Thursday, June 5, 2008

TCASK Abolition Update

Bail Hearing for Paul House

Though hopes were dashed when Judge Harold Mattice did not release Paul House at a May 28th hearing in Nashville but instead gave the state of Tennessee the authority to hold him for re-trial, there is yet another opportunity for House to be released to his mother’s care. A hearing will be held on Friday, June 6 in Union County to set bail for House. The state is proceeding to re-try him on first degree murder charges but will not seek the death penalty. Instead, the state will seek a life sentence, making House eligible for bail. TCASK will keep you informed as more information becomes available and will be planning a fundraising effort to assist with the bail.

Tennessee Cases Reveal More Problems

Though Paul House’s case is perhaps the most publicized of Tennessee’s problematic cases, many other cases on Tennessee’s death row are full of egregious issues which the courts should be seeking to remedy. Ineffective assistance of counsel and faulty eyewitness testimony plague many of these cases. And because the system lacks a basic understanding of how to engage those with mental illness, mentally ill defendants are often misunderstood and do not receive the defense they need. The death penalty system continues to be rife with such problems, highlighting why the work of the Committee to Study the Administration of the Death Penalty is so crucial.

Recently, thanks to the outstanding work of post-conviction attorneys and federal defenders, several death row inmates in Tennessee have received some relief:

Arthur Copeland

The case of Arthur Copeland is a classic “whodunit” involving many actors but no definitive answers. Arthur T. “A.C.” Copeland was tried, convicted, and sentenced for the April 1998 murder of Andre Jackson in Maryville, TN. Copeland, an African-American, was convicted by an all-white jury based on the testimony of a witness who changed her original statement to police and by another witness who was a known drug abuser. The court did not allow the jury to hear critical testimony from a national expert concerning the unreliability of eyewitness identification. The lower court's exclusion of this key testimony was crucial in the Tennessee Supreme Court's decision issued in May 2007 which reversed both Copeland's sentence and conviction. Copeland’s new trial is currently scheduled for March 2009.

Richard Taylor

Richard Taylor, a man with severe mental illness who spent 18 years on death row in Tennessee, had his conviction and death sentence reversed by a Tennessee appeals court in March. On June 3, Taylor who was twice forced to stand trial despite his severe mental illness, agreed to serve a life sentence in exchange for pleading guilty to the 1981 murder of a Tennessee prison guard — a crime committed only after prison officials stopped giving Taylor his anti-psychotic medication.

Wayne Bates

Wayne Bates has been an inmate on Tennessee's death row for over 22 years. He recently had his death sentence overturned due to prosecutorial misconduct during arguments and was given a life sentence.

Darrell Wayne Taylor

Darrell Wayne Taylor's case was settled in state post-conviction procedures on a Middlebrooks claim. Such a claim states that the felony which secured the underlying conviction cannot also be the aggravating factor upon which a death sentence is given. Taylor is now serving a life sentence.

Gussie Vann

Death row inmate Gussie Vann will be granted a new trial after a judge ruled his defense attorneys did not provide an adequate challenge to claims that he raped and murdered his 8-year-old daughter in 1992. Vann asked for a new trial during his last court appearance in McMinn County in September. During the hearing, forensic experts testified there were flaws in the state's handling of evidence following Vann’s daughter’s death, which was originally reported as an accidental hanging. The experts said there were no signs of sexual abuse as originally reported in the autopsy prepared by former medical examiner Ronald Toolsie of Bradley County. Forensic experts also accuse Toolsie of botching the autopsy of 14-month-old Angel Delashmitt, who was found dead in a McMinn County pond in 2003. Angel's father is charged with raping and killing the infant and is awaiting trial.


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