Tag Archives: Death-Penalty

Case where the death penalty was sought

Marcellus Williams

Marcellus Williams was convicted of the August 11, 1998 murder of Felicia Gayle.

Post-conviction new DNA tests that show Williams’ DNA was not on the weapon that killed Felicia Gayle. The DNA of another unidentified man was on the weapon. The victim was stabbed 43 times, and it stands to reason that the male DNA on the weapon is that of the actual culprit.

The state of Missouri said that the other evidence in the case is still strong. Yet that evidence consisted of the testimony of informants, both drug addicts, who received financial incentives to testify against him. The footprint at the crime scene and the hair samples from the crime scene do not match Williams either.

To be sure, Williams had a number of items belonging to the victim and sold a laptop belonging to the victim’s husband. That is strong circumstantial evidence. Then again, those items were found by one of the cooperating informants, Williams’ girlfriend at the time. The case was built around the informants. Both had hoped to get a $10,000 reward.

The jury that convicted Williams never heard about the DNA evidence, and it is hard to imagine that if he was tried today that he would get a death sentence, given the new doubts about guilt. That DNA evidence has never been presented in court.

Source: Washington Post article, August 2017

There is evidence that the informants, Cole and Asaro, spoke on the phone while Cole was still in jail, suggesting a conspiracy between Cole and Asaro. And Asaro was a prostitute, and might have got the laptop from another of her clients. Moreover it was apparently Asaro that sold the laptop, not Marcellus.

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Ralph Trent Stokes

On March 11, 1982, two men robbed Smokin’ Joe’s Korner, in Philadelphia.  Armed with guns, and wearing masks, the men entered the restaurant before it opened, herded the employees into the walk-in refrigerator and threatened to kill them if they failed to cooperate.

One of the men shot and killed two of the employees Mary Louise Figueroa and Eugene Jefferson.  Two other employees were threatened but not shot. However, when a United States Postal Service employee happened onto the scene, he was killed by a shot in the head.

Both Ralph Trent Stokes, age 19, who had worked at the restaurant, and Donald Jackson were arrested and charged with the murders. Threatened with the death penalty, Jackson testified that Ralph was the shooter, in exchange for a guilty plea to second-degree murder and a life sentence. Ralph was wrongly convicted and sentenced to death.

One witness, Donald Blackson, testified that he had not signed a statement incriminating Ralph, and contrary to the statement he did not remember talking to Ralph on the day of the murders.

Prosecutor Roger King failed to disclose exculpatory results of laboratory testing on items seized from Ralph’s home. King then made argument to the jury, and presented other evidence, which was completely rebutted by the undisclosed lab reports. King lied to defense counsel, the court and the jury.

More information is available at http://www.ralphtrentstokes.org

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Kevin Brian Dowling

Kevin Brian Dowling was convicted of robbing and later murdering Jennifer Myers. According to a Federal appeal filed in 2015 :

Quote

This case presents a textbook example of how a tunnel-visioned police investigation coupled with overzealous and unscrupulous prosecutors can result in the conviction of an innocent person.

On August 5, 1996, Jennifer Myers was robbed at gunpoint in her frame gallery, where she was the sole proprietress. She thought she knew her attacker and initially did not want the police to be contacted. A disgruntled business partner was implicated, apparently on the theory that the robbery was staged as an intimidation tactic.

On November 29, 1996, with no tangible results in their investigation, the police visited Ms. Myers for a follow-up interview. When pressed, she told police that two weeks earlier she thought she observed someone who looked like the attacker working at a convenience store. She explained then that her failure to timely notify the police was due to her lack certainty that he was the perpetrator. The police investigated and when they observed a car of comparable make to the one ostensibly observed near the gallery, they promptly arrested the car’s owner,  Petitioner, Kevin Brian Dowling.

Mr. Dowling was a  married father of three children, with no criminal record, and a lengthy career in operations management.

When Myers was later found murdered, suspicion turned almost exclusively to Petitioner, with the authorities ignoring other likely suspects including: an admitted robber with an identical modus operandi to the perpetrator and who was then on the loose; the victim’s husband who “discovered” the body, and suspiciously, in the immediate aftermath of the murder, dispossessed himself of a weapon of the same caliber as the murder weapon (which the Commonwealth’s expert could not exclude as the weapon used to kill Myers); and the disgruntled former business partner. Because there was little evidence implicating Petitioner in the murder (for which Petitioner was tried separately and sentenced to death) the prosecution sought to bolster the robbery case through coaching of witnesses, renewed reliance on hypnotically refreshed identifications, and a blatant attempt to pollute the jury pool through biased and frequent press appearances (as the trial court found).

In addition, prosecutors contemptuously ignored court rulings and admonitions in order to ensure that the jury heard prejudicial and inadmissible evidence. Against this onslaught, the Commonwealth provided Petitioner with a host of Strickland-deficient lawyers, who collectively did virtually nothing Strickland requires, resulting in no defense being presented at trial and the waiver of virtually all of Petitioner’s claims of error, including ineffectiveness of trial counsel.

End Quote

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Marcel Johnson

Marcel Johnson was convicted in June 2015 of stabbing to death a pregnant woman and her 4-year-old daughter on November 25, 2013, and sentenced to death.

Behind bars, he allegedly confessed to a fellow inmate, George Lewis. The defense argued in closing that Lewis was a motivated witness with a long rap sheet and plenty of reasons to lie to help his own case, and told the jury that Johnson’s DNA was not found in evidence from the scene.

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Elwood Jones

Elwood Jones was sentenced to death after being convicted for the 1994 murder of Rhoda Nathan, a guest at the hotel where he worked as a custodian. He has always maintained his innocence and absolutely denied involvement in Ms. Nathan’s death.

Ms. Nathan was found unconscious on the floor of the hotel suite she occupied at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Blue Ash, Ohio, on September 3, 1994. She had been badly beaten and two of her teeth had been knocked out. Blood was found in several places in the room. Ms. Nathan was also without a necklace that family and friends said she wore constantly. No one witnessed the attack.

Elwood Jones had been working in the hotel on that day, and he voluntarily submitted to police questioning. Several other employees reported seeing Elwood working that day and remembered him being clean and acting normally. A cut on Elwood’s hand that he received while taking out trash on the morning of Ms. Nathan’s death later became infected, and he sought treatment and workers compensation for his injury. After police learned about Elwood’s cut, they focused on him as a suspect. Police searched Elwood’s car, and his and a friend’s residences, and questioned him at the station. But none of the blood, fingerprint, or trace evidence collected from the scene of the crime, nor from Elwood’s car, clothing, or other possessions, matched him with the crime scene or the victim. To this day, zero forensic evidence ties Elwood to Ms. Nathan’s homicide.

Source : December 2013 memorandum in opposition to the State’s motion to set execution date.

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Daniel Gwynn

Daniel Gwynn was convicted of first degree murder, arson and aggravated assault in 1995. The primary evidence against him was an incriminating police-written statement that he signed. In this statement Mr. Gwynn is supposed to have started the fire at that killed Marcia Smith, one of the six homeless residents there, who refused to jump out of a third floor residence. The other five residents survived. Two of the residents testified that on the day before the fire they had an altercation with someone known as ‘Rick’ who fought with them for seventy minutes before being forced to flee the residence and threatened revenge. The five homeless residents told police that they believed ‘Rick” had to have started the fire – even though they did not see who started the fire.

According to false confession expert Dr. Richard Leo, “There is no objective record of what occurred and therefore no way of ruling out that Mr. Gwynn was not educated about those facts that he got correct, a phenomenon known as ‘contamination’ that is not uncommon in police interrogations, especially those leading to false confessions.”

Source: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/en-gb/125/358/722/free-daniel-gwynn-an-innocent-man-on-death-row/

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Don Roberts and Glynn Simmons

On December 30, 1974, two men held-up the Edmond Liquor Store and and in the process shot clerk, Carolyn Sue Rogers, who was killed, and a customer, Belinda Brown, who was wounded but survived.

Don Roberts and Glynn Simmons were subsequently convicted of the murder. There was no physical evidence to link them to the crime, only a questionable eyewitness identification by Belinda, and a juvenile who identified Don in a lineup.

Don and Glynn were strangers the day of the murder, they had only met once at a party, weeks after the murder. Police say their alibis didn’t check out.

Police reports indicate detectives recovered at least one usable finger print, and a bullet, but police said in court there were no fingerprints lifted from the scene of the murder.

Carolyn’s sister, Janice Smith, later wrote a letter to Glynn, and became convinced of his innocence.

Source : http://kfor.com/2014/05/15/prosecutor-family-believe-convicted-murder-could-be-innocent/

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Billie Jerome Allen

On March 17, 1997, security guard Richard Heflin was killed during an armed robbery of the Lindell Bank & Trust in St. Louis (Forest Park), Missouri, by two men.

William Green who was a customer at the bank dialled 911 and followed the  getaway van to Forest Park, where it burst into flames ( prior to the robbery the van had been soaked in gasoline ). One of the men, Norris G. Holder, caught fire, and was arrested at the scene by police. The other ran into a wooded area, and was spotted soon after he left the van on the opposite side of the wooded area by city forestry employee Bobby Harris. After making up a story about why the hair on his head was burned, the man convinced Harris and another forestry employee to give him a ride to the nearest Metrolink station.

Billie Jerome Allen was arrested at his girlfriend’s apartment at about 2:00a.m. the next day.  Around 3:00 a.m. Billie was placed in an interrogation room, handcuffed to the table, advised again of his Miranda rights, and allegedly treated for his burns and injuries. Subsequently, Billie was identified by Harris in a lineup and at trial.

It seems like an open and shut case, but allegedly, there is no documentation of Billie being treated for burns and injuries, and the photo lineup shows no bandage or sign he was treated:

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Source: http://www.freebillieallen.com/single-post/2016/03/13/YOU-BE-THE-JUDGE

Both Billie and Holder were found guilty in separate trials, and sentenced to death.

Discussion

More images:

 

 

 

John Pecoraro

John Pecoraro was convicted of murdering Jimmy Ray Christian on December 6, 1982, and sentenced to death ( in 2011 Illinois abolished the death penalty, and sentences were commuted to life imprisonment ).

John was convicted on the basis of an unsigned confession, which he denies he made, and witnesses who may have had an incentive to lie.

According to a review in The Chicago Daily Law Bulletin (see below), the State did not disclose information about a third person who allegedly confessed to the killing, and failed to   disclose a promise of leniency it made to a witness, in exchange for cooperation.

Discussion

* The review ( source ) titled “When exculpatory evidence never makes it to defendant”

Reading the Illinois Supreme Court’s decision in People v. John Pecoraro, No.78457 (Feb.6), one gets the distinct impression that the defendant got more vengeance than justice in his litigation.

In Pecoraro, the high court found that the state’s failure to disclose information about a third person who allegedly confessed to the killing – a killing for which the defendant received the death penalty – did not constitute a violation of Brady v.Maryland, 373 U.S. 83,10 L.Ed.2d 215, 83 S.Ct.1194 (1963), and its progeny. The court also found that the state’s failure to disclose a promise of leniency it made to a witness, in exchange for cooperation, did not impair the defense – since the defense had discovered different helpful information on its own. The Supreme Court reasoned that because the defendant did not allege or prove that the witness had testified falsely at trial, no harm had been done.

To justify its ruling regarding the harmlessness of the failure to disclose the statement by the third party, who had admitted to committing the crime, the court discussed the admissibility of that third party’s statement under established rules of evidence. In doing so, the high court reviewed the several predicates for the admissibility of a hearsay statement by a third party who admits to committing a crime, as set forth in Chambers v.Mississippi, 410 U.S.284,35 L.Ed.2d297,93 S.Ct.1038 (1973), and the court determined that the statement would have been inadmissible hearsay – thus not causing harmful error.

In regard to the state’s failure to disclose its promise of leniency to the cooperating witness, the court reasoned that no harm had been done since that information would have been of little help to the defense in light of all the other impeachment evidence the defense had acquired on its own. The court thus found that the state’s failure to disclose the additional impeachment material was harmless to the defendant’s case.

With all due respect for our Supreme Court, it appears this ruling either shows a callous indifference to procedural due process and the right to counsel or lack of common sense. Surely our state’s highest court knows that a defense attorney’s efforts are not limited to the four corners of the discovery information received from the state.

If the state discloses the name of a witness who claims to have committed the crime for which one’s client stands accused, a competent defense attorney would usually hire an investigator and try to obtain admissible evidence showing that the declarant – not the accused – committed the crime in question. Furthermore, an effective defense team might be able to convince the declarant to testify – in which case there would be no hearsay problem. But if the state is allowed to hide exculpatory information from the defense, investigation opportunities can be destroyed before they can ever begin. In essence, the state would be able to deny an accused the assistance of counsel by simply hiding exculpatory material.

Note that in U.S. v. Bagley, 473 U.S.667 (1985), the U.S. Supreme Court held that, regardless of whether information is requested by the accused, favourable evidence is material, and constitutional error results from its suppression by the government if suppression adversely affects an outcome.

With regard to the state’s failure to disclose the deal it had with one of its witnesses, and the Pecoraro court’s finding that the lack of disclosure was harmless in light of other impeachment information, how would the court have ruled had a defendant asked that the state not be allowed to introduce cumulative evidence?

For instance, if this defendant had been willing to stipulate to the cause of death in his murder case, would the court have barred the state from offering gory autopsy photos? Probably not.

The Supreme Court frequently has ruled that a party trying to prove a point has the right to present all of its evidence – including gory autopsy photos. People v. LeMay, 35Ill.2d 208, 220 N.E.2d 194 (1966). In the instant case, the defendant was trying to prove that a key witness for the state was not credible. The defense should have been allowed to present all of the evidence it had on the credibility issue – including any deals the witness had with the state.

 

 

 

Joseph Nissensohn

Joseph Nissensohn was convicted in 2013 of the 1981 murders of Tammy Jarschke, 13, and Tanya Jones, 14, along with the 1989 murder of a South Lake Tahoe girl, 15-year-old Kathy Graves.

On Sept. 9, 1981, a team of woodcutters found Tanya’s decomposed body tied with electrical wire to a tree about a mile off Tassajara Road on Chews Ridge, Monterey County, California. Sheriff’s deputies combing the area for evidence found Tammy’s remains nearby.

Nine years later, Nissensohn’s estranged wife, Cheryl Rose, showed up in a Florida battered women’s shelter. She told police her husband had killed a woman in Tacoma, Wash. She agreed to testify in exchange for immunity. The next year, Nissensohn was convicted of killing Sally Jo Tsaggaris, 46, during drug-fueled, bondage-style sex in a van.

Rose testified that she believed Nissensohn was responsible for many earlier murders, including two in Oklahoma and one in Nevada. She described the disappearance of Kathy Graves in South Lake Tahoe three months after the Tacoma murder.

Rose also told investigators about a killing that matched details of the Chews Ridge slayings. Nissensohn was sentenced to 25 years in prison for the Tacoma murder, but in 2008, after serving 15 years, he was about to be let out with credits for good behavior.

Monterey and South Lake Tahoe’s El Dorado County filed charges and combined all three murders to be tried at the same time. Authorities found Jessie Prieto, Nissensohn’s best friend. Prieto agreed to cooperate and said he and his friend were with Tammy and Tanya on June 25, 1981, and that Nissensohn told him he wanted to take the girls to Chews Ridge and rape them. But Prieto died before the case ever made it to trial. Cheryl Rose, who was in poor health, was barely able to testify in a 2010 preliminary hearing, and died five months later. However,  prosecutor Dale Gomes was able to submit Rose’s testimony transcript as evidence at trial. A jailhouse informant informant testified that Nissensohn confessed to killing Tammy and Tanya.

Just before Nissensohn was sentenced in 1991, he contacted police, and told them  in an interview that he did not kill Sally Jo Tsaggaris or Kathy Graves, claiming that his wife, Cheryl Rose, killed them, and he just hid the body of Tsaggaris. The long interview, which was taped, was played for the jury. Nissensohn told two offices that he was a scapegoat for Rose, who had killed Sally. He only helped get rid of the body, he said. The first murder trial was a conspiracy against him, he said, involving Rose, who testified in exchange for immunity, and his defense counsel, who offered no defense and simply rested their case without so much as calling a witness. Because he was about to be sentenced and likely extradited to California for the murder of Graves, he wanted to strike a deal himself. Nissensohn said on the tape that he met Rose in a motel and of their wild life of drugs and sex, with Rose bringing home “beautiful women” to “party” with and play “sexual games,” while he brought in drugs. One day, he came back from getting drugs to find Tsaggaris stabbed to death, but didn’t go to the police. Instead, he helped get rid of the body. “I know Cheryl did it,” Nissensohn said on the tape. “I came back to that van and that girl was dead. Cheryl did it. I had nothing to worry about … I sat there and heard it for a day and a half after my lawyer stuck it to me by going, ‘Defense rests.’ Guilty of second-degree murder. And all I did was help get rid of the body. Guilty of second-degree murder. I didn’t do it.

The defense called a witness who testified that her ex-husband killed Tammy and Tanya.

The defense called Brian Jarvis of the Marion County Sheriff’s Office to the stand. Jarvis, now retired, was part of interviews with Rose, which were played via audio and shown on video. Though the interviews from 1990 were nearly unintelligible, the jury was provided a transcript, and Jarvis was questioned after each segment.

The defense asked questions concerning answers Rose had given, showing she changed answers over time. Between the 1990 interviews and a 2007 interview, she changed her story of the last time she saw Kathy Graves, a South Lake Tahoe teenager Nissensohn is accused of killing. First, she said she saw the girl leaving to hitchhike to find a job; then, she last saw the girl as Nissensohn led her into the hills of the forest, after they had stopped their van. Nissensohn allegedly wanted sex, and when denied by the girl, killed her.

She also changed her story of what Nissensohn had carried into the woods. Originally, she said it was a quilt. Then, she changed her story to a bag of sex toys that also had a kitchen knife — what she said Nissensohn used to kill Graves and Tsaggaris.

News Reports

Discussion

Hooman Ashkan Panah

md081-e1427320714142Hooman Ashkan Panah was convicted in 1995 of  sexually assaulting and murdering an 8-year-old girl, and sentenced to death.

The victim was found in a suitcase in Hooman’s closet, in his apartment which was shared by Hooman, his mother and a guest, Ahmed Seihoon, who was the last person to see the victim before she went missing.

The conviction was based on pathology and serological evidence, however this evidence was false, being inconsistent with DNA evidence which was collected but not presented at trial, in fact his attorney has claimed that the DNA proves Hooman to be innocent.

An independent pathologist has stated that the victim likely died much later than Hooman was present at the apartment, meaning he could not have committed the crime.

Multiple searches of the apartment were conducted by the police, which failed to discover the body, suggesting that it was brought into the apartment after Hooman was arrested.

The guest, Ahmed Seihoon, had the opportunity both to commit the crime and return the body to the apartment in a suitcase. In addition, according to Hooman’s mother, he lied to police to give the impression he had an alibi.

The latest brief, filed in March 2016, is available from http://freehooman.com/.

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Timothy Madden

15319059_1499219683440735_8612164607407244258_nTimothy Madden was accused of raping and murdering 7-year-old Gabbi Doolin during a little league football game in Scottsville, Kentucky, on November 14, 2015. Timothy was arrested on November 20, and says he is innocent. The commonwealth is seeking the death penalty.

According to reports, there is DNA evidence linking Timothy to the crime, however no details are available, and an anonymous report suggests the DNA may not in fact have matched, and KSP was under “undue pressure to find a suspect” and “may have rushed to judgement”:

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Timothy appears to be an unlikely suspect, being married with five children, and had been caring for his wife who has a serious illness. In an interview he says the charges are bogus and he was accused on the basis of gossip. He says his young daughter knew Gabbi, he was  at the game, and “my son was playing football, and my little daughter was there with us too”.

In July 2016, two motions were discussed in court, one to limit pre-trial publicity, and another to test remaining evidence in the case. A computer and a cell phone are finishing being tested, but both sides in the case are asking for the rest of the DNA at the KSP crime lab to be run. Timothy’s attorney stated “Mr. Madden has not changed anything he has said”. — Timothy Madden makes first court appearance in 6 months.

At a hearing in December 2016, it was reported that DNA testing may not be completed until June 2017, and a trial was not expected before January 2018. Other deadlines and dates set were:
March 31, 2017 – Change of venue request deadline
April 28, 2017 – Response deadline
May 26, 2017 – Reply date, evidence suppression request deadline
January 2018 – Trial could begin

Discussion

Update: Sep 2017 From Questions linger as ‘horrendous’ murder of 7-year-old heads to trial ( has video ):

Defense attorney Travis Lock claims police, desperate to solve a horrific, high-profile case quickly as possible, focused on Madden – a former construction worker with no history of violence or sexual misconduct — at the exclusion of more likely suspects.

For starters, Lock said in a court hearing that, despite what police said, there is no evidence that Madden’s jeans, jacket, belt and boots were stained with blood.

In addition, Lock said in an interview, the clothing Madden wore that night did not appear dirty or damp even though Gabbi’s body was found in a creek, in a wooded area wet with mud and leaves.

“Whoever committed this crime was on the forest floor, in November at night, committing heinous acts on a child,” Lock said in an interview.

No witnesses say they saw Madden with Gabbi and some people identified a different man with a long beard and brown coat as acting suspicious and being “out of place.”

Some of the children with Gabbi that night described seeing the same man, according to a court document.

One child told police she saw a little girl wearing pink being carried off by the man, according to the document.

Some of these witnesses were shown a photo of Madden but did not identify him as being the man they saw, Lock said.

And during part of the time Gabbi was missing, Madden sent several text messages with pictures of the game to his wife and the mother of his child who was playing, Lock said. He also made a phone call during that time.

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Tyrone Noling

In a video by Off-Center Media, law enforcement officials detail how an Ohio man was convicted and sentenced to death for a double-murder he did not commit.

Tyrone Noling was convicted of the murder of Cora and Bearnhardt Hartig and sentenced to death in 1996. No physical evidence linked Noling to the crime, only the testimony of his three codefendents who implicated him in exchange for their own immunity. The three men have since recanted their testimonies, saying police threatened them with the death penalty.

In the video, former Portage County Sheriff Kenneth Howe and veteran homicide detective Jim Trainum describe how police and prosecutors fed the men information about the crime scene.

According to Ohio Innocence Project director Mark Godsey, an inmate on death row confessed to committing the crime in a letter sent to his brother before his execution.

“When you step back and you look at the entire investigation, you see tunnel vision here on the part of the police and prosecutors,” Godsey says in the video. “They focused in on their suspects right away and then they tried to make all the pieces fit together to fit their theory of the case while ignoring other red flags including alternate suspects that weren’t ultimately looked into in great depth.”

The video is narrated by Raymond Towler, who spent nearly three decades in prison for a crime he did not commit before his exoneration in 2010.

Noling is represented by the Ohio Public Defender and the Ohio Innocence Project.

Source: Innocence Project ( see link for video )

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Rodricus Crawford

Rodricus Crawford was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to death.

On February 16, 2012, something truly terrible happened that could only be described as any parent’s worst nightmare. Rodricus Crawford, a young father in Caddo Parish, Louisiana woke up and noticed that his son, Roderius, who had just turned one a week earlier, was lifeless.

Rodricus, who was sleeping on the pullout couch, immediately yelled out for help. An uncle called 911. Various family members took turns performing CPR and it seemed like nothing they were doing was making one bit of difference.

When the EMTs showed up, they refused to allow Rodricus to get in the ambulance with the baby and were slow to leave. It had already taken far too long for them to get there. They were so disrespectful to the family that it caused a stir there in the community. Within minutes, police arrived. Thinking they might take Rodricus to the hospital, they instead arrested him and took him to the jail. His only son had died and instead of comforting him as the grieving father that he was, he was interrogated and harassed.

Not a single soul in his family believed Rodricus Crawford killed his son. When police called in the boy’s mother, who lived a few doors down, for questioning, she didn’t believe it either. Rodricus loved the boy with his whole heart — everybody in the community knew that. No motive existed.

Over the next year, what unfolded in Louisiana, under the leadership of its then-Acting District Attorney Dale Cox, was like a bad movie. With no motive and no witnesses, Rodricus Crawford was charged and convicted of murdering his son. Black jurors were routinely struck from the jury pool. Even though an expert testified that the young boy likely died of complications to undiagnosed sepsis and pneumonia, which the family thought was just a small cold, Cox was convinced, in part due to a pathologist’s report, that Rodricus had deliberately smothered him to death.

A cut on the boy’s lip, which multiple family members testified was caused by a recent fall in the bathroom, was used as the justification of the smothering claim. Anybody who has ever had children knows far too well how often kids fall and hurt themselves, but it was completely ignored.

Crawford’s first appeal was denied by the Supreme Court of Louisiana on November 14, 2014. In November 2016, the Louisiana Supreme Court overturned the conviction. Four medical experts submitted reports indicating that his son had died of pneumonia. The baby’s blood had tested positive for sepsis, which can be fatal for young children. One judge wrote: “No rational trier of fact could have concluded that the State presented sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant had the specific intent to kill his one-year-old son,”

Sources: New York Daily News, November 18, 2016The New Yorker, November 23, 2016

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April 19, 2017 : charged dropped.

 

Ivan Cantu

Around 6 pm on Saturday November 4, 2000, the bodies of James Mosqueda and Amy Kitchens were found in their home, in Dallas, Texas. They had both been shot.

The next day, Sunday November 5, police discovered Mosqueda’s Corvette parked outside Ivan Cantu’s home, a mile away.

On Tuesday November 7, police searched Cantu’s apartment, and found jeans and socks with the victims’ blood on them folded neatly inside Cantu’s trashcan. In the bedroom closet they found keys to Amy Kitchens’ Mercedes and a box of .380 caliber bullets.

On November 4, Cantu left Texas, but he returned November 7, and stayed the night at the house of Tawny Svihovec, his former girlfriend. On Wednesday November 8, Cantu went to the police department to speak with lead detective Anthony Winn, and was arrested. In the evening, Svihovec informed police that she had found a gun, a box of bullets and drugs under a couch cushion, in her home. The victim’s blood was found on the gun.

Amy Boettcher, Cantu’s girlfriend testified that Cantu left their apartment on Friday Nov. 3 at 11:30 pm with intent to kill the victims, returned after 45 minutes, and that they subsequently visited the crime scene. She also testified Cantu gave her a ring to wear which she believed to have been taken from Kitchens.

At first sight, the evidence of guilt appears overwhelming, and during closing arguments, Cantu’s lawyers told the jury “I’m not telling you he’s innocent..”. Cantu was duly convicted and sentenced to death.

However, Cantu claims he was framed, and when further evidence is taken into account, this seems a logical conclusion.

Although this was not brought up at trial, Amy Kitchens’ body when discovered at 6:30pm on November 4 was not in a state of “rigor mortis”, this is inexplicable if she was killed more than 18 hours earlier, as Boettcher claimed. Cantu claimed to have seen Kitchens alive around 6:30am on November 4, and this medical evidence strongly supports Cantu’s claim.

Next, it’s puzzling that Cantu was so careless. Telling Boettcher his intention, confessing to her, leaving the victim’s car parked outside his home ( and he was a suspect right from the moment the bodies were discovered ), the incriminating evidence left in his house, and finally the gun found at Svihovec’s home. It all seems too easy for the police, it is not unreasonable to suspect a setup.

Boettcher testified that after visiting the scene, Cantu drove back in Mosqueda’s Corvette, while she drove Cantu’s Honda. This doesn’t make sense.

Boettcher also testified that on the evening of Thursday Nov. 2, after three wonderful months together, Cantu suddenly became angry as they sat in their living room, and fired a gun near her head, the bullet went through the wall. Again, this doesn’t make much sense.

Then there are other inconsistencies in Boettcher’s account – she testified that the victim hit Cantu with a baseball bat, and his face was damaged, but nobody saw this when they went out partying later. Boettcher also said she was still terrified even after Cantu was arrested, inexplicable if he acted alone.

In summary, it seems quite plausible Boettcher decided planted evidence against Cantu was so compelling that it was best to testify as police suggested, to ensure she was not charged as an accomplice.

There are other unanswered questions : how Cantu could have been in possession of the gun (the registered owner of the gun did not testify), and were his fingerprints actually on the gun, as the prosecution claim.

This is only a short summary of some points about the case, for a detailed series of articles see here.

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SCOTUS Petition June 2017

Manuel Ortiz

Sister Helen Prejean writes:

Manuel Ortiz has been on death row at Angola, Louisiana’s State Penitentiary, for 22 years. Manuel, originally from El Salvador, was convicted in 1994 of hiring someone to kill his wife, Tracie Williams, and of the murder of Tracie’s friend, Cheryl Mallory.

Manuel’s legal team believes he is innocent of these crimes. I am certain he is.

What makes me so sure? The case against him was riddled with inconsistencies, plagued by prosecutorial double dealing and built upon the testimony of one man, an FBI informant, who later confessed to the crime.

I have been visiting Manuel for a decade and a half and have grown to know him well. Rose Vines, who works with me at the Ministry Against the Death Penalty, has also been visiting Manuel for over a decade. Recently, Rose did an interview for Death: The Podcast, where she talked at length about visiting Manuel. Her account is simply told and both moving and profound. I encourage you to listen so you may learn something about this man who is such an important part of our work and our lives.

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Rob Will

In 2000, Rob Will was unfairly convicted for the slaying of a police officer. Due to derisory legal counsel, prosecutorial and juror misconduct, as well as evidence withheld during trial- Rob was convicted of murder and sentenced to death.

In spite of Rob being handcuffed at time of the fatal shooting (radio logs prove this) and numerous confessions by his co-defendant saying Rob is innocent- an innocent man awaits an execution date.
U.S. Federal District Judge stated, “On top of considerable evidence supporting Will’s innocence and the important errors in the trial court, there must also be addressed the absence of eyewitness testimony or strongly probative forensic evidence… only circumstantial evidence supports Will’s conviction and death sentence.”

Source

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Kenneth Clair

Kenneth Clair was convicted of  the 1984 murder of a baby sitter in Santa Ana, Orange County, California, and sentenced to death.

A child witness who did not testify initially stated that the murdererer was white, but then changed his story., but in an affidavit filed in Aug. 2004, the now-grown Jerrod Hessling, testified that he changed his description at the behest of his mother’s boyfriend, who was a member of a white motorcycle club.

There was no physical evidence tying Clair to the killing, he was convicted mostly on the strength of a taped conversation between him and ex-girlfriend Pauline Flores. In the recording, Flores repeatedly tries to get Clair to admit he killed Rodgers.

However in 2011, DNA tests revealed DNA from an unknown male.

Source : http://www.ocregister.com/articles/clair-83013-dna-rodgers.html

In January 2016, it was revealed that in March 2015, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals secretly overturned Clair’s death sentence and sealed the records.

Source: http://www.ocregister.com/articles/clair-699237-court-evidence.html

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Kevin Cooper

Kevin Cooper has been on death row in California for 30 years and is set to be the next person executed by the state. Cooper was convicted of murdering a mother, father, and two 10-year-old children in a crime that horrified prosecutors in 1983. However, the execution is drawing some criticism, as five federal judges say that Kevin Cooper may be innocent and that evidence suggests that the man may not have committed the terrible murder. Despite an unprecedented 103-page dissent letter signed by five federal judges in the Kevin Cooper appeal case, noting that “the State of California may be about to execute an innocent man,” the lethal injection is still scheduled to take place unless Governor Jerry Brown intervenes.

Source: Inquisitor.com Jan 31, 2016

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