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'Express lane to death': Texas seeks approval to speed up death penalty appeals, execute more quickly

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Texas is seeking to speed up executions with a renewed request to opt-in to a federal law that would shorten the legal process and limit appeals options for death-sentenced prisoners.
Defense attorneys worry it would lead to the execution of innocent people and - if it's applied retroactively, as Texas is requesting - it could potentially end ongoing appeals for a number of death row prisoners and make them eligible for execution dates.
"Opt-in would speed up the death penalty treadmill exponentially," said Kathryn Kase, an longtime defense attorney and former executive director of Texas Defender Services.
But a state attorney general spokeswoman framed the request to the Justice Department as a necessary way to avoid "stressful delays" and cut down on the "excessive costs" of lengthy federal court proceedings.
Robbie Kaplan, co-founder of the #TimesUp movement, says sweeping changes to laws in recent years have dissuaded attorneys from taking on har…

DNA tests show match to Columbus County man on death row

Norfolk “Fuzzy” Best
Norfolk “Fuzzy” Best
Lawyers for death row inmate Norfolk “Fuzzy” Best were optimistic in 2012 when they found six boxes of evidence in the attic of the Whiteville City Hall, evidence not shared during Best’s 1993 trial for the murder of an elderly couple.

The police notes, names of alternate suspects and biological samples could prove Best’s innocence, the lawyers wrote in court filings requesting DNA tests on the newly discovered evidence.

Those test results are in and give almost incontrovertible evidence that Best stabbed to death Leslie and Gertrude Baldwin in their Whiteville home in 1991. A vaginal swab taken from Gertrude Baldwin, who was raped, contains sperm that matches Best’s DNA.

The report from Sorenson Forensics in Utah said the chance that the DNA could come from an unrelated male in the United States is 490 trillion to one.

Betsy Baldwin Marlowe, a daughter, said she was pleased when she learned of the results.

“This has been ongoing for too long,” said Marlowe, who lives in Florence, S.C. “This has been stressful for the family.”

The News & Observer wrote about Best’s case in September 2014.

The murders of the popular and well-known couple shocked the people of Columbus County, located in the rural southeast corner of the state. For 37 years, the Baldwins ran a photography studio in Whiteville, capturing the pictures of babies and brides, graduates and grandparents, farmers and bankers.

Within two weeks of the killing, police arrested Best, who had many arrests for drugs, robbery and assault and who was recently released from jail. Best, the oldest of eight children, was raised in a clapboard shack with a backyard outhouse by a single mother who sold moonshine to make ends meet.

Then-District Attorney Rex Gore painted a straightforward theory for the jury. Best worked in the Baldwins’ yard one Saturday and returned that evening to kill and rob them. Best took a wad of $100 bills and spent the next 48 hours holed up in motel rooms, drinking and smoking crack cocaine with three women.

Best testified he was innocent. But the jury convicted him and sentenced him to death.

After the U.S. Supreme Court turned down his appeal, Best continued to claim innocence. A post-conviction lawyer was appointed, but the case languished.


Source: The News & Observer, Joseph Neff, December 7, 2015
Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/crime/article48491745.html#storylink=cpy

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