Archive for

August, 2013



A Call for Death Penalty Repeal at the March on Washington

Among the many great speakers at yesterday’s 50th anniversary of the March on Washington was Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley. After championing Senate Bill 276 to abolish the death penalty, O’Malley signed the bill into law in May, making Maryland the 18th state without the death penalty and the sixth in six years to repeal. In his brief speech at the Lincoln Memorial, O’Malley addressed the work that is still before us. We are proud that he put a spotlight on death penalty repeal as part of his call to action:

“And so the responsibility we consecrate today is not rooted in nostalgia or memory, it is rooted in something far deeper,” said O’Malley. “It is rooted in the calling of conscience to action, …action that abolishes the death penalty and improves public safety in every neighborhood regardless of income or color.”

You can watch the video of his speech here.


(Photo of Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley at 50th Anniversary of March on Washington, Getty Images via The Baltimore Sun)

Fairly, there are numerous aspects you would like to think about medications. All discount medicaments save money, but few online drugstores offer better deals than other online drugstores. There isn’t anything you can’t order online anymore. Remedies like Deltasone ordinarily is used to treat diseases such as eye problems. Glucocorticoids naturally occurring steroids, which are easily absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract. There are varied drugs for every conditions. Cialis is a remedy prescribed to treat many illnesses. What do you already know about long term side effects of cialis? What consumers talk about how long does it take for cialis to take effect? A general sexual appeal among men is the erectile dysfunction. Sexual problems mostly signal deeper problems: low libido or erectile disfunction can be the symptom a strong health problem such as core trouble. Albeit the erectile dysfunction itself isn’t necessarily dangerous, erectile dysfunction is sometimes one of the early warning symptoms of other underlying heartiness conditions that can be extremely dangerous. Unfortunately nearly all over-the-counter medicines have sometimes dangerous aftereffects, from muscle aches to death. If you buy any erectile dysfunction medicaments like Cialis, check with a physician that they are sure to take with your other drugs. Do not take unwanted medications. Take Cialis to your local chemist’s shop which will dispose of them for you.

Recent Articles Highlight the Need for Repeal in Tennessee

The numerous flaws of the death penalty were featured in two great articles* that appeared in Memphis’ The Commercial Appeal this past weekend. It’s quite appropriate to have a paper in Western Tennessee highlight our flawed capital punishment system given that over a third of all death sentences in our state come from Shelby County. The recent release of former death row inmates Ndume Olatushani and Timothy McKinney as well as the new trial ordered for Michael Rimmer, all cases out of Shelby County, give further rise to the need for repeal.

Peter Nuefeld, co-director of the Innocence Project, argued in his guest column that while scientific advancements have been critical in getting at the truth in capital cases, they are not enough. After all, of the 142 individuals who have been exonerated from death row in this country, only 18 had DNA evidence in their cases. False confessions, eyewitness misidentification, ineffective defense counsel, jailhouse snitches and police and prosecutorial misconduct can and do lead to wrongful convictions. While reforms could certainly help to reduce mistakes, our system will always have some degree of fallibility, and therefore, the risk of executing the innocent will always exist until we end the death penalty.

In addition to the real risk of innocent people being put to death, this article addresses the enormous cost of maintaining the death penalty as well as its arbitrary application. Also discussed is the progress that has been made in recent years. In addition to a reduction in death sentences, as the public learns more about the problematic system, support for the death penalty has decreased, resulting in six states repealing their death penalty in the last six years with other states likely to repeal in the near future. Fortunately, the death penalty is no longer a partisan issue. People of all political stripes are realizing that there are smarter ways to respond to crime and are speaking out against the death penalty. At TADP, our work continues to educate more citizens so that they too will join this growing movement toward repeal.

Photo via The Guardian

*you must subscribe to The Commercial Appeal to access the articles. If you are not able to view them, here is the text of each:

Guest column: DNA exonerations hold many lessons

By Peter Neufeld, Special to The Commercial Appeal

Sunday, August 18, 2013

In February 1986, Luttrell, Tenn., native Paul House was sentenced to death for the murder of his neighbor, Carolyn Muncey, who had been raped and beaten to death the previous summer. The evidence against House seemed solid. A forensic expert testified at trial that a pair of jeans collected from House had blood that matched Muncey’s blood type on them; a second forensic expert testified that House’s blood type matched the semen found on Muncey’s undergarment.

After he had served more than two decades on Tennessee’s death row, House’s first-degree murder conviction was vacated and the indictment dismissed in 2009 based on DNA testing and other new evidence of innocence. It turns out that unsealed vials of the victim’s blood likely spilled onto House’s pants while both items of evidence were in transit to the FBI lab where they were later tested. DNA testing later revealed that the semen, said to have matched House’s blood type, came from the victim’s husband. Additional DNA testing on a hair recovered from the scene and material under the victim’s fingernails pointed to other perpetrators.

Since 1989, 311 people have been exonerated by DNA evidence. Eighteen of these individuals served time on death row — many, like House, coming perilously close to their execution dates. These DNA exonerations have taught us that the system is deeply flawed and that the appeals process does not provide adequate protections to detect errors.

Unfortunately, DNA testing is not a panacea for the inadequacies of the criminal justice system. Biological evidence that can be submitted for DNA testing is available in less than 5 percent of the cases that involve serious felonies. In other words, DNA just isn’t available in most capital cases and their prosecutions depend on much less reliable evidence. An individual’s life can hinge on a questionable identification, the testimony of one jailhouse informant, an inadvertent contamination or the work of an overburdened practitioner who is relying on a forensic practice that has never been scientifically validated.

Individual opinions can — and will — differ as to whether capital punishment is a morally appropriate punishment for the most heinous of crimes or an immoral license for state-sanctioned killing. We can all agree, however, that because death is an irreversible punishment, all necessary resources must be provided to ensure that every aspect of the capital punishment system — investigation, defense, prosecution, trial, appeal and post-conviction — produces as fair and accurate a result as possible.

In July, the FBI and the Department of Justice agreed to review more than 2,000 criminal cases in which FBI lab examiners had declared microscopic matches between crime-scene hairs and those of the accused. This unprecedented review of past cases has already uncovered as many as 27 death penalty convictions where, just as in the case of Paul House, FBI forensic experts may have mistakenly linked defendants to crimes with exaggerated and unscientific claims about the significance of the data. Of the 311 DNA exonerations, 72 involved erroneous hair analysis. While it’s too early to know how many capital prosecutions were affected by faulty hair analysis or testimony, the government’s willingness to take on this review marks a giant step forward in ensuring scientific validation and accountability for what passes as forensic science.

But the nation has barely begun to heed the lessons learned from the DNA exonerations. Eyewitness misidentifications played a role in nearly 75 percent of the DNA exonerations, yet most states, including Tennessee, have failed to pass proven reforms that would help prevent misidentifications. Similarly, false confessions, which have played a role in 50 percent of the DNA exonerations, can be sharply curtailed by requiring police to videotape interrogations in full. Yet most states, including Tennessee, still don’t require police to do so, even in an era when video surveillance dominates so much of our daily lives. We must also address inadequacies in resources for defense lawyers and provide more rigorous oversight of police, prosecutors and defense lawyers.

While the United States has a strong judicial infrastructure, wrongful convictions and forensic errors continue to serve as sober reminders of the fallibility of the criminal justice system. We must work to recognize and reform the various systemic weaknesses that can cause wrongful conviction —and therefore, wrongful executions. Only after we have implemented those reforms and recognized the remaining threat of wrongful conviction presented by systemic and human error can we fairly assess whether a capital punishment system should continue to exist in our country.

How long will the death penalty survive?

By Janell Ross, The Root

Sunday, August 18, 2013

DNA science helps state-by-state fight for abolition

On May 7, officials at the Mississippi State Penitentiary planned to strap Willie Jerome Manning to a gurney and pump a lethal cocktail of drugs into his veins at precisely 7 p.m.

But just five hours before he was set to die, the state’s Supreme Court halted Manning’s execution. Attorneys for the U.S. Justice Department had found that a piece of forensic evidence offered against Manning — by an FBI expert who testified with certainty that a hair found in a murder victim’s car belonged to Manning — was “invalid,” throwing the convicted man’s guilt into doubt.

With that new information and after a series of hearings, the Mississippi Supreme Court in late July gave Manning’s attorneys 60 days to file a brief in Oktibbeha County Circuit Court supporting their request for DNA testing and fingerprint analysis of the evidence in his case.

Manning’s case has attracted national attention and the assistance of legal heavyweights Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld, co-founders of the New York-based nonprofit organization the Innocence Project. In some ways, what has happened to Manning, who was convicted of the 1992 murders of two Mississippi State University students, is emblematic of American justice and the state of its most severe and irrevocable penalty: capital punishment. And the reason, advocates of abolishing the death penalty

say, is increasing cultural awareness of DNA science and expectations that it can be used to reach certain, not just likely, conclusions about guilt.

Twenty years after the first death-row prisoner was exonerated because of that science, many states have moved beyond questions about the quality and quantity of lawyers in death-penalty cases or how frequently these sentences are handed down when defendants of color are accused of killing white victims. Those issues made headlines in the late 1980s and 1990s. Today, death-penalty opponents are forcing debates about actual innocence and pushing for an end to capital punishment state by state.

“I think, unfortunately, there was a point not so long ago where even in some of the most liberal, progressive, even activist circles, doing away … with the death penalty was just another lost lefty cause,” said Diann Rust-Tierney, executive director of the Washington-based National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. “But there’s no question, no question at all in my mind, that 20 years after the first condemned man that science proved to be innocent walked out of jail, there’s a new kind of momentum. We’ve truly turned some kind of corner.”

Indeed, according to the Innocence Project, 18 people have been exonerated after DNA tests showed that they did not commit the crimes for which they were sentenced to death. A new chorus of voices has joined the usual human rights collective that has long wanted to rid the country of capital punishment. Six states have eliminated capital punishment in the last six years, and at least two others are expected to follow in the near future, death-penalty opponents say.

Inside the NAACP — the nation’s largest and oldest civil rights organization — organizers are beginning to speak quietly but openly about a state-by-state movement to abolish the death penalty that includes a national endgame. There’s even talk of eventually bringing a case to the U.S. Supreme Court that asks the justices to eliminate capital punishment nationwide.

The number of people receiving death sentences is declining, Rust-Tierney said. Legislation to reform or repeal the death penalty is now regularly introduced in states across the country. Perhaps most significantly, longtime death-penalty opponents have been joined in the trenches by civil rights activists and those with the political experience and social standing to raise real questions about inequality in the criminal justice system.

“The death penalty really is becoming increasingly marginalized,” Rust-Tierney said, “and with good reason.”

Since 2000, death-penalty sentences handed down by state courts and juries have declined nearly 75 percent, and the number of executions has been cut in half, said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, a Washington-based nonprofit organization that opposes capital punishment.

One explanation for the change: Crime itself has declined, said Dieter. Another is that the nation’s increasingly cash-strapped states have looked at the cost of the death penalty and the multiple appeals and hearings that almost always follow, he said. Longtime death-penalty opponents wish, Dieter said, that arguments about the uneven nature of death-penalty sentences had made the difference.

“It’s a combination of a lot of things,” Dieter said. “But if I had to point to one thing, it’s innocence, the possibility of actual innocence. DNA testing has revealed to the public that in so many cases where people thought the right person was on death row, (it) turned out to be wrong. DNA has produced some growing awareness of the irrevocable and fallible nature of the death penalty.”

It’s the so-called “CSI” effect. Juries want proof. And even in states such as Texas — the longtime national leader in executions — beginning this year, prosecutors will be required to ensure that any evidence that can be tested for DNA material undergoes that process before a jury is asked to impose the death penalty. And all of the 32 states that maintain the death penalty also now give juries the option of sentencing defendants to life without the possibility of parole.

In 2012 and 2013, legislatures in Connecticut, Maryland, Delaware and Colorado considered repealing the death penalty. Only the Connecticut and Maryland measures became law. But Colorado’s governor did institute a moratorium on executions.

Longtime death-penalty opponents say that the increasing involvement of new voices in the movement to abolish capital punishment has also played a significant role in the slow state-by-state death of capital punishment. One of those new voices: the NAACP.

“Look at Maryland,” said Jane Henderson, executive director of Maryland Citizens Against State Executions. “I think the governor wanted to do away with the death penalty for some time, and most of the votes have been there in the Legislature for a while. We’ve certainly been here working on it. But when the NAACP came in and really pressed the issue, I think it gave some people the political cover they needed.”

Still, change happens slowly. In Maryland, Kirk Bloodsworth, a white ex-Marine, became the nation’s first exonerated death-row inmate in 1993 after DNA testing proved that he was not guilty of the 1984 rape and murder of a 9-year-old girl. But it wasn’t until March of this year that Maryland abolished the death penalty.

Although public support for the death penalty hit a 39-year low in 2011, it ticked up slightly this year. About 63 percent of the respondents in a nationwide Gallup poll in January said they supported the death penalty as a potential penalty for murder.

Activists know that they still have an uphill fight. There are just over 3,100 people who have been sentenced to death in the nation’s prisons. Although blacks make up just 13 percent of the nation’s population, African-American inmates make up 41 percent of those living on death row and 35 percent of those executed since the Supreme Court affirmed the constitutionality of capital punishment in 1976.

Just over 80 percent of the nation’s executions last year occurred in Southern states, which still support the death penalty in strong numbers.

“I think we want to aggressively champion equality and challenge injustice whenever and wherever we can,” said Niaz Kasravi, the NAACP’s criminal justice director. “That sounds lofty and certainly is a tremendous task, but I think there’s no question that the racial inequalities we have seen in who is sentenced to death; the errors that we know have happened or almost happened; and the aggressive way that policing (and) the broader criminal justice system are distorting communities of color across this country have given us a very clear sense of mission here.”

NAACP officials could not help but note the crowds — including thousands of young people — mobilized in the run-up to Troy Davis’ 2011 execution in Georgia, Kasravi said.

Davis, an African-American man convicted in the 1989 murder of an off-duty police officer, became a sort of national cause. Seven of the nine witnesses who initially offered damaging testimony against him recanted significant portions of their testimony. More than 1 million people signed a petition calling on Georgia to reconsider his death sentence.

The Supreme Court ordered a lower court to reconsider evidence in the case that strongly suggested Davis’ innocence, and a former U.S. president — even the pope — asked Georgia to commute Davis’ sentence. In September 2011, Georgia executed Davis. In his final statement, he maintained his innocence.

Ben Jealous, a longtime civil rights activist and organizer, took the helm at the NAACP after serving as director of Amnesty International’s U.S. Human Rights Program, where he focused on death-penalty issues, prisoner rights and racial profiling, and juvenile justice matters. So adding the death penalty to the NAACP’s list of national priorities wasn’t exactly a stretch, Kasravi said.

If and when the state-by-state battle that death-penalty opponents are waging now causes the death penalty to be abolished in a simple majority of states — 26 — the NAACP is prepared to mount a constitutional challenge on the grounds that the death penalty amounts to cruel and unusual punishment in the states where it remains. The Supreme Court barred states from executing the mentally disabled in 2002 and juveniles in 2005 on the same grounds.

“Abolishing the death penalty really isn’t a far-fetched idea,” Kasravi said. “At this point, I’d say it’s within sight.”

Fairly, there are numerous aspects you would like to think about medications. All discount medicaments save money, but few online drugstores offer better deals than other online drugstores. There isn’t anything you can’t order online anymore. Remedies like Deltasone ordinarily is used to treat diseases such as eye problems. Glucocorticoids naturally occurring steroids, which are easily absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract. There are varied drugs for every conditions. Cialis is a remedy prescribed to treat many illnesses. What do you already know about long term side effects of cialis? What consumers talk about how long does it take for cialis to take effect? A general sexual complaint among men is the erectile dysfunction. Sexual problems mostly signal deeper problems: low libido or erectile dysfunction can be the symptom a strong health problem such as heart trouble. Albeit the erectile dysfunction itself isn’t necessarily dangerous, erectile disfunction is sometimes one of the early warning symptoms of other underlying health conditions that can be extremely dangerous. Unfortunately nearly all over-the-counter medicines have sometimes dangerous aftereffects, from muscle aches to death. If you buy any erectile dysfunction medicaments like Cialis, check with a physician that they are sure to take with your other drugs. Do not take unwanted medications. Take Cialis to your local chemist’s shop which will dispose of them for you.

Kentucky Moves Closer to Repeal

In the near future, our neighbors to the north could join the 18 other states that have repealed the death penalty. The Kentucky Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty is working hard to educate their state on the enormous cost, unfairness, and risk of executing innocent people that is inherent in their death penalty system. Repeal legislation will be sponsored in Kentucky’s General Assembly next year and advocates are hopeful that a bill to end capital punishment will pass in 2015.

Witness to Innocence President and former death row inmate Randy Steidl is working with repeal supporters to make that happen. This month he’s traveling around the state and sharing his story with communities of faith, civic organizations, state lawmakers, and even fair-goers. “You can release a man from prison, but you can’t release him from the grave,” says Steidl, who was exonerated in 2004 after nearly 18 years of incarceration- 12 on death row, when an investigation revealed that police and prosecutorial misconduct led to his wrongful conviction.

Although Steidl was convicted in Illinois, finding errors in a capital case is not an unusual story in Kentucky. Of the 78 people that have been sentenced to death in the state since 1976, 50 have had their death sentence overturned- an error rate of more than 60 percent! A 2011 report by the American Bar Association that was compiled after a two-year review revealed “serious issues related to fairness and accuracy in the imposition of death sentences” in Kentucky and called for a temporary suspension of executions until those were addressed. A similar review was conducted in Tennessee in 2007 and found that out of 93 guidelines for a fair and accurate system, our state fully complied with only seven.

As more people learn about just how broken the system is, the momentum for repeal continues to grow. Six states in six years have ended the death penalty. Hopefully Kentucky can soon join that group, with many more to follow.

Photo of Randy Steidl via Floyd County Times

Fairly, there are numerous aspects you would like to think about medications. All discount medicaments save money, but few online drugstores offer better deals than other online drugstores. There isn’t anything you can’t order online anymore. Remedies like Deltasone ordinarily is used to treat diseases such as eye problems. Glucocorticoids naturally occurring steroids, which are easily absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract. There are varied drugs for every conditions. Cialis is a remedy prescribed to treat many illnesses. What do you already know about long term side effects of cialis? What consumers talk about how long does it take for cialis to take effect? A general sexual claim among men is the erectile dysfunction. Sexual problems mostly signal deeper problems: low libido or erectile malfunction can be the symptom a strong soundness problem such as heart trouble. Albeit the erectile dysfunction itself isn’t necessarily dangerous, erectile dysfunction is sometimes one of the early warning symptoms of other underlying soundness conditions that can be much dangerous. Unfortunately nearly all over-the-counter medicines have sometimes dangerous aftereffects, from muscle aches to death. If you buy any erectile malfunction medicaments like Cialis, check with a physician that they are sure to take with your other drugs. Do not take unwanted medications. Take Cialis to your local chemist’s shop which will dispose of them for you.

Florida Executes Man with Severe Mental Illness

The blog below was written last Thursday. Update: The U.S. Supreme Court refused to issue a stay and the state of Florida executed John Ferguson last night, Monday, Aug. 5 at 6:17 p.m. ET. You can read the statement issued by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) on the execution here.  Andrew Cohen also wrote this opinion editorial in The Atlantic which highlights the inconsistencies of the Supreme Court.

Florida death row inmate John Ferguson is scheduled to be executed on August 5th despite a long history of severe mental illness. Ronald Honberg, the National Director for Policy and Legal Affairs for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), writes in his article for The Huffington Post that Ferguson’s execution would offend the Constitution and that his case represents failures of our mental health system.

“John Ferguson thinks he is the ‘Prince of God.’  He has thought so for decades. Mr. Ferguson believes that he can’t be killed and his body will not remain in a grave. Rather, he will assume his seat at the right hand of God, come back to life, and save America from a communist plot.

John Ferguson suffers from paranoid schizophrenia. In the terminology of the Supreme Court, he is ‘insane.'”

Ferguson, 65, has been on death row for 35 years, convicted of multiple murders committed shortly after his release from psychiatric institutional care despite warnings from his doctors of his extremely dangerous and homicidal state.

Seven different Florida psychiatrists have found Ferguson to suffer from paranoid schizophrenia, delusions, and hallucinations. By setting his execution despite these findings, Florida is contradicting the 2007 Supreme Court ruling that prohibits executions of “a person who is insane and lacks a rational understanding of why he is being put to death and the effect of the death penalty.” Florida deemed Ferguson competent for execution on the basis that he is “factually aware of his impending execution.” As Honberg notes in his article, Florida has used an incorrect standard in this case because Ferguson still does not rationally understand the reasons for his execution or its effect. The Florida Supreme Court is, thus, not upholding the U.S. Supreme Court precedent if it applies an incorrect legal standard for competency.

Honberg also points to broader concerns arising from this case. “Mr. Ferguson’s case is proof positive of the failings of our mental health system, and if the State of Florida has its way, his execution will chillingly demonstrate the fatal injustices that people with mental illness face in our court system.”

It is now up to the Supreme Court to review the petition filed by Ferguson’s attorneys, review the case, and hopefully intervene.

Florida is not the only state where individuals with severe and persistent mental illness face execution. Tennessee also has sentenced individuals to death who suffer from severe and persistent mental illness. In fact, 60 Minutes on CBS first featured a story in 2007 on Gregory Thompson, an inmate on Tennessee’s death row, who must be medicated in order to be competent enough to execute.

Just two years ago, NAMI TN advocated for legislation in Tennessee that would exclude individuals with severe and persistent mental illness from the death penalty, making life without the possibility for parole the maximum punishment available. Though NAMI generated bi-partisan support, the bill never got out of committee. Given that pursuing the death penalty is far more expensive than the alternatives, perhaps states would be better served to eliminate the death penalty, particularly for these very ill individuals, and use the savings to ensure those with severe mental illness have access to the treatment that they need for as long as they need it to prevent such tragedies from happening in the first place.

Photo of FL death chamber via TCPalm.com

Fairly, there are numerous aspects you would like to think about medications. All discount medicaments save money, but few online drugstores offer better deals than other online drugstores. There isn’t anything you can’t order online anymore. Remedies like Deltasone ordinarily is used to treat diseases such as eye problems. Glucocorticoids naturally occurring steroids, which are easily absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract. There are varied drugs for every conditions. Cialis is a remedy prescribed to treat many illnesses. What do you already know about long term side effects of cialis? What consumers talk about how long does it take for cialis to take effect? A general sexual claim among men is the erectile disfunction. Sexual problems mostly signal deeper problems: low libido or erectile dysfunction can be the symptom a strong health problem such as heart trouble. Albeit the erectile disfunction itself isn’t necessarily dangerous, erectile disfunction is sometimes one of the early warning symptoms of other underlying soundness conditions that can be so dangerous. Unfortunately nearly all over-the-counter medicines have sometimes dangerous aftereffects, from muscle aches to death. If you buy any erectile malfunction medicaments like Cialis, check with a physician that they are sure to take with your other drugs. Do not take unwanted medications. Take Cialis to your local chemist’s shop which will dispose of them for you.