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NEW VOICES: California Chief Justice Calls Death Penalty "Dysfunctional"

Posted: May 3, 2006

Ronald George (pictured), Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court, recently called the state's death penalty "dysfunctional" and criticized state lawmakers for their unwillingness to adequately fund the state's capital punishment system. The Justice noted that this refusal has been "a disservice to the administration of justice."  George added, "I think that there are many, many things in the eyes of legislators that have greater priority. That's the problem. People want to have the death penalty, but they don't want to pay everything it costs to have it implemented in a judicious manner. . . . The system is very dysfunctional."

George, a Republican who was appointed to the court by Governor Pete Wilson, said that the California Supreme Court needs several new staff attorneys to process capital cases, and he also stated that lawmakers need to increase hourly payments to lawyers handling death penalty appeals in order to keep inmates from waiting years before counsel is appointed. Approximately 25% of those on California's death row do not have a publicly appointed lawyer to challenge their conviction and sentence. Since California reinstated the death penalty in 1978, 13 people have been put to death. Four times as many people on death row have died of natural causes, suicide, or murder.


Supreme Court Unanimously Rules Death Row Inmate Deprived of a Fair Trial

Posted: May 2, 2006

The U.S. Supreme Court, with Justice Samuel Alito writing his first opinion, unanimously ruled on May 1 that South Carolina had deprived Bobbie Lee Holmes of a fair trial when it prevented him from putting on evidence contradictory to the state's case and that pointed to another possible suspect. South Carolina's rule was that if the state had put on strong forensic evidence of the defendant's guilt, the defendant could be prohibited from raising an alternative theory of a third party's guilt. Justice Alito found this rule to be arbitrary and irrational, writing: "The point is that by evaluating the strength of only one party's evidence, no logical conclusion can be reached regarding the strength of contrary evidence offered by the other side to rebut or cast doubt." A coalition of 18 states, led by Attorney General Phill Kline of Kansas, had filed a brief in support of South Carolina's position.


BOOKS: Stories about Executions

Posted: April 28, 2006
"A Meal to Die For" is a short story by Professor Robert Johnson examining capital punishment through the eyes of a man approaching his execution. The story is part of The Crying Wall and Other Prison Stories, a larger collection of short stories by a variety of authors. In "A Meal to Die For," Johnson weaves the death row prisoner's last meal with the gradual process of lethal injection, resulting in a painful death.

Robert Johnson is a Professor of Justice, Law and Society at American University in Washington, D.C. He has

LETHAL INJECTIONS: Hearings in California and Missouri Delayed by Federal Courts

Posted: April 27, 2006

Two of the leading cases challenging the lethal injection process as a civil rights violation were significantly delayed to allow the parties more time to gather information.  In California, the federal District Court overseeing the case of Michael Morales postponed the scheduled May 2 hearing until September 19, 2006.  In Missouri, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit granted a 60-day extension for discovery and a hearing in the case of Michael Taylor.  Both inmates had come within hours of execution earlier this year.  (Morales v. Woodford, U.S. District Court for San Jose, CA, Order stating stipulation of the parties to increased time, April 27, 2006; Taylor v. Crawford, U.S. Ct. of Appeals, 8th Cir., April 27, 2006 (per curiam opinion remanding the case for a hearing in District Court within 60 days).


Texas Death Row Inmate To Be Forcibly Medicated For Execution

Posted: April 27, 2006

On April 11, Texas Judge Wayne Salvant ruled that death row inmate Steven Kenneth Staley could be physically forced to take anti-psychotic medication that could render him competent enough to be executed. The decision came nearly two months after the judge stopped Staley's scheduled execution following testimony from two doctors who stated that Staley suffers from paranoid schizophrenia and is too mentally ill to be executed. The law requires that Staley be mentally competent before he is executed. Since Staley was placed on death row in 1991, he has been hospitalized nearly 20 times because he is psychotic. He has a long history of mental illness.


DETERRENCE: Nevada Executions--11 out 12 Preferred Execution over Appeals

Posted: April 27, 2006

Daryl Mack, who repeatedly noted that he would rather be executed than spend the next 20 years of his life on death row pursuing legal appeals, was executed Wednesday for a 1988 murder in Reno.  Mack was convicted in 2002.   He was the 12th person executed in Nevada since capital punishment was reinstated in 1977, and the 11th to waive remaining appeals at the time of execution. He was the first black man to be executed in the Nevada since executions resumed in the state.

On the same day that Mack was lethally injected in Nevada, the U.S. Supreme Court considered the issue of lethal injection in a Florida case.  Many executions nationally have been stayed because of this issue. (Review-Journal, April 27, 2006) .

There have been 15 executions in the U.S. this year, down from 17 carried out at this time in 2005. This year's executions are nearly 60% fewer than the number of executions at this time in 1999 (36).


Harvard Conference Explores Race and the Death Penalty

Posted: April 26, 2006

A May 2006 conference held at the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School examined new research, legal defense, and public response to the issue of race and the death penalty. The conference, "From Lynch Mobs to the Killing State: A National Conference on Race and the Death Penalty," featured a number of national academic and legal experts including Barry Scheck, Peter Neufeld, Charles Ogletree, Rubin "Hurricane"

United Methodist Church Marks 50th Anniversary of Stance Against Death Penalty

Posted: April 25, 2006
Marking the 50th anniversary of the United Methodist Church's public call for an end to the death penalty, the church's General Board of Church and Society recently issued a statement echoing the sentiments of the church's original call for abolition and urging all United Methodists "to practice transformative love, to comfort the victims of crime, to humanize those convicted of crime, and to advocate for an end to the death penalty in our criminal justice system." The statement comes five decades after the historic 1956 United Methodist General Conference, during which the church officially s

Amnesty International Report Finds Declining Executions and Trend Toward Abolition

Posted: April 24, 2006

Amnesty International's most recent death penalty report, "The Death Penalty Worldwide: Developments in 2005," revealed a substantial drop in recorded executions around the world, as well as a growing number of nations that have abandoned the death penalty. According to the report, four nations accounted for 94% of the 2,148 recorded executions carried out around the world in 2005, a total that is significantly less than the 3,797 executions recorded in 2004 (however, in many countries the exact number of executions is unknown).