Cleaning Up A Mess

Mississippi Criminal Defense Attorney Curt Crowley

In a death penalty case, it’s bad enough that the Government is trying to kill the defendant.  When the defendant’s lawyer helps the government do it, it’s deplorable.  That is exactly what happened at the Mississippi Office of Capital Post-Conviction Counsel.  Post-Conviction Counsel is the “public defender’s office” for defendants on death row.

After years of mismanagement and outright incompetence and neglect, Post-Conviction Counsel is literally in a race against the clock to prevent the unconstitutional execution of death row inmates.

As reported in today’s Clarion-Ledger:

Death row inmate Howard Dean Goodin has won a mental competency hearing in which his attorneys will argue he is mentally disabled and that a previous lawyer failed to pursue the issue.

The Mississippi Supreme Court on Thursday ordered Circuit Judge Marcus Gordon to conduct a hearing on Goodin’s claims of mental disability and ineffective work by a lawyer who represented Goodin at the time.

Those post-conviction claims were initially dismissed by Gordon in 2007….

[G]oodin’s attorney, Stacy L. Ferraro, said Goodin’s former attorney failed to call any of the treating psychiatrists who had diagnosed Goodin as schizophrenic and failed to present records showing the diagnosis of schizophrenia to the trial court.

Goodin was represented by the former director of the Office of Post-Conviction Counsel.  The work of the Office under the former director has been roundly – and accurately – criticized as shoddy and incompetent.  When the former director finally departed, attorney Glenn S. Swartzfager was appointed as director.

In addition to handling new capital post-conviction cases, Swartzfager and his staff have been faced with the seemingly impossible task of undoing years of screw-ups by the office under the former administration.  Results such as that obtained for Mr. Goodin are a testament to the talent, hard work and dedication of Swartzfager and his staff.  At the trial court and direct appeal level, indigent capital defendants are represented by the Office of Capital Defense Counsel.  The OCDC is run by attorney Andre deGruy.  Mr. deGruy and his staff provide the highest level of trial and appellate representation to defendants facing the death penalty.  Poor defendants are indeed lucky to have deGruy and Swartzfager, and their respective teams, fighting for them. 

Unfortunately, it hasn’t always been this way.  We may never know how many people have been executed, or who currently reside on death row, because of the incompetence of their lawyers.

The Goodin case is a good example of why it is so important to choose an experienced, competent defense attorney if you are charged with a crime.  The trial judge never had a chance to even consider Goodin’s mental illness, because his own lawyer never called it to the judge’s attention.  It is defense counsel’s job to protect the defendant’s rights.  Don’t expect the Court – and certainly not the prosecutor – to do it for you.

Mississippi Criminal Defense Attorney Curt Crowley

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One response to “Cleaning Up A Mess

  1. Was this round OCDC? Or Office for Post Conviction Relief, which is run by Glenn Swartsfager? I do know that Stacy argued it, though. I’m sure she would fill you in for more details.

    Nice work with the new blog!

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