Attorneys' Organization Files Judicial Conduct Complaint Against Texas Appeals Judge

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) has filed a judicial complaint against the Presiding Judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, Sharon Keller (pictured), the first time the group says it has ever filed a complaint against a judge. NACDL has asked the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct to review Judge Keller's decision to turn away the last appeal of a death row inmate because the rushed filing was submitted past the court's 5 p.m. closing time. Attorneys for Michael Richard, who was executed on the same day the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would review the constitutionality of lethal injection practices, said they were experiencing computer problems as they prepared their client's lethal injection-based appeal just hours before Richard's execution. The appeal was being filed right after attorneys had learend that the Supreme Court would take up the issue. They asked Judge Keller for 20 more minutes to deliver their appeal to Austin because the court does not accept computer filings. They were told, "We close at 5." Without a ruling from the state court, the lawyers could not properly appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court to block the execution. At least 150 attorneys have filed similar complaints against Judge Keller with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, which can impose sanctions ranging from additional education to suspension or a trial.

American Bar Association Report Urges Death Penalty Reforms in Pennsylvania

According to a new report from a team of investigators sponsored by the American Bar Association (ABA), flaws in Pennsylvania's death penalty system are so pervasive that the state risks executing an innocent person. "The problems found in this assessment strike at the very heart of Pennsylvania's justice system," stated ABA president-elect H. Thomas Wells, Jr. The five-member Pennsylvania assessment team that conducted the review urged a series of important death penalty reforms designed to improve capital defense representation and reduce the likelihood of false confessions, crime-lab errors, witness misidentification and racial disparities. In addition to the reform recommendations, the ABA called on Governor Ed Rendell to order a more comprehensive study of Pennsylvania's death penalty.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution Series

MORE STAYS GRANTED On October 24, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit granted a stay of execution to Daniel Siebert, who was to be executed in Alabama on Oct. 25. On Oct. 22, the Georgia Supreme Court granted another stay, this time to Curtis Osborne. These stays are related to the issue of lethal injection as the U.S. Supreme Court considers the matter.

According to “A Matter of Life or Death,” a recent four-part news series published by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Georgia’s death penalty is “as predictable as a lightning strike.” Based on an investigation of 2,328 murder convictions in Georgia between January 1, 1995, and December 31, 2004, the paper determined that the state’s capital punishment system is unfairly shaped by racial and geographic bias, and fails to reserve the death penalty for “the worst of the worst.”

The AJC reporters worked with University of Maryland criminologist Ray Paternoster to examine the cases. Though their investigation determined that 1,315 of these cases involved crimes that made defendants eligible for the death penalty, prosecutors sought it in only 25% of those cases. Of those that faced a capital trial, only 1 in 23 was sentenced to death. “It’s like a roulette wheel. Arbitrariness is a weakness of the death penalty,” observed former Georgia Chief Justice Norman Fletcher.

NEW VOICES: Texas Lt. Governor Backs Creation of Innocence Commission, Urges Review of the Death Penalty for Accomplices

In a recent meeting with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram Editorial Board, Texas Lt. Governor David Dewhurst (pictured) urged legislators to re-examine the state law that allows an accomplice to be tried by the same judge and jury as the shooter in murder cases, adding that he agreed with Governor Rick Perry's decision to commute Kenneth Eugene Foster's death sentence to life in prison based on similar concerns. Dewhurst also called on legislators to establish a state innocence commission to study wrongful convictions and possible reforms to the criminal justice system.

Texas, Alabama Executions Stayed As Lethal Injection Controversy Spreads

Two executions scheduled to take place on Thursday, September 27, in Alabama and Texas were stayed just two days after the U.S. Supreme Court announced it will consider the constitutionality of Kentucky's lethal injection protocol. In Alabama, Governor Bob Riley granted Thomas Arthur a 45-day stay of execution to allow time for the state to change its current lethal injection protocol. The change is designed to address concerns that inmates are not fully unconscious when given drugs to stop the heart and lungs, a problem that could result in excruciating pain.

NEW RESOURCES: American Bar Association Sponsored Study Calls for Death Penalty Moratorium

According to a new study released by the American Bar Association, Ohio's capital punishment system is so flawed that it should be suspended while the state conducts a thorough review of its fairness and accuracy. The study, conducted by a 10-member panel of Ohio attorneys appointed by the ABA, found that the state's death penalty is prone to racial and geographic imbalances and that it meets only four of the 93 ABA recommendations to ensure a fair capital punishment system.

STUDIES: Comprehensive Georgia Study Finds Widespread Arbitrariness in Death Penalty

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently completed a comprehensive study of Georgia's use of the death penalty and found that "getting the death penalty in Georgia is as predictable as a lightning strike." This was the same problem that the U.S. Supreme Court identified in 1972 when it overturned Georgia's law and the laws of every other death penalty state.

Among the paper's findings, which appear in a four-part series that began on Sept. 23, 2007, were:

Alabama District Attorneys Association Criticizes Attorney General for Politicizing Death Penalty Case

In a letter citing political manipulation of the death penalty by the state's chief prosecutor, 41 members of Alabama's District Attorneys Association called on Attorney General Troy King to apologize to Shelby County District Attorney Robby Owens (pictured).  King has said that Owens "shirked" his duties when he expressed concerns in a court hearing about the fairness of an inmate's death sentence.