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In the Bible Belt, Christmas Isn’t Coming to Death Row

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When it comes to the death penalty, guilt or innocence shouldn’t really matter to Christians.  

NASHVILLE — Until August, Tennessee had not put a prisoner to death in nearly a decade. Last Thursday, it performed its third execution in four months.
This was not a surprising turn of events. In each case, recourse to the courts had been exhausted. In each case Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, declined to intervene, though there were many r…

Death sentence reinstated for Mississippi's only woman on death row

Lisa Jo Chamberlin
The 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has reinstated the death sentence of Lisa Jo Chamberlin, Mississippi's only female death row inmate.

The ruling Tuesday came almost three years after a federal court ruling granting her a new trial in a double homicide in Hattiesburg.

The full 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, with the exception of Judge James Graves who recused himself, reviewed the judge's ruling and a ruling by a three-judge panel of the court that voted 2-1 to affirm the ruling. 

On a motion by the Mississippi attorney general's office, the 5th Circuit agreed to hear the case. 

Special Assistant Attorney General Cameron Benton argued the two U.S. Court of Appeals judges put together unimpressive statistics and an incomplete comparative analysis to find the existence of discrimination in the striking of two black prospective jurors.

"There is ample proof in the record to suggest that the exercise of peremptory strikes was not motivated by racial animus," Benton said in court papers. "Given the dearth of proof and the deference owed to the State Court, the Majority opinion seems to have improperly substituted its judgment for that of the trial judge and appellate court."

In 2015, U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves ordered the state to grant Chamberlin a new trial within four months, saying prosecutors intentionally struck black potential jurors from her capital murder trial.

Chamberlin is white. She argued on appeal that her rights were violated by prosecutors striking some black potential jurors for non-racial neutral reasons.

But the 5th Circuit 9-to-5 ruling Tuesday said, "The prosecution in Chamberlin’s case did what it was supposed to do: it rejected some black prospective jurors and accepted others, accepted some white prospective jurors and rejected others. When asked why it struck individual black prospective jurors, it gave specific race-neutral reasons for the strikes."

The five who opposed reinstating Chamberlin’s conviction said: “The prosecution struck nearly two times as many black jurors as it accepted (eight strikes compared to five accepted, including one alternate), while accepting more than four times as many white jurors as it struck (five strikes compared to 23 accepted, including three alternates). It exercised 62 percent of its strikes on black jurors, despite black jurors making up only 31 percent of qualified prospective jurors.

"This racial breakdown of the strikes is even more telling when compared with the results random strikes would predict. Given the demographics of the venire, the probability that random, race-neutral strikes would result in 8 of the 13 struck jurors being black was about 1 in a 100.”

Chamberlin and her boyfriend, Roger Lee Gillett, were convicted of two counts of capital murder in the March 2004 slayings of Gillet's cousin, Vernon Hulett, 34, and Hulett's girlfriend, Linda Heintzelman, 37, in Hattiesburg. Their bodies were transported to Kansas in a freezer.

Gillett and Chamberlin were arrested March 29, 2004, after Kansas Bureau of Investigation agents raided an abandoned farmhouse near Russell, Kansas, owned by Gillett's father, and found the dismembered bodies of Hulett and Heintzelman in a freezer.

KBI agents were investigating Gillett and Chamberlin for their possible connection to the manufacture of methamphetamine, according to published reports.

Gillett and Chamberlin were living with Hulett and Heintzelman in Hattiesburg at the time of the slayings.

Chamberlin, in a taped confession played at her trial, said the victims were killed because they wouldn't open a safe in Hulett's home.

Chamberlain was sentenced to death row in 2006, and Gillett was sentenced in 2007.

However, Gillett's death sentence was later overturned by the Mississippi Supreme Court. The court said an escape couldn't be used as a crime of violence to support a death sentence.

Chamberlin filed a post-conviction challenge to her conviction in 2011 in U.S. District Court after the state Supreme Court upheld her conviction and death sentence.

One of the claims was that the prosecution improperly struck seven African-Americans from serving on her jury. The prosecutor said he struck 12 potential jurors — seven black and five white. He denied any effort to strike potential jurors based upon race.

Reeves said federal law requires in death penalty cases that comparative analysis be done when black potential jurors are struck compared to white jurors allowed to remain in the jury pool.

Source: clarionleger.com, Jimmie E. Gates, March, 2018


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"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed,
but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." -- Oscar Wilde

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