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PUBLIC OPINION: New Jersey Citizens Favor Life Without Parole Over Death Penalty

Posted: April 29, 2005

In a dramatic shift from 1999, citizens in New Jersey now favor life without parole over the death penatly for those who commit murder. In a Rutgers University poll released on April 28, 47% of N.J. respondents preferred life without parole rather than the death penalty. In a similar poll six years ago, 44% of respondents chose the death penalty, while 37% supported life without parole. 


DNA Evidence May Lead to Exoneration in Former Capital Case

Posted: April 29, 2005

Results from DNA testing may soon lead to the exoneration of Larry Peterson in New Jersey.  He would become the first person in the state to be cleared of a homicide through DNA evidence.  Peterson was convicted of a rape and murder that occurred in 1987.  For the past 10 years, Peterson tried to have DNA evidence from his case tested.  At his original trial in which he faced the possibility of a death sentence, the prosecution maintained that hairs from the crime scene belonged to Peterson.  He was convicted and given a life sentence.  DNA testing has now shown that the hairs belonged to the victim, and that semen from the crime scene belong to another male.  Peterson's lawyers from the Innocence Project have filed a motion to have his conviction overturned.


Soldier Sentenced to Death for Iraq War Murder

Posted: April 29, 2005

A 15-member military jury sentenced Sgt. Hasan Akbar to death for killing 2 U.S. military officers in Kuwait in 2003 during the opening days of the Iraq invasion.  At his sentencing, Akbar said, "I want to apologize for the attack that occurred.  I felt that my life was in jeopardy, and I had no other options.  I also want to ask you for forgiveness."  He is the first American since the Vietnam era to be prosecuted for murdering a fellow soldier in wartime.  (N.Y. Times, April 29, 2005 (AP)).

No one has been executed under the military's death penalty since 1961.  There are 7 other soldiers facing possible execution, including two who have had their death sentences reversed on appeal.  Seven of the eight (87%) soldiers now on death row are members of racial minorities. 


Supreme Court to Consider "Lingering Doubt" Evidence in Capital Cases

Posted: April 26, 2005

Oregon v. Guzek - The U.S. Supreme Court has announced that it will consider whether capital defendants have a constitutional right to present evidence that would cast doubt on their conviction during the penalty phase of their death penalty trials, a question that has divided state and lower federal courts for many years. The defendant, Randy Lee Guzek, sought to introduce alibi evidence after he was convicted during the sentencing phase of his trial. This evidence tended to show that he had not been present at the victims' home at the time of the murders.


Los Angeles Times Calls for Moratorium on California Death Penalty

Posted: April 22, 2005
A recent Los Angeles Times editorial called on California lawmakers to impose a moratorium on executions until a state commission charged with examining the fairness and accuracy of California's death penalty laws can finish its work. The paper noted that a similar review led by New York state lawmakers resulted in findings that effectively ended capital punishment in that state for this year. The editorial stated:

Many Californians, lawmakers as well as voters, share those concerns (as expressed in New York) about fairness and fallibility. They worry as well about the

NEW RESOURCE: "A Life and Death Decision" Examines Jury Deliberations

Posted: April 20, 2005

"Scott Sundby's new book, "A Life and Death Decision: A Jury Weighs the Death Penalty" is an impartial look at capital jury deliberations through the examination of data collected by the Capital Jury Project and other studies of group decision-making.  Drawing on the Capital Jury Project's interviews with more than 1,000 jurors from across the country who had taken part in death penalty cases, the book addresses crucial issues such as jury instructions, jury room setup, and voir dire procedures. While focusing on a single case,


NEW RESOURCE: "Executed on a Technicality"

Posted: April 20, 2005

Executed on a Technicality: Lethal Injustice on America's Death Row, by Professor David Dow, is a behind-the-scenes look at the death penalty through the lens of an attorney who formerly supported capital punishment. Dow, who teaches at the University of Houston Law Center and founded the Texas Innocence Network, provides case histories illustrating serious flaws in the death penalty system. He uses these cases to guide readers through a web of coerced confessions, incompetent representation, racist juries, and unfair judges,


Death Penalty Prosecutions May be Halted if Funding is Inadequate

Posted: April 20, 2005

The Louisiana Supreme Court recently ruled that trial judges can halt prosecutions of poor defendants until the state comes up with the money to pay for an adequate defense.   Louisiana has in the past failed to adequately fund indigent defense programs. "I think it's a warning," said Phyllis Mann, appointed counsel for Benjamin Tonguis and Adrian Citizen, two death penalty defendants whose cases were reviewed by the state supreme court.  "The court is saying as plainly as they possibly can not to let people languish."  Tonguis and Citizen have been awaiting trial with limited or no funds to prepare a defense since their arrests in April and October 2002. When funding for these two cases ran out, the trial judge tried to tap into a parish-imposed tax. He ordered the Calcasieu Parish Police Jury to provide $200,000 for appointed counsel and $75,000 to be placed in escrow for other case-related expenses, but the Louisiana Supreme Court forbid such a tax because it is the state legislature's responsibility to fund indigent defense expenses. 


POSSIBLE INNOCENCE: DNA Evidence Could Free Man From Arizona's Death Row

Posted: April 20, 2005

An Arizona court has overturned the conviction of death row inmate Clarence Hill because of new DNA evidence.  The court noted that, "It is more likely than not that no reasonable juror would have convicted Mr. Hill in light of the present DNA evidence." Hill has spent 15 years on death row for the murder of his landlord, but new DNA tests have revealed that the victim was not the source of the blood found on Hill's clothing and bedsheets during the investigation. The blood was used as evidence in the state's case against Hill.  Defense attorneys are now seeking his release. The state's Attorney General must decide within weeks whether to appeal the court's ruling or have the case sent back to Mohave County, where prosecutors can decide if Hill will face a new trial.  (The Arizona Republic, April 20, 2005).

Since 1973, 119 persons have been exonerated and freed from death row, including 13 who have been found innocent through DNA testing. Seven people have been exonerated from Arizona's death row, including Ray Krone who was freed based on DNA evidence. 


Nebraska Supreme Court to Hear Electric Chair Challenge

Posted: April 20, 2005

The Nebraska Supreme Court has agreed to consider whether the state's use of the electric chair is cruel and unusual punishment. The case, brought by death row inmate Carey Dean Moore, will be heard on May 5. Every other death penalty state has adopted lethal injection as an alternative method of execution. A bill to offer lethal injection in Nebraska remains stalled in the state's Senate Judiciary Committee.

Three people have been put to death in Nebraska since executions resumed in 1994. Coroner reports document that one of the men, John Joubert, suffered a 4-inch brain blister on the top of his head and blistering on both sides of his head above his ears. The reports note that another man, Robert Williams, had a "bubble blister" the size of a baseball on his left calf and had pronounced "charring" on both sides of a knee and the top of his head. A witness to Williams' execution reported seeing smoke coming from his head.

Moore's attorney, Alan Peterson, notes, "Now, no other state mandates that humans face the horror of death by internal burning and shock, with the well-known history of bungled, smoking failures of the century-old technique. [Electrocution] involves more than mere extinguishment of life and will subject defendant to needless agony, physical suffering, torture, mutilation, disfigurement, and degradation.... No longer can this state tolerate the form of punishment now almost universally recognized to be beyond the bounds of minimum human dignity, civility, and decency."  (Associated Press, April 19, 2005).