2017-07-13 14:15:09 UTC
Texas' slow, tortuous fight to kill a mentally ill man----The state's fight to
kill Scott Panetti is now in its 3rd decade.
Scott Panetti is very seriously mentally ill. He once buried his furniture in
his backyard in the belief that this would purge the devil, who Panetti
believed to have possessed his home. He was institutionalized about a dozen
times, often involuntarily, for suicidal and homicidal behavior. Eventually,
Panetti's illness overcame him, and he murdered his estranged wife's parents.
At Panetti's trial, he was inexplicably allowed to represent himself. With his
life on the line, Panetii wore a purple bandana around his neck, a cowboy hat
and suspenders. He tried to call the Pope, Jesus Christ, and John F. Kennedy to
the witness stand. And he sometimes shifted into an alternate personality named
"Sgt. Ranahan Ironhorse."
He was sentenced to die.
Since then, Panetti's been the center of a seemingly never-ending legal fight
between lawyers trying to save his life and Texas officials who want to kill
him. The 1st time Panetti's lawyers sought a court order stopping his
execution, Bill Clinton was in the White House, TLC was topping the music
charts, and Buffy Summers was still in high school.
Panetti won a victory in the Supreme Court, had that victory rendered largely
meaningless by lower courts, sought refuge in a second, unrelated Supreme Court
decision, and, just this week, won another incremental victory in a federal
appeals court. There are no signs that his litigation saga is anywhere near
Tuesday's decision from the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth
Circuit arose out of Texas' apparent effort to execute Panetti without telling
his lawyers about it.
At a prosecutor's request, a state court set a December 3, 2014 execution date
for Panetti without consulting his attorneys. The lawyers found out that their
client was about to be killed from an October 30 news report. Multiple courts
then refused to delay Panetti's execution or to provide his lawyers with the
time or resources they needed to contest his execution?- though the Fifth
Circuit did eventually stay that execution to give the lawyers time to seek
Tuesday's decision in Panetti v. Davis holds that Panetti must receive paid
legal counsel, assistance from mental health experts that can help him build
his case, and a full hearing to determine whether he is competent to be
executed. The Texas legislature, it should also be noted, since changed the
state's law to prevent the kind of ambush executions attempted in this case.
But Panetti's life remains in jeopardy largely due to an inconsistency in the
Supreme Court's precedents governing people with mental disabilities charged
with capital crimes.
In Atkins v. Virginia, the Supreme Court held, using a term that is now
considered antiquated, that "death is not a suitable punishment for a mentally
retarded criminal." People with intellectual disabilities, the Court explained,
"have diminished capacities to understand and process information, to
communicate, to abstract from mistakes and learn from experience, to engage in
logical reasoning, to control impulses, and to understand the reactions of
others." These deficiencies sufficiently "diminish their personal culpability"
to take the death penalty off the table.
A few years later, the Court extended this holding to juvenile offenders in
Roper v. Simmons.
The Court has not, however, held that people with severe mental illnesses like
Panetti are similarly ineligible for the death penalty, even though people with
such disabilities also possess diminished capacities like the ones described in
Atkins. Instead, the Court applies a very different test to determine whether
someone with a severe mental illness may be executed.
???It might be said that capital punishment is imposed because it has the
potential to make the offender recognize at last the gravity of his crime,"
Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the Court in Panetti v. Quarterman -?an
earlier stage of Mr. Panetti's litigation saga. But "the potential for a
prisoner's recognition of the severity of the offense and the objective of
community vindication are called in question . . . if the prisoner's mental
state is so distorted by a mental illness that his awareness of the crime and
punishment has little or no relation to the understanding of those concepts
shared by the community as a whole."
A death row inmate must have a "rational understanding" of why they are being
executed before the state may put them to death.
This rule creates a bizarre framework whereby an inmate who flashes back and
forth between periods of delusion and moments of sanity may be killed so long
as the execution occurs while the inmate is lucid. It encourages the very kind
of never-ending litigation that characterizes the Panetti case, and potentially
pulls prosecutors into the ghoulish task of repeatedly asking a court's
permission to kill a person whose mental state is in flux.
Someone like Scott Panetti, meanwhile, is subjected to a very peculiar form of
For over 2 decades he has sat in a cell, perhaps understanding and perhaps not
understanding why he is always on the edge of death. Yet also knowing that,
with little warning, he may be strapped to a gurney and killed.
Controversial Drug Used in Virginia's Latest Executions
Last week Virginia executed 36-year-old William Morva for the murders of a
sheriff's deputy and security guard back in 2006. In the final hours of his
life, Morva's lawyers raised concerns over how Virginia gets the drugs it uses
in executions, and why they may not be working properly.
Last week outside Greenville Correctional Center, a small group of anti-death
penalty activists held vigil as William Morva was executed. With song, prayer
and candles they marked the moment.
Despite a last minute appeal 1 of Morva's lawyers, the execution went on. Rob
Lee had asked the Governor for a reprieve, to investigate concerns over one of
the drugs used during lethal injection.
"And we got a response relatively quickly from the Governor's counsels," Lee
recalled. "Thanking us for bringing the matter to his attention and stating
that it had been given careful consideration and the Governor was going to deny
our request for a reprieve."
Lee's concerns came from a news report that had been released the day before by
The Guardian, including details about another recent Virginia execution.
Ricky Gray had been sentenced to death for the brutal murder of a young family
in Richmond in 2006. His execution was slated for January 2017.
But leading up to the date, Virginia officials faced a problem. they didn't
have the drugs to kill him. Pharmaceutical manufacturers, opposed to the death
penalty, had stopped supplying them.
So Virginia lawmakers struck a deal. They passed a law allowing the state to
buy the drugs from a compounding pharmacy instead. A compounding pharmacy makes
drugs to order, but also under less scrutiny from the FDA. The deal also
allowed the state to buy the drugs in secret, shielding the identity of the
pharmacy from the public and the press.
In January, Gray was executed using a compounded drug called midazolam,
purchased from an unknown compounding pharmacy in Virginia, for 63x the normal
"I can't say of course what he experienced, what I can say is that midazolam is
not an anesthetic," says Mark Edgar, a pathologist at Emory University. My
concern is that it might be like drowning from within, having your lungs fill
with fluid and not being able to do anything about it.
Like Xanax or vallium, midazolam is a sedative used to calm people before
surgery, but never as the sole anesthetic. In some executions, though, it's
used to put inmates to sleep before a 2nd drug paralyzes them, and then a 3rd
stops their heart.
In Oklahoma and Ohio, inmates have woken up after midazolam is administered.
Pathologist Mark Edgar has reviewed more than a dozen autopsies from
executions. One of the reports that recently landed on his desk was Ricky
Gray's, provided from Gray's family via his.
It showed blood-tinged liquid in his airways.
"That's something that you don't typically see in a hospital autopsy, that's
more characteristic of, for instance, a sarin gas attack," Edgar says. "My
concern is that it might be like drowning from within, having your lungs fill
with fluid and not being able to do anything about it."
Witnesses to Gray's execution described movement and heavy breathing after the
compounded midazolam was administered. Edgar says if the drug didn't render
Gray fully unconscious, he would have experienced pain, terror and panic.
"It seems like it's coming close to cruel and unusual punishment. If you knew
that they were not in any way aware, I wouldn't be concerned," Edgar says. "But
I don't think we do know that."
It was this report that William Morva's lawyers saw just shortly before his
execution. Despite their appeals, Morva was executed using the same drug.
Witnesses described gulping and chest convulsions.
Lisa Kinney, a spokeswoman for Virginia's Department of Corrections, say the
drugs are tested monthly, and there's no plan to discontinue the use of
(source: WVTF news)
Man resentenced for murder of Upstate principal----William Bell sentenced to
life in prison instead of death
A man who was sentenced to death for the 1988 murder of an Upstate principal
has been given a new sentence.
William Bell and Kevin Young were convicted in the death of West Franklin
Street Elementary principal Dennis Hepler.
Hepler was gunned down during a robbery on the steps of the elementary school.
Bell and Young were given death penalties. Investigators said Young was the
trigger man. He was executed in 2000.
At the time of Bell's murder conviction in 1988, a person convicted of murder
could either be punished by death, or by life imprisonment.
In November of 2016, following the change in the law and a motion by his
defense attorneys, Bell was granted post-conviction relief and his death
sentence was vacated. Bell was found to be intellectually disabled under
criteria laid out by the United States Supreme Court, which meant he could not
Since Bell was determined to be ineligible for the death penalty due to the
change in the law, his prior death sentence was vacated.
Judge Lawton McIntosh resentenced Bell on Wednesday to life in prison with the
possibility of parole after 20 years.
Bell has already served 20 years, and now a parole board will review his case
to decided if he will be allowed to leave prison, the judge said.
West Franklin Street Elementary has since been closed, and it is now known as
the Westside Community Center.
(source: WYFF news)
2 Clay County murderers to receive resentencing hearings under new death
It was just 5 days after Christmas 1997, when police discovered Shannon
Holzer's body in a wooded area near her abandoned car, partially clothed and
riddled with 9 stab wounds.
Holzer had been on her way to deposit money from her place of employment, Buddy
Boy's, a small convenience store in St. Johns County, when she offered to give
a ride to John Calvin Taylor II to Green Cove Springs to retrieve a rental car.
Several co-workers saw Taylor in her vehicle. She dashed away their concerns.
He "was harmless," she said. "I'll be fine. Don't worry about it. I'll be back
in a minute."
Police discovered 6 stab wounds in her heart the following afternoon and
another 3 in her lungs. According to state records, a forensic pathologist at
the trial concluded each stab could have been fatal, and that Taylor made the
initial wound while Holzer was sitting in her car. What police didn't find was
the $6,000 co-workers said she was on her way to deposit.
Taylor had that. He deposited $1,700 into his bank account, went to a local bar
and racked up a tab buying random patrons drinks. He tipped the bartender 2
$100 bills on a $200 tab and left.
Police arrested Taylor the next day for an unrelated burglary in his mobile
home. He was in boxer shorts at the time.
On those shorts, police found bloodstains that matched Holzer's DNA.
2 years later, a jury sentenced Taylor to death. It was a split jury, a 10-2
decision. Now, 20 years later, Taylor and other Clay County murderers will see
a resentencing due to retroactive changes in Florida's death sentence.
The changes stem from the outcome of the 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling known
as Hurst vs. Florida.
The case established that Florida's current death sentencing scheme was
unconstitutional because it limited juries to an advisory role, which violated
inmate's trial by an impartial jury promised under the Sixth Amendment of the
Previously, Florida courts decided capital punishment by a simple majority.
Now, states are required to impose the death penalty by a unanimous jury.
This ruling applies retroactively, meaning even 20-year-old cases decided by a
non-unanimous jury will now go back to lower courts for a new penalty phase.
Another Clay County murder case that will get a resentencing hearing in the
wake of the Hurst decision is that of David James Martin of Jacksonville, who
was convicted in the 2008. Martin was convicted of bludgeoning Jacey
McWilliams, 24, and dumping her body in a wooded area near Middleburg. He was
given the death penalty after a jury voted 10-2 and not unanimously.
Criminal justice experts say that of the 395 prisoners currently on Florida's
death row, nearly 150 of them qualify for resentencing hearings under Hurst.
Of those, 35 of them are within the Fourth Judicial Circuit, which is made up
of Clay, Duval and Nassau counties.
"I'll use 1 word - chaos," said retired Supreme Court Justice Gerald Kogan of
Miami in describing what the aftershock of the Hurst ruling in Florida. "It's
just a mess."
Prosecutors, some of whom argued these cases years prior, will resentence the
cases with a new jury while maintaining their normal caseload.
Each of these cases must be reinvestigated and presented in full by both the
prosecution and the defense.
Because these cases will receive new penalty phases exclusively, jurors will
not decide on guilt, rather jurors will decide on the punishment.
The state recognizes a life sentence if even 1 juror votes no to capital
Fourth Judicial Circuit State Attorney Melissa Nelson said she has already
heard new mitigating factors and evidence from defense attorneys arguing older
cases while the state goes through the process of identifying which cases they
will again seek capital punishment on, and which and they will commute to life
The Hurst ruling may also effect current proceedings. In late April 2016, the
State of Florida filed a notice to seek the death penalty in the case of Bobbi
Lee White and her husband Joseph Lloyd White for the alleged murder of a
Jacksonville man whose remains investigators found inside a torched van in
Jennings State Forest.
Last July, Bobbi's attorney filed a motion to block the state from pursuing the
death penalty due to the change in death penalty guidelines.
Joseph's public defender has yet to file any such motion.
While the State Attorney's Office has not yet identified even a cursory price
attached to these coming proceedings, Nelson said the figure will be
"Each [case] will be slightly different...but I think after we go through 1, we
will have a high figure associated with the cost of resentencing," Nelson said.
While taxpayers might pay the price for the Hurst ruling, Nelson said survivors
and loved ones of the dead will pay the true cost.
"We are calling them sometimes 30 - in 1 case 40 years - in many cases 20 years
after the fact, and explaining what this new law means and walking them through
the process," Nelson said. "They deserve, and obviously the community deserves,
for us to make timely decisions - but certainly the next of kin do."
The State Attorney's Office will complete preliminary decisions on which
Hurst-qualified cases they will seek the death penalty on by Saturday.
(source: Clay Today)
Lawyers for accused wife killer make 3rd attempt to block death penalty
Lawyers for a St. Johns County man accused of killing his wife and her friend
in 2015 are trying, for a 3rd time, to prevent the State Attorney's Office from
seeking the death penalty if he's convicted.
James Colley Jr. is charged in the murders of his wife, Amanda Colley, and her
friend, Lindy Dobbins. He faces 5 other charges.
On Wednesday, Colley's lawyers filed a motion asking a judge to find Florida's
death penalty is still unconstitutional, despite recent changes by the
Another defense motion seeks a change of venue.
An affidavit signed by Colley says, "It is not possible for me to get a fair
and impartial trial in St. Johns County, Florida, because there is a great deal
of prejudice against me."
His lawyers tell the judge they expect the "enormous amount of pretrial
publicity" to continue in the media.
There's a hearing set for October on the new motions.
Anti-Death Penalty Advocates Hope to Stop Ohio's 1st Execution in More Than 3
Ohio is set to execute an Akron man inmate later this month. If it happens, it
will be the 1st execution in the state in 3 1/2 years. And death penalty
opponents are trying to stop it.
Retired United Church of Christ pastor, the Rev. Lynda Smith, is 1 of about a
dozen people who stood outside the building where Gov. John Kasich's office is
located, holding signs and sending a message to him to stop executions in Ohio.
\"People of color, poor people, get sent to prison and wind up on death row a
lot more than white rich people."
The state's next execution is that of Ronald Phillips, who was convicted of
raping and killing his girlfriend's 3-year-old daughter in Akron in 1993.
His execution had been put on hold while courts determined if Ohio's lethal
injection method is constitutional. But a federal appeals court ruled last
month the state can proceed. So barring any action by the U.S. Supreme Court,
Phillips will be put to death on July 26th.
(source: WKSU news)
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