Someone claiming to be cop-killer David Powell’s cousin has written me, accusing Powell’s victims and the justice system of various sins. Unsupported allegations like these too often pass for debate over the death penalty in the mainstream media. Therefore, it’s worth a look, though the slurs Powell’s cousin tosses at the victims ought to just be trash canned. See here and here for my previous posts on Powell.
The writer, John Struve, makes several assertions about minutiae of the appeals process — assertions that should be taken with a very large grain of salt, for he offers no proof. It’s not as if the courts didn’t revisit these cases in detail: that is why it took 30 years to execute Powell. It’s not as if Struve lacks access to the court documents. But he feels no need to back up his claims, and in this, the media has unfortunately trained him to need no proof as he says everything and anything about the case against Powell.
For, while a technical error or defense-biased evidentiary rules can blow a strong case for the prosecution, the defense suffers no consequences for repetitively and flagrantly lying. Many activists and defense lawyers feel that such lies are an honorable act — a sort of noble rot that produces the always-desired outcome of avoiding consequences for crime.
If Mr. Struve would like to send actual documentation backing up any of his assertions here, I’ll post it. But his claims sound like the type made loudly and repetitively — in cases like Troy Davis’ in Georgia — that lazy reporters reprint without looking into the original court records, or the prosecution arguments, or the trail of appeals.
John Struve’s letter:
You are all so short sighted. The fact still remains that the dying Ralph Ablanedo, when asked who did this, said, ” a girl” and “That damn girl.”
Powell’s female accomplice was the driver. Powell opened fire not once, but twice on officers. Ablenado’s dying words are being misrepresented, which is an awful thing to do.
Several officers testified at Sheila’s parole hearing in 1982 stating that she was a future danger to society and that she did all the shooting and threw the grenade. Unfortunately, this information was not released to us, the family, until 2002, and the prosecutors at that time thought it would be easier to get the death penalty for a man than a woman. He had already exhausted all of his appeals by this time.
Actually, the female accomplice testified that Powell thrust a grenade at her, but she wasn’t able to deploy it right. I’m sure the officers testified that the she should never get out of prison. I would be very surprised if they testified that she “did all the shooting.” Struve appears to be accusing these police of lying in their original testimony in the Powell trial — a serious allegation. Defamation of character is actionable.
Incidentally, if this case were tried today, changes in the law would make it easier to hold all offenders responsible for a crime in which someone is murdered.
Now a human being that had definite reasonable doubt of guilt has been murdered.
Just like Cameron Todd Willingham.
The Powell case has nothing to do with the Willingham case. The Willingham case, in which a man was executed for setting the fire which killed his three small children, is another cause celebré, thanks to wildly biased and strangely querulous reporting in the New Yorker.
Why is it that New Yorker editors seem to thrill at watching predators prey on the great unwashed?
Meanwhile, back in the real world, forensic scientists are revisiting the Willingham case. But cherry-picked claims about the fire itself, which constitutes the much-publicized defense, ignores other forensic evidence and the actual testimony that put Willingham behind bars (and you can buy expert witnesses to say anything — they charge by the act, as do many professionals).
I’m not going to bother to link to anything regarding Willingham. The local news reporting, read in total, explains the controversy. Virtually everything else should be read with a highly critical eye. Embarrassingly, even Wikipedia places the word “alleged” before prosecution testimony that passed courtroom muster while allowing defense testimony which failed to pass muster to be stated as fact. Pretty unprofessional of them, but that’s typical of reporting in these cases.
It’s death by a thousand cuts for the truth. Back to John Struve:
I am 33 years old, so my cousin David had been in jail my entire life.
Officer Ablenado has been dead for the last 33 years of his sons’ lives. Shame on Struve for attempting to insert himself into that tragedy.
Once it came to a point where justice had failed due to officer and political vengeance
that caused the truth to be buried, we realized that we needed to embrace that David was guilty of this single act.
And then there was the auto theft, petty theft, stockpiling weapons, drug dealing, over 100 bad checks — yeah, he was a boy scout carrying hand grenades and automatic rifles around in a car, serially ripping off innocent people by the scores. Come on.
Maybe not the one who pulled the trigger, but definitely responsible as the law of parties would suggest. He took that responsibility, although up to his murder, always stated that he has no recollection of what happened that dreadfully fateful night. All we wanted was for his life to be spared. Please read his story at letdavidlive.org before jumping on the “eye for an eye” human written testament of justice bandwagon dated over 2000 years ago.
Crying “vengeance” is offensive. Struve doesn’t know these people.
If killing 100 evil people means that even 1 is innocent, then that indicates that the entire system is dysfunctional. Just think if it were you or someone you loved that was truly innocent. Now, my only hope is that the Willingham and David’s cases serve as martyrs to help us move from the 18th century into the new world where people actually think instead of seek blood for blood. Since David was put to death, then you should
See, we are all vengeful. Bloodthirsty. If I had a dime for every time some bloated defense attorney wannabe accused me of wanting innocent people to suffer . . . I still wouldn’t have enough money to buy enough earplugs.
all believe that Officer Leonardo Quintana should be held to the same standards. [?] The unredacted Key Point report specifically states that his reckless tactics were what caused the police sanctioned murder of a defenseless individual, Nathaniel Sanders III. And unlike David, he had a history of reported violations prior to committing his murder. I used to be a huge proponent of the death penalty, but as I go through life, as I probably would have felt during the Spanish Inquisition, I question the tactics that we, as a society, use to punish individuals for acts of behavior “outside” that of what is considered the norm.
Behavior “outside” that of what is considered to norm? Is Struve equating blowing away an innocent public servant and trying to murder several others (whom Powell shot at, and missed) with, say, changing radio stations or hairstyles?
My brother is a Texas State Trooper. If he were killed in the line of duty or otherwise, I would not want the death penalty for the accused. If he were to murder someone on the taxpayer’s dime or not, I would not want him to receive the death penalty. Now we mourn. Next we move forward with our efforts to abolish the death penalty 1st in Texas, then in the entire United States. NOTE: What do you do when it is later found out that someone WE executed is found to be innocent? Go to their grave and pour some Mickey’s on it?
Nice. Struve places his feelings above the officer’s family’s, makes himself the center of attention, accuses the real victims of heinous, animalistic rage, defames scores of police officers, and then accuses society of failing to live up to his standards of morality. So much of this activism is a sickness, parading around as morality.
I wonder if this John Struve is the same person who sent me an anonymous e-mail celebrating the recent murder of Chicago Officer Thomas Wortham? The sentiment sounds similar.
I welcome any suggestions for identifying anonymous e-mails.
You don’t have to support the death penalty (I don’t) to be disgusted by what passes for activism and reporting on death row cases. An enormous, fact-free myth system has been built up around allegations that innocent men fill our prisons and molder nobly on death row. This “Green Mile” syndrome, indulged by politicians and priests and professors — and more journalists than you could shake a forest of redwoods at — well, it has consequences. It abuses the real victims, because they are falsely accused of everything from ransacking the justice system to being simply evil.
Careless reporting gives careless people free reign.
Consider the Troy Davis case. It has also become a cause celebré. The Atlanta Journal Constitution has reported ceaselessly on the activism for Davis and editorially advocated for him. Yet, nowhere in their reporting (unless there are articles that have never appeared on-line) have they bothered to mention the subject of forensic evidence withheld by the original trial court on a technicality, evidence that strongly supports Davis’ guilt. Nor have they addressed the case made by prosecutors who were (quite unusually) freed up to discuss evidence against Davis after the Supreme Court made an unusual decision to revisit that evidence.
Nor have they mentioned efforts by Davis’ lawyers to keep physical evidence from being considered as the case gets revisited, thanks to the Supreme Court’s actions. No, you couldn’t possibly trust the public with information about the real issues at stake in the Davis case, and other death row appeals. Atlanta readers — by far the largest audience of Davis supporters — know nothing of any of this, unless they read Savannah papers:
Black shorts evidence: After months of wrangling over evidence and legal issues, attorneys for the state’s attorney general’s office last week asked permission to submit Georgia Bureau of Investigation reports concerning “blood examination on pair of black shorts recovered from (Davis’) mother’s home on Aug. 19, 1989.” They also asked to submit a report of DNA typing of the item. Davis’ lawyers cried foul, urging Moore not to allow the evidence which they called “untimely” and “of questionable probative value.” They argued it would “clearly prejudice” (Davis’) ability to rebut the contents of the report. The jury hearing Davis’ 1991 trial never heard about the shorts after Chatham County Superior Court Judge James W. Head barred them from evidence because of what he found was police coercion of Davis’ mother, Virginia Davis, when she arrived near her Sylvester Drive home Aug. 19, 1989. Police seized the shorts from a dryer while searching for the murder weapon.
And this must-read from the Chatham County D.A., published last year in the Savannah Morning News:
Chatham County’s district attorney explains why he’s not concerned that an innocent man may be put to death.
Many people are concerned that an innocent man is about to be put to death. I know this, and I understand it. I am not likewise concerned, however, and I want to explain why.
The only information the public has had in the 17 years since Troy Davis’ conviction has been generated by people ideologically opposed to the death penalty, regardless of the guilt or innocence of the accused.
While they have shouted, we have been silent. The canons of legal ethics prohibit a lawyer – prosecutor and defense counsel alike – from commenting publicly, or engineering public comments, on the issue of guilt or innocence in a pending criminal case.
Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled, the case is over, and I can try to tell our side.
First , Davis’ advocates have insisted that there was no physical evidence in the case. This is not true.
Crime lab tests proved that the shell casings recovered from the shooting of Michael Cooper at a party earlier in the evening were fired from the same weapon as the casings recovered from the scene of Officer Mark MacPhail’s murder. Davis was convicted of shooting Cooper.
And, while it isn’t physical evidence, consider the “testimony” of Officer MacPhail himself: When he comes to the rescue of a homeless man being harassed and pistol-whipped, the officer ran past Sylvester Coles on his way to catch Davis. This makes Davis the only one of those two with a motive to shoot Officer MacPhail. Yet Davis’ lawyers argue to condemn Coles for shooting MacPhail. Why would he?
In fact, Davis’ advocates are eager to condemn Coles based on evidence far weaker than their characterization of the evidence against Davis. Where is their sense of fairness? This is the same Sylvester Coles who promptly presented himself to police, and who was advised by counsel to tell all that he knew – with his lawyer not even present. Which he did. No lawyer who even faintly suspects a client of criminal conduct would let him talk to the police without counsel.
Second , they claim that seven of nine witnesses have recanted their trial testimony. This is not believable.
To be sure, they’ve produced affidavits; a few handwritten and apparently voluntarily and spontaneous, except for concluding with “further the affiant sayeth not.” Who wrote that stuff? The lawyers, perhaps?
The law is understandably skeptical of post-trial “newly-discovered evidence.”
Such evidence as these affidavits might, for example, be paid for, or coerced, or the product of fading memory.
If every verdict could be set aside by the casual acceptance of a witness’s changing his mind or suggesting uncertainty, decades after the event, it is easy to see how many cases would have to be tried at least twice (perhaps ad infinitum).
Thus the law sets strict standards for such “newly discovered” evidence.
For example, it cannot be for a lack of diligence that the new evidence was not discovered sooner, and the defendant is expected to present that evidence at the earliest possible time.
Yet these affidavits were not offered in a motion for new trial until eight days before the first scheduled execution in 2008 seventeen years after Davis’ conviction. If this affidavit evidence was so compelling, why didn’t they rush to seek a new trial in 2003 when they had most of the affidavits they now rely upon? Or collect those affidavits earlier?
Each of the now-“recanting” witnesses was closely questioned at trial by lawyers representing Davis, specifically on the question whether they were in any way pressured or coerced by police in giving their statements or testimony. All denied it.
And while an 80 percent recantation rate – the first in the history of the world ? – may seem to some as overwhelmingly persuasive, to others of us it invites a suggestion of uncanny coincidence, making it very difficult to believe.
Third , they claim that their “newly discovered evidence” (i.e., the recantations) hasn’t been adequately considered by the courts. This is not true.
The affidavits, in various combinations, had already been reviewed by 29 judges in seven different types of review, over the course of 17 years, before Tuesday’s ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The state Parole Board halted the execution in 2007, saying they wouldn’t allow a possibly innocent man to be executed. Then, after more than a year of reviewing all of the evidence on both sides, and hearing from every witness Davis’ lawyers presented – including Davis – they refused to grant clemency.
The trial was fair. Davis was represented by superbly skilled criminal defense lawyers. He was convicted by a fair jury (seven black and five white). The post conviction stridency we’ve seen has been much about the death penalty and little about Troy Davis.
The jury found that Davis, after shooting another man earlier in the evening, murdered a police officer who came to the rescue of a homeless man Davis had beaten. Mark MacPhail had never even drawn his weapon.
A more complete discussion of these – and other – points can be found at Chathamcounty.org/vwap/html [link gone]
Spencer Lawton Jr. is Chatham County District Attorney.
Why would the AJC be so coy, essentially misleading an audience of millions on crucial elements of physical evidence in a controversial case? Because what they are doing is not reporting: it is advocating for Davis. Ditto Davis supporters like the Pope, Bob Barr, Jimmy Carter and Desmond Tutu — none of whom, I’m sure, bothered to reach out to Officer MacPhail’s family.
As I’ve said before, oppose the death penalty on grounds of universal ethics, or opposition to state-administered death, but when you make a faux hero out of a murderous, worthless criminal like Troy Davis, you are doing so at the cost of the humanity and dignity of the real victims.