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Spring 2004 Newsletter


Minnesota Senate votes against the death penalty
On March 24, 2004, the Senate Crime Prevention and Policy Committee held a hearing on SF 1860, a bill to reinstate the death penalty via a referendum to amend the constitution. Senator Reiter(R) of Shoreview introduced the bill and presented several witnesses, including families and friends of murder victims and the police chief of Pequot Lakes, to testify for the death penalty. Minnesota Advocates, in coordination with Minnesotans Against the Death Penalty and Minnesota Catholic Conference, presented 14 witnesses to testify against the death penalty. These included religious leaders, families of murder victims and of an executed person, Maryland exoneree Kirk Bloodsworth, and lawyers, including public defenders, a prosecutor, NCADP executive director Brian Roberts, and Sandra Babcock. Both sides presented for one hour each. The Senate voted 8-2 against the bill, with Senators Reiter and Kleiss voting for the bill.

Lunchtime Speaker Series
Dorsey & Whitney has agreed to host the Death Penalty Project lunchtime speaker series for 2004. On March 18th, Rep. Keith Ellison presented on the death penalty legislation in Minnesota. Approximately 65 people, including ten high school students, attended the program. One CLE credit granted.  

The Exonerated
The Innocence Project of Minnesota and Minnesota Advocates sold nearly 350 tickets to The Exonerated, a play profiling the lives of six death row inmates who were later found exonerated and freed. Talkbacks were scheduled for several performances:

  • April 7: Erik Jensen and Jessica Blank, playwrights
  • April 8: Sandra Babcock, Chuck Lloyd, Steve Pincus, attorneys and Bobby McLaughlin (exoneree)
  • April 9: Howard Bass, attorney and David Hanners, journalist 
  • April 10 matinee: Bill Ward, Chief Public Defender, 10th Judicial District 
  • April 10 evening: John Bessler, attorney and Caroline Palmer, attorney

Two standard CLE credits granted.


Rodriguez case could be tried in federal court
The case against Rodriguez is likely to end up in federal court in either North Dakota or Minnesota. If so, federal prosecutors could seek the death penalty for kidnapping resulting in the death of Dru Sjodin. More information available from Star Tribune coverage. 


Supreme Court to review juvenile executions
The Supreme Court has accepted certiorari on Roper v. Simmons, a case which will determine whether it is unconstitutional to execute juveniles. Christopher Simmons was 17 when he was arrested for the murder of Shirley Crook. More information on Simmons' case is available on the Death Penalty Information Center website.

States beginning to abolish juvenile executions South Dakota and Wyoming have abolished juvenile executions. New Hampshire is reviewing a similar bill. More information is available on the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty website.

Mentally ill Texas death row inmate receives a stay of execution
Scott Panetti received a 60-day stay of execution to allow the state judge to determine whether Panetti is too mentally ill to be executed. Panetti’s case has been highlighted in the debate on executing the mentally ill. More information is available on the International Justice Project website. 

113th person exonerated from death row
On February 18, 2004, Alan Gell, who spent four years on death row for the murder of Allan Ray Jenkins, was exonerated on Feb 18, 2004. More information is available at the Death Penalty Information Center website.

Washington sniper receives death sentence
John Allen Muhammad was sentenced to death for masterminding the sniper shootings in October 2002. His accomplice, Lee Malvo, who was 17 at the time of the shootings, received life in prison for his participation in the shootings. U.S. House seeks to prohibit the Supreme Court from using foreign and international law The relevant portion of H.Res.446 states, “It is the sense of the House of Representatives that, pursuant to article VI of the Constitution, the Supreme Court should base its decisions on the Constitution and the Laws of the United States, and not on the law of any foreign country or any international law or agreement not made under the authority of the United States.” The bill, if passed, would be non-binding. More information is available at MSNBC.

Supreme Court to clarify judge-only sentencing
The Supreme Court is to clarify the retroactivity of the jury sentencing decision in Ring v. Arizona in Schriro v. Summerlin. One hundred eleven death sentences in four states could be affected by the decision, which is expected in July. More information available at the Washington Post.


International Court of Justice finds for Mexicans on death row
The International Court of Justice has ruled that the U.S. violated the rights of fifty-one Mexicans on death row by not informing them of their consular rights under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. More information is available at BBC News.

China, Iran, U.S. and Vietnam conducted most executions in 2003 (Cited from UN Wire, 7 April 2004, Copyright, National Journal Group, 2004)
China was responsible for nearly two-thirds of the world's known executions last year, which totaled at least 1,146 people worldwide, Amnesty International says in a new report released yesterday at a meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva.

According to the report, the number of executions was down from 1,526 in 2002 and 3,048 in 2001 (Justin Huggler, London Independent, April 7).

China carried out more than 726 known executions, followed by 108 in Iran, 65 in the United States and 64 in Vietnam.  These four countries accounted for 84 percent of all executions around the word (Nikki Tait, Financial Times, April 7).

The report warns, however, that true figures on the number of people executed last year could be much higher, especially in China, where "limited and incomplete records" were available.

"The intense secrecy that surrounds use of the death penalty in many countries makes this depressing log of last year's executions an underestimate of the true extent of the use of this outdated punishment early in the 21st century," said Lesley Warner of Amnesty International.

"In China alone we fear that many thousands of people ... are being executed in secret each year, the majority after shockingly unfair trials," Warner added (Huggler, London Independent).

China executes people convicted for crimes ranging from murder to offenses such as taking bribes and evading taxes.  Methods of execution include gunshot and lethal injection (Joe McDonald, Associated Press/Yahoo! News, April 7).

Last year, the U.N. Human Rights Commission urged all countries that use execution to punish convicts to agree to a moratorium on the killings (Huggler, London Independent).  Twenty-eight countries were mentioned in Amnesty's report as having carried out executions (Tait, Financial Times).

Last month, Amnesty International demanded a halt to executions in China, saying the country's poorly managed judicial system meant that many innocent people were being killed.

"In spite of positive developments in criminal procedure law, in practice the Chinese criminal justice system is in no condition to offer free trials, impartiality or justice," said the group in the report Executed "According to Law"?  The Death Penalty in China.  "It is unacceptable that thousands more people will be executed this year by a dysfunctional criminal justice system," it said (U.N. Wire, March 23).