Innocent man jailed for 31 years, no compensation in the USA


This video from the USA says about itself:

Wrongfully convicted Tenn. man fights for compensation after 31 years in prison

CBS Evening News

12 December 2016

Lawrence McKinney was convicted of rape in 1978 and spent over 31 years in prison until DNA evidence proved he was innocent in 2009. Under Tennessee law, McKinney may be owed up to $1 million for the wrongful imprisonment. But the state’s parole board has refused to exonerate him, despite the evidence, reports Omar Villafranca.

By Shelley Connor in the USA:

Tennessee wrongfully imprisoned man for three decades, provided only $75 compensation

16 December 2016

Lawrence McKinney was imprisoned by the state of Tennessee for 31 years for a rape and burglary he did not commit. Under Tennessee law, McKinney could be compensated $1 million.

However, the Tennessee Parole Board has refused to grant him an exoneration hearing, and the only compensation he ever received was the paltry $75 given to him when he was released from prison in 2009. McKinney has now been forced to bring his case before Republican Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, whose office received the application for executive clemency on November 21.

McKinney was charged in October of 1977 with having raped a Memphis, Tennessee woman and burgling her apartment. Six months later, he and his codefendant were found guilty after the victim identified them in court as her attackers. McKinney, then 22 years old, was sentenced to 115 years in prison for the crime. In 2009, DNA evidence from the victim’s bed sheets demonstrated that McKinney had not been present at the crime scene. He was then released from prison; the state issued him the $75 and the crime was expunged from his record.

Tennessee is one of 31 states with compensation statutes for the wrongly accused. It is also one of many states that complicate the compensation process. McKinney was forced to go before the Tennessee Board of Probation and Parole to seek compensation and exoneration, even though he was released from prison and the crime had been expunged from his record. The board voted 7-0 to deny his exoneration in November.

Patsy Bruce, who sat on the parole board that denied his first exoneration hearing, has stated that she is not convinced that McKinney is innocent, despite DNA to the contrary. She also claimed that the judge and the District Attorney failed to provide properly tested evidence to support McKinney’s innocence.

In the United States DNA evidence was used to exonerate a wrongfully-convicted inmate for the first time in 1989. Since then, nearly 350 people, including McKinney, have been freed on the basis of DNA evidence.

The states, however, have been criminally remiss in responding to the life-changing implications of this technology. Nineteen states—Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Wyoming—have yet to enact statutes providing compensation for those exonerated of crimes.

In the 31 states where compensation laws do exist, the processes to obtain compensation can be prohibitively time consuming and expensive. In New York, an exoneree has only a two-year window to file civil cases against state and municipal governments to receive compensation. These cases can take years to adjudicate, as demonstrated by the ongoing case of Alan Newton.

In 2010, Newton successfully sued New York City for $18.5 million after his exoneration. Newton had been convicted of rape, robbery, and assault in 1985 in a case that prosecutors had built around eyewitness testimony. He had requested DNA testing of evidence in 1994 and was denied; in 2006, after serving over 20 years in prison, he was finally released on the basis of such evidence.

The city appealed the judgment. In 2011, United States District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin set the judgment aside. Newton appealed Scheindlin’s decision. In 2015, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit vacated Scheindlin’s ruling and turned the case back over to her.

In March of this year, Scheindlin reduced the award to $12 million, claiming that the previous amount was excessive. If Newton did not accept the reduced amount, Scheindlin said, he would have to suffer another trial. She also cited the fact that Newton had been accused of a separate rape, although he maintains his innocence and no judgment has been made.

In another case, David Ayers, a Cleveland, Ohio man, served 11 years for a murder he did not commit. He was exonerated by DNA evidence in 2011, and two years later, he sued the two Cleveland detectives—Michael Cipo and Denise Kovach—upon whose manufactured evidence he had been incarcerated. The city of Cleveland was originally named in the suit, but was removed before it went to trial. The appellate court judge in the case stated that there was sufficient “evidence that Detectives Cipo and Kovach conspired to violate [Ayers’] civil rights.” Ayers was awarded $13.2 million by the jury.

Three months after the verdict in Ayers’ favor was delivered, Cleveland Law Director Barbara Langhenry helped Kovach and Cipo obtain a bankruptcy attorney. The city contracted to pay the attorney $1000 for each bankruptcy judgment, as well as the filing fee for the bankruptcies. The contract also stipulated that the attorney was required to obtain permission from the city’s law department to undertake legal research into the cases, effectively discouraging the officers and the attorney from exploring alternatives to bankruptcy. Cipo died a few months after Cleveland contracted with the attorney. Kovach declared bankruptcy. Ayers, now over 80 years old, fights on for his compensation.

McKinney, Newton, and Ayers all live in states where statutes provide for compensation for those exonerated of crimes. In each case, though, state and municipal governments have exploited loopholes designed to reduce payment to those they have incarcerated or avoid payment altogether. In some states, someone who has lost years in prison on false murder charges can lose compensation if they are later convicted of another, unrelated crime. As evidenced in McKinney’s case, a parole board can decide that it is not satisfied with exonerating evidence that has already been recognized by courts.

Those exonerated of wrongful convictions spend, on average, 14-15 years in prison. They are released into a society that has changed drastically, after enduring the myriad stressors and threats inherent to prisons. Parents and other loved ones die during their incarceration.

There is no uniform provision that would allow those exonerated to secure housing, employment, health care, or counseling so they can re-enter society successfully. To the contrary, the governments that energetically and enthusiastically prosecuted and imprisoned them expend just as much energy to avoid paying for the damage they inflict upon these exonerees.

‘We Shall Overcome’ folk singer Guy Carawan dies


This music video from the USA is called Guy CarawanWe Shall Overcome [Live].

From Associated Press in the USA:

Folk singer behind popularity of ‘We Shall Overcome’ dies

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – The musician and folk singer who promoted the song “We Shall Overcome” and is credited with helping it rise in popularity as an anthem during the civil rights movement in the 1960s has died.

Guy Carawan’s wife, Candie, said Friday that he died May 2, at his home in New Market, Tennessee, after suffering from a form of dementia for years. He was 87. She says a private funeral service is planned.

For years, Carawan was a leader of the Highlander Research and Education Center in New Market. It served as a gathering place for social justice activists. Visitors included the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks.

The Carawans marched with King in Selma, Alabama, and made recordings to preserve the civil rights movement.

Carawan spent much of his time collecting and preserving folk songs.

Evolution biology on trial in Tennessee, USA


This video from the USA is called The Scopes Monkey Trial Explained in 5 Minutes: US History Review.

By Peter Frost in Britain:

Primate witness: the monkey trials go on

Thursday 7th May 2017

PETER FROST is amazed that, 90 years after the famous Tennessee trial, the evolution versus creationism argument still rages

ON MAY 5 1925, 90 years ago this week, a group of thinkers in the small town of Dayton, Tennessee, are discussing a newspaper announcement.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is looking for someone to challenge the new Butler Act passed by the state to outlaw the teaching of evolution in Tennessee schools. This law bans the teaching of any theory that denies the literal truth of the biblical creation of man.

One of the men, 24-year-old science teacher and football coach John Thomas Scopes, says he will be willing to be indicted to bring the case to trial. Scopes has only taught biology as a substitute teacher and later says he isn’t sure he covered evolution in his classes.

On May 25 John Scopes was brought to trial for teaching evolution. The case, forever known as the Monkey Trial, made world headlines and is still talked about today.

Scopes agreed to purposely incriminate himself so that the case could have a defendant. He knew such a trial would draw intense national publicity to the argument. The world’s press flocked to Dayton. To make room for the many journalists and observers the trial was convened in the open air. This proved a blessing in the stifling Tennessee heat.

Defending Scopes was Clarence Darrow, already a famous lawyer. He would go on to become the best-known and most revered defence lawyer in US jurisprudence.

Darrow had made his reputation as a labour union lawyer and had defended many militant heroes of US working-class strikes and struggles — many of them framed on trumped-up charges. These included many members of the US Communist Party charged with treason. Leading the prosecution of Scopes was William Jennings Bryan, Bible scholar, rabid creationist and three-time Democratic candidate for US president.

Bryan’s argument was simple. He declared the word of God as revealed in the Bible took priority over all other human knowledge. Judge John T Raulston made no pretence at neutrality. He started each day with a hymn and a prayer. The judge ruled that the many scientists who wished to speak in Scopes’s defence could only give their evidence in writing.

British novelist H G Wells was asked if he would join the defence team. Wells replied that he had no legal training in Britain, let alone in the US, and declined the offer. The ACLU opposed the Butler Act on the grounds that it violated the teacher’s individual rights and academic freedom, and was therefore unconstitutional.

Darrow and the judge frequently clashed and there were several threats of action for contempt with Darrow forced to apologise. Darrow attacked the literal interpretation of the Bible as well as Bryan’s limited knowledge of other religions and science. He scoffed at Bryan’s horror that human beings were descended “not even from American monkeys, but from old-world monkeys.”

Darrow took the unorthodox step of calling Bryan, the chief prosecutor, to the stand as a defence witness. Darrow asked him questions such as: “If Eve was actually created from Adam’s rib, where did Cain get his wife?” The confrontation between Bryan and Darrow lasted approximately two hours before Judge Raulston’s announced that he considered the whole examination irrelevant to the case. He ruled that it should be struck from the record. Darrow closed the case for the defence without a final summing up. Under Tennessee law, when the defence waived its right to make a closing speech, the prosecution was also barred from summing up its case.

Scopes was found guilty and ordered to pay a $100 fine. He addressed the court for the first time. “Your honour, I feel that I have been convicted of violating an unjust statute. I will continue in the future, as I have in the past, to oppose this law in any way I can. Any other action would be in violation of my ideal of academic freedom — that is, to teach the truth as guaranteed in our constitution, of personal and religious freedom. I think the fine is unjust.”

The appeal court set aside the conviction because of a tiny legal technicality: the jury should have decided the fine, not the judge, since under the state constitution Tennessee judges could not set fines above $50, and the Butler Act specified a minimum fine of $100. Appeal judge Green added: “We see nothing to be gained by prolonging the life of this bizarre case.”

The Butler Act stayed on the statute books until 1967. In reality this bizarre case and the arguments that caused it are still being debated. Strangely despite logic and scientific proof, the ideas of creationism are still gaining ground on both sides of the Atlantic.

When the Con-Dem coalition established free schools in 2011, three such schools — each teaching creationism — were approved by the then education secretary Michael Gove. Today free schools in Britain are no longer allowed to teach creationism as if it were fact. Now such teaching is confined to religious education classes and not presented as a valid alternative to established scientific theory.

Yet surveys show that, amazingly, one in three US citizens doesn’t believe in evolution. They think humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time. White evangelical Protestants, particularly in the Southern Bible belt — states like Tennessee — are most likely to not believe in evolution and ridicule Darwin’s ideas.

Both Tennessee and Louisiana allow the teaching of creationism in school science classes. Currently, less than half of Republican voters, just 43 per cent, believe in human evolution. Only 67 per cent of Democrats think Darwin’s theory credible.

Worse, US opinion is shifting and the numbers doubting evolution and supporting creationism are growing every year. Nearly a dozen states are considering legislation to either outlaw the teaching of Darwinian evolution or to give equal space and time to creationism in school science classes.

In Tennessee the law defines controversial issues including biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming and human cloning and seeks to ensure schools also teach what the Bible has to say on the subjects.

Tennessee law wrongly suggests the scientific community is divided over these issues. It is not, but the law has now made it significantly harder to ensure that science is taught responsibly.

American killdeer plover in Spain


This video from the USA says about itself:

Unusual Wild Bird. This is How a Wild Killdeer protects her nest in busy parking Lot

When I was taking Princess Sugar Pie to visit Fort Sanders Sevier Senior Center in Sevierville, Tennessee, I took an unusual video of a wild female killdeer bird sitting on her nest in the center’s busy parking lot. Watch as the killdeer chirps when I get too close while making herself appear much bigger than she is. She even tries to lure me away from her nest eggs and acts wounded like she would do if a predator such as a fox or coyote approached them. This is one truly amazing video of a bird’s instincts to protect their young from harm’s way. I have visited her since I took the video and she doesn’t try to run from me any more because she knows that I won’t hurt her or her eggs.

From Rare Birds in Spain on Twitter:

7.4.2015 Charadrius vociferus 1 ind[ividual] Aldover, Tarragona

This means a killdeer plover, a North American species, rare in Europe. See also here for this observation.

Golden-winged warblers’ escape from storm


This video from the USA is about a Golden-winged Warbler singing in Connecticut.

From daily The Guardian in Britain:

Birds detect approaching storm from 900km away

Infrasound may have alerted warblers to the massive storm, prompting them to fly more than a thousand kilometres to avoid it

A group of songbirds may have avoided a devastating storm by fleeing their US breeding grounds after detecting telltale infrasound waves.

Researchers noticed the behaviour after analysing trackers attached to the birds to study their migration patterns. They believe it is the first documented case of birds making detours to avoid destructive weather systems on the basis of infrasound.

The golden-winged warblers had just returned from South America to their breeding grounds in the mountains of Tennessee in 2013 when a massive storm was edging closer. Although the birds had just completed a migration of more than 2,500km, they still had the energy to evade the danger.

The storm, which spawned more than 80 tornadoes across the US and killed 35 people, was 900km away when the birds, apparently acting independently of one another, fled south, with one bird embarking on a 1,500km flight to Cuba before making the return trip once the storm had passed.

“We looked at barometric pressure, wind speeds on the ground and at low elevations, and the precipitation, but none of these things that typically trigger birds to move had changed,” said David Andersen at the University of Minnesota.

“What we’re left with is something that allows them to detect a storm from a long distance, and the one thing that seems to be the most obvious is infrasound from tornadoes, which travels through the ground.”

The scientists had fitted trackers to 20 golden-winged warblers in 2013. Only nine returned to their breeding ground after migrating to South America. Of those nine, the researchers trapped and analysed the flight histories of five. All took evasive action to avoid the storm.

The birds started to leave their breeding grounds on 27 April 2013, when the storm was whipping up tornadoes in Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas. The next day, with the storm about 100km from their breeding site, the birds had moved a few hundred kilometres south east. When the storm moved over the study area, battering it with winds of up to 160 kilometres per hour, the warblers were on Florida’s Gulf Coast. One flew on to Cuba.

“In five to six days, they all made this big move around the storm,” Andersen said. “They all went south east in front of the storm, and then let it go by, or moved behind it. It was individual behaviour, they were several hundred kilometres away from each other most of the time.” Details are reported in the journal Current Biology.

The scientists cannot be sure that the birds picked up infrasound waves from the storm, but previous work in pigeons has suggested that birds might use infrasound to help them navigate. Infrasound waves range from about 0.5Hz to 18Hz, below the audible range of humans.

The discovery of the evasive action could be good news, said Andersen. “With climate change increasing the frequency and severity of storms, this suggests that birds may have some ability to cope that we hadn’t previously realised. These birds seemed to be capable of making really dramatic movements at short notice, even just after returning on their northwards migration,” he said.

Had the storm arrived a couple of weeks later, the birds may not have taken flight. By that time, they would have been nesting, and females especially may have been less likely to flee. “It’s hard to say what would happen. It may be more advantageous to survive than stay with a nest that is going to be destroyed anyway,” Andersen said.

“Biologists had not been looking at the use of infrasound in this way, but it certainly makes sense to me,” said Jon Hagstrum at the US Geological Survey in California, who has studied infrasound use by pigeons. “We may find that acoustics are a pretty significant way that birds in general view their environment, much like dogs use olfaction and humans use sight.”

An African American writes about his killer cop white brother


It’s one thing to have to ask this of the police. It’s another to ask it of your brother. Photograph: Steve Eberhardt/Demotix/Corbis

By Zach Stafford in daily The Guardian in Britain:

I’m black, my brother’s white … and he’s a cop who shot a black man on duty

I never thought that my brother would be one of those police officers. He was supposed to be different because of me

Monday 25 August 2014 12.30 BST

My white brother loved black people more than I did when we were growing up. As a black interracial child of the south – one who lived in a homogenous white town – I struggled with my own blackness. I struggled even more with loving that blackness. But my brother, Mitch, didn’t. He loved me unapologetically. He loved me loudly.

He also loved screwing with other people’s expectations. Whenever we met new people or I joined a social situation he was in, Mitch would make sure I was standing right next to him for introductions and say, “This is Zach, my brother” – and then go silent with a smirk.

These new acquaintances would then scan back and forth with such intensity – black, white, white, black – that our faces became a kind of tennis court, with strangers waiting for someone to fault. Eventually someone would awkwardly laugh and say something like: “Oh, adopted brother,” immediately looking relieved to have figured it out. My brother would deny that and push the line further, “No, like, my brother. We have the same mom. We are blood.”

That would lead to someone questioning me intensely, and, each time, my white brother would stand next to me, proud: prouder than me of my own skin. And over the years, as he continued playing this game, I became prouder … with his help.

And then, years later and far away in Chicago, I got the phone call: my brother, now a cop, had shot an unarmed black man back in Tennessee.

Hearing about black men dying is never exactly a surprise. Every day, you see the news stories: On the news, black men die while getting Skittles. On the news, black men die in choke-holds. On the news, black men die for playing their music too loud. It seems black men die on the news more than they do almost anything else on the news, even with a black president in office. Every 28 hours, a black man is killed by a police officer in America.

I just never imagined that the police officer in that scenario would ever be my brother. Mitch was supposed to be different than all the rest. He was supposed to be different because of me.

The first thing I did after I got the phone call was Google my brother’s name. I saw a mix of headlines; some outlets were more sympathetic toward the unarmed 22-year-old victim, while other coverage was more favorable to my brother, the cop who “accidentally” killed someone. Articles kept using that word – “accidental” – over and over, and it felt like aloe on a burn.

Watching the first press conference later that day, the police spokesman talked about how my brother was just doing his job, that he followed protocol and that this was just a tragic accident for everyone involved. After the press conference, one of the local news stations in Nashville aired a more in-depth look at the case and reported that the victim had a family member who had been shot by someone on the same police force years earlier – also, apparently, “by accident”.

Accident seemed like an odd word to me for this situation. When I hear the word “accident”, I usually think about spilled milk or the dog urinating on the carpet or even bumper scratch. Accidents were things that you respond to with, “Whoops, sorry!” But with this accident, I wondered: to whom could we even say “sorry” now that a man lay dead?

While I watched, I kept thinking about why these accidents always seemed to happen to black people. And why they were called accidents, when it seemed so clearly to be much more than an accident – when it seemed to be a flaw in a system that called things accidents.

I stared at my computer after my screen went black and prayed that it was an accident. Because calling it that didn’t make me feel I had to choose my race over my blood – the strangers who asked me questions over the brother who wanted them to.

I went home to Tennessee a few years later, after the media coverage of the case had calmed down, and sat in one of the chairs in my mother’s living room and let the argument happen. My mother, with her smooth milk skin, stared at me with eyes that would not unlock from my own.

“Do you actually think he shot him because he was black?” she asked, tearing up.

“Yes, I do. I really do.”

“But how can you say that? Honestly, he is blacker than you!”

I winced at her backwards compliment, the racism veiled as praise, the description I’d heard since I could write my name.

“Mom, that is simply not true. He is white. This will never change, no matter what he does. Never. And because I am black, I know that if that man would have been white he would be alive today.”

My mom finally unlocked eyes with me and stared down at her glass. I could see that she wanted to agree with me, but couldn’t this time, because it was an indictment of her other son. She had probably never imagined having to argue with her black son about her white son shooting and killing an unarmed black man while on duty.

But that’s also when I began to see just how much racism isn’t really about a single act or a single person, but rather a much larger system. A system that calls the recurring death of black male bodies “accidents”.

No matter how my mom had raised us, no matter how much my brother loved my blackness and was so proud of me for who I was, it still didn’t stop another black man from losing his life.

My white brother isn’t a racist – and he didn’t intentionally kill that man because he was black – but that’s not the point. In his case – in Ferguson and in so many other cases – we see the deaths of unarmed black men as “accidents”. And until the day we all recognize them as casualties of something much bigger, we will continue to see black men dead on the news.

We will continue to see brothers killing brothers.

Michael Brown funeral: thousands expected to attend memorial – live: here. Live stream of the funeral: here.

Matt Bors cartoon

This is a cartoon by Matt Bors about how corporate media in the USA react to police or other violence.

New York Times harshly criticized for Michael Brown article: here.

More Audio Surfaces From Dan Page, the St. Louis County Police Officer Suspended After Racist Remarks. Page says Ferguson, the border crisis, and other events are part of a far-reaching conspiracy: here.

MICHAEL BROWN LAID TO REST “Hours after a packed funeral at a nearby church, Michael Brown’s parents laid him to rest in an emotional cemetery service. Michael Brown Sr. and Lesley McSpadden were surrounded by dozens of family members and figures like the Rev. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson for a short service featuring prayers … After his son’s casket was closed inside a copper vault, Brown gave out a pitched scream. Wearing a tie with his son’s picture on it, he gazed at the vault for several long minutes before leaving.” A man came forward with an alleged audio recording of the Michael Brown shooting yesterday. And in depressing news about America, “three-quarters of whites don’t have any non-white friends.” [HuffPost]

BERNICE KING: ‘A FOUNDATION FOR CHANGE IN POST-FERGUSON AMERICA’ “Above all, the people of Ferguson, law enforcement and citizens alike, and every American community must aspire to forge a new unity based on mutual respect, understanding and goodwill … As my father said, ‘The aftermath of violence is bitterness. The aftermath of nonviolence is reconciliation and the creation of a beloved community.’ This is the way forward to end the current climate of violence and despair — and to a new era of progress and hope for our country.” [HuffPost]