2017-04-17 14:03:42 UTC
Texas death penalty practice deserves abolition
Arkansas wants to execute 8 people over the next 10 days. The state's stock of
Midazolam, a sedative used for lethal-injection, is due to expire at the end of
the April. Not one to let taxpayer dollars go to waste, Gov. Asa Hutchinson
opted to clear the state's death row as soon as possible. For now, a federal
judge has put a pin in these plans, but Arkansas plans to appeal. Gruesome
instances like these remind us of a grim reality - capital punishment is a
fundamentally flawed institution that has no place in modern society.
Texas is no stranger to death penalty complications. In March, the Supreme
Court ruled that Texas used an antiquated standard to determine the necessary
intellectual ability a death row defendant must demonstrate. Moreover, just
last week Texas refused to conduct additional DNA testing for another
defendant. This is especially concerning in a state that has the second highest
rate of executions per capita. If a society is determined to provide the death
penalty it must also be willing to pursue a gamut of opportunities to prove
innocence. Anything less creates a legal system which stacks the deck against
The laws of Texas seem predisposed for inmates to be put to death. Currently, a
panel of jurors must unanimously agree upon the death sentence for the
defendant to be put on death row. A single juror's dissent automatically
renders life in prison. However, state law bans judges and attorneys from
communicating this 2nd contingency. The impact is profound. In a 2008 trial
juror Sven Berger didn't believe defendant Paul Storey qualified for the death
penalty. Berger also knew he couldn't convince the other 10 jurors otherwise
and so, unaware of the power of his dissent, Berger voted for the death
sentence. Justice may be blind, but Texas laws are trying their hardest to keep
jurors in the dark.
Capital punishment is a difficult subject to mediate. Society has an inherent
drive to achieve justice, and the families of victims must not feel as if the
law has marginalized them. However, the law must not be vengeful and it must
not discriminate. The disproportionate representation of minorities on death
row is an outgrowth of the bitter legacy of lynching in the United States. The
death penalty requires complex moral gymnastics to justify taking a life. It
fails as a deterrent and at best has an imperceptible effect on the homicide
rate. Victims deserve justice, but so do the defendants.
The fight to repeal capital punishment in Texas will take years to come to
fruition. However, attempts to iron out some of the most glaring flaws can be
made. DNA testing in Texas is only conducted when the defendant can prove the
tests would change the outcome of the case. This standard unduly limits
potential evidence and is far more restrictive than necessary. Senate Bill
1616, if passed, would improve juror transparency by removing the gag order on
capital punishment case sentencing instructions.
Finally, the criminal justice system needs a dramatic overhaul. For far too
long minorities have been disproportionately represented in the criminal
justice system. A study by the University of Maryland, using Houston's Harris
County as a test case, found that black Americans were three times as likely to
have their cases advanced to a death penalty trial than their white
counterparts. Adopting a bottom-up approach to reform - amending drug
possession and bail laws, for example - will mitigate the nefarious impacts of
the modern day death penalty.
Arkansas is creating an environment in which assembly line justice is the norm
and the basis of the criminal justice is eroded. Texas must learn from the
failure of Arkansas and let the death penalty take its last breath.
(source: Opinion; Usmaan Hasan is a business freshman from Plano----The (Univ.
Texas) Daily Texan)
Delaware returns to death penalty debate after prison uprising
Just after 10 a.m. EDT on Feb. 1, a group of inmates took four staff hostage as
they seized control of Building C at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in
Smyrna, Delaware, with 120 prisoners inside.
By the end of the 18-hour standoff, Sgt. Steven Floyd Sr. was dead.
The state has shared little information about the attack and now, "All 120 are
considered suspects," said Jayme Gravell, a corrections spokeswoman. But
lawmakers and human rights groups tell completely different stories about what
led to the uprising and how to move forward.
"We have been begging for help for years." - Correctional Officers Association
of Delaware union president Geoff Klopp
Republican Rep. Steve Smyk said corrections officers had recently been on the
receiving end of a 1-2 punch. The 1st came in August, when the state Supreme
Court ruled that Delaware's death penalty was unconstitutional because it
allowed a judge's sentence to supersede a jury's. One month later, the state
settled a lawsuit, agreeing to improve mental health care for inmates and
significantly reduce how much time they spend in solitary confinement.
Correctional officers were already overworked and understaffed, Smyk said, and
the settlement piled on more responsibility while empowering inmates, many of
whom claim mistreatment by the officers.
"The reality is that inside the facility you have people that are very
dangerous and that's why they are in the facility and they have nothing to
lose," he said. "And now they can make a great statement by taking the life of
one of the [correctional officers]."
At the same time, national and local human rights lawyers who are in
collaboration say that such a narrative is detached and dismissive of the
people most affected by prison policies: inmates.
A 'combustible' situation in Delaware prisons
Delaware is the country's 2nd-smallest state, with a population of just under 1
million, but incarcerates at a rate about 15 % higher than the national
average. It houses approximately 7,000 inmates across 4 state facilities that
have been understaffed for many years, a key focus in annual reports by the
Delaware Department of Correction. In 2015, there were 86 staffing vacancies
among the prisons - an improvement from the previous year, when there were 132.
Graphic courtesy of Delaware's Department of Correction 2015 annual report.
"While staffing levels have increased incrementally since 2011, it should be
noted that the Department continues to operate at a substantial vacancy rate,"
the report notes.
Starting salaries for corrections officers are in the low 30s, which
contributes to a high rate of staff turnover - the work is too stressful to
accept these wages, said Correctional Officers Association of Delaware union
president Geoff Klopp.
"We have been begging for help for years," Klopp said. "A lot of basic security
operations are overlooked and superseded and when it goes on for so long, it's
a cancer that continues to eat at you."
This also has a direct effect on how people on the inside are treated, says a
swath of human rights lawyers who started comparing notes as soon as they heard
about the uprising. The National Lawyers Guild assembled a team to sift through
summaries of hundreds of letters written to local groups by inmates over the
years and is talking to people documenting what is going on inside the prisons.
"The focus of discussions of the Vaughn uprising thus far has been misplaced,"
said Stanley Holdorf, supervising attorney for the guild's Prison Legal Access
Network. "The emphasis should be on the conditions that preceded the uprising:
what factors precipitated the incident, and how conditions of confinement at
Vaughn can be improved."
Holdorf said he has entered more than 500 letters into a database from just the
last year, documenting whether they include complaints about discrimination,
excessive force or one of 17 other forms of mistreatment.
"Staff was underpaid and overworked ... You mix that up, you have a combustible
kind of situation." - Rev. Christopher Bullock of the Delaware Coalition of
Prison Reform and Justice
"We are receiving consistent and widely-corroborated reports of flagrant and
ongoing abuses inside the facility, to include physical abuse of prisoners by
staff and other serious rights violations," Holdorf said. "Such acts can only
worsen the situation."
These stories are decades old to the local chapter of the American Civil
Liberties Union and the Delaware Coalition of Prison Reform and Justice, which
includes the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and
One Sunday morning in 2003, an elderly woman told Rev. Christopher Bullock, who
founded the Canaan Baptist Church and the Delaware Coalition of Prison Reform
and Justice, that her grandson in prison had a headache, but the prison refused
to give him Tylenol.
"I said, 'OK, I'll pray for him,'" Bullock said. "Then she came back the next
week and said the same thing."
Bullock started talking to inmates and hearing that people with serious medical
conditions such as HIV/AIDS were being neglected.
? "Inhumane violations of human and civil rights, not to mention moral rights,"
Then in 2004, a prisoner at the Vaughn facility held a counselor hostage in her
office and raped her. After nearly 7 hours, officers shot and killed the
The correctional officer sued the state, saying it willfully ignored staffing
shortages and security lapses that contributed to the incident. The state
settled in 2005 for $1.65 million.
Amid damning news reports, the state started issuing a series of
recommendations to improve safety that highlighted understaffing and the lack
of mental health resources in prisons.
But Bullock said the letters continued to get grislier and more frequent -
people wrote that they were being beaten, prevented from using hot water or
having hot meals withheld in the dead of winter. Instead of getting 1 or 2
letters from inmates a month like he did in 2003, he started getting as many as
10 every month.
"Staff was underpaid and overworked," he said. "You mix that up, you have a
combustible kind of situation."
In 2015, the ACLU with another human rights group filed a lawsuit on behalf of
more than 100 prisoners with mental illness being held in solitary confinement,
which the lawsuit said exacerbated their ailments.
Their settlement announced in September required that they hire more mental
health staff, increase out-of-cell time from three hours a week to 17.5 hours a
week for most held in solitary and limit the amount of time people could be
held in solitary.
And then the Supreme Court, after finding the death penalty unconstitutional,
ruled that the 12 inmates on death row at Vaughn would not be executed.
Smyk said this is why, "the inmates know they have the upper-hand."
Some lawmakers want to bring back the death penalty
Regardless of the cause, Bullock says that the uprising has made a bad
situation worse. His church held a town hall meeting with hundreds of people
who were either formerly incarcerated or related to people who are. He likened
some of the complaints he heard to torture.
Inmates are being rounded up by people in masks, pepper-sprayed and not just
beaten, he said, but humiliated.
"I know that certain corrections officers have asked men to put their hand in
their rectum and put their hand back in their mouth," he said.
A Delaware Department of Correction spokeswoman said the latter complaint was
untrue, but did not provide comment on the former. Gov. John Carney's office
declined to comment on specific claims citing pending litigation.
An inmate who was present during the takeover also filed a 14-page, handwritten
federal lawsuit claiming that inmates who tried to help during the takeover
were beaten, stripped and banned from their religious meals in the aftermath.
The attorney representing Floyd's wife and family as well as the other hostages
also said he is planning to file a federal lawsuit on their behalf this coming
Bullock has written 2 letters to the U.S. Department of Justice, asking it to
intervene again, to which it has said it will use consider whether to open
Then on March 27, even though Carney said during his campaign last year that he
opposed capital punishment and would let the Supreme Court's ruling stand, he
revised his stance.
"I wouldn't rule out, however, supporting a death penalty that applied only to
those convicted of killing a member of law enforcement," Carney said in a
statement responding to reports about reviving the death penalty. "In some
cases - specifically behind prison walls - capital punishment may be our only
deterrent to murder."
7 days later, Smyk introduced House Bill 125, calling it the Extreme Crimes
Protection Act, to ensure the state's capital punishment process abides by
constitutional standards. If it passes and Carney signs it into law, it would
revoke Delaware's status as the 19th and most recent state to abolish the death
No one interviewed for this piece disagrees that prison workers in Delaware are
underpaid and overworked, nor did anyone say they support abuse or retaliation
either by the inmates or the correctional officers.
But now Smyk, who had planned to support a bill to reinstate capital punishment
ever since the state Supreme Court ruling, says he thinks the uprising has
given some state lawmakers who initially opposed the death penalty a new
"What I am hearing is that they've had a change of heart, so I think that this
bill has a great chance in the House and the Senate," he said.
Holdorf, however, was nearly speechless when asked about whether the
elimination of the death penalty could have encouraged people to participate in
"It sounds like nonsense. I really can't, I don't understand. It doesn't make
sense," he said.
Delaware's Chief Public Defender Brendan O'Neill, whose lawyers successfully
argued against the death penalty at the Supreme Court, said that the Vaughn
uprising does not change that capital punishment is expensive, error-prone and
"We'll make the same arguments we've been making for a long time," he said.
"Despite supporter claims, there's no evidence that the death penalty works."
Delaware lawmakers should let the death penalty die
Delaware, a state with more registered companies than residents, has a long
list of problems. The governor has proposed a series of tax increases and
spending cuts to close a yawning $385 million budget gap. Wilmington, the
largest city, is hollowed out and crime-ridden. The venerable DuPont Co. is
undergoing a convoluted merger and dismantling that will leave it a shell of
the corporate giant that essentially built the state.
With all of this going on, some lawmakers from both sides of the aisle came up
with the retrograde idea to bring back the death penalty.
Never mind that the Delaware Supreme Court ruled last year that the state's
capital punishment law was unconstitutional because it allowed a judge, not a
jury, to determine whether "aggravating circumstances" made a crime heinous
enough to deserve the death penalty.
In seeking to reinstitute the death penalty, State Sen. Dave Lawson (R.,
Marydel) said: "Delaware has a long history of applying capital punishment
cautiously, judiciously, and infrequently."
Lawson's comments appeared ignorant of recent events: 2 men who spent years on
death row in Delaware have been exonerated. Isaiah McCoy, 29, was released from
death row in January after being acquitted of a 2010 murder. Jermaine Wright,
43, spent 24 years on death row before he was finally released from prison in
September after his conviction was overturned.
McCoy and Wright join the hundreds of others nationwide who have had their
wrongful convictions overturned. A 2014 study by the Proceedings of the
National Academy of Sciences estimated that 1 in 25 people are sentenced to
death for crimes they did not commit.
There are many compelling reasons why the death penalty is a bad idea,
including that it is costly, barbaric, and not a crime deterrent. But the
chance that an innocent person could be - and has been - put to death for a
crime that person did not commit should be more than enough reason to stop
sending people to death row.
Most developed countries have already eliminated capital punishment. In
continuing to put people to death, the United States is in bad company with
authoritarian nations that have lousy track records on human rights.
Fortunately, several states have abolished the death penalty in recent years,
including New Jersey in 2007. But the death penalty remains legal in 32 states,
Gov. Wolf initiated a moratorium on the death penalty in 2015 to allow a task
force to complete a study on capital punishment. The state Senate authorized
the task force in 2011 to examine whether the death penalty can be legally and
effectively administered. The task force was supposed to issue its findings in
2013. It is unclear what is taking so long, but it is past time for it to
In issuing the moratorium, Wolf questioned the effectiveness of executions and
cited the wave of exonerations nationwide. The governor rightly called the
capital punishment system "ineffective, unjust and expensive."
That assessment succinctly sums up why the death penalty should be abolished in
Pennsylvania and the rest of the country. Delaware should want to be on the
right side of history.
(source: Opinion, Philadelphia Daily News)
Arkansas executions: State vows to overturn block on lethal injection
plan----The attorney general says they are "working around the clock" to get
permission to put 8 criminals to death in 11 days.
Lawyers for the US state of Arkansas have vowed to overturn court orders
preventing them from beginning an unprecedented series of executions this week.
A series of legal challenges has blocked the southern state's plans to execute
8 men by lethal injection in the space of 11 days.
A judge ruled that 1 of the drugs used might expose the prisoners to pain
before their death - in violation of the US constitution's protection against
cruel and unusual punishment.
Arkansas' stock of the drug - midazolam - is due to expire at the end of the
month, prompting the rush to carry out so many executions in such a short time.
The state's attorney general has appealed against the court's decision.
Leslie Rutledge said: "We do have a number of pieces of litigation that we are
"Attorneys are working around the clock and committed to upholding and
defending the rule of law, seeing these executions carried out, seeing justice
for the families of those victims."
The planned executions - which would be the most carried out in a such a short
time since the US reinstated the death penalty in 1976 - have prompted
The actor Johnny Depp joined one rally, alongside a man who he campaigned to
free after 18 years on death row.
When asked what he would say to Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson, he replied:
"I can't, I don't, you know - how do you sleep, man? I don't know. How do you
One of the legal challenges has been brought by the manufacturers of the drugs.
McKesson Medical Surgical Inc said vercuronium bromide had been sold to the
state for medical purposes, not capital punishment.
Maya Foa, director of the anti-death penalty campaigners Reprieve, told Sky
News: "The drugs slated for use in lethal injection cocktails across the US are
simply medicines, designed to save and improve lives and (the) health of
patients and (are) being misused in lethal fashion.
"So it is no surprise that the healthcare industry doesn't want to see
medicines used in terrible executions."
Death sentences and executions have declined in recent years but voters in a
number of states, including California, have opted to keep capital punishment.
6 states have abolished the death penalty in the last decade.
The story of the Arkansas 8 - Bruce Earl Ward, Don William Davis, Stacey E
Johnson, Ledell Lee, Jack Harold Jones Jr, Marcel Williams, Jason F McGehee and
Kenneth Williams - is now a key strand of the broader death penalty debate.
For James Phillips it is straightforward. His wife Mary was raped and murdered
"I've been waiting for justice for nearly 22 years and that's all I'm after,"
(source: Sky News)
Arkansas' gruesome planned murder spree tells us everything wrong with the
death penalty in America----The state wanted to execute 11 people in 8 days
because its questionable injection drugs would go bad otherwise
In the summer of 1999, Clayton Lockett and two accomplices, including a man
named Shawn Mathis, were burglarizing a home when they were interrupted by
19-year-old Stephanie Neiman as she dropped off her friend, who happened to
live there. Lockett attempted to grab the keys to Neiman's new Chevy pickup
truck, and so she put up a struggle. Consequently, Lockett beat her, bound her
arms, mouth and legs with duct tape and proceeded to attack Neiman's friend, as
well as another resident of the home and that person's 9-month-old child.
It gets worse.
Neiman and her friends were abducted and driven out to a remote country road.
Lockett and his victims waited while Lockett's accomplice, Mathis, chipped away
at the ground, digging a small grave along the road. Neiman was shoved into the
burial ditch and, while there, Lockett shot her with a sawed off shotgun.
Neiman miraculously survived and began pleading for her life. Another shot was
fired, but this time the gun jammed. A 3rd shot hit its target.
But, amazingly, Stephanie Neiman was still alive. So Lockett and Mathis buried
her anyway. Alive.
Fast forward to April 2014. After being prosecuted, convicted and sentenced to
death, with the ruling upheld by an Oklahoma appellate court, Lockett was
scheduled to be executed by lethal injection at the state penitentiary in
McAlester. The chemical cocktail used for the execution hadn't been tested. The
Guardian's Katie Fretland reported earlier that week:
The state plans to lethally inject Lockett ... with midazolam followed by
vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride. Florida has used a similar method,
but it employed a dose of midazolam that is 5 times greater. And Ohio used
midazolam with a different drug, hydromorphone, in the January execution of
Dennis McGuire, which took longer than 20 minutes.
Oklahoma corrections spokesman Jerry Massie briefed the media and said the
executions will likely take longer than normal, because the 1st drug is
expected to work more slowly.
"Don't be surprised," Massie said.
In spite of Massie's eerie caveat, it appears as though corrections officials
administering the injections were very surprised when the execution went
10 minutes into the procedure, Lockett lapsed into unconsciousness. But then,
minutes later, he began to writhe and convulse. The AP reported that Lockett
was "clenching his teeth and straining to lift his head off the pillow." The
convulsing and gasping reportedly continued for another 10 minutes. Spectators
were blocked from continuing to view the scene. The execution was finally
aborted after an agonizing 24 minutes. But Lockett died of a heart attack more
than an hour later.
It turns out the chemicals failed to rush into Lockett's body quickly enough -
something having to do with a "vein failure" - and hence the slow death.
Clayton Lockett was sentenced in a court of law to die, and death is what he
got. Though it should never have happened in that very cruel and very unusual
Pause on Arkansas executions highlights national trend
An unprecedented series of recent court rulings that halted the execution of 8
Arkansas prisoners reflects a decades-long national trend that has sharply
curtailed the use of capital punishment.
Death penalty experts say the court decisions are in keeping with a number of
factors prompting executions in the United States to decline, including
challenges based on DNA evidence, litigation over the drugs used in executions
and increased use of life without parole as a sentencing option.
Prisoner executions nationwide have plummeted over the past 2 decades,
decreasing nearly every year since 1999, when 98 prisoners were executed. There
were 20 prisoner executions nationwide in 2016, the fewest since 1991.
The growth of life without parole as a sentencing option in many states, as
well as the high cost of prosecuting a capital case, has led prosecutors to
push for the death penalty in fewer cases, said Michael Benza, senior
instructor of law at Case Western Reserve University School of Law.
"If you think of the death penalty as sort of a freeway, it's actually becoming
more of a country lane with everybody peeling off into all kinds of different
non-capital ways," he said.
Deborah Denno, a professor at Fordham University School of Law, said the use of
DNA evidence has led to closer scrutiny of death penalty cases by both the
legal system and the general public.
"We've seen a precipitous decline since 1999 and probably a lot of that had to
do with these innocence cases," she said. "Attorneys were starting to introduce
DNA into court, and you had these cases showing that people were innocent."
Although lethal injection became the nation???s primary method of execution in
the 1990s, Denno said it is only in recent years that sustained challenges by
death row inmates and death penalty opponents have gained traction in the court
On Saturday, a federal judge ordered Arkansas to halt the planned executions of
8 prisoners in less than 2 weeks, which Gov. Asa Hutchinson said were necessary
because the state's supply of 1 of 3 drugs used in executions was set to
In Saturday's ruling, U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker issued an injunction
blocking the state's plans on the grounds that the condemned inmates have a
right to challenge the drug protocol that would be used to execute them.
"A condemned prisoner can successfully challenge the method of his or her
execution by showing that the state's method 'creates a demonstrated risk of
severe pain' and 'the risk is substantial when compared to the known and
available alternatives,'" Baker wrote. The federal ruling followed federal and
state court decisions that also dealt setbacks to the execution plan.
Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center,
which advocates against capital punishment, said the nation is "in the middle
of a major climate change of the death penalty."
"When the executions have been delayed, new evidence has been discovered in a
number of cases that has later become the basis for overturning them," Dunham
Joshua Marquis, the district attorney for Clatsop County, Ore., and a proponent
of the death penalty, attributed the decline in executions to a decrease in the
number of murder cases in which the death penalty might be appropriate.
Most Americans continue to support the concept of a justice system that
includes the death penalty, he said, noting that since 1964, no state has
abolished the death penalty by popular vote.
"I think what you'll see with the death penalty is fewer (executions)," Marquis
said. "But I think states will maintain it - unless, of course, there's some
sort of sea change in American opinion."
(source: USA Today)
CHANGE OF HEART ---- US executioner reveals why he is now fighting AGAINST the
death penalty after executing 62 people----Jerry Givens was an executioner in
Virginia for 17 years
A former US executioner who ended the lives of 62 criminals has now spoken out
against the death penalty.
Jerry Givens was an executioner in Virginia for 17 years - but quit the role as
he became more and more fearful he would kill an innocent man, the Mirror
Ex-executioner Jerry Givens put 62 inmates to death in Virginia, US, before
quitting and speaking out against the death penalty.
Now, he has spoken out against capital punishment following the state of
Arkansas' proposal of executing 7 men in 10 days before a batch of lethal
injections passed its "best before date".
The executions were placed on hold by a judge on Friday after drug companies
objected and lawyers branded the speed of the executions 'unlawful'.
Givens, 65, told the Mirror: "They are playing Russian roulette with these
guys' lives. The expiration date should not be the reason why they are doing
He added: "It should not be happening. No matter what crime these men have
committed, they should not be sentenced to death in prison."
45 of the 62 executions Givens carried out between 1982 and 1999 were through
lethal injection - with the others carried out by electric chair.
But Givens, who started as a corrections officer in 1974, believes the lethal
injection is worse.
A service courtesy of Washburn University School of Law www.washburnlaw.edu
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