The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles has announced that it will issue a formal pardon this month for Lena Baker (pictured), the only woman executed in the state during the 20th century. The document, signed by all five of the current board members, will note that the parole board's 1945 decision to deny Baker clemency and allow her execution was "a grievous error, as this case called out for mercy." Baker, an African American, was executed for the murder of Ernest Knight, a white man who hired her . Baker was tried, convicted, and sentenced to die in one day by an all-white, all-male jury. Baker claimed she shot Knight in self-defense after he locked her in his gristmill and threatened her with a metal pipe. The pardon notes that Baker "could have been charged with voluntary manslaughter, rather than murder, for the death of E.B. Knight." The average sentence for voluntary manslaughter is 15 years in prison. Baker's picture and her last words are currently displayed near the retired electric chair at a museum at Georgia State Prison in Reidsville.
An article published in the September 2004 issue of Justice Quarterly revealed that 64% of Texans support a h
A new law review article by international death penalty expert Mark Warren concludes that the retention of capital punishment in the United States distances the nation from its closest allies "in ways both symbolic and tangible, and the costs of that isolation are rising steadily." Warren's article, Death, Dissent, and Diplomacy: The U.S. Death Penalty as an Obstacle to Foreign Relations, examines a broad range of concerns, including treaty compliance and global security. Warren notes that in recent years, world leaders have become increasingly vocal about their opposition to the death penalty, and that the U.S. now finds itself on the wrong side of a fundamental human rights issue. Warren notes that some recent Supreme Court decisions narrowing the scope of the death penalty, as well as state efforts to identify flaws in the system, are steps in the right direction.
According to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund's quarterly report, Death Row U.S.A., the number of people on death rows around the country declined again as of July 1, 2005. The latest count of inmates is 3,415, down from 3,452 as of April 1 and down considerably from the 3,692 inmates recorded on October 1, 2002. About 54.5% of those on death row are members of racial minorities. Pennsylvania (70%) and Texas (69%) had the largest percentage of minority defendants on death row.
Among the states with largest declines were Texas (-27), North Carolina (-5) and Alabama (-4). Some of the declines are due to juvenile offenders being removed from death row in accordance with the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roper v. Simmons (2005). Not all such juveniles have been taken off death row.
Newly published research examining 340 exonerations in the United States between 1989 and 2003 found that a significant number of those who were wrongly convicted had been sentenced to death. Researchers note that this finding appears to reflect two patterns: capital defendants are more likely to be convicted in error, and false convictions are more likely to be detected when defendants are on death row.
The paper, authored by Professor Samuel Gross of the University of Michigan Law School along with other assistants, reveals clear patterns associated with false convictions. The leading cause of wrongful convictions is perjury, including perjury by police officers, by jailhouse snitches, by the real killers, and by supposed participants and eyewitnesses to the crime who knew the innocent defedants in advance. The research revealed that false confessions, especially among vulnerable defendants such as juvenile offenders and those with mental retardation, also played a large role in murder convictions that led to exoneration. Almost all of the juvenile exonerees who falsely confessed were African American, and 90% of all exonerated juvenile defendants were African American or Hispanic.
Based on their review of these exonerations, the paper notes that "any plausible guess at the total number of miscarraiges of justice in American in the last fifteen years must run to the thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, in felony cases alone."
Homicide figures for New York City show that the number of murders in 2005 may fall below 500, a figure that would be the fewest since 1961 and would bring the city's murder rate below the rate for the nation as a whole. So far this year, random murders and murders committed during robberies and burglaries have also declined. Experts note that both declines appear to be largely attributable to a greater police presence, fewer guns, and the decrease in random violence in the city that came with the waning of the crack epidemic.
Speaking at the American Bar Association's Thurgood Marshall Awards Dinner in Illinois, Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens said that the death penalty has "serious flaws." He recalled the late Justice Marshall in remarking how much the country has learned about the risks in death cases: "Since his retirement, with the benefit of DNA evidence, we have learned that a substantial number of death sentences have been imposed erroneously," Stevens said during the ceremony. He added that Supreme Court cases have revealed that "a significant number of defen