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In the crosshairs of conscience: John Kitzhaber's death penalty reckoning

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To cope with his dread, John Kitzhaber opened his leather-bound journal and began to write.
It was a little past 9 on the morning of Nov. 22, 2011. Gary Haugen had dropped his appeals. A Marion County judge had signed the murderer's death warrant, leaving Kitzhaber, a former emergency room doctor, to decide Haugen's fate. The 49-year-old would soon die by lethal injection if the governor didn't intervene.
Kitzhaber was exhausted, having been unable to sleep the night before, but he needed to call the families of Haugen's victims.
"I know my decision will delay the closure they need and deserve," he wrote.
The son of University of Oregon English professors, Kitzhaber began writing each day in his journal in the early 1970s. The practice helped him organize his thoughts and, on that particular morning, gather his courage.
Kitzhaber first dialed the widow of David Polin, an inmate Haugen beat and stabbed to death in 2003 while already serving a life sentence fo…

Texas cannot afford to execute Terry Edwards on Thursday; too many unanswered questions remain

Terry Edwards
Terry Edwards
Convicted murderer Terry Edwards is scheduled to be executed Thursday night after 6 p.m., after more than 13 years on death row. The Supreme Court should issue a last-minute stay, now that the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and District Judge Tammy Kemp of Dallas County have refused to do so in a late-afternoon rulings on Wednesday.

These emergency interventions would be extraordinary. But they are necessary in this case.

The Edwards case also provides new Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson an opportunity to live up to her commitment to send a message that only prosecutorial efforts that withstand rigorous tests of integrity will be permitted in her office.

There is no dispute that Edwards, already a twice-convicted felon, was involved in a morning robbery of a Balch Springs Subway sandwich shop in July 2002, where he'd been fired weeks earlier. Two workers — Tommy Walker, 34, and Mickell Goodwin, 26 — were killed, and Edwards was convicted of their murders and sentenced to death in 2003.

What's less clear today is that Edwards was the one to pull the trigger or that he got a fair trial. Attorneys for Edwards have uncovered serious grounds on which to question the integrity of the conviction and, especially, the death sentence that followed.

Edwards' lawyers have raised questions about forensic evidence said to have connected the gun to Edwards.

In addition, some 30 or more prospective jurors who were minorities were removed from the pool that made up Edwards' jury, leaving him with an all-white panel. Finally, their investigation has found reason to believe that the prosecutor withheld potentially exculpatory evidence from both the jury and the defense team.

At trial, prosecutor Thomas D'Amore, who ended up being fired in 2006, told the jury that Edwards had been the mastermind behind the robbery and had shot the two clerks.

But what was not shared with the jury, nor apparently the defense team, was a report from an eyewitness who claimed to have seen a man running from the store with a gun in his hand and then jumping into a getaway car. This man was not Edwards, who was caught by police on foot as he fled the store with a bag full of money; police officers also said Terry Edwards had been carrying a handgun until just before he was apprehended.

The description of [the other man], according to Edwards' lawyers, closely matched that of Edwards' cousin, Kirk Edwards.

Terry Edwards had claimed all along to have not been the shooter, that his cousin had been. But at trial, D'Amore told jurors not to let that stop them from convicting Terry Edwards. "Someday, when this trial is over, Kirk will have his day in court, rest assured," he told jurors.

And yet he never did. Prosecutors later allowed Kirk Edwards, who also had multiple felony convictions, to plead guilty to aggravated robbery. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison, where he remains and could be paroled.

These questions do not paint Terry Edwards as innocent. But they do raise uncertainties as to whether the jury was misled when it determined he had pulled the trigger and deserved to die.

The integrity of our justice system demands answers, and in this case lawyers need more time to find them. Texas cannot afford to put someone to death without the certainty this irrevocable punishment requires.

Source: Dallas News, Editorial, January 25, 2017

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