Category Archives: Death Penalty

Jurors, proof and the death penalty

The problem seems to be that many jurors just do not have a proper conception and understanding of proof, and appeal courts show extreme deference to the judgement of jurors. So somebody can be convicted of murder based entirely on speculation rather than proof.

One sign is a trial of extreme length. That happens when there is no proof and it’s all guesswork what really happened, or worse it’s clear a person is innocent but they are still found guilty.

There is also evidence that jurors who are in favour of the death penalty are precisely those jurors who will convict when evidence of guilt is lacking, so the death penalty compounds the problem.

Originally posted as a comment on this post

My father, mental illness and the death penalty

Published on 9 Jun 2015

The story of Ricky, a convicted child molester and murderer, and the mother of the child he killed; and of mental illness, the death penalty, victimhood and seeking understanding.

Clive Stafford Smith OBE is a lawyer specialising in defending people accused of the most serious crimes, and is Founder and Director of the UK legal action charity Reprieve.

Clive spent 26 years working as an attorney in the Southern United States, where he represented over 300 prisoners facing the death penalty. Whilst only taking the cases of those who could not afford lawyers, he prevented in the death penalty in all but six cases (a 98% “victory” rate). Few lawyers ever take a case to the US Supreme Court. Clive has taken five, and all of the prisoners prevailed.

Time to end death penalty prosecutions of the mentally ill

Right. It’s about time district attorneys stopped seeking the death penalty in cases where the accused is evidently suffering from severe mental illness. It’s a waste of money, and morally wrong.

Frederick Leatherman Law Blog

In light of the life-without-parole sentences imposed on Theodore Kaczynski (the Unabomber), Jared Loughner (who shot and killed Congresswoman Gabriele Giffords and a federal judge) and James Eagan Holmes (who shot and killed 12 people at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado), that “mark the progress of a maturing society,” I believe our society’s “evolving standards of decency” have reached a point where Congress and our state legislatures should pass legislation that prohibits executing the mentally ill for murders they committed. At long last, have we not reached the point where reasonable and thoughtful people can conclude that executing the mentally ill violates the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment?

In Trop v. Dulles, 356 U.S. 86, 100-101 (1958), Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote,

This Court has had little occasion to give precise content to the Eighth Amendment, and, in an enlightened democracy such as ours, this…

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Bryan Stephenson on Charlestown and Race

CJ: Does that mean Dylan Roof should not get the death penalty?

BS: I don’t think anybody should get the death penalty. I’m against the death penalty. Not because I believe people don’t deserve to die for the crimes that they commit. I think that we don’t deserve to kill. The system of justice in South Carolina is not going to be better or more racially just based on whether this kid gets executed or not. If I were the governor of South Carolina, I’d say: “We’re going to abolish the death penalty, because we have a history of lynching and terror that has demonized and burdened people of color in this state since we’ve became a state. I’m not gonna end the death penalty because there are innocent people on death row, I’m not gonna end the death penalty because I think it’s unreliable or it’s too expensive, I’m gonna end it because in South Carolina, we have a history of bias and terror and violence and segregation, and the death penalty has been a tool for sustaining that, and I’m gonna say we’re not gonna have that.” And most African Americans in South Carolina would celebrate that. That actually would be the first time somebody has done something responsive to this history of racial hierarchy and bigotry. And I think every southern governor should do the same. That’s when you’d get the different conversations starting in this country. Then you might get some progress.


Dylan Roof

Predictably, someone is calling for the death penalty for Dylan Roof.

The crime was undeniably appalling, at every level.

But there is always a reason why death for death is not the right response.

I say the death penalty would validate the crime, by implying that the person committing the crime was not insane.

As usual, it’s the wrong response.

From death row to suicide : Paula Cooper

The more Bill learned about Paula, the more he was certain his grandmother would have forgiven her. He tried to visit her in prison, but was denied permission — it was against policy to allow convicted murderers to see members of their victim’s family. So Bill and Paula wrote letters. Their correspondence would last years. When 19-year-old Paula’s death sentence was commuted to 60 years in July 1989, Bill’s first words were, “Praise the Lord!” And by the time she was released on good behavior, on June 17, 2013, neither was the same person they had been in 1985. Paula was a grown women who had earned her GED, multiple degrees, and the support of prisoners and activists alike. Bill, now in his 60s, had founded Journey of Hope: From Violence to Healing, one of the most influential anti-death penalty groups in the country, led by victims of crime. He had also gained permission to see Paula, visiting her 14 times.

Women on Death Row in The United States

I have previously looked closely at the list of women executed in the United States,I thought it would be interesting to look at the list of women currently on death row.

The list is dominated by California, with 20 cases. California’s death penalty system is demonstrably broken, with no recent executions.

Texas has 6 cases, one of whom is certainly innocent, Darlie Routier, and I suspect Linda Carty as well. Texas has undoubtedly executed many innocents, including a woman, Frances Newton.

Florida has 5 cases. Notably Casey Anthony was found not guilty by a jury some years ago after the State sought the death penalty, to the surprise of many. Another disputed case is Ana Maria Cardona, which I have not studied in detail.

Arizona has an especially catastrophic record : Debra Milke was recently exonerated more than 25 years after her son was murdered, I suspect Shawna Forde is also innocent, and but for a single juror, Jodi Arias, also innocent, might be on Arizona death row. That leaves just Wendi Adriano.

Mississipi has one case, another Michelle Byrom who is innocent, was awarded a last minute retrial in March 2014.

Generally speaking, there are several cases when the woman allegedly acted with her boyfriend or husband, some cases of extreme child neglect, and some with mental disorders.

My general conclusions:

(1) The execution of women in the United States is serving no useful purpose.
(2) There are a significant number of wrongful convictions.

[ Article may be updated over time ]

See also Marilyn Mulero