What's New


Posted: April 18, 2006

Philippine President Gloria Macapagel-Arroyo (pictured) ordered the commutation of all death sentences to life in prison, an order that will spare the lives of the 1,205 people on death row. As her nation marked Easter Sunday, she issued the clemencies: "I wish to announce that we are changing our policy on those who have been imposed the death penalty. We are reducing their penalty to life imprisonment.


RELIGIOUS VIEWS: Catholic Bishops Invoke Holy Day in Calling for End to Executions

Posted: April 13, 2006

In a letter issued prior to Easter, the Catholic Bishops in Missouri called for an end to executions in the U.S. and urged parishioners to "build a culture of life."  The letter noted that violence "is not a solution to society's problems," and it summarized church teachings regarding capital punishment and highlighted a campaign by U.S. Catholic Bishops to end the use of the death penalty. "(Christ) was unjustly sentenced to death and executed on a cross, the cruelest form of capital punishment at the time. . . . [R]ecent court interventions have focused attention on the inhumaneness of executions. As Catholics who believe in the sacredness of life, the use of state-authorized killing in our names diminishes us all," the Bishops wrote.  In the letter, the Bishops urged Catholics to contact their elected officials to advocate for a halt to executions.


NEW RESOURCE: New Government Web Site Promotes DNA Technology to "Protect the Innocent"

Posted: April 13, 2006

"Advancing Justice Through DNA Technology" offers a new resource from the President's DNA Initiative.  The Web site, www.dna.gov, includes resources on DNA testing, trainings, and funding, and a history of forensic use of DNA. In one section, "Exonerated by Science," the site provides overviews of cases in which DNA has played a significant role in freeing defendants who have been wrongly convicted, including some who were exonerated from death row.


Wrongful Convictions Prompt More Jurisdictions to Videotape Interrogations

Posted: April 12, 2006

The wrongful conviction of Eddie Joe Lloyd (pictured), a mentally ill man who was exonerated in 2002 after serving 17 years in prison for a rape and murder he did not commit, has prompted Detroit to join a growing list of jurisdictions that now require videotaped interrogations of suspects. A decade ago, only Minnesota and Alaska required police to videotape interrogations, but today, at least 450 police departments across the country have implemented the practice in an effort to prevent coerced confessions. "When you put it all on videotape, it gives you no leeway. You can watch it. I can watch it. The jury can watch it. I always say it's like having an instant replay so you know whether the guy went out of bounds in a football game or whether the tennis ball went out of the court," said Thomas P. Sullivan, a former U.S. Attorney in Chicago who has studied interrogation procedures.

In 1984, Lloyd was a patient at the Detroit Psychiatric Institute. Suffering from delusions that he had a special ability to solve crimes, Lloyd sent a letter to police saying he wanted to help in the investigation of the killing of 16-yaer-old Michelle Jackson. The letter was similar to other ones Lloyd had sent to police. Attorneys for Lloyd said that when police interrogators came to the hospital to question their client about the letter, they fed him details of the crime and convinced him that confessing to the murder would help them find the real killer. DNA evidence later exonerated Lloyd, and prompted Detroit to rethink its policy on videotaping interrogations. Barry C. Scheck, a lawyer who helped negotiate the new policy with the city on behalf of Lloyd's family, noted, "Detroit in this case has real symbolism to it. It sends a message to other police chiefs that even in the most difficult departments, this is something you can get done. That's the significance of this."  Lloyd died in 2004, two years after he was released from prison.


NEW VOICES: Senior Counsel to 9/11 Commission Questions Death Penalty for Moussaoui

Posted: April 12, 2006

In a recent New York Times op-ed, John Farmer, senior counsel to the 9/11 commission and a former New Jersery attorney general, states that seeking the death penalty for Zacarias Moussaoui detracts from U.S. efforts to seek justice against senior Al Qaeda officials who plotted and carried out the 9/11 attacks. Farmer claims Moussauoi, who was in jail as terrorists plotted and carried out the events of 9/11, was not the "20th hijacker" and is a "poor stand in" for more senior level Al Qaeda leaders who are also in U.S. custody:


Law Enforcement Officials, Defense Experts, and Researchers Explore Wrongful Convictions at California Conference

Posted: April 11, 2006

The recent "Faces of Wrongful Conviction" conference at UCLA featured a wide variety of speakers, including California's Senate Majority Leader Gloria Romero, former special prosecutor and federal judge Kenneth Starr, and former Bexar County (TX) District Attorney Sam Milsap. The conference was organized to examine mistakes in the criminal justice system and to explore reforms, particularly in California. A state Senate commission is preparing a study of California's death penalty system, and some members of the commission participated in the conference.

At the opening event, inmates who had been exonerated and freed from California's prisons and death row spoke briefly about their cases and attached handcuffs to a wall on stage, symbolizing those still incarcerated who have been wrongly convicted.

"It's time for California to be humbled by its capacity for error," noted Stanford University law professor Lawrence Marshall, who organized the first national conference of death row exonerees at Northwestern University Law School in 1998. According to the the Innocence Project at California Western School of Law in San Diego, more than 200 people have been wrongly convicted in the state since 1989. Many of those exonerees were serving long sentences; some were facing execution.


Federal Judge Requires Medically Trained Personnel for North Carolina Lethal Injection

Posted: April 11, 2006

U.S. District Court Judge Malcolm Howard has ordered North Carolina prison officials to provide medically trained personnel to ensure that death row inmate Willie Brown, Jr. is unconscious during his execution, currently scheduled for April 21. Prison officials have until noon on April 12 to present their plan for complying with the order. "Serious questions have been raised by the evidence concerning the effect of the current execution protocol. If the alleged deficiencies do, in fact, result in inadequate anesthesia prior to execution, there is no dispute that Brown will suffer excruciating pain," Howard wrote in his order. According to the North Carolina Society of Anesthesiologists, only an anesthesiologist or a nurse anesthetist under a doctor's supervision could do what the judge is requiring.


NEW VOICES: Mother of September 11 Victim Opposes Death Penalty for Moussaoui

Posted: April 10, 2006

Alice Hoagland's son, Mark Bingham (pictured), was killed on September 11 as he joined with fellow United Airlines passengers to ground a plane that may have been headed toward the White House. Hoagland is urging a life sentence for Zacarias Moussaoui, who faces the death penalty for his role in the terrorist events of that day. In an interview with The Advocate, Hoagland noted that sparing Moussaoui's life would honor "a reverence for all life" and that it would prevent some from viewing him as a martyr. Hoagland, a former flight attendant who is now active in transportation safety issues, stated:


Conference to Feature Experts on Forensic Science and Criminal Justice

Posted: April 6, 2006

The upcoming sixth annual Forensic Science and Law Conference, Justice for All, will feature more than 40 national experts discussing causes of and solutions to wrongful convictions. Former FBI Director William Sessions, Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Michael J. Sullivan, U.S. Senator Arlen Specter, acclaimed forensic scientist Henry Lee, and DNA exonerees Kirk Bloodsworth and Thomas Doswell are among those who will offer presentations during the April 20-22 event at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. "The waves of exonerations in this country based on forensic scientific advances have dramatically altered the climate for criminal justice reform in this country and made paramount the need for reforms to both harness the growing potential and address the limitations of forensic science in meting out justice for all," noted John T. Rago, an assistant professor of law at Duquesne University and executive director of the Cyril H. Wecht Institute of Forensic Scientific Law, institutions that will co-host the event with the Washington-DC based organization The Justice Project.


South Carolina Bill To Expand Death Penalty Draws Criticism

Posted: April 6, 2006

A bill to expand South Carolina's capital punishment statute so that those who are convicted a second time of raping children under 11 are eligible for the death penalty has drawn criticism from those who worry the bill may result in unintended consequences. Fears that the legislation will lead to family members refusing to come forward regarding intra-family offenses and that it may also result in more rape victims being killed are among the chief concerns regarding the proposed legislation. The bill has been approved by the South Carolina Senate and will soon be considered by legislators in the House. Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the pro-death penalty Criminal Justice Legal Foundation in California, said that a state shouldn't impose the death penalty for twice convicted sex offenders "simply to give the rapist an incentive not to kill the victim." DPIC Executive Director Richard Dieter agreed, adding, "It may actually create more death because the person facing the death penlaty for this kind of offense might be inclined to say, 'No greater punishment incurred if I kill the victim'."