Kenyan Justice Minister Kiraitu Murungi announced that those on the nation's death row will soon have their sentences commuted to life imprisonment. Murungi noted that he is working closely with Kenya's President's Office to bring the nation into compliance with its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. "We are committed to abolishing the death penalty. The death sentence is a violation of the right to life," he said. In the 1970s, Kenya argued that the death penalty would deter crime, but the nation's leaders have since found no downturn in crime. Following a 1982 coup attempt, no death warrants issued by the courts were ever signed by the President, and in February 2003, President Kibaki ordered the release of 28 prisoners on death row and commuted the sentences of 195 others.
"Hidden Victims," a new book by sociologist Susan F. Sharp of the University of Oklahoma, examines the impact of capital punishment on the families of those facing execution. Through a series of in-depth interviews with families of the accused, Sharp illustrates from a sociological standpoint how family members and friends of those on death row are, in effect, indirect victims of the initial crime. The book emphasizes their responses to sentencing, as well as how they grieve and face an impending execution.
Preliminary data from the FBI's Uniform Crime Report for 2004 found that murders in the U. S. dropped last year by 3.6%. The number of executions also declined in 2004. In 2003, the South had the highest murder rate in the country, and that appeared to continue in 2004 even as the South carried out 85% of the nation's executions. The Northeast, which had no executions in 2004, had the lowest murder rate in 2003 and that position appeared to remain the same in 2004. The FBI's final crime report for 2004 will be available in the fall.
In its recent study of Ohio's death penalty, the Associated Press found that of the 1,936 capital indictments filed statewide from 1981-2002, about 50% ended in plea bargains. Of those cases, 131 people who pleaded guilty in exchange for escaping the death penalty were charged with killing multiple victims. By contrast, 196 of the 274 people who were sentenced to death row during the same 21-year time span were convicted of killing a single victim. The AP's Ohio findings were similar to figures from other states and the federal government.
Death row inmates from around the country will present a $5,000 college scholarship to Zach Osborne, the brother of a 4-year-old murder victim, who plans to attend East Carolina University to pursue a career in law enforcement. The scholarship is an annual award given by those on death row who participate in the publication of "Compassion," a newsletter that provides a forum for communication between convicted offenders and murder victims' families. Each year, a murder victim's family member is chosen to receive the funds based on the results of an essay competition. In his essay, Osborne wrote, "Natalie's death has haunted my family since the day she was found. . . . Through realizing this dream (of becoming a law enforcement officer), I would play a key role in preventing situations like this from ever happening again." Dennis Skillicorn, who is on Missouri's death row and serves as current editor of "Compassion," stated that the scholarship "gives every one of us - regardless of our living conditions - an opportunity to restore some of what we've torn down." Osborne will receive his scholarship during a 10 a.m. press conference hosted by the Greensboro Police Department on June 7.
A recent investigation led by a former Justice Department official reported that analysts at the Houston Crime Lab fabricated findings in at least four drug cases, including one in which a scientist failed to conduct testing before issuing conclusions to support police suspicions - an illegal practice known as "drylabbing." The report contains some of the most serious allegations made yet against the Houston Crime Lab and is the first to criticize the lab's largest division, controlled substances, which tests substances suspected of being drugs and performs about 75% of the Houston Police Department's forensics work. This is the fifth area of crime lab disciplines where errors have been exposed — including DNA, toxicology, ballistics and the blood-typing science of serology.
The investigation into the lab is being headed by Michael Bromwich, a former U.S. Justice Department official. He found that the "drylabbing" reports were issued by two analysts between 1998 and 2000. One of the analysts, who has since resigned, once fabricated conclusions that sent an innocent man to prison for four years for rape. In a later instance of misconduct, he used results from a colleague's testing in his own case file. The second analyst, who still works at the lab, identified tablets as a controlled substance without performing tests and later falsified data to support incorrect conclusions. In each of the four cases, the analysts' supervisors caught the misrepresentations before the evidence was introduced in court, but the two employees responsible for the "drylabbing" results were punished with no more than a four-day suspension.
In a proposed amendment to its penal code, Indian leaders are seeking to implement a change that would end the nation's death penalty even "in the rarest of rare" cases. The amended Indian Penal Code would abolish the death penalty and replace it with a strict life without the possibility of parole measure. Currently, the nation's life sentence statute only requires imprisonment for 14 years. The decision to seek an official end to capital punishment fulfills a pledge made by the chairman of the Committee on Reforms of the Criminal Justice System, Mr. Justice VS Malimath.
On May 31, 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to consider the constitutionality of Kansas' death penalty law. The current statute requires that a death sentence be imposed when a jury finds that the aggravating and mitigating circumstances surrounding the crime have equal weight (i.e., a tie results in death). When reviewing Michael Marsh's death sentence in 2004, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that the state's statute was unconstitutional, holding that the above process did not comport with the fundamental respect for humanity underlying the Eighth Amendment. Upon petition of the State of Kansas, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to review the Kansas decision. Additionally, the Supreme Court will consider two questions related to the Court's jurisdiction over the case. The case is Kansas v. Marsh, No. 04-1170.
The North Carolina House of Representatives will soon vote on a two-year moratorium on executions in the state while the death penalty is studied. A moratorium bill passed the full Senate in 2003, but had been previously blocked from coming to a vote in the House.
The Empty Chair: Death Penalty Yes or No is a documentary film produced and directed by Jacqui Lofaro and Victor Teich that tells the stories of four families confronting the loss of loved ones and voicing different perspectives on the death penalty. The movie also features Sister Helen Prejean, an author and spiritual advisor to those condemned to die, and Donald Cabana (pictured), a former death row warden in Mississippi.
Among the family members featured in the film are Renny Cushing, whose father was murdered; Suse and Peter Lowenstein, whose son was killed by a terrorist plane-bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland; Sue Norton, who chose to forgive the man who murdered her step-parents; and Susan Gove Ramunda, a tireless advocate for capital punishment whose daughter was murdered. Each of these family members retraces the crime that took their loved one, the trial that followed, and their personal response to the punishment that was given to the person convicted of the murder.