Jim Hood: undermining the rights of criminal defendants

It seems that while Willie Manning has been languishing in his cell, the Attorney General, Jim Hood, has been busy harassing experienced capital defense lawyers in Mississippi. Radley Balko relates that Hood has found a way to do this by using a sloppily written law originally intended to ensure defendants in capital cases have adequate legal representation in their appeals.

Hood’s efforts culminated in a particularly startling attempt to attack defense lawyers earlier this year. It happened after Chris Fabricant, Director of Strategic Litigation for the Innocence Project, questioned bite mark ‘expert’, Michael West, at a deposition for a post-conviction hearing for a Mississippi death penalty case*. West was poorly prepared and seemed reluctant to be questioned; he retorted with childish and profane gibes that did nothing to establish the truth.

Instead of apologizing for this sorry display of peevishness by a state expert, Hood formally requested a hearing to assess the competency of the Innocence Project team involved in the case, all of whom are well qualified and experienced. (Some of them have commented on Willie’s 1992 case: Vanessa Potts, senior staff attorney, was interviewed about it in 2013, and Tucker Carrington commented last year that the state had written Willie off as the type of person capable of committing murder.)

Fortunately, days after Hood’s request, the Mississippi Supreme Court tightened up the wording of the law that Hood was attempting to use, so that the Innocence Project team was no longer vulnerable.

Balko suggests that Hood’s obvious enthusiasm for the death penalty springs from his wish to run for governor next year. If that is the case, his efforts could well backfire, as people see his methods for what they are:

“The landscape on criminal justice is shifting. Hood’s efforts to undermine the rights of criminal defendants and his utter disinterest in the forensics crisis unfolding right under his nose may came back to haunt him.”

We hope that they will.

*The case of Eddie Lee Howard, sentenced to death in 2000. West’s testimony was the only physical evidence that placed Howard at the crime scene.


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