NEW RESOURCES-PODCAST: Former Death Row Inmate Freed in Alabama

In the latest edition of the Death Penalty Information Center's podcasts, we interview attorney Jennifer Whitfield (pictured) of Covington & Burling, who worked to secure the release of former death row inmate Larry Smith in Alabama. Mr. Smith was sentenced to death in 1995 for a murder related to a robbery. His conviction hinged on a statement he made after 4 hours of interrogation. In violation of police guidelines, his interrogation was not recorded, and Mr. Smith later said his admission of involvement in the crime was coerced and influenced by threats made to prosecute his wife. No physical evidence or eyewitness account linked Mr. Smith to the murder, and a witness, who said Smith hatched a plan to rob the victim, was later implicated in planning the crime himself. In 2007, an Alabama Circuit Court ordered a retrial, and a plea deal was reached this year (April 6, 2012) that allowed Mr. Smith to be released after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit robbery. The murder charges against him were dropped.  In the podcast interview, Ms. Whitfield discusses the failures that led to Mr. Smith's conviction and how some of those problems, including inadequate representation and coerced confessions, affect the death penalty system at large.  Listen to the podcast.

FOREIGN NATIONALS: The Importance of Intervention for Citizens of Other Countries Facing U.S. Death Penalty

A new video prepared with international support discusses the importance of foreign embassies lending support when citizens of their countries face the death penalty in the United States.  According to Ambassador Joao Vale de Almedia, Head of the European Union Delegation to the U.S., “Foreign nationals are particularly vulnerable in death penalty cases. They’re most likely not to know the language perfectly, and certainly not know the way justice is administered in that particular country. So it’s only normal that they require particular attention and help.”  Article 36 of the Vienna Convention for Consular Relations, a bi-lateral treaty that the U.S. has signed and ratified, requires that foreign nationals arrested in the United States (or elsewhere) be told of their right to communicate with their consulate for assistance. The video features Council of Europe Goodwill Ambassador Bianca Jagger, as well as Ambassador Almedia and other legal experts, who describe some of the problems that foreign citizens face in the justice system and how consular officials can be of assistance.  There are about 136 foreign nationals on U.S. death rows from 37 different countries.

MULTIMEDIA: Interview with Michael Selsor-Served Longest Time Between Conviction and Execution

Al Jazeera recently released a video of an interview with former Oklahoma death-row inmate Michael Selsor (pictured). Selsor was the most recent person executed in the U.S. and probably the inmate who served the longest time between conviction and execution of anyone in U.S. history.  He was first sentenced to death in 1976 for murder and was imprisoned over 36 years prior to his execution on May 1, 2012.  Although his sentence was reduced to life when Oklahoma's death penalty was overturned in 1976, he was re-sentenced to death for the same crime in 1998.  The interview was conducted in 2010 and was the only interview Selsor granted. When asked about the difference between the death penalty and life without parole, Selsor said, “The only difference between death and life without parole is one you kill me now, the other one you kill me later. There's not even a shred of hope. There's no need to even try to muster up a seed of hope because you're just gonna die of old age in here....With the death penalty sentence I'm entitled to more appeals - the government's gonna pay for it. I don't have to do it myself if I don't have the money for a lawyer which I don't have. Instead I'm relying on public defenders to do my appeals."  Selsor was also asked about how he was handling his inevitable execution: “I'm not gonna beg 'em to spare my life. I'll try to keep my head up with a little bit of dignity, and I'm gonna be buried out on Periwood Hill.”   See the video of the interview.

NEW RESOURCES: DPIC's Latest Podcast Explores the Death Penalty in Japan

In the latest edition of the Death Penalty Information Center's podcasts, Professor Michael H. Fox, director of the Japan Innocence and Death Penalty Research Center, discusses the current state of the death penalty in Japan.  Prof. Fox compares public opinion on the death penalty in Japan and the U.S., explains some of the unique aspects of Japan's criminal justice system, and discusses the prospects for change. Click here to listen to this latest podcast. You can listen to the podcast now or download it for future use.  This podcast is the 19th in our series, DPIC on the Issues. See more below.

NEW RESOURCES: Spanish Language Podcast Now Available

The Death Penalty Information Center is pleased to present its first podcast in Spanish.  This podcast is part of our series, DPIC On The Issues, and is now available for listening and downloading. Our podcast in Spanish is the 18th in the series of podcasts, and it discusses general death penalty topics, with a focus on public opinion among Hispanics, the population of minorities on death row, and the use of the death penalty in Spanish-speaking countries. Click here to listen to this latest podcast. DPIC also offers information in Spanish on our "en Español" page and our frequently-updated Spanish-language Fact Sheet.

Sentence Near Under Maryland's New Death Penalty Law

Richard DieterIn 2009, Maryland changed its capital punishment law, sharply limiting when the death penalty could be sought. Prosecutors can only pursue the death penalty in cases of first degree murder when there is DNA or other biological evidence linking the defendant to a murder, a video-taped confession by the defendant, or a video linking the defendant to the murder. As the first case testing this statute nears completion, DPIC’s Executive Director, Richard Dieter (pictured), was interviewed on Maryland Morning with Sheila Kast about the new statute.  Listen to full interview here.  Dieter noted, “There’s certainly a danger that it doesn’t do what the death penalty is most designed to do, which is to get the 'worst of the worst' - the most heinous crimes committed by the most dangerous criminal. [The Maryland law] only requires the coincidence that there be DNA or that there be a camera rolling … It still doesn’t deal with the problems of bias and geographical disparities. It tries to deal with the innocence question and in doing so discards the usual rationale for the death penalty of … the worst get the worst punishment.”  The current case involves a prison inmate accused of killing a correctional officer.  Blood drops from the officer were found on the defendant's clothing, though defense attorneys maintain their client was merely present at the scene along with other inmates and did not kill the guard.  Maryland legislators are currently considering a bill to repeal the death penalty.  Interview.

RACE: New Video Highlights Stories of Jurors Excluded from Death Penalty Cases

A new video produced by the American Civil Liberties Union features three North Carolina citizens who believe they were excluded from serving on juries in capital cases because of their race. The video was released in conjunction with the first court challenge brought under North Carolina’s Racial Justice Act. The defendant, Marcus Robinson, is asking his death sentence be commuted to life without parole because potential African-American jurors were struck from his jury at a rate 3.5 times higher than other potential jurors. Laverne Keys (pictured), who was excluded from a capital jury in 1999, believes she was removed because of her race: “It made me feel like I was back in 1960, that racism is still very much alive. It makes you wonder whether all these people are being given a fair trial or given a fair consequence so far as the death penalty,” she said in the video.  Denny LeBoeuf, Director of the ACLU Capital Punishment Project, said, “The stories presented in this video make clear that the death penalty system in North Carolina and across the nation is plagued by discrimination. The Racial Justice Act is a crucial means of ensuring that no one is wrongfully executed because of racial bias.” Watch the video.

MULTIMEDIA: New HBO Documentary on Freed Death Row Inmate--"Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory"

PL3bOn January 12, HBO cable TV will air a new documentary, Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory, the final installment of a trilogy that recounts the story of three wrongfully convicted teenagers in Arkansas--Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley--known as the "West Memphis Three." The young men were convicted of the 1993 rape and murder of three boys in West Memphis, Arkansas. Baldwin and Misskelley received life sentences, and Echols was sentenced to death. Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory shows the conclusion of their case in 2011, when Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley entered special guilty pleas in which they continued to assert their innocence but admitted the state could likely convict them again in a new trial. The pleas allowed Baldwin and Misskelley to be released from prison and Echols to be spared the death penalty, and also freed. The first two films, released in 1996 and 2000 respectively, raised awareness of the case and helped spur an international movement to free the men. Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory will debut on Thursday, January 12, at 9:00 p.m. ET on HBO.  See below for a trailer to the film.