What's New


Posted: July 18, 2003

"The Execution of Wanda Jean," an HBO documentary directed by Liz Garbus of Moxie Firecracker Films, and a series of news articles by the staff of the York Daily Record, including extensive coverage of the release of Pennsylvania native Ray Krone from Arizona's death row, will receive honors during the Death Penalty Information Center's (DPIC) Seventh Annual Thurgood Marshall Journalism Awards at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. The program will also feature keynote remarks from renowned author Scott Turow, whose award-winning books have sold millions of copies around the world. This year's Thurgood Marshall Journalism Award recipients will be introduced by Ray Krone, the nation's 100th death row exoneree, and Barbara Bradley Hagerty, Justice Department news correspondent for National Public Radio.


New York Times Magazine Examines Why Death Penalty Jurors Are Sparing Lives

Posted: July 18, 2003

A recent article by Alex Kotlowitz in the New York Times Magazine examined why jurors who affirmed their willingness to impose a death sentence are increasingly voting for life in capital cases. The article noted:

Over the past few years, detective work and advances in DNA technology have uncovered a frighteningly high number of wrongfully convicted, especially on death row. But there may be another, albeit quieter, revolution taking place, out of view, in jury rooms. The number of death sentences handed down has dropped precipitously, from a modern-day peak of 319 in 1996 to 229 in 2000, and then to 155 in 2001. And a study released just last month reported that in 15 of the last 16 federal capital trials, jurors chose life sentences over death.

There are a number of factors at work here. In early 2000, Gov. George Ryan of Illinois, staggered by the number of wrongful convictions in his state, declared a moratorium on executions. It received a good deal of national press and undoubtedly made some prosecutors and jurors more cautious. (Last January, Ryan went beyond a moratorium; he pardoned four inmates and commuted the sentences of the other 167 on Illinois's death row.) Additionally, the murder rate has been in a steady decline, though that has been going on for some time.

There are two factors, however, that more than anything else may help explain the decline in death-penalty sentences. One is the increasing availability of life without parole as an option, which all but three death-penalty states now offer. In polls, three-fourths of Americans say they believe in the death penalty. But when asked whether they'd support capital punishment if life without parole was an option, the number is reduced to half.

The other contributor, perhaps tougher to measure, is a development over the last decade: an increasing number of defense attorneys have become more skilled and resourceful in persuading jurors that the lives of their clients are worth saving.


NEW VOICES: Australian Judge and Parent of Bombing Victim Rejects Death Penalty

Posted: July 18, 2003

Brian Deegan, a magistrate in South Australia who lost his son in the October 2002 Sari nightclub bombing in Bali, recently stated that he believes the terrorists who commited that crime should not receive the death penalty, but should be sentenced to a term of life in prison without parole. In an opinion piece in The Australian, Deegan noted:

The Bali bombers who murdered my son last October are evil extremists, but they don't deserve the death penalty.
. . .
Indeed, I have no problem with the idea that he [Amrozi] and his accomplices should remain in prison for the rest of their lives. But the prospect of their judicial murder is something I want no part of.
. . .
As a measure employed to dissuade potential criminals, the death penalty has been an abject failure. This is borne out by statistics that point to the commensurate rise of murders and executions in countries where capital punishment is awarded.

The argument in favour of executions remains difficult to reconcile with the universal revulsion generated by periods in history when society thought nothing of hanging a child or burning a witch. We read with disgust ? or perhaps with guilt ? of the stoning of adulterers, the removal of a thief's hand or the decapitation of a blasphemer. Yet we find it palatable to break a man's neck, to poison his veins or to electrocute him.

The suggestion that Amrozi and his fellow evildoers should face an Indonesian firing squad is unconscionable because that would make the punishment as barbaric as the crime. What the Bali bombers did to my child and to the hundreds of others defies description. But the October 12, 2002, terrorist attacks do not give anyone the right to repeat such a vile act.


Texas Lawmakers Receive Failing Grade from Criminal Justice Reform Leaders

Posted: July 18, 2003

As the Texas legislative session came to a close, criminal justice reform advocates gave lawmakers a failing grade for their work in addressing problems in the state's legal system. Senator Rodney Ellis of Houston joined an array of legal experts to criticize the state legislators' inability to pass measures to end the execution of juvenile offenders, to strengthen the consular notification process for foreign nationals, and to require the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to hold a hearing when addressing clemency matters in a capital case. The advocates also chastised failed attempts to pass bills to allow the governor to issue multiple 30-day execution reprieves, to create an innocence commission to review and investigate the Texas death penalty and wrongful convictions, to offer the sentencing alternative of life without the possibility of parole, and to require a trial judge to determine if a defendant is mentally retarded before the trial of a capital case. Ellis noted that the only successful measure passed by the legislature was a bill mandating the temporary release of 12 Tulia residents who had been convicted during a controversial drug sting in 1999. The only evidence used to convict them was the later-discredited testimony of an undercover narcotics officer. While vowing to continue his fight for meaningful criminal justice reform, Ellis said, "There are problems in Texas. How many other Tulias are out there that we don't know about?"


NEW VOICES: Former Missouri Supreme Court Judge Decries Death Penalty

Posted: July 18, 2003

Charles B. Blackmar, senior judge of Missouri's Supreme Court from 1982-1992, recently called for consideration of abolishing the death penalty. In a letter to the editor that appeared in the Kansas City Star, Blackmar stated:


Kansas Lawmakers to Study Death Penalty Costs

Posted: July 18, 2003

The Legislative Coordinating Council of Kansas, a group of legislative leaders who represent the Kansas legislature when it's not in session, recently authorized committees to study three aspects of the state's capital punishment law this summer. Among the topics under review are the cost of imposing the death penalty, the state's funding of the Board of Indigents' Defense Services and its Death Penalty Unit, and the effectiveness of laws to ensure that mentally ill defendants are not executed. The cost study won't begin until the legislative auditors complete a review of the costs of prosecuting death penalty cases, which is excepted to begin this month. The study results for all three reviews will be given to legislators during their 2004 session.


ACLU Report Calls for Halt to Executions

Posted: July 18, 2003

The ACLU Capital Punishment Project recently released "Three Decades Later: Why We Need A Temporary Halt on Executions," a report that comes just over 30 years after the Supreme Court's Furman v. Georgia decision that placed a temporary halt on executions because the death penalty was being applied in an arbitrary, discriminatory, and capricious manner. While the Supreme Court upheld state capital punishment statutes written after Furman in its 1976 Gregg v. Georgia decision, the report notes that questions of fairness remain. In its report, the ACLU calls for a temporary halt to executions to give states the chance to review these concerns, including issues such as wrongful convictions, inadequate representation, geographic disparity, and racial and socioeconomic bias. Read the report.


American Bar Association Endorses North Carolina Death Penalty Moratorium

Posted: July 18, 2003

The American Bar Association (ABA) has voiced support for legislation to impose a two-year moratorium on executions in North Carolina while the state studies its death penalty. In its announcement, the ABA noted a "growing consensus within the legal community that North Carolina urgently needs a moratorium on executions until it evaluates issues of fairness, due process and possible racial bias in its death penalty system." The bill, which was recently passed by the North Carolina Senate, is currently under consideration by members of the state's House of Representatives. The ABA has also called for a national moratorium on executions until the death penalty is studied and procedural flaws are fixed.


Law Enforcement Views: Houston Police Chief Voices Concern About Prosecutors

Posted: July 18, 2003

Houston Police Chief C.O. Bradford said that criminal defendants in Texas are at the mercy of prosecutors in an unfair system that emphasizes winning rather than justice. Bradford said that he believes there is sufficient probable cause to convene a court of inquiry to investigate the entire Police Department crime lab, not just the DNA portion (see below). Bradford also voiced support for changes that would help to balance the Texas justice system, which he believes currently works in favor of prosecutors. He described the attitude in the district attorney's office as, "What can I do to win? Win, win, win." Bradford supports measures such as an open discovery process in criminal trails and standardizing the appointment of forensics experts to assist court-appointed attorneys in cases with DNA evidence."


Death Penalty Costs Cause Concern in Kansas

Posted: July 18, 2003

As Kansas lawmakers struggle to make ends meet, some are calling for an examination of the costs associated with capital punishment. Senators Steve Morris and Anthony Hensley have opposing views on the death penalty, but the men recently joined forces to propose an audit of the state's death penalty. Among other items, the audit will review $9 million in expenses filed by the Board of Indigents' Defense Services between 1995-2002. The funding was used to defend those facing capital charges. While Hensley opposes capital punishment and Morris voted to reinstate the death penalty in 1994, both believe that now is the time to examine the costs and effectiveness of capital punishment and to consider other less expensive options. Morris, a Republican, noted, "Overall, we just need to evaluate the whole death penalty issue. If it's going to take millions and millions of dollars per inmate and years before we can execute someone, that's a major policy issue we need to look at."