Discussion:
death penalty news----VA., FLA., LA., ARK., S.DAK.
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Rick Halperin
2017-04-15 13:00:13 UTC
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Raw Message
April 15




VIRGINIA:

Marie Deans' struggle against the death penalty


Today, April 15, is the 6th anniversary of the death of one of the most
remarkable individuals I have ever met, Marie McFadden Deans. A native of South
Carolina, Deans moved to Richmond in 1983 and started the Virginia Coalition on
Jails and Prisons. During the 10 years that she ran the organization, Deans
became an advocate for Virginia's death row inmates. She found lawyers for the
men, fought to improve prison conditions, worked on their appeals as a
mitigation specialist, and served as their friend, confidante, and mother. And
she stood "death watch" with the men in the death house, often being the last
loving face they would see before being electrocuted.

Deans paid a steep price for her advocacy. During the years she ran the
coalition, she was a single mother who lived well below the poverty line.
Sustained on a diet of caffeine and nicotine, Deans drove herself mercilessly -
consumed by the fear that there was always something more she could do to save
the lives of the condemned inmates. Many referred to her as a "saint" - a label
she abhorred. "I'm no goddam saint," Deans would reply. She preferred to be
known as a "courageous fool," someone who was too foolish and stubborn to
abandon her struggle to defeat capital punishment. When she died at the age of
70, Deans was a physically broken woman - as much a casualty of Virginia's
death penalty as the men who were strapped into the electric chair.

As the anniversary of her death approached, I found myself wondering what Deans
would think of the current state of the modern death penalty. She had no doubt
that America would someday end its bloody embrace of state-sanctioned killing,
and I believe she would be pleased to see that the number of capital
convictions and executions has continued to decline in the past 6 years. She
would find it ironic, however, that the death penalty is being slowly abandoned
not because of moral outrage, but because of the high costs associated with the
trials and appeals of individuals charged with capital murder.

Deans would not be surprised to see that the Southern states still lead the
rest of the country in terms of conviction and execution rates. Nor would she
be shocked to find that the death penalty is still being selectively applied to
minorities, the poor, and the mentally ill. Deans visited death rows in
Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia, and she saw firsthand that the
populations of these prisons contained those men and women whom society feared
and demonized.

What would surprise and sadden her today would be how our country's political
polarization has spilled over into the statehouse and the death house, spawning
a new level of blood lust and hatred. The debate over lethal injection has
sparked calls for a return to the firing squad and the electric chair. Fears
over false claims of rising crime rates have led politicians and citizens to
demand the expansion of death-eligible offenses. And concerns over the supply
of lethal injection drugs have prompted states to hide their execution
protocols and speed up the rate of executions.

I am glad Deans cannot witness the upcoming execution of Ivan Teleguz, who is
scheduled to be put to death on April 25 despite considerable evidence of
factual innocence. Many people roll their eyes when they hear death row inmates
claim they were wrongfully convicted, responding sarcastically that all men on
death row wrap themselves in the blanket of innocence. Yet over the past 40
years, 157 men and women have been exonerated and walked off death row.

Deans herself worked with several Virginia death row inmates whose cases raised
concerns about innocence, including Earl Washington Jr. - who came within eight
days of being executed for a crime that Virginia police and prison officials
were utterly confident that he committed. But Washington was innocent. If not
for the heroic efforts of Marie Deans and his fellow death row inmate Joe
Giarratano, Washington would have been killed. Because of Deans' unflagging
commitment to justice, other death row inmates - including Giarratano and
Joseph Payne Sr. - saw their death sentences reduced to life by Virginia
governors because of similar concerns about factual innocence.

In my mind's eye, I can imagine Deans' reaction to the upcoming execution of
Teleguz. Her big brown eyes would fill with tears, and she would take a deep
drag of her cigarette as she tried to steady her shaking hands. "Just another
turn of the screw," she would say softly. And then she would return to her
fight against the machinery of death. Luckily, there are other dedicated
lawyers and volunteers who have taken her place. May they be as tenacious as
Marie Deans was in ferreting out the truth.

(source: Commentary; Todd C. Peppers holds the Henry H. & Trudye H. Fowler
Chair in Roanoke College's Department of Public Affairs, and is co-author of
the book "A Courageous Fool: Marie Deans and Her Struggle Against the Death
Penalty," which will be published in July by Vanderbilt University
Press----Richmond Times-Dispatch)






FLORIDA:

Where's Gov. Scott's evidence to support the death penalty?


The rhetoric coming from our law enforcement and state officials regarding
State Attorney Aramis Ayala's decision to not pursue the death penalty is
deeply disturbing.

Whether you agree with her or not, Ayala made an evidence-based decision about
why her office will not pursue the death penalty. In a press conference, Ayala
cited how evidence fails to show the death penalty makes our communities or law
enforcement safer.

She noted the death penalty fails to deter crime and costs more than keeping
someone in prison for life. It also prevents closure for the victims' families
because death-penalty cases often take decades to resolve.

During Ayala's campaign, Florida's death penalty was temporarily discontinued
due to constitutional challenges. Neither candidate made the death penalty a
central campaign issue, and the media did not focus on capital punishment.

Florida has since passed a new law requiring a unanimous jury for a death
sentence, meaning state prosecutors now have the discretion to issue
death-penalty charges.

Rather than presenting their own evidence-based conclusions as to whether the
death penalty is an effective deterrent, government officials and Gov. Rick
Scott issued statements appealing to people's desire for vengeance such as in
the case of Markeith Loyd, who allegedly murdered his pregnant ex-girlfriend,
Sade Dixon, and Orlando Police Lt. Debra Clayton.

It is particularly troubling how these statements uncritically equate "justice"
with "death," suggesting these officials are more interested in revenge than in
the best interests of the community, as they fail to provide evidence to
corroborate their positions.

These same officials have also shamelessly invoked the will of the victims'
families, even though Dixon's family members have said they wish Scott had not
removed Ayala from the case. The family prefers a speedy trial for Loyd rather
than spending years pursuing a death sentence.

Furthermore, by asserting which charges should be filed, law enforcement and
Scott egregiously overstepped their boundaries. The role of police is to
protect and serve the public, not to be judge, jury and executioner. It is
exclusively the state attorney's role to determine which charges should be
filed in any case.

State officials must ensure their actions are backed by evidence and rooted in
concern for the public good. Their response to Ayala's decision not to use the
death penalty, a decision made with the public interest in mind, reveals a
priority of politics and vengeance over justice.

Upon her removal from 23 capital cases, Ayala filed suit against the governor
to reinstate her rightful caseload. Ayala's lawsuit against the governor is
supported by state law and legal precedent. Elections have consequences. The
removal of cases by the governor from an elected state attorney oversteps
executive authority and could have a chilling effect on prosecutorial
independence.

Regardless of one's position on the death penalty, one issue is clear: Aramis
Ayala is right to stand up to Scott.

(source: Commentary; Henry Lim is an Orlando immigration attorney and a member
of the Orlando Sentinel Editorial Advisory Board. During his run for the
Florida House of Representatives last year, Lim employed the same local
campaign company as Aramis Ayala. This commentary is Lim's independent
opinion----Orlando Sentinel)






LOUISIANA:

3 law-and-order lawmakers call for end to death penalty


7 years after Louisiana's last execution, a trio of state legislators with law
enforcement backgrounds is suggesting the tough-on-crime state should quit
sentencing people to death.

The proposal would eliminate the death penalty as a punishment for any offenses
committed on or after Aug. 1. The ban likely faces tough odds in the
conservative Legislature, but its bipartisan coalition of sponsors with
law-and-order credentials has sparked interest.

Bill sponsor Sen. Dan Claitor, a Baton Rouge Republican and former criminal
prosecutor, said the death penalty has failed to deter criminal activity in
Louisiana - but he said life imprisonment is a just punishment that equally
protects society.

He also cites moral objections because of his Catholic faith.

"Life, both at the beginning and at the end, must be my primary consideration
as a Catholic legislator. I take this moral impetus seriously," Claitor said in
a statement.

The sponsor of an identical measure in the House also is a Catholic. Rep. Terry
Landry, a New Iberia Democrat and retired superintendent of the Louisiana State
Police, said he once supported the death penalty, having "seen the worst of the
worst" as a state trooper.

But Landry said taxpayers foot the bill for costly death penalty appeals, an
expense that he said he can no longer justify. He said too many death sentences
have been overturned around the country because of problems with the cases.

"I think it's a process past it's time. I think it's barbaric," Landry said
Friday. "Life without parole, to me that's maybe worse than death."

Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, hasn't taken a position on banning capital
punishment.

31 states allow the death penalty. Louisiana's last execution was in January
2010. 73 men and 1 woman sentenced to death await execution in Louisiana, but
the state's next planned lethal injection is on hold until at least 2018
pending a federal lawsuit challenging the method.

Even if that case wasn't stalling it, Louisiana has no drugs for an execution.

"A lot of the pharmaceutical companies are not selling the drugs that states
are using to execute. They say that's not why they're producing the drugs,"
Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc told a House budget committee.

Republican Rep. Steve Pylant still supports capital punishment, even though
he's co-sponsoring Landry's bill. But the retired Franklin Parish sheriff said
it makes no sense for Louisiana to pay up to $10 million annually on public
defense teams for death penalty cases involving people without the money to
cover their own attorney costs.

"I think certain crimes should be punishable by death," Pylant said. "But the
fact is we're not enforcing it. We spend millions of dollars on death penalty
appeals, and we claim we can't get the medicines to do it."

He added: "Whether you're for capital punishment or not, it seems like at some
point common sense ought to take hold."

Pylant doubts the death penalty ban can pass. But he said it could draw
attention to the problem with the current system, where Louisiana has a penalty
on the books it seems unable to enforce.

Rep. Jack McFarland, a Winnfield Republican, encouraged the corrections
department to look for alternatives to lethal injection for executions.

"If you've done something heinous enough to be judged by a jury of your peers
that you deserve the death penalty for it, then I believe that death penalty is
what you deserve," McFarland said in an interview. "There's no need to change
it now."

(source: neworleanscitybusiness.com)






ARKANSAS----stay(s) of impending executions

Arkansas Supreme Court stays execution of Bruce Ward


The Arkansas Supreme Court today stayed the execution of Bruce Ward.

It did so without explanation, but his attorneys had requested a stay based on
mental disability. They said under court precedent he was incompetent to be
executed.

The Arkansas Supreme Court has granted Inmate Bruce Ward's request for a stay
of his execution.

The state had objected to the request. Said a prepared statement from the
office of Attorney General Leslie Rutledge:

"Bruce Ward was convicted of capital murder in 1990 and the State Supreme Court
has previously upheld his conviction. The Court granted a stay of Ward's
scheduled execution today but offered no reason for doing so. Attorney General
Rutledge is evaluating options on how to proceed."

Ward's attorney, Scott Braden, an assistant federal public defender, issued
this statement:

"We are grateful that the Arkansas Supreme Court has issued a stay of execution
for Bruce Ward so that they may consider the serious questions presented about
his sanity. He deserves a day in court for that, but in Arkansas the rules do
not permit that. Instead, they give the power to director of the department of
corrections to decide whether the department can execute someone or not. That
is both unfair and unconstitutional.

"The United States Supreme Court requires that a death row prisoner be
competent for execution, that is, have a rational understanding of the
punishment he is about to suffer and the reason why he is to suffer it. (Ford
v. Wainwright and Panetti v. Quarterman). Mr. Ward's severe and life long
schizophrenia and delusions, such as seeing demon dogs at the foot of his bed,
have left him incompetent for execution under the constitutional standard: he
has no rational understanding of the punishment he is slated to suffer or the
reason why he is to suffer it. In fact, he does not believe he will ever be
executed and believes he will walk out of prison a free man to great acclaim
and riches. His nearly 3 decades in solitary confinement have only worsened his
severe mental illness."

Ward, 61, was sentenced to die in Pulaski County in 1990. He's been described
as having severe schizophrenia and having delusions. His lawsuit seeking to
stop the execution quoted medical authorities as saying his prolonged
incarceration in isolation had contributed to his condition.

Ward was convicted of the 1989 slaying of Rebecca Doss, 18, a convenience store
clerk working on overnight shift. A passing police officer who could not see a
clerk inside stopped to check the store and stopped Ward after seeing him walk
away from restrooms.

His request for a stay was denied in circuit court and I reported this morning
that the Supreme Court had rejected the record of the case and granted him an
emergency review. Justice Rhonda Wood at that time wouldn't have granted a
stay.

The state filed this objection.

The stay reduces the number facing execution between April 17 and 27 to 6, with
only Don Davis facing execution on Monday.

The Supreme Court order was 1 sentence, saying an emergency stay was granted.
It was unsigned by justices. There was no mention of any dissent the 7-member
court.

(source: Arkansas Times)

********************

Court blocks Arkansas from using lethal injection drug


Plans by Arkansas to execute a group of inmates before the end of the month ran
into more problems Friday.

Pulaski County Judge Wendell Griffen issued a temporary restraining order that
stops the state from using a certain drug for lethal injections. The supplier
of the drug argued it wasn't supposed to be used for capital punishment. It's
unclear what effect the ruling will have on the state's plans to execute the
men.

Arkansas originally wanted to execute 8 men between April 17 and April 27,
before its supply of a lethal injection drugs expires at the end of April -- a
plan that triggered outrage among capital punishment opponents.

Judges have already blocked 2 executions, though not because of the lethal
injection issue. 1 of the executions was scheduled to happen Monday.

The Arkansas Attorney General's Office issued this statement late Friday: "As a
public opponent of capital punishment, Judge Griffen should have recused
himself from this case. Attorney General (Leslie) Rutledge intends to file an
emergency request with the Arkansas Supreme Court to vacate the order as soon
as possible."

Griffen has scheduled a hearing on the issue for 9 a.m. Tuesday.

Drug companies go to court

McKesson Medical Surgical Inc. argued its vecuronium bromide was intended only
for medical purposes, not executions, and that the Arkansas Department of
Corrections "misled" McKesson when it purchased the drug, according to a court
brief.

"ADC (the Arkansas Department of Correction) personnel used an existing medical
license, which is to be used only to order products with legitimate medical
uses, and an irregular ordering process to obtain the vecuronium via phone
order with a McKesson salesperson," the brief said.

The company is asking the Department of Corrections to return 10 vials of the
drug.

2 other drug companies, Fresenius Kabi USA and West-Ward Pharmaceuticals, filed
a brief in US District Court of Eastern Arkansas arguing contracts prohibit
their products from being used in executions, which run "counter to the
manufacturers' mission to save and enhance patients' lives."

"The only conclusion is that these medicines were acquired from an unauthorized
seller in violation of important contractual terms that the manufacturers
relied on when selling the medicines," thee two companies said in the brief.
The judge has not ruled in this case.

"Lifelong schizophrenia"

2 of the 8 executions planned for this month have already been blocked.

A federal judge on April 6 blocked the execution of Jason McGehee. The state's
parole board had earlier voted to recommend that McGehee's death sentence be
commuted to life without parole, and the judge ruled McGehee's April 27
execution date would not have given the board enough time as required by law in
which to notify the governor of its recommendation.

Earlier Friday, the Arkansas Supreme Court blocked the execution of Bruce Ward.

Attorneys argued that Ward, 60, should not be executed because he's mentally
incompetent. He's been on death row since 1990 for strangling a woman in a
convenience store bathroom, reported CNN affiliate KARK.

After the Supreme Court decision, Rutledge's office issued this statement:
"Bruce Ward was convicted of capital murder in 1990 and the state Supreme Court
has previously upheld his conviction. The court granted a stay of Ward's
scheduled execution today but offered no reason for doing so. Attorney General
Rutledge is evaluating options on how to proceed."

Ward's lawyers also issued a statement Friday.

"We are grateful that the Arkansas Supreme Court has issued a stay of execution
for Bruce Ward so that they may consider the serious questions presented about
his sanity. He deserves a day in court for that, but in Arkansas the rules do
not permit that. Instead, they give the power to director of the Department of
Corrections to decide whether the department can execute someone or not. That
is both unfair and unconstitutional.

"Mr. Ward's severe and lifelong schizophrenia and delusions, such as seeing
demon dogs at the foot of his bed, have left him incompetent for execution
under the constitutional standard: He has no rational understanding of the
punishment he is slated to suffer or the reason why he is to suffer it. In
fact, he does not believe he will ever be executed and believes he will walk
out of prison a free man to great acclaim and riches. His nearly three decades
in solitary confinement have only worsened his severe mental illness."

Competency questions

A report by a Harvard Law School initiative suggests 5 of the men Arkansas
plans to execute, including Ward, are not mentally fit for the death penalty.

According to the report, he told a forensic psychiatrist in 2010 that he hears
voices, that he gets revelations directly from God and that he will "walk out
of prison to great riches and public acclaim." He says he's been visited in
prison by his deceased father and "resurrected dogs."

Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced his controversial plan in March to execute 8
inmates over a 10-day period starting April 17.

Defense lawyers argued that midazolam -- the drug used to render inmates
unconscious before they are given 2 more drugs that paralyze and kill them --
does not effectively keep those being executed from experiencing a painful
death. Ward was one of two inmates scheduled to die Monday. The other, Don
William Davis, is still scheduled for execution on Monday.

(source: CNN)

************************************

Arkansas Judge Moves to Block Executions


A judge in Arkansas moved Friday to block the state from carrying out up to
seven executions this month, deepening the turmoil that surrounds a planned
pace of killing with no equal in the modern history of American capital
punishment.

Judge Wendell Griffen of the Pulaski County Circuit Court issued a restraining
order Friday that forbids the Arkansas authorities from using their supply of
vecuronium bromide, 1 of 3 execution drugs the state planned to use. Hours
earlier, the nation's largest pharmaceutical company went to court to argue
that the state had purchased the drug using a false pretense.

The judge scheduled a hearing for Tuesday morning, about 14 hours after the
state had intended to carry out its 1st execution since 2005. The Arkansas
attorney general's office said the state would appeal the judge's ruling, which
threatened to derail a plan that once called for 8 executions over the course
of 10 days.

The restraining order surfaced during an afternoon and evening of legal chaos:
The State Supreme Court issued a stay of execution for 1 death row prisoner,
and a federal judge was also weighing a request to block the executions. Yet
Judge Griffen's order appeared to have the widest immediate effect, and it was
the 1st to focus on the misgivings of the pharmaceutical industry.

4 companies have publicly raised concerns about how the Arkansas Department of
Correction came to stockpile the drugs for its lethal injection cocktail -
midazolam, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride - but only the McKesson
Corporation, the drug distributor that ranks 5th on the Fortune 500 list of
companies, made an explicit allegation of deception.

Arkansas, the company said, bought 10 boxes of vecuronium bromide, which the
state can use to stop a prisoner's breathing.

But the state prison system "never disclosed its intended purpose to us for
these products," a lawyer for McKesson, Ethan M. Posner, wrote in a letter
obtained by The New York Times. "To the contrary, it purchased the products on
an account that was opened under the valid medical license of an Arkansas
physician, implicitly representing that the products would only be used for a
legitimate medical purpose." The company confirmed the authenticity of the
letter, which Mr. Posner sent on Thursday to 2 Arkansas officials. By Friday
night, the company had persuaded Judge Griffen to intervene. Spokesmen for Gov.
Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, and the prison system did not respond to requests
for comment about the dispute.

The state had scheduled two executions for Monday night. The state also planned
to carry out double executions on April 20 and April 24, as well as one on
April 27. (An 8th execution was stayed by a federal judge.) All of the
condemned prisoners are challenging their executions.

Although the pharmaceutical industry has long expressed misgivings about how
state prison officials can use its products, there is limited precedent for
such a pronounced rupture between a state and drug companies.

On Thursday evening, 2 manufacturers, Fresenius Kabi USA and West-Ward
Pharmaceuticals Corporation, asked Judge Baker to block the state from using
any of their products in the executions. The companies said they had "learned
of information suggesting that medicines they manufactured might be used in
lethal injections in Arkansas."

Fresenius Kabi said it believed it was the maker of the potassium chloride in
Arkansas's possession, while West-Ward said it appeared that it had produced
the state's midazolam stock.

"The use of the medicines in lethal injections runs counter to the
manufacturers' mission to save and enhance patients' lives, and carries with it
not only a public-health risk, but also reputational, fiscal and legal risks,"
the companies wrote in a friend of the court brief.

The companies said the state seemed to have obtained its products despite
efforts to keep the drugs from the country's execution chambers.

For its part, McKesson took legal action against Arkansas in connection with an
episode that, Mr. Posner's letter suggested, has been the subject of quiet
wrangling for about 9 months.

According to the company's lawyer, McKesson filled the state's order for
vecuronium bromide in July. Less than 2 weeks later, McKesson and the drug's
manufacturer, Pfizer, became concerned about the sale, and the state agreed to
return the drugs in exchange for a refund, Mr. Posner wrote.

The company processed the refund and provided the state with a prepaid shipping
label, according to the lawyer, but the state never returned its drug supply,
insisting it be offered a substitute product.

Arkansas, Mr. Posner wrote, "never disclosed its intended purpose for these
products, even though it knew full well that the manufacturer does not permit
sales of vecuronium bromide to correctional facilities."

Days before the State of Arkansas is scheduled to execute 2 men -- the 1st of 7
in 10 days -- a lawyer for one of the nation's largest companies accused the
state's prison system of deception when it bought 100 vials of vecuronium
bromide, which can be used to stop a prisoner's breathing.

Mr. Posner noted that the state was a longtime McKesson customer, buying items
like stethoscopes and surgical gloves, and that Arkansas's vecuronium bromide
order had been shipped to the same administrative address as other orders.

Pfizer, which is among the drug companies that have moved to prevent its
products from being used for lethal injections, said that the sale was "in
direct violation of our policy" and that the company had twice asked Arkansas
to return its products.

"In addition, we considered other means by which to secure the return of the
product, up to and including legal action," the company said in a statement.
"After careful consideration, we determined that it was highly unlikely that
any of these means would secure the timely return of the product and thereby
prevent this misuse."

McKesson had warned Arkansas officials that it would "take all appropriate
action" if the state defied a Friday deadline to return its products, but it
was unclear whether it or any of the other companies would succeed in the
courts or elsewhere.

"In the context of executions, we have never seen a clawback," said Megan
McCracken, who specializes in lethal injection litigation at the law school of
the University of California, Berkeley.

Drug manufacturers and distributors, she noted, were plainly "acting in their
own interests for their business interests, their investors and their public
images."

But some people still welcomed McKesson's apparent resistance to Arkansas
officials.

"McKesson is acting to prevent a grave misuse of lifesaving medical products,
and to protect the systems and contracts the company established to stop the
sale of drugs to death rows," Maya Foa, director of Reprieve, an international
human rights group that works with drug companies, said in a statement.

She added: "Arkansas has made concerted efforts to undermine the wishes and
interests of responsible health care companies, violating the law and putting
public health at risk. McKesson is right to fight back against these
duplicitous and dangerous practices."

Fresenius Kabi said it had sent at least 3 letters to state officials since
last July.

"Our records indicate no sales of potassium chloride - directly nor through any
of our authorized distributors - to the Arkansas Department of Correction," the
chief executive of the company's American subsidiary, John Ducker, said in a
recent letter to Mr. Hutchinson. "So we can only conclude Arkansas acquired our
products from an unauthorized seller."

The governor, a company spokesman said, never replied.

(source: New York Times)

**************************

Courts grant stays to remaining 7 men set to die in Arkansas executions


An Arkansas judge has blocked the state from using a lethal injection drug in
its upcoming executions of 6 men who were to be included in the Republican
governor's unprecedented aim of judicially killing 8 men in 11 days.

The order came just hours after state supreme court halted the execution of
Bruce Ward, the 2nd to be granted to an individual among the initial 8 people
scheduled to die.

On the executions of the 6 men, Pulaski County circuit judge Wendell Griffen
issued a temporary restraining order, after a company said the drug was not
sold to be used for capital punishment, preventing Arkansas from using its
supply of vecuronium bromide. The executions had been scheduled to start Monday
night.

McKesson, a medical supply company, has said the prison system bought the drug
believing it would be used for medical purposes. The company has said it had
been reassured the drug would be returned and even issued a refund, but it
never was.

Earlier on Friday, Ward was spared imminent execution following the
intervention of the state's top court. And earlier this month a federal
district judge put on hold the execution of Jason McGehee after the parole
board recommended clemency.

Ward had been scheduled to be the 1st of the men to die, at 7pm on Monday, as
part of a double execution that would then have been repeated several times in
the course of the ensuing 10 days. The other prisoners scheduled for execution
are Don Davis, Stacey Johnson, Ledell Lee, Marcel Williams, Jack Jones and
Kenneth Williams.

Friday's separate court orders set up a potentially dramatic few days with
legal action certain to continue in both state and federal courts. A final
answer to whether or not the executions will take place this month may not be
known until the US supreme court gets involved which could come as early as
Monday.

The state supreme court gave no written explanation for its order on Friday,
but justices may have been swayed by arguments that the crushed timeframe of
the execution schedule set out by governor Asa Hutchinson was too rushed for a
substantial question of law to be properly considered. Lawyers acting for Ward
had challenged Arkansas' rule, unique among death penalty states, whereby the
decision over whether or not a prisoner is mentally competent to die is left to
the head of the department of corrections rather than to judges.

The stay for Ward, who was first reported to show mental illness as early as
1990 at his initial capital trial for murder, gives the prisoner and his
defense attorneys extra time to present the courts with evidence that he has
long-term mental illness. In 2006, he was evaluated by a court-recognized
psychiatrist and diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic.

Several years ago he was diagnosed as schizophrenic by a court-recognized
expert, and has been recorded to have a consistent pattern of paranoid
delusions.

He has also been held in total isolation for the past 14 years, leaving his
solid cell on death row only 2 or 3 times a year.

Joseph Perkovich, an attorney with the Phillips Black project who is a member
of Ward's legal team, said the Arkansas supreme court has been presented with a
very substantial federal constitutional question. The court "appears to be
indicating its appreciation that full briefing and argument without the extreme
pressure and time constraints of a looming execution on Easter Monday
necessitated a stay of Mr Ward's scheduled execution".

The state has no recourse to appeal the stay to the US supreme court, and must
now rely on the state supreme court to consider the case rapidly if there is
any chance for the Ward execution to go ahead. Hutchinson has attempted to
justify what has been described as conveyor-belt executions on grounds that the
state???s batch of 1 of the 3 lethal injection drugs, midazolam, reaches its
expiry date on 30 April.

Hutchinson says Arkansas still intends to execute 6 death row inmates between
Monday and April 27, a pace exceeded only by Texas since the US supreme court
reauthorized the death penalty in 1976.

(source: The Guardian)

*****************************************************

Christians in Arkansas oppose scheduled executions


Christians from different sects in Arkansas have united to oppose the scheduled
mass executions of inmates on death row.

Catholic Diocese of Little Rock Bishop Anthony B. Taylor appealed to Governor
Asa Hutchinson to put an end on the scheduled killings, reported Catholic News
Agency.

"Though guilty of heinous crimes, these men nevertheless retain the God-given
dignity of human life, which must be respected and defended from conception to
natural death," wrote the Catholic leader to Hutchinson.

In a statement made to THV 11, the office of the governor said he is "carrying
out the sentencing of the jury and his responsibility as governor." The letter
also indicated his willingness to meet with the Catholic leader again to
discuss the death penalty as they had done numerous times in the past.

Meanwhile Mercy Baptist Church Pastor Terrance Long has called on his
parishioners to pray for people in authority to make "the right decisions in
these executions," reported THV 11.

The Pulaski Heights United Methodist Church also shared the reasons they oppose
the executions in the church's recent meetings. Reverend Betsy Singleton Snyder
put emphasis on human's life as God-given.

"We believe God is the giver and creator life," said the reverend in a series
of sermons. "And even if it's a state or federal law, we don't believe we have
the right to be complicit along with the state in murdering someone because God
always is restoring and reconciling people," he also stated.

Jewish leader of the Congregation B'Nai Israel Barry Block expressed his fear
that scheduling a mass execution in the span of 10 days would make the state
look "blood thirsty."

"The death penalty, in the Jewish tradition, is not to be carried out in mass,"
the rabbi told THV 11. "The court that puts to death as many as one person
every 70 years is a blood thirsty court, and I'm afraid that Arkansas would be
blood thirsty if allowed 7 or 8 executions to go forward," he added.

It has been 12 years since the state executed a man on death row.

The executions for the inmates were originally set in October 2015 but it was
pushed back following the passing of a law that would make it legal for the
state not to disclose the source of the drug to be used in the executions.

In February, Hutchinson rescheduled the killings and defended his stance on the
condensed schedule of the executions. The governor cited the expiration date
for the drugs to be used as the reason the 8 men are to be placed under lethal
injection in April, reported The New York Times.

(source: Ecumenical News)

*************************

Amid Arkansas death penalty debate, concern for the executioners----Arkansas is
planning to execute 7 prisoners in 11 days starting Monday. This week, 23
former corrections officials pleaded with the governor to reconsider, warning
that participating in executions can exact a 'severe toll on corrections
officers' well-being.'


The killers have no names and no faces - at least officially.

Behind a curtain on Monday, barring a last-minute stay, 2 Arkansas corrections
staffers will each plunge a cocktail of drugs through a tube, not knowing which
of the 2 doses will be lethal. But at the end, death row inmate Bruce Ward will
be dead. A team of trained volunteers will carry his body away and prepare it
for burial. And then they will do it again, 6 more times over the next 10 days,
an unprecedented schedule in modern US death penalty history.

To some, including Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, carrying out the death
penalty is a duty required by law and the jury judgment of fellow citizens.
Critics say the process resembles the doings of a Wild West hanging judge,
shrouded in secrecy. But the complex and grim task that faces a small "special
operations force" inside the Cummins Unit in Gould, Ark., has also pulled part
of the curtain away.

Courts are still hearing motions to block the executions - including from the
makers of the drugs themselves. And a judge already has stayed the execution of
an 8th prisoner. But one group urging a rethinking of the assembly-line nature
of the schedule comes from within the corrections system itself: Those with
firsthand knowledge of what it means to carry out an execution.

This week, 23 former corrections officials pleaded with Hutchinson to
reconsider, warning that participating in executions can exact a "severe toll
on corrections officers' well-being," and that rapid executions could
"needlessly exacerbate the strain and stress placed on these officers."

That notion that execution team members may also be unintended victims, experts
say, is one quiet reason behind the waning of the death penalty. Last year saw
the US drop out of the Top 5 execution countries, a list topped by China, Iran,
and Saudi Arabia, according to Amnesty International's annual report.

But the task set before the special operations team in Gould is also testing
the extent to which America's "good soldiers" - those who carry out capital
punishment for the state - are also forgotten soldiers.

Given recent alarms from within the corrections system itself, concern for the
well-being of executioners "is beginning to catch some traction," says Frank
Thompson, former superintendent of the Oregon State Penitentiary. In the
mid-1990s, he oversaw 2 executions in a span of 18 months. Officials, he says,
are realizing that "the public is asking us to create another class of victims
in order to address the needs of people who have already been victimized. And
there is no calculus that makes any sense of that."

Americans ambivalent about death penalty

The execution schedule comes at a crossroads for the death penalty in the US.

Lethal injection drugs have become increasingly hard to find - a key one
expiring at the end of April is the reason for Arkansas' hurried schedule. As
the debate goes on, 2 policy strands have emerged. One is to commute, as most
of the country does, sentences to life without parole. The other is to use
technology - as Oklahoma has in developing a new kind of gas chamber - in an
effort to make death less dramatic.

Geographically, the actual mechanics have quieted in most parts of the country.
Texas and Georgia carried out 80 % of the 20 executions that took place last
year. The percentage of Americans that favor the death penalty has dropped by 7
points since March 2015, to the lowest level in more than 40 years.

But Americans remain ambivalent about doing away with capital punishment
entirely. In November, voters in California and Oklahoma passed resolutions in
favor of the keeping death penalty. In Nebraska, voters overturned a death
penalty moratorium passed by the legislature.

Such gaps between theory and practice have made the mechanics of execution -
including the human impacts - stand out in new ways.

Monday's execution would be the state's 1st in 12 years. Attorneys are arguing
that the schedule may lead to violations of the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel
and unusual punishment, if there are mistakes by a stressed crew using a
concoction tied to botched executions in recent years.

"Arkansas is really going from zero to 7 in 10 days - a complete and total
turnaround change of pace," says Megan McCracken, the Eighth Amendment Resource
Counsel with the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law's Death
Penalty Clinic. "This is going to be either a new team or a team that hasn???t
performed an execution in a very long time. It's just a lot. It's a new
protocol, new drugs - there's nothing known about the training, qualification,
and competence of the execution team. That raises a lot of questions, including
very humane concerns about the stress and pressure" on the execution team.

Protections for execution team

There are protections for execution team members. They are allowed to opt out
without question, and some do. They are paid overtime and offered counseling.

In Arkansas, the governor's office has pushed back on the idea that the pace
could harm the team.

"This is less stressful for the staff," J.R. Davis, the governor's spokesman,
told NBC News. "They're setting it up for one night at a time. It's the same
protocol that will be used. It's more efficient and less stressful and will
lead to fewer mistakes."

Execution team members - the vast majority of whom live in the Bible Belt -
often find solace in the Bible, including Matthew 22:22: "Render unto Caesar
what is Caesar's," meaning to uphold the law, experts say.

And like soldiers, they are trained to kill in specific circumstances on behalf
of public safety. In that way, they "can more morally and ethically think about
what they are doing more than a person who is caught up in the emotionalism of
it all," says Mr. Thompson.

Also, "they don't want it said in the industry, among their peers, that, 'We
don't think we can do this,'" says Thompson. "They're going to look at each
other, stick their chest out, take a deep breath and say, 'Hell, yeah, we can
do it, boss.' And let's remember that there are many good people who think
society has no other choices. That's what makes this an issue that impacts
everybody."

The way teams are structured also raises the question, "Is anyone really solely
responsible for it?" says Dale Baich, a capital defense attorney in Arizona,
who has witnessed 13 executions including the nearly 2-hour-long death of
Joseph Woods in 2014. "You have the restraint team, and then you have the
escort team, the IV team - the special operations team, the guys who push the
plungers - and then you have someone giving them an order to do it. They really
try to compartmentalize it, so that no one person feels the weight."

But those with personal execution experience question whether such attempts are
effective in eliminating the emotional toll in what death certificates
ultimately call "lethal homicide." Some 33 % of corrections workers endure some
form of post-traumatic stress disorder, says Thompson, the former Oregon
warden.

"The human tendency is to reach out to a fellow in dire straits with at least a
drink of water," says Father Lawrence Hummer of St. Mary Catholic Church in
Chillicothe, Ohio, who pastored double murderer Dennis McGuire before
witnessing Mr. McGuire's botched execution in 2014. He called witnessing an
execution "a brutal experience." "People that go through this will always have
that hole in their lives that will make peace elusive. That's why, at its core,
[the Arkansas death schedule] is about all the other human beings that are
connected with it - the people administering the drugs, the guards, whatever
chaplain support is there, the people who prepare the body, the people who
drive the body away."

'Executions should not be scheduled within 7 calendar days'

Such concerns have historically stayed in the background of the death penalty
debate. But Arkansas has changed that, given what happened 3 years ago in
Oklahoma. Using the same sedative that is set to expire, the state failed to
quickly kill Clayton Lockett, who woke up in the middle of the procedure. An
internal investigation found that staff stress was high because 2 executions
had been scheduled on the same day. The 2nd execution was quickly canceled.

The report ultimately found that "due to manpower and facility concerns,
executions should not be scheduled within seven calendar days of each other."

That finding has put the Arkansas team in a tough bind.

(source: Christian Science Monitor)






SOUTH DAKOTA:

Annual Vigil Against The Death Penalty Gathers At S.D. Penitentiary


Every good Friday for over the past 20 years, a group of people have gathered
in front of the South Dakota State Penitentiary to pray for the end of the
death penalty.

The group is made up of people from several denominations and faiths to pray
for inmates currently on death row. The group also extends prayers to all
inmates currently incarcerated.

The group believes life in prison without parole sends a more powerful message
of rehabilitation, rather than killing.

"We realize that horrible crimes have been committed but to kill these
prisoners, the 3 that are on death row here, is actually doing the same thing
they did. So, we are creating more victims, they have families too," said Denny
Davis the Director for Alternatives to Death Penalty group.

The group also prays for the victim's families, shared messages of hope and
offers those on hand to sign a declaration of life.

(source: KDLT news)

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