Hello, and welcome to this month’s issue of the Focus. The issue of mental illness and the death penalty was at the center of debates in several states in the past month, including Virginia, Alabama, and Texas. Ohio has a new lethal drug protocol and is getting ready to begin executions after along hiatus. Challenges to lethal drug protocols, questions about DNA evidence, and a growing opposition from conservative groups are hurdles other states are trying to overcome in their attempts to re-start the machinery of death. Marie Deans was often described as the “angel of death row” because of the hundreds of men she helped save from being executed, and now a Virginia law professor has written her biography. Much has been written or published about the death penalty in the past few weeks, and we have a list of books, magazines, and editorials we think you’ll be interested in reading.
William Morva Executed in Virginia in Spite of Pleas for Clemency
Representatives from the UN, a group of Virginia state lawmakers, newspaper editorials, and tens of thousands of people from around the country asked Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe to commute the sentence of William Morva, a mentally ill man, to life without parole, but he turned a deaf ear and allowed the execution to go forward last week.
U.S. Appeals Court Rules for Mentally Ill Texas Death Row Inmate
Stating that, “There is no justification for executing the insane, and no reasoned support for it,” a federal appeals court sent the case of Scott Panetti, a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic, who was sentenced to death in 1995, back to a lower court with an order to authorize federal funds for a mental health expert and investigator to assist in his defense.
U.S. Supreme Court Rules for Alabama Death Row Inmate on Mental Health Defense
In a 5-4 ruling last month, the justices ruled that James McWilliams was entitled to an independent mental health expert to assist the defense in his 1986 trial.
Ohio Gears Up for Executions After Long Hiatus
A federal appeals court approved the state’s new lethal injection protocol, and officials quickly responded by scheduling 27 executions to take place over the next five years.
From Florida, which has scheduled an execution for next month, its first since January 2016, to Nebraska, where lawyers for a man facing a death penalty trial have filed a lawsuit claiming its death penalty is unconstitutional, to Indiana, where officials have appealed a ruling suspending the state’s death penalty to the Indiana Supreme Court, states around the country continue to tinker with the broken death penalty system.
Voices: Todd Peppers
In a new biography, “A Courageous Fool,” Todd Peppers examines the life of Marie Deans, a woman who saved hundreds of men from Virginia’s death chamber, devoting her life to a cause that took a “tremendous physical and mental toll.”
While We’re on the Subject . . .
From the history of the “Innocence Movement” to the spiritual argument for abolition, there was no shortage of provocative analyses of the death penalty and its ramifications published in the past month. We have some suggested reading.
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The Chief’s Monthly Advisory Board Meeting (CAB) was held at Fresno City Hall on August 31st.
Notes regarding the meeting were made by CCCJC member Rebeca Rangel and are posted here for review.
Any comments or suggestions are eagerly sought by the CCCJC.
Incarcerating Us is a feature-length documentary that exposes America’s prison problem and explores ways to unshackle the Land of the Free through vital criminal justice reforms. With 2.3 million people behind bars, the U.S. has the largest prison population in the history of the world.
As I sat in the gas chamber, the door clanged shut. I was alone and suddenly dizzy and disoriented. Fear welled up inside of me. In the profound silence I could hear my heart beat, and realized that people had sat here before me until their heart was stopped–at the hands of the government.
Those moments had a profound effect on me.
As a law enforcement professional who had worked on many death penalty cases, I had accepted an invitation to enter the pod that was the gas chamber of Parchman State Prison. This was a working gas chamber where the state of Mississippi killed its condemned prisoners. It never occurred to me that it would ultimately lead to me completely changing my views on capital punishment.
More than forty years ago, I lost a cousin to murder and, at the time, I would not have objected to a death penalty had the killer ever been caught. I have worked in law enforcement and the criminal justice system for nearly fifty years, including 24 years in the FBI, often visiting prisons and death rows without really questioning the use of the death penalty. I was myself once partly responsible for an execution, having arrested a murderer who ultimately received the death penalty.
But after my experience in the gas chamber, my conviction was shaken. I started to think and reflect. Following my retirement from the FBI, I became involved in the international human rights movement and gradually my attitudes changed. I found I could no longer support the concept of capital punishment.
I am not someone who is soft on crime, quite the contrary, but I have come to realize that killing the killer does not help the victims and is not a deterrent to crime. The cost of state killings is also a major drain on state budgets–money that could be used to put more police officers on the streets. That is why I would now advocate for the life of my cousin’s killer.
This is why I support Death Penalty Focus (DPF) in their work to end the death penalty. They have been educating and mobilizing the public on this issue for more than 25 years. During that time, they have amplified the voices of law enforcement, murder victims’ family members, and exonerees.
Public opposition to the death penalty continues to grow and it is imperative that we do not let up now. That’s why I dedicate so much of my time and money to help DPF to put an end to this cruel and pointless practice once and for all. I hope you will join me by making a contribution generous within your means to help DPF in its work to replace the death penalty with justice that works for everyone.
PS. If you agree that we should end the death penalty, then please make tax-deductible donation today. If you have already made a contribution, thank you for your support.
03/16/2016 Here is a real in depth look at the FACTS behind America’s Mass Incarceration Problem.
On September 2nd this year, the California Department of Justice launched a new website that publishes data about police interactions with the public, including the number of people who die at the hands of police.
Called Open Justice, the initiative is being billed as the first of its kind to provide detailed data to the public on a variety of crime statistics, including the number of officers killed and assaulted while on duty. The California DOJ says that the effort is a step towards more transparency amidst America’s ongoing debate about citizens dying both in police custody and by cops on the street.
reprint of article published 09/02/2015 in Gizmodo by Matt Novac. Read the full article here GIZMODO