June 28, 2007
The Supreme Court announced its decision in Panetti v. Quarterman this morning, finding 5-4 for Panetti. The decision does not set an explicit standard for who is too mentally ill to be executed, and remands the case back to Texas for further consideration. However, the Court does make clear that the retributive function of capital punishment cannot be served when the inmate suffers from delusions that affect his or her understanding of the crime and the punishment to be imposed. In Panetti’s case, he understood that he was going to be executed, but had a delusional belief about why Texas intended to kill him.
More analysis to follow.
(It should be noted that North Carolina’s Guy LeGrande might have been found incompetent even under the Texas standard, which the Court has now said is too restrictive.)
June 28, 2007
News Update 06.28.07
Darryl Hunt and the Duke University Innocence Project are working to obtain justice for Kalvin Smith, who has spent ten years in prison for a near-fatal assault he may not have committed. Witnesses have said they were coerced and intimidated into testifying, and the prosecution failed to turn over to the defense a videotaped interview of the victim in which she did not pick Smith from the photographs she was shown, but rather identified another man as a possible suspect.
A former U.S. Attorney told Congress yesterday that Alberto Gonzales has been so eager to seek the death penalty, he ignores the quality of evidence. “No decision is more important for a prosecutor than whether or not to . . . deliberately and methodically take a life,” said Paul K. Charlton. “And that holds true for the attorney general.” See also this article from Senator Russell Feingold, examining whether U.S. Attorneys like Charlton were fired for expressing reservations about seeking the death penalty in particular cases.
Kyrgyzstan has abolished the death penalty.
June 27, 2007
News Update 6.27.07
Two news reports this morning on Guy LeGrande’s competency hearing here and here. Apparently LeGrande’s only contribution to the hearing were vague and confusing statements about an associate and what he expects to have for his first meal after being pardoned.
Greensboro prosecutors seek death penalty against teen accused of shooting cab driver.
Should you happen to be in Washington, DC, you may want to stop by the Abolitionist Action Committee’s 14th annual Starvin’ for Justice Fast and Vigil to Abolish the Death Penalty. Join death row exonerees, family members of murder victims, and even a former warden who participated in executions at the U.S. Supreme Court between June 29th and July 2nd.
Find information here and here on a recent investigation conducted by a Texas district attorney to determine whether Ruben Cantu was innocent of the crime for which he was executed. I find it more than a little shady that the DA doing the investigation was, in her former position, a judge involved in the process of sending Mr. Cantu to his death.
June 26, 2007
News Update 6.26.07
There has been no reporting in the media, but Guy LeGrande is back in court in Stanly County. In the usual battle of the experts, one doctor has testified that LeGrande is competent to be executed (but bipolar with psychotic features), while the other has testified that he is incompetent. Of note, the doctor who found LeGrande imcompetent is employed by the State. She has testified in many other cases, finding all post-conviction defendants competent except for LeGrande.
Capital trials are ongoing in Raleigh and Concord.
The ACLU has a new report out on race and the federal death penalty. The report notes the increased likelihood of a death sentence in cases involving black defendants and/or white victims, and makes recommendations for a more equitably applied death penalty.
The U.S. Supreme Court has denied cert to Troy Anthony Davis, despite evidence of innocence and police misconduct.
There are three executions scheduled for today: Patrick Knight (Texas), Jimmy Bland (Oklahoma), and John Hightower (Georgia). (Thanks to CDW for the links.)
June 25, 2007
News Update 6.25.07
The trial of Byron Waring begins today in Raleigh. This will be the first capital trial in Wake County since a Wake judge halted executions in January. Despite multiple capital prosecutions, there has not been a death sentence in Wake County since 2001. Wake County is tied with Forsyth as the jurisdiction with the most people on North Carolina’s death row.
Every week for the past 14 years, Dot King spent two hours with the women of death row. They talked about the Bible, about family, about current events. Three days before her death at the age of 83, King made a final visit to see her second family. Andrea Weigl has the story here.
In Louisiana, prosecutor plays “the OJ card” to convince all-white jury to sentence black defendant to death. Over objections from the defense, the prosecution argued that the defendant’s behavior at the time of his arrest was not indicative of mental illness, but rather was faked, like the passengeri in a certain Ford Bronco. The prosecutor went on to say that OJ “got away with it,” using the jury’s outrage at the OJ acquittal to obtain a death sentence against a man who had nothing to do with the Simpson matter.
Breaking: The Supreme Court has granted cert in this case, titled Snyder v. Louisiana.
Robert Bohm, a correctional officer turned college professor, has released the third edition of DeathQuest, which has been called the first true textbook on the death penalty. Bohm considers everything from the colonial history of capital punishment to methods of execution and economic costs of the death penalty. Click here to purchase.
June 22, 2007
News Update 6.22.07
In Raleigh, death row inmate James Morgan married Tracy Cope (now Morgan) at Central Prison last Friday. The couple conducted their romance largely through the mail, as Mrs. Morgan lived in Nottinghamshire, England when the pair met through an inmate pen pal program. The Morgans were allowed to kiss during the ceremony, but will only be allowed to see one another through bulletproof glass until the day of James Morgan’s execution.
From the Abolish the Death Penalty blog, a look at how untreated PTSD among veterans is connected to capital punishment, and the impending crisis from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
June 21, 2007
News Update 6.21.07
Nothing to report.
For once, a court has enforced a filing deadline in a way that prevents the state from seeking death, rather than preventing the defendant from having his claims heard. The Montana Supreme Court held in Miller & LeBrum v. 18th Judicial District that where the prosecutor didn’t file his death notice until 6 months after the court-imposed deadline for doing so, the state is barred from seeking the death penalty. (For the record, there is a similar rule in North Carolina which is never enforced.)
In New Mexico, a trial judge found that New Mexico’s death penalty is unconstitutional because jurors – in contradiction of the law and their oath to the court – frequently decide on the defendant’s sentence before the defendant has had a chance to put on his evidence. State District Judge Tim Garcia suggested a change in procedure to remedy the defect, but prosecutors simply dropped their request for the death penalty. Garcia’s decision does not affect other capital cases, but may serve as an example to other judges. See the studies that convinced the judge here.
From Sentencing Law and Policy: “If executions in fact deter homicides, we should all feel extra safe over the next week.”
June 20, 2007
News Update 6.20.07
For Triangle residents, the Raleigh Little Theater (301 Pogue Street in Raleigh) will be hosting a production of The Fourth Wall on Wednesday, June 27th to raise money for the Capital Restorative Justice Project. CRJP provides service and support to families of murder victims and families of death-sentenced and executed inmates, outreach to professionals who work on capital cases, and education to the public on the principles of restorative justice. Doors open at 6:30 and the show starts at 8.
Click here to find a copy of a letter folks are asked to send to the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles on behalf of Troy Davis, who may soon be executed for a crime he did not commit.
Many states ignore claims that people on death row may be innocent. Missouri has had the courage to undertake an investigation of whether it has actually executed an innocent man. For the past two years, state attorneys and investigators have re-examined the case of Larry Griffin, who was executed in 1995 for the murder of Quinton Moss. Even Moss’s family doubts Griffin’s guilt; by the time of his execution, the sole eyewitness had recanted and another man claimed responsibility for the crime. A full report on the investigation is expected later this month.
For the legal types, Michael Dorf’s analysis of the Supreme Court’s preposterous decision in Bowles v. Russell.
June 19, 2007
News Update 6.19.07
The Fayetteville Observer notes the difference in discipline for David Hoke and Debra Graves (whose deceptions and lies put an innocent man in prison for nine years, half that time on death row) and Mike Nifong (whose deceptions and lies cost three innocent men a great deal, but none of them spent any time in jail). The same Attorney General’s Office that declared the Duke lacrosse players innocent on national television refused to free Alan Gell, even though they knew that it was physically impossible for Gell to have committed the murder for which he sat on death row. “None of this is to say that Nifong does not deserve everything he is getting. He does. What he did to those three young men was criminal, whether in the legal sense or not, and he added to his misconduct by making wildly inflammatory statements to the media. But he is not alone in prosecutorial misconduct; he is simply paying a heavier price. His unforgivable sin was that he picked the wrong people to mess with.”
The efforts of House Republicans to prevent the Medical Board from disciplining its own members have failed. Had the bill passed, the State might have resumed executions, despite ongoing litigation about the lethal injection protocol. Democrats say that changing the law now would only lead to more lawsuits and more delay. Governor Mike Easley agrees.
North Carolina resident Cassy Stubbs has this opinion piece in The Huffington Post. She points out flaws in recent studies that indicate the death penalty has a deterrent effect, criticizing the use of questionable methodology and misleading conclusions to advance a political agenda.
Some good news out of New Jersey. The state Supreme Court has found that a finding of mental retardation by a single juror is sufficient to save the life of the defendant. Other states have come to varying conclusions on the issue.
From Scientific American, a look at lethal injection and a call to reconsider whether it is the most humane form of execution possible.
I’ve heard that the Supreme Court has denied cert in at least one death penalty case, including Barbour v. Allen, which might have done something about the deplorable state of capital representation in Alabama. More on that tomorrow.
June 14, 2007
News Update 6.14.07
Nothing to report.
On the tenth anniversary of Timothy McVeigh’s death sentence in the Oklahoma City bombing, one of his attorneys speaks about the experience of representing such a hated man, and whether she would do it again.
In Texas, independent investigator concludes that Houston DNA lab mishandled evidence in scores of cases. A previous investigation showed serious flaws in DNA evidence used to convict multiple death row inmates. Read the report here.
In Virginia, governor Tim Kaine ordered a stay of execution for Christopher Scott Emmett to give the U.S. Supreme Court time to consider the merits of his claim. The Court denied Emmett a stay of execution by a vote of 5-4 yesterday. Four votes would have been enough to grant Emmett the opportunity for an appeal, but such an appeal would obviously have been mooted by his execution. Governor Kaine gave the Court until October to consider whether Emmett’s trial attorneys failed to represent him properly. Said one juror, “It was a waste of our tax dollars and a waste of my time to have listened to such a one-sided case…Mr. Emmett’s lawyer should have done so much more for him.”
In Iran, parliament votes 148-5 to extend death penalty to “corruptors of the world” – that is, people who make porn.