Friday, December 31, 2004

Here's a quote from a CSI episode I watched tonight. It's not about capital punishment, but its an interesting quote nevertheless.

"Treating another human being like garbage is not a job; its a choice."

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

David Elliot has a link to a great flash video (see the NCADP Blog). I encourage you all to check it out. The video is quite poignant.

What would your last request be?

The Last Request

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Michael Ross

As many of you know, Connecticut has scheduled its first execution since the reinstatement of the death penalty. Michael Ross waived all of his remaining appeals and has requested a death warrant. He is currently scheduled for execution on January 26th.

There has long been speculation that Michael Ross is not mentally competent to waive his appeals and seek death. Dan Ross, Michael's father, is now asking a Connecticut court to appoint him as "next friend" for his son so that Dan Ross may go forward with Michael's appeals and attempt to save his son's life. New London Superior Court is holding a competency hearing today to determine Michael's competency to waive his appeals and proceed to execution. If he is allowed to proceed, Dan Ross is seeking a writ of habeas corpus which claims that Michael's "waiver of the right to seek the writ is not knowing, intelligent and voluntary but is, instead, a product of his desire to commit judicial, state-assisted suicide, which is either a product of or a symptom of his unsound mental state."

Michael Ross' execution has sparked a great deal of controversy. Ross is a convicted serial killer, and many in Connecticut cannot wait to see him die. That said, many in Connecticut are extremely wary of resuming executions in the state. In my opinion, resuming executions for an arguably mentally ill volunteer is an especially wary position. This will set a difficult precedent in Connecticut. It tells the public that the State will only value a life until the individual no longer values his or her own (this is of course setting aside the argument some make that there is no value in the life of a capital all know I disagree). Allowing a death row volunteer to commit state sponsored suicide opens the door for others to choose death over life. We put death row inmates on suicide watch to prevent them from taking their own lives; yet, most states are more than happy to inject them full of poison in front of an audience if the inmate so requests. What, per se, is the difference? I think the answer is obvious, those seeking an execution (volunteer or not) have an insatiable need for public display of the murder. There is this odd fascination with the death of condemned killers. Crowds once gathered to view hangings and burnings in town squares. We would be appalled at such a display today. Again, what is the difference in putting Michael Ross on display? Is it somehow cleaner and less controversial because he is behind a piece of glass strapped to a table and no one can see his body writhing from the chemicals? I suppose for some it is. For me, I see no difference.

Ross' Father Seeks Stay of Execution

Donald Beardslee

California has set the date of execution for Donald Beardslee for January 19th. If it goes forward, it will be the first execution in California in over two years. There is a decent chance at a stay, depending on the results of two court cases, one before the Ninth Circuit and one before a US District Court. The case before the Ninth Circuit asks the court for a new trial because the state Supreme Court dismissed three of four death penalty special circumstances in Beardslee's case in 1991. The case in US District Court claims that lethal injection is inhumane. The most likely scenario for a stay for Beardslee would be because the courts need more time to make their decisions. For continuing information on Donald Beardslee, see the Campaign to End the Death Penalty.

Donald Beardslee: Preparing for death

Monday, December 27, 2004

Troy Kunkle

I've noticed that many of my visitors are looking for information on Troy Kunkle. As an update, Troy Kunkle's execution has been rescheduled for January 19, 2005. I'm sure I'll have more commentary coming up in the next couple of weeks so stay tuned.

Upcoming Executions

Friday, December 24, 2004

Sister Helen Prejean: "Death in Texas"

Attached is a link to an amazing essay written by Sister Helen Prejean about the application of the death penalty in Texas during the reign of then Governor George Bush (known by some abolitionists as the "Texecutioner" because he authorized the execution of 152 individuals during his six years and only granted clemency someone who was innocent of the crime for which he had received his death sentence). Sister Helen takes a heart wrenching look at Bush's approach to clemency and the role his counsel, Alberto Gonzales (now nominated for US Attorney General), played in those clemency decisions. In particular, Sister Helen writes a poignant description of Bush's role in the execution of Karla Faye Tucker. Please do read it, its worth the time.

The New York Review of Books: Death in Texas

As a side note, this essay is adapted from Sister Helen Prejean's upcoming book The Death of Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions, which will be published in January 2005. After reading this essay I am looking forward to reading Sister Helen's book even more than before. In case you are interested, you can preorder the book through at least one of the Internet book sellers.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner! The State of Texas has once again come in as the US leader in executions. In 2004, the state sucessfully killed 23 men. This number is down from the previous year but on track for its decade average.

Wait, how could I forget its not a competition? For a moment there I thought it was.

Texas still No. 1 in executions

Kansas Update

Well, apparently, the Kansas Supreme Court has put its ruling regarding the state's death penalty on hold so that the Kansas Attorney General can pursue an appeal to the United States Supreme Court. It is doubtful that the US Supreme Court will accept this case, but stranger things have happened. It does appear, however, that the Kansas legislature would like to fix the flaws in the law. Of course, I would rather see them decide to keep the death penalty out of Kansas, but I guess sometimes I need to be realistic. At least the legislature recognizes the problem and wants to fix it. For now at least that means no one in Kansas is likely to be executed.

Kansas high court issues death penalty stay

Friday, December 17, 2004

Kansas Christmas Surprise

Well now, color me green and call me a Christmas tree, another state has thrown out its death penalty. The Kansas Supreme Court ruled on Friday that the state's death penalty law is unconstitutional. In a 4-3 decision, the court found that a provision of the law, which provides how jurors should weigh death penalty arguments, violates the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution. The 1994 law states that when a jury finds the arguments for and against a death sentence equal, the jury's decision should favor a finding of death. This provision unfairly (and unconstitutionally) favors the prosecution.

Six different inmates are affected by the Court's ruling. All six will be resentenced immediately without the option of death. The Kansas Court has now left it up to the state legislature to rewrite a constitutional law. Until then, Kansas will be free of new death sentences.

Kansas death penalty ruled unconstitutional (CNN)

Kansas death penalty declared unconstitutional (NY Times)
Here is a great letter to the editor by Robert Nave, executive director of the Connecticut Network to Abolish the Death Penalty. Nave really hits the nail on the head in expressing how I feel about abolition and the death penalty.

You all know that I do not believe any human being should be murdered by the government (or by ANYONE). I do not think we have the right to make that choice, no matter how hideous the underlying crime (and some of the underlying crimes are admittedly so horrid I want to be sick to my stomach). However, this opinion has developed over years of thinking about this issue and is based on all of the things Nave discusses in his very brief but poignant letter. My opinions on the death penalty did not start with "no human being should be murdered," they started with "the death penalty is not a deterrent, that it is racially and economically biased, that it has killed and will continue to kill innocent people and that it is cost ineffective."

Abolition is not about saving the lives of murderers (though it may seem that way from my blog from time to time since I try to put a real life human face on the government's murders), it is about respecting life and living in a society where violence and vengeance are not sanctioned. It is about recognizing that the system is BEYOND flawed. I read somewhere (apologies to the author) that the application of the death penalty is best analogized to a lottery. To me, that's one of the main problems with it. Who decides who lives and who dies? If you believe someone should get death, are you willing to start the injection? Some supporters are...most are not.

Death-penalty Foes Are Victim Advocates

Jeffrey Lee Weaver

Jeffrey Weaver is a no longer a resident of Florida's death row. The Florida Supreme Court has overturned his death sentence and given Weaver a sentence of life without parole. Weaver spent five years on Florida's death row after a judge overrode the jury's recommendation of life in favor of a death sentence. The Florida Supreme Court found the judge's actions improper and ordered Weaver's sentence changed to life. The Court declined to grant Weaver a new trial, finding that his jury had heard enough evidence to support the conviction. Weaver's attorneys continue to believe he deserves a new trial, but are obviously pleased with the Supreme Court's decision to remove Weaver from his death sentence.

Supreme Court overturns death sentence
I have been falling down in my bloggerly duties, but check out David Elliot's NCADP blog. He's been posting like crazy and has some great information on the recent developments on the death penalty in New York. Besides, the NCADP and David Elliot are simply awesome.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

With thanks to the anonymous UM YAH YAH commentator, I thought y'all might be interested in this Sentencing Law Blog run by Douglas A. Berman, Professor of Law at Moritz College of Law at The Ohio State University. The blog contains postings on all different aspects of sentencing and criminal law and includes some postings on recent developments in the study and application of the death penalty.

Sentencing Law and Policy

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Not to break my anonymity, but I noticed today that I've recently had a couple of visitors from my alma mater, a school up here in the frozen tundra. So...thanks for visiting and...UM YAH YAH!

Monday, December 13, 2004

Scott Lee Peterson

Well...I have to eat my words. I was so certain that the Peterson jury would give him life without parole. I was convinced that his middle-class white male status would spare him from a death sentence. I was wrong. California is very unlikely to kill him, but that is not entirely the point.

It is not my practice to post when a defendant is first given his or her sentence. I'm especially loathe to care much about the high profile cases. However, this case has brought a lot of attention and that attention can be used to bring focus to the death penalty and its effect on society. So...I post to note that I'll eat my words. The Peterson jury surprised me.

Joe Elton Nixon

The United States Supreme Court ruled 8-0 today to reverse the Florida Supreme Court's decision to grant Joe Nixon a new trial. The Florida Supreme Court had found that Nixon was denied a zealous defense when his counsel conceded his guilt in an effort to persuade the jury not to give Nixon the death penalty. The Florida court found this tactic denied Nixon of his Sixth Amendment rights to a vigorous defense. The US Supreme Court disagreed. In an opinion written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (arguably the most "liberal" of the Justices on death penalty issues), the Court stated it could not second-guess the attorney's trial strategy. They found the strategy reasonable and noted that Nixon had many opportunities to object.

No new trial for death row inmate, even though lawyer goofed, court rules

Thursday, December 09, 2004

For those of you interested in the valiant work of Amnesty International, I have posted a link to an advisory opinion it provided to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in response to its request for an opinion on legislative or other measures denying judicial or other effective recourse to challenge the death penalty. Most of my writing is about the domestic application of the death penalty, but this report has some very good observations from Amnesty International on the death penalty internationally.

Death Penalty: Protecting the right to life.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

George Emil Banks

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania was scheduled to kill George Banks tonight. However, the state Supreme Court has stopped the execution and ordered the county court to hold a mental competency hearing. The Court has ordered the mental competency hearing to assure that Banks understands the execution and the proceedings. To date, Banks has stated that he does not think he will be executed and that this is just a test of his faith in Jesus. At the time of the murders, he fought with his lawyers when they attempted to argue an insanity defense at trial and he claimed that though he had killed some of the victims, police had killed others and also mutilated the bodies to make the crime seem worse. Since his conviction, Banks has attempted suicide at least four times and has staged hunger strikes which ended in him being force fed.

Court halts Banks' execution

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Frances Newton - STAY GRANTED

Texas Governor Rick Perry surprised the abolitionist community today and agreed with the recommendation of the Texas Board of Paroles and Pardons. Frances Newton will not be executed for at least another 120 days. Perry granted the stay to allow investigation into certain conflicting evidence in Newton's case (including alleged gunpowder on her clothing and concerns with ballistics). This makes today a very good day. No Texas smack down necessary...yet.

Governor puts woman's execution on hold

Frances Newton - 5th Circuit

The United States Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit declined to halt Newton's pending execution. The case will now be turned over to the United States Supreme Court for an emergency stay. Governor Perry will not likely make any decisions until after hearing from the Supreme Court. I will not be able to update throughout the day. For more information, see the NCADP blog.