2017-10-11 10:57:33 UTC
Junk Science? Unreliable Witnesses? No Matter, Texas Plans to Execute Robert
Pruett Anyway----There's no physical evidence linking him the crime, but he's
scheduled to die on Thursday.
Robert Pruett is scheduled to be executed in Texas on October 12, despite the
fact that there is no physical evidence linking him to the crime he was
convicted of. Pruett, who is 38-years-old, was sentenced to death after he was
convicted of the 1999 murder of Daniel Nagle, a correctional officer at the
McConnell Unit in Beeville, Texas. Pruett was already serving a 99-year
sentence for being an accomplice to a murder his father committed. Pruett's
execution date has been put off twice before, but there are few legal maneuvers
remaining that could delay his death sentence ahead of October 12.
Pruett, who has now spent more than 1/2 his life behind bars, led a rough life
before he ended up on death row. As a child, his parents and other family
members repeatedly abused him, physically and sexually. At the urging of his
parents, he began using marijuana and cocaine in elementary school. The Pruett
family lived in abject poverty, cycling between apartments that they would get
quickly evicted from and sleeping outside. For food, they rummaged through
dumpsters and bathed using water hoses outside of restaurants.
In 1995, Pruett got into a verbal fight with his neighbor, Ray Yarbrough. When
Pruett's father, Sam Pruett, returned home that evening, Yarbrough began
screaming at the trailer the Pruetts were living in. Pruett, his older brother
Steven, and his father went outside and the brothers watched as their father
stabbed Yarbrough to death. Sam Pruett was sentenced to life. Steven Pruett
received 40 years and Pruett was sentenced to 99 years - effectively a life
sentence. He was just 15 years old. Texas' "Law of Parties" allowed anyone
involved in a crime to be sentenced as if they committed the crime themselves.
"In a lot of cases where there's no physical evidence that directly ties the
defendant to the crime scene, [the prosecution] will find experts who fit their
theory of the crime."
In late 1999, 4 years into his prison sentence, Pruett was accused of stabbing
Officer Nagle to death at the McConnell Unit, a medium-sized prison in a small
town near Corpus Christi. The day of the murder, Nagle had written up Pruett in
a disciplinary report because Pruett tried to eat his sack lunch in an area
that wasn't authorized for eating. Nagle was discovered with a bloody shank and
Pruett's torn up disciplinary report next to his body. While Pruett had a
pending disciplinary case related to gambling, he did not have a history of
No witnesses immediately came forward and 2 years passed between the original
indictment and the trial. "People's stories can change many, many times" in a
long period of time, says Kristin Houle, the executive director of the Texas
Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, about the witnesses who eventually came
"The State was not able to discover any physical evidence that connected Robert
to Officer Nagle's murder," Pruett's lawyers wrote in his petition for clemency
in September. "Such evidence simply does not exist."
At trial, the state claimed that Pruett's cellmate, who worked in the
prison???s craft shop, gave Pruett tape that he used to wrap around the handle
of the shank. The state relied on the testimony of Lisa Baylor, a forensic
analyst who testified, using a now-debunked scientific method called "physical
matching,??? that the tape came from the craft shop. "In a lot of cases where
there's no physical evidence that directly ties the defendant to the crime
scene, [the prosecution] will find experts who fit their theory of the crime,"
Houle says. And although the expert testified that the tape is a match, there's
nothing to match Pruett to the tape. "No fingerprint and no cells," said Houle.
In the clemency petition, Pruett's lawyers write that DNA testing of the murder
weapon in 2015 found DNA that didn't match either Pruett or the victim.
Perhaps, Pruett???s lawyers write, it might belong "to the person that killed
Nagle." The state has not yet responded to Pruett's petition. Typically, the
parole board responds within a few days of the execution.
The prosecution in Pruett case's relied heavily on testimony from the
defendant???s fellow inmates. But, unbeknownst to the defense and the jury, the
state had made promises to inmates who testified against Pruett.
According to the clemency petition, which contains the state investigator's
notes, one of the state???s key witnesses, Harold Mitchell, was told that if he
testified against Pruett he???d be transferred to a prison in Virginia, where
his family lived. And if he didn't testify, Mitchell would be charged with
Nagle's murder. Mitchell later told his brother that he felt guilty for
testifying against Pruett. "If the jury knew that these inmates gained
something in exchange for testifying against Pruett - in many cases,
significantly more than was disclosed at trial," Pruett's lawyers wrote in the
petition, "it is likely they would not have believed their testimony."
It's not only the lack of physical evidence or bribed witnesses that concerns
Pruett's lawyers. The prison that housed Pruett before he was sent to death row
was rife with problems, such as staffing shortages and corruption. One month
before Nagle was murdered, according to the Texas Observer, his name was
discovered on a secret note from one inmate to another indicating that a prison
gang wanted the officer dead. According to the clemency petition, in addition
to raising alarm about the staffing shortage, Nagle was working to identify
corrupt correctional officers who used the fact that they were often working
alone to help prison gangs launder drug money.
2 weeks before his death, Nagle, who was the leader of the local AFSCME union,
went to a rally in Austin to ask the Texas legislature to fix the shortage.
"Someone will have to be killed before the Texas Department of Criminal Justice
does anything about the shortage of staff in Texas prisons," he said,
ominously. The same day Pruett was indicted, four correctional officers were
indicted on federal bribery charges for participating in a drug smuggling ring.
Pruett was convicted and sentenced to death in 2002. In 2013, he was scheduled
for execution but a judge withdrew the order after his legal team began
requesting DNA testing on the torn disciplinary report. The results were
declared inconclusive by the court, and Pruett was given an April 2015
A state judge halted the execution so more DNA testing on the murder weapon
could be performed. In August 2016, before his scheduled execution, a state
court ruled that it needed more time to review Pruett's further claims about
DNA evidence. Last April, an appeals court ruled that the outcome of the trial
wouldn't have changed even if the new DNA evidence had been available.
Pruett's case is not an anomaly in Texas. Larry Swearingen, a 46-year-old man,
is on death row for the 1998 murder of Melissa Trotter. Swearingen maintains
his innocence, while the state refuses to conduct additional DNA testing.
Instead, the prosecution relied on a forensic analyst who lined up the
pantyhose that was used to strangle Trotter and hosiery from the Swearingen
home and determined the 2 pieces were a match. According to court documents,
the DNA from the blood found underneath the victim's fingernails did not match
Swearingen. He is scheduled to die on November 16.
Texas is a leader in capital punishment. Between 1976 and 2016, the Lone Star
State has executed more than 500 inmates. The last prisoner to receive a
reprieve was Kenneth Foster in 2007, who was sentenced to death under the same
Law of Parties that sent Pruett to prison. His sentence was changed to life in
prison by then-Gov. Rick Perry. The state's current governor, Republican Greg
Abbott, has presided over 25 executions since taking office in January 2015.
Abbott has not commuted a single death sentence.
(source: Mother Jones)
Days from execution, man convicted in prison guard's murder insists on
innocence----Robert Pruett faces his execution Thursday in the 1999 murder of a
Texas prison guard. Pruett has consistently argued his innocence in the case,
pushing for multiple rounds of DNA testing on crime scene evidence.
Robert Pruett was sentenced to death in 2002 for the murder of prison guard
Daniel Nagle. Pruett says he was framed by corrupt guards and inmates while the
prison employee union says chronic understaffing led to Nagle's murder.
Robert Pruett was sentenced to death in 2002 for the murder of prison guard
Daniel Nagle. Pruett says he was framed by corrupt guards and inmates while the
prison employee union says chronic understaffing led to Nagle's murder.
A man convicted in the 1999 murder of a Texas prison guard faces execution
Thursday for the sixth time in a case where DNA testing has taken center stage.
Robert Pruett was sentenced to death in the stabbing of Daniel Nagle, a
37-year-old guard at a prison in Beeville. Pruett was a 20-year-old inmate
serving a 99-year sentence at the time for being an accomplice in a murder
committed by his father when he was 15.
Nagle was found lying in a pool of blood, stabbed repeatedly with a makeshift
knife next to a torn up disciplinary report he had written on Pruett, according
to court records. The prosecution argued that Pruett killed Nagle in
retaliation for the report, and the jury agreed, but Pruett has consistently
denied his involvement in the crime. He said he was framed by corrupt guards
and inmates, and his lawyers have argued against the testimony used at trial.
"The only supposed eyewitness testimony came from inmate informants. Such
so-called snitch testimony is notoriously unreliable," wrote attorney David Dow
in Pruett's latest filing to a federal appellate court.
For years, he has sought multiple rounds of DNA testing on clothes, the weapon
and the torn-up report in an attempt to prove his innocence. It has saved him
from execution multiple times since 2013. But in April, the Texas Court of
Criminal Appeals finally ruled that the results of 2 rounds of DNA testing were
inconclusive and therefore would not have changed the result of his conviction.
A new execution date was set for Oct. 12.
"You've got to have faith in your juries and the many courts that have
scrutinized the evidence and the claims here, and I just don't see any room for
there being a claim of innocence here," said Jack Choate, executive director of
the Special Prosecution Unit, which prosecutes Texas prison crimes.
Still, Pruett is fighting.
The Court of Criminal Appeals and U.S. Supreme Court denied his latest claims
in state court last week, but he has also sued in federal court, claiming
recent refusals by the trial court and prosecution to proceed with further DNA
testing violates his due process rights.
The DNA evidence that was tested and deemed inconclusive by Texas' high
appellate court needs more examination, Pruett argues in court filings. The
testing looked primarily at the murder weapon, where a partial female profile
had been found in the latest examination.
Pruett argues that the court should further investigate the profile, to see if
it could identify a culprit, but the state argued the weapon was likely
contaminated by people on the defense team and journalists who have handled it
without gloves since the trial. The court denied further testing.
"Even if there were contamination, that conclusion would only demonstrate that
the State had violated another provision of state law by failing to ensure the
weapon is properly preserved," Dow wrote to the court.
Pruett's latest federal appeal was rejected by the appellate court Friday, but
he could still appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Choate said that he expects
the execution to proceed.
"I would be surprised to see the courts take a different position this late in
the game," he said.
(source: The Texas Tribune)
As Texas Prepares to Kill Robert Pruett, He Leaves Behind a Literary Indictment
of Us All
On Thursday, the state of Texas will kill Robert Pruett.
The 38-year-old has been behind bars since he was 15.
He was arrested in 1995 as an accomplice in his father's murder of a neighbor;
5 years later, a prison guard who had given him a disciplinary infraction for
eating a sandwich in a hallway was found stabbed to death. Although he
continues to maintain that he is innocent, multiple witnesses claimed that
Pruett was responsible, and he was sentenced to death for the crime.
For proponents of the death penalty, the events that define Pruett's life serve
as the case for killing him. He spent his pre-prison years in a vortex of
violence - getting into fights, stealing, developing a drug addiction. Once he
arrived in prison, he briefly flirted with neo-Nazi beliefs, reading "Mein
Kampf" and getting a swastika tattoo to intimidate other inmates.
Wherever you fall on the question of Pruett's guilt or innocence in the prison
guard murder, a brief look at his life could make you think that he's at least
the sort of person who may do something like that.
But a person's life is not defined just by their worst actions. People grow,
and they change, and Pruett's decades in prison gave him time to reflect on the
life he had lived. He turned those reflections into an autobiography. It was
reviewed in early October by Current Affairs's Nathan Robinson.
The autobiography serves as a sort of sociological self-examination - an
attempt by Pruett to understand why his life went the way it did. He writes not
to absolve himself of the choices he has made, but to impart why he felt like
his options were so limited.
"Why are we the way we are? What causes human behavior? ... I believe we can
understand ourselves and what influences us through an introspective process
that includes an examination of our past experiences and the behavioral
patterns in our families," he writes. "Ultimately, we make our own choices in
life, but it helps to know why we are inclined or predisposed to certain types
It is almost a cliche to explain criminal behavior through proverbs about a
"bad childhood." But explaining something and justifying it are 2 different
things, and the more you learn about Pruett's upbringing, the more remarkable
it is that someone so deprived of a nurturing environment could grow to write
so profoundly about his life circumstances.
If violent tendencies have a hereditary component, Pruett lost the gene
lottery. He describes his father as "the most violent man I ever met"; his
father had frequent stints in prison and would get into fights with family and
just about anyone else.
Pruett's family was dirt poor; they were frequently ejected from trailer parks
and motel rooms, as his father worked minimum-wage jobs to try to keep them
But being poor in America is often associated with more than just not having
money; violence and crime was all around him. His brother Steven was molested
by a family member; his mentally disabled sister was raped and placed into a
foster home. His drug addiction started early, when he was offered a huff of
gasoline from a stranger at age 5. Both parents smoked marijuana, and his dad
took him along on a marijuana sale to use him as cover.
Pruett's writing about prison demonstrates that it is a brutal place. He
immediately learns to defend himself against prison rape and at first, becomes
even more violent.
But spending the rest of your life behind bars gives you a lot of time to think
and to read. Pruett read the works of Carl Jung and B.F. Skinner, and developed
a fascination with psychology. Eventually, he came to see the forces that
pushed him toward anger and violence, and that the same forces acted on
African-Americans he came to despise during his flirtation with white
I didn't realize it back then, but all of my anger and hate regarding race was
misdirected and ignorant. I was so pissed off at the system for throwing me
away that I needed somewhere to focus my negative energy. As the years passed I
opened my eyes and matured, slowly growing out of that convoluted ideology on
race. Today, I realize that there is no pure race; we all share DNA and we all
sprang from the same source .... I understand that more often than not
socioeconomic factors play the largest role in how people are treated. The rich
and famous have it made; while the poor outcasts from both the ghetto and
trailer park have it rough. My hope is that as society evolves, we'll erase the
things that separate and divide us such as race and class.
After being sent to death row, Pruett developed friendships with fellow
inmates. As they were executed one by one, he came to the conclusion that the
people being executed are no longer the same people they were in the moment of
The thing is, they aren't killing the same people who committed the crimes. It
takes years for the appeals to run their course and in that time people change.
Sure, some are just dangerous as the day they arrived, and I'm not saying
everyone's some kind of angel, but so many have grown and matured in here and
found their true Self. Many have realized the errors of their ways and would be
productive members of society if they were given the chance. Even with a life
in prison, these guys had much to offer humanity, not to mention the loved ones
left with the scars of their murders.
When Pruett is executed on Thursday, he won't be the same young man who stood
and watched his father kill a neighbor over a petty argument, or who may or may
not have murdered a prison guard for the same reason. His writing makes clear
that he is a deeply reflective person who sought to understand the forces
bearing down on him for the 1st time.
Last week, the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of Pruett's case.
Because the United States is not one of the 105 countries that have abolished
the death penalty for all crimes, Pruett's journey of self-discovery and
redemption will end on Thursday, when the state of Texas will kill him.
(source: The Intercept)
Tucker could face death penalty; King won't
Samuel Anthony Tucker could face the death penalty for the murder of an
During a Rule 24 pretrial hearing in Randolph County Superior Court Tuesday,
District Attorney Andy Gregson said it was the intention of the state to try
Tucker as a capital case, meaning a guilty verdict could result in the death
Gregson said a grand jury had indicted Tucker with 1st-degree murder in the
Sept. 11 death of Carrie Ann Welch, 30, of 1841 Poole Town Road, Asheboro.
Tucker, 20, apparently was living at the same address.
Gregson said aggravating factors, which led to the designation of capital
murder, included the allegation that the murder was in connection with armed
In another Rule 24 hearing on Tuesday, Gregson said Shamus Patrick King will
not be tried as a capital case. Gregson indicated that there was a lack of
aggravating factors to support the death penalty.
King, 23, of 1406 Brookwood Circle, Archdale, was indicted by a grand jury with
1st-degree murder in the death of his 11-week-old daughter, Harper Erin King.
Reports by the Archdale Police Department said that Wake Forest Baptist Medical
Center in Winston-Salem, where the girl was taken, indicated that she suffered
injuries consistent with child abuse.
The child was in her father's care at the time of the incident. She died Sept.
Judge Brad Long ordered King, who could face life in prison, to be held without
Florida inmates are latest in fight against mandatory solitary for death row
residents----A class action suit challenges isolation as a matter of policy
This summer, 9 inmates from Florida's death row submitted a class action
lawsuit against the state's Department of Corrections, challenging conditions
for those awaiting capital punishment in the Sunshine State and joining a
handful of others - including California, Louisiana, and Virginia - where
prisoners condemned to death are demanding more humane daily existences.
Suffering isolation in windowless cells for the majority of the day, the
plaintiffs on the case have spent, combined, over 150 years on Florida's death
row. A total 356 individuals are currently there, awaiting their final days.
The policy of automatically placing condemned inmates in a restrictive housing
situation is a violation of citizens' 8th and 14th Amendment rights, according
to the suit, given that solitary confinement and similar housing situations are
widely-recognized as being detrimental to prisoners' physical and mental
In March, prisoners in Louisiana filed a similar suit.
Policies at Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola have since loosened to allow
inmates more time out of their cells, but that suit will carry on, in the hopes
that the changes will expand permanently. As the result of a similar suit in
Arizona, that state is currently working on changes to its policy.
Florida's particularly controversial capital punishment policies have made
multiple appearance in the courts recently. Early in 2016, the United States
Supreme Court found that the state's capital sentencing was unconstitutional,
following a decision from Florida's Supreme Court that such jury decisions
should be unanimous. A subsequent decision from a State Attorney, who claimed
that she would never seek the death penalty on any cases, faced strong
opposition from the Governor Rick Scott and ultimately ended in a rescindment
of the decision.
More about state policies on solitary confinement and death row can be found on
the Solitary Census and Death Penalty Project pages.
Abingdon woman faces death penalty in Florida murder
The death penalty will be sought for an Abingdon woman charged in the
27-year-old "clown murder" case in Florida, according to State Attorney Dave
Sheila Keen-Warren, 54, was extradited last week from Abingdon to Palm Beach
County, Florida, where she made her 1st appearance in court. She was denied
bail and will likely remain incarcerated pending her trial.
Keen-Warren is charged in the death of Marlene Warren, 40, who was gunned down
by a person in a clown costume in 1990. Keen-Warren is now married to Marlene
Aronberg said he decided to seek the death penalty after consulting a death
penalty committee, which reviewed the statutory aggravating and mitigating
factors under Florida law.
Keen-Warren's attorney, Richard Lubin, told reporters at the courthouse that
his client "vehemently denies" the killing. A representative at Lubin's law
firm in West Palm Beach, Florida, said the attorney declined further comment
but said he would review evidence obtained through discovery.
The Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office, which investigated the 1990 murder,
shared video on its social media accounts of Keen-Warren being walked into the
jail. In the video, Keen-Warren's wrists are bound with handcuffs as she is
escorted to the jail.
Authorities continue to investigate the homicide. In 2014, authorities reopened
the case using new DNA technology. Investigators learned that Keen-Warren
married Marlene Warren's widower in 2002. Michael Warren, 65, was previously
identified as a person of interest in the case but has not been charged.
Court hears minister's case for death penalty drug information
A Montgomery County judge could soon decide whether Alabama has to reveal where
it got the drugs the state uses in executions, due to a lawsuit that moved
forward in circuit court Tuesday.
"I'm not trying to bring down the death penalty," said the Rev. Tabitha Isner,
who filed the lawsuit in May. "I understand that it's the law of the land. I
just want to understand it better."
(source: The Anniston Star)
Deters intends to seek death penalty for suspect in deadly domestic violence
Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters announced Tuesday night he intended to
seek the death penalty for Gary Box, a 41-year-old man accused of killing the
mother of his child after a prolonged campaign of domestic violence against her
"The facts, (Box's) record, and the likelihood for success at trial cry out for
it," Deters said. "He is a dangerous, murderous individual."
Investigators discovered 37-year-old Tanisha Huff dead inside her Price Hill
home Oct. 6 -- a little over a week after she filed a criminal complaint
alleging Box had pointed a revolver at her after an argument. Another complaint
filed Oct. 4 accused Box of sending threatening messages to an unidentified
recipient and her children; a judge had granted both Huff and another
complainant temporary restraining orders.
Court records indicated Box had previously faced charges ranging from theft to
assault to rape. The Hamilton County Clerk of Courts lists the majority of
these charges as ignored or dismissed.
Box claimed Tuesday that Huff's death was an accident, but Judge Fanon Rucker
"He had threatened to kill her and another person, and then she showed up dead
and he said it was an accident," he said.
Box was charged Monday with murder. Deters said he planned to send the case
charge to a grand jury later in the week.
According to the Ohio Domestic Violence Network, a nonprofit advocacy group,
the state had 115 fatalities from 83 cases of domestic violence between July 1,
2016 and June 30, 2017.
If you or someone you know is a victim of ongoing domestic violence, you can
call the YWCA Domestic Violence Hotline at 513-872-9259 or the House of Peace
Hotline at 513-753-7281. Both hotlines remain open 24 hours and work to connect
survivors with shelter, support and legal advocacy.
(source: WCPO news)
Jurors Say Man Eligible for Death Penalty in Beheading Case----Jurors deciding
the punishment for a man convicted of beheading a co-worker say he is eligible
to receive the death penalty.
Jurors deciding the punishment for a man convicted of beheading a co-worker say
he is eligible to receive the death penalty.
Jurors in the 1st-degree murder trial of 33-year-old Alton Nolen ruled Tuesday
that he is not "intellectually disabled" and ineligible for the death penalty.
The jury has already found Nolen guilty of first-degree murder for beheading
his co-worker, 54-year-old Colleen Hufford, and trying to kill another worker
at a food processing plant in the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore in 2014.
Jurors have sentenced Nolen to 3 life sentences plus 130 years in prison on
assault and battery charges stemming from the attack on the co-worker who
Nolen faces possible punishments of death or life in prison with or without the
possibility of parole on the murder charge.
(source: US News & World Report)
OK-CAPD speaks against death penalty on World Day Against the Death Pealty
The Rev. Don Heath, chair of the Oklahoma Coalition Against the Death Penalty,
knows that while the abolishment of the death penalty in Oklahoma may be years
in the making, he hopes prisoners on Oklahoma's death row would at least be
treated like humans and not animals.
"At this point, my concern is to open people's eyes that those on death row are
human beings, not monsters. Yes, they have done terrible things, but we as a
state should do something to humanize the experience (of death penalty)," he
said. I think ultimately, the death penalty will be held as unconstitutional by
the U.S. Supreme Court. There is no question that this is cruel and unusual
punishment, but the problem will be changing the hearts and minds of the people
The harsh criminal justice system in Oklahoma needs to change"
Heath spoke on the state of the death penalty in Oklahoma on Tuesday's World
Day Against Death Penalty, which is annually observed on Oct. 10. This year's
15th annual World Day Against the Death Pealty is meant to raise awareness
about the death penalty and is supported through more than 180 local
"The theme this year is poverty and the death penalty," Heath said. "We can't
help but make the connection between the death penalty and mass incarceration
in Oklahoma. Beyond the death penalty, Oklahoma also has the 2nd highest
incarceration rate for men and the highest incarceration rate for women in the
nation. The criminal justice scheme in Oklahoma is based on long sentences for
mostly people of color and poor whites."
He added that the lack of a vigorous defense fund for the accused results in
attorneys who are undercompensated and overworked, resulting in a less than
ideal representation for the incarcerated, especially those on death row.
"The United States is the only Western country that still inflicts the death
penalty on its citizens," he said. Other countries that still carry out the
death penalty include Japan, China, Pakistan, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia,
Yemen, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Iraq.
"Abolition of the death penalty is a condition for entrance to the European
Union, which consists of 28 member states that are located primarily in Europe.
The United States is the only country in the Western Hemisphere that executed a
criminal defendant in the last two years. Less than 1/3 of the countries in the
world still impose the death penalty."
While the death penalty has become increasingly rare even in the United States,
Oklahoma is currently researching new lethal injection protocols to use. 19
states in the U.S. have abolished the death penalty and only 10 states have
executed a criminal defendant in the past 5 years. 9 of these 10 states were
part of the Confederacy.
In April, an 11-member state commission led by Former Gov. Brad Henry released
a nearly 300-page report on the Oklahoma death penalty that included more than
40 recommendations. The commission members also made recommendations about
executions themselves, saying the changes should be implemented before the
Oklahoma's new Republican Attorney General Mike Hunter said that while he
respected the panel's work, he and the Oklahoma Department of Corrections would
move forward to new protocols to be used in executions.
Oklahoma voters agreed. In the last November election, voters approved State
Question 776, which amended the Bill of Rights in Oklahoma's Constitution to
expressly provide that the death penalty shall not be considered cruel and
"The next thing to be expected is the death penalty protocol that the DOC and
the AG are working on," Heath said. "The DOC has worked for several months to
revise the protocols and how we do the drugs, but one of our concerns is the
protocol. There is no representation for criminal defense about the protocols."
Oklahoma has executed 112 human beings since the death penalty was reinstated
by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1976. This ranks 3rd only to Texas, which has
executed 543 people, and Virginia, which has killed 113. Oklahoma, Texas and
Virginia together have executed more than 1/2 of the people executed since
1976, according to information from OK-CAPD.
"The death penalty dehumanizes all of us," Heath said. "It says that it is
morally acceptable to kill a defenseless person who has already been segregated
from society and poses no threat to public safety."
The death penalty does not deter crime and is more costly than life without
parole, according to the organization.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center, average cases without the
death penalty cost $740,000 each, while cases where the death penalty is sought
cost $1.26 million. Maintaining each death row prisoner costs taxpayers $90,000
more per year than a prisoner in the general population.
In American, 156 people have been exonerated from death, 10 in Oklahoma.
In May 2016, the Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission Report also indicated
that innocent people have been sentenced to death in Oklahoma.
Currently there are 46 inmates on death row in Oklahoma. 16 of those have
exhausted all of their appeals and are eligible for execution dates if
executions are resumed in Oklahoma.
The 16 Oklahoma inmates waiting execution are: Richard Eugene Glossip, John
Marion Grant, Benjamin Robert Cole, Richard Stephen Fairchild, Jeremy Alan
Williams, John Fitzgerald Hanson, Scott James Eizember, Jemaine Monteil Cannon,
Phillip Dean Hancock, Julius Darius Jones, Anthony Castillo Sanchez, Shelton D.
Jackson, James Chandler Ryder, Bigler Stouffer, Michael Smith and Richard
Norman Rojem Jr.
Executions have been on hold since the wrong drug, potassium acetate - instead
of potassium chloride, was almost used on September 30, 2015 in an attempt to
execute Richard Glossip.
Officials later confirmed that the same wrong drug had been used to kill
Charles Warner on Jan. 15, 2015, according to OK-CAPD.
The grand jury report recommended a series of changes, and corrections. The
Attorney General's office says that that it would not seek a new execution
until 150 days after new protocols have been adopted.
"We know that some of what happens on death row is dehumanizing," she said. "At
the least, we can humanize the process."
(source: Red Dirt Report)
UN demands America end 'barbaric' use of death penalty----The US is 7th in the
world in terms of executions
United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres has said he wants the US to
end its "barbaric practice" of the death penalty.
This was the leader of the world body's 1st statement on the death penalty.
"Please stop the executions," Mr Guterres said at an event at UN Headquarters
in New York, titled "Transparency and the death penalty."
"The death penalty has no place in the 21st century."
Mr Guterres made mention of his home country of Portugal, abolishing the
practice nearly 150 years ago and 2 African nations - Gambia and Madagascar -
which have taken "major steps" towards getting rid of it.
In 2016, executions worldwide were down 37 % from 2015 as 170 countries have
decided to abandon the practise, Mr Guterres said.
According to Amnesty International, just four countries make up 87 % of
executions - Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Pakistan.
China has the most number of known executions in the world, but figures have
been hard to come by due to state controls.
It is thought to be much thousands higher than the reported 1,032 in 2016
according to the human rights watchdog.
The US was actually included in this top 5 group between 2006 and 2016, but
fell out last year.
The 20 executions carried out in the US was the lowest number since 1991. This
still put it in the 7th position, just shy of Egypt, and the only country in
the Americas to impose the death penalty.
5 American states carried out executions last year but 31 still have the
penalty on the books.
So far in 2017, 19 executions have been carried out, all through lethal
Texas alone killed 5 inmates sentenced to death.
The Trump administration recently voted against a UN motion that condemned the
death penalty for LGBTQ people.
The motion passed the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council despite the US being
joined by countries like Japan, Saudi Arabia, India, Iraq, Botswana, Burundi
US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley's response to criticism from the LGBTQ
community and her predecessor Susan Rice was confusing because she tweeted
there was "no vote" but that the US voted the same way as it had under the
Obama administration on the issue.
But, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert clarified the vote by saying:
"We voted against that resolution because of broader concerns with the
resolution's approach in condemning the death penalty in all circumstances, and
it called for the abolition of the death penalty altogether."
In fact, no US administration has supported a UN motion against the death
penalty primarily for this reason and usually elects to abstain from voting on
As Newsweek reported: "In 2014 the Obama administration abstained from a
resolution on capital punishments in the Human Rights Council, which did not
highlight LGBTQ rights."
Mr Guterres made it clear at the event that he wanted to "reaffirm my
opposition to the death penalty in all circumstances."
Catholic Mobilizing Network marks the 15th World Day Against the Death
Penalty----"This day challenges Catholics and all people of good will to
educate, advocate, and pray to end the death penalty."
Catholic Mobilizing Network (CMN), the national Catholic organization working
to end the death penalty and promote restorative justice, joins the
international community in observing World Day Against the Death Penalty on
October 10, 2017; a day that amplifies the Church's social teaching and compels
us to a renewed commitment to work to end the death penalty.
"World Day Against the Death Penalty provides an important reminder of the need
to abolish the death penalty in our country. This year especially, as we
reflect on the intersection between poverty and the death penalty, we are
galvanized by our obligation as Catholics to have a preferential option for the
poor and vulnerable," Karen Clifton, Executive Director of Catholic Mobilizing
Poverty plays a critical role in whether or not someone receives a death
sentence. From access to proper counsel at trial or extenuating circumstances
like the inability to receive mental health services or a history of childhood
abuse or trauma, poverty dramatically increases the likelihood of receiving a
"The death penalty denies our call to uphold the sanctity of all life,
particularly the command to care for those vulnerable and marginalized among
us," Clifton proclaimed. "As we prepare for ten additional executions by the
end of this year, World Day Against the Death Penalty offers a poignant
reminder of the work that lies ahead to build a culture of life in our country.
This day challenges Catholics and all people of good will to educate, advocate,
and pray to end the death penalty."
More information about Catholic Mobilizing Network can be found at
Catholic Mobilizing Network (CMN), a sponsored ministry of the Congregation of
St. Joseph that works in close collaboration with United States Conference of
Catholic Bishops, proclaims the Church's pro-life teaching and prepares
Catholics for informed involvement in the public debate to end the death
penalty and promote restorative justice.
(source: Religion News Network)
Lawsuits Challenge the Cruelty of Decades in Solitary Confinement on Death Row
In a dissenting opinion written earlier this year, Supreme Court Justice
Stephen Breyer wrote that "If extended solitary confinement alone raises
serious constitutional questions, then 20 years of solitary confinement, all
the while under threat of execution, must raise similar questions, and to a
rare degree, and with particular intensity." Yet in a majority of U.S. states
where the death penalty is still in effect, it is standard practice to hold
condemned men and women in extreme isolation for years or decades.
In the past 6 months, men held on death row in 2 southern states have filed
class-action lawsuits, challenging what they say is the torturous policy which
demands that all persons sentenced to death be held in solitary confinement
until their execution - or until their eventual death by suicide, non-state
homicide, or natural causes. The 1st lawsuit, filed on March 29th on behalf of
3 men on death row at Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, appears to have
pressured the state to make modest policy changes in the way it treats
condemned persons. The 2nd suit was filed on July 19th on behalf of 9 men on
death row in Florida, where conditions remain unchanged.
Life on death row in Louisiana
At Angola, some 3/4 of the 75 men condemned to death have been in solitary
confinement for more than 10 years, waiting for their appeals to be exhausted
and the state to schedule their executions. (Surprisingly, unlike its neighbor
Texas, Louisiana seems in no hurry on this front, and the last execution took
place more than 7 years ago. The remarkably high level of death row
exonerations - 11 in all - may well be a factor.) The 3 named plaintiffs in the
suit have been on death row for between 25 and 31 years.
The men are represented by Nicholas Trenticosta, a longtime death penalty
lawyer in New Orleans, as well as private pro-bono attorneys and faculty and
students from the Cardozo School of Law in New York. Their lawsuit, filed in
Federal District Court in Baton Rouge against the Louisiana Department of
Corrections and several wardens at Angola, asserts that the mental and physical
anguish inflicted by indefinite isolation amounts to cruel and unusual
punishment, in violation of Eighth Amendment of the Constitution. Additionally,
the plaintiffs' inability to challenge their placement in solitary violates the
Fourteenth Amendment right to due process, the suit argues.
Angola as a whole is infamous for the harsh and often slave-like conditions
under which its more than 5,000 prisoners live, with many forced to labor in
the prison's corn and cotton fields, watched over by armed guards on horseback.
Yet the hardships of life in Angola's main cell blocks and camps pale in
comparison with conditions on death row, as described in the brief filed on the
Men on death row can leave their cells, 1 at a time, for 1 hour each day.
During this hour they can use the phone, take a shower, or walk along the tier.
Three times a week, they can spend their hour outside, alone, "in a small
outdoor cage resembling a dog pen." Whenever they leave their tier, "prisoners
are shackled at the ankles and their arms are restricted by a waist chain."
This is the only human contact they experience.
The suit's named plaintiffs - Marcus Hamilton, Winthrop Eaton, and Michael
Perry - were all convicted of murder decades ago. Eaton, 52, and Perry, 63, who
have been diagnosed with schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder,
respectively, have been deemed unfit for execution.
Neither of the 2 men, the suit claims, is capable of maintaining basic
conversation. Eaton "rarely speaks, but when he does, he does so in 2 to 3 word
sentences." Perry's speech "is mostly nonsensical," and because he "cannot
communicate his needs," "he is 'ignored' by the prison guards" and is "unable
to maintain basic hygiene," the suit alleges. Perry was the plaintiff in Perry
v. Louisiana, wherein the Supreme Court considered the legality of forcibly
medicating a mentally ill person on death row in order to render him competent
to be executed. (The case was remanded to the Supreme Court of Louisiana, which
stayed Perry's execution.)
The 3rd plaintiff, Marcus Hamilton, 56, although competent to be executed, has
been physically disabled for over 25 years, since a brain aneurysm rendered his
left side paralyzed and his left arm "functionally unusable." The brief details
his struggle to keep his mind sharp through bible study and writing to pen
pals, and the grief he felt "the day he learned via newspaper reports that his
mother and younger sister were murdered": "His feelings of powerlessness were
intensified by not being able to properly process the tragedy or speak to close
friends or confidants about it."
Hamilton is housed in Tier A, "where prisoners who have not had any
disciplinary problems are housed." Tier A is host to occasional public tours,
and Hamilton has expressed his frustration at being made to feel like a "zoo
animal" stuck "in a cage."
That sentiment has been repeated by others housed on death row at Angola,
including Damon Thibodeaux, who spent 15 years there before he was exonerated
in 2012. Thibodeaux, in testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, said,
"People would come to tour our cells as if we were in a zoo." He "very
seriously considered giving up my legal rights and letting the state execute
me. I was at the point where I did not want to live like an animal in a cage
for years on end."
Thibodeaux also described the "unbearable" summers on Angola's death row: "The
prison actually blew hot air from the outside in the death row building,
raising temperatures into the 100-130 degree range in each cell ... We would
sit in our cells with sweat dripping down our bodies ... If you treated animals
this way," Thibodeaux said, "you would get arrested and prosecuted, but that is
apparently not the case with humans."
In 2015, 3 other men held on death row at Angola filed a lawsuit claiming that
the state's refusal to provide air conditioning during the sweltering Louisiana
summers amounted to cruel and unusual punishment. The suit earned national
coverage when the judge in the case pointed out that the state had spent $1
million fighting the lawsuit - about 4 times more than the cost of installing
Although the battle for air conditioning has largely been lost, there are signs
that the solitary confinement lawsuit is influencing prison policy in
Louisiana. In May, officials announced that the men on Angola's death row would
be let out of their cells for as many as 4 hours a day, and offered some
opportunities for programming and group activities.
A spokesperson for the Louisiana Department of Corrections told the Marshall
Project that there had been only 1 fight since the changes were implemented,
and proclaimed them a "great success" - calling into question why
round-the-clock isolation had ever been necessary at all. The lawsuit will
continue to ensure that the new policies are fully implemented and, preferably,
Stepped-Up Court Challenges to Death Row Isolation
The past several years have seen a growing concern regarding the housing of
people on death row in solitary confinement.
In 2013, the ACLU published an oft-cited report that, in its words, was the
"1st critical overview ... of death row conditions nationwide and the legal and
human implications of the death row prisoners locked in solitary confinement
for years and even decades." Entitled A Death Before Dying, it reported that
"The overwhelming majority of death-penalty states house death row prisoners in
solitary confinement." It found that "93 % of states lock up their death row
prisoners for 22 hours or more per day," and "67 % of states mandate no-contact
visitation for death row prisoners."
Other reports and investigative journalism on death row conditions have
followed, including a report published earlier this year by the Human Rights
Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law, which concluded that "the
current conditions of confinement on Texas' death row, including mandatory
indefinite isolation, amount to a severe and relentless act of torture."
At the same time, federal courts have begun to entertain the notion that it is
unconstitutional to automatically and permanently house men and women on death
row in solitary confinement.
In 2013, U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema of Virginia found the practice
to be a violation of one's right to due process, although a federal appeals
court overturned the decision. In 2015, Virginia settled another lawsuit
alleging the practice amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. The state
allowed the condemned weekly contact visits and daily contact with up to three
of their peers. It even spent almost $2 million on upgrades to the death row
facility, which included a basketball court and a recreation room.
This past March, California settled a lawsuit filed on behalf of people held on
death row alleging violations of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.
California, home to the nation's largest death row with 747 people awaiting
execution, did not hold all of the condemned in its draconian "Adjustment
Center" at San Quentin, but only those classified as gang members or otherwise
deemed a threat. However, "Individuals can be held in the Adjustment Center on
the flimsiest of evidence," Solitary Watch reported at the time. "Some
individuals are assumed to have gang allegiances simply because of their
ethnicity or the region where they grew up." The settlement placed a 5-year
limit on how long men could be held in solitary on death row, with more
frequent reviews of their status.
The same month, Arizona settled a lawsuit similar to those filed in Louisiana
and Florida. The Arizona Department of Corrections has yet to announce the
specific changes that it will have to make in order to meet the requirements of
the settlement. But, according to the Marshall Project, it is expected that
"inmates with clear disciplinary records ... will be moved to an area that
allows for more out-of-cell time, visits in the same room with family and
friends, outdoor group recreation and better job opportunities."
The most notable judicial critique - prior to Justice Breyer's dissent earlier
this year - came in 2015 from Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. In his
concurring opinion in Davis V. Ayala, in which the justices had reviewed a
separate legal point, Justice Kennedy wrote, "This separate writing responds
only to one factual circumstance, mentioned at oral argument but with no direct
bearing on the precise legal questions presented by this case."
Hector Ayala had been sentenced to death in 1989 for the murder of 3 people
during a failed robbery. He had spent most of the subsequent 25 years in
solitary confinement. "If his solitary confinement follows the usual pattern,"
Justice Kennedy wrote, "it is likely respondent has been held for all or most
of the past 20 years or more in a windowless cell no larger than a typical
parking spot for 23 hours a day; and in the one hours when he leaves it, he
likely is allowed little or no opportunity for conversation or interaction with
He concluded that, "In a case that presented the issue, the judiciary may be
required, within its proper jurisdiction and authority, to determine whether
workable alternative systems for long-term confinement exist, and, if so,
whether a correctional system should be required to adopt them."
Corrections officials in many states have long defended the practice of
automatically and permanently placing death-sentenced individuals in isolation
on the grounds that they pose a unique threat to corrections officers, other
prisoners, and the public. Yet a study published last year under the auspices
of the Arthur Liman Public Interest Program at Yale Law School challenges those
assumptions. The study analyzed the latitude corrections officials have in
housing people facing the death penalty, and interviewed officials in North
Carolina, Missouri, and Colorado, which do not automatically place such
individuals in solitary.
The officials interviewed all noted that violent incidents either remained flat
or decreased after integration of death-sentenced individuals with the general
population. In Missouri, where they have been housed with the general prison
population since 1989 following settlement of a lawsuit, researchers concluded
that death-sentenced individuals had "equivalent or lower rates of violent
misconduct" than people serving other sentences. They also found that "rates of
violence among Missouri [death-sentenced] inmates were markedly lower after
being mainstreamed than they had been under the prior era of heightened
security conditions on 'death row.'"
In Florida, the Isolation Continues Until Death
Despite such evidence, many states continue to automatically place condemned
individuals in complete isolation until their executions. In the Florida suit
challenging this practice, the named plaintiffs are 2 men on death row at
Florida State Prison and 7 at Union Correctional Institution, both in Raiford.
They have been held in solitary confinement - which the Florida Department of
Corrections calls "single-cell special housing" - for between four and 30
years. They, too, allege violations of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, on
the grounds that permanent isolation "violates contemporary standards of
decency" and that their inability to challenge their placement violates their
right to due process.
The suit notes that FDOC rules mandate an annual review of an inmate "to
determine overall institutional adjustment based on the inmate's disciplinary
history, participation in programming, and cooperation with staff." But
"Defendants have never moved any death row inmate ... to general population or
any other form of less restrictive housing as a result of any annual review or
otherwise." As in other death penalty states, it is not unusual for people to
remain on Florida's death row for decades. Michael Lambrix, who was put to
death by lethal injection last Thursday, had been held there in isolation for
Conditions on Florida's death row were detailed by William Van Poyck - who
spent 26 years there prior to his execution - in a series of letters he wrote
to his sister, which she published in a blog titled Death Row Diary.
On May 22nd, 2013, 3 weeks after Governor Rick Scott had signed his death
warrant, Van Poyck reported in his diary that another man on death row had
recently been found hanging in his cell. He wrote:
"The irony wasn't lost on me that while 3 of us on death watch are fighting to
live, this poor soul, living just 10 feet above us, stripped of all hope, had
voluntarily surrendered his life rather than continue his dismal existence.
"When nothing but a lifetime of suffering lays ahead - with no hope, no
promise, no opportunity to change your fate - the idea of utter annihilation
can come to look appealing in contrast. When everything has been taken from
you, the one thing you have left, that nobody can take away, is the decision to
live or die. In that context choosing death can look like freedom ..."
Death penalty - a fatal, inhuman practice that discriminates against the poor
We celebrate today the 15th World Day against the Death Penalty. As of today,
105 countries have abolished the death penalty for all crimes. In the past 25
years, 60 countries have abolished the death penalty for all crimes and the
number of states that carry out executions has fallen by nearly half.
But it is still not enough: the world's most populated countries - China,
India, United States of America and Indonesia still retain capital punishment
along with countries like North Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Pakistan,
Malaysia and Singapore.
Around 1/2 of the world's population, who live in these countries, is not
guaranteed the right to life, as prescribed in Article 3 of the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights. Hundreds of executions are carried out every year
and thousands are under sentence of death.
Worryingly, the death penalty has been carried out arbitrarily and in a manner
that discriminates against the poor and the marginalized sections of society
including minority groups and migrant workers.
When I was the Governor of New Mexico, I changed my mind from being a believer
of capital punishment as I saw this discriminatory aspect of the death penalty.
Besides, there is always the possibility of executing an innocent and so I
abolished the death penalty in New Mexico in 2009. My convictions have only
strengthened as 159 persons facing capital punishment in the USA have been
reportedly found to be innocent since 1973.
In the USA, most persons facing the death penalty even today cannot afford
their own attorney at trial and most court-appointed attorneys are overworked,
underpaid or lacked the experience necessary to defend capital punishment
Moreover, prosecutors tended to seek the death penalty more often when the
victim was white than when the victim was African-American or of another racial
or ethnic origin. These factors have contributed to the arbitrariness of the
death penalty. By doing so, the death penalty violates the right to equal
dignity and this discrimination condemns them to further marginalization.
This discrimination against the poor and minority communities occurs not just
in USA but in practically every country applying the death penalty. Because of
their limited economic means, because of their lack of knowledge of the legal
systems and their rights, because of poor legal defense support, because of
systemic bias that they face from law enforcement authorities, they are under
greater risk of being sentenced to death.
In India, almost 75 % of the persons sentenced to death, and in Malaysia,
nearly 90 %, reportedly belonged to economically vulnerable groups. In Saudi
Arabia, Iran and Pakistan hundreds are executed every year, most of whom are
poor or from minority communities; in addition, there are concerns that these
three countries carry out executions of those who were juveniles when they
allegedly committed the crimes for which they faced the death penalty.
In China, the number of executions carried out is a state secret and
reportedly, those executed, feared to be in the thousands, include those
belonging marginalized communities including unskilled workers who have little
means of defense.
In Indonesia, 13 of the 16 persons executed in the last 2 years were foreign
nationals and there were questions of fair trials in several of these cases.
From my experiences and beliefs, that are shared by my fellow Commissioners of
the International Commission against the Death Penalty (ICDP), the death
penalty is not the solution to end criminality. It is usually counterproductive
as it worsens poverty, discrimination and inequalities, perpetrating the circle
The right to life is a universal human right and the death penalty has no place
in the 21st century.
I am inspired today on the World Day against the Death Penalty, when I see that
more than half the countries in the world have abolished capital punishment
because they have recognized that modern justice systems can protect the public
from crime without the irrevocable and cruel nature of the death penalty and
the constant risk of executing an innocent person.
These nations have recognized that state killing is wrong and fails to deter
crime more effectively than other punishments. Today, I join the ICDP and the
abolitionist movement in committing ourselves to achieve a world free of the
death penalty, a world free of this discriminatory practice that is based on
vengeance and bias that only enhances the ever-present risk of wrongful
(source: Bill Richardson is the former Democratic governor of New Mexico. He
was the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and the secretary of energy, both
during the Clinton administration. He also served in the House of
Representatives. As a diplomat and special envoy, Richardson has received four
Nobel Peace Prize nominations and has successfully won the release of hostages
and American servicemen in North Korea, Cuba, Iraq and the
Evaluating the death penalty in the United States----A brief look into the
monetary cost, public support, and risk associated with the death penalty.
In the current political hotbed of the United States, capital punishment is
brushed aside by the highly publicized issues of immigration and healthcare.
However, despite the lack of recent media attention, the death penalty is as
alive and real as ever. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, nine
executions remain scheduled for the year of 2017. In other words, nine lives
will be damned to the eternal punishment of death. This begs the question: Do
the numbers support the death penalty? This question delves into the economic,
moral, and democratic benefits derived from capital punishment.
According to a recent poll conducted by Oxford University's Professor Mark
Ramirez, "A majority of Americans support punitive criminal justice policies."
Although this may sound disheartening for opponents of the death penalty,
Ramirez concluded that America's leadership is currently poised to ban capital
However, America is currently more interested in the economy, healthcare, and
immigration; hence any anti-death penalty discussion within Congress is highly
The Office of Performance Evaluations within the Idaho Legislature reports
that, "capital cases take longer to complete compared with noncapital cases..."
They go on to say, "We found that for those who went to trial, reaching a
judgment of guilty or not guilty took 7 months longer for capital cases than
for noncapital cases." This increased trial time incurs serious costs to the
state and to the taxpayer. The study "estimated the lifetime cost of
capital-prosecuted cases (between 1977 and 2000) to be $186 million." in the
state of Idaho. Another study by the Death Penalty Information Center estimated
that California has spent "$1.94 billion (in) Pre-Trial and Trial Costs" alone.
Opponents of the death penalty will claim that this money is the taxpayers'
money and instead of erecting schools, building roads, or funding local
services, this money is dedicated to ending lives.
According to Scientific American, "a team of researchers has concluded that
about 4.1 % of criminal defendants who are sentenced to death are falsely
convicted." Some, however, argue that this rate may in fact be higher due to a
lack of investigative interest and finances once an execution is conducted. Is
it moral to allow even one innocent person to die at the hands of America's
The Number Of Death Penalty Sentences Are Way Down, But The Data Are Hard To
Over the last 50 years, more than 8,000 people have been sentenced to die under
the death penalty, and 1,500 of them were ultimately executed. But today, the
death penalty has fallen out of favor.
On this week's episode of the Criminal Injustice podcast, host and University
of Pittsburgh law professor David Harris talks to Brandon Garrett, University
of Virginia law professor and author of "End of Its Rope: How Killing the Death
Penalty Can Revive Criminal Justice."
Their conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
DAVID HARRIS: What was not working about the death penalty in its heyday?
BRANDON GARRETT: Death sentences came easy, they came fast. Death sentences
occurred in trials that were only a day or two long where we never really even
heard what the mental health evidence was, what the defendant was like. And as
a result, we had a lot of wrongful convictions that came to light. Over 100
people have been exonerated from death row, and we had you know about
two-thirds of those death sentences reversed on appeal or habeas [corpus]
because the wrong people were getting sentenced to death. We were over
producing death sentences. Now fewer people are being sentenced to death, but
we still see the same problems. It seems like we're just not ready to do these
serious murder cases right, which is why people are wondering whether we should
be imposing final sentences like death sentences when there's no chance to
obviously correct a problem once one gets executed.
HARRIS: When you noticed the death penalties decline, you naturally went and
looked for the data but you didn't find it so you began to collect it yourself.
What did you do?
GARRETT: We wanted to find out who was sentenced to death in this country and
in what counties and what states and what years. There wasn't good information
when death sentences rose to their height in the 1990s and then they steadily
declined in the 2000s to the present. There are rosters of who's on death row
at any time that the prisons keep, and so we come through those prison records.
We did searches to see what appeals people filed in different states. We
reached out to lawyers that work on death penalty cases, and by combing through
all those records we put together what we think is a definitive list of
everyone sentenced to death from 1991 through the present.
HARRIS: Where are we in 2016? How many death verdicts, how many executions in
the last year?
GARRETT: Death sentences and executions have cratered. In the 1990s, there were
well over 300 death sentences a year in some years. Last year, there were 31.
So it's just enormous - it's like a 90 % drop in death sentence. Executions
have dropped even faster.
HARRIS: Why has the shift in death penalty sentences happened? Is it too many
wrongful convictions that DNA shows later? Is it life without parole? Is it the
decline in crime, especially murders?
GARRETT: Well what I found in analyzing DNA exonerations, adoption of life
without parole as an alternative to the death penalty, other changes coming
from the U.S. Supreme Court, I found that none of those things were correlated
with the decline in death sentences. The decline in murders was, but I also
found that changes in the way that states provide resources to defense lawyers
so that they actually set up offices so the defense can put on a fair case,
that had an enormous impact. And so you see the decline of murders start to
impact death sentencing, and by the late 90s, death sentencing starts to
steadily decline. But then it really declines in the states where there's some
kind of an office that knows what it's doing handling death penalty trials. You
also see a steady effect of cost. Death penalty trials are really expensive. In
the rural counties, they can't afford it. They almost entirely stop death
sentencing, and then you see this kind of muscle memory effect. Prosecutors
have gotten used to doing death sentencing and doing it easily and cheaply.
Well once that starts to unravel, you see prosecutors just stop doing death
sentencing entirely. And that muscle memory, that momentum, that inertia
(source: WESA news)
A service courtesy of Washburn University School of Law www.washburnlaw.edu
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