Nel's New Day

September 15, 2015

Will Oklahoma Execute an Innocent Man?

Filed under: Capital punishment — trp2011 @ 8:03 PM
Tags: , , , ,

Imagine committing no crime but ending up on death row—for 18 years. That may be what happened after Richard Glossip, now 52 years old, was accused in 1997 of hiring Justin Sneed to kill Glossip’s employer, Barry Van Treese, after Glossip embezzled money from his boss. Physical evidence put only Sneed at the murder, according to Glossip’s original defense. Van Treese’s brother also testified that the shortages used to prove the embezzlement were insignificant. No DNA or fingerprints linking Glossip to the murder, and prosecutors admitted in Glossip’s 2004 retrial that “the physical evidence doesn’t directly implicate Mr Glossip.” All the evidence pointed only to Sneed. Yet Glossip was judged guilty in both the original 1997 trial and the retrial.

Glossip’s first trial was overturned by the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals in 2001 because of inadequate and since debarred counsel, Wayne Fournerat, and suffered from another inadequate public defender in the 2004 trial. Glossip’s attorneys never introduced the videotape of Sneed’s interrogation as leading questions cajole Sneed into blaming Glossip. At the trial, Sneed even added premeditation on the part of Glossip to his narrative. Even Sneed’s daughter, O’Ryan Justine Sneed, wrote that Glossip didn’t do what her father claimed and that he is still afraid of recanting his story because he might get the death penalty.

The actual murderer, 19-year-old Sneed, first said he didn’t know Van Treese, then he didn’t kill him, next he killed him accidentally during a robbery, and finally he admitted he killed him intentionally. Richard A Leo, a professor at the San Francisco University School of Law, said that the investigators’ behavior is “substantially likely to increase the risk of eliciting false statements, admissions, and confessions.”  Investigators who “presumed the guilt of Richard Glossip from almost the start and sought to pressure and persuade Justin Sneed to implicate Richard Glossip” initiated Glossip’s guilt, according to Leo.  Sneed testified against Glossip and saved himself from a death penalty in a plea deal.

Now a legal team is arguing that prosecution framed its case on the testimony of murderer Sneed, whose changing retelling was not adequately disputed in the trial. Attorney Donald Knight said that Glossip’s defense failed to prepare for trial; they didn’t even question key witnesses such as D-Anna Wood, Glossip’s girlfriend, who could have provided alibis for Glossip. Nor did the earlier defense lawyers challenge gruesome evidence about Van Treese taking eight hours to die when new evidence found that death came within 30 minutes. Jurors had considered the length of time as important in their decision.  Asking for 60 more days before execution to gather more evidence, Glossip’s new attorney, Donald Knight, said:

“Richard is sentenced to death because he’s poor. Not very many people can afford a death penalty defense. That should scare everyone.”

Other new evidence, according to Knight, is a witness report that Sneed was addicted to drugs and fed his habit by breaking into cars and hotel rooms. A man who served time with Sneed in prison also said that he overheard Sneed saying that he set up Glossip.

Glossip received a stay one day before his scheduled execution in January because his name was part of the Supreme Court appeal regarding the lethal injection drug midazolam that resulted in several botched executions. The high court ruled that the drug’s use was constitutional, and Glossip’s new execution day was scheduled in July for tomorrow, September 16, 2015, at 3:00 CT.

Even former Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) signed a letter with high-profile legal experts urging a stay of execution. They wrote:

“Unless you act, the State of Oklahoma will put Mr. Glossip to death for the murder of Barry Van Treese. Justin Sneed–who, by his own admission, beat Van Treese to death with a baseball bat–will not meet that fate.

“The writers of this letter have a wide range of professional backgrounds and political perspectives. But we share a deep concern about the integrity of the criminal justice system in Oklahoma and throughout the United States. We are particularly concerned about the danger of executing an innocent man.”

Oklahoma Gov. has thus far refused to stay Glossip’s execution despite the strong possibility that he is innocent. You can call her at (405)521-2342. Both options are #1. Of the 112 executions in Oklahoma since 1976 and 49 inmates currently on death row, the state has had 10 death row exonerations. That failure rate alone should give Richard Glossip another 60 days.

The National Registry of Exonerations lists 115 defendants sentenced to death but later exonerated and released after the discovery of new evidence of innocence was discovered. Of those 115 innocent inmates on death row, one-fourth of them, 29, were convicted after a suspect in the murder gave a confession that also implicated the innocent defendant. Last year a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences estimated that 4.1 percent of defendants who are sentenced to death in the United States are innocent. Most of them, like most of all defendants who are sentenced to death, have not been exonerated or executed. They remain in prison or have died of other causes.

Quality of representation may be the most important factor in the death penalty for a crime. Almost all defendants in capital cases need public defenders who are overworked, underpaid, and/or lack trial experience for these cases. Sometimes appointed attorneys drink alcohol before they come to court or fall asleep during the trial. In 2001, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said:

“People who are well represented at trial do not get the death penalty . . . I have yet to see a death case among the dozens coming to the Supreme Court on eve-of-execution stay applications in which the defendant was well represented at trial.”

Alabama has the highest per capita rate of executions in the United States; the state has no public defender system, and 95 percent of its death row occupants are indigent.

Texas has the largest total number of executions; almost one-fourth of the 461 condemned inmates were represented by court-appointed attorneys who have been disciplined for professional misconduct. According to an investigation, death row inmates today face a one-in-three chance of being executed without having the case properly investigated by a competent attorney and without having any claims of innocence or unfairness presented or heard.”

Washington state has 84 people who faced execution between 1980 and 2000; one-fifth of them were represented by lawyers who had been, or were later, disbarred, suspended or arrested. (The state’s disbarment rate for attorneys is less than 1%.)

These statistics are not unique across the nation.

Support for the death penalty is at its lowest point in 30 years: 52 percent of people in the United States advocate life in prison instead of execution. The strongest support for killing inmates comes from evangelical white Protestants and Republicans as well as states that still have the death penalty. Recently, Nebraska joined Maryland, Connecticut, Illinois, New Mexico and New Jersey to repeal the death penalty since 2007.  The governors of Colorado, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Washington have each indefinitely suspended future executions.

Death Penalty Map

The death penalty has become less common. Last year saw the lowest number of executions in 20 years, 35, and the fewest new death sentences in 40 years, 73. Just 62 counties of 3,000 nationwide are responsible for the majority of death sentences. Half of all new death sentences between 2004 and 2009 came from less than 1 percent of the country’s counties; all the new death sentences came from fewer than 2 percent of the counties.

executions by region

Proponents of the death penalty claim that its purpose is deterrence. There is no evidence supporting that premise, and the vast majority of top criminologists disagree with the theory. In addition, the death penalty costs state and local governments millions of dollars more than life in prison without parole.

Gov. Mary Fallin has no reason to let the state kill Richard Glossip.

July 12, 2015

Religion in Birth Control, Cakes, Ignorance

Birth control is an obsession with Republicans. Instead of just letting women use contraceptive devices, the GOP tries to stop them and then accuses them of being fallen women who just want welfare if they get pregnant. Colorado is a great example of this GOP problem.

For the past six years, Colorado offered no-cost, long-acting birth control such as intrauterine devices (IUDs) and implants to teens and poor women. From 2009 to 2013—just five years—the program reduced the birthrate for teenage girls by 40 percent and the rate of abortions by 42 percent. It is truly a pro-life program. In the poorest areas of the state, the decline in unplanned pregnancies among single women dropped the greatest. In 2009, half of all first births in these areas were to women under 21 years of age; by 2014 the age increased to 24. About 20 percent of women ages 18 to 44 in Colorado use a long-acting form of birth control in comparison to the national average of 7 percent.

The success rate is saving the state $5.85 for each $1.00 spent in Medicaid—that’s $80 million–something that conservatives claim that they want. Yet the same conservatives rejected funding to continue the program. Excuses given for discontinuing the funding are all based on individual morality of legislators: it increases promiscuity and subsidizes sex. One GOP lawmaker said, “Does that allow a lot of young women to go out there and look for love in all the wrong places?” Other excuses were that the program might fail, despite the amazing success in its first five years. Colorado Republicans also “misrepresented” the facts, claiming that IUD use led to increased abortions (no!), that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) would cover long-term birth control devices (no!), and contraction access increased teen sex rates (no!).

A year ago the Supreme Court ruled that the corporation Hobby Lobby held such deep religious convictions that it and other “closely held” stock corporations can choose to be exempt from the ACA mandate that employers’ insurance programs include free contraception for women. A spate of similar lawsuits followed the Hobby Lobby decision. One of these, East Texas Baptist University v. Burwell, came before an extremely conservative judge on the 5th Circuit Court. Nominated by Ronald Reagan almost 30 years ago, Judge Jerry Smith objects to abortions rights and has called feminists a “gaggle of outcasts, misfits and rejects.”

The participants in the lawsuit could be exempted from federal rules just by submitting a form or otherwise telling the federal government that they won’t do it. The plaintiffs refused to complete the paperwork, claiming that doing so makes them complicit in the employee’s decision to use contraception. Smith wrote the unanimous opinion for a three-judge panel that the plaintiffs failed to show that the regulations “substantially burden their religious exercise” through filling out a simple form because a letter is not contraception. He also wrote that ruling in favor of the plaintiffs would lead to such absurd challenges to government functions as a person who disapproves of working on Sunday refusing to apply for Social Security disability because it might assist people to work on Sunday if the form is processed on that day.  Smith summarized that “the possibilities are endless, but we doubt Congress, in enacting RFRA (the religious freedom act), intended for them to be.”

Smith’s ruling led to President Obama issuing new guidelines for contraception and the ACA. If a company wants to deny contraceptives to its employees, it must submit a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) stating its objection. The government will then provide free birth control to employees through a third-party insurer. Sen. Patty Murray, irritated with the convoluted process of getting contraception for women, is working on legislation to repeal the Hobby Lobby ruling.

10_commandments_In another religious battle, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin is defying the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s recent order to remove the Ten Commandments monument in front of the state capitol building. In a 7-2 decision, the state’s highest court upheld the constitution that states “no public money or property” would be used to support any specific religion. When asked about her defiance, Fallin said, “You know there are three branches of our government: the Supreme Court and the legislative branch and you have the people. The people and their ability to vote.”

According to a survey last year, only 36 percent of the people in the United States know the three branches, a situation that raised cries to improve the education in the country. Growing up in Missouri, Mary Fallin, 59, was subject to the ignorance that most people educated in the South experienced. The instruction about slavery, for example, is that masters gave the happy-go-lucky slaves a family and protected them from the attacking northerners. One popular textbook wrote that slaves experienced the first social security with great clothing, medicine, and lots of food. “The slave … suffered little or no want.”

Education is rapidly returning to the falsehoods of the 1970s with the acceptance of Texas textbooks promoting “tea party manifestos.” A conservative Christian minister who helped push the standards through said in 2010, “We’re in an all-out moral and spiritual civil war for the soul of America, and the record of American history is right at the heart of it.” The new history textbooks barely address segregation and lack any mention of either the Ku Klux Klan or Jim Crow laws. The Civil War was caused by “sectionalism, states’ rights, and slavery,” minimizing the part of slavery in driving the conflict. A school requirement is reading Jefferson Davis’ Confederate inauguration address which fails to mention slavery while ignoring the speech from Davis’ vice president, Alexander Stephens, in which he explained that the South’s desire to preserve slavery was the cornerstone of its new government and “the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution.”

In today’s South, people still fight the Civil War because their ancestors never conceded defeat or signed a treaty to end the war. The only surrender was military. The North never accepted that the Southern states had seceded, and the Southern states never admitted that they had rejoined the North. Because there was no treaty, Southern leaders were never even tried for treason. Texas will lead the South into continued ignorance, one in which governors can’t even name the three branches of the federal government.

A wedding cake is seen at a reception for same-sex couples at The Abbey in West Hollywood, California, July 1, 2013. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS FOOD SOCIETY) - RTX119FY

A wedding cake is seen at a reception for same-sex couples at The Abbey in West Hollywood, California, July 1, 2013. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES – Tags: POLITICS FOOD SOCIETY) – RTX119FY

In another big lie about “religious freedom” during the past week, the far right is promoting one huge “misrepresentation” with a giant omission after Oregon levied a $135,000 fine against Sweet Cakes by Melissa because Aaron and Melissa Klein refused to bake a wedding cake for a lesbian couple.

The lie: The Kleins claim that there is a “gag order” against their talking about the case.

The truth: They are ordered only to “cease and desist” from advertising that discriminates against same-sex couples. The Kleins are free to talk about the case—the decision, their disagreement, etc.

The omission: Aaron Klein posted the lesbian couple’s personal information—name, home address, phone numbers and email address—on his Facebook page. After the Kleins campaigned at anti-LGBT hate rallies, the women received death threats. They feared that they would lose their foster children because state adoption officials warned them of their responsibility to protect the children and keep privileged information confidential. (The children have since been adopted.) The judge in the case also received death threats.

The Kleins’ martyrdom is also profit-making. Although the fine is $135,000, they have raised over $250,000 online—a nice payment for bigotry.

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