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Anthony Ray Hinton Spent Almost 30 Years on Death Row. Now He Has a Message for White America.

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Anthony Ray Hinton was mowing the lawn at his mother's house in 1985 when Alabama police came to arrest him for 2 murders he did not commit. One took place when he was working the night shift at a Birmingham warehouse. Yet the state won a death sentence, based on 2 bullets it falsely claimed matched a gun found at his mother's home. In his powerful new memoir, "The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row," Hinton describes how racism and a system stacked against the poor were the driving forces behind his conviction. He also writes about the unique and unexpected bonds that can form on death row, and in particular about his relationship with Henry Hays, a former Klansman sentenced to death for a notorious lynching in 1981. Hays died in the electric chair in 1997 - 1 of 54 people executed in Alabama while Hinton was on death row.
After almost 30 years, Hinton was finally exonerated in 2015, thanks to the Equal Justice Initiative, or EJI. On April 27…

Texas: Court findings offer hope for death row inmate in case tainted by 'Dr. Death'

Death-row cell, Polunsky Unit, Livingston, Texas
Even after the parole board refused to consider a prosecutor's rare plea for clemency, the condemned man at the center of a controversial death row case may have another shot at life after a favorable finding in Kerr County court.

Jeff Wood, a Kerrville man with a low IQ, was sent to death row under the so-called "law of parties" for his role in a 1996 store robbery gone wrong. As the getaway driver, Wood wasn't actually inside the building when Danny Reneau fired the shot that killed clerk Kriss Keeran.

In the more than two decades since the slaying, Wood's case has sparked criticism from both sides of the political aisle - in part because of his low intelligence, in part because he wasn't the shooter, and in part because of testimony from a notorious forensic psychiatrist dubbed "Dr. Death" for his damning words in more than 100 capital cases.

Though he's not contesting his guilt, Wood is still fighting his capital sentence - and last year the Kerr County District Attorney even sided with him, penning a plea for clemency on his behalf.

Now, a trial court finding - currently sitting in front of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals for approval - could win him a new punishment phase, partly as a result of Dr. James Grigson's allegedly false testimony.

"He has a pretty strong case," said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.

Wood's first execution date in 2008 was called off over questions as to mental competence. Eight years later, he came within days of death before a state appeals court called off his scheduled execution in a 7-2 decision.

In a brief opinion, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals bounced the case back to the trial court over concerns that Grigson's claims as to Wood's future dangerousness - a key factor in doling out a death sentence - could have been false and misleading, constituting a violation of due process.

And if he wasn't really a future danger, then he shouldn't have been eligible for a death sentence under Texas law.

Then in March 2017 a lower court judge put things on hold after District Attorney Lucy Wilke decided to ask the parole board to consider clemency for the condemned man.

In an August 2017 parole board letter co-signed by the chief of police and trial court judge, Wilke said that she didn't learn Grigson had been expelled from the American Psychiatric Association until well after the trial - and had she known, she wouldn't have put him on the stand.

Also, Wilke wrote, the victim's family didn't want a death sentence, Wood wasn't the actual shooter, and he'd been well-behaved behind bars. A similar set of arguments helped convince the parole board - and eventually Gov. Greg Abbott - to side with Thomas Whitaker last month and commute his sentence to life less than an hour before a scheduled execution.

But - unlike Whitaker - Wood didn't have an execution on the calendar. And so the parole board refused to even consider the request in his case.

"It has been determined that this request does not meet the requirement envisioned in Board Rule Section 143.57, Commutation of a Death Sentence to a Lesser Penalty, because there is currently no Execution Warrant," the board wrote in December.

"Even though Board Rule Section 141. 51 allows the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to consider a request not contemplated by the rules, it has been determined that, in this case, Mr. Wood's request will not be considered by the Board at this time."

The board did not offer any additional explanation for its decision, though it has at times acted on cases without set executions in the past.

Afterward, both sides went back to the trial court, where a judge approved a new set of findings recommending relief - vacating the sentence - for the death row prisoner.

If Wood gets off death row over Grigson's testimony, it could have implications for other cases hinging on the former psychiatrist's assessments of future danger.

"One of the problems that this case poses for prosecutors is that there are dozens and dozens of cases in which James Grigson provided false testimony on future dangerousness," Dunham said. "He made more than 100 predictions of future dangerousness. Grigson didn't get the nickname 'Dr. Death' by accident."

Claiming 100 percent accuracy in his predictions, Grigson didn't always personally interview the convicted killers he testified about, a pattern that prompted reprimands and later expulsion from the American Psychiatric Association.

If the CCA sides with Wood, it could bolster appeals in other cases that utilized Grigson's testimony - especially any that relied on his word after he was disciplined, Dunham said. It's not clear how many cases that might entail.

And, potentially muddying the waters in Wood's case, prosecutors this year filed an objection to the findings they previously agreed to.

It's unclear when a decision might come.

In the meantime, Jeff Wood waits.

Source: chron.com, Keri Blakinger, March 20, 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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