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Missouri Likely to See Change After Historic High in Executions

A decline in executions is likely in Missouri after two years of unusually high numbers. In 2014, Missouri tied with Texas for the most executions in the U.S., and it was second to Texas in 2015. However, changing attitudes about the death penalty--similar to national shifts--are evident in Missouri's sentencing trends: no one was sentenced to death in Missouri in 2014 or 2015, and less than one person per year has been sentenced to death in the past seven years. Moreover, a bill with bi-partisan support has been introduced to repeal the death penalty. It passed the Senate General Laws committee in late January. An editorial in the Columbia Daily Tribune highlighted the political diversity in the legislative support for the measure. Among those who voted the bill out of committee were two Democrats and two Republicans. Sen. Paul Wieland cited his pro-life views as a reason for support, while Sen. Rob Schaaf said, as long as it is "not fairly applied...I'm going to be opposed to the death penalty."


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PUBLIC OPINION: Support for Repealing Death Penalty Grows in California

A recent survey of Californians conducted by The Field Poll found that voters are evenly split between wanting to speed up the execution process (48%) and supporting repeal of the death penalty and replacing it with life without parole (47%). Support for repeal has grown since 2014, when the question was last asked. At that time, 40% favored replacing the death penalty with life without parole and 52% supported speeding up the process. Californians may face a choice between the two options in November, as competing initiatives have been proposed. Republicans, whites, and voters over age 50 were more likely to support speeding up executions, while Democrats, Hispanics, blacks, and voters under 50 favored repealing the death penalty. "There continues to be a very strong movement away from support for the death penalty in California,” said Matt Cherry, executive director of Death Penalty Focus, an organization that is supporting the initiative to repeal the death penalty. (click graphic to enlarge).


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Ten Years After Last Execution, California Still Far From Resuming Executions

On January 17, 2006, California executed Clarence Ray Allen, who was 76 years old, legally blind, diabetic, and used a wheelchair. He was the last person the state has executed. A decade later, California's death row population has increased by 100 to 746, making it the largest in the nation. The state has executed 13 prisoners in 40 years at an estimated cost of $4 billion, while more than 100 other prisoners have died on death row. Prisoners wait 11-15 years to be appointed counsel, and the entire appeal process routinely takes 20-25 years. In November 2015, California proposed a new, one-drug lethal injection protocol, but the protocol cannot be implemented until it goes through a public vetting process, which may take years, and then survives legal challenges. This November, California voters may be presented with two competing ballot measures - one that aims to shorten the time between conviction and execution by speeding up the appeal process and another that would abolish the death penalty. A prior referendum to abolish the death penalty failed 48% to 52% in 2012. Commentators close to the issue say California's death penalty isn't working. Jeanne Woodford, who worked at San Quentin for over 25 years and oversaw executions, said that many of those who were sentenced to death were young men, "the very people whose behavior changes over time." Donald Heller, who wrote the initiative that expanded California's death penalty in 1978, said he did so based upon two assumptions about the death penalty that have proven to be false: "The first was that it would deter murders. The second: I assumed defendants would have competent representation." He also voiced concerns about the potential execution of innocent people: "If you have an imperfect system taking someone's life, it's a little bit frightening." 


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Connecticut Supreme Court Hears Prosecutors' Argument Seeking to Overturn Death Penalty Ban

On January 7, the Connecticut Supreme Court heard arguments in State of Connecticut v. Russell Peeler, in which state prosecutors are seeking to overturn the court's 4-3 decision last summer declaring Connecticut's death penalty unconstitutional.  The court ruled in August in State v. Santiago that Connecticut's prospective legislative repeal of the death penalty, in combination with "the state’s near total moratorium on carrying out executions over the past fifty-five years," established that "capital punishment has become incompatible with contemporary standards of decency in Connecticut." If the court holds to that decision, the state's remaining death row prisoners would be resentenced to life without possibility of parole. One of the four justices who voted with the majority, Justice Flemming Norcott Jr., retired recently, changing the makeup of the court. Chief Justice Chase T. Rogers, who voted with the minority in the Santiago decision, worried that the appeal presents the possibility of a "slippery slope," saying, "Why shouldn't the court be concerned that every time there's a hotly contested 4-3 decision … that this isn't just going to become a numbers game, that the parties will then wait until somebody retires or leaves the court and raise the issue again?" Prosecutors argued that the court's decision, "eliminated the democratic process." Senior Assistant Public Defender Mark Rademacher, who argued on behalf of the death row inmates, said, "This is a unique decision and a unique problem far different than interpreting a statute, and the majority found that it was a fairly clear statement that the death penalty no longer comports with the standards of decency of Connecticut citizens as expressed through their elected representatives."


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