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.

Act Now to Save a Virginia Woman on Death Row

By Brian Stull, ACLU Capital Punishment Project at 4:12pm
Teresa Lewis has an IQ of 72. In 2003, she pled guilty to two counts of murder in Virginia. The victims were her husband and his adult son. Immediately after the crime, she told police that another man, Matthew Shallenberger, masterminded the killings by seducing Teresa and convincing her that he should kill her husband so that Teresa could collect life insurance money they could use to “run away” together. Owing to her low intelligence and dependent personality disorder, Teresa was easily manipulated and agreed to the plan. Shallenberger, who was seeing two other women at the time, would later admit that Teresa was exactly what he was looking for and that he seduced her for the life insurance money. Shallenberger had hoped to use the money to fulfill his dream of moving to New York to become a hit man for the mob. Despite his dominant role in the crime and Teresa’s more limited role, Shallenberger received a sentence of life in prison, while Teresa was sentenced to death.

Saluting Justice Stevens' Principled Decisions in Capital Cases

By Brian Stull, ACLU Capital Punishment Project at 2:00pm

(Originally posted on ACS Blog.)

"Society changes. Knowledge accumulates. We learn, sometimes, from our mistakes. Punishments that did not seem cruel and unusual at one time may, in the light of reason and experience, be found cruel…

Horseshoes, Hand Grenades, and Habeas

By Brian Stull, ACLU Capital Punishment Project at 1:03pm

Imagine you or someone you loved were accused of a crime and tried in state court. Our federal constitutional rights give us certain protections in these state trials, but imagine your trial was an unfair one. Imagine the state court did not uphold…

Veteran Federal Judge Says Death Penalty Still Arbitrary and Too Costly

By Brian Stull, ACLU Capital Punishment Project at 4:48pm

Reflecting on his 30 years as judge hearing death penalty cases on the U.S., Judge Boyce M. Martin, Jr. of the Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit wrote in an opinion released today (PDF) that capital punishment in this country remains "arbitrary,…

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 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,…

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