death penalty news—-TEXAS

Sept. 4


Inmate on death row for '85 bombing freed—-Texas attorney general drops
charges 9 months after his conviction was overturned

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled in December that a prosecutor
withheld evidence that could have helped Michael Roy Toney during his 1999
trial in the deaths of three members of a family killed in a Fort Worth

An inmate once on death row in Texas was a free man Thursday, nine months
after his conviction was overturned in the 1985 bombing deaths of 3 people
on Thanksgiving.

The Texas attorney general's office dropped charges against Michael Roy
Toney, 43, on Wednesday and that night he was released from the Tarrant
County Jail in Fort Worth, officials said. His release came a day before
the attorney general had to declare whether the state would again seek the
death penalty in the case.

State prosecutor Adrienne McFarland said in a dismissal motion that there
was not enough time to complete an independent investigation before the
Thursday deadline. The state can refile charges against Toney in the
killings if the investigation warrants it.

In a statement released Thursday through his attorney, Toney thanked his
friends, family and lawyers for their support.

"I have said all along that I was innocent of these charges and I know
that when the Attorney General reviews the evidence, it will show that I
am indeed innocent," he said.

Toney was convicted of a 1985 Thanksgiving night bombing. Angela Blount,
15, found a suitcase on the porch, took it inside and opened it. A bomb
exploded, killing her, her father, Joe Blount, 44, and her cousin Michael
Columbus, 18. Her mother and 14-year-old brother survived.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled in December that the lead
prosecutor withheld evidence that could have helped Toney during his 1999
trial, an assertion that the district attorney's office never disputed.

In January, the District Attorney's office recused itself from the case
"to avoid the appearance of impropriety," District Attorney Joe Shannon

The attorney general's office then took over and reopened an

Toney remained in jail until Wednesday because charges were still pending.
He also had to post $25,000 bail on an unrelated charge out of Polk County
because he allegedly had a cell phone on death row.

Toney's attorney, Colleen Kennedy, said in a statement that her client is
"grateful … that while the investigation is under way, the Attorney
General's office has agreed to grant Mr. Toney his freedom."

"The extensive post-conviction investigations undertaken by Mr. Toney's
defense team have produced overwhelming evidence that he was both
wrongfully convicted and wrongly sentenced to death in this case," Kennedy

Susan Blount, whose husband and daughter were killed in the bombing, told
the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that the attorney general's office notified
her about Toney's release.

"They wanted to let me know so I wouldn't be surprised," she said. "They
have indicated that it is still their intent to retry the case, but they
needed more time to go over all the information and evidence."

The Associated Press could not locate a working phone number for her.

Toney was arrested in 1997 while already jailed on an unrelated charge
after telling an inmate he committed the bombing. But Toney later
testified that it was all a scam to get that inmate released, according to
court records.

He said he learned about the bombing from another inmate who had lived
with Angela Blount's former boyfriend, court records show.


Texas DNA exonerees find prosperity after prison

Thomas McGowan's journey from prison to prosperity is about to culminate
in $1.8 million, and he knows just how to spend it: on a house with three
bedrooms, stainless steel kitchen appliances and a washer and dryer.

"I'll let my girlfriend pick out the rest," said McGowan, who was
exonerated last year based on DNA evidence after spending nearly 23 years
in prison for rape and robbery.

He and other exonerees in Texas, which leads the nation in freeing the
wrongly convicted, soon will become instant millionaires under a new state
law that took effect this week.

Exonerees will get $80,000 for each year they spent behind bars. The
compensation also includes lifetime annuity payments that for most of the
wrongly convicted are worth between $40,000 and $50,000 a year making it
by far the nation's most generous package.

"I'm nervous and excited," said McGowan, 50. "It's something I never had,
this amount of money. I didn't have any money period."

His payday for his imprisonment a time he described as "a nightmare,"
"hell" and "slavery" should come by mid-November after the state's 45-day
processing period.

Exonerees also receive an array of social services, including job
training, tuition credits and access to medical and dental treatment.
Though 27 other states have some form of compensation law for the wrongly
convicted, none comes close to offering the social services and money
Texas provides.

The annuity payments are especially popular among exonerees, who
acknowledge their lack of experience in managing personal finances. A
social worker who meets with the exonerees is setting them up with
financial advisers and has led discussions alerting them to swindlers.

The annuities are "a way to guarantee these guys … payments for life as
long as they follow the law," said Kevin Glasheen, a Lubbock attorney
representing a dozen exonerees.

2 who served about 26 years in prison for rape will receive lump sums of
about $2 million apiece. Another, Steven Phillips, who spent about 24
years in prison for sexual assault and burglary, will get about $1.9

The biggest compensation package will likely go to James Woodard, who
spent more than 27 years in prison for a 1980 murder that DNA testing
later showed he did not commit. He eventually could receive nearly $2.2
million but first needs a writ from the state's Court of Criminal Appeals
or a pardon from the governor.

McGowan and the others are among 38 DNA exonerees in Texas, according to
the Innocence Project, a New York legal center that specializes in
overturning wrongful convictions. Dallas County alone has 21 cases in
which a judge overturned guilty verdicts based on DNA evidence, though
prosecutors plan to retry one of those.

Charles Chatman, who was wrongly convicted of rape, said the money will
allow him some peace of mind after more than 26 years in prison.

"It will bring me some independence," he said. "Other people have had a
lot of control over my life."

Chatman and other exonerees already have begun rebuilding their lives.
Several plan to start businesses, saying they don't mind working but want
to be their own bosses. Others, such as McGowan, don't intend to work and
hope to make their money last a lifetime.

Some exonerees have gotten married and another is about to. Phillips is
taking college courses. Chatman became a first-time father at 49.

"That's something I never thought I'd be able to do," he said. "No amount
of money can replace the time we've lost."

The drumbeat of DNA exonerations caused lawmakers this year to increase
the compensation for the wrongly convicted, which had been $50,000 for
each year of prison. Glasheen, the attorney, advised his clients to drop
their federal civil rights lawsuits and then led the lobbying efforts for
the bill.

Besides the lump sum and the monthly annuity payments, the bill includes
120 hours of paid tuition at a public college. It also gives exonerees an
additional $25,000 for each year they spent on parole or as registered sex

No other state has such a provision, according to the Innocence Project.

Exonerees who collected lump sum payments under the old compensation law
are ineligible for the new lump sums but will receive the annuities.
Whether the money will be subject to taxes remains unsettled, Glasheen

The monthly payments are expected to be a lifeline for exonerees such as
Wiley Fountain, 53, who received nearly $390,000 in compensation minus
federal taxes but squandered it by, as he said, "living large." He ended
up homeless, spending his nights in a tattered sleeping bag behind a
liquor store.

But after getting help from fellow exonerees and social workers, Fountain
now lives in an apartment and soon will have a steady income.

Fountain's story is a cautionary tale for the other exonerees, who meet
monthly and lately have been discussing the baggage that comes with the

Chatman said he's been approached by "family, friends and strangers, too."

"It takes 2 or 3 seconds before they ask me how much money, or when do I
get the money," he said. "Everyone has the perfect business venture for

Though appropriately wary, the exonerees say they are excited about having
money in the bank.

"You're locked up so long and then you get out with nothing," McGowan
said. "With this, you might be able to live a normal life, knowing you
don't have to worry about being out on the streets."

(source for both: Associated Press)


Tabler blogging from death row

Richard Tabler, the convicted murderer out of Bell County who last year
was at the center of a controversy about cell phone usage by death row
inmates, has again captured the attention of the state senator in charge
of corrections in Texas – this time through a blog post.

In a statement released Thursday, state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston,
said he is upset that Tabler continues to get messages out from death row,
some of which threaten him and his family.

Less than 11 months ago, Whitmire, chair of the Senate Criminal Justice
Committee, led a sweep of the Texas prison system for contraband after
Tabler called him on a cell phone.

Whitmire said then that Tabler made threatening comments to him and
Whitmire vowed to clean up the Texas prison system and rid it of smuggled
cell phones. But now Tabler has apparently found a new way to communicate
and threaten people.

Since May, he has had a letter posted on an Internet blog for inmates. In
the letter he inquires about the health of one of Whitmire's family
members and writes "that just because I'm on death row does not mean that
you cannot be gotten to or your family."

"Once again, I must express to you my utter dismay at the level of
security that continues to be present at the Polunsky death row Unit,"
Whitmire said in a statement. "If Richard Tabler was a political opponent,
I would ignore him; however, he is a convicted capital murderer."

Whitmire made sure top officials in the Texas prison system heard his
message Thursday. In his statement outlining his frustrations he mentioned
by name Brad Livingston, executive director of the Texas Department of
Criminal Justice, and Oliver Bell, chairman of the Texas Board of Criminal

The ability of a death row inmate to continually author these threats
represents a threat to all Texans and our public safety, the statement

"I specifically ask how an inmate on death row is allowed to openly send
letters out to the public that are designed to intimidate, threaten and
retaliate against an elected official or any citizen of this state. I am
also appalled that no one within TDCJ has even contacted me concerning
this issue," Whitmire said.

The Web site that is posting the letters is dedicated to teaching the
public about "the hearts of the coldest killers," according to a post that
explains why the site was created.

(source: Temple Daily Telegram)


Too late for justice

Re: "Was Innocent Man Executed? State must confront disturbing facts in
arson case," Monday Editorials.

An imprisoned innocent man can be let out of prison, but what can be done
for an executed innocent man?

Paula Keeth, Glenn Heights

(source: Letter to the Editor, Dallas Morning News)