NAE’s new statement reverberates around the country

National Association of Evangelicals

The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) recently changed their 40-year pro-death penalty position, noting serious concerns with the death penalty and acknowledging growing opposition and differing views on the issue among Evangelicals. NAE’s board of directors voted for the resolution giving guidance to the NAE’s more than 45,000 congregations from nearly 40 different denominations, serving millions of Americans.

The media took notice.

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Death penalty documentary garners Oscar buzz

Last Day of Freedom

Last Day of Freedom is a new, short documentary that follows the story of Bill Babbitt and his younger brother, Manny. It has already sparked conversations around the country, and now the it’s gaining momentum as a contender for an Academy Award.

The film centers on the moral challenges Bill faces when he learns Manny has committed a crime. Bill narrates, sharing Manny’s life journey from childhood to his hardships after returning from the Vietnam War. He navigates complex questions surrounding mental health access, veterans’ care, and criminal justice. We love the way the film uses animation to tell the powerful story.

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Supreme Court looks at exclusion of blacks from jury in Georgia death penalty case

Supreme Court BuildingIn its next look at the death penalty, the Supreme Court is faced with the case of Timothy Tyrone Foster, to be argued on November 2. Foster is a black man who was convicted and sentenced to death by an all-white jury for the murder of a white woman. The jury was composed entirely of white Georgia residents after the prosecution excused all four qualified black prospective jurors using its peremptory challenges (challenges for which no reason need be given). The question before the Court is whether those challenges were legal or not, based on precedent set by the 1986 caseBatson v. Kentucky,1 which prohibits peremptory challenges based on the race of potential jurors.

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Evangelicals change 40-year pro-death penalty position

National Association of EvangelicalsThe National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) has a new position on the death penalty. The resolution, passed by the Board of Directors, outlines serious concerns with the death penalty and acknowledges growing opposition and differing views on the issue among Evangelicals.

The resolution represents a significant shift for the organization, which had a position in staunch support of the death penalty for the last four decades. The resolution gives guidance to the NAE’s more than 45,000 congregations from nearly 40 different denominations, serving millions of Americans:

“Because of the fallibility of human systems, documented wrongful convictions, and our desire that God’s grace, Christian hope, and life in Christ be advanced, a growing number of evangelicals now call for government entities to shift their resources away from pursuing the death penalty…”

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Supreme Court’s next death penalty case looks at roles of judge, jury

Supreme Court Building

Continuing its look at death penalty, the Supreme Court will hear argument on Tuesday in Hurst v. Florida1 to decide whether Florida’s practices in capital trials are constitutional. At issue in Hurst is whether a judge properly imposed a death sentence without the necessary fact-finding by a jury. Florida is one of the few states that gives capital sentencing power to judges.

The Supreme Court specifically approved Florida’s death penalty law in 1976, along with those in Georgia and Texas.2 They were the first states to reinstate the death penalty after the 1972 Supreme Court decision in Furman v. Georgia3 declaring death penalty laws in violation of the Eighth Amendment. The Court gave the Florida law its blessing despite concerns that the ultimate sentencing authority was the judge. Several years later, the Court specifically rejected a challenge to a death sentence imposed by a Florida judge even though a jury had recommended a life sentence.4

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

Pope Francis

Before 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.”

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3 high profile executions in 3 days – *live thread, updated*

Glossip, Glissendaner, Pieto

Update 10/1/15, 9:42pm: Alfredo Pieto was executed in Virginia tonight at 9:17pm. His lawyers had just filed an application for a stay with the U.S. Supreme Court when news of his execution was announced.

Update 10/1/15, 7:36pm: After a change of venue, a Federal Court in Virginia heard arguments about the lethal injections drugs to be used in tonight’s execution in Virginia. In his ruling following the hearing, the judge lifted an injunction, clearing the way for the execution to go forward.

Update 10/1/15, 7:29pm: The Attorney General in Oklahoma has asked for an indefinite suspension in executions, including that of Richard Glossip as well as two others that were scheduled for next week. In a request to the highest court in Oklahoma, the A.G. indicated it “needs time to evaluate the events that transpired” leading up to Glossip’s scheduled – and ultimately stayed – execution on Tuesday.

Update 10/1/15, 9:33am: Though a hearing originally scheduled for this afternoon has been canceled, an injunction still stands, staying today’s scheduled execution of Alfred Prieto in Virginia. Lawyers for Prieto are seeking a more information about the drugs the State plans to use for the execution, which were acquired from Texas prison officials. Continue Reading →

Scott Panetti’s mental illness at issue again in new hearing

Scott PanettiIn a hearing last week in front of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, lawyers for Texas death row inmate Scott Panetti argued that his severe mental illness renders him without the mentally competency to be executed. They asked the court to send the case back to a lower federal court to decide whether Panetti could have federally appointed defense and further resources to argue his case against execution.

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

Supreme Court Building

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.

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Pope Francis intensifies his call for America to end the death penalty

Pope Francis

As part of his visit to the United States this week, Pope Francis renewed his call for world abolition of the death penalty. He included specific encouragement to those working to end the death penalty in the United States and a focus on hope and rehabilitation.

Here is the Pope’s full statement on the death penalty, excerpted from his speech in front of the join session of Congress.

“The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.

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