News and Updates

Supreme Court Strikes Down Florida's Death Penalty System

By: Nina Totenberg

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down Florida's death sentencing system as unconstitutional on Tuesday, casting doubt on the status of all the state's death sentences.

Florida ranks second in the nation in the number of death row inmates, with 390 men and women currently awaiting execution.

Defense: New evidence points to victim’s fiance in Reed case

Rodney Reed's parents
By: Jillian Beck
The Austin-American Statesman

Lawyers for a man convicted and sentenced to death for a 1996 Bastrop County murder filed a motion in district court this month saying a previously undisclosed police investigation points to the victim’s fiance as the perpetrator.

Rodney Reed was convicted and sentenced to death in 1998 for the rape and murder of 19-year-old Stacey Stites. Less than two weeks before he was scheduled to be put to death this year, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stayed his execution based on a new appeal Reed’s attorneys filed in February.

Jeff Wood's Stay of Execution Casts More Doubt on the Texas Death Machine

By: Jordan Smith
The Intercept

TERRI BEEN WAS being interviewed by a reporter inside a Whataburger restaurant in East Texas on the afternoon of August 19 when the text came in: Her brother, Jeff Wood, on death row for his alleged involvement as an accomplice in the 1996 murder of his friend and facing imminent execution, had been granted a stay. She read the text sent by Wood’s attorney twice before dialing him up. “Are you serious?” she asked.

Death Penalty Loses Majority Support for First Time in 45 Years

By: Niraj Chokshi
New York Times

For the first time in almost half a century, support for the death penalty has dipped below 50 percent in the United States.

Stop the Execution of Horace Kelly

Why a mentally ill man remains on death row

By: Cameron Sturdevant

No one who knows Horace Kelly could claim he is sane, but that is exactly what a jury is being asked to say as this newsletter goes to print.

Horace Kelly is a 39-year-old man who has been on death row for 13 years. He is known to mutters to himself and does not answer questions logically. On his way to court the other day, he told his lawyer that the judge was about to decide whether he could join the Marines. Horace thinks death row is a vocational school - and that as soon as he gets his "certification," he can go home.

Justice for Mumia!

We Demand A New Trial Now

Mumia's supporters marched in Philadelphia on October 11.
By: Lucy Herschel and Marlene Martin

The struggle to save Mumia Abu-Jamal is facing a new challenge.

On October 13, Pennsylvania Gov. Thomas Ridge signed a death warrant for Mumia -- the best known and most outspoken death row prisoner in the country -- for the second time in five years.

Ridge knew full well that Mumia still had the right to federal appeals -- and that his execution would be automatically stayed. But he signed the order anyway, which put Mumia on what Pennsylvania prison officials call "death watch."

The death penalty in decline…

As life-without-parole sentences rise

Ronnie Kitchen
By: Marlene Martin

A snapshot of the year 2009 shows the death penalty on the decline -- even though executions themselves were up from the previous year.  2009 saw 52 people executed -- an uptick in executions from the previous year when 42 people were put to death. But 24 of these executions were carried out in Texas alone. Out of the 35 states that have the death penalty on the books, 24 did not execute a single person. And nine men were exonerated from death row in 2009, the second-highest number since the death penalty was reinstated.

Last year, the case of Cameron Todd Williamham, who was executed in Texas in 2004, made national headlines, exposing the fact that Texas almost certainly executed an innocent man, further eroding public confidence in the death penalty.

Standing up against police torture

Credit: Catherine McMillan
By: Mark Clements

As the New Abolitionist goes to press, there is the stirring of a new movement in Chicago to take on the issue of police torture.  Different organizations have joined together to form a group called the Jail Jon Burge Coalition. The goal of this group is to force Cook County officials and the criminal courts to grant new hearings and trials for the more than 20 men who remain in prison stemming from confessions that were beaten and tortured from them while they were in police custody under the command of Jon Burge.

Lynching then and now

Credit: Alan Bean - Friends of Justice
By: Marlene Martin

“I saw them burn the nigger, didn’t I, Mama?”
“Yes, darling, you saw them burn the nigger.”

—Overheard conversation between an eight-year-old
and her mother after the lynching of Henry Smith

The screams of Henry Smith as he was tortured to death in 1893 were captured on gramophone and later sold. Photographs show a crowd of 10,000 gathered in Paris, Texas, arriving by train, in wagons and horses, and by foot to see the lynching.  Postcards were made of the photos with the caption: “Wish You Were Here.”

Murdered by racism

Trayvon and Troy

By: Rebekah Skelton

A 17-year-old walked to a convenience store near his father’s house to buy Skittles and iced tea. A 20-year-old went to a pool party and stopped at a Burger King on his way home. Both were young men who were guilty of nothing more than living while being Black. Now, both are dead. 

Trayvon Martin was shot on February 26 in a residential neighborhood in Sanford, Fla., because he was wearing a hoodie, and George Zimmerman thought he looked “suspicious.” Troy Davis was executed by the state of Georgia last September because two decades ago, the Savannah Police Department was determined to arrest and try someone in connection with Officer Mark MacPhail’s murder, regardless of his guilt or innocence.