Archive | capital punishment

30 March 2010 ~ Comments Off on International Coverage of Death Penalty Decline Rates in Texas

International Coverage of Death Penalty Decline Rates in Texas

With the Supreme Court stay of Hank Skinner’s execution on March 24, 2010 much attention has been drawn to the capital punishment system in Texas and recent trends which may suggest a slow death of the institution. An article by BBC News “Is the death penalty on death row?” (March 30, 2010) cites the steady decline in new death sentences handed down in Texas courts as reason to believe that the death penalty in Texas has fundamentally moved to a less “death” oriented system.

The article draws attention to the recent trends in new death sentences, nine new death row sentences in 2009 compared to forty-eight new sentences in the late 1990s. Cost, the 2005 law providing capital punishment cases with the option of life in prison without parole, and changing demographics in the state that lean toward a more anti-death penalty stance are all cited in the article as major contributory factors to a criminal justice system that is arguably making strides toward abolition. As the article states, “In this less homogenous environment, the old certainties are being more widely questioned.”
To view the entire BBC News article click here.

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12 March 2010 ~ Comments Off on Travis County Sentences Man to Death

Travis County Sentences Man to Death

On Wednesday, March 10, 2010, Milton Dwayne Gobert was sentenced to death in the 2003 killing of Mel Kernena Cotton in North Austin.

Gobert is the first new death sentence to be handed down from Texas juries this year. Although it is unique for a capital punishment sentence to come from Travis County, Gobert will be joining seven other offenders who have been sentenced to death in Travis County. However, this having been the first new death sentence of the year is consistent with national and statewide trends which show a decline in the number of new death sentences. Last year in Texas, nine individuals were condemned to death, the lowest number of new death sentences since 1976.

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05 March 2010 ~ Comments Off on "Odds of A Killer Getting Death"

"Odds of A Killer Getting Death"

The Houston Chronicle (March 4, 2010) followed up on a report issued earlier this week by the American Constitution Society regarding factors increasing the chance of a death sentence. The report was conducted by Scott Phillips, a University of Denver sociology and criminology professor, who studied the 504 capital murder indictments in Harris County between 1992-1999.
According to the article, “the death penalty is more likely to be imposed on convicted murders who kill whites or Hispanics who have college degrees, are married, and have no criminal record, or when defended by count appointed counsel”.
The author of the report said that research suggests legally irrelevant factors tend to influence death penalty cases, “such as whether the victim is low-status or high-status. People who kill someone who’s ‘important’ and more likely to get the death penalty.” Additionally, of the 129 defendants sentenced to death in the years of the study, “38 of the 41 inmates executed so far had appointed counsel” while “defendants who hired their own lawyers and who represented them for the entire case were 20 times more likely to be acquitted.”
While the current District Attorney, Pat Lykos, declined to comment on the report’s conclusions, she stated “under her leadership, a victim’s race or ethnicity or education level would play no part in determining whether to seek the death penalty against an accused killer.”

TCADP wrote about Phillip’s report early in the week. To view this article, with a link to the report published with the American Constitution Society visit here.

To view the Houston Chronicle article visit here.

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02 March 2010 ~ Comments Off on Investigation of Effect of Hired Counsel on Capital Murder Indictments in Harris County

Investigation of Effect of Hired Counsel on Capital Murder Indictments in Harris County

Professor Scott Phillips published a brief with the American Constitution Society on February 23, 2010 regarding the effects of hired counsel versus court-appointed attorney’s in capital murder cases in Harris County. The report investigated the 504 adults indicted with capital murder in the country between 1992-1999. The brief compared the outcome of cases where the defendant hired counsel with cases where the defendant had court-appointed counsel and found that “hiring counsel for the entire case not only eliminated the chance of death, but also dramatically increased the chance of an acquittal;” while “hiring counsel for a portion of the case substantially reduces the chance of death.”

Harris County, which until recently was known as the capital of capital punishment, currently provides court-appointed attorneys to defendant’s unable to hire counsel of their own. Harris County officials who now suggest a hybrid system of court appointed counsel along with a public defender to oversee the defense of indicted persons is a step in the right direction according to Professor Phillips. However, Phillips argues that the public defender must be funded at a level proportional to the district attorney’s office.
To read Professor Phillips brief in its entirety, it is available through the American Constitution Society.

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