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.

Texas AG's Flawed Opinion Need Not Spell End to Scrutiny of Convictions and Executions Based on Junk Science

By Brian Stull, ACLU Capital Punishment Project at 1:05pm
An opinion letter issued on Friday by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott is the latest chapter in Texas’s efforts to cover up its 2004 execution of an innocent man named Cameron Todd Willingham. The letter concerns the scope of authority of the Texas Forensic Science Commission (TFSC), an agency created to take a serious, objective look at the quality of forensic science in Texas courtrooms. It should be seen for what it is: just another attempt to divert attention from the scientists by the politicians. 

Texas Court’s Bar on Unreliable Forensic Testimony Comes Too Late for Many

By Brian Stull, ACLU Capital Punishment Project at 3:25pm

Under Texas law, a jury must unanimously find an inmate will pose a threat of future danger before it can sentence him to death. Many juries rely upon the testimony of psychiatrists and other doctors to make their determination.

Dr. Richard…

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…

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.

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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