In a recent opinion addressing several procedural issues regarding the state's capital punishment law, the Florida Supreme Court urged state legislators to require capital jurors to be unanimous in recommending death sentences or at least in deciding what aggravating factors support a death sentence. "The bottom line is that Florida is now the only state in the country that allows the death penalty to be imposed even though the penalty-phase jury may determine by a mere majority vote both whether aggravators exist and whether to recommend the death penalty. . . .
In its first death penalty case this term, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in Brown v. Sanders, a California case in which the Justices considered whether Ronald Sanders was wrongly sentenced to die by jurors who relied on invalid aggravating factors. Sanders was sentenced to death in 1982. The jury found four of the "special circumstances" required in California and some other states for a defendant to be eligible for the death penalty. Two of those aggravating factors were later deemed invalid by the California Supreme Court and, in a later appeal, the U.S.
October 10th was World Day Against the Death Penalty, an occassion that Amnesty International used to urge abolition of the death penalty in all African states. Amnesty officials noted that recent developments show a trend toward death penalty abolition among African countries, and they stated that the majority of the continent's nations have abandoned using capital punishment. Senegal abolished the death penalty for all crimes in December 2004 and Liberia in September 2005. In March 2005, Kenyan officials announced that they are committed to ending the death penalty and are taking steps to commute all death sentences to life in prison without parole. Benin and Morocco have halted executions, and the Ugandan Constitutional Court recently ended the death penalty for certain crimes. In all, 13 of Africa's 53 states have permanently abolished the death penalty and another 20 countries no longer carry out executions. During World Day events hosted by Amnesty International around the globe, people signed a petition against capital punishment that will be presented to heads of state in Africa.
The World Day Against the Death Penalty is organized by the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, a group of 38 human rights organizations, local and regional authorities, bar associations, and trade unions.
A jury in Arizona acquitted Christopher Huerstel of first-degree murder and of attempted armed robbery of a Tucson pizzeria in which 3 people were killed. Huerstel, who was 17-years-old at the time the crime was committed, was orignally convicted along with a co-defendant and both were sentenced to death in 2001. His conviction was overturned by the Arizona Supreme Court because of errors by the trial judge. The jury at the re-trial was unable to reach a verdict on second-degree murder, and Huerstel may face another trial on that charge. The defense claims that the prosecution had argued that there was no evidence of second-degree murder. The prosecution was not able to seek the death penalty at Huerstel's re-trial because he had been a juvenile.
Ruling that jurors in the most recent retrial of Johnny Paul Penry may not have properly considered his claims of mental impairment, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals sent Penry's case back for re-sentencing. The Texas court's decision marks the third time that Penry's death sentence has been overturned during the past 16 years. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned his capital conviction in 1989 in Penry v. Lynaugh, a decision upholding the execution of defendants with mental retardation, but striking down the way that Texas courts considered this issue. Penry was again sentenced to death, but in 2001 the Supreme Court threw out Penry's new death sentence because the jury was still not properly instructed about mental retardation. In 2002, as the Supreme Court was handing down its decision that the mentally retarded are exempted from the death penalty (Atkins v. Virginia), a trial court sentenced Penry to death for a third time. The recent Texas Court of Criminal Appeals decision overturned this third sentence because the jury may not have understood that it could consider mental impairments beyond mental retardation as mitigating evidence. Penry was convicted of the 1979 rape and murder of Pamela Moseley Carpenter in East Texas. Defense experts have consistently noted that Penry's IQ is below 70, one indicia for those considered to be mentally retarded, and experts state that Penry remains very childlike in his abilities.
In a dissenting opinion filed in the capital case of Moore v. Parker, Judge Boyce Martin of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit wrote that "the death penalty in this country is arbitrary, biased, and so fundamentally flawed at its very core that it is beyond repair." Among his many criticisms of the way capital punishment is applied in the U.S., Martin specifically noted his concerns about the issues of innocence, inadequate defense counsel, and the overall arbitrariness of the system. He wrote:
A new study by a team of researchers at the New York Times looks at the expanding use of life sentences in the American criminal justice system. The study, headed by Times reporter Adam Liptak, found that about 132,000 of the nation's prisoners, or almost 10%, are serving life sentences. Of those, 28% have life sentences with no chance of parole. This is a marked increase from a 1993 Times study that found 20% of all lifers had no chance of parole. Liptak also reported that about 9,700 people are serving life sentences for crimes they committed as juveniles.