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.


Maryland Must Support Victims’ Families

The abolition of the death penalty in Maryland mattered to many victims’ families; that’s one of the reasons it passed. Also important for these families was the funding originally attached to the repeal bill that would have provided real tangible support for families who lose loved ones to homicide. Support that pays for counseling, that helps mitigate the loss of a breadwinner, or that helps pay for funeral costs.

The funding provision was stripped from Maryland’s repeal bill, but promises were made, by the Governor among others, that the funding would be covered in the state’s budget. Well, the first supplemental budget has been submitted, and funding to support victims’ families is NOT included.


Maryland Legislature Passes Death Penalty Abolition!

Today the Maryland House of Delegates followed the lead of the state Senate and passed the death penalty repeal bill. The bill now goes to Governor Martin O’Malley who almost certainly will sign it, making Maryland the 18th state to abandon capital punishment (Photo Credit: Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Today the Maryland House of Delegates followed the lead of the state Senate and passed the death penalty repeal bill. The bill now goes to Governor Martin O’Malley who almost certainly will sign it, making Maryland the 18th state to abandon capital punishment (Photo Credit: Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Today the Maryland House of Delegates followed the lead of the state Senate and passed the death penalty repeal bill. The bill now goes to Governor Martin O’Malley who almost certainly will sign it, making Maryland the 18th state to abandon capital punishment, and the 6th state in 6 years to join the abolition club.

This culminates a decades-long campaign, stretching back to the 1980s, in which Amnesty International – in coalition with other groups – has always played an integral part. For me personally, it caps 6 years of thoroughly meaningful and rewarding work with a terrific collection of Amnesty staff and activists and coalition partners.


In Maryland: Victims, Not Vengeance?

Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley

Maryland Governor O’Malley Joins Pastors’ March on Annapolis to repeal the death penalty in Maryland in 2009.

Passage of Maryland’s death penalty repeal bill in 2013 would be historic, and not only because it would ban capital punishment in that state.  Though of course ending executions in Maryland would be great, the 2013 repeal bill would be more historic because of what it does for the families of victims.

Since capital punishment costs more in Maryland than the alternatives (as it does in California, or any other state where the question has been studied), savings are to be had, and Maryland’s death penalty repeal bill appropriates some of those savings to support the real needs of victims’ families.  Many families who lose a loved one (often times a breadwinner) to murder simply can’t afford the bare necessities like counseling, travel to court dates and hearings, or even funeral costs.

Redirecting funds wasted on capital punishment to provide for these basic needs respects both the rights the prisoner (who will not be subjected to the ultimate cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment) and the rights of the victim (whose loved ones will be supported in ways that truly matter).  Here’s hoping Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley will lead his state to passing this groundbreaking legislation, invigorating the USA’s march to abolition, while setting a new standard for how criminal justice can be more humane and do more for victims’ families.

10 Reasons Death Penalty Abolition is Coming


Today is the 10th World Day Against the Death Penalty, an annual October 10 event created by the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty of which Amnesty International is a founding member. Since that first World Day on Oct. 10, 2003, executions are on the wane both here in the U.S. and around the world.

Here are 10 reasons to celebrate 10 years of progress this World Day:


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.


Connecticut Death Penalty Abolished! (California Next?)

death penalty abolished in connecticut

With his signature, Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy signed into law the repeal of Connecticut’s death penalty, making his state the 17th, and the 5th in the last 5 years, to do away with capital punishment.  The law is not retroactive, so 11 men remain on Connecticut’s death row.

It is surely a sign of progress for the death penalty abolition movement that such a success could occur in the midst of contentious and escalating election year politics.  Previous legislative repeal victories have occurred during the more sedate odd-numbered years (New Jersey, 2007; New Mexico, 2009, Illinois, 2011).


Connecticut Senate Passes Death Penalty Repeal!

Overcoming a major hurdle, death penalty repeal in Connecticut has passed in the state Senate by a vote of 20-16.  The bill, with the endorsement of 179 murder victim family members, would remove the death penalty as an option for all future crimes.  It now goes to the House and, if it passes there, to Governor Dannel P. Malloy, who has said he will sign it.

Connecticut would become the 17th state to abolish the death penalty, meaning that more than one-third of U.S. states would no longer have capital punishment.  Connecticut would also be the 5th state in 5 years to get rid of the death penalty.  In 2007, New York’s last death sentence was commuted, officially ending that state’s association with capital punishment.  In December 2007, New Jersey legislatively repealed its death penalty.  New Mexico did likewise in 2009, and Illinois in 2011.

As Amnesty International reported in March, two-thirds of the world’s countries no longer use capital punishment.  This vote in Connecticut is yet one more sign that the death penalty, both around the world and here in the U.S., is on its way out.

Paying Respect to the Kerry Sisters

The Old Chain of Rocks Bridge

The Old Chain of Rocks Bridge

I have never been numb to the loss of human life in murder cases, though my work to end the death penalty has meant that I have spent most of my time trying to prevent the executions of those who are convicted of murder.  The story of the 1991 “Chain of Rocks Murder Case,” as it is known in St. Louis, is especially poignant to me not just because I am working to stop the execution of Reggie Clemons—a man convicted as an accomplice to the murders and given the death penalty—but because I also have much in common with the two young women who perished.

I am not a family member of a murder victim, and I have no real connection to Julie and Robin Kerry, the women who died twenty-one years ago.  So I am grateful to Jeanine Cummins, one of their cousins, for having written about Julie and Robin Kerry, and the terrible journey their family experienced.  Her writing has helped me build a larger picture of the meaning of this case and the people it has impacted. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Connecticut Committee Endorses Abolition

Yesterday Connecticut’s Judiciary Committee voted in favor of repealing the death penalty.  It will now be up to the full House and Senate to vote up or down on whether Connecticut will finally get rid of capital punishment.

Last year, a similar bill was stymied by the fact that a high profile death penalty trial was ongoing. In 2009, a repeal bill passed both houses but was vetoed by then Governor Jodi Rell.  The current Governor has said he supports repeal, and 179 murder victim family members signed a letter in support of ending Connecticut’s use of the death penalty.

Meanwhile in Maryland, repeal bills with 66 House and 19 Senate cosponsors, and with a majority ready to vote for them, remain stuck in committees.  No state is more ripe for repeal than Maryland, where there hasn’t been a jury-issued death sentence in 10 years, and where a 2008 study commission set up by the legislature found that capital punishment is “more detrimental” to victims’ families than the alternatives.

If you live in Connecticut or Maryland, you can take action now to help push repeal across the finish line.