Life Without Parole News and Developments: 2005

NEW VOICES: New Jersey Prosecutor Calls for End to the Death Penalty

In a letter to acting New Jersey Govenor Richard J. Codey, Ocean County prosecutor Thomas F. Kelaher called for an end to the death penalty in New Jersey because he feels the system is ineffective and fails to meet the needs of victims' families. Kelaher, who has been a prosecutor for 23 years, said that life without parole would be a more appropriate sentencing option for those convicted of first-degree murder. "The history of nonapplication of the law has been a cruel hoax on families of the victims and the citizens of this state. . . . Years of countless delays, continuous hearings and millions of dollars later, the condemned are invariable moved to the general prison population. The strain on prosecution budgets is enormous and the cost in human terms in incalculable," Kelaher wrote. Kelaher added that New Jersey law requires the automatic reveiw of death penalty convictions and that prosecutors must meet requirements that are virtually impossible. (The Press of Atlantic City, December 9, 2005) See New Voices, Life Without Parole, and Victims.

NEW VOICES: Judge Urges Public to Reconsider Death Penalty

U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill recently announced that he is rethinking capital punishment because it is expensive, can be politically motivated, and risks innocent lives. Winmill, who freed death row exoneree Charles Fain in 2001 after DNA evidence proved his innocence, said that Fain's case and the very different experience of sentencing a guilty man to die for murder prompted him to rethink capital punishment. During a speech before the City Club of Boise, Winmill was joined by Fain as he urged Idahoans to reconsider the death penalty. Judge Winmill stated:

I think the death penalty is perhaps sought and imposed, at least historically, more often than it should be. I think we as judges, and we as citizens now in juries, need to be very thoughtful.
...
[The death penalty] requires each of us to critically think it through, consider the costs, consider the utility, consider whether we are simply getting carried away in this effort to promote law and order. And to think whether or not a life sentence without possibility of parole is an adequate punishment for far more of the murder cases than typically imposed.

Winmill added that public officials are "loathe to discuss the cost" of capital punishment, saying, "I frankly think there may be a fear of a firestorm of criticism of the actual cost of litigating if this is ever revealed publicly." During the speech, Winmill also noted that the death penalty does not deter violent crime and that the election of judges and prosecutors politicizes death penalty decisions. One reform he recommended was to create a statewide screening commission in Idaho to review cases and decide whether they meet a heightened standard for the death penalty, separating decisions from local politics.

(The Idaho Statesman, November 13, 2005). See New Voices. See also Costs, Deterrence, Innocence, and Life Without Parole.

North Carolina Law Results in Sharp Drop in Death Sentences

According to the North Carolina News & Record, death sentences in the state have significantly declined since the 2001 enactment of legislation that allows defendants to plead guilty to first-degree murder and receive a sentence of life without parole rather than go to trial and risk the death penalty. Juries are also returning fewer death sentences. The paper argues that the emergence of the life-without-parole alternative should result in a reconsideration of the sentences of those already on death row:

It's unfair to make one person serve more time in prison than another if both committed the same crime.

That idea drove a recent change in state law that encourages the parole commission to release more inmates who were locked up before sentencing guidelines changed in 1994. A prisoner serving 20 years for an offense that now requires only a 10-year penalty might deserve strong consideration for parole. It's a simple matter of fairness.

Too bad legislators didn't apply the same principle to inmates on death row. Since a 2001 change in the law, the number of death sentences imposed by North Carolina courts has fallen dramatically.

Under the new law, defendants can plead guilty to a charge of first-degree murder and receive a sentence of life without parole rather than go to trial and risk the death penalty. Many prosecutors agree to that outcome. It saves overworked district attorneys' staffs the time and expense of a trial, spares the state a lengthy appeals process and often relieves victims' families of the ordeal they endure when the facts of the crime are rehashed as the killer's execution approaches.

In addition, with public attitudes about capital punishment beginning to shift, many jurors are more comfortable voting for a life sentence rather than death as long as they know there's no possibility of parole.

The numbers tell the story: In 1999, 24 people were sent to North Carolina's death row; in 2000, 17; in 2001, 15. Then, after the new law went into effect, seven in 2002; six in 2003, four in 2004; and six so far this year.

Altogether, 156 of the 177 men and women on death row have been there since 2001 or earlier. Whether most North Carolinians still approve of the death penalty or not, North Carolina juries are slowly eliminating its use.

That invites an obvious conclusion: Death row is largely populated by inmates who, if tried again by today's legal standards, would not be sentenced to death. Yet many of them will be executed. The exceptions may win new trials for other legal reasons, be granted a commutation of sentence or perhaps die of natural causes.

These people on death row were left out when state legislators this year tried to insert a measure of fairness into the criminal-justice system. Lawmakers said to thousands of prisoners, "You shouldn't be held longer for your crime than you would be if you had committed the same offense after 1994." But to the inmates facing the most severe punishment, they said nothing.

Maybe it's not politically smart to give murderers a break. The question, however, isn't whether murderers should go free. Of course they shouldn't. But, if juries today are more inclined to sentence killers to life in prison without parole, it's only fair for legislators to consider the same leniency for those already on death row.

(News & Record, November 7, 2005; emphasis added). See Life Without Parole and Editorials.  

New York Times Series Examines Life Sentences

A new study by a team of researchers at the New York Times looks at the expanding use of life sentences in the American criminal justice system. The study, headed by Times reporter Adam Liptak, found that about 132,000 of the nation's prisoners, or almost 10%, are serving life sentences. Of those, 28% have life sentences with no chance of parole. This is a marked increase from a 1993 Times study that found 20% of all lifers had no chance of parole. Liptak also reported that about 9,700 people are serving life sentences for crimes they committed as juveniles. Of these juvenile offenders, more than 20% have no chance of parole. The total number of prisoners serving life sentences has nearly doubled in the last decade and is outpacing the overall growth in the nation's prison population. Of those sentenced to life terms between 1988 and 2001, about one-third are serving time for crimes other than murder, including burglary and drug crimes.

(New York Times, October 2-3, 2005). See Life Without Parole and Sentencing.

Indiana Editorial Calls For End to "Costly" Death Penalty

An editorial in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette stated that the death penalty is more expensive than life without parole and offers Indiana residents no measurable benefit for their tax dollars. The paper said that ending the death penalty and reallocating funds currently put toward capital punishment would improve programs such as victim's assistance, grassroots police programs, and social service agencies that work with at-risk youth. The Journal Gazette editorial noted:

The death penalty is not solely an issue of morality and justice. The state and counties face costs, which taxpayers finance. From the murder trial through execution, the death penalty is expensive. In fact, it costs taxpayers more to execute someone than it costs to incarcerate the same person for life without parole.

State legislators know this because the Legislative Service Agency issued fiscal-impact statements earlier this year for two death-penalty-related bills filed in the General Assembly. As the state is preparing to execute three men in the next two months, including former Allen County resident Joseph Corcoran, Hoosiers ought to ask: If it’s less expensive to lock a murderer away for life, why is the death penalty an acceptable option?

...

Let’s face it: The state doesn’t get much out of executions. The deterrence argument is dubious, as is the notion that it’s better for the public’s safety.

As for costs, the state and counties spend on average $741,000 over 16 years to execute a 30-year-old offender sentenced to murder, according to the Legislative Service Bureau. The figure includes jail costs, prosecutor’s and defender’s fees from murder trial through appeals, and execution costs.

It costs states and counties $622,000 to lock the same person up for life, estimated to be 47 years in prison. That includes appeals, which aren’t automatically triggered as they are in death penalty cases, as well as health care costs. It costs $506,000 to imprison someone sentenced to 65 years with a 50 % reduction for good behavior.

The money saved could be redistributed to the juvenile justice system, victim’s assistance, offender re-entry schemes, grassroots police programs and social service agencies that work with at-risk youth.

The money and resources saved by ending the death penalty would have a more profound effect to the greater good of Indiana than executing murderers.

Other than politics, why is the death penalty immune to Indiana’s budgetary woes?

(Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, June 22, 2005) See Costs, Life Without Parole, and Editorials.

USA Today Editorial Says Life Without Parole is "Fitting Replacement" for Death Penalty

In an editorial highlighting public support for the sentencing option of life without parole in death penalty cases and the need to take steps to protect against executing innocent people, USA Today recently stated that life without the possibility of parole is a "fitting replacement" for the death penalty. The editorial praised the historic enactment of a life without the possibility of parole statute in Texas and other recent activities around the nation that seek to address problems with capital punishment. It noted:

For the past half century, the nation has been locked — deadlocked might be a better word — in a bitter debate over the death penalty. But what if there is a middle ground?

With little fanfare, a compromise has been gaining favor more than a decade, drawing support as DNA evidence has exonerated inmates on death row. Last week, it reached a milestone. Texas, site of one in three executions, gave juries the option to sentence defendants in capital cases to life without parole rather than death.

All but one death-penalty state, New Mexico, now offers that choice, a marked change from the era when life sentences were a meaningless illusion. But why stop at making life without parole just an optional alternative to execution? It is a fitting replacement, assuring severe punishment for the worst of crimes but with a safety valve to protect those falsely accused or wrongly sentenced.

Evidence of the need pours in weekly now.

Five times in the past seven months, the Supreme Court has had to rein in state courts that mishandled death penalty cases. On Monday, the court ordered a new sentencing trial in a Pennsylvania case involving shoddy work by the lawyer for an accused murderer.

Last week, the court sent back cases from Texas and California that reeked of racial discrimination in jury selection. Earlier, the court ruled against Texas (again) and Missouri (twice) in cases of excluding relevant evidence, making defendants appear in shackles and executing juveniles.

Just last week at the state level:

•An Oklahoma appeals court ordered a new trial for a man sentenced to death in a 1982 murder on the basis of testimony from a police chemist who has since been fired for poor and unreliable lab work.

•An Illinois man jailed for eight months and facing the death penalty in his daughter's death was released when a long-overdue DNA test finally came back — negative.

•A former North Carolina judge urged the state Legislature to impose a two-year moratorium on executions.

Against this backdrop, the rate of executions has dropped 40% from its onetime high.

Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, the Supreme Court has tried to make clear that it is to be applied carefully and evenhandedly. Nevertheless, cases of incompetent lawyering, suppression of evidence, local prejudice and other affronts to justice keep appearing.

The result is evident in the numbers who narrowly escaped execution: While 972 people have been put to death since the 1970s, at least 119 have been taken off death row because of evidence they were wrongly convicted or sentenced.

According to a Gallup Poll in May, 74% of the public supports the death penalty, but backing for capital punishment drops to 56% when respondents are given the alternative of life without parole. Even in Texas, a Scripps-Howard poll last October found that while 75% supported the death penalty, 78% favored the option of life without parole.

Already, life without the death penalty is the norm in a growing number of states. In addition to the 12 that don't allow it, five others have had no executions in more than 30 years; six have used it only once in that time.

Abolishing the death penalty and using life without parole instead can't fix all the injustices exposed in courts across the nation. But at least no one would be executed as a result. (USA Today, June 22, 2005)

See Life Without Parole and Innocence.

Texas Governor Signs Life Without Parole Bill Into Law

Texas Governor Rick Perry (pictured) has signed the bill that gives juries in death penalty cases the option of sentencing a defendant to life without the possibility of parole. “I believe this bill will improve our criminal justice system because it gives jurors a new option to protect the public with the certainty a convicted killer will never roam our streets again,” Perry said. The new law is not retroactive, and will apply only to those sentenced after September 1, 2005. (Governor's Office, Press Release, "Governor Perry Signs Life Without Parole Bill," June 17, 2005). Perry's action brings the total number of death penalty states with the sentencing option of life without parole to 37. New Mexico is the only death penalty state without this option. The Texas bill passed in both houses by substantial majorities and was strongly supported in opinion polls. See Life Without Parole.

India Moves Closer to Abandoning the Death Penalty

In a proposed amendment to its penal code, Indian leaders are seeking to implement a change that would end the nation's death penalty even "in the rarest of rare" cases. The amended Indian Penal Code would abolish the death penalty and replace it with a strict life without the possibility of parole measure. Currently, the nation's life sentence statute only requires imprisonment for 14 years. The decision to seek an official end to capital punishment fulfills a pledge made by the chairman of the Committee on Reforms of the Criminal Justice System, Mr. Justice VS Malimath. The proposed amendment was crafted to reflect an "evolving consensus" within the nation. The proposal to abolish the death penalty and add a true life sentence seeks to serve the twin objectives of advancing human rights and preventing such criminals from coming out of prison. The Union Cabinet is expected to review the amended Indian Penal Code before it would likely be placed before Parliament for its approval and passage. (The Statesman, May 31, 2005). See International Death Penalty and Life Without Parole.

Texas Legislators Near Historic Passage of Life-Without-Parole Bill

By a vote of 104-37, members of the Texas House of Representatives tentatively approved the sentencing option of life-without-parole in death penalty cases, an historic action that puts the state closer to including a sentencing alternative offered in nearly every death penalty state. The House is expected to give final passage to the measure on May 25 and the Texas Senate, which passed similar legislation earlier this year, is expected to approve an amended measure before sending the bill to Governor Rick Perry for possible signature into law.

The new life-without-parole law would eliminate the current sentencing option of life with the possibility of parole in 40 years in death cases and replace it with the no-parole alternative. Senator Eddie Lucio, one of the chief sponsors of the legislation, commented: "I commend the House for its overwhelming acknowledgement that Texas juries deserve this option for the safety of society." Lucio's original bill gave jurors three choices-- death, life with parole, and life without parole--but the parole option was dropped. (Houston Chronicle, May 25, 2005). See Life Without Parole.

Support for the Death Penalty Drops Sharply in Leading Execution City

Public support for the death penalty has dropped sharply in Houston, Texas according to the 2005 Houston Area Survey conducted by Rice University. For many years Texas has led the country in executions, and Harris County (Houston) has led all Texas counties in sending inmates to death row and in executions. But most Houston residents would prefer the sentence of life without parole rather than the death penalty for those who commit murder. Sixty-four percent chose life without parole, increasing from 57% who chose that option in 2003. Overall, support for the death penalty (with no alternative offered) dropped to 60% this year, down from 68% support in 1999, according to the survey. (See poll results, Houston Chronicle, May 6, 2005). See Public Opinion and Life Without Parole.

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

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.

Support for the death penalty declines even further if respondents are given the choice of life without parole plus restitution to the families of murder victims. In that case, less than 30% preferred the death penalty as the appropriate sentence.

“Much has changed since I voted to reinstate the death penalty twenty years ago,” said Senator Raymond Lesniak (D-Union). “New technologies such as DNA and other evidence have shown that people can make terrible mistakes. It’s increasingly clear that the very real risk of executing an innocent person, not to mention the expense and effort of trying to get it right, has led New Jerseyans to turn away form the death penalty.”

 


Senator Robert Martin (R-Morris) agreed that new information is driving the trend away from support for capital punishment, “There is a growing recognition that the death penalty simply can’t work. It’s a complex system that arbitrarily selects defendants for death and creates more stress and appeals, even as it is plagued by serious error. Each new exoneration reminds us of the unacceptable possibility of wrongful execution. It’s no wonder that this poll shows people moving away from it.”

(Press Release, New Jerseyans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, April 28, 2005). See Public Opinion and Life Without Parole.

 

 

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

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. Although supported by a strong majority of the senators and the people of Texas, the bill needed a 2/3 majority in order to be debated. The Senate's failure to pass the bill means that Texas and New Mexico remain the only two death penalty states in the nation to not offer life without parole as an alternative sentencing option. Sen. Eddie Lucio, lead sponsor of the life without parole measure, noted that 78% of Texans support his proposal and commented, "The sentence of life without parole is not a novel, untested idea. It's the norm in our criminal justice system."

Supporters say Lucio's bill would be a tougher sentence for convicted murderers who are excluded from the death penalty, and it would offer another option to rural district attorneys who can't afford to hold a death penalty trial. Those opposed to the proposal, such as the Texas-based "Justice for All" group and Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal, say jurors would have been less likely to hand down a death sentence if they had the option of life in prison without parole. Lucio said he has not given up on the measure, but it is unlikely to pass this year. (Dallas Morning News and San Antonio Express-News, April 6, 2005). See Life Without Parole.

PUBLIC OPINION: Maryland Poll Finds Strong Support for Life Without Parole

A recent Mason-Dixon Polling & Research survey of Maryland voters found that 63% believe that life without the possibility of parole is an acceptable substitute for the death penalty. Only 21% stated that they believe it is not an acceptable alternative to the death penalty, and 16% were not sure. The poll, sponsored by the Maryland Catholic Conference, revealed that among women, 66% believe the alternative sentence of life without parole is an acceptable substitute for capital punishment. Among black respondents, the number agreeing with the statement registered at 69%. In response to the more general question of whether voters support or oppose the death penalty itself, 56% said they support it, 35% oppose capital punishment, and 9% are unsure. The support is well below the comparable numbers nationally. The poll took place February 22-24, 2005, and included responses from 625 registered Maryland voters. (Maryland Poll Results, Maryland Catholic Conference, March 2005). See Public Opinion and Life Without Parole.

Key Connecticut Committee Passes Death Penalty Repeal Bill

By a vote of 25-15, members of the Connecticut Judiciary Committee voted for legislation to repeal the state's death penalty and replace it with life in prison without the possibility of parole, an action that clears the way for the House to debate the measure. Supporters of the bill say that the state's death penalty is an unenforceable statute, a source of agony for families of murder victims, and a fiscal burden the state can no longer afford to bear. "We should not be debating spending $3 million or $4 million to kill one man when we should be spending that money on school books. We should choose to put our resources where we can grant life, not death," said state House Deputy Majority Leader Toni N. Walker during a three hour committee debate on the repeal measure. The Judiciary Committee's vote reflects a growing consensus in the Connecticut House and Senate that the repeal bill deserves a debate on the floor of the full legislative chamber. (New Haven Register, March 10, 2005). See Life Without Parole.

PUBLIC OPINION: N.Y. Times Poll Finds A Majority of New Yorkers Now Support Alternatives to the Death Penalty

A recent New York Times poll found that 56% of surveyed New York voters prefer a sentence of life in prison (either without parole or with the possibility of parole) over the death penalty for people convicted of murder. Only 34% said they supported the death penalty, a significant drop from the 48% who supported it in 1994, just prior to New York's reinstatement of capital punishment. This shift against the death penalty comes as state lawmakers are considering whether to abandon or try to fix New York's unconstitutional death penalty statute. (New York Times, February 15, 2005). See Public Opinion and Life Without Parole.

NEW VOICES: 'Connecticut's Death Penalty Hurts Victims'

Nancy Filiault, whose sister was murdered in 2000, testified that she opposes capital punishment because the legal process further traumatizes victims' families. At the conclusion of a Judiciary Committee hearing on legislation introduced to replace Connecticut's death penalty with a life-without-parole sentence, Filiault said that sitting through the capital trial of the man charged with the murder was "heinous, incredibly cruel, and traumatizing." The defendant, who confessed to the crime, was willing to plead guilty almost immediately if the state agreed to give him a sentence of life without parole. Prosecutors, however, insisted on seeking the death penalty, a decision that resulted in family members having to endure nearly four years of pre-trial preparations and weeks of trial. At the conclusion of the trial, the defendant received the same life-without-parole sentence he had originally requested. Filiault, who said she is struggling to find forgiveness for him, stated, "I am opposed to the death penalty, and I would like to see it abolished.... The judicial process does not work." (New Haven Advocate, February 10, 2005). See Victims, Life Without Parole, and New Voices.

Key New York Legislators Say Reinstatement of Death Penalty Unlikely

Key members of the New York Legislature who supported the death penalty when it was reinstated in 1995 have changed their positions and now favor letting the law expire. Joseph Lentol, Chair of the Codes Committee of the N.Y. Assembly, says he now supports life without parole instead of restoring the death penalty for which he voted in 1995. His announcement came at the conclusion of hearings into the issue. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver stated that he will not be pressured into having the full Assembly vote on restoring capital punishment. "It clearly seems to be moving in a direction away from the death penalty in the last 10 years, now that you have life without parole gaining more acceptance. Maybe it just shouldn't be," Silver said referring to the death penalty.

Lentol predicted that the three committees sponsoring the series of five public hearings on the future of New York's death penalty would recommend sticking to life without parole. Judiciary Committee Chair Helene Weinstein, an Assembly member who supported capital punishment in the past, said: "My vote 10 years ago was 10 years ago. There's a lot of new information, important information, about DNA testing, about innocent people being convicted, and so on." Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry, the third legislative leader of the hearings, strongly opposes capital punishment.

Their colleagues in Albany have also indicated a shift in support for capital punishment. "A moratorium on the death penalty, or doing nothing to restore it, seems the best way to go, because there's very little evidence the death penalty has helped New York these 10 years," said Assemblyman Ron Canestrari, who voted for the 1995 death penalty statute. Assemblywoman Sandy Galef, also a supporter of the 1995 law who now opposes it, added, "Look at what's happening over in Connecticut; it's a circus over there with all those delays in a death penalty case. Why do we need that?"

Since 1995, an estimated $175 million has been spent on death penalty cases with no executions. (New York Times, February 11, 2005) (emphasis added). See New Voices, Life Without Parole, Innocence, and Costs.

Growing Elderly Population on Death Row

A record 110 persons aged 60 and older were on death rows across the United States at the end of 2003, a number that is nearly triple the 39 death row seniors counted nine years ago by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, according to an article in USA Today. In many states, elderly prisoners who are not on death row are housed in geriatric facilities within prisons or they are placed in "end of life" programs, but these programs are not offered to seniors facing the death penalty. The condemned status of death row prisoners requires that they are segregated from the general population and housed in individual cells within special facilities.

"'Dead man walking' is one thing. 'Dead man being pushed along to the execution chamber in a wheelchair' has a different feel," commented Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University law professor who has worked with older prisoners. He says that wardens do not relish the idea of executing those who are lame, deaf and infirmed. Though some seniors are on death row for crimes committed at an older age, many are there because capital appeals can stretch for decades.

LeRoy Nash (pictured) is an 89-year-old man on Arizona's death row and probably the oldest person on death row in the U.S. He suffers from heart disease, deafness and arthritis, conditions that usually keep him from taking advantage of the one hour of exercise time he is offered each day. Nash, who has been in prison for more than half of his 89 years, is appealing his death sentence in hopes of receiving a sentence of life without parole and returning to the general prison population. There, he could interact with others and participate in prison senior care programs. Nash's appeal has been before the U.S. District Court in Phoenix for four years without a ruling. His attorney, Thomas Phalen, observes, “The judges can read the files; they know when they're dealing with an old prisoner. It's hard not to conclude that they're hoping that natural causes will take an uncomfortable decision out of their hands.”

(USA Today, February 10, 2005). See Death Row.


Mentally Ill Woman Dies After 20 Years on Nevada's Death Row

Priscilla Ford, who suffered from a variety of mental illnesses and who was the lone woman on Nevada's death row for more than twenty years, died of apparent complications from emphysema on January 29, 2005. A prison spokesman said, "She had been quiet for so long. No one ever had any problems with her (in prison). I don't remember hearing about her violating any rules." Ford was sentenced to death row after she was convicted of killing 6 people and injuring 23 others by driving her car down a crowded Reno sidewalk on Thanksgiving Day 1980. Following the crime, a judge ordered that she receive mental health treatment so she would be competent to stand trial. Ford had been a gifted teacher until her mental illness emerged around 1970. During her 6-month trial, it was revealed that Ford had been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic with violent tendencies, but she would not stay on the medication that controlled her condition. She had been treated and released from seven different hospitals prior to her crime. Ford told people she was Christ, that she was the reincarnation of the founder of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and that she had God-like powers and would smite her enemies.

Washoe County Assistant District Attorney John Helzer said Ford's case and the subsequent appeals cost taxpayers a lot of money and unfairly caused victims' families to relive the tragedy. "That was such a sad case. It was such a tragedy for so many people," Helzer noted. Ford's death leaves 83 men on Nevada's death row. (Reno Gazette-Journal and Associated Press, January 30, 2005). See Women, Life Without Parole, and Mental Illness.

New Voices: Key New York Legislator Doubts Need For Death Penalty

New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver voiced serious doubts about the necessity for capital punishment in light of its high cost and the alternative sentencing option of life without parole. Silver, who supported the death penalty in the past, said: "I have some doubt whether we need a death penalty.... We are spending tens of millions of dollars [that] may be better spent on educating children." He also remarked that the life-without-parole statute the state now has in place ensures that those convicted of murder can't go free. Last year, New York's Court of Appeals declared the state's death penalty statute unconstitutional. Any attempt to correct the unconstitutional provisions in the law would have to be considered and passed by the Assembly of which Silver is the Speaker. New York Senate Majority leader, Republican Joseph Bruno, has predicted that the Assembly will not pass a bill attempting to fix the statute. (Democrat and Chronicle, January 27, 2005). See Life Without Parole and Costs.