New Voices

NEW VOICES: 'Connecticut's Death Penalty Hurts Victims'

Nancy Filiault, whose sister was murdered in 2000, testified that she opposes capital punishment because the legal process further traumatizes victims' families.  At the conclusion of a Judiciary Committee hearing on legislation introduced to replace Connecticut's death penalty with a life-without-parole sentence, Filiault said that sitting through the capital trial of the man charged with the murder was "heinous, incredibly cruel, and traumatizing." The defendant, who confessed to the crime, was willing to plead guilty almost immediately if the state agreed to give him a sentence of life without parole. Prosecutors, however, insisted on seeking the death penalty, a decision that resulted in family members having to endure nearly four years of pre-trial preparations and weeks of trial. At the conclusion of the trial, the defendant received the same life-without-parole sentence he had originally requested. Filiault, who said she is struggling to find forgiveness for him, stated, "I am opposed to the death penalty, and I would like to see it abolished.... The judicial process does not work."

NEW VOICES: President Bush Expresses Concerns about Racial Disparities, Fairness and Adequate Representation in Death Cases

During his recent State of the Union address before Congress, President George W. Bush raised concerns about race, wrongful convictions, and adequate representation for those facing the death penalty:

Because one of the main sources of our national unity is our belief
in equal justice, we need to make sure Americans of all races and
backgrounds have confidence in the system that provides justice.

In America we must  make doubly sure no person is held to account
for a crime he or she did  not commit -- so we are dramatically
expanding the use of DNA evidence to  prevent wrongful conviction.

Soon I will send to Congress a  proposal to fund special training
for defense counsel in capital cases, because people on trial for
their lives must have competent lawyers by  their side.

Key New York Legislators Say Reinstatement of Death Penalty Unlikely

Key members of the New York Legislature who supported the death penalty when it was reinstated in 1995 have changed their positions and now favor letting the law expire.  Joseph Lentol, Chair of the Codes  Committee of the N.Y. Assembly,  says he now supports life without parole instead of restoring the death penalty for which he voted in 1995. His announcement came at the conclusion of hearings into the issue. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver stated that he will not be pressured into having the full Assembly vote on restoring capital punishment.

NEW VOICES: Broad Opposition to Reinstating New York's Death Penalty

Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney joined a lengthy list of high-profile New Yorkers testifying that they oppose reinstatement of New York's death penalty. During a legislative hearing in Albany, Carney testified that New York would be best served by abandoning capital punishment and sentencing offenders to life without the possibility of parole.  He cited the high costs of the death penalty and the special protections that would need to be put in place.  (Albany Times-Union, February 9, 2005).

Connecticut Legislative Hearings Exhibit Strong Opposition to the Death Penalty

A retired prison warden, victims' family members, and a former death row inmate were among the nearly 75 speakers at a state Judiciary Committee hearing in Hartford, almost all of whom proposed ending Connecticut's death penalty. Many of the witnesses noted that the death penalty brings no relief to victims' family members, fails to deter murder, risks innocent lives, and is applied in an arbitrary way.

"I'm here to tell you that I never met an inmate for whom I had no hope," said Mary Morgan Wolff, a former state deputy warden who worked 37 years for the state Department of Corrections.

Laurence Adams, a former death row inmate from Massachusetts, told the committee that he was freed in 2004 by long-forgotten evidence proving his innocence. "I'm here today because Massachusetts abolished the death penalty," he noted as he described his 30 years in prison for a crime he did not commit and the likelihood that he would have been executed long before his recent exoneration if the state had not ended capital punishment.

NEW VOICES: Federal Judge Calls for More Resources for Texas Death Penalty Trials

Judge Patrick Higginbotham of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit called on Texas to pay more than 'lip service' to providing individuals facing the death penalty with a truly fair and constitutional trial. He stated that more resources must be placed on training attorneys and judges at the trial level in order to protect against executing the innocent. Higginbotham, writing along with attorney Mark Curriden of Vinson & Elkins, noted that during the past three years, the U.S. Supreme Court has reviewed seven capital cases from Texas and reversed all seven. Moreover, "the Supreme Court and lower courts have overturned 165 Texas death penalty convictions or sentences since capital punishment was reinstated three decades ago."

"The cases include instances in which defense attorneys slept through trial, came to court intoxicated, or did very little work on their clients' behalf. There are cases in which prosecutors withheld evidence or allowed witnesses to fabricate testimony. And there are cases in which judges misinterpreted the law, mishandled jury selection, or issued flawed jury instructions."

They highlighted the training programs of the Center for American and International Law, a nonprofit corporation that promotes continuing legal education. The Center will conduct programs for defense attorneys, judges and prosecutors in 2005.

Georgia's Death Row Faces a Crisis Without Adequate Legal Representation

Seven people on Georgia's death row are without legal representation as they face their final rounds of appeal. Georgia does not guarantee publicly funded lawyers for death row inmates beyond the first round of appeal. According to many legal experts, including retired Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold Clark, the failure to provide legal counsel increases the likelihood of a wrongful execution. "It's a very important check in the system that's missing. There can be slips in the process along the way. When you've got a

NEW VOICES: Understanding Mental Illness and the Death Penalty

In a recent Hartford Courant opinion piece, psychiatrist Robert C. Goodwin spoke about the mental illness afflicting Michael Ross, who is scheduled for execution in Connecticut on January 26. Dr. Goodwin was a psychiatric consultant to the state of Connecticut from 1983-2001 and took part in Michael Ross' evaluation and treatment over the years, appearing as an expert witness in Ross' second trial. Dr. Goodwin believes the execution should be stopped:

Although demonstrably sane, Ross suffers from a clear-cut, well-documented case of the most severe sort of paraphilia (sexual deviation). This is not just my view. It is the considered opinion of almost every psychiatrist and mental health professional who has examined him, including at least one who customarily testifies for the prosecution. In Ross' case, the condition resulted in intense, constant and virtually irresistible violent fantasies toward women.

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