Honoring All Victims

April 24, 2007

I was recently reminded that April 22-28 is National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. It is a time to remember those we have lost, and a time to think about the needs of those left behind.

It is often assumed that victims’ families all share a common perspective born of their tragic experience. Most victim outreach programs are tailored to what we think these families want and need. Those left out find themselves victimized again.

Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation, Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights, and Journey of Hope have issued the following statement:

April 22 – 28, 2007 is National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. The theme for this year is “Victims’ Rights: Every Victim, Every Time.” As victims, and survivors, we strongly support efforts to ensure that the needs of victims don’t fall through the cracks or fall prey to politics.

The death penalty does not serve victims’ families. It draws resources away from needed support programs, law enforcement and crime prevention. And the trials and appeals endlessly re-open wounds as they are beginning to heal, and it only creates more families who lose loved ones to killing.

Alternatives to the death penalty provide the certainty and punishment that many families need while keeping our communities safe. Critically, alternatives ensure attention is cast where it is needed most – on the survivors – and not on sensational trials or suspects.

As murder victim family members we also share the same concerns as other Americans with the death penalty. We are concerned about innocent people being sentenced to death, about racial and economic disparities and about arbitrariness. But for us the stakes are higher because an innocent person might be executed in a misguided attempt to give us justice. Losing one innocent life to murder is one too many, the taking of another innocent life because of the first is beyond comprehension.

Those who argue for the death penalty often claim to do so on behalf of us, the victims’ families. They say it will give us “closure.” We don’t want the death penalty, and closure is a myth. Every victim, every time needs help, understanding, resources, and support. We don’t need more killing.

If anyone out there has lost a loved one to violence, or provides support to someone who has suffered such a loss, Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation is holding a workshop this weekend in Raleigh. The event is intended to provide strength and support to survivors who oppose capital punishment.

People on all sides of the death penalty debate mourn the loss of life that begins the legal process. Abolitionists and those who oppose capital punishment for one reason or another are often assumed to care only about the loss of life that ends that process. Perhaps this week we can set time aside to remember the victims, however they died, and to hope for healing for their families, however they feel about the death penalty.

“It would sort of be the equivalent of slowly suffocating while being burned alive.”

April 24, 2007

News Update 4.24.07

North Carolina

Study concludes that NC inmates suffered during executions. In brief, the study found that even if there were no mistakes in the administration of North Carolina’s three drug cocktail, the dosages of two drugs will sometimes be insufficient to have their intended effect. The leader of the study described the sensation of being executed in this manner as, “slowly suffocating while being burned alive.”

See also. The study is available online here.


In Alabama, man may be executed because he joined lethal injection protest suit too late. Aaron Jones is scheduled to die on May 3rd.

In Texas, judge says DNA is not enough to get man off death row. In the meantime, the real killer of a 7-year-old girl is on the loose, and no one is looking for him.

200th DNA Exoneration Expected Today

April 23, 2007

News Update 4.23.07

North Carolina

Victims’ families say inmate pain irrelevant, it’s time for executions.


In California, legislature puts brakes on governor’s secret death chamber. The true cost of the project would have been nearly double what lawmakers were originally told.

In Colorado, legislators would rather spend millions of dollars trying to kill people than use the money to solve cold cases. There are more capital prosecutors in Colorado than there are people on death row.

In Illinois, court is expected to grant relief today to the 200th person exonerated based on DNA evidence. Jerry Miller spent 25 years in prison based on faulty eyewitness identifications.

In Ohio, innocent man freed after serving 16 1/2 years for a crime he did not commit. Randy Resh and his lawyers burst into tears of joy upon hearing the verdict: not guilty on all counts.

In Tennessee, American Bar Association calls on state to extend moratorium and fix problems with poor representation and disparity on death row. An execution has been scheduled for May 9th.

In Texas, district attorney asks county to pick up the tab for DNA and case reviews that freed 13 innocent men. Squabbling over who should pay could mean innocent people spend more time in prison.

Ohio to Resume Executions?

April 20, 2007

News Update 4.20.07

North Carolina

A new documentary from students at Elon University profiles the Religious Left – Christian churches that take a different approach to social issues like the death penalty.


In California, Governor Schwarzenegger spends over $300,000 (without legislative approval) to build a shiny new death chamber, despite the fact that California’s lethal injection protocol has been declared unconstitutional.

In Ohio, Governor Ted Strickland has denied clemency to James Filiaggi and seems prepared to let his execution go forward. More from the Ohio Death Penalty Information blog.

Worldwide, 94% of executions carried out in 2005 were performed in China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United States. In 2006, the “top four” were China, Iran, Pakistan, and Iraq.

A Busy Day at the General Assembly

April 19, 2007

News Update 4.19.07

North Carolina

Among the 269 bills filed yesterday in the General Assembly (the last day to file new bills this session) were several of interest to this blog.
* H1625 – improve procedures for eyewitness identifications
* H1626 – require all interrogations of suspects to be recorded
* H1691 – two year moratorium on the death penalty

Other legislation to keep an eye on
* H1291 – reduce the effect of racial discrimination on the death penalty
* H1526 – limit circumstances under which a person can be sentenced to death
* H1500 – preserve DNA evidence


In Georgia, judge comes to shocking conclusion that part-time prosecutor should not also serve as capital defense counsel.

In South Dakota, jury votes to spare life of woman who would have become the first deaf person on death row.

You can read the transcript of the oral arguments in Panetti v. Quarterman here. A little too much focus on jurisdiction for my taste.

Some initial reactions to Panetti:
* Karl Keys from Capital Defense Weekly
* Miscellaneous news links

Lessons (un)Learned

April 18, 2007

News Update 4.18.07

North Carolina

Durham County DA’s whine that it’s too much trouble to audiotape interviews, so they’re just going to talk to fewer witnesses. Because not conducting a thorough investigation has never gotten them in trouble before…

On May 3rd, Elizabeth Beck will be speaking at the Regulator Bookshop (720 9th Street in Durham, 7 PM) about her new book In the Shadow of Death: Restorative Justice and Death Row Families.


The Houston Chronicle wonders why Harris County has so few exonerations, and concludes that it might be related to the fact that police have been throwing away key evidence.

Information on today’s oral arguments in the Panetti (mental illness) case, care of Stand Down Texas. Includes links to print and radio media, as well as a site where a transcript of the arguments will be posted when available.

Shout Outs

Thanks to Brian Russell and Gregory Korte for the links.

Lethal Injection Update

April 17, 2007

Click here to view a brief filed on behalf of five North Carolina death row inmates (Jerry Conner, James Campbell, Archie Billings, Marcus Robinson, and James Thomas).

A little background. You may recall that the whole execution train got derailed back in January when it was determined that the State’s lethal injection protocol was never properly approved by the Council of State. The Council of State quickly OK’d said protocol. The problem? Administrative agencies like the Council are required by law to follow certain procedures, including holding public hearings about proposed rule changes, with which the Council failed to comply. Since then, the attorneys for a number of death row inmates have filed suit in the Office of Administrative Hearings to demand that the Council do things right. The Council responded by filing a motion to dismiss the suit, saying that they don’t have to follow the procedures. Above is the response of the inmates to that motion. Included are several appendices related to attempts made by the attorneys to gain access to the Council of State and prior litigation regarding the lethal injection protocol.

I will grant you that administrative law is not the most exciting thing in the world. Here is why this matters – the hearing that the Council of State should have held would have been the only opportunity for public comment on and revision of the flawed lethal injection protocol. The Council refused to hear from anyone other than the State’s attorneys and ignored evidence that the protocol puts inmates at an unconstitutional and unconscionable risk of dying an agonizing death. The people of North Carolina have been denied any input into this ultimate punishment to be carried out on their behalf.

The Department of Corrections is immune from administrative law regulations. Up until recently, they’ve been pretty much free to make up the execution protocol as they go along. For a while, the DOC was administering half of the barbiturate after the drugs that paralyze the muscles and stop the heart – when the inmate was already dead, and long after the anesthetic could have served its intended purpose. Jonas Salk they’re not. There are aspects of the current lethal injection protocol that are similarly nonsensical. Someone with a hand in designing the protocol ought to have some idea what they’re doing. Quite simply, the Council of State needs to be fully informed before it makes its decision.

Given that not following the rules is what got them into this mess in the first place, you would think the State would be a little more careful. It’s clear that the State just wants these men dead, by any means necessary. Having a lethal injection protocol that doesn’t inflict unnecessary torture on the condemned is not about giving undue dignity to cold-blooded killers. It’s about maintaining our own dignity, lest we become cold-blooded killers ourselves.


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