NEW VOICES: L.A. Police Chief Says Life Without Parole is Preferable Sentence

Los Angeles Chief of Police William Bratton recently defended San Francisco Distrist Attorney Kamala Harris for not seeking the death penalty against a suspect in a police killing.  "It's much cheaper to sentence them to life in prison and throw away the key," said Bratton, who is endorsing Harris in seeking election as California's Attorney General.

(Matier & Ross, "In S.F., Obama 'just not a party guy' like Clinton," San Francisco Chronicle, Oct. 18, 2009, at C2).

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NEW VOICES: Kentucky Public Defenders Call for Moratorium on Executions

On November 23, Kentucky Public Advocate Ed Monahan and Louisville Metro Chief Public Defender Dan Goyette called on the governor and the state's Attorney General to stay all executions until an assessment team formed by the American Bar Association can objectively review the state's death penalty. Monahan and Goyette wrote letters asking Attorney General Jack Conway not to request any further execution warrants and asking Governor Steven Beshear not to sign execution warrants until the ABA Assessment Team has concluded its study and issued a final report.

“There are serious and disturbing questions about the convictions of a number of inmates facing execution, particularly in those cases that were tried years ago by unqualified lawyers lacking adequate resources,” Dan Goyette said. “We should not proceed with executions until this independent evaluation is completed and we are assured that due process has been fully and properly provided in each and every case. To do otherwise would cast significant doubt on the fairness and propriety of imposing the ultimate punishment. We all have a fundamental responsibility to avoid at all costs the possibility of making an unjust and irreversible mistake.”

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NEW VOICES: Washington State Law Enforcement Officials Express Doubts About Death Penalty

Walla Walla County (Washington) Sheriff Mike Humphreys said the death penalty does not deter homicides, and it may be time for the public to reconsider the law: "At the time, (perpetrators do not) think about [the death penalty]. They don't believe they're going to get caught. And if they do get caught, there are a lot of court proceedings making it likely (execution is) not going to happen. . . . It's costing us this much money. Let the people make that decision," he said. Humphreys agreed with a recent (Death Penalty Information Center) survey of police chiefs who rated reducing drug abuse as a better way of reducing crime. "If we're going to reduce the drug abuse, we're going to reduce all crimes. From theft to murder," he said.  Police Chief Chuck Fulton agreed with Humphreys that the death penalty is not a deterrent and would prefer to see the practice abolished through legislation. Fulton said the death penalty creates more victims and the system results in a "'carnival atmosphere' that adversely affects penitentiary workers, law enforcement officers responsible for maintaining security, and every one else involved." He said he understands the anger toward those who commit murder but doubts that the death penalty is the answer for society.

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NEW VOICES: Former Kentucky Officials Rethinking the Wisdom of High Death Penalty Expenditures

The former director of Kentucky's courts recently recommended that the state stop wasting money on the death penalty and direct those resources where they are needed more.  "We've got a system in Kentucky where there's not enough money for public advocates, for prosecutors, for drug courts, family courts, for juvenile services, for rehabilitation programs, and we're using the money we have in a way I think is unwise," said Jason Nemes, former director of the state Administrative Office of the Courts. "Every dollar that goes to our ineffective capital punishment system is a dollar taken away from other needs. . . The benefit to public safety is low. Are we really protecting the public?" he asked.

In over 30 years, Kentucky has carried out three executions. The state spends about $8 million a year prosecuting, defending and incarcerating death row inmates, according to an estimate by the state Department of Public Advocacy. Critics of the death penalty question whether this ineffective system is one the state can afford, especially as state-ordered budget cuts are already affecting many aspects of its judicial branch. Former Kentucky Supreme Court Chief Justice Joseph Lambert agreed that death-penalty cases often become "legal monsters," and that "it's impossible to streamline death-penalty litigation to justify the cost, because doing so would dramatically increase the risk of wrongful executions."

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NEW VOICES: The High Cost of the Death Penalty in Mississippi

The costs of the death penalty have been a burden on various counties in Mississippi for many years.  Quitman County was forced to raise taxes for three years and borrowed $150,000 to provide legal counsel to Robert Simon and Anthony Carr, who were sentenced to death for murders committed in 1990.  A death-penalty case "is almost like lightning striking," county administrator Butch Scipper told The Wall Street Journal in 2002. "It is catastrophic to a small rural county."  Simon and Carr remain on the state's death row. 

In 1995, Jasper County spent three times more on one death penalty trial than it did on its public library system.  When more money was needed for capital prosecutions, the administration's solution was to raise property and car taxes in the county.  For all of this cost, the state has had ten executions in 30 years, and some in law enforcement believe there would have been better ways of spending taxpayers' money. Jackson Police Chief Rebecca Coleman said she is "not sure that the average criminal would consider the death penalty before they commit a crime." Coleman said the death penalty has an adverse economic impact and that funds spent on the death penalty in Mississippi could be better spent elsewhere. "I would look at more proactive means to serve as a deterrent to crime, as opposed to looking at it (reactively)" she said. Coleman would spend the funds in the juvenile justice system, breaking the back of the cradle-to-prison pipeline. "(I would put) programs in place to educate our kids to know the benefits of good behavior as opposed to behavior ... that ultimately would have them end up on death row," she said.

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NEW VOICES: Former Texas Governor Now Expresses Doubts About Death Penalty

Mark White, a former governor of Texas and strong supporter of the death penalty, recently expressed serious reservations about the practice in Texas.  "There is a very strong case to be made for a review of our death penalty statutes and even look at the possibility of having life without parole so we don’t look up one day and determine that we as the State of Texas have executed someone who is in fact innocent," he said.  White was responding to concerns about the case of Cameron Willingham who was executed in Texas in 2004 despite new evidence indicating that the arson investigation that led to his conviction was flawed. Texas' present governor, Rick Perry, recently dismissed the chair and two members of a State Forensic Science Commission that was scheduled to hear evidence regarding the case. Former governor White said the case is one example “of why I think the system is so unreliable.”

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DPIC Releases New Report on Costs of the Death Penalty and Police Chiefs' Views

The Death Penalty Information Center has released its latest report, "Smart on Crime: Reconsidering the Death Penalty in a Time of Economic Crisis." The report combines an analysis of the costs of the death penalty with a newly released national poll of police chiefs who put capital punishment at the bottom of their law enforcement priorities.

Click here to read the report.
Click here to read DPIC's press release.
Click here for the Executive Summary of the report.

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NEW VOICES: Judge Says Death Penalty "too fraught with variables to survive"

Retired Federal Appeals Court Judge H. Lee Sarokin recently offered a harsh critique of the death penalty, especially challenging the botched execution attempt of Romell Broom in Ohio in September. Citing morality, arbitrariness, and the dim prospects of closure for the murder victims’ families, Judge Sarokin called the imposition of the death penalty an erratic and flawed process that should not be permitted to continue. “The system is too fraught with variables to survive. Whether or not one receives the death penalty depends upon the discretion of the prosecutor who initiates the proceeding, the competence of counsel who represents the defendant, the race of the victim, the race of the defendant, the make-up of the jury, the attitude of the judge, and the attitude and make-up of the appellate courts that review the verdict.“

Regarding Ohio's lethal injection process, Judge Sarokin said it would be unconstitutional to subject the defendant to a second execution attempt: “It is impossible to imagine what it must be like to know that you are going to be put to death, have numerous efforts fail, and then have to face the prospect again at a later date! If that isn't cruel and unusual punishment, I do not know what is!“ He continued, “Double jeopardy prohibits a person from being tried twice for the same crime. Should it not protect a person from being subjected to execution twice for the same crime?“ Read the entire article below.

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NEW VOICES: 'Zachary's Law' Case Settles with a Life Sentence; Victim's Family Given Finality

Todd Snider, the father of Zachary Snider, who was killed at age 10 by Christopher Stevens in Indiana, accepted final resolution of the case against Stevens when a settlement was reached for a sentence of life without parole. “Our family has suffered enough and would like for this to be resolved once and for all," Mr. Snider said about the life sentence. "This will give our family finality. Chris Stevens will die in prison and will never have the opportunity to destroy people's lives again."  The 1993 murder led to the passage of Zachary’s Law, creating Indiana's sex offender registry.  Stevens was originally sentenced to death, but the sentence was overturned in 2007 because Stevens' attorneys had not adequately presented evidence of the defendant's mental illness.  Putnam County Prosecutor Tim Bookwalter said he “believe[s] it was probable that another jury would have given Mr. Stevens the death penalty, but it would have caused the Sniders to go through a lengthy jury trial, and then if convicted, a new set of appeals could have gone on another 10 years. With the plea, this case is over. There are no more appeals and the Sniders should never have to deal with Stevens again."

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NEW VOICES: Republican Gubernatorial Candidate Ready to Close Door on New Mexico's Death Penalty

In March of this year, New Mexico repealed the death penalty, becoming the fifteenth state to abolish the practice. The law, however, is not retroactive, and does not affect two inmates currently on death row as well as any defendant sentenced to death for crimes committed before the law was to take effect in July 2009. One of the legislators who voted to end the death penalty, partly because of its high costs, was Republican gubernatorial candidate Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones, who also voted to repeal the death penalty in 2007.  Arnold-Jones recently said she “would consider commuting sentences of the two men on death row and any others who may join them.” She continued, “[T]he biggest reason that I couldn't sustain the death penalty any longer is it's not working. It is fraught with so many issues, so much cost and it bogs down our system. It's just not working.“  

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