A Chronology of Capital Punishment in the United States

17th Century

England prescribes death for 14 offenses, but the American colonies impose the death sentence for fewer crimes.

The Massachusetts Bay Colony lists 13 crimes punishable by death, including idolatry and witchcraft.

Under William Penn's Great Act, the death penalty is prescribed only for murder and treason in Pennsylvania.

19th Century

Politics and advances in technology influence use of the death penalty.

Dec. 2, 1859
Abolitionist John Brown is hanged for treason, conspiracy and murder at Charles Town, Virginia.

Aug. 6, 1890
Murderer William Kemmler is the first person executed in the electric chair, at New York's Auburn Prison. The "chair" is later installed at Sing Sing Prison.

20th Century

A short-lived abolition movement leads to the repeat of numerous state death penalty statutes.

Kansas abolishes capital punishment. Eight more states follow suit over the next 10 years.

Two sensational murder cases spark renewed debate over the death penalty.

Sept 10, 1924
Defense attorney Clarence Darrow wins life sentences for Chicago "thrill killers" Richard Loeb and Nathan Leopold Jr.

Aug. 22, 1927
Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, Italian immigrants with anarchist sympathies, are electrocuted in Massachusetts for two murders.

U.S. executions reach an all-time peak, averaging 167 a year.

Growing doubts about the death penalty lead to a decline in executions.

June 2, 1967
After Luis Jose Monge dies in the gas chamber at Colorado State Penitentiary, an unofficial moratorium on executions begins.

An eventful decade for capital punishment sees the death penalty invalidated and then reinstated.

June 29, 1972
The U.S. Supreme Court rules in Furman v. Georgia that the Georgia statute, giving the jury complete discretion to decide death or life imprisonment upon conviction of Murder, was unconstitutional. A 5-4 plurality opinion held that the death penalty was applied in a "freakish and wanton" manner due to unguided jury discretion. The practical effect of the decision was to strike down existing statutes in all states, and removing approximately 629 inmates from death row. In Indiana, approximately 8 death row prisoners had their sentences commuted to life imprisonment. 35 states responded immediately by enacting new death penalty statutes, providing either for a mandatory death sentence, or carefully guided jury discretion.

In response to Furman, Indiana immediately passes a new death penalty statute, Indiana Code 35-13-4-1, taking all discretion away from the jury and making a death sentence mandatory upon conviction of First Degree Murder with certain aggravating circumstances existing. This new statute was struck down in 1976 with the holdings of Woodson and Roberts, commuting to life imprisonment the death sentences of at least 7 Indiana death row inmates.

The U.S. Supreme Court strikes down the death penalty statutes in North Carolina and Louisiana which provide for a mandatory or automatic death penalty upon conviction of Murder, without consideration of the character of the offender or the circumstances of the crime, thereby violating the cruel and unusual punishment prohibition of the 8th Amendment. Woodson v. North Carolina, and Roberts v. Louisiana.

The U.S. Supreme Court upholds the death penalty statute of Florida in Profitt v. Florida, despite the statute allowing the trial judge to reject a recommendation of life imprisonment by an advisory jury.

In response to the U.S. Supreme Court decisions in Woodson and Roberts, invalidating Indiana’s "mandatory" death penalty law, the Indiana Legislature passes Indiana Code 35-50-2-9, modeled after the Florida statute approved in Proffitt, allowing for the consideration of aggravating and mitigating circumstances presented to an advisory jury. That statute is essentially in the same form today.

July 2, 1976
The U.S. Supreme Court rules in Gregg v. Georgia and Jurek v. Texas that a death sentence is not a per se violation of the 8th Amendment, and that where the jury is given guided discretion through aggravating and mitigating circumstances focusing on the particularized nature of the crime and the character of offender, the death penalty no longer violates the Eighth Amendment in application.

January 17, 1977
After waiving all appeals of his convictions for murdering a hotel clerk and a gas station attendant during a robbery, a Utah firing squad makes Gary Gilmore the first person executed in the U.S. in almost 10 years. In prison most of his life, Gilmore becomes a celebrity with his efforts to hasten his execution. His last words: "Let's do it."

Oklahoma becomes the first state to adopt lethal injection.

The U.S. Supreme Court rules in Coker v. Georgia, that the imposition of a death sentence for the rape of an adult woman, where death does not result, is "disproportionate" and violates the Eighth Amendment proscription of cruel and unusual punishments.

The U.S. Supreme Court rules in Lockett v. Ohio, that the Defendant must be permitted to argue his minor participation in the murder, and the lack of a prior criminal record. The jury must be allowed to consider as a mitigating factor "any aspect of the defendant's character or record, and any of the circumstances of the offense that the defendant proffers as a basis for a sentence other than death."

John Spenkelink is executed in Florida's electric chair, becoming only the second person executed in the U.S. in the last 12 years, and the first to fight his execution to the bitter end.

The Supreme Court further clarifies its views on the death penalty.

22 year old Steven Judy is convicted of murdering a woman and three small children in Morgan County. Judy waives all appeals and is executed by the state of Indiana in the electric chair. He is the first person executed in Indiana in almost 20 years, and only the 4th nationwide since 1967.

Texas performs the first execution by lethal injection with the execution of Charlie Brooks.

The U.S. Supreme Court rules in Edmund v. Florida, that a death sentence may not be imposed upon a felony-murder accomplice when he did not kill, intend to kill, attempt to kill, or intend that deadly force be used. Such a punishment is disproportionate and violates the 8th Amendment.

Velma Barfield is executed in North Carolina. She is the first woman executed since reinstatement of the death penalty. By 2000, 55 women will be on death row and 4 others executed.

William Vandiver waives all appeals and is executed in Indiana for the 1983 murder for hire and dismemberment of his father-in-law in Lake County. Serious difficulties are experienced with electric chair. He is the 72nd prisoner executed in Indiana this century and 2nd since 1977.

The U.S. Supreme Court rules in Wainwright v. Witt, that a prospective juror can be excused for cause if their views on the death penalty would "substantially impair their performance of duty as a juror," extending the 1968 holding in Witherspoon v. Illinois, which authorized removal of a prospective juror for cause if they are unalterably opposed and would "automatically" vote against the death penalty.

The U.S. Supreme Court rules in Caldwell v. Mississippi, that a prosecutor cannot be permitted to argue that any error by the jury will be corrected by higher courts on appeal, since it gives the jury a diminished sense of responsibility with regard to its decision.

The U.S. Supreme Court rules in Ford v. Wainright that it is unconstitutional to execute the insane.

Paula Cooper is convicted in the 1985 torture murder and robbery of a 78 year old Bible teacher in Lake County and sentenced to death. She is 15 years old at the time of the murder, the youngest ever on Indiana Death Row. In 1989 the Indiana Supreme Court vacates the death sentence, holding that murderers less than 16 cannot receive a death sentence without violating the U.S. and Indiana Constitution.

The U.S. Supreme Court rules in Batson v. Kentucky that a Prosecutor cannot use peremptory challenges to exclude black jurors on the basis of race, when the defendant is black.

The U.S. Supreme Court rules in McCleskey v. Kemp that statistics appearing to show sharp racial disparities in sentencing of killers in Georgia was not sufficient to overturn a death sentence. The Baldus study demonstrated that blacks who killed whites were sentenced to death seven times more often than whites who killed blacks. General patterns of discrimination were not enough to overturn death sentences. A person had to prove that he or she had been discriminated against personally.

The U.S. Supreme Court rules in Thompson v. Oklahoma, that a death sentence may not be imposed on a person following conviction of a murder committed when they were 15 years old.

The Indiana Supreme Court adopts Rule 24 of the Indiana Rules of Criminal Procedure, requiring that when a prosecuting attorney seeks a death sentence, the request must be filed with the trial court and with the Indiana Supreme Court Administrator.

After a 9 month trial, Richard Ramirez, "The Night Stalker," is convicted of 14 murders and sentenced to death in California.

The U.S. Supreme Court rules in Stanford v. Kentucky that the Constitution does not prohibit the execution of 16 year olds who commit murder.

Ted Bundy is executed in Florida for the 1978 murders at a Florida State sorority, and the kidnap, rape and murder of 12 year old Kimberley Leach.

The U.S. Supreme Court rules in Penry v. Lynaugh, that executing mentally retarded persons does not violate the Eighth Amendment.

Death Penalty provisions in anti-crime bills stir sharp debate in Congress.

Alan Matheny is convicted of murder in St. Joseph County and sentenced to death. Matheny had been released on an 8-hour prison furlough in 1989, returned to the home of his ex-wife and beat her to death. Matheny was serving time for beating her in 1987. The case causes the Indiana legislature to pass a law requiring victim notification upon an inmates release from prison.

The U.S. Supreme Court rules in Payne v. Tennessee that the Eighth Amendment does not prohibit admission of "victim impact" evidence and related prosecutorial argument at capital sentencing.

Governor Bill Clinton interrupts his presidential campaign to return to Arkansas so that he can "supervise" the execution of Ricky Ray Rector.

Washington executes Westley Dodd by hanging, the first hanging in decades.

Gregory Resnover is executed in Indiana by electrocution following his conviction for murdering an Indianapolis police officer 14 years earlier. His co-defendant, Tommie J. Smith, will be executed for the crime in 1996. Resnover is the 73rd prisoner executed in Indiana this century and 3rd since 1977.

Congress passes the 1994 Violent Crime Control Act, authorizing the death penalty for scores of new federal crimes.

Illinois executes John Wayne Gacy, "The Killer Clown," following his 1980 convictions for 33 counts of murder of mostly young men and boys, 27 of which were found buried in the crawl space beneath his home.

Support for the death penalty reaches an all time high. Gallup Poll shows nationwide death penalty support at 80%.

Sept. 13, 1994
President Clinton signs crime bill making dozens of federal crimes subject to death penalty.

Feb. 8, 1995
The House votes 297-132 to limit inmate appeals of death sentences to one year in state cases.

Delays in death penalty cases reach a peak with those executed during 1995 spending an average of 11 years, 2 months awaiting execution.

March 7, 1995
New York Governor George E. Pataki fulfills campaign promise and signs new law reinstating the death penalty in New York.

Congress passes the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, restricting a prisoners' access to new state hearings for claims of actual innocence. The law also provides that only "unreasonable" unconstitutional state rulings could be overturned, establishes filing deadlines for all habeas claims, and requires competent post conviction counsel for defense.

Tommie J. Smith is the first prisoner executed in Indiana by lethal injection following his conviction for murdering an Indianapolis police officer 15 years earlier. His co-defendant, Gregory Resnover, had been executed for the crime in 1994. Smith is the 74th prisoner executed in Indiana this century and the 4th since 1977.

The movie "Dead Man Walking," Sister Helen Prejean's account of her relationship with fictional Louisiana Death Row inmate, Matthew Poncelet, debuts in Hollywood. The movie is loosely based upon the real-life cases of Robert Lee Willie and Elmo Patrick Sonnier, both executed in 1984.

Utah executes John Albert Taylor by firing squad.

February 1997
At its February 1997 mid-year meeting, the American Bar Association House of Delegates passed a resolution calling for a halt on executions until courts across the country can ensure that such cases are "administered fairly and impartially, in accordance with due process," and with minimum risk of executing innocent people.
The resolution was adopted by a margin of 280 to 119 votes. It cited some of the ABA's existing policies urging jurisdictions across the country to assure that people charged with capital crimes receive due process protections. For example: provide competent counsel in capital punishment cases; eliminate race discrimination in capital sentencing; and prevent the execution of mentally retarded persons and persons who committed crimes as minors.
The resolution also said that the ABA takes no position on the death penalty per se.
Full text of Resolution.

Gary Burris is the executed in Indiana by lethal injection following his conviction for the robbery and murder of a cab driver in Indianapolis 17 years earlier. He is the 75th prisoner executed in Indiana this century and 5th since 1977.

John Stephenson is convicted of murdering three persons with an assault rifle in Warrick County after an 8 month trial and is sentenced to death. With the assistance of the trial judge, it is believed to be the longest and most expensive trial in Indiana history, with a total pricetag which included attorneys fees of $334,156, paralegal fees of $57,788, expert fees of $79,193, investigator fees of $74,493, and miscellaneous expenses of over $10,000. (Not including appeal expenses)

Timothy McVeigh is convicted and sentenced to death for the 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building, becoming the 13th inmate on federal death row.

Karla Faye Tucker is executed in Texas for the 1983 pickax murders of a Houston couple. The execution attracts international attention and worldwide pleas for mercy from Pope John Paul II to Pat Robertson are ignored.

Robert A. Smith is executed in Indiana by lethal injection following his conviction for murdering a fellow inmate at Wabash Valley Correctional Complex in Sullivan County. Smith pleads guilty, requests the death penalty and waives appeals. He is the 76th prisoner executed in Indiana this century and 6th since 1977.

Washington executes Billy Bailey by hanging after he refuses the option of lethal injection.

The Federal Government completes a new lethal injection execution chamber at the U.S. Penitentiary at Terre Haute, Indiana. All federal death row prisoners are moved there.

98 persons are executed in the U.S., the highest number since 1951.

Northwestern University journalism students help uncover new evidence showing an eyewitness who lied and another person comfesses, leading to Anthony Porter being freed from Illinois death row.

Chicago Tribune publishes a sensational series of articles, "Trial & Error," claiming that Prosecutors engaged in misconduct which sent many to prison and some to death row. This is followed by an equally sensational series entitled "Failure of the Death Penalty in Illinois."

D.H. Fleenor is executed in Indiana by lethal injection on December 9, 1999 following his 1984 conviction for murdering his mother-in-law and her husband in Jefferson County. He is the 77th prisoner executed in Indiana this century and the 7th since 1977.

The Nebraska legislature overrode Governor Mike Johanns veto on a vote of 43-0 to fund a two-year study of the fairness of the application of the death penalty in Nebraska. The legislature also passed a moratorium on executions for the duration of the study by a vote of 27-21. This was also vetoed by the governor. No override vote was taken on the moratorium bill. Nebraska's Legislature was the first in the nation to pass a moratorium on executions.

Prosecutors and police go on trial in DuPage County, Illinois for conspiring to frame an allegedly innocent man, Rolando Cruz, for the rape and murder of a 10 year old girl in 1983. Cruz spent 10 years on death row before his acquittal at his third trial in 1995. All prosecutors and police are found not guilty, but the verdict is much less publicized by the media than the trial.

Glen McGinnis is executed in Texas. He is the 16th person since 1977 executed for a murder committed before his 18th birthday. 74 more await execution on death row nationwide.
Illinois Governor Ryan announces a moratorium on Illinois executions following repeated reversals of death sentences, including several highly publicized exonerations, and appoints a bipartisan panel to investigate.

Gallup Poll shows death penalty support at 66%, its lowest level in 19 years. Incredibly, according to the same poll, 11% believe that at least 1 in 5 on death row are innocent.

Pat Robertson offers opinion that a death penalty moratorium would be "appropriate."
The New Hampshire Legislature passes a repeal of its death penalty laws, but it is vetoed by Governor Jeanne Shaheen. (New Hampshire has not executed anyone since 1939, has no one on death row, and has one of the lowest crime rates in the nation)

Causing a media sensation, researchers at Columbia University studied more than 4,578 death penalty appeals from 1973 to 1995 and released a report claiming that nationally 68% of all death penalty sentences are overturned on appeal. The study was authored by long-time anti-death penalty advocate and Columbia University Professor James S. Liebman. The report is seriously flawed and later discredited, in part due to the refusal of Columbia researchers to provide access to their work.

The Department of Justice releases an internal report, "1988-2000 Survey of the Federal Death Penalty System," which raises issues of racial and geographic disparity in the application of the federal death penalty. As of April 2000, 20 persons are on federal death row in Terre Haute, only 4 of which are white.

Florida death row inmate Frank Lee Smith, who died of cancer after 14 years on death row, is posthumously cleared by DNA testing in the 1985 rape and murder of an 8-year-old girl which sent him there. Nine other death row inmates across the country have been exonerated because of DNA testing, according to the Innocence Project, a New York-based group that has provided legal assistance to prisoners.

March 2001
After 10 years on death row and losing appeals on direct appeal and PCR, Gerald Wayne Bivins waives the remainder of his appeals in federal court and is executed by lethal injection in Indiana on March 14, 2001. Bivins was convicted in Boone County for the murder of Reverend William Radcliffe at an I-65 truck stop in 1991. He is the 78th prisoner executed in Indiana this century and the 8th since 1977.

Robert Lee Massie is executed by lethal injection in California, becoming only the 9th prisoner executed by that state since 1976. Over 600 remain on California Death Row. In 1965, Massie was convicted of murder after following a car off the freeway and shooting the driver after he took his wallet. He committed two similar robberies, but the victims survived. He was sentenced to death that same year, but it was commuted to life imprisonment in 1972 after Furman. He was paroled in 1978 after serving 13 years. One year later, he shot and killed a liquor store clerk and wounded another during a robbery, and was again sentenced to death. After 20 years of appeals, Massie was executed only after he waived and consented to the execution.

May 2001
Missouri passes a new law banning the execution of the mentally retarded. Of the 38 states which authorize the death penalty, Missouri and Indiana are among 15 which now ban such executions.

Timothy McVeigh, convicted and sentenced to death in 1997 for the 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building, waives all appeals intent on becoming a martyr for his cause. Days before his scheduled May 16 execution date, the FBI discovers over 3,000 documents that had not been turned over to the prosecution or the defense at trial. McVeigh decides martyrdom can wait and seeks a delay in his execution.

June 2001
Timothy McVeigh, waiving all appeals intent on becoming a martyr for his cause, is executed by lethal injection at the Federal Penitentiary at Terre Haute, Indiana. The execution is accompanied by a media circus as McVeigh is the first federal prisoner since 1963 to be executed. McVeigh had been convicted and sentenced to death in 1997 for the murder of 168 persons killed in the bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building on April 19, 1995. Remorseless to the bitter end, McVeigh had openly admitted his guilt in the bombing, saying it was an act of war against the federal government, and that he was only responding to FBI actions at Ruby Ridge and Waco. The execution was delayed by 30 days following the discovery of over 3000 documents that the FBI failed to turn over to the defense or the prosecution at trial. McVeigh unsuccessfully sought an extended last-minute stay to allow for further examination of the documents.

Juan Raul Garza is executed by lethal injection at the Federal Penetentiary at Terre Haute, Indiana 8 days following the execution of Timothy McVeigh, becoming only the second murderer executed by the federal government since 1963.
James Lowery is executed by lethal injection at the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City on June 27, 2001. Lowery was first convicted and sentenced to death on July 11, 1980, for the murder of an elderly couple, Mark and Gertrude Thompson, in Tippecanoe County on September 30, 1979. Lowery formerly worked as a caretaker at the home of the Thompsons, and became enraged after he was fired. Following a change of venue, trial was held in Boone County and the sentence was handed down by Boone superior Court Judge Paul H. Johnson. In 1982, the Indiana Supreme Court reversed the murder conviction due to a failure to sequester the jury. On remand, the trial was venued to Hendricks County and Lowery was again convicted of murder and sentenced to death by Judge Jeffrey Boles on January 7, 1983. He remained on Indiana Death Row for another 18 years, pursuing appeals to the bitter end.

The Nebraska Crime Commission issues its final report to the Governor: The Disposition of Nebraska Capital and Non-Capital Homicide Cases (1973-1999), A Legal and Empirical Analysis.

The second major research study of 2001 finds strong deterrent effect of capital punishment. Scholarly research paper from economics professors at the University of Colorado at Denver, H. Naci Mocan and R. Kaj Gittings, suggests that the death penalty has a significant deterrent effect. This study follows similar conclusions reached in January 2001 by economics professors at Emory University, Hashem Dezhbakhsh, Paul Rubin, and Joanna Mehlhop Sheperd. Neither study attracts significant media attention, undoubtedly due to media bias against the death penalty.

Georgia's Supreme Court became the first appellate court in the country to rule that electrocution is an unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment. In a 4-3 decision, the court said that death by electrocution "inflicts purposeless physical violence and needless mutilation that makes no measurable contribution to accepted goals of punishment." With the ruling, the state automatically switches to the use of lethal injection under a law passed last year to provide an alternate method of execution if the courts ruled electrocution illegal. (Alabama and Nebraska are the only states using the electric chair as the sole method of execution)

Citing problems with the jury charge and verdict form, United States District Court Judge William Yohn sets aside the death sentence of Mumia Abu-Jamal in a 272-page ruling, but dismisses all other defense claims in affirming the 1982 conviction for the murder of Philadelphia policeman Daniel Faulkner. The State was given 180 days to conduct a new sentencing hearing. Both sides are expected to appeal. Abu-Jamal has gained worldwide notoriety as an anti-death penalty activist, particularly among the young and the entertainment industry, claiming that his conviction and sentence was racist and unjust.

April 2002
Ray Krone is released from Arizona prison after DNA proves his innocence. Krone was convicted of murder and sentenced to death in 1992. On appeal, he was granted a retrial but was again convicted and sentenced to life in prison. His release is trumpeted by anti-death penalty activists as the 100th exoneration from death row since 1973. Death penalty supporters strongly dispute the "100" number created by the Death Penalty Information Center, in this case pointing to the fact that Krone was not even on death row when released, and say that his release only shows the system works. Supporters also point to over 7,000 death sentences handed down since 1976, with a remarkably low percentage of wrongful murder convictions.

Illinois Commission on Capital Punishment issues its report to Governor Ryan, who appointed the Commission in March 2000, shortly after declaring a moratorium on executions in Illinois. The Report includes several controversial recommendations to narrow the scope and reach of the death penalty, as well as others designed to avoid wrongful convictions. Opponents charge that the commission is stacked with death penalty opponents.

Governor O'Bannon signs into law 2002 legislative changes to Indiana Death Penalty Law, including: (1) Raising the minimum age for death penalty eligibility from 16 to 18 at the time of the crime (Minimum age remains at 16 for Life Without Parole), (2) Requiring the trial judge to sentence according to the jury verdict, thereby eliminating the option of a trial judge to "override" the jury's verdict (If jury is hung, trial judge may still sentence to death), and (3) Requiring the use of a special jury verdict form and unanimity as to each aggravating circumstance.

Alton Coleman is executed by the state of Ohio at 10:13 a.m. Coleman was the only death row inmate in the United States with death sentences in three states: Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. These sentences were the culmination of a 1984 midwestern crime spree by Coleman and accomplice Deborah Denise Brown that included up to 8 murders, 7 rapes, 3 kidnappings, and 14 armed robberies. In Indiana's case, Coleman and Brown convinced 7 year old Tamika Turks and 9 year old Annie to follow them into the woods to play a game. The children were walking to a nearby candy store. Once in the woods, the children were bound, raped, and beaten. Tamika was strangled to death. Annie survived with serious injuries. Once again, Indiana was beaten to the punch, this time by Ohio. In 1997, Michael Lee Lockhart was executed by the State of Texas while appealing his Indiana death sentence.

May 2002
Maryland Governor Parris Glendening imposes a moratorium on executions in Maryland until the state finishes a study on whether there is racial bias in the use of the death penalty. Glendening, a Democrat whose second and final term as Governor ends in January, said he envisions the stay remaining in place until an ongoing study by the University of Maryland is reviewed and acted upon by the legislature, "which I expect to take about one year." Glendening's opponents charge that the move is merely a political move to assist his likely successor, Kathleen Townsend, in playing the race card to get out the black vote. It is worth questioning why those governors who commute death row sentences or impose death penalty moratoriums do so only when they no longer have to stand for election.

Napoleon Beazley is executed by lethal injection in Texas for the 1994 slaying of businessman John Luttig during a botched carjacking. Beazley was 17 at the time of the murder. Luttig, 63, was the father of Judge J. Michael Luttig of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Beazley is the 11th inmate in Texas, and the 19th in the country, to be put to death since 1976 for committing a murder before age 18. Currently, of the 38 states with capital punishment, 17 allow death sentences for 16-year-old convicted murderers. Sixteen states set the age limit at 18, and five states, including Texas, set the limit at 17.

Gallup Poll shows increase in death penalty support to 72%, the highest since 1999, with 47% believing that the death penalty is not imposed often enough. Only 19% favor the death penalty for the mentally ill and 26% favor the death penalty for juveniles. 52% favor the death penalty over life imprisonment "with absolutely no possibility of parole," and 53% say the death penalty is applied fairly in this country.

June 2002
The U.S. Supreme Court rules in Atkins v. Virginia that execution of the mentally retarded constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. The ruling reversed a previous opinion on the issue in 1989 in Penry v. Lynaugh, and recognized that 18 states (including Indiana) now forbid execution of the mentally retarded by state law. Justices Rehnquist, Scalia, and Thomas dissent, saying that the court relied too heavily on opinion polls and noting that there are 20 death penalty states that have rejected the exclusion of the mentally retarded. The dissent also pointed to the 20 prior felonies on Atkins record and his disputed evidence of retardation. While the opinion leaves open the definition of "mentally retarded," it is generally defined as having an IQ less than 70. In Indiana, the two most likely death row inmates to gain from the decision are Howard Allen and Debra Denise Brown, both of whom received death sentences before Indiana's change in state law prohibiting execution of the mentally retarded.

The U.S. Supreme Court rules in Ring v. Arizona that the finding of an aggravating factor justifying a death sentence must be made by a jury, not merely by the sentencing Judge. The ruling reversed a 1990 opinion upholding the Arizona death penalty procedures in Walton v. Arizona. Along with four other states (Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska), Arizona commits both capital sentencing factfinding and the ultimate sentencing decision entirely to the sentencing Judge. The ruling would appear to be retroactive and reverse all death sentences in these 5 states, approximately 168 cases. Four other states (Alabama, Delaware, Florida, Indiana) have hybrid systems that require an "advisory" verdict by the jury, but the sentencing Judge makes the ultimate sentencing determination. The effect in these states, with approximately 629 convicted murderers on death row, is unclear, but the ruling would appear to at least reverse the death sentences where the jury made no finding of an aggravating circumstance. In Indiana, that would include those cases where the jury recommended against a death sentence: (Benny Lee Saylor - Madison County, Christopher Peterson - Lake County, William Minnick - Lawrence County), and those cases where the jury was unable to reach a jury recommendation: (Eric Holmes - Marion County, Charles Roche - Lake County, Edward Earl Williams - Lake County).

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