Arbitrariness

ARBITRARINESS: Woman Faces Federal Death Sentence While Triggerman Receives 17 Years

Donna Moonda (pictured) is facing the federal death penalty in Ohio for hiring a man to kill her husband.  The person who actually shot and killed the victim, Damian Bradford, received a sentence of only 17.5 years in exchange for his testimony against Moonda.  Moonda and Bradford were convicted in separate trials of orchestrating and carrying out the plot to kill Dr. Gulam Moonda in an alledged effort to share his estate. The two defendants met in a drug rehabilitation center.

Report Fails to Erase Doubt that Texas Executed an Innocent Man

Bexar County District Attorney Susan Reed recently issued a report finding that Ruben Cantu (pictured) was guilty of the crime for which Texas executed him in 1993.  However, critics have noted that Reed was formerly a judge who handled Cantu's appeal and set his execution date, raising a conflict of interest in conducing an investigation of his guilt.  Moreover, many who are familiar with the case doubt Reed's conclusions and say the report's findings do not add up.

Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Louisiana Case with All-White Jury and References to O.J. Simpson

On June 25, 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to review a capital case from Louisiana in which an all-white jury sentenced a defendant to death after the prosecutor urged a death sentence so that the defendant would not "get away with it" like O.J. Simpson.  All five qualified African-Americans had been struck from the jury pool by the prosecution using peremptory challenges.  The defense has challenged the selection of the jury as a violation of equal protection.

Strong Criticism of Tennessee's Death Penalty System from Federal Appellate Judge

Dissenting from a U.S. Court of Appeals decision denying relief to Gary Cone, Judge Merritt sharply criticized the Tennessee Attorney General for "falsification" of the record, and he referred to the state's judicial system as "broken" and "inattentive."  Cone had been granted relief on two other occasions by the same Sixth Circuit, but those decisions were reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court.  In the present case, Cone claimed that significant mitigating evidence had been withheld by the state in violation of the U.S.

New Mexico Trial Judge Finds State Death Penalty Unconstitutional

Ruling in a pre-trial matter in New Mexico, Judge Timothy Garcia of Santa Fe County's First Judicial District Court held the state's death penalty law to be unconstitutional based on a study by the Capital Jury Project.  The Project's research in 14 states had found that jurors often do not follow the law in making their sentencing decision.  In particular, the judge found that the jurors' propensity toward making their sentencing decision during the guilt-innocence phase of the trial was "an arbitrary and capricious violation of the United States Constitution a

Supreme Court Decision Allows Broader Exclusion of Jurors, But May Further Isolate the Death Penalty

The U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Uttecht v. Brown on June 4, 2007 appears to enhance the state's ability to remove potential jurors with doubts about the death penalty.  But by expanding the class of people who cannot serve on capital juries, the decision may ultimately render the death penalty invalid as juries fail to represent the true diversity of the American public.

Texas Court Grants Stay on Basis of Possible Innocence

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stayed Cathy Henderson's scheduled execution of June 13 and has remanded her case back to the trial court for a more careful review of new scientific evidence that casts doubt on the state's claim that she intentionally killed Brandon Baugh, an infant in her care. The appeals court decision was largely based on a recent affidavit submitted by former Travis County medical examiner Dr. Roberto Bayardo (pictured), whose expert testimony was crucial to the state's case against Henderson. In his new sworn statement, Dr. Bayardo recanted his original testimony that the child's injuries were the result of an intentional act by Henderson, and stated that new evidence suggests the infant's injuries could have been the result of an accidental fall, a claim that Henderson has maintained since her 1994 arrest.

ARBITRARINESS: Numbers of Death Sentences Differ Dramatically Between Bordering Arizona Counties

Last year, prosecutors in two neighboring Arizona counties, Pima and Maricopa, sought the death penalty at dramatically different rates, a fact that has many questioning the arbitrary nature of the state's death penalty. Though just five years ago it had the highest rate of death penalty cases in the nation, Pima County now ranks among the lowest. County Attorney Barbara LaWall sought the death penalty for 1 of 65 accused murderers last year, but in bordering Maricopa County, 44 of 89 1st-degree murder defendants faced the death penalty.

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