The Tree of Life Synagogue Shooting Could Have Destroyed My Family—but Jewish Tradition Rejects the Death Penalty

by Beth Kissileff, Opinion Guest Essay, April 26, 2023

PITTSBURGH — In nearly three decades together, I had never seen my husband, Jon, who is a rabbi, leave Shabbat services before all his congregants had gone home. But on the morning of Oct. 27, 2018, while I was still dawdling over breakfast and the newspaper, I heard the door open only an hour after he had left the house to go to the Tree of Life synagogue. For rest of story click here.


DPIC Adds Eleven Cases to Innocence List, Bringing National Death-Row Exoneration Total to 185

February 18, 2021

New research by the Death Penalty Information Center has found 11 previously unrecorded death-row exonerations, bringing the total number of people exonerated after being wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death to 185. The data now show that for every 8.3 people who have been put to death in the U.S. since executions resumed in the 1970s, one person who had been wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death has been exonerated. Wrongful capital convictions occurred in virtually every part of the country, with exonerations documented in 29 states and 118 different counties.

“Everybody’s worst fear about capital punishment is that innocent people will be wrongfully convicted and executed,” said Robert Dunham, DPIC’s Executive Director. “But the more we learn about what actually happens in these cases, the worse the problem gets. As long as the legal system involves humans, it is guaranteed to make mistakes. But most innocent people who are wrongfully convicted and sent to death row don’t get there by mistake. The data from these 185 exonerations shows that far more frequently, and particularly with people of color, innocent death row prisoners were convicted because of a combination of police or prosecutorial misconduct and perjury or other false testimony.”

For the rest of the article and graphics, click here.


California Sought the Death Penalty – 38 Years Later, the Defendant is Exonerated

March 7, 2023

In a case that demonstrates the risks inherent in the death penalty, Maurice Hastings was found “factually innocent” in Los Angeles of the crime that could have sent him to death row and eventual execution. On March 1, 2023, Judge William Ryan dismissed all charges and freed Hastings, who was serving a sentence of life without parole.

The District Attorney’s Office had sought the death penalty for Hastings, which enables the prosecution to obtain a jury that is willing to impose a death sentence, and therefore may be more conviction prone. The jury may believe that if the death penalty is being sought, there is probably little doubt about the defendant’s guilt. During his incarceration, Hastings maintained his innocence. The DA’s Office repeatedly denied his request for DNA testing until finally in June of 2022, with the help of the Innocence Project and the DA’s Conviction Integrity Unit, a DNA test essentially excluded him from the murder. For the rest of the story, click here.


Attorneys for Kevin Cooper Respond to Special Counsel Report

January 30, 2023

vin Cooper (pictured) is a death-row prisoner in California who was convicted of murdering four people in 1985. He has maintained his innocence of the offense. On January 13, 2023, a special counsel appointed by Governor Gavin Newsom to conduct an independent investigation of Cooper’s case released a report dismissing his claims of innocence, stating, “The evidence of Cooper’s guilt is extensive and conclusive.” 

In response, Cooper’s attorneys made the following statement: “The special counsel’s investigation ordered by Governor Newsom in May 2021 was not properly conducted and is demonstrably incomplete. It failed to carry out the type of thorough investigation required to explore the extensive evidence that Mr. Cooper was wrongfully convicted.” For the rest of the article, click here.


January 26, 2023

Oklahoma Attorney General Appoints Special Counsel to Conduct ‘Thorough Review’ of Richard Glossip’s Case

Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond has appointed a special counsel to conduct a ‘thorough review’ of the case of death-row prisoner Richard Glossip, who has faced nine execution dates despite strong evidence that he is innocent of the 1997 alleged murder-for-hire of an Oklahoma City motel owner. In a news release issued January 26, 2023, two days after the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals rescheduled Glossip’s execution from February 16 to May 18, 2023, Drummond said that Rex Duncan (pictured), a former Republican state representative and two-term Osage County District Attorney, would conduct an independent investigation into Glossip’s innocence claim.


January 26, 2023

Family Members of Murder Victims Call on North Carolina, Nevada to Commute States’ Death Rows

In North Carolina and Nevada, family members of murder victims are speaking out against the death penalty, encouraging officials in both states to commute their death row. 

At a press conference (pictured) outside the North Carolina governor’s mansion on December 10, 2022, 19 members of the North Carolina Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (NCCADP) Homicide Survivor Engagement Group read a letter urging Governor Roy Cooper to abolish the death penalty and commute the sentences of the 135 individuals on death row. The letter unequivocally “reject[s] the premise that the execution of a person, even one who committed murder, could somehow bring us justice or closure. …Instead, it perpetuates the violence.” 

“We believe in the dignity and worth of every person, including those who have committed heinous crimes. We believe in the possibility of redemption for all people. Death sentences do not challenge offenders to take responsibility or transform their lives. Death sentences declare them unworthy of living,” continued the letter.

For rest of article click here.


Supreme Court Reverses Texas Court Decision Based on Prosecutor’s Admission About Flawed Forensic Evidence

January 13, 2023

The U.S. Supreme Court has reversed the denial of relief to a Texas death-row prisoner whose request for new trial is supported by local prosecutors. In a two-sentence decision, the Court granted certiorari to Areli Escobar, vacated the judgment of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (TCCA), and sent the case back for reconsideration. The Court’s summary reversal relied on Travis County prosecutors’ admission that Escobar’s conviction is based on “flawed and misleading forensic evidence.” For the rest of the article, click here.


Archbishop Cordileone: It is past time to strike down the death penalty

September 22, 2022

When Pope Francis asked Catholics to pray this September for an end to the death penalty, I in turn asked my flock to join him, stating: “It is well past time that the death penalty be stricken from the books.”Such a prayer request is particularly called for in the Archdiocese of San Francisco, which includes within its boundaries San Quentin State Prison, the regrettable home of California’s death row for male inmates. Although recently Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered it to be dismantled and the condemned sent to other prisons, the irony is not lost: The death row at San Quentin has consistently been one of the largest in the United States (which had, as of earlier this year, over 700 men awaiting execution), even though the vast majority of us here in the Bay Area are opposed to capital punishment. For rest of article click here.

Pope Francis calls for clemency for death row inmate Ernest Johnson

October 4, 2021

Pope Francis has joined the chorus of people calling on Missouri Gov. Mike Parson to grant clemency to a death row inmate who is set to be executed for killing three people during a 1994 convenience store robbery.

In a letter last week, a representative for Pope Francis wrote that the pope “wishes to place before you the simple fact of Mr. Johnson’s humanity and the sacredness of all human life,” referring to Ernest Johnson, who is scheduled to be executed at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the state prison in Bonne Terre, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) south of St. Louis. (Rest of arcticle is here.)


19th World Day Against the Death Penalty

California People of Faith is joining with Amnesty International Group 1107 (Channing House) to sponsor a “KICKOFF EVENT” for the 19th World Day Against the Death Penalty on Sunday, October 10th. Our gathering will be at Lytton Plaza in downtown Palo Alto on Saturday, October 9th at 2:00 pm. Hear speakers, get information, and learn about community involvement opportunities in support of abolishing the death penalty. 

On October 10, 2021, the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty and abolitionist organizations around the world will celebrate the 19th World Day Against the Death Penalty. This year the World Day is dedicated to women who risk being sentenced to death, who have received a death sentence, and so much more. Their stories are an invisible reality. 

While working towards the complete abolition of the death penalty worldwide, it is crucial to sound the alarm on the discrimination woman face and the consequences such discrimination can have on a death sentence.

Our KICKOFF EVENT aims to introduce and make the Palo Alto community aware of the World Day Against the Death Penalty and inform the community of the project and the opportunities available to support this important cause. Your Channing House Amnesty Group is very excited to hold this event and it is our hope that you will be excited too. Your support will be greatly appreciated and welcome. For further information, go to www.worldcoalition.org or talk to one of the residents in the group.


Papal academy gives US death row chaplain ‘Guardian of Life’ award

Sep 28, 2021

by Carol GlatzCatholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Death row inmates in Florida’s prisons refer to their 6-foot-by-9-foot cell as their “house,” with some having lived in their “house” for 40 years — longer than one Catholic lay chaplain said he has lived in his family home in Tallahassee.

So when Dale Recinella, the lay minister, goes from cell to cell to offer pastoral care, religious education and spiritual accompaniment, “we go house to house, cell to cell, and that’s where we meet them.” These are men and women who cannot come out, “they can’t even come to the chapel,” so the church must go to them.

Recinella has been serving as a Catholic correctional chaplain for inmates on death row and in solitary confinement on behalf of the Catholic bishops of Florida for decades. (For the rest of the story, click here)


Re: The Governor’s Recall

August 16, 2021

Dear California People of Faith Supporter,

As you likely know, on September 14th we will vote on whether or not to recall Governor Newsom.  As a voter, you will have received a voter information guide in which Governor Newsom gives a statement of why he should not be recalled. Proponents for the recall also cite their reasons he should be recalled.  

Consider that, in addition to Governor Newsom’s statement upon his election, he stated that as long as he is Governor, there will be no executions in California.  He punctuated this promise by closing down the death penalty chamber in San Quentin.

I urge you to vote NO on September 14th.

Thank you for your support,
Terry McCaffrey
California People of Faith 


The families against the death penalty, no
matter their personal pain

Jan 16, 2021 by Colman McCarthy

It was on one of the many adventuresome times in the 1990s that I took my students to visit death row inmates in Virginia’s Mecklenburg Correctional Center that I came to know and admire Marie Deans. Her 30-plus year ministry to the condemned included finding pro bono lawyers to file post-conviction habeas appeals and comforting them in their spare cells in the final hours of living, before being electrocuted or drugged to death by the state. (For complete article click here.)


The Man I Saw Them Kill

The Trump Administration has resumed federal executions after a 17-year hiatus. I witnessed the latest one

By Elizabeth Brunig, The New York Times, December 17, 2020

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. — On Thursday evening, I sat in the lobby of a Marriott hotel in Terre Haute, Ind., as Shawn Nolan and Victor Abreu tried to save a man’s life. Both wore bluejeans, button-down shirts and a day or more of scruff — Mr. Nolan’s salt-and-pepper, Mr. Abreu’s black. We shared a bottle of red wine in plastic cups as the two men, public defenders whose caseloads are strictly death penalty appeals, discussed the merits of pleading with the Supreme Court for a stay of execution.

“Days of life matter,” Mr. Nolan had reflected as we spoke earlier that afternoon.

Their work, never light, had recently increased. After a 17-year hiatus, the Department of Justice had resumed federal executions in July, wedging 10 deaths into the latter half of the final year of President Trump’s term. Two of those inmates were their clients. Click here for full story.