JUST IN from People of Faith Against the Death Penalty PFADP North Carolina: LeGrande Spared Death Penalty Another example of the impact RACE plays in capital punishment. See more under blog entitled: Race, Murder and the Search for Justice (just below for July 1, 2008)
Originally posted on April 8, 2008
What do Glen Chapman, Jonathan Hoffman and Alan Gell have in common? They are all innocent men released from death row after spending years in prison; in all three cases, issues of serious prosecutorial misconduct led to their wrongful convictions, and all three cases took place in North Carolina.
Most police investigators and prosecutors are honest in their pursuit of justice, but as The Innocence Project explains, prosecutorial misconduct is a serious and common problem evident in many cases of wrongful conviction. With these three recent exonerations, not far behind the ugly disaster of the Duke rape case, clearly North Carolina needs to enact better regulations and reforms to safeguard against such negligent behavior, especially in capital cases when the result equals death!
Since 1976, there have been 128 people exonerated from death row in the United States, 7 in North Carolina. Glen Chapman and Jonathan Hoffman were exonerated months apart from each other while Alan Gell was absolved in 2004. Chapman left death row this month (April 2008), after spending almost 14 years awaiting execution while Hoffman was released last December (2007) after 12 years imprisoned. Alan Gell spent nine years behind bars, half of it on death row.
These three men were almost executed because of prosecutorial negligence. In the case of Chapman, prosecutors Thomas Portwood and Robert Adams, failed to interview several critical witnesses. Hoffman's prosecutors, Ken Honeycutt and Scott Brewe, withheld information of a deal cut with the only person linking Hoffman to the murder weapon. . Gell's prosecutors, Hoke and Graves, also withheld valuable evidence that might have cleared Gell in the initial trial, including an audio tape of one of the girls who accused him saying that she had to "make up a story" about the murder.
Hoffman and Gell have tried to prove prosecutorial misconduct but their efforts have been in vain. The North Carolina State Bar dropped the charges against Hoffman's prosecutors in January 2006, not because the charges were without merit, but because Hoffman's defense attorneys didn't file their complaint in time. At the same time, Alan Gell has argued that "to this day, no one from the state has apologized or made any amends for what was done to me; right now everyone is standing in a circle and pointing their fingers at each other".
It seems to be almost impossible to prove prosecutorial misconduct because courts usually protect prosecutors so they cannot be sued for bringing a weak case or simply making a mistake. To take away their "immunity" attorneys have to demonstrate that the prosecutors acted with malice or intent to harm, which is really hard to get around. But, how do you prove intent and malice? Since withholding information and extreme negligence it is not enough, then it seems that one would need to have a note or a statement of the prosecutors literally saying " I am withholding evidence so this person is declared guilty"; which it is extremely unlikely. Anyone can make mistakes but the innocent people mentioned above were almost executed because of prosecutorial misconduct, not because of simple mistakes.
There has been just one recent case, the famous Duke case, where prosecutorial misconduct was proven. The prosecutor in this case, Michael Nifong, made improper comments to the press which had a substantial likelihood of heightening public condemnation of the accused. The North Carolina State Bar took the latter into consideration and the prosecutor was disbarred.
What circumstances made this case different from the cases mentioned before? Why did the Duke prosecutor get disbarred and the other district attorneys did not? One of the reasons is the media and public attention this case got which pressured the State Bar to act. The other reason is that, contrary to most of the cases, the people accused in the Duke case had the monetary resources which ensure them excellent legal representation through out the whole ordeal. Therefore it was a combination of media and public pressure and monetary resources.
Most of us do not have the money to pay for great lawyers. At the same time, justice is supposed to be free and for all. But when the justice system fails, it is on us as a society to step in and ensure that it is corrected. The lesson to be learned from these cases is the need to take action, raise awareness, go to the media, defend your beliefs and express your concerns. And consider this - how can the use of the death penalty, the most extreme and irreversible punishment, be justified within a system so obviously broken? Take action today, abolish the death penalty once and for all.
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Pending U.S. Executions
Please note that these dates are only tentative.
Execution dates known or thought to be considered SERIOUS are marked with a *.The designation indicates that an execution is considered more likely to be carried out.
Please note that this designation should in no way be construed as absolute. Stays can be granted or denied at the very last moment prior to an execution.
A name with no * designation may simply mean that not enough information is currently available to know whether the execution date is serious. In other words, please DO NOT automatically equate the fact that a name with no * designation means that his/her assigned execution date is not serious. It might, in fact, be (very) serious.
10* Kent Jackson Virginia
10* Carlton Turner Texas (right now there are mixed reports as to whether delayed)
14 Eric Hanson Illinois
14 Tamir Hamilton Nevada
22* Kevin Young Oklahoma
Courtesy of Rick Halperin