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Texas Governor Signs Life Without Parole Bill Into Law

Texas Governor Rick Perry (pictured) has signed the bill that gives juries in death penalty cases the option of sentencing a defendant to life without the possibility of parole. “I believe this bill will improve our criminal justice system because it gives jurors a new option to protect the public with the certainty a convicted killer will never roam our streets again,” Perry said.  The new law is not retroactive, and will apply only to those sentenced after September 1, 2005.

 

NEW VOICES: Former North Carolina Judge: "We Should Pause and be Certain"

Former North Carolina Judge Tom Ross is urging state lawmakers to enact legislation that would impose a two-year moratorium on executions, a step he says is necessary in order to prevent an innocent person from being executed in the state. During his career, Ross served as a Superior Court Judge for 18 years, as the chair of the North Carolina Sentencing Commission, and as director of the Administrative Office of the Courts. He is currently the executive director of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation. In a "Point of View" column in The News & Observer, Ross stated:

 

Oklahoma Grants New Trial Because of Shoddy Lab Work

The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals has reversed the conviction and death sentence of Curtis Edward McCarty because the state's case was largely based on the testimony of a police chemist who has since been fired for shoddy and unreliable lab work. The court ordered a new trial for McCarty, who has been on death row more than two decades for a 1982 murder. At issue is the expert testimony of former Oklahoma City police chemist Joyce Gilchrist during McCarty's capital trial. Gilchrist had been with the police department for 21 years when she was fired in 2001 following investigations of her forensic work. Based on a hearing regarding the trial evidence, an Oklahoma County District Court concluded that Gilchrist either lost or destroyed critical evidence in McCarty's case.

 

Editorials from Around the Country Express Concerns About Texas Death Penalty

Newspaper editorials from papers in Texas and other areas of the country praised the Supreme Court's ruling in the case of Thomas Miller-El and criticized the way in which the death penalty has been implemented in Texas.   Miller-El was granted a new trial in light of strong evidence of racial bias during jury selection at his original trial.  Editorial excerpts follow:

New York Times

[Miller-El] is an important ruling that reiterates to all courts the importance of keeping discrimination out of jury selection.
...
 

Supreme Court Overturns Texas Death Penalty Conviction Because of Racial Bias in Jury Selection

In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that Thomas Miller-El, a Texas death row inmate, is entitled to a new trial in light of strong evidence of racial bias during jury selection at his original trial.  In choosing a jury to try Miller-El, a black defendant, prosecutors struck 10 of the 11 qualified black panelists. The Supreme Court said that the decision by the Texas court finding no discrimination in the process “blinks reality” and was unreasonable and erroneous in light of the significant evidence of discrimination.

Justice Souter, writing for the majority, set out the evidence that race governed who was allowed on the jury, including: disparate questioning of white and black jurors, jury “shuffling,” a culture of bias within the prosecutor’s office, and the fact that the prosecutor’s race-neutral explanations for the strikes were so far at odds with the evidence that the explanations themselves indicate discriminatory intent.

 

NAACP Legal Defense Fund Releases New "Death Row USA"

According to the latest edition of Death Row USA published by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF), the size of death row decreased again as of April 1, 2005.  After increasing steadily for about 25 years, the death row population started decreasing in 2000.  The current total for state and federal death rows is 3,452.  On October 1, 2002, LDF reported a death row population of 3,697.  This latest report counts 72 offenders who were juveniles at the time of their crime, though these individuals will all be removed from death row once official action has been taken in re

 

Kenya Committed to Abolishing Capital Punishment

Kenyan Justice Minister Kiraitu Murungi announced that those on the nation's death row will soon have their sentences commuted to life imprisonment. Murungi noted that he is working closely with Kenya's President's Office to bring the nation into compliance with its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. "We are committed to abolishing the death penalty. The death sentence is a violation of the right to life," he said. In the 1970s, Kenya argued that the death penalty would deter crime, but the nation's leaders have since found no downturn in crime. Following a 1982 coup attempt, no death warrants issued by the courts were ever signed by the President, and in February 2003, President Kibaki ordered the release of 28 prisoners on death row and commuted the sentences of 195 others.

 

BOOKS : "Hidden Victims: The Effects of the Death Penalty on Families of the Accused"

"Hidden Victims," a new book by sociologist Susan F. Sharp of the University of Oklahoma, examines the impact of capital punishment on the families of those facing execution. Through a series of in-depth interviews with families of the accused, Sharp illustrates from a sociological standpoint how family members and friends of those on death row are, in effect, indirect victims of the initial crime. The book emphasizes their responses to sentencing, as well as how they grieve and face an impending execution.

 

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