STORY: "Texas sees an unusual lull in executions" by reporter Jolie McCullough, published by The Texas Tribune on September 14, 2016.
GIST: The last execution in Texas was more than five months ago, the longest gap since 2008. While the hiatus eight years ago reflected a nationwide pause as the U.S. Supreme Court considered the constitutionality of lethal injection, this time the reasons for the slowdown are less clear. Execution dates are still being set, but judges and courts have been rescheduling or stopping executions. At least two judges on the state's highest criminal court say better lawyering by defense attorneys has contributed to the recent stays. Death penalty opponents are looking for a silver lining, hoping the court is more deeply scrutinizing the constitutional use of the punishment. Six men have been executed so far this year, while 13 death sentences have been halted or delayed. Six were stopped by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which recently issued four stays in four weeks. Though executions and new death sentences have decreased in recent years, it is still rare for Texas to see a gap this long between executions. Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, Texas has killed nearly five times as many people as the state with the second-most executions, Oklahoma, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. The recent bout of stays is “unusual,” said Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Elsa Alcala, who is well known for writing opinions criticizing the death penalty and how it is applied in Texas. Every stay the court issues is specific to its case, she said, but the surge in stays might indicate that defense lawyers have gotten better at presenting the right legal arguments to the court. “The defense lawyers are getting better and better,” Alcala said. “They’re able to bring things forth that have never been brought forward before.” Though unable to talk about specific cases, Alcala mentioned arguments regarding changed witness testimony and junk science. In two cases this year, Charles Flores and Jeff Wood, the court stopped executions and sent cases back to the trial courts to examine claims related to faulty or junk science.........Like Alcala, Judge Larry Meyers, who has served on the court for more than two decades, believes that perseverance by defense lawyers has impacted the recent stays. He also thinks changes in forensic science and the appeals process have affected the court. “There’s just a lot more to look at,” Meyers said. “Our court is trying to be as diligent as we can to observe all these changes. That’s why a lot of these stays of execution are being issued.” The shift isn’t limited to Texas, either. It’s a trend mirrored nationwide."
The entire story can be found at:
See also the related Texas Tribune story by reporter Jolie McCullough "Execution halted: Jeff Wood who never killed anyone" at the link below: "The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has halted the execution of Jeff Wood — a man who never killed anyone — six days before he was set to die by lethal injection. The order was issued on his 43rd birthday. The court issued a brief, two-page order Friday afternoon sending the case back to the original trial court so it can examine Wood's claim that a jury was improperly persuaded to sentence him to death by testimony from a highly criticized psychiatrist nicknamed “Dr. Death.” The order creates the possibility that Wood's death sentence could be thrown out, though not his conviction.........Wood was convicted in the 1996 murder of convenience store clerk Kriss Keeran in Kerrville, even though he was sitting outside in the truck when his friend, Daniel Reneau, pulled the trigger. During his sentencing trial, prosecutors brought in Dr. James Grigson, nicknamed “Dr. Death” because of how often he testified for the state in capital murder trials, to examine if Wood would be a future danger to society if he was given life without parole instead of death. A jury can only sentence someone to death if it unanimously agrees that person would present a danger. In his recent appeal to the Court of Criminal Appeals, Wood’s lawyers claimed Grigson lied to jurors about how many cases he had testified in and how often he found the defendant to pose a future danger. He also misled the jury by omitting the fact that he was ousted from the American Psychiatric Association, Wood's appeal claimed. Throughout his career testifying in capital murder trials, the number of times Grigson claimed to have examined defendants for future dangerousness would change randomly and often drastically, the appeal states. In the late 1980s, for example, Grigson testified in one trial that he had examined 180 to 182 cases, but seven months later, he claimed to have reviewed 156. And a year and a half later, the number jumped to ‘no fewer than 391,’ according to the appeal. But no matter the raw number of cases, he always claimed he found about, or sometimes exactly, 40 percent of defendants to not be a future danger. The order instructs the trial court to not only examine Grigson's truthfulness, but to consider Wood's argument that Grigson's opinion was based on junk science. Grigson did not examine Wood himself but based his projection of Wood's future dangerousness on a hypothetical person presented by the state. The practice was condemned by the American Psychiatric Association. The appeal also claimed that Grigson misled the jury by omitting the fact that he was ousted from the association for reasons relating to how he reviewed capital murder defendants. In 1995, the association’s Board of Trustees voted to expel Grigson after an investigation revealed that his method of predicting future dangerousness in capital cases violated the association’s practice. Three jurors from Wood’s trial have said they would have discounted Grigson’s testimony if they’d known of the expulsion, according to the appeal."
See also Texas Tribune story by reporter Jolie McCullough (May 27, 2016) on Charles Flores at the link below: "The execution of a man whose original trial included a hypnotized eyewitness was stopped by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Friday evening. Charles Don Flores, 46, was convicted in the 1998 murder of 64-year-old Elizabeth “Betty” Black during a home burglary in a Dallas suburb. He was scheduled to die next Thursday after 17 years on death row. In his latest appeal, filed to the state’s high court about two weeks ago, his attorneys argued that Flores should get a new trial because the linchpin of the state’s original case was based on the “fundamentally flawed” hypnosis of Black’s neighbor Jill Bargainer, who testified as an eyewitness in Flores' trial. Flores’ lawyers brought in Dr. Steven Lynn, an expert on hypnosis and memory, to assess the techniques and reliability of the hypnosis. “Lynn said the hypnosis was done horribly wrong ... and likely caused a false memory that identified Charles,” said Greg Gardner, Flores’ attorney. The high court agreed to send the case back to the trial court and stayed the execution. On the morning of Jan. 29, 1998, Bargainer saw two men enter Black’s house in Farmers Branch, according to court documents. She identified the driver as Richard Childs, who had recently become romantically involved with Black’s son’s common-law wife. Bargainer couldn’t clearly identify the passenger at first, even after being shown pictures of Flores, according to Gardner. She asked to be hypnotized by police in an effort to help her remember. The first time she identified Charles Flores as the passenger outside of Black’s house on the morning of her murder was on the witness stand. The jury was told Bargainer’s testimony was aided by hypnosis, and that jurors could disregard it if they thought it unreliable. In the state’s attempt to dismiss the claims in Flores’ latest appeal, the Dallas County District Attorney’s office said Lynn’s claims are not new scientific evidence, which is needed for his appeal to be considered, and that the lack of Bargainer’s testimony wouldn’t mean he’d be found innocent."
PUBLISHER'S NOTE: I am monitoring this case/issue. Keep your eye on the Charles Smith Blog for reports on developments. The Toronto Star, my previous employer for more than twenty incredible years, has put considerable effort into exposing the harm caused by Dr. Charles Smith and his protectors - and into pushing for reform of Ontario's forensic pediatric pathology system. The Star has a "topic" section which focuses on recent stories related to Dr. Charles Smith. It can be found at: http://www.thestar.com/topic/
Harold Levy. Publisher; The Charles Smith Blog.