The Illinois Coalition Against the Death Penalty has issued a new report, "Questioning a Broken System: Capital Punishment in Illinois in 2003," an in-depth review of capital punishment in Illinois following actions by the former governor and the legislature to address systemic flaws in the state's death penalty system. The report notes that prosecutors continue to aggressively seek the death penalty, but public skepticism is growing over the use of capital punishment. For example, 80% of jurors who considered imposing a death sentence in 2003 rejected
Arnold Holloway, a Pennsylvania death row inmate who was convicted 18 years ago, was granted a new trial after a federal appeals court found that prosecutors improperly excluded blacks from the jury. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit said that an assistant district attorney in Holloway's case used 11 of his 12 peremptory strikes during jury selection to eliminate blacks. "The pattern here was certainly strong enough to suggest an intention of keeping blacks off the jury," said Circuit Judge Robert Cowen. Philadelphia prosecutors'
Just one day before Georgia was scheduled to execute Willie James Hall, the state's parole board commuted his sentence to life in prison without parole. During the hearing on Hall's request for clemency, 6 of the jurors from his original trial testified that they would have given Hall life without parole if that sentence had been an option at his trial. In addition, the parole board noted that Hall had excellent behavior in prison and no criminal record before the murder. In 2001, a federal judge in Atlanta threw out Hall's death sentence
The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to consider whether the execution of those who were under the age of 18 at the time of their crime violates the Constitution's ban on "cruel and unusual punishment." The Court will likely hear arguments in the case of Roper v. Simmons , No. 03-633, this coming fall. The Justices have not visited this issue since 1989 and will likely decide whether there is now a national consensus against the practice of executing juvenile offenders. The Justices used a similar "evolving standards of decency" test when they ruled to forbid
On February 5th, Texas is scheduled to execute Scott Panetti, a mentally-ill man who defended himself at his trial despite the fact that he suffers from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Panetti was convicted of killing his parents-in-law in 1992, several years after he was first diagnosed with schizophrenia. He was hospitalized for mental illness in numerous facilities before the crime. Evidence suggests that Panetti was psychotic at the time of the shootings, and that he may not have been competent to stand trial when he did. When he served as his own attorney at trial, Panetti
Former Kansas Republican state senator Tim Emert recently urged members of the Kansas Senate Judiciary Committee to enact a moratorium on imposing the death sentence and executing those who have already been sentenced to die. Noting that capital punishment was his most troubling issue when he was a member of the Kansas legislature, Emert stated, "I came to the conclusion the only vote I could live with was a 'no' vote on the death penalty in Kansas. I could not, in my mind, be pro-life and pro death penalty." Emert's testimony before members of the Judiciary Committee took place
As it launched a global campaign to end the execution of juvenile offenders, Amnesty International released a new report entitled "Stop Child Executions! Ending the death penalty for child offenders." The report condemns the execution of those who commit crimes before reaching the age of 18, a punishment the organization calls a "heinous practice due to a greater awareness that children constitute a 'protected' class." In the report, Amnesty notes that only eight countries (the United States, China, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia,
Georgia has enacted legislation to undertake the defense of indigent persons charged with capital felonies for which the death penalty is being sought in any court in the state. The Office of the Multi-County Public Defender will become the Georgia Capital Defender Office in January 2005. The office is now seeking to fill key staff positions. "See Job Description" (Jan. 15, 2004); see also DPIC's report "With Justice for Few: The Growing Crisis in Death Penalty Representation."
The Chinese government is planning to implement judicial reforms that could sharply reduce its use of the death penalty. China will restrict the use of capital punishment by requiring its highest court, the Supreme People's Court, to review all death penalty cases before executions are carried out. Currently, the high court reviews only a minority of such cases, allowing the provincial courts that hand down death sentences to review their own judgments. "Criticism of the legal system in society is rising. The Chinese Communist Party, as a ruling party that attaches importance
After spending more than half of his life on Pennsylvania's death row for a crime he did not commit, Nicholas Yarris was released from prison on Friday, January 16. Yarris had been sentenced to death row in 1983 for the murder of Linda Craig and was cleared of all charges in December 2003 (see DPIC's press release) after DNA evidence excluded him from the crime. He remained jailed for weeks after he was exonerated while authorities recalculated sentences he received in Florida for crimes he committed after escaping from sheriff's deputies