2017-09-02 13:49:36 UTC
There are only 4 inmates on death row in Virginia, down from at least 57 in
Half of Virginia's death row inmates will have their cases argued before the
4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals this month, but that should not tax the
Richmond-based court - there are only 2 of them.
Virginia's death row population peaked in 1995 at 57 or 58 inmates. Today there
are just 4, the fewest since July 1979, not long after Virginia law was changed
enabling resumption of the death penalty after it was halted across the country
by a 1972 U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
Now, after 113 executions, a handful of commutations, court actions, deaths
while awaiting execution, a steep drop in homicides, the advent of true life
sentences and other factors, Virginia's death row is the smallest it has been
in almost 4 decades.
Since the U.S. Supreme Court allowed capital punishment to resume in 1976 under
re-written state laws, only Texas, with 543, has carried out more executions
than Virginia. Of 31 states with a death penalty, as of April, only 6 had
smaller death rows. California has the country's largest, with 744 inmates.
While executions continue to be carried out in Virginia - there were 2 this
year, Ricky Gray and William Morva - there have been no new faces on Virginia's
death row in more than 5 years.
Thomas A. Porter, 41, and Anthony Juniper, 45, both sentenced to death in
Norfolk, are set to argue their appeals on Sept. 12 and 15th respectively. Also
on death row are Mark Lawlor, 52, sentenced to death in Fairfax County, and
William Burns, 51, sentenced to death in Shenandoah County, but held to be
incompetent since 2011.
State Del. Robert B. Bell, R-Albemarle, the chairman of the Virginia State
Crime Commission, said another reason there are fewer death sentences today is
because they have become more difficult to obtain.
"The groups opposed to the death penalty have made it such an arduous endeavor
for prosecutors . . from a resource perspective, to give a case all the time
and energy that it would require to see through to a successful capital case
prosecution," said Bell.
Bell said in many smaller localities, "You have prosecutors' offices that have
3 of 2 people and . . . you'd have to pull off of everything else that
happens." He said, "I think that's part of the scenario, it's part of what
Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death penalty Information Center and a
critic of the way the death penalty has been carried out, agrees it is now more
difficult to win a death sentence in Virginia but for good reason. Among other
things, he said, Virginia now has regional capital defenders, "which means
defendants get much better representation than they used to get at trial. That
has made a big difference."
And Virginia juries are now told that a life sentence means life without
parole, something that had not been done before September, 1999. That has also
had an effect, he said. People convicted of capital murder in Virginia can be
sentenced to death or life in prison.
Also, said Dunham, "Murder rates are near historic lows, so you don't have the
level of fear and political pandering on crime that you had in 1980s and
Dunham said public support for the death penalty has dropped. A national Gallup
poll last year found that while 60 % of respondents said they support the death
penalty and 37 % said the opposed it, the support level was the lowest since
the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the death penalty in November 1972.
While no new death sentence has been imposed in Virginia for the last 5 years,
in the preceding 5 years, from 2007 to 2011, 6 death sentences were imposed;
from 2002 to 2006, 14 death sentences; and from 1997 to 2001, 32 death
sentences, he said.
Dunham contends, "There has been a complete sea change in attitudes and
practices during that time."
He said legislators and prosecutors are more committed to upholding existing
death sentences and carrying out executions of those already sentenced to death
than they are to committing decades of new resources to obtaining and carrying
out new death sentences.
"When you add a dwindling death row to the equation, you begin to have a
political environment in which abolition of capital punishment no longer seems
like a farfetched notion," said Dunham.
The Virginia Department of Corrections could not confirm that the state's death
row population peaked at 58 in 1995, as has been reported by the Richmond
Times-Dispatch. The NAACP's Legal Defense Fund, which had figures at certain
points each year back to 1981, says Virginia had 57 on death row as of Oct. 31,
1995, the highest number it recorded in Virginia at any one time.
The Department of Corrections said the last time Virginia had 4 inmates on
death row was in early July 1979. A 5th was added shortly after.
New report: How NC sentenced 2 innocent men to death
One of the few bright spots on the North Carolina public policy landscape in
recent years has been the ongoing hiatus in the application of the death
penalty. It's been 11 years since the state of North Carolina executed anyone
and, happily and not surprisingly, the murder rate has actually declined. In
2007, there were 592 murders in North Carolina. In 2015 (the most recent year
for which the state published statistics online), there were 559. meanwhile,
the state population grew by almost 1-million during that period.
Of course, the hiatus does not yet amount to what is actually required - full
and permanent abolition. On this front, many stubborn and ill-informed
politicians (see, for example, the very troubled Rep. Justin Burr of Stanly
County) cling to the flawed notion that the death penalty can still somehow be
imposed in a fair and constitutional way.
Fortunately (if tragically), compelling evidence continues mount that there is
no way for the death penalty to be applied fairly - much less constitutionally.
The latest powerful example is a new report from the Durham-based Center for
Death Penalty Litigation on the tragic case of Henry McCollum. As the release
accompanying Saved from the executioner: The unlikely exoneration of Henry
"Of all the men and women on death row in North Carolina, Henry McCollum's
guilty verdict looked airtight. He had signed a confession full of grisly
details. Written in crude and unapologetic language, it told the story of 4
boys, he among them, raping and suffocating11-year-old Sabrina Buie. His
younger brother, Leon Brown, also admitted involvement in the crime. Both were
sentenced to death in 1984.
Leon was later resentenced to life in prison. But Henry remained on death row
for 30 years and became Exhibit A in the defense of the death penalty. U.S.
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia pointed to the brutality of Henry's crime
as a reason to continue capital punishment nationwide. During North Carolina
legislative elections in 2010, Henry's face showed up on political flyers, the
example of a brutal rapist and child killer who deserved to be executed.
What almost no one saw - not even his top-notch defense attorneys - was that
Henry McCollum and Leon Brown were innocent. In 2014, both were exonerated by
DNA evidence and, in 2015, then-Gov. Pat McCrory granted them a rare pardon of
In a new report, the Center for Death Penalty Litigation - which represented
McCollum for the last 2 decades he spent on death row - tells the story of how
2 intellectually disabled teenagers were pressured into signing the false
confessions that sent them to death row and how they were finally able to prove
Henry and Leon's case is not so much a lesson in how wrongful convictions are
uncovered as it is a warning of how easily they can be missed entirely. If not
for a complex and unlikely chain of events that unfolded over decades, Henry
and Leon would likely have remained in prison for the rest of their lives.
Henry might have been executed."
Let's hope the new report is widely read and shared. As it notes in the
conclusion after describing the years of neglect McCollum's case received:
"In 2015, Henry got a different kind of mention from the U.S. Supreme Court.
Justice Stephen Breyer cited his exoneration as compelling proof that the death
penalty is not just error-prone, but unconstitutional."
3 Years Free after 30 Years of Innocence in Prison
Saturday marks the 3rd anniversary of the biggest exoneration in North Carolina
Henry McCollum and Leon Brown were declared innocent after serving more than 30
years in prison for a crime they didn't commit. Their story is chronicled in a
report released Thursday by the Center for Death Penalty Litigation.
The center's executive director Gretchen Engel explained why it's important for
their story to be documented and studied.
"30 years on death row; it just exposes all the ways that human error can
contribute at so many different stages of the capital case and why we shouldn't
be practicing the death penalty because of human error," Engel said.
McCollum and Brown were arrested as teenagers, and both were classified as
intellectually disabled. They were accused of the murder and rape of an
11-year-old girl. DNA evidence later proved that the true culprit was a serial
rapist who lived next to where the girl's body was found.
Engel said this case is not an isolated incident, and the CDPL has reason to
believe there are others serving time - some on death row - who were wrongfully
"It's not an anomaly by any stretch of the imagination," she said. "We've done
other reports on wrongful prosecutions where people are prosecuted with flimsy
evidence. We can see this is all part of one system where human error infects
so many different stages of the process."
Biological evidence exists for less than 1/3 of the 144 inmates serving on
North Carolina's death row. Most of them were tried more than 15 years ago,
before reforms were implemented to prevent the conviction of the innocent.
Both McCollum and Brown were pardoned by the governor and are seeking financial
retribution in a civil lawsuit.
FLORIDA----new execution date
Florida quickens pace of its executions, schedules next one for October
5----Florida is scheduled to execute its next death row inmate next month.
Gov. Rick Scott signed a new death warrant on Friday setting the execution of
Michael Lambrix for 6 p.m. Oct. 5.
Lambrix was previously set to die in February 2016 but his execution was halted
amid questions over the constitutionality of Florida's death penalty law.
He has been on death row since 1984 after he was convicted in 1983 of murdering
Aleisha Bryant and Clarence Moore Jr., following a night of drinking in Glades
Scott's office described the crime as Lambrix having "lured Moore outside, and
viciously attacked him with a tire iron, repeatedly hitting him in the head and
fracturing his skull. Lambrix then called Bryant to come outside, where he
attacked her, kicking her in the head and strangling her."
But in an interview with the Herald/Times in 2016, Lambrix contended that Moore
strangled Bryant and that he used a tire iron to fatally batter Moore in
self-defense. He admitted that he and his girlfriend, Frances Smith, buried
both victims in a shallow grave and that he refused to call police because he
was a fugitive from that work detail.
Lambrix's previously scheduled execution in 2016 was halted when the state
Supreme Court issued a stay. Justices cited the uncertainty of how past cases
should be handled in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court decision in January 2016
- known as Hurst v. Florida - which deemed Florida's sentencing procedures
The Florida Supreme Court in December cemented death sentences for nearly 200
prisoners - including Lambrix - whose sentences were finalized before a June
2002 U.S. Supreme Court ruling referenced in the Hurst decision.
The Legislature, meanwhile, quickly moved to fix the state's death penalty law
during the 1st week of the 2017 session this spring. The new procedures require
a unanimous decision by a jury to sentence a defendant to death.
This is the 3rd death warrant signed for Lambrix. The governor who signed
Lambrix's 1st death warrant, Bob Martinez, left office in 1991.
The last death row inmate to be executed was Mark James Asay, who was put to
death just 9 days ago.
Asay's death by lethal injection on Aug. 24 was the 1st time Florida had used a
new anesthetic drug, etomidate. There were no reported complications.
(source: Miami Herald)
Florida prosecutor agrees to seek death penalty in future
A Florida prosecutor who fought and lost a battle with the governor over her
decision not to seek the death penalty said Friday that she will comply with a
state Supreme Court decision and seek it in future cases if it is unanimously
recommended by a panel of her assistant prosecutors.
State Attorney Aramis Ayala made her announcement a day after the state's high
court upheld Republican Gov. Rick Scott's power to reassign her 1st-degree
murder cases to another prosecutor.
The Orlando-area state attorney said a 7-member review panel of assistant state
attorneys in her office will review all 1st-degree murder cases and then
recommend to her which cases warrant seeking the death penalty.
Ayala said she won't have a say in the decisions the 7 members come up with.
"I have vested my authority into the review panel and I have no intention of
usurping the authority which I granted," Ayala said from the steps of the
Orange County Courthouse.
She said that if the review panel, comprised of 6 prosecuting attorneys along
with the assigned state attorney, reaches a unanimous decision to seek the
death penalty she will accept their recommendation. She said the panel includes
attorneys who have sought the death penalty in past cases and are not opposed
to pursuing capital punishment going forward.
"I have chosen this team of experienced prosecutors who I am extremely
confident will follow the law," she said. "None of them has either expressed or
has been confirmed as having no opposition to death penalty."
It's not clear, however, if Scott will go along with the new arrangement.
Ayala and Scott have been entangled in a power struggle since she said in March
she would not consider seeking the death penalty in any homicide case. That
prompted Scott to remove more than 25 first-degree murder cases, including the
upcoming trial of Markeith Loyd from the elected official's office and give
them to special prosecutor. Loyd is accused of slaying his pregnant
ex-girlfriend and a policewoman who tried to apprehend him.
Ayala said Friday she will not continue to fight to have those cases already
taken away returned to her office. But she said she intends to remain over all
future 1st-degree murder cases.
"I respect the decision and appreciate that the Supreme Court of Florida has
responded and issued an opinion, outlining its interpretation of the facts and
circumstances of this case as well as Florida and other state law," Ayala said.
"This has now set the stage for how I will move forward."
John Tupps, a spokesman for Scott, said the governor will "continue to review"
the actions of Ayala's office, but added that "the governor must be convinced
that the death penalty will be sought as outlined in Florida law, when
appropriate. The governor will always stand with crime victims and their
(source: Associated Press)
19-year-old Madison man charged with capital murder in East Limestone double
a 19-year-old from Madison is jailed on charges of capital murder in the
shooting deaths of 2 men whose bodies were found in an East Limestone driveway.
Jacob Gideon Copeland was booked into the Limestone County Jail without bail
around 2:15 a.m., records show. Deputies found the bodies of Damian Blake
Ricketts, 21, of Hazel Green, and Devin Edward Richard, a 22-year-old from
Huntsville, when they responded to a call on Analicia Drive early Thursday.
Sheriff's spokesman Stephen Young said around 7 a.m., a resident reported
finding a car in his driveway with 2 young men who had been shot. Richard and
Ricketts each suffered multiple gunshot wounds. There is no known connection
between those involved in the homicide and anyone living in the neighborhood.
Investigators began looking at Copeland as a suspect when they learned he was
the last person with whom the victims had contact, Young said. When
investigators went to his home on Mill Road in Madison, Copeland ran but was
quickly caught a couple hundred yards away, Young said.
Deputies along with Madison police and the State Bureau of Investigation served
a search warrant at Copeland's home and arrested him after an interview at the
sheriff's office. Other agencies that helped with the investigation include
Huntsville police and the Madison County sheriff's office.
"The case took 7 Limestone County sheriff's investigators about 18 hours to
resolve," Young said in a news release. Those investigators are Rodney McAbee,
Caleb Durden, Chad Harbin, Kristin King, Tim McNeil, and Lts. Jay Stinnett and
"I couldn't be more proud of our deputies and investigators who worked
tirelessly throughout the day and night to solve this case," Sheriff Mike
Blakely said in a statement. "...the mutual assistance they received from other
agencies was second to none. The team effort that was on display over the past
20 hours is just remarkable."
Copeland is charged with 2 counts of capital murder. If convicted, he faces
either life without parole or the death penalty.
Additional details weren't immediately available. Young told AL.com additional
information will be released later today.
Federal court orders new hearings in lethal injection challenge
A federal appeals court Friday ordered new hearings on a group of Alabama death
row inmates' challenge to the state's execution method.
In a 79-page opinion, the 3-judge panel of the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of
Appeals said there were factual disputes that should have precluded U.S.
District Judge Keith Watkins from issuing summary judgment for the Alabama
Department of Corrections.
The inmates in the case argue that midazolam, a sedative used in Alabama's
3-drug execution process, cannot render a condemned individual unconscious
before officials inject 2 more painful and lethal drugs. The appeals court
wrote that should be the focus of future hearings.
"Whether the ADOC's use of midazolam as the first drug in its execution
protocol will render the prisoner insensate prior to the administration of the
2nd and 3rd drugs will require the presentation of expert opinion testimony,"
U.S. Circuit Judge Gerald Tjoflat wrote in an opinion for the panel. "We assume
that Appellants' counsel is prepared to present such testimony, and that the
ADOC is prepared to rebut it with expert opinion testimony of its own."
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that condemned inmates challenging their
methods of execution must present an alternative method of execution. Alabama
has used midazolam since resuming executions in early 2016. 3 of the 4 that
have taken place since then took place without visible incident. But Ronald
Bert Smith, executed last December, gasped and coughed for 13 of the 34 minutes
it took to execute him.
Midazolam has been present in other botched executions. Critics say its ability
to render a person unconscious drops when a recipient experiences a high-stress
event, like his or her execution.
The inmates in the lawsuit suggested single-injection methods of execution,
involving large doses of drugs like midazolam, pentobarbital or sodium
The Alabama Department of Corrections argued in the case that it could not
obtain supplies of sodium thiopental or pentobarbital. Hospira, the maker of
sodium thiopental, stopped manufacturing it in the United States in 2011 due to
its use in capital punishment. The state used pentobarbital as a sedative in
executions but had exhausted its supply by 2014.
DOC also argued that the inmates failed to show that a single large injection
of midazolam would be less painful than the current method. Watkins agreed,
saying the plaintiffs did not identify sources of sodium thiopental or
pentobarbital and did not produce "scientific evidence of record" to prove
midazolam would be less painful for the condemned.
The appeals court found fault with Watkins' findings. It noted that dozens of
executions took place involving compounded pentobarbital and that some states
intended to carry out executions with it.
"From these facts it can reasonably be inferred that compounded pentobarbital
was available, that executions using the drug as a 1-drug protocol were
ongoing, and that several States contemplated employing the protocol," Tjoflat
The appeals court also noted testimony from Anne Adams Hill, general counsel
for the ADOC, that she had contacted other states in the fall of 2015 - a year
after the state switched to midazolam. Hill said in testimony the department
wanted to weigh whether pentobarbital was available, and if so, if it might be
"A factfinder could reasonably infer that her efforts to find a new
pentobarbital source reflected her or her superiors' doubts about midazolam's
effectiveness in eliminating pain potassium chloride could cause during
executions," Tjoflat wrote. "Of course, other inferences from Hill's testimony
could be drawn, and that is precisely why her testimony should be submitted to
the trier of fact rather than treated as conclusive on summary judgment."
The appeals court also wrote that the lower court cited testimony from an
expert witness from the plaintiffs who suggested that the midazolam dosage
needed to cause death was many times higher than the 500 mg they sought. But
Tjoflat also wrote that Watkins "overlooked" testimony from an expert from the
DOC, who said that 500 mg on its own would be enough to cause death.
Tjoflat's opinion told the district court to "first determine what risk the
current 3-drug protocol - with midazolam as the 1st drug - presents before
considering the adequacy of Appellants' proposed alternatives, especially since
it has by now been clearly established that midazolam is available to the
Watkins' opinion also included angry and sometimes sneering criticism of
physicians, whose professional code of ethics prevent them from assisting in
executions. The judge accused doctors of working "on the side of guerrilla
tactics against a clearly constitutional right of the state to execute
criminals convicted of vile human desecration and death" while suggesting their
involvement in executions would lead to more humane methods of execution.
The judge also attacked the U.S. Supreme Court's "evolving standards of
decency" argument from 1958's Trop v. Dulles, saying it led to "hollow
arguments from a debased medical community in death penalty cases."
The 11th Circuit did not address Watkins' criticisms of the medical community
(source: Montgomery Advertiser)
A service courtesy of Washburn University School of Law www.washburnlaw.edu
DeathPenalty mailing list