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February 15, 2018: ANOTHER EFFORT TO ABOLISH THE DEATH PENALTY IN UTAH
Again this year, carrying on the groundwork laid two years ago by then-Senator Steve Urquhart, a bill is before the state legislature to abolish the death penalty in Utah.
In support of that bill, HB 379, I have written an introduction to a booklet called “Voices of Utah,” which contains the views of many murder victims’ family members, as well as former prosecutors, community activists and leaders who favor abolishing capital punishment in Utah.
Here’s the link to the booklet:
Voices-8 (2) While my comments in the booklet were of necessity brief, you can read the entire chapter in my book describing how I went from capital case prosecutor to one who opposes the death penalty, by clicking on this link, scrolling down until you find my entry, and then clicking on “read more” in the text:
January 23, 2018: INNOCENCE REFORM UPDATE:
I am delighted to announce that Kirk Bloodsworth and Daniel Medwed, two people I greatly admire, will my be joining me in September in Salt Lake City for a nationwide conference entitled “Best Practices for the 21st Century Prosecutor,” and we’re going to be addressing “Preventing and Remediating Wrongful Convictions.”
Kirk and Dan are both terrific guys whom I consider close friends. Kirk was the first person in the United States to be wrongfully conv
icted of murder, sentenced to death and later exonerated by DNA evidence, and Dan is a Professor at Northeastern Law School in Boston and a nationwide expert on innocence reform. I recount my experiences with both of them in the final chapter of my book.
I am just so pleased that Dan and Kirk will be joining me at the conference, and that we’ll get to spend time together again. The photo below was taken in 2007 when Kirk and I did innocence training for prosecutors in Utah.
November, 2017: BOOK ON SALE THROUGH THE HOLIDAYS:
The book is currently listed on Amazon for $15.00, which is 25% off the list price of $19.95.
November 12, 2017: SUPPLEMENT TO CHAPTER 24 RE: THE INNOCENCE MOVEMENT:
Chapter 24 discusses my involvement in the innocence movement. While I mention the contribution of several people who helped us in our efforts to enact key legislation and policies to help prevent and rectify wrongful convictions, I would like to recognize the significant contributions of others in the Utah Attorney General’s Office who were also key players in that effort.
They include Kirk Torgensen (former Chief Deputy Attorney General), the late Wade Farraway (former Assistant Attorney General and our office’s legislative liaison), and Ken Wallentine (former Chief of Investigations).
All three worked behind the scenes in ways beyond what I was aware of at the time I wrote the book. I do recall that Kirk and Ken worked to line up law enforcement support for the policy requiring recording of custodial interviews of suspects, which required persistence and was not an easy sell. In the end they secured the support of the Chiefs and Sheriffs associations, and the Department of Public Safety.
On the innocence legislation, Kirk and Wade played key roles soliciting and shoring up legislative support. Kirk, as Chief Deputy, played a particularly crucial role. While he is featured in the book in the photo showing Governor Huntsman signing the bill into law (he’s third from the right in the above, related photo), I should have mentioned Kirk’s substantial contributions, and failed to do so.
This was partly due to my being unaware of the extent of his efforts, although I do recall his lobbying legislators with us, and I definitely remember that he gave me his full support. Most notably, I recall a conversation I had with Kirk about key legislators who had complained to him about how much I was promoting the bill, and who put pressure on the Attorney General’s Office to try to get us to back off.
One of the things these lawmakers didn’t like was the part of the bill that provided for monetary assistance for people who had been wrongfully convicted, sent to prison, and later exonerated. The implication from their conversations with Kirk was that if we continued to push the bill, the Attorney General’s budget might be negatively impacted.
I knew that this was not an idle threat, because the Legislature controlled the Attorney General’s budget. I asked Kirk whether he was asking me to back off in my efforts to get the bill passed, and he said “no.” It meant a lot to me that Kirk was willing to stand firm in what he thought was the right thing to do, despite that kind of political pressure. And it allowed me to continue promoting the bill with the full support of our office.
I made an effort in the book to give credit where credit was due, but in this instance, I fell short of that mark. Thanks, Kirk, Wade and Ken. There is no question that you all played significant roles in making innocence reforms happen in Utah.
LETTER TO PRESIDENT OBAMA RE: POLICE RECORDING OF SUSPECT INTERVIEWS:
In Chapter 24, in which I discuss my involvement in the innocence movement, I talk about a letter I sent to President Obama in 2009 urging him to direct federal law enforcement agencies to record custodial interrogations of suspects. Some have expressed interest in seeing the letter, so here it is:
January 2017 update: VIDEO OF PRESENTATION
For the event, I talked about my career, read some brief excepts from my book, and did a Powerpoint presentation, “The Atticus Finch Prosecutor: Lessons in how to Avoid Prosecuting an Innocent Person”
November 2016 update:
Last month, I spoke at the Utah Prosecution Fall Training Conference in Vernal, Utah. It was good re-connecting with old friends and colleagues in the prosecution community. I particularly enjoyed the civility and ethics training, where I emphasized the need for prosecutors to be not just advocates, but ministers of justice.
I was pleased that there was quite a bit of interest in my book at the conference. I’m also having the book placed into the library at the College of Law at the University of Utah, so law students can readily access it.
September 6, 2016:
Next month I will be returning to Utah to speak to prosecutors at the annual Utah Prosecution Council Fall Training Conference. I will be talking about mental health issues in criminal cases, including competency to stand trial, insanity and diminished mental capacity, and how to cross examine mental health experts.
I will also be speaking about ethics and civility, and will emphasize that prosecutors play a unique role in our system of justice, as they are not just advocates for the state, but also “ministers of justice.”
August 3, 2016:
In a recent interview, I gave my views on the importance of prosecutors acting ethically as ministers of justice, as well as my thoughts on the death penalty. For more information and the link to the interview, see “In the Media.”
June 8, 2016:
I’ll be on Marc Courtenay’s radio program again on June 30. See the “In the Media” Tab for details.
April 17, 2016:
The website for “Public Safety Officials on the Death Penalty” (PSODP) has now posted the entire chapter of my book in which I discusses my experience handling capital cases and my views on capital punishment. It is a much more thorough treatment of the issue than what was contained in the brief op-ed piece I wrote for the Salt Lake Tribune last month. Look at the section of the website that says “Why We’re Concerned” to find the link to my chapter.
March 31, 2016 — I have joined a group called “Public Safety Officials on the Death Penalty,” to promote more dialogue on the issue of whether we should abolish the death penalty. For more information about the group, here’s their website: http://psodp.org/
March 13, 2016 — BACKSTORY OF THE BOOK’S ACCELERATED PUBLICATION Yesterday was the two-week anniversary of the book’s publication on February 27. I had initially intended to publish it on April 4, after lining up a few more ducks and some book release events, but something unforeseen happened that accelerated its release date. Back at the time I wrote Chapter 22, — the death penalty chapter, I had no idea that Utah would be considering abolishing the death penalty any day soon. (In fact, I say as much at the end of the chapter.) As the book was nearing publication, my original idea was to low-key Chapter 22, because I didn’t want the focus of the book’s release to be “Prosecutor comes out against the death penalty.” I didn’t want this one chapter to overshadow the other twenty-three or give the impression that the book is primarily about my opposition to the death penalty. And, as I say, I didn’t expect the Legislature to take up the issue any day soon. So that was my plan until February 25, when I saw in a Facebook post that Sen. Urquhart was running a bill to abolish the death penalty in Utah. At that point I felt I should weigh in on the debate, and sent Sen. Urquhart a message letting him know that my book was about to be released, and that in it I favor doing away with the death penalty. During the last couple of weeks, at Sen. Urquhart’s request, I have been interviewed on a radio program and have written an op-ed piece in the Salt Lake Tribune explaining why I support the bill. While the legislation made it successfully through the Senate and passed favorably out of a House committee, it did not pass in the House because it didn’t come up for a vote before the legislative session ended on March 10. It may well be revived next year.
WHAT’S IN A NAME? Several years ago when I came up with the idea of naming the book “A Reluctant Prosecutor,” I wasn’t focusing on the issue of the death penalty, although in light of all the recent publicity I can see why some might assume that’s what I had in mind.