Friday, October 16, 2009

That Damn Death Penalty - Again

by Katherine Scardino

I have posted many articles on Women in Crime Ink about the death penalty, especially in the State of Texas. There have been several incidences recently which scream out for a revisit of this unpopular and hateful subject.

I read an article yesterday in the local Houston paper that our Supreme Court refused to give Linda Carty a new trial - even though her trial lawyers did not put on any mitigating evidence and only met her two weeks before jury selection. Linda Carty did a terrible thing. She kidnapped a woman and her four-day-old baby, and killed the mother. Do not misunderstand - I, of all people, am well aware of the horrible acts that one person can commit against another. It is sickening and disgusting. That doesn't change the fact that we must have rules and laws that we all obey we're going to take a person’s life in the name of our law.

I admit I don't know all the facts of the Linda Carty case. Thank goodness I wasn't involved in it -- and I hope that if I had been, no one could say she had an incompetent defense. But the two failures in her defense are enough in my mind to give pause to the Supreme Court’s decision.

A defense attorney has a duty to “know” his client -- especially one who may die as a result of the attorney’s laxity or ineptness. It is indefensible for a lawyer to not meet his client until two weeks prior to trial. It is indefensible for a lawyer to know so little about his client that he has no witnesses and records to present to the jury during the punishment phase of a capital case. How can any attorney convince a jury that mercy -- life in prison instead of execution -- is appropriate without a complete picture of the defendant's background? What kind of life did this person live? What negative influences may have changed his life? 

This attorney is not arguing guilt or innocence. If he convinces the jury, it won't mean the defendant will walk out of the courtroom and down the elevator with you.

Then, there is the arson murder case of Cameron Todd Willingham. Willingham was convicted of setting a fire that killed his three children. I don't have the words to express my outrage at how ignorant and uninformed Gov. Rick Perry sounded when he said the there was other evidence besides the state's arson experts to prove the cause of the fire. The State of Texas had to prove arson if the jury were to reach a capital murder verdict. The problem is that fire experts, not just someone the post-conviction lawyers pulled off the streets, but individuals renowned in the field, now condemn the state’s arson testimony as bogus and unscientific. Oh, did I forget to mention - Texas has already executed Cameron Todd Willingham.
He was most certainly an innocent person. At least, Perry must be afraid he was. In October, Perry abruptly replaced the chairman and two members of the state's Forensic Science Commission -- two days before they were to hear the evidence of the arson expert. 

Rick Perry doesn't like the idea that while he sat on his ass and refused to look at the reputable fire scientists' evidence, Cameron Todd Willingham died.
Is there one person out there who can state that Cameron Todd Willingham is the only innocent person Texas has executed? I dare you to make that statement. You would have to ignore the evidence related to the cases of Carlos DeLuna and Ruben Cantu, just to name two. There are many more. But, the issue is - even if there is one, just one - that is one too many. Killing another human being, through an act of violence or an act of the supposed legal system of Texas our State, is final. We can't bring that person back to life. We took that away from him or her, and we did it wrongly.

Our capital punishment system in Texas -- and elsewhere -- is flawed. It is not dispensed fairly. It is not certain. Arrogant, self-centered, unqualified politicians decide whether new evidence is sufficient to stop an execution. These same arrogant, self-centered politicians -- so-called judges -- tell us that “actual innocence” is not enough to warrant a new trial, let alone stop an execution.

What in the hell are we doing?


Texas Moratorium Network said...

Sign the petition to Governor Rick Perry and the State of Texas to acknowledge that the fire in the Cameron Todd Willingham case was not arson, therefore no crime was committed and on February 17, 2004, Texas executed an innocent man

We plan to deliver the petition at the 10th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty on October 24 in Austin at the Texas Capitol.

Leah said...

Wasn't Willingham already executed when these new arson experts came forward?? Perhaps I misunderstood something.

Anonymous said...

No, they came forward 3 days before. Then Perry was given the actual evidence 2 hours before.

Cabbage Soup Diet said...

I love your blog! It is awesome! Thanks for the posts!

Cabbage Soup Diet

Jan said...

In California it takes 20 years before someone who is sentenced to death is actually executed. That's 20 years that the families of both murderer and victim have to go through a lifetime of Hell going to appeals and hearings. Is that really justice? Does it help in healing? Make life better for the bereaved? It hasn't so far.

cheryl said...

Maybe I heard wrong, but I thought Willingham's wife (who was his biggest supporter) said that he confessed to her several days before his execution.

I'm anti-DP, but I want to believe the truth as well.

msummers said...

Don't let Governor Perry get away with suppressing the Beyler fire incident report in the Willingham case! To find out how you can help keep the public informed about the fact that Texas executed an innocent man, go to Also, please visit our home web site, National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, at

Ignatius said...

To my great dismay and astonishment, there are STILL people who think all killing is the same. Rather than hold the same standard to each case, which is to judge each case on its merits, they believe in one hard and fast rule: no death penalty. These are the same people who refuse any limit on number and length of appeals. So they want it all their way.

So let me get this straight: no hard rules if they favor crime victims, but definitely if they favor criminals?

Nope, sorry. The People, the body of our nation, can and must decide that It will set the standards by which we must all live. We will draw the line where we draw it, and We The People will act accordingly. The People, the body of our nation, through its elected and appointed officials (representatives, judges) decide what the penalty.

We The People, nor our representatives nor appointed officials are perfect. For some that means we should eternally, continually, relentlessly question, doubt and re-examine every step We take.

It is inhumane to We The People, and most callous to the victims and their surviving loved ones in particular.


Unless and until we find a solution to the wildly varied levels of sophistication, achievement, skill and experience in every officer of the court who prosecutes or defends capital crime cases, there will always be an edge of an angle of a shadow of a possibility of a doubt that someone, anyone, can finger from their Monday morning quarterback armchair.

It is inhumane to the victims and to We The People who also have rights. WE have rights too.

I believe we should throw open to We The People every gory detail, transcripts, videos, pictures and EVERY fact of capital crime cases. Immediately upon conviction or filing of appeal. Why? Because if more people could see, read, know, experience the sheer depravity of the crime itself, fewer of us would stand around needlessly doubting.

It is inhumane to make everyone, everyone, everyone, look at the case over and over and over to see, to see, to see, to see the hiding exculpatory evidence, the tiny fraction of a maybe that could possibly be the, the, the, OUT.

OF COURSE some of the executed will be innocent of the crime they have been convicted of. BUT MOST *ARE* GUILTY OF THE CRIME AND ARE SUPPOSED TO BE EXECUTED. But in the system we currently have, We The People and many legal scholars have agreed: no court of appeal can re-try the facts, only the jury is allowed to do so.

Many appeals are filed purely to give the defense a chance to engineer a win. It long ago stopped being about holding the guilty party responsible, didn't it. I remember Charles Ng.

Is the author saying they think the guilty person is in fact in custody, did go to trial and did get the right verdict, but, certain technicalities should be thoroughly indulged nonetheless?


Most of us are sick and tired of the endless rounds of appeals. The wearing us down by the defense attorneys who might not think their client IS innocent but personally detest capital punishment and will use any maneuver, file any motion, no matter how inappropriate, to stop execution, regardless.

Go whine to them. For they abuse appeals and make We The People resent them. We're tired of being played. Of being taunted into re-victimizing the victims to attain an impossible standard that does not legally exist: that of beyond ANY doubt.

There are lot of things in life I believe I'm entitled to as well, a lot I should get. But guess what.

People who feel sorry for the victimizers, for the defense attorneys who weren't as blazingly brilliant as they think every defendant deserves are callous fools.

Which just makes me want death row convicts to die even faster.

Ignatius said...

I just took a peek at the Shouting site mentioned by above commenter MsSummers.

Oh. My. God.

Seeking capital punishment where it is legal is hardly "vengeance"! It is demanding justice.

That disgusting LIE perpetuated by the limp hand wringers who think they're better than everyone else is insulting and flatly meant to sting the survivors -- THE SURVIVORS! -- into feeling *guilty* for demanding and receiving that which they and We The People are ENTITLED TO.

It is an over-compensating backwards arch to avoid even the "appearance" of wanting "vengeance," which is a Christian ideal. Something that IS worth having, for only the Lord can claim it (if it is fundamentally unjust than not even the Creator would consider it, no?) and yet many of us will minimize any allegiance to any religion. And Christians in particular are really out of favor these days.

So let me ask this then: if God can deliver loving, mercy, kindness and self-sacrifice by way of humans, why would justice be excluded from delivery by humans?

The sheer cruelty of those against capital punishment is staggering. They have no sense of irony. None. Those who spout off TO SYMPATHIZE WITH CRIMINALS are repellent in the extreme.

dudleysharp said...

Ms. Scardino:

Willingham was not most certainly an innocent person.

I suggest you get more facts before you make such a claim.

As for DeLuna and Cantu, how much homeowork have you done on those cases?

Ignatius said...

Pt 1 of 4:

Finally, a cancerous convict who decided to man-up, unlike our victim-tallying criminal fans:

w w w . foxnews . com /us/2010/06/12/prisoner-killed-cellmate-says-way-stop-death-row-vows-appeal/?test=latestnews

Prisoner who killed cellmate says 'the only way to stop me is death row,' vows not to appeal
Published June 12, 2010
Associated Press

POUND, Va. (AP) — For seven days, Robert Gleason Jr. begged correctional officers and counselors at Wallens Ridge State Prison to move his new cellmate. The constant singing, screaming and obnoxious behavior were too much, and Gleason knew he was ready to snap.

On the eighth day — May 8, 2009 — correctional officers found 63-year-old Harvey Gray Watson Jr. bound, gagged, beaten and strangled. His death went unnoticed for 15 hours because correctional officers had falsified inmate counts at the high-security prison in southwestern Virginia.

Now, Gleason says he'll kill again if he isn't put to death for killing Watson, who had a history of mental illness. And he says his next victim won't be an inmate.

"I murdered that man cold-bloodedly. I planned it, and I'm gonna do it again," the 40-year-old Gleason told The Associated Press. "Someone needs to stop it. The only way to stop me is put me on death row."

Gleason already is serving a life sentence for killing another man. He fired his lawyers last month — they were trying to work out a deal to keep him from getting the death penalty — so he could plead guilty to capital murder. He's vowed not to appeal his sentence if the judge sentences him to death Aug. 31.


Ignatius said...

Pt 2 of 4:

"I did this. I deserve it," he said. "That man, he didn't deserve to die."

Watson was serving a 100-year sentence for killing a man and wounding two others in 1983 when he shot into his neighbor's house in Lynchburg with a 10-gauge shotgun. According to prison records, Watson suffered from "mild" mental impairment and was frequently cited for his disruptive and combative behavior.

Watson was sent to Wallens Ridge on April 23, 2009, a day after he set fire to his cell at Sussex II State Prison. Gleason and Watson became cellmates on May 1, 2009.

In the days the two spent locked in an 8-by-10-foot cell, Watson would talk about how he had "drowned" two television sets because they "had voodoo in them," Gleason said.

He would also belt out "I wish I was in the land of cotton" from the song "Dixie" and other songs at all hours, scream profanities and masturbate. In the chow hall and in the recreation yard, Watson would get inmates to give him cigarettes for drinking his urine and clabbered milk.

"You can't be upset with someone like that," Gleason said. "He needed help."

Gleason said his requests to separate the two were met with mockery and indifference by correctional officers and prison counselors. He said he knew what he'd do once officials refused to put Watson in protective custody.

"That day I knew I was going to kill him," he said. "Wallens Ridge forced my hand."

It was after midnight when Gleason used slivers of bed sheets to tie Watson's hands and arms to his body and fashioned a gag out of two socks. He later removed the gag and gave Watson a cigarette, telling him it would be his last. Gleason said Watson spit in his face when he went to take the cigarette out of Watson's mouth, so he jumped on his cellmate's back and beat and strangled the man.


Ignatius said...

Pt 3 of 4:

He then covered Watson's body with a bed sheet to make it look like he was sleeping.

Gleason kept Watson's death a secret through two mandatory standing counts and two meals. Officers only discovered the body when Watson's psychiatrist came to see him at 4:40 p.m. and found him dead, according to court documents.

Prison employees involved in the case denied repeated requests for comment from the AP. Department of Corrections spokesman Larry Traylor also declined to discuss the situation, but said that two officers were disciplined and two others were fired. One of the fired officers was reinstated upon appeal.

Gleason has since been transferred to the "supermax" Red Onion State Prison.

Watson's sister, Barbara McLeod of Longmont, Colo., said Gleason should be forced to spend the rest of his life in prison with no privileges.

"He doesn't deserve to be able to control his own destiny at this point. He doesn't deserve to have his death on the conscience of the state of Virginia," she said.

McLeod said her brother had a history of mental problems that grew worse during his last decade of incarceration. McLeod said she's upset that her brother was housed with such a violent prisoner — and angry that it took so long for guards to realize he was dead.

"Supposedly they are monitoring these prisoners," she said. "I guess not."

During a hearing a week before his June 1 trial was to start, Gleason warned Wise County Commonwealth's Attorney Ron Elkins that he would kill again if Elkins didn't seek the death penalty.

Elkins had offered to let Gleason plead to second-degree murder. He also offered to drop the capital murder charges and come back with a charge that didn't carry a death sentence. Elkins wouldn't say why he made those offers.

However, capital murder cases are typically lengthy and expensive, especially as appeals wind through the courts. Even though Gleason confessed, Elkins said he proceeded cautiously to ensure the case couldn't be overturned on appeal.

Court records show that Gleason told Elkins he had no remorse for killing Watson. He said he learned from his father to own up to his mistakes, and that he needed to prove to his loved ones that actions have consequences.


Ignatius said...

Pt 4 of 4:

"There's nothing you guys can do to me to hurt me. Nothing," he told the prosecutor. "But there's something you guys can do to prevent someone else from getting hurt."


The attorneys he fired could not care less about his crimes. They just want him to live, on our dime, to taunt us and humiliate us until we cave in and admit defeat.

Lawyers like that, who are so profoundly cruel, drive me to hate them with everything in me.