June 3, 2002

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that Texas must either set Calvin Burdine free or retry him. The state of Texas had argued that Burdine received a fair trial because he could not prove that his lawyer slept through key parts of his trial. The state did not argue that his lawyer had stayed awake for the entire trial, only that no one could say whether the sleeping occurred during key parts. “A person facing the death penalty deserves to be defended by a lawyer who is wide awake. Being defended by a court-appointed sleeping lawyer is like being defended by a card-board cutout of Perry Mason or Ally McBeal. It might look like a lawyer, but it doesn’t act like one”, said Scott Cobb of Texas Moratorium Network.

“Many people sit on death row in Texas not because they are the worst of the worst of all murderers, but because their lawyers were among the worst of the worst of all lawyers, especially at the trial level. Last week the state 
executed Napoleon Beazley despite admissions from his state Habeas counsel, Mr. Robin Norris, that he had performed deficiently when he represented Napoleon. Texas needs to enact a moratorium on executions in the next session of the Legislature so that reforms can be enacted to rid the system of incompetence once and for all. Let’s judge and sentence defendants because of their own actions and not because of the incompetent actions of their lawyers”, said Cobb.

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