Who’s Next To Abolish The Death Penalty – Delaware?

The state of Delaware is known as the “Small Wonder”, but it has a surprisingly large death row.  With 17 men (10 of them African American) facing execution, Delaware’s death row is more than twice as big as Virginia’s, and more than 3 times the size of Maryland’s.  And Delaware has the third highest per capita execution rate of any state in the U.S. (behind Oklahoma and Texas).

But now, a bill making its way through the state legislature may mean than no one else will be sent to Delaware’s death row.  A death penalty repeal bill has already cleared the Delaware Senate, and will be taken up by the House on April 24.

There are deep concerns about costs, about wrongful convictions, and about the racial disproportionality of Delaware’s death penalty (the subject of a Cornell University study). These concerns, amplified by powerful appeals from family members of murder victims, and by the voices of those forced to become complicit in state killing (like this juror from a recent Delaware capital case), may be enough to bring about a second successful state death penalty repeal this year.


What If A Texas Judge Cleaned Guns During Jury Selection?

cleaning gunsAnthony Haynes was only 19.  An African American with no prior criminal record, he was under the influence of crystal meth and mental health problems when he killed an off-duty police officer in Houston, Texas in May 1998.

At jury selection for his trial, the judge cleaned guns while African Americans were peremptorily removed from the jury pool.  What kind of message did that send?

A jury with 11 white members convicted Haynes. His defense lawyer then made little effort to stave off a death sentence – witnesses who could have testified that Anthony Haynes’ crime was totally out of character were not called.  The jury heard nothing about this, or about Haynes’ mental health issues, and promptly sentenced him to die.

Since his death sentence was handed down in 1999, Anthony Haynes has been a model prisoner, disproving the jury’s conclusion that he would be a continuing threat to society (a requirement in Texas for passing a death sentence).


No Mercy In Georgia

warren hill

Clemency was denied for Warren Hill despite his diagnosis of mental retardation.

The Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles has disgraced itself, and the state it represents … again. The Georgia Board exists, like all executive clemency institutions, to inject a bit of mercy and humanity into the cold, clinical processes of our justice system.

But the Board could find no mercy for Warren Hill.

On Monday, the Georgia Board rejected Mr. Hill’s clemency petition, despite pleas from the victim’s family and several jurors that there should be no execution.  And without regard for the intellectual disabilities that should have rendered him unfit for execution 10 years ago.

The Supreme Court ruled the execution of persons with “mental retardation” unconstitutional in 2002.  Shortly thereafter, a Georgia judge found Mr. Hill to be “mentally retarded” by a “preponderance of the evidence”.  But Georgia, alone among the 33 death penalty states, requires proof of “mental retardation” to be “beyond a reasonable doubt”, the most difficult legal standard to reach. So the courts couldn’t stop an execution that would not go forward in any other state and, more likely than not, would be unconstitutional.


Eyewitness Reliability And Troy Davis Part II

Yesterday, I wrote that, by taking up the Perry v. New Hampshire case, the Supreme Court had acknowledged the ongoing problem of unreliable eyewitnesses testifying in our courts.  Thousands of studies have reiterated that eyewitness testimony is a particularly untrustworthy form of evidence. But after reading accounts like this one of yesterday’s oral arguments in that case, it appears that, even if the Justices recognize this problem, they don’t think it matters much.

In fact, the prevailing attitude seemed to be that letting any unreliable evidence into trials doesn’t matter too much, because juries will sort it all out.  The Justices have in their hands an expert affidavit from the American Psychological Association that explicitly states: “juries tend to ‘over believe’ eyewitness testimony”. But the Court still seemed to oppose what Justice Kennedy called “invading the province of the jury.”


Not In Our Name: Georgia Must Not Execute Troy Davis

Troy Davis too much doubtOutrageous.  Simply outrageous.

Georgia’s State Board of Pardons and Paroles has rejected Troy Davis’ clemency petition.  He faces execution on Wed., Sept. 21 at 7 pm EDT.  We do not accept this decision and we will not quietly sit by.  Join us by taking more action:  demand that the Board reconsider its decision and demand that Chatham County (Savannah) District Attorney Larry Chisolm seek a withdrawal of the death warrant and support clemency himself.

This appalling decision renders meaningless the Board’s 2007 vow to not permit an execution unless there is “no doubt” about guilt.  The Troy Davis case is riddled with doubt. Most of the witnesses who testified against him have recanted, while others have pointed to an alternate suspect as the real killer.

Nearly a million supporters of human rights and justice have called for clemency in this case, so far.  They believed in the common-sense notion that you should not execute someone when you can’t be sure they are guilty.

Death penalty supporters like Bob Barr, former Texas Governor Mark White,  and former FBI Director William Sessions also support clemency in this case, for the same reason.  And at least three jurors from Davis’ trial have asked for his execution to be called off. Putting Troy Davis to death would be a grave injustice to those jurors who believe they sentenced Davis to death based on questionable information.

The Board chose to ignore this huge number and wide range of voices, so we must raise our voices even more.  Demand that Georgia authorities Stop This Execution.

Jurors, Family Members Oppose Texas Execution

The family of Timothy Adams does not want the state of Texas to execute him on February 22.  That is not too surprising, but is a good reminder that those on death row have families who love them, and that the loss of a loved one through the instrument of state killing can be every bit as painful as the loss of a loved one to murder. 

Execution witness viewing room (c) Scott Langley

The family of Timothy Adams knows this because they are also the family of the victim.  Timothy Adams shot and killed his 19-month-old son, TJ Adams, during a standoff with Houston police 9 years ago.  As heinous the killing of little TJ was, the loss of another family member, this time to execution, will only amplify the pain caused by this crime.

Timothy Adams’ father (and TJ’s grandfather):

“Losing TJ was especially hard for me… However, I cannot imagine losing my son to this tragedy as well… I do not know what I will do if we lose Tim.”

Timothy Adams’ brother (TJ’s uncle):

“It’s hard to explain why Tim did what he did… It was totally out of character… I still have a strong relationship with him. I often break down when I leave the prison after our visits. I cannot imagine losing my brother.”

Timothy Adams’ sister (TJ’s aunt):

“It’s going to affect my family in a bad way if he is executed. I would never wish this on anyone, even my worst enemy… This would just be another huge loss to our family.”

Three jurors from the original trial are also seeking to stop this execution, saying that they felt pressured by other jurors into voting for a death sentence they didn’t believe in.  

One juror said she changed her vote from life to death under pressure, and “carried the guilt around for years knowing that I sentenced Adams, a man who had done wrong but who was otherwise a good, religious, and hard-working person, to death”; while another said: “Adams was so remorseful during the trial, and I could tell that he was hurting a lot.”

The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles can recommend that Texas Governor Rick Perry grant clemency in this case, and commute Timothy Adams’ death sentence to life without parole. Please join these jurors and family members in calling for clemency in this case.

UPDATE: Oklahoma Board Votes for Clemency in Death Penalty Case

Oklahoma SealC232The votes have come in and the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board decided by three votes to two to recommend that Governor Brad Henry commute Richard Smith’s death sentence.  Because this recommendation is nonbinding, it is vital that we continue speaking out in the name of justice for Mr. Smith.  Governor Henry has received six previous recommendations for clemency for death row inmates from the Pardon and Parole Board since he has taken office on January 13, 2003.  Unfortunately, he has taken the Board’s advice on only two of those six recommendations.  

In addition to the Pardon and Parole Board, six of the jurors who originally sentenced Mr. Smith to death have called for clemency.  At the trial, these jurors never heard evidence of Mr. Smith’s harsh upbringing, addiction problems, and psychological and mental health issues, which they now cite as reasons for commuting Mr. Smith’s sentence.

Please continue to write appeals urging Governor Henry to accept the Board’s recommendation and reject the execution of Richard Smith.

Six Jurors Oppose Oklahoma Execution

Oklahoma has the opportunity to save a life on April 8, 2010 and it is our responsibility to take action to prevent another state killing.  Richard Smith was convicted of murder in 1987, and now has been on death row for more than half of his life.  Not only do six jurors from his trial now oppose his execution, but so does a brother of the victim. 

Similar to many other death penalty cases, Richard Smith was not given an adequate defense.  His lawyer presented almost no evidence, and no expert testimony.  He did not begin investigating until seven to ten days before the date of trial, and he failed to present evidence of Smith’s past abuse as a child, addiction problems, psychological problems, brain injury, and borderline intelligence. 

If the jury at the time of the trial had heard this evidence, the outcome of Smith’s case could have been significantly different.  The six jurors who now oppose his execution exemplify the very reason why we should act in the name of justice.  Due to Smith’s poor representation in trial, we must act to commute the death sentence of Richard Smith.

Executive clemency is in place so that justice can be upheld even when the courts drop the ball.  In the case of Mr. Smith, powerful mitigating evidence was never heard by a jury.  Justice would not be served by executing Richard Smith under these circumstances.  The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board should recommend that Governor Brad Henry commute this death sentence, and Governor Henry should accept that recommendation.