Are YOU willing to be the innocent person executed?
Put yourself in the shoes of these people….
(Reports on the individuals indicated originate from the report, “Reasonable Doubts: Is the U.S. Executing Innocent People?” available at <http://www.quixote.org/ej/grip/reasonabledoubt/https://fadp1.wpengine.comwordpress/?page_id=3619>
James Adams (Florida)
Allegation On May 10, 1984, the State of Florida, with the acquiescence of the federal government, executed James Adams in the electric chair. The state and federal governments failed to ensure Adams’s right to a fair and impartial trial. The unfair and racially discriminatory trial resulted in Adams’s execution. Crime On the morning of November 12, 1973 at approximately 10:30 a.m., Edgar Brown was beaten with a fire poker in the course of an alleged robbery in his home. He died in the hospital the next day as a result of the beating. Adams was arrested, tried, and convicted of his murder. Salient Issues · The one eyewitness who saw and spoke to a person leaving the house where the murder was committed originally said that he was certain Adams was not the person. At trial, this eyewitness testified that Adams “may or may not” have been the person to whom he spoke. · One of the witnesses, Vivian Nickerson, borrowed Adams’s car shortly before the murder. This witness had a masculine appearance and fit many of the characteristics described by the eyewitness, but she was never included in any photo array or lineup. · According to Vivian Nickerson’s original sworn statement, Adams was at her house at the time of the murder while she used his car. At trial, she testified to a different time-frame, alleging that Adams arrived after the time of the murder. The defense failed to impeach her testimony by raising the inconsistency between her two statements. · According to the Florida State Crime Lab, hair found in the victim’s hand was not from Adams. This evidence was released three days after Adams was sentenced and then suppressed by the state. · A small bloodstain on one of the dollar bills in Adams’s possession was consistent with the victim’s blood type, but also with 45 percent of people living in the United States. · The one positive identification of Adams as the driver of the car seen in the victim’s driveway was made by a man who accused Adams of having an affair with his wife, for which he had threatened revenge. · At the trial, Adams’s criminal record was used by the prosecution to prejudice the jury, and it was a determining factor in Adams’s conviction and death sentence. · Prosecutors used Adams’s prior rape conviction, which was likely unconstitutional because he was tried without a lawyer, as an aggravating circumstance in the penalty phase of his trial to secure the death sentence. · At the penalty phase of the trial, Adams’s defense attorney did not present mitigating evidence or challenge the prosecution’s use of a racially-biased prior conviction. · Throughout the trial, Adams was referred to as “nigger” by both the prosecution and his own defense counsel. · Prior to closing arguments, a private conference was held at which both the trial judge and prosecutor agreed that there was “no pre-meditation,” which should have exempted Adams from a death sentence. · The jury voted to convict Adams of capital murder. At sentencing, the vote for death was 7 to 5. Trial James Adams was convicted of capital murder on circumstantial evidence and on evidence that was contradictory. On the morning of the crime, Adams’s car had been seen traveling to and from the victim’s house and had been parked in the victim’s driveway. One witness reported that he thought Adams was driving the car towards the victim’s house shortly before the robbery and assault. A second witness positively identified Adams as the driver of the car seen leaving the victim’s home. This witness reportedly stated that he would testify against Adams because he believed that Adams was having an affair with his wife. However, the only witness to see a person leaving the victim’s house at the approximate time of the crime provided a description that did not fit Adams. After viewing a police line-up in which Adams was included, this witness was “positive” that Adams was not the person with whom he spoke. At trial, the same witness who could not pick Adams out of a lineup testified that Adams may or may not have been the person he saw leaving the house. Adams said he was at the house of a friend, Vivian Nickerson, from 10:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. on the day of the murder. Nickerson initially confirmed Adams’s alibi and stated that she had borrowed Adams’s car before 10:30 a.m. At trial, she changed her testimony to say that Adams did not arrive at her house before 11:00 a.m. Adams’s attorney did not question the inconsistency of her statements. Although the state crime lab found that strands of hair on the victim were not from Adams, the crime lab report was not released until three days after the trial. Race was a factor throughout the trial. During the trial, both the prosecution and the defense referred to Adams as “nigger.” The prosecution repeatedly raised Adams’s prior conviction for rape in terms of the race of the victim. The fact that Adams had raped a white woman – not that h
e had merely committed rape – was the aggravating circumstance used by the state to secure a sentence of death, despite the fact that Adams had never before been convicted of a crime punishable by death. Appeals The Florida Supreme Court upheld Adams’s sentence in December 1976, and certiorari was denied on October 3, 1977. He received a stay of execution by the Florida Supreme Court in April 1978. The U.S. Supreme Court continued his stay so he could file his writ of certiorari, which was denied October 30, 1978. He had a clemency hearing November 5, 1979. His first death warrant was signed January 9, 1980. The Florida Supreme Court denied a stay, but he obtained one from the Southern District Court in February of 1980. His writ was denied in an unpublished opinion, and in July of 1983 the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the denial. On January 11, 1984, the U.S. Supreme Court denied certiorari, and on April 12, 1984, his second death warrant was signed. All relief was then denied in the courts, and on May 9, 1984, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated his stay. He was executed the next day. Conclusion James Adams was executed despite undisputed evidence of racial discrimination and compelling evidence of innocence. James Adams did not receive a fair trial. His court-appointed lawyers failed to lodge a competent defense, the state withheld evidence, and both the prosecution and defense were racially-biased and used racist remarks, which served to bias the jury. Nonetheless, by denying all appeals, both state and federal appeals courts upheld both Adams’s conviction and his death sentence.
Willie Jasper Darden, Jr. (Florida)
Allegation On March 15, 1998, the State of Florida, with acquiescence by the federal government, executed Willie Jasper Darden, Jr. in the electric chair. The state and federal governments failed to ensure Darden’s right to a free and fair trial. The unfair and racially discriminatory trial resulted in Darden’s execution. Crime On the evening of September 8, 1973, in the course of a robbery at Carl’s Furniture Store in Lakeland, Florida, James Carl Turman was shot and killed and his 16-year-old neighbor was wounded. The police estimated the time of the murder to be between 6:00 and 6:30 p.m. Darden was arrested for a traffic violation but then subsequently charged with, tried, and convicted of Turman’s murder, assault, and armed robbery. Salient Issues · The wife of the victim, who was an eyewitness to the shooting, was never asked to identify Darden in a lineup, but was asked to identify him in the courtroom, where he was the only African American male present. · The alleged murder weapon was never conclusively tied to either the murder or to Darden. · Numerous state witnesses independently corroborated various parts of Darden’s testimony, in which he denied any involvement in the crime. · Although the police claimed the crime occurred sometime between 6:00 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., the victim’s minister was called to the crime scene at 5:30 p.m. He was never questioned and never called to testify. · A witness, Christine Bass, could place Darden at her house from 4:00 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. on the day of the crime, at or about the time of the murder, but was never called to testify though she came to court every day during the trial. · Bob Brazen, at a nearby filling station, repaired a muffler on the car and reported to the police that Darden left his filling station at closing time, around 6:00 p.m. · John Stone, a witness to a crash Darden had soon after his car was fixed, went to call a wrecker for Darden. On the way, as he drove by the furniture store he noticed police cars in front with flashing lights. He estimated the time as around 6:00 p.m. · Darden, meanwhile, contacted a wrecker about his car, got a ride to his girlfriend’s house and called the sheriff’s department to report his disabled car and to say he would remove it in the morning. · Darden, an African American male, was convicted and sentenced by an all-white jury. · At trial the prosecutor repeatedly referred to Darden as an animal who should be on a leash and said he wished he could see Darden with his face blown off by a shotgun. · Darden was sentenced to death despite the fact that the trial judge found Darden’s own testimony about his innocence a mitigating factor. · The Florida Supreme Court’s “careful review of the totality of the record” consisted of three paragraphs. · The Magistrate before whom Darden’s federal habeas proceedings were conducted recommended that Darden be granted habeas relief on the basis of prosecutorial misconduct. Trial Darden, an African American, was convicted by an all-white jury of killing a white man. The state intentionally excluded all African-American persons from the jury. Intentional exclusion of jurors solely on the basis of race has since been found to be unconstitutional (Batson v. Kentucky, 1986). Jury selection in Darden’s case was improper, according to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun in his dissenting opinion. Three witnesses the victim’s wife, the neighbor who was wounded in the shooting, and another neighbor provided conflicting descriptions of the suspect, but all later identified Darden. Initially, the victim’s wife had difficulty describing the suspect. She was never asked to identify Darden in a line-up. She identified him in court, where he was the only African-American male present. The neighbor injured in the shooting initially described the shooter as a man larger than Darden. Discrepancies in eyewitness accounts included whether Darden had a mustache and whether he was wearing a white or maroon shirt. Darden’s lawyer failed to raise these discrepancies at trial. The time fram
e was key to securing Darden’s conviction. Christine Bass had stated that Darden was in front of her house with a broken down car from 4 to 5:30 p.m. She came to court daily during the trial to testify and was never called. Other witnesses, Brazen and Stone, had noted the time when they had contact with Darden. Stone, in particular, saw police cars in front of the furniture store at about 6 p.m. Darden, himself, called the sheriff’s office to report an accident he had after his car was fixed. This was at 6:32 p.m., according to the sheriff’s report. Yet the state was able to get a conviction. Years later, the victim’s minister, who had been called to the crime scene at 5:30 p.m. and had arrived at 5:55 p.m., realized that this information was significant to the case. Both he and Christine Bass gave affidavits that would have strengthened Darden’s alibi. The prosecutor used racist remarks and inflammatory statements to prejudice the jury. During trial, he repeatedly expressed a wish “that I could see [Darden] sitting here with no face, blown away by a shotgun.” In addition to evidence of Darden’s innocence and evidence of ineffective counsel, the prosecution’s racist and inflammatory statements should have been grounds for a re-examination of this case. Appeals On its way through state and federal appeals, Darden’s case was found sufficiently egregious to warrant review on numerous grounds. Darden was granted a stay of execution to allow the court time to consider his appeal. In all he received seven death warrants and six stays. He came within hours of death several times. In 1984, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals voted 7-5 to grant habeas relief to Darden. This decision, however, was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, which remanded the case for further consideration. On remand, the Eleventh Circuit denied relief. In 1986, Florida Governor Bob Martinez refused to meet with the witnesses whose statements corroborated Darden’s alibi. He kept signing the death warrants as Darden lost in the courts. Conclusion Willie Jasper Darden, Jr. was executed despite compelling evidence of his innocence. The state failed to provide Darden with competent legal counsel. Darden’s state appointed lawyers did not identify or call important witnesses who had evidence of Darden’s innocence. The state intentionally excluded all African-American persons from the jury a practice later found to be an unconstitutional form of racial discrimination. While appeals courts did find evidence of prosecutorial misconduct sufficiently egregious to warrant further review and even to grant habeas relief, the decision of the trial court, in the end, was upheld.
Leo Jones (Florida)
Convicted 1981 Executed 1998
Jones was convicted of murdering a police officer in Jacksonville, Florida. Jones signed a confession after several hours of police interrogation, but he later claimed the confession was coerced. In the mid-1980s, the policeman who arrested Jones and the detective who took his confession were forced out of uniform for ethical violations. The policeman was later identified by a fellow officer as an “enforcer” who had used torture. Many witnesses came forward pointing to another suspect in the case.
Jesse J. Tafero (Florida)
Allegation On May 4, 1990, the State of Florida, with the acquiescence of the federal government, executed Jesse J. Tafero in the electric chair. The state and federal governments failed to ensure Tafero’s right to a fair and impartial trial and right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. The unfair trial resulted in Tafero’s execution. Crime Early on the morning of February 20, 1976, a Florida highway patrolman and his friend, a visiting Canadian constable, approached a car parked at a rest stop for a routine check. Jesse Tafero, Sonia Jacobs, their two children, and Walter Rhodes, a prison friend of Tafero’s, were asleep in the car. Allegedly, the patrolman saw a gun on the floor of the car. He woke the occupants and had Rhodes and then Tafero get out of the car. At some point after that, both the patrolman and the constable were shot. After fleeing the scene in the patrolman’s car, and then dumping the car, kidnapping a man, and stealing his car, the three were caught at a roadblock. Rhodes, Tafero, and Jacobs were all arrested. Rhodes turned state’s evidence in exchange for a plea to a lesser charge. Tafero and Jacobs were tried and convicted of capital murder. Salient Issues · Jesse Tafero was convicted and sentenced to death largely on the testimony of one co-defendant, Walter Rhodes, who named Tafero as the shooter. · In exchange for his testimony, Rhodes was allowed to plead guilty to second-degree murder, and avoid the death penalty. · The prosecutor justified Rhodes’s plea bargain based on a polygraph test he alleged Rhodes had passed. · The summary of Rhodes’s polygraph test was withheld from the defense by the state. · In a legal challenge by Tafero’s other co-defendant, Sonia Jacobs, a federal appeals court found that withholding the polygraph test was unconstitutional. · Rhodes recanted his testimony on three separate occasions in 1977, 1979, and 1982 stating that he, not Tafero, shot the policemen. Ultimately, Rhodes reverted to his original testimony. · Gunpowder tests were performed by the state. A federal appeals court confirmed that the test results indicated that Rhodes was the only one to have fired a gun. · At both his trial and his sentencing hearing, Tafero’s lawyer failed to call or question any witnesses on Tafero’s behalf. · Two eyewitnesses, who were testifying for the state, said that while the shots were being fired,
one officer was holding Tafero over the hood of the car. · The judge was a former highway patrolman, who had only retired from the police force three years prior to the trial. He wore his police hat to work as a judge. He did not allow Tafero to call witnesses and would not allow him hearings on this decision. · The jury in the trial was un-sequestered. · Tafero’s other co-defendant, Sonia Jacobs, was likewise convicted of capital murder on the basis of Rhodes’s testimony. After Tafero’s execution, evidence that had been suppressed by the state, which pointed to both Jacobs’s and Tafero’s innocence, was discovered. Jacobs’s conviction was eventually overturned. · Tafero’s court-appointed trial lawyer was subsequently convicted of bribing a jury and sent to prison. Trial Jesse Tafero was convicted largely on the basis of co-defendant Walter Rhodes’s testimony that Tafero had shot both officers. A jailhouse informant also testified against Tafero. Rhodes was allowed to plead guilty to a lesser charge in exchange for his testimony against his two co-defendants, Tafero and Jacobs, who were each tried separately. The prosecutor maintained that Rhodes had passed a polygraph test and thus a plea bargain was justified. Evidence discovered after the trial showed that Rhodes had not passed the polygraph test and that the state had suppressed the results of the test, which contained statements contradicting Rhodes’s trial testimony. Rhodes recanted his testimony on three separate occasions in 1977, 1979 and 1982 stating that he, not Tafero, shot the policemen. Ultimately, Rhodes reverted to his original testimony. A statement from a prison guard corroborating Rhodes’ recantations was also suppressed and found years later. Ballistic tests indicated that one gun shot both policemen. Ballistic tests also showed that Rhodes definitely had fired a gun and that Tafero might have fired a gun or might have simply handled a gun after it was fired. The later scenario corroborated Tafero’s account that Rhodes had shot the policemen and then handed Tafero the gun so that he could drive the car. Rhodes was driving the car when it was finally stopped during a shoot-out at a police roadblock. At the trial, one eyewitness testified that he saw a man in brown, Tafero, spread eagle on the hood of the police car when the shots were fired. A second eyewitness testified that he saw a man in blue, Rhodes, move from the front of the car to the rear just before the shooting. Neither witness could identify which man was the shooter. Appeals Tafero’s conviction was affirmed on June 11, 1981. A motion for error coram nobis failed in 1983. In 1988, the Florida Supreme Court denied state habeas relief. Other state appeals were also denied in 1984, 1987, and 1990. The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals reviewed the case twice, in 1986 and 1989, and affirmed the conviction. In Sonia Jacobs’ 1992 appeal, evidence of the suppressed polygraph test, the prison guard’s suppressed statement, and a physical re-creation of the crime scene presented a convincing scenario that Rhodes was the sole shooter. The new evidence resulted in the reversal of Jacobs’ conviction. Had the evidence been found prior to Tafero’s execution, it is highly probable that his conviction would have been likewise overturned. Execution Jesse Tafero was executed in Florida’s electric chair. During the execution, Tafero’s head seemed to catch on fire. Flames and smoke were seen shooting out of his head, causing the state to interrupt the electric current three times. Witnesses to the execution claimed that Tafero continued to breathe and move after the first charge was interrupted. The state’s execution was particularly cruel, and it served as a final violation of Tafero’s right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. Conclusion Jesse J. Tafero was executed despite evidence of his innocence that was finally heard by a United States court, but only after Tafero was executed. The Eleventh U.S. Circuit Court found evidence compelling enough to overturn the conviction of Tafero’s co-defendant, Sonia Jacobs a conviction based almost entirely on the evidence used to convict Tafero. Jacobs later accepted a plea bargain and was released. Immediately upon release, she reaffirmed her innocence. Both state and federal courts failed to protect Tafero’s right to a fair trial. The state’s suppression of evidence that was favorable to Tafero’s defense and that corroborated his claim of innocence violated Tafero’s constitutional and international human rights. The initial violation was compounded by the failure of state and federal courts to act to protect Tafero’s rights to a fair trial and his right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment, a right violated in the course of his execution.
Are YOU willing to be the
innocent person executed?
Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty
2603 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Hwy
Gainesville, FL 32609