Arbitrariness

NEW VOICES: Oregon Paper Calls Death Penalty a "Pointless Law"

The Albany Democrat-Herald in Oregon recently editorialized that the "death penalty isn't working," and concluded "that the death penalty here is a pointless law. If we’re not going to apply this law, then getting rid of it would be the less expensive course."  The editorial cited the possibility of error, the arbitrariness of applying the punishment to some dangerous offenders but not others, and the difficulty of ever getting to an execution as reasons for ending capital punishment.  The editorial follows:

Death penalty isn’t working

ARBITRARINESS: Federal Judge Deeply Troubled about Inconsistencies in Lethal Injection Rulings

Recently in Ohio and other states, some inmates challenging the lethal injection process in federal courts have been given stays of executions, while others, similarly situated, have been denied stays and have been executed.  This inconsistent application of federal law in capital cases has raised concerns among a number of federal judges.  A stay was recently granted to Ohio inmate Jerome Henderson, but denied to Jeffrey Lundgren.  On December 6, U.S.

Unanimous Jury Votes for Life Sentence, but Alabama Judge Imposes Death

Oscar Doster was found guilty earlier this year of capital murder in the course of a robbery in Alabama.  Doster claimed that his co-defendant actually committed the murder.  The jury unanimously recommended that Doster be sentenced to life without parole.  In Alabama, unlike most other death penalty states, the judge is allowed to override a jury's recommendation for life.  Typically in other states, even one juror's vote for a life sentence will prevent the court from imposing a death sentence.  Judge Ashley McKathan rejected the recommendation of all 12 jurors th

Florida Schedules Execution of Man Who Defended Himself, But Could Not Speak English

The last execution scheduled for 2006 involves a Florida inmate, Angel Nieves-Diaz, who defended himself at his trial and needed an interpreter because he did not speak English.  Diaz, a native of Puerto Rico, was convicted and sentenced to death in 1986 for a murder in connection with a robbery of a bar in Miami in 1979. 

Death Sentence Upheld Despite Abysmal Representation

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit upheld the conviction and death sentence of a death row inmate on a tie vote (7-7), despite the fact that the defendant was represented by an attorney who did not even learn his client's true name.  The defense lawyer misled a reviewing court about his experience in capital cases and has been indicted for perjury.  The defendant, who was tried in Kentucky as James Slaughter but whose real name is Jeffrey Leonard, is apparently brain damaged and endured a brutal childhood.  A number of judges have concurred that the lawyer's investigation into Leonard's background was below Constitutional standards, but there were not enough votes to say that a better investigation would have made a difference in sentencing.

Clemency Urged for Mentally Ill Man in North Carolina

At a press conference on November 1, the North Carolina Black Leadership Caucus called for the governor to commute the death sentence of Guy LeGrande.  Le Grande is scheduled to be executed on December 1.  He was allowed to represent himself at his 1996 murder trial, despite the fact that he claimed to be hearing messages from Oprah Winfrey and Dan Rather through television sets.  His defense lawyer, Jay Ferguson, said LeGrande falsely believes he has already been pardoned and will receive a large sum of money.  "The problem is you have a mentally ill person representing himself," Ferguson said. "When his standby counsel asked the court to review his mental competency, the judge asked the defendant if he wanted to do that and he said no. His response was to tear up the paperwork. So you've got a mentally ill defendant making the call on whether his competency should be examined."

Texas Newspaper Studies State's Death Penalty Appeals Process

The Austin American-Statesman conducted an extensive study of the quality of representation that death row inmates receive in Texas.  The study concluded that:

NEW VOICES: Federal Appeals Court Judge of the Fifth Circuit Expresses Legal and Moral Problems with the Death Penalty

Judge Carolyn Dineen King of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit was the main speaker at the "Red Mass" on October 4 at the Catholic cathedral in Corpus Christi, Texas.  The Red Mass is an annual liturgy held for members of the legal profession near the beginning of the judicial term.  Its traditions extend back to 13th century Europe.  Judge King spoke about the death penalty, both from her perspective as a judge and as a Catholic.  In both areas, she raised strong concerns about the application of the death penalty in the U.S.

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