A variety of legal experts and national organizations have expressed
strong concerns about a bill introduced in Congress that would greatly
limit federal review of death penalty cases.
The American Bar Association called for rejection of the legislation:
Following an investigation indicating that Missouri may have executed an innocent man for the 1980 murder of Quintin Moss, New York Times columnist Bob Herbert wrote that the case was filled with problems that are typical of wrongful convictions in capital cases. Herbert stated that St. Louis circuit attorney Jennifer Joyce has taken "the extraordinary step of officially reopening a murder investigation after the defendant was executed," adding that it is difficult to prove that an innocent person has been executed because official investigations cease once the death penalty has been carried out. Herbert wrote:
If Larry Griffin were being tried today for the murder of Quintin Moss, he would almost certainly be acquitted. The evidence is overwhelming that he did not kill Mr. Moss.
But Mr. Griffin is not being tried today. He has already been executed for the murder.
A year-long investigation by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund has uncovered evidence that Larry Griffin may have been innocent of the crime for which he was executed by the state of Missouri on June 21, 1995. Griffin maintained his innocence until his death, and investigators say his case is the strongest demonstration yet of an execution of an innocent man. The report notes that a man injured in the same drive-by shooting that claimed the life of Quintin Moss says Griffin was not involved in the crime, and the first police officer on the scene has given a new account that undermines the trial testimony of the only witness who identified Griffin as the murderer. Based on its findings, the NAACP has supplied the prosecution with the names of three men it suspects committed the crime, and all three of the suspects are currently in jail for other murders. Prosecutor Jennifer Joyce said she has reopened the investigation and will conduct a comprehensive review of the case over the next few months. "There is no real doubt that we have an innocent person. If we could go to trial on this case, if there was a forum where we could take this to trial, we would win hands down," stated University of Michigan law professor Samuel Gross, who supervised the investigation into Griffin's case.
The U.S. Supreme Court granted a last minute stay for Robin Lovitt, who was scheduled for execution at 9 PM on Monday (July 11) in Virginia. The Court did not give a reason for the stay, but Lovitt stated that he would have been able to show his innocence if state officials had not destroyed DNA evidence from his case after his trial. (See item below posted July 8). (Associated Press, July 11, 2005). See also Innocence.
A bill proposed by Rep. Daniel Lungren of California and Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona would strip the federal courts of much of their power to decide whether death row inmates have been given a fair trial and could result in the execution of innocent defendants. The bill is entitled the Streamlined Procedures Act of 2005. The Washington Post editorialized about the measure:
Stop This Bill
Sunday, July 10, 2005; Page B06
CONGRESS HAS a novel response to the rash of prisoners over the past few years who have been exonerated of capital crimes after being tried and convicted: Keep similar cases out of court. Both chambers of the national legislature are quietly moving a particularly ugly piece of legislation designed to gut the legal means by which prisoners prove their innocence.
Habeas corpus is the age-old legal process by which federal courts review the legality of detentions. In the modern era, it has been the pivotal vehicle through which those on death row or serving long sentences in prison can challenge their state-court convictions. Congress in 1996 rolled back habeas review considerably; federal courts have similarly shown greater deference -- often too much deference -- to flawed state proceedings. But the so-called Streamlined Procedures Act of 2005 takes the evisceration of habeas review, particularly in capital cases, to a whole new level. It should not become law.
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Robin Lovitt is scheduled for execution on July 11 in Virginia despite doubts about his guilt and the state's weak and circumstantial case against him. Lovitt's attorneys maintain that DNA testing of evidence in his case would prove that he is not guilty of the 1998 murder of Clayton Dicks, but the tests are not possible because a court clerk mistakenly destroyed the evidence. Columnist Margaret Edds of the The Virginian-Pilot recently wrote about the upcoming execution and the doubts that remain:
The scheduled execution of Robin Lovitt on July 11 spurs the latest dust-up in the state’s intensifying scrutiny of capital punishment.
At issue is whether it’s proper to execute a man, one who proclaims his innocence, even though a clerk mistakenly destroyed evidence in the case.
A number of states are grappling with the question of whether the lethal injection drug Pavulon, also known as pancuronium bromide, paralyzes a condemned inmate's muscles in a way that masks horrific pain felt during an execution, a side-effect that experts say could violate of the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment. The Tennessee Supreme Court heard arguments about this issue in a death row case in June 2005 and a similar case is expected to reach the Kentucky Supreme Court soon. In May 2005, a Missouri inmate was given a last minute stay so that the U.S. Supreme Court could review his death penalty procedure case. His claim was denied 5-4, and he was later executed.