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USA Today: Death Penalty Distorts the Judicial System

Posted: November 25, 2003
In an editorial published after a Virginia jury recommended a death sentence for John Muhammad, USA Today noted that the case of Muhammad and his juvenile co-defendant "undermines public confidence that the law is applied objectively." The editorial

SCIENCE: Psychologist Cautions that Adolescent Brains Are Still Developing

Posted: November 25, 2003
In an interview in the Science section of the New York Times, Dr. Laurence Steinberg, a psychologist at Temple University and the director of the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Adolescent Development and Juvenile Justice, states that juvenile offenders should be viewed under the law as less culpable than adults because their brains are still developing. In a forthcoming paper, Steinberg argues for a legal approach "under which most youths are dealt with in a separate justice system and none are eligible for capital punishment" (emphasis added). In the interview, which addresses

Court Voids Death Penalty for Mexican Foreign National, Issues Life Sentence

Posted: November 24, 2003
Two years after Mexican foreign national Gerardo Valdez came within days of his scheduled execution in Oklahoma, a jury has resentenced him to life without parole. In 2001, after reviewing evidence that Valdez was denied his right to seek assistance from the Mexican consulate as required by the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board voted to recommend Valdez's clemency request, and Mexican President Vicente Fox made a personal plea to Governor Frank Keating on Valdez's behalf. Although Keating denied clemency, he stayed

North Carolina Poll Reveals Support for Moratorium on Executions

Posted: November 24, 2003
An Elon University Institute for Politics and Public Affairs poll of North Carolinians found that 41% support a proposed 2-year moratorium on executions to allow time to examine problems that could result in the execution of an innocent person. Although  62% of those surveyed said they support the death penalty, only 38% opposed a moratorium and the remaining 21% of respondents were undecided. The North Carolina Senate passed a moratorium measure in 2003, and the House is expected to take up the same legislation

Report Reveals F.B.I. Allowed Death Sentences for Innocent Men

Posted: November 21, 2003
According to a report by the U.S. House Committee on Government Reform, an F.B.I. policy to protect Boston informants who were known murderers resulted in the Bureau allowing at least two innocent men to be sent to death row. Investigators noted that the policy "must be considered one of the greatest failures in the history of federal law enforcement" and had "disastrous consequences." According to the report, the F.B.I. was so intent on protecting guilty informants that it passed up opportunities to try them for murder. On at least one occasion, this policy resulted

Death Penalty Reforms Become Law in Illinois

Posted: November 20, 2003
By a vote of 115-0, members of the Illinois House approved a series of reforms to the state's death penalty system. The legislative package gives the Illinois Supreme Court greater power to throw out unjust verdicts, gives defendants more access to evidence, and bars the death penalty in cases based on a single witness. The reforms are among the 80 recommendations made by the Illinois Commission on Capital Punishment, formed in 2000 by former Governor George Ryan to address wrongful convictions and the state's broken death penalty system. The unanimous vote, an override of Democratic

NEW RESOURCE: British Human Rights Report Addresses U.S. Death Penalty

Posted: November 18, 2003
The United Kingdom's Foreign & Commonwealth Office's Human Rights Annual Report 2003 includes a review of Britain's official actions to address concerns about the application of the death penalty in the United States. In addition to an outline of the U.K.'s reaction to significant death penalty developments in the U.S., the report highlights the sharp difference between British and U.S. capital punishment policies. It states:
The UK Government opposes the death penalty and its use on British nationals everywhere. The UK and the US share many of the same

News Series Investigates North Carolina Man's Innocence Claim

Posted: November 18, 2003
An 8-part series titled "Murder, Race, Justice: The State vs. Darryl Hunt" examines the case against Darryl Hunt, who has been in prison in North Carolina for nearly 20 years despite credible evidence of his innocence. The series concludes a six-month investigation conducted by The Winston-Salem Journal that found that police used questionable tactics and unreliable witnesses to convict Hunt for the 1984 rape and murder of reporter Deborah Sykes. It also reveals that instead of reinvestigating the crime after evidence of Hunt's innocence emerged, the state chose to

NEW RESOURCE: Scott Turow's "Ultimate Punishment"

Posted: November 17, 2003
In his latest book, "Ultimate Punishment: A Lawyer's Reflections on Dealing with the Death Penalty," attorney and author Scott Turow provides a detailed look at his personal journey with the death penalty issue from his days as a federal prosecutor to his more recent service as a member of the Illinois Commission on Capital Punishment. In addition to Turow's first-hand account, the book analyzes the potential reasons for and against the death penalty, discusses its impact on victims' families and politicians, and tells "the stories behind the statistics." (Farrar,

ACLU Report Finds Virginia's Death Penalty Riddled With Flaws, Recommends Reforms

Posted: November 17, 2003
In a report examining Virginia's death penalty system, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has urged the state to enact a moratorium on executions until its flawed capital punishment system is reformed. The report, "Broken Justice: The Death Penalty in Virginia," reviews issues such as the quality of defense counsel, prosecutorial misconduct, racial bias, innocence, and the execution of those with mental retardation and juvenile offenders. The findings, which were endorsed by a coalition of civic organizations in Virginia, led the ACLU to propose