2017-04-23 22:19:33 UTC
Death Sentence on Line for Would-Be Rapper in Triple Killing----A former
University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff student who once aspired to become a famous
rapper now faces a possible death penalty in a Dallas triple slaying.
A former University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff student who once aspired to become a
famous rapper now has his life on the line after his capital murder conviction
in the shooting deaths of three people at a Dallas drug house.
The Dallas Morning News (http://bit.ly/2pSU8ee) reports the penalty phase opens
Monday in the trial of 24-year-old Justin Pharez Smith, in which prosecutors
will present evidence in their bid for a death sentence.
Prosecutors say a need for money compelled Smith to kill a man and 2 women in
the August 2014 holdup. A woman and a man survived the attack and identified
Smith as the killer.
Prosecutor Kobby Warren said Smith came to Dallas intending to get "on the dope
game." The problem was "he was a terrible drug dealer."
(source: Associated Press)
Prosecution faces tough challenge in Frein death sentence phase
If Pike County prosecutors succeed in putting convicted cop killer Eric Matthew
Frein on death row, they will buck the national trend of death sentences
dramatically dropping over the past few decades.
Death sentences reached a peak between 1992 and 1994, when 315 defendants were
sentenced to die, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. The rate
continued to drop over the years.
In 2016, just 30 defendants were sentenced to death, according to the Death
Penalty Information Center, a nonprofit organization that provides information
and analysis on death penalty issues.
Legal experts say the decline is the result of several factors, including a
reduction in the murder rate, increasing scrutiny by prosecutors in evaluating
which cases to seek death, and the reluctance of jurors to impose death in all
but the most heinous cases.
Pike County District Attorney Ray Tonkin went to great lengths to try to
convince the Chester County jury deciding Frein's fate that he deserves to die
by lethal injection for the Sept. 12, 2014, sniper attack at the Blooming Grove
state police barracks that killed Cpl. Bryon K. Dickson II,38, of Dunmore.
Frein, 33, of Canadensis, was convicted of 1st-degree murder, 1st-degree murder
of a law enforcement officer and 10 other charges on Wednesday, stemming from
the ambush that also severely injured Trooper Alex Douglass, 34, of Olyphant.
During the penalty phase that began Thursday, Tonkin presented several
witnesses, including Dickson's widow and mother, who talked of the devastating
impact his death had on them. The defense began presenting its case Friday
afternoon. The hearing resumes Monday.
The case comes at a time when public support for capital punishment is at an
A 2016 survey by Pew Research Center shows 49 % of Americans support the death
penalty. That is down from a peak of 80 % who supported it the mid-1990s.
"There has been a very effective effort by anti-death penalty folks to convince
people the death penalty is unfair to minorities and is not being imposed
fairly," said Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli, a vocal
death penalty supporter. "Some of that public campaigning has an impact on
The decline in support has been fueled, in part, by the number of death row
inmates who have been exonerated, said Robert Dunhan, executive director of the
Death Penalty Information Center. Since 1972, 158 people sentenced to death
have been exonerated, according to the center.
"Americans are reaching the point that they feel they can't trust the
government," Dunhan said. "The public does not want a system that has a high
risk of sentencing innocent people to death."
Joshua Marquis, a board member of the National District Attorney's Association,
said he believes the decline in death sentences is tied more to the reduction
in the nation's murder rate. In 2015, the murder rate was 4.9 murders per
100,000 people, according to the Department of Justice. Throughout the 1980s
and '90s, the per capita murder rate ranged from a low of 5.7 in 1999 to 10.2
Morganelli and Marquis agree jurors today closely scrutinize cases and are only
willing to impose death in the most egregious cases. That is how it should be,
they said, and has led prosecutors to be more selective in the type of cases
for which they seek death.
Marquis, a district attorney in Clatsop County, Oregon, said he prosecuted
about 12 cases where he could have sought death, but has only done so in 2.
"As a prosecutor you have to ask, should you really be seeking death except
only in the worst of the worst cases?" he said. "I have to look at the
likelihood of success because it's extremely expensive for both sides."
There is no dispute Frein's crime was heinous. His attorneys face a monumental
task in countering that fact to save his life, said attorney Ernest Preate of
Scranton, a former Lackawanna County district attorney who secured death
sentences against 5 defendants from the late '70s to mid-'80s.
"It's a strong case," Preate said. "You killed a cop and you did it in an
ambush. He (Dickson) was defenseless."
Frein's attorneys, William Ruzzo and Michael Weinstein, indicated they will
focus their argument in the penalty phase on seeking mercy for Frein. In his
opening statement for the penalty phase on Thursday, Ruzzo reminded jurors that
Frein's convictions for 1st-degree murder and 1st-degree murder of a law
enforcement officer carry mandatory sentences of life in prison without parole.
"You sentenced Eric Frein to death by imprisonment," Ruzzo told the jury. "Now,
what we are talking about is if Eric Frein dies a natural death in prison, or
if he dies on a gurney."
The case ultimately comes down to the jurors. The panel has been deemed "death
qualified," meaning they assured the court their personal view on the death
penalty will not impact their ability to follow the law and impose death if the
evidence supports it.
Saying you can sentence someone to death and actually doing it are 2 different
things, Preate said.
"You are going to come into the courtroom, stand up and look at the defendant
and say, 'I'm going to put you to death,'" Preate said. "When the time comes,
can you really do it?"
(source: Standard Speaker)
Gov. Scott should respect death penalty denial
Earlier this month, Orange-Osceola County State Attorney Aramis Ayala announced
that she would not seek death sentences during her term in office.
This announcement was not made in a vacuum, and conservatives should applaud
her willingness to name a broken government program.
Florida's death penalty statute was ruled unconstitutional 2 times in the last
3 years, and hundreds of cases are coming back for new sentencing trials.
Immediately after the announcement, Gov. Rick Scott removed her from the highly
publicized Markeith Loyd case, in which he is accused of killing his
ex-girlfriend as well as a police officer.
Gov. Scott claims Ayala "has made it clear that she will not fight for
justice," which couldn???t be further from the truth. While Scott appears to be
overreaching and defending an irrevocably broken death penalty system, she is
the one honestly addressing the problems and she has the authority to figure
out what best serves her community.
Gov. Scott???s interposition into the 9th Judicial Circuit is little more than
state government intrusion into local business.
The people of Orange and Osceola counties duly elected Ayala to use her
discretion. However, as soon as she exercised it in a way that wasn't in
lockstep with the governor, he sought to circumvent the powers of her office
and the will of the people who elected her.
Conservatives appreciate limited government and deferring major decisions to
the local level. Gov. Scott is quite clearly overstepping his bounds in
violating these principles. Despite Scott's attempted power grab, there are a
host of other reasons why conservatives should stand and support Ayala.
Since 1979, Florida has executed 92 inmates but wrongly convicted and released
26 from death row - more than any other state. Wrongful convictions largely
stem from official misconduct, mistaken eyewitness testimony or reliance on
unscientific or forged forensics.
Study after study has proved death cases are exponentially more expensive than
life without parole. Data suggests that the price tag can easily be 10 times
more expensive than similar non-capital cases.
Historically, and to afford these rising costs, several counties have raised
taxes, cut government jobs and misallocated resources that could have been
spent aiding murder victims' families. Ayala understands this and wishes to be
a good steward of taxpayer money, which is where fiscal conservatives can find
common ground with her - especially given that the death penalty doesn???t
There is no proof that the death penalty lowers murder rates. In fact,
homicides have dropped in many places where the death penalty has been banned.
The truth is people who commit heinous crimes do so without considering the
The death penalty doesn't deter these individuals. All it does is take valuable
resources away from the taxpayers and harm murder victims' loved ones.
Because of the drawn out, uncertain and tiring nature of capital trials,
families of victims are often plagued with constant grief on a level few can
The trials wear on the families, but it turns out that these trials and the
subsequent appeals take exponentially longer, keeping the family waiting in
painful uncertainty for decades as the process continues without end.
Due to the increased publicity and mandated legal proceedings, these
individuals endure constant reminders of the worst moments of their lives.
It is understandable that Ayala has decided to not seek the death penalty. Gov.
Scott should respect the will of the people who voted for her. Her decision
makes sense for her community.
(source: Kelli Huck is a junior accounting and finance student at Flagler
College. She is the Florida state chair for Young Americans for Liberty, as
well the Florida outreach specialist for Conservatives Concerned about the
Death Penalty, a Project of EJUSA----St. Augustine Record)
Is end of death penalty within sight?
The death penalty has been a disaster in Florida. The state has botched
executions and leads the nation in death-row exonerations since the death
penalty was reinstituted.
Such problems should give liberal death-penalty opponents common cause with
conservatives who have a healthy skepticism about government. Yet Florida's
Republican-run Legislature keeps tinkering with the death penalty rather than
ditching it entirely.
But Adam Tebrugge has another argument that might win them over: The death
penalty is a major example of wasteful government spending. The money that
Florida spends on capital punishment could be reinvested in community policing,
mental-health services and other programs that improve public safety.
Tebrugge, a Bradenton attorney with extensive death-penalty experience,
recently spoke in Gainesville. I must admit doubt about the title of his
speech, "The end of the death penalty in Florida is within sight."
But Tebrugge, who also stopped by The Sun to talk, has a series of recent
events supporting his case. U.S. executions hit record lows in 2016, in part
due to legal challenges and drug shortages. Arkansas had planned 8 executions
in 11 days before one of its execution drugs expired, but the courts have
blocked several of them.
Here in Florida, executions were on hold as lawmakers struggled to craft a
death penalty that passed constitutional muster. They reluctantly required
unanimous jury verdicts for death sentences, but failed to address other
problems such as racial disparities in death sentences.
Central Florida State Attorney Aramis Ayala has given death-penalty opponents
new hope that the end to executions is near. Her refusal to seek death
sentences has sparked a high-profile battle with the governor, bringing renewed
attention to the death penalty's problems.
In Tebrugge's view, cost is another compelling reason to end capital
punishment. Florida's death penalty is estimated to cost taxpayers about $50
million a year more than sentencing murderers to life in prison without parole
- a price tag that is based on a decades-old study and has almost certainly
risen higher since that time.
(source: Op-Ed, Nathan Crabbe----The Gainesville Sun)
New state attorney tells exonerees his office is about justice
Debra Milke knew the date she was going to die. "It was January of 1998," Milke
She was on Arizona's death row for nearly half of her life for a crime she did
not commit. Milke was falsely accused and convicted of killing her own son. New
state attorney tells exonerees his office is about justice
But an appeals court overturned her conviction in 2013.
"I was just bawling and bawling. Someone finally believed me. A judge, in fact,
three judges," Milke said.
Milke is far from alone. A group of exonorees are meeting in Tampa to share
their stories of injustice.
"What happened to me can happen to anyone. You don't have to be a criminal to
get in the system," said Milke.
Hillsborough County's new state attorney, Andrew Warren shared with the group
his vision of what justice looks like.
"You have to train people, re-educate them, and change the culture so that
people understand their job is not to obtain convictions. Their job is to seek
justice," Warren said.
Joaquin Martinez, who was wrongfully convicted and exonerated, agreed with the
state attorney's vision.
"It's an honor for me to see you here today, " Martinez told Warren.
"We need more guys like you," another man told Warren.
The sentiments from these former death row inmates are much different than
those in an envelope sent to the state attorney in Orange County. Aramis Ayala
received a noose and a hate-filled letter after she said her office will not
seek the death penalty on any case. The comments were made in regard to state
lawmakers' struggles to iron out the death penalty sentencing, because the
Supreme Court found the states procedures were unconstitutional.
After Ayala's declaration and the following firestorm, Governor Rick Scott
removed her from all capitol cases and re-assigned them to a special
Back in Tampa, Warren was asked about Ayala's situation.
"The state attorney in Orlando is accountable to the voters in her jurisdiction
for those decisions," he explained.
Warren says his office will seek the death penalty for the worst of the worst.
But as an innocent person who sat on death row for decades, Debra Milke wants
"There are 158 of us that have been exonerated from death row, so clearly
something's wrong," said Milke.
(source: Fox News)
Prison chaplain pleads for life of death row inmate
Every few weeks Chris Gebhart gets in his car and takes a drive into scenic
southeast Ohio to visit men awaiting death.
Gebhart, retired president of finance, controller, and member of the board of
directors for 26 years at Gold Medal Products, describes himself as a "squeaky
clean guy" who answered a call to serve as a spiritual advisor to men confined
in state penal institutions.
After several years serving at the Lebanon and Warren Correctional
Institutions, the Liberty Township man was asked to take his ministry to death
row at the Chillicothe Correctional Institution.
"It was a calling from God, period," he said. "I was never involved in a
prison. I did stuff with the homeless and stuff like, that, but prison ministry
was in my heart."
After 2 years of study in the Lay Pastoral Ministry Program at the Athenaeum of
Ohio and a chaplaincy course offered by the Hamilton County Jail, the 2 Warren
County state penal institutions welcomed him. He taught Catholic religion and
the Bible at both, while also helping illiterate inmates learn to read and
During those years Gebhart met Wanda Jackson, religious administrator for the
State of Ohio, who works with wardens, deputy wardens, and chaplains.
"She interviewed me. We clicked. I told her I would really, really like to
visit men on death row," Gebhart said.
When the state moved death row from Youngstown to Chillicothe, Jackson called.
Gebhart's dream was realized. Today, 138 men call death row home. Gebhart is
closest to about 10 of them.
One is Ron Phillips and Gebhart is fighting for the convicted murder's life.
Phillips is on death row for the 1993 rape and death of his girlfriend's
3-year-old daughter in Akron. He is scheduled to die on May 10, after 24 years
on Death Row, unless a challenge arguing that Ohio's chemical cocktail
constitutes cruel and unusual punishment prevails. "He was 19 then. He's 43
now. He has dedicated his life on death row to serving other people," Gebhart
said. "He has gotten to the point where other inmates on death row see
something special in him and they come to him with problems."
But at Phillips's clemency hearing, Chief Assistant Summit County Prosecutor
Brad Gessner argued for the 3-year-old victim and "her tragically short life.
The crime committed against her," he said, "has to be acknowledged." Quoting
Akron Children's Hospital records, Gessner said Sheila, "was literally dying
from inside out" from her injuries, and that "this is the worst of the worst
form of the offense and whoever commits it is also the worst type of offender."
Donna Hudson, Sheila's aunt, told the hearing panel that "Sheila never had the
opportunity to go to school, to get married, to have children." She asked that
the execution go forward as "justice... for Sheila and the Evans family."
But Gebhart is convinced that Phillips should live. "Ron is a totally changed
person," he said. "He has worked hard to improve himself and has become a very
religious and moral individual. Ron's greatest desire is to study and become a
prison minister, and minister to his fellow inmates behind prison walls."
"Ron Phillips should not be executed," he said. "Ron is genuinely sorry for
everything that he has done and has prayed for God's forgiveness and for
forgiveness from [his victim] and her family. I have heard Ron pray aloud, many
times, for forgiveness from his young victim and her family. He has told me
that there isn't a day that goes by that he doesn't think about what he did."
"The Catholic Church teaches that God created all of us in His image and
likeness - and all life, from conception to natural death - is sacred. I am
asking everyone to take a few minutes and send Governor John Kasich a letter
opposing the death penalty and to plead for Ron's life," Gebhart said.
Address letters to Gov. John Kasich, Riffe Center, 30th Floor, 77 South High
Street, Columbus, OH 43215-6117. The phone number is (614)-466- 3555
What Catholic Church leaders have to say about the Death Penalty:
"Indeed, nowadays the death penalty is unacceptable, however grave the crime of
the convicted person. It is an offence to the inviolability of life and to the
dignity of the human person; it likewise contradicts God's plan for individuals
and society, and his merciful justice. Nor is it consonant with any just
purpose of punishment. It does not render justice to victims, but instead
fosters vengeance. The commandment "Thou shalt not kill" has absolute value and
applies both to the innocent and to the guilty." (From the video message of His
Holiness Pope Francis to the 6th World Congress Against the Death Penalty
[OSLO, 21-23 JUNE 2016]
"Just punishment is a vehicle for the correction and conversion of the sinner.
It serves to defend society and its members, and provides for the restoration
of the public order made chaotic by the perpetrated crime. However, just
punishment can occur - and does occur - without resorting to the death penalty.
If it is not absolutely necessary to use the death penalty to defend and
protect people's safety from the aggressor, the state is obligated to use
"non-lethal means" (Catechism of Catholic Church, #2267). Other states and
other countries have found effective ways to protect society by justly
punishing offenders through non-lethal means. Ohio should do the same." (From
the Catholic Bishops of Ohio regarding the Death Penalty, December 2015)
Scripture Connection: ???When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the
angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations*
will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a
shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his
right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right,
'Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you
from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was
thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you
clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.' Then the
righteous* will answer him and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed
you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome
you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit
you?' And the king will say to them in reply, 'Amen, I say to you, whatever you
did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.' Matthew 25: 31-40
(source: The Catholic Telegraph)
No stay for Jones
Since 1 of the 8 originally scheduled executions now has been carried out by
the state and legal challenges by the attorney for Jack Harold Jones Jr. have
failed, the victims' family is fairly confident he will be executed Monday for
the 1995 rape and murder of Mary Phillips in Bald Knob.
"Yes, I am hopeful the execution will finally take place and my family will be
there and are ready for the end of this, Lacey Phillips said Saturday. Lacey
Phillips, who was 11 at the time, was choked unconscious and nearly beaten to
death by Jones.
Jones is set to be put to death by lethal injection at 7 p.m. Monday at the
Cummins prison unit in Grady after U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker ruled
Friday that she would not block the 2 executions set for that day, rejecting
the men's claim that their poor health could make the lethal injections
especially painful. (The other inmate scheduled to die is Marcel Williams.)
Jones takes a variety of medications - including methadone for pain - related
to his diabetes, which caused an in infection causing one of his legs to be
amputated, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, kidney disease and obesity
and his attorney, Jeff Rosenzweig of Little Rock, argues that his death could
be "prolonged and painful."
Rosenzweig had said at Jones' clemency hearing before the Arkansas Parole Board
on April 7 that he worried all the medications Jones had to take might
interfere with the lethal injection cocktail.
On Thursday, Arkansas carried out its 1st execution since 2005, putting Ledell
Lee to death. The state had scheduled eight executions over an 11-day period
before the end of April, when its supply of midazolam, one of its lethal
injection drugs, expires. The first 3 executions were canceled because of court
decisions, while a stay also in place for another scheduled for this week.
Jones, 52, has been on death row since he was given the death penalty 1996
after raping and strangling to death 34-year-old Mary Phillips in a Bald Knob
accounting office where she was employed as a bookkeeper. Lacey Phillips had
been tied to a chair in the bathroom of the office and was thought to be dead
when investigators arrived on scene. Jones also has been convicted of raping
and murdering a woman in Florida
. Jones has never denied the crime. He admitted swiftly killing Mary and
attempting to kill Lacey, who he thought was dead after beating her with a BB
gun several times that June afternoon.
In his 1st court appearance before White County Judge Robert Edwards after the
crime, he refused an attorney, claiming that he "did it" and was ready to die.
His letter read by his attorney at the April 7 clemency hearing echoed his
desire to be executed. He also apologized, but said he was not asking for
forgiveness, and denied ever wanting clemency to begin with.
Arkansas death row
What: U.S. District judge will not block executions of 2 inmates set to die
Monday, including Jack Harold Jones Jr., 52, convicted in 1996 of rape and
murder of Mary Phillips in Bald Knob, attempted murder of her daughter
Why: Rejected claim that poor health could make lethal injections especially
(source: The Daily Citizen)
Death row inmate's sister pleading to witness execution
Jack Jones Jr. is one of the death row inmates scheduled to be executed on
Monday. While Jones has filed lawsuits in solidarity with the 7 other death row
inmates, he told the clemency board that he wants to be executed.
His sister says she would like to be a witness at his execution, but the
Arkansas Department of Corrections is saying no.
Lynn Scott says she doesn't believe in the death penalty, but she's stopped
fighting for her brother's life out of respect for his wishes.
All she wants is to be there when he's executed.
Jack Jones is in his 20th year on death row for raping and killing Mary
Phillips and trying to kill her daughter Lacy.
Lacy recently spoke at his latest clemency hearing saying she doesn't want to
live another day knowing he's alive: "I've heard eye for an eye, tooth for a
tooth. And I think it's time."
Lynn understands. When she got the call about her brother's crimes, the anger
and guilt she felt began taking a toll on her health: "I was pregnant at the
time and it put a huge strain on me, to the fact that the doctors were afraid
that I might go into labor early. It was mind boggling what he had done."
She's doesn't want to interfere with the executions or be in the same room with
the victim's family: "I would love to see that family, and tell me how
remorseful and sorry I am, but it's not about that... I am not trying to take
anything away from them at all."
She just wants to be there for her brother: "I find it hard to believe that
anyone who has a family member that committed such a horrible crime, to know on
the day that they're losing their life... Would you still walk away from them?"
Lynn says, if she is not there, she'll get her 1st notification of death from
the media. "I just can't fathom finding out the results of my brother's death
by a tweet."
The Arkansas Department of Corrections spokesman Solomon Graves says it???s
their policy not to allow any witnesses from the death row inmate's family:
Arkansas code annotated 16 - 90 - 502 largely establishes the individuals who
are permitted to witness an execution. By law the execution itself is a private
event. Departmental policy regarding execution witnesses is consistent with the
previously mentioned statute, to include its consideration of the security risk
posed by any potential witness. As a result, the policy does not permit the
family of the inmate to view the execution. Witness slots are reserved for the
citizen witnesses set out by law, the victim witnesses set out by law, media
witnesses, The attorney and spiritual advisor for the inmate, and the ADC staff
designated by the director as being necessary to carry out the sentence. It
should also be noted, that the viewing room is limited in its capacity and a
video feed is, by law, only permitted for the surviving innocent victim or
victim family. Beginning 5 days in advance of the schedule execution, the
inmate is given opportunity to visit daily with members of his/her family who
are on the inmate's approved visitor list. Family is not permitted to visit the
day of the execution.
Lynn says as of now she plans on being outside the Cummins Unit on Monday.
(source: KATV news)
Judge Declines to Block Executions of 2 Arkansas Inmates
A federal district judge in Arkansas declined 2 inmates' plea on Friday night
to block the use of a controversial lethal injection drug, which is set to
expire at the end of the month.
Jack Jones and Marcel Williams are scheduled to be put to death on Monday night
and they asked the courts to stop the Arkansas Department of Correction from
using midazolam because they believe it would cause them unnecessary harm due
to their obesity and other health reasons.
District Court Judge Kristine Baker wrote that the 2 inmates' argument "falls
short of demonstrating a significant possibility ... that the Arkansas protocol
is 'sure or very likely' to cause severe pain and needless suffering."
Jones and Williams are the next 2 death row inmates scheduled to be put to
death in a unprecedented schedule set by Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson. The
state originally planned to put eight men to death at the very end of the month
because the midazolam was expiring.
Midazolam is the 1st drug in a 3-drug lethal injection cocktail that is meant
to render the inmate unconscious. It is followed by a paralytic to stop
movement and breathing and then potassium chloride, which stops the heart.
Midazolam has not worked in some instances, and inmates have woken up during
the procedure in pain while the other 2 drugs work through their systems.
Jones and Williams suffer from diabetes, sleep apnea and hypertension, which
they argued could lead to "botched" executions.
According to Dr. Joel Zivot, an Emory University Hospital physician, Jones and
Williams gained an incredible amount of weight in prison, leading to their
diabetes. Jones has even had an amputation because of his poor circulation
related to the condition.
Because of their poor circulation, these lethal injection drugs would not work
properly and they would die a painful death, the 2 men's lawyers claimed.
Jones also takes the pain reliever methadone and gabapentin, an anticonvulsant,
regularly. Zivot said the regular use of those 2 drugs would decrease Jones'
sensitivity to midazolam.
But Baker, the district judge, was not convinced.
She wrote that Jones and Williams failed to prove that this method of execution
would be unnecessarily cruel and painful and that they did not provide a viable
execution substitute. The 2 death row inmates had the burden of fulfilling a
two-prong test established by U.S. Supreme Court decisions Baze v. Rees and
Glossip v. Gross.
"Plaintiffs have the burden of proving that 'the State's lethal injection
protocol creates a demonstrated risk of severe pain' and 'the risk is
substantial when compared to the known and available alternatives,'" she said
in the decision.
In a separate case filed jointly by the eight inmates, their lawyers argued
that the firing squad would be more humane than the midazolam lethal injection
The Arkansas Department of Correction released a few records on Saturday about
Thursday's execution of death row inmate Ledell Lee - the state's 1st use of
capital punishment in nearly 12 years.
The log, made for internal affairs, details Lee's final day and when he did
basic actions like taking a shower or eating his last meal.
Lee took the sacrament of Communion as his official last meal, though the
report notes that he ate a "regular tray" of prison food as well.
The report states that he ate all that food and the communion wafer between
2:44 p.m. and 2:48 p.m. CT on Thursday.
Lee dressed in "clean whites" at 6:18 p.m. in a cell close to the gurney he
would die on, but he did not arrive to the death chamber until more than 5
hours later because his case was delayed by an appeals court and the U.S.
The Arkansas Department of Correction coroner pronounced Lee dead at 11:56 p.m.
His body was taken from the room less than 15 minutes later.
The Department of Correction also provided a list of the witnesses who watched
the execution happen, which is required by Arkansas law. Lee's death was
watched by 12 citizen witnesses, 6 victim witnesses and 3 media witnesses.
(source: NBC news)
Arkansas events show legal risk of ambitious execution schedule
Arkansas' push to put 8 men to death in less than 2 weeks has so far resulted
in just 1 lethal injection, and legal experts say that shows the risks of
pursuing the nation's most ambitious execution schedule since the death penalty
was restored in 1976.
Ledell Lee was executed minutes before his death warrant was set to expire late
Thursday. It was the 1st time since 2005 that Arkansas had put an inmate to
3 other planned executions were canceled this week because of court decisions.
Another inmate scheduled for execution next week has received a stay. And 3
remaining lethal injections face similar hurdles.
"If I were in the state's shoes, I would be prepared for almost double the
level of scrutiny," said Brian Gallini, a law professor at the University of
Arkansas in Fayetteville.
At the heart of Arkansas' plans is the sedative midazolam, 1 of 3 drugs used in
lethal injections. The state is racing to carry out the executions before its
supply of midazolam expires at the end of the month.
State officials said Friday that they were prepared to move forward with the
remaining executions, starting with a double execution on Monday and a single
execution on Thursday.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson's office acknowledged that the original plan confronted
"He knew there was a chance that not all of them would go through," said J.R.
Davis, a spokesman for Hutchinson. "It's not surprising that some of the
executions have been stayed, but obviously last night we felt the right
decision was handed down."
Lawyers for Marcel Williams and Jack Jones, the 2 inmates set for execution
Monday, have filed several legal challenges in hopes of the stopping the
executions. A federal judge on Friday rejected claims that the inmates' poor
health could make their lethal injections especially painful. Williams has also
filed a challenge that claims his lawyers at trial were ineffectual.
Jeff Rosenzweig, an attorney for Jones, said the inmates' conditions raise the
likelihood of complications that were not apparent in Lee's execution. Williams
is obese and diabetic. Jones has diabetes, high blood pressure and has had a
leg amputated in prison.
Authorities received the go-ahead to execute Lee after the U.S. Supreme Court
rejected his last appeals. At least one high court justice expressed
reservations about the state's push to execute the inmates before its drug
"In my view, that factor, when considered as a determining factor separating
those who live from those who die, is close to random," Justice Stephen Breyer
wrote Thursday in a dissent.
The legal fight over the executions also included an effort to prevent the
state from using another lethal injection drug that its maker said it was
misled into selling the prison system, not knowing it would be used for capital
Vecuronium bromide halts an inmate's breathing. The state Supreme Court lifted
a judge's order preventing its use hours before Lee's execution.
Critics are calling the executions, which the state has struggled to find
volunteers to witness, an "assembly line of death."
Inmates' attorneys also failed in efforts to block the executions based on
concerns about midazolam, which has been used in flawed executions in other
There were no apparent signs of complications or suffering during Lee's
execution, which lasted 12 minutes. But critics of midazolam say that does
little to allay their concerns that the drug may not render inmates fully
unconscious before they receive drugs to stop their hearts and lungs.
"I don't know what the state is thinking, but just because this one appears to
have gone off without a hitch doesn't meant that there are not problems," said
Dale Baich, an assistant federal public defender who witnessed Joseph Rudolph
Wood's slow death in a lethal injection that involved midazolam in 2014 in
Attorneys for the inmates have complained the schedule is stretching their
resources thin as they work against the clock. It's also posing a challenge for
the state's attorneys, who have been fighting on multiple fronts. The attorney
general's office says 20 to 30 of its attorneys have been handling cases
related to the inmates' executions.
"We are working to ensure that those sentences are carried out and that justice
is served," Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said.
Gallini said trying to salvage the rest of the execution schedule could invite
even more intense legal battles "because what started out as kind of a press
release and a decision has ballooned" into trending hashtags and international
That extra attention, he said, "has brought some major litigation players to
(source: Chicago Tribune)
Commission to release findings, recommendations on Oklahoma's death penalty
practices----Government ??? Executions for the state have been on hold since
More than 2 years after the state of Oklahoma last carried out an execution, a
commission spearheaded by former Gov. Brad Henry is set to announce its
findings and recommendations in a nearly 300-page report about the state's use
of the death penalty.
Executions in Oklahoma have been on hold since Oct. 1, 2015, the day after
Richard Glossip received his 3rd stay of execution because the Oklahoma
Department of Corrections did not have the right drugs as specified in the
DOC's lethal injection protocol.
A multicounty grand jury issued a highly critical report nearly a year ago
related to multiple agencies' handling of Glossip's case and the January 2015
execution of Charles Warner, and it doesn't appear as though anyone involved is
any closer to being able to resume the use of capital punishment.
"We're working on it. We are not in a position right now to get specifics on
what they're doing," DOC Director of Communications Mark Myers said Friday
When asked about the Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission's work, Myers
said it was his understanding that the inquiry would look into more issues than
the work of the grand jury last May.
The Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission, of which Henry is co-chairman,
will announce its findings to the public Tuesday afternoon at the state
Capitol. The commission said it had 10 full-day meetings, held numerous
conference calls, commissioned independent studies and conducted interviews
with people from all sides of the issue, including with family members of
people who were wrongfully convicted.
The 11-member group said it studied the process from initial arrest and
interrogation through the executions themselves, and said it includes opponents
and supporters of the death penalty "because their commitment to justice and
fairness trumps their political and ideological differences."
"In response to the stay and the grand jury report, the Oklahoma Department of
Corrections is revising its execution protocol. While this is an important step
forward, many steps in Oklahoma's capital punishment process had been subjected
to little examination," the commission wrote on its website. "Commissioners
came together to conduct an independent review of all phases of the death
penalty in Oklahoma and, in issuing its report, aims to provide Oklahomans with
the information and resources necessary to make informed judgments about the
state's death penalty system."
Then-Attorney General Scott Pruitt asked for an indefinite stay in early
October 2015 after learning Warner was put to death with potassium acetate
instead of potassium chloride in a violation of protocol. The DOC also received
potassium acetate for Glossip's scheduled execution, which prompted officials
to notify Gov. Mary Fallin's office about the mistake.
A federal lawsuit by Oklahoma inmates relating to constitutionality concerns
about the choice of lethal injection drugs - in which Glossip is the lead
plaintiff - remains administratively closed as the DOC continues to review and
overhaul its execution-related policies.
Until the DOC releases its finalized lethal injection protocol, the Oklahoma
Attorney General is unable to inform the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals,
which granted Pruitt's request for the stay, that the more than 10 inmates who
have exhausted their appeals can receive an execution date. The attorney
general is supposed to set an execution schedule at least 5 months after the
release of the protocol, records show.
An Oct. 16, 2015, administrative order in the federal case states Glossip and
the other inmates can move to reopen it after four requirements are met: when
all investigations known by the Attorney General into the DOC's execution
procedures are complete; when the results of those investigations are public;
when they have received notice the DOC amended its protocol; and when the DOC
gives word it can comply.
The grand jury's report stated Fallin's then-general counsel, Steve Mullins,
initially recommended the DOC proceed with the execution despite the mix-up and
told an assistant attorney general to "Google it" when she asked whether
potassium acetate and potassium chloride were interchangeable.
Mullins resigned in February 2016, which followed the October 2015 retirement
of Oklahoma State Penitentiary Warden Anita Trammell and the resignation of DOC
Director Robert Patton about 2 months later. Trammell was present for Warner's
execution, Glossip's scheduled execution and the 2014 execution of Clayton
Lockett that went awry.
Arkansas conducted its 1st lethal injection in 12 years on Thursday, which
resulted in the death of Ledell Lee 4 minutes before his death warrant expired.
The state wanted to put 8 people to death in 10 days, citing its worry that its
supply of midazolam - which became controversial due to Lockett's execution,
among others - would expire.
The Associated Press reported Lee's execution lasted 12 minutes and was carried
out without any apparent glitches.
(source: Tulsa World)
California Moves - Slowly - Toward Resuming Executions----California has long
been what one expert calls a "symbolic death penalty state," but it might be
easing back toward allowing executions, prodded by voters and lawsuits.
California has long been what one expert calls a "symbolic death penalty
state," 1 of 12 that has capital punishment on the books but has not executed
anyone in more than a decade.
Prodded by voters and lawsuits, the nation's most populous state may now be
easing back toward allowing executions, though observers are split on how
quickly they will resume, if at all.
Corrections officials expect to meet a Wednesday deadline to submit revised
lethal injection rules to state regulators, trying again with technical changes
after the first attempt was rejected in December.
The California Supreme Court, meanwhile, is expected to rule by August on
challenges to a ballot initiative narrowly approved by voters in November that
would speed up executions by reducing the time allowed for appeals.
Still, it is a far cry from the situation in Arkansas, which carried out its
1st execution since 2005 last week after trying to put 8 inmates to death this
month in an unprecedented series of double executions. Courts have blocked 3 of
them. Legal rulings have put at least 1 other in doubt.
California could come close to resuming executions in the next year, said law
professor Robert Weisberg, co-director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center,
though others say too many variables and challenges remain to make a
California has by far the nation's largest death row with nearly 750 inmates,
about double that of No. 2 Florida.
The state's proposed lethal injection regulations are patterned after a
single-drug process that already passed muster with the U.S. Supreme Court,
Corrections officials submitted the regulations only after they were forced to
act by a judge's ruling on behalf of crime victims angered at the state's
3-year delay. But the regulations replacing California's old 3-drug method are
likely to be approved at some point, Weisberg said.
Deborah Denno, a professor at Fordham University School of Law and an expert on
lethal injections, was among those who said recent revisions to the state's
proposed regulations still don't cure underlying problems that can lead to
For instance, the proposed rules now give executioners 10 minutes to administer
each round of lethal drugs. The 1st batch is supposed to kill, but if that
initial dose doesn't work, executioners would administer four more similar
doses, each with a 10-minute countdown clock to make sure the process doesn't
drag on for hours as critics said was a possibility under the original rules.
If the inmate is still alive after five massive doses, "the San Quentin Warden
shall stop the execution and summon medical assistance for the inmate."
The regulations still call for letting the warden at San Quentin State Prison
pick from among 4 powerful barbiturates - amobarbital, pentobarbital,
secobarbital or thiopental - depending on which one is available as
manufacturers try to limit the use of their drugs for executions. Inmates could
also choose to die in the gas chamber.
The Berkeley Law Death Penalty Clinic, which opposes executions, says
amobarbital and secobarbital have never been used in executions. The clinic
said problems remain over how the drugs would be obtained and administered.
Officials in several other states with long-delayed executions have said their
efforts to carry out the death penalty have been thwarted by a lack of lethal
Arkansas was rushing to try to execute as many inmates as possible before its
supply of the controversial sedative midazolam expires at month's end.
Midazolam would not be used under California's regulations.
Denno said California's regulations would still conceal the identities,
training and experience of the execution team, crucial information since the
deadly drugs must be properly measured, mixed and administered to ensure a
"It's a complicated process, and everything has to be going right, and it's so
easy in a prison context for everything not to go right," she said. She equated
it to letting amateurs provide anesthesia for surgery.
Denno and other experts said the new rules eventually will have to pass the
scrutiny of U.S. District Court Judge Jeremy Fogel, who halted executions in
the state in early 2006 and ordered prison officials to improve their lethal
California voters have eased penalties for many crimes in recent years but have
repeatedly rejected efforts to end the death penalty. They did so again in
November, when 51 % approved Proposition 66, designed to speed up death penalty
cases. 53 % of voters defeated a competing measure that would have abolished
the death penalty.
The state Supreme Court quickly blocked Proposition 66 while it considers
Appellate lawyer Kirk Jenkins, who studies the court, expects the justices will
reject the proposition's 5-year deadline for deciding death row appeals because
it violates the separation of powers. Death penalty appeals average at least a
decade from the time a condemned inmate is assigned a post-trial lawyer to a
final decision by the state's high court, he said, and the justices already
have a backlog of about 300 capital cases.
"There is no possible way that the court could meet the deadlines in Prop. 66"
without putting aside virtually all other decisions, Jenkins said.
The initiative also makes it easier for corrections officials to adopt new
lethal injection procedures. But even a complete rejection of Proposition 66
would not derail the executions of inmates whose appeals are exhausted,
Weisberg said. Those executions could proceed once the state has an approved
lethal injection process.
Experts said the delays may give opponents time to mount another campaign next
year asking voters again if they want to abolish the death penalty.
"In California, it's become a symbolic death penalty state," Denno said.
"Whether that is going to change or not is unpredictable."
(source: US News & World Report)
Jury Selection Slated in Inmate's Trial in Guard's Death
Jury selection is scheduled Monday in the death penalty trial of an inmate
charged in a guard's death in a federal prison in Pennsylvania four years ago.
Jessie Con-ui, 40, is charged in the February 2013 stabbing death of
corrections officer Eric Williams at the Canaan federal prison in Waymart.
A federal judge on Thursday denied a prosecution motion to bar defense
attorneys from calling witnesses to speak about how his possible execution
would affect them, the (Wilkes-Barre) Times Leader (http://bit.ly/2pSx1QR )
But U.S. District Judge A. Richard Caputo said they won't be allowed to weigh
in on the death penalty but only to show "that the defendant has 'the capacity
to be of emotional value to others.'"
Williams, 34, was working in a housing unit at the prison when he was attacked.
Prosecutors allege Con-ui was angry after the guard ordered a search of his
cell the previous day.
Authorities have said Williams was stabbed more than 200 times and was hit in
the face, head and upper body. At one point, Con-ui cut his hand and stopped
the attack to walk over to a shower and clean the wound before wrapping it in
his shirt before continuing the attack, prosecutors allege.
Defense attorneys haven't disputed that their client killed the victim but are
opposing the death penalty and say the stabbing was retaliation for
mistreatment by guards, not the calculated slaying prosecutors contend.
Con-ui has since been at a super-maximum security prison in Florence, Colorado,
where he's serving 25 years to life for a 2002 gang initiation murder in
(source: Associated Press)
Charleston Shooter Dylann Roof Moved to Death Row in Terre Haute Federal Prison
Convicted church shooter Dylann Roof has been transferred to death row at Terre
Haute Federal Prison in Indiana - the facility that houses male inmates
awaiting execution under the federal government.
Roof, the 1st person to be convicted of a federal hate crime and sentenced to
the death penalty, was removed from custody in Al Cannon Detention Center in
North Charleston, South Carolina, on Friday and transferred to Terre Haute,
prison records show.
In January, a jury sentenced the self-proclaimed white supremacist to death for
killing nine black worshipers in June 2015 at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston
during a Bible study. The 23-year-old told FBI agents that he was trying to
start a race war.
He also pleaded guilty to 9 counts of state murder charges on April 10.
Roof is now among the long list of well-known criminals who have spent time in
the Indiana facility. Others include murderer and drug trafficker Raul Garza
and Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.
As of Feb. 9, there were 62 federal inmates on death row, according to the
Death Penalty Information Center. 3 inmates have been on death row since 1993 -
drug gang members Richard Tipton, James Roane Jr. and Corey Johnson, who were
convicted of killing 9 people to protect their crack trade.
Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who a jury in 2015 recommended be put to
death, remains in a federal lockup in Colorado, where officials sat they can
better handle his "unique" security arrangements.
After the federal death penalty was suspended by a 1972 U.S. Supreme Court
decision, it was brought back 16 years later and 3 people have since been
executed under it.
Like his fellow death row inmates, it isn't likely Roof will be executed
Legal battles are underway in a number of states, including Arkansas and Ohio,
over the constitutionality of controversial lethal injection methods.
Prosecutors and defense lawyers are arguing over whether 1 of the 3 drugs used
in the process, called midazolam, constitutes "cruel and unusual punishment"
because it fails to render inmates unconscious before 2 other drugs are
(source: Associated Press)
Does the death penalty bring closure to a victim's family?
The last time anyone saw Julie Heath alive was Oct. 3, 1993, when the
18-year-old set out to visit her boyfriend in Hot Springs, Arkansas.
A week later, a hunter discovered Heath's body, less than 8 miles from where
her broken-down car was found. She wore a black shirt, socks and underwear, but
they were inside-out. Her black jeans were partially unzipped. Her throat was
Police later arrested Eric Randall Nance for Heath's murder. Investigators said
he picked her up near her vehicle, before DNA evidence proved he raped and
killed her. In 1994, he was handed the death penalty. At the time, 80 % of
American nationwide favored of the death penalty, according to a Gallup poll.
But the only reason Belinda Crites needs to support the death penalty is "what
Eric Nance did to my cousin."
"She wasn't just my cousin, she was my best friend," Crites told the NewsHour.
"He tore my whole family apart."
Nance's execution in 2005 marked the last time Arkansas put a prisoner to
death. This week, Arkansas executed Ledell Lee, the 1st of 8 men the state had
originally planned to put death in the 11 days after Easter Sunday. No state
has executed so many people so quickly since 1976 when the Supreme Court
reinstate capital punishment, said Robert Dunham with the Death Penalty
The conflict in Arkansas is the latest to politicize the death penalty - but
for families of the victims and the prisoners, it also resurfaces the
complicated issues of closure and the long-reaching effect of these executions
on their communities.
Arkansas justified its unusually swift schedule by saying the state's supply of
lethal injection drugs were about to expire, and pharmaceutical companies have
refused to replenish stocks. A series of judicial rulings blocked the scheduled
executions of the first four men: Jason McGehee, Bruce Ward, Don Davis and
Stacey Johnson. The 3 men who remain are, at the moment, still scheduled to die
before the month is out.
The idea of closure is powerful. It's something Arkansas invoked in an April 15
motion that tried to fight a temporary restraining order that McKesson Medical
Surgical, Inc., has used to block the use of its drug vecuronium bromide in
state executions. (The drug is typically used as general anesthesia to relax
muscles before surgery).
"The friends and family of those killed or injured by Jason McGehee, Stacey
Johnson, Marcel Williams, Kenneth Williams, Bruce Ward, Ledell Lee, Jack Jones,
Don Davis, and Terrick Nooner have waited decades to receive some closure for
their pain," it read.
But even when executions take place, a surviving family's pain doesn't
disappear with the perpetrator's pulse.
It's been more than 2 decades since Heath's death. But Belinda Crites, a
41-year-old caregiver who still lives in her hometown of Malvern, Arkansas,
finds laughter in her sweet memories of her cousin. A high school cheerleader,
Heath wanted to be a police officer one day. She worked 2 jobs - at Taco Bell
and a blue jean factory - and before she died, she earned enough money to buy a
beat-up 1957 black Mustang. With each paycheck, Julie bought a new part, and
she and her father, William Heath, restored the car together.
"She ran her fingers through Crites' hair, long like her dead cousin's; she
held her tight ... as if she were "just trying to get a piece of Julie back."
Whenever Crites visited her cousin's house, they'd pile into bed together and
watch episodes of their favorite television sitcom, "Family Matters." For
Christmas, Crites, Heath and both of their mothers dressed in matching outfits
- nice jeans, ties or whatever was the latest fad - and baked cookies. The 2
mothers were inseparable, working and raising their families together. Crites
and her cousin "always said we'd be just like them," Crites said.
But after Heath's murder, Crites said her family fell apart. Her mother, aunt
and grandmother were all diagnosed with depression and needed medication. When
Nancy Heath - her aunt and Julie's mother - hugged Crites, she ran her fingers
through Crites' hair, long like her dead cousin's; she held her tight, Crites
said, as if she were "just trying to get a piece of Julie back."
The family watched as Nancy Heath wasted away. They cried and hugged each other
on March 31, 1994, when a jury sentenced Nance to death. But after the family
left the courtroom and got into their cars to drive home, Heath became
incoherent. Her husband rushed her to the hospital, where doctors observed her
overnight, Crites said.
Nancy Heath's psychologist later begged her to at least eat bananas and
watermelon, but she refused food. If she left Crites' house to go to the store,
her family knew to follow her - often, she drove instead in the direction of
the cemetery where Julie was buried. Crites' mother once found Nancy Heath
there overdosed on pills. Crites said her aunt attempted suicide at least 4
times before she killed herself on Christmas morning in 1994, 15 months after
her daughter's murder.
"Some people wanted to judge [Nancy for her] suicide," Crites said. "But my
aunt - she couldn???t cope. She couldn't go on. She wanted to go on so bad. She
tried so hard."
In 2015, the FBI reported nearly 15,700 homicides nationwide. And a 2007 study
suggested that for every homicide victim, 6 to 10 family members are
"indirectly victimized." That figure excludes the many friends, colleagues,
neighbors or other people who also suffer when a person they know is murdered.
When they grieve, survivors must not only figure out how life goes on without
their loved one in it, but also process the violence behind that person's
"They'll tell you over and over and over again that there's no such thing as
Death penalty advocates and politicians, including Arkansas Attorney General
Leslie Rutledge, argue that when the state executes a person who has committed
a terrible crime, the act brings closure to victim's family. But it's not that
If you ask murder victims' families, "closure is the F-word," said Marilyn
Armour, who directs the Institute for Restorative Justice and Restorative
Dialogue at the University of Texas at Austin. She's researched homicide
survivors for 2 decades. "They'll tell you over and over and over again that
there's no such thing as closure."
In 2012, Armour and University of Minnesota researcher Mark Umbreit interviewed
20 families of crime victims in Texas - a state which regularly uses the death
penalty - and 20 more families in Minnesota, which instead offers life without
parole. They were curious about how families in both states coped with the
The 2012 study concluded families in Minnesota were able to move on sooner;
because their loved ones' killers were sentenced to life without parole, rather
than the death penalty, they weren't retraumatized in the multiple appeals that
often precede an execution. Armour cautions their sample was small. But over
the last 2 decades, murder victims' families have received better treatment and
far more rights, Armour said. Rather than listen to the families homicide
victims leave behind, society often uses these people and their pain to score
political points in the death penalty debate, Armour said.
"Murder victims families are cast aside," Armour said. "Nobody is giving
survivors voice value."
What Armour sees unfolding in Arkansas is political, she told the NewsHour. She
doesn't think it should be.
Arkansas State Representative Rebecca Petty, on the other hand, has made her
mission to bring the issue to politics. In 1999, Petty's 12-year-old daughter,
Andria Brewer, was kidnapped from her younger sister's birthday party by her
uncle, Karl Roberts. He raped and strangled her, covering her body with leaves
on an old logging road near Mena, Arkansas.
Before that happened, Petty said her family had never experienced crime, so she
never gave the death penalty much thought. "When it happens to your own child
you gave birth to, you taught to walk and talk and [lived with] 12 years,
that's the point - it makes up your mind for you."
In June 2000, Roberts waived his right to appeal the case in court. He
confessed and was convicted for murdering his niece; he was sentenced to die on
Jan. 6, 2004. Petty said she and her family prayed and decided to go watch
Roberts' execution. But shortly before he was supposed to be lethally injected,
Roberts said he changed his mind and wanted to appeal after all. Petty left the
prison that bitterly cold night in disbelief. Roberts still sits on death row,
but his execution remains unscheduled.
Since then, Petty entered politics and has advocated for victims' rights. She
secured funding to expand the witness area attached to the execution chamber on
Arkansas' death row. When she considered what would result from Arkansas'
original plan to execute 8 men in 11 days, Petty said it won't offer closure,
but could "will close chapters" for these families.
"In your life, you have chapters," Petty said. "This is going to be a chapter
for these families they can close. It's not going to be an easy chapter. For
some of them it could be one of the last chapters of their life."
But Judith Elane, a lifelong death penalty abolitionist and former attorney who
lives in Little Rock, Arkansas, doesn't see it that way. The 72-year-old said
because the death penalty is not applied to all homicides, it leaves surviving
family members with the impression that the justice system values some victims
more than others.
Her principles were put to the test after her brother, Gene Schlatter was shot
and killed in November 1968 in a Denver bar with 4 witnesses. He was 36. Elane
drove from western Canada, where she lived at the time, to his funeral, where
she mourned with his 3 children and widow. 4 decades later, in 2009, detectives
traced evidence to a woman they believed was guilty of the crime. But witnesses
disappeared, changed their story or suffered dementia and couldn't testify in
court. Despite other evidence, the woman walked away, and no one was prosecuted
for the murder.
To manage her grief, Elane joined support groups and now leads Murder Victims
Families for Reconciliation in Arkansas. She scoffed at politicians who offer
closure through capital punishment. "The governor likes to say he does this
because victims' families deserve closure," she said. "Every time I hear that,
I think, 'you're not doing it for me. It didn't help me.'"
6 out of 10 Arkansans favor use of the death penalty, according to a recent
poll of 550 Arkansas voters from Talk Business & Politics and Hendrix College,
bolstering Gov. Asa Hutchinson's call for expedited execution. But nationwide,
support for the death penalty is at its lowest point in 4 decades, with 1/2 of
U.S. adults saying states should not execute their worst criminals, according
to Pew Research Center.
When states use capital punishment, the decision has consequences not only for
the murder victims' families, jurors and the person sentenced to die, but also
for the prison personnel responsible for carrying out death sentences and the
families of people who sit on death row.
Unlike politicians, correctional officers who work on death row are also "going
to go home and live with the psychological consequences for the rest of their
lives and so will their families," said Patrick Crane, who worked on Arkansas'
death row from 2007 to 2008. Turnover is high, he said. And the state's series
of executions has taken advantage of prison staff who live in rural farm
communities with few jobs, where households "still have an old way of thinking
and doing and being."
"Metaphysically, I think it's going to be a cloud over the state, especially
over the area in which it happens," Crane said. "Clouds last a long time down
In Arkansas' expedited schedule to execute people on death row, the voices of
victims families and the victims themselves are lost in sensationalism, Elane
said. If politicians and policymakers care about homicide victims and their
families, she said those voices need to be heard. The money saved by issuing
life without parole sentences - which tends to have fewer appeals - could
improve law enforcement and investigations, she said.
For now, she campaigns on behalf of murder victims families, bringing attention
to their needs immediately following the death of a loved one.
"Regardless of how we feel about the death penalty, we all experienced the same
suffering and the same dilemmas," Elane said.
For 12 years, Nance sat on "The Row" in the Varner Supermax penitentiary near
Pine Bluff, Arkansas, while his attorneys tried to appeal his execution. For
years, they argued he had the mental capacity of a 3rd grader, and that the
state would be cruel to kill him because he did not fully understand rape and
murder were wrong. His case made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
There, the justices decided not to spare Nance's life.
Members of the Nance family who testified on his behalf did not return
NewsHour's request for comment.
For his final meal before his Nov. 28, 2005, execution, Nance asked for two
bacon cheeseburgers, French fries, 2 pints of chocolate chip cookie dough ice
cream and 2 cans of Coca-Cola. More than a decade later, Crites still resents
that Nance had a chance to choose that meal.
"My cousin died with tater tots and a Coke on her stomach," she said.
Crites and her family drove a van to the prison and were escorted to the
warden's office, where they watched the execution chamber on a tiny
closed-circuit television set. On the screen, Crites saw Nance strapped flat on
his back to a gurney with a white sheet pulled up to his neck. He said nothing.
Prison staff injected Nance with a lethal cocktail. He closed his eyes,
remained silent, and then died, Crites said.
But the memory of what he did to her cousin - and how life then changed - still
haunts Crites. She knows Nance's execution didn't change how things had turned
"When he was gone, it gave us a relief," she said. "Did it make things better?
I don't know. We think of him everyday."
Crites, the mother of 3 sons and 1 daughter, said she only recently allowed her
16-year-old daughter to spend the night at a friend's house and never permitted
her daughter to sit on the porch of their home without someone sitting with
her. "You have to teach your family how evil people are," she said.
(source: PBS NewsHour)
A service courtesy of Washburn University School of Law www.washburnlaw.edu
DeathPenalty mailing list