The Sentry - Fall 2013

Check out what's inside the Fall 2013 edition of The Sentry:

You can also download a pdf/printable copy by clicking HERE.

BREAKING: New Executive Director Appointed

Death Penalty Focus has just appointed a new Executive Director! Matthew Cherry, currently President of the United Nations NGO committee for religious freedom and an anti-death penalty advocate from New York, will assume his position in January 2014. The Board of Directors and Staff of DPF are thrilled to welcome Matt and look forward to his leading our efforts into the future.

New Hearing for Kevin Cooper

Breaking: There is still time to submit a letter of support for Kevin Cooper. ACT NOW!

On October 29, the Inter American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) held a special hearing for Kevin Cooper, a California death row inmate, regarding his assertion of human rights violations.

Kevin Cooper has been on death row in California for 29 years, yet doubts about his guilt still linger. Cooper has always maintained his innocence, and without question, there was significant misconduct by prosecutors and those investigating his case. Now, he has exhausted all appeals, and the only thing standing in the way of an execution date is California’s lack of an execution protocol.

The flaws in the case are troubling. The sole surviving victim stated that three white males were responsible. Tests of blood evidence that prosecutors stated was Cooper’s blood type was falsified. Evidence from the crime scene was tampered with and some disappeared for years, only to reappear when convenient for the prosecution. Prosecutors also failed to disclose potentially exculpatory evidence to Cooper’s defense team.

This, along with other serious concerns in the case, led five federal judges on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to say that “California may be about to execute an innocent man.” Yet Cooper has been unable to secure a new, fair hearing where new evidence of his innocence could be presented.

Tom Parker, member of Kevin Cooper’s legal team and DPF Board Member, stated that “the Commission was very receptive to the arguments of Kevin’s legal team and very critical of the two years of repeated delays and inaction by the United States in responding to his petition for a hearing. Though it will likely be several months before the IACHR’s decision will be handed down, we are cautiously optimistic that it will be favorable to his case. Though the IACHR has no binding authority to enforce its decision, it does carry weight in the court of international opinion, and if favorable, we will be able to use the decision in seeking a new trial or clemency for Cooper.”

Prior to the hearing, Death Penalty Focus submitted a letter of support on behalf of a new, fair trial for Cooper, and over 4,260 of our individual supporters sent additional letters. “The response of the DPF membership and supporters is greatly appreciated by all of us on Kevin’s legal team, and we ask the entire DPF family to keep Kevin in their thoughts and prayers as we continue to fight the Goliathan forces seeking to kill Kevin for a crime he clearly did not commit,” added Parker.

For more information on the hearing and Kevin Cooper’s case, visit

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DPF Welcomes New Faces

We’re thrilled to introduce you to our newest staff members! Meet Juanita and David, and find out why they are committed to ending the death penalty.

Juanita Carroll Young
Development Director

Even before I converted to Catholicism as an adult, I knew that I was against the death penalty. On an ethical basis, it made me uncomfortable to think of my tax dollars being spent to put other humans to death out of vengeance.  When I saw the opportunity to put my professional fundraising talents to use while getting rid of the death penalty, I jumped at it.

Since coming to work at Death Penalty Focus I learned facts about the death penalty that go beyond the emotional and ethical motives for opposing it and that focus on more logical reasoning. Issues that touch on the innocence of many prisoners on death row, on the large numbers of exonorees, issues of torture around execution methods, the great expense of the system and the inherent unfairness of how it operates—these facts make me even more passionate about death penalty abolition. Whenever there’s a chance to protest the death penalty in the future, you’ll be sure to find me on the streets.

iHasta la Victoria Siempre!  

David Crawford
Program Coordinator

I am interested in this line of work because the death penalty is not something most people think about, and, when they do, it is often in the abstract or on the heels of an outrageous crime. As a society, we tend to ignore the complex problems associated with crime and justice, relying instead on reactive and often arbitrary measures that do not make us safer and have the potential to endanger innocents for crimes they did not commit. We also tend to ignore the wasteful, rickety system that supports capital punishment, although the resources it consumes could surely be allocated with more wisdom elsewhere. I would like to reframe the conversation on capital punishment in order to ensure that people really consider the stakes of their views. I am confident that the more people think critically about the death penalty system, the more they will seek alternatives.

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California Counties Lead Nation in  Death Sentences

A new report by Death Penalty Information Center cast a new light on use of the death penalty by examining how it is used on the county level, as opposed to the state level. Titled “The 2% Death Penalty: How a Minority of Counties Produce Most Death Cases at Enormous Costs to All”, the report found that just 62 out of 3143 counties in the U.S. are responsible for 52% of executions dating back to 1976. This means that less than 2% of the counties in the U.S. are responsible for over half of the executions that have occurred.

A look at California’s numbers shows that although it has not executed anyone since 2006, it continues to sentence people to death at a shockingly high rate. In 2009, Los Angeles, Riverside and Orange County were responsible for 83% of the state’s death sentences. In fact, that year Los Angeles County alone sentenced the same number of people to death as the entire state of Texas. Five California counties also rank in the top 10 of highest death row populations in the country.

The financial costs associated with capital cases are well documented. However, the taxpayers of those counties that are leading in sentencing and number of death row inmates aren’t the only ones that bear the financial burden that a death sentence brings. Richard Dieter, author of the report and Executive Director of the Death Penalty Information Center, noted that “the rest of the country is paying a high tariff on behalf of the small percentage of the counties that are actually using the death penalty.” Even abolitionist states are helping to cover the cost of executions when it comes to federal reviews, which are paid for by taxpayers at a national level.

The fact that only 2% of counties are responsible for most death sentences puts into question the fairness of the application of this law. This means that where a crime is committed is a more important factor than the nature of the crime itself. A perfect example of the subjectivity of this practice is in Alameda County, California. A study by the University of San Francisco-School of Law showed that “although North County (Oakland) had by far a higher number of murders, the death penalty was more likely to be sought in South County (Hayward).” Reasons for this can be attributed to the race of the victim and the demographics of the city. The disparities in sentencing along racial lines is troubling, and the report goes on to note that the counties that use the death penalty the most are also responsible for a disproportionate amount of errors in those cases. “High-use counties were some of the most abusive in terms of the legal process,” noted Dieter.

If less than 2% of the counties are responsible for these financial costs, then it is time that 98% of the counties voice their objections to senseless expenditure. Replacing the death penalty across the country will save taxpayer money, which could be utilized to fund programs that make America safer.   

Visit to read the report.                        

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Exoneree gives back to combat wrongful conviction

“I feel good,” Anthony Graves said in 2010, a little disoriented as he left prison  after spending 18 years behind bars for a crime he didn't commit. Nearly three years after his capital murder charges were dismissed, Graves and everyone interested in the issue of wrongful convictions have something else to feel good about.

Using a portion of the money he was awarded by the state of Texas, Graves has created the “Nicole B. Cásarez Endowed Scholarship in Law” at the University of Texas Law School in honor of the attorney who investigated his wrongful conviction and helped to prove his innocence.  Knowing that Cásarez would never accept money or gifts, Graves created the scholarship to “recognize her and her students’ work to exonerate him from a wrongful conviction, and to encourage others to follow her example of hope, perseverance, courage, and humility.”

The story of Graves’s wrongful conviction is unsettling, and it highlights some of the most glaring flaws in the death penalty system. Despite a complete absence of any physical evidence tying him to the crime, Graves was found guilty of assisting Robert Carter in the 1992 murder of a family of six. Although some of his last words before being executed in 2000 were “Anthony Graves had nothing to do with it … I lied on him in court,” Carter’s initial testimony was enough to incarcerate Graves for 18 years, including 12 years on death row and two separate execution dates.

In a recent interview for Huff Post Live, Graves said that the death penalty system he encountered was supported by a “rubber stamp” culture that ignores and obscures prosecutorial misconduct. At nearly every step of the appeals process, officials ignored the lack of evidence against Graves, perhaps to protect his prosecutor’s perfect conviction record. It wasn’t until Cásarez and her journalism students investigated, and the case was brought before the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, that officials acknowledged that there had been a severe miscarriage of justice. When tasked with assembling a new case against Graves, Burleson County District Attorney Bill Parham, to his credit, filed a motion to dismiss the charges. “He’s an innocent man,” Parham told the Houston Chronicle in 2010, “I did what I did because it was the right thing to do.”

That it took 18 years for someone to do the right thing, however, is enough to give anyone pause. It illustrates the extraordinary measures needed to free a clearly innocent person. Even in cases of wrongful conviction, a person has been “proven” guilty and is therefore no longer entitled to a presumption of innocence during the appeals process. While DNA has helped to exonerate 18 people from death row, this type of evidence was not available to the vast majority of those who were wrongfully convicted. According to the Death Penalty Information Center’s “Innocence List,” Graves was the 138th person to be exonerated from death row since 1973, out of a total 142. Many of them were not as fortunate upon release. On average, exonerees lose almost a decade of their adult lives due their wrongful convictions, and often, like Graves, still need to expunge their records in order to move forward. Nevertheless, a life of troubled freedom is undoubtedly better than the constant specter of execution.

It is impossible to know the number of wrongfully convicted people currently on death row, but thanks to the efforts of Graves and Cásarez, we can rest assured that the struggle to exonerate them will continue.

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