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DPF In the News!

Posted by on February 20th, 2015

Twenty years ago, DPF President Mike Farrell appealed for clemency for Anthony Apanovitch. Last week, a judge threw out the murder conviction of the man who spent three decades on Death Row.

"His case is yet another lesson in why the death penalty makes no sense -- for the accused, for taxpayers, or for the families of victims."

Read Mike Farrell's guest column in today's Cleveland Plain Dealer.

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Attorney General Calls for Moratorium

Posted by on February 18th, 2015

The states of Florida and Alabama have delayed pending executions until the Supreme Court rules on whether the lethal injection protocol is unconstitutional.

This comes after the high court decided last month to review an Oklahoma case after botched executions led to concerns about the effectiveness of the drug midazolam as a sedative.

On Tuesday, Attorney General Eric Holder said he believes there should be a nationwide moratorium on capital punishment until a decision is made by the Supreme Court on whether the procedure violates the ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

A decision is expected in June. Until then, all states with similar protocols should join Florida and Alabama and halt executions.

But the complicated questions about whether it’s possible to humanely execute people are just another indication that the system is irreparable. In addition to the issue of constitutionality, a majority of Americans prefer a sentence of life in prison because of the high cost of the death penalty and proven risk of executing innocent people.

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Pennsylvania Governor Halts Executions

Posted by Leslie Fulbright on February 13th, 2015

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf declared a moratorium on the death penalty today, saying the system is flawed, ineffective, unjust, and expensive.

The state houses the fifth largest Death Row in the nation with 186 prisoners. In nearly 40 years, there have been 434 signed death warrants but only three inmates have been executed.

“This unending cycle of death warrants and appeals diverts resources from the judicial system,” Wolf wrote in a statement explaining his decision. “It is drawn out, expensive and painful for all involved.”

Since the reinstatement of the death penalty, 150 people have been exonerated including six men in Pennsylvania. Wolf said the system is “riddled with flaws making it error prone, expensive, and anything but infallible.”

In noting further defects of the capital punishment system, Wolf pointed to strong evidence that a person is more likely to be charged with a capital offense and sentenced to death if he is poor, a minority, and particularly where the victim of the crime was white.

The governor’s action is part of a growing movement to abandon the practice. Pennsylvania becomes the fourth state to impose a moratorium on the death penalty, in addition to six states that have abolished capital punishment since 2007.

Wolf will await a report from a task force on capital punishment and until then will grant reprieves each time an execution is scheduled. The first temporary reprieve was given to Terrence Williams who was set to be executed on March 4.

"I think Governor Wolf realizes that when you have more exonerated prisoners than executed prisoners in 30 years, the system handed to you was obviously broken," said Nick Yarris, who was exonerated by DNA evidence after serving 21 years on Pennsylvania’s Death Row.

Like Pennsylvania, California has wasted millions of taxpayer dollars on a system that serves no useful purpose, risks executing an innocent person, and is increasingly losing support. According to the California Legislative Analyst Office, replacing the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole would save the state $130 million each year. Yet California continues to house the largest death row population in the country.

The only option is to end this costly charade and replace it with a system that is fair and consistent for everyone.

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Abolitionist Dean Smith Dies

Posted by Leslie Fulbright on February 9th, 2015

Dean Smith, who died Saturday at the age of 83, was a legendary basketball coach best known for his 36 years coaching at the University of North Carolina where he oversaw a record number of victories.

He was also adamant about ending capital punishment in this country.

He visited prisons, counseled inmates on Death Row, and even confronted the North Carolina governor on the issue.

"You're a murderer,” Smith said to Gov. Jim Hunt during a meeting in Raleigh. He then pointed at an aide and others in the room. “And you’re a murderer, and you’re a murderer, and I'm a murderer. The death penalty makes us all murderers."

It’s not often that a famous sports figure addresses such a political topic, but Smith made his lifelong opposition to the death penalty known. He said numerous times that state sponsored killing is immoral, unfair, and ineffective.

"I do not condone any violence against any of God's children, and that is why I am opposed to the death penalty," he wrote in his autobiography.

Smith often invoked his religious beliefs to explain his opposition, but he also spoke about his fears of killing the innocent and the racial injustice of the court system.

Support for capital punishment is dropping nationwide, and we hope to see more public figures take a stand like Coach Smith.

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Supreme Court Justice Calls for End to Death Penalty

Posted by Leslie Fulbright on January 29th, 2015

At a recent lecture at the University of Florida, Justice John Paul Stevens said there is evidence “beyond a shadow of a doubt” that Texas executed an innocent man in 1989.

Justice Stevens referenced the book “The Wrong Carlos” which tells the story of Carlos DeLuna, a 27-year-old man who was executed for a murder in 1983. The book, by Columbia Law School professor James Liebman and a team of his students, provides compelling evidence that DeLuna was innocent and the actual killer remained free.

“The person they executed did not in fact commit the crime for which he was punished,” Justice Stevens said. “Society should not take the risk that that might happen again.”

We know that innocent people end up on Death Row, even though Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has insisted that no innocent man has ever been executed. Scalia wrote in 2006 during Kansas v. Marsh:

“It should be noted at the outset that the dissent does not discuss a single case – not one – in which it is clear that a person was executed for a crime he did not commit. If such an event had occurred in recent years, we would not have to hunt for it; the innocent’s name would be shouted from the rooftops by the abolition lobby.”


Midazolam Still Being Used in Executions

Posted by Joe Steinberger on January 26th, 2015

The state of Oklahoma killed Charles Warner on January 15. He was the first inmate executed by lethal injection in the state since the botched execution of Clayton Lockett last April that Prison Warden Anita Trammell described as a “bloody mess.”

After Lockett’s mishandled execution, Oklahoma put a moratorium on the death penalty in order to review what went wrong. The state spent over $70,000 renovating its death chamber and another $34,000 to purchase new equipment.

However, the state still included the controversial sedative midazolam in its three drug formula. The use of midazolam came under fire following the bungled executions of Lockett, Dennis McGuire in Ohio and Joseph Wood in Arizona last year. McGuire gasped for air and loudly snorted during his 15 minute long execution, while Wood was injected 15 times and took nearly two hours to die.

Attorneys for Warner sent an appeal to the Supreme Court requesting they stay the execution until the new protocol could be evaluated. But the court denied the appeal with a 5-4 vote.

In her dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote that she was, “deeply troubled by this evidence suggesting that midazolam cannot constitutionally be used as the first drug in a three-drug lethal injection protocol.” She went on to add, “I believe that we should have granted petitioners’ application for stay. The questions before us are especially important now, given States’ increasing reliance on new and scientifically untested methods of execution.”

In Lockett’s execution, the state administered 100 milligrams of midazolam. This dosage was increased to 500 milligrams for Warner, but serious doubt still remains that upping the dosage fixes the problem.

According to Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, “(Oklahoma) has not shown that this drug will produce the necessary level of unconsciousness to allow the execution to proceed humanely.”

During Warner’s appeal, scientific evidence was presented which showed that midazolam is subject to a “ceiling effect” meaning that once it reaches a saturation point, regardless of the dosage amount, it is no longer able to keep someone unconscious. It is likely for this reason that the Food and Drug Administration has not approved it for use as an anesthetic.

One of the main issues that states have faced in recent years, as was made evident in the four botched executions in 2014, is the increased difficulty in finding pharmaceutical companies that are willing to have their drugs used in the death penalty process. Until 2010, states used a drug formula that included the anesthetic sodium thiopental. However, this drug is no longer manufactured in the United States and European companies refuse to sell it for use in executions.

As a result, states are resorting to using new formulas and untested doses. Some states are even obtaining drugs from compounding pharmacies. These companies do not go through the same approval process for their products that large manufacturers face, leading to concerns about the safety and effectiveness of their products.

Unfortunately, these difficulties have not resulted in states re-thinking capital punishment, but have led them to finding alternative ways to carry out executions.

In Oklahoma, the state legislature is expected to consider legislation that would make the use of nitrogen gas, a legal execution method. Tennessee passed a law in 2014 to reinstate the electric chair if the state is unable to secure lethal injection drugs. While in Utah, the state is considering bringing back the firing squad.

It is deeply troubling that while support for capital punishment continues to fall, states are resorting to extreme measures to keep this egregious practice alive. It is becoming more and more difficult for states to find “humane” ways to carry out capital punishment, which is just a further illustration that the death penalty system in our country is not working and is getting worse.

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Rabbi Leonard Beerman

April 9,1921 - Dec. 24, 2014

Posted by Mike Farrell on January 23rd, 2015

A Great Man

Rabbi Leonard Beerman, a founding board member of Death Penalty Focus who remained an active, supportive and inspiring member of our organization over many years, passed away on Christmas Eve. His loss leaves a hole in the universe.

A man always willing to challenge himself, Leonard joined the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II and then the Haganah in 1947, during the founding of the State of Israel. He did so, he once said, to determine whether he was truly a pacifist or a simply a coward. He was, it is abundantly clear, a pacifist; he remained committed to his principles for the rest of his long and extraordinary life.

The founding rabbi of Leo Baeck Temple in West Los Angeles, Leonard was a leader in the ecumenical movement, a founder of the Interfaith Center to Reverse the Arms Race, an outspoken opponent of the war in Vietnam and every one since, a courageous supporter of civil and human rights, workers’ rights, gay rights and a champion of all those society overlooks or leaves behind.

Those of us fortunate enough to know Leonard saw in him an example of what it is possible to be in our world: a person of conscience and courage, one who not only had principles but lived by them, one who, if he had fears, refused to allow them to dictate his choices.

Leonard’s love of life, his brilliance, his clarity of vision, his generosity of spirit, his subtle wit, his utter honesty, his candor and his incredible courage combined to make this simple, unassuming man the moral compass for everyone he encountered. Agree with him or not, like him or not – and few could not – the vitality of his naked love for the unquenchable, indomitable human spirit left everyone touched, moved, and, even if secretly, awash in admiration.

The 13th century mystic Meister Eckhart said, "There's a place in the soul that neither time nor flesh nor no created thing can ever touch." That place was well known to Leonard. It is what he spoke to when saying, “An awakened conscience is what makes a human being, what makes a woman or a man more nearly a companion of God.”

Leonard saw that as we struggle to ensure that the value of every human person is recognized and honored, we move toward the light. As we insist that the least among us, even the violent, who because of the horror they inflict on others are spat upon, defiled, stripped of human status and condemned as “monsters,” still deserve to have the divine spark of humanity that is buried – no matter how deeply - within them recognized, embraced, cherished and nurtured.

He knew that “this life, this world, for all of its cynicism and stupidity and anguish, is also a place where change is possible…” As he saw it, “the most deeply human and courageous men and women are those who in life and death dare to submit themselves to the ordeal of walking through the fire of selfhood, of loneliness and tragedy.” And this led him to understand that “to be most deeply human is to be among the resisters, to resist whatever demeans life.”
Leonard Beerman will remain the moral compass for those of us lucky enough to have known him. To work with him in pursuit of peace, justice and human rights is to have been blessed.

Let me only add that one of the greatest achievements of my life is to have been embraced by him as his friend.

Unconstitutional execution set for Jan. 27 in Georgia

Posted by on January 21st, 2015

Warren Hill, who has a lifelong well-documented intellectual disability, is scheduled to be executed Jan. 27 in Georgia.

“Every single expert who has examined him, including those retained by the state, agrees that Mr. Hill has intellectual disability,” said Hill's attorney Brian Kammer. “The only reason he is in grave danger of an unconstitutional execution is that the Georgia standard is unscientific and, as Mr. Hill’s case painfully shows, impossible to satisfy.”

Because of the Georgia standard, Hill has been denied the constitutional protection from execution under Atkins v. Virginia (2002), which prohibits the execution of persons with intellectual disability.

A clemency hearing is scheduled for Monday, Jan. 26. Attorneys are gathering letters of support. Please show your support and sign a letter asking for clemency for Warren Hill.

Learn more here:

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MLK Opposed Capital Punishment

Posted by Leslie Fulbright on January 16th, 2015

As we celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., let’s recognize his denunciation of capital punishment.

Share this card and show your support for an end to the death penalty.

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UN Calls Death Penalty “Torture”

Posted by on January 8th, 2015

The United Nations Committee Against Torture condemned the United States death penalty in a newly-released report, saying it is troubled by recent executions and prolonged delays that amount to torture. In a series of recent votes, the UN has shown that the majority of the world’s states condemn any use of the death penalty. However, the new report goes further, in detailing how the practice of capital punishment in the US violates this nation’s obligations under international law—specifically the UN Convention against Torture, to which the US is a signatory.

“The UN has confirmed what many observers said after the series of botched executions last year: America’s use of the death penalty is a form of torture that violates international law,” said Matt Cherry, executive director of Death Penalty Focus. “As the UN recommends, the US should stop all executions, with a view to abolishing the death penalty, in order to honor the international treaties it has signed.”

On a more positive note, the report welcomed the abolition of the death penalty in six US states since the committee last reported on the US in 2006.

Read the text of the report on capital punishment in the United States:

Death Penalty
25. While welcoming that six states have abolished capital punishment during the period under review, the Committee expresses its concern at the State party’s admission that it is not currently considering abolishing the death penalty at the federal level. It also expresses its concern at reported cases of excruciating pain and prolonged suffering that procedural irregularities have caused to condemned prisoners in the course of their execution. The Committee is specially troubled by the recent cases of botched executions in Arizona, Oklahoma, and Ohio. The Committee is equally concerned at the continued delays in recourse procedures which keep prisoners sentenced to death in a situation of anguish and incertitude for many years. The Committee notes that in certain cases such situation amounts to torture in so far as it corresponds to one of the forms of torture (i.e. the threat of imminent death) contained in the interpretative understanding made by the State party at the time of ratification of the Convention (arts. 1, 2 and 16).

The State party should review its execution methods in order to prevent pain and prolonged suffering. The Committee recalls that according to the Safeguards guaranteeing protection of the rights of those facing the death penalty (approved by Economic and Social Council resolution 1984/50 of 25 May 1984), where capital punishment occurs, it shall be carried out so as to inflict the minimum suffering. The State party should reduce the procedural delays that keep prisoners sentenced to capital punishment in the death row for prolonged periods. The State party is encouraged to establish a moratorium on executions with a view to abolish the death penalty, to commute the sentences of individuals currently on death row and to accede to the Second Optional Protocol of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty.

The UN Committee Against Torture is a body of 10 independent experts that monitors implementation of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The United States signed the Convention in 1988 and ratified it in 1994.

How many people were killed in your name?

Posted by Mike Farrell & Matt Cherry on December 3rd, 2014

Killing in your name?

Dear Supporter,

So far this year 33 people have been killed in your name. They were all prisoners executed in the US.

Some were probably innocent. Many died slowly and painfully. All were killed in the name of the people. More than 3,000 are now on death row waiting for our government to kill them. If we allow them to be executed, they too will be killed in your name.

Unlike other top execution nations—China, Saudi Arabia and Iran—we’re not killing prisoners because we're a dictatorship or theocracy, but because we the people have chosen to do so. It's killing of the people, by the people, and for the people. But the disturbing fact that we the people are responsible also means that we the people can stop the killing. We can join the rest of the West in abolishing the death penalty.

The first step is for you to speak up and take action. A gift in your name will help us amplify your voice and that of everyone who opposes our government killing in our name.

For more than quarter of a century, Death Penalty Focus has helped countless Americans find their voice, tell their story and be heard. We have helped crime victims, law enforcement professionals and many others affected by the death penalty system to give voice to their concerns.

People are listening. The most recent Field Poll showed that support for the death penalty in California has fallen 12% in the past three years. That's as much as it fell in the previous twenty years.

We can do so much more if you add your support. We can organize more local groups, visit more campuses, speak with more community groups, and increase our visibility in the media. It's our democracy. We need to raise our voices and tell our elected representatives to stop the executions.

We hope you will choose to join us by supporting Death Penalty Focus, and that you will choose to do so as generously as you can within your means.

Together we can end the killing in our name.

Mike Farrell

Matt Cherry
Executive Director

PS: You can also go one step further by sharing this message on Facebook. By spreading the word, you'll let others know that you stand with DPF in saying that executions have no place in the 21st century.

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"The Penalty": A New Documentary in the Making

Posted by David Crawford on November 24th, 2014

There's a new documentary in the works, and it come from the same folks that brought us One For Ten, the documentary series that explored issues that lead to innocent people getting sentenced to death.

According to the filmmakers, "The Penalty is a 90-minute film that seeks to lift the lid on the human cost of the death penalty. From the award-winning team behind One For Ten the film pulls back the curtain on the people who are touched by capital punishment every day, but who are often far from death row. We follow the tentacles of the death penalty as they wrap their way around lawyers, innocent men, victims' families and the political landscape."

Here is the trailer for the film so far:

Needless to say, this is an important documentary that will raise awareness about the major topics in the debate over the lingering existence of capital punishment in the 21st century US.

For this reason we're endorsing this project and hoping that you'll consider making a donation if you think it's as important as we do. The filmmakers are currently half-way through their filming process, but they need your help to gather the final footage so that they can order assemble and distribute it. Since they've already received a lot of interest from major distributors, your support will help ensure that people all around the US (and indeed the world) know what's at stake as states continue to prop up their crumbling execution systems.

The Kickstarter link is here. As we said earlier, any support goes a long way. But also make sure to check out the online fundraiser because it offers exclusive perks to donors who invest in the project at this crucial stage.

We recently had the opportunity to help raise funds for The Penalty at an event right around the corner from our headquarters in San Francisco. We got to hear from Nancy Mullane, the intrepid journalist behind Life of the Law who was recently granted access to California's death row (a truly rare occurrence), and SF Public Defender Jeff Adachi, who has led the charge in San Francisco seeking to prioritize policies prevent crime in the first place rather than mindlessly dumping tax money into an endless cycle of incarceration.

Check out some photos from the event:

Director Will Francome and Producer Lara Shacham preparing for the event.

SF Public Defender Jeff Adachi speaking.

Life of the Law's Nancy Mullane, deep in thought.

Someone lending his support to the film, with DPF's David Crawford speaking with a guest in the background.

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Help stop this "miserable spectacle"

Posted by on

A Texas death row inmate named Scott Panetti is convinced that he is imprisoned for preaching the gospel and carrying out God's plan in defiance of a vast satanic conspiracy.

It is unconstitutional to execute prisoners who have no grasp on reality or the reasons for their convictions. Nevertheless, the sate is planning to strap him to a table and inject him with chemicals until an overdose occurs on December 3.

We're asking for your help to prevent this miserable spectacle. Panetti's sister, Victoria, has created a petition that will be delivered to Texas Gov. Rick Perry before he considers granting clemency. Please take a moment to sign the petition by clicking here, and then help spread the word.

This case has been infamous to legal and mental health professionals for decades. According the Texas Defender Service:

While representing himself at trial in 1995, Mr. Panetti sought over 200 subpoenas, including ones for John F. Kennedy, the Pope, and Jesus Christ. He wore a TV-Western cowboy costume and a purple bandana. Mr. Panetti’s statements in court, at both the guilt and sentencing phase, were bizarre and incomprehensible. He took the witnesses stand and testified about his own life in excessive and irrelevant detail. ...

Mr. Panetti has a fixed delusion that his execution is being orchestrated by Satan, working through the State of Texas, to put an end to his preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If his execution date is not withdrawn, he will go to the execution chamber convinced that he is being put to death for preaching the Gospels, not for the murder of his wife’s parents, and the retributive goal of capital punishment will not be served.

And the National Alliance on Mental Illness's Director for Policy and Legal Affairs, Ron Honberg, wrote that:

Ultimately, Texas should not be permitted to execute Scott Panetti without answering the central question the lower courts have sidestepped: How can a person with a severe mental illness who genuinely believes that Satan, conspiring with the state government, is seeking to execute him for preaching the Gospel nonetheless possess a rational understanding of the link between his crime and his punishment?

Panetti's trial was an abomination. His execution, if the U.S. Supreme Court does not stop it, would be a miserable spectacle.

Again, please sign Victoria Panetti's petition and share with others if you haven't done so already. After that, check out the infographic below if you want to learn more about the case.

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Discussing a World without Executions with Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter

Posted by David Crawford on October 27th, 2014

DPF President Mike Farrell has been working on a new project in Georgia for the last few weeks. While there, he decided to stop by the Carter Center and catch up with the former president of the United States.

As you might know, Jimmy Carter signed the law authorizing Georgia's "modern" death penalty system in 1973 while serving as the state's governor. This was the same statute that went before the Supreme Court in 1976 in the case Gregg v. Georgia, wherein the national moratorium on executions was lifted.

The moratorium was lifted because some of the justices thought that the Georgia law went far enough in addressing the arbitrariness and inconsistency that had made the previous system unconstitutional. However, as Carter told the Guardian, “The only consistency today is that the people who are executed are almost always poor, from a racial minority or mentally deficient. In America today, if you have a good attorney you can avoid the death penalty; if you are white you can avoid it; if your victim was a racial minority you can avoid it. But if you are very poor or mentally deficient, or the victim is white, that’s the way you get sentenced to death.”

Reflecting on this point and his role in the creation of the current death penalty system, Carter told the audience at last year's national death penalty symposium that “If I had to do that over again I would certainly be much more forceful in taking actions what would have prohibited the death penalty. In complete honesty, when I was governor I was not nearly as concerned about the unfairness of the application of the death penalty as I am now. I know much more now. I was looking at it from a much more parochial point of view – I didn’t see the injustice of it as I do now.”

It's been about a year since the Carter Center and the American Bar Association held the symposium, but the videos and topics covered are still crucial to the debate about the future of executions in the US. Here is a video that includes Carter's opening remarks (which start around 20 minutes in). There are plenty more videos from the event on the ABA's website too.

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Exonerees Gather to Celebrate Innocence Day

Posted by David Crawford on October 14th, 2014

Death Penalty Focus and Loyola Law School's Project for the Innocent hosted their first annual Innocence Day as a part of the first ever Death Penalty Focus Week.

The event featured several panelists who were incarcerated for crimes they did not commit. Not only did the speakers recount their ordeals, they explained what went wrong in each of their cases, be it mistaken eyewitness identification, false testimony, or full-fledged misconduct from police and prosecutors.

From left to right, the panelists included:

  • Nick Yarris, who spent 21 years on death row for a crime he didn't commit because DNA testing was not available at the time of his trial. Nick's story is both heart-wrenching and inspirational. You can read all about it in his book, 7 Days to Live.
  • Gloria Killian, who spent 16 years in prison for a crime she didn't commit, because the perpetrators tried to frame her in order to cover up the involvement of a co-conspirator and in order to seek reduced sentences from the prosecutors. All the while, the prosecutors hid these details from Gloria's attorney, including a letter by the gunman that stated "I lied my ass off for you people." Since her exoneration, Gloria has gone on to become the executive director of the Action Committee for Women in Prison.
  • Obie Anthony, who spent 17 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit because a witness lied to the jury at his trial. Obie was exonerated due to the tireless efforts of the Loyola Project for the Innocent and he frequently helps DPF as a Justice Advocate.
  • Kash Register, who spent an astounding 34 years in prison for a murder he had nothing to do with, because a witness said he somewhat resembled the real perpetrator and because prosecutors hid evidence that cast doubt on his involvement. Kash was also exonerated, less than one year ago, due to the efforts of the Loyola Project for the Innocent.
  • Ronnie Sandoval, the mother of Arthur Carmona, who spent 3 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit because police investigators dressed him in the outfit of another suspect in order to secure a positive witness identification, and because his lawyer never thought to question this at his trial. Arthur was tragically killed just a few years after his exoneration. Ronnie honors her son's memory by continuing to tell his story.

The event gathered considerable attention, both from the public and the press. The Robinson Courtroom, a training ground for Loyola law students, drew such a crowd that people stood in the aisles and watched from the doorways once all of the seats were taken. Reporters NBC4-Los Angeles also showed up to cover the event. Their coverage features Nick, Nick Obie, and Kash:

Exonerated Celebrate "Innocence Day"

Loyola Law School's Project for the Innocent celebrated "Innocence Day" in Los Angeles by bringing together a group of exonerated men and women to share their stories.

Obie Anthony, convicted in 1994 for a murder at a brothel in South LA, was given a sentence of life without parole.

Kash Register spent 34 years and seven months in prison for a murder he didn't commit. He was just released last November.

Nick Yarris spent 23 years in solitary confinement for rape and murder - neither of which he committed.

Three examples, the Project says, shows a broken judicial system in drastic need of help.

Loyola Law Professor Laurie Levenson says students and staff work together on multiple cases that come to their attention where evidence or testimony comes into question.

If, after a thorough investigation of the case a true claim of innocence is provable, students draft a habeas petition so the case can be litigated.

"It's unbelievable that this type of injustice can occur," says Levenson. "We have prosecutors who are not turning over evidence. We rely on so-called eyewitness IDs that are no good. We have jailhouse snitches. But mainly what we have are people that are too eager to convict."

And for some, prosecutors who may have lied about evidence or kept key information on cases away from juries, continue to prosecute.

That's the case for Obie Anthony, who says the prosecutor who made a deal with a pimp to convict him still works for the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office.

And yet Anthony holds very little anger.

"Anger keeps you in prison," says Anthony. "They've already taken 17 years of my life."

Eyewitness testimony has long been argued as unreliable. It's what put Anthony in prison.

"When was the last time somebody said to you that you look like someone else, or that you remind them of this person. It was just that easy that I found myself in the penitentiary with life without the possibility of parole," Anthony says.

Kash Register says he couldn't help but break down in tears during the initial trial that convicted him.

"I don't care who you are. They put you in that seat right there. They point you out. Everybody gonna look the same," he says.

Nick Yarris says he was stopped by Philadelphia police in the early 1980s while he was on a methamphetamine high.

When he resisted arrest, he says the officer fired a shot into the ground, threw him in the back of his cruiser and then made a "shots fired" call asking for back-up.

Yarris was later convicted for the rape and murder of a woman four days before the scuffle with police.

"Yes, I did ask to be executed for a crime I didn't commit," Yarris says, looking back to 2003 after having been in solitary confinement for 23 years.

A federal judge considered his plea and used DNA tests to later free him.

Those who shared their stories with the Project for the Innocents say they feel a mission to their lives now, to continue to share their stories.

And they thanked the effort of the students and staff at Loyola for helping to free them.

"Your efforts, for bringing me home, will not go in vain," says Anthony. "I will make you proud."

Originally published by NBC4 Los Angeles.

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Mental Health the Focus of 12th World Day Against the Death Penalty

Posted by David Crawford on October 10th, 2014

Friday, October 10, marks the 12th Annual World Day Against the Death Penalty. This year's theme is "Care, Don't Kill: Mental Disorder Is Never a Crime."

It may come as a shock, but California has the single largest death row in the Western Hemisphere. With 750 condemned prisoners and a new, court-ordered psychiatric hospital constructed just this year, it's important to recognize the the significance of this World Day for California, and the state's role in the lingering existence of the death penalty in the US and around the world.

To commemorate this year's event, and our first ever Death Penalty Focus Week, we've assembled a short list of relevant articles about the issue of mental health in terms of our movement to finally put an end to executions.

Our first article comes from two members of a group we work closely with, California Crime Victims for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. Nick and Amanda Wilcox lost their daughter at the hands of a person who slipped through the cracks in the state's mental health system. They now advocate for improved services instead of the death penalty.

The second piece is an infographic from earlier this year detailing how mental disorders are the norm, not the exception, when it comes to who gets executed in the US.

Next, there is an article by esteemed law professor Charles Ogletree about the meaning of this year's Supreme Court case which reiterated the fact that executing people with intellectual disabilities runs in fundamental opposition to the value we place on human dignity.

After that, there is an article by LA Times correspondent Paige St. John on the mixed messages sent by the construction of a new, court-ordered psychiatric ward for California's death row as condemned prisoners face decades of solitary confinement, which compounds or creates new mental illnesses.

Finally we pass along the facts about mental health and the death penalty worldwide, according to our allies at the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty.

Parents of Murdered Daughter Speak Out Against the Death Penalty

Amanda and Nick Wilcox

As a family, we have always been opposed to the Death Penalty. That belief, however, was theoretical; we never dreamed that our family would be touched by violent crime.

On January 10, 2001, our only daughter, Laura, was murdered while home on winter break from college. Laura was filling in as a receptionist at the Nevada County Behavioral Health clinic when a mentally ill client opened fire with a semiautomatic handgun and shot Laura four times, killing her instantly. When the rampage at the clinic and at a nearby restaurant ended, three people lay dead, three were severely injured, a community was shaken, and the world was diminished by the loss of an incredible young woman.

Laura had extraordinary capabilities, kindness, and spirit. She was an outstanding student, graduating as high school valedictorian and was at the time of her death a college sophomore, and in the midst of her campaign for the student body presidency. Laura was extremely organized, disciplined and motivated. Couple these traits with her positive energy and she was a natural leader. At age nineteen, Laura was already living a life full of service; she wanted to make a positive difference in the world…she had unlimited possibilities and the brightest of prospects. Laura was preparing to dedicate herself to a life of social service, social justice, and world peace through the practice of respect, non-violence and social equality. Her life was witness to her beliefs, as she touched and inspired the lives of those around her.

As Quakers, our family, including Laura, had always been opposed to the death penalty. In the immediate aftermath of the shootings, while still in disbelief and shock, we leaned on our long-held beliefs; we remain opposed to the death penalty. As we continued our journey as grieving parents and endured the criminal and civil proceedings, we experienced a wide range of emotions but never wavered in our opposition to the death penalty. In fact, our feelings against the death penalty have been strengthened.

In the days after Laura was killed, we were searching to find sense and meaning. It was incomprehensible that someone as good and innocent as our dear Laura could be killed by an act of violence. Comments such as “Fry the Bastard” or “I hope he gets what he deserves” were loudly expressed in our community, but did not comfort us. We were in need of a restored faith in the goodness of people. The support, care, and concern of friends and strangers warmed our hearts and rekindled our faith.

The death penalty is often justified in the name of the victim’s families. Advocates claim that it will bring justice and closure. However, true justice is something we can never achieve, as we can never have our daughter back. In our view, the lengthy process of trials, appeals and anticipated execution would only impede coming to terms with our horrible loss. If closure means healing, that healing must come from within, not from the fate of the murderer.

We believe the man who killed our daughter must be held fully accountable. He cannot be trusted to be free in society again without continuing supervision. However, further feelings of him would give him a hold on our life that we do not wish to grant. We have no control over what happened to our daughter but we can choose how we respond. We know what Laura would want. We lost our daughter and life as we knew it, we do not intend to lose our values too.

We understand that victims who oppose the death penalty are frequently marginalized and ignored by the court, thereby perpetuating the harm. In our case, we were fortunate to meet with the District Attorney regarding our feelings and were assured that the death penalty would not be sought even though the special circumstances of multiple and premeditated murder might have applied. Our daughter’s killer was found to be not guilty by reason of insanity, and committed to a state mental hospital. We agree completely with this outcome.

From a purely analytical perspective, the death penalty might be justifiable if it deterred crime and saved lives, or if it resulted in a reduction in State costs. Studies have shown that it does neither of these things. The death penalty, therefore, can only be viewed as an institutional expression of revenge and retribution. Rather than focusing on the offender, it must be asked what the death penalty says about us as a society. Our nation cannot afford the death penalty; the cost, both morally and financially, is too high. We say, not in our name.

Amanda and Nick Wilcox
Penn Valley

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Infographic: #Last100Executed: Who Were They?

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The death penalty is incompatible with human dignity

by Charles Ogletree

I have wondered countless times over the past 30 years whether I would live to see the end of the death penalty in the United States. I now know that day will come, and I believe that the current Supreme Court will be its architect.

In its ruling in Hall v. Florida in May, the court — with Justice Anthony M. Kennedy at the helm — reminded us that the core value animating the Eighth Amendment’s cruel and unusual punishments clause is the preservation of human dignity against the affront of unnecessarily harsh punishment. Hall, which prohibited a rigid test in use in Florida for gauging whether a defendant is intellectually disabled, was the most recent in a series of opinions in which the court has juxtaposed retribution — the idea of vengeance for a wrongdoing, which serves as the chief justification for the death penalty — with a recognition of our hopelessly complex and fallible human nature.

What was important about Hall is the way Kennedy described the logic behind exempting intellectually disabled individuals from execution: “to impose the harshest of punishments on an intellectually disabled person violates his or her inherent dignity as a human being” because the “diminished capacity of the intellectually disabled lessens moral culpability and hence the retributive value of the punishment.” Though the court previously barred imposition of the death penalty upon intellectually disabled people, as well as juvenile offenders, Hall marked the first time that it went so far as to claim that imposing the death penalty upon offenders with these kinds of functional impairments serves “no legitimate penological purpose.”

This is why I see an end coming to the death penalty in this country. The overwhelming majority of those facing execution today have what the court termed in Hall to be diminished culpability. Severe functional deficits are the rule, not the exception, among the individuals who populate the nation’s death rows. A new study by Robert J. Smith, Sophie Cull and Zoë Robinson, published in Hastings Law Journal, of the social histories of 100 people executed during 2012 and 2013 showed that the vast majority of executed offenders suffered from one or more significant cognitive and behavioral deficits.

One-third of the offenders had intellectual disabilities, borderline intellectual function or traumatic brain injuries, a similarly debilitating impairment. For example, the Texas Department of Corrections determined that Elroy Chester had an IQ of 69. He attended special education classes throughout school and never functioned at a higher level than third grade. The state had previously enrolled Chester into its Mentally Retarded Offenders Program. Despite these findings, Texas executed him on June 12, 2013.

More than half of the 100 had a severe mental illness such as schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder or psychosis. For example, for more than 40 years, Florida’s own psychiatrists found that John Ferguson suffered from severe mental illness. Ferguson had a fixed delusion that he was the “Prince of God” who could not be killed and would rise up after his execution and fight alongside Jesus to save the United States from a communist plot. When Ferguson was executed on Aug. 5, 2013, his last words were: “I just want everyone to know that I am the Prince of God and I will rise again.” A Florida court had called Mr. Ferguson’s delusions “normal Christian beliefs.”

Many other executed offenders endured unspeakable abuse as children. Consider Daniel Cook, whose mother drank alcohol and abused drugs while she was pregnant with him. His mother and grandparents molested him as a young child, and his father physically abused him by, for example, lighting a cigarette and using it to burn Daniel’s genitals. Eventually the state placed Daniel in foster care, but the abuse didn’t stop. A foster parent chained him nude to a bed and raped him while other adults watched from the next room through a one-way mirror. The prosecutor responsible for Cook’s death sentence stood behind him during the clemency process, telling authorities that he would have taken the death penalty off of the table had he known of his torturous childhood. Arizona refused to commute Cook’s sentence, however, and he died by lethal injection on Aug. 8, 2012.

As the execution of Elroy Chester, John Ferguson, Daniel Cook and many more like them illustrates, barring the death penalty for intellectually disabled and juvenile offenders did not solve the death penalty’s dignity problem. Rather, those cases gave us cause to look more closely at the people whom we execute. And when you look closely, what you find is that the practice of the death penalty and the commitment to human dignity are not compatible.

Charles J. Ogletree Jr. is a professor at Harvard Law School.

This article was originally published in the Washington Post.

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San Quentin plans psychiatric hospital for death row inmates

By Paige St. John

Under court pressure to improve psychiatric care for deeply disturbed death row inmates, state officials are moving quickly to open a 40-bed hospital at San Quentin prison to house them.

The court-appointed monitor of mental health care in California's prison system reported to judges Tuesday that about three dozen men on death row are so mentally ill that they require inpatient care, with 24-hour nursing.

For now, they are being treated in their cells, but the state plans to have a hospital setting ready for them by November, according to documents filed Tuesday in federal court.

The plan calls for taking over and retrofitting most of a new medical unit recently built at the prison. A spokeswoman for the court's prison medical office said San Quentin officials plan to use medical facilities at other prisons if a shortage of beds arises as a result.

The urgency of psychiatric treatment for the mentally ill prisoners demands swift action, the court's monitor, Matthew Lopes, said in court papers. He said an agreement to provide the psychiatric wing at San Quentin was made possible by collaborative effort among the state, courts and prisoners' lawyers.

In December, after weeks of courtroom testimony on the treatment of about 10 unidentified death row prisoners, U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton ordered the state to provide condemned inmates access to inpatient psychiatric care. The court files show negotiations and planning began almost immediately.

Karlton also ordered mental health screenings of all 720 condemned men at San Quentin. Those evaluations concluded in late May with the identification of 37 condemned men for admission to the psychiatric unit. Lopes' report notes that San Quentin is bound to need room for additional patients.

Twenty female prisoners who are sentenced to die and housed elsewhere are not covered by Karlton's order.

Some analysts see irony in providing for the long-term mental health of those sentenced to die.

"This is the only place on Earth where you'd be talking about building a psychiatric hospital for condemned prisoners," said Berkeley law professor Franklin Zimring, who has written about the U.S. capital punishment system. "It is a measure of American greatness and American silliness at the same time."

Federal courts have ruled that it is unconstitutional to execute people who are not aware of what is happening to them. "We are curing them to make them executable," Zimring said.

But San Francisco prisoners' rights lawyer Michael Bien, who argued the San Quentin case in court last fall, regards adequate psychiatric care as a fundamental right.

"The reality is these guys are going to live in this place for a long time, and you need to see they get the care they need," Bien said.

California, with the nation's largest death row, has not killed a prisoner since 2006. Later that year, state executions were stayed when condemned inmate Michael Morales challenged the lethal injection procedures.

The state attempted to adopt new protocols involving different drugs in 2010, but they remain under legal challenge.

In the interim, 44 inmates have died of age, disease, drug overdose or suicide, with the latter raising concerns about psychiatric care on death row. One of those who committed suicide was Justin Helzer, who helped his brother kill five people and dump their dismembered bodies into a Sacramento river in 2000.

According to last year's testimony, Helzer was found by San Quentin doctors to be delusional and schizophrenic and often refused medication. In 2010, he blinded himself by jabbing pens through the sockets of his eyes. In 2013, he made a noose out of his bed sheet and hanged himself in his cell.

Corrections officials had testified that psychiatric care for death row inmates was limited. Those sent to a psychiatric hospital within another state prison were quarantined from the rest of the population, limiting therapy.

San Quentin had set up unlicensed beds, providing the equivalent of outpatient treatment within a corner of its medical building. Karlton found both provisions inadequate.

Unlike other psychiatric hospitals within men's prisons, the one at San Quentin will be run by the corrections department and not the Department of State Hospitals.

Gov. Jerry Brown's administration has not sought legislative approval for the San Quentin project. Finance Department spokesman H.D. Palmer said the state plans to use savings in prison mental health services elsewhere in the state to run the unit.

This article was originally published in the LA Times.

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On 10 October 2014, the 12th World Day Against the Death Penalty is drawing attention to people with mental health problems who are at risk of a death sentence or execution. While opposing the death penalty absolutely, abolitionists are also committed to see existing international human rights standards implemented. Among these is the requirement that persons with mental illness or intellectual disabilities should not face the death penalty.

As the World Day approaches, see what is happening in your country, contact us to add your event to the global list and share the Facebook invitation!
Don't forget to take part in the social media campaign by sharing a photo of yourself making a stand against capital punishment, and see how it can be used to liven up debates at real-life events.

Prisons are becoming the mental institutions of the 21st century.

This reflects, at least in part, the failure of societies to provide adequate care and support to people with mental illness and intellectual disabilities. It is important to stress that people with mental disorders do not, in general, pose a higher risk of violence than the general population although there is considerable evidence that they are at greater than average risk of becoming victims of violence. There are, however, numerous cases of people who were in need of mental health care that they did not receive who then went on to commit acts of violence.

What needs to be done

A number of actions by governments are needed to address the risk that persons with mental and intellectual disabilities will be sent to death row and possibly executed.

- Immediate implementation of existing standards barring the imposition of death sentences or executions on those with intellectual disabilities and those who are seriously mentally ill. The practice of executing such persons should cease immediately. Factsheet for Judges

- Renewed efforts to (i) ensure that all states have laws that embed international protections in their domestic legislation; (ii) extend protection to those with serious mental illness not covered by existing proscriptions against executing persons affected by “insanity”. Factsheet for Parliamentarians

- Adoption by national medical and legal professional bodies of codes of conduct ensuring that professionals do not act unethically or unprofessionally in capital cases. Factsheet for Medical Professions , Factsheet for Prison Staff

- Ensure that adequate mental health care is available for defendants in capital cases in which mental or intellectual disabilities are claimed as a factor. Factsheet for Lawyers

- Work towards the reduction of stigma against persons with mental or intellectual disabilities, particularly where media reports promote inaccurate public beliefs about risks posed by such persons. Factsheet for Journalists

To know more about the death penalty...

... all over the world: read the Facts & figures (download on right)
... and mental health: read the leaflet and the detailed factsheet (download on right)

Take action to stop crime, not lives:

1.    Organize a public debate and a movie screening with exonerees, murder victim’s families, experts, to raise awareness on the reality of the death penalty
2.    Organize an art exhibition (photo, drawings, posters) or a theatre performance from Dead Man Walking to Victor Hugo
3.    Organize a demonstration, a sit-in, a ‘die-in,’ a flash mob
4.    Join the events prepared for the abolition of the death penalty worldwide
5.    Support urgent appeals and take part in social media action in the lead up to 10 October
6.    Write to a prisoner on death row
7.    Donate to the World Coalition against the Death Penalty or another group working to end the death penalty.
8.    Join an abolitionist organization
9.    Mobilize the media to raise awareness on the issue of the death penalty
10.    Participate in “Cities Against the Death Penalty/Cities for Life” on November 30, 2014

Call for initiatives

> On 10 October 2014, take action against the death penalty!
Join hundreds of initiatives organized worldwide

> Wherever you are
In Africa, America, Asia, Oceania or Europe

> Whoever you are
NGOS, teachers, lawyers, local representatives, parliamentarians, artists, reporters, religious leaders, citizens

> Whatever your plans are
Debates, concerts, press conferences, demonstrations, petitions, educational and cultural activities...

Get in touch with the World Coalition to tell us about events scheduled on October 10.

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Support for California's Death Penalty in Rapid Decline

Posted by Gil Garcetti on September 12th, 2014

Support for the death penalty in California is at the lowest point in half a century. And not only that – a new Field poll shows that this level of support is falling rapidly.

In 2011, support for the death penalty was at 68%. Yet in just 3 years it has tumbled by 13% to a just a small majority. What’s even more striking is that support has fallen as much in the last 3 years as it has in the last 30. And when you consider that people generally favor alternatives to executions—such as life in prison without the possibility of parole, where inmates have to work and pay restitution to victims’ families—even those who might support the death penalty in principle are turning away from it in practice.

The tide is turning and today’s news offers more proof that Californians are quickly moving in the right direction on this issue. In fact, I am one of those very Californians.

As the former District Attorney of Los Angeles County, a county that sends more people to death row than the entire state of Texas, I know that the death penalty is deeply emotional, highly divisive, and very political. However, both sides of the death penalty debate can agree on one thing: California’s death penalty system is broken beyond repair.

In my 32 years with the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office, including eight years as the county’s elected District Attorney, I prosecuted the most egregious murder cases to the fullest. I sent many people to death row, believing that I had served the people of Los Angeles—that I had sought justice.

Fast forward to present day—nearly 15 years later—I view the death penalty in a different light. I know that the death penalty is a costly charade that doesn’t make us any safer or deter crime. What’s more, it will always carry with it one fatal risk: executing an innocent person.

The writing is on the wall: the death penalty is quickly losing support among Californians and it is high time we replace it. We can’t go on with a system that is riddled with insurmountable practical and legal problems and fails to deliver on the promise of swift justice.

The only workable solution is to replace it with life in prison without the possibility of parole. That’s justice that works for everyone.

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Is the Death Penalty Cruel and Unusual?

Posted by David Crawford on September 9th, 2014

Legal Talk Network produces a thoughtful and entertaining show called Lawyer 2 Lawyer, which covers important legal topics in interviews with experts.

On August 27, the producers invited DPF's President, Mike Farrell, along with Ron Keine (a death row exoneree) and Judge Alex Kozinski to discuss recent, troubling developments in the administration of the death penalty.

You can listen using SoundCloud by clicking below. You can also download the episode by searching for Lawyer 2 Lawyer in iTunes or your favorite podcast app.

Mike and Ron provided many strong arguments for making executions a thing of the past. One of the best moments was when Mike responded to Judge Kozinski's plea not to "throw the baby out with the bathwater" by ending the death penalty:

Mike Farrell:

The compromise that we have made, in order to satisfy the Judge Kozinskis of this world that say we must execute certain people because they don’t deserve to live, is that we have a system that entraps the Ron Keines of this world and kills the Cameron Todd Willinghams of this world. If you want to have that compromise, let’s take the half dozen people that Judge Kozinski says don’t deserve to live, and put them in a very specialized institution where then you can determine whether or not it’s possible that those people can be treated and reformed.  If not, you can keep them there for the rest of their natural life, a punishment that is as egregious as one can imagine and that does not require that we stoop to the level of the murderer and take a life.

#UK50: 50 Years Without Executions in the UK

Posted by David Crawford on August 14th, 2014

August 13 marked 50 years--half a century--since the UK stopped executing prisoners. DPF commemorated this anniversary by launching a project called "50 Years Without Death," creating a new educational website, collecting your perspectives, creating graphics to help you spread the word and change the conversation, and placing two pieces in the Huffington Post, and by featuring DPF's President, Mike Farrell, DPF's Executive Director, Matt Cherry, on HuffPost Live. Check out all of these resources, and submit a perspective if you want too (it not too late!)

50 Years Without Death Website

50 years without the death penalty uk usa

You can check out DPF's new educational website, "50 Years Without Death," by visiting There you will find sections on

  • The end of executions in the UK and information about notorious cases wherein innocent people were executed and the public was outraged.

  • A new infographic about the decline and fall of capital punishment in the entire Western world--except the United States.

  • Perspectives from famous Britons on the meaning of half a century without executions.

  • And ways to get involved, spread the word, and change the conversation.


One of the most interesting features of is the section featuring people's perspectives about the fact that it's 50 years since the UK stopped executing prisoners. You can even submit your own perspective.

Here are some of our favorites:

nick yarris - 50 years without the death penalty

Nick Yarris

Nick Yarris was the first death row inmate to be proven innocent by DNA in Pennsylvania. He has spoken about the dangers of capital punishment in the UK and the USA.

Elvis Costello

Elvis Costello is an English musician who supports humanitarian causes. His song “Let Him Dangle” is about the notorious Derek Bentley case.

PG by Michele Turriani cropped

Peter Gabriel

Peter Gabriel is a world-famous English musician and human rights activist. He is adamantly opposed to the death penalty in the USA.

Richard_Branson cropped

Richard Branson

Richard Branson is an English entrepreneur and founder of the Virgin Group. Read why he thinks its time for the USA to get rid of the death penalty.


Jeremy Irons

Jeremy Irons is an award-winning stage and film actor, in addition to being an advocate for human rights with Amnesty international.

Ways to Get Involved

While there are plenty of ways to get involved with DPF and the movement to end capital punishment, for this event we created a meme so that you could share it on social media and help change the conversation about the death penalty. It's still active, so go ahead and share it if you haven't yet.

Share the 50 Years Without Death - Keep Calm and End the Death Penalty - Meme of Facebook

Mike and Matt in the Huffington Post

DPF's President, Mike Farrell, and its Executive Director, Matt Cherry, both published pieces reflecting on the significance of the anniversary in the Huffington Post.

Mike and Matt also spoke with Dr. Marc Lamont Hill about the importance of the occasion and the diverging paths between the USA and the rest of its closest allies.

You can watch the video right here:

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Infographic: The First Time We Ended the Death Penalty

Posted by David Crawford on June 27th, 2014

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