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Death Penalty Issues

"[T]each governments humanity.  It is their sanguinary punishments which corrupt mankind.  In England, the punishment in certain cases is, by hanging, drawing and quartering. . . .  In France . . . the punishments were not less barbarous. . . .  The effect of these cruel spectacles exhibited to the populace, is to destroy tenderness or excite revenge; and by the base and false idea of governing men by terror instead of reason, they become precedents. It is over the lowest class of mankind that government by terror is intended to operate, and it is on  them that it operates to the worst effect.  They . . . inflict in their turn the examples of terror they have been instructed to practice."
--Thomas Paine, The Rights of Man

Note:  We add links to updates with the original news articles reporting death penalty issues, so be sure to scroll down to check for "new news".
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The Death Penalty v. the 8th Amendment

In 1984, the mentally challenged half-brothers from Robeson County, NC were convicted of the rape and murder of 12-year-old Sabrina Buie the previous year, and were sentenced to death.  The only evidence against them are confessions written by police investigators and signed by the brothers.  Subsequent retrials result in convictions; Henry stays on Death Row while Leon gets life.  In July, 2014, DNA test results link a convicted rapist and killer, Roscoe Artis, to the crime.  At last, on September 2, 2014, the brothers are declared innocent and ordered released from prison.

Glenn Ford, of Shreveport, Louisiana, has been on death row since 1985 for the 1983 murder of a local jeweler.  The Capital Post-Conviction Project of Louisiana's recently filed habeas petition cites new information that another man, Jake Robinson, committed the murder.  Robinson told an informant that he thought by now Ford would have been executed.

UPDATE:  March 11, 2014 -- Glenn Ford, sentenced to death for killing a man whose lawn he used to mow, was not even at the scene of the crime, according to new evidence used to free him from death row this week.  Freed after 30 years on Death Row.

An Arizona mother who had spent 22 years on death row after being found guilty of murdering her four-year-old son is set to be released.  Debra Jean Milke's guilty verdict was overturned earlier 2013 - but now prosecutors have failed to file an expected appeal, meaning she will be released in just weeks.

Click HERE to read Ingo Hasselbach's article about Debra Jean's case, published in the first issue of Justice Denied.

The Maryland legislature voted on March 15, 2013 to abolish the death penalty, which would make the state the sixth in as many years to end capital punishment.  The 82 to 56 vote in the House of Delegates, which followed two hours of debate, reflected a growing unease among lawmakers in Maryland and across the country that the risk of putting an innocent person to death remains too great with the death penalty in place.  The legislation, which had already passed the Senate, goes to the desk of Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), who claimed a long-sought victory. Aides said he will sign the bill in coming weeks.

Since the first time DNA evidence helped overcome a conviction in 1989. more than 300 people have been cleared of crimes they did not commit with the help of such evidence.  Here is a look at cases where DNA evidence has helped overturn convictions of those awaiting execution on Death Row.

A false confession, with the details fed to him by police, was all it took to send Damon Thibodeaux to Louisiana's death row.  It's just that easy to convict -- and kill -- an innocent person.  Fifteen years later, thanks to the unusual cooperation between the prosecution and defense investigators, the absence of DNA spared Damon a lethal injection and released him to the arms of his family.

A study conducted by U.S. Ninth Circuit Judge Arthur L. Alarcon--who prosecuted capital cases when he was a Los Angeles County deputy district attorney in the 1950s--and a Loyola Law School professor, Paula M. Mitchell,  revealed that California had spent $4 billion on the death penalty while carrying out 13 executions since 1978, when the punishment was revived.  Gil Garcetti, a former Los Angeles district attorney, who had sought numerous death penalty convictions, immediately and publicly renounced his support for capital punishment.  Also, highly publicized exonerations of death-row inmates over the years led Garcetti to wonder if some of the inmates awaiting execution in California may have been wrongfully convicted.

Ten years ago, a Jackson, Mississippi jury convicted Jeff Havard of brutally raping and killing six-month-old Chloe Britt while he was caring for her, and he was sentenced to death.  After all, pathologist Dr. Steven Hayne testified the baby had been raped, and police said she was "ripped from end to end."  Turns out, no, that's not what happened.  Baby Chloe was not sexually abused; she died because of a tragic fall.  But Jeff Havard still awaits execution.

At a hearing on January 3, 2012 that left prosecutors speechless, Delaware Superior Court Judge John A. Parkins overturned the conviction and death sentence against Jermaine Marlow Wright for the 1991 slaying of liquor store clerk Phillip Seifert.  Judge Parkins said he knew that the decision was likely to cause the family of Mr. Seifer further anguish and frustration. "Nonetheless, the court stands as a guardian of the constitutional rights of every citizen, including those of the defendant," Parkins said, "and that is what this court has done today."

Two men who have spent a combined 44 years on death row in southern states have some reason for hope as the new year approaches. Attorneys for the men, including members of the New York bar who have donated hundreds of hours to their cases, finally have persuaded appellate courts to overturn their convictions.

The former director of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, who as warden at San Quentin reluctantly oversaw four executions, will become the executive director of the nonprofit Death Penalty Focus.

In April, 2007, an infant suffered cardiac arrest shortly after arriving at the day care operated by Lisa Randall in suburban Phoenix, Arizona.  He was rushed to the hospital but died a few days later.  In November of that year, Lisa Randall was indicted by a grand jury for murder, based on the testimony of pediatricians who said the baby died due to blunt force trauma to his head.  When former DA Andrew Thomas faced stiff opposition in his bid for re-election, he upped the ante by seeking the death penalty against Lisa.  He lost, but Lisa still faced being sentenced to death.  Finally, three years after the child's death, two defense experts and a prosecution expert agreed that the child died from natural causes, and the charges against Lisa Randall were dismissed.

The U.S. Supreme Court on June 14, 2010 sympathized with a Florida death row inmate whose lawyer missed a deadline for his habeas appeal and failed to communicate with him for years despite numerous written pleas for help.  By a 7-2 vote in Holland v. Florida, the Court said that the lawyer's misconduct may entitle convicted murderer Albert Holland to "equitable tolling," or a delay in what otherwise would have been a one-year statute of limitation for filing the appeal under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996.  The lawyer's failures, wrote Justice Stephen Breyer for the majority, "seriously prejudiced a client who thereby lost what was likely his single opportunity for habeas review."

Hank Skinner, who was eating his last meal when the justices stayed his execution in March, says a Texas prosecutor is violating his civil rights by not turning over DNA evidence that Skinner says will prove his innocence. The high court agreed Monday to hear the case.  Skinner was convicted and sentenced to death in 1995 for killing his live-in girlfriend, Twila Busby, and her two mentally impaired adult sons. Skinner said he was passed out on the couch the night of the slayings after consuming alcohol and Xanax and could not have committed the murders.  In hearing Skinner's case, the nine justices could decide whether prisoners are empowered to file federal civil-right lawsuits to force DNA testing after their convictions. The decision could give hundreds of prisoners a powerful legal avenue involving DNA evidence, legal experts say.

UPDATE:  June 15, 2012 - So Hank Skinner finally gets the Texas Attorney General to agree to the DNA testing the state has fought for over a decade, and what happens?  Texas announces that it has lost the key evidence.  David Protess, President of the Chicago Innocence Project, has some ideas where they can look for the bloody windbreaker.

A Houston judge on Thursday granted a pretrial motion declaring the death penalty unconstitutional, saying he believes innocent people have been executed.  “Based on the moratorium (on the death penalty) in Illinois, the Innocence Project and more than 200 people being exonerated nationwide, it can only be concluded that innocent people have been executed,” state District Judge Kevin Fine said. “It's safe to assume we execute innocent people.”

American Law Institute, which created the intellectual framework for the modern capital justice system almost 50 years ago, has pronounced its project a failure and walked away from it.  The ALI provided the only intellectually respectable support for the death penalty system in the United States.  The death penalty, the ALI has decided, is irretrievably broken.

On Tuesday, July 07, 2009,  43-year-old Ronald Kitchen,  who confessed under extreme physical duress to a taking part in five murders 21 years ago, was exonerated and freed from prison.  The confession was extracted by Detective Michael Kill, who worked under Commander Jon Burge. Kitchen spent nine of his 21 years behind bars on death row.

The Ohio Innocence Project says Kevin Keith did not kill three people, including a 7-year-old girl, and wound three others in a 1994 shooting in Bucyrus.  The group, which has asked the Ohio Supreme Court to consider Keith's claim of innocence, generally steers clear of death-penalty cases because inmates already have attorneys making their case. In this one, Keith's public defenders say there is another suspect and that a police detective lied about a witness' statement.

UPDATE: 4/6/10 - Innocence groups from around the country have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case of an Ohio man sentenced to die in September for fatally shooting three people.  Evidence that could clear Keith has never been heard.  Ohio is determined to kill him.

UPDATE: 9/2/10 - Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland cited "questions about evidence" and commuted Kevin Keith's sentence from death to life without parole.  Those "questions about evidence" prove innocence.  Kevin Keith deserves a new trial.

Opponents of the death penalty looking to exonerate wrongly accused prisoners say their efforts have been hobbled by the dwindling size of America’s newsrooms, and particularly the disappearance of investigative reporting at many regional papers.  In the past, lawyers opposed to the death penalty often provided the broad outlines of cases to reporters, who then pursued witnesses and unearthed evidence.  Now, the lawyers complain, they have to do more of the work themselves and that means it often doesn’t get done. They say many fewer cases are being pursued by journalists, after a spate of exonerations several years ago based on the work of reporters.

Owen Barber pulled the trigger ten times and told a Northern Virginia jury that his friend Justin Wolfe had hired him to do it. Barber cut a deal with prosecutors and got 28 years. Wolfe got the death penalty. Did Barber tell the truth—or is an innocent man awaiting execution?

UPDATE - 5/11/09:  The US Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit on May 11th, 2009 ordered a federal district-court judge to re-examine Barber’s recantation. The judge, Raymond A. Jackson of the federal district court for eastern Virginia, previously had dismissed the new evidence in the case, but a three-judge panel found errors in that decision. While the panel did not order Jackson to hold an evidentiary hearing, it noted that Barber’s testimony was key to Wolfe’s prosecution—a fact that it said “strongly suggests” the need for a fresh investigation.

UPDATE:  In 2011, a federal judge overturned Justin's conviction, ruling that prosecutors engaged in such egregious misconduct that he should not be retried.  But the Commonwealth appealed, and in May, 2013, a 3-judge panel of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 split, ruled Justin can be retried.  Dissenting Judge Stephanie Thacker wrote:  "The Commonwealth’s misconduct has continued far too long, and the cumulative misconduct permeating this case has tainted it in such a way that it is doubtful Wolfe will receive a fair and just trial. Enough is enough."

Gov. Bill Richardson, who has supported capital punishment, signed legislation to repeal New Mexico's death penalty, calling it the "most difficult decision in my political life."  The new law replaces lethal injection with a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. The repeal takes effect on July 1, and applies only to crimes committed after that date.  "Regardless of my personal opinion about the death penalty, I do not have confidence in the criminal justice system as it currently operates to be the final arbiter when it comes to who lives and who dies for their crime," Richardson said.

In an 11th-hour move, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals halted the January 27, 2009 execution of Texan Larry Swearingen.  Four forensic pathologists , including the medical examiner who testified against Swearingen at his capital murder trial, now say that Swearingen was in jail when Melissa Trotter, 19, was strangled and left in a national forest near Conroe in East Texas.  The 5th Circuit did not address his innocence claim, and the Montgomery County DA remains intent on seeing Larry executed, regardless of evidence of his innocence.

UPDATE:  2/26/12 - 
US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has opined that “[m]ere factual innocence is no reason not to carry out a death sentence properly reached.”  "Mere" factual innocence was the problem for Leonel Torres Herrera, who was executed in Texas in 1993 because, although he had compelling evidence of innocence, he had received a "fair trial."  Now Larry Swearingen faces the same problem.  He can prove he was in jail for traffic offenses when the murder he's been sentenced to die for was committed, but he got a "fair trial."  Does the US Supreme Court still value form over human life?

DNA tests have excluded Charles as the donor of skin found under the fingernails of Edna Franklin, the 72-year-old North Houston, TX grandmother he was convicted of beating and stabbing to death.  Charles is scheduled to die, and Texas has the most efficient death machine in the country.  Is innocence enough to spare him from the executioner?

Since he arrived on Texas’ Death Row in 1999, Michael Roy Toney, of Lake Worth, has proclaimed his innocence to anyone he thought might listen. Nine and a half years later, he has everyone’s attention.  The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has overturned Toney’s capital murder conviction because Tarrant County prosecutors withheld evidence favorable to his defense. Among the 14 documents were records that cast doubt on the testimony of two key witnesses against him.

Eighty-six years after Colin Ross of Melbourne, Australia was hanged for the rape and murder of 12-year-old Alma Tirtschke, he has been officially pardoned.  The pseudo-science of microscopic hair comparison put Colin on the gallows, despite his protestations of innocence.  Recent tests show that the hairs found at Colin's home, said to be from young Alma, weren't even from the same head.

After nearly 15 years in prison, most of which were spent on death row, Levon Junior "Bo" Jones of Kenansville, NC is now a free man -- and saying he is innocent of the crime that put him there.  His release comes as states ramp up executions in the wake the U.S. Supreme Court decision approving lethal injection.

The bologna and cheese sandwich that Glen Chapman savored Wednesday could have been his last meal.  Instead, it was his first as a free man after almost 14 years on death row.  Chapman, 40, was released from Central Prison on Wednesday after Catawba County, North Carolina District Attorney James Gaither Jr. dismissed murder charges against him.

Related: 
A day after Glen Edward Chapman was freed from prison, the State Bureau of Investigation agreed to review allegations of perjury and obstruction of justice against Dennis Rhoney. The former Hickory police detective led the 1992 double-murder investigation that resulted in Chapman's convictions.  Ex-Cop Who Led Discredited Case Probed

The long-awaited decision handed down in Mumia Abu-Jamal's federal appeal weighed in at 118 pages but changed nothing as the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court's ruling that upheld Abu-Jamal's conviction but overturned his death sentence because of potentially confusing jury instructions.

The California Supreme Court upheld the death penalty for a man whose professed innocence was bolstered late in 2007 by the discovery of a gun buried in mud in a Modesto field. Though unanimously rejecting Dennis Lawley's constitutional challenge of his conviction and death sentence, the state high court said he could once again try to prove his innocence by presenting a new petition based on the discovery of the gun.

In a 44 - 36 vote largely along party lines, the New Jersey State Assembly on December 13, 2007 took the final legislative step toward abolishing the death penalty in New Jersey and replacing it with life in prison without parole.  Gov. Jon Corzine has said he will sign the bill, S-171, which the Senate passed on December 10, 2007 without amendment by a vote of 21-16, also along strict party lines.


Link:

THOMAS ARTHUR FIGHT FOR LIFE
Thomas Arthur, Alabama death row inmate Z-427 has sat on death row for 20 years for a crime he did not commit.  The State of Alabama will execute another innocent person 09-27-2007 unless you reach out and act NOW to help fight for his life. Time is running out!! 

UPDATE:  On 9/27/07, Alabama Gov. Bob Riley issued a 45-day stay for Arthur's execution, solely to tinker with the death process.  Gov. Riley continues to refuse to allow DNA testing that could confirm Arthur's guilt or innocence.

UPDATE:  On 12/5/07, the United States Supreme Court granted a stay of execution pending his application for a write of certiorari.

Link:

What do you get when you take one ambitious prosecutor, four cold cases, a couple of cooperative snitches and four defendants with compelling innocence claims?  You get three death sentences and one life without parole.

“Max Soffar has been on Texas’s death row for almost three decades for a crime he did not commit,” David Dow, Head of the Texas Innocence Network and one of Soffar’s attorneys, told the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. “We urge the court to do the right thing and strike down Mr. Soffar’s wrongful conviction. Too many innocent people have been executed as a result of mistakes in the system. The risk of executing an innocent man is unacceptable in a just society.”

A Texas judge has sided with an anti-death penalty group seeking to find out whether an inmate was wrongly executed, ruling that officials must keep a 1-inch (2.5-centimeter)-long piece of hair that was a key piece of evidence in the man's murder trial almost two decades ago.  The Innocence Project wants to know whether Claude Jones was wrongly executed in December 2000. Jones was the last of a record 40 inmates executed in America's busiest capital punishment state that year and the last of 152 inmates put to death during now-President George W. Bush's time as Texas governor.

UPDATE:  11/11/10 - DNA tests confirm that the hair belonged to the victim, not to Claude Jones.

Kennedy Brewer of Macon, Mississippi, a mildly retarded, Black defendant, was convicted of raping and killing a 3-year-old girl and sentenced to death in 1992.  In 2002, he was cleared by DNA, but he wasn't released.  He has spent the past 5 years in the local jail, awaiting retrial.  Because you can bet, the local authorities plan to get another conviction and another death sentence.  The Sheriff says he can't look for a DNA match because Mississippi doesn't have a DNA database -- which is news to the state's crime lab director.  The prosecutor will bring back his star witness, dentist Dr. Michael West, whose bite mark testimony has been disproven by DNA in other cases, and who resigned from professional forensic dentistry groups to avoid expulsion.  Prosecutors are so sure they're right about Kennedy's guilt that they're willing to bet his life on it.

UPDATE:  2/9/08 - Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks, both convicted of killing 3-year-old girls in Noxubee County, Mississippi, and both cleared by DNA, are slated to be released.  What did it take to reach this point?  Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood had to take the prosecutions of these murders away from the Noxubee County DA, something almost unheard of in the state's history.  The Attorney General has charged Albert Johnson with the murders of both children.

The pending execution of Troy Anthony Davis, scheduled to take place on July 17, 2007, is raising serious questions about his guilt — and about the Newt Gingrich-era federal law that has limited his appeals options and prevented him, say his supporters, from getting a fair shake.

UPDATE:  On July 16, 2007, the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles granted Troy Davis a 90-day reprieve.

UPDATE: On April 16, 2009, in a 2-1 opinion, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Davis could not establish by clear and convincing evidence a jury would not have found him guilty. Tom Dunn, one of Davis’ lawyers, said he was disappointed, but would fight on. “Troy is innocent and this struggle is far from over.”

UPDATE:  May 20, 2009 --
Twenty-seven former judges, justices and prosecutors are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to allow death-row inmate Troy Davis’ innocence claims to be heard in federal court.  Group asks Supreme Court to send death row case back to federal court.

UPDATE:  August 17, 2009 -- U.S. Supreme Court orders new hearing for Troy Davis

UPDATE:  August 25, 2010 -- Davis failed to prove innocence, rules federal judge

UPDATE: November 5, 2010 -- A federal appeals court panel deflected a condemned Georgia inmate's appeal of a ruling that denied him a new trial in a decades-old murder case, saying that the appeal should have gone to the U.S. Supreme Court instead.

UPDAE:  September 22, 2011 -- In spite of substantive doubt about his guilt, in spite of a stunning lack of physical evidence, in spite of pleas from the pope, former President Carter, former FBI Director William Sessions and hundreds of thousands of people from around the world -- in spite, the State of Georgia killed Troy Davis.

A judge in Oklahoma City has dismissed murder charges against Curtis McCarty, who was sentenced to death three times in the 1982 slaying of a teenager -- convictions that were based largely on testimony from a police department chemist who was fired for fraud and misconduct in 2001.  Curtis was prosecuted by Oklahoma County DA Robert H. Macy, who sent 73 people to death row, more than any other prosecutor in the U.S.  Macy has publicly said that he believes executing an innocent person is a sacrifice worth making in order to keep the death penalty in the United States.

Consider the pitiful case of Cesar Fierro, who has been on death row since 1980 for the murder and robbery of El Paso taxi driver Nicholas Castanon.  Fierro, who was not considered a suspect until months after the February 1979 murder, was convicted on the basis of two things: the shaky testimony of an alleged co-conspirator and his own confession, which many now conclude was coerced.  Fierro, whose landlord testified the accused was home on the night of the killing, confessed to the crime because he was told his mother and stepfather would be tortured by the police in a jail in Ciudad Juárez, where they lived. After his parents were released from the Juárez jail, Fierro recanted. Without that confession, Fierro would not be sitting on death row today.  The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled no harm had been caused by the extorted confession.

Wilbert Coffin was hanged on February 10, 1956 in Quebec, Canada, for the murders of three American hunters.  Now the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted has taken up the battle for Wilbert Coffin's exoneration, a battle that gained momentum this year. In September, the federal justice department's Criminal Conviction Review Group began poring over trial records to determine if there are grounds for setting aside Coffin's conviction or referring the case to an appeal court for review. The review is expected to last about a year.  It's believed to be the first time the government has considered reopening a murder case posthumously.

On the day a state death penalty study panel considered the risks of executing innocent people, opponents of capital punishment released a report documenting the cases of 25 New Jerseyans who spent time in prison for serious crimes they did not commit.  The report, "Innocence Lost in New Jersey," could fuel already-impassioned arguments against execution. New Jerseyans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, which sponsored the report, is among the groups arguing that the risks of putting innocent people to death are too great to continue to impose the death sentence.

Ruben Cantu, 17 at the time of his crime, had no previous convictions, but a San Antonio prosecutor had branded him a violent thief, gang member and murderer who ruthlessly shot one victim nine times with a rifle before emptying at least nine more rounds into the only eyewitness — a man who barely survived to testify.  Four days after a Bexar County jury delivered its verdict, Cantu wrote this letter to the residents of San Antonio: "My name is Ruben M. Cantu and I am only 18 years old. I got to the 9th grade and I have been framed in a capital murder case."  A dozen years after his execution, a Houston Chronicle investigation suggests that Cantu, a former special-ed student who grew up in a tough neighborhood on the south side of San Antonio, was likely telling the truth.

The Bexar County district attorney's investigation into a possibly wrongful execution had barely started early in 2006, but already DA investigators were scoffing at the three witnesses who contend Texas sent an innocent man named Ruben Cantu to his death.  The DA denies bias.

Cory Maye was convicted of murder in the 2001 death of Prentiss, Mississippi police officer Ron W. Jones during a drug raid on the other half of Maye's duplex. Maye has said he thought that the intruders were burglars and did not realize they were police. He pleaded not guilty at his trial, citing self-defense. Nevertheless, Maye was convicted of murder and was sentenced to death. On September 21, 2006, the death sentence was overturned by Judge Michael Eubanks, and Maye was sentenced to life in prison.  His case attracted little attention until late 2005, when Reason magazine senior editor and police misconduct researcher Radley Balko brought it to light in the article we have reposted here.  Maye's supporters say his conviction and sentence raise issues about the right to self-defense, police conduct in the War on Drugs, and racial and social inequities in Mississippi. They have also raised questions about whether he has received competent legal representation.

UPDATE:  On November 17, 2009, the Mississippi Court of Appeals ruled that Maye's constitutional right of vicinage was violated when Judge Eubanks refused to return the case to Jefferson Davis County, where the alleged crime occurred. The court reversed Maye's conviction and remanded the case for a new trial.


Derrick Jamison has been released from Ohio's Death Row.  His 1985 murder conviction was overturned by two federal courts, which ruled he was denied a fair trial by prosecutors who withheld evidence that might have cleared him.  Jamison is the 119th innocent person to be freed from death row since 1973 and the first to be exonerated in 2005.

In 2002, Broward (Florida) U.S. District Judge Norman C. Roettger, who died in 2003, granted Kelley a new trial. State prosecutors said they could not retry Kelley, clearing the way for his release from prison.  But a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta overturned Roettger's decision and reinstated Kelley's conviction. Chief Justice Gerald Tjoflat wrote the opinion.  Now the only thing standing between Kelley, 62, and a lethal shot of potassium chloride is the petition to the U.S. Supreme Court by Tribe -- a legal giant who represented Al Gore in the recount battle after the 2000 election.

UPDATE: January 29, 2009 - The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear Kelley's appeal.  He remains on Florida's Death Row.


There's a reason adolescents are overrepresented in every form of reckless behavior. Sometimes they lack the judgment, the impulse control, the maturity and the character to resist harmful peer pressure. 
Every parent knows this. So do most legislators. That's why young people are prohibited from serving on juries, voting, marrying, serving in the armed forces and drinking.  The U.S. Supreme Court now knows this, too. In a landmark ruling Tuesday, the court found that it is unconstitutional to put to death those who were under age 18 at the time of their crime. A 5-4 majority of justices acknowledged what common sense already tells us: Adolescents inherently are different from adults.

John Spirko is hard to like.  He's lived a life of crime that makes him virtually incredible.  But he says he's innocent of the murder of Betty Jane Mottinger, a crime that put him on Ohio's death row.  An investigation by the Cleveland Plain Dealer strongly supports Spirko's claim that he did not commit this crime.

Click HERE to read Bob Payne's full series about John Spirko at the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

UPDATE:  Ohio governor commutes Spirko death sentence to life without parole.

Conviction Reversed
Ken Richey's Death Penalty and Conviction Tossed

The American Dream that Died in a Death Row Cell

December 20, 2007
Kenny Richey to walk free after plea deal

More About Kenny Richey's Case
Ken Richey

Colombus Grove, Ohio
Complete transcript of Frontline Scotland'sKilling Time profile of Kenny Richey's case!

Last year, former Pima County, AZ DA Kenneth Peasley was disbarred for intentionally presenting false evidence in death-penalty cases—something that had never before happened to an American prosecutor. In a 1992 triple-murder case, Peasley introduced testimony that he knew to be false; three men were convicted and sentenced to die. Peasley was convinced that the three were guilty, but he also believed that the evidence needed a push. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, since the mid-nineteen-seventies a hundred and seventeen death-row inmates have been released. Defense lawyers, often relying on DNA testing, have shown repeatedly how shoddy crime-lab work, lying informants, and mistaken eyewitness identifications, among other factors, led to unjust convictions. But DNA tests don’t reveal how innocent people come to be prosecuted in the first place. The career of Kenneth Peasley -- and the case of Martin Soto-Fong -- do.

In the 1989 nationally syndicated television program on the case, A Matter of Life and Death, television journalist Ike Pappas noted: ``In 1975, Tommy Zeigler was attempting to clean up corruption right in his hometown of Winter Garden, Florida. He was helpful in shutting down the old Edgewater Hotel, a center of prostitution and drug dealing. But he was also trying to gather information on other illegal activities such as gun running and, most importantly, loan sharking. The loan sharks made a fortune letting [black] migrant workers buy groceries on credit at an interest rate of 520 percent per year. And Tommy Zeigler alleges that certain members of the Winter Garden police force were in on the action.''

On Christmas Eve that year, there was a multiple murder at the Zeigler family furniture store. Zeigler was charged with the murders. Maurice Paul, who openly opposed Ziegler's efforts, was the trial judge who presided over Zeigler's fate.  Paul overrode the jury's recommendation and sentenced Zeigler to death.  Zeigler has maintained his innocence.   Now DNA evidence offers Zeigler the hope of a very different future Christmas.

OF NOTE:  Phillip Finch's landmark book on this case, Fatal Flaw: A True Story of Malice and Murder in a Small Southern Town,
is once again available.  Fatal Flaw can be purchased in printed copy or may be downloaded free of charge from the website of the publisher, Libertary.com.  Click HERE for more information.

The Death Penalty on Trial
The Death Penalty on Trial: Crisis in American Justice
by Bill Kurtis

Bill Kurtis, the A&E host and Kansas booster, has had an uncomfortably up-close view of the worst in human nature for much of his career. But the man who covered the Manson family trials has lately been sickened by the idea that our justice system has sent innocent men to the death chamber.

“Look, I was for the death penalty,” Kurtis said in a telephone interview, “but looking at these cases and the rapidly increasing number of exonerations, there are just too many possibilities for error.” In the state of Illinois, where Kurtis Productions is based, 13 men were set free in the late 1990s after research — some of it done as a class project by journalism students — uncovered grave errors in their cases.


Click HERE to read the rest of this review by Aaron Barnhart of the Kansas City Star.

Strapped to a gurney in Texas' death chamber in February, 2004, just moments from his execution for setting a fire that killed his three daughters, Cameron Todd Willingham declared his innocence one last time.  "I am an innocent man, convicted of a crime I did not commit," Willingham said angrily. "I have been persecuted for 12 years for something I did not do."  Four fire cause and origin experts -- Gerald Hurst, John Lentini, John DeHaan and Kendall Ryland -- agree.  "There's nothing to suggest to any reasonable arson investigator that this was an arson fire," said Hurst, a Cambridge University-educated chemist who has investigated scores of fires in his career. "It was just a fire."

UPDATE
(In pdf format - Includes Report and Supporting Documentation)

UPDATE - August 15, 2008
Texas Panel to Probe Findings That Led to Willingham's Execution

UPDATE - September 14, 2010
Reconstituted Texas Panel Set to Whitewash Willingham Execution

UPDATE - January 8, 2011
Panel Finally Hears Arson Experts


A Superior Court judge has stayed the December 3, 2004 execution of a Greensboro man who was convicted of murder based largely on the testimony of his co-defendants, with no physical evidence to link him to the crime.  In fact, there isn't even a body.

UPDATE:  On January 30, 2006, Charles Walker won the right to a new trial.

Thelma Younkin used an oxygen tube to help her breathe. Her killer used it as a murder weapon.  n November 1991, the frail, 65-year-old Younkin was strangled with the tube, bitten and raped in her room at the Post Park Motel along a grim stretch of Yuma, Arizona.  A fellow resident of the low-budget motel, Bobby Lee Tankersley, was convicted and sent to Arizona's Death Row for the attack, based largely on the testimony of a forensic dentist who said he had matched Tankersley's teeth to bite marks on Younkin's body.  But on December 6, 2004, the same judge who sentenced Tankersley to death will hold a hearing that promises to showcase the problems of forensic science in America's courts, from the legacy of discredited experts to new DNA tests exposing the questionable science behind many other disciplines, including bite-mark comparison.

UPDATE:  Bobby Lee Tankersley has been granted a new sentencing hearing.  Bogus Bite Mark Evidence Cited.

Recently discovered DNA evidence proves that House did not rape Carolyn Muncey immediately before she was killed in 1985 in Union County, north of Knoxville, Tennessee.  Other evidence has surfaced that might show that House did not rape or kill Muncey.  While Tennessee's judiciary argues over how many jurors can dance on the head of a pin, Paul Gregory House remains on death row.

UPDATE - 5/12/09:  Charges dropped against former TN death row inmate

[pdf format - use Acrobat Reader]
Can we rely on forensic science as the arbiter of truth in the courtroom?  In his latest investigation for Seed Magazine, writer Simon Cooper exposes a case of corrupted science at the heart of our justice system -- and the forensic failures that put a man on Tennessee's death row. 


Wilton Dedge of Port St. John, Florida has been freed after 22 years in prison for a rape he did not commit.  His conviction rested on the word of notorious snitch Clarence Zacke, who got a sweetheart deal from prosecutors in exchange for lying under oath.  When DNA excluded Dedge, a Florida Assistant Attorney General told the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals that even if she knew Dedge to be innocent, it would not matter.  Zacke provided the only evidence in Gerald Stano's murder case, and subsequently recanted it.  Stano was executed in 1998 anyway, still insisting he was innocent.  But in the words of the Florida Assistant Attorney General, "That is not the issue".

Once condemned to die by lethal injection for the 1997 murder of a Bridge City, LA grocer, Ryan walked out of court a free man.  Prosecutors dropped all charges after DNA cleared Ryan and implicated another man.

The Massachusetts Plan for an Infallible Death Penalty
Commission Suggests Death Penalty Safeguards DAs Rap Death Penalty Plan
The Island of Misfit Cops
22 Examples of MA Justice

"The premise is interesting that scientific evidence is more reliable than other evidence. . . . It would be nice if it were true," said Simon A. Cole, an assistant professor of criminology, law and society at the University of California at Irvine. "In the cases of wrongful conviction that we know about, scientific evidence is a very significant factor."  Massachusetts Gov. Romney believes in the myth of infallible science, and he's willing to bet other people's lives on it.  Foolproof Forensics


Nothing about the double homicide seemed to finger Tyrone Noling. Even the former sheriff doesn't believe he should be on death row.

UPDATE:  April 2, 2011 -
A judge has refused to allow DNA testing that could prove Tyrone's innocence.  The Ohio Innocence Project plans to appeal to the Ohio State Supreme Court. 

Get all the updates at TyroneNoling.com

The word of one witness put Michael Mordenti on Florida's Death Row.  What the jury didn't know could kill him.

UPDATE:  The Florida Supreme Court granted Michael Mordenti a new trial, which was conducted in August, 2005.  Mordenti was again found guilty.  He was sentenced to life in prison with parole eligibility after 25 years and credit for the 14 years he had already served.  He was released from prison in July, 2008.

In 2001 at condemned prisoner Philip Workman's clemency hearing, Shelby Co., TN Medical Examiner O. C. Smith testified that his microscopic analysis showed that Workman's bullet was the one that felled a police officer in 1981.  Clemency was denied.  Soon after, Smith was found outside his office, chained to a stairwell, wrapped in barbed wire with a bomb hanging around his neck. He told officers that an attacker had thrown a caustic substance in his face.  Now the forensic pathologist has been indicted, charged with staging the elaborate and extremely dangerous "abduction".  Can we talk credibility here?

Shelby Co., TN ME Indicted
Clarification Sought in Workman Case

Tennessean
Editorial:  A Review in Workman Case

A day after a federal appeals court spared the life of convicted killer Kevin Cooper and ordered further testing of evidence, the death row inmate's defense team called for an independent investigation of the case.  The appeals court ordered testing to determine whether a blood drop left outside Doug and Peg Ryen's bedroom had been treated with a preservative known as EDTA, commonly used to take calcium out of solutions, which could indicate the evidence was deliberately planted.  Reliability of Evidence

When 80-year-old Anna Knaze was robbed and beaten to death in 1992 in Johnstown, PA, Det. Richard Rok decided Ernest Simmons had done it.  Problem was, he had no evidence.  Rok recruited Simmons' girlfriend to secretly tape record conversations with him, but instead of confessing, Simmons denied committing the crime 19 times.  Finally, Rok was able to convince another elderly robbery victim to identify Simmons as her attacker and claim he threatened to give her "the same thing Anna Knaze got".  She lied -- she never saw her assailant's face.  But Rok got the conviction he wanted.  Ernest Simmons Got the Death Penalty

And what about Det. Rok?  Over the years he was accused of
assaulting suspects, conducting searches without warrants and pushing a witness to make false identifications.  He's in Federal Prison Now

In May, 1988 Jason Derrick was convicted of murdering grocer Rama Sharma in Pasco County, Florida and sentenced to death.  There were no eyewitnesses, no weapon, no physical evidence whatsoever connecting Derrick to the crime -- just the testimony of the original suspect and a jailhouse snitch.  Now another man has made statements implicating himself, and Derrick will get a hearing in March, 2004.  A Life Hangs in the Balance

Death sentences are continuing their descent in the United States, according to a Washington, D.C.-based group that shows numbers falling by more than 50 percent over the last five years. The national trend is reflected in California, where James Anderson, chair of the California District Attorneys' Association's committee on the death penalty, says he has witnessed "creeping doubt" among jurors. One reason for juror unease: DNA exonerations. Death Takes a Holiday

In a rare and unusual move, the US Supreme Court stayed Texas' execution of Delma Banks just 10 minutes before he was to be killed.  Only 3 years ago his murder conviction was reversed after the state's witnesses admitted being paid by the prosecution to commit perjury identifying Banks as a killer, but the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated his death sentence.  In Texas, somebody has to die, even if he's innocent.  Banks Lives to Fight Again

When the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of Delma Banks -- a case distinguished by unchecked prosecutorial misconduct, manufactured evidence and suborned perjury -- even conservative justices made clear how appalled they were.  Will SCOTUS Again Just Tweak the Death Machine?

UPDATE: 
On Feb. 24, 2004, the US Supreme Court overturned Delma Banks' death sentence.  The decision means Banks can continue to press his appeals in lower courts.  The Court's decision was based on prosecutorial misconduct, withhold evidence that tended to prove his innocence.  Click HERE to read the full decision.

A May, 2003 Gallup poll showed that 73% of Americans believe at least one innocent person has been executed within the past five years -- yet 60% of those polled think the death penalty is applied fairly.  Small wonder, then, there is such resistance to DNA testing that would answer that question as to two already-executed men who proclaimed their innocence to the end.  When DNA Meets Death Row

A coalition of anti-death-penalty groups yesterday called for a moratorium on capital punishment in Virginia until changes can make it fairer for the accused.  The organizations contend that problems with Virginia's system, from misconduct by prosecutors to limits on appeals, have led to wrongful death sentences and possibly the execution of innocent people.  Stop the Executions

January, 2003:  Had the North Carolina Supreme Court not been compelled to stay his execution, Henry Lee Hunt's life would have ended before the N.C. Actual Innocence Commission began.  Neither the Governor nor the court, or for that matter, the rest of the state, can rely on the validity of Hunt's conviction.  And Justice for All?


September, 2003:  The State of North Carolina remains utterly determined to kill Henry Lee Hunt.  Since 1989, the state has had a sworn confession from one of the four men responsible for the murders for which Hunt was condemned, clearing Hunt of any involvement.  But it took until 2002 for the state to turn it over to Hunt's lawyers.  North Carolina is Going to Execute an Innocent Man

September 13, 2003:  Henry Lee Hunt was executed by the State of North Carolina.


For half of his 42 years, Nicholas J. Yarris has been on death row in Pennsylvania prisons, emphatically telling anyone who would listen that he didn't commit the 1981 abduction, rape and murder of a Delaware County woman for which he was convicted. He now may have scientific evidence that he has been telling the truth from behind bars for more than two decades.  Nick Yarris Cleared by DNA


Jane Eisner of the Philadelphia Inquirer observes, "We acknowledge innocent people are on death row, we acknowledge that sometimes they are killed for crimes they did not commit - yet we believe that this is an acceptable by-product of a punishment that, far as anyone knows, has little deterrent value. Perhaps we believe it's justified as the collateral damage in a war without end."  No Problem Supporting Death Penalty?

Eighteen years after he was sent to death row for a 1984 murder, John Thompson of New Orleans, LA has been found not guilty by a second jury.  Now he is a Free Man  

The Missouri Supreme Court has overturned the conviction of death row inmate Joseph Amrine, who had claimed he was innocent of killing another prisoner 17 years ago.   The Supreme Court, in a 4-3 decision, said Amrine had shown "clear and convincing evidence of actual innocence that undermines confidence" in his conviction.


For the second time in 4 1/2 months, a judge has ordered a new trial for a death row inmate -- this time, Jerry Lee Hamilton -- because prosecutors withheld exculpatory evidence.  The State's Star Witness is the Killer

Read the Raleigh, NC News-Observer's riveting series on the framing of Alan Gell:  Who Killed Allen Ray Jenkins

UPDATE:  Sentenced to die for the murder of a man he had never met, Alan Gell got a new trial when it was learned prosecutors withheld an audio tape of their star witness saying she had to "make up a story" about Jenkin's death.  At Gell's retrial, it took the jury only 2 1/2 hours to return its verdict:  Not Guilty

Damn the DNA -- the State of Ohio says Jerome Campbell has to die

Bloody Shoes and Snitches


The Missouri Supreme Court has overturned the convictions of a man sentenced to death for a double murder six years ago near the Lake of the Ozarks. ``This court's confidence in the fairness of the trial and the reliability of Wolfe's conviction is seriously undermined,'' Judge Richard Teitelman wrote for the state's highest court, which reversed the convictions and ordered a new trial.  Danny Wolfe

All along, Joe D'Ambrosio has said he is innocent.   But since he had no money, no visitors and scant education, insisting on his innocence seemed pointless, almost absurd.   Now, a Catholic priest who heard his story by accident and a veteran public defender who has heard every story in the book think D'Ambrosio is telling the truth, and a federal judge has issued the most sweeping discovery order handed down in a capital case by a judge in Ohio. 

UPDATE: 10/1/08 - In June, 2008, a federal appeals court agreed with the 2006 ruling of U.S. District Judge Kate O'Malley that D'Ambrosio is entitled to a new trial because prosecutors withheld several pieces of evidence that could have exonerated him.  Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Bill Mason announced he will retry Joe in March, 2009.

UPDATE:  1/23/12 - U.S. Supreme Court has refused to consider the state's appeal against Joe D'Ambrosio. The ruling wipes D'Ambrosio's legal slate clean.  He is finally free.  D'Ambrosio wants the prosecutors to be charged with attempted murder.  He says the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office tried to kill him by withholding 10 pieces of evidence at his trial, evidence that could have led to a not-guilty verdict. Instead, D'Ambrosio sat on Ohio's death row for more than 20 years.

Rudolph Holton spent more than 16 years on Florida's death row for a crime he did not commit. On January 24, 2003, Mr. Holton became the 23rd Florida death row inmate to be exonerated since 1973, and the fourth Florida death row inmate exonerated in the last 25 months.  Another Death Row Inmate Exonerated

For nearly 19 years, William Kelley, a thief, bartender, and stagehand from Boston, has lived on Florida's death row, convicted of a hired hit on a millionaire citrus grower in 1966.  Now, he could be about to trade his near-total isolation for the spare bedroom in his brother's Tewksbury split-level, thanks to a federal judge's decision to throw out his conviction. Last fall, US District Judge Norman C. Roettger ordered a new trial, based on ''prosecutorial misconduct'' and the ''deficient'' representation of Kelley's lawyers.  Hope Beckons


Illinois and Wisconsin share a border and similar topography.  The residents share common ethnic roots as well. Wisconsin abolished the death penalty in 1858, sickened by the reality of its single execution in 1851. Illinois remains torn and burdened by a capital punishment system that persists in convicting -- and by reasonable extension, executing -- innocent people.  Although the dairy state has been rocked by unrelenting political scandals over the past year (with more revelations waiting in the wings), Wisconsinites refuse to learn from history -- their own or their neighbor's.
History of the Death Penalty in Illinois
Wisconsin's Death Wish

Gov. George Ryan has pardoned four condemned prisoners -- Aaron Patterson, Madison Hobley, Leroy Orange and Stanley Howard -- who long maintained Chicago police tortured them to confess to murders they did not commit. Men were tortured by Chicago police

Gov. George Ryan of Illinois has said, with regard to death penalty issues, "I'm not sure about anything at this point."  Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn provides 10 things Gov. Ryan can be sure of.

Ernest Willis
Ernest Willis had the bad luck to survive a fatal fire.  Cops didn't like the way he acted afterward.  They had no evidence to support their suspicions: no fingerprints, no bodily fluids, no flammable liquids in the house or on Willis' clothes or body, no witnesses, no motive.  They charged him anyway, kept him drugged through his trial and got a conviction.  Then the appeals courts abandoned him.  Now he waits on death row while his final appeal before execution works its way through federal court.

UPDATE:  DA Wants Ernest Willis Freed from Death Row

The Virginia Supreme Court has refused to allow new DNA testing of evidence left over from the case of executed killer Roger Keith Coleman, ruling that doing so would unduly expand the public's right of access -- foreclosing an answer to the question, Was an Innocent Man Executed?

The Virginia justices look cowardly, and their actions appear political. The state's governor and attorney general have the authority to order new tests on their own, however, and they should.  All Doubt Should Be Absent in Capital Cases

In 1998, Larry Osborne was convicted of killing an elderly Whitley, Kentucky couple and at 17 became the youngest man on that state's Death Row.  The State Supreme Court overturned his conviction in 2001, and a new jury has acquitted him.  102nd Innocent Man Freed from Death Row
  
Roger Coleman of Buchanan County, Virginia was executed in 1992 for the murder of Wanda McCoy.  His conviction rested on shaky evidence and was never reviewed by an appellate court because his lawyer filed one day too late.  A group of newspapers is seeking DNA testing that could either exonerate Coleman or finally establish his guilt.  Will Virginia Attorney General Jerry Kilgore follow his predecessors in opposing the testing?  Is he the advocate he claims to be?  Or just another hack who puts party loyalty over knowing the truth?  Guilt by Association
  
Authorities in Chatom, Alabama did themselves proud last year when they charged a mentally retarded woman, Dianne Tucker,  with helping to kill her sister's newborn baby.  Facing the death penalty, Ms. Tucker pled to manslaughter and was sentenced 15 years in prison.  Now Ms. Tucker has been released because the Victim Never Existed.
  
In its second landmark death penalty ruling within a week, the Supreme Court has ruled that only juries can impose the death penalty.  Court Overturns Judge-Imposed Death Sentences
  
The Supreme Court has abolished the execution of mentally retarded offenders, imposing one of the most significant restrictions on who is liable for the death penalty since the court permitted states to resume capital punishment in 1976. High Court: Executing Mentally Retarded Unconstitutional
  
Senators Russ Feingold and Jon Corzine applaud Maryland Governor Parris Glendening's death penalty moratorium and urge:  Halt Executions Across the Nation.
  
U.S. District Judge Jed S. Rakoff said he was ready to declare the federal death penalty unconstitutional unless the government can quickly explain why so many condemned inmates turn out to be innocent.  Judge has Issues with Death Penalty
  
Illinois Governor's Commission on Capital Punishment

Click HERE for the entire report.

  
100 people have been freed from Death Row because they are innocent of the crimes for which they were condemned.  This reality is lost on Attorney General John Ashcroft.  He thinks he is doing God's perfect work, and he has Faith in Death.
  
In 1988, EPA agent David Delitta was murdered in a Houston, TX street robbery.  The surviving robbery victim helped police work up a composite of the killer, and a detective thought he recognized Anibal Rousseau.  Six months later Rousseau was on Death Row, swift and simple as that.  Except Rousseau didn't commit the crime.  The murder weapon -- in police custody when Anibal was tried -- was traced to another man with a history of robbery and no connection to Rousseau.  But Rousseau is Still On Death Row.
  
In 1985 Frank Lee Smith was convicted of raping and killing an 8 year old girl in Tallahassee, FL.  He spent 14 years on Death Row, protesting his innocence.  He died of cancer on January 30, 2000.  Now DNA has proven that Dead Man was Innocent

Click the logo to visit the companion website to Ofra Bikel's "Requiem for Frank Lee Smith.

  
Annette M. Lamoreaux, East Texas Regional Director of ACLU of Texas, looks at the "terribly, horribly broken" criminal justice system of Harris County, Texas in the wake of the Andrea Yates trial.  Will Someone Not Stop These People?
  
Illinois Gov. George Ryan will review the cases of the more than 160 Death Row inmates in Illinois and consider commuting their sentences, setting the stage for a dramatic follow-up to his 2-year-old moratorium on executions.  Governor May Commute Terms
  
 John W. Byrd Jr. died by injection on February 19, 2002, the first inmate executed since Ohio reinstated the death penalty in 1981 to claim he was innocent.  Journalist, author and private investigator Martin Yant tells us, "Ohio in all probability just executed an innocent man." In Memoriam:  John W. Byrd, Jr.
  
Prosecutors who seek the death penalty often are likelier than others to see capital verdicts reversed, according to a national death penalty study conducted by Columbia University Law School. Capital error rates more than triple when the death-sentencing rate increases from a quarter of the national average to the national average, the study said.  Reforming the Death Penalty
    
Summit County, Ohio prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh took a good look at the evidence against Paul and Karen Stanley, charged with capital murder and arson in the fire that claimed their infant son's life.  The evidence was an electrical short caused the fire, and Paul and Karen Stanley were innocent.  Ms. Walsh dismissed the charges against the Stanleys -- and the state's investigators unleashed their fury against her.  One of those experts bases his arson finding on his experience, claiming he has handled 16,000 fire investigations in the past 21 years.  That's just over 2 fire investigations per day, every single day, no time off.  That's not believable -- it's junk -- and he was willing to bet the lives of two innocent people on it.  Paul and Karen Stanley
  
Since the death penalty was reinstated, 99 people condemned to death were exonerated, some within days of their scheduled executions.  The courts would have allowed many of those executions to proceed. Only luck and the help of strangers saved innocent lives.  The Risk of Executing the Innocent
  
Baltimore County (MD) State's Attorney Sandra A. O'Connor says the only fair way to approach the death penalty is to seek it in all cases that meet the minimum statutory requirement.  This may be legal, but is it right? The Baltimore Sun looks at the mounting number of Baltimore County convictions and death sentences overturned for lack of evidence and prosecutorial misconduct, and suggests: Take a pass on basic discretion
  
The Chicago Tribune's editorial review of the application of the death penalty offers urgently needed remedies.   But these remedies apply not only to Illinois but to all states, and need to be implemented in non-capital cases as well. Fixing Criminal Justice
  
Juan Melendez had been on Florida's death row since the beginning of Ronald Reagan's second term as president. In 1984, he was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death. He has spent seventeen of his fifty years on this planet in prison for a crime he didn't commit. What is especially disturbing about this case is that it appears that there was little doubt about Melendez's innocence from the very beginning.  Dead Man Walking . . . Toward Freedom?
  
Errol Morris' The Thin Blue Line turned the case of Randall Adams into a cause célèbre. The documentary ended with the real cop killer's confession and Adams' exoneration.  After writing his own book about an innocent man's life on death row (Adams vs. Texas) in 1989, Randy dropped out of sight and tried to live "a normal life."  Randy Adams is back, taking on the machinery of the death penalty.  Adams vs. Death Penalty
  
Rudolph J. Gerber retired from the Arizona Court of Appeals in May. He sat on that court for about 13 years. Before that, he was a Superior Court judge for nine years and in the County Attorney's Office for about three years.  So Gerber has seen criminal justice up close and personal. And he says the System is Broken.
  
Have the September 11th attacks set back efforts to abolish the death penalty? Rethinking the Death Penalty
  
A federal judge has found "no rational finder of fact could have found evidence of guilt" against Kevin Wiggins, who spent the last 12 years on Maryland's Death Row.  The key word here is "rational."  Often the crime is on trial, not the defendant.  Kevin Wiggins

Update:  "Why isn't this case of moral concern to the state, or don't you care?" U.S. District Court Chief Judge J. Frederick Motz asked Baltimore, Maryland prosecutors who continue to seek to execute Kevin Wiggins, even after Judge Motz voided Wiggins' conviction and death sentence.  A Moral Vacuum

  
America doesn't have a single death penalty. It has thousands. And each is as arbitrary as that of Danville, Virginia.  Selective Execution

hio Supreme Court Justice Paul Pfeifer is using a pair of Hamilton County cases to underline his ongoing concern over capital punishment. "Prosecutors should be exercising their discretion to look for reasons to spare persons from the death penalty rather than to shoehorn cases into the death penalty scheme," Pfeifer wrote. Pfeifer for Justice 
 
alcolm Rent Johnson, executed in Oklahoma last year, was placed at the murder scene by the testimony of now-disgraced police chemist Joyce Gilchrist, but a police department memo obtained by The Associated Press says some of the scientific evidence she swore to does not exist.  Executed by Lies

Dennis Counterman was convicted of arson and murder for a 1988 house fire in which 3 of his children died.  It now turns out that not only is Dennis innocent of murder, but that no crime even occurred.  Death Penalty for Accidental Fire

Charles Fain was on death row for almost 18 years for the rape and murder of a 9-year-old girl who was snatched off the street in Nampa, Idaho.  DNA tests have excluded him as the perpetrator, making Fain the 96th person released from death row on the basis of actual innocence.  Charles Fain

The coming term of the U.S. Supreme Court is shaping up as the occasion for a major examination of the death penalty.  And, in a reflection of the volatile state of capital punishment policy and politics nationwide, the focus of the Court's inquiry could be shifting dramatically.   Supreme Court Shift

The "swing vote" justice of the U.S. Supreme Court has publicly expressed doubts about capital punishment.  What effect -- if any -- will Justice O'Connor's views have on the death penalty?  Death Penalty Doubts Arise

A recent poll by the Richmond (VA) Times-Dispatch found that half its respondents still believe the death penalty is "necessary."  That attitude is changing, however.  Laurie Goodstein of the New York Times reports that the Death Penalty Falls from Favor as Some Lose Confidence in its Fairness.

In the wake of growing controversy about capital punishment, a federal Innocence Protection Act, which would improve the quality of representation for indigent defendants in capital cases and ensure federal and state inmates access to DNA testing, has garnered more support on its second appearance on Capitol Hill.  Innocent After Proven Guilty

In 1992 the Commonwealth of Virginia executed Roger Coleman on the strength of visual hair comparison and matching (now recognized as worthless) and simple blood typing.  No appellate court ever reviewed Coleman's conviction because his public defender filed the notice of appeal one day late.  Centurion Ministries and the Boston Globe sought DNA tests that would definitively prove Coleman's guilt or establish his innocence.  But Judge Keary R. Williams has ruled that twenty years after the crime, The Public Has No Right to Know

Bumps and potholes are slowing the pace of capital cases on Virginia's once smooth road from death sentence to execution.  Virginia Scrutinizes Death Penalty Cases.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said that accused murderers with good lawyers ``do not get the death penalty.''  She supports a Death Penalty Moratorium.

"Capital punishment is to the rest of all law as surrealism is to realism. It destroys the logic of the profession." 
 ~ Norman Mailer, The Executioner's Song 

Don't miss Robert Sherill's excellent analysis of the death penalty in the U.S.
Death Trip:  The American Way of Execution

Bill Lueders, News Editor of the Madison, Wisconsin Isthmus, considers the effects of the death penalty on innocent prisoners in states that do not conduct executions.  They are Forgotten for Life.


While the Virginia Supreme Court studies changes to the state's draconian 21 day rule that would allow death row inmates to present  evidence of innocence -- like DNA -- the Virginia Attorney General has vowed to fight a federal judge's order that death row inmate Brian Lee Cherrix get DNA testing.  The AG says the judge Overstepped Authority

The testimony of a jailhouse snitch known as "Lyin' Wayne" was the only evidence the State of Louisiana had, but it was enough to put both Michael Graham, Jr. and Albert Burrell on Death Row for 14 years for a crime they didn't commit.  Their exonerations bring the total to 92 Freed from Death Row

In the past 12 months, questions have arisen about Virginia's capital punishment system, the most efficient in the country and, until October, a system that could be touted as error-free. Death Penalty Foes Gaining

The Illinois Supreme Court's Committee on Capital Cases released its final report this week highlighting measures that should be taken to improve cases involving the death penalty. Illinois Death Penalty Committee Issues Final Report

Greensboro, NC lawyer David Smith wanted his client, Russell Tucker, to be executed.  Sabotaged Appeal

Equal Justice USA has issued a report on the death penalty in the US, finding at least 16 men executed since the reinstitution of the death penalty were Probably Innocent

The U. S. capital punishment system has become a competition sport that pits prosecutors and police investigators against defense lawyers, and pits aspiring politicians against weepy, wimpy ivory-tower academics," says Anthony G. Amsterdam, director of clinical and advocacy programs at New York University.  It's a Blood Sport.

If you can’t tolerate the thought - much less the reality -- of one more innocent person being forced to spend his or her life waiting to die, then join The Justice Project's Campaign Against Wrongful Executions now!
 
For years its supporters have claimed the death penalty is a deterrent to crime.  A new survey by The New York Times shows that states without capital punishment actually have lower homicide rates.  The Death Penalty is No Deterrent

Attorney Seth Tucker put everything on the line during his client Derek Barnabei's Final Hours.

Nearly four years after his execution, Ellis Wayne Felker is becoming part of the debate over DNA evidence and capital punishment.  DNA Testing Ordered in Case of Man Already Executed

New Doubts Emerge on Guilt of Gary Graham

In 1984, Jennifer Thompson was brutally raped.  She concentrated on memorizing her attacker's features.  When she picked Ronald Cotton out of a line up, Jennifer says, 

"I was Certain, But I was Wrong"

Gary Graham, executed by Texas despite serious doubts about his guilt.

Gary Graham was sentenced to death based solely on the identification of one eye witness.  Two other eye witnesses who say the killer was not Graham were never heard at trial.

Graham Jurors Urge New Trial

  The Gary Graham Execution:  Irreversible Error in Texas

Columbia University Law Professor James Liebman's study of the death penalty in the U.S. reveals that the problems are not limited to one state, or one case.  They are epidemic throughout the system:  68% Error Rate in Death Penalty Cases

Click the title to read the study in full:  A Broken System: Error Rates in Capital Cases, 1973-1995


With growing calls for a moratorium on capital punishment, some say its days are numbered. But death penalty supporters say no way.  ABA Journal cover story:  Death Knell for the Death Penalty?

Tinker, tinker. This is what some political figures want to do with the death penalty. Only after the accused is guaranteed a good lawyer, only after he is granted access to DNA testing, only after every safeguard is in place will these politicians and others breathe easy about capital punishment. Then they will know, to a mythical certainty, that guilty and condemned are one and the same. Who are they fooling? 

Columnist Richard Cohen examines The Vain Search for Deadly Accuracy.


The Death Penalty in Virginia

The death penalty in Virginia has been marked by unfair trials, poor representation of defendants, limited appeals court review and the possible execution of innocent men since it resumed in 1977, according to a study by the ACLU of Virginia. 

Scathing ACLU report attacks law

Virginia religious broadcaster Pat Robertson believes there should be a moratorium on enforcing the death penalty because it is applied unfairly.

Death penalty in Virginia assailed / Robertson backs moratorium on executions

Also see the book by Virginian-Pilot editor William E. Burke, Jr. and writer Joe Jackson, chronicling the only multiple escape from Virginia's Death Row and the redemption of Dennis Stockton, a man condemned for a killing likely not his own.

Dead Run

The Death Penalty in Florida

Florida leads the nation in the number of innocent people sentenced to death, then exonerated and freed.  The Florida Supreme Court responded to this travesty with new rules that enraged Gov. Jeb Bush and pro-death penalty legislators by easing restrictions on post-conviction appeal.  Bush and legislative leaders have proposed an amendment to the Florida State Constitution that would speed up executions by stripping the court of its rule-making authority.
 

A Court Under Seige
Florida Solution:  In a Hurry to Execute

For More Background on the Florida Death Penalty:

Is Florida's Death Row Defense a Sham?
Fla. Justice has "Grave Doubts" about Guilt of Executed Convicts 
Florida's Death Row ~ 13 Survivors & Their Stories

 

The Death Penalty in Illinois
A Saga of Deadly Error
January 20, 2000
Governor to halt executions

January 22, 2000 
Half of state's death-penalty cases reversed
January 24, 2000 
Flawed murder cases prompt calls for probe
The List So Far
Illinois' Exonerated Death Row Prisoners
Responses to the Illinois Moratorium
February 3, 2000
American Lawyer Media
ABA, Rome react to Gov. Ryan's moratorium
February 10, 2000
Congressional Response:  HR 3623, Accuracy in Judicial Administration Act of 2000
Full text of the bill sponsored by Reps. Jackson, Fattah, Meeks, Schakowsky, Clay and Norton
February 10, 2000
Former Virginia AG Opposes Death Penalty
Former Virginia Attorney General William Broaddus goes on record with opposition to the death penalty.

The Two Chicago Tribune Series that Exposed the Flaws
Trial and Error
Convicting the Innocent as Career Enhancement
Failure of the Death Penalty in Illinois
Errors and incompetence rule, and justice is often absent
 
  
U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold's (D-WI)
Senator Russ Feingold on the Death Penalty
  

The Basis for Personal Decisions
1906 Tennessee Death Penalty Conviction Overturned
Ohio State University conducts Research on the Death Penalty
New York's Death Penalty Plea Provision Ruled Unconstitutional
The Death Penalty: A View of Opposition
NJ Finds Death Penalty Statistical Models Unstable
George Walker Bush, Governor Death
Mississippi: Two Lawyers for All of Death Row
Virginia:  Charlottesville's Leadership
Dead Man Talking ~ Letters from Death Row

 
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