The Case and Execution of Buford White in Florida, Continued
Issues with Bureacracy, Budgets, and the Concerns of Bosses
Taking Time Off and Traveling
Comparing the "Quirks" In the Statutes in Different States
Public Records Laws in Florida, Louisiana, and Texas
The D.A. and Access to Files in Harris County, Texas
Defending a Dieter Riechmann in Florida
of "Interview with Mr. James Lohman."
HINZ-FOLEY: . . Buford White?
MR. JAMES LOHMAN: Buford was executed in the later part of 1987, I think it was July or August, maybe September, and that was probably the hardest thing I've
been through in all of this work personally. One thing that was really grueling about that experience was his death warrant was signed and eight weeks later he was executed.
It was the second or third time he had a death warrant. I got handed his case when his death warrant was signed. I had never heard of the guy before. It was
not on my radar screen at all. Also it happened to be the same time that Ted Bundy's first death warrant was signed, and our office was handling both of those. So all of our offices resources
went in to saving Ted Bundy, because it was just so high profile—whatever—it was the whole Ted Bundy mystique.
And I was one year out of law school, and his case was dumped on my desk. "Here. Buford White is scheduled for execution in eight weeks. Stop it." And it had
already been through the courts, completely all the way through the courts. So anything I could come up, we would have to explain why it wasn't done last time, what we call a successor, which
means, the case has already been through absolutely every post conviction court you can go to, and you're gonna have to go back a second time and explain why anything new and juicy that you
come up with couldn't have been brought up last time. And that's called a successor, or a successive application.
So here I am with eight weeks, brand new case, didn't know anything about the case and one year out of law school, although I had been working on cases
through law school and before law school. And I didn't take a day or night off for eight weeks. I literally worked from eight AM until midnight for eight weeks to try—it was a huge case too. It
was an enormous amount of material in the case, and I got to know Buford really well during that. I went to go see him a few times during it, but I couldn't go see him a lot because I had so
much other stuff to do, but I would talk to him on the phone every day, and I went to Miami and I got to know some of his family very well, including two sisters who also were ex-junkies, maybe
not even ex. And I got to be very close to them. They were really helpful and everybody loved this guy. Nobody I ever ran into anyway ever had an unkind word about him He was just a really
sweet, nice guy,
who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. "Hold a gun for two hundred dollars." Not a great thing to do, but at the same token, he had never hurt a flea
in his life.
When it got down to the day or two before and we were racing around to courts. I went down, we had a hearing in Key West. The federal court was sitting in
Key West. So we had to fly into Key West a few days before the execution and make our case before this federal judge, who is now a federal appeals judge on a court in Atlanta.
He was what I would call when of these smart Nazis. I don't have any hesitation saying his name, Stanley Marcus. I can't stand him. He's high regarded,
highly respected for his knowledge of the law, scrupulous—whatever. A horrible experience going in front of him in Key West. The whole thing was, "Why didn't you bring this up before?" We had a
good reason for why we hadn't introduced this evidence before. When his case first went through a post conviction, Florida's public records law did not provide for all of the police reports
being given to his lawyers. It was after his first time through all the courts that the law was changed by the Florida Supreme Court to require that all, every single piece of paper in the
police and prosecutor possession be turned over to the lawyers. So at least one reason that his lawyer did not present this stuff the last time was he didn't have the paper, and it was not
required to give the paper. That was lost on Stanley Marcus. He didn't care. He wanted to kill this guy and he was gonna kill this guy.
That was just horrible experience being in front of him down there, just feeling the sense of doom, and we thought maybe this was where we were gonna have a
shot, and we couldn't get the time of day out of this guy.
When we lost in the federal appeals court, we knew it was pretty much curtains, because the only last shot is the U.S. Supreme Court and as you probably
know, in fewer than one per cent of cases, they agree to hear.
So at that point, it's pretty much over. I then went down to the prison to say goodbye to Buford, to give him some moral support, and two of his sisters came
up Miami to stay in a hotel so they could have their final family visit with him. Nick was with me. That is when Nick was working in Florida, a very good friend of ours, who is in Louisiana. I
went to go see Buford, I got to stay with him up until one in the morning, and then he was going to be executed at seven A.M., so six hours before the execution.
I think his sisters got to go in for a little with him after I did, and we waited for them. We took them back to the hotel, in a town called Stark, Florida,
which was the closest town to the prison with any hotels. Of course there are like eight, because of the prison industry. The only reason anyone would stay in a motel in Stark is to go to the
So we sat up with the sisters through the night, talking with Buford on the pone because we had the opportunity to call him several times during the
So I think we talked to him at two in the morning, and here it is now five hours before execution, and you're on the phone with this guy and you know that in
four hours they're going to execute him. And there's no way to describe what that's like. It's maybe the closest thing to a terminal patient who is in their last hours of life, but then you
don't even really know, I mean that would be the closest thing in anyone else's realm of experience.
But to know that at seven o'clock they're going to kill you, is just so weird. And I remember being on the phone with them at four o'clock in the morning,
three hours before the execution, the last time we talked, and him just going, "This is so weird, this is so weird. I've never been through anything like this before. This is weird, this is
just so weird," and tears coming down my face and handing the phone to his sister, and her talking to him, and then they're crying.
And hearing them say, "We can't do this anymore" and handing me back the phone and saying— just sitting on the phone, neither of us staying anything. And him
just saying, "I can't do this anymore, let's just hang up. I just can't do this anymore."
The next few hours went by, I think, I don't think I even went to sleep, the sisters kind of dozed off and Nick, who is from New Orleans, he can stay up all
night without batting an eyelash. And seven o'clock rolled around and we knew it was going to happen at seven o'clock and as I recall the sisters were sleeping, and we just thought, you know,
they don't need to think about it being seven o'clock, and we got up—no, I forget what time, but we all went out to breakfast.
We went into a restaurant in Gainsville, Florida, which is only about twenty minutes away, where the University of Florida is, and Nick and I knew that the
execution happened, and they didn't exactly, they weren't totally in touch with that, but we sort of knew it.
I picked up the newspaper—the Gainesville newspaper, or the Jacksonville newspaper—and my boss at the time, at this state funded office that I referred to
early, the [inaudible], there was this guy, not too swift guy, who was the head of that office who did a lot of things that I had a lot of problems with, and I don't know if it's worth going
into the personal reasons, people have life-long grudges against people, but one thing is when I got back to the office, this was on a Friday that he was executed.
Saturday I was in the office packing up all my Buford files, it was like a ritual that I do after an execution to just move on to the next thing, to go in,
you've got all these files and papers every place from this case, to just scoop them all up and try to put them into some kind of semblance of order, and put them in a box and just get them the
hell out of your life, so you can move on to the next one.
So I was sitting there doing that, and this guy, the head of our office walks in, because I had returned a rental car that morning and I had put the receipt
in his box and he comes in and he goes, "You know, why did you return the car 24 hours after the execution." He was giving me shit about returning the rental car late, the day after the
execution. And this is the kind of bureaucratic idiots you run into in the course of this work, who are put in charge of these offices, who are just out of touch with the work and are just
penny counters, and just stupid bureaucrats.
What outraged me that morning of the execution was opening up the paper and reading a quote from him saying "He's gonna go," like, the day before, which he
would never be that defeatist about a case. When it's still pending in the courts. You know, here he is being interviewed the day before the execution saying, the execution was going to
It was just so politically stupid, and counterproductive to the case to say that, when we were still fighting. I was in Stark for the execution, but lawyers
in Tallahassee—there were still some lawyers trying to get a stay, at that point I actually put it in the hands of more experienced lawyers to take the appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. And I
just dealt with the family and with Buford at that point. And, while that ligation is going on, this guy is being interviewed saying basically, "The execution is going to happen."
So I think one of the really exasperating things about the work for a lot of us is dealing with the bureaucracy that we work for. I know people who are
dealing with that today as we sit here, trying to do the work but being impeded, thwarted and obstructed by higher ups in their own office who are more concerned about budgetary concerns, about
pleasing judges who fund them, pleasing legislators who fund them. Like, "Don't do anything to upset the legislature." We have a lot of things we have to work against, even within our own
offices a lot. So, that was a rough couple of months for me. There was a guy who I had helped a lot, a former prisoner who was a fantastic person, an artist and poet, a just amazingly magical
person who spent most of his life in prison and despite that, was just a joyful, creative spirit who died of AIDS within a month or two of Buford's execution.
On top of that I lost one of my favorite relatives, who was a great aunt of mine and she had no kids and she was just one of those— sometimes you have
relatives who don't have any kids and they're like the most wonderful, loving relatives. So I had three deaths within about a two or three month period. Buford's was the last of the three and I
was just a mess. I was really, a walking zombie. Everybody just said, "You need to take some time off."
So I took off a month and went to Europe for three weeks and actually was manipulated by Scharlette, the woman I went to work with in nineteen-seventy-nine,
who was working in that same office. She was in charge of investigations in that office and was a very close friend. My father had called the office and Scharlette ended up taking the call, and
she said, "Jimmy's just a total mess right now. He's thinking of going to Nicaragua."
And there was a lot of heat in Nicaragua at that time and so my father said, "I'll buy him a plane ticket to Spain." It was like a classic Scharlette
She's one of these people who can get anyone to do anything. So he bought me a plane ticket to Europe and I went for three weeks, it was a really good
experience. It cleared my head out a lot. Then actually by the end of that year, I quit that job.
I left that office. I think the thing with the guy who gave me hell about the rental car was the last straw with that office.
There was a lot of fighting within the office. That office was notorious for its civil war within it. The people doing the work were fighting the people who
had to sign vouchers and stuff.
It was kind of open warfare between the people trying to do the work and the people who were concerned about the budget.
So by the end of the year I resigned from that office, and then I went to Jacksonville for my stint over there. Any questions? Any sort of general
HINZ-FOLEY: When you came to Texas, was that in 2003 when you moved to Austin?
JAMES LOHMAN: It was in New Years between 2002 and 2003.
HINZ-FOLEY: So did you just worked out of your home the whole time?
JAMES LOHMAN: Yes. HINZ-FOLEY: Are there any pretty good cases in Texas, or how is your experience is Texas different from California, or Florida, or any of
the other places?
JAMES LOHMAN: I have sort of a joke that I tell people, because a lot of people work in different states or they move into other states.
I've done in cases in probably six or eight states, in federal court. If you think your state is bad, just try some other state, because they all have weird
quirks of their own. Every state has something quirky that makes it hard for us, whether it's more limited public records law.
The public records law is a great vehicle for us, especially in post conviction because we can find out stuff that the police should have given the defense
lawyers that they didn't. The discovery laws, which are what the prosecutors are required to provide at the time of trial, at the time of trial they are required to provide anything that
basically would help the defense, that they know are in their possession.
You're basically at the mercy of them doing that, you don't know whether they're doing it or not. Later, under the Public Records Act, for example, in
Florida and some other states, Florida for example has a terrible public records act, you got to go and look at everything in their file. So you're not at the mercy of them, unless they go and
take stuff out, which they really don't tend to do. Unless it's usually years and years later and there are different prosecutors, there is a different head prosecutor. They're not as invested
in the conviction.
So, you send them a letter saying, "Pursuant to the Public Records Act, I want to look at these files and I'll be there in a week." And you go in and there's
the file. And a lot of time, you find stuff in there that wasn't provided at the time of trial that would have helped the defense, that should have.
That can be a way of winning the case. Some states are much more limited, like Louisiana in their public records law. Louisiana is still in the thirteenth
century approach to everything. It's just all, the sheriffs are all powerful. The local prosecutors are all powerful.
There's very little central authority for anything. It's just, what does the sheriff in Nacadogches parish want to do. Nobody is looking over his shoulder.
Texas is a lot like that also.
It's very decentralized, extremely decentralized. So a lot of the time you're at the mercy of local prosecutors in Houston, for example, Harris County.
They just elected a new district attorney there, who claims she is going to change some of these rules, but up until this election, they had a very strict,
extremely limited access to their files policy. You basically, you were not given copies of anything. You had to go there, look through their files and write down anything you felt was
interesting. You could not have actual copies of things. So the new D.A. who happens to have been the trial judge in the one Texas case that I know, which is really complicated and not a good
This is a case from 1984, eighty-five. This guy has been on Death Row all that time. I inherited the case about two years ago. The woman who was just elected
D.A. for Harris County, a huge, huge position, was my guy's judge at the time of his trial.
So it's going to be kind of hard in a way for me to attack her trial judge performance, in a way, while she's the head D.A. for the county, but that's just
problem, I'm going to have to deal with it.
It's the kind of stuff that happens.I had a case in Florida, a German guy on Death Row. It was a really fascinating experience. I got to go to Germany, among
other things, for three weeks and do background investigation on this case. It was a fascinating case. It was widely covered in the German press. I tell you that because I know your mother's
German, you spoke German, you go to Germany. We had several weeks of evidentiary hearings, which is the equivalent base of the trial in post conviction, where you put on all your evidence to
convince the judge to throw out the conviction and/or the death sentence. We had a guy who was considered to be a very fair judge in Miami on the case. This was a case where this guy, Dieter
[Riechmann], came to Florida in 1987 with his girlfriend. They had been together for thirteen years. She was murdered in their rental car. Dieter immediately flagged down a police car and said
in broken English, "My girl, my girl, help, help. She's been shot."
And she was sitting strapped into her seat with a bullet wound in the passenger side of her head. It turned out that they were rather shady characters. He
had guns in his hotel room.They owned two brothels on the Swiss-German border, and he had been a pimp and all this stuff. She had been a prostitute for many years. They were glamorous
looking. Very movie starish looking people. Great media stuff in Miami.
Well, the cops decided Dieter did it. He said they had gotten lost in Miami and some thug on the side of the road robbed
them and shot her. And I totally believe that's what happened. I am utterly convinced he got railroaded in this case.
Some of the main evidence of the case was that there was blood on his door,
and that therefore he—the state's theory was that he went out and walked around and shot her through the window, came back in and drove off and faked this whole thing with the police.
the prosecutors had a witness testify who was supposedly a crime scene analyst/expert who said that the blood on Dieter's door—let's see how it went, yeah, that the blood on Dieter's door came
from splatter from the gunshot wound and the state's theory was that therefore, Dieter could not have been sitting in his seat when she was shot, which is how it happened, according to his
version of it. So Dieter says, "I was sitting here, we were talking to this guy through the window. He turns and talks to somebody else to come over with a gun, grab her gold necklaces and shoot
And their blood analyst said, "There's blood splatter on his door, and it couldn't have jumped over his body and gotten there from her head. Therefore, he's lying. He wasn't in his seat
when she was shot."
So I bought a book about blood splatter evidence, and tried to study up on this. And I called the guy who wrote the book and I sent him all the evidence in the case. I said,
"You analyze this and tell me what you think." He said, "They got this so wrong." First of all, he looked at the stains, pictures of it, and he said, "That was not from the shot. That was from
his hands, because he had also said he reached over, that he immediately drove off and he put his arm around her and he got blood all over his hands, it was on the steering wheel, and basically
all this blood was secondary from his hands. Because then he had gotten out of the car, to flag down a police car, and that was not blood splatter. He could perfectly well have been sitting in
his seat when it happened.
There is also a beautiful piece of evidence to corroborate his story, which was on her lap, was folded up some money. And Dieter had said that when the guy turned
away, because they asked the guy for directions, he walked away for a second, Dieter said, "Should we give him a couple of dollars for this?" And she reached into her purse and put this money
on her thigh, and there's blood around it. If you pick up the money from her leg, there is a perfect square of where the money was. The money was obviously on her thigh when the shooting
occurred and our blood expert thought that was extremely significant evidence to support his whole version of what had happened.
We went to an evidentiary hearing in Miami. We presented all
this evidence, all sorts of great evidence, like we brought over a whole bunch of people from Germany who knew them, and the judge, we had several weeks of hearings spread out over a several
month period. We would go for a week and then come back for a month and do another week. And at the conclusion of all of this, we were sitting in the courtroom, in fact I think we had gone back
to make our final arguments in the case, and the judge's secretary came in and whispered something in his ear.
And we had been told by everybody, "Oh, Dieter's going home." The bailiff, who had
been guarding Dieter for the whole time, the court reporters, everybody was saying to us, "Wow, Dieter's going home, you guys are going to win this." It's just so obvious what happened, that he
was framed on this. We even had witnesses he saw the murder, saying that there was a robbery. We found people. I had a Black investigator go into that neighborhood and spent two months combing
the pavement to find someone who knew anything about this. And one word led to another and another, and he found people who said they were out there, they remembered it happening.
blonde people in a car, in a rental car, when that happened. We put that testimony on the stand. So this secretary comes over and whispers in the judge's ear, and he calls a recess and he goes
out and then comes back in, and is sort of beaming, something wonderful had happened that he heard about, it had nothing to do with our case. So we finished our arguments, and we went back into
the judge's office and we had gotten friendly with his secretary throughout this long process and she said, "He was just told he was going to be nominated to be a federal judge." This was a
state court judge at the time.
So I'm thinking, "Oh great. Now he's got to rule on this case while he is being up for consideration for being a federal judge." Not really the position that we
want to be in given the political realities of the world. At that point, if I'm not mistaken, it was a Republican controlled senate. If not, there were enough Republicans, they were
filibustering and making it really hard for any Clinton appointment that they didn't like. And so, it was like I knew the writing on the wall, this guy is not going to have the guts to do the
right thing with his confirmation pending in the U.S. Senate to be a federal judge.
And what happened was, I don't remember the exact chronology, but it was before he was ratified as a federal
judge, he threw out Dieter's death sentence, but he didn't throw out the conviction, which was a bitter, bitter disappointment for us. Just crushing disappointment. I was so sure.
secretary called to tell me this news, she was crying, to tell us that we only got half a loaf, that we got the death sentence thrown out, she could barely get the words out of her mouth, she
was so disappointed. [MATERIAL WITHELD]
HINZ-FOLEY: Can you talk a little bit more about your experiences in here in Texas? Are a lot of those cases still?
JAMES LOHMAN: Well, I only have one client
in Texas. Rachel has had a lot of cases in Texas and I've sort of been brought in to help out—normally out of state law firms on cases that she's been working on. They're all active cases, so
they're a little bit harder to talk about right now.
In terms of the Texas process, there are a couple of things that jump out at me that are real defective in the Texas process and among the
reasons why Texas has so many executions. As we've mentioned before, this future dangerousness business is just, an almost impossible thing to surmount. I know a few people who would be able to
convince a jury that they are so angelic that there's not the possibility of them being, actually the word, if I'm not mistaken the statute says—I forget the word, but it's probably, it's
probably, ‘would be a danger in the future.' Actually, I forget what the actual word is.
But there is a big issue in the Texas process which is called the Penry issues, is that because of the
future dangerousness thing, that negates all the mitigation you could present. And in fact, a lot of the mitigation makes you look like you're more likely to be violent. Like, if you've ever
been subjected to a tremendous amount of child abuse, and that that has in a way made you more likely to act violent. Then the mitigation becomes aggravating.
So, there are a lot of quirks in
the law that work like that. There's another thing, say with mental health issues. If a person is psychotic or really crazy, that should be mitigating. But it ends up being aggravating. One of
the things about future dangerousness, too, that I find to be especially ridiculous is that really we're only taking about whether they're going to be a future danger in prison. Because the
only option is life in prison. It's not like they're going to be a future danger at the mall, or at Whole Foods market. I mean, they're going to be a future danger if at all in prison, where
number one, it's a lot harder to do anything really violent, you don't have weapons.
Sure, prisoners stab each other and they hurt each other but very rarely is a guard assaulted in prison, and
what I find to be so stupid about the future dangerousness thing is that all of a sudden, all these jurors who could care less about the well being of prisoners, it's the furthest thing from
their mind, all of a sudden when it comes to whether to execute somebody because they might hurt another prisoner, all of a sudden they become very worried about the safety of other prisoners,
if it means they could execute somebody.
So I don't know if that makes any sense to you, but it's like when they would never care about the prison environment, all of a sudden they care about
the prison environment because this person might be a danger to other prisoners, if they so conclude, then they can vote to execute. And of course, you know, that in any state, to be on a jury,
you pretty much have to be for the death penalty to be on a capital jury. I'm sure you've heard that described time and time again.
If you can't impose the death penalty, you cannot be on a
capital jury. So we've got twelve essentially pro death penalty people on these juries. You might once in a while get somebody who is against the death penalty, but says, "Well, I could give it
under rare circumstances." Maybe they'll get allowed on the jury.
But, in Florida, we have to get at least six votes from pro death penalty jurors in order to get a life sentence, which is why
Florida has so many people on Death Row. The third most people, most populous Death Row.
Other things about Texas: You know, one of the really terrible things about Texas is the Court of
Criminal Appeals. And one of the terrible things about the Court of Criminal Appeals is that they're elected. And most modern states, all modern states, the highest court members are not
elected. They're picked as a process of a very careful and conscientious bar, a legal profession review process that's not ideological, that's not political. Do these people have legal
qualifications? Not "Are they the most convincing law and order politicians running around convincing everyone, the voters, that they'll hang everybody."
So a serious, serious problem in Texas
is electing the Court of Criminal Appeals. And I know there is legislation up now to change that. There was actually a recommendation from a commission, one of the things they need to do, and I
think there were even some republican legislators on that commission who support this, changing this system so you don't elect the Court of Criminal Appeals anymore. Depoliticize it. So, there
are a lot of things in Texas that make it worse. [MATERIAL WITHELD]
HINZ-FOLEY: When you were still doing work in Florida, I guess wherever you were doing work, I'm not sure if you already told
me, did you actually witness an execution before?
JAMES LOHMAN: No. The closest I've come is that one with Buford, down to three hours. Another case where I went to about six hours before on
the telephone with somebody. He wasn't actually my client, but he was a guy who I knew and the lawyers had asked me to keep him company in the final days and hours on the telephone.
about his case is he was eventually proved to be innocent, after he was executed. A guy named Jesse Tafero. His wife also got a death sentence. Her sentence was reduced to life on her initial
appeal and eventually during post conviction; she proved her innocence and was released from prison. She's free now, and she goes around on speaking tours on the death penalty a lot.We met her
at a conference in Montreal, the International Death Penalty Conference. His name was Jesse Tafero. Basically they proved that he was innocent, and he was executed.But I haven't once seen an
execution and don't want to see an execution, and don't think it would be a good idea for me to see an execution.
HINZ-FOLEY: That's probably not a good idea. I know you've probably worked on
cases as well where you have proven innocence and you managed to get life for those prisoners. Can you talk a little about those experiences?
JAMES LOHMAN: You know, I have to tell you some of
those are some grueling experiences. We had a case, this was really probably one of the cases that will always haunt me. We had a case out of Tampa, Florida. The defendant, and I don't mind
mentioning his name at all, Clarence Jackson, C.J. Just a great guy, really, really a gentle, really, really sweet guy. He was tried in Tampa, convicted and sentenced to death. On appeal, he
won a new trial, a whole new trial. He was tried again, sentenced to death again.
It went up on appeal, his death penalty was affirmed by the Florida Supreme Court. There were two murders. The
whole case against this guy was a person who was there the whole time named Crunch. That was his street name, Crunch. And Crunch was the whole case against C.J. What he said was, C.J. was a
retired drug dealer who had made a lot of money, was married to a stock broker in Tampa. They lived in a beautiful house in the suburbs. All C.J. wanted to do at this point in his life was
basically get together with a couple of junkies and shoot up, speed ball, which is a mix of heroin and cocaine.
He had the connections for one of those, but he needed the street druggies to
provide the other one. And so the four of them would get together and shoot up all the time. These two guys, who had other street names, I forget, one's name was Bowink, and I forget whatthe
other guy's name was. So Crunch is the whole story here. Crunch says, "We would get together and do drugs, Bowink and what's-his-name would get the heroin, or the coke, and C.J. would get what
the other one was, and we would get together and we would mix it up and we would ride around, or we would go someplace and shoot up."
Well, according to Crunch, on one of these occasions,
they're in C.J.'s brand new Volvo, and C.J. I guess got so stoned or something, he asked Crunch to take over the wheel, and they were shooting him up, one of the other guys was tying off C.J.
and shooting him up, and was having a hard time finding a vein, because C.J. had been a junkie for so long. His veins were weak, and it was sort of messy and C.J. got really pissed off and just
shot—blew away these two little junkies.
So this is Crunch's version, right? Well, I'm pretty damn sure Crunch did this. It just didn't make any sense at all that C.J. would do this. It was his
new car, he's got a perfectly good life. Meanwhile, the other ones were cutting in on Crunch's action. You know, they're doing half of the drugs, these two junkies, that C.J. is mostly
providing a lot of. So the only one with a motive here was Crunch. He got a deal for nothing to provide this testimony. His deal was he gets off totally scot-free for anything.
And the only
other real evidence was a guy in jail testifying, there were two guys in jail, and these jailhouse snitches are the most unreliable evidence, of course. There was one guy who testified that
C.J. had said to him in jail, "I'm a thoroughbred killer from Detroit." Ridiculous, just ridiculous piece of evidence. So they put this guy named Sylvester Dumas on the stand to say, "Oh, he
told me in jail, ‘I'm a thoroughbred killer from Detroit.'" Just preposterous testimony.
And then, another guy from the jail named Gilbert Sutton, when I went to go interview Gilbert said, "Oh,
the cops gave me drugs and money to testify that he told me he committed this crime." So we got ready to go into a hearing to prove our case in post conviction in Tampa. We're going to go to
hearing on Monday and it's a Friday afternoon and we're in court and I was actually assisting a law firm. I was working at a federally funded agency, I told you about, where we would basically
a lot of times find law firms to do the cases and we would help them do the cases, because we knew how to do these cases. They've got lots of resources and smart lawyers, but they don't really
know anything about death penalty, so we had these collaborations and that's a very common model that's done today in a lot of places, where you have a well heeled smart lawyer and law firm,
death penalty specialty lawyers working as part of a team to do the case. And that was our model for this case.
So we're sitting in the courtroom on a Friday to iron a few last minute details
before we go into hearing on Monday, and the prosecutor comes over to talk to the lead law firm lawyer and says, "Come here, I need to talk to you." They got out in the hallway and we see them
in the hallway having this very animated conversation. And, the lawyer comes back in and we're going like, "What'd he say, what'd he say?" And he says, "Well, they're offering us a deal that we
can plead C.J. to life and case closed." And so we're thinking, "What do we do?" I kind of think that C.J. got screwed. Crunch was dead, by the way, at this point. Crunch had been killed on the
streets. So they were just going to read Crunch's testimony. If he ever had a retrial, in fact, I think Crunch had been killed before the retrial, but they just read Crunch's testimony at this
retrial, without being able to cross examine him or anything, just read the cross examination but you don't actually get to cross examine him in front of a jury.
And we decided we had to try
and talk C.J. into this deal. And so we went, and they said, "You got to decide today." And I think one of the most difficult things I've ever done was going back into this little room, the
pressure of that day, and see C.J. and say, "Man, I think you should do this. You should take life in prison, and that will be the end of your case, you can never appeal again, you're just
going to have to do life." And he was old by then. He was probably in his fifties. And he had been in prison a lot of his life. And he took the deal. And now he's doing life, and he may not
have killed these people.
I mean, that's just brutal. And, one of the reasons I bonded with C.J. was he used to sell heroin to jazz musicians in New York City in the early nineteen-fifties. He
had friends who used to sell heroin to obscure jazz players, who I have records of. So I totally fell in love with him over that, you know.
And, I've won a new trial in a number of cases, I've
won certainly reduced death sentences in a number of cases, Dieter, the German guy. We had a guy out of Ocala, Florida who we won a new trial for because his lawyers had basically, for two
reasons, his lawyers hadn't done proper mitigation in a case. That's the case I wanted to show the videotapes of. A guy named Don Gunsby, how is now doing life. He got retried, he was convicted
of the murder, and they decided not to seek the death sentence against him. A really sad story of the guy's life. I mean, he, Don was born in nineteen-fifty in a shack with no running water or
electricity to a fourteen-year-old girl who was retarded and epileptic. She had seizures while she was pregnant with Don—she was raped by—and they lived in these row houses of an old sawmill in
rural north Florida. And, of course none of this was ever figured out by his lawyers. We got all this information years after his original trial, kind of by pounding the pavement in the middle
of nowhere in north Florida, about five miles south of Georgia, in the middle of the northern part of Florida. And, it was an old saw mill town, a company town, where the saw mill company
virtually owned people and back when he was born in nineteen-fifty, his mother lived in a house with her sister, and her husband in this row of shacks along the railroad tracks, where they
would bring the wood back and forth. She was this fourteen-year-old retarded girl who had walked funny and was not all there, and the millworkers would get off and go have sex with her, they
would get off work and get rip roaring drunk and go have sex with this fourteen-year-old. So she got pregnant with Don. She was actually—Don was her second child. I think she had a child when
she was thirteen, and I actually met him. He died during the time that I've known him. He was a totally dysfunctional person who lived in Gainesville, Florida. But Don was her second child when
she was fourteen or fifteen. And when she was eighteen she was institutionalized, never to return. She was sent to—you can imagine, a horrible mental institution, an eighteen-year-old retarded
Black girl was sent in 1954, in Florida. And so, that's where she lived the rest of her life, and died. So Don was raised by his aunt, this woman's sister, who was quite a bit older, and there
was all this speculation about who Don's father was. And nobody really knew because there were these various millworkers who had come by. And there were just two or three different theories,
whether it was old Ollie so-and-so, or these different guys. Nobody really knew. His aunt, Johnny Mae, had theories and there was this old lady who lived next door to them named Panky McBride.
And I have a videotape of me interviewing Panky about those years, that's just beautiful and she's just the sweetest little old lady, still living in the same house along the railroad tracks.
It was the only house left of all those shacks. So I want to find that interview and give it to you. It's V.H.S., but I guess you could make it into a disk, but its just beautiful documentary
stuff. And then I also have a video of the guy who owned the mill. Unbelievable racist. I did this video interview of him in his home, in his great big stately home. His father owned the mill
where all these guys worked and he was sort of the foreman at the time. He was the son of the owner. He would go around and check on this stuff. He's this big fat guy, and he's drinking, like
during our interview. He's got this plastic cup. It's probably scotch and water and he's belching and drinking during the interview and slurring his speech. It was eleven o'clock in the
morning. And he was totally overtly racist. He uses the N word on film describing what the conditions were like where all the millworkers lived. And he said how they would go and cut each other
up, they had fights, as these Ns would: "And we didn't even prosecute them, it was just one N cutting up on another." It was just unbelievable. So we showed that to the judge in our hearing
that we wanted a new trial because there are the conditions Don was born in. And we also had a guy who was a school board member in that county, the first Black school board member, school
board or count commission—I forget which—for that county and he was describing what it was like when he was a kid. His bother was lynched, and he's describing this on film, about what the
conditions were like in this county where Don was born. And we're showing this videotape in court to this judge, he said, "Turn that off. Counselor, what's the purpose of this?" And I get up
and explain, I said, "We're trying to show the conditions of where Don was born, the condition that his formative years were spent in. If you'd just listen to a little bit more, we think you'll
understand." And so this guy starts describing how his brother was lynched, and the judge was like, "I understand now. Now I get it." He threw out Don's conviction and granted a whole new
trial. So I've got the footage of the drunk guy, I've got the footage of the school board member saying, "My brother was lynched." And I've got Panky McBride. It's just awesome stuff that you
guys are welcome to have. HINZ-FOLEY: Thank you. [Additional material withheld for the present]
James Lohman is an attorney who has represented clients sentenced to death in Texas, Florida, Louisiana, and Arkansas. In Video 1, Lohman explains how he got involved in capital defense work in Florida after his childhood in New York and talks about some of his specific cases, highlighting problems he sees in the entire death penalty system. In Video 2, he describes in detail several more cases he has worked on in Florida and Texas, including Ted Bundy and Jesse Tafero. This interview took place in Austin, Travis County, Texas on February 24, 2009.
2 of 2
James LohmanRole: Narrator
Texas After Violence ProjectRole: Collaborator
Sabina Hinz-FoleyRole: Interviewer
Mark EvansRole: Videographer
Nancy Semin-LingoRole: Transcriber
Kimberly Ambrosini-BaconRole: Proofreader
North America--United States--Texas
North America--United States--Texas--Austin
Type of Resource:
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