In his column, “Justice Delayed, With a Life on the Line,” in last Sunday’s New York Times, Nicholas Kristof again writes about the case of Kevin Cooper, who has been on California’s death row for 33 years for a quadruple murder he didn’t commit. Clearly frustrated, Kristof again asserts that Gov. Jerry Brown is at fault for not giving the go-ahead for advanced DNA testing on the evidence in Cooper’s case, and offers up ” a new argument that perhaps can move Brown. The white convicted murderer who is the other suspect in the case has voluntarily provided samples of his DNA and told me that he too wants advanced DNA testing of evidence from the murder scene.” Kristof, who has been front and center in declaring his belief in Cooper’s innocence, the writes, “Granted, maybe I’m wrong about this. So, governor, prove me wrong. Test the evidence. Settle the doubts.”
In his op-ed, “Abolish the Death Penalty,” in the Washington Post, conservative commentator George Will uses the case of Vernon Madison, the Alabama man who has been on death row for more than 30 years for the 1985 murder of a police officer, as an example of why the death penalty should be abolished. Madison, who was sentenced to death the third time he was tried, is now 68, and has no memory of the crime because of a series of strokes that have left him with vascular dementia. He is also legally blind, unable to walk without assistance, unable to speak, and suffers from diabetes and hypertension. “The mere phrasing of the matter at issue — whether Madison is ‘competent to be executed’ — induces moral vertigo,” Will writes. (Madison’s case was argued in front of the U.S. Supreme Court last week. Our story is here.)
Madison and another case in Alabama are at the center of an Atlantic article, “The Machinery of Death is Back on the Docket.” Garrett Epps argues that the Madison case and Bucklew v. Precythe that the U.S. Supreme Court is considering this fall may force the Court to make new laws regulating the death penalty. In addition to Madison, which “asks whether states can execute demented murderers who no longer remember their crimes,” Epps examines Bucklew, which asks if it is cruel and unusual punishment to execute a prisoner whose physical condition is such that lethal injection would cause him intolerable pain. “Recent botched executions . . . underscore what should be obvious. There is no ‘capital punishment,’ no machinery of death that stands apart from the ad hoc efforts of ordinary mortals to improvise the killing of fellow humans, whose bodies quite naturally fight for life up to and beyond the last agonizing breath,” Epps writes.
In his article, “The Republican Party, Conservatives, and the Future of Capital Punishment,” in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, Ben Jones writes that while recent repeals of or moratoriums on the death penalty have occurred in blue states, there has been an “emergence of Republican lawmakers as champions of death penalty repeal legislation in red states.” Jones says there is good reason for this because abolishing the death penalty is in line with conservative orthodoxy: “its incompatibility with limited government, fiscal responsibility, and promoting a culture of life.”
In a comprehensive review of the different facets of the U.S. justice system in his Washington Post op-ed, “There’s Overwhelming Evidence that the Criminal-Justice System is Racist. Here’s the Proof,” Radley Balko writes that “the real racial bias when it comes to the death penalty pertains to the race of the victim. Killers of black people rarely get death sentences. White killers of black people get death sentences even less frequently. And far and away, the type of murder most likely to bring a death sentence is a black man who kills a white woman.”