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Time Running Out for Access to DNA Testing in Florida

Posted: April 7, 2005

For Florida prisoners, including death row inmates, who were convicted before DNA evidence was routinely tested, the state-imposed October 1 deadline to submit new claims is fast approaching.  After that date, evidence may be destroyed and the chance for an exoneration extinguished.  Yet the system is seriously backlogged and under-resourced.  Noting that Governor Jeb Bush recently stated that any court in Florida or elsewhere would "immediately" review a prisoner's claim of DNA evidence exonerating him, the St. Petersburg Times called for the passage of legislation to ensure relief for the wrongly convicted by extending the deadline:

If only it were so.

The governor must be unaware of the laws and recent history of his own state. Prisoners convicted before DNA was routinely tested have only until Oct. 1 to submit their claims. Those who pleaded guilty or no contest, as even innocent people sometimes do, are ineligible. There is no money to pay lawyers to file DNA petitions. Nearly 700 applications are backed up and will likely run afoul of the deadline. The governor's office is lobbying the Legislature for a constitutional amendment that, among other things, would prevent the Supreme Court from reopening the window of opportunity.


Texas Senate Refuses to Give Jurors the Sentencing Option of Life Without Parole

Posted: April 6, 2005

Legislation that would allow those convicted of capital murder to be sentenced to life in prison without parole recently failed to win a key procedural vote in the Texas Senate, largely because of opposition from prosecutors and pro-death penalty organizations who said it would result in fewer death sentences.


Amnesty International Releases Annual International Death Penalty Report

Posted: April 5, 2005

According to a new report issued by Amnesty International, the United States is among four countries that carried out the vast majority of the 3,797 executions around the world in 2004. Amnesty's report states that the nations carrying out the most executioners last year were China (3,400), Iran (159), Vietnam (64), United States (59), Saudi Arabia (33), Pakistan (15), Kuwait (9), Bangladesh (7), Egypt (6), Singapore (6), and Yemen (6). The report notes that the increase in executions in China is partly due to a new way of estimating such executions since the government does not publicly release this data.  The use of the death penalty declined in the U.S. in 2004 compared to 2003.


Georgia Death Penalty Conviction Overturned Because of Prosecutorial Misconduct

Posted: April 5, 2005

A Georgia Superior Court overturned the murder conviction of death row inmate Willie Palmer after finding that prosecutors hid a $500 payoff to the state's key trial witness, an act the judge said was "in defiance of (the state's) legal and ethical duties." The judge also threw out Palmer's death sentence on the grounds that his trial lawyer failed to investigate and present evidence of Palmer's mental retardation.

In his opinion, the judge noted that prosecutors "intentionally hid" a deal made with the a state witness, and that prosecutors "aggressively resisted" the deal's disclosure until a hearing that took place 6 years after Palmer's 1997 trial. "It appears logically inescapable that the state knew, only too well, how extremely material this evidence was in this case. It is difficult, if not impossible, to conceive of how this suppression could have been done in good faith.... Without the jury being informed that the state has provided an important witness a pecuniary motivation to testify, the trial transforms into a basically corrupt process in which the jury is deprived of a major key to seeking and deciding the truth - and determining a man's fate," the judge wrote in ordering a new trial for Palmer. The State Attorney General's Office is appealing the ruling.


New York State Legislature Issues Comprehensive Death Penalty Report

Posted: April 4, 2005
In the most comprehensive examination of a statute in the history of the New York State Legislature, state lawmakers released a report highlighting the testimony of 170 witnesses at five statewide hearings on the state's death penalty law. The report, issued by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver along with the Chairs of  the Committees on Codes, the Judiciary and Correction, is a thorough examination of the statute and its troubled history.

"We have spent more than $170 million administering the death penalty since 1995, but not a


RELIGIOUS VIEWS: Pope John Paul II's Statements on the Death Penalty

Posted: April 4, 2005
During his 26 years as leader of the Roman Catholic Church, the late Pope John Paul II frequently called for an end to the death penalty. Among his statements on this issue were the following:

"May the death penalty, an unworthy punishment still used in some countries, be abolished throughout the world." (Prayer at the Papal Mass at Regina Coeli Prison in Rome, July 9, 2000).

Opposition to the Death Penalty Mounts in Puerto Rico

Posted: March 31, 2005

As two men convicted of capital murder under the federal death penalty statute await their sentencing on April 11, Puerto Rican Governor Anibal Acevedo and the Association of American Jurists, a non-governmental organization acting as a consultant at the United Nations, protested the use of the death penalty in Puerto Rico. Though Puerto Rico's Constitution prohibits the death penalty and its residents have consistently voiced strong opposition to it, residents who commit a federal capital crime can be sentenced to die.  Opposition to this practice is pervasive, crossing political and religious lines. 


Virginia Study Says Mistaken Eyewitness Identification Is Major Factor In Wrongful Convictions

Posted: March 30, 2005

A two-year study of 11 wrongful conviction cases in Virginia found that mistaken eyewitness identification is the major reason innocent people have been convicted in the state. The report's recommendations note that Virginia could dramatically reduce the number of wrongful convictions through a series of reforms, such as changing a variety of police procedures, relaxing the state's 21-day rule to allow evidence of innocence to be considered beyond this time restriction, ensuring that prosecutors provide defense attorneys with evidence favorable to defendants, and improving the quality of legal help given to poor people in Virginia. The state currently pays court-appointed lawyers the lowest fees in the nation. Researchers conducting the study closely examined the cases of 11 wrongly convicted persons in Virginia who had spent a total of 118 years in prison for crimes they did not commit. Nine of the 11 cases involved mistaken identity by victims or other eyewitnesses, especially when the eyewitness was of one race and the alleged perpetrator or another. The review was spearheaded by the Innocence Commission for Virginia, a collaborative effort of The Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, the Administration of Justice Program at George Mason University, and The Constitution Project.


NEW VOICES: Victims Testify About the Death Penalty

Posted: March 30, 2005

Recently, various victims and relatives of victims have testified before state legislatures concerning the death penalty.  In Connecticut, a woman who had been attacked by convicted murderer Michael Ross, testified that she nevertheless opposes his execution.  And in North Carolina, the sister of a man who was murdered in 2003 urged state legislators to reconsider the death penalty.


NEW RESOURCE: Book Details Pelke's Journey To Death Penalty Opponent

Posted: March 29, 2005

Bill Pelke tells of the life-altering transformation that occurred after his 78-year-old grandmother was murdered by four teen-aged girls in his book, Journey of Hope...From Violence to Healing. Though at first he supported the death penalty for 15-year-old Paula Cooper, one of the young girls who had murdered his grandmother in her home for $10 and an old car, he later opposed her execution and successfully fought to have Cooper's death sentence overturned.  The book follows his personal journey over many years and features a forward by Sister Helen Prejean.