2017-04-01 12:40:23 UTC
Harvard Law: Executions challenge 'legitimacy and integrity' of Ark. death
A report from the Harvard Law School's Fair Punishment Project concludes that
Gov. Asa Hutchinson should halt 8 executions set for April so that "legal
deficiencies" in the trials of the 8 men can be reviewed and to "preserve
public confidence in the rule of law."
Also, 23 former corrections department officials and administrators from around
the country sent Gov. Hutchinson a letter asking to him to reconsider his plan
to execute prisoners "at the unprecedented rate of 2-per-day on 4 execution
days over a 10-day period."
Gov. Hutchinson has set 4 execution dates in April for 8 Arkansas inmates on
death row whose appeals have been exhausted and whose cases the U.S. Supreme
Court declined to review in late February. Hutchinson scheduled the following 8
inmates - with date of execution - to be put to death, all for capital murder.
-- April 17: Don Davis, Bruce Ward
-- April 20: Stacey Johnson, Ledelle Lee
-- April 24: Marcel Williams, Jack Jones
-- April 27: Jason McGehee, Kenneth Williams
On March 27, a lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court-Eastern District of
Arkansas asking the court for a preliminary injunction to prevent the state
from executing the prisoners "so that the court may adequately consider their
claims on the merits." Jessica Ray, spokeswoman for Attorney General Leslie
Rutledge, called the prisoners' lawsuit "another attempt to delay justice." Ray
said AG Rutledge is reviewing the lawsuit, but "she will continue to fully
defend Arkansas's method of execution, and she expects the executions to
proceed as scheduled."
As to the Harvard report, Rutledge spokesman Judd Deere told Talk Business &
Politics, "Due to ongoing litigation, I'm not in a position to offer comment."
The Harvard report made public Thursday (March 30) provides a tough assessment
on the path that brought the 8 men to the planned April execution dates.
"At least 5 of the 8 cases involve a person who appears to suffer from a
serious mental illness or intellectual impairment. One of these men was 20 at
the time of the crime, suffered a serious head injury, and has a 70 IQ score.
Another man suffers from paranoid schizophrenia and believes that he is on a
mission from God. He sees both his deceased father and reincarnated dogs around
the prison," noted a press release announcing the report.
The report included the following points and statements.
-- "Across the 8 cases, the quality of lawyering that we detected falls short
of any reasonable standard of effectiveness - 1 lawyer was drunk in court,
while another struggled with mental illness. Several of the lawyers missed
deadlines, failed to visit their clients, and continued on a case despite the
appearance of a conflict of interest."
-- "The quality of lawyering in some these cases is unconscionably bad. Some
of these men could not have fared worse even if they had no lawyer at all,"
said Jessica Brand, Legal Director for the Fair Punishment Project. "They
failed to perform even basic duties, such as hiring a mitigation specialist to
evaluate the client's mental health or talking to members of their client's
family. In many of these cases, the juries and judges never heard crucial
evidence that could have spared these men from execution."
-- Under the Eighth Amendment, capital punishment "must be limited to those
offenders . . . whose extreme culpability makes them the most deserving of
execution." Our review of the Arkansas cases shows that this standard is not
close to being met.
-- Bruce Ward, who has been on death row for over 2 decades, has been
diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. He appears not to understand that he is
about to die, believing instead that he is preparing for a "special mission as
Rob Smith, director of the Fair Punishment Project, said the number of
questions with each case is more than enough to at least delay the executions.
"Just this week, the Supreme Court reaffirmed that the death penalty is
supposed to be reserved for the most culpable offenders, and yet it is very
clear that the individuals facing execution in Arkansas suffer from a number of
crippling impairments that show they do not even come close to meeting that
bar," Smith noted.
In a statement from his office to Talk Business & Politics, Gov. Hutchinson
said his duty as Governor requires the dates be set before the lethal injection
"As required by law, I have set the execution dates for the 8 convicted of
capital murder. This is based upon the Attorney General's request and the
exhaustion of all appeals and court reviews that have been ongoing for more
than a decade. This action is necessary to fulfill the requirement of the law,
but it is also important to bring closure to the victims' families who have
lived with the court appeals and uncertainty for a very long time.
"1 of the 3 drugs in the lethal injection protocol expires at the end of April.
In order to fulfill my duty as Governor, which is to carry out the lawful
sentence imposed by a jury, it is necessary to schedule the executions prior to
the expiration of that drug. It is uncertain as to whether another drug can be
obtained, and the families of the victims do not need to live with continued
uncertainty after decades of review."
LETTER FROM CORRECTIONS OFFICIALS
The March 28 letter from the 23 former corrections officials to Gov. Hutchinson
does not argue against the death penalty. Instead, it addresses the "stress and
trauma" on corrections' staff that could result based on the expedited
"While we are confident that the staff of the Arkansas Department of Correction
will strive to carry out these executions with the greatest professionalism, we
also fear that the burden of such a condensed schedule will increase the chance
of an error occurring," the letter noted. "Recent high-profile problems during
executions in other states provide ample evidence of this risk and underscore
the fact that execution of a prisoner is a complex and difficult process, with
little margin for error."
Those who signed the letter include Robert Brown Jr., who was director of the
Michigan Department of Corrections for 30 years (1961-1991); Frank AuBochon,
consultant with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (1981-2007); Dave
Cook, director of the Oregon Department of Corrections (1995-2002); and Ron
McAndrew, warden of the Florida State Prison (1978-2001).
"In this instance, we hope that you will reconsider the pace of the planned
executions to protect the professionals who will carry them out and to ensure
that the procedures are legal and humane," the letter concluded.
Gov. Hutchinson said he has been assured the execution schedule will not create
problems for corrections staff.
"I continue to rely on the advice and counsel of Director Wendy Kelley and the
professional staff at the Arkansas Department of Correction (ADC) on the timing
and plans for any execution. They have expressed their satisfaction with the
current schedule and have confidence in our protocol. We have experienced staff
here in Arkansas. I will continue to listen to our professional staff as we go
through the steps of this process."
SUPPORT FOR DEATH PENALTY
Although numerous activist groups have emerged in recent years to oppose the
death penalty, with many of those groups pushing for delay of Arkansas' planned
April executions, there continues to be majority support in many areas of the
country for capital punishment.
Oklahoma voters in November 2016 voted (66%-34%) to constitutionalize the
state's death penalty. The law also removed the ability of state courts to
declare it cruel and unusual punishment or a violation of any provision of the
Nebraska voters in 2016 also approved by a wide margin a law returning the
death penalty as an option for judges and juries to consider in murder cases.
California voters in 2016 rejected an initiative that would have abolished the
death penalty in that state.
A Pew Research study conducted in August and September 2016 found that 49% of
Americans favor the death penalty in murder cases, with 42% opposing it.
However, that is the lowest level of support in more than 40 years, according
to the Pew data. A 1996 Pew survey found that 80% of Americans supported the
Support for the death penalty is, not surprisingly, divided along political
lines, with Pew showing that just 34% of Democrats favor the death penalty
while 72% of Republicans support it.
Death penalty advocates also say the punishment gives closure to the victim's
families, is a form of crime deterrent and provides a deterrent for prisoners
already serving a life sentence, and gives prosecutors another bargaining chip
in the plea bargain process. They also note that DNA testing and other modern
methods reduce or eliminate uncertainty as to a person's guilt or innocence in
a capital murder.
Stop Arkansas' Execution Assembly Line
Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson plans on doing something that has never been
done in this country - execute 8 prisoners in 10 days.
The state is rushing to execute these eight men because Arkansas' supply of a
controversial execution drug, midazolam, is going to expire on April 30th.
Executions are wrong. And Arkansas' plan is a cruel and unusual killing spree.
Arkansas wants to use an execution drug combination - with midazolam - that's
never been used before in the state and that risks making prisoners feel as if
they are burning alive from the inside while paralyzed.
Midazolam has caused botched and painful executions so Florida and Arizona have
stopped using it, and an Ohio judge recently ruled to halt midazolam
These facts aren't stopping Hutchinson. So we need to raise our voices together
to put pressure on him.
Join Amnesty International, Equal Justice USA, and the ACLU in telling Governor
Hutchinson to halt this torture plan.
[sign the petition at: https://action.aclu.org/secure/Arkansas-Executions]
The death penalty doesn't bring closure so much as it extends trauma
Death penalty advocates like to argue that putting a convicted murderer to
death gives the victim's family and friends a sense of closure, as though
having another body in the ground somehow evens the score or lessens the loss
or at least gives the tragedy a dramatic final ending. In reality, though, the
extraordinarily lengthy delays in conducting a capital murder trial, followed
by the extensive appeals process, means that decades can pass between a murder
and an execution - if the execution happens at all. So not only is that
supposed moment of closure elusive, but the drawn-out process - often
accompanied by years of court hearings and filings generating fresh news
coverage - means the families wind up reliving the trauma over and over again.
Nationwide, the average length of time between sentencing and execution is
nearly 16 years. In California, about 1/2 of the inmates on death row have been
there at least 20 years. Of the 123 California death row inmates who have died
since 1978, only 15 were executed.
Relatives of the victims of Scott Dekraai's horrific 2011 beauty salon attack
in Seal Beach, in which he killed his ex-wife and 7 other people, are learning
about the tortuously long legal process. Dekraai pleaded guilty in 2014. On
Wednesday, California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra announced that rather than seek
a sentence of life without parole, he would seek the death penalty.
Becerra made that decision despite objections by some of the victims' families
that they just want the legal battle to end. Tom Stretz, whose stepdaughter was
among the murdered, described his emotions: "It's miserable - there are no
words.... Every time any element of the case comes up, we just regurgitate the
same feelings. Anger, sadness, disbelief - it's almost surreal."
In fact, studies have found that capital-murder trials and executions rarely
bring a sense of closure, or peace, to the families. Florida therapist Lula
Redmond, who works with such families, told Psychology Today that "taking a
life doesn't fill that void, but it's generally not until after the execution
that families realize this." Victims' families often find themselves
sympathizing with the families of the killer, finding solace in shared trauma.
Grief, as those who have experienced it can attest, never really goes away. But
it does fade with time.
It takes much longer to fade, however, if the criminal justice system, in its
misguided thirst for taking one life to atone for loss of another, forces the
grief-stricken and traumatized to keep reliving the moment - cruel and unusual
punishment, if you will, for those who are guilty of nothing.
(source: Editorial, Los Angeles Times)
Dylann Roof will plead guilty to murder for Charleston church massacre,
avoiding 2nd death penalty trial
Dylann Roof, the self-described white supremacist sentenced to death earlier
this year for the Charleston church massacre, will plead guilty next month to
murder charges in his state trial, attorneys said Friday.
This decision means that the Charleston, S.C., community - including people who
survived the church attack and relatives of those slain - will be spared a 2nd
death-penalty trial once again poring over the horrific details of the
Roof was charged in 2 separate cases stemming from the June 2015 attack at the
Mother Emanuel church, when nine black parishioners were gunned down during
Bible study. He has already been convicted on federal hate crimes charges and
was still facing a state trial on charges of murder and attempted murder.
In a letter to families of the victims, Scarlett A. Wilson, the prosecutor
overseeing Roof's case in state court, told them that Roof, now 22, had agreed
to plead guilty in exchange for a sentence of life in prison. Roof had been
facing another possible death sentence in the state case.
"The plea is negotiated which means it is 'carved in stone,'" Wilson wrote in
the letter Friday, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post.
Wilson described this as "an insurance policy to the federal conviction and
sentence," writing that her goal was to get a guilty plea so that Roof could be
moved into federal custody. Roof is currently being held in Charleston County's
"A guilty plea in state court means that if something very, very, very unlikely
were to happen at the federal level, the state sentence would take effect and
he would serve life in prison," she wrote. Wilson added, in parentheses: "And
no more trials!"
Ashley Pennington, a defense attorney for Roof in the state case, confirmed
that Wilson's letter was accurate and declined to comment further.
This agreement signals an end to the lengthy court proceedings that have
followed the massacre, dating back to Roof's 1st court appearance nearly 2
years ago. During that hearing, relatives of the church victims stood up and
spoke of their pain while also offering Roof forgiveness and saying they were
praying for his soul.
Authorities said that before the church attack, Roof had posted a racist
manifesto on his website laden with racial and anti-Semitic diatribes. Federal
prosecutors in his hate-crimes trial said Roof had "self-radicalized" online,
taking on violent white supremacist beliefs he read on the Internet, and
carried out the attack to try to start a race war.
During the harrowing federal trial, prosecutors grimly recited the facts of the
shooting: Parishioners gathered in the basement of the historic Mother Emanuel
African Methodist Episcopal Church welcomed in a young stranger who was given a
Bible and a seat next to the Rev. Clementa Pinckney.
After the Bible study, the gunfire began. Felicia Sanders, 1 of the 3 people to
survive the attack, testified during the opening day of the trial that she
watched Roof - "evil, evil, evil as can be," she said - pump 5 bullets into her
son, Tywanza. Tears streaming down her face, Sanders recalled taking cover
under a table, holding her 11-year-old granddaughter.
"I said, just be quiet, just play dead," she said during her emotional
testimony, which elicited sobs from the dozens of friends and family members in
court. "I squeezed her face to my body so tight that I thought I suffocated
Prosecutors also played Roof's videotaped confession, which recorded him calmly
explaining his desires to kill black people. At times, he chuckled while
speaking to FBI agents.
"I had to do it because somebody had to do something," Roof said during the
2-hour interview. "Black people are killing white people every day on the
street, and they are raping white women. What I did is so minuscule to what
they're doing to white people every day all the time."
Roof had argued in a court filing it was "not fair" that prosecutors spent
considerable time during the trial asking victims' family members to relate
their emotional stories. The jury was also told by prosecutors about Roof's
jailhouse journal, in which he wrote, "I would like to make it crystal clear, I
do not regret what I did. I am not sorry. I have not shed a tear for the
innocent people I killed."
Jurors swiftly convicted Roof on each of the 33 counts he faced in his federal
indictment, and the same jury needed little time deliberating before sentencing
him to death.
However, it is unclear when - or if - the federal government will be able to
carry out this sentence. Federal executions are rare, with only three since the
federal death penalty statute was reinstated in 1988 and expanded in 1994, and
executions in general have declined nationwide due to a shortage of lethal
Had South Carolina obtained a death sentence for Roof, the state might not have
had any more luck carrying out a death sentence. The state does not have any
lethal injection drugs and does not appear likely to obtain them any time soon.
In her letter on Friday, Wilson told relatives of Roof's victims that he would
formally plead at the Charleston County Courthouse on Monday, April 10 - a week
after his 23rd birthday. Roof will be allowed to speak in court, as will
relatives of his victims.
Before Roof was formally sentenced to death in January, some of those relatives
gathered to address him, telling him that he failed in his mission to spark a
"You didn't accomplish anything but deep hurt for other people," said Shirrene
Goss, sister of Tywanza Sanders. "You're going to realize you didn't have to do
this. It's going to hit you hard and bring you to your knees."
As he did throughout the trial, Roof refused to meet the eyes of anyone who
spoke to him.
In another case related to the attack, Joey C. Meek, a friend of Roof's who had
stayed in the same trailer as him in the weeks before the massacre, was
sentenced earlier this month to 27 months in prison for lying to the FBI and
concealing his knowledge of what would happen. Meek had pleaded guilty last
(source: Washington Post)
A service courtesy of Washburn University School of Law www.washburnlaw.edu
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