Death Row

Supreme Court Justices Raise Concerns About Time on Death Row

On March 9, the U.S. Supreme Court declined review in Thompson v. McNeil, but three Justices issued strongly worded statements about the importance of the legal issue raised.  William Thompson has been on death row in Florida for 32 years.  He claimed the excessive time he has spent on death row amounted to cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment.  Justice John Paul Stevens, in an opinion respecting the denial of certiorari, called the treatment of the defendant during his 32 years on death row “dehumanizing,” noting that Thompson “has endured especially severe conditions of confinement, spending up to 23 hours per day in isolation in a 6- by 9-foot cell” and has experienced two stays of execution “only shortly before he was scheduled to be put to death.” Justice Stevens added that neither retribution nor deterrence were served in such a case and “a punishment of death after significant delay is ‘so totally without penological justification that it results in the gratuitous infliction of suffering.’” (quoting Gregg v. Georgia (1976)). 

NEW RESOURCES: Death Row U.S.A. 2008 Released

The latest version of Death Row U.S.A. has been released by the Capital Punishment Project of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.  The report contains death row and execution data for all states and federal jurisdictions as of January 1, 2008.  The report lists inmates by state, name, and race.  The report also contains information on each person executed since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, and information on U.S. Supreme Court decisions.  The last version of DRUSA was Jan.


Costs for New California Death Row Soar to $400 Million

A recent audit of the construction costs for a new death row facility at California’s San Quentin prison revealed that estimates have soared over 80% from previous projections. Ground still has not been broken for the project, but the new death row is likely to require nearly $400 million, instead of the $220 million originally quoted, and it will provide even fewer cells than planned. As an average of 12 new condemned inmates arrive at San Quentin annually, the new facility will be full only three years after it opens.

BOOKS: “Last Rights” by Rev. Joseph Ingle with Introduction by Mike Farrell

Reverend Joseph B. Ingle’s book, Last Rights: Thirteen Fatal Encounters with the State's Justice, will be re-released in May with a new introduction by Mike Farrell (of M*A*S*H*) and with its original forward by William Styron.  Rev. Ingle, who has counseled inmates on death row for over 30 years, recounts his close relationships with 13 of these inmates before their executions. Devoting a chapter to each one, Ingle stresses the need to see each inmate as an individual. He writes, “The public needs to see them for who they were and how their love enriched my life.”

DPIC Releases Interim Death Row Numbers

The Death Penalty Information Center has conducted a survey of death row populations as reported by the various state departments of correction in January/February 2008. From that survey, the current death row population across the country is 3,263. California continues to have the highest death row population with 669 inmates. Florida follows with 388, and Texas has 370 inmates. A state-by-state breakdown appears below.

Except for Illinois and the federal government, these numbers are the official totals from each state's prison system. The death row number for Illinois comes from the Supreme Court Unit of the Public Defender's Office in Springfield, while the federal number comes from the Federal Death Penalty Resource Counsel and the Federal Defender Organization.

BOOKS: "The Bitter Fruit of American Justice" and "I Shall Not Die"

Two new books address the death penalty from different perspectives: one analyzing the future of capital punishment, the other, by Billy Neal Moore, relates the experience of being on death row. Alan Clarke and Laurelyn Whitt examine two factors that are gaining importance in the debate over capital punishment. The Bitter Fruit of American Justice (Northeastern 2007) contends that increasing opposition to the death penalty throughout the world could affect how other countries relate politically to the United States. The second influence is the repeated discovery of innocent people on America’s death rows. The authors suggest that these two factors could lead to the end of the death penalty in the United States.

Man on Texas Death Row for over 30 Years May Be Tried for a Fourth Time

Ronald Curtis Chambers, who was originally sentenced to death for the 1975 murder of Mike McMahan, may be given a fourth trial following a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court. Chambers was 20 at the time of his crime, and has been on death row longer than any other inmate in Texas. His second trial came 10 years after his first, following a Texas court ruling that Chambers should have been told that information from a psychiatric consultation could be used against him.

Death Row News and Developments: 2007

NEW RESOURCE: "Death Row USA" Winter 2007 Report Now Available The latest edition of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund's "Death Row, USA" reports that the number of people on death row in the United States rose slightly to 3,350 as of January 1, 2007, an increase of 6 inmates from October 1, 2006, but a decline of 23 inmates from a year ago. The slight increase appears to be partly the result of the relatively few executions in the last quarter of 2006. California (660), Florida (397), and Texas (393) continued to have the largest death row populations.

Nationally, the racial composition of those on death row is 45% white, 42% black, and 11% Latino/Latina. Of jurisdictions with more than 10 people on death row, Texas and Pennsylvania continue to have the largest percentage of minorities on death row, 69% and 70% respectively. Nearly 80% of the murder victims in the crimes that resulted in executions were white. (Generally, only about 48% of murder victims are white.)