Efforts Underway to Exonerate 14-Year-Old Executed in South Carolina in 1944

Attorneys representing the family of George Stinney, Jr., recently filed a request for a posthumous exoneration of Mr. Stinney, the youngest person executed in the U.S. in the 20th century. Stinney, an African-American 14-year-old, was executed in 1944 for the murder of two young white girls less than three months after a trial that was filled with errors. Although Clarendon County, South Carolina, where the trial took place, had a population that was 72% black, only whites served on Stinney's jury. Stinney's lawyer offered virtually no defense. His relatives, who could have offered an alibi, were not called to testify. Stinney allegedly made a confession, but the contents of his statement have never been revealed. His attorney did not file an appeal, so no court ever reviewed his trial. In a supportive brief in the effort to clear Stinney, the Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project of Northeastern University School of Law stated, "The prosecution of George Stinney constituted a grave miscarriage of justice, causing great suffering for his family...Stinney’s shocking treatment was inconsistent with the most fundamental notions of due process, including but certainly not limited to the right to effective assistance of counsel."

Paula Cooper, Youngest Person Sentenced to Death in Indiana, To Be Released From Prison

Paula Cooper, who was 15 years old at the time of her crime, and the youngest person ever sentenced to death in Indiana, will be released from prison on June 17, twenty-seven years after her conviction for the murder of 78-year-old Ruth Pelke. Her case received international attention, sparking a campaign that led to the commutation of her death sentence to 60 years in prison. An appeal to the Indiana Supreme Court received over 2 million signatures from around the world. Pope John Paul II asked that Cooper's sentence be reduced. Bill Pelke, the grandson of Ruth Pelke, forgave and befriended Cooper and wrote a book, Journey of Hope...From Violence to Healing, about his experience with the case.

NEW VOICES: PBS Airing of "The Central Park Five" Underscores Problem of Innocence

George F. Will, conservative commentator of the Washington Post, recently drew a lesson about the death penalty from the documentary The Central Park Five, which airs on PBS on Tuesday, April 16. Will wrote, “[T]his recounting of a multifaceted but, fortunately, not fatal failure of the criminal justice system buttresses the conservative case against the death penalty: Its finality leaves no room for rectifying mistakes.” The Central Park Five tells the story of five juvenile defendants (four African Americans and one Hispanic) who were convicted of the 1989 rape and beating of a jogger in Central Park, New York, despite the absence of DNA evidence linking them to the crime. Four of the five gave confessions, which they later said were the result of police intimidation. All were sentenced to prison. In 2002, after a recommendation from the Manhattan District Attoreny, their convictions were vacated.

NEW VOICES: UN Secretary-General Calls for Worldwide End to the Death Penalty

On July 3, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on UN Member States that use the death penalty to abolish the practice, stressing that the right to life lies at the heart of international human rights law. During a panel organized by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr. Ban said, “The taking of life is too absolute, too irreversible, for one human being to inflict on another, even when backed by legal process… Where the death penalty persists, conditions for those awaiting execution are often horrifying, leading to aggravated suffering.”  Mr. Ban especially emphasized the need for change among Member States that impose the death penalty on juvenile offenders. He said, “I am also very concerned that some countries still allow juvenile offenders under the age of 18 at the time of the alleged offence to be sentenced to death and executed. The call by the General Assembly for a global moratorium is a crucial stepping stone in the natural progression towards a full worldwide abolition of the death penalty.”  In 2007, the UN General Assembly first endorsed a call for a worldwide moratorium of the death penalty, a resolution that has been repeated in subsequent years.  Today, more than 150 States have either abolished the death penalty or do not practice it.

BOOKS: "Make Me Believe: A Crime Novel Based on Real Events"

A new novel by Dax-Devlon Ross, Make Me Believe: A Crime Novel Based on Real Events, follows the discoveries and dangerous encounters of a fictional author investigating the case of Toronto Patterson, the last juvenile defendant executed in Texas before the U.S. Supreme Court struck down this practice in 2005. Employing actual interviews with Patterson, court documents, news articles and courtroom testimony, Ross's book blends fact and fiction to confront some of the problems of capital punishment in Texas while providing a fascinating story.  Dax-Devlon Ross is a lawyer and writer of nonfiction, fiction and poetry.

(D. Ross, "Make Me Believe: A Crime Novel Based on Real Events," Outside the Box Publishing, 2011). 

BOOKS: "Anatomy of an Execution"

A new book authored by Todd Peppers and Laura Trevvett Anderson, "Anatomy of An Execution," follows the story of Douglas Christopher Thomas, a juvenile offender who was executed in Virginia in 2000.  Thomas was convicted of a double homicide in 1990 and sentenced to death in 1991. He was one of the last juveniles put to death before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the execution of those under the age of 18 at the time of their crime to be unconstitutional in 2005 (Roper v. Simmons). The authors explore a variety of death penalty issues surrounding the case, including the quality of court-appointed counsel, conditions on death row, and the reasons for excluding the execution of juveniles.  The book was published by Northeastern University Press.

Florida Inmate Who Faced Death Penalty at 15 to be Freed 26 Years Later

Anthony Caravello was convicted of rape and murder for a crime he allegedly committed in 1983 at age 15 in Florida.  The prosecution sought the death penalty. Now DNA evidence from the crime scene points to another individual and may result in his exoneration.  The state is not contesting his release.  Caravello has an IQ of 67 and was convicted largely on the basis of his own statements, which he says were obtained from him after beatings during his interrogation.  At his sentencing, the judge commented, "I'll tell you this, Anthony: If the jury had recommended death, I would have had you electrocuted."  Instead, he was sentenced to life.  The prosecution is still pursuing the investigation.

NOW PLAYING IN NY: “The Two Lives of Napoleon Beazley,” a Play by John Fleming

“The Two Lives of Napoleon Beazley” is a new play by John Fleming that explores the true story of a 17-year-old African-American defendant who was sentenced to death for a carjacking and murder in Texas. The victim was the father of a federal judge. Using a variety of factual resources, including court transcripts and media accounts, the play examines race and the criminal justice system before the Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that the death penalty for juveniles violates the Constitution. Beazley was one of the last juvenile offenders executed in the U.S.

The Austin Chronicle writes that “The Two Lives of Napoleon Beazley” is:

The most important play to see in Texas right now.... Voicing all the opposing viewpoints on the issues of racism, judicial nepotism, ageism, and capital punishment, [this play] presents the story dramatically with heartbreaking scenes that are not at all contrived or insincere. Fleming’s well-knit play unfolds effortlessly before us, evoking pathos for injustice.