What's New

NEW VOICES: American Medical Association, EMT Association Say Participation in Executions Violates Medical Ethics

Posted: July 18, 2006

Both the American Medical Association (AMA) and the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians (NAEMT) recently issued public statements reminding members of their ethical obligation not to participate in legally authorized executions. As courts and legislatures throughout the country continue to struggle with questions related to lethal injection procedures, AMA president William G. Plested III noted that AMA policy clearly prohibits medical professionals from participating in executions because it "erodes public confidence in the medical profession." The NAEMT issued a position paper stating that member participation in executions is forbidden because it "is inconsistent with the ethical precepts and goals of the EMS profession."


RAND Study Finds No Federal Race Bias in Death Penalty From 1995 to 2000

Posted: July 18, 2006

A recent RAND Corporation study of the federal death penalty from 1995 to 2000 found no evidence of racial bias. Even though the investigators found that the death penalty was more often sought against defendants who murdered white victims, researchers ultimately concluded that the characteristics of the crime, and not the racial characteristics of the victim or the defendant, could be used to make accurate predictions of whether federal prosecutors would seek the death penalty.


Arizona Study Finds Serious Flaws in State's Death Penalty

Posted: July 18, 2006

A nine-member death penalty assessment team appointed by the American Bar Association's (ABA) Death Penalty Moratorium Implementation Project has determined that Arizona's capital punishment laws are plagued with serious problems and that the state should immediately take steps to improve the fairness and accuracy of the system.


NEW RESOURCES: Symposium: Catholics and the Death Penalty

Posted: July 17, 2006
A recent edition of the Journal of Catholic Legal Studies contains articles from a symposium on "Catholics and the Death Penalty: Lawyers, Jurors & Judges."  In addition to a foreword by Amelia Uelmen and an introduction to Catholic teaching on capital punishment by Art Cody, the volume contains a panel discussion with Kevin Doyle, director of the New York Capital Defender Office, and Charles Hynes, the District Attorney of Kings County (NY).  The symposium concludes with a presentation on issues related to Catholic jurors by Gerald Uelmen.  (Symposium, 44 Journal of Catholic Legal

RELIGIOUS VIEWS: New Books Examine Victims, Criminal Justice, and Punishment from a Faith Perspective

Posted: July 14, 2006
Five books addressing religion and its role in coping with violent crime are now available:

"Healing Violent Men: A Model for Christian Communities" - This book by religion professor David Livingston explores domestic violence. It offers practical advice for pastoral and programmatic efforts to embrace the twin Christian imperatives of forgiveness and responsiblity. (Fortress Press, 2002).

NEW VOICES: The Death Penalty 30 Years after Gregg v. Georgia

Posted: July 14, 2006

Stuart Streichler served as a law clerk for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Gregg v. Georgia.  He observed many capital cases and now concludes:  "A fundamental idea of American law is that all defendants should receive fair trials all of the time. The persistent failure to come close to that in death penalty cases undermines the integrity of the legal system." Streichler's op-ed appreared recently in the Miami Herald: 


North Carolina Poised to Establish Nation's First Innocence Commission

Posted: July 13, 2006

North Carolina is poised to become the first state to establish an Innocence Inquiry Commission that would review inmates' innocence claims. Legislation to create the panel recently passed the state Senate by a vote of 48-1, and it passed last year in the House of Representative by a vote of 80-23. The legislation now must go before a legislative conference to reconcile differences between the versions.

The House version of the bill would establish a permanent Innocence Commission and allow anyone to ask the commission to review a case. If the commission finds that innocence is likely, it would refer the case to a three-judge panel for a decision. The three-judge panel, chosen by the Chief Justice of North Carolina, could establish a finding of innocence by a 2-1 vote of the judges. The case would then be sent to the North Carolina Supreme Court for a final decision. The Senate version would exclude the consideration of innocence claims filed by people who pleaded guilty.  In cases where the three-judge panel established innocence by a vote of 3-0, the Senate version would allow this vote to bypass further consideration by the Supreme Court. It would also establish that the Commission stop accepting cases after December 31, 2010, unless the legislature votes to renew the project.


Lead Texas Investigator in Possible Wrongful Execution Had History of Misjudgment, Mistaken Arrests

Posted: July 12, 2006

According to a report by the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News, the police sergeant in charge of the investigation that led to the possible wrongful execution of Ruben Cantu in Texas had a record of wrongful arrests and was suspended three times for errors in judgment during his three decades with the San Antonio Police Department. Official documents examined by the papers revealed that Sergeant Bill Ewell, who supervised the homicide unit and was one of the driving forces behind the 1985 capital murder conviction of Cantu, participated in at least two documented faulty arrests during his years of service. Both of those cases involved Ewell's friend and colleague, officer Joe De La Luz, whom Cantu shot and wounded in a pool hall brawl in 1985. Though that incident was unrelated to the crime for which Cantu was ultimately executed, De La Luz's shooting resulted in Ewell's rekindled interest in Cantu as a suspect in an unsolved capital murder for which he was later convicted and executed.

The state's death penalty case against Cantu relied heavily on the testimony of the crime's only surviving eyewitness, Juan Moreno, a 19-year-old illegal immigrant. During initial questioning about the case, Moreno rejected Cantu's photo in a lineup of potential suspects. After Cantu shot De La Luz, Ewell ordered investigators to question Moreno a second and third time. Moreno now says that during the questioning he was pressured by police to identify Cantu as the murderer. His testimony during Cantu's trial was the only piece of evidence linking Cantu to the murder. Both Ewell and De La Luz also testified at Cantu's trial, but neither the jurors nor the attorneys heard about their friendship or about the dubious arrests they had made together. Sam Millsap, the former Bexar County district attorney who made the decision to seek the death penalty in the Cantu case, now says that he is troubled by the fact that Ewell and De La Luz's friendship went undisclosed during the trial. He notes that a close friend of De La Luz's should have had nothing to do with investigating Cantu in the pool hall shooting or the unrelated capital murder case.


NEW VOICES: "The Failed Experiment"

Posted: July 10, 2006

Anna Quindlen, writing in the June 26, 2006 issue of Newsweek, reflected on the underlying questions surrounding the death penalty:

Hardly any other civilized place does this anymore. In the past three decades, the number of nations that have abolished the death penalty has risen from 16 to 86. Last year four countries accounted for nearly all executions worldwide: China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United States.
. . .
Much of the debate about the death penalty since it reared its ugly head again in the '70s has been about whether it is disproportionately meted out to poor minorities, whether it should be permitted for juvenile offenders, whether various methods constitute cruel and unusual punishment. Most of these discussions are designed not to examine underlying deep moral issues but to allow Americans to continue to put people to death and still feel good
about themselves.
. . .
Accusers recant, guilty parties confess, the lab makes a match that wasn't possible before. Since 1976, more than a thousand men and women have been executed in the United States. But during that same period more than 123 death-row inmates have been exonerated. That's a terrible statistical average. Put another way, more than 123 individuals truly guilty of savage crimes were walking free while someone else sat waiting on death row. And most, if not all, of those death-row inmates would have been wrongly executed if not for the lengthy appeals process death-penalty advocates like to decry.
. . .
[T]his is one of those issues where there isn't really a middle ground. Just because the electric chair has been phased out doesn't mean civilization has prevailed; it only means that people didn't like how reports of a convicted man's head bursting into flame made them feel about what they were doing. In judicial terms, Justice Harry Blackmun concluded in 1994 that all it came down to was figuring out how to "tinker with the machinery of death."

And he was officially finished with it, writing: "Rather than continue to coddle the Court's delusion that the desired level of fairness has been achieved and the need for regulation eviscerated, I feel morally and intellectually obligated simply to concede that the death penalty experiment has failed." The question isn't whether executions can be made painless: it's
whether they're wrong. Everything else is just quibbling. And most of the quibbling simply boils down to trying to make the wrong seem right.

NEW RESOURCE: Study Finds Racial Disparities in Colorado's Death Penalty

Posted: July 7, 2006

A new study examined all cases in which the death penalty was sought in Colorado over a 20-year period, from 1980 to 1999. The study identified 110 death penalty cases, and compared the race and gender of the victims.  The authors concluded that the death penalty was most likely to be sought for homicides with white female victims. They also determined that the probability of death being sought was 4.2 times higher for those who killed whites than for those who killed blacks.