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NEW VOICES: Justice Stevens Harshly Critical of the Death Penalty

Posted: August 7, 2005

Speaking at the American Bar Association's Thurgood Marshall Awards Dinner in Illinois, Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens said that the death penalty has "serious flaws."  He recalled the late Justice Marshall in remarking how much the country has learned about the risks in death cases: "Since his retirement, with the benefit of DNA evidence, we have learned that a substantial number of death sentences have been imposed erroneously," Stevens said during the ceremony.  He added that Supreme Court cases have revealed that "a significant number of defendants in capital cases have not bee

 

DNA Testing Leads to the Exoneration of Another Prisoner In Case Involving Mistaken Eyewitness Testimony

Posted: August 3, 2005

In a case that sharply illustrates the fallibility of eyewitness testimony, Miami-Dade prosecutors plan to ask a state judge to vacate the convictions of Luis Diaz based on DNA evidence that was not available during his 1980 trial. Though he was shorter and lighter than the man that most witnesses described to police, Diaz was charged with rape 25 years ago after eight women identified him as their attacker. Following his trial, the judge said, "I've never seen a case where I was more convinced of a man's guilt." Two decades later, two of the victims came forward saying that Diaz had not been their attacker, and one of the women claimed she chose his picture from a photo spread only because police had pressured her to select one of nine photographs.

Only two DNA samples remained from the original trial. Both were from the same man and not from Diaz.  Barry Scheck, co-founder of the Innocence Project that initiated the testing in Diaz's case, stated that about 75% of the exonerations since the advent of forensic DNA testing in 1989 have hinged on mistaken eyewitness identification.

Diaz said that he has spent much of his time in prison reading the Bible and that he hoped to get to know his grandchildren when he is released.

 

Expert Testimony Faults Death Penalty Deterrence Findings

Posted: August 3, 2005

In testimony before the Massachusetts Joint Committee on the Judiciary regarding proposed legislation to initiate a "foolproof" death penalty, Columbia Law School Professor Jeffrey Fagan (pictured) analyzed recent studies that claimed that capital punishment deters murders.  He stated that the studies "fall apart under close scrutiny." Fagan noted that the studies are fraught with technical and conceptual errors, including inappropriate methods of statistical analysis, failures to consider all relevant factors that drive murder rates, missing data on key variables in key state

 

Convictions Overturned In Pennsylvania and New Jersery through DNA Testing

Posted: August 2, 2005

Thomas Doswell of Pennsylvania and Larry Peterson of New Jersey recently had their convictions overturned as a direct result of DNA testing.  Each defendant had serverd 18 years in prison.  In Peterson's case, the prosecution had sought the death penalty but the jury could not agree and he was sentenced to life.  His case marked the first time a New Jersey court has overturned a conviction because of DNA evidence.  Both reversals stemmed from the work of attorneys at the Innocence Project of the Benjamin Cardoza School of Law in New York City.

Though he has consistently maintained his innocence, Doswell was convicted of the 1986 rape of a nursing home employee. After a request for DNA testing filed by the Innocence Project, a Common Pleas court judge ordered evidence from the crime scene tested and the results cleared Doswell of any involvement in the crime. He was released from prison following the state's withdrawal of charges. In 1999, Doswell had filed a motion with the court to allow DNA testing, but a judge ruled in favor of prosecutors who challenged the motion because it was filed three weeks too late. "Really, this could have been taken care of in 1999. . . . I don't see it as a victory. It's a major loss of 18 years that nobody can compensate; nobody can give back. This is a guy who got railroaded," said one of Doswell's attorneys, James DePasquale. (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, July 30, 2005; Associated Press, Aug. 2, 2005).

 

NEW RESOURCE: Dedication Scheduled for National Death Penalty Archive

Posted: July 28, 2005

The dedication of the National Death Penalty Archive at the State University of New York at Albany will take place on August 9, 2005.  Hugo Bedau of Tufts University will keynote the program, which will also feature William J. Bowers, Scott Christianson, David Kaczynski, and Michael Radelet. The Archive is a partnership between the Capital Punishment Research Initiative at the School of Criminal Justice and the M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives at the University of Albany Libraries. This collection of historical materials is an excellent resource for scholars, students, and members of the public who are interested in the history of capital punishment in America and in the legal and political battles related to the death penalty. Among other resources, the collection includes The Hugo Adam Bedau Papers, The William J. Bowers/Capital Jury Project Collection, The Alvin Ford Collection, and The Joe Ingle/Southern Coalition on Jails and Prisons Papers. It also includes a program of oral history interviews featuring prominent activists and professionals involved in death penalty work.

 

Attempt to Strip the Federal Courts' Review Power in Death Penalty Cases Meets Conservative Opposition

Posted: July 28, 2005
The following article by Henry Weinstein appeared in the Los Angeles Times, July 28, 2005:

(DPIC Note: The Senate Judiciary Committee put off markup of the Streamlined Procedures Act, probably until September.  Also, see Letter from former Attorneys General and prosecutors opposing this legislation.)

THE NATION
Bid to Speed Death Penalty Appeals Under Fire
Conservatives and former prosecutors are among foes of a bill, before a
 

Protecting Human Life Should be at Least as Important as Protecting Property Rights

Posted: July 28, 2005

In a recent Washington Post column, Richard Cohen compared the deep objections voiced by many Americans after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that communities can condemn property in distressed areas to make way for economic development to the tepid reaction to strong evidence that a Missouri man may have been wrongly executed for a crime he did not commit. Cohen, noting that it seems "far easier for the government to wrongfully take a life than a parcel of run-down real estate," wrote:

The city of New London, Conn., narrowly (5 to 4) won the right last month from the Supreme Court to condemn a parcel of land in a distressed part of the town to make way for economic development. The ruling has generated a tsunami of objection and an effort in many states and localities to have its effects undone . . . .

At the same time, in a far different area of the law, authorities are wondering if two men long ago convicted of murder might be innocent. This has generated almost no interest, no nationwide protest movement, suggesting that in this country it is far easier for the government to wrongfully take a life than a parcel of run-down real estate. Is this a great country or what?

 

NEW VOICES: Victim's Family Opposes Federal Death Sentence

Posted: July 27, 2005

The parents and three children of Louisiana murder victim Kim Groves have asked the federal government to forgo seeking the death penalty for co-defendants Paul Hardy and Len Davis.  In a letter to prosecutors, the Groves family urged U.S attorneys to halt proceedings that  might lead to death sentences in rehearings for both defendants.

"Executing these two men will not bring Kim Groves back to life. It will not ease the deep sorrow and loss that her family has and will continue to experience as a result of her death...Perversely, it appears that he (Davis) has enjoyed the attention and notoriety which his vulnerability to the death penalty has provided. The family believes the death penalty would in fact be the lesser of the punishments and that the finality and duration of a life sentence would be much more difficult and severe to Mr. Davis, in particular, than death," the letter stated.

The letter, which was also addressed to U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, was entered into the court record last week.   The presiding judge ruled that if prosecutors have family members testifying about the facts of the crime, the letter may be used on Davis' behalf. 

 

Virginia Insists on Execution Even in "Close Case" of Mental Retardation

Posted: July 27, 2005

Even though the state of Virginia admits that the question of Daryl Atkins' mental retardation is a "close case," it is still pursuing a lengthy jury trial to ensure his execution.  The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Atkins v. Virginia in 2002 that those with mental retardation must be excluded from the death penalty, but they issued no opinion with regard to Mr. Atkins' mental status.  As the trial in Virginia began this week, Atkins' mother and former teachers testified about his long-term struggles in dealing with his disability, noting that he did not finish high school, could not get a driver's license, and was cut from the football team because he could not grasp the rules.

 

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