Arbitrariness

DPIC RESOURCES: Per Capita Executions by State

Although Texas leads the country by far with the most executions (436) since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976, it is second to Oklahoma in terms of executions as a fraction of the state's population.  The other leading execution states on a per capita basis are Delaware, Virginia, Missouri, and Arkansas. The full ranking of executions per capita by state may be found here.  In 2009, there have been 22 executions as of April 27, with 100% of them occurring in the South. Of the 22 executions, 13 have been in Texas.  In 2008, 95% of the executions were in the South.

STUDIES: The Application of the Death Penalty in New Mexico

A study by attorney Marcia Wilson was recently published in the New Mexico Law Review: “The Application of the Death Penalty in New Mexico, July 1979 through December 2007: An Empirical Analysis.”  Wilson's research reveals new information on how the death penalty was applied in New Mexico after its reinstatement.  The article was published before New Mexico repealed the death penalty in March 2009, and served as valuable information during the legislative debate.  Wilson concluded, “The numbers and percentages here suggest that the imposition of the death penalty in New Mexico is still influenced by legally irrelevant issues such as where or when the crime was committed and the race or ethnicity of the victim and the defendant.” 

Between 1979 through 2007 in New Mexico:

  • 211 death penalty cases filed
  • 203 were resolved by the end of 2007
  • 9 cases were dismissed before trial
  • 47.8% of the resolved cases ended with a plea bargain and a sentence less than death
  • 46.9% of the resolved cases went to trial
  • 25% of the resolved cases had a penalty trial
  • 15 people were sentened to death
  • 2 defendants remained on death row still challenging their death sentence
  • 1 defendant was executed (after dropping his appeals).

UPCOMING EXECUTION: Man to be Executed Changed Lives While on Death Row

UPDATE: JOSE BRISENO RECEIVED A STAY OF EXECUTION ON APRIL 2.  Texas death row inmate Jose Briseno is scheduled to be executed on April 7.  However, a stream of letters and support, including some from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice staff, fellow prisoners, and a network of people outside of prison has been sent to the Texas Board of Pardon and Paroles asking that his sentence be commuted to life. According to the clemency petition submitted by his attorney, during his 17 years on death row, Briseno developed a profound spirituality that affected many people. Letters from people he impacted said he would be of greater service to society and to the prison by being allowed to live rather than executed.  Briseno was convicted in 1992 of the murder of the sheriff in Dimmit County, Texas.  See a video about Jose Briseno's life here.

STUDIES: Costs of Death Penalty in California

An update of a study by the ACLU of Northern California on the costs of the death penalty found additional expenses due to a net increase in the size of death row.  The analysis found, “The 11 new additions to death row add almost $1 million to the annual cost of housing people on death row, now totaling $61.2 million more each year than the cost of housing in the general population. . . . The recently approved state budget also includes $136 million in funds to begin construction of a new death row facility, a project that will cost more than $400 million to complete.”  The state has been facing the largest deficit of any state in the country and has had to cut numerous other programs. 

Highlighting the arbritrary nature of the death penalty in the state, the ACLU found that out of California’s 58 counties, “only 10 counties accounted for nearly 83% of death sentences for 2000 to 2007,” and 30 counties had not had a single death sentence since 2000.  The full report may be found here.

 

Texas Court Rejects Appeal Calling Inmate "Crazy" but "Sane"

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals recently ruled that a death row inmate who removed his only remaining eye and ate it “is clearly ‘crazy,’ but he is also ‘sane’ under Texas law,” rejecting his appeal.  Death row inmate Andre Thomas had stabbed some of his family members and ripped their hearts out. He then walked into the Sherman Police Department, admitted to the killings, and said God told him to commit them. Shortly after his arrest, he removed his right eye in 2004.  In December 2008, a death row officer found Thomas with a bloody face and it was determined that he had removed his left eye and eaten it.  Thomas had been to hospitals twice prior to his arrest for mental health issues, but had not received treatment. Judge Cathy Cochran, writing for the court, said, "This is an extraordinarily tragic case,'' because the deaths could have been avoided if Thomas had been treated.

NEW VOICES: State Supreme Court Justice Resigned Over the Death Penalty

Retired Washington State Supreme Court Justice Robert F. Utter recently wrote an opinion piece arguing that the continued use of the death penalty fails to serve justice, public safety or the public purse — and should be abandoned.  Justice Utter resigned from the high court after 23 years in 1995 because of his concerns about the death penalty.  Justice Utter wrote recently in the Seattle Times, “My original reasons for resignation still apply. I then stated: ‘I believe society has a right to protect itself by imposing life sentences without the possibility of parole. However, it became obvious that there were certain inherent contradictions that made unfairness and discrimination not merely uncontrollable accessories of the punishment of death, but its very essence.’  The full text of the op-ed may be read below:

Louisiana Prosecutors Deeply Concerned about Costs of the Death Penalty

Citing the costs of seeking the death penalty, Louisiana prosecutors are “cutting way back,” according to State Attorney General Buddy Caldwell.  A former district attorney, Caldwell compared trying a capital case to “playing on a $100-a-roll table instead of a nickel or dime table."  He explained that he could try a second-degree murder case for $15,000 to $20,000 instead of $250,000 to put a death-penalty defendant on trial.  Caldwell said the cost of expert witnesses and investigators was one reason for the price difference.  District attorney Linda Watson said the costs of prosecuting a capital case are too much, especially for an impoverished region.  Since parishes usually have to pay for legal defense costs and housing for jurors during trials, in addition to the prosecutor’s expert witnesses and investigators, her office usually pursues life in prison instead.  “The cost of a death penalty case is unbelievable,” Watson said.

Texas Execution Scheduled Despite Allegations of Obstruction of Justice

Willie Pondexter is scheduled to be executed in Texas on March 3 despite a civil suit filed by his attorneys alleging interference by the state in the attorneys' investigation into Pondexter's model behavior and rehabilitation during 14 years on death row.  In Texas, the key factor in determining whether a defendant is sentenced to life or death is whether he represents a future danger to society.  Pondexter's attorneys from the Texas Defender Service had received information that correctional officers from death row were willing to formally attest to Pondexter's excellent record and the attorneys sent representatives to obtain statements.  Those representatives were detained by the local sheriff's office and told not to return to death row.  The suit claims that Texas prison officials interfered with the work necessary to prepare a clemency petition for Pondexter.  He is seeking a stay of his execution date.

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