The latest Gallup Poll found support for the death penalty at 74%, a figure equal to the level in 2003 and less than the 80% support registered in 1994. The poll found that support for capital punishment dropped to 56% when respondents were given the alternative sentencing option of life without parole, less than the 61% support in 1997 with the same question. The percentage of respondents who believe an innocent person has been executed in recent years has dropped from 73% in 2003 to 59% this year. (The Gallup Organization Press Release, May 19, 2005).
A diverse and bipartisan group of more than 150 prominent North Carolinians have urged the General Assembly to pass a measure that would halt executions for two years while a study commission examines the state's capital punishment system. A letter to the state's top political leaders urging passage of the moratorium bill was signed by the group, which included nine former North Carolina Supreme Court Justices, former prosecutors, elected officials, religious leaders, business leaders, murder victims' family members, and noted North Carolina authors.
A new study from the Texas Defender Service calls for substantial changes in the way Texas handles capital murder cases. The report recommends that Texas implement a series of reforms, including uniform investigation procedures, a life-without-parole sentencing option, and a statewide public defender's office.
Drawing from recommendations made by the blue-ribbon Illinois Commission on Capital Punishment that was established to address wrongful convictions in that state, the Texas Defender report notes, "Texas has executed 340 people in the modern death penalty era, 28 times the number executed by Illinois, yet its nine exonerations lag far behind those of Illinois. Texas is at unacceptable risk for wrongful conviction and execution, an especially troubling fact given its status as the undisputed leader in executions among the 38 states with the death penalty."
The report, "Minimizing Risk, A Blueprint for Death Penalty Reform in Texas," was sent to Texas Governor Rick Perry's Criminal Justice Advisory Council, which was created this year to recommend changes that could improve the state's criminal justice system.
A new research paper by Wayne A. Logan of the William Mitchell College of Law examines the constitutional, ethical and legal issues raised by victim impact evidence. In his article, "Victims, Survivors and the Decisions to Seek and Impose Death," Logan notes that the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark 1991 decision in Payne v. Tennessee opened the door for survivors of murder victims to testify about the social, emotional, and economic losses resulting from the murder of their loved one. Since this ruling, such testimony has been broadly used throughout the nation and can often be a major factor considered by jurors in capital punishment trials.
Justice Flemming L. Norcott Jr. of the Supreme Court of Connecticut dissented from the Court's refusal to stay the execution of Michael Ross, the first person to be executed in New England in over 40 years:
This case illustrates, however, the sheer irrationality of the capital punishment system because this defendant's election to forgo further appeals or collateral relief, a decision that in any other context would lend some economy to the proceedings, has in fact spawned seemingly endless litigation over his fate.
An independent audit of Virginia's central crime laboratory initiated by the present governor found that the lab had botched DNA tests in the death penalty case of Earl Washington (pictured). The finding prompted Gov. Mark Warner to order a review of 150 other criminal cases and the development of procedures to insulate the lab from outside political pressures.
The audit was conducted by the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors. It found that the Virginia lab's internal review process was flawed, and it raised concerns that lab workers had felt pressured to produce quick and conclusive results in the Washington case, even when the evidence was unclear. Washington had been sentenced to death for a 1982 murder and rape. His death sentence was commuted in 1994 after DNA tests first threw doubt on his guilt. He was eventually granted an absolute pardon in 2000 and freed from prison. Tests commissioned by defense lawyers in 2004 have implicated another suspect, who is in prison in an unrelated rape case. The audit concluded that the state lab improperly excluded this suspect as the source of DNA found on the victim.
In the course of its research, DPIC collects relevant death penalty articles that have appeared in print and on media Web sites. Our collection certainly does not contain all such articles, nor do we claim that it represents the "best" articles. It is only a representative sample of the extensive coverage given to capital punishment in print in a particular year. For those interested in examining this coverage, we have prepared an index of the articles from
Public support for the death penalty has dropped sharply in Houston, Texas according to the 2005 Houston Area Survey conducted by Rice University. For many years Texas has led the country in executions, and Harris County (Houston) has led all Texas counties in sending inmates to death row and in executions. But most Houston residents would prefer the sentence of life without parole rather than the death penalty for those who commit murder.
In a comprehensive study covering 20 years and thousands of capital cases in Ohio, the Associated Press found that the death penalty has been applied in an uneven and often arbitrary fashion. Among the conclusions of the study that analyzed 1,936 indictments reported to the Ohio Supreme Court by counties with capital cases from October 1981 through 2002 were:
Chief Justice Pascal Calogero of the Louisiana Supreme Court called upon the state legislature to provide adequate funding for indigent defendants in his State of the Judiciary address. The court had earlier ruled that judges may halt prosecutions in cases where funds have not been made available for an adequate defense. The Justice concluded: