What's New

Connecticut Legislative Hearings Exhibit Strong Opposition to the Death Penalty

Posted: February 2, 2005

A retired prison warden, victims' family members, and a former death row inmate were among the nearly 75 speakers at a state Judiciary Committee hearing in Hartford, almost all of whom proposed ending Connecticut's death penalty. Many of the witnesses noted that the death penalty brings no relief to victims' family members, fails to deter murder, risks innocent lives, and is applied in an arbitrary way.

"I'm here to tell you that I never met an inmate for whom I had no hope," said Mary Morgan Wolff, a former state deputy warden who worked 37 years for the state Department of Corrections.

Laurence Adams, a former death row inmate from Massachusetts, told the committee that he was freed in 2004 by long-forgotten evidence proving his innocence. "I'm here today because Massachusetts abolished the death penalty," he noted as he described his 30 years in prison for a crime he did not commit and the likelihood that he would have been executed long before his recent exoneration if the state had not ended capital punishment.


NEW RESOURCES: State Information Now More Readily Available

Posted: January 28, 2005

DPIC has added a new easy-to-use state database of death penalty information to its Web site. In addition, Richard Dieter's (DPIC's Executive Director) testimony before the New York State Assembly Standing Committees on Codes, Judiciary, and Correction regarding the costs of the death penalty is also available. The Committees are holding hearings on whether New York should re-instate the death penalty.

To access information on any state's death row population, the number of exonerations, executions, or clemencies, and to learn facts about the state's history of the death penalty, and more: Click Here. For the testimony on costs: Read the PDF File of Mr. Dieter's testimony


NEW VOICES: Federal Judge Calls for More Resources for Texas Death Penalty Trials

Posted: January 28, 2005

Judge Patrick Higginbotham of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit called on Texas to pay more than 'lip service' to providing individuals facing the death penalty with a truly fair and constitutional trial. He stated that more resources must be placed on training attorneys and judges at the trial level in order to protect against executing the innocent. Higginbotham, writing along with attorney Mark Curriden of Vinson & Elkins, noted that during the past three years, the U.S. Supreme Court has reviewed seven capital cases from Texas and reversed all seven. Moreover, "the Supreme Court and lower courts have overturned 165 Texas death penalty convictions or sentences since capital punishment was reinstated three decades ago."

"The cases include instances in which defense attorneys slept through trial, came to court intoxicated, or did very little work on their clients' behalf. There are cases in which prosecutors withheld evidence or allowed witnesses to fabricate testimony. And there are cases in which judges misinterpreted the law, mishandled jury selection, or issued flawed jury instructions."

They highlighted the training programs of the Center for American and International Law, a nonprofit corporation that promotes continuing legal education. The Center will conduct programs for defense attorneys, judges and prosecutors in 2005.


POSSIBLE INNOCENCE: Federal Appeals Court Reverses Capital Conviction of British Foreign National

Posted: January 28, 2005

A federal appeals court has ruled that Ohio must either retry British foreign national Kenny Richey within 90 days or free him from death row. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit threw out Richey's 1987 conviction and death sentence in the arson death of 2-year-old Cynthia Collins, ruling that prosecutors failed to offer sufficient evidence of Richey's guilt. The court also found that his court-appointed attorney was "outside the wide range of professionally competent assistance" because he failed to challenge the state's evidence. The opinion stated: "The record indicates that a competent arson expert - fully informed and supervised, and using the methods available to him at the time of the trial - would have all but demolished the state's scientific evidence, and with it a large part of the case against Richey.... Based on the state of the law at the time of his actions, the only way that Richey could have been constitutionally convicted of aggravated felony murder would have been upon a showing that Richey intended to kill the person that actually died. Because it is undisputed that there was no evidence to that effect, Richey's conviction necessarily lacked the support of sufficient evidence." (Emphasis added).


Former Death Row Inmate Wins $6.6 Million Lawsuit Against FBI Agents

Posted: January 28, 2005

Former Illinois death row inmate Steven Manning (pictured) has been awarded $6.6 million in a civil lawsuit against two FBI agents. A jury found that the agents had framed Manning twice, including once for murder. The jury found FBI agents Robert Buchan and Gary Miller liable of concocting evidence to frame Manning, their one-time informant and a former Chicago police officer, in the murder of a trucking firm executive and in the kidnapping of two Missouri drug dealers.


New Voices: Key New York Legislator Doubts Need For Death Penalty

Posted: January 27, 2005

New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver voiced serious doubts about the necessity for capital punishment in light of its high cost and the alternative sentencing option of life without parole. Silver, who supported the death penalty in the past, said: "I have some doubt whether we need a death penalty.... We are spending tens of millions of dollars [that] may be better spent on educating children." He also remarked that the life-without-parole statute the state now has in place ensures that those convicted of murder can't go free.


"The Exonerated" Premieres on Court TV

Posted: January 27, 2005

On Thursday, January 27, a movie based on the acclaimed play "The Exonerated" will air on Court TV at 9 p.m. EST. The movie features award-winning actors Susan Sarandon, Danny Glover, Aidan Quinn, Brian Dennehy, Delroy Lindo, and David Brown, Jr. giving voice to the troubling stories of six persons originally condemned to death but who have since been freed from death row. It follows the original theater script by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen.


Cleveland Plain Dealer Series Examines Possible Innocence in Spirko Case

Posted: January 25, 2005

A three-part series appearing in the Cleveland Plain Dealer examines the capital conviction of John Spirko, who remains on Ohio's death row for the 1982 murder of Elgin, Ohio postmaster Betty Jane Mottinger. The paper's investigation found that Spirko's imagination and "not much else" had brought him to the brink of execution despite concerns of his innocence. Shortly after Mottinger's body was found, Spirko voluntarily contacted police to provide information about the murder. According to the paper's investigation, Spirko's ill-conceived plan was to use false information about the crime as leverage to secure a sentencing deal for two unrelated felonies and an agreement that his girlfriend would be given probation for assisting him in a prison escape attempt. Federal authorities initially agreed to his terms and conducted a series of 15 interviews with Spirko, most featuring a shifting and contradictory series of accounts that Spirko said he learned about at several Toledo-area parties.

Six weeks after the interviews began, Spirko, a known liar within the law enforcement community, "had talked himself right onto Ohio's death row." More than two decades later, the Plain Dealer's news investigation of Spirko's case details the role that over-zealous investigators, prosecutorial misconduct, and conflicting eye-witness testimony have played in Spirko's case. Judge Ronald Lee Gilman of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit stated in a dissenting opinion that the state's case against Spirko was built "on a foundation of sand" and that the "complete absence" of physical evidence against him raised considerable doubt about his guilt.


Wrongful Convictions Raise Concerns About New York's Death Penalty

Posted: January 24, 2005

In a recent op-ed in the Albany Times Union, criminal justice expert Scott Christianson asked that state leaders consider New York's well-documented problems with wrongful convictions before trying to fix the state's unconstitutional death penalty statute. Christianson, a former state criminal justice official, documented more than 130 cases (most of them involving convictions since 1980), in which innocent persons were convicted (mostly of murder) and sentenced to long prison terms in New York. Experts have found that from 1 to 10 percent of those convicted of a felony in New York are actually innocent, and these proven cases are "simply the tip of the iceberg," according to Christianson. He wrote further: "In the past, prosecutors didn't have to worry as much that their mistakes would ever come to light. Today, however, with the advent of DNA and possibly other definitive technologies, actual innocence in some cases threatens to become positively established even after an offender has been convicted or even legally executed. ... Any proven wrongful conviction can expose serious injustices and undermine respect for law enforcement."

Among Christianson's recommendations for addressing these concerns are reforms such as requiring a specific state agency to maintain a database of defendants who have been found wrongfully convicted and convening a blue-ribbon panel to hold public hearings and report its findings. Christianson also believes that New York should require the videotaping of police interrogations, overhaul its public defense system, and hold those involved in improperly prosecuting cases accountable for their actions. Based on the studies and data Christianson concluded, "The inevitability of error is just one reason why the death penalty is a bad idea. But it's one that fair-minded citizens . . . can understand."


Kentucky to Conduct Hearing on Whether Lethal Injection Is Humane

Posted: January 21, 2005

In Kentucky, a Franklin Circuit Court judge will hear evidence for possibly five days in April on whether the state's method of executing prisoners is humane. Medical experts will testify about the drugs, dosage and training of the people who administer the 3-drug lethal-injection cocktail. Lawyers for condemned inmates Thomas Clyde Bowling Jr. and Ralph Baze sued the state in August, saying Kentucky's method of execution violates a prisoner's Eighth Amendment right not to be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment.

Among the issues to be reviewed are the type of chemicals used in lethal injection, the dosage, and how much of the drugs make it into the body of the condemned. Kentucky has executed only one person, Eddie Lee Harper, by lethal injection, in 1999. In court papers, Baze and Bowling's lawyers have argued that there is more than a 50 percent chance that Harper was awake when the third drug was administered, meaning he could have felt pain. But because the state uses a drug called Pavulon, which paralyzes the muscles, Harper could not have communicated that he was in pain.