NEW VOICES: Growing Coalition Supports Repeal of New Hampshire Death Penalty

New Hampshire State Representative Renny Cushing (pictured), whose father and brother-in-law were murdered, is one of many members of the state's legislature who supports repeal of the death penalty. "Everyone is moving away from the death penalty. It’s clear New Hampshire isn’t in love with the death penalty. We haven’t executed anyone since 1939," Cushing said. New Hampshire's only death row inmate currently has an appeal before the state Supreme Court. A death penalty abolition bill passed the New Hampshire House in 2009, but was vetoed by the Governor. Governor-elect Maggie Hassan said she opposed expanding the death penalty and is expected to sign a repeal bill if it passes the legislature. Past efforts to end the death penalty in New Hampshire have crossed party lines. Republican Rep. Steve Vaillancourt sponsored a repeal bill in 2000 and has taken preliminary measures to abolish the death penalty this year. "New Hampshire’s a really strong libertarian state. There is a strong element in the state that doesn’t trust the government to collect taxes and plow roads," Cushing said. "And it certainly doesn’t want to give the government the power to kill people."

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NEW VOICES: Victims and Relatives Support Life Sentence in Alabama Mass Shooting

On September 24, a jury in Alabama found that Amy Bishop was indeed guilty of capital murder, a crime for which she had already pled guilty on September 11. Because of this finding and plea, she will be spared the death penalty for killing three members and wounding three others of the University of Alabama's biology faculty in 2010 after some of them voted against granting her tenure. Madison County District Attorney Rob Broussard agreed to the life without parole sentence after learning that some of the victims’ families strongly opposed capital punishment. Broussard said, “[I]f you look at the folks who had the most at stake, who have lost the most, and victims' families, for me to disregard those feelings and forge ahead, I would be ashamed.” Dr. Jacqueline Johnson, the wife of one of Bishop’s victims, said, “It's very difficult when something so heinous and senseless strips you away of your support system. I’ve come to terms with what has happened. But in my heart, I feel that the loss will not be diminished by this sentence. Today merely begins a new chapter. In the coming months, in the coming days, we will continue to move forward to ensure that measures and justice is rendered for all parties that are responsible for the events that occurred on Feb. 12, 2010.”  Dr. Joseph Leahy, who was seriously wounded during Bishop's attack, said he was not actively seeking the death penalty for Bishop. "There's no closure overall because I will always remember my friends and colleagues," he said. Dr. Debra Moriarity (pictured), whom Bishop also tried to kill and now head of the department, had decided to leave the death penalty question "in God's hands."

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NEW VOICES: A Mother Shares Her Grief and Joins the Call for Mercy

When Vicki Schieber's (pictured) daughter, Shannon, was murdered in Philadelphia in 1998, she and her family felt enormous grief.  "Losing a loved one to murder," she recently wrote in the Philadelphia Inquirer, "is a tragedy of unimaginable proportions. At first, my husband and I didn't know how we could go on with our lives."  Nevertheless, because of their beliefs, "we did not want the man who murdered our daughter to be put to death."  Now she is speaking out in support of Mamie Norwood, whose husband was killed by Terrance Williams, a Pennsylvania death row inmate who is facing execution on October 3.  Norwood, like Schieber, opposes the killing of the man who caused her loss.  She wrote to the governor: "I wish to see his life spared."  Vicki Schieber's opposition to the death penalty was not well received at first: "When our preference for a sentence of life in prison was made public, many wondered whether our wishes should be honored. The district attorney even publicly questioned our emotional health."  She hoped for a better reaction from Philadelphia officials this time for Mrs. Norwood: "The governor and others must respect her wishes for the man who killed her husband and allow her to retain the peace she has found."  Read full op-ed below.

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EDITORIALS: Sacramento Bee Ends Support for Death Penalty

The Sacramento Bee announced in an editorial that it is reversing its historic 150-year support of the death penalty and endorsing the repeal of California's capital  punishment law. The editorial called the state's death penalty an "illusion," which is rarely carried out, despite the large number of death sentences. It cited the high cost of the death penalty as one of the reasons for supporting repeal, noting, "California has already spent billions of dollars – one recent study pegged the figure at $4 billion – administering the death penalty since 1978, with little to show for it....In a state prepared to further cut public education, universities and public safety, do we really want to invest in accelerated executions?" The Bee also spoke to the needs of victims' families, who, rather than getting closure from the death penalty, "are being tormented by the inflated expectations that California's judicial system has foisted on them." It concluded, "The state's death penalty is an outdated, flawed and expensive system of punishment that needs to be replaced with a rock-solid sentence of life imprisonment with no chance of parole." Read full editorial below.

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Prosecution of Reggie Clemons in Missouri to be Subject of Special Death Penalty Hearing

Reggie Clemons has been on Missouri's death row for 19 years for the murder of two young white women.  He has already come close to execution, and one of the co-defendants in the case has been executed. Clemons' conviction was based partly on his confession to rape that he says was beaten out of him by the police.  Other testimony against Clemons came from his co-defendants.  Of the four men charged with the murders, three were black and one was white.  The white co-defendant is already out on parole.  Because of doubts that have arisen about the validity of his conviction, a special hearing will be held on September 17 to determine whether crucial errors were made in prosecuting Clemons.  The special master presiding at the hearing will then present a recommendation to the Missouri Supreme Court. Clemons’ lawyers are expected to present new evidence that supports his assertion that he was physically beaten into making a confession, and that the coerced confession should not have been admitted at trial. Other issues likely to be raised include the prosecution’s failure to disclose a rape kit to defense lawyers, and that the manner in which the jury was selected was later ruled unconstitutional. (Ed Pilkington of The Guardian discusses his investigation into the case in the accompanying video.)

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BOOKS: "Killing McVeigh: The Death Penalty and the Myth of Closure"

A new book by Professor Jody Lynee' Madeira of the Indiana University School of Law follows the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing to explore whether the families of murder victims obtain closure from an execution. In Killing McVeigh: The Death Penalty and the Myth of Closure, Prof. Madeira recounts her wide range of interviews with those who experienced this tragedy first-hand. Regarding the book, Professor Carol Steiker of Harvard said, “Everyone seems to have an opinion about whether the execution of murders can offer ‘closure’ to the victims’ loved ones. Finally, we have a study that has investigated the largest, most media-saturated mass murder and execution in recent times….Madeira’s in-depth, fair-minded, and sensitive account opens a window for us into the struggles of those affected and explores the complicated role that our public institutions of criminal justice play in the complex and difficult work of reconstructing life after atrocity.”

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NEW VOICES: South Carolina Officials Point to Costs and Uncertainty for Death Penalty's Decline

Use of the death penalty has decreased in South Carolina, and some state officials are pointing to the high costs and uncertainty of capital punishment as reasons for this decline. The state has had only one execution in the past three years, and the size of death row has declined almost 30% since 2005.  No one was sentenced to death in 2011.  Prosecutor David Pascoe initially planned to seek the death penalty for a mother who killed her two children, but later changed his mind, with cost being one factor:  "Once you file for the death penalty, the clock gets moving and the money, the taxpayers start paying for that trial," he said.  Representative Tommy Pope (pictured), a state legislator and former prosecutor who sought the death penalty for Susan Smith in a similar murder, now would tell victims' families to consider agreeing to a life-without-parole sentence instead of the death penalty.  Life without parole was adopted by the state in 1995.  It "allow[s] them a measure of closure that three retrials in a death penalty case never would," Pope said. 

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RECENT LEGISLATION: Governor's Signature Makes Connecticut Fifth State in Five Years to End Death Penalty

On April 25, 2012, Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy (pictured) signed into law a bill that replaces the death penalty with life without parole. At that time, Connecticut became the fifth state in five years, and the 17th overall, to do away with capital punishment. Governor Malloy, who once supported the death penalty, offered the following statement: “My position on the appropriateness of the death penalty in our criminal justice system evolved over a long period of time. As a young man, I was a death penalty supporter. Then I spent years as a prosecutor and pursued dangerous felons in court, including murderers. In the trenches of a criminal courtroom, I learned firsthand that our system of justice is very imperfect. While it’s a good system designed with the highest ideals of our democratic society in mind, like most of human experience, it is subject to the fallibility of those who participate in it. I saw people who were poorly served by their counsel. I saw people wrongly accused or mistakenly identified. I saw discrimination. In bearing witness to those things, I came to believe that doing away with the death penalty was the only way to ensure it would not be unfairly imposed."  See more of the governor's statement below.

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Connecticut Senate Poised to Vote on Death Penalty Repeal

The Connecticut Senate is expected to vote as early as Wednesday (April 4) on a bill to replace the death penalty with a sentence of life without parole. The bill, which would only affect future sentencing, passed the Judiciary Committee on March 21 and needs at least 18 votes to pass in the Senate. If it passes the Senate, it is considered likely to pass the House, and Governor Dannel Malloy has pledged to sign the bill into law. A similar bill passed the General Assembly in 2009, but was vetoed by then-Governor Jodi Rell. Murder victims’ families and friends are among the strongest supporters of the repeal. A letter signed by 179 Connecticut murder victims’ families stated, “Our direct experiences with the criminal justice system and struggling with grief have led us all to the same conclusion: Connecticut’s death penalty fails victims’ families.... In Connecticut, the death penalty is a false promise that goes unfulfilled, leaving victims’ families frustrated and angry after years of fighting the legal system. And as the state hangs onto this broken system, it wastes millions of dollars that could go toward much needed victims’ services.” If Connecticut repeals the death penalty, it will become the 5th state to do so in the past 5 years. Illinois, New Mexico, New Jersey, and New York have all abandoned the death penalty in recent years. Other states are also considering repeal of the death penalty, including California, where 800,000 signatures have been gathered to place the issue on the ballot in November.

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NEW VOICES: Victims' Family Members Voice Concerns About Death Penalty

A recent op-ed in the Litchfield (Connecticut) News highlights concerns about the death penalty as expressed by murder victims’ families. Mary Healy and Jane Caron are social work professionals who also experienced a murder in their families. In their recent op-ed, they stated that Connecticut's death penalty does not sufficiently care for the needs of victims: “The problem with the death penalty is that it maintains a focus on the murderer when the focus rightly belongs with the people the murderer has harmed. The misplaced emphasis is evident by the fact that, while crucial victims’ services and crime prevention programs are not funded to their optimal level, the state spends between $4 million to $7 million annually on a death penalty system where the focus is primarily on the murderer.”  The writers further explained that murder victims’ survivors endure much pain during trial and appeals: “Capital cases receive greater media attention and increased public scrutiny. When a death sentence is handed out, to the public, it seems like the case is over and ‘justice’ has been served. However, this sentence sets into motion a decades-long process that the survivors must continue to live through. Being entrenched in a legal system can be harmful to anyone; to those suffering from traumatic grief, the injury is compounded.”  Healy and Caron concluded, “The death penalty is not what victims need. If we are serious about caring for the needs of victims, we will abandon the pretense of the death penalty and work for real solutions.”  Read full op-ed below.

--Update: Victims' family members held a press conference in Connecticut on February 29.  To see video of the event, click here.

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