Byron Halsey, who narrowly escaped a death sentence in New Jersey in 1988, had his conviction vacated after DNA tests pointed to another man as the assailant. Halsey's defense attorneys from the New York-based Innocence Project and the Union County District Attorney's Office had asked a state judge to grant a joint motion to vacate Halsey's conviction for the sexual assault and murder of two young children. The motion states that DNA testing on several key pieces of evidence used to convict Halsey actually indicated the guilt of another man, Cliff Hall, who is already in prison for several other sex crimes in New Jersey and who testified against Halsey during his trial.
Acclaimed author John Grisham recently told The Kansas City Star that the death penalty should be "abolished forever" in the United States. "I think the system is so badly flawed that all executions should be stopped. . . . Let's start with the basic concept of a fair trial. We are so far away from that in every state in this country," said Grisham, an attorney whose views on capital punishment started to shift when he wrote "The Chamber," a novel that deals with an execution. Grisham's most recent best-selling book, "An Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town," relates the wrongful conviction and freeing of death row inmate Ron Williamson of Oklahoma. Grisham said he believes innocent people remain on death row and that the margin of error in death penalty cases is simply too high. Grisham now raises funds for organizations that address wrongful convictions.
Florida's Department of Corrections established new execution protocols for carrying out lethal injections at the request of the governor, following the botched execution of Angel Diaz in December 2006. Excerpts from the new protocols follow:
Curtis Edward McCarty, who had been sentenced to die three times and has spent 21 years on Oklahoma's death row for a crime he did not commit, has been released after District Court Judge Twyla Mason Gray ordered that the charges against him be dismissed. Gray ruled that the case against McCarty was tainted by the questionable testimony of former police chemist Joyce Gilchrist, who gave improper expert testimony about semen and hair evidence during McCarty's trial. Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater said his office will not appeal Gray's decision.
The New Jersey Senate Judiciary Committee will hold hearings on May 10, 2007, on legislation that would replace the state's death penalty with a sentence of life without parole. If passed, New Jersey would become the first state since capital punishment was reinstated to abolish the death penalty legislatively. The bill stems from a January report issued by a special study commission appointed by the New Jersey legislature.
In "Dead Wrong: Violence, Vengeance, and the Victims of Capital Punishment," author Richard Stack uses cases to examine three of the main causes of wrongful convictions - mistaken eyewitness testimony, official misconduct, and incompetent counsel. Stack, a professor at American University's School of Communication, based the book on three years of research conducted with the assistance of students enrolled in his public communication classes.
U.S. District Judge S. James Otero recently halted the penalty phase of a federal capital case in Los Angeles and told prosecutors that he believes the U.S. Justice Department should reconsider its decision to seek the death penalty for Petro "Peter" Krylov. Krylov is facing the death penalty for his role in a kidnapping and murder plot. Otero, the second federal judge this year to urge federal prosecutors and the Justice Department to rethink their decision to seek a death sentence, told prosecutors that Krylov's case is different from the cases against his two co-conspirators, who both received death sentences. "I would hope that the government has enough flexibility that they can address these major significant life-and-death issues to handle circumstances such as what has occurred in this case," Otero told lawyers for both parties while the jury was out of the courtroom. Prosecutors responded that they would share Otero's comments with Justice Department officials, but that Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez (pictured) had already made the decision to seek death for Krylov.
The Tennessee House Judiciary Committee unanimously approved a bill that would establish a commission to thoroughly review the state's death penalty system and provide lawmakers with reform recommendations that address any problems identified by members of the commission. The commission would consist of representatives appointed by Governor Phil Bredesen (pictured), the Senate, and the House, and would include prosecutors, defense attorneys, mental health advocates, and victims advocates.
Amnesty International reported that executions worldwide fell by more than 25% last year, down from 2,148 in 2005 to 1,591 in 2006. Of all known executions that took place in 2006, 91% were carried out in six countries, China (1,010), Iran (177), Pakistan (82), Iraq (65), Sudan (65), and the United States (53). Amnesty notes that executions in China are treated as state secrets, and there may have been as many as 8,000 executions.
Last year, the Philippines became the 99th nation to abolish the death penalty for all crimes. Amnesty reports that many more nations, including South Korea, are on the brink of abandoning capital punishment. Use of the death penalty worldwide is also becoming increasingly isolated. Only 6 nations in Africa, one nation in Europe (Belarus), and one nation in the Americas (United States) carried out executions last year.
In the U.S., Amnesty noted that New Jersey became the first state to institute a legislatively mandated moratorium on executions and that a study commission in the state has called for complete abolition of capital punishment. Several other states have also halted executions because of legal challenges and concerns related to lethal injection protocols.