NEW VOICES: In Inter-racial Killing, Victim's Family Asks District Attorney Not to Pursue Death Penalty

Family members of James Anderson (pictured), who was killed on June 26 in Jackson, Mississippi, are asking the District Attorney not to seek the death penalty for Anderson's killer.  Deryl Dedmon, a white teenager, was charged with Anderson's murder after he and other white teens took turns beating him.  Dedmon then drove over Anderson with a truck.  Barbara Anderson Young, the victim's sister, wrote a letter to the D.A. on behalf of their mother and two brothers, saying that their opposition to the death penalty is "deeply rooted in our religious faith, a faith that was central in James' life as well." The letter continued, "We also oppose the death penalty because it historically has been used in Mississippi and the South primarily against people of color for killing whites.  Executing James' killers will not help balance the scales. But sparing them may help to spark a dialogue that one day will lead to the elimination of capital punishment."  On September 21, Texas executed Lawrence Brewer, a white supremacist who dragged an African-American man to death in Jasper 13 years ago.  Some members of the victim's family also opposed the death penalty.

U.S. Supreme Court Halts Execution For Third Time in a Year

Desert Storm veteran Cleve Foster (pictured), who faced execution in Texas for the third time this year for a murder nearly a decade ago, was granted another stay by the U.S. Supreme Court on September 20.  The Supreme Court stopped Foster's execution twice before in 2011.  In January, six hours before his scheduled execution, the Justices granted a reprieve to allow them more time to consider his appeal.  In April, the Court again halted his execution when his lawyers sought a rehearing, claiming that Foster was innocent and had ineffective legal assistance at his trial and during the early stages of his appeal. They later lifted the stay.  Foster has always maintained that his friend was responsible for the murder. The friend also received the death penalty for the crime but died of cancer before he was executed.  Duane Buck, who was scheduled to be executed in Texas on Sept. 15, received a reprieve similar to Foster's from the Supreme Court.  On September 21, Lawrence Brewer is facing execution in Texas for dragging a man to death in Jasper more than 13 years ago.  Some of the victim's family members oppose the execution.  Also on Sept. 21, Troy Davis is scheduled to be executed at 7 pm EDT in Georgia.

NEW VOICES: Former Texas Assistant District Attorney Now Wants to Halt Execution

Linda Geffin (pictured) was one of the Texas prosecutors who won a conviction and death sentence for Duane Buck in 1997.  She is now the division chief of the Special Prosecutions Unit in the Office of the Harris County Attorney, and she is urging Gov. Rick Perry and other state officials to stop Buck's September 15 execution because improper race evidence was put before the jury considering his sentence.  In a letter to state officials, Geffin said that former Texas Attorney General John Cornyn had previously acknowledged the "improper injection of race in the sentencing hearing in Mr. Buck's case," and that "No individual should be executed without being afforded a fair trial, untainted by considerations of race."  On June 9, 2000, Cornyn called for new sentencing trials for the defendents who had been improperly sentenced to death because of the racially biased testimony.  Of those seven defendents, Buck is the only one who has not been granted a new sentencing.

NEW RESOURCES: 2011 DEATH ROW USA Report Now Available

The latest edition of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund's "Death Row USA" showed a slight increase of 9 inmates in the death row population in the United States between October 1, 2010 and January 1, 2011. However, death row is still significantly smaller now (3,251 inmates) than in 2000 (3,682 inmates). The size of death row also declined overall in 2010.  The size of death row is affected by the number of death sentences and the number of executions. Nationally, the racial composition of those on death row is 44% white, 42% black, and 12% Latino/Latina. Texas, Louisiana, and Connecticut had death rows consisting of 70% minority defendants.  California continues to have the largest death row population (721), followed by Florida (398), Texas (321), Pennsylvania (219), and Alabama (206). California and Pennsylvania have not carried out an executiion in over five years.  The report contains the latest death row population figures, execution statistics, and an overview of recent legal developments related to capital punishment.

NEW RESOURCES: States Ranked by Executions Per Death Sentence

DPIC has updated its Executions Per Death Death Sentence page to reflect data through 2010.  This page lists states in order of the percentage of death sentences resulting in an execution since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.  If every death sentence resulted in an execution, the state would be at 100%, or a rate of 1.00.  Using this ratio of executions per death sentence, the first five states are Virginia (.725), Texas (.498), Utah (.368), Missouri (.347), and Delaware (.311).  Of those states that have carried out at least one execution, the five states with the lowest rate of execution are Pennsylvania (.008), California (.015), Idaho (.025), Oregon (.028), and Tennessee (.035).  Four states with the death penalty during this time period had no executions: Kansas, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and New York.  The latter two have abandoned the death penalty.  Nationally, about 15% of death sentences have resulted in an execution (a rate of .150).  Another measure of state execution rates is executions per capita (population).  Under this standard, Oklahoma and Texas are the leading states.

With Evidence Still Not Tested for DNA, Texas Attorneys Move to Halt Execution

Texas is planning to execute Hank Skinner on November 9 despite the fact that vital evidence from the crime scene in his case has not been subjected to DNA testing.  Skinner has always maintained his innocence.  In 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court held that Skinner could file in federal court to compel the testing, but that litigation has not been completed.  Moreover, a new Texas law became effective on September 1 to ensure that procedural barriers do not prevent the testing of biological evidence that was not previously tested or could be subjected to newer testing.  State senator Rodney Ellis, who co-sponsored the new law that passed the Texas Legislature with overwhelming bipartisan support, said, “The new law was intended to make advanced DNA testing available in all cases where it can aid the truth-seeking process, and Skinner's case falls squarely within that category.” So far, Texas authorities have resisted performing the DNA tests for over 10 years.  Skinner's attorneys filed motions in state district court on September 2 to compel the testing and withdraw the execution date.

Only Texas Inmate Not Resentenced After Admittedly Racially Biased Testimony Faces Execution

Texas inmate Duane Buck (pictured) is one of seven death row inmates whose death sentences were tainted by improper racial testimony presented at their trials. In 2000, then-Texas Attorney General John Cornyn (now Senator) confessed the state's error to the U.S. Supreme Court, noting that seven cases had been tainted by improper prosecution testimony. "It is inappropriate to allow race to be considered as a factor in our criminal justice system," Cornyn said. "The people of Texas want and deserve a system that affords the same fairness to everyone.”  Six inmates received new sentencing trials, but Buck did not. All seven trials involved testimony by psychologist Walter Quijano, who told juries that defendants were more likely to commit future crimes if they were black or Hispanic. The potential for future dangerousness is a key factor in juries' sentencing decisions in Texas. The prosecutor at Buck's sentencing trial asked Quijano: "The race factor, black, increases the future dangerousness for various complicated reasons; is that correct?" "Yes," Quijano said. Originally, Quijano had been called by the defense and testified that he did not believe Buck would be dangerous in the future.

INNOCENCE: Barry Scheck Challenges Texas Decision Blocking Innocence Investigation

Barry Scheck, co-director of the Innocence Project in New York, recently disagreed with the opinion issued by the Texas Attorney General limiting the power of the Forensic Science Commission to investigate the case of a possibly innocent man who was executed in 2004. The AG's decision held that the Commission does not have jurisdiction to examine evidence prior to 2005 and therefore could not look at evidence from the case of Cameron Todd Willingham (pictured), who was executed for arson based on highly questionable evidence.  In an op-ed in the Houston Chronicle, Scheck described the state attorney general's opinion as, "yet another stunning example of politics preventing the commission from carrying out the responsibilities that led the Legislature to create the commission in the first place: to ensure that what passes as forensic science in Texas court rooms is actually based on science and to prevent innocent people from being wrongly convicted based on testimony that is not scientifically based."   Read full op-ed below.