Wednesday, March 30, 2011

It Springs Eternal, Part 2 - Too Tenuous To Take a Man's Life

Just after midnight, I put up a post about how civil rights lawyer Al Gerhardstein and former Director of the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction had together written a letter to Governor Kasich urging him to stop the execution of Clarence Carter, now scheduled for April 12.
I put out the undisputed facts of the case: Carter was in the Hamilton County jail waiting to be sentenced for a murder when he killed another inmate, Johnny Allen.  And I quoted, from Alan Johnson's article in the Columbus Dispatch, these lines from the letter Gerhardstein and Collins sent to Kasich.
"It is much more likely that this was an inmate fight that got tragically out of hand," Collins and Gerhardstein wrote. "Inmate-on-inmate violence in lockups is often pursued to establish oneself as fearsome and to deter others from threatening or attacking the inmate."
Johnson has done a terrific job over the years reporting on the death penalty in Ohio.  But he's a reporter who has to distill so he grabbed a key line from the letter, the killing wasn't planned.  There's much more.  In fact, they offer 7 specific reasons why Kasich should commute the sentence.
  1. There's no evidence that the killing was planned.
  2. Carter had a knife, but didn't use it, which he surely could have if he just wanted to kill Allen.
  3. The key prosecution witnesses were snitches who traded false testimony for leniency.  Their claims that Carter started the fight with Allen are simply false.  In fact, Allen "actually provoked the battle."
  4. The jury never heard the evidence that Allen provoked the fight.  There's a good chance it would have made a difference in the verdict.
  5. The fight lasted 25 minutes.  Had guards intervened earlier, Allen would probably not have been killed.
  6. Herb Brown, the retired Ohio Supreme Court Justice who wrote the opinion affirming the conviction and death sentence believes that the sentence should be commuted to LWOP.
  7. A wealth of mitigation evidence that could have been presented was not.
LWOP, death in prison, wasn't an option for the jury.  (The sentencing choices were different then.)  It is an option for the Governor.
Still, Clarence Carter's no saint, and Johnny Allen shouldn't have been killed.  That's easy.  The question, as always, is what to do.
Governor's always profess to struggle with these questions.  Mostly, they're lying when they say that.  But sometimes, and in Ohio, . . . 
This from the penultimate paragraph of the letter.
Former Ohio Governor Michael DiSalle, chronicles his clemency decisions in, The Power of Life and Death. The murder conviction of Richard Rutherford hinged on the testimony of one witness, the girlfriend of the defendant.  She had changed her story several times and this weighed heavily on the governor, "Although I did not wish to impugn her character, her motives, or her way of life, her frequently changed stories provide evidence too tenuous to justify taking a man's life." (p. 77).
The Dispatch didn't publish the whole letter, which is a shame.  With thanks to Al Gerhardstein for sending it to me, here it is.
Gerhardstein Collins Letter

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