- Arizona is among 10 states that have
made serious errors in death penalty cases, casting doubt on verdicts,
according to a study to be released today by Columbia University Law
- Arizona, with an error rate of 79
percent, ranked ninth among the states with the worst records. The
rate is based on a review of 500 cases that were reversed in the 10
states after going through various appeals.
"They do too many
too fast and prosecutors seek the death penalty too quickly," said
James Leibman, a Columbia Law School professor who led a team of
lawyers and statisticians in the study of cases between 1972 and 1995.
The mistakes, which often led to a new trial, cast doubt on the
reliability of death penalty verdicts, he said.
Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor last year voiced concerns about the
number of reversals in death penalty verdicts, saying that, "If
statistics are any indication, the system may well be allowing
innocent defendants to be executed."
Arizona prosecutors say
Leibman's study is wrong, placing the error rate at closer to 50
percent. Still, prosecutors are working to decrease
Kent Cattani, chief of capital litigation for the
Arizona Attorney General's Office, said that since 1996, indigents
facing the death penalty are appointed two defense lawyers. And the
state's Capital Case Commission, which includes prosecution and
defense lawyers, pushed for legislation last year that banned the
execution of the mentally retarded.
Dennis Burke, chief deputy
to Arizona General Janet Napolitano, said the commission has conducted
a more thorough review of death-penalty cases than the law-school
study. The commission's report shows that of 230 death penalty cases
imposed in Arizona between 1974 and 2000, less than half were returned
for new trials.
The commission study says that 28 convicts were
resentenced to death, 60 people received life sentences and 12 others
entered pleas for time served and are free.
Seven others were
found innocent and walked off death row.
Larry Hammond, a
Phoenix defense lawyer who has represented some of the freed
defendants, said he is stunned that some prosecutors suggest that a
nearly 50 percent error rate is acceptable.
"The people should
say this shouldn't happen," he said.
John Stookey, a Phoenix
defense lawyer and member of the Capital Case Commission,
Stookey reviewed all six volumes of the Leibman study
and said he was impressed with its quality.
"Anyone who doesn't
think it casts doubt on the death penalty in Arizona is either
misguided or not being truthful," he said.
attorneys point to death-row inmates such as Robert Cruz, who won his
freedom in 1995 after more than 14 years behind bars and five trials,
triggered by appeals and deadlocked juries.
Cruz was accused of
arranging the highly publicized 1980 murders of Phoenix print-shop
owner, William Patrick Redmond, and his mother-in-law Helen
The National Institute of Justice and the Columbia Law
School sponsored the $1.25 million study.
of the reversed cases nationwide were blamed on ineffective defense
counsel, prosecutorial misconduct, biased judges and jurors or wrong
instructions to jurors, the study concluded. The finding is based on a
nationwide review of more than 5,800 death penalty