What's New

Attorneys Seek DNA Testing In Case of Executed Texas Man

Posted: April 19, 2005

Attorney Barry Scheck plans to ask Texas Governor Rick Perry to order DNA testing in the case of Claude Jones, who maintained his innocence until his execution in December 2000. Scheck, co-founder of the Innocence Project, says Jones' conviction was largely based on dubious evidence. The state's case against him included testimony from an accomplice linking Jones to the crime and the report of a state forensic scientist who examined a one-inch length of hair found at the crime scene.  The scientist said that it was similar to Jones' hair using microscopic hair comparison, a faulty test that has been replaced by the more precise science of DNA testing.  Accomplice testimony has been proven to be often unreliable.

Scheck said that he may not necessarily be able to prove Jones' innocence, but this case raises the question of whether then-Governor George W. Bush knew of Jones' request for DNA testing when he refused to grant a  stay of execution. Files uncovered by the Chicago Tribune note that Bush's staff inquired about the hair comparison as they prepared to present their recommendation to the Governor, but the final summary of the case that was sent to Bush did not mention Jones' request for DNA testing of the hair. DNA testing after an execution is rare.


Lethal Injection To Be Examined In Kentucky

Posted: April 15, 2005

A Franklin County, Kentucky, court will hear arguments beginning April 18 to determine whether the state's lethal injection procedures rise to the level of cruelty that is forbidden by the U.S. and state constitutions. In November 2004, the same court cited questions about the lethal injection process when it issued a stay of execution for Thomas Clyde Bowling, Jr. just days before his scheduled execution. Attorneys for Bowling and death row inmate Ralph Baze, who is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit, now plan to present an anesthesiologist, a pharmacologist, and 18 other witnesses whose testimony will challenge the state's lethal injection procedures, the drugs used in these executions, and the training of the personnel who carry them out. Currently, Kentucky uses a series of three drugs during lethal injections that are designed to relax and put inmates to sleep before killing them. Bowling's attorney plans to present evidence that the first drugs do not get into the blood stream before the killing drugs are administered, leading to a "death that is pure torture." Among the evidence presented will be an autopsy report for Eddie Lee Harper, the state's first and only inmate to be executed by lethal injection.


Eric Rudolph Pleads Guilty to Terrorist Bombings in Exchange for Life Without Parole Sentences

Posted: April 15, 2005

In separate plea agreements with the federal government and Georgia prosecutors, Eric Rudolph admitted killing two people and injuring 150 others by carrying out a series bombings at a gay nightclub, abortion clinics, and the 1996 Olympics, and will serve four consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole. Prosecutors spared Rudolph from execution in exchange for his guilty pleas and his revealing the location of about 250 pounds of dynamite he had hidden in the North Carolina mountains.


MEDICAL JOURNAL, THE LANCET: Inmates Probably Conscious During Lethal Injections

Posted: April 14, 2005

inmates affected A team of medical doctors reported in the British medical journal The Lancet that in 43 of 49 executed inmates (88%) studied, the anaesthetic administered during lethal injections was lower than that required for surgery.  Toxicology reports from Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina revealed that post-mortem concentrations of thiopental in the blood were below typical surgery levels, and in 21 inmates (43%) the concentrations of thiopental in the blood were consistent with awareness.  Their investigation of lethal injection practices from several states found that the guidelines for delivering the essential anaesthesia drug thiopental are flawed and that some inmates might experience awareness and suffering during their execution. In Texas and Virginia, the researchers found that those administering thiopental during lethal injections had no training, and that the drug was administered remotely with no monitoring for anaesthesia. The study also found that in these states no records were kept regarding the administration of thiopental and no peer-review was done.  The report concludes, "Failures in protocol design, implementation, monitoring and review might have led to the unnecessary suffering of at least some of those executed. Because participation of doctors in protocol design or execution is ethically prohibited, adequate anaesthesia cannot be certain. Therefore, to prevent unnecessary cruelty and suffering, cessation and public review of lethal injection is warranted."  (The Lancet, Volume 365, Page 1412, April 16, 2005).  See Methods of Execution







New York Takes Historic Step Towards Ending the Death Penalty

Posted: April 12, 2005
The Codes Committee of the New York Assembly has voted 11-7 against considering legislation to re-instate the death penalty in New York, a decision that likely ends such efforts during this legislative term. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has recently voiced concerns about the death penalty and has shifted his stance away from supporting capital punishment. New York's current death penalty law was passed in 1995 but declared invalid by a ruling from the state's highest court last year. While the recent death penalty was in place in New York, no executions were carried out.

NEW VOICES: Veteran New York Legislator Now Opposes Death Penalty

Posted: April 11, 2005
Veteran New York legislator John R. Dunne voted for the death penalty 12 times during his tenure in the New York Senate. He then went on to serve as an assistant attorney general at the U.S. Department of Justice. But his concerns about the fairness and accuracy of capital punishment have now resulted in his opposition to the death penalty. In an op-ed appearing in the New York Daily News, Dunne wrote:

As a member of the New York Senate from 1966 to 1989, I voted 12 times to establish the death penalty in New York. Each

NEW VOICES: New Iraqi President Says Death Penalty is a Problem

Posted: April 11, 2005

The new president of Iraq, Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani (pictured), recently voiced his concerns about the death penalty, even for those accused of war crimes like Saddam Hussein. "I am among the lawyers who signed an international petition against the death penalty in the world and it would be [a] problem for me if Iraqi courts issued death sentences," Talabini said when asked about the fate of Hussein, who is in U.S. custody in Iraq awaiting trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity.  Kurds were among the communities who suffered the most under the dictatorship of Saddam.  Under current law, the former Iraqi leader could face the death penalty. 


New Resources For Educators Teaching About the Death Penalty

Posted: April 8, 2005
The Death Penalty Information Center has expanded the resources related to its award-winning Educational Curriculum on the Death Penalty.  We now offer a listserv for educators who teach about capital punishment, free teacher training workshops, and free brochures for distribution to schools and teachers. Launched in 2000, DPIC's Educational Curriculum is a balanced Internet-based classroom tool that offers flexible lesson plans, teacher overviews, separate teacher and student curriculum Web sites, and learning objectives that meet national educational standards.

Time Running Out for Access to DNA Testing in Florida

Posted: April 7, 2005

For Florida prisoners, including death row inmates, who were convicted before DNA evidence was routinely tested, the state-imposed October 1 deadline to submit new claims is fast approaching.  After that date, evidence may be destroyed and the chance for an exoneration extinguished.  Yet the system is seriously backlogged and under-resourced.  Noting that Governor Jeb Bush recently stated that any court in Florida or elsewhere would "immediately" review a prisoner's claim of DNA evidence exonerating him, the St. Petersburg Times called for the passage of legislation to ensure relief for the wrongly convicted by extending the deadline:

If only it were so.

The governor must be unaware of the laws and recent history of his own state. Prisoners convicted before DNA was routinely tested have only until Oct. 1 to submit their claims. Those who pleaded guilty or no contest, as even innocent people sometimes do, are ineligible. There is no money to pay lawyers to file DNA petitions. Nearly 700 applications are backed up and will likely run afoul of the deadline. The governor's office is lobbying the Legislature for a constitutional amendment that, among other things, would prevent the Supreme Court from reopening the window of opportunity.


Texas Senate Refuses to Give Jurors the Sentencing Option of Life Without Parole

Posted: April 6, 2005

Legislation that would allow those convicted of capital murder to be sentenced to life in prison without parole recently failed to win a key procedural vote in the Texas Senate, largely because of opposition from prosecutors and pro-death penalty organizations who said it would result in fewer death sentences.