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A record 110 persons aged 60 and older were on death rows across the United States at the end of 2003, a number that is nearly triple the 39 death row seniors counted nine years ago by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, according to an article in USA Today. In many states, elderly prisoners who are not on death row are housed in geriatric facilities within prisons or they are placed in "end of life" programs, but these programs are not offered to seniors facing the death penalty.
NEW VOICES: President Bush Expresses Concerns about Racial Disparities, Fairness and Adequate Representation in Death CasesPosted: February 11, 2005
During his recent State of the Union address before Congress, President George W. Bush raised concerns about race, wrongful convictions, and adequate representation for those facing the death penalty:
Because one of the main sources of our national unity is our belief
in equal justice, we need to make sure Americans of all races and
backgrounds have confidence in the system that provides justice.
In America we must make doubly sure no person is held to account
for a crime he or she did not commit -- so we are dramatically
expanding the use of DNA evidence to prevent wrongful conviction.
Soon I will send to Congress a proposal to fund special training
for defense counsel in capital cases, because people on trial for
their lives must have competent lawyers by their side.
Key members of the New York Legislature who supported the death penalty when it was reinstated in 1995 have changed their positions and now favor letting the law expire. Joseph Lentol, Chair of the Codes Committee of the N.Y. Assembly, says he now supports life without parole instead of restoring the death penalty for which he voted in 1995. His announcement came at the conclusion of hearings into the issue. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver stated that he will not be pressured into having the full Assembly vote on restoring capital punishment.
Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney joined a lengthy list of high-profile New Yorkers testifying that they oppose reinstatement of New York's death penalty. During a legislative hearing in Albany, Carney testified that New York would be best served by abandoning capital punishment and sentencing offenders to life without the possibility of parole. He cited the high costs of the death penalty and the special protections that would need to be put in place. (Albany Times-Union, February 9, 2005).
Though he has spent more than a decade in mental hospitals and his trial was postponed for 18 years due to questions regarding his sanity, Sherman Noble was recently sentenced to death in Kentucky after serving as his own defense counsel. In 1988, Noble was declared incompetent to stand trial and was placed in a mental hospital for further evaluation and treatment. He was later declared competent in 1997. Noble attempted suicide on the day of his sentencing and appeared in court in a wheelchair. The issue of whether Noble should have been allowed to serve as his own attorney is expected to be a key issue in his appeals.
Kenneth W. Starr, a former federal judge and U.S. Solicitor General, recently represented Virginia death row inmate Robin Lovitt before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit. Though he supports capital punishment, Starr stated that "the death penalty has to be administered with the utmost caution and reserved for the gravest offenses. This is not that kind of case. Robin Lovitt maintains his innocence, and evidence that might prove his innocence has been destroyed. I'm very distressed by that.... Society had better be
Priscilla Ford, who suffered from a variety of mental illnesses and who was the lone woman on Nevada's death row for more than twenty years, died of apparent complications from emphysema on January 29, 2005. A prison spokesman said, "She had been quiet for so long. No one ever had any problems with her (in prison). I don't remember hearing about her violating any rules." Ford was sentenced to death row after she was convicted of killing 6 people and injuring 23 others by driving her car down a crowded Reno sidewalk on Thanksgiving Day 1980.
A recent study of 18 juvenile offenders on death row in Texas found that nearly all participants experienced serious head traumas in childhood and adolescence, came from extremely violent and/or abusive families, had one or more severe mental illnesses, and had signs of prefrontal brain dysfunction. The study, conducted by Dr. Dorothy Otnow Lewis of Yale along with other experts, suggests that most of the juvenile offenders on America's death rows suffer from serious conditions which "substantially exacerbate the already existing vulnerabilities of youth." In the study, Dr. Lewis and her colleagues reviewed all available medical, psychological, educational, social, and family data for each participant to clarify the ways in which these various aspects of development may have diminished a juvenile offender's judgment and self control.
Justice Raoul Cantero (pictured), recently appointed to Florida's Supreme Court by Gov.
A retired prison warden, victims' family members, and a former death row inmate were among the nearly 75 speakers at a state Judiciary Committee hearing in Hartford, almost all of whom proposed ending Connecticut's death penalty. Many of the witnesses noted that the death penalty brings no relief to victims' family members, fails to deter murder, risks innocent lives, and is applied in an arbitrary way.
"I'm here to tell you that I never met an inmate for whom I had no hope," said Mary Morgan Wolff, a former state deputy warden who worked 37 years for the state Department of Corrections.
Laurence Adams, a former death row inmate from Massachusetts, told the committee that he was freed in 2004 by long-forgotten evidence proving his innocence. "I'm here today because Massachusetts abolished the death penalty," he noted as he described his 30 years in prison for a crime he did not commit and the likelihood that he would have been executed long before his recent exoneration if the state had not ended capital punishment.