Two of the leading cases challenging the lethal injection process as a civil rights violation were significantly delayed to allow the parties more time to gather information. In California, the federal District Court overseeing the case of Michael Morales postponed the scheduled May 2 hearing until September 19, 2006. In Missouri, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit granted a 60-day extension for discovery and a hearing in the case of Michael Taylor. Both inmates had come within hours of execution earlier this year. (Morales v. Woodford, U.S. District Court for San Jose, CA, Order stating stipulation of the parties to increased time, April 27, 2006; Taylor v. Crawford, U.S. Ct. of Appeals, 8th Cir., April 27, 2006 (per curiam opinion remanding the case for a hearing in District Court within 60 days).
On April 11, Texas Judge Wayne Salvant ruled that death row inmate Steven Kenneth Staley could be physically forced to take anti-psychotic medication that could render him competent enough to be executed. The decision came nearly two months after the judge stopped Staley's scheduled execution following testimony from two doctors who stated that Staley suffers from paranoid schizophrenia and is too mentally ill to be executed. The law requires that Staley be mentally competent before he is executed. Since Staley was placed on death row in 1991, he has been hospitalized nearly 20 times because he is psychotic. He has a long history of mental illness.
Daryl Mack, who repeatedly noted that he would rather be executed than spend the next 20 years of his life on death row pursuing legal appeals, was executed Wednesday for a 1988 murder in Reno. Mack was convicted in 2002. He was the 12th person executed in Nevada since capital punishment was reinstated in 1977, and the 11th to waive remaining appeals at the time of execution. He was the first black man to be executed in the Nevada since executions resumed in the state.
On the same day that Mack was lethally injected in Nevada, the U.S. Supreme Court considered the issue of lethal injection in a Florida case. Many executions nationally have been stayed because of this issue. (Review-Journal, April 27, 2006) .
There have been 15 executions in the U.S. this year, down from 17 carried out at this time in 2005. This year's executions are nearly 60% fewer than the number of executions at this time in 1999 (36).
A May 2006 conference held at the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School examined new research, legal defense, and public response to the issue of race and the death penalty. The conference, "From Lynch Mobs to the Killing State: A National Conference on Race and the Death Penalty," featured a number of national academic and legal experts including Barry Scheck, Peter Neufeld, Charles Ogletree, Rubin "Hurricane"
Marking the 50th anniversary of the United Methodist Church's public call for an end to the death penalty, the church's General Board of Church and Society recently issued a statement echoing the sentiments of the church's original call for abolition and urging all United Methodists "to practice transformative love, to comfort the victims of crime, to humanize those convicted of crime, and to advocate for an end to the death penalty in our criminal justice system." The statement comes five decades after the historic 1956 United Methodist General Conference, during which the church of
Amnesty International's most recent death penalty report, "The Death Penalty Worldwide: Developments in 2005," revealed a substantial drop in recorded executions around the world, as well as a growing number of nations that have abandoned the death penalty. According to the report, four nations accounted for 94% of the 2,148 recorded executions carried out around the world in 2005, a total that is significantly less than the 3,797 executions recorded in 2004 (however, in many countries the exact number of executions is unknown).
A new report issued by Human Rights Watch today notes that most U.S. states use execution methods that needlessly risk excruciating pain for inmates subjected to lethal injections. The report, "So Long as They Die: Lethal Injections in the United States," examines the history of lethal injections and the widespread use of protocols that were created three decades ago with no scientific research. "The U.S. takes more care killing dogs than people. Just because a prisoner may have killed without care or conscience does not mean that the the state should follow suit," notes Jamie Fellner, U.S. program director at Human Rights Watch and co-author of the report.
The California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, a blue-ribbon panel established by the state legislature to study and review the death penalty and related matters in California, has proposed significant changes in the use of eyewitness identification in California courts. The commission called on legislators to pass a bill requiring the attorney general's office to convene a task force to develop guidelines for new procedures and trainings in eyewitness identification. It also urged a dozen specific procedural reforms aimed at improving the accuracy of the current system, including adopting double-blind and sequential identification procedures and changing witness identification methods using lineups or photo arrays so that individuals are presented sequentially rather than simultaneously.
Citing serious problems with cross-racial identifications that have led to wrongful convictions, the commission noted, "Research has consistently confirmed that cross-racial identifications are not as reliable as within-race indentifications." Members of the commission based their most recent recommendations on a series of studies examining the causes of wrongful convictions. According to the Innocence Project at the Cardozo School of Law in New York, mistaken identifications have been involved in nearly three times as many wrongful conviction cases as the next most common factor. A University of Michigan Law School study published in 2005 noted that "the risk of error is greater in cross-racial identifications" and found that mistaken eyewitness identification was involved in 88% if wrongful rape and sexual assault convictions.
Philippine President Gloria Macapagel-Arroyo (pictured) ordered the commutation of all death sentences to life in prison, an order that will spare the lives of the 1,205 people on death row. As her nation marked Easter Sunday, she issued the clemencies: "I wish to announce that we are changing our policy on those who have been imposed the death penalty. We are reducing their penalty to life imprisonment.
In a letter issued prior to Easter, the Catholic Bishops in Missouri called for an end to executions in the U.S. and urged parishioners to "build a culture of life." The letter noted that violence "is not a solution to society's problems," and it summarized church teachings regarding capital punishment and highlighted a campaign by U.S. Catholic Bishops to end the use of the death penalty. "(Christ) was unjustly sentenced to death and executed on a cross, the cruelest form of capital punishment at the time. . . . [R]ecent court interventions have focused attention on the inhumaneness of executions. As Catholics who believe in the sacredness of life, the use of state-authorized killing in our names diminishes us all," the Bishops wrote. In the letter, the Bishops urged Catholics to contact their elected officials to advocate for a halt to executions.