What's New

LEGISLATION: Senate and House Pass Versions of Innocence Protection Act

Posted: October 10, 2004
On October 9, the U.S. Senate passed by voice vote a bill called the "Justice for All Act of 2004" that contains important elements of the Innocence Protection Act, originally introduced in 2000. A similar bill recently overwhelmingly passed the House of Representatives (HR 5107), and it is expected that the final legislation will now be signed into law. The bill provides for expanded access to DNA testing for prison inmates and assistance to states for both defense and prosecution in conducting death penalty trials.

ARBITRARINESS: Execution May Go Forward Despite Nearly Even Split on Innocence

Posted: October 8, 2004
A deeply divided U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled 8-7 that the execution of Tennessee death row inmate Paul Gregory House may move forward despite the fact that nearly half of the judges believe he is not guilty and should be freed immediately. "We are faced with a real-life murder mystery, an authentic 'who-done-it' where the wrong man may be executed," wrote

NEW RESOURCE: Research with Jurors Finds Reluctance to Sentence Juveniles to Death

Posted: October 8, 2004
A recently published study by Northeastern criminal justice professors William J. Bowers and Michael E. Antonio, in conjunction with University of Delaware professors Valerie P. Hans and Benjamin D. Fleury-Steiner, finds jurors very reluctant to give the death penalty to juvenile defendants because of their immaturity and dysfunctional family backgrounds.


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