“It is not for nothing that some critics refer to it as the ‘criminal legal system.’ The word ‘justice’ must be earned, and too often, our system falls short,” the LA Times Editorial Board wrote earlier this month. The board highlighted four wrongful conviction cases as examples of how the system falls short, including Maurice Hastings’, who was imprisoned for 38 years for a crime he didn’t commit. Hastings, who will be honored at the DPF annual dinner in May, was found factually innocent of the rape and murder of Roberta Wydermyer in October after DNA evidence, which he tried to have tested for 23 years, finally cleared him recently. Wrongful convictions are all-too-common and, as the Times says, “What kind of apology does a society that prides itself on having the world’s most advanced system of justice make to a person wrongly denied freedom for nearly four decades?”
The death penalty keeps “us no safer, but only satisf[ies] the blood lust that must have inspired a Tennessee lawmaker to just this week propose a return to ‘hanging by tree,’ aka lynchings, as a method of execution,” Melinda Henneberger writes in the Sacramento Bee. She cites the recent statement by the judge who handed down two consecutive life sentences to the wealthy, prominent, former lawyer and prosecutor Alex Murdaugh, convicted of killing his wife and son, as “one more good reason to oppose the death penalty” because “life in prison can be a far harsher punishment than execution.”
“Recent developments… point toward a changing death penalty climate in Oklahoma,” Austin Sarat writes in Verdict. He points to the election defeat in November of Attorney General John J. O’Connor, the death penalty enthusiast who, last July, announced the state would be killing 25 men over the next 24 months, approximately one a month; the decision by new AG Gentner Drummond to slow down that pace; Drummond’s appointment of an independent counsel to investigate the Richard Glossip case before his scheduled May execution; the election of former Oklahoma Innocence Project Executive Director Vicki Behenna as Oklahoma County district attorney; and a recent poll showing the majority of Oklahomans support slowing down the pace of executions, as just a few examples of the shift in the state.
In his op-ed, “Why Tennessee should stop executing mentally ill prisoners,” in the Tennesseean, Tennessee Psychiatric Association President Dr. Keith A. Caruso explains that psychiatrists who work in prisons and in the courts are increasingly aware of the “deficiencies of the capital sentencing process and the administration of the death penalty in cases involving persons with mental disorders and disabilities.” They are primarily concerned, he writes, with “insufficient attention to mitigating evidence of diminished responsibility of offenders who were suffering from mental disorder or disability at the time of their offenses, unfairness in post-conviction adjudication, and inhumane treatment of persons on death row.” This concern is the reason the American Psychiatric Association has endorsed a moratorium on the death penalty in the U.S. Caruso says.