Lock ’Em Up? Prosecutors Who Say ‘Not So Fast’ Face a Backlash

In Tampa, the top prosecutor says too many children are charged as adults. In Houston, the district attorney will no longer press charges in low-level marijuana cases. And in Chicago, prosecutors will no longer oppose the release of many nonviolent offenders who cannot afford to post bond. Two more newly elected prosecutors, in Denver and Orlando, have vowed not to seek the death penalty, even for the most egregious killers. They are part of a new vanguard that has jettisoned the … [Read more...]

Dylann Roof Sentenced to Death

Dylann Roof was sentenced to death for murdering nine people participating in a Bible study to which he had been welcomed. In a hail of bullets and horror he killed Cynthia Marie Graham, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lee Lance, Depayne Middleton, Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel Simmons, Sharonda Coleman and Myra Thompson. Roof is a radicalized white supremacist, espousing an ideology and acting violently upon his beliefs. Nothing in the time between the commission of the crime and the trial … [Read more...]

Can Jerry Stop Death Penalty?

Although he has served as governor longer than anyone else in California history, Jerry Brown has never been forced to make one of the weightiest decisions governors face: whether to spare a convicted criminal from execution. California has executed more than 500 people, but the death penalty has been on hold pending legal challenges during both of Brown’s two-term stints as governor. It’s been a politically convenient coincidence for the Democrat who rose to prominence as an outspoken … [Read more...]

ACLU Fights California’s New Death-Penalty Law

Following Californians’ Election Day approval of a proposition to keep the death penalty and speed executions, the ACLU sued the state, claiming Proposition 66 gives unelected officials “unbridled discretion” over executions. The ACLU of Northern California and two death-row inmates, Mitchell Sims and Michael Morales, claim California’s death-penalty law violates the state constitution’s separation of powers clause by allowing the defendant Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation instead … [Read more...]

Prop 62: Challenge Already Filed to Measure That Would Speed Executions

Although California voters soundly rejected abolishing the death penalty and appear to have approved a measure to speed up executions, don’t expect anything to change soon — if at all. Proposition 66, which was ahead Wednesday by a razor-thin margin with dozens of counties still counting ballots, would face major hurdles before it could deliver on its promise of expediting a death penalty appeals process that often drags on for decades. More than 700 people are on death row in California, and … [Read more...]

Requiem For California’s Death Penalty

n 1989, I was a young lefty lawyer looking for a public interest law job.  I could have gravitated towards any number of areas but I somehow landed at a non-profit agency that was ground zero for challenging death sentences in California.  Little did I realize that it would become my life's work for the next quarter of a century. It was exciting and energizing, and what made the work especially compelling was that every case touched on virtually every important social justice issue -- … [Read more...]

Why Are Prison Guards Backing the Death Penalty?

If the 17 propositions on this year’s California ballot, few are as divisive as the issue of capital punishment. There are actually two separate initiatives targeting the death penalty: Proposition 62, which would abolish the death penalty and replace it with prison without the possibility of parole; and Proposition 66, which would speed up the process to send condemned murderers to the death chamber. According to campaign finance disclosures compiled by the California Fair Political … [Read more...]

Did California Execute an Innocent Man?

California has executed 13 men since reviving the death penalty. Was one of them innocent? In the nearly 40 years since California revived the death penalty, executioners at San Quentin have put 13 convicted murderers to death. But were they all truly the “worst of the worst” of the state’s killers? Were they all even killers? There’s a strong argument to be made that at least one of the executed inmates, Thomas Thompson of Laguna Beach, may, in fact, not have been guilty of murder. At the very … [Read more...]

Mike Farrell Fights to End Death Penalty

How 'MASH' actor Mike Farrell became a leading voice against the death penalty in California The day in 1979 that Tennessee Rev. Joe Ingle landed in Los Angeles and made his way to the set of the popular television series “MASH,” he wasn’t starstruck. He was angry. As he drove his rental car through the Santa Monica Mountains to the sprawling 20th Century Fox Ranch near Malibu Canyon, Ingle thought of  John Spenkelink, a death row inmate. After years of talks with politicians, countless … [Read more...]

Where the Death Penalty Still Lives

On a Saturday evening in July 2013, just before 6:30, James Rhodes was recorded on a surveillance camera walking into a Metro PCS cellphone store in Jacksonville, Fla. He was wearing a black do-rag and a blue bandanna, which he pulled over his nose and mouth. Shelby Farah, the store manager, stood behind the counter. Rhodes pointed a gun at her and demanded the money in the cash register. Shelby gave it to him. Then Rhodes shot her in the head. She was 20 years old. He was 21. Shelby, the … [Read more...]