Death Penalty and Death Row in USA

Fight the Death
Penalty in USA

Another example of racism and arbitrariness in the American justice system:

Brian Keith Baldwin, executed in Alabama, June 18, 1999

FROM: Judy Cumbee & Jim Allen, Co-chairs,
Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty
11076 Co Rd 267, Lanett AL 36863
334-499-2380, 499-0039,

Execution of Brian Keith Baldwin demonstrates fundamental unfairness in administration of death penalty and shows urgent need for a moratorium on executions

Brian Baldwin was killed by the people of Alabama on June 18, 1999.

Despite recently discovered forensic evidence indicating that Mr. Baldwin was innocent of the capital murder charge he was convicted of in 1977, despite compelling testimony by several witnesses that he was tortured into giving the "confession" that was the only evidence against him at trial, and which he on the stand had denied was voluntary, and despite another man's authenticated confession that he alone committed the murder . .

Despite demonstrated extreme racial bias in his 1977 trial by white Judge Robert E. Lee Key, a white prosecutor and white court-appointed attorney who both called him "boy" before the all-white jury, practices which would not be tolerated by today's standards . .
Despite complaints, undisputed by higher courts, of evidentiary hearings on appeals of that conviction being heard only by that same judge, who of course ruled that his own court practices were proper and not racist, and of appellate courts simply accepting that judge's self-serving ruling, despite this judge and prosecutor both having been officially cited for practicing intentional racial discrimination . . .

Despite undisputed complaints of defense lawyers that the trial transcript was incomplete, and a court official denying the existence of trial tape recordings which were later discovered to exist, throwing into doubt the entire trial record . . .

Despite appeals for justice by key Black members of the Alabama legislature, by President Jimmy Carter, by 26 members of the U.S. Congressional Black Caucus, led by Alabama-born Cong. John Lewis (GA) and Alabama Cong. Earl Hilliard, by Mrs. Coretta Scott King, by Pope John Paul II, and by 33 former or practicing state and federal prosecutors and judges who filed an amicus brief in the U.S. Supreme Court.

The refusal of our courts to give Mr. Baldwin a fair hearing, from day one to the very end, and the refusal of Governor Don Siegelman to grant clemency or at least a stay of execution giving time for full consideration of new evidence, casts a grave shadow over our entire system of justice in capital cases. No system can be called fair which would allow such numerous, flagrantly improper and racially biased practices to determine the life or death of a human being. If it can happen to one of us, it can happen to any of us.

We want to point out, however, that such injustice is most likely to happen to those of us who are poor and/or members of a minority group.
Although the circumstances of this case are especially outrageous, the basic facts are not at all unusual: The forces and resources of the State are brought against an individual without the support of friends and without the money to pay for adequate investigation and defense of the case; our adversarial "fair trial" process therefore utterly fails in its purpose of discovering the truth; but the appeals and clemency processes insist on holding to the fiction of a fair trial and impose impossible standards of evidence and proof on defendants now presumed guilty.

We call on the public, the media, and all branches of government to seriously consider the facts of this case and its implications for those who seek justice in Alabama. We further call for a moratorium on executions in the state of Alabama at least until it can be assured that innocent persons will not and cannot be sent to their deaths through such violations of basic human and civil rights.


Mr. Baldwin, an African-American from North Carolina, was convicted in the 1977 murder and robbery of a young white woman in Monroe County, Alabama. He was 18 years old at the time. A co-defendant, Edward Horsley, also African-American and a teenager at the time of the murder, was tried separately and was executed in 1996.

1. Mr. Baldwin's trial was conducted in a flagrantly racist, Old-South style. He was tried before a white judge, Robert E. Lee Key, and by a white prosecutor, Theodore Pearson, and represented by a white court-appointed attorney. Judge Key allowed Prosecutor Pearson to exclude all African-Americans from the jury, so that the jury was all-white. Prosecutor Pearson, and even the court-appointed defense attorney, referred to Mr. Baldwin at trial as "A boy" and in the prosecutions closing argument Mr. Baldwin was called a "A savage." Mr Baldwin's trial attorney also did not object to Mr. Baldwin being tried by an all white jury. Under current law no conviction or sentence of death under these circumstances would be approved on appeal.

Note: An official Alabama court ruling [Lee v. State, 631 So. 2d 1059 (Ala. Cr. App. 1993)] cited both Judge Key and Prosecutor Pearson for practicing intentional racial discrimination in the performance of their official duties at the time of Mr. Baldwin's trial. In 1987, Mr. Walter McMillian, a 45 year old African-American, was indicted and tried by Prosecutor Pearson and Judge Key for the murder of an 18-year-old white woman. After a trial lasting only two days, Mr. McMillian was convicted and sentenced to death by Judge Key. Only after serving 6 years on death row was Mr. McMillian released an innocent man after it was determined that Prosecutor Pearson had withheld evidence of his innocence.

2. The sham nature of Mr. Baldwin's original trial is further demonstrated by the fact that the entire process, from jury selection through sentencing, was completed in only one and one-half days. The sentencing took only about one hour. The prosecution presented no evidence against Mr. Baldwin other than an alleged "confession," which Mr. Baldwin on the stand denied was voluntary. The court-appointed defense attorney requested but was denied funds to investigate the case and conduct a defense. He therefore did no investigation and presented no witnesses or evidence at trial or during the sentencing hearing other than putting Mr. Baldwin on the stand.

3. The improper conduct of the trial is also shown by the fact that a complete and proper trial record was not kept, and some records that were made were not made available to Mr. Baldwin=s attorneys during the appeals process. When the "official" transcript was found to be missing important parts, the court reporter denied the existence of any voice recordings. However, such tapes were recently discovered, along with short-hand notes, both of which show discrepancies with the official transcript.

4. The process of appeal through Alabama and Federal appellate courts was fundamentally unfair. Until June of 1999, the only opportunity Mr. Baldwin ever had to call witnesses and present evidence with respect to issues of racism in his case was assigned to the original trial judge, Robert E. Lee Key. Mr. Baldwin was once again represented by an attorney appointed by Judge Key, who dismissed claims of improper procedure and racism in his own court. Higher courts, up to the U.S. Supreme Court, simply accepted Judge Key's rulings on his own trial practice. This injustice has been denounced by 33 former or practicing prosecutors and judges (including 6 former state Supreme Court justices) who filed a friend of the court brief in the U.S. Supreme Court on Mr. Baldwin's behalf. The lack of a complete trial record also made it impossible for Mr. Baldwin's attorneys to present a full defense at any stage of the appeals process.

5. A speeded-up, last-minute court hearing refused to give full consideration to recently discovered evidence of innocence. (see Court Hearing, page 3). Several witnesses, including a former law enforcement officer, came forward in the last few months to give statements supporting Mr. Baldwin's claim that the "confession" was coerced by beatings. A recently discovered forensics report not introduced at trial shows blood stains on Mr. Horsley's clothing but not on Mr. Baldwin's. Recent medical expert testimony states that wounds on the victim were inflicted by a left-handed person. Horsley was left-handed. Mr. Baldwin is right-handed. Finally, Edward Horsley wrote a statement in 1985 (authenticated by a handwriting expert) admitting that he alone committed the murder.


In a brief court hearing in Mobile, Alabama, on Monday, June 14, Judge Braxton Kittrell allowed only some of the newly discovered evidence of innocence to be presented. The hearing was hastily conducted and ended abruptly by Judge Kittrell after hearing only two defense witnesses. Judge Kittrell on Tuesday, June 15, denied the petiton for reconsideration of Mr. Baldwin's conviction and sentence.

Circumstances surrounding this hearing raise serious doubts that it was arranged and conducted in good faith with serious intent to fully and fairly investigate the case. Mr. Baldwin's attorneys filed a petition with the court for this hearing on May 27. The case was initially assigned to a sitting judge, who then recused himself because he was a friend of Judge Robert E. Lee Key, one of the focal points of the petition. The case was then assigned to none other than Judge Key himself! Judge Key of course again refused to consider any possible wrong-doing on his part, and dismissed the petition out of hand. When attorneys immediately filed a complaint about this, Judge Key reversed his denial and recused himself. The case was then passed to Judge Kittrell - the judge who initiated the practice of overriding jury recommendations for life without parole, and the judge who has imposed more death sentences against jury recommendations for a life sentence than any other judge in Alabama! In effect, then, the judicial process was handled so as to cause over two weeks' delay, with the execution date fast approaching; and the case then turned over to the "hangingest" judge who could be found. It was announced only late on Thursday, June 10th that the hearing would be held beginning Monday morning, June 14, giving Mr. Baldwin's defense team too little time to subpoena witnesses. Subpoenas were not even made available to be served until late in the day that Friday.

One of the witnesses heard when the hearing was finally staged was Mr. Raymond Portis, who had been an inmate at the jail at the time Mr. Baldwin was arrested. Mr. Portis testified to having seen extensive bruises on Mr. Baldwin's back and legs after the interrogation following Mr. Baldwin's arrest. Two other former inmates who were not put on the stand had also confirmed this point.

Key testimony that was heard was from former Wilcox County Deputy Nathaniel Manzie, who had recently come forward to testify in a signed affidavit and in a videotaped deposition that:

1. He had witnessed Mr. Baldwin's being beaten to extract a confession.

2. He had falsely signed a document attesting to having witnessed Mr. Baldwin's waiving of his right to counsel; that he did not in fact witness any such waiver.

3. That a gun had been fired and other actions taken by authorities at the time Mr. Baldwin was escorted to the crime scene, these actions being designed to intimidate Mr. Baldwin.

Mr. Manzie, now 75 and in poor health in a nursing home in Selma, entered a medical crisis when told that Judge Kittrell was sending state troopers to bring him into court. When an attending doctor judged him unable to travel, Judge Kittrell interviewed him by telephone. At this time, Mr. Manzie confirmed points 2 and 3 above, but said that he did not personally witness the beatings (point 1). Judge Kittrell instantly concluded the hearing at this point, refusing to hear further evidence. Further investigation is especially needed to determine why Mr. Manzie changed his previous testimony, and whether pressure was brought to bear on him not to disclose the full truth. In his signed affidavit, Mr. Manzie had said: "I am coming forward now only because I can no longer remain silent while a person who may be innocent . . . is put to death. I did not come forward earlier . . . because I was afraid of the consequences, especially for my family, if I revealed what I knew about law enforcement misconduct." Mr. Manzie had been the first Black deputy appointed in a county where racial conflicts have been intense. Shortly before he was questioned by Judge Kittrell, Mr. Manzie was visited in the nursing home by Governor Siegelman and several members of his staff. It is not known what was said at that time.

It must be emphasized that Judge Kittrell did NOT give full consideration to the newly discovered evidence. Further, objections by the Attorney General prevented administration of a polygraph test by a respected expert, Richard Rackleff, a 27-year FBI veteran who was chief of FBI polygraph testing in the Southeast.

For more information on legal aspects of this case, contact:

Atty. Jack Martin, 404-522-0400 or Atty. Michael McIntyre, 404-688-0900. QUESTIONABLE NATURE OF GOVERNOR SIEGELMAN'S STATEMENT DENYING CLEMENCY

Alabama Governor Don Siegelman released a statement on June 15 explaining why he was denying clemency or a stay of execution. His letter stated: "Let there be no doubt that I am deeply troubled by some of the matters raised by those petitioning for clemency." However, he did not explain what these matters were. He did not explain how he could be "deeply troubled" by issues raised yet still send a man to his death - except to say, "It is clear to me that Mr. Baldwin participated willingly in this gruesome murder, and that he possessed the requisite intent to kill." This follows a recitation of gruesome details about which Mr. Siegelman amazingly says "there is no dispute:"

"There is no dispute that Mr. Baldwin and Edward Horsley . . . kidnapped their victim, Naomi Rolon. . . . There is no dispute that the two drove [her] to Charlotte [NC], stripped her of her clothes, attempted to choke her, and ran her over with the car. They then put her in the trunk of her car and drove from Charlotte to Camden, Alabama. At various points in her nearly forty-hour ordeal, [she] was repeatedly stabbed. In Camden, the two stole an El Camino and drove in tandem to Monroe County, where in a wooded area, they again attempted to run [her] over with the El Camino. When all of this failed to bring about her death, her neck was cut by a sharp blow with a hatchet found in the El Camino."

NONE of these highly inflammatory details are supported by any evidence outside of the forced confession, and ALL of these details were very strongly disputed by Mr. Baldwin and his attorneys. To be specific:

1. Brian Baldwin and Ed Horsley were never charged with kidnapping Naomi Rolon, and this allegation was strongly disputed. There are affidavits by people who saw her sitting in the front seat of the car in Charlotte.

2. There is no evidence of any harm done to Naomi Rolon in North Carolina.

3. There is no evidence (no tire tracks or statements in the record) that the stolen El Camino, driven by Mr. Baldwin, was even at the scene of the crime.

4. Statements about how Ms. Rolon was killed are not supported by any evidence independent of the forced confession. The State toxicologist's report indicates that the hatchet was found with no blood or fingerprints. It was never introduced into evidence.

Governor Siegelman says in his statement that he has reviewed both the Petition for Clemency and the petitioner's Notice of Newly Discovered Evidence. It is difficult, however, to believe he has considered this case with an open mind or with due seriousness when he asserts as not in dispute an account of the crime which Mr. Baldwin's appeals not only specifically dispute but plausibly refute, and when he recounts supposedly factual details for which no physical evidence was ever produced.

His letter states that "I traveled to Selma to meet with Nathaniel Manzie, a courageous man who was a Deputy Sheriff in Monroe County at the time of this crime." But he does not explain why he thinks Mr. Manzie courageous, or give any information as to what Mr. Manzie said to him. Mr. Manzie was a Deputy Sheriff, the first African-American to serve in that capacity, in Wilcox County, not Monroe County.


Press reports repeatedly said that Mr. Baldwin was convicted for the "abduction, rape and murder" of a young white woman. This is not true. Mr. Baldwin was never charged with or convicted of any kind of sexual assault, and no evidence of such was introduced against him at his trial. The 1977 conviction was for murder and robbery.

Commentators have asked why Mr. Baldwin did not express remorse. If he did not murder anyone, an expression of remorse would be inappropriate. Mr. Baldwin at the time might have been fairly charged with and convicted of offenses other than capital murder, but he paid for whatever lesser crimes he may have committed by spending 22 years on Death Row. Summary of argument and signatories to amicus brief filed in the U.S. Supreme Court on Brian Baldwin's behalf



The above-styled petition centers on the responsibility of a federal court to consider the merits of a claim that a capital murder conviction and death sentence turned on considerations of race. The circuit court in this case held that it was unable to consider the merits of any race-based claims because the state court's adverse findings were entitled to a presumption of correctness. The Petitioner asserts that this was improper because the judge whose findings were presumed correct was the very judge whose decision making was under challenge and the same judge who had been found to be practicing systematic and deliberate race discrimination in the performance of his duties as a state court judge at the time he presided over Petitioner's case.

The petition for a writ of certiorari, therefore, raises claims that are central to our understanding of comity and the proper relation between federal and state courts in resolving constitutional claims that are at the core of our democratic morality.

The amici curiae are all former state court judges or prosecutors. All have distinguished careers as jurists and attorneys. Many have served on supreme courts of review in their respective states. As such, each brings a perspective that makes him or her uniquely able to comment on the appropriate role of comity in resolving the questions Mr. Baldwin's certiorari petition raises. As such the amici curiae are in a position to raise matters that neither of the parties can raise given their responsibilities as advocates.


Petitioner asks the Court to grant the writ of certiorari to decide whether a capital habeas corpus petitioner whose substantial evidence and allegations of racial discrimination, and the failure to challenge that discrimination, were evaluated by the very state judge who practiced racial discrimination, is entitled to show in federal court that the state court findings are not entitled to a presumption of correctness. Amici support Petitioner's contentions and urge the Court to grant the petition.

Petitioner contends that his state court proceedings, from the selection of the grand jury foreman to the denial of his request for post-conviction relief, were presided over by a judge who practiced racial discrimination in multiple cases contemporaneous with his rulings against Petitioner. Although courts and prosecutors have long deplored racial bias in the judicial process, and required that courts take affirmative steps to identify and correct for bias, no such steps were allowed to be taken in this case. The only opportunity Petitioner had to educe evidence through the use of discovery and the subpoena power was when he was before the very judge whose racial bias was the subject of his challenges; the judge whose wholesale adoption of an order prepared by the state was given great deference in federal habeas. Such a state court hearing is not "full and fair" within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. 2254(d) (1994). Amici strongly urge the Court to recognize that factual determinations authored by the state and adopted wholesale by the judge whose racial discrimination was at issue are not entitled to the presumption of correctness in federal habeas corpus proceedings.