Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Donald Rumsfeld, 88, R.I.P.

As we know,
There are known knowns.
There are things we know we know.
We also know
There are known unknowns.
That is to say
We know there are some things
We do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns,
The ones we don't know. 
(From The Poetry of D.H. Rumsfeld, versification by Hart Seely)

Perhaps now he knows the unknown unknowns.  Or perhaps not.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021


 I make it a rule not to write about my cases or my clients.  Partly it's that attorney-client privilege keeps me from revealing some things.  Partly it's that I'm not interested in the self-aggrandizing (or self-abasement).  Partly it's just that some things are better left unsaid.  Partly it's . . . well, who knows.  I just don't do it.  As I said, I make it a rule.

I suspect I've broken the rule a time or two over the years, but hey, my blog, my rules, my right to violate sometime.

Anyway, I'm here today, after way too long, fully intending to write about a client of mine.  I've actually written about his case a number of times, but that was before he became my client - at a time when I did not imagine he would ever become my client.  As soon as he did, I stopped writing about him and his case. But like I said.

His name is Anthony Sowell.*  Over the course of some two and a half years he raped and murdered a number of women in Cleveland.  When he was finally arrested, police found 10 bodies that he'd buried in and around his house.  There was also a single head.  He was found guilty of something like 83 counts (many of them duplicative, but still, 83 counts) of rape and aggravated murder and related offenses.  He was sentenced to be executed 11 times.  That was just under 10 years ago.  

I represented him for most of those 10 years.  He was my client on appeal, in state post-conviction litigation, and in the civil case regarding Ohio's lethal injection procedures.  Nothing.  I was set to pass the case on.  Partly it was because I'd just retired from the Public Defender's office and mostly from the active practice of law.**  Mostly it was because it was time for new eyes.  

Last night sometime, Anthony Sowell died.  Natural causes, the prison folks say.  Some disease, the prison folks say.  Not Covid, but something, the prison folks say.  

It wasn't really a surprise.  He'd been in hospice care on death row for a few days.  Still, it would have been nice if the prison folk had thought to tell his lawyers or his family before they issued a press release.  Sigh.

Sowell's lead trial attorney released this statement:

It is sad news that Anthony has died. I spent many, many hours with Anthony talking about his life. He was a proud and good Marine. He had a brutal childhood. But he worked and wanted to be a good member of the community. He loved the Cleveland sports teams. He struggled with his mental health and nearly died from a massive heart attack. Then his mental health declined rapidly as a result. He was not a monster and not evil. He was damaged by childhood abuse and serious mental health problems. May he rest in peace.  


In The Merchant of Venice, Portia, disguised as the lawyer Balthazar, urges Shylock to be merciful.  Sure, Antonio swore out a bond to repay him or pay with a pound of flesh, and couldn't pay, but it's not too late.  The cash is now available.

The quality of mercy is not strain’d,

It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven

Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;

It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:

‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes

The throned monarch better than his crown;

His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,

The attribute to awe and majesty,

Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;

But mercy is above this sceptred sway;

It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,

It is an attribute to God himself;

And earthly power doth then show likest God’s

When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew,

Though justice be thy plea, consider this,

That, in the course of justice, none of us

Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;

And that same prayer doth teach us all to render

The deeds of mercy. 

The quality of mercy is not strained
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
’Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The thronèd monarch better than his crown.
His scepter shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptered sway.
It is enthronèd in the hearts of kings;
It is an attribute to God Himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew,
Though justice be thy plea, consider this:
That in the course of justice none of us
Should see salvation. We do pray for mercy,
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy.
But see, there's this, too.

The State of Ohio spent well over a million dollars in the futile effort to kill Anthony Sowell.  The goal wasn't to keep him off the streets.  It wasn't to keep anyone safe from him.  Prison would do that.  And as I've detailed before, there was no question that he would die in prison.  But that wasn't enough.  They didn't want his death.  A life sentence would do that.  They wanted to kill him.  Damn.  

Zack Reed, a former city councilman from the district where Sowell and his victim's lived, told

Those women never got justice. Those families never got justice. The community never got justice. Ray’s Sausage never got justice. There’s nothing good that came out of that situation.


Shylock refuses. No cash.  He wants his justice, that pound of flesh.  Fair enough, says Portia/Balthazar.  One pound, not a speck more or less.  And no blood.

Anthony Sowell is dead.  They kept him in a cage, but they didn't get their pound of flesh.  In this depraved business we call that a win.


*You can find earlier posts about his case through this link.

** I was keeping a few cases, including two death penalty appeals in the Ohio Supreme Court, but it made no sense for me to keep Sowell's.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

On the Murder of Daniel Lee

Daniel Lewis Lee was killed early this morning at the federal prison in Terra Haute, Indiana, by agents of the federal government. It was the first federal execution in 17 years.  

The Supreme Court, by a 5-4 vote declaring that Lee had almost no chance of showing that the method of execution would violate the Eighth Amendment, cheered it on.  It was, the court majority  said, its "responsibility" to ensure that Lee got killed.  And so he did.
The following is a statement from Ruth Friedman, attorney for Daniel Lee who was executed this morning:
It is important for everyone to understand exactly what happened last night to our client, Daniel Lewis Lee. At 2 AM on July 14, while the country was sleeping, the Supreme Court issued a 5-4 decision vacating the injunction that had been in place against the first federal execution in 17 years.  Within minutes, the Department of Justice moved to re-set Danny Lee's execution--for 4 AM, summoning media and witnesses back to the prison in the very middle of the night.  When it was brought to the government's attention that a court stay still remained in place, the DOJ first maintained that that stay presented no legal impediment to executing Danny Lee, but then filed an "emergency" motion to lift the stay.  
Over the four hours it took for this reckless and relentless government to pursue these ends, Daniel Lewis Lee remained strapped to a gurney:  a mere 31 minutes after a court of appeals lifted the last impediment to his execution at the federal government's urging, while multiple motions remained pending, and without notice to counsel, he was executed. 
It is shameful that the government saw fit to carry out this execution during a pandemic.  It is shameful that the government saw fit to carry out this execution when counsel for Danny Lee could not be present with him, and when the judges in his case and even the family of his victims urged against it.  And it is beyond shameful that the government, in the end, carried out this execution in haste, in the middle of the night, while the country was sleeping.  We hope that upon awakening, the country will be as outraged as we are.
 -- Ruth Friedman, attorney for Daniel Lee and Director, Federal Capital Habeas Project--July 14, 2020

Thursday, February 20, 2020


           It is a bit after 10 at night.  I am sitting at the desk in my room in a cancer ward.  I am incredibly lucky. 
            A bit over two months ago, I was taken to the emergency room.  I had nearly collapsed in the kitchen of a church where I was chopping ham, helping folks from a church in a richer parish prepare a free meal for the area’s residents.  The consensus was that I should go to the emergency room. 
            Triage.  Tests.  “Your hemoglobin is dangerously low.”  Admitted to the hospital.  Five units of blood over the next 24 hours or so.  More time, more tests.  Taken from this suburban branch of the hospital to the main campus.  More time, more tests.  Nearly discharged – but now, “Off to the cancer center.  You have acute myeloid leukemia.”
            I am confined, in total, for a month: mid-December to mid-January.  The chemotherapy worked.  I was in complete remission.  The trick now is to keep it that way, to prevent a recurrence.  Which is why, on this Thursday night, I am once again in the cancer center, where I’ve been now since Monday night – getting more chemo.  Sigh.
I expect to be discharged Saturday afternoon.  Home again, home again, jiggity jig.  And then, a few weeks later, back once more.  And once more.  And once more. Sigh.
But as I said, I am incredibly lucky. 
* * * * *
            I’ve resisted writing this, not because any of it is a secret.  The tale is widely known among friends, colleagues, family, some not-quite-strangers.  And whoever those folks might have told.  My wife and I have lists of people to whom we send e-mail updates every few weeks if there’s something new to report. 
            But a blast out to the Googleverse?  To the Blawgoshpere?  I’ve been resistant.  It’s too personal.  Too much about me for me to want to share it with the world. 
            So why now? Why tonight from this desk in this cancer ward?  For reasons I don’t exactly understand – and perhaps I should have waited until I do, but well, I didn’t – it has to do with the murder tonight of 58-year-old NicholasSutton by the good people of the State of Tennessee.

             Sutton’d been on death row for just under 34 years.  Sent there for the killing of Carl Estep while serving a life sentences for three other killings.  In 1979, when he was 19, Sutton murdered his grandmother.  Two years later he entered guilty pleas to two second degree murders.  That history isn’t pretty, but most of them aren’t.  Despite the 167 exonerations of those who’d been sentenced to die, and despite the virtual certainty that some of the 1516 men and women we’ve killed since 1977 have been factually innocent, the truth is that most did kill, some more than once, some in horrific ways. 
            And yet. 
            Look, if you’ve read much of this blog before, you know that the folks who end up on death row are, with the rarest of exceptions, severely damaged.  They have backgrounds that would curl your toenails.  They have serious mental illness.  They're intellectually disabled.  And you know that, like Nicholas Sutton, the folks we kill have been on death row for years, often decades.  The men and women we kill are no longer the ones we sentenced to die.  
          And so it is that Nicholas Sutton, killer of four, saved the lives of three corrections officers while he was on death row.  And so it is that an unusual collection of folks urged the governor and the courts to commute his death sentence. And so it is that the governor and the courts said no.  
          And Nicholas Sutton was murdered tonight, killed in the name of the good people of Tennessee, not by lethal injection which he figured would be too painful, but by the electric chair, which we know is likely to be horrifically painful.  But his choice.
* * * * * 
            As I  said, I'm incredibly lucky. 
          Not so much Nicholas Sutton.  He got to decide whether to die on the gurney or in the chair.  
           I got to decide whether to die at all.  (A doctor told me, after reading me all the potential risks that I did not have to sign the informed consent that would allow them to give me chemotherapy, "but if you don't sign, you'll die."  I signed.)
* * * * *
          Nicholas Sutton.  May he rest in peace.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

"huddled masses . . . wretched refuse . . . homeless, tempest tost"

"Send these,"  it says. 

You might think it's a bad idea, but for the record:

The New Colossus
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Image result for statue of liberty

Friday, August 10, 2018

we have stopped being a civilized nation

Shortly before 8 Thursday night, Bily Ray Irick died.  He was killed by prison guards in revenge for the rape and murder of 7-year-old Paula Dyer 32 years ago.

Earlier on Thursday, and without addressing the merits of his requests, the Supreme Court denied the last effort to stop or delay the killing.  Sonia Sotomayor dissented.  

In refusing to grant Irick a stay, the Court today turns a blind eye to a proven likelihood that the State of Tennessee is on the verge of inflicting several minutes of torturous pain on an inmate in its custody, while shrouding his suffering behind a veneer of paralysis. I cannot in good conscience join in this “rush to execute” without first seeking every assurance that our precedent permits such a result. No. M1987–00131–SC–DPE–DD (Lee, J., dissenting), at 1. If the law permits this execution to go forward in spite of the horrific final minutes that Irick may well experience, then we have stopped being a civilized nation and accepted barbarism. I dissent. 

Saturday, June 16, 2018

May 6, 1986.  Warren, Ohio.  Raymond and Doris Montgomery.  He 77, she 80.  Both dead.  Stabbed to death in their home.

Later that day, Charles Lorraine confessed to killing and robbing the couple.  Then he went to a bar and, with some of the money he took, bought drinks for some friends. It was his last day of freedom.  He was 19 years old then.  He'll be 52 in October.

December 9, 1986, seven months and three days after the killings, Lorraine was sentenced to be killed.  He's been on death row ever since:  32 years, 1 month, and 10 days as I type this just after midnight the morning of June 16.

I don't know Charles Lorraine.  I never represented him.  I don't know much about him.  I do know this.  It's been 32 years, 1 month, and 10 days.  He was 19 then.  He'll be 52 in October.

Oh, and I know this.  Yesterday morning, the Ohio Supreme Court, without dissent, granted the motion of the Trumbull County Prosecutor and set a date for Lorraine to be killed:  March 15, 2023.  
Nearly 5 years from now.  More than 36 years from the day he was sentenced to die.  Nearly 37 years from the date of the killings.

Let's do that again.

  • March 15, 2023.  
  • Nearly 5 years from now.  
  • More than 36 years from the day he was sentenced to die.  
  • Nearly 37 years from the date of the killings.

And I do know that I'm pretty much a broken record here, but I gotta say it:  Even if you believe in the death penalty, even if you believe that it can be morally justified or (and?) that it discourages murder.  Even if you think it's a damn good idea as a matter of principle.  Even if all that.
36 fucking years?
My god.  What's the point?  And who, exactly, are we killing?  I mean, whatever else, the Charles Lorraine of today is not the Charles Lorraine who murdered Doris and Raymond Montgomery on May 6, 1986, not the Charles Lorraine who was sentenced to die on December 9 of that year.  36, nearly 37 years, they make a difference.  Who we were is not who we are.

And who we'll kill is not who we sentenced to die.

Really, it's enough.    

Doris and Raymond Montgomery
Charles Lorrine