Category: death penalty

New Poll shows overwhelming support for the death penalty

By Alan Bean

A new Angus-Reid poll suggests that 83% of Americans support the death penalty while only 13% oppose it. 

This distressing news illustrates how much we have changed as a nation.  In 1966, 47% opposed capital punishment while only 42% supported it.

You may be surprised to learn that support for the ultimate penalty is strongest in the “liberal” Northeast (85%) and the Midwest (86%) and weakest in the South (79%).  Incarceration rates and the actual use of the death penalty would suggest that the South is the most punitive region.  Since the reinstitution of capital punishment in 1976, there have been 464 executions in the state of Texas and virtually none in New England.  Incarceration rates in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi are at least three times as high as in the Northeast.

So why did the Angus-Reid people find that southerners are less inclined to favor the death penalty than northeasterners?  (more…)

Post-election rant exposes white liberal naivete

By Alan Bean

Tim Wise is taking heat for an anti-Tea Party, post-election screed that has been popping up on a host of Lefty websites. 

The basic idea is that, last Tuesday notwithstanding,  American conservatism has one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel.  Here’s the gist:

I know, you think you’ve taken “your country back” with this election — and of course you have always thought it was yours for the taking, cuz that’s what we white folks are bred to believe, that it’s ours, and how dare anyone else say otherwise — but you are wrong. (more…)

Anthony Graves freed after eighteen years in prison

Anthony Graves

By Alan Bean

Anthony Graves is back in the free world after eighteen years of hell. 

Charles Sebesta, the prosecutor who sent Graves to death row, still thinks he nailed the right man.  If you asked the Texas Rangers who conducted the “investigation” they would probably agree with Sebesta.
According to the state’s theory of the crime, Graves teamed up with Robert Earl Carter to brutally murder Bobbie Davis, 45; her 16-year-old daughter, Nicole; and four of Davis’ grandchildren in August of 1992.  The victims died from hammer blows, repeated stabbings, and bullet wounds.   Their house was then torched in a clumsy attempt to conceal evidence.  It was the most brutal crime in the history of Burleson County. (more…)

Brian McLaren’s “New Kind of Christianity”


Brian McLaren

By Alan Bean

Brian McLaren knows how it feels to grow up “born again”.  Raised within the legalistic and apocalyptic tenets of the Plymouth Brethren, McLaren grew up worshipping an omnipotent Christ who would soon return to wreak vengeance on the enemies of God.  Gradually, over a period of decades, McLaren’s theology fell apart.  Then, just as gradually, it was replaced by what he calls “a new kind of Christianity.”  In fact, that’s the title of his latest book. (more…)

Journey Back to Parchman, Hank Thomas

Hank Thomas in 1961

Fifty years ago, Hank Thomas entered Parchman prison as a Freedom Rider.  I highlighted this distressing chapter of the Mississippi civil rights struggle in a post designed to establish historical context for the Curtis Flowers case.  Recently, I shared a personal encounter with Parchman when I unsuccessfully attempted to visit Curtis Flowers.  Last week, Hank Thomas was greeted with smiles and handshakes; in 1961 he was welcomed to Parchman by sneering guards.  

Reilly Morse, a senior attorney and a founding staff member in the Biloxi office of the Mississippi Center for Justice, has shared his reflections on Hank Thomas’s return to the notorious plantation prison.  Hank’s personal account is pasted below.  Both articles appear in the most recent edition of Facing South, a publication of the Institute for Southern Studies. (more…)

“Death by Fire”: Frontline tackles the Willingham Case

Cameron Todd Willingham and Governor Rick Perry

The PBS program Frontline will be airing a program on the Cameron Todd Willingham story, “Death by Fire“, beginning October 19.  Click on the link to watch a 30 second promo.  I have pasted the text version of the teaser below.

Did Texas execute an innocent man?

Several controversial death penalty cases are currently under examination in Texas and in other states, but it’s the 2004 execution of Cameron Todd Willingham — convicted for the arson deaths of his three young children — that’s now at the center of the national debate.

In Death by Fire, FRONTLINE’s season premiere, airing Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2010, at 9 P.M. ET on PBS (check local listings), FRONTLINE gains unique access to those closest to the Willingham case — meticulously examining the evidence used to convict Willingham, offering an in-depth portrait of those most impacted by the case, and exploring the explosive implications of the execution of a possibly innocent man. (more…)

Willingham review is put on hold

Cameron Todd Willingham with one of his daughters

A three-judge pane representing the 3rd Court of Appeals in Austin has ordered Judge Charlie Baird to put an immediate stop to a hearing into the case of Cameron Todd Willingham. 

Here’s the good news: Judge Baird’s hearing concluded just before the order arrived.

Now the bad news: Judge Baird will not be able to hand down a formal ruling until the stay is lifted. (more…)

Supreme Court agrees to hear Skinner case

Hank Skinner

As this excellent article from the Texas Tribune makes clear, the Hank Skinner case is a head-on collision between two interest groups: inmates looking to have DNA evidence tested, and overworked state officials who fear they will be buried in frivolous requests for DNA testing.

As this summary shows, the state’s case against Hank Skinner looks pretty damning: (more…)

Texas Judge gets off on a technicality

This story probably won’t get the attention it deserves.  It’s too complicated.  Here’s the simple version:
Michael Wayne Richard was executed by lethal injection on Sept. 27, 2007.  Earlier that day, the federal Supreme Court agreed to hear a case involving the claim that Kentucky’s three-drug lethal injection protocol constituted cruel and unusual punishment.  Since Texas uses a similar method of execution, Michael Richard’s attorneys wanted to file a federal writ asking that their client’s execution be stayed until the Kentucky case was decided.  A stay would have allowed Richard’s attorneys  to make an “Atkins claim” or mental retardation defense.  Unfortunately, they couldn’t file at the federal level until all state remedies had been exhausted.  They had two complicated writs to write and only a few hours to get the work done.  That’s where Texas Judge Sharon Keller enters the picture. (more…)

Montana Governor says he is conflicted about the death penalty

Montana Governor, Brian Schweitzer

Montana’s Governor must decide whether Ronald Smith will live or die.

Smith is from Red Deer, Alberta, a midsize city located midway between Calgary and Edmonton.  He was drunk and high at the time of the murders and, the evidence would suggest, also mentally unbalanced.  Initially, he turned down a plea deal that would have taken the death penalty off the table.  Then he pled guilty and asked for the death penalty, telling a jury that he committed the crime because he wanted to know how it felt to kill.  Ultimately, he decided he didn’t want to die after all.  The case has been bouncing around in the legal system for a quarter century.

Stephen Harper, Canada’s conservative Prime Minister, had no intention of interceding on Ronald Smith’s behalf, but the Canadian courts forced his hand.  Canada, like virtually every other western democracy, abolished capital punishment long ago.  As in the United Kingdom, the death penalty died in Canada without much public clamor.  Most Canadians supported capital punishment in 1976 (as they still do), but leading public figures didn’t think public support made the ultimate punishment moral or even an effective deterrent.  (more…)