2017-05-20 13:14:29 UTC
Judge who blocked Arkansas lethal drug retracts probe plea
A judge who blocked Arkansas' use of an execution drug, effectively blocking
the state's lethal injections, has retracted his request for a professional
conduct investigation of state Attorney General Leslie Rutledge and members of
her staff over their response to his order.
The attorney general's office sought Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell
Griffen's removal from the execution drug case after Griffen participated in an
anti-death penalty demonstration the same day as his April 16 order.
Griffen asked for the investigation April 26, saying Rutledge's office didn't
alert him it was seeking his removal from the case. The Arkansas Supreme Court
lifted Griffen's order and disqualified him from death penalty cases.
Griffen retracted his investigation request Friday, saying he found an April 15
email on his office computer that alerted him to Rutledge's intentions.
(source: Associated Press)
Admitted killer asks Missouri Supreme Court to toss death sentence
Sentenced to death by a Boone County jury in 2008 for a double murder in
Callaway County, Brian J. Dorsey now claims an error in jury instructions,
based on recent U.S. Supreme Court precedent, resulted in an unconstitutional
verdict that condemned him to die.
Jurors in the penalty phase were not instructed to determine beyond a
reasonable doubt that the aggravating circumstances of the crime outweighed the
mitigating evidence, according to a petition for a writ of habeas corpus filed
Wednesday with the Missouri Supreme Court. The jury did not determine beyond a
reasonable doubt each fact necessary in order to lawfully sentence someone to
death, according to the petition.
The petition asks for the court to vacate Dorsey's death sentence and send the
case back to Boone County Circuit Court for another sentencing trial. Courts
can issue what is called a writ of habeas corpus for a convicted person when it
finds that their conviction or sentence violates the laws or constitution of
the U.S. or state.
It is necessary for a jury to make a determination whether aggravating
circumstances, those that support a stiff penalty, outweigh mitigating
circumstances, which would support leniency, when deciding whether to impose a
death sentence, Rebecca Woodman, Dorsey's lawyer, wrote in the petition.
Woodman cites several cases, decided in Missouri's highest court and the U.S.
Supreme Court, as precedent for the unconstitutionality of his sentence. The
Missouri Supreme Court has retroactively applied decisions it has made in cases
similar to Dorsey's "where a jury failed to find the facts necessary to impose
a given sentence."
Dorsey, 45, used a shotgun to kill his cousin and her husband, Sarah and Ben
Bonnie, as they slept in their New Bloomfield home on the night of Dec. 23,
2006. He then raped his cousin's body and poured bleach over her torso and
genitals before stealing cash, her car and some property to sell off so he
could pay his drug debts. Sarah Bonnie's parents found their bodies the next
day and Dorsey turned himself in on Dec. 26, 2006.
He took his case to the Missouri Supreme Court before in an attempt to get his
guilty plea and death sentence overturned, but the court, in a unanimous
decision by all 7 judges, denied his appeal. Dorsey in 2013 alleged that the
state had withheld DNA evidence from his defense and his counsel was
Woodman did not respond to a message seeking comment. Loree Ann Paradise,
spokeswoman for the Missouri Attorney General's Office, which represents the
state in criminal appeals, declined to comment.
Dorsey, the last person a Boone County jury sentenced to death, is among 24 men
on death row in the Missouri Department of Corrections and is currently
incarcerated at Potosi Correctional Center. Including Dorsey, 4 men are on
death row via Boone County sentences, according to data a department of
corrections spokesman provided.
Among the cases Woodman cites that she claims apply to Dorsey's are U.S.
Supreme Court decisions in Hurst v. Florida and Ring v. Arizona. Those cases,
which were similar, found that the capital-sentencing protocols, 1st in Arizona
in a 2002 decision and then in Florida in 2016, were unconstitutional because
judges determined whether defendants deserved the death penalty. The decisions
set precedent that only a jury can sentence someone to death. The Hurst
decision was made in light of the court's decision in the Ring case.
In the petition, Woodman argues that the court should re-examine the case
because Dorsey's 1st appeal, one filed right after he was sentenced and that
was denied, predated the Hurst decision.
"In a holding that is contrary to Hurst, this court found that 'the jury's
"weighing" of aggravating and mitigating evidence is not subject to proof
beyond a reasonable doubt because it is not a factual finding that increases
the potential range of punishment,'" Woodman wrote.
(source: Columbia Daily Tribune)
Lethal injection drug bill headed to Oklahoma governor's desk
Even though Oklahoma's once-busy death chamber has been quiet for more than 2
years, the state Legislature continues to prepare for the return of executions.
A bill allowing Oklahoma Department of Corrections staff to handle drugs, like
those involved in lethal injections, sailed through the Oklahoma House of
Representatives on Thursday. House Bill 1679 now heads to Gov. Mary Fallin's
The measure exempts any corrections employee and anyone who participates in the
execution process from the Uniform Controlled Dangerous Substances Act. Fallin
signed a similar bill in 2016 allowing corrections staff to store lethal drugs
at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary. Before that measure became law, only
physicians and hospitals could obtain the necessary licenses to house those
The bill is designed to allow staff to handle lethal injection drugs without
first attaining the medical licensing that is currently required, said author
Rep. Harold Wright, R-Weatherford. The state Corrections Department, with legal
assistance from the attorney general's office, requested the bill.
"(The attorney general's office) said that this was very important to get this
done, because (execution staff) could be considered to be operating illegally
without the license," he said.
The bill easily passed through the state Senate in April.
"I believe if a physician colleague of mine wants to help carry out something
that is legal in the state, to make it ... easier on the person that's being
executed, I see nothing wrong with that," said Sen. Ervin Yen, R-Oklahoma City,
who is a licensed physician, during the Senate reading of the measure. "I'm not
saying that I would want to participate, but I have no problem with a colleague
of mine doing that."
Both bills were borne out of necessity, following the postponement of Richard
Eugene Glossip's execution in 2015. Glossip's lethal injection was halted less
than 2 hours before it was set to begin once staff discovered the state
Corrections Department received the wrong lethal drug for the execution.
A grand jury later found the state Corrections Department lacked any
verification process to ensure the proper drugs were obtained and administered.
The department is rewriting its execution protocol, which must be approved by
the state attorney general before it goes into effect and the state can resume
administering the death penalty.
Oklahoma has not performed an execution in more than 2 years, the longest gap
since the mid-1990s. The last inmate to be put to death by lethal injection in
Oklahoma was Charles Frederick Warner in January 2015. An investigation by The
Oklahoman later revealed Warner had been executed using a drug, potassium
acetate, the state was not authorized to use.
No other state has ever used potassium acetate in a lethal injection, according
to the Death Penalty Information Center.
(source: The Oklahoman)
Jury in Hawthorne murder case deadlocks over death penalty
Jurors have deadlocked on whether to recommend the death penalty or life in
prison without the possibility of parole for a man convicted of the 2001
killings of a pregnant woman and her unborn son at her Hawthorne apartment.
The Los Angeles Superior Court jury on Friday was split 7-5 - with the majority
favoring a life prison term - for Skyler Jefferson Moore, the District
Attorney's Office said.
Moore, 35, and co-defendant Derek Paul Smyer, 36, were convicted May 8 of the
Sept. 25, 2001, killings of Crystal Taylor and her unborn son in the 12700
block of Kornblum Avenue.
Prosecutors contended that Smyer arranged for Moore to commit the killing
because the 27-year-old woman was pregnant with Smyer's baby and refused to
have an abortion.
Moore already is serving a life prison sentence without the possibility of
parole for an unrelated 2001 murder. He will return to court June 1, when
prosecutors expected to announce whether they will retry the penalty phase.
Smyer will be sentenced the same day to life in prison without the possibility
Juror transportation reviewed in Tsarnaev death penalty appeal
Juror transportation during the high-profile trial of Boston Marathon bomber
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who was sentenced to death in 2015, could be one of the many
factors under review in his pending appeal, records show.
The issue of how jurors were escorted to and from the Moakley Courthouse
surfaced in a brief order that US District Court Judge George A. O'Toole Jr.
entered on Friday.
"I understand from the Clerk's Office that counsel are requesting copies of the
Jury Management and Transportation Order, which was sealed during the
proceedings in order to protect the confidential juror transportation
arrangements made by the United States Marshal Service and to minimize the risk
of juror contamination [by outside factors]," O'Toole wrote.
"Upon review of the order, I see no reason for a continuation of the seal.
Therefore, the Clerks Office is directed to unseal the document and docket
entry text as to Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev."
The document remained unavailable for review on the federal Public Access to
Court Electronic Records, or PACER, website as of 10 p.m. Friday.
Tsarnaev, 23, was sentenced to death for his role in the April 15, 2013
bombings, which killed 3 people and wounded more than 260. His appeal is
pending before the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston.
His older brother and co-conspirator, Tamerlan, was killed in a clash with
police days after the attacks. Tsarnaev is being held at a supermax prison in
(source: Boston Globe)
Why does it take so long death row inmates to be executed?
Q: Why do prisoners on death row have to wait sometimes as long as 20 years
before they are executed? Given the heinous crimes that they have committed, in
my opinion they should be put to death as soon as possible or at least as soon
as they exhaust their appeals.
W.G., of Collinsville
A: You might be interested to know that your question led me to uncover a
fascinating catch-22 of sorts that I didn't realize existed.
As you note, the growing pressure on states to make sure they absolutely,
positively execute a truly guilty perp has led to an increasingly lengthy
period between verdict and the needle or electric chair. According to the
Bureau of Justice Statistics, the average time spent on death row before
execution in 1985 was 71 months - or just less than 6 years. Now, it's hovering
around 190 months or about 16 years and it's climbing. In 1 exteme case, Gary
Alvord, a Florida man convicted of strangling 3 women, died after 40 years on
death row - of natural causes.
But guess what? Even though the slow and rigorous appeals process is a
prisoner's last lifeline, some judges and legal scholars now charge that these
long delays constitute cruel and inhuman punishment in themselves. They say it
forces the convicted to endure the physical and psychological torture of living
on death row for years upon years. As a result, judges in other countries are
using it as a reason to overturn death sentences.
In September 2011, for example, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to stay the
execution of convicted cop-killer Manuel Valle in Florida, and he was executed
2 hours later. But Justice Stephen Breyer dissented, saying that the 33 years
Valle had spent on death row amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.
"Our Constitution was written at a time when delay between sentencing and
execution could be measured in days or weeks, not decades," Breyer wrote in a
similar dissent in 1999.
He pointed out that under 18th-century English law, executions were typically
carred out 2 days after sentencing. Final justice is no longer that swift
across the pond, but some countries still want it carried out much faster than
we do here.
"There is an instinctive revulsion against the prospect of hanging a man after
he has been held under sentence of death for many years," the Judicial
Committee of the Privy Council in London wrote in 1993. Its ruling changed a
death sentence into life in prison for two Jamaica prisoners who had been on
death row for "only" 5 years.
Similarly, the European Court of Human Rights in 1989 ruled that extended
periods on death row violated a provision of the European Convention of Human
Rights that forbids "inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment." While
acknowledging the legality of the death sentence in certain cases, it
nonetheless forbade Britain to deport a German man to Virginia to face capital
charges because he might spend years on death row facing "the anguish and
mounting tension of living in the ever-present shadow of death."
Others, like Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, seem to scoff at the
"I am unaware," he wrote in response to Justice Breyer's 1999 dissent, "of any
support in the American constitutional tradition or in this court's precedent
for the proposition that a defendant can avail himself of the panoply of
appellate and collateral procedures and then complain when his execution is
Thomas likely would say that, through the work of such groups as Amnesty
International and the Innocence Project bringing attention to the subject of
the execution of the innocent, death-row prisoners should consider themselves
fortunate that they enjoy far more time to prove their innocence.
A 2015 study published in the Washington Post, for example, found that of 8,466
death sentences imposed between 1973 and 2013, 3,194 were overturned on appeal
- including 890 cases in which the conviction itself was thrown out. A similar
study in California in 2002 found that for every execution carried out, 7 death
sentences are set aside. The reasons: incompetent lawyers, prosecutorial
misconduct, faulty eyewitness ID and judicial errors. Moreover, based on DNA
evidence, the Innocence Project has helped free at least 343 wrongfully
convicted people, including 20 who spent time on death row.
For those reasons, those favoring the slow approach argue that it is preferable
over quick, feel-good revenge when it involves the taking of human life. That's
why we have the seemingly labyrinthine appeals process, which is the short
answer to your original question. Space prevents me from detailing this process
in depth, but, in brief, it starts with appeals to appellate and state supreme
courts, asking judges to review the evidence. At the same time, they may appeal
their conviction by charging that their lawyers were incompetent. If they fail
to sway the state courts, they then move on to the federal district, appellate
and, finally, the Supreme Court.
Except for the Hollywood last-minute stay, these appeals are not taken up
overnight, which accounts for the months upon years delay you lament. Others
are thankful for it because capital cases may have elected prosecutors looking
for headlines while the accused may be defended by appointed and
less-than-vigorous defense lawyers. The long appeals process, they argue, is
necessary to even the score as proven by the number of "criminals" who are
later proven innocent.
For a detailed look at the process, try
(source: Roger Schlueter; Belleville News-Democrat)
A service courtesy of Washburn University School of Law www.washburnlaw.edu
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