The Death Penalty Blog

Author of CA Death Penalty Law Has Change of Heart

Posted by Stefanie on July 21st, 2011

Los Angeles Times columnist and radio personality, Patt Morrison, interviewed Donald Heller, author of California's current death penalty statute, on July 16th about why he no longer supports capital punishment. In the interview Heller cites "the enormous toll it [takes] on people involved" including defense lawyers, judges and other players in the system, the high cost and the risk of executing the innocent.

Heller, a former prosecutor, only became vocal about his opposition to the death penalty after the execution of Thomas Thompson in 1998, a man Heller believes was innocent. 

He admits, "The way I look at it, what I created can and may already have resulted in the death of an innocent person. And that's pretty heavy."

"The thing I regret most that I cannot change -- except by what I do now -- was drafting the death penalty initiative," Heller laments. 

Read the full interview with Donald Heller

Running for Justice, Not From It!

Posted by Emily Hammagren, Guest Blogger on June 30th, 2011

I'm training to run a marathon (26.2 miles) in Walla Walla, Washington on October 16th, 2011 to raise funds for the Washington Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (WCADP) and increase awareness of the damage that the death penalty does to our society. While the Walla Walla run is small compared to those in big cities, the location is significant in that Walla Walla is the home of Washington's death row for men and the state's execution chamber.

Funds raised go towards WCADP's outreach and education campaigns throughout Washington state.

It's time for Washington to join the growing list of states like New York, New Jersey, New Mexico, and Illinois that have realized that they can do better than offer victims' families the false promise of haling and closure from the death penalty.  This year, Washington was among a dozen states that held hearings on legislative bills to replace the death penalty with life without the possibility of parole.

I hope you will consider joining me in supporting a tremendous organization and an important mission. Please consider making a gift today.

Also, it's not too late to join me in Walla Walla to run the marathon, half marathon, 10K, or to cheer everyone on!

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Report Makes Important Recommendations on Fixing a "Broken System"

Posted by James Brockway, Guest Blogger on February 23rd, 2011

This month marked the release of an important new report, Smart on Crime: Recommendations for the Administration and Congress, which provides comprehensive analysis of the federal criminal justice system, and lays out extensive recommendations for reform. Coordinated by the non-partisan advocacy group the Constitution Project, the report brings together a diverse coalition of over 40 criminal justice organizations who apply their expertise to advising the Obama administration and the new congress on how to tackle the difficult problems facing our justice system. The report includes a thoroughly researched inquiry into the death penalty and provides insight into how to remedy the lack of constitutional safeguards which currently characterize the system.

The report's analysis of the death penalty begins by taking note of the severity of death as a method of punishment, arguing that because the death penalty is irreversible there is a premium on ensuring its application is fair and equitable. They go on to show that the system as currently constituted does not meet these constitutionally mandated standards, focusing on four major problems areas. The issues highlighted include the lack of adequate review of capital convictions, the significant racial bias in their application, the unfair targeting of the mentally ill as capital defendants, and the woefully insufficient legal representation of the indigent defendants who make up the lion's share of individuals we execute.

Despite persistent concerns about wrongful convictions in capital cases, recent legislation has only made it more difficult for Courts to review challenges to capital convictions. 1996's Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act has placed severe restrictions on defendants' abilities to seek habeas relief, particularly as those challenges pertain to defendants' claims of actual innocence. The incredibly narrow scope of acceptable petitions makes it close to impossible to correct many constitutional oversights that occur at the trial phase, substantially increasing the risk that innocent people will be executed. This problem is compounded by the fact that defendants frequently do not have access to legal counsel during post-conviction review which leaves them at the mercy of a legal system that has already invested considerable resources in proving their guilt. To insure adequate review, the report recommends attorney general action to provide defendants with counsel, as well as congressional and executive support of amendments to the AEDPA which would eliminate restrictive requirements on appeals.

The problem of racial bias regarding the death penalty has been well documented-a Department of Justice study has shown that 73 % of federal capital cases involve non-white defendants, and research has shown that 40 % of the death row population is African American despite their making up only 12 % of the country's general population. Bias occurs at all levels of the process, as prosecutors are more likely to seek death for white victims, non-white defendants are more likely to accused of capital crimes, and they are less likely to receive pleas which take death off the table. DOJ regulations which ensure that the U.S. Attorney General must review all death-eligible cases contribute to this problem by overly centralizing the process, ensuring an alarmingly small number of people get to make the decision about which cases are worth prosecuting. The report suggests that the first step towards confronting this imbalance is to ensure adequate documentation of the problem which is why independent commissions must be erected to review the relationship between race and capital conviction. Additionally, legislative and executive action must be taken to eliminate racial discrimination in capital cases, including eliminating the excessive peremptory challenges that enable prosecutors to try minority defendants in front of all-white juries. The DOJ should also decentralize its review process to ensure that more eyes take a look at each case, thus increasing the opportunity to catch unjust prosecutions before they happen.

While the Supreme Court has ruled that juveniles and the mentally retarded lack the decision-making competence to be sentenced to death, similar protections have not been extended to the mentally ill who make up an alarmingly high percentage of death row inmates. These individuals frequently lack the self-awareness and control necessary to really understand or govern their behavior, which raises significant ethical questions about considering them fit for execution. The report recommends that Congress change U.S. code to explicitly prohibit the application of the death penalty to these individuals and that the Justice Department similarly commits to not pursue death in these cases.

The final area examined by the report is the lack of representation for capital defendants who generally amongst the poorest members of American society. These indigent defendants often have very limited access to counsel, and when they do, their attorneys are very often under-trained, overworked, and lack the independence necessary to adequately represent their clients. Given the vast resources the state and federal governments commit to capital prosecutions, this disequilibrium should give us pause as the risk that innocents are sentenced to die greatly increases when their lawyers are either unable or unwilling to provide them with meaningful defense. The congress is in the position to begin correcting this problem by increasing the independence of indigent defenders so that they can build their cases without interference from bosses who are also prosecutors. The report thus suggests starting, and adequately funding, an office of the Defender General which would supervise defense attorneys in these cases and provide them with the resources necessary to give defendants a fair shot at fighting their convictions.

While the best way to correct the flaws with the death penalty would be to stop applying it all, the Smart on Crime recommendations represent an important step in the right direction which should be embraced by capital punishment opponents. In addition to providing immediate relief to those currently facing capital charges, these reforms provide the building blocks for the creation of a more just and equitable criminal justice system. Research has consistently shown that one of the main contributing factors to support for the death penalty is citizen's relative ignorance on the subject; in this light, we can see the report and reforms it advocates as playing an important consciousness raising function. By forcing government officials and the public at large to think seriously about the flaws that plague the death penalty, the Smart on Crime report helps direct attention to just how broken the system is which will add increased urgency and support for the search for more effective alternatives.

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Book Review:
Mother California: A Story of Redemption Behind Bars

Posted by Cheryl Cotterill, Guest Blogger on December 14th, 2010

Author: Kenneth E. Hartman
Atlas & Co., $14.00

Review by Cheryl Cotterill

A child of "Mother California," author Kenneth E. Hartman grew up in the State's juvenile system where he became addicted to violence and the power he derived from instilling fear in others. By the age of 19, Hartman says he "had the dead eyes familiar to prison guards and combat veterans." But Hartman's violent rampage comes to an end in February 1980 when he beats a homeless man to death for no reason. Hartman is found guilty of the murder and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

At first I found this book difficult to read because of Hartman's arrogance, continued violence, and his seeming lack of ability to take responsibility for his actions. He also never really expresses any remorse for taking the life of a helpless person and instead boasts about how everyone seems to be both in awe and fear of him. But the book, like Hartman's life, is worth not giving up on.

Hartman has an "awakening as a human being" when he has a chance encounter with a woman on the phone while trying to leave a message for his friend's attorney. Hartman eventually falls in love, gets married, and in 1995, after fifteen years behind bars, has a baby girl. Transformed by the experience of fatherhood, Hartman writes, "As a younger man, I aspired to be one of the legends of the prison world. To be talked about in hushed tones, with fearful reverence, this was my goal . . . [n]ow, I have another foundation on which to build a worthwhile life: the role of reformer, of healer…"

But these revelations come too late in a system bent on punishment and vengeance instead of reform. During his thirty years in prison, Hartman observes what he refers to as the "undoing" of the prison system as the number of prisoners continues to grow exponentially and the guards resign themselves to "standing at the edges of the yard, watching the violent drama unfold." In reaction, Hartman dedicates himself to working towards prison reform and rehabilitation by instigating what would become known as the Honor Program. After watching race wars erupt and surviving a prison riot, Hartman gets the idea to start an Honor Yard Program for those who simply want to do their time away from the madness. His stubbornness pays off and in 2000 the Honor Yard Program is initiated and eventually becomes a successful program incentivizing positive behavior and prisoners' abstinence from drugs, gangs, and violence.

Hartman didn't receive the death penalty and although he considers life without parole to be the "other death penalty," his story makes clear that it is not. One of the most insightful but disturbing ordeals that Hartman writes about is his experience of being erroneously diagnosed with AIDS. In facing death, Hartman finds spirituality; liberated from his ego and fear for the first time in his life. Surrounded by AIDS patients, Hartman experiences empathy for the terrible disrespect that those around him have had to endure from people like him. Eventually Hartman learns that he doesn't have the disease, but the good news is tempered by the fact that he will have to return to solitary confinement. Nevertheless, Hartman's new lease on life allows him to experience love and the joys of fatherhood, as well as find meaning and purpose in his commitment to the Honor Program. Reasonable people may disagree about whether life without parole is appropriate for those who have transformed their lives in prison and no longer pose a danger to society, but unlike the death penalty, at least it allows for transformation and redemption.

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Review of Death by Fire

Posted by Stefanie on November 3rd, 2010

Check out this review of FRONTLINE's special Death by Fire by Ken Chan on the Law, Technology & Legal Marketing Blog.

Chan writes:

FRONTLINE recently examined the controversial execution of Cameron Todd Willingham. The State of Texas had executed Mr. Willingham in 2004 for the death of his children in a fire, which the State Fire Marshal had concluded was intentionally set by the defendant.


Regardless of where you stand on the death penalty, this provocative documentary raises many concerns. The issue is not whether an innocent person can be wrongfully convicted. That question has been answered long ago by successive exonerations of persons formerly condemned to death row. The truth is, despite all the constitutional protections afforded to defendants in our system of justice, mistakes will occur. So, knowing that our current system has flaws, do we accept the possibility that an innocent person may be executed as a permissible trade-off or do we take the only punishment that is irreversible off the table?

 It is an interesting read. 


Death Penalty Usage Maps Show Infrequent Use of the Sentence

Posted by Stefanie on October 22nd, 2010

This remarkable sideshow of maps (below), created by Robert Smith (Staff Attorney at Capital Appeals Project / Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice) for a recent blog post he wrote for Second Class Justice, reveals that the death penalty is slowly fading away in the United States.  

"Conviction" hits local theaters today

Posted by Stefanie on October 22nd, 2010

"Conviction", a film starring Hilary Swank and Sam Rockwell, about a real-life wrongful conviction case hits local theaters today! There is a good review in the San Francisco Chronicle. Let's hope this film stirs people and opens their eyes to the serious problems in our criminal justice system.  

PBS's Frontline features the case of Cameron Willingham

Posted by Stefanie on October 20th, 2010

Last night PBS debuted it's new season of "Frontline" with an episode about the case of Texas death row prisoner Cameron Willingham. The show titled "Death by Fire" has generated a tremendous amount of buzz.  It is widely believed that Willingham was executed for a crime he did not commit.  I encourage you to watch and decide for yourselves.  

Cut This: The Death Penalty Video

Posted by Stefanie on June 29th, 2010

Check out this amazing video!

We know that advocates and community members from across the state are fighting to ensure that the vital social services that make up the safety net for California's most vulnerable populations aren't slashed. We're here with a small piece of the solution. Need to cut something? Cut this: the death penalty.

Cut This: The Death Penalty from aclunc on Vimeo.

Share this video on Facebook and Twitter!

The June issue of The Sentry is here!

Posted by Stefanie on June 25th, 2010

What's inside:

  • News from Around the World
  • A report on the International Conference held in San Francisco this month.
  • Unsolved Homicides: A Public Safety Crisis by Aqeela Sherrills
  • Photos from the Annual Awards Dinner
  • New Books
  • The Inland Valley Chapter of DPF presents the 2010 Student Essay Contest Winners! 
  • Photo Gallery

The Sentry is produced in easy-to-print .pdf format. CHECK IT OUT NOW!

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NH Supreme Court Justice on the Death Penalty

Posted by The Hon. Joseph P. Nadeau, Retired Justice of the Supreme Court of New Hampshire on June 25th, 2010

It has been my good fortune to serve as a judge in New Hampshire for thirty-seven years. For thirteen of those years I was presiding justice of the Durham District Court. I served as a justice of the Superior Court for eighteen years, nine of which I spent as chief justice. And I sat on the Supreme Court for six years before retiring in December of 2005. I am proud of our judicial system and the effort of judges in all our courts to treat people fairly and equally, and to protect their individual rights.

While serving as a judge, I rarely expressed my opinion on capital punishment privately, and until now I never expressed my opinion publicly. Nor did I let my personal opinions influence my judicial decisions. In fact, in 1998 I presided over the capital murder case of Gordon Perry, and on every motion filed on his behalf challenging New Hampshire’s capital punishment statute, I ruled he had not established that the law violated our constitution.

Last week, I appeared before the New Hampshire Commission to Study the Death Penalty, whose members I commend for their willingness to undertake the important and challenging task assigned to them by the legislature . My purpose in speaking to the commission was not to talk about facts and statistics or trials and cases but to address the moral issue of death as punishment.

The way we have been dealing with the death penalty for years is to talk about enacting laws, adopting procedures, establishing practices and providing mechanisms, as if by creating an elaborate process we could somehow sanitize the death penalty and thereby ignore the moral issues that capital punishment presents. We cannot.

I appeared before the Commission to answer one straightforward but complex question: Do I believe the systematic killing of another human being by the state, in my name, is justified?

My answer to that question is, No.

During my tenure as a judge, I met many people with strong opinions about capital punishment.  Through most of that period, over two thirds of those polled in the United States regularly supported the death penalty. Some people I respect still do. So you would think that anyone looking for answers based upon public opinion or strongly held views should have an easy task.

What is the problem, then?  In the face of these odds, why do we continue to struggle with the acceptability of death as punishment?  I believe one reason we engage in this process is that no matter what some people say publicly about capital punishment, deep inside many are not as certain as they proclaim.

I believe another reason is that our thinking evolves, as people, technology, and societies progress. And what is acceptable at one time in our history may become unwelcome at another. If that is true then, we are encouraged to re-examine our core principles and to consider whether death continues to be an acceptable punishment in New Hampshire.

I have great respect for the offices of the Attorney General and the Public Defender and for the integrity and competence with which the attorneys in those offices handle homicide cases. The primary source of my continuing concern about the death penalty, however, is not New Hampshire’s limited capital murder experience but my own professional exposure to criminal justice issues.

There is no question that people who commit murder must be punished and should be removed from society. Life in prison without parole does both. It is interesting to note that two states, New Hampshire, which has not employed the death penalty since before Pearl Harbor, and North Dakota which does not condone capital punishment, did not need death to achieve the lowest murder rates in the nation every year of this century.

No legal system is perfect. Human beings make mistakes. That is one reason we accept the notion that occasionally the guilty will go free and the innocent will be convicted.  But I do not believe anyone accepts the notion that it is alright for a person to be wrongfully executed. So with the most respected judicial system in the world, how can we willingly embrace a sentence which cannot be reversed after it is imposed; and how can we continue to believe that it is morally acceptable for the state to take a human life?

My answer is, we cannot.

As most of us, I have never experienced the emotions felt by a murder victim’s loved ones, and I may never know for sure that I could not be persuaded by the desire for personal revenge to seek the death penalty for a person I knew killed someone I love. But for me, neither of these deficiencies makes opposition to the death penalty any less compelling.

I am not a death penalty expert.

I am not a spokesperson for the judiciary.

I am one New Hampshire citizen; one person, who believes it is not necessary to kill to show that killing is wrong.

So after thirty-seven years on the bench; after presiding over hundreds of jury trials; after sitting on numerous criminal cases; after listening to witnesses in scores of sentencing hearings; after considering information in thousands of probation reports; after imposing sentences upon countless convicted defendants; after entertaining the arguments of lawyers at every level of skill; after talking with a host of judges and corrections officials; and after continued personal reflection; this is what I believe about capital punishment:

  • The threat of its use is not a deterrent to the commission of a homicide, because those who kill do not consider the sentence before they act or do not expect to be caught, or both.
  • The threat of its use is not necessary to protect the people of New Hampshire for the same reason.
  • Its abolition does not dishonor those who serve in law enforcement because honor comes from personal pride and earned respect, not from the ability of the state to execute a human being.
  • Its abolition does not diminish the voice of murder victims because the right of all victims to be heard is intended to come at the time defendants are sentenced not at the time they are charged.
  • It provides no more justice than life in prison without parole because justice is not measured by the sentences we impose.
  • To seek and carry out the death penalty costs the state much more in time and taxes than to prosecute and confine a person to prison for life.
  • To seek and carry out the death penalty consumes inordinate resources of courts, prosecution, defense and law enforcement.
  • The decision whether to seek the death penalty is too easily swayed by public opinion, political pressure and media attention.
  • Its potential as a prosecutorial tool is outweighed by its capacity for misuse.
  • It is too easily subject to selective prosecution.
  • It is too likely to be imposed upon minorities and the poor.
  • It is too likely to depend upon the persuasiveness of lawyers.
  • Its imposition is too readily subject to the emotions of individual jurors.
  • Its imposition is too clearly dependent upon the composition of the particular jury empanelled for each case.
  • It inevitably leads to disparate sentences.
  • It creates the unacceptable risk that a person may be wrongfully executed.
  • It exalts rage over reason.
  • It diminishes our character as a people.
  • And in the end, I believe it serves just one purpose: vengeance.

It is for these reasons, and from a personal abhorrence of the premeditated execution of a human being by the state, that I appeared before the Commission to speak in favor of the abolition of the death penalty in New Hampshire.

From San Quentin to Auschwitz

Posted by Lance Lindsey on June 8th, 2010


Fifty years ago, in May 1960, two events altered how many Americans viewed capital punishment and the Holocaust.

In California, after a 12-year fight on death row, Caryl Chessman was executed at San Quentin prison. A few weeks later, in Buenos Aires, Israeli agents seized Adolf Eichmann, the infamous Nazi fugitive who helped send more than 400,000 Jewish men, women and children to their deaths. His public trial helped to reawaken global awareness about Germany's genocide against the Jews.

While there were many differences between the two cases, both involved the killing apparatus known as the gas chamber.

Eugenicists had envisioned lethal gas as a quick, practical, and humane approach to cull society of its burdensome "unfit." After the technology was developed in the United States by industry's chemical warfare and pesticide complex, the execution method was first carried out in Nevada in 1924, on an imprisoned Chinese immigrant from San Francisco, Gee Jon, who had been sentenced for murder.

By the late 1930s, seven additional states including California had adopted lethal gas as their official method of "humane" capital punishment instead of hanging or electrocution. One company, Eaton Metal Products of Denver, built several patented gas chambers to carry out hundreds of legal executions using hydrogen cyanide. German, American and British chemical firms collaborated in a cartel that manufactured massive quantities of deadly Zyklon-B. Many prominent thinkers of the day, including Nobel Prize-winning scientist Alexis Carrel, openly recommended the lethal chamber for a wide array of social outcasts.

But then the Nazi regime picked up on the idea, making gas chambers their preferred instrument for mass murder. Suddenly, the innocent victims numbered in the millions.

The highly publicized Chessman and Eichmann dramas revealed the horrors of gas-chamber executions and served to strip away the masks of kindness and indifference from capital punishment in general. As a result, both episodes helped turn many people in the world, including a majority of Americans, against executions.

It may seem hard to believe now, but from 1953 to 1966, the portion of Americans favoring the death penalty dropped from 70 to 42 percent, in tune with international trends. By the late 1960s all but 10 states abolished capital punishment. Executions became more and more infrequent, so that from 1968 to1977, nobody was legally executed in the United States.

During the moratorium, however, conservatives mounted a backlash to reinstitute capital punishment. As governor of California in 1973 Ronald Reagan became the first major figure to advocate a "better" method of execution. Although lethal injection had been used on a large scale by the Nazis, Reagan touted needle executions as "humane" and "painless." As lawmakers seized on the suggestion to repackage their old, discredited practice, Oklahoma, Texas, Florida, California and other states eventually adopted it as their official method. Over the next several years, prison gas chambers at San Quentin and elsewhere became lethal injection chambers.

In 1994 a federal district court in San Francisco found execution by lethal gas to be "cruel and unusual punishment," and the last gassing was carried out in 1999 in Arizona, leaving lethal injection as the dominant surviving method.

Now, however, based on more than a quarter-century of experience with carrying out lethal injection executions in the United States, needle executions have also proved problematic, on several counts. Many appear to have been botched, and the participation of medical personnel in such procedures presents a huge ethical quandary for healers bound by the Hippocratic oath. In a deeper sense, spurred by the lessons of the gas chamber, pretexts of killing with kindness and humane executions went out with the 20th century, thereby removing another rationale for the death penalty.

Today, American popular support for capital punishment may be waning once again. The percentage favoring executions dropped from 80 percent in 1994 to 65 percent in 2009, and that reflects only part of the decline, for if given an alternative, a majority of the public prefers life without parole. Killing is not the answer.

Scott Christianson is the award-winning author of numerous books, including The Last Gasp: The Rise and Fall of the American Gas Chamber, published by the University of California Press.

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Readers react to the Democratic Party's call for ending CA's death penalty

Posted by Aarti on May 24th, 2010

Today, the San Francisco Chronicle posted three fantastic letters to the editor responding to the Democratic Party's call for an end to the death penalty.

Follow the link below to read letters by Judy Kerr, a murder victim family member, Nick Scales, a Republican, and Nancy Oliveira, a concerned citizen:

50 Years of Struggle Against the Death Penalty

Posted by Stefanie on May 11th, 2010
Lance Lindsey
Lance Lindsey, Executive Director of Death Penalty Focus

May 2, 2010 marked that 50-year anniversary of the execution of Caryl Chessman. Chessman's execution was incredibly controversial and was the catalyst for many young people to become activists against the death penalty.  DPF's own Executive Director, Lance Lindsey, remembers the days and weeks leading up to the execution in vivid detail. The case sparked his activism against the death penalty.  Attorney General Jerry Brown was one of the most vocal opponents of the execution as he lobbied his father, then-Governor Pat Brown to halt it. Governor Pat Brown eventually allowed the execution to go forward, but later admitted that it was one of his biggest regrets in his book Public Justice, Private Mercy.

We'd like to express our gratitude to the hundreds of supporters who have been fighting the good fight against the death penalty since 1960, and the tens of thousands more who have joined the struggle since then.

Take a look at this short booklet featuring some of these extraordinary heroes.

Let's make sure it doesn't take another fifty years to get rid of the death penalty once and for all.  We are getting closer every day.

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Photos from DPF's 2010 Awards Dinner

Posted by Stefanie on May 11th, 2010

Photos from DPF's Annual Awards Dinner held on April 21, 2010 in Beverly Hills.  All photos are by Virginia Van Zandt, except the photo of Jane Kaczmarek which is by George Schulman.  Pictured from left to right: Alec Baldwin, Hector Elizondo, Robbie Conal with Sherry and Leo Frumkin, Jane Kaczmarek, Sr. Suzanne Jabro, James Cromwell, Richard Dieter, and Elizabeth Banks. (Photos are copyrighted and may not be used without permission).

Alec Baldwin

Hector ElizondoSherry and Leo FrumkinJane KaczmarekSr. Suzanne JabroJames CromwellDick Dieter

Elizabeth Banks

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Wilbert Rideau on NPR's Fresh Air; will be in CA next month

Posted by Stefanie on April 27th, 2010
Wilbert Rideau

Wilbert Rideau was sentenced to death in Louisiana at the age of 19. After a decade on death row, his sentence was changed and he was transferred to the notorious Angola prison.  He has a new book out titled  "In the Place of Justice: A Story of Punishment and Deliverance." 

Listen to him on NPR's Fresh Air

Rideau will be speaking in Marin on Thursday, June 3rd at Book Passage. More details are available on our Events page.  You can purchase the book from independently owned Book Passage.

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Bud Welch on the Rachel Maddow Show

Posted by Stefanie on April 20th, 2010

Bud Welch was interviewed on MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show." This month marks the 15th anniversary of the Oklahoma City federal building bombing. Bud's daughter was among the 167 men, women and children killed. Bud Welch will share his personal story and mention his death penalty abolition work.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Johnny Depp advocates for the West Memphis 3

Posted by Stefanie on March 1st, 2010

On Saturday, 48 Hours Mystery featured a program on the West Memphis 3.  Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, known as the West Memphis 3, are serving prison terms in Arkansas for murders they most likely did not commit. Echols is on death row.  Here's a brief case overview

It is great to see Johnny Depp getting involved in this case. He can bring much needed attention to this injustice.  

Watch CBS News Videos Online

New Books on the Death Penalty

Posted by Stefanie on February 24th, 2010

David Dow's new book, The Autobiography of an Execution, has been reviewed by the New York Times, TIME, Christian Science Monitor, the Los Angeles Times and Terry Gross of NPR's Fresh Air did a long interview with him.  I'm not sure why this book in particular has struck a nerve with so many, but I'm a firm believer that any book, essay or interview than can shed some light on the death penalty is a good thing. And there is doubt that Dow has worked in the trenches and has much first-hand experience to share.

Other books that have been released recently include: Angel of Death Row: My Life as a Death Penalty Defense Lawyer by Andrea D. Lyon, which was recently reviewed in the Chicago Sun-Times, The Last Lawyer by John Temple reviewed by IndyWeek, Life and Death Matters by Robert Baldwin, The Road to Abolition?: The Future of Capital Punishment in the United States by Austin Sarat and Jr and Charles Ogletree and That Bird Has My Wings by death row prisoner Jarvis Jay Masters.

All of these books are available for purchase on our website.

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DPF's Inland Valley Chapter sponsors Essay Contest for students

Posted by Stefanie on February 19th, 2010

The Inland Valley Chapter of Death Penalty focus is sponsoring an Essay Contest for students. The deadline to enter is April 16, 2010 and cash prizes will be awarded for the winning essays.

The contest rules and guidelines are available here, and you can also visit the Chapter's Facebook page more more info.

Essays should explore the ways our state might justify changing the sentence of 700 men and women currently on death row to life without parole. Essays will be judged for clarity of writing, research, creativity, uniqueness of approach, persuasive arguments and
adherence to rules and deadlines.

For more info, contact Sharyn Webb at

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