Discussion:
death penalty news----TEXAS, VA., FLA., LA., ARK.
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Rick Halperin
2017-04-21 13:37:42 UTC
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April 21



TEXAS:

Smith County District Attorney to seek death penalty in Kayla Gomez-Orozco case


When the Bullard man accused of abducting and killing 10-year-old Kayla
Gomez-Orozco goes on trial in October, he will be facing the death penalty if
found guilty.

Smith County District Attorney Matt Bingham filed his intent to seek the death
penalty in the case on Wednesday morning. Bingham cannot speak on the case due
to a gag order, but a document filed in Smith County's 241st District Court
states the prosecution's intention.

Gustavo Zavala-Garcia, 24, was arrested and charged with capital murder this
past November after the body of Gomez-Orozco was discovered inside a water well
outside his residence off Old Jacksonville Highway in southern Smith County.
Family reported Gomez-Orozco missing after a church service in Bullard on Nov.
1. Zavala-Garcia, who is related to the child through marriage, is named among
those who were the last to see her alive.

Zavala-Garcia has remained jailed in Smith County on a $10 million bond and
immigration detainer.

In February, Zavala-Garcia was involved in an incident in the recreation area
on top of the Smith County Jail, when he climbed a basketball goal and refused
to come down. Officials said the incident is not regarded as an escape attempt,
there were no injuries and no additional charges were added to Zavala-Garcia's
arrest record.

The 1st pre-trial hearing in the case is set for April 27, in the 241st
District Court in Smith County. Jury selection is scheduled to begin in August
for the Oct. 2 trial.

(source: KLTV news)






VIRGINIA----commutation of death sentence

Gov. McAuliffe commutes Ivan Teleguz's death sentence to life without parole


Ivan Teleguz's death sentence for the murder-for-hire of his ex-girlfriend in
2001 was commuted to life in prison without the possibility of parole by Gov.
Terry McAuliffe on Thursday.

Teleguz, 38, was scheduled to be executed Tuesday for the capital murder of
Stephanie Yvonne Sipe, the mother of their 23-month-old son. Sipe was stabbed
to death in her Harrisonburg apartment. According to trial testimony, he hired
2 men to kill her for $2,000 and drove them from Pennsylvania, where Teleguz
had moved.

On July 23, 2001, Sipe's mother, Pamela Woods, went to her daughter's apartment
because she had not heard from Sipe for 2 days. Woods found her daughter's body
and her grandson unharmed in a bathtub full of water. A neighbor took Woods and
her grandson out of the apartment.

Teleguz's current lawyers filed a clemency request with McAuliffe, among other
things arguing that courts have never fully examined new evidence pointing to
his innocence. They say 2 prosecution witnesses admitted "that they testified
falsely in exchange for leniency in their own cases, and have no reason to
think Teleguz was involved in the murder-for-hire."

His lawyers say that 1 of the witnesses has been deported, and the other was
told he would lose his release date if he went back on his testimony.

In 2015, a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals noted
that a lower court judge held an evidentiary hearing in 2013 concerning the
recantations. One recanter refused to testify and the other did not appear. "In
other words, neither of the recanters testified in support of their
recantations," said the appeals court.

Marsha L. Garst, the commonwealth's attorney for Rockingham County, has
declined to comment on the case. However, the appeals court opinion noted:
"Prosecutor Marsha Garst, whom (the recanters) accused of threatening them into
testifying against Teleguz, appeared and testified that those accusations were
false."

Some religious leaders urged McAuliffe to grant clemency and a Change.org
petition in support of clemency has been signed by more than 114,000 people.
Teleguz also has submitted written requests for clemency from thousands of
supporters.

Earlier this week 3 former Virginia attorneys general - 2 of whom became
opposed to the death penalty since leaving office - wrote to McAuliffe urging
the death sentence be commuted, citing what they said was "unreliable
investigative techniques, coercive tactics by both law enforcement and the
prosecution, recantations of key trial witnesses and consideration of false
testimony in support of a death sentence."

Virginia has executed 112 people since the death penalty was allowed to resume
in 1976. Virginia governors have commuted eight death sentences during the same
period.

(source: Daily Progress)

***************************

Governor commutes death sentence of Virginia inmate Ivan Teleguz


Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe called a 3:30 p.m. press conference to make a
public statement "regarding his review of Ivan Teleguz's petitions for a pardon
and for commutation of his death sentence."

Teleguz was scheduled to be executed on April 25.

"As a result of the thorough review process that we have gone through I have
decided to deny Mr. Teleguz's petition for a pardon," McAuliffe said. "However,
I am commuting his capital sentence to life imprisonment, without the
possibility of parole."

"Mr. Teleguz will spend the rest of his life in a jail cell," McAuliffe added.

"What has come to light, however, in my review of the circumstances regarding
his death sentence, is that the sentencing phase of his trial was terribly
flawed and unfair," he said.

The governor said that false information was presented regarding an alleged
murder and mob ties.

"Our judicial system is based upon fairness," McAuliffe said.

Teleguz, 38, was convicted in a 2001 murder-for-hire plot in Harrisonburg which
involved ex-girlfriend Stephanie Sipe, a 20-year-old mother of a young child.

After the case went cold for years, evidence implicated Michael Hetrick as the
person who committed the murder, and he, along with 2 others, implicated Mr.
Teleguz as having paid for the murder of Sipe.

Prosecutors argued Teleguz ordered his ex-girlfriend murdered so he could avoid
paying child support.

His attorneys have argued for years that Teleguz in an innocent man.

"2 witnesses critical to the prosecution's case have now admitted in sworn,
written statements they lied at the trial," Peiffer Elizabeth, with the
Virginia Capital Representation Resource Center, said earlier this month. "They
have no reason to believe that Mr. Teleguz was involved in this crime."

DNA evidence linked Hetrick to the crime, and he made a deal with prosecutors
to testify against Teleguz in exchange for an agreement not to seek the death
penalty. Hetrick was sentenced to life in prison for the crime; however,
Teleguz was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death.

"American values demand that every person, no matter their crime, be given due
process of law," McAuliffe said. "In this case, we now know that the jury acted
on false information, and that it was driven by passions and fears raised - not
from actual evidence introduced at trial - but from inference. To allow a
sentence to stand based on false information and speculation is a violation of
the very principles of justice our system holds dear."

(source: WTVR news)






FLORIDA:

Fla. Sheriff's Office Investigating Noose Sent to Black Prosecutor Who Refused
to Pursue Death Penalty


The Orange County Sheriff's Office in Florida is investigating after a noose
was mailed to the office of State Attorney Aramis Ayala, who announced last
month that she won't pursue the death penalty in any case she handles during
her tenure.

Orlando Weekly reports that Ayala's chief investigator, Eric Edwards, contacted
sheriff's deputies with the court services division on March 28 and notified
them that Ayala's downtown Orlando office had received 2 envelopes over the
course of 2 weeks with disturbing messages.

From Orlando Weekly:

The state attorney's office employees opened the 1st envelope, received on
March 20, and found a white piece of paper with the message, "SOONER OR LATER A
NIGGER WILL BE A NIGGER" in black blocked letters. The envelope also contained
3 white business cards with the words "You are an Honorary Member of
S.P.O.N.G.E." on one side and "Society for the Prevention of Niggers Getting
Everything" on the other side. The 2nd envelope, received on March 28,
contained an index card with a noose made of green twine taped to the card,
according to the report.

Employees believed both envelopes may have been sent by the same person, but
the Sheriff's Office says it has not been determined if they were sent by the
same individual. Investigators said they would contact the postal inspector's
office to see if they could conduct an inquiry into the origin of the messages,
the report says.

According to the sheriff's report, Ayala was made aware of the envelopes and
their contents, and she believes that not only was the noose meant to be a
threat to her, but the March 20 envelope was meant as a racial message and
could be a hate crime.

As previously reported on The Root, Ayala announced on March 16 that she would
not pursue the death penalty in the case of accused cop killer Markeith Loyd or
in any other case she handles while serving as a state attorney.

Ayala is the 1st black woman to be elected as a state attorney in Florida, and
she received immediate backlash for her statements. A Seminole County clerk of
the court posted on Facebook that Ayala should "get the death penalty" and be
"tarred and feathered if not hung from a tree."

Gov. Rick Scott subsequently removed her from the Loyd case as well as 22 other
1st-degree murder cases with the reasoning that Ayala would not "fight for
justice."

Ayala then sued Scott, claiming that his decision violated her constitutional
rights, marred her reputation and deprived those who elected her "of the
benefit of their votes" after he assigned her cases to another prosecutor.

Speaking about the noose mailed to her office, Ayala told WHPB, "I have gotten
a lot of pushback. I received a noose that was mailed to my office. I received
several types of derogatory and racist remarks to me, personally and
professionally."

(source: theroot.com)

*********************

Accused triple killer hopes mental health claims keep him off death row


To spare him the death penalty, Andres "Andy" Avalos Jr.'s defense attorneys
said they will rely on claims he was emotionally or mentally disturbed and
under extreme duress if he is convicted of killing his wife, neighbor and local
pastor.

Defense attorney Andrew Crawford told Circuit Judge Diana Moreland on Thursday
morning that as part of Avalos' intended insanity defense, he planned to rely
on mental health claims during the penalty phase should a jury convict him of 3
counts of 1st-degree murder in an effort to keep him off death row.

If convicted, Avalos, 36, will face either the death penalty or an automatic
life.

The case is set to go to trial beginning May 8, as all involved wait to see how
the Florida Supreme Court will rule on a pending appeal the defense filed
earlier this month seeking to stop the state from seeking the death penalty.

On Dec. 4, 2014, detectives say Avalos hung his wife, Amber Avalos, 33, from a
cord in the laundry room of their Northwest Bradenton home, beat her and then
shot her dead. He then shot and killed his neighbor Denise Potter, 46, who had
been visiting their home at the time.

Afterward, investigators say Avalos dropped off his then 4-year-old son off at
day care, drove to the Walmart Supercenter on State Road 64 East, left his
vehicle and took a taxi to Bayshore Baptist Church, 6502 14th St. W., where he
shot and killed Rev. James "Tripp" Battle, 31, according to investigators and
witnesses.

Avalos was arrested Dec. 6, 2014, after a 51-hour manhunt led by the Manatee
County Sheriff's Office and a public plea from his father begging him to turn
himself in for the sake of his 6 children. After his arrest, Avalos is reported
to have given detectives a detailed confession.

The statement of particulars filed Wednesday regarding Avalos' mental health
also states that he was too impaired to recognize his actions were illegal or
to alter his behavior to stop himself from breaking the law.

Paranoid schizophrenia, delusional disorder and mild neurocognitive disorder,
as well as an abnormal PET scan of the brain and reduced cognitive emotional
and personality controls based on abnormal brain functioning, are also listed
as factors that will be used by the defense should Avalos be found guilty of
the slayings.

(source: bradenton.com)






LOUISIANA----death row inmate exonerated

Louisiana Man Who Spent 3 Years on Death Row Has Murder Charge Dismissed


Louisiana has dismissed all charges against a man who spent several years on
death row after the his infant son died in 2012, in a case that drew national
attention to a parish that sentenced young black men to death at an unusually
high rate.

Rodricus Crawford, 28, a resident of Caddo Parish, La., in the northwestern
corner of the state, was sentenced to death in 2013 after prosecutors argued
that he had suffocated his son. But Louisiana's supreme court threw out his
conviction in November after finding that the jury selection in his case may
have been racially biased. Mr. Crawford was released from prison later that
month.

In a statement announcing that it would not retry Mr. Crawford, the Caddo
Parish District Attorney's Office acknowledged evidence suggesting that at the
time of death, his son had pneumonia and bacteria in his blood that indicated
sepsis. The state said that it could not meet the burden of proof to gain a new
conviction for Mr. Crawford.

Cecilia Kappel, one of Mr. Crawford's lawyers, described him in an interview on
Thursday as someone who should never have been facing such a stark sentence to
begin with.

"They can't even justify prosecuting this guy for negligent homicide, let alone
capital murder," she said. "It shows the arbitrariness of the death penalty.
"Now he's having to start from zero at 28 years old," she added.

From 2010 to 2014, among counties with 4 or more death sentences, more people
were sentenced to to be executed per capita in Caddo Parish than in any other
county in the United States. Many of those cases were prosecuted by Dale Cox,
whose conduct attracted national interest after he told The Shreveport Times in
a 2015 interview that Louisiana should "kill more people."

Mr. Cox, who returned to the district attorney's office full-time in 2011 and
became the parish's acting district attorney in 2015, prosecuted 4 of the 16
people sent to death row from Caddo Parrish in those years.

Mr. Cox, who could not be reached for comment, gained a reputation for
inflammatory comments and behavior inside and outside the courtroom, and was
even accused of threatening opposing lawyers. In Mr. Crawford's case, according
to The New Yorker, he wrote a letter to state's probation department asking
that the convicted man be forced to endure "as much physical suffering as it is
humanly possible to endure before he dies."

Robert Dunham, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center,
who has tracked Mr. Crawford's case closely, said that Mr. Cox's behavior could
not be understood outside the context of Caddo Parish, pointing toward the
county's long history of lynchings and to a monument to the Confederacy that
sits right outside its courthouse, as well as its brief status as a Confederate
capital. He said a Confederate flag continued to fly on the monument as
recently as 2011.

"When 1 black juror expressed his displeasure at that, he was excused for
cause," Mr. Dunham said, referring to a case that was not Mr. Crawford's. "They
found that his objection to the Confederate flag was reason enough for him not
to serve on a jury."

Caddo Parish even captured the attention of the United States Supreme Court. In
a 2016 dissent to a ruling on another Caddo Parish case, Justice Stephen G.
Breyer noted that the parish "imposes almost half the death sentences in
Louisiana, even though it accounts for only 5 % of that state's population and
5 % of its homicides."

"Given these facts," he continued, the defendant in the case in question, "may
well have received the death penalty not because of the comparative
egregiousness of his crime, but because of an arbitrary feature of his case,
namely, geography."

(source: New York Times)






ARKANSAS----execution

Arkansas Executes 1st Inmate In 12 Years----Ledell Lee died by lethal injection
Thursday just minutes before his death warrant expired.


Arkansas carried out its 1st execution in 12 years on Thursday night following
a flurry of court filings.

Ledell Lee, 51, was pronounced dead at 11:56 p.m. CDT, just minutes before his
death warrant expired. Lee had no last words, according to the Arkansas
Department of Corrections.

Lee is 1 of 8 men the state originally wanted to execute over 11 days before
the supply of 1 of the drugs in its 3-part lethal injection protocol expires at
month???s end. Four of the inmates have received individual stays of execution.

Throughout his more than 2 decades on death row, Lee maintained his innocence.
He was convicted of the 1993 beating death of 26-year-old Debra Reese in her
Jacksonville home.

Lee's execution came after a flurry of last-minute appeals for more time to
test DNA evidence that his lawyers hoped could exonerate him. The Innocence
Project and the American Civil Liberties Union represented Lee in his final
court battles.

"Ledell Lee proclaimed his innocence from the day of his arrest until the night
of his execution 24 years later," the Innocence Project said in a statement
following Lee's execution. "During that time, hundreds of innocent people have
been freed from our nation's prisons and death rows by DNA evidence. It is hard
to understand how the same government that uses DNA to prosecute crimes every
day could execute Mr. Lee without allowing him a simple DNA test."

It added: "While reasonable people can disagree on whether death is an
appropriate form of punishment, no one should be executed when there is a
possibility that person is innocent."

Lee's attorneys had raced to court Thursday with a string of filings that
raised various issues about Lee's trials and his representation over the years.
Among them, attorneys noted that Lee's lawyers in his 1st trial provided
inadequate counsel and that the presiding judge didn't disclose an affair with
the assistant prosecutor, whom the judge later married. Lee's post-conviction
counsel showed up in court appearing drunk and slurring his words.

Lee's current attorneys further argued that Lee had an intellectual disability,
which made him ineligible for the death penalty under the Constitution.

Other legal petitions surrounded Arkansas's use of midazolam, the controversial
sedative that has been blamed for botched executions in states including
Arizona and Oklahoma, and others questioned the state's hasty execution
schedule, which shortened the defendants' time for measures such as clemency
reviews.

The U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals voted against granting Lee clemency
Thursday.

Notably, the U.S. Supreme Court's newest justice, Neil Gorsuch, voted with the
5-4 majority that refused to reverse the 8th Circuit's decision to allow the
execution to take place.

Justice Stephen Breyer, who was in favor of granting Lee a stay, lamented that
Arkansas's driving factor - the expiration date of the drugs - seemed
arbitrary.

"Arkansas set out to execute 8 people over the course of 11 days. Why these 8?
Why now?" Breyer wrote. "The apparent reason has nothing to do with the
heinousness of their crimes or with the presence (or absence) of mitigating
behavior. It has nothing to do with their mental state. It has nothing to do
with the need for speedy punishment."

Lee's execution was first effectively put on hold Wednesday due to a temporary
restraining order put in place by a Pulaski County Circuit judge. The judge
blocked the state from using its supply of pancuronium bromide, the second drug
in the state's 3-drug cocktail. The drug supplier objected to the drug's use in
executions and said the state misleadingly obtained its product and refused to
return it despite being refunded by the supplier.

On Thursday, the Arkansas Supreme Court lifted the judge's restraining order.

Just before 7 p.m., when Lee's execution was scheduled to take place, the 8th
Circuit issued a temporary stay - followed later by a temporary stay from U.S.
Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito - to take additional time to consider his
case.

Alito's stay was set to expire at 9:30 p.m. or by a subsequent order, whichever
was later. By 9:30 p.m., the 8th Circuit had denied all of Lee's requests, but
Alito's stay remained in place pending the final order. The Arkansas Department
of Corrections said the lethal injections were started at 11:44 p.m., and Lee
was pronounced dead at 11:56 p.m. with no reported complications in the
execution process.

An ADC spokesman told The Associated Press that Lee requested Holy Communion as
his last meal.

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge (R) had aggressively sought Lee's
execution and called his death a "lawful sentence ... carried out."

"The family of the late Debra Reese, who was brutally murdered with a tire
thumper after being targeted because she was home alone, has waited more than
24 years to see justice done. I pray this lawful execution helps bring closure
for the Reese family," Rutledge said in a statement.

(source: Huffington Post)

****************************

Dozens Protest Executions Outside Governor's Mansion


Dozens gathered outside the Governor's Mansion Thursday night to protest the
scheduled execution of death row inmate, Ledell Lee.

Members of church groups and the Arkansas Coalition Against the Death Penalty
held signs and a candlelight vigil. With each hour, the crowds stood in a
circle saying a prayer - as the future of Lee's life was still unknown. Many
staying until shortly before midnight, when Lee was officially pronounced dead.

Furonda Brasfield, with the Arkansas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty
announced the crowds disappointment saying, "We were also dismayed that our
governing officials wouldn't allow the innocence claims to be fully explored."
She continues, "we could have very well, have executed an innocent man tonight,
but we will never know that now."

The group is planning to be outside the mansion next Monday for the next
scheduled execution.

(source: arkansasmatters.com)

**************************

Arkansas's Legal Saga Illustrates Problems With Death Penalty


The practical and legal difficulties that have frustrated Arkansas's plan to
execute 8 prisoners in 10 days are a vivid example of the troubled state of the
death penalty.

"The ship has far too many leaks, large and small, to reach its destination
reliably," said Eric M. Freedman, a law professor at Hofstra University. "The
Arkansas example vividly shows the courts scrambling to patch some of them at
the last second."

1 of the difficulties facing Arkansas and other states is practical: the lethal
chemicals used to execute death row inmates are getting harder and harder to
find. Another is legal: courts in even conservative states like Arkansas, which
has not executed anyone since 2005, are receptive to claims from the defense
lawyers who make every available argument to spare their clients' lives, even
temporarily.

But the biggest obstacle may be cultural: Support for the death penalty, as
measured by use, is at its lowest point since the United States Supreme Court
reinstated it in 1976.

American courts imposed 30 death sentences last year, down from 315 in 1996,
the largest number in recent decades. Similarly, there were just 20 executions
in 2016, a decline from the 98 executions in 1999, the highest in the modern
era.

Last month, in discussing Arkansas's plan to execute inmates at a pace without
equal in modern American history, Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, sounded a
little sheepish.

"I would love to have those extended over a period of multiple months and
years, but that's not the circumstances that I find myself in," he said.

In the weeks that followed, state and federal courts issued rulings blocking
some of the executions based on the inmates' mental competence, DNA evidence,
the clemency process, the chemicals to be used and how those chemicals were
obtained. Some of those rulings have been stayed or reversed, and the welter of
legal actions continues to grow more complicated by the hour.

The Supreme Court declined to step in late Monday night, effectively sparing
the life of one inmate. Other executions were scheduled for Thursday, as well
as Monday and Thursday next week.

The inmates were all found guilty of terrible crimes. In a Supreme Court brief,
the state decried requests for stays of execution that it said were "nothing
more than an attempt to prevent Arkansas from carrying out petitioners'
execution decades after petitioners brutally took the lives of young mothers,
children and men who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time."

The reason for Arkansas's planned assembly line of executions struck some as
unseemly: The state's supply of midazolam, 1 of the chemicals in its lethal
injection protocol, was about to expire, and it was unsure whether it could get
more.

In a brief, Arkansas officials blamed "anti-death-penalty activists" for the
shortage, saying they had "a long history of keeping states from obtaining
lethal drugs for use in lawful executions by subjecting manufacturers and
suppliers to threats and intimidation."

When the Supreme Court heard arguments in 2015 in its last major death penalty
case, Glossip v. Gross, Justice Samuel A. Alito seemed to agree, saying
activists had engaged "in what amounts to a guerrilla war against the death
penalty."

The upshot of those efforts, he said, was that "states are reduced to using
drugs like" the sedative midazolam, "which give rise to disputes about whether,
in fact, every possibility of pain is eliminated."

But at least some drug companies seem to be acting from moral conviction and
economic self-interest in trying to prevent the use of their products in
executions. For instance, McKesson Corporation, the nation's largest
pharmaceutical distributor, sued to stop Arkansas from using 1 of its drugs.

Supporters of the death penalty expressed frustration over the issue.

"Execution is not difficult," said Kent S. Scheidegger, a lawyer with the
Criminal Justice Legal Foundation. "The single-drug protocol with a barbiturate
works very well. Texas has used it dozens of times without incident. That is
how veterinarians euthanize animals every day."

"The problem," he said, "is that the anti-death-penalty crowd has successfully
pressured the suppliers of these drugs to cut off the supply."

In turning to drugs like midazolam, some judges have found, states took the
risk of subjecting condemned inmates to excruciating pain. In February,
dissenting from the Supreme Court's decision not to hear an Alabama death row
inmate's appeal, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote that there is scientific and
anecdotal evidence to question the use of midazolam in executions.

"Like a hangman's poorly tied noose or a malfunctioning electric chair," she
wrote, "midazolam might render our latest method of execution too much for our
conscience - and the Constitution - to bear."

The Arkansas experience exposed a 2nd facet of death penalty litigation, the
inevitable flurry of last-minute appeals before any scheduled execution. With 8
men initially scheduled to die, the flurry became a blizzard.

That was unsurprising and necessary, death penalty defense lawyers said. They
owe their clients zealous representation, they said, and must press every
reasonable argument.

"No one case is exactly the same," said Scott Braden, an assistant federal
defender in Little Rock who represents several of the Arkansas inmates. "They
don't come out of a mold exactly the same, so every case has to be approached
differently and sometimes what's in the best interest of one client may not be
in the best interest of another."

He said the task required flexibility, resourcefulness and stamina. "You can be
in the county court of a state in the morning, and by the afternoon," he said,
"you're in the United States Supreme Court."

Joshua Marquis, a prosecutor in Astoria, Ore., said the death penalty is the
right punishment in at least some cases and that many Americans agree.

"While Arkansas's plan to execute that many inmates may have been too
ambitious," he said, "in 2016 voters in states as diverse as California and
Nebraska rejected calls to repeal their state???s death penalties."

Professor Freedman agreed, up to a point.

"The Supreme Court contemplates, and many members of the public would support,
a speedy system that reliably identified a small group of the morally worst
killers and put those few people to death humanely," he said.

But he added that "the institutions we actually have are incapable of achieving
any part of that ideal."

(source: New York Times)

************************

In Arkansas, a rush to kill


The bankruptcy of the death penalty is on full display in Arkansas this week.

State officials there are rushing to execute 7 men within 10 days. This
potential flurry of state-ordered killings isn't happening because there's a
significant chance the seven men pose any sort of danger in prison, or that
they are on the verge of escaping and committing violence throughout the land.

The reason Arkansas planned to go on a binge of unnecessary killings? The drug
it uses in executions is about to expire and the state may not be able to
legally buy more.

In 21st century America, a man's fate could be determined by the "If used by"
date stamped on the side of a bottle. Courts have stepped in and delayed the
state's plans, which were to have been implemented beginning this past Monday.
That Arkansas tried to do this at all, as disturbing as the plan was, has
provided the nation an invaluable gift by making plain the immorality of the
death penalty.

State-ordered executions are not an effective deterrent of potential crime.
They don't save lives on some undetermined future date by being carried out
today.

A state-ordered execution is not a weapon of last resort - because the state
has other options. A life spent in prison, whether in solitary confinement or
the general population, is stiff punishment for any crime.

In other words, there is no compelling reason to spend years, or decades, and
millions of taxpayer dollars to end a man's life as punishment for his having
ended another's.

Not only are the killings unnecessary and ineffective, they represent the final
word in a system long known to be fatally flawed. There are no do-overs. A
study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that at
least 4 percent of the people sentenced to death have been innocent. But that's
not the only reason the death penalty is bankrupt.

The system will never be about true justice or equality as long as men and
women are more likely to end up on death row based upon the color of their
skin, the race of their victim and the size of their bank account than their
guilt or innocence. Those are problems endemic throughout the criminal justice
system but particularly egregious on death row, given the finality of an
execution.

In the case of the Arkansas 7, a Harvard report noted several of the men have
serious mental health problems and had inadequate representation at trial. One
of the men, Don Davis, believes he is about to go on a "special mission as an
evangelist" instead of being tied down and having poisons pushed into his
veins.

Arkansas's decision to rush executions on the flimsy basis of expiring drugs
seems absurd in the extreme. The truth is, though, that this country has long
committed to killing people for no good reason. Arkansas is not an anomaly.

(source: Editorial, Charlotte Observer)

*************************

Conservatives Stymied by Latest Arkansas Execution Setback----Arkansas' attempt
to carry out its 1st execution in nearly 12 years wasn't thwarted by the type
of liberal activist judge Republicans regularly bemoan here.


Arkansas' attempt to carry out its 1st execution in nearly 12 years wasn't
thwarted by the type of liberal activist judge Republicans regularly bemoan
here, but instead by a state Supreme Court that's been the focus of expensive
campaigns by conservative groups to reshape the judiciary.

The court voted Wednesday to halt the execution of an inmate facing lethal
injection Thursday night, 2 days after justices stayed the executions of 2
other inmates. The series of 4-3 decisions blocking start of what had been an
unprecedented plan to execute 8 men in 11 days were only the latest in recent
years preventing this deeply Republican state from resuming capital punishment.

The possibility that justices could continue sparing the lives of the remaining
killers scheduled to die this month has left death penalty proponents wondering
how much longer executions will remain in a holding pattern.

"I have ultimate respect for the court and I'm not going to question individual
decisions but I would say there is frustration among the Legislature as to the
court's continued refusal to allow an execution to go through," said Sen.
Jeremy Hutchinson, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Since the last execution in 2005, the state Supreme Court has at least twice
forced Arkansas to rewrite its death penalty law. 1 of those cases spared Don
Davis, who again received a stay Monday night. The legal setbacks at one point
prompted the state's previous attorney general, Dustin McDaniel, to declare
Arkansas' death penalty system "broken."

But unlike the earlier decisions, this stay came from a court that had shifted
to the right in recent elections. Outside groups and the candidates spent more
than $1.6 million last year on a pair of high court races that were among the
most fiercely fought judicial campaigns in the state's history. Arkansas was
among a number of states where conservative groups spent millions on such
efforts.

The candidates backed by the conservative groups won both races. One of those
winners voted for Monday's night stay.

The three stays, along with one granted earlier, have whittled down the
execution list to four, unless the U.S. Supreme Court allows Arkansas to move
ahead with Stacey Johnson's Thursday execution. Arkansas officials are trying
to carry out the executions before their supply of midazolam, one of the
execution drugs used, expires at the end of April.

It's unclear whether the new execution obstacles would have any political
fallout for the court. Only 1 of the 7 justices is up for election next year,
and judicial rules prevent candidates from announcing their bids until next
month. Polling has shown strong support for the death penalty in Arkansas.

The judge facing re-election, Courtney Goodson, lost her bid for chief justice
last year after conservative groups blanketed the state with ads attacking her.
The groups accused her of being close to trial attorneys and for the court's
decision to strike down Arkansas' voter ID law. None of the campaign material
mentioned the death penalty.

But while Goodson voted to stay the 3 executions, so did the
conservative-backed candidate who beat her in the chief justice race, Dan Kemp.
Goodson had touted her commitment to conservative values, while Kemp said in a
campaign ad he would be guided by "prayer, not politics."

The other 2 justices who favored stopping the executions were Robin Wynne, who
was touted as tough on child predators when he was elected in 2014, and
Josephine Linker Hart, who ran as a "no-nonsense judge" in 2012.

The court had indicated earlier this year that it might view the death penalty
more favorably, ruling to allow Arkansas to keep many details of its lethal
injection drugs secret. The court also barred an anti-death penalty circuit
judge from participation in cases or laws involving the issue.

The court hasn't explained its reasoning in any of its one-page
stay-of-execution orders for the three inmates. Attorneys for Bruce Ward and
Don Davis, who had faced lethal injection Monday night, said the executions
should be put off until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on a pending case
involving inmates' access to independent mental health experts. Johnson's
attorneys have sought more DNA testing that they say could exonerate him.

1 of the 3 dissenting judges issued a blistering criticism of Monday's ruling
sparing the 1st 2 condemned inmates.

"The families are entitled to closure and finality of the law," wrote Justice
Shawn Womack, a former Republican legislator whose rival last year was also
targeted by conservative groups. "It is inconceivable that this court, with the
facts and the law well established, stays these executions over speculation
that the (U.S.) Supreme Court might change the law."

Another justice objecting to the rulings, Rhonda Wood, wrote in a dissent that
Wednesday's stay "gives uncertainty to any case ever truly being final in the
Arkansas Supreme Court."

The situation is a familiar one for Rebecca Petty, whose daughter's killer was
granted a reprieve by federal courts hours before his execution in 2004.

"I just feel like, once again, these families have been re-victimized," said
Petty, now a state representative, who said she was stunned by the latest
ruling.

(source: US News & World Report)

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