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USA | States Continue to Oppose DNA Testing in Death Penalty Appeals, Attorneys Ask Why Don’t They Want to Learn the Truth?

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The last 3 men scheduled for execution in Georgia said they did not commit the killing and that DNA testing that was not available at the time of trial could prove it. In 2 of the cases, victim family members supported the request for testing. Prosecutors opposed the requests, and the courts refused to allow the testing. 2 of the 3 men were executed, with doubts still swirling as to their guilt.
Shawn Nolan, a federal defender who represented Georgia prisoner Ray “Jeff” Cromartie, summed up the sentiments of the prisoners, families, and defense attorneys in these cases. “I’d like to know what the state is so scared of,” he said. “Why are they afraid of the truth? This is sad and so disturbing.”
“We have the capability of testing a wide range of forensic evidence that we couldn’t test in the past,” said Death Penalty Information Center Executive Director Robert Dunham. “It is a powerful tool to get to the truth and to get important answers as to whether the criminal legal system has b…

Alabama executes Willie McNair

Willie McNair, convicted of robbing, strangling and stabbing to death a southeast Alabama woman for whom he did yard work, died by lethal injection tonight as his victim's 6 children watched.

McNair, 44, did not look at victim Ella Foy Riley's children. He also declined to pray with the prison chaplain, made no final public statement and spent his last moments staring at the ceiling as the injection began at 6 p.m. He was pronounced dead at 6:17 p.m. by Alabama Corrections officials.

Pat Jones and her brothers Calvin, Don, John, Bobby and Wayne Riley wore buttons with their mother's photograph for the execution. The buttons said "you are gone but you are not forgotten."

Wayne Riley, the youngest of the sons, issued a statement afterward: "I thank God for keeping myself, my 4 brothers and my sister alive and in good health so that we were able to see justice finally done. I ask that you pray for my family in the coming days and for the Willie McNair family, too, for they ... have suffered for what he has done."

Wayne Riley also said: "I can forgive Willie McNair for what he did because he paid the price with his life."

Later the 6 children gathered with other family members for a candle light vigil. Participating was District Attorney Doug Valeska, who prosecuted McNair.

Earlier in the day, the U.S. Supreme Court had turned down his McNair's final sentence appeal.

The Abbeville man had been on death row since 1991 for the May 21, 1990, slaying of Ella Foy Riley. Her daughter, Jones, found her mother stabbed and strangled in the kitchen of her Abbeville home. McNair had done yardwork for Riley in the past, and other members of his family had done work for her as well.

According to a case summary, McNair and a friend, Olin Grimsley, had been doing cocaine, wanted money to get some more, and had asked Riley for $20. She turned them down, and was attacked while she was getting McNair a drink of water. According to the state's filing in the case, McNair then took Riley's purse from the kitchen counter and he and Grimsley left the house. The next morning, after Riley's body was found, McNair admitted killing her when questioned by a sheriff's deputy.

The Riley children were able to witness the execution because Gov. Bob Riley, no relation to the victim, had signed into law a bill allowing up to six members of crime victim's family to watch the perpetrator's execution.

Before today's signing, Alabama law allowed only 2 witnesses for the victim, and only two for person to be executed.

Jones said she had written McNair a few months ago, and that in his reply, he had expressed remorse for her mother's death.

Carolyn Glanton, McNair's youngest sister, said the family wanted her brother, whom they called "Chubby," to be remembered as a "happy and lovable person.

"Chubby has a real good heart," Glanton said before her brother died. "If anybody . . . really knew him, they'd know how good a person he is."

McNair turned down breakfast this morning and limited himself to only sodas during the day. In his will, McNair left a check for $1.11 to one of his attorneys, Randy Susskind.

McNair also left several of his belongings to fellow death row inmates. He gave a television to Robin Myers; a radio and headphones to Michael Ervin; a Bible to Earl McGahee; and a pair of white Nikes tennis shoes to Robert Ingram. McNair has had 8 visitors during the day, including 2 of sisters and two of his attorneys.

Susskind and Donald Blocker, McNair's spiritual adviser, are the only 2 witnesses he has requested to watch his execution this evening.

McNair becomes the 4th condemned inmate to be put to death in Alabama this year, and the 42nd overall since the state resumed capital punishment in 1983. Alabama has never executed more than 4 condemned inmates in the modern era of executions; the state executed 4 inmates in 1989, in 2000, and again in 2005. Another inmate, Jack Trawick, is scheduled to die on June 11 for the murder of Stephanie Gach in Birmingham.

McNair becomes the 26th condemned inmate to be put to death this year in the USA and the 1162nd overall since the nation resumed executions on January 17, 1977.

Sources: Birmingham News & Rick Halperin, May 15, 2009

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