Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Letting Joe go

The Enquirer let Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters off real easy today. The story concerns a report by a team of lawyers sanctioned by the American Bar Association calling for reforms to Ohio's capital punishment system. From the Enquirer's story:

The study said the chance of getting a death sentence in Hamilton County is 2.7 times higher than in the rest of the state. Further, a convicted killer from the Cincinnati area is 3.7 times more likely to be sentenced to die than a convicted killer from Cleveland and 6.2 times more likely than one from Columbus, the study found.

"We don't plea-bargain death penalty cases," Deters said. "We take cases very seriously. If proof is not a problem, we seek the death penalty.

"Tell me: Who is on death row that shouldn't be?" he asked. "To these people, it's not about innocence, it's about whether their lawyer could have been a little trickier."

Deters also said nobody from the bar association study team called him.

The print version of the story also allows Deters to spend three paragraphs calling the authors of the study a group of liberals.

The Enquirer contains a link that says "Read the ABA's full report." That's a good suggestion, because it looks like Jon Craig and Sharon Coolidge, the two reporters who wrote that story, never read the full report, only the executive summary.

The report criticizes Hamilton County for much more than just the rate at which capital punishment is sought. An example (page 161 of the full report):
Furthermore, the Ohio Supreme Court has, on at least fifteen occasions between 1981 and 2004, rebuked Hamilton County prosecuting attorneys for misconduct during the guilt and sentencing phase of capital trials. The Chief Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court has stated that “Hamilton County has a greater number of [ ] cases” in which prosecutorial misconduct has been found, and added that “the record speaks for itself.”

Ohio’s discipline system for attorneys also appears to be ineffective in disciplining prosecutors whose misconduct in capital cases has time and time again been criticized by the Ohio Supreme Court. The Ohio Supreme Court has identified three prosecutors by name who it found to have engaged in misconduct in capital cases; however, none of these prosecutors have been subject to discipline and one was later promoted and appointed to a Municipal Judgeship in Summit County, Ohio. Similarly, Joseph T. Deters, Prosecuting Attorney for Hamilton County, has overseen an office which has been repeatedly rebuked by the Ohio Supreme Court for misconduct in over fifteen capital cases. Nonetheless, since he began work at the Hamilton County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, Deters was elected to the offices of Hamilton County Clerk of Courts in 1988, Hamilton County Prosecuting Attorney in 1992, Ohio Treasurer of State in 1998, and re-elected as Treasurer of State in 2002. Deters was re-elected as Hamilton Prosecuting Attorney as a write-in candidate in 2004, gaining 57 percent of the vote. As of 2005, no attorney in the Hamilton County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office has been terminated for misconduct.

Or this, from page 163:
In Jamison v. Collins, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit granted a writ of habeas corpus to a death-row inmate, Derrick Jamison, as a result of the State’s suppression of various pieces of exculpatory evidence. The court found that the petitioner’s efforts to seek discovery of exculpatory material at trial were complicated because the Cincinnati Police Department (C.P.D.): "routinely selected certain information and evidence from its files that it judged to be relevant to a homicide case and assembled these documents into what was referred to as a 'homicide book.' Rather than turn over the entire case file to the Hamilton County Prosecutor’s Office, the C.P.D. would only provide this 'homicide book.' According to petitioner, this 'homicide book' did not contain all of the evidence gathered by the police. This fact is undisputed by the [State]."

The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit found that no exculpatory material was included in the “homicide book,” and members of the C.P.D. also testified that “they received no training from the Hamilton County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office as to what constituted exculpatory evidence.” Jamison was permitted discovery prior to the federal habeas corpus proceeding, in which several pieces of previously undisclosed exculpatory evidence came to light. The Sixth Circuit found that the prosecution was not able to evaluate whether evidence within its possession constituted Brady material since “it was intentionally kept in the dark regarding the exculpatory evidence.” After the Sixth Circuit granted the petitioner’s writ of habeas corpus, the State of Ohio elected not to re-try Jamison.

There's more in the report. But why wasn't any of this in today's story? Why no mention of the homicide books or the lack of discipline? The reporters let Deters get away with discrediting the report because they didn't have the ammunition in hand to challenge him. Deters asks why the no one from the panel interviewed him, but it's clear from the full report that a member of the panel interviewed someone in Deters' office. The Enquirer doesn't hold public officials to account, so when a report like this comes up, the reporting descends into a kind of he said/she said scheme. This can't even be called shoddy reporting, because the story is barely reported. Whoever from the Enquirer it was that interviewed Deters didn't challenge him, because they didn't have the background to do so, and that's because the Enquirer never challenges Deters.

Though the story was on the front page today, there are other signs the Enquirer doesn't care much about this. The politics blog never commented on it, and the editorial board paid no attention, not even bothering to call for a community conversation on the matter. By mid-afternoon, this story was off the top half of the home page, quickly buried by the Enquirer. It's clear the Enquirer is more willing to be tough on Marvin Lewis and a mother whose child died than it is with a prosecutor with the power to put people on death row.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree it was shoddy reporting and thought so when I read it. Deters is royalty, so I don't expect the Enquirer to ever do much digging unless it's discovered he's done something even they that can't
overlook a la Mike Allen.

Still, Deters can do death penalty cases all day long - it still takes a jury to make the recommendation.
Couldn't the high number of Hamilton Co. death penalty convictions reflect the outrage of the local community about the crimes of the convicted?

8:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

absolutely excellent commentary and enlightenment-- where the heck do you go to make a charge that a paper is playing political favoites - I think i actually have a little proof on this by a weird coincidence.

1:51 AM  
Blogger J. Sterling Ellison said...

NewsAche: Great site. Thanks for your hard work. Have you thought about disabling the anonymous comments? It creates a great deal of confusion when there are so many. And to those who post anonymously...Stand Up And Shout Your Opinions!

3:17 AM  
Anonymous Phantom Girl said...

Though I don't always agree with News Ache, the argument here is compelling. The reporting by Craig/Coolidge is grossly incompetent. But then, didn't someone edit this? Shouldn't that person be held to task? I hear a lot about the Enquirer playing political favorites with its coverage. My experience says that it is less overt and rooted more in incompetent, unsophisticated reporting and editing.

And let's not forget management doesn't like political stories because anything that requires serious reporting gets in the way of reporting the opening of the latest retailer in West Chester.

8:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To J. Sterling Ellison,
When you actually WORK at the Enquirer, it's not so wise to identify yourself.
The lack of Deters information apparently was questioned internally, and passed upon as being too hard and detailed to report under the deadline pressure of what was essentially a different story.
Of course that does't explain why it wasn't followed up.

1:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

J Sterling Ellison: There are too many crazy people in this world and this city for me to put my name on this or any other blog forum that is political and controversial. Several years ago I wrote a letter to the editor in support of abortion rights and I received hate mail and a not-so-nice sign left on my doorstep. I don't have a home line, just a cell phone which tells me that some very scary people went to a lot of trouble to find me.

5:29 PM  

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