What's New

Supreme Court to Consider "Lingering Doubt" Evidence in Capital Cases

Posted: April 26, 2005

Oregon v. Guzek - The U.S. Supreme Court has announced that it will consider whether capital defendants have a constitutional right to present evidence that would cast doubt on their conviction during the penalty phase of their death penalty trials, a question that has divided state and lower federal courts for many years. The defendant, Randy Lee Guzek, sought to introduce alibi evidence after he was convicted during the sentencing phase of his trial. This evidence tended to show that he had not been present at the victims' home at the time of the murders.


Los Angeles Times Calls for Moratorium on California Death Penalty

Posted: April 22, 2005
A recent Los Angeles Times editorial called on California lawmakers to impose a moratorium on executions until a state commission charged with examining the fairness and accuracy of California's death penalty laws can finish its work. The paper noted that a similar review led by New York state lawmakers resulted in findings that effectively ended capital punishment in that state for this year. The editorial stated:

Many Californians, lawmakers as well as voters, share those concerns (as expressed in New York) about fairness and fallibility. They worry as well about the

NEW RESOURCE: "A Life and Death Decision" Examines Jury Deliberations

Posted: April 20, 2005

"Scott Sundby's new book, "A Life and Death Decision: A Jury Weighs the Death Penalty" is an impartial look at capital jury deliberations through the examination of data collected by the Capital Jury Project and other studies of group decision-making.  Drawing on the Capital Jury Project's interviews with more than 1,000 jurors from across the country who had taken part in death penalty cases, the book addresses crucial issues such as jury instructions, jury room setup, and voir dire procedures. While focusing on a single case,


NEW RESOURCE: "Executed on a Technicality"

Posted: April 20, 2005

Executed on a Technicality: Lethal Injustice on America's Death Row, by Professor David Dow, is a behind-the-scenes look at the death penalty through the lens of an attorney who formerly supported capital punishment. Dow, who teaches at the University of Houston Law Center and founded the Texas Innocence Network, provides case histories illustrating serious flaws in the death penalty system. He uses these cases to guide readers through a web of coerced confessions, incompetent representation, racist juries, and unfair judges,


Death Penalty Prosecutions May be Halted if Funding is Inadequate

Posted: April 20, 2005

The Louisiana Supreme Court recently ruled that trial judges can halt prosecutions of poor defendants until the state comes up with the money to pay for an adequate defense.   Louisiana has in the past failed to adequately fund indigent defense programs. "I think it's a warning," said Phyllis Mann, appointed counsel for Benjamin Tonguis and Adrian Citizen, two death penalty defendants whose cases were reviewed by the state supreme court.  "The court is saying as plainly as they possibly can not to let people languish."  Tonguis and Citizen have been awaiting trial with limited or no funds to prepare a defense since their arrests in April and October 2002. When funding for these two cases ran out, the trial judge tried to tap into a parish-imposed tax. He ordered the Calcasieu Parish Police Jury to provide $200,000 for appointed counsel and $75,000 to be placed in escrow for other case-related expenses, but the Louisiana Supreme Court forbid such a tax because it is the state legislature's responsibility to fund indigent defense expenses. 


POSSIBLE INNOCENCE: DNA Evidence Could Free Man From Arizona's Death Row

Posted: April 20, 2005

An Arizona court has overturned the conviction of death row inmate Clarence Hill because of new DNA evidence.  The court noted that, "It is more likely than not that no reasonable juror would have convicted Mr. Hill in light of the present DNA evidence." Hill has spent 15 years on death row for the murder of his landlord, but new DNA tests have revealed that the victim was not the source of the blood found on Hill's clothing and bedsheets during the investigation. The blood was used as evidence in the state's case against Hill.  Defense attorneys are now seeking his release. The state's Attorney General must decide within weeks whether to appeal the court's ruling or have the case sent back to Mohave County, where prosecutors can decide if Hill will face a new trial.  (The Arizona Republic, April 20, 2005).

Since 1973, 119 persons have been exonerated and freed from death row, including 13 who have been found innocent through DNA testing. Seven people have been exonerated from Arizona's death row, including Ray Krone who was freed based on DNA evidence. 


Nebraska Supreme Court to Hear Electric Chair Challenge

Posted: April 20, 2005

The Nebraska Supreme Court has agreed to consider whether the state's use of the electric chair is cruel and unusual punishment. The case, brought by death row inmate Carey Dean Moore, will be heard on May 5. Every other death penalty state has adopted lethal injection as an alternative method of execution. A bill to offer lethal injection in Nebraska remains stalled in the state's Senate Judiciary Committee.

Three people have been put to death in Nebraska since executions resumed in 1994. Coroner reports document that one of the men, John Joubert, suffered a 4-inch brain blister on the top of his head and blistering on both sides of his head above his ears. The reports note that another man, Robert Williams, had a "bubble blister" the size of a baseball on his left calf and had pronounced "charring" on both sides of a knee and the top of his head. A witness to Williams' execution reported seeing smoke coming from his head.

Moore's attorney, Alan Peterson, notes, "Now, no other state mandates that humans face the horror of death by internal burning and shock, with the well-known history of bungled, smoking failures of the century-old technique. [Electrocution] involves more than mere extinguishment of life and will subject defendant to needless agony, physical suffering, torture, mutilation, disfigurement, and degradation.... No longer can this state tolerate the form of punishment now almost universally recognized to be beyond the bounds of minimum human dignity, civility, and decency."  (Associated Press, April 19, 2005).


Attorneys Seek DNA Testing In Case of Executed Texas Man

Posted: April 19, 2005

Attorney Barry Scheck plans to ask Texas Governor Rick Perry to order DNA testing in the case of Claude Jones, who maintained his innocence until his execution in December 2000. Scheck, co-founder of the Innocence Project, says Jones' conviction was largely based on dubious evidence. The state's case against him included testimony from an accomplice linking Jones to the crime and the report of a state forensic scientist who examined a one-inch length of hair found at the crime scene.  The scientist said that it was similar to Jones' hair using microscopic hair comparison, a faulty test that has been replaced by the more precise science of DNA testing.  Accomplice testimony has been proven to be often unreliable.

Scheck said that he may not necessarily be able to prove Jones' innocence, but this case raises the question of whether then-Governor George W. Bush knew of Jones' request for DNA testing when he refused to grant a  stay of execution. Files uncovered by the Chicago Tribune note that Bush's staff inquired about the hair comparison as they prepared to present their recommendation to the Governor, but the final summary of the case that was sent to Bush did not mention Jones' request for DNA testing of the hair. DNA testing after an execution is rare.


Lethal Injection To Be Examined In Kentucky

Posted: April 15, 2005

A Franklin County, Kentucky, court will hear arguments beginning April 18 to determine whether the state's lethal injection procedures rise to the level of cruelty that is forbidden by the U.S. and state constitutions. In November 2004, the same court cited questions about the lethal injection process when it issued a stay of execution for Thomas Clyde Bowling, Jr. just days before his scheduled execution. Attorneys for Bowling and death row inmate Ralph Baze, who is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit, now plan to present an anesthesiologist, a pharmacologist, and 18 other witnesses whose testimony will challenge the state's lethal injection procedures, the drugs used in these executions, and the training of the personnel who carry them out. Currently, Kentucky uses a series of three drugs during lethal injections that are designed to relax and put inmates to sleep before killing them. Bowling's attorney plans to present evidence that the first drugs do not get into the blood stream before the killing drugs are administered, leading to a "death that is pure torture." Among the evidence presented will be an autopsy report for Eddie Lee Harper, the state's first and only inmate to be executed by lethal injection.


Eric Rudolph Pleads Guilty to Terrorist Bombings in Exchange for Life Without Parole Sentences

Posted: April 15, 2005

In separate plea agreements with the federal government and Georgia prosecutors, Eric Rudolph admitted killing two people and injuring 150 others by carrying out a series bombings at a gay nightclub, abortion clinics, and the 1996 Olympics, and will serve four consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole. Prosecutors spared Rudolph from execution in exchange for his guilty pleas and his revealing the location of about 250 pounds of dynamite he had hidden in the North Carolina mountains.