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Texas Executes Inmate With Mental State of a Child

Update: RIP Marvin Wilson. The Texecution proceeded, and Mr. Wilson was pronounced dead 14 minutes after it began.

Bump and Update: The Supreme Court has refused to intervene.

Barring intervention by the Supreme court, Marvin Lee Wilson, age 54, will be executed in Texas at 6:00 pm tonight. What's wrong with Texas?

At 54, Marvin Wilson can't use a telephone book. He reads and writes on a first- or second-grade level. Those who know the Southeast Texas man say he can't match socks, he doesn't understand what a bank account is for, he's been known to fasten his belt to the point of nearly cutting off his circulation. The day his son was born, one sister recalled, he reverted to the familiar habit of sucking his thumb. His IQ, according to the most valid indicator of human intelligence, is 61, below the first percentile.


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Life Without Parole vs. Death

Here's one the reasons Mark Geragos argued to the jury in the Scott Peterson death penalty trial that it should return a verdict of life without parole instead of death. The full transcript is here.

Prison is an awful, awful place. Scott Peterson, if you vote to spare his life, will be placed into a cell that is roughly the size of a king size bed. Roughly encompasses you four jurors right here. That's the size of his cell. And he would be in that cell roughly the size of a king size bed for the rest of his life. He will die in that cell.

Scott Peterson in that cell will have a bed to lay on, and he will have a cold metal toilet, and he will share that cell with a friend. That friend will be his cellmate. That may change.


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NC Trial Addresses Racism in Application of Death Penalty

In 2009, North Carolina enacted the Racial Justice Act which requires a judge to convert a death sentence to life in prison without parole if it is later shown that race played a significant role in the conviction or sentence. To make the showing, the Act permits the introduction of statistical evidence.

The defendant doesn't have to prove race caused the verdict, only that it played a significant role, meaning:

...that race weighed heavily in prosecutors' and jurors' decisions concerning the death penalty "in the county, the prosecutorial district, the judicial division, or the State at the time the death sentence was sought or imposed."

Closing arguments concluded yesterday in the first hearing under the Act, which has taken 2 1/2 weeks. The case involves Marcus Reymond Robinson, an African American, who was sentenced to death for killing a 17 year old white man. He is challenging his conviction and sentence, arguing there was racial bias in jury selection and in the criminal justice system.[More...]

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Pew Poll Finds Majority Continue to Support Death Penalty

The Pew Research Center has released a new poll on the death penalty.

62% favor the death penalty for people convicted of murder while 31% are opposed. That is generally in line with polling on the death penalty over the past several years.

Of those who responded they oppose the death penalty, 27% said it's wrong or immoral and 27% said they were concerned about wrongful convictions. In the poll 20 years ago, 41% of those opposed based their objections on moral grounds and 11% of them objected due to the potential injustice of a wrongful conviction.

The reasons for those supporting the death penalty haven't changed in 20 years: [More...]

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California Judge Invalidates Execution Protocol

Marin County Superior Court Judge Faye D'Opal has invalidated California's new execution protocol for multiple failures to comply with the Administrative Procedures Act, including a consideration of the alternative one drug method used elsewhere (and proposed in public comments to the changes.) Six years ago, a federal court in California invalidated the three drug protocol, finding it could constitute cruel and unusual punishment. The state decided to come up with new protocols, for which it had to comply with the Administrative Procedures Act.

D'Opal said...that the state's failure to consider replacing the former execution practice with a single-injection method violated state law and ignored the courts' and public criticism of the previous protocols.

The case is Mitchell Sims vs California Department of Corrections Rehabilitation, et al, case number CIV 1004019. I've uploaded the ruling here. [More...]

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Report: U.S. Death Sentences Decline in 2011

The Death Penalty Information Center has released its year-end report. In 2011, less than 100 fewer death sentences were imposed, the lowest number since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976.

The number of new death sentences imposed in 2011 stands at 78, a decline of about 75% since 1996, when 315 inmates were sentenced to death. This is the lowest number of death sentences in any year since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. Texas, which had 48 new death sentences in 1999, had only 8 this year.

The number of U.S. executions also declined. "There were 43 executions in 13 states, a 56% decline since 1999, when there were 98."

34 states still authorize the death penalty. According to the 2011 Gallup Poll, only 61% of Americans now support the death penalty, compared to 80% in 1994.

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Barbarism: Photos From Today's Executions in Iran

Warning: Don't look at these photos if you are squeamish about death by hanging.

From earlier today in Iran: The barbarism of the death penalty is brought home in these 25 photos, published today by the Fars News Agency in Iran. Four young men in their 20's were executed by hanging in public. The photos start with the men alive and being led to slaughter. The crowds watching are huge. They end with the men being cut down and put in body bags. There are close-ups of their faces as they are hanged. Photos by a different news agency here. [More...]

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Ohio Gov. Commutes Death Sentence

Ohio Governor John Kasich has followed the recommendation of the Ohio Parole Board commuted the death sentence of Joseph Murphy to life without parole. The issue: "childhood growing up in West Virginia in which he was beaten, starved and sexually abused."

Joseph Murphy’s murder of Ruth Predmore was heinous and disturbing and he deserves—and continues to receive—severe punishment. Even though as a child and adolescent Murphy suffered uniquely severe and sustained verbal, physical and sexual abuse from those who should have loved him, it does not excuse his crime. However, the Ohio Supreme Court split 4-3 on whether Murphy should receive the death penalty and the late Chief Justice Thomas Moyer, in his dissent against the death penalty in this case, said that 'in all of the death penalty cases I have reviewed, I know of no other case in which the defendant ... was as destined for disaster as was Joseph Murphy.'"


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Bill Clinton Supports Revising Death Penalty Appeal Process In Light Of DNA Advances

In a conference with bloggers at the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting held in New York September 20-22, former President Bill Clinton said that advances in DNA evidence technology should lead to reform of death penalty appeal procedures. Questioned by Amanda Turkel of the Huffington Post about the execution of Troy Davis, former President Clinton said:

In any case where there's any chance that any DNA evidence could change the outcome of the trial -- I think that -- this is just me now -- I think that the appeals process has to be slowed down and organized so that any evidence of innocence can always be presented and then acted upon.

As Turkel notes, the appellate process for death penalty cases was severely hampered by the the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, which Clinton signed into law.

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Texas Ends Special "Last Meals" for Death Row Inmates

If only it were as easy to end the death penalty as it was for Texas to end last meals for those about to be executed.

Texas inmates who are set to be executed will no longer get their choice of last meals, after a prominent state senator voiced concern over a request from a man condemned for a notorious race killing.

...It is extremely inappropriate to give a person sentenced to death such a privilege," Sen. John Whitmire, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, wrote in a letter to Brad Livingston, the executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

Livingston agreed and with one fell swoop of his pen, ended the practice. [More...]

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Distinguishing the Innocent Not an Easy Task

The ACLU tweeted last nightt:

In case it wasn't obvious: the only way to avoid executing the innocent is end the deathpenalty.

Back in 2009, I wrote this post about Justice Anton Scalia's view of the Troy Davis case, the presumption of innocence, which back in 1895 in a case called Coffin v. U.S, the Supreme Court called a "bedrock" of our criminal justice system, and on why those who "did it" may be just as at risk of a miscarriage of justice as those who are innocent. From the Coffin case: [More...]

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R.I.P. Troy Davis

Troy Davis was executed at 11:08 pm ET.

This execution was a grievous wrong. Rest in Peace, Troy Davis.

Let the dialogue continue. America needs to end state-sanctioned killings.[More...]

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Troy Davis Continuing Updates: Supreme Court Denies Stay

Troy Davis is scheduled for execution at 7:00 pm ET. Here are some continuous updates:

10:20 pm: Supreme Court rejects stay. No dissenting opinions. The order reads simply:

The application for stay of execution of sentence of death presented to Justice Thomas and by him referred to the Court is denied.

9:00 ET: Georgia State Patrol now out in force at prison, triples in size. Video here. Amnesty Int'l says family is being prepared for news. Doesn't sound good. [More...]

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Troy Davis: GA Board Rejects Clemency

The Georgia Board of Pardons and Parole has rejected clemency for Troy Davis.

His legal appeals are exhausted, so his latest last-ditch effort before the parole board appears to be his last chance to be spared execution.

No appeal to the Supreme Court allowed?

Good read: Andrew Cohen's The Death Penalty: Why We Fight for Equal Justice.

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GA Parole Board Delays Decision on Troy Davis

After a full day of clemency hearings for Troy Davis, the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles has delayed its decision on his execution, now set for Weds. at 7pm. More than 1 million signatures have been collected asking for clemency. [More...]

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