Is Rick Perry Ready to Execute an Innocent Man?
As soon as Rick Perry threw his hat into the 2012 electoral ring, anti–death penalty critics brought up his staggering execution record as governor of Texas: 234 prisoners have been put to death under Perry’s watch, a number of whom had serious innocence claims. Most famous among them is Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed in 2004 and whose case opened up an investigation that Perry has taken aggressive—and largely successful—measures to squash. But a lesser-known case could also haunt the governor if it reaches his desk: that of Larry Swearingen, convicted and sent to death row for the kidnapping, rape and murder of a 19-year-old college freshman named Melissa Trotter in 1998. Like Willingham, Swearingen was convicted largely on circumstantial evidence and a history of run-ins with the law. But Willingham was convicted based on the inexact science of arson investigations, whose flawed assumptions have been slow to evolve. The scientific evidence in Swearingen’s case, medical experts say, is beyond dispute—and it proves his innocence.
There’s another difference: Swearingen is still alive.
Swearingen was scheduled to die on August 18. But his execution was stayed in late July by the state’s highest criminal court, the notoriously pro-prosecution Court of Criminal Appeals, in order to have the trial court consider new evidence: Histological samples of Trotter’s cardiac, lung and vascular tissue that a growing number of doctors, including well-respected Texas pathologists, say show conclusively that Swearingen could not have killed Trotter.
But is that enough? The Swearingen case has raised questions about the intersection of science and the law: how courts and cops view science, and how decisions are made about what kind of scientific proof is “good enough” to override the type of circumstantial evidence that lends itself to the finality of conviction that Texas courts crave—especially in death penalty cases.
Three days after Trotter disappeared, police arrested Swearingen on outstanding warrants. After her body was found, Swearingen was charged with capital murder—according to the state, Swearingen kidnapped, raped and then murdered Trotter by strangling her with a single leg of pantyhose, cut from a pair, before dumping her body in the forest. Prosecutors sought, and got, the death penalty.
Yet Swearingen maintains his innocence, and his date with death has been postponed three times by the courts. At issue is the science surrounding Trotter’s death, specifically, the science of decomposition. Doctors say the histological evidence shows conclusively that Trotter had not been dead for twenty-five days when her body was found. Samples of Trotter’s tissue—taken almost three weeks after Swearingen was locked up—are consistent with that of a person dead less than a week. Despite doctors’ insistence that Trotter could not have been dead and her body left outside for nearly a month, Texas authorities remain unconvinced that this proves Swearingen’s innocence. Trotter’s parents, too, remain certain that Swearingen killed their daughter. “How long can they examine this evidence?” Sandra Trotter asked in the Houston Chronicle this summer. “From the victims’ rights view, when does this end?”
Courts in Texas have proven on numerous occasions that they do not consider scientific evidence as representing a gold standard for reliability. This has happened, infamously, in DNA cases; DNA science is considered so reliable that courts rely on it in the face of whatever circumstantial or eyewitness evidence would contradict it. In Texas, that has led so far to the exonerations of forty-four men, most convicted of sexual assaults—and more than one who had been sentenced to death.
The doctors in the Swearingen case are adamant that the science in question—histology and gross anatomy, the basic building blocks for modern medicine—cannot be dismissed. If the court rejects this evidence, they argue, they are turning their backs on the basic work done by the state’s forensic pathologists, tasked with determining both cause and manner of death, in thousands of cases each year.
So where does that leave Perry? If it turns out the man is innocent but is executed, Governor Perry looks bad, and if he’s guilty (which doesn’t seem likely) and is executed, President Obama gets the benefit of votes from people who oppose the death penalty.
Even if Perry does stop the execution, death penalty opponents will accuse him of almost executing an innocent man.
An execution could be used to make Governor Perry look tough, or he could grant clemency to court the moderate vote… all his other executions ensure that he has the pro-death penalty vote. If he was going to grant clemency, though, he would have done it by now… and made it a big public relations event.
- Will Rick Perry put an innocent man to death? (cbsnews.com)
- Rick Perry set to carry out one or two more questionable executions as candidate (salon.com)
- politico.com: Rick Perry and the death penalty. A Presidential campaign issue? (criminaljusticesection.wordpress.com)
- Rick Perry’s Big Death Penalty Decision – Mother Jones (news.google.com)
- Rick Perry’s Execution Record Includes The Deaths Of Juveniles And The Mentally Disabled (kaystreet.wordpress.com)
- Rick Perry Deserves Scrutiny For His Role In The Execution Of Cameron Todd Willingham (huffingtonpost.com)
- The devil’s right hand (atlmalcontent.wordpress.com)
Who says the elusive Bulger still has no influence in Boston?
U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz says prosecutors consider a later 1999 indictment charging Bulger with 19 murders the stronger case, since faces life in prison on those charges. Doesn’t he also face life if you add the other charges? Maybe several lives.
Why take a chance with a guy who already eluded them for 16 years?
- Whitey Bulger Mug Shot: Released, White (thehollywoodgossip.com)
- Strapped for cash, will Bulger divulge assets? (cbsnews.com)
- Bulger: The “Hannibal Lecter of South Boston” (cbsnews.com)
- The “Departed” Returns to Boston: A Sordid Tale of Mobster Whitey Bulger & the FBI (jonathanturley.org)
- FBI Arrests Boston Mob Boss James ‘Whitey’ Bulger in California (blippitt.com)
It took 16 years with James “Whitey” Bulger on top of the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list, but yesterday they grabbed the former gang leader, alleged murderer (wanted for 19 killings) and all-around bad Bostonian in Santa Monica, CA.
Bulger had a $2 Million reward on his head… the highest ever offered on an FBI wanted criminal. His girlfriend, Catherine Greig, also captured had a $100 Thousand reward attached to her.
At one time Bulger was an FBI informant and used that position as a means of actually committing robberies and murders and getting his competition out of the way. His brother, William “Billy” Bulger had been a well-known Boston politician and, later, the President of the University of Massachusetts, and admittedly withheld information on Whitey for years,
eventually costing him his job.
However, it was only recently after years of embarrassment with books and movies made about Whitey that the FBI actually stepped up it’s investigation. Recently they started focusing on Greig, a former Dental Hygienist known to frequent beauty parlors and plastic surgeons, as a means of capturing Whitey. Recently, in this context, the released a video in cities where Bulger had been spotted over the years:
There has been no mention of who, if anyone, received any of the awards for information leading to Bulger and Greig.
- Boston crime boss James ‘Whitey’ Bulger nabbed here * (laobserved.com)
- James “Whitey” Bulger busted in Santa Monica! Yep, one of the FBI’s MOST WANTED CROOKS OF ALL TIME IS CUFFED AND STUFFED! SURFS UP WHITEY! (economy4abc.blogspot.com)
- London: FBI TV Blitz Targets Partner Of Most Wanted Boston Gangster ‘Whitey Bulger’ (lostchildreninthewilderness.wordpress.com)
- FBI’s TV Advert For ‘Most Wanted’ Partner (news.sky.com)
- FBI to discuss new plan to catch James Bulger (boston.com)
- 6.21.2011 … summer solstice meant longest day trying to get my car to pass inspection … including going to dmv for a waiver when the computers were down … then having it pass on its own. (teaguenc.wordpress.com)
Jury deliberations entered a second day today in the multiple murder trial of Steven Hayes for the 2007 invasion of the Petit family home in Cheshire, CT, that ended in three deaths. They have now come back with the verdict which has found Hayes guilty on 16 of 17 counts (apparently planned fire starting was what he was found not guilty of, but the judge says that hardly matters…he was found guilty of Murder of all three victims.) Hayes will now face a second court appearance in the penalty trial, where capital punishment will be decided or not.
Hayes was tried separately from his partner, Joshua Komisarjevsky, who has not yet faced a jury.
Connecticut has not been a heavy capital punishment state, and the next court appearance could last another four weeks to see if life in prison is held over death by injection. Dr. William Petit has made it clear tht he prefers the death penalty and will be one of the witnesses in the coming court appearance.
I have not written much about the Petit case, which happened after I had moved out of Connecticut. However, I feel somewhat connected to it as Bill Petit was my regular endocrinologist for a number of years and he is a man I have terrific respect for. He and his family were well known for their charitable work in the State and the loss of his wife and daughters was a tragedy which defies understanding.
I understand CBS is filming a 48 Hours program on the whole case and is covering the trial. I don’t think I can bring myself to watch it. Due to this crime the world has effectively lost a great doctor (since, as I understand it, Bill Petit has pretty much given up his practice), and a great doctor has lost a wonderful family. My heart goes out to him.
Recognizing the Creative Commons Attribute on this article from Truthout, I am reproducing it in full.
I dare anyone to read it and not be ready to pull all troops out of the Middle East now.
This is disgusting.
– Bill T.
Wednesday 07 April 2010
On Monday, April 5, Wikileaks.org posted video footage from Iraq, taken from a US military Apache helicopter in July 2007 as soldiers aboard it killed 12 people and wounded two children. The dead included two employees of the Reuters news agency: photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen and driver Saeed Chmagh.
The US military confirmed the authenticity of the video.
The footage clearly shows an unprovoked slaughter, and is shocking to watch whilst listening to the casual conversation of the soldiers in the background.
As disturbing as the video is, this type of behavior by US soldiers in Iraq is not uncommon.
Truthout has spoken with several soldiers who shared equally horrific stories of the slaughtering of innocent Iraqis by US occupation forces.
“I remember one woman walking by,” said Jason Washburn, a corporal in the US Marines who served three tours in Iraq. He told the audience at the Winter Soldier hearings that took place March 13-16, 2008, in Silver Spring, Maryland, “She was carrying a huge bag, and she looked like she was heading toward us, so we lit her up with the Mark 19, which is an automatic grenade launcher, and when the dust settled, we realized that the bag was full of groceries. She had been trying to bring us food and we blew her to pieces.”
The hearings provided a platform for veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan to share the reality of their occupation experiences with the media in the US.
Washburn testified on a panel that discussed the rules of engagement (ROE) in Iraq, and how lax they were, to the point of being virtually nonexistent.
“During the course of my three tours, the rules of engagement changed a lot,” Washburn’s testimony continued, “The higher the threat the more viciously we were permitted and expected to respond. Something else we were encouraged to do, almost with a wink and nudge, was to carry ‘drop weapons’, or by my third tour, ‘drop shovels’. We would carry these weapons or shovels with us because if we accidentally shot a civilian, we could just toss the weapon on the body, and make them look like an insurgent.”
Hart Viges, a member of the 82nd Airborne Division of the Army who served one year in Iraq, told of taking orders over the radio.
“One time they said to ﬁre on all taxicabs because the enemy was using them for transportation…. One of the snipers replied back, ‘Excuse me? Did I hear that right? Fire on all taxicabs?’ The lieutenant colonel responded, ‘You heard me, trooper, ﬁre on all taxicabs.’ After that, the town lit up, with all the units ﬁring on cars. This was my ﬁrst experience with war, and that kind of set the tone for the rest of the deployment.”
Vincent Emanuele, a Marine rifleman who spent a year in the al-Qaim area of Iraq near the Syrian border, told of emptying magazines of bullets into the city without identifying targets, running over corpses with Humvees and stopping to take “trophy” photos of bodies.
“An act that took place quite often in Iraq was taking pot shots at cars that drove by,” he said, “This was not an isolated incident, and it took place for most of our eight-month deployment.”
Kelly Dougherty – then executive director of Iraq Veterans Against the War – blamed the behavior of soldiers in Iraq on policies of the US government.
“The abuses committed in the occupations, far from being the result of a ‘few bad apples’ misbehaving, are the result of our government’s Middle East policy, which is crafted in the highest spheres of US power,” she said.
Michael Leduc, a corporal in the Marines who was part of the US attack on Fallujah in November 2004, said orders he received from his battalion JAG officer before entering the city were as follows: “You see an individual with a white ﬂag and he does anything but approach you slowly and obey commands, assume it’s a trick and kill him.”
Bryan Casler, a corporal in the Marines, spoke of witnessing the prevalent dehumanizing outlook soldiers took toward Iraqis during the invasion of Iraq.
“… on these convoys, I saw Marines defecate into MRE bags or urinate in bottles and throw them at children on the side of the road,” he stated.
Scott Ewing, who served in Iraq from 2005-2006, admitted on one panel that units intentionally gave candy to Iraqi children for reasons other than “winning hearts and minds.
“There was also another motive,” Ewing said. “If the kids were around our vehicles, the bad guys wouldn’t attack. We used the kids as human shields.”
In response to the WikiLeaks video, the Pentagon, while not officially commenting on the video, announced that two Pentagon investigations cleared the air crew of any wrongdoing.
A statement from the two probes said the air crew had acted appropriately and followed the ROE.
Adam Kokesh served in Fallujah beginning in February 2004 for roughly one year.
Speaking on a panel at the aforementioned hearings about the ROE, he held up the ROE card soldiers are issued in Iraq and said, “This card says, ‘Nothing on this card prevents you from using deadly force to defend yourself’.”
Kokesh pointed out that “reasonable certainty” was the condition for using deadly force under the ROE, and this led to rampant civilian deaths. He discussed taking part in the April 2004 siege of Fallujah. During that attack, doctors at Fallujah General Hospital told Truthout there were 736 deaths, over 60 percent of which were civilians.
“We changed the ROE more often than we changed our underwear,” Kokesh said, “At one point, we imposed a curfew on the city, and were told to fire at anything that moved in the dark.”
Kokesh also testified that during two cease-fires in the midst of the siege, the military decided to let out as many women and children from the embattled city as possible, but this did not include most men.
“For males, they had to be under 14 years of age,” he said, “So I had to go over there and turn men back, who had just been separated from their women and children. We thought we were being gracious.”
Steve Casey served in Iraq for over a year starting in mid-2003.
“We were scheduled to go home in April 2004, but due to rising violence we stayed in with Operation Blackjack,” Casey said, “I watched soldiers firing into the radiators and windows of oncoming vehicles. Those who didn’t turn around were unfortunately neutralized one way or another – well over 20 times I personally witnessed this. There was a lot of collateral damage.”
Jason Hurd served in central Baghdad from November 2004 until November 2005. He told of how, after his unit took “stray rounds” from a nearby firefight, a machine gunner responded by firing over 200 rounds into a nearby building.
“We fired indiscriminately at this building,” he said. “Things like that happened every day in Iraq. We reacted out of fear for our lives, and we reacted with total destruction.”
Hurd said the situation deteriorated rapidly while he was in Iraq. “Over time, as the absurdity of war set in, individuals from my unit indiscriminately opened fire at vehicles driving down the wrong side of the road. People in my unit would later brag about it. I remember thinking how appalled I was that we were laughing at this, but that was the reality.”
Other soldiers Truthout has interviewed have often laughed when asked about their ROE in Iraq.
Garret Reppenhagen served in Iraq from February 2004-2005 in the city of Baquba, 40 kilometers (about 25 miles) northeast of Baghdad. He said his first experience in Iraq was being on a patrol that killed two Iraqi farmers as they worked in their field at night.
“I was told they were out in the fields farming because their pumps only operated with electricity, which meant they had to go out in the dark when there was electricity,” he explained, “I asked the sergeant, if he knew this, why did he fire on the men. He told me because the men were out after curfew. I was never given another ROE during my time in Iraq.”
Emmanuel added: “We took fire while trying to blow up a bridge. Many of the attackers were part of the general population. This led to our squad shooting at everything and anything in order to push through the town. I remember myself emptying magazines into the town, never identifying a target.”
Emmanuel spoke of abusing prisoners he knew were innocent, adding, “We took it upon ourselves to harass them, and took them to the desert to throw them out of our Humvees, while kicking and punching them when we threw them out.”
Jason Wayne Lemue is a Marine who served three tours in Iraq.
“My commander told me, ‘Kill those who need to be killed, and save those who need to be saved’; that was our mission on our first tour,” he said of his first deployment during the invasion.
“After that the ROE changed, and carrying a shovel, or standing on a rooftop talking on a cell phone, or being out after curfew [meant those people] were to be killed. I can’t tell you how many people died because of this. By my third tour, we were told to just shoot people, and the officers would take care of us.”
When this Truthout reporter was in Baghdad in November 2004, my Iraqi interpreter was in the Abu Hanifa mosque that was raided by US and Iraqi soldiers during Friday prayers.
“Everyone was there for Friday prayers, when five Humvees and several trucks carrying [US soldiers and] Iraqi National Guards entered,” Abu Talat told Truthout on the phone from within the mosque while the raid was in progress. “Everyone starting yelling ‘Allahu Akbar’ (God is the greatest) because they were frightened. Then the soldiers started shooting the people praying!”
“They have just shot and killed at least four of the people praying,” he said in a panicked voice, “At least 10 other people are wounded now. We are on our bellies and in a very bad situation.”
Iraqi Red Crescent later confirmed to Truthout that at least four people were killed, and nine wounded. Truthout later witnessed pieces of brain splattered on one of the walls inside the mosque while large blood stains covered carpets at several places.
This type of indiscriminate killing has been typical from the initial invasion of Iraq.
Truthout spoke with Iraq war veteran and former National Guard and Army Reserve member Jason Moon, who was there for the invasion.
“While on our initial convoy into Iraq in early June 2003, we were given a direct order that if any children or civilians got in front of the vehicles in our convoy, we were not to stop, we were not to slow down, we were to keep driving. In the event an insurgent attacked us from behind human shields, we were supposed to count. If there were thirty or less civilians we were allowed to fire into the area. If there were over thirty, we were supposed to take fire and send it up the chain of command. These were the rules of engagement. I don’t know about you, but if you are getting shot at from a crowd of people, how fast are you going to count, and how accurately?”
Moon brought back a video that shows his sergeant declaring, “The difference between an insurgent and an Iraqi civilian is whether they are dead or alive.”
Moon explains the thinking: “If you kill a civilian he becomes an insurgent because you retroactively make that person a threat.”
According to the Pentagon probes of the killings shown in the WikiLeaks video, the air crew had “reason to believe” the people seen in the video were fighters before opening fire.
Article 48 of the Geneva Conventions speaks to the “basic rule” regarding the protection of civilians:
“In order to ensure respect for and protection of the civilian population and civilian objects, the Parties to the conflict shall at all times distinguish between the civilian population and combatants and between civilian objects and military objectives and accordingly shall direct their operations only against military objectives.”
What is happening in Iraq seems to reflect what psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton calls “atrocity-producing situations.” He used this term first in his book “The Nazi Doctors.” In 2004, he wrote an article for The Nation, applying his insights to the Iraq War and occupation.
“Atrocity-producing situations,” Lifton wrote, occur when a power structure sets up an environment where “ordinary people, men or women no better or worse than you or I, can regularly commit atrocities…. This kind of atrocity-producing situation … surely occurs to some degrees in all wars, including World War II, our last ‘good war.’ But a counterinsurgency war in a hostile setting, especially when driven by profound ideological distortions, is particularly prone to sustained atrocity – all the more so when it becomes an occupation.”
Cliff Hicks served in Iraq from October 2003 to August 2004.
“There was a tall apartment complex, the only spot from where people could see over our perimeter,” Hicks told Truthout, “There would be laundry hanging off the balconies, and people hanging out on the roof for fresh air. The place was full of kids and families. On rare occasions, a fighter would get atop the building and shoot at our passing vehicles. They never really hit anybody. We just knew to be careful when we were over by that part of the wall, and nobody did shit about it until one day a lieutenant colonel was driving down and they shot at his vehicle and he got scared. So he jumped through a bunch of hoops and cut through some red tape and got a C-130 to come out the next night and all but leveled the place. Earlier that evening when I was returning from a patrol the apartment had been packed full of people.”
This work by Truthout is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.
We need to call on Obama to reject this idea… now.
Read all of Glen’s article after this clip:
Yesterday’s news was filled with articles about Dr, George Tiller of Wichita, Kansas, one of the few publicly accessible late-term abortion doctors left in the country, who was shot down in the lobby of the church he was attending.
President Obama issued a statement that he was “shocked and outraged” by the murder. According to the Wichita Eagle:
“However profound our differences as Americans over difficult issues such as abortion, they cannot be resolved by heinous acts of violence,” the president said in a statement issued by the White House.
A suspect was captured, arrested and charged and now the press and media fallout is getting intense.
Operation Rescue (which, if you can get on their website at http://www.OperationRescue.org – I can’t because Frontier Communications that I get my web connection from has blocked all connections to the site) has issued a muted “apology” to the Tiller family, but they kept Tiller on a target list for years and really have no real feelings of responsibility for encouraging his murder.
What we have here is a full example of Christian Fundamentalist Terrorism, and, like terrorism of any kind, it needs to be eliminated. Given the religious intolerance views of so many in this country, it is doubtful that such elimination will happen.
Then there is the matter of Bill O’Reilly on FOX who has also kept a focus on Tiller which could be interpreted as influencing violence. To think that FOX will do anything about O’Reilly’s position here is laughable.
This morning the Attorney General sent Federal officers out to guard and protect Tiller’s clinic, which will not close, hopefully.
Keep your eyes on the news, there’s more coming.