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California: With state executions on hold, death penalty foes rethink ballot strategy

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California advocates of abolishing the death penalty got a jolt of momentum in March, when Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that he would not allow any executions to take place while he was in office.
But after trying twice this decade to persuade voters to end capital punishment, they have no plans to go to the ballot again in 2020. Rather than seeking to build on Newsom’s temporary reprieve for Death Row inmates, activists are taking their own pause.
Grappling with the legacy of their two failed initiatives, advocates are reassessing their strategy and retooling their message. Natasha Minsker, a political consultant who has long been involved with abolition efforts, said the governor’s moratorium has given advocates the opportunity to do long-term planning.
“There’s this excitement and energy in our movement that we haven’t had in a long time,” Minsker said.
Newsom’s executive order caught many Californians by surprise. Although he supported the unsuccessful ballot measures to abolish t…

Sedley Alley: Man executed 13 years ago may be proven innocent by DNA

Inmate’s guilt has been proven with ‘absolute certainty’, prosecutors and critics say

Sedley Alley was strapped to a gurney and put to death in 2006, convicted of killing a 19-year-old Marine two decades earlier.

Alley had confessed to the slaying of lance corporal Suzanne Collins, but later said his confession was coerced.

Now, a nonprofit legal group dedicated to clearing the wrongly convicted hopes DNA evidence may be used to exonerate the man 13 years after his execution.

Since the early 1990s, 22 death row inmates around the US have been absolved of crimes through DNA evidence.

If the Innocence Project succeeds with Alley, it will be the first time anyone has used such evidence to exonerate a person who has already been executed.

Collins was stationed at the former Memphis Naval Air Station in Millington when she went jogging in a nearby park in July 1985.

RELATED Tennessee executed a suspected killer. Attorneys say the real culprit may be behind a vicious attack in Missouri.

Her body was discovered early the next day. She had been beaten, raped and mutilated.

Shortly before Alley was led to the execution chamber and given a lethal injection June 2006, Innocence Project co-founder Barry Scheck helped argue for DNA evidence testing.

But at the time, the request was denied and Alley, who had spent two decades on Tennessee's death row, was put to death at the age of 50.

That might have been the end of the story if Mr Scheck had not received a call earlier this year from investigators in St. Louis. He said they wanted to discuss a possible connection between Collins and Thomas Bruce, who is jailed in Missouri and charged with sexually assaulting two women and killing a third at a Catholic Supply store there about a year ago.

Mr Scheck said investigators had told him Bruce attended the same avionics course as Collins in Millington, Tennessee.

Mr Scheck reached out to Alley's daughter, April Alley, who agreed to petition for DNA evidence testing on behalf of her father's estate.

Along with her brother, April Alley witnessed her father's execution.

They had their hands up against the glass as he spoke his last words, telling them he loved them and to “stay strong”.

April Alley has been reluctant to talk about her effort to get DNA testing, but when she filed the petition in May, she spoke to reporters briefly.

“Watching my father die was so painful,” she said. “I'm hoping I can get the answer, one way or another, that I want.”

Shelby County Criminal Court Judge Paula Skahan heard arguments in the case last month and promised to rule on the petition Monday.

Memphis prosecutors oppose the testing.

Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich said in an email after the petition was filed that Sedley Alley's case and conviction were repeatedly scrutinised by the courts over 21 years, and his guilt was established with “absolute certainty”.

At the hearing last month, Assistant District Attorney Steve Jones argued the state's DNA analysis law allows only the person convicted of the crime to request testing. He also argued that even if DNA from a third party were found on some of the evidence, it would not prove Alley was innocent.

Alley was convicted based on “a combination of factors that corroborated his confession,” Jones said.

Mr Scheck has said Alley's confession did not match the crime scene evidence. For example, Alley said he hit Collins with his car, but Collins hadn't been run over.

In court last month, Scheck argued that it was a matter of justice to test the DNA evidence, noting the court has the power to order the testing.

Evidence they want tested includes a pair of men's underwear recovered at the scene.

“April Alley wants to know the truth. She has the courage to seek the truth,” Mr Scheck said at the hearing. “DNA testing can ... provide that truth.”

Source: Associated Press, Staff, November 19, 2019


Sedley Alley: DNA testing petition dismissed in case of man executed 13 years ago


A Memphis judge dismissed a petition requesting DNA testing in the case of a man executed 13 years ago for the rape and murder of 19-year-old Marine Lance Cpl. Suzanne M. Collins.

Judge Paula Skahan ordered Monday that the petition, brought by Sedley Alley’s estate, be dismissed. Attorneys for the estate and April Alley, Sedley Alley’s daughter, have already filed a notice of appeal. 

"I’m heartbroken," April Alley said in a written statement. "Frankly, I’m numb. I’m very grateful for all who have supported me in this effort to find the truth. We will see this through to the end, no matter what it takes.”

Skahan also said the evidence the attorneys asked to be tested would be preserved.

Collins’ body was found early one morning in 1985 in Edmund Orgill Park, outside the Millington naval base where she was stationed. An autopsy showed she had been struck at least 100 times and strangled. She had been sexually assaulted and impaled with a tree branch.

Alley initially denied any involvement, but later signed a statement admitting to killing Collins and led police to the crime scene. Details of his statement contradicted the crime scene and autopsy, and a witness' description of a suspect didn't match Alley's physical appearance.

Later, Alley said he did not remember the crime and that he was coerced into confessing.

Alley was denied testing prior to his execution, but a ruling by the Tennessee Supreme Court later overruled a portion of the Alley opinion.

Although April Alley immediately raised the possibility of calling for testing of the DNA after her father’s execution, the renewed push came after The Innocence Project learned another man — who took courses from the same training school in Millington as Collins — was under indictment for homicide and rape and may be a serial offender, according to their petition.

"If Tennessee executed an innocent person, we should know it, and the person who did it should be identified," said a statement from nonprofit the Innocence Project and Tennessee counsel, who are representing the Alley estate. "Our client, April Alley, just wants the truth."

In her ruling, Skahan wrote she was not making her decision “on the merits of the substantive claims raised in the petition for DNA testing.”

Rather, she said the court had concluded that Alley’s estate did not “have standing to file a petition for DNA analysis under the Post-Conviction DNA Analysis Act.”

The state argued that only a convicted person could file a petition — and that the estate of someone who is deceased is not a person.

“A plain reading of the relevant statutes at issue shows that the estate of a deceased inmate has no standing to bring a post-conviction DNA claim,” Skahan wrote in the order dismissing the petition. “… In the Court’s view, had the General Assembly—or the Tennessee Supreme Court, in Rule 28—intended for someone to be able to file a motion for post-conviction DNA testing on behalf of a statutorily eligible person who had died, such a provision would have been placed in the appropriate statutes.”

Josie Holland, an attorney working with April Alley and Sedley Alley's estate, said it was important that Skahan agreed to order that the evidence be preserved.

Attorneys for Alley's estate asked that a variety of items from the 1985 crime scene be tested, including men's underwear believed to have belonged to the assailant, the victim’s t-shirt, the tree branch used to rape Collins, the victim’s shorts and more.

William Massey, another attorney working with the estate, said they knew the process that denied Alley DNA testing before his execution was flawed.

"What we're trying to do is correct that flaw and be sure that it's reliable," Massey said. "Testing will tell that truth."

Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich said they agreed with Skahan's ruling.

"After 34 years of appeals by the defense, the Collins family continues to be the only victim in this case," she said in a written statement.

Sourcecommercialappeal.com, Katherine Burgess, November 18, 2019


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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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