A Long Legal Battle Over Prosecutorial Misconduct by the AL Attorney General’s Office Results in the Dismissal of Murder Charges Against George Martin

Copied article originally posted here Mar 30, 2016

“If the Martin case is not one which is appropriate for dismissal, there may never be one.”

That’s not a quote from a defense brief or a member of the defense team’s mouth. It is a direct quote from Judge Robert H. Smith’s March 11, 2016 order dismissing George Martin’s capital murder indictment with prejudice. “Had this case been tried fairly,” he adds, “all would have had resolution of this matter long ago.” Indeed, though the State is appealing the judge’s decision, the trial court’s order reveals the disturbing truth that the Alabama Attorney General’s office has engaged in intentional misconduct in the Martin case for more than a decade.

Though we have previously covered the case, we add some additional details here in light of these latest developments. George Martin, a former State trooper in Alabama, was charged with killing his wife, Hammoleketh Martin, for pecuniary gain. She died in a fire inside her car in 1995. Because the Mobile County District Attorney’s Office decided not to prosecute the case, the Attorney General’s office took over. The State alleged that Martin intentionally set his wife’s car on fire while she was inside, killing her to collect life insurance payments. At trial, Martin’s defense was that the death was an accident caused by a mishap with the gas can the victim kept in the car.

The State prevailed at trial and won a conviction in 2000. The jury initially returned an 8-4 recommendation for a life sentence, but the trial court judge (then-Judge Ferrill McRae) overrode that recommendation and sentenced Martin to death. (This death sentence was soon lifted by the Alabama Supreme Court with instructions for additional consideration of the jury’s sentencing recommendation; after that additional consideration, Judge McRae again imposed a death sentence despite the jurors’ earlier vote in favor of mercy.) The Alabama judiciary denied Mr. Martin’s direct appeals.

In post-conviction proceedings in 2008, Martin’s defense team requested access to the prosecution’s files because it believed the prosecution had withheld exculpatory evidence. Those motions sparked an epic legal battle that lasted several years in which the Attorney General’s office fought tooth-and-nail to keep its files from the opposition. On three separate occasions, the prosecutors launched mandamus petitions in an effort to shut down the trial court’s orders to turn over the information the defense had requested. The first effort succeeded, temporarily. But, the trial court then made the “good cause” finding the appellate court requested in order to compel disclosure. The State’s second effort to stave off discovery also succeeded temporarily, but in 2010 the trial court again granted the defense’s discovery motion. The State filed another mandamus petition to avoid fulfilling the order; finally the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals and the Alabama Supreme Court denied the State’s petition.

So, what happened when the State at long last turned over its file? What had it been sitting on for so many years? Why was the Attorney General’s office so profoundly reluctant to give Martin an opportunity to look at the documents compiled during its investigation? Perhaps unsurprisingly, the discovery contained a treasure trove of exculpatory evidence that would have facilitated Mr. Martin’s defense at trial.

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ALABAMA COURT REVERSES HOUSTON COUNTY DEATH SENTENCE FOR THE FOURTH TIME

Article originally posted on the equal Justice Initiatives website here, June 3, 2016

Today, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals reversed EJI client Jerry Smith’s death sentence for the fourth time, finding that the sentence sought by Houston County District Attorney Doug Valeska was again unconstitutionally obtained.

Mr. Smith was convicted of capital murder and illegally sentenced to death in 1998. That sentence was reversed by the Alabama Supreme Court because the trial court improperly excluded mitigating evidence from the jury’s consideration.

Mr. Smith was illegally sentenced to death a second time; the Alabama Supreme Court reversed that sentence because potential jurors had unconstitutional contact with members of the victims’ family.

Mr. Smith was illegally sentenced to death again in 2012 after a proceeding where the jury was wrongly told to consider an improper sentencing factor. That error was so clear the Attorney General’s Office agreed the case should be reversed and the Court of Criminal Appeals reversed Mr. Smith’s death sentence.

In a fourth sentencing proceeding, District Attorney Doug Valeska again obtained a death sentence for Mr. Smith. That sentence was reversed today because the Court of Criminal Appeals agreed with EJI’s arguments that the trial judge violated the Sixth Amendment when he barred members of the public from the courtroom during the proceedings.

EJI also argued that Mr. Valeska illegally barred African Americans from serving on the jury for Mr. Smith’s fourth sentencing trial. Mr. Valeska removed every one of the 11 qualified African Americans from the jury. As a result, Mr. Smith, who is black, was tried by an all-white jury in a county whose population is 25 percent African American. The Court of Criminal Appeals did not address this issue in today’s opinion because it reversed Mr. Smith’s death sentence because his right to a public trial was violated.

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Why the death penalty is criminal injustice

Richard Branson

By Richard Branson
16 May 2016 and originally published on Richard’s blog

I was truly touched and humbled to receive the Abolition Award from Death Penalty Focus in California last week. I travelled to California to pick up the award and share my views because I have always believed that the death penalty is cruel, barbaric and inhumane. I wanted to share my remarks from the evening more widely on my blog, as the death penalty is an issue that affects everyone.

It is a violation of human rights that has no place in a civilized society. And I feel we all have a duty to work for its abolition across the world Over the years, I have used my voice, my reach, and my resources to take a stand against the death penalty, in the US and elsewhere. Some countries – like Saudi-Arabia, Iran, China and Pakistan – continue to execute people at an alarming rate, and convictions often follow legal proceedings that violate every standard of fairness and human decency.

Richard Branson Abolition Award from Death Penalty Focus
Richard Branson Abolition Award from Death Penalty Focus
Image by Hugh Williams

But there is a glimmer of hope: for the first time ever, the majority of the world’s countries – 102, to be precise – are abolitionist for all crimes. The Republic of Congo, Fiji, Madagascar and Suriname are the latest countries to join the growing list of those that abolished the death penalty for good. This is the moment to turn our attention to the US. By all accounts, the death penalty is on the decline. The number of executions is down, as more states repeal their death penalty statutes. A large portion of death sentences is imposed in just 15 counties across the country. Even red states are no longer bastions of support for the ultimate punishment. A Republican-driven repeal effort in Utah was narrowly defeated just weeks ago, and Nebraska’s legislators voted to abolish the death penalty last year, even though their effort will be challenged this November.

Overall, these developments give me hope that ending the death penalty in the US is no longer a pipe dream, but a growing movement that crosses partisan lines – a movement of those who understand it’s not just the right thing to do, but also the sensible thing to do, no matter how you look at it. Less than 10 years from now, I’m certain, the death penalty in the US will be history. What will get us there? In November, the eyes of the world will be on California as its people decide the fate of the death penalty. It may be the biggest opportunity yet to show that the tide is turning. When California outlaws the deliberate killing of prisoners, and closes down the largest death row in the country, the rest of the civilized world will celebrate with it. You may wonder why a British entrepreneur cares so much about the death penalty in the US. Well, part of the answer is my belief in forgiveness, redemption, and second chances in life. Just a few days ago, I listened to the wonderful Sister Helen Prejean. She made a heartfelt and compassionate case why we should care. “We are worth more than the worst moment of our lives,” she said. That stuck in mind: I couldn’t agree more.

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Why you should care about ensuring defendants get a fair trial

By Kira Fonteneau, Jefferson County Public Defender

On March 18, 1963, in “Gideon v. Wainwright,” the United States Supreme Court recognized that people who are charged with crimes are entitled to legal counsel even if they cannot afford to pay for it themselves. By upholding the constitutional right to an attorney, the Court empowered the justice system as a whole.

Kira Fonteneau, Jefferson County Public Defender c/o Kira Fonteneau
Kira Fonteneau, Jefferson County Public Defender c/o Kira Fonteneau

“Our state and national constitutions and laws have laid great emphasis on procedural and substantive safeguards designed to assure fair trials before impartial tribunals in which every defendant stands equal before the law,” declared Justice Hugo Black, an Alabama native, in the court’s opinion. “This noble ideal cannot be realized if the poor man charged with crime has to face his accusers without a lawyer to assist him.”

Since Gideon, a generation of lawyers and other professionals have worked tirelessly to defend clients who would otherwise be crushed under the weight of the criminal justice system.

As lawyers who represent the poor in Alabama, we know that many people have mixed feelings about the role criminal defense lawyers play in society.  It can be hard for the public to separate an individual from the grievous crimes he is accused of by the government. All too often, that societal distrust of alleged criminals is extended toward the people who defend them. As a result, there is a natural tendency to downplay the importance of providing a quality defense to those who are accused.

Justice is only possible when it is extended to all parties in the criminal system.

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A mothers cry for help

Kharon Davis has been held in the Houston County Jail for 9 years with no trial and no bond. The conditions within the jail are archaic, hateful, psychologically damaging and unconstitutional. Kharon is held in 23 hour lockdown for 4 years, in a constantly cold cell that is unhygienic, denied access to the law library, exercise yard and even the main inmate population.

Kharon Davis Initiative Flyer
Kharon Davis Initiative Flyer

Why has Kharon been denied his constitutional right to a fair and speedy trial? Please come and show your support for Kharon and the other inmates, many of whom have not even been to court yet, let alone been convicted of a crime, and to demand that Jail Commander Keith Reed drastically improve the conditions inline with the Department of Justices, National Institute Of Corrections, jails standards.

Houston County Jail recently posted an updated booking photo of Tramaine Bradley

The Houston County Sheriff’s Office Website, recently posted an updated booking photo of Tramaine Bradley which is drastically different from the way he looked at the time of his arrest on February 10, 2016 along with Ernest Whitehurst.

Tramaine Bradley, now and at the time of his arrest February 11, 2016
Tramaine Bradley, now and at the time of his arrest February 10, 2016

Houston County Sheriff’s deputies seized nearly 5 pounds of synthetic marijuana, known as spice, which had an estimated street value of around $6,500 and arrested the two men on drug trafficking charges as part of a four month long drug distribution investigation.

Both Bradley and Whitehurst were taken to the Houston County Jail and each held on $1.5 million bail.In addition to the manufacture and distribution charges Houston County Sheriff Donald Valenza stated that Bradley was also charged with resisting arrest.

Interestingly whilst held in the jail no one has been allowed to visit Bradley, its hard to say whether its been due to the visitation policy or whether the HCSO have been trying to conceal Bradley’s injuries from the public at the time of arrest, and as he was due to appear in court 03/07/2016, given the heightened racial tension since the release of documents by the Henry County Report revealing racism within the Dothan Police Department and the planting of drugs and guns on young black men. The Department Of Justice have requested those affected to contact them directly on 202 307 6999, the NAACP have announced that they have formally opened an investigation too.

Inmate restrained in a chair and beaten unconscious, they broke his fingers too…

James Bailey in Houston County Jail
James Bailey in Houston County Jail

Jon B. Carroll from The Henry Report has obtained and released details of a horrific case of purposeful persecution and prosecution of a totally innocent man. James Bailey, in addition to being set up on drug charges, underwent a horrific and sustained beating, to the point of unconsciousness, he was taken to hospital and the following day, back at the jail, the beating continued including being handcuffed with his hands behind his back for 8-12 hours in a restraint chair, beaten with a metal pipe, maced, beaten around his head, punched and kicked all over his body, which resulted in brain and permanent nerve damage. They broke his fingers too, he also required stitches for some of his many injuries.  

 

C.J. Hatfield (age 22)
C.J. Hatfield (age 22)

Bailey was drugged at one point while he was in jail, given twice the allowable dosage and in the drug induced state (Prozac and Vistaril) gave what is interpreted by the Sheriff’s Dept as a confession to the murder of C.J. Hatfield. A murder, that he didn’t commit as he was in a different state at the time, which the Police, investigators and DA’s Office knew, but seemingly chose to prosecute him for it anyway. Click here to read the full story

When Carroll asked one of the former defence lawyers why was this not revealed, he said that Judge, Larry Anderson, would not do several things, he kept Bailey in chains and shackles in front of the jurors, we were given no money to hire a private investigator to simply verify the multiple alibis, nothing. We were scared, they wanted this guy guilty and we have to live here. The jury convicted Bailey after 15 minutes of deliberation, the exculpatory evidence was never shared. Bailey was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

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I have volunteered at the Houston County Animal Control & those animals are treated better than the humans in that jail.

  • 13 things wrong with how the Houston County Jail is run and how they treat citizens held inside there.
    13 things wrong with how the Houston County Jail is run and how they treat citizens held inside there.

    Have to wipe & show officer to prove you are on monthly, will only give you 1, 12ct bag of pads & no underwear, will sometimes take hours to bring you pads after you prove you are on monthly.

  • If you are indigent you will get 1 roll of toilet paper to last you approx 3 weeks until you are eligible for the 3 rolls every 2 weeks.
  • Toilets will only flush 2x every hour. Officers can press button to flush at other times but will not, so in communal (1 toilet) in dayroom you have approx 40+ women using toilet you can imagine the faeces, urine & blood that accumulates.
  • Do not receive sheet to put on mattress & mattresses are not disinfected between uses.
  • Will not give you proper cleaning supplies to clean cells. I was there for a 2 week period & we were on 23 hour lock down. Fed in our cells & we were not given cleaning supplies once.
  • Once when we told the Health Department, during an inspection about the conditions, we were put on our beds for 3 days.
  • There are Rats that come in the cells.

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