Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Bulletin: Lester Bower; Texas; Why Radley Balko thinks that Lester Bowers' story is everything that's wrong with the death penalty in America; Washington Post; (What a horror story. Must, Must Read. HL);

PUBLISHER'S NOTE:  ABC News reports "Texas executes Lester Bower; State's oldest prisoner on death row." (May he rest in peace. HL);
Radley Balko: "Barring last-minute interference from the U.S. Supreme Court, Lester Bower will soon be dead. And as Jordan Smith at the Intercept reports, that would be a travesty of justice. His story is everything that’s wrong with the death penalty in America. Bower is one of the country’s longest-serving death row inmates. He was sentenced in 1984. He’s now 67 years old. There is still significant doubt about Bower’s guilt, including evidence that was suppressed at his trial. But in the three decades Bower has lived on death row, the court system hasn’t been processing the new exculpatory evidence. Rather, the court fights have been over whether it should even be considered. And they’ve decided that it shouldn’t. From Smith: In a 2012 ruling that denied the majority of his claims on appeal, state Judge James Fallon opined that while Bower’s evidence that someone else committed the crime “could conceivably have produced a different result at trial, it does not prove by clear and convincing evidence that [Bower] is actually innocent.” “Beyond a reasonable doubt” is the alleged standard at trial. But once you’ve been convicted, you’re essentially tasked with proving your innocence. Mere doubts about your guilt are no longer sufficient. In Bower’s case, Smith reports that prosecutors told jurors that they found a very rare kind of ammunition at the crime scene, one that was used only to kill people and that Bower was one of only a few people to have purchased. That must have seemed damning. It was also wrong. Amid thousands of pages of records ultimately released to the lawyers was evidence that the state knew the ammunition was nowhere near as rare as prosecutors and witnesses had suggested; that it was marketed for small game hunting and often used for practice shooting, not just for killing people; and that Bower was hardly alone in having purchased it. (Bower’s lawyers had to file multiple Freedom of Information Act requests and, ultimately, sue to get all the of the withheld documents.) There’s more......... Bower’s attorneys have argued that his extended stay on death row anticipating his execution amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. Death penalty opponents will counter that this is an argument for limiting appeals, so convicts are executed sooner. But if after 30 years this much doubt about Bowers’ guilt persists — if after 30 years the courts still haven’t adequately grappled with his poor representation at trial and the evidence that surfaced after his conviction — how could anyone possibly think justice would be served by limiting his appeals? Killing an inmate 20 or 30 years after he was sentenced is an injustice. But given that people have been exonerated after serving terms that long, killing death row residents sooner can’t be the answer. Or maybe it is. It depends on the question. If the question is, “How can we bring finality to these cases, regardless of justice?,” then swifter executions will work just fine. If the question is, “How can we be certain we aren’t executing innocents?,” the only real answer is to stop executing people. It’s cruel to make a condemned man wait 30 years before his execution. But it may be even crueler to kill him sooner.