Several members of the Arizona House and Senate recently offered apologies to Ray Krone (pictured), a former Arizona death row inmate who was freed in 2002 following new DNA tests. The apologies followed standing ovations from members of the state's House and Senate when Krone was introduced to the legislators in each chamber during floor sessions. Krone, who now travels the nation educating people about the problems with the death penalty, accepted the legislators' apologies and stated, "It's a recognition from actual elected officials of the wrong that was done in the name of the State of Arizona." Arizona Senate Judiciary Chairman John Huppenthal said that Krone's case shows that corrections are needed to protect the innocent, noting, "This is happening more frequently than we would like to admit." Another legislator, Representative Phil Lopes, said that Krone's case "exemplifies why we should abolish the death penalty" in Arizona.
South Korea's Ministry of Justice has announced that it is considering replacing the death penalty with life without parole, a move that the ministry says stems from concerns about human rights. "We will thoroughly examine the possibility of abolishing the death penalty as part of efforts to set up a human rights-oriented penal system. . . . We will review the adequacy of introducing permanent life imprisonment which cannot be remitted by parole, as well as necesary budget and effect of the system," a ministry official noted.
The number of people sentenced to death each year in California has declined by nearly 40% since the 1990s. According to the California Department of Corrections, on average, the state sent 35 people to death row each year during the 1990s. Since 2000, that number has declined to an average of 21 annually. California has the largest death row in the country.
California Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald M. George attributed some of the decline to more selective charging by district attorneys and to the fact that juries may be "exercising some discretion about imposing the death penalty." George Williamson, co-chair of the Capital Case Litigation Committee, agreed that a shift in juror attitudes has contributed to the steep decline in death sentences. "Jury attitudes have helped drive (the sentencing) number down. When we (pick juries), it's very clear that the number of people who have problems with the death penlaty has increased pretty significantly than what we saw in the 1980s and 1990s," Williamson said. (Sacramento Bee, February 18, 2006).
An examination of recent Gallup surveys in the United States, Great Britain, and Canada found that Americans are more supportive of the death penalty than are either Britons or Canadians. An October 2005 poll of Americans measured support for the death penalty at 64%, a figure that was significantly higher than the 44% support measured in Canada and the 49% support found in Great Britain during December 2005 polls. Support for the death penalty recently declined in both Great Britain and Canada, but remained the same in the U.S.
The latest edition of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund's Death Row USA shows an 8% decline in the country's death row population during the past 5 years, down from 3,652 in 2000 to 3,373 at the end of 2005. According to the report, California continues to have the nation's largest death row population (649), followed by Texas (409), Florida (388), Pennsylvania (231), and Ohio (196).
Former special prosecutor Kenneth Starr recently voiced concerns about the way the death penalty is being applied. Starr, who now serves as Dean of the Pepperdine Law School, is assisting in the representation of death row inmate Michael Morales. Morales is scheduled for execution on February 21 in California.
An editorial in the Austin-American Statesman praised the recommendations of the governor's advisory council on criminal justice, especially in regard to changes needed in the death penalty system. Excerpts from the editorial appear below:
Affordable steps to justice in Texas
Nobody can blame the public for becoming increasingly skeptical about the
Texas criminal justice system in light of the steady stream of folks who
have been released from prison because they were innocent.
Ruling that the current mix of drugs used to carry out California's lethal injections may constitute cruel and unusual punishment, U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel has ordered California to alter its lethal injection procedures before it carries out the scheduled execution of Michael Morales on February 21. Fogel, who said he is troubled by the prospect that inmates may be conscious and undergoing extreme pain once a paralyzing agent and then a heart-stopping drug are administered during executions, ordered the state to either have an expert present to ensure that Morales is unconscious from the sedative or to replace the state's three-drug execution mix with a single lethal dose of a barbiturate. The ruling gave the state until the end of Wednesday (Feb. 15) to choose an expert, or until Thursday to choose the single-drug method. If the state does not comply with his order, Fogel will stay the execution and have hearings on whether the state's lethal injection protocols are cruel and unusal punishment. (Associated Press, February 14, 2006). Read Judge Fogel's Order. See Methods of Execution. UPDATE: California has elected to have an anesthesiologist present for the execution to monitor unconsciousness.
An exhibit featuring artist Taryn Simon's 45 photographic portraits of individuals freed by DNA evidence is on display at Provisions Library in Washington, DC, from February 11 to April 15, 2006. During the D.C. exhibit, which is part of a traveling exhibition curated by Umbrage Editions to mark the 10th anniversary of the New York City-based Innocence Project, a series of related events will also be offered to more closely examine the issue of wrongful convictions. Among the special presentations that will accompany the exhibit are a screening of the film "After Innocence," performance excerpts from the play The Exonerated, a teach-in on science and criminal justice, a book reading by death row exoneree Kirk Bloodsworth, and an art workshop given by Ms. Simon.
Steven P. Grossman, a former New York City prosecutor and a professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law, recently wrote in The Baltimore Sun that the death penalty is "not worth the societal effort it requires and the wounds it causes." The case of Maryland death row inmate Vernon Evans,who received a stay jsut prior to his scheduled execution this month, prompted Grossman to examine capital punishment as it relates to victims' families and whether executions deter future violent crimes. He noted: