2017-04-28 13:53:26 UTC
The next DA should oppose racist and immoral death penalty
Although the district attorney race in Philadelphia is celebrated time and time
again as a progressive race, there are important differences among the
candidates on key issues. One of those issues is the death penalty.
Last week, in a Democratic DA candidate forum organized by the Philadelphia
Coalition for a Just District Attorney, only 2 of the 6 candidates who were
able to attend were willing to answer "yes" to this question: "Do you commit to
categorically refusing to seek the death penalty during your tenure?" Those
candidates were Larry Krasner and Tariq El Shabazz.
Although no candidate seems excited about pursuing the death penalty, most are
unwilling to completely rule out its use. That is reason for true concern.
The United States of America is the only liberal democracy that uses the death
penalty. In 2015, it ranked 5th in the world in the number of executions right
after China, Iran, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. In 2013, the last year with
published data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2,979 prisoners were
under sentence of death (i.e., on "death row") in the U.S. Of those prisoners
facing death, 190 were here in Pennsylvania - which is tied with Alabama for
the 4th-largest death row in the country. A person who was executed in 2013
waited 186 month on average for that execution. That's 15.5 years of waiting in
But being on death row doesn't necessarily mean that you are guilty of a
heinous crime, or any crime at all! According to Amnesty International, "Since
1973, 151 people have been released from death row throughout the country due
to evidence of their wrongful conviction."
Legacy of lynching
There is a unifying theme for those prisoners who are on death row - black men
accused of murdering white victims. A report by the Death Penalty Information
Center, updated through April 2017, shows that although the United States
population is only 13 percent black, 42 % of all death row inmates are black.
Although only 50 % of all murder victims are white, 76 % of all murder victims
in cases resulting in an execution were white. The United States has a long
history of punishing black people accused of killing white people. It was
Bryan Stevenson, Alabama lawyer and the executive director of the Equal Justice
Initiative, says that there is a "very clear line between our history of
lynching and the modern death penalty."
Jordan Steiker, law professor of the University of Texas, notes that "there's
still incredible overlap between places that had lynching and places that
continue to use the death penalty."
I personally believe that the death penalty is immoral and, in the United
States, rooted in racism. I also oppose the death penalty from a pragmatic
point of view. It's quite simple - there is no proof that it works to reduce
crime but there is plenty of proof that it is a broken tool in our broken
criminal justice system.
No measurable deterrence effect
There are 2 main arguments made in support of the death penalty. The first is
that some people have committed crimes so heinous that they literally don't
deserve to continue living. The second argument is that the death penalty is
such an intense form of punishment that it will deter crime.
The deterrence argument assumes a rational criminal who is making calculated
decisions and comparing the costs and benefits of their actions. The idea is
that for someone who wishes to commit a heinous crime, the cost of spending the
rest of their life in prison might not be high enough to deter them from going
through with it. However, for some of those potential heinous criminals, making
execution the cost of their potential punishment tips that equation. Fearing
this consequence, they will decide not go forward and commit the crime.
In 2012, the National Research Council created a committee on deterrence and
the death penalty. The committee was asked to look at the evidence and answer
the question: Does the death penalty reduces murder rates? Committee members
included social scientists and legal scholars. Their conclusion was clear:
"Claims that research demonstrates that capital punishment decreases or
increases the homicide rate by a specified amount or has no effect on the
homicide rate should not influence policy judgments about capital punishment."
A survey of leading criminologist in 2009 shows that an overwhelming majority
of 88 % of criminologists believe that the death penalty does not deter crime,
although there is no conclusive evidence. At the same time, anyone who claims
that the death penalty keeps people safer also doesn't have data or facts on
their side either. If the deterrent effect is your argument in favor of the
death penalty, it's a bad one. Instead of executing people while a debate on
deterrence goes on, the death penalty should be abolished.
Moral high ground
Without a measurable effect on deterrence, with its legacy of lynching, and
with the risk of executing an innocent person (all at a tremendous financial
cost to taxpayers, by the way), why are only 2 out of the 7 "progressive" DA
candidates willing to promise to never pursue the death penalty?
"In our impulse to rid the world of those we find reprehensible, we forget that
we are also ridding the world of those who have done nothing wrong," wrote
Clint Smith in the New Yorker in response to the Department of Justice seeking
the death penalty for Dylann Roof, who murdered 9 innocent black worshippers at
the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, North Carolina.
Since the time Smith wrote these words, Roof was sentence to death. No one
argues that Roof is innocent or doesn't deserved to be punished. The urge to
act in the face of such crime is obvious, in order to seek retribution. But
that is not how governing should work. The urge to act for the sake of acting
is what leads to policies such as stop-and-frisk and to mass incarceration. The
urge to act is what leads to tough-on-crime rhetoric. It is what leads to a
pursuit of statistics to have something to show for, to point to and say, "I
When I was a little kid my parents told me that taking the moral high ground
sometimes means not acting. As long as the death penalty is on the table at
all, it will be used at times in a corrupt and immoral way. I personally
believe that the United States doesn't have the moral authority to kill at all.
However, even if you disagree with the moral argument you should oppose the
death penalty from a completely pragmatic view - racial bias and the risk of
killing an innocent person for a theoretical deterrence effect that probably
doesnt exist isn't worth it.
The fact that except for Krasner and El-Shabazz all other 5 DA candidates in
Philadelphia want to preserve for themselves the right to kill in certain cases
that they view as rage worthy or "extreme" is disappointing and worrisome. As
Smith wrote, "what's the point in having progressive principles if they can't
contain your rage?"
(source: Op-Ed; Abraham Gutman currently works at the Center for Public Health
Law Research in Philadelphia; newsworks.org)
Death sentence upheld in murder of Nova Southeastern professor----Randy W.
Tundidor loses his bid for a new hearing to determine whether he deserves the
Randy W. Tundidor, who was sentenced to death for the 2010 murder of his
landlord, Joseph Morrissey, will not be heading back to Broward for a new
sentencing hearing, the Florida Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
Tundidor, 50, was asking the court for a new sentencing hearing in light of
last year's upheaval of Florida's death penalty law. In March, the legislature
passed a new law mandating a jury's unanimous recommendation to sentence a
convicted killer to death.
At the time Tundidor was convicted, the only legal requirement for capital
punishment was a majority vote, and the jury's role was advisory - a judge
could have imposed the death penalty even if the jury rejected it. But the jury
in Tundidor's case was unanimous after hearing details of Morrissey's murder.
Morrissey had begun the process of evicting Tundidor and his family from a
Plantation townhouse. Tundidor and his son, Randy H. Tundidor (referred to as
"Junior" in Thursday's Florida Supreme Court decision), broke into Morrissey's
home, kidnapped Morrissey and his wife and forced them to withdraw money from
an ATM while holding their son hostage, according to trial testimony. Though
Morrissey pleaded for his life, the elder Tundidor stabbed him to death, then
set the Morrissey home on fire with Morrissey's wife and son still inside it.
Tundidor's son pleaded guilty and testified against his father, ultimately
getting sentenced to 40 years in prison.
For the sentencing phase of his trial, Tundidor did not allow his lawyers to
present mitigating circumstances, facts about his past that would lead a jury
to determine that although he committed the murder, he did not deserve to die
for it. Defense lawyer Richard Rosenbaum, who handled the penalty phase of the
elder Tundidor's trial, said he would have given his client different advice if
he knew that a jury had to be unanimous for a death sentence to be valid.
"Convincing 7 people to spare his life is much more challenging than convincing
1 person," Rosenbaum said.
The Supreme Court ruled that because the jury was unanimous, it would have made
no difference if a unanimous vote was required. One of the 7 justices, Peggy
Quince, disagreed, arguing that there is no way to tell that the jury was
unanimous about each of the aggravating factors used to argue for death.
Rosenbaum said his involvement in the case is now done. A new lawyer will be
able to argue that Tundidor's previous lawyers were ineffective and raise new
challenges to try to save Tundidor's life.
"I'm grateful that after the court weighed the evidence in light of the
circumstances surrounding the law, the Morrissey family will not have to be
dragged through this trauma again," said Assistant State Attorney Tom Coleman,
who prosecuted the case.
(source: Sun Sentinel)
State defends shifting death penalty cases
Lawyers for the state maintain that Gov. Rick Scott had the power to reassign
23 death-penalty cases to a different prosecutor after Central Florida State
Attorney Aramis Ayala announced she would not seek capital punishment for
defendants charged with capital crimes.
Scott's lawyers made the arguments Wednesday in response to a lawsuit filed by
Ayala, who accuses the governor of usurping the Orange-Osceola prosecutor's
authority by stripping her of the cases, including a high-profile case
involving accused cop-killer Markeith Loyd. Scott reassigned the cases to
Ocala-area State Attorney Brad King, also a defendant in Ayala's lawsuit.
Ayala, who unseated former State Attorney Jeff Ashton last year, argued that
she based her decision on research that shows the death penalty is not a
deterrent to crime, is discriminatory, is costly, leaves the families of
victims in limbo for too long, and is imposed on innocent people too often.
Ayala and her lawyers - along with civil rights groups, ex-prosecutors and
former justices from across the state and the country - maintain that
prosecutors have broad discretion in charging decisions, including whether to
seek capital punishment.
But, in a 65-page joint response filed in the Florida Supreme Court late
Wednesday, lawyers for Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi argued that Ayala's
"proclaimed policy" of never seeking the death penalty during her time in
office "does not embody a traditional exercise in prosecutorial discretion."
Instead, "it is a promise not to exercise discretion - i.e., a commitment never
to undertake a case-specific analysis to determine whether any particular set
of facts and circumstances calls for application of a legislatively authorized
punishment," Scott and Bondi's lawyers wrote.
In her petition, Ayala's lawyers asserted that she was "not categorically
refusing to apply the death penalty" regardless of the circumstances, the
state's lawyers noted.
"The relevant practical question, however, is whether the governor reasonably
could have believed that Ayala was not open to applying the state's existing
death penalty statute to the 23 currently pending capital cases at issue here,"
The "practical effect" of Ayala's policy decision "is to effectively nullify
state law providing for the death penalty in the Ninth Judicial Circuit," the
Lawyers for Scott and Bondi asked the Supreme Court to dismiss the case,
pointing to thousands of other instances in which governors have reassigned
cases from 1 state attorney to another - with the court's blessing.
More than a half-dozen groups - including ex-prosecutors, former Supreme Court
justices and civil rights groups - have filed friend-of-the-court briefs
supporting Ayala, the state's 1st black elected state attorney.
The briefs came after the Florida House of Representatives, the Florida
Prosecuting Attorneys Association and other families of victims notified the
court they intend to also file briefs in the case backing Scott.
Scott's handling of Ayala sparked outrage from her backers and heightened
racial tensions over the administration of the death penalty. Meanwhile,
Ayala's refusal to seek capital punishment for Loyd - accused of killing his
pregnant ex-girlfriend, Sade Dixon, and the execution-style killing of Orlando
Police Lt. Debra Clayton - infuriated some GOP House members from Central
Florida, prompting them to demand that Scott remove the prosecutor from office.
In Thursday's filing, the state???s lawyers also rejected Ayala's argument that
the separation of powers guaranteed by the state Constitution must preclude the
governor from 2nd-guessing an elected prosecutor's decisions.
Under Florida law, the governor may assign a case if, for "any ... good and
sufficient reason," he "determines that the ends of justice would be best
served" by such a transfer, the state's lawyers argued.
Barring the governor from transferring cases would mean "that locally elected
prosecutors - many of whom may not have policy views with which petitioner and
her amici agree - enjoy sole, absolute, and constitutionally preclusive
discretion to make certain policy-related decisions that touch on criminal
prosecutions within their jurisdictions," the state's lawyers argued.
But, backing Ayala, ex-prosecutors, former Supreme Court justices and families
of homicide victims from across the country argued that the independence of the
judicial system is at stake.
"The correct decision in this case may be an unpopular one in some political
circles. Yet, if the criminal justice system in Florida is to remain a fair,
equitable and decentralized system, as envisioned by the Florida Constitution,
it is up to this court to support and protect it," lawyers for the former
prosecutors, justices and others wrote in an amicus brief filed Thursday.
Arkansas death row inmate Kenneth Williams executed
Kenneth Williams was put to death by the state of Arkansas Thursday night by
way of lethal injection.
According to the Arkansas Department of Correction, the execution drugs were
administered beginning at 10:52 p.m. and he was pronounced dead at 11:05 p.m.
In his last words, Williams said, "I was more than wrong; the crimes I
perpetrated against you all was senseless."
Earlier Thursday evening, Gov. Asa Hutchinson put a "courtesy pause" on
Williams' execution, allowing more time for the Supreme Court of the United
States to consider the motions for stays of execution. Shortly after 10 p.m.,
the Court denied all the motions, paving the way for the execution to move
Gov. Hutchinson released the following statement after the execution was
The long path of justice ended tonight and Arkansans can reflect on the last 2
weeks with confidence that our system of laws in this state has worked.
Carrying out the penalty of the jury in the Kenneth Williams case was
necessary. There has never been a question of guilt.
In 1999, Williams was serving a life sentence for the murder of 19-year-old
Nikki Hurd when he escaped and proceeded to kill again: 57-year-old Cecil
Boren, a grandfather and husband to Genie, and a Missouri man, 24-year-old
Michael Greenwood. Williams would later confess to the unsolved murder of
36-year-old Jerrell Jenkins, a father and stepfather.
In the last 7 days, after decades of waiting, the families of Debra Reese,
Christine Lewis, Mary Phillips, Lorraine Anne Barrett, Stacy Errickson, Nikki
Hurd, Jerrell Jenkins and Cecil Boren were finally provided the justice they
were promised and they also saw that our system of laws have meaning.
Attorney General Leslie Rutledge also issued a statement:
Tonight the rule of law was upheld as the family of Cecil Boren saw justice
done. On October 3, 1999, Cecil was simply going about his daily life at his
home near the Cummins Prison Unit when he was shot and killed by an escapee who
was serving life imprisonment without parole for capital murder. I pray this
lawful execution will bring closure and peace to the Boren family.
Williams, 38, was sentenced to life in prison in 1999 for killing Dominique
Hurd, a University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff cheerleader. Less than three weeks
after he was sentenced, he escaped Cummins prison in a barrel of hog slop and
made his way to the nearby home of Cecil Boren, a former deputy prison warden.
He murdered Boren, then stole his vehicle and drove to Missouri. While in
Missouri, he was involved in a vehicle accident that killed Michael Greenwood
Williams received the death sentence for the murder of Cecil Boren. He later
confessed in a letter to a Pine Bluff newspaper editor of killing Jerrell
Jenkins the same night he killed Dominique Hurd.
Williams is the 4th Arkansas death row inmate to be executed in 8 days. Ledell
Lee was executed April 20, and Jack Jones and Marcel Williams were put to death
April 24 in the nation's 1st double execution since 2000.
8 inmate executions were initially scheduled for an 11-day period by Gov. Asa
Hutchinson. A federal judge put in place an emergency stay on the execution of
Jason McGehee, allowing the governor time to decide on the clemency
recommendation by the Arkansas Parole Board.
The other 3 inmates - Don Davis, Bruce Ward, and Stacey Johnson - were granted
stays of execution by the Arkansas Supreme Court.
Kenneth Williams was denied all requests for stays of execution Thursday.
(source: KATV news)
Arkansas Executes 4th Inmate In A Week----Kenneth Williams' lawyers argued he
was intellectually disabled, making his execution unconstitutional.
The state of Arkansas prevailed in a legal showdown late Thursday over the last
execution in its aggressive, and widely criticized, effort to put 8 inmates to
death over 11 days.
Kenneth Williams, 38, was pronounced dead at 11:05 p.m. CDT at the Arkansas
Department of Corrections' Cummins Unit outside of Little Rock. A prison
spokesmen said Williams shook for approximately 10 seconds about 3 minutes
after his lethal injection began, The Associated Press reported. The spokesman
did not provide further details.
Williams was the 4th man to be executed by the state since last week. On Monday
the state carried out the nation's 1st double execution in 17 years. Defense
lawyers argued that 1 of the men had an untested innocence claim while the
execution of another appeared to have been botched.
4 of the 8 inmates marked for execution received individual stays of execution,
including 1 who was initially scheduled for lethal injection on the same night
Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson pointed to the 4 executions Thursday night as
proof the state's "system of laws has worked":
Late Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court, which represented Williams' last chance
for a stay, denied to grant him a reprieve or hear his case.
Williams' lawyers filed multiple petitions throughout the day Thursday to local
and state courts, hoping to spare his life. In their petition to the Supreme
Court, they argued for a halt to his execution, claiming he was intellectual
disabled, which would make him ineligible for execution under the Eighth
Amendment's protection against cruel and unusual punishments.
Shawn Nolan, an attorney whose office was recently appointed to represent
Williams, said earlier Thursday that the state had not offered evidence to
counter what he called "the substantial proof" that Williams was intellectually
disabled, nor had it offered its own expert witness to support its side.
"Unfortunately, the courts have simply refused to allow Mr. Williams to prove
his intellectual disability, a disability that would prohibit his execution,"
Nolan said in a statement. "To think Mr. Williams can be executed without any
court review is simply unimaginable and would be a grave injustice."
His legal team also noted that Williams had various health conditions,
including lupus and sickle cell anemia, that could cause him to suffer an
unconstitutionally painful death.
Arkansas Attorney Genera Leslie Rutledge, a Republican, opposed clemency or a
stay of execution and accused Williams of trying to run down the clock:
Williams' death warrant was set to expire at midnight Thursday, while the
state's supply of midazolam, the 1st drug in the 3-drug lethal injection
protocol, expires at the end of the month.
The expiring drug supply is what propelled the state's unprecedented execution
schedule, as Gov. Hutchinson had said it was unclear whether the state would be
able to procure more of the drugs after its existing supply expired.
Williams was convicted of killing 3 people and had admitted to killing a 4th.
He was sentenced to life in prison in 2000 for the 1998 kidnapping and killing
of Dominique Hurd, a student at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.
Less than 3 weeks into the start of his life sentence, Williams escaped from a
maximum-security prison in southeast Arkansas and fatally shot Cecil Boren, a
57-year-old farmer, while on the run. Williams fled when police found him and
fatally crashed into 24-year-old Michael Greenwood, a delivery truck driver,
while trying to escape. Williams was sentenced to death for killing Boren.
In 2005, Williams confessed to killing 36-year-old Jerrell Jenkins, whom he
fatally shot the same day as Hurd, in a letter to the editor of the Pine Bluff
Commercial. Williams, who described himself as a born-again Christian, said he
took responsibility for his actions.
Greenwood's family was among those who called for clemency; on Thursday
morning, Greenwood's widow and daughter, Kayla, requested a meeting with
Hutchinson to make their plea.
"His execution will not bring my father back or return to us what has been
taken, but it will cause additional suffering," read Kayla Greenwood's letter.
The Greenwood family said they forgive Williams. They even paid for plane
tickets for his daughter and granddaughter who live in Washington state so that
they could see him before his execution.
Williams' lawyers noted that the clemency board never heard from the Greenwoods
during his clemency hearing earlier this month and that they only heard from
the Boren family, which supported the state's plan to execute Williams.
Following Williams' lethal injection, Rutledge said in a statement that "the
rule of law was upheld" and added that "I pray this lawful execution will bring
closure and peace to the Boren family."
Amnesty International, which opposes the death penalty, criticized Arkansas's
aggressive actions in contrast to other states that have slowed or halted their
pace of executions.
"While the rest of the country and the world moves away from the death penalty,
Arkansas has shown just how committed it is to running in the wrong direction,"
James Clark, a senior campaigner at Amnesty International USA, said in a
statement. Clark noted that while it was too late for the 4 men executed in the
past week - Kenneth Williams, Jack Jones, Marcel Williams and Ledell Lee, "it
is not too late to commute the sentences of all of those remaining on death
(source: Kim Bellware, Huffington Post)
Lawyer calls to investigate Arkansas execution after inmate convulsed before
The lawyer for the Arkansas death row inmate who was killed by lethal injection
on Thursday has called on an investigation into the execution after it was
reported that his client lurched and convulsed after he was administered the
Kenneth Williams became the 4th convicted killer executed in Arkansas in 8 days
as the state sought to carry out as many lethal injections as possible before
one of its drugs expires Sunday.
An Associated Press reporter who witnessed the execution said that about 3
minutes in, Williams' body jerked 15 times in quick succession -- lurching
violently against the leather restraint across his chest -- then the rate
slowed for a final 5 movements.
Williams' attorneys released a statement calling witness accounts "horrifying"
and demanding an investigation into what they called the "problematic
J.R. Davis, a spokesman for Gov. Asa Hutchinson who did not witness the
execution, called the movements "an involuntary muscular reaction" that he said
was a widely known effect of the surgical sedative midazolam, the first of
three drugs administered.
Arkansas had scheduled eight executions over an 11-day period before 1 of its
lethal injection drugs expires on Sunday. That would have been the most in such
a short time since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976,
but courts issued stays for four of the inmates. The 4 lethal injections that
were carried out included Monday's 1st double execution in the United States
Williams read a prepared final statement before the execution began,
apologizing to the families he "senselessly wronged and deprived of their loved
ones." He also spoke in tongues, the unintelligible but language-like speech
used in some religions. But his prayer faded off as the midazolam took effect.
He said, "The words that I speak will forever be, will forever ..." before he
The inmate breathed heavily through his nose until just after three minutes
into his execution, when his chest leaped forward in a series of what seemed
like involuntary movements. His right hand never clenched and his face remained
what one media witness called "serene."
After the jerking, Williams breathed through his mouth and moaned or groaned
once -- during a consciousness check -- until falling still 7 minutes into the
A Friday morning tweet from the account of a Republican state Sen. Trent
Garner, who witnessed the execution, said Williams did not "seem in pain. ...
It was not cruel, unusual, botched or torture."
Williams was sentenced to death for killing a former deputy warden, Cecil
Boren, after he escaped from prison in 1999. At the time of his escape in a
500-gallon barrel of hog slop, Williams was less than 3 weeks into a life term
for the death of a college cheerleader.
"Any amount of movement he might have had was far less than any of his
victims," said Jodie Efird, 1 of Boren's daughters, who witnessed the
State officials have called Arkansas' string of executions a success, declaring
justice served and "closure" for victims' families. Some concerns had been
raised about Monday's execution of Jack Jones, whose mouth moved after
attorneys said he should have been unconscious, though a federal judge
determined it did not appear to be "torturous and inhumane."
All of the Arkansas inmates -- including Williams -- have died within 20
minutes of their executions beginning, a contrast from troubled
midazolam-related executions in other states that took anywhere from 43 minutes
to 2 hours. Though witnesses to those lengthier executions also described
hearing inmates breathe heavily, snore or snort or seeing them struggle against
"The long path of justice ended tonight and Arkansans can reflect on the last 2
weeks with confidence that our system of laws in this state has worked,"
Hutchinson said in a statement issued after Williams' execution.
Davis, the governor's spokesman, said later that he was sure Hutchinson would
follow up "as he does with every execution," but that the governor was
confident the Department of Correction "did what it was supposed to do."
Davis stood by his previous description of the state's executions as
Dale Baich, an assistant federal public defender who witnessed a flawed 2014
Arizona execution that took 2 hours, said in an email early Friday that after
reading media reports, "It appears from witness accounts that Mr. Williams was
not fully sedated when the paralytic was administered.
"At a minimum, this was a deviation from the protocol."
Williams' lawyers had said he had sickle cell trait, lupus and brain damage,
and argued the combined maladies could subject him to an exceptionally painful
execution in violation of the U.S. Constitution. They argued Arkansas' "one
size fits all" execution protocol could have left him in pain after a paralytic
agent rendered him unable to move. State and federal courts rejected the
Williams was sentenced to death for killing Boren after escaping from the
Cummins Unit prison in a barrel holding a mishmash of kitchen scraps. He left
the prison -- where the execution chamber is located in another part of the
facility -- less than three weeks into a life prison term for killing
University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff cheerleader Dominique Hurd in 1998. At the
conclusion of that trial, he had taunted the young woman's family by turning to
them after the sentence was announced and saying "You thought I was going to
die, didn't you?"
After jumping from the barrel, he sneaked along a tree line until reaching
Boren's house. He killed Boren, stole guns and Boren's truck and then drove
away to Missouri. There, he crashed into a water-delivery truck, killing the
driver. While in prison, he confessed to killing another person in 1998.
At the time of Boren's death, investigators said it did not appear Boren was
targeted because of his former employment by the Arkansas Department of
(source: Fox News)
To Arkansas judge who ruled on execution drugs, death penalty protest is a
Wendell Griffen, an Arkansas circuit judge who also serves as a Baptist pastor,
defended his participation in a death penalty protest after issuing a court
order barring the state from using an execution drug.
His ruling had nothing to do with his views on capital punishment, Griffen
wrote in a blog post April 19. He was preparing to join other members of New
Millennium Church in Little Rock for a Good Friday prayer vigil outside the
Arkansas Governor's Mansion when he received a motion seeking a temporary
restraining order to block the 1st of a series of executions scheduled to begin
the day after Easter.
The party bringing the complaint claimed the Arkansas Department of Corrections
had purchased vecuronium bromide - 1 of 3 drugs used in the state's execution
protocol - illegally under false pretenses and wanted the product returned.
Griffen focused on facts and the law, he wrote.
"I was not supposed to think about whether making the correct legal decision
would be popular to anyone," Griffen wrote. "That is what judges do, whether we
support or oppose capital punishment."
Griffen determined the facts showed the drug's distributor risked imminent and
irreparable harm and had a legal claim likely enough to succeed to order the
state not to use or dispose of the drug until a hearing. He then went to the
protest, where for an hour-and-a-half he lay on a cot posing as a dead man "in
solidarity with Jesus, the leader of our religion who was put to death by
crucifixion by the Roman Empire."
Death penalty supporters responded to the judge's reenactment by calling for
his impeachment. On Monday the Arkansas Supreme Court removed Griffen from all
pending death penalty and lethal injection protocol cases "to ensure that all
are given a fair and impartial tribunal."
The high court also referred Griffen to the states Judicial Discipline and
Disability Commission to determine whether he violated the Code of Judicial
Conduct requiring judges to "maintain the dignity of judicial office at all
times, and avoid both impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in their
professional and personal lives" and conduct themselves in ways that ensure
"the greatest possible public confidence in their independence, impartiality,
integrity, and confidence."
Griffen said whether or not the drug distributor was entitled to a temporary
restraining order, he is entitled to be part of a Good Friday vigil.
"I am entitled to practice my religion - whether I am a judge or not - even if
others disapprove of the way I practice it," he said.
Griffen denounced secrecy in the execution process at a session on the death
penalty at last year's Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly in
Greensboro, North Carolina.
"If you want to euthanize your dog, you know that under your state only the
people who have certain credentials can put your dog down," Griffen said.
Yet it is extremely challenging to find the qualifications of those who execute
"As a matter of fact, there is no requirement that the state tell you, and they
have an affirmative obligation to not disclose that," the judge continued. "One
would call it irony, but it's too nice a word."
Griffen has long argued that his judicial role does not negate his
responsibility to speak prophetically as a pastor, often leading to clashes
with political opponents.
As a member of the Arkansas Court of Appeals appointed in 1996, Griffen clashed
with the Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission over comments
in 2002 criticizing the University of Arkansas' racial diversity practices. The
ethics panel eventually dropped its case against Griffen, but he was voted out
of office in 2008. In 2010, he was elected as Circuit Judge for the Fifth
Division in Arkansas and re-elected in 2016.
Recently he opposed a proposal to increase public funding of the Little Rock
School District, protesting a 2015 takeover by the Arkansas Board of Education
after the dissolution of a majority-black school board elected by voters.
An Arkansas death row inmate took their father's life. Here's why they don't
want the killer executed.
On Thursday night, Arkansas plans to execute Kenneth Williams, who is on death
row for killing a man named Cecil Boren in 1999. Williams already was serving a
life sentence for killing Dominique Herd, an 18-year-old cheerleader, when he
escaped from prison, killed Boren at his nearby home and stole his car,
according to court records.
Before Williams was arrested again, he fled from police in a high-speed chase
that also killed Michael Greenwood, a truck driver. Greenwood was a father,
with 5-year-old Kayla at home, and his wife, Stacey, pregnant with twin boys.
Nearly 2 decades later, Williams, 38, is scheduled to die by lethal injection,
the last in a flurry of executions Arkansas scheduled this month before 1 of
its drugs expires. Boren's relatives want Williams to be executed; Boren's
widow, Genie, went to his clemency hearing, where Boren's daughter argued
against giving him a reprieve. Genie plans to attend the lethal injection.
But Greenwood's family wants Williams's life to be spared.
"I never wanted him to be put to death. Ever," Kayla Greenwood, 22, said in a
telephone interview from her home outside Springfield, Mo. "Nobody in my family
disagrees. Not 1 person."
Greenwood said she learned about Williams's execution date, which Gov. Asa
Hutchinson (R) set earlier this year, when her mother sent her a news article
featuring an interview with the condemned man, who also has confessed to a 3rd
killing. She discovered that Williams has a daughter named Jasmine, just a
little younger than Kayla, and that Jasmine has her own daughter - Williams's
grandchild - who the death row inmate has never met.
She also found out that Jasmine had set up an online fundraising page so she
could fly to see Williams. Jasmine's words moved Greenwood and resonated with
her; Greenwood has 2 young boys who also never met their maternal grandfather.
"Reading her story, it took the words right out of my mouth," Greenwood said.
"I have children and I would love for one last chance to see my dad and my kids
Greenwood said her family decided to pay for plane tickets so that Jasmine and
her daughter could fly to Arkansas from their home near Seattle for what could
be a final meeting with Williams before he is executed.
Arkansas has been at the center of debate about the death penalty in recent
weeks, after the state scheduled what would have been an unprecedented 8
executions in 11 days. Courts have blocked 1/2 of those, while 3 other death
sentences have been carried out, including 2 back-to-back lethal injections
Williams's execution is the final one on the calendar for Arkansas, where
officials defended their schedule as necessary because their stock of
midazolam, a sedative, expires on April 30. Lethal injection drugs are
increasingly difficult to obtain, and Arkansas authorities say they are unsure
if more can be obtained, leaving unclear when the next execution might occur in
Greenwood and her family had little time to get Jasmine to the state prison
southeast of Little Rock where executions are held. Greenwood said she and her
relatives - her mother, both brothers and her stepfather, along with members of
a television news crew - left early Wednesday and drove the 200 miles to the
Little Rock airport to pick up Jasmine and bring her to the prison.
"Me and Jasmine, we immediately connected ... she didn't have to explain her
feelings because I already knew," Greenwood said. "We could talk about it."
Jasmine asked the Greenwood family to wait outside the prison while she visited
her father because prison officials would not allow them to visit Williams,
Kayla Greenwood said.
"Watching her leave the prison and knowing that was probably their last goodbye
broke my heart," Greenwood wrote in a letter to Hutchinson on Thursday.
"Jasmine has done nothing at all, but like me, she could lose her father."
(source: Washington Post, April 27)
Legal Issues Remain After Arkansas Executions
Arkansas, which has been in a race to execute death-row inmates before a key
lethal drug expires, plans to hold its final execution in the series Thursday
Attorneys for the condemned men have put forth arguments about their innocence,
intellectual abilities, mental states and about the execution procedure.
But what happens to those debates after an execution?
Ledell Lee was the 1st inmate executed this month in Arkansas. There was scant
physical evidence tying him to the murder he was convicted of, and he was never
given a DNA test before his execution.
Nina Morrison is an attorney who was brought into Lee's case only weeks before
he was executed.
"If Arkansas had not been rushing to kill Mr. Lee before their supply of lethal
injection drugs ran out, there's no question we would have gotten a DNA test
ordered," Morrison says.
That's just one of the concerns highlighted by Robert Dunham, executive
director of the Death Penalty Information Center.
"What Arkansas has been doing over the last two weeks is doing long-term damage
to the death penalty as an institution," Dunham says.
He points to what he calls an "unprecedented assembly line of executions."
Attorneys for the inmates have complained about that too. They've also argued
against the process itself, and what they call the Department of Correction
staff's lack of preparation.
Attorneys have made filings about their clients' mental and physical health,
and their difficult childhoods.
Stephen Bright, a death penalty attorney and a Yale Law School Professor, says
generally when an inmate is put to death, the legal case dies too.
"Once an execution takes place, that's the end of it. The courts don't look at
it anymore, because it can't be litigated in the courts. Because it's not a
live controversy," Bright says.
But that hasn't stopped some attorneys from considering future legal action to
do DNA testing that the courts refused to allow beforehand.
Attorney Julie Gianni, who represents some of the inmates, says after Monday's
execution, she saw Marcel Williams' eyes open minutes before he was pronounced
She says that raises questions about whether one of the lethal injection drugs,
midazolam, rendered him unconscious.
"The best evidence as to the effects of this kind of procedure are other
executions," Gianni says. "What actually happens in the real world? And so I
think that these accounts are important in that regard."
Midazolam has been the subject of several last-minute legal arguments this
month. The courts have allowed it, but a federal trial will examine whether the
drug should be used in future executions.
A service courtesy of Washburn University School of Law www.washburnlaw.edu
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