Dying for a Lawyer: Life on Alabama’s Death Row

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The nation’s de facto death penalty moratorium continued last night when the U.S. Supreme Court intervened one hour before Alabama death row inmate James Callahan was scheduled to die. Since the high court decided to review lethal injection—the southern state’s primary capital punishment method—in September, every scheduled execution has been stayed.

Along with Callahan, 194 people currently live on Alabama’s death row—more than any other state per capita. But what makes the situation in Alabama most dire isn’t the lethal injection protocol being weighed by the Court; it’s the lack of adequate legal representation available to the condemned. More than half of Alabama’s death row inmates had trial attorneys whose compensation for out-of-court hours was capped at $1000, giving lawyers a financial disincentive to prepare a zealous defense. Even worse, Alabama is one of only two states in the country that don’t provide legal representation for capital post-conviction appeals. Death row inmates who are indigent (and most are), don’t stand a chance for relief unless they’re lucky enough to get pro bono representation from groups like Equal Justice Initiative and the Southern Center for Human Rights. (Full disclosure: I worked at SCHR as an investigator.) So far five innocent people have been freed from Alabama’s death row. Who knows how many remain because they lack a lawyer.

—Celia Perry

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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