What's New

Number of Police Officers Killed Declines in Same Period as Decline in Use of Death Penalty

Posted: October 31, 2006

According to a new report from the FBI, the number of police officers killed in the line of duty declined in 2005 compared with 2004, and was 22% less than the number killed in 2001.  Fifty-five law enforcement officers were feloniously killed in 2005, 57 in 2004, and 70 in 2001.  The South had the largest number of police officers killed, almost three times more than any of the other regions in the country.  Twenty-eight officers were killed in the South, 10 in the Midwest, 10 in the West, and 5 in the Northeast.


NEW RESOURCES: Papers from "The Faces of Wrongful Conviction" Symposium

Posted: October 30, 2006

The Fall 2006 edition of the Golden Gate University Law Review contains papers from the recent Symposium entitled "The Faces of Wrongful Conviction" that was held at UCLA in April 2006.  The journal includes articles by Simon Cole on fingerprint evidence, by Alexandra Natapoff on the use of snitches, by Craig Haney on expanding beyond innocence when examining injustices in capital cases, and by Thomas Sullivan on the recording of custodial interviews.


Texas Newspaper Studies State's Death Penalty Appeals Process

Posted: October 30, 2006

The Austin American-Statesman conducted an extensive study of the quality of representation that death row inmates receive in Texas.  The study concluded that:


National Conference to Focus on Death Penalty Issues

Posted: October 26, 2006

The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty will hold its national conference at the Fair Lakes Hyatt Hotel in Fairfax, Virginia, October 26-29, 2006.  The NCADP consists of a wide spectrum of groups and individuals opposed to the death penalty.  Among the speakers at this year's event are Theodore Shaw, President of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, Hugo A. Bedau, author and Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at Tufts University, and numerous individuals who were exonerated and freed from death row.  The NCADP will honor individuals who have made outstanding contributions in the death penalty field at an awards dinner on Saturday.


BOOKS: The Dreams of Ada

Posted: October 26, 2006

"The Dreams of Ada" by Robert Mayer tells a story strikingly similar to that recounted by John Grisham in "The Innocent Man."  Each book involves the murder of a young woman from Ada, Oklahoma in the early 1980s.  In both cases, there are two defendants whose convictions rely on little probative evidence but involve "confessions" that emerged from a dream.  Both prosecutions were led by Bill Peterson and both involved the same jail-house informant.  The defendants in Mayer's book, Tommy Ward and Karl Fontenot, were both sentenced to death, as was Ron Williamson in Grisham's book.  Williamson and his co-defendant were eventually freed when DNA evidence excluded them from the crime scene.  Ward and Fontenot remain in prison for life, after their death sentences were overturned.  In their case, there was no DNA evidence to provide a more definitive answer.  At the time of their trial, no body had even been discovered.  Both Mayer and Grisham believe that Ward and Fontenot were victims of a complete miscarriage of justice. 


NEW VOICES: Federal Appeals Court Judge of the Fifth Circuit Expresses Legal and Moral Problems with the Death Penalty

Posted: October 23, 2006

Judge Carolyn Dineen King of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit was the main speaker at the "Red Mass" on October 4 at the Catholic cathedral in Corpus Christi, Texas.  The Red Mass is an annual liturgy held for members of the legal profession near the beginning of the judicial term.  Its traditions extend back to 13th century Europe.  Judge King spoke about the death penalty, both from her perspective as a judge and as a Catholic.  In both areas, she raised strong concerns about the application of the death penalty in the U.S.


NEW RESOURCES: "When the Federal Death Penalty is 'Cruel and Unusual"

Posted: October 20, 2006

A recent law review article by Prof. Michael Mannheimer of the Salmon P. Chase College of Law argues that the federal penalty may violate the Eighth Amendment's proscription against cruel and unusual punishments when it is used in states that do not have the death penalty. Prof. Mannheimer explores the strain of the Eighth Amendment's history that is specifically concerned with limiting the federal government's power to interfere with the norms of individual states.


Pennsylvania Man Freed From Death Row

Posted: October 19, 2006

Dennis Counterman was freed from a Pennsylvania courtroom on October 18, 2006 after serving many years on the state's death row.  Counterman had been convicted and sentenced to death in 1990 for allegedly setting a fire in his own house that resulted in the death of his three children.  That conviction was overturned in 2001 because prosecutors had withheld evidence from the defense indicating that the oldest child had a history of fire-setting. 


NEW VOICES: Chief Judge of the Fourth Circuit Ponders Worth of the Death Penalty

Posted: October 17, 2006
In a recent speech to law students from Furman University, William W. Wilkins, the Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, expressed doubts about the value of the death penalty given its high costs and probable lack of deterrence.  He also noted that the existence of the death penalty in the U.S. makes it very difficult to extradite suspects from foreign countries who oppose capital punishment.

North Carolina Study Finds Substandard Representation

Posted: October 17, 2006

The Common Sense Foundation of North Carolina released a study on October 11, 2006 that found that at least 37 people now on death row had trial lawyers who would not have met today’s minimum standards of qualification.  Nearly a third of the cases where sufficient data was available fell into this substandard category.