Public Defenders Fight the Death Penalty

Today, defenders and advocates across the country shine a light on death row for National Public Defense Week.

Public Defenders are the voice of people on death row and are best positioned to remind the system of the humanity of those on death row. Public approval of the death penalty is at its lowest level in decades. There have been more than 150 people freed from death row. We may have already executed many innocent people. In Tennessee, 40% of those on death row are from Shelby County. Each day, our capital defense team fights the system to keep the State of Tennessee from executing more Memphians.
Death sentences are linked to mental health. One Oregon study found 2/3 of death row inmates had mental impairments. Prosecutorial misconduct is rampant in capital cases. One Arizona study alleged it in over 1/2 of capital cases.
Today, defenders and reform advocates across the country in partnership with National Association for Public Defense will bring attention to the work of public defense in death penalty cases. Follow these hashtags on Twitter #DefendGideon #TippingtheScales #CelebratePublicDefense.
All week, we’ll be working with our partners to bring attention to vital issues affecting our lawyers and staff and their clients. March 13-18th marks Public Defense Weeks and culminates on Saturday, the anniversary of Gideon v Wainwright (1963), the landmark Supreme Court decision that established public defense systems across the country.
All year, we’ll be celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Shelby County Public Defender’s Office. Memphis is home to the 3rd oldest public defense system. Watch this video to hear the amazing story of why public defense in Shelby County predates the Gideon decision by more than four decades. 
Recent articles about the death penalty in Tennessee:
A few national stories on the death penalty:
 2016 marked another record decline in death penalty use | Death Penalty Information Center  

New Video Challenges Myths in the Face of Tennessee’s Unprecedented Death Penalty Push

Screenshot 2014-06-24 11.56.35The State of Tennessee has been making national headlines for its aggressive and unprecedented efforts to carry out the death penalty.  In December, the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office requested dates for ten executions. The first is set for October and would mark only the seventh person executed by the state since 1960.

Then last month, Governor Haslam signed into a law a measure that would make the electric chair mandatory, if lethal injection drugs are unavailable. There are only eight other states that authorize use of the electric chair by request of the person facing the death penalty.  This new law makes Tennessee the only state that mandates use of the electric chair without the consent of the person facing execution.

These new developments run counter to national thinking on the death penalty — public support has dropped significantly in the last two decades. In 1996, 78% of Americans supported the death penalty. In 2013, the number had dropped to 55%.  In recent years, 18 states have eliminated the death penalty and in three more states, governors have placed moratoriums on its use.

A new ABC News/Washington Post poll showed that for the first time, a majority of Americans support life sentences instead of the death penalty for people convicted of murder.

The organization, Tennesseans Against the Death Penalty, has produced a new short film to advocate for alternatives to execution and to disprove the most popular myths surrounding the death penalty.


The next meeting for the Memphis chapter of Tennesseans Against the Death Penalty is scheduled for July 7th, 2014 at the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center.




Two Events Ask Memphians to Examine Views on Capital Punishment

Americans everywhere have been re-thinking the political, financial and moral implications of the death penalty.

“In 2013, Maryland became the sixth state to end capital punishment in the last six years. Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have abolished the penalty, and it is dormant in the federal system and the military. Thirty states have had no executions in the last five years.”

New York Times editorial “The Slow Demise of Capital Punishment” (December, 2013)

In December of last year, however, Tennessee signaled it would move in the opposite direction, pushing to execute ten people on death row.  The State’s first execution since 2009 was scheduled for January but put on hold by the Tennessee Supreme Court.  Attorneys for ten people now scheduled for death are challenging the constitutionality of using a single drug, Pentobarbital, for execution. This drug is considered controversial because its manufacturing is “poorly regulated and contaminated batches can cause excruciating pain prior to death.” Opponents of its use claim it constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.

Two events in the next few weeks will provide an opportunity for Memphians to examine their own views on capital punishment.  The first, on Wednesday, February 5th, will be held at Rhodes College.  Ray Krone, an innocent man who sat on Arizona’s death row for a decade before exoneration, will speak about his experience.  Clips from the documentary  “One for Ten” will also be shown — “One for Ten” is a series of online films about ten men wrongly sentenced to death, who were ultimately exonerated.  See the Facebook invite here. 

Screenshot 2014-02-05 09.51.03The second event is a slideshow installation at Crosstown Arts. It will be held Friday and Saturday, March 7th & 8th.  The exhibit will share the last words uttered by death row inmates in Texas between 1981 and 2014.

Screenshot 2014-02-05 09.50.35