News and Updates

Judge commutes three death sentences, citing racial bias

A North Carolina judge ruled on evidence that prosecutors worked to get blacks eliminated from the pool of jurors

By: Associated Press
Friday, December 14, 2012

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — A North Carolina judge on Thursday commuted the death sentences of three convicted killers, including two who killed law enforcement officers, to life in prison without the possibility of parole after ruling that race played an unjust role in jury selection at their trials.

Cumberland County Superior Court Judge Gregory A. Weeks based his ruling on evidence presented over four weeks of hearings that he says showed prosecutors in each case made a concerted effort to reduce the number of black jurors.

The three who had their sentences commuted were among the most notorious killers on North Carolina’s death row.

Family members of the victims and more than 60 uniformed police officers packed the courtroom. Before Weeks could finish issuing his ruling, the brother of a murdered state trooper stood up and yelled an expletive at the judge.

Remembering Prisoners Over the Holidays

By: Campaign to End the Death Penalty
Monday, December 10, 2012

For most people, the holiday season is filled with family, friends, good food, and cheer. But for those in prison, the holidays can be an especially painful time to be separated from loved ones. As you are filling out your holiday cards this season, please remember the men and women who will spend the holidays behind bars. Receiving a holiday card filled with greetings and words of encouragement from you could really mean a lot to someone who has to spend the holidays away from his or her family.  

Despite Evidence From Discredited Medical Examiner, Mississippi's Jeffrey Havard Nears Execution

By: Radley Balko
The Huffington Post
Thursday, November 29, 2012

Last year, NPR looked at two dozen cases in which adults had been convicted of killing infants or young children, then later exonerated or given commutations. The investigation found a number of common themes in those cases. One of them was that prosecutors often relied on the subjective opinions of a medical examiner. Another was the understandable sorrow and anger a community feels when a child dies, which can nudge law enforcement officials and forensic specialists to see crimes in what may have only been accidental deaths.

Marching Against the Death Penalty in Texas

By: Liliana Segura
The Nation
Friday, November 16, 2012

On a Tuesday last March, the state of Mississippi executed Larry Matthew Puckett, a 35-year-old man convicted of sexually assaulting and killing his boss’s wife, 28-year-old Rhonda Hatten Griffis, in 1995. Matt, as his family called him, was an Eagle Scout at the time; he had just graduated from high school and was days away from leaving for basic training with the Navy before he was arrested. From the beginning he insisted on his innocence, claiming that his former employer had killed his wife in a rage upon discovering her and Matt together in her mobile home. Although his story contained inconsistencies, there were red flags. Griffis was beaten to death with a club, yet her blood was nowhere to be found on Puckett’s clothes, just on her husband’s. Nor was Puckett’s semen found on her body.

Defeat of Proposition 34: California's death penalty battle will continue

Credit: AP Photo/Eric Risberg
Reporters tour the new lethal injection facility at San Quentin State Prison in San Quentin, Calif., Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2010.
By: Howard Mintz
San Jose Mercury News
Wednesday, November 7, 2012

California's first ballot-box attempt in more than three decades to repeal the death penalty may have failed on Tuesday, but it is likely to inflame the debate over the hot-button issue as the state tries once again to kick-start its indisputably clumsy capital punishment system.

Execution changes occur without public scrutiny, input

By: Mike Ward
Austin American Statesman
Thursday, October 18, 2012

On July 9, when Texas switched from three drugs to just one to execute its most heinous criminals, Rick Thaler, the state’s No. 3 corrections official, signed off on the change without fanfare after consulting with prison officials in other states.

Death Row inmates oppose Prop. 34

Credit: Michael Macor, The Chronicle / SF
By: Bob Egelko
San Francisco Chronicle
Monday, September 24, 2012

Like other state prisoners, the 725 inmates on California's Death Row can't vote. But if they could, there's evidence that most of them would vote against a November ballot initiative to abolish the death penalty.

It's not that they want to die, attorney Robert Bryan said. They just want to hang on to the possibility of proving that they're innocent, or at least that they were wrongly convicted. That would require state funding for lawyers and investigators - funding that Proposition 34 would eliminate for many Death Row inmates after the first round of appeals.

Bryan has represented several condemned prisoners in California as well as Mumia Abu-Jamal, the radical activist and commentator whose death sentence for the murder of a Philadelphia policeman was recently reduced to life in prison. The attorney said California inmates have told him they'd prefer the current law, with its prospect of lethal injection, to one that would reduce their appellate rights.

Will Pennsylvania Execute a Man Who Killed His Abusers?

By: Liliana Segura
The Nation
Thursday, September 13, 2012

Eighteen-year-old Terrance Williams “did not fit the mold of a typical street criminal,” the Philadelphia Inquirer reported in September of 1984. “He was a bright, talented college student, former star quarterback of the Germantown High School football team. His friends, teachers, coaches and neighbors could not believe that he would be involved in murder, or any sordid activity.”

Yet Williams, who is African-American, had committed two grisly killings. One victim, the Inquirer reported, was 50-year-old Herbert Hamilton, who had been found naked, with a knife through his throat, on his kitchen floor. The other, Amos Norwood, who led the altar boys and directed the Youth Theater Fellowship at Philadelphia’s St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, had been beaten with a tire iron, set on fire, and left in a cemetery.

Why can't torture victims get justice?

Mother of Chicago police torture victim Marcus Wiggins speaks at a protest
By: Mark Clements
Socialist Worker
Wednesday, August 15, 2012

NEARLY A million people lined up between 39th Street and 55th Street along Martin Luther King Drive in Chicago to watch the annual Bud Billiken Day parade. As usual, political figures such as Rev. Jesse Jackson participated in the parade. One of the officeholders was Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who appeared, waving from the stage of a float.

I was there to ask her why victims of Chicago Police have not been able to win justice.

Former police Commander Jon Burge and his subordinates tortured Black and Latino suspects at Area Two and Three violent crimes for two decades, starting in the early 1970s. More than 200 men were physically and psychologically abused with tactics such as electroshock to their genitals, suffocation with plastic typewriter covers, Russian Roulette, beatings with telephone books, waterboarding, hanging suspects out of police station windows and sticking theirs heads in toilets.

Medical Examiner: Testimony Misconstrued in Rodney Reed Case

Explosive information filed in federal court

Credit: Open Image Gallery
Stacey Stites was murdered in April 1996. Medical experts, including former Travis County ME Roberto Bayardo, say state's theory of her death is wrong.
By: Jordan Smith
The Austin Chronicle
Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Former Travis County Medical Examiner Roberto Bayardo says his testimony in the 1998 capital trial of Rodney Reed for the sexual assault and killing of Stacey Stites was misconstrued by prosecutors to suggest a solid timeline for Stites' death, and to prove that Reed had sexually assaulted Stites. But that, he now says, is not at all what he found.