NEW RESOURCES: In Missouri, Death Sentence May Depend on Geography

According to a recent study by Prof. David Sloss of the St. Louis University School of Law, and others, only a small percentage of eligible murder cases in Missouri are prosecuted as death penalty cases, and even fewer result in a death sentence. Only 2.5 percent of defendants prosecuted for intentional homicide are sentenced to death. In another 2.5 percent of cases, juries reject the death penalty. Ninety-five percent of intentional homicide cases are never presented to the jury as capital cases.

Death Penalty Dropped for Lack of Resources

The state of New Mexico agreed to drop its pursuit of the death penalty against two defendants because the state legislature did not provide the money necessary for adequate representation of the defendants, who were accused of killing a prison guard. The trial of Reis Lopez and Robert Young will proceed as a non-capital murder prosecution. The prosecution's decision was spurred by the trial court's ruling barring the seeking of the death penalty because the legislature had adjourned without sufficiently funding the capital defense system. The state legislature finished its session in February and will not return until January 2009. A previous ruling had said the state legislature should allocate another $200,000 to the defense office after attorneys for the defendants complained about lack of money to meet their fees.

"There was no one in the legislature... to sponsor a bill to that effect," Gail Chasey, a New Mexico lawmaker, explained. "We have declining revenues and have to balance our budget."

She added that the lawmakers were "relieved" that they could go off until next year without having to deal with this "big ticket item". New Mexico came close to abolishing the death penalty in 2005 and 2007.

128th Inmate Exonerated and Freed From Death Row

Glen Edward Chapman, a North Carolina man who was sentenced to death for the 1992 murders of Betty Jean Ramseur and Tenene Yvette Conley, was released from death row on April 2 after prosecutors dropped all charges against him. In 2007, North Carolina Superior Court Judge Robert C. Ervin granted Chapman a new trial, citing withheld evidence, “lost, misplaced or destroyed” documents, the use of weak, circumstantial evidence, false testimony by the lead investigator, and ineffective assistance of defense counsel.

NEW RESOURCES: Studies on Cost and Arbitrariness of California's Death Penalty

The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California has released two reports on California’s death penalty dealing with the high costs and arbitrariness of the system. The report on costs, "The Hidden Death Tax," found that a capital trial costs counties at least $1.1 million more than a non-capital murder trial, and that the state spends an additional $117 million a year pursuing the execution of those already on death row.  One trial alone cost California $10.9 million. The ACLU writes, "counties

STUDIES: “Prosecutorial Discretion and Capital Punishment in Missouri”

A recent Arizona Legal Studies paper on murder cases in Missouri found both geographical and racial disparities in the application of the death penalty. “Life and Death Decisions: Prosecutorial Discretion and Capital Punishment in Missouri,” by Katherine Barnes of Arizona University Law School, and David Sloss and Stephen Thaman of St. Louis Univeristy Law School, studied 1046 cases of intentional homicide in Missouri to determine geographical and racial effects in the rates at which prosecutors seek the death penalty.

Suit Challenging Racial and Geographic Bias in Death Penalty Prosecutions Allowed to Continue

Connecticut Superior Court Judge Stanley T. Fuger ruled on February 27 that a suit alleging racial and geographic bias in the state's death penalty should not be dismissed. Judge Fuger is allowing the claim from seven death row inmates to continue because the state’s constitution gives defendants greater legal rights than the U.S. Constitution. The U.S. Supreme Court had rejected a similar claim about Georgia's death penalty in 1987 based on federal constitutional grounds. 

In his ruling on a motion to dismiss from the state, Judge Fuger wrote:

Texas Court Reconsiders Two Death Sentences

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) recently ordered relief for two death row inmates, acknowledging that a U.S. Supreme Court ruling from last year affected a series of cases that were tried before the state changed its death penalty statute. The Texas CCA reversed the death sentence of Jose Angel Moreno, whose execution was stayed just hours before it was to occur last May. He may now have a new sentencing hearing and the opportunity to present a range of mitigating evidence that the jury did not properly consider at his first trial. Moreno's attorney, Scott Sullivan, said, "It's a thoughtful decision. They took the time to recognize a wrong and correct it."

Texas Crime Lab Hires DNA Supervisor Accused of Cheating on Proficiency Tests

The Texas Department of Public Safety recently hired Vanessa Nelson despite her being under investigation at the Houston Police Department Crime Lab where she was the former DNA supervisor. Nelson resigned from the Houston Lab to avoid being fired for giving her subordinates the answers to a DNA skills proficiency test. The Houston Lab has a history of problems with its DNA lab, including poor training and inadequate work, causing the division to be shut down in 2002. Three men who were convicted with faulty evidence from the Lab from that time have been exonerated.