As the October 1st deadline for Florida inmates to request DNA testing of evidence that could prove their innocence looms, Broward County prosecutors have announced that they will allow inmates access to the crucial testing after the deadline passes. Two of Florida's highest-profile DNA exonerations, Frank Lee Smith, who died of cancer on death row 11 months before he was exonerated by DNA evidence, and Jerry Frank Townsend were both Broward County cases.
"The Wrong Men: America's Epidemic of Wrongful Death Row Convictions" by Stanley Cohen is slated for release in October 2003. This book tells the story of how more than 100 innocent people found themselves on death row in the United States. Through an examination of eyewitness error, jailhouse snitches, racism, junk science, prosecutorial misconduct, and incompetent counsel, Cohen provides a behind-the-scenes look at the problems leading to wrongful convictions. He also captures the stories of those individuals whose dogged determination helped exonerate the innocent.
The most recent comprehensive report summarizing legislative, judicial, public policy, and other developments that have occurred since the American Bar Association's adoption of its death penalty moratorium resolution in February 1997 is now available. "Building Momentum: The American Bar Association Call for a Moratorium on Executions Takes Hold" covers activity from August 2001 to June 2003. It is the fourth edition of the ABA's moratorium activity update series.
Excerpts from the Recent 9th Circuit's opinion in Summerlin v. Stewart regarding the role of juries in death penalty casesPosted: September 9, 2003
The following are excerpts from Summerlin v. Stewart, No. 98-99002 (9th Cir. Sept. 2, 2003):
(page numbers refer to the on-line version; subheads are not part of the decision)
A four-month series of "Funky Winkerbean," a comic strip syndicated by King Features, will focus on capital punishment. The storyline, titled "The Danny Madison Casebook," examines the problems and emotions of the death penalty as seen through the eyes of a public defender. The comic strip is by cartoonist Tom Batiuk, and it will appear in 400 newspapers nationally. It may also be viewed at http://www.kingfeatures.com/features/comics/fwinker/about.htm.
According to a report in the Houston Chronicle, none of the analysts who worked in the Houston Police Department's discredited DNA lab (which presented evidence in death penalty cases) were qualified by education and training to do their jobs. The Chronicle's examination of personnel records found that not one of the lab's employees met national standards and only one of the employees had completed all required college courses mandated by the DNA Advisory Board Quality Assurance Standards. Texas law requires all crime labs to meet these standards by 2004.
"Purposeful Discrimination in Capital Sentencing" by David V. Baker examines the issue of race and capital sentencing in the context of three U.S. Supreme Court death penalty decisions - Furman v. Georgia, Gregg v. Georgia, and McCleskey v. Kemp. After his review of practical strategies to improve the fairness of the death penalty process, Baker concludes that court efforts have failed to eliminate race as a strong predictor in death sentencing.
Nearly 20 years after the murder of 9-year-old Dawn Hamilton, Maryland prosecutors have charged the man they believe is responsible for the crime by using the same DNA evidence used to exonerate Kirk Bloodsworth (pictured right), who spent nine years in prison - including time on Maryland's death row - for the crime. Bloodsworth was freed in 1993 after DNA tests conclusively determined he was not the source of physical evidence found at the scene of the crime.
Law firms not normally associated with death penalty cases have provided crucial assistance to a handful of Texas death row inmates whose cases involved issues such as inadequate representation at trial, mental retardation, and innocence. While the firms do not specialize in criminal law, they do have what many feel is lacking for most capital defendants - highly educated and highly motivated attorneys who have the financial resources to fully investigate cases. For example:
"Lethal Elections: Gubernatorial Politics and the Timing of Executions," a study by researchers Jeffrey Kubik and John Moran of Syracuse University, reveals that election-year political considerations may play a role in determining the timing of executions. Their research showed that states are approximately 25% more likely to conduct executions in gubernatorial election years than in other years.