Charlotte Observer Calls for Abolishing North Carolina Death Penalty

This Sunday, an interesting twist to the recent American Law Institute's divorce from its prior recommendations regarding the death penalty occurred:  The Charlotte Observer published an editorial calling for abolishing capital punishment in North Carolina, based on the ALI's recent determination. 

As added incentive, the Charlotte Observer did point to a Duke University study and its tally of $11,000,000 that could be saved each year by the state of North Carolina if capital punishment were to be abolished.  (The Death Penalty Information Center has a free, advance copy of Dr. Cook's findings stored as a pdf on its website.)

What's the big deal with the ALI about-face?  The American Law Institute's change in position has been heralded by the Huffington Post (among others) as the biggest development regarding capital punishment in 2009.  The New York Times explains the importance of the ALI to the death penalty in this country in a well-written piece, as well. 

One has to wonder, however, as we monitor future developments in North Carolina, which is going to carry more influence in a move to abolish their death penalty:  the ALI reversal, or $11 million in the state's annual budget?  Perhaps Dr. Cook and Duke University will prove to be the bigger powerhouse here.  If money talks, $11 million should screaming loudly in the North Carolina economy. 

November 30 is World Day of Cities for Life - is Your City Participating?

On Monday, over 1000 cities around the world will participate in "World Day of Cities for Life," which honors the first time that the death penalty was abolished by a government -- on November 30, 1786, by the Grand Duchy of Tuscany.  Organized by the Catholic Community of Sant'Egidio of Rome, participation is growing steadily: in 2005, only 300 cities worldwide were participants and now, four years later, the total exceeds 1150. 

Cities for Life Day involves each community flooding lights upon a local monument that in some way symbolizes the effort to abolish the death penalty.  For example, in Rome the Colosseum is illuminated; in Barcelona they are lighting up the Cathedral Square. 

In the United States, the following cities will be illuminating a local symbol of life as well as having individualized events to support the Cities for Life campaign as well as the global abolition of the death penalty.  Sad to say, not a single community in Florida will be involved.  American cities that are official participants this year are:

Arcata (California)

Atlanta (Georgia)

Austin (Texas)

Berkeley (California)

Cincinnati (Ohio)

Covington (Kentuchy)

Davis (California)

East Palo Alto (California)

La Cattedrale di Beaumont (Texas)

La cattedrale di Dallas (Texas)

La cattedrale di El Campo (Texas)

La cattedrale di El Paso (Texas)

La cattedrale di Fort Worth (Texas)

La cattedrale di Hallettsville (Texas)

La cattedrale di Houston (Texas)

La cattedrale di Mobile (Alabama)

La cattedrale di San Antonio (Texas)

La cattedrale di Shiner (Texas)

La cattedrale di Victoria (Texas)

La cattedrale di Wharton (Texas)

Richmond (California)

Santa Cruz (California)

Santa Monica (California)

Sebastopol (California)

West Hollywood (California)


New DPIC Study Urges Repeal of Death Penalty On Solely a Budgetary Basis just as California inmate asks for death to get nicer Death Row digs

Today's news includes the story about the Death Penalty Information Center's new study of capital punishment costs.  Released this week, and looking solely at the bottom line, the DPIC analysis demonstrates that significant monies can be saved by eliminating the death penalty.  Since 1976, $2,000,000,000 (that's two billion dollars) has been spent on capital punishment in the United States that would not have been spent if the death penalty were not an option. 

Sure, the DPIC released its study this week in a blatant argument that today's financial times call for the end of the death penalty, regardless of the other huge arguments against capital punishment - morally, ethically, etc.   From the DPIC study:"[t]he promised benefits from the death penalty have not materialized .... If more states choose to end the death penalty, it will hardly be missed, and the economic savings will be significant."

Also in today's news:  an inmate in California is asking to be sentenced to death.  Why?  He's wanting to live on Death Row, because the prison facilities on California's Death Row are so much nicer than his current prison digs.   Billy Joe Johnson is serving 45 years for murder, and is in lockdown almost 24/7 every day.  He's waiting for the jury to return on a second murder charge -- he's been convicted, and he is waiting for his sentence.  Billy Jo is asking for his jury to come back with death, so he can move into a better residence. 

Seems like Billy Joe is helping the budgetary argument that the DPIC is advancing much more than he probably knows.  If any state budget should be looking for ways to cut costs, it's probably California....

Note:  The DPIC has published its new report on its website if you are interesting in reading the entire study.  Alteratively, the DPIC is offering a synopsis on its site if you don't want to go thru all the details.

New Tool for Those Involved in the Death Penalty Fight: a Searchable Database of Death Row Inmates that can be Edited

The Death Penalty Information Center is providing details on their website regarding a new online tool for those interested in the death penalty.  Created by, an entire database of information on Death Row inmates in this country has been provided for our free use. 

What's encouraging about this particular project is that this new database can be edited, so if you have details about any of the inmates, you can add it to the site, correct errors, etc.   You can search the list via name, state, birthdate, and other criteria.  Today, a quick search of all Death Row inmates in the State of Florida turned up 8 pages of results.

The Catholic Perspective on the Death Penalty

Today, published on its website a 12-page synopsis of the Catholic position regarding the death penalty, and in doing so provides readers with a solid, easy read on why the Catholic Church is vehemously opposed to Capital Punishment.

I highly recommend that those interested in this issue take the time to read through this article, as well as the links it provides. It's not easy to take such a complicated issue and hone it down into a concise presentation such as this, and my hat's off to writers Laura Dobson and Denise O'Toole Kelly for their efforts.

Unique Perspective: Former Warden of San Quentin's View on the Death Penalty

This week, a national group fighting against the Death Penalty gave a special award to Jeanne Woodford in recognition of her courage in speaking out against the death penalty. Why is Jeanne Woodford so special?

Prison Guard to Warden of San Quentin to Head of State Corrections Department

Well, Mrs. Woodford began her career as a prison guard at San Quentin, rose to become the warden of California's famous state prison for several years, and then undertook what she herself calls the "top job in the state -- director of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation."

During her stint as warden, Jeanne Woodford oversaw the execution of four prisoners. Retiring from civil service in 2006, she is now active in her efforts against capital punishment, and it serves us all to read her own words in explanation for her position in an editorial she wrote for the Los Angeles Times in October 2008.

Jeanne Woodford's Position Letter

There, Mrs. Woodford explains what led her, with her unique vantage point on capital punishment as warden of San Quentin and head of California's Corrections Department, to challenge the state's ability to impose death as punishment for a crime.

What Joanne Woodford writes is worth your time to read.

New Mexico Repeals Death Penalty

Effective July 1, 2009, there will be no death penalty in New Mexico. Capital punishment will still apply to any capital crimes committed between now and midnight on June 30th. - and there has been no change in the punishment of death for the two men currently residing on New Mexico's Death Row.

Albuquerque's Sheriff Darren White Leading an Effort to Put It to a State-Wide Vote

Not everyone in New Mexico is pleased with this development. Sheriff Darren White is reportedly investigating the possibility of putting capital punishment to a full state-wide vote, which would enact an amendment to the New Mexico constitution approving of the death penalty for certain types of crimes.

According to Sheriff White, he's undertaking this action because of the large number of phone calls he's received from the citizenry, who are upset about the change. White says that state polls show a majority of New Mexicans are in favor of capital punishment.

Undoubtedly, Sheriff White will be assisted and supported by prosecutors across the state, as well as the New Mexico Sheriffs' and Police Association, as well as other law enforcement organizations that were against the New Mexico repeal efforts.

What About the Two Men on New Mexico's Death Row?

Since 1933, New Mexico has executed nine (9) individuals - all men - using three different methods : one by gas, one by lethal injection, the rest by electric chair. That's not a high death rate.

Still, there are two men -- Robert Fry and Timothy Allen - who currently set on New Mexico's Death Row, each sentenced to death by lethal injection. And, even if New Mexico has changed its position on the penalty of death, there's no legal change altering the pending death sentence for these two men.

Under the law, it is possible that New Mexico's governor, Bill Richardson, can save them from death by commuting their sentences, transforming their punishments to serving life without parole.

The prosecutor in both cases, of course, has been quoted as being firmly against Gov. Richardson taking this action - he's arguing it would be against "due process," since two juries (and several appellate panels) have approved of their death sentences.

And, Governor Bill Richardson has already told the Associated Press that he has no intention of commuting the sentences of either Fry or Allen.

Which leaves us with the question: if a state decides to repeal its death penalty, then should it be retroactive to those currently setting on Death Row?

  •  Don't the budgetary concerns that are the purported basis of the repeal apply to these two men?

  •  Don't the moral considerations voiced by those seeking to abolish the death penalty apply to them as well?

  •  Is it form over substance for New Mexico to keep Death Row open, just until these two men die?

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