Victims of the Prosecution

The following piece ran today on Salon.com (and earlier this week on The Crime Report)

By Maurice Possley/The Crime Report

A coalition of innocence projects, legal experts and wrongly convicted defendants announced on Thursday that a study of prosecutorial misconduct in Arizona from 2004 through 2008 found that prosecutors committed error in 20 cases.

The Crime ReportThe coalition — which includes the Innocence Project of New York, along with Veritas Initiative, a policy and research arm of the Northern California Innocence Project, as well as Innocence Project New Orleans and Voices of Innocence — convened in Arizona on Thursday night in the latest stop in a national tour aimed at exposing prosecutorial misconduct and initiating reform.

In 15 of the cases, the finding of error was deemed “harmless” and the convictions were upheld. In five of the cases, the errors were ruled to be “harmful” and the convictions were reversed.

During that same time period, three prosecutors were publicly disciplined by the State Bar of Arizona, but none of the prosecutors in the 20 cases found by Veritas were subject to any discipline.

One of those three prosecutors  disciplined was Kenneth Peasley — once considered the most feared prosecutor in Pima County, Ariz., where he won  conviction after conviction, some of which sent defendants to death row.

Peasley was disbarred in 2004 for knowingly allowing a detective to testify falsely in two capital murder trials — improper behavior that led to the release of a man from death row.

Eight years later, Peasley’s legacy as an unethical prosecutor continues to grow, even though he died in 2011.

Continue reading on Salon.com HERE

The Latest News and Views from MoPo

SOJOURNERS/GOD’S POLITICS BLOG, Oct. 9, 2011

Deadlines and the Death Penalty: The Case of Corey R. Maples

by Maurice Possley 10-09-2011 10:13 am

400px-Unbalanced_scales_circle.svgThe ink was barely dry on the death certificate for Troy Davis, executed by the state of Georgia on Sept. 21, when the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in an Alabama death penalty case that, if not for its serious nature, feels like a trip through Alice’s looking glass.

The question before the court is this: Should the state of Alabama execute a man who lost an opportunity to file an appeal in his case because a deadline was missed — because of a foul up in a law firm’s mail room?

At issue is the case of Corey R. Maples, convicted of murdering two men in 1995 and sentenced to death, even though his trial lawyers have since conceded they were “stumbling around in the dark.” Unlike the Davis case, where substantial doubt about his guilt had been raised before he was executed, there doesn’t appear to be much question that Mr. Maples committed a double murder. The issue is whether he received ineffective assistance of counsel in the penalty phase of the case and whether, had he had competent counsel, he would have been sentenced to a prison term instead of death.

On appeal, Mr. Maples was represented by the New York law firm of Sullivan & Cromwell. Alabama is the only state that does not provide lawyers on appeal in death cases. Two associates in the firm handled Mr. Maples’ post-conviction appeal and when it was denied, a copy of the ruling was sent to the New York office of the law firm. By then, both associates had left the firm, so the mail room stamped the denial of the appeal “return to sender” and “left firm.”

The local Alabama lawyer who was on the case only, he has said, so that the New York lawyers could be permitted to practice in Alabana, received a copy, but did nothing because he assumed that Sullivan & Cromwell was on top of the situtation.

Wrong.

By the time someone figured out what happened, the deadline to appeal the denial of his post-conviction appeal had passed. So far, the state of Alabama has successfully argued that despite the mail room debacle, Maples should have been aware — through his local counsel — that the clock was ticking and that he just blew it.

Continue reading Maury’s post HERE.

WGN-RADIO in Chicago, “The Milt Rosenberg Show,” Oct. 5, 2011

Listen to Maury’s recent appearance with Milt to discuss Hitler in the Crosshairs HERE.

SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS, Oct. 5, 2011

Maurice Possley and Kathleen ‘Cookie’ Ridolfi: Attorneys and judges need to report misconduct cases to the California Bar Association

Two decades ago, in response to a highly critical series of media reports that revealed how the State Bar of California had virtually abdicated its role in the investigation and discipline of attorneys, the Legislature passed two laws requiring courts and lawyers to report misconduct to the Bar.

The laws added to the California Business and Professions Code require courts to report misconduct by attorneys and require attorneys to self-report misconduct findings to the Bar. But research shows these mandates are largely ignored by the courts and attorneys and are unenforced by the Bar, even though lack of compliance is in itself grounds for discipline.

With that in mind, the Bar should take a serious look at two decisions last week, one by a state Appellate Court involving a prosecution in Santa Clara County and the other by a Superior Court judge in Los Angeles County.

Continue reading the OpEd HERE.

Troy Davis: Will Georgia Execute an Innocent Man This Week?

This column originally appeared via SojournersGod’s Politics blog on Friday, September 16:

By Maurice Possley

“Perhaps the bleakest fact of all is that the death penalty is imposed not only in a freakish and discriminatory manner, but also in some cases upon defendants who are actually innocent.”
U.S. Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan, Jr., 1994

On Monday (Sept. 19), the five members of the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles will meet to consider whether to commute the death sentence of Troy Davis to life in prison or allow him to be executed on Sept. 21.

With more than 1,260 men and women executed in the United States since the death penalty was restored more 30 years ago, pardon boards across this country have routinely addressed pleas for clemency and routinely have rejected them, allowing executions to go forward.

Indeed, as Davis’ case has becoming increasingly more public, the machinery of death moves on in other parts of the country.

On Thursday, U.S. Supreme Court ordered a last-minute stay that blocked the execution in Texas 0f Duane Buck, within hours of his walk to the execution chamber. The next scheduled execution in Texas is Sept. 20 for Cleve Foster, who was convicted of murdering a woman.

On Sept. 21 — the day Davis is now set to die — Lawrence Brewer is scheduled to be executed in Texas for the infamous dragging death of James Byrd Jr.

And on Sept. 22, Derrick Mason is to be executed in Alabama — although the judge who imposed death sentence on Mason now says he made a mistake and believes the death sentence should be commuted to life in prison without parole.

Other than the case of Brewer, notorious because he was one of three white men who killed a black man in particularly cruel and gruesome fashion, it’s unlikely that most of the general public has been particularly aware of the cases of Buck, Foster or Mason.

So what makes the Davis case stand out from most other death penalty cases?

Serious doubt.

Not about whether the death penalty is the appropriate punishment for Davis or has been correctly applied.

The doubt raised in Davis’ case is whether he committed the crime at all. And those questions about his guilt have prompted hundreds of thousands of people to raise their voices in opposition to his execution, most recently former FBI Director William Sessions who, in an op-ed in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Friday, called on the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles to commute Davis’ sentence to life in prison.

Over the last 30 years, most death penalty cases have worked their way through the courts and into the execution chamber with little publicity, notoriety or public outcry, beyond that of the people directly affected by the crime — relatives and survivors of the victims, family members of the accused and the assorted participants in the legal system, such as judges, police officers, defense attorneys and prosecutors.

From time to time, however, certain cases have taken on a more dynamic persona. Karla Faye Tucker was executed in 1998 — the first woman to be put to death in Texas — amidst national and international pleas for clemency largely based on her gender and conversion to Christianity.

Similarly, Stanley “Tookie” Williams engendered a groundswell of opposition to his 2005 execution in California because of the positive work he had done after being convicted in the murders of four people. While in prison, Williams wrote children’s books with anti-gang and anti-violence themes.

Still, the issue in Tucker and Williams’ cases was rehabilitation, not innocence.

Perhaps the last high-profile case that involved serious claims of innocence was that of Gary Graham, who was executed in Texas in 2000 despite new evidence suggesting that the sole eyewitness who identified him was wrong.

There have been 1,267 executions in the United States since the death penalty was re-instated in 1976, after having been struck down in 1972 by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The death penalty returned in 1977 when Gary Gilmore was executed by a firing squad in Utah.

Sine the reinstatement of the death penalty 34 years ago, 138 people have been released from Death Row after their innocence was established or their guilt could no longer be proved.

At the same time, serious questions have been raised about the guilt of a number of defendants who were executed, including Cameron Todd Willingham, Carlos DeLuna and Ruben Cantu in Texas, Leo Jones in Florida, and Larry Griffin in Missouri.

There are now more than 3,200 men and women on death row in the United States and the population continues to grow, although at a much reduced rate over the past 10 years.

The number of states that execute has dropped by three, with New Mexico, New Jersey and Illinois outlawing the death penalty.

Executions nationally have dropped gradually over the last several years—from a high of 98 in 1999. There were 46 executions in 2010 and so far in 2011, there have been 33.

“The decline is a breakthrough in the public’s consciousness that mistakes are made and that it’s hard to tell in which ones the mistakes mean innocence,” says Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C.

Davis was convicted in 1991 of the 1989 shooting death of an off-duty Savannah police officer who was working as a security guard in a shopping center. Davis was found guilty and sentenced to death on the basis of witnesses and informants.

There was no physical evidence linking him to the crime.

Over time — and three postponed executions — Davis’ defense has produced evidence that six of the nine witnesses have recanted their testimony. Still it was not enough to persuade a Georgia court to grant him a new trial.

Davis has received support from such influential forces as Pope Benedict XVI, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former President Jimmy Carter as well as from more than 500,000 people who have signed petitions urging the pardons board to spare his life.

Davis is no stranger to the pardons board — he has appeared before it twice before. But if there is a breath of hope for Davis, it is that the five-member pardons board has three new members who have not voted on his case before.

He needs three votes for his death sentence to be commuted to life without parole. Such a vote would not mean his immediate release. But it would give his defense team more time to continue their search for evidence of his innocence.

When the board convenes, they will have Davis’ life in their hands. And as they consider whether to send Davis to the execution chamber, perhaps they should consider the case of Earl Washington Jr.

Washington was sentenced to death in Virginia in 1984. Ten years later, when preliminary DNA tests raised doubts about his guilt, then-Gov. Douglas Wilder commuted the death sentenced to life without parole.

In 2000, 16 years after Washington was convicted, more sophisticated DNA tests exonerated him and he was released.

Because he was still alive.

MoPo on HITCH in the Toronto Star

July 01, 2011

By Maurice Possley

More than 40 years ago, a Swift Current, Sask. man who dreamed of opening a Nazi memorabilia museum thought he had pulled off the ultimate coup in buying the gold-plated pistol that Adolf Hitler used to commit suicide.

In 1968, Andrew Wright told the local newspaper that the gun — purchased from a dealer in Cleveland — would “put Swift Current on the map. There are hundreds of collectors in the United States who have never seen it and they will come up.”

Not only did Wright misjudge the attention he expected (the horde of curiosity seekers never materialized), but he was very wrong about the provenance of the gun — a gold-plated, 7.65 Walther semi-automatic pistol with Hitler’s initials inlaid in gold on the ivory grips.

In fact, the truth is far more dramatic.

As John Woodbridge and I recount in our newly released book, Hitler in the Crosshairs: A GI’s Story of Courage and Faith, the pistol was taken by an American soldier during a dramatic attempt to capture or kill the dictator in Munich in the waning days of the war.

This new saga is the story of the soldier, Ira “Teen” Palm, a native of Mount Vernon, N.Y., and how he came to cross paths with Rupprecht Gerngross, a German soldier who not only bravely engineered a brief revolt of German soldiers and citizens in Munich, but at one point attempted to assassinate Hitler himself.

A first lieutenant in the U.S. Army who earned numerous medals for valour under fire, Palm had landed on the shore of France in 1944 and fought his way into the heart of Germany, reaching the outskirts of Munich in late April 1945. As Soviet forces encircled Berlin and the Allied armies approached Munich, what was then called “the greatest manhunt in history” was on — the search for Hitler.

In a striking parallel to the search for Osama bin Laden, American leaders believed that even if the entirety of Germany was conquered, the war might never end as long as Hitler remained alive. Intelligence at the time suggested that Hitler was amassing troops and weapons in the Bavarian Alps — the Great Redoubt — where he would regroup and continue to wage war.

Gerngross, a German soldier who headed an interpreter unit in Munich, had been gathering weapons and recruiting soldiers and citizens to stage an uprising against the Nazis in Munich in an attempt to prevent the total destruction of the city, a fate suffered by so many great German centres.

Gerngross had been inspired to oppose the Nazis years earlier when he happened to see a group of Jews being executed by German soldiers. He realized that this was not the Germany he loved and resolved to oppose the Nazi regime.

In 1944, Gerngross learned that Hitler planned to travel through Munich by car and would be accompanied by an aide who lived across the street from Gerngross. He speculated the aide would stop to see his family, and so Gerngross decided to try to kill Hitler.

On the day Hitler was to arrive, Gerngross sat in the attic of his home with a rifle and waited until Hitler’s car arrived. Anxiously, he watched as the aide went inside briefly and then came back out. His young daughter skipped down the sidewalk and Hitler’s car door opened and a man — it had to be Hitler — stepped out and knelt down to embrace the girl.

Gerngross trained the crosshairs on the back of the girl’s head, waiting for the moment when she would step back and he could pull the trigger. Suddenly, the aide came out of the house and Hitler pulled away and vanished into the car.

The failed attempt only propelled Gerngross more forcefully. In 1945, an American flyer who had survived when his plane was shot down and who later escaped a Germany POW camp was being smuggled back to the Allies through the opposition underground in Munich. Gerngross recruited the flyer to ask the Allies to stop bombing Munich, so that the uprising could begin.

At the same time, Palm volunteered to lead a group of soldiers — with the help of Gerngross’s men — undercover into Munich to capture or kill Hitler.

Palm and his men did break into Hitler’s apartment, but the dictator was not there. Before they left, Palm took the gold-plated pistol from Hitler’s desk.

Gerngross’s uprising was short-lived, but he achieved his goal — Munich, though badly damaged, did not suffer total annihilation.

After the war, Palm, who was wounded slightly as he fought his way out of Munich, gave the pistol to Charles Woodbridge, his close friend and pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Savannah, Ga. The gun was later stolen and disappeared until it made national news in 1966 when a Cleveland gun dealer announced it was for sale.

Wright learned of the gun when a photograph of it appeared on the cover of Argosy magazine. He and his wife drove to Cleveland, where they purchased numerous pieces of Nazi memorabilia, including the pistol, which had been a gift to Hitler on his 50th birthday in 1939 from the Walther family, manufacturers of hundreds of thousands of weapons.

At the time, Wright was sure that the gun would be the centrepiece of his museum. He said the pistol was the most sought-after prize in gun-collecting circles.

But by 1987, his dream that Swift Current would be a magnet for admirers of Nazi memorabilia was still just that — a dream. And so the gun was sold at auction for what was then the highest price ever paid for an item of military memorabilia — $114,000 — to a purchaser whose identity was not revealed.

The gun has since changed hands several times. An Australian, Warren Anderson, owned it for a time. It was later sold to someone on the West Coast of the United States who has asked to remain unnamed.

When Wright purchased the gun, he believed it was Hitler’s suicide weapon because of reports that there was blood under the grips. The actual weapon that Hitler used to kill himself in his bunker in Berlin has been proven to be a much different pistol.

Which leads one to wonder — just whose blood is under the grips of this pistol? Could it in fact be the blood of Ira Palm — the man who volunteered to take out Hitler?

The mystery continues.

Maurice Possley, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist formerly with the Chicago Tribune, is an investigator and researcher for the Northern California Innocence Project at Santa Clara University School of Law.

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