About Brian Evans

Brian Evans is the Director of Amnesty International USA’s Death Penalty Abolition Campaign. Prior to moving to Washington, D.C. in 2006, he was a founding member of the Texas Moratorium Network and a member of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, organizations working to stop executions in the state of Texas. He has a Masters degree in Middle East Studies from the University of Texas at Austin and also served for 8 years as Bahrain, Oman and Saudi Arabia Country Specialist for Amnesty International USA.
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Is Executing A Man With A Brain Disorder “Timely Justice”?

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Frank Walls

Frank Walls

As the state legislature of Florida debated the Timely Justice Act – a law designed to speed of executions in the Sunshine State – bill sponsor Matt Gaetz pointed to the case of Frank Walls, quipping that:

If the Timely Justice Act becomes law, Mr. Walls is going to have to start thinking about what his last meal is going to be.

The Timely Justice Act has become law, and Frank Walls, who was sentenced to death for the murder of Ann Peterson (and life for the murder of Edward Alger) is under consideration for clemency. If clemency is denied, then he indeed will be eligible for an execution date.

Frank Walls was convicted of heinous crimes. But, State Representative Gaetz’s disturbing enthusiasm for his execution notwithstanding, Frank Walls should be granted clemency.  He is a remorseful prisoner with brain disorders that have left him functioning at the level of a 12-year-old.

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The Racist Testimony That Helped Sentence This Man to Death

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Duane Buck was sentenced to death by a Texas jury that heard an "expert" say his race made him a "future danger" (Photo Credit: North Dallas Gazette).

Duane Buck was sentenced to death by a Texas jury that heard an “expert” say his race made him a “future danger” (Photo Credit: North Dallas Gazette).

Like the Precogs in Phillip K. Dick’s The Minority Report, Texas jurors are asked to peer into the future and determine if capital defendants are likely to commit future crimes. “Future dangerousness” is a factor Texas juries must consider before issuing a death sentence. To accomplish this prognostication, these juries often rely on expert – some would say “expert” – psychological testimony.

Sometimes those “experts” are racist. Like Dr. Walter Quijano, who testified in several cases that defendants were “future dangers” because of their race. In the case of Duane Buck, he had the following exchange:

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The State of Missouri Has a Secret…

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Missouri law provides members of an execution team with anonymity, and the pharmacy for Joseph Paul Franklin’s execution has been added to the team. Without knowing which pharmacy is providing the execution drugs, the drugs’ efficacy cannot be guaranteed (Photo Credit: Joe Raedle/Newsmakers).

Missouri law provides members of an execution team with anonymity, and the pharmacy for Joseph Paul Franklin’s execution has been added to the team. Without knowing which pharmacy is providing the execution drugs, the drugs’ efficacy cannot be guaranteed (Photo Credit: Joe Raedle/Newsmakers).

Legend has it that more than a century ago, a Missouri Congressman stated at a banquet that he was not impressed by fancy speeches or “frothy eloquence,” concluding “I am from Missouri. You have got to show me.” Since then, Missouri has been known as the “Show Me” State.

One thing the people of Missouri are not being shown is how their state is killing prisoners.

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The Odd – But Welcome – Reason This Inmate Received a Stay of Execution

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Ohio Governor John Kasich has granted a reprieve so that Ronald Phillips may donate his organs (Photo Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images).

Ohio Governor John Kasich has granted a reprieve so that Ronald Phillips may donate his organs (Photo Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images).

You can’t get too excited when it’s considered a sign of progress that a Governor stays an execution so the condemned inmate might donate his organs.

But, given the almost non-existence of executive clemency in U.S. capital cases, it is a relatively good thing that Ohio Governor John Kasich granted a reprieve to Ronald Phillips so that his request to donate his kidney and heart to ailing family members might be explored.

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4 States That Are Trying – and Failing – to Find a More Humane Way to Kill

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The U.S. death penalty is floundering for a variety of reasons, not least of which is the growing awareness that errors can go uncorrected and lead to executions of the innocent (Photo Credit: Joe Raedle/Newsmakers).

The U.S. death penalty is floundering for a variety of reasons, not least of which is the growing awareness that errors can go uncorrected and lead to executions of the innocent (Photo Credit: Joe Raedle/Newsmakers).

At the end of this October, we learned that public support for the death penalty is at its lowest in 40 years. And while three states (AZ, FL, TX) did manage to carry out 5 executions (Arizona and Florida killed twice) this month, several states were forced to scramble to get the drugs they need to kill their prisoners “humanely.”

Of course, there is no humane way to deliberately kill a human being; it’s a fundamentally inhumane act. Pharmaceutical companies and health professionals continue to resist being dragged into this degrading quagmire. But U.S. states keep trying.

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Who’s Really Using the Death Penalty?

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Just 2 percent of U.S. counties are responsible for 52% of all executions and 56% of the country's current death row population(Photo by FPG/Hulton Archive/Getty Images).

Just 2 percent of U.S. counties are responsible for 52% of all executions and 56% of the country’s current death row population(Photo by FPG/Hulton Archive/Getty Images).

We know that, in the U.S., there are large differences in the enthusiasm with which the death penalty is applied. Currently, there are 32 states that still allow the use of the death penalty: some use it a lot, some barely at all. But what is less well known is the disparity that exists within states, at the county level.

The Death Penalty Information Center has released a report which illustrates these disparities. For example, out of the 3,143 counties in the U.S., 62, or just 2% (representing just 15.6% of the total U.S. population), are responsible for 52% of all executions and 56% of the current U.S. death row population. Even in states known for their vigorous use of the death penalty, many counties have never handed down a death sentence. Nationally, an overwhelming majority (85%) of counties have never produced an execution.

These disparities have serious implications for fairness (the Supreme Court has ruled that the death penalty is supposed to be applied based on the severity of the crime, not its location), and for taxpayers, who must pay to support the criminal justice money pit of capital punishment even though the majority of them live in counties where the death penalty is largely irrelevant.

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BREAKING: Supreme Court Rejects Warren Hill Petition

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Warren Hill

Warren Hill

Georgia authorities continue to pursue the execution of Warren Hill despite the fact that:

  • The victim’s family opposes the execution
  • Several jurors from the trial now object to the execution
  • All 7 doctors who have examined him now agree that Hill is intellectually disabled
  • The U.S. Supreme Court banned execution of the intellectually disabled in 2002

With an assist from the U.S. Supreme Court, which today rejected Warren Hill’s petition for relief, Georgia may get its way.

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Troy Davis: Two Years Later, The Fight Continues

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As we approach the second anniversary of the execution of Troy Anthony Davis, I have been reading “I Am Troy Davis” the new book by Jen Marlow and Martina Davis-Correia (Troy’s late sister and a powerful force for human rights). You should read it, too. You’ll be moved, like I’ve been, to renew and redouble your commitment to abolish the death penalty.

For me, it is bringing back memories, both painful and inspiring.

I started on staff with Amnesty about one month after the February 2007 release of the report “Where is the Justice For Me,” the first of what was to be four reports on Troy Davis. It was the first thing I read as an Amnesty staffer. I had come from Texas, where I had been a volunteer in death penalty abolition efforts, so I had seen my share of sleeping lawyers, hanging judges, and callous Governors.

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Mental Illness, Politics and Florida’s Death Penalty

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(Photo Credit: Allen Hailey).

(Photo Credit: Allen Hailey).

Marshall Gore is scheduled to be put to death in Florida on October 1. It is his fourth execution date this year. As arguments about his serious mental illness have come and gone, his execution has three times been moved back. According to Amnesty International’s Urgent Action on the case, a federal judge

…noted that there was a “reasonable basis” for asserting that Marshall Gore might be incompetent for execution, given the various “delusional” statements he had made. The judge noted that Marshall Gore had indicated a belief that his execution was set for his ‘death and organ harvesting/to be a human sacrifice or both,’ that his then execution date of June 24 added up to 6-6-6 and that “because of his virgin innocence of murder, he is a target of Satan Worshipers who have threatened that date by mail for years.”

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Which U.S. State Has the Most Error-Prone Capital Punishment System?

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It is an affront to human rights that the state, any state, should have to power to kill a prisoner; and it is an affront to common sense that this irreversible punishment can be imposed by a system as unreliable and fraught with error as the U.S. criminal justice system.

In most states, a jury must at least be unanimous before issuing a sentence of death. But in the state of Florida, the state that leads the nation in number of wrongfully convicted prisoners exonerated from death row, only a bare majority of jurors is required. In the Sunshine State, although judges ultimately decide the sentence, a jury by a 7-5 vote can recommend execution.

No other state allows this.

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