Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Legal Aid Lament

Tonight, we raise our glasses to a dear friend, legal aid; She was cruelly taken from us and we're left feeling afraid...

She was almost a pensioner; Cut down in her prime. A mother to millions, for such a long time as she sheltered from harm those who needed her most; now her armour is gone, she is merely a ghost.

No longer will women be saved from abuse; If your job goes? its tough, you're a worthless excuse. An immigrant? Unlucky! You'll find no help here. All that is left is vulnerability and fear.

They're not worth it you see, in the eyes of the State. This breed who don't earn much and can't control fate. They'll be left to the wanton oppression of life, without help, without guidance...they're a sacrifice; for the policy plans of a government team who, lacking in soul, had a #LASPO dream. 

No more will protection be over us all since the government brought our dear lady to fall. They replaced her with #LASPO, though our Lords told them NO! Our cloak of protection had no choice but to go.

So #LASPO transformed from a Bill, into law and our protector and friend, Legal aid, is no more. The fighters for freedoms who, by our lady, were led, left bereft when the government killed her. Dead.

Alice's daughter, aged 13. 

Monday, April 9, 2012

Death Penalty USA - Gary T Allen Case an urgent appeal

In the landmark 2002 case Atkins v Virginia the US Supreme Court ruled that executions of people suffering ‘mental retardation’ (or Intellectual Disability as it is also known) would be a violation of the Constitution’s ban on ‘cruel and unusual punishment’ and thereby unconstitutional.
An execution falling into this category is scheduled to take place in Oklahoma next Thursday, 12th April 2012.

Garry T. Allen was convicted in Oklahoma for the murder of his partner, Lawanna Gail Titswoth in 1986; and is currently on death row, his execution scheduled for Thursday 12th April 2012.
During the course of his incarceration, Allen has made a number of appeals against sentence including in 1996 and 2008. In both case the appeals were rejected and the courts found Allen to be mentally competent to face execution, despite in the 1996 case considering and accepting the original trial evidence which suggested that Allen had suffered from a lifelong series of serious mental health issues, as the following extracts from the 1996 appeal show:

‘11. The record shows extensive mitigating evidence was presented by defense expert, Dr. Nelda Ferguson. She testified Allen was raised in poverty and hunger in an unstable family led by an alcoholic mother who rejected him. As a teenager Allen suffered debilitating mood swings which resulted in five or six suicide attempts. He began to abuse alcohol and drugs when he was seventeen or eighteen years old. All of Allen's siblings are alcoholics. Even though Allen's IQ indicates he is bright, he ultimately dropped out of high school after a six month placement in the Boley State School. While serving in the Navy, Allen was hospitalized for psychological problems, and the abuse of alcohol and drugs. He had also been admitted into the Oklahoma City Veteran's Administration hospital for psychological problems.
12. Dr. Ferguson concluded the appellant was genetically predisposed to mental illness, and diagnosed Allen as having a personality disorder related to schizophrenia. He could not form and keep long-term relationships, he had little impulse control, and drinking greatly exacerbated these problems. Dr. Ferguson's testimony was supported by Allen's parents who testified to mental illness on both sides of the family, and Allen's ex-wife who testified to Allen's inability to control his temper. Allen himself testified he drank whenever possible.
13. Most of the evidence on which appellant bases this claim was in fact introduced: the maternal rejection; the drug and alcohol abuse; the hospitalization while in the Navy; and the personality disorder. The only challenged evidence not introduced is the possibility Allen suffered from Reye's syndrome, the fact the environment of the Boley State Home was violent, and the specific label of organic brain damage. Given the very thorough mental health evidence presented by Dr. Ferguson, we find beyond a reasonable doubt the omission of this evidence did not undermine the validity of the resentencing hearing.
15. …..in this case the evidence of mental and social disability was credible, well developed, and uncontroverted.....’

There is therefore adequate evidence to suggest that at the time of the killing, Garry Allen was not only self-medicating an underlying mental illness with excessive drinking, but he had a history of mental illness, possible schizophrenia, diminished responsibility and control, and other potential illnesses which were never fully discussed including possible Reyes Syndrome which can degeneratively affect the brain.
There are also suggestions that Allen is suffering from frontal lobe brain damage either through illness or through a gunshot injury sustained at the time of his apprehension for his crime and indications of dementia brought on by seizures, drug use and the gunshot wound as confirmed by psychological examination by a court appointed doctor as confirmed by an article by the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death penalty.

Allen also does not recall the killing now and did not appear to either during and shortly after the event although during the trial he did admit to his crimes and has since been highly remorseful. His mental health has however continued to deteriorate during his time on Death Row as is claimed on this extract from a 2005 Amnesty International article:

‘.....Garry Allen has epilepsy, which has apparently worsened during his time on death row. He has frequent seizures and doctors have said that he is so confused for periods after these seizures that he would not understand the reality of or reason for his impending execution. In 1993, Garry Allen’s IQ was measured at 111, above average. By 1999, it had dropped to 75. Doctors have reportedly put this down to his ongoing epileptic seizures combined with head injuries.....’

This examination was undertaken in 1999. it is probably fair to say that Allen’s condition has worsened since then bringing him within the remit of Atkins v Virginia.

In 2005 the Oklahoma board of Pardon and Parole (OPP) in light of the compelling facts regarding Allen’s mental health in an unprecedented move recommended that the Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin grant clemency for Allen. This has so far been refused.
However the fact that the OPP board voted 4 to 1 in favour of clemency and that the board included one member who consistently votes against clemency in many capital cases shows that there was and remains significant weight to the arguments and evidence establishing that Allen must not be executed, but should instead have his capital sentence commuted to life imprisonment.

As such, where the Supreme Court decision in Atkins v Virginia renders the execution of death row inmates suffering from mental retardation / impairment, proceeding with the execution of Allen now would not only be inhumane (as all executions in the USA are), but also very likely unconstitutional. It must not be allowed to proceed in light of the pressing evidence against.

The argument that Allen should not be executed on the basis of his mental impairment is a persuasive one but not the only one which may be relevant. The US Supreme Court held in Ford v. Wainwright (477 U.S. 399 (1986)) that executing the insane is unconstitutional, meaning those inmates who are so out of touch with reality that they cannot understand their punishment or the purpose of it. It could be, and has been, argued that Garry T. Allen is incapable of understanding the punishment he faces and therefore his sentence should be commuted to life in prison.

In this unusual and disturbing case, it seems that even the family of the victim do not want the execution to take place. Speaking out last week, Jasmine Allen, granddaughter of Garry Allen said:

“....Our efforts to persuade Governor Fallin to reconsider this decision are in full swing, with calls, letters, petitions to the Governor, letters to editors, news conference, etc.  My mother and I want to thank the OK-CADP (Oklahoma Coalition Against The Death Penalty), our friends and the public, for any energy, prayers, and assistance they can send our way.....”

What can you do now?
      Please sign the NCADP petition for clemency for Allen available here
      Email governor Fallin here (US residents only)
      Tweet Governor Fallin here and here
      Tweet this post to your followers or publicise through facebook or to Governor Fallin
      Publicise this in any way you can, twitter, facebook, Linkedin, anywhere. Strength is in numbers in these cases. Allen is scheduled to be executed on Thursday 12th, time is therefore of the essence.

Post co-authored by Julliette Frangos & Mike Farrell-Deveau, April 9th 2012.


Death Penalty Update from LawBlogOne

Death penalty USA – News

Interesting developments from the USA in the campaign to abolish the death penalty.


Sunshine in Connecticut?

Yesterday on Thursday 5th April Connecticut state Senate voted to repeal the death penalty throughout the state, a welcome development in the continuing campaign against capital punishment in the USA, although the proposed repeal must still be passed by the democrat controlled state House of Representatives who are widely expected to approve. Interestingly and the only questionable issue with Connecticut’s actions here is the decision to retain the death penalty for 11 inmates on death row in the state rendering abolition non retrospective and for future cases only. This is questionable as it sidesteps the reasons for abolishing the penalty in the first place. None the less, Connecticut has taken a positive and widely publicised step forward.

As such should the Connecticut House of Representatives approve abolition, this will to 17 the number of states (plus the District of Columbia) that will have repealed capital punishment, a grouping which includes Alaska (1957), Hawaii (1957), Illinois (2011), Iowa (1965), Maine (1887), Massachusetts (1984), Michigan (1846), Minnesota (1911), New Jersey (2007), New Mexico (2009), New York (2007), North Dakota (1973), Rhode Island (1984), Vermont (1964), West Virginia (1965) & Wisconsin (1853) (Although new Mexico holds the dubious distinction of maintaining a death row despite having abolished the death penalty due to not having made abolition retrospective).

This is however tempered by the fact that 33 states currently retain capital punishment and an associated death row including Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon (Note that Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber has admirably issued a moratorium on executions in Oregon, but this is only to the extent of his office and has not yet been legally repealed), Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Wyoming, and out of order, last but certainly not least, the main capital state Texas.

Texas remains however the jewel in the crown of abolitionist ambition, the staunchest capital state, the one least likely to budge on executing, and possibly one of the states with more scandal in the name of capital punishment than any other, including the tragic case of Cameron Todd Willingham, executed in 2004 for allegedly killing his three children by arson, but for whom this conviction has been found since to be highly unsafe due to the fact that evidence of arson used was flawed and not suggestive of arson at all. This is bad enough in itself however there is evidence to suggest that an enquiry set up in Texas to investigate the possibility of a miscarriage of justice was derailed on purpose by the state Governor Rick Perry (Famously failed homophobic presidential candidate).

Of course the worst aspect of the Willingham case is that he is no longer alive to argue his own case, and no amount of debate, discussion, hiding of facts, curtailing of investigations etc can ever bring him back highlighting one of the fundamental flaws in the capital punishment system, among the many flaws it carries.

Other states currently debating repeal of capital punishment include Kentucky, Kansas and California. It can only be hoped that the movement for abolition can gain positive momentum through these states.
The ongoing case of Linda Carty is continuing to attract attention. You may remember from my earlier post in November last year or if you watched the Channel 4 documentary last year ‘The British Woman on death Row‘ that Linda is British Grandmother with dual British / US citizenship currently on Texas’ death row following a highly questioned murder trial which can be read about in great detail on the Reprieve website here the upshot of which is that the conviction of Linda appears highly flawed due to a lack of proper representation, numerous glaring evidential errors, and the reliance on a highly questionable witness, one of the actual killers who in order to avoid the death penalty themselves gave unreliable testimony against Linda in court. Death penalty aside, on the face of such facts bringing the conviction into disrepute, a retrial at the very least is due in Linda’s case.

That is not to be the case however, and it is now being reported that Linda has lost a final appeal against sentence and that a date for execution by lethal injection could now be set at any time. This is a highly unacceptable situation, even more so in light of the Cameron Todd Willingham case mentioned above, which proves that not only is execution an unacceptable form of punishment, it is also one from which there can be no comeback should it emerge later that the conviction was unsafe as may well be the case here.

A number of things can be done should you wish to take action to assist in the campaign to stop the execution of Linda, all as published on the Reprieve website here, you can sign the petition for clemency, write a letter through Reprieve to the authorities in charge, write directly to Linda offering support, and follow numerous social media sites on the case.
I urge you to do so if you have not, and also to continue to support the many other organisations campaigning for the repeal of capital punishment in the USA and worldwide, a number of which can be found on the LawBlogOne Facebook page, and for which I provide a few links below, there are of course many others.

Mike Farrell-Deveau,
April 7th 2012

Campaign group links:

This is an edit of a post that appears on the authors blog which can be reached by clicking the banner below.


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Death penalty USA – News from Texas; the Rodrigo Hernandez case

With the first US execution of 2012 scheduled this week, here is a thought provoking guest blog on the issue. Many thanks to the fabulous Mike Farrell & Law Blog One.

Death penalty USA – News from Texas; the Rodrigo Hernandez case


Written by Mike Farrell in collaboration with Juliette Frangos.

This week on Thursday 26th January after 6 p.m. the state of Texas is scheduled to execute Rodrigo Hernandez by lethal injection, the first execution in Texas this year that looks likely to go ahead pending last minute appeal.

Case Background

Hernandez was convicted in 2004 of the 1994 kidnap, rape and murder of Susan Verstegen, an act following which he attempted to conceal the victims body in a 50 gallon drum.

Unfortunately during the original investigation a lack of evidence meant that the case went cold, remaining in limbo for 8 years. However when Hernandez was later imprisoned in Michigan for an unconnected offence, and on release in 2002 legally compelled to give a DNA sample for the national DNA database, his sample was matched with unidentified DNA samples recovered from the Verstegen case also on the database. Hernandez was then arrested and charged with murder.
On questioning he gave a detailed confession to the murder claiming to have been under the influence of drugs and alcohol at the time. He was subsequently found guilty on trial in Bexar County, Texas, and sentenced to death in April 2004, allegedly showing no remorse. He has been on death row since.

In light of the confession, DNA and the absence of any evidence that  the trial was flawed, there is nothing suggesting the conviction was unsafe, and it is therefore not in question, Hernandez deserves to be punished. Only the capital sentence is in question here.

Since conviction, Hernandez has made numerous appeals against sentence, including applying for a writ of habeus corpus to the Texas State Criminal Appeals Court and the Supreme Court, all of which have been rejected. Appeals continued this month up until the 23rd January, again without success (A full procedural history is here).

Therefore pending any further appeals or last minute stays between now and Thursday night, sentence is on course to be carried out..

Capital punishment – Texas

Texas is far and away the most prolific proponent of capital punishment in the USA (see also here), averaging more than one execution per month, more than twice the rate of any other state. Texas has also conducted 477 executions since 1976, more than 4 times that of the next most prolific states, Virginia and Oklahoma.

These are extraordinary figures, especially considered against other states such as California which has a much larger death row population, and yet has undertaken only 13 executions since 1976.

The high number of executions in Texas may of course largely be explained by the republican / conservative background of that state, a political outlook which traditionally leans to capital punishment. There may be other reasons some of which can be considered here which relate to the history and constitutional makeup of the state with regard to elected appellate judicial office. Whatever the reason, the figures appear excessive, and regardless of public or political support capital punishment is rightly becoming more unacceptable as indicated by the recent positive moratorium on capital punishment issued by the Governor of The state of Oregon. In addition, Texas is not the only republican state in the USA, so something or someone else may be responsible.

The Governor

In the ten years that he has held office, Rick Perry as Governor of Texas has authorised and overseen the largest number of executions in the history of the USA for a single Governor, more than 230 executions in the last decade, almost half the number of executions that have occurred over the last 35 years in Texas, indicating a marked and certainly questionable acceleration of capital punishment over a decade. He is known for radical views on capital punishment, gun ownership, same sex relationships and religion and has in the past vetoed a ban on the death penalty for mentally retarded inmates.

He recently launched a presidential campaign, but withdrew in January 2012 following widespread criticism of a homophobic video that he released to ‘support’ his campaign.

With regards to capital punishment, Mr Perry claims not to lose much sleep over it, has stated that he has no problem authorising capital sentences to be carried out, and has never worried that Texas may ever have executed any innocent persons. This in itself is quite disturbing given the reported case of Cameron Todd Willingham, executed in 2004 for the alleged murder of his three daughters in what was claimed at the time to have been an act of arson on his own home. Following Willingham’s execution however it was discovered and reported that in fact there was no evidence of arson at all, bringing the entire trial, conviction and sentence sharply into question.

An investigation was carried out, but just prior to it reporting, the chair of the committee undertaking it was replaced by Perry, an act which effectively cancelled the inquest, and swept the entire affair under the carpet.

The question however remains; was an innocent man executed, and if so, wouldn’t this case have raised an irrefutable argument against continuing capital punishment in Texas? The possibility that it may well have been is argument enough to support an end to capital punishment in Texas and elsewhere. Instead however it appears that the Governor would rather bury the case in favour of his own personal political stance.

The Texan method

Texas like many other capital states of the USA currently advocates lethal injection as its preferred method of  supposed humane executions of death row inmates. Please see link above for the full procedure, which in brief involves the following:
  • Hernandez will be transported from his death row facility to the execution unit at Huntsville.
  • He will undergo a strip and cavity search, before being confined in a holding cell.
  • He may be allowed family visits during the morning.
  • He will be offered a last meal but will have no choice in what is offered.
  • After 6 p.m. he will be led to the execution chamber, prepared and secured to a gurney.
  • Intravenous catheters shall be inserted into a suitable vein in his arm or elsewhere in his body.
  • Witnesses will be brought in including victim witnesses, his own family if attending, and select media representatives.
  • The execution will be authorised to proceed.
  • Hernandez will be allowed a brief final statement.
  • The drug team will be instructed then to administer the sentence, with drugs being administered in sequence.
  • The condemned would be expected to be confirmed as medically dead in about 7 minutes from the beginning of  the injections.

This method of execution has long been considered humane by some, however it has generated much controversy, including:
  • A scandal throughout the European Union where it was found that capital states having exhausted their own supplies of the death drugs used for capital sentences were illicitly importing large quantities from Europe, a practice the EU is now apparently seeking to prevent. Some companies took it upon themselves not to supply their products while they were being used for capital purposes.
  • The fact that medical practitioners are barred from administering the drugs under the Hippocratic oath as well as showing a true hypocrisy regarding the ‘justice’ of the procedure, means that administering the sentence falls into the hands of prison employees. There have been alleged stories of incorrect dosages being used, and other instances where the convict has suffered greatly during the procedure. Consider for example the botched34 minute torture ofAngel Nieves Diaz in Florida, 2006.
  • The ongoing search for a more humane form of execution in itself proves that deep down inside, we all know that killing another person is wrong. Someone will always have to have blood on their hands regardless of the method or justification, legal or otherwise.

The view of Mike Farrell & LawBlogOne

As you may know from prior posts, I am completely against the death penalty. In my opinion, it is simply not acceptable to lower yourself to committing the same act in the name of justice that another has been prosecuted for. I do not believe that a society that executes its prisoners can claim to hold a higher moral ground in doing so.

I find capital punishment shameful, not only in concept but in application, particularly due to the fact that during the course of an execution, it is not the judge or the jury or the victims themselves that carry out the sentence, but an unnamed group of individuals who during the moment of sentence effectively become state sanctioned murderers.

Capital punishment is not justice; it is pure and simple revenge and retribution. What it is not about is deterrence, rehabilitation and reparation, all elements which don’t come into it, and as has been widely debated and reported over the years, capital punishment is no more a deterrent against murder than life imprisonment would be.

Lastly, the USA to me should be and has been in the past a leading light for freedom and human rights. However on the issue of capital punishment, and others that I will not debate here, they have fallen behind in that respect, and by continuing to uphold an out of date, unjustifiable and wrong system of capital punishment, they are little better than those other states that they themselves criticise for imposing capital sentences and human rights abuses on their citizen’s, including states such as Iran.

I therefore call on the Great Pioneer State of Texas to urgently reconsider and abolish its current policy on capital punishment, and to show the world that Texas and the USA can be a leading light to the modern world on Human Rights issues.

Jue Frangos’ view

I am something of an idealist and detest injustice in all forms. I believe fundamentally in all human rights, particularly the right to life, and I find it abhorrent that any allegedly civilised nation can continue to support the death penalty – sadly, it seems that the United States and specifically in the case in hand, the State of Texas, holds a different view as they march steadfastly towards another inhumane execution, against the rule of law and dressed up as justice. I also believe that we all bear some responsibility for making things change.

In 2010 at the 65th session of the UN General Assembly a Resolution calling for a global moratorium on the death penalty was reaffirmed – theUnited States was one of only 41 Nations to vote against (with 109 votes in favour and 35 abstentions). The UN has, in fact, been calling for a global moratorium since 2007 yet seems powerless to convince an ever decreasing number of Nation States who continue to be in favour of the mindless execution of their own [and other] citizens. A further reaffirmation is expected from the UN in 2012.

The fact that this UN Resolution exists lends itself to my belief that we all bear responsibility for the continuance of the death penalty, not only collective responsibility but also a personal responsibility. I’d never really thought about it as an issue that I could do something about, I’d never felt that sense of personal responsibility until I experienced the execution of Troy Davis through the joys of social media. The experience of going through that execution as it happened, in real time, with hundreds of thousands of other people around the world made it very real and I felt an incredible sense of guilt and loss that I had not been able to do anything to stop it; It also made me realise that its not OK to look the other way and hope that someone else will speak up – it made me see that we all need to speak up and keep doing so until the death penalty is abolished entirely, globally.

As Texas prepares to execute Rodrigo Hernandez this week, it can be sure that I am watching and shouting that not only is it wrong but that it is a clear breach of human rights, it is against the rule of law and against the moral code of societies all around the world. Texas and the rest of the United States is in an ever decreasing minority and it can rest assured that I along with the rest of the genuinely civilised world will continue watching until it agrees to cease its inhumane practices and evolve, morally and socially, to adopt the same standards as we have.

Capital punishment is nothing more than barbaric retribution in its lowest form; State sanctioned murder for which there can be no justification. We are all able to play a part in putting an end to the death penalty in America and around the world. We can all make a difference and I call on Governor Rick Perry to make his difference by stopping the execution of Hernandez and immediately installing a moratorium on the death penalty in Texas.

What you as reader can do

  • Write to Governor Rick Perry and express your opinion on capital punishment. The governors office can be be contacted here. May be slight difficulty with accessing this system from countries outside theUS as it is address specific, but worth a try.
  • Take to twitter and signal your discontent with the situation
  • Likewise do the same with Facebook
  • And any other social networking sites you use
  • Post links to this post, or re-blog it yourself to spread the word.
  • Follow the Hernandez case on ‘Execution Watch’ which will be broadcasting online radio live on the night of the execution reporting from the site on any developments that may occur particularly regarding any last minute appeals.
  • Support organisations including Reprieve and Amnesty International who campaign for the abolition of capital punishment, in theUSA and worldwide.
  • Write to your MEP to express your opinion and ask them to place the death penalty firmly back on the EU agenda this year.