User-agent: * Allow: / Legal news, political opinion, Satire, and lawyer thinking by Tim Paynter, Attorney at Law: DA hides death case evidence, supreme ct. refuses to stay sentence

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

DA hides death case evidence, supreme ct. refuses to stay sentence

The Supreme Court of the United States of America refused to stay the execution of inmate Cecil Johnson who had filed a motion for review of the case, similar to an appeal, thereby denying him his final right to a hearing. He was executed December 02, 2009 at 1:33 a.m.

Johnson was convicted in 1981 of the murder of three people during a convenience store robbery. In 1992, 11 years later, it was discovered the State of Tennessee had withheld critical evidence that Johnson could have used in his defense, and which might have prevented the original conviction.

Johnson's attorneys requested the Supreme Court stay the inmate's execution until the court could decide whether executing Johnson after keeping him on death row for 29 years was cruel and unusual punishment. This was especially true in light of the fact he may have been found not guilty 29 years earlier had the State of Tennessee disclosed evidence, Johnson's attorneys argued.

In a split vote, the Supreme Court decided not to hear the case, thereby sealing Johnson's fate. As is procedure, one Justice from the winning vote to hear or not hear the case, and one Justice from the losing vote wrote opinons called the Majority opinon and the Dissent.

Justice John Paul Stevens writing for the Dissent, or losing vote, said this was "as compelling" a case as he had seen. He said executing Johnson after keeping him on death row in "dehumanizing conditions of confinement" was indeed, cruel and unusual punishment. This was espcecially the case since the evidence the State of Tennessee withheld could have been used to challenge a key witness in the case.

"We cannot know as a definitive matter whether, if the state had not withheld exculpatory evidence, Johnson would have been convicted of these crimes," wrote Stevens. "We do know that Johnson would not have waited 11 years on death row before the State met its disclosure obligations."

Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the majority opinion which expressed his belief the death sentence should be stayed by one day, and then carried out quickly thereafter.

He said those who side with Justice Stevens must find their support "in precedent from the 'European Court of Human Rights, the Supreme Court of Zimbabwe, the Supreme Court of India, or the Privy Council'" The Thomas opinion suggests the argument for cruel and unusual punishment as made by the condemned man's attorney has no support in the consitution.

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