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USA Today Editorial Says Life Without Parole is "Fitting Replacement" for Death Penalty

Posted: June 22, 2005

In an editorial highlighting public support for the sentencing option of life without parole in death penalty cases and the need to take steps to protect against executing innocent people, USA Today recently stated that life without the possibility of parole is a "fitting replacement" for the death penalty. The editorial praised the historic enactment of a life without the possibility of parole statute in Texas and other recent activities around the nation that seek to address problems with capital punishment. It noted:


U.S. Supreme Court Overturns Death Sentence in Pennsylvania Based on Poor Representation

Posted: June 20, 2005

The U.S. Supreme Court has ordered a new sentencing trial for Pennsylvania death row inmate Ronald Rompilla after finding that he was inadequately represented by counsel during his 1988 capital trial. The 5-4 ruling marks the second time in one week that the U.S. Supreme Court has overturned a death sentence citing improper actions at trial. The Court noted that Rompilla's trial attorney failed to investigate records showing possible mitigating evidence of mental retardation and a traumatic upbringing, even after prosecutors gave warning they planned to use the same documents against him. "We hold that even when a capital defendant's family members and the defendant himself have suggested that no mitigating evidence is available, his lawyer is bound to make reasonable efforts to obtain and review material that counsel knows the prosecution will probably rely on," wrote Justice David H. Souter, who authored the majority opinion.


Indiana Execution Stayed Because of Jury Sentencing Issue

Posted: June 20, 2005

As Indiana death row inmate Michael Allen Lambert's clemency hearing was underway, a federal court stayed his scheduled June 22 execution in order to consider if his death sentence was constitutional in light of the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Ring v. Arizona regarding the jury's role in death sentencing.

During Lambert's trial in 1992, a judge allowed the victim's wife to give an impact statement to the jury, which then recommended that Lambert receive the death penalty. Four years later, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled that this "highly emotional" testimony unfairly influenced the jury, but instead of ordering a new sentencing hearing for Lambert, the judges reweighed the evidence on their own and upheld the sentence. "Michael Lambert is the only person on death row whose death sentence was affirmed after an appellate court found that his jury recommendation was tainted. Without a valid jury recommendation, he should not be executed," said Paula Sites of the Indiana Public Defender Council.


Texas Governor Signs Life Without Parole Bill Into Law

Posted: June 17, 2005

Texas Governor Rick Perry (pictured) has signed the bill that gives juries in death penalty cases the option of sentencing a defendant to life without the possibility of parole. “I believe this bill will improve our criminal justice system because it gives jurors a new option to protect the public with the certainty a convicted killer will never roam our streets again,” Perry said.  The new law is not retroactive, and will apply only to those sentenced after September 1, 2005.


NEW VOICES: Former North Carolina Judge: "We Should Pause and be Certain"

Posted: June 16, 2005

Former North Carolina Judge Tom Ross is urging state lawmakers to enact legislation that would impose a two-year moratorium on executions, a step he says is necessary in order to prevent an innocent person from being executed in the state. During his career, Ross served as a Superior Court Judge for 18 years, as the chair of the North Carolina Sentencing Commission, and as director of the Administrative Office of the Courts. He is currently the executive director of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation. In a "Point of View" column in The News & Observer, Ross stated:


Oklahoma Grants New Trial Because of Shoddy Lab Work

Posted: June 15, 2005

The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals has reversed the conviction and death sentence of Curtis Edward McCarty because the state's case was largely based on the testimony of a police chemist who has since been fired for shoddy and unreliable lab work. The court ordered a new trial for McCarty, who has been on death row more than two decades for a 1982 murder. At issue is the expert testimony of former Oklahoma City police chemist Joyce Gilchrist during McCarty's capital trial. Gilchrist had been with the police department for 21 years when she was fired in 2001 following investigations of her forensic work. Based on a hearing regarding the trial evidence, an Oklahoma County District Court concluded that Gilchrist either lost or destroyed critical evidence in McCarty's case.


Editorials from Around the Country Express Concerns About Texas Death Penalty

Posted: June 14, 2005
Newspaper editorials from papers in Texas and other areas of the country praised the Supreme Court's ruling in the case of Thomas Miller-El and criticized the way in which the death penalty has been implemented in Texas.   Miller-El was granted a new trial in light of strong evidence of racial bias during jury selection at his original trial.  Editorial excerpts follow:

New York Times

[Miller-El] is an important ruling that reiterates to all courts the importance of keeping discrimination out of jury selection.

Supreme Court Overturns Texas Death Penalty Conviction Because of Racial Bias in Jury Selection

Posted: June 13, 2005

In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that Thomas Miller-El, a Texas death row inmate, is entitled to a new trial in light of strong evidence of racial bias during jury selection at his original trial.  In choosing a jury to try Miller-El, a black defendant, prosecutors struck 10 of the 11 qualified black panelists. The Supreme Court said that the decision by the Texas court finding no discrimination in the process “blinks reality” and was unreasonable and erroneous in light of the significant evidence of discrimination.

Justice Souter, writing for the majority, set out the evidence that race governed who was allowed on the jury, including: disparate questioning of white and black jurors, jury “shuffling,” a culture of bias within the prosecutor’s office, and the fact that the prosecutor’s race-neutral explanations for the strikes were so far at odds with the evidence that the explanations themselves indicate discriminatory intent.


NAACP Legal Defense Fund Releases New "Death Row USA"

Posted: June 10, 2005

According to the latest edition of Death Row USA published by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF), the size of death row decreased again as of April 1, 2005.  After increasing steadily for about 25 years, the death row population started decreasing in 2000.  The current total for state and federal death rows is 3,452.  On October 1, 2002, LDF reported a death row population of 3,697.  This latest report counts 72 offenders who were juveniles at the time of their crime, though these individuals will all be removed from death row once official action has been taken in re


Kenya Committed to Abolishing Capital Punishment

Posted: June 9, 2005

Kenyan Justice Minister Kiraitu Murungi announced that those on the nation's death row will soon have their sentences commuted to life imprisonment. Murungi noted that he is working closely with Kenya's President's Office to bring the nation into compliance with its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. "We are committed to abolishing the death penalty. The death sentence is a violation of the right to life," he said. In the 1970s, Kenya argued that the death penalty would deter crime, but the nation's leaders have since found no downturn in crime. Following a 1982 coup attempt, no death warrants issued by the courts were ever signed by the President, and in February 2003, President Kibaki ordered the release of 28 prisoners on death row and commuted the sentences of 195 others.