In our on-line feature article about Michael Pardue, we asked the rhetorical
question, "How many times must a man look up before he can see the sky?" We
thought the answer was "blowing in the wind," but now the state of Alabama has finally given definition to that elusive question: it's twenty-eight years; it is 330
months; it is 10330 days.
In February of 2001 Michael Rene Pardue finally became a free man.
Pause for just a moment and think, really think, about TWENTY-EIGHT YEARS. In
that time we all learned to walk, talk, and eat with utensils. Most of us
completed grade school, high school, under graduate school, grad school, got
married, had children, and moved upward in our chosen professions. It's
almost a lifetime.
On February 16 at 5:00 p.m. Michael Rene Pardue finally walked out of prison
-- free at last to look at the sky without razor wire in his view and
handcuffs on his wrists.
The staff at Justice: Denied takes great delight in wishing Michael well as
he embarks on this new phase of his journey, with his wife Becky at his side.
It has been a long, arduous battle fraught with many obstacles. Michael and
Becky overcame them one by one, united by love and a quest for justice.
In this world of instant gratification, let Michael remind us how to keep our
"eyes on the prize." Let him inspire us to keep putting one foot in front of
the other, even though we may feel like giving up. Let his journey prove to
us that dreams do come true, even against all odds.
However, as we share in this joyful celebration, let us not forget that
twenty-eight years is a very, very long time. The face of the world has
changed in three decades but one fact remains constant -- Michael was
innocent when he walked into prison and he was innocent as he walked out.
More information on Michael's remarkable story can be found at:
a. Computers were the size of a small house. The term "PC" didn't exist.
b. Watergate was the name of an expensive and relatively unknown hotel in
c. US troops still occupied Vietnam.
d. Bill and Hillary were going steady.
e. Calculators were about to hit the market.
f. Harry Truman was still alive.
g. DNA was unheard of.
h. Atari introduced an innovative game called "Pong" that could be played
on a television set.
i. Minimum wage was $1.75
j. AIDS was an unknown virus.
Twenty-eight years is indeed a very long time.
Twelve years after Texas authorities used the threat of execution to coerce a
false confession from Christopher Ochoa, and five years after another man
first wrote a letter to then-Texas Governor Bush confessing his guilt and
exonerating Ochoa and co-defendant Richard Danziger, Ochoa was ordered
released on January 16.
While authorities said it was "a tragic tale of the criminal justice process
gone awry," the media have taken little note of this notorious example of
prosecutorial abuse and the fact that Bush pays little attention to details
made available to him, even when this inattention punishes innocent people.
Last year it was revealed by one investigative reporter that Bush, who had
claimed to thoroughly review every clemency petition sent to him by prisoners
about to be executed and to be convinced of the guilt of each, actually spent
no more than fifteen minutes on the voluminous case files. At least 5% of the
152 prisoners whose execution Bush approved may well have been innocent.
Christopher Ochoa, 34, said he confessed to the rape-murder of an Austin
woman in 1988 after a homicide detective browbeat him for hours, threatening
him with the death penalty. Ochoa pleaded guilty in return for a life
sentence and implicated the supposed accomplice, Richard Danziger, who was
convicted based on Ochoa's testimony and sentenced to 99 years.
In the January 16 proceeding in Austin, the judge vacated Ochoa's guilty plea
at the request of prosecutors, saying Ochoa "has suffered a miscarriage of
justice." Prosecutors said they also will seek the release of Danziger, now
30, for whom the case has had an irreversibly tragic result. In the early
1990s, Danziger was assaulted by a fellow inmate and left permanently
mentally disabled, authorities said. He is confined to a prison hospital.
Prosecutors said they will ask a judge to release Danziger after arrangements
have been made for him to reside in a private assisted-living facility.
Prosecutors said recent DNA tests have ruled out Ochoa and Danziger as
sources of semen found in Nancy DePriest, a 20-year-old Pizza Hut employee
who was slain at her workplace during a robbery. They said DNA tests have
implicated the current suspect, Achim Josef Marino, 41, who is serving life
in prison for other crimes.
In a series of letters sent to Bush and other officials between 1996 and
1998, Marino, who is a stranger to Ochoa and Danziger, confessed in detail to
the killing. Bush ignored the letters.
After 10 years behind bars, J.J. Tennison still maintains his innocence, and
his public defender is still fighting for him.
In August 1989, Roderick Shannon was beaten and killed in San Francisco's
Visitacion Valley neighborhood. The attack claimed two lives and sent nine
others to the hospital with gunshot wounds. In late 1990, two young men were
convicted of the killing and sentenced to 25 to life. Ten years later, both
men maintain their innocence.
At trial, the prosecution relied extensively on the ever-evolving testimony
of two young thieves in obtaining convictions. Jeff Adachi, a new public
defender with only three years experience, was assigned to represent J.J.
Tennison. He found a case riddled with inconsistencies, contradictions, and
stories that often made no sense. Believing the prosecution had a flimsy
case, the young attorney didn't mount a major-league defense. He figured his
client would walk. The jury ruling finding J.J. Tennison guilty stunned his
When a client is found guilty, the public defender nearly always washes his
or her hands of the matter, strolling off as the former client is led away.
Appeals are left to state-paid lawyers or private counsel. Not so here, where
Jeff Adachi immediately met with his investigator and committed to start
over, excavate fresh evidence and reconstruct the case.
A month later, San Francisco police officers picked up Lovinsky Ricard, Jr.
on a routine drug warrant. Ricard confessed to the killing of Shannon, just
like in the movies. However, a judge found the confession unreliable and
refused Tennison's request for a new trial. Three years later, as the
investigation continued, an eyewitness stepped forward with a detailed
version of the killing, confirming that the convicted men had no part in it.
Surely Tennison could go free, now. Wrong again -- the district attorney
didn't feel the witness' narrative was strong enough to reopen the case.
Adachi states that he will never, ever, give up on his client. "I don't care
what it takes. I could be 80 years old. I'll never give up."
Over the last decade, four courts have vetoed Tennison's bid for a new trial.
Last month, the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, the highest-ranking
federal court in the western United States, overturned the ruling of the
trial court, instructing them to review J.J. Tennison's situation. It's not
freedom, nor necessarily a new trial. It does require the trial court to
examine the new eyewitness' sworn statement and Ricard's confession to
determine whether a retrial should be ordered.
Dedication, persistence and responsibility to clients above and beyond the
"call of duty," of which this case is but one example, have earned Jeff
Adachi my respect and admiration, and my nomination as a Hero at the Bar.
Is there a
by Stormy Thoming-Gale, J:D Staff
Maryland lawmakers were considering a moratorium as the legislative session
came to a close. The same bill passed the House of Delegates. Senate
conservatives threatened a filibuster, and lawmakers adjourned without voting
on the plan to halt executions until a University of Maryland criminologist
can complete a search for evidence of racial bias in the system that places
people on Maryland's death row. Though legislators failed to act, the
governor can halt executions until review is done.
Governor Parris N. Glendening was the one who initiated the death penalty
study and he's the one who signs off on all executions. The governor has
acknowledged the possibility that racial bias may be the reason
African-Americans are over represented on death row. There are other problems
as well; one of the four men who face possible execution this year was
allowed to defend himself at trial. Another had a lawyer who did not
sufficiently raise questions about his mental stability -- a mitigating
factor that could have kept him off death row.
Kirk Bloodsworth was twice convicted of capital murder in Maryland courts
before a DNA test showed he could not have been guilty. Eugene Colvinel came
within a week of execution last year, even though no physical evidence
connected him with the murder for which he was convicted. The governor
intervened to spare his life after the courts failed to do so.
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said she supports a proposed state
moratorium on the death penalty. She cited that one reason for her support is
that she has found that accused murderers with good lawyers do not get the
death penalty. Ms. Ginsburg also criticized the amount of money spent to
defend indigent defendants.
Ms. Ginsburg said in a lecture that she has yet to see a death case among the
dozens coming to the Supreme Court on eve-of-execution stay applications in
which the defendant was well represented at trial.
A few days after the state's legislature failed to vote on the moratorium,
the Maryland Court of Appeals put a temporary halt on executions. With four
executions possibly scheduled for this summer, the court declined to expedite
an appeal by one of the death row inmates, who argues that a recent Supreme
Court opinion renders the Maryland death penalty unconstitutional. By
refusing to speed the matter along, the court most likely ensured that oral
arguments will not take place until the fall. The decision indefinitely
postponed at least two executions that could have been scheduled this summer.
Sources: The Associated Press, Washington Post, Baltimore Sun
by Richard Alevizos, J:D Staff
Michael Graham, who spent fourteen years of his life in a prison cell on
death row due to the vagaries of a justice system gone wrong, had his chance
to speak out against the very system that wrongfully incarcerated him. In a
hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee that focused on a provision of
the Innocence Protection Act that would impose mandatory standards for
lawyers appointed to capital cases and withhold federal prison funds from
states that fail to meet those standards, Michael Graham and others testified.
Mr. Graham, a Roanoke roofer, who spent those years on death row before he
was released last year, testified in favor of sweeping reforms meant to
safeguard innocent people from being wrongfully executed.
Wrongful execution has already been committed and now as ever needs to stop.
Mr. Graham testified that "During my 14 wasted years on death row, I always
hoped that the nightmare would count for something, that's why I am here
Mr. Graham, convicted for the 1986 slayings of an elderly couple in
Louisiana and later exonerated, let the Committee know that his lawyers had
little criminal trial experience and one in particular had only recently
graduated from law school. Hardly the lawyers to have represent you in a
capital punishment case for starters and hardly the punishment to be meted
out in a country which claims to have no human or civil rights abuses
occurring within its own borders.
It is just lucky for Mr. Graham that last December some attorneys working for
free took up his case and proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that key
witnesses had lied and that the prosecutor had deliberately withheld
evidence. After the case was dismissed against him, Mr. Graham wasn't even
given enough money to catch a bus back to his hometown. Hardly the
compensation one should receive for having been wrongfully convicted by a
justice system gone wrong and a prosecutor who will never go to jail for
committing what should be considered felony fraud and misrepresentation.
"Someone on trial for their life deserves a fair trial and a competent
defense attorney," said Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who is the
committee's chairman and the bill's chief sponsor. He further added; "We're
talking about the ultimate penalty that can be imposed."
At a time when a nation wide, not to mention a world wide, debate is taking
place, it can only be hoped that this hearing will produce a bill which will
produce a law that will put fairness back into the justice system. Maybe then
not only rich people will be able to afford proper representation and maybe
then can we actually see who is guilty and who is innocent. It goes without
saying that there is no fairness in the capital punishment system. In the
last 24 years more than 90 people in 22 states have been released from death
row because of concerns that they were wrongfully convicted.
Four of those men made it to the Capitol for this hearing, including Earl
Washington, the only prisoner ever to be exonerated from Virginia's death
row. Also present was the first person ever to be freed because of DNA
testing. Kirk Bloodsworth, a waterman from Maryland was freed in 1993 after
spending 9 years in prison after wrongfully being convicted of a 1984 rape
and murder of a 9 year old girl in Baltimore County. Due to these lapses in
the law Virginia and Maryland have begun studying the fairness of their
processes and Illinois has completely halted all executions.
There is widespread bipartisan support for giving convicted felons access to
DNA testing. With this out of the way, some politicians feel the debate can
then focus on the issue of legal counsel in capital cases. "Let's remedy
some of the injustices and do it right away," said Senator Orrin G. Hatch
(R-Utah). "We can not waste another day in providing that kind of resource."
Even though senators like Orrin Hatch feel access to DNA is important, the
hearing focused on attorney competence. There is testimony showing that there
are inmates on death rows that were represented by attorneys who fell asleep
or were drunk during trial or they simply lacked the experience or resources
to try a time consuming criminal case. Why these attorneys would be
considered acceptable and by what standards is where the system has gone
wrong. And oft is the time when such attorneys themselves believe their
client is guilty, thus compromising the defendant's representation and
ability to obtain a fair trial.
The bill, if made into a law, would create a national commission of
prosecutors, judges and lawyers that would devise a standard to ensure
proper, just and good legal services to all. It would take away authority
from state judges (often criminally negligent themselves) to appoint defense
lawyers in capital cases. This authority would be given to an independent
authority, which could appoint proper representation for those in need.
The fact that Graham and three other former death row inmates attended the
hearing to provide their testimony gives proof that changes need to be made.
And just to make sure the wrong person isn't wrongfully executed, all death
sentences should be postponed until all cases have been reviewed and all
possible DNA testing has been done to serve the needs of justice.
Source: The Washington Post
Justice is tried and
executed in Virginia's eagerness to win
Edited by Barbara Jean McAtlin, J:D Staff
Once again, the Virginia attorney general's office has won another battle
against its old foe, Justice. A Commonwealth court recently denied petitions
that had been filed by Centurion Ministries and a number of prominent
newspapers requesting a more modern form of DNA testing on the evidence from
the Roger Keith Coleman case. Although DNA testing had been done in the
Coleman case, the more modern DNA testing the groups had asked for was
unavailable at the time of his trial. The groups had asked for the testing to
help them try to answer some of the remaining questions surrounding the case
and Roger Keith Coleman's rather questionable 1992 execution. Coleman had
been convicted of the rape and murder of his sister-in-law. There was no bona
fide reason for the court to disallow the testing, but Attorney General Mark
Earley (who has since resigned to run for governor of Virginia) opposed the
requests and said there was no legitimate controversy surrounding Mr.
Coleman's guilt. He probably wouldn't be too surprised to find out that a
number of Virginians actually do believe Roger Keith Coleman was innocent of
the crime for which he was executed. Now, the question is whether or not the
Commonwealth of Virginia will destroy the evidence to prevent the truth --
whatever it may be -- from ever coming out. The Commonwealth has proven time
and again that it is more concerned with safeguarding itself from humiliation
than from seeking out justice.
Although the attorney general's office is right to stand by the convictions
they secure, their eagerness in protecting their convictions at any cost
borders on fanatical. They should be more interested in justice and fairness
-- even if it means they will have "lost" a case. The resistance to DNA
testing after-the-fact in the Coleman case does not conform to the duty of
the attorney general's office to reveal the real truth -- or to acknowledge
their mistakes when they do happen. At a hearing that was held earlier
regarding the Coleman DNA testing, an attorney for the office said, "It would
be shouted from the rooftops that the Commonwealth of Virginia executed an
innocent man" if the tests were to prove that the Commonwealth had done
Not only is the attorney general's office balking at DNA testing in the
Coleman case, they recently argued against DNA testing for Brian Lee Cherrix,
a living death row inmate. Their thoughts were that there was nothing amiss
with a murder trial in which the accused -- unknowingly -- was "defended" by
the victim's former lawyer. The office also vigorously fights against any
measures that would address the problems that allow cases such as this. This
dangerous combination of win at any cost and opposition to fairness means
that innocent people are trapped in a nightmare created by the Commonwealth
while dangerous, murdering criminals roam free with impunity.
Source: The Washington Post
New Jersey to offer free DNA testing
by Stormy Thoming-Gale, J:D Staff
Starting soon, Attorney General John Farmer Jr. will begin assigning a team
of lawyers to review applications from defendants who want DNA testing.
The team will then identify cases in which evidence has been properly
preserved. The State Police would then analyze the DNA samples or it would be
done by private laboratories at state expense. If the results exonerate the
inmate, the state would join defense counsel in seeking to overturn the
conviction. This project is being called, "The Truth Project."
The Truth Project is one of the first state programs of its kind and one of
the most extensive, according to the National Association of Attorneys
General. Ohio, the first to offer free DNA testing to prisoners, limits its
program to death row inmates. Rhode Island recently announced an initiative
similar to The Truth Project.
New Jersey's program will be much broader than Ohio's. Priority will be
given to testing inmates still serving prison sentences but defendants on
probation or parole will also be served under The Truth Project, as also
would convicted sex offenders who are required to register under Megan's Law.
The state estimates that more than 12,000 people convicted of homicide or
sexual assault could apply for DNA testing. The actual number is expected to
be much smaller and that even fewer cases will meet the criteria for DNA
The total cost for the state to get the program up and running is estimated
at about $300,000.
New Jersey has required convicted sex offenders to provide a blood sample
since 1994, so their DNA can be analyzed and entered into a computerized
Last September, New Jersey law extended that to those convicted of murder,
manslaughter, kidnapping, aggravated assault and other serious crimes.
The database now contains DNA profiles on 5,920 offenders. According to the
National Institute of Justice, the FBI's Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) is
expected to contain DNA profiles on more than 1 million convicted felons by
DNA evidence has been used to free people wrongfully convicted in New Jersey.
McKinley Cromedy was released after 6 years in prison for rape that DNA tests
show he did not commit. David Shepard was cleared in 1995 after serving more
than 11 years.
DNA testing will not be granted simply because a prisoner requests it. The
Truth Project will require that they pass a polygraph examination.
There is no way to limit how the state uses a DNA sample so prisoners will
have to weigh the consequences. For example, a DNA test might clear them of
one crime but implicate them in another.
Source: Star Ledger
by David C.N. Swanson, J:D Staff
Polls indicate that while a majority (albeit a slimmer majority than in
recent years) of Americans still support the death penalty, a majority also
favor calling a moratorium on executions until a justice system increasingly
notorious for convicting the innocent can be studied and possibly improved.
These two statistics suggest that most Americans believe the system can be
satisfactorily improved and that a moratorium will not be followed by
Many anti-death penalty activists take a different view. If the injustices of
the existing system are studied, they believe, only one result is possible,
namely eliminating forever the possibility of executing the innocent by
banning forever all executions. The moratorium movement, together with an
increasing public awakening to the long-established fact that the death
penalty does not deter crime, is seen by many as a step in the direction of
"We are well on our way to abolition," said Nadine Strossen, national
president of the American Civil Liberties Union, at a four-day convention of
anti-death penalty activists that was held at the Cathedral Hill Hotel in San
Francisco in November.
Ajamu Baraka, death penalty director for Amnesty International, agreed,
saying, "People are no longer convinced of the moral rightness of the death
penalty . . . as a consequence of our ability to bring to the American
people, for the first time, the inner workings of this barbaric and backward
Several speakers at the conference had been on death row. William Nieves, who
was freed in October after six years on Pennsylvania's death row, said, "I
promised a lot of the guys that I wouldn't forget about them, that I would
come out and be their voice."
One of the conference participants was a pro-death penalty Republican,
Illinois Gov. George Ryan. Ryan declared a moratorium on executions in his
state last January after court rulings, new evidence and investigations by
college students freed 13 death-row inmates.
Source: The San Francisco Examiner
Europeans decry use of death penalty
in the United States
by Barbara Jean McAtlin, J:D Staff
At a recent Council of Europe meeting in Belgium, Brussels, the head of the
Council criticized the use of capital punishment in the United States by
saying the practice is useless against crime and an immoral choice that has
landed innocent people on death row.
At the same time, at the first World Congress Against the Death Penalty
Conference, the European Union's top foreign policy official, Chris Patten,
condemned China's "Strike Hard" policy -- a campaign of executions by China
-- by saying they were "so horrifying as to be almost unbelievable."
During the opening session of the three-day World Congress Against the Death
Penalty conference, Walter Schwimmer, the secretary-general of the Council of
Europe, attacked the United States' death penalty policy. The conference,
which was held in Strasbourg, France, opened immediately following the
federal executions of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and convicted
murderer and drug trafficker Juan Raul Garza.
"Do you know how many people in the United States are on death row?"
Schwimmer asked the gathering. "No less than 3,700. Would anyone really
believe that the death penalty is a tool to fight crime? If that would be
true, the United States would be a country without crime and without
Schwimmer spoke of the case of Joaquin Jose Martinez, a Spaniard who spent 37
months on Florida's death row for the murder of a drug trafficker and an
exotic dancer. Martinez was acquitted after a retrial.
"What would have happened if the execution some years ago had not been
postponed? Would anybody think this execution had been justice?" Schwimmer
During a recent visit to Europe, American President George W. Bush was
beleaguered by intense protest from capital punishment opponents. Bush
defended the United State's capital punishment policy by saying that "the
death penalty is the will of the people in the United States."
European criticism also focused on China's anti-crime campaign dubbed "Hard
Strike." China has sent hundreds of people to their deaths for crimes ranging
from murder to drug dealing to embezzlement -- after parading them at public
rallies. Critics worry that the Chinese courts are speeding judgments and
condemning people to death using coerced confessions and unreliable evidence.
The organizer of the conference, the Council of Europe, has 43-members and
has gained a complete ban on, or a moratorium on, executions in its member
states. Likewise, abolishing capital punishment is a requirement for
membership in the 15-member European Union.
Source: New York Times
DNA testing FINALLY frees
by Stormy Thoming-Gale, J:D Staff
In 1983, Larry Youngblood was convicted of child molestation. The Pima County
Attorney's Office said that Larry Youngblood was convicted based on the
testimony of the victim, collaborating evidence and the technology available
at the time.
The Arizona Court of Appeals briefly overturned Larry's conviction on grounds
that due process was violated by the failure to safeguard evidence. Police
failed to handle an important piece of evidence properly, making it
impossible to determine whether semen was evident on Larry's clothing.
In 1988, the Supreme Court reversed that ruling. In a 6 to 3 decision, the
Supreme Court held that a defendant's rights were not denied unless the
authorities were acting maliciously and knew the evidence could prove
Dr. Edward Blake, a forensic scientist with expertise in DNA, said that due
to its recent ruling, the Supreme Court had established a flawed legal
precedent that will lower the standards of evidence collection. The 1988
ruling undermined what were once progressive mandates that put the onus on
the government to collect, maintain and properly preserve evidence.
The Arizona Court of Appeals AGAIN set aside Larry Youngblood's conviction in
1990, arguing that the state's constitution was broader than the federal
In 1993, the State Supreme Court AGAIN reinstated Mr. Youngblood's
Larry Youngblood returned to prison to serve out his sentence.
Summer of 1999, Larry's lawyers requested new DNA tests that were not
available in 1983. Although the test results took several months, they
completely exonerated Larry Youngblood.
A representative from the Pima County Attorney's Office has publicly
apologized for the wrongful conviction. To be sure, he told the public it was
an accident and that the office "acted in good faith" but he said the office
regretted what had happened and feels bad that Larry was incarcerated.
Larry Youngblood, spent 17 years knowing he was innocent, never confessing,
never taking a plea for less time and is understandably bitter.
Justice Denied wishes Mr. Youngblood the very best and hopes that the State
of Arizona will take the initiative and offer compensation for the years lost
by Mr. Youngblood.
Source: NY Times