Friday, June 28, 2002

Statement by Attorney Walter Long Regarding Impact of U.S. Supreme Court's Mental Retardation ruling

Statement by Attorney Walter Long

Walter Long kindly gave us permission to publish this statement he made recently regarding the recent Supreme Court ruling on execution of people with mental retardation.

Statement by Attorney Walter Long Regarding Impact of U.S. Supreme Court's Mental Retardation ruling

I have read Atkins v. Virginia, decided by the U.S. Supreme Court today, and have the following comments regarding its application to juvenile offenders:

1) I think Atkins is a very positive opinion for juvenile offender advocates. The opinion is written by Justice Stevens, joined by O'Connor, Kennedy, Breyer, Ginsberg, and Souter. Rehnquist and Scalia write separate dissents, joined by each other and Thomas (no surprise there, except one wonders why they could not have consolidated their opinions in one dissent).

2) The Court in Penry rejected the petitioner's arguments that there was an "emerging national consensus" against the death penalty for persons with mental retardation. Justices have generally argued against finding a consensus where there is only an indication that change is in the air. (Justice Scalia observes in Atkins dissent that five of the statutes barring the death penalty for persons with mental retardation were enacted within the past year!) Here, however, the Court has embraced an "emerging" consensus, when combined with a variety of other factors, as sufficient to hold that the penalty as applied to a particular class is "unusual."

In order to grant relief in Atkins, the Court had to either make a finding like this that an emerging consensus was sufficient, or it had to make a specific finding that the non-death penalty states should be included in the calculus. It went with the former, perhaps so as to avoid Stanford (which held that the non-death penalty states were irrelevant). This surprises me, somewhat, because I think Justice Scalia's point is reasonable that a consensus may be more accurately shown by longer-standing statutes. Under his view, the evidence for juveniles would be stronger than for persons with mental retardation, because the juvenile statutes setting the eligibility age at 18 have existed for so much longer, for the most part.

The Atkins opinion accepting a trend (with no counter-trend) as relevant to a finding of consensus can only help, however, with regard to juvenile offenders, given the level of legislative action on their behalf in a large number of states, when coupled with the long-standing statutes already protecting juveniles in so many states.

3) While being careful not to refer to such data as "dispositive," the Atkins majority has rehabilitated the opinions of "organizations with germane expertise," religious communities (!), the "world community," and polling data as relevant evidence of consensus. (FN 21 of the majority opinion) This may be the most remarkable aspect of the Atkins opinion. The Court majority in Stanford v. Kentucky (the juvenile offender case in 1989) rejected all of these as irrelevant. Justice Rehnquist's dissent shows that the authority of Stanford is now in doubt on this point. He observes, "Stanford's reasoning [rejecting international opinion] makes perfectly good sense, and the Court offers no basis to question it." The Atkins Court has questioned it. I think it is obvious that Stanford has been overruled and is no longer good authority in regard to its holdings on the relevance of these matters.

This is extremely important for juvenile offenders, because I believe that in December the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights most likely is going to issue a report finding that the United States is violating a jus cogens norm prohibiting the death penalty for persons who were under 18 at the time of their offense. A jus cogens norm is the highest norm of international law, representing a principle that cannot be breached by any nation. Other such norms are the prohibitions on genocide, torture, and systematic racial discrimination. Federal courts have wrestled with the relationship between jus cogens norms and our own constitution, suggesting that they are at least on an equal par as authority.

4) The Court distinguishes the mental retardation class from juveniles in FN18 of the majority opinion. The text of the opinion at that point reads: "It is not so much the number of these States [barring the death penalty for persons with mental retardation] that is significant, but the consistency of the direction of change. Given the well-known fact that anticrime legislation is far more popular than legislation providing protections for persons guilty of violent crime, the large number of States prohibiting the execution of mentally retarded persons (and the complete absence of States passing legislation reinstating the power to conduct such executions) provides powerful evidence that today our society views mentally retarded offenders as categorically less culpable than the average criminal."

The footnote reads: "A comparison to Stanford v. Kentucky, 492 U.S. 361 (1989), in which we held that there was no national consensus prohibiting the execution of juvenile offenders over age 15, is telling. Although we decided Stanford on the same day as Penry, apparently only two state legislatures have raised the threshold age for imposition of the death penalty." (referring to Montana and Indiana)

The opinion is a bit convoluted here. The Court says that it is "not the number of States" that matters, while at the same time asserting that "the large number of States . . . provides powerful evidence" of societal consensus.

The FN 18 comparison is illegitimate. If the Court is trying to say that it does not see the same legislative energy applied to the juvenile issue, it shouldn't, because roughly the same states that SINCE 1989 bar the death penalty for juvenile offenders are the states that have been CATCHING UP in regard to protection for persons with mental retardation. Of the 18 states now barring the death penalty for persons with mental retardation by statute, only 5 do not also have statutes barring it for persons under 18 at the time of the offense. Legislative energy is not going to exist where protection is already in place. (Meanwhile, in the 2002 legislative season, there were 6-7 states considering raising the eligibility age to 18.) The Court's finding in the text that 18 states barring the death penalty for persons with mental retardation is significant and large applies to the 16 states that bar the penalty for juvenile offenders (laying to one side the states with no death penalty at all). This represents just as much an established norm, with no state legislation backtracking on the juvenile issue since Stanford (as the Court notes with regard to the mental retardation issue).

5) The Court's points about the consensus reflecting a widespread judgment about the relative culpability of mentally retarded offenders, and the relationship between mental retardation and deterrence and retribution, are directly applicable to juvenile offenders.

Almost everything the Court says to describe mentally retarded persons fits what has been observed and proven about juvenile offenders: "Mentally retarded persons frequently know the difference between right and wrong and are competent to stand trial. Because of their impairments, however, by definition they have diminished capacities to understand and process information, to communicate, to abstract from mistakes and learn from experience, to engage in logical reasoning, to control impulses, and to understand the reactions of others. There is no evidence that they are more likely to engage in criminal conduct than others, but THERE IS ABUNDANT EVIDENCE THAT THEY OFTEN ACT ON IMPULSE RATHER THAN PURSUANT TO A PREMEDITATED PLAN, AND THAT IN GROUP SETTINGS THEY ARE FOLLOWERS RATHER THAN LEADERS." Juveniles as a class have the same lack of capacity, although it is not caused by "impairment" so much as lack of physical maturity. Modern brain scan technology has shown that the juvenile brain simply is not fully developed. The prefrontal cortex, which does not finish developing until the early 20s, governs logical reasoning, the ability to foresee consequences of actions, the ability to understand reactions of others, and impulsivity. Juveniles as a class, thus, also are uniquely likely to act on impulse and under the influence of peer pressure.

The Court's conclusion that the mental deficiencies of persons with mental retardation diminish their personal culpability applies with equal force to juvenile offenders. Therefore, the penological purposes of retribution and deterrence are also ill-served by the application of the death penalty to juveniles as a class. In a future opinion on juveniles, the Court could simply import the language it uses to describe persons with mental retardation: "[T]he lesser culpability of the mentally retarded offender surely does not merit [the death penalty as a] form of retribution." "The theory of deterrence in capital sentencing is predicated upon the notion that the increased severity of the punishment will inhibit criminal actors from carrying out murderous conduct. Yet it is the same cognitive and behavioral impairments that make these defendants less morally culpable -- for example, the diminished ability to understand and process information, to learn from experience, to engage in logical reasoning, or to control impulses -- that also make it less likely that they can process the information of the possibility of execution as a penalty and, as a result, control their conduct based upon that information."

6) Juveniles are also troubled by the last factor mentioned by the Atkins majority: a lesser ability to make a persuasive showing of mitigation in the face of prosecutorial evidence of one or more aggravating factors. I think this was particularly a problem in Napoleon Beazley's case. As bright as Napoleon was, I think he was limited by his developmental level from being able to have sufficient insight into his crime to adequately defend himself at trial. His mature reflection on death row enabled him to have some later understanding that helped us all to see the pressures on him as a juvenile that led to the offense (especially his dilemmas arising from being a black youth with white friends in that particular community). This information should have been presented to Napoleon's trial jury at the punishment phase. Bracketing off for a moment the race bias problem with Napoleon's jury, it is information that might have made a difference in the punishment verdict.

The Atkins Court refers to the trial "demeanor" of persons with mental retardation as creating an "unwarranted impression of lack of remorse for their crimes." A juvenile, by virtue of the fact that he is a juvenile unable to comprehend what is going on around him in the trial process, will characteristically have this same demeanor, misleading the jury about remorse. I would imagine that this was a particular problem in Napoleon's case, where the prosecution set about to create what I believe was a false impression: that he premeditated the murder of John Luttig. I believe that the crime was intentional, but occurred on impulse. Everything suggests that, in the aftermath, Napoleon had little to no understanding of it. A number of his post-crime comments, as related by the Coleman brothers, were the observations of an uncomprehending child used by the prosecution to make him seem unremorseful.

Overall, Atkins is very positive for juvenile offenders. Because of the similarities in regard to the number of states barring the death penalty for each class and the obvious parallels, if not identities, on all of the relevant substantive issues, the Court should take the case of a juvenile offender in the near future.

Walter Long

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Saturday, June 22, 2002

Dallas Morning News Continues to Question Death Penalty Administration

Death penalty: Supreme Court is right to refine the process 
Dallas Morning News 

On Sunday's edition of NBC's Meet the Press, Sen. John Kerry suggested that America is "beginning to question how we have applied the death penalty." The prospective 2004 Democratic presidential nominee said that, despite public support for capital punishment, he opposes it. Citing advances in the application of DNA evidence, Sen. Kerry said he favors a moratorium on the death penalty until some troubling questions are answered – including why minorities account for three-fourths of inmates on death row. 

The question posed to the Supreme Court this week was something altogether different, namely whether judges can make the formal determination about whether there exist, in the case of convicted murderers, "aggravating factors" that warrant the death penalty. No, they cannot, said the high court in a 7-2 decision. That is a finding that is best left to a jury. 

That is already the standard procedure here in Texas, where only the 12 peers can impose a death sentence. Not so in nine other states, where the court's decision could result in new sentences for hundreds of death row inmates. 

The ruling in Ring vs. Arizona came less than a week after the court, in another hugely important decision, struck down executions for the mentally retarded. Taken together, the two decisions seem to signal that the high court – while stopping short of prohibiting the states from carrying out capital punishment altogether – is growing uncomfortable with the manner in which the death penalty is imposed and administered. Perhaps what the court is saying is that the states, and the American people, should be approaching the issue of capital punishment much more thoughtfully than has been the case in recent years and that it is willing to lead the way by setting a more deliberative tone. 

If that is the case, then Americans should sit up and take notice. Even when it comes down from where it should – from juries – the decision to enlist the state in the taking of a human life is serious business. Of course, there are instances where the offenses are so egregious and the offenders so lacking in redeemable human qualities (such as Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh) that the death penalty is highly appropriate. But even in those extreme cases, there always should be the requisite amount of collective analysis, scrutiny and soul-searching about how far we should go in pursuit of justice. 

Murderers may have trivialized the sanctity of human life in committing their heinous acts, but that doesn't mean that the rest of society has to follow suit.

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Sunday, June 09, 2002

Napoleon Beazley's family remembers son---700 attend burial of executed man

Ireland and Rena Beazley on Saturday buried their oldest son, executed for committing a fatal carjacking.

Nearly 8 years to the day after he graduated with honors from Grapeland High School, Napoleon Beazley was executed Tuesday for the 1994 slaying of Tyler civic leader John Luttig, sparking worldwide criticism of the Texas death penalty.

More than 700 people showed up at Mt. Zion Baptist Church for Beazley's
funeral, but few tears were shed during the upbeat, 2-hour service.

With hands interlocked and eyes squeezed shut, the crowd belted out hymns
and prayed for Beazley and his family. Even the sticky heat in the tidy,
clapboard church didn't sap the enthusiasm.

After the service, the family cheerfully greeted mourners. The mood was
generally upbeat this weekend at the Beazleys' quaint brick house, though
there were some tears.

As darkness descended on this East Texas town Friday night, the husband
and wife of more than 30 years playfully teased each other and dozens of
guests who came to lift their spirits with hugs, and sometimes, flowers.

"At least he's free," said Napoleon Beazley's mother, Rena Beazley. "8
years is a long time to battle. It was just too much. It was tearing us
up inside. Now, we're going to celebrate his life."

In the days before Beazley's execution -- which sparked widespread
criticism of Texas' capital punishment system -- his family said they
attempted to suppress their grief so they wouldn't worry their condemned

"He was carrying a lot of responsibility," Rena Beazley said. "He knew he
disappointed us in April 1994 and he's been trying to make up for it.

"We got 2 hours with him on (last) Saturday and it was just a regular
conversation. He was not afraid of dying. He had prepared himself to

During their final visit, the Beazleys said they were finally able to
have a "contact" visit with their son. They hadn't touched their son in
more than 7 years.

Defense attorneys argued that Beazley's execution violated international
law because of his age and said race played a role. Beazley is black, his
victim was white and he was convicted of capital murder by an all-white

A former high school class president and star athlete, Beazley had been
dealing drugs for several years but had not been caught. His parents said
they had him tested for drugs twice, but the results came back negative.

On the night of April 19, 1994, Beazley was carrying a .45-caliber pistol
and had stowed a shotgun in his mother's car before he and two companions
went to Tyler, about 60 miles north of Grapeland, to steal a car.

After shooting Luttig, the 63-year-old father of U.S. Circuit Court Judge
J. Michael Luttig, evidence showed Beazley stepped through a pool of
Luttig's blood to go through his pockets. After retrieving keys to the
Luttigs' 10-year-old Mercedes, Beazley hit a wall while driving away and
was forced to abandon the vehicle.

His 2 companions, Cedrick and Donald "Fig" Coleman, received life in

Beazley's father, wiping tears away, said Friday that he's coming to
grips with the execution.

"Our hearts are still grieving," he said.

Beazley's mother said the execution has, in some ways, been a relief.

"We put our lives on hold for eight years," said Rena Beazley, who has
been hospitalized twice for depression in recent years. "I never thought
I'd ever go to a prison, let alone death row. Every weekend we went down
to death row to see Napoleon."

Their youngest son Ireland Jamaal, who graduated from Grapeland High
School with honors, is soon to go away to junior college.

With time to mull over their eldest son's death, the Beazleys say they
plan to join the fight to against Texas' death penalty.

That next step, they say, will be proof that Napoleon Beazley didn't die
in vain.

"It was a huge eye-opener for us," Rena Beazley said. "We were the
perfect family. We did everything by the book. If it can happen to us, it
can happen to anyone.

"Napoleon was a good boy. I'm so proud of him. He touched a lot of
people. His life will speak for itself."

(source: Associated Press)

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Thursday, June 06, 2002

Napoleon Beazley should have been granted reprieve By Walter Long

Beazley should have been granted reprieve By Walter Long


Thursday, June 6, 2002 

Napoleon Beazley was executed May 28 for the killing of a Tyler businessman in 1994. Beazley was 17 when he committed the crime. This column was written by Walter Long, who, along with David Botsford, represented Beazley during his trial. 

In 1993, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun remarked, "I have voiced disappointment with this Court's obvious eagerness to do away with any restriction on the State's power to execute whomever and however they please. I have also expressed doubts about whether, in the absence of such restrictions, capital punishment remains constitutional at all. Of one thing, however, I am certain. Just as an execution without adequate safeguards is unacceptable, so too is an execution when the condemned prisoner can prove that he is innocent. The execution of a person who can show that he is innocent comes perilously close to simple murder." 

Our client Napoleon Beazley was not innocent of capital murder. Yet, in my opinion, his execution May 28 may have been perilously close to simple murder. The "safeguards" in Napoleon's case were completely unacceptable. 

As in the cases of scores of other indigent Texas capital inmates, the state denied Napoleon any meaningful appellate review of his death sentence by failing to provide him with statutorily guaranteed competent representation at the only time in which he could reasonably hope for an evidentiary hearing, an opportunity to develop non-record facts, and a credibility determination made by a judge hearing testimony on both sides of the issues. 

What is more frightening and unique about Napoleon's case is that, as a child offender, he may have been protected from execution by the federal constitution, as well as by international law. This month, the U.S. Supreme Court should issue a decision in Atkins v. Virginia that may undermine the legal rule in Stanford v. Kentucky, the 1989 Supreme Court case which allows the death penalty to be given to 17-year-old offenders like Napoleon. Application of the new Atkins rule to the facts regarding juvenile offenders may exempt them from execution. 

My reprieve petition to Gov. Rick Perry reiterated what I had been asking every adjudicator to do for Napoleon since February: grant a reprieve until Atkins is released. I explained that it was nearly impossible for the United States Supreme Court to grant review in Napoleon's case because only six justices were participating, and no other juvenile offender (who could have had nine justices) had a case before the court to which Napoleon's could be attached. In that regard, I noted, "By chance circumstances, Christopher Simmons, a child offender in Missouri, had his execution date changed from May 1 to June 5 by the Missouri Supreme Court, which currently has the Eighth Amendment claim before it. He is the next child offender who will have all nine justices . . . . The answers to all of these questions may be given in Simmons' case, but only days too late to help Napoleon if a reprieve is not granted." 

I was on my way to Huntsville around 2:30 p.m. on May 28 when I received a call from Simmons' attorney on my cell phone, notifying me that minutes earlier the Missouri Supreme Court had issued an indefinite stay for Simmons. The order read, "Execution stayed pending decision by the Supreme Court of the United States in Atkins v. Commonwealth of Virginia." 

I headed back to Austin, where I met with the governor's deputy counsel, making sure that the governor understood why I believed the Supreme Court had not acted in our case and that we were asking him to do exactly what Missouri did. David Botsford and I filed a motion for stay of execution at the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which has the jurisdiction to stay an execution for any reason. 

The court voted 5-3 to deny a stay. Judges Tom Price, Cheryl Johnson, and Lawrence Meyers noted that they would have granted a stay. Shortly after getting word of the court's decision, I received a call from the governor's office: The governor had denied the reprieve. 

Our client was not innocent of the offense, but may have been ineligible for the death penalty under the federal Constitution. By denying a 30-day reprieve, the governor displayed a disregard for fairness, especially in light of his awareness of Missouri's just and equitable stay on the same day. Perry understood the stakes when he made his decision. Waiting another month to execute Napoleon would not have hurt the system. On the other hand, if Atkins leads to protection for juvenile offenders, Perry's decision will expose the system's brutal arbitrariness.

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Wednesday, June 05, 2002

Final Statement of Napolean Beazley

The complete text of Beazley's written final statement follows:

The act I committed to put me here was not just heinous, it was senseless. But the person that committed that act is on longer here -- I am.

I'm not going to struggle physically against any restraints, I'm not going to shout, use profanity, or make idle threats. Understand though that I'm not only upset, but I'm saddened by what is happening here tonight. I'm not only saddened, but disappointed that a system that is supposed to protect and uphold what is just and right can be so much like me when I made the same shameful mistake.

If someone tried to dispose of everyone here for participating in this killing, I'd scream a resounding, "No." I'd tell them to give them all the gift they would not give me ... and that's to give them all a 2nd chance.

I'm sorry that I am here. I'm sorry that you're all here. I'm sorry that John Luttig died. And I'm sorry that it was something in me that caused of this to happen to begin with.

Tonight we tell the world that there are no second chances in the eyes of justice ... Tonight, we tell our children that in some instances, in some cases, killing is right.

This conflict hurts us all, there are no SIDES. The people who support this proceeding think this is justice. The people that think I should live think that is justice. As difficult as it may seem, this is a clash of ideals, with both parties committed to what they feel is right. But who's wrong if in the end we're all victims?

In my heart, I have to believe that there is a peaceful compromise for our ideals. I don't mind if there are none for me, as long as there are for those who are yet to come. There are a lot of men like me on death row -- good men -- who fell to the same misguided emotions, but may not have recovered like I have.

Give those men a chance to do what's right. Give them a chance to undo their wrongs. A lot of them want to fix the mess they started, but don't know how. The problem is not in that people aren't willing to help them find out, but in the system telling them it won't matter anyway.

No one wins tonight. No one gets closure. No one walks way victorious.

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Monday, June 03, 2002

TMN Statement on U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Sleeping Lawyer case

June 3, 2002

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that Texas must either set Calvin Burdine free or retry him. The state of Texas had argued that Burdine received a fair trial because he could not prove that his lawyer slept through key parts of his trial. The state did not argue that his lawyer had stayed awake for the entire trial, only that no one could say whether the sleeping occurred during key parts. "A person facing the death penalty deserves to be defended by a lawyer who is wide awake. Being defended by a court-appointed sleeping lawyer is like being defended by a card-board cutout of Perry Mason or Ally McBeal. It might look like a lawyer, but it doesn't act like one", said Scott Cobb of Texas Moratorium Network.

"Many people sit on death row in Texas not because they are the worst of the worst of all murderers, but because their lawyers were among the worst of the worst of all lawyers, especially at the trial level. Last week the state 
executed Napoleon Beazley despite admissions from his state Habeas counsel, Mr. Robin Norris, that he had performed deficiently when he represented 
Napoleon. Texas needs to enact a moratorium on executions in the next session of the Legislature so that reforms can be enacted to rid the system 
of incompetence once and for all. Let's judge and sentence defendants because of their own actions and not because of the incompetent actions of 
their lawyers", said Cobb.

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Conversation from death row with Napoleon Beazley

Editorial Board

Austin American-Statesman

Sunday, May 26, 2002

Napoleon Beazley's adulthood will be a short one -- it began on death row and is scheduled to end there today.

Beazley was 17 when a Smith County jury sentenced him to die for killing John Luttig, 63, in a botched 1994 carjacking. When he arrived on death row, Beazley was the youngest inmate there. Now 25, Beazley is scheduled to be executed by chemical injection.

There is no question about Beazley's guilt. He killed Luttig, a prominent Tyler businessman and father of a federal judge, because Beazley and his gang wanted to steal Luttig's Mercedes-Benz.

It was a senseless, brutal murder that stunned two quiet East Texas towns. The casual violence in Luttig's upscale neighborhood sent shock waves through Tyler. And it rocked the sleepy Grapeland community where Beazley was the toast of the town. There, Beazley was known for his promise: president of his senior class; honor student and star high school athlete.

Though there is no question about Beazley's guilt, his case still raises questions about the death penalty in Texas. Should minors (younger than 18) be sentenced to death? Is Texas' criminal justice system racially biased? Are death row inmates entitled to effective counsel throughout the legal appeals process? Can murderers be rehabilitated?

Those questions are being raised by some unlikely people. State District Judge Cynthia Kent, who presided over Beazley's trial, sent a letter to Gov. Rick Perry last year asking him to commute Beazley's sentence to life. She cited Beazley's age at the time of the murder. Cindy Garner, the district attorney in Beazley's home county, also wrote Perry asking for leniency, noting that Beazley had no prior criminal record. A Grapeland City Council member and former warden of death row, George Pierson, also wrote state officials to oppose Beazley's execution.

Beazley's case is troubling for other reasons. It shakes our beliefs about family and community. Beazley was from a Christian, two-parent home. A search for answers about how and why a young man in command of his future -- voted runner-up for Mr. Grapeland High School -- would kill, took us to death row in Livingston. American-Statesman editorial writer Alberta Phillips interviewed Beazley last week, and excerpts follow.

American-Statesman: What was the hardest adjustment about prison?

Napoleon Beazley: It's different being on death row than being in prison, because you have the other element to think about. That kind of outweighs what's going on in prison -- knowing you are on death row and that you are here to die. When you know you are here to die, you start focusing on ways to live or how you live. That becomes important to you.

You were tried by an all-white jury after blacks were struck from the jury pool. You were 17 at the time of the murder. Do you think you got justice from the legal system?

Justice. That is a big word, a big word. You understand I'm biased, right?

Personally, as far as my growth goes, I can't sit up and think about those things in those terms, because I have to look at myself and say, "If it weren't for you, none of those things would have happened."

What does your case teach us about capital punishment?

You do look at my case and say, "OK, look, these are the problems in the system we need to correct." But personally, I can't make that argument for myself. I'm sorry, but I just can't do that.

Many people have asked you this question, but how did you find yourself at a place where you took a man's life? You were an honor student with dreams of going to Stanford Law. What happened?

Oh, man. As far as giving details, that is something I really can't do for you because I don't want anything I say to come off as trying to justify what happened. There is no justification for what happened. . . . I made a bad choice . . . a very bad choice. A shameful, heinous, senseless -- whatever synonym you can think to describe it, it's all that. I made a lot of bad choices before I got here. That one was the poorest one I made.

If you can't say why it happened, then when did you cross the line? What went through your mind when you went out carjacking and you shoot and kill a man?

I believe every good act, every heinous thing, is first conceived in thought. Once you plant that seed in your head of what you are going to do, the rest is going through the mechanics. When Cedric Coleman (an accomplice who planned the carjacking) brought this crime to my attention, the details, and he asked , "You down with that?" I told him, "Yeah. I'm down." That's when it happened. Not that night (of the murder). But when I said yes to it, because that was my time to say no. The seed was planted.

You've talked about how badly you were ridiculed by blacks for "acting white," for speaking proper English, making good grades and carrying yourself a certain way. Black kids called you "white boy" for hanging with white kids. That affected you?

Yeah, sure. But since coming here, I've come to understand that racism only affects us as much as we allow it to. I allowed those things to affect me. But call it isolation. You isolate a group of people to the point where they have no identity. That peer pressure, where you're not black enough for the blacks, not white enough for the whites and you are left alone. I think that is what causes that feeling of isolation. I didn't belong.

Before I got here, I spent so much time, so much energy and effort, in doing things so people would like me. Being this and being that, just to fit in. When I got here I learned that I'm going to be myself. For me to come here and do that and have people still like me, it's a very important lesson to learn.

Are you afraid to die?

I'm not afraid to die. Do I want to die -- hell no.

When you die, on your tombstone you have two things; the day you were born and the day you die. There's that dash in the middle that tells people how you lived. How I live is important to me. Dying is easy. It's the living that most people find really hard.

I want something positive to come out of this no matter what happens to me. If any blessing doesn't come to me directly, as long as somebody is blessed by the experience. To me that is important, and that is what I'm focused on.

How have you filled in that dash in the middle?

I used to want to be black . . . I moved away from being what's black to being what's human . . . I understand . . . that certain things transcend race and gender, and those things are what I look at now in people.

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