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Ex-Ohio Prison Director Calls the Death Penalty a 'Failed Public Policy'

Former Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction Director Terry J. Collins (pictured) says the death penalty is "a failed public policy" that "isn't worth fixing." With 30 years of experience as a warden, regional corrections director, assistant director, and then corrections director, Collins participated in 33 executions. He says, "With each execution I asked myself: Did the extensive process of appeals ensure we got it right? I often wondered if we made a mistake. My curiosity arose because I had walked people out of prison after years of incarceration who turned out to be innocent," including Ohio's first death row exoneree, Gary Beeman. Collins said he is "troubled by Ohio's track record" of executing 53 death-row prisoners while exonerating 9. But his concerns about the death penalty "are not limited to the possibility of killing an innocent person." He says, "The offenders in our prisons I encountered who committed unimaginable crimes were usually not on Death Row." As a result, he "do[es] not accept the argument that we only execute the worst of the worst." In fact, he says, a recent study of Ohio executions "found that the race of the victim and the county where the crime took place matter more than the severity of the crime." In addition, Collins says, "The death penalty is expensive, inefficient and takes far too long. I believe it only prolongs the pain and healing process for victims' families." He concludes that "It is time for state officials to have serious and thoughtful conversations about whether Ohio's death penalty remains necessary. ... My experience tells me the death penalty isn't worth fixing. Our justice system will be more fair and effective without the death penalty."


U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, Outspoken Defender of Capital Punishment, Has Died

 United States Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, one of the Court's most ardent defenders of the constitutionality of capital punishment, has died at age 79. Appointed to the Court in 1986 by President Ronald Reagan, Justice Scalia voted to uphold the application of the death penalty in a wide variety of circumstances. He was part of 5-4 conservative majorities in a number of significant death penalty cases, including the 1987 decisions in McCleskey v. Kemp severely limiting the ability of capital defendants to obtain relief for race discrimination in the application of the death penalty and in Tison v. Arizona permitting the execution of offenders who neither killed nor intended that a killing take place, but exhibited reckless indifference to human life. An avid adherent of what he called "textualism," Justice Scalia chafed at the Court's use of "evolving standards of decency" to exempt individuals and offenses from capital sanctions. He voted in support of state laws permitting the imposition of the death penalty against juvenile offenders and those with intellectual disabilities and was undaunted by the prospects of executing the innocent. Writing that "[t]his court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is ‘actually’ innocent," Justice Scalia opposed reviewing the innocence claim presented by Troy Davis (In re Davis) after 7 eyewitnesses had recanted their testimony. His 2006 concurring opinion in Kansas v. Marsh expressed doubts that any innocent person has been executed in the U.S. In 1994, in Callins v. Collins, Justice Scalia singled out the brutal murder of an 11-year-old girl as epitomizing the need for capital punishment. Twenty years later, DNA evidence exonerated Henry McCollum, the intellectually disabled North Carolina man who had been sentenced to death for that murder. Justice Scalia succinctly expressed his views on the constitutionally of the death penalty at a book signing at the American Enterprise Institute in 2012, saying, "The death penalty? Give me a break. It's easy." Often acerbic in his treatment of opposing views, Scalia described criticisms of the constitutionality of the death penalty in Callins as "sanctimonious." In 2015 in Glossip v. Gross, he called the arguments suggesting that the death penalty may be unconstitutional "gobbledy gook." But last fall, he conceded in public appearances that he "wouldn't be surprised" if the Court ultimately declared the death penalty unconstitutional.


Richard Glossip's Innocence Claim Draws Growing Attention [UPDATED]

UPDATE: Former Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn (pictured), former Oklahoma Sooners and Dallas Cowboys football coach Barry Switzer, and John W. Raley, Jr., the former chief federal prosecutor for the Eastern District of Oklahoma, have joined with innocence advocates Barry Scheck, Co-Director of the Innocence Project, and Samuel Gross, editor of the National Registry of Exonerations, in a letter to Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin urging her to stay the execution of Richard Glossip. Glossip is scheduled to be executed in Oklahoma on September 16, and is seeking a stay to allow consideration of his claims of innocence. The letter points to the exonerations of 29 innocent defendants who were convicted and sentenced to death on the basis of testimony after "another person who was himself a suspect in the murder gave a confession that also implicated the innocent defendant." It calls Richard Glossip's case "a classic example" of that phenomenon. The writers say they "don't know for sure whether Richard Glossip is innocent or guilty. That is precisely the problem. If we keep executing defendants in cases like this, where the evidence of guilt is tenuous and untrustworthy, we will keep killing innocent people."

Georgia Execution Stayed After Suicide Attempt

Brandon Rhode, a Georgia death row inmate, who was scheduled for execution on September 21, received a temporary stay after he attempted to commit suicide. The Georgia Supreme Court granted a stay until September 24 to allow Rhode access to counsel after he was taken to the hospital on the day of his scheduled execution. His attorney filed a motion stating that his client is incompetent, and his execution would violate standards of cruel and unusual punishment. In the court filing, Rhode's lawyers said Rhode suffered from brain impairments associated with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder because his mother was drinking alcohol and taking drugs until she found out she was pregnant well into her second trimester. The motion asserted that Rhode should not be executed because his brain damage "rendered him incapable of the requisite level of culpability required to justify execution.”

STUDIES: New Hampshire Commission Holds Public Hearing on Death Penalty

The New Hampshire Commission to Study the Death Penalty held a hearing on September 16 at Keene State College, inviting the public to share their views on whether the state should repeal the death penalty. Among those testifying were a retired police chief, a former prisoner, and the mother of a murder victim, all of whom spoke against capital punishment. Margaret Hawthorn, whose daughter was murdered last April, told the Commission that she did not want her daughter’s killer to be put to death. “The best possible outcome for me would be for there to be no more death. One was enough.” Mark Edgington, who served time in a Florida prison, said his time as an inmate changed him from a supporter to an opponent of capital punishment. Edgington said that in his experience the death penalty is not an effective deterrent: “Having spent 9 years in prison, let me tell you, those men don’t care about your deterrents.” Former Marlborough police chief Raymont Dodge agreed with Edgington, saying that people who commit crimes do not weigh the pros and cons beforehand. Dodge also cited wrongful convictions as a serious concern: “We can release an innocent person from jail. We cannot release an innocent person from the grave.” The Commission is scheduled to release its report to the legislature in December.

BOOKS: “Peculiar Institution: America’s Death Penalty in an Age of Abolition”

A new book by David Garland, “Peculiar Institution: America’s Death Penalty in an Age of Abolition,” offers a fresh perspective on why the death penalty endures in the United States when so many other countries in the Western world have already abolished it. The book seeks to understand the persistence of the death penalty in the U.S. as a social fact, using sociological, historical and legal analyses to explain the unique and peculiar manner in which the death penalty is applied. Garland concludes that the death penalty has survived in the United States because it is deeply connected to the fundamentally American institutions of local autonomy and popular democracy.  Anthony Amsterdam, Professor of Law at New York University, said of this book, “This is indispensable reading for students of criminal justice, race, and American culture, for lawyers and judges in the pathways of death, and for all who want to understand why our country can neither put capital punishment to any good use nor put an end to it.”

EDITORIALS: Connecticut Post Opposes Capital Punishment Even in the Face of Heinous Murders

A recent editorial in the Connecitcut Post called for the end of the death penalty in the state even as the trial began in a capital case cncerning horrific murders in Cheshire in 2007.  In 2009, the Connecticut General Assembly voted to repeal the death penalty but Governor M. Jodi Rell vetoed the bill, citing the Cheshire crimes. The editorial cited a variety of reasons for repealing the death penalty, including its inability to deter crime, high costs, and the danger of executing innocent defendants. The editorial said, “To be sure, we are outraged by the brutal crimes committed against the Petit family. . . . But outrage and sympathy do not outweigh our firm belief that it is wrong - plain and simple - for the government to take an individual life.” Read full editorial below.

Federal Judge Says Prosecutor Lied and Overturns Mississippi Death Sentence

A federal District Court judge ordered a new sentencing trial for Quintez Hodges, who is currently on Mississippi's death row, because former Assistant District Attorney James Kitchens, Jr., lied under oath during Hodges’s trial and the prosecutor conducting the trial should have known that Kitchens' testimony was false.  Kitchens is now a judge on Mississippi's circuit court.  As a part of the prosecution’s strategy to show Hodges lacked remorse and had a criminal history, Kitchens falsely testified that Hodges was given a light sentence on a previous robbery charge. The judge ruled, “[The defendant] has shown that there exists a reasonable likelihood that the jury’s verdict might have been affected as a result of the false testimony. In this instance, the State, seemingly unconcerned with the accuracy of the testimony to be given in a trial where the result could be death, provided the jury with false information.”