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.
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.
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
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
For more information on the hearing and Kevin Cooper’s case, visit www.savekevincooper.org
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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
Juanita Carroll Young
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
iHasta la Victoria Siempre!
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
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 deathpenaltyinfo.org/twopercent 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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