OP-ED: At the 30th Anniversary of Gregg v. Georgia, Death Penalty Remains Arbitrary

Professor Michael Meltsner, who worked as an attorney with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in its efforts to challenge the death penalty in the 1960s and 70s, recently assessed the U.S.'s application of the death penalty over the past 30 years. He noted that today's death penalty system is "broken" and fails to make the nation a safer society. Writing in the Boston Globe, Meltsner wrote:

NEW RESOURCE: DPIC Resources Available as 30th Anniversary of Gregg v. Georgia Approaches

July 2, 2006 will mark the 30th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Gregg v. Georgia, an historic ruling that upheld newly crafted death penalty statutes and signaled the beginning of the modern era of capital punishment. This milestone presents the public with an opportunity to examine the application of the death penalty over the past three decades and to test whether the Court’s expectation of a fairer and less arbitrary system of capital punishment has been fulfilled.

NEW VOICES: Another Major Newspaper Calls for End to Capital Punishment

Reversing its long-standing support for capital punishment, the Spokane Spokesman-Review recently published an editorial calling for an end to capital punishment in the United States. The paper noted that the decision to change its stance on the death penalty came after careful consideration of growing evidence that the newspaper's "expectations of fairness and justice" are not being met and that the death penalty's "drawbacks now outweigh its merits." The editorial in full:

NEW VOICES: Illinois Execution in 1995 Now Seen in a New Light

Girvies Davis was executed in Illinois in 1995 after a conviction based largely on his own confession.  Davis' appellate attorney was David A. Schwartz, who now serves as senior vice-president and baseball legal counsel at CSMG Sports.  Schwartz writes in the Chicago Tribune that Davis "confessed" to many crimes, most of which he indisputably did not commit.  Davis said that the only reason he confessed to the murder that sent him to death row was that the police threatened to kill him if he did not sign the confession.  Schwartz, who was an attorney with Jenner & Block at the time he represented Davis, laments the fact that Davis' case had no DNA and that the times were different from those that led to the clearing of Illinois' death row by Gov. George Ryan in 2003:

Federal Judges Cite Arbitrariness in Stays and Executions Around Lethal Injection

martinFive federal judges of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit dissented from the Court's denial of a stay of execution to Sedley Alley in Tennessee. (Alley was subsequently granted a stay by the governor on other grounds.) Judge Boyce Martin, writing for the dissenting judges, noted that many inmates around the country were being granted stays of execution after filing challenges to the lethal injection process. Others raising the same claims have been denied stays and have been executed, despite the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court is considering a case related to this issue (Hill v. McDonough).

Excerpts from Judge Martin's opinion follow:

Official Report Reveals Misconduct by Texas Crime Lab in Death Penalty Case

According to a new report on the work performed by the Houston Crime Lab issued by independent investigator Michael Bromwich, at least one capital case is among the 43 DNA cases and 50 serology cases processed at the lab since 1980 that have now been identified as having "major issues."  This classification is defined as "problems that raise significant doubt as to the reliabilitiy of the work performed, the validity of the analytical results, or the correctness of the analysts' conclusions." Bromwich, who leads a team of forensic experts hired by Houston to examine the crime lab's problems, issued his fifth report on May 10th and noted that the case of death row inmate Derrick Lee Jackson is among a growing list of cases in which lab employees may have erred.

The report states that initial DNA testing in Jackson's case was performed by DNA lab chief James Bolding, who found the evidence was "inconclusive." When Jackson became a suspect, Bolding's interpretation of the  evidence changed. "Without performing any additional testing, Mr. Bolding altered his worksheets . . . and issued a new report stating that (blood evidence) consistent with Mr. Jackson's (blood) type was found in two blood stain samples recovered from the crime scene," Bromwich's report noted. Jackson was subsequently sentenced to death in March 1998 for the murders of two Houston Grand Opera tenors. The major piece of evidence linking Jackson to the 1988 slayings was a bloody fingerprint found on the door in the singers' apartment.

Capital Conviction Overturned After Federal Court Finds Judicial Bias Against Defendant

U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt overturned the capital conviction of Carl Wayne Buntion, noting that the Texas trial judge who sentenced him to death had a "deep-seated and vocal bias" against Buntion. In a 61-page opinion, Hoyt stated that state District Judge Bill Harmon deprived Buntion of his constitutional right to a fair trial by bullying his attorneys, meeting privately with prosecutors and deferring to their wishes, and making remarks in court such as he was "doing God's work" by seeing that Buntion was executed. Hoyt also found that Harmon had placed a Judge Roy Bean postcard on his bench during jury selection for the trial, an act that gave the impression that he was a "hangin' judge." Hoyt noted that "Judge Harmon decided that Buntion was guilty and should die" even before the trial began.

Federal Jury Gives Moussaoui Life in Prison Without Parole

A federal jury voted today that Zacarias Moussaoui should serve a sentence of life in prison without parole despite the government's assertion that his lies to FBI officials contributed to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.  Earlier the jury had found that Moussaoui was responsible for some of the deaths that took place on September 11, and that he was eligible for the death penalty. After weeks of testimony during the sentencing phase of the trial, the jury took 7 days to recommend a sentence of life without parole.