Retiring Arizona Prison Watch...

This site was originally started in July 2009 as an independent endeavor to monitor conditions in Arizona's criminal justice system, as well as offer some critical analysis of the prison industrial complex from a prison abolitionist/anarchist's perspective. It was begun in the aftermath of the death of Marcia Powell, a 48 year old AZ state prisoner who was left in an outdoor cage in the desert sun for over four hours while on a 10-minute suicide watch. That was at ASPC-Perryville, in Goodyear, AZ, in May 2009.

Marcia, a seriously mentally ill woman with a meth habit sentenced to the minimum mandatory 27 months in prison for prostitution was already deemed by society as disposable. She was therefore easily ignored by numerous prison officers as she pleaded for water and relief from the sun for four hours. She was ultimately found collapsed in her own feces, with second degree burns on her body, her organs failing, and her body exceeding the 108 degrees the thermometer would record. 16 officers and staff were disciplined for her death, but no one was ever prosecuted for her homicide. Her story is here.

Marcia's death and this blog compelled me to work for the next 5 1/2 years to document and challenge the prison industrial complex in AZ, most specifically as manifested in the Arizona Department of Corrections. I corresponded with over 1,000 prisoners in that time, as well as many of their loved ones, offering all what resources I could find for fighting the AZ DOC themselves - most regarding their health or matters of personal safety.

I also began to work with the survivors of prison violence, as I often heard from the loved ones of the dead, and learned their stories. During that time I memorialized the Ghosts of Jan Brewer - state prisoners under her regime who were lost to neglect, suicide or violence - across the city's sidewalks in large chalk murals. Some of that art is here.

In November 2014 I left Phoenix abruptly to care for my family. By early 2015 I was no longer keeping up this blog site, save occasional posts about a young prisoner in solitary confinement in Arpaio's jail, Jessie B.

I'm deeply grateful to the prisoners who educated, confided in, and encouraged me throughout the years I did this work. My life has been made all the more rich and meaningful by their engagement.

I've linked to some posts about advocating for state prisoner health and safety to the right, as well as other resources for families and friends. If you are in need of additional assistance fighting the prison industrial complex in Arizona - or if you care to offer some aid to the cause - please contact the Phoenix Anarchist Black Cross at PO Box 7241 / Tempe, AZ 85281.

until all are free -

MARGARET J PLEWS (June 1, 2015)


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AZ Prison Watch BLOG POSTS:

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

AZ prosecutors fight proposed ethical rules to protect the innocent...

It's frightening how protected some agents of the court are from taking reponsibility for correcting wrongful convictions - they aren't even necessarily being blamed for misconduct.  Prosecutors act like they are infallible and never need to take responsibility for their mistakes, while holding all the rest of us accountable for ours. Their resistance to being held to a higher standard than currently exists is the very reason we need these proposed rules to go into effect.

Arizona's prosecutors seem especially shameless. Instead of fighting these new rules they should be leading the way to building a more just system. I'm especially disappointed with Maricopa County attorney Bill Montgomery's response, but not surprised. He's refused to take action in the wrongful conviction of Courtney Bisbee: one of her accusers recanted several years ago, and has been fighting to get her case re-heard, but Montgomery won't even talk to the kid, who authored this petition.

Courtney's judge, Warren Granville, and Bill Montgomery both have the power to have her case re-opened tomorrow, if they wanted - they just refuse to exercise it because they don't want to admit liability for her wrongful conviction and prolonged imprisonment in the first place - she was convicted in a trial by judge, not jury. Prosecutors should not be allowed to represent counties in civil action because of the conflict of interest it creates, undermining the primary duty of the prosecutor being to the People, as evidenced here. If Montgomery's most pressing sense of duty was to justice for the People, Courtney's case would have had a new hearing by now.

Meanwhile, Courtney- whose family was financially ruined by her trial and who now has to represent herself - has been spending the past six or seven years in prison going through the appeals process trying to exercise her rights - the appeals process is cumbersome and time-consuming and often doesn't work to trigger new trials because of "technicalities", people - a trial can conform perfectly and still result in convicting an innocent person if all evidence wasn't available at the time, for example, as opposed to the evidence being withheld. In Courtney's case, the recantation of a chief accuser and witness hasn't guaranteed her a new trial. 

 Courtney Bisbee and daughter 
Taylor Lee

The damage by wrongful convictions isn't just to the life of the accused -  Courtney's whole family has been devastated, and her daughter is growing up without her. Criminal prosecution destroys lives and those people should get it right the first time, and should be mandated to fix things when exculpatory evidence presents itself - clearly what's in place now isn't working. Maybe these rules will compel prosecutors to be a little less reckless convicting people in the first place, too. Members of the public should read the petition Courtney's accuser wrote about her conviction, and write to the Arizona Supreme Court and tell them to support the proposed rule changes.

Here's their web comment form:

Here's the postal address:

Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch 
Arizona Supreme Court
1501 W. Washington St
Phoenix, AZ 85007
excellent coverage here by Gary Grado the AZ Capitol Times, by the way...

----------------from the AZ Capitol Times------------------------

Proposed ethical rules would require prosecutors to disclose evidence even after convictions

By Gary Grado - 
Published: December 17, 2012 
Henry Hall was on death row when police found the remains of Ted Lindberry in the desert west of Phoenix in March 2001.

A jailhouse snitch had testified that Hall bragged he beat Lindberry to death, breaking his wrist and smashing his skull. But an autopsy of the skeletal remains found no broken bones. And worse yet, prosecutors didn’t inform Hall’s defense attorney about the discovery until a year later, after the remains had been cremated.

A bevy of defense attorneys led by Larry Hammond, who heads the Arizona Justice Project, are citing troubling cases like Hall’s and wrongful convictions throughout the country as reasons for proposing new ethical rules requiring prosecutors to turn over new evidence that might prove a defendant’s innocence after a conviction.

The Arizona Supreme Court, which sets the rules governing attorneys and court procedures, has drafted the proposed new rules and is seeking input from the legal community. If the rules are adopted, prosecutors could be disciplined by the State Bar of Arizona for violating them.

Under the proposal, a prosecutor would have to inform the court and the defendant if credible evidence surfaces that raises a reasonable likelihood the defendant didn’t commit the crime for which he was convicted.

Prosecutors oppose the change for several reasons, said Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, chair of the Arizona Prosecuting Attorneys’ Advisory Council. She said there are already rules of professional conduct, or ethical rules, in place related to the concealment of evidence and administering justice. There is also case law that requires prosecutors to disclose evidence that clearly shows a defendant’s innocence after conviction.

Polk said defendants are also afforded the right to challenge their convictions and offer evidence of innocence or new evidence after trial in Superior Court.
The proposed rules also require a prosecutor to “undertake further investigation, or make reasonable efforts to cause an investigation” to see if the defendant was wrongfully convicted after coming across new information of possible innocence.

“I think that’s a fundamental misunderstanding of prosecutors,” Polk said. “Law enforcement investigates and they present to us cases to charge.”

Prosecutors don’t have the resources to conduct investigations and they would probably lose their immunity from lawsuits by venturing into investigations, Polk said.

She said rules of professional conduct apply to all attorneys across the board, but prosecutors will have the extra obligations.

“Why all of a sudden are prosecutors being singled out?” she asked.

Hammond said the proposed rules don’t impose a duty for prosecutors to personally investigate, only that the prosecutor would be required to ask local police to investigate.

“It amazes me this has been controversial at all,” said Hammond. “It is a hot-button issue for some prosecutors.”

Hammond said the American Bar Association’s board, which consists of 500 people, unanimously approved the proposed rules in 2009, and the National District Attorneys Association and prosecutors from around the country have supported them.

“Everybody thought it was a great thing to make clear that every public prosecutor has a duty to disclose newly discovered evidence when somebody is in prison,” Hammond said.

Hammond leads the Arizona Justice Project, a nonprofit organization that fights for prisoners it deems to have been wrongfully convicted or who have suffered clear and unmistakable injustice. The organization is involved in several cases disputing the science used to convict people in cases of shaken-baby syndrome and arson.

Siding with the defense attorneys are former Attorneys General Terry Goddard and Grant Woods and former Arizona Supreme Court Justices Stanley Feldman, Charles Jones and Thomas Zlaket. Mark Harrison, an attorney with expertise in attorney ethics, wrote a brief on their behalf in support of the new rule.

“Wrongful convictions unfortunately occur, and Arizona’s ethics rules currently provide very little guidance to prosecutors post- conviction,” Harrison wrote.

The language in the proposed Arizona rules is nearly identical to model rules, or guidelines, adopted by the American Bar Association in 2008. As of Sept. 26, eight states have adopted the ABA guideline or a modified version of it, while Michigan, Maryland and North Carolina, rejected them. Nine states are studying whether to implement the rules. The rest have done nothing.

The ABA guidelines grew out of a 2006 report of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, which recommended the expanded ethical rules for prosecutors “[i]n light of the large number of cases in which convicted defendants have been exonerated, most often as a result of DNA testing but also as a result of other proof that they were wrongfully convicted.” The report stated that prosecutors should be obligated to give serious consideration and devote resources to credible claims of innocence after a conviction.

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery filed a written response with the Supreme Court opposing the rules, stating that Arizona is not facing a problem with wrongful convictions.

Montgomery pointed to the state’s poster-child of wrongful convictions, Ray Krone, to prove that prosecutors do the right thing when presented with new evidence. Krone was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death for the 1991 murder of Phoenix bartender Kim Ancona. He was eventually exonerated in 2002 when DNA testing proved Kenneth Phillips, a convicted rapist, was the killer.

“Revised ethical rules are not necessary to further the goal of releasing inmates who are actually innocent,” Montgomery’s chief deputy, Mark Faull, wrote to the court.

Hammond has a different recollection of how prosecutors reacted to Krone, saying the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office fought efforts to have evidence tested for DNA. It took media attention and a DNA match to Phillips to get the state to pick up the pace in releasing Krone, Hammond said.

“If we didn’t have the good fortune of Phillips having the DNA in the database, they would have fought that too, but they don’t like to talk about that,” Hammond said.

Hammond pointed out one case in which a Tucson woman, Carolyn June Peak, was convicted of second-degree murder in the shooting death of her husband after the prosecutor withheld reams of material, some of which would have cleared her. Pima County prosecutors discovered the hidden evidence after the original prosecutor, David White, died of cancer. The case was eventually dismissed in 2003.

A group of defense attorneys on the State Bar of Arizona’s Criminal Practice and Procedure Committee also urged the Supreme Court to adopt the rules. They stated that in Hall’s case the prosecutor in 2001 wasn’t legally or ethically obligated to turn over the evidence of the remains while the case was pending appeal. The state was able to argue to the Arizona Supreme Court that the victim’s bones were broken, while not mentioning the discovery of the remains or the autopsy finding that no bones had been broken.

The court’s March 2003 decision in the case said Lindberry’s body has never been recovered.

Court records show Hall’s attorney, Thomas Gorman, was informed six months before the Oct. 31, 2002, oral arguments. Gorman said that didn’t necessarily matter because the body wasn’t part of the trial record and couldn’t be used as an issue on appeal.

Gorman said prosecutors still should have told him about it and not destroyed the remains, but instead he was left without an opportunity to have his own pathologist examine the body.

He said he believes the prosecutors in the case acted unethically even without the proposed new rule.

“They are required to act in the interest of justice,” Gorman said.

“They’re there not just to secure a conviction, they’re there to do justice.”

Gorman was able to convince the Supreme Court to reverse Hall’s murder conviction and order a new trial based on misconduct of a bailiff.

Hall’s new judge, Roland Steinle of Maricopa County Superior Court, ruled that the defense could tell Hall’s new jury how the state didn’t disclose the information on the remains. That wasn’t necessary because Hall pleaded no contest to second-degree murder on Jan. 31, 2011, and he was sentenced to 16 years in prison with 13 years credit. He is due to be released in October 2013.