Jurors sentenced a man accused of raping his step-daughter in Louisiana to death based on a state law that was adopted in 1995. The law states that the death penalty can be sought for aggravated rape if the victim is under the age of 12. The other penalty available to the jurors was a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole. (Associated Press, August 27, 2003) Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, no one in the United States has been executed except for a crime involving murder.
Opposition to the death penalty appears to grow the longer a country has been without the punishment. A Gallup International poll in 2000 found that 60% of western Europeans opposed the death penalty, while 60% of eastern Europeans (where abolition is still being debated) support the death penalty. In France, a TNS Sofres poll revealed that two decades after abolition of the death penalty, 49% of respondents opposed reintroduction of the policy compared with 44% who wanted to reinstate capital punishment.
Following U.S. District Judge Mark Wolf's opinion in the federal capital prosecution of Gary Lee Sampson expressing his reservations about the risks of executing the innocent (click here for article), the Buffalo News raised similar concerns in a recent editorial:
In a 4-3 decision to vacate the death sentence of juvenile offender Christopher Simmons, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that the juvenile death penalty violates the nation's evolving standards of decency and is therefore unconstitutional. Noting that "a national consensus has developed against the execution of juvenile offenders," the Court's opinion cited evidence such as the growing number of states that have banned the practice. The Court resentenced Simmons to life in prison without parole.
Cook County prosecutors have dropped all charges against Michael Evans and Paul Terry, two men who had been convicted of raping and murdering a 9-year-old girl in 1976. Following DNA testing that cleared the Illinois men, the state freed Evans and Terry 26 years after they were sentenced to serve 200 to 400 years in prison for the crime. (In many states, the defendants could have been sentenced to death and executed before their exoneration.) The men were 17 at the time of the crime, and no physical evidence linked them to the murder.
In "Capital Punishment in Colorado: 1859-1972," University of Colorado professor and death penalty expert Michael Radelet reviews the history of capital punishment in Colorado. In the article, Radelet reviews each of the state's executions during that time period and uses the data to show general patterns regarding the average time between conviction and execution, types of crimes and number of victims, and the logistics of carrying out the executions. 74 University of Colorado Law Review 885 (2003). See Resources.
Pennsylvania death row inmate Nicholas James Yarris may become the next person to be freed from death row. In light of new DNA evidence that excludes Yarris as the person responsible for the 1981 rape and murder for which he was convicted, U.S. District Court Judge James Giles said that Yarris must be freed or granted a new trial in Delaware County within two weeks. Giles gave the Delaware County district attorney's office and defense attorneys 10 days to confirm that the new DNA tests are accurate.
The most recent newsletter produced by the End to Capital Punishment Movement USA (ECPM USA) highlights developments in the organization's aim to strengthen the cross-Atlantic dialogue on the death penalty. Among other items, the newsletter contains articles on state reports on the death penalty, the Council of Europe seminars on capital punishment that were recently held in Illinois and Washington, DC, and information about the Second World Conference on the Death Penalty that is scheduled to take place in 2004. (ECPM USA Newsletter, August 2003).
The following excerpts are from Judge Mark Wolf's opinion allowing the federal capital prosecution of Gary Lee Sampson to proceed. In his decision, Judge Wolf of the Federal District Court in Boston expressed reservations about the risks of executing the innocent and appeared to criticize the Justice Department's zealous approach to seeking capital convictions. The headings for these excerpts, which are not part of the original text, are followed by page numbers that correlate with the referenced section of the full text.
A new report by Michael Mears of the Office of the Multi-County Public Defender provides a detailed examination of every death penalty trial in Georgia since the state passed its current death penalty statute in 1973. This resource contains a listing of death penalty cases by name of the defendant, name of the county, name of the judicial circuit, as well as the disposition of every death penalty case. It also provides a brief overview of the historic role Georgia has played in the Supreme Court's examination of the modern death penalty.