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Did Texas execute an innocent man? Film revisits a haunting question.

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Texans will have an opportunity to revisit a question that should haunt anyone who believes in the integrity of our criminal justice system: Did our state execute an innocent man? 
The new film “Trial by Fire” tells the true story of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was sentenced to death for setting a fire to his home in Corsicana that killed his three young daughters in 1991. The film is based on an investigative story by David Grann that appeared in the New Yorker in 2009, five years after Willingham was executed over his vociferous protestations of innocence.
In my experience of serving 8 years on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and 4 years as a state district judge in Travis County, the Willingham case stands out to me for many of the same reasons it stood out to filmmaker Edward Zwick, who calls it a veritable catalogue of everything that’s wrong with the criminal justice system and, especially, the death penalty. False testimony, junk science, a jailhouse informant, and ineffe…

California: Abandoning a long-held position, Dianne Feinstein says she now opposes the death penalty

California's death chamber
Sen. Dianne Feinstein says she now opposes the death penalty, a surprising reversal from her long-standing support for capital punishment - a stance that helped catapault her to the U.S. Senate 25 years ago.

"Several years ago I changed my view of the death penalty. It became crystal clear to me that the risk of unequal application is high and its effect on deterrence is low," she said in a statement to The Times.

The shift is the latest example of Feinstein - who built her career as a moderate Democrat - embracing more liberal positions as she faces reelection in November in a state that has become increasingly progressive.

She also recently softened her position on federal enforcement actions against recreational use of marijuana.

Her staff said the change of heart on capital punishment went largely unnoticed because Feinstein was rarely asked about it. They could not pinpoint exactly when the shift occurred.

Numerous media reports, including some in the last year, have continued to mention Feinstein's support for the death penalty. Her office acknowledged that it never sought to correct the record.

When constituents specifically asked her office for her position on the death penalty, they received a letter detailing the new stance, a spokesman said.

"It has now become clear to me that the death penalty is being applied inconsistently," the letter states. "There is more and more evidence that innocent people have been put to death and that the death penalty is applied arbitrarily or discriminatorily on the basis of race, gender, and geography."

Feinstein is adjusting her centrist formula as California drifts further to the left

In many ways, her support for the death penalty was pivotal to Feinstein's initial bid for higher office. When Feinstein ran for governor in 1990 - a time of higher crime and more Republican voters in California - she used her support of capital punishment to draw a distinction between herself and the Democratic Party base, which at that time was more left-leaning than the overall state population.

"Yes, I support the death penalty. It is an issue that cannot be fudged or hedged," Feinstein said in her address to delegates. It prompted a wave of boos and cost her the party endorsement.

She used footage of the speech in campaign ads to showcase her moderate views and appeal to liberal Republicans. And it became a key part of her stump speech.

In 1996, Feinstein was the only Democrat to co-sponsor the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, which among other things limited how many times a death-penalty sentence can be appealed. It passed by a 91-8 vote.

In 2004, Feinstein put then-San Francisco Dist. Atty. Kamala Harris on the spot by calling for the death penalty for the killer of San Francisco Police Officer Isaac Espinoza during a speech at his funeral, which both women attended.

Harris, an opponent of capital punishment who is now Feinstein's colleague in the Senate, had declined to seek the death penalty. Feinstein described the killing as "the special circumstance called for by the death penalty law" and said at the time that she wouldn't have endorsed Harris if she'd known Harris opposed the death penalty.

In 2013, Feinstein said the prosecution of a man accused of the Boston Marathon bombing "should likely be a death penalty case under federal law."

A 2016 UC Berkeley Field Poll found that backing for the death penalty among California voters remained essentially static at 45% support since 2009. The share of voters undecided on the issue dropped, with 55% of voters saying they prefer life without parole as a punishment.

Source: Los Angeles Times, Sarah D. Wire, May 23, 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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