Voices from Solitary: “Death Row Diary” of Florida Man Scheduled to Die Tonight

From: SolitaryWatch

Voices from Solitary: “Death Row Diary” of Florida Man Scheduled to Die Tonight
June 12, 2013 By Voices from Solitary

William Van Poyck, 58 years old and on death row at the Florida State Prison in Starke, is scheduled to die at the hands of the state tonight at 7 pm. In 1987 he was convicted of murdering prison guard Fred Griffis in a failed jailbreak attempt. Poyck has spent nearly 26 years on death row in solitary confinement. He has written to his sister about his life in prison, and in recent years she has published his letters to a blog called Death Row Diary. In these letters, Poyck writes about everything from the novels and history books he is reading and shows he has watched on PBS to the state of the world and his own philosophy of life–punctuated by news of the deaths of those around him, from illness, suicide, and execution. He also comments on the bill recently passed by the Florida legislature that will accelerate the schedule of executions in Florida. The excerpts selected here focus on the inhumane treatment he and other individuals on death row endure as they move ever closer to their own finalities. His last entry was written on May 28, when he had “15 days left to live.” –Abby Taskier

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January 4, 2012
Well, another year is upon us. I feel like I ought to have something profound to say but all I can think of is the too many – over 40 – years I’ve spent sitting in a cell or prison dormitory watching another new year slide into my life. New Year’s is supposed to represent hope and potential but it’s hard to convince yourself that hope and potential abounds when you’re doing hard time! Anyway, 2012 is the supposed end of the world according to the Mayan calendar…I don’t put too much stock in apocalyptic predictions; humans have been making them since the dawn of time, after all, without any success, and I’m an optimist by nature. But I confess that as I survey the world around me and what we humans are doing to planet earth it is increasingly difficult to envision a good ending…

The search team came and tore up my cell last week; it was a surgical strike (they came for me alone) and I was later told that “someone” wrote a snitch kite on me claiming (falsely) I had a weapon in my cell. I’m fairly certain it was someone trying to get a DR (disciplinary report) dismissed by dropping a dime on me on the hope they’d shake me down and find something, any kind of contraband, and the rat would then get credit for it. But I had no contraband so the snitch struck out. If the administration had any integrity they’d write the rat a DR for “lying to staff.” I spent several hours putting my cell back in order; it looked like a hurricane came through, all my property scattered everywhere. This is the kind of bullshit you have to put up with in prison; it’s the nature of the beast…

I just learned that Governor Scott has signed another death warrant and someone is on death watch on the bottom floor of Q-wing. Scott didn’t waste any time after the holidays; he seems determined to execute a record number of people at the pace he is setting…This is a depressing turn of events, a lousy way to begin the new year, at least from my perspective. The execution, when it occurs, will undoubtedly please some people, so it’s all a matter of perspective…

February 9, 2012
Yesterday the prison was locked down all day for the standard “mock execution”, the practice run which occurs a week prior to the actual premeditated killing. For the mock execution they lock down the joint, bring in an array of big wigs, and go through a dry run to make sure the death machine is in working order, everyone on their toes. The big wigs are just voyeurs, here to vicariously kill someone while allowing themselves the bare moral cover of not actually pushing the knife between the ribs. Their minions do the actual dirty deed while they can go home with technically clean hands. These mock executions are as depressing as the real thing, in the sense that it’s dispiriting to watch an entire organization (a prison, with all its constituent parts) so seriously dedicate their time and energies to practice killing a fellow human being, as if this is a good and natural thing to do. It takes some peculiar mental (not to mention moral) gymnastics to justify this to oneself, but we humans have proven ourselves immensely adept at self-delusion and hypocrisy, especially when we bring religion into the equation. We are really, really good at killing others in the name of God. We are a strange species, aren’t we?

February 25, 2012
Robert Waterhouse was scheduled for execution at 6:00pm this evening. In accordance with the established execution protocol he was strapped to the gurney and the needles were inserted into each arm about 45 minutes prior to his appointed time. Just before 6:00, however, he received a 45-minute stay which morphed into an almost 3-hour endurance test as he remained on the gurney as the seconds, minutes and then hours slid by at an excruciatingly slow pace, waiting for someone to tell him if hope was at hand, if he would live or die. Just before 9:00 he received his answer, the plungers were depressed, the syringes emptied and he was summarily killed. Here on the row we can discern the approximate time of death when we see the old white Cadillac hearse trundle in through the back sally port gate to pick up the body, the same familiar 1960′s era hearse I’ve watched for almost 40 years, coming in to retrieve the bodies of murdered prisoners, which used to happen on a regular basis back when I was in open population. I’ve seen a lot of guys, both friends and foes, carted off in that old hearse. Anyway, pause for a moment to imagine being on that gurney for over three hours, the needles in your arms. You’ve already come to terms with your imminent death, you are reconciled with the reality that this is it, this is how you will die, that there will be no reprieve. Then, at the last moment, a cruel trick, you’re given that slim hope, which you instinctively grasp. Some court, somewhere, has given you a temporary stay. You stare at the ceiling while the clock on the wall ticks away. You are totally alone, not a friendly soul in sight, surrounded by grim-faced men who are determined to kill you. Your heart pounds, your body feels electrified and every second seems like an eternity as a Kaleidoscope of wild thoughts crash around franticly in your compressed mind. After 3 hours you are drained, exhausted, terrorized, and then the phone on the wall rings and you’re told it’s time to die…

June 10, 2012
…Doing my own laundry (most of us do it) has become even more of an imperative over the last year or two. For starters, you cannot exchange your state clothes for clean stuff at the weekly laundry exchange because all the laundry issues now are old, ripped-up rags, stuff right out of a cartoon version of the rags Napoleon’s army wore as they withdrew from Russia. There is no money available here for any new clothing. The sheets, towels, socks, T-shirts and drawers are almost black with filth; they look like what mechanics use in garages to clean up with. The laundry has taken to cutting all the sheets in half lengthwise and cutting all the towels in half (sewing up the edges) to try to make things stretch. More basic than that, though, is that for at least a year, maybe two, the laundry has simply quit using any soap when it “washes” the clothes. They stuff they pass out stinks worse than it does when it’s turned in. If you do get something from the laundry, the first thing you and have to do is wash it. Most people do what I do, they bribe someone to get ahold of a couple of new sheets and a new towel, and then they just keep them, washing them by hand every week. Since we cannot obtain any laundry soap (for reasons unknown they stopped selling it to us 10 years ago) we’ve gotta use canteen-bought shampoo to do our laundry (VO-5 is the cheapest). And of course, we’ve gotta wash all our stuff in our toilets; this sounds gross to the uninitiated, but we keep our stainless steel toilets scrubbed clean. You then plug it up and flush it until it fills, then add shampoo and laundry and go to work. This is old-school and is universal in prisons around the country (although 95% of prisons have made this obsolete by offering real laundry services. But Florida in general and Florida State Prison in particular are 30 years behind the times and the administration seems to revel in its backwardness). Hell, this prison doesn’t even have hot water to the cells…

September 13, 2012
In the early morning hours of August 30, my friend Tom, who lived 2 cells down from me groggily awoke to find his face and pillow covered in blood and his tongue bitten about half off. He had no memory of what occurred. That morning his speech was slurred (over and above his extreme difficulty in speaking with a then-swollen, bloody tongue) and I noticed his thinking was confused. I told him he’d most likely had a seizure in his sleep (he has no history of seizures) and that because he was on high cholesterol medication he may have had a small stroke. Over the following days Tom suffered progressively severe headaches almost constantly and began sleeping excessively. His speech became increasingly slurred and his mental faculties were clearly compromised. I, and others, constantly urged Tom to try to get up to the clinic to see a doctor (even though the two doctors here are notorious quacks) and so he began trying to stop any passing nurses (who go down our row to deliver medications to some) to explain his situation, but none of them were interested. Most just said “put in a sick call slip.” At my urging Tom declared a “medical emergency” which is supposed to get you right up to the clinic. But instead, a nurse came to the wing, briefly examined Tom’s swollen (and now infected) tongue, gave him two Tylenol and told him he was just “out of luck” since no doctor was on duty on a Saturday night.

Meanwhile, day by day, Tom got worse. He knew something was wrong with him but seemed unable to figure out what to do. I wrote up a sick call slip for him (by this time his handwriting was illegible and he could not put his thoughts together) and the next day a “nurse” or M.T. (medical technician) came to “examine” him. He listened as Tom labored to explain what happened, starting with the seizure, then told Tom “Well, some people do this [bite their tongues almost in half] to get attention.” The M.T. then walked away…

October 2, 2012
…I stuck my mirror out, upon hearing the door roll, and saw Tom, a big bandage on his head, tottering slowly and unsteadily down the tier to his cell. That was on the 13th. For the next 5 days he laid on his bunk, often moaning, while receiving no medication at all (despite the surgeons having prescribed many drugs). Finally, after 5 days he began getting some, but not all, of the prescribed meds (no pain meds, of course). Importantly, he did not get the most crucial one, the one to stop his brain from swelling. So he was suffering mightily until just 5 or 6 days ago when he finally saw a free-world oncologist who was shocked that he was not getting the brain swelling medication. After another 3 days he finally began getting that one and he told me the relief was immediate. I knew it was bad when he kept telling me he had fluid coming out of his ears. He’s been told he’ll get chemo and radiation treatment but that remains to be seen…

October 25, 2012
Well, the execution has been cancelled, to the dismay of some around here. Ferguson was scheduled to die on the 16th, but just before then he got a 48-hour stay. Over the next week he got three such temporary stays from three different courts, with the sole issue being his sanity to be executed. Finally, it was supposed to happen for sure 2 days ago, on the 23rd, and we woke up to the standard execution-day procedures, eating all three meals very early, the entire prison being on lockdown, and all guards wearing their dress uniforms. As execution time (6:00 pm) neared the old white hearse pulled up outside the back sally port gate waiting to come in and pick up the body. As 6:00 came and went I assumed the execution had occurred but around 7:30 a guy on the other side of my wing, which looks out on the back gate and the rear of Q-wing (the death house), called me through the vent and said the hearse never came in, but instead had finally driven off. On the 11:00 news it was reported that the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, in Atlanta, had given Ferguson a stay of execution and that the US Supreme Court then approved the stay. (The accuracy of that precise chronology is debatable because reporters are notorious for mangling stories involving court decisions). At any rate, he got some kind of stay; how long that stay is remains unknown to me. I heard on one news report that the Eleventh Circuit granted the stay in order to decide “whether it is unconstitutional to execute the insane”…Now we go back on lottery watch, waiting to see whose death warrant the governor signs next, which is a great mood elevator for the upcoming holidays…

Last night’s mail brought me (and others) a notice that the mailroom had impounded and confiscated the latest issue of Newsweek because, the notice stated, it contained an article about “pot use in America.” Censorship like this, which implies serious First Amendment principles, used to be, and is supposed to be, rare. Only when an article clearly and unequivocally creates a substantial threat to the security of a prison should it be censored. But, over the years, the Florida DOC has gotten progressively petty (and ignorant) on this issue (since the law now practically forbids prisoners from filing law suits anymore) until we’ve reached our present state where these impoundments have become almost daily and for the most absurd reasons imaginable… With nothing to keep them in check (lawsuit-wise) the prisons do just whatever the hell they want to, knowing they are immune from challenge…

November 8, 2012
Another death row guy has died of cancer. I ran into Michael Bruno (whom I’ve known for over 20 years) in late July when I took a day trip to RMC (Regional Medical Center) for my upper GI tests. Bruno looked weak and had a persistent cough (the same cough Tom now has) and he’d just been diagnosed with lung cancer…He seemed to be doing pretty well, but on Friday, October 19th, he suddenly got ill and two days later he was dead. The cause of death, we were told, was septic shock, and I’m guessing the infection found its way into his system via the “port” they’d inserted into his chest to funnel the chemo directly into his lung. Prisons are filthy so putting a port into a guy’s chest while making him live in a cell is pretty much a prescription for disaster. This is especially true here in Florida where the DOC long ago quit issuing and buying (we used to manufacture them) the various cleaning chemicals we used to use to clean our cells and the whole prison, from powdered soap, liquid soap, disinfectants, bleach; all that is gone now and we must buy and use shampoo from the canteen to wash our clothes and clean our cells. This whole decrepit building is filthy and falling apart…

February 27, 2013
My old pal Tom died on Friday, Feb 8th at 4:10 pm, alone in the clinic isolation cell at UCI. I hate that he died alone, locked in a tiny cell with no property (no radio, TV or anything to occupy his mind) and nobody to converse with, just laying on his bunk, staring at the ceiling, waiting for his final escape. His loved ones, who were able to travel from Texas and North Carolina to visit him for three hours just two days before he passed away wrote and told me that he was very weak and gaunt, could not keep down any food or liquids, but was lucid enough for a meaningful visit, though just barely so. Although I know his death was inevitable and imminent, I’m surprised at how much it has affected me. I’ve seen an awful lot of death during my many years in prison (way too much death, in all its myriad variations), including some friends, but Tom’s has knocked the wind out of me.

Later last night they moved Paul off death watch on Q-wing and put him in the lone empty cell on my floor [after he received a stay of execution]. That’s gotta be a Hell of a transition; you are hours away from execution, you’ve had your final visits (imagine how emotional that is), made your peace with the inevitable, perhaps eaten your last meal, then, in a finger snap, you’re told you won’t be dying after all (at least not that night) and you are back on a regular death row cell talking with the Fellas. I’ve seen a number of guys go through this over the years, one of whom was just twenty minutes from execution in the electric chair when he got his unexpected stay. They moved him next to me and I was startled to see that his hair had turned almost entirely white during the six weeks he was on death watch. He died quietly in his sleep from a heart attack about six years later, right here on this floor.

It’s surprising to me that more prisoners here don’t kill themselves given the long term extreme isolation and punitive conditions, the hopelessness that comes from being confined for years in a tiny cage with virtually no property and certainly no programs or anything to engage the mind or offer any shred of hope. I’m referring specifically to the 1,000 men in close management status here (close management being a euphemism for long-term solitary confinement lasting years and years). Death row conditions are marginally better; at least we get visits and we can buy a little TV or radio (or now an MP3 player), but the flip side is that we spend decades in these cells and unless you possess a stout mind (and body) this inevitably erodes your constitution, often without you even knowing it. I’ve seen too many men go insane, a sad and scary thing to behold, or just throw in the towel and kill themselves, or get the state to do it for them by giving up their appeals and demanding to be executed…

April 10, 2013
On April 10, Larry Mann was executed downstairs. Seven days later Governor Scott signed another death warrant, for a guy out of Orlando named Elmer Carroll, who happened to be my next door neighbor. We were out on the rec yard when a lieutenant holding a bunch of chains showed up and took Elmer away, and while they didn’t tell him why they were taking him in I knew something was up. When I came back in, his cell was stripped and he was down on the bottom floor of Q-Wing on death watch…

The governor is wasting no time executing people, he’s killing a guy every 60 days, as regular as a metronome. Still, that is insufficiently bloodthirsty for a majority of our state representatives. This morning I watched, on the local Public Television Channel, the floor debate in the House on a bill designed to “speed up the death penalty.” Various politicians stood up to argue pro and con, and several invoked the Bible (notably the Old Testament) to justify killing us all as quickly as possible, while one guy repeatedly referred to all of us as “animals.” I have not read the bill so all I know about its particulars is what I could glean from the comments made by those who spoke up for or against it…One representative stated that if the bill becomes law (and it surely will) Florida “will execute between 13 and 90 prisoners in the next six months.” I don’t know if that’s accurate but he must have had some basis to come up with those particular numbers. Those who argued against the bill, urging caution and reminding the crowd that Florida leads the nation (by far) in death row prisoners exonerated, often 10, 15, 20 years after conviction, were steamrolled down by the Republican supermajority and the bill passed by a wide margin…

May 3, 2013
Today Governor Scott signed my death warrant and my execution date has been scheduled for June 12th, at 6pm. I wasn’t really surprised when they showed up at my cell door with the chains and shackles; for the last month or so I’ve had a strong premonition that my warrant was about to be signed, but that wasn’t something I wanted to share with you.

Sis, you know I’m a straight shooter, I’m not into sugar coating things, so I don’t want you to have any illusions about this. I do not expect any delays or stays. This is it. In 40 days these folks will take me into the room next door and kill me…

When your warrant gets signed so many things suddenly become trivial. I’ve already thrown or given away 95% of my personal property, the stuff that for years seemed so important. All those great books I’ll never get to read; reams and reams of legal work I’ve been dragging around, and studying, for 2 decades and which has suddenly lost its relevance. My magazines and newspapers stack up unread; I have little appetite to waste valuable, irreplaceable hours reading up on current events. Does it really matter to me now what’s happening in the Middle East, or on Wall Street, or how my Miami Dolphins are looking for the upcoming new season? What’s the point? Ditto the TV; I’m uninterested in wasting time watching programs that now mean nothing in the grand scheme of things. The other day I caught myself reaching for my daily vitamin. Really?, I wondered, as the absurdity hit me. Likewise, after 40 years of working out religiously, that’s out the window now. Again, what’s the point?…

May 12, 2013
On Tuesday they came and measured me for my execution/burial suit. Sometime soon I’ll be given the details on how “the body” will be disposed of following the legally required autopsy (will my cause of death really be a mystery?). I understand the State will pay for a cremation should I choose this form of disposal (I do) and my ashes will be available at a Gainesville Funeral home; but don’t quote me on that yet. Discussing the practical aspects of my upcoming death was a little disconcerting, but I took it in stride.
I’ve been on death watch for 10 days now and I have 31 days left to live. (It seems surreal when I write that out, and just as surreal that all those around me accept this as a normal and natural thing). My cell (one of three) is next to the execution chamber so I won’t have far to walk. There’s another guy down here with me, his execution is set for 2 weeks before mine so assuming he doesn’t get a stay I’ll have a front row seat to how the final days and hours play out. Aren’t I lucky?

May 19, 2013
I’ve got 25 days left to live. It isn’t normal to be able to write something like that, and that sense of surrealism permeates every hour down here. Making a man spend his last six weeks ticking off every minute, hour and day of his life left on earth constitutes cruel and unusual punishment by any definition. And it certainly constitutes, as a matter of law, two of Florida’s statutory aggravating circumstances (used by the state to justify the imposition of death sentences), to wit: 1) the killing is cold, calculated and premeditated; and, 2) the killing is heinous, atrocious and cruel. Although I’ve fully accepted my circumstances, I know it’s going to happen and I’ve come to terms with it, that does not obviate the fact that it just isn’t right to do this to people, and for society to accept this as normal or natural, well, it speaks more about our society than it does about those being so efficiently dispatched down here in the bowels of this penitentiary…

There are now three of us down here on death watch; all our executions are spaced 2 weeks apart. The guy with senior status (Elmer) is set to die on May 29th, 2 weeks before me. Last week the Florida Supreme Court denied his last-ditch appeal and he’s got no place left to go. He does not know much about the law or court procedures but he told me he knows there is now nothing between him and his date with death. He’s resigned to his fate and I hear him pacing the floor a lot, a pacing that is gradually morphing into a listless shuffling, as if all hope has deflated from his body, like air leaking from a punctured tire. It’s a sad, melancholy sound when you know its context. I choose to remain active, vital and alive, my spirit, intellect and even my humor undiminished, and I’ll remain so until they shoot that poison into my veins and snuff out the candle of this physical vehicle…

May 22, 2013
I have 21 days left to live. The fickleness, the arbitrariness, the fleeting nature of life itself is on display daily throughout our world but as good an example as any occurred here on Monday morning when, as I was being dressed out here on Q-Wing for a visit, a sudden radio call brought the wing officers rushing upstairs where they found a prisoner (non-death row) hanging in his cell. After 20+ years in prison this guy (Earl) had finally given in to the utter hopelessness that can seize the heart and spirit of any man mired forever in an American maximum security prison. The irony wasn’t lost on me that while 3 of us on death watch are fighting to live, this poor soul, living just 10 feet above us, stripped of all hope, had voluntarily surrendered his life rather than continue his dismal existence. When nothing but a lifetime of suffering lays ahead – with no hope, no promise, no opportunity to change your fate – the idea of utter annihilation can come to look appealing in contrast. When everything has been taken from you, the one thing you have left, that nobody can take away, is the decision to live or die. In that context choosing death can look like freedom…

Today my neighbor, Elmer, went on Phase II of death watch, which begins 7 days prior to execution. They remove all your property from your cell while an officer sits in front of your cell 24/7 recording everything you do. Staff also performs a “dry run” or “mock execution”, basically duplicating the procedures that will occur 7 days later. This is when you know you’re making the final turn off the back stretch, you know your death is imminent, easily within reach, you can count it by hours instead of by days. Right now I’m on deck; when Elmer goes I’ll be up to bat (that’s enough sports metaphors for now)…

May 28, 2013
Tomorrow Elmer will be executed and I’ll be next up to bat, with 15 days to live. A situation like this tends to make you reflect on the elusive nature of time itself, which some folks – physicists and metaphysicists alike – claim is an illusion anyway. Real or not it sure seems to be going someplace quickly!…

This may be my last letter to reach you before you begin your journey down south to be by my side for my final days. These many visits I’ve recently received from those who love me have been a blessing for me. I’m acutely aware that some guys on death watch have absolutely nobody to help them bear their burden during their last days and hours on earth, not a soul willing to share some love. It’s a terrible thing to die all alone…

I read in a recent newspaper article that the brother and sister of Fred Griffis, the victim in my case, are angry that I’m still alive and eager for my execution. These are understandable human feelings. I have a brother and sister myself and I cannot honestly say how I would deal with it if something happened to you or Jeff at the hands of another. I have thought of Fred many times over the years and grieved over his senseless death. I feel bad for Fred’s siblings though if seeing another human being die will truly give them pleasure. I suspect when I’m gone, if they search their hearts, they will grasp the emptiness of the closure promised by the revenge of capital punishment. There’s a lot of wisdom in the old saying “An eye for an eye soon makes the whole world blind…
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Update: William Van Poyck was executed by lethal injection, and pronounced dead at 7:24 pm on June 12, 2013.

On death row now for over a decade, Jeffrey Havard fights wrongful conviction and death sentence by Mississippi state

This is reblogged from Lockup Reform:
April 22nd 2013

The 2002 conviction of Jeffrey Havard reeks of WRONGFUL in a really bad, alarming sort of way. The kind of way that caused me to wonder if at this moment I was somehow involved in some sort of freak situation that could earn me a wrongful conviction, landing me in solitary confinement on death row for years on end, all due to some outrageous misinterpretation or spinning of facts as they occurred—all completely out of my control.

I was not familiar with Havard’s case until a colleague and friend, Lori Howard (@LoriHoward16), who is a relentless advocate for the wrongfully convicted (she’s got a one-track mind and a drive I envy, which she claims materialized after coming this close to catching a serious wrongful conviction case of her own five years ago), started sharing bits and pieces of his story with me. Her devotion to freeing Havard inspired me to examine the facts for myself, so guided by Lori, I started reading and reading on the case.

I advocate for criminal justice reform and prisoners’ rights in my own work, but really focus my efforts on people held in prolonged solitary confinement, so this was new territory for me. But as I started processing the information, the facts and the countless stories on Havard, I was appalled. If you’re not familiar with Jeffrey Havard’s case, Bruce Fischer provides a good background on GroundReport. Or here’s the real quick and dirty of it (as posted on the official Free Jeffrey Havard Facebook page):


Backtracking to 2002 when Havard was convicted, it’s important to note two important details, each of which unquestionably impacted the outcome of his case, facilitating Mississippi state’s determination that he is no longer worthy of life. As reported in a recent story on WAPT News:

Former state Supreme Court Justice Oliver Diaz said Hayne’s testimony that Havard shook the baby to death went unchallenged because the public defender couldn’t afford a second exam. 

He was denied the use of his own expert in that case, but they allowed the state to proffer Dr. Hayne as an expert for the state,” said Diaz, who served on the Mississippi Supreme Court from 2000 to 2008.

With these injustices in mind, new information and details have continued to surface in connection with the original evidence incriminating Havard, which has from the start been perceived by many as dubious at best (not even). Recently there has been increased media attention to the already well known, controversial case, including a story published yesterday by The Clarion-Ledger, from which I quote liberally throughout this post:

Mississippi death row inmate Jeffrey Havard recently filed a petition in federal court requesting relief from his capital murder conviction and death sentence, claiming they are a “violation of numerous of constitutional rights.”

Havard was convicted in [2002] in Natchez for sexual battery and murder of his then girlfriend’s daughter, 6-month-old Chloe Britt. He admits accidentally dropping her but denies sexually abusing and killing her…

Attached to Havard’s petition is an appendix including 10 media reports by The Clarion-Ledger’s Jerry Mitchell, The New York Times, Huffington Post, CNN, InjusticeAnywhere.com and others.

Now the flimsy evidence used to build a case against Havard—the same evidence on which the great state of Mississippi based its conviction and death sentence of a young man—has been further discredited. As stated by The Clarion-Ledger:

Since the conviction, questions about the autopsy and testimony of pathologist Dr. Steven Hayne, who performed the autopsy, have been brought to light by a number of local and national media outlets…

At trial Hayne testified the death was a homicide, consistent with shaken baby syndrome, and that an anal contusion was “consistent with penetration of the rectum with an object.”
But Hayne has since acknowledged to Havard’s attorneys the contusion was found in an area easily injured and a rectal thermometer like the one used in the emergency room to check the child’s temperature could cause such a contusion but that he did not think it was likely.

Hayne conducted autopsies for the state from the late 1980s and the late 2000s. He was removed from a list of approved forensic pathologists in 2008.

And now I give props to the good people at The Clarion-Ledger for their huge show of support and efforts to finally get Havard the trial he should have had over a decade ago:

At The Clarion-Ledger’s request, world-renowned pathologist Dr. Michael Baden examined Hayne’s autopsy report and photographs and concluded there was no evidence of sexual abuse – or even of a homicide.

The outcome of the new examination? I was very pleased but not surprised at Baden’s conclusions:

The injuries described at autopsy were consistent with “the baby being accidentally dropped and striking her head on the toilet tank as the father described,” Baden said.
The anal abrasion described in the autopsy can be the result of common causes, such as constipation, diarrhea, toilet paper or even rubbing against a diaper, he said.

Wrapping up, The Clarion-Ledger concludes:

Havard‘s 169-page petition and request for a speedy trial was filed March 29. Havard told The Natchez Democrat the trial unfairly asked him to testify about the dilation of the child’s body [which, according to Havard intermediary Lori Howard, put the burden of proof to explain the dilation on Havard].
“The burden [of proof] was improperly placed on me to explain their predicate for why they thought there was sexual battery,” Havard told Reporter Vershal Hogan in a phone interview from the Mississippi State Penitentiary.

Havard also reportedly said the hospital personnel were not qualified under the law to speak about sexual abuse.

“The (emergency room) staffs were allowed to say things that were expert opinions. The only person who was tendered to give expert opinion – (Hayne) – was never asked to give his opinion,” Havard said.

Adams County District Attorney Ronnie Harper told The Democrat he thought the testimony of the hospital personnel was based on personal observations, and they did not have to be tendered as experts.

In his latest petition, Havard asks the court for relief of the original conviction and sentence, also requesting “at the very least,” permission to produce evidence raised in the petition during a proposed evidenciary hearing in federal court. I’d be hard-pressed to find a reason to deny his hard-earned requests, already paid for in full by Havard personally with over a decade of his life, wasted in the bowels of Mississippi’s penal system—in solitary confinement and on death row, likely wondering if his only ticket out of the hellhole in which Mississippi currently holds him is his own death.

To stay current on unfolding developments in Jeffrey Havard’s fight for his life and freedom from the clenches of Mississippi’s penal system and death row:

1) Periodically check Free Jeffrey Havard and Jeffrey Havard’s blog
2) Follow @FreeJeffKHavar on Twitter  and “Like” https://www.facebook.com/FreeJeffreyHavard on Facebook
If you support Jeffrey Havard, think he should be granted a new trial and want to see his face added to the Faces of Innocence collage below, please be sure to sign the Change.org petition calling on  United States District Judge Keith Starrett to Grant Jeffrey Havard a New Trial! 

Ex-inmates say innocent men remain on Death Row

From: Columbus Dispatch, April 12th, 2013

Derrick Jamison has moved to Louisiana since his 2005 release from Ohio’s Death Row. But the former Cincinnati resident said he is compelled to return by memories of the men he saw put to death during the 20 years he spent behind bars after being wrongly convicted.

“I watched so many of my friends get murdered. It still haunts me to this day,” he told a group gathered yesterday at Capital University Law School. “They grew up to be strong, healthy young men taken up out of their cells and murdered, strapped down on a gurney … and poison shot into their blood.

“That’s why we do what we do. That’s why we got to speak out … I’m coming back to fight for my people, the guys I left behind on Death Row.”

Jamison, 52; Dale Johnston, 79, of the Grove City area; and Joe D’Ambrosio, 51, of North Olmstead, are part of a statewide “Innocence Tour” sponsored by Ohioans to Stop Executions and Witness to Innocence.
Jamison was convicted in the 1984 death of Cincinnati bartender Gary Mitchell. Johnston was exonerated in 1990 after serving seven years in the dismemberment slayings of his stepdaughter, Annette Cooper, and her friend Todd Schultz in Hocking County. D’Ambrosio was imprisoned nearly 23 years in the 1988 murder of 19-year-old Anthony Klann of Cleveland.

All three men said investigators improperly withheld witnesses or other evidence that could have exonerated them or implicated others in the crimes.

“Hopefully, we can open up some eyes and minds to what is going on in this state because somebody’s got to do something,” D’Ambrosio said. “They’re murdering people in your name. And they’re innocent.”
The men are among six Ohio Death Row inmates who were released after taking an average of 17 years to prove they were wrongfully convicted, said Kevin Werner, the executive director of Ohioans to Stop Executions. Nationwide, 142 Death Row inmates have been released. It took an average of 9.5 years to prove their cases.

Werner urged judicial and legislative leaders to review capital-punishment cases for evidence of ineffective defense attorneys, withheld evidence and other signs of improper convictions.

“I think they ought to review every single individual case on Death Row and look for reasons to say, ‘Maybe we made a mistake’ instead of ‘Let’s just maintain the status quo, uphold convictions, move on,’  ” he said.

Ohio has executed 50 people since it resumed the practice in 1999.

Read the rest here.

Maryland Death Penalty: Lawmakers Approve Measure To Ban Capital Punishment

From Huffington Post:
March 15, 2013

The Maryland General Assembly approved a measure Friday to repeal the state’s death penalty.

The House of Delegates voted 82 to 56 Friday to pass a bill already approved by the Senate, according to the AP. Maryland makes the 18th state to ban capital punishment.

Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) is expected to sign the bill.

The AP reports:

Supporters of repeal argue that capital punishment is costly, error-prone, racially biased and a poor deterrent. Opponents say it’s a necessary tool to punish those who commit the most egregious crimes.

Maryland has five men on death row, though the measure approved Friday makes it clear the governor can commute their sentences to life in prison. The state’s last execution took place in 2005, during the administration of Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich.

Ohio Supreme Court Justice Finds Death Penalty Is Unconstitutional

From: Equal Justice Initiative:

February 12, 2013

Ohio Supreme Court Justice William O’Neill explained in a recent dissent from an order setting an execution date for Jeffrey Wogenstahl that the “death penalty is inherently both cruel and unusual and therefore is unconstitutional.”

Justice O’Neill has been a trial attorney, appeals court judge, and a pediatric emergency room nurse. He was elected last year after running a campaign that rejected outside contributions, saying money in judicial races has a corrupting effect. He unseated Republican Justice Robert Cupp.

In explaining his vote against setting an execution in Mr. Wogenstahl’s case, Justice O’Neill wrote: “Capital punishment dates back to the days when decapitations, hangings, and brandings were also the norm. Surely, our society has evolved since those barbaric days.” Observing that 17 states and the District of Columbia have eliminated the death penalty altogether, the dissent finds “that the death penalty is becoming increasingly rare both around the world and in America. By definition it is unusual.”

The dissent concludes that “[t]he time to end this outdated form of punishment in Ohio has arrived. While I recognize that capital punishment is the law of the land, I cannot participate in what I consider to be a violation of the Constitution I have sworn to uphold.”

Ex-Virginia executioner becomes opponent of death penalty

This is from the Washington Post:

Feb 11th, 2013
By Justin Juvenal
Jerry Givens executed 62 people.
His routine and conviction never wavered. He’d shave the person’s head, lay his hand on the bald pate and ask for God’s forgiveness for the condemned. Then, he would strap the person into Virginia’s electric chair.
Givens was the state’s chief executioner for 17 years — at a time when the commonwealth put more people to death than any state besides Texas.
“If you knew going out there that raping and killing someone had the consequence of the death penalty, then why are you going to do it?” Givens asked. “I considered it suicide.”
As Virginia executed its 110th person in the modern era last month, Givens prayed for the man, but also for an end to the death penalty. Since leaving his job in 1999, Givens has become one of the state’s most visible — and unlikely — opponents of capital punishment.
His evolution underscores that of Virginia itself and the nation. Although polls show that the majority of state residents still support the death penalty, Virginia has experienced a sea change on capital punishment in recent years that is part of a national trend.
The state has had fewer death sentences over the past five years than any period since the 1970s. Robert Gleason, who was put to death Jan. 16, was the first execution in a year and a half. As recently as 1999, the state put 13 to death in a single year.
Nationwide, the number of death sentences was at record lows in 2011 and 2012, down 75 percent since 1996, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Five states have outlawed capital punishment in the past five years, and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) affirmed plans to push for a moratorium there. Gallup polls show support for capital punishment ebbing.
Givens’s improbable journey to the death chamber and back did not come easily or quickly for the 60-year-old from Richmond. A searing murder spurred his interest in the work, but it was the innocent life he nearly took that led him to question the system. And he was changed for good when he found himself behind bars.
His story helps explain how a state closely associated with the death penalty for decades has entered a new era.
“From the 62 lives I took, I learned a lot,” Givens said.
The first execution
Friends and strangers regularly ask Givens the essential question: What is it like to take another man’s life? In answering, he vividly recalls his first execution, in 1984.

Dallas Morning News Editorial: Race and the death penalty

From: Dallas Morning News, Jan. 23rd 2013

via AP, by Craig Watkins, Dallas County district attorney

Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins wants to make sure Texas executions are not carried out if racial bias played an unfair role in a defendant’s death sentence.
No argument. Good goal, in general.
Now comes the hard part — getting there.
Watkins said this week that he is preparing a proposal, the Racial Justice Act, that would allow a death row inmate to bring up the issue of race in state appeals. North Carolina has a measure like that on the books, and three death-row inmates — two of whom killed law enforcement officers — used it to overturn their sentences in favor of life in prison last month. Their lawyers argued that racial bias affected the sentencing and jury selection in the three emotionally charged cases.
Whether Texas defense lawyers need or should have that tool is an important debate to have in the state Capitol among legal experts and lawmakers.
This newspaper opposes the death penalty on grounds that it can never be immune from human error and is unevenly applied. More than half of Texas’ 254 counties have never sent a single person to death row in the modern era, and studies have indicated that the races of the killer and the victim affect decisions, from prosecutors to juries, on whether to apply capital punishment.
Abolishing the death penalty is not Watkins’ goal, though he has made no secret of his qualms about it. Still, we applaud any effort to immunize the use of that punishment from error and bias.
The district attorney has often expressed his view that attitudes toward race affect outcomes in the criminal justice system. He comes to this place both professionally and with the acutely personal perspective of a black man whose great-grandfather was executed and buried in the state prison cemetery in Huntsville.
It’s ironic that despite Watkins’ uneasiness about capital punishment, Dallas County has emerged as the leading death penalty county in Texas during his six years in office. He has sent eight inmates to death row beginning in 2008, five of them black and one Hispanic.
That points up the difficulty in drawing inferences from statistics. On paper, Watkins’ office might look prone to come down hard on black defendants, but that wouldn’t square with the DA’s background and the race-neutral approach he says he employs.
But something underlies the statewide pattern of sending mostly minorities to death row in recent years, and lawmakers should explore the reasons. Crime rates for blacks are historically far higher, but does that entirely explain the disparity?
The downside of Watkins’ advocacy on this issue is that the 2013 lawmaking session is off and running, and there’s no bill yet. Watkins says he’s been working on it for months and hopes to find an author soon to carry it.