2017-08-01 13:47:45 UTC
Nick Yarris: innocent on death row for 22 years----Nick Yarris spent 22 years
on death row for a crime he did not commit. He reveals what life is really like
on death row and why this system of justice doesn't work
"The death penalty is not the worst thing we can do to a human being; putting
someone away for the rest of their natural life while they sit and watch
everything they have ever loved rot and die is the worst. That's why I
volunteered to be executed rather than languishing in eternal hell."
Nick Yarris is certainly well qualified to make this powerful statement. In
1982 the troubled delivery driver was wrongly convicted of the rape and murder
of Linda May Craig and spent 22 years on death row in his native Pennsylvania.
Yarris' prison nightmare ended in 2004 when he was exonerated thanks to DNA
evidence. He had read about the nascent science of DNA testing in a newspaper
article in 1989 and became one of the earliest of America's death row inmates
to seek to use it to prove his innocence.
"The majority of people given the evidence that was presented would think that
it was an open-and-shut case against Nick," Robert Dunham, a venerated
appellate lawyer and now executive director of the Death Penalty Information
Center who represented Yarris, tells Raconteur.
"He had the same blood type as the murderer, by unfortunate coincidence, and
four separate eye witnesses claimed to have seen someone who matched his
description at the shopping mall from where the victim was abducted.
"He had falsely implicated someone else in another case an attempt to cut
himself a deal, and his only defence was an alibi, with one witness being his
mother who had good reason to support his defence, and the other being a store
clerk. Objectively most juries would have convicted Nick."
Following years of distressing setbacks, including when a box of DNA samples
was accidentally destroyed en route to a laboratory, Yarris sought the most
extreme relief from his imprisonment: in 2002 he dropped his legal appeals so
that the execution process could be carried out. It was only when a judge
demanded 1 last round of DNA testing that he was cleared, after the evidence
came back that there were traces of 2 unknown people on the victim's clothing.
"The DNA not only showed that Nick didn't do it, it showed that all of this
other evidence was wrong," adds Dunham. "And it's that type of error that we
see in case after case. DNA testing erodes confidence in the reliability of
these other forms of evidence."
How it happened
Yarris grew up in a Philadelphia suburb and a happy childhood was irreparably
fractured at the age of 7, when he was set upon by an older boy. The teenage
aggressor whacked him on the head - so hard it caused brain damage - before
raping the youngster, who couldn't face telling his parents or 5 siblings what
had happened. The resulting trauma triggered a downward spiral, and by his late
teens he was "a drug-addled kid", Yarris says.
Aged 20, he was arrested, at the wheel of a stolen car and under the influence
of drugs, and was accused of the attempted kidnap and murder of a police
officer. Although he was acquitted of those charges, while in custody before
that trial, and in a desperate bid to reduce his jail time, he concocted a
story, naming a drug-addict acquaintance he thought had died as the suspect in
the rape and murder of Linda May Craig, which he had only read about in the
newspaper. When it transpired that the person he had accused was alive and had
no involvement in the incident he effectively made himself the prime suspect.
Once convicted, and sentenced to the death penalty, Yarris spent almost all of
his time in prison in solitary confinement. For 14 years, between 1989 and
2003, he was not touched by another human being - apart from in anger. In a
pitiful attempt to combat loneliness he resorted to lying on his arm until it
became numb, and would then use it to rub his face to pretend he was being
stroked by a loved one.
They didn't turn us in to monsters with their torture, they made us loving,
because we were able to forgive them when they got it wrong
There were numerous other unimaginable, unforgettable horrors, not least when
he was forced by prison guards to fight with mentally disturbed inmates. "Oh
man, I've been strangled, broken my hand, and much more," Yarris tells
Raconteur, recalling the brutal enforced scraps. "They would last 5 minutes, or
until one man went down. A couple of times I had to fight men who were
seriously psychopathic, with mental derangements and anger issues. They didn't
have medication to control them, and they were being taunted and pumped up by
the guards. By the time they entered the cage they were like frothing, crazed
animals. Thank God I'm 6'2", weigh 14st, and know how to fight."
On another occasion, an utterly defenceless Yarris was ambushed and battered
viciously by unidentifiable guards in an attack that ultimately led to him
contracting hepatitis C. "They got me good," he continues. "It was a year and
day after I had tried to escape prison, and I was tricked in to going into a
room where 4 men dressed in black masks and riot gear were waiting for me. I
was beaten up for four minutes, which seemed to go on forever.
"They shattered the side of a transverse bone in my lower back, busted my right
eye socket, the retina of my left eye became detached, and 12 teeth were broken
out of my mouth. Then they paraded me around on their truncheons to show the
other inmates what punishment they would suffer if they tried to escape.
"Unfortunately, the dentist didn't clean the returns on the units, and infected
me with hepatitis C. So when, at the age of 42, I stepped out of a maximum
security prison, where I'd spent 8,067 days, I was expected to die within 2
years, because my renal output was so bad. Back then there were no real cures
for hepatitis C, just the old treatments which toxified my system so badly it
blinded me and nearly killed me. That was until I had a liver transplant. I was
one of the first cases cured; I'm actually a miracle. I was clean within 6
months of walking out of prison."
On death row
When asked about how he readied himself with the prospect of being executed,
and in error, Yarris says: "I was not a righteous person, so I wholeheartedly
flung myself in to paying for the misdeeds that I did as a young man - for
every window I broke, everything I stole, every drug I took, everything I did
wrong in my life.
"It is not the sword of Damocles that bothers you when you are on death row;
it's the fact that everyone has a sword over them and the pressure is so
intense that they act differently, as desperate men do. Those who are facing
the worst situations can act with the worst behaviour, but also the most
beautiful behaviour. It's crazy how it is diametrically different, but it's
"I chose very diligently to tap into whatever was worth living for, and read so
much; most men don't do that on death row. I saw my family as the victims more
than myself, because they had no protection, no walls to stop the scorn of
society. People would spit in my mother's face, and call her the mother of a
murderer, because she was my alibi witness."
Yarris was freed with no apology and, after over two decades on death row,
found the transition to 'normal life' incredibly tough. "Without guidance I was
expected to settle back in to society, with people flinging themselves at me
with hugs and emotion," he says. "It was full on, and I had no support system,
no money, no job, no qualifications. It was the greatest challenge you can
"For so long I lived in a world where if I expressed anger someone was going to
bust me in my face, so I knew better. Out here we don't know that penalty, so
that's why I'm not bothered by everything I went through, and I learned how to
control my emotions."
In a pitiful attempt to combat loneliness he resorted to lying on his arm until
it became numb, and would then use it to rub his face to pretend he was being
stroked by a loved one
In 2005, Yarris moved to England, and currently resides in Ilchester in
Somerset, having become enamoured by the country following an invitation to
speak to members of parliament about his travails. The 51-year-old, who has
since become a father, now campaigns for the abolishment of the death penalty,
and has addressed United Nations and European Union officials, and spoken at
hundreds of schools.
"The fact that 159 people have been exonerated in America since 1973, with
something like 22 cleared thanks to DNA evidence, shows that capital punishment
is insane," he adds.
"I, like the other 158 men set free from death row, am a living example that
it's a lie, and doesn't work. We didn't get out of prison and start killing
people in vengeance, in anger, just like the state tried to do to us. The
remarkable thing is all of the people that I know who have been exonerated from
death row are the most caring, gregariously sweet-hearted people you could
"They didn't turn us in to monsters with their torture, they made us loving,
because we were able to forgive them when they got it wrong. We like to think
that we are perfect as human beings, but we are not. At the end of the day, we
don't have any right to play with people's lives, and kill one another."
Prosecutor wants death penalty for North Carolina fugitive
A prosecutor said he plans to seek the death penalty against a North Carolina
fugitive who authorities say killed a man while on the run and stole his truck.
District Attorney Greg Newman said Monday he offered no deal to spare Phillip
Michael Stroupe II's life if he led investigators to 68-year-old Thomas
Bryson's body because he didn't deserve the offer. Bryson's body was found in a
corn field Sunday night, four days after he disappeared.
"I don't think a lot of people appreciated how dangerous this Stroupe fellow
is," Newman said at a news conference.
Police were trying to arrest Stroupe on a warrant involving a break-in when he
stole a mountain bike at gunpoint on July 24 in the Pisgah National Forest
about 25 miles (40 kilometers) southwest of Asheville.
Authorities closed the forest as they searched for him over several days. On
Wednesday, Bryson disappeared just after he left his Mills Creek home.
Stroupe likely kidnapped Bryson just as he left and killed him within 30
minutes, Henderson County Sheriff Charles McDonald said. Neither McDonald nor
Newman would say how Bryson was killed, saying it could hamper their
investigation and Stroupe's prosecution.
Bryson's body was found by a relative who is a firefighter and knew details of
the search. The relative found the body in a different area than where
officials had been looking, and believes he was led to the site by "divine
intervention," McDonald said.
Stroupe, who was captured Thursday, was awaiting a first court appearance on
the first-degree murder charge. It wasn't known if he had a lawyer. Authorities
also charged four people who knew Stroupe, including his father, with accessory
after the fact for helping him hide from police.
Two of them told WLOS-TV they didn't call authorities after Stroupe showed up
because they feared for their lives and didn't think they would be believed
because they had extensive criminal records.
Frederick Badgero Jr. said Stroupe came to his girlfriend Jennifer Hawkins'
house and ordered her and her daughter inside.
"He showed me the gun and stuff and showed 2 spent bullets and said he'd do it
to them if I didn't do what he said," Badgero told the TV station. "And now I'm
sitting here with charges on me that I didn't do."
The sheriff said that wasn't the whole story, but declined to give details.
"I would just say talk is cheap," McDonald said.
Stroupe, 39, has spent most of the past 2 decades behind bars on charges
including robbery with a dangerous weapon and false imprisonment, according to
North Carolina prison records.
(source: Assoicated press)
Alabama Refuses Compensation to Innocent Man Who Spent 30 Years on Death Row
Since Anthony Ray Hinton was exonerated and released from death row over 2
years ago, Alabama lawmakers have not only refused to compensate him for the 3
decades he spent on death row for a crime he did not commit, but also passed
legislation changing the appeals process in death penalty cases so that
innocent people like Mr. Hinton now face an even greater risk of being
One of the longest serving death row prisoners in Alabama history and among the
longest serving condemned prisoners to be freed after presenting evidence of
innocence, Mr. Hinton became the 152nd person exonerated from death row since
1983 when he was released on April 3, 2015.
Alabama law provides that compensation may be awarded to a wrongfully
incarcerated person if the Committee on Compensation for Wrongful Incarceration
finds that he meets the eligibility criteria, but applying for compensation is
often a meaningless exercise because the statute requires a legislative
enactment to appropriate the necessary funds. Mr. Hinton's application was
approved by the committee, and this session, State Senator Paul Bussman
sponsored a bill to appropriate the funds to compensate Mr. Hinton. The bill
never even made it out of committee.
At the same time, Republican lawmakers introduced the "Fair Justice Act." As
Mr. Hinton wrote in an op-ed, had the "Fair Justice Act" been in place when he
was convicted, "I would have been executed despite my innocence." Like other
men and women sentenced to death in Alabama, where there is no state-funded
office to provide counsel for postconviction proceedings, it took years to find
volunteer lawyers willing and able to provide the legal assistance Mr. Hinton
needed to prove his innocence. Mr. Hinton wrote:
Because the so called "Fair Justice Act" now pending before the state
legislature puts time restrictions on how long death row prisoners have to
prove their innocence or a wrongful conviction, this legislation increases the
risk of executing innocent people and makes our system even less fair.
Indifferent to these concerns, the Alabama legislature passed the new law this
spring, making it more difficult to obtain adequate counsel and imposing more
unfair filing requirements. By making the state postconviction process even
more complicated and arbitrary, the law increases the likelihood that clients
on death row will not receive full and fair review of their cases.
"No one knows the hardship created by our inefficient system more than I do,"
Mr. Hinton wrote. "No one." But rather than pass reforms to prevent another
innocent person from being wrongfully convicted and condemned to death, Mr.
Hinton cautioned, Alabama is moving in the opposite direction.
Executions are carried out in the name of the people of Alabama and we should
all be concerned if we make our system less reliable and the execution of
innocent people more likely.
Fate of Mississippi's only female death row inmate remains in limbo
The fate of Mississippi's only female death row inmate, Lisa Jo Chamberlin, is
in limbo two years after a federal court ruling granting her a new trial in a
double homicide in Hattiesburg.
The full 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, with the exception of Judge James
Graves who recused himself, recently agreed to decide whether to uphold the
federal judge's ruling. That comes after a 3-judge panel of the court voted 2-1
to affirm the ruling.
Graves is a former justice on the Mississippi Supreme Court, which had
previously upheld Chamberlin's death sentence.
On a motion by the Mississippi attorney general's office, the 5th Circuit
agreed to hear the case. Oral arguments are scheduled for Sept. 18.
Special Assistant Attorney General Cameron Benton argued the 2 U.S. Court of
Appeals judges put together unimpressive statistics and an incomplete
comparative analysis to find the existence of discrimination in the striking of
2 black prospective jurors.
"There is ample proof in the record to suggest that the exercise of peremptory
strikes was not motivated by racial animus," Benton said in court papers.
"Given the dearth of proof and the deference owed to the State Court, the
Majority opinion seems to have improperly substituted its judgment for that of
the trial judge and appellate court."
In 2015, U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves ordered the state to grant
Chamberlin a new trial within four months, saying prosecutors intentionally
struck black potential jurors from her capital murder trial.
Chamberlin is white. She argued on appeal that her rights were violated by
prosecutors striking some black potential jurors for non-racial neutral
reasons. "The judge went over them carefully," said attorney Elizabeth Unger
Carlyle of Kansas City, Missouri, one of Chamberlin's attorneys in the appeal.
"We were clearly able to show discrimination in cases of two of the potential
jurors. We hope the judge's decision will be affirmed on appeal."
Chamberlin and her boyfriend, Roger Lee Gillett, were convicted of 2 counts of
capital murder in the March 2004 slayings of Gillet's cousin, Vernon Hulett,
34, and Hulett's girlfriend, Linda Heintzelman, 37, in Hattiesburg. Their
bodies were transported to Kansas in a freezer.
Gillett and Chamberlin were arrested March 29, 2004, after Kansas Bureau of
Investigation agents raided an abandoned farm house near Russell, Kansas, owned
by Gillett's father, and found the dismembered bodies of Hulett and Heintzelman
in a freezer.
KBI agents were investigating Gillett and Chamberlin for their possible
connection to the manufacture of methamphetamine, according to published
Gillett and Chamberlin were living with Hulett and Heintzelman in Hattiesburg
at the time of the slayings.
Chamberlin, in a taped confession played at her trial, said the victims were
killed because they wouldn't open a safe in Hulett's home.
Chamberlain was sentenced to death row in 2006, and Gillett was sentenced in
However, Gillett's death sentence was later overturned by the Mississippi
Supreme Court. While in custody in Kansas, Gillett attempted to escape. That
crime was 1 of the aggravating factors prosecutors presented jurors to support
the death penalty.
In a 6-3 decision, the state Supreme Court said not every escape is considered
a crime of violence under Kansas law. Therefore, the Kansas crime cannot be
used to support a death sentence in Mississippi, the court ruled.
Chamberlin filed a post-conviction challenge to her conviction in 2011 in U.S.
District Court after the state Supreme Court upheld her conviction and death
One of claims was that the prosecution improperly struck 7 African Americans
from serving on her jury. The prosecutor said he struck 12 potential jurors - 7
black and 5 white. He denied any effort to strike potential jurors based upon
Reeves said federal law requires in death penalty cases that comparative
analysis be done when black potential jurors are struck compared to white
jurors allowed to remain in the jury pool.
"Some may wonder why constitutional error in the jury's selection necessitates
a new trial, especially given the horrific murders committed in this case,"
Reeves said in his court order. "But the Supreme Court has many times explained
that a discriminatory jury selection process is unforgivable
(source: The Clarion-Ledger)
OHIO DEATH PENALTYREMAINS IN LIMBO
Ohio executed Ronald Phillips last week.
Anyone expecting the resumption of capital punishment in Ohio to provide
clarity on the issue was left with little new to discuss.
For death penalty proponents who felt, "It's about time," they could be
speaking about the Phillips case in particular or in general about the state
carrying out any death sentence.
Phillips was sentenced to die nearly a quarter century ago. He raped and killed
Sheila Marie Evans, his girlfriend's 3-year-old daughter, in 1993.
Sheila Marie's aunt, Donna Hudson, spoke for many when she said, "Finally,
after 24 years, she can rest in peace."
Phillips' death, at 10:43 a.m. in Lucasville, also ended Ohio's 3-year delay in
executions. Because it lacked any medical or procedural complications, the
execution could begin speedier resumption of capital punishment in the state.
Ohio had put executions on hold in January 2014, following the use of an
untested drug combination that left inmate Dennis McGuire gasping and snorting
for 15 minutes in a 26-minute procedure. The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday
denied the Phillips defense team more time to pursue legal arguments against
Ohio's use of a 3-drug drug mixture that sedates the body, then paralyzes it,
then stops the heart.
Death row inmates in Ohio and in other states that have used such drug mixtures
(or that are considering doing so) have sued on the grounds that even the
uncertainty regarding reactions to the drugs can amount to "cruel and unusual
punishment" in violation of the Constitution's Eighth Amendment.
Those who oppose the death penalty in all cases, particularly on religious
grounds, can say Phillips changed in prison and reflects what is supposed to
happen with incarceration: rehabilitation.
"He had grown to be a good man, who was thoughtful, caring, compassionate,
remorseful and reflective," his attorneys, Tim Sweeney and Lisa Lagos, said
Wednesday, according to the Associated Press. "He tried every day to atone for
his shameful role in Sheila's death."
For Ohioans who say the death penalty should be imposed only for the most
heinous crimes and when guilt isn't in doubt, the Phillips case checks both
Phillips did not deny his actions. Minutes before dying Wednesday, he gave his
final statement, saying, "Sheila Marie didn't deserve what I did to her," and
telling her family, "I'm sorry you had to live so long with my actions."
In denying mercy last year, the Ohio Parole Board called his actions "among the
worst of the worst capital crimes."
Yes, Ohio executed Ronald Phillips -- a confessed "worst of the worst" -- on
Wednesday. But nothing that transpired changes the debate about the death
penalty in Ohio.
The governor still supports it and more than 130 men in Ohio's prison system
The state has scheduled 3 more executions this year, and according to various
media reports plans a faster pace -- about 6 annually -- over the next several
Expect exhaustive appeals.
What's cruel and unusual? Families reliving their worst nightmares for years
If Ohio remains determined to carry out the death penalty, then it must address
a system that makes a family wait nearly 25 years for what it considers justice
and peace of mind.
(source: The Canton Repository)
Executions in Ohio should be abolished----Readers respond to death penalty
2 WCPO.com readers responded to an op-ed on the death penalty in Ohio by
sharing their opinions. The original column was written by Linda Collins, the
widow of Terry Collins, who was director of the Ohio Department of
Rehabilitation and Correction, and oversaw executions, from 2006 to 2010.
'Death penalty should be abolished immediately' Lauren Bailey is a junior at
Xavier University majoring in social work.
The death penalty is a grave injustice to humanity and it needs to be abolished
As a college student living in Cincinnati, I have been given the opportunity to
critically examine the justice issues plaguing my community. One that I feel
most called to is the death penalty. Young adults are increasingly becoming
more opposed to the death penalty, and although it's easier to brush this off
and call all millennials "snowflakes" or whatever term you prefer, there is a
deeper reason for this opposition which deserves to be heard.
Growing up during the "tough on crime" era, the effects of mass incarceration
are glaringly evident. We have seen the harm that prisons have created, and
that is why we demand reform.
The death penalty costs Ohio taxpayers an estimated $16.8 million per year.
That is $16.8 million that is taken away from education, health care,
infrastructure and public safety.
There is no evidence to support the death penalty acting as a deterrent against
crime. In fact, Ohio has a higher murder rate than certain states that have
abolished the death penalty.
Due to the fact that the death penalty is ineffective in deterring crime, and
it costs an absurd amount, it should be abolished immediately. A society that
wants to raise young adults to live with integrity and respect needs to also
treat its incarcerated population the same.
'Let God decide who dies'
Sister Andrea Koverman is program manager for the Intercommunity Justice and
Peace Center in Cincinnati.
As a member of the Catholic community, it troubles me to know that Ohio plans
to execute 27 people over the next four years.
(source: WCPO news)
State senator renews push to end death penalty
State Senator Edna Brown, D-Toledo, last week repeated her call for an
alternative to the death penalty following the execution of Ronald Phillips,
who was convicted for the 1993 rape and murder of his girl friend's 3-year-old
While appalled by the Phillips' crimes, Sen. Brown said people should be held
accountable for their actions "in an appropriate manner."
"Ohio has faced several legal obstacles over the course of more than 3 years
just to obtain proper drugs for executions. There's a reason why many drug
manufacturers will not allow their drugs to be used in this capacity: it's an
outdated and barbaric practice. Aside from difficulties in obtaining drugs, the
cost of capital punishment in comparison to life imprisonment is vastly more
expensive. Ohio's taxpayers should not be held accountable for a practice that
many agree is deeply flawed.
"The continued use of capital punishment is wasteful, arbitrary, and always
carries the possibility of execution of an innocent person. It's time that Ohio
invests in an alternative," she said.
In March, the senator re-introduced a bill that would replace the death penalty
with life imprisonment without parole.
Senate Bill 94 was referred to the Judiciary Committee in March but to date the
committee hasn't scheduled any hearings.
The legislature is on its summer break.
Sen. Brown has introduced similar bills 3 times during prior general assemblies
of the legislature.
In 2015, she emphasized the need to abolish the death penalty to prevent the
execution of an innocent person.
She posed for photos with 3 men who were sentenced to death in 1975 and spent a
combined total of 105 years in prison before being exonerated. The case of
Ronald Phillips drew national attention because it was the state's 1st
execution in 3 years.
He and other inmates were scheduled for execution but received stays due to
questions about the state's lethal injection protocol and the availability of
drugs that were used.
They received a preliminary injunction last January but the U.S. Sixth District
Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the state last month.
The U.S. Supreme Court last week rejected Phillips' appeal.
Phillips was 43 years old when executed and spent about 1/2 his life imprisoned
for the crime, which occurred in Akron.
(source: The Press)
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