Wednesday 13 March 2019

INNOCENT PERSONS CONVICTED Part Two                                                 

In the previous article I sent you, I mentioned that I would tell you about an innocent man who was hanged for a crime he didn’t commit. He was a janitor living in the City of St. Catharines, in the Province of Ontario in Canada. I can’t remember his name but I do remember the circumstances of his alleged murder of a five-year old girl.

It was alleged by the police that he took the little girl into the basement of the building in which he was the janitor and killed her after raping her and then threw her body into the furnace.

He confessed to the murder but later he claimed that he was beaten into confessing to the crime he didn’t really commit. He was subsequently hanged for that crime based entirely on his confession.

In 1976 while the Canadian Parliament was struggling with the issue of whether or not capital punishment should be the sentence for first degree murder in Canada, one of the members of Parliament wrote John Weisdorf,  the first the director of Ontario Legal Aid. The parliamentarian asked John if he could find the case of a man who was hanged and his lawyer had been declared insane during the times he was representing the condemned man.          in 1964 when Ontario Legal Aid began, it only comprised of John as the director, his secretary and me. My job was to investigate the crimes of the accused persons who were being represented by lawyers who were not being paid for their services. Because I solved two important cases of the many less important cases given to me by John to investigate resulting  in one man not being hanged and the other man being released from his life sentence, he figured that I could get that information the member of Parliament wanted.  Neither man knew who the lawyer was or   who the condemned man was.  My response was to John, “Hey! Give me a break, John.”

I knew there was only one place I could look to find that information. It was Osgood Hall in Toronto where the Ontario Court of Appeal keeps all the court transcripts with respect to the rulings of the Ontario Court of Appeal. There were thousands of them.

A week later I found two transcripts that were pertinent. One was the appeal of the condemned man and the 0ther was the transcript of a ruling against the lawyer who was earlier declared insane at his divorce hearings. I gave copies of the two cases to John and he sent it to the member of parliament.

I had previously made arrangements with the publisher of an international magazine in which I had written a lengthy article about capital punishment. Forty members of the House of Commons and the Senate of the Canadian Parliament had written me to thank me for the article.

Further, while investigating that case, I learned from the aunt of the murdered child that the police told the girl’s parents that the wrong man was hanged. They found the real killer years later but couldn’t charge him with the girl’s murder because he was totally insane and was in  a hospital for the mentally insane.

I sent that report directly to former Prime Minister Diefenbaker who was a member of his Party in the House at that time. Years later, I met him and he told me that after he read my report, he called his caucus together and they discussed my report.  I am sure his input at the discussion was powerful as when it came to capital punishment since he was a staunch abolitionist

One of the members of the House quoted something I said in my article in the international magazine.  I wrote;

“The worst crime a nation can commit against one of its citizens is to put him to death for a crime he didn’t commit.”

Canada abolished the death penalty soon after on July 14th 1976. Now the penalty for first degree murder is a minimum of twenty five years in prison before the person can apply for parole and even then, it is no guarantee that the man or woman will be released.  

South Carolina attorney Steve McKenzie believes that George Junius Stinney was innocent of murdering two young girls because there was no physical evidence tying him to the murders. The 14-year-old's confession was coerced, Mr. McKenzie adds. There has even been a suggestion that he was told he could have ice cream if he confessed.
There is no physical evidence linking Stinney to the murder and no record on paper of Stinney's conviction The lawyer also stated that  that Stinney was an 'easy target' and was used as a 'scapegoat' by police who wanted to quickly find and punish anyone they could tie to the murders. 

The all-white jury convicted the boy and he was sentenced to death. He was executed in the state’s electric chair.

That unfortunate boy did not stand a chance in a case involving two white girls and later be tried by an all-white jury.

A conviction for the murder of a cinema manager, that sent a young Liverpool labourer to the gallows 53 years ago, was yesterday overturned by the court of appeal.

George Kelly was executed at Walton jail on Merseyside in March 1950, following what was then the longest criminal trial in English legal history. His plea for clemency had been rejected by the home secretary of the day.

Announcing their decision three appeal judges, Lord Justice Rix, Mr. Justice Douglas Brown and Mr. Justice Davis, concluded the original verdict was "unsafe". The case was the oldest referred to the criminal cases review commission, the statutory body that investigates alleged miscarriages of justice. The crown did not attempt to uphold the conviction.

During the appeal, the judges heard that a statement given by a prosecution witness, claiming a man called Donald Johnson had confessed to committing the crime, had not been disclosed at the original trial.

The crime for which Kelly was hanged had shocked postwar Britain. Leonard Thomas, 44, manager of the Cameo Cinema in Wavertree, Liverpool, and his assistant, John Catterall, 30, were killed during a bungled burglary in March 1949.

While the audience watched a thriller, a man in a brown coat, trilby hat and mask burst into the manager's first-floor office as the night's takings were being counted. Thomas was shot in the chest. Catterall, who arrived moments later, was hit in the hand, chest and back. The gunman panicked and fled, leaving the cash untouched.

Pressure on the police for arrests mounted and as many as 65,000 people were questioned. An anonymous letter eventually led detectives to Kelly, a petty criminal nicknamed the "little Caesar of Lime Street", and Charles Connolly, then 26, who allegedly acted as lookout.

In the first trial, which lasted 13 days, the jury failed to reach a verdict. The two men were then tried separately. Connolly pleaded guilty in February 1950 to robbery and conspiracy and was sentenced to 10 years in prison for those crimes only.  He died in 1997, protesting his innocence.

The court of appeal overturned both convictions, even though the crown opposed the application on behalf of Connolly.

Lord Justice Rix said. "However much the Cameo murders remain a mystery, we regard the circumstances of Kelly and Connolly's trials as a miscarriage of justice which must be deeply regretted. "

During the hearing Orlando Pownall for the crown, said Donald Johnson had told a man called Robert Graham, a prisoner, that he had been responsible for the shootings. Graham made a second statement to police several months later incriminating Kelly and Connolly and was later granted immediate release.

But Graham's September 1949 statement implicating Johnson was not discovered until 1991 when a member of the public with an interest in the case was given access to Merseyside police files.

The prosecution accepted that the document was genuine and in the absence of evidence to the contrary conceded that Graham must have spoken to Chief Inspector Herbert Balmer, one of the officers involved in the inquiry.

Mr. Pownall told the judges: "It is not proposed by the crown to dwell on any conspiracy theories. If there had been a conspiracy it seems unlikely anyone involved would have left that original document in a box to be found years later." Ch Insp Balmer, he said, like most of those involved in the case, had long since died.

Kelly's daughter, Kathleen Hughes, left the courtroom in tears, refusing to comment. She had previously stated: "I have waited a long, long time for this day. I hope now I can give him a decent Christian burial, which I have previously been thwarted from doing."

Robin Makin, the Kelly family's lawyer, said it was a "deplorable" situation. "George Kelly's brothers made efforts on his behalf from the time of the conviction in 1950 and there was nothing that could be done. There is tremendous concern about the way in which matters were handled at that time."

Connolly's brother, Eddie, said afterwards: "A lot of doubters at the time will have been proven wrong today. We've known all along that they were innocent.

Unfortunately, an innocent man was hanged for the crime he didn’t commit.

In 1950,  Timothy Evens, a 26-year-old Welshman was falsely accused of murdering of his wife and his infant daughter at their residence at 10 Rillington Place in Notting Hill, London. In January 1950, he was tried for and convicted of the murder of his daughter. He was sentenced to death by hanging, a sentence that was later carried out on the 9th f March 1950,

During his trial, Evans had accused his downstairs neighbour John Christie, of committing the murders. It was Cristie who had killed Even’s wife and daughter. He also killed others of his tenants.

Three years after Evans's execution, Christie was found to be a serial killer who had murdered six other women in the same house, including his own wife. Before his execution, Christie confessed to murdering Mrs. Evans. An official inquiry concluded in 1966 that Christie had also murdered Evans's daughter, and Evans was granted a posthumous pardon.

The case generated much controversy and is acknowledged as a serious miscarriage of justice. Along with those of Derek Bentley and Ruth Ellis, the case played a major part in the abolition of capital punishment in the United Kingdom for murder in 1965.

A study on capital punishment in the United States asserts that in the last century, as many as  343 people were wrongly convicted of offenses punishable by death and that 25 were actually executed.   

Henry Schwarzschild, the director of the A.C.L.U.'s capital punishment project, said, ''The study shows that in hundreds of routine criminal cases, including cases where the defendant's life is at stake, the criminal justice system makes egregious errors. It convicts innocent people and it also executes them.”                       

Perhaps the most important factor in determining whether a defendant will receive the death penalty is the quality of the representation he or she is provided. Almost all defendants in capital cases cannot afford their own attorneys. In many cases, the appointed attorneys are overworked, underpaid, or lacking the trial experience required for death penalty cases. There have even been instances in which lawyers appointed to a death case were so inexperienced that they were completely unprepared for the sentencing phase of the trial. Other appointed attorneys have slept through parts of the trial, or arrived at the court under the influence of alcohol. The right to an attorney is a vital hallmark of the American judicial system. It is essential that the attorney be experienced in capital cases, be adequately compensated, and have access to the resources needed to fulfil his or her obligations to the client and the court.

Given how little legal-aid lawyers are paid, the bottom line is that most good and successful lawyers are unlikely to take up many legal-aid cases. That leaves usually the young and inexperienced or the unsuccessful lawyers taking up these cases. There are of course exceptions, particularly in the Supreme Court. But most accused who are poor will invariably get inadequate legal defence in the trial court.

An examination of 461 capital cases by The Dallas Morning News found that nearly one in four condemned inmates has been represented at trial or on appeal by court-appointed attorneys who have been disciplined for professional misconduct at some point in their careers.

An investigation by the Texas Defender Service found that, "Death row inmates today face a one-in-three chance of being executed without having the case properly investigated by a competent attorney and without having any claims of innocence or unfairness presented or even heard." 

In Washington state, one-fifth of the 84 people who have faced execution in the past 20 years were represented by lawyers who had been, or were later, disbarred, suspended or arrested.

According to an investigation by the Chicago Tribune, 12% of those sentenced to death from 1976-1999 were represented by, an attorney who had been, or was later, disbarred or suspended or given disciplinary sanctions reserved for conduct so incompetent, unethical or even criminal that the state believes an attorney's license should be taken away. An additional 9.5% inmates have received a new trial or sentencing because their attorneys' incompetence rendered the verdict or sentence unfair.  

In North Carolina, at least 16 death row inmates, including three who were executed, were represented by lawyers who had been disbarred or disciplined for unethical or criminal conduct.

The next article will be about innocent persons who were sentenced to prison for crimes they didn’t commit.

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