Mitigation specialist Jennifer Wynn investigates the upbringings of defendants to humanize them enough to convince at least one juror to bypass the death penalty for a life in prison without parole. Wynn shares the stories of three of her clients — men charged with murder — whose lives are marked by poverty, substance abuse, untreated mental illness, and extreme child neglect. Read the full story by Elon Green at Mel Magazine.
Jennifer Wynn’s job is to make jurors feel sympathy for people who’ve committed unspeakable crimes
“We hear all about the victims,” Jennifer Wynn told me recently, “but we never hear about the defendant’s story.”
Wynn, cheerful and salty, is a mitigation specialist. She is engaged by defense attorneys, mostly in capital cases, to investigate and compile the life story of the defendant. The material Wynn gathers, often heartbreaking and brutal, is used to convince the jury to deliver a sentence other than death. (In non-capital cases the same person is called a sentencing advocate, and they similarly argue for a less-severe sentence.
She has now done mitigation work on 30 murder cases, 25 of which were death penalty-eligible, and won them all.
When people share with you their deepest, darkest secrets — the worst things they’ve done — they need validation. These are people who, for the most part, have been told their whole lives, You’re a piece of shit. They’re bullied, they’re picked on, they’re shot at. Then they act out, and society says, See, you are a monster. Then, people like me come in and say, No, you’re not a monster, and you still do deserve to be part of the human race. The system is fucked up, and I tell them that. It’s the first time they’ve ever heard that.
In Broken Pencil, Susan Read shares short fiction centered on a Kafka-esque interrogation in the back room of a coffee shop — you know, the one where they wear the green aprons — that’s a stinging indictment of the byzantine policies, procedures, and psychology of being a low wage employee.
I wonder if my manager thinks I did this. If my friends think I did this.
I mean, I would think I did this, if I wasn’t me.
It’s hot and I feel anxious and I feel angry and I feel…guilty.
And then I feel even angrier, and I think about how hard I have worked for Tarsucks, how I am probably the best barista at my store, and instead of a farewell party, I will be walking out of this place with my tail between my legs, and my head down, hoping that no one will notice the tears that are now readily streaming down my face in fear and anxiety and frustration.
I take a sip of water.
I lift up the form I was handed and notice another beneath it. It has a similar format: fill in the blanks and sign your name, we’ll take care of the rest.
I _________ do hereby permit __________to ________ me up the _____.
Actually, the form authorizes Tarsucks to compensate the stolen money directly from my paychecks until full restoration of funds is received.
It is a confession, typed up and waiting for me to sign.
I sit back in my chair, crying a little but no longer fidgeting, still sweating in that tiny back office, which I am free to leave at any time. I wait for my tribunal to reconvene.
At The New York Review of Books, James Fenton reports from the night shift in Manila, giving us a glimpse into the war on drugs in the Philippines, from “buy-bust” undercover operations to EJKs (extrajudicial killings).
An EJK I covered went like this. It was the middle of the night and the family was asleep. Masked men barged in. “Where is Fernando?” said an intruder. A woman answered: “There’s no one called Fernando here.” At this point, an eight-year-old girl woke up her father, Ernesto. As he awoke, Ernesto said, “Oh.” He was shot immediately in the middle of the forehead. The intruders escaped.
They nearly always escape. At one such scene in the north of Manila, a man had been shot in a warren of a building, where the passageway was almost too narrow for two people to pass. And there was only one exit, a set of awkwardly constructed steps. I was examining these steps and thinking what confidence it showed on the part of the killers, to choose a place that was so difficult to get out of, for their planned murder. Then I was told what the neighbors had said. They had said: When the shooting began, we all closed our doors.
Of course you would. You would close your doors and wait. And the killers would know you were going to do that. And when we say “doors” here, you mustn’t imagine anything more than an old piece of repurposed plywood, ill-fitting, no doubt. One such front door, in another poor home, had a gap on either side, through which the killer was able to fire into the house. The second shot found its intended victim. The first shot killed his six-year-old son.
You open your eyes. Your son is dead. Then you’re dead next. This is an EJK.
Davis boarded the MV Victoria No. 168 in Vacamonte, Panama, on August 5, 2015, departing a few days later for a voyage that was supposed to last between two and a half and three months. The Victoria was operated by Gran Victoria International, a Panamanian company, but had ownership ties to Japan, and was staffed with a Taiwanese captain and a Burmese and Chinese crew. It was not an ordinary fishing boat; the Victoria was a tuna transshipment vessel, a kind of mother ship for smaller commercial boats, with large refrigerated holds that allowed boats to offload their catches at sea and avoid the hassle of making regular trips back to port. Such an arrangement also makes it easier to hide illegal shark fins and drugs among the fish transfers. Davis had worked on transshipment vessels before and knew they were among the most dangerous for observers.
“The ship is a little bit different. I’ll tell you about it once I get back,” Davis wrote in an email to his father, John Davis, a few weeks into his trip. The two were close, and John often received emails from his son while he was out at sea—nothing about this one suggested he was in any danger.
Fisheries observer Keith Davis monitored and collected data on fishing vessels, devoting his life to protecting the seas—until he went missing. Sarah Tory reports on his disappearance at Hakai Magazine.
When Woodfox was eighteen, he was arrested for robbing a bar and sentenced to fifty years in prison.
Two weeks after Miller’s death, the four men were charged with murder. There was an abundance of physical evidence at the crime scene, none of which linked them to the killing. A bloody fingerprint near Miller’s body did not match any of theirs.
Woodfox often woke up gasping. He felt that the walls of the cell were squeezing him to death, a sensation that he began to experience the day after his mother’s funeral, in 1994. He had planned to go to the burial — prisoners at Angola are permitted to attend the funerals of immediate family — but at the last minute his request was denied. For three years, he slept sitting up, because he felt less panicked when he was vertical. “It takes so much out of you just to try to make these walls, you know, go back to the normal place they belong,” he told a psychologist. “Someday I’m not going to be able to deal with it. I’m not going to be able to pull those walls apart.”
Woodfox is reserved, humble, and temperamentally averse to drama. When he talked about himself, his tone became flat. He was scheduled to speak at a panel on solitary confinement the next day, and he felt exhausted by the prospect. “I get apprehensive when somebody asks me something I can’t answer, like ‘What does it feel like to be free?’ ” he said. “How do you want me to know how it feels to be free?” He’d developed a stock answer to the question: “Ask me in twenty years.”
At The New Yorker, Rachel Aviv profiles Albert Woodfox, a man originally sentenced to 50 years in prison for robbery. A member of the Black Panthers and the Angola 3, Woodfox spent over four decades in solitary confinement, despite a stunning lack of evidence against him in a prison murder.
When you work the night shift for too long, the murders start to link up with one another, blending cause and effect in a centrifugal force that gnaws away at the city. The veteran reporters start to see this; the man gunned down one night is related to an ongoing gang dispute, which originates in another murder from the previous week, and so on. The crimes dot their personal maps. Driving by Mosqueta Street, David points to a specific building and recalls the night he photographed an injured man that had been hit by a car. It was only later that his editor pointed out to him that the victim was in fact José Luis Calva Zepeda, also known as the Guerrero Cannibal, one of contemporary Mexico’s most notorious serial killers, accused of eating parts of his victims, all young women. When the police located him, he jumped out of his apartment window and ran across the street, before being struck by a car and apprehended.
Drive the backroads of South Carolina to the small town of Ridgeville, and you’ll be greeted by a large, handmade sign reading “Your sins killed Jesus” amid the pine forests and small barns. I grew up traveling those roads but only recently noticed the sign, long after I had stopped caring about sin and consequence or what either of those things means.
Because on April 27, 1982, while I was asleep in a room with a couple of wooden bunk beds, blankets on the floor, and too many brothers, Herbert “Moochie” Bailey Jr. was killing a man named James Bunch a few miles away. Moochie was 22 years old at the time. I was only 9.Read more…
After 25 years of fighting a losing war on drugs and with a heroin epidemic raging in his home state of Massachusetts, Gloucester Police Chief Leonard Campanello decided to take matters into his own hands. He opened his police station’s doors to any addict seeking help, promising to get them into treatment. Writing for Boston Magazine, Chris Sweeney delves deeply into Campanello’s work, and the unlikely success of his initiative: in just three short months, 145 individuals have already come to Campanello seeking help. But first, the story of the Facebook post that started it all:
Campanello, heavyset with jowls and thinning hair, knew his limitations: just a small-town cop with a tiny budget and no power to enact laws. So on the morning of May 4, he logged into the biggest platform he had—the Gloucester Police Department’s Facebook account—and, for the first time, began typing out his defiant approach. Starting June 1, he wrote, “Any addict who walks into the police station with the remainder of their drug equipment (needles, etc) or drugs and asks for help will NOT be charged.” Instead, he and his officers would help them get medical care. It didn’t matter what insurance you had, or whether you had insurance at all—Campanello promised to shred the red tape that entangled so many who sought treatment. “I’ve never arrested a tobacco addict, nor have I ever seen one turned down for help when they develop lung cancer, whether or not they have insurance,” he concluded in the post. “The reasons for the difference in care between a tobacco addict and an opiate addict is stigma and money. Petty reasons to lose a life.”
He read the message over for typos, floated the cursor over the “Post” button, and clicked his mouse at 10:55 a.m. It instantly went viral, shared by more than 30,000 people, “liked” by 33,000, and viewed more than 2 million times.
In a recent piece for Mother Jones, Molly Redden looked at why it can be particularly hard for wrongfully convicted women to be exonerated (Women make up about 11 percent of the people convicted of violent crimes, but just 6 percent of those exonerated of violent crimes). Despite their good intentions, most innocence projects fail to bring justice to wrongly convicted women. Why? Karen Daniel and Judy Royal—lawyers with Northwestern University Law School’s Center on Wrongful Convictions —spent three years pursuing that question. Their research brought them a number of insights, including the fact that women are far less likely to be exonerated using DNA evidence:
Daniel and Royal started by digging deep into the exonerations database. Their first insight had to do with DNA evidence—the very breakthrough that launched the innocence movement a quarter century ago. “Women tend not to be convicted of the types of crimes that can be overturned based on the results of DNA testing,” Daniel explained. Men perpetrate the overwhelming majority of rapes and murders of strangers. These crimes are much more likely to leave behind DNA evidence that can rule out an innocent suspect, or point to the real rapist or killer.
But when women kill, they usually kill someone close to them. And in most of those cases, DNA isn’t relevant. When a woman is suspected of killing her husband or her child, investigators are likely to find her DNA all over the crime scene whether she’s guilty or innocent—so DNA testing can do little to exonerate her. Sure enough, 27 percent of the men in the exonerations registry were freed using DNA evidence. The same was true of only 7.6 percent of the women.