John T. Floyd Law Firm
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About Billy Sinclair
Billy Sinclair's Bio
Billy Sinclair, the author of the John T. Floyd’s “PRISON VOICES” and ‘DEATH PENALTY’ web pages, is a former inmate who served forty years in the Louisiana prison system.
Sinclair became a writer in prison. He was the recipient of a host of prestigious journalism awards, including the George Polk, Sidney Hillman, and Robert F. Kennedy Award for Special Journalism, and the American Bar Association’s Silver Gavel awards. He has been published in numerous magazines, newspapers, literary journals, and legal journals. With his wife, Sinclair wrote a prison memoir, “A Life in the Balance: The Billy Wayne Sinclair Story” (Arcade Publishing, New York 2000); and had an essay published in Paul Roget Loeb’s book “The Impossible Will Take a Little While” (Basic Books, New York 2004) (along with Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, and Martin Luther King, Jr.).
Sinclair also became skilled “jailhouse lawyer” while imprisoned. winning the first published prisoners’ rights lawsuit in Louisiana with the assistance of his longtime attorney/friend Richard C. Hand (practicing in New York) and was one of the inmate leaders responsible for integrating the Louisiana State Penitentiary in 1973 (then known as the “bloodiest prison in America”) without a single incident of violence.
Sinclair was arrested for the offense of murder in 1965. He was convicted of capital murder in 1966. His death sentence was vacated and he was resentenced to life imprisonment following the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Furman v. Georgia. His life sentence was commuted to 90 years in 1992. He was paroled in April 2006.
He is affiliated with the John T. Floyd law firm as a paralegal.
E-mail Billy Wayne Sinclair [email protected]
AN INDICTMENT BY A DEATH ROW SURVIVOR
By: Billy Sinclair
I am pleased to announce, through the website of the John T. Floyd Law Firm, that my wife, Jodie, and I have recently released our second book, Capital Punishment: An Indictment by a Death Row Survivor. Released by the prestigious publishing house Arcade Publishing (New York), Capital Punishment is a collection of fourteen essays that examines the entire spectrum of the subject of the death penalty: its methods of executions, its Southern regional phenomenon, its racism, its tortuous botched executions, and its impact on our society.
Capital Punishment is not an academic study. The death penalty is told through the human drama it inevitably creates: the persons put to death, those put them to death, and those who tried to stop it. When Jodie and I decided to write my prison memoir, A Life in the Balance: The Billy Wayne Sinclair Story (Arcade Publishing, New York 2000), we did so with one overriding objective—to tell as honestly and realistically as possible the story of one man’s struggle to survive inside one of the nation’s most brutal and violent prisons, the Louisiana State Penitentiary. We would like to believe that we were true to that literary objective. The media critics thought we were as the following book reviews suggest:
- Associated Press – “A hopeful tale of an unbreakable human spirit.”
- New York Times Book Review – “A numbing tale of crime, punishment, and redemption.
- Boston Globe - “Well researched, persuasive, and morbidly compelling … Sinclair’s firsthand account of life in prison offers an authentic, sometimes grisly narrative.”
- New Orleans Times-Picayune – “What Sinclair’s book does most eloquently is to tell us how little we know about justice.’
- Loyola New Orleans Magazine – “Louisiana’s corrupt prison system, sex, violence, and a mismatched love story unfold in the nonstop, gut-wrenching pages of … a seamless narrative.”
- Publishers’ Weekly – “A powerful tale, and readers will be shaken by the sorrow, greed, and corruption they encounter in it.”
But we approached the writing of Capital Punishment with a completely different literary objective. We had an obvious biased objective from the outset. We tell the reader as much in the “Preface” of the book. We both strenuously oppose the death penalty, and as individuals and authors, we have often spoken out against it and published written opposition to it. But first and foremost we are journalists. Jodie earned a master degree in journalism from the prestigious Columbia University School of Journalism and was an award-winning television journalist for many years who witnessed the execution of Gary Lockhart in Huntsville in 1997. I was the recipient of the highly acclaimed George Polk and Sidney Hillman journalism awards writing about death penalty as co-editor of the THE ANGOLITE, the newsmagazine of the Louisiana State Penitentiary.
With this professional background in journalism, we understand the need for factual accuracy and objective analysis in reporting on any subject. We remained true to this professional obligation in Capital Punishment. In the foreword of the book, famed death penalty opponent Sister Helen Prejean said Capital Punishment is “a searing condemnation and a powerful guide to the futility and arrogance of the death penalty carried out in the name of justice.” And it is a “searing condemnation”—an indictment, if you will—based on a factual, objective presentation. We hope its readers will agree.
On Saturday evening, March 7, 2009, we had a book signing at “Murder by the Book” bookstore here in Houston and our presentation was filmed by C-Span/BookTv. The presentation will air on the network in several weeks. We have also recently launched our new website, http://www.capitalpunishmentbook.com/ The website provides more information about both Jodie and I as well as the book. We will post weekly blogs on the website about the death penalty and related issues. It is an interactive website, and we welcome input and discussion from the general public about the death penalty. As Jodie frequently comments, “the death penalty should always be on the table for discussion.”
I will continue to co-author criminal justice and legal blogs with my colleague and supervising attorney, John T. Floyd. We endeavor to post two such blogs on this website every week. We will continue that effort. John and I have also written rather extensively about the death penalty and our shared opposition against it. As a criminal defense attorney, John is always a legal soldier on the front lines in this social and legal issue, and I can’t think of anyone I rather share a fox hole with when the debate bullets began to rage.
AN INDICTMENT BY A DEATH ROW SURVIVOR
By: Houston Criminal Defense Lawyer John Floyd
I am happy to announce the release of another book by my good friends Billy and Jodie Sinclair entitled Capital Punishment: An Indictment by a Death Row Survivor, released by Arcade Publishing (New York). The book is a compelling collection of essays commenting on the death penalty from many different perspectives about this controversial and, in my opinion, most despicable, inhumane and arcane of punishments that continues to thrive in this so called modern world.
I have always been an opponent of the death penalty. I first seriously considered the issue in 1987 when I was in college and was required to do a research paper on the subject. Our assignment was to look at the death penalty objectively from both sides. It was the type of project typical of a freshmen government class intended to force the student to examine both sides of a controversial issue in order to appreciate its pro and con policy arguments. I was shocked when I came across a pro-death penalty article which attempted to do a cost/benefit analysis on the issue. The author supported the death penalty even after factoring in the variable that perhaps 30 innocent people had been executed. This study concluded that the cost of 30 innocent souls being executed was outweighed by the benefits derived from the death penalty, namely deterrence and justice/revenge for the crime victim’s friends and families.
I guess until that point in my life, I had never seriously considered the possibility that innocent people might be found guilty and sentenced to death. I had certainly never considered the horrid possibility that such innocents would have been executed.
That was enough for me. In my naïve state as a college freshman, I had single handedly concluded that the death penalty was immoral simply because an innocent person might be executed. Simple and straight forward, huh?
As I continued my college education, my opposition to the death penalty only solidified, but the reasons for that opposition remained basically the same. From my vantage point it was intrinsically immoral to exact the most serious, final and irrevocable punishment, if the system could not guarantee that innocent people would not be executed.
After my graduation from law school, I immediately began the practice of criminal defense. Like so many others, I began to solicit and receive court appointments. For those who don’t know Harris County, Texas the courts appoint lawyers to represent indigent defendants. Typically, this meant the judge appointed friends, campaign supporters, or lawyers he or she trusted to do a good job. This quality of this process depended upon the fair mindedness of the judge to appoint good, competent lawyers. So, after I offered supplication and did all I could to ingratiate myself to a particular judge, to whom I had been introduced to by an influential member of the local bar, I started getting court appointed felony cases.
After a few months of these court appointments, the time came for me to make a critical decision—one I fully appreciated would impact the pocket book. At my client’s suggestion, I decided to take his case to trial. His case, my first trial, was a ringer for the state. He was charged with a felony theft of an automobile. The facts were straight forward, a car was stolen and shortly afterward my client was caught speeding down the highway in it. His story to the arresting officer was, first, that the car belonged to his sister, and, second, after he had time to think about it, that he had “rented it” from a stranger he just met at a convenience store. Well, I tried the case to before a jury and, to the Judge’s complete shock and dismay, received a not guilty verdict. Even I was shocked: the client had done the crime; it was obvious that he had done it, but the jury saw it differently. The judge made a snide comment about how this wouldn’t happen again, and, well, that was the end of my court appointments.
As I considered that victory, it occurred to me that juries are much more unreliable than I had ever imagined. As I tried more cases, I lost one where I truly believed my client was wrongly accused after I had put on what I thought was a very compelling case. Again, I was bewildered and disappointed. I concluded that I had gotten a guilty man off after a jury trial and gotten an innocent man convicted after a jury trial. Then it struck me: juries are not only unreliable, they can so easily get it wrong. Even worse, sometimes juries think they are doing the right thing and still get it wrong.
Finally, I had another prominent argument against the death penalty: juries, no matter how well intentioned, do sometimes get it wrong. I came to realize that the death penalty is not only immoral but highly arbitrary depending upon any given jury. Since we know the juries do get it wrong as evidenced by the 233 DNA exonerations in this country, I simply cannot accept that such an irreversible punishment as the death penalty should exist in our fallible system. The risk of getting it wrong, no matter how slight, persuades against it.
With these arguments—supported by the many others offered by different anti-death penalty groups—and now understanding the inordinate moral and social costs for state sanctioned killing, I have continued my longstanding opposition to the death penalty.
It wasn’t until I met Billy Sinclair in March of 2007 that my opposition to the death penalty assumed another equally important course: redemption. Not because Billy argued against the death penalty, which he does humbly and eloquently, but because he is the epitome of rehabilitation and redemption. I have worked closely with Billy over the last two years and have developed a deep appreciation for this man who has come so far over so many years. I am proud to call him a colleague and friend. He has taught me something I could have never learned from books or anti-death penalty demonstrations and he has done so without saying a word. He has shown me clearly and by his own example that every man can redeem himself and become a valuable family man, friend and productive member of our society. For this, I owe Billy a debt of gratitude. While I often see terrible crimes that seem to cry out for vengeance and seem the ideal candidates for the ultimate penalty, I will never now forget that most people have in them, somewhere, the seeds of decency and the capacity to grow and change. Some will harness this power, some will not. For those who cannot rehabilitate and redeem themselves, there are other punishments that can serve the interests of justice and protect our society. It is unnecessary and immoral for the government to deal in the goods of the devil.
I would highly recommend that anyone interested in the death penalty read both of the Sinclairs’ books. They do not mince words or hide the truth. They are not flowery or pretty attempts to entertain. But, they are compelling and extremely thought provoking.
To learn more about the death penalty, Billy and Jodie Sinclair or for information about order there book visit:
By: John Floyd, Houston Criminal Defense Attorney