Monday, January 24, 2011

Nobody Wanted Him To Be Killed

Leroy White
Well, Almost nobody.
The victim's family said he should get life.  The jury said he should get life.  The lawyer who prosecuted the case thinks he should do life rather than be executed.  But Leroy White was sitting on death row in Alabama.  Worse, the state was asking for an execution date, which seemed weird because he thought his case was on appeal. It wasn't, and they got the date.
White was on death row because Alabama is the only state that lets a judge override a jury's recommendation of life.  (Unlike, say, Ohio where a jury's vote for life is binding but a vote for death is a "recommendation" which the judge can, in theory, overrule.)  In White's case, the judge did that.
So White sat on death row, ran through whatever process Alabama offered, and then went into federal court.  No local attorneys for that, but attorneys from the Maryland law firm of Saul Ewing L.L.P. took up the case.  Then, in 2006, Ewing himself asked to withdraw since he'd been suspended from the practice of law.  Fortunately, another lawyer from the firm took up the case.  Unfortunately, that lawyer was James Benoit.
Benoit didn't do this sort of work.  He didn't realize that when the federal district court dismissed White's petition for writ of habeas corpus, he was supposed to appeal.  He didn't bother to talk to White or write to him about an appeal.  Or to mention that he was withdrawing from the case.  So he missed the deadline for filing an appeal.  
Enter Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative.  He filed for clemency laying out the story and attaching supportive letters from the victim's family and the prosecutor.
White Clemency                                                            
Neither the 11th Circuit nor the US Supreme Court were much concerned.  Brian Lawson in the Huntsville Times sets it out.
Both courts rejected the missed deadline argument, despite an affidavit by former attorney G. James Benoit of Maryland, who admitted withdrawing for unrelated work reasons and failing to tell White about it.
Benoit, who took over White's case after another member of his law firm was suspended from practicing law, said he doesn't believe he communicated with White during the time an appeal could be filed. He said he was unaware of rules that required him to file an appeal.
"At all times I represented Mr. White pro bono," Benoit wrote. "I formerly practiced transactional tax and corporate law and no longer practice law. I have never tried a case and have never been in a courtroom in my career."
It's January 13.  Leroy White is in a cell on death row.  Under death watch.  He's to be killed at 6 p.m.
At 4:30, they say no more visitors, no contact even with his lawyers.  SCOTUS issues a stay.  Nobody to tell White what's going on.  The stay is lifted.  At 9, they kill him.
There's nothing much new here.  White's story isn't much different from that of Cory Maples or Albert Holland or Michael Keenan in Ohio or far too many others.  Of course, for the moment, Maples and Holland and Keenan are still among the sort-of living.  Leroy White was murdered at 9 p.m. on January 13 of this year.
Clayton Crenshaw, Alabama Assistant Attorney General who heads the Capital Litigation Division of the office says it's no big deal.  After all, White didn't prove he would win an appeal, so what's the harm in not giving him one?  Crenshaw didn't say that there's no harm in just dispensing with trials and killing people when you arrest them unless they can prove that they would have been found not guilty, but the logic isn't much different.
Scott Greenfield, this morning, points to exhaustion with stories of police shootings and beatings and the like.  They fade, he says, "into an amorphous mass."   So with these tales.  Too many and they blur.  Stalin knew.
A single death is a tragedy. A million deaths is just a statistic.
So it's important to focus.  On the single death.
The jury voted to save his life.  The victim's family thought he shouldn't be executed.  The prosecutor thought he shouldn't be executed.  Leroy White was executed.  
Feel better now?
Bryan Stevenson put it better than I can.
The death penalty is not just about do people deserve to die for the crimes they are accused of, the death penalty is also about do we deserve to kill. If we don't provide fair trials, fair review procedures, when we have executions that are unnecessarily cruel and distressing, or if we have a death penalty that is arbitrary or political or discriminatory, then we are all implicated.

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