Go To Home PageInclusion Daily Express

International Disability Rights News Service
Click here for today's headlines

Keeping advocates informed, inspired and connected since 1999.
Click here for daily or weekly delivery . . . OR
Try Inclusion Daily Express for two weeks FREE . . .

New Evidence Overturns Murder Convictions;
Defendants With Mental Retardation Spend Years Behind Bars

The Death Penalty and Mental Retardation
Forced or Questionable Confessions Thrown Out

Earl Washington Jr (Virginia)
Jerry Frank Townsend (Florida)
January 2: Two Scheduled To Die Despite Diagnoses (Oklahoma)
January 3: DNA Evidence Frees Death Row Inmate (Louisiana)
January 5: Condemned Man Spared by 'Missing' Evidence (Oklahoma)
August 30: Prosecutors Withheld Evidence, Death Sentence Thrown Out (Pennsylvania)
December 6: Cook County Releases Inmates After Bogus Convictions
February 10: State Says It Convicted the Wrong Serial Killer (Illinois)
September 15: Death Sentence to Be Overturned (Arkansas)

By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
February 10, 2000

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS -- Cook County prosecutors announced yesterday that one of the six murders for which Hubert Geralds was convicted was actually committed by another inmate.

Three years ago, Geralds was convicted of the 1994 murder of Rhonda King. Investigators had already linked Geralds to four murders through DNA evidence, but built charges in the King killing and one other murder on his confessions.

But ten days ago, police arrested Andre Crawford. During questioning, Crawford confessed to nearly a dozen murders, including King's. In fact, he gave a much more detailed confession than Geralds.

This brings into question several of Geralds' confessions. Prosecutors want to vacate or remove Geralds' six murder convictions, one attempted murder conviction and his death sentence.

During his 1997 trial, experts testified that Geralds' IQ was between 59 and 73. His attorneys claim that police "could have gotten him to go along with anything" because of his "extremely low intelligence".

The State Attorney's office says Geralds will be tried again, but this time just for five murders and the attempted murder, all of which occurred in 1994 and 1995.

Back to top of page

By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
September 15, 2000
LITTLE ROCK, ARKANSAS--The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled yesterday that a convicted killer's death sentence must be overturned and new sentencing hearing given because the man's attorney simply did not do his job.

The state's highest court said William Howard was not looking out for Damond Sanford's best interest during the sentencing phase of his capital murder, rape, burglary and theft trial.

Sanford, who was 17 at the time of his conviction, had confessed to the January 1995 murder of Minnie Ward. But during sentencing, Howard failed to investigate and argue prosecutors' portrayal of Sanford as evil and cold-blooded.

After questioning Howard, the court determined that the defense attorney made no effort to obtain Sanford's school records -- which indicated he had scored 67 on one IQ test and 75 on another. In most areas, an IQ below 70 classifies a person as having mental retardation.

Howard also failed to present to the jury medical records that showed Sanford nearly suffocated to death as a child when a load of cotton seed fell on him, and that later his sister struck him in the head with a two-by-four post.

According to today's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, the Supreme Court's unanimous decision was based also on Howard's testimony that he was 'quite disappointed' in the jury's guilty verdicts and that 'he was tired'.

Back to top of page

By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
January 2, 2001
OKLAHOMA CITY, OKLAHOMA--If all goes as scheduled over the next nine days, two convicted murderers thought to have mental retardation will be executed in Oklahoma. One would become the first woman in the state's history to face the death penalty. She would also become the first African-American woman in the United States to be executed since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976.

Robert William "Eagle" Clayton, 39, is scheduled to die Thursday, January 4. Clayton confessed on two separate occasions to murdering a Tulsa woman in 1985. He later withdrew both confessions and now says he is innocent. His first confession was thrown out by a court which decided Clayton did not understand his rights. The second confession was used to convict him of the crime.

Clayton's defense attorneys say he has mental retardation and scored 68 on IQ tests. Most experts consider an IQ score below 70 to suggest mental retardation. During a hearing after Clayton's conviction, however, an appeals court found him to be competent and upheld his death sentence.

Wanda Jean Allen, 41, is scheduled to die by lethal injection a week later, on January 11. She was convicted of shooting to death her former lover in front of a police station in 1988. Allen claimed she killed the woman in self-defense. Before the murder, Allen had served four years in prison for manslaughter in the shooting death of another woman.

Allen's supporters say she has had mental retardation ever since she was hit by a truck at age 12, and was stabbed in the head as a teenager. They also claim Allen is being targeted because she is a lesbian. Her defense attorney, who had never handled a death penalty case, has said he defended her for $800 dollars because that was all Allen's family could afford.

Both Clayton and Allen have been denied clemency.

Back to top of page

By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
January 3, 2001
ANGOLA, LOUISIANA--For the first time in nearly 14 years, Albert Burrell walked out of the Louisiana State Penitentiary yesterday -- a free man -- after DNA testing cleared him of the crimes for which he was sent to death row.

Burrell, who is considered to have mental retardation, and his alleged accomplice, Michael Graham Jr., were convicted and sentenced to die for the 1987 murders of William and Callie Frost. Both men have consistently maintained that they were not guilty of the crimes.

Burrell came within 17 days of a scheduled execution in 1996, before his attorneys won a stay of execution.

On Tuesday, District Judge Cynthia Woodard ordered Burrell released after DNA testing determined that blood found at the murder site, long believed to belong to Burrell and Graham, in fact did not match that of either man. Graham was released last Thursday.

"We have no physical evidence in this case and that has been the problem from the start," said Pam Laborde, a spokesperson with the state's attorney general office. Woodard agreed with the attorney general that Burrell's and Graham's trials had "a number of irregularities".

This is not the first time DNA evidence has spared a person with mental retardation from the death penalty. Last October, DNA tests cleared a Virginia death row inmate of raping and murdering a woman in 1982. Defense attorneys believe Earl Washington Jr., 40, who reportedly has an IQ of 69, had been pressured by police to confess to committing the crimes. Washington had been convicted even though his confession had a number of inconsistencies. For example, he said he had acted alone, even though the victim's children testified they had witnessed the crime and that two men were involved. He also incorrectly identified the woman's race.

Washington's case has caused Virginia lawmakers to review the fairness of its death penalty laws. Illinois Governor Ryan last year issued a moratorium on executions in his state until a thorough examination can be done, after DNA and other evidence caused a large number of death penalty cases to be thrown out.

The execution of people with mental illness or mental retardation in the U.S. has sparked debate around the world, and some action within the states. Some disability rights advocates say that people such disabilities are often not sophisticated in defending themselves and do not thoroughly understand their rights. Since many are taught how to please others instead of how to understand and advocate for their own rights, they are more easily manipulated by accomplices and by police that want a confession. Another complicating factor is that most people with mental disabilities lack financial resources to obtain qualified, competent attorneys skilled in defending death penalty cases.

Last month, John Paul Penry, who reportedly has mental retardation, came within a few hours of being executed in Texas before the U.S. Supreme Court granted him a stay in order for the court to examine his case. A decision is expected in the summer.

Back to top of page

By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
January 5, 2001

TULSA, OKLAHOMA--For reasons not yet explained by officials, evidence from a 1985 murder showed up mysteriously late Wednesday, less than 24 hours before the man convicted of the crime was scheduled to die. The items -- a bloody sock, a pair of overalls, and a pocket knife -- were discovered in a evidence locker. They had been missing for the last four years.

In light of the discovery, Lt. Gov. Mary Fallin granted a 30-day reprieve to Robert William Clayton, 39, who was to be executed on Thursday, in order for the evidence to be examined and tested by DNA experts. It was the first stay of execution granted in Oklahoma over the last ten years.

Clayton, who reportedly has mental retardation and scored 68 on IQ tests, was convicted in the stabbing death Rhonda Kay Timmons, 19, at the Tulsa apartment complex where he was a groundskeeper. During the 1987 trial, prosecutors alleged that Clayton's sock and overalls contained traces of Timmons' blood. The overalls had been washed, but blood found on the sock had the same blood-type as Timmons. Experts were unable to determine whether the blood on the knife was from a human or an animal.

When a 1996 state law allowed evidence to be tested using DNA technology, none of the items could be found. Why the evidence turned up on Wednesday is unclear. Clayton's defenders believe DNA testing of the sock and knife will clear the man who has been on death row for 14 years. Fallin's order for the stay of execution will allow the testing to begin immediately.

Investigators in the case say Clayton confessed to "flipping out" and killing Timmons. Clayton denies that he gave any such confession.

The discovery brings into further question how states handle death penalty cases, particularly those involving defendants believed to have mental retardation. Clayton's reprieve came the day after Albert Burrell, a death row inmate who scored 68 on IQ tests, was released from Louisiana State Penitentiary. Burrell was cleared of the 1987 murder of an elderly couple, when DNA tests found that blood found at the crime scene did not belong to Burrell or his alleged accomplice. Last October, DNA tests cleared a Virginia death row inmate Earl Washington Jr, 40, of raping and murdering a woman in 1982. Defense attorneys believe Earl Washington, who reportedly has an IQ of 69, had been pressured by police to confess to committing the crimes.

Advocates for people with disabilities point out that people with mental retardation are at a disadvantage because, among other things, they may not understand their rights, confessions are easily forced from them, and they have poor legal representation. Before the decision Oklahoma was scheduled to execute eight people this month, which would have matched a monthly record for executions set recently in Texas. Still scheduled to die by lethal injection on January 11 is Wanda Jean Allen, who reportedly has an IQ of 69, considered by many to be in the mild range of mental retardation.

Back to top of page

Prosecutors Withheld Evidence, Death Sentence Thrown Out
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
August 30, 2001

ALLENTOWN, PENNSYLVANIA--Eleven years ago, a jury convicted Dennis Countryman of starting the fire that burned his Allentown home, killing his three sons. He was then sentenced to die for the crime.

The New York Times reports that a judge has thrown out Countryman's conviction and death sentence because prosecutors had hidden important evidence from his defense attorneys, thereby denying him his Constitutional right to a fair trial. Some of that evidence had to do with conflicting statements from Countryman's wife, Janet, who reportedly has mental retardation.

During the trial, Janet testified that none of her children had a history of setting fires. But on the day of the fire, a neighbor told police that Janet had said her oldest son, Christopher, had burned his bedroom curtains. Another person told police that she had seen Christopher light a rug on fire.

Prosecutors did not give Countryman's defense team either of the police reports documenting those comments.

Mrs. Countryman also testified during the trial that she woke up on the day of the fire to the sound of a lighter and saw her husband standing at the bottom of the stairs. This contradicted statements she made to police on the day of the fire in which she said she had to wake her husband after Christopher had alerted her of the fire.

Defense attorneys were not aware of these statements because prosecutors whited them out before turning the police report over.

Judge Lawrence J. Brenner's ruling this week means that Countryman will get a new trial.

Countryman was "ecstatic" at hearing the news, said one of his attorneys on Wednesday. The attorney added that Countryman, who apparently "has an IQ in the mid-70s", did not understand why he will be going through a new trial.

Back to top of page

Cook County Releases Inmates After Bogus Convictions
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
December 6, 2001

NAPERVILLE, ILLINOIS--Calvin Ollins has spent more than half of his life behind bars for participating in the 1986 rape and murder of a Chicago woman.

On Wednesday Ollins, 29, along with his cousin Larry Ollins, 31, and Omar Saunders, 32, were released from prison after new DNA test cleared them of the crimes for which they had been convicted. A fourth man remains in prison for a separate offense.

"It's been a journey, it's been a long journey, man," said Calvin, who reportedly has mental retardation and an IQ between 65 and 70.

Attorney Kathleen Zellner spent 800 hours and $200,000 to investigate the men's claims of innocence and push for evidence in the case to be reviewed with new DNA technology. The new DNA tests determined that hair and bodily fluids found on the victim's body and in her car did not match the men who were convicted of the crime.

After a brief hearing Wednesday morning, Cook County Criminal Court Judge Dennis J. Porter erased the convictions and ordered the three released.

At a welcome home party later in the day, Calvin's mother and his elementary school teacher were waiting with tears in their eyes as Calvin walked through the door.

"Oh my God, Jesus, oh my baby, come here my baby!" Phyllis Ollins said as she went to hug her son. "It's over now."

Zellner gave each former convict a plaque etched with the date of their release and the message, "The first day of the rest of your life."

"Any time you take a child and you force him into the wilderness, he's going to turn into a beast or he's going to learn there's a higher power," said Calvin, who now wants to be a minister. "Sometimes you have to go through certain things for God to bring you to a certain point."

So far, new DNA tests have resulted in 98 rape and murder convictions to be overturned across the country. Last year, the governor of Illinois put a temporary halt on the death penalty after DNA evidence had cleared 13 people who had been convicted of murder.

These overturned convictions once again bring into question the tactics of Cook County investigators. In February of last year, prosecutors asked for six murder convictions to be removed against death row inmate Hubert Geralds after another inmate gave a more detailed confession to one of the crimes.

During his 1997 trial, experts testified that Geralds' IQ was between 59 and 73. His attorneys claim that police "could have gotten him to go along with anything" because of his "extremely low intelligence".

There have been other recent cases where new DNA testing has cleared men considered to have mental retardation. In some of those cases, allegations that police forced confessions from suspects have emerged.

Back to top of page

Subscribe to Inclusion Daily Express today!

Get your news here!

Inclusion Daily Express
3231 W. Boone Ave., # 711
Spokane, Washington 99201 USA

Copyright © 2006 Inonit Publishing