What's New

NEW VOICES: Originator of Lethal Injection Voices Regrets, Opposes Death Penalty

Posted: August 25, 2005

Bill Wiseman, the former Oklahoma legislator who introduced lethal injection as a method of execution in the U.S. in order to make death row inmates' deaths more humane, now regrets having pushed the concept into law. He notes that he introduced the measure in order to ease his shame for having voted to restore the death penalty in Oklahoma, stating, "I'm sorry for what I did. I hope someday to offset it by helping us realize that capital punishment is wrong and self-destructive." While discussing recent court challenges regarding lethal injection practices, Wiseman stated, "I'm aware of my responsibility. It keeps me tied to the problem. And the problem is that we're killing people. That's what's wrong, not how we're doing it." Wiseman is no longer an elected official and was recently ordained as an Episcopal priest.


NEW RESOURCE: "The Cultural Lives of Capital Punishment"

Posted: August 24, 2005

The Cultural Lives of Capital Punishment, a new book edited by professor Austin Sarat of Amherst College and lecturer Christian Boulanger of the Free University in Berlin, examines the complicated dynamics of the death penalty in eleven nations to determine what role capital punishment plays in defining a country's political and cultural identity. The editors note that a nation's values and cultural history influence its relationship with capital punishment.


STUDIES: Blacks Struck from Juries at Twice the Rate of Whites

Posted: August 22, 2005
A two-year Dallas Morning News investigation of jury selection in Dallas County has revealed that prosecutors exclude blacks from juries at more than twice the rate they reject whites, and that race is the most important personal trait affecting which jurors prosecutors reject. The paper's review also found that when potential black and white jurors answered key questions about criminal justice issues the same way, blacks were rejected at a higher rate.

NEW VOICES: Former Federal Prosecutor Criticizes the Withholding of Critical Evidence

Posted: August 22, 2005
John P. Flannery, a former federal prosecutor and special counsel to the U.S. Senate and House Judiciary Committees, recently noted the broad problems in Virginia's criminal justice system that could lead to convicting the innocent:

We are convicting innocent people in Virginia because of false eyewitness testimony, false confessions, over-eager snitches, faulty forensics, bad defense lawyers but also, and this is the worst of all, because of prosecutorial misconduct and police misconduct. In this last category,

EDITORIAL: Alabama's Death Penalty Representation System in Disarray

Posted: August 18, 2005
The Birmingham News sharply criticized Alabama's system of representation in death penalty cases, saying that the public should be outraged.  A lack of even minimal resources and pay has caused attorneys to withdraw from cases and to decline representation to indigent defendants. The paper wrote that this shortage of attorneys could result in more trial errors and longer appeals, putting an undue strain on victims' families and the entire system of justice. The editorial stated:

What would it be worth to you to have a good lawyer if you were charged

NEW RESOURCE: Research Examines Those Who Volunteer for Execution

Posted: August 16, 2005

A new Michigan Law Review article by Professor John Blume of Cornell Law School examines the relationship between "volunteering" for execution and suicide.  Blume found that nearly 88% of all death row inmates who have "volunteered" for execution have struggled with mental illness and/or substance abuse. He writes that there is an especially strong link between "volunteerism" and mental illness. Of the "volunteer" executions he reviewed, 14 involved schizophrenia and several more reported delusions that may reflect schizophrenia. Depression and bipolar disorder accounted for at least 23 other cases, and post-traumatic stress disorder was present in another 10. At least 30 of those who "volunteered" for execution had previously attempted suicide.  The article also notes that between 1977 and 2003, 85% of the 93 inmates who opted to allow their execution to proceed without exhausting all legal appeals were white males, despite the fact that white males make up only 45% of all death row inmates.


Two Cases Added to DPIC Innocence List, Bringing Total to 121

Posted: August 16, 2005

The Death Penalty Information Center recently became aware of two older capital cases in which the defendants had been sentenced to death but were later acquitted at re-trial.  We have added Christopher McCrimmon of Arizona and Larry Fisher of Mississippi to our innocence list, bringing the total number of people released from death row on the basis of innocence to 121 since 1973. McCrimmon is the eighth person to be exonerated from Arizona’s death row, and Fisher is the second death row exoneree from Mississippi.  A brief description of the cases follows:

Christopher McCrimmon was convicted and sentenced to death for a triple murder that occurred in Tucson's El Grande Market in 1992. Two other co-defendants, Andre Minnitt and Martin Soto-Fong, were also sentenced to death for the same crime. At McCrimmon’s trial, one juror hesitated about his vote for conviction. The trial judge met with the jury, which then shortly returned a unanimous guilty verdict. The Arizona Supreme Court overturned McCrimmon’s conviction in 1996 because of the judge’s undue pressure on the jury. (Arizona v. McCrimmon/Minnitt, 927 P.2d 1298 (1996)). Subsequently, it was discovered that the lead prosecutor against all 3 co-defendants, Kenneth Peasley, presented false evidence in the original case. With this knowledge, McCrimmon was quickly acquitted at his re-trial in 1997. (See Arizona v. Minnitt, 55 P.3d 774, 779 (2002) (vacating co-defendant Minnitt’s conviction and sentence and barring re-trial because of deliberate prosecutorial misconduct)).


Georgia Board To Pardon Woman 60 Years After Her Execution

Posted: August 16, 2005

The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles has announced that it will issue a formal pardon this month for Lena Baker (pictured), the only woman executed in the state during the 20th century. The document, signed by all five of the current board members, will note that the parole board's 1945 decision to deny Baker clemency and allow her execution was "a grievous error, as this case called out for mercy." Baker, an African American, was executed for the murder of Ernest Knight, a white man who hired her . Baker was tried, convicted, and sentenced to die in one day by an all-white, all-male jury. Baker claimed she shot Knight in self-defense after he locked her in his gristmill and threatened her with a metal pipe. The pardon notes that Baker "could have been charged with voluntary manslaughter, rather than murder, for the death of E.B. Knight." The average sentence for voluntary manslaughter is 15 years in prison. Baker's picture and her last words are currently displayed near the retired electric chair at a museum at Georgia State Prison in Reidsville.


Study Finds Texans Lack Confidence in Death Penalty, Support Halt to Executions

Posted: August 15, 2005
An article published in the September 2004 issue of Justice Quarterly revealed that 64% of Texans support a halt to executions while questions of fairness and accuracy are addressed, and 48% of respondents lack confidence in the state's capital punishment system. -->

An article published in the September 2004 issue of Justice Quarterly revealed that 64% of Texans support a h


NEW RESOURCE: The Death Penalty's Impact on U.S. Foreign Relations

Posted: August 12, 2005

A new law review article by international death penalty expert Mark Warren concludes that the retention of capital punishment in the United States distances the nation from its closest allies "in ways both symbolic and tangible, and the costs of that isolation are rising steadily." Warren's article, Death, Dissent, and Diplomacy: The U.S. Death Penalty as an Obstacle to Foreign Relations, examines a broad range of concerns, including treaty compliance and global security. Warren notes that in recent years, world leaders have become increasingly vocal about their opposition to the death penalty, and that the U.S. now finds itself on the wrong side of a fundamental human rights issue. Warren notes that some recent Supreme Court decisions narrowing the scope of the death penalty, as well as state efforts to identify flaws in the system, are steps in the right direction.