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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 reasons to justify intervening. Billy Ray Irick suffered from psychotic breaks that raised profound doubts about his ability to distinguish right from wrong. Edmund Zagorksi’s behavior in prison was so exemplary that even the warden pleaded for his life. David Earl Miller also suffered from mental illness and was a survivor of child abuse so horrific that he tried to kill himself when he was 6 years old.
Questions about the humanity of Tennessee’s lethal-injection protocol were so pervasive following the execution of Mr. Irick that both Mr. Zagorski and M…

Texas: Judge booted from death row case after racial comments

Jury box
On the heels of a number of racially charged comments about African-American defendants, Harris County Judge Michael McSpadden has been removed from the appeal of a black death row prisoner.

Defense lawyers in March asked the jurist to recuse himself from the case of George Curry, who was sentenced to die in 2009 after he was convicted of killing a teen during a restaurant robbery.

But McSpadden refused, prompting a hearing this month in front of another judge who agreed to step in and handle the matter.

During the May 1 court appearance, prosecutors did not oppose the request to remove McSpadden from the case.

"The Harris County District Attorney's Office does not agree with Judge McSpadden's comments and we will not defend them," spokesman Dane Schiller told the Houston Chronicle.

"Race has no place in the courtroom."

McSpadden did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

The removal comes months after the long-time jurist sparked outcry with a controversial explanation of his reasons for not allowing magistrates to grant cash-free bail bonds. Most defendants, he said, are "tainted" with extensive criminal histories.

"The young black men - and it's primarily young black men rather than young black women - charged with felony offenses, they're not getting good advice from their parents," he told the Houston Chronicle.

"Who do they get advice from? Rag-tag organizations like Black Lives Matter, which tell you, 'Resist police,' which is the worst thing in the world you could tell a young black man ... They teach contempt for the police, for the whole justice system."

Those comments, defense lawyers argued, were enough to raise the appearance of bias in a case already fraught with racial issues, including claims of jurors who searched for a hanging tree in downtown Houston during a trial break and a family history of "racial terror and trauma," according to court filings earlier this year.

"Although Mr. Curry does not contend that Judge McSpadden harbors actual bias or prejudice concerning any party, the specific circumstances at issue here require recusal," the lawyers wrote. "And, because this is a death penalty case, special caution should be taken to ensure that Mr. Curry's claims are adjudicated before a tribunal that is, and has the appearance of being, impartial."

From a legal standpoint, the appearance of partiality is key, and defense lawyers pointed to the flurry of news coverage surrounding McSpadden's remarks, as well as internet comments as evidence of the public perception of bias.

But McSpadden wouldn't agree to remove himself from the case, so the matter fell to Judge Susan Brown, presiding judge for a 6-county administrative judicial region.

Brown had the option to grant or deny the recusal motion, hold a hearing, or assign someone else to hold a hearing, she said. So she called in Judge Sid Harle from Bexar County to handle it.

Harle approved the recusal, noting that prosecutors didn't oppose it, and that McSpadden was not the judge who oversaw Curry's original trial, records show.

That judge - Judge Frank Price - could not be handed the case, as he was no longer on the bench and died last week.

Instead, records show, on May 11 Visiting Judge Leslie Brock Yates was assigned to the case.

Defense lawyers with the Office of Capital and Forensic Writs, which is currently handling Curry's appeals, did not offer comment on the case or the judge's recusal.

The Houston man was convicted in a 2009 Popeye's robbery, when the former fast food worker strolled in at closing time, wearing a business suit and holding a gun. Although 2 teenage employees survived the hold-up, 19-year-old Edward Virappen was killed.

On appeal, Curry's lawyers raised a number of race-related claims, including arguments that his death sentence was unconstitutional because it was imposed on the basis of race, and that black defendants are more likely to face execution. Earlier court filings also claim that the jurors who sentenced Curry "demonstrated racial animus when they searched for a hanging tree in downtown Houston during a trial break."

Source: Houston Chronicle, Keri Blakinger, May 22, 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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