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December 31, 2004

Reviewing the death penalty nationwide and in one California case

Drawing on many of this year's major capital sentencing stories (some of which are discussed here and here and here), the Chicago Tribune has this terrific article reviewing nationwide death penalty developments in 2004.  The article comprehensively reviews recent data and policy debates to explain that there are "signs of an apparent decline in the death penalty," but that the "falling numbers [of executions and death sentences] don't tell the whole story." 

The Tribune article astutely examines the death penalty in specific states, although it does not note that capital stories in California are heating up after the Ninth Circuit this week rejected a habeas appeal of Donald Beardslee who is scheduled to be executed on January 19 (background in this post from How Appealing and in this article).  Thoughtful articles today from the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Jose Mercury News detail that Beardslee has now petitioned Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger for clemency. 

According to the Mercury News article, Beardslee's lawyers 48-page clemency petition asks for commutation to life without parole, citing Beardslee's "impeccable record" as an inmate, his "severe brain damage," and the fact that he "played a lesser role in the murders than co-defendants who did not receive the death penalty after being convicted."  The petition apparently states: "A commutation of Mr. Beardslee's death sentence is not only a merciful result, it is the just result.''

It will be interesting to see how Governor Schwarzenegger reviews this petition (since, as noted in this Washington Post editorial, he has been been more willing than his predecessors to give offenders second chances).  The Beardslee case is shaping up as a notable test of Professor Austin Sarat's recent comments on the disappearance of mercy in capital cases.

December 31, 2004 at 10:27 AM | Permalink

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Defense counsel.

Posted by: JOHN E. WRIGHT | Dec 31, 2004 1:22:04 PM

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