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RACE AND JURY SELECTION: Federal Judge Attempts to Seat a More Diverse Jury in Death Penalty Case

Posted: September 16, 2005

A federal judge in Boston presiding over the death penalty case of two black defendants has ordered a change in the process of summoning jurors in order to ensure a more diverse jury.  U.S. District Judge Nancy Gertner wrote a 95-page opinion and noted that it would be "profoundly troubling" if the defendants, Darryl Green and Branden Morris, were to face an all-white jury in a trial for their lives.  Gertner cited studies that showed that wealthier geographic areas keep more accurate jury rolls and hence have a higher response rate from summoning juries.  Poorer areas, where more minorities live, require a follow-up process when summonses are returned unanswered in order to reach the intended person.

The prosecution has challenged the judge's order and the District Court's Chief Judge has appointed a committee of 5 judges, including Gertner, to review the "profound issues" raised.  The Chief Judge has submitted his own brief to the U.S. Court of Appeals that is considering the prosecution's challenge. 


Postal Inspector Voices Doubts About Ohio Defendant's Guilt

Posted: September 15, 2005

U.S. Postal Inspector Gregory Duerr of Cleveland has called for a delay in an upcoming Ohio execution because he said official testimony given in the case of John Spirko was unreliable.  Spirko's November 15 execution date should be "delayed until the serious issues indicating innocence (are) truly resolved," Duerr noted.   In an open letter to Chief Inspector Leroy Heath, Duerr questioned the character of a key state's witness, retired postal inspector Paul Hartman. Hartman had interrogated Spirko numerous times about the 1982 kidnapping and murder of Elgin postmaster Betty Jane Mottinger.  Duerr stated that the postal service's support of Hartman's statements in the case has put the group "on the side of injustice" because Hartman had a reputation for unprofessional conduct and was forced to retire early after several inspectors complained about him.  Duerr said he was threatened by his superiors after he raised questions about Hartman's role in Spirko's conviction. Duerr wrote: "it appears an individual who did not commit the crime is going to be executed." The Ohio Attorney General's Office has received a copy of the letter and has sent it to the state parole board and to Spirko's attorneys. The parole board has set a second clemency hearing for Spirko on October 12.


Taiwan President Promises to Abolish the Death Penalty

Posted: September 13, 2005

Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian has vowed to abolish the death penalty so that his country can become a nation founded on the basis of human rights. In making his announcement, Chen noted, "Abolishing the death penalty has become a world trend. Almost every year there is one country abolishing the death penalty. . . . Since I became president in 2000, Taiwan launched the campaign to abolish the death penalty by reducing the handing down and execution of capital punishment, and by making it harder for inmates to receive parole and forcing them to pay more compensation to victims." The number of executions carried out in Taiwan has declined from 32 in 1998 to 17 in 2000 to one so far this year.


Texas Woman Facing Execution Had One of the Worst of Texas' Lawyers

Posted: September 12, 2005

As Texas prepares to execute Frances Newton on September 14, the Austin American-Statesman editorialized about the poor quality of representation she received at trial and the doubts that this raises about her conviction. The paper noted:

Maybe Frances Newton shot her husband and two children to death in 1987. Maybe she didn't. The public cannot be certain of her guilt, but she's going to die for the crime anyway.


New Resource: A Review of Deterrence Studies and other Social Science Research

Posted: September 9, 2005

Robert Weisberg, a professor at Stanford University's School of Law, examines recent studies on deterrence and the death penalty, as well as other social science research ragarding capital punishment in the U.S. In The Death Penalty Meets Social Science: Deterrence and Jury Behavior Under New Scrutiny, Weisberg notes that many of the new studies claiming to find that the death penalty deters murder have been legitimately criticized for omitting key variables and for not addressing the potential distorting effect of one high-executing state, Texas.


New Resource: Amnesty International Magazine Examines Execution of the Mentally Ill

Posted: September 8, 2005

An article in the Fall 2005 edition of the magazine Amnesty International examines whether mentally ill defendants should be exempted from the death penalty, especially in light of the Supreme Court's rulings exempting juvenile and mentally retarded offenders.  The article quotes Ohio Northern University law professor Victor Streib: "The general public too often assumes that only the seriousness of the crime is relevant to the punishment, but the (Supreme) Court has repeatedly held that both the serious(ness) of the crime and the character and background of the defendant must be considered in the sentencing decision. If certain mentally ill defendants think and act like juveniles or the mentally retarded, then they should be excluded from death row."


North Carolina Bar Charges Prosecutors With Serious Misconduct in Death Case

Posted: September 7, 2005

The North Carolina State Bar has charged two former Union County prosecutors with lying, cheating, and withholding evidence in a 1996 murder case that ended in a death sentence. The charges state that former Union County District Attorney Kenneth Honeycutt and his assistant, Scott Brewer, each committed 23 violations of the rules that govern lawyers during their 1996 prosecution of Jonathan Hoffman, who was sentenced to death for robbery and murder.


State and National Leaders Urge Closer Examination Before Scheduled Ohio Execution

Posted: September 6, 2005

John Spirko is scheduled for execution on September 20 in Ohio but the state's Attorney General, Jim Petro, has recommended further review of the case because his senior deputy misrepresented evidence to the Parole Board.  The Board voted 6-3 against leniency for Spirko, who received a death sentence for a 1982 murder.  Other national leaders, such as former FBI Director William S. Sessions, have also urged the state to investigate the case more closely.  In a letter to Ohio Governor Bob Taft, Sessions asked that Spirko's sentence be commuted, noting, "I believe that John Spirko may have been unjustly convicted."  Sessions is one of four retired federal judges who have questioned Spirko's conviction.  Defense attorneys assert that Spirko's conviction was based on faulty eyewitness identification and the testimony of jailhouse informants who received leniency and later recanted.


Victim's Family Expresses Relief At No Death Penalty

Posted: September 6, 2005

Edna Weaver, whose daughter was murdered in New Jersey, expressed relief that the defendant was spared the death penalty.  She said that she did not want William Severs Jr. executed for killing Tina Lambriola in 2002 because she wanted to spare his mother the pain of losing a child. "I'm so thankful it came out the way it did. . . . I wouldn't want another mother to feel like I do -- it's a feeling I could never put into words. . . . At least his mother will be able to write to him, she will be able to send things to him," Weaver stated.


European Union Criticizes Resumption of Executions in Iraq

Posted: September 2, 2005

As Iraq resumed carrying out the death penalty with the execution of three nationals on September 1, the European Union (EU) expressed its hope that Iraq would abandon capital punishment. In a statement released after the executions, the EU noted, "The EU is of the view that the death penalty does not serve as an effective deterrent and any miscarriage of justice, which might arise in any legal system, would be irreversible. The EU therefore regrets that the government of Iraq has elected to implement the death penalty in these cases. ...The EU is strongly opposed to the death penalty and condemns its use. While recognizing the sovereign right of the government of Iraq to decide on judicial sentencing, we strongly urge that the death penalty should be abolished."