Maryland Attorney General Asks Court to Vacate Death Sentences
On November 6, Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler (pictured) filed a brief with an appellate court, formally requesting that the death sentence of Jody Lee Miles be vacated. Gansler argued that Miles's death sentence is no longer valid. Miles was convicted and sentenced to death in 1998. In 2006, Maryland's Court of Appeals suspended executions because the state's lethal injection procedures had not been lawfully implemented. In 2013, the state repealed the death penalty for future offenses. Upon repeal, Miles filed a motion to have his sentence changed to life in prison without parole, arguing that the repeal should apply to him, too. However, the appellate court rejected the argument, stating that the repeal only applied to future convictions. Gansler's motion contended that the absence of an execution protocol rendered an execution in Maryland a "legal and factual impossibility." He requested that Miles's death sentence be changed to life in prison without parole, and he noted that a decision on this motion would leave the door "wide open" for challenges from the other three defendants on Maryland's death row.
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PUBLIC OPINION: Support for Death Penalty in California Lowest in 50 Years
(Click to enlarge graph) A Field Poll of voters in California found that support for capital punishment has reached its lowest level since 1965. Only 56% of respondents said they favored keeping the death penalty, down from 69% in 2011. Support for the death penalty among Californians peaked in the mid-1980s at 83%. Some of the strongest opposition to keeping the death penalty came from voters under 30, African Americans, and Democrats. Daisy Vieyra, a spokesperson for the ACLU of Northern California, said support for capital punishment has declined because, "The public is becoming more aware of all the flaws that riddle the system." In 2012, a referendum to replace California's death penalty with life without parole almost passed, coming up short in a 52-48% vote.
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Missouri Juror Describes Pressure to Vote for Death
UPDATE: Winfield's execution was stayed on June 12 because of state interference with the clemency process. EARLIER: John Winfield is scheduled to be executed in Missouri on June 18 despite an affidavit submitted by one of the jurors at his trial stating she was pressured to switch her sentencing vote from life in prison to death. Kimberly Turner, who served on Winfield's jury in 1998, recently described the jury's initial deliberations: "Another juror and I had voted for life without the possibility of parole. That was my vote. In my heart, that has always been my vote." In Missouri, a jury recommendation for death must be unanimous; if just one juror votes for a life sentence, the defendant is sentenced to life. When the jury told the court they were unable to reach a unanimous sentencing verdict, they were told to continue deliberating. "Even though I had voted for life without parole," Turner said, "when an officer of the Court told me to keep deliberating, I thought that I had to. It was Friday afternoon and the other jurors were tired of being sequestered and wanted to go home. They were pressuring me and the other life vote to change our votes to death...As the afternoon went on, the other jurors wore me down. I had not wanted to keep deliberating, but after the order to continue, I did not know how long I was supposed to keep defending my vote for life...So I changed my vote to death. It is a decision that has haunted me."
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Poll Finds Majority Support for Life in Prison Over Death Penalty
A new poll by ABC News and the Washington Post found a majority (52%) of Americans prefer life without parole as punishment for convicted murderers, with just 42% preferring the death penalty. This is the first time that this poll has found a majority support for life without parole over the death penalty. Without an alternative sentence offered, support for the death penalty was 61%, equaling the lowest level of support in polls going back to the early 1980s, and showing a significant drop since support for the death penalty peaked at 80% in 1994. Even among those who said they support the death penalty in the abstract, 29% preferred the alternative of life without parole when offered a choice between the two punishments. In states that do not have capital punishment, respondents were more likely to prefer life without parole (58%), with only 38% selecting the death penalty. Among the groups that had stronger than average support for life without parole were women (57%), nonwhites (65%), and Democrats (67%).
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Ohio Residents Support Life Sentences Over Death Penalty
A recent poll by Quinnipiac University found that Ohioans support life sentences over the death penalty for people convicted of murder. A total of 49% of respondents chose sentences of life without parole (40%) or life with parole (9%), compared to just 43% who chose the death penalty. The survey also showed a 4-point drop in death penalty support in just the last three months. In February, 47% of respondents said they preferred the death penalty. Death penalty support was much lower among blacks than among whites, with only 22% of blacks saying they preferred the death penalty over the life-sentence options, compared to 46% of whites. Among various age groups, younger people (age 18-29), showed the lowest support for the death penalty (33%) when compared to life sentences.
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NEW VOICES: "Death Penalty Has Had Its Day in North Carolina"
Mark Edwards, chair of the Nash County (North Carolina) Republican Party, recently spoke about replacing the death penalty with a sentence of lfie without parole: "As a conservative seeking to find the best way to protect the residents of this great state from crime, I believe the death penalty has had its day in North Carolina. It is time to begin the debate on replacing the death penalty with life in prison without parole." He also said, "We are advocating that we replace the death penalty with life in prison without parole, which would will prevent debacles like the Oklahoma execution. It is a tough punishment, and inmates with no hope of release certainly do not live on 'easy street.'" Edwards is a member of North Carolina Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, and he pointed to the toll executions take on correctional officers, especially when executions go wrong: "No matter how professionally the staff carries out its duties, a community is formed and relationships established with the prisoners, including those who sit and wait on death row. Then they have to participate in the inmate’s execution. That cannot be easy for these men and women," Edwards said. "It is not fair for us to impose these untested (and, as the events in Oklahoma remind us, possibly unreliable) drug protocols on the dedicated staff of the Department of Corrections." Read the full letter to the editor below.
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NEW VOICES: Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma Would Bypass Death Penalty
Republican Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma recently said he believes the April 29 execution of Clayton Lockett, “was certainly not done appropriately.” Coburn, who is also a physician, added, “It’s an unfortunate thing but, again, anytime you’re doing anything with the body, things can go wrong." He also spoke more broadly about his views on the death penalty, saying, "I don’t like it. I wish we put everybody that had such a history as this gentleman behind bars working and doing things that would help them." With regard to the investigation the state is conducting on the botched execution, Coburn said, “Oklahoma will correct it. They’ll be transparent about what happened. They’ll fix what happened." The senator did say he thought the death penalty had "deterrent capability."
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Support for Death Penalty Declines in Houston, Texas, As Population Diversifies
A recent survey by the Kinder Institute of Houston, Texas, found that more than two-thirds (69%) of area residents preferred alternative sentences over the death penalty, and that number is growing as the population becomes more diverse. The survey asked whether persons convicted of first-degree murder should receive a death sentence, life in prison without parole, or life with the possibility of parole after 25 years. Only 28% of respondents chose the death penalty. Life without parole was the most popular option, receiving 39% support, while life with the possibility of parole was second with 29%. Just four years ago, combined support for alternative sentences was only 54%. The Kinder report noted that in the past three decades the Houston area has been transformed "into the most ethnically and culturally diverse large metropolitan region in the nation." Whites now constitute a minority in every age demographic except those 65 and older. This growing diversity may be a factor in changing attitudes about the death penalty, as public opinion polls consistently show lower support for the death penalty among blacks and Latinos than among whites. In the past, Harris County (Houston) had produced more executions than any other U.S. county, but in recent years there has been a dramatic decline in death sentences.
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NEW VOICES: Ohio Prosecutor Calls for Clemency for Death Row Inmate
In a petition to the Ohio Parole Board, Cuyahoga County prosecutor Tim McGinty (pictured) requested the death sentence of Arthur Tyler be reduced to life in prison without parole. McGinty said, "At the time of Tyler's trial, Ohio law did not allow for the possibility of a sentence of life without parole for an aggravated murder conviction....In light of the limited sentencing options, the absence of the option of a sentence of life without the possibility of parole in this case may have led to the imposition of the death sentence." The petition also said that "evolving statements" from Tyler's co-defendant, Leroy Head, "are cause for concern" and "may undermine public confidence in Tyler's sentence." Tyler has consistently maintained his innocence, and is asking the Parole Board for a commutation to a sentence of life with the possibility of parole. Head was released from prison in 2008.
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New Hampshire Retains Death Penalty on Tie Vote
On April 17, the New Hampshire Senate voted 12-12 on a bill to repeal the death penalty. The Senate then voted to table the bill, meaning it could be brought up for reconsideration later in the legislative session. New Hampshire has not had an execution since 1939 and has only 1 person on death row, whose status would not have been affected by the bill. The bill had overwhelmingly passed the House earlier, and Gov. Maggie Hassan indicated she would have signed the bill if it passed the Senate. Senator Bob Odell, one of two Republicans who voted in favor of repeal, had previously supported the death penalty, but said he could not explain an execution to his grandchildren. Some of those who voted to retain the death penalty were concerned that passage might reduce the sentence of the one man on death row, even though the bill stated it would apply only to future cases. In other states where inmates were left on death row after repeal, none have been removed because of the repeal legislation.
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