What's New

Lethal Injection Controversy Unresolved in Missouri and Other States

Posted: September 13, 2006

A federal District Court judge ruled that Missouri's proposed changes to its lethal injection process still do not meet the constitutional requirments under the Eighth Amendment.  Judge Fernando Gaitan ruled on September 12 that Missouri may use a doctor in good standing to preside over executions rather than requiring a board-certified anesthesiologist, as he first ordered in the case of Michael Taylor.  However, other aspects of Missouri's new protocol still do not sufficiently protect against the risk of a cruel and unusual punishment.  Judge Gaitan gave the state until October 27 to submit revised protocols.


BOOKS: "Back from the Dead" by Joan Cheever

Posted: September 12, 2006

Back From The Dead: One woman’s search for the men who walked off America’s death row is the story of 589 former death row inmates who, through a lottery of fate, were given a second chance at life in 1972 when the death penalty was abolished.  Joan Cheever, a former editor of the National Law Journal, who also represented a death row inmate in Texas, traveled the country interviewing inmates who had been condemned to death but whose sentences were reduced to life when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the death penalty in Furman v. Georgia in 1972.


Rwanda Likely to End Death Penalty to Bring Closure to War

Posted: September 12, 2006

The Justice Minister of Rwanda, Tharcisse Karugarama, announced that the country will likely pass a law by December 2006 ending capital punishment.  This move would allow Rwanda to try suspects charged with atrocities in the 1994 war who are currently in countries that refuse to extradite prisoners if they face the death penalty.  Karugarama said that abolition was necessary in order to achieve a sense of closure.  Unless the country abolishes the death penalty, countries like Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark and Switzerland will not extradite suspects to be tried in Rwanda's national courts.  Only the U.S. has extradited a suspect to Rwanda.  Suspects held under United Nations auspices also cannot be sent to Rwanda if the death penalty is to be sought.


Justice Department Reports Decrease in Violent Crime in 2005

Posted: September 10, 2006
According to a Bureau of Justice Statistics Report released on September 10, violent crime in the United States decreased slightly in 2005, continuing a decade-long trend in fewer victimizations.  Comparing two-year periods, violent crime was lowest in the Northeast region of the country in 2004-05, and that region also experienced the largest decrease in violent crime from 2002-03 to 2004-05. Since 1993, violent crime has decreased by about 58% in the U.S.

The BJS survey of crime victimization does not include homicides. 

Texas Editorials Call for Independent Investigation of Possible Wrongful Execution

Posted: September 6, 2006

Two of Texas's main newspapers have called for an independent investigation into the case of Ruben Cantu, who was executed in Texas in 1993.  New evidence revealed in the Houston Chronicle earlier in the year has thrown considerable doubt on the guilt of Cantu.  Susan Reed, the District Attorney of Bexar County where Cantu was tried, has refused to step down as head of the county's investigation, even though, as a judge, she signed Cantu's death warrant, an apparent conflict of interest.  The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals refused to require her to recuse herself.


New Government Study Finds Over Half of Inmates Have Mental Problems

Posted: September 6, 2006

According to a Bureau of Justice Statistics study released September 6, more than half of all prison and jail inmates, including 56% of state prisoners, 45% of federal prisoners, and 64% of local jail inmates have mental health problems.  The study was based on reporting of symptoms by inmates rather than through medical diagnosis.  Among state prisoners with mental problems, 43% had symptoms of mania, 23% had major depression, and 15% had psychotic disorders.  Having mental health problems was closely correlated with violence and past criminal activity.


Costs and Geography Contribute to Death Penalty's Arbitrariness

Posted: September 5, 2006

The death penalty is rarely sought in the city of Baltimore, but in adjoining Baltimore County almost every eligible case becomes a capital case.  Presently, there are 7 active death-penalty cases in Baltimore County, more than the city of Baltimore has had overall in the past 2 decades.  In addition to the different philosophies of the respective State's Attorneys, the costs of the death penalty are a significant factor.  Prosecutors estimate that a death penalty case costs taxpayers $500,000, just for the trial and penalty phases.  Donald Giblin, one of Baltimore's prosecutors, noted:


Executions in 2006

Posted: September 1, 2006

There have been 41 executions in 2006 as of September 5.  This is a pace comparable to last year's, when there were 60 executions.  Eighty percent of the executions have been in the South, keeping with a pattern since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.  Almost half of all executions (20 of 41) have been in one state, Texas.  Only about 20% of those executed had killed a black victim, even though about half of all murder victims in the U.S. are black.  This underrepresentation of black-victim cases has also been a consistent pattern since  the death penalty returned.  No clemencies have been granted in 2006.  Many executions have been put on hold due to challenges to the lethal injection process.


Texas May Release Former Death Row Inmate

Posted: September 1, 2006

Anthony Graves, who was sentenced to death in Texas in 1994, may soon be released on bail.  Graves' conviction was overturned in March 2006 by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit because prosecutors had withheld two pieces of important evidence from Graves' attorneys prior to his trial.  One of the main witnesses against Graves, a co-defendant who participated in the crime, recanted his earlier testimony.  The federal court has given Texas until September 12, 2006 to either retry Graves or to dismiss charges.  Texas requested more time because it has appealed the 5th Circuit ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the request was denied.


NEW BOOKS: Death Sentences in Missouri, 1803-2005

Posted: August 31, 2006
Researcher and former law professor Harriet C.