What's New

NEW VOICES: Victim's Family Urges Life For Florida Man

Posted: January 25, 2006

After more than two decades of working to spare the life of Florida death row inmate James Floyd, the family of the woman he murdered has succeeded in getting prosecutors to reduce Floyd's sentence to life in prison for the murder of Annie Bar Anderson.

"I did not want him to die, and I didn't want his family to suffer the murder of their father or their brother or their son. What good is anger and hatred," said Elizabeth Blair, who took up the family's effort to spare Floyd's life after Annie Anderson's daughter, Angie, died several years ago. Twenty-two years ago, Angie Anderson had begged a judge to not condemn her mother's killer to death, noting, "Mother believed and I believe that we must be instruments of the peace of God, which includes justice and mercy. This young man must be punished, but give him life, a chance to become somebody, a chance to change." Despite Angie Anderson's request, the judge sentenced Floyd to die.


BOOKS: "Truth Be Told: Life Lessons from Death Row"

Posted: January 24, 2006

Truth Be Told: Life Lessons From Death Row features correspondence between Agnes Vadas and Richard Nields, who is on death row in Ohio. The book contains letters exchanged between the two over six years. They discuss a wide range of topics, including life on death row, how they have coped with challenges in life, and the lessons they have learned from hardship. Agnes Vadas is a musician and human rights activist from Washington.  (AuthorHouse, 2005).  See Books.


NEW SOURCE: Scientific American Looks at Flaws in the Death Penalty

Posted: January 23, 2006

Philip Yam is the News Editor of Scientific American Magazine.  He recently posted an item on the magazine's Web site about the death penalty.  Some excerpts from the posting, entitled "Science versus the Death Penalty," are below:

The U.S. remains the only developed Western nation to permit executions despite serious flaws in the system. No need for any pacificist proclivity or liberal leaning to see that--just look at the science.

First, there's DNA evidence. Although it cannot prove guilt beyond all doubt--who can forget O.J. Simpson?--it can definitively prove innocence. The first DNA exoneration occurred in 1989, and since then many on death row have been set free because of it--the Death Penalty Information Center counts 122 exonerations since 1973. It showed that too many convictions resulted from sloppy or overzealous police work and prosecution, or incompetent defense attorneys. It helped convince then Republican governor George Ryan of Illinois in 2003 to declare the death penalty "arbitrary and capricious" and to commute the sentences of all 157 inmates on the state's death row.

But DNA isn't the only contribution from science to this issue. Thanks to psychology studies, we know that the human brain can, with rather disturbing ease, create false memories. (See, for instance, a news story on the topic in the December 2005 issue of Scientific American Mind, or the feature article "Creating False Memories," by Eiizabeth Loftus in the September 1997 Scientific American.) We know that witness testimony can be unreliable, even when it comes from upstanding citizens and not just from co-defendants or jailhouse snitches who have been promised sweet deals. We know that some personality types are more likely to yield to the pressures to confess--and that these people do so just to please their interrogators or to avoid harsh treatment.

Most states are now recognizing the weaknesses of the death penalty. The number of capital sentences have dropped from a peak in the early to mid-1990s of a bit more than 300 per year to about 100 in 2005, according to data compiled in the December 17 issue of the Economist.
. . .
Science has shown that our death penalty system is deeply flawed. Now the U.S. public needs to see those flaws.


NEW VOICES: Texas Paper Calls for Halt to Executions

Posted: January 19, 2006
The San Antonio Express-News, which supports the death penalty, recently called for a halt to executions in Texas because of concerns about the ongoing problems at the Houston Crime Lab. The Express-News stated:

This month, New Jersey lawmakers voted to halt executions while a task force reviews the fairness and costs of imposing the death penalty.

Texas should consider doing the same but for slightly different reasons.

NEW SOURCE: National Georgraphic Connects Death Penalty and the town of "To Kill A Mockingbird"

Posted: January 19, 2006

The January 2006 edition of the National Geographic features the town of Monroeville, Alabama, home of freed death row inmate Walter McMillian (pictured) and Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird. In the article, which highlights the town's annual theatrical tribute to Lee's book, McMillian's case is noted as "an eerie echo" of the book's storyline. In a resemblance to Lee's black fictional character Tom Robinson, McMillian was convicted in 1987 of murdering a white woman in Monroeville despite a lack of reliable evidence.


NEW RESOURCE: Report Examines Three Decades of Georgia Death Penalty Cases

Posted: January 18, 2006

The Georgia Public Defender Standards Council has published an analysis of death penalty cases in the state during the past 30 years.  The report was written by Michael Mears, Director of the Council.  The review examines the modern history of Georgia's death penalty, and provides data sorted in a number of ways, including by county, circuit, and defendant. It also provides the following summary of the dispositions of Georgia's death penalty cases:

July 1973 - July 2003


NEW VOICES: Virginia Legislators And Victims Speak Against Death Penalty

Posted: January 17, 2006

Two Virginia lawmakers who have had a family member murdered recently spoke in opposition to the death penalty. During a senate committee hearing on a bill to impose a moratorium on executions, Senators Henry L. Marsh III and Janet D. Howell noted that their opposition to the death penalty was based in their experience of losing a loved one to murder.

Howell's father-in-law was murdered in his home eight years ago. She noted, "Up until then, I was in favor of the death penalty. But when my father-in-law was murdered, I discovered that the possibility of a death sentence on someone did not unify my family; it splintered my family. One of the reasons that I had always supported the death penalty was suddenly not there anymore."


NEW VOICES: NAACP President Signals Greater Organizational Involvement in the Death Penalty

Posted: January 16, 2006
In a recent interview with The Washington Post, NAACP president Bruce C. Gordon (pictured) spoke about capital punishment and called for a halt to executions in every state until questions of accuracy and fairness can be addressed. Gordon, who challenged California Governor Arnold Schwarzennegger for refusing to commute the death sentence of Stanley Tookie Williams, noted that the death penalty will be a key issue for the NAACP:

African Americans represent 10 percent of the population and 42 percent of the population on death row. That to me illustrates the inequity of

DNA Tests Confirm Guilt of Virginia Man Executed in 1992

Posted: January 13, 2006

Governor Mark Warner of Virginia announced that DNA tests on evidence from the case of Roger Keith Coleman, who was executed in 1992, revealed that he was almost certainly the source of genetic material found in the body of the victim, Wanda McCoy.  The Governor said that this test "re-affirms the verdict and sanction" in this case.

Peter Neufeld, co-director of the Innocence Project, praised the governor's decision to allow the testing and noted that, "The real issue is not whether one man was in fact guilty or innocent, it's rather that he set the example of what the other 49 governors should do" in other cases where DNA material still exists from people who have been executed.


NEW VOICES: California Moratorium Bill Gains Broad Support From Law Enforcement, Prosecutors and Judges

Posted: January 13, 2006
A group of 40 law enforcement officers, current and former prosecutors, and judges at the state and federal level have urged California lawmakers to enact a temporary halt to executions in the state while a commission examines the accuracy and fairness of the death penalty.