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February 12, 2006

More death-penalty shenanigans in California

When you're a death-row inmate with an execution date coming up, and this is the best you can get out of the abolitionist crowd, you know you're in trouble:

Michael Morales was sentenced to death for the 1981 rape and murder of 17-year old Terri Winchell. Morales had just turned 21 years-old at the time of the crime. Morales has always accepted full responsibility for causing Winchell’s death and expressed deep remorse. But Morales’ death sentence is based on a mistake: the false testimony of an informant witness who stated that Morales intentionally plotted to kill Winchell, testimony the prosecution knew was not true and testimony that was necessary for Morales to qualify for a death sentence. In addition, Morales’s co-defendant, Ricky Ortega, who is his cousin, orchestrated the murder; yet Ortega received a sentence a life without the possibility of parole. Race and place also appear to be factors that caused Morales to be sentenced to death rather than life without parole. Michael Morales’s execution has been set for Feb. 21, 2006.
No claim of innocence here, just a claim that the murder didn't qualify for death. OK, fine with me. Obviously, a murderer has the right to argue that his crime didn't qualify for capital punishment under the state's death penalty statute, but I'm sure he's made this argument repeatedly in court.

So what's next for his defense? Phony letters from members of the jury supporting clemency, you say? That's pretty imaginative of you, because here's the latest:
SAN FRANCISCO, Feb. 11 -- Lawyers for a death row inmate, including former Whitewater independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr, sent fake letters from jurors asking California's governor to spare the man's life, prosecutors said Friday.

The jurors denied they thought Michael Morales deserved clemency because some of the testimony at his trial may have been fabricated, said Nathan Barankin, spokesman for Attorney General Bill Lockyer.

"We showed each person the declaration on their behalf, and they all said they didn't say that," Barankin said.

San Joaquin County prosecutor Charles F. Schultz also said the letters sent to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) last week were "untrue" and "pure fiction."

Starr was not immediately available for comment, said a spokeswoman for the Pepperdine School of Law, where Starr is the dean.
Ken Starr? What's that you say? Clinton lied, no one died? Well, that's a fair point, but maybe you should consider the possibility that Mr. Starr is trying to rehabilitate his reputation with the legal establishment left.

But here's another explanation: the jurors were intimidated by prosecutors. Or so says one of Morales's defense attorneys.
Morales's other clemency attorney, David Senior from Los Angeles, said he stood by the validity of the six sworn statements he and Starr sent to the governor. He suggested that the jurors might have gotten cold feet when they were contacted by prosecutors in the past two days.

"When the D.A. and A.G. show up with badges and guns and say whatever, they can intimidate a lot of people and that's their game," Senior said.
I didn't realize that California prosecutors go around interviewing jurors and threatening them with guns. Anyone? Anyone? Patterico? Nor did I realize that, even in California, prosecutors say, "What-EV-er!" to the jurors. But then, I'm just an East Coast kind of guy.

So what I want to know is, where are all the folks who were supporting Tookie? Maybe Morales should have written a few children's books.