2017-05-26 14:08:50 UTC
Wrongful convictions: From death row to freedom
Joe Amrine selected the music for his funeral service.
He wasn't sick, nor was he elderly. He was on Missouri's death row awaiting
In November 2001, Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon asked the Missouri
Supreme Court to set an execution date for Amrine and 9 other men on death row.
The court complied in 6 cases, but delayed in Amrine's case. By then a
groundswell of support built for his exoneration in part because of a
documentary, "Unreasonable Doubt: the Joe Amrine Case," by a group of
university graduate students.
The Missouri Catholic Conference, public policy agency of the state's bishops,
distributed the video widely in their efforts to seek Amrine's release. The
bishops' agency advocated on Amrine's behalf and now uses his example in citing
reasons to oppose the death penalty.
Convicted in 1986 of the murder of fellow prison inmate Gary Barber at the
Missouri State Penitentiary in Jefferson City, Amrine, now 60, was released
from prison in 2003 after the Missouri Supreme Court overturned his conviction
and death sentence. He'd spent 17 years on death row after being sent to prison
originally in 1977 on a robbery charge. 3 fellow inmates who had testified
against him later recanted, admitting that they lied in exchange for favorable
treatment. 6 other inmates had testified earlier that Amrine was in another
area of the prison playing cards when Barber was stabbed.
Amrine and fellow exoneree Reggie Griffin visited St. Louis May 20 to speak at
a public event at the St. Louis Galleria hosted by Lush Cosmetics and the
Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. The talk was consistent with
views of Pope Francis, who last year encouraged all people to work not only for
the abolition of the death penalty, but also for the improvement of prison
conditions, "so that they fully respect the human dignity of those
Rita Linhardt, senior staff associate for the Missouri Catholic Conference and
chair of Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, said serious
concerns have been raised about the death penalty as public policy because of
wrongful convictions, questions of fairness and the costs of the death penalty.
For every nine executions in this country, one person who received a death
sentence was found to be wrongly convicted. Reasons innocent people are
convicted, she said, include ineffective assistance of counsel, flawed
evidence, faulty eyewitness testimony and police and prosecutorial misconduct.
Exonerations highlight flaws in the death penalty, Linhardt said: "We can see
where mistakes are made."
Faith was a factor in his survival, Amrine said: "It would be hard for anyone
to be on death row and not somehow get some faith. You gotta believe in
something to survive on death row."
He appreciates the position the Catholic Church has taken against the death
penalty and wants to see more follow its lead. "We need Christians, Muslims and
everyone to come up and say they're against the death penalty under any
circumstances," he said.
Amrine once was in favor of the death penalty but his experience showed him
that it sometimes is imposed on innocent people, and "it can't be applied
Griffin, 56, grew up in St. Louis and was sentenced to 20 years in prison for
1st-degree assault, robbery and possession of drugs and stolen property. While
at the Moberly Correctional Center, he was accused of the murder of inmate
James Bausley, who had been stabbed in the prison yard. Griffin denied he'd
been in the yard at the time but was convicted in 1988 on the word of 2
jailhouse informants who received reduced sentences in exchange for their
In 2011, the Missouri Supreme Court overturned the death sentence because
prosecutors had withheld a sharpened screwdriver recovered from another inmate
immediately after the stabbing. Both of Griffin's co-defendants consistently
said the 3rd person involved in the crime was that inmate, not Griffin.
Griffin, released from prison in 2013, said that "none of the things that
happened for me and to me could not and would not have happened without the
grace of God."
Amrine and Griffin - African American men who were convicted by all-white
juries in trials that lasted just a few days - give 2 or 3 talks a week and
have been to several Catholic schools, mostly in the Kansas City area. They'll
be in St. Louis Sept. 28 to speak to student representatives of Catholic high
schools at the Cardinal Rigali Center in Shrewsbury. Amrine said he speaks out
because "the Lord blessed me to put me out here. He wasn't through with me. We
speak out against the death penalty, gangs, drugs, lawyers ... I did 26 years,
he did 33. That qualifies us as experts."
For someone wrongfully convicted, Griffin said, "when the state seeks the death
sentence against you, you have a chance of losing your life. If the evidence
comes out after you're executed, they can't bring you back."
The Catholic Mobilizing Network (CMN) has launched a new initiative, named the
National Catholic Pledge to End the Death Penalty. "Due to growing public
opposition to the death penalty and especially in the aftermath of last month
executions in Arkansas, CMN has launched this pledge to amplify the Church's
work to end the death penalty," said Karen Clifton, executive director of CMN.
Catholic Mobilizing Network maintains the pledge as an important initiative
that lifts up the value of all human life. The pledge is a way to lift up the
call of the Catholic Church and Pope Francis in particular to end the use of
the death penalty and promote a more restorative criminal justice system.
In the recent session of the Missouri legislature, the Missouri Catholic
Conference supported three bills that would have ended capital punishment in
Missouri. The Catholic Conference, the public policy agency of the U.S.
bishops, referred to the "Catechism of the Catholic Church" (paragraph 2267)
and stated that "the death penalty undermines respect for human life and errors
in the judicial system can lead to the execution of innocent people."
The proposed legislation stalled in the legislative process. 2 of the bills in
the House were read for a second time and the Senate bill was referred to a
-- The National Catholic Pledge to End the Death Penalty,
-- Missouri Catholic Conference Messenger on the death penalty,
-- Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, www.madpmo.org
-- U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, www.stlouisreview.com/bML
Joe Amrine and Reggie Griffin are 2 of 159 inmates in the United States and 4
in Missouri who have been exonerated after landing on death row.
Last month Bishop Frank J. Dewane, chairman of the U.S. Catholic bishops'
Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, decried plans by the sate
of Arkansas to execute 7 men in 11 days, saying that justice and mercy are
better served by commuting their sentences to life imprisonment.
At a recent event in St. Louis in which Amrine and Griffin told their story,
Maggie Baine of St. Joseph Parish in Cottleville explained that changing public
policy on the death penalty is a cause she deeply cares about. Pope Francis
made a passionate plea for a moratorium on executions during the Year of Mercy,
reminding listeners that "Thou shalt not kill" (the fifth commandment) applies
not only to the innocent but to the guilty as well. Baine said she agrees fully
with Church teaching.
"For the innocent and well as guilty people, we believe there's not a reason to
end their lives," Baine said.
The Pew Research Center reported last fall that the share of Americans who
support the death penalty for people convicted of murder now is at its lowest
point in more than 4 decades.
During a debate last year in the Missouri Senate, Sen. Paul Wieland,
R-Imperial, said he too is guided by his Catholic faith and the need to be
consistent in his pro-life beliefs to protect all human life, even those guilty
of murder. He also raised concern about executing an innocent person. "All it
would take is one mistake," Wieland said. "We're not operating it as a zero
percent margin of error."
"One sign of hope is that public opinion is manifesting a growing opposition to
the death penalty, even as a means of legitimate social defense. Indeed,
nowadays the death penalty is unacceptable, however grave the crime of the
convicted person. It is an offense to the inviolability of life and to the
dignity of the human person; it likewise contradicts God's plan for individuals
and society, and his merciful justice. Nor is it consonant with any just
purpose of punishment. It does not render justice to victims, but instead
fosters vengeance. The commandment "Thou shalt not kill" has absolute value and
applies both to the innocent and to the guilty."
Pope Francis' message to 6th World Congress Against the Death Penalty on June
(source: St. Louis Review)
McClain County Man's Death Sentence Upheld By Appeals Court
The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals has again upheld the death penalty of a
man convicted of killing his girlfriend and her 2 children in 2010.
The court ruled Thursday that testimony by the victims' relatives saying Shaun
Bosse should receive the death penalty shouldn't have been allowed, but was
The court said "overwhelming evidence" proves the crime was heinous, atrocious
Bosse was convicted of killing 25-year-old Katrina Griffin, 8-year-old
Christian Griffin and 6-year-old Chasity Hammer. Their bodies were found in
their burned mobile home in Dibble, 40 miles south of Oklahoma City.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in October that the relatives' testimony shouldn't
have been allowed and sent the case back to the Oklahoma court.
(source: Associated Press)
Alleged Misconduct Jeopardizes Death Penalty For OC's Worst Mass Murderer
2 Orange County sheriff's deputies asserted their constitutional right against
self-incrimination Thursday when called to testify in an evidentiary hearing
alleging outrageous governmental misconduct in the case of Scott Evans Dekraai,
the worst mass killer in the county's history.
Sheriff's Deputies Ben Garcia and William Grover, who have been on paid
administrative leave for the past several months, took the stand and invoked
their Fifth Amendment rights in refusing to testify.
Deputy Seth Tunstall is expected to do the same thing when he is called to
testify next week.
Garcia's attorney, Bob Gazley, told City News Service his client has not been
told why he was put on leave.
Tunstall and Garcia have previously asserted their Fifth Amendment rights in
another murder case involving a jailhouse informant last year. That prompted an
Orange County Superior Court judge to order a new trial for Eric Ortiz, who was
again convicted of murder and is awaiting sentencing next week.
Most of the testimony Thursday came from employees in the sheriff's department
who handle legal records. They testified to the process of keeping the records
and when and why decisions are made to shred them due to a lack of storage
Dekraai's attorney, Scott Sanders, has raised concerns that records regarding
the jailhouse informant program have been improperly destroyed.
Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals, who has recused the Orange County
District Attorney's Office from prosecuting the case, is now considering a
motion to dismiss the death penalty against Dekraai, which would spur an
automatic sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Dekraai pleaded guilty to 8 counts of murder and 1 count of attempted murder
for killing his wife, her boss and 6 others, and wounding a 77-year-old woman
who survived the Oct. 12, 2011, bloodbath at a Seal Beach beauty salon.
(source: Orange County Register)
Catholic inmate no longer on death row----Greg Bowen, 64, won a court appeal
and is eligible for parole in 12 years. A new look at evidence changed his
conviction from aggravated murder to felony murder, which carries a life
sentence with possibility of parole.
A Catholic inmate on Oregon's death row was transferred to the general prison
population in January. A lay Catholic minister at Oregon State Penitentiary
says Greg Bowen has been joining other inmates for Mass, something he could not
do while he was isolated as a candidate for execution.
"The joy, peace and humble gratitude that showed on his face during the service
spoke volumes about his deep and abiding faith in Jesus Christ," lay minister
Laura Kazlas said after Bowen attended liturgy for the 1st time.
Bowen, 64, won a court appeal and is eligible for parole in 12 years. A new
look at evidence changed his conviction from aggravated murder to felony
murder, which carries a life sentence with possibility of parole. Bowen
accepted the result, though he insists that he shot his friend Donald
Christiansen of Brookings by mistake in 2001. Bowen did admit to stealing guns
from Christiansen???s home, but says he did not mean to kill his friend.
Evidence showed that Christiansen was shot from closer than 5 feet,
strengthening Bowen's contention. Most murderers shoot victims from farther
"This is another reason why we are against the death penalty," says Kazlas.
"There is always the possibility that our government could execute an innocent
man." Since 1973, 158 prisoners have been exonerated from death row in U.S.
"We need to be in the prisons to support all of the inmates - but especially
for the rare person who is incarcerated for a crime they didn't commit," Kazlas
Bowen is 1 of the men Archbishop Alexander Sample visited several times on
death row. Bowen and 76 other Catholic inmates signed up for a retreat slated
for April 4, but fighting in another population sparked a lockdown of the whole
prison and the retreat was postponed.
Oregon has 34 inmates on death row, including 2 more awaiting new sentences.
Voters approved the death penalty in 1984. Since then, 23 convicts have been
resentenced, 4 have died while locked up and 2 were executed.
(source: Catholic Sentinel)
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