Supreme Court gives black death-row inmate new life

. . . While jurors were being picked, prosecutors had highlighted the names of African Americans, circled the word “black” on questionnaires, and added notations such as “B#1” and “B#2.” On a sheet labeled “definite NO’s,” they put the last five blacks in the jury pool on top. And they ranked them in case “it comes down to having to pick one of the black jurors.”

SCOTUS_2006. . . [B]ecause Foster received a death sentence, it could bolster arguments voiced last year by Justices Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg that the death penalty itself may be unconstitutional.    Read the article: USA Today

Pfizer v. Lethal Injections

. . . “Pfizer makes its products to enhance and save the lives of the patients we serve,” the pharmaceutical giant’s updated policy said. “Consistent with these values, Pfizer strongly objects to the use of its products as lethal injections for capital punishment. . . . Pfizer will consistently monitor the distribution of these 7 products, act upon findings that reveal noncompliance, and modify policies when necessary to remain consistent with our stated position against the improper use of our products in lethal injections.”       Read the article at The Atlantic

Exonerated, Dead and Still on Trial

It was no surprise last month when a Louisiana appeals court affirmed a trial judge’s denial of compensation for the estate of the late Glenn Ford. Ford was the soft-spoken black man who spent 30 years on death row for a murder he did not commit, convicted by an all-white jury following a trial in which he was represented by an oil and gas attorney who had never before tried a case.             Continue reading: The Marshall Project

An Ex-Marine Killed Two People in Cold Blood. Should His PTSD Keep Him From Death Row?

“. . . Thuesen, a 25-year-old former Marine reservist, called 911 and almost immediately expressed remorse. When he was arrested, he repeatedly asked the police about the victims and tried to explain why he’d kept shooting Rachel and her brother: “I felt like I was in like a mode … like training or a game or something.”     Read the article: Mother Jones

A Letter

March 29, 2011

The Honorable Eric H. Holder, Jr.
Attorney General of the United States
United States Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20530-0001

James M. Reams, Esq.
President of the National District Attorneys Association
Rockingham County Attorney’s Office
Rockingham County Superior Courthouse,
10 Rte. 125
Brentwood, N.H. 03833

Roy Cooper
President of the National Association of Attorneys General
2030 M Street NW, 8th Floor
Washington, D.C. 20036

Dear Sirs,

Today the U.S. Supreme Court in Connick v. Thompson took away most of the only remaining means those of us who have been wrongfully convicted of a crime had for holding prosecutors liable for their misconduct. Although all other professionals, from doctors to airline pilots to clergy, can be held liable for their misconduct, the Supreme Court has effectively given prosecutors complete immunity for their actions. We, the undersigned and our families, have suffered profound harm at the hands of careless, overzealous and unethical prosecutors. Unfortunately, today’s ruling only threatens to further embolden those prosecutors who are willing to abandon their responsibility to seek justice in their zeal to win convictions.

Now that the wrongfully convicted have virtually no meaningful access to the courts to hold prosecutors liable for their misdeeds, we demand to know what you intend to do to put a check on the otherwise unchecked and enormous power that prosecutors wield over the justice system.

Former United States Attorney General and Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson once said, “The prosecutor has more power over life, liberty, and reputation than any other person in America.” Unfortunately recent reports have shown that prosecutors are abusing this power at alarming rates and are facing no consequences for their actions. According to Preventable Error: A Report on Prosecutorial Misconduct in California 1997-2009, prosecutors were guilty of misconduct 707 times from 1997 to 2009, yet were disciplined only seven times. A USA Today investigation by Brad Heath and Kevin McCoy that was published on Sept. 23, 2010, documented 201 instances where federal prosecutors violated laws or ethics rules since 1997 and noted that only one of those prosecutors was suspended from practicing law—and that was only for one year.

In many of our wrongful conviction cases prosecutorial misconduct was found but later declared “harmless” by the courts. Nothing could be further from the truth. In our cases, each act had profoundly harmful effects on our lives. Together we represent hundreds of years in prison, separated from our wives, husbands, children, parents, brothers, sisters, grandparents and other loved ones, who suffered their own shame and wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars on lawyers and spent countless sleepless nights worrying about our well being. The misconduct contributed to nearly unbearable depression and unhappiness, loss of jobs and career opportunities, the derailing of educations and forever destroyed hopes and dreams. Each of us has worked long and hard to repair what has happened to us, but we will never regain the lives we had before we were wrongfully convicted at the hands of careless or deceitful prosecutors.

According to the friend-of-the-court briefs submitted in recent Supreme Court cases dealing with prosecutorial misconduct the National District Attorneys Association, the National Association of Assistant United States Attorney’s Attorney Generals and the Solicitor General claim that there are already plenty of systems in place to cure the problems of misconduct, including: internal disciplinary systems, state bar disciplinary systems, monitoring by the courts and, in extreme cases, criminal prosecution. These systems didn’t do a thing to prevent prosecutorial misconduct in our cases. As far as we can tell, none of these systems were brought to bear on the prosecutors in our cases. Our sense is that they do nothing at all.

We demand to know what you are doing to stop these abuses. What has happened to the prosecutors whose knowing acts contributed to our suffering? What have you done to make them understand that they cannot do it again? How have the systems been fixed to prevent future misconduct and errors? What makes you think these solutions have worked when so many people continue to be wrongfully convicted?

The power to charge and prosecute someone with a crime comes with grave responsibility. Now that the Supreme Court has said that prosecutors cannot be held civilly liable for their actions, it’s up to you to make sure that prosecutors take that responsibility as seriously as the job demands. As you consider the significance of today’s decision, please know that those of us who have been the victims of prosecutorial misconduct are eager to hear what you intend to do to ensure that others don’t suffer injustice as we have.

Sincerely,

Kennedy Brewer
Noxubee County, MS

Roy Brown
Cayuga County, NY

Darryl Burton
Saint Louis, MO

Kirk Bloodsworth
Baltimore County, MD

Algie Crivens
Cook County, IL

Clarence Elkins
Summit County, OH

Michael Evans
Cook County, IL

Dennis Fritz
Pontotoc County, OK

James Giles
Dallas County, TX

Bruce Godschalk
Montgomery County, PA

Thomas Goldstein
Los Angeles County, CA

Michael Green
Cuyahoga County, OH

Lesly Jean
Onslow County, NC

Joshua Kezer
Cole County, MO

Ray Krone
Maricopa County, AZ

Curtis McCarty
Oklahoma County, OK

Gene and Elizabeth Sodersten,
parents on behalf of Mark Sodersten,
who died in prison
Tulare County, CA

John Thompson
Orleans Parrish, LA

Keith Turner
Dallas County, TX

from The Innocence Project’s March 29, 2016 report:
Prosecutorial Oversight: A National Dialogue in the Wake of Connick v. Thompson

Bennett Death Sentence Overturned

A Judge Overturned a Death Sentence Because the Prosecutor Compared a Black Defendant to King Kong

A federal trial judge in South Carolina last week overturned the death sentence of a man convicted of stabbing his victim more than 70 times with a screwdriver. The sentencing phase of the trial of Johnny O’Landis Bennett was so infected by racial animus by the prosecutor and a juror, U.S. District Judge Richard Mark Gergel concluded, that Bennett was deprived of his constitutional right to due process.
Continue reading: The Marshall Project