Monday, February 23, 2009

TN study committee; CO cold case bill

An article from Friday's Tennessean, "Tennessee's death penalty laws need major reform, group says," quotes from MVFHR member Charlie Strobel:

Tennessee's death penalty needs major reform to ensure that people facing execution get fair trials, said members of a legislative study committee which just ended 16 months of analyzing how capital crimes are prosecuted in this state. ... Charles Strobel, an advocate for the homeless who represented Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights on the committee, said it's a major concern that virtually all death row inmates are indigent.
"The state of Tennessee has no margin for error," Strobel said. "Death is a different sentence. We must be 100 percent fair and accurate."
He called upon elected officials to declare a moratorium on the death penalty, saying there are too many unresolved issues.

Also today family members of murder victims are testifying before lawmakers in Colorado, in support of a bill that would repeal the state's death penalty and divert the funds toward solving cold cases. We've followed this with interest in the past. Here's a clip from the Denver Post, "Cold Cases Bear Worst Penalty":

Twenty-two years ago today, someone got away with murdering Janice Currie and Walter Marshall.

The case remains cold. And now their family says its grief is renewed as law enforcers scramble to kill a bill that could help nab the killers.

"Losing your mom is hard enough. But knowing that public officials are working against our wishes, well, that makes it tougher to bear," says Currie's daughter, Stacye Walker.

The bill, scheduled Monday for a hearing by the House Judiciary Committee, would abolish Colorado's death penalty and use the savings for cold-case investigations. Murder cases are unresolved in 110 of Colorado's 255 police and sheriff's departments, many of which lack the manpower to fully investigate. The measure could create a cold-case team at the Colorado Bureau of Investigation funded with at least $670,000 — 10 times what the agency now spends a year.

Proponents figure funding would come by scaling back the $350,000-a-year capital-crimes unit of the state attorney general's office, saving $400,000 in what public defenders spend defending capital cases, plus untold dollars in court costs.

"Any other program that spends the money we spend with the results that we get with the death penalty would have been gone years ago," says House Majority Leader Paul Weissmann, the bill's sponsor. ...

Among the strongest advocates here are families of some of the 1,420 murder victims whose cases, like Currie and Marshall's, remain cold and whose killers walk free.

"It's time to trade vengeance for justice," says Howard Morton of Families of Homicide Victims and Missing Persons, himself the father of a son whose murder is unsolved.

"A public policy that allows the prosecution to ignore 1,400 victims and their families so that death may be threatened to extract a guilty plea from a few is a failure," adds state Public Defender Doug Wilson.

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