- ACLU: Counties opting for incarceration, not rehabilitation (prisonmovement.wordpress.com)
From our friends at Campaign to End the Death Penalty:
Updated: Thursday, 29 Mar 2012, 2:19 PM CDT
Published : Thursday, 29 Mar 2012, 2:19 PM CDT
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) – A Thursday execution was halted for a man set to die for the 1982 murder-for-hire of a Muscle Shoals businessman, but his legal battle is far from over.
The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday denied Alabama’s request to reconsider the stay of execution for Thomas Douglas Arthur, who has maintained his innocence for more than 29 years on death row.
The stay was granted after a three-judge panel overturned a judge’s ruling to stop Arthur’s appeal, which contends Alabama’s lethal injection procedure is cruel and unusual.
The court has yet to rule on a motion to have the full 11th Circuit re-examine the decision to allow the appeal.
If the court declines, Arthur will be allowed to appeal his death sentence.
Some politicians have framed this fall’s general elections in dire terms, saying if America doesn’t get it right, it could be the end of freedom as we know it.
But some stories CBN News has learned about suggest freedom may already be long gone.
CBN News is launching a series of investigations into a growing phenomenon called “overcriminalization” and how it’s making America a nation of criminals.
On the surface, Lawrence Lewis looks like a model American citizen. He escaped life in the inner city and has held down two jobs most of his adult life while trying to provide for his family.
“I wanted my family to have things I didn’t have growing up,” he told CBN News.
Caring for his 96-year-old mother and two daughters, he made it his life goal to prove to himself and his children that it’s possible to avoid becoming another statistic caught up in the criminal justice system.
In the end, he failed — without even knowing he was doing anything wrong.
“If you would ask me this before that day, would I plead guilty to something I didn’t do, I’d tell you it’s impossible,” he said.
Lewis’s Nightmare Begins
Lewis’s nightmare started when he was the chief engineer at Knollwood, a military retirement home in Washington, D.C. — a job he loved until it put him on the wrong side of the law.
Lewis said the home occasionally dealt with a backed-up sewage system. When it happened, he did what he’d been shown to do when he was first hired and what had been done years before he even got there.
He and his staff diverted the backed-up system to a nearby storm drain they thought emptied into the city’s sewer system. But they were wrong.
“They said… we trying to determine if we’re going to arrest me tonight. And I said, arrest me for what?”
The diverted waste ended up in a creek that flows into the Potomac River. That meant Lewis, while on the job, violated the Clean Water Act.
It’s a federal statute that comes with a hefty fine and, for him, the possibility of five years in prison unless he implicated his bosses — something he refused to do.
“I couldn’t believe that I was born and raised in the projects and I worked so hard to get out that situation and build a professional career and here I am at work getting arrested for something I had no idea was wrong,” Lewis said.
Faced with the possibility of being locked up, his attorney advised him to plead guilty. Lewis wanted to fight but eventually gave up.
“I ended up having to do that for one reason: My kids and my momma wouldn’t have [anywhere] to live,” he explained. “A five-year prison sentence — they wouldn’t have anywhere to live.”
More Common Than You Think
If you think Lewis’s story is one of a kind, you’re wrong. Experts say virtually anyone can fall prey to a growing phenomenon called “overcriminalization.”
Continue Reading @ CBN
Two governors and attorney generals have ignored Davontae’s plight of being coerced into falsely confessing to the impossible – carrying off a quadruple homicide although blind in one eye, developmentally disabled, and only 14, proving that conviction corruption is bipartisan and high-level, and stubbornly protects the self-sullied reputations of police and prosecutors that deserve to lose their freedom along with their jobs.
Davontae Sanford should be allowed to withdraw his guilty plea so that he can go to trial based on the newly discovered evidence that a hit man says he and another person committed murder and Davontae was not there.
A Detroit hit man in prison for eight murders said he’s willing to publicly take responsibility for four more to help clear a young man who claims he’s innocent of the slayings and confessed at age 14 only to satisfy police.
Vincent Smothers’ testimony would be the most crucial evidence yet to try to persuade a judge to throw out Davontae Sanford’s guilty plea and free him from a nearly 40-year prison sentence. In an interview with The Associated Press, Smothers declared: “He’s not guilty. He didn’t do it.”
For more information & details, Please contact Darcy Delaproser, Davontae’s advocate & family friend through the Facebook page created on his behalf
Ionia Maximum Correctional Facility
1576 W. Blue Water Highway
Ionia, MI 48846
Feel free to google “Davontae Sanford” to find out the injustices perpetrated on this 14 yr old child by the state of Michigan.
PLEASE sign the petition ……
GWETV Special Report: In recent events police who do not show up at crucial court dates appear to admit to guilt in the apparent killing of a dog and victimization of an entire family over a dispute which did not concern them during a multiple police unit response to a 911 call. This video contains footage from the crime scene which one police officer is heard using the term “homicide” as they are captured on video by a witness who is forced into his home.
“On April 8, 2010 Stanley Frederique and his family endured a horrific encounter with emergency responders from 2 police prescients. Having survived to tell their story brings us here and this is why we felt it was absolutely necessary to help Stanley to bring their story to you. Too many incidents at the hands of corruption and poor training of police officers have claimed the lives of the innocent who trust in law enforcement officials to protect and serve.
We urge all law enforcement officials to work harder to rid the system of corruption and strive harder to represent the core principles that help to protect and sustain the high qualities of life’s awards that all people deserve to live under and benefit from. We can all agree that the poor policing can present clear and present dangers which do not benefit the good people on either side of the fence, good officers or good law abiding citizens… ” – Philip Muhammad
God’s Water Entertainment
The ACLU of California released a report today, “California at a Crossroads,” detailing 53 California counties’ realignment plans. Prison realignment began in October of 2011 as a way to quickly reduce California’s prison population–and get the state into compliance with a federal court order to relieve the state’s overcrowded prisons. Reform advocates had hoped that counties, which are slated to take over some 33,000 offenders from the state over the next couple of years, would use their realignment dollars in innovative rehabilitation programs. Instead, the ACLU report says, many counties are choosing to add more jail beds to incarcerate those who would have previously gone to state prison.
California recently approved $1.2 billion to help counties build jails, with the largest allocations going to Los Angeles, Riverside, and Orange counties.
At the time, Bill Sessa, a public information officer for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said some of the counties applying for jail money are overcrowded and in need of additional capacity. One county, he said, currently houses jail inmates in dorms, and isn’t equipped to house felons for the longer sentences they receive.
Sessa said that while realignment is designed to spur an increased focus on rehabilitation, “no matter how much rehabilitation you incorporate into the system, you still need capacity. And there are counties that have undersized jails.”
In their report, the ACLU agreed that many county jails are overcrowded. But they pointed to the fact that about 71 percent of California’s jail population is composed of those awaiting trial–meaning people who have been charged with a crime, but either cannot afford bail, or are being held by the jail as a risk to public safety if released.
Find the full report here.
By Dave Maass
Oklahoma news stations have struggled for months to obtain information about the riot at North Fork Correctional Facility. Meanwhile, California media have largely been unaware of the unrest at the facility operated by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), which holds a $1.18-billion contract to house approximately 9,600 California inmates at four of its out-of-state prisons. After four months of negotiations with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) over public records, CityBeat obtained the first narrative report summarizing the incident. That narrative, combined with testimony from inmates, family members and experts, raises grave questions about the future of private contracting in the state’s efforts to reduce prison overcrowding.
The CDCR summary describes how corrections officers played a dangerous game of Whac-a-Mole as chemical agents and pepperball rounds proved ineffective. Just as they quelled one pocket of violence, another large skirmish would break out in another part of the complex. Small groups of inmates were left to fend for themselves against 100-member-strong mobs, barricading themselves in the kitchen and gated portions of the gym and recreation yard.
“We’re investigating every aspect of this incident and the response to it,” CDCR spokesperson Terry Thornton says.
Bob Walsh, a retired CDCR lieutenant who writes about prison issues for several corrections blogs, identified many security failures in the report.
“My considered opinion is that it looks like they had way too many inmates out of their cells way too early so that when the situation kicked off they couldn’t control it,” he writes in an email. “Also, it seems that their physical security was not so great. They should have been able to lock down the dining rooms and the gym. They either did not do so or could not do so.”
After seven hours, 57 inmates were injured. Eight inmates had to be flown out by helicopter. Four were hospitalized for several weeks. One was in a coma. As of February, 39 inmates were accused of attempted murder, 67 with battery or assault and 136 for participation in a riot. Not a single inmate has been formally charged in court yet.
Continue Reading @ San Diego City Beat
FBI agents arrested three former Alabama prison guards on Monday after a federal grand jury indicted them on charges of beating a handcuffed prisoner to death and lying to investigators about the attack.
Michael Smith, 37, Matthew Davidson 43, and Joseph Sanders, 31, former guards at Ventress Correctional Facility in Clayton, Ala., are accused of assaulting Rocrast Mack, a 24-year-old Ventress inmate, and making false statements to state and federal investigators about the attack after his death.
Mack was sentenced to 20 years in state prison after pleading guilty to selling $10 worth of crack cocaine to an undercover cop in 2009.
The fatal beating occurred Aug. 4, 2010, after a female guard, Melissa Brown, accused Mack of looking at her inappropriately while she did evening rounds in one of the prison’s crowded dorms. Prison records obtained by the Huffington Post during a 2011 investigation into Mack’s death showed that Brown struck Mack, slapping him across the face, then called for assistance after he struck her, bloodying her lip.
Smith, Davidson and Sanders responded and severely beat Mack in several areas of the prison using their feet, fists and batons, the indictment says. During part of the beating, Mack was handcuffed.
Continue Reading @ Huffington Post
From Kathy Spillman
April 2012 | Sojourners
The Innocence List
There are many reasons to abolish the death penalty. Innocents on death row
may be the most compelling.
by Kimberly Burge
“I believed her,” Meléndez says. “But I also told him later, ‘It took you
too long, God.’”
It took 17 years, eight months, and one day.
It took considerably less time to send him to death row. Meléndez, a migrant
fruit picker, was arrested in Pennsylvania in May 1984, charged with the
killing of a man in Florida, where he had previously lived. Meléndez, who
spoke very little English, was appointed a public defender but not a
“He kept patting me on the back and saying everything’s going to be okay,”
In one week’s time he was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death, with no
physical evidence presented against him. The conviction rested on the
testimony of two questionable witnesses—a police informant with a criminal
record and a co-defendant who was threatened with the electric chair but who
ultimately received a sentence of two years’ probation after he testified
against Meléndez. The jury contained 11 white members and one African
Meléndez was sent to death row on a November Tuesday in 1984, “an ugly, ugly
day.” On Thursday, guards took a man to be executed. “I got real scared
then, thought they killed someone every week. I wondered: How long until
they come for me?”
In time, during the two hours twice a week death row prisoners were
permitted into the yard, other inmates taught him how to speak, read, and
write in English. He developed friendships with men he knew he would lose to
death. Whenever an execution took place, Meléndez recalls, he heard a
buzzing sound and watched the lights in the prison flicker as the current
was drained by the electric chair.
The Florida Supreme Court upheld his conviction three times. When a new
defense team took over in 2001, as Meléndez neared his final round of
appeals, they pored through a box of materials from his original trial—and
discovered a taped confession from the real killer. Corroborating witnesses
were found, including the wife and sister of the killer, now deceased, who
had confessed to at least 16 people. The prosecution had had a copy of this
taped confession, and had withheld this and other exculpatory evidence from
IN LIGHT OF this new evidence, Florida Circuit Court Judge Barbara Fleischer
overturned Meléndez’s capital murder conviction in December 2001 and
determined he was entitled to a new trial. The state declined to prosecute
him a second time.
Back on death row, as they began to process his release, guards began
calling him “Mr. Meléndez.”
“Everyone [on death row] knew I was getting out. There were tears running
down my cheeks, I was so happy. Tears on their cheeks, too. But I also knew
I was leaving them behind. They told me, ‘Don’t get into any trouble out
there. Take care of your mama. And don’t forget about us.’”
On Jan. 3, 2002, after more than 17 years, the state of Florida provided him
with a new shirt, a pair of pants, and $100 and set Juan Roberto Meléndez
Four days after his release, when he traveled home to Puerto Rico, his
mother showed him the altar where she prayed for him. Then she made a
confession to her son. Even as she prayed for his freedom, she put away
money to bring his body back home if he was executed.
“I don’t think anyone can really comprehend being innocent and languishing
in prison while the state plots your murder,” says David Love, executive
director of Witness to Innocence. This Philadelphia-based organization is
the only one in the nation comprised of exonerated death row survivors who
now travel the country telling their own stories and speaking out for
abolition of the death penalty. Meléndez has become a passionate and
compelling speaker for Witness to Innocence, addressing audiences across the
United States and Europe.
Meléndez is number 97 on the “Innocence List,” an accounting by the Death
Penalty Information Center of death row inmates exonerated of their crimes.
Those on the list must have been convicted and sentenced to death—and then
later either been given an absolute pardon by the governor based on new
evidence of innocence, or had their conviction overturned and then been
acquitted at re-trial or had all charges dropped. To date, the list includes
“We started as a speakers’ bureau for exonerees to tell their stories to
colleges, churches, and community groups. But we also wanted to empower them
to become effective advocates against the death penalty,” Love says. “On one
level, it can be painful to revisit their stories repeatedly. But [Witness
to Innocence] is a potent support group for exonerees. It’s also a potent
symbol for what is wrong with a system that can send innocent people to
Meléndez concurs: “I was not saved by the system. I was saved in spite of
“YOU CAN’T ACT like nothing’s happened [after being released from death
row]. Something has happened. Something dramatic has happened,” says Delbert
Tibbs, who is number 11 on the Innocence List.
Tibbs claims he is “not a firebrand by nature,” but rather a man who prefers
books and a quiet life. But he became an outspoken abolitionist against the
death penalty the minute he walked free from death row in 1977.
A former theology school student from Chicago with no prior criminal record,
he was hitchhiking through Florida in 1974 when he was picked up for the
murder of a man and the rape of his 16-year-old companion. An all-white jury
convicted Tibbs, who is African American, based on the uncorroborated
testimony of the female victim, who was also white. Although she picked
Tibbs out of a lineup, her identification was inconsistent with the initial
description she gave of her assailant.
Tibbs had friends who were civil rights activists, and they began organizing
to secure his freedom. Celebrities such as Joan Baez and Angela Davis spoke
out on his behalf and raised money for his defense. Pete Seeger wrote a
ballad in Tibbs’ honor. The Florida Supreme Court overturned his conviction
because the verdict was not supported by the weight of the evidence; the
state decided not to retry the case. Tibbs’ former prosecutor said that the
original investigation had been tainted from the beginning and that, if
there had been a retrial, he would have appeared as a witness for Tibbs.
He walked free in 1977 after serving three years; all charges against him
were dropped in 1982. “God sent me to death row so I could be a witness
against the death penalty,” he says. “Even after my case was dropped, I
realized that I had to advocate for those still there.”
A poet, Tibbs also speaks out with Witness to Innocence. A character based
on him serves as the centerpiece of The Exonerated, an award-winning play,
based on six true stories, that has been filmed for television.
“I really wish God had found another way,” Tibbs says. “But worse things
have happened to better people than me. Anyone who’s locked up has anger.
But if you don’t embrace the evil and become evil yourself, you can
MOMENTUM TO ABOLISH the death penalty has never been stronger, according to
lawyer and Witness to Innocence board member Judi Caruso. “It’s been
building in the last five years or so, but has really accelerated in the
last year, especially—and tragically—with Troy Davis,” Caruso says.
Last September, the execution of Davis in Georgia, carried out despite
significant doubts about his guilt, drew worldwide condemnation. Davis had
been convicted, primarily on the basis of eyewitness testimony, of killing
off-duty police officer Mark MacPhail. Years later, before his execution,
seven out of nine witnesses had changed their stories. Yet a federal judge
reviewing this new evidence required that Davis provide not only reasonable
doubt of his guilt, but clear proof of his innocence. He was unable to do
that to the judge’s satisfaction.
“If one of our fellow citizens can be executed with so much doubt
surrounding his guilt, then the death penalty system in our country is
unjust and outdated,” former president Jimmy Carter said.
Others appear to be coming around to share Carter’s view. A Gallup Poll last
year showed support for the death penalty at its lowest level in nearly four
decades. Sixty-one percent supported the death penalty, down from 80 percent
in 1994; 35 percent opposed it, up from 16 percent in 1994. In a 2011 CNN
poll, given a choice between the death penalty and a sentence of life
without parole for those who commit murder, 50 percent favored a life
sentence; 48 percent chose death.
The number of new death sentences imposed in 2011 dropped sharply, to 78,
falling below 100 for the first time since the death penalty was reinstated
in the United States in 1976. It’s a decline of 75 percent since 1996. The
number of executions carried out fell to 43, a 56 percent decline since
Illinois abolished the death penalty in 2011, becoming the fourth state in
four years to do so. The governor of Oregon, John Kitzhaber, declared that
no more executions would occur while he was in office: “I refuse to be a
part of this compromised and inequitable system any longer.”
For many years, activists have used pragmatic arguments to oppose the death
penalty: Capital punishment is not a deterrent to crime. Death sentences are
disproportionately handed down to people of color, or to people convicted of
killing someone white. It is a staggeringly expensive process for states.
But Caruso believes that the voices of innocent people nearly put to death
for crimes they did not commit are ultimately what will turn the tide
against the death penalty: “That’s what’s beginning to create the change of
opinion. When the punishment is irreversible, nothing but perfection is
acceptable. We can certainly improve the system, but we can never guarantee
that we can make the system perfect.”
Kirk Bloodsworth—number 48 on the Innocence List—offers a sharper
reflection, and a unique sense of authority. He was the first person with a
capital conviction to be exonerated based on DNA evidence. Accused of the
brutal rape and murder of a 9-year-old girl outside Baltimore, Bloodsworth
spent eight years, 11 months, and 19 days on death row. In letters from
prison, below his name he signed the initials A.I.M., “An Innocent Man.”
“If you want to support the death penalty in the U. S., then you’re
supporting a system that can execute an innocent person,” he says. “Even if
you believe it would be valid for the guilty, it cannot be valid for the
innocent. Do away with it before it kills your neighbor, or you.”
Night after night, Sabrina Butler rises from her bed in Columbus,
Mississippi, and goes in to check on her 9-year-old daughter and 14-year-old
son. “My husband tells me, ‘Baby, relax. You don’t have to do that every
night.’ But I can’t relax,” she says.
In 1989, when Butler was 17 and a single mother, she found her 9-month-old
son in his crib, not breathing. After she and a neighbor tried to
resuscitate him, Butler took him to the emergency room, where he died. The
next day, she was arrested and charged with child abuse and murder, based on
bruises left by the failed attempts at CPR.
“I didn’t know what I was doing and I probably did it wrong,” she says. “I
was just trying to help him.”
Her lawyer urged her not to take the stand in her own defense and told her
they had the case nipped in the bud. But a jury found her guilty of capital
murder. Butler later learned the prosecutor in the case took the jury out
for a picnic while they were sequestered.
“Being so young, I was scared to death. I didn’t know what was happening to
On death row, a guard met her there with these words: “This is where you’re
going to be for the rest of your life until we kill you.”
The Mississippi Supreme Court overturned her conviction in 1992, saying that
the prosecution had failed to prove that the incident was anything more than
an accident. She was retried and then acquitted in 1995 after a very brief
jury deliberation. It is now believed that her son, Walter, died of kidney
disease or sudden infant death syndrome.
Butler spent six and a half years in jail, including more than two and a
half years on death row. She is the only woman to be exonerated, number 59
on the Innocence List.
Now she tells her story, and checks on her children each night, every night.
“I don’t want someone to stop breathing again on my watch.”
- – - – -
Kimberly Burge is a Sojourners contributing writer who divides her time
between Washington, D.C., and Cape Town, South Africa.
By DON THOMPSON
California prison officials want to change policies for dealing with prison gangs, including rules that kept some gang members locked in isolation for years and led to widespread inmate hunger strikes last year, officials said Friday.
The proposed regulations would make it easier and quicker for gang members to get out of the notorious security housing units that hold nearly 4,200 inmates in the nation’s largest state prison system.
Gang members would no longer have to renounce their gang membership. Instead, they could earn more privileges and get out of the isolation units in four years instead of six if they stop engaging in gang activities and participate in anger management and drug rehabilitation programs.
The old restrictions prompted more than 6,000 inmates at prisons statewide to refuse state-issued meals at 13 prisons in July. They staged another hunger strike in September and smaller strikes intermittently since then.
Officials said their review started in May, before the hunger strikes. However, the proposed policy addresses some of the inmates’ demands, said Terry Thornton, a spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Inmates wanted a way to earn their way out of isolation, and the proposed policy gives them even more incentives than they asked for, she said.
The department examined practices in other states including Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, New Mexico, New York and Texas as it updated gang policies that date back two decades, said Terri McDonald, the department’s undersecretary for operations.
The old system focused on separating and suppressing gangs. The new system would try to change gang members’ behavior through rewards and punishment, she said.
Under the old policy, gang associates are automatically sent to the security housing units to live alongside gang leaders. Under the proposed policy, many could continue living in the general prison population. The shift alone could significantly reduce the security housing unit population, McDonald said in an interview.
Continue Reading @ Mercury News