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Vocapedia > USA > Law, Justice > Death Penalty Abolishing capital punishment

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

death-penalty / death penalty debate

 

https://www.npr.org/2019/03/17/
703754526/for-some-colorado-lawmakers-the-death-penalty-debate-is-personal

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/23/us/
in-debate-davis-execution-offers-little-closure.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

barbarism

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/29/
opinion/29fri1.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

stop the executions        USA

 

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/26/
opinion/stop-executions-biden-virginia.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

end the death penalty        USA

 

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/26/
opinion/stop-executions-biden-virginia.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

USA > abolish the death penalty        UK / USA

 

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/26/
opinion/stop-executions-biden-virginia.html

 

https://www.npr.org/2021/03/24/
971866086/virginia-governor-signs-law-abolishing-the-death-penalty-a-1st-in-the-south

 

https://theintercept.com/2021/02/06/
execution-trump-death-penalty-abolish/

 

https://www.npr.org/2021/02/05/
964514242/lawmakers-in-virginia-vote-to-abolish-the-death-penalty

 

 

 

 

https://www.npr.org/2019/05/30/
728288240/new-hampshire-abolishes-death-penalty-as-lawmakers-override-governors-veto

 

https://www.npr.org/2019/04/11/
712457692/new-hampshire-poised-to-eliminate-death-penalty

 

 

 

 

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/sep/24/
pope-francis-congress-abolish-death-penalty

 

http://www.npr.org/2015/04/22/
400445794/debate-is-it-time-to-abolish-the-death-penalty

 

 

 

 

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/sep/22/
troy-davis-execution-death-penalty

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Virginia Governor Signs Law Abolishing The Death Penalty, A 1st In The South - March 24, 2021

 

https://www.npr.org/2021/03/24/
971866086/virginia-governor-signs-law-abolishing-the-death-penalty-a-1st-in-the-south

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

abolish the federal death penalty

 

https://www.npr.org/2021/01/11/
955693696/democrats-unveil-legislation-to-abolish-the-federal-death-penalty

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pope Calls On Christians

To Abolish Death Penalty - February 21, 2016

 

http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/02/21/
467549565/pope-calls-on-christians-to-abolish-death-penalty

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

abolish capital punishment

 

https://www.npr.org/2019/03/17/
703754526/for-some-colorado-lawmakers-the-death-penalty-debate-is-personal

 

http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2014/04/06/
what-it-means-if-the-death-penalty-is-dying

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

death-row abolitionist

 

https://www.nytimes.com/video/
opinion/100000007506500/coronavirus-deaths-obituaries-jerry-givens.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

anti death penalty

http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/09/01/
547985395/after-losing-in-court-florida-anti-death-penalty-prosecutor-charts-way-forward

 

 

 

 

outspoken opponent of death penalty

http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2015/05/15/
407115290/boston-bombers-attorney-is-a-strident-opponent-of-death-penalty

 

 

 

 

Death Penalty Information Center

https://deathpenaltyinfo.org/executions-year

 

https://deathpenaltyinfo.org/execution-list-2017

 

 

 

 

death penalty moratorium

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/
washingtons-governor-term-will-executing-people/

 

http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2014/02/11/
275350867/washington-governor-declares-moratorium-on-death-penalty

 

 

 

 

Richard James Bartlett        USA        1926-2015

 

upstate legislator

who was instrumental

in virtually abolishing capital punishment

in New York State

and who, as an administrative judge,

oversaw a reorganization of the state’s courts

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/12/
nyregion/richard-bartlett-legislator-who-fought-new-yorks-death-penalty-dies-at-89.html

 

 

 

 

5-4 Supreme Court Abolishes Juvenile Executions

ROPER, SUPERINTENDENT, POTOSI CORRECTIONAL CENTER

v. SIMMONS

No. 03—633.

Argued October 13,

2004–Decided March 1, 2005

https://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/03-633.ZS.html 

https://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-supreme-court/543/551.html 

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4518051

http://edition.cnn.com/2005/LAW/03/01/scotus.death.penalty/index.html

http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2005-03-01-scotus-juvenile_x.htm

 

 

 

 

ban the death penalty

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/28/us/
nebraska-abolishes-death-penalty.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/21/us/
nebraska-lawmakers-vote-to-abolish-death-penalty.html

 

 

 

 

repeal death penalty

http://www.npr.org/sections/itsallpolitics/2015/05/27/
410081971/nebraska-repeals-death-penalty-but-u-s-isn-t-quite-ready-to-abandon-it

 

 

 

 

strike down death penalty

https://www.npr.org/2018/10/11/
656570464/washington-state-strikes-down-death-penalty-citing-racial-bias

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

USA > death penalty repeal > Connecticut        April 2012        UK / USA

 

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/apr/25/
connecticut-repeals-death-penalty 

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/12/nyregion/connecticut-
house-votes-to-repeal-death-penalty.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

USA > global fight to end capital punishment        UK

 

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/may/06/
global-fight-end-capital-punishment

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

stop executions        USA

 

https://www.npr.org/2020/12/30/
950105746/end-this-cruelty-progressives-call-on-biden-to-work-to-stop-executions

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 federal death penalty        USA

 

https://www.npr.org/2020/12/30/
950105746/end-this-cruelty-progressives-call-on-biden-to-work-to-stop-executions

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Corpus of news articles

 

USA > Law, Justice > Death Penalty

 

Abolishing capital punishment

 

 

 

The Death Penalty Endgame

 

JAN. 16, 2016

The New York Times

By THE EDITORIAL BOARD

 

How does the death penalty in America end?

For decades that has been an abstract question. Now there may be an answer in the case of Shonda Walter, a 36-year-old black woman on Pennsylvania’s death row. On Friday, the Supreme Court met to discuss whether to hear a petition from Ms. Walter, who is asking the justices to rule that in all cases, including hers, the death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishments.

Ever since 1976, when the court allowed executions to resume after a four-year moratorium, the abolition movement has avoided bringing a broad constitutional challenge against the practice, believing that it would not succeed. In that time, 1,423 people have been put to death.

Yet there is no question that the national trend is moving away from capital punishment. Since the late 1990s, almost every year has seen fewer executions, fewer new death sentences and fewer states involved in the repugnant business of killing their citizens.

In 2015, there were 28 executions and 49 new death sentences, the lowest numbers in decades. Seven states have abandoned the practice entirely since 2004, for a total of 19 that no longer have the death penalty. Many others have not executed anyone for years. And only three states — Texas, Georgia and Missouri — were responsible for almost all of last year’s executions.

A majority of Americans still support capital punishment, but the percentage favoring it has dropped from around 80 percent in the 1990s to about 60 percent now. When polls offer a choice between death and life without parole, people roughly split evenly.

In the past 14 years alone, the Supreme Court has barred the execution of several categories of people: minors, the intellectually disabled, and those convicted of a crime other than murder. In that last case, decided in 2008, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the court, “When the law punishes by death, it risks its own sudden descent into brutality, transgressing the constitutional commitment to decency and restraint.”

Taken together, these signs have led some abolitionists to conclude that the conditions for ending capital punishment entirely are now as favorable as they might ever be. That argument got a major boost last June, when Justice Stephen Breyer, in a long dissent from a 5-to-4 ruling that allowed Oklahoma to proceed with its inhumane lethal-injection drug protocol, suggested he would be open to a case challenging the constitutionality of the death penalty itself.

In his dissent, which was joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Justice Breyer explained in detail how the death penalty was unreliable, arbitrary and racially discriminatory. He said it was no longer sufficient simply “to patch up the death penalty’s legal wounds one at a time,” because the practice as a whole “most likely” violates the Eighth Amendment.

Shonda Walter’s case is the first to take up Justice Breyer’s challenge. Ms. Walter was convicted of murdering an 83-year-old man named James Sementelli. Her appointed lawyers put on no defense and offered no argument that might have spared her from a death sentence. Pennsylvania appeals courts agreed that she had inexcusably bad representation, but they still upheld her conviction and sentence. Since Ms. Walter does not fit the special categories of defendants who are shielded from the death penalty, her appeal is based on the claim that all executions violate the Constitution.

The justices may not grant Ms. Walter’s petition (others are also expected to be filed in the coming weeks), but they can no longer ignore the clear movement of history. They already have all the evidence they need to join the rest of the civilized world and end the death penalty once and for all.

 

Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook and Twitter, and sign up for the Opinion Today newsletter.

A version of this editorial appears in print on January 17, 2016, on page SR10 of the New York edition with the headline: The Death Penalty Endgame.

The Death Penalty Endgame,
NYT, JAN. 16, 2016,
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/17/
opinion/sunday/the-death-penalty-endgame.html

 

 

 

 

 

Use of Death Sentences

Continues to Fall in U.S.

 

December 20, 2012
The New York Times
By ETHAN BRONNER

 

Thirty-six years after the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty, its use is waning, with prosecutors and juries preferring to sentence convicted murderers to life in prison without parole. New data for 2012 show that nine states executed inmates this year, the fewest in two decades, and the number of death sentences handed down this year — 80 — was about a third of the total in 2000.

“We have done polling on this, and the biggest reason is lingering doubt about guilt,” said Richard C. Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, which tracks executions around the country and released the numbers this week. “Between 90 and 95 percent of the people are aware that there have been exonerations based on DNA evidence.”

While a majority of states — 33 — still have the death penalty on the books, that number has also been on the decline. Connecticut banned capital punishment this year, the fifth state in five years to do so, following Illinois, New Jersey, New Mexico and New York. Twenty-nine states either do not have the death penalty or have not carried out an execution in five years.

In addition, four states with histories of executing convicted murderers — Indiana, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia — sentenced no one to death this year. Three-quarters of the 43 people put to death in 2012 were in four states: Arizona, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Texas.

Another major reason for the decline is that the death penalty involves enormous expense and numerous appeals; some prosecutors say they prefer life imprisonment.

Stan Garnett, the district attorney in Boulder County, Colo., wrote recently that as his state considered repealing the death penalty, he would like his fellow citizens to know that he was “not morally or philosophically opposed” to it. But he considers the death penalty impractical because it is expensive, time-consuming and often unfairly applied.

“A 1994 Colorado death verdict currently pending before the U.S. Supreme Court has cost the state of Colorado nearly $18 million to fund through all the appeals,” Mr. Garnett wrote. He said his office’s operating budget is $4.6 million and prosecutes 1,900 felonies a year.

In California, a referendum last month seeking to end the death penalty because of its cost narrowly failed to achieve a majority. But the 47 percent of voters who supported the referendum represents a much larger number of Californians opposing capital punishment than ever before. The state has not carried out an execution in nearly seven years.

A year ago, the chief justice of the California Supreme Court, Tani Cantil-Sakauye, called for a re-evaluation of the death penalty system, saying it was ineffective. Asked if she supported the death penalty, she replied: “I don’t know if the question is whether you believe in it anymore. I think the greater question is its effectiveness and, given the choices we face in California, should we have a merit-based discussion on its effectiveness and costs?”

Texas executed 15 people this year, by far the most in the country. But for the eighth consecutive year it executed more people than it sentenced to death, signaling that fewer executions will be carried out in the future, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, in Washington. The total number of people on death row in the country is 3,170, down from 3,670 in 2000.

James S. Liebman, a law professor at Columbia University, said he had studied the death penalty’s use by county, rather than by state, because punishment is sought at the county level, and he found that 60 percent of the nation’s counties no longer seek it. In addition, he said, some counties that in the past had led the country in its use, like Houston, did not hand down a single death penalty this year.

“A lot of officials have come to the conclusion that if they are concerned about deterrence and protection of their citizens and the diminishing of crime, the death penalty is not a very good strategy,” Professor Liebman said. “The counties that use it are ones that tend to spend a lot less money on law enforcement, criminal justice and the courts. They are using it instead of modern law enforcement.”

Professor Liebman, like Mr. Dieter of the Death Penalty Information Center, noted that murders account for a small percentage of crimes, yet seeking the death penalty can take up most of a prosecutor’s budget. Death penalty cases usually involve two trials — one to determine guilt, and the other to decide on the death penalty — and better lawyers for the defense. In addition, prosecutors do not like to lose death penalty cases, so they tend to put in far greater effort and resources.

“If you get someone into jail, the likelihood of his committing murder will at least be lower,” Professor Liebman said. “In addition, most people on death row are never going to get executed. Death row incarceration is more expensive. It requires single cells because the inmates are considered more dangerous and more desperate.”

Mr. Dieter added: “Juries know that mistakes have been made and have lingering doubts about absolute guilt. Life without parole gives them an alternative.”

    Use of Death Sentences Continues to Fall in U.S., NYT, 20.12.2012,
    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/21/us/
    use-of-death-sentences-continues-to-fall-numbers-show.html

 

 

 

 

An Indefensible Punishment

 

September 25, 2011
The New York Times

 

When the Supreme Court reinstituted the death penalty 35 years ago, it did so provisionally. Since then, it has sought to articulate legal standards for states to follow that would ensure the fair administration of capital punishment and avoid the arbitrariness and discrimination that had led it to strike down all state death penalty statutes in 1972.

As the unconscionable execution of Troy Davis in Georgia last week underscores, the court has failed because it is impossible to succeed at this task. The death penalty is grotesque and immoral and should be repealed.

The court’s 1976 framework for administering the death penalty, balancing aggravating factors like the cruelty of the crime against mitigating ones like the defendant’s lack of a prior criminal record, came from the American Law Institute, the nonpartisan group of judges, lawyers and law professors. In 2009, after a review of decades of executions, the group concluded that the system could not be fixed and abandoned trying.

Sentencing people to death without taking account of aggravating and mitigating circumstances leads to arbitrary results. Yet, the review found, so does considering such circumstances because it requires jurors to weigh competing factors and makes sentencing vulnerable to their biases.

Those biases are driven by race, class and politics, which influence all aspects of American life. As a result, they have made discrimination and arbitrariness the hallmarks of the death penalty in this country.

For example, two-thirds of all those sentenced to death since 1976 have been in five Southern states where “vigilante values” persist, according to the legal scholar Franklin Zimring. Racism continues to infect the system, as study after study has found in the past three decades.

The problems go on: Many defendants in capital cases are too poor to afford legal counsel. Many of the lawyers assigned to represent them are poorly equipped for the job. A major study done for the Senate Judiciary Committee found that “egregiously incompetent defense lawyering” accounted for about two-fifths of the errors in capital cases. Apart from the issue of counsel, these cases are more expensive at every stage of the criminal process than noncapital cases.

Politics also 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. This has been true in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Texas and many other states.

So far, 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. It is time Americans acknowledged that the death penalty cannot be made to comply with the Constitution and is in every way indefensible.

An Indefensible Punishment, NYT, 25.9.2011,
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/26/opinion/an-indefensible-punishment.html

 

 

 

 

 

Death Penalty,

Still Racist and Arbitrary

 

July 8, 2011
The New York Times
By DAVID R. DOW

 

Houston

LAST week was the 35th anniversary of the return of the American death penalty. It remains as racist and as random as ever.

Several years after the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, a University of Iowa law professor, David C. Baldus (who died last month), along with two colleagues, published a study examining more than 2,000 homicides that took place in Georgia beginning in 1972. They found that black defendants were 1.7 times more likely to receive the death penalty than white defendants and that murderers of white victims were 4.3 times more likely to be sentenced to death than those who killed blacks.

What became known as the Baldus study was the centerpiece of the Supreme Court’s 1987 decision in McCleskey v. Kemp. That case involved a black man, Warren McCleskey, who was sentenced to die for murdering a white Atlanta police officer. Mr. McCleskey argued that the Baldus study established that his death sentence was tainted by racial bias. In a 5-to-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that general patterns of discrimination do not prove that racial discrimination operated in particular cases.

Of course, the court had to say that, or America’s capital justice system would have screeched to a halt. Georgia is not special. Nationwide, blacks and whites are victims of homicide in roughly equal numbers, yet 80 percent of those executed had murdered white people. Over the past three decades, the Baldus study has been replicated in about a dozen other jurisdictions, and they all reflect the same basic racial bias. By insisting on direct evidence of racial discrimination, the court in McCleskey essentially made the fact of pervasive racism legally irrelevant, because prosecutors rarely write e-mails announcing they are seeking death in a given case because the murderer was black (or because the victim was white).

In Texas, though, they do come close. In 2008, the district attorney of Harris County, Chuck Rosenthal, resigned after news emerged that he had sent and received racist e-mails. His office had sought the death penalty in 25 cases; his successor has sought it in 7. Of the total 32 cases, 29 involve a nonwhite defendant.

Since 1976, Texas has carried out 470 executions (well more than a third of the national total of 1,257). You can count on one hand the number of those executions that involved a white murderer and a black victim and you do not need to use your thumb, ring finger, index finger or pinkie.

Well, you might need the pinkie. On June 16, Texas executed Lee Taylor, who at age 16 beat an elderly couple while robbing their home. The 79-year-old husband died of his injuries. Mr. Taylor was sentenced to life in prison; there he joined the Aryan Brotherhood, a white gang, and, four years into his sentence, murdered a black inmate and was sentenced to death. When Mr. Taylor was executed, it was reported that he was the second white person in Texas executed for killing a black person. Actually, he should be counted as the first. The other inmate, Larry Hayes, executed in 2003, killed two people, one of whom was white.

The facts surrounding Lee Taylor’s execution are cause for further shame. John Balentine, a black inmate, was scheduled to die in Texas the day before Lee Taylor’s execution. Mr. Balentine’s lawyers argued that his court-appointed appellate lawyer had botched his case, and that he should have an opportunity to raise issues the lawyer had neglected. Less than an hour before Mr. Balentine was to die, the Supreme Court issued a stay.

Lee Taylor’s lawyers watched the Balentine case closely; their client too had received scandalously bad representation, and, they filed a petition virtually identical to the one in the Balentine case. But by a vote of 5-to-4, the justices permitted the Taylor execution to proceed. If there were differences between the Balentine and Taylor cases, they were far too minor to form the boundary between life and death. But trivial distinctions are commonplace in death penalty cases. Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr., one of the five justices in the McCleskey majority, retired from the court in 1987. Following his retirement he said he had voted the wrong way. If Justice Powell had changed his mind sooner, Warren McCleskey, who was executed in Georgia in 1991, would still be alive.

And because of a vote from a single Supreme Court justice, John Balentine lives while Lee Taylor died. When capital punishment was briefly struck down, in 1972, Justice Potter Stewart said the death penalty was arbitrary, like being struck by lightning.

It still is, and it’s the justices themselves who keep throwing the bolts.

 

 

David R. Dow, a professor

at the University of Houston Law Center,

is the author, most recently, of a memoir,

“The Autobiography of an Execution.”

 

 

This article has been revised

to reflect the following correction:

Correction: July 14, 2011

An Op-Ed article on Saturday about the death penalty misstated the year Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. retired from the Supreme Court. It was 1987, not 1991. To have made a difference in the case of Warren McCleskey, who was executed in 1991, Justice Powell would have had to change his mind in 1987 (not “a year sooner” than 1991, as the article said), when he was in the 5-to-4 majority that said Mr. McCleskey could be executed.

    Death Penalty, Still Racist and Arbitrary, NYT, 8.7.2011,
    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/09/opinion/09dow.html

 

 

 

 

 

Death Penalty Down in U.S.,

Figures Show

 

December 21, 2010
The New York Times
By JOHN SCHWARTZ

 

States are continuing a trend of executing fewer prisoners and juries are wary of sentencing criminal defendants to die, according to year-end figures compiled by a group that opposes the death penalty.

The 46 executions in 2010 constituted a nearly 12 percent drop from the previous year’s total of 52, according to the group, Death Penalty Information Center, which produces an annual report on execution trends. The overall trend shows a marked drop when compared with the 85 executions in 2000.

Jurors, too, show a continuing preference for the alternative of punishing criminal defendants with sentences of life without parole. Juries handed out 114 death sentences in 2010, slightly higher than the 112 death sentences last year, and 50 percent fewer for the current decade than in the 1990s — before the widespread availability of life without parole sentences for juries in capital cases.

“There’s just a whole lot more concern about the accuracy of the death penalty, the fairness and even the costs — all are contributing,” said Richard C. Dieter, the author of the report and the executive director of the center, which is in Washington. The availability of the alternative to the death penalty, Mr. Dieter said, also means that “prosecutors know it’s going to be a harder sell and are seeking it less.”

The states continue to condemn far more prisoners to death than they actually execute.

There are 3,261 people on death row in the United States; California has the largest population, with 697, while New Hampshire and Wyoming have one apiece. A majority of Americans support the death penalty, with 64 percent of those surveyed by Gallup in October 2010 favoring it and 29 percent opposed.

One contributing factor in the low number of executions nationwide is the shortage of a drug used for executions — they were postponed or canceled in Arkansas, California, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Tennessee.

Hospira, the company that makes sodium thiopental, the drug, has said that it expects to resume production in the first quarter of 2011.

The legal director of a group that supports the death penalty, Kent S. Scheidegger, said Mr. Dieter’s group had interpreted facts selectively. Mr. Scheidegger, of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, said that at least half the drop in death sentences could be attributed in part to a smaller number of murders in recent years, a fact that he and his group argue is a result of the nation’s high rates of incarceration.

Death Penalty Down in U.S., Figures Show, NYT, 21.12.2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/21/us/21penalty.html

 

 

 

 

 

No Justification

 

October 28, 2010
The New York Times

 

Two years ago, when a splintered Supreme Court approved lethal injection as a means of execution in Baze v. Rees, Justice John Paul Stevens made a prophecy. Instead of ending the controversy, he said, the ruling would raise questions “about the justification for the death penalty itself.” Since then, evidence has continued to mount, showing the huge injustice of the death penalty — and the particular barbarism of this form of execution.

In the case of Jeffrey Landrigan, convicted of murder and executed by Arizona on Tuesday, the system failed him at almost every level, most disturbingly at the Supreme Court. In a 5-to-4 vote, the court’s conservative majority allowed the execution to proceed based on a stark misrepresentation.

Of the 35 states that allow the death penalty, all now execute by lethal injection. Most use a sequence of drugs that is supposed to provide a painless death, but when it is administered incorrectly it causes agony that amounts to torture. Veterinarians say the method doesn’t meet the standard for euthanizing animals.

Arizona’s plan for Mr. Landrigan’s execution was thrown off by a shortage of sodium thiopental, one of three drugs used in standard lethal injections. The only maker approved by the Food and Drug Administration hasn’t been able to get a critical ingredient for almost a year. The state obtained the drug from a foreign maker.

When Mr. Landrigan tried to ascertain its effectiveness for sedating him so he wouldn’t feel the pain of the other drugs, Arizona refused to divulge the information. After the state defied four orders from a federal district judge to produce it, the judge stayed the execution.

When the case got to the Supreme Court, the majority overturned the stay, saying there was “no evidence in the record to suggest that the drug obtained from a foreign source is unsafe.” There was no evidence — either way — because Arizona defied orders to provide it.

The court’s whitewash highlights the arbitrariness of Mr. Landrigan’s execution. Cheryl Hendrix, the retired Arizona judge who presided over his trial, recently said, “Mr. Landrigan would not have been sentenced to death” if she had been given the medical evidence of the defendant’s brain damage and other factors. Mr. Landrigan’s inept trial lawyer didn’t submit the evidence.

She no longer had the power to alter his fate, but, in an affidavit for the Arizona Board of Executive Clemency, Ms. Hendrix supported his plea to have his death sentence commuted to life. “Since the courts have not corrected this injustice,” she stated, “I am compelled to submit this declaration on Mr. Landrigan’s behalf.” The Supreme Court should have upheld the stay of execution and forced the state to deliver the information called for. It failed, shamefully.

    No Justification, NYT, 28.10.2010,
    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/29/opinion/29fri1.html

 

 

 

 

 

Woman, 41, Is Executed in Virginia

 

September 23, 2010
The New York Times
By ANAHAD O’CONNOR
 

 

A woman convicted of orchestrating a plot that led to the murders of her husband and stepson was executed in Virginia Thursday night, becoming the first woman executed in the state in almost a century.

The woman, Teresa Lewis, 41, died by lethal injection at a correctional facility in southeastern Virginia. With a crowd of death penalty opponents protesting outside, Ms. Lewis was pronounced dead at 9:13 p.m., the Associated Press reported, citing officials at the Greensville Correctional Center in Jarratt. She was the 12th woman executed in the United States since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.

The case against Ms. Lewis, the first woman executed in the country since 2005, had drawn international attention. Many of her supporters questioned the fairness of her sentence — her co-conspirators, who fired the fatal shots, were spared capital punishment — and doubts were raised about her mental capacity. Psychologists involved in her case said she was borderline retarded. And her supporters argued that she had been manipulated by the two triggermen, who stood to gain hundreds of thousands of dollars

 

 

 

 

 

Death Sentences Dropped,

but Executions Rose in ’09

 

December 18, 2009
The New York Times
By JOHN SCHWARTZ

 

More death row convicts were executed in the United States this year than last, but juries continue to grow more wary of capital punishment, according to a new report.

Death sentences handed down by judges and juries in 2009 continued a trend of decline for seven years in a row, with 106 projected for the year. That level is down two-thirds from a peak of 328 in 1994, according to the report being released Friday by the Death Penalty Information Center, a research organization that opposes capital punishment.

“This entire decade has been marked by a declining use of the death penalty,” said Richard Dieter, the executive director of the group.

The sentencing drop was most striking in Texas, which averaged 34 death sentences a year in the 1990s and had 9 this year. Vic Wisner, a former assistant district attorney in Houston, said a “constant media drumbeat” about suspect convictions and exonerations “has really changed the attitude of jurors.”

Mr. Wisner said that while polls showed continued general support for capital punishment, “there is a real worry by jurors of, ‘I believe in it, but what if we later find out it was someone else and it’s too late to do anything about it?’ ”

In 2005, Texas juries were given the option of sentencing defendants to life without parole.

While death sentences are in decline, executions rose in the past year, according to the new report. Fifty-two prisoners have been put to death in 2009, compared with 42 in 2007 and 37 in 2008.

The report also noted that in 2009 New Mexico became the 15th state to repeal the death penalty, in part because of budget considerations and the high cost of death penalty appeals, which Gov. Bill Richardson called “a valid reason” for eliminating the ultimate sanction “in this era of austerity and tight budgets.”

But Kent Scheidegger, the legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, which supports capital punishment, argued that the decline in death sentences also corresponded to a decline in the murder rate, and criticized efforts to use cost arguments against the death penalty. The government could “knock a large chunk off of the cost” of execution by streamlining the review process, he said.

Douglas A. Berman, an expert on sentencing law at Ohio State University, suggested that the rise in executions was due to last year’s relatively low number, as states grappled with the implications of a major 2008 Supreme Court decision on lethal injection.

In that case, Baze v. Rees, the court ended what amounted to a moratorium of several months, beginning in 2007, on lethal injection executions by proclaiming that the procedure used in Kentucky and other states with similar methods did not violate the constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

This “post-Baze echo” in the figures, Mr. Berman said, can be seen in the execution in Ohio this month of Kenneth Biros. It came after a legal challenge to Ohio’s protocol, a botched execution under the state’s three-drug method for another prisoner, and a shift to a one-drug execution method. While other court challenges to lethal injection are proceeding around the country, he said, Ohio’s action suggests that “states are moving forward.”

    Death Sentences Dropped, but Executions Rose in ’09, NYT, 18.12.2009,
    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/18/us/18death.html

 

 

 

 

 

Op-Ed Columnist

Innocent but Dead

 

September 1, 2009
The New York Times
By BOB HERBERT

 

There is a long and remarkable article in the current New Yorker about a man who was executed in Texas in 2004 for deliberately setting a fire that killed his three small children. Rigorous scientific analysis has since shown that there was no evidence that the fire in a one-story, wood frame house in Corsicana was the result of arson, as the authorities had alleged.

In other words, it was an accident. No crime had occurred.

Cameron Todd Willingham, who refused to accept a guilty plea that would have spared his life, and who insisted until his last painful breath that he was innocent, had in fact been telling the truth all along.

It was inevitable that some case in which a clearly innocent person had been put to death would come to light. It was far from inevitable that this case would be the one. “I was extremely skeptical in the beginning,” said the New Yorker reporter, David Grann, who began investigating the case last December.

The fire broke out on the morning of Dec. 23, 1991. Willingham was awakened by the cries of his 2-year-old daughter, Amber. Also in the house were his year-old twin girls, Karmon and Kameron. The family was poor, and Willingham’s wife, Stacy, had gone out to pick up a Christmas present for the children from the Salvation Army.

Willingham said he tried to rescue the kids but was driven back by smoke and flames. At one point his hair caught fire. As the heat intensified, the windows of the children’s room exploded and flames leapt out. Willingham, who was 23 at the time, had to be restrained and eventually handcuffed as he tried again to get into the room.

There was no reason to believe at first that the fire was anything other than a horrible accident. But fire investigators, moving slowly through the ruined house, began seeing things (not unlike someone viewing a Rorschach pattern) that they interpreted as evidence of arson.

They noticed deep charring at the base of some of the walls and patterns of soot that made them suspicious. They noticed what they felt were ominous fracture patterns in pieces of broken window glass. They had no motive, but they were convinced the fire had been set. And if it had been set, who else but Willingham would have set it?

With no real motive in sight, the local district attorney, Pat Batchelor, was quoted as saying, “The children were interfering with his beer drinking and dart throwing.”

Willingham was arrested and charged with capital murder.

When official suspicion fell on Willingham, eyewitness testimony began to change. Whereas initially he was described by neighbors as screaming and hysterical — “My babies are burning up!” — and desperate to have the children saved, he now was described as behaving oddly, and not having made enough of an effort to get to the girls.

And you could almost have guaranteed that a jailhouse snitch would emerge. They almost always do. This time his name was Johnny Webb, a jumpy individual with a lengthy arrest record who would later admit to being “mentally impaired” and on medication, and who had started taking illegal drugs at the age of 9.

The jury took barely an hour to return a guilty verdict, and Willingham was sentenced to death.

He remained on death row for 12 years, but it was only in the weeks leading up to his execution that convincing scientific evidence of his innocence began to emerge. A renowned scientist and arson investigator, Gerald Hurst, educated at Cambridge and widely recognized as a brilliant chemist, reviewed the evidence in the Willingham case and began systematically knocking down every indication of arson.

The authorities were unmoved. Willingham was executed by lethal injection on Feb. 17, 2004.

Now comes a report on the case from another noted scientist, Craig Beyler, who was hired by a special commission, established by the state of Texas to investigate errors and misconduct in the handling of forensic evidence.

The report is devastating, the kind of disclosure that should send a tremor through one’s conscience. There was absolutely no scientific basis for determining that the fire was arson, said Beyler. No basis at all. He added that the state fire marshal who investigated the case and testified against Willingham “seems to be wholly without any realistic understanding of fires.” He said the marshal’s approach seemed to lack “rational reasoning” and he likened it to the practices “of mystics or psychics.”

Grann told me on Monday that when he recently informed the jailhouse snitch, Johnny Webb, that new scientific evidence would show that the fire wasn’t arson and that an innocent man had been killed, Webb seemed taken aback. “Nothing can save me now,” he said.

    Innocent but Dead, NYT, 1.9.2009,
    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/01/opinion/01herbert.html

 

 

 

 

 

Op-Ed Contributor

Death Penalty Disgrace

 

June 1, 2009
The New York Times
By BOB BARR

 

THERE is no abuse of government power more egregious than executing an innocent man. But that is exactly what may happen if the United States Supreme Court fails to intervene on behalf of Troy Davis.

Mr. Davis is facing execution for the 1989 murder of an off-duty police officer in Savannah, Ga., even though seven of the nine witnesses have recanted their testimony against him. Many of these witnesses now say they were pressured into testifying falsely against him by police officers who were understandably eager to convict someone for killing a comrade. No court has ever heard the evidence of Mr. Davis’s innocence.

After the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit barred Mr. Davis from raising his claims of innocence, his attorneys last month petitioned the Supreme Court for an original writ of habeas corpus. This would be an extraordinary procedure — provided for by the Constitution but granted only a handful of times since 1900. However, absent this, Mr. Davis faces an extraordinary and obviously final injustice.

This threat of injustice has come about because the lower courts have misread the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, a law I helped write when I was in Congress. As a member of the House Judiciary Committee in the 1990s, I wanted to stop the unfounded and abusive delays in capital cases that tend to undermine our criminal justice system.

With the effective death penalty act, Congress limited the number of habeas corpus petitions that a defendant could file, and set a time after which those petitions could no longer be filed. But nothing in the statute should have left the courts with the impression that they were barred from hearing claims of actual innocence like Troy Davis’s.

It would seem in everyone’s interest to find out as best we can what really happened that night 20 years ago in a dim parking lot where Officer Mark MacPhail was shot dead. With no murder weapon, surveillance videotape or DNA evidence left behind, the jury that judged Mr. Davis had to weigh the conflicting testimony of several eyewitnesses to sift out the gunman from the onlookers who had nothing to do with the heinous crime.

A litany of affidavits from prosecution witnesses now tell of an investigation that was focused not on scrutinizing all suspects, but on building a case against Mr. Davis. One witness, for instance, has said she testified against Mr. Davis because she was on parole and was afraid the police would send her back to prison if she did not cooperate.

So far, the federal courts have said it is enough that the state courts reviewed the affidavits of the witnesses who recanted their testimony. This reasoning is misplaced in a capital case. Reading an affidavit is a far cry from seeing a witness testify in open court.

Because Mr. Davis’s claim of innocence has never been heard in a court, the Supreme Court should remand his case to a federal district court and order an evidentiary hearing. (I was among those who signed an amicus brief in support of Mr. Davis.) Only a hearing where witnesses are subject to cross-examination will put this case to rest.

Although the Supreme Court issued a stay of execution last fall, the court declined to review the case itself, and its intervention still has not provided an opportunity for Mr. Davis to have a hearing on new evidence. This has become a matter of no small urgency: Georgia could set an execution date at any time.

I am a firm believer in the death penalty, but I am an equally firm believer in the rights and protections guaranteed by the Constitution. To execute Troy Davis without having a court hear the evidence of his innocence would be unconscionable and unconstitutional.
 


Bob Barr

served in the House of Representatives

from 1995 to 2003

and was the United States attorney

for the Northern District of Georgia

from 1986 to 1990.

    Death Penalty Disgrace, NYT, 31.5.2009,
    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/01/opinion/01barr.html

 

 

 

 

 

FACTBOX:

The death penalty

in the United States

 

Wed Apr 16, 2008
10:48am EDT
Reuters

 

(Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected a challenge to the lethal three-drug cocktail used in most U.S. executions during the past 30 years. This cleared the way for a resumption of executions halted since last September pending the court's decision.

Following are some facts and figures about the death penalty in the United States since 1977, when executions resumed following the lifting of a ban on the practice by the U.S. Supreme Court the previous year.

- There have been 1,099 executions in the United States since 1977. The peak year was 1999, when 98 were carried out while no inmates were put to death in 1978 and 1980.

- 42 people were executed in the United States in 2007, the lowest number since 1994 when 31 were put to death.

- 2005, the last year for which data is available, saw 128 death sentences imposed, the lowest number over the past three decades. The peak year was 1996 when 317 were handed down.

- The death penalty is sanctioned by 37 of the 50 states and the U.S. government and the military. Lethal injection is the main method used by all of the death penalty states except for Nebraska which uses the electric chair.

- The standard method involves administering three separate chemicals: sodium pentothal, an anesthetic to make the inmate unconscious; pancuronium bromide, which paralyzes all muscles except the heart; and then potassium chloride, which stops the heart, causing death.

- Texas has been by far the most active death penalty state in the post-1976 era with 405 executions. Virginia is a distant second at 98.

- Amnesty International this week issued a report that ranked the United States fifth in the world in the number of executions in 2007, behind China (470), Iran (317), Saudi Arabia (143), Pakistan (135). These five countries accounted for 88 percent of all known executions.
 


(Sources: Death Penalty Information Center,

Texas Department of Criminal Justice,

Amnesty International, Reuters)

 

(Reporting by Ed Stoddard,

editing by David Storey)

FACTBOX: The death penalty in the United States,
R, 16.4.2008,
http://www.reuters.com/article/topNews/
 idUSN1634277620080416

 

 

 

 

 

U.S. Disparity in Executions Grows

as Texas Bucks Trend

 

December 26, 2007
The New York Times
By ADAM LIPTAK

 

This year’s death penalty bombshells — a de facto national moratorium, a state abolition and the smallest number of executions in more than a decade — have masked what may be the most significant and lasting development. For the first time in the modern history of the death penalty, more than 60 percent of all American executions took place in Texas.

Over the past three decades, the proportion of executions nationwide performed in Texas has held relatively steady, averaging 37 percent. Only once before, in 1986, has the state accounted for even a slight majority of the executions, and that was in a year with 18 executions nationwide.

But enthusiasm for executions outside of Texas has dropped sharply. Of the 42 executions in the last year, 26 were in Texas. The remaining 16 were spread across nine other states, none of which executed more than three people. Many legal experts say the trend will probably continue.

Indeed, said David R. Dow, a law professor at the University of Houston who has represented death-row inmates, the day is not far off when essentially all executions in the United States will take place in Texas.

“The reason that Texas will end up monopolizing executions,” he said, “is because every other state will eliminate it de jure, as New Jersey did, or de facto, as other states have.”

Charles A. Rosenthal Jr., the district attorney of Harris County, Tex., which includes Houston and has accounted for 100 executions since 1976, said the Texas capital justice system was working properly. The pace of executions in Texas, he said, “has to do with how many people are in the pipeline when certain rulings come down.”

The rate at which Texas sentences people to death is not especially high given its murder rate. But once a death sentence is imposed there, said Richard C. Dieter, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, prosecutors, state and federal courts, the pardon board and the governor are united in moving the process along. “There’s almost an aggressiveness about carrying out executions,” said Mr. Dieter, whose organization opposes capital punishment.

Outside of Texas, even supporters of the death penalty say they detect a change in public attitudes about executions in light of the time and expense of capital litigation, the possibility of wrongful convictions and the remote chance that someone sent to death row will actually be executed.

“Any sane prosecutor who is involved in capital litigation will really be ambivalent about it,” said Joshua Marquis, the district attorney in Clatsop County, Ore., and a vice president of the National District Attorneys Association. He said the families of murder victims suffered needless anguish during what could be decades of litigation and multiple retrials.

“We’re seeing fewer executions,” Mr. Marquis added. “We’re seeing fewer people sentenced to death. People really do question capital punishment. The whole idea of exoneration has really penetrated popular culture.”

As a consequence, Mr. Dieter said, “we’re simply not regularly using the death penalty as a country.”

Over the last three years, the number of executions in Texas has been relatively constant, averaging 23 per year, but the state’s share of the number of total executions nationwide has steadily increased as the national totals have dropped, from 32 percent in 2005 to 45 percent in 2006 to 62 percent in 2007.

The death penalty developments that have dominated the news in recent months are unlikely to have anything like the enduring consequences of Texas’ vigorous commitment to capital punishment.

A Supreme Court case concerns how to assess the constitutionality of lethal injection protocols. While it is possible that states may have to revise the ways they execute people, executions will almost certainly resume soon after the court’s decision, which is expected by June.

Similarly, New Jersey’s abolition of the death penalty last week and Gov. Jon Corzine’s decision to empty death row of its eight prisoners is almost entirely symbolic. New Jersey has not executed anyone since 1963.

And while the total number of executions in 2007 was low, it would have been similar to those in recent years but for the moratorium, if extrapolated to a full year.

There do seem to be slight stirrings suggesting that other states might follow New Jersey. Two state legislative bodies — the House in New Mexico and the Senate in Montana — passed bills to abolish capital punishment, and in Nebraska, the unicameral legislature came within one vote of doing so.

Texas has followed the rest of the country in one respect: the number of death sentences there has dropped sharply.

In the 10 years ending in 2004, Texas condemned an average of 34 prisoners each year — about 15 percent of the national total. In the last three years, as the number of death sentences nationwide dropped significantly, from almost 300 in 1998 to about 110 in 2007, the number in Texas has dropped along with it, to 13 — or 12 percent.

Indeed, according to a 2004 study by three professors of law and statistics at Cornell published in The Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, Texas prosecutors and juries were no more apt to seek and impose death sentences than those in the rest of the country.

“Texas’ reputation as a death-prone state should rest on its many murders and on its willingness to execute death-sentenced inmates,” the authors of the study, Theodore Eisenberg, John H. Blume and Martin T. Wells, wrote. “It should not rest on the false belief that Texas has a high rate of sentencing convicted murderers to death.”

There is reason to think that the number of death sentences in the state will fall farther, given the introduction of life without the possibility of parole as a sentencing option in capital cases in Texas in 2005. While a substantial majority of the public supports the death penalty, that support drops significantly when life without parole is included as an alternative.

Once an inmate is sent to death row, however, distinctive features of the Texas justice system kick in.

“Execution dates here, uniquely, are set by individual district attorneys,” Professor Dow said. “In no other state would the fact that a district attorney strongly supports the death penalty immediately translate into more executions.”

Texas courts, moreover, speed the process along, said Jordan M. Steiker, a law professor at the University of Texas who has represented death-row inmates.

“It’s not coincidental that the debate over lethal injections had traction in other jurisdictions but not in Texas,” Professor Steiker said. “The courts in Texas have generally not been very solicitous of constitutional claims.”

Indeed, the Supreme Court has repeatedly rebuked the state and the federal courts that hear appeals in Texas capital cases, often in exasperated language suggesting that those courts are actively evading Supreme Court rulings.

The last execution before the Supreme Court imposed a de facto moratorium happened in Texas, and in emblematic fashion. The presiding judge on the state’s highest court for criminal matters, Judge Sharon Keller, closed the courthouse at its regular time of 5 p.m. and turned back an attempt to file appeal papers a few minutes later, according to a complaint in a wrongful-death suit filed in federal court last month.

The inmate, Michael Richard, was executed that evening.

Judge Keller, in a motion to dismiss the case filed this month, acknowledged that she alone had the authority to keep the court’s clerk’s office open but said that Mr. Richard’s lawyers could have tried to file their papers directly with another judge on the court.

U.S. Disparity in Executions Grows as Texas Bucks Trend,
NYT,
26.12.2007,
https://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/26/
us/26death.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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