District of Columbia

District of Columbia

Upcoming Events to Review Death Penalty Practice

Two events in November will examine the application of the death penalty from a variety of perspectives. On November 12, the American Bar Association will host the National Symposium on the Modern Death Penalty at the Carter Center in Atlanta, Georgia. The conference will culminate the ABA's eight-year effort to asses the death penalty in various states, using criteria for due process established by the ABA. Former President Jimmy Carter will be a featured speaker at the symposium, along with former Texas Governor Mark White, and other legal experts and law enforcement officials. For more information, click here. On November 9, the Catholic Mobilizing Network will host a one-day conference, Where Justice and Mercy Meet, at the the Catholic University of America's Columbus School of Law in Washington, DC. Prominent  speakers include Sr. Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking, and Vicki Schieber, a national advocate for murder victims’ families. Panelists will discuss how Catholic teaching has evolved on the issue of capital punishment. Click here for more information about the event.

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.

ARBITRARINESS: Contract Killer Spared the Death Penalty Despite Seven Murders

Although the death penalty is often described as being reserved for the "worst of the worst" offenders, in practice defendants responsible for many murders are often spared while those who committed arguably lesser offenses are executed.  Oscar Veal  was a contract killer for a large drug ring and murder-for-hire operation. He was convicted of seven counts of murder and eight counts of racketeering conspiracy. However, in exchange for testimony about a drug organization in Washington, D.C., federal prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty against Veal.  According to the prosecutors, “[Veal] willingly and purposely killed seven men, motivated by both greed and the desire to please the other members of this violent gang,” but called his cooperation "extraordinary by any measure," and recommended a sentence of 25 years in prison.  Veal's attorney cited other examples in which sentences were reduced in exchange for valuable information.  Phillip "Crazy Phil" Leonetti, a member of  the Philadelphia mob served just 5 years despite a criminal record that included 10 murders, after cooperating with officials.  Salvatore "Sammy the Bull" Gravano, a well-known criminal who cooperated with the government, was sentenced to only 5 years despite his involvement in 19 murders and other crimes.

NEW VOICES: "Police Officials Argue Death Penalty Doesn't Make Us Safer"

Four law enforcement officials from various countries who came together in Washington, D.C., in 2010 for a groundbreaking international dialogue on the death penalty recently published an op-ed in the San Jose Mercury News regarding their discussion.  From their experience, they discounted the argument that the death penalty deters potential offenders. According to the op-ed, “The deterrence argument … goes against our experience investigating serious crimes: the majority of offenders do not think through the consequences of their actions. In fact, they do not think they will ever be caught.” Other areas of agreement addressed the cost of the death penalty, the risk of executing an innocent defendant, and the punishment’s impact on murder victims’ families. The law enforcement officials recommended replacing the death penalty with more cost-effective alternatives: “All of the money that states spend on the death penalty could be used to hire more police officers, train them better, solve cold cases, and prevent crimes from occurring in the first place. We should spend our limited resources on programs that work.”  The op-ed was written by: James Abbott, police chief of West Orange, N.J., who served on the state's Death Penalty Study Commission; António Cluny, senior attorney general and public prosecutor in Portugal; Bob Denmark, a 30-year veteran of the British police force and a former detective superintendent of Lancashire Constabulary, England; and Ronald Hampton, executive director of the National Black Police Association International Leadership Institute and a 23-year veteran of the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department.  Read more for the full op-ed and a video of the panel discussion.

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.