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Did Texas execute an innocent man? Film revisits a haunting question.

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Texans will have an opportunity to revisit a question that should haunt anyone who believes in the integrity of our criminal justice system: Did our state execute an innocent man? 
The new film “Trial by Fire” tells the true story of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was sentenced to death for setting a fire to his home in Corsicana that killed his three young daughters in 1991. The film is based on an investigative story by David Grann that appeared in the New Yorker in 2009, five years after Willingham was executed over his vociferous protestations of innocence.
In my experience of serving 8 years on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and 4 years as a state district judge in Travis County, the Willingham case stands out to me for many of the same reasons it stood out to filmmaker Edward Zwick, who calls it a veritable catalogue of everything that’s wrong with the criminal justice system and, especially, the death penalty. False testimony, junk science, a jailhouse informant, and ineffe…

Florida executes Bobby Joe Long

Bobby Lee Long
A serial killer who terrorized Florida with a 1984 spree that claimed the lives of 10 women was put to death Thursday, his execution witnessed by the woman who survived one of his attacks and aided in his capture.

Inmate Bobby Joe Long was pronounced dead at 6:55 Thursday after a lethal injection at Florida State Prison, authorities said. Long had no last words, simply closing his eyes as the procedure began, witnesses said.

The killer terrified the Tampa Bay area for 8 months in 1984 as women began showing up dead, their bodies often left in gruesome poses. Most of the victims were strangled. Some had their throats slit. Others were bludgeoned.

Law enforcement had few clues until the case of Lisa Noland, who survived one of Long's attacks. She witnessed Thursday's execution from the front row and appeared teary-eyed as she left the death chamber.

Only 17 years old in 1984, Noland was abducted by Long outside a church that year. He raped her but ultimately let her go free. She left evidence of his crimes on the scene and gave police details that lead to his capture.

Long confessed to the crimes, receiving 28 life sentences and one death sentence for the murder of 22-year-old Michelle Simms. 

Another witness to the execution wore a polo shirt with a photo of one victim on the front and the words "Gone But Not Forgotten." On the back were photos of all 10 victims and the words, "The Ones That Matter."

Noland became the victim Long let go. The day before her abduction, she'd written a suicide note, planning to end her life after years of sexual abuse by her grandmother's boyfriend.

But she ended up using heroic use of that history.

"At the time he put the gun to my head, it was nothing new to me," she told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

She said she knew from her past abuse that if she fought Long, it would further enrage him.

"I had to study this guy," she said. "I had to learn who he was, what made him tick. If I did the wrong move, could it end my life? So literally, the night before I wrote a suicide note out, and now I was in a position where I had to save my life."

Investigators were baffled by the trail of bodies Long left in the Tampa Bay area. Artiss Ann Wick was the 1st woman killed, in March 1984. 9 victims followed.

Noland said Wednesday that she wanted to hear Long's final words even though she wouldn't be able to address him.

But if she could, it would be this, she had said: "I would say 'Thank you for choosing me and not another 17-year-old girl.'"

"Another 17-year-old girl probably wouldn't have been able to handle it the way that I have," she said.

Long moved from West Virginia to the Miami area as a child and was raised by his mother, a cocktail waitress. After high school, he married his childhood sweetheart, but the relationship became violent. The ex-wife, Cindy Brown , told AP she recalls fearing for her life as the attacks grew worse, including a day he choked her and knocked her unconscious.

Investigators gave the serial killer the moniker "The Classified Ad Rapist" while trying to solve dozens of rapes. Long would go through classified ads and make appointments to see items for sale. If a woman answered the door and was alone, he'd rape her.

In the AP interview Wednesday, Noland described her attack in excruciating detail: the church where Long abducted her, the gun he pressed to her head, the bright light she could see on the car's dashboard beneath the edge of her blindfold. It said Magnum, as in Dodge Magnum.

Florida's death chamber
She was menstruating, and she made sure she left blood evidence on the backseat of his car. She could tell the direction they were driving and when they were on Interstate 275 north of Tampa. When she was brought to the killer's apartment, she counted the steps up to the second floor. When he let her use the bathroom, she made sure she left fingerprints everywhere.

She knew she couldn't make him angry. She appealed to a glimmer of kindness he showed while he washed her hair after raping her repeatedly. She asked what made him do what he did. He said he had suffered a bad breakup and hated women. She told him he seemed nice and that maybe she could be his girlfriend. She wouldn't tell anyone.

Long later got Noland dressed. He let her loose and told her not to take the blindfold off for 5 minutes. She got out of the car and tripped on the curb. Long caught her before she fell. She waited for what seemed like an eternity and pulled off the blindfold. She was in front of a tree in another churchyard.

Today, she claims that tree as hers, and included it in the design of a T-shirt she made to mark Long's execution.

And she's joined the ranks of the law enforcement officers who captured Long. She's a deputy with the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, the same department she helped lead to Long's arrest.

Long becomes the 1st condemned inmate to be put to death this year in Florida and the 98th overall since the state resumed capital punishment in 1979.  Only Texas (561), Virginia (113), and Oklahoma (112) have executed more inmates since the death penalty was re-legalized in the US on July 2, 1976.

Long becomes the 8th condemned inmate to be put to death this year in the USA and the 1,498th overall since the nation resumed executions on January 17, 1977.

The nation's next scheduled execution is 1 week away, where Christopher Price in Alabama is scheduled to die by lethal injection.

Sources: Associated Press, Staff; Rick Halperin, May 23, 2019


USA: countdown to nation's 1500th execution


With the executions of Bobby Joe Long in Florida on May 23, the USA has now executed 1,498 condemned individuals since the death penalty was re-legalized on July 2, 1976 in the US Supreme Court Gregg v Georgia decision.

Gary Gilmore was the 1st person executed, in Utah, on January 17, 1977. 

Below is a list of scheduled executions as the nation approaches a terrible milestone of 1500 executions in the modern era.

NOTE: The list is likely to change over the coming months as new execution dates are added and possible stays of execution occur.

1499------May 30------------Christopher Price---------Alabama

1500------July 31-------------Ruben Gutierrez----------Texas

1501------Aug. 15-------------Dexter Johnson-----------Texas

1502-------Aug. 15------------Stephen West-------------Tennessee

1503-------Aug. 21------------Larry Swearingen--------Texas

1504-------Sept. 4-------------Billy Crutsinger----------Texas

1505-------Sept. 10-----------Mark Anthony Soliz------Texas

1506-------Sept. 12-----------Warren Henness-----------Ohio

1507-------Oct. 2--------------Stephen Barbee-----------Texas


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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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