Alaska

Alaska

Prosecutors Withdraw Death Penalty, Agree to Guilty Pleas in Two High Profile Cases With Multiple Victims

State and federal prosecutors have agreed to withdraw the death penalty in exchange for guilty pleas by defendants charged with multiple killings in two unrelated high-profile murder cases. On May 4, Lake County, Indiana prosecutors dropped the death penalty against Darren Vann (pictured, left), who had killed seven women. On May 1, federal prosecutors announced they would not pursue the death penalty against Esteban Santiago (pictured right), who killed five people and wounded six others in a shooting rampage at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Florida in 2017. Military records reflect that Vann—a former Hawk Missile system operator who had earned a National Defense Service Medal—was prematurely discharged from the Marine Corps in 1993 for conduct described as "incongruent with Marine Corps’ expectations and standards." Vann had been capitally charged in the strangulation deaths of two women after having been released from prison in Texas in 2013 where he had served time for a rape conviction. County prosecutors agreed to withdraw the death penalty in exchange for his admission of guilt in their murders and the murders of five other women in an area of Gary, Indiana, frequented by sex workers and drug users. He was arrested in October 2014 after police found one victim's body in a motel bathtub. Vann told police he had killed six other women and later led authorities to their remains. Marvin Clinton, the longtime boyfriend of one of the victims and father of her child, called the death penalty "the easy way out" and said he preferred than Vann be sentenced to life without parole. "I want him to suffer," Clinton said. "These women will haunt him for the rest of his life.” Federal prosecutors reached a plea agreement that would avoid a protracted death-penalty trial for Santiago, a severely mentally ill Iraqi War veteran who suffers from auditory hallucinations and is being medicated for schizophrenia. Santiago opened fire in the Fort Lauderdale airport two months after having been released from a psychiatric hospitalization in Alaska. At that time, Santiago told local FBI agents in Anchorage that he was hearing voices and thought the government was controlling his mind. Local police then confiscated his handgun, but returned it to him weeks before the airport shooting. Santiago's lawyer, Assistant Federal Public Defender Eric Cohen, said Santiago has expressed remorse for the shooting. U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom has ordered Santiago to undergo a mental health evaluation to ensure he is legally competent to plead guilty and has scheduled a competency hearing for May 23.

NEW RESOURCES: Podcast Series on Each State's Death Penalty

DPIC has recently added four podcasts to our new series on important facts about the death penalty in each state. Seven state podcasts are now available: Michigan, Wisconsin, Maine, Minnesota, North Dakota, Alaska, and Hawaii. We expect to add new episodes each week, with two more coming tomorow (Oct. 17). The series has begun with states that have abolished the death penalty, and focuses on the developments leading to repeal in those states. The issues that brought those states to abolition are often similar to the ones states with the death penalty are facing today, including wrongful convictions, unfairness, and the methods of execution. We hope this new series will be an excellent resource for those interested in the diversity of positions states have taken on this key social question and for students researching their state's history. Our earlier series of podcasts, DPIC on the Issues covers a variety of topics related to the death penalty, including Innocence, Costs, and Lethal Injection. You can listen to all of our podcasts on our Podcasts page or by subscribing on iTunes.

DPIC RESOURCES: New State Pages Now Available

DPIC is pleased to announce the completion of our State Information Pages for all 50 states and the District of Columbia.  These state profiles provide historical and current information on the death penalty for each state, including famous cases, past legislative actions, and links to key organizations and state officials.  For frequently updated information, such as execution totals, the size of death row, or the number of exonerations, see our State-by-State Database.  Readers are encouraged to send additional information, pictures, and links to organizations in their state.  You can reach the State Information Pages through the "State by State" button at the top of every page on our website or under the "Resources" tab in our main menu.

NEW RESOURCES: Five New States Added to State Information Pages

DPIC is pleased to announce the addition of five more states to one of our latest resources, the State Information Pages.  Adding to the original 15 state pages made available earlier, pages for Alaska, Kansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Wisconsin may now be accessed as well. These pages provide historical and current information on the death penalty for each state (regardless of whether it currently has the death penalty), including famous cases, past legislative actions, and important links to key organizations.  For frequently-updated information, such as execution totals, the size of death row, and murder rates, see our state-by-state database. More pages will be made available soon.  You can reach the State Information Pages through the "State by State" button at the top of every page on our website or under the "Resources" tab in our main menu.

STUDIES: USA Today Investigation Reveals Prosecutorial Misconduct in Federal Cases

An in-depth investigation conducted by USA Today found 201 criminal cases in which federal judges determined that U.S. Department of Justice prosecutors violated laws or ethics rules, including the recent prosecution of Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska. The investigation looked at cases since 1997, when Congress enacted a law aimed at ending prosecutorial misconduct. Some of the violations reviewed by USA Today resulted in judges throwing out charges, overturning convictions or rebuking prosecutors. Of the 201 cases, 47 ended in the exoneration and release of the defendant after the violations surfaced. Nino Lyons, for example, was convicted of drug trafficking based on suspicious testimony by prison inmates who were promised early release in exchange for their cooperation. By luck, one of Lyons’s lawyers discovered a discrepancy in one of the witness’s testimony. This led him to hundreds of pages of reports that the prosecution never disclosed.  Lyons’s conviction was overturned and he was declared innocent. In another case, federal courts blocked prosecutors from seeking the death penalty for a fatal robbery because prosecutors failed to turn over evidence. Bennett Gershman, an expert on prosecutorial misconduct, told USA Today that the abuses are becoming systemic and that the system is not able to control such behavior.  With respect to consequences for prosecutors who break the rules, the paper could identify only one federal prosecutor who was barred even temporarily from practicing law for misconduct during the past 12 years.

Jurisdictions with no recent executions

Although the United States is considered a death penalty country, executions are rare or non-existent in most of the nation: the majority of states—31 out of 50—have either abolished the death penalty or have not carried out an execution in at least 10 years. An additional 6 states have not had an execution in at least 5 years, for a total of 37 states with no executions in that time. Three additional jurisdictions (the District of Columbia, the Federal Government, and the Military) have not had an execution in at least 10 years.

States With No Death Penalty Share Lower Homicide Rates

States With No Death Penalty Share Lower Homicide Rates NEW YORK TIMES

September 22, 2000

States With No Death Penalty Share Lower Homicide Rates

By RAYMOND BONNER and FORD FESSENDEN

The dozen states that have chosen not to enact the death penalty since the Supreme Court ruled in 1976 that it was constitutionally permissible have not had higher homicide rates than states with the death penalty, government statistics and a new survey by The New York Times show.