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California: With state executions on hold, death penalty foes rethink ballot strategy

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California advocates of abolishing the death penalty got a jolt of momentum in March, when Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that he would not allow any executions to take place while he was in office.
But after trying twice this decade to persuade voters to end capital punishment, they have no plans to go to the ballot again in 2020. Rather than seeking to build on Newsom’s temporary reprieve for Death Row inmates, activists are taking their own pause.
Grappling with the legacy of their two failed initiatives, advocates are reassessing their strategy and retooling their message. Natasha Minsker, a political consultant who has long been involved with abolition efforts, said the governor’s moratorium has given advocates the opportunity to do long-term planning.
“There’s this excitement and energy in our movement that we haven’t had in a long time,” Minsker said.
Newsom’s executive order caught many Californians by surprise. Although he supported the unsuccessful ballot measures to abolish t…

Texas: Forensic Team Reviews Death Penalty Case

A state forensics panel on Friday assigned 4 of its members to review the arson case that resulted in the execution of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was convicted of killing his 3 children.

In a report prepared last year for the Texas Forensic Science Commission, fire expert Craig Beyler found fault in the investigation that led to Willingham's conviction. But in September, 2 days before the commission was to discuss the report and question Beyler, Gov. Rick Perry replaced 3 of its members, including its chairman.

The new chairman, John Bradley, the Williamson County district attorney, canceled that meeting.

Without Beyler's finding, prosecutors have admitted it would have been hard to win a death sentence against Willingham.

The investigative panel was confirmed Friday at a commission meeting in Irving. It will include Bradley, Fort Worth defense attorney Lance Evans, Tarrant County Medical Examiner Nizam Peerwani and Sarah Kerrigan, a forensic toxicologist and director of a crime lab at Sam Houston State University.

Like Bradley, Evans and Peerwani were appointed to the commission late last year. Kerrigan has been on the commission since 2007.

During Friday's meeting, Bradley initially said Kerrigan would not be serving on the investigative panel because of personal issues and appointed Evans to replace her. However, at Evans' suggestion, the panel was expanded to 4 members and Kerrigan agreed to stay on.

"Obviously, everybody is aware of the public perception regarding this investigation," Evans said, explaining why he believed a 4-person panel would be best.

Willingham, an unemployed mechanic from Corsicana, was executed in 2004 after being convicted of capital murder for setting a 1991 house fire that killed his 3 daughters.

Beyler said in his report that the investigation of the fire was so seriously flawed that its conclusion of arson can't be supported. The report said the fire investigation didn't adhere to the standards of care in place at the time, or to current standards.

Source: Associated Press, April 24, 2010

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