ALABAMA DEATH ROW INMATES SUE STATE - December 29, 2001
You all need to see this, and remember that Alabama executes more people PER CAPITA than any other state in this country. And Alabama likes it that way! I would like DP abolitionists to look more closely at Alabama. We look at states like Texas who execute more people in numbers, but not more people PER CAPITA [per population ratio]. That's an important distinction which I believe is currently being missed.
Please also review the 5-part special series on Alabama death penalty that was in the Birmingham Post-Herald a couple of weeks ago. It will give you more about this issue than perhaps you've ever realized before: http://www.postherald.com/justice.shtml
Sherry Swiney www.patrickcrusade.org
----- Original Message ----- From: "Phillipa Chantry" <firstname.lastname@example.org> Sent: Sunday, December 30, 2001 4:33 AM Subject: Alabama death row inmates sue state
Dec. 29, 2001
Death row inmates sue state -- Lawsuit denounces lack of legal help; Pryor defends system
A federal lawsuit filed Friday claims Alabama's death row system is unconstitutional because inmates aren't guaranteed help in their final legal battles to be spared from the electric chair.
The system makes inmates dependent on charity lawyers, and many can't get one at all, said Bryan Stevenson, director of the Equal Justice Initiative of Alabama, which filed the lawsuit in Montgomery federal court.
"It's just wholly inadequate. There are 40 death row inmates that have no representation right now," Stevenson said.
Lawyers are appointed to handle trials and direct appeals in Alabama's death row system, but Alabama has no state-funded mechanism for providing lawyers after that, Stevenson said. Alabama has about 184 people on death row, making it one of the larger per capita death rows in the country.
Attorney General Bill Pryor, whose office defends death penalty convictions, said the current system works and predicted the lawsuit will fail. "I don't think there's any merit to it," he said.
Pryor said it was "utterly ridiculous" to think large numbers of convictions would be overturned in the final stages of the appellate process.
The proposed class-action lawsuit names Gov. Don Siegelman, Department of Corrections Commissioner Mike Haley, and the wardens of William E. Donaldson Correctional Facility and Holman State Prison as defendants.
The plaintiffs in the case are 8 death row inmates: Christopher Barbour, Tony Barksdale, James Borden, James Callahan, Eugene Clemons, Gary Hart, Glenn Holladay and Anthony Tyson.
The lawsuit also claims that prisoners who do successfully arrange pro bono counsel find access to their attorneys severely curtailed by prison visitation policies.
"They are greatly restricting access. If I wanted to go see a client, it might be 5 weeks before I get an appointment," Stevenson said.
Donaldson prison does not allow paralegals to visit alone, meaning a lawyer must make the trip every time the inmate needs to sign a legal document, Stevenson said.
Stevenson said it is also unreasonable that the state caps expenses for lawyers who do take on death row cases at $1,000 in the final stages of appeal. It is difficult to find a lawyer even a charity-minded one to take a case requiring hundreds of research hours at that price, he said.
Stevenson said Alabama should do as many other states have and set up a state-funded office to handle death penalty defense.
Pryor pointed out that lawyers get paid more during the initial and 1st round of appeals than in later rounds.
Department of Corrections spokesman John Hamm said he could not comment until the lawsuit had been received and reviewed.
The American Bar Association, which recruits lawyers for death penalty cases, said other Southern states including Texas and Georgia, despite having similar cultures, pump far more resources into death penalty defense than Alabama.
"Without a doubt Alabama is the worst," said Robin Maher, director of the ABA's death penalty representation project. "That should be an embarrassment for the people of Alabama."
Texas, for example, makes sure an inmate has a lawyer at every stage of the appellate process, Ms. Maher said. In July, the project made Alabama its top priority because of the shortage of lawyers for death row inmates.
A spokeswoman for Siegelman said she believed the state would prevail.
"The governor is confident in Alabama's system for capital punishment, and obviously we believe that it is a fair one," Siegelman Press Secretary Carrie Kurlander said.
(source: Birmingham News)