In the wake of numerous lawsuits challenging current lethal injection procedures and a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that makes it easier for those on death row to file such claims, medical experts have identified alternative protocols that would be less risky to the prisoner but more difficult for witnesses to observe. "There's an innumerably long list of medications that can be given to cause someone to die," said Dr. Mark Dershwitz, a professor of anesthesiology at the University of Massachusetts.
According to the FBI's Preliminary Uniform Crime Report for 2005, all regions of the country experienced a rise in murder rates in 2005. The Midwest had the largest increase (5.8%) and the West had the smallest increase (3.2%). Based on the increases reported by the FBI and the previous year's murder rates, the South again had the highest murder rate in the country-- 6.9 murders per 100,000 people--followed by the West (5.9), Midwest (5.0) and the Northeast (4.4). The rates for forcible rape were down in every area of the country. Final statistics will be available from the FBI in the fall. (FBI Press Release, June 12, 2006).
The League of Women Voters of the United States has adopted an official national policy calling for abolition of the death penalty. During the organization's 47th biennial national convention in Minneapolis, delegates adopted policy language stating, "The League of Women Voters of the United States supports the abolition of the death penalty." The League of Women Voters has more than 130,000 members and supporters.
July 2, 2006 will mark the 30th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Gregg v. Georgia, an historic ruling that upheld newly crafted death penalty statutes and signaled the beginning of the modern era of capital punishment. This milestone presents the public with an opportunity to examine the application of the death penalty over the past three decades and to test whether the Court’s expectation of a fairer and less arbitrary system of capital punishment has been fulfilled.
The U.S. Supreme has expanded the ability of death row inmates to challenge their convictions in federal court based on DNA evidence produced long after their trials. The ruling marks the first time that the Justices have considered the new evidentiary technology of DNA evidence when re-examining a death sentence. In its 5-3 decision, the Court held that new evidence, including DNA test results, raised sufficient doubt to merit a new hearing in federal court for Tennessee death row inmate Paul House, who was sentenced to death two decades ago for the rape and murder of his neighbor.
Writing for the majority in House v. Bell, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy noted, "Although the issue is close, we conclude that this is the rare case where - had the jury heard all the conflicting testimony - it is more likely than not that no reasonable juror viewing the record as a whole would lack reasonable doubt." Justice Kennedy identified three aspects of House's case that, when considered as a whole, qualified him to gain access to a habeas corpus hearing in federal court. The first piece of new evidence was recent DNA test results finding that House was not the source of semen found in the murder victim, but that the source was instead the victims' husband. Second, new statements from three witnesses linked the victims' husband to the crime. Lastly, recent tests have cast doubt on the reliability of blood evidence presented at House's trial. Although prosecutors told jurors that the victims' blood had been found on House's blue jeans, new evidence has raised the prospect that the blood spattered on House's jeans came from a vial of the victims' blood taken during an autopsy.
Recent editorials in The Washington Post and Roanoke Times praised Virginia Governor Tim Kaine's decision to delay the execution of Percy Walton in order to ensure that he is sane enough to execute. The papers noted that Kaine's decision, which drew criticism from some death penalty advocates, demonstrated "competence in lawfully applying the death penalty" and was "courageous."
The Washington Post noted:
The U.S. Supreme Court has unanimously ruled that death row inmates seeking to challenge lethal injection as a method of execution after they have exhausted their regular appeals may pursue the issue as a civil rights claim. Though the decision in Hill v. McDonough did not answer the broader question regarding whether the chemicals used in lethal injections around the nation are unconstitutional because they may cause excruciating pain, it does permit inmates to challenge lethal injection using an Eighth Amendment claim.
A new report issued by the American Bar Association's Death Penalty Moratorium Implementation Project found that Alabama's death penalty fails to meet fundamental ABA standards of fairness and accuracy. An eight-member assessment team assembled in Alabama by the ABA was so troubled by its findings that it called for a moratorium on executions in the state.
South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford and Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry have signed into law legislation that allows proseuctors to seek the death penalty for repeat child molesters. The new South Carolina law allows a death sentence if the accused has been twice convicted of raping a child younger than 11-years-old. It also sets a 25-year mandatory minimum prison sentence for some sex offenders, mandates that people convicted of criminal sexual conduct in the first degree wear an electronic monitoring device, and requires registered sex offenders to update their address every six months.
An hour before the scheduled execution of Virginia death row inmate Percy Levar Walton, Governor Tim Kaine (pictured) issued a temporary stay to allow time for an independent inquiry to determine whether Walton is too mentally ill to be executed. "Due to the history of judicial concern about his mental status, the claims in Walton's clemency petition are entitled to serious consideration. It would be imprudent to either proceed with the execution or grant clemency without further review," Kaine said in a statement issued as he ordered Walton's scheduled execution be delayed for six months.