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OP-ED: At the 30th Anniversary of Gregg v. Georgia, Death Penalty Remains Arbitrary

Posted: July 5, 2006

Professor Michael Meltsner, who worked as an attorney with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in its efforts to challenge the death penalty in the 1960s and 70s, recently assessed the U.S.'s application of the death penalty over the past 30 years. He noted that today's death penalty system is "broken" and fails to make the nation a safer society. Writing in the Boston Globe, Meltsner wrote:


NEW VOICES: Former Publisher of the Chicago Tribune Calls for End to Executions

Posted: July 5, 2006

In a recent op-ed, Jack Fuller, former editor and publisher of the Chicago Tribune, called for an end to capital punishment.  Citing a series of mistakes by eyewitnesses, police and forensic experts, he stated that the criminal justice system is too deeply flawed to entrust with carrying out executions. Pointing to the likely innocence of Carlos DeLuna, a Texas man who was executed in 1989, Fuller concluded that the death penalty should be abolished because "no goverment is good enough to entrust with the absolute power that capital punishment entails." His article was entitled NOT IN THE NAME OF JUSTICE:

Death-penalty opponents advance various arguments for abolition, but the most powerful of them all finds embodiment in the person of Carlos De Luna.

Texas executed De Luna in 1989 for the murder of Wanda Lopez in a gas station knife attack. Something went terribly wrong at the execution by lethal injection. De Luna did not slip quickly into unconsciousness as he was supposed to. Instead, he reared up on the gurney against the restraints and seemed to try to say something.

Perhaps it was to cry out in pain as the killing medications began to course into his veins before the anesthetic took hold. The possibility that lethal injection subjects its recipients to excruciating physical agony has become the focus of a great deal of attention lately among death-penalty opponents.


Anesthesiologists Advised to Avoid Lethal Injections

Posted: July 5, 2006

Dr. Orin Guidry, president of the 40,000-member American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA), issued a public statement strongly urging members to "steer clear" of any participation in executions by lethal injection. In a four-page "Message from the President," Guidry noted that anesthesiologists have been "reluctantly thrust into the middle" of the legal controversy over lethal injections. In recent months, the procedures being used around the United States have been challenged because they may result in unnecessary and excruciating pain in violation of the ban on cruel and unusual punishment.


Supreme Court Denies Remedies Under International Treaty

Posted: June 29, 2006

On June 28, 2006, the U.S. Supreme Court decided two consolidated cases involving the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. In both cases, the foreign nationals were arrested but not informed by police officers of their consular rights under the Convention to ask that their respective consulates be notified of their detention. The Court concluded that statements made by foreign nationals do not need to be suppressed, even though the defendants were not informed of their consular rights.

The consolidated cases were: Sanchez-Llamas v. Oregon (No. 04-10566) and Bustillo v. Johnson. In the first case, Moises Sanchez-Llamas, a Mexican national, was arrested after an exchange of gunfire with police. The officers did not inform him of his rights under Article 36(1)(b) of the Vienna Convention, namely his right to ask that the Mexican Consulate be notified of his detention. He made incriminating statements about the shootout during interrogation, but the state court denied his motion to suppress those statements on the ground that the authorities failed to comply with Article 36. Sanchez-Llamas was convicted and sentenced to prison. The Oregon Supreme Court affirmed his conviction, concluding that Article 36 does not create rights to consular access or notification that a detained individual can enforce in a judicial proceeding.


Ohio Changing Lethal Injection Process

Posted: June 28, 2006

Just weeks after Ohio struggled for more than 90 minutes to find a suitable vein in Joseph Clark's arm to administer lethal injection drugs, the state has decided to implement new regulations aimed at ensuring smoother procedures during executions. In a report prompted by problems encountered during Clark's execution, Ohio prisons Director Terry Collins told Gov. Bob Taft that execution teams will now make every effort to locate two injection sites prior to an execution and will use a new method to make sure the veins stay open once entryways are found.


Federal Courts Find Problems with Lethal Injections in Two More States--Executions on Hold

Posted: June 28, 2006

Below are summaries from two U.S. District Court decisions regarding problems with lethal injection procedures in Arkansas and Missouri.  The court in Arkansas granted a stay of execution for Don Davis to allow further investigations into the lethal injection procedures.  In Missouri, in Michael Taylor's case, the District judge put all executions in the state on hold until changes are made in the state's execution protocols.

Nooner v. Norris, No. 5:06CV00110 SWW
U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas


NEW VOICES: Deepak Chopra Writes About the Death Penalty

Posted: June 28, 2006
Dr. Deepak Chopra recently wrote that continuing use of the death penalty in the U.S. is irrational because it does not deter crime, risks innocent lives, and isolates the U.S. among the majority of First World nations that have chosen to abandon capital punishment:

The U.S. has isolated itself among First World countries by allowing the death penalty -- 123 countries have abolished it completely, or in practice never use it, a few permitting it under extreme circumstances.

Of the 50 countries that newly abolished the death penalty since 1985,

U.S. Supreme Court Upholds Kansas Death Penalty Law

Posted: June 27, 2006

In a 5-4 decision that revealed a deep division among the Justices over the fairness of capital punishment, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Kansas's death penalty statute on June 26. In Kansas v. Marsh, the Court held that juries may be required to sentence a defendant to die when there is an equal weight of mitigating and aggravating evidence. The ruling overturns a Kansas Supreme Court decision that found the practice unconstitutional because it violated the Eighth Amendment's protection against cruel and unusual punishment.

Writing for the majority, Justice Clarence Thomas noted, "Our precedents establish that a state enjoys a range of discretion in imposing the death penalty." Justice David Souter wrote in his dissent for the minority that Kansas's law could lead to death sentences in doubtful cases, and he pointed to reviews finding that dozens of people sentenced to death were later exonerated. Citing pressure for prosecutors to win convictions, misidentifications, and false confessions that have contributed to the "hazards of capital prosecution," Souter called the Kansas law "obtuse by any moral or social measure." Because of the problem of innocence, he noted that, "We are thus in a period of new empirical argument about how 'death is different' ...."

Justice Antonin Scalia, concurring separately, discounted the dangers of convicting the innocent in capital cases and said that he had seen no clear evidence that an innocent person had been executed in recent years.


DPIC Bestows Thurgood Marshall Journalism Awards at National Press Club Luncheon

Posted: June 27, 2006

The Death Penalty Information Center held its 10th Annual Thurgood Marshall Journalism Awards at the National Press Club on Monday, June 26.  This year’s award recipients were Jacqui Lofaro and Victor Teich of Justice Productions for their documentary “The Empty Chair,” and reporter Robert Nelson of the Phoenix New Times for his coverage of death row exoneree Ray Krone.

Lofaro and Teich received this year’s Award for excellence in the television broadcast category.  Their documentary, “The Empty Chair,” aired last year on the Hallmark Channel’s World of Faith and Values television network. This documentary tells the story of murder victims’ families confronting the loss of their loved ones and explores whether the death penalty can address their pain.

Robert Nelson of the Phoenix New Times received this year’s Award for excellence in print journalism. Nelson’s article “About Face” profiled the case of Ray Krone, who was wrongly convicted and sentenced to death in Arizona before he was freed based on DNA evidence. The piece explores the state’s efforts to keep Krone behind bars, as well as Krone’s life after his exoneration. Krone and Renny Cushing of Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights presented this year’s Thurgood Marshall Journalism Awards.


New York Assembly Committee Blocks Death Penalty By Wider Margin

Posted: June 26, 2006
Members of the New York Assembly's Codes Committee recently voted 13-5 against a bill to reinstate the death penalty, a vote that revealed a growing bi-partisan opposition to capital punishment. Last year's vote on the same measure was 11-7. New York's death penalty was overturned in 2004 by the state's highest court.