According to a new study to be published in the Santa Clara Law Review, a defandant in California is more likely to be sentenced to death for killing a white person than for murdering a person of any other race, despite there being more black and Hispanic murder victims in the state. The research also shows that geography plays a key role in whether the death penalty will be sought in a particular case.
The latest edition of the Consular Rights in America newsletter is now available. The newsletter discusses legal and political developments concerning citizens of other countries who are in prison or on death row in the U.S. Issue 29 contains excerpts from the Texas Lawyer of recent arguments before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in the case of Jose Medellin, a Mexican citizen on death row in Texas. This case has already been the subject of arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court, the International Court of Justice, and of a presidential decision. The newsletter also discusses the decision of the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals regarding Osbaldo Torres, a former death row inmate also from Mexico. The newsletter is published by Mark Warren of Human Rights Research.
Qin Yanhong was convicted of rape and murder in China in 1999. A panel of judges sentenced him to death. His conviction was the result of a confession that followed days of torture and interrorgation by police, despite the fact that such tactics are forbidden under Chinese law. The senior detective on the case expressed absolute confidence in the conviction and even offered to accept the punishment if it was proven wrong. In 2001, another man walked into a nearby police station and confessed to a spate of killings and described the murder that Mr. Qin had been accused of in perfect detail. Even then, officials tried to cover up the new revelations and keep Mr. Qin on death row until a reporter heard about the confession by the serial killer. Qin was finally freed in 2002. In 2005 alone, there have been about 12 similar reversals of convictions, including a number for murder.
A federal judge in Boston presiding over the death penalty case of two black defendants has ordered a change in the process of summoning jurors in order to ensure a more diverse jury. U.S. District Judge Nancy Gertner wrote a 95-page opinion and noted that it would be "profoundly troubling" if the defendants, Darryl Green and Branden Morris, were to face an all-white jury in a trial for their lives. Gertner cited studies that showed that wealthier geographic areas keep more accurate jury rolls and hence have a higher response rate from summoning juries. Poorer areas, where more minorities live, require a follow-up process when summonses are returned unanswered in order to reach the intended person.
The prosecution has challenged the judge's order and the District Court's Chief Judge has appointed a committee of 5 judges, including Gertner, to review the "profound issues" raised. The Chief Judge has submitted his own brief to the U.S. Court of Appeals that is considering the prosecution's challenge.
U.S. Postal Inspector Gregory Duerr of Cleveland has called for a delay in an upcoming Ohio execution because he said official testimony given in the case of John Spirko was unreliable. Spirko's November 15 execution date should be "delayed until the serious issues indicating innocence (are) truly resolved," Duerr noted. In an open letter to Chief Inspector Leroy Heath, Duerr questioned the character of a key state's witness, retired postal inspector Paul Hartman. Hartman had interrogated Spirko numerous times about the 1982 kidnapping and murder of Elgin postmaster Betty Jane Mottinger. Duerr stated that the postal service's support of Hartman's statements in the case has put the group "on the side of injustice" because Hartman had a reputation for unprofessional conduct and was forced to retire early after several inspectors complained about him. Duerr said he was threatened by his superiors after he raised questions about Hartman's role in Spirko's conviction. Duerr wrote: "it appears an individual who did not commit the crime is going to be executed." The Ohio Attorney General's Office has received a copy of the letter and has sent it to the state parole board and to Spirko's attorneys. The parole board has set a second clemency hearing for Spirko on October 12.
Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian has vowed to abolish the death penalty so that his country can become a nation founded on the basis of human rights. In making his announcement, Chen noted, "Abolishing the death penalty has become a world trend. Almost every year there is one country abolishing the death penalty. . . . Since I became president in 2000, Taiwan launched the campaign to abolish the death penalty by reducing the handing down and execution of capital punishment, and by making it harder for inmates to receive parole and forcing them to pay more compensation to victims." The number of executions carried out in Taiwan has declined from 32 in 1998 to 17 in 2000 to one so far this year.