Penalty Reports 2007
|2007: DPIC's Year End Report
HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE 2007 REPORT
Executions for the year: 42 - lowest in 13 years
% Executions in Texas: 62%
% Executions in South: 86%
Death sentences: 110 projected - lowest in 30 years
Exonerations: 3 - in Oklahoma, Tennessee, and North Carolina
Commutations: 11 - including 1 in Texas and 8 in New Jersey
New States without the death penalty: New Jersey and New York - bringing total to 14 states
National moratorium on executions effectively in place as Supreme Court considers lethal injection protocols.
“I've lived through the state's process of trying to kill [a murderer], and I can say without hesitation that it is not worth the anguish that it puts survivors through.” - Jim O'Brien of New Jersey, whose daughter was murdered in 1982
"[W]e believe the state of Texas should abandon the death penalty – because we cannot reconcile the fact that it is both imperfect and irreversible. - Editorial, The Dallas Morning News
Read the 2007 Year End Report, released Dec. 18, 2007.
New Jersey Assembly and Senate Vote for Abolition
New Jersey Assembly approved a bill to replace the
state's death penalty with a sentence of life without
parole by a vote of 44-36 on December 13. The Senate
approved the same legislation by a vote 21-16 on
December 10. Once signed into law, this will be the
first legislative abolition of the death penalty since
it was reinstated in 1976. Iowa and West Virginia in
1965 were the last states to vote out capital
punishment. New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine is expected
to sign the bill soon.
testifying for abolition was Vicki Schieber. Her
daughter, Shannon, was murdered in 1998. She and her
husband stunned prosecutors by requesting that the
defendant receive life in prison instead of execution.
As a result, however, he was sentenced far more quickly
than if the death penalty had been sought. "The death
penalty is a harmful policy that exacerbates the pain
for murdered victims' families," she said. (The
Star-Ledger, December 11, 2007).
The re-examination of
the death penalty in New Jersey is being mirrored in
other parts of the country:
New Jersey Senate Bill (search S171),
New Jersey Death Penalty Study Commission and
DPIC's Press Release.
New York's death
penalty law was declared unconstitutional in 2004.
Since then, the last person has been removed from
death row and the legislature has repeatedly
rejected all attempts to reinstate capital
Illinois is in
the eighth year of a death penalty moratorium, which
was established in 2000 due to concerns about
* Death sentences
in the United States have dropped by 60% since 1999.
Even in Texas, death sentences have dropped
significantly during the past decade.
the country are on hold as the U.S. Supreme Court
prepares to hear a case regarding the
constitutionality of Kentucky's lethal injection
studies of the death penalty are underway in
California, North Carolina, and Tennessee.
polls show that life without parole is steadily
replacing the death penalty as the preferred
punishment for murder.
United Nations Calls for
Moratorium on Executions
resolution for a global moratorium on executions was
passed on Nov. 15 by the UN General Assembly's Third
(Human Rights) Committee by a vote of 99-52, with 33
abstentions. The General Assembly is expected to endorse
the decision in a plenary session in December. Similar
resolutions were introduced in 1994 and 1999 but were
either narrowly defeated or withdrawn.
The resolutions calls on countries to:
United States and European representatives had different
reactions to the resolution. "This is a good day for
human rights and the European goal of achieving the
abolition of the death penalty all over the world," said
Commissioner for External Relations of the European
Union Benita Ferrero-Waldner. "Based on this broad
coalition we will continue our efforts to reach this
objective in the interest of humanity."
Progressively restrict the use of the death penalty
and reduce the number of offences for which it may
a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing
the death penalty;
calls upon States which have abolished the death
penalty not to reintroduce it.
However, Robert Hagan, the U.S.'s representative in the
committee, said, "The United States recognises that the
supporters of this resolution have principled positions
on the issue of the death penalty. But nonetheless it is
important to recognise that international law does not
prohibit capital punishment."
Nov. 16, 2007).
Global Moratorium Resolution
99 States in Favor of Resolution
52 States Against Resolution
- Sponsored by 87 States --
resolution carries considerable moral and political
weight, although it is not legally binding on states.
133 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or
practice. Only 25 countries actually carried out
executions in 2006. In 2006, 91% of all known executions
took place in China, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Sudan and the
USA. Amnesty International's statistics also show an
overall decline in the number of executions in 2006 - a
recorded 1,591 executions, compared to 2,148 in 2005,
though many executions are unrecorded.
Amnesty International's Press Release
European Union's News Release.
“A MATTER OF LIFE OR DEATH:” NEWS SERIES REVEALS
PENALTY IN GEORGIA
According to “A Matter of Life or Death,” a recent
four-part news series published by the Atlanta
Georgia’s death penalty is “as predictable as a
lightening strike.” Based on an investigation of
2,328 murder convictions in Georgia between
January 1, 1995
December 31, 2004
the paper determined that the state’s capital
punishment system is unfairly shaped by racial and
geographic bias, and fails to reserve the death
penalty for “the worst of the worst.”
The AJC reporters worked with University of
Maryland criminologist Ray Paternoster to examine
the cases. Though their investigation determined
that 1,315 of these cases involved crimes that made
defendants eligible for the death penalty,
prosecutors sought it in only 25% of those cases.
Of those that faced a capital trial, only 1 in 23
was sentenced to death. “It’s like a roulette wheel.
Arbitrariness is a weakness of the death penalty,”
observed former Georgia Chief Justice Norman
Among the key findings of the investigation were the
Statewide, prosecutors were twice as likely to
seek the death penalty in cases where the victim
was white. The study also revealed that between
1995 and 2004, prosecutors were about six times
more likely to seek death when an armed robber
killed a white person.
Nature of the Crime Matters:
Throughout Georgia, geographic and racial
disparities were more pronounced in prosecutors’
handling of murders that involved armed robbery.
Of the 132 murderers researchers identified as
making up the worst 10% of death penalty cases -
because their cases involving heinous crimes
such as torture, multiple victims or rape - only
29 received the death penalty. Fifty of these
defendants avoided the death penalty by pleading
guilty in exchange for receiving a life
Georgia’s Supreme Court has repeatedly cited
cases that had been overturned on appeal to
justify other death sentences. According to the study’s examination of 159 death
penalty rulings by the state Supreme Court since
1982, 80% of cases of cases cited at least one
overturned case. In more than a third of the
decisions, at least 25% of the cited sentences
had been overturned. Another 16 rulings
contained citations that were reversed
afterward. Only 14 rulings cited no reversed
Juries are rejecting death sentences in favor of
life without parole.
Since 2000, juries have decided against death in
two of every three sentencing trials. The trend
makes each remaining death sentence more out of
step with punishment for similar crimes. The
report notes that one reason prosecutors in
Georgia are choosing not to seek a death is that
juries will not impose it unless guilt is
The high cost of the death penalty contributes
to its arbitrariness.
Many prosecutors note that seeking a death
sentence in a case where there is no certainly
of a conviction is a waste of valuable resources
on long-drawn-out court proceedings and years of
appeals. In addition to concerns about the cost
of capital punishment, prosecutors noted that
they will often decide to not seek a death
sentence because a victims’ family opposes the
punishment, a defendant’s mental state is in
question, or the individual agrees to cooperate
with prosecutors to convict a co-defendant.
Muscogee District Attorney John Gray Conger
observed that these reasons and the high costs
of the death penalty can play a role in the
decision to offer defendants a sentence of life
without parole. He said, “That’s the unfortunate
truth. It costs a lot of money to try a death
case. It takes a lot of resources. It takes a
lot of people.”
September 22 – 25, 2007).
Read the Series.
Recent U.S. Supreme Court Rulings Address
Death Penalty Problems
recent years, a series of U.S. Supreme Court rulings
have identified and addressed serious problems
Texas death penalty system. The following are among
the key decisions issued by the Court:
Panetti v. Quarterman -- (No. 06-6407)
The Supreme Court (5-4) blocked the execution of
Scott Panetti, ruling that the federal court's
standard for mental incompetence was too restrictive
and that the Texas courts had not given him an
adequate hearing. Panetti suffers from schizophrenia
and insisted that he was to be executed for
preaching the gospel. Writing for the majority,
Justice Kennedy wrote, "Gross delusions stemming
from a severe mental disorder may put an awareness
of a link between a crime and its punishment in a
context so far removed from reality that the
punishment can serve no proper purpose. It is
therefore error to derive. . . a strict test for
competency that treats delusional beliefs as
irrelevant once the prisoner is aware the State has
identified the link between his crime and the
punishment to be inflicted."
Smith v. Texas -- (No. 05-11304)
Abdul-Kabir v. Quarterman -- (No. 05-11284)
Brewer v. Quarterman -- (No. 05-11287)
In these cases, the Court overturned the death
sentences of three Texas inmates in separate 5-4
rulings. In all three cases, the juries had been
prevented by the Texas statute (since changed) from
fully considering the mitigating evidence presented
by the defendants, evidence such as their low IQ or
other mental deficiencies. In Smith v. Texas, the
Texas Court of Criminal Appeals had held that any
error on the mitigation issue was harmless and
therefore did not require a reversal. The Supreme
Court rejected that analysis. In Abdul-Kabir v.
Quarterman and Brewer v. Quarterman, the death
sentences were affirmed by the Texas Court of
Criminal Appeals and by lower federal courts on
habeas corpus review. The Supreme Court reversed the
5th Circuit, holding that it had not properly
applied the holdings of prior cases in which the
High Court made it clear that "sentencing juries
must be able to give meaningful consideration and
effect to all mitigating evidence that might provide
a basis for refusing to impose the death penalty on
a particular individual, notwithstanding the
severity of his crime or his potential to commit
similar offenses in the future."
Miller-El v. Dretke -- (No. 03-9659)
The Supreme Court (6-3) overturned the death
sentence of a black man, Thomas Miller-El, after
determining that the jury selection procedure for
his trial was racially biased. Black potential
jurors were questioned more aggressively about the
death penalty than their white counterparts, and the
jury pool was "shuffled" at least twice in order to
increase the chances of more whites being selected.
At trial, Miller-El was convicted by a jury
consisting of one black and 11 whites after
prosecutors had stricken nine of the 10 blacks
eligible to serve. "The prosecutors' chosen
race-neutral reasons for the strikes do not hold up
and are so far at odds with the evidence that
pretext is the fair conclusion, indicating the very
discrimination the explanations were meant to deny,"
Justice David Souter wrote for the majority.
Banks v. Dretke -- (No. 02-8286)
In a 7-2 decision, the Court overturned the death
sentence of Delma Banks Jr., concluding that he was
denied a fair trial because prosecutors in Texas
failed to disclose key information. In 2003, Banks
was just minutes from his scheduled execution.
Writing for the majority, Justice Ginsburg stated:
"When police or prosecutors conceal significant
exculpatory or impeaching material in the State's
possession, it is ordinarily incumbent on the State
to set the record straight."
For more information about these cases see
U.S. Supreme Court.
See a Video Tour
North Carolina's Execution Process with Warden
Video by Scott Langley,
Media Coverage of
DPIC's Latest Report, A Crisis of Confidence
On June 9, 2007 the
Death Penalty Information Center released its new
“A Crisis of Confidence: Americans’ Doubts About
the Death Penalty.”
The report, based on results from DPIC’s national
public opinion poll, received extensive national
media coverage in major papers and electronic media.
Among the news organizations that featured this
story were the following:
New York Times
"Even before Monday's
decision, a significant minority of Americans were
ineligible to serve as jurors in death penalty
cases. According to a poll to be released today by
the Death Penalty Information Center, a nonprofit
group in Washington that is critical of the death
penalty as currently applied, 39 percent of
Americans say they have a moral objection to the
death penalty that would disqualify them from
serving in a capital case. The poll's margin of
sampling error was plus or minus three percentage
- New York Times,
“Court Ruling Expected to Spur Convictions in
Capital Cases,” by Adam Liptak, Page 1A, June 9,
"Even though most
Americans support the death penalty, there’s rising
concern about how the state’s ultimate punishment is
levied. A new poll by the Death Penalty Information
Center (DPIC), a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit
organization that provides analysis on capital
punishment, found that 58 percent want a national
moratorium on executions. In 2006, there were fewer
executions than in any year since the death penalty
was reinstated over 30 years ago. NEWSWEEK’s Kurt
Soller spoke with the director of the center,
Richard Dieter, about the current state of capital
punishment in America."
- Newsweek, “Poll:
Americans Want Death Penalty Moratorium”
by Kurt Soller, Web Exclusive, June 15, 2007.
U.S. News & World
"For a long time, the
contentious issue of deterrence--whether the threat
of capital punishment prevented homicides--was at
the center of the debate, serving as a core
justification for proponents. Meanwhile, the
opposition cited a mounting body of evidence that
debunked the claim. New data this week is not likely
to do much to clear things up. A poll from the Death
Penalty Information Center, a clearinghouse for data
on executions and public opinion on capital
punishment, found that only 38 percent of
respondents believed that the death penalty deters
would-be murderers. The poll, conducted in March,
surveyed 1,000 adults and has a margin of error of
3.1 percentage points."
- U.S. News & World
Report, “Mixed Views on the Death Penalty,”
by Chris Wilson, June 12, 2007.
Reuters News Service
"The poll also showed
about 87 percent believe an innocent person has been
executed in the last 15 years, and 58 percent think
there should be a moratorium on executions while
wrongful convictions and wrongful death sentences
are investigated. 'This is ... a confirmation of how
powerful these cases of innocence have been about
using the death penalty presently and in the future.
It shows a distancing by the American public from
the death penalty,' said Dieter."
- Reuters News
Service, by Deborah Charles, June 9, 2007.
Also distributed to thousands of Reuters affiliates
throughout the nation and around the world.
“Majority of Americans Favor Death Penalty,”
The Boston Globe
"Prosecutors can now
seek from jurors ever higher levels of commitment to
executing convicts. Juries, over time, are likely to
become less and less representative of the
communities from which they are drawn. According to
a poll conducted for the nonprofit Death Penalty
Information Center before the Supreme Court ruling,
most African-Americans, and nearly half of women and
Catholics, think their beliefs would exclude them
from capital juries."
- The Boston Globe,
“Stacking Juries Toward Death,” Editorial, June 10,
For more information
MEDIA COVERAGE REPORT
DPIC's New Poll and Report Shows America
Becoming More Distant from the Death Penalty
mistakes and a lack of efficacy, the death penalty is
losing the confidence of the American public, according
to a new poll and report issued by the Death Penalty
Information Center. Nearly 40% of the American public
believes they would be disqualified from serving on
death penalty juries because of their moral beliefs.
The percentage is even higher among minorities and
based on a poll by RT Strategies, found that
a majority (58%) of the
American population believes it is time for a moratorium
on the death penalty while the process undergoes
a careful review. Sixty percent (60%) of the public
believes the death penalty is not a deterrent to murder.
Americans (87%) believe that an innocent person has
already been executed in recent years, and over half
(55%) say that fact has affected their views on the
death penalty. An overwhelming 69% of the public
believes that reforms will not eliminate all wrongful
convictions and executions. DPIC analyzes the poll
results in a new report,
A Crisis of Confidence:
Americans' Doubts About the Death Penalty.
confidence in the death penalty has clearly eroded over
the past 10 years, mostly as a result of DNA
exonerations. Whether it is concern about executing the
innocent, beliefs that the death penalty is not a
deterrent, moral objections to taking human life, or a
general sense that the system is too broken to be fixed,
the bottom line is the same:
Americans are moving
away from the death penalty," said Richard
Dieter, DPIC's Executive Director.
sample included 1,000 adults nationwide and the margin
of error was +3.1%.
DPIC's Press Release
Finds Executions in Indiana 'Random'
The Indiana Death
Penalty Assessment Team, under the auspices of
the American Bar Association, has called for a
halt to executions in the state because of concerns
about the arbitrariness of the state's death penalty.
"The seemingly random process of charging decisions,
plea agreements, and jury recommendations is just part
of a death penalty system that has aptly been called
Indiana's 'other lottery'," the group noted in its
report. The seven-member Indiana panel was organized by
the ABA Death Penalty Moratorium Implementation Project,
and it found that the state's death penalty system is in
compliance with only 10 of the 79 protocols that the ABA
adopted in 2001 to better ensure that capital punishment
is applied fairly.
The assessment team, which included
former Indiana Governor Joe Kernan and other experts
representing a variety of perspectives on the issue,
concluded that Indiana's death penalty system is broken.
Among the group's main concerns were:
To address these and other findings, the team issued 12
recommendations, such as:
- racial disparities in the state's capital
- the risks to innocent lives
- the lack of an independent authority to appoint
defense attorneys in capital cases
- significant capital juror confusion.
"We want to make sure that our system is fair and that
there are guidelines in terms of how sentences are put
out and that the death penalty is reserved for those
that we would consider the worst of the worst," Kernan
said. Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels has said he would
review the report. (Associated Press, February 24,
- banning the execution of those with mental
- requiring law enforcement to record all
- adopting tougher qualifications and monitoring
procedures for attorneys in capital cases
- ensuring that those facing execution have
adequate opportunities to prove their innocence.
Indiana is one of 16
states where ABA-appointed assessment teams have been
established and asked to review capital punishment
procedures to see whether they comply with minimum
standards of fairness and due process.
full Indiana Report.
See the Executive
Summary. Read more about the members of the
Indiana Death Penalty Assessment Team.
Montana Senate Voted for
Abolition of the State's Death Penalty 27-21
(Feb. 23, 2007)
MARYLAND GOVERNORS CALL FOR ABOLITION
Notwithstanding the executions of the rightly convicted,
can the death penalty ever be justified as public policy
when it inherently necessitates the occasional taking of
wrongly convicted, innocent life? In Maryland, since
1978, we have executed five people and set one convicted
man free when his innocence was discovered. Are any of
us willing to sacrifice a member of our own family --
wrongly convicted, sentenced and executed -- in order to
secure the execution of five rightly convicted murders?
And even if we were, could that public policy be called
"just"? I do not believe it can. ...
And what of
the tremendous cost of pursuing capital punishment? In
2002, Judge Dale Cathell of the Maryland Court of
Appeals wrote that, according to his research,
processing and imprisoning a death penalty defendant
"costs $400,000 over and above . . . a prisoner serving
a life sentence." Given that 56 people have been
sentenced to death in Maryland since 1978, our state has
spent about $22.4 million more than the cost of life
imprisonment. That's nearly $4.5 million "extra" for
each of the five executions carried out. And so long as
every American is presumed innocent until proven guilty,
the cost of due process will not go down. ...
we were to replace the death penalty with life without
parole, that $22.4 million could pay for 500 additional
police officers or provide drug treatment for 10,000 of
our addicted neighbors. Unlike the death penalty, these
are investments that save lives and prevent violent
crime. If we knew we could spare a member of our family
from becoming a victim of violent crime by making this
policy change, would we do it? ...
is the concept that leads brave individuals to sacrifice
their lives for the lives of strangers. Human dignity is
the universal truth that is the basis of ethics. Human
dignity is the fundamental belief on which the laws of
this state and this republic are founded. And absent a
deterrent value, the damage done to the concept of human
dignity by our conscious communal use of the death
penalty is greater than the benefit of even a justly
(Washington Post, February 21, 2007).
Maryland's lawmakers face their own life-or-death
decision. I urge them to take the only logical path and
put an end to Maryland's system of capital punishment.
I stand with
Gov. Martin O'Malley in saying it's time to give up on
this failed policy. My opinion is that executions demean
us as a society. I also join with the majority of
Marylanders who believe that on a practical level, the
system is rife with problems that cannot be solved. ...
legislation pending at the State House would replace the
death penalty with a sentence of life without the
possibility of parole, a harsh punishment that would
keep murderers off the street and keep us safe without
undue burdens on law enforcement or victims' families.
most important, we must acknowledge that in any human
system there is room for error. Again and again, we hear
about prisoners freed from death row after being
exonerated of their alleged crimes -- at least 123
across the country in the past 34 years. ...
lawmakers who have supported capital punishment in the
past, please consider all that we have learned in recent
years about how drastically it fails in practice. Around
the country, Americans are moving away from the death
penalty. A recent New Jersey commission recommended
replacing the death penalty with life without parole
because it simply could not come up with a way to make
the system work both fairly and effectively.
It's time for
Maryland to take heed and end capital punishment here.
Post, February 18, 2007).
Recent Legislative Activity.
The Truth About False Confessions
Alan Hirsch IS a professor/attorney/writer, educated at Amherst and
Yale Law School (J.D., 1985). During the last five years he has
focused his attention on false confessions – studying it, writing
about it, and assisting attorneys.
False confessions are a terrible tragedy that is largely
preventable. His website has four specific goals for combating
1. to educate the public and policymakers and deepen
understanding of all aspects of the problem;
2. to promote specific reforms;
3. to highlight cases where public pressure might make a
4. to assist attorneys.
OF DEATH ROW INMATES CLAIMING THEY ARE
Death in Missouri
In July of 1992, Brian J. Kinder was
sentenced to die in Missouri by lethal
injection. This page is dedicated to
telling his story.