The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in two death penalty cases on Wednesday, December 7, 2005, including a case to determine the constitutionality of Kansas' death penalty statute and a case that involves the issue of innocence.
Sixty-five percent of voters in North Carolina favor suspending the death penalty until questions about its accuracy and fairness can be studied according to a recent Hart Research poll sponsored by the North Carolina Academy of Trial Lawyers.The poll found that even among voters who identify themselves as strong supporters of the death penalty, 43% still favor a moratorium on executions while an in-depth study of capital punishment is conducted.
Two new books by American University Criminology Professor Robert Johnson, including one book of satire and a second book of short stories co-authored with prisoner Victor Hassine and criminologist Ania Dobrzanska, address life in prison and on death row in the United States.
Cardinal William H. Keeler (pictured), archbishop of Baltimore and chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee for Pro-Life Activities, made an historic visit to Maryland's death row and met with Wesley Eugene Baker, who is scheduled to be executed in a few days. Cardinals Keeler, Theodore McCarrick of Washington, DC, and Michael Saltarelli of Wilmington, Delaware also sent a letter to Maryland Governor Robert Ehrlich urging him to commute Baker's sentence to life in prison without parole.
Virginia Governor Mark Warner (pictured) commuted the death sentence of Robin Lovitt to life in prison without parole, a decision he made to "ensure that every time the ultimate sanction is carried out, it is done fairly." Warner noted his decision was based on concerns that Lovitt could not pursue new DNA testing on crucial evidence that could prove his innocence. The evidence, a pair of scissors that prosecutors say Lovitt used as the murder weapon, had been thrown out by a Virginia court clerk.
As the 1,000th execution approaches, over 1,000 religious leaders from more than a dozen religious faiths have issued an open letter calling for an end to capital punishment in the United States. The letter reaffirms the leaders’ moral opposition to the death penalty and reiterates the groups’ belief in the sacredness of life and the human capacity for change. The faith leaders called on public officials to reexamine capital punishment and to seek better ways to help communities heal from violence. The letter states:
Mother Jones magazine recently featured an article about the growing opposition to capital punishment among U.S. Catholics, and it highlighted conservative Catholics who have changed their position in response to the U.S.
A clemency petition filed with Virginia Governor Mark Warner on behalf of Robin Lovitt, who is scheduled to be executed on November 30, has gained the backing of some of the state's most conservative voices. Among those encouraging Warner to commute Lovitt's sentence to life are former Republican Virginia attorney general Mark L. Earley, Rutherford Institute founder John W. Whitehead, and Lovitt's attorney Kenneth Starr, who now serves as dean of the Pepperdine University School of Law.
In May 2001, three weeks after Virginia legislators passed a bill ordering that all biological evidence in death penalty cases be sent to the state forensics lab for safekeeping in case future DNA or other testing was needed, the Arlington County Court ordered destruction of evidence in Lovitt's case. The clerk responsible for destroying the evidence claimed ignorance of wrongdoing. Original DNA testing in Lovitt's case was inconclusive. In his appeal for clemency for Lovitt, Starr noted that DNA testing has greatly improved since the original tests were conducted and that "through no fault of his own," Lovitt cannot take advantage of new DNA technologies.
A New Jersey Policy Perspectives report concluded that the state's death penalty has cost taxpayers $253 million since 1983, a figure that is over and above the costs that would have been incurred had the state utilized a sentence of life without parole instead of death. The study examined the costs of death penalty cases to prosecutor offices, public defender offices, courts, and correctional facilities. The report's authors said that the cost estimate is "very conservative" because other significant costs uniquely associated with the death penalty were not available.