2017-05-11 13:50:25 UTC
Death Watch: The Capital of Capital Punishment----Tilon Carter set for
execution - again
For the 2nd time this year, Tilon Carter faces execution - this time, he's set
for Huntsville's gurney next Tuesday, May 16. Carter was convicted of capital
murder in 2006 in Tarrant County, for the robbery and suffocation of
89-year-old James Eldon Tomlin. He received a stay in January based on a
technicality involving the filing of his death warrant, so the Court of
Criminal Appeals ordered the lower court to reset Carter's execution date.
Carter has exhausted his appeals, but maintains that Tomlin's death was
accidental. Robin Norris, his attorney, did not respond to requests for
The resetting of execution dates combined with last-minute stays is one of
several injustices highlighted in "Designed to Break You: Human Rights
Violations on Texas' Death Row," a recent report from the Human Rights Clinic
at the UT School of Law. The yearlong study focused on the Texas Department of
Criminal Justice's repeated resetting of execution dates, inmates' limited
access to religious services, and - most significantly - the Polunsky Unit's
use of solitary confinement.
Texas has been dubbed the Capital of Capital Punishment. Since the Supreme
Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, the state has executed 542 people.
(Carter would bump that to 543.) Oklahoma and Virginia have the 2nd and 3rd
most deadly death rows, each with 112 executions. Texas' death row inmates
spend 22-24 hours a day in solitary. Though the TDCJ allows inmates up to 2
hours of "recreation" time daily, the report notes: "In practice, death row
inmates often do not receive outdoor [time]." And even outside, the so-called
"yard" is a slightly larger cell closed off by high concrete walls and caging
over the top, which limits natural light. It's typical for death row inmates to
spend more than a decade living in these conditions prior to their execution.
Mandatory confinement has been required since the men's death row was
transferred from Huntsville to the Polunsky Unit in nearby West Livingston in
1999. All human contact has been banned as well. The TDCJ's severe use of
solitary and isolation has been called inhumane by the Inter-American
Commission on Human Rights, the Organization of American States, and the
European Convention on Human Rights. The UT report states the use of solitary,
to such a degree, is incredibly detrimental to inmates' mental health - most
noticeably those already suffering from mental illness. In what is dubbed
"death row syndrome," prisoners report experiencing severe depression, memory
loss, suicidal tendencies, and more. The study summarizes, they're "effectively
subject to a severe form of psychological torture every day of their lives."
Asked for a response to the study, Jason Clark, the TDCJ's director of public
information, told us: "Offenders on death row are individuals who've been
convicted of heinous crimes and given the harshest sentence possible under the
law. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice will continue to ensure it
fulfills its mission of public safety and house death row offenders
According to Ariel Dulitzky, a UT Law professor and the director of the Human
Rights Clinic, TDCJ declined to meet with the clinic over the course of the
study, and has yet to respond to a follow-up request made earlier this month.
However, Dulitzky said the clinic hopes this report will secure a "complete
ban" of mandatory solitary confinement. In the interim, the clinic is
advocating for the prohibition of confinement for all inmates with mental
health problems, for the implementation of "physical contact visits with
families and attorneys, communal religious services," and for improvements to
(source: Austin Chronicle)
Convicted rapist, murderer to get off death row
A convicted rapist and murderer will be removed from death row due to new
evidence and changes in the law, according to the Harris County District
Robert James Campbell, 44, was sentenced to death in the 1990's for the murder
of Alexandra Rendon.
Rendon, a Houston bank teller, was kidnapped from a gas station and driven to a
remote location in south Houston in 1991. Campbell and an accomplice raped and
robbed her. Campbell then fatally shot Rendon in the back as she tried to run
Campbell was set to be executed in 2014, but the 5th US Circuit Court of
Appeals halted the punishment at the last minute.
The court allowed defense attorneys to pursue an appeal, which claimed Campbell
was mentally impaired due to his low IQ, and ineligible for the death penalty.
A 70 IQ is the minimum threshold set by the court.
The appeal has been pending ever since.
Then Wednesday morning, prosecutors with the Texas Attorney General???s Office
filed a request for the case to be sent back to state court to be sentenced
Prosecutors say they can no longer contest Campbell is intellectually disabled
due to new evidence and a recent Supreme Court decision regarding intellectual
disability and the death penalty.
Attorneys say they recently found an IQ test that Campbell had completed in the
6th grade. He scored a 68, which is below the execution standard.
Both the original prosecutors and defense attorneys reportedly overlooked the
document in 1991.
Because of the new developments, officials say Campbell will likely be
re-sentenced to life in prison.
Due to the laws at the time of the original trial, he will immediately be
eligible for parole.
Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said Wednesday that she will do
everything in her power to ensure Robert James Campbell is never released from
Rob Owen, of Northwestern University School of Law, released the following
statement on behalf of Campbell's legal team:
"On behalf of Robert's legal team, I want to say that we are grateful that
Robert Campbell's life will be spared as a result of the Attorney General's
decision to conclude this litigation. Given the overwhelming evidence of Mr.
Campbell's intellectual disability, it was only a matter of time until the
courts reached the same conclusion, and further delay would not have served
anyone's interests. We hope that the family and loved ones of Alexandra Rendon
can take some comfort in having this matter finally resolved, and we are
profoundly sorry for their terrible loss."
(source: KHOU news)
Texas Suit Over Death Penalty Drug Faces Steep Odds
Texas will likely be fighting an uphill battle against the U.S. Food and Drug
Administration in its suit over the agency's import ban of a drug used to carry
out lethal injection executions, in a case that highlights the issues of buying
such drugs from overseas sources.
After the FDA blocked the admission of 1,000 vials of sodium thiopental from a
foreign distributor, the state sued the agency at the end of April, claiming
that it was overstepping its statutory authority. The drugs had first arrived
at the Houston airport in 2015 and the state had initially sued in January over
the delay in receiving them.
But as the FDA told the Texas Department of Criminal Justice in an April 20
letter, the agency is bound by a 5-year-old D.C. Circuit ruling enjoining the
FDA from allowing the entry of shipments of foreign-made sodium thiopental that
appears to be an unapproved new drug or misbranded. And in the FDA's view, the
drugs at issue seem to be unapproved new drugs and are missing adequate
directions for use.
Texas' suit is a broader challenge to the FDA's authority and whether the
agency can stop the drug from being used, according to John Sullivan of Cozen
"Since the attack is at their authority and regulatory agencies usually want to
defend their authority and how broad it will be, I suspect they're going to
fight this," Sullivan said.
And the suit illustrates the difficulties states with death penalties have
encountered in sourcing the lethal injection drug since the last domestic
manufacturer stopped producing it in 2010, said professor Corinna Barrett Lain
of the University of Richmond.
"The U.S. primarily relies on an execution method that, in turn, relies on
overseas supplies from countries that don't want us to execute," Lain said.
"All of Big Pharma is in Europe, and Europe has been abolitionist on the death
penalty and claimed it as a core value, and they have vowed to abolish the
death penalty worldwide."
The 2012 D.C. Circuit ruling was the result of a suit brought by a group of
death row inmates who claimed that the FDA's decision to allow such imports
could result in botched executions. Sodium thiopental is an anesthetic used as
the 1st element of a chemical cocktail used in executions and if it fails to
take effect, a prisoner could still remain conscious and in pain during the
administration of the other drugs, the inmates had claimed.
In that suit, both the FDA and the prisoners agreed that the drug was
misbranded and an unapproved new drug, both reasons for the FDA to be able to
stop its distribution in the U.S., Sullivan noted.
That case centered on whether the FDA could use its enforcement discretion to
allow sodium thiopental in the country, even though it was misbranded and an
unapproved new drug - and the appeals court rejected the agency's argument that
it could use that discretion, Sullivan said.
Texas is contending that sodium thiopental is not a "new drug" under the Food,
Drug and Cosmetic Act and that it is not misbranded. The drugs seized at the
Houston airport in 2015 are labeled as "Rx only," along with an indication that
it's a controlled substance, according to the suit. There are no instructions
about its use - which the drug doesn't need because it's not intended to treat
patients, Texas said in its suit - and therefore, it's not a new drug that
needs to be approved.
But the statements on the drugs do count as labeling, Sullivan said.
"These are all things we consider labeling, so you do have labeling and you
don't have the required instructions for use that need to go with it," Sullivan
said. "You're not approved and you need to be approved."
Texas is also arguing that sodium thiopental falls under an exemption in the
Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act for law enforcement purposes, like capital
punishment, and thus doesn't need to comply with the statute's labeling
That argument is unlikely to gain traction, Kurt Karst of Hyman Phelps &
McNamara PC said, as that part of the FDCA was enacted in 1956, well before any
of the states used lethal injection for executions.
And when Hospira Inc., the lone domestic manufacturer of the drug, closed its
aging plant in North Carolina, it originally intended to resume production in a
facility in Italy. However, the company changed its plans when Italian
authorities informed Hospira it would be held liable if the drug was used for
capital punishment, and it issued a statement in 2011 saying it was getting out
of the business.
As other major pharmaceutical companies have likewise left the market, death
penalty states have turned to "shady suppliers," Lain said.
In 2015, BuzzFeed and other outlets reported that Texas, Arizona and Nebraska
bought sodium thiopental from a company in India called Harris Pharma, run by
Chris Harris, a man with no pharmaceutical background.
At the time, BuzzFeed reported that the location Harris told American
authorities where his company is based was actually an apartment where he used
to live but that was abandoned after months of not paying rent.
And the facility registered with the FDA is an office space in India's Salt
Lake City, a town on the outskirts of Kolkata, BuzzFeed reported based on
Freedom of Information Act requests.
"Harris Pharma is an example of why you need federal authorities watching,"
Lain said. "You're getting it from a con man who can't pay his rent, which
means it's indisputable he's getting it from the gray market and black market."
A phone number and email address for Harris were no longer in service, although
the website IndiaMart.com lists sodium thiopental for sale from the company.
Texas and other states have secrecy laws protecting information about what
happens in executions, including who manufactures the drugs and tests them.
This makes it impossible for there to be any public oversight, Lain said.
A spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice declined to comment on
the source of its lethal injection drugs, beyond saying that they are tested by
an independent laboratory for potency and purity.
Eric Frein Files Appeal to Death Penalty
Convicted murderer Eric Frein filed his 1st post-sentence motion after his
conviction and sentencing.
In his 1st appeal of his conviction and death sentence for the murder of
Pennsylvania State Police Trooper Bryon Dickson during the PSP ambush at the
Blooming Grove Barracks in 201. He also critically wounded PSP Corporal Alex
Among the reasons cited in the appeal for overturning the sentence, Frein's
lawyers criticize the trial judge for overruling their objection to the content
and length of the victim impact testimony "That testimony was highly emotional,
lengthy and overrode any logical reasoned moral decision the jury could make to
spare the life of the defendant," they argue.
The appeal also argues the judge did not allow the Jury the opportunity of
considering mitigating circumstances in sentencing Frein to death. "This denial
resulted in the Jury's finding of no mitigating circumstances since Defendant's
mitigation was not a defense or an excuse.
Dylann Roof's attorneys suspected he had autism, said he had 'blushing attacks'
Attorneys representing Charleston church killer Dylann Roof told an examiner
Roof suffered from "blushing attacks," believed his forehead is "too large and
ugly" and likely suffered from autism, according to a recently unsealed
evaluation that was conducted to see if Roof was mentally fit to stand trial.
The Nov. 15 report revealed extensive details involving Roof's past, including
a drug history dating to when he was 12 years old and used marijuana 3 times a
day. The report says Roof took Xanax 20 times when he was 13, although it's
unclear over how much time. He also was treated for alcohol and marijuana as an
outpatient from March 2009 through June 2009.
The report, unsealed Wednesday, was an evaluation ordered by presiding federal
Judge Richard Gergel following a letter that Roof submitted to the prosecution
claiming his attorneys were preparing to use a "lie that he was autistic" and
that he disagreed with it. The evaluation delayed the start of the federal
trial until December.
Other details revealed include that when Roof was arrested with a friend in
2010 - the report doesn't say why - they were so "extremely intoxicated" that
Roof had to be evaluated and treated at a hospital. His attorneys said that
Roof also allegedly told people that he had stopped using marijuana because it
made him paranoid and hear voices.
Roof told his evaluators that he had suffered from perhaps one panic attack and
previously had been placed on medication for anxiety, the report said. Yet,
Roof's defense attorneys told the evaluator that Roof did not want pictures
shown in court because he suffered from "blushing attacks."
"They describe that he has 'blushing attacks' when he is upset in public, and
his 'whole body blushes, including his face, arms, and exposed areas,'" the
report said. "One of their experts has suggested it is like panic attack. These
attacks began when he was 16, and the triggers are not clear."
His attorneys also said Roof was obsessed with his appearance, primarily his
forehead, which he felt was "too large and ugly." Roof's attorneys went on to
say that they suspected he didn't push for the prosecution of the inmate who
beat him while in jail because the picture taken of Roof after the attack
required him to pull his hair back and expose his forehead to document
injuries, the report said.
Other details shared in a different report from January revealed Roof did not
want any mental health evidence introduced at his trial because he didn't want
"any issue to take away from the rationale he had for committing his crimes."
At the time, Roof told evaluator Dr. James Ballenger that his (Roof's) lawyers
"think he should primarily fight for his life and that be his number one
priority, and he disagrees," wrote Ballenger in the Jan. 1 report to Gergel.
"He (Roof) said that he has only two options (death and life in prison), and
they are both 'equally bad.' That is why preserving his reputation is the most
important issue for him, not whether he receives the death penalty or life in
prison," wrote James Ballenger, the court-appointed evaluator.
"He stated that if his reputation was ruined, ... that his 'life would be
ruined.' He continues to feel that the only thing that is important to him is
to protect his reputation," Ballenger wrote.
At the end of the report, Ballenger gave his opinion: Roof was competent to
continue with his ongoing death penalty trial in the 2015 white supremacist
slayings of nine innocent African-American church members at a historic
Charleston church Bible study.
In December, a federal jury in Charleston had found Roof guilty of the
killings. On Jan. 10, after 3 hours of deliberations, the jury gave an
unremorseful Roof the death penalty.
Ballenger's Jan. 1 22-page report to the judge was one of hundreds of pages was
unsealed Wednesday by Gergel. During the trial, Gergel kept numerous documents
sealed to preserve Roof???s right to a fair trial.
The process of unsealing has been time-consuming, in part because Roof and his
lawyers had objections to much of the sealed record.
Death row inmate continues fight against sentence----Loran Cole has been
convicted of 1st-degree murder, 2 counts of kidnapping, 2 counts of robbery
with a deadly weapon and 2 counts of sexual battery.
Death row inmate Loran Cole, 50, who killed an 18-year-old college student in
the Ocala National Forest in 1994, is fighting a judge's denial of his 3rd
motion to vacate his death sentence.
On Friday, Feb. 18, 1994, Cole, then-27, and William Paul, then-20, befriended
siblings Pam and John Edwards, who planned to spend the weekend camping in the
forest. Cole briefly met them when the Edwards' were setting up their camp,
introduced himself as "Kevin" and helped them set up the rest of their site.
After the Edwards' finished dinner, Cole and Paul returned to the sibling's
campsite and all 4 decided to walk to a nearby pond around 10:45 p.m.
They never found the pond. Cole jumped Pam Edwards, handcuffed her and threw
her on the ground. John Edwards attacked Paul after that and then Cole helped
Paul subdue the brother and threw him on the ground next to his sister. Paul
took Pam Edwards up the path while Cole stayed back with John Edwards. John
Edwards died that night from a slashed throat and 3 blows to the head, which
caused his skull to fracture.
Cole, Paul and Pam Edwards returned to the sibling's campsite, where Cole
threatened to kill her if she did not have sexual intercourse with him. The
next day, he again forced her to have sexual intercourse with her and then
gagged her and tied her to a tree. Cole and Paul took off in one of the
By Sunday, Pam Edwards was able to free herself. She looked for her brother but
was unable to find him. She then flagged down a motorist who took her to call
The body of John Edwards was found later that day by law enforcement officers.
In 1995, Cole and Paul were convicted of 1st-degree murder, 2 counts of
kidnapping and two counts of robbery with a deadly weapon. Cole also was found
guilty as charged with 2 counts of sexual battery. Paul was sentenced to life
in prison and Cole was sentenced to death.
Cole has contested his conviction about nine times - filing motions to vacate
his sentence or writs of habeas corpus (unlawful detention). All the efforts so
far have been denied either at the circuit court or Florida Supreme Court
level. Cole tried to take his case to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2007, but his
petition was denied.
The most recent motion to vacate Cole???s death sentence was denied by 5th
Judicial Circuit Court Judge Willard Pope on March 20. Cole's attorney Ali
Shakoor, of Capital Collateral Regional Counsel, appealed Pope's decision to
the Florida Supreme Court on April 17.
State Attorney Brad King and Assistant Attorney General Vivian Singleton are
representing the state in this case.
Wednesday's status conference was ordered by the Florida Supreme Court to
ensure that all the requested materials for the appeal are delivered in a
timely manner. A transcript from the motion's Feb. 21 hearing has been
requested. A representative from the Clerk of Court's office said the
transcripts should be ready by May 19.
In the current motion, Cole claims his death sentence violates his Fifth,
Sixth, Eighth and Fourteenth amendments, and the Florida Constitution; that the
new death penalty law requires the court to revisit and reevaluate his case;
and that the fact-finding for his death sentence was not proven beyond a
Pope wrote in his order, in answer to all claims, that the new Florida law does
not apply retroactively to Cole's case. It is now up to the Florida Supreme
Court to decide whether Pope is right.
Cole is 1 of 8 Marion County murderers on death row. The Florida Supreme Court
has ordered resentencing for 2 death row inmates: William Kopsho, 63, who was
sentenced to death in 2009 for the murder of his wife Lynne Kopsho, 21; and
Renaldo McGirth, 29, who was sentenced to death in 2008 for the murder of Diana
(source: Ocala Star Banner)
Judge denies re-sentencing for Santa Rosa death row inmate
Judge Ross Goodman on Wednesday denied a Santa Rosa County death row inmate's
motion for a new penalty phase proceeding.
Norman Grim was convicted of the murder and sexual battery of Pensacola
attorney Cynthia Campbell in 2000. He sought a new sentencing period under
revised Florida death penalty laws that came into effect in March.
The new law requires a unanimous jury verdict for a defendant to be sentenced
to death. Previously, juries needed a 10-2 vote to send someone to death row,
but the local case Hurst v. Florida set the precedent for changing the law.
Hurst's counsel claimed it was unconstitutional to send someone to death
without a unanimous ruling.
Unlike Hurst, however, Grim's jury came to a unanimous verdict, according to a
State Attorney's Office news release issued Wednesday.
A jury found Grim guilty of 1st-degree murder and sexual battery with the use
of a deadly weapon in the death of Campbell, his neighbor.
Grim was reported missing July 27, 1998, and her body, which was wrapped in
sheets and garbage bags, was pulled from Pensacola Bay that same day, according
to News Journal archives. Autopsy evidence presented in court showed Campbell
had been struck in the head by a hammer and stabbed in the chest.
Grim is among several local death row inmates who have attempted to be
re-sentenced under the Hurst ruling.
At a recent hearing, Leonard Patrick Gonzalez Jr. tried to be re-sentenced for
his role in the death of Byrd and Melanie Billings at their Beulah home.
Willie Hodges, who was convicted of killing Patricia Belanger with a claw
hammer and knife, will be re-sentenced under the ruling.
Juries recommended both Gonzalez and Hodges be sent to death with votes of
(source: Pensacola News Journal)
Huntsville man doesn't remember killing 2 men at church food pantry, doctor
Richard Burgin Jr., convicted Tuesday of capital murder for stabbing 2 food
pantry volunteers at a Huntsville church, doesn't remember the gruesome
stabbings, a psychologist testified Wednesday.
Dr. Carol Walker, testifying as a defense witness in the penalty phase of
Burgin's trial, that she interviewed him about 15 times over the past 2 years.
"He told me he does not remember being involved in the murder," Walker said.
"But he expressed empathy - he was sympathetic for the victims."
Burgin stabbed to death brothers Anthony and Terry Jackson on May 21, 2013, at
the West Huntsville United Methodist Church.
The jury needed a little more than three hours of deliberation to find him
guilty of capital murder, returning that verdict late Tuesday morning.
Under Alabama law following a capital murder conviction, the jury must render
an advisory sentencing verdict to the judge - either the death penalty or life
in prison without the possibility of parole.
Testimony has ended in the penalty phase and attorneys on both sides will make
closing arguments Wednesday afternoon before the jury begins deliberations on
its advisory verdict. Circuit Judge Laura Hall will sentence Burgin with the
jury's recommendation or decide to reverse it and issue her own sentence.
A new Alabama law that removes that provision for judges to reverse a jury's
sentencing verdict in capital murder trials is not in play in this trial.
Signed into law last month by Gov. Kay Ivey, it stipulates that a capital
murder charge must be brought after the law went into effect. Burgin was
arrested and charged in 2014.
While Burgin's girlfriend, Ronda Greene, and his sister, Nicki Burgin,
testified Wednesday, Walker's time on the stand consumed most of the morning.
She outlined her research into Burgin's life - detailing a childhood in which
he liked to help his mother cook and eventual drug use that began once he
became an adult. His drug of choice, Walker said, was crack cocaine.
Prosecutors argued that Burgin went to the church to get money to buy drugs and
when none was available, he fatally stabbed the Jackson brothers.
Walker also told the jury that Burgin suffered from bi-polar disorder,
post-traumatic stress disorder and a cocaine addiction. He spent much of his
development raised by an aunt and his grandparents, the psychologist said.
Burgin served in the U.S. Coast Guard, she said.
Burgin has been married and divorced twice, Walker said, and he has no
relationship with his 6 children.
Under cross-examination, Walker said that Burgin had spent up to 20 years in
prisons in Alabama, Florida and Texas. Previous testimony revealed Burgin was
on parole for a robbery conviction when he committed the murders.
His releases from prison typically led to more trouble for Burgin, Walker said.
He would eventually return to drug abuse and, eventually, incarceration.
"He always went back to cocaine after he left prison," she said.
Activists aim to stop executions
Derrick Jamison of Middletown was sentenced to death in October, 1985, charged
with the murder of a Cincinnati bartender killed during a robbery. Police had
arrested Jamison following a later robbery and discovered his shoe prints
matched those found at the murder site. A man charged with acting as an
accomplice to the murder fingered Jamison as the killer, then was rewarded with
a reduced sentence for his testimony. Yet an eyewitness to the murder failed to
put Jamison - who is unusually tall - at the murder site, evidence later found
to have been suppressed by the Hamilton County prosecutor.
After serving 20 years in prison, and 17 on death row, enduring 6 stays of
executions and coming to within 90 minutes of his execution, Jamison in 2005
was exonerated for the murder. And this Saturday, May 6, he will be one of
several exonerated former death row prisoners to speak at an open house
organized by Ohioans to Stop Executions.
"What I experienced on death row, what I saw my friends experience, I don't
want others to have to live through that," Jamison said this week in a phone
interview. "I know the pain and the heartache."
The event takes place at 400 N. Enon Road just west of Yellow Springs, the home
of Dayton defense attorney Jon Paul Rion. All are welcome to the event, and
donations are encouraged. A preview of a documentary on the death penalty will
be shown, and current legislative highlights presented. RSVP to
Most promising of current legislation is a bill in the Ohio legislature that
would exclude those with serious mental illnesses - such as schizophrenia,
bipolar disorder and major depressive disorder - from being sentenced to death.
"This is a reform that we're optimistic we can get done in 2017," said Kevin
Werner, executive director of Ohioans to Stop Executions, in a phone interview
last week. "We want to share what people can do to make this a reality."
Rion, on the board of Ohioans to Stop Executions, is hosting the open house
because he feels strongly that the death penalty is both misguided and wrong.
'I'm clearly against the death penalty for both practical and philosophical
reasons," he said in an interview last week.
As a defense attorney for more than 20 years, Rion has seen compelling evidence
for opposing the death penalty on practical reasons alone. First, a guilty
conviction often reflects the skills of both the competing attorneys more than
the actual guilt of the defendent, he said.
"In trying cases, it becomes evident that the skill of the lawyers involved is
incredibly relevant to the outcome of the case," he said. "It's unfair that the
life of someone depends on the skills of the defense and prosecuting
And data also indicates that race is a factor, with black defendents
proportionately more likely than whites to receive death sentences. While
there's no evidence that the bias toward sentencing black defendents is
conscious, it is nonetheless statistically real, according to Rion.
"From a practical point of view, it's difficult to support a policy where these
biases can't be removed," he said.
And finally, the death penalty is expensive, costing about $800,000 more per
defendent than life in prison due to extensive and years-long legal costs.
Currently, there are 157 people on death row in Ohio, according to Rion.
"That's an awful lot of tax dollars going to a small group of people," he said.
Perhaps most importantly, the mood of the country is shifting around the death
penalty issue, according to Rion.
"It's a crucial time in this country for the death penalty," he said. "People
are questioning it in many ways and courts are re-evaluating whether due
process is achievable."
In Ohio, the Sixth Court of Appeals in Cincinnati is scheduled to rehear its
previous decision, made last month, that upheld the January decision of a
Dayton U.S. Magistrate that put on hold the state's plan to execute 8
prisoners. The hearing will take place June 14. In the January hearing, U.S.
Magistrate Michael Merz ruled that the use of the drug midazolam in a 3-drug
protocol planned for use in executions made a tortuous death likely, and thus
the executions could not proceed. The state has not executed death row
prisoners since January 2014, when witnesses described the 26-minute struggle
of Dennis McGuire before his death, in which midazolam was used.
"We all recognize that was a botched execution," Werner said last week. Since
2014, Ohio hasn't found a way to resume executions, although the state has
continued to try to do so. But as the public has become more aware that a death
sentence is far more costly and complicated than life without parole, juries
have turned away from the death sentence, he said.
And there's growing awareness that sometimes the wrong person is killed. Since
the death sentence was reinstated by the Supreme Court in 1977, 157 death row
prisoners nationwide have been exonerated of the charges, with charges
dismissed due to new DNA or other evidence. In Ohio since 1975, nine prisoners
have been exonerated after receiving a sentence of death.
"It's unquestionable that during this time the state has executed an innocent
person," Werner said.
Jamison, the exonerated former death row prisoner, agrees with Werner.
"I know innocent people have died," he said, noting the 157 exonerated former
prisoners. "That's 157 mistakes that were made."
Public support for the death penalty has weakened due to all of these factors,
Werner said, and while a majority of Americans once supported the death
penalty, it appears a majority now opposes it. Adding to that decreased support
is that the death penalty does not appear to serve the deterrant effect that
its supporters have long touted; indeed, states without a death penalty have
fewer murder convictions, rather than more.
But most important of all, the death penalty is just plain wrong, according to
local retired physician Carl Hyde.
"The idea that you should execute someone because that person has killed
someone is based on revenge, and revenge is not a constructive way to deal with
human beings," Hyde said, stating that both his training as a physician and his
beliefs as a Quaker have brought him to his strong opposition to the death
penalty. Hyde has traveled to Lucasville, Ohio, about 20 times since the state
reinstated the death penalty in 1999, to serve as a witness to an execution.
Doing so, he said, is a "leading" he feels from God, to bear witness to
something he feels is wrong.
Support for the death penalty in the United States has evolved over the years,
and from 1967 to 1977, there were no executions. In 1972, the Supreme Court
ruled the death penalty to be unconstitutional, but following that ruling, more
states instituted new death penalty provisions and the death penalty was
reinstated in 1976.
No other Western nation has a death penalty, and in the world, the countries
that execute the most citizens are China, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the
United States, in that order, according to Amnesty International.
But some death penalty opponents believe the time is right for this country, or
at least this state, to put an end to punishing its citizens with death.
"Things are changing very quickly regarding the death penalty," Rion said. "The
courts and society are asking the foundational questions."
For more information on efforts to halt the death penalty in Ohio, go online to
Ohioans to Stop Executions at otse.org.
A service courtesy of Washburn University School of Law www.washburnlaw.edu
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