Groups Issue Report on Women Facing Execution

(Note: Dec. 1 execution of Frances Newton was stayed by the governor.) As Texas plans to carry out the scheduled execution of Frances Newton on December 1, a new report documenting the results of a national survey of women currently on death row found that many women have been subjected to harsh living conditions and that most were sentenced for the murder of someone they knew. The report, The Forgotten Population: A Look at Death Row in the United States Through the Experiences of Women, was preapred by the ACLU and details the experiences of 56 women living on death row. It also reviews the cases of the 10 women who have been executed since 1976. It found that while women face problems similar to men’s, such as inadequate defense counsel and struggles with drug and alcohol addiction, women are often subjected to harsher living conditions because of their small numbers. The following are among the key findings of the report:

Women on death row often had ineffective counsel and were victims of misconduct by prosecutors or law enforcement.

More than half of the women had suffered regular physical abuse by family members or spouses.

Half of the women on Death Row acted with at least one other person, but in most of those cases, the co-defendant received a sentence other than death - even in cases where they appeared to be equally culpable.

Many women on death row live in almost complete isolation, which puts them at a serious risk of developing mental illness, or exacerbating existing mental illness.

The report recommends establishing a training program for defense lawyers to encourage investigation of abuse of their female clients and the raising of this issue at trial; integrating women on death row into regular prison units and providing them with opportunities to work; adopting prison staffing policies to prevent abuse; and amending the Prison Litigation Reform Act to provide women who are sexually abused in prison with access to the court. Since 1973, 148 women have been sentenced to death in the United States. There are currently 50 women on death row, and Newton would be 11th woman executed in the U.S. since 1976. (ACLU Press Release, November 29, 2004). Read the report. See Women and the Death Penalty. Note: the Texas Board of Pardon and Paroles has voted 5-1 in favor of granting Newton a 120-day stay. The governor’s response is expected soon.

Charlize Theron Criticizes Death Penalty After Movie Role

Charlize Theron, who recently won a Golden Globe Award for her portrayal of executed Florida death row inmate Aileen Wuornos in the movie “Monster,” has stated that making the movie made her more aware of how “ineffective” capital punishment is. Theron, who is opposed to the death penalty, was only 15 when her own mother shot and killed her drunken father after he threatened to kill his wife and daughter. “I don’t think condemning people who murder and then killing them necessarily sends out the right message. And I have a huge problem with the way these people are used as political pawns,” said Theron, a native of South Africa. Theron’s portrayal of Wuornos showed her as a homeless prostitute who was sentenced to die for a series of murders she committed after a killing in self defense. Theron has also been nominated for a best actress Academy Award. (Reuters, February 8, 2003) See New Voices and Women and the Death Penalty.