Years ago, we rarely (never?) saw a dissent from such things as denial of cert or rehearing en banc. We have the standing majority decision, which presented a scenario that supported the holding, as well it should, but if there was any real controversy behind it, it was not to be found. In other words, we never knew just how bad things were in a case where someone lost.
Not any more. And thankfully so, as in the denial of rehearing by the 6th Circuit in the case of Gregory Lee Wilson. There is no explanation for the court’s decision not to hear the case en banc, except that it failed to muster a majority of the court’s active judges. It did, however, catch the interest of Judge Boyce F. Martin, Jr.
Judge Martin wrote a dissent from the denial, and what a dissent it is. It’s only 7 pages, so there’s no good reason not to read it in its entirety. You need a bit of enticement? Here goes:
The rape and murder of Debbie Pooley was a heartbreaking and reprehensible act. But at Gregory Wilson’s murder trial, the state’s ignominy began. Of all the people involved in this case, only two have behaved in a manner worthy of the ideals of our justice system: the courageous Franklin Circuit Court judge who stayed Wilson’s execution; and Andrew Wolfson, the diligent Courier-Journal reporter who exposed the glaring deficiencies in Wilson’s trial . . .
The judiciary failed both Wilson and our legal system in this case because a judge’s unseemly conduct created a risk of bias that undermined the fairness of Wilson’s trial. Brenda Humphrey, Wilson’s co-defendant and the woman who identified him as Pooley’s killer, was having an illicit sexual affair with Judge James Gilliece, a colleague and good friend of the trial judge during Wilson’s trial . . .
Perhaps even more egregiously than the judiciary, Wilson’s defense counsel failed him and the principles of our legal system. From the very beginning of the case, Wilson’s defense was clearly a charade . . .
Is that enough to catch your interest? What about this:
Over my more than thirty years on the bench, Wilson’s trial stands out as one of the worst examples that I have seen of the unfairness and abysmal lawyering that pervade capital trials. Although I will continue to apply the law of the Supreme Court as required by my oath, I must reiterate my belief that “the idea that the death penalty is fairly and rationally imposed in this country is a farce.”
When a person is sentenced to death in a kangaroo court such as Wilson’s, with an illicit sexual affair taking place between a co-defendant and a colleague of the trial judge and no semblance of qualified defense counsel, it irreparably tarnishes our legal system. Until we reform this broken system, we cannot rely on it to determine life and death.
Of course, the aspect of this opinion that makes it astounding isn’t simply Judge Martin’s characterization of the scope and nature of the failings at trial in a capital case, but that it still wasn’t sufficient to convince a majority of the active judges on the 6th Circuit to sign on and agree to rehearing en banc. What lofty rhetoric moved the original panel to put their stamp of approval on Wilson’s execution?
And as long as we’ve got an ineffective assistance of counsel contribution to the impending death of Wilson, let’s use the opportunity to make another point, somewhat collateral to the case. Wilson was assigned two lawyers for trial, one a burned out drunk whose business telephone rang at “Kelly’s Keg,” and the other a rookie who had never tried a felony, no less a capital case.
There’s no point in discussing the drunk. There’s nothing to say that would change someone like him. But the rookie, John Foote, apparently meant well but sorely lacked the skills needed to help. What if Foote had a twitter account? What if Foote followed you, and you followed Foote back? What if he twitted endearing twits, told you what a wonderful lawyer you are and you twitted back your friendship of him as well. He could be one of the circle of dear young lawyers who supported and comforted each other.
Would Foote’s twits, would yours, have given Gregory Lee Wilson a fair trial? And yet you twit amongst each other as if each of you is the next coming of Clarence Darrow, filling yourselves with the fabulous lie that you’re all the most dedicated, skilled, knowledgeable young criminal defense lawyers around because you make friends over twits.
Sorry if this makes your twitting today seem a bit trivial. It’s not like Gregory Lee Wilson’s life should matter any more to you than it does to the majority of judges on the 6th Circuit.