Discussion:
death penalty news----TEXAS, N.J., N.C., FLA., NEB., ARIZ. NEV., ORE., USA
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Rick Halperin
2017-08-29 13:27:54 UTC
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August 29



TEXAS----impending execution

Motion filed to call off execution of S.A. inmate



A Houston lawyer acting on behalf of a San Antonio death row inmate is seeking
a last-minute reprieve with a newly filed motion citing a need for more DNA
testing on evidence from the 2003 lovers' lane slaying.

Juan Castillo is set for execution on Sept. 7 for his role in the murder of
Tommy Garcia during a bungled robbery. But on Tuesday, David Dow, a University
of Houston law professor with the Texas Innocence Network, filed a motion to
withdraw the execution date.

The case centers around the death of a 19-year-old rapper, who was shot
repeatedly after Castillo's then-girlfriend lured him to a secluded spot with
the promise of sex and drugs. Castillo was 1 of 4 people convicted in the
crime, but he was fingered as the trigger man and was the only one hit with a
capital sentence.

In April, Castillo's counsel filed a motion requesting DNA testing on a knit
cap sent to a crime lab back in 2003, a few weeks after the slaying. The Bexar
County District Attorney's Office filed a response opposing the testing, but
the court has not yet issued a decision - and that's why lawyers are asking to
cancel the death date.

"Given today's date, and the certainty additional proceedings will be needed to
ultimately resolve Mr. Castillo's motions, the court should exercise its power
to withdraw the imminent execution date," Dow wrote in the latest court
filings.

(source: Houston Chronicle)








NEW JERSEY:

Court upholds ruling granting new trial for N.J. man once on death row



An appeals court has upheld a lower court's decision granting a former death
row inmate a third trial in a decades-old murder in Middlesex County.

Authorities, however, plan to bring their case in the notorious murder before
the state's highest court.

Nathaniel Harvey, now 67, had his conviction overturned two years ago in the
killing of a Plainsboro woman with a hatchet in 1985 after a state Superior
Court judge ruled Harvey didn't receive "adequate assistance" from the public
defenders during trial in the early 1990s.

On Monday, the state Appellate Court agreed with Judge Stuart Peim, affirming
the court's decision that Harvey was not provided with proper representation
guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment.

The 3-judge panel wrote, "Defendant's counsel's errors were sufficiently
serious so as to undermine confidence that defendant's trial was fair, and that
the jury properly convicted him."

Harvey was convicted of murder in 1994 and sentenced to death. His attorneys
have since argued that advances in DNA technology could prove that Harvey was
not guilty in the murder of 37-year-old Irene Schnaps.

Harvey's sentence was reduced to life without parole after New Jersey's move to
abolish the death penalty in 2007.

The court did not rule on whether or not the new forestic evidence helped the
defense's case or it was sufficient enough to warrant a new trial.

"The Prosecutor's Office is very disappointed in the court's decision,"
Middlesex County Prosecutor Andrew Carey said Monday." We plan on filing a
motion for leave to appeal to the N.J. Supreme Court."

Harvey's attorney could not immediately be reached for comment.

Authorities say that DNA evidence linked Harvey to Schnaps' apartment where a
co-worker found the Plainsboro woman bludgeoned to death. Schnaps was hit 15
times in the head with a hatchet.

Prosecutor's said Harvey, who lived in East Windsor, confessed to the murder
after he was arrested in connection with a string of burglaries, but he quickly
recanted.

Harvey was first found guilty in the woman's murder in 1986, but the state
Supreme Court overturned the conviction, ruling that Harvey confessed without
being read his Miranda rights.

During his 2nd trial in 1994, prosecutors presented blood samples from the
woman's box spring, arguing that the genetic traits in the samples connected
Harvey to the murder.

His defense argued that new tests would prove the woman's neighbor was the
killer.

The state's highest court upheld his conviction in 1997.

New DNA tests were ordered by the state Supreme Court in 2007.

Harvey is serving currently serving a 70-year prison term. He was convicted in
1989 on charges of sexual assault and kidnapping, as well as other charges,
according to court records. The details of that case were not known.

(source: nj.com)








NORTH CAROLINA:

Eric Campbell found guilty of murder after 3-week delay



A jury found Eric Campbell guilty of 1st-degree murder and other charges Monday
as his trial resumed following a 3-week delay caused by a juror getting injured
in a car crash.

The Granville County jury had only been deliberating for 2 1/2 hours before the
judge dismissed them August 2 because the injured juror needed surgery. They
began deliberating again just after 9:30 a.m. Monday and came back at 11 a.m.

Prosecutors say Campbell and his father Edward murdered Jerome and Dora
Faulkner in the Oak Hill area on New Year's Eve 2014 and tortured their dogs in
a robbery. Their bodies were lumped into a stolen SUV by the 2 intruders. The
father and son were caught the next day in West Virginia.

Those facts are not in the question. In fact, the defendant, 23-year old Eric
Campbell provided many of the details himself, offering testimony of what led
up to the event, how (he said) it went down and what happened next.

The question jurors faced was whether Eric Campbell's father was so abusive -
so devastatingly intimidating and controlling - that his son had no choice but
to go along with the 2 brutal murders.

Ed Campbell killed himself in Raleigh Central prison, so the only account of
what happened on that day is Eric's testimony.

During the trial, both sides introduced digital evidence such as video and
audio recordings that bolstered their arguments. The three-week-long trial
included expert testimony from law-enforcement, mental health experts, as well
as friends and family of both the victims and the Campbells.

The jury weighed charges including murder, breaking and entering, arson, and
animal cruelty. Campbell faces the death penalty. The trial now enters the
penalty phase.

(source: WTVD news)








FLORIDA:

Judge denies motion to take death penalty off table for man accused of killing
16-year-old with car



Attorneys representing Sanel Saint Simon went before a judge Monday seeking to
have the death penalty taken off the table in his case due to the ongoing fight
between Gov. Rick Scott and State Attorney Aramis Ayala.

Saint Simon is accused of using a car in the killing of his girlfriend's
16-year-old daughter in July 2014.

His attorneys argued Monday that Scott's appointment of State Attorney Brad
King in their client's case amounts to an automatic pursuit of the death
penalty by the state.

Since Ayala announced her office would not seek the death penalty in any case,
Scott has removed her from any pending cases in which the death penalty could
be sought.

Scott appointed King to prosecute the cases.

In every case in which Ayala has been replaced by King, the state has pursued
the death penalty, Saint Simon's attorneys argued Monday.

"Essentially, what the governor has done is stepped in and stripped away all
prosecutorial discretion from Ms. Ayala," one attorney said.

The judge sided with prosecutors and denied motions to take.

(source: WFTV news)

**********************

Lake Worth 1987 death penalty murder case in jury's hands now



A Palm Beach County jury on Tuesday will begin deliberating the case of a
52-year-old Mississippi man who could face the death penalty if convicted in
the 1987 cold-case murder of a young mother of 3.

It has been 3 decades since police found 27-year-old Dana Fader's body, raped
and strangled, in the backseat of her Ford Fairmont at her Lake Worth apartment
complex. Prosecutors in their final words to jurors on Monday said DNA evidence
pieced together more than 20 years after the case went cold make it clear that
Rodney Clark was her killer.

Defense attorneys, on the other hand, told jurors that Fader's killer could be
a mystery man on a motorcycle who had followed her and her sister, Martha Jo
Bailey, home from a local bar just hours before the murder when the 2 returned
from a night out on the town.

Assistant Public Defender Elizabeth Ramsey, part of a 4-attorney team on
Clark's case headed by Palm Beach County Public Defender Carey Haughwout, also
criticized the way investigators processed evidence in the case, saying they
could have contaminated samples later linked to Clark because items from the
crime scene hadn't been properly separated.

A partial palm print on the outside of the car matched to Clark fails to prove
he had any involvement with Fader's death, Ramsey said, because the car was
routinely parked outside and therefore open to similar contact from anyone who
lived in or visited the area.

The case is the 1st death penalty case that the Palm Beach County State
Attorney's Office has taken to trial since since the U.S. Supreme Court struck
down Florida's death penalty sentencing system as unconstitutional in January
2016.

Assistant State Attorneys Aleathea McRoberts and Reid Scott rested their case
on the strength of Clark's DNA, found both on a pillowcase in the backseat of
the Ford and on the back of Fader's dress. After 30 years, Scott said, Clark's
case is as strong a circumstantial case as a jury could get.

"Killers don't get to get away with crimes just because there's no person
sitting there watching them do it," Scott said. "It's not that easy."

Circuit Judge Charles Burton sent jurors home for the day after closing
arguments Monday, telling them to bring an overnight bag with them Tuesday in
case their deliberations stretch beyond a day. If that happens, because it is a
death penalty case, jurors will be sequestered until they reach a verdict.

If the jury convicts Clark of 1st-degree murder, then the case at a later date
will go to a 2nd phase, in which jurors will decide whether Clark will spend
the rest of his life in prison or be put to death by lethal injection.

Before the January 2016 Supreme Court ruling declaring Florida's death penalty
sentencing system unconstitutional, Florida juries needed a simply majority
death vote to recommend a death sentence to a judge, who ultimately imposed a
sentence. Florida lawmakers since then have made several revision to the law,
which now requires a unanimous 12-0 vote for a death sentence and gives jurors
all sentencing power.

Who killed Fader remained an unsolved mystery for investigators for years after
they initially failed to find any viable suspects in her murder.

Fader was living with her youngest child and her brother, Joseph Bailey, at the
Willow Lake apartments on 10th Avenue North at the time she was killed in the
early morning hours of June 20, 1987.

In 1989 investigators placed DNA from the scene of her death into Florida's DNA
database, but it turned up no matches.

Meanwhile, Clark was convicted of the 1988 rape of a child under the age of 14
in Mississippi and declared a convicted sex offender.

More than 2 decades later, investigators ran the samples through a national
database, which turned up a match to Clark.

McRoberts told jurors at the start of the trial last week that when
investigators subsequently questioned Clark, he described Fader as "pretty"
when he saw her photo and admitted living in Palm Beach County at the time she
was killed, but said he never met her.

(source: Palm Beach Post)

******************************

Attorneys pick jury for final Seeger murder trial



Curtis Marco Wilson, the last of Jamie Seeger's 3 accused murderers to answer
to his charges, is ready to stand trial this week.

Attorneys and Citrus County Circuit Court Judge Richard "Ric" Howard worked
Monday to assemble a 12-person jury to preside over Wilson's trial for the July
2012 shooting death of Seeger, a former Citrus County Sheriff's Office
informant.

Wilson, 34, of St. Petersburg, was 1 of 3 men charged in connection with the
1st-degree murder of Seeger, whose 27-year-old body was found slumped and
lifeless in the driver's seat of a Chrysler Crossfire July 25, 2012, near the
Crystal River-area intersection of West Cyrus Street and North Reynolds Avenue.

Following a lengthy investigation, authorities in December 2012 apprehended
Wilson, 50-year-old Lawrence James Vickers of Crystal River and 32-year-old
Marrio Demetric Williams of Dunnellon.

Investigators allege Vickers and Williams, who were also accused earlier in
2012 of selling cocaine to Seeger while she was undercover, paid Wilson to kill
Seeger before she could testify against them in court, according to prior
reports.

During the late hours of July 24, 2012, Williams drove to St. Petersburg to
pick up Wilson and drive back to Crystal River to murder Seeger during the
early hours of July 25.

Following the shooting, Williams and Wilson allegedly drove back to St.
Petersburg and threw the murder weapon off the Howard Frankland Bridge. Dive
teams later recovered the firearm.M

Expected to last at least week, Wilson's trial could see 190 witnesses
testifying, according to attorneys.

Prosecutors Pete Magrino and Rich Buxman and Wilson's defense team of Candace
Hawthorne and Brenda H. Smith on Monday surveyed a panel of 50 prospective
jurors, with questions focused on circumstances relating to Seeger's murder.

Wilson's case will be the 1st death-penalty case in Citrus County in which
jurors, not Howard, will impose a death sentence if Wilson is found guilty of
1st-degree murder.

Florida lawmakers resisted and changed the state's death-penalty sentencing
procedure after the U.S. Supreme Court in January 2016 ruled in Hurst vs.
Florida to strike down the state's prior method, which then allowed judges to
impose death.

If Wilson is convicted following his trial, all 12 presiding jurors must then
unanimously decide at a separate hearing if Wilson is eligible for death, if at
least 1 aggravating circumstance is proved in Wilson's alleged offense is
present.

"That verdict comes from the jury, no longer from the judge," Howard told the
jury panel.

Magrino and Hawthorne said they understood the new post-conviction procedures
for capital cases.

A few prospective jurors, however, told Howard they would be uncomfortable in
sentencing someone to death.

"I don't believe in the death penalty," a man on the panel said.

Jurors found Williams guilty as charged in November. Williams, who was not
eligible for death due to his intellectual disabilities, was sentenced to life
in prison.

Vickers on Aug. 14 pleaded guilty to 1st-degree murder. Attorneys on Sept. 22
will schedule Vickers??? sentencing date, when Howard will impose a sentence no
more than 30 years.

Vickers and Williams are both listed as witnesses in Wilson's trial, Magrino
said.

(source: chronicleonline.com)








NEBRASKA:

Stabbing Victim ID'd; Murder Weapon Recovered



Norfolk authorities have identified the man killed in a stabbing on Friday.

Norfolk Police Captain Don Miller says 39-year old Yosvanis Velazquez Gomez of
Norfolk was killed in the stabbing on Friday at an apartment on the 900-block
of Syracuse Avenue.

The suspect, 48-year old Rodolfo Castaneda Morejon, was taken into custody
after turning himself into police on Friday. Capt. Miller says the murder
weapon has been recovered and evidence is being forwarded to Madison County
Attorney Joe Smith. Court records don't indicate whether a 1st court appearance
for Castaneda-Morejon has been scheduled.

1st degree murder charges have been filed against Castaneda-Morejon, which
means he would be eligible for the death penalty if convicted.

The murder is Norfolk's 1st since the stabbing death of Timothy Warren, Jr. at
a house party Christmas night 2010.

(source: News Channel Nebraska)








ARIZONA:

New attorney assigned to Arizona man facing death penalty



An Arizona man facing the death penalty has a new primary defense attorney.

The Mohave Valley Daily News reports (http://bit.ly/2vlYl0j ) Justin James
Rector, of Bullhead City, is charged with 1st-degree murder, kidnapping, child
abuse and abandonment of a dead body in the 2014 death of 8-year-old Isabella
Grogan-Cannella.

Indigent Defense Service Director Blake Schritter says Quinn Jolly has been
assigned as 1st chair on Rector's case. Co-counsel Julia Cassels will remain as
2nd counsel.

Gerald Gavin, Rector's former lead defense attorney, withdrew from the case in
July after becoming aware of an ethical conflict of interest.

Rector allegedly strangled Grogan-Cannella and left her body in a shallow
grave.

Jolly will appear at Rector's next hearing, which is scheduled for Sept. 22.

(source: Associated Press)








NEVADA:

Las Vegas man removed from death row 31 years after 1st sentence



31 years after he was sentenced to death, John Valerio on Monday got another
chance at life, albeit behind bars.

Valerio was just 22 in 1988 when he was first convicted of murder and placed on
death row for fatally stabbing Karen Sue Blackwell, a 26-year-old Las Vegas
woman, at least 45 times in September 1986.

But in 2002, after more than a dozen years of imprisonment, the 9th U.S.
Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco overturned Valerio's sentence while
upholding his conviction.

That's because, during the penalty phase of Valerio's 1988 trial, Clark County
jurors were instructed to determine whether Blackwell's murder involved
"torture, depravity of mind, or mutilation of the victim," and the federal
appeals court ruled the term "depravity of mind" was unconstitutionally vague.

Since that aggravating circumstance was one of the reasons a jury had sentenced
Valerio to death, he was allowed a new penalty hearing, which didn't begin
until this month.

The yearslong delay was because of "a number of things," defense attorney Tom
Ericsson said. All the while, Valerio aged in prison.

"The sentence he deserved in 1988 is no different than the sentence that he
deserves today, because we should be sentencing him for who he was, and there's
zero evidence he is changed," Chief Deputy District Attorney Marc DiGiacomo
said to the jury Monday. "It's time - it's right, it's just, and it's just
time."

Valerio, now 52, stood quietly in court Monday afternoon as he learned a jury
instead decided he would spend life in prison without the possibility of
parole.

The state's main argument for the death penalty this time included a more
specific definition of "depravity of mind" as an aggravating factor - basically
arguing that Valerio had mutilated Blackwell by stabbing her more times and in
more places than necessary to kill her.

Veteran defense attorney Tom Pitaro asked the jury for mercy.

"The question is, do you fundamentally believe that the human spirit is
redemptive, reforming and changing, and can be? Doesn't mean it has to be, but
can it be?" Pitaro asked. "The state says, 'Nope.'

"This is not a decision that we would have made, or could have made, or might
have made 30 years ago; this is a decision that we must make based upon today,"
Pitaro continued. "You are now sentencing John Valerio, 2017, at age 52. You're
not sentencing John Valerio, 21, 1986."

In an unsworn statement last week, Valerio told the jury he was remorseful for
Blackwell's death, adding that he changed "mentally, physically and
spiritually" while behind bars.

"I think it's probably not very difficult to see I was a menace. I mean,
there's no other way to put it - I made a lot of mistakes. I did some things
right, but I did a lot of things wrong," Valerio said to the jury. "I make
better choices today."

Outside the courtroom after the verdict, DiGiacomo said the original error in
1988 was "harmless," but Valerio "got a benefit out of it," because he is no
longer on death row.

"But he'll still argue that this version's not correct," prosecutor Giancarlo
Pesci added, slightly exasperated. "Because he'll appeal this (for parole).
He's got nothing else to do."

(source: Las Vegas Review-Journal)








OREGON:

Kitzhaber: Repeal of death penalty is only one step----Former governor urges
greater spending on alternatives to alleviate poverty and prevent crime; group
launches 'million conversations'



Former Gov. John Kitzhaber is the most prominent voice against Oregon's death
penalty, but he says repeal is a step toward a greater goal.

"Not only do we want to repeal the death penalty, I think it is equally
important we are cognizant of those social factors and risks that lead people
into a life of crime in the first place," Kitzhaber said last week (Aug. 24) at
the annual meeting of Oregonians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

Kitzhaber, who in his 3rd term in 2011 instituted Oregon's current moratorium
on executions, spoke just before the group launched the "One Million
Conversations" project.

The group wants to encourage 1-on-1 conversations before it seeks repeal at a
future statewide election.

Tom O'Connor, a former research manager and head chaplain for the Oregon
Department of Corrections, said the project's goal is to promote dialogue and
not provoke an already heated debate.

"It's about the emergence of meaning. It means there are no winners or losers,
because the meaning of dialogue is common to everybody," said O'Connor, who now
leads Transforming Corrections, which seeks to promote alternatives to simple
punishment.

"It's the kind of thing I think we need if we are going to move in this arc
toward life."

Ron Steiner, the group's chairman, said death penalty opponents have not yet
amassed the support they will need in a statewide campaign.

"We hope to repeal it before we get a governor who thinks otherwise," he said.

Oregon's current death penalty dates back to 1984. Voters have gone back and
forth on it since the state took over responsibility for executions in 1903.
According to the Oregon Department of Corrections, 33 men and one woman sit on
death row as of Jan. 19.

Oregon is 1 of 31 states with the death penalty - and 4 where governors have
declared a temporary halt to executions.

Moratorium and more

Oregon's only 2 recent executions occurred during Kitzhaber's 1st term as
governor in 1996 and 1997, when he let them proceed despite his personal
opposition to the death penalty.

Kitzhaber described his reversal on Nov. 22, 2011, when he granted a temporary
reprieve to Gary Haugen and imposed a moratorium on executions carried over by
his successor, Kate Brown.

"It was the right thing to do. It was what I should have done 20 years ago. I
didn't, and I can't change that," Kitzhaber said to an audience of more than 50
at Bethel Congregational United Church of Christ in Beaverton.

"I am here tonight because I want to do all I can to help you and other
like-minded Oregonians have a good honest debate about this and find
alternatives to the death penalty. But there is more to it that that."

When Kitzhaber won his 1st term in 1994, Oregon voters also approved a ballot
measure setting mandatory minimum prison sentences for 16 (now 21) violent and
serious sex crimes. Measure 11 was the impetus for a prison construction
program that more than doubled Oregon's inmate population now topping 14,000.

"The real tragedy to me was that the building and operation of those prisons
sucked all the money out of a robust juvenile crime prevention and early
childhood intervention package I funded in my first budget," he said.

"It is clear that what our society does is systematically pulls money out of
investments that could prevent crime and gives it to incarcerate people who
commit crimes.

"I want to know why it is not cruel and unusual punishment to condemn millions
of children to lives of poverty and economic struggle and hardship, simply
because we refuse to make the family investments that would improve their
lives."

How he felt then

For the 1st time in public - the other occasion was at a symposium March 16 at
Willamette University law school in Salem - Kitzhaber talked about his feelings
before the September 1996 execution of Douglas Franklin Wright and the May 1997
execution of Harry Charles Moore. They were the 1st Oregon executions since
1962, and both waived appeals.

Wright was convicted of the murders of 3 homeless men, and admitted to the
killing of a 10-year-old boy later. Moore was convicted of the murders of his
half-sister and former husband.

"There is no question these men did horrible things," he said. "I had no
compassion for them. I had tremendous compassion for their families."

Both times he sat in his Capitol office late at night, one phone line connected
to the attorney general and the other line to the Oregon State Penitentiary,
where the executions were scheduled.

"I spent most of my adult life saving lives," said Kitzhaber, an emergency room
physician for 24 years. "For the past 6 months, I stood by while the state took
2.

"I doubt that anyone can really understand until you sit by yourself in your
office in the middle of the night and allow an execution to go forward, knowing
that you are the only person in the world who can stop it.

"I was struggling at the time between what I thought was my responsibility to
uphold the Constitution, which clearly endorses the death penalty, and my own
personal opposition to capital punishment. My decision to uphold the
Constitution made it seem clear, but it did not make it easy."

(source: Portland Tribune)








USA:

The problem of innocence in death penalty cases



Note: Brandon Garrett, a professor at the University of Virginia School of Law,
is the author of the forthcoming book, "End of Its Rope: How Killing the Death
Penalty Can Revive Criminal Justice." Here are his thoughts on the developments
of last week.

By Brandon L. Garrett

The American death penalty has a big innocence problem, and it is not going
away. The events of last week show why.

On Wednesday, Missouri planned to execute Marcellus Williams. The problem was
that he may be innocent. Governor Eric Greitens wisely put that execution on
hold while a panel investigates further. On Thursday, Florida did execute Mark
Asay. We may never fully know whether he actually deserved the death penalty.

In the Williams case, although the courts said that the execution could go
forward, the courts disregarded new DNA tests that show Williams' DNA was not
on the weapon that killed Lisha Gayle at her home in 1998. The DNA of another
unidentified man was on the weapon. The victim was stabbed 43 times, and it
stands to reason that the male DNA on the weapon is that of the actual culprit.

The state of Missouri said that the other evidence in the case is still strong.
Yet that evidence consisted of the testimony of informants, both drug addicts,
who received financial incentives to testify against him. The footprint at the
crime scene and the hair samples from the crime scene do not match Williams
either.

To be sure, Williams had a number of items belonging to the victim and sold a
laptop belonging to the victim's husband. That is strong circumstantial
evidence. Then again, those items were found by one of the cooperating
informants, Williams' girlfriend at the time. The case was built around the
informants. Both had hoped to get a $10,000 reward.

The jury that convicted Williams never heard about the DNA evidence, and it is
hard to imagine that if he was tried today that he would get a death sentence,
given the new doubts about guilt. That DNA evidence has never been presented in
court.

Compare the Asay case. He fully admitted that he shot one of the victims, but
in a fight over money, and not the type of murder that would likely qualify as
so egregious that it deserves the ultimate punishment. The evidence that put
his case in the category of a death penalty case was testimony that he uttered
a racial epithet when killing the victim and had white supremacist motives.
However, he denies ever having such views, and that evidence came from the same
type of unreliable source as in the Williams case: a jailhouse informant.

It may surprise many people that such unreliable evidence is still used even in
the most serious death penalty cases. Today, there is much more awareness about
wrongful convictions, including those due to false informant testimony. Polls
show that more people are concerned about wrongful convictions and executions.
20 people have been exonerated from death row based on DNA testing. Most of
those individuals had allegedly made confessions, which we now know to be
false, to police or to jailhouse informants.

Yet, that awareness has not stopped states from trying to execute people whose
convictions are based on such flimsy evidence. Indeed, the more death sentences
in a state, the more death row exonerations, as I describe in my new book, "End
of Its Rope[hup.harvard.edu]." Florida, where Asay was just executed, leads the
country in exonerations[deathpenaltyinfo.org] in death penalty cases.

Today, death sentences and executions are fading fast and one might think that
we could limit the death penalty to the cases where we are sure that the person
actually did it, with "it" being a murder serious enough to warrant the death
penalty. Only 20 people were executed in 2016 and only 31 people were sentenced
to death. Yet serious claims of innocence and unreliable evidence persist.

The evidence in death penalty cases is not always very strong. After all, in
many murders, there are no surviving witnesses. Unfortunately, as a result,
police sometimes cut corners to try to solve high-profile homicides, by relying
on unreliable jailhouse informants or by coercing confessions from mentally ill
individuals.

While we may desire speedy justice, new evidence of innocence may not surface
until a decade or more after trial. One reason is that at the time of trial,
the defense often has inadequate resources to investigate innocence or possible
defenses. In Williams' case, the defense lawyer admitted he was nowhere close
to ready for trial and asked for more time to prepare, but the judge denied the
request. I have found that the states with the most death sentences are the
ones without law offices to handle the defense in death penalty cases.

The problem of innocence is inevitable and constant in death penalty cases. In
April, Gov. Terry McAuliffe granted clemency to one of the few people left on
Virginia's death row, due to persistent doubts about his guilt. In contrast,
Ledell Lee was executed in Arkansas earlier this year, despite strong claims of
innocence.

And last week, the California Supreme Court decided to reject an interpretation
of a new law that might have limited appeals to just 5 years, in favor of
giving judges adequate time to carefully review death penalty cases. After all,
it takes much more time than that to properly investigate claims of innocence.

This will not be the 1st time that we have executed a man despite real doubts
about the case. So long as we have the death penalty, it will not be the last.

(source: Washington Post)
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