2017-04-04 13:37:57 UTC
Death penalty ban to be considered by Louisiana Legislature
3 legislators have introduced bills to abolish the death penalty in Louisiana.
All 3 have have experience with the criminal justice system: Sen. Dan Claitor,
R-Baton Rouge worked as a prosecutor in New Orleans, Rep. Terry Landry, D-New
Iberia, as State Police superintendent under Gov. Mike Foster and Rep. Steven
Pylant, R-Winnsboro as Franklin Parish sheriff.
Claitor and Landry said their views on the death penalty had changed over time.
Claitor said his Roman Catholic faith is a major factor in why he changed his
mind, but he is also concerned that the death penalty is expensive and not
effective. "I definitely expect support from the Catholic Church," he said.
The Louisiana House will take up legislation that seeks to get more money into
the hands of local public defender offices -- primarily by taking it from the
defense teams representing people facing the death penalty.
As head of the State Police, Landry was deeply involved in the investigation
into Derrick Todd Lee, who was linked to the deaths of 7 women in south
Louisiana, convicted and sentenced to death. Lee died in early 2016 of heart
problems while awaiting execution. Landry mentions his involvement in
investigating Lee's case on his legislative website.
Still, Landry said he now questions whether the death penalty makes Louisiana
safer. He is also concerned about the cost. "I've evolved to where I am today,"
he said. "I think it may be a process that is past its time."
Claitor has filed Senate Bill 142 to abolish the death penalty for people who
commit crimes after July 30. Landry and Steven Pylant have filed House Bill
101, essentially the same legislation. The legislative session begins April 10.
The class-action suit filed in Baton Rouge seeks an injunction against a public
defenders system that it says fails to provide constitutionally adequate
Neither measure would affect the 73 Louisiana inmates already on death row or
those facing capital charges in pending court cases. Claitor said he didn't
think it was appropriate to change sentences retroactively or to alter pending
court cases. But if the legislation passes, it could be brought up by legal
teams defending death row inmates in continuing cases as a reason to change
Louisiana already spends millions of dollars in court to pay defense costs for
death penalty cases. The Louisiana Public Defender Board spent $9.5 million on
death penalty defense in the fiscal year that ended June 30, about 28 % of the
board's total budget.
That means the board wasn't able to devote as much money -- about $15 million
overall last year -- to local public defender offices, since the two causes
compete for funding. Public defenders offices around the state say they are
chronically underfunded, so much so that Gov. John Bel Edwards and the state
public defender board are being sued by 13 inmates for providing inadequate
funding for indigent defense.
The Public Defender Board's $9.5 million death penalty fund was paying for the
defense in 30 to 40 capital cases last year. The board contracts with private
lawyers, many of whom work at non-profit agencies, to provide the services. The
legal work is notoriously time-consuming and expensive.
Louisiana hasn't executed anyone since 2010, in part because of difficulty in
obtaining the drugs for lethal injection. By contrast, Alabama and Mississippi
have executed 8 people since 2011, according to those states' corrections
Pharmacies and drug makers have been unwilling to carry execution drugs because
of the stigma attached to selling them. The Legislature almost passed a bill in
2014 to make it easier to acquire lethal injection drugs, in part by letting
the state hide the identity of the provider, but the legislation was pulled by
its sponsor at the last minute. A similar bill hasn't been filed since then.
Louisiana's death penalty protocol calls for the use of the same 2 drugs as
those administered during a botched execution in Arizona Wednesday. This is the
3rd case in 6 months where one of the particular death penalty drugs Louisiana
is scheduled to use -- midazolam -- has resulted in a bungled execution in
(source: Julia O'Donoghue is a state politics reporter based in Baton
Arkansas Supreme Court rejects state bid to cloak execution drug----AG vows
quick re-appeal over Rx label
An appeal by state prisons to keep the lid on the source of one of Arkansas'
execution drugs was dismissed Monday by the state Supreme Court.
Soon after the decision was handed down late in the afternoon, a spokesman with
the attorney general's office said the state will try again this morning.
Also on Monday, the state and lawyers for the 8 inmates scheduled to die this
month prepared for legal battles in a nearby federal court in Little Rock where
the condemned inmates are challenging the pace of the execution schedule.
The state Department of Correction, represented by Attorney General Leslie
Rutledge, had sought an emergency stay from a Pulaski County judge's order last
week to the department telling state officials they had 30 minutes to hand over
records related to the acquisition of 100 vials of potassium chloride, the
final of 3 drugs set to be used in the 8 executions this month.
Those records had been sought in a lawsuit by Little Rock attorney Steven
Shults, who argued the Department of Correction broke the law by failing to
release package inserts and drug labels under the Arkansas Freedom of
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette also has requested the records under the Freedom
of Information Act. The newspaper is not a party to the lawsuit.
While the state's Method of Execution Law -- passed in 2015 -- specifically
allows the release of drug labels and package inserts, the department has said
it will no longer comply with such requests because news organizations have
used the records previously to identify the suppliers of execution drugs.
The Method of Execution Act allows suppliers to remain secret.
Rutledge spokesman Jessica Ray said Monday that it would be up to the
Department of Correction to release records in response to the Supreme Court
decision. Prisons spokesman Solomon Graves referred to the plan to file another
request for a stay and declined to comment further.
In dismissing the state's appeal, justices said the state had failed to file a
copy of Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen's written order.
Griffen delivered an oral ruling Thursday evening ordering the Department of
Correction to release the records, prompting the state's immediate appeal. The
judge released a written order Friday.
Ray, the spokesman for the attorney general, said her office never logged
Griffen's written order with the Supreme Court because a copy did not exist at
the time of their appeal.
Regardless, Shults' attorneys said Griffen's lower-court ruling remained in
place Monday, and filed a motion to have the Department of Correction held in
contempt of court for failure to turn over the records.
In response to Griffen's ruling, Rutledge's office said the state had agreed to
provide a redacted copy of the drug label and an unredacted copy of the package
insert. The Department of Correction declined to provide either copy to the
Heather Zachary, one of Shults' attorneys, said the state's response did not
satisfy the request.
"We think that we are entitled, pursuant to Judge Griffen's order, to the
unredacted copies," of the drug labels, Zachary said.
"We'll see what happens."
The majority on Monday did not release an opinion explaining their decision.
However, Justice Rhonda Wood wrote a three-page dissent stating the court
should have told the state to include the record of Griffen's ruling instead of
dismissing the case. Wood was joined by Justice Shawn Womack in her dissent.
In federal court, 2 cases unrelated to Shults' request for records saw filings
from attorneys that seek to halt the impending executions, as well as the
state, which is determined to see them carried out.
Attorneys for the condemned inmates also seek information from the state in a
lawsuit alleging Constitutional violations in the proposed execution schedule,
which is set to take place between April 17 and April 27.
Those requests -- for details about the executioners and official
communications that preceded the scheduling of the executions, among other
details -- were the subject of a teleconference Monday with Kristine Baker,
U.S. district judge for the Eastern District of Arkansas. The judge did not
make a ruling on any of the requests Monday.
In their own federal court filings, state attorneys contended Monday that any
court-ordered delay in the executions will in essence be a moratorium on the
death penalty because prison officials have no established source for
midazolam, a sleep-inducing drug used in executions.
The state's supply of midazolam will expire just days after the last of the
executions is scheduled to take place.
Arkansas has not carried out an execution since 2005 because of continued legal
challenges and difficulty obtaining execution drugs.
Priests' group asks governor to commute sentences
A national group of Catholic priests is asking the governor of Arkansas to
commute the death sentences of 8 men, scheduled to be executed in April. A
letter March 22 from Father Bernard "Bob" Bonnot to Gov. Asa Hutchison asks
"that you commute the sentences to life in prison without possibility of
Bonnot chairs the leadership team of the Association of U.S. Catholic Priests,
with nearly 1,200 members in dioceses and religious communities throughout the
United States. In part, the priests assert that every execution "risks the
execution of an innocent man" and "sustains the status of the United States as
the only major nation in the developed world that continues this unnecessary
mode of justice."
The priests also state that execution "ends any hope of rehabilitating the
individual" and that following required legal processes "costs more . . . than
to sustain such inmates through life in prison." Executions are "an attack on
the dignity of human persons" and "a remnant of barbaric times," the priests
concluded. "Pope Francis and the U.S. bishops have called for abolition of the
death penalty. We stand with them."
Arkansas must reconsider death penalty, not rush to enforce it
It's been almost 12 years since the Arkansas government has executed anyone,
but in a seemingly desperate scramble to make up for lost time, the state will
execute 8 men over a span of 10 days in April.
The state is reportedly rushing these executions because its stock of midazolam
will reach its "use by" date April 30. The stronger-than-Valium sedative is
being talked about as though it is milk about to spoil.
The state is set to execute 2 people per day April 17, 20, 24 and 27. Instead
of considering ending the death penalty once and for all, Arkansas is gearing
up to wipe out 23 percent of its death row population in less than 2 weeks.
The inmates will be lethally injected in a barbaric, 3-step practice: First,
the midazolam to render the inmate insensate, pancuronium bromide to paralyze
them, and then potassium chloride to stop their heart and kill them.
Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in a Feb. 21, 18-page dissent, that
within midazolam-centered protocols, "prisoners executed by lethal injection
are suffering horrifying deaths beneath a 'medically sterile aura of peace.'"
While the department is making a last-ditch effort before its stock runs out,
many drug manufacturers are refusing to sell to executioners, which could mean
Arkansas will have an arduous time restocking in the future, according to a
March 24 LA Times article.
It seems as if the state cares more about the drug than the human beings who
will be injected with it. While Arkansas is more than likely trying to avoid
other means of execution, rushing through this is atrocious for many reasons,
including the possibility that one of the people being sent to their death
could be innocent. According to an April 28, 2014 Newsweek article, 1 in 25
people who are sentenced to death are believed to be innocent.
Another issue Arkansas should be concerned with is that midazolam has caused
many botched executions, according to the LA Times article. In a recent case,
Ronald Bert Smith appeared to be struggling for breath after the drug was
administered in an execution chamber in Alabama, Dec. 8, 2016. He is 1 of
several inmates who have spent the last minutes - or in 1 case, 2 hours - of
their lives alone, in pain and unable to stop it.
These kind of images may be what awaits "citizen witnesses" during the upcoming
executions. Arkansas is one of several states that require observers to ensure
the executioners conduct the practice correctly.
According to the LA Times article, the director of Arkansas' corrections
department announced at a March 21 Rotary Club meeting in Little Rock that the
state needs 48 volunteers to witness the executions. No one, apparently, took
up the offer, showing that people are not interested in being part of this
While it could be argued that those who receive the death penalty sentence
deserve it, the ingrained need for revenge is a losing battle. Sentencing a
criminal to a life in prison with no chance of becoming a productive member of
society is effective punishment. The death penalty will never be a humane way
to punish even the most harrowing of crimes.
(source: Editorial Board, The Columbia Chronicle)
Murder trial of Alan Champagne set to begin in Phoenix----He is accused of
killing a couple and burying them in a box in his mother's backyard.
The murder trial begins Monday for a man charged with killing a couple almost 6
years ago at his Phoenix apartment and burying their bodies in a plywood box in
his mother's backyard.
Prosecutors say Alan Champagne killed Philmon Tapaha and Brandi Nicole Hoffner
at his apartment in July 2011.
Three months later, authorities say they received a tip that 2 people were
killed in Champagne's apartment and that the person responsible for the deaths
was named "Mico," which is Champagne's nickname.
But investigators were unable to locate the bodies until Champagne's mother was
evicted and a landscaper working at her former home discovered the box.
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Champagne.
This is not his 1st murder trial. In 2005, he was released from prison after
serving 13 years for 2nd degree murder.
The trial starts at 10:30 a.m.
(source: NBC news)
A service courtesy of Washburn University School of Law www.washburnlaw.edu
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