NEW VOICES: Texas Paper Changes Its Death Penalty Position

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram announced a change in its stance on the death penalty in a recent editorial marking the 500th execution in Texas. While the newspaper had previously endorsed a moratorium on executions, it now supports the abolition of capital punishment. The editors said that moral grounds alone are enough to warrant ending the death penalty, but they also cited a variety of problems in Texas's use of the death penalty, including geographical and racial disparities in sentencing, and the state's "embarassing record of wrongful conviction." The paper pointed to the decline in death sentences and executions as evidence that the death penalty is no longer necessary, concluding, "Abolishing capital punishment would neither demean the memory of victims nor deny any of them justice. Instead, it would make our society as a whole more just, more morally consistent, and certainly more humane." Read the full editorial below.

OP-ED: "DNA: A Test for Justice"

In a recent op-ed in the Baltimore Sun, former FBI Director William Sessions (pictured) underscored the importance of reliable FBI forensic analysis in convicting the guilty and exonerating the innocent. Sessions provided the example of Willie Jerome Manning, who received a last-minute stay of execution in Mississippi in order to allow time to conduct testing on DNA evidence that could exonerate him. Manning was convicted in 1994 based on FBI testimony that has since been invalidated by the U.S. Department of Justice. Sessions also urged state prosecutors and judges to work with defense counsel in cases where the FBI provided potentially unreliable evidence. Sessions concluded, “When evidence used to convict an individual is discovered to be unreliable, justice requires that we review that case, no matter how long ago the conviction occurred.” Read full op-ed below.

EDITORIALS: "Gov. Scott Should Veto Bill that Speed Up Death Penalty Punishments"

A June 3 editorial in the Sun Sentinel called on Florida Governor Rick Scott (pictured) to veto the Timely Justice Act, a bill passed by the legislature earlier this year that would accelerate executions. The bill requires the governor to sign a death warrant within 30 days of a Supreme Court review, with an execution to follow within 180 days. According to the editorial, flaws in the system, evidenced by death row exonerations, should be sufficient reason to reject a bill that would speed up the death penalty process in the state. The law would give wrongfully convicted inmates approximately eight months to prove their innocence before facing execution. The editorial highlighted the case of former Florida death row inmate Seth Penalver, who spent a dozen years on death row before this conviction was overturned last year. Another inmate, Clemente Javier Aguirre-Jarquin, recently presented DNA evidence that could set him free, seven years after his conviction. The editors concluded, “If the Timely Justice Act were already law, he would not be alive to fight for his own justice.” Twenty four wrongfully convicted inmates have been released from death row in Florida since the mid-1970s, more than any other state in the country.  Read full editorial below.

EDITORIALS: "End the Death Penalty in Kansas and Missouri"

The Kansas City Star recently called for an end to the death penalty in Kansas and Missouri. The editors wrote, "The arc of history is bending toward justice when it comes to the death penalty, and there’s no good reason Missouri and Kansas should lag behind and continue to be on the wrong side of both history and justice." The high costs of implementing capital punishment and the risks of wrongful executions were among the  reasons cited for doing away with the punishment. With respect to innocence, the paper stated, "The Innocence Project reports that, through the use of DNA evidence, 18 death row prisoners so far have been exonerated. They already had served a total of 229 years behind bars in 11 different states. That should never happen. Nor should execution of the innocent, but the only way to be positive it doesn’t is to ban capital punishment." Kansas has not had a execution since it reinstated the death penalty in 1994. The editorial concluded, “Kansas and Missouri should follow Maryland’s recent example and become the 19th and 20th states to adopt a sane and civilized approach to this matter.” Read full editorial below.

EDITORIALS: Colorado Case Raises Doubts About Entire Death Penalty System

Colorado recently set an execution date in August for Nathan Dunlap, who has been convicted of multiple murders. This would be first execution in the state in 16 years. In an editorial, the Aurora Sentinel recommended that the governor spare his life, not because of doubts about his guilt, but because of doubts about other aspects of the process that led to his death sentence: "There is simply too much doubt about the effectiveness of the death penalty. There is too much doubt about whether Dunlap drew the sentence because of his race. There is too much doubt about whether Colorado residents have grown to see how barbaric and expensive it is. There is too much doubt about whether Dunlap’s circumstances, rather than his crimes, brought on a death sentence." The editors concluded an execution would be a step in the wrong direction for Colorado: "To move forward on this case with so much in doubt would only add another tragic crime to those that Dunlap has wrought upon all of us." Read the editorial below.

EDITORIALS: Miami Herald Calls on Governor to Block Fast-Track Executions

An editorial in the Miami Herald called on Florida Governor Rick Scott (pictured) to veto a bill recently passed by the legislature requiring the governor to sign a death warrant within 30 days after state Supreme Court review, with the execution taking place within 180 days after that. The editorial listed several death row inmates who were exonerated after spending more than 10 years on death row, and noted, “All of them might have been executed if the legislation that's heading to the governor's desk had been the law.” The paper urged Gov. Scott to block the legislation and wait for a committee appointed by the Florida Supreme Court to study the state’s judicial system to release its findings. The editorial concluded, “If the point is to reduce the stay on death row to less than a decade, it's the wrong focus. The real problem is sloppy justice, cases where evidence is hidden, for instance, and current state rules that allow judges to impose the death penalty without even a unanimous jury vote.” Read the Editorial below.

EDITORIALS: "Conservatives and Death Penalty"

A recent editorial in the Lincoln (Neb.) Journal Star highlighted some of the conservative arguments opposing the death penalty. Edward Crane (pictured), founder of the CATO Institute, a libertarian think tank, said, “My own view on capital punishment is that it is morally justified but that the government is often so inept and corrupt that innocent people might die as a result. Thus, I personally oppose capital punishment.” The editorial also quoted Mary Kate Cary, former speechwriter for President George H. W. Bush, who said, “It’s becoming harder to justify the death penalty in the face of evidence that our system is flawed.… For years, people like me thought that being tough on crime meant supporting the death penalty. Times have changed, and it’s time for conservatives to get on the right side of the death penalty argument. One can oppose the death penalty and still be in favor of a tough, affordable, accurate and fair criminal justice system.” The editorial also cited the high cost of capital punishment as another conservative argument against the death penalty. Read full editorial below.

NEW VOICES: Editorial Signals a Change in Position in Nebraska

A recent editorial in the Nebraska Star-Herald indicated a shift in its position on capital punishment. Although the paper has always supported the death penalty in the past, its latest editorial described the death penalty as "a mockery of justice" and a "charade." The editors continued to express the belief that some murderers might deserve capital punishment, but the infrequency and unpredictability of executions led them to conclude that "[S]o few killers are actually put to death that it’s become a judicial aberration." The paper pointed out that "only three people have been put to death since 1976" and "[n]one of the current 11 death row inmates are scheduled for execution," leading them to the position that "Maybe it’s time to put an end to the charade." Read the full editorial below.