• Alex M. Houchin

Life and Death by the Numbers



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Curtis Flowers (top left) was tried an incredible six times - by the same District Attorney - for the 1996 murders of four employees of a furniture store in Winona, Mississippi, a town about the size of Chadron. Each of Flowers' first three death sentences were overturned by the state Supreme Court due to unreliable evidence. His fourth and fifth trials ended with hung juries, but his final 2010 trial resulted in another death sentence. This one seemed likely to stick.


Then last June, the United States Supreme Court reversed Flowers' sentence and conviction, ruling 7-2 that prosecutors had violated his constitutional rights by intentionally excluding Black citizens from serving on the sixth trial jury. The charges still stood, however, and the possibility of a seventh trial loomed - until the District Attorney recused himself. On September 4, the Mississippi Attorney General announced the charges against Curtis Flowers had been dismissed, making him the 171st death row exoneree in the United States (and the fifth in Mississippi) since capital punishment resumed in 1973.


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Robert DuBoise (top right) was convicted and sentenced to death for the 1983 rape and murder of a young woman in Tampa, Florida. For 37 years he has maintained his innocence, but it wasn't until two breaks in his case that he finally got justice. The state's Conviction Review Unit found that part of prosecutors' case relied on bite mark analysis, a scientific technique which has been discredited in recent decades. More importantly, further samples from the victim's rape kit that had been presumed destroyed were located, yielding conclusive DNA evidence that excluded DuBoise as the assailant.


In light of this new evidence, the charges against Robert DuBoise were formally dropped on September 14, making him the 172nd death row exoneree in the United States (and the 30th in Florida) since capital punishment resumed in 1973.


10/10

October 10 marks the 18th annual World Day Against the Death Penalty. First organized in 2003 by the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, this day of global unity against capital punishment focuses on a different theme each year. This year, that focus shines on the constitutional right to effective legal representation during all stages of arrest and legal proceedings.


Nebraskans Against the Death Penalty participated in the observance of this year's World Day Against the Death Penalty by hosting a virtual panel discussion featuring Nebraska Senator Patty Pansing Brooks, Megan Rollag and Jahne' Maddock from the Racial Justice Coalition, and Christy Hargesheimer, Nebraska State Death Penalty Action Coordinator for Amnesty International USA. You can view the recording here.


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William LeCroy (bottom left) was convicted for the 2001 rape and murder of Joann Lee Tiesler in Georgia. LeCroy's attorneys argued he should face state charges, but the federal government overruled them - and instead prosecuted LeCroy under the same federal carjacking statute that led to Lezmond Mitchell's execution just last month. Nine years later, LeCroy's brother - a state trooper - was murdered, and the killer sped off in the trooper's car. Despite being eligible for federal charges under the same carjacking statute, the killer plead to state charges and was sentenced to life without parole. William LeCroy's attorneys, arguing unsuccessfully for a commutation of his sentence, point to the outcome of the later case to show how arbitrary capital punishment is.


LeCroy is scheduled to be put to death on Tuesday, September 22, at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana. If his execution is carried out, he will be the sixth person executed by the federal government in 2020. Prior to this year, the federal government had not executed anyone since 2003.


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Christopher Vialva (bottom right) and a codefendant also on federal death row were convicted as teens for the 2000 carjacking and killing of Stacie and Todd Bagley near Fort Hood, Texas. Dr. Jason Chein at the Temple University Brain Research and Imaging Center has advocated for a commutation of his sentence, arguing that "to make a final judgement about a person's life based on a crime he committed as a teenager is to ignore what the last 20-plus years of research has taught us about the developing brains of teenagers and adolescents."


Vialva is scheduled to be put to death on Thursday, September 24. If his execution follows LeCroy's, he will be the seventh person executed by the federal government in 2020.


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No application of the death penalty is free from problems. Just these examples alone demonstrate that racial bias, junk science, lack of access to effective legal representation, and prosecutor discretion can taint nearly every conviction. Worse yet is the unbearable risk of executing an innocent person for crimes committed by another. For all these reasons and many more, Nebraskans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty joins with its partner organizations around the world to demand an end to this barbarous practice. Join us! Click here to find a list of ten great ways you can take action.

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