Skip to Content

EJUSA Newsline

Honoring victims, calling for a system that heals

Tamika holding a picture of her father, GregBy Fatimah Loren Muhammad

On September 25, in honor of National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims, I spent time reaching out to several family members of murder victims. Some survivors shared the traditions they have developed over the years to mark the day, including visiting burial grounds or viewing commemorative videos and photographs. Others told me that the day was just as difficult as any other day of loss and grief.

For Tamika Darden-Thomas, an African American resident of Newark, New Jersey, sharing her story with others has been a source of great healing, and she was eager to also share it with me.

Tamika was just five years old when her father’s body was found on the beach at the Jersey Shore. The murder was never solved. (The police never even officially declared it a homicide, leaving the family not only without answers, but also without access to any victims’ services). Following the death of her father, she describes her family “falling apart.” Her grandmother began to use alcohol in greater quantities to numb the pain of the loss of her son. Male members of Tamika’s family began to sexually abuse her and several other female family members. Her grief and loss mingled with the fear, lack of protection, and isolation caused by her sexual abuse.

Questions about mitigating factors, in Kansas and beyond - a U.S. Supreme Court preview

altBy Ursula Bentele

In preparation for the new term of the U.S. Supreme Court, starting on October 5, we will feature an occasional guest column by our newest board member, Ursula Bentele. Ursula is a renowned Supreme Court scholar, who will look at some of the Court’s cases with a particular eye towards those with implications for the death penalty. Once the Court has heard oral arguments and delivers its opinions, she will reflect on those outcomes and comment on how the Court’s resolution of the issues might affect the future of the death penalty in this country.

The first capital cases in front of the Court this term, scheduled for argument on October 7, involve three people whose death sentences were overturned by the Supreme Court of Kansas. Kansas’s highest court ruled that the instructions given to the jury during the sentencing phase of the trial were not adequate, and therefore their sentences are invalid.1 The fundamental issue in the case is obligation of jurors to consider mitigating circumstances in capital trials.

Specifically, the court ruled that jurors must be explicitly told that mitigating factors, unlike many facts in criminal cases, need not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Such mitigating circumstances can be considered as a reason to impose a life sentence even if they aren’t proven by this high standard, and the court said that failure to explain this to jurors created a risk that they would impose a death sentence in violation of the Eighth Amendment.

To understand the Kansas court’s reasoning, which may strike a lay reader as hyper-technical, it is important to understand the role of mitigating circumstances in making the sentencing decision in death penalty trials.

  1. 1. Kansas v. Jonathan Carr, No. 14-449; Kansas v. Reginald Carr, No. 14-450; Kansas v. Gleason, No. 14-452.

Pope Francis calls for global abolition of death penalty, other justice reforms

Pope FrancisBefore a joint session of Congress – a first for any Pope – Pope Francis called for an end to the death penalty around the globe. He praised efforts for repeal in the U.S., including the work of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Importantly, he linked the issue with a broader theme of criminal justice reform, saying, “I also offer encouragement to all those who are convinced that a just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation.”

This is not the first time a Catholic Pope – or even Pope Francis – has made statements against the death penalty. Pope John Paul II called for an end to the death penalty in a visit to the U.S. in 1999. Since then, the annual number of executions in the U.S. has dropped by more than 60%, the number of new death sentences also dropped by more than 70%, and some of the most Catholic states in the nation have ended the death penalty altogether.1 Pope Francis also spoke out against the death penalty last March in a letter to the International Commission Against the Death Penalty, calling the practice “unacceptable” regardless of the crime.

  1. 1. New Jersey [2], Connecticut [4], New York [5], New Mexico [6], Illinois [9], Nebraska [13], per

Newsline by State

Syndicate content