Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Content of Our Character

With one week left before our scheduled execution of Preston Hughes, an innocent man, I choose to use the words of Martin Luther King for the title of this post. If you have not listened to or at least read Mr. King's I Have a Dream speech in its entirety, it is your loss. From that speech, I selected my title from this sentence.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I fear for the content of our nation's character.

As I was working on Mr. Hughes' petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus, I incidentally became aware of this seemingly unrelated graphic.


It summarizes our drone raids against just one country, Pakistan, a purported ally. The size of the circles indicates the estimated number of militants we killed. The ring surrounding the circle represents the number of non-militants we killed. Another word for non-militants is innocent civilians. The ring surrounding the circle represents the number of innocent people we killed.

The red circles represent the strikes that took place under the leadership of President George W. Bush. We elected him in 2000 and reelected him in 2004. The blue circles represent the strikes that took place under the leadership of President Barack Obama. We elected him in 2008 and reelected him just this week. Not only does President Obama hold the distinction of being granted the Nobel Peace Prize, he holds the distinction that his blue circles are larger and more numerous than are President Bush's red circles. President Obama holds the distinction as well that the pale rings surrounding his circles are more numerous and even wider than the pale rings surrounding his predecessor's circles.

I saw the figure, I studied it, and I went back to work on Mr. Hughes' petition.

Some days later, I can't be more specific for I've lost my sense of time, I turned on Turner Classic Movies to play in the background. Judgement at Nuremberg was playing. I had seen it before, several times, but it somehow demanded my attention.

It was more poignant than before. Suddenly I was watching it just as I was accusing our government of manufacturing evidence, of perjury, of coercion, of sentencing an innocent man to death. With only ten days or so before we execute another innocent man, I heard Spencer Tracy utter his verdict regarding four judges charged at Nuremberg.
"[T]he charge is that of conscious participation in a nationwide, government organized system of cruelty and injustice, in violation of every moral and legal principle known to all civilized nations. ... The real complaining party at the bar in this courtroom is civilization. ... Men who sat in black robes in judgment on other men. ... The principle of criminal law in every civilized society has this in common: any person who sways another to commit murder, any person who furnishes the lethal weapon for the purpose of the crime, any person who is an accessory to the crime, is guilty. 
... [T]his trial has shown that under a national crisis, ordinary, even able and extraordinary men, can delude themselves into the commission of crimes so vast and heinous that they beggar the imagination. No one who has sat through the trial can ever forget them. ... 
There are those in our own country too who today speak of the 'protection of country,' of 'survival'. A decision must be made in the life of every nation at the very moment when the grasp of the enemy is at its throat. Then, it seems that the only way to survive is to use the means of the enemy, to rest survival upon what is expedient, to look the other way. Well, the answer to that is 'survival as what'? A country isn't a rock. It's not an extension of one's self. It's what it stands for. It's what it stands for when standing for something is the most difficult. Before the people of the world, let it now be noted that here, ... this is what we stand for: Justice, truth, and the value of a single human being.
The movie ended soon thereafter with American Judge Spencer Tracy speaking behind bars with one of the men he had just sentenced to life, German Judge Burt Lancaster.
Burt Lancaster: "Judge Haywood ... the reason I asked you to come: Those people, those millions of people ... I never knew it would come to that. You must believe it. You must believe it." 
Spencer Tracy: "Herr Janning, it came to that the first time you sentenced a man to death you knew to be innocent."
I went back to work.

And then Benghazi. Through gross incompetence, we put our foreign mission in harm's way; we failed to provide the security it needed, requested and deserved; we then did nothing to save them during a seven hour battle that claimed the lives of four of them. We then lied to ourselves about what happened.

Angry, I went back to work.

And then the Texas Tribune / New York Times article came out. In that article, Mr. Hughes' own attorney, Mr. Patrick F. McCann, planted suspicion in our nation's consciousness about some deep, dark secret Mr. McCann holds of his own client's guilt. He speaks of ethics as he does this, as he violates his client's privilege of confidentiality.

I went back to work.

And then I learned that Mr. Hughes' case has for five years been on a list of cases that should be reviewed from beginning to end.


In 2002, the city of Houston was shaken by a series of devastating disclosures focusing on its police crime lab. From the executive summary:
The people of Houston and many of the city’s public officials quite appropriately questioned how many wrongful convictions may have been obtained based on flawed forensic evidence and its presentation to Harris County juries.
The city of Houston and the HPD therefore commissioned an independent investigation to answer the profound questions about the depth and breadth of the problems infecting the lab. James Bolding would turn out to be the central figure in the scandal. It was the same James Bolding that fabricated evidence of Mr. Hughes guilt and withheld actual evidence of his innocence.

The results of the investigation cast serious doubt on the quality of the convictions in which the HPD crime lab serology section had been involved. In 21% of the 850 cases where the defendant was still incarcerated, the investigators "found major issues calling into question the reliability of the serology work performed by the Crime Lab or the accuracy of the results it reported". In 41% of the 29 cases in which the defendant had already been executed, the investigators found similar "major issues".

The commission made five recommendations to the city and the police department that had requested the report, as well as to Harris County and the District Attorney's Office. In short, the recommendations were to re-investigate each and every case identified in the report as having major issues with the HPD crime lab, to appoint a special master for each case, to conduct all possible DNA testing at their expense.

Mr. Hughes' case was on the list of those having "major issues" due to the sloppy and fraudulent work of the HPD crime lab. Everyone knew or should have known that Mr. Hughes' conviction and his sentence were based on the work of a crime lab and a specific individual known to be untrustworthy, known to have engaged in fraud. Yet no one did anything rather than pursue his execution.

My anger grew, and I went back to work.

And then Mr. Hughes' attorney, Mr. Patrick F. McCann, filed yet another application for Writ of Habeas Corpus, against the express wishes of his client, and by so doing prejudiced his own client in ways too complicated to discuss here. In that poorly written, incomplete, and insufficiently substantiated application, Mr. McCann never once claimed his client was innocent. For 25 years, Mr. Hughes had been trying to get his claim of innocence before the Court, and Mr. McCann had deprived him of his last opportunity.

Rather than present evidence of his client's innocence, Mr. McCann planted seeds of suspicion in the minds of the very justices who would rule on Mr. Hughes' last chance to live. Mr. McCann adopted the claim, developed in this blog, that Shandra Charles' must have been dead when Sgt. Hamilton claimed she provided him a dying declaration. Mr. McCann then undermined that claim with a completely unnecessary, completely unsubstantiated suggestion that the police fabricated the dying declaration to protect someone who had actually witnessed the crime.

Not surprisingly, Mr. McCann's application was quickly rejected by the Court as an "abuse of the writ without considering the merits of the claims." Mr. McCann had placed yet another nearly insurmountable hurdle before his client.

I seethed, and I went back to work.

Regarding the content of our nation's character, my faith has been restored somewhat. I have met and worked with some amazing people, and two of them in particular have helped give Mr. Hughes his chance to proclaim his innocence before the highest court in Texas.

Yesterday, in a series of last minute twists and turns worthy of a John Grisham novel, Mr. Hughes finally filed his application for Writ of Habeas Corpus with 174th Judicial District Court of Harris County and Court of Criminal Appeals in Texas. He finally, after 25 years, has the opportunity to tell the Court that he is innocent, that he should therefore not be executed, that he should therefore be released or granted a new trial.

Stay tuned.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Excellent job, take a long nap, drink a good whisky, eat some great meal. I pray no execution will take place in Texas next week. You're blessed and awsome.K.

Lynne said...

Excellent. I am hoping Preston gets a break. He is lucky to have you fighting for him. Thank you for the update.

Marie Aschehoug-Clauteaux said...

Thanks for those news… Hope some thing will be happen for Preston. I know him for more 10 years and this situation has broken my heart… so absurd! Take care of you, Marie (from France)

Rick.Bonin said...

You are a God-send for Preston. I cannot imagine how grateful he must be for your support. On second thought, yes I can. Now, we wait, and pray that justice is not a pipedream in Texas.

Satish Marathe said...

TSJ,
Admittedly I had not read through the entire blog - now I have gone through the blog and must admit there are serious questions regarding the evidence presented.
I know you have less than a week to get the sentence reversed - so hoping that you succeed in preventing the execution.

Once that is done - if I may request you - some questions that still raise doubts in my mind :
1 >Did Preston Hughes know Shandra ? - was she a casual acquaintance or were they in any kind of relationship ( do not intend to slander Shandra's name - but believe it would have some relevance )
2 >Is it normal for a 15 year old girl to be roaming so late into the night ?
Was her mother not worried ? Did she not make any calls ?

3 >As per her friend Evelyn - has she testified with respect to what Shandra was supposedly going to do ?

4 >My understanding is the police 'suspected' Hughes to be guilty - and took the easy way out - and assumed him to be already guilty

5 >Lastly - does Mr Hughes have any history of drug usage / dealing in drugs
His friends / crowd he would hang around with - were these people in any ways involved in any shady deals

I am a novice and admittedly do not understand the US culture and laws but your blog makes a compelling read

Once you get the time and once Preston's impending execution is prevented - would look forward to your thoughts on the questions above
Best regards,
satish marathe

Anonymous said...

I also had a question. Does the Texas Clemency Board review all death penalty cases or does the party have to ask them to? I think the last hope will be with them because I think this writ will get rejected too.

Mike

Anonymous said...

Calling people nazis because they disagree with you. Yeah, that will work...

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