Thursday, June 30, 2005

Message from Colombia

This message popped up in my email inbox this morning. It is in response to the previous post about the 12th Annual Fast and Vigil to Abolish the Death Penalty.

Re: Starving for Justice
Dear Sirs:
Please receive my wholehearted support in your effort to abolish the death penalty. I firmly believe nobody has the right to end another human being's life, for any reason whatsoever.
Allow me to recall the heartrending case of Timothy Evans. Mr. Evans was hung in England in 1950 for supposedly killing his wife and baby daughter, Geraldine. He happened to be the neighbor of notorious serial killer John Christie and was posthumously pardoned after police found both Mr. Evan's wife and daughter buried beneath the floorboards of Christie's house. Imagine the excruciating anguish suffered by this innocent man wrongly put to death for murdering the two people he probably loved most in the entire world.
What horror!
Louis J. de Deaux
Cali, Colombia

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Live from the 12th Annual Fast and Vigil

Today is the first full day of the 12th Annual Fast and Vigil to Abolish the Death Penalty. We walked over to the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court to attend an annual rally that is part of the event and it was pleasing to see so many familiar faces – Kristin and Sue from Amnesty International, Jack from Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, Abe from CUADP, Shari from the Quixote Center and Brenda from the Death Penalty Information Center, just to name a few.

Here are some excerpts from the speeches that were given:

Bill Pelke, chair of NCADP’s Board of Directors and leader of Journey of Hope: From Violence to Healing, talked of his experience when his grandmother was killed. The murderer was a 15-year-old African American girl who was sentenced to death. (In the 1980s, the state of Indiana allowed 15-year-olds to be executed.) Pelke campaigned relentlessly against her death sentence; her sentence was subsequently commuted and she remains in prison.

“We’re supposed to hate the sin but love the sinner,” Pelke said. “And you cannot love the sinner if you want to put them in the death chamber and have their life taken away from them.”

Diann Rust-Tierney, NCADP’s executive director, reminded the audience of the power and ability of one activist to change the future. “Whether you are a person who considers yourself to be a religious person or not, this is a faith-based movement – faith in the fact that one person can make a difference.”

Matthew Fogg served as master of ceremonies. He was a great person to serve in this capacity – he is a U.S. Marshall, vice president of Blacks in Government and a member of Amnesty International’s board of directors.

“The world is a dangerous place to live in, not because of the evil people in it, but because of the people who don’t do anything about changing it,” Fogg said.

Quoting Coretta Scott King, Fogg added, “An evil deed is not redeemed by an evil deed of retaliation. Justice is never advanced in the taking of a human life. Morality is never upheld by legalized murder.”

Martina Correia of Savanah, Georgia, has a brother on death row. His name is Troy Anthony Davis and he has one of the most exceptionally strong innocence claims I have ever seen. “I am on death row because that is where my brother is,” Martina said. “My family is on death row. The victim’s family is on death row because my brother is innocent.”

One of the most moving speeches was given by George White. George was convicted of murdering his spouse and sentenced to life in prison in Alabama before it was discovered that prosecutors withheld evidence that conclusively proved his innocence.

George talked about the night his wife, Char, was shot and killed. He was shot also. “Char died in my arms and I can’t remember if I said goodbye.”

He quoted the poet Oscar Wilde:

I know not whether laws be right
or whether laws be wrong
all that we know who lie in jail
is that the walls are strong
and that each day is like a year
a year whose days are long

Next up was Abe Bonowitz, who spoke of the importance of using public education to first change the minds of the general public, who will then change the minds of state legislators. “We have to change the direction of the wind,” Abe said. “Politicians stick their finger in the air and they check which way the wind is blowing. So we have to change the direction of the wind!”

The rally ended with the singing of a traditional hymn from the civil rights era

we shall not, we shall not be moved
we shall not, we shall not be moved
just like a tree that’s planted by the water
we shall not be moved

no more killing in my name,
we shall not be moved
no more killing in my name
we shall not be moved

we shall not, we shall not be moved
we shall not, we shall not be moved
just like a tree that’s planted by the water
we shall not be moved

we’re standing for the victims
we shall not be moved
we’re standing for the victims
we shall not be moved

we shall not, we shall not be moved
we shall not, we shall not be moved
just like a tree that’s planted by the water
we shall not be moved

no more executions,
we shall not be moved
no more executions
we shall not be moved

we shall not, we shall not be moved
we shall not, we shall not be moved
just like a tree that’s planted by the water
we shall not be moved

972 people have been executed since 1976 in the United States, including 28 this year. Sixteen people currently have execution dates over the next few months.

The 12th Annual Fast and Vigil continues until midnight Saturday.

The significance of House

On Tuesday of this week, even though the U.S. Supreme Court already had released all of its opinions for the term, it still was dealing with unfinished business. It ended up agreeing to review the case of Paul House, a person on Tennessee's death row.

At first, the significance of this escaped me, but upon further review, it is significant indeed. This will be the first time since the advent of sophisitcated DNA technology that the Court will weigh whether an actual and credible claim of innocence should serve as a constitutional bar to execution.

What's that, you say? Isn't it unconstitutional per se to execute an innocence person?

Well...the Supreme Court has never held that it is. In 1993, the Court ruled in Herrera v. Collins that a Texas man on death row named Leonel Torres Herrera had no right to reopen his case 10 years after conviction based solely on a claim of new proof of innocence. Chief Justice William Rehnquist, an ardent supporter of the death penalty, wrote that opinion.

However, in 1995, the Court ruled 6 to 3 that a convicted murderer who had other constitutional claims in addition to an actual innocence claim could get a new hearing even after exhausting all otherwise permitted opportunities, if he could show new evidence that makes it probable "no reasonable juror would have found him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt."

In House's case, last year, the full 14-judge U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit voted 8 to 6 that House's evidence did not meet this standard. The vote was strictly along party lines, you might say: the 8 judges who voted against House were appointed by Republican presidents while the six judges who voted for House were appointed by Democratic presidents.

Writing in dissent, one judge said, "I am convinced that we are faced with a real-life murder mystery, an authentic 'who-done-it' where the wrong man may be executed. Was Carolyn Muncey killed by her down-the-road neighbor Paul House, or by her husband
Hubert Muncey?"

The question of whether it is constitutional to execute an innocent person if he has exhausted all of his appeals is simply not an academic one. People with innocent claims that are at least somewhat credible are executed every year in the United States. And one day soon, perhaps tomorrow, perhaps next week, perhaps next year, we will have scientific proof that at least one innocent person has been executed in the United States since executions were allowed to resume in 1976.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

'Gross incompetence and flagrant stupidity'

Earlier today we noted the problems with Ohio's death penalty. But which state truly has the worst system? Now comes Alabama, wanting to be heard.

In light of last week's Rompilla ruling, in which the Supreme Court elevated the standard of effectiveness that defense attorneys must meet, there is talk that many cases around the nation could be affected -- particularly in Alabama.

This comes from the Birmingham News:

No one can predict how many of Alabama's 190 Death Row inmates could successfully challenge their sentences based on the new ruling, but defense lawyers such as John Mays of Decatur said it could be significant.

"In Alabama, we have what is often referred to as the 15-minute penalty phase," said Mays, who serves on a committee that gives capital-defense training and advice to less-experienced lawyers. "You prepare absolutely nothing to try to explain your client's conduct so as to save his life.

"So when you get to the penalty phase, you go out into the hallway and grab the defendant's mother and the defendant's cousin, and you put them on the witness stand and they say they do not want Junior to die, and they call that a penalty phase. I call that gross incompetence and flagrant stupidity."

To read the entire article go here.

Blogging Ohio

There's yet another new death penalty blog in town!

Joe D'Ambrosio: Innocent on Ohio's Death Row examines what could be yet another wrongful conviction in the Buckeye State. What is it with Ohio lately?

Anyway, check it out by going here.

Friday, June 24, 2005

All out for the Annual Fast & Vigil!

Every year around this time people come to Washington, D.C. for the Annual Fast & Vigil to Abolish the Death Penalty. The event begins Wednesday, June 29 and ends Saturday, July 2. June 29 is the 33rd anniversary of Furman v. Georgia, in which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down existing death penalty statutes. July 2 is the 29th anniversary of Gregg. v. Georgia, in which the Supreme Court allowed executions to resume.

Since that time there have been 972 executions in the U.S., including 28 this year (as of this week.)

To learn more about the Fast & Vigil and to see a schedule of events, go here.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

From the lighter side...

There's a hilarious piece of satire making its way around the Internet, courtesy of legal correspondent Dahlia Lithwick, who is the best in cyberspace. It seems the nine Supreme Court justices were having a little disagreement over where to take a group of distinguished Irish judges for lunch. It starts like this:

From: EvenStevens@

To: Supremelist@

Date: May 24, 2005

RE: Lunch??

Colleagues: Where should we take these Irish judges to lunch next week? Suggestions?



. . . . . . . . . ..

From: QueenBee@

To: Supremelist@

Date: May 24, 2005

RE: RE: Lunch??

I can't say yet. Why don't you all weigh in and I'll cast the deciding vote?

Tee hee.


. . . . . . . . . ..

From: ClarenceT@

To: Supremelist@

Date: May 24, 2005

RE: Out of Office AutoResponse

I am out of the office until June 7, 2005, on a seven-state NASCAR tour in my vast converted tour bus. Please refer any constitutional questions you may have in the interim to the Framers.


. . . . . . . . . ..

From: SwingVote@

To: Supremelist@

Date: May 24, 2005

RE: RE: RE: Lunch??

How about one of Café Berlin, Bistro Bis, or La Coline? Bien sur, the bouillabaisse at the latter is magnifique.


"Antoine" Kennedy

. . . . . . . . . ..

From: NinoNoir@

To: SwingVote@; Supremelist@

Date: May 24, 2005

RE: With the Frenchie Crap again!!??!

You swishy little Euro-wimp. What the heck is wrong with American restaurants? Are we really going to bind ourselves, yet again, by what a bunch of foreigners would do? This is an American court, operating on American soil, under the provisions of an American constitution. The very idea of entertaining Irish visitors next week at all is evidence of the shallow, faddish, follow-the-crowd internationalism threatening the core foundations of American Constitutionalism today.

I vote for Applebee's in Chevy Chase. The one with the onion flowers.


To read the whole thing go here.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Reading Rompilla

Earlier this week, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Rompilla v. Beard. The Court ruled 5-4 in favor of a person on Pennsylvania's death row. In short, the court said the person's lawyer did not do a good enough job representing him.

This following is a bit wonky for this blog, but I'm posting it because it comes from my friend Karl Keys, one of the rising young and very brilliant lawyers in the abolition movement. Here's what Karl writes about Rompilla:

The Court Monday morning decided Rompilla v. Beard. Rompilla is a 5-4 win. "We hold that even when a capital defendant’s family members and the defendant himself have suggested that no mitigating evidence is available, his lawyer is bound to make reasonable efforts to obtain and review material that counsel knows the prosecution will probably rely on as evidence of aggravation at the sentencing phase of trial. "

For practitioner's in many ways this is the major case of the term even if it is not grabbing the headlines like race & the death penalty in Miller-El or the juvie dp decision in Simmons. The Court in this case, however, painstakingly looks at a case from PA were defense counsel did a fairly good job in the penalty phase. Even though they did a fairly good job the Court held this was not enough.

This is just the latest in a line of ineffective assistnce of counsel cases where the Court found good wasn't simply good enough. For example, when read together with Wiggins the Court appears to be taking the approach that trial counsl must leave "no stone unturned" in investigating capital cases, (which is what the ABA Guidelines all but say). In both Rompilla & Wiggins it is clear the Court is taking cases where trial counsel did an above average job. The Court took Rompilla & Wiggins though to say above average is not enough. Indeed, compared to the transcript I have read in cases from the same time period in Texas & elsewhere they did a remarkablely good job & even this remarkably good job was not enough.

Justice Souter, the only one of the Justices from my understanding with a substantial amount of trial court experience (having been a prosecutor & trial court judge if memory holds), clearly is drawing on his memories from being in Court and his memory of what a really good attorneys do. Like any former trial advocate & judge his opinion clearly realizes that death cases are not run of the mill cases even if they are run of the mill cases to advocates in the Supreme Court bar & Attorneys General's capital prosecution units. Those with real courtroom experience realize that attorneys 30 months out of law school (as the penalty phase lawyer here was) should not be handling death cases. Those with courtroom experiences know these attorneys simply didn't cut it when their client needed them most.


Finally, and I may be reading too much into the case, the Court appears to be suggesting, if the dissent is to be believed, that if Lehigh County, PA wants to seek death it has to adequately fund indigent defense and not provide merely one investigator for every thousand cases in the office.

For those who like to follow the legal stuff, Karl follows federal death penalty rulings and state supreme court death penalty rulings more closely than anyone I know of. His writings can be found here.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

This letter caught my eye

The following letter was published in the New York Times today. Most visitors to this blog will know that if you are unalterably opposed to the death penalty, you are ineligible to serve on a jury in a capital murder trial.

This makes a very substantial portion of the U.S. population ineligible to serve:

Death Penalty Trials

To the Editor:

Re "Prosecutorial Racial Bias in Texas" (editorial, June 14):

When the Supreme Court threw out Thomas Miller-El's death sentence (on the grounds that blacks were systematically excluded from serving as jurors in his case), the court paved the way for it, or a future court, to examine a more substantive question: whether any death penalty trial can ever be a fair one.

No defendant in a capital case in the United States - black, white or other - is afforded a fair trial under our current system. Each is tried by a jury from which the state has excluded anyone who says he or she opposes the idea of a fellow human's being put to death.

When do you suppose the court will acknowledge that barring potential jurors on such grounds is no different from excluding them on the basis of race, religion or gender?

Frank McNeirney
National Coordinator, Catholics
Against Capital Punishment
Bethesda, Md.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Abolition in the Dakotas

This popped up from the South Dakota Argus Leader:

Church to fight death penalty

In Bismarck, United Methodists from North and South Dakota voted last week in strong support of an anti-death-penalty resolution and a push to raise more money to fight the global AIDS pandemic.

Meeting in their annual conference session June 8-11, 500 voting members heard 2 Dakota Wesleyan University students and other participants advocate that the church fight South Dakota death penalty laws. North Dakota does not have a death-penalty provision.

Ben Brooks, a DWU junior from Deadwood, said, "In his actions forgiving the woman taken in adultery and deserving death under the law, Jesus made his stand against the death penalty."

Karl Kroger of Sioux Falls called on clergy and lay members to not only support abolishing the death penalty but also to lobby legislators. Last year, Kroger was part of the lobbying team that led the Legislature to abolish the death penalty for juveniles in South Dakota.

Also involved in introducing the anti-death-penalty resolution was a group of young United Methodist clergy and some students from the University of South Dakota United Campus Ministry. The resolution underlines the historic stand of the United Methodist Church against the death penalty.

In the Dakotas, the annual conference represents 300 congregations and 43,000 individual members of churches.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

The federal death penalty: 17-64

Suppose you were the manager of a major league baseball team. And suppose your record was 17 victories, 64 defeats. That's right. 17-64. You're maybe the manager of the Kansas City Royals or the Tampa Bay Devil a bad year.

Since 2001, the U.S. Attorney General and U.S. Department of Justice have sought the death penalty 81 times. 17 times they've convinced a jury. 64 times they've failed. 17-64.

They've failed in many jurisdictions that don't have a state death penalty. For example, they've failed in Puerto Rico. They've failed (twice!) in Washington, D.C.

Most recently, they failed in Alexandria, Virginia (which of course does have a state death penalty.

This paragraph from the Washington Post caught my eye:

Since 2001, federal juries nationwide have declined to sentence defendants to death in 64 out of the 81 cases in which prosecutors have sought capital punishment. After 13 consecutive rejections over the past six months, a federal jury in Chicago sentenced a podiatrist to death late last month for killing a witness in a Medicaid fraud prosecution.

In the latest Virginia case where they failed (and by the way, updating the above paragraph, they are now 1-15 in their last 16 attempts) 11 jurors decided that the defendants' lives could have value if they counselled other youth to avoid gang violence:

In the end, without a unanimous vote for the death penalty, the two men will be sentenced automatically to life in prison without the possibility of release for the murder of Brenda Paz, 17. But 11 jurors found a different way to send a message: They wrote an unusual paragraph into their verdict form expressing the hope that Grande and Cisneros use their decades in jail to counsel Latino youths on the dangers of gangs.

"We felt it would be impossible to bring Brenda Paz back to life," said one juror, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the nature of the charges. "Some of us thought that if anything good could come out of this, it could be a message to the youth to not get involved in gangs."

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

More on Miller-El

This editorial from the Cleveland Plain Dealer sums things up rather succinctly:

Judging jurors by race is wrong
Wednesday, June 15, 2005
It was not just that 10 blacks in the jury pool for Thomas Miller-El's murder trial were removed by peremptory challenges. Or that black potential jurors were excused after giving essentially the same answers on their thoughts about the death penalty as had their white counterparts. Or that the prosecutors had "shuffled" that pool to interview whites before blacks. Or that the Dallas County, Texas, district attorney's office for years trained its prosecutors to get black, Hispanic and Jewish would-be jurors off their panels because such folks were deemed too likely to be sympathetic to defendants.

No, it wasn't any one of these circumstances. But, taken together, a 6-3 Supreme Court majority this week found it impossible to reach any conclusion other than that the lower courts, state and federal, had practiced or condoned racial discrimination in the selection of juries.

Such bias jeopardizes the very integrity of the courts, Justice David Souter wrote. And, since the lower courts had ignored a Supreme Court finding two years ago that Miller-El, a black man sentenced to die for an execution-style slaying during a robbery, be granted a hearing on his claim that blacks were systematically excluded from the jury that tried him, the high court this time overturned the conviction. Retry him or set him free, the justices ordered.

Perhaps the Supreme Court now has captured the attention of state and federal appellate courts, in Texas and elsewhere, that inexcusably have turned a blind eye to the subtle practices of jury-building that Dallas County has turned into a dark art.

Perhaps it will mean, as Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in a concurring opinion, an eventual end to peremptory challenges, wherein lawyers from either side may excuse potential jury members without explanation. Such free dismissals provide perfect cover for the use of race- and gender-based stereotyping of panelists that Breyer observed to be better organized than ever before.

And long as the odds may appear against it in a state where more than 300 executions have been carried out in the past 30 years, perhaps it will signal a new awareness of a defendant's basic right to be tried by a jury of his or her peers. The court could hardly be more clear.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Dissecting Miller-El

As many folks know, yesterday the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in favor of Thomas Miller-El, who is on Texas' death row. Miller-El argued that Dallas County prosecutors wrongly struck prospective black jurors from serving on his jury because they would be less inclined to vote for a death sentence.

Both the majority opinion, written by Justice Souter, and the dissent, written by Justice Thomas, are interesting. But what is even more interesting is an opinion written by Juster Breyer that concurred with the majority, but went much further.

Justice Breyer would eliminate the practice of preemptory jury strikes altogether. "The right to a jury free of discriminatory taint is constitutionally protected," Breyer wrote. "The right to use peremptory challenges is not."

Some background: As part of Miller-El's case, his lawyers raised the existence of a handbook that was used by Dallas County prosecutors when training new assistant district attorneys. The 18-page training manual, written way back in 1969, was shocking in its bigotry.

The manual had the following advice for new prosecutors when selecting a jury:

"You are not looking for a fair juror, but rather a strong, biased and sometimes hypocritical individual who believes that defendants are different from them in kind rather than degree."

"You are not looking for any member of a minority group which may subject him to oppression – they almost always empathize with the accused."

"You are not looking for the free-thinkers or flower children."

"Look for physical afflictions. These people usually sympathize with the accused."

"I don't like women jurors because I can't trust them."

"Young women too often sympathize with the defendant; old women wearing too much makeup are usually unstable and therefore are bad State's jurors."

"Extremely overweight people, especially women and young men, indicates a lack of self-discipline and often times instability. I like the lean and hungry look."

"People from the east or west coasts often make bad jurors."

"Intellectuals such as teachers etc. generally are too liberal and contemplative to make good State's jurors."

"Jewish veniremen generally make poor State's jurors. Jews have a history of oppression and generally empathize with the accused."

In light of this, the only thing we should find surprising about Monday's ruling is that it wasn't unanimous.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Regarding William Rehnquist

As most people know, Chief Justice William Rehnquist is expected to announce his retirement soon. My guess is the announcement will come between Monday, June 27 and Wednesday, June 29 when the court will be releasing its final opinions of the term and heading out of town in advance of the 4th of July holiday weekend.

Rehnquist has had quite an impact on the number of people executed in the United States in the past 28 years. (That would be 971.)

This past Monday, Charles Lane, the Washington Post's Supreme Court reporter (we blogged on him yesterday) wrote about the Rehnquist legacy. Among the choice morsels:

Referring to the last-ditch appeals of the convicted Soviet atomic spies, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, he wondered why "the highest court of the nation must behave like a bunch of old women every time they encounter the death penalty."

(My note: this notwithstanding the fact that a) Ethel Rosenberg was probably innocent and b) the material that Julius Rosenberg MIGHT have leaked was of little value, having already been leaked by someone else.)

There's more:

The Supreme Court ended capital punishment in 1972, only to approve its reinstatement in 1976. But habeas corpus appeals continued to stall executions -- excessively so in the view of Rehnquist.

"Of the hundreds of prisoners condemned to die who languish on the various 'death rows,' few of them appear to face any imminent prospect of their sentence being executed. Indeed, in the five years since [capital punishment's reinstatement] there has been only one execution of a defendant who has persisted in his attack upon his sentence," Rehnquist, then an associate justice, wrote in a dissenting opinion. "I do not think that this Court can continue to evade some responsibility for this mockery of our criminal justice system."

"Mockery of our criminal justice system" indeed. To me, what makes the federal court system a mockery is when courts ignore their responsibility to comprehensively review sentences. Concepts like "procedural defaults" and "exhaustion" are, simply put, preventing credible claims of innocence from being reviewed. Ane even when innocence is not at issue, other claims -- mental retardation, biased jury selection, ineffective assistance of counsel and police or prosecutorial misconduct, for example, also are being procedurally defaulted, i.e., not given the review they deserve.

Yes, Chief Justice Rehnquist: We do indeed have a "mockery of our criminal justice system." And you, as much as anyone who has served on the court these many years, helped create it.

That's my rant for the day. Have a great Friday, everyone!

To see the entire Lane column, go here.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Inside Japan's death penalty system

Washington Post reporter Charles Lane, who recently completed a fellowship in Japan, wrote an interesting article comparing Japan's death penalty system with the system in the United States. He found that in Japan, use of the death penalty seems to be on the increase, perhaps as a result of an increase in violent crime. Here, of course, just the opposite is happening -- violent crime is down and death sentences have reached a modern-day low.

Go here to see Charles' story.

Redesigned web sites

We've noticed that a couple of NCADP affiliates have engaged in sweeping web site redesigns as of late. Be sure and check out the new looks over at Ohioans to Stop Executions and North Carolina's People of Faith Against the Death Penalty.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

One of the objections to the death penalty is that it denies the possibility of rehabilitation and restoration. Can a person on death row ever pay the community back for what he or she has done? Certainly one who kills another cannot bring that person back. Are there other forms of restitution? Are there other forms of restoration?

It's a difficult question. But here's an interesting twist. A group of people on death row across the country have raised money to provide college scholarships to two people, one in North Carolina and the other in Texas. Here's a story about their efforts:

Teen Gets Scholarship From Death Row Group

The Associated Press
Tuesday, June 7, 2005; 8:32 AM

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Zach Osborne doesn't have a lifetime of memories about his little sister. He was only 6 years old, and she was only 4, when she was raped and murdered. Their mother's boyfriend was sentenced to death for the crime, and Osborne believes the memory of the murder will make him a better police officer. It's a goal the rising sophomore at East Carolina University is striving to reach with help from an unlikely source _ death row inmates from around the country.

On Tuesday, Osborne, 19, will receive a $5,000 college scholarship from the group of inmates, who solicited money through their bimonthly publication, "Compassion." Including Osborne's grant, they have given out seven scholarships worth about $27,000.

"We would like to support him in realizing his dream of becoming an officer of the law and finding a way to prevent future violence," wrote Dennis Skillicorn, a death row inmate in Missouri who is the newsletter's editor, in the May issue. "Our intent is genuine."

Osborne's sister, Natalie, was murdered in Asheboro in April 1992. The killer, Jeff Kandies, is on North Carolina's death row for the crime.

Living through that experience, Osborne said, will "motivate me more to solve cases or to put more effort in them. It will motivate me to try to prevent events like what happened to my family from happening to others."

Stephen Dear, executive director of the Carrboro-based People of Faith Against the Death Penalty, is to present the scholarship Tuesday. Dear said Osborne's experience will help him empathize with crime victims.

"And he has a wisdom beyond his years, gained the hardest way _ a wisdom that victims need healing and that victims can come to forgive even those who have caused the greatest pain," Dear said. "For a police officer to have that kind of view is a great gift to the community and to the police force."

To read the whole story, go here.

Monday, June 06, 2005

The day after an execution

We stumbled across this entry on the blog of Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty, NCADP's Alabama affiliate. Alabama had a (somewhat) rare execution last week:

The day after an execution is difficult. The mood last night at Holman was described as “somber”. Too many of their friends have died and they live with their own death staring them in the face. And for us out here who have lost someone we loved, have loved ones on death row or without even knowing anyone on death row are just plain revolted by state murder, this day is hard. Yesterday was hard and the days leading up to it were hard. We relive and our hearts break all over again.

To read the whole entry, go here.

Friday, June 03, 2005

More on Kansas

As we noted earlier this week, the U.S. Supreme Court next term will review the constitutionality of Kansas' death penalty statute. Here's an interesting editorial, published in the Kansas City Star, that addresses this development:


Kansas ignored warning

Kansas legislators had received ample warning of a flaw in the states death penalty statute.

Former Attorney General Carla Stovall told lawmakers in 1995 of a problem with a bill concerning instructions to jurors. They ignored her advice.

In 2001, the Kansas Supreme Court ordered a new sentencing hearing for a death row inmate, citing the same problem with jury instructions. Still, legislators made no move to fix the law.

Last year, the state Supreme Court overturned the death penalty statute altogether. In a 4-3 decision, judges said the faulty jury instructions violated the constitution.

Lawmakers finally got a break this week, when the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to take the case. But they have little cause to celebrate.

Kansas had appealed the state Supreme Court decision, which invalidated the death sentences of seven convicted killers, including John E. Robinson, who was tried and sentenced in Johnson County.

The U.S. Supreme Courts decision offers some breathing room to lawmakers, who were understandably dismayed at having the sentences set aside. But the chances of the high court reinstating the death penalty statute are by no means guaranteed.

The mess in which Kansas finds itself should come as a warning to lawmakers everywhere. Death penalty statutes inevitably will be subjected to intense legal scrutiny, which is one of many reasons why life in prison is a better way to deal with people who commit heinous crimes.

If states must have death penalty laws, legislators must exercise every caution to make sure they are constitutional.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Happy Birthday!

Abolish the Death Penalty is one year old today. And I almost forgot to wish it Happy Birthday! (Insert singing of obnoxious but obligatory "Happy Birthday" song here).

Thank you to the 17,571 visitors who have stopped by. We started this just as a little experiment. We thought we were the first anti-death penalty blog out there, but as it turned out, Lonely Abolitionist has that honor. (This isn't counting my friend Karl's Capital Defense Weekly. That may or may not be a blog. We can't decide.) Now there are eight or nine anti-death penalty blogs out there.

In any case, thanks for reading. Stay tuned, because the best is yet to come!

Kansas and the death penalty

So the other day the U.S. Supreme Court announced it will review the constitutionality of Kansas' death penalty statute. This is not necessarily good for my side. After all, the Kansas Supreme Court declared the Kansas statute to be unconstitutional on a 4-3 vote; the state appealed and the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the appeal -- meaning that there are at least four justices who may want to overturn the lower court's decision and uphold the constitutionality of the Kansas statute.

But enough legal mumbo-jumbo. That's not what this blog does. That's not what this blog is good at.

What we want to point out, right hear, right now, is that some people in Kansas are changing their minds on this issue. Like the tiny Iola Register, which used to be in favor of the death penalty. Yesterday, the Register wrote the following:

The death penalty here and in most other states is rarely imposed without
a horrendously expensive delay of 10 years or more. Not only does the seemingly endless appeals process cost a state $1 million or more, the trials which produce death penalties cost much more than those that impose an alternative sentence such as life imprisonment without chance of parole.

Death penalty trials cost so much because execution is final, so every effort must be made to give the defendant the fairest possible treatment. That bending-over-backward means hiring top- flight defense attorneys and expert witnesses as well as bringing in witnesses from wherever those high-priced attorneys can find them.

Then, if a conviction is won and the death sentence pronounced, the appeals begin and the state's taxpayers are again presented with bills that run into six figures.

If individual rights are the crowning glory of the American republic, they also make it impossible for a state to impose the death penalty on the most vicious murderer imaginable swiftly or with reasonable economy. Justice delayed, the maxim goes, is justice denied. By the time a killer is killed by the state his crime or crimes have faded from the public's mind and no lessons to others are taught.

The editorial is mostly on mark. However, its phrase "...every effort must be made to give the defendant the fairest possible treatment" may well apply to Kansas, but does not apply to Texas or a swath of states mainly across the Deep South (but also Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio). To read the entire piece, go here.