In his New York Times column, “When We Kill: Everything You Think You Know About the Death Penalty is Wrong,” Nicholas Kristof cites cases (including Kevin Cooper’s and Todd Willingham’s), and statistics to show just how wrong — morally, spiritually, and practically — the death penalty is. It is a powerful and emotional indictment of a punishment so barbaric it is incomprehensible that it wasn’t abolished in this country long ago.
In their Northwestern Journal of Law & Social Policy article, “Unrequited Innocence in U.S. Capital Cases: Unintended Consequences of the Fourth Kind,” Rob Warden and John Seasly look at 24 capital cases that “we believe . . . are sufficient to establish that unrequited innocence is a real and serious problem.” In each case, they write, the “inmates have not been exonerated despite compelling evidence of innocence.” Included among the 24 are two California death row prisoners, Kevin Cooper, who has been on death row for 34 years, and Jarvis Jay Masters, who has been on death row for 29 years.
In his editorial, “Religion has nothing to do with governors who reject clemency for the condemned,” in the Tennessean, Joe Ingle, a United Church of Christ minister who is a spiritual advisor to the men on Tennessee’s death row, refers to the recent execution of Don Johnson a prisoner who exemplified how one can find redemption, but was still denied clemency by Gov. Bill Lee, who came to his decision, he said, “after a prayerful and deliberate consideration.” Ingle notes how routinely governors will cite prayer as their reason for denying clemency, and compares these governors to Pontius Pilate.
Steven Hale also writes about the execution of Don Johnson in the Nashville Scene, focusing on the death penalty opponents standing vigil last month outside the Tennessee execution chamber where the state was killing Don Johnson. “The thought that burdened the men and women gathered in that field Thursday night was this: If Gov. Bill Lee will not grant clemency to Don Johnson, a transformed man by all accounts who had received forgiveness from the daughter of his murdered wife and become a Christian leader on death row, then who would he do it for?” Hale writes.
In his UC Davis Law Review article, “Individualized Executions,” William W. Berry points to how “States continue to botch lethal injection attempts.” He argues that U.S. Supreme Court decisions in Woodson v. North Carolina (1976), which rejected N. Carolina’s law mandating the death penalty in all cases because it didn’t comply with evolving standards of human dignity, and in Lockett v. Ohio (1978), in which the Court found that capital defendants are entitled to present mitigating evidence at sentencing, should be extended to execution techniques. “The Court’s execution technique cases proscribe the imposition of punishments that create a substantial risk of inflicting pain. As such, application of the Woodson-Lockett principle to executions would require that courts assess the imposition of such execution techniques on a case-by-case basis to determine the constitutionality of the technique — as applied to the particular inmate — prior to execution,” Berry writes.
The national campaign to expand victims’ rights under Marsy’s Law “thrives on emotional manipulation,” according to the American Conservative article, “Why Victims’ Rights Laws are a Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing.” The Marsy’s Law for All has been implemented in at least 10 states since 2008, and “Civil libertarians and other criminal justice reform advocates have consistently raised concerns about how the law undermines the due process right the accused and the presumption of innocence — the keystone of any just legal system,” the American Conservative says. Even worse, according to the magazine, the bill’s creator and chief financial backer “wants to enshrine Marsy’s Law into the U.S. Constitution —a truly terrifying prospect.”