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Innocent on Death Row? New Evidence Casts Doubt on Convictions

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Rodney Reed’s death sentence was suspended. But researchers say other current cases raise similar doubt about the guilt of the accused.
The number of executions in the United States remains close to nearly a three-decade low. And yet the decline has not prevented what those who closely track the death penalty see as a disturbing trend: a significant number of cases in which prisoners are being put to death, or whose execution dates are near, despite questions about their guilt.
Rodney Reed, who came within days of execution in Texas before an appeals court suspended his death sentence on Friday, has been the most high-profile recent example, receiving support from Texas lawmakers of both parties and celebrities like Rihanna and Kim Kardashian West, who urged a new examination of the evidence.
Mr. Reed has long maintained that he did not commit the 1996 murder for which he was convicted. And in recent months, new witnesses came forward pointing toward another possible suspect: the dead…

Arizona executes Richard Dale Stokley

Richard Dale Stockley
FLORENCE, AZ (CBS5/AP) - Richard Dale Stokley, the 60-year-old man convicted of murdering two 13-year-old girls in 1991, was put to death by lethal injection at the Arizona State Prison in Florence on Wednesday.

Stokley and his accomplice, Randy Brazeal, were convicted of murdering Mandy Meyers and Mary Snyder in rural Cochise County.

The U.S. Supreme Court denied last-minute appeals by Stokley's attorneys Tuesday to block the execution.

Stokley's lawyers said he was entitled to a new hearing on sentencing evidence. They also said his constitutional rights were violated because Brazeal, now 41, was released in July 2011 after serving 20 years in prison for two counts of second-degree murder.

Prosecutors said the Arizona Supreme Court adequately considered evidence on possible leniency for Stokley. Prosecutors defend the disparity in sentences by saying the other man negotiated a plea agreement.

Stokley confessed to raping, strangling and stabbing one of the girls and dumping her body down a water-filled mineshaft.

Brazeal, who was 19 at the time, turned himself in to authorities in Chandler the day after the girls were killed, claiming Stokley held him hostage while he raped and murdered the girls.

But Stokley claimed Brazeal was a willing participant and assisted in killing the girls to cover up their crimes.

Officials have said Brazeal got a plea deal because prosecutors were afraid he could be acquitted if they had to go to trial before DNA evidence was available.

He is believed to be living in Arkansas with family members.

Sources: CBS/AP, December 5, 2012


Below is a three-page handwritten letter from Richard Stokley (scheduled to be killed today, 5 Dec 2012 in Florence, Arizona) to that state's board of executive clemency.

To The Arizona Board of Executive Clemency
My name is Richard Dale Stokley, and I am scheduled to be executed on December 5th, 2012. I understand that I am entitled to petition this board for a recommendation of mercy, thro
ugh commutation or reprieve, to the governor. And I have something to say about that.
With all due respect, fact is, it just does not appear that the State really cares about things like showing mercy. Time after time, those who petition for clemency are turned down flat. I cannot understand why, for instance, Robert H. Moormann was turned down. He was a child in an old man's body, and he cried out for compassion, yet it was coldly denied.
I knew Bob, and I knew his case, and it was awful, yet it was explainable. You cannot get to know a person by just reading about him, or by one or two brief meetings. But you can, when you live around them and talk to them, over time.
Bob told me a lot, and his tragedy began when he was quite young, and some very perverse people adopted him, sexually exploiting him from a young age. He was always a child, in his thinking, and this is known by many people—officers, prisoners, attorneys, doctors, and others. And when his terrible crime occurred, there was more of the exploitation going on. And something in the child in the man's body snapped. And he killed, hardly realizing it. And then he went into a state of panic, and his childish mind told him even more wrong things to do. And of course, it turned out to be notorious and sensational, shocking the public sensibilities. And that got him the death penalty. But he really was not one of the hard ones, but he was a lost child.
Lawyers put on witness after witness, and present every case for clemency possible with no recommendation forthcoming. For example, in the case of Tom West, not only was Mr. West abused as a child, but his abuser confessed on tape to this board, even describing his predatory methods. Additionally, Tom's family pleaded with this board to the extent that Tom's brother bared his soul and stated, in public, that he was a drug-addicted alcoholic and homeless, to no avail. Finally, Bishop Gerald Kicanas, of the Tucson Catholic Diocese, requested mercy, on behalf of Tom West.
Prisoner after prisoner has taken responsibility, attempted to answer details of the crimes, which the Board seems to focus on, rather than on the individual for whom clemency is sought. It seems to me—again respectfully—that this Board's idea of what is sufficient to call for leniency is an innocent person.
I have made grave and irreversible errors, and, although I believe that my life is worth saving, this Board in its current mindset and philosophical leanings will never agree with me, or any Death Row prisoner.
Prisoners on Death Row, well, the public is told that we are "the worst of the worst," and that all we have ever been, all that we ever could be is the crime that got us here, and that all we deserve is to be hated and destroyed. That nothing else can be done with us, after all. I stringently disagree with that.
And while we're at it, I hate to think that there are not at least some of us who are worth saving. But I saw precisely the opposite attitude on the party of the State throughout this entire process—in State courts, the trial, appeals, so that it is messed up too much for the federal courts to straighten it out (Oh, my case is a Humdinger of an example!). And now, this matter of clemency, or mercy. What is Mercy, anyway? To me, mercy is a combination of empathy and that innate something in us all, called Love, and through mercy comes forgiveness. I think all that is Good comes from Love. And, the question is, do we have Love in our hearts? I do. I have learned much about myself and many things, in all these years that I have been locked up in solitary confinement, that no one ever told me about. Some things must be found.
My purpose in writing all these things is hopefully to help you folks to see what I see, and what I have seen. I think that you are probably all pretty decent folks, and I sure don't mean to sound derogatory or bitter, because I surely am not any of that. I just feel that I'm looking at futility. I guess not so much for me, do I write this letter, because my time appears short. But I think of all those to come. I sure hope you folks can find mercy in your hearts. I know it must be a tough job that you have. I just would really appreciate it if you would hear my words and consider them in making decisions.
I have heard it said that "Law is Reason Without Passion." That is mighty harsh. Even the U.S. Supreme Court has its "Lockett Doctrine." I would send a copy to you, but I don't have my property and papers, as I am on a Death Watch, and time constrains me. But I do think it could give you some mighty good ideas.
I truly believe that justice without mercy is crippled. And today, there's a trend allowing vengeance to creep into the criminal justice system, ostensibly for the sake of "closure". But only forgiveness is capable of giving that. But the system has been encouraging the opposite, which does everyone a disservice.
Some people do need to be imprisoned, but killing them all taints those who are responsible, and will burden the conscience, sooner or later. Forgiveness and mercy are the best answer, whenever possible. Sad to say, God is not as much in people's hearts, these days, and that is a crying shame to be sorry for.
I am. And I'm also sorry that I was mixed up in those awful events that brought me to this. I have been sorry for the victims and the victim's families. But no one wants to hear of my miserable sorrow, they just want for me to get dead, which is vengeance. They think it will bring "closure". But there is no healing in that. Ever.
I have decided to decline a clemency hearing. I don't want to put anyone through that, especially since I'm convinced that, as things stand (as it is) now, it's pointless. I reckon I know how to die, and if it's my time, then I'll go without fanfare. And if it ain't, I won't. God's Will Be Done.
I appreciate your offer, and I hope God will put mercy in your hearts. I Thank You for Your Attention. Bless You All, and I will bother you no more with me.
Most SIncerely and Respectfully Yours,
Richard Dale Stokley


Witness To an Execution

When the State of Arizona carried out the grisly business of executing Richard Stokley last week, it did so in a transparent manner. Of the 34 executions the state has conducted since 1992, this was the third time that witnesses were able to observe most of the execution process.

Why is this important? Transparency is vital to an informed citizenry. So it is crucial that witnesses can now observe, by way of a closed-circuit video monitor, the prisoner from the point after he is strapped to the table until he is pronounced dead. Witnesses hear what occurs in the execution chamber via an audio feed, and the media are provided an opportunity to record what they see and hear.

Notwithstanding this transparency, reports of Mr. Stokley’s execution described only a small part of the process. Media accounts noted the execution team “had difficulty finding a second injection point.” Mr. Stokley was described as “calm, talkative and nice” and “bantered at times with the execution team.” He was “pronounced dead at 11:12 a.m. after receiving an injection of pentobarbital.”

But there was more to Mr. Stokley’s execution than was reported by the media. I know. I was there.

The execution process began at 9:54 a.m. when the IV team--who may be doctors, nurses, paramedics or military corpsmen--began to assess Mr. Stokley’s veins. The two IV team members spent about a minute doing this.

Upon inspecting Mr. Stokley’s right arm, one team member said “it looks like you have some pretty good veins in this area.” After a quick shave, application of a blue tourniquet, and a swab of the area, an IV team member inserted a catheter into the right forearm and remarked at 10:02 a.m., “you did very good on that one.”

Then the team moved to Mr. Stokley’s left arm. They made at least three attempts to get a vein, at one point going to an area just below the shoulder. After one team member asked if the left side was more fragile, Mr. Stokley said, “it depends on whose doing the poking.” After 10 minutes and soaking up a lot of blood with gauze pads, the IV team gave up.

Next the IV team took a drastic step: It performed an invasive surgical procedure to set the IV line in Mr. Stokley’s groin.

At 10:18 a.m., an IV team member told Mr. Stokley that a central femoral line was going to be inserted. “We’re going to use an ultrasound . . . a local anesthetic . . . you’ll feel pressure,” the team member said. Two minutes later, he said “a little shave,” as he used electric clippers to remove hair from the groin area. Then, the IV team member began to feel for the femoral vein.

For the next 21 minutes, the two IV team members used an ultrasound, swabbed the area, dressed the area with a blue sheet, injected a local anesthetic, made an incision, inserted a catheter and guidewire, sewed the line into place, and mopped up blood.

At the point when the catheter and guidewire were being placed, Mr. Stokley said, “It felt like a pop. Whoa.” He went on to say, “That’s real sensitive” and “I feel a little pain up there.” Mr. Stokley moaned, and at one point said, “It stings.”

Once the IV team set the femoral line, they connected that catheter and the catheter they had placed into the right arm 41 minutes earlier to the tubing that would deliver the fatal pentobarbital. Meanwhile, a corrections officer wiped up blood from the floor on the left side of the execution table.

A warden asked Mr. Stokley if he had any last words. Looking up to the ceiling of the execution chamber, he said, “Naw.” Mr. Stokley closed his eyes for the last time at 10:52 a.m. A minute-and-a-half later, his head turned quickly to the left, then back up. His chest heaved, and he swallowed hard. His right fist was clenched.

As required by the Arizona lethal-injection protocol, one of the IV team members entered the execution chamber three minutes after the pentobarbital was injected and conducted a consciousness check. An announcement came through the speakers in the witness room that Richard Stokley was “sedated.”

Six minutes later, Mr. Stokley’s body lurched upward, violently. The restraining straps on the gurney kept his body on the table. Most of the witnesses in the observation room jumped, too.

Why did Mr. Stokley shake and jerk? It could have been spasms that sometimes occur at death. Or it could have been Mr. Stokley’s heart trying to restart because of a device, implanted in his chest that, among other things, served as a defibrillator to shock the heart if the heart rhythm required it. Patients describe the shocks like being kicked in the chest.

At 11:13 a.m., a man in a suit appeared in the execution chamber. He said, “I’m Director Ryan. The execution is complete. Time of death 11:12.”

Because of the transparency now attendant to executions in Arizona, the public can debate whether the two men who were responsible for inserting the IV lines were competent. It’s time for other states to open up the execution process for all to see so that citizens have more information when debating the wisdom of keeping the death penalty on the books.

Source: Witness to an execution, Dale A. Baich. Mr. Baich is an assistant federal public defender. He joined the Office of the Federal Public Defender for the District of Arizona in 1996 and is the supervising attorney in the Capital Habeas Unit. Dale is a member of the Board of Governors of the Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice, on the Board of Directors of the Phoenix Chapter of the Federal Bar Association, and on the Advisory Board of the Arizona Death Penalty Forum. He was an assistant state public defender in Ohio from 1988 to 1996. December 18, 2012

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