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RELIGIOUS VIEWS: Pope John Paul II's Statements on the Death Penalty

Posted: April 4, 2005
During his 26 years as leader of the Roman Catholic Church, the late Pope John Paul II frequently called for an end to the death penalty. Among his statements on this issue were the following:

"May the death penalty, an unworthy punishment still used in some countries, be abolished throughout the world." (Prayer at the Papal Mass at Regina Coeli Prison in Rome, July 9, 2000).

Opposition to the Death Penalty Mounts in Puerto Rico

Posted: March 31, 2005

As two men convicted of capital murder under the federal death penalty statute await their sentencing on April 11, Puerto Rican Governor Anibal Acevedo and the Association of American Jurists, a non-governmental organization acting as a consultant at the United Nations, protested the use of the death penalty in Puerto Rico. Though Puerto Rico's Constitution prohibits the death penalty and its residents have consistently voiced strong opposition to it, residents who commit a federal capital crime can be sentenced to die.  Opposition to this practice is pervasive, crossing political and religious lines. 


Virginia Study Says Mistaken Eyewitness Identification Is Major Factor In Wrongful Convictions

Posted: March 30, 2005

A two-year study of 11 wrongful conviction cases in Virginia found that mistaken eyewitness identification is the major reason innocent people have been convicted in the state. The report's recommendations note that Virginia could dramatically reduce the number of wrongful convictions through a series of reforms, such as changing a variety of police procedures, relaxing the state's 21-day rule to allow evidence of innocence to be considered beyond this time restriction, ensuring that prosecutors provide defense attorneys with evidence favorable to defendants, and improving the quality of legal help given to poor people in Virginia. The state currently pays court-appointed lawyers the lowest fees in the nation. Researchers conducting the study closely examined the cases of 11 wrongly convicted persons in Virginia who had spent a total of 118 years in prison for crimes they did not commit. Nine of the 11 cases involved mistaken identity by victims or other eyewitnesses, especially when the eyewitness was of one race and the alleged perpetrator or another. The review was spearheaded by the Innocence Commission for Virginia, a collaborative effort of The Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, the Administration of Justice Program at George Mason University, and The Constitution Project.


NEW VOICES: Victims Testify About the Death Penalty

Posted: March 30, 2005

Recently, various victims and relatives of victims have testified before state legislatures concerning the death penalty.  In Connecticut, a woman who had been attacked by convicted murderer Michael Ross, testified that she nevertheless opposes his execution.  And in North Carolina, the sister of a man who was murdered in 2003 urged state legislators to reconsider the death penalty.


NEW RESOURCE: Book Details Pelke's Journey To Death Penalty Opponent

Posted: March 29, 2005

Bill Pelke tells of the life-altering transformation that occurred after his 78-year-old grandmother was murdered by four teen-aged girls in his book, Journey of Hope...From Violence to Healing. Though at first he supported the death penalty for 15-year-old Paula Cooper, one of the young girls who had murdered his grandmother in her home for $10 and an old car, he later opposed her execution and successfully fought to have Cooper's death sentence overturned.  The book follows his personal journey over many years and features a forward by Sister Helen Prejean.


POSSIBLE INNOCENCE: Florida Supreme Court Vacates 1985 Capital Conviction

Posted: March 28, 2005

The Florida Supreme Court has vacated James Floyd's 1985 conviction and death sentence, ruling that critical evidence was withheld by the prosecution and that the evidence might have been enough to change the verdict at trial. In its 4-2 decision, the Court ruled that the prosecutor's failure to inform Floyd's defense counsel that an eyewitness had seen two white men entering the victim's home on the day of the murder and saw them leave in a suspicious manner approximately one hour later "severely compromised Floyds' constitutional right to a fair trial." The ruling noted that the state's case against Floyd, who is black, was based mainly on circumstantial evidence, and included no eyewitness, fingerprint or DNA evidence linking him to the murder. "We conclude that our confidence in the defendant's murder conviction has clearly been shaken by the evidence that the State suppressed in this case. While there is not a 'smoking gun' in the suppressed evidence that would completely exonerate the defendant, there was also not a 'smoking gun' in the State's case against him," the court wrote. Bernie McCabe, the state attorney in Pinellas County, said he didn't know if the state would attempt to bring Floyd to trial again.


Upcoming Supreme Court Arguments and Recent Decisions in Capital Cases

Posted: March 24, 2005

The Death Penalty Information Center Web site contains summaries of the issues in upcoming Supreme Court arguments related to the death penalty, as well as summaries of recent Supreme Court decisions.

Upcoming Arguments


NEW RESOURCE: The Lack of Constitutional Protections in Capital Sentencing Proceedings

Posted: March 24, 2005
A recent article in the Western New England Law Review examines ways in which the rules of evidence and procedures at capital sentencing trials are less rigorous than those applied at the guilt-phase of the trial. In capital sentencing hearings, evidence is permitted that would not be admissible to prove guilt. The defendant does not receive traditional trial protections at the sentencing trial. For example, hearsay may be received by the jury during sentencing, but is generally inadmissible at the guilt phase of the trial because it is considered unreliable.

Oklahoma Judge Finds Foreign National Was Denied Right to Contact Consulate

Posted: March 23, 2005

An Oklahoma County District Judge has determined that Osbaldo Torres, a Mexican foreign national who was once on Oklahoma's death row, should have been told before his trial that he had a right to contact his home country's consulate. Judge Twyla Mason Gray also found that Torres had ineffective counsel at his trial. Her findings stem from a December hearing held at the request of the State Court of Criminal Appeals. The appeals court wanted Judge Gray to hear evidence about Torres' representation and to determine if American officials had violated protections guaranteed by the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. The findings have been sent to a higher appeals court for review. Though it is uncertain when they will rule in the case, those judges could decide to order a new trial for Torres or affirm his conviction. After Torres had spent more than a decade on death row, Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry commuted Torres' death sentence to life in prison without parole in May 2004.


NEW VOICES: U.S. Senator Santorum Rethinking Death Penalty Views

Posted: March 22, 2005

U.S. Senator Rick Santorum, an outspoken conservative Catholic from Pennsylvania, is re-examining his views on capital punishment.  In response to the announcement by the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops concerning their new Campaign to End the Use of the Death Penalty, Santorum said, "I felt very troubled about cases where someone may have been convicted wrongly. DNA evidence definitely should be used when possible. I agree with the pope that in the civilized world ... the application of the death penalty should be limited. I would definitely agree with that. I would certainly suggest there probably should be some further limits on what we use it for." This is a significant shift in opinion on the death penalty for Santorum, who voted against replacing capital punishment with life without parole in 1994 and helped to block a 1996 effort to make it easier for those on death row to appeal their convictions. He said, "I never thought about it that much when I was really a supporter of the death penalty. I still see it as potentially valuable, but I would be one to urge more caution than I would have in the past." Santorum's remarks came as the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops released a Zogby International poll showing a dramatic decline in Catholic support for capital punishment.