Why Isn’t Felix Free by Now?

By Pat Bliss

Felix could say he cried out for help to anyone who would listen. Ever since he found out – after arriving in prison and  having the trial transcripts read to him by his cell mate – that his sister testified against him. All the time thinking, during the trial she was helping him, because he could not discern the words spoken by the witnesses, while testifying. Felix relied on his attorney, when he would ask him, “What are they saying?”  “Everything will be OK,” the lawyer would say. He also saw his brother Frank come into the courtroom, and was told he pled the fifth and that is why he didn’t testify – nor help him go home. Felix did not know what Frank had said in his own trial a year earlier.

Felix could say that he relied on a prison law clerk’s advice when he got Frank’s first affidavit in 1989. It stated that Frank killed the victim, that Tina and Ray participated in the crime and that he, Felix, was completely innocent. The law clerk misfiled that document and it was sent back to Felix. Felix thought the regular letter from the Judge was a denial and he put the affidavit in a box, only to be remembered again in 1997 when I took his case. Felix could only read at an elementary level at that time.

You could say his legal team made a wrong decision in 1999 by withdrawing the second affidavit from Frank. In all honesty the team were under the impression the deaf issue (6th Amendment violation) was valid, as it was allowed to proceed to the Evidentiary Hearing. They did not know the Judge, and the State, already knew it was going to be stricken. Due to a turn of events, it was not the right time to present the new evidence. Time proved that.  But alas, this court action was denied.

You could say that it took too long for the inmates – to whom Frank confessed that he put his innocent younger brother in prison, so he could avoid the death penalty – to send in their affidavits. Eventually many of them were transferred to where Felix was. Most had never met Felix before. A couple of the inmates had – over the years – been in the same prison with Felix, but they never knew each other. When they met Felix, and remembered what Frank had told them, they felt obligated to write affidavits of what they heard. These came to me between 2002-2004.

You could say that at the 2006 Evidentiary Hearing, where Frank confessed to Felix’s innocence, and how Felix got tangled into the crime by Frank making him sign a pawn ticket, that the Court got it wrong, by not believing Frank’s confession. The Court did not say it didn’t believe the confession. The Order stated it did not believe Frank,  because Frank had lied at his own trial in 1982. He lied to his attorney, to the jury, and to the Judge – making him not credible in the eyes of the Court. Frank’s whole testimony was tossed out. And the appeal was unsuccessful, without an opinion. It closed the door for any more appellate procedures on the case both in state and federal court.

But I  suggest that the Courts, nor the State want to concede they have convicted an innocent man. This is not a DNA case. If it was, it would be over by now. The jury got it wrong. There was no consideration for the time factors and defense witnesses. The Judge got it wrong. Felix’s trial attorney could have done better, but he did what he could to alert the court of his client’s limited ability to help in his own defense. And he asked not to proceed to trial. The Judge knew Felix had a hearing problem, he could have ordered a sign interpreter. This case though, was unique in 1983.  Now we are in 2014.  The Governor has the authority to right that wrong – if he wants to and so far he doesn’t. And Felix’s sister, Tina – in May of this year – had her chance to right the wrong, and help her younger brother, Felix. She chose not to. We can’t blame her, really. There is no statute of limitations on a murder case, and she has enjoyed her freedom these 32+ years.

In a nutshell, this is why Felix is still in prison. Publicity helps draw attention, which can be invaluable, but it cannot get anyone out of prison. There are only three ways that can happen 1) the case goes back to court on some issue that is viable or 2) the Governor and Clemency Cabinet grants clemency or 3) the Parole Board grants parole.  Our next proceeding is the Parole Board hearing, possibly in January of 2015. The efforts of the legal team are in full force to make this third avenue a reality –  your support inspires us.  Thank you.

–Pat Bliss

Pat Bliss is a retired paralegal in criminal law. She continues to do legal work for indigent prisoner cases showing innocence. She is a Certified Community Chaplain, Certified as a volunteer for CISM (Crises Intervention Stress Management) and involved in community events.

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.

There But For the Grace of God…

By BitcoDavid

Picture this. You’re on your way somewhere, when a police cruiser comes speeding up from behind you, and lunges up onto the sidewalk, cutting you off. Just as you stop in your tracks, another cruiser does the same maneuver, behind you. A third, boxes you in by stopping curbside, on your left. In unison, the cops jump out of their cruisers, guns drawn, and yelling. “Freeze! Get on the ground! Face Down!”

Website delivered a "404." Unable to cite photo credit.

Website delivered a “404.” Unable to cite photo credit.

You’re standing there, completely stunned and unable to move – unable, even to make sense of their commands. “I said get down! Get down on the ground NOW!” You hear one say, “if you don’t lie down you scumbag, I’ll blow you in half!”

“What’s going on, Officers? What did I do?”

“Shut up! Shut up and lie down or we’ll shoot!”

You lie down. Face down on the frigid sidewalk – you lie down.

“What did I do?” You feel one large man sit on top of you, his knee digging into your back. Your arms are violently pulled behind you, and with crystal clarity, you hear the ratcheting click of the cuffs as they lock into place.

Nobody has told you anything. Nobody has even asked your name. Someone or some thing is droning out your Miranda rights. “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say, can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to…”

“… Do you understand these rights as I have read them to you?”

“I didn’t do anything. I don’t want a lawyer. I don’t want to remain silent. I didn’t do anything.”

“Just answer yes or no. Do you understand your rights?”

Defeated even before the bell, you nod your assent, accompanied with a croaked out, “yes.”

Now you’re in the back of a police cruiser. The only clear memory you have is how much it hurt when they picked you up from the ground, by pulling at your cuffed arms. A searing scorch shot through your shoulders and upper back. You thought they were pulling your arms out from the sockets.

“Can you at least tell me what I did?” You ask, as the cruiser rolls on for what seems like hours.

“Please sit back and be quiet, sir. You’ll get all that information.” You hear him lean over and say to his partner, “God, I hate the talkie ones.”

News coverage showing the number of arrests in one day in one county in Florida.http://baycountypress.com/2013/01/29/arrest-logs-and-mug-shots-for-bay-county-florida-jan-28-29-2013/

News coverage showing 40 arrests in one day in one county in Florida, 12 of which were drug related.
http://baycountypress.com/2013/01/29/arrest-logs-and-mug-shots-for-bay-county-florida-jan-28-29-2013/

A few more jokes, and good-natured conversation between them – as though you didn’t exist at all – and you’re at your first booking destination. You’re walked past rows of desks and computers, and finally placed in a cell. “Turn around,” somebody barks, and through a small slot in the barred door, your cuffs are finally removed. You feel like you just got off the Rack. Your only thought is how grateful you are to have those cuffs off.

Scared yet? If you’re a young Black male, in an urban environment, you stand a 1 in 4 chance of this happening to you.

You’re alone. You’re alone and although this nightmare has only just begun, you’re already broken. You’d say or do anything, if you thought it would help end this.

One of the cops – you recognize him. He more or less took the point on your arrest – keeps coming back to your cell and asking you pointless questions. “How old are you?” “What kind of car do you own?” “Do you live alone?” Finally, at one of his stops, you ask him, “Hey, can I go to the bathroom?”

“Gimme a few minutes, and we’ll get someone to take care of that for you.”

You wait for what seems like another hour. Finally, someone comes and tells you to turn around for cuffing. “I have to go to the bathroom,” you say as he clicks the cuffs home, and unlocks the cell door. “Yeah, yeah. We’ll get you there. Just be patient and don’t make any trouble.”

He brings you to a desk, where he removes one of the cuffs and locks it to an eyelet. You’re chained to this desk. After about 10 minutes, another officer shows up. Moving like a glacier, he takes a form out of a drawer and inserts it into a 1960s vintage, whirring and clanking, typewriter. “Name.” It’s not a question. It’s a monosyllabic utterance, drenched in boredom. You give him your name.

After you’ve given this man your address, your phone number, your identifiable marks and tattoos and the name of the first girl you ever got to 2nd with, you tell him that the other officer promised, you could go to the bathroom. He looks askance at you – his face, silently calling you a pain in the ass – and gestures to another officer. This one takes the cuff out of the eyelet, and walks you down the hall to a large lavatory. He leaves the one cuff on your wrist, but lets you go in, alone.

It’s been a good 4 hours since you were arrested.

After you’re done in the bathroom, you’re brought back to the cell. Still, no one has told you what you’re being charged with, or given you any pertinent information. To them, this is all business as usual, but to you, it’s the scariest day of your life. A simple nugget of friendly information might go a long way toward assuaging that fear.

More time passes. Eventually, someone comes, cuffs you up again and puts you in a van. You’re on your way to your second booking destination.

Entrance and egress is provided through back doors and special causeways, so you don’t even know the addresses of the places their pin-balling you in and out of. Now you’re in a much larger facility – a holding pen of some sort. Other people are in there with you. You’re actually more scared of them than you are of the cops, so you just sit quietly in your little corner and wait. They are all doing the same.

It’s now been 8 full hours since you were arrested. You’re tired, hungry, lonely, cold and afraid. Your Wallet, cellphone, car keys, watch and other personal effects were all taken from you. Your belt and shoes were taken from you. You’ve been given some foam rubber slippers, and other than pants, shirt and underwear, you have nothing. A cop comes to the door of the pen and barks out your name. You stand up, and he tells you, “You’ve been ID-ed. You’re moving into interrogation.”

Here’s where you get your proverbial one phone call. He takes you – cuffed – into a room with a large number of pay phones. He removes one of the cuffs and clicks it into another eyelet, this one anchored to the phone stall. He hands you a coin, sufficient for a 3-minute local call. Not knowing any alternative that makes sense, you call your BFF. In response to her natural question, you yell to the four winds, “Hey, where am I?” “_______________ County detention facility. _____________ ____________ Street,” someone replies from the ether. After you hang up, you wait for someone to come and unchain you from the phone.

You’re stripped, cavity searched, and issued an orange jumpsuit. You’re put in a small, ill-lit, windowless room with a large mirror on one wall. Other than 2 chairs and the table you are chained to, there is nothing in the room. You wait.

You wait.

Finally, a team of interrogators comes into the room.

It seems, the more they talk – the more trouble you’re in. They deluge you with questions, show you mountains of unrecognizable photographs, badger you and accuse you. They tag team you with the good cop/bad cop routine. They threaten you with unfathomable torments, and try to convince you that confession is your only hope. They lie to you. They use your own body’s physical needs, such as food and sleep, as weapons against you. They eat in front of you, and drink coffee. They blow cigarette smoke in your face. It may be 12, 13 even 14 hours since you’ve had anything to eat. Sign this, and we’ll go get you a sandwich.

You don’t sign. Not because you’re some sort of staunch individualist who knows that his own innocence will eventually win out, but because you don’t have a clue what the hell they’re talking about. On the way back to your newest cell, they – jokingly – threaten to throw you down a flight of concrete stairs.

It’s Friday night. The earliest you can be arraigned is Monday afternoon.

The arraignment isn’t your day in court, your chance to stand up and speak on your behalf – while a deeply committed, and brilliant country lawyer snaps his suspenders, and challenges a jury. It’s 15 minutes of people using a foreign language to speak about you in 3rd party dissociation.

At the end, bail is set. 250,000 dollars. Of course, you only have to pay 10% of that. Do you have 25 grand? No. So back to jail you go. You’re awaiting trial. Six months – maybe a year. You’re in jail, you haven’t been tried, and you’re innocent of crime.

If you’re a young Black male living in a major city,  the likelihood of your serving time at some point in your life is 28% . If you’re a young male of any ethnicity and poor, you are 150 times more likely to be arrested than if you’re wealthy.

Next time you post to an Internet site, about how prisoners wouldn’t be there if they didn’t do something to deserve it, I hope you think about my little story, here.

Now, as horrific and Kafkaesque as this story reads, try – just try – to imagine what it would be like, if you were Deaf.

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.

 

My Trip and the Latest on Felix’s Case

By Pat Bliss

Image: Pat Bliss

Image: Pat Bliss

In mid-December 2012, the Requests for Clemency were filed. This is the first step. The actual hearings may be quite some time from now. We are now engaged in informational meetings, like the one I mention below, with the Governor’s legal counsel. As we progress in this action, I will keep you posted. Thank you all sincerely for your interest in Felix Garcia’s freedom. He so much appreciates knowing he isn’t forgotten and that people really do care.

I got back late Wednesday afternoon – the day after Christmas. I had driven for 10 hours. We had a great productive trip, but one highlight was on the 19th when I had an appointment to meet with the Governor’s legal advisor and Reggie Garcia, Felix’s new clemency attorney. I drove up that morning from Clearwater, Florida. We had our meeting at the Capital and I got a tour of the Governor’s office, too.

Image: Pat Bliss

Image: Pat Bliss

The other highlight was Christmas day with Felix. He was discouraged because he could not contact me – having heard no news. After I filled him in on the latest about his case, in Tallahassee, he lit up, and his face was all smiles. I saw hope written in his eyes. That is how Felix survives. It is the continual hope for something better.

However, there was one profound moment that really touched me. We were standing in line to buy ice cream at the commissary. The windows were open, no screens but bars. We were standing next to a window and while learning of his case, he asked me, “Do you feel freedom?” I asked him what he meant. He motioned his head towards the window (Inmates are no permitted to reach out) and said, “That is freedom right there, I want that so bad.”  Oh my, it broke my heart. Just beyond those bars, was the parking lot where I would be leaving from, and all I could say was, “You’ll be out there someday – as soon as possible.”

Felix Garcia celebrating his GED in 1984 Courtesy Pat Bliss.http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2011/12/deaf-prisoners-felix-garcia

Felix Garcia celebrating his GED in 1984 Courtesy Pat Bliss.
http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2011/12/deaf-prisoners-felix-garcia

Fortunately, we were at the commissary window right then, and we got Snickers Ice Cream bars. Felix sure enjoyed his. I stayed as long as I was allowed. He gave me a big hug upon departure. I started heading north and spent the night just inside the Georgia border. Looking back – what a year this has been. Thank you, DeafInPrison.com and all our readers, fellow contributors and supporters, for being a part of it.

Pat Bliss is a retired paralegal in criminal law. She continues to do legal work for indigent prisoner cases showing innocence. She is a Certified Community Chaplain, Certified as a volunteer for CISM (Crises Intervention Stress Management) and involved in community events.

 

Help End the Felony Murder Rule

By BitcoDavid

A Follower on FaceBook brought this petition to our attention.

http://www.causes.com/actions/1696694

They bring up the following points:

The felony murder rule operates as a matter of law upon proof of the intent to commit a felony to relieve the prosecution of its burden of proving intent to kill, which is a necessary element of murder.

The intention to commit a felony does not equal the intention to kill, nor is the intention to commit a felony, by itself, sufficient to establish a charge of murder.

The felony murder rule erodes the relation between criminal liability and moral culpability in that it punishes all homicides in the commission, or attempted commission, of the proscribed felonies, whether intentional, unintentional, or accidental, without proving the relation between the homicide and the perpetrator’s state of mind.

Under the felony murder rule, the defendant’s state of mind is irrelevant. Because intent is a characterization of a particular state of mind with respect to a killing, felony murder bears little resemblance to the offense of murder except in name. First-degree murder is an arbitrary assignment.

Holding one or many criminally liable for the bad results of an act which differs greatly from the intended results is based on a concept of culpability which is totally at odds with the general principles of jurisprudence.

It is fundamentally unfair and in violation of basic principles of individual criminal culpability to hold one felon liable for the unforeseen and un-agreed to results of another felon’s action.

The basic rule of culpability is further violated when felony murder is categorized as first-degree murder because all other first-degree murders (carrying equal punishment) require a showing of premeditation, deliberation and willfulness, while felony murder only requires a showing of intent to do the underlying felony.

The purpose of creating degrees of murder is to punish with increased severity the more culpable forms of murder, but an accidental killing during the commission or attempted commission of a felony is punished more severely than a second-degree murder.

While the felony murder rule survives in Tennessee, Virginia, Florida, Massachusetts, North Carolina, West Virginia, Indiana, California and other states, the numerous modifications and restrictions of it by some states’ courts and legislatures throughout the United States reflect dissatisfaction with the basic harshness and injustice of the doctrine and call into question its continued existence.

The felony murder rule can be used by prosecutors in a manner so as to cause grossly disproportionate sentencing, depending on the circumstances of each individual case.

The felony murder rule is probably unconstitutional because presumption of innocence is thrown to the winds. The prosecution needs only to prove intent to commit the underlying felony; that
done, first degree-murder becomes part and parcel of the underlying felony because intent to commit murder does not have to be proved.

The felony murder rule is probably unconstitutional because in some cases it violates the Eighth Amendment: cruel and unusual punishment, grossly disproportionate to the crime(s) actually
committed.

The felony murder rule holds unequally involved parties equally accountable and punishable. Again, cruel and unusual punishment if you’re only the lookout for a robber who happens to kill in the process of the robbery.

they deserved it

they deserved it (Photo credit: Will Lion)

The felony murder rule violates the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of due process because no defense is allowed on the charge of first-degree murder, only the underlying felony.

The felony murder rule bears no rational relationship or equity in its two penalties, with the penalties of other murder laws, including, at times, the charge of first-degree murder.

It is no longer acceptable to equate the intent to commit a felony with the intent to kill.

Believe it or not, the American Justice System was created to keep people out of prison. The concept of innocent until proven guilty, The right to protection against self incrimination, and The 8th Amendment – all speak to the American concept of fair play, the dread of incarceration and our aversion to cruel and unusual punishment.

What could possibly be crueler than to Imprison a teenager for life – for merely being present at the scene of a crime. Maybe he was driving the car. Maybe he was the lookout. Should he be punished? Yes, of course. But can we, in good conscience, allow one stupid moment – one adolescent lapse of judgement – to cost him his entire life?

Please consider signing this petition at: http://www.causes.com/actions/1696694

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.

 

After a Break; Felix Part Five

Here’s part 5 – the beginning of disc 2 – in the interview of Felix Garcia in prison, as conducted by Jim Ridgeway and Pat Bliss. Felix is much calmer in this section, and he talks frankly about communication issues, language barriers and lip-reading. He is – by the way – an excellent lip-reader, and he provides some marvelous insight into this difficult and complex method of communication.

Again, as before stated. This is the property of Jim Ridgeway, who owns the copyright. The captions and tech work were done by me, and our wonderful and talented interpreter – without whom none of this would be possible – chooses to remain uncredited. The video cannot be copied or downloaded, but by all means, please feel free to link back to it.

The School to Prison Pipeline Is Even Bigger for the Deaf

This is an article published in the New York Times. It states that children with disabilities are more likely to be suspended from school, than are non-disabled students. But, they didn’t need a study to prove this. They just needed to read DeafInPrison.com. We’re well familiar with both the school to prison pipeline, and the difficulties disabled students – in particular, the Deaf – are faced with. They are often disproportionately punished, in both schools and in adult life.

According to a new analysis of Department of Education data, 13 percent of disabled students in kindergarten through 12th grade were suspended during the 2009-10 school year, compared with 7 percent of students without disabilities. Among black children with disabilities, which included those with learning difficulties, the rate was much higher: one out of every four was suspended at least once that school year.

Want to read more? Here’s the link:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/08/education/analysis-examines-disabled-students-suspensions.html?nl=todaysheadlines&adxnnl=1&emc=tha23_20120808&adxnnlx=1344434486-xodqHeoT4VfB4e3f4d4s1g

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