innocence blog

A Web log for the Innocence Institute of Point Park University

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Taking on the Fifth

Thomas Miller-El Posted by Hello

The Supreme Court continues battling the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit over death row cases in Texas, according to a follow-up story in the New York Times. The court heard arguments Monday in the case of Thomas Miller-El, who was sentenced to death for killing a Dallas hotel clerk.

Last year, the Supreme Court ruled 8-1 that evidence all blacks were struck from Miller-El's jury is enough to give him an appeal hearing. But the Fifth Circuit ignored the decision, deciding instead to adopt Clarence Thomas' minority opinion. Now the supremes are hearing the case again.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Doing life in the Times

Martin Tankleff Posted by Hello

The well-publicized case of Marty Tankleff gets a fresh look in Sunday's New York Times. The New York man is serving 50 years to life for killing his parents. The Times story says a detective tricked Tankleff into a confession by saying his father fingered him as the killer on his death bed, suggesting Tankleff blocked the memory of the attack. In addition, new evidence supports Tankleff's accusation that his father's business partner was behind the murders.

The paper also runs a cover story critical of two courts hearing appeals from death row inmates in Texas. Over the last decade, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled against prosecutors in all six appeals brought by inmates on death row in Texas. The Times finds the actions of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in ignoring prosecutorial misconduct and past court decisions are largely responsible.

The Court of Criminal Appeals, which is the highest court in Texas hearing criminal cases, has been deemed the worst in the state by one magazine. The story cites one high-profile case in which a prison inmate serving 99 years for the rape and murder of a 16-year-old girl was cleared by two rounds of DNA testing. Yet the criminal appeals court voted 6-3 to let his conviction stand. It took George W. Bush, of all people, to grant the man clemency.

Such cases have led one justice to use a $20 million grant to foster a network of innocence projects at law schools around the state.