Category Archives: Death Penalty

“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men”

In today’s Times, John Schwartz profiles Tom Dunn, a death penalty lawyer turned middle school teacher in Atlanta.  Dunn worked at the Georgia Resource Center defending clients on death row until he himself was on death’s bed, suffering a catastrophic illness in 2006.  That’s when he called it quits and decided to devote his time and energy toward teaching middle school students.  As the Times put it, Dunn “having seen too many people at the end of lives gone wrong … want[ed] to keep these students from ending up like his former clients.”

It’s a meaningful story and I encourage you all to read it, here.

Intermission is Now Over

Sorry for the long delay in posting.  Things have been a bit hectic around here but I hope to continue posting regularly.

Here’s what you may have missed in my absence though:

A federal judge in the Northern District of Georgia sentenced Joshua David Lowe, an ex-jail sergeant at the Polk County Jail, to 21 months in prison for beating an inmate who was strapped to a restraining chair.  A fellow jailer and witness to the beating said that the inmate was “spewing blood” and that there was “blood everywhere.”  Lowe pleaded guilty, which, perhaps, explains the unusually lenient sentence.  And let’s not forget that Lowe is a law enforcement officer, after all, who is nothing but well-intentioned.  The case was prosecuted by the United States Attorneys Office, one of several that has been brought by the feds in recent moths (see here and here).  Of course, police brutality against inmates, whether it’s of the violent or non-violent variety, are common, and one wonders why the feds don’t pursue more of these cases.  Because what happens at the county jail stays in the county jail.  Ultimately, it is up to the better officers, those with a conscience and a heart who see their colleagues go to town on an inmate, to break this cycle of secrecy and violence.

Texas continues to make its mark as the capitol of injustice in criminal and death penalty prosecutions.  The 2005 execution of Cameron Todd Willingham who was convicted of setting fire to his home and killing his three children has returned to the media spotlight after Texas Governor Rick Perry took some swipes (some would say unwarranted) at Willingham, calling him a “monster” and a “bad man.”  This came after Perry pulled some strings last minute to change the composition of an official forensic science commission that was about to issue a report on whether Willingham really did commit arson and murder his three kids.  Grits for Breakfast has the story here.  Texas injustice also made news with the release of Richard Miles, who was serving 15 years in prison for shooting two individuals, one of whom died.  The release came after Centurion Ministries, a prisoner advocacy group, uncovered police files that show that someone else – not Miles – had actually confessed to the shooting.  Evidence that was withheld by the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office headed by Craig Watkins.

The Machinery of Death is Sputtering

I came across two death penalty-related stories recently, both of which confirm what has been a widely-held belief among death penalty opponents for many years: our scheme of capital punishment is inherently flawed.

In the September 7, 200p issue of the New Yorker is the story of Cameron Todd Willingham, an inmate on Texas’ death row who was convicted of burning his three children to death in their home.  The article’s long but well worth the read.  It’s hard for me to pluck out an excerpt  mostly because of how well the story is written; it’s the kind of reporting that put the New Yorker on the map of journalistic excellence.  The reporter, David Grann, does devote one section of the story to a general survey of death penalty jurisprudence in the U.S., which he ends with the following Scalia anecdote:

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, in 2006, voted with a majority to uphold the death penalty in a Kansas case. In his opinion, Scalia declared that, in the modern judicial system, there has not been “a single case—not one—in which it is clear that a person was executed for a crime he did not commit. If such an event had occurred in recent years, we would not have to hunt for it; the innocent’s name would be shouted from the rooftops.”

Is a feature length story in a national magazine on a wrongful execution the equivalent of “shouting from the rooftops”?  How many more of these stories do we need before people like Scalia come to their senses?

In another story, Anthony Caravella of Broward County, Florida, was released after DNA tests cleared him of wrongdoing in a 1983 rape and murder case.  Caravella has spent 26 years in jail and had confessed to committing the crimes, but only after, according to his attorney, he was coerced to do so by the police.  Prosecutors had initially sought the death penalty against Caravella but were rebuffed in their efforts by the jury (11-1 against the death penalty).  Caravella has an IQ of 67 and his conviction rested largely on his own admissions of guilt.

The Miami Herald has the story here, the Sun-Sentinel has a timeline of the case here.