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VICTIMS: Kansas Murder Victims' Families Voice Concerns About Death Penalty

Posted: May 18, 2015

A recent publication from Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation and an op-ed in the Kansas City Star highlight the views of Kansas murder victims' families on capital punishment. In Voices of Kansas, 13 families that have been affected by murder share their experiences in the aftermath of a loved one's murder and how that shaped their beliefs about the death penalty. Neely Goen, whose father, Conroy O'Brien, was killed while working as a Kansas State Trooper, said, "The death penalty focuses an incredible amount of attention on the killers, which makes victims’ families relive the painful details of a murder over and over again. At one time I believed that the death penalty would benefit people like my mother and me, but in reality nothing could be further from the truth. What would help us is not to continue to pour money into the death penalty, but dedicating those funds to law enforcement, rehabilitation programs for non-violent offenders, and juvenile programs, to prevent other families from having to suffer a loss like ours." Two of the featured voices, Rita Boller and Gene Kimmi, whose mother, Patricia, was murdered in 2009, also shared their views in an op-ed in the Kansas City Star. They wrote, "The death penalty keeps families stuck in the legal process, delaying when they can put difficult legal proceedings behind them and begin to heal...Kansas has hung on to its costly and broken death penalty for too long. It’s time that we as a state eliminate this harmful policy."


BOOKS: "The Death Penalty: A Worldwide Perspective"

Posted: May 15, 2015

The Death Penalty: A Worldwide Perspective by Roger Hood and Carolyn Hoyle, now in its Fifth Edition, is "widely regarded as the leading authority on the death penalty in its international context." The book explores the movement toward worldwide abolition of the death penalty, with an emphasis on international human right principles. It discusses issues including arbitrariness, innocence, and deterrence. Paul Craig, Professor of English Law at Oxford University, said of the fourth edition, "Its rigorous scholarship and the breadth of its coverage are hugely impressive features; its claim to 'worldwide' coverage is no idle boast. This can fairly lay claim to being the closest thing to a definitive source-book on this important subject."


New Reports Reveal Irregularities in Oklahoma Execution Process

Posted: May 14, 2015

Two recent media reports reveal additional details of irregularities in Oklahoma's administration and defense of its lethal injection procedures.  A story in The Atlantic describes in detail the botched execution of Clayton Lockett and the failed attempts made by a paramedic and a doctor to insert the IV into Lockett's veins.  A Buzzfeed report asserts that Oklahoma's brief to the Supreme Court in the lethal injection case, Glossip v. Grossmade misrepresentations about the state's efforts to obtain lethal injection drugs.  The Atlantic reports that, after failing to insert the IV in Lockett's arm, the paramedic sought help from the doctor, Johnny Zellmer, and describes their unsuccessful attempts to insert the needle in Lockett's neck and chest before deciding to place the IV in the femoral vein near his groin. However, the longest needle available in the execution chamber was less than half the length necessary to reach the femoral vein. "We'll just have to make it work," the doctor reportedly said. After the drugs were administered and Lockett began to struggle and writhe on the gurney, the doctor checked the IV and found that it was displaced. When Zellmer pushed the needle back into Lockett's vein, blood squirted all over him, soaking his jacket. "You’ve hit the artery,” the paramedic said. “It’ll be all right,” Zellmer told her. “We’ll go ahead and get the drugs.” Ten minutes later, before additional drugs could be administered, Lockett was delcared dead. Buzzfeed reported that Oklahoma had misinformed the Supreme Court that its supplier of compounded pentobarbital had come "under intense pressure from death penalty opponents" to cease making the lethal injection drug "and subsequently declined to continue supplying the drug to Oklahoma."  It supplied a redacted copy of letter in support of that claim. The pharmacy, however, told Buzzfeed that it had never supplied any drugs to Oklahoma for any execution, and an unredacted copy of the letter showed that it had actually been sent to Texas, not Oklahoma, prison officials.  


NEW VOICES: Former Georgia Chief Justice and Conservative Republican Leader Oppose Death Penalty

Posted: May 13, 2015

Two prominent Georgians, former Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Norman Fletcher (pictured, l.), and David J. Burge (pictured, r.), the Chairman of Georgia's 5th Congressional District Republican Party, have recently voiced their opposition to the death penalty. Justice Fletcher voted to uphold numerous death sentences during his 15 years on Georgia's highest court.  Since retiring from the Court in 2005, his views have changed.  “With wisdom gained over the past 10 years, I am now convinced there is absolutely no justification for continuing to impose the sentence of death in this country,” Justice Fletcher said. “There can be no doubt that actually innocent persons have been executed in this country,” Justice Fletcher said. He now believes that the death penalty is "morally indefensible" and "makes no business sense." Mr. Burge voiced similar concerns in an op-ed in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, saying that "Our government is not perfect, and when you give an imperfect state the power of life and death, innocent lives will inevitably be exposed to the fallibility of the system." He called the death penalty "plagued by frequent errors, inefficiency and waste." A lifelong conservative Republican, Burge stated that "Capital punishment runs counter to core conservative principles of life, fiscal responsibility and limited government. The reality is that capital punishment is nothing more than an expensive, wasteful and risky government program."


EDITORIALS: Restarting North Carolina Executions Would Be "Unjust"

Posted: May 12, 2015

A recent editorial in The News & Observer (Raleigh, NC) has criticized legislative efforts to restart North Carolina's death penalty as "retrogressive" and "macabre."  The editorial opposes a bill that would allow executions to resume in North Carolina by "expanding the list of medical personnel who can monitor executions." In 2007, the North Carolina Medical Board said that doctor participation in executions violates professional ethics, effectively blocking any doctors from participating in executions. The new law would allow physician assistants, nurses, and emergency medical technicians to oversee executions in place of a doctor. The editorial said, "The death penalty is unnecessary, unjust and irreversible. Its use now is only an act of vengeance against a few prisoners who happened to be convicted in death penalty states and whose lawyers failed to negotiate the many legal options that could have spared them." It goes on to criticize the arbitrariness of the death penalty: "The erratic application of the death penalty makes it unfair and its unfairness is dangerously compounded by its finality. Wrongly convicted people could be executed and likely have been." It concludes, "The state Senate should reject this bill and, if necessary, Gov. Pat McCrory should veto it. Lives, perhaps even innocent lives, will depend on it."


Death Sentences Fall Across Texas, Support Drops in County That Leads U.S. in Executions

Posted: May 11, 2015

Harris County (Houston), Texas, has executed more men and women than any other county in the United States, but a recent poll shows that a strong majority of its residents now support alternative sentences. A report by the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University found that only 28% of respondents in Harris County prefer the death penalty to life without parole as punishment for first-degree murder. The poll also found that overall support for the death penalty was at a 20-year low, with 56% saying they were in favor of capital punishment.  As public support for the death penalty has dropped, so have Harris County death sentences. The County handed down a combined 44 death sentences from 1994-1996, but sentenced only 5 people to death from 2012-2014. Death verdicts are also down statewide. According to a Dallas Morning News commentary, Texas imposed 11 death sentences in 2014, down from 39 in 1999.  No death sentences have been imposed in the state so far this year. (Click image to enlarge.)


DPIC Launches New Series: "50 Facts About the Death Penalty"

Posted: May 8, 2015

Today, DPIC is posting the first item in a new series: "50 Facts About the Death Penalty." Each weekday for the next 10 weeks, we will share a short but significant fact about capital punishment. These items, which have accompanying images, will cover topics including innocence, public opinion, deterrence, race, and more. This series is intended as a resource for anyone looking to learn more about the death penalty. Each of the individual 50 Facts is accompanied by a link to a source that provides more detailed information about that fact.  Watch for daily updates on DPIC's Twitter account and the 50 Facts page, as well as a weekly 50 Facts video on Facebook.


Delaware Governor Announces Support for Death Penalty Repeal

Posted: May 8, 2015

Calling the death penalty "an instrument of imperfect justice," Governor Jack Markell (pictured) of Delaware announced on May 7 that he will sign the death penalty repeal bill under consideration in the state legislature if the bill reaches his desk.  The Delaware Senate passed repeal in April by a vote of 11-9. The House Judiciary Committee is expected to hold a hearing soon. Markell had not previously taken a stance on abolishing the death penalty. Upon announcing his decision, he said, "This is not an easy issue. My thinking has changed and I just wanted to give it very careful consideration." The Governor cited recent exonerations and flawed testimony in capital cases as reasons why he believes repeal should pass. "I know this is a really difficult issue for members of the General Assembly," the governor said. "I hope that after considering the arguments as I have, they will reach the same conclusion that I have."  Recent studies of Delaware's death penalty have revealed significant racial disparities in capital sentencing in the state.  More than three-quarters of Delaware's death-row inmates are black or Latino.  No state with more than one death-sentenced defendant has a higher percentage of racial minorities on its death row.


Tennessee Supreme Court Contemplates Electric Chair Appeal on 25th Anniversary of Botched Florida Electrocution

Posted: May 7, 2015

The week of the 25th anniversary of Florida's gruesome botched electric chair execution of Jesse Tafero (pictured), the Tennessee Supreme Court began hearing a challenge to the administration of a state law that would resurrect the use of that State's electric chair if lethal injection drugs are unavailable. On May 6, 2015, the Tennessee justices heard argument on death-row inmates' right to know which method of execution will be used in their cases.  The Justices voiced concerns about the secrecy that the law allows to shield the execution process and the decision about which method to use. "How are the defendants supposed to know?" Justice Cornelia A. Clark asked, offering a hypothetical situation in which an inmate expects to be executed by lethal injection until he sees the electric chair set up in the execution chamber. Deputy Attorney General Jennifer Smith argued that execution by electric chair is "just not going to happen," but Chief Justice Sharon Lee said that the inmates' evidence regarding the unavailability of execution drugs suggests, "execution (by the electric chair) is very probable."  On May 4, 1990, witnesses to Tafero's execution reported that a problem with Florida's electric chair caused foot-high flames to shoot from Tafero's head. Current had to be applied three times because the first two shocks failed to kill him.


Death Row Exoneree Anthony Ray Hinton Shares His Story

Posted: May 6, 2015

In an interview with Salon, Anthony Ray Hinton (pictured, l.), the 152nd death row exoneree, spoke about his wrongful conviction and spending 30 years on Alabama's death row for a crime he did not commit. "They had every intention of executing an innocent man," Hinton said. "If you’re poor and black you don’t stand a chance."  Hinton spoke about the inadequate representation he received at his trial: "My ballistics expert was blind in one eye. He was paid $500. It came down to, 'Who do you believe? The expert with one eye, or the state?' The district attorney cross-examined my expert -- he chewed him up and spit him out."  Hinton described conditions on death row as "a second hell," adding, "[i]t’s not a place I would wish on my worst enemy." Prosecutors in his case continued to push for death, even after national ballistics experts had exposed the invalidity of the forensic testimony they had presented against Hinton. "The DA that we have now seems like he doesn’t give a damn about a man being innocent," Hinton said.  "When you have a death row case, you have to make 100 percent sure you have the right person."