Blog of Rights


Making Failed Death Penalty Laws History

By Christopher Hill, Capital Punishment Project at 3:23pm
Kenneth Foster Jr. was scheduled to be executed yesterday for a murder he did not commit or intend to commit. But in a remarkable turn of events, Texas Governor Rick Perry did something he rarely does: he commuted Foster's death sentence. In fact, Foster's is the only sentence he has commuted voluntarily. In a letter Foster wrote to Governor Perry in the days before his imminent death sentence, he stated that the governor is a history-maker and the he is a part of the governor's history. He was right. Governor Perry should be commended for stopping the execution. He recognized the punishment was too harsh given the circumstances. In a press release issued after the commutation order, Perry stated that he was concerned that Foster and the actual shooter were tried together. He also suggested that ending joint capital trials is something the state legislature should consider. The governor is right. The state legislature should look at the circumstances which led to Foster being tried with the killer. The legislature should also examine the law which allowed Foster to face the death penalty in the first place. Foster was convicted under Texas' law of parties. This law allowed Foster to be sentenced to death for a murder that he did not commit nor intend to commit. Foster's commutation was historic. Texas had already executed a man convicted under this unjust law this year. The Dallas Morning News reports that 80 people on Texas' death row were convicted under the law of parties. Twenty non-killers have been executed in Texas since 1982. That's 20 people killed for crimes that they did not commit or intend to commit. While the Texas law is broad, there are other states with similar laws. Felony murder laws allow for criminal liability for a murder if it happens in the process of a felony. These laws make people who were not the "trigger person" responsible for murders they never intended to happen. And like Texas, other states allow defendants convicted in this way to be executed. Legislatures throughout the country should heed to Governor Perry's advice. They should examine the way capital defendants are tried. And while they're at it, they should look at their felony murder statutes, abolish them for non-killers in death penalty cases and make them history.

Supreme Court Orders Federal Court to Look at Evidence in Davis Case

By Christopher Hill, Capital Punishment Project at 2:43pm

The Supreme Court of the United States has ordered a federal district court judge (PDF) to "receive testimony and make findings of fact as to whether evidence that could not have been obtained at the time of trial clearly establishes [Davis's] innocence."…

New Report Examines the Effect of Severe Mental Illness and Capital Punishment on Families

By Christopher Hill, Capital Punishment Project at 11:58am

Double Tragedies: Victims Speak Out Against the Death Penalty for People with Severe Mental Illness is a report written by a collaboration of Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights (MVFHR) and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).…

Troy Davis Day of Action Next Tuesday

By Christopher Hill, Capital Punishment Project at 5:55pm

On May 19, 2009, there will be a Global Day of Action for Troy Davis sponsored by Amnesty International.

As you may recall, Davis awaits execution in Georgia for a crime of which he is almost certainly innocent. Davis was convicted and sentenced…

Mercy in Missouri

By Christopher Hill, Capital Punishment Project at 2:58pm

(Originally posted on ACSBlog.)

During the last general election there was much discussion about the power of the executive branch. One great power that the executive branches of the federal government and most states have is the power to grant clemency.

The ability to examine a person's life and decide to grant him or her mercy is awesome. This ability is even more incredible in the capital punishment context. It gives the executive the chance to save a life. In 2003, Gov. George Ryan (R-Ill.) commuted the death sentences of all 167 death-row inmates and pardoned four men. He did so because he believed that the state's capital punishment system could no longer be trusted given the numerous exonerations and the documented cases of law enforcement misconduct.

Clemency can make things right when the complicated and convoluted procedures of the judicial system prevent justice from being done because, for example, a death-row inmate has missed a deadline. It can also make things right when a death-row inmate has shown that he has reformed and deserves the mercy of a life sentence without parole.

Troy Davis Suffers Another Blow

By Christopher Hill, Capital Punishment Project at 1:18pm

Late last week, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Troy Davis’s petition for a hearing to prove his innocence. Although seven of the nine non-police witnesses against him have recanted or contradicted their trial testimony, that evidence…

The World is Getting Closer to Killing the Death Penalty

By Christopher Hill, Capital Punishment Project at 3:18pm

Amnesty International recently released its annual report about capital punishment in the world, entitled Death Sentences and Executions in 2008 (PDF). While the report contains some reasons for concern, it shows that the world is continuing to…

New Mexi-Can and New Mexi-Did Abolish Capital Punishment

By Christopher Hill, Capital Punishment Project at 9:14pm

So you've heard the cliché: "Today is the first day of the rest of your life." Well, for New Mexico, today is the first day the criminal justice system will value life. Last night Gov. Bill Richardson signed a bill that repealed the death penalty…

Hope on the Horizon

By Christopher Hill, Capital Punishment Project at 5:33pm

This state legislative session has seen a flurry of activity regarding capital punishment. There has been plenty of reason for hope, but also some disappointment for death penalty opponents.

We'll start with the bad news: Alaska has proposed…

Life After Death Row

By Christopher Hill, Capital Punishment Project at 10:49am

Execution's Doorstep: True Stories of the Innocent and Near Damned is a new book by Leslie Lytle about five men who were released from death row. One of the stories told is that of Michael Graham. Mr. Graham was unlawfully convicted for the 1986…

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