EDITORIAL Shut down death rowOctober 27, 2005
STANLEY "TOOKIE" WILLIAMS is a charismatic symbol of what's wrong with the death penalty — and of what's wrong with the debate about the death
Several provisions contained within the U.S. House of Representatives version of legislation to reauthorize the USA Patriot Act anti-terrorism law aim to dramatically transform the federal death penalty system by allowing smaller juries to decide on executions and giving prosecutors the ability to try again if the jury deadlocks on sentencing. The legislative changes, sponsored by Texas Congressman John Carter, would also triple the number of terrorism-related crimes eligible for the death penalty.
Carter's amendment, called the Terrorist Death Penalty Enhancement Act, would add 41 crimes to the 20 terrorism-related offenses currently eligible for capital punishment. It would also make it easier for prosecutors to seek a capital conviction in cases where the defendant did not have the intent to kill. In addition, the provisions would allow a trial with fewer than 12 jurors if the court finds "good cause," with or without the agreement of the defense team. Lastly, it would give prosecutors the chance to retry cases if a jury is deadlocked over a death sentence. Currently in federal death penalty cases, a hung jury at sentencing automatically results in a life sentence, a system that is used in all but 5 of the 38 U.S. states that have capital punishment.
According to a new report released by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), structural and procedural flaws in Alabama’s criminal justice system stack the deck against fair trials and appropriate sentencing for those facing the death penalty. The report, Broken Justice: The Death Penalty in Alabama, details unfair and discriminatory practices in the state’s administration of the death penalty.
Even as the use of the death penalty continued to decline in the United States, the number of murders and the national murder rate dropped in 2004. According to the recently released FBI Uniform Crime Report for 2004, the nation's murder rate fell by 3.3%, declining to 5.5 murders per 100,000 people in 2004. By region, the Northeast, which accounts for less than 1% of all U.S. executions, continued to have the nation's lowest murder rate, 4.2. The Midwest had a murder rate of 4.7, and the murder rate in the West was 5.7. The South, which has carried out more than 80% of all U.S.
Various courts issued rulings this week regarding issues important to capital punishment law:
The U.S. Supreme Court issued an unsigned opinion holding that it was improper for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to require Arizona to have a jury determine a defendant's mental retardation status. The Court noted that Arizona's legislature had not yet addressed whether this issue should be decided by a judge or a jury. The case is Schriro v. Smith, No. 04-1475 (October 17, 2005). (See Washington Post, Oct. 18, 2005). See Mental Retardation.
Clarence David Hill (pictured) has been freed after spending nearly 16 years on Arizona's death row. Hill, who is terminally ill, recently had his 1st-degree murder conviction and death sentence overturned. Though he maintains his innocence in the 1989 murder of his landlord, Hill chose to avoid the prospect of a new trial by accepting an agreement that allowed him to plead guilty to 2nd-degree murder and be sentenced to time already served. Hill's attorney noted that his client only took the plea agreement so that he could be with his family.