Two Percenters: 2% of Counties in USA Responsible for Most Death Sentences

We've discussed the new Harvard Law School report before, insofar as it concerns prosecutors (read our post here). 

However, this week's New York Times Magazine has taken a different view on that new research report and it's very interesting.

Read the 55-page report from Harvard's Fair Punishment Project, entitled "Too Broken to Fix" here.

The New York Times delves into the national map and considers the ramifications of the report's finding that only 2% (that's right, two percent) of the counties in the United States are tied to most of the Death Row convictions in this nation.

Sixteen counties specifically, all within 7 states, and all located in the South or on the West Coast.

List of Florida Counties in the Harvard Report's Death Penalty Two Percent

Included here are the following counties in the State of Florida: 

  • Duval
  • Hillsborough
  • Miami-Dade
  • Pinellas.

 

New Mexico Reinstating Death Penalty? What About Delaware and New Jersey?

Last week, New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez ordered that all flags be flown at half-staff in the State of New Mexico to honor Police Officer Jose Chavez who was gunned down during a traffic stop in Hatch, New Mexico.

This week, the news is that Governor Martinez is seeking to have the death penalty re-instated there. 

Governor Martinez is a former prosecutor, and her perspective in the viability and need for capital punishment is shared by most prosecutors, at both the state and federal levels.

But will New Mexico return to executions? 

It was only a few years back that the death penalty was repealed there -- see our previous post on that event, which was hard-fought by lots of powers-that-be there, including Albuquerque's Sheriff Darren White. 

In January, Governor Martinez will go before the state legislature to start the process of getting the death penalty back on the books.

And it looks like she's got better than even odds of success. 

What about Delaware and New Jersey?

Meanwhile, there are reports of movements in other states to bring back the death penalty:

1.  Delaware has some politicos moving to reinstate capital punishment after the recent state supreme court ruling there that the Delaware Death Penalty statute was unconstitiutional.

2.  New Jersey also has some lawmakers working to have the death penalty reinstated there.  The incentive here, as with New Mexico Governor Martinez, is reported to be in response to the killing of police officers. 

 

Death Penalty Without a Killing: Will Texas Execute Jeff Wood?

As you may know, the focus of Terence Lenamon's death penalty practice is upon the second trial in a death penalty case, the sentencing phase, where a man (or woman) has been convicted of a capital crime and now, the question is whether or not the state will succeed in their quest for capital punishment.  (See, e.g., this post which includes one of Terry Lenamon's opening statements.)

Death Penalty Sentencing Phase:  Mental Illness, Mental Disability

Often, the crux of his defense will turn on things like the mental illness or instability of his client.  Things like schizophrenia come into play.  

In some cases, the critical factor will be mental capacity or intellectual disability.  Things like traumatic brain injuries, chromosomal abnormalities, and introduction of toxins (including extended drug use) may be facts to be presented.

Jeff Wood on Texas Death Row

Terry's not representing Jeff Wood in Texas, but he knows the fight that is being fought right now.  Attorneys for Mr. Wood are trying to stop his execution, scheduled in a matter of days. 

If they don't succeed, Jeff Wood will die by lethal injection on August 24, 2016.

And Jeff Wood is argued to suffer both intellectual and emotional disabilities -- things that his lawyers argue should make him constitutionally ineligible for that execution.

An even bigger argument?  One that goes back to the guilt or innocence phase of a death penalty trial, more than in the sentencing trial. 

Jeff Wood didn't kill anyone.  He was sentenced to die under a Texas law that is called the "law of parties," where he is held just as liable for the death of the victim as his accomplice in crime, the person who did do the killing.  (That killer was executed back in 2002.)

So, will Texas execute Jeff Wood? 

 

Federal Death Penalty Challenged as Unconstitutional

Remember the tragedy back in June 2015 when 9 people were gunned down at a church in Charleston, South Carolina? 

A young man named Dylann Roof was arrested and charged with the multiple homicides under federal criminal laws against hate crimes.

This makes Dylann Roof eligible for capital punishment under the FEDERAL death penalty, not any state statute. The laws of South Carolina are not at issue here.

Now, Roof's defense counsel are arguing that the federal death penalty violates the U.S. Constitution as cruel and unusual punishment under both the Fifth and the Eighth Amendments.

Read their brief here. 

Did you know that there was a federal death penalty statute that operates independently of any state law?

Women on Death Row Documentary Available Free Online

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, as of January 1, 2016,  there were 55 women on death row. Fifteen women have been executed in the United States since 1976.

Right now, you can watch the documentary Women on Death Row for free if you have access to Netflix or Amazon Prime Video.

From IMBD:

Look into the personal lives of women currently awaiting execution on Death Row. Though each woman is convicted of committing society's ultimate crime, there is often another side of the story.

 

Women on Death Row (2006)

 

Report: 5 Prosecutors total 440 Death Penalty Sentences

A new report has been published by Harvard Law School, and it should give anyone concerned about capital punishment in this country some food for thought.

As part of its "Fair Punishment Project," Harvard Law studied all those prosecutors in offices all across the country who prosecute capital crimes and have the power to seek the death penalty in these cases. 

It's only when a Notice of Intent to Seek the Death Penalty is filed that capital punishment and killing the accused for his alleged crime becomes an issue.  If the prosecutor doesn't decide to ask for death, then it's not on the table.

Harvard Report: Five Deadliest Prosecutors

The results of the Harvard study?  They found that FIVE people tally up putting 440 individuals on Death Row.  That's right.  Just 5 state attorneys -- and they are spotlighted in this new report, "America's Top Five Deadliest Prosecutors."

Read the report online here. 

Four Men and One Woman and 440 Death Sentences

In case you're wondering, none are from Florida; one is from Texas.  The five are:

  1. Joe Freeman Britt -- Robeson County, North Carolina (Lumberton);
  2. Donnie Myers -- Lexington County, South Carolina (Lexington);
  3. Bob Macy -- Oklahoma County, Oklahoma (Oklahoma City);
  4. Lynne Abraham of Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania (Philadelphia); and
  5. Johnny Holmes of Harris County, Texas (Houston).

Three More Prosecutors With High Death Penalty Conviction Rates

The report also offers the names of three more prosecutors who "... if they continue on their current trajectories, may soon join the ranks of the deadliest prosecutors in America."  They are:

  1. Bernie De La Rionda -- Duval County, Florida (Jacksonville);
  2. Jeannette Gallagher - Maricopa County, Arizona (Phoenix);
  3. Paul Ebert, Prince William County, Virginia (Manassas).

 

 



 

Death Penalty Statute Remains in Flux as Florida Supreme Court Goes on Vacation

In Florida, things remain in limbo regarding the current (and revised) Florida death penalty statute because the Florida Supreme Court ended its 2016 term without deciding on the pending death penalty challenge.

Florida Death Penalty Statute: Is It Unconstitutional?

Which means that for now, and for months to come, Florida prosecutors as well as Florida capital defense lawyers will have to deal with pending and past cases as best they can, since things are unclear. 

No one knows how the Florida Supreme Court will rule -- and until it does, there is a lower court ruling in place that has legally found the current capital punishment scheme in the Florida death penalty statute to be unconstitutional. 

Twist here: three of the justices on the Florida Supreme Court may or may not remain, it will depend upon the November 2016 elections. 

For more, read the Miami Herald article, "Florida’s death penalty, gambling laws frozen for summer."

Death Row Stories - Redford CNN Documentary Online for Free

 

There are now two seasons of CNN’s documentary series Death Row Stories, where each episode focuses upon a single case and Death Row Inmate.   It's produced by Robert Redford and Susan Sarandon is the narrator.

CNN's "Death Row Stories" Documentary Available Online

You can watch all twelve episodes for free online at CNN's website. 

It's also available for streaming via Netflix.

Each Episode Focuses Upon One Death Row Case

The series does not focus on a single state, or upon states that favor capital punishment like Florida or Texas.  For instance, you'll find episodes on Colorado's Nathan Dunlap, Louisiana's John Thompson, and California's Kevin Cooper.

The series admits to focusing upon unfair and unjust situations involving capital punishment prosecutions -- and it's worth your time to catch an episode or two. 

Time Magazine's Death Penalty Issue: a Year Later

It's been about a year since Time Magazine put the Death Penalty on its cover, with an analysis of capital punishment in this country and the reasons why the Death Penalty is dying here.

 

 

Let's Read It Again and Consider What's Happened.

It's a good read.  Now, here's the question -- does it hold up a year later, given that we're seeing lots of things happening regarding the death penalty in this country.  Things like:

  • Arizona and Ohio not able to execute with lethal injection because they can't find the drugs to do it? 
  • And Arkansas has just seen its high court rule that executions may proceed there? 
  • And Florida's death penalty scheme is once again being challenged as unconstitutional?

The five reasons listed by Time Magazine's David Von Drehle:

  1. Not getting better at execution.
  2. Crime rate plunged.
  3. Dwindling justifications.
  4. Governments are going broke.
  5. SCOTUS

Read it again.  See what you think.

 

 

How Long Is Too Long to Sit on Death Row? SCOTUS Agrees to Hear Cruel and Unusual Argument

Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it would hear a case coming out of Texas, where a man was sentenced to die over 36 years ago.

Bobby James Moore faced a jury and a death penalty sentence back in 1980 for the killing of a store employee during an armed robbery of a grocery store in Houston, Texas.

Bobby James Moore has faced execution every day since then.  That's been 36 years of facing death.

How Long is Too Long to Wait To Execute Someone on Death Row?

Now, Mr. Moore's lawyers are arguing that being in this position for three and a half DECADES is cruel and unusual punishment.  

His constitutional rights have been violated because the Eighth Amendment protects him, and all citizens against cruel and unusual punishment. 

Is 15 Years in Solitary Confinement Awaiting Death Against the Constitution?

Important fact here:  since 2001, Mr. Moore has lived in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day.  Alone, in a cell, every day 365 days a year, for the past 15 years.

(Moore also has a second issue before SCOTUS.  He's also arguing that the Eighth Amendment has been violated in his case because of the use of antiquated medical testing on his intellectual abilities in order to allow him to be executed at all.)

Read Moore's Petition as provided by SCOTUS blog here.

 

Annual Fast and Vigil Begins on June 29 in Washington DC

 

Each year, people who are opposed to the death penalty in this country come to the nation's capital to make their position known to the Powers that Be.

Fast and Vigil Begins on June 29

This year, beginning on June 29, 2016, and continuing through to July 2, 2016, they will be gathered at the steps of the United States Supreme Court in what's known as the annual Fast and Vigil. 

People come from all over the globe to the Fast and Vigil.  This will be its 23rd year, and you may need to register in order to attend some of the bigger events (there's speakers and lectures, all sorts of stuff). 

If you're interested in learning more about it, check out the details on the website,  as well as the resources provided by the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (NCADP). 

Louisiana Executions on Hold for Now

The problem with lethal injection executions these days is that demand exceeds supply.  In a big, big way. 

Louisiana Death Penalty On Hold Because of Drug Supply for Lethal Injections

So much so that the State of Louisiana has put all its scheduled executions on hold while federal proceedings move forward that challenge the state's execution method. 

The Louisiana Department of Corrections has run out of drugs needed for executions and the Tulsa compounding pharmacy that was to be its new source of supply has run into big trouble over in Oklahoma.  Seems its facing thousands of allegations that it has violated state pharmacy regulations as it sold execution drugs to other states, like Missouri.

For details on the story, check out this article from the Death Penalty Information Center. 

And read our earlier posts about compounding pharmacies, too, like this one out of Georgia.

 

SCOTUS - Latest Death Penalty Opinions

Last week, the Supreme Court of the United States issued two opinions that deal with capital punishment in this country. 

May 31 SCOTUS Death Penalty Opinions: Tucker and Lynch

Read them here:

The first one, coming out of Louisiana, upheld the death penalty sentence.  The second one, coming from Arizona, went against the death penalty in that case.

So, what can we learn from these two cases?  Well, reading and comparing them gives us a pretty clear picture of where the Justices stand on the issue.

In the Arizona case, Justices Thomas and Alito dissent.  They would have kept the man, Shawn Patrick Lynch, on Death Row based in part on the "sheer depravity" of the underlying homicide. (The majority ruled based upon the failure of the jury to be instructed that the sole option to a death sentence was life without parole.)

In the Louisiana case, Justices Breyer and Ginsberg dissent.  They looked to the geographical origins of the conviction, Caddo Parish, where almost "half the death sentences in Louisiana" arise even though "only 5% of that State's population" comes from there.

Death Row petitioner Lamondre Tucker might not have received the death penalty if he had been tried in another part of the state, and accordingly the dissenters would have granted his petition.

Importantly, Breyer and Ginsberg come right out and suggest that the High Court needs to re-consider its position on the death penalty, and if capital punishment is cruel and unusual punishment and therefore, unconstitutional. 

The big deal?  The empty seat. 

Why Should We Care About These Two Cases?

What will happen to the death penalty when someone finally puts on those black robes and starts to work in the place left by the recent death of Justice Scalia?  We read these opinions for clues, and ponder the future. 

What does the New York Times think? That these cases support the current position of SCOTUS;  they won't declare the death penalty unconstitutional, but they will work to find ways to limit its usage.  Do you agree?

Death Penalty Book List: Read More About Capital Punishment

Over on Goodreads, there is a list of books on the death penalty, putting together both fiction and non-fiction together in order of popularity.

Death Penalty Book List from Goodreads

For those who like to read about death penalty issues and capital punishment, here are the top ten on this Goodreads list -- how many have you read?


1. The Confession by John Grisham 

2. The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town by John Grisham
 
3. Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult 

4. Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson

5. Dead Man Walking: The Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty That Sparked a National Debate by Helen Prejean

6. The Chamber by John Grisham
 
7.  The Autobiography of an Execution by David R. Dow
 
8. The Green Mile by Stephen King
 
9. I'd Know You Anywhere by Laura Lippman
 
10. Life After Death by Damien Echols 

Happy Birthday Terence Lenamon!

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