Death Penalty Focus

Dear Friend,

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.

In Brief
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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