ARBITRARINESS: Study Finds 6th Circuit Political Appointments Result In Partisan Death Penalty Rulings

A Cincinnati Enquirer examination of death penalty decisions issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit revealed that judges appear to consistently vote along party lines, thereby injecting arbitrariness into death penalty rulings. The judges do most of their work as members of randomly selected three-judge panels. Sixteen judges are eligible to sit on those panels, including nine Republican appointees and seven Democratic appointees. This means life-and-death decisions often hinge on the luck of the draw.

Virginia Man Pleads Guilty to Crime that Sent an Innocent Man to Death Row

Kenneth Tinsley pleaded guilty on April 11 to the 1982 rape and capital murder of a Culpeper woman - a crime for which another man, Earl Washington Jr., spent nearly a decade on death row and was nearly executed.  Tinsley admitted to the rape of Rebecca Lynn Williams, a 19-year-old mother of 3, and conceded that DNA and other evidence could have proved his guilt of her murder.

He was sentenced to 2 consecutive life terms. Earl Washington, who is mentally retarded, had originally been convicted of the same crime and was sentenced to death before DNA evidence convinced Virginia's governor that he was innocent.  Recently, Virginia tentatively agreed to pay $1.9 million to Washington in compensation.

Tinsley, who is already serving 2 life terms for another rape in Virginia, sat in a wheelchair as he told the judge, "I'm sorry for everything I did.  The prosecutor said that he hoped the plea agreement would bring closure to the victim's family and to the community.

OFFICIAL MISCONDUCT: Alabama Pathologist's Results Called into Question

From 1999 to 2004, Dr. Johnny Glenn was the only forensic pathologist performing autopsies in the poorest part of Alabama.  He was assisted only by lab technicians as he performed hundreds of autopsies annually, including at least one death penalty case. After his abrupt departure, it was discovered that Glenn routinely put aside his notes and often failed to finish final reports or diagrams that are crucial to death investigations.

Chicago Tribune Changes Position and Calls for Abolition of Death Penalty

After decades of maintaining a position that the government should have the legal right to impose capital punishment, the Chicago Tribune is now calling for abolition of the death penalty. Noting concerns about innocence, the arbitrary nature of the punishment, and the public's shift away from the death penalty, the  Tribune announced on March 25 that, "The evidence of mistakes, the evidence of arbitrary decisions, the sobering knowledge that government can't provide certainty that the innocent will not be put to death--all that prompts this call for an end to capital punishment. It is time to stop killing in the people's name."

Babysitter Scheduled for April Execution in Texas

Cathy Henderson (pictured with Sr. Helen Prejean) is scheduled to be executed in Texas on April 18 for the 1994 murder of Brandon Baugh, an infant she was babysitting. Henderson would be the 12th woman put to death in the U.S. since capital punishment was reinstated. Since her arrest, Henderson has maintained that the child's death was accidental. She said that she dropped the baby, fracturing his skull, and then panicked after realizing she could not revive him. She then buried the boy's body and fled to Missouri, where authorities captured her nearly two weeks later.

ARBITRARINESS: Oklahoma Case Illustrates Capriciousness of the Death Penalty

An Oklahoma man could be executed or spared based on which side of a gravel road in rural McIntosh County a murder took place. Patrick Murphey, who is borderline-mentally retarded and was drunk at the time of the crime, was originally sentenced to death for the murder in 2000.  His trial attorney failed to notice that the prosecution had made a two-mile mistake in locating the site of the crime. Murphey's second attorney, who spent 11 years as a geologist with Conoco before becoming a federal public defender in Oklahoma City, later located the actual murder site and determined that the crime was committed on a stretch of road given to the Creek Indians by the United States in 1902. A federal law forbids the imposition of the death penalty in such prosecutions unless the relevant tribe's governing body allows it. Murphey is a Muscogee Creek Indian, and his tribe has not consented to seeking a death sentence in the case. Had the murder been committed a few inches away, Oklahoma would have jurisdiction in the case.

Another Prisoner Freed After DNA Evidence Leads to Exoneration

After spending 15 years in a New York prison for murder, Roy Brown has been exonerated through DNA evidence and is free. Brown is the eighth person in New York to be exonerated due to DNA evidence in the past 13 months, more than in any other state during the same period.

FEDERAL DEATH PENALTY: Man Receives Life Sentence for Role in Illegal Immigrant Deaths

A federal jury chose a sentence of life without parole for Tyrone Williams (pictured) for his role in a human-smuggling operation that left 19 illegal immigrants dead. In December, the same jurors convicted Williams of 58 smuggling counts, 20 of which carried the death penalty as a sentencing option. Williams, who abandoned about 100 immigrants sealed in his truck's refrigeration trailor after determining that it had become a death trap in 2003, is the third person to face federal capital charges in the Southern District of Texas. Since 1993, U.S. Attorneys from the region have won two death sentences, one against marijuana kingpin Juan Raul Garza for killing three drug traffickers and one against Alfred Bourgeois for the shaking death of his 2-year-old daughter. Garza was executed in 2001.