Frances Newton died Wednesday for Bush's sins.
The 40-year-old black woman, executed by the death-obsessed state of Texas last night following a rejection by the US Supreme Court of her attorneys' last-ditch appeal, and after the state's craven and bloodthirsty "pardons and parole" board refused to recommend a stay to Gov. Rick Perry, hardly merited mention in the nation's media, which are now awash in stories about Bush's disaster in New Orleans. (The story got a 79-word shirt-tail report on page 25 of the New York Times, tucked under a larger story about the House changing rules for hate crimes and child molesters, and next to a story about Hurricane Ophelia.)
Those who are looking for an example of an innocent person's being executed by the state may well find it in the case of this unfortunate woman, who almost certainly was not guilty of killing her husband and child as charged by the state of Texas.
Her guilt was always hard to fathom, with the prosecution claiming that, after killing her alleged victims, Newton somehow left the scene, disposed of the gun, and returned only 30 minutes later with not a trace of blood on her body or clothes, which were all dry--a good trick, as OJ Simpson could attest, given the amount of blood at the scene.
Newton insisted on her innocence of the crime right up to her death, and offered an alternative theory--that her husband and 7-year-old had been killed over a debt to a drug dealer--a theory that her notoriously inept and subsequently suspended attorney Ronald Mock never bothered to investigate. Newton claimed she had removed a gun from the house after hearing her husband and his brother talking about "some trouble," and she thought it better to get the weapon out of the house.
The trial was rife with improprieties and prosecutorial misconduct--the most egregious of which was that investigators had recovered not one but three identical .25 cal. pistols during their investigation of the case, while the prosecution pretended there had been only one pistol recovered and improperly hid information about the other two from the defense. It was also rife with the standard neglect and incompetence we've come to expect from underpaid, unmotivated and incompetent public defenders provided to poor and black defendants in such cases--Mock never even brought in Newton's dead husband's parents, who had volunteered to testify on her behalf, and who have steadfastly opposed her execution!
Ironically, when there was more attention being paid to the case back in December 2004, Gov. Perry granted a 120-day stay from execution because of evidentiary questions in the case that raised some doubt about her guilt. Yet the matter of the multiple guns and the outrageous hiding of important exculpatory evidence from defense--which raised much more serious questions about her guilt and about the fairness of her trial--came up subsequent to that stay. In other words, doubts about Newton's guilt were much greater the day she was executed than they were last year when Perry granted a stay.
So what was different between December '04 and September '05? The lack of public and media attention to the case.
Katrina and the disastrous Bush response to the deadly flooding of New Orleans simply trumped the story of the first execution of a black woman since the Civil War.
Of course, Newton also got less media attention all along because of her race. The execution of an admitted female killer, Karla Faye Tucker, by Texas only seven years ago, was page-one news for weeks leading up to her execution. What was different? Certainly not the depravity of the crime, as her bloodthirstiness was stunning. The real difference was her race--Tucker was white--and the fact that Tucker had “found God” while on death row.
So, in a sense one could say Newton is yet another victim of Hurricane Katrina, though given her race and class, it is quite likely she would have died anyway had the hurricane never hit the Gulf Coast. She is, however, clearly also another notch for chief executioner George Bush. It was while he was governor that her shameful trial unfolded. It was on his watch as governor that her initial efforts to win a new trial were rejected, it was a state pardons and parole board that still bears the marks of Bush's appointments that rejected her plea for her life, and it was in Bush's shadow as the former Governor Death that her latest effort to win a stay or a pardon from Bush's successor, Gov. Perry, that she finally had her date with a lethal injection.
For the rest of this column and other stories by Lindorff, please go (at no charge) to This Can't Be Happening! .