Patterico's Pontifications

1/27/2006

A Potentially Reasonable Clemency Request

Filed under: Crime — Patterico @ 10:29 pm



Unlike the Tookie Williams situation, this sounds like a reasonable request for clemency — assuming the story’s facts are accurate (a rather dangerous assumption, given the source).

The story opens:

In a highly unusual development, a judge who condemned a killer to die has asked Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to grant clemency.

Michael A. Morales is to be executed Feb. 21 for the 1981 killing of Terri Winchell, a Lodi high school student. Ventura County Superior Court Judge Charles R. McGrath, appointed by Gov. RonaldReagan, said in a letter to the governor that he believes the sentence was based on false testimony from a jailhouse informant.

Bruce Samuelson testified that Morales had callously boasted during a jailhouse conversation that he had planned to rape and kill the teenager. The confession supposedly took place in a crowded cellblock that Morales knew was full of informants.

Samuelson explained away Morales’ willingness to talk by saying the two men spoke in Spanish. A later investigation by the state attorney general, however, showed that Morales, a fourth-generation Californian, doesn’t speak Spanish, McGrath said.

Samuelson’s testimony not only persuaded judge and jury that the killing was egregious, but effectively canceled out Morales’ claim that he felt deep remorse for the crime, McGrath said.

And continues:

Samuelson’s claim that Morales “made obscene, derogatory references to the victim … and callously boasted of the assault upon her … effectively demonstrated a heartless lack of remorse by Mr. Morales, and completely undermined his attorney’s presentation … that Mr. Morales immediately felt deep remorse for his involvement in the incident,” McGrath said.

Samuelson’s claim of Morales’ “confession was the only evidence to support the single special circumstance — lying in wait — that made Mr. Morales eligible for the death penalty,” the judge added.

I think denying clemency would also be a morally reasonable position, as I have no moral problem with death as a punishment for any deliberate and premeditated murder. But a life sentence would not gravely offend me, given the circumstances described.

UPDATE: I have reworded the first sentence of the last paragraph to make it clear that my position is a moral one. It originally read: “I think denying clemency would also be reasonable, as I have no moral problem with death as a punishment for any deliberate and premeditated murder.” But if the facts are as stated in the article, then the death penalty was not legally imposed. Even if our system of appeals didn’t provide for the adjudication of the claim (and it should), clemency would be almost mandated, given that our system in California does not permit execution for willful, premeditated murder without a special circumstance. My point was that, if it did, that would cause me no moral qualms.

33 Responses to “A Potentially Reasonable Clemency Request”

  1. Agreed. If the death-penalty phase was hinky, it might be a good case for clemency. But I’ll also wait to hear what else comes out about this.

    See Dubya (afdbd2)

  2. If the story as related is accurate, I think its a slam dunk for clemency.

    Frank Laughter (fec178)

  3. If the death penalty phase was jacked up, sucker should have filed for post-conviction relief in the courts.

    This is because he shouldn’t be automatically granted a commuted sentence- he should have to face a death-qualified jury in the penalty phase again.

    Angry Clam (a7c6b1)

  4. Michael Angelo Morales Watch: Kenneth Starr to Assist Death Row Clemency Bid

    Sacramento Bee: Kenneth Starr to assist death row clemency bid
    Kenneth Starr, the special prosecutor who urged the impeachment of former President Clinton, is helping prepare the clemency petition for convicted murderer Michael Angelo Morales.
    &#8…

    FullosseousFlap's Dental Blog (baa0b4)

  5. The Clam’s got this one just right.

    Black Jack (9f37aa)

  6. This is because he shouldn’t be automatically granted a commuted sentence- he should have to face a death-qualified jury in the penalty phase again.

    If the judge’s statement is accurate, there would be no credible evidence to support a special circumstance. The story does not contain enough details to explain why this claim would not have been handled through the normal legal process, but — again, if the story is accurate — it sounds like a valid claim nevertheless.

    Patterico (929da9)

  7. Michael Angelo Morales Watch: Ventura County Judge Asks California Governor Schwarzenegger for Clemency

    Judge Charles R. McGrath says death sentence was based on false testimony from a jailhouse informant.
    Los Angeles Times: Judge Requests Clemency for a Killer He Condemned
    In a highly unusual development, a judge who condemned a killer to die has ask…

    FullosseousFlap's Dental Blog (baa0b4)

  8. So, lying in wait (special circumstance) and smashing a girl’s head in with a claw hammer is NOT enough?

    Ridiculous……

    Flap

    Flap (cc77c4)

  9. Hmm….

    In support of his motion for an evidentiary hearing, Morales submitted as evidence an interview that an assistant attorney general and his investigator had with Samuelson in 1993, eleven years after the trial, as the attorney general’s office prepared for one of the habeas proceedings. But this evidence doesn’t raise a colorable claim. Samuelson does not say that he was put into Morales’s cell to extract admissions from Morales. To the contrary, Samuelson says that before or during the trial an “insinuation” was made to that effect, but it was “not the case at all.” Samuelson states that the reason he was put in segregation was that he asked to be put there, so that he could avoid contact with the general prison population and have his own room where his things would be safe from theft. He got to talking with Morales because he was impressed with Morales’s work as an artist.

    Morales argues that Samuelson is demonstrably lying about this, because Samuelson says they spoke in Spanish, and Morales does not speak Spanish. But whether Samuelson is lying in his 1993 interview is not the question. Morales presents no evidence to demonstrate that the state planted Samuelson near him to get him to talk outside the presence of his attorney. On this record, the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying an evidentiary hearing on whether the state planted Samuelson. That Samuelson bargained with what he had — information — for what he wanted — lenience — does not support an inference that he was planted to get such information.

    Morales v. Woodford, 336 F.3d 1136, 1152-53 (9th Cir. 2003) (denying writ of habeas corpus), amended 388 F.3d 1159 (9th Cir. 2004), cert. denied sub nom. Morales v. Brown, 126 S.Ct. 420 (2005).

    Summary: owned like a mofo. But, hey, that’s what happened with the habeas proceeding.

    Angry Clam (fa7fff)

  10. But whether Samuelson is lying in his 1993 interview is not the question.

    It is to me. It’s at least one of the questions — and a major one at that.

    Patterico (929da9)

  11. It is not on habeas though. After the AEDPA, defendants have huge, huge difficulties in bringing “actual innocence” petitions.

    Angry Clam (fa7fff)

  12. If the sole witness for the sole claim of special circumstances is shown to have lied regarding the LANGUAGE of the conversation that is the sole evidence in for special circumstances, it means that there was NO CREDIBLE EVIDENCE to support a death penalty verdict.

    There is enough doubt here.

    Kevin Murphy (6a7945)

  13. All that said, I think that it is unfortunate that the only options are to let the execution stand or commute the sentence.

    However, allowing re-sentencing orders by executive action would open up all sorts of problems, since that would essentially restart the entire state habeas and federal 2254 review of the sentence, and keep people on death row for another few decades.

    Angry Clam (fa7fff)

  14. Boy, Clam, I don’t think that’s a viable position.

    In this case, the dude is asking for executive clemency. The AEDPA is an effort to get the death penalty appropriately administered. But in removing some former rights of death row inmates, there’s an implicit assumption that when something went wrong in the trial, that the governor will do the right thing.

    If Morales didn’t commit a special circumstance, he shouldn’t be executed. The law is there for a reason; it may well be that Morales ought to be executed based on a reasonable interpretation of morality, but we have to uphold the law. The slippery slope of “looks like justice, let’s just do it,” leads to 60-day sentences (even if later changed) for child rapists.

    I don’t think the judge’s position is sufficient in and of itself, but if the facts back him – and they well might – we should get Mr. Morales off death row. It’s the right thing to do.

    And unlike Patterico, I think denying a reduction to LWOP *if these facts appear true* would be a very serious error, and I’d forcefully object. We must show that we are following our own rules.

    –JRM

    JRM (5e00de)

  15. How about these special circumstacnes, then:

    * Murder during or directly after the commission of robbery, rape, burglary, kidnapping, arson, and other designated felonies

    * Murder involving torture

    No clemency for this SCUM.

    If the California Supreme Court wishes to order a new trial based on this pleading then it is the rule of law – albeit very very late.

    Executive clemency – NO WAY!

    Flap (cc77c4)

  16. JRM-

    I had speculated earlier on why this wasn’t brought up in his earlier petitions for post-conviction review (state habeas, 2254 in federal court, etc.)

    Personally, I liked the old common law rule: all felonies were punished by execution.

    Angry Clam (fa7fff)

  17. Flap–

    It’s like this: I want the other 900 scum on death row executed ASAP and if that means that one questionable case gets commuted to LWOP, so be it.

    The really, really, bad outcome is for this case to become the catalyst for global commutation.

    Apparently, Kenneth Starr has also written to Arnold in support of clemency.

    Kevin Murphy (6a7945)

  18. Clam–

    That worked better when there were only a few felonies.

    Kevin Murphy (6a7945)

  19. JRM:

    I was not clear in my post. I agree with you. I meant to be speaking about morality and not legality. See my update above.

    Patterico (929da9)

  20. Kevin,

    The entire death penalty system in California is a travesty. Don’t get me started on Rose Bird and the Amy Sue Seitz/Theodore Frank case.

    However, this guy deserves the Big Jab.

    I blogged about Ken Starr,the esteemed Dean of Pepperdine Law School who is simply WRONG on this one.

    If the California Supreme Court or SCOTUS says remand,reverse or any combination thereof, so be it.

    Executive clemency – NO!

    Expedient resentencing to Life in Prison without Parole for political or legal expedience,cost, etc. etc. – NO WAY!

    You would have completely eviscerated the law and the will of Californians who demand the death penalty. Flap being one of them.

    Flap (cc77c4)

  21. OK, let’s review.

    Guy lies in wait, kidnaps, rapes, and murders a 17 year old girl as a contract killer (girl was involved with the gay lover of the murderers cousin, he killed her for cash).

    THATS not special circumstances? Then what in the world has our justice system come to? Why don’t we let all murderers out and give them hugs and cookies?

    The Judge is a joke, pandering to the hug-a-thug libs like Mike Farrell. These guys never met a brutal murderer they didn’t love.

    Color me simplistic, I think contract murderers who kidnap, rape, and murder 17 year old girls should get the death penalty. But that’s just me.

    Jim Rockford (e09923)

  22. I think that the lying in wait special circumstance was based on this guy’s testimony.

    Angry Clam (a7c6b1)

  23. What bothers me about this story is that “testimony from a jailhouse informant” is admissible in court in the first place.

    Psyberian (1cf529)

  24. Psyberian–

    Of course it’s admissible. WHy shouldn’t it be? Most criminals don’t spend their time with solid citizens, so you often get testimony from people who aren’t very reliable. It’s the job of the defence and the jury to sort that out.

    And it’s not like this guy might be innocent — he admits the crime.

    Kevin Murphy (6a7945)

  25. Flap–

    Don’t start ME on Rose Bird either. I voted to get rid of Bird, Cruz and Reynoso, too. Far as I’m concerned, 20+ years of delay is about 18 years too long.

    Used to be different. I’m reminded that the guy who shot at President-elect Roosevelt and missed — but killed Chicago Mayor Cermak — was tried, convicted and executed before Roosevelt was inaugurated. Would have been quicker still, but Cermak lingered.

    Kevin Murphy (6a7945)

  26. What bothers me about this story is that “testimony from a jailhouse informant” is admissible in court in the first place.

    At least in L.A., it’s almost never used any more. In my last trial, a jailhouse informant told me that the defendant had confessed. I didn’t use him. I investigated his background and learned that he was a highly devious and dishonest person. I was too worried that he had learned the facts of the case by obtaining police reports and court transcripts from the defendant.

    Unless such testimony is *solidly* corroborated, it won’t get before a jury in L.A. County.

    Patterico (929da9)

  27. Maybe I was being too optimistic, but I wish that our legal system would reject any testimony from “from people who aren’t very reliable.” Plus, isn’t there an incentive for them to rat on their cohorts? That makes their motives suspect too.

    Psyberian (1cf529)

  28. Thank you for letting me know that Patterico. That’s a relief. (Not that I’m in any kind of trouble or anything of course.)

    Psyberian (1cf529)

  29. What bothers me about this story is that Samuelson apparently perjured himself in a murder case, and has never been tried on that account. Ideally, that should qualify as (at least) attempted manslaughter.

    great unknown (a90377)

  30. Not a bad point.

    Patterico (929da9)

  31. Kevin,

    May be it is time for a California Constitutional Amendement initiative requiring California Supreme Court review of capital cases say within three years.

    Hope this would not stress out the OVER WORKED California Supreme Court.

    If there are statutes of limitations certainly there can be the people’s repsonse to an extraordinarily slow justice system.

    Now, the federal courts would be harder to hasten review but we can only hope.

    Patterico – Haha the Los Angeles County courts – thought all you guys did was plea bargain.

    Tell Flap it is not so……..:o))

    Flap (cc77c4)

  32. Clemancy in this case would be a grave injustice. I lived in Stockton in 1981 and went to high school with two of the people involved in this murder. I met the victim once. Mr. Morales’ jail house confession may have been fabricated by Mr. Samuelson but the facts were corroborated by other witnesses. There is no question that the murder was premeditated and involved the infliction of extreme pain. Mr. Morales’ claims that he is sorry for the crime of which was found guilty and that he is a devout loving Christian worthy of clemancy are a crock of shit. I don’t care if he is sorry. I don’t care if he has found God. I don’t care if he negotiates a lasting peace in the Middle East, solves world hunger and discovers a cure for cancer, Mr. Morales deserves to be slowly tortured to death for what he did to Terri Winchell in 1981.

    Steven Jones (917e98)

  33. Hi guys,
    I have a professional interest in the California death penalty. I would be grateful if you could give me some information.
    Can anyone help me with facts/details of the California death penalty system? Any web sites/references? Why do you think it is so screwed? Does the state allocate sufficient funds to have death penalty cases pushed thru efficiently? How much of the broken system is due to liberal judges? Why is the prison using those particular substances?

    Thanks a lot.

    Pansy (371954)


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