Court overturns conviction in Ashley's Killer case
The state's highest criminal appeals court on Wednesday overturned the
conviction of a man sent to death row for a 1993 child slaying that became
known as the "Ashley's Killer" case.
The Court of Criminal Appeals in Austin set aside the guilty verdict and
death sentence given to Michael Blair, upholding a lower-court ruling made
Blair, now 38, was convicted in 1994 of strangling and molesting
7-year-old Ashley Estell in suburban Dallas. Ashley's body was found in a
remote area of Collin County on Sept. 5, 1993, a day after she disappeared
from a Plano park where her brother was playing soccer.
Ashley's death prompted state lawmakers to pass tough sexual-predator
measures called "Ashley's Laws" requiring longer prison terms and public
registration for sex offenders.
Prosecutors acknowledged last month that DNA evidence does not implicate
Blair and shows that another man, now deceased, is a viable suspect in the
Blair, however, will remain in prison. While behind bars, he confessed and
eventually pleaded guilty to sexual assaults of other children in the
early 1990s. He was sentenced to three consecutive life sentences and a
4th to be served concurrently, according to court documents.
Blair is expected to be removed from death row and returned to the general
prison population, said his attorney, Roy Greenwood. Blair has been on
death row in Huntsville since his conviction 14 years ago.
It is also expected that Collin County prosecutors will drop the charges
against Blair. The district attorney's office did not immediately respond
to a request for comment on the court's ruling.
But in a filing last month, prosecutors agreed that "no reasonable juror
would have convicted him in light of newly discovered evidence."
"For all intents and purposes, they have admitted they can't retry him,"
Greenwood said. "So I expect they would dismiss the case against him."
(source: Associated Press)
Computer predicts who dies on death row: study
A computer program designed by U.S. researchers can predict with chilling
accuracy the very few men among the thousands on America's death row who
will actually be executed, according to a new study.
It says the chief factor that determines whether a man will die is neither
race nor poverty but education – the less schooling, the higher the
chances of a lethal outcome.
There are more than 3,200 men and women in U.S. prisons who have been
condemned to death. Some have been on death row for decades, but only a
relatively small percentage – 53 in 2006, for example – have been
Previous studies have argued that non-whites are disproportionately
sentenced to death in the United States. But with little research as to
whether there is any bias in deciding who will actually die, critics say
the choice seems arbitrary.
Stamos Karamouzis and Dee Wood Harper of Texas A&M University in Texarkana
used a computing tool modelled after the human brain, called artificial
neural networks (ANN), to search for patterns linked to executions.
They created profiles for 2000 death-row inmates – half of whom had been
put to death – and entered them into the program.
Each profile included information on race, sex, age number and type of
capital offences, prior convictions, marital status, and level of
The researchers then fed in 300 profiles of other inmates from the same
period, and asked the neural network to predict what had happened to them.
It correctly predicted the fates of more than 90 % of this 2nd group.
To find out which of the 18 factors best matched these outcomes,
Karamouzis and Harper ran the analysis repeatedly, withholding one factor
Being a woman, it turned out, was the best guarantee against having one's
sentence carried out – women are rarely executed.
But the next most telling indicator was the number of years an inmate had
spent in high school.
"The results pose a serious challenge to the fairness of the
administration of the death penalty," the pair write.
The paper is published in a British-based journal, International Journal
of Law and Information Technology, and features in a report this week by
the British magazine New Scientist.
(source: Agence France Presse)