Attorneys in Missouri and Pennsylvania will reveal two separate exonerations from their death rows. In Pennsylvania, attorneys for Nicholas James Yarris will announce in a press conference today (July 28, 2003) that three separate DNA tests exclude Yarris from the rape and murder for which he was convicted. Yarris, 41, has spent 21 years on Pennsylvania's death row, and has always maintained his innocence.
Joseph Amrine, who has spent the past 17 years on Missouri's death row, had all charges dropped and will walk away a free man today. Witness testimony against Amrine was particulalry suspect, coming from jailhouse informants and prison guards not directly involved in the incident for which Amrine was tried. While Joseph Amrine is now free, Yarris will have to wait for the prosecutor's office to officially drop charges. The state does not dispute the DNA results.
The Georgia General Assembly has passed legislation (HB 777) to create a state-wide public defender system, including an Office of the Georgia Capital Defender to focus solely on death penalty cases. The new office will assume responsibility for the defense of all death penalty trial and direct appeal cases in Georgia. Additional attorneys and investigators will be added to the public defender system to assume responsibility for the additional cases.
Doubts about the appropriateness of a death sentence have prompted former prosecutor Thomas Vanes to call for new DNA testing in the case of Darnell Williams, a man he sent to death row as a Lake County, Indiana state's attorney. Williams is scheduled to be executed on Friday, August 1. Vanes and John Gnajek, a member of the jury that sent Williams to death row, have filed a suit in federal court asking for a stay of Williams' execution until new DNA testing is completed on blood evidence that played a crucial role in the case.
Pentagon general counsel William J. Haynes II has assured British Prime Minister Tony Blair that the U.S. will not seek the death penalty against two British citizens facing trial on terrorism charges before military tribunals. The two men, Feroz Abbasi and Moazzam Begg, are among the 680 prisoners from 42 countries being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in connection with the campaign against terrorism. Prior to Blair's recent visit to Washington, during which he raised the issue with President Bush, the Prime Minister had pushed for the U.S. to extradite the two men to Britain. If that option were not available, he requested assurance of fair trials free of the prospect of a death sentence, which Britain bans. The agreement has raised questions of fairness among those international leaders representing other citizens who are expected to face military tribunals in the future. "We believe that whatever is being done has to be done on a non-discriminatory basis. That's the rule of law. There should be a uniform set of procedures followed," said Asad Hayauddin, a press attache at the Pakistani Embassy in Washington.
Stating that "this Court is unwilling to contort the law of federal kidnapping," and that federal prosecutors failed to present sufficient evidence to support that charge during the recent capital murder trial of Jay Lentz, a federal judge in Virginia has overturned the jury's guilty verdict in the case. In the ruling, U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee criticized the government for trying what he deemed a local homicide case in federal court. Earlier, the jury had rejected the government's request for a death sentence.
After years of supporting capital punishment, former San Francisco prosecutor Bill Fazio recently changed his position on the death penalty. Fazio, who now serves as a defense attorney, stated, "Life without parole is a viable alternative." He noted that he began to reconsider his stance on capital punishment after the U.S. Court of Appeals reversed his sole death penalty conviction. Fazio noted, "It was an error by the trial judge, and it made me realize that after 21 years there was still no closure in the case.
Governor Rod Blagojevich has signed a measure requiring police to record their interrogations of homicide suspects. The governor's signature makes Illinois the first state to officially implement such a policy. Blagojevich, a former prosecutor, noted that his previously-voiced concerns that video taped interrogations would impede police from doing their job had been overridden by the knowledge that the tapes will yield "clearer, more reliable" evidence for the state's justice system.
After spending a quarter century in prison, including time on Ohio's death row, Timothy Howard and Gary Lemar James have been freed from prison and all charges against the men will be dropped. The men, who have maintained their innocence since their arrest in 1976, were freed, according to Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien, "in the interest of justice." O'Brien stated, "The lesson to be learned is what I said in the letter I sent a year and a half ago.
In a recent Letter to the Editor that appeared in The New York Times, former Governor Mario Cuomo urged New Yorkers to rethink the death penalty in light of recent innocence cases in the state:
In a ruling that could affect nearly every death row inmate in the state, the North Carolina Supreme Court has upheld the practice of using indictments without aggravating factors in murder cases. The ruling came in the case of death row inmate Henry Lee Hunt. Hunt's attorneys had argued that, in light of the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Ring v. Arizona, failure to include aggravating factors in first-degree murder indictments is a violation of the due process clause of the 14th Amendment.