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The Maryland Senate voted to repeal the state's death penalty this morning, passing a bill sponsored by Gov. Martin O'Malley, which will now go to the Maryland House of Delegates. If it passes, Maryland could become the sixth state in as many years to abolish the death penalty, and one of 18 states without capital punishment on the books. The Washington Post reports:
Maryland is also home to the nation's first death row DNA exoneree, Kirk Bloodsworth, whose advocacy for the abolition of the death penalty has helped focus the debate on the danger of executing an innocent person. Bloodsworth watched today's debate from the Senate gallery.
Of the 303 DNA exoneration cases nationwide, 18 served time on death row. Read more about their cases.
Read the full article.
Send a message of support to Gov. O'Malley.
Read a recent New York Times profile about Bloodsworth and his fight to end capital punishment in his state.
Wednesday afternoon at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School, Fernando Bermudez will speak about his 18 years of wrongful imprisonment and the eyewitness misidentification that lead to his wrongful conviction for murder. Innocence Project Director of State Policy Reform Rebecca Brown will join him, speaking about how the Innocence Project works to reform the criminal justice system to prevent wrongful convictions.
For more information about the event.
For information about the Innocence Project Exoneree Speakers Bureau.
Read an article about Fernando Bermudez and other exonerees' public speaking.
A new report issued on Friday by the Oklahoma Justice Commission made recommendations to improve the criminal justice system and prevent wrongful convictions.
The Oklahoma Innocence Project worked closely with the 33-member Justice Commission on a two-year study of wrongful convictions. According to the Oklahoma Innocence Project, more than a dozen people were exonerated last year in the state for crimes they didn't commit, several after a decade or more of prison time.
The commission's suggestions include allowing post-conviction access to DNA testing. Oklahoma is the only state in the nation without a DNA testing law, but a bill authored by State Rep. Lee Denney (R-Cushing) has already been approved by the House and goes to the Senate to await a committee hearing. Other recommendations include videotaping interrogations, police lineup reform, training for all criminal justice professionals and post-release services for the exonerated.
Drew Edmondson, a former Oklahoma attorney general and the commission's chairman, said that although many of the recommendations could be voluntarily adopted by police departments and courts, the report pushes for legislative reform. Most of all, the report underscored the benefits the recommendations could have for both the public and law enforcement.
Read the full article.
The Black Academy of Arts and Letters presents "TESTED... How Twelve Wrongly Imprisoned Men Held Onto Hope," Saturday, March 2 as part of its Roundtable Writers' Breakfast at the Dallas Convention Center Theater Complex. "TESTED..., " by Peyton Budd and Dorothy Budd reveals how twelve Texas DNA exonerees kept their faith and sanity intact despite years of wrongful imprisonment. Their stories illuminate the shortcomings of the criminal justice system and the virtue of hope.
The event begins at 10 a.m. and includes breakfast and discussion.
For more information, visit The Black Academy of Arts and Letters.
Read more about the book.
A Vermont crime lab questions its blood alcohol testing results, a massive case review will be delayed in St. Paul, and recent lab problems in Massachusetts affect the state budget. Here's this week's round up of forensic news:
Blood alcohol testing machines in a Vermont state crime lab were not properly maintained or calibrated, leading to inaccurate results. In a recent trial, two lab analysts testified about submitting complaints about the faulty testing equipment to the lab supervisor.
Thousands of past drug convictions are still pending review in St. Paul after a judge delayed her decision in a related case. The hearing is now rescheduled for May 3. The lab's drug testing unit has been shuttered.
City Council members allocated money to hire more staff for the Austin, Texas Police Department crime lab to deal with a serious backlog of cases. Criminal judges and defense attorneys are urging the lab to hire more staff immediately.
At a recent state budget hearing in Massachusetts, lawmakers discussed how two recent scandals affected the backlog of crime lab testing. These cases, specifically the one at Hinton State Lab, significantly impact nearly every budget within the criminal justice sector.
The disagreement between the Denver district attorney and the police chief over lab personnel became a public sparring match recently. Accusations over a lack of professionalism have criminal justice experts wondering if the departments can still work together effectively.
Saturday's episode of the CBS investigative show '48 Hours' reexamined a Missouri man's fight for freedom. Ryan Ferguson was convicted in 2005 of committing a 2001 murder and sentenced to 40 years in prison after being implicated by former classmate Charles Erickson who testified against him and pled guilty to his part in the murder. Erickson had read a newspaper article about the crime and allegedly had a dream about possibly killing the victim. Four years after Ferguson was convicted, Erickson said he lied, and Ferguson didn't commit the murder.
Ferguson remains behind bars despite an absence of witnesses and a lack of physical evidence connecting him to the crime. His father started a petition with Change.org that will be delivered to the Governor and Attorney General seeking a new trial. According to '48 Hours,' it will be Ferguson's 13th attempt to overturn his conviction.
Watch the full episode.
Sign the Change.org petition asking for a new trial.