Amnesty International: Execution set for man defended by law clerk

Amnesty International invites people to send appeals to the Governor of Mississippi on behalf of Michael Brawner who is scheduled to be executed on next Tuesday. Here are details on how to contact the Governor:

Governor of Mississippi
Governor Phil Bryant
PO Box 139
Jackson, MS 39205
Fax: 1 601 359 3741
Salutation: Dear Governor

And here is why Amnesty calls for this action (slightly adapted):

Michael Brawner is due to be executed in Mississippi on 12 June for a quadruple murder in 2001. His pre-trial representation was mostly conducted by a “law clerk” who had failed his state bar exam, and only became a practicing lawyer on the first day of the trial.

On 25 April 2001, 24-year-old Michael Brawner shot dead Barbara Brawner, from whom he had been divorced the  previous month, her parents, Jane and Carl Craft, and his four-year-old daughter, Candice Paige Brawner, at the Craft  home in rural northern Mississippi. He was arrested the following day at his fiancée’s apartment.

The trial judge appointed a lawyer for the indigent Michael Brawner, and appointed a “law clerk” to assist. This individual was a law school graduate who had failed his state bar exam. He managed to pass the exam in early 2002, and was admitted to the practice of law on 8 April 2002, the first day of the Brawner trial. The judge appointed him as co-counsel on the defense, and noted that he was “in court today for the first time as a lawyer”. According to Brawner’s current lawyers, it was the clerk who had handled the bulk of the pre-trial defense work. For example, he, not the lawyer,discussed with Michael Brawner the prosecution’s offer of a life-without-parole sentence in return for a guilty plea, which Brawner rejected, and advised Brawner on whether he should plead not guilty by reason of insanity (which was the plea eventually submitted). The only defense witness presented at the guilt phase was the defendant, with no expert evidence to support the insanity plea. After a three-day guilt phase, the jury deliberated for half an hour before finding Brawner guilty of four counts of capital murder.

The lead lawyer delegated the preparation of mitigating evidence to the clerk, but the latter’s time sheets indicate that he did no investigation to this end. Towards the end of the guilt phase of the trial, the lead lawyer asked the defendant (outside the jury’s presence): “Mr Brawner, do you wish me to try and get you ‘life’ or ‘life without parole’, if you are, in fact, found guilty of any of these counts by the jury? In other words, it’s what the lawyers call ‘put on a mitigation case’…”

The lawyer said that a psychologist was available to present mitigating evidence. However, she had been retained only to evaluate whether Brawner was competent to stand trial and sane at the time of the crime. In an affidavit in 2011 she said that she had never met or spoken to the lead lawyer, only to the clerk, and that the lawyer’s suggestion that she had been ready and willing to present mitigation was “simply not true”.

Michael Brawner responded that he did not want mitigation, saying, “I don’t feel that I deserve life to live”. This was surely not an informed decision if his lawyer was unaware of the range of mitigation evidence available and unable to advise him fully of his options. Evidence that could have been introduced at the sentencing included details of a childhood of severe  abuse, parental alcohol and drug abuse, and a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Please write immediately:

  • Explaining that you are not seeking to excuse these murders or to downplay the suffering caused;
  • Expressing concern that Michael Brawner was in effect represented before his trial by a law clerk, not a lawyer;
  • Noting that his jury did not hear mitigating evidence of his severe childhood abuse and mental health problems;
  • Opposing the execution of Michael Brawner and calling on the governor to grant him clemency.

Governor of Mississippi
Governor Phil Bryant
PO Box 139
Jackson, MS 39205
Fax: 1 601 359 3741
Salutation: Dear Governor
Please check with the AIUSA Urgent Action Office if sending appeals after the above date.

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Filed under Capital Punishment, Current Events, Death Penalty

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