handcuffed hands of man in orange jump suit

justice on the frontlines: Oct. 17, 2022

Rejected by Supreme Court 

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court turned away a Black death row inmate’s appeal for a new trial due several jurors expressing opposition to interracial relationships during his court case. Andre Thomas was convicted of murdering his estranged wife, their 4-year-old son and his 13-month-old step daughter. Thomas denied guilt. He gouged his eyeballs out twice and ate one of them. The prosecutors agreed he was in a psychotic state when he committed the murders, but Thomas was still sentenced to death by an all-white jury. Thomas’ lawyers argued that there was jury bias because three jurors said they were against interracial relationships during the jury selection process. NBC News (Oct. 11, 2022)

VA prisons could save $28M

A new report laid out recommendations for Virginia prisons to cut the cost of phone calls and basic goods. The report released earlier this month included feedback from various prison reform advocacy groups, incarcerated individuals, members of the Virginia General Assembly and others. The policy change could save the state more than $28 million annually. The report also recommends giving incarcerated people at least 120 minutes per day of no cost phone calls, making visitation video free, and increasing daily spending on prison food from $2.20 per person to $4.00 per person. State lawmakers ordered more information on the report ahead of the 2023 session where they may take further action on these recommendations. DC News Now (Oct. 10, 2022)

Supreme Court hears death row case 

Rodney Reed, whose claims of innocence drew millions of Americans to pay attention to his death row sentence, appealed to the Supreme Court last week to force Texas to test DNA evidence. A decision is expected sometime next year. Reed was convicted by an all-white jury in 1998 of the rape and murder of Stacey Stites, a 19-year-old white woman. Despite mounting evidence that her fiancé killed her, he has stayed on death row for decades. The supreme court is deciding whether Reed waited too long to ask for the DNA tests. The Intercept (Oct. 9, 2022)

cancer kills incarcerated women

An incarcerated woman died from cervical cancer which went undetected because she didn’t receive a Pap smear for 10 years while in prison. Niccole Wetherwell’s death highlights the lack of medical record upkeep by the Nebraska department of corrections despite a 2015 state law requiring that they update and complete medical records. Various proposals and attempts to create or acquire an electronic health record system as a solution have produced little progress. Omaha World-Herald (Oct. 12, 2022)

covid relief bought police sniper rifles 

The city council in Independence, Missouri reallocated $2 million in federal covid relief funds to police who spent it on sniper rifles, ballistic helmets and officer bonuses. Without federal guidelines, local jurisdictions spent covid funds where they chose. Because almost any spending can qualify as covid relief, police agencies are using the covid funds to fulfill their needs. Correctional institutions purchased body scanners, surveillance systems and built new prisons. The Marshall Project (Oct. 13, 2022) 

charges dropped

On Tuesday, Baltimore prosecutors abruptly dropped murder charges against Adnan Syed, the man whose case captured worldwide attention with the hit podcast “Serial.” The move caught the family of the victim and officials in Maryland by surprise. Charges were dropped due to other DNA on the victims shoes. The victims family didn’t receive a notice about the hearing and their attorney wasn’t offered an opportunity to be present at the proceeding. The Baltimore Banner (Oct. 11, 2022) 

death penalty avoided

The Parkland school shooter has avoided the death penalty after the jury rule for life in prison without the possibility of parole. The jury recommended this decision after a months-long trial to decide Nikolas Cruz’s punishment. Parents of the victims feel he doesn’t deserve compassion for what he did to the students. Prosecutors asked the jury to sentence the gunman to death because it was premeditated and calculated. CNN (Oct. 13, 2022) 

returning to the free world

Formerly incarcerated Texans are facing hardships to restart their lives after leaving prison. Without much help from the state, the Next Chapter program in Lufkin is stepping in to help recently released people to get back on their feet. The program helped like Maurice Watts to get a job without a college education. They helped him develop reading and communication skills. They also gave him a short-term loan for gas and food. The Texas Tribune (Oct. 12, 2022) 

arranging prisoner swap 

U.S. basketball star Britney Griner has been struggling emotionally, and she is worried that she may not be freed from Russian prison. One of her lawyers said that she is not in good condition. On Wednesday, President Biden stated that there has been no movement with the Russian president on her case. A White House official said that the administration was trying every available channel with Moscow to arrange a prisoner swap. If Griner’s appeal is unsuccessful, she will not be released. New York Times (Oct. 12, 2022) 

unannounced and without a warrant

Each year, child protective services agencies inspect the homes of roughly 3.5 million children without warrants, while only 5% of those homes have had children that are physically or sexually abused. New York City’s child protective service bureau showed up unannounced and without a warrant to search Ronisha Ferguson’s home after she was accused of inadequate supervision due to working long hours. They are being harmed rather than saved. Most of these children are forced to watch their moms and dads be humiliated, powerless and turned into second-class citizens in their own homes. ProPublica (Oct. 13, 2022)

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Lonyae started working as a Research and Reporting Intern for The Des in August 2022. She is a senior at Texas Christian University, pursuing a degree in Journalism with a minor in Writing. At The Des she is most excited for working with new staff, expanding her storytelling skills in her writing as well as expanding her knowledge in the criminal justice system.