View Full Version : This Is Why Many Lawyers Oppose the Death Penalty


11-12-2010, 08:23 PM
For over two decades, the hair was stored in a plastic evidence bag in the courthouse in Coldspring, Texas, cataloged as belonging to Claude Jones, who was convicted of murder in 1990 and executed 10 years later. Now, it can be relabeled: a court-ordered DNA test found Thursday that the hair actually belonged to the murder victim Allen Hilzendager. The result casts significant doubt on the validity of Jones' conviction and his execution.

That single 1-in. (2.5 cm) strand of hair was the key to Jones' original conviction. A truck carrying Jones and Danny Dixon did pull up in front of Hilzendager's liquor store that night. One man got out, went inside and gunned Hilzendager down, according to two eyewitnesses across the highway (neither could see the murderer's face). Both Jones and Dixon were certainly capable of the crime both were on parole after serving time for murder. But there was little other firm evidence of which one had done it. Dixon accused Jones, and Jones accused Dixon. The prosecution's star witness against Jones was a friend of Dixon's who later said that prosecutors had coerced him into testifying.
(See pictures of America's wrongfully incarcerated.)

And from the beginning, the evidence was handled questionably. The hair expert at the Texas crime lab originally thought the small sample was "unsuitable for comparison" using the microscopy technology available at the time, but eventually changed his mind and decided to test it after all. Using that outdated technology which essentially has two hairs examined side by side under a microscope the expert then determined that the hair belonged to Jones and not Dixon.

That dubious determination went on to haunt all of Jones' failed appeals as well. Time and again, lawyers and judges pointed to the physical evidence against Jones as a damning factor.

Except, in the end, it wasn't. The fact that the hair was actually Hilzendager's doesn't mean that Jones was necessarily innocent, but it does mean that the jury convicted him and did so quickly based largely on false evidence. "What's crucial to understand is that the hair was critical evidence in the case," says Barry Scheck, whose Innocence Project, along with the Texas Observer, led the lawsuit demanding that the hair be subjected to DNA testing. "I have no doubt the conviction would've been reversed with these results."

Scheck points out the most poignant aspect of the story: Jones came very close to having a chance for that reversal just before he was executed. At the time, then Governor George W. Bush was on record stating that he would delay executions if there were relevant new DNA tests that could be performed. Jones' case seemed to fit that bill mitochondrial DNA testing was not available during his trial but was in wide use before his final appeals in 2000. Jones' attorney at the time warned the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles that without Bush's intervention, "the state of Texas runs the risk of executing a man despite the availability of modern technology that might exonerate him."

The four-page memo that Bush received from his legal advisers on Dec. 7, 2000, however, made no mention of a possible new DNA test. It ended with the assertion that Jones "has had full and fair access to judicial review of his case." Bush denied clemency, and Jones was executed that evening.

"What I'm really hoping is that when President Bush gets an opportunity to look at this," says Scheck, "that he would acknowledge that he was blindsided and that an error was made."

The new DNA results come during a rough patch for capital punishment in Texas. After 18 years in prison 12 of those on death row Anthony Graves was exonerated and walked free in October based on the opinion of a special independent prosecutor who found in favor of a 2006 reversal (stemming from a lack of evidence) of his conviction. That case, in which Graves was convicted of slaughtering a family he didn't know based on the testimony of informants and co-defendants, had one striking similarity with the Jones case: the original prosecutors fought fiercely against any suggestions that the convictions might be invalid. As doubts over the evidence that had convicted Graves swirled in 2009, prosecutor Charles Sebesta took out full-page ads in local papers calling Graves "cold-blooded."

In Jones' case, prosecutor Bill Burnett fought hard to destroy the hair before it could be tested, and he took his fight all the way to his grave. The pastor at his funeral in June assailed TIME's coverage of the Jones case, in which I had argued in favor of testing, and lauded Burnett for being someone who "took a stand against some powerful people."
(Read TIME's coverage of the case.)

After the evidence findings were revealed Thursday, Hilzendager's brother Joe told the Associated Press that he still thinks Jones was the shooter, staying true to what he had told me in his living room almost a year ago, as he argued against testing the hair: "There's no doubt they executed the right person."

But Jones' son Duane has always believed his father was wrongfully convicted. He says the results aren't a relief and that it's just "disappointing" to see the missed opportunities for justice.

"It saddens me because you know they spend all the taxpayers' money fighting DNA tests," he says. "If you're so confident in your convictions, do the testing. You might find out something new."

Read more: http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,2031034,00.html#ixzz157KzDiFu

11-13-2010, 11:13 AM
if i've got this right the conviction that lead to his death penalty was unsafe.they,the 2 in the truck,were on parole for (another) murder.well if they already did commit murder,they should have been already executed.but i also agree that the prosecution should do the job correctly and not like this has turned/is turning out.

11-13-2010, 11:46 AM
Tamla...............that was good for the morning laugh! But the logic is wrong.

There are many many cases around where they just totally get the wrong guy ~ usually a poor man without means; usually non Caucasion. And that man is someone's son, someone's spouse and father.

11-13-2010, 02:39 PM
i agree they get the wrong guys.do they get the wrong guys for 2 or 3 different murders?

jones killed before,dixon killed before and jones was in the frame again.but they got him with no proof and that was wrong. tell this to jones' 1st victim's relatives.

11-13-2010, 07:25 PM
I agree that many of these fellas are rotten to the core.

But state sanctioned violence brings out violence in the population; and the USA is right up there in that category whereas us generally more enlightened dudes in Canada, Japan, Norway, Finland, Denmark, Great Britain, Ireland, Switzerland and France do not have quite as violent a culture as prevails in the USA.

11-14-2010, 11:26 AM
i hope you dont think i'm disagreeing too much jobeterob.i know where your coming from.the knee jerk reaction is to keep/bring back capital punishment.even though jones had previous doesnt mean he should forfit any rights to a fair trial.
the hair dna was bad enough,but what about dixon?why should anything he said mean anything?

was the DA up for election?!

11-14-2010, 01:20 PM
I wonder why people go for capital punishment. Supposedly, the appeals and legal wrangling costs more than housing the person in prison for the rest of his life, or so I'm told. I feel death would be too good. Murderers need to be kept in a small cell, with a shower and everyhting right there... no windows, no radio, no tv, no visitor allowed ever, no exercise, no human contact other than meal delivery. Not even any books allowed.

11-14-2010, 01:29 PM
Im all for Capital punishment IF and only IF they KNOW the person did it and confesses! This is a touchy subject and I dont believe we have the right to take anyone's life regardless of what they have done but if the Romans can feed the Christians to the lions I say the guilty who have killed should be fed to the lions as well. For those and they are not sure Im totally against this! Too many innocent men and women have been killed over this law especially black males.

11-15-2010, 04:54 AM
..well for starters lawyers wouldnt want the death penality stopped cos they lose money if their clients are six feet under..
I have very mixed emotions on this subject..I feel the liberal left pander to criminals..by that I mean rehabilition courses have been developed in the justice system for many years now..criminal suspects rights are watched much more carefully than the rights of victims..its was a fall on effect that capital punishment would be out of favour as criminals we are now taught are often victims of their own upbringing,which I fully agree with -but we have such a hand holding view now,Hip hop is partly to bame for making criminals heroes of my generation we lose sight of the fact that some people are just plain evil and will comitt again if let out into society....
There have been several high profile murders in my part of the world that have caused controversy -
Scott Watson found guilty of the murder of two teenagers on his boat on New years Eve- the bodies were never found the jury ruled him guilty on dna hair evidence of the female victim found on a newly painted boat..
David Tamihere found guilty of the murder of two swedish backpackers mainly on the evidence he had their car and possessions after they had disapeared only the male body was recovered.
David Bain found guilty of murdering his whole family one morning he was pardoned recently but the guilty sentence wasnt squashed..
..ok so in these three cases you have three guilty men who authors write books protesting their innocence theres retrails and privy council cases..Is this the because police did plant evidence on these men or people looking for conspiracy theories when in my mind all three men are damn guilty..we dont have the death penality but if we did these three would have got it and I wouldnt have missed a moments sleep over it but we dont have the death penality and they are turned into martyrs..this goes to a deep suspicion now held by the public against those who enforce the law..and the criminal wins..

11-15-2010, 02:59 PM
I agree that some people are beyond rehabilitation; you cannot release Charles Manson's or Mark Chapman's; I do not think they should ever release Sirhan Sirhan either. You need to send a message to society in certain situations.

A "life in prison" message is brutal for the person that receives it.

But I believe that violence by the state engenders violence in it's people; that is one of the reasons that the USA is a much more violent society than a lot of the Western world and ranks more with Iran and China in terms of safety.

It is a very difficult issue; one of society's most difficult issues. It is impossible to be totally right on this; it is more about having to make choices.

11-23-2010, 10:58 AM
I respect everyone's right to their opinions, especially those that support mine. (just kidding on the last part :)) With that said, I must say that I'm a bit inconclusive on this issue. I absolutely hate the fact that man's so-called justice is rife with examples of gross errors and intentional misapplications of judgment and sentencing. Looking at the overall benefits of the legal system, we still prefer it to chaos. Carrying this line of reasoning to a further (understandably unacceptable to some) point, I am still for the death penalty.

To me, the argument that the violence of the death penalty leads to more violence in society is the same misguided logic used by those who oppose ALL physical discipline of one's children. While I appall mental or physical bullying and abuse by parents toward their children, I believe that the absence of needed discipline that occasionally includes properly applied physical emphasis is also abuse to the child and potentially against society. When proper boundaries are clearly established, usually a mere look which might suggest such punishment will end or prevent grossly unacceptable behavior. I believe that such children are happier and better adjusted as children and later as adults... and they appreciate their parents! The latter is even more evident when THEY become loving parents themselves.

I believe the main reason that the death penalty has proven so ineffective as a deterrent in this country is because most know that, once ordered, it's not going to be applied for YEARS if ever, and then only after nearly endless legal tanglings. Still I would not push for a rush to speedy executions without some serious reform of the current system in the US. For one thing, there should be swift and (justly) extreme penalties for ANYONE in the system found to have been grossly or maliciously negligent in contributing toward such a sentence. And that's just for starters.

I totally sympathize for anyone innocent with a relative ordered to die (unfortunately poor parenting often contributes in a big way). I can only imagine with horror if I were in that situation. Yet if my child, without mitigating circumstances, willfully ended another human's life, then I hope and believe that I would support the penalty. Of course I would still deeply love and mourn for my child as well as the victim or their loved ones. And if someone were to murder a loved one of mine, again w/o mitigating circumstances, then I would definitely hope for swift and just execution.

So I guess that's a Yes from me as far as the death penalty is concerned. I'm not closed to statistics or other information that might change my view. In the end I firmly believe that there's a Creator who is capable of straightening out ANY miscarriages of justice eventually. This fact doesn't absolve us of our responsibilities in the mean time.

jobeterob, despite disagreeing with you, I must say I admire your conviction for what you honestly believe is right in this sensitive matter.