Today’s Death Row News, Nov. 3

  • Inmates’ Last Words: I was searching for the last words of all the inmates that have ever been executed in Florida for a graphic I’m working on (it’s no easy feat finding them either) and I came across this site, with audio recordings of inmates’ last words. It’s interesting to hear them rather than read them.
  • North Texas Woman On Death Row Gets New Punishment Trial: A Texas woman, one of only ten on the state’s death row, won a new sentencing trial today after an appeals court ruled that prosecutors improperly withheld evidence at her original sentencing hearing. Twenty-seven-year-old Chelsea Richardson was convicted of planning the murders of her boyfriend’s parents so her boyfriend could inherit their $1.56 million estate. Her attorneys argued prosecutors failed to give her trial lawyer notes from a psychologist that suggested another woman masterminded the plot.
  • In Life and Death Cases, Costly Mistakes: The Philadelphia Inquirer recently conducted a review of death penalty appeals in Pennsylvania over three decades. They found a pattern of ineffective assistance by defense attorneys, with more that 125 capital murder trials in the state being reversed or sent back by state and federal courts after finding major mistakes by the defense attorneys. The Inquirer found defense lawyers in Pennsylvania often are underprepared for their cases, and neglect basic steps such as interviewing defendants, finding witnesses and investigating a defendant’s background. These errors not only end up costing the state quite a bit of money in appeals but also ensure that the cases drag on for years.
  • Death Row in Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania comes up again in an editorial in The New York Times about the high number sentenced to death in the state and the incredibly low number executed. Only three people have been executed there since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. The editorial states, “Most of the pending death penalty cases in Pennsylvania are more than a decade old because juries have been increasingly reluctant to impose capital punishment. In place of this de facto abolition, the state should pass a law proposed in March to end the death penalty. There is no argument in favor of maintaining a barbaric, arbitrary and expensive system of capital punishment.”
  • Instead of Midnight Execution, State Plans 7 p.m. Death for Gary Haugen: This is an interesting commentary on the trend lately of carrying out executions in the daytime or early evening hours, as opposed to the late night or early morning executions that used to be standard. According to Bill Long, author of a book on capital punishment in Oregon, the shift is an attempt at making executions look like “business as usual” by removing “the cover of darkness and putting it into the normal course of justice being administered.”
  • Federal Court Agrees Inmate Didn’t Get Fair Trial in Daytona Slaying: After 15 years on Florida’s death row, a federal appeals court has affirmed a lower court’s ruling that James “Chico” Guzman didn’t get a fair trial. A key witness in the trial against Guzman was paid a $500 reward for testifying, which was not disclose by the lead detective in the case. The lower court ruled Guzman should get a new trial, but the Florida Supreme Court denied the appeal. Now the federal appeals court has ruled that the state Supreme Court’s decision “was more than just incorrect it was an objectively unreasonable application of clearly established Supreme Court precedent.” The case could be sent to the U.S. Supreme Court for review. A new trial date has not been set at this time.
  • Supreme Court to Take Another Look at Prosecutorial Misconduct: The Supreme Court is set to hear a case on prosecutorial misconduct, which is an issue of perpetual interest to the Court and the decisions in the case they are about to hear will reveal more about what it will mean for previous and future cases. Read more about the case coming up and the history of the issue in this article.
  • The Next Death Penalty Background: Alec Baldwin wrote an article for Huffington Post about California’s death penalty problems, which are becoming a heated battleground. It’s very well written and worth a quick read.
  • Evolving Law Results in Unequal Pay to the Exonerated: Entre Nax Karage spent more than six years in prison for the rape and murder of his girlfriend. But in 2005, DNA evidence proved he was innocent, and he was released. The state paid him about $158,000 in compensation. DNA evidence also helped exonerate Ricardo Rachell. He was freed in 2008 after spending six years in prison on a sexual-assault conviction. Texas paid him about $493,000. “It’s not right, and it’s unjust,” Karage said. “We all did the same time and went through the same situation.”
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