What's New

Federal Judge Requires Medically Trained Personnel for North Carolina Lethal Injection

Posted: April 11, 2006

U.S. District Court Judge Malcolm Howard has ordered North Carolina prison officials to provide medically trained personnel to ensure that death row inmate Willie Brown, Jr. is unconscious during his execution, currently scheduled for April 21. Prison officials have until noon on April 12 to present their plan for complying with the order. "Serious questions have been raised by the evidence concerning the effect of the current execution protocol. If the alleged deficiencies do, in fact, result in inadequate anesthesia prior to execution, there is no dispute that Brown will suffer excruciating pain," Howard wrote in his order. According to the North Carolina Society of Anesthesiologists, only an anesthesiologist or a nurse anesthetist under a doctor's supervision could do what the judge is requiring.


NEW VOICES: Mother of September 11 Victim Opposes Death Penalty for Moussaoui

Posted: April 10, 2006

Alice Hoagland's son, Mark Bingham (pictured), was killed on September 11 as he joined with fellow United Airlines passengers to ground a plane that may have been headed toward the White House. Hoagland is urging a life sentence for Zacarias Moussaoui, who faces the death penalty for his role in the terrorist events of that day. In an interview with The Advocate, Hoagland noted that sparing Moussaoui's life would honor "a reverence for all life" and that it would prevent some from viewing him as a martyr. Hoagland, a former flight attendant who is now active in transportation safety issues, stated:


Conference to Feature Experts on Forensic Science and Criminal Justice

Posted: April 6, 2006

The upcoming sixth annual Forensic Science and Law Conference, Justice for All, will feature more than 40 national experts discussing causes of and solutions to wrongful convictions. Former FBI Director William Sessions, Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Michael J. Sullivan, U.S. Senator Arlen Specter, acclaimed forensic scientist Henry Lee, and DNA exonerees Kirk Bloodsworth and Thomas Doswell are among those who will offer presentations during the April 20-22 event at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. "The waves of exonerations in this country based on forensic scientific advances have dramatically altered the climate for criminal justice reform in this country and made paramount the need for reforms to both harness the growing potential and address the limitations of forensic science in meting out justice for all," noted John T. Rago, an assistant professor of law at Duquesne University and executive director of the Cyril H. Wecht Institute of Forensic Scientific Law, institutions that will co-host the event with the Washington-DC based organization The Justice Project.


South Carolina Bill To Expand Death Penalty Draws Criticism

Posted: April 6, 2006

A bill to expand South Carolina's capital punishment statute so that those who are convicted a second time of raping children under 11 are eligible for the death penalty has drawn criticism from those who worry the bill may result in unintended consequences. Fears that the legislation will lead to family members refusing to come forward regarding intra-family offenses and that it may also result in more rape victims being killed are among the chief concerns regarding the proposed legislation. The bill has been approved by the South Carolina Senate and will soon be considered by legislators in the House. Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the pro-death penalty Criminal Justice Legal Foundation in California, said that a state shouldn't impose the death penalty for twice convicted sex offenders "simply to give the rapist an incentive not to kill the victim." DPIC Executive Director Richard Dieter agreed, adding, "It may actually create more death because the person facing the death penlaty for this kind of offense might be inclined to say, 'No greater punishment incurred if I kill the victim'."


Alabama's Death Sentences Concentrated in One County

Posted: April 3, 2006

Although death sentences have declined around the country, they have dramatically increased in Jefferson County, Alabama, since 1993 when state legislators expanded the death penalty to include drive-by shootings.  Jefferson County, which includes Birmingham, accounted for nearly 50% of the state's death sentences in 2005 and 2006.

According to federal data, Alabama is 23rd in population nationally but has the country's sixth largest death row and is one of the leading states in the nation in per capita death sentences. "There is no question in my mind, Alabama has one of the most expansive death penalty statutes in the country. . . . Alabama has 1/2 the population of Georgia, but routinely sentences 4 times more people to death," noted Bryan Stevenson (pictured), executive director of the Alabama-based Equal Justice Initiative. In Alabama, it only takes 10 jurors to recommend a death sentence. The state also allows judges to override juries when the majority calls for a lesser sentence, a fact that Stevenson said accounts for 20-25% of the death sentences in the state.


Washington Supreme Court Closely Divided on Rationality of State's Death Penalty

Posted: April 3, 2006

The Washington State Supreme Court recently came within one vote of effectively abolishing the state's death penalty when it ruled in the case of death row inmate Dayva Cross.  Cross is on death row for the murder of his wife and her two teenage daughters.  Attorneys for Cross had argued that their client should not be executed because killers who had committed worse crimes had been spared the death penalty.


Former North Carolina Prosecutor Accused of Withholding Evidence in Second Capital Case

Posted: April 3, 2006

Former Union County prosecutor Scott Brewer, who is already under investigation for allegedly obstructing justice in the 1996 death penalty trial of John Gregory Hoffman, has been accused of withholding important evidence in a second capital trial. Attorneys representing Darrell Strickland have asked the North Carolina State Bar to discipline Brewer for improperly withholding three statements made by the victims' wife, Gail Brown, the only eyewitness to the crime for which their client was sentenced to die.


The Impact of the Death Penalty on Jurors

Posted: March 30, 2006
During a recent presentation  at Valparaiso University, Sister Helen Prejean (pictured) engaged in a discussion with the school's pastor, Rev. Joseph Cunningham. Responding to a remark that Prejean had made about defense attorneys only needing to convince one juror to vote against the death penalty, Cunningham told Prejean that he had been foreman of a jury that sentenced a man to death in 1995. He remarked that he is still dealing with the emotional toll of that experience, stating, "I ache every day. That is why I wanted to meet you. I'm a wounded soul."

NEW RESOURCES: Michael Meltsner's "The Making of a Civil Rights Lawyer"

Posted: March 29, 2006

A new book by Michael Meltsner, The Making of a Civil Rights Lawyer, provides a personal history of the civil rights movement from the perspective of an attorney committed to social change.  Meltsner's writings bring to life a seminal period of legal reform in U.S.


NEW RESOURCES: American Bar Association's "Achieving Justice: Freeing the Innocent, Convicting the Guilty"

Posted: March 29, 2006

The American Bar Association's Criminial Justice Section has released a new report on preventing wrongful convictions. The report, Achieving Justice: Freeing the Innocent, Convicting the Guilty, includes commentary and resolutions that addresses topics such as false confessions, eyewitness identification procedures, use of forensic evidence, jailhouse informants, and compensation for the wrongfully convicted.