Saturday, May 15, 2010

Meet the Exonerated: Missouri's Death Row

Joe Amrine spent 16-years on death row for a crime he did not commit.

Amrine was already serving a 15-year sentence for burglary and robbery when he was accused of murdering fellow inmate Gary Barber in 1985, based solely on the testimony of three other inmates.

In 1986, an all-white jury voted to convict him of murder after very little deliberation.

Years later, each of the three inmates admitted their bought-and-paid-for testimony against Amrine was false. Overzealous prosecutors either threatened the men or offered leniency in exchange for testifying against Amrine. The Missouri Supreme Court issued a ruling in April granting Amrine a new trial if the state elected to re-file charges.

According to both jurors and inmates who were called as witnesses in the trial, Amrine’s publicly appointed defense attorney failed to interview key witnesses and used confusing and crude charts in defending his client. In fact, one juror went so far to say the attorney’s obvious lack of preparation completely destroyed the credibility of Joe Amrine’s defense.

Yet later, when the three inmates recanted their initial testimony fingering Amrine for the murder, the state argued that the recantations were not credible. John Noble, the only prison guard present when Barber was stabbed, stood by his testimony that he saw the victim chasing Terry Russell, the inmate who was the first to accuse Amrine in the murder. No physical evidence backed up the inmates’ stories.

In November 2001, the Attorney General Jay Nixon asked the Missouri Supreme Court to set an execution date for Amrine. The high court complied with several requests for such dates for others; state officials have since executed six of those men. The justices, however, delayed setting a date and--perhaps prompted in part by the acclaimed documentary, "Unreasonable Doubt: the Joe Amrine Case" and its resulting public attention--convened its extraordinary hearing to consider his innocence

In its hearing on February 4th we heard the Assistant Attorney General declare that the Court need not stop the execution of an innocent person as long as the prisoner had a fair trial.
Joseph Amrine was released from the Cole County Detention Center on Monday, July 28, 2003.

Missouri's criminal justice system is plagued with the same problems that moved former Illinois Governor Ryan, a Republican and former death penalty supporter, to stop the machinery of death in Illinois and that has inspired legislation. These problems include:

· A recent study by the University of Missouri reveals that race plays a key role in determining who gets the death sentence in Missouri.

· Nearly a dozen prisoners sentenced to death in Missouri were defended by lawyers later disbarred.

· Two other death-sentenced inmates inmates have been completely exonerated years after their trials; at least five others have been executed in spite of troubling questions of innocence. At least three more men living under a death sentence in Missouri's Potosi prison have strong claims of innocence

· A 1999 poll of Missourians showed strong public support for a moratorium on executions, and a study of the death penalty system in Missouri, as noted in the MADP report "Miscarriages of Justice".

2 comments:

Dinah Bee Menil 20:49  

is this the same criminal attorney that is on this website?

Roth's stepchild 01:37  

You mean Amrine's attorney?

Sean O'Brien was Joe Amrine's attorney. He was with the Public Interest Litigation Clinic, and was monitoring death penalty cases when Amrine's then-lawyer missed a deadline for appeal and Amrine was placed on death row, to be executed in 1996. O'Brien noted a lack of evidence and questioned the reliance of prosecutors on testimony by fellow inmates, which traditionally has proven unreliable. Prisoners often testify in order to receive reduced sentences in the cases that landed them in prison.

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