STUDIES: Ohio Releases Annual Capital Crimes Report

The Ohio Attorney General's Office recently released its annual Capital Crimes Report, analyzing the state's death penalty cases and death row population. In 2009, there was only one death sentence handed down in Ohio, mirroring a nationwide trend of declining death sentences. This was the fewest death sentences in a year since Ohio reinstated the death penalty.  The report indicated that over half of the current death row population of 160 inmates are African-American (51%), while Caucasians make up roughly 44%. The average age of the death row inmates in Ohio is 45, and they have spent an average of 14 years on death row.  In recent history, the majority of removals from death row have been for reasons other than execution. While there have been 33 executions (now 36) since 1981, 52 inmates received life sentences after appeal and remand, another 11 had their sentences commuted to life by the governor, and 7 were sentenced to life after a mental retardation determination. Another 20 inmates died of natural causes while they were on death row.  View the full report here.

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NEW RESOURCES: Death Row USA, Fall 2009

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund recently released its Fall 2009 edition of Death Row USA, a report detailing death row populations across the United States. According to the report, California, Florida and Texas continue to lead the nation in the number of death row inmates, with California (694) having a death row population almost twice as large as either Florida (395) or Texas (339). In addition, while Florida's and Texas' death row populations have declined in the last decade, California's population has grown steadily, from 551 inmates in 1999 to 694 in 2009.  California has not had an execution since 2006.  Overall, the country's death row population decreased since Death Row USA's report of July 1, 2009--from 3,279 to 3,263 as of Oct. 1.  View the full report here.

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Governor Postpones Execution of Inmate Found Unconscious in Death Row Cell

On March 8, Ohio Governor Ted Strickland postponed the execution of Lawrence Reynolds, who was found unconscious in his death row cell hours before he was to be driven to the execution facility. Reynolds, who was sentenced to die for a murder in 1994, apparently took an overdose of pills despite being under a 72-hour watch that includes frequent monitoring by prison guards. He was found unconscious in his cell around 11:30 pm, and was rushed to a hospital in Youngstown, Ohio. Ohio State Penitentiary spokeswoman Julie Walburn confirmed that Reynolds was alone in his death row cell. The state has rescheduled his execution for March 16.  This is the second time the state has postponed Reynolds' lethal injection. He was scheduled for execution in October 2009, but Gov. Strickland delayed executions so the state could review its lethal injection procedure following the failed attempt to execute Romell Broom. Since then, Ohio became the first state to adopt a one-drug lethal injection protocol, a method that Reynolds has challenged.

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BOOKS: Messages of Life from Death Row

Messages of Life from Death Row features correspondence from Texas death row inmate Roger McGowen to sociologist and writer Pierre Pradervand.  McGowen’s letters describe his life on death row and point to flaws in the American criminal justice system, especially the arbitrary nature of the death penalty.  The publisher, BookSurge, said the book offers a "unique juxtaposition of carefully selected texts next to the heartfelt and memorable letters written by McGowen ... giv[ing] readers a historical, ethical and pragmatic overview of American criminal justice as well as an inside view of death row in Texas."  Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking, said, “This book of letters by a Texas death row inmate, who for over twenty years has been claiming his innocence, has a powerful message of unconditional love, dignity and forgiveness. It has already touched and transformed thousands via its French and Dutch versions. I cannot too warmly recommend it.”

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OP-EDS: "Kansas pretends its capital punishment system is working"

Mike Hendricks, columnist for the Kansas City Star, recently described how the state goes through the motions of having a death penalty, but with no immediate prospect of its use after 16 years.  Kansas reinstated the death penalty in 1994; eight years ago, the Lansing Correctional Facility held an open house for the media, showcasing its new death chamber. The room was then sealed and has remained untouched. Ten prisoners await execution, one of whom has been on death row for thirteen years.  “No one that I’m aware of is even close,” said Kansas Department of Corrections spokesman Bill Miskell.  Hendricks wrote: "Wouldn't sentencing the worst killers to life without chance of parole be a whole lot cheaper, simpler and - given the cold-blooded nature of state executions - more morally acceptable?"  A bill to abolish the death penalty is currently before the legislature.  Read full text below.

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After 28 Years, Judge Spares Life of Inmate With Mental Disabilities

Edward Lee Elmore, South Carolina’s longest-serving death row inmate, was spared from execution when a state circuit court ruled he suffered from mental retardation.  The sentence reversal came almost 28 years after Elmore was sent to death row in 1982 for a sexual assault and murder, and 8 years after the U.S. Supreme Court held in Atkins v. Virginia that the execution of the mentally retarded is a cruel and unusual punishment, and therefore violates the Eighth Amendment. The decision left defining “mentally retarded” to individual states. Elmore failed and repeated first grade twice, failed and completed second grade once, and did not finish third grade until he was 12. He then withdrew from fifth grade when he was 15. In 1971, at age 12, Elmore's IQ tested at 72 and 58 on separate tests.

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