I blogged a few days ago about the surprising turn of events in which the Court refused to stay an execution on Tuesday but granted a stay in a nearly identical case on Thursday.
According to TheRegister (via Engadget), Michael Richards was unable to receive a stay on his execution because his attorney was 20 minutes late to file paperwork no account of a computer problem. It sounds like a number of employees had stayed in their offices late in order to wait for the paperwork to come in for Mr.Richards’ appeal. Unfortunately, Judge Sharon Keller refused to accept any late filings, despite the obvious gravity of a pending execution.
Presiding Judge Sharon Keller refused to allow the appeal to be filed after 5pm, and did not consult with her colleagues on her decision. She said: “I think the question ought to be why didn’t they file something on time? They had all day.” The court does not accept emailed appeals.
Judge Keller has a long history of squashing the rights of the convicted. In 1990, Roy Criner was convicted of raping and killing a young lady, but in 1997 when DNA evidence arose that could have freed him, Judge Keller rejected his right to a new trial, saying “When you look at new evidence, you look at it to see whether it would have made a difference in their verdict. If it would, he gets a new trial. If it wouldn’t, then he doesn’t.” Well, it turns out that he was innocent. Its not surprising then that Judge Keller has built up a considerable amount of resistance from her brash and careless attitude towards the convicted. You can find Judge Keller (Killer?)’s myspace page here.
Just yesterday, I had asked my Constitutional Law Professor if he had any idea why a Texas inmate was allowed to die on Tuesday but not on Thursday. His reply, without knowing the facts of the case, was that there was probably a disparity in the quality of the lawyers involved. I’m not sure how to react to news of a man being put to death using a concoction that may be considered cruel and unusual in 6 months- all because his attorney (presumably a public defender) couldn’t operate his computer properly.
According to the article, Civil Rights advocates are considering an official complaint. I think the Court’s need to show some leniency in cases such as this one and it looks like a number of individuals in the Judge’s office were willing to do just that. The judicial system has long held that individuals on death row deserve to be given a special degree of protection from the Courts. This belief extends back to Powell v. Alabama (1932) where the Court held that states must give defendants in capital cases access to council.
In the light of the facts outlined in the forepart of this opinion — the ignorance and illiteracy of the defendants, their youth, the circumstances of public hostility, the imprisonment and the close surveillance of the defendants by the military forces, the fact that their friends and families were all in other states and communication with them necessarily difficult, and, above all, that they stood in deadly peril of their lives — we think the failure of the trial court to give them reasonable time and opportunity to secure counsel was a clear denial of due process.
Regardless of the legality of Judge Keller’s decision, it makes my stomach churn to think that a man was denied a stay on his execution because his lawyer couldn’t turn in his petition on time and that a Judge couldn’t stay at work for an extra 20 minutes in order to accept his plea.