Tuesday, October 20, 2009

October 12, 2009

Dear Sis~

Governor Crist signed another death warrant last week, scheduling a November 4th execution date for Paul Johnson, convicted of three (3) murders, including that of a deputy sheriff, during a crime spree. Johnson was originally convicted and sentenced to death in 1981, but won a new trial in appeal and was re sentenced to death in 1988. What's unusual about this death warrant is the way it came about. Two weeks ago, the Sheriff of Polk County created an online petition demanding Governor Crist sign Johnson's death warrant. Within 4 days, the petition had 600 signatures. Three days later, Crist signed the death warrant. Crist did the same thing 2 years ago when he signed Mark Schwab's death warrant after the victim's family initiated an online letter writing campaign urging Crist to sign Schwab's warrant. No matter what a person's view on capital punishment might be, they should be concerned that the governor decides who to kill based on such blatantly political motivations; if you generate publicity against a particular death row prisoner, you can get him killed. If you can't or don't, then he lives. This Sheriff's successful petition (which has been in the media and is now well known) will, I predict, start a trend here in Florida as other special interest groups race to see if they, too, can get someone killed by Governor Crist. Stay tuned.
Love, Bill

Friday, October 02, 2009

Sept 22, 2009

Dear Sis~

I've you've ever wondered how an innocent man can be sent to death row and, yes, be executed, you must read an article titled Trial by Fire, by David Grann, in the Sept 7th issue of The New Yorker magazine. I'm guessing it's available on their web site: It should be mandatory reading for anyone with a serious interest in the criminal justice system in general and capital punishment in general. When you read it and wonder why his trial lawyers sat on their hands, keep in mind that one of them was an ex-state trooper (who's side do you think we was really on?) Without digressing to a lengthy harangue on this subject, I'll clue you in on one of the criminal justice system's dirty little secrets (although it's no secret to those of us within the system, everyone - judges, defendants, prosecutors, even the bailiffs - knows what's going on. Unless the defendant is a novice, it's only the jury and the public who remain ignorant. You'll never see this on an episode of Law and Order or any other TV police procedural because those programs are designed to keep the public believing the fantasy that the system is "fair and balanced" (which live FOX News loves to sanctimoniously proclaim). The public desperately wants to believe in their system and they willingly suspend disbelief, just as you do when you watch the latest Hollywood blockbuster. Anyway, here's how the game really works: every town, county and city in America has its share of defense lawyers who make their living by court-ordered appointment. They are often drunks, or just stupid, or lazy and/or incompetent, and the only way they can get work is to be appointed to a case by a judge. They know (and the judge and prosecutor knows) that such lawyers are totally beholden to the judge for their pay check. There's a well-understood quid per quo here: The lawyer must "play ball" in order to keep getting appointments by the judge. Quick fact: about 90% of all judges in America are ex-prosecutors. By "play ball" I mean that the lawyer's real job is to ensure his client's conviction. The lawyer does this by not investigating, not calling crucial witnesses, not filing crucial motions, or not objecting to the prosecutor's misdeeds (which automatically waives the issue on appeal). Whenever a town has a high-profile case (particularly a capital case) one of those "sell-out" lawyers, as I call them, is appointed. Everyone (but the defendant) knows that the defendant is as good as convicted from that point forward. This is simply the way it works. I'll give you just one example.
Jacksonville, for many years, had an infamous sell-out lawyer named Nichols. The last time I actually counted, he had eight (8) clients on death row. Nichols was magically appointed in every Jacksonville capital case where the state really needed a conviction (e.g., cases with marginal evidence, and which were high-profile). Over the years I had an opportunity to read the entire trial transcripts of tow of Nichols' clients so I saw, first hand, how he stood mute throughout the trial, engaging in actions designed to help the prosecution, refusing to object, failing to challenge evidence, doing everything in his power to ensure a conviction and death sentence. It was disgusting to see it up close. A good friend of mine who happens to be a Jacksonville attorney confided in me that Nichols was an alcoholic of the first magnitude. Well, every town has its Nichols. The thing is, unless you know and understand law, you won't see how a Nichols does his job. You won't understand that a competent lawyer would be objecting here, or calling a certain witness. A Nichols does his dirty deeds in broad daylight, in open court, and only a legally astute observer will be silently shaking his head...
I had exactly such a sell-out lawyer, Cary Klein, who was appointed for the sole purpose of escorting me to death row. Klein was a civil attorney with no criminal practice who had never tried a capital case. He worked against me, and behind my back at every stage, betraying me constantly. Three of the seven Florida Supreme Court Justices described Klein as "blatantly incompetent," but the other 4 Justices decided I could not establish the requisite "prejudice", that is, I could not show that I would not have been convicted and sent to death row anyway, despite Klein's incompetence... Anyway, keep this in mind when you read Trial by Fire, or when you see any high-profile capital case winding its way through the system. And don't believe the phony propaganda you see on Law and Order shows...
Just got over the flu, I suspect it was pig fever; now everyone on the floor is sick, the hacking coughs are emanating from cells to my left and right. After about 6 nasty days, I now feel great.
Love, Bill