Death row – How Many Are Actually Innocent? by Kricket Schurz

 

 

 

 

I started to post this is another thread where we have been discussing the system. Instead, I have decided to open a thread that discusses the realities of the death penalty after someone was seemingly shocked by my statement that hundreds of innocent people reside on the rows around the country. Once I would have reacted the same way, but today I know far too much to ignore what are blatant truths.

I have came across several figures that would indicate that far more innocent people are convicted in all felony cases than anyone wants to believe. This includes that even the government would not argue that 100,000 of the 2.5 million residing in cells did not commit the crimes of which they were convicted. Supposedly, that small percentage should not irk American citizens at all, because it is the price of keeping us safe. It does concern me, however, because I have to wonder just how many more than that figure do reside in cells. Things are not as the majority of us want to believe.

The facts include that today 90% of convictions come by plea bargain and once the plea is accepted guilt will never be disputed. However, this figure includes what is known to be a very large number of people who fear proceeding to court with court-appointed counsel and so admit to crimes that they did not commit in order to assure parole in a few years rather than a lifetime lost to prison. While many will say that they would never admit to a crime that they did not commit, they have never sat with a prosecutor and lead detective breathing fire over them as assuring them that there is an eyewitness, forensic evidence and a host of other evidence that is going to assure conviction. At the same time the promise is made that say ten years for a plea will be multiplied to twenty-five without parole if you decide to waste their time at trial. For those facing death the choice can be execution or possibly life with the chance of parole which can be one hell of a decision for someone twenty years old whether they committed the crime or not.

Age is the next factor to consider. The fact is that most of those convicted are between 18 and 25 years of age. They are extremely young and many have never been in any serious trouble. They are alone with these prosecutors and detectives who declare themselves God and Satan combined and they are threatened, coerced and intimidated despite the denials by those who play the game. Added to this they are in the vast majority of cases poor and very likely know at least one person who the system handed a raw deal after a court-appointed attorney failed to do anything. Another fact is that coerced confession is a common cause of wrongful conviction and youth are the most likely to be coerced into those confessions.

Toss out the rosy conception that Miranda rights means counsel will show up to protect you, because it just ain’t so. It might help on appeal if your lucky ten years after the fact, but there a thousand ways for a detective to convince a trial judge that he bent the rules the legal way when he spent ten hours threatening a kid with no attorney present to get the confession that will be used to convict.

The federal courts overturned 60% of all death cases that came before them for consideration of trial errors and constitutional violations before the Antiterrorism Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) went into effect a decade ago. These cases gained relief for errors that caused a less than fair trial proceeding to result in a conviction. Prosecutors of course claim that it was simply bleeding-heart judges responsible, but I began to read decisions and look into cases. It was not the bad decisions of judges that overturned so many cases. It was the appalling acts of attorneys both defense attorneys who are either unqualified, uncaring or both and prosecutors with no moral scruples whatsoever to deter them in their determination to advance politically no matter how many lives they sacrifice to get to the top. Sadly, the AEDPA now prevents almost all cases that deserve attention from ever being considered at the federal level despite even the most blatant and grievous of errors.

These cases are just by nature bad. I have found figures in my research that estimates 1 in 8 death cases likely involves someone wrongfully accused of murder. Some say that there are far more. My own examination of the facts that I can locate concerning assorted cases has convinced me that to say 1 of 10 cases likely involve innocence is not an unreasonable estimation especially in considering that is far below the rate of error at trial determined to occur at the federal level once the cases left the hands of the courts responsible for conviction and those filled with the cronies of the state judges who allowed bad convictions in the first place.

Because people do not hear it, they do not believe it. But then that too is a part of the game that assures that the truth remains hidden. Even in cases where publicity would help the convicted, the court-appointed attorneys most often do not have the ability to either generate the interest of the press or if they do to be able to use it to the best interests of their client. Just getting a reporter to listen to a claim of innocence requires no less than a miracle and in most cases it can actually hurt an appeal to draw attention to the case, because the judge who might rule in your favor in the shadows will not if the public is going to see him as less than tough on crime. Many who are innocent even if they tell their attorneys never speak to others of it for fear of hurting their appellate case. Attorneys know the best shot is on appeal and so they can basically ignore innocence as a strategy decision. Then, after years some will not even want to pursue the issue for knowing that there is no life left for them outside. Many on the rows simply welcome death, because they have lost everything no matter the extent of their guilt.

This is a no win situation if the defendant is poor. If a death case goes to court, the prosecution is willing to commit hundreds of thousands minimum if not millions to convict. At the same time, the defense will be allowed the barest minimum if not denied every request for experts and other necessities for a proper defense. The prosecutor can make deals with witnesses in exchange for testimony, but if the defense were to do the same it is labeled bribery. The state also gets to play all of those games that most people believe cannot happen like using evidence seized without a warrant, allowing hearsay testimony from a witness who is less than credible to begin with and making improper statements to the jury that offers testimony in itself that the person before them is assuredly demented. Best of all in a majority of cases this will take place with the blessing of a trial judge who was once himself a prosecutor.

This is the game that is played and I do say to anyone doubting that hundreds are wrongfully convicted residing on the rows around the country, from my very limited research I can assure you that at least three are waiting to die in Arizona who killed no one. In the time that they have languished there, 3 others have been released. Two left with the evidence in their cases proven to have been wrong, but with both compelled to accept a plea of no contest for their very legitimate fear of reconviction by the use of more bad evidence. The third, Ray Krone was fully exonerated and proved prosecutor misconduct and police malfeasance lead to his wrongful death sentence. Could I afford the hundreds of thousands of dollars that it would take to merely look into all of the cases, I am certain that it could be established that many others were railroaded as well.

The other three that I speak of were convicted by the same prosecutor, Noel Levy, who was responsible for convicting Krone and one of the others freed. I have strong suspicions in several other cases that I simply cannot find enough material on without a lot of cash. One is a case that shook the Phoenix community and supposedly involves one of the most heinous of killers. However, if you look at the actual facts detectives completely ignored the most obvious suspect just as they did in Krone’s case. The difference in Krone’s case is that Krone had no criminal record, but the other was considered a really bad seed to begin with. It seemed routine for Maricopa County detectives during the 80’s and 90’s not look at the evidence first, but to first decide who to persecute then look only for the evidence that would convict their chosen. Given that most they chose had prior records, conviction was too easy.

Dave brought up Debra Milke. From what I can find concerning her case, former Phoenix Detective Armando Saldate who also helped to convict my husband falsified his report to assure that Debra was convicted. Noel Levy again was the prosecutor. There is no solid evidence against her, nothing, nil – zilch! Her case shows the most appalling case of investigation bias and a prosecutor’s desire for headlines at all cost that can be imagined.

Common assumption is that at least in a majority of cases, the verdict is right. However, I have researched and read for years now and that assumption is only correct if the area in question is led by officials who actually place the concept of justice over their personal careers. Sadly, as our last U.S. president proved that sort of integrity is difficult to find. I took criminal investigation under a brilliant instructor who heads his department at the college after his quitting a promising career as a prosecutor. He had already dedicated many years to the profession, but he had too tough a time with what he was forced to do that went against his conscious. What he taught me proves that without doubt the detectives in four of these Arizona cases that I have considered had no desire whatsoever to find the guilty party. Instead, they chose the easiest target and built a case around them as disregarding the actual evidence.

In all four of these cases, they only wanted to win and they did with falsified confessions, perjured police and expert testimony and in every case but one by making deals with those who should have been first in line as suspect, but who would walk free of the crimes completely for their damning testimony against another. Exculpatory witnesses who would have prevented conviction were allowed to disappear and crime scenes were trampled before a thorough investigation was done, but then detectives offer conclusions at trial as if their sites were pristine. No interrogations or interviews were taped or recorded and the notes that should have been retained were said to have been destroyed for a lack of space to store them, though people’s lives hung in the balance. Not surprisingly, reports are later disputed by not only the defendants, but by other witnesses, as well. Still, the detectives testimony is believed over all.

The supposed mistakes made in these four cases would not happen if a couple of honest and dedicated criminal justice freshman were assigned a hundred such cases. Those rookies would have also first looked to other suspects and likely kept four actual killers off the street by doing so. Of course, the way that the circumstances unfolded conviction of those who walked would have been far more difficult than railroading the chosen even if Levy had assured that the defendants had the worst defense attorney possible and no other resources to fight back as was done to those convicted.

As for Debra’s case, her ex had long been threatening her life and the life of her young son. He had been placed under a restraining order just before the murders. He also just coincidentally had the cash on hand to travel and decided to journey more than a thousand miles to Texas to visit his brother at the time of the murder. He did so despite his hanging at the bars and using what little money that he came across to support a drug habit rather than working being one of the reasons that Debra had recently divorced him. Unbelievably, Debra was said to have killed her son for 5,000 dollars, after she spent years working her way up in insurance offices while her husband enjoyed life. It was completely ignored that she had just moved to Tempe in order to take a job as an insurance writer. She had the position that she had struggled to have and that would have left her and Christopher set for life as her ex knew.

Detectives supposedly never considered the possibility that he had the boy killed to get back at Debra, however. They also ignored that he just coincidentally in his first interview that was done by phone, immediately pointed the finger at the man convicted of executing a four year old, Roger Scott, and that as he did, he not only placed the right caliber gun in the killer’s hand, but put Scott at the location of the murder prior to the act. Outrageously, supposedly seasoned detectives also overlooked that he also put himself beside Scott at that target practice session in the place where the murder occurred. These details were not released to the press at the time so that the ex who had threatened to harm the child provided such detailed information in looking to focus attention on another should have received scrupulous consideration by detectives, but instead it seems to have been completely disregarded.

Instead, coincidentally again, Saldate’s shooter allegedly said that Debra was involved on the way back to the station after he had taken them to where the body was located. Yet, there are still the two biggest coincidences of all to consider. First, it seems to be that while Saldate heard this declaration that Debra paid to have Christopher murdered and put it in his report, the detective in the car with him never mentioned such an important detail in the report that he wrote of the drive to and from the crime scene. Second, though Debra is said to confess to Saldate, her interview was not recorded even after Saldate’s superiors specifically instructed him to do so. Neither was it witnessed or even signed by Debra herself. In fact, Debra who has from the start maintained her innocence immediately denied having confessed after learning of Saldate’s claim that she had poured her heart out to him from her attorney.

There is much more to the story. Debra’s site at www.debbiemilke.com covers most of it and I have looked through enough court documents in her case and others to assure you that what is reported there is true.

Maricopa County has been responsible for appalling acts of misconduct and subsequent injustice, but the officials fight every effort to correct these cases. Krone was taken to trial three times by Levy before finally proving that the malicious prosecutor and bad seed among detectives knowingly used falsified evidence all three times. Jim Rix’s book “Jingle Jangle” details Krone’s plight and will give anyone who doubts that our so-called representatives knowingly convict the innocent a whole new perspective on things.

Debra, my husband who is a Native American and also Saldate’s victim, a black man whose case stinks to high heaven and who Saldate also seems to have railroaded and another man who was not only an escaped Oklahoma inmate, but was known to associate with gay males and who is part Native American himself were all arrested within a three week period in December 1989. Levy was responsible for two of the cases and another prosecutor who it seems may have been discriminatory in his choice of death row candidates during that era handled the case of the black man and it seems possibly the other, but I would have to check to be certain. Not surprisingly at all, each defendant required court-appointed defense counsel and each received the worst representation possible. All two decades later await the executioner, but there is not a case among them that offers any credible evidence.

That is they are not reliable unless you believe in such things as a perfect shoe print left in a pile of loose sugar in a kitchen floor, because the murderer took the time to go into what is described as an absolutely filthy kitchen to make himself a sandwich while at the scene. Or you take as reliable an eyewitness who was not present, but who allegedly called and was told by the victim that there was a visitor with the first name only given and with that name so common that it is certain that many thousands of others live in Phoenix and most likely had detectives checked at least one within a stone’s throw of the victim’s apartment. Of course, we also have to take into account that though ignored, there are reasons that the detectives should have considered this upright citizen suspect from the start.

But then in Phoenix it is apparently plausible that a co-defendant who admittedly starts his interview with lies, just suddenly two lines later in the police report is telling the entire truth to Saldate. Amazingly, he is doing so just because Saldate calmly says to him that he wants the truth now. Then, he is also supposedly telling the truth in court, though his testimony is changed yet a third time. Of course, you have to know that this one was charged with capital murder and walked on five years probation for his stories to get the clear picture.

Supposedly its even believable that an expert who testifies to a PGM match in blood testing told the truth, when his written report shows that there was no PGM found. Sadly, the defense attorney never caught that little detail or dozens of other discrepancies and outright lies. It is also reliable evidence when a witness who did not come forward at first, days after the fact claims that on the night of the murder she saw a man who she had long known throw away the sweater that matches the description of the one that the assailant wore and a gun that the prosecutor contends was used in commission of the crime though it is not found for that line of reasoning to be confirmed. Of course to get the jest of her change of heart, you have to first consider that Saldate coincidentally comes up with this witness when there was no other real chance of solving the case and then that the witness’ boyfriend who was very possibly facing trial for the capital crime got a real cushy deal for this girl’s sudden desire just to be a good citizen.

People simply do not get the system to understand that these cases are not the exception to the rule. This is the rule with the death penalty. I did not understand until I researched and read on and off for years. Now I get clearly that there is nothing that advances a career faster for cops or prosecutors than convictions in these cases and conviction is all too easy against the poor who have prior records and in a case that shocks the public to begin with.

Saldate received an accommodation not long after his wins in these cases and you can bet Levy was looking to wear the judicial robes, when he was so busy railroading people. It would not surprise me if he still someday sits the bench even after Krone proved what he did. After all, he was not disbarred for his intentionally trying to see innocent people executed. People truly do not get that the death penalty has nothing to do with justice, but the truth is that we should all be scared as hell. It took Krone far more than a quarter million despite many experts and attorneys working probono to prove his innocence. I can assure you my husband is no saint, but he killed no one. Still, just as more than four thousand other death row inmates of which almost every single one is indigent and of which many are innocent, my husband could not raise the money to have an actual chance in court in ten lifetimes and certainly not in this one. He is one of Levy’s victims who will someday meet the executioner.

Sadly, this is justice in America and it remains hidden because the poor cannot fight back…

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