2017-04-03 13:08:33 UTC
Texas House to hear 2 death penalty bills today
2 death penalty bills will be heard in committee Monday April 3, 2017 at the
Texas House of Representatives in Austin, TX.
The 1st one is House Bill 3054 by Herrero (D-Robstown). Herrero is presenting a
revision in jury instructions in death penalty cases to inform hold-out jurors
of the effect of their holding out.
Also up for debate is House Bill 3080 by Rose (D-Dallas) which would create
procedures to exclude persons with "severe mental illness" from the death
In light of the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Moore v. Texas, the
discussion on the latter bill could be very interesting. The Moore opinion
concerned the intellectual disability (formerly known as mental retardation) of
an individual, not mental illness. HB 3080 could turn into a forum for
addressing Moore - even though Moore does not need legislation to be
Bill aims to amend death penalty statute----Unanimous jury would determine
Legislators are proposing changes to Delaware law that would require a jury to
unanimously agree before a person is sentenced to death.
Under the Extreme Crimes Protection Act, a jury - not a judge - would decide
whether a defendant is sentenced to death.
In August, Delaware Supreme Court ruled Delaware's death penalty law violates a
person's constitutional right to a jury as outlined in the U.S. Constitution's
Sixth amendment by allowing a judge to decide whether a defendant receives a
death sentence. Since then, Delaware's death penalty has been on hold, and
sentences for 12 men on death row were reduced to life in prison.
The proposed amendments would require that a jury unanimously find that an
aggravating factor or factors exist making a person eligible for a death
sentence, and that those factors outweigh all mitigating factors. As written
now, a jury recommends to a judge whether aggravating factors exceed mitigating
factors. The jury's decision does not have to be unanimous.
Current law gives a judge the final say on the death sentence. A judge may
sentence a defendant to death even if a jury is not unanimous on a death
sentence or recommends life in prison.
The proposed legislation ends a judge's ability to issue a death penalty
against a jury's decision. However, it allows a judge to give a lesser sentence
even if a jury votes for a death sentence, said Rep. Steve Smyk, R-Milton, a
prime sponsor of the bill.
"The judge can dial it down, but if a jury says life in prison, that's the
system. That's what we go by, and we should accept that," Smyk said.
As another protection for a defendant in a death penalty case, the proposed
legislation would allow a jury to consider mitigating factors presented by the
defense, even if they have not been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
Still, Kathleen MacRea, executive director of the American Civil Liberties
Union of Delaware, said her group will not support the Extreme Crimes
Protection Act or the changes it espouses.
"The death penalty is not a deterrent to crime. It doesn't keep people safe.
From a policy perspective, it risks convicting innocent people," she said.
The ACLU was a strong proponent of legislation proposed in 2015 to repeal
Delaware's death penalty. That legislation had the support of then-Gov. Jack
Markell and dozens of lawmakers, but the bill failed in a January 2016 vote. It
has not been reintroduced.
MacRea said the ACLU intends to rally similar opposition against the Extreme
Crimes Protection Act.
"We'll definitely testify against it," she said. "The bottom line is the death
penalty system is a biased system."
Smyk said he expected groups opposed to the death penalty to be against any
measure that could bring back the death penalty. However, he said, there has
been a slight shift in favor of it since the Feb. 1 prison siege at James T.
Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna.
"I don't support a death penalty, but I support the victims of crime," Smyk
said. "Without a death penalty, you'll unleash more people of the caliber that
took the life of Steven Floyd. And that's a reality."
Sen. Ernie Lopez, R-Lewes, said he continues to support repealing the death
penalty, but he would consider the statute changes and give the bill a thorough
"I'm still in support of the repeal. But if there is any piece of legislation
that brings greater clarity to the code, I've typically been in support of it
as long as it's balanced and fair," Lopez said. "I will definitely keep an open
Speaker of the House Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, did not return
calls for comment.
"It has to be a united effort," Smyk said. "Many people are going to have to
talk about it to get it done right."
The bill continues to be circulated for more sponsors at Legislative Hall, and
it is expected to be filed next week.
(source: Cape Gazette)
The death penalty is not a case of justice but vengeance
Abolish cruel punishment
I didn't know whether to laugh or cry when reading your March 22 editoria
"State attorney abused her power," on the decision of State Attorney Aramis
Ayala not to pursue the death penalty in capital cases. The statement "the
state has been among the leaders in executing prisoners on death row" is
disgusting (Visit Florida - the leader in executing prisoners!) Seriously? I
have been at a prayer vigil against the death penalty in Starke for every
execution since 2009; we pray for victims of violence and for the accused. I
have tried to look at the death penalty from every angle; I have met with
parents of a murdered child who oppose the death penalty. I cannot find a
reason for its continuance. Every industrialized democracy has abolished the
death penalty except the United States. We are among the top 5 countries in the
world in executions, with China, Iran, Saudi Arabia
The U.S. Supreme Court building has etched on its front, "Equal Justice Under
Law." I have come to believe that under Florida law we have neither "equal" nor
justice" in imposing the death penalty. Certainly not equal. 6 of Florida's 67
counties accounted for more than 1/2 of the state's 92 executions. Florida over
the past several years has sent more men to death row than any other state. No
white person has ever been executed for killing a black person, and that goes
back to before statehood.
There is something wrong with our system here in Florida. When presented with
the choice between execution and life in prison without parole, over 60 % of
jury-eligible Floridians prefer life in prison, according to research by a
Therefore I applaud Ayala's decision. She should be allowed to use her
discretion, even if it applies to all capital cases. In looking at the
responses to her decision, I get the uncomfortable sense that the call for the
death penalty is not a case of justice but vengeance. I apologize if that is
not the case universally. Gov. Rick Scott should take into account the
preference of Florida citizens.
Joseph J. Koechler
(source: Letter to the the Editor, Daytona Beach News-Journal)
State reviews death penalty cases under new law
Now that lawmakers have cleared up the confusion, attorneys can move forward
with Florida death penalty cases.
In January 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Florida's death penalty laws
were unconstitutional. The Florida Legislature proposed amending laws to allow
for a 10-2 jury decision in capital punishment cases. But in October, the
Florida Supreme Court ruled a 10-2 vote wasn't enough, and, since then,
lawmakers have gone back and forth about the death penalty.
? In March, Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill into law that mandates a death
sentence can only be handed down if the jury decision is unanimous.
State Attorney Bill Eddins said last week that after Scott signed the bill into
law, prosecutors have been reviewing pending cases to reassess whether the
defendants would qualify for the death penalty under the new requirements.
? The new law keeps a directive filed last year that says prosecutors must file
an intent to seek capital punishment within 45 days of arraignment.
"The death penalty has always been reserved for the worst of the worst, and it
will continue to be that way," Eddins said.
For a defendant to receive the death penalty, prosecutors need to prove factors
beyond simply guilt. The state also needs to show that there were aggravating
factors, such as a violent past. And it must also prove that those factors
outweigh any mitigating factors the defense brings up, like an abusive
childhood or a lack of criminal history.
Eddins doesn't expect the requirement that jurors unanimously decide on the
death penalty to affect the way the state prosecutes its case. But, he said, it
will change how they prepare a case.
First Judicial Circuit public defender Bruce Miller said the new law is a win
for defense attorneys since the state has a higher burden of proof and less
time to file their intent. But, he said, he expects legal questions to be
raised as cases move forward.
"It's an improvement over what we had," he said. "I think there's still going
to be lots of litigation that's going to come from that one way or another."
The new law could impact how both sides choose jurors, Miller said, as well as
strengthen the wording of jury instruction.
"They're very expensive cases for both sides to litigate because from a defense
perspective we have to do a lot of mitigation preparation," Miller said. "We
have to go look under every step this person's taken their entire life to find
evidence they don't deserve the death penalty."
Before the new law, Florida was one of the last states that did not require a
unanimous verdict in death penalty case, said Robert Dunham, executive director
for national nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C.
"By requiring unanimity, the number of death sentences and cost to Florida
taxpayers in housing people on death row and of going through the appeals
process will be reduced," he said.
Throughout the country, death row exonerations have overwhelmingly come from
states where juries did not have to render unanimous verdicts, Dunham said.
The 3 states that did not require unanimous verdicts - Florida, Delaware and
Alabama - produced more than 1/4 of the death sentences in the country, he
After reviewing the new law, there are 3 local cases in which the state has
decided not to seek the death penalty.
That includes the case of Mary Rice, who has been charged in connection to a
alleged multi-state killing spree earlier this year.
The other 2 cases include that of grandmother Janel Francis, who was accused of
stabbing her son to death and severely injuring her daughter, and Shaquille
Jordan, who is charged with shooting a victim in the head at an apartment
Even under the former law, Eddins said the state likely would have still
decided not to seek the death penalty.
"To the best of my knowledge, it probably would have been the same decision
either way, but because of the higher standards under the present death penalty
law, it made the decision more clear than it would've been under the older
law," he said.
Eddins said the state plans to continue seeking the death penalty against:
Derrick Thompson, who is charged with killing a Santa Rosa County couple and
going on to kill another man in Panama City;
Donald Hartung, who is charged with a ritualistic killing of his mother and 2
William A. Thomason, who is charged with the death of his infant daughter; and
Jackie Long, who is charged with a murder more than 30 years ago of a Niceville
A 5th man, Shawn Rogers, will face the death penalty when the state re-indicts
him on charges of beating and killing his cellmate in Santa Rosa Jail.
Eddins said several cases in the First Circuit are still under review as the
state decides how to proceed under the new law.
(source: Pensacola News Journal)
A century of death: 196 executions, 15 governors, and Arkansas' deadliest day
On July 25, 1902, Arkansas sent 6 men to the gallows - Lathe Hembree, Dee
Noland, Tom Simms, Dave McWhirter, Jim Johnson, and Cy Tanner, or, as the July
26 edition of the Arkansas Gazette put it, "4 negroes and 2 white men."
Almost 115 years later, the state of Arkansas has planned eight executions over
a 10-day period in April marking an end to a 12-year dormancy brought on in
part by a 2012 Arkansas Supreme Court decision that ruled the death penalty
unconstitutional as currently practiced. Lawmakers have since worked out the
kinks, and death row prisoners Don Davis and Bruce Ward will face lethal
injection - the state's method of execution - on April 17.
Robert Dunham, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Death Penalty
Information Center, recently told Talk Business & Politics the volume of
planned executions are "unprecedented" in the modern era. He isn't wrong when
you distinguish what the "modern era" is. But the rapid administration of
sentences now less than 1 month away is hardly unprecedented when looking at
Arkansas' capital punishment history.
The July 25, 1902 executions were carried out in the cities of Washington,
Chester Point, Arkansas City, Forrest City, and Van Buren, according to the
Arkansas Gazette, which was obtained from Arkansas State Archives in Little
Rock. Lauren Jarvis, archival manager for public services at the agency, could
not verify whether the day was the deadliest in the state's capital punishment
history as "we do not have a comprehensive list of executions prior to 1913"
and she did not know "of another department that has created a comprehensive
list for this time period."
The Archive's records end in 1964 while the Death Penalty Information Center
has information from 1977 forward. The Arkansas Department of Corrections also
has a listing that combines the two along with current death row inmates, but
it does not have anything prior to when the so-called "modern era" of when
executions began. There are lists of executions in Arkansas online that date
back to 1901, "but there is not a lot of information" provided on the websites,
and "I cannot vouch for the accuracy of the data," Jarvis said. (For example,
The Death Penalty USA website shows 7 hangings on July 25, 1902, with James
Kitts, a black man convicted of murder, also hanged in Desha County.)
DEFINING THE 'MODERN ERA'
Arkansas has endorsed the death penalty for the better part of 200 years.
Incorporated as a state in 1836, executions were already present during the
American Revolution with several members of the garrison at Arkansas Post
convicted of having plotted on behalf of the English to massacre all soldiers
stationed there. The conspirators were executed by firing squad on an
undisclosed date in New Orleans.
For several decades prior to the modern era (which began in 1913), executions
were carried out in the counties where the crimes occurred. Fort Smith-based
"Hangin'" Judge Isaac Parker, who ruled as a federal judge for the Western
District of Arkansas starting in 1875, was one of the most prolific
facilitators of the death penalty, sentencing 160 to death during his tenure.
About 1/2 (79) were carried out. The old way continued with brief overlaps to
the modern era. The last to be executed in the county system was John Arthur
Tillman for killing his girlfriend, tossing her in a well, and trying to
conceal her body with stones. He was hanged at the Paris jail in Logan County
on July 15, 1914.
The end of this system was brought on by the Arkansas General Assembly.
Disturbed by the high death rates associated with convict labor, lawmakers
began a penitentiary reform effort that would, among other things, centralize
executions at the State Penitentiary in Little Rock. On Sept. 9, 1913, a
21-year-old black male named Lee Sims - the 1st under the modern death row
system - was executed for the crime of rape. He was also the 1st to die in the
electric chair and was followed there on Dec. 12 of that year by another black
male, 19-year-old Ed King. With few exceptions, the electric chair would be the
state's official method of execution until 1990.
A TURBULENT START
The paradigm shift for how the death penalty is administered in Arkansas began
with turmoil at the top. In 1912, Arkansas Gov. Joseph Taylor Robinson was
elected as No. 23 in the state's history. He would have presided over the 1st
centralized execution if not for the death of U.S. Sen. Jefferson Davis on Jan.
Davis had been reelected by the legislature for a term to begin on March 4,
1913. His death left a vacancy Robinson was eager to accept. On Jan. 27, 1913,
only 12 days after taking the oath of office as governor, Robinson was elected
to the post by lawmakers. He would serve as governor until the Senate term
began, after which farmer William Kavanaugh Oldham would take over as acting
governor for 6 days.
When the legislative session closed on March 13, the Arkansas Senate elected
Junius Marion Futrell as the new president pro tempore, but Oldham refused to
acknowledge Futrell's right as acting governor. The Arkansas Supreme Court
would decide in favor of Futrell 2 weeks later on March 24. Even after this
decision, turnover was incomplete.
Futrell served only 5 months as acting governor thanks to a special election
that slid George Washington Hays into the post on Aug. 6. The special election
made Hays No. 24 and set him up as the 1st governor to preside over the new
death penalty model. During his 1 term, 9 prisoners were put to death - 2
rapists and 7 murderers.
Gov. Charles Hillman Brough took over after him from Jan. 10, 1917 to Jan. 11,
1921. Brough racked up another 8 executions and was followed by Gov. Thomas
Chipman McRae. Under McRae, the state execution business really picked up. In 1
4-year term, the Democrat had 14 men executed, all for the crime of murder. He
was also a rare Equal Opportunity death warrant issuer when it came to race,
issuing an even mix of 7 for whites and 7 for blacks.
DEATH PENALTY BY RACE
After launching the modern era with Sims and King, the state would execute two
more black males for the crimes of rape and murder the following year before
executing 19-year-old Arthur Hodges on Dec. 18, 1914. Hodges would become the
1st white person to receive the punishment and 1 of only 57 (29%) in the
104-year history of the modern system.
The predominant burden of executions during that same tenure has fallen on
blacks, who account for 137 of the 196 total inmates executed (70%). For a
9-year stint from 1926 to 1935, the state executed a string of 35 consecutive
black males - 2 for rape and the rest, murder.
This lopsided spree of executions began with Gov. Tom Jefferson Terral, whose
two-year term began in January 1925. Despite his abbreviated time in office, he
managed to authorize a total of 13 executions. Gov. John Ellis Martineau ramped
this down considerably with only 3 executions, though he did not serve out his
full term and left office on March 2, 1928, after being named president of the
Tri-State Flood Commission. This was in response to the Mississippi River
breaking free of its banks and covering over 13% of the state during the Great
Mississippi Flood of 1927.
Martineau's lieutenant governor, Harvey Parnell, followed him, serving from
March 2, 1928 to Jan. 10, 1933. Parnell was the busiest governor to date when
it came to signing death warrants. His tenure in office enabled the executions
of 17 men, all of whom were African-American, making up about 1/2 of the
35-kill streak. The final 7 would occur under Gov. Futrell, who was elected to
2 terms starting in January 1933 after his prior stint as acting governor.
Futrell's tenure was the most prolific to date with 21 executions. The run
closed with the deaths of three black males from Drew County who were convicted
of a homicide and killed on the same day of Dec. 11, 1936, which remains 1 of
the 5 deadliest days in the modern era just behind Feb. 12, 1926, and Nov. 14,
1930 - dates on which 4 black males were executed on the same day.
DEATH PENALTY DECLINE
For many years, there was a decline in use of the death penalty in Arkansas.
While influenced by the controversial 5-4 Furman v. Georgia decision, the state
had largely curtailed the practice on its own. After putting 8 men to death in
1960 and one in 1964, it would go on its longest dormancy period in history.
Before 1960, a year seldom went by without Arkansas executing 1 or more
This started to change with Gov. Francis Cherry, who took office on Jan. 13,
1953, and would serve only 2 years. He was the 1st since Martineau to serve 2
years or less. Until Cherry's tenure, Martineau held the distinction among
Arkansas governors who issued death warrants as being the one with the least
amount of executions for the modern era at 3. Cherry beat this by overseeing
the execution of only 1 prisoner - a 50-year-old Native-American man from
Garland County named Bill Jenkins for the crime of murder - before losing a
runoff election to eventual 6-term Gov. Orval Faubus.
Gov. Faubus was elected to his 1st term in 1954. Seeing that Faubus was the
longest-serving governor in the state's history with 12 years in office, one
might think him to be the most prolific warrant issuer. However, his
administration would oversee the executions of only 16 men, or barely 1 each
year, and he would also perform the last execution - Charles Fields in 1964 -
prior to the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark decision.
Faubus screeched the brakes of the death penalty after a busy 1959 and 1960,
during which 14 of his 16 warrants were carried out. Fields would be the only
execution from 1960 until Faubus left office in 1967, and he was the last until
former governor and 42nd President of the United States Bill Clinton resumed
its use in 1990.
Arkansas initially carried out executions on murderers and rapists. This
practice would remain legal until another U.S. Supreme Court decision - Coker
v. Georgia (1976) - ruled the death penalty was a disproportionate punishment
for the crime of raping an adult woman and was therefore in violation of the
Eighth Amendment. Fields was the last rapist to be executed in Arkansas and 1
of 21 rapists in the state's modern era.
Arkansas' interest in the death penalty resumed on June 18, 1990. A
comparatively busy execution schedule - at least compared to the previous 26
years - resumed with the death of John Swindler, who was the 1st prisoner to be
convicted for the crime of capital murder, or any murder that made a
perpetrator eligible for the death penalty. Each of the 26 prisoners executed
after Swindler, and all 34 of inmates now on Arkansas' death row carry the same
With Swindler's death - the last to be administered using the electric chair -
then-Gov. Clinton oversaw 2 executions, but signed a 3rd controversial warrant
in the case of mentally impaired murderer Ricky Ray Rector. Less than a month
after taking the oath of office as President, Clinton would return to the state
during Rector's execution, which officially occurred during Gov. Jim Guy
Tucker's 4 years in office.
Clinton has received criticism in more liberal circles for allowing the
execution of Rector to go forth as the convicted had shot himself in the head
in a suicide attempt after killing a man in a nightclub and then shooting and
killing Conway Police Officer Robert Martin in the aftermath. The resulting
gunshot wound effectively lobotomized Rector, who famously ordered pecan pie as
part of his last meal, then refused to eat it telling corrections officers he
was "saving it for later."
Political opponents, who ordinarily wouldn't have opposed the death penalty,
also criticized Clinton's return to Arkansas as a political move meant to
invoke the image of a leader tough on crime.
The circumstances of the case are noteworthy because after the death penalty
resumed in the U.S. and, subsequently, Arkansas, appeals processes grew
lengthier and more complex, bringing forth the valid question of which governor
would get "credit" for an execution.
For simplification, the 1990-present totals break down as such: Gov. Clinton
(2, with an asterisk by Rector), Gov. Tucker (9, same asterisk); and Gov. Mike
Huckabee (16 during his 10-plus years in office from July 15, 1996-Jan. 9,
2007). Huckabee also holds the distinction of being the only Republican
governor to oversee 1 or more executions. The remaining 180 were signed off on
by a total of 14 Democratic governors. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe, a
Democrat, said prior to leaving office he would have signed a law banning the
death penalty outright. That said, he issued 4 death warrants yet to be carried
The most recent inmate to be executed was 45-year-old convicted murderer Eric
Nance on Nov. 29, 2005.
The death penalty was temporarily suspended by the Arkansas Supreme Court on
June 22, 2012, after justices ruled then-current execution law was
unconstitutional because it allowed the executive branch to decide on some
execution issues which were under the purview of the legislature.
(source: KATV news)
Nevada's death penalty by the numbers
Lawmakers are taking up a bill that would do away with executions and ensure
life in prison is the harshest penalty a person can get in Nevada. Opponents
argue that it's too expensive for a penalty that is rarely carried out, and
isn't practical because the state can't even procure the drugs it needs to make
a lethal injection.
But while Democratic sponsor James Ohrenschall says he's "optimistic" that the
measure will garner enough support to get a vote in the committee where it
received an emotionally charged hearing last week, polls show less than 1/3 of
Nevada voters support abolishing capital punishment, and the Republican
governor who could veto the measure has reiterated that he supports the death
Here are some things to know about capital punishment:
31 - Number of states that have the death penalty.
12 - Number of people who have been executed in Nevada since 1977, after the
U.S. Supreme Court overturned a moratorium on the death penalty that had lasted
about 5 years. Of those, 11 were volunteers who hadn't exhausted their appeals
but voluntarily resigned to their executions. The 1 involuntary execution was
of Richard Moran, a defendant who hadn't exhausted all his legal resources when
he was initially on trial for 3 murders - he discharged his lawyers and changed
his pleas to guilty before he was sentenced to death.
81 - Number of Nevadans currently on death row. The latest addition was
24-year-old Javier Righetti, who was sentenced to death in Clark County on
March 21 for the murder of 15-year-old Alyssa Otremba in 2011. He is now the
youngest person on death row. Otremba's mother submitted testimony last week
supporting capital punishment.
0 - Death row inmates in Nevada who have exhausted their appeals and are
immediately eligible for execution. 1 inmate, Scott Dozier, is trying to
volunteer for execution.
160 - Total number of people sentenced to death in Nevada since 1977. There
have been 186 death sentences handed down in that time period - the discrepancy
comes because some defendants are sentenced to death more than once, such as
after a prior sentence reversal.
46.6 - Percentage of total Nevada death sentences that are reversed in a state
or federal court. Someone who has their death sentence reversed could
potentially get the same sentence again once the courts re-do the trial or the
31.2 - Percentage of Nevada cases in which an inmate is permanently taken off
death row because of a reversal or a vacated conviction or penalty. One example
of a vacated conviction is the case of Michael Domingues, who was convicted of
committing a double murder when he was 16 years old. A U.S. Supreme Court
decision in 2005 - 12 years after the killings - barred states from executing
people for crimes they committed while they were younger than 18.
1924 - The 1st time Nevada executed a prisoner by lethal gas. The state was the
1st in the world to legalize the so-called "Humane Death" method and employed
it at Nevada State Prison in Carson City until 1979. Prior to that, people in
Nevada were executed by hanging or firing squad.
2,288 - Number of people who died by homicide in Clark County from 2002 to
2015, according to the Clark County Coroner's Office. In that time, 18 people
were sentenced to death.
175 - Number of instances in which Clark County has filed a notice of intent to
seek the death penalty since 2005, according to Clark County Public Defender
Scott Coffee. Most of those cases lead to a plea deal, while about 1/3 of those
that proceed to trial result in a death sentence.
36.5 - Percentage of people on death row in Nevada who are black. That compares
with 47.5 % who are white and 12.1 % who are Hispanic. Nevada's total
population in 2016 was 8.6 % black, 52.3 % white and 28.6 % Hispanic.
Nationally, 42 % of death row inmates are black, 42 % are white and 13 % are
$858,000 - Amount of money the 2015 Nevada Legislature approved for a new
execution chamber at Ely State Prison, which also houses Nevada's death row
inmates. It was completed in late 2016 amid concerns that the old chamber, in
the shuttered Nevada State Prison, was not compliant with the Americans With
247 - Number of vendors the state contacted in September 2016 in an attempt to
get a supplier to replace an expired drug needed for the lethal cocktail. None
submitted a bid by the deadline a month later. Numerous pharmaceutical
companies have publicly opposed the use of their products for lethal
While the state is effectively unable to carry out executions, Clark County
District Attorney Steve Wolfson, who supports keeping the death penalty, said
he's confident after talking with Nevada prisons officials that there would be
a way forward if the need arose.
Asked about whether the state could carry out capital punishment, Nevada
Department of Corrections spokeswoman Brooke Keast said Wednesday that "we are
researching our options. I have no details beyond that."
1 option for obtaining drugs if an order comes down, NDOC director James
Dzurenda told KTNV, is asking other states to use drugs that they don't
$1.3 million - Estimated cost of a Nevada case in which the death penalty is
sought and an inmate is sentenced to death, but not executed, according to a
2014 analysis from the Legislative Counsel Bureau. That includes incarceration
costs. District attorneys pushed back on the LCB's findings in a Wednesday
hearing, saying their offices absorb death penalty cases into their regular
budgets and don't seek out extra money from counties to carry out such cases.
They also said, and the LCB acknowledged in its audit, that it was difficult to
accurately determine the amount of staff time that went into a specific death
penalty case because work hours are often not recorded like that.
$1.03 million - Estimated cost of a Nevada case in which the death penalty is
sought, an inmate is sentenced to death and an execution is carried out.
$775,000 - Estimated cost of a Nevada murder case in which the death penalty is
not sought, according to the LCB analysis. That includes incarceration.
67 - Percentage of Nevadans who support keeping the death penalty, according to
a Nevada Independent poll from January. Just 27 % oppose having capital
punishment, and 7 % were unsure.
0 - Level of support that veto power-wielding Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval
has expressed for attempts to abolish the death penalty.
"The Governor has historically supported the death penalty for criminals who
have committed the worst crimes," his office said in a statement Wednesday. "He
trusts the state's judicial system to determine a punishment that is equal to
the crime and does not support an attempt to abolish the death penalty."
(source: The Nevada Independent)
Does the death penalty target people who are mentally ill? We checked.
In January, Dylann Roof was sentenced to death for killing 9 black churchgoers
at a prayer meeting in Charleston, S.C. Since then, some commentators have
debated whether Roof should have had the right to fire his attorneys when they
wished to introduce evidence of mental illness - and whether, or when, mental
illness should disqualify someone for capital punishment.
Most Americans oppose the death penalty for the mentally ill, a category that
ranges from mild to severe. But our research suggests that the death penalty
actually targets those who have mental illnesses.
People who are executed have a far higher rate of mental illness than does the
Suicidal tendencies are particularly common. For instance, evidence suggests
that Roof had intended to shoot himself at the Emanuel African Methodist
Episcopal Church after the killings. When that failed, he refused legal defense
in the penalty phase of his trial. If a judge allows, he may refuse any legal
appeals, thus committing suicide by execution.
[U.S. executions and death sentences dropped dramatically in 2016 - except in a
Roof would be far from the first to do so. Since 1976, the United States has
executed 1,448 inmates; 141 of these have been "volunteers," those who waive
appeal. If suicidal tendencies are evidence of mental illness, then death
penalty states actively assist suicide.
Several states are considering banning the execution of people with severe
mental illnesses or brain injuries. In March 2016, the state of Texas executed
Adam Kelly Ward, whose bipolar disorder had been diagnosed when he was 4, for
shooting a city inspector, whom he apparently believed was threatening his
As Shaila Dewan of the New York Times reported, "The U.S. Supreme Court has
previously barred the execution of inmates who are so mentally impaired that
they do not comprehend that they are going to be executed, but it has stopped
short of outright banning the execution of the mentally ill."
In considering the boundaries of the death penalty, one of the Court's most
consistent problems has been how to treat the mentally ill.
We researched mental illness among those sentenced to death
In a forthcoming book we review the prevalence of mental illness among those
executed from 2000 through 2015. We used strict criteria, listing an inmate as
having an illness only if we found credible source material showing a diagnosis
of mental illness. We used only evidence or testimony presented at trial or
repeated in the news. This probably underestimated the prevalence of mental
illness - necessarily leaving out those who are undiagnosed, or for whom a
diagnosis was not presented at trial or in the sources we reviewed.
Even so, we found that 43 % of inmates executed between 2000 and 2015 had
received a mental illness diagnosis at some point in their lives.
The graph below compares the prevalence of the different diagnoses of these
executed inmates with that in the general public, as reported by the National
Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). The NIMH distinguishes between "serious
mental illness" and "any mental illness" in each category for the general
public. A serious mental illness, according to NIMH, results ???in serious
functional impairment, which substantially interferes with or limits one or
more major life activities." We had no way of distinguishing between these 2
categories for death row inmates, so we have included them both. However, the
"serious" category is most likely more accurate as a point of reference.
[my note: for article and graphs, see:
As you can see, every category of serious mental illness is significantly
higher among the executed inmates.
Note that 20 % of the executed inmates were diagnosed with a personality
disorder; 8.9 % were diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder. Although
sometimes associated with violent behavior or referred to as "sociopaths" or
"psychopaths," these are nonetheless debilitating mental illnesses, accompanied
by patterns of brain dysfunction and impairment.
For instance, Ernest West Basden was diagnosed with 3 personality disorders.
According to North Carolina Supreme Court documents related to the direct
review of the death sentence:
Dr. J. Don Everhart, a clinical psychologist, testified that defendant has a
dependent personality disorder; he is lacking in self-confidence and clings to
stronger people, performing unpleasant tasks for them to retain their support.
Dr. Everhart further testified that defendant has an avoidance personality
disorder; he is shy and uncomfortable in social settings and is easily
isolated. Finally, defendant has a schitzotypal personality disorder, with
feelings of being disembodied and disassociated from life events.
In 2002, the State of North Carolina executed Basden.
Depression and suicidal tendencies among those sentenced to death
When John H. Blume studied death row volunteers from 1976 through 2003, he
found that 88 percent had a mental illness or substance abuse disorder. Our
numbers were slightly lower, but similar. Among the volunteers executed from
2000 to 2015, 32.2 percent had attempted suicide and failed before being
executed. Roof has been diagnosed with depression, and had planned suicide. The
figure below shows rates of depression, suicidal tendencies, suicide attempts
and mental illness among executed inmates, comparing those who were
"volunteers" with those who were not. Various forms of mental illness are
common in both groups, but particularly so among the volunteers.
Childhood trauma and abuse among those sentenced to death
Trauma, while not a mental illness, is a risk factor for mental illness.
Certainly, a traumatic childhood should not be treated as the equivalent of an
impairing mental illness. Nevertheless, it's noteworthy that death row inmates
are much more likely than most Americans to have suffered trauma during
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, about 1 in 10 U.S.
children are abused or neglected. Among the executed inmates, we found evidence
that 39.7 % were abused during childhood. The CDC and independent researchers
have repeatedly found that childhood trauma's long-term effects include higher
likelihoods of disrupted neuro-development, cognitive impairment, mental
illness, and becoming the perpetrator or victim of violence.
In another study reviewing documents from 145 capital trials in North Carolina
between 1999 and 2009, 77.9 % of defendants provided evidence of at least 1
adverse childhood experience (ACE). ACEs include comparatively milder traumatic
experiences such as neglect, witnessing abuse, family divorce, substance abuse
or bullying. According to our research, death row inmates were far more likely
to have suffered some of the more traumatic ACEs, such as sexual abuse.
The graph below shows the prevalence of childhood abuse among the executed
inmates compared to government estimates of the prevalence of these same types
of abuse in the general public. Although childhood abuse cannot be considered a
defense against criminal behavior, it's notable that the death penalty
disproportionately targets those who have experienced severe childhood trauma.
The Supreme Court has declared that, under the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel
and unusual punishment, the United States can no longer execute juveniles,
those with intellectual deficiencies, or those who are insane as defined by
"whether the prisoner is aware of his impending execution and of the reason for
it." Current debates are considering whether those bans should extend to people
with severe mental illness. While considering the question, Americans may wish
to be aware that, statistically speaking, our current death penalty system does
appear to target precisely those people.
(soruce: Frank R. Baumgartner is the Richard J. Richardson distinguished
professor of political science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel
Hill, and co-author of the forthcoming book "Deadly Justice: A Statistical
Portrait of the Death Penalty" (Oxford University Press, 2017).
Betsy Neill will graduate from UNC at Chapel Hill in May with a bachelor's
degree in psychology and political science. She co-wrote the chapter in "Deadly
Justice" on mental illness----Washington Post)
A service courtesy of Washburn University School of Law www.washburnlaw.edu
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