Sunday, December 8, 2019

Some DA's still aggressively pursuing the death penalty

The number of people on death row in the U.S. is at a 27-year low, but Franklin County District Attorney Ron O’Brien sought the death penalty in 10 cases from 2014 through 2018, according to an analysis of court records by The Appeal. But O’Brien, who has served as the DA since 1997, secured a death verdict in just one of the 10 cases. Eight resulted in a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.
In August, a jury returned a death verdict in the case of Kristofer Garrett, convicted for murdering his girlfriend and their 4-year-old daughter in January 2018. Garrett was the first person since 2003 to be sentenced to death in Franklin County, the most populous county in the state with more than 1.3 million residents.
One death penalty case brought by O’Brien is currently awaiting trial.
O’Brien’s relentless pursuit of the death penalty makes Franklin County an outlier in the U.S., according to Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.
Under O’Brien, Franklin County joins other outlier counties like Cuyahoga County, Ohio, which Dunham said currently is the most prolific county in seeking the death penalty, and Caddo Parish, Louisiana, where the death-seeking rate between 2006 and 2015 was eight times greater than the rest of the state. Despite accounting for only 5 percent of the state population, nearly 40 percent of people sentenced to death in Louisiana during that time came from Caddo Parish. In 2015, James Stewart was elected Caddo district attorney. Since then, Stewart has continued to seek the death penalty but in a more limited capacity than the previous administration. But Stewart has sought the death penalty in cases originating prior to his tenure and continues to support death sentences imposed before he took office.  
Dunham said fewer than 2 percent of counties in the U.S. account for approximately 60 percent of all people currently sentenced to death row. More than 80 percent of counties have not sentenced anyone to death in more than 40 years and roughly 85 percent of counties have not carried out an execution.
According to a recent ACLU report, only three counties—Los Angeles, Riverside (California) and Maricopa (Arizona)—had more than 10 death sentences from 2014 to 2018.
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