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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 -…

Nebraska: 25-Year Criminal Prosecutor says Beatrice Six Case Caused him to Oppose Death Penalty

“It is never acceptable to risk killing innocent persons for the sake of being tough on crime.”

LINCOLN, NE – A 25-year, tough-on-crime, criminal prosecutor who supervised the 2008 DNA testing that freed the Beatrice Six, says Nebraska’s death penalty should be replaced with life in prison without the chance of parole.

Previously a staunch supporter of the death penalty, former Gage County Attorney Randall Ritnour said overseeing the largest false confession case in U.S. history, caused him to change his mind on the death penalty.

“It was an astonishing discovery that led to my decision to oppose the death penalty,” Ritnour said.

A federal court jury on Wednesday awarded a $28 million verdict for a reckless investigation that sent the wrong people to prison for the 1985 rape and homicide of 68-year-old Helen Wilson. James Dean, Kathleen Gonzalez, Debra Shelden, Ada JoAnn Taylor, Thomas Winslow and Joseph White served a combined 77 years in prison. They were the first people in the state cleared by DNA evidence.

“I was an aggressive, no-nonsense prosecutor. My experience with the Beatrice Six case has convinced me beyond all doubt that it is possible to come to the wrong conclusion in a criminal investigation and that it is possible to convict innocent persons of a capital crime,” he said.

“Had it not been for the fact that some of the Beatrice Six had made plea agreements and received lesser sentences, it is likely that some or all of them would have been sentenced to death and perhaps executed before the truth was discovered. The prosecution, in fact, suggested that a death sentence was appropriate and desired,” he said.

“As a proud citizen of this state, it is never acceptable to risk killing innocent persons for the sake of being tough on crime. It is simply not who we are nor who we should wish to be.”

Source: Retain a Just Nebraska, July 8, 2016

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