Examining Gender and Capital Punishmend
Chapter 9. Perilously Close to Simple Murder
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PERILOUSLY CLOSE TO SIMPLE MURDER
Frances Newton was executed in Texas on September 14, 2005. Newton’s case both reprises themes present in the other stories and stands apart from them. The flaws in the criminal justice system that marked most of the death penalties, especially the flaws that go with being poor and female, are present in Newton’s case. Yet in contrast to the other defendants described here, it is likely that Frances Newton was innocent of the crimes for which she was put to death. The state relied on dubious physical evidence to link Newton to the murders of her husband and children. Because of her attorney’s negligence, that evidence was never subjected to the scrutiny that would have revealed the weaknesses in the prosecution’s case. And because of the difficulty of correcting trial errors through the appellate process in Texas, Newton, protesting her innocence to the last, was sent to her death. In Herrera v. Collins,1 the Court held that claims of innocence must be balanced against the justice system’s need for finality. In Newton’s case, finality won.
Like virtually every other women whose story is recounted in this book, Frances Newton was represented by a shockingly incompetent appointed attorney. Ron Mock, Newton’s lawyer, saw twelve of his fifteen capital clients sent to death row. Yet he was for a time the highest-earning court-appointed lawyer in Houston. One might think that after nine...
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