What's New

NEW VOICES: Former Federal Prosecutor Criticizes the Withholding of Critical Evidence

Posted: August 22, 2005
John P. Flannery, a former federal prosecutor and special counsel to the U.S. Senate and House Judiciary Committees, recently noted the broad problems in Virginia's criminal justice system that could lead to convicting the innocent:

We are convicting innocent people in Virginia because of false eyewitness testimony, false confessions, over-eager snitches, faulty forensics, bad defense lawyers but also, and this is the worst of all, because of prosecutorial misconduct and police misconduct. In this last category,

EDITORIAL: Alabama's Death Penalty Representation System in Disarray

Posted: August 18, 2005
The Birmingham News sharply criticized Alabama's system of representation in death penalty cases, saying that the public should be outraged.  A lack of even minimal resources and pay has caused attorneys to withdraw from cases and to decline representation to indigent defendants. The paper wrote that this shortage of attorneys could result in more trial errors and longer appeals, putting an undue strain on victims' families and the entire system of justice. The editorial stated:

What would it be worth to you to have a good lawyer if you were charged

NEW RESOURCE: Research Examines Those Who Volunteer for Execution

Posted: August 16, 2005

A new Michigan Law Review article by Professor John Blume of Cornell Law School examines the relationship between "volunteering" for execution and suicide.  Blume found that nearly 88% of all death row inmates who have "volunteered" for execution have struggled with mental illness and/or substance abuse. He writes that there is an especially strong link between "volunteerism" and mental illness. Of the "volunteer" executions he reviewed, 14 involved schizophrenia and several more reported delusions that may reflect schizophrenia. Depression and bipolar disorder accounted for at least 23 other cases, and post-traumatic stress disorder was present in another 10. At least 30 of those who "volunteered" for execution had previously attempted suicide.  The article also notes that between 1977 and 2003, 85% of the 93 inmates who opted to allow their execution to proceed without exhausting all legal appeals were white males, despite the fact that white males make up only 45% of all death row inmates.


Two Cases Added to DPIC Innocence List, Bringing Total to 121

Posted: August 16, 2005

The Death Penalty Information Center recently became aware of two older capital cases in which the defendants had been sentenced to death but were later acquitted at re-trial.  We have added Christopher McCrimmon of Arizona and Larry Fisher of Mississippi to our innocence list, bringing the total number of people released from death row on the basis of innocence to 121 since 1973. McCrimmon is the eighth person to be exonerated from Arizona’s death row, and Fisher is the second death row exoneree from Mississippi.  A brief description of the cases follows:

Christopher McCrimmon was convicted and sentenced to death for a triple murder that occurred in Tucson's El Grande Market in 1992. Two other co-defendants, Andre Minnitt and Martin Soto-Fong, were also sentenced to death for the same crime. At McCrimmon’s trial, one juror hesitated about his vote for conviction. The trial judge met with the jury, which then shortly returned a unanimous guilty verdict. The Arizona Supreme Court overturned McCrimmon’s conviction in 1996 because of the judge’s undue pressure on the jury. (Arizona v. McCrimmon/Minnitt, 927 P.2d 1298 (1996)). Subsequently, it was discovered that the lead prosecutor against all 3 co-defendants, Kenneth Peasley, presented false evidence in the original case. With this knowledge, McCrimmon was quickly acquitted at his re-trial in 1997. (See Arizona v. Minnitt, 55 P.3d 774, 779 (2002) (vacating co-defendant Minnitt’s conviction and sentence and barring re-trial because of deliberate prosecutorial misconduct)).


Georgia Board To Pardon Woman 60 Years After Her Execution

Posted: August 16, 2005

The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles has announced that it will issue a formal pardon this month for Lena Baker (pictured), the only woman executed in the state during the 20th century. The document, signed by all five of the current board members, will note that the parole board's 1945 decision to deny Baker clemency and allow her execution was "a grievous error, as this case called out for mercy." Baker, an African American, was executed for the murder of Ernest Knight, a white man who hired her . Baker was tried, convicted, and sentenced to die in one day by an all-white, all-male jury. Baker claimed she shot Knight in self-defense after he locked her in his gristmill and threatened her with a metal pipe. The pardon notes that Baker "could have been charged with voluntary manslaughter, rather than murder, for the death of E.B. Knight." The average sentence for voluntary manslaughter is 15 years in prison. Baker's picture and her last words are currently displayed near the retired electric chair at a museum at Georgia State Prison in Reidsville.


Study Finds Texans Lack Confidence in Death Penalty, Support Halt to Executions

Posted: August 15, 2005
An article published in the September 2004 issue of Justice Quarterly revealed that 64% of Texans support a halt to executions while questions of fairness and accuracy are addressed, and 48% of respondents lack confidence in the state's capital punishment system. -->

An article published in the September 2004 issue o


NEW RESOURCE: The Death Penalty's Impact on U.S. Foreign Relations

Posted: August 12, 2005

A new law review article by international death penalty expert Mark Warren concludes that the retention of capital punishment in the United States distances the nation from its closest allies "in ways both symbolic and tangible, and the costs of that isolation are rising steadily." Warren's article, Death, Dissent, and Diplomacy: The U.S. Death Penalty as an Obstacle to Foreign Relations, examines a broad range of concerns, including treaty compliance and global security. Warren notes that in recent years, world leaders have become increasingly vocal about their opposition to the death penalty, and that the U.S. now finds itself on the wrong side of a fundamental human rights issue. Warren notes that some recent Supreme Court decisions narrowing the scope of the death penalty, as well as state efforts to identify flaws in the system, are steps in the right direction.


Size of Death Row Continues to Decline

Posted: August 11, 2005

According to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund's quarterly report, Death Row U.S.A., the number of people on death rows around the country declined again as of July 1, 2005.  The latest count of inmates is 3,415, down from 3,452 as of April 1 and down considerably from the 3,692 inmates recorded on October 1, 2002.  About 54.5% of those on death row are members of racial minorities.  Pennsylvania (70%) and Texas (69%) had the largest percentage of minority defendants on death row.

Among the states with largest declines were Texas (-27), North Carolina (-5) and Alabama (-4).  Some of the declines are due to juvenile offenders being removed from death row in accordance with the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roper v. Simmons (2005).  Not all such juveniles have been taken off death row. 


NEW RESOURCE: A Study of Exonerations in the U.S.

Posted: August 10, 2005

Newly published research examining 340 exonerations in the United States between 1989 and 2003 found that a significant number of those who were wrongly convicted had been sentenced to death. Researchers note that this finding appears to reflect two patterns: capital defendants are more likely to be convicted in error, and false convictions are more likely to be detected when defendants are on death row.

The paper, authored by Professor Samuel Gross of the University of Michigan Law School along with other assistants, reveals clear patterns associated with false convictions. The leading cause of wrongful convictions is perjury, including perjury by police officers, by jailhouse snitches, by the real killers, and by supposed participants and eyewitnesses to the crime who knew the innocent defedants in advance. The research revealed that false confessions, especially among vulnerable defendants such as juvenile offenders and those with mental retardation, also played a large role in murder convictions that led to exoneration. Almost all of the juvenile exonerees who falsely confessed were African American, and 90% of all exonerated juvenile defendants were African American or Hispanic.

Based on their review of these exonerations, the paper notes that "any plausible guess at the total number of miscarraiges of justice in American in the last fifteen years must run to the thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, in felony cases alone."


National Conference of Chief Justices Criticizes Bill to Cut Death Penalty Appeals

Posted: August 8, 2005
The Conference of Chief Justices overwhelmingly passed a resolution urging Congress to not pass the proposed Streamlined Procedures Act, which is aimed at curtailing death penalty appeals. The resolution was passed by the Chief Justices from state courts around the country at their annual meeting in Charlestown, South Carolina. Only the chief justice of Texas' Supreme Court voted against the resolution, stating that he did not have enough time to review the document.