Sunday, April 04, 2010

Meet the Exonerated: Indiana's Death Row

In Indiana, the death penalty is available only for the crime of murder, and is available for murder only if the prosecution can prove the existence of at least one of 16 “aggravating circumstances” identified by the Indiana General Assembly. These circumstances are set out in the state’s death penalty statute, at IC 35-50-2-9. In order to seek the death penalty, the prosecutor must allege the existence of at least one of the aggravating circumstances set out in the statute.

In Indiana, 2 men have been sentenced to death and later acquitted at new trials.

Larry Hicks - Represented by an incompetent public defender, Larry Hicks, a dirt-poor, mentally retarded 19-year-old black man from the deep ghetto of Gary, Indiana, was sentenced to die in the Indiana electric chair for supposedly murdering two men by stabbing them to death in a fight inside a Gary home in a trial that lasted little over one day.

Before that trial, Larry's public defender (PD) wasn't even aware that his client faced the death penalty until a week before the trial took place. (The lawyer admitted this in open court before trial, and it is in the transcript.) Larry's PD failed to investigate Larry's alibi that he wasn't present at the time the brutal slayings took place, failed to examine the dark red stains on the jeans Larry wore on the night of the murders (which stains, without chemical examination, the prosecution would term "blood"), failed to examine the knife which the state claimed Larry used to stab the two men, and -- as revealed by the PD's 1/4-inch thick file on this death penalty case -- otherwise totally failed to prepare for the one and a half day long murder trial that would result in Larry Hicks being sentenced to die in Indiana's electric chair.

Two weeks prior to his scheduled execution, with the help of a volunteer attorney, Hicks received a stay. The Playboy Foundation became interested in this claim of innocence and supplied funds for a reinvestigation after he passed lie detector tests. At retrial, Hicks was acquitted and released after evidence established Hicks's alibi and showed that eyewitness testimony against him at his original trial was perjured.

Charles Smith was convicted of murder and sentenced to death in Allen County in 1983 for a street robbery and murder of a woman. The man who claimed to be the getaway driver had his charges dropped in exchange for testifying against Smith. The Indiana Supreme Court overturned his conviction in 1989 because of ineffective assistance of counsel. (Smith v. State, 547 N.E.2d 817 (Ind. 1989). He was acquitted at his re-trial and released in 1991 after presenting evidence that witnesses against him had lied under oath.

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