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Building New Access Tools for the National Death Penalty Archive

 

The M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections & Archives is pleased announce that we have recently finished a multi-year grant from the IMLS, Council on Library Resources “Hidden Collections” in April 2016. Ten collections were chosen based on the fact that they have national significance, were unprocessed, and have considerable value for researching the social and political movement addressing the death penalty in America.

The objective of the grant was to enhance access for scholars and promote the use of the collections. Scholars, teachers, students, and the general public benefit from the completion of the project objectives because they can easily access and search for documents to interpret capital punishment’s history. The CLIR grant was an excellent opportunity to expand the National Death Penalty Archive within the M. E. Grenander Department of Special Collections & Archives.

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David C. Baldus, Joseph B. Tye Professor at the University of Iowa College of Law, to the National Death Penalty Archive. David Baldus's research and scholarship on the influence of race in the administration of the death penalty are unparalleled. His study of racial disparities in the application of Georgia's death penalty served as the foundation of the landmark Supreme Court case, McCleskey v. Kemp (1987). In that decision, by vote of 5-4, the justices upheld Georgia's death penalty law against constitutional challenge despite dramatic race-of-victim differences in capital charging and sentencing decisions that were revealed by "The Baldus Study." The McCleskey decision was issued a quarter century ago, on April 22, 1987.

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The Leigh B. Bienen Papers contain the records of legal scholar Leigh B. Bienen and her efforts to show how the application of capital punishment in New Jersey and Illinois was inconsistent and discriminatory. Bienen was a member of the New Jersey Department of the Public Advocate in the 1980s where she directed the Public Defender Homicide Study cited in the New Jersey Supreme Court Decision State v. Marshall. In this case, Robert O. Marshall became the state's first death row inmate to have his death sentence confirmed by New Jersey's highest court since capital punishment was reinstated there in 1982. The study led the court to call for the New Jersey Proportionality Review Project where Bienen, along with other legal scholars, argued that the state's administration of the death penalty had significant bias based on the race of the defendant. The death penalty in New Jersey was abolished in 2007.

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For nearly two decades, Abe Bonowitz has worked to educate the public about human rights problems, in particular the death penalty and the need for alternatives to the death penalty. During this time he served in numerous director, consultant, managerial, and activist roles with leading advocacy and death penalty abolitionist organizations. The Abraham Bonowitz papers cover an expansive and prolific career as an activist and humanitarian. Mr. Bonowitz had a hand in many avenues from Amnesty International to fasting for his causes with Starvin For Justice, an annual fast and vigil to abolish the Death Penalty. Mr. Bonowitz donated extensive memorabilia from different abolitionist organizations that he was and currently is active in.

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The Capital Defender Office (1995-2008) (CDO) was established as part of New York States 1995 death penalty legislation which took effect on September 1, 1995. Under the new law, the State expanded the crime of first degree murder and introduced two new penalties, death and life in prison without possibility of parole, for those convicted. Working from offices in Albany, New York City, and Rochester, the CDO sought to ensure that defendants being tried by the State, who could not afford representation, receive skilled counsel in capital cases. The CDO closed its Rochester office in 2005, and, as no state death penalty cases remain, the Albany and New York City offices in 2008. This collection consists of news clips (filed by subject), subject files, bound records of appeal in the cases of the People v. Cahill, Harris, LaValle, Mateo, McCoy, and Taylor, notebooks with appellate briefs, New York county court papers arranged by county, government studies, reports and debates on capital punishment, annual reports, and a small number of VHS tapes recording court proceedings. There are defendant case files, some with correspondence, court papers, and news clips and others with just news clips.

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The Capital Jury Project was initiated in 1991 by a consortium of university-based researchers with support from the National Science Foundation. The Project is administered nationally by Dr. William Bowers, Principal Research Scientist, Northeastern University. The findings of the CJP are based on 3 to 4 hour, in-depth, interviews with persons who have served as jurors in capital trials. Phase I of the Project has completed over 1,200 interviews from jurors in 353 capital trials in 14 states. These interviews chronicled the jurors' experiences and decision-making over the course of the trial, identify points at which various influences come into play, and reveal the ways in which jurors reach their final sentencing decision. The project continued with the Capital Jury Project II (CJP2), a program of research on the decision-making of capital jurors.

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The Michael A. Mello papers includes material related to some of Michael Mello's more significant cases; including Joseph Crazy Joe Spaziano, Davidson James, Bennie Demps, and Nollie Lee Martin. Also included are drafts and complete copies of a number of Michael Mellos publications, research files used by Michael Mello in the various aspects of his professional life, case files for which Michael Mello may have been involved in some capacity. The majority of the material involves Michael Mello's professional life from the mid-1980s to the late 1990s.

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Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation is a national death penalty abolition organization founded by Marie Deans in 1976 which supports coordinated efforts to abolish the death penalty in all cases. The organization includes family members of both homicide victims and those executed as well as their respective supporters. The Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation Records document the organization's fight to abolish the death penalty from 1977 to 2007.

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For over 35 years the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty has been working to educate the public about the arbitrary, discriminatory, and inconsistent use of capital punishment in the United States. The group was founded after the Supreme Court again permitted use of the death penalty in the Gregg v. Georgia decision of 1976. Since then, the NCADP has emerged as the largest national organization exclusively devoted to abolishing the death penalty. The group lobbies against capital punishment through a variety of methods that include organizing protests and increasing public awareness. The NCADP uses a number of non-violent methods to draw attention to, and advance, their campaign at local, state and national levels.

The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty Records contains the group's internal case files, administrative material, and publications. Here researchers can examine efforts like the international Stop Killing Kids Campaign as well as photographs, audio, and video of the NCADP's annual conference and on-the-ground advocacy campaigns.

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The Bill Pelke Papers contain the records of political activist Bill Pelke and document his efforts toward the abolition of the death penalty in the United States from the late 1980s until the early 2000s. Pelke's life as a death penalty activist began in 1985 after his own grandmother was murdered by Paula Cooper, a fifteen year old girl who was subsequently sentenced to death. Pelke gained national attention for his efforts to save the life of his grandmother's killer. In 1989, Cooper's sentence was commuted to 60 years imprisonment, owing to recent changes in federal and state laws which barred the death penalty for defendants who committed crimes under the age of 16, prompted, in part, by Pelke's efforts. The collection includes materials from organizations in which Pelke was a member including Journey of Hope...from Violence to Healing, Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation, Amnesty International, and the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

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The Victor Streib Papers contain the records of Victor Streib, a retired professor of law and recognized authority on the death penalty, especially its application to women and juveniles. The collection contains case files, papers, journal articles and other written materials about juveniles and women who were sentenced to death or executed. It also consists of materials from Streib's case work from the mid-1980s to the mid-2000s, when he was working as counsel to a handful of death penalty cases, and researching the history of how that punishment has been applied in the United States.

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