2017-04-18 15:41:47 UTC
ARKANSAS----stay of executions
U.S. Supreme Court won't allow Arkansas execution
The Arkansas Supreme Court halted the executions of 2 men originally scheduled
to be put to death Monday night.
The Supreme Court late Monday blocked the 1st of at least 6 executions planned
in Arkansas over the next 2 weeks after a dizzying day of state and federal
court disputes about lethal injection drugs, mental health claims and the right
to legal representation.
The justices' action represented a setback, but not a final blow, for Arkansas
officials as they race the clock to execute convicted murderers before the
state's supply of a controversial sedative used for executions passes its
expiration date. If that happens, all the executions will be put on hold.
Justices turned down Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge's request to
vacate a stay for Don Davis, 54, who was set to die Monday night by lethal
injection. It's the 2nd time in 7 years that Davis, who was convicted in a 1992
murder, has come within hours of execution before courts intervened.
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson released a statement saying he was disappointed in
the delay. "While this has been an exhausting day for all involved, tomorrow we
will continue to fight back on last minute appeals and efforts to block justice
for the victims' families," the statement read.
The order does not affect executions still planned for Thursday and next week,
among 8 originally scheduled with unprecedented haste over an 11-day period
because of the looming deadline. A federal district court had blocked all the
executions Saturday, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit reversed
that decision. Other courts blocked 2 of the executions over separate issues of
competency and clemency.
While the last-minute appeals raised technical issues involving the defendants'
legal rights and courts' jurisdiction, the state's effort to execute its first
prisoners since 2005 focused largely on the drugs to be used. One of them, the
sedative midazolam, has been associated with botched executions in Alabama,
Arizona, Ohio and Oklahoma. Another, vecuronium bromide, was said by its
manufacturer to have been obtained by the state under false pretenses.
The planned executions have renewed the debate over lethal injection in
particular and capital punishment in general, which has been in decline for
nearly 2 decades. No state has executed so many prisoners in such a short time
span. Twice in 1997, Texas executed 8 prisoners in a single month, according to
the Death Penalty Information Center.
The Supreme Court refused to hear the prisoners' appeal in February, along with
another case from Alabama. At the time, Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen
Breyer dissented. Sotomayor has been the court's leading critic of midazolam;
Breyer has questioned the constitutionality of capital punishment.
The high court has tossed out 2 Texas death sentences this year - 1 because of
racially discriminatory testimony, the other because of an outdated definition
of intellectual disability. It is scheduled to hear 2 more death penalty cases
on April 24, the date 2 more Arkansas prisoners are slated for execution.
(source: USA Today)
Arkansas Vows To Keep Pushing For Executions Despite Setback
Arkansas officials vowed to carry out a double execution later this week after
the U.S. Supreme Court delivered a setback to the state's plan to resume
capital punishment for the 1st time in nearly 12 years with a ruling sparing an
inmate just minutes before his death warrant was set to expire.
The court's decision was the second time Don Davis had been granted a reprieve
shortly before execution - he was within hours of death in 2010. It capped a
chaotic day of legal wrangling in state and federal courts Monday as Arkansas
tried to clear obstacles to carrying out its first executions since 2005.
Davis had already been served a last meal, and witnesses were being moved
toward the execution chamber when the Supreme Court ruled just minutes before
Davis' death warrant expired at midnight.
Davis was sentenced to death for the 1990 death of Jane Daniel in Rogers,
Arkansas. The woman was killed in her home after Davis broke in and shot her
with a .44-caliber revolver he found there.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson had set an aggressive schedule of as many as eight
executions by the end of April, when the state's supply of a key lethal
injection drug expires. Davis and Bruce Ward were supposed to be the 1st 2 of
those Monday but Ward received a stay of execution and the state did not appeal
the decision. The state did challenge a stay granted to Davis but the
last-minute U.S. Supreme Court ruling ensured that he would not enter the death
Despite the setbacks, Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said Arkansas would
press ahead with other planned executions, including 2 set for Thursday -
Ledell Lee and Stacey Johnson.
"There are 5 scheduled executions remaining with nothing preventing them from
occurring, but I will continue to respond to any and all legal challenges
brought by the prisoners," Rutledge said.
Lawyers for the inmates were not immediately available after the U.S. Supreme
Earlier in the day, the state had cleared 2 of the main obstacles to resuming
executions. The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a federal judge's
ruling blocking the executions over the use of midazolam, a sedative used in
flawed executions in other states. The state Supreme Court also lifted a lower
court ruling preventing the state from using another lethal injection drug that
a supplier said was sold to be used for medical purposes, not executions.
The high court's order sparing Davis offered no explanation, but none of the
justices voted in favor of lifting the stay. Monday marked the 1st day that the
U.S. Supreme Court was in session with new Justice Neil Gorsuch on the bench.
Hutchinson's original schedule of 8 lethal injections in 11 days would have
marked the most inmates put to death by a state in such a short period since
the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. The state
scheduled such a compressed schedule because of the expiration of its supply of
Arkansas enacted a law 2 years ago keeping secret the source of its lethal
injection drugs, a move officials said was necessary to find new supplies.
Despite the secrecy measure, prison officials have said it will be very
difficult to find a supplier willing to sell Arkansas midazolam after its
current stock expires.
(source: Associated Press)
Arkansas court halts 2 executions set for Monday night
The Arkansas Supreme Court halted the executions of 2 men originally scheduled
to be put to death Monday night, putting another legal roadblock in place in
the state's plan to conduct eight lethal injections before its supply of a key
drug expires at the end of April.
Justices in a 4-3 decision granted stays Monday afternoon for Don Davis and
Bruce Ward. The inmates wanted stays of execution while the U.S. Supreme Court
takes up a separate case concerning access to independent mental health experts
by defendants. The U.S. high court is set to hold oral arguments on April 24.
3 Arkansas justices dissented, with Associate Justice Shawn Womack writing that
Ward and Davis "had their day in court, the jury spoke, and decades of appeals
have occurred. The families are entitled to closure and finality of the law."
The inmates' attorneys argued that their clients were denied access to
independent mental health experts, saying Ward has a lifelong history of severe
mental illness and that Davis has an IQ in the range of intellectual
This was just the latest setback for the state's plan to execute 8 prisoners
before its supply of the sedative midazolam expires at the end of the month. If
court proceedings are pushed into May, Arkansas won't be able to carry out the
executions with the drugs it has on hand.
The Arkansas high court already had issued one stay for Ward after a Jefferson
County judge said she didn't have the authority to halt Ward's execution.
Ward's attorneys have argued he is a diagnosed schizophrenic with no rational
understanding of his impending execution.
Also, a federal judge has halted all of the planned executions on different
grounds. The state has appealed that ruling to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of
Appeals, which hadn't weighed in as of mid-afternoon.
The state was still moving forward with plans to conduct the Monday night
executions in the event that all stays were lifted. A spokesman for Arkansas
Attorney General Leslie Rutledge had no immediate comment on the latest stays,
saying the office was still reviewing the court's order.
Meanwhile, the Arkansas Supreme Court also barred a state judge who blocked the
multiple execution plan from taking up any death penalty related cases after he
participated in a protest where he appeared to mimic a death row inmate about
to receive a lethal injection. Justices reassigned any death penalty cases from
Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Wendell Griffen, who banned the state from
using a lethal injection drug a supplier said was misleadingly obtained. After
issuing the order, Griffen participated in an anti-death penalty demonstration
where he was strapped to a cot. The high court asked a disciplinary panel to
consider whether Griffen violated the code of conduct for judges.
At a federal court hearing last week, prison officials testified they must
conduct the executions with their current batch of midazolam, a sedative that
is intended to mask the effects of drugs that will shut down the inmates' lungs
and hearts. The inmates say midazolam is unsuitable because it is not a
painkiller and could subject them to a cruel and unusual punishment in
violation of the U.S. Constitution.
(source: Boston Herald)
Arkansas executions: Who's on death row?
The state initially tried to execute 8. But attorneys for Bruce Ward, one of
the men on the list, requested a stay based on mental disability, which was
granted by the Arkansas Supreme Court.
Of the 7 men still on Arkansas' list, 4 are black, 3 are white and all were
convicted of murder. Here's a look at who they are and their crimes:
Don William Davis, 54
Davis has been convicted in the brutal death of Jane Daniel. Daniel was in her
home when Davis broke in and shot her with a .44-caliber gun. 7 years ago, he
came within 6 hours of being executed by the state before the Arkansas Supreme
Court halted it and addressed whether legislators had left out key details to
the prison staff. Ultimately, the justices tossed out Arkansas' death row
policies. Davis has not sought clemency but has joined other inmates' various
lawsuits. Prison officials moved Davis Friday night to a cell near the
Jack Herold Jones, Jr., 52
Jones was initially scheduled to be put to death April 24 at 9 p.m. CDT. Jones
has spent the past two decades on death row for killing Mary Phillips and
trying to kill her daughter, Lacy, during a robbery at an accounting office.
Phillips was found naked from the waist down with a cord from a coffee pot tied
around her neck. Lacy was left for dead but woke up as police photographed her.
Jones had taken Lacy to the bathroom and tied her to a chair. Lacy cried and
asked Jones not to hurt her mother. Jones told the child, "I'm not. I'm going
to hurt you." He then choked her until she passed out and hit her in the head
with the barrel of a BB gun. Jones has said he is "not interested in clemency
and has apologized for his actions." Jones has spent the last 20 years of his
life on death row. He's tried to commit suicide twice and allegedly has been
diagnosed with anti-social disorder and is bi-polar, according to The
Forgiveness Foundation. Jones began using hard drugs from an early age.
Stacey E. Johnson, 47
Johnson was put on death row for the murder of Carol Heath in 1993. Heath was
beaten and strangled and had her throat slit while her 2 young children were
hiding in the home. Heath's daughter, Ashley, has said she's forgiven Johnson
but wants him to admit he killed her mother. Johnson has refused and has
strongly maintained his innocence. His initial conviction was overturned when
the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled that a police officer should not have told
jurors that Ashley, who was 6 at the time and found incompetent to testify, had
picked Johnson out of a photo lineup. Johnson has spent 22 years on Arkansas'
Ledell Lee, 51
Lee is sentenced to die for the 1993 murder of Debra Reese, his neighbor. He
beat Reese 36 times with a tire tool her husband had given her for protection.
Lee was apprehended less than an hour after the grizzly death, trying to spend
the $300 he had stolen from her. DNA evidence has also linked him to the
disappearance of Christin Lewis, 22. Lee is also serving time for the rapes of
a Jacksonville woman and teenager. He is scheduled to be executed Thursday,
April 20. Ledell has spent the last 21 years of his life on Arkansas' death
Marcel Williams, 46
Williams was found guilty of the rape and murder of Stacy Errickson. Williams
abducted the mother of 2 when she stopped for gas in Jacksonville, Fla. He then
drove around to multiple ATMs and had her take out $350. Errickson never
arrived at work that day nor did she pick up her child from the babysitters.
Her body was found badly beaten and bound in a park 2 weeks later. Williams
confessed to killing Errickson. He's also been linked to assaults on 2 other
women. He is scheduled to be executed on Monday, April 24.
Jason F. McGehee, 40
McGehee beat to death Johnny Melbourne, Jr., for telling police who was behind
an Arkansas theft ring. While several people are accused of beating and
torturing the 15-year-old Melbourne, co-defendants claim McGehee did most of
it. During his trial, McGehee asked the jury for mercy and said he had grown up
in a dysfunctional family and had a violent childhood. He was forced to watch
as his father killed 2 of his pets. He also watched his step-father beat
another pet, which died from its injuries. McGehee claimed his mother would
force him to sleep outside for days and deny him food. The jury convicted him
in 90 minutes. He is scheduled to be executed on Thursday, April 27.
(source: Fox News)
Cotton and Hill Praise Arkansas Death Penalty At Town Hall
Central Arkansas Congressman appeared before constituents in a town hall format
for the first time of the Trump era on Monday. Hill faced a raucous, but
politically split crowd. He was joined by U.S. Senator Tom Cotton.
The Republican senator said he talked with Governor Asa Hutchinson that morning
about executions originally slated to begin Monday evening.
"I told him that I 100 % support his decision to execute the verdict that was
rendered by a jury of his peers," said Cotton to a mix of jeers and cheers.
Cotton continued, condemning pharmaceutical companies for objecting to their
drugs being used without their permission to kill inmates.
"Even politically correct pharmaceutical companies are trying to interfere with
the justice system in the state of Arkansas," he said after decrying liberal
judges and attorneys.
Hill also expressed support for the death penalty despite a constituent
challenging him on why he differs from his Catholic Bishop, Anthony Taylor.
"Everyone who has gone through a trial for one of these heinous crimes has been
able to have the due process of law under our Constitution," Hill said.
The town hall was held at a west Little Rock hotel during the workday.
State's high court removes judge who protested death penalty from
The Arkansas Supreme Court has removed a judge who participated in a
death-penalty protest from hearing capital punishment cases.
In an assignment order issued Monday, the state's high court said it was
necessary to reassign Judge Wendell Griffen's cases and to refer him to the
Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission to determine whether he violated
judicial conduct rules.
After a medical supplier filed a complaint Friday, Griffen issued a temporary
restraining order barring the state from executing condemned inmates it had
planned to put to death beginning Monday. Also Friday, Griffen participated in
a protest outside the Arkansas governor's mansion where he lay on a cot to
mimic a condemned prisoner.
"To protect the integrity of the judicial system this court has a duty to
ensure that all are given a fair and impartial tribunal," the order from the
Supreme Court said. "We find it necessary to immediately reassign all cases in
the Fifth Division that involve the death penalty or the state's execution
protocol, whether civil or criminal."
The makers of a lethal-injection drug have become leaders in Arkansas'
Arkansas' plan to execute 7 men by lethal injection over the course of 10 days
in April hit a road block Friday when a federal judge moved to block all of the
executions by issuing a restraining order against the state's use of the drug
Arkansas was pushing to carry out the executions before one of the drugs used
as part of the fatal cocktail expired.
Perhaps unexpectedly, the leading opponents of the executions were the very
companies that produced the drugs.
4 companies have spoken out so far about the executions in Arkansas: Pfizer,
Fresenius, West-Ward Pharmaceuticals, and the drug wholesaler McKesson.
There are 3 drugs typically used in the lethal-injection cocktail:
Midazolam, which is used as an anesthetic. In medicine, it's used to make
people drowsy before surgery and as a way to produce memory loss so patients
don't remember painful parts of the procedure. Midazolam is the drug set to
expire in Arkansas, and its use has been controversial because of its role in
recent botched executions in which patients remained conscious.
Vecuronium bromide, which causes paralysis. In medicine, it's used in general
anesthesia to relax the skeletal muscles during surgery.
Potassium chloride, which is used to stop the heart. In medicine it's used to
treat low blood potassium.
Over the past few years, drug companies have started blocking their drugs from
being used in executions. These drugs also have other medical uses, which can
make it tricky to keep them from making it into state prisons that still carry
out the death penalty and to keep them from being used for that purpose.
In May, Pfizer, became the last pharmaceutical company to block the use of its
drugs in lethal injections. Its decision meant there were no longer any Food
and Drug Administration-approved manufacturers that would supply the drugs used
in lethal injections for the death penalty.
"Pfizer strongly objects to the use of its products as lethal injections for
capital punishment," the company said in its lethal-injection policy.
The move has made it harder for states to get the drugs for the purpose of
lethal injection. Pfizer on Thursday said the drugs in Arkansas were sold to
the state's Department of Correction without the company knowing:
"Pfizer did not directly supply the product to the Arkansas Department of
Correction (DOC). Without Pfizer's knowledge, McKesson, a distributor, sold the
product to the DOC. This was in direct violation of our policy. Pfizer has
twice requested that Arkansas return any Hospira or Pfizer manufactured
Restricted Product in their possession. In addition, we considered other means
by which to secure the return of the product, up to and including legal
McKesson, the drug wholesaler that sold the vecuronium bromide to Arkansas DOC,
refunded the money to the state and issued a restraining order against the DOC
from using the drug in lethal injections. That restraining order was withdrawn
after the executions were paused.
"We will continue our efforts to facilitate the return of our product and
ensure that it is used in line with our supplier agreement," McKesson said in a
2 other drug companies whose drugs may have been used in the executions,
Freesenius (the suppliers of the potassium chloride) and West-Ward
Pharmaceuticals (thought to be the suppliers of the midozolam), issued a brief
as part of a lawsuit aimed at halting the lethal injections.
An appropriate reminder
Is it reasonable for those adamantly opposed to the death penalty to continue
to bring the issue up in the Legislature - again and again - even though
Nebraskans statewide have sent a clear message in support of its use?
Grudgingly, our answer would be yes.
On life-and-death issues like this one literally is, it would be difficult to
tell a legislator that he or she can't continue to advocate on this topic.
But that said ...
We also believe it to be highly appropriate for Nebraskans who were part of the
61 % majority that voted last year to restore the death penalty in the state to
remind legislators - again and again - of the overwhelming pro-death penalty
sentiment on this issue.
And it's appropriate for legislators also to be confronted - as they were in
debate last month - of the inappropriate behavior displayed in past legislative
sessions when the issue was debated.
That's what Christine Tuttle did recently in testimony before the Legislature's
Judiciary Committee as she spoke in opposition to a measure - Legislative Bill
661 - that would bring the death penalty up for debate yet again.
Ms. Tuttle said she told senators on the committee that they should feel
ashamed for celebrating on the legislative floor 2 years ago when a different
repeal bill passed. Her mother, Evonne Tuttle, was 1 of 5 killed in the 2002
bank shooting in Norfolk.
"I watched you laugh and hug and high-5," she said. "You celebrated on the pain
and sorrow of my family, and we have heard enough. This behavior hurt me and it
angered me and it's not becoming of state senators, and I hope and pray that
you do not make the same mistake again."
To their credit, 2 state senators - Bob Krist of Omaha and Patty Pansing Brooks
of Lincoln - offered apologies. They said any displays of emotion on the floor
of the Legislature were not intended as an insult to the families of murder
victims. Rather, they said the scene reflected the kind of outpouring that
naturally follows any difficult struggle over an issue people care deeply
But, of course, Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha was having nothing to do with an
apology, saying there was no shame in celebrating a victory that seemed
unattainable. "As long as I have breath in my body and I'm in this Legislature,
I'm going to do what I think is right," he said.
Fine, he's entitled to his opinion. And he's entitled to attempting to continue
his efforts to end the death penalty in Nebraska.
But he and other death penalty opponents are also entitled to be reminded at
every opportunity that a clear majority of Nebraskans think otherwise, and that
opponents' behavior on this issue needs to be reflective of the serious nature
of this issue.
(source: Editorial, Norfolk Daily News)
Juror at center of misconduct claim testifies in Sir Mario Owens death penalty
appeal----Juror says she did not know relatives of Javad Marshall-Fields prior
to the trial
A juror at the center of a misconduct inquiry that could overturn a Colorado
death sentence testified Monday in Arapahoe County District Court that she did
not know relatives of the victim before serving on a high-profile murder trial
that laid the groundwork for the death sentence.
Instead, the juror said that she first met the uncles of Javad Marshall-Fields
after the trial was over. In other testimony Monday, Marshall-Fields' uncles
affirmed the jurors' statement, a blow to defense attorneys seeking to prove
that death row inmate Sir Mario Owens should receive a new trial in 2 separate
Owens and another man, Robert Ray, were convicted and sentenced to death for
the 2005 murders in Aurora of Marshall-Fields and Vivian Wolfe. Before that
trial, Owens was convicted of murder in a separate shooting death in Aurora's
Lowry Park, an incident in which Marshall-Fields was wounded.
On appeal, Owens' attorneys have alleged misconduct by 1 juror in the Lowry
Park trial - asserting that she lied on her juror questionnaire, knew and had
contact with at least 1 witness during the trial and knew members of Owens' and
Marshall-Fields' families. Most of those issues already have been debated, but
a judge last month granted a new hearing to learn more about the juror's
connection to Marshall-Fields' family.
On the witness stand Monday, the juror, Stephanie Manuel, said repeatedly that
she did not meet Marshall-Fields' family until after the 2007 Lowry Park trial,
an assertion Marshall-Fields' mother and of his uncles echoed. That conflicts
with what at least 2 acquaintances have said, a defense investigator testified.
It also conflicts with what one of Marshall-Fields' uncles initially told
But, on the stand Monday, uncle Michael Baxter testified that he had been
mistaken when he said this year that he had known the juror for 20 years, a
statement he recanted the next day.
"When you guys start bringing this up," he said to a defense attorney, "it
brings up all the bad memories and other stuff. And that's hard. ... It took a
big part out of me when this happened."
(source: Denver Post)
'Executing Freedom' examines the evolving role of the death penalty----Emory
history professor Daniel LaChance's debut book looks at more than 50 years of
shifting American culture and how it has altered perceptions of the death
How is it that the same Americans who don't trust the government to collect
garbage and taxes put their faith in the government killing our worst
To get the answer, Daniel LaChance, an Emory College assistant professor in
history, looked at more than 50 years of shifting American culture and how it
altered perceptions of the death penalty. The result is his debut book,
"Executing Freedom: The Cultural Life of Capital Punishment in the United
States," published by the University of Chicago Press.
"My interest is in how the death penalty offers the opportunity for collective
outrage and the role of that outrage in our society," says LaChance, who got
his 1st glimpse of the criminal justice system by watching his defense attorney
father, who worked in a state without the death penalty.
"The ritual of crime, and the punishment, creates moral spectacles," LaChance
adds. "It's a way to build connections in a society."
In the book, LaChance argues that community definitions of freedom help shape
views on capital punishment. To understand those definitions, he analyzes
various ideologies that supported both rehabilitative and retributive
punishment for crime, and also identifies the popular culture in movies, books
and even politics that expressed those views.
In the years following World War II, Americans saw government as a force for
freedom and held its powers in high esteem. The classic liberal experts who had
helped win the war were seen as the ones who could "fix" the problem of crime.
Tapping into psychiatric knowledge at the time, those experts concluded that
crime stemmed from people who society had denied the opportunity to become
productive citizens. Fix that inequality - by tackling such societal ails as
poverty and broken homes - and criminals could be rehabilitated.
"The public wanted punitive measures, but the elites were very confident in the
ability of psychiatry and social programs to treat people who had committed
even the most horrible crimes," LaChance says. "From that viewpoint, the death
penalty seems irrational."
LaChance shows that the pendulum would swing as the crime rate continued to
rise in the 1960s and 1970s. Disillusionment about crime began to spread from
the white middle class to the elites, generating the idea that the
rehabilitative concept is too soft and coddles criminals.
Though crime became a way for whites to express anxiety about the civil rights
era, LaChance argues the emergence of a retributive punishment as the antidote
for crime is more than just a backlash to social change.
Growing media coverage of people such as spree killer Charles Starkweather and
popular books such as "In Cold Blood" revealed young white men, who had been
given every advantage, were serial killers.
"Almost universally, these young white men are sentenced to death by a public
that believes that this is individualism, a freedom to be whatever you want,
run amok," LaChance says.
The result was a move from the idea of being sick or well, and able to be
rehabilitated, to a moral order of good and evil. Government becomes part of
the problem, LaChance says, for failing to enforce that order.
Thus begins the split that creates the contradiction LaChance sees today.
District attorneys and law enforcement officials who begin pursuing the death
penalty are seen as mavericks, taking on a rotted system for the moral good.
The slow decline of the death penalty in recent years is not a result of yet
another shift but the merging of those previous trends, LaChance argues. That's
because the death penalty has since become mired in the very government
bureaucracy that supporters expected it to transcend.
Americans support the idea of making criminals pay but culturally are willing
to do so only when they can be sure of the need, requiring costly and
time-consuming judicial review, LaChance says. And, while death penalty cases
drag on for years and sometimes decades, lawmakers have created a firm "life
without parole" option that has proven less costly and appears more punitive to
"If you interpret freedom to mean security, you can support government for its
original function of law and order," LaChance says. "But the death penalty
isn't doing what it was supposed to do - punish criminals and quickly. The
symbol of the death penalty as a fast-acting, morally clear, retributive
expressed outrage is fading."
Death in a bottle: Capital punishment in the U.S. has no foreseeable expiration
date----The fight over medications used for lethal injections is part of the
continuing battle over capital punishment
Dueling was outlawed in the Arkansas Territory in 1820, but in present-day
Arkansas, courtroom fencing is a blood sport. In the current legal duel over
executions, the stakes are lethal - and the consequences may be felt well
beyond state lines.
The fight is ostensibly over the use of specific drugs planned for a series of
executions scheduled to start this week. That???s not what it's really about,
of course; it's about stopping those executions. Opponents of capital
punishment, while successful in many venues, have failed to convince
legislators and judges in several Southern states, including Arkansas, to
abandon the death penalty. (Georgia and Texas led the field last year, with 9
and 7 executions, respectively.)
The limited legal avenues available to death-penalty opponents involve
challenges to the methods of execution. The United States Supreme Court has
narrowed the definitions of "cruel and unusual punishment" over the years,
tightening the rules, but has refused to ban all executions outright.
Which leaves the question of whether specific drugs or methods used in
executions fit the permissible criteria. The legal battle in Arkansas is being
waged on that narrow issue, but everyone involved knows the deeper issue is
life or death.
The unlikely trigger for this chain of events was a pharmaceutical label: eight
executions were scheduled almost back-to-back to beat an impending expiration
date for the first in Arkansas' trio of execution drugs, the controversial
sedative midazolam. The state has never used the drug before, and it has a
checkered history. But the new protocol, and the assembly-line plan at
Arkansas' death-house near Pine Bluff, are rich in irony.
Governor Asa Hutchinson didn't want to break the law by injecting an expired
drug to put a condemned man to sleep. Yes, for real. Hutchinson is, by all
accounts, an obedient servant of the law - the kind of man who would never yank
a "Do Not Remove" label from a mattress. But being a stickler can have
Hutchinson's decision opened the door to challenges not only to midazolam, but
also to other drugs planned for the executions. While opponents of midazolam
argued against its effectiveness, citing failures to fully sedate inmates in
Ohio and Oklahoma executions, the manufacturers of 2 other crucial drugs went
to court to prevent their use in the Arkansas death chamber. They say the state
purchased them fraudulently.
Add to those circumstances the reality that public support for the death
penalty is waning, even in deep-red Arkansas. The state had so much trouble
lining up official witnesses for the planned spate of executions - a minimum
requirement of 6 witnesses for each - that Corrections Director Wendy Kelly had
to make a personal pitch to the Little Rock Rotary Club for volunteers. I'm not
making this up.
Execution chambers are gruesome places. I have visited a number of them -
fortunately when not in use - and the transition from hideous Old Sparky to the
sterility of a medical gurney hasn't robbed them of their grisly menace. The
closest I've come to the real thing is watching a precision lethal-injection
rehearsal at Texas' Angola Prison, and that chilling experience explains to me
why Rotarians are not signing up in droves in Little Rock.
I don't know much about the candidates for Arkansas's arsenal of disputed
drugs, but the public record for each of them is pretty unsavory. What I do
know, for certain - about each and every one of them - is that they lost a
Is the death penalty moral? Put that question aside. You don't even have to go
there: The death penalty is patently arbitrary and unjust. Whether a defendant
is to live or die depends not on Lady Justice, but Lady Luck.
For 200 years, the best legal minds in America have tried to come up with an
equitable way to administer the death penalty - and they have failed. "Justice"
depends on the vagaries of race (victim and perpetrator), location, and
economic status. Add to that the ambition of prosecutors, the competence of
defense counsel, the human variables of judges.
Oh, yes, there's that other pesky possibility: deadly error. DNA results have
exonerated 18 condemned murderers over the last 2 decades. What errors might
have occurred before DNA? And what happens when the government accidentally
convicts and executes an innocent person? That has happened, too: check out the
1989 Texas execution of a 27-year-old Hispanic named Carlos DeLuna.
Over the next few days, you can expect appeals arguments in state and federal
courts. My bet is that the federal appeal to the Eighth Circuit Court of
Appeals will be decided in Arkansas' favor.
Regardless of the decision, there will certainly be an appeal to the US Supreme
Court. The odds here are that the Court won't take the case, but if the dice
come down differently and 4 justices vote to accept it, the decision will be
based on the very narrow grounds of this case and these drugs. You can safely
place a side bet that the death penalty itself will not be an issue.
The Court has on several occasions in the past come very close to a complete
ban on the death penalty as "cruel and unusual" and therefore unconstitutional,
but close doesn't court. These justices are unlikely to break the mold.
The clock is ticking on that drug label: the expiration date is April 30th. If
the legal battles continue beyond that date, the condemned men win - but my
wager, sadly, is that they will lose.
Either way, this much you can take to the bank: Capital punishment in the
United States has no foreseeable expiration date.
(source: Martin Clancy, salon.com)
When Will The Boston Bomber Be Executed? Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's Death Sentence
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was sentenced to death in 2015 for the deadly bombing at the
2013 Boston Marathon and has since been behind bars in the ADX supermax prison
in Florence, Colorado. Tsarnaev's case, however, is far from over.
"We're probably still a decade out before there's a final resolution in the
courts," Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information
Center, told International Business Times in a phone interview Monday.
Tsarnaev, along with his brother Tamerlan, had placed 2 pressure cooker bombs
at the marathon's finish line, killing 3 people and injuring hundreds more.
Tamerlan was killed during a police shootout in the chaos following the
bombing, while Dzhokhar was eventually captured by authorities. In the
proceedings that followed, a jury unanimously voted for the so-called "Boston
Bomber" to be sentenced to death by lethal injection.
For Tsarnaev and his legal team, the sentencing was merely the beginning of
what will likely be a years-long battle in court.
"The question is not when he will be executed, it's if he will be executed,"
Dunham told IBT.
The Death Penalty Is Almost Gone - But Some Politicians Aren't Ready to Say
Goodbye Quite Yet----Elected officials in Florida are facing off over the issue
of capital punishment
When Florida state attorney Aramis Ayala said she wouldn't seek the death
penalty for murder convictions while in office a couple months after she was
sworn in this past January, one local official wrote on Facebook that she
should be "tarred and feathered if not hung from a tree." She is the first
black official to serve as a state's attorney in Florida.
The case over which Ayala, a Democrat serving in Orange and Osceola counties,
defined her stance involved Markeith Loyd, who is accused of killing his
pregnant ex-girlfriend and a police officer. "I have determined," Ayala said
last month, "that [seeking the death penalty] is not in the best interests of
the community or the best interests of justice."
Governor Rick Scott, a Republican, defines justice differently. Ayala's refusal
to send Loyd to death row, he said, "sends an unacceptable message that she is
not interested in considering every available option in the fight for justice."
His office reassigned the Loyd case - as well as 22 other cases - to another
prosecutor willing to use capital punishment. Ayala is now suing the governor,
but Scott is continuing to review cases, saying he wants to "make sure that we
always think about the victim." (The mother of the woman whom Loyd allegedly
killed has said she supports Ayala's decision.) The debate will eventually be
decided by the courts.
Prosecutors have no obligation to seek death sentences in capital cases. The
options at their discretion in every case give them substantial power to change
how the criminal justice system works. A combination of differing state laws
and prosecutorial discretion meant that only 33 counties in the entire country
imposed a death sentence in 2015, per a report by the Fair Punishment Project -
most of which occurred in "outlier counties" with prosecutors who say things
like "we need to kill more people."
The death penalty has been fighting its own expiration for years. The practice
is currently legal in only 31 states, several of which have seen no executions
in at least 10 years. But the death penalty isn't extinct yet. Later this
month, Arkansas had planned to end a 12-year death-row drought by killing 6
more people, outracing the expiration date on the state's supply of lethal
injection drugs - at least until a federal court paused the executions for now.
The people most targeted by capital punishment in these last remaining outposts
of the death penalty are mostly minorities, who often face juries pruned of
anyone who looks like them. Progress in America follows a predictable rubric,
making sure to delay sharing its spoils with the poorest and least privileged
until the last possible moment.
"We're seeing that, at least for black votes, we have a unique understanding of
the power of prosecutors," Arisha Hatch, managing director of campaigns for
Color of Change, told MTV News. "Some of us just needed to know that we
actually elected these folks." In recent years, Color of Change has begun to
recruit prosecutor candidates to run in places like Chicago, where Laquan
McDonald was killed; Cleveland, where Tamir Rice was killed; and many of those
outlier counties where minorities were being sentenced to death at a higher
rate than whites.
Although races for elected prosecutors are typically uncompetitive and
incumbents nearly always win, November 8, 2016, still managed to be a good day,
in some small ways, for criminal-justice reformers. New prosecutors were sworn
into Hillsborough County, Florida; Jefferson County, Alabama; and Harris
County, Texas - and several other places that were sending more people to death
row than nearly anywhere else in the country.
Before Ayala and her fellow new Florida prosecutors were sworn in, a change in
capital punishment policy was already coming to the state. Last year, the
Florida Supreme Court found that the state's death penalty procedures - which
allowed a person to be sentenced to death even if a jury wasn't unanimous -
were unconstitutional. This year, Scott signed legislation that made a
unanimous jury a requirement for capital punishment, and dozens of cases
decided by a less-than-unanimous jury are now being reconsidered. "Florida law
is now in conformance with other states that have the death penalty," says
Stephen Harper, the supervising attorney at the death penalty clinic at Florida
International University's College of Law, "which means prosecutors will seek
death in fewer cases and defendants will receive death sentences in fewer
cases. That is another indicator that even in a Southern, active death penalty
state, it is on the decline."
Being a reform-minded prosecutor has always been hard. "There is no roadmap for
progressive district attorneys," Stanford Law professor David Alan Sklansky
wrote in the "Progressive Prosecutor's Handbook" this year. And, as Sklansky
told MTV News, organizational culture - meaning existing hierarchies and the
baked-in status quo - "is one of the hardest things to change, if not the
hardest, in a prosecutor's office. It's why having a reform-minded prosecutor
doesn't necessarily translate into significantly better policies." You also
can't plan for how the politicians higher up the ladder in your state will feel
about reform. Just because you're in the same state doesn't mean you have the
In 1996, not too long after Republican governor George Pataki reinstated the
death penalty in New York, a police officer was killed in the Bronx. District
Attorney Robert Johnson, the first black official ever elected to this position
in the state, wanted the full 120 days accorded him by law to decide whether to
seek the death penalty. Pataki, impatient, instead just reassigned the case to
someone ready to pursue a death sentence.
In 2003, Kamala Harris, the 1st black woman elected to a district attorney
position in California, said she was against capital punishment while
campaigning to be San Francisco's next prosecutor. After a police officer was
killed in April 2004, she still refused to seek a death sentence. Many people
disagreed with her, including the woman she would later replace in the Senate,
Barbara Boxer. "I have given the issue of the death penalty a lot of thought
for a long time," Harris told the New York Times then. "I could be in Kansas
and I would have the same position."
Progressive prosecutors don't always face quite so much scorn. Beth McCann,
Denver's new district attorney, said in January that she didn't "think that the
state should be in the business of killing people." The stance didn't seem to
cause much of a stir in Colorado, which has only executed one person since the
United States brought back the death penalty in 1977.
The fact that the reform-minded prosecutors who received the most pushback for
fighting the death penalty were often also the first black officials to hold
their position underlines how few prosecutors in this country are people of
color. Fusion released a report in 2016 noting that "in the 276 counties in the
U.S. where people of color represent the majority of the population, only 42 %,
or less than half, of the prosecutors in these counties are prosecutors of
color." The death penalty is a voting-rights issue, too: Fairer access to the
ballot can help ensure that more progressive prosecutors get elected and fewer
death sentences happen.
While the people at Color of Change wait for upcoming prosecutor races in
Philadelphia and in outlier counties like Orange and San Bernardino in
California - which voted against repealing the death penalty last year - they
are watching the officials they just helped elect to see if they follow through
on their promises. "And when they do the right thing," Hatch says, "we want to
have their back."
Hatch says Ayala's situation in Florida is "an egregious example of how state
actors with power can intervene to overstep the will of black voters." A
petition asking Scott to stand down was signed by more than 150,000 people,
then delivered to Tallahassee by volunteers from Orlando and Miami who woke up
before the sun to get on a bus. Hundreds walked into the statehouse on March 29
to sign the governor's welcome book, and more are expected to attend a forum
with the prosecutor soon.
"It's definitely frustrating," Hatch says of the roadblocks to progress, even
after the election of those who promise it - especially considering that
criminal-justice advocates can no longer consider the federal Justice
Department an ally. "As an organization that really cares about winning
meaningful, long-lasting change, we have an understanding that there is no
instant gratification. There may be these moments where we're able to build
momentum or real systemic change, but my goal as an organizer is to see more
equality and racial justice in my lifetime.
"But," she adds, "I don't expect that to happen tomorrow."
States consider barring death penalty for severely mentally ill----A study
fround 43 % of people executed between 2000 and 2015 had been diagnosed with a
mental illness at some point.
Upset that people with schizophrenia and other mental disorders have been put
to death after murder convictions, lawmakers in a handful of states want to bar
the use of the death penalty for people with a serious mental illness.
People accused of murder who are found not guilty by reason of insanity can
serve time in a mental hospital and avoid the death penalty. But many states
have a narrow legal definition of insanity - not knowing what one did was
wrong. And critics say that leaves many people with mental disorders to be
found guilty of capital crimes and sentenced to death.
Some of them have already been put to death. Ohio executed a man with
schizophrenia in 2001. Arkansas did the same in 2004. A schizophrenic Texas man
spent 2 decades on death row after his insanity plea was rejected, leading to a
2007 Supreme Court ruling that inmates must have a rational understanding of
their punishment before they can be executed. (The state continued to seek his
execution until a lower court halted it in 2014.)
Legislators in at least 7 states - Arkansas, Indiana, Ohio, South Dakota,
Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia - have proposed bills this year to prohibit the
death penalty for people who suffered from a serious mental illness at the time
of their crime. Most of the proposals name specific disorders, including
schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, delusional
disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Research by academics and the American Civil Liberties Union suggests many
people on death row have a mental illness. A study from a professor at the
University of North Carolina found that 43 % of people executed between 2000
and 2015 had been diagnosed with a mental illness at some point in their lives,
although not all were serious enough to be covered by the proposed legislation.
Backers of the proposals say that because of the way these diseases affect
people's thinking and impulses, they are less culpable and ought to be spared
from the most severe punishment allowed under law, just as children and the
intellectually disabled are. The concept is backed by the American Bar
"If these people aren't seeing the world for what it truly is, if they can't
concentrate and think things through, if they're so delusional or depressed
their thinking isn't reality-based anymore, they should not be held to the same
standard," said Megan Testa, a psychiatrist who helped draft the list of
disorders included in the Ohio bill.
But opponents, including many prosecutors, say the legislation is unnecessary,
because people with a serious mental illness are already protected by pretrial
competency reviews and can plead not guilty by reason of insanity.
They also disagree with the requirement in many of the proposals that
prosecutors prove a defendant had not been suffering from a severe mental
illness at the time of the crime, saying the burden should fall instead to the
defense to prove a defendant was mentally ill. Because some of the bills don't
specify how severe a disorder must be, opponents also worry the defense would
be used too widely.
In many states, the bills are being discussed as part of a broader debate about
the death penalty. Ohio has paused executions amid a lawsuit stemming from a
botched execution in 2014. Arkansas is set to carry out eight executions by the
end of this month, when its supply of fatal drugs expires, after struggling to
find enough witnesses to sit in on the process.
Public support for the death penalty has been falling since the 1990s, and a
2002 poll found 75 % of Americans opposed the death penalty for the mentally
"We do have a legal death penalty in Ohio for a certain class of crimes, and I
support that," said Republican state Sen. John Eklund, who sponsored the bill
there. "But defending that punishment will become increasingly difficult if the
punishment is not administered and adjudicated in a humane and responsible
"Many Defendants" Display Illness
Evelyn Lundberg Stratton saw many defendants with severe mental disorders come
through her courtroom when she was a trial judge and as a justice on the Ohio
"It was their history. They'd been hospitalized 10 times, arrested numerous
times for acting out of control. They'd be saying crazy things, saying aliens
controlled the world. The whole gamut - you name it, I saw it," said Lundberg
Stratton, who left the bench in 2012 and has been advocating to end the death
penalty for the mentally ill for more than a decade.
Of the 141 people on death row in Ohio, 21 have a severe mental illness that
would exempt them from the death penalty under the bill, according to data
compiled by the anti-death-penalty group Ohioans to Stop Executions.
Ohio has a strict definition of insanity - the defendant must not have known
what they were doing was wrong. But most Ohio jurisdictions have a more limited
interpretation, Testa said. They require that a defendant didn't know the act
"It's very narrow,' she said. Testa gave the example of a schizophrenic who
commits murder in a state of paranoia but may not qualify for the insanity
defense if they knew their actions were against the law.
Lundberg Stratton said Ohio's narrow definition of insanity required her to
affirm use of the death penalty even in cases where mental illness had been an
important factor. In one such case in 2006, a man who murdered a friend who
would not lend him money had a history of hearing voices, had been hospitalized
13 times, had attempted suicide multiple times, and had been diagnosed with
In deciding that case, Lundberg Stratton quoted a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court
decision barring the use of the death penalty for the intellectually disabled,
saying the practice offended "evolving standards of decency." She called on the
state to set limits for when the mentally ill should be exempt from the death
penalty, just as it has for the intellectually disabled.
The proposed legislation largely functions the same from state to state. Testa
said the listed disorders affect people's ability to plan, think through
consequences and perceive reality. The defendant can be diagnosed before or
after arrest, but the disease must be shown to have been active when the crime
Once deemed competent to stand trial, defendants suffering from one of the
disorders listed by the legislature could raise the issue at a pretrial
hearing, where a judge would decide whether they qualify for protection from
the death penalty if convicted. If the judge says no, the defense could raise
the issue again at trial, and a jury would likely decide the matter. Those
found to have a serious mental illness could still face life in prison if
guilty, but would avoid the death penalty.
Opposition From Prosecutors
Many of the prosecutors who have spoken out against the bills said there are
enough legal options and Supreme Court precedents to protect people who have a
severe mental illness.
For example, people who do not fit the legal definition of insanity and are
found guilty of a capital crime can try to avoid the death penalty at
sentencing by presenting their mental disorder as a mitigating factor.
"The jury and the judge, when they impose a sentence, will take that into
account. It's not something we ignore under current law,' said John Murphy,
executive director of the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association.
But mental health professionals and defense attorneys say bias against the
mentally ill means evidence intended to convince a jury to reduce a sentence
may have just the opposite effect.
"The law says mental illness is a mitigating factor but unfortunately some
jurors who are weighing the case don't see it that way," said Testa, the
psychiatrist. "They think, 'This person's brain is this way and they're never
going to get better.'"
Critics of the bills also complain that they don't address the severity of the
illness, which they say could allow a wide range of people to seek the
protections they provide.
"We will not be surprised if every single inmate now on death row files a post
conviction petition to be evaluated for mental illness so they can take
advantage of this process to get off death row. Why wouldn't they?" Murphy said
in written testimony to the Ohio Senate Judiciary Committee in March. "All they
need do is get a diagnosis of one of these conditions, even at the most minimal
In her 2006 plea from the bench for a state standard for sentencing people with
mental illness to the death penalty, Lundberg Stratton acknowledged it would be
a challenge. Mental illness differs from intellectual disability in that
there's no equivalent to an IQ score to easily determine the severity of a
mental illness, she said.
But psychiatrists say anyone with a disorder covered by the bills has a severe
mental illness. As some conditions, like bipolar disorder and depression,
become more widely accepted by society, people may underestimate how serious
"People are called bipolar because they have a mood swing," Testa said. But
getting diagnosed with any of the covered diseases requires experiencing
life-altering symptoms for a long time.
Prosecutors also don't want the burden to be on them to prove that a person
wasn't suffering from a severe mental illness at the time of the crime.
"I don't know how we're supposed to show what was in his own mind and how it
affected his judgment," Murphy said. "It seems virtually impossible."
Kari Bloom with the Office of the Ohio Public Defender said the burden the bill
places on prosecutors is just.
"If we want to execute a person in the state's name, it doesn't seem like a lot
to say, 'This person wasn't suffering from a serious mental illness,'" she
said. "The state should have the decency of showing every person we take to
death is the right kind of person to be there."
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