News Update 10.31.07
Juan Melendez, who spent 18 years on Florida’s death row for a crime he did not commit, spoke to UNC-Chapel Hill students last night about his experiences. The lecture was just one of over two dozen similar events planned across the state.
John Holdridge of the NC-based ACLU Capital Punishment Project suggests that we use this time without executions to consider whether capital punishment is really necessary. If nothing else, he says, at least we will know that no innocent people will be executed between now and next spring.
Earl Wesley Berry was scheduled to be executed in Mississippi last night. Six o’clock, the scheduled hour of his death, came and went with no word in the media about whether the Supreme Court would stay the execution. Eventually we learned that the Court issued an order staying the execution just 15 minutes before the injections were to begin. Berry had eaten his last meal and said goodbye to his family, but had not yet been taken to the execution chamber. SCOTUS again declined to declare an official moratorium, meaning that inmates and the governments seeking to kill them will continue to go through this process indefinitely. Given that Berry had the weakest argument for a stay of all those with executions presently scheduled, the Court’s decision to grant him temporary reprieve is taken by many as a signal that SCOTUS will not allow other executions to go forward. As for Berry, his stay will last only until the Court has had an opportunity to review his recently-filed petition for certiorari. (See also CDW)
The New York Times has reported shocking – but perhaps not surprising – new evidence that the West Memphis 3, convicted of killing three 8-year-old boys, are in fact innocent. Damien Echols, the only defendant over the age of 18, sits on Arkansas’ death row. New evidence shows that there was no DNA from any of the West Memphis 3 at the crime scene – but there was DNA from one of the boys’ stepfathers, found in the shoelace used to bind another boy. The stepfather of another victim has a history of violence and has behaved strangely since the killings, including providing documentary filmmakers with a bloodstained knife. The only evidence against the West Memphis 3 was a statement given by one of them, mildly mentally retarded and addicted to drugs, who offered an explanation when the reward offered reached $30,000. More here.