictive prosecutorial action." -- Judge Bruce Butler
Our criminal (in)justice system is deeply flawed. Trials aren't conducted to determine what happened and who did it, they are a contest between competing narratives that may or may not have any tangible connection to the truth. Prosecutors treat a jury verdict of guilty as concrete proof that their theory of the case was correct - an acquittal is viewed as a miscarriage of justice.

But juries aren't perfect and verdicts aren't, and shouldn't be, sacrosanct. A jury isn't given all the information related to an incident. Evidence on both sides is excluded for various reasons. Evidence isn't tested by independent labs. Testimony from eyewitnesses is held up as proof even though there is mounting evidence that eyewitness testimony is unreliable due to a number of factors.

The point is that just because a jury comes back with a guilty verdict, that doesn't, in and of itself, make it correct. Sometimes it's because exculpatory evidence has been intentionally withheld. Sometimes it's because crime labs don't have the time, money or manpower to conduct tests on evidence. Sometimes it's because juries don't understand what beyond a reasonable doubt means. And sometimes it's because the trial strategy of the defense went all pear-shaped.

The murder charge against Mr. Hardin and Mr. Clark should be dismissed because the evidence supporting the prior convictions has been discredited. But that would mean the police and prosecutors would have to admit that they went after the wrong men. They would have to admit that for 21 years, two innocent men sat in prison while the real killer (or killers) went free. Such an admission might give rise to a little better understanding of beyond a reasonable doubt for area jurors.

Mr. Ryan has fought justice in this case for years because he doesn't want to have to go out and put in the work to determine who really killed Ms. Warford. It's much easier to take the transcript of the previous case and go right back down the line than it is to conduct an investigation more than 20 years after the crime.

Maybe had the police done their job better back in 1995 two innocent men wouldn't have spent 21 years behind bars for a crime they didn't commit. Maybe the person responsible for the murder would have been there, instead.

Monday, February 5, 2018

A little something to listen to

I stumbled across a new (at least to me) podcast the other day called Small Town Murder. Every episode focuses on a murder case in a small town somewhere in America. The hosts, James Pietragallo and Jimmie Whisman, are a couple of stand-up comics who pick one murder a week and then set about to mock everything and everyone involved.

The show is hysterical though it is definitely not safe for work or kids, provided you have the stomach for comedy based on tragedy.

Give it a listen. If listening to this podcast doesn't make you feel just a little bit better about your own life, nothing will.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Execution Watch: 2/1/2018

Tonight the State of Texas looks to take another life...

JOHN BATTAGLIA. Mr. Battaglia has been rescheduled for execution after a judge ruled him mentally competent to be executed in the shooting deaths of his two daughters in 2001. Psychologists testified that Battaglia is suffering from mental illness, including the delusion that he did not kill the girls.



Unless a stay is issued, Execution Watch will broadcast live:
Thursday, February 1, 6-7 PM Central Time
KPFT-FM Houston 90.1, HD 3 or online at: > Listen

In other news, on Tuesday night the State of Texas murdered William Rayford. As of the time of publication, his victim has not risen from the dead.