What's New

Governor's Death Penalty Proposal Meets Opposition

Posted: January 30, 2004
Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty has proposed a constitutional amendment to reinstate the death penalty after nearly a century without it. The idea has been met with some firm resistance from state lawmakers, including criticism from Representative Keith Ellison, who noted, "The death penalty serves no legitimate purpose. It's applied unfairly, falling disproportionately on the poor, people of color and, in too many cases, on the innocent. It's also a budget buster, sapping resources from education, health care, and public safety." (Star Tribune,

California Death Sentences Decline Sharply

Posted: January 30, 2004
In 2003, California juries sent 16 individuals to death row, the lowest number since 1985 and a dramatic decline from 1999's total of 42 new death sentences. Some believe the decline is evidence of prosecutors being more selective in seeking death convictions, as well as the public's skepticism about the capital punishment system. Robert Pugsley, a professor at Southwestern University School of Law in Los Angeles, noted, "I think that (incidences of wrongfully convicted death row inmates) has given increased vigor to the argument

New Resource: Illinois Coalition Report Examines State of Death Penalty in 2003

Posted: January 29, 2004
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

Court Finds Racial Bias in Pennsylvania Jury Selection

Posted: January 28, 2004
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'

Georgia Parole Board Grants 2004's First Clemency

Posted: January 27, 2004
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

U.S. Supreme Court to Review Constitutionality of Juvenile Death Penalty

Posted: January 27, 2004
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

Texas to Execute Mentally-Ill Man Who Represented Himself at Trial

Posted: January 23, 2004
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

NEW VOICES: Former Kansas State Senator Urges Legislators to Enact Moratorium

Posted: January 23, 2004
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

NEW RESOURCE: Amnesty International Launches Campaign to End Execution of Juvenile Offenders

Posted: January 22, 2004
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 to Establish State Capital Defender Office

Posted: January 20, 2004
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."