News and Updates

Texas set to execute death row inmate diagnosed as 'mentally retarded'

Marvin Wilson's planned execution draws spotlight on state's lack of accepted standard for who qualifies as mentally disabled

Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images
By: Ed Pilkington
The Guardian
Sunday, August 5, 2012

A death row prisoner who has been medically diagnosed as "mentally retarded" and therefore exempt from execution is set to die on Tuesday in Texas, a state that rejects scientific consensus and instead applies its own definition of learning difficulties based on a character in a John Steinbeck novel.

Barring a last minute intervention by the courts, Marvin Wilson, 54, will be put to death by lethal injection even though he has been subjected to scientifically-recognised tests that show him to be intellectually disabled – or "mentally retarded" as the US legal system still calls the condition.

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New York Times Editorial
Friday, July 6, 2012

The Supreme Court banned the death penalty for mentally retarded offenders a decade ago, but Georgia apparently has not gotten the message. It is the only state with a statute requiring a defendant to meet the unfairly heavy burden of proving retardation beyond a reasonable doubt. This stringent standard could be readily manipulated by experts, resulting in unconstitutional executions.

Supreme Court says no more sending juveniles to prison for life without parole for murder

By: Associate Press
Washington Post
Monday, June 25, 2012

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court says it’s unconstitutional to sentence juveniles to life in prison without parole for murder.

The high court on Monday threw out Americans’ ability to send children to prison for the rest of their lives with no chance of ever getting out. The 5-4 decision is in line with others the court has made, including ruling out the death penalty for juveniles and life without parole for young people whose crimes did not involve killing.

The decision came in the robbery and murder cases of Evan Miller and Kuntrell Jackson, who were 14 when they were convicted.

Miller was convicted of killing a man in Alabama. Jackson was convicted of being an accomplice in an Arkansas robbery that ended in murder.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

An Innocent Man’s Tortured Days on Texas’s Death Row

By: Anthony Graves
American Civil Liberties Union
Wednesday, June 20, 2012

By Anthony Graves, who spent years in solitary confinement on Texas’ death row before being proven innocent in 2010. Yesterday he testified about the experience at a Senate subcommittee hearing on solitary confinement. His website is

On November 1, 1994, I heard the gavel fall and the judge announce, “Anthony Graves, I hereby sentence you to death by lethal injection.” The jury had already convicted me of murdering six people and burning down their house down to cover up the crime. I was completely innocent: they had the wrong guy. I was scared of dying for a crime I did not commit, but I believed in my innocence and hoped someone, somewhere would make it right.

Rodney Reed: Another Innocent Man on Texas Death Row?

By: Jordan Smith
The Nation
Tuesday, June 19, 2012

At first glance, Texas’s capital case against Rodney Reed looks fairly persuasive. 

Nineteen-year-old Stacey Stites was found dead in a wooded area just off a county road in Bastrop, Texas, in 1996. She was half-naked, with Reed’s DNA inside her. The DNA was the “Cinderella’s slipper,” special prosecutor Lisa Tanner told the jury at trial: it matched Reed’s; therefore, Reed was the murderer. 

But what if it weren’t that simple?

State Backs DNA Testing for Hank Skinner

By: by Brandi Grissom
The Texas Tribune
Friday, June 1, 2012

Reversing its decade-long objection to testing that death row inmate Hank Skinner says could prove his innocence, the Texas Attorney General's office today filed an advisory with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals seeking to test DNA in the case. 

"Upon further consideration, the State believes that the interest of justice would best be served by DNA testing the evidence requested by Skinner and by testing additional items identified by the state," lawyers for the state wrote in the advisory.

Skinner, now 50, was convicted in 1995 of the strangulation and beating death of his girlfriend Twila Busby and the stabbing deaths of her two adult sons on New Year’s Eve 1993 in Pampa. Skinner maintains he is innocent and was unconscious on the couch at the time of the killings, intoxicated from a mixture of vodka and codeine.

Recent Exonerations Reducing Death Penalties

Monday, May 28, 2012

SAN ANTONIO (AP) - Death penalties have become a rarity from juries in some parts of Texas in the wake of a string of prison inmates — including some on death row — who have been exonerated by DNA and other new evidence.

The last death sentence returned by a Bexar County jury in San Antonio came in 2009, when only one defendant was condemned in that county, the San Antonio Express-News reported. In the 11 years ending in 2006, Bexar County juries meted out at least 24 death sentences.

“We don’t go get the death penalty just because we can. It’s a very serious decision-making process,” First Assistant District Attorney Cliff Herberg told the Express-News.

National Registry Of Exonerations: More Than 2,000 People Freed After Wrongful Convictions

By: Michael McLaughlin
Huffington Post
Monday, May 21, 2012


Some tales of wrongful conviction are well known, like the case of amateur boxer Dewey Bozella.

Bozella was found guilty in 1983 for the murder of an elderly woman. New York police and prosecutors pressed second-degree murder charges propped up by the testimony of witnesses who eventually recanted their testimony. It wasn't until 2007 that Bozella's attorneys discovered major discrepancies and evidence pointing to another suspect, leading to Bozella's release in 2009.

But many stories involving tainted evidence, malingering law enforcement and mistaken eyewitness identification never become common knowledge. The cases outlined on the new National Registry of Exonerations are likely just a fraction of the wrongful imprisonment cases in the United States, researchers told The Huffington Post.

The Death Penalty is the Tip of America's Human Rights Iceberg

By: David A Love, Executive Director, Witness to Innocence
Huffington Post
Wednesday, May 16, 2012

There's a buzz about the death penalty in America these days. And nearly all of the conversation focuses not on how to maintain the practice, but rather on abolition.

Connecticut just decided to repeal the death penalty, following the lead of Illinois, New Mexico and New Jersey in recent years. Meanwhile, California voters will vote on a ballot measure that would eliminate one-quarter of the nation's death row.