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Capital Punishment in the United States Explained

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In our Explainer series, Fair Punishment Project lawyers help unpackage some of the most complicated issues in the criminal justice system. We break down the problems behind the headlines - like bail, civil asset forfeiture, or the Brady doctrine - so that everyone can understand them. Wherever possible, we try to utilize the stories of those affected by the criminal justice system to show how these laws and principles should work, and how they often fail. We will update our Explainers monthly to keep them current. Read our updated explainer here.
To beat the clock on the expiration of its lethal injection drug supply, this past April, Arkansas tried to execute 8 men over 1 days. The stories told in frantic legal filings and clemency petitions revealed a deeply disturbing picture. Ledell Lee may have had an intellectual disability that rendered him constitutionally ineligible for the death penalty, but he had a spate of bad lawyers who failed to timely present evidence of this claim -…

Ohio Supreme Court's death penalty reversal makes sense

The Ohio Supreme Court
The Ohio Supreme Court
The Ohio Supreme Court on Tuesday overturned the death sentence of Rayshawn Johnson in a 4-3 ruling that found a murderer's troubled upbringing, among other mitigating factors, should carry more weight at sentencing than a lower court had held.

Ohio Supreme Court cites dysfunctional childhood in reversing death sentence

The court found factors in Rayshawn Johnson's childhood and upbringing were so bad that when viewed together they were strong enough to warrant setting aside the death sentence. He was "doomed from the start due to his upbringing," Justice Paul Pfeifer wrote.

Johnson, who beat his Cincinnati neighbor to death with a baseball bat in 1997, had been on death row for 14 years.

In a 2nd mitigation hearing ordered for Johnson (the 1st also resulted in a death sentence), Johnson's mother acknowledged putting her son in a closet as a baby and sometimes spiking his bottles and applesauce with alcohol, prescription drugs and heroin.

Siding with the majority in reversing Johnson's death sentence was Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor, who in 2006, in the case of Troy Tenace, had opposed the court's then-precedent-setting ruling that a dysfunctional childhood could outweigh death-penalty aggravating circumstances.

In the Tenace case, O'Connor, who was not yet chief justice, noted that the court had reversed death sentences twice previously -- one based on the mental illness of the defendant and the other on provocation by the victims.

In the Johnson case, O'Connor did not file a separate opinion, so it's not clear what lay behind her apparent change of heart.

Still, it's reasonable to think that the views of the court are evolving when it comes to the death penalty. That's a good thing.

As this page has said before, the death penalty is immoral, unfair and a drain on the taxpayer. It should be abolished.

Source: cleveland.com, Editorial, December 4, 2015

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