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Steve Monks is a "staunch conservative" and former Chair of the Durham County, North Carolina, Republican Party. In an op-ed in the News & Observer, he recently argued that the state would save money and make society safer by replacing the death penalty with life without parole. He noted that the homicide rate in the state dropped 3.8% from 2011 to 2012, a time when no one was executed and no one even sentenced to death. In addition, there has been a 25% decline in the homicide rate from 2005, when executions occurred more regularly, to 5.1 per 100,000 last year, with no executions in 7 years. Monks concluded, “I am all in favor of taking a tough approach to crime. I believe people who commit murder should die in prison. I also believe we should use crime-fighting tools that are efficient and have proven results. The death penalty does not meet either of those standards… [I]n tough economic times, law enforcement budgets are on the chopping block while our state continues to spend millions every year on the death penalty, the very epitome of a wasteful government program.” Read full op-ed below.
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A new study of the cost of the death penalty in Colorado revealed that capital proceedings require six times more days in court and take much longer to resolve than life-without-parole (LWOP) cases. The study, published in the University of Denver Criminal Law Review, found that LWOP cases required an average of 24.5 days of in-court time, while the death-penalty cases required 147.6 days. The authors noted that selecting a jury in an LWOP case takes about a day and a half; in a capital case, jury selection averages 26 days. In measuring the comparative time it takes to go from charging a defendant to final sentencing, the study found that LWOP cases took an average of 526 days to complete; death cases took almost 4 calendar years longer--1,902 days. The study found that even when a death-penalty case ends in a plea agreement and a life sentence, the process takes a year and a half longer than an LWOP case with a trial. The authors, Justin Marceau (pictured) and Hollis Whitson, could find no evidence of deterrence from the state's death penalty and thus concluded, “Our findings are unequivocal: Colorado’s death penalty imposes tremendous costs on taxpayers and its benefits are, at best, speculative, and more likely, illusory.”
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Judge Boyce Martin took the occasion of his final death-penalty decision from the bench of the U.S. Court of Appeals to sharply criticize capital punishment in this country. While upholding the conviction and death sentence of the defendant, Harold Nichols, Judge Martin said, “I continue to condemn the use of the death penalty as an arbitrary, biased, and broken criminal justice tool.” He noted that the many years since Nichols’s conviction in 1990 have consumed "countless judicial hours, money, legal resources, and providing no closure for the families of the victims.” He added that resources spent on the death penalty could be better used for other programs: “The time, money, and energy spent trying to secure the death of this defendant would have been better spent improving this country’s mental-health and educational institutions, which may help prevent crimes such as the ones we are presented with today.” Judge Martin has served as a judge on the Sixth Circuit for more than three decades.
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Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel recently said the state’s death penalty system was “completely broken” and recommended it be abolished if the state's execution method isn't changed. McDaniel said, “It’s time for the policy makers of Arkansas to say, ‘Do we continue with a broken system and throwing money and resources at essentially pointless litigation, or do we modify the system?’ And there’s only really two modifications that I see available — it’s either abolish the death penalty or change the method of execution.” He added, “Frankly, I don’t think we are telling jurors the truth when we lead them to believe that they are sentencing someone to death when we really don’t have a viable system with which to execute someone.” In speaking to the Sheriffs Associaton, he criticized the state’s lethal injection protocol because there are no execution drugs available and because of the difficulty in getting physicians to participate in executions. Arkansas currently has 38 inmates on death row. The state's last execution was in 2005.
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The Kansas City Star recently called for an end to the death penalty in Kansas and Missouri. The editors wrote, "The arc of history is bending toward justice when it comes to the death penalty, and there’s no good reason Missouri and Kansas should lag behind and continue to be on the wrong side of both history and justice." The high costs of implementing capital punishment and the risks of wrongful executions were among the reasons cited for doing away with the punishment. With respect to innocence, the paper stated, "The Innocence Project reports that, through the use of DNA evidence, 18 death row prisoners so far have been exonerated. They already had served a total of 229 years behind bars in 11 different states. That should never happen. Nor should execution of the innocent, but the only way to be positive it doesn’t is to ban capital punishment." Kansas has not had a execution since it reinstated the death penalty in 1994. The editorial concluded, “Kansas and Missouri should follow Maryland’s recent example and become the 19th and 20th states to adopt a sane and civilized approach to this matter.” Read full editorial below.
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At a recent event at Willamette University in Oregon, various state leaders in the fields of law and criminal justice spoke critically about the state's death penalty. Former Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul De Muniz (pictured) said the death penalty was "bad public policy," almost never resulting in an execution. He spoke of having defended a murderer sentenced to death in 1988. Twenty-five years later, the Justice noted, he is now retired after a full career in the law, while the inmate is still in the midst of his appeals on death row. Noting the $28 million spent annually on the death penalty, Justice De Muniz said, “The death penalty is getting a ‘pass’ from legislative scrutiny, when looking for ways to trim Oregon’s budget to fund starving schools and public safety.” The former Superintendent of the State Penitentiary, Frank Thompson, who presided over the last executions in the state, called the current system a “failed public policy.” Thompson said that he was concerned about his staff, who had the responsibility of carrying out executions, and about the risk that some innocent people have been executed in the U.S. Retired Supreme Court Justice Edwin Peterson also announced at the sold-out event that he would begin speaking out publicly against the state’s death penalty.
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As a Superior Court judge in Delaware, Norman Barron was referred to as “the hanging judge” because of his willingness to impose death sentences. In a recent op-ed for Delaware Online, the now-retired judge expressed how his views on the death penalty have changed: “I believe the application of the death penalty is quirky and capricious… it is impossible to justify why some murderers receive the death penalty while others, whose crimes are arguably worse in degree or savagery, do not.” He also discussed the costs of imposing the death penalty, the risks of executing an innocent defendant, and its failure to provide timely closure to victims’ families as reasons for his current opposition to the death penalty. “In Delaware," he concluded, "if a convicted murderer in a capital case does not receive a death sentence, he receives an automatic sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole or any type of early release. Such a sentence ensures that the defendant is locked away in a state prison until he dies. There is nothing incompatible with this type of life sentence and being a law-and-order conservative on matters of crime and punishment, which I still consider myself to be. In this age of shrinking budgets and increased costs, the time has come, in my view, to adopt a more enlightened approach to criminal justice.” Read full op-ed below.
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A recent article in the Liberty Champion, a publication of Liberty University, discussed the concerns some conservative Christians have about the death penalty. The article by student Whitney Rutherford focused on the financial costs of the death penalty and its emotional toll on murder victims’ families: “Rather than providing victims, their families, and the family of the accused an expedient result, these groups are dragged through the emotional upheaval of waiting and watching the justice system work.” The author also quoted James R. Acker, a distinguished professor at the School of Criminal Justice at the University of Albany, who questioned the role of capital punishment in a recent Colorado case. Acker asked, “Would the time and money devoted to achieving this man’s death not be better spent on services and law enforcement initiatives meant to repair and prevent the mindless devastation of criminal homicide?” The article concluded, “Christians may support capital punishment without negating their beliefs, but the modern approach to capital punishment is an expensive and emotionally destructive path. The death penalty has become a pit of money and lost years without providing the justice that victims expect.”
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A recent article by Professor Aliza Kaplan (pictured) of the Lewis & Clark Law School examines Oregon's death penalty in light of the action take by the state's governor, John Kitzhaber, to halt all executions. The article explores the history of Oregon's death penalty, the risk of wrongful convictions, and the costs associated with maintaining capital punishment. Kaplan found that executions are carried out very rarely, and, since 1976 only in instances where the inmate waived his appeals. According to one estimate cited by Kaplan, the cost of putting a person to death in Oregon is at least 50% more, and may be up to five times as much as the cost of a life without parole sentence. For example, Oregon taxpayers have paid approximately $2.2 million on the case of Randy Lee Guzek, who has been on death row for 24 years and is still not at the end of his appeals. Kaplan concludes, "While capital punishment remains on the books in Oregon, it is carried out rarely and only for volunteers; it moves at a snail's pace and is absorbing millions of dollars. Oregon's death penalty is long overdue for an examination as a public policy; its problems and alleged benefits should be weighed."
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Criminal Justice Professor James Acker of the University at Albany recently discussed the decision by the District Attorney to seek the death penalty against James Holmes, the man accused of killing 12 people and wounding many others at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. In addition to concerns about the defendant's possible mental illness, Acker raised a number of questions about this course of action: "Will the victims and their families somehow be made whole? Would the time and money devoted to achieving this man's death not be better spent on services and law enforcement initiatives meant to repair and prevent the mindless devastation of criminal homicide? Would this man's execution serve an ineffable impulse for justice?" In his op-ed for CNN, Acker also examined the reasons for the dramatic decline in the use of the death penalty in the U.S.: "a revulsion against the awful prospect of executing an innocent person; the racial and social class inequities imbued in the death penalty's administration; the enormous financial burden placed on state and local budgets in supporting capital prosecutions; the availability of life imprisonment without parole to keep the streets safe." He concluded by asking, "[W]hat good would be accomplished through this ritual act--[and would] the lives of the individual victims and Coloradoans generally  be made better, and justice served by his lethal injection." Read the full op-ed below.
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