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Many death sentences in U.S. military overturned

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Death sentences in military overturnedOf the 16 men sentenced to death since the military overhauled its system in 1984, 10 have been taken off death row. The military's appeals courts have overturned most of the sentences, not because of a change in heart about the death penalty or questions about the men's guilt, but because of mistakes made at every level of the military's judicial system.

The problems included defense attorneys who bungled representation, judges who didn't know how to properly instruct a jury and prosecutors who mishandled evidence. In all of the cases, the men have been resentenced to life in prison. Eventually, they could be eligible for parole.

Yet by many measures, they're the military's worst of the worst. Convicted of crimes such as serial murder and rape, they're the kinds of criminals that many people would agree the death penalty should be reserved for.

Then why have they been spared?

Critics say the military botched the cases because its judicial system lags behind civilian courts and isn't equipped to handle the complex legal and moral questions that capital cases raise.

Civilian courts have demanded that experienced lawyers be appointed in capital cases and have pushed for a more uniform application of the death penalty. The military, however, hasn't made any major institutional changes to address such problems in more than 25 years.


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