Anthony Ray Hinton Spent Almost 30 Years on Death Row. Now He Has a Message for White America.

Anthony Ray Hinton was mowing the lawn at his mother's house in 1985 when Alabama police came to arrest him for 2 murders he did not commit. One took place when he was working the night shift at a Birmingham warehouse. Yet the state won a death sentence, based on 2 bullets it falsely claimed matched a gun found at his mother's home. In his powerful new memoir, "The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row," Hinton describes how racism and a system stacked against the poor were the driving forces behind his conviction. He also writes about the unique and unexpected bonds that can form on death row, and in particular about his relationship with Henry Hays, a former Klansman sentenced to death for a notorious lynching in 1981. Hays died in the electric chair in 1997 - 1 of 54 people executed in Alabama while Hinton was on death row.
After almost 30 years, Hinton was finally exonerated in 2015, thanks to the Equal Justice Initiative, or EJI. On April 27…

New study of Utah's use of the death penalty suggests life without parole costs less, prompts another call to abolish capital punishment

Chair used for firing squad executions in Utah
A group of Utah attorneys, advocates and state staff have spent the last year studying the state's death penalty. The working group, created by Utah's Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice, examined several areas, including costs, aggravating factors and public attitude.

The CCJJ report, released Friday, noted there were "fundamental difficulties inherent in analyzing death penalty policy." The group did not make any recommendations or proposed changes to Utah's current capital punishment system.

But a group called Utah Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty said the report shows that a significant amount of money has been spent seeking death sentences without much in return. 

They called on lawmakers to abolish capital punishment in Utah.

"This report should give pause to anyone who thought that because capital punishment is so rarely used in Utah that the cost of maintaining a death penalty would be negligible," director Kevin Greene said in a statement. "... The millions of dollars that we have been wasting on the death penalty should either be returned to the taxpayers in the form of a tax cut or used for crime prevention or to help victims of crime."

Here's what the study found:


Cost estimates for the price of the death penalty in Utah are limited, the group noted. Legislative analysts in 2012 estimated that a death sentence and decades of appeals costs $1.6 million more than a life-without-parole sentence.

Another more recent report estimated that Utah and its counties have spent almost $40 million to prosecute the 165 death-penalty eligible cases that have been filed in the last 2 decades. Only 2 cases in that time have resulted in a death sentence.

The CCJJ group also looked at studies in 15 other states - where costs ranged from a $136,000 estimate in Arizona in 2001 to a $1.5 million estimate in Nebraska in 2017 - and noted that Utah's estimates are "consistent with national findings." All of those estimates, the CCJJ report says, concluded that a life-without-parole sentence costs less than a death sentence.

Legislators are currently considering a bill requesting that legislative auditors conduct a more in-depth study of death penalty costs in Utah to determine whether it's cheaper to instead give a prisoner a life sentence.

Aggravating factors

Utah currently has over 60 aggravating factors in the homicide law that allow prosecutors to seek the death penalty - and state lawmakers are contemplating adding even more. At a recent legislative hearing, some expressed concern that Utah may have too many crimes that qualify for the death penalty, and that an appeals court could torpedo the capital punishment law for being too broad.

In the CCJJ report, the group noted that they could not come to an agreement about whether the number of aggravating factors should be limited. They noted that most states rarely remove aggravating factors - and instead have been adding more through the years.

The public's attitude

The working group looked at several polls about Utahns' attitude toward the death penalty, noting that there have been conflicting results. 2 polls showed Utahns support the death penalty, while two others showed less support for execution in favor of life-without-parole sentences. The group concluded it was "probably reasonable to suggest simply that public support for the death penalty in Utah is declining over previous highs."

Utah legislators came close to outlawing the death penalty in 2016 - but the bill never reached the House floor before the midnight deadline on the last night of session.

Criminal justice reforms groups have said another push to end capital punishment in Utah is likely during this legislative session - though a bill to abolish it has not yet been public.

Since 2010, Utah prosecutors have filed 119 aggravated murder cases, according to Utah court data. Such cases can result in punishments of 25 years to life, life in prison without the possibility of parole, or death.

Only 1 of those cases - a retrial of a 1993 case - resulted in a death sentence.

Of the 9 men currently on Utah's death row, 2 were originally convicted as long ago as 1985. All but 1 of the rest were convicted before 1999, although 1 case was retried in 2015 and resulted in a 2nd capital murder conviction. All 9 have ongoing appeals underway in state or federal court.

The last execution was carried out in 2010, when Ronnie Lee Gardner was executed by firing squad for the 1984 murder of Michael Burdell, a Salt Lake City lawyer, during Gardner's failed escape attempt from the 3rd District courthouse.

Source: Salt Lake Tribune, February 9, 2018

Support for the death penalty waning in Utah, study says

US dollars
A new study about the costs and public opinions concerning the death penalty in Utah suggests support for capital punishment may be waning in the state.

But perhaps more than anything, the study released Friday by the state's Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice highlights the complexities of trying to evaluate the expense and impact of the death penalty.

From June 2016 to July 2017, the 13-person working group considered the costs and public opinions associated with the death penalty, as well as the aggravating factors that push a crime to a capital level, victims' rights and practices in other states.

In most of the areas it focused on, the working group came up inconclusive.

While Utahns have traditionally viewed the death penalty favorably, the study notes, 5 polls about the issue over the past 3 years yielded somewhat inconsistent results.

Three polls by Dan Jones & Associates, an in-state pollster, showed half to two-thirds of Utahns surveyed favor the death penalty, the study states. However, 2 polls by Public Policy Polling, an out-of-state company, showed less support for the death penalty, with more than 1/2 of respondents supporting replacing it.

Based on those findings, the working group concluded, "It is probably reasonable to suggest simply that public support for the death penalty in Utah is declining over previous highs, based on national data and consistently lower support from younger respondents in the Utah polls."

Regarding the costs of death penalty cases in Utah, the study pointed to 2 previous evaluations. The Utah Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers found last year that over 20 years, the state spent nearly $40 million prosecuting 165 death-penalty eligible cases, 2 of which ended in executions.

That translates to an extra $237,900 spent on each case as compared to a murder case, the study states.

A 2012 evaluation by the Office of the Legislative Fiscal Analyst estimated that from trial to execution, a death penalty case in Utah costs nearly $1.7 million more than a case ending instead in life in prison without parole, the commission's study notes.

The findings prompted Utah Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty to call Friday for lawmakers to take a closer look at the costs of capital punishment in the state.

"This report should give pause to anyone who thought that because capital punishment is so rarely used in Utah that the cost of maintaining a death penalty would be negligible," said Kevin Greene, the organization's state director. "We have been spending tons of money without much in return and we hope lawmakers will closely examine the report and agree that the death penalty is anything but fiscally conservative."

The Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice study did not reach any conclusions regarding limiting or expanding aggravating factors that would make a case eligible for the death penalty. It also did not make any findings about the impacts on the rights of victims in capital cases, and noted without further conclusion that states across the nation are moving away from the death penalty.

Source: Deseret News, February 10, 2018

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"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed,
but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." -- Oscar Wilde

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