What's New

Former President Leads Worldwide Call For An End To Juvenile Death Penalty

Posted: October 6, 2004

The U. S. Supreme Court will hear arguments on Wednesday, October 13, 2004, in Roper v. Simmons to determine the future of the juvenile death penalty.  Amicus briefs in support of banning the practice have been filed by many prominent groups and individals, including:
  • Nobel Peace Prize Winners (including Jimmy Carter, Mikhail Gorbachev, Desmond Tutu and Lech Walesa)

NEW RESOURCES: Research Shows Significant Decline in Death Sentences for Juveniles

Posted: October 5, 2004
In a forthcoming article, Columbia University researchers found that, since 1994, when death sentences for juvenile offenders peaked, these sentences have declined significantly. In particular, the decline in juvenile death sentences since 1999 is statistically significant after controlling for the murder rate, the juvenile homicide arrest rate, and the rate of adult death sentences. This downward trend in juvenile death sentences is indicative of an evolving standard in state trial courts opposing the imposition of death sentences on minors who commit capital offenses.

Another Innocent Inmate Close to Release in Texas

Posted: October 5, 2004
Ernest Willis is likely to be the eighth person exonerated and freed from Texas's death row. He would be the 117th person freed nationwide since 1973. Willis was sentenced to death 17 years ago for allegedly setting a house fire that killed two people.

Following a One-day Trial and no Appeal, Mentally Ill Man Executed in Alabama

Posted: October 1, 2004
David Kevin Hocker, a mentally ill man who waived all his appeals, was executed in Alabama last night (Sept. 30). He was the first person to be executed in that state without a review by the state's Supreme Court. Hocker had murdered his employer in 1998. No one from the victim's family attended the execution. Hocker's mother did attend her son's execution, and was so distraught she had to leave the witness room. She said that her son had been suicidal for many years. Hocker's trial lasted one day and at his request no witnesses were called on his behalf.

NEW RESOURCES: A Handbook on Hanging

Posted: October 1, 2004
Charles Duff's 1928 publication A Handbook on Hanging has been re-published with updates and a new introduction by journalist Christopher Hitchens. The book provides readers with a satiric look at the practice of carrying out executions. Duff writes not only of hanging, but of electrocution, decapitation, and gassing. He also takes a tongue-in-cheek look at issues such as botched executions, public response to executions, and deterrence. With factual details and notable quotations, this book focuses primarily on British history with the death penalty, but its themes are universal. (New

Ashcroft's Push for Death Penalty Met With Juror Resistance

Posted: October 1, 2004
Despite efforts by U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft to broaden the use of the federal death penalty, less than a third of the federal death penalty trials since 2001 have resulted in a death sentence. Of the 34 federal capital cases Ashcroft authorized, 23 did not result in the death penalty. Critics say that this poor record suggests waning public enthusiasm for executions and that juries and judges see through what many believe to be weak cases for the federal death penalty.

Ashcroft, who claims that broader use of the federal death

Plea Bargains Underscore Arbitrary Death Penalty in Oregon

Posted: October 1, 2004
A series of murder cases in Oregon underscores the ineffectiveness of the state's capital punishment system according to both death penalty supporters and opponents. Jesse Lee Johnson was sentenced to death while two other men who committed equally or more brutal crimes plea bargained to lesser sentences. Johnson received a death sentence in large part because he maintained his innocence, while convicted murderers Ward Weaver and Edward Morris pleaded guilty in exchange for not receiving the death penalty. Weaver was found guilty

Texas Police Chief Calls for Halt to Executions in Wake of Scandal

Posted: October 1, 2004
In the wake of a scandal that has called into question the reliability of the police crime lab's testing and handling of evidence in Harris County, Texas, Police Chief Harold Hurtt has said that executions of inmates from the county should not be scheduled until all relevant evidence has been reexamined to assure accuracy. He went on to note that the executions of nine individuals convicted in Harris County that are scheduled to take place before March 2005 should not be allowed to go

International Conference on the Death Penalty to Convene in Montreal

Posted: September 30, 2004
On October 6, the 2nd World Congress Against the Death Penalty will convene in Montreal, Canada. More than 1,000 participants from around the world are expected to gather at the city’s Place des Arts, including many U.S. policy makers and death penalty experts. Americans such as Mike Farrell, Barry Scheck, and several death row exonerees will join international human rights leaders including former U.N. High Commissioner on Human Rights Mary Robinson, Bianca Jagger, and actress Catherine Deneuve for the 3-day conference. The Congress will explore

North Carolina Preparing to Execute Mentally Ill Man

Posted: September 30, 2004
Sammy Perkins is scheduled for execution in North Carolina on October 8, despite his mental illness and the fact that the jurors at his trial did not learn the extent of his disability. According to a press release from Perkins's attorneys:

"The jury never heard the full story of Sammy Perkins' mental disorder: A family history of psychiatric problems left its mark on Sammy Perkins. Several family members suffered from mental illnesses. In his late teens and early twenties, the time when bi-polar disorders are often discovered,