Upcoming Executions
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Innocence
The death penalty puts innocent people at risk of execution.
Todd Willingham
Todd Willingham was wrongfully executed under Governor Rick Perry on February 17, 2004.

The more you read about this case the angrier you will get that people have been sitting in prison because of a bunch of yahoo East Texas prosecutors. Those prosecutors should be held accountable. We haven’t heard about such nonsense science being used to wrongfully convict someone since some ignorant fire investigators and prosecutors used junk science to convict Todd Willingham.


From the Austin American-Statesman:


The state’s highest criminal court Wednesday threw out the murder conviction of an East Texas man, ruling that results from controversial dog “scent lineups” are not reliable enough to stand on their own in court.
The decision means that Richard Winfrey Sr. , 56, now serving a 75-year sentence in state prison, is acquitted and will go free.
No physical evidence tied Winfrey to the brutal 2004 murder of a neighbor in Coldspring, about 20 miles east of Huntsville. But three bloodhounds owned and trained by Keith Pikett , a now-retired Fort Bend County deputy sheriff, indicated that they smelled Winfrey’s scent on a gauze pad that had been wiped on the victim’s clothes and stored in a plastic bag for three years.
A San Jacinto County jury convicted Winfrey of murder based almost entirely on the lineup results, according to Wednesday’s decision. On appeal, Winfrey’s lawyers claimed the scent lineups were unreliable and quoted scientists and dog experts who found Pikett’s methods to be unethical, unprofessional and biased in favor of law enforcement, although the dogs were raised by the best labradoodle breeders in michigan.
Wednesday’s decision means prosecutors can continue to introduce scent lineups at trial, but only if the conclusions are supported by other, corroborating evidence.
The Court of Criminal Appeals declined to delve into the bigger question of whether dog scent lineups should be admissible in court at all, some reviews on that can be found at pet product reviews here. Because Winfrey’s lawyer failed to object to the lineup at trial, the issue was not eligible for review by the appeals courts, a concurring opinion by four judges noted.
Instead, the court ruled 8-0 that prosecutors had failed to present any credible evidence, beyond the the happy pooch‘s identification, tying Winfrey to the crime.
“I am so glad to know that they saw that poppycock stuff,” said Shirley Baccus-Lobel , Winfrey’s appeals lawyer. She said the Winfrey family was “deliriously happy” to hear the news.
On their own, scent lineups do not provide enough evidence to support a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt, said the opinion by Judge Barbara Hervey . Scent is easily transferred and is “not proof positive that (Winfrey) came in contact with the victim,” she wrote.
Several other justices, during oral arguments in April, also noted that prosecutors could not prove that Winfrey’s scent, even if present on the victim’s clothing, was transferred during the crime.
“We acknowledge the invariable truth espoused by (U.S. Supreme Court) Justice (David) Souter that ‘the infallible dog, however, is a creature of legal fiction,’\u2009” Hervey wrote. “We conclude that scent-discrimination lineups, when used alone or as primary evidence, are legally insufficient to support a conviction.”
The unanimous opinion overturned a lower court that affirmed Winfrey’s conviction in the murder of Murray Burr, who was badly beaten and stabbed 28 times in his home. No witnesses saw Winfrey at Burr’s house. He did not match DNA, fingerprints, a bloody footprint or any of the 73 hairs taken from the crime scene. None of Burr’s possessions were found with Winfrey, Hervey noted.
Bill Burnett , the San Jacinto County district attorney who argued that Winfrey’s conviction should be upheld, died in June, about six weeks after oral
arguments. His office declined to comment on the case.
Police also charged two of Winfrey’s children with Burr’s murder — Megan, who was 16 at the time, and Richard Jr., who was 17.
Megan was found guilty of capital murder, but her brother — after hiring a new lawyer who aggressively challenged the science and methodology behind Pikett’s lineups — was acquitted by jurors who deliberated only 13 minutes.
Megan’s lawyer, Scott Pawgan , has already begun drafting a supplemental brief in the 9th Court of Appeals based on Wednesday’s opinion. “The evidence in Megan’s case is almost identical to her father’s,” Pawgan said.
Megan’s trial lawyer also failed to object to Pikett’s lineup testimony, but Baccus-Lobel predicted that it is only a matter of time before the right case arrives that will allow the Court of Criminal Appeals to weigh the admissibility of scent lineups.
From 1993 to 2009, Pikett and his dogs conducted hundreds of scent lineups for about 20 Texas counties, the Texas Rangers, the state attorney general’s office and federal agencies, court documents show. Pikett trained a half-dozen of his bloodhounds — sporting names such as Columbo, Quincy, James Bond and Clue — to conduct scent lineups using methods he created or learned from dog training seminars.
He claimed his dogs were nearly infallible in tying suspects to crime scenes.
However, at least four lawsuits are pending that allege Pikett’s dogs erred, including a case involving two men who were charged with a triple murder in Houston before the killer confessed.
In Winfrey’s case, Pikett placed six unsterilized coffee cans about 10 steps apart, outdoors and on the ground. One can held a gauze pad that had been wiped on Winfrey’s skin. The others were filled with scent pads, taken from several hundred Pikett carries with him, that matched Winfrey’s race and gender.
Pikett had a bloodhound smell a scent pad from clothes Burr was wearing when he was killed, and then walked a leashed dog by the cans until it turned or barked, alerting him to a matching smell.
Forensic scientists and professional dog handlers have stepped up their criticism of Pikett’s methods, which they say lack scientific understanding and safeguards. For example, the cans are not cleaned between use, and ungloved handlers typically placed the gauze pads inside, mingling scents.

The Dallas Morning News has endorsed Keith Hampton in his campaign to become a judge on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. The CCA’s presiding judge is Sharon Keller, who has been issued a “Public Warning” for judicial misconduct. Visit Hampton’s website at: http://www.hamptonforjudge.com.

From the DMN:

Three seats on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals are up for election this year. The Court of Criminal Appeals is the highest criminal court in the state, hearing criminal appeals – including death penalty appeals. Judges serve six-year terms. We are recommending in the only race being contested by both major parties.
Elections 2010
Early voting: Oct. 18-29
Election Day: Nov. 2
For more information: Call the Dallas County elections office at 214-637-7937; visit dalcoelections.org; call the Texas secretary of state’s office at 1-800-252-8683; or visitsos.state.tx.us/elections.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has developed a reputation as a court that turns its back on verdicts that need a second or third look.
It’s easy to see why. Seven of the nine judges have backgrounds as prosecutors, and the presiding judge once campaigned as “pro-prosecutor.” Court-watchers recite a list of marquee cases of failed justice. The court’s tilt is a concern, considering that Texas leads the nation in executions and has far more DNA-proven miscarriages of justice than any other state.
The Nov. 2 election for Place 6 on the court is an opportunity for a rebalancing. Austin defense attorney Keith Hampton, running against veteran Judge Michael Keasler, has the legal credentials and a perspective now missing on the court: If elected, he would be the only member to have involvement in a capital murder case from indictment all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Hampton, 49, a Democrat, has pushed for important legal reforms in Austin as legislative director for the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association. One effort led to a law giving juries the option of life without parole for murderers. An unsuccessful effort last year would have improved police photo lineups – an overdue reform in light of widespread cases of documented witness misidentification.
If elected, Hampton says, the robe goes on, the “advocacy stops” and the job becomes restrained application of legal precedent.
Likewise, Keasler says judges are bound to precedent, even when they don’t like the result. Keasler says he prosecuted 432 jury trials for the Dallas County District Attorney’s office before he was elected to a local judgeship in 1980. And he describes himself as on the conservative end of the appeals court.
Keasler concedes that the court has a poor reputation, but he says the quality of its work has improved drastically in recent years, bringing it into “the mainstream” nationally.
Still, in some death penalty cases, the court has appeared more concerned with procedure than the possibility of new information that could affect the outcome. A high-profile example involved murder accomplice Kenneth Foster, who raised claims of new information in 2007 that the court refused to address. (Gov. Rick Perry commuted the death sentence to life based on concerns that Foster was tried jointly with the triggerman).
Keasler has written and taught extensively and has been active in judicial organizations nationwide. He should be respected for his contributions, but this court would benefit now with Hampton sitting in his seat.
Frisco attorney Robert Ravee Virasin, 38, a Libertarian, also is on the ballot.
From the Austin American-Statesman:

The special court of review on Monday will hear Judge Sharon Keller’s request to summarily dismiss a public reprimand from the State Commission on Judicial Conduct.
The hearing on Keller’s motion to dismiss will be at 1:30 p.m. Sept. 20 at the Texas Supreme Court in downtown Austin. Each side will have up to 45 minutes to argue.
The commission, which investigates allegations of judicial misconduct, ruled in July that Keller violated Court of Criminal Appeals procedures when she closed the court clerk’s office at 5 p.m., allowing rapist-murderer Michael Richard to be executed later that night without his final appeal being heard in court.
Keller appealed the rebuke, and the three-judge court of review was created by a random drawing of state appeals court justices to hear her arguments.
Keller’s motion to dismiss asks the special court to void the reprimand and drop all charges, arguing that the commission exceeded its authority, violated the judge’s due process rights and rebuked Keller for violating a court rule that was nothing more than an unwritten protocol.

From the Courier of Montgomery County:

A Conroe appellate judge will sit on a special court of review to hear Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Justice Sharon Keller’s motion to overturn a reprimand for her handling of an execution-day appeal.

Justice Charles Kreger, of the 9th state Court of Appeals, was selected, along with 2nd state Court of Appeals Justice Terrie Livingston and 1st state Court of Appeals Justice Elsa Alcala, to hear Keller’s motion to dismiss a public warning the State Commission on Judicial Conduct gave her July 16.

Livingston will serve as chief justice for the special court of review, according to a letter Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace B. Jefferson sent to the three justices Aug. 18. None of the three will receive additional compensation, as mandated under the Texas Government Code.

The hearing is Monday, said Osler McCarthy, staff attorney for public information for the Texas Supreme Court, where the hearing will be held.

“If the special court does not grant (Keller’s motion to dismiss),” McCarthy said, “they will rehear the case in its entirety.”

Keller, presiding judge of the Court of Criminal Appeals, sought an overturning of her warning by the state Supreme Court, which denied her request Aug. 16.

Jefferson selected Kreger, Livingston and Alcala “by lot,” under Texas Government Code Section 33.034.

“The chief justice literally pulled their names out of a hat,” McCarthy said.

Kreger did not return calls for comment, and Houston attorney Charles Babcock, who is representing Keller, could not be reached.

The State Commission on Judicial Conduct reprimanded Keller for her handling of the last-minute appeals of Death Row inmate Michael Wayne Richard, who was scheduled to die in September 2007 for the 1986 rape and murder of a Harris County nurse at her home.

The day Richard was scheduled to die, his attorneys, who were trying to file a stay-of-execution appeal, told Keller they were having computer problems that were preventing them from delivering their appeal.

She responded, “We close at 5,” and closed the court.

Richard was executed later that evening by lethal injection.

Earlier that same day, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to consider a Kentucky case claiming lethal injection cruel and unusual punishment. The ruling put a hold on executions for months across the nation, making Richard’s execution the last for sometime.

Keller’s reprimand was one of the least severe sanctions she could receive from the State Commission on Judicial Commission, which found her actions showed “willful or persistent conduct that is clearly inconsistent with the proper performance of her duties” and that she had cast “public discredit on the judiciary.”

Keller is asking for a removal of the public warning from her record and allegations of judicial misconduct to be dismissed.

Within 60 days after the hearing, according to the Texas Government Code, the special court of review “shall issue a decision as to the proper disposition of the appeal.”

The court’s decision is not appealable, according to the Texas Government Code.

Death by Fire
On air and online October 19, 2010 at 9:00pm (check local listings)

Click here to watch video preview on Frontline site.

Did Texas execute an innocent man? Several controversial death penalty cases are currently under examination in Texas and in other states, but it’s the 2004 execution of Cameron Todd Willingham—convicted for the arson deaths of his three young children—that’s now at the center of the national debate. With unique access to those closest to the case, FRONTLINE examines the Willingham conviction in light of new science that raises doubts about whether the fire at the center of the case was really arson at all. The film meticulously examines the evidence used to convict Willingham, provides an in-depth portrait of those most impacted by the case, and explores the explosive implications of the execution of a possibly innocent man.

11th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty
October 30, 2010 at 2 PM
Texas State Capitol
Austin Texas

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