STUDIES: Virginia Leads the Country in Death Sentences Resulting in Executions

According to a recent study by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Virginia executes the highest proportion of people sentenced to death of any state in the country. Of the 149 death sentences handed down through 2010, 108 have resulted in an execution, a rate of about 72 percent.  Virginia is second to Texas in the total number of executions carried out since 1976, but Texas has executed less than half of those sentenced to death.  In many states, less than 1 in 10 death sentences have resulted in an execution.  Inmates in Virginia also spend the shortest time on death row prior to execution--on average, just 7.1 years--compared to a national average of just over 14 years for those executed in 2009.  From the mid-1970s to 1995, just 18% of Virginia death cases were reversed by appeals courts. Nationally, 68% of death cases were reversed in the same time period.  According to Richard J. Bonnie, director of the Institute of Law, Psychiatry and Public Policy at the University of Virginia, "almost from the beginning, Virginia has basically tried to expedite the process of state post-conviction review and reduce the kinds of claims that can be raised in state courts." As a result, most of the post-conviction review occurs in federal court, particularly the 4th Circuit, which Bonnie described as "reluctant to set aside death sentences." 

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: 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.

Execution May Go Forward Despite Childhood Abuse Described as 'Sadistic Terror'

On August 12, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell said he would not commute the death sentence of Jerry Terrell Jackson, despite the emergence of evidence that Jackson was subjected to extreme physical and psychological abuse, evidence not heard by his trial jury. Jackson is scheduled to be executed on August 18 for the murder of 88-year-old Ruth Phillips. Federal District Court Judge Leonie Brinkema held a two-day hearing in 2008 where Jackson's siblings first testified about the level of childhood abuse inflicted on Jackson and other family members.  She concluded that his sentencing hearing was a travesty of justice: "The picture painted of Jackson by his own counsel all but invited a death verdict," and that his trial counsel was "constitutionally ineffective." She described the abuse as a "continuous, sadistic course of conduct that terrorized and dehumanized Jackson throughout his childhood."  However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed the decision last April, deferring to the Virginia Supreme Court, which upheld Jackson's sentence.  A petition asserting ineffectiveness of counsel is pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.  If the petition is denied, Jackson will be the first person executed in Virginia since Teresa Lewis in September 2010.

UPCOMING EXECUTION: Virginia Jurors Never Heard Critical Evidence of Childhood Abuse

va_clipLawyers for Jerry Terrell Jackson, who is currently facing execution in Virginia on August 18, recently petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to spare Jackson's life, arguing that the jury in his 2003 trial did not receive sufficient evidence of the abuse he suffered as a child because his trial lawyers were inadequate.

Charges Dropped Against Sailor Convicted of Capital Murder and Rape

On August 4 in Virginia, Norfolk Circuit Court Judge Charles Poston accepted the state's request to dismiss charges against Derek Tice, one of four men known collectively as the Norfolk Four (pictured; Tice is at the lower left), who were originally convicted of a rape and murder following a suspect series of confessions.  All four were sentenced to prison.  Appeals by attorneys for the Norfolk Four alleged that Robert Glenn Ford, the police detective in the case, obtained false confessions from the men, partly by using the threat of the death penalty. A fifth man, Omar Ballard, later confessed to committing the crime alone, and his DNA matched evidence from the crime scene, while the DNA from the four sailors was not a match. Former Governor Tim Kaine granted commutations to three of  the four who remained in prison in 2009.  However, the men remained on probation and were required to register as sex offenders in their communities. Derek Tice is the first to fully clear his name. Officer Ford was later convicted of multiple counts of extortion and lying to federal agents in another matter.  Ballard is serving multiple life sentences.

POSSIBLE INNOCENCE: Federal Judge Overturns Capital Murder Conviction in Virginia, Citing Prosecutorial Misconduct

On July 12, U.S. District Court Judge Raymond A. Jackson overturned the murder conviction and death sentence of Justin Wolfe (pictured), who allegedly orchestrated the slaying of his marijuana supplier, Daniel Petrole Jr., in Virginia over a decade ago. Judge Jackson ruled that prosecutors in Wolfe's case withheld or ignored crucial evidence that could have helped Wolfe's defense. The Court held that Prince William County Commonwealth's Attorney Paul Ebert and his assistant Richard Conway allowed the use of false testimony from the admitted shooter that linked Wolfe to the slaying, failed to disclose evidence that others might have wanted to kill Petrole, and orchestrated the testimony of key witnesses. The key state witness against Wolfe later recanted his testimony. Judge Jackson wrote, "Ebert and Conway’s actions served to deprive Wolfe of any substantive defense in a case where his life would rest on the jury’s verdict. The Court finds these actions not only unconstitutional in regards to due process, but abhorrent to the judicial process.” The Court also found that Wolfe's Sixth Amendment right to an impartial jury was violated by the improper exclusion of a potential juror.

Update on Lethal Injection Issue

In a clear national trend, seven states (Alabama, Arizona, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, and South Carolina) have used pentobarbital instead of sodium thiopental in their executions in 2011. The most recent such execution was that of Donald Beaty in Arizona on May 25, following a temporary stay as the state made a sudden switch to the new drug.  Ohio is the only one of the seven states to use pentobarbital as the sole drug in its lethal-injection process.  At least five states (Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and South Carolina) that acquired sodium thiopental through an overseas source have had the drug seized by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.  In addition, Arizona was instructed by the DEA not to use its foreign sodium thiopental just prior to the May 25 execution. Arkansas and California also have supplies of sodium thiopental originally obtained from a supplier in Great Britain.  In Nebraska, questions about its supply of sodium thiopental--obtained from a company in India--has postponed the execution of Carey Dean Moore.  South Dakota's sodium thiopental was also reportedly obtained from India.  Other states like Georgia, Louisiana, and Virginia have indicated they intend to switch to pentobarbital in future executions.