Chron eye for the death row killer guy: the series

Despite massive layoffs, the anti-death-penalty Chronicle always seems to have adequate staff to profile death row killers sympathetically.

In fact, we've noticed that it happens with such consistency that it can't just be a coincidence. Chron editors are making a conscious decision to portray the state's most violent criminals as sympathetic figures. Presumably, the newspaper's anti-death-penalty editors think this sort of coverage will weaken public support for the death penalty in Texas -- Jeff Cohen being the condescending sort of editor who wants to teach his readers the right way to think, instead of covering the news important to them.

It's great blog fodder, though, as it gives us a chance to call attention to the sort of "coverage" the newspaper that missed Enron actually excels at these days. Future posts on this subject will also carry the title above.

Without further ado, here's a look back through Chron eyes at some upstanding criminals (some of whom are no longer part of this world).

On Saturday, Lise Olsen introduced readers to Lorenzo Morris, who is scheduled for execution Tuesday:

Lorenzo Morris went to death row more than a decade ago for beating his 70-year-old neighbor to death and will be executed Tuesday unless the governor intervenes.

Intervention seemed less likely Friday, when the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles voted 6-0 both against granting a temporary reprieve and against commuting Morris' sentence to life. His family is requesting a 30-day reprieve from Gov. Rick Perry.

In their attempt to halt the execution, Morris' lawyers have pointed out that Jesse Fields did not die until almost nine months after the Aug. 5, 1990, attack in his Houston home on May 11, 1991, one day after undergoing surgery to remove a gangrenous leg and that the nursing home doctor attributed the death to natural causes.

Because the jury never heard from that doctor, Morris' attorneys argue that it is new evidence one of the few legal arguments that a condemned inmate can use to try to challenge a death sentence in federal courts.

Appellate courts have disagreed. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the arguments earlier this year and the U.S. Supreme Court has refused to consider them.

Morris, now, 52, has spent years wondering why his lawyer did not present the other doctor's opinion about Fields' death or communicate with any of Morris' own family members.

Morris admits beating Fields but contends, "I didn't kill him, he died of natural causes."

Ah, yes, but this fine criminal who is serving time for the nonfatal shooting of another man BEAT THE ELDERLY MAN WHO PREVIOUSLY LIVED ALONE WITH A HAMMER, forcing him into a nursing home, where he died. Sorry, the column hasn't generated any sympathy yet. But Olsen is persistent:

In an affidavit, Morris' father acknowledged that Morris and his nine siblings were neglected because he and their mother drank heavily and frequently stayed away from home.

"My kids did have a hard life," he said. "There was not much good in it."

Kids raised themselves Morris' brother, in another sworn statement, says the kids basically raised themselves in a section of the Fifth Ward that was then "filled with gangs, drugs, prostitution and violence." As a teen, Morris tried unsuccessfully to save two toddler sisters who died in 1967 in a house fire after their mother left the girls alone.

Plenty of people have hard lives, but don't go on to shoot people or hit them on the head with hammers.

Just a few days earlier, Rhea Davis profiled convicted murderer Dominique Green (now deceased):

By the time he landed on death row at 19, Green said he had survived an abusive home and the tough streets of Houston's Third Ward. He had been arrested for selling drugs and spent two years in juvenile hall. Every lesson he learned he learned from the streets.

But growing up with a mentally ill mother and running with a gang of small-time criminals didn't prepare him for life on death row, locked up for 23 hours a day.

Using art to combat the austerity of prison life, Green carries a stack of battered notebooks filled with drawings and poetry about youth, life on death row and missed opportunities. He counsels younger inmates and helps others research the law.

And he struggles with the heartache of losing friends to the executioner's needle.

"I've lost a lot of friends since I've been here," he said. "I just try to write about their experiences and keep their memories alive by talking about the good times we had."

None was as painful as the Oct. 5 execution of his childhood friend Edward Green, who was condemned for the murder of an elderly couple 12 years ago. The two friends, who were not related, talked about everything. Days before their death warrants were signed, they wondered who would be executed first.

"He hoped he went before me because he didn't think he could take mine," Green said softly into the receiver of the prison phone.

[snip]

Though he doesn't want to die, the boyish-looking Green expressed gratitude for the lessons he learned from some of the most violent criminals in the state.

"There are a lot of great men here," he said. "They taught me things I wouldn't have learned otherwise. They taught me about responsibility and respect and how to be a human being."

Any good times he had in prison were too many, compared to the good times he took away from his victim. The Chronicle editors obviously feel differently.

Finally, Cindy Horswell introduces Robert Morrow to Chron readers today:

With his execution imminent, Robert Morrow fidgeted in his chair and was testy as he spoke on a telephone through a Plexiglas window on death row.

He then began to spin a new story that substantially changed his long-held account of his part in the kidnapping and slaying of a Liberty councilman's daughter eight years ago.

"I don't care who ... believes me," the 47-year-old man said in a thick Cajun accent laced with profanity at the Polunsky prison unit. He then confessed to being the one who beat and slashed the throat of 21-year-old Lisa Allison while she was home on spring break, contradicting his trial testimony and media statements in which he had named another man as the killer.

But he also contended that the college student had willingly gone with him to smoke crack cocaine, denying that he had abducted her at knifepoint from a car wash. Without committing another crime along with the slaying on April 3, 1996, Morrow reasoned, his case should not qualify under state law for the death penalty.

[snip]

The background of Morrow and Allison couldn't be more different. In addition to serving on the council, Allison's father founded the town's only funeral home in 1947. Lisa Allison also had a cousin who was a constable and another who was a deputy sheriff and bailiff.

Morrow had grown up one of five children in a home with an abusive, alcoholic father, said his 75-year-old mother, Mary Morrow. He ran away to join a carnival at age 9 and returned a few years later. He dropped out in the 10th grade.

I love that line, "Morrow reasoned" -- cold blooded killers on death row being reasonable types, of course. Morrow is scheduled to leave us on Thursday.

Let's give the Chron credit for consistency, at least. They do more background research on these death row killers than they ever managed when missing stories like Enron. And the extent of the research and common themes of these stories written by different reporters seem more than coincidental.

That's why I'm sure we'll be highlighting future Chron profiles of death row killer guys.

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 11/01/04 10:22 PM | Print |

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