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Death Penalty News & Views 2011

11-08-06 --

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November 2011

UNITED STATES SUPREME COURT

U.S. Supreme Court rejects killer's appeal

By Allan Turner, Houston Chronicle

11-07-11 -- The U.S. Supreme Court today rejected Houston killer Duane Buck's request that it review his death sentence - a punishment handed down despite former Texas Attorney John Cornyn's assessment that it might have been tainted by racial considerations. . . . The high court stopped Buck's Sept. 15 execution in order to decide whether to take up the case. Buck, 48, was sentenced to die for the July 1995 murders of his former girlfriend, Debra Gardner, and her friend, Kenneth Butler. Buck also shot his sister, Phyllis Taylor, in the chest at point-blank range, but she survived and later argued that the killer should be spared.


Race Factor Merits Look at Texas Death Row Case

By Barbara Leonard, Courthouse News Service 

11-07-11 -- Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan said Monday they would have wanted the Supreme Court to review a Texas death sentence case "marred by racial overtones" and potential misconduct by state prosecutors. . . . After Duane E. Buck was convicted of capital murder in Texas, the prosecutor emphasized that black men like Buck are statistically more likely to commit violent crimes. A jury sentenced Buck to death. . . . Buck has failed to convince state and federal courts to review his case, with the most recent refusal coming from the Supreme Court on Monday. . . . A seven-page dissent authored by Sotomayor notes, however, that the psychologist who testified at Buck's sentencing hearing, Walter Quijano, has an unsettling record. In six capital cases to which Quijano was called as a witness, as with the Buck trial, "the salient fact was that the prosecution invited the jury to consider race as a factor in sentencing. And in each case, the defendant was sentenced to death."


Supreme Court Reinstates Death Sentence in Summary Reversal of 6th Circuit

By Debra Cassens Weiss, ABA Journal

11-07-11 -- The U.S. Supreme Court has reinstated the death sentence of an Ohio inmate in a summary reversal of the Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. . . . The defendant, Archie Dixon, was convicted of murdering a man to steal his car. According to the Supreme Court’s per curiam opinion (PDF), the 6th Circuit “purported to identify three … grievous errors” by the Ohio Supreme Court when the state court affirmed Dixon’s conviction and found no Miranda violation.


TEXAS  

Texas court stays Wednesday execution as lawyers seek DNA tests

From Ashley Hayes and Bill Mears, CNN

11-07-11 -- A Texas court granted a stay of execution for convicted murderer Henry "Hank" Skinner on Monday, giving Skinner time to pursue DNA testing his lawyers say could prove his innocence. . . . Skinner had been scheduled to die by lethal injection Wednesday evening for the New Year's Eve 1993 killings of his live-in girlfriend, Twila Busby, and her two adult sons in the Texas Panhandle town of Pampa. But the state Court of Criminal Appeals halted the proceeding Monday afternoon, ruling that it needed time to review the state's revised law on DNA testing. . . . In a written statement, Skinner's lawyer, Rob Owen, said the decision "has ensured that Mr. Skinner's request for DNA testing will receive the thorough and serious consideration it deserves."


CALIFORNIA  

State executions to remain on hold another year

Bob Egelko, Chronicle Staff Writer  

11-04-11 -- Executions in California, halted by court order since 2006 because of questions about the state's lethal injection procedures, will remain on hold until at least late next year, court filings disclosed Thursday. . . . State prison officials have been trying to revise and win judicial approval for their execution methods since a federal judge blocked the February 2006 execution of Michael Morales, convicted of raping and murdering a Lodi teenager in 1981. . . . U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel ruled later in 2006 that deficiencies in staff training, supervision and procedures for preparing and administering the lethal chemicals had created an undue risk of a botched execution that would leave the inmate conscious and in agony while dying.


OHIO  

Ohio court rejects execution delay

By Andrew Welsh-Huggins, AP Legal Affairs Writer / Boston.com        

11-04-11 -- The Ohio Supreme Court has rejected three separate requests for a delay in execution by a condemned inmate who shot his three sons as they slept. . . . The court's decisions Friday moved 66-year-old Reginald Brooks closer to being the first Ohio inmate executed in six months. . . . Earlier Friday a federal judge also rejected Brooks' request to delay his Nov. 15 execution while upholding Ohio's new rules for carrying out lethal injection. . . . The Supreme Court rejected appeals by Brooks to allow him to argue his mental competency and for a new trial. . . . The court also rejected a request for a delay until a statewide committee finishes studying the fairness of Ohio's capital punishment law.


TEXAS

SIGN PETITION

Withdraw Execution Warrant and
Grant DNA Testing to Hank Skinner

If you are concerned about fairness in the criminal justice system? If you believe that truth should prevail over procedures? Whether you are in favor or against the death penalty, please send this message to Governor Perry to support Hank Skinner's quest for the truth in his case, and demand DNA testing. . . . Hank Skinner's execution date is scheduled for November 9, 2011.

PLEASE ACT NOW!!!

UPDATE 11-7-11 -- Texas court stays Wednesday execution as lawyers seek DNA tests

Texas Gov. Rick Perry urged to stay execution, allow for DNA testing

Molly Hennessy-Fiske in Houston, Los Angeles Times  

11-04-11 -- More than 120,000 people have signed an online petition calling for Texas Gov. Rick Perry to halt the execution of convicted murderer Hank Skinner to allow for the testing of DNA evidence that Skinner says could exonerate him. . . . Many of those who signed the petition on Change.org -- more than 85,000 -- added their names Thursday after a Texas judge ruled against the DNA testing. . . . "We urge you to uphold the very standards you are promoting as part of a very much needed criminal justice reform and we ask you to demand the withdrawal of the execution warrant and that DNA testing be granted to Mr. Skinner in the best possible time," the petition says. "We trust you to do the right thing for justice and for the truth in Texas, before it is too late." . . . Skinner, 49, is scheduled to be executed Wednesday for the 1993 deaths of his girlfriend, Twila Busby, and her two adult sons in the Panhandle town of Pampa, about 55 miles east of Amarillo. Skinner admits to having been at the murder scene, but says he was too groggy from a mixture of alcohol and codeine to have committed the crimes.


Texan on death row won't get DNA test

Associated Press, Houston Chronicle 

11-03-11 -- A judge has denied a Texas death row inmate's request to test DNA evidence that his attorneys say could prove his innocence. . . . Hank Skinner is set to be executed next Wednesday for the 1993 deaths of his girlfriend and her two sons. . . . Skinner's attorneys had asked for testing of DNA evidence that had not been tested before his 1995 trial.


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October 2011

GEORGIA

Costs: State Budget Cuts Affecting Prosecution and Defense Across the Country

Death Penalty Information Center

10-31-11 -- Even as death penalty cases continue to absorb tens of millions of taxpayer dollars, state budget cuts are affecting courts, public defenders,and district attorney's offices across the country, raising concerns about delays and inadequate representation. Reduced budgets are impacting all aspects of the court system, including civil and criminal cases, and delaying death penalty cases. Prosecutors are forced to ignore some violations, judges are delaying trials, and in some cases, those charged with violent crimes have been set free because speedy trial requirements can't be met.  "It's extremely frustrating," said Scott Burns of the National District Attorneys Association. "Frankly, the people that do these jobs have a lot of passion. They don't do these jobs for the money. They are in America's courtrooms every day to protect victims and do justice.  And they're rewarded with terminations, furloughs and cuts in pay."  On the defense side, in the last three years, Georgia has cut funding for the Georgia Resource Center, which represents indigent death penalty defendants in post-conviction proceedings, by $250,000, forcing the center to reduce its staff. "We've been running on a shoestring for years and we are minimally available to take care of all the guys on death row," said Brian Kammer, the center's executive director. "But with this kind of funding loss, we're getting crippled." / Read more


PENNSYLVANIA

Studies: Review of Pennsylvania Death Penalty Cases Shows Low Pay and Serious Errors by Defense Lawyers

Death Penalty Information Center

10-28-11 -- The Philadelphia Inquirer recently conducted a review of death penalty appeals in Pennsylvania spanning three decades and found a pattern of ineffective assistance by defense attorneys.  More than 125 capital murder trials in the Pennsylvania, including 69 in Philadelphia, have been reversed or sent back by state and federal courts after finding that mistakes by the defense attorney deprived the defendant of a fair trial.  These do not include cases in which courts found that lawyers made obvious mistakes but ruled that the mistakes did not affect the outcome of the case.  The Inquirer found that lawyers defending those facing the death penalty often spent little time preparing their cases, sometimes neglecting basic steps such as interviewing defendants, finding witnesses, and investigating a defendant's background.  For example, in a closing argument, Wilson Cooper's lawyer quoted a Biblical passage that called for the death penalty only in the killing of a pregnant woman, forgetting that Cooper had killed a pregnant woman.  Legal experts agreed that there are systemic problems in the state's indigent defense program, exemplified by underpaid and overworked lawyers who take on death penalty cases.  In Philadelphia, court-appointed lawyers receive $2000 for trial preparation in a capital case and $400 per day in court.  Critics say the fees, which are the lowest in the state, deter good lawyers from working on death penalty cases and inevitably lead to reversals.  Ronald D. Castille, the chief justice of the state Supreme Court, recently cited "intolerable" errors by defense lawyers, compounded by some "idiotic" appellate briefs.  The justice, who recently ordered a review of attorney pay rates, said that such practices all but guarantee delays and new court hearings that prolong cases for years. / Read more


TEXAS

New Voices: Former Judges, Prosecutors, and Elected Officials Call for DNA Testing and Stay of Texas Execution

Death Penalty Information Center

10-27-11 -- On October 27, a group of former Texas judges, prosecutors and law enforcement officers delivered a letter to Governor Rick Perry, Attorney General Greg Abbott and District Attorney Lynn Switzer requesting DNA tests for death row inmate Hank Skinner.  Signatories to the letter include: Mark White, former Governor of Texas Morris L. Overstreet, former Judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals; Sam Millsap, former Bexar County District Attorney; Kenneth J. Mighell, former United States Attorney for the Northern District of Texas; Earl D. Musick, former Lieutenant of the Houston Police Department; and Rodney Ellis, curremt State Senator.  Skinner is scheduled to be executed on November 9 despite the fact that key pieces of DNA evidence in his case have never been tested.  Skinner has court decisions pending in both federal and state courts, but his execution has not been stayed.  The authors of the letter expressed “grave and growing concerns about the State’s stubborn refusal to date to test all the evidence in the Skinner case. Executing Mr. Skinner without testing all the relevant evidence would suggest official indifference to the possibility of error in this case and needlessly undermine public confidence in Texas’s criminal justice system.”  The letter concluded, “There is simply no justifiable reason why Texas continues to waste taxpayer dollars in its decade-long fight to prevent scientific testing in Mr. Skinner’s case. We implore you to take the lead in the search for truth in this case.  Test the DNA evidence before moving forward with Mr. Skinner’s execution.” / Read more


CALIFORNIA

Coalition Including Victims' Families and Law Enforcement Officials Launches Death Penalty Repeal Initiative

Death Penalty Information Center

10-26-11 -- A broad range of citizens in California launched a signature campaign on October 25 to replace the death penalty with life in prison and no parole through a ballot initiative in November 2012.  The signature drive was announced at the city hall in San Francisco and was attended by murder victims' families and law enforcement officials, such as San Francisco Sheriff Michael Hennessey who support the measure.  Hennessey cited a study released last June showing that California has sent $4 billion on the death penalty since it was restored in 1977. The ballot initiative is called the Savings, Accountability and Full Enforcement (SAFE) for California Act, and the campaign must gather 504,000 voter signatures in order to qualify for the election.  Natasha Minsker, statewide manager for the campaign, said, "Californians are ready for the SAFE California Act because now they realize we have wasted literally billions of dollars on a failed death penalty system.  It's time to take our resources and put them instead toward public safety."  The initiative directs funds saved to go to victims' families and to improve law enforcement.  California has not had an execution since 2006.  A recent Field Poll released last month showed that more voters (48%) would prefer the punishment of life without parole for someone convicted of first-degree murder than the death penalty (40%). / Read more


New Resources: DPIC Launches Revised College Curriculum

Death Penalty Information Center

10-25-11 -- The Death Penalty Information Center is pleased to announce a greatly expanded version of its college-level curriculum, Capital Punishment in Context (CPIC). The curriculum is free to professors and students and is available online.  The curriculum uses a case-study approach, providing detailed factual accounts of actual death penalty cases, along with a rich variety of supplementary materials. Probing questions for additional research are offered in a variety of issue areas.  Supplementing the case studies of Gary Graham and Juan Garza, CPIC now offers studies on Anthony Porter and Aileen Wuornos, whose cases garnered significant national attention. Porter was exonerated after students at the Medill School of Journalism investigated his case. Wuornos, who was accused of being a serial killer, was the subject of widespread media attention and at least two movies. The college curriculum provides a complete narrative of each case, including original resources such as homicide reports, affidavits, and transcripts of testimony from witnesses. The narratives are followed by a discussion of the issues raised by each case, enabling students to research further into a broad variety of topics. The curriculum has been widely used by educators across the country in such fields as sociology, civics, criminal justice and many other areas. / Read more


New Voices: The "Death Penalty's Unlikely Opponents"

Death Penalty Information Center

10-24-11 -- A recent CNN perspective examined the views of those they called "the most unlikely opponents of the death penalty, people who lost loved ones to unspeakable violence yet believe executing the killer will do nothing for family members or society."  For example, Ross Byrd, the son of James Byrd, Jr., who was dragged to his death behind a truck in Texas by Lawrence Brewer, nevertheless objected to Brewer's execution, saying "You can't fight murder with murder."  In Mississippi, the mother and siblings of James Anderson asked for his killer's life to be spared. In a letter to the district attorney, Barbara Anderson Young, Anderson's sister, cited the family's faith as one of the reasons why they opposed capital punishment. And Charisse Coleman, whose brother Russell (both pictured) was shot in a liquor store in Shreveport, Louisiana, pointed to the fallibility of the system: "The criminal justice [system]," she said, "is created by and conducted by humans.  As long as we're capable of making mistakes, we shouldn't be deciding who lives and dies."  Her views did not stem from sympathy for the defendant: "My opposition to the death penalty has nothing to do with Bobby Lee Hampton," she said. "He's a bad dude. He's never going to be a good dude. If I got a call that said Bobby Lee Hampton dropped dead in his cell last night, I don't think it would create a ripple in my pond. . . [but] I will [not] let Bobby Lee Hampton make me a victim, too, by taking me down that road of bitterness and revenge." / Read more


FLORIDA  

Judge rejects condemned Fla. inmate's appeal 

By Mitch Stacy, Associated Press / MiamiHerald.com   

10-24-11 -- An inmate scheduled for execution next month will take his latest appeal to the Florida Supreme Court after losing an initial round in state court, his attorney said Monday. . . . Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Philip J. Federico said in an order Monday that Oba Chandler's appeal on constitutional grounds was insufficient. His attorney, Baya Harrison III, had sought to block the Nov. 15 execution and have a new jury seated to again decide whether Chandler should live or die.


TEXAS  

Texas death row inmate asking courts to force prosecutor to turn over evidence for DNA tests

By Associated Press, Washington Post

10-24-11 -- Just weeks away from execution, a Texas death row inmate is asking the courts to force prosecutors to turn over knives and clothing that were never tested for DNA, claiming that the evidence could show he didn’t kill his girlfriend and her sons nearly two decades ago. . . . But prosecutors say the latest request from Henry Watkins Skinner, who came within an hour of lethal injection last year before the U.S. Supreme Court stepped in, is an empty tactic to again delay his death. . . . Both sides will argue their case Monday in Amarillo before federal Magistrate Judge Clinton Averitte. The hearing comes after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Skinner could ask for the untested evidence, but left unresolved whether those items had to be surrendered by Gray County District Attorney Lynn Switzer.


PENNSYLVANIA  

In life and death cases, costly mistakes

By Nancy Phillips, Inquirer Staff Writer 

10-23-11 -- Willie Cooper, convicted of strangling his brother's girlfriend to death in a Germantown apartment, was awaiting a jury's decision on whether he should be sentenced to death, when his lawyer rose to speak on his behalf. . . . Citing the biblical passage "an eye for an eye," the lawyer told jurors that the ancient edict called for the death penalty only in the killing of a pregnant woman. . . . Cooper had killed a pregnant woman. . . . Inexplicably, his lawyer had forgotten that. . . . The jury voted to impose the death penalty. . . . Cooper's case is among more than 125 capital murder trials in Pennsylvania - 69 in Philadelphia alone - that state and federal appeals courts have reversed or sent back for new hearings because mistakes by defense lawyers deprived the accused of a fair trial.


MASSACHUSETTS   

Judge blasted for killer flip

Death penalty overturned in Sampson case

By O’Ryan Johnson and John Zaremba, Boston  Herald

10-21-11 -- The stunning decision to overturn admitted spree killer Gary Sampson’s death sentence was an outrageous and injudicious act of “ego” from the bench, the father of sadistically tortured victim Jonathan Rizzo said yesterday after learning that U.S. District Judge Mark L. Wolf had given the heartless murderer another chance at life. . . . “I wish I could say I was surprised,” a dispirited Mike Rizzo said. “I’m not surprised. I’m extremely disappointed and phenomenally outraged at the fact that one man with the ego the size of Judge Wolf’s tried to overturn the good work done by so many people in coming to the right decision many years ago.” . . . “I believe Judge Wolf is trying what he thinks is good for his image and himself. He doesn’t care about anybody else,” Rizzo said.


PENNSYLVANIA

Studies: Causes of Wrongful Convictions in Pennsylvania

Death Penalty Information Center

10-21-11 -- A recent report from the Pennsylvania Advisory Committee on Wrongful Convictions called for serious reforms in the state's criminal justice system.  The committee, which was instructed to identify the most common causes of wrongful convictions (some of which were capital cases) and any current laws and procedures implicated in each type of causation, found that, "under [the current] institutional structure, defendants have been punished for crimes they did not commit. Compounding these concerns, biological evidence is available in only a small number of cases involving violent crimes. There is every reason to believe that mistaken identifications, false confessions, inadequate legal representation, and other factors underlying wrongful convictions occur with comparable regularity in criminal cases where DNA is absent."  The committee determined the most common causes of wrongful convictions to be: “mistaken eyewitness identifications; false confessions; perjurious informant testimony; inaccurate scientific evidence; prosecutorial and defense lawyer misconduct; and inadequate funding for defense services," and made several proposals that are intended to address each cause.  The report concludes, "The system cannot routinely accept the conviction of an innocent person without being challenged to consider measures to reduce the likelihood of error and grant redress to victims of these errors... [Exonerations] represent tragedy not only for the person whose life is irreparably damaged by incarceration for a crime he did not commit, but also for the victim since each wrongful conviction also represents the failure to convict the true perpetrator."  Read full report. / Read more


New Resources: Five New States Added to State Information Pages

Death Penalty Information Center

10-20-11 -- DPIC is pleased to announce the addition of five more states to our State Information Pages.  Information is now available for 25 states, including the latest entries:  Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, Massachusetts and New York.  These pages provide historical and current information on the death penalty for each state (regardless of whether it currently has the death penalty), including famous cases, past legislative actions, and links to key organizations.  For frequently-updated information, such as execution totals, the size of death row, or the number of exonerations, see our State-by-State Database. The remaining state  pages will be made available soon, especially as residents send information, pictures, and links to organizations.  You can reach the State Information Pages through the "State by State" button at the top of every page on our website or under the "Resources" tab in our main menu. / Read more


ALABAMA

Race: Historic Civil Rights Suit Filed in Alabama Over Exclusion of Blacks from Jury Service

Death Penalty Information Center

10-19-11 -- On October 19, five African Americans filed a federal civil rights lawsuit charging that Alabama has illegally excluded blacks from serving on death penalty juries in Houston and Henry Counties.  The plaintiffs in this class action suit were all previously barred from serving on juries in capital or other serious felony cases.  In each case, state courts found blacks were illegally excluded from jury service because of their race.  Bryan Stevenson, lead attorney for the plaintiffs and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Alabama, pointed particularly to the actions of District Attorney Douglas Valeska: "Mr. Valeska has repeatedly been found to have illegally excluded black people from jury service with peremptory strikes in capital cases but he continues the practice because most people don't know about it." He continued, "The underrepresentation and exclusion of people of color from juries has seriously damaged the credibility and reliability of the criminal justice system.  Individual case reversals haven't stopped this illegal practice, so there must be greater accountability."  The lawsuit alleges that, from 2006 to 2010, state prosecutors in Dothan used peremptory strikes to exclude 82% of qualified black jurors in death penalty cases.  As a result, the jury in every death penalty case in Houston County over this period has been either all white or had only a single black juror, despite the fact that the circuit is nearly 25% African American.  Houston County has the highest per capita death sentencing rate in Alabama. / Read more


Studies: "Geography of the Death Penalty and its Ramifications"

Death Penalty Information Center

10-18-11 -- A new study by Professor Robert J. Smith of the DePaul University College of Law examines the imposition of death sentences by counties in the U.S.  The author, who is also part of The Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard, found that only a relatively few counties impose a large percentage of death sentences, while a large majority of jurisdictions have abandoned the use of capital punishment.  Prof. Smith's study found that death sentences that resulted in executions between 2004-2009 were handed down in less than 1% of counties in the United States.  He noted in the abstract to the study, "There is nothing to suggest that the murders committed in those active death-sentencing counties are more heinous than murders committed in other counties. Nor is there evidence to suggest that the offenders in those counties are more incorrigible than those who commit crimes in other counties."  The skewed geography of the death penalty might lead to challenges to the constitutionality of the practice under the Eighth Amendment, which bars the arbitrary application of a punishment.  The study, titled "The Georgraphy of the Death Penalty and its Ramifications," will be published in a forthcoming edition of the Boston University Law Review. / Read more


OHIO

Costs: Ohio Judge Warns of High Costs in Upcoming Death Penalty Trial

Death Penalty Information Center

10-17-11 -- An upcoming death penalty trial in Ohio will cost three to four times more than the cost of a life-without-parole trial, according to the trial judge, Michael Sage (pictured). The death penalty trial for Hector Alvarenga Retana, scheduled to begin on October 31, is expected to cost Butler County an estimated $250,000, according to the judge, not counting the cost of appeals.  He said, “[The cost] is so great we can’t afford to pay for that directly out of our ongoing budget. All the costs associated with that we take directly to the commissioners.”  A co-defendant in the case also faced the death penalty but was sentenced to prison for 78-years-to-life. Despite the high costs, defense attorneys are often paid very little.  Chris Pagan, who has defended several death penalty cases, recently said he would have to abandon this type of work because of the inadequate compensation death penalty defense attorneys receive: "The [compensation rates] are extremely low compared with the costs in other metropolitan areas. . . . I’m not doing it anymore I can’t afford it. You get 40 bucks an hour and my overhead costs more than that.” / Read more


UNITED STATES SUPREME COURT

Unreliable eyewitnesses put defendants on death row

By Michael Kirkland, UPI

10-16-11 -- Does the routine use of eyewitnesses in American criminal cases contribute to trials that put innocent people behind bars -- even on death row? Evidence suggests it does. . . . The U.S. Supreme Court is getting ready to hear a case out of New Hampshire that deals with a subtle but important point in the witness process. . . . Lawyers for a hapless burglar say the case asks whether the due process -- or fair trial and procedure -- guarantee in the 14th Amendment bans the use of all "unreliable eyewitness identification" arising from "impermissibly suggestive circumstances and which are very substantially likely to lead to misidentification, or only to those identifications which are also the product of 'improper state action?'" -- meaning police manipulation.


Gallup Poll: 35% oppose death penalty

By Gary Strauss, USA TODAY

10-13-11 -- More than one-third of Americans now oppose the death penalty — the highest level in nearly 40 years — according to a Gallup Poll out Thursday. . . . Moreover, those who believe the death penalty is being applied fairly, and those who say it isn't used often enough, are at the lowest levels in a decade, underscoring significant changes in attitudes. . . . Gallup found that 35% of those polled oppose the death penalty — the highest opposition since March 1972. That year, the Supreme Court effectively ruled that the death penalty was constitutional unless it was applied unfairly. By 1976, several states had reinstituted capital punishment. . . . Just 40% of those polled last week believe the death penalty isn't imposed often enough, the lowest level since May 2001.


Books: "Anatomy of Injustice: A Murder Case Gone Wrong"

Death Penalty Information Center

10-13-11 -- A new book by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Raymond Bonner, Anatomy of Injustice: A Murder Case Gone Wrong, investigates the shortcomings of the justice system in the case of Edward Lee Elmore, a black man sentenced to death in South Carolina in 1982. Elmore, who was semi-literate with intellectual disabilities, was sent to death row for the murder and sexual assault of a white woman, even though there was little connection between him and the victim.  He was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death barely ninety days after the victim's body was found. Bonner describes a comprehensive story of racism, prosecutorial misconduct, and ineffective representation in Elmore's case and concludes that the same injustices occur in other murder cases across the country. DPIC Note: Elmore was eventually spared from execution when a South Carolina court ruled in 2010 that he suffered from mental retardation.  At one time, he was the longest serving death row inmate in the state. / Read more


UNITED STATES SUPREME COURT

Supreme Court refuses to reinstate Abu-Jamal death sentence

By Joseph A. Slobodzian, The Philadelphia Inquirer Staff Writer

10-12-11 -- The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to hear a petition by the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office seeking to reinstate the death penalty against Mumia Abu-Jamal. . . . The ruling in the case of Abu-Jamal - convicted of murder in the 1981 shooting of Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner - was one of more than 250 appeals summarily rejected by the high court without comment. It means that, unless the District Attorney's Office decides to conduct a new sentencing hearing, Abu-Jamal, 57, will continue serving a life sentence with no chance of parole.


Books: "Cruel and Unusual: The American Death Penalty and the Founders' Eighth Amendment"

Death Penalty Information Center

10-11-11 -- A forthcoming book by John D. Bessler, "Cruel and Unusual: The American Death Penalty and the Founders' Eighth Amendment," discusses the history of the Eighth Amendment and the country's founders’ views on capital punishment. While the conventional wisdom is that the founders were avid death penalty supporters, Bessler's examination shows they had conflicting and ambivalent views on the subject. Bessler analyzes the U.S. Supreme Court’s Eighth Amendment case law and argues that the death penalty should probably be held unconstitutional. Sister Helen Prejean, noted activist and author of Dead Man Walking, described Bessler's book as: “A searing indictment of capital punishment, this pioneering history of the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause is destined to reframe America’s death penalty debate. As a definitive account of the Eighth Amendment’s origins and the Founding Fathers’ own ambivalent views on executions, it will forever change our perceptions of cruelty and penal reform in the founding era." John Bessler is an associate professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law and an adjunct professor at the Georgetown University Law Center. / Read more


New Resources: DPIC's Latest Podcast Addresses Death Row Conditions and Related Issues

Death Penalty Information Center

10-10-11 -- The latest edition of the Death Penalty Information Center's series of podcasts, DPIC on the Issues, is now available for listening or downloading. This podcast--the 16th in the series--discusses the little-understood world of death row, exploring the conditions on the row and the length of time prisoners spend there. The podcast discusses some of the legal issues that have arisen regarding the extended deprivation and isolation common to death rows around the country, including the risk of mental deterioration among the inmates.  First-hand descriptions of the death-row experience are also offered. Click here to listen to this latest podcast.  Generally, these podcasts offer concise, informative discussions of important death penalty issues. Other recent episodes focused on the U.S. Supreme Court and the Legal Process involved in a capital case. You can subscribe to receive automatic updates through iTunes when new episodes are posted and receive access to all previous episodes. Other audio and video resources, along with all of DPIC's podcasts, can be found on our Multimedia page.


GEORGIA  

Prosecutor: Troy Davis appeals driven by 'doubt campaign' rather than truth

By Spencer Lawton, Special to the Daily Report

10-10-11 -- As the lead prosecutor in the trial of Troy Davis, I can say that the case has been badly mismanaged by one of our most important institutions, one impressed with a profound public trust. And while the criminal justice system isn't irretrievably broken, it is very badly damaged. People are right to wonder how the system could put to death a man with so much doubt remaining. How is this to be explained? . . . There are two Troy Davis cases. Davis I was decided on the facts in courts of law, where he was fairly convicted and sentenced, and his appeals were denied. . . . Davis II is still under way as a public relations campaign where his innocence is proclaimed on the strength of a "doubt" that is manufactured and false, the overarching purpose being to defeat the death penalty. . . . The mantra has become "no physical evidence, and seven out of nine eyewitnesses recanted." Neither is true. . . . There was physical (ballistic) evidence and persuasive circumstantial evidence. Some of the so-called recantations weren't recantations at all, others were flatly unbelievable, and others were subsequently abandoned by the defense in a federal evidentiary hearing. . . . Still, for 15 years nearly every news report of the Davis case continued to state, as if it were fact, that seven of nine eyewitnesses recanted. This without mentioning that the "recantations'' had been thoroughly discredited. No wonder doubt flourished.


New Resources: DPIC Offers Analysis of Executions by County

Death Penalty Information Center

10-07-11 -- The Death Penalty Information Center is pleased to offer a new page illustrating the geography of the death penalty--Executions by County.  This page shows the top 15 counties in the U.S. measured by the number of executions since 1976 that emanated from these counties.  As revealed on the map, a small number of counties are responsible for a disproportionate number of executions. (Click on the map at left to enlarge.)  The information contrasts with the counties that have had the most murders, which is also provided.

The top 15 counties accounted for 32% of the executions (402) in the U.S. since 1976, even though they represent less than 1% of the total number of counties in the country.  Counties in Texas accounted for 9 out of the top 15 jurisdictions by executions since 1976.  The page also lists the top counties by execution outside of Texas.  DPIC's newly revised Execution Database enables you to sort executions by county and by state for further analysis. / Read more


FLORIDA  

Fla. Justices order hearing in Smith death appeal

The Associated Press, MiamiHerald.com

10-07-11 -- The Florida Supreme Court says a trial judge must hold a hearing on new evidence in a 1983 murder case. . . . The justices on Thursday issued the order in the case of death row inmate Derrick Tyrone Smith. He was convicted of fatally shooting of a St. Petersburg taxi driver. . . . The order reversed a Pinellas County circuit judge's denial of an evidentiary hearing.


New Voices: Former Georgia Prison Warden Discusses Impact of Executions on Officers

Death Penalty Information Center

10-06-11 -- Dr. Allen Ault, a retired Georgia prison warden, recently appeared on MSNBC's Rachel Maddow Show, discussing the effects of carrying out executions on prison workers.  Dr. Ault was one of six retired prison wardens who had urged Georgia corrections officials and Governor Nathan Deal to do what they could to halt the execution of Troy Davis.  Davis was executed on September 21, 2011.  Dr. Ault discussed the difficult questions prison officials face when participating in an execution.  He said, "You're killing somebody.  And there`s no denying that.  And especially when we know that several people have been declared innocent with the new scientific techniques, and we're not real sure if the individual we're executing this evening or next week is really guilty - that in itself, that kind of doubt.  The other thing most of us know [is] all the research which indicates that capital punishment does not deter... it seems so illogical to say to the public we do not want you to kill, and to demonstrate that, we're going to kill individuals." Dr. Ault also recounted his experience with victims' family members after an execution: "In every execution that I attended, I spent time with the victim's family.  And most of the victims' families that I talked with, they thought they were going to get a lot of relief or closure from the execution. And in most cases, they did not." / Read more


NEW YORK

OP-ED: Mario Cuomo Calls Capital Punishment Corrosive to Society

Death Penalty Information Center

10-05-11 -- In a recent op-ed in the New York Daily News, former New York Governor Mario Cuomo called the death penalty a "serious moral problem" that is "corrosive" to a democratic citizenry. He said many of the problems of the death penalty--ineffectiveness as a deterrent, unfairness, and the risk of executing the innocent--are inevitable: "These imperfections - as well as the horrible and irreversible injustice they can produce - are inevitable. In this country, a defendant is convicted on proof beyond a reasonable doubt - not proof that can be known with absolute certainty. There's no such thing as absolute certainty in our law." He advocated for alternative punishments for murder, particularly life in prison without the possibility of parole: "There is a punishment that is much better than the death penalty: one that juries will not be reluctant to impose; one that is so menacing to a potential killer, that it could actually deter; one that does not require us to be infallible so as to avoid taking an innocent life; and one that does not require us to stoop to the level of the killers." Cuomo mentioned the execution of Troy Davis as an example of the risks posed by the uncertainties in the system.  As governor, Cuomo repeatedly vetoed legislation to restore New York's death penalty.  / Read more


CALIFORNIA

Public Opinion: New Poll Shows California Voters Support Life Without Parole Over Death Penalty

Death Penalty Information Center

10-04-11 -- The recent Field Poll conducted in California indicated that more voters now prefer life without the possibility of parole instead of the death penalty for convicted murderers. For the first time since the poll began asking the question over a decade ago, more voters (48%) say they would prefer that someone convicted of first-degree murder be sentenced to life without parole than the death penalty (40%). Eleven years ago, only 37% of respondents favored the life sentence and 44% preferred the death penalty, a 15 point change in the spread. Field Poll director Mark DiCamillo said that voters are far more skeptical of the death penalty now than they were twenty years ago: "There has been a change in attitude," he said. "Twenty-two years ago, the death penalty side argument prevailed by a large majority - now voters are divided in their opinions on many statements, including the cost of death versus life in prison, does a life sentence actually guarantee they will stay in prison, whether innocent people are executed, and their views of how it is administered to the ethnic population."  A recent study in California found that maintaining the death penalty costs taxpayers $184 million a year more than if the state's condemned killers were kept in prison for life. / Read more


UNITED STATES SUPREME COURT

Supreme Court: Alabama Man Facing Execution Because Attorneys Left Without Filing Appeal

Death Penalty Information Center

10-03-11 -- In one of the first cases of the new term, the U.S. Supreme Court on October 4 will hear from attorneys for death-row inmate Cory Maples of Alabama, whose appeal was rejected by lower courts because his lawyers quit and missed a critical filing deadline in his state appeal.  Copies of an Alabama court ruling in his case were sent to a volunteer New York law firm handling his appeals but were returned unopened to the court because the attorneys representing Maples had left the firm. Maples did not find out about the ruling or the fact that his attorneys had left until the deadline to file his state appeal had expired.  Gregory Garre, Maples' new attorney and former solicitor general under President George W. Bush, told the Court in a brief that the case "raises the shocking prospect that a man may be executed without any federal court review of serious constitutional claims due to a series of events for which all agree he was blameless.”  Alabama's Solicitor General, John C. Neiman Jr., replied that, "Maples is unquestionably guilty of murdering two people, and his conviction is now 15 years old.  He has received some sort of judicial review of every claim he has made."  Maples was trying to challenge the competency of his original trial lawyers, who were inexperienced and offered only $1,000 each to prepare for his trial.  They presented only 1 hour of testimony in his defense, and told the jury that they "may appear to be stumbling around in the dark."  The case is Maples v. Thomas, No. 10-63. / Read more


 

September 2011

New Voices: Alec Baldwin's Views on the Death Penalty in the Wake of Troy Davis Execution

Death Penalty Information Center

09-30-11 -- A recent article by Alec Baldwin in the Huffington Post offered the actor's reflections on the execution of Troy Davis in Georgia.  Baldwin said that his position on the death penalty "has little to do with opposition to any 'eye for an eye' sentiments," but instead, "It has to do specifically with the misapplication of the death penalty in terms of race, in terms of the potency of court-appointed counsel and in terms of the admission of DNA evidence in cases where tragically slipshod work by police and prosecutors is undone by modern technology."  Baldwin said that concern for wrongful executions was a significant reason that led to his opposition of capital punishment, even though some crimes evoked an emotional desire for executing the offender.  He concluded, "The death penalty costs us a lot money. . . . The death penalty costs us more money than it costs to house an inmate for life. We don't want to kill innocent people. And we don't need to kill the guilty ones either."  Read full text below. / Read more


Religious Views: Over 150 Catholic Theologians Call for Repeal of the Death Penalty

Death Penalty Information Center

Testimony, Resolutions, Statements, & Speeches

09-29-11 -- In response to the executions of Troy Davis and Lawrence Brewer on September 21, over 150 Catholic theologians have signed a statement calling for the abolition of the death penalty in United States.  The theologians stated: "[W]e oppose the death penalty, whether a person on death row is guilty or innocent, on both theological and practical grounds. While we especially deplore and lament the killing of Troy Davis, we also decry the death sentences of the more than 3,200 inmates on death row and the 1,268 executions since the death penalty was reinstated by the Supreme Court in 1976. We urge our nation to abolish capital punishment, and we also implore our churches to work unwaveringly to end it as well as all other threats to human life and dignity."  The statement cited former Supreme Court Justice William Brennan, who wrote, "The death penalty is imposed not only in a freakish and discriminatory manner, but also in some cases upon defendants who are innocent."  The theologians also pointed to studies showing racial and economic bias in the death penalty system and to past statements from the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops and the Pope.  / Read more


OHIO

Clemency: Ohio Death Row Inmate Granted Clemency, Citing 'Brutally Abusive Upbringing'

Death Penalty Information Center

09-28-11 -- On September 26, Ohio Governor John Kasich (pictured) granted clemency to Joseph Murphy, commuting his death sentence to life without parole, citing the defendant's horrific childhood. Murphy was scheduled for execution on October 18. The Ohio Parole Board had unanimously recommended sparing Murphy's life, citing evidence from Murphy's childhood that indicated he was beaten, starved and sexually abused.  The Parole Board also cited a 1992 Ohio Supreme Court decision in which late Justice Moyer said he knew of no other case in which a defendant "was as destined for disaster as was Joseph Murphy."  Governor Kasich issued the following statement regarding the clemency: "Joseph Murphy’s murder of Ruth Predmore was heinous and disturbing and he deserves—and continues to receive—severe punishment. Even though as a child and adolescent Murphy suffered uniquely severe and sustained verbal, physical and sexual abuse from those who should have loved him, it does not excuse his crime.... After examining this case in detail with counsel I agree with Chief Justice Moyer, the National Association of Mental Illness and the Parole Board’s unanimous 8-0 decision that considering Joseph Murphy’s brutally abusive upbringing and the relatively young age at which he committed this terrible crime, the death penalty is not appropriate in this case. Thus, I have commuted his sentence to life in prison with no chance for parole." / Read more


Editorials: New York Times: "An Indefensible Punishment"

Death Penalty Information Center

09-27-11 -- The lead editorial in the New York Times on September 26 called for an end to the death penalty because, the editors said, it cannot be made to comply with the U.S. Constitution.  The editoral reviewed the 35-year history since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976 and concluded, "The death penalty is grotesque and immoral and should be repealed."  The paper pointed to the recent case of Troy Davis, who was executed on September 21 in Georgia, and to the continuing arbitrariness in the way the death penalty is applied.  It also highlighted the ongoing problems of racial bias, the risk of executing the innocent, and the poor quality of representation in capital cases. The death penalty, they said, is driven by political misuse: "Politics ... permeates the death penalty, adding to chances of arbitrary administration. Most prosecutors in jurisdictions with the penalty are elected and control the decision to seek the punishment. Within the same state, differing politics from county to county have led to huge disparities in use of the penalty, when the crime rates and demographics were similar."  Citing statistics from DPIC's List of Exonerations, the editorial noted, "Under this horrifying system, 17 innocent people sentenced to death have been exonerated and released based on DNA evidence, and 112 other people based on other evidence. All but a few developed nations have abolished the death penalty," and concluded,  "It is time Americans acknowledged that the death penalty cannot be made to comply with the Constitution and is in every way indefensible."  / Read more


GEORGIA  

Is this justice... or a legal lynching?

By Oliver Harvey, The Sun Chief Feature Writer 

09-23-11 -- STRAPPED down as he awaited death by lethal injection yesterday, Troy Davis slowly craned his head to stare at the family of the man he was accused of murdering. . . . As his final seconds ticked away, Davis then uttered his last earthly words to the loved ones of slain policeman Mark MacPhail, separated from him by a glass window. . . . Staring into their eyes, he said in a clear voice: "I'm not the one who personally killed your son, your father, your brother. I am innocent. . . . "All I can ask is that you look deeper into this case so you really can finally see the truth." . . . Pausing to address his executioners at Jackson prison, in the south eastern US state of Georgia, he added: "For those about to take my life, God have mercy on your souls. And may God bless your souls." . . . Death-row inmate Davis, 42, had been convicted in 1991 of killing off-duty cop MacPhail. He always maintained he was innocent.


NORTH CAROLINA

Mental Illness: North Carolina Man Guilty of Shooting Spree at Nursing Home Avoids Death Penalty

Death Penalty Information Center

09-23-11 -- Despite being found guilty of eight murders of mostly elderly people and the prosecution seeking the death penalty, a North Carolina jury recently convicted Robert Stewart of second degree murder, thereby avoiding the possibility of a death sentence.  On September 5, he was sentenced to prison for over 100 years.  Stewart had gone on a shooting spree at a Carthage nursing home in 2009, apparently under the influence of alcohol and prescription drugs.  Although none of the jurors disclosed their rationale for opting for second-degree instead of first-degree murder, both diminished mental capacity and voluntary intoxication were offered as rationales by the Stewart's defense team.  The prosecutor, Peter Strickland, said the families are “getting solace in the fact that he was sentenced to more than 131 years." / Read more


GEORGIA  

World shocked by U.S. execution of Troy Davis

By Peter Wilkinson, CNN

09-22-11 -- Troy Davis may be dead, but his execution Thursday in the American state of Georgia has made him the poster boy for the global movement to end the death penalty. . . . World figures, including Pope Benedict XVI and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, human groups and commentators urged the execution to be halted -- but to no avail. On Wednesday Davis was put to death by lethal injection for the 1989 killing of off-duty police officer Mark MacPhail despite doubts being raised over the conviction. . . . The execution sparked angry reactions and protests in European capitals -- as well as outrage on social media. "We strongly deplore that the numerous appeals for clemency were not heeded," the French foreign ministry said. . . . "There are still serious doubts about his guilt," said Germany's junior minister for human rights Markus Loening. "An execution is irreversible -- a judicial error can never be repaired."


MISSISSIPPI

New Voices: In Inter-racial Killing, Victim's Family Asks District Attorney Not to Pursue Death Penalty

Death Penalty Information Center

09-22-11 -- Family members of James Anderson who was killed on June 26 in Jackson, Mississippi, are asking the District Attorney not to seek the death penalty for Anderson's killer.  Deryl Dedmon, a white teenager, was charged with Anderson's murder after he and other white teens took turns beating him.  Dedmon then drove over Anderson with a truck.  Barbara Anderson Young, the victim's sister, wrote a letter to the D.A. on behalf of their mother and two brothers, saying that their opposition to the death penalty is "deeply rooted in our religious faith, a faith that was central in James' life as well." The letter continued, "We also oppose the death penalty because it historically has been used in Mississippi and the South primarily against people of color for killing whites.  Executing James' killers will not help balance the scales. But sparing them may help to spark a dialogue that one day will lead to the elimination of capital punishment."  On September 21, Texas executed Lawrence Brewer, a white supremacist who dragged an African-American man to death in Jasper 13 years ago.  Some members of the victim's family also opposed the death penalty. / Read more


TEXAS

Texas Prisons End Special Last Meals for Inmates After 'Ridiculous' Request

Associated Press, Fox News  

09-22-11 -- Texas inmates who are set to be executed will no longer get their choice of last meals, a change prison officials made Thursday after a prominent state senator became miffed over an expansive request from a man condemned for a notorious dragging death. . . . Lawrence Russell Brewer, who was executed Wednesday for the hate crime slaying of James Byrd Jr. more than a decade ago, asked for two chicken fried steaks, a triple-meat bacon cheeseburger, fried okra, a pound of barbecue, three fajitas, a meat lover's pizza, a pint of ice cream and a slab of peanut butter fudge with crushed peanuts. Prison officials said Brewer didn't eat any of it.


TEXAS

U.S. Supreme Court Halts Execution For Third Time in a Year

Death Penalty Information Center

09-21-11 -- Desert Storm veteran Cleve Foster (pictured), who faced execution in Texas for the third time this year for a murder nearly a decade ago, was granted another stay by the U.S. Supreme Court on September 20.  The Supreme Court stopped Foster's execution twice before in 2011.  In January, six hours before his scheduled execution, the Justices granted a reprieve to allow them more time to consider his appeal.  In April, the Court again halted his execution when his lawyers sought a rehearing, claiming that Foster was innocent and had ineffective legal assistance at his trial and during the early stages of his appeal. They later lifted the stay.  Foster has always maintained that his friend was responsible for the murder. The friend also received the death penalty for the crime but died of cancer before he was executed.  Duane Buck, who was scheduled to be executed in Texas on Sept. 15, received a reprieve similar to Foster's from the Supreme Court.  / Read more


New Voices: Author of California Death Penalty Says "It is time to undo it"

Death Penalty Information Center

09-19-11 -- In an op-ed for the Los Angeles Daily News, Don Heller a Republican, former prosecutor, and the author of the 1978 ballot initiative that reinstated California's death penalty, voiced his support for replacing the death penalty with life without parole. "It makes no sense to prop up such a failed system," he wrote.  He urged California voters to support a new ballot initiative that would abolish the state's death penalty, citing the system's "staggering" costs and the risk of executing the innocent. In discussing the failures of the initiative he authored over 30 years ago, he said, "I never contemplated the staggering cost of implementing the death penalty: more than $4 billion to date and approximately $185 million projected per year in ongoing costs." He said he also did not think about the chance that an innocent person could be executed: "I am convinced that at least one innocent person may have been executed under the current death penalty law. It was not my intent nor do I believe that of the voters who overwhelmingly enacted the death penalty law in 1978. We did not consider that horrific possibility." Heller emphasized that he is not "soft on crime," but that "life without parole protects public safety better than a death sentence." Additionally, he said the money spent on the death penalty could be better used elsewhere, as California cuts funding for police officers and prosecutors. "Paradoxically, the cost of capital punishment takes away funds that could be used to enhance public safety." Read full op-ed below. / Read more


FLORIDA

Florida's Death Penalty Marked by Arbitrary Decisions

Death Penalty Information Center

09-15-11 -- Mike Thomas, columnist for the Orlando Sentinel in Florida, recently examined the arbitrariness of the state's death penalty system.  "There is no rhyme or reason here," he wrote. "A governor's decision on whose death warrant to sign, as well as a judge's decision on which appeal to accept, are about as arbitrary as a prosecutor's decision to pursue the death penalty.  We spend an estimated $51 million annually on this nonsense, and for our investment we haven't executed anyone going on a year and a half."  Thomas examined recent murder cases in the state, where the death penalty is pursued in one but not the other, concluding that "The odds certainly seem to favor those who can afford top legal talent."  He saw little chance for change in this process: "A new drug that Florida plans to use in its lethal cocktail finally survived all the legal challenges, including one by [death row inmate Manuel] Valle, only to be pulled by the manufacturer. A new drug will mean more challenges.  A federal judge recently ruled that Florida's death-penalty statute is unconstitutional because the condemning jury doesn't have to disclose which aggravating circumstances led to its recommendation.  On and on it goes." / Read more


TEXAS  

U.S. Supreme Court stays execution of Texas inmate

By Michael Graczyk, The Associated Press, Star-Telegram

09-15-11 -- The U.S. Supreme Court halted the execution Thursday of a black man convicted of a double murder in Houston 16 years ago, agreeing to review his appeal that his death sentence was unfair because of a comment about his race during the sentencing phase of his trial. . . . Duane Buck, 48, was praying in the holding cell when his lawyers called to tell him about the reprieve. . . . "Praise the Lord!" Buck said, according to a prison spokesman. "God is worthy to be praised. God's mercy triumphs over judgment. . . . "I feel good." . . . Buck was sentenced to death for shooting his ex-girlfriend and a man in her apartment in July 1995. Buck's guilt is not in question, but his lawyers say the Harris County jury was unfairly influenced by a psychologist's testimony that black people are more likely to commit violence than other ethnic groups.


GEORGIA  

Troy Davis artwork by Amnesty International

Execution date set for Troy Davis. Too Much Doubt…

Brother Jesse, Houston Chronicle (blog)  

09-14-11 -- This is very disheartening. No, this is sickening. America’s injustice….ahem, justice system has run its course. . . . For the fourth time, the clock is ticking on the life of Georgia death row inmate Troy Anthony Davis. A Chatham County judge recently signed his death warrant and the Georgia Department of Corrections has set his execution by lethal ejection for the evening of Sept. 21. Yes, in only a few days! . . . Mr. Davis, 42, and his legal team will have an opportunity to go before the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles to plea for clemency in a hearing set for Sept. 19. . . . All of his appeals have been exhausted, however, his family and supporters are refusing to go away silently. . . . “Troy is in good spirits. He is prayed up and he says that they will not be able to detour him because he knows whatever happens is Allah’s Will for him,” Martina Correia, his sister, told me in a phone conversation for a story I wrote in The Final Call newspaper. . . . “Since they gave the execution date, Troy has been calling home about twice a day. He believes he can never die because his name has touched the lives of so many around the world,” said Ms. Correia, who is presently in a wheelchair due to some health challenges. . . . What Can We Do? Here’s a few things from Amnesty International:


OHIO

Ohio's Chief Justice Calls for Death Penalty Review

Death Penalty Information Center

09-14-11 -- The Chief Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court, Maureen O'Connor, has initiated a review of the state's death penalty to determine if changes should be made and asking, "Is the system we have the best we can do?"  To conduct the study, Justice O'Connor called for a 20-person committee of judges, prosecuting attorneys, criminal defense lawyers, lawmakers and academic experts convened by the state's Supreme Court and the Ohio State Bar Association.  She stated the review "will make sure the current system is administered fairly, efficiently, and in the most judicious manner possible."  The committee will also review a 2007 report by the American Bar Association that called for a moratorium on the death penalty while problems identified in the report were examined. Another Supreme Court Justice, Paul Pfeifer, who helped write the 1981 death penalty law as a state senator, has called for such a review in recent years, and has said the law should probably be abolished. / Read more


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ALABAMA

New Voices: Former Judge Changes Mind on Death Sentence as Execution Approaches

Death Penalty Information Center

09-13-11 -- Retired Alabama Judge Loyd Little recently changed his mind about a death sentence he imposed on Derrick Mason in 1995 for a murder during a convenience store robbery. Mason is scheduled for execution on September 22.  Judge Little wrote a letter to be submitted to Alabama Governor Robert Bentley requesting that Mason's sentence be commuted to life in prison without parole.  The judge explained the change in his thinking: "Years of experience and seeing so many other capital murder cases where it was imposed and where it was not imposed. . . . I realized it really was not the right decision."  Judge Little had only been on the bench six months when he heard Mason's case.  In Alabama, the jury makes only a recommendation regarding sentencing.  The trial judge makes the actual life or death decision. / Read more


TEXAS

New Voices: Former Texas Assistant District Attorney Now Wants to Halt Execution

Death Penalty Information Center

09-12-11 -- Linda Geffin was one of the Texas prosecutors who won a conviction and death sentence for Duane Buck in 1997.  She is now the division chief of the Special Prosecutions Unit in the Office of the Harris County Attorney, and she is urging Gov. Rick Perry and other state officials to stop Buck's September 15 execution because improper race evidence was put before the jury considering his sentence.  In a letter to state officials, Geffin said that former Texas Attorney General John Cornyn had previously acknowledged the "improper injection of race in the sentencing hearing in Mr. Buck's case," and that "No individual should be executed without being afforded a fair trial, untainted by considerations of race."  On June 9, 2000, Cornyn called for new sentencing trials for the defendents who had been improperly sentenced to death because of the racially biased testimony.  Of those seven defendents, Buck is the only one who has not been granted a new sentencing. / Read more


TEXAS  

Where's justice in the execution process?

By Patricia Kilday Hart, Houston Chronicle

09-12-11 -- Dr. Death. It was a fitting nickname for the tall gentleman with a spectral complexion who haunted the corridors of the Dallas County Courthouse in the 1980s. . . . Summoned by prosecutors to testify in more than 100 capital murder cases, Dr. James Grigson delivered his diagnosis with creepy Marcus Welby-ish solemnity. Sometimes without having met a defendant, he'd confirm what prosecutors needed jurors to hear - that the miscreant posed a continuing threat to society. . . . He checked an important box for prosecutors who, under Texas' death penalty law, had to prove to juries that the "future dangerousness" of a defendant warranted execution. Without his testimony, the cases would have been run-of-the-mill murders with ordinary prison sentences.


High Percentage of U.S. Military Death Sentences Overturned

Death Penalty Information Center

09-09-11 -- Of the 16 death sentences that have been imposed since the U.S. military made significant changes to its death penalty system in 1984, 10 have been overturned and all the defendants were resentenced to life.  There have been no executions, and the 6 remaining cases are still under appeal.  Military appellate courts overturned the sentences because of mistakes made at many levels of the military's judicial system, including inadequate defense representation, prosecutorial misconduct, and improper jury instructions.  Some observers attribute these widespread errors to an outdated system that has not enacted institutional changes to match current death penalty representation standards in civilian courts. Young, inexperienced lawyers are regularly assigned to represent capital defendants.  David Bruck, a veteran defense lawyer and director of the Virginia Capital Case Clearinghouse, said, "If you have a system where . . . where the lawyers are always trying their first capital case, you're going to guarantee the same kinds of mistakes . . . are going to be made over and over again."  A 2009 law requires the military to appoint qualified attorneys for terrorism suspects, but no such requirement exists for average service members who face criminal charges.  Military officials interpret its 80% death sentence reversal rate not as an indicator of the need for reform but as a natural part of the natural appeals process. / Read more


New Voices: "Death Penalty - Costly for Families of Victims Too"

Death Penalty Information Center

09-08-11 -- Karil Klingbeil, whose sister was murdered 30 years ago in Washington, recently wrote an op-ed in the Seattle Times regarding the emotional and psychological impact that seeking the death penalty can have on victims’ family members and friends.  Klingbeil, a former director of social work at Harborview Medical Center, was initially in favor of the death penalty for her sister’s killer, Mitchell Rupe.  Over the years, however, she came to oppose it in favor of life in prison without parole.  She wrote, “Victims' families, like our family, relive the horror of their loved one's murder with every court proceeding. Our system cannot seek this ultimate punishment without a great deal of procedure to avoid and correct errors, and still errors are made. The more hearings and trials there are, the more emotional trauma there is for the surviving family members.”  Klingbeil said she supports repealing the death penalty, calling it "a barbaric remnant of uncivilized society."  She concluded,  "It does constitute a cruel and unusual punishment at odds with our culture and way of life in the United States. We should be putting the money we spend on the death penalty on the front end of crime and apply it toward prevention."  Read full op-ed below. / Read more


New Resources: 2011 DEATH ROW USA Report Now Available

Death Penalty Information Center

09-07-11 -- The latest edition of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund's "Death Row USA" showed a slight increase of 9 inmates in the death row population in the United States between October 1, 2010 and January 1, 2011. However, death row is still significantly smaller now (3,251 inmates) than in 2000 (3,682 inmates). The size of death row also declined overall in 2010.  The size of death row is affected by the number of death sentences and the number of executions. Nationally, the racial composition of those on death row is 44% white, 42% black, and 12% Latino/Latina. Texas, Louisiana, and Connecticut had death rows consisting of 70% minority defendants.  California continues to have the largest death row population (721), followed by Florida (398), Texas (321), Pennsylvania (219), and Alabama (206). California and Pennsylvania have not carried out an executiion in over five years.  The report contains the latest death row population figures, execution statistics, and an overview of recent legal developments related to capital punishment. / Read more


New Resources: States Ranked by Executions Per Death Sentence

Death Penalty Information Center

09-06-11 -- DPIC has updated its Executions Per Death Death Sentence page to reflect data through 2010.  This page lists states in order of the percentage of death sentences resulting in an execution since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.  If every death sentence resulted in an execution, the state would be at 100%, or a rate of 1.00.  Using this ratio of executions per death sentence, the first five states are Virginia (.725), Texas (.498), Utah (.368), Missouri (.347), and Delaware (.311).  Of those states that have carried out at least one execution, the five states with the lowest rate of execution are Pennsylvania (.008), California (.015), Idaho (.025), Oregon (.028), and Tennessee (.035).  Four states with the death penalty during this time period had no executions: Kansas, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and New York.  The latter two have abandoned the death penalty.  Nationally, about 15% of death sentences have resulted in an execution (a rate of .150).  Another measure of state execution rates is executions per capita (population).  Under this standard, Oklahoma and Texas are the leading states. / Read more


TEXAS

With Evidence Still Not Tested for DNA, Texas Attorneys Move to Halt Execution

Death Penalty Information Center

09-05-11 -- Texas is planning to execute Hank Skinner on November 9 despite the fact that vital evidence from the crime scene in his case has not been subjected to DNA testing.  Skinner has always maintained his innocence.  In 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court held that Skinner could file in federal court to compel the testing, but that litigation has not been completed.  Moreover, a new Texas law became effective on September 1 to ensure that procedural barriers do not prevent the testing of biological evidence that was not previously tested or could be subjected to newer testing.  State senator Rodney Ellis, who co-sponsored the new law that passed the Texas Legislature with overwhelming bipartisan support, said, “The new law was intended to make advanced DNA testing available in all cases where it can aid the truth-seeking process, and Skinner's case falls squarely within that category.” So far, Texas authorities have resisted performing the DNA tests for over 10 years.  Skinner's attorneys filed motions in state district court on September 2 to compel the testing and withdraw the execution date. / Read more


TEXAS

Only Texas Inmate Not Resentenced After Admittedly Racially Biased Testimony Faces Execution

Death Penalty Information Center

09-02-11 -- Texas inmate Duane Buck (pictured) is one of seven death row inmates whose death sentences were tainted by improper racial testimony presented at their trials. In 2000, then-Texas Attorney General John Cornyn (now Senator) confessed the state's error to the U.S. Supreme Court, noting that seven cases had been tainted by improper prosecution testimony. "It is inappropriate to allow race to be considered as a factor in our criminal justice system," Cornyn said. "The people of Texas want and deserve a system that affords the same fairness to everyone.”  Six inmates received new sentencing trials, but Buck did not. All seven trials involved testimony by psychologist Walter Quijano, who told juries that defendants were more likely to commit future crimes if they were black or Hispanic. The potential for future dangerousness is a key factor in juries' sentencing decisions in Texas. The prosecutor at Buck's sentencing trial asked Quijano: "The race factor, black, increases the future dangerousness for various complicated reasons; is that correct?" "Yes," Quijano said. Originally, Quijano had been called by the defense and testified that he did not believe Buck would be dangerous in the future. / Read more


Studies: Significant Racial Disparities Found in Military Death Penalty

Death Penalty Information Center

09-01-11 -- A soon-to-be-published study has found significant racial disparities in the U.S. military's death penalty. The study, which will be published in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, found that minorities in the military are twice as likely to be sentenced to death as whites accused of similar crimes. The study examined all 105 potential capital cases since the military death penalty was reinstated in 1984.  Of the 16 death sentences handed down in that time, 10 were of minority defendants. The authors did not attribute the disparities to intentional bias: "There is no suggestion here that any participant in the military criminal justice system consciously and knowingly discriminated on the basis of the race of the accused or the victim," the authors said. "However, there is substantial evidence that many actors in the American criminal justice system are unconsciously influenced by the race of defendants and their victims." A New York Times editorial about the study noted how rarely death sentences are handed down in the military, that there have been no military executions since 1961, and that 8 out of 10 death sentences have been overturned. Six men are currently on the U.S. military's death row. The editorial concluded, "The de facto moratorium has not made the country or the military less secure. The evidence of persistent racial bias is further evidence that it is time for the military system to abolish the death penalty." / Read more


August 2011

FLORIDA

Upcoming Execution: Florida Case Raises Numerous Legal Concerns

Death Penalty Information Center

08-31-11 -- Florida has set an execution date of Septmeber 6 for Manuel Valle, a foreign national from Cuba who was deprived of his rights under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.  The European Union's ambassador to the U.S. has asked Florida to halt the execution, and Florida's Catholic Bishops have also requested clemency for Valle, saying, "Killing someone because they killed diminishes respect for life and promotes a culture of violence and vengeance."  The state plans to introduce the anesthetic pentobarbital for this execution, despite the fact that the manufacturer of the drug, Lundbeck, Inc., has asked Florida to refrain from such use, saying it "contradicts everything we are in business to do." Valle has been on death row for about 33 years, raising other questions about cruel and unusual punishment in his case.  In another case, a federal judge has found Florida's statute to be unconstitutional.  If that ruling is upheld on appeal, it could affect Valle's case as well, but only if he is still alive. UPDATE: Valle's execution has been stayed at least until Sept. 28.. / Read more


IDAHO  

Judge rejects Idaho woman's death penalty appeal

Rebecca Boone, Associated Press, Houston Chronicle

08-30-11 -- A federal judge has dismissed the appeal of the only woman facing the death penalty in Idaho but cleared Robin Row to ask a higher court to consider a handful of issues in the case. . . . Row, 53, was convicted of the 1992 killing of her husband and two children by setting their Boise duplex on fire. At her sentencing the following year, a judge said she was a pathological liar and "the embodiment of the cold-blooded, pitiless slayer." . . . Row's appeals bounced through the court system over the next several years as she said there were multiple problems with her case, including a contention that secret tape recordings of phone calls shouldn't have been allowed into evidence and a claim that she had brain damage. Row contended that if enough testimony about the condition had been presented in court, the case would likely have ended differently.


Lethal Injections: Ohio and Other States Face New Hurdles with Their Execution Process

Death Penalty Information Center

08-30-11 -- Ohio is the only state currently using a single dose of the drug pentobarbital to execute inmates, while other states are using pentobarbital as part of a three-drug protocol. According to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DRC), the state's supply of the drug will last only until February. Lundbeck, Inc., the manufacturer of pentobarbital, has said they are putting systems in place to block the use of their product in executions. Ohio recently announced changes to its execution protocol that would allow it to use a backup method of execution if the state cannot obtain pentobarbital.  However, the new method has never been used, and involves injecting two drugs directly into an inmate's muscles, bypassing the veins. Under that method, the sedative midazolam would be followed by the painkiller hydromorphone.  There is a possibility of vomiting and convulsions with this protocol.  As with previous changes to execution procedures, the new method could be challenged in court. Tim Young, a State Public Defender, described the new method as, "Untested, anywhere, ever." Because of its limited shelf-life and restrictions by the manufacturer, other states are likey to run out of pentobarbital by 2013.  States might turn to the sedative propofol, but it is also facing shortages, according to the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists. / Read more


CALIFORNIA

California "Taxpayers for Justice" Launches Initiative to Put Death Penalty on 2012 Ballot

Death Penalty Information Center

08-29-11 -- After years of reports about the high costs of California's death penalty, including a recent study that found the state has already spent $4 billion on capital punishment resulting in 13 executions, a group of Californians has announced a citizens' initiative to put death penalty repeal on the 2012 ballot. The group, Taxpayers for Justice, includes over 100 law enforcement leaders, in addition to crime-victim advocates and exonerated individuals. Among them is former Los Angeles County District Attorney Gil Garcetti, whose office pursued dozens of capital cases during his 32 years as a prosecutor. He said, "My frustration is more about the fact that the death penalty does not serve any useful purpose and it's very expensive." The high cost of California's death penalty has gained attention as the state faces major budget cuts.  A study released in June by U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Arthur L. Alarcon found that California's death penalty system is currently costing the state about $184 million per year. In April, California Governor Jerry Brown cancelled plans to build a new death row, saying "It would be unconscionable to earmark $356 million for a new and improved death row while making severe cuts to education and programs that serve the most vulnerable among us." The ballot initiative will be announced at a press conference in Sacramento on August 29, with Jeanne Woodford, the former warden of San Quentin State Prison who oversaw four executions, as one of the speakers. / Read more


MILITARY COURTS

Military has called off 10 executions

UPI 

08-28-11 -- Ten of the 16 U.S. military personnel sentenced to death since 1984 have had their sentences overturned, officials say. . . . McClatchy Newspapers reported Sunday military appellate courts spared the defendants the death penalty because of mistakes made throughout the military's judicial system. . . . Most of the former death row inmates have been re-sentenced to life in prison. . . . McClatchy said critics say in many cases, defendants charged with capital crimes are given young, inexperienced lawyers to represent them. . . . "If you have a system where it's always amateur hour and where the lawyers are always trying their first capital case, you're going to guarantee the same kinds of mistakes that have resulted in many, many cases being reversed -- because of ineffective assistance of counsel -- for the last 30 years are going to be made over and over again," David Bruck, director of the legal aid organization Virginia Capital Case Clearinghouse, said.


RHODE ISLAND

New Voices: Rhode Island's Governor Explains His Resistance to Federal Death Penalty Case

Death Penalty Information Center

08-25-11 -- Rhode Island Governor Lincoln D. Chafee (Indep.) recently explained his denial of a request to transfer Jason Pleau to the federal government for a potential death penalty prosecution.  Chafee stated, " As a matter of public policy, Rhode Islanders have long opposed the death penalty, even for the most heinous crimes.  To voluntarily let Mr. Pleau be exposed to the federal death penalty for a crime committed in Rhode Island would be an abdication of one of my core responsibilities as governor: defending and upholding the legitimate public-policy choices made by the people of this state."  In his op-ed in the Providence Journal, the governor noted that Pleau had offered to plead guilty to murder in state court and accept a sentence of life without parole. Chafee rejected the accusation that his actions were driven by a personal opposition to capital punishment. The governor noted that Rhode Island abolished the death penalty in 1852, although a very narrow death penalty statute was put in place afterwards.   That law was finally removed in 1984, and no executions occurred in Rhode Island after 1852.  / Read more


Studies: "Minority Practice, Majority's Burden: The Death Penalty Today"

Death Penalty Information Center

08-24-11 -- A new report by Professor James S. Liebman and Peter Clarke from Columbia University Law School analyzes the declining use of the death penalty and concludes that, although it is abstractly supported by two-thirds of the public, the death penalty is actually practiced by only a distinct minority of jurisdictions in the United States. In their forthcoming article, "Minority Practice, Majority's Burden: The Death Penalty Today," Liebman and Clarke attempt to explain why the use of the death penalty tends to predominate in certain communities, and why relatively few executions are carried out compared to the number of death sentences imposed. The abstract of the report states, "It turns out that the imposition of death sentences, particularly for felony murder . . . provides parochial and libertarian communities with a quick and cheap alternative to effective law enforcement." The authors conclude in the body of the report, "As spare and unvarnished as this response is locally, it is costly to the majority of communities and their residents who do not much use the death penalty. It leaves crime unattended that spills over into neighboring communities. It generates verdicts fraught with costly error. It misleads the family of murder victims into thinking death verdicts will be executed, not just expressed. . . . Although hidden and diffuse, the costs are so great that one has to wonder why the majority puts up with them." The report will be published in a forthcoming volume of the Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law. / Read more


New Voices: Ohio Republican Leads Efforts Against Death Penalty

Death Penalty Information Center

08-22-11 -- Ohio Rep. Terry Blair is one of two Republican co-sponsors of House Bill 160, a bill that would replace the death penalty in the state with life without the possibility of parole.  Blair, whose opinion on the death penalty puts him in the minority in the 59-member House Republican caucus, attributes his views to his religious beliefs.  “I don’t think we have any business in taking another person’s life, even for what we call a legal purpose or what we might refer to as a justified purpose... The creeds of the church say that life is to be protected all along, from natural birth to natural death."  Blair is co-sponsoring the bill with Democrats Ted Celeste and Nickie Antonio.  Exeuctions are on hold in Ohio after U.S. District Judge Gregory L. Frost halted an execution because of concerns about the state's lethal injection process.  Ohio prison officials have submitted a modified lethal injection protocol in anticipation of resuming executions next month. In 2010, Ohio was second only to Texas in the number of executions carried out. / Read more


WASHINGTON

Costs: Capital Trials Put Strain on Struggling County's Budget; Prosecutors Laid Off

Death Penalty Information Center

08-16-11 -- In Washington, King County has spent $656,564 to prosecute three capital defendants in two cases and over $4.3 million to defend the accused. The trials have yet to begin, but money has been needed for expert witnesses, investigators, and forensic analysis. Prosecution costs do not include work done by police officers and crime-lab analysts. The county has struggled with constraints on its criminal justice budget and has eliminated the jobs of 36 prosecutors since 2008. A third case prosecuted last year has thus far cost the county another $2.4 million.  Other counties with similar budgetary concerns have chosen not to seek the death penalty. Defense attorney Jeff Ellis said that the high cost of the death penalty may be partly responsible for the drop in death penalty cases in other areas. He said, "There is a downturn in the number of death-penalty sentences being sought and imposed because of the costs associated with them. What's happening now [in King County] is a reverse of what's happening nationwide." According to a 2006 study released by the Washington State Bar Association, a death penalty trial costs approximately $470,000 more than a murder case in which the death penalty is not sought, and an additional $70,000 in court costs. The study also found that more than $200,000 is spent on average on appeals. / Read more


New Voices: Four Who Experienced a Family Murder Speak About the Death Penalty

Death Penalty Information Center

08-12-11 -- Kathryn Gaines, Rita Shoulders, Ruth Lowe and Victoria Cox all had someone in their family murdered but all believe that a death sentence for the killers would only deepen their personal wounds.  Shoulders lost her sister to murder; Cox lost her brother; Lowe also lost her brother; and Gaines experienced the death of her eldest grandchild a year ago.  All four women are members of St. Martin de Porres Church in West Louisville, Kentucky, and have participated in videos to relate their experienes.  Ruth Lowe said of the man who killed her brother, "I’m learning to forgive. And even if I had the chance I wouldn’t want him executed. It would do nothing for me; it would do nothing for the rest of my family. To take his life would make no sense.” Kathryn Gaines said, "You cannot bring a life back by taking away another life. It hurts a whole family."  The videos of the four women's stories can be found  here. The women's stories are also being told in a series of articles in The Record, a Catholic newspaper published in central Kentucky. / Read more


New Resources: Five New States Added to State Information Pages

Death Penalty Information Center

08-11-11 -- DPIC is pleased to announce the addition of five more states to one of our latest resources, the State Information Pages.  Adding to the original 15 state pages made available earlier, pages for Alaska, Kansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Wisconsin may now be accessed as well. These pages provide historical and current information on the death penalty for each state (regardless of whether it currently has the death penalty), including famous cases, past legislative actions, and important links to key organizations.  For frequently-updated information, such as execution totals, the size of death row, and murder rates, see our state-by-state database. More pages will be made available soon.  You can reach the State Information Pages through the "State by State" button at the top of every page on our website or under the "Resources" tab in our main menu. / Read more


INDIANA

Costs: In Indiana, the Death Penalty is Very Expensive with Little or No Return

Death Penalty Information Center

08-09-11 -- Seeking the death penalty in Indiana is very expensive, even though most cases in which the death penalty is sought do not end in an execution. According to the Indiana Public Defender Council, only 16% percent of death penalty cases in the state filed between 1990 and 2009 (30 out of 188) ended with a death sentence, and even fewer resulted in an execution. In Vanderburgh County, where taxpayers have spent $800,000 in the last two decades defending capital cases, only one of the last five death penalty trials has resulted in an execution. Parke County had to raise its taxes to pay for the prosecution of a death penalty case, which ultimately ended with a guilty plea and a life-without-parole sentence. Vanderburgh County Councilman Tom Shetler acknowledged the current system can be burdensome, "There is no doubt financially it is a serious hardship on the taxpayers," Shetler said.  According to a fiscal impact report presented by the Indiana Legislative Services agency, the average cost of a death penalty trial and direct appeal was more than $450,000--over 10 times the cost of a life-without-parole trial, which averaged $42,658. The same report also found that 19 of the 26 death penalty cases between 2000 and 2007 ended in plea agreements for sentences of life without parole. / Read more


New Resources: DPIC's Latest Podcast Addresses the Supreme Court's Role in the Death Penalty

Death Penalty Information Center

08-08-11 -- The latest edition of the Death Penalty Information Center's series of podcasts, DPIC on the Issues, is now available. This podcast addresses questions about the U.S. Supreme Court's role in overseeing the constitutionality of the death penalty.  The podcast discusses the kinds of cases the Court takes on review and briefly describes a few key Supreme Court decisions on the death penalty, including Furman v. Georgia and Gregg v. Georgia.  The Supreme Court's role in the recent limitations on applying the death penalty, such as the ban on executing juvenile offenders and those with intellectual disabilities, is also discussed.  Click here to listen to this latest podcast, the 15th in DPIC's series.  Generally, the series offers brief, informative discussions of important death penalty issues. Other recent episodes include discussions on the Legal Process and on Mental Illness. You can subscribe to receive automatic updates through iTunes when new episodes are posted and receive access to all previous episodes. Other audio and video resources, along with all of DPIC's podcasts, can be found on our Multimedia page. / Read more


New Resources: DPIC's Summary of 2011 California Cost Study

Death Penalty Information Center

08-05-11 -- The Death Penalty Information Center has prepared a summary of a comprehensive cost study of California's death penalty system recently published by federal Judge Arthur L. Alarcon and Loyola Law School Professor Paula M. Mitchell.  The original study is entitled Executing the Will of the Voters?: A Roadmap to Mend or End the California Legislature's Multi-Billion Dollar Death Penalty Debacle, and it was published in a special issue of the Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review.  Using charts, graphs, and pertinent quotes, DPIC's summary shows how the authors arrived at the $4 billion price tag for the state's death penalty system.  The summary illustrates the percentage of costs attributable to trials, appeals and incarceration, and explains why the system is so expensive.  It also provides the legislative history of the state's statute and why the authors believe the law may be subject to reversal by the courts. The report and summary conclude with the authors' recommendations for saving the state hundreds of millions of dollars by either sharply curtailing the use of the death penalty or doing away with it completely. See DPIC's Summary of the Study or read the entire article. / Read more


MICHIGAN

First Federal Death Sentence in Non-Death Penalty State Overturned

Death Penalty Information Center

08-04-11 -- On August 3 the U.S. Court of the Appeals for the Sixth Circuit overturned the federal death sentence of Marvin Gabrion, who was convicted of a 1997 murder in a National Forest in Michigan.  Gabrion was the first defendant in the country to receive the federal death penalty for a crime committed in a non-death penalty state since the federal death penalty was reinstated in 1988.  All three members of the judicial panel upheld Gabriion's murder conviction, but two judges called for another sentencing trial because Gabrion's defense team was barred from telling jurors that he would not have faced the death penalty if he had been prosecuted in state court because Michigan does not allow capital punishment. The court held that such information could have served as a mitigating factor, perhaps convincing some jurors not to vote for death.  In deciding Gabrion's direct appeal, the court wrote, "The case was not brought to serve a special national interest like treason or terrorism different from the normal state interest in punishing murder. The jury should be given the opportunity to consider whether one or more of them would choose a life sentence rather than the death penalty when the same jury considering the same defendant's proper punishment for the same crime but prosecuted in Michigan state court could not impose the death penalty."  The federal government had jurisdiction over the crime because the victim's body was found in a portion of a lake in Manistee National Forest that is federal property.  Gabrion was the first person to receive a death sentence in Michigan since 1937. / Read more


INTERNATIONAL

Studies: Amnesty International's Report on the U.S. Death Penalty After 35 Years

Death Penalty Information Center

08-02-11 -- A report released by Amnesty International in July looks at recent developments in the lethal injection controversy in the U.S. and provides an overview of the death penalty since it was reinstated in 1976 in Gregg v. Georgia. Amnesty's report, entitled "An Embarrassment of Hitches: Reflections on the Death Penalty, 35 Years After Gregg v. Georgia, As States Scramble for Lethal Injection Drugs," begins with a discussion of a lawsuit filed by attorneys for Arizona death row inmate Donald Beaty against federal authorities for allowing the importation of sodium thiopental from international sources in violation of federal law. The Arizona Department of Corrections announced the evening before Beaty's execution that they would switch to pentobarbital in order to avoid legal questions about the use of sodium thiopental, which they had obtained from overseas. The report concludes, "The USA’s international isolation on the death penalty has become more and more acute. It is even impacting the scramble by authorities in the USA as they try to fix their lethal injection protocols to take account of the shortage of one of the ingredients they had become used to employing in their death chambers. The USA now faces not just opposition from other governments to its continuing use of the death penalty, but also from pharmaceutical companies that manufacture drugs for patient care – not for killing prisoners." Read full report. / Read more


PENNSYLVANIA

DNA tests prove convict in 1989 murder was the killer, DA says

By Riley Yates, Of The Morning Call

08-01-11 -- Twenty-two years after Scott D. Oliver raped and murdered an 11-year-old girl in Easton, his claims of innocence have ended with new DNA testing proving he committed the brutal crime, Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli said Monday. . . .Though Scott D. Oliver, 43, had long maintained he was wrongfully convicted, recent tests done at the request of The Innocence Project showed that his hair was found on victim Melissa Jaroschak's body, Morganelli said. . . . "Any questions that may have remained about Scott Oliver's guilt in this case have now been conclusively answered," Morganelli said. "May Melissa Jaroschak rest in peace. And may her family now know that this case is closed for good."


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July 2011

New Resources: DPIC Presents Updated Execution Database

Death Penalty Information Center

07-28-11 -- The Death Penalty Information Center is pleased to offer a new and more comprehensive version of our Execution Database.  The new database includes information on the county where the crime was committed and on the gender of victim, in addition to the information available in our previous database.  The database includes such categories as Race of Defendant and Victim, Foreign Nationals, Method of Execution, and Age at Execution.  Moreover, results of searches are sortable by each search category.  This will allow, for example, all the executions in a particular county to appear together. The Execution Database covers all executions since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.  Information in this database was obtained from news reports, state Departments of Corrections and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.  County and victim-gender information was provided by Professor Frank Baumgartner of the University of North Carolina.  Please contact us with any comments or questions regarding this new resource.


FEDERAL COURTS

At 1st Circuit, a death penalty showdown

Sheri Qualters, The National Law Journal

07-28-11 -- Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee's battle to prevent the U.S. government from gaining custody of a state inmate facing charges that could call for the death penalty made its way to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit on Thursday. . . . The oral argument in U.S. v. Pleau and the related In re Pleau drew a standing-room-only crowd to the Boston appellate courtroom. The defendant's counsel believes it to be the first reported case about a governor's refusal of a request from the United States for the temporary custody of a prisoner pursuant to the Interstate Agreement on Detainers Act. . . . Jason Wayne Pleau is appealing a June 30 order by Judge William Smith of the District of Rhode Island granting the U.S. government's petition for a writ of habeas corpus ad prosequendum for him to face federal charges. Pleau also filed a petition for a writ of prohibition.
He's asking the 1st Circuit to permanently stay the district court's order granting the government's petition for his custody.


ALABAMA

New Voices: "Alabama Juries, Not Judges, Should Decide Death Sentences"

Death Penalty Information Center

07-27-11 -- O.H. Eaton Jr. who served as a judge for many years in Florida, recently wrote an op-ed in the Birmingham News calling for an end to Alabama's law that allows judges to override juries' sentencing recommendations in death penalty cases. Eaton, who presided over numerous capital cases during his 24 years on the bench, said that his experience convinced him that the practive of judicial override is unfair. Citing a report recently published by the Equal Justice Initiative, Eaton noted that one-fifth of Alabama's death row inmates face execution even though their juries believed they should have been sentenced to life in prison. He wrote, "While consistency in sentencing is the argument most often heard in support of judicial override, the evidence indicates that allowing judges to ignore jury recommendations actually leads to less consistency in sentencing rather than more. Some judges are more likely to override than others. Some counties are generally more supportive of the death penalty than others. So, a death sentence ends up depending on geography and luck of the judicial draw rather than the facts of the case." Eaton suggested a short-term solution of imposing a rigorous legal standard for allowing judicial override, but ultimately he recommended that juries should make the sentencing decision. Read full op-ed below. / Read more


DELAWARE  

Lawyers arguing today for halt to Friday execution of ax murderer

Written by Esteban Parra, The News Journal

07-27-11 -- Attorneys trying to halt the execution of convicted ax murderer Robert W. Jackson III will present arguments today in a series of court hearings across the state. . . . The first began in Wilmington at 9 a.m. before U.S. District Judge Sue Robinson to raise objections to the new drug Delaware uses as part of its three-drug lethal-injection formula. . . . A second hearing is slated for this afternoon in Dover, where attorneys will ask the state Supreme Court to delay the Friday execution so the land’s highest court can review the case, said Marc Bookman, one of Jackson’s lawyers and executive director for the Atlantic Center for Capital Representation, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit that gives representation in death penalty trials. . . . Jackson is scheduled to be executed between midnight and 3 a.m. Friday for the 1992 killing of 47-year-old Elizabeth Girardi during a robbery of her Hockessin home.


FLORIDA

Florida Supreme Court Stays Execution to Allow Lethal Injection Hearing

Death Penalty Information Center

07-26-11 -- On July 25, the Florida Supreme Court (4-3) stayed the August 2 execution of Manuel Valle to allow a lower court to consider a challenge to a new lethal injection drug.  Last month, Florida substituted pentobarbital for sodium thiopental as the first drug in its three-drug protocol for executions.  Florida and many other states were forced to seek alternatives to sodium thiopental when the drug's sole U.S. manufacturer decided to stop its production.  Valle's lawyers contend that the use of pentobarbital would subject him to a substantial risk of harm because the drug has never been tested on humans for the purpose of inducing an anesthetic coma.  Federal judges in Ohio and Delaware have also recently stayed executions in those states because of lethal injection challenges, although the stay in Delaware was lifted pending clarification of the basis for the stay.  On separate grounds, a federal judge in Florida found the state's death penalty law unconstitutional because jurors are not given decision-making power to determine whether a defendant is eligible for the death penalty.  That case is still under review. / Read more


North Carolina

North Carolina Court to Hear First Challenge under State's Racial Justice Act

Death Penalty Information Center

07-25-11 -- Marcus Robinson will be the first North Carolina death row inmate to have a sentencing challenge heard in court based on the state's 2009 Racial Justice Act.  According to the act, a death row inmate who can establish through statistical studies that his sentence was racially discriminatory can seek to have it commuted to life in prison.  Robinson's lawyers plan to argue that he received a death sentence partly because he is black and his victim was white  They plan to cite several North Carolina studies, including one that found that a defendant who killed a white victim was 2.6 times more likely to be sentenced to death than if there were no white victims in the crime.  His lawyers will also cite statistics showing that prosecutors in the state reject minorities for capital juries at twice the rate they reject whites.  In Robinson's case, the prosecutors rejected half the potential jurors who were black but only 15 percent of potential jurors who were other races.  His sentencing jury was comprised of nine whites, one American Indian and two blacks, plus two white alternates. The Racial Justice Act was challenged in the state's prior legislative session, but it was upheld. / Read more


U.S. Military

DPIC Resource: The Military Death Penalty

Death Penalty Information Center

07-22-11 -- The capital arraignment on July 20 of Army Major Nidal Hasan for the murder of 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas, in November 2009 has brought attention to the death penalty in the United States Military. There are currently six inmates on the military death row, which is located in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. In the last two years, four men have been removed from the military death row after their sentences were reduced to life. The Uniform Code of Military Justice allows the death penalty for 15 offenses, but all current inmates were convicted of premeditated murder or felony murder. Unlike state executions, members of the military cannot be executed unless the President personally confirms the death sentence. A military jury in a capital case must be unanimous in both its verdict and the sentence.  The last military execution took place 50 years ago, on April 13, 1961. U.S. Army Private John A. Bennett was hanged after being convicted of rape and attempted murder. / Read more



GEORGIA  

Georgia Videotapes Man's Execution

Greg Bluestein, The Associated Press, NY Lawyer 

07-22-11 -- The video camera that recorded the execution of a Georgia death row inmate did more than give attorneys an account of the man's reaction to a new lethal injection drug. Death penalty experts say it could also lead to a flurry of new legal moves seeking more public access to secretive death chambers. . . . Thursday's execution of Andrew Grant DeYoung for the 1993 murders of his parents and sister was believed to be the first in the U.S. in almost two decades recorded on video. It came at the urging of defense attorneys who want to document the effects of the sedative pentobarbital. . . . The Georgia Attorney General's office warned the move could set a troubling precedent and lead to the "potential for sensationalism and abuse," and the state worried that it could encourage a rash of similar filings. The execution was pushed back a day to buy prosecutors more time to block the taping, but a second legal challenge was also rejected.


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New Resources: Prison Magazine, The Angolite, Examines the Death Penalty in 2010

Death Penalty Information Center

07-20-11 -- A recent edition of The Angolite, the nation's largest prison news magazine, contains an article detailing national death penalty trends and developments.  The piece highlights the emergence of several prominent conservatives who have voiced concerns with the current death penalty system, including Montana State Senator Roy Brown and conservative activist Richard Viguerie.  The article is authored by John Corley and provides an in-depth look at the ongoing controversy about lethal injection procedures around the country, the high costs of maintaining the death penalty system, and the risks of wrongful executions. The Angolite is an award-winning bi-monthly prison news magazine produced by inmates at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. / Read more


OREGON  

Fired Haugen lawyers lose appeal

Oregon Supreme Court denies try for reinstatement

Written by Alan Gustafson , Statesman Journal  

07-19-11 -- Two attorneys fired last week by death row inmate Gary Haugen lost their bid to stay on the case Monday. . . . The Oregon Supreme Court denied a petition filed by attorneys Andy Simrin and Keith Goody, who had asked the court to vacate a Marion County judge's order dismissing them as Haugen's lawyers. . . . Also Monday, the Supreme Court dismissed an "emergency" motion filed the same day by Simrin and Goody. They had asked the court to halt any further Marion County Circuit Court proceedings in the Haugen case until the petition was settled. . . . The Supreme Court threw out the motion after denying the petition, deeming it "moot."


Texas

Victims: Victim of Hate Crime After 9/11 Seeks Clemency for His Condemned Attacker

Death Penalty Information Center

07-19-11 -- In 2001, Mark Stroman shot several people in Texas whom he believed were Arabs in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11.  Stroman killed at least two men and wounded Rais Bhuiyan, who is from Bangladesh and was working at a Dallas gas station.  Stroman received the death penalty for the murders and is scheduled to be executed on July 20.  Bhuiyan, who lost the use of one eye as a result of the shooting, has spent the last few months seeking clemency for Stroman.  In a recent interview with the New York Times, Bhuiyan said, "I requested a meeting with Mr. Stroman. I’m eagerly awaiting to see him in person and exchange ideas. I would talk about love and compassion. We all make mistakes. He’s another human being, like me.  Hate the sin, not the sinner. It’s very important that I meet him to tell him I feel for him and I strongly believe he should get a second chance. That I never hated the U.S. He could educate a lot of people. Thinking about what is going to happen makes me very emotional. I can’t sleep. Once I go to bed I feel there is another person that I know who is in his bed thinking about what is going to happen to him — that he is going to be tied to a bed and killed. It makes me very emotional and very sad and makes me want to do more." Stroman has been moved by Bhuiyan's actions and agrees, "The hate has to stop."  Read full-text of interview below. / Read more


CALIFORNIA  

Death penalty report: pay lawyers more

Debra J. Saunders, San Francisco Chronicle (blog) 

07-18-11 -- I reported in Sunday's column, a recent Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review study has energized the debate against the death penalty as it puts a price tag on the cost of ajudicating capital cases. The report estimated that the death penalty cost California taxpayers $184 million in 2009. . . . What most stories on the report do not tell you is that the authors report that federal courtrs have granted new hearings or penalty trial sin seven of ten cases, the author blame inadequate funding for the system's dysfunction. Really. . . . By improper funding, the authors mean not paying defense and appellate attorneys enough money. The California Supreme Court pays $145 per hour -- or $23,200 per month assuming a 40-hour week. Federal courts inmate attorneys $178 per hour. When courts appoint private counsel, the cost is between $200,000 and $300,000.


California

New Voices: Author of California's Expanded Death Penalty Law Now Supports Repeal

Death Penalty Information Center

07-18-11 -- Donald Heller served as both a California and federal prosecutor and was the author of the state ballot measure that greatly expanded the list of murders eligible for capital punishment.  After the trial of one defendant, Heller volunteered to "throw the switch," a comment that earned him the name "Mad Dog."  But his views on capital punishment have changed sharply over the years.  A recent interview in the Los Angeles Times explored how Heller came to have his greatest regrets for his promotion of the death penalty.  He recently testified in California in support of a bill that would lead to ending capital punishment.  Heller said he first changed his mind about the death penalty after the execution of Tommy Thompson, who was convicted through what Heller believed to be "a clear abuse of the death penalty law."  He realized that the initiative he created "can and may have resulted in the death of an innocent person."  Heller debunks many arguments in support of the death penalty, including that it is needed to deter crimes.  He said, "Statistically, in a number of states where there is no death penalty, state crime has dropped. I have found from my years as a lawyer in the criminal process that it doesn't deter anyone. When someone kills, they're thinking of satisfying whatever [made them] decide to kill. They never think about the ultimate punishment."  He concluded, "My view is that as a civilized society, we've reached the point where capital punishment should be completely abolished." 


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OREGON  

Dismissed attorneys fight back in death penalty case

Condemned inmate says they broke vow to drop motions

Written by Alan Gustafson, Statesman Journal

07-16-11 -- Hours after two attorneys for condemned killer Gary Haugen were dismissed from the case by a Marion County judge on Thursday, they filed a petition asking the Oregon Supreme Court to rescind the judge's order. . . . Haugen's fired attorneys, Andy Simrin and Keith Goody, are asking the high court to require Jamese Rhoades, the presiding judge of Marion County Circuit Court, to vacate the order she issued removing them as Haugen's co-counsels — or "to show cause why she should not be required to do so." . . . Haugen on Friday blasted the action of his ousted attorneys, accusing them of breaking a courtroom vow to refrain from filing any new motions or petitions in the case. . . . In an interview with the Statesman Journal, Haugen said that Simrin and Goody should be held in contempt of court for "blatantly lying" to Rhoades.


California

Studies: New Report Sees Demise of California's Death Penalty

Death Penalty Information Center

07-15-11 -- A new report on the state's death penalty system published by the ACLU of Northern California catalogs numerous intractable problems and waning public support which may lead to the end of capital punishment in the state.  According to the report, "California's Death Penalty is Dead: Anatomy of a Failure," the death penalty in California is being slowly abandoned as prosecutors, legislators and taxpayers are increasingly turning to life in prison without parole as an alternative punishment.  Only three death sentences were imposed in the state between January - June 2011, a significant decline compared to the same period last year when there were 13.  This marks the lowest number of new death sentences within a six-month period since the death penalty was reinstated in 1978.  The report also highlights that voters in the 2010 election opted for officials who supported replacing the death penalty over those who aggressively campaigned in favor for the death penalty.  A 2011 poll revealed that 63% of likely California voters supported commuting all existing death sentences to life without parole, thereby saving the state hundreds of millions of dollars.  The commutation proposal received support from respondents across political party lines and from all regions of the state.  Among the problems highlighted in the report are the enormous costs of the death penalty, the long delay in assigning lawyers for death penalty appeals, and the absence of any meaningful return for all the resources spent. Read full text of the report here. / Read more


Texas

Controversial Texas Case Settles with Plea Bargain

Death Penalty Information Center

07-14-11 -- A Texas capital case that precipitated a rare judicial review of the constitutionality of the state's death penalty recently ended on July 6 with an unexpected plea deal. At the end of six weeks of jury selection, the prosecution accepted defendant John Edward Green Jr.'s agreement to plead guilty to a lesser murder charge in exchange for 40 years in prison. The case was delayed in coming to trial when Judge Kevin Fine (pictured) agreed to conduct a hearing on whether Texas's death penalty law posed too great a risk of executing the innocent.  The hearing was begun in December 2010, although the prosecution refused to take an active part in the proceedings.  The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals halted the hearing after 2 days of testimony, holding that the constitutional issue was not ripe for consideration and that the trial court was not the proper forum for deciding that issue.  The family of the two victims who were robbed and shot (one of whom died) in 2008 supported the plea agreement. A statement issued by Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos's office cited concern for the victims and families when accepting the plea deal: "The victim's husband and sister (who is also a victim in this case) related that they wanted finality and certainty of sentence. They expressed grave concerns regarding the pretrial proceedings and previous rulings in this case." / Read more


VIRGINIA  

Va. judge throws out drug dealer’s death sentence in slaying

By Josh White, Washington Post 

07-12-11 -- A federal judge has thrown out the capital murder conviction and death sentence of Justin Michael Wolfe and lambasted the veteran Prince William County prosecutors who alleged that the drug dealer orchestrated the slaying of his marijuana supplier more than a decade ago. . . . U.S. District Judge Raymond A. Jackson, in Norfolk, ruled that prosecutors withheld or ignored crucial evidence and potential testimony that could have helped Wolfe’s defense. . . . Wolfe, 30, has spent more than nine years on death row after he was convicted of hiring another member of his drug ring to kill the 21-year-old son of a Secret Service agent.


OHIO

Federal Judge Halts Ohio Execution Because of "Haphazard" Lethal Injection Process

Death Penalty Information Center

07-11-11 -- On July 8 U.S. District Court Judge Gregory Frost stayed the upcoming July 19 execution of Ohio inmate Kenneth Smith because of the state's inconsistent application of its lethal injection process. Judge Frost called the state's practice "haphazard," and said, "Ohio pays lip service to standards it then often ignores without valid reasons, sometimes with no physical ramifications and sometimes with what have been described as messy if not botched executions."  Smith's attorneys argued that Ohio does not follow its own execution procedures, straying from the required number of execution team members and failing to document the mixing of drugs. According to the warden of the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility, executions in January and May involved only one medical team member, rather than the required two.  Frost did not rule on the constitutionality of Ohio's death penalty statute, but held that Smith would likely prevail on a claim of unequal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment.  He concluded, "The perplexing if not often shocking departures from the core components of the execution process that are set forth in the written protocol not only offend the Constitution based on irrationality but also disturb fundamental rights that the law bestows on every individual under the Constitution, regardless of the depraved nature of his or her crimes." / Read more


ALABAMA  

New EJI Report Finds Arbitrary, Biased, and Unreliable Death Sentencing When Alabama Judges Override Jury Verdicts of Life

Equal Justice Initiative 

07-11-11 -- Allowing elected trial judges in Alabama to override jury verdicts of life in capital cases and impose the death penalty has resulted in some of the most arbitrary and unreliable death sentencing in the United States according to a new study by EJI. A new report released today by EJI reveals that - unlike in any other state - elected Alabama judges overwhelmingly use their virtually unrestricted override power to impose death in cases where death-qualified Alabama juries have returned verdicts for life imprisonment without parole. . . . Of the 34 states with the death penalty, Alabama is the only jurisdiction where judges routinely override jury verdicts of life to impose capital punishment. Since 1976, Alabama judges have overridden jury verdicts 107 times. Although judges have authority to override life or death verdicts, in 92% of overrides elected judges have overruled jury verdicts of life to impose the death penalty.

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PDF: New EJI Report on Judge Override

Discussing Alabama's unique and arbitrary practice of permitting elected trial judges to override jury life verdicts and impose death sentences.


New Resources: DPIC Podcast Covers Legal Process

Death Penalty Information Center

07-08-11 -- Have you ever wondered about how a death penalty trial is conducted or why the appeals take many years?  The latest edition of the Death Penalty Information Center's series of podcasts, DPIC on the Issues, may be helpful in answering those questions. This podcast addresses questions about the legal process in capital cases, including jury selection, sentencing, and appeals. In addition to covering the basic steps in a death penalty case, the podcast discusses issues such as the adequacy of representation and the length of time on death row. Click here to listen to this latest podcast.  Generally, this series of 14 podcasts offers brief, informative discussions of key death penalty issues. Other recent episodes include discussions on Women and the Death Penalty and Mental Illness. You can subscribe through iTunes to receive automatic updates when new episodes are posted and receive access to all previous episodes. Other audio and video resources, along with all of DPIC's podcasts, can be found on our Multimedia page. / Read more


TEXAS  

Texas ignores U.S. protests

Killer of San Antonio teen executed here Thursday

By Brandon Scott, Staff Reporter The Huntsville Item

07-08-11 -- Despite warnings from the U.S. government, Texas put to death Mexican national Humberto Leal on Thursday for the 1994 abduction, rape and murder of 16-year-old Adria Saveda of San Antonio. . . . Leal, an illegal alien who moved to the U.S. as a young child, was denied legal assistance through the Mexican consulate, an issue that incited challenges to his execution and a flurry of requests for a delay. . . . The Obama administration had asked the Supreme Court for a stay, expressing concern for Americans accused of crimes while traveling outside the country, according to the Associated Press.


FEDERAL COURTS

Ikuta Blasts 9th Circuit Colleagues for Another Shaky Habeas Ruling

Ginny LaRoe, Legal Pad A Recorder Blog

07-07-11 -- Ninth Circuit Judge Sandra Ikuta is speaking the Supreme Court's language.

Her colleagues on a panel today tossed the death sentence of an Arizona killer after finding the trial judge should have recused. Ikuta wrote a detailed, 20-page dissent, blasting her colleagues for granting habeas relief, which she says defies Supreme Court precedent, ignores justices' repeated message to the circuit about its handling of habeas cases and will likely lead to more frivolous claims of judicial bias. . . . In Hurles v. Ryan, Senior Judge Dorothy Nelson and Judge Harry Pregerson ordered new sentencing of Richard Hurles, who was convicted of stabbing to death a librarian in an attempted sexual assault in 1992. The two Carter appointees took issue with the trial judge for imposing the ultimate penalty after being involved in an interlocutory appeal in the case. The appeal was over a defense request for a second lawyer, since it was a capital case. . . . In a pleading filed on behalf of the judge during that phase of the case, the trial judge commented on the "overwhelming evidence" of guilt, and called the case "very simple and straightforward," Nelson wrote for the majority.


Pharmaceutical Company Restricts Access to Drug Used in U.S. Executions

Death Penalty Information Center

07-06-11 -- A pharmaceutical company that manufactures pentobarbital (distributed under the brand name Nembutal) has announced that it will significantly restrict its distribution system to prevent the drug's use in lethal injections in the United States. Lundbeck Inc. announced in a statement that it “adamantly opposes the distressing misuse of our product in capital punishment.” Lundbeck will review orders before providing clearance for shipping pentobarbital and will deny orders from prisons located in states currently carrying out executions. Purchasers must also provide a written agreement that they will not redistribute the drug. Lundbeck's Chief Executive Ulf Wiinberg added, "After much consideration, we have determined that a restricted distribution system is the most meaningful means through which we can restrict the misuse of Nembutal. While the company has never sold the product directly to prisons and therefore can’t make guarantees, we are confident that our new distribution program will play a substantial role in restricting prisons’ access to Nembutal for misuse as part of lethal injection."  Almost all the states with the death penalty are currently using or intended to use pentobarbital in their executions.  This decision by Lundbeck may require a major change in the execution protocols of states and the federal government. / Read more


TEXAS  

Lawyers protest Gov. Perry for not halting execution of Mexico-born murderer

By Neil Munro, Daily Caller

07-05-11 -- An international alliance of legal professionals and Democrats are putting Texas Gov. Rick Perry in the hot seat for the state’s refusal to halt the execution of a Mexico-born murderer. . . . “If you commit the most heinous of crimes in Texas, you can expect to face the ultimate penalty under our laws, as in this case, where [murderer Humberto] Leal was convicted of raping and bludgeoning a 16-year-old girl to death,” Perry’s press secretary Katherine Cesinger told TheDC. . . . “Other than a 30-day reprieve, the governor would have to receive a favorable recommendation from the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to grant clemency in any case,” she said, adding that “the governor has not yet made a final decision on this case, which is still pending before the courts.”


2011 Death Penalty Update

Death Penalty Information Center

07-01-11 -- Between January and the end of June 2011, there were 25 executions in 9 states.  During the same time period last year, there were 29 executions.  Of the executions this year, 8 were carried out using the drug sodium thiopental, while 17 involved a new drug, pentobarbital. Earlier in 2011, Hospira Inc., the sole U.S. manufacturer of sodium thiopental, announced that it would no longer manufacture the drug, forcing states to search for foreign sources or alternative drugs for their lethal injections.  Alabama, Arizona, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, and South Carolina have used pentobarbital instead of sodium thiopental in their executions in 2011. Ohio is the only one of those 7 states to use pentobarbital as the sole drug in its lethal-injection process.  In the first half of 2011, 18 clemencies have been granted, commuting the defendant's death sentence to life without parole. Fifteen of the commutations were in Illinois, where Governor Pat Quinn signed a bill repealing the state's death penalty. The repeal goes into effect today, Juy 1.  Seventy-six percent (76%) of the cases resulting in executions so far this year involved the murder of at least 1 white victim, even though generally whites are victims of murder less than 50% of the time. / Read more


June 2011

New Resources: Most Recent DEATH ROW USA Report Now Available

Death Penalty Information Center

06-30-11 -- The latest edition of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund's "Death Row USA" shows that the number of people on death row in the United States is continuing to slowly decline, falling to 3,242 as of October 1, 2010. In 2000, there were 3,682 inmates on death row.  Nationally, the racial composition of those on death row is 44% white, 42% black, and 12% Latino/Latina. California continues to have the largest death row population (714), followed by Florida (394) and Texas (322). Pennsylvania (220) and Alabama (204) complete the list of the states with the five largest death rows in the country.  California and Pennsylvania have not carried out an executiion in over five years.  Death Row USA is published quarterly by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. The report contains the latest death row population figures, execution statistics, and an overview of recent legal developments related to capital punishment. / Read more


BOOKS:

"The Ultimate Sanction" by Robert Bohm

Death Penalty Information Center

06-29-11 -- Professor Robert M. Bohm has published a new book on capital punishment, The Ultimate Sanction: Understanding the Death Penalty Through Its Many Voices and Many Sides.  The book looks at the issue of capital punishment through interviews with people affected by the system in different ways. "We must," Bohm says, "begin to understand the reach of capital punishment beyond just the victim and the perpetrator." To that end, Prof. Bohm includes perspectives from investigators, prosecutors, prison wardens, victims' and offenders' families, judges, and attorneys, among others. The book uses these interviews to explore issues of deterrence, retribution, and fairness, while taking a unique look at how the death penalty affects those who participate in the system. In conclusion, Bohm suggests that capital punishment's collateral damage is another reason for reconsidering the wisdom of this ultimate sanction. / Read more


FLORIDA

Fla. says US judge erred in death sentence ruling

By Curt Anderson, AP Legal Affairs Writer, MiamiHerald.com 

06-28-11 -- A federal judge who declared Florida's method of imposing the death penalty unconstitutional made several legal and factual errors that should force a reversal, the state attorney general's office said in a new court filing. . . . The decision last week by U.S. District Judge Jose E. Martinez could impact all Florida death cases and must be changed, Assistant Attorney General Leslie Campbell said in Monday's filing. The state wants Martinez to overturn his own opinion so that the sentencing system is preserved and also to deny a death row inmate a chance at a life sentence. . . . "Because this ruling represents manifest errors of both fact and law, the state respectfully requests that this court alter or amend its judgment," Campbell wrote. . . . As of Tuesday, Martinez had issued no response but could rule at any time.


INTERNATIONAL

New Voices: Journalist Who Was Arrested Abroad Emphasizes Importance of Consular Access

Death Penalty Information Center

06-28-11 -- Journalist Euna Lee, who was imprisoned in North Korea along with her colleague, Laura Ling, recently wrote an op-ed  in the Washington Post on the importance of consular access for individuals arrested outside their home countries. Lee was reporting for Current TV when she and Ling were arrested, interrogated, put on trial, and sentenced to 12 years hard labor. Only when the Swedish ambassador, who represented U.S. interests in North Korea, reminded Korean officials of their responsibility to uphold the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations was Lee able to communicate with the U.S. government. As an execution of a foreign national approaches in Texas, Congress is currently considering legislation that would ensure judicial review of death penalty cases in which foreign nationals in the U.S. were denied access to their consulates. According to Lee, "This legislation is not only a matter of honoring our obligations to such inmates.  There are still many American journalists, aid workers, missionaries, members of the military and tourists detained in foreign countries. For all of them, and for their fearful families at home, there is nothing more important than upholding the reciprocal right to consular protection."  / Read more


INTERNATIONAL

New Resources: International Death Penalty Documentary

Death Penalty Information Center

06-27-11 -- The International Academic Network for the Abolition of Capital Punishment has recently released "Still Killing," a documentary filmed during the International Colloquium on the Abolition or Moratoria of the Death Penalty (held at the Centre for Political and Constitutional Studies, Madrid, Spain) and the Fourth World Congress Against the Death Penalty (in Geneva). The film includes testimony and opinions of professors, researchers, and other experts on the death penalty. The film is intended to be a teaching and training resource, and is accompanied by a discussion guide and two additional DVDs that contain interviews that were the basis of the documentary.  The film was directed by Adan Nieto, Manuel Maroto and Marta Munoz. / Read more


GEORGIA  

Attorney asks chief justice, DOC to investigate execution problems

By Rhonda Cook, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution  

06-24-11 -- An attorney for a man whose execution appeared to have been botched has asked Georgia’s chief justice to stop any more lethal injections until the Department of Corrections investigates what went wrong Thursday night. . . . Attorney Brian Kammer also wrote Corrections Commissioner Brian Owens on Friday asking for “an immediate independent investigation into what appear to have been serious problems attending the execution.” . . . Roy Blankenship was put to death Thursday night for the murder of 78-year-old Sarah Mims Bowen in Savannah 33 years ago. In that execution, Georgia used a new sedative, pentobarbital, as the first of three drugs. . . . According to witnesses, Blankenship grimaced, jerked, lunged from side-to-side, gasped and appeared to yell out during the three minutes immediately after the first drug was administered. Witnesses said his eyes remained open until the end, as had been the case with the two previous executions.


TEXAS

Texas Makes Progress on Improving Criminal Justice System

Death Penalty Information Center

06-24-11 -- Recent legislation passed in Texas indicates bipartisan support for criminal justice reform in the state. Legislators recently passed an eyewitness-identification bill intended to cut down on the number of victims and witnesses who make mistakes in in-person and photographic line-ups. This new law will require police agencies to adopt procedures and use techniques that help lessen the number of false confessions. Another bill passed recently will make it easier for convicted persons to have DNA materials tested if the testing was not done before the trial or if updated testing techniques might reveal information that is more accurate than previous results. Finally, the legislature also passed a bill that would allow compensation for the wrongfully accused even if orders of release do not specifically include the terms "actual innocence." The bill allows affidavits by a district attorney in the crime's jurisdiction or a special prosecutor who officially investigated the case to provide verification of innocence. / Read more


FLORIDA

Federal Judge Finds Florida's Death Penalty Unconstitutional

Death Penalty Information Center

06-23-11 -- On June 20, U.S. District Judge Jose E. Martinez declared Florida's death penalty unconstitutional because jurors are not required to make findings beyond a reasonable doubt on the aggravating factors that can increase a guilty defendant's sentence from life to death. The ruling mandates that defendants have a Sixth Amendment right to have all essential elements of proof in criminal cases found by a jury rather than by a judge.  Legal experts say the ruling could have an important impact on other death penalty cases in the state and may lead to stays of execution. In his ruling, Judge Martinez said that Florida's sentencing system violates the U.S. Supreme Court's holding in Ring v. Arizona (2002), which allowed judges to make the final sentencing choice between death and life but requires that jurors first determine whether a defendant is eligible for the death penalty. The ruling, which is subject to appeal, came in the case of Paul Evans, who may now get a new sentencing hearing. His murder conviction still stands. / Read more


DPIC Releases New Report as 35th Anniversary of Reinstatement of the Death Penalty Approaches

Death Penalty Information Center

06-22-11 -- The Death Penalty Information Center has released a new report, "Struck by Lightning: The Continuing Arbitrariness of the Death Penalty Thirty-Five Years After Its Reinstatement in 1976." The report shows that despite the changes to sentencing schemes approved by the U.S. Supreme Court on July 2, 1976, race, geography, money and other factors continue to make the implementation of the death penalty arbitrary and unfair.   A majority of the nine Justices who served on the Supreme Court in 1976 when the death penalty was approved eventually concluded the experiment had failed. The report concludes, "Thirty-five years of experience have taught the futility of trying to fix this system.  Many of those who favored the death penalty in the abstract have come to view its practice very differently.  They have reached the conclusion that if society’s ultimate punishment cannot be applied fairly, it should not be applied at all." / Read more


GEORGIA

Sister Helen Prejean Appeals to U.S. Drug Company on Behalf of Georgia Death Row Inmate

Death Penalty Information Center

06-21-11 -- Noted author and human rights activist, Sister Helen Prejean, has released a letter sent to George S. Barrett, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Cardinal Health in Dublin, Ohio, asking him to secure the return of drugs that may be used to execute Andrew De Young in Georgia and "to take every step possible to make your actual practices comply with your stated business and ethical codes, including demanding the immediate return of the drugs and refunding the purchase price of $27,000 to The Georgia Department of Corrections."  See Sr. Helen's letter and Press Release. / Read more


CALIFORNIA

Costs: New Study Reveals California Has Spent $4 Billion on the Death Penalty

Death Penalty Information Center

06-20-11 -- A new study of California's death penalty found that taxpayers have spent more than $4 billion on capital punishment since it was reinstated in 1978, or $308 million for each of the 13 executions carried out since then. The study, conducted by U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Arthur L. Alarcon and Loyola Law School Professor Paula M. Mitchell estimated that capital trials, enhanced security on death row and legal representation for capital defendants add $184 million to California's budget annually. California has the largest death row in the country and has not had an execution since 2006 due to legal challenges to its lethal injection protocol.  The report's authors concluded that unless profound (and more costly) reforms are made, the capital punishment system will continue to exist mostly in theory while exacting an untenable cost. Judge Alarcon and Professor Mitchell forecast the cost of maintaining the death penalty will increase to $9 billion by 2030, when the state's death row will likely grow to well over 1,000 inmates. Michael Millman, Executive Director of the California Appellate Project, said more than 300 inmates on death row are awaiting to be appointed attorneys for their state appeals and federal habeas corpus petitions. Millman said there are fewer than 100 attorneys in the state who are qualified to handle capital cases because the work is dispiriting and demanding, and the compensation inadequate. Read more of the report's findings below. / Read more


TEXAS

Editorials: Texas Inmate With IQ of 62 Faces Imminent Execution

Death Penalty Information Center

06-17-11 -- A recent editorial in the Houston Chronicle highlights the case of Texas death-row inmate Milton Mathis, whose IQ of 62 places him well below the threshold for intellectual disability (formerly called "mental retardation"). Mr. Mathis faces execution on June 21, despite the 2002 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Atkins v. Virginia, which banned the execution of inmates with intellectual disabilities. The Chronicle noted, "If put to death, Milton Mathis would have one of the lowest — if not the lowest - undisputed IQ scores of any Texas inmate sentenced to capital punishment since that ruling took effect."  Mathis' lawyers raised this issue in both his state and federal appeals, but the state court rejected the claim, and the federal court denied a stay, not realizing that doing so prevented further litigation in state court. The federal judge later realized her error, but at that point, she lacked jurisdiction to change the ruling. Andrea Keilen, executive director of the Texas Defender Service, said, "What is really troubling is that in this case process has trumped substance. The evidence of mental retardation is compelling, overwhelming, and, because the state courts heard it, the federal courts have not allowed the evidence to be introduced." The Chronicle concluded: "In essence, barring federal intervention or the governor's clemency, Texas will unlawfully and unjustly execute a mentally retarded individual because of legal technicalities and the state's failure to weigh Mathis' clinical condition." Read full editorial below. / Read more


INTERNATIONAL

Legislation Introduced to Help Enforce Treaty Protecting Those Arrested Outside Their Own Country

Death Penalty Information Center

06-16-11 -- On June 14, Senator Patrick Leahy (D.-Vt.) introduced the Consular Notification Compliance Act. This bill would establish enforcement mechanisms for U.S. compliance with the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, a key treaty that provides the right to consult with your consulate for citizens detained outside their home country. The U.S. has signed and ratified this treaty, but has not always abided by its terms.  Among other provisions, the act will give jurisdiction to federal courts to review cases of foreign nationals currently on death row in the U.S. who did not receive consular access as required under the treaty. In 2004, the International Court of Justice ruled that the U.S. must review the death sentences and convictions of 50 Mexican nationals who had not been properly notified of their right to consular access. The U.S. Supreme Court, however, held that Congress must pass legislation on how the treaty will be enforced before hearings could be required.  The proposed legislation would allow the U.S. to be in line with the ICJ ruling. Senator Leahy said, "Compliance with our consular notification obligations is not a question of partisan interest. Given the long history of bipartisan support for the VCCR, there should be unanimous support for this legislation to uphold our treaty obligations. A failure to act places Americans at risk." / Read more


PENNSYLVANIA

Representation: Sub-Standard Compensation for Death Penalty Attorneys Challenged in Philadelphia

Death Penalty Information Center

06-15-11 -- The Atlantic Center for Capital Representation recently petitioned the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to ensure that lawyers appointed in death penalty cases in Philadelphia have adequate resources to defend their clients. The petition, filed on behalf of three individuals charged with first-degree murder and facing the death penalty, argued that Philadelphia’s current compensation system for court-appointed capital defense lawyers is so inadequate that it violates the defendants' constitutional rights to effective counsel. Philadelphia uses a flat fee system in death penalty cases that is the lowest among Pennsylvania’s 67 counties. A lawyer receives $2,000 for trial preparation. After the first day of trial, the lawyer then receives a daily fee of $200 for less than three hours or $400 for more than three hours.  JoAnne Epps, Dean of Temple University’s law school, noted, “Our commitment to justice requires that capital cases, the most serious in our criminal justice system, be conducted with fairness and adequate resources - on both sides." / Read more


New Resources: The State of Criminal Justice 2011

Death Penalty Information Center

06-10-11 -- The American Bar Association recently published The State of Criminal Justice 2011, an annual report that examines major issues, trends and significant changes in America's criminal justice system. The publication serves as a valuable resource for academics, students, and policy-makes. The chapter devoted to capital punishment was written by Ronald Tabak, special counsel and pro bono coordinator at the law firm of Skadden Arps in New York. Tabak explores legislative changes in the states, the declining use of the death penalty, important Supreme Court decisions, and other issues such as the adequacy of representation in capital cases. In concluding, he writes, " Ultimately, our society must decide whether to continue with a system that has been found in study after study to be far more expensive than the actual alternative - in which life without parole is the most serious punishment. This question has become substantially more important given the severe economic downturn in 2008-2011. In view of the lack of persuasive evidence of societal benefits from capital punishment, this is one ineffectual, wasteful government program whose elimination deserves serious consideration." / Read more


EXECUTION DRUG

Sole Producer of U.S. Execution Drug Moves to Block Use, Calling It Unsafe

Death Penalty Information Center

06-10-11 -- Lundbeck Inc., a Danish pharmaceutical company that is the sole manufacturer of injectable pentobarbital used in the U.S., recently announced that it will impose tougher conditions on distributors in an effort to prevent the drug's use in executions. Lundbeck's Chief Executive, Ulf Wiinberg, said his company will be switching to the use of specialist wholesalers and imposing “end user clauses” designed to stop pentobarbital from being sold for use in executions. Wiinberg will also be writing to state officials warning that it is not safe to use the drug in untested ways, including in lethal injection protocols.  Wiinberg said, "We are willing to try to stop Nembutal’s (pentobarbital) misuse even if we can’t guarantee that it will necessarily work. Obviously we would like to do the right thing.” Early this year, departments of corrections in several states switched to using pentobarbital as part of a 3-drup protocol after another drug became unavailable. About a dozen inmates have been executed in the U.S. using this new drug in 2011, including three in Ohio, which uses a single lethal-dose of pentobarbital in its executions.  Oklahoma, Texas, South Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama, and Arizona have used pentobarbital as the first drug in a three-drug protocol this year. / Read more


INTERNATIONAL

European Union High Representative Calls for Clemency for Troy Davis

Death Penalty Information Center

06-09-11 -- A new declaration issued by Catherine Ashton, the European Union's High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy, expressed deep concerns about the possible execution of Troy Anthony Davis, a death row inmate in Georgia.  Evidence that emerged after his trial has thrown doubt about his conviction. The High Representative, writing on behalf of the EU, stated, "The EU has repeatedly intervened on behalf of Mr. Davis and notes that serious and compelling doubts regarding his culpability continue to persist. The EU therefore calls for a commutation of his death sentence.” / Read more


OHIO

Clemency: Ohio Governor Commutes Death Sentence Because of Doubts About Defendant's Role

Death Penalty Information Center

06-08-11 -- On June 8, Ohio Governor John Kasich granted clemency to Shawn Hawkins, commuting his death sentence to life without parole because of doubts about his role in a double murder. Hawkins was scheduled for execution on June 14. In May, the Ohio Parole Board unanimously recommended to spare Hawkins’ life, citing conflicting statements by the sole eyewitness and possible involvement of other individuals who had not been fully investigated. Republicans Ken Blackwell, a former Ohio Secretary of State and 2006 gubernatorial candidate, former Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro, and state Sen. Bill Seitz all wrote letters to Gov. John Kasich or to the Parole Board on behalf of Hawkins.  Sen. Seitz stated, "[T]here is no reason to end Mr. Hawkins' life on something so utterly flimsy as mishandled and inconclusive fingerprints and the testimony of a witness with every motive to lie. . . ."  Hawkins is the first death row inmate to receive clemency from Governor Kasich since he took office in January, and the seventh to be spared since Ohio resumed executions in 1999. / Read more


TEXAS

New Voices: Military and Diplomatic Leaders Urge Reprieve for Foreign National Facing Texas Execution

Death Penalty Information Center

06-07-11 -- On June 7, a clemency petition was filed with the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles requesting a halt to the July-7 execution of Humberto Leal, a Mexican citizen who was not advised of his consular rights upon arrest for a murder in San Antonio in 1994.  The petition was accompanied by letters from former U.S. diplomats, retired military leaders, former prosecutors and judges, and assocations of Americans living abroad calling for a stay of execution until Congress can pass legislation to guarantee proper notification in such cases.  The U.S. is a party to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations that requires officials to inform foreign nationals of their right to contact their consulate when arrested.  The treaty is designed to protect both U.S. citizens abroad and citizens of other countries in the U.S.  Among the signers of the letter from retired military officers were Rear Admiral Don Guter, USN, Rear Admiral John D. Hutson, USN, and Brigadier General James P. Cullen, USA.  They wrote:  "International consular notification and access obligations are essential to ensuring humane, non-discriminatory treatment for both non-citizens in U.S. custody and U.S. citizens in the custody of foreign governments. As retired military leaders, we understand that the preservation of consular access protections is especially important for U.S. military personnel, who when serving our country overseas are at greater risk of being arrested by a foreign government." / Read more


NEW YORK

Expensive Federal Death Penalty Case Ends with Life Without Parole

Death Penalty Information Center

06-07-11 -- On June 1, a unanimous jury in a federal death penalty prosecution in New York voted to impose a life sentence on Vincent Basciano, an organized-crime leader who had earlier been convicted of murder, racketeering, and conspiracy. The prosecutors’ lead witness against Basciano was Joseph Massino, a former crime boss who agreed to cooperate with the government in order to escape a death sentence for his own crimes. The federal government sought the death penalty for Basciano, who was already serving a sentence of life without parole, despite a request from the trial judge who asked the Department of Justice to reconsider seeking the death penalty because of its high costs and the likelihood that Basciano would spend the rest of his life in prison regardless of the outcome.  At the time of the judge's request, the case had already cost taxpayers $3 million, and the ultimate bill was estimated to be as high as $10 million. After a short deliberation, the jury opted for life without parole because they did not believe the prosecutors’ arguments that Basciano posed a future threat and because other crime figures convicted of worse crimes did not get the death penalty. / Read more


BOOKS:

"Make Me Believe: A Crime Novel Based on Real Events"

Death Penalty Information Center

06-03-11 -- A new novel by Dax-Devlon Ross, Make Me Believe: A Crime Novel Based on Real Events, follows the discoveries and dangerous encounters of a fictional author investigating the case of Toronto Patterson, the last juvenile defendant executed in Texas before the U.S. Supreme Court struck down this practice in 2005. Employing actual interviews with Patterson, court documents, news articles and courtroom testimony, Ross's book blends fact and fiction to confront some of the problems of capital punishment in Texas while providing a fascinating story.  Dax-Devlon Ross is a lawyer and writer of nonfiction, fiction and poetry. / (D. Ross, "Make Me Believe: A Crime Novel Based on Real Events," Outside the Box Publishing, 2011).  / Read more


UNITED STATES SUPREME COURT

Supreme Court Allows Execution of Texas Inmate to Proceed

By Mark Hansen, ABA Journal

06-03-11 -- The U.S. Supreme Court has lifted a stay of execution for a Texas death row inmate who has twice come close to being executed in the past five months. . . . Cleve Foster, a 47-year-old former Army recruiter, was sentenced to death in 2004 for the 2002 murder of a 28-year-old woman he met in a bar. . . . The Supreme Court had stayed the execution while it considered whether Foster, a Persian Gulf veteran, had received adequate counsel during his trial and appeal, according to a New York Times report. Foster's lawyers had also challenged the legality of his execution based on the state's use of pentobarbital, which is also used to euthanize animals, in its lethal injections. . . . The court's ruling frees the state to set a new execution date for Foster.


TEXAS

Texas Woman May be Spared Death Penalty Because of Prosecutorial Misconduct

Death Penalty Information Center

06-02-11 -- Chelsea Richardson (pictured), the first woman in Tarrant County, Texas, to be sentenced to death, may soon be serving a life sentence instead. Six years after her conviction, Tarrant County District Attorney Joe Shannon agreed with Richardson’s appellate attorney that the prosecutor at her trial withheld evidence that could have affected the jury's sentence. This development would mark the second time in three years that the outcome of a death penalty case was changed due to misconduct by former prosecutor Mike Parrish. D.A. Shannon said, "This office will not be a party to the infliction of death as a punishment  . . . when there is even an appearance of impropriety on the part of a prosecutor who formerly worked in this office. If the death penalty is to be used, it must be obtained legally, fairly and honestly and without the hint of a possible injustice."  In Richardson’s case, Parrish withheld a psychologist's notes from the defense team. Richardson was sentenced to death for being the mastermind behind the murders of her boyfriend’s parents. Her co-conspirators both received life sentences. The psychologist’s notes could have convinced jurors that one of the co-defendants was most responsible for the crime. / Read more


Nevada

Costs: Nevada Senate Approves Bill to Study Death Penalty Costs

Death Penalty Information Center

06-01-11 -- On May 28, the Nevada Senate passed a bill authorizing an audit of the cost of the state's death penalty.  By a vote of 11-10, the Senate called for the legislative auditor to compare the costs of prosecution and appeals in capital cases to non-death penalty cases, examining the cost of defense lawyers, juries, psychiatric evaluations, appellate and post-conviction proceedings. The auditor would also examine the cost of an execution, including the costs of facilities and staff. The report would be due Jan. 31, 2013. Nevada has not had an execution since April 2006, and has 77 inmates on death row. The bill originally called for a moratorium on executions, but prison officials said they did not presently have the drugs to carry out an execution anyhow.  The bill now goes back to the Assembly. / Read more



May 2011

BOOKS:

"Clarence Darrow: Attorney for the Damned"

Death Penalty Information Center

05-31-11 -- A new biography of Clarence Darrow by John A. Farrell chronicles the life of this famous American lawyer, known for his eloquence in defending unpopular clients and in securing reprieves for those condemned to death. He won life sentences for Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, whose crimes of kidnapping and murder had garnered national attention. He often spoke publicly about his opposition to capital punishment.  Darrow had many famous clients during his career, including union leader Eugene Debs in the Pullman strike case, and John Scopes in the famous "Monkey Trial" regarding the teaching of evolution, where he argued against Willam Jennings Bryan.   / Read more


Executions

Update on Lethal Injection Issue

Death Penalty Information Center

05-26-11 -- In a clear national trend, seven states (Alabama, Arizona, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, and South Carolina) have used pentobarbital instead of sodium thiopental in their executions in 2011. The most recent such execution was that of Donald Beaty in Arizona on May 25, following a temporary stay as the state made a sudden switch to the new drug.  Ohio is the only one of the seven states to use pentobarbital as the sole drug in its lethal-injection process.  At least five states (Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and South Carolina) that acquired sodium thiopental through an overseas source have had the drug seized by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.  In addition, Arizona was instructed by the DEA not to use its foreign sodium thiopental just prior to the May 25 execution. Arkansas and California also have supplies of sodium thiopental originally obtained from a supplier in Great Britain.  In Nebraska, questions about its supply of sodium thiopental--obtained from a company in India--has postponed the execution of Carey Dean Moore.  South Dakota's sodium thiopental was also reportedly obtained from India.  Other states like Georgia, Louisiana, and Virginia have indicated they intend to switch to pentobarbital in future executions. / Read more


Arizona

Lethal Injection: Justice Dept. Orders Arizona Not to Use Imported Drug, Staying Execution

Death Penalty Information Center

05-25-11 -- The Arizona Supreme Court stayed the execution of Donald Beaty that was scheduled for May 25 after the state Department of Corrections tried to make last-minute changes to the execution protocol. On May 24 the U.S. Department of Justice told Arizona not to use its supply of sodium thiopental because it had been obtained illegally from a company in Great Britain.  Arizona's Attorney General filed notice with the Arizona Supreme Court stating that, to "avoid questions about the legality" of the drug, pentobarbital would be used in its place.  The Court issued the stay in order to give Beaty time to review the changes to the execution procedure and scheduled a hearing for May 25.  In 2010, Arizona purchased sodium thiopental, the anesthetic used in lethal injections, from Dream Pharma in England. The drug was used in the executions of Jeffrey Landrigan and Eric King, despite concerns about its legality. After the Drug Enforcement Administration seized imported supplies of the drug from five other states, lawyers for Mr. Beaty contacted the Department of Justice asking why Arizona's supply had not also been seized.  Six other states have already used pentobarbital in executions. Beaty's lawyer, Dale Baich, said he had repeatedly inquired about the legality of Arizona's drug: "I sent three letters to the DOJ and made calls to the DEA that were not returned," said Baich. "The question of whether Arizona legally imported the drug has now been answered." UPDATE: The Arizona Supreme Court lifted the temporary stay of execution, allowing it to go forward on the scheduled day, barring a reprieve from a federal court. / Read more


Connecticut

New Voices: Mother of Murder Victim Urges Connecticut Legislators to Repeal Death Penalty

Death Penalty Information Center

05-24-11 -- Victoria Coward, whose son Tyler was killed when he was 18, recently petitioned Connecticut legislators to repeal the death penalty.  Speaking of her son’s killer, Coward said, “In the beginning I was so mad, I did want him dead. Then I had to think about it. You don’t want anyone killing your son. Just get him off the street so he doesn’t do that to anybody else. Killing Jose [her son's murderer] isn’t going to help me... What would killing him [accomplish]? My son is still gone...” (Her son's killer was spared the death penalty at trial.) Coward suggested putting the money spent on prosecuting death penalty cases toward resources that would help murder victims’ survivors. Coward, along with other murder victims’ family members urged legislators to replace the death penalty with life in prison without parole.  She had to wait until 1 a.m. to testify before the Judiciary Committee considering the bill.  The repeal bill, however, was put on hold and likely will not be acted on this legislative session. / Read more


Pennsylvania

Editorials: Philadelphia Inquirer -- "Juries Know Better"

Death Penalty Information Center

05-23-11 -- A recent editorial in the Philadelphia Inquirer concludes the public is ready to scrap the death penalty in Pennsylvania, even if the legislature is not. According to the editorial, juries opted for the death penalty in just 3% of first-degree murder cases over the past four years:  “Pennsylvania juries clearly are more comfortable with the alternative sentence of life without parole, which assures that first-degree murder convicts will waste away behind bars.” The Inquirer cites several different reasons for what they called a "sea change" in attitudes toward capital punishment: “[M]oral qualms about government-sanctioned executions come into play for many jurors. There are also the widely documented instances of wrongful death sentences later being overturned, and data that suggest the penalty falls unfairly on poor and minority defendants who cannot afford to mount an effective defense.”  The editorial concludes that replacing the death penalty with life-without-parole sentences is the best choice: "New Jersey abolished capital punishment in 2007; now Pennsylvania should follow that example."/ Read more


STUDIES:

Jurors May Be Allowing Intellectually Disabled Defendants to be Executed

Death Penalty Information Center

05-20-11 -- Although the U.S. Supreme Court has determined that the intellectually disabiled (mentally retarded) are barred from the death penalty, the decision of whether a defendant meets this disability standard is not made by mental health experts but by jurors and judges.  A recent study published in Law & Psychology Review found that jurors expect a much lower level of intellectual functioning than mental health experts to arrive at a finding of disability.  Moreover, jurors are persuaded away from a disability finding by statements that the defendant knew his actions were wrong--even though such knowledge should not disqualify someone from being intellectually disabled. The study concluded that "jury pool members were less likely than experienced mental health workers to see severe impairments in functioning as evidence" of an intellectual disability. The implication of these findings is that fact finders are likely to fail to identify defendants with more moderate intellectual disabilities, even when impairments clearly meet diagnostic criteria used by mental heath professionals.  Read full study. / Read more


CALIFORNIA

New Voices: Current and Former California Law Enforcement Officials Question Future of Death Penalty

Death Penalty Information Center

05-19-11 -- Current and former law enforcement officials in California recently discussed their views on the future of the death penalty during a conference in San Francisco. Jeanne Woodford (pictured left), former Warden of San Quentin prison, said that the time has come to end executions in the United States:  "I have had the opportunity to view this issue from every point of view. I absolutely am passionate about the position that it's time to end the death penalty in the United States." She recommended life in prison without possibility of parole as an alternative to the death penalty, saying that it "is a real sentence," but one that "gives inmates opportunity to change, to work, to give back to state, and to make restitution to the victims' families." George Gascon (pictured right), San Francisco's District Attorney, said the death penalty "is an imperfect tool." He cited the possibility of wrongful convictions, the high costs of executions, and the lack of closure for victims' families. / Read more


BOOKS:

Former Wall St. Lawyer Now Focuses on Death Row Inmates

Death Penalty Information Center

05-18-11 -- Dale Recinella formerly worked as an attorney on large financial deals, including the building of a National Football League stadium. He also supported the death penalty.  But he now focuses on the needs of death row inmates and other prisoners in Florida.  His new book, entitled “Now I Walk on Death Row,” tells of his career transition and the reversal in his views on capital punishment.  Although he attributes his changes to his Catholic religious faith, he also came to see the practical problems with the death penalty: "All the studies show that life in prison without the possibility of parole is much cheaper than getting to an execution. The difference is who the money goes to. With life in prison, the money goes to corrections officers. With the death penalty, the money goes to lawyers on both sides. Correction officers' uniforms are much cheaper than Brooks Brother suits," he said.  As a volunteer chaplain, Recinella ministers on death row three days a week and gives religious education instruction at Union Correctional Institution in Raiford, Florida.


Pennsylvania

Arbitrariness: Pennsylvania's Death Penalty Mostly Means Life

Death Penalty Information Center

05-17-11 -- A recent Philadelphia Inquirer study revealed that the death penalty is almost never handed down for homicides in Pennsylvania, and that executions are even more unlikely.  From a compilation of 1,975 homicide cases dating from 2007 to Feb. 3, 2011 provided by the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, only 8 resulted in a death sentence.  Almost all cases ended with a sentence of life without parole, with guilty pleas, acquittals or dismissal of charges.  Of the almost 2,000 cases from 56 counties, 639 were judged to be 1st degree murders, eligible for the death penalty; 231 of those ended with life sentences.  Pennsylvania has not carried out an execution since 1999, and has executed 3 people since the death penalty was reinstated in 1978.  All three waived their appeals. Those on death row spend 23 hours a day in solitary confinement in special units at 4 state prisons, some for as long as 27 years.  Over half of the 222 cases in which the death sentence was overturned were found to have ineffective representation.   / Read more


PENNSYLVANIA  

Castille reignites dispute over Pennsylvania death-penalty appeals

By Nathan Gorenstein, Philadelphia Inquirer Staff Writer 

05-16-11 -- After reading the appeal from prison inmate Mark Spotz, incarcerated on four murder convictions, an angry Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille unleashed perhaps the most scathing language ever from the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court. . . . His target was not the killer; it was the highly specialized Capital Habeas Unit, 35 mostly federally funded defense lawyers who handle death-case appeals and whom Castille accused of legal "sabotage." . . . Spotz's cases have been in court for more than a decade. He was convicted in 1996 of four murders in four counties over three days. In three of the four trials, he was sentenced to death. Castille had before him a 100-page brief filed by four habeas unit lawyers and crammed with 70 claims. It appealed just one of Spotz's convictions. . . . So no matter the outcome, Spotz would remain in jail on his other death sentences.


MISSISSIPPI  

State ready to execute 2nd man in 2 weeks

Execution planned Tuesday for killer of 79-year-old woman

Written by Jimmie E. Gates, Clarion Ledger 

05-15-11 -- By the end of this month, Mississippi could rival Texas and Ohio with the most executions carried out in the first five months of this year. . . . Mississippi is the only state with three executions scheduled this month. . . . And Jan Schaeffer, spokeswoman for the Mississippi attorney general's office, said the state could have more later this year. . . . The first of the three planned executions occurred last Tuesday, when Benny Joe Stevens, 52, was put to death for murdering four people - his ex-wife, her husband, her 10-year-old son and the son's 11-year-old friend - in 1998 in Marion County.


Sole Provider of New Drug for U.S. Executions Faces Ethical Dilemma

Death Penalty Information Center

05-13-11 -- Lundbeck Inc., a Danish pharmaceutical company that is the sole manufacturer of pentobarbital for sale in the U.S., is facing an ethical dilemma regarding the use of its drug in executions. Pentobarbital is increasingly being used in the U.S. in place of sodium thiopental for lethal injections.  Pentobarbital was most recently used in executions in Texas, South Carolina, and Mississippi. Andrew Schroll, a spokesman for Lundbeck, said that the company has prided itself on making products that improve people’s lives. Denmark and the entire European Union, as well as Lundbeck, are officially opposed to the death penalty and disagree with how this product is being used. Schroll said, “This is a misuse of our product. We are in an ethical dilemma where we are opposed to the use of our medication for capital punishment while at the same time we want to make sure that patients who benefit from our medication get access to it." Lundbeck has sent letters to prisons in 11 states demanding that they stop using pentobarbital in their lethal injection protocols. No prison has responded, and even more states are intending to use the drug, including Virginia, which recently announced their switch. / Read more


CALIFORNIA

New Voices: Former San Quentin Warden Now Dedicated to Ending Death Penalty

Death Penalty Information Center

05-12-11 -- Jeanne Woodford the former director of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and Warden of San Quentin during 4 executions, recently became the Executive Director of Death Penalty Focus, one of the largest nonprofit advocacy organizations in the nation dedicated to repealing capital punishment.  During her years in corrections, Woodford came to the conclusion that the death penalty was wasteful, discriminatory and failed to make the public safer.  She recently spoke about her conflicts in presiding over executions:  "I never was in favor of the death penalty, but my experience at San Quentin allowed me to see it from all points of view. I had a duty to carry out, and I tried to do it with professionalism. The death penalty serves no one. It doesn't serve the victims. It doesn't serve prevention. It's truly all about retribution." Woodford added, “There comes a time when you have to ask if a penalty that is so permanent can be available in such an imperfect system. The only guarantee against executing the innocent is to do away with the death penalty.” / Read more


NEW RESOURCES:

Childhood Abuse May Have Lasting Behavioral Effects Similar to Trauma from War

Death Penalty Information Center

05-11-11 -- Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, professor of psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine, recently discussed the impact of violence on children, comparing its effects to problems faced by soldiers returning from war. He noted, “For every soldier returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with symptoms of depression or PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder], there are around 10 children in the United States who are traumatized by exposure to family violence, sexual abuse, neglect and assault, with consequences comparable to those of adult exposure to war-zone violence.” Many abused children, if not properly cared for, will exhibit behavioral and psychological problems.  Dr. Bessel expressed concern that funding from such treatment might be withdrawn: "Untreated, traumatized children become failing adults who populate our jails and overwhelm our human services agencies. Cutting the development of effective treatments will produce many years of increasing costs and unquantifiable human misery." / Read more


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A Victims-of-Law Associate


LOUISIANA

Confederate Flag Outside Louisiana Courthouse Evokes Claims of Bias

Death Penalty Information Center

05-10-11 -- A black defendant facing execution in Louisiana for the killing of a white firefighter is challenging the fairness of his trial because a Confederate flag was flying outside the Caddo Parish courthouse in Shreveport, Louisiana, during the proceedings.  Felton Dorsey’s legal team recently argued before the Louisiana Supreme Court that the presence of the flag had an impact on jury selection and on Dorsey’s conviction. Carl Staples, a prospective black juror, was struck from the case by prosecutors after he complained about the Confederate flag. Staples told the court that the flag "is a symbol of one of the most…heinous crimes ever committed.”  He explained, "When I was screened for the jury, it welled up inside of me and I expressed my feelings."  The flag has flown in front of the courthouse since 1951.  Dorsey has maintained his innocence and also argued prosecutors used unreliable accomplice testimony and improperly removed most of the prospective black jurors from the case. He was convicted by a jury that consisted of 11 white individuals and one African American. / Read more


TEXAS  

Second Death Penalty Fight Begins in Banks Case

by Brandi Grissom, Texas Tribune

05-10-11 -- Delma Banks Jr. sat attentively in his yellow jumpsuit in the courtroom inside the Bi-State Justice Building on Monday as lawyers and experts debated how to make his second face-off with the death penalty a fairer fight than his first. . . . Thirty years after Banks was first sent to death row, his hair is gray and his face is rounder than when he first sat before a jury as a 21-year-old. Across the courtroom sat prosecutor James Elliott, his long-time antagonist, now white-haired after three decades of fighting to keep Banks on death row. At 52, Banks is facing the same Bowie County district's attorney office that sent him to death row in 1980 for the shooting death of 16-year-old Richard Whitehead. The same office that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2004 committed misconduct when it tried Banks, suppressing evidence and intentionally hiding its mistakes. Banks’ sentence was overturned, and now he and Elliott, one of the original prosecutors, are once again in the same courtroom fighting for their own versions of justice.


OHIO

New Voices: Conservatives in Ohio Petition Parole Board to Spare Man's Life

Death Penalty Information Center

05-09-11 -- A number of prominent conservatives in Ohio are lending their voices in support of clemency for Shawn Hawkins (pictured), who is facing execution on June 14.  Republicans Ken Blackwell, a former Secretary of State and 2006 gubernatorial candidate, former Attorney General Jim Petro, and state Sen. Bill Seitz have all written letters to Gov. John Kasich or to the Parole Board on behalf of Hawkins. Blackwell wrote, "I have been a public advocate for the death penalty and remain so today. Furthermore, in the 30-plus years of my public life, I have only written two letters requesting clemency for an individual. I have reviewed the facts and circumstances of this case with a number of sources. Shawn Hawkins does not deserve to die. . . I urge you to spare him from the death penalty." Sen. Seitz added, "[T]here is no reason to end Mr. Hawkins' life on something so utterly flimsy as mishandled and inconclusive fingerprints and the testimony of a witness with every motive to lie. . ."  The sentence of life without the possibility of parole was not an option in 1989 when Hawkins was sentenced.  The chief witness against Hawkins, Henry Brown, was also charged with murder and robbery as a co-conspirator in the same crime, but was given immunity in exchange for testimony against Hawkins. Brown changed his statement at least five times and failed two lie-detector tests. / Read more


NEW RESOURCES:

DPIC Podcast Addresses Women and the Death Penalt

Death Penalty Information Center

05-06-11 -- The latest edition of the Death Penalty Information Center's series of podcasts, DPIC on the Issues, is now available. This podcast addresses Women and the Death Penalty, including a short history of women executed in America, the possibility of gender bias, and differences between women and men in support of the death penalty.  Generally, this series of podcasts offers brief, informative discussions of key death penalty issues. Other recent episodes include discussions on Mental Illness and Lethal Injection. Click here to listen to DPIC's latest podcast. You can also subscribe through iTunes to receive automatic updates when new episodes are posted and receive access to all previous episodes. Other audio and video resources, along with all of DPIC's podcasts, can be found on our Multimedia page. / Read more


CALIFORNIA

New Voices: California Distict Attorney Expresses Serious Misgivings about State's Death Penalty

Death Penalty Information Center

05-05-11 -- George Gascon, San Francisco's District Attorney and a former chief of police, recently discussed his concerns about California's death penalty.  He wrote, "Despite saying that I wouldn't rule out the death penalty as district attorney, I want to make clear that I have serious misgivings concerning the potential for wrongful convictions and the disproportionate impact of the application of the death penalty on racial minorities. Moreover, victims' families are subjected to an emotional roller coaster as they wait decades for justice and closure. I am also concerned about the increasing financial impact that death penalty prosecutions have on our already overburdened criminal justice system." Gascon particularly pointed to the problem of mistake: "Given the irreversibility of the death penalty, the possibility of a wrongful conviction can never be overstated."  Read his full op-ed below. / Read more


CALIFORNIA  

California backs off on plan to resume executions this year

San Quentin State Prison's new warden wants to recruit a new execution team, prompting the corrections department to say more time will be needed before a federal judge can review revised lethal injection procedures.

By Carol J. Williams, Los Angeles Times

05-04-11 -- California officials have backed off a drive to resume executions this year, asking a federal judge to delay until at least January his review of revised lethal injection procedures. . . . The delay means that the state will have gone at least six years without executing any condemned prisoners, who now number 713. . . . The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation requested more time because San Quentin State Prison's new warden, Michael Martel, wants to recruit a new execution team to replace the one that was assembled and trained last year, according to court documents. . . . U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel expressed frustration that the state has taken so long to fix lethal injection procedures, which he concluded might have subjected inmates to intense pain in violation of the Constitution's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. He made that ruling in December 2006 after putting executions on hold 10 months earlier.


TEXAS   

The New Yorker Looks at the Decline in Texas Death Sentences

Death Penalty Information Center

05-03-11 -- In the May 9 issue of The New Yorker, Jeffrey Toobin examines the drop in death sentences in Texas and focuses particularly on the mitigation work being done by the Gulf Region Advocacy Center (GRACE) in Houston, headed by Danalynn Recer.  Toobin cites a number of possible reasons for the drop in death sentences in Texas, including "the increasing use of mitigation, a strategy that aims to tell the defendant’s life story." The article provides a number of examples where Recer's organization presented evidence from a defendant's background, such as childhood abuse or brain damage, and convinced a jury to choose a life sentence over the death penalty, even for the murder of a police officer. Recer summed up her work, "The idea was to improve the way capital trials were done in Texas, to start an office that would bring the best practices from other places and put them to work here....It is possible to persuade a jury to value someone's life." / Read more


ALABAMA

Editorials: Birmingham News Calls for Moratorium on Alabama's Death Penalty

Death Penalty Information Center

05-02-11 -- A recent editorial in the Birmingham News called on Alabama lawmakers to pass legislation that would require a three-year moratorium on imposing death sentences and carrying out executions, giving the state time to address flaws in the death penalty system. The editorial outlined five reasons why legislators with various positions should be united in such an effort. The paper stated: . . . - Lawmakers who are pro-life should be concerned Alabama is among the nation's most gung-ho and careless states in putting people to death. . . . - Lawmakers who are fiscally conservative should be concerned that studies in other states have shown it's much less expensive to lock up killers for life than to put them to death. A newspaper report found Florida could save a whopping $51 million a year by sentencing killers to life without parole rather than death.. . . - Lawmakers who are troubled by racial disparities should be concerned the color of a defendant's or victim's skin plays a role in who gets executed. / Read more


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A Victims-of-Law Associate


April 2011

NEVADA

Growing Death Penalty Caseload for One Nevada County Causing Cost Concerns

Death Penalty Information Center

04-29-11 -- Clark County, Nevada, has more pending death penalty cases per capita than any other urban county in the country. According to a review by Nevada Attorneys for Criminal Justice (NACJ), Clark County (Las Vegas) currently has 80 trials in which prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.  By comparison, Maricopa County in Arizona has the most pending death cases (130), but it has twice the population of Clark County.  Los Angeles County, California, has 33 pending death penalty cases, with 5 times Clark's population. Recently, the cost of the death penalty has become a concern for state legislators. Assemblyman Tick Segerblom is promoting a legislative study on the costs of capital cases in Nevada. He said, "At this point it's a financial issue. David Roger is over budget, and yet he has 80 death penalty cases pending. Washoe County only has one. Why is he wasting our money pursuing the death penalty when there is no money and it's virtually impossible to actually put someone to death?" Other studies estimate that death penalty trials cost $1 million more than trials in which the prosecutors seek life without parole. "The cost of killing killers is killing us," said Paola Armeni, president of NACJ. / Read more


NEW RESOURCES:

Most Recent Death Row USA Report Now Available

Death Penalty Information Center

04-28-11 -- The latest edition of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund's "Death Row USA" shows that the number of people on the death row in the United States is continuing to slowly decline, falling to 3,260 as of April 1, 2010. In 2000, there were 3,682 inmates on death row.  Nationally, the racial composition of those on death row is 44% white, 41% black, and 12% Latino/Latina. California continues to have the largest death row population (702), followed by Florida (398) and Texas (333). Pennsylvania (222) and Alabama (204) complete the list of the states with the five largest death rows in the country. Of those jurisdictions with more than 10 inmates on death row, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, and Texas have the largest percentage of minorities on death row--each has 69%.


PENNSYLVANIA  

U.S. Court of Appeals Again Reverses Mumia Abu-Jamal's Death Sentence

Death Penalty Information Center

04-27-11 -- On April 26, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit overturned the death sentence of Mumia Abu-Jamal, a Pennsylvania inmate who was convicted of killing a Philadelphia police officer 30 years ago in 1981.  In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated a previous grant of sentencing relief handed down by the same court in order to allow consideration of a recently decided Supreme Court case with related facts (Smith v. Spisak).  Both cases involved the question of whether the jury was incorrectly instructed on evaluating mitigating factors in determining the proper sentence. The Court of Appeals considered the Spisak ruling, but found the jury instructions to be sufficiently different from those in Abu-Jamal's case.  Judge Anthony Scirica, writing for the Third Circuit panel, held that the jury instructions at Abu-Jamal's trial in 1982 violated Mills v. Maryland, which said that findings on mitigating factors do not have to be unanimous.  Judge Scirica wrote, "We conclude the verdict form and jury instructions in this case likewise created a substantial probability the jury believed it was precluded from finding a mitigating circumstance that had not been unanimously agreed upon." / Read more


D.A. to appeal court ruling for Abu-Jamal resentencing

By Michael Hinkelman, Philadelphia Daily News

04-27-11 -- After speaking with the widow of slain police officer Daniel Faulkner, District Attorney Seth Williams said he would appeal a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals here yesterday awarding convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal a new sentencing hearing. . . . Williams will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the appeals court's decision and reinstate Abu-Jamal's death sentence. The D.A. said Maureen Faulkner was "devastated" by the ruling. . . . Abu-Jamal, 57, was convicted in 1982 of first-degree murder in Faulkner's slaying and was sentenced to death. . . . Yesterday's ruling was the result of a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year that ordered the appeals court to review its 2008 ruling that ordered a new sentencing hearing for the former Black Panther. Both yesterday and in 2008, the appeals court ruled that Abu-Jamal's murder conviction should stand but called for a new sentencing hearing because death-penalty jury instructions were misleading.


STATE INFORMATION PAGES

New Resources: DPIC State Information Pages

Death Penalty Information Center

04-26-11 -- DPIC is pleased to announce the launch of its latest resource, State Information Pages, providing historical and current information on the death penalty for each state. This resource is a work-in-progress, but we are happy to present the first 15 state pages. Our original state-by-state database is still the best place to look for frequently-updated information such as execution totals and murder rates. The new pages are designed as a source of information on each state's unique history related to the death penalty, including famous capital cases, past legislative actions, and other interesting facts.  Each state page includes a picture representing a unique quality of the state. The pages also provide links to relevant websites, such as state legislatures, groups doing death penalty work, and Departments of Corrections. Much of the information for these pages has been provided by individuals and organizations working on the death penalty in each state and we welcome further input. Thanks to those who helped make this new resource possible. / Read more


STATES INFORMATION

New Voices: Law Enforcement Officials Say Death Penalty Does Not Make Them Safer

Death Penalty Information Center

04-25-11 -- A recent article by Terrence P. Dwyer, retired New York State Police Investigator, and George F. Kain, a police commissioner in Ridgefield, Connecticut, dismissed the notion that the death penalty is needed to protect law enforcement officers. Dwyer and Kain wrote that a majority of police chiefs believe that the death penalty does not deter violent crime and rank the death penalty last in a list of effective tools for fighting crime. "In states like New York, which abolished its death penalty in 2004, or North Carolina, where there has been a de facto moratorium since 2006, the numbers indicate no statistical increase in police officer homicides after the death penalty was repealed or rendered moot through moratorium," the authors wrote.  They also encouraged lawmakers to weigh the substantial costs of the death penalty in their decision-making. They stated, "The Connecticut death penalty costs $4 million annually, according to a 2009 estimate by the General Assembly's non-partisan Office of Fiscal Analysis. While capital cases in Connecticut account for just .06 % of cases in the Public Defender's office, the cost to defend these cases was nearly $3.5 million, over 7 % of the office's entire budget." / Read more


CALIFORNIA  

Federal judge overturns 31-year-old Santa Clara County death sentence

By Howard Mintz San Jose Mercury News

04-25-11 -- Three decades after being sentenced to death for a San Jose liquor store murder, Marvin Pete Walker Jr. may have gotten his ticket off death row and perhaps out of San Quentin altogether. . . . In a recent ruling, an Oakland federal judge set aside Walker's 1980 murder conviction and death sentence, concluding that he had been improperly shackled in front of the jury throughout his trial, tainting the verdict and violating legal precedent barring the shackling of defendants without exceptional circumstances. The ruling means that one of San Quentin's longest-serving death row inmates could be spared execution or even freed.


NORTH CAROLINA

Studies: New Report Cites Multiple Problems with North Carolina's Death Penalty

Death Penalty Information Center

04-22-11 -- According to a comprehensive review of studies on the death penalty by Matthew Robinson, Professor of Government and Justice Studies at Appalachian State University, the death penalty in North Carolina is expensive, racially biased and ineffective.  Prof. Robinson analyzed data from more than 20 death penalty studies and found them to be remarkably consistent in their conclusions.  He said, "In the past six years, three states have abolished the death penalty: Illinois, New Mexico and New Jersey.  They did it for the same reason. They found racial bias, they found it to be costly, they found it to be ineffective and a threat to innocent people."  According to Robinson's review, use of the death penalty in North Carolina has been in decline since 2000.  The state has not had an execution since 2006.  He found no evidence that the death penalty deters crime, noting that the state's murder rate has declined since executions stopped in 2006.  He also found evidence of racial bias in the state's death penalty system.  Nearly 80% of death sentences imposed in North Carolina have been in cases where the victim was white, far higher than the percentage of whites who are generally victims of murder. / Read more


TEXAS

Studies: Texas Forensic Science Panel Calls for Changes but Says Nothing About Possible Wrongful Execution

Death Penalty Information Center

04-21-11 -- On April 15, the Texas Forensic Science Commission recommended more education and training for fire investigators following its review of the controversial case of Cameron Todd Willingham (pictured), who was executed in 2004 for setting the fire that killed his three daughters.  The Commission made 16 recommendations for investigators, lawyers and lawmakers. It did not, however, decide whether arson investigators in Willingham’s case were negligent or guilty of professional misconduct, and was not empowered to decide whether Willingham was likely innocent of the crime. The panel recommended establishing a code of ethics for investigators and procedures for involving the state fire marshal's office in fatal home fires. Another recommendation urged the fire marshal to adhere to standards established by the National Fire Protection Association and to become a model for local fire investigators in Texas.  Willingham maintained his innocence until his execution, claiming that the fire could have been accidentally started by his two-year-old daughter who died in the fire. Since the original 1991 investigation, several arson experts have reviewed the evidence in the case and concluded that the fire was of undetermined cause or accidental, but likely not arson. / Read more


IN MEMORIAM: Marie Deans, A Life of Commitment to Justice and Founder of Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation

Death Penalty Information Center

04-20-11 -- On April 15, 2011, Marie McFadden Deans died in Charlottesville, Virginia. For three decades, Deans sought justice for death row inmates who had no other recourse and who had been poorly represented.  Professor Todd Peppers of Roanoke College wrote in an op-ed about her life that she brought "basic conditions of decency to the men who inhabited Virginia’s death row,... refin[ed] the use of mitigation evidence in death penalty trials, [and] struggl[ed] to exonerate factually innocent men." Deans's commitment to repealing the death penalty was sparked after the murder of her mother-in-law, Penny Deans, by an escaped convict. Marie founded Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation, an organization, designed to give those who opposed the death penalty “a safe place from which they could speak out.”  She  was a self-taught mitigation expert, and, largely because of her efforts, only two of the 200 men that she helped defend during their sentencing hearings were ultimately given the death penalty. Perhaps her greatest triumph was the exoneration of Virginia death row inmate Earl Washington, Jr., a man with intellectual disabilities, whose false confession was the product of police coercion and manipulation. Washington was awarded almost $2 million dollars in damages "for the imprisonment that resulted from the fabrication of evidence against him and would become one of the compelling stories cited in the steady rise of death row exonerations across the country." / Read more


STATES INFORMATION

States Engage in "Swap Club" to Obtain Lethal Injection Drugs

Death Penalty Information Center

04-19-11 -- In what was described in the New York Times as a "legally quesionable swap club," states searching for a scarce execution drug have gone to great lengths to obtain sodium thiopental for carrying out their death sentences.  In Arkansas, a deputy director of the Department of Corrections revealed that states often shared their supply of sodium thiopental with each other. Wendy Kelly, who has personally traveled to obtain drugs from other states, said, “I went wherever they had them. As best as I’m aware, the agreement my director had with other directors, any time there was an exchange, was that there would be a payback when needed.” Arkansas gave the drug to Mississippi, Oklahoma and Tennessee free of charge, and obtained the drug from Texas.  Last September, Arizona ordered a shipment of lethal injection drugs from overseas and worked closely with U.S. Customs and the Food and Drug Administration to prevent the shipment from being delayed at the border. The shipments were labeled as being for veterinary use, perhaps to avoid tighter scrutiny. / Read more


INTERNATIONAL

New Resources: New Database for International Death Penalty

Death Penalty Information Center

04-18-11 -- Northwestern University School of Law, in conjunction with the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, has compiled a new resource on the use of the death penalty in every country around the world.  This searchable database, www.deathpenaltyworldwide.org, contains information on each country’s death penalty status, methods of execution, number of executions, and crimes punishable by the death penalty. The database also includes demographic information on each country, relevant treaties signed, and contacts for more information. All of the materials are carefully referenced. The database allows searches by geographical regions and is part of Death Penalty Worldwide's website, which features a blog and other resources. / Read more


TEXAS  

Psychologist’s Reprimand Gives Hope to Counsel for Death Row Inmates

By Molly McDonough, ABA Journal

04-15-11 -- In a closely watched case, lawyers for death row inmates who were cleared for trial by a Texas psychologist reprimanded for his methods are hopeful their clients will avoid lethal injection. . . . The Texas State Board of Examiners of Psychologists has reprimanded Dr. George Denkowski, whose intellectual competency testing methods have been criticized as unscientific, the New York Times reports. . . . Denkowski, who examined 14 inmates who are now on Texas’ Death Row and two others who were subsequently executed, agreed on Thursday never to perform his intellectual disability evaluations again. He also agreed to pay a $5,500 fine in exchange for the board dismissing complaints about him.


PENNSYLVANIA  

Inquirer Editorial: Can't call it justice

Philadelphia Inquirer

04-14-11 -- Maybe the recession will turn out to be a lifesaver for inmates facing the death penalty in Pennsylvania. . . . With the fiscal crisis gripping Harrisburg - and the expected spillover effect on Philadelphia's budget - the vastly expensive capital-punishment apparatus makes no sense from a dollars-and-cents perspective. That's to say nothing of the fact that executions are barbaric and have resulted in innocent people's being put to death. . . . On the ledger side of things, there's the initial cost of prosecuting capital cases - which require two-part trials and drain substantial public resources. Then there's the cost of housing hundreds of inmates on death row for years while seemingly endless and costly legal challenges occur.


FEDERAL DEATH PENALTY

COSTS: Federal Government Spending Millions Pursuing Death Penalty for Inmate with Life Sentence

Death Penalty Information Center

04-14-11 -- An expensive federal death penalty trial under way in New York illustrates many of the concerns about such prosecutions.  New York is a state that no longer has its own death penalty.  Nevertheless, the federal government is seeking a death sentence for Vincent Basciano, who is already serving life without parole.  Because the death penalty is being sought, the case has already costs millions of dollars and the final bill will likely be $10 million or more.  Moreover, the chief witness against Basciano is another mob figure, Joseph Massino, himself guilty of at least seven murders but who escaped the death penalty because of his cooperation with the government.  Jim Dwyer, columnist for the New York Times, pointed out, "Before one syllable was heard from the first witness, the judge had approved payments for Mr. Basciano’s defense approaching $4 million; it is likely that similar costs could be attributed to the team of prosecutors. Now that testimony has begun, his publicly paid defense lawyers, plus investigators, were in court on Tuesday; so were four assistant United States attorneys, along with two F.B.I. agents. In addition to the legal costs, there are administrative expenses in running a trial: 1,000 potential jurors were screened for the case; federal marshals are protecting the turncoat mob boss under tight security; and the jurors hearing the case are anonymous and are being provided with protection and escorts to their homes."  In 2010, the judge overseeing Basciano’s trial asked U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to reconsider seeking the death penalty, given the costs and the fact that the defendant would never be released.  / Read more


CONNECTICUT

Key Connecticut Committee Approves Death Penalty Repeal Bill

Death Penalty Information Center

04-13-11 -- On April 12, the Connecticut legislature's Judiciary Committee approved (26-17) a bill to repeal the death penalty for future crimes and replace the sentence with life without parole. Supporters of the bill said it would avoid the risk of wrongful executions and save taxpayers the costs of lengthy trials and appeals. Both supporters and opponents of capital punishment agreed that the state’s current system is not working. Sen. Eric Coleman said the state’s justice system “is not infallible.” He also noted that the state spends $3.4 million per year enforcing the death penalty. Since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, there has only been one execution in Connecticut, an inmate who waived his appeals and hastened his execution. The bill now heads to the House of Representatives. In March, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed a bill repealing the death penalty in his state. Several other states have considered bills to repeal the death penalty during their 2011 legislative session, including Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas. / Read more


BOOKS:

"Queer (In)Justice: The Criminalization of LGBT People in the United States"

Death Penalty Information Center

04-12-11 -- A new book, “Queer (In)Justice” by Joey Mogul, Andrea Ritchie, and Kay Whitlock, explores the experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in America’s criminal justice system, and particularly their interaction with the death penalty system. The authors assert that prosecutors have used defendants' sexual orientation or gender-nonconforming appearance to obtain capital convictions: “In capital cases a prosecutor must successfully undertake what should be a morally difficult, ethically complex task of convincing a jury or judge to kill another human being. To succeed, the prosecution must demonize, dehumanize and ‘other’ the defendant . . . the process of dehumanization required to obtain a death sentence is easier when the defendant is of a different race, class, sexual orientation and/or gender identity than the jurors or judge.” The authors also underscore the risk of juror bias, “Queer people . . . are also tried before juries comprised primarily of heterosexual, gender-conforming people, whose members often have beliefs that LGBT people are deviant and immoral... [P]rosecutors’ use of queer criminal archetypes alone or in combination with others rooted in race and class often has deadly consequences.” / Read more


STUDIES:

Victims' Families React Negatively to Serving as Basis for Death Penalty

Death Penalty Information Center

04-08-11 -- A recent study by Professors Thomas Mowen and Ryan Schroeder of the University of Louisville found that public support for the death penalty has shifted away from traditional justifications (such as its purported deterrent effect, its imagined cost-saving value, and its safeguard of innocent lives), and has been replaced by rationales of retribution and closure on behalf of victims’ families.  According to the study, which was published in Western Criminology Review, “with this change in justification, emotional catharsis for the victims' family members has become the goal of the capital punishment system. This has resulted in the onus of capital punishment being placed on the victim’s family.” The study found that this change of justifications for the death penalty has produced a backlash against it.  In the two decades following the rise of retribution and closure for victims as primary justification for the death penalty, there has been a significant increase in opposition to executions from families of victims. The report stated, “The growing covictim opposition to the execution of the offenders in their individual cases highlights the resistance of victims’ families to accepting the responsibility for the state-sanctioned death of the offenders, specifically, and to the notion that the court can provide closure, more generally.” / Read more


LETHAL INJECTIONS:

Latest Foreign Supplier of Drugs for U.S. Executions Refuses to Continue

Death Penalty Information Center

04-07-11 -- When the sole U.S. supplier of a drug used by all death penalty states announced it was halting production earlier this year, many states turned to sources overseas.  In particular, Nebraska obtained a large quantity of the drug--sodium thiopental--from a company in Mumbai, India.  Now that company has announced it will no longer supply the drug for use in lethal injections.  In a statement released to the media, Kayem Pharmaceutical Pvt. Ltd. said, "In view of the sensitivity involved with sale of our thiopental sodium to various jails/prisons in USA and as alleged to be used for the purpose of lethal injection, we voluntary declare that we as Indian Pharma Dealer who cherish the Ethos of Hinduism (A believer even in non-livings as the creation of God) refrain ourselves in selling this drug where the purpose is purely for Lethal Injection and its misuse."  Earlier this year, the sole U.S. manufacturer of the same drug, Hospira Inc., similarly announced that it wanted no part in supplying drugs for executions. Nebraska death row inmate Carey Moore is challenging the legality of the state’s purchase of the drug.  According to a motion filed with the Nebraska Supreme Court, there is no evidence that Kayem Pharmaceutical is registered with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) or is authorized to deliver drugs to the U.S. There is also evidence that Nebraska received a generic form of the drug, contrary to the state's execution protocol. / Read more


UNITED STATES SUPREME COURT

Supreme Court Reinstates Death Penalty in Calif. Case, Says Psychiatric Evidence Introduced Too Late

By Debra Cassens Weiss, ABA Journal

04-04-11 -- The U.S. Supreme Court has reinstated the death sentence for a man convicted in a Los Angeles double murder, despite evidence that his trial lawyer had failed to introduce evidence of his psychological problems. . . . Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the opinion (PDF) reinstating the death sentence for Scott Lynn Pinholster, convicted of killing two men who interrupted him while robbing a drug dealer. The decision in Cullen v. Pinholster overturns a ruling granting habeas relief by the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. . . . According to Thomas, the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act bars federal courts from considering new evidence that was not presented to state courts considering an inmate's claim on the merits. The new evidence in Pinholster's case included the opinions of new psychiatric experts who concluded the inmate suffers from partial epilepsy, brain injury and organic personality syndrome.


NORTH CAROLINA

STUDIES: North Carolina's Death Penalty is Error-Prone and Rarely Applied

Death Penalty Information Center

04-04-11 -- A new study from North Carolina shows that the state’s death penalty is error-prone and rarely implemented. A study of the death penalty from 1977 to 2009 found that two out of three death sentences were overturned on appeal, an error rate of 67%. The study also found that only 20% of death sentences resulted in an execution.  The review of the state's death penalty was made by Matthew Robinson, a professor of Government & Justice Studies at Appalachian State University. He made a series of  conclusions based on his research: / Read more


TEXAS

New Report--Animals Put to Death with Greater Care Than Humans in Texas

Death Penalty Information Center

04-04-11 -- As Texas prepares to execute Cleve Foster on April 5, a new report released by the ACLU of Texas and Northwestern University's Center for International Human Rights reveals that procedures for euthanizing animals in the state are more carefully regulated than the protocol for executing death row inmates. In March, Texas announced that it will continue to use a risky three-drug protocol for executions, and will replace the critical first drug, which is in short supply, with a new drug, pentobarbital--all without an opportunity for public review.  According to the ACLU’s report, "Texas’ lax attitude regarding the taking of human life contrasts sharply with its enactment of detailed regulations to ensure that animals suffer no pain when they are euthanized. Animal euthanasia laws provide strict certification requirements for euthanasia technicians and regulate acceptable methods of intravenous euthanasia down to the correct dosage per kilogram of an animal’s body weight. By contrast, the Texas legislature has failed to enact any legislation to ensure that the individuals responsible for extinguishing human life are properly trained and qualified, and that the drugs they administer are both effective and humane.” / Read more


March 2011

OHIO

New Voices: Former Prison Director Urges Clemency for Condemned Ohio Inmate

Death Penalty Information Center

03-31-11 -- The former Director of Ohio Prisons, Terry Collins, recently urged Gov. John Kasich to spare the life of Clarence Carter, who is scheduled to be executed on April 12 for the murder of another inmate.  Carter killed the inmate during a jailhouse fight in 1988.  Collins, who had 30 years of experience working with prisoners, discussed whether this crime merited the death penalty, "It is much more likely that this was an inmate fight that got tragically out of hand.  Inmate-on-inmate violence in lockups is often pursued to establish oneself as fearsome and to deter others from threatening or attacking the inmate."  He also said there is no evidence that Carter planned to kill Allen during the fight. Collins witnessed 33 executions during this tenure, which included being head of the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. / Read more


TEXAS

New Voices: Prominent Texans Support Death Penalty Moratorium Legislation

Death Penalty Information Center

03-30-11 -- The Texas Criminal Jurisprudence Committee of the House of Representatives heard testimony on March 29 regarding HB 1641, a bill that would put a hold on executions while the death penalty was being studied.  Charles Terrell, former Chairman of the state's Department of Criminal Justice, supported the moratorium in a statement to the committee, expressing concerns about: "fairness to those convicted on the limited testimony of witnesses, racial fairness in some areas of our state, the absence of DNA testing where it was possible to do so, and my belief that a sentence of life without the possibility of parole is far worse than a death sentence for young offenders."  Former Texas Gov. Mark White (pictured) also wrote a statement to the Committee in favor of the bill, stating that "there are more safeguards beyond careful gubernatorial review that the State of Texas should put in place to decrease the likelihood of executing an innocent individual and to increase fundamental fairness in our capital punishment system."   White also wrote that "regardless of our views on the death penalty itself, we all have profound concerns that the administration of capital punishment is deeply flawed and believe that all persons facing the death penalty are entitled to the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution." / Read more


INTERNATIONAL:

Amnesty International Report Finds Global Trend Away from Death Penalty

Death Penalty Information Center

03-29-11 -- A new report issued by Amnesty International, Death Sentences and Executions 2010, shows a global trend away from the use of the death penalty.  According to the report, only four countries in the G20 (representing the world's major economies) carried out executions in 2010 (China, Japan, Saudi Arabia and the U.S.), 36 of the 53 African Union member states are abolitionist in law or in practice, and only 21 of the 192 UN member states carried out executions in 2010.  The report stated, "At the end of 2010 the global trend towards abolition of the death penalty could not have been clearer. While in the mid-1990s 40 countries on average were known to carry out executions each year, during the first years of this century executions were reported in 30 countries on average. Most recently, 25 countries reportedly executed prisoners in 2008 while 19 countries – the lowest number ever recorded by Amnesty International – did so in 2009.... The number of countries that are abolitionist in law or practice has substantially increased over the past decade, rising from 108 in 2001 to 139 in recent years." / Read more


CALIFORNIA

New Voices: Former Los Angeles D.A. States "California's Death Penalty Doesn't Serve Justice"

03-28-11 -- Gil Garcetti, the former district attorney of Los Angeles who pursued numerous death sentences, recently said California's death penalty is dysfunctional and the resources spent on it should be diverted to more pressing needs.  In an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, Garcetti said the death penalty causes ongoing torment to family members and friends of murder victims:  "The living victims of a particular crime might think that a death verdict provides closure, but for most, there was no such closure." Garcetti said state funds spent on implementing the death penalty can be better used elsewhere: "California's death penalty does not and cannot function the way its supporters want it to. It is also an incredibly costly penalty, and the money would be far better spent keeping kids in school, keeping teachers and counselors in their schools and giving the juvenile justice system the resources it needs. Spending our tax dollars on actually preventing crimes, instead of pursuing death sentences after they've already been committed, will assure us we will have fewer victims . . . ." / Read more


CONNECTICUT

Connecticut Weighs Legislation to Repeal Death Penalty

Death Penalty Information Center

03-25-11 -- Earlier in March, hearings were held in Connecticut before the House Judiciary Committee on a bill to replace the death penalty for future crimes with a sentence of life without parole.  Many religious leaders, scholars, former death row inmates, and families of murder victims families testified in favor of the bill. Catholic Bishop Peter Rosazza, retired auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Hartford, said, "The death penalty diminishes us all.  We cannot teach respect for life by taking a life."  Another witness, Barry Scheck of the Innocence Project, pointed to needs that could be met from the money now spent on the death penalty: “[I]t is a costly endeavor to sentence a person to death, given the lengthy appeals process. . . .You spend more money on the death penalty, you take away money from public safety. … We could solve more rape cases, we could solve more robberies … if we had more money to put into that instead of the death penalty.”  / Read more


BOOKS:

The Death Penalty from an International Perspective

Death Penalty Information Center

03-24-11 -- A recent book by Sanaz Alasti, "Cruel and Unusual Punishment: Comparative Perspective in International Conventions, the United States and Iran," explores the question of what constitutes cruel and unusual punishment on an international level. The book reviews current practices in both Iran and the United States, focusing on the death penalty and the harshness of such practices as corporal punishment, long terms of imprisonment, and inflexibile laws mandating punishment.   Punishments are particularly examined in light of the universal declaration of human rights. Sanaz Alasti is a Fellow at Harvard law school, and has written numerous books and articles on various aspects of comparative criminal justice and penology. / Read more


WASHINGTON

Costs: One Death Penalty Case Could Drain County's Budget in Washington

Death Penalty Information Center

03-23-11 -- As Yakima County, Washington, faces the possibility of its first death penalty trial since 1989, the danger that the high cost of a capital case could drain the county's budget is a deep concern. Harold Delia, Yakima County court administrative consultant questioned the wisdom of seeking the death penalty against a defendant recently charged with murder, “You really have to wonder whether this really makes sense when you look at the cost-benefit analysis," he said. "In Yakima County, we have no reserves left. If we overspend on a death penalty case, money has to come from somewhere."  Taxpayers may spend up to $1 million on the trial proceedings alone.  In Yakima County, the 2005 slayings of a 21-year-old man and his 3-year-old daughter cost more than $2 million in defense costs alone, much of it incurred before the trial began, even though the death penalty ended up being no more than a threat in the case. A study commissioned by the Washington State Bar Association in 2006 estimated that a death penalty case can cost an additional $800,000 when considering additional costs to the prosecution and defense at the trial and the cost of appeals. / Read more


UNITED STATES SUPREME COURT

Supreme Court to Hear Case of Man Facing Execution Because of Mailroom Mixup

Death Penalty Information Center

03-22-11 -- On March 21, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal from death-row inmate Cory Maples who is facing execution because of a missed filing deadline in his state appeal.  Copies of an Alabama court ruling in his case were sent to the New York law firm handling his appeals pro bono but were returned unopened to the court because the attorneys representing Maples had left the firm. Maples himself was not informed of the Alabama ruling or the fact that his attorneys had left.  By the time the mailroom mix-up was discovered, Maples’s time to appeal had expired. Gregory Garre, Maples' new attorney, is arguing that Maples should not be penalized for missing the deadline because Maples was blameless, the government’s actions were a contributing factor, and his lawyers had effectively stopped representing him. The state maintains that Maples should be denied a hearing because his case is no different from “countless attorneys [who] have missed filing deadlines over the years.” A third attorney, who was acting as local counsel in Alabama but who played no part in Maples' actual representation, did receive the Alabama ruling but ignored it.  The case is Maples v. Thomas, No. 10-63. / Read more


ARIZONA

Trial Prosecutor Now Opposes Death Sentence as Arizona Execution Approaches

Death Penalty Information Center

03-21-11 -- Daniel Cook is scheduled for execution on April 5 in Arizona, despite the fact that the lead prosecutor at his 1988 capital trial has said that he would not have sought the death penalty if he had known more about Cook's traumatic background and mental illness.  At trial, Cook waived his right to counsel and represented himself after learning his appointed lawyer was suffering from bipolar disorder and was drinking heavily. The judge denied Cook’s petition for a mental heath expert, and Cook presented no mitigating evidence. Since his trial, it has been revealed that Cook was subjected to severe and repeated abuse as a young child by his family. He has also been diagnosed as suffering from organic brain damage and post-traumatic stress disorder. In a statement signed in 2010, Eric Larsen, the lead prosecutor in Cook’s trial and now in private practice, revealed that he would not have sought the death penalty if he had known that Cook had suffered abuse that “mirrored the circumstances surrounding the crime.” The prosecutor also noted that the appointed lawyer was “at the low end of the competency scale for the handling of the defense of a standard felony” and “appeared neither capable nor willing to put forth the effort necessary to represent a defendant charged with a capital offense.” / Read more


ILLINOIS

New Voices: Some Prosecutors and Judges Welcome End of Death Penalty

Death Penalty Information Center

03-18-11 -- Following the repeal of the death penalty in Illinois, some state prosecutors and judges have pointed to potential benefits to the criminal justice system. Kane County State’s Attorney Joe McMahon recently said that abolishing the death penalty meant that murder trials in the county could come to a conclusion more quicly. McMahon said, “To the extent that we can bring these cases to resolution sooner, and help the families of the victims get some measure of closure and allow the healing process to begin sooner, [it] will be helpful.” Judge Keith Brown, chief judge of the 16th Judicial Circuit, said that the lack of the death penalty will ease some of the burden of allocating additional resources to murder trials. Judge Brown noted that, “prosecuting murders should become less time consuming and less expensive, as the county and the state will no longer need to pay additional attorney’s fees for defendants, pay to bring in additional juries or pay staff and court costs for extended trials.” / Read more


ILLINOIS  

Coerced Confessions, Justice And The Death Penalty

Posted by Elijah Sweete, The Moderate Voice

03-18-11 -- On Wednesday former Chicago Police Lieutenant John Burge was sentenced to four and a half years in federal prison for his role in coercing confessions and lying about his involvement. Yesterday, the day after Burge’s sentencing, one of the men he had forced to confess was freed from an Illinois state penitentiary after 22 years of incarceration. . . . Eric Caine and co-defendant Aaron Patterson were convicted in 1989 in the stabbing deaths of a Chicago couple. The convictions were based solely on the confessions of the men. There was no DNA, fingerprints or any other evidence linking them to the crime. Patterson was sentenced to death, Caine to life in prison. Caine avoided the death penalty by one vote on his jury. . . . During his interrogation, Caine reports that he was told he would be better off confessing than to face what would happen if he did not. He was beaten by police severely enough to rupture an eardrum and was threatened with a gun before breaking down and telling Burge and his “Midnight Squad” what they wanted to hear.


TEXAS

Lethal Injection: Texas Switches to New Drug as Next Execution Approaches

Death Penalty Information Center

03-17-11 -- The Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) announced on March 16 that it will switch to pentobarbital as part of its three-drug lethal injection protocol for the upcoming execution of Cleve Foster on April 5.  The short notice has drawn concerns from Foster's defense attorneys and lethal injection experts. Maurie Levin, a professor at the University of Texas who represents Foster, said, “Prison officials are not medical professionals. They cannot be trusted to change a medical procedure in the dark of night without public scrutiny, especially when there is such a minimal track record on the use of pentobarbital in lethal injections."  Prof. Deborah Denno of Fordham Law School, one of the nation’s leading experts on the lethal injection, said that the “Texas decision was not about making executions more humane but was meant to make the process more feasible.”  She also pointed to the fact that the problems with the earlier methods of lethal injection arose because one state blindly followed another, without careful review: "This lemming-effect has created a decades-long pattern of lethal injection botches in which department of corrections try to remain one step ahead of lawsuits." / Read more


GEORGIA

Lethal Injection: Federal Agency Seizes Georgia Execution Drug

Death Penalty Information Center

03-16-11 -- The federal Drug Enforcement Administration has seized Georgia's foreign supply of sodium thiopental, saying it will hold the drug while it investigates whether the Department of Corrections imported the drug legally. In February, attorneys representing Georgia death row inmate Andrew DeYoung sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder alleging that Georgia had violated the federal Controlled Substances Act "by failing to register as an importer of the controlled substance" sodium thiopental. Georgia reportedly obtained its supply of sodium thiopental from a small pharmaceutical company, Dream Pharma, in Great Britain.  Five other states also acquired a supply of the drug in England. / Read more


ILLINOIS

New Voices: "The Conservative Argument to Abolish the Death Penalty"

Death Penalty Information Center

03-15-11 -- In a recent op-ed in the Chicago Tribune following Illinois's abolition of the death penalty, author and attorney Scott Turow (pictured) outlined three major conservative reasons for opposing capital punishment: it is a failed government program, it is a waste of money, and it doesn't fit with the idea of limited government. Turow served on former Governor George Ryan's Commission on Capital Punishment, which found numerous problems with the state's death penalty. In highlighting the failures of the system, Turow said, "For conservatives who believe government is too large, too inefficient and too unwieldy to deliver health care, or even the mail for that matter, it should come as no surprise that government efforts to justly select those worthy of death has been a moral disaster." On the issue of costs, he addressed the high cost of death penalty trials and appeals and the lack of deterrent effect, saying, "if the death penalty clearly served a practical purpose like saving lives, these increased costs might be worth it. But in Illinois we have experienced a steady decline in our murder rate since Gov. Ryan first declared the moratorium on executions." Turow closed by noting that some of our European allies abolished the death penalty as a reaction to the horrors of World War II. "The conservative-libertarian view that says that the powers of government must be strictly limited supports drawing a clear line prohibiting a democratic government from ever lawfully killing any of the citizens from whom it draws power. That way a regime that vanished its political enemies or executed despised minorities would mark itself, whatever the legal rigamorole, as an outlaw." / Read more


NORTH CAROLINA  

N.C. Supreme Court to hear arguments about death-penalty protocol

By Winston-Salem Journal Staff 

03-13-11 -- An administrative law judge was right to order North Carolina's statewide elected officials to revise the protocol for the execution of prisoners on death row, according to attorneys who are preparing to make that case to the state Supreme Court on Monday. . . . The state's top court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in a case involving five death-row inmates that has partly contributed to an unofficial moratorium on capital punishment in North Carolina. A ruling in those inmates' favor wouldn't overturn the death penalty or immediately force revised protocols for carrying it out but would send the case to a lower court for review. . . . The case essentially centers on whether Administrative Law Judge Fred Morrison had sufficient jurisdiction to order the Council of State, which consists of North Carolina's 10 statewide elected officials, to revise the protocol governing the death penalty.


OHIO

Lethal Injection: Ohio Carries Out First Pentobarbital-Only Execution

Death Penalty Information Center

03-11-11 -- On March 10, the execution of Johnnie Baston (pictured) in Ohio marked the first time any state carried out a death sentence with a single dose of the barbituate pentobarbital.  The use of pentobarbital, more commonly employed in euthanizing animals, raised concerns among some death penalty experts. Fordham University law professor Deborah Denno warned, "Ohio is gambling blindly in its rush to execute. There is no reason why Ohio cannot take the time to devise a constitutionally acceptable execution procedure in the way so many experts have recommended."  H. Lundbeck, the U.S. distributor of pentobarbital, condemned the use of the drug in executions in a statement: "It's against everything we stand for. We invent and develop medicine with the aim of alleviating people's burden. This is the direct opposite of that." / Read more


ILLINOIS

Editorials: Illinois Death Penalty Repeal Called a "Victory for Justice"

Death Penalty Information Center

03-10-11 -- An editorial in the Chicago Sun-Times applauded Illinois Governor Pat Quinn for signing the bill abolishing the death penalty. The editors wrote, "We’ve learned that the system makes too many mistakes to entrust it with the ultimate power of capital punishment. We’ve learned that legal safeguards can be pushed aside when emotions are high after a heinous crime. We’ve learned that political ambition sometimes blinds those in power to the weaknesses of a case. We’ve learned that evidence can disappear or be misrepresented, that witnesses seeking special deals may lie, that juries may be swayed by emotion instead of facts."  For Gov. Quinn, the flaws in the system that can lead to a wrongful execution played the most powerful role in his decision. In a statement delivered immediately after the signing, he said, “I have concluded that our system of imposing the death penalty is inherently flawed. The evidence presented to me by former prosecutors and judges with decades of experience in the criminal justice system has convinced me that it is impossible to devise a system that is consistent, that is free of discrimination on the basis of race, geography or economic circumstance, and that always gets it right.” He continued, “Since our experience has shown that there is no way to design a perfect death penalty system, free from the numerous flaws that can lead to wrongful convictions or discriminatory treatment, I have concluded that the proper course of action is to abolish it. With our broken system, we cannot ensure justice is achieved in every case.” / Read more


GEORGIA  

Judge orders DNA tests for inmate facing death

Associated Press, Atlanta Journal Constitution   

03-09-11-- A Georgia judge has ordered three DNA tests to be performed in the case of a death row inmate facing execution for the 1978 slaying of an elderly woman in Savannah. . . . Chatham County Superior Court Judge Michael Karpf on Monday ordered the DNA of convicted killer Roy Blankenship to be compared with samples from a fingernail scraping, a pubic hair and body fluid recovered from the body of 78-year-old Sarah Mims Bowen.


ILLINOIS

Illinois Governor Signs Bill Ending Death Penalty, Marking the Fewest States with Capital Punishment Since 1978

Death Penalty Information Center

03-09-11 -- On March 9, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed into law a repeal of the death penalty, replacing it with a sentence of life without parole. The governor also commuted the death sentences of the 15 people on the state's death row to life without parole.  The ban on capital punishment comes after an eleven-year moratorium on executions declared by former Republican Gov. George Ryan and makes Illinois the 16th state to end the death penalty. It also marks the lowest number of states with the death penalty in more than thirty years.  The Illinois repeal is an indication of a growing national trend toward alternatives to the death penalty, and an increased focus on murder victims' families and the prevention of crime.  In light of the current economic difficulties, the public has increasingly recognized that resources used for the death penalty could be diverted to higher budgetary priorities, such as law enforcement and victims’ services.  Many murder victims’ families were among the strongest supporters of the Illinois repeal, and the high costs of the death penalty were influential in its passage.  The law requires that state funds used for the death penalty be transferred to a fund for murder victims’ services and law enforcement.  / Read more


UNITED STATES SUPREME COURT

DNA Evidence Bid Backed in U.S. Supreme Court Ruling

By Greg Stohr, Bloomberg

03-07-11 -- The U.S. Supreme Court buttressed the ability of some convicted murderers to get access to DNA evidence, ruling in favor of a Texas death row inmate who says new testing of crime-scene material might exonerate him. . . . The justices, voting 6-3, today said Henry W. Skinner, convicted of the 1993 murders of his girlfriend and her two adult sons, can press ahead with a lawsuit that seeks access to evidence in his case. The justices had halted Skinner’s execution while they considered his appeal. . . . The decision opens a new legal avenue for some convicted murderers, saying they can use a federal law to seek DNA testing that might prove their innocence. . . . The ruling doesn’t necessarily mean Skinner will get access to the DNA evidence. Writing for the majority, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said a lower court should consider other arguments by Texas officials in the case. . . . Justices Clarence Thomas, Anthony Kennedy and Samuel Alito dissented. / Skinner v. Switzer pdf


FOREIGN NATIONALS

New Voices: Former Bush Official Urges Basic Review of Death Sentences Given Foreign Nationals to Protect Americans Abroad

Death Penalty Information Center

03-04-11 -- A former State Department official in the Bush administration is urging Congress to help the U.S. comply with a ruling from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) regarding the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations as a way of protecting U.S. citizens traveling abroad.  John Bellinger, who argued before the ICJ, said in an op-ed in the Washington Post that "a key provision [of the Vienna Convention] requires parties to the treaty to promptly inform, upon arrest, nationals of other parties to the treaty that they have a right to meet with a consular official." But the U.S. failed to give such notice to foreign nationals in the U.S. who faced the death penalty.  In 2004, the ICJ at the Hague held that the U.S. was required to review the convictions and sentences of 51 Mexicans on death row in the U.S. whose rights under the treaty were not respected.  A year later, then-President George W. Bush ordered Texas courts to carry out this review for those on its death row.  Texas challenged Bush’s order, and the U.S. Supreme Court agreed with Texas, saying the president does not have the power to order state courts to review criminal convictions. The op-ed noted that the Vienna Convention is a two-way street and that U.S. compliance with its provisions is essential to ensure that Americans detained abroad receive the same treatment. Bellinger wrote, “U.S. compliance with the Vienna Convention is vital. [U.S.] lawmakers cannot expect other countries to comply with their treaty obligations to us unless the United States observes its treaty obligations to them.”  Read full editorial below. / Read more


LETHAL INJECTION:

New Execution Drug Raises Its Own Concerns

Death Penalty Information Center

03-03-11 -- Some states are turning to the widely available-drug pentobarbital for use in their lethal injections, instead of sodium thiopental, which is in short supply in the U.S.  But some medical professionals have noted that, although the new drug shares many similarities with sodium thiopental, pentobarbital has rarely been used in humans. Dr. David Varlotta, who sits on the board of the American Society of Anesthesiologists, said that he has not used pentobarbital since 1986. Dr. Varlotta said, “If departments of corrections are moving toward pentobarbital, they're moving away from the expertise of anesthesiologists.” Recently, a spokesperson for Lundbeck Inc., the sole U.S. manufacturer of pentobarbital, said that using the drug for executions is not what the company intended and "goes against everything we're in business to do.” Lundbeck is based in Denmark, a country that strongly opposes the death penalty.  Last year, Oklahoma adopted pentobarbital as a part of its three-drug protocol, replacing sodium thiopental.  Earlier this year, Ohio announced that it would use pentobarbital alone in its one-drug protocol. Among death penalty states, only South Carolina has said it is not looking at alternatives to sodium thiopental. / Read more


ILLINOIS

Editorials: Chicago Tribune Urges Governor to Sign Death Penalty Repeal Bill

Death Penalty Information Center

03-02-11 -- A recent editorial in the Chicago Tribune urged Gov. Pat Quinn to sign the bill to end the death penalty in Illinois.  The paper noted that former Gov. Bill Richardson signed a similar bill in New Mexico, despite previously saying he supported the death penalty when he came into office.  Richardson said that his mind was changed after studying the issue and seeing “too many mistakes” and evidence that the punishment was applied disproportionately to minorities.  The Illinois bill would divert state funds used for capital punishment to a fund for murder victims’ services and law enforcement. The editorial stated: "Illinois [has] sent at least 20 innocent men to death row . . . .Taxpayers have spent more than $122 million in 10 years to send 15 new prisoners to death row, but the moratorium remains in place because the system can't be trusted."  Gov. Quinn has until March 18 to take action on the bill.  Read full editorial below. / Read more


STUDIES:

The Effect of Victim Impact Evidence in Capital Trials

Death Penalty Information Center

03-01-11 -- A study recently published in the journal Criminology meaured the effects of victim impact evidence (VIE) on the likelihood of the jury returning a death sentence. The study was conducted by Professors Raymond Paternoster and Jerome Deise of the University of Maryland.  It involved 135 participants who watched a video recording of an actual capital trial. Seventy-three participants watched the full video, while the remaining 62 participants watched a version with the victim impact evidence (typically, statements about the value of the victim and the effect his or her death has had on the rest of the family) edited out. Among those who viewed the victim impact evidence, 62.5% said they would impose a death sentence on the offender, while only 17.5% of those who did not view this evidence would have done the same.  Among those who did not view victim impact evidence, 44.4% said they would impose a sentence of life without parole and another 38.1% would have voted for a straight life sentence. The study concluded that, "those who viewed victim impact testimony perceived significantly more harm and suffering inflicted on the victim’s family, a greater emotional loss inflicted on the family by the murder, and were significantly less likely to think that the victim’s family was coping well with the murder… those who viewed VIE and those who actually imposed a death sentence were significantly more likely to think that a sentence of death would help the victim’s family find closure or help them recover from their loss.” / Read more


February 2011

STUDIES:

Gender Bias in Death Sentencing

Death Penalty Information Center

02-28-11 -- A recent study by Professor Steven Shatz of the University of San Francisco Law School and Naomi Shatz of the New York Civil Liberties Union suggests that gender bias continues to exist in the application of the death penalty, and that this bias has roots in the historic notion of chivalry.  In a review of 1,300 murder cases in California between 2003 and 2005, the authors found gender disparities with respect to both defendants and victims in the underlying crime.  The study revealed that the influence of gender-based values was particularly pronounced in certain crimes: gang murders (few death sentences), rape murders (many death sentences), and domestic violence murders (few death sentences). The authors concluded: "The present study confirms what earlier studies have shown: that the death penalty is imposed on women relatively infrequently and that it is disproportionately imposed for the killing of women.  Thus, the death penalty in California appears to be applied in accordance with stereotypes about women’s innate abilities, their roles in society, and their capacity for violence. Far from being gender neutral, the California death penalty seems to allow prejudices and stereotypes about violence and gender, chivalric values, to determine who lives and who dies." / Read more


UNITED STATES SUPREME COURT

High Court Allows Dying Man’s Shooter ID; Scalia Hits Majority’s ‘Active Imagination’

By Debra Cassens Weiss, ABA Journal

02-28-11 -- Justice Antonin Scalia argued in dissent today that the Supreme Court has left its confrontation clause jurisprudence “in a shambles” by creating an expansive exception that allows admission of pretrial statements by victims of violent crimes. . . . Scalia is known for a series of opinions on the rights of defendants to confront witnesses at trial that are based on his originalist view of the Constitution. Today, Scalia and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented in Michigan v. Bryant, a decision allowing admission of statements by a dying man who told Detroit police that a man named “Rick” had shot him. Ginsburg wrote separately. . . . Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote the majority opinion (PDF), which held the statements were admissible because their primary purpose was to aid the police in an emergency. Therefore, the statements were not testimonial and their admission at trial did not violate the confrontation clause, she concluded. Justice Elena Kagan did not participate in the case.


GEORGIA

Georgia Accused of Illegal Actions in Securing Execution Drugs

Death Penalty Information Center

02-25-11 -- Attorneys representing Andrew DeYoung, a death row inmate in Georgia, have accused the Georgia Department of Corrections (GDC) of violating federal law by unlawfully importing an execution drug from a small pharmaceutical distributor in London, England--Dream Pharma Ltd. The allegations are outlined in a letter delivered to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on Feb. 24 and describe an attempt by the corrections agency to circumvent the law to secure sodium thiopental from foreign sources in the face of a national shortage of the drug. Records show that the GDC is not registered with the Drug Enforcement Administration as an importer and did not file a declaration when it imported drugs from the distributor in July 2010. John Bentivoglio, a partner with Skadden, Arps in Washington, D.C., and former U.S. Associate Deputy Attorney General, wrote to Holder, calling for an investigation: “The GDC’s actions call into question the legality and integrity of the process the department uses to administer lethal injections. . . . Given these potential violations of federal law and the implications they raise with respect to pending executions in Georgia, I respectfully urge you to direct appropriate agencies within your department to conduct a prompt and thorough investigation of these issues.” / Read more


KENTUCKY  

Lawyer seeks to stop Ky. from using execution drug

By Brett Barrouquere, Associated Press, San Francisco Chronicle

02-24-11 -- Kentucky appears to have violated a judge's order stopping all executions and preventing the state from taking any action to carry out a lethal injection by purchasing a key drug used in the process, an attorney for several death row inmates said Thursday. . . . Public defender David Barron wants to bar the state from ever using the 18 grams of sodium thiopental the state acquired this month. . . . Despite a national shortage of sodium thiopental, Kentucky bought enough of the fast-acting narcotic from a Georgia company to carry out three lethal injections. The packaging indicated the drug was made by Sandoz International GmbH, a European generics company, Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet spokeswoman Jennifer Brislin said. The packaging had an expiration date of May 2014.


TENNESSEE: LEGAL REPRESENTATION

Tennessee Inmate Faces Execution Because of Lawyer's Failures

Death Penalty Information Center

02-24-11 -- A forthcoming article in the ABA Journal reveals the tragic admissions of failure by a well-known defense lawyer that led to a death sentence and potential execution of Abu-Ali Abdur'Rahman (pictured) in Tennessee.  Lionel Barrett, who represented Abdur'Rahman in 1987, now takes full responsibility for his lack of attention to critical details and for having his client end up on death row. Looking back on the case 24 years later, Barrett said, "It was the perfect storm. Everything I could have done wrong, I did … Abu-Ali is on death row because of me. I failed him."  Barrett was widely recognized as one of the best criminal defense attorneys in Tennessee, but he was overworked and burned out, and his financial troubles compelled him to accept more cases than he could handle. A series of interoffice memos regarding Abdur'Rahman's case reveals that Barrett was not adequately prepared to try the case. He failed to file important motions that would have granted him more time and resources to prepare for the case, and by the time proceedings began, Barrett had not talked to a single eyewitness, conducted any of his own investigations or explored evidence of his client's mental illness. He also never ordered testing on key pieces of evidence, including a coat owned by the defendant that allegedly had blood stains from the victims. It later turned out that the stains were paint from Abdur'Rahman's work, and Barrett unknowingly allowed this critical piece of exculpatory evidence to become the most convincing evidence of guilt.


MULTIMEDIA:

New Film Explores Risk of Wrongful Convictions in Capital Cases

Death Penalty Information Center

02-23-11 -- Slick, a new short dramatic film directed and produced by Michael Frediani, follows the story of a fictional Texas death row inmate on the night of his execution. Garrett Lee Taylor, the film's protagonist, faces execution for murder, despite strong claims of innocence.  The film is comprised of a series of flashbacks revealing events on the night of the crime.  The flashbacks show how evidence seemed to place Taylor at the scene of the crime and led investigators to wrongfully conclude he was guilty of murder.  The flashbacks also reveal the real killer. "Slick" shows the fallibility of investigations and human judgment, as well as the complicated nature of capital cases. / Read more


MENTAL ILLNESS:

Death Sentences Vacated for Two with Severe Mental Illness

Death Penalty Information Center

02-22-11 -- One death row inmate from Oregon and another from North Carolina recently had their death sentences removed because of concerns about their mental competency. In Oregon, Robert James Acremant’s sentence was reduced to life without the possibility of parole. Since 2003, prison psychiatrists have diagnosed him as mentally ill, and Acremant said he hears voices and has a transmitter in his head that allows others to control him.  He still has a death sentence from a case in California.  Isaac Stroud in North Carolina was removed from death row after a judge ruled his mental condition kept him from assisting with his own defense. With consent from the victim's family, District Attorney Tracey Cline agreed to a life sentence for a 1995 murder conviction and an additional 30-year sentence for kidnapping. Cline said, "It was apparent that he did suffer from a mental health condition. The [victim’s] family, after so much time, basically just wanted to be sure that Mr. Stroud was not released from prison during his lifetime.” Stroud's attorney, Marilyn Ozer, said, "Everyone looks at the system differently than they did 20 years ago, so it makes sense to go back and look at these cases."  Stroud was not eligible for a sentence of life without parole at the time of his conviction. / Read more


STATES:

Thirteen States Seek Help from Justice Department for Lethal Injection Drug

Death Penalty Information Center

02-21-11 -- In January, attorneys general from 13 states wrote a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder asking for assistance from the U.S. Department of Justice related to the recent shortage of sodium thiopental for lethal injections in the U.S. The state officials, including those in Alabama, Florida, and Tennessee, asked for help in "identifying an appropriate source for sodium thiopental or making supplies held by the Federal Government available to the States."  Earlier this year, the sole U.S. manufacturer announced that it would no longer produce sodium thiopental because of objections from Italy where the drug was produced. Great Britain has also taken action to prevent further exportation of this drug from suppliers (see picture) there to U.S. states for use in lethal injections.  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration had previously allowed (without testing) shipments of the drug from overseas to be forwarded to states such as Arizona and California. / Read more

 (Picture of Dream Pharma in London, foreign source for recent lethal injections performed in U.S.)


NEW RESOURCES:

Criminal Justice Coalition Releases "Smart on Crime" Report

Death Penalty Information Center

02-18-11 -- A diverse coalition of the nation’s leading criminal justice reform organizations recently released Smart on Crime: Recommendations for the Administration and Congress.  This analysis of the criminal justice system and the accompanying set of recommendations for change is one of the most comprehensive reports ever published addressing the problems in this field. The Coalition of over 40 organizations is coordinated by the Constitution Project and includes such groups as the American Bar Association, the Innocence Project, NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the Heritage Foundation, and Prison Fellowship, though not every organization supported every chapter of the report.  With respect to the death penalty, the report made a series of recommendations: See below: Read more


TEXAS

Texas Faith Leaders Appeal to Governor for Clemency in Pending Execution

Death Penalty Information Center

02-17-11 -- On February 16, over 90 prominent religious leaders from Texas called on the Board of Pardons and Paroles and Governor Rick Perry to grant clemency to Timothy Adams (pictured). Adams is an army veteran with no criminal history prior to the day he killed his son while planning his own suicide in 2002. Leaders from nine denominations announced their support for clemency, saying "We join the victim’s family in asking that you spare Mr. Adams from death. You have an extraordinary opportunity to show mercy to a family that has already suffered greatly and to uphold the sacredness of human life." From the beginning, Adams accepted responsibility for what his crime, and pleaded guilty in court. During his eight years on death row, he has been a model prisoner. Earlier this month, Adams's family (and hence the family of the victim) petitioned the board to spare his life. Three jurors have also come forward in support of clemency, stating that information regarding Adams's upbringing, deep devotion to religion, and mental state – which was not presented during the trial – would have led them to sentence Adams to life in prison instead of the death penalty. UPDATE: The Board of Pardons and Paroles declined to recommend clemency for Adams.  See full text of letter below. / Read more


NATIONWIDE

Anesthesiologists Raise Concerns About New Drug for Lethal Injections

Death Penalty Information Center

02-16-11 -- A nationwide shortage of sodium thiopental, a key drug used in executions around the country, has forced states to consider alternative drugs for their lethal injections. Tennessee, where 86 inmates are facing execution and sodium thiopental is in short supply, is considering using pentobarbital instead. Oklahoma has already executed three inmates using the new drug as part of a 3-drug protocol. The use of pentobarbital, however, has drawn concerns from some anesthesiologists who said the drug has not been used to put patients to sleep and has not been tested for executions. Dr. David Varlotta, who is on the board of directors of the American Society of Anesthesiologists, noted that there are significant differences between the two drugs, and said pentobarbital "is not used in a clinical setting for clinical anesthesia." Dr. David Waisel, an anesthesiologist and Harvard Medical School professor, said, "Sodium thiopental has been used millions of times, for 90% of operations, for 30 years. Pentobarbital has almost never been used for induction of anesthesia. If you look at the literature, there's one report from the '40s, maybe 2. We're experimenting, and we're taking a huge risk here just for the big desire to make sure we're killing people." / Read more


MONTANA

Montana Senate Votes to Repeal the Death Penalty

Death Penalty Information Center

02-15-11 -- On February 14, the Montana state Senate passed a bill that would repeal the death penalty and replace it with a sentence of life without parole.  In a 26-24 vote, all of the Senate's Democrats and four Republicans supported ending capital punishment, marking the second straight legislative session for such a vote. Senator David Wanzenried, who introduced the bill, said that the death penalty is not a fair punishment, does not bring closure for victims, or serve as a deterrent to murder. He said the "current system can't be made fair and it can't be made infallible." Other concerns cited by supporters of the repeal bill were the high risks of wrongful convictions, the punishment's disproportional use against racial minorities and the poor, and the financial costs of implementing the punishment. Republican Senator Ryan Zinke said, "Whether you are or not with the moral issue, there is a practical issue of spending money." The bill faces one more procedural Senate vote and will then be passed on to the House. / Read more


CONNECTICUT NEW VOICES:

Families of Victims Call for End to Death Penalty in Connecticut

Death Penalty Information Center

02-14-11 -- On February 9, more than two dozen families of murder victims came to the Connecticut Capitol complex to urge lawmakers to repeal the death penalty because of its negative impact on families of murder victims. Seventy-six family members of murder victims signed a letter urging lawmakers to end the death penalty. Gail Canzano, whose brother-in-law was murdered in 1999, said, "The death penalty ensnares people in the criminal justice system where mandatory appeals, constitutional challenges and never-ending media attention result in notoriety for the murderer and years of suffering and uncertainty for the families left behind." Others cited the death penalty's financial and emotional costs as a significant reason for repeal. The letter to Connecticut lawmakers read, "The death penalty is a false promise that goes unfulfilled. And as the state hangs on to this broken system, it wastes millions of dollars that could go toward much-needed victims' services."  The state legislature is considering a repeal bill, and a judiciary committee hearing will be held in mid-March. / Read more


OHIO NEW VOICES:

Victim's Family Asks Ohio Board to Spare Inmate's Life

Death Penalty Information Center

02-11-11 -- The family of a man who was killed in Ohio recently petitioned the parole board to commute the death sentence of the defendant in the murder. Peter Mah, son of Chong Hoon Mah, who was killed by Johnnie Baston (pictured) during a robbery in 1994, told the Ohio Parole Board, "I was opposed to Mr. Baston receiving a death sentence at the time of his trial… [and] my family and I are opposed to Mr. Baston being executed." During the trial, the family had filed affidavits saying that they preferred to see Baston spend his entire life in prison, but that sentencing option was not available at the time. The Board makes a recommendation regarding clemency to the governor, who makes the final decision.  Baston's attorneys have compared his case to that of Jeffrey Hill of Ohio, whose death sentence was commuted to life without parole by former Governor Ted Strickland. In Hill's case, the parole board cited the wishes of the victim's family opposing execution. Baston's attorneys have also presented evidence that he was abused as a child by his birth family. / Read more


MARYLAND

Editorials: Baltimore Sun--Death Penalty "Inherently Inhumane"

Death Penalty Information Center

02-10-11 -- A recent editorial in the Baltimore Sun urged Gov. Martin O'Malley to work toward repealing the death penalty in Maryland. The paper suggested that changes in the composition of the state Senate might make the General Assembly more receptive to ending capital punishment.  There have also been concerns raised about lethal injections on the the state and national level.  But it was the fundamental unfairness and high costs of the death penalty that underscored the paper's position: "Countless studies have shown that the death penalty is no more effective in deterring crime than a sentence of life without parole; that it is so inherently discriminatory that it can never be fairly or consistently applied; and that the risk of executing an innocent person can never be eliminated, even with the stringent requirements Maryland has put in place. Moreover, the lengthy appeals it inspires deprive victims' families of closure and cost the state millions of dollars that could be better used for other purposes. As an instrument of justice, it is a moral abomination that can never be rendered humane except by ending it altogether."


NEW VOICES:

Former Prosecutors, Judges and U.S. Attorneys Urge Illinois Governor to Sign Death Penalty Repeal

Death Penalty Information Center

02-09-11 -- A group of over 60 former state and federal prosecutors, judges, and other law enforcement officials recently wrote to Governor Pat Quinn of Illinois urging him to sign the bill passed by the General Assembly to repeal the death penalty. The law would also transfer state funds used for the death penalty to a fund for murder victims' services and law enforcement work. The group cited the death penalty's ineffectiveness in deterring violent crime and its high cost of implementation as the primary reasons for ending the death penalty. The letter stated, " Throughout Illinois, law enforcement officials are struggling to find needed dollars for police, forensic investigations, and aggressive prosecution of a wide range of criminal activity. The vast sums that would be spent on the death penalty in the years ahead are sorely needed for other, more effective law enforcement purposes." The letter also cautioned against retaining the death penalty in order to obtain guilty pleas in exchange for life sentences, saying that "using the death penalty as an instrument of coercion has led to false pleas and erroneous convictions."  And merely limiting the death penalty, the group said, " would not solve the underlying flaws that inevitably occur when the authorities are under pressure to win convictions in high-profile cases." See below for list of signatories. / Read more


STUDIES:

Misunderstandings by Jurors Undermines Constitutionality of Death Penalty

Death Penalty Information Center

02-08-11 -- A new study by William Bowers and others published in the Criminal Law Bulletin revealed that most jurors in death penalty cases lack sufficient understanding of their duties, rendering the process unconstitutional by Supreme Court standards. The study showed that capital jurors often mistakenly believe that a death sentence is required by law, and fail to take primary responsibility for the defendant's punishment. The study suggested that jurors tend to believe death should be the punishment for heinous crimes and that death is needed as a deterrent and required by law. When the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in Gregg v. Geogia, it stated that improved jury instructions and court procedures would reduce the arbitrariness in capital sentencing. The report's findings suggest that after many years of experimentation these remedies have failed: "It appears that jurors cannot be successfully directed in making such an ominous decision by guidelines and procedures devised to insure a reasoned moral judgment free of arbitrariness. Being outraged by heinous killings and ambivalent about ordering someone killed, are 'normal' human reactions." / Read more


CALIFORNIA  

Judge to tour newly built death chamber

By Scott Smith, Stockton Record  Staff Writer    

02-07-11 -- A federal judge shepherding California's contentious battle over lethal-injection executions will leave the courtroom behind Tuesday to visit San Quentin State Prison's newly built death chamber. . . . U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel, who has overseen the case launched by Stockton's Michael Angelo Morales, wants to inspect the chamber that state officials finished building two years ago in reaction to his criticism. . . . In 2006, Fogel said California's lethal-injection procedure was so flawed that inmates risked an unconstitutionally painful death. Among Fogel's findings: executioners were poorly trained, worked in a dimly lit chamber and kept sloppy records. . . . More recently, Fogel has said he is eager to rule on the case and send it off for appellate review. His handling of the volatile issue has drawn mixed reviews. . . . "I think he has dragged it on way too long," said Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the Sacramento-based Criminal Justice Legal Foundation and a death-penalty advocate. "It should have been wrapped up in short order."


NORTH CAROLINA  

Death Row Attorneys: Racial Justice Act Constitutional

Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service

02-07-11 -- Attorneys are defending the constitutionality of the Racial Justice Act (RJA) in a Forsyth County superior court today. Prosecutors are challenging the law, which allows death row inmates to claim that race was a factor in their sentencing and, if it was, to have their sentence converted to life in prison without parole. . . . Advocates for the RJA, such as Ken Rose, attorney for the Center for Death Penalty Litigation, say the law serves a valid purpose. . . . "It's clear that the General Assembly has the power, and indeed the responsibility, to make sure that the death penalty is administered in a fair way."


TEXAS

Victim's Family and Jurors Urge Clemency for Texas Death Row Inmate

Death Penalty Information Center

02-07-11 -- On February 7, attorneys for Tim Adams filed a petition for clemency urging the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to recommend sparing Adams' life and to ask Governor Rick Perry to commute his death sentence to life in prison without parole. Adams, an army veteran with no criminal history, killed his son while planning his own suicide in 2002. He pleaded guilty and has taken responsibility for his actions.  Family members and three jurors from Adams' trial have also voiced strong support for his clemency. Columbus Adams, Adams' father and grandfather of the victim, said, "Our family lost one child. We don’t deserve to lose another. After my grandson’s death, we lived through pain worse than anyone could imagine. Nothing good will come from executing my son Tim and causing us more anguish." Additionally, Rebecca Hayes, Ngoc Duong, and Kathryn Starling, who served as jurors in Adams' trial, have said they were not presented with information about the defendant's character and religious background that would have influenced their sentencing decision. In an affidavit, Hayes said, "Those deliberations were the most emotional experience of my life, and I have carried the guilt around for years knowing that I sentenced Adams, a man who had done wrong but who was otherwise a good, religious, and hard-working person to death." / Read more

Lawsuit Challenges FDA's Inaction on Lethal Injection Drugs in Many States

Death Penalty Information Center

02-03-11 -- On February 2, the national law firm of Sidley Austin LLP filed a suit against the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in federal court on behalf of six death row inmates from Arizona, California, and Tennessee.  The suit seeks to compel the FDA to bar the importation or use of unapproved sodium thiopental, a drug used by most states in lethal injections, but no longer available in the U.S.  The plaintiff's brief states that, following a nationwide shortage of sodium thiopental in 2010, the FDA illegally allowed prison officials to obtain the lethal injection drug from sources outside of the U.S., while refusing to investigate the safety and purity of the imported drugs.  The inmates are represented by Bradford A. Berenson, a former associate counsel to President George W. Bush and a partner at Sidley.  In a statement released by the law firm, Berenson said, "The law requires FDA to ensure that only safe, effective drugs are brought into the United States. When the agency allowed states to import unapproved sodium thiopental, it abdicated its responsibilities and violated federal law."  Berenson, a supporter of the death penalty, also said that the lawsuit is "not about halting executions but rather about ensuring that illegal drugs are not used in carrying out otherwise lawful sentences."  Read full press release from Sidley Austin LLP and read Complaint filed against FDA. / Read more


NEW RESOURCES:

DPIC Introduces App for iPhone and iPad

Death Penalty Information Center

02-02-11 -- The Death Penalty Information Center is proud to present a new mobile application for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch. This FREE application provides access to the most frequently used resources on DPIC's main website, including our Fact Sheet on the Death Penalty, our Execution Database, and the most recent death penalty news from around the country. Click here to download the mobile application through iTunes. Users may also download the mobile application directly from the App Store on their mobile device by searching for "DPIC" or "Death Penalty Information Center."  You may also visit our Multimedia page for other resources, including our general Web app for mobile devices and our audio podcast series, DPIC on the Issues. . . . (DPIC, posted Feb. 2, 2011). / Read more


EDITORIALS:

National Papers Raise Concerns About Lethal Injection

Death Penalty Information Center

02-01-11 -- Recent editorials in the New York Times and Los Angeles Times called into question the current use of lethal injection in executions, in light of the decision by the sole U.S. manufacturer of a key drug used by almost all states to stop its production.  Hospira Inc. was the only U.S. producer of sodium thiopental, the main anesthetic used in lethal injections, but the company said international concerns about the death penalty prompted its halt.  The shortage of the drug caused some states to seek it overseas.  The New York Times cited a litany of problems with the batches of the drug used in recent executions in Arizona and Georgia. "Even with judicial blessing, the conduct of executions in this country is a shambles. In Arizona and Georgia, the sodium thiopental used in executions has possibly been ineffective and almost certainly been illegal. It came from Dream Pharma, an unlicensed British supplier, run from a driving school.  The batches carried a date of 2006. They were likely made by a company in Austria that went out of business. The drug is said to be effective for only a year. As a foreign-made drug without approval by the Food and Drug Administration, it is prohibited by federal statute." In a similar editorial, the Los Angeles Times noted, "If this were just a supply problem, it might be comparatively easy to solve. But lethal injection, considered the most 'humane' way to execute criminals, comes with a host of other ethical, regulatory and legal challenges. Medical associations refuse to condone physician participation in executions, increasing the danger of botched procedures. The Food and Drug Administration wants nothing to do with lethal-injection drugs, refusing to verify the effectiveness of imports but allowing states to purchase them. Thus there is no way of knowing whether the drugs are producing the 'painless' death they promise, or a torturous death forbidden by the Constitution."  Read the full editorials below. / Read more


MISSOURI  

Missouri Supreme Court refuses to block execution of convicted murderer

The Associated Press, Kansas City Star

02-01-11 -- The Missouri Supreme Court has denied a request to block an execution scheduled for next week. . . . Martin Link is to be executed Feb. 9 for the 1991 death of an 11-year-old St. Louis girl. . . . Link’s attorneys had requested the stay, arguing the initial lawyers were ineffective and did not thoroughly examine reasons he should not be executed. In court documents, they contended a thorough investigation would have shown that Link was abused as a child and had post-traumatic stress disorder from the abuse.


Lillian Vernon

Lillian Vernon Online

A Victims-of-Law Associate


January 2011

NEW VOICES:

Manufacturer of Drug Used in Executions Says "This goes against everything we're in business to do"

Death Penalty Information Center

01-31-11 -- Lundbeck Inc., a company based in Denmark and the sole U.S. manufacturer of pentobarbital, a new drug selected by Ohio and Oklahoma for their lethal injection protocols, has requested that states not use the drug to execute inmates. The company recently announced that their drug was never intended to be used in executions. A spokeswoman for the company said, "This goes against everything we're in business to do. We like to develop and make available therapies that improve people's lives. That's the focus of our business."  Some medical experts have also raised concerns about the use of pentobarbital in executions, particularly as part of a 3-drug process. Harvard medical professor David Waisel said, "The use of pentobarbital as an agent to induce anesthesia has no clinical history and is non-standard.  Because of these significant unknowns, and a lack of clinical history related to using pentobarbital to induce anesthesia, using pentobarbital as part of a 3-drug lethal injection protocol puts the inmate at an undue risk of suffering." Oklahoma became the first state to use pentobarbital as a part of its three-drug injection protocol, replacing sodium thiopental as the first drug. Ohio, which was the first state to switch to a one-drug protocol, has recently announced its intention to use pentobarbital alone for its executions. A form of pentobarbital has also been used by veterinarians to euthanize pets. / Read more


NEW VOICES:

Former Ohio Corrections Chief Calls for End of Death Penalty

Death Penalty Information Center

01-28-11 -- Terry Collins, former director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, recently urged the state to replace capital punishment with life in prison without parole.  In an op-ed in the Columbus Dispatch, Collins said he personally observed the execution of 33 men from 2001 to 2010, and questioned whether it was the right thing to do all 33 times: “Had all the reviews and appeals got this case right? Did the process make certain, absolutely, there was no mistake or error? I wondered that because I had previously walked people out of prison who were found not guilty after years of incarceration. What if we got it wrong for those we executed?” Collins also addresses the high costs of the death penalty, both fiscally and those borne by victims’ families. He said, “An increasing number of families ask the state not to pursue the death penalty so that they are not faced with the painful task of attending appeals hearings, and so they can achieve closure. Life imprisonment without parole offers justice that is swift, certain, effectively severe and perhaps more sensitive to the needs of healing victims' families.” Collins also noted that death sentences have drastically reduced since life without the possibility of parole became an option in Ohio, adding “Many in our society have deemed this alternative to be a reasonable measure and a way to keep Ohio communities safe, something every member of the law-enforcement community values. We can have confidence knowing that when necessary, we can safely incarcerate offenders for life.” Read full op-ed below. / Read more


Update on Lethal Injection as Sole U.S. Manufacturer of Key Drug Ceases Production

Death Penalty Information Center

01-27-11 -- On January 21, Hospira Inc., the sole U.S. manufacturer of sodium thiopental, announced that it will no longer produce an anesthetic commonly used in lethal injections around the United States. Hospira, which had planned to produce the drug in its plant in Italy, made the decision to end production of the anesthetic after Italian officials demanded that the company make sure it will not be used for executions.  Nebraska, a state that has not had an execution since 1997, obtained a supply of sodium thiopental from India that expires in 2012. In 2010, a shortage of sodium thiopental from Hospira led states like Arizona and California to seek international suppliers, and states like Oklahoma to seek alternative anesthetics. Oklahoma switched to pentobarbital, a drug used in euthanizing animals, for its three-drug protocol. Earlier this week, Ohio announced its intent to switch to a lethal dose of pentobarbital for its one-drug protocol. Click here for State-by-State Lethal Injection information.  For general information on the lethal injection, click here. / Read more


STUDIES:

In Louisiana, Odds of a Death Sentence 97% Higher If Victim is White

Death Penalty Information Center

01-26-11 -- A recent study conducted by Professors Glenn Pierce and Michael Radelet published in the Lousiana Law Review showed that the odds of a death sentence in parts of Louisiana were 2.6 times higher for those charged with killing a white victim than for those charged with killing a black victim. The study examined 191 homicides in East Baton Rouge Parish between 1990 and 2008 involving a charge of first-degree murder. Even after considering other variables such as the number of aggravating circumstances, the number of concurrent felonies and the number of homicide victims, the odds of a death sentence were 97% higher for those whose victim was white than for those whose victim was black. The authors of the study suggested that one reason why the victim’s race was an important factor was because “prosecutors’ offices, jurors, judges, investigating police officers, and others involved in constructing a death penalty case are (consciously or unconsciously) not as outraged or energized, on average, when a black is murdered as when a white is murdered.” The authors said “death penalty cases are expensive, and choices need to be made on how often the death penalty can be sought and in which cases”and that “the social status of the victim and the family of the victim, including his or her race, increases [a case's] importance.” / Read more


NEW VOICES:

Retired Federal Judge Urges Illinois Governor to Sign Repeal Bill

Death Penalty Information Center

01-25-11 -- Retired Federal Judge H. Lee Sarokin recently wrote in the Huffington Post urging Illinois Governor Pat Quinn to sign a bill that would repeal the death penalty.  He wrote, "I am certain we could all list persons who committed outrageous and despicable crimes that we would want executed. Many of us want revenge, retribution and the ultimate punishment in those cases, but, nonetheless, I am opposed to the death penalty."  Judge Sarokin highlighted deterrence, costs, racial discrimination, the risk of wrongful executions and personal moral views as among the most significant reasons for his opposition.  He believes that, “deterrence plays no part whatsoever. Persons contemplating murder do not sit around the kitchen table and say I won't commit this murder if I face the death penalty, but I will do it if the penalty is life without parole. I do not believe persons contemplating or committing murder plan to get caught or weigh the consequences.”  Reall full article below. / Read more


GEORGIA  

Judge declines to give Hammond stay of execution

By Bill Rankin, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

01-24-11 -- A Fulton County judge on Monday declined to issue a stay of execution for condemned killer Emmanuel Hammond, who is scheduled to be put to death by lethal injection Tuesday at 7 p.m. . . . Superior Court Judge Michael Johnson denied a request by Hammond's lawyers to for a two-week reprieve to allow them to review records provided Friday by the state Department of Corrections about the drugs to be used for Hammond's execution. . . . Hammond's lawyer, Brian Mendelsohn, testified Monday that records he reviewed over the weekend show that the first of three drugs to be used in the execution, the anaesthetic sodium pentothal, may have been obtained from a disreputable source and could be counterfeit or inferior. Mendelsohn said the state had obtained the drug from Dream Pharma, a company that operates out of the back of the Elgone Driving Academy, a driving school, in London.


REPRESENTATION:

Alabama Inmate--Failed by His Attorney--Is Executed Despite Jury's Vote for Life

Death Penalty Information Center

01-21-11 -- Leroy White (pictured) was executed in Alabama on January 13 despite the fact that his trial jury, the prosecution, and members of the victim's family had sought a different sentence. Shortly before his execution, he received a stay from the U.S. Supreme Court to consider his final motion. However, nearly three hours later the stay was lifted and he was executed for the 1988 murder of his estranged wife, Ruby White. During the time that the stay was in place, White sat alone and was not allowed to confer with his attorney.  At the time of his trial, the jury recommended a life sentence, but Alabama is one of the few states in the country that allow the judge to override the jury and White was sentenced to death. The victim’s family and White’s daughter had asked for his life to be spared, and at one point the prosecution had offered a plea bargain.  One of White's earlier attorneys, G. James Benoit, admitted that he allowed his client to miss a critical appeal deadline, shortening the appeals process and expediting his execution. Benoit, who took over White’s case after another member of his firm was suspended, practiced transactional tax and corporate law, and had never been in a courtroom. He no longer practices law today. Bryan Stevenson, director of Equal Justice Initiative, took up White’s case last summer when the state asked the Alabama Supreme Court to set a date for his execution. White was surprised to hear that his execution date was approaching because he assumed he was still in the appeals process. In the week before his execution, Stevenson petitioned both the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court to delay White’s execution because of the missed appeal by his former attorney and his failure to inform White. According to Stevenson, “"The death penalty is not just about do people deserve to die for the crimes they are accused of, the death penalty is also about do we deserve to kill.  If we don't provide fair trials, fair review procedures, when we have executions that are unnecessarily cruel and distressing, or if we have a death penalty that is arbitrary or political or discriminatory, then we are all implicated." / Read more


ARBITRARINESS:

Contract Killer Spared the Death Penalty Despite Seven Murders

Death Penalty Information Center

01-20-11 -- Although the death penalty is often described as being reserved for the "worst of the worst" offenders, in practice defendants responsible for many murders are often spared while those who committed arguably lesser offenses are executed.  Oscar Veal  was a contract killer for a large drug ring and murder-for-hire operation. He was convicted of seven counts of murder and eight counts of racketeering conspiracy. However, in exchange for testimony about a drug organization in Washington, D.C., federal prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty against Veal.  According to the prosecutors, “[Veal] willingly and purposely killed seven men, motivated by both greed and the desire to please the other members of this violent gang,” but called his cooperation "extraordinary by any measure," and recommended a sentence of 25 years in prison.  Veal's attorney cited other examples in which sentences were reduced in exchange for valuable information.  Phillip "Crazy Phil" Leonetti, a member of  the Philadelphia mob served just 5 years despite a criminal record that included 10 murders, after cooperating with officials.  Salvatore "Sammy the Bull" Gravano, a well-known criminal who cooperated with the government, was sentenced to only 5 years despite his involvement in 19 murders and other crimes. / Read more


NEW VOICES

Senator Durbin of Illinois Changes Stance on Death Penalty

Death Penalty Information Center

01-19-11 -- U. S. Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois recently announced at a breakfast honoring Martin Luther King, Jr., that he has changed his life-long opinion on the death penalty and now favors its abolition. Sen. Durbin, who is the second-ranking member of the U.S. Senate as the assistant majority leader, said that his reflections over many years brought about an evolution in his thinking about capital punishment, particularly with respect to its unfairness and the risk of executing the innocent.  He noted, "There are many people who commit heinous crimes, and I’d be the first to stand up with emotion and say they should lose their lives. But when I look at the unfairness of it, the fact that the poor and people of color are most often the victims when it comes to the death penalty, and how many cases we've gotten wrong now that we have DNA evidence to back us up, I mean, it just tells me life imprisonment is penalty enough." In early January, the Illinois General Assembly presented Governor Pat Quinn with a bill to end the death penalty in Illinois. Read more


NEW VOICES

Illinois Police Chief Calls for End to State's Death Penalty

Death Penalty Information Center

01-18-11 -- Police Chief Charles A. Gruber of St. Charles, Illinois, a 40-year veteran of law enforcement, recently stated that "the death penalty does nothing to keep us safe," and should be abolished.  Chief Gruber served as president of both the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police and of the International Association of Chiefs of Police. He worked with national organizations for over a decade to devise reforms to make the death penalty effective and fair but now now believes Illinois will always leave open the possibility of executing an innocent person and will subject murder victims’ families to excruciatingly long proceedings. In an op-ed in the Chicago Tribune, he wrote, “I am grateful that SB 3539 not only gets rid of a system that has proven itself too flawed to fix, but that also puts the savings from the death penalty where they are desperately needed: law enforcement training. The best thing we can do to ensure the safety of our communities and men and women in uniform is to see that law enforcement have the resources and training they need to do their job well.”  Read full op-ed below. Read more


PENNSYLVANIA

Outgoing Pennsylvania Governor Urges State Legislators to Review Death Penalty

Death Penalty Information Center

01-17-11 -- On January 14, in one of his final acts as governor, Pennsylvania Governor Edward G. Rendell wrote a letter to the state General Assembly urging legislators to consider replacing the death penalty with a sentence of life without parole if it cannot be made more effective than it has been. Gov. Rendell wrote that the death penalty in Pennsylvania is not a reality: “As a former District Attorney and as a death penalty supporter, I believe the death penalty can be a deterrent – but only when it is carried out relatively expeditiously. However, a 15-, 20-, or 25-year lapse between imposition of a death sentence and the actual execution is no deterrent… To criminals on the street, our death penalty is simply not a reality.”  The governor said the current system was frustrating to both police and victims' families.  He said if the process could not be streamlined, while still protecting defendants' needs for a thorough appeal, it might be time to consider abolition: “If you conclude that there is no avenue to achieve this [careful streamlining], then I ask you to examine the merits of continuing to have the death penalty on the books – as opposed to the certainty of a life sentence without any chance of parole, pardon or commutation.”  Read full text of Governor's statement below. Read more


UNITED STATES SUPREME COURT

U.S. Supreme Court Halts Execution After Texas Inmate's Last Meal

Death Penalty Information Center

01-14-11 --On January 11, Desert Storm veteran Cleve Foster of Texas received a stay of execution just moments before his lethal injection. Foster had already finished his last meal when the United States Supreme Court halted the execution. Foster was sentenced to death for a 2002 shooting, but has always maintained that his friend was responsible for the murder. The friend also received the death penalty for the crime but died of cancer before he was executed. In a recent appeal, Foster’s defense claimed his conviction should be overturned because his trial lawyers failed to hire a blood-spatter expert whose testimony could have resulted in a different verdict. Supporters of Foster say that the co-defendant had signed a confession in which he admitted to shooting and killing the victim. Foster's current attorneys also claim that he received inadequate defense on appeal and hence has never had an adequate review of his innocence claim.  The U.S. Supreme Court did not specify a reason for granting the stay. UPDATE: The Supreme Court declined to review Foster's case. Read more


NEW VOICES

"Police Officials Argue Death Penalty Doesn't Make Us Safer"

Death Penalty Information Center

01-13-11 --Four law enforcement officials from various countries who came together in Washington, D.C., in 2010 for a groundbreaking international dialogue on the death penalty recently published an op-ed in the San Jose Mercury News regarding their discussion.  From their experience, they discounted the argument that the death penalty deters potential offenders. According to the op-ed, “The deterrence argument … goes against our experience investigating serious crimes: the majority of offenders do not think through the consequences of their actions. In fact, they do not think they will ever be caught.” Other areas of agreement addressed the cost of the death penalty, the risk of executing an innocent defendant, and the punishment’s impact on murder victims’ families. The law enforcement officials recommended replacing the death penalty with more cost-effective alternatives: “All of the money that states spend on the death penalty could be used to hire more police officers, train them better, solve cold cases, and prevent crimes from occurring in the first place. We should spend our limited resources on programs that work.”  The op-ed was written by: James Abbott, police chief of West Orange, N.J., who served on the state's Death Penalty Study Commission; António Cluny, senior attorney general and public prosecutor in Portugal; Bob Denmark, a 30-year veteran of the British police force and a former detective superintendent of Lancashire Constabulary, England; and Ronald Hampton, executive director of the National Black Police Association International Leadership Institute and a 23-year veteran of the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department.  Read more for the full op-ed and a video of the panel discussion. Read more


CLEMENCY

Governors in Missouri and Tennessee Grant Clemency to Inmates Facing Imminent Execution

Death Penalty Information Center

01-12-11 --On consecutive days, Governor Jay Nixon of Missouri and Governor Phil Bredesen of Tennessee granted clemencies to death row inmates facing imminent execution in their respective states. In Missouri, Gov. Nixon commuted the death sentence of Richard Clay, who was scheduled for execution on January 12. In Tennessee, Gov. Bredesen granted clemency to Edward Jerome Harbison, thus averting his execution on February 15. Both inmates now face life in prison without parole. Clay and his supporters maintained that he was innocent of a 1994 murder-for-hire murder.  In a statement released by the governor's office, Nixon said that Clay's "involvement in this crime is clear," but chose to exercise his executive authority after “having looked at this matter in its entirety and after significant thought and counsel.” In Tennessee, Harbison was charged with a murder that occurred in 1983. He initially confessed to the crime but later claimed he was coerced after authorities threatened to arrest his girlfriend and put her children into foster care. Of the commutation, Gov. Bredesen said, "It's obviously a heinous crime, but when I compare it to others I don't think it rose to the level of a death penalty crime."  Gov. Nixon was elected in 2008, having served as Attorney General while Clay was being prosecuted.  Gov. Bredesen is leaving office. Read more


ILLINOIS

Illinois Legislature Votes To Repeal The Death Penalty

Death Penalty Information Center

01-11-11 -- On January 11, the Illinois Senate, by a vote of 32-25, joined the House in voting to repeal the state’s death penalty and re-allocate funds in the Capital Litigation Trust Fund to a fund for murder victims’ services and law enforcement. If signed into law, Illinois would become the 16th state to stop capital punishment and would mark the fewest states with the death penalty since 1978. Since 1976, Illinois has carried out 12 executions.  In the same period, 20 inmates have been exonerated from the state’s death row, the second highest number in the United States. The state has not had an execution since 1999, and since then, use of the death penalty has declined sharply. In the 1990s, the state averaged over 10 death sentences a year. In 2009 and 2010, the state imposed only one death sentence each year.  The bill must be signed by Governor Pat Quinn in order to become law. Read more


COLORADO

Colorado Governor Grants Unconditional Pardon Based on Innocence to Inmate Who Was Executed

Death Penalty Information Center

01-10-11 -- On January 7, Colorado Governor Bill Ritter granted a full and unconditional posthumous pardon to Joe Arridy, who had been convicted and executed as an accomplice to a murder that occurred in 1936. The pardon came 72 years after Arridy’s execution and is the first such pardon in Colorado history.  A press release from the governor's office stated, "[A]n overwhelming body of evidence indicates the 23-year-old Arridy was innocent, including false and coerced confessions, the likelihood that Arridy was not in Pueblo at the time of the killing, and an admission of guilt by someone else."  The governor also pointed to Arridy's intellectual disabilities.  He had an IQ of 46 and functioned like a toddler.  The governor said, “Granting a posthumous pardon is an extraordinary remedy.  But the tragic conviction of Mr. Arridy and his subsequent execution on Jan. 6, 1939, merit such relief based on the great likelihood that Mr. Arridy was, in fact, innocent of the crime for which he was executed, and his severe mental disability at the time of his trial and execution. Pardoning Mr. Arridy cannot undo this tragic event in Colorado history. It is in the interests of justice and simple decency, however, to restore his good name.” Read more


STATES

States Scrambled to Find Lethal Injection Drugs Overseas

Death Penalty Information Center

01-07-11 -- Recent revelations about the source of drugs used in lethal injections in the U.S. reveal the extent to which some states have gone in their pursuit of the deadly chemicals.  According to the British Broadcasting Corporation, Arizona obtained its three lethal injection drugs from Dream Pharma, Ltd., a small pharmaceutical company in west London located in the back of a driving school. Clive Stafford Smith, director of Reprieve, a British organization offering legal support to death row inmates in the U.S., remarked, "The whole issue here is bizarre. How can we have a driving instructor with a pharmaceutical company in the back cupboard basically selling drugs to an American corrections institution to kill people? And it's bizarre that the law allows it."  The owner of Dream Pharma claimed he had no idea the drugs he sold to Arizona would be used for lethal injections.  Arizona used its foreign drugs to execute Jeffrey Landrigan on October 26, 2010, and also supplied a quantity to California, which was scrambling to carry out its own executions.  Courts in California stayed all executions to allow for a more careful review of the process. Read more


ILLINOIS

Illinois House Votes to Repeal Death Penalty

Death Penalty Information Center

01-07-11 -- By a vote of 60-54 on January 6, the Illinois House approved SB3539, a bill to repeal the death penalty and use the money saved to assist victims' families and improve law enforcement.  The action came eleven years after a moratorium on executions was put in place by then Governor George Ryan.  The repeal bill will now move to the Senate for a vote as early as next week.  In January 2000, Ryan ordered the moratorium following revelations that more than a dozen innocent people had been sentenced to death in the state. In 2003, Ryan commuted the death sentences of 167 inmates to life before leaving office.  Illinois State Representative Elaine Nekritz, who voted for the repeal, commented, “I believe the history of the death penalty in Illinois demonstrates that we are not in a position to get it right 100 percent of the time.” If the bill is approved in the senate, it will go to Governor Pat Quinn for his possible signature. Read more


Almost Half of U.S. Jurisdictions Have Had No Executions in 10 Years

Death Penalty Information Center

01-05-11 -- Although the United States is considered a death penalty country, executions are rare or non-existent in much of the nation.  Twenty-six of 53 jurisdictions in the U.S. (50 states, the District of Columbia, the Federal Government, and the Military) either do not have the death penalty or have not carried out an execution in at least 10 years.  Most of those have not carried out an execution since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.  Only 12 states carried out an execution in 2010, and only 7 states carried out more than 1, mostly in the South.  The table below lists the jurisdictions where executions have been absent: Read more


Almost Half of U.S. Jurisdictions Have Had No Executions in 10 Years

Death Penalty Information Center

01-05-11 -- Although the United States is considered a death penalty country, executions are rare or non-existent in much of the nation.  Twenty-six of 53 jurisdictions in the U.S. (50 states, the District of Columbia, the Federal Government, and the Military) either do not have the death penalty or have not carried out an execution in at least 10 years.  Most of those have not carried out an execution since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.  Only 12 states carried out an execution in 2010, and only 7 states carried out more than 1, mostly in the South.  Click for tables listing the jurisdictions.


NEW VOICES:

Murder Victims’ Families Need Services More Than the Death Penalty

Death Penalty Information Center

01-04-11 -- In a recent article in the Peoria Journal Star, Jennifer Bishop Jenkins and Kathleen Bishop Becker, both of whom had family members murdered, called on Illinois's state legislature to end the death penalty as a better way of helping victims.  Becker and Jenkins wrote, “When our family members were murdered, issues like crime prevention, victims' rights, and the death penalty stopped being merely hypothetical… it's because we prioritize victims and public safety that we support replacing the Illinois death penalty with life without parole sentences for convicted murderers.” Jenkins was a member of the Illinois Capital Punishment Reform Study Commission, which met over 80 times and held public hearings around the state. After a decade of study, Jenkins concluded that the system cannot be fixed. She and Becker wrote, “We note that Illinois has tried harder than any other state to make it work. But it can't work, and enough is enough… We still find innocent men on Death Row in our state. We still spend millions of dollars to keep this broken system limping along.” They also addressed how the death penalty harms victims’ families: “In capital cases, family members are forced to endure years of trials and appeals that last at least twice as long as in non-capital cases, not to mention a long string of possible reversals because the system didn't get it right. The offender becomes a household name and the victim is forgotten. We are frequently denied legal finality. The state ends up spending millions, which are then not available to help victims or family members.” In December, the Illinois House Judiciary Committee passed SB 3539, a bill to repeal the death penalty and use the money saved for services to victims’ families.  The bill is likely to return for a vote in early January 2011. The authors concluded, “We assure you, families like ours need these services much more desperately than we could ever need the death penalty.”


Editorials: Major Papers Around the Country Tracked DPIC's Year End Report

Death Penalty Information Center

01-03-11 -- The information and analysis in DPIC's recent 2010 Year-End Report were reported in hundreds of media outlets around the country.  Among the papers writing editorials on the trends cited in the report were the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Colorado's Aurora Sentinel.  The Times' editorial, "Still Cruel, Less Usual," noted, “A report released this month by the Death Penalty Information Center counted 46 executions in 2010. That is nearly 12 percent fewer than a year ago, and down sharply from the 85 executions of 2000. . . . The center suggested a number of reasons for the decline, including that prosecutors and the public are grappling with the wrenching problem of innocence. The irreversible punishment of death requires a foolproof justice system, but growing numbers of DNA exonerations in recent years suggest that it is far from that.” The Post's editorial, "46 Executions Too Many," also cited the costs of capital cases as a significant concern: "Litigating a capital case is expensive - on average $3 million, according to the [D]eath [P]enalty [Information] [C]enter - and exceeds the costs of imprisoning an inmate for decades." The Sentinel's editorial, "Time to Rid Colorado of Death Penatly," cited some of the same statistics and trends and urged the state legislature to end capital punishment: "Colorado state lawmakers will almost certainly ponder a bill next year that would end the death penalty here. Fellow legislators should give that measure serious consideration, perhaps asking voters whether to end the practice and allow the state to join the rest of the civilized world." 


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If a punishment is unusually severe, if there is a strong probability that it is inflicted arbitrarily, if it is substantially rejected by contemporary society, and if there is no reason to believe that it serves any penal purpose more effectively than some less severe punishment, then the continued infliction of that punishment violates the command of the Clause that the State may not inflict inhuman and uncivilized punishments upon those convicted of crimes. Under these principles and this test, death is today a ‘cruel and unusual’ punishment.

-- William Brennan, former U.S. Supreme Court Justice--
Furman v. Georgia 408 US 238 (1972)

 

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Death Penalty Current News & Views Inaugurated on January 12, 2009
Updated: 02/04/2012