NEW RESOURCE: "Executed on a Technicality" Scheduled for April Release

Executed on a Technicality: Lethal Injustice on America's Death Row, by Professor David Dow, to be released in April 2005, is a behind-the-scenes look at the death penalty through the lens of an attorney who formerly supported capital punishment. Dow, who teaches at the University of Houston Law Center and founded the Texas Innocence Network, provides case histories illustrating serious flaws in the death penalty system. He uses these cases to guide readers through a web of coerced confessions, incompetent representation, racist juries, and unfair judges, all of which he believes contribute to the arbitrariness of capital punishment.

In many cases, obscure technicalities in the law prevented courts and juries from hearing evidence that would have prevented an execution or a death sentence. Dow relates the case of one man who was executed because the jury never heard from two eyewitnesses who swore he was not the murderer. In another case, a man was allowed to represent himself despite the fact that his mental imbalance - which resulted in attempts to issue a subpoena to Jesus Christ and to dressing as a cowboy during his trial - was obvious.

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Arizona Case Exposes Prosecutorial Misconduct and Wrongful Convictions

In an examination of the case against three men sentenced to death for a triple murder that occurred in Tucson's El Grande Market, reporter Jeffrey Toobin in the New Yorker describes the incidents that led to the fall of the lead prosecutor, Kenneth Peasley, for presenting false evidence in the case. Only one of the co-defendants, Martin Soto-Fong, remains on Arizona's death row. Of the other two defendants, Christopher McCrimmon was acquitted at a re-trial in 1997, and Andre Minnett had his conviction reversed in 1996, with subsequent prosecution barred on double jeopardy grounds in 2002 because of Peasely's intentional misconduct. In 2004, Peasley was disbarred for his actions in the El Grande case. Soto-Fong, who was 17-years-old and a foreign national when the crime occurred, is appealing in federal court and has maintained his innocence. Recently, a new witness has emerged pointing to other defendants and excluding the three who were originally convicted.

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Indiana Governor Grants Clemency While Calling for Death Penalty Review

With just days remaining in his term, Indiana Governor Joe Kernan (pictured) has granted clemency to Michael Daniels, whose case underscored the Governor's concerns about the death penalty. "I have now encountered two cases where doubt about an offender's personal responsibility and the quality of the legal process leading to the capital sentence has led me to grant clemency. These instances should cause us to take a hard look at how Indiana administers and reviews capital sentences," said Kernan, who hopes the state government can soon examine whether Indiana's sentencing system is fair in death penalty cases.

The Governor noted that evidence casting doubt on Daniels' guilt was never presented in court, and that Daniels' IQ of 77 is just above the level to be considered mentally retarded. He also stated that Daniels, who was the only one of three co-defendants to receive a death sentence, was psychotic for some time and unable to assist in his defense. In July 2004, Kernan granted clemency to Darnell Williams just days before his scheduled execution.

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Excerpts From Sister Helen Prejean's New Book, The Death of Innocents

Sister Helen Prejean, author of the bestselling book Dead Man Walking, has just released a new book based on her experience with two death row inmates who may have been innocent. The Death of Innocents explores her work on these two cases in which she accompanied both men to the execution chamber. Sr. Helen also looks at the capital punishment system as a whole, and discusses the errors in the system that allow such mistakes. Here are some excerpts:

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NEW RESOURCE: Sister Helen Prejean's New Book: The Death of Innocents

In her new book, The Death of Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions, Sister Helen Prejean uses her personal experiences as a counselor to those on death row to explore the issue of innocence and the likelihood of executing a wrongly convicted person. The book also traces the historical and legal underpinnings of the death penalty in the U.S. Prejean, who authored the #1 New York Times bestseller "Dead Man Walking," begins her new book by focusing on the cases of Joseph Roger O'Dell and Dobie Gillis Williams, both of whom she believes received unfair trials and probably were innocent. O'Dell was executed in Virginia in 1997 and Gillis was executed in Louisiana in 1999. Prejean was closely involved with each of their cases and accompanied both men to the death chamber. Their cases sparked "The Death of Innocents" and Prejean's closer look at wrongful convictions, inadequate defense, the capital appeals process, race, poverty, and the politics of capital punishment.

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NEW VOICES: Federal Judge Discusses His Concerns About the Death Penalty

In an interview with The New York Times, Judge Jed S. Rakoff (pictured) discussed his reasons for finding the federal death penalty to be unconstitutional. Judge Rakoff ruled in April 2002 that the death penalty failed to secure due process because of the demonstrated risk of executing an innocent person. He noted that his conclusions on capital punishment were based in part on his extensive review of cases included on the Death Penalty Information Center's innocence list. He remarked that the exonerations exposed "something pretty upsetting, if you think about its broader ramifications....that our legal system is not as good in ascertaining the truth as we thought it was." Rakoff also revealed his personal appreciation for the needs of victims' family members. In 1985, his brother, Jan, was murdered in the Philippines, a crime that left an "unhealable wound." Though his 2002 decision was overturned, Rakoff maintains his concerns about the capital punishment system: "I continue to think that the process is deeply flawed. It posits a very high likelihood that no innocent person is convicted, which I no longer believe to be true." (The New York Times, January 2, 2005). See Victims, DPIC's page on U.S. v. Quinones, and Innocence.

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