The Virginia Death Penalty

Virginia, both in state and modern history, is a highly prolific executioner. In 1608 the Jamestown colony performed America’s first execution. From 1608 to 1976 Virginia executed 1277 people. From 1982 to its last execution in July 2017, Virginia executed 113 people.

Virginia has killed more prisoners than any other state, and in 1951 made history by executing 5 prisoners in one day.

The last person to die at the hands of the state was William Charles Morva for the crimes of killing a police officer and a security guard. The execution of Morva was controversial, and generated international pleas for mercy.

While being held in a county jail for one year awaiting trial for attempted robbery, his mental health deteriorated. Morva was known for being an eccentric survivalist who walked barefoot in the forest and ate raw meat and pine cones. The young man’s defense maintained he was severally mentally ill, psychotic, and suffering from a serious delusional disorder, and the jury was unable to understand the severity of  his illness. Unmedicated he was not able to properly participate in his defense.

Rachel Sutphin, the daughter of one of the murder victims supported clemency for Morva, and asked Governor Terry McAuliffe to spare his life. In a statement she said that, “I have fought and will continue to fight for clemency for all death row inmates until Virginia declares the death penalty unconstitutional.”

The execution process in Virginia is known to be expedited, and the Virginia Supreme Court has a reputation for resolving appeals very quickly.  The average time from sentencing to death in the state is 7 years.

In recent years Virginia juries have been reluctant to sentence a prisoner to death. As a result, an interesting thing has happened in the state, the death row population has dwindled to 5 prisoners. (By comparison in 1995 the death row population was 57.)

There are a few reasons to account for the refusal to condemn prisoners to death.

  • Improved representation from regional capital defense resource centers.
  • Juries are told that a life sentence means a life sentence without parole

Brandon L. Garrett explores the trends of the declining death penalty in his book End of Its Rope: How Killing the Death Penalty Can Revive Criminal Justice.

Garrett denounces the death penalty as a failed experiment. He says of the penalty, “States have tried everything to try to save the death penalty from itself, but the bias, both racial and geographic, is too ingrained. Lawmakers have tried to speed up executions, but have instead seen more delays and botched executions. They have tried to insist on higher-quality proof, and have still seen exonerations of innocent death row inmates.”

The death penalty in Virginia is dying, based on the will of the people. Let Governor Ralph Northam know your thoughts on Virginia’s use of the death penalty.

Emailhttps://www.governor.virginia.gov/constituent-services/communicating-with-the-governors-office/

Write
Governor Ralph Northam
The Way Ahead
P.O. Box 1475
Richmond, VA 23218

Phone804-786-2211

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@GovernorVA

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@GovernorVA

 

 

 

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The Utah Death Penalty

Not all death row prisoners are executed against their will. Some prisoners opt to drop all of their appeals and become “volunteers.”

One of the most infamous of these volunteers is Gary Gilmore of Utah. A notorious volunteer, he was executed by firing squad in 1977. His was the first execution after the United States Supreme Court reinstated the penalty after a brief repeal.

Gilmore was  immortalized in Norman Mailer’s sprawling epic, The Executioner’s Song, was portrayed by Tommy Lee Jones in a television adaptation of his life story, and was featured in a Saturday Night Live sketch titled, Let’s kill Gary Gilmore for Christmas.

If it weren’t for the death penalty, Gary Gilmore would not be nationally and internationally known. The death penalty can arguably be seen as giving lasting infamy to a criminal, or making them a martyr for their cause, or an out for a prisoner who wants to escape a life sentence of incarceration.

Death row prisoners last words and last meals are recorded for history. For people unopposed to the death penalty, or unconvinced by the argument that killing is wrong no matter who does it, or that believe it is possible to commit an act that cancels out the possibility of any further compassion, hopefully this argument will give pause.

In state and modern history, comparatively, Utah does not execute heavily. Before 1976 Utah executed 43 prisoners. Since the execution of Gary Gilmore, Utah has executed 6 prisoners. Nine prisoners are currently on death row.

The methods of execution in Utah are the firing squad, and lethal injection.

In March 2018 an effort to abolish the death penalty was unsuccessful. In 2016 an abolishment bill was unable to reach the House floor.

A 2012 study estimated that the cost of a death penalty conviction was $1.6 million dollars more expensive than a life sentence without parole.

Governor Gary Herbert has said of the death penalty, “I’ve been a strong supporter for the death penalty for those most egregious and heinous of crimes. That being said, I think that the court system itself has made it so it’s a little bit harder to defend the death penalty. It takes so long. Justice delayed is justice denied.”

Add your voice to the debate! Let Governor Gary Herbert know that you support the repeal of the death penalty in Utah and nationwide!

The Office of Governor Gary R. Herbert
350 North State Street, Suite 200
PO Box 142220
Salt Lake City, Utah 84114-2220

Phone: 801-538-1000
 Toll Free: 800-705-2464

Tweet @GovHerbert

Facebook @GovGaryHerbert

 

 

 

The Texas Death Penalty

Ask anybody to guess which US State executes the most people, and they will probably name Texas. That is true in modern history, but hasn’t always been the case.

Before 1976, Virginia, New York, Pennsylvania, Georgia, and North Carolina all had more executions than Texas. New York state led that time period with 1277 executions compared to Texas’s 755.

From 1982 to its last execution in July 2018, Texas has executed 553 prisoners. In comparison, the second top state for executions, Virginia, executed 113 prisoners, and the third state, Oklahoma, executed 112 prisoners, the fourth, Florida, executed 96 prisoners, and the fifth, Missouri, executed 88 prisoners.

There are now 243 prisoners on the state’s death row, including 6 women.

Harris County, Texas, was infamous for being responsible for executing 126 people, or almost 25% of all executions in the entire state. That changed when the county elected the reformed minded prosecutor Kim Ogg in 2016.

DA Ogg has said of the death penalty, “With other sentencing options and with an increased knowledge of science and technology, Americans feel responsible as jurors in a way they didn’t in the past because there’s more information to be considered. So I think attitudes toward the death penalty are changing.”

There have been several controversial cases in Texas of executions of people that are considered by many to be innocent.

Cameron Todd Willingham was convicted and executed for the arson deaths of his 3 young daughters, with now discredited science, in a house fire that many experts believe was accidental.

Columbia Law School students have set forth a case that Carlos DeLuna was executed in 1989 in a case of mistaken identity.

In October 2017 Texas executed 38-year-old Robert Pruett. Pruett was sentenced to 99 years in prison at the age of 15 for a murder his father committed, and sentenced to death at age 20 for the murder of a prison guard.

Author Cara H. Drinan said of the case, “We failed Robert Pruett in not addressing his childhood poverty, abuse and neglect; we failed Robert Pruett in treating him as if he’d been as culpable as his adult father when he was 15; and we failed Robert Pruett by immersing him in a culture of prison violence at 16. We can and must do better by our children, even when they commit a crime.”

Texas has a controversial law of parties, where a person can be executed when they are not responsible for an actual killing. In the case of Jeff Wood, he was sentenced to death, for sitting in a truck while his friend robbed and killed a convenience store clerk. A jury ruled that Wood should have anticipated the murder, but he maintained he didn’t know his friend was armed or planned to commit robbery.

Texas and Oregon are the only two states where the jury is compelled to speculate on “future dangerousness.” A study found that of 155 Texas cases experts were wrong 95% of the time in predicting the future danger of a defendant.

There are many flaws and areas of concern in the Texas death penalty. Let Governor Greg Abbott know your thoughts!

Even if the system was without flaw, it takes more strength to be merciful. A government that kills its own people is brutalizing. In the 21st century how can killing be done to show that killing is wrong?

Write Governor Greg Abbott

Office of the Governor
P.O. Box 12428
Austin, Texas 78711-2428

Phone, email, and contact Governor Abbott at

https://gov.texas.gov/contact

 

Tennessee

Nashville, the famed city of country music, is also the home of the state’s execution chamber.

The 2007 execution of Philip Workman resulted in the unexpected gift of free pizza for the homeless. For his last meal Workman asked that vegetarian pizza be donated to any homeless people near the prison, but the Riverbend Maximum Security Institution refused the request. In response local homeless shelters were flooded with donated vegetarian pizza on the day of his execution.

Before 1976, Tennessee executed 335 prisoners. Tennessee executed 6 prisoners between 2000 and 2009. The current death row population is 62.

In 1838 according to the Death Penalty Information Center, Tennessee became the first state to do away with mandatory death sentences for murder convictions.

The death penalty was abolished in 1915, but reinstated 4 years later.

In 1965 an effort to abolish the death penalty was defeated by one vote. In response Governor  Frank Clement gave clemency to every prisoner on death row.

While the Southern state has shown signs of being progressive in the past, that might not be the case with the current governor.

In 2014, Governor Bill Haslam signed a law allowing Tennessee to use the electric chair if the state can no longer find lethal injection drugs.

In the 1990’s it was thought that the Supreme Court would find the electric chair unconstitutional after a condemned man’s hair caught on fire.

The governor of Tennessee is the sole person who can grant clemency to a prisoner facing death. Governor Haslam has said that when the time comes he will consult with experts and pray.

The time will come on August 9, when Governor Haslam will decide the fate of Billy Ray Irick, the first execution he will face as governor, and the first scheduled execution in Tennessee in almost a decade.

Let Governor Haslam know your feelings about the death penalty, and let him know that it is in his power to not participate in the machinery of death.

WRITE

1st Floor, State Capitol
Nashville, TN 37243

EMAIL

https://www.tn.gov/governor/contact-us.html

PHONE

(615) 741-2001

FACEBOOK

https://www.facebook.com/pg/TeamHaslam/about/

TWEET @BillHaslam

South Dakota

With a population under one million, South Dakota does not have a history of executing large numbers of prisoners.

The state abolished the penalty for the first time in 1915.

To highlight the Old West style of justice executions can represent, the first person executed by the state of South Dakota was the man who killed Wild Bill Hickok in 1877.

From 1877 to 1913 the state executed 14 prisoners all by hanging. There was one execution by electric chair in 1947. From 2007 to 2012 there were 3 executions all by lethal injection.

There are currently 3 prisoners on South Dakota’s death row.

One prisoner Charles Rhines is fighting his sentence because he believes he was sent to his death by a homophobic jury. 

Spark a dialogue for change! Let your government representative know how you feel about South Dakota’s  use of the death penalty.

For more information support South Dakotans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty at https://www.sdadp.org/#home

South Carolina

After focusing on death penalty states with a governor moratorium on executions: Colorado, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Washington, we are returning to our run down of death penalty states. Next on our list is South Carolina.

South Carolina executed 43 people between 1985 and 2011. The method of execution is lethal injection, and the electric chair which was last used in 2008.

From 1608 to 1976 the state executed 641 prisoners.

Today’s death row population is 41.

According to the South Carolina Department of Corrections the youngest person executed in state history was 14. The young boy, George Stinney Jr., was executed in 1944 and exonerated in 2014.

In the recent controversial case of multiple murderer Todd Kohlhepp, the serial killer was spared the death penalty in exchange for a guilty plea and life sentences because in the words of the case’s prosecutor, the state,“doesn’t have a functioning death penalty.”

Governor Henry McMaster is nevertheless a death penalty supporter, and has said, “In order for us to proceed with justice in South Carolina, we must be able to carry out what the law has mandated.”

McMaster is even a fan of shield laws, enacted to allow distributors of death penalty drugs to remain anonymous.

Let Governor Henry McMaster know how your thought on justice, and South Carolina’s use of the death penalty!

Tweet

@henrymcmaster

Email

https://iqconnect.lmhostediq.com/iqextranet/EForm.aspx?__cid=FSL_SC_GOV&__fid=100002

Write

The Honorable Henry McMaster
State House
1100 Gervais Street
Columbia, South Carolina 29201

Phone

803.734.2100

Washington State

Washington is a death penalty state, with a current governor moratorium.

In 2014 Governor Jay Inslee, a former supporter of the death penalty, declared a moratorium on executions stating that any death penalty cases advanced to his offices would receive a reprieve. The governor hoped his decision would open up a necessary dialogue on the issue.

Governor Inslee said of the penalty, “There are too many flaws in the system. And when the ultimate decision is death, there is too much at stake to accept an imperfect system.”

On a recent vote to end the death penalty in the The Pacific Northwest states the governor commented, “When I put a moratorium on the use of capital punishment in 2014, I hoped it would create space for a discussion about the unequal application of this law, the enormous costs of seeking this punishment and the uncertainty of closure for victims’ families. I hope Washington joins the growing number of states that are choosing to end the death penalty.”

From 1902 to 1963 Washington executed 105 prisoners. From 1993 to 2010 the state executed 5 prisoners. The present death row population is 8 prisoners.

Washington is the only state where hanging is used as a method of execution. (Prisoners have the option to choose hanging or lethal injection.)

A recent repeal effort was unsuccessful, but there is hope that Washington can join with other states that have banned the practice.

Let Governor Inslee know that you support his moratorium and would like to see an end to the death penalty in Washington state!

Email
https://www.governor.wa.gov/contact/contact/send-gov-inslee-e-message

Phone

360-902-4111

Write
Governor Jay Inslee
Office of the Governor
PO Box 40002
Olympia, WA 98504-0002

Tweet
@GovInslee

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Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania is a death penalty state with a current moratorium on executions.

From 1608 to 1976 the state executed 1040 prisoners. In the same time period only Virginia and New York State had more executions.

From 1976 to 1999 Pennsylvania executed 3 prisoners. All 3  were volunteers.

Today the death row population is 169 prisoners.

In 2015 Governor Tom Wolf announced a moratorium on the death penalty that will remain in effect until he reviews a long awaited report from the the Pennsylvania Task Force and Advisory Committee on Capital Punishment. Unlike states with similar task forces, he also wants time to address the findings of the report.

In his statement on the matter, Governor Wolf declared, “This moratorium is in no way an expression of sympathy for the guilty on death row, all of whom have been convicted of committing heinous crimes. This decision is based on a flawed system that has been proven to be an endless cycle of court proceedings as well as ineffective, unjust, and expensive.

“This unending cycle of death warrants and appeals diverts resources from the judicial system and forces the families and loved ones of victims to relive their tragedies each time a new round of warrants and appeals commences. The only certainty in the current system is that the process will be drawn out,expensive, and painful for all involved.”

Despite the moratorium, and the fact that many prisoners have languished on death row for decades Pennsylvania district attorneys continue to seek the penalty.

There has also been push back and challenges against the governor’s decision. In 2015 The Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld the governor’s right and constitutional authority to not sign off on putting prisoners to death.

The Department of Corrections continues to issue notices of execution. When these cases come up the governor grants a temporary reprieve.

Does this waiting game really serve the people of Pennsylvania? Can the recommendations of a well-meaning task force to anything to “fix” a broken system?

Consider sharing your thoughts with Governor Wolf.

Email

https://www.governor.pa.gov/contact/#OnlineForm

Mail

Office of the Governor
508 Main Capitol Building
Harrisburg, PA 17120

Phone

717-787-2500

Facebook

www.facebook.com/governorwolf/

Twitter

@GovernorTomWolf

Oregon

While there is a current governor moratorium on executions, Oregon continues to be a death penalty state.

From 1608 to 1976 there were 122 executions in Oregon. The last two executions in the state were in 1996 and 1997.

Until 1903 executions were public.

Oregon has abolished the death penalty twice in state history by popular vote, first in 1914, and again in 1964.

There are currently 34 prisoners on Oregon’s death row.

In November 2011 Governor John Kitzhaber announced a moratorium on executions. The moratorium has been continued by his successor Governor Kate Brown.

Governor Kitzhaber put the moratorium in place to stop the execution of a volunteer after overseeing the execution of two previous volunteers. (Gary Gilmore is the most famous example of a volunteer: a prisoner who waives or terminates the appeal process before all appeals are exhausted.)

Governor Kitzhaber has said of the death penalty, “In my mind, it is a perversion of justice. I refuse to be a part of this compromised and inequitable system any longer and I will not allow further executions while I am governor.” He also says of the penalty that it, “fails to meet basic standards of justice.”

On the executions he participated in Governor Kitzhaber said, “I do not believe those executions made us safer. Certainly I don’t believe they made us nobler as a society. And I simply cannot participate once again in something I believe to be morally wrong.”

Governor Brown, after taking office said, “There needs to be a broader discussion about fixing the system.”

Let Governor Brown know that the time for this conversation is now. Contact Governor Brown and ask her what she plans to do about the death penalty in Oregon.

Phone

(503) 378-4582

Email 

http://www.oregon.gov/gov/Pages/share-your-opinion.aspx

Write

Office of the Governor
900 Court Street NE, Suite 254
Salem, OR 97301-4047

Tweet


@OregonGovBrown

Facebook

www.facebook.com/oregongovernor/

 

Colorado

Colorado, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Washington. What do these four states have in common? All four are death penalty states, but in each state there is a governor moratorium on executions.

Colorado

As early as 1897 Colorado first abolished the death penalty. In 2009 a bill to abolish the death penalty failed by one vote.

According to the Death Penalty Information Centre, the 2009 bill including earmarking death penalty prosecution funding to instead go towards cold case murder investigation. The money could have been used toward solving over 1000 cases, and staffing an office to do so.

From 1859 to 1976 the state executed 101 prisoners. The last execution in Colorado was in 1997.

There are currently 3 prisoners on Colorado’s death row.

On May 22, 2013 Governor John Hickenlooper signed an Executive Order to give a temporary reprieve to one of the men on death row.

The Governor has said of death sentencing, “As Governor, I must either direct state employees to execute a human being, or I must exercise my constitutional authority to stop an execution. Both paths require an affirmative decision by me, and the prospect of either decision has been daunting. It has forced me to think of the issue in a personal way because it is on my conscience the decision will weigh. I am confident that most Coloradans – no matter what their views on the death penalty may be – will respect and understand the unique burden of this decision.”

In a press release Hickenlooper further clarified his position, and outlined the many considerations that led to his decision. “If the State of Colorado is going to undertake the responsibility of executing a human being, the system must operate flawlessly. Colorado’s system for capital punishment is not flawless. The inmates currently on death row have committed heinous crimes, but so have many others who are serving mandatory life sentences. … As one former Colorado judge said to us, ‘[The death penalty] is simply the result of happenstance, the district attorney’s choice, the jurisdiction in which the case is filed, perhaps the race or economic circumstance of the defendant.’”

It certainly must be a difficult decision to be the final word on whether or not a person lives or dies. While the governor’s stance is appreciated, Colorado still has a death row, and prisoners whose fates will be left up to a future governor.

Denver DA Beth McCann is a vocal opponent of the death penalty. She has promised to not to use the death penalty, and is a supporter of abolishing the practice. She has said, “I don’t think that the state should be in the business of killing people,” and that she would support repeal of the punishment.

Lucía Guzmán, the Minority Leader in the Colorado Senate, introduced a bill this February in a failed attempt to abolish the practice.

Get involved and show your support. Add your voice to the debate, and help end the death penalty in Colorado.

Resources for Colorado

ACLU Colorado

Coloradans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty Foundation

http://www.coadp.net/