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Brian K. Baldwin (Alabama) Case Summary Case Chart

Allegation

On June 18, 1999, the State of Alabama, with the acquiescence of the federal government, executed Brian K. Baldwin in the electric chair. The state and federal governments failed to ensure Baldwin’s right to a fair and impartial trial, his right to be free from torture, and his right to be free from racial discrimination. State torture and an unfair, racially discriminatory trial resulted in his execution.

Crime

On March 14, 1977, 16-year-old Naomi Rolon was murdered. Prior to her murder, Rolon had picked up Brian Baldwin, age 18, and Edward Horsley, age 17, in North Carolina and proceeded to drive with them to Alabama. Baldwin and Horsley had recently escaped from a youth detention center. In Alabama, Baldwin stole a truck. Horsley drove off with Rolon. Horsley later returned alone and on foot. Baldwin and Horsley were arrested, tried, and convicted for the murder of Naomi Rolon.

Salient Issues

Trial

Brian Baldwin was convicted by an all-white jury of Naomi Rolon’s murder in a trial that lasted for only one and one-half days. The prosecution successfully excluded all African-American persons from the jury and Baldwin’s court-appointed attorney did not object. Intentional exclusion of jurors solely on the basis of race has since been found to be unconstitutional (Batson v. Kentucky, 1986). Baldwin’s conviction was based largely on his confession, a confession that had been obtained under torture.

Baldwin was both beaten and cattle-prodded to obtain information about the whereabouts of Naomi Rolon. When Rolon’s body was found, Baldwin was beaten and prodded again until he signed a confession that named the wrong weapon and the wrong method used to kill Naomi Rolon. In a separate confession, Horsley claimed Baldwin was the murderer, but supplied accurate information about the murder weapon and the attack. The information was added to Baldwin’s confession after the fact, as was the signature of a deputy who claimed to have witnessed Baldwin’s waiver of rights, but who was not present.

Forensic evidence discovered shortly before Baldwin’s execution showed that the deadly blows were the work of a left-handed assailant. Horsley, not Baldwin, was left-handed. Also, Horsley’s clothes and shoes were stained with blood, but Baldwin’s clothing tested negative. Years after Baldwin had been convicted and sentenced to death, Baldwin’s co-defendant, Edward Horsley, confessed in a letter that he, alone, was responsible for the murder of Naomi Rolon and that Baldwin knew nothing about the killing until Rolon’s body was discovered by police.

Baldwin’s lawyer failed to provide competent counsel. According to Baldwin, his lawyer met with him for a total of 20 minutes, before the trial. Baldwin’s lawyer did no investigation of the case and presented no witnesses except Baldwin, whom he did not prepare for testifying. Baldwin’s attorney also failed to present the forensic evidence and did not object when the prosecution suggested that a sexual assault might have taken place, even though Baldwin had never been charged with sexual assault. Baldwin was found guilty of murder and sentenced to die.

Appeals

The initial appeal, claiming Baldwin’s trial was marred by improper procedure and racism, was assigned to the original trial judge in the case. He denied the appeal and upheld his earlier decision. The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals accepted his ruling in its entirety and denied Baldwin relief. This action was later denounced in a brief signed by 33 prosecutors and judges across the country, including six justices of state supreme courts. Despite the discovery of the suppressed trial record and irrespective of alleged violations of Baldwin’s constitutional rights, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court both denied relief.

During the appeals process, complete transcripts of Baldwin’s trial were withheld from his attorneys. A court recorder claimed no voice tapes of the trial had been made, although both the tapes and short-hand notes were discovered 20 years later. Both tapes and notes revealed discrepancies in the transcript provided by the state after Baldwin’s trial. Baldwin was never provided with the opportunity to present this evidence in any court.

Conclusion

Brian Baldwin was executed despite compelling evidence of his innocence and evidence that he did not receive a fair trial. Allegations of torture and racial bias by the State of Alabama, in violation of constitutional and international human rights, were sufficiently egregious to warrant a reversal of the trial court’s decision. The initial appeal alleging improper procedure and racism was heard by the same judge who had convicted Baldwin, and against whom some of the allegations of racism and misconduct were being made. Nonetheless, the trial court’s decision held. Both state and federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, denied relief in spite of the numerous and egregious allegations of rights violations. Brian Baldwin was executed after sitting in the electric chair for one hour.

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Cornelius Singleton (Alabama)  Case Chart

Allegation

On November 20, 1992, the State of Alabama, with the acquiescence of the federal government, executed Cornelius Singleton in the electric chair. The state and federal governments failed to ensure Singleton’s right to a fair and impartial trial, free from racial discrimination. The unfair and racially discriminatory trial resulted in Singleton’s execution.

Crime

On November 12, 1977, Sister Ann Hogan was murdered while praying in a cemetery in Mobile, Alabama. Hogan was found buried under stones and logs in a wooded area adjacent to the cemetery. She died from strangulation and asphyxiation. Singleton was arrested, tried, and convicted for her murder.

Salient Issues

Trial

Cornelius Singleton, an African-American man, was convicted by an all-white jury of capital murder based on a coerced confession, dictated by the prosecution. After his arrest, Singleton was interrogated for several hours. During that time, he unknowingly waived his rights to counsel. His girlfriend was then brought to the police station and made to sit on Singleton’s lap while the District Attorney reportedly dictated a confession, which he had Singleton repeat while another officer recorded it as if it was Singleton’s own words. Throughout the interrogation, there was a discussion of a recent incident in which Singleton thought he was buying bed sheets from another resident in his boarding house. A neighbor had reported that her sheets were stolen. The discussion was confusing and disorienting for Singleton, who thought he was being questioned about the sheets. Singleton had an IQ between 55 and 65.

Singleton was taken to the cemetery where the murder took place and was questioned about details, despite his apparent lack of knowledge of the crime. According to Singleton, the victim’s pager and some papers were on the ground and he was told to pick them up but refused. He was then returned to the police station where he was told to sign the confession. He could not read, but he signed the confession after being told that other charges pending against him would be dropped. In fact, no charges were pending. His girlfriend witnessed his signature.

In order to secure a capital conviction, the state needed to convict Singleton not only of murder, but also of an aggravating circumstance, in this case, robbery. The state alleged the victim’s watch was missing and undertook an extensive search of the home of Singleton’s grandfather. The search failed to turn up the watch. A second, brief search subsequently was conducted and the watch was found in plain sight on his grandfather’s mantel. The watch served as evidence that the victim had been killed during the commission of a felony robbery, which provided the necessary special circumstances for a capital conviction.

There was no evidence to link Singleton to the crime or the crime scene and no evidence that he knew the victim or had a motive to kill the victim. Eyewitnesses in the area described a suspicious white man with long blonde hair lurking around the cemetery on the day of the murder. There was some blood on the victim’s blouse and the outline of a hand with fingers pointing downward on the back of the blouse. The state failed to investigate eyewitness accounts and failed to link the forensic evidence to Singleton.

Singleton’s lawyers failed to investigate independently, failed to provide an adequate defense, and failed to challenge the selection of an all-white jury. Singleton was convicted quickly and sentenced to death, despite the lack of any clear evidence linking him to the scene of the crime or to the victim and statements that another man had committed the murder.

Appeals

Appeals were based on the fact that Singleton’s original attorney had failed to use his mental retardation for mitigation purposes at sentencing, according to Matthew McDonald, one of his last lawyers. Singleton’s appeals were denied. His conviction was then overturned when the US Supreme Court found part of the death penalty statute unconstitutional. He was retried in 1981 and again convicted and sentenced to death. He never met with the attorney who filed two of his appeals, and for many years while on death row, he never had an attorney. Before Singleton’s execution, a church bus of people from Mobile went to the governor’s office to plead for clemency. When they arrived they were told that the governor was busy and an aide would talk with them. All the people sat down in the capitol and refused to leave. Around 7:30 p.m., Governor Hunt, who was a minister and also had a retarded daughter, agreed to see a group of them. He did not grant clemency.

Conclusion

Cornelius Singleton was executed in spite of compelling evidence of innocence and numerous allegations of rights violations during the police investigation and the original criminal trial. The State of Alabama failed to protect Singleton’s right to a fair and impartial trial and his right to be free from racial discrimination. Such rights violations are especially egregious in light of Singleton’s mental incapacity. The state and federal appeals courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, denied relief.

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Freddie Lee Wright (Alabama)  Case Chart

Allegation

On March 3, 2000, the State of Alabama, with the acquiescence of the federal government, executed Freddie Lee Wright in the electric chair. The state and federal governments failed to ensure Wright’s right to a fair and impartial trial, free of racial discrimination. The unfair and racially discriminatory trial resulted in Wright’s execution.

Crime

Warren and Lois Green, a white couple, were shot and killed during an armed robbery at their Western Auto Store in Mount Vernon, Alabama. A woman entering the store later identified Theodore Otis Roberts as one of the robbers and he was arrested. The state identified a handgun belonging to Roberts as the murder weapon. Months later, charges against Roberts were dropped and four other black men, including Freddie Lee Wright, were indicted in the case. Wright’s three co-defendants named him as the shooter in the robbery, and he was tried and convicted of armed robbery and murder.

Salient Issues

Trial

It took two trials to convict Freddie Lee Wright. The first trial, with a mixed-race jury, voted eleven to one in favor of acquittal, resulting in a mistrial. An all-white jury convicted him of armed robbery and capital murder in the second trial.

The prosecution in Wright’s first trial relied on the testimony of two of his co-defendants. One later recanted his testimony, saying the prosecutor threatened him with the electric chair if he did not name Wright as the shooter. The other later provided a written affidavit saying that he, too, was pressured by the prosecution to name Wright. This second co-defendant named another man as the killer. In exchange for their testimony, both men were allowed to plead guilty to lesser charges. One received a ten-year sentence and the other was permitted to serve his Alabama sentence concurrently with a sentence he had for another crime in Mississippi. The third man received a 25-year sentence but was later paroled. In spite of these witnesses’ testimony at trial, a mixed-race jury voted eleven-to-one to acquit Wright of all charges, resulting in a mistrial. The same witnesses the state used to convict Freddie Wright were later deemed to be non-credible witnesses when they admitted that they had only fingered Wright to avoid the death penalty.

Wright’s second trial took place before an all-white jury. The state’s new witness was Doris Lambert, Wright’s former girlfriend and the mother of their child. She claimed Wright had confessed his guilt to her, although in his first trial she had planned to testify for him, and was never called to the stand. The prosecution suppressed Lambert’s history of drug addiction and mental illness. Also, Lambert reportedly received help regaining custody of her children in exchange for her testimony against Wright. Wright’s lawyer claimed he had been unable to locate a key alibi witness, an insurance agent, with whom Wright did business shortly before the murders. The jury discounted the testimony of Wright’s friends, who were with him in a club at the time of the murders. Wright was found guilty of capital murder and sentenced to death.

Appeals

Wright’s attorney continued to represent him in the appeals process, even after claims of ineffective representation were raised. Wright’s attorney was subsequently disbarred. The District Attorney acknowledged that he should have disclosed evidence about Doris Lambert’s psychiatric history and about deals made with Wright’s co-defendants. In the course of denying Wright’s habeas corpus petition, the U.S. District Court was critical of the state’s conduct. The court also wrote that "numerous imperfections in the state court proceedings were revealed," that "some of these imperfections like the state’s failure to disclose certain exculpatory materials – do not in any way deserve the blessing of this Court." However, it believed that a federal court was not the proper forum in which to re-try the case, so it denied relief and the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. The Eleventh Circuit found that virtually all of these claims were procedurally barred from review because they had not first been presented to the state courts. Two Alabama Supreme Court Justices voted to stay Wright’s execution citing evidence that "his conviction resulted from a lack of a fair trial" and "the likelihood that we are sending an innocent man to his death." Wright was, nevertheless, executed on schedule.

Conclusion

Freddie Lee Wright was convicted despite compelling evidence of his innocence and overwhelming evidence that he failed to receive a fair and impartial trial, free from racial discrimination. The State of Alabama withheld information from defense lawyers. It failed to provide Wright with competent legal representation. It excluded all African-American persons from the jury in order to secure a conviction – a practice later found to be an unconstitutional form of racial discrimination. (Batson v. Kentucky) Nonetheless, both state and federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, upheld both Wright’s conviction and his death sentence.

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Thomas M. Thompson (California)  Chart

Allegation

On July 14, 1998, the State of California, with the acquiescence of the federal government, executed Thomas Thompson by lethal injection. The state and federal governments not only failed to ensure Thompson’s right to a fair and impartial trial, they intentionally disregarded a federal court ruling that Thompson’s trial was unconstitutional. The unfair and unconstitutional trial resulted in Thompson’s execution.

Crime

On September 11, 1981 Ginger Fleischli was stabbed five times in the head and killed in Orange County, California. Fleischli had spent the evening with her former lover, David Leitch, Leitch’s new roommate, Thomas Thompson, and Leitch’s ex-wife. Fleischli went home with Thompson to an apartment Thompson shared with David Leitch, and had consensual sex with him. The next day, her body was found in a shallow grave. Both Leitch and Thompson were arrested and charged with Fleischli’s murder, and Thompson was charged with rape. Thompson and Leitch were tried separately and convicted; Thompson was convicted of both murder and rape.

Salient Issues

Trial

Thomas Thompson and David Leitch were tried and convicted separately, by separate juries. The prosecutor and judge were the same at each of the trials. Thompson was tried first, in 1983. At the preliminary hearing, the prosecution produced three jailhouse informants who testified that Thompson had confessed that he was hired by Leitch to help murder Fleischli, and after having consensual sex with her, Thompson had helped Leitch kill her. The prosecution subsequently rejected this theory and did not call these informants at trial.

At trial, the prosecution introduced a new theory – that Thompson had raped Fleischli and murdered her to cover up the rape. In this version of the murder, David Leitch solely helped Thompson dispose of Fleischli’s body. The earlier testimony of the four jailhouse informants was discarded, and two new jailhouse informants testified that Thompson had confessed to the rape and murder.

Leitch had been arrested more than once for assault and had previously threatened to kill Fleischli, including ten days before she was murdered. Several defense witnesses, including a police officer, testified to Leitch’s violent disposition, threats, and motive for the murder, but were discredited by the prosecution. The prosecution later used these same witnesses to convict David Leitch. Thompson was found guilty of both rape and murder, and because of the special circumstances of rape, was sentenced to death.

Appeals

In March 1995, a federal court heard Thompson’s appeal and reversed the rape conviction and the death sentence. The court found that there was no substantial evidence of rape or that Thompson had committed rape. The court also found that a competent attorney could have easily rebutted the circumstantial evidence used to convict Thompson and that Thompson’s attorney was incompetent in failing to discredit a notoriously unreliable jailhouse informant. The court declined to reverse Thompson’s murder conviction because of stringent legal hurdles for overturning convictions. However, it urged the state not to re-try Thompson on the rape, stating that the numerous inconsistencies in the case left the court with an "unsettled feeling."

In 1996, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals re-instated the rape conviction and the death sentence, finding that the incompetence of Thompson’s attorney would not have made a difference in the verdict. In May 1997, additional evidence surfaced concerning Thompson’s rape conviction. Two years earlier at a parole hearing, David Leitch testified that he had walked in on Thompson and Fleischli having consensual sex the night of the murder. Although Leitch said he gave this same information to police in 1981, he was never called to testify in Thompson’s trial. Leitch’s attorney corroborated that Leitch had always maintained Thompson and Fleischli had engaged in consensual sex. The parole board failed to pass this information on to Thompson’s attorneys in 1994, although they were required to do so by law.

Based on this new information, Thompson’s attorneys appealed his case again, asking for a hearing by the entire bench of judges of the Ninth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals. Although the court initially denied the request, on August 3, 1997, an eleven-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals found that it had erred in denying the original request and acted on its own motion to reverse Thompson’s rape conviction and vacate his death sentence. The court disclosed a series of internal clerical and procedural errors that had caused Thompson’s earlier appeal for a full bench hearing to be mistakenly denied. The federal panel found that the prosecution acted egregiously in Thompson’s trial by manipulating witnesses and evidence, arguing inconsistent motives, and, at Leitch’s trial, ridiculing its own theory of prosecution used to convict Thompson. Because Thompson’s murder conviction was linked to the rape conviction, the court referred the case back to the District Court to re-examine the validity of the murder conviction.

The State of California challenged the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals. In a 5-4 decision, the United States Supreme Court overturned the lower court’s decision, upholding Thompson’s rape conviction and death sentence. The Court did this in spite of an unprecedented appeal by seven former prosecutors and an author of the California death penalty statute, which outlined substantial doubts about the prosecutor’s conduct and about Thompson’s guilt. The Supreme Court justified its decision based on the Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996.

Conclusion

Thomas Thompson was executed despite a U.S. Court of Appeals ruling that Thompson failed to receive a fair trial and that the original criminal trial was unconstitutional. Thompson’s constitutional rights and international human rights were again violated by the direct actions of United State Supreme Court when it overturned the Court of Appeals decision despite overwhelming evidence of Thompson’s innocence and compelling evidence that he failed to receive a fair and impartial trial.

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James Adams (Florida)  Chart

Allegation

On May 10, 1984, the State of Florida, with the acquiescence of the federal government, executed James Adams in the electric chair. The state and federal governments failed to ensure Adams’s right to a fair and impartial trial. The unfair and racially discriminatory trial resulted in Adams’s execution.

Crime

On the morning of November 12, 1973 at approximately 10:30 a.m., Edgar Brown was beaten with a fire poker in the course of an alleged robbery in his home. He died in the hospital the next day as a result of the beating. Adams was arrested, tried, and convicted of his murder.

Salient Issues

Trial

James Adams was convicted of capital murder on circumstantial evidence and on evidence that was contradictory. On the morning of the crime, Adams’s car had been seen traveling to and from the victim’s house and had been parked in the victim’s driveway. One witness reported that he thought Adams was driving the car towards the victim’s house shortly before the robbery and assault. A second witness positively identified Adams as the driver of the car seen leaving the victim’s home. This witness reportedly stated that he would testify against Adams because he believed that Adams was having an affair with his wife. However, the only witness to see a person leaving the victim’s house at the approximate time of the crime provided a description that did not fit Adams. After viewing a police line-up in which Adams was included, this witness was "positive" that Adams was not the person with whom he spoke. At trial, the same witness who could not pick Adams out of a lineup testified that Adams may or may not have been the person he saw leaving the house.

Adams said he was at the house of a friend, Vivian Nickerson, from 10:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. on the day of the murder. Nickerson initially confirmed Adams’s alibi and stated that she had borrowed Adams’s car before 10:30 a.m. At trial, she changed her testimony to say that Adams did not arrive at her house before 11:00 a.m. Adams’s attorney did not question the inconsistency of her statements. Although the state crime lab found that strands of hair on the victim were not from Adams, the crime lab report was not released until three days after the trial.

Race was a factor throughout the trial. During the trial, both the prosecution and the defense referred to Adams as "nigger." The prosecution repeatedly raised Adams’s prior conviction for rape in terms of the race of the victim. The fact that Adams had raped a white woman – not that he had merely committed rape – was the aggravating circumstance used by the state to secure a sentence of death, despite the fact that Adams had never before been convicted of a crime punishable by death.

Appeals

The Florida Supreme Court upheld Adams’s sentence in December 1976, and certiorari was denied on October 3, 1977. He received a stay of execution by the Florida Supreme Court in April 1978. The U.S. Supreme Court continued his stay so he could file his writ of certiorari, which was denied October 30, 1978. He had a clemency hearing November 5, 1979. His first death warrant was signed January 9, 1980. The Florida Supreme Court denied a stay, but he obtained one from the Southern District Court in February of 1980. His writ was denied in an unpublished opinion, and in July of 1983 the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the denial. On January 11, 1984, the U.S. Supreme Court denied certiorari, and on April 12, 1984, his second death warrant was signed. All relief was then denied in the courts, and on May 9, 1984, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated his stay. He was executed the next day.

Conclusion

James Adams was executed despite undisputed evidence of racial discrimination and compelling evidence of innocence. James Adams did not receive a fair trial. His court-appointed lawyers failed to lodge a competent defense, the state withheld evidence, and both the prosecution and defense were racially-biased and used racist remarks, which served to bias the jury. Nonetheless, by denying all appeals, both state and federal appeals courts upheld both Adams’s conviction and his death sentence.

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Willie Jasper Darden, Jr. (Florida)  Chart

Allegation

On March 15, 1998, the State of Florida, with acquiescence by the federal government, executed Willie Jasper Darden, Jr. in the electric chair. The state and federal governments failed to ensure Darden’s right to a free and fair trial. The unfair and racially discriminatory trial resulted in Darden’s execution.

Crime

On the evening of September 8, 1973, in the course of a robbery at Carl’s Furniture Store in Lakeland, Florida, James Carl Turman was shot and killed and his 16-year-old neighbor was wounded. The police estimated the time of the murder to be between 6:00 and 6:30 p.m. Darden was arrested for a traffic violation but then subsequently charged with, tried, and convicted of Turman’s murder, assault, and armed robbery.

Salient Issues

Trial

Darden, an African American, was convicted by an all-white jury of killing a white man. The state intentionally excluded all African-American persons from the jury. Intentional exclusion of jurors solely on the basis of race has since been found to be unconstitutional (Batson v. Kentucky, 1986). Jury selection in Darden’s case was improper, according to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun in his dissenting opinion.

Three witnesses – the victim’s wife, the neighbor who was wounded in the shooting, and another neighbor – provided conflicting descriptions of the suspect, but all later identified Darden. Initially, the victim’s wife had difficulty describing the suspect. She was never asked to identify Darden in a line-up. She identified him in court, where he was the only African-American male present. The neighbor injured in the shooting initially described the shooter as a man larger than Darden. Discrepancies in eyewitness accounts included whether Darden had a mustache and whether he was wearing a white or maroon shirt. Darden’s lawyer failed to raise these discrepancies at trial.

The time frame was key to securing Darden’s conviction. Christine Bass had stated that Darden was in front of her house with a broken down car from 4 to 5:30 p.m. She came to court daily during the trial to testify and was never called. Other witnesses, Brazen and Stone, had noted the time when they had contact with Darden. Stone, in particular, saw police cars in front of the furniture store at about 6 p.m. Darden, himself, called the sheriff’s office to report an accident he had after his car was fixed. This was at 6:32 p.m., according to the sheriff’s report. Yet the state was able to get a conviction. Years later, the victim’s minister, who had been called to the crime scene at 5:30 p.m. and had arrived at 5:55 p.m., realized that this information was significant to the case. Both he and Christine Bass gave affidavits that would have strengthened Darden’s alibi.

The prosecutor used racist remarks and inflammatory statements to prejudice the jury. During trial, he repeatedly expressed a wish "that I could see [Darden] sitting here with no face, blown away by a shotgun." In addition to evidence of Darden’s innocence and evidence of ineffective counsel, the prosecution’s racist and inflammatory statements should have been grounds for a re-examination of this case.

Appeals

On its way through state and federal appeals, Darden’s case was found sufficiently egregious to warrant review on numerous grounds. Darden was granted a stay of execution to allow the court time to consider his appeal. In all he received seven death warrants and six stays. He came within hours of death several times. In 1984, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals voted 7-5 to grant habeas relief to Darden. This decision, however, was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, which remanded the case for further consideration. On remand, the Eleventh Circuit denied relief. In 1986, Florida Governor Bob Martinez refused to meet with the witnesses whose statements corroborated Darden’s alibi. He kept signing the death warrants as Darden lost in the courts.

Conclusion

Willie Jasper Darden, Jr. was executed despite compelling evidence of his innocence. The state failed to provide Darden with competent legal counsel. Darden’s state appointed lawyers did not identify or call important witnesses who had evidence of Darden’s innocence. The state intentionally excluded all African-American persons from the jury – a practice later found to be an unconstitutional form of racial discrimination. While appeals courts did find evidence of prosecutorial misconduct sufficiently egregious to warrant further review and even to grant habeas relief, the decision of the trial court, in the end, was upheld.

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Jesse J. Tafero (Florida)  Chart

Allegation

On May 4, 1990, the State of Florida, with the acquiescence of the federal government, executed Jesse J. Tafero in the electric chair. The state and federal governments failed to ensure Tafero’s right to a fair and impartial trial and right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. The unfair trial resulted in Tafero’s execution.

Crime

Early on the morning of February 20, 1976, a Florida highway patrolman and his friend, a visiting Canadian constable, approached a car parked at a rest stop for a routine check. Jesse Tafero, Sonia Jacobs, their two children, and Walter Rhodes, a prison friend of Tafero’s, were asleep in the car. Allegedly, the patrolman saw a gun on the floor of the car. He woke the occupants and had Rhodes and then Tafero get out of the car. At some point after that, both the patrolman and the constable were shot. After fleeing the scene in the patrolman’s car, and then dumping the car, kidnapping a man, and stealing his car, the three were caught at a roadblock. Rhodes, Tafero, and Jacobs were all arrested. Rhodes turned state’s evidence in exchange for a plea to a lesser charge. Tafero and Jacobs were tried and convicted of capital murder.

Salient Issues

Trial

Jesse Tafero was convicted largely on the basis of co-defendant Walter Rhodes’s testimony that Tafero had shot both officers. A jailhouse informant also testified against Tafero. Rhodes was allowed to plead guilty to a lesser charge in exchange for his testimony against his two co-defendants, Tafero and Jacobs, who were each tried separately. The prosecutor maintained that Rhodes had passed a polygraph test and thus a plea bargain was justified. Evidence discovered after the trial showed that Rhodes had not passed the polygraph test and that the state had suppressed the results of the test, which contained statements contradicting Rhodes’s trial testimony. Rhodes recanted his testimony on three separate occasions – in 1977, 1979 and 1982 – stating that he, not Tafero, shot the policemen. Ultimately, Rhodes reverted to his original testimony. A statement from a prison guard corroborating Rhodes’ recantations was also suppressed and found years later.

Ballistic tests indicated that one gun shot both policemen. Ballistic tests also showed that Rhodes definitely had fired a gun and that Tafero might have fired a gun or might have simply handled a gun after it was fired. The later scenario corroborated Tafero’s account that Rhodes had shot the policemen and then handed Tafero the gun so that he could drive the car. Rhodes was driving the car when it was finally stopped during a shoot-out at a police roadblock.

At the trial, one eyewitness testified that he saw a man in brown, Tafero, spread eagle on the hood of the police car when the shots were fired. A second eyewitness testified that he saw a man in blue, Rhodes, move from the front of the car to the rear just before the shooting. Neither witness could identify which man was the shooter.

Appeals

Tafero’s conviction was affirmed on June 11, 1981. A motion for error coram nobis failed in 1983. In 1988, the Florida Supreme Court denied state habeas relief. Other state appeals were also denied in 1984, 1987, and 1990. The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals reviewed the case twice, in 1986 and 1989, and affirmed the conviction.

In Sonia Jacobs’ 1992 appeal, evidence of the suppressed polygraph test, the prison guard’s suppressed statement, and a physical re-creation of the crime scene presented a convincing scenario that Rhodes was the sole shooter. The new evidence resulted in the reversal of Jacobs’ conviction. Had the evidence been found prior to Tafero’s execution, it is highly probable that his conviction would have been likewise overturned.

Execution

Jesse Tafero was executed in Florida’s electric chair. During the execution, Tafero’s head seemed to catch on fire. Flames and smoke were seen shooting out of his head, causing the state to interrupt the electric current three times. Witnesses to the execution claimed that Tafero continued to breathe and move after the first charge was interrupted. The state’s execution was particularly cruel, and it served as a final violation of Tafero’s right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment.

Conclusion

Jesse J. Tafero was executed despite evidence of his innocence that was finally heard by a United States court, but only after Tafero was executed. The Eleventh U.S. Circuit Court found evidence compelling enough to overturn the conviction of Tafero’s co-defendant, Sonia Jacobs – a conviction based almost entirely on the evidence used to convict Tafero. Jacobs later accepted a plea bargain and was released. Immediately upon release, she reaffirmed her innocence. Both state and federal courts failed to protect Tafero’s right to a fair trial. The state’s suppression of evidence that was favorable to Tafero’s defense and that corroborated his claim of innocence violated Tafero’s constitutional and international human rights. The initial violation was compounded by the failure of state and federal courts to act to protect Tafero’s rights to a fair trial and his right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment, a right violated in the course of his execution.

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Girvies Davis (Illinois)  Chart

Allegation

On May 17, 1995, the State of Illinois, with acquiescence by the federal government, executed Girvies Davis by lethal injection. The state and federal governments failed to ensure Davis’s right to a free and fair trial. The unfair and racially discriminatory trial resulted in Davis’s execution.

Crime

On December 22, 1978, Charles Biebel, an 89-year-old man, was shot and killed during the course of a robbery in his mobile home in Belleville, Illinois. There were no witnesses to the robbery/murder and there was no physical evidence at the crime scene to help identify the murderer. Girvies Davis was arrested, tried, and convicted of Biebel’s murder.

Salient Issues

Trial

Davis, known to the police as a small-time hustler and a thief, was picked up by the police and driven around East St. Louis in a squad car. He testified at a pre-trial hearing that he confessed to a large number of crimes under duress. He was then coerced into signing a series of confessions. Since he was illiterate, he could not read the confessions he signed. In his confession to the Biebel murder, he said he was outside the house when Richard Holman allegedly shot the victim. This confession was the only evidence linking Davis to the crime. Holman was never tried for the murder.

During the sentencing phase of the trial, the jury was never told that Davis was illiterate, nor was it told about the brain damage he had sustained when he was hit by a truck as a child. He was considered borderline mentally retarded and suffered from mental illness and alcoholism. Davis, whether out of shame or ignorance, did not allow his attorneys to present this information to the jury. Had they been able to do so, it might have helped him to avoid a death sentence.

Appeals

Davis’s conviction and sentence were affirmed by the Illinois Supreme Court on February 18, 1983. Justice Joseph Goldenhersh voted to affirm the conviction, but dissented on the sentence on the grounds that there was no evidence that Davis, not Holman, had been the triggerman. Justice Seymour Simon dissented on both conviction and sentence. The St. Clair County Circuit Court dismissed Davis’s petition for post conviction relief without a hearing. The Illinois Supreme Court unanimously denied his appeal on December 21, 1987. On January 13, 1994 the U.S. District Court and the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals denied Davis’s petition for federal writ of habeas corpus. His petition for a rehearing en banc by Seventh Circuit was denied on April 13, 1994.

Conclusion

Girvies Davis was executed despite compelling evidence of his innocence. The state intentionally excluded all African Americans from the jury, a practice later found to be an unconstitutional form of racial discrimination. The only evidence against Davis was his confession, which he claimed was coerced. Many of his other confessions were found to be false. Other evidence, such as his illiteracy, brain damage, and mental impairments was not presented to the jury. Another man, thought to be the triggerman in this case, was never tried for the crime.

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Larry Griffin (Missouri)  Chart

Allegation

On June 21, 1995, the State of Missouri, with the acquiescence of the federal government, executed Larry Griffin by lethal injection. The state and federal governments failed to ensure Griffin’s right to a fair and impartial trial. The unfair trial resulted in Griffin’s execution.

Crime

Quintin Moss was killed in a drive-by shooting while allegedly dealing drugs on a street corner in St. Louis, Missouri on June 26, 1980. Griffin was arrested, tried, and convicted for the murder.

Salient Issues

Trial

Larry Griffin was convicted of murdering Quintin Moss based largely on the testimony of one eyewitness, Robert Fitzgerald, who had been at the scene of the killing. Shortly after the murder, Fitzgerald made a positive photo identification of Griffin. He then testified at trial that he saw three black males in the car from which the shots were fired and that he could identify Larry Griffin as one of them. He testified that Griffin shot at the victim through the window of the car with his right hand. Griffin’s attorney did not challenge this, even though Griffin was, in fact, left-handed. He did present evidence that Griffin had seriously injured his left arm a few weeks earlier, but without evidence that Griffin was left-handed, the relevance of the testimony was lost to the jury. Larry Griffin’s fingerprints were not found on either the car or the weapons. All other evidence against Griffin was circumstantial.

Griffin’s lawyer failed to present a competent defense. In addition to missing important opportunities to challenge the state’s case, he presented an alibi defense without investigation of the alibi. The prosecution conducted its own investigation and was able to discredit the alibi, showing that the alibi witness had erred about the day he and Griffin had been together, thus making it appear that the alibi had been fabricated.

Post-trial investigations by Griffin’s lawyers revealed police and prosecutorial misconduct prior to and at the trial. The prosecutor had cut a deal for one witness’ testimony. The prosecution failed to reveal that there were two additional eyewitnesses who confirmed that Griffin was not involved in the murder. The first testified that he witnessed the shooting, and he did not recognize any of the three men who killed the victim. He knew Griffin and was certain that Griffin was not in the car with the shooters. The other witness, a 16-year-old member of a gang led by Griffin’s brother at the time of the murder, also testified that Larry Griffin was not involved in the shooting and named the three men who were – all members of the gang led by Griffin’s slain brother. He was able to describe the exact sequence of events leading to Moss’s murder and to testify to the killers’ motive. He also was able to identify correctly the place where the car and guns had been abandoned and later found by the police.

Fitzgerald, the eyewitness used by the prosecution to convict Griffin, also later provided information that helped support Griffin’s claim of innocence. Fitzgerald admitted that he perjured himself at Griffin’s trial when he positively identified Griffin in court. He also testified to the suggestive nature of the original police identification process. According to Fitzgerald, one of the investigating officers showed him a photograph of Griffin and told him, "We know this man is involved." Fitzgerald was then presented with five photos from which he identified Griffin.

Appeals

Griffin’s trial lawyer also served as his lawyer in the initial appeals despite his inexperience and apparent incompetence. The conviction and sentence were affirmed in state appeals courts without rehearing – decisions upheld by the U.S. District Court and, initially, by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. Due to the incompetence of the original lawyer in failing to identify and raise several constitutional claims, the Eighth Circuit vacated its earlier decision and remanded the case back to the district court for further proceedings. The Eighth Circuit appointed a new lawyer, who amended Griffin’s petitions to reflect the constitutional claims, including the claim that Griffin’s first lawyer failed to provide competent counsel and thus, Griffin did not receive a fair trial. A limited evidentiary hearing was held by the Federal District Court, at which new evidence of Griffin’s innocence was produced, including testimony from the two new witnesses, and Fitzgerald’s testimony that he had perjured himself in his in-court identification of Griffin. Despite the constitutional claims and the new evidence of Griffin’s innocence, the District Court again dismissed Griffin’s petitions for relief. The Eighth Circuit affirmed the denial of all relief without permitting Griffin or his new lawyer to brief the court – a decision upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Conclusion

Larry Griffin was executed despite compelling evidence of his innocence and evidence that he did not receive a fair trial. Griffin’s original lawyer lacked the necessary experience to undertake capital cases and failed to provide Griffin with competent counsel. He neither found nor presented evidence of his innocence or evidence challenging key prosecution witnesses. He also made a highly prejudicial error when he failed to confirm independently the information provided by the defense’s alibi witness at trial. Although the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that Griffin’s original lawyer failed to provide competent counsel, federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, upheld Griffin’s conviction and death sentence. In so doing, the courts relied on the new, and unreasonably high, standard of review for cases claiming innocence, which had evolved during Griffin’s appeals. With issues of innocence still unresolved, Griffin was executed.

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Roy Michael Roberts (Missouri)  Chart

Allegation

On March 10, 1999, the State of Missouri, with the acquiescence of the federal government of the United States, executed Roy Michael Roberts. The state and federal governments failed to ensure Roberts’s right to a fair trial. The unfair trial resulted in Roberts’s execution.

Crime

Thomas Jackson, a guard at the Moberly Training Center for men, was stabbed to death during a prison riot on July 3, 1983. Roy Roberts was accused of holding Jackson, while other inmates stabbed him. He was tried and convicted of capital murder.

Salient Issues

Trial

Roy Roberts was convicted of capital murder for allegedly holding down a prison guard while other inmates stabbed him to death. No physical evidence ever tied Roberts to the crime. Although it was a bloody murder, the clothes Roberts was wearing on the day had no blood on them. Immediately after the riot, prison officials did a thorough search and confiscated all bloodied clothes from inmates. Roberts’s clothes were not confiscated because they were not bloody.

Roberts was convicted based on what has been called "evolving testimony," that is testimony that evolves over time to fit the facts of the crime. No one implicated Roberts in the murder in the two weeks following it. None of the eyewitnesses mentioned Roberts as being anywhere near the victim, much less holding him down, as was later alleged in testimony, despite the fact that Roberts, a large man weighing over 300 pounds, stood out in a crowd.

Two weeks after the murder, the Department of Corrections submitted a 17-page internal investigative report. It failed to identify Roberts as a participant in the murder. It confirmed that no one knew who, if anyone, had held down the victim. Nonetheless, three guards later testified that Roberts held down the victim. All of these guards knew Roberts prior to the murder and yet failed to identify him as a participant in the murder immediately following it. One of these officers was hypnotized to bolster his memory, and still did not identify Roberts. Roberts’s lawyer cross-examined only one of the eyewitnesses about inconsistencies between his initial statements and his trial testimony. This eyewitness maintained that he had simply forgotten to report seeing Roberts holding Jackson. Roberts’s attorney never cross-examined the other three.

Appeals

Roberts’s appeals in the state courts were denied. In 1986, his direct appeal and his federal writ of certiorari were denied. Again in 1989, his writ of certiorari was denied by the court en banc. The U.S. Supreme Court denied his final petition for certiorari on Jan 11, 1999. Shortly before his execution, his attorneys filed a writ in the Missouri Supreme Court claiming that Roberts was innocent and that the execution of an innocent man violated due process. This petition was denied and an appeal was made to the U.S. Supreme Court, which was denied hours before his execution.

Conclusion

Roy Michael Roberts was executed despite compelling evidence of his innocence. There was no evidence that Roberts stabbed the victim. There was very little evidence that he participated in the murder. There was substantial evidence of his innocence. In fact, there is some evidence that he was innocent of the crime that put him in prison in the first place. Roberts’s court-appointed lawyers failed to challenge the little evidence that there was against Roberts, an omission that rendered his assistance to Roberts ineffective and Roberts’s trial unfair. Nonetheless, Roberts was executed.

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Odell Barnes, Jr. (Texas)  Chart

Allegation

On March 1, 2000, the State of Texas, with acquiescence by the federal government, executed Odell Barnes by lethal injection. The state and federal governments failed to ensure Barnes’s right to a fair and impartial trial. The unfair trial resulted in Barnes’s execution.

Crime

Helen Bass was murdered on November 30, 1989. She had been shot, bludgeoned, and stabbed. She was found face down on her bed, nude. A rifle butt was found in her room and a kitchen knife covered in blood was found on the floor just inside the door to her house. The room was in shambles. Her jewelry box and two purses appeared to have been dumped and scattered. Other belongings were discovered near a fence outside her house. Barnes was arrested, tried, and convicted for the murder.

Salient Issues

Trial

Barnes was convicted of Helen Bass’ murder. The prosecution’s case against Barnes consisted primarily of circumstantial evidence. Two witnesses were presented to link Barnes to the murder weapon. There was substantial evidence implicating one of these witnesses in the murder. The other witness agreed to testify in exchange for a deal on two drug charges, despite a state policy prohibiting such deals. There was no other evidence that the gun had been in Barnes’s possession or that he had used it. Two small spots of blood were found on coveralls in Barnes’s car. The blood was consistent with the victim’s blood type, which is also the blood type of 50% of the African-American population in in the U.S. Another witness for the prosecution testified that he had seen Barnes jump a fence at the victim’s house one and one-half hours before she returned from work, even though he had earlier told his sister that it was not Barnes. This witness admitted he was at least 45 yards away. Barnes’s mother testified that she had brought the victim home that night and returned to her home whereupon her son arrived within five minutes.

Defense attorneys appointed by the state failed to carry out their own investigation or to test independently the forensic evidence. At trial, they did not present evidence of Barnes’s innocence or challenge the prosecution’s witnesses.

Appeals

Initial appeals at the state level were handled by Barnes’s original state appointed lawyers. Both the District Court of Wichita County and the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision and upheld Barnes’s conviction and sentence. Part way through the appeals process, new attorneys took over the case. Finding that independent investigations and forensic testing had never been done, they asked courts for funds and time to investigate. In Texas, new evidence must be introduced within 30 days of the original sentencing. They were repeatedly denied, but performed an investigation using volunteers and private funding, which uncovered substantial evidence of innocence. They also uncovered evidence of prosecutorial misconduct, perjury, and constitutional violations. Nevertheless, state and federal courts denied relief.

Conclusion

Odell Barnes was executed despite compelling evidence of his innocence that was never heard by any court in the United States. His original court-appointed defense attorneys failed to provide him with adequate legal counsel. They neither found nor presented evidence of his innocence or evidence challenging key prosecution witnesses. Once the opportunity had been missed at the trial level, state and federal appeals courts refused to hear new evidence – evidence that had been suppressed by the prosecution and that had gone undiscovered by the defense. In many cases, inflexible time limits and increasingly rigid thresholds for review, such as those imposed by the Federal Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, lead to violations of constitutional protections and human rights. Odell Barnes’s was one such case. Despite the fact that he did not receive a fair trial and in spite of evidence of his innocence, no appeals court would hear his case.

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Robert Nelson Drew (Texas)  Chart

Allegation

On August 22, 1994, the State of Texas, with the acquiescence of the federal government, executed Robert Nelson Drew. The state and federal governments failed to ensure Drew’s right to a fair and impartial trial. The unfair trial resulted in Drew’s execution.

Crime

On February 21, 1983, Jeffrey Mays was stabbed to death. He had been traveling with a friend and three hitchhikers they had picked up. Two of the hitchhikers, Robert Drew and Ernest Puralewski, were arrested, charged, and convicted of capital murder.

Salient Issues

Trial

Robert Drew was tried and convicted largely on the testimony of one man, Bee Landrum, who claimed to be an eyewitness to the murder. Landrum’s testimony was extremely shocking, powerful, and graphic. He claimed he could see all the people at the crime scene and that he saw Drew pull the victim’s head back and slash his throat. He even re-enacted the killing for the jury. A tape-recorded interview with Landrum, made several hours after the murder in which he admitted that he had not seen the killing, was not offered into evidence at trial. Drew’s co-defendant, Ernest Puralewski, who was awaiting his own trial for capital murder, refused to testify at Drew’s trial. Drew was sentenced to death.

Appeals

In March 1984 Drew filed a motion for a new trial based on Puralewski’s confession and affidavit exonerating Drew. The motion was denied without opinion, a decision affirmed by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. According to the court, the motion, filed 101 days after sentencing, was 71 days too late and thus no court in Texas could hear the motion or grant relief. A petition for writ of habeas corpus was filed in state court based on new evidence of Drew’s innocence, including evidence that had been suppressed by the state. It was denied. Drew filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in federal district court on June 14, 1988. This court denied relief, and the Fifth Circuit Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed. Drew’s execution was stayed November 25, 1992 by a timely filing of a writ of certiorari. The U.S. Supreme Court denied review on June 28, 1993. Drew had another execution date for October 14, 1993, which was set aside by a new habeas application in state court. It went on to the Court of Criminal Appeals and was denied in an unpublished order, September 30, 1993. Drew filed a second petition for habeas challenging the bias of the state trial judge. Three days later the federal district court dismissed that petition. The Fifth Circuit affirmed on October 11, 1993. Drew filed a petition for certiorari in the U.S. Supreme Court, which denied review. He received a temporary injunction on October 13, 1993, just six hours before his execution, to resolve pending issues. Ultimately, all relief was denied, and he was executed.

Conclusion

Robert Nelson Drew was executed despite evidence that he did not receive a fair trial. Because of a strictly imposed time limit, Texas courts refused to grant Drew a new trial despite substantial evidence of his innocence that only became available after the trial. The state withheld evidence of Drew’s innocence and discredited their sole eyewitness, whose testimony was essential in securing Drew’s conviction. The withholding of evidence rendered Drew’s trial unfair.

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Gary Graham (Texas)  Chart

Allegation

On June 22, 2000, the State of Texas, with the acquiescence of the federal government, executed Gary Graham by lethal injection. The state and federal government failed to ensure Graham’s right to a fair and impartial trial in which all the facts could be presented. The unfair trial resulted in Graham’s execution.

Crime

On May 13, 1981 at approximately 9:30 p.m., Bobby Grant Lambert was shot and killed, execution-style, as he walked across the parking lot of a Safeway store in Houston, Texas. Gary Graham was arrested shortly after the murder for unrelated crimes, and was then charged with Lambert’s murder, for which he was tried and convicted.

Salient Issues

Trial

Gary Graham was convicted based on the testimony of one eyewitness, Bernadine Skillern, who witnessed the crime from 30 to 40 feet away while she sat in her car in the store parking lot at 9:30 at night. She remembered the killer as being clean-shaven with a short afro. She failed to identify Graham in a photo display. However, Graham’s photo was the only one fitting her description, and she remarked that it might be him. The next day she viewed a line-up in which Gary Graham was the only person she had seen previously in the photo array. She then identified him as the killer. The jury did not hear evidence that Skillern had failed to identify Graham in her initial review of photos. In fact, she testified that she initially did identify him, despite the police report that said she did not.

There were four other eyewitnesses in the parking lot or the store that night. Two were called for a line-up, but failed to identify Graham. They were not asked specifically if Graham was the shooter. The other two witnesses were certain that Graham was not the shooter. They had seen a man, whom they described as the killer, waiting in front of the store. Neither of these witnesses was ever heard by the jury that convicted Graham or by any judge reviewing his appeals at either the state or federal level.

Lambert was killed by a .22 caliber bullet. Although Graham had a .22 caliber pistol, according to the Houston Police Department’s firearms expert, it was not the gun used in the killing. Thus, no forensic evidence linked Graham to the murder. The jury was never given this information.

No motive for murder was established at trial. During a ten-day period following Lambert’s murder, Graham did commit a dozen aggravated robberies; he pled guilty to all charges. These crimes bore no similarity to the murder, but were similar to each other. Lambert had not been robbed and he and Graham did not know each other. Lambert, a white man, had faced federal drug trafficking charges in Oklahoma City after his arrest in 1980. He was forced to testify before a federal grand jury about the persons for whom he was transporting drugs. He was killed soon after he testified. Lambert’s attorneys informed Graham’s counsel before the execution that they had reason to believe that Lambert was killed by the drug organization with which he was involved.

Graham’s court-appointed trial attorney failed to investigate, interview, or call to the stand Graham’s alibi witnesses or the four eyewitnesses who could have testified for the defense. Evidence of Graham’s innocence was never heard in a court of law.

Appeals

Graham’s court-appointed trial attorney failed to produce evidence of Graham’s innocence at trial, as well as at his first state and federal habeas corpus proceedings in 1988 and 1993. Only after a second round of state and federal appeals in 1993 was the evidence of innocence presented. State courts refused to re-examine the case and denied the application without a hearing. In Texas, new evidence must be introduced within 30 days of sentencing. Graham was then required to show evidence of actual innocence in order to qualify for federal review. On appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, the court found that "there is a large body of relevant evidence that has not been presented to the state court" and sent the case back to Texas for an evidentiary hearing. Texas again refused to hold an evidentiary hearing. Graham immediately returned to the Fifth Circuit, but the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, which subjects cases to a much higher threshold for federal review, had been enacted by Congress in the interim, and thus the Fifth Circuit refused to review the decision by the state court.

Conclusion

Gary Graham was executed despite compelling evidence of his innocence and evidence that he did not receive a fair trial. A substantial body of exculpatory evidence existed. Initially, Graham’s court-appointed lawyer failed to seek and find such evidence. His later defense counsel did investigate and did find this evidence. By then, the trial and initial appeals already had been completed. Defense lawyers were barred from ever presenting the evidence in any court by both state and federal courts. Texas courts repeatedly refused to hear new evidence, despite eventually being directed to do so by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), enacted in 1996 in the final stages of Graham’s appeals, then limited federal jurisdiction over the case. In Graham’s case, as in an increasing number of other cases, rigid thresholds for review and inflexible time limits for appeals, such as those imposed by the AEDPA, lead to violations of constitutional protections and human rights. Both state and federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, denied Graham relief. In spite of substantiated allegations that Graham never received a fair trial and compelling evidence of his innocence, Graham was executed.

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Richard Wayne Jones (Texas)  Chart

Allegation

On August 22, 2000, the State of Texas, with the acquiescence of the federal government, executed Richard Wayne Jones by lethal injection. The state and federal governments failed to ensure Jones’s right to a fair and impartial trial. The unfair trial resulted in Jones’s execution.

Crime

On February 19, 1986, Tammy Livingston was abducted, robbed, and then stabbed 19 times and murdered. Her body was left in a field and, later, set on fire. The next day, a woman was arrested while trying to cash checks belonging to the victim. Under interrogation, the woman said she had obtained the checks from her boyfriend, Richard Jones. Jones was arrested that evening and was subsequently charged with and convicted of the crimes.

Salient Issues

Trial

Richard Wayne Jones was convicted of Tammy Livingston’s murder largely on the basis of his coerced confession. While in police custody, Jones was denied food and sleep for 21 hours, and was threatened with the death penalty for himself and his girlfriend if he did not confess. The circumstances under which he confessed were coercive, particularly for a man who was diagnosed as being border-line mentally retarded and had grown up in state schools – the last of which had been closed down for brutality.

The evidence was overwhelmingly circumstantial and contradictory. Although there were three eyewitnesses, only one identified Jones in a police lineup. Jones, however, did not fit her original description of the abductor. A second witness failed to identify Jones in a police line-up.

Jones’s sister, a drug addict, admitted to Jones that she and her boyfriend, Walt Sellers, committed the crimes. Sellers was never investigated as a possible suspect, despite his convictions for similar crimes during the period of 1985 to 1987. Sellers was arrested with a dagger one month after the murder. The Fort Worth Police confiscated the dagger and had it in their locker room at the time of Jones’s pre-trial investigation, but never subjected it to forensic testing. It was later destroyed. Three witnesses provided sworn statements that Sellers had been in possession of the victim’s property shortly after the murder. After Jones’s trial and conviction, two other witnesses gave affidavits in which they stated that Sellers told them he knew Jones was innocent.

Appeals

Jones’s trial lawyer filed his initial state appeals, which were denied. On November 1, 1993, Jones filed an application for post conviction habeas corpus. After an evidentiary hearing, the trial court recommended relief be denied. The Court of Criminal Appeals adopted the recommendation, May 25, 1994. After obtaining new counsel, Jones was allowed to return to state appeals courts to raise issues, such as lack of effective trial counsel, which had not been raised by Jones’s original lawyer. Jones filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in federal district court on August 12, 1994. It was dismissed because several state issues were not resolved. He reapplied for state relief and was denied again with the Court of Criminal Appeals adopting the denial. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed his conviction in an unpublished opinion on April 7, 2000. The U.S. Supreme Court denied hearing his case.

Conclusion

Richard Wayne Jones was executed despite compelling evidence of his innocence that was never sufficiently considered by any court in the United States. He was convicted largely on the basis of a confession obtained under coercion and duress. Both the state and federal courts failed to protect Jones’s right to a fair trial by sanctioning the trial court’s use of the coerced confession to convict Jones. State and federal appeals courts denied the legal challenge to Jones’s conviction and the evidence of innocence uncovered after his conviction. Despite being subjected to police coercion, in violation of his constitutional and international human rights, and irrespective of evidence of his innocence, Jones was executed.

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Frank Basil McFarland (Texas) Chart

Allegation

On April 29, 1998, the State of Texas, with the acquiescence of the federal government, executed Frank Basil McFarland by lethal injection. The state and federal governments failed to ensure McFarland’s right to a fair and impartial trial by not providing effective counsel, withholding exculpatory evidence, permitting perjured testimony, making deals with witnesses, and using jailhouse informants. The unfair trial and refusal of the state to hear new evidence resulted in McFarland’s execution.

Crime

On February 1, 1988, Terry Hokanson, a shoeshine girl at a topless bar, was seen near a parking lot by three boys. She called for help, stumbled, and fell to the ground. She had been stabbed repeatedly. Before she died, she told the boys that she thought she had known her assailants, but realized she did not know them when she accepted an invitation to get in their car and go partying. She was quite conscious. She gave her name and other details to a police officer, who inadvertently arrived at the scene of the crime while on routine patrol. McFarland was arrested over a month later.

Salient Issues

The Trial

Michael Wilson, McFarland’s co-defendant, was killed a month after Terry Hokanson. Two witnesses came forward and testified that Wilson had "confessed" to his involvement in the Hokanson murder and had implicated McFarland as the killer. One was Wilson’s girlfriend, Rachel Revill, who was an illegal immigrant, and the other was Mark Noblett, a known police informant who was able to walk away from an arrest warrant a day after the trial ended. Noblett gave perjured testimony about Wilson’s confession that could have been rebutted by his own mother and Larry York, who were not called to testify. Both Revill and Noblett were questionable witnesses. The prosecution used Wilson’s murder in the trial to suggest the possible involvement of McFarland in another violent crime, although McFarland was never formally charged.

Of the people who spoke with the victim before her death, two boys who had provided sworn statements during the investigation were never called by the state to testify. Furthermore, the state failed to turn the boys’ statements over to the defense as exculpatory evidence. Neither boy ever mentioned a blue car, only a white car. Yet, five police officers and a dispatcher testified at trial that the boys had seen a blue car. A police officer used hypnosis to elicit quite different testimony from the original sworn statements.

Forensic evidence showed that McFarland was in a group of 6% of Caucasians in the U.S. who could have left semen in the victim. Hair in her hands was not from Wilson or McFarland, according to tests available at that time. The hair from a rabbit skin coat found in McFarland’s car could have been from the victim’s coat. It was not until sentencing that it was brought out that McFarland’s girlfriend had a similar coat.

McFarland was convicted and sentenced to death.

Appeals

In 1993, McFarland had an execution date and no lawyer because Texas law at that time did not require the state to provide legal representation after his first automatic appeal. He contacted the now defunded Texas Resource Center, and they agreed to help him find counsel. State and federal courts, including the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, denied him both appointment of counsel and a stay of execution without the filing of a habeas petition. Hence, he filed a pro se writ of habeas corpus. The U.S. Supreme Court stayed the execution and ordered federal courts to appoint him habeas counsel. State courts and the Court of Criminal Appeals denied both the petition for writ of habeas corpus and requests for discovery on November 15, 1995. Petition for writ of certiorari was filed in 1995 and a Motion for Certificate of Probable Cause to Appeal in April 1998. All were denied and McFarland chose not to file a Clemency Petition.

Conclusion

Frank McFarland was executed despite compelling evidence of his innocence and evidence that his trial was unfair. His trial counsel failed to raise issues that would have been exculpatory. This occurred at the same time that the state suppressed evidence favorable to McFarland. Perjured testimony from police officers, key witnesses, and the use of an informant enabled the state to gain a conviction and death sentence.

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Roger Keith Coleman (Virginia)  Chart

Allegations

On May 20, 1992, the State of Virginia, with the acquiescence of the federal government, executed Roger Keith Coleman in the electric chair. New evidence, including evidence that another man committed the crime, failed to stop his execution. The state and federal governments failed to secure Coleman’s right to a fair and impartial trial. A missed deadline barred appellate review and resulted in his execution.

Crime

Wanda McCoy was attached in, or just outside, her home on March 10, 1981. She was then raped and murdered. There was little sign of a struggle and, as she seldom opened the door when she was home alone, it was assumed she had allowed her attacker to come into the house. Roger Coleman, her brother-in-law, had access to the house and immediately became a suspect. Coleman, who worked in a mine, had reported to work that night but had left when his shift was dismissed. A fingerprint was found on the front screen door and a pry mark on the front door molding, and bloodstains inside the house. The victim had broken fingernails, cuts on the hands, and a dark, dusty substance on her body. The autopsy report recorded wounds to her chest and throat, but did not mention defensive wounds on her hands or a bruise on her arm. Limited forensic testing was done.

Salient Issues

The Trial

There was intense pressure in the community for an arrest in the McCoy murder, and police were frustrated at the lack of evidence tying Coleman to the crime. Coleman had been convicted of attempted rape several years earlier despite his denial of involvement and having an alibi. He served almost two years in prison and was released with a record as a sex offender. This affected his trial for the McCoy murder. Furthermore, McCoy’s husband had immediately named Coleman as a likely suspect because of his access to the McCoy household as Wanda’s brother-in-law. An expert for the state examined two hairs taken from the victim’s body, compared them with Coleman’s, and found they were consistent with his hair type. Coleman’s attorney did not present effective challenges to this testimony. The state presented a seemingly impossible series of events between Coleman’s arrival at the mine and the victim’s husband’s discovery of her body, but the prosecution was able to point out some uncertainties in testimony of alibi witnesses. Blood type testing did not rule Coleman out, nor did it show he had a role in the murder. A jailhouse informant claimed Coleman had confessed to him while Coleman was in the county jail awaiting trial. No other suspect was asked to provide hair or blood samples for comparison with those recovered from the victim’s body. Roger Coleman was convicted and sentenced to death.

Appeals

Confusion and disagreements about deadlines in the state courts led to a judge’s order refusing the state habeas corpus petition. Coleman’s lawyers had 30 days under Virginia law to file an appeal to the refusal. Their calculations were different than those of the state. They sent the appeal by regular, not certified mail, and it arrived after the 30-day deadline. Coleman’s appeal was, therefore, dismissed without review. This ruling crippled Coleman’s subsequent attempts to have his claims heard. The U.S. Supreme Court supported the state’s position that the missed deadline precluded federal review of his habeas claims. Clemency was refused partly because of the certainty with which the courts refused the appeals. Before Coleman’s scheduled execution, Governor Douglas Wilder agreed to grant clemency if Coleman passed a polygraph test. Coleman failed the test just hours before he was executed.

Conclusion

Roger Keith Coleman was executed despite compelling evidence of his innocence. Coleman’s attorneys had made claims about a biased jury, ineffective assistance of counsel, and exculpatory evidence withheld by the state, all of which would have been constitutional violations. The merits of these claims were never considered because his lawyers missed a deadline by one day. He was executed without full review. As U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun observed in his dissent, "one searches the majority’s opinion in vain for any mention of Coleman’s right to a criminal proceeding free from constitutional defect or his interest in finding a forum for his constitutional challenge to his conviction and sentence of death."

Present Situation

A Virginia court was asked in 2000 to order new DNA testing on physical evidence. An independent laboratory is still holding the samples, and the State of Virginia has demanded their return. Fearing that the state may never make appropriate use of the samples, the lab has refused to release them. A state court hearing is scheduled for December.