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EDITORIALS: "Governor, Save Inmate's Life"

In an editorial, the Los Angeles Times has called on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California to commute Kevin Cooper's death sentence before leaving office in early January 2011.  The Times noted that considerable doubt has been cast upon the evidence used to convict Cooper of four murders that occurred in San Bernadino County in 1983. In particular, they cite the analysis offered by federal Judge William Fletcher of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, who dissented from the court's refusal to review Cooper's case.  According to the editorial, "Fletcher wrote that Cooper 'is probably innocent of the crimes for which the state of California is about to execute him.'  Whether or not that's true, the judge makes a compelling argument that sheriff's office investigators planted evidence in order to convict Cooper and discarded or disregarded other evidence pointing to other killers — creating not just reasonable but serious doubt about his guilt."  The editorial concluded, "This newspaper opposes the death penalty under any circumstances, and we wouldn't object if the governor commuted the sentences of all 697 people on California's death row. But execution is especially outrageous when the prisoner may be innocent. Gov. Schwarzenegger should commute Cooper's sentence." Read the full editorial below.


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EDITORIALS: New Hampshire's Concord Monitor Says "Abolish the Death Penalty"

Following the release of the report from the New Hampshire Commission to Study the Death Penalty, New Hampshire's Concord Monitor called for an end to capital punishment in the state. The Commission concluded a year of public hearings and careful study and chose by a 12-10 vote to recommend neither expanding nor abolishing the death penalty. However, the Monitor pointed out that the evidence presented to the commission was primarily in favor of repealing the death penalty. One of the many arguments against the death penalty considered by the Commission was its arbitrary nature. Outcomes of capital cases depend on the makeup of capital juries, the resources available to the defendant, and the potentially unequal skills of prosecutors and defense lawyers.  The editorial noted that former attorney general Phillip McLaughlin recalled a case in which he charged the wrong man with murder and another in which an investigator failed to share evidence that might have proved that someone else committed the crime. He voted to repeal the law.  The editorial concluded: "States are not infallible. A life wrongly taken by the state cannot be returned. But an innocent person serving life without parole can be freed. New Hampshire should join the states and the many nations that have progressed beyond capital punishment."  Read the full editorial below.


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OP-ED: America's Death Penalty "Broken Beyond Repair"

An op-ed by Bob Herbert of the New York Times highlights issues raised by former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens that changed his mind on the death penalty in the U.S. Herbert cites information collected by the Death Penalty Information Center and points to shoddy defense and state misconduct in the deliberate withholding of evidence as prominent abuses in the system. “Executions have been upheld in cases in which defense lawyers slept through crucial proceedings. Alcoholic, drug-addicted and incompetent lawyers — as well as lawyers who had been suspended or otherwise disciplined for misconduct — have been assigned to indigent defendants.”  According to Herbert, “The egregious problems identified by Justice Stevens (and other prominent Americans who have changed their minds in recent years about capital punishment) have always been the case. The awful evidence has always been right there for all to see, but mostly it has been ignored. The death penalty in the United States has never been anything but an abomination — a grotesque, uncivilized, overwhelmingly racist affront to the very idea of justice.” Read full op-ed below.


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EDITORIALS: Illinois--"Outlaw Death Penalty to Save Lives and Cash"

In a recent editorial, the Chicago Sun-Times supported the abolition of the death penalty in Illinois during the current legislative session.  The paper noted its past support for capital punishment:  "In the past, we've supported the death penalty as long as the legal system gives the accused a fair trial that results in a verdict of guilt beyond resonable doubt.  Sadly, in light of experiences in recent years, that goal seems unrealistic."  Among the reasons for favoring abolition, the paper wrote that, "The death penalty is arbitrary - handed down in some cases but not in others with similar facts.  Even with the best safeguards in place, it's unreliable, with irreversible consequences.  And it's costly," consuming $100 million in the past 7 years.  As an alternative, the editorial noted that, "Like the death penalty, life without parole keeps heinous criminals off our streets, deters serious offenses and gives victims a sense that justice has been served."  Read full editorial below.


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EDITORIAL: "No Justification" for Recent Execution

On October 29, a New York Times editorial raised many concerns regarding the recent execution of Native American Jeffrey Landrigan in Arizona.  The Times said “the system failed him at almost every level, most disturbingly at the Supreme Court.” Landrigan’s execution garnered national attention because a nationwide shortage of sodium thiopental forced the state to seek the drug from foreign suppliers. Despite repeated orders from a federal District Court judge, Arizona refused to divulge the source of their lethal drug supply.  The judge stayed the execution based on these concerns, but the stay was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in a 5-4 ruling that said there was “no evidence in the record to suggest that the drug obtained from a foreign source is unsafe.” But, as the editorial pointed out, "There was no evidence — either way — because Arizona defied orders to provide it."  In addition to concerns about the drugs used in Landrigan’s execution, recent statements made by Landrigan’s sentencing judge questioned the appropriateness of a death sentence in this case. Judge Cheryl Hendrix, who presided over Landrigan's trial, recently told the Arizona Board of Executive Clemency that she would not have sentenced Landrigan to death if his trial attorney presented evidence of the defendant’s brain damage and other problems.  The Board's vote was 2-2, so clemency was denied. Read full editorial below.


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EDITORIALS: Connecticut Post Opposes Capital Punishment Even in the Face of Heinous Murders

A recent editorial in the Connecitcut Post called for the end of the death penalty in the state even as the trial began in a capital case cncerning horrific murders in Cheshire in 2007.  In 2009, the Connecticut General Assembly voted to repeal the death penalty but Governor M. Jodi Rell vetoed the bill, citing the Cheshire crimes. The editorial cited a variety of reasons for repealing the death penalty, including its inability to deter crime, high costs, and the danger of executing innocent defendants. The editorial said, “To be sure, we are outraged by the brutal crimes committed against the Petit family. . . . But outrage and sympathy do not outweigh our firm belief that it is wrong - plain and simple - for the government to take an individual life.” Read full editorial below.


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EDITORIALS: “The last man to die”

A recent editorial in the Greensboro, NC, News & Record indicated that capital punishment may be "on its last legs" in North Carolina. "In practice," the editorial stated, "the death penalty nearly is eradicated. It is complicated, costly and no longer trusted."  According to the paper, use of the death penalty has been in steady decline. In 1999, 25 defendants were sentenced to death and another 16 were added the following year. In 2009, there were only two new death sentences in the state and only two so far in 2010. Juries and prosecutors have gravitated more to sentences of life without parole. There has been a hold on executions in the state because of challenges to the lethal injection protocols and because of concerns about the arbitrary implementation of the punishment. The last execution was in 2006.  Some inmates are on death row for less heinous crimes than those committed by people who received life sentences. The editorial concluded, “Locking someone up for the rest of his natural life - often 50 years or more - not only protects the public, it allows for errors to be discovered and corrected. Execution does not.”  Read full editorial below.


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EDITORIALS: "What Price is Too High for Death Row?"

In California, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger announced that his administration plans to borrow over $64 million from the state’s general fund for the construction of a new death row at San Quentin. At the same time, the governor’s lawyers have recently sought approval from the courts to furlough state workers and reduce their pay. Teachers, police officers and firefighters are losing jobs because of the budget crisis. The governor also plans to end safety net services for some of the poorest and most vulnerable citizens in the state. Yet the $64 million loan would merely be a down payment on the new death row, which is estimated to cost taxpayers nearly $500 million. According to an editorial in the Sacramento Bee, “The plan to build a shiny new 541,000-square-foot death row within San Quentin's boundaries underscores fundamental problems with capital punishment. So long as there is a death penalty, the state will need to house, clothe and feed the inmates at huge costs.”


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EDITORIALS: Life Sentence Plea Helps California Victim's Family Move On

Recently, a California man pled guilty to the 2006 murder of Highway Patrolman Earl Scott.  The defendant, Columbus Allen Jr., whose pre-trial proceedings took more than four years, will now spend the rest of his life in prison, having waived his appeals. The Stanislaus County district attorney originally sought the death penalty against Allen, but there were no guarantees that verdict would have been reached. Additionally, when the death penalty is imposed in California, years of appeals often follow, and it is not unusual for convicted murderers to outlive the family members of the murder victims. An editorial in the Modesto Bee noted that the plea will save the county over $1 million in additional expenses that would have been spent in a capital trial. Moreover, the paper noted, the emphasis can now be put on the victim, rather than on the pepetrator: "In recent years, it has seemed that Earl Scott was the forgotten victim and all the attention was on Allen, who went through multiple defense attorneys. Every time the trial was about to proceed, there would be another motion causing a delay. It was frustrating, even for those who value the process over a rush to justice. . . .[Now] Earl Scott . . . will be remembered - by his family and friends, of course, but also by his colleagues in law enforcement and by our community."  Read full editorial below.


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EDITORIALS: Implications of Texas Execution Based on Flawed Science

A recent editorial in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram raised questions about Texas' entire death penalty system, given the preliminary finding by the Texas Forensic Science Commission that arson experts relied on outdated and flawed science during their investigation of a death penalty case.  Cameron Willingham was executed in 2004 for setting a fire that killed his three daughters in 1991 based on this faulty research.  Now it appears that the fire may not have been deliberate at all.  The Commission did not comment on whether the reliance on flawed science constitutes professional negligence or misconduct.  "But," the editorial stated, "even if the evidence doesn't clearly show wrongdoing, a conviction based on bad science might still mean a wrongful execution.” The whole death penalty system needs review: "If an automaker discovers that a faulty design is making some of its cars accelerate without warning, the company doesn't just make fixes going forward, it inspects older models to repair the defect. . . .All Texans, including those who support the death penalty, should want to know the truth -- and to make certain that no one's life is taken erroneously in our name." Read full editorial below.


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