Archive for November, 2013

November 30, 2013

From Death Row to Restorative Justice.

Restorative justice is a system that fundamentally views crime as injury rather than wrong-doing, and justice as healing rather than punishment. Whilst visiting New York, Minneapolis, Hawaii and Texas (thanks to receiving a Winston Churchill travelling fellowship) I’ve uncovered some remarkable US-based programs that bear this out. But as founding director of The Forgiveness Project, a UK-based charity that delivers a restorative justice programme in prisons, I’m also surprised by how often the death penalty is central to the conversation.

Rev. Cathy Harrington explained to me that whilst forgiveness is not something she can consider for the man who murdered her beloved 26 year-old-daughter, Leslie, in 2002, she has never supported capital punishment because to be involved in someone else’s murder would only create more pain and more victims. When both her sons were initially in favour of the death penalty, Cathy contacted Sister Helen Prajean (of Dead Man Walking fame) who encouraged her to try to find meaning in her daughter’s senseless and brutal death by writing Leslie’s “gospel”. As the years passed Cathy has been able to detect glimmers of meaning, mostly by living and working among the poor. These are what she describes as moments of grace: inexplicable connections based on a common humanity and insights that have shed light on her stumbling path.

A week after meeting Cathy, I cross paths with Sister Helen Prejean herself. She is speaking at the Roman Catholic Basilica downtown Minneapolis and the word grace comes up again. She is describing the first time she met a man on death row. Never having come face to face with a murderer before, she didn’t know what kind of monster to expect. “But then, I looked into his face and saw his humanness,” she says. “It was a moment of grace.”

I am not a Christian and I don’t completely understand what this word grace means but I know it is about meaning-making, finding a gift in the wound and a profound spiritual experience that has the capacity to soothe.

In June this year Texas marked a solemn moment in criminal justice history when it executed its 500th inmate since resuming capital punishment in 1982. Over coffee, on a misty November morning in Houston, Reverend Richard Lopez tells me he has witnessed nearly a hundred such deaths. Like Sister Helen Prajean he has stood by the side of the condemned, shared their last meal, laid one hand on their ankle as the lethal fluid is administered — and prayed for God’s grace.

As he recounts the stories of several of the men who he has attended to, he frequently falters, his eyes thick with emotion. Here is a man still deeply troubled by what he has witnessed. His original calling was to offer solace to the condemned, encourage repentance and show the way to God’s forgiveness. Even the hardest and most brutal of men have softened to Rev. Lopez’s gentle kindness. He went on to create support systems for the families who come to witness their loved one’s last moments. Observing how devastated the mothers were as they watched their adult children move rapidly from a state of relative health to sudden death, he also created a system whereby family members could immediately after the execution visit the funeral home to say their good-byes in privacy.

His description of the execution chamber is graphic. In the middle of the room is the gurney on to which the condemned is strapped. There are two small viewing rooms, adjacent to the chamber — one for the victim’s family, the other for the family of the condemned. A curtain covers a glass screen as the families enter the rooms through different doors — neither permitted to see the inmate until he or she is strapped down. Only at that point are the curtains opened to reveal the macabre spectacle. A microphone hangs over the mouth of the condemned who is given two minutes to utter his last words.

Whilst working at the infamous Huntsville Unit, Rev. Lopez decided to extend his services to the families of victims. For a man of God so deeply committed to the healing power of forgiveness, he found this ministry the hardest of his life. “Only one in ten could hear the word forgiveness. It was too difficult and I had to give up,” he admits, describing how families would often arrive cheering the day that the execution had finally arrived. You sense that in the end he became worn down by this losing battle, and the realization that forgiveness was often seen as an insult to people so deeply wounded by murder.

For 29 years Rev. Lopez ministered to the incarcerated on Death Row. Nowadays, however, he prefers to help out his friend John Sage, whose sister was brutally murdered in 1993 and who founded the remarkably successful Bridges to Life rehabilitation program which operates in 30 Texas prisons plus several juvenile and transitional housing facilities. During my time in Texas I attend three Bridges to Life sessions in three different facilities and witness first hand the power of this victim impact program delivered by an army of volunteers, many of whom are victims of crime themselves. Like the volunteers, the inmates are almost all believers, seeking God’s mercy to support them on their distance journey. The helpful hand of God is something entirely new to me given that the majority of the offenders taking part in The Forgiveness Project program profess no faith. But it’s different here in Texas, as I am reminded more than once. This is the Bible belt.

However, the Bridges to Life program also has many similarities, as does the peer driven ManAlive violence prevention intervention in Austin that I witness, and the Huikahi Restorative Circles re-entry model for offenders in Hawaii, not to mention the VOCARE program in Minneapolis that brings together victims, offenders and community members and the T.A.S.T.E program for parolees in Long Island. These programs all bear testimony to the possibility of redemption. They share the belief that self-healing starts with accountability and accountability starts with acknowledging the pain and suffering of your victims.

November 30, 2013

DNA testing is a necessity.

In this time of economic strain anyone who doesn’t look at ways to cut their personal or business budget is just not being responsible. Same goes for the justice system.

For nearly two decades lawyers working with death row inmates have spent countless hours, court time and multiple tens of millions of dollars fighting for access to DNA testing. These attorneys work right up until execution time to win court orders for DNA tests on crime scene evidence or DNA of the condemned prisoner him or herself.

I could never figure out why so much time and money was spent fighting a condemned person’s last chance to establish their innocence. Don’t we want to make sure we’re executing the right person? Now that DNA technology has become so advanced isn’t that one extra step the necessary and honorable thing to do?

Since 1992 when the Innocence Project was founded — designed to help prisoners who could be exonerated through DNA testing — more than 300 convicts have been set free, including 18 from death row.

Some might see the death row DNA fight as a stalling tactic by crafty lawyers for an obviously guilty person. That might certainly be true in some cases. But ask the 18 death row inmates the Innocence Project got exonerated if their final DNA fight was worth it.

Most states have statutes allowing post-conviction DNA testing access but none are automatic and almost all of them come with strict restrictions or absolute deadlines for use. District Attorney’s offices routinely fight defense requests for DNA testing — as if to say each of their prosecutions were perfect and never needs review. What are they afraid of?

Well, here’s an idea that could reap double dividends. First, Congress needs to get past its partisan paralysis and pass a federal law mandating automatic DNA testing of inmates who have been sentenced to die. No questions asked, just test each of America’s 3,125 death row inmates who have never had their DNA collected and register it with the national database CODIUS.

The argument, of course, will be that DNA tests are costly. Really? Compared to what? Research shows they average between $350 and $1,800, depending on the laboratory used. Compared to the accumulated big ticket costs of lawyers, judges, prosecutors and court staff and it is easy to see that paying a bit up front could actually save taxpayer dollars in the long run. It could also save an innocent person’s life.

Most importantly, mandated DNA tests could more quickly identify innocent inmates which, in turn, could alert police to the fact that there is still a dangerous criminal on the loose. It’s estimated that the exonerated spend about 13 years in prison before they are released. That’s too many years to allow a guilty party to roam the streets preying on others.

Another budget point: The longer you keep a wrongfully convicted person in prison the more the state is liable to pay out in compensation. Isn’t it smarter to spend a bit of money today (on DNA tests) and spare the state a potential big payout later?

About half the states have no actual statute for compensation on the books but that doesn’t mean they don’t payout huge sums. In California, for example, a state law awards up to $100 for each day a wrongfully convicted person spent in prison. (Multiply that by the average 13 years and it totals more than $475,000. Realize, many of the exonerated have languished in prison for 25 years or more. For a quarter century of wrongful imprisonment a California inmate could receive more than $912,000.) Missouri is less generous, offering $50 for each day. In Florida, an exonerated person can get $50,000 for each year they spent behind bars with a maximum of $2 million.

Here’s that second dividend I mentioned: DNA testing could help solve cold cases and provide answers to families that have waiting years for news on what happened to their loved one.
While there are some wrongfully convicted inmates in prison most of the people who populate death row didn’t get there by being choir boys. A vast majority committed multiple crimes before winding up where they did — crimes that range from burglary and robbery to bank robbery and murder. By including their DNA in the CODIS network law enforcement agencies around the country could tap into it to see if there’s a connection to their cold cases.

There has been a recent push to take DNA from all newly arrested citizens and those results automatically wind up in the national data base. But, there are prisoners who have been incarcerated for decades who never got the cheek-swab test for DNA.

Can you imagine the backlog of criminal cases that might be solved if each and every prisoner were included in the CODIS system? A study of 41 serial rapists, for example, showed that before they were imprisoned they admitted they had collectively raped 837 times and attempted the crime against more than 400 others. If DNA was left behind at the crime scenes those open cases could be closed and victims could be assured their attacker was behind bars.

Yes, it would take money to accomplish such an all-inclusive prisoner DNA system. But, I maintain there’s nothing more important than good solid information, a guide to identifying the known criminal element. It would be money much more wisely spent than endless court fights because it would reap definitive evidence that goes toward the common good.

It’s way past time for justice system bean counters to think outside the box.

November 30, 2013

San Francisco jail sex-bias case heads to court
By Bob Egelko
November 29, 2013
Liz Hafalia, The Chronicle
Former Sheriff Michael Hennessey’s decision came in 2006.
It’s been more than seven years since then-Sheriff Michael Hennessey removed all male deputies from female housing units at San Francisco County Jail, saying inmates’ complaints of sexual misconduct – some substantiated, some not – had raised concerns over safety and security.
Next week, a federal appeals court will hear claims of sex discrimination by more than two dozen deputies, male and female, who say the policy has made their jobs harder and was a solution to a nonexistent problem.
Since the change took effect in October 2006, female deputies have been subjected to increased “stress, violence and danger” guarding women who “have a greater propensity for being argumentative, disagreeable, vocal, challenging and more openly hostile than male inmates,” the officers’ lawyers said in written arguments to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal in San Francisco.
Male deputies, meanwhile, have lost wages and overtime and have been falsely stigmatized as sexual predators because of Hennessey’s decision, the lawyers said. And, they said, in the 16 years before the sheriff instituted his no-men-allowed policy, “there was not one sustained complaint of sexual misconduct by a male deputy against a female inmate.”
Evidence of problems
That’s not true, the city’s lawyers say. Hennessey’s office investigated a dozen complaints of sexual misconduct by male deputies between 2001 and mid-2006, the lawyers said in a court filing. No criminal charges were filed, but three deputies resigned and two others were suspended, they said.
“Cases that resulted in resignation and cases in which discipline was meted out are substantiated allegations,” said Gabriel Zitrin, spokesman for City Attorney Dennis Herrera.
Lawrence Murray, lead attorney for the deputies in the lawsuit, countered that Hennessey, in a sworn deposition, was unable to identify any officers who were punished for sexual misconduct in the jail, where the living quarters, Murray said, are under constant surveillance by supervising officers and video cameras.
The three-judge panel that will hear the case on Wednesday will consider the factual dispute and, perhaps more important, the level of deference that judges should give to the sheriff’s decisions on jail operations.
In a February 2010 ruling upholding Hennessey’s policy, U.S. District Judge Susan Illston said gender-based work assignments are “outside modern-day norms” but courts have long required “judicial restraint when assessing the decisions of correctional officials.”
Brant Ward, The Chronicle
Sheriff Mike Hennessey stood next to the county seal which was removed from the old jail and will be placed at the new jail nearby. Outgoing San Francisco Sheriff Mike Hennessey presided over a ceremony to demolish the old San Francisco jail Wednesday January 4, 2011.
Hennessey, who had been San Francisco’s sheriff since 1980, “reasonably concluded that the policy was necessary to address the security and morale problems associated with staffing male deputies in female housing units,” Illston said. The policy has been continued by current Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, whose office declined to comment on the case.
Inmates transferred
Earlier in 2006, Hennessey had transferred all female inmates, generally numbering between 50 and 110, from three units of the jail at 425 Seventh St. to a single unit where all cells were visible from a central location.
He said he decided to remove male guards from the unit mainly because reports of sexual misconduct against female inmates in San Francisco and elsewhere – even if not always proved – showed it was a serious problem. Other concerns, Hennessey said, included the privacy of inmates, who changed clothes in the deputies’ view, and the unwillingness of some male officers to search female inmates thoroughly because they feared being accused of groping.
Better training sought
Lawyers for the deputes say none of those reasons justifies the sex discrimination resulting from Hennessey’s policy, and that any fears of sexual misconduct in the open-view women’s quarters could be alleviated with additional surveillance cameras and better staff training.
“There is no opportunity for misconduct to occur or go unnoticed,” the attorneys said in court papers.
The city’s lawyers disagreed.
Liz Hafalia, The Chronicle
San Francisco Sheriff Michael Hennessey, who is retiring after 32 years in office, looking through the old jail facility in San Bruno, Calif., on Wednesday, November 29, 2011. He started as a lawyer working with social workers at this facility and had initiated many programs to rehabilitate inmates.
“Working in the female housing (units) gives ill-intentioned male deputies the opportunity to take female inmates to a storeroom, laundry room or other isolated area of (the jail) for forced or ‘consensual’ sexual activities,” they said.

November 9, 2013

Hardly seems enough. Should have gotten 25 years.

GEORGETOWN, Texas — GEORGETOWN, Texas (AP) — A former Texas prosecutor who won a conviction that sent an innocent man to prison for nearly 25 years agreed Friday to serve 10 days in jail and complete 500 hours of community service.

Ken Anderson also will be disbarred and fined $500 as part of a sweeping deal that was expected to end all criminal and civil cases against the embattled ex-district attorney, who presided over a tough-on-crime Texas county for 30 years.

Anderson faced up to 10 years in prison if convicted of tampering with evidence in the 1987 murder trial of Michael Morton, who wrongly spent nearly 25 years in prison.

Morton was released in 2011 after DNA evidence showed he didn’t beat his wife to death. He watched from the front row of the gallery Friday as the man who helped convict him now sat at the defense table, just as he once did. Morton smiled and was hugged by family members after the judge adjourned.

“In a case like this, sometimes it’s hard to say what meets the ends of justice and what doesn’t. There is no way that anything we can do here today can resolve the tragedy that occurred in these matters,” Judge Kelly G. Moore said Friday. “I’d like to say to Mr. Morton, the world is a better place because of you.”

Anderson has previously apologized to Morton for what he called failures in the system but has said he believes there was no misconduct.

Anderson accepted the plea deal in the same Williamson County courthouse where he spent 11 years as a state judge. He was appointed to the post by Gov. Rick Perry after his stint as district attorney, but resigned in September.

Since being freed from prison, Morton has become a visible embodiment of problems in the legal system in Texas, which leads the nation in prisoners set free by DNA testing — 117 in the last 25 years. Earlier this year, the former Republican chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court urged lawmakers to act on the issue.

Morton was a regular presence at the Texas Capitol this spring and helped push through the Michael Morton Act, which helps compel prosecutors to share files with defense attorneys that can help defendants’ cases.

In an unusual move, the plea deal bundled a resolution to both criminal and civil cases against Anderson. The State Bar of Texas had accused him of professional conduct in the Morton case, while a special court of inquiry pursued the felony charges this year.

During a weeklong Court of Inquiry earlier this year, special prosecutor Rusty Hardin, a Houston defense attorney, presented witness testimony and other evidence to show Anderson kept evidence from Morton’s attorneys at his trial.

The rarely used special court is held when officials or public servants are accused of wrongdoing. The process is similar to a grand jury proceeding, but people can defend themselves against the evidence presented.

Among the evidence Morton’s attorneys claim was kept from them were statements from Morton’s then-3-year-old son, who witnessed the murder and said his father wasn’t responsible, and interviews with neighbors who told authorities they saw a man park a green van close the Morton home and walk into a nearby wooded area before the slaying.

In a videotaped deposition played during the Court of Inquiry, Anderson said he couldn’t remember if he had evidence at the time of the trial that could have cleared Morton, but if he had had such material, he would have turned it over to the defense team.

November 2, 2013

Sara Kruzan free at last.

October 31, 2013 5:25 PM

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Sara Kruzan, a California woman who was sentenced to life in prison as a teenager for killing her former pimp, has been released under a new California law that allows for the resentencing of certain inmates convicted as juveniles.

PICTURES: “Juvenile in Justice” project captures kids behind bars

State corrections officials say Kruzan was paroled Thursday from Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla after serving 19 years.

She was 17 when she was sentenced for fatally shooting George Howard in a Riverside motel room in 1994. She said Howard sexually assaulted her at an early age and she began working for him as a prostitute at 13.

Prosecutors said the now 35-year-old Kruzan was no longer working for Howard when she killed him.

Kruzan’s case became a high-profile example used by state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, who sought to ease life sentences for juveniles.

“It is justice long overdue,” Yee told the Los Angeles Times. He called Kruzan’s case the “perfect example of adults who failed her, of society failing her. You had a predator who stalked her, raped her, forced her into prostitution, and there was no one around.”

Yee’s legislation became law in January and later that month, a Riverside County judge reduced Kruzan’s conviction from first-degree to second-degree murder, making her immediately eligible for parole.

In September, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a second bill requiring parole boards to give special consideration to juveniles tried as adults who have served at least 15 years of lengthy sentences. Advocates estimate there are more than 1,000 prisoners already eligible for parole hearings under that new law.

Kruzan’s case garnered widespread publicity in 2010 after Human Rights Watch posted a six-minute interview with her on YouTube.

The year culminated with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger commuting her sentence to 25-years-to-life with the possibility of parole on his last full day in office. Schwarzenegger said he still considered her guilty of first-degree murder, but he sympathized with her defense that the man she killed had sexually abused her and served as her pimp for years.

“Given Ms. Kruzan’s age at the time of the murder, and considering the significant abuse she suffered at his hands, I believe Ms. Kruzan’s sentence is excessive,” Schwarzenegger wrote in his commutation message, saying, “it is apparent that Ms. Kruzan suffered significant abuse starting at a vulnerable age.”

Kruzan’s aunt, Ann Rogan, recently told CBS News she is “elated” about her niece’s release and planned to take her in as soon as she got out.

“Things happen to us but then we evolve and change and become stronger and we become better and that’s what has happened to Sara,” Rogen said.

Complete coverage of Sara Kruzan on Crimesider

November 2, 2013

Arizona has issues with its prosecutors.

6 of Arizona’s “Prosecutors of the Year” Engaged in Misconduct during Death Penalty Cases
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Friday, November 01, 2013
Ken Peasley, two-time Prosecutor of the Year, was disbarred in 2004 (photo: Jim Davis, Arizona Daily Star)

Many of Arizona’s prosecutors—including those honored with awards—have violated either legal or ethical rules while trying murder suspects facing the death penalty, according to an investigation by the Arizona Republic.

A review of all the state’s capital cases since 2002 found that appellate attorneys alleged prosecutorial misconduct about 50% of the time.
In some cases, prosecutors were accused of encouraging witnesses to perjure themselves in order to get a conviction.
Among the prosecutors accused of wrongdoing were six named “prosecutor of the year” by the Arizona Prosecuting Attorneys Advisory Committee. The half dozen officials “were later found by appeals courts to have engaged in misconduct or inappropriate behavior during death-penalty trials,” The Republic’s Michael Kiefer wrote.
“There seldom are consequences for prosecutors, regardless of whether the miscarriage of justice occurred because of ineptness or misconduct,” he added.
Of the cases examined, only two prosecutors were eventually punished. One was disbarred, while the other received a short suspension.
As for those tried by these prosecutors, only two had their death sentences thrown out by appellate courts.

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