Sunday, September 28, 2008

Guest Shot: Free to go

This editorial was originally published by the Charlotte (NC) News-Observer on September 27, 2008.

Free to go
Wrongful convictions are a blight on North Carolina's courts, even if there's rejoicing when an innocent man is freed

So was that a triumph of justice in a Durham courtroom the other day? Perhaps so -- but a triumph that occurred only because for seven long years prior to Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson's bombshell ruling, justice was dragged through the mud.

Erick Daniels in 2001 had been sent to prison -- adult prison! -- at age 15, convicted of a home invasion armed robbery. And as far as the Durham district attorney's office was concerned, that was the end of it. Even when Daniels' attorney went to prosecutors with a report that another man had confessed to the crimes, nothing happened.

Finally, however, another attorney, Carlos Mahoney, persuaded Hudson to hear Daniels' request for a new trial. What resulted was both exhilarating and shocking -- exhilarating because Daniels' conviction was thrown out on the spot, and shocking because of the judge's withering criticism of the travesty that had put the youth in prison.

Identification procedures had been shaky. There had been no physical evidence tying Daniels to the crime, no testimony to corroborate the charges. The defendant's trial attorney later acknowledged that he had done an inferior job.

Perhaps most troubling was prosecutors' failure to follow through when told that someone else -- a federal prison inmate who matched the victim's description of the suspect -- had confessed. The impression left by such lack of initiative is that for some authorities in Durham, once a conviction is obtained, there's no further obligation to make sure justice is done.

Hudson framed that concern: "People are starting to question, in Durham, the degree to which the prosecutor's office and the police department are tracking down cases when there are leads that other people have committed the crime." Unfortunately, the judge wasn't referring only to Daniels' case. Just recently, when armed robbery charges were dismissed against a man who had waited five years for trial, the Court of Appeals noted strong evidence of another man's guilt.

There have been too many instances in recent years, by no means only in Durham, of North Carolina courts rendering judgments that turn out to be demonstrably flawed. People have been sent to prison for crimes they didn't commit, and even have been placed at risk of execution.

Causes range from court systems struggling with a lack of resources to prosecutors who are too focused on the courtroom contest at the expense of getting things right. But the effects, besides the cruel unfairness of wrongful conviction, are also to let the guilty go free and to shake public trust in the judicial system.

Hudson could have directed that Daniels be retried. But he concluded that the evidence was too weak to sustain the charges. When a judge decides that there's no reasonable chance a jury would convict someone who already has been in prison for seven years, the system has badly malfunctioned. Or, when the person is set free to try to pick up the pieces of his life, an appalling mistake has finally been corrected.

Friday, September 26, 2008

News Update: Alabama Supreme Court denies AG's request to set another execution date for Thomas D. Arthur

Originally published by The Birmingham News

Thursday, September 25, 2008 Stan DielNews staff writer

The Alabama Supreme Court has denied a request from Attorney General Troy King to set another execution date for convicted killer Thomas D. Arthur.

In a 6-2 decision Tuesday, the court ruled the state must wait for a lower court to determine whether Arthur will get access to DNA evidence.

Arthur has on three occasions come within a day of being executed for the 1982-murder-for-hire killing of Troy Wicker of Muscle Shoals.

Just days before he was scheduled to be executed on July 31, another inmate claimed he, not Arthur, was the killer, and the state Supreme Court blocked the execution a day before it was to happen. Arthur's attorneys have asked for access to evidence in the case they say can be tested to determine whether the other inmate's story is credible.

That appeal is pending in Jefferson County Circuit Court.

Wicker was shot through the right eye as he slept, and his wife, Judy Wicker, initially told authorities a burglar raped her and killed her husband.

But Wicker was convicted in the crime, and while in prison changed her story. She claimed she paid Arthur, a work-release inmate with whom she was having an affair, to kill her husband so she could collect life insurance proceeds. Arthur stood trial three times - the first two convictions were overturned on technicalities - and has always maintained his innocence. Wicker was granted early release in return for her testimony.

Arthur's case has long been championed by human rights activists including Amnesty International and the Innocence Project, which advocates DNA testing of evidence for Death Row inmates.

Arthur's attorneys and attorneys with the Innocence Project have asked for access to evidence including an afro wig that Judy Wicker testified Arthur wore at the time of the murder, and that the inmate who confessed in July, Bobby Ray Gilbert, also claims to have worn.

They also want access to a rape kit collected after the crime, which they say could prove Gilbert's story and exonerate Arthur. The state has said it can't locate the rape kit.

Gilbert is serving a life sentence at St. Clair Correctional Facility for stabbing another inmate to death in a dispute over a carton of cigarettes.

Efforts to reach Arthur's attorneys on Wednesday were not successful.


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

US death row inmate gets last minute stay of execution

September 23, 2008

WASHINGTON (AFP) — The US Supreme Court granted a last-minute stay of execution to Troy Davis, an African-American who was due to be put to death by lethal injection in the southern state of Georgia for the murder of a policeman.

"The application for stay of execution of sentence of death ... is granted" the highest court in the United States said in a statement issued 90 minutes before Davis was due to die.

"We are deeply grateful for this stay of execution for Troy Davis and we very much appreciate that the merits of his case for innocence are being taken seriously by the United States Supreme Court," Sarah Totonchi, chairwoman of Georgians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (GFADP), said in a statement.

What were to have been vigils around the state of Georgia were cancelled and replaced by celebrations on the steps of the state legislative building, GFADP said.

Lawyers for 39-year-old Davis, who has been on death row since 1991 for the murder of white policeman Mark MacPhail, had pressed the US Supreme Court in Washington to take a motion for a new trial after judicial authorities in Georgia threw out appeals for clemency.

Seven out of nine witnesses who gave evidence at Davis' trial have recanted or changed their testimony, which was the backbone of the prosecution's case in the absence of a murder weapon, fingerprints and DNA.

The witnesses said statements implicating Davis had been coerced by strongarm police tactics.

The US high court was not in session this week and the request was heard Tuesday by just one member of the court, conservative justice Clarence Thomas.

Amnesty International USA also welcomed the Supreme Court order to stay the execution, and slammed the state of Georgia for trying the "ram this execution through."

"For reasons that are unfathomable, Chatham County officials seemed doggedly determined to ram this execution through before justice could fully run its course," AIUSA executive director Larry Cox said in a statement.

"We are grateful that the US Supreme Court has shown the foresight to stay the execution. We hope that it takes up the case and looks at it with fresh eyes, marking the first time that evidence pointing to Davis' innocence will have been heard in a court of law," he said.

Davis had originally been sentenced to die in July last year, but he was granted a last-minute stay of execution then by the Georgia Board of Pardons and Parole.

Earlier this month, however, the parole board issued a decision denying Davis clemency.

On Monday it affirmed that decision, and the Georgia Supreme Court on the same day voted six to one to deny a stay of execution for Davis, deferring to the US high court.

"This case gets at the heart of some real dark issues of Georgia's criminal justice system," Totonchi told AFP by phone.

"If they acknowledge the problems with this case, they are also admitting there are things like police misconduct and police coercion, and I think it's easier to go along with the status quo than to admit that we have these problems and ultimately have to solve them," she said.

International figures including former US president Jimmy Carter, Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu of South Africa and Pope Benedict XVI have spoken against Davis' execution.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Save Troy Davis

This originally appeared at

September 19, 2008

Jocks 4 Justice is a group of athletes and writers that has come together to speak out against racism and the criminal injustice system, and in defense of the victims of notorious miscarriages of justice.

The group previously organized in defense of the Jena 6, six Black high school students in Jena, La., who were targeted for prosecution after suffering a racist attack, and Gary Tyler, who has spent more than three decades of his life behind bars in Louisiana for a crime he didn't commit.

Now, Jocks 4 Justice is once again raising its voice to call for clemency for Troy Davis, an innocent man on Georgia's death row. Despite witnesses who say they were coerced by police into giving false testimony against Troy, the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles has denied clemency.

Troy now faces an execution date of September 23, even though the U.S. Supreme Court isn't set to hear an appeal in his case until September 29.

TROY DAVIS is an African American man who has been on Georgia's death row for the past 18 years, convicted of killing a white police officer named Mark MacPhail. Now, after the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles has denied Troy clemency, he faces execution on September 23.

But something stinks of "Southern justice" in the Peach state. The simple fact is that an innocent man could be careening toward a legal lynching.

Here are the undisputed facts:

--Troy's fingerprints didn't match those found at the crime scene.

--There was no gunshot residue on Troy's fingers. In fact, no physical evidence at all connects Troy to this crime.

--So why is Troy on death row? Because of testimony from nine people who said that Troy pulled the trigger. But an astounding seven of these nine people have since recanted their testimony in sworn affidavits, with several saying they were pressured to finger Troy by police. Of the two who haven't come forward, one is said to be the police's initial suspect, and the other testified that the shooter was left-handed, but Troy is right-handed.

These seven people were afraid. They were intimidated. But now they want to come forward and tell the truth, in open court--that Troy Davis did not kill Mark MacPhail. Yet the courts won't let a jury hear their compelling statements.

An innocent man will be put to death like a dog on September 23 unless we stop it. This is not justice. This is a lynching.

We, the undersigned Jocks 4 Justice, call upon the governor, the Supreme Court, or any controlling authority to stay Troy's execution. There are seven people ready to recant their testimony. For the sake of Troy, and the sake of justice, they deserve to be heard.

Jim Brown
NFL Hall of Fame; founder, Amer-I-Can

Dr. John Carlos
1968 Olympic bronze medalist and one-half of the immortal Black Power salute; Olympic Project for Human Rights

Lee Evans
1968 Olympic gold medalist and 400-meter Olympic champion; Olympic Project for Human Rights

Etan Thomas
NBA center, Washington Wizards; author, More Than an Athlete

Jim Bouton
Former New York Yankee; author, Ball Four

David Meggyesy
Western regional director, retired, NFL Players Association; former NFL linebacker

Jeff "The Snowman" Monson
Ultimate Fighting Championship

Walter Beach
Former NFL player, Cleveland Browns

Clifton McNeil
Former NFL player, Cleveland Browns, New York Giants, San Francisco 49ers

Walter "The Flee" Roberts
Former NFL player, Cleveland Browns

Lester Rodney
Oldest living sportswriter; sports editor for the Daily Worker, 1936-1958

Scoop Jackson

Dennis Brutus
Former director, South African Non-Racialist Olympic Committee; professor emeritus of Africana studies, University of Pittsburgh

Leonard McNeil
Councilmember, San Pablo, Calif.; former draftee, Philadelphia Eagles; 1968 Olympic boycotter

Ron Davis
South African attaché, 1996 Olympics; former National Coach in Nigeria

Doug Harris
Former executive director, Athletes United for Peace

Dave Zirin
Sportswriter, the Nation; author, A People's History of Sports in the United States

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What you can do
Troy's supporters are calling on activists to make their voices heard in protests or other actions calling for the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles to halt Troy's execution and for the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold his appeal.

To call on the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles to reconsider its clemency decision, telephone board chair Gale Buckner at 404-657-9350, or fax her at 404-651-6670. You can also send the board an e-mail [2]. Call Georgia Attorney General Thurbert E. Baker at 404-656-3300, or fax him at 404-657-8733.

Find out more about Troy's case and how you can get involved at the Troy Anthony Davis [3] Web site. You can send words of encouragement to Troy by writing to: Troy A. Davis 657378, GDCP P.O. Box 3877 G-3-79, Jackson, GA 30233.

Marlene Martin's "Anatomy of a frameup," [4] published in the new issue of the International Socialist Review, documents the long history of injustices in Troy's case. Troy's sister, Martina Correia, was interviewed in the New Abolitionist, newsletter of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, in an article titled "The fight for my brother Troy." [5]

See the Campaign to End the Death Penalty [6] Web site to learn more about the struggle against capital punishment across the country.

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Material on this Web site is licensed by, under a Creative Commons (by-nc-nd 3.0) [7] license, except for articles that are republished with permission. Readers are welcome to share and use material belonging to this site for non-commercial purposes, as long as they are attributed to the author and


Thursday, September 18, 2008

William Coleman (Connecticut hunger-striking inmate at Osborn C.I.)

16th September 2008

On the 1st July 2008 we released a statement informing you on the plight of William Coleman. Since September 16th 2007 he has stopped taking solid food and has maintained his hunger protest despite losing vast weight and falling ill on occasions.

The sole reason for his protest is to protect his children and highlight to others what damage is done to people like Bill by the broken and corrupt Connecticut judicial system.

Today, to mark the one year anniversary of his hunger strike, Bill has stopped taking all fluids. This is a decision that has not been easy as his family and supporters have worked hard to prevent this from happening over the past four years. However, we were unable to convince him to stop.

Time will soon run out if we are unable to help him and we urge you to help. The help Bill is looking for is a fair and neutral investigation into Connecticut’s broken judicial system that ruins many people’s lives. Bill’s case is only one example of many. We urge everyone to help us before it is too late.

Bill has expressed in no uncertain terms that he does not want to be force fed. The DOC has applied for and succeeded in getting a court order to do just that. Bill has a Living Will that expressly forbids force-feeding.

Please visit Bill Coleman, Innocent Man. This web page has been put together by his family to help the public understand what he has endured and how the justice system has failed him.

We feel that time is running out, help now.

Thank you for your time,

From Bill’s Family, Friends and Supporters

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Help Save a Life

A man who is almost certainly innocent needs your help, and fast.

On Friday, the Georgia Department of Pardons and Paroles is going to meet and decide if he should be executed.

They will either take into account compelling evidence challenging his guilt, or they will choose to ignore that evidence and allow his sentence to stand. They have to power to stop this indefensible execution and we must implore them to make the right decision.

Troy Anthony Davis was convicted of the murder of off-duty Savannah Police Officer Mark MacPhail in 1991. No physical evidence links him to the crime, and he has steadfastly maintained his innocence. His conviction was based solely on the testimony of witnesses. There was no other evidence against him. Since his trial, seven people who had previously testified against Troy changed the story they had told in court.

Some witnesses say they were coerced by police. Others have even signed affidavits implicating one of the remaining two witnesses as the actual killer. But due to an increasingly restrictive appeals process, none of this new evidence has ever been heard in court.

Can you take 30 seconds and help save the life of a man who is almost certainly innocent? You can learn more and take action here:

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Guest Shot - Ben Jones: Executing Troy Anthony Davis

The following opinion was originally published in the Yale Daily News at

Published: Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Jones: Executing Troy Anthony Davis
By Ben Jones
Guest Columnist

Debates about the death penalty often take place in the abstract: Is the state justified in depriving life from someone who has robbed it from someone else? Though these debates have their place, by themselves they prove woefully inadequate when making policy decisions. To justify the death penalty as public policy, one must be able to justify some form of it in actual practice — along with its inevitable imperfections.

When we look at the practice of the death penalty, what we find is nothing short of appalling. Troy Anthony Davis’ nightmarish odyssey through the criminal justice system serves as a case in point.

Davis sits on Georgia’s death row for the murder of an off-duty police officer. Since being sentenced to death in 1991, new developments have unfolded in his case that cast significant doubts on his conviction. Specifically, seven out of nine non-police witnesses have recanted their testimonies against Davis, with some coming forward with allegations of police coercion. This new evidence significantly weakens the prosecution’s original case, which was unable to produce any physical evidence linking Davis to the murder. At the very least, we can say that it is well within the bounds of reason to question Davis’ guilt.

So what has been the response of the justice system to these new developments? It would seem that a retrial should be in order for Davis. Instead, the courts at both the state and federal level have blocked Davis’ attempts to present his case anew in court. The most recent setback came this past March, when the Georgia Supreme Court ruled 4-3 against Davis, on the rationale that it preferred the old testimony to the new. Apparently, coerced evidence has unique authority in the eyes of the justices.

Now an execution date for Sept. 23 is inexorably bearing down upon Davis. Though a last-minute stay saved Davis’ life in July 2007, there is no guarantee that he will be so lucky this time.

Davis’ plight puts to rest the myth that the death penalty is reserved for only the most heinous criminals, those whose guilt is beyond question. Throughout U.S. history, the death penalty has been subject to error and downright abuse. Going back to the 19th century, we come across the account of the Boorn brothers, who were about to be hanged for the murder of Russell Colvin when Colvin showed up at the execution. During the Jim Crow era, oftentimes little distinguished a state execution from a lynching, as authorities would wrap up the trial, sentencing, and hanging of black defendants within a single day. And as late as the 1950s, white juries in the South were sending blacks to death row for thefts of only a few dollars.

The problems continue to this day. DNA testing and investigative reporting have revealed that a host of individuals on death row do not belong there. In Louisiana, an investigation led to the exoneration of over 25 percent of the state’s death row population. Across the country, the total number of exonerations since 1973 has reached 129.

Some say that the recent flurry of exonerations is a sign that the system works. They forget, however, that the same tools helping to exonerate prisoners on death row have also demonstrated the innocence of individuals already executed.

Further tweaking of death-penalty statutes by courts and legislatures will not bring an end to these irrevocable errors. It is folly to believe that a “foolproof” system of capital punishment is possible, as Mitt Romney once pushed for as governor of Massachusetts. Human errors are inevitable in government, as with all human institutions.

Given government’s fallibility, it follows that certain powers should remain outside of its hands. The power to execute, which provides no benefit to society in terms of cost or security, certainly falls in this category. The stakes are simply too high, the consequences of error too great, to justify the continued use of capital punishment.

As long as the death penalty remains in place, individuals like Troy Anthony Davis will find their lives unjustly put in jeopardy. Enough is enough.

Ben Jones is a graduate student in the Political Science Department. Contact him at