death penalty news----TEXAS, PENN., FLA., OHIO, ARIZ., CALIF., USA
(too old to reply)
Rick Halperin
2017-06-13 13:43:13 UTC
June 13

TEXAS:----new execution date

William Rayford has received an execution date for January 30, 2018; it should
be considered serious.

Executions under Greg Abbott, Jan. 21, 2015-present----24

Executions in Texas: Dec. 7, 1982----present-----543

Abbott#--------scheduled execution date-----name------------Tx. #

25---------July 27-----------------Taichin Preyor---------544

26---------Aug. 30-----------------Steven Long------------545

27---------Sept.7------------------Juan Castillo----------546

28---------Oct. 26-----------------Clinton Young----------547

29---------Jan. 30-----------------William Rayford--------548

(sources: TDCJ & Rick Halperin)


Forced to Endure Extreme Heat, Prisoners Are Casualties of Texas' Climate
Denial, Documents Show

On a spring day in May, temperatures in Dallas, Texas, were already in the 90s.
Sunlight glinted off the barbed wire perimeter outside the Hutchins State Jail,
located just a mile down down the road from Hutchins High School. The 1st
blooms of Castilleja, colloquially known here as "prairie fire," seemed to set
a field across from the prison ablaze.

It was hot outside, but it's nothing compared to the temperatures inside the
Hutchins Unit, one of 79 state-run prison units still lacking air-conditioning
in its cellblocks in 2017. Even those temperatures, though, still pale further
in comparison with the extreme summer heat wave that broiled the jail on July
28, 2011, pushing the heat index up to about 150 degrees in the cellblocks,
according to the state's own records, and transforming the jail into an oven
that slowly baked Hutchins prisoner Larry McCollum alive.

Truthout and Earth Island Journal Investigate America's Toxic PrisonsMcCollum,
a 58-year-old cab driver from the Waco area, was found having convulsions in
his top bunk. He was taken to Dallas' Parkland Hospital, where his body
temperature was measured at 109.4 degrees. McCollum, who was incarcerated for
writing a bad check, had recently begun serving his 11-month sentence, and was
eager to get through his time and reunite with his wife and 2 children.

"He was taken from us. He was supposed to go in for 11 months, and he wound up
with a death sentence," McCollum's daughter, Stephanie Kingrey, said. "It was
very heartbreaking that he had to sit there and suffer as long as he did before
they got any help for him or got him to emergency room."

Kingrey said that officials with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice
(TDCJ) even tried to deny her access to her father during the 7 days he spent
on life support at Parkland Hospital, eventually relenting as Kingrey and other
relatives were forced to make the devastating decision to take McCollum off of
life support.

"They had guards on him 24 hours, like he was just going to jump up and go
somewhere, and he was handcuffed to the bed the whole time," Kingrey says. "He
was literally brain dead, and there was nothing he could do. He didn't regain
consciousness or anything. He wasn't there. He died back in the prison cell."

McCollum is one of 22 heat-related deaths that TDCJ has been forced to
acknowledge in its prison units after litigation -- 10 of those deaths
occurring during that same 2011 summer heat wave. But these deaths are likely
the first few indications of what may be a much larger heat problem.

"[TDCJ] has acknowledged the deaths because we proved we knew about them," said
Attorney Jeff Edwards, who is representing the McCollum family in an ongoing
lawsuit against TDCJ, during an interview in his Austin office. "In fact, there
are far more than [22] deaths because the only deaths that they count are
confirmed autopsies with a diagnosis of hyperthermia. In order to get that
diagnosis, you have to have a temperature north of 105 or 106 degrees. So
unless you find the body and do an autopsy quickly, you're not going to have
that diagnosis. [TDCJ] also doesn't count the probably 100 or more people who
suffered heart attacks in the summertime where heat was a contributing factor,
or people who suffered asthmatic deaths because heat contributed to that."

The medical risk of heat stroke increases significantly when the temperature
rises to more than 90 degrees, and can lead to other causes of death like heart
attacks. This is especially true for people with medical conditions such as
diabetes, high blood pressure and other cardiovascular issues, as well as
asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The risk rises further still
for people on medications that inhibit their ability to shed heat or sweat, or
certain psychiatric medications. There aren't yet full statistics on how many
prison deaths have involved heat as a significant contributing factor, but the
number is likely to be much higher than deaths directly attributable to

"1 death is enough to cause concern -- 2, 3, you need to be reacting
immediately," Edwards says. "What is so frustrating about this is ... you can
solve the problem of death by heat stroke in the Texas prison system
instantaneously. All you need to do is lower the temperature and you eliminate
it.... [TDCJ is] making a choice to have people die in the same way a car
company makes a choice not to fix a defective product and have some people die.
It's the exact same cost-benefit analysis."

Internal TDCJ emails obtained by Truthout and Earth Island Journal reveal that
a database within TDCJ's Health Services Division was developed to track not
only heat-related deaths in TDCJ prison units, but also the number of instances
of heat-related illness occurring across particular units. The datasets also
track other factors contributing to the occurrence of heat-related illness,
including how many of the prisoners experiencing these illnesses were on
antipsychotic medications.

According to the records, staffers within the Health Services Division tracked
a total of 46 heat-related illnesses in TDCJ units in 2010, 48 such illnesses
between the months of June and July of 2011 alone, and another 59 illnesses
between August 1 and August 16 of 2011. Health Services Division staffers
tracked a total of 110 illnesses in 2011 through August 16 of that year, across
scores of units. The records indicate that in 2011, a majority of prisoners
were located in their cellblocks at the onset of the heat-related illness, and
that several of the illnesses involved prisoners taking antipsychotic and other
medications that make them more vulnerable to heat conditions.

While TDCJ Director of Public Information Jason Clark didn't respond to
Truthout and Earth Island Journal's request for the total number of instances
of heat-related illness within TDCJ units tracked by its Health Services
Division, the records from 2010 and 2011 point to a pervasive heat problem
within TDCJ cellblock areas. They also reveal that prison officials neglected
to act: Despite tracking more than 100 instances of heat-related illness, they
have yet to introduce climate controls in TDCJ cellblocks that currently lack

Edwards is litigating several other federal lawsuits over heat-related deaths
inside Texas prisons. He is also working on cases that confront the desperate
conditions for elderly and other medically vulnerable prisoners who are
increasingly susceptible to extreme temperatures, including an ongoing
class-action lawsuit in Houston challenging conditions in the Wallace Pack Unit
near Navasota, a geriatric prison incarcerating predominantly elderly and
disabled prisoners who require continuous medical care.

TDCJ officials are currently appealing US District Judge Keith Ellison's
certification of class status to all current and future prisoners at the Pack
Unit subjected to extreme temperatures in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Outside the Hutchins State Jail in Dallas, Texas, where, during a summer heat
wave in July of 2011, prisoner Larry McCollum died of heat stroke. (Photo:
Candice Bernd) The Hutchins State Jail in Dallas, Texas, still lacks
air-conditioning in 2017. (Photo: Candice Bernd)"To give you an idea of the
heat we are talking about: When was the last time you jumped in your car after
it has set in the sun with windows rolled up on a 90 degree day? Now try to sit
in it for 20 minutes!!!," writes 63-year-old prisoner John Ford, who is serving
a 70-year sentence, from the Pack Unit. "The beds and cubicle wall are metal.
They are hot and can't be laid on or touched, like touching the hood of a car
that has sit in the sun on a 130-degree day. Most of us try to wet our sheets
and the cement floor. We lay in the water, put the sheet over us while blowing
the fan under the sheet, to keep the body temps down."

TDCJ's solution during periods of extreme heat was to tell Pack Unit prisoners
to simply drink more water, recommending up to two gallons of water a day on
extremely hot days. There was just one problem: The water at the Pack Unit
contained between 2.5 to 4.5 times the level of arsenic, a carcinogen,
permitted by the EPA, according to court documents. Many of the prisoners drank
thousands of gallons of this arsenic-tainted water for more than 10 years
before Judge Ellison ordered TDCJ to truck in clean water for the prisoners
last year. TDCJ installed a modern filtration system in January.

See Truthout and Earth Island Journal's special investigation into pervasive
water contamination at prisons across the US, including the Pack Unit, in our
first feature story in this series.

"It used to be where you could take a white wash rag and put it in the sink and
water would run on it about 10 or 15 minutes, and it would actually turn
brown," says Keith Cole, 63, a lead plaintiff in the lawsuit who is serving a
life sentence at the Pack Unit.

It's something the prisoners and their attorney say TDCJ knew about for years.
"Inmates were breaking out with all kinds of skin issues, and skin cancers that
still have been denied that it was caused by the water," Ford writes.

Both Ford and Cole, who arrived at the unit in 2015 and 2011, respectively,
worry about how their prolonged exposure to arsenic may have affected their
health over the long term, including their specific medical issues. Cole has
been diagnosed with severe coronary artery disease, type II diabetes,
hypertension and high cholesterol, and has had two stent implants. Ford has
seven stent implants in his heart, high blood pressure, and "serious issues"
with his bladder and kidney that he suspects are "from the chemicals."

They also worry about how their prolonged stress during exposure to periods of
extreme heat for years may have impacted them long term. Ford says he suffers
respiratory problems he believes are exacerbated not only by the extreme heat
in the unit during the summer months, but also by the black mold he alleges to
be present inside the prison.

A spokesperson with the University of Texas Medical Branch, which manages
medical care at TDCJ units through its Correctional Managed Care division,
declined to comment on the heat exposure, citing ongoing lawsuits.

"TDCJ takes precautions to help reduce heat-related illnesses such as providing
water and ice to staff and offenders in work and housing areas, restricting
offender activity during the hottest parts of the day, and training staff to
identify those with heat related illnesses and refer them to medical staff for
treatment," TDCJ Public Information Director Clark said. He also cited "access
to respite areas" that are air-conditioned as a system-wide protocol that is
utilized during periods of extreme heat.

Cole says that while he, personally, is being granted regular access to a
respite area at the Pack Unit, he believes this is only because he is the
primary plaintiff in a major ongoing class-action lawsuit. For other prisoners
at the unit, he says, it is a protocol that exists only on paper.

"Even though [TDCJ] claims they have enough space to put every offender on this
unit into respite at the same time, if offenders starting using respite on a
large scale, let's say ... 20 % of the inmates wanted to go to respite, that
would pretty much shut down the day-to-day operations of this unit," Cole says.
"So what they do is they find low-visibility ways to discourage offenders from
using respite."

Cole says that prison officials regularly take Pack Unit prisoners to the
infirmary, where nurses perform an internal core temperature check by inserting
a thermometer into prisoners' rectums. "That's the first procedure they do
before they do anything for you at all," he says. So many prisoners avoid
asking for respite in the first place.

The Wallace Pack Unit is not the only unit in Texas that lacks air-conditioning
in its cellblocks. According to Clark, only 29 of 108 TDCJ units have
air-conditioning in all "offender housing areas," with all units having at
least some areas that are air-conditioned.

Among the areas that TDCJ chooses to air-condition in its units are its prison
armories and areas for livestock.

Guidelines from both the American Bar Association and the American Correctional
Association (ACA) suggest that prison officials should provide adequate
temperature control in cellblocks, but the ACA continues to accredit units
lacking climate controls.

At this point, even unions representing prison guards, many of who have also
experienced heat-related illnesses and injuries while on duty, have been
supportive of lawsuits over extreme heat in TDCJ units.

Truthout and Earth Island Journal didn't receive any responsive records after
requesting potential documents outlining TDCJ officials' plans to adapt their
protocols and procedures in light of ongoing anthropogenic climate disruption
and expectations for intensifying heat waves across the state in the coming
decades. The lack of documents indicates that the state's prison officials may
have no plans, outside TDCJ's current existing heat policies, for mitigating
temperatures as more heat waves sweep Texas in years to come.

Indeed, periods of intense heat are expected to accelerate in the state,
according to climate scientists like Linda Mearns.

Mearns is a senior climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric
Research in Boulder, Colorado, and conducted a climate study on the region
around Navasota, Texas, where the Wallace Pack Unit is located. Analyzing
datasets from nearby weather stations in the area in order to predict future
extremes, she not only found that both maximum and minimum average temperatures
from all six weather stations analyzed are steadily increasing, but that the
likelihood of extreme summer heat waves is expected to increase dramatically.

"We looked at the likelihood of the recurrence of extreme summer temperatures
at the level of that summer of 2011 ... and essentially, going out into a
period, let's say to 2035, we found that there's a 8-fold increase in the
likelihood of that kind of extreme event repeating itself," Mearns says. "It's
very clear that temperatures are increasing, that extremes of temperatures are
increasing [in the region]."

Mearns also looked at trends in the number of days per summer that have
exceeded certain temperature thresholds that can be dangerous to certain risk
groups if left exposed. She looked at thresholds of 88, 95 and 100 degrees
Fahrenheit and found that days exceeding those temperatures have been steadily
increasing since 1970.

"In terms of the heat index, the major factor is still the temperature, so we
see very distinct increases in the heat index, which is actually used to
determine dangerous conditions for human health, and we see increases in those
thresholds as well, for example, a heat index above 88 or above 95 for a
particular length of time," Mearns says. According to her research, the median
value of days with a heat index above 95 or 100 degrees lasting more than four
hours per day increases to more than 20 days by 2035, and 55 days by 2055 in
the area around Navasota.

It's the extremes that pose the greatest danger to vulnerable populations such
as the elderly, or people with health conditions that render them at risk.
According to Mearns, people for the most part become somewhat adapted to the
climate that they live in, even as average temperatures increase. Extreme
temperature changes, however, don't allow enough time for the body to properly
acclimate -- one reason why nearly half of TDCJ's confirmed hyperthermia deaths
all occurred during the same 2011 heat wave.

According to Edwards, experts testifying on behalf of TDCJ have acknowledged
the reality of climate disruption, but, "Internally, they are loathe to answer
[the climate] question because they are appointees of [the governor], and that
question is fraught with danger in an oil state like Texas," he says. "They
want to be looked at as tough on crime, and don't view air-conditioning or
costs associated with air-conditioning as priorities until the courts tell them
they have to."

Many of the state's prisons were constructed during the "tough-on-crime" prison
boom of the 1990s, which hit particularly hard in Texas. "It wasn't as if
[air-conditioning] was discussed," Michele Deitch, a senior lecturer at the
University of Texas' Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, says. "The
prisons were just built."

According to Clark, many of TDCJ's units that were built in the 1980s and 1990s
didn't include air-conditioning because of the added construction, maintenance
and utility costs. This lack of air-conditioning persisted, despite the
far-reaching 1980 court ruling Ruiz v. Estelle, which found that conditions of
imprisonment within the TDCJ prison system constituted cruel and unusual
punishment. Although the decision was the result of one of the most
far-reaching lawsuits on incarceration conditions in US history, it didn't
include conditions relating to extreme heat. Therefore, TDCJ units lacking
air-conditioning in cellblocks continued to be approved by federal courts.

"One-hundred-thousand prison beds were constructed in a very crisis-oriented
atmosphere where the goal was to build them very quickly and as cheaply as
possible, to get these inmates out of the [county] jails [and into state
prisons]," Deitch said. "When [the prisons] were constructed, the [state]
legislature was never inclined to provide money, and the legislature help fund
the construction of these facilities. They're expensive enough to build, and
the legislature was not going to give any money to cover the cost of
air-conditioning. That was just seen as treating prisoners too well."

The harsh sentencing practices of the '90s have left the state with a prison
population that is now rapidly aging behind bars, and increasingly requiring
extensive medical care. "In Texas with its super-long sentences ... the
fastest-growing population is the geriatric population. With all of these
inmates in un-air-conditioned facilities, I think we're going to be seeing a
lot more deaths in custody from people who can't handle the heat," Deitch says.

In Texas, the price of politicians and prison officials' climate denial is
human lives. Not only are the state's aging prisoners being rendered casualties
of climate change, they are held captive to changing climate conditions, unable
to adapt to the increasing heat waves, and, in the case of Wallace Pack, forced
to endure other environmental degradations and injustices -- such as drinking
arsenic-tainted water for more than 10 years -- to cope.

"Our tough-on-crime mentality about sentencing is bumping up against
our-tough-on crime mentality in terms of extreme conditions for prisoners, and
I think it's going to lead to some very tragic consequences, particularly as
climate change makes the situation even worse," Deitch says.

Indeed, over his 23 years in the TDCJ system, Cole says the summers have become
more extreme. "It seems to be getting more hotter now. I don't know if I can
attribute that to the fact that temperatures are worse, or maybe the fact that
I'm getting older and my diseases are progressing, but I know that the summers
now are more intense to me than they were 10 years ago when I was in the

(source: truth-out.org)


PA Supreme Court denies appeal from convicted killer

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld the death sentence imposed on a Bristol
Township man convicted of killing a 4-year-old girl and her pregnant mother in

Marcel Johnson, 24, was appealing his 2015 1st-degree murder convictions in the
deaths of Ebony Talley, 22, who was 5 months pregnant, and R'Mani Rankins, 4,
who witnessed her mother's death on Nov. 25, 2013, at the Avalon Court
apartments on Bristol-Oxford Valley Road in Bristol Township.

Talley suffered 35 stab wounds and was found with a plastic bag tied around her
head. Rankins was found bleeding from a stab wound to the chest and was
pronounced dead a short time later. A jury found Johnson guilty of 3rd-degree
murder for killing the fetus.

He was also convicted of arson for setting the bodies on fire in an attempt to
destroy evidence.

Bucks County District Attorney Matthew Weintraub on Monday called the murders
brutal and said his office felt vindicated by the court's decision to uphold
the convictions and the sentence.

"The jury found that Marcel Johnson should be subject to the death penalty and
I have no quarrel with that," Weintraub added. "The state Supreme Court
affirmed that decision was correct and just."

In his appeal filing, which was denied May 25, Johnson argued that several
areas of the case should have led to his convictions being thrown out and his
sentence vacated.

Johnson was also initially charged with drug possession before that charge was
withdrawn. In his appeal, Johnson argued that other people involved in the drug
trade could have wanted to harm Talley. While he initially confessed to the
crimes during interviews with police, he claimed in his appeal that he arrived
at the apartment after it was already set on fire.

He also argued that his statements to police should have been suppressed during
his trial because he agreed to waive his Miranda rights under the assumption
that police wanted to question him regarding an arrest warrant for unpaid
traffic offenses.

But the Supreme Court, in its opinion, sided with Bucks County Court in
allowing the confession into evidence, arguing that it was clear why Johnson
was being questioned due to several factors. One of which, the court said, was
the fact that Johnson was apprehended by several officers with guns drawn as he
entered Talley's vehicle parked at a nearby apartment complex shortly after the

When reached for comment Monday, Johnson's attorney, John Fiorvanti Jr., said
he intends to file a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court in the hopes of
sending the case to the federal level.

Fiorvanti said he was disappointed that certain rulings made during the trial -
such as evidence of drug abuse, physical abuse, mental illness and neglect
through several generations of Johnson's family being deemed inadmissible -
were upheld by the state Supreme Court.

Fiorvanti also said he asked the trial court to instruct the jury to each
mitigating factor of his "horribly abused and neglected" client separately
during the penalty phase and listed each one separately on the verdict slip
rather than grouping several together. That request was denied by the trial
court - a decision that was upheld in the appeal.

Regarding the overall decision to deny the appeal, Fiorvanti said he was not

"I would frankly have to say that I expected the ruling," he added. "It's just
the way the cases are and the way our Supreme Court is going. I was hopeful.
You always hope for the best."

(source: buckscountycouriertimes.com)


Trial date set for Markeith Loyd in death of Orlando police officer

A trial date has been set for a Florida man accused of killing his pregnant
ex-girlfriend and an Orlando police officer.

Orange County Chief Judge Fred Lauten said Monday that the trial for Markeith
Loyd will begin Sept. 10 in Orlando.

Loyd is accused of gunning down 42-year-old Lt. Debra Clayton in January weeks
after authorities say he fatally shot 24-year-old Sade Dixon. Loyd eluded
police for more than a week.

He faces multiple charges, including 1st-degree murder.

The case prompted a legal skirmish between the state attorney in Orlando and
Florida Gov. Rick Scott.

State Attorney Aramis Ayala announced in March she wouldn't seek the death
penalty in Loyd's case or any others. Scott responded by transferring almost 2
dozen death penalty cases, including Loyd's, to another prosecutor.

(source: Associated Press)


Death-penalty trial to begin after tricky process of selecting Franklin County

When attorneys questioned a 72-year-old man during jury selection for Franklin
County's 1st death-penalty trial in 3 years, he said there was a time when he
found himself at odds with his strong opposition to taking a human life.

"When I was a young man, I had some pretty idealistic beliefs," the Northwest
Side man said. "I told myself I could never take a life under any circumstances
and so on, and then I was drafted.

"The day I stepped off the airplane on the Vietnamese soil, I said, 'I'll do
whatever it takes to get back home.' ... I sort of had a letdown of my own
viewpoint of myself, I guess."

But under no circumstances, he said, could he sign a verdict form to recommend
a death sentence.

The man was excused from being part of the jury pool.

In all, 17 people were excused during the 1st phase of jury selection for the
trial of Lincoln S. Rutledge, who is accused of fatally shooting a Columbus
police officer during a SWAT standoff at his Clintonville apartment 14 months

On Friday, the 52 people who made it through the 1st phase were narrowed to 12
jurors (7 men and 5 women) and 4 alternates.

The trial, which could take as long as 2 weeks, is scheduled to begin with
opening statements this morning.

Jury selection for a death-penalty case is unique because it requires potential
jurors to discuss their views on the ultimate punishment before hearing any
evidence, at a time when the defendant is presumed innocent.

Jefferson Liston, one of Rutledge's attorneys, told potential jurors that the
process puts the defense in "an uncomfortable position."

The process is necessary to eliminate jurors whose position on the death
penalty, whether for or against, is so strong that they can't follow Ohio law
regarding the appropriate use of the penalty.

Under the law, if the jurors convict Rutledge of aggravated murder with death
specifications in the slaying of Officer Steven Smith, they must participate in
a sentencing phase during which the defense will present what are called
mitigating factors.

If the jurors decide that the mitigating factors - such as mental illness or a
traumatic childhood - outweigh the crime's aggravating circumstances, the law
instructs them that a death sentence is off the table. At that point, they must
recommend a life sentence either without the chance of parole or with the
possibility of parole after 25 or 30 years.

If the aggravating circumstances outweigh the mitigating factors, the law says
the jurors must recommend death.

A decision must be unanimous.

Assistant Prosecutors Daniel Hogan and Warren Edwards used a chart to explain
the death-penalty law and the weighing process to prospective jurors, who were
brought into the courtroom in groups of 6.

"There are people who have strong feelings against the taking of another life,"
said Common Pleas Judge Mark Serrott, who is presiding over the trial, his 1st
death-penalty case. "You also don't want someone on the jury who would
automatically impose death for anyone convicted of murder."

Nearly all of the people who were eliminated in the 1st phase were strong
death-penalty opponents. They included an ordained minister who wrote on a
questionnaire supplied to the panelists that only God should decide when
someone dies.

Others, however, were retained after telling the judge and attorneys that,
despite their strong feelings about the death penalty, they could follow the
law in deciding whether to impose it. They included a woman who said she is so
uncomfortable with the death penalty that she probably would be forever
tormented if she signed a verdict for death.

The judge also allowed a current Columbus police officer and a former Ohio
state trooper to be retained after the 1st phase, although neither ultimately
was seated on the jury.

"I think I've been pretty even-handed," Serrott said.

Douglas Berman, a professor at Ohio State University's Moritz College of Law
and an expert on capital punishment, said there are plenty of concerns about
finding jurors who truly will follow the death-penalty sentencing process and
about whether discussing possible punishments in advance is fair to the

"But I struggle to figure out how you can do it any other way," he said.

The act of weighing mitigating factors against aggravating circumstances in
deciding life or death "doesn't lend itself to an easy or predictable
adjudication process," Berman said. "It becomes a moral rather than a legal

The potential jurors who sat in Serrott's courtroom last week for questioning
about the process impressed the judge with what they were willing to share,
particularly the Vietnam veteran.

"It's what's great about our jury system," the judge said. "You bring strangers
together from all walks of life to talk about weighty, serious matters that all
of us should think about.

"I was so impressed with their openness, their candor, their thoughtfulness and
the seriousness with which they're approaching this."

(source: The Columbus Dispatch)


Arizona, prisoners reach deal to settle death penalty suit

Lawyers for a group of condemned prisoners who sued over how Arizona conducts
executions told a federal judge Monday that they have reached a tentative
settlement with the state.

The agreement between the state and the prisoners contains a series of
provisions to address the prisoners' arguments that the state's execution
procedures violate their constitutional rights to be free from cruel and
unusual punishment and have due process.

The agreement limits the power of the Department of Corrections' director to
change execution drugs at the last minute, requires that drugs be tested before
use and bars the state from using expired drugs. It also increases transparency
in the execution process.

The Department of Corrections officially published the new execution rules late
last month, and the settlement would make those provisions binding.

The agreement still needs approval by the prisoners. But 1 of their attorneys,
Josh Anderson, told U.S. District Judge Neil Wake he expects that to happen as
soon as next week. If the settlement falls through for some reason, Wake has
set a bench trial for September.

"That trial will not move - there is no place to move it," Wake told the
attorneys. "I'm inclined to hold my breath for 10 days."

The state already settled another part of the lawsuit, agreeing not to again
use a sedative called midazolam.

That drug was used in July 2014 execution of convicted killer Joseph Rudolph
Wood, who was given 15 doses of midazolam and a painkiller and who took nearly
2 hours to die. His attorney says the execution was botched.

Wake has blocked executions until the case is finished, and he asked an
attorney for the state if it had the drugs to restart executions rapidly if the
case is settled.

"It won't come to a head quickly," Assistant Attorney General Jeff Sparks told
Wake. "The state doesn't have drugs right now and has no intention of seeking a

States are struggling to obtain execution drugs because European pharmaceutical
companies began blocking the use of their products for lethal injections. Death
penalty states refuse to disclose the sources of their drugs, though the
sources are widely believed - to be compounding pharmacies - organizations that
make drugs tailored to the needs of a specific client. Those pharmacies do not
face the same approval process or testing standards of larger pharmaceutical

The state's new execution rules replace a 3-drug mixture with a 1-drug
injection using 1 of 2 barbiturates, pentobarbital or sodium pentothal.

There remains a potential appeal of an earlier ruling by Wake that dismissed
prisoners' some of the prisoners' claims. Those dismissed claims include a
request for witnesses and defense lawyers to be able to see and hear the entire
execution process and to have more information about the source of execution

"We believe that there is under the 9th Circuit precedent, so that would be the
basis for our appeal," Anderson said.

Separately, a group of news organizations including The Associated Press is
suing the state to force it to reveal the source of execution drugs and
qualifications of executioners. The state says releasing those details would
jeopardize the confidentiality of executioners and would lead suppliers to stop
providing the drugs if their names were made public. A trial is set next month
in federal court in Phoenix.

A judge in December ruled in favor of the groups' argument for more access to
executions, saying the state must allow witnesses to view the entirety of an

The lawsuit discussed Monday was filed in 2014 by prisoners that included Wood,
but was amended after his problematic execution.

Dale Baich, an assistant federal public defender who represents the prisoners,
said Arizona has an "unfortunate history" of problematic executions and said
the state is now "taking appropriate steps to decrease the risk that prisoners
will be tortured to death."

A Department of Corrections spokesman could not be immediately reached for

(source: Associated Press)


Is accused cop killer sleeping through his hearing?

A judge on Monday denied an effort to close a hearing for accused cop killer
Luis Bracamontes to the press and public, saying the proceedings must remain

Sacramento Superior Court Judge Steve White rejected the latest motion by
public defenders for Bracamontes, who argued that pretrial publicity was
endangering their client's right to a fair trial.

The lawyers are trying to get White to move the trial out of Sacramento because
of the publicity, and are expected to argue over the next 2 to 3 days that
coverage of the October 2014 slayings means the trial must be moved.

They also hope to win permission to enter a plea of not guilty by reason of

Bracamontes has not been of much help in their quest. He has at various times
said he wants to plead guilty, wants to face execution and would like to kill
his lawyers.

For almost the entire hearing Monday morning, until White called a 15-minute
recess at 10:30, Bracamontes sat with his head drooped down on his chest or
cocked backward with his eyes closed.

The only times he opened his eyes through midmorning came when his lawyer got
up to approach a witness or when the witness accidentally hit the microphone.

Granted, much of the testimony from marketing and public opinion expert
Jennifer Franz Monday focused on survey techniques, methods for calling
potential jurors and the like.

But Bracamontes' behavior was markedly different from past hearings, where he
has seemed alert and, at times, aggressive and profane.

His head has been shaved since his last court appearance, and this marks the
1st hearing in memory during which he has not made wisecracks or other

His demeanor changed somewhat when prosecutor Rod Norgaard, who is trying to
march him to San Quentin's death chamber, began questioning Franz about a
survey she conducted for the defense measuring potential jurors' knowledge of
the case.

Bracamontes began watching Norgaard intently as the prosecutor, who opposes
moving the case out of Sacramento, began asking Franz about her survey.

Franz said her survey found that 75.7 % of the respondents who were aware of
the case already had decided Bracamontes is either definitely guilty or
probably guilty, and 51.5 % think the death penalty is a proper punishment.

Bracamontes, 36, did not speak during the hearing until the lunchtime break,
when he walked by White and appeared to say, "You're doing good."

Much of Monday's testimony involved questions about the survey of Sacramento
residents' knowledge of the case, and that topic is expected to continue into

Defense attorneys also are expected to push for permission to enter an insanity
plea on their client's behalf, despite Bracamontes' past insistence that he be
allowed to plead guilty.

He faces trial in October and could be sentenced to death if convicted in the
slayings of Sacramento Deputy Danny Oliver and Placer Deputy Michael Davis Jr.

A Mexican citizen who had been deported at least twice and had returned to the
country illegally, Bracamontes was passing through Sacramento with his wife
when they allegedly began a daylong rampage at the Motel 6 near Arden Fair

The 2 were arrested in Auburn later that day. Bracamontes faces the death
penalty; she faces life.

(source: sacbee.com)


Prop. 66, which speeds up state death penalty process, is challenged in CA
Supreme Court

On Tuesday, the California Supreme Court heard arguments over whether a
voter-approved initiative passed last November to speed up the death penalty
process is constitutional.

Proposition 66, a ballot initiative titled "Death Penalty Procedures
Initiatives Statutes," expedites the death penalty process by setting a 5-year
deadline for death penalty appeals to be heard.

Elisabeth Semel, a professor of law at the UC Berkeley School of Law and
director of Boalt's Death Penalty Clinic, said she does not believe the
initiative is a good solution for dealing with the backlog of death row appeals
the state supreme court has yet to hear. Semel said it takes an average of 15
years for a direct death row appeal to be decided by the California Supreme

"The State Supreme Court currently has a backlog of about 380 death row cases,"
Semel said. "Under the terms of this proposition, the court would have to hear
these cases about 3 times faster. There's nothing in this initiative (with) a
game plan to make it possible."

Prop. 66 was 1 of 2 initiatives on state ballots related to the death penalty
in November 2016 - the 1st, Proposition 62, called for a repeal of the death
penalty. Prop. 66 passed by a narrow margin of 51.1 % to 48.9 %, whereas Prop.
62 failed to pass.

Ron Briggs, whose father, former State Sen. John Briggs, authored a 1978 ballot
initiative to expand the death penalty, and former state Attorney General John
Van de Kamp filed the petition which challenges the constitutionality of Prop.
66. The California Supreme Court has 90 days to decide the case.

According to Semel, during oral arguments, the plaintiffs contended the new
time limits infringe upon the court's authority to manage its own cases - this
would undermine the state court's authority and violate the separation of
powers. Semel said plaintiffs also argued the expedited death penalty process
denies equal protection to death row inmates.

Terry Martin, an attorney for intervenor Californians To Mend, Not End, The
Death Penalty - No on Prop. 62, Yes on Prop. 66, said the proposition was
"absolutely constitutional." According to Martin, the 5-year time limit did not
restrict the court's authority because they were "aspirational" rather than

"I'm confident that the Supreme Court will uphold the constitutionality of the
measure," Martin said. "I expect the court to rule with the people of

Semel maintained skepticism about both the constitutionality and efficacy of
Prop. 66.

A both faster and more reliable state death penalty system would "require many
millions of dollars" to reform, according to Semel - the reforms being proposed
in Prop. 66 would result in a death penalty system that is only "faster and

"The system is stuck because we don't have the necessary resources," Semel
said. "You can have a system that is either faster, cheaper and less accurate,
or faster, more expensive and more reliable.

(source: The Daily Californian)


I carried out the death penalty as a governor. I hope others put it to rest.;
Capital punishment is unfair, ineffective and hurts the states that continue
the practice.

I've always viewed it a sign of wisdom to demonstrate the ability to change
your mind - that goes double if you're an elected official. As New Mexico's
governor in 2009, I changed my mind regarding the death penalty and signed a
bill to abolish it after having supported it for decades. Empirical evidence
and common sense convinced me that the death penalty is an ineffective
deterrent, is unfairly applied and has become increasingly costly for states.

Since 1973, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, the number of
wrongly sentenced men and women freed from death row has climbed to 159.

A DPIC study found 88 % of criminologists don't believe the death penalty is an
effective deterrent to crime. Numerous studies suggest the same.

In its 2015 ruling outlawing capital punishment in Connecticut, that state's
supreme court explained why the death penalty is unfair: "the death penalty has
been imposed disproportionately on those whom society has marginalized
socially, politically, and economically: people of color, the poor and
uneducated, and unpopular immigrant and ethnic groups. It always has been
easier for us to execute those we see as inferior or less intrinsically

The practice is wrong and I hope it isn't long for this world.

More recently, one method of execution, lethal injection - once seen as "more
humane" than others - has made the debate not just one about the morality of
the death penalty, but one about the way that it can lead to a failure of
governance and damage to a state's reputation.

As the 2nd-poorest state in our nation, Arkansas sorely needs private
investment to boost growth and employment. It's recent initiative, "Arkansas
Inc", exists to present the state as a "pro-business environment operating
leaner, faster and more focused through a streamlined state government." But at
the same time Arkansas is trying to bolster its image as a well-run state,
officials rushed to carry out a flurry of executions in April to beat the
expiration date of Arkansas's supply of 1 of its lethal injection drugs.

Arkansas carried out these lethal injections even though more than 20 firms
worldwide now oppose the sale of their products for this use, and have taken
steps to effectively close the market for these drugs. This string of
executions followed the passage of a law in the state legislature (upheld in
the state's supreme court) giving officials cover to secretly obtain these
drugs, whether or not drug makers want to sell them for use in executions.

Several court challenges briefly delayed several of the executions, including 1
ultimately unsuccessful suit that contended Arkansas purchased the drugs and
sought to conceal their intended use.

Pharmaceutical distributor McKesson Medical-Surgical, Inc., a subsidiary of the
country's 5th most successful company, according to Fortune - the type of firm
Arkansas should be courting, not battling - sued the state for using "false
pretense, trickery, and bad faith." 2 other companies filed supporting legal
briefs, arguing the state's actions were not only anti-business but created "a
public-health risk by undermining the safety and supply of lifesaving
medicines" that could otherwise be used "to treat 1,800 patients in life-saving
operations." In their effort to push through these executions, state officials
needlessly hastened the application of an unjust policy while senselessly
placing Arkansas at odds with the private sector.

Delaware hasn't seen a similar spate of executions, and last year its supreme
court struck down the state's death penalty statute as unconstitutional. But
last month, the state's House of Representatives voted to reinstitute it. As a
state that has worked successfully for decades to build an international brand
as America's leading incorporation venue, a major source of its revenue,
Delaware could lose if the globally disfavored death penalty once again becomes

In the same way that the private sector responded to anti-LGBT laws passed in
states such as Indiana and North Carolina, death-penalty states have to
recognize that our increasingly small world is watching, and organizing against
wrong-headed public policy by redirecting investment dollars.

Escalating costs of prosecuting death-penalty cases also means a higher burden
on governments. A report produced for lawmakers in my home state showed it
would cost as much as $7.2 million to reintroduce capital punishment. Arkansas,
Delaware and other death-penalty states have a choice. They can pursue a just
and prudent course, or they can cling to this failed policy even though it
hurts their citizens.

As a former ambassador to the United Nations and the sole United States
commissioner on the International Commission Against the Death Penalty, I worry
about America's isolation on this critical human rights issue. States that
continue to employ the death penalty will remain isolated from the growing
international consensus.

The death penalty won't be abolished by a single judicial decision, legislative
act or election cycle, but there are signs that the tide is turning to end it
for good. In local elections, notably for district attorney, anti-death penalty
candidates - Charles Todd Henderson in Jefferson County, Alabama and Jason
Krasner in Philadelphia - are showing they can win. The results coincide with
changing public opinion: Last year, Pew Research found public support for the
death penalty at a 4-decade low.

To effectively represent the interests of citizens, and protect our nation's
role as a global leader, a new generation of policymakers and politicians must
put the death penalty to rest once and for all.

(source: Commentary; Bill Richardson is a former governor of New Mexico and a
former United States ambassador to the United Nations. He is the founder of the
Richardson Center for Global Engagement----Washington Post)

A service courtesy of Washburn University School of Law www.washburnlaw.edu

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