Coping With Innocence After Death Row

By Marsha Graham

The following embedded PDF written by by Saundra D. Westervelt and Kimberly J. Cook, examines the struggles of exonerated inmates, as they attempt to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives.

Marsha Graham is the driving force behind several blogs, among them AnotherBoomerBlog. She is a good friend to DeafInPrison.com and we would be lost without her support. When she’s not blogging, she’s a committed activist and attorney.

I breathe, drive, take photographs, and write – not necessarily in that order.

Texas SC to Study Wrongful Convictions

By BitcoDavid

Causes of Wrongful Conviction Exposed by DNA in Texas - Naming and Treating.com

Causes of Wrongful Conviction Exposed by DNA in Texas – Naming and Treating.com

The envelope, Please. And the winner of the coveted Wrongie Award goes to the great state of Texas. In the past 25 years, 117 Texans have been exonerated, and Justice Wallace Jefferson of the state’s Supreme Court, wants to know why. According to the NYT, Jefferson is establishing a committee to investigate wrongful convictions. He is quoted as saying, “If innocent people are rotting in prison for crimes they did not commit, we certainly have not achieved justice for all.” Of the 117, 47 were freed by forensic DNA analysis.

DNA Exoneration - The Muslim Observer

DNA Exoneration – The Muslim Observer

Nation wide, just over 400 innocents have been exonerated using DNA. That means that the number of DNA exonerees in Texas would be a whopping 12.5% of the nation’s total.

Since the reinstatement of the death penalty, approximately 1 in 8 death row inmates has been exonerated. That’s what we know, because that number is in fact knowable. What isn’t, is how many innocent people are suffering in jails and prisons at this very moment. Worse, how many have we already executed?

According to the Web site, Facts on Exoneration, in Louisiana:

  • Exonerated inmates typically roll out of Louisiana prisons like everyone else; they get a bag of possessions and $10 from the state Department of Public Safety and Corrections.
  • Often, despite the time they’ve served, their skills have not improved because unlike inmates with preset release dates, inmates facing death or serving life without parole often aren’t allowed job training, literacy classes, or GED preparation.
  • Until exonerees complete the state’s lengthy pardon process, their convictions show up when potential employers, landlords, or creditors do criminal background checks.
  • Most exonerees have no health insurance, which allows them no way to remedy the psychological and physical toll of Louisiana’s prison system.
  • Some exonerees, if they get a bus fare on their release, take a bus to what once was home. But when they get there, no one is waiting. Often, exonerees have lost all of their possessions, their housing, and their loved ones. Their children have been raised without them; their parents have often died.
  • Putting lives back together is slow, and exonerees are on their own.
Animation of the structure of a section of DNA...

The renown Double Helix. The ” ladder’s rungs” consist of proteins and enzymes, and are pH-. The rails are a sugar called D-Ribose, and are non-ionic or neutral pH. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1992, Two young lawyers, Peter Neufeld and Barry Scheck, founded The Innocence Project. The goal of the project is to secure exonerations for  people using a form of forensic DNA analysis known as postconviction analysis. Here,  DNA from the crime scene is tested against that of the inmate – after his trial has concluded. Crime scene evidence is stored for long periods after trial by the individual states. Samples of blood, hair or skin can often be used after the fact to secure one’s innocence. What’s more, That same DNA can be used in conjunction with criminal databases such as CODIS, and the real perp can be found. Since its founding, The Innocence Project has helped exonerate over 300 wrongfully convicted prisoners.

 

To learn more, go to Facts on Post-Conviction DNA Exonerations by the Innocence Project.

BitcoDavid is a blogger and a blog site consultant. In former lives, he was an audio engineer, a videographer, a teacher – even a cab driver. He is an avid health and fitness enthusiast and a Pro/Am boxer. He has spent years working with diet and exercise to combat obesity and obesity related illness.

Eighth and Final Chapter in the Felix Garcia Video Series

By BitcoDavid

Here, at long last is chapter 8 in our video interview series with innocent Deaf inmate, Felix Garcia. Those of you who have followed us on this journey know that Felix has served 30 years – so far – for a crime he didn’t commit. DeafInPrison.com is one among many who have worked to try to gain Felix his freedom.

This video is owned and copyrighted by James Ridgeway of SolitaryWatch.com. It can’t be copied, reproduced or embedded, but you are of course welcome to share the link to this page.

Tomorrow, I will put up a post containing links to all 8 chapters in sequence. That way, those of you who haven’t seen them all, will be able to do so.

As you know, there is a petition available where you can help deliver this vital message to the Governor of Florida, the Attorney General and 2 influential cabinet members. Here’s that link.

http://www.thepetitionsite.com/453/783/026/felix-garcia-should-be-granted-a-full-pardon/

If you’d like to make a financial contribution to the court case, you can send a check or MO to

Reginald R. Garcia P.A.

PO Box 11069

Tallahassee, FL 32302

Write “For Felix Garcia” on the memo line.

This is a trust fund established to pay for incidental expenses necessary for the case. The attorney is working pro bono, and neither DeafInPrison.com, BitcoDavid BlogSites nor any of our contributors will receive any of the funds.

BitcoDavid is a blogger and a blog site consultant. In former lives, he was an audio engineer, a videographer, a teacher – even a cab driver. He is an avid health and fitness enthusiast and a Pro/Am boxer. He has spent years working with diet and exercise to combat obesity and obesity related illness.

Related articles

September at DeafInPrison.com

Proof of False Confession and DNA Testing Lead to Freeing of Innocent Death-Row Inmate in LA

I was hungry. All I wanted to do was sleep, and I was willing to tell them anything they wanted me to tell them if it would get me out of that interrogation room.

Constitutional Amendments 101

Constitutional Amendments 101 (Photo credit: Village Square)

This is was Damon Thibodeaux statement about his nine-hour interrogation on July 21, 1996 that resulted in his false confession to raping and killing his 14-year old step-cousin. He was set free last week after DNA testing proved this conviction wrong. The investigation also pointed to the police officers using tactics to get a false confession. For instance, Thibodeaux said that police threatened him with death by lethal injection and fed him facts about the crime scene that he added to his confession.

Interrogation

Interrogation (Photo credit: Klearchos Kapoutsis)

Thibodeaux spent 15 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. The Houston Chronicle reprinted a Washington Post article and quoting the reporter, “There was never any physical evidence connecting him to his cousin’s murder. But it took 15 years to reestablish that.” (Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, A4. “Deaf-row inmate freed thanks to DNA.”).

Police coercive tactics such as sleep deprivation, long hours of aggressive questioning, repetition of questions, setting up the suspect with facts from the case, making threats of death by lethal injection have been seen in other cases as well as Thibodeaux’s. This case and others point to the critical need for increased public awareness and vigilance to defend the Constitutional rights of suspects.

English: The Gas Chamber at New Mexico Peniten...

The Gas Chamber at New Mexico Penitentiary, Santa Fe. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

County Jails vs. Prison from a Paralegal Perspective

I was asked by BitcoDavid to give my impressions of jail and prison as a paralegal. From 1993 to the end of 2006, I have spent a lot of my time either going into a prison or a jail. I hear many confuse the word jail when they mean prison so let me clarify the difference. Simply put, if one is arrested and awaiting trial, is convicted or pleas to a sentence that is less than one year – that person will serve his sentence in a county jail. If after a trial or a plea, and the sentence is a year on up – that person goes to a state prison. Federal sentences are carried out a bit differently – they are mainly all served in a federal prison.

When I was first hired as a paralegal in 1996, it was primarily to be the liaison between jail and the law office. I was already involved in prison ministry and had been inside many prisons by then. Therefore, this new position seemed to fit right in.  Jails are a different animal than prisons. Between the two, just about any inmate will take a prison over a jail. Why?

Jail is a 24-hour confinement in a cell pod area – no place to walk, except for possibly one hour of recreation a day in a small area. A few other activities could be attending a religious service, going to the law library, visiting with legal counsel or reporting to medical – if necessary. In one jail where I visited clients, medium and minimum-security inmates walked to chow. Maximum-security inmates were served at their cells. Cell pods are large enclosures composed of beds and tables, or separate areas consisting of smaller cells around the walls, with tables in the middle. They’re often overflowing, with inmates sleeping on the floor – very close quarters. However, the stress is probably the worst factor. The majority of inmates are awaiting trial. Tensions are high. Mistrust is like nowhere else.  Con games are going on constantly, and some inmates become snitches for the State, hoping it will help them get a better deal. Unfortunately, it often works.

In order to get inside a jail, I needed a permission letter written by the attorney, to a Captain or Sergeant in the Sheriff’s Office who oversees visitations by legal counsel. When I would show up to see a client, and my name checked with date and time entered, I was given a badge to wear while inside. I generally had a one-hour time limit, but if I were to see more than one client, then I had however long it took to complete the visitation. One time I got so busy seeing clients (I had about 6) I didn’t watch the clock, and when I went to leave the normal way, no one was on duty. In fact, I could not see anyone down one hall or another. I felt a little panic as I forgot how to get to Intake, where new arrestees are brought in. Finally, I found Intake and explained why I was inside. Because they had seen my face before, they believed me and we had a good laugh. Maybe if this had happened after 9/11 it would not have been so funny as many rules changed after that.

Before 9/11, in the 1990s, I had a lot of leeway.  At this one jail, there were 5 floors. Each floor had 2 to 3 attorney rooms – mostly glass – where I was locked in with the inmate. Often, those rooms were occupied. No problem! On one particular floor, they had a broom closet with a metal bench type table. Yes, that is where I would go and meet with the client among mops, buckets and sanitizers! Actually, I got the job done very well, and could leave when I wanted to. I almost preferred this room. In the attorney room, I would have to ring a buzzer, and wait for a deputy to open the door so I could leave.

That was another story, waiting on the deputy to open the door – letting me out was not top priority. Several times I would be locked in for quite awhile because, for example, of shift changes. I would much rather been in the broom closet, and able to leave whenever I wanted.

Each jail has a different layout, therefore, it would behoove you to listen to directions thoroughly, the first time – one could get confused with all the hallways. Some used color-coded stripes on walls or floors to different wings. Video cameras were strategically placed.

Like I mentioned earlier, inmates would prefer prison to jail. Where jail is quite confining, prison allows more freedom. One could almost say, prison is like a community environment –everyone makes their own bed and does their own laundry. They have a job to do every day. If not working at a job, inmates can go to classes like GED, or learn a skill. Outside ministry programs like Prison Fellowship and Kairos, [Kairos Prison Ministry – ed.] offer church services. Typically, there will be a law library. Inmates walk to chow, can exercise or join a sports team, go to the canteen and make phone calls. All of this of course is regulated, but from this perspective, there is more of a life.

Then there is the emotional factor. In prison, they know they are there for a while. It could be a little over a year, or for life. Nevertheless, the tension of not knowing the immediate future is gone. They settle in, so to speak, to start a new life. This new life though, offers new challenges – just like in any new neighborhood. Every prison has its gangs, its predators, nice people and bad people.

Well, aren’t they all bad? You would be surprised at how many decent people find that they are suffering the consequences of a bad decision, for whatever reason. Of course, many are actually innocent. That is where I come in – the innocent! It has been my passion all the while, in criminal law, to help free the innocent – to see justice done.

Deaf Illinois inmates sue for access to interpreters – Peoria, IL – pjstar.com

Image

Deaf Illinois inmates sue for access to interpreters – Peoria, IL – pjstar.com.

I’m looking for an update to this story. Will keep you posted.

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