Blog of Rights


Brian Stull is a senior staff attorney with the ACLU Capital Punishment Project. He has served as trial and appellate counsel in capital cases in North Carolina and Texas. Before joining the ACLU, Stull worked for five years at the Office of the Appellate Defender (OAD) in New York City, where he represented indigent criminal defendants convicted of serious felonies on direct appeal and in post-conviction and federal habeas corpus proceedings. Stull holds a B.A. and a M.S.W. from the University of Michigan and graduated cum laude from New York University School of Law.

Executing Failure

By Brian Stull, ACLU Capital Punishment Project at 3:02pm

(Originally posted on Daily Kos.)

Last night, I saw a grown man cry like a baby. He was kin to Kenneth Wayne Morris, executed by the State of Texas yesterday on his 38th birthday. I was on my way from a capital hearing near Dallas to Texas's death row in Livingston to visit clients. On my way I stopped in Huntsville, where Texas conducts its executions. I had two thoughts when I saw Morris's relative, crying in grief while standing among a crowd of people protesting Morris's death outside the walls of the Huntsville unit, the prison that contains Texas' death chamber.

My first thought was of a story renowned death-penalty lawyer Bryan Stevenson often tells, and my second was of a recent Pew Study concerning prison spending.

I have often heard Stevenson tell about the kind treatment experienced by a client on the day leading up to his execution. In sum, every hour or so, a guard or warden approached the client asking if he needed something: "What would you like for your breakfast today? What would you like for your lunch, dinner, dessert? Would you like to speak with the chaplain? Would you like a telephone call home? Would you like a room where you can meet in private with your family?"

Texas's Failed Clemency Process

By Brian Stull, ACLU Capital Punishment Project at 3:52pm

Yesterday evening at 6:18 p.m. CST, the State of Texas executed a man who posed no danger to society; a man who was universally understood to have undergone complete transformation and rehabilitation since his 1993 conviction for burglary and murder. Willie Earl Pondexter, executed two days shy of his 35th birthday, was a changed man.

Undisputedly, Texas did not execute the same violent, young person who committed his crime over 15 years ago. In the words of a corrections officer who had come to know Pondexter during his incarceration, he "could safely live out his days in a structured environment." The officer stated, "You would be hard-pressed to find anyone to say something bad about Pondexter."

Texas justifies its death sentences on a jury's finding that a convicted capital murderer will constitute a threat of future danger if not executed. In 1976, in Jurek v. Texas, the Supreme Court approved this sentencing scheme, stating that a jury's determination of future dangerousness is no "different from the task performed countless times each day throughout the American system of criminal justice." The Court cited bail as but one example. But while a wrong bail decision can later be modified if turns out a defendant is not a flight risk or risk to the public, there is no solution when it turns out a jury's determination of future dangerousness — and resulting death sentence — has proven wrong.

Death Penalty Maintains Racial Inequality

By Brian Stull, ACLU Capital Punishment Project at 11:10am

The inauguration of Barack Obama, one day after Martin Luther King Jr. Day, has prompted a healthy discussion in the nation about racial and socioeconomic inequality.

As part of that discussion it is important to point out that, just like the…

For Christmas, the Poor Get Death

By Brian Stull, ACLU Capital Punishment Project at 2:33pm

Especially at this time of year, my mother taught me, we should not forget the poor. We should not forget those who cannot afford a place to sleep or food to eat, much less the holiday trimmings many people take for granted. There are some injustices…

The Importance of the Sixth Amendment Right to Counsel in Capital Cases

By Brian Stull, ACLU Capital Punishment Project at 5:09pm

A person does not need to go any farther than a Law & Order episode to understand the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. We hear the officers on TV tell suspects that if they cannot afford a lawyer, one will be provided for them. The Framers of the Constitution made the statement more artfully when they wrote that the accused in every criminal prosecution “shall enjoy the right to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.”

In Gideon v. Wainright, the Supreme Court explained the importance of this right, stating, “[I]n our adversary system of criminal justice, any person haled into court, who is too poor to hire a lawyer, cannot be assured a fair trial unless counsel is provided for him.” The right to counsel protects all of us from being subjected to criminal prosecution in an unfair trial. But nowhere is this right more important than when the accused faces the death penalty.

Death Row Inmates Must Not Be Denied Habeas Corpus

By Brian Stull, ACLU Capital Punishment Project at 3:49pm

Originally posted on Daily Kos.

The Supreme Court’s decision last week in Boumediene v. Bush reaffirmed the crucial importance of the ancient writ of habeas corpus. Boumediene constitutes a monumental victory for the rule of law, and…

Safe and Free Without the Death Penalty: Lessons from Bo Jones and the Capital Punishment Experiment

By Brian Stull, ACLU Capital Punishment Project at 6:35pm

On May 1, 2008, a man woke up in Raleigh Central Prison, then completing his 16th year in prison for a murder he did not commit, having spent nearly 14 of those years on death row. Yesterday, that same man was driving with his sister from Sanderson,…

Former Execution Volunteer Joins ACLU Lethal Injection Suit

By Brian Stull, ACLU Capital Punishment Project at 3:13pm
On October 15, 2007, the State of Nevada was set to execute by lethal injection death-row inmate William Castillo, who had abandoned his appeals and volunteered for execution. In late September, the Supreme Court had agreed to hear the case Baze v.…
Statistics image