Victories!

The last month has proven to be a joyful one in the world of abolition as we’ve had several victories to celebrate.

In the first case heard under North Carolina’s Racial Justice Act, Marcus Reymond Robinson’s death sentence was changed to life in prison without the possibility of parole when a judge ruled that racial bias played a significant role in his sentencing 18 years ago. This landmark ruling will likely be the first of many more cases that challenge the racism that has permeated numerous capital trials.

Another big victory came when Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy signed the death penalty repeal bill into law last week, making his state the 17th in the country to abolish the death penalty, and the fifth one in five years!

More good news came when the prestigious National Research Council of the National Academies released a report saying that studies claiming that the death penalty deters crime are fundamentally flawed. “These studies should not be used to inform judgments about the effect of the death penalty on homicide, and should not serve as a basis for policy decisions about capital punishment,” stated the Council.

Former President Jimmy Carter echoed these sentiments in a recent opinion editorial, pointing out that “just 1 percent of police chiefs think that expanding the death penalty would reduce violent crime.” He went on to say that evidence shows that the death penalty does not act as a deterrent in our county. In fact, “the homicide rate is at least five times greater in the United States than in any Western European country, all without the death penalty.” He also wrote about the unfairness in how the death penalty is applied, the financial burden of the system, as well as religious and ethical concerns.

On April 23, the SAFE California Act, an initiative to replace California’s death penalty with a sentence of life without parole, qualified for the November ballot, with over 800,000 Californians signing the petition to bring the measure to a vote. If passed, it would commute the sentences of over 700 people on California’s death row.

This week, a Texas Court of Criminal Appeals heard arguments in the case of death row inmate Hank Skinner. Skinner has been asking for DNA testing for more than a decade on crime scene evidence that was not analyzed at his original trial. Appeals courts have previously denied his requests, citing restrictions in a 2001 post-conviction DNA testing law that have since been repealed. Skinner was granted a stay of execution in November so that the changes to this law could be further examined in how they might be applied to his case. Though it may take weeks for the court to issue a decision on whether to allow DNA testing in this case, it seems promising that the judges grilled the state about its opposition to the testing and deemed certain arguments made by the Texas Solicitor General as “illogical.”

Yesterday, another Texas death row inmate, Anthony Bartee, received a last minute stay. He was originally scheduled to be executed in February, even though DNA evidence collected at the crime scene had not been tested as ordered on at least two occasions by District Judge Mary Román. He received a reprieve days before his scheduled execution in February when Judge Román withdrew the death warrant so that additional DNA testing could be conducted on strands of hair found in the hands of the victim, David Cook. Yet, before the testing occurred, Judge Román inexplicably set another execution date for yesterday, May 2. The testing was conducted and the hair was found to be the victim’s. However, there is still more evidence that has not been tested for DNA, including cigarette butts and at least three drinking glasses found at the crime scene. In 2010, the court ordered that all items be tested, but these items still have not been tested. Thank you to those who signed the on-line petition asking for a reprieve for Bartee.

We applaud the determination and efforts of all of the people around the country who made the above successes possible. We hope to build on this momentum and move Tennessee closer to repeal!

Photo by: rkramer62

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