Discussion:
death penalty news----TEXAS, DEL., FLA., ALA., MISS., LA., OHIO
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Rick Halperin
2017-05-26 14:07:28 UTC
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May 26




TEXAS:

Appeals court: Names of Texas execution drug suppliers should have been public


A Texas appeals court ruled Thursday against expanding government secrecy in a
case involving the public's right to know who supplies the lethal drugs Texas
uses to execute death row inmates.

The decision in favor of openness by the state's 3rd Court of Appeals addressed
the broader question about when potential safety concerns should trump the
public's right to know how the state is spending taxpayer money.

The ruling likely has a limited effect immediately, however, because the Texas
Legislature passed a law requiring state prison officials to keep the
identities of the drug makers secret.

But the case has been watched by open-government advocates who said its outcome
could be significant in other cases where the state has withheld information by
claiming that doing so could create "a substantial threat of physical harm" --
a litmus test put in place by the Texas Supreme Court in 2011 in a case
involving gubernatorial security records.

The appeal came after a state district judge in Austin ordered officials to
make information about drug suppliers public under the state's open records
act.

The lawsuit and appeal were filed by attorneys representing two condemned
convicts challenging their impending executions. Both convicts were executed
while the case was pending.

Lawyers for the Texas Department Criminal Justice argued that officials need to
keep the names and details about the suppliers secret to prevent them from
being threatened or harmed by death-penalty opponents.

Attorneys representing the convicts argued that the threats were vague and
should not preempt public disclosure.

State officials could appeal the ruling to the Texas Supreme Court.

Maurie Levin, an Austin attorney who was 1 of 3 parties who challenged the
secrecy, said the ruling is significant because it overruled the state's
assertion that the suppliers of lethal drugs were confidential under the Texas
Public Information Act.

And while the law has since been changed to allow state officials to keep the
information secret, "it's a significant opinion because it affirms that the
reasons (the state) used to withhold the information were not appropriate," she
said.

"Information may be withheld if disclosure would threat a substantial threat of
physical harm," the opinion cites as the standard for releasing information.
Levin said the appellate decision affirms that the state did not meet that
standard.

Representatives with the Texas Attorney General's Office and the state
Department of Criminal Justice said they were reviewing the decision and had no
immediate comment.

(source: Houston Chronicle)






DELAWARE:

Smyk, Schwartzkopf vote in favor of death penalty----Retired state troopers say
CO Lt. Steven Floyd shows need for capital punishment


When the call came for a House vote on the bill reinstating the death penalty
in Delaware, main sponsor Rep. Steve Smyk said he wasn't nervous.

"It was easier than I thought. I thought it might just barely pass," said the
Milton and Lewes area Republican May 16. "But, I believed I had the votes when
I walked onto the floor that day."

In August 2016, the state Supreme Court ruled Delaware's capital punishment law
is unenforceable because the law allows a judge and not a unanimous jury to
rule if a crime's aggravating circumstance justified a death sentence.

House Bill 125, entitled the Extreme Protection Act, would require a jury to
determine unanimously at least one statutory aggravating circumstance exists
and to impose the death penalty. The bill passed through the House by a 24-16
vote May 9.

All 9 Sussex County legislators voted in favor of the bill, but Smyk, a retired
state trooper, said the bipartisan support from across the state - there were
10 Democrats - shows it's not just his district that wants the death penalty
reinstated in Delaware.

"That's the majority of the state," he said.

Speaker of the House Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf, of Rehoboth was one of the
Democrats who supported the bill.

"I've said all along I wouldn't be driving the bus, but I'd be on it," he said.

Schwartzkopf, also a retired state trooper, said most of his beliefs on the
issue come from his years of experience as a police officer. He said people act
tough when they're running around outside, but then they'll plead guilty and
get life because they're afraid of dying. Once they're in the system with a
life sentence, he said, nothing prevents them from doing something else if the
death penalty is not an option.

"I firmly believe that if the death penalty was a punishment, the homicide of
Steven Floyd would not have happened," said Schwartzkopf speaking of the
correction officer who was murdered during a prisoner uprising in February at
Vaughn Correctional Center near Smyrna. "We???ll never know, but even if
someone is found guilty, they're just going to get life in jail again."

Smyk agrees with Schwarztkopf's sentiment.

"If [Floyd] was not an example of why Delaware needs the death penalty, I don't
know what is," he said.

The bill has been assigned to the Senate Judicial & Community Affairs
Committee, which, as of May 17, does not have a meeting scheduled. The 5-member
committee is chaired by Senate Majority Leader Margaret Rose Henry,
D-Wilmington East, and also includes Sen. Bruce Ennis, D-Smyrna, Sen. Robert
Marshall, D-Wilmington West, Senate Minority Whip Sen. Gregory Lavelle,
R-Sharpley, and Sen. Dave Lawson, R-Marydel. The bill is 1 of 15 waiting to be
heard by the committee.

In the time since the bill passed the House, Smyk said he has not been out
shaking trees in the Senate looking for votes.

"I want to allow legislators to vote their districts," he said. "My district is
very much in favor of the bill."

Sen. Ernie Lopez, R-Lewes, said he has previously voted against the death
penalty and he will stay consistent with his past votes. He said he does not
support reinstating the death penalty because, he says, the state should not be
in the business of ending life. Lopez said he fully supports measures to
protect law enforcement, but capital punishment has not been shown to deter
crime, and he has heard no new evidence to change his mind.

(source: Cape Gazette)






FLORIDA:

Life On Death Row: Michael Lambrix Has Thrice Avoided Execution


Michael Lambrix, a 57-year-old death row inmate, walked into the small room
with a smile as he greeted the lieutenant standing by the door.

He's in an orange jumpsuit, bulky handcuffs and prison guard by his side. The
location: the Florida State Prison in Raiford.

Lambrix joked with the lieutenant saying this wasn't his 1st interview. Later,
he says, "This is your show, I'm just along for the ride."

Lambrix has been on death row for 33 years. He was convicted in 1984 for 2
1st-degree murders. He was sentenced to death for killing Clarence Moore with a
tire iron and strangling Aleisha Bryant in Glades County in 1983.

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court decided against re-examining Florida's death
penalty as Attorney General Pam Bondi had requested, so Lambrix could again
face execution in the coming years. Or he could appeal. Again.

----

Lambrix and his girlfriend, Francis Smith, met Moore and Bryant and invited the
2 to their trailer home. After Lambrix and Moore tried to prank Bryant, Bryant
and Moore started to argue. The argument, according to Lambrix, escalated.
Lambrix walked out and found Moore on top of Bryant, shaking her. In that
moment, Lambrix hit Moore with a tire iron.

"Yes, you relive that night over and over again," he says. "Regardless of the
circumstances, if anyone possesses even a minimal measure of moral conscience,
when you take a life, even if you believe you're justified, you don't get over
it. It stays with you. It becomes a part of who you are. At the most unexpected
moments, you relieve that."

Smith testified against Lambrix, confirming he killed Moore and Bryant. Lambrix
later went on to claim that Smith was having an affair with an investigator.
The trial court disregarded the claim after conducting an evidentiary hearing.
Another witness recanted her testimony, but the trial court deemed the
recantation as unreliable.

Lambrix says he used to be very angry with Smith, but after 33 years, he's over
it. What he would do if he ever saw her?

"I probably would give her a big hug and tell her I forgive her," Lambrix says.
"She's a victim too."

Lambrix tried reaching out to Bryant's family members, but he said they
remained hostile, and they ordered the prison to stop any communication from
him toward their family.

"I still think about them a lot and I still pray for them," he says.

----

Despite his persistent claim of innocence for Bryant's murder and for killing
Moore in self-defense, Lambrix was sentenced to death.

"I've faced imminent execution three times. Twice in 1988 and once just this
past year," he says. "In 1988, I came within hours. This time (in 2016), I came
within a week."

During 3-plus decades on death row, Lambrix filed several petitions, motions,
writs and appeals to the state and federal courts. He filed appeals for his
case based on ineffective trial counsel and the courts not looking at DNA
evidence. Lambrix said the court denied the appeal that he's entitled to DNA
testing to prove innocence: "They have the evidence, but they refuse to test
it. All they have to do is test the clothing that Aleisha Bryant wore that
night for touch DNA."

The Florida Supreme Court blocked his most recent scheduled execution in
January 2016. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court declared Florida's death
penalty sentencing as unconstitutional. The nation's highest court found the
state law gave judges too much power; Florida now requires a unanimous jury
recommendation for the death penalty. The jury was not unanimous in its death
sentences for either killing.

Lambrix recently lost his appeal for a new sentence. He is currently waiting
for the Florida Supreme Court to address his appeal for a rehearing. But he's
ready for the court to deny it.

"We have a comprehensive innocence appeal that we will file the day after they
deny rehearing, which will present solid scientific evidence substantiating my
innocence," Lambrix said.

Lambrix is now on a temporary stay of execution.

"Any day now, I can go back under an act of the death warrant and have a 30 day
countdown to my next execution."

The countdown will not start until the Florida Supreme Court addresses the
pending issue of his rehearing. Right now, Lambrix is in what he calls "limbo."

After recounting his story, Lambrix said even though he seems detached, once he
goes back to his cell, he's going to relive it all over again.

"Haunted is a good word. You relive it again and again wondering what if I did
this, what if I did that? But at the end of the day, I tell myself when I start
thinking those thoughts, I tell myself if I could go back, none of this would
happen in the first place."

(source: WUFT news)

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

High Court: Judge, not jury, decides intellectual disability


The Florida Supreme Court has denied death row inmate Sonny Boy Oats Jr.'s
request for a jury to determine his intellectual state, saying it is the
judge's responsibility.

The state's highest court issued an opinion Thursday denying Oats' claim that
he has a right to a unanimous jury decision on whether he is intellectually
disabled, which would disqualify him from the death penalty. His claim is based
on new state legislation that makes unanimous jury decisions a requirement for
death sentences.

"It is clear that the Florida Legislature designated the trial judge, not the
jury, as the fact finder for intellectual disability determinations," the
opinion reads.

Oats, 59, was convicted in 1981 of the 1979 murder of convenience store clerk,
Jeanette Dyer, 50. Then 22, Oats shot Dyer just days before Christmas while
robbing the convenience store where she worked, in Martel in northwest Marion
County. After his arrest, Oats confessed to killing Dyer and admitted that the
day before he also had robbed a liquor store and discharged a gun. He was
sentenced to death in February 1981.

Whether Oats is intellectually disabled is already being considered by 5th
Judicial Circuit Court Judge Jonathan Ohlman. In a Dec. 17, 2015, order, the
Florida Supreme Court ordered the circuit court to revisit the issue. In the
opinion, the Supreme Court wrote that the evidence presented strongly leads to
the conclusion that Oats is intellectually disabled. A hearing was held May 9
to get the ball rolling in Ohlman's decision process. Oats is allowed an
evidentiary hearing before Ohlman's decision.

But Oats and his lawyers, Martin McClain and Nicole Noel, of Capital Collateral
Regional Counsel, believe the issue should be determined by a jury. In their
petition to the Supreme Court, they argued that intellectual disability is a
fact necessary to render a death sentence. Under new state law, a jury must
unanimously decide the facts that warrant a death sentence.

The Florida Supreme Court argued its case, saying: "Intellectual disability is
not a 'necessary finding ... to impose a death sentence' but is, rather, the
opposite - a fact that bars death."

Collection of evidence and witnesses will continue in Oats' intellectual
disability dispute. If Ohlman rules in his favor, Oats' sentence will be
reduced to life in prison without parole, the minimum sentence for 1st-degree
murder convictions.

A hearing is scheduled for Sept. 7 at the Marion County Judicial Center.

Oats is 1 of 8 Marion County murderers on death row. He has spent the most time
on death row, totaling 36 years.

(source: ocala.com)






ALABAMA----execution

Shoals murderer Tommy Arthur executed after stay lifted


Convicted Muscle Shoals murderer Tommy Arthur was executed at about midnight
Thursday.

The execution proceeded after the U.S. Supreme Court's stay of execution was
lifted late Thursday.

Arthur was originally scheduled for death by lethal injection at 6 p.m. The
U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay within an hour of that time. That stay was
lifted after about 10:30 p.m.

Arthur, 75, was convicted of the 1982 murder for hire of Troy Wicker in Muscle
Shoals. He has maintained his innocence all along and had dodged execution 7
times before Thursday.

His attorneys tried to delay execution an 8th time by filing paperwork claiming
there are potential problems with the drugs used during execution.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected that stay request. The motion
then went to the Supreme Court where it was signed by Justice Clarence Thomas.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall then filed a motion for the stay to be
lifted.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey released the following statement after midnight:

How to proceed when faced with a potential execution is one of the most
difficult decisions I will ever have to make as governor. After much prayer and
careful and deliberate consideration, I thought it best to allow the decision
of a jury of Tommy Arthur's peers to stand. In allowing the execution to
proceed this evening, the rule of law was upheld, and Mr. Wicker's family can
finally rest knowing that his murderer has faced justice.

3 times Tommy Arthur was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death. Each time
his case was reviewed thoroughly at every level of both our state and federal
courts, and the appellate process has ensured that the rights of the accused
were protected.

No governor covets the responsibility of weighing the merits of life or death;
but it is a burden I accept as part of my pledge to uphold the laws of this
state. Mr. Arthur was rightfully convicted and sentenced, and tonight, that
sentence was rightfully and justly carried out.

Marshall also gave a statement:

34 years after he was first sentenced to death for the murder of a Colbert
County man, Thomas Arthur's protracted attempt to escape justice is finally at
an end. Most importantly, tonight, the family of Troy Wicker can begin the
long-delayed process of recovery from a painful loss.

Arthur declined to eat his breakfast or his last meal on Thursday. He requested
family photos in the execution room with him.

Arthur becomes the 1st condemned inmate to be put to death this year in Alabama
and the 59th overall since the state resumed capital punishment in 1983.

Arthur becomes the 12th condemned inmate to be put to death this year in the
USA and the 1454th overall since the nation resumed executions on January 17,
1977.

(sources: WSFA news and Rick Halperin)

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

Legislation changes how AL deals with death row cases


The death penalty will remain in Alabama for the foreseeable future, but the
2017 legislative session saw changes to exactly how the state deals with death
row cases.

"Well, in America we have this notion of justice," Frank Knaack, Executive
Director of Alabama Appleseed, said. "Justice is equality, equal access to
justice, and right now in Alabama???s death penalty cases litigation, there is
not justice."

According to Alabama Appleseed, 8 people since the 1970s have been sent to
death row only to learn the state got the wrong person.

"We can all agree or disagree on whether or not we want to have the death
penalty, but I can think of something we can all agree on is that if we have a
death penalty the process should be reliable," Knaack said.

Lawmakers passed 2 pieces of legislation in the 2017 session that deal with
death row cases. First, lawmakers passed the "Judicial Override Bill" which
ended the practice of allowing a judge the ability to sentence someone to death
over the recommendation of the jury. Many advocates praised the move as a step
forward for the state.

2nd, lawmakers passed the "Fair Justice Act" which shortens the appeal process
for death row inmates. Proponents said the bill prevents cases from dragging
out. However, opponents believe it may lead to innocent people being sent to
death row.

Alabama was scheduled to put convicted murderer Tommy Arthur to death Thursday,
but the U.S. Supreme Court issued a temporary stay, his 8th. In Arthur's case,
he's been fighting execution for decades.

Lawmakers considered legislation that would have provided another alternative
to lethal injection but the bill did not pass.

"I think we should really work to ensure that process is reliable and all the
things we are advocating for is just making sure we have a reliable process and
ensuring if someone is convicted, and they are executed, that we at least got
the right person," Knaack said.

(source: WSFA news)






MISSISSIPPI:

Convicted killer could avoid death penalty after MS Supreme Court ruling


A man on death row for killing a Biloxi convenience store owner won a victory
that could help him avoid the death penalty.

Jason Lee Keller was convicted of the 2007 capital murder of Hat Nguyen, who
was shot to death at the Food Mart convenience store she owned on Popp's Ferry
Rd.

Keller's conviction was upheld by the Mississippi Supreme Court in 2014. In
2015, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear his case.

Keller's latest appeal focused on the sentencing phase of his 2009 trial.
Keller claimed his trial attorneys "were ineffective for failure to
investigate, collect, and present mitigation evidence to the jury."

In a ruling released Thursday, the Mississippi Supreme Court agreed with some
of Keller's arguments about certain evidence and ordered his sentencing be
reviewed by the Harrison County Circuit Court.

The Supreme Court rejected all of the other grounds raised by Keller.

(source: WLOX news)

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

New Mississippi law blocks 1 appeal over death penalty drug


The Mississippi Supreme Court has blocked a death row inmate's appeal over the
state's planned use of a lethal-injection drug.

In an order Thursday, justices said Thomas Loden's 2016 appeal over the
sedative midazolam is moot because legislators this year rewrote a state law on
death penalty drugs.

The old law required an "ultra-short acting barbiturate or other similar drug"
as part of a 3-drug lethal injection mix. Loden said midazolam didn't fit that
definition.

The new law requires "an appropriate anesthetic or sedative."

Several states have struggled to obtain certain drugs since 2010, as
manufacturers refuse to sell them for executions.

Loden was sentenced to death in 2001 for killing 16-year-old Leesa Gray in
north Mississippi's Itawamba County in 2000. His execution date has not been
set.

(source: Associated Press)






LOUISIANA:

Louisiana Catholic bishops urge legislators to repeal the death penalty


The following is a summary Statement of the Louisiana Catholic Bishops on the
repeal of the death penalty dated April 18, 2017.

Although the bill fell short by 1 vote, their message affirming life is still
worth reading.

In 1722 Louisiana perfomed its 1st recorded legal execution. Since then we have
dealt with this stain of the death penalty carried out by our state in the
names of its citizens. This current legislative session allows us to move
beyond this dark reality of our state's history and toward a state that affirms
life without exception. Therefore the Louisiana Catholic Bishops unequivocally
supports both Senator Claitor's SB 142 and Representatives Landry and Pylant's
HB 101.

Pope John Paul II, in his encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life),
discussed the distinction between a culture of life and a culture of death. Our
culture often mirrors a culture of death rather than one of life. The use of
the death penalty does not serve as an instrument to address the deep-rooted
issues that are the cause of widespread violent crime within our society. It is
a "solution" that seduces us into believing that the taking of a life solved a
problem, when in fact it forces us further into a culture of death.

Pope John Paul II proclaims "that not even a murderer loses his personal
dignity, as God himself pledges to guarantee this. Consequently whoever attacks
human life, in some way attacks God himself" (Evangelium Vitae, #9). The Pope
reminds us of our call to uphold the Life and Dignity of the Human Person, a
human dignity that does not discriminate between the innocent and guilty. Given
that we value life beyond all else, we must advocate for an alternative to the
death penalty.

In a 2015 letter to the President of the International Commission Against the
Death Penalty, Pope Francis stated that the death penalty "is an offense
against the inviolability of life and dignity of the human person, which
contradicts God's plan for man and society. It does not render justice to
victims, but fosters vengeance. The death penalty represents a failure, as it
obliges the state to kill in the name of justice. Killing a human being can
never establish justice." What we fear, violence itself, has forced us to
become proponents of violence. Just as the pursuit of justice should never be
perverted by vengeance, fear should never darken the ever-shining light of
life.

We remain deeply aware of the pain and grief that victims suffer, especially
those who have lost a loved one through the crimes of murder or violence. We
pledge to deepen our commitment to persons who have suffered such violence,
anguish and pain. We do not intend our opposition to the death penalty to
diminish what the victims and their families have suffered. The stark reality
is that capital punishment fails to bring back a lost life.

It does not provide healing, reconciliation, or even peace to those affected.
Our merciful heavenly Father does provide such things to us when we turn to God
and ask for his healing love.

We recognize the balance that must exist between a state that needs to protect
its citizenry and the appropriateness of the punishment it uses to do so. We
believe that in Louisiana, a just alternative to the death penalty already
exists. In 1979, Louisiana adopted a statute requiring all persons convicted of
first degree murder to serve a life sentence without benefit of parole if they
were not executed. Life imprisonment is the appropriate alternative given that
it reflects a culture of life by valuing life itself.

The Louisiana Catholic Bishops asks all people of good faith, especially those
members of the Louisiana legislature, to search their heart to seek mercy and
love to support the repeal of the death penalty and aid in building a culture
of life. The time is upon us to affirm life without exception here within our
great state of Louisiana.

(source: St. Chalres Herald-Guide)






OHIO:

Anthony Sowell appeals case to U.S. Supreme Court


Convicted Cleveland mass murderer Anthony Sowell has officially appealed his
2011 death sentence to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The move, made earlier this month, is the latest in a lengthy but standard
appeal process in death penalty cases.

Sowell, 57, was sentenced to die for the murders of 11 women whose bodies were
discovered at his home on Imperial Avenue.

The Ohio Supreme Court rejected his appeal late last year but put his execution
on hold until he exhausts all of his possible appeals.

Justice Elena Kagan, who oversees appeals from Ohio, last month extended
Sowell's deadline to file a writ of certiorari asking the high court to review
his conviction.

Sowell's lawyers filed a notice of appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court on May 15
and filed the writ on Thursday.

Sowell's appeal hinges on the argument that the trial court incorrectly
conducted a closed hearing regarding statements he made in a series of police
interrogations, and that the court erred when it closed questioning of jurors
in the case.

In a 5-2 opinion, Ohio Justice Terrence O'Donnell wrote that while the trial
court did not correctly document all of the findings necessary to close the
proceedings, that failure did not warrant a new hearing on the suppression of
evidence or a new trial.

Sowell is serving his sentence at the Chillicothe Correctional Institution.

(source: cleveland.com)


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