News Roundup

The Washington Post reports that voters in Nebraska, California, and Oklahoma showed their support for the death penalty by “rejecting measures that would abolish it and, in one case, giving lawmakers more room to find new execution methods.” In Oklahoma, voters approved a proposal to add language to the state constitution explicitly stating that the death penalty is not cruel and unusual punishment, and gave state lawmakers the ability to adopt “any method of execution not prohibited by the United States Constitution.” As the News Roundup previously has noted, obtaining the drugs typically used for lethal injection is becoming increasingly difficult. Keep reading for more news.

Janet Reno. As the New York Times reports, former United States Attorney General Janet Reno died this week from complications of Parkinson’s disease. Reno was the first woman to serve as attorney general and also was the first woman to hold the title of state attorney in Florida. Though she led the Justice Department for an unusually long period of eight years, Reno’s relationship with former President Bill Clinton reportedly was strained by a clash of personalities.

Release from Prison & Push for Exoneration. The Winston-Salem Journal reports that Kalvin Michael Smith was released from prison earlier this week after serving nearly 20 years for assault and robbery convictions. Smith was convicted in 1997 of an assault that left the victim, Jill Marker, with severe and permanent injuries. According to the Journal, Smith has maintained his innocence and supporters are pushing for his exoneration. He was released this week when a Superior Court judge found that his trial attorney should have presented certain mitigating sentencing factors. Smith’s supporters claim that Winston-Salem police failed to thoroughly investigate other suspects and that little evidence connected him to the crime. A series of Winston-Salem Journal articles in 2004 raised questions about the investigation and prosecution.

District Court History. The North Carolina Bar Association notes that Bar Association Vice President James W. Narron and legal intern John R. Hess have published an essay entitled “A Brief History of Judicial Reform and the District Court in North Carolina.” The essay describes the implementation of the North Carolina District Court system. An abridged version appears in the November 2016 edition of North Carolina Lawyer, and the full version is available here.

Kidnapping Sentence. WRAL reports that Kelvin Melton, the gang leader who orchestrated the kidnapping of a former Wake County prosecutor’s father, has been sentenced to life in federal prison. From Polk Correctional Institution, Melton used a smuggled cellphone to direct gang members to kidnap former Wake County Assistant District Attorney Colleen Janssen. Melton’s subordinates ended up kidnapping Janssen’s father, Frank Janssen, after going to the wrong address. Melton reportedly will serve his sentence in a supermax federal penitentiary in Colorado.

DNA Evidence Spares Canine. DNA evidence recently spared two-year-old Belgian Malinois “Jeb” from being euthanized in Michigan, according to this report from the Washington Post. Jeb was accused of killing a neighbor’s Pomeranian, but his family maintained that he simply didn’t have the temperament for violence. While falling short of exoneration, DNA collected from the Pomeranian indicated that an unknown third animal was involved in the attack. The Post article notes that animal DNA is increasingly being used to solve criminal offenses involving humans, and provides an example of a triple murderer in Indiana who “was caught after dog poop found on his shoe was matched to feces at the crime scene.”

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