What's New

Foreign Nationals on U.S. Death Rows

Posted: May 30, 2006

There are currently 120 foreign nationals from 32 countries on death rows across the U.S. These are individuals who have been condemned to death in this country but are not citizens of the U.S. In many cases, these defendants were not informed of their rights under Article 36 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. This treaty was signed and ratified by the U.S., but many defendants from countries that are also parties to the Vienna Convention were not told of their right to contact the consulate of their native country.


All Charges Dropped Against NJ Man Who Once Faced the Death Penalty

Posted: May 26, 2006

Prosecutors in New Jersey announced that they were dropping all charges against Larry Peterson who had been convicted of murder in 1989, saying they could no longer meet their burden of proof in his case.  Peterson's conviction was overturned last year after DNA tests failed to match him with evidence from the scene of the crime.  The state had initially sought the death penalty against Peterson, who is now 55 after spending 18 years in prison.   The Innocence Project at Cardozo Law School in New York and state prosecutors had dozens of DNA samples from hairs and elsewhere at the crime scene tested in the case. None matched Peterson's genetic makeup.  New Jersey currently has a moratorium on carrying out the death penalty while a commission studies the process. 


Executions in 2006 Continue Uneven Trends

Posted: May 25, 2006

With the execution of Jesus Aguilar in Texas on May 24, there have now been 20 executions in 2006:


MENTAL ILLNESS: Rutherford Institute Calls Attention to Upcoming Virginia Execution

Posted: May 25, 2006

John W. Whitehead, founder and president of the Rutherford Institute, called for clemency for Percy Lavar Walton, a Virginia inmate scheduled to be executed on June 8. Walton is a psychotic schizophrenic who has suffered with severe mental illness since adolescence. He is on death row for three murders he committed when he was 18 years old. Whitehead writes:


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

Posted: May 23, 2006

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:


Death Penalty Developments in Tennessee, South Carolina, and Wisconsin

Posted: May 22, 2006

Death penalty developments in Tennessee, South Carolina, and Wisconsin have recently been featured in the news:

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to consider the case of Abdur'Rahman v. Bredesen in which the Tennessee Supreme Court held that the state's lethal injection procedure is constitutional under the Eighth Amendment. The U.S. Supreme Court's action is no reflection of their opinion on the matter of lethal injection. The Justices are currently reviewing a separate case that asks whether inmates can use a federal civil rights law to challenge lethal injection procedures. That case is scheduled for decision by the end of June. (Bloomberg News, May 22, 2006).


NEW VOICES: Newspaper Changes Its Position-'Commonsense Finding is that Death Penalty Has Failed and Should be Abolished'

Posted: May 19, 2006

An editorial in the Asbury Park Press, a newspaper that formerly supported capital punishment, called on New Jersey policymakers to abandon the state's costly death penalty and replace it with the "sure and swift" sentence of life without parole. Stating that New Jersey has wasted millions of dollars on the death penalty, but has not carried out an execution since it was reinstated in1982, the editorial noted:


Science Journal Recommends: "Let the death penalty die a natural death."

Posted: May 17, 2006

A recent editorial in Nature, the international weekly journal of science, called on scientists and doctors to refuse to participate in executions:  "Don't advise, don't prescribe, don't inject.  Let the death penalty die a natural death." Noting that courts are now considering whether the death penalty by lethal injection should be outlawed as inhumane, the editorial points out that the procedure was largely developed without the input of physicians, nurses, or scientists.


DNA Testing Exonerates New York Man Who Might Have Been Executed

Posted: May 16, 2006

After spending more than a decade in jail for a crime he did not commit, Douglas Arthur Warney has been exonerated and will be freed from prison in New York based on DNA evidence.  Police maintained that Warney had confessed to the crime. Warney is a poorly educated man with a history of delusions and suffering from an advanced case of AIDS.  He originally faced the death penalty for the 1996 stabbing murder in Rochester, but was ultimately convicted of second-degree homicide and sentenced to 25 years in jail. Prosecutors tried to block recent DNA tests that revealed that blood found at the crime scene could not have come from Warney. The test concluded that the blood belonged to another man, Eldred L. Johnson, Jr., who has since confessed to being the sole killer in the crime and is in prison for a different killing and three other stabbings.

Though no forensic evidence linked Warney to the crime, prosecutors used his false confession - which defense attorneys say was based on facts fed to him by a homicide detective - to overcome weaknesses in the case. During Warney's trial, prosecutors said that blood found at the crime that did not match the victim or Warney could have belonged to an accomplice, but that Warney was the killer based on his detailed confession. Despite providing details regarding the crime, Warney's confession was also filled with inconsistencies. According to trial testimony, Mr. Warney told the detective he had driven to the victim's house in his brother's car, although the brother had not owned the car for six years before the murder; he said he disposed of his bloody clothes after the murder in a garbage can, but none were found in a search of the can, which had been buried in snow from the day of the crime; he also said he had an accomplice, naming a relative who, it turned out, was in a secure rehabilitation center.


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

Posted: May 15, 2006

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.