Death Penalty Downward Spiral Continues

Exonerated Gary Drinkard death penalty

Gary Drinkard was on death row in Alabama for 6 years before he was exonerated. © Scott Langley

As we approach the end of another year, the time for annual reports is at hand.  For the death penalty, this means the yearly report from the Death Penalty Information Center, as well as the year-end report from the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.   Both reports show that in 2011 the downward trends we have been observing for several years in the United States continued or even accelerated.

Texas carried out its lowest number of executions (13) since 1996.  Nationwide, the 43 executions carried out represented about half the number that were put to death in the year 2000, and U.S. death sentences dropped well below 100 for the first time since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976.

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Death Penalty Abolition: Five States That Could Be Next

witness viewing room death penalty

Witness viewing room © Scott Langley

Three states have abolished the death penalty legislatively in recent years: New Jersey in 2007, New Mexico in 2009, and Illinois in 2011.  Inevitably, more states will follow; but can a state or states abolish the death penalty in an even-numbered (read: election) year?  We will find out in 2012.

As Politico reported on Friday, states that are poised to end their experiment with capital punishment next year include Connecticut, Kansas, Maryland, and Ohio, as well as California (through a ballot initiative).  This is quite a diverse collection of states, ranging from small to large and from conservative to liberal, which goes to show how mainstream an issue death penalty abolition has become.

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Giving Thanks for a Sister and Prophet: Martina Davis Correia

Martina Davis Correia

Martina Davis Correia

Our friend and fellow warrior for human rights, Martina Davis Correia, has passed on.  She stopped breathing at about 6:28pm on December 1st in Savannah, Georgia while I stood near her hospital bed along with family and friends.  She passed in peace, though she endured a painful struggle following the failure of a liver that had taken a severe beating in the course of a decade’s worth of cancer treatments.

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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.”

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Reliability of Eyewitness Testimony: What We Learned From Troy Davis

Brenda Forrest, one of the jurors who convicted Troy Davis and sentenced him to death, told CNN that in 1991 she believed: “He was definitely guilty.  All of the witnesses, they were able to I.D. him as the person who actually did it.”

justice scalesHowever, years after the trial, Forrest backtracked as the case against Davis began to unravel, and went on to say that, knowing what she knows now about the witness recantations,  she would have voted to acquit Davis of the crime for which he was put to death September 21.

Eyewitnesses do seem credible to jurors.  After all, they were there.  And back in 1991 when Troy Davis’ fate was being decided, eyewitnesses seemed credible to courts too.  Not so much any more.  Decades of studies have exposed how shaky human memory is, and how little eyewitness evidence should be trusted. Ironically, for Davis, this meant that a form of evidence deemed reliable enough to convict him in 1991 was considered too untrustworthy in 2010 to be considered “clear and convincing” proof of his innocence.

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U.S. Public Turning Away From Death Penalty?

In 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned all U.S. death penalty laws, declaring them unconstitutional.  Public support for capital punishment was low back then, but by 1976, the death penalty had made a comeback and, 1,200+ executions later, here we are.

Yet now public support for the death penalty is as low as it’s been since 1972, and the New York Times this weekend made the case that it may really be on its way out.  The number of death sentences and executions annually has plummeted over the past decade, and 24 of the 50 states have either abolished capital punishment or not carried out an execution in 12 years or more. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Will Georgia Kill Again Despite Doubts?

Update Oct 4: A stay of execution has been granted to Marcus Ray Johnson. Superior Court Judge Willie Lockette has ordered that DNA evidence found last week by Albany police be evaluated. He will hold a follow up hearing in February, 2012.

Georgia is scheduled to execute Marcus Ray Johnson on Wednesday, October 5. This date appeared on the calendar the morning after the Peach State put Troy Davis to death despite unresolved doubts about his guilt.

As in the Troy Davis case, there is no physical evidence linking Johnson to the 1994 murder in Albany, Ga., of Angela Sizemore.  According to Johnson’s lawyers, his case was built on eyewitness testimony from individuals who did not even witness the crime but only placed Johnson with the victim in the hours before the murder.

Expert testimony about the problems with eyewitness identification evidence was not allowed at Johnson’s trial. According to the Innocence Project, 75 percent of wrongful convictions discovered by DNA testing have involved faulty witness identifications.

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Troy Davis: Celebration of Life

I Am Troy DavisTomorrow is the Day of Remembrance for Troy Davis. Amnesty staff and volunteers will be present at his funeral to represent you and our executive direct Larry Cox will be speaking on our behalf.

Many of you have spent countless hours collecting signatures on petitions, organizing educational events, telling everyone you know about this remarkable case. And because of it, people are thinking about the death penalty differently. They are coming to understand the reality of this callous system that creates more victims and solves no problems.

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All Executions Are Wrong

The morning after Troy Davis was executed, the state of Georgia set another execution date.  Marcus Ray Johnson is slated to be put to death on October 5.  The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles should hear from us (fax: 404-651-6670;  email: [email protected]) about this case too, because all executions are wrong.

Even if there are no doubts about guilt (as there was in the case with Troy Davis, and as there is in the case with Reggie Clemons), even if there are no horrifying mitigating circumstances (like the ones that led Ohio’s Governor John Kacich to commute another death sentence), and even if the crime is particularly heinous (as was the case with the execution last week of Lawrence Brewer in Texas) the deliberate putting to death of a human being is not justice and is a fundamental violation of basic human rights.

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Day of Remembrance: Troy Davis Lives

The state of Georgia shocked the world when it took Troy Davis’ life last Wednesday. But in the wake of that outrage, the movement to end the death penalty has only grown in numbers and energy.

We have heard innumerable stories of consciousness raising and transformation. People did not go home from the various protests despondent. Like us, they have committed to not forgetting what happened and are emboldened, redoubling efforts to end the callous system that has demonstrated it has no business taking human life.

On Saturday, October 1, join us for a Day of Remembrance.

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