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Death Penalty Reports 2007

 

 

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Tax dollars are being spent to build prisons instead of schools, that alone is absurd.  Tax dollars, 19 Billion of them, will be spent on a "drug war", that only keeps out 2% of the drugs trafficked into the USA. -- We Believe Group


Death Penalty Reports 2007

December 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.

New Voices:
“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

The 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.

Among those 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 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 punishment.
  • Illinois is in the eighth year of a death penalty moratorium, which was established in 2000 due to concerns about wrongful convictions.
  • * Death sentences in the United States have dropped by 60% since 1999. Even in Texas, death sentences have dropped significantly during the past decade.
  • Executions around the country are on hold as the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to hear a case regarding the constitutionality of Kentucky's lethal injection procedure.
  • Legislative studies of the death penalty are underway in California, North Carolina, and Tennessee.
  • Public opinion polls show that life without parole is steadily replacing the death penalty as the preferred punishment for murder.
See New Jersey Senate Bill (search S171), New Jersey Death Penalty Study Commission and DPIC's Press Release.

 

November 2007

United Nations Calls for Moratorium on Executions
A 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:
  • Progressively restrict the use of the death penalty and reduce the number of offences for which it may be imposed;
  • Establish a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty;
  • and calls upon States which have abolished the death penalty not to reintroduce it.
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."

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."
(The Guardian, Nov. 16, 2007).
Global Moratorium Resolution

Vote Results:

99 States in Favor of Resolution

52 States Against Resolution

33 Abstention

- Sponsored by 87 States --

The 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.

For more information See: Amnesty International's Press Release
and the European Union's News Release.


October 2007

“A MATTER OF LIFE OR DEATH:” NEWS SERIES REVEALS ARBITRARY DEATH
PENALTY IN GEORGIA

    According to “A Matter of Life or Death,” a recent four-part news series published by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 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 and 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 Fletcher.

Among the key findings of the investigation were the following:

  • Race Matters: 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.

  • Geography Matters: Decisions on whether to seek the death penalty are often determined by where the crime was committed. For example, a murder in Clayton County was found to be 13 times more likely to bring a death penalty prosecution than a similar crime a few miles away in Fulton County.

  • 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 sentence.

  • 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 cases.

  • 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 irrefutable.

  • 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.”

(Atlanta Journal-Constitution, September 22 – 25, 2007). Read the Series.
See Arbitrariness, Costs, and Race.

 

August 2007

 

UPDATED EXECUTION DATABASE OFFERS UNIQUE GLIMPSE INTO U.S. DEATH PENALTY HISTORY
An updated version of the "Espy File," a database of executions in the United States and the earlier colonies from 1608 to 2002, is now available on DPIC's Web site. This resource provides detailed information about each of the 15,269 executions recorded during this time period and offers a unique glimpse into the history of the death penalty in the U.S.

Overall Leading Execution States

Overall, from 1608 to the present, the leading executions states in the United States have been Virginia (1,375), Texas (1,152), New York (1,130), Pennsylvania (1,043), and Georgia (990).


1608 - 1972 Leading Execution States

From 1608 - 1972, when the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Furman v. Georgia effectively voided 40 death penalty statutes and suspended the death penalty in the U.S., Virginia (1,277), New York (1,130), Pennsylvania (1,040), Georgia (950), and North Carolina (784) led the nation in number of executions.


1976 - Present Leading Execution States

After the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, executions resumed, but the geography of the nation's leading execution states shifted. During the past three decades, New York has not carried out an execution, and Pennsylvania has had just three executions. Texas (399), Virginia (98), Oklahoma (85), Missouri (66), and Florida (64) have led the nation in number of executions since 1976.


In addition to the number of executions carried out in the U.S., the Espy File also provides an interesting look into the methods of execution that have been used in the U.S. Since the first execution in 1608 by shooting, the country has used nearly a dozen different execution methods. Among those methods are the more commonly known methods of hanging (9,324), electrocution (4,484), lethal injection (620), gas (593), and firing squad (142). Others executed during the past 400 years have been killed by bludgeoning (2), broken on a wheel (12), burned (66), and pressed with stones (1).

The Espy File database contains the name, age, and race of each person execution, as well as details such as the date of the execution and what method of execution was used. Users can also search the database to find all of the executions that have taken place in a specific jurisdiction. DPIC has adapted this information for easier use and has sorted the list in separate files by state, year, and name of the defendant.

See DPIC's Web Page on The Espy File.
Post-1976 execution numbers come from DPIC's Execution Database


Recent U.S. Supreme Court Rulings Address Texas Death Penalty Problems

In recent years, a series of U.S. Supreme Court rulings have identified and addressed serious problems within the Texas death penalty system. The following are among the key decisions issued by the Court:

2007

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."

2005

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.

2004

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 of North Carolina's Execution Process with Warden Marvin Polk

Video by Scott Langley, Langley Creations Documentaries


June 2007

Media Coverage of DPIC's Latest Report, A Crisis of Confidence

On June 9, 2007 the Death Penalty Information Center released its new report, “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 points."

- New York Times, “Court Ruling Expected to Spur Convictions in
Capital Cases,” by Adam Liptak, Page 1A, June 9, 2007.


Newsweek

"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 Report,

"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, 2007.

For more information see: MEDIA COVERAGE REPORT


April 2007

DPIC's New Poll and Report Shows America
Becoming More Distant from the Death Penalty

Because of 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 women.

The report, 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.

Nearly all 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.

"Public 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.

The poll sample included 1,000 adults nationwide and the margin of error was +3.1%.

Public Opinion / Innocence / DPIC's Press Release


 

March 2007

ABA Panel 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:

  • racial disparities in the state's capital sentencing system
  • the risks to innocent lives
  • the lack of an independent authority to appoint defense attorneys in capital cases
  • significant capital juror confusion.
To address these and other findings, the team issued 12 recommendations, such as:
  • banning the execution of those with mental illness
  • requiring law enforcement to record all interrogations
  • adopting tougher qualifications and monitoring procedures for attorneys in capital cases
  • ensuring that those facing execution have adequate opportunities to prove their innocence.
"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, 2007).
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.
Read the full Indiana Report. See the Executive Summary. Read more about the members of the Indiana Death Penalty Assessment Team. See also, Studies  and Representation.

February 2007

Montana Senate Voted for Abolition of the State's Death Penalty 27-21
(Feb. 23, 2007)

 

MARYLAND GOVERNORS CALL FOR ABOLITION

OF DEATH PENALTY


Maryland Governor
Martin O'Malley

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. ...

If, however, 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? ...

Human dignity 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 drawn retribution.
(Washington Post, February 21, 2007).


Former Maryland Governor
Harry Hughes

Today, 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. ...

The 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. ...

Finally, and 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. ...

To those 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.

(Washington Post, February 18, 2007).

See 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 the tragedy:

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 difference; and

4. to assist attorneys.  



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WEB PAGES OF DEATH ROW INMATES CLAIMING THEY ARE INNOCENT

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.

 


 


 

“When in Gregg v. Georgia the Supreme Court gave its seal of approval to capital punishment, this endorsement was premised on the promise that capital punishment would be administered with fairness and justice. Instead, the promise has become a cruel and empty mockery. If not remedied, the scandalous state of our present system of capital punishment will cast a pall of shame over our society for years to come. We cannot let it continue.”
-- United States Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, 1990 --

 

Victims-of-Law has compiled this list for educational & research purposes.
The inclusion of links to any site in no way constitutes an endorsement by Victims-of-Law.

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