2017-04-19 13:29:05 UTC
The Fix Analysis----Could Arkansas' battle over the death penalty signal the
beginning of its end?
The Supreme Court said Monday that Arkansas won't be able to execute two of its
death-row inmates. And a growing number of conservatives, who see the death
penalty as an anachronistic, religiously hypocritical and big-government waste
of money, are just fine with that.
In fact, the extreme nature of Arkansas' efforts to execute 8 inmates over a
week and a half - after going 12 years without an execution - could even
underscore anti-death-penalty conservatives' argument about why it should be
And what conservatives think about the death penalty matters perhaps more than
it does for any other political faction: Public support for the death penalty
and actual executions is at or near a 40-year-low. But Republicans control a
majority of state legislatures and governor's mansions, so any movement to
actually undo it will likely be driven by conservatives.
For the most part, the GOP in Arkansas fully supports the efforts of Gov. Asa
Hutchinson (R) to execute these inmates before a lethal injection drug expires.
But to growing numbers of conservatives on the fence or opposed to the death
penalty outside Arkansas, what he's doing feels like it belongs in the 1990s
rather than today's society, where life without parole is an option.
"For me, both as a fiscal conservative as well as a person of faith, we've
evolved to a point in society where it's not necessary," said longtime Georgia
state Rep. Brett Harrell (R), who just unveiled his opposition to the death
In January, Harrell helped announced the formation of Georgia's branch of
Conservatives Against the Death Penalty, a faction of a national group formed
in 2013 that has now expanded to 11 states and counting, including in very red
states such as Utah, Kansas and Nebraska.
But Arkansas is drawing the attention of even pro-death-penalty Republicans.
Marc Hyden, with the national branch of Conservatives Against the Death
Penalty, said he's in contact with national tea party leaders who are privately
put off by the rush to execute in Arkansas. They're not necessarily changing
their minds about it, but there's a sense that the state's rush to execute
these men feels unnecessary, he said.
"I think the inevitable is the death penalty will, at some point, become a
thing of the past," Hyden said.
In Georgia - which led the nation in executions last year - Harrell agreed that
there are more conservatives wary of the death penalty than those who publicly
say so. When he acknowledged he had changed his mind about the death penalty,
"nearly a dozen" of his Republican colleagues privately told him: "Good job. I
believe the same thing."
A messy, headline-grabbing legal battle in Arkansas could further prod them to
"There's a growing number of people who are stereotypically pro-death penalty
who are beginning to reconsider the issue," Harrell said.
Support for the death penalty is no longer a given in red states. Over the past
2 state legislative sessions, GOP lawmakers in an unprecedented 12 states have
sponsored or co-sponsored legislation to repeal the death penalty. Some of them
have gotten close.
In Utah last year, a repeal bill passed the state Senate and a House committee.
For the 1st time in the modern era, Missouri's full state Senate debated the
In 2015, Nebraska, a technically nonpartisan but politically conservative
legislature, became the 1st red state in 40 years to repeal it. In Kansas, the
Republican Party removed the death penalty from its platform. The National
Association of Evangelicals switched its 40-year position on support for the
death penalty to a stance that acknowledges evangelicals may oppose it. (In
Arkansas, more than 2 dozen evangelical leaders urged Hutchinson in a letter to
stop the executions.)
Conservatives' reasoning for opposing the death penalty generally falls under
at least 1 of 3 arguments:
1. It's not consistent with their antiabortion (that is "pro-life") beliefs.
("Many people argue in the pro-life movement," Harrell said, "at the beginning
of life that the image of God is present at the moment of conception, and
therefore we should do everything in our power to preserve life.")
2. It's not fiscally sound and not consistent with conservatives'
small-government policies. ("I'm thinking that it's wrong for government to be
in business in killing its own citizens," Utah state Sen. Steve Urquhart (R),
who sponsored the repeal bill there, told The Fix.)
3. Life in prison without parole is bad enough.
Reconsidering the death penalty is far from the consensus view among
Republicans. Nebraska voters reinstated the death penalty in November after a
campaign funded in part by the state's billionaire governor. The 2015 state
legislative session was overwhelmingly supportive of the death penalty,
famously underscored by Utah legalizing death by firing squad.
It's likely Arkansas won't be the last major battle for opponents of the death
penalty. But even (and sometimes especially) in the face of a rush of
executions, their movement is gaining momentum. Given the political makeup of
the United States and declining public support for the death penalty, it's one
(source: Amber Phillips, Washington Post)
Medical supplier again seeks to prevent drug from being used in executions; AG
wants to move case
Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge has requested that the case involving
a complaint filed by a medical supplier of drugs used in executions be moved
outside of Pulaski County.
The motion, filed Tuesday in Pulaski County Circuit Court, requests that
Virginia-based McKesson Medical-Surgical Inc.'s case be transferred to Faulkner
County Circuit Court.
Rutledge argued in the filing that the change of venue would be appropriate
given that "no plaintiff in this case is a citizen of the state of Arkansas ...
and this action was commenced against the state and officers of the state in
their official capacity."
McKesson's complaint stems from its belief that the state failed to disclose
the vecuronium bromide it purchased as part of a 3 drug protocol in lethal
The next 2 executions in Arkansas are scheduled Thursday with 3 others set for
Former Arkansas Death Row Chief Shocked at Execution Binge - "What Are They
Going to Tell Their Kids?"
Arkansas had big plans to execute seven men in 10 days beginning Monday night,
when Don Davis and Bruce Ward were scheduled to be taken from their death row
cells in the state's Varner Unit and driven roughly 3 miles to the Cummins
Unit, or "death house," near the small town of Grady.
That didn't happen, because of a slew of legal decisions on state and federal
levels. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the stays of execution
granted by lower courts, but delays from the Arkansas Supreme Court remained
after the state chose not to appeal a stay given to Ward, and the U.S. Supreme
Court decided to maintain the stay given to Davis in a last-minute ruling less
than 10 minutes before his death warrant expired at midnight Monday.
As of Tuesday morning, there are no legal proceedings blocking the remaining 5
executions from taking place.
Patrick Crain, who worked for the Arkansas Department of Corrections from 2003
to 2007 and was head of the Varner unit's death row, told the Intercept that
he's shocked the state of Arkansas wants "to carry out the executions in this
He said he worked with good people at Varner, and hates to see this happening
"What are they going to tell their kids? 'Hi Johnny, I executed seven people'?
Crain asked, his voice tinged with outrage. "That's ridiculous. They're going
to carry it around inside for the rest of their lives. It's going to affect
them and their families."
The former death row prison guard, who describes himself as a life-long
Republican, was pro-death penalty when he began working for the Department of
Corrections. But that changed.
Crain said the case of Damien Echols, 1 of the "West Memphis 3," a group of
teens convicted in 1994 for the murder of 3 children in a purported "Satanic
ritual," weighed on him greatly. Echols was at Varner waiting to die when DNA
evidence led to his release in 2011.
"We came close to killing an innocent man," he said of Echols, with whom he's
still in contact.
Crain also explained that he frequently encountered people on death row who
seemed incapable of controlling or understanding the consequences of their
"I have questions about the culpability of people who are profoundly mentally
ill," Crain said. "Killing people that are mentally challenged and mentally
ill, that's unacceptable. But I'm sure they're going to keep at it."
A study by Harvard University Law School's Fair Punishment Project reported
that Arkansas "will execute several men with serious mental illnesses," as well
as men whose IQs suggest mental impairment.
Don Davis, who was scheduled to die Monday, is believed to have an IQ between
69 and 77, "both of which are in the range of intellectual impairment," the
report states. Bruce Ward has been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and
appears "not to understand that he is about to die, believing instead that he
is preparing for a 'special mission as an evangelist,'" according to the study.
"For Mr. Davis, all he got was an expert from the state hospital," said Jessica
Brand, the main author of the Harvard report. These experts "often don't look
at health in the same way" as those who could be hired by defense attorneys,
A case regarding this issue, McWilliams v. Dunn, is to be decided by the U.S.
Supreme Court on April 24. If the court decides these men are entitled to
independent experts, then their constitutional rights "will have been violated
in a fundamentally prejudicially way," said Brand. "Most of these guys lacked
experts who were independent of the state ... the idea that they got a fair
trial in the 1st place is a lie."
Further delays are possible, he added.
The Harvard report found that Ledell Lee, scheduled for execution on April 20,
had legal counsel that was habitually inadequate. The Intercept spoke briefly
with Lee's attorney, Lee Short, about further actions. "We're considering all
options," Short said.
Arkansas scheduled the rapid-fire executions because the state's supply of
midazolam, the sedative in a lethal 3-drug cocktail that ends an inmate's life,
expires at the end of the month. The court delays pose a significant problem
for the state.
"We're now in a situation where all the FDA-approved manufacturers of potential
execution drugs have put controls in place," said Maya Foa, director of
Reprieve, a human rights organization based in the UK that campaigns against
Once the midazolam expires, she explained, it will be difficult for the state
to acquire a replacement. The only way to acquire the drugs will be illegally,
and "there are a number of legal avenues that companies can use to enforce the
contracts" that pre-empt use in lethal injection, Foa said.
Midazolam was used in several high-profile botched executions in which it
appears not to have sedated the condemned prisoners. Oklahoma's execution of
Clayton Lockett in 2014 was the 1st, and Ohio's January execution of Rick Javon
Gray was the most recent example.
A Federal judge in Ohio ruled against the use of midazolam in executions a week
after Gray's botched execution, saying it violated the Eighth Amendment's
prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.
At an April 12 hearing on injunctions against the executions, clinical
pharmacologist Daniel Buffington testified for Arkansas that the drug would
even be effective past its expiration date. But Dr. Joel Zivot, an expert on
bioethics, said "[n]o one knows what expired drugs will do in the setting of
lethal injection. It's clear that the state has some concern about expiration
date and the public concern around using expired chemicals to kill."
The executioners aren't experts - they are a group of volunteers who are
trained shortly before the execution takes place. For Crain, the former head of
Arkansas' death row, the prospects are clear: "They're going to botch an
execution, is what I think."
Deborah Denno, a professor of law at Fordham University who has studied capital
punishment for 25 years, agrees. She told The Intercept that executions are
"are being handled by individuals who lack any kind of knowledge base," and
state training seminars aren't enough to provide that foundation.
State officials have vowed to continue fighting for the executions. But Crain
said the concerns should far outweigh any "political points" to be won by
politicians, whom he views as the driving force behind the push for
assembly-line executions. He called the saga "a macabre circus."
Blocking Execution, US Supreme Court Deals Blow to Arkansas' "Hankering to
Kill"----With 5 more men slated for execution, death-penalty critics are
encouraging people to speak out
Despite state leaders' "hankering to kill," the U.S. Supreme Court late Monday
refused to allow the state to proceed with its scheduled execution, dealing yet
another legal blow to the government's planned spree.
"The nation's highest court took several hours to reach its decision, finally
announcing at 11:50pm [local time] that it had declined to lift a stay on the
execution of Don Davis, 54, imposed earlier in the day by the supreme court of
Arkansas," the Guardian's Ed Pilkington reported.
The other inmate, Bruce Ward, who was also scheduled to be executed on Monday,
did not have his stay challenged by Arkansas attorney general Leslie Rutledge,
who reportedly kept a staff working around the clock Easter weekend to
"dismantle the roadblocks," as NBC News put it, hindering the plan to kill 8
people in 11 days.
Davis, said to be intellectually disabled, now joins Ward and inmate Jason
McGehee, whose death sentence was also recently blocked by a federal judge. The
"execution assembly line" was planned by Republican governor Asa Hutchinson to
fast-track state killings before the end-of-the-month expiration date on the
state's supply of midazolam. The sedative has a grisly record when combined
with other drugs for a lethal injection "cocktail," which a federal judge over
the weekend said threatens inmates' constitutional rights.
"I've never beheld such a powerful official hankering to kill and kill now as
was evident Monday night in the political leadership of Arkansas," Arkansas
Democrat-Gazette columnist John Brummett wrote Tuesday in a powerful op-ed
skewering Hutchinson and Rutledge.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruling "is certain to embolden the defense lawyers of
the remaining 5 death-row inmates who still face the gurney, starting with
Stacey Johnson and Ledell Lee on Thursday," Pilkington observed.
Indeed, even before the Supreme Court reached its decision on Monday, the
American Civil Liberties Union filed a stay for Lee, who they say has had
"horrible legal counsel," in addition to being intellectually disabled.
Further, the group argues that DNA samples recovered from the crime scene were
never properly tested.
Leading anti-death penalty voice Sister Helen Prejean, who authored the book
Dead Man Walking (and was later portrayed in the 1995 film by the same name),
has been encouraging other opponents of state killings to "keep up the
pressure" on Hutchinson and Rutledge - including people around the nation and
Arkansas executions set for Thursday, but legal issues loom
Arkansas remains hopeful it can execute 5 inmates before the end of the month
after courts blocked the state from putting 2 men to death Monday night.
The inmates are fighting their executions on multiple legal fronts, but there
are currently no stays in place for 5 who are set to die this month as the
state rushes to beat an expiration date for 1 of its lethal drugs. The next
executions are scheduled for Thursday.
Here is a look at the legal landscape as Arkansas pushes forward with its
IS ARKANSAS CLEARED TO MOVE AHEAD?
At this point, yes, in five of the executions: for Stacey Johnson and Ledell
Lee, scheduled to die Thursday night; for Jack Jones and Marcel Williams, set
for lethal injection April 24; and for Kenneth Williams, scheduled for
execution April 27.
Bruce Ward and Don Davis, who were to be executed Monday night, won stays from
the Arkansas Supreme Court and the state appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court in
the case of Davis but not Ward. The U.S. Supreme Court then opted not to lift
the stay for Davis.
A spokesman for Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said Tuesday that the
state will make its arguments in the cases involving Davis and Ward before the
state Supreme Court but will follow the current briefing schedule that the
court has set, with deadlines into late May. Under that timeline, the state
would be unable to execute Ward and Davis before its supply of midazolam
expires April 30.
An 8th inmate, Jason McGehee, previously won a stay from a federal judge
regarding his clemency schedule, and Arkansas has not appealed that ruling.
WHAT ARE THE INMATES' ARGUMENTS?
There are many. The 2 set for execution Thursday, Lee and Johnson, both want
more DNA testing in hopes of proving their innocence. Lee also wants his
federal case reopened, with his attorneys arguing that Lee has fetal alcohol
syndrome, brain damage and intellectual disability. Lee also argues that his
trial judge had an affair with an assistant prosecutor and that he was
previously represented by a lawyer who showed up drunk at court.
Marcel Williams argues that his execution could be especially painful because
he is obese and has diabetes.
The legal issue that halted Monday's executions for Ward and Davis hinged on a
separate, broader case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court concerning a
defendant's access to independent experts, and attorneys say the justices'
ruling could potentially affect the inmates' criminal convictions. That case
will be argued next week.
Ward also had argued that he shouldn't be executed because of his mental
capacity. His attorneys have said he is a diagnosed schizophrenic.
WHAT ABOUT THE FEDERAL JUDGE???S DECISION BLOCKING THE EXECUTIONS?
A 101-page order that a federal judge filed early Saturday to block the
executions was reversed Monday by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The court noted that the inmates "have a long history of filing and dismissing
claims to manipulate the judicial process and prevent Arkansas from carrying
out their executions."
In her order, U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker flagged 2 issues: the use of
the midazolam and inmates' access to their attorneys on the days of their
The state filed an amended plan Monday that grants attorneys for the inmates
more phone access while on prison grounds.
WILL THE U.S. SUPREME COURT INTERVENE?
Justices rarely upend a lower court order in death penalty cases. That's true
whether it's the inmate who is seeking an 11th-hour reprieve or the state that
wants to put a prisoner to death.
The court may be even more reluctant to do so now with new Justice Neil Gorsuch
on board, especially because Gorsuch could be thrust into the uncomfortable
position of taking a decisive and public death penalty stand very early in his
It takes 5 votes to get most things done at the court, including imposing or
lifting a stay of execution.
The justices often split on death penalty issues, with the conservative
justices more willing to allow an execution to take place and the liberal
justices more inclined to side with inmates. WHAT ARE THE DRUG COMPANIES DOING?
A handful of drug companies are telling Arkansas that they don't want their
products used to kill inmates. 2 pharmaceutical companies filed a court brief
last week asking Baker to block Arkansas from using their drugs, but Baker did
not rule on that issue.
The medical supplier McKesson Corp. made a similar request in a separate case
before a Pulaski County circuit judge, which he granted. But the Arkansas
Supreme Court vacated that order after the judge, Wendell Griffen, was
photographed participating in an anti-death penalty protest on the same day he
issued his ruling.
McKesson refiled its suit Tuesday before a newly assigned judge.
Arkansas' rush to wholesale executions: Our view----Despite 11th-hour rulings,
double executions are slated for both this week and next.
The beat-the-clock spectacle unfolding in Arkansas, triggered by the state's
unprecedented scheme to carry out wholesale executions before the shelf life of
a lethal injection drug expires, demonstrates more than ever how the death
penalty in America is becoming less and less workable.
Multiple legal challenges have already blocked 3 of 8 executions the state
wanted to carry out by the end of the month. As of Tuesday afternoon, 5 lethal
injections remained on track, including double executions scheduled for
Thursday and next Monday.
No state in modern history has ever tried to put so many people to death in so
short a time. In fact, there were only 20 executions in all of America last
year, down from 98 in 1999. The procedure continues primarily in a narrow belt
of Southern states, so it's little surprise that the Arkansas process has
descended into confusion and controversy.
Growing societal displeasure with capital punishment has led drugmakers to try
to prevent their products from being used in executions. This has caused
shortages of lethal chemicals, the use of untested combinations and, in
Arkansas, a rush to execute as many death row inmates as possible before
running out of the drugs on hand.
Nor is there a firm consensus that the execution method used by Arkansas and
other states actually works without causing restrained prisoners extreme pain
and suffering. The process involves utilizing a sedative called midazolam to
render the condemned unconscious, while a second drug paralyzes and a third
stops the heart. In a 2015 dissent, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor
called the process the "chemical equivalent of being burned at the stake."
Capital punishment still finds favor with most Americans, and there can be
compelling arguments for the death penalty, particularly in cases involving
heinous crimes and incontrovertible guilt. Without question, the convicted
killers on Arkansas' death row deserve no sympathy; they deserve life in prison
without the possibility of parole, a fate that some consider worse than death.
But the tide of history is turning against the death penalty. Capital
punishment has proved to be neither a deterrent nor fairly imposed. Moreover,
the process can be enormously costly to taxpayers, can lead to innocent people
being placed on death row, and puts the United States out of step with other
For decades, lethal injection seemed like a more humane alternative to age-old
practices of hanging, firing squad, electrocution and gas chamber. That's
changing. With the growing shortage of drugs, states keep changing their
methods and protocols, and executions are being botched. Arkansas hasn't put
anyone to death since 2005, and after a long debate over procedure and a
narrowing window of viable drugs, opted to plunge ahead with its reckless
The last attempt at 2 executions in one day was in Oklahoma in 2014. The 1st
inmate took 43 minutes to die, writhing and moaning and lifting his head. The
2nd execution was called off, and an investigation later found that the lethal
injection team was too stressed by the imposed pace to do an adequate job.
With 2 nights of double executions slated for the next 2 weeks, Arkansas is
risking the same outcome, which would surely not advance the cause of death
penalty advocates. Judges are right to put the brakes on such helter-skelter
(source: Editorial, USA Today)
Arkansas is Pro Death Penalty. It Also Claims to be Christian.
How Christian is the Death Penalty?
Much to the chagrin of Arkansas officials, the state won't be killing anyone
today. The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to overturn the ruling of a state
court which stayed the executions of several inmates. The number varies and
frankly, except for their attorneys, it's doubtful that any observer can keep
track of which of the 8 death row inmates the authorities are toying with at
any given time. For example, CNN reports that Don Davis had his last supper
last night. And yeah the irony of that considering its proximity to the
Christian Holy Week should be lost on no one. But now it seems that Davis will
be getting many more meals before they execute him.
This postponement isn't just messing with Davis, it's annoying some state
Arkansas Attorney General, Leslie Rutledge, resents the interference by - of
all things - court judges. Rutledge, herself an officer of the court, thinks
that judges who don't agree with the death penalty shouldn't be able to rule on
death penalty cases. It appears Rutledge believes a jurist is incapable of
understanding the fundamentals of a law when he or she differs from the law
Rutledge might not be so short tempered if she weren't in such a rush. It's not
just that the administration is pro-death penalty. Arkansas also wants eight
death row inmates dead by the end of the month. At least 1 of the inmates is in
his 4th decade on death row. So why the urgency all of a sudden?
Well, putting aside apparent desire to satisfy a certain amount of bloodlust,
Arkansas's lethal injection drugs are about to expire. To make matters worse,
big Pharma doesn't want to sell Arkansas any new drugs. Reports state that the
drug companies don't want their chemicals used to kill people.
After all, a Harvard University study found the high cost of drugs leads to an
unnecessarily inflated death count among the poor. The highly profitable
pharmaceutical companies could take a stand for life, simply by lowering their
Back to the bloodlust. Elected officials like to give their constituents what
they want, so long as it doesn't interfere with what their donors want. A
whopping 61% of Arkansans support killing inmates found guilty of a capital
offense. Ironically 73% also worship a legally convicted victim of the death
penalty. If we stick with the same proportionality - 73% of 61% - then
statistically, at least 45% of Arkansans are Christians who support the death
If those 45% could be convinced - by oh, how about their religion - to reject
the death penalty, then only 16% of the population would favor execution and
the state could save a lot of money just incarcerating individuals for life.
Having a hard time justifying the death penalty with Christianity? You're not
alone. I reached out to a few ministers and asked their opinion. Vern Hyndman
who ministers to the poor and folks with substance abuse problems summed it up
this way, "For Christians who are committed to life and life more abundantly,
and to the offer of eternal life, the idea of purposefully causing a
retributive death is anathema." Hyndman elaborated, "Maybe the point is most
poignantly made from the cross. Jesus, as he dies in a case of legal, but
unethical capital punishment utters, "'Father, forgive them, for they know not
what they do.'"
Hyndman went on to explain that an executed man can not seek forgiveness. He
rejects denying a person that opportunity for God's Grace, "Each new day
affords all living beings the opportunity for redemption and forgiveness and
Hyndman went on to explain that some Christians use the death penalty as a
moral solution to a problem. Someone took a life, they should pay with a life.
But Christianity, says Hyndman, isn't about law it's about love. "Morality
obeys the law... every Jew in German ovens was legally executed. Love both
obeys and questions the law. Love takes precedent over the law."
"Murder is darkness," says Hyndman and more darkness won't bring light.
Still wanting an explanation for how a state that calls itself Christian could
also clamor for executions, I contacted Tony Lorenzen, Minister at Hopedale
Unitarian Parish. Lorenzen's an outspoken opponent of the death penalty and
gave his 2015 Good Friday Sermon while standing in front of the Huntsville,
Texas prison. Huntsville is where Texas executes its death row inmates.
Lorenzen told me, "I don't know how anyone can be a follower of Jesus and think
death penalty is ok, but most American Christianity is not the the religion of
Jesus, it's a religion ABOUT Jesus, a Jesus that hates all the same people the
The attorney general claims the death penalty will give important closure to
the families of victims. But Hyndman says the real closure in the death penalty
comes from propping "up the illusion that we're not the same as [the killer]."
And Hyndman says that won't work because, "According to Jesus, we are."
(source: Claire Welch, Huffington Post)
Attorney argues 2016 decision should mean new hearing for death row inmate
In a nearly empty courtroom Tuesday, an anti-death penalty attorney fought to
keep John Lotter's chances for post-conviction relief alive, arguing that
Nebraska's method of determining if someone ends up on death row is
But the other side argued that the U.S. Supreme Court case that attorney
Rebecca Woodman was relying upon wasn't a new issue and, therefore, Lotter was
barred from raising it now.
Lotter, who was convicted in the killing that inspired the 1999 movie "Boys
Don't Cry," wasn't in the 3rd-floor courtroom for the hearing, which lasted
roughly 45 minutes.
At issue Tuesday was whether he should get an evidentiary hearing where his
attorney could dig into Hurst v. Florida, a 2016 decision in which the U.S.
Supreme Court held that Florida's capital sentencing scheme was
unconstitutional because the jury made a recommendation to a judge, who decided
In Nebraska, a jury decides whether aggravating circumstances are present in
cases where prosecutors seek the death penalty. The decision goes to a 3-judge
panel only after a jury has found at least one aggravator.
At one point, Richardson County District Judge Vicky Johnson seemed to cut to
the chase, asking Woodman if the real issue was whether the Florida case was
retroactive, one of the key arguments made by Assistant Nebraska Attorney
General Kale Burdick.
Woodman, of the Death Penalty Litigation Clinic in Kansas City, said the
question to be decided is whether the decision qualifies as Lotter raising a
new claim of relief.
Burdick argued it's not a new claim and, because it's not, the judge need not
Juries in Nebraska make all the findings that expose a defendant to a greater
penalty. The 3-judge panel only weighs the aggravating and mitigating factors
once the jury has found the case "death eligible," Burdick said in asking
Johnson to deny the evidentiary hearing.
Woodman focused her argument on what she called evolving standards, which she
said no longer tolerate a sentencing scheme like Nebraska's.
She told Johnson that just last week Alabama's legislature changed its
sentencing scheme in capital cases, which had allowed judges to override a
jury's finding for the death penalty.
"Very clearly, Nebraska is an outlier among states, and the only state that
requires a finding necessary for a death sentence be found by a judge," she
Woodman said the unanimity of a jury verdict is a linchpin in ensuring "that no
defendant should suffer death unless a cross section of the community
unanimously determines that should be the case under a standard that requires
them to have a high degree of confidence that execution is a just result."
Lotter was sentenced to death for his role in the 1993 killings of Brandon
Teena and 2 witnesses, Lisa Lambert and Philip DeVine, at a rural Humboldt
Woodman argued, because all of the state's 10 death row inmates were sentenced
under the same scheme, a review of all of their cases is not only
constitutionally required, but also would be minimally disruptive because
Nebraska has one of the smallest death rows in the country.
Johnson took Lotter's motion under advisement.
Earlier this year, a federal judge denied Lotter's challenge in U.S. District
Court raising similar claims, in part because he didn't get permission from the
Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals to file it, as required.
Lotter could be 1st in line of the 10 men on death row for an execution warrant
if he is found to have exhausted his appeals.
(source: Lincoln Journal Star)
South Dakota man faces death penalty in wife's killing
A Sioux Falls man could face the death penalty after a grand jury indicted him
in his wife's killing.
A Minnehaha County grand jury indicted 43-year-old Irving Jumping Eagle on
charges of 1st-degree murder, 2nd-degree murder and 1st-degree manslaughter in
the death of 33-year-old Alicia Jumping Eagle. She was found dead in the
couple's Sioux Falls apartment earlier this month.
The Argus Leader (http://argusne.ws/2pP68wk ) reports Irving Jumping Eagle is
being held on $1 million bail.
Police allege Irving Jumping Eagle had blood on himself April 3 while at a gas
station about 300 miles away near Streeter, North Dakota. The car he was
driving hit a bridge pillar the next morning in Deuel County, in eastern South
Dakota. He was taken to a hospital and then jailed in Sioux Falls.
(source: Associated Press)
Mohave County prosecutors do not file for death penalty against Alfredo Blanco
The timeline to seek the death penalty for Alfredo Blanco, accused of murder,
passed without any filings from Mohave County prosecutors, who apparently did
not feel they had sufficient evidence to pursue the death sentence.
Defense attorney Robin Puchek said it looks like "that ship has sailed" after
discussing the evidence with prosecuting attorney Bob Moon.
Puchek on Monday asked Judge Steven Conn to continue the pretrial hearing to
allow for rehabilitation of Blanco's foot and hand. Blanco was arrested in
January at a rehabilitation center in Youngtown after suffering a stroke and
losing movement in his limbs.
Conn said he's smart enough to be a judge, but not a doctor, and he wasn't
comfortable ruling on something he knows nothing about. He set the next hearing
for May 30 to give attorneys time to file paperwork with Mohave County jail to
see what the issues are with Blanco's rehab.
Blanco, 61, is accused of killing real estate agent Sidney Cranston Jr. on June
19, 2015, and burying his body on a ranch east of Kingman. Cranston was missing
for 19 months before authorities discovered his remains on Jan. 7.
Puchek noted that he gave Moon 16 new items of disclosure for evidence,
including the polygraph test on William Sanders, an associate of Blanco, who
eventually led authorities to Cranston's body.
Puchek added that Moon has indicated there may not be a plea offer in this
case.Blanco pleaded not guilty to charges of 1st-degree murder, concealment of
a dead body and tampering with evidence.
(source: Kingman Daily Miner)
Legislature scraps death penalty bill
Nevada lawmakers set out to abolish the death penalty in the state of Nevada
because of concerns over costs and moral issues. AB237 hoped it would not only
abolish the death penalty but commute the death sentences of 82 inmates on the
state's death row to life without parole.
Although the bill was heard once at an Assembly Judiciary meeting on March 29,
the bill was scuttled shortly after on April 14, the deadline for bills to make
it out of their original committee.
State Senate Judiciary Chairman Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, and Assemblyman
James Ohrenschall, D-Las Vegas, sponsored the bill. The bill would have made
life without parole the strongest punishment in place for heinous crimes.
Since the death penalty was reinstated and ruled constitutional by the U.S.
Supreme Court in 1976, Nevada has executed 12 people. 11 of the 12 death row
inmates chose capital punishment over life in prison.
In total, 160 Nevadans have been sentenced to death in the last 40 years for
various crimes including 1st-degree murder, armed robbery, sexual assault in
the 1st-degree, murder of law enforcement, and in most instances a combination
of heinous crimes.
In the Assembly Judiciary Committee meeting on March 29, many victims' families
spoke in support and against the bill. Washoe County District Attorney, Chris
Hicks, spoke in opposition to the bill:
"The death penalty is not misused by prosecutors in the state of the Nevada.
Throughout all our counties, the decision to seek the death penalty is made
sparingly and judiciously. It is reserved for the very worst of the worst,"
Hicks said. "In Washoe County, in the last 20 years, my office has prosecuted
over 300 murders. In that exact same timeframe, we have sought the death
penalty only 5 times."
Hicks added the accounts of Holly Quick and Brianna Denison, the last 2 cases
which drew a death penalty conviction.
Denison's killer, James Biela, sexually assaulted 2 young females near the
University of Nevada, Reno, campus prior to his attack on Denison.
The attack in question happened on Jan. 20, 2008, at a sleepover Denison was
having at a friend's house. Denison was sexually assaulted, choked to death
with her own underwear, and abandoned in a field with a discarded Christmas
tree pulled over her body.
Denison's aunt was at the hearing on March 29, while Hicks shared statements
from Denison's family opposing AB237. Denison's killer, James Biela, currently
sits on death row in Nevada along with 81 other inmates. In addition to the
death sentence for murdering Denison, Biela also received 4 consecutive life
prison terms for the sexual assaults of the 2 women on the University of
Nevada, Reno, campus.
Cynthia Portaro, a Las Vegas resident, spoke in support of abolishing capital
"Is killing someone going to bring my family back, bring my son back; no. It's
not, nothing is going to bring my son back," Portaro said. "But maybe this kid
can make a difference in the world, wherever he goes because I chose to say no
to the death penalty."
Portaro's son was murdered in 2011 but instead of seeking the death penalty
during the trial period, she chose to spare her son's killer???s life.
Senator Segerblom, a sponsor of the bill, says the current system is
ineffective and too expensive.
"We had to spend $800,000 to build a death chamber but we can't buy the drugs
to even use the death chamber," Segerblom said in reference to the shortage of
lethal injection drugs in Nevada. "If killing is something which our society
condemns, how then can we as a society turn around and kill people?" Segerblom
asked the committee.
Pharmaceutical companies in Nevada have been limiting access to lethal
With the completion of the $860,000 project to build a new execution chamber
approved by Nevada lawmakers in 2015, Nevada's death row inmates being held at
Ely State Prison won't be put to death anytime soon. The new death chamber that
was built last year at Ely State Prison hasn't been used, and the last person
put to death in Nevada was in 2006.
Governor Brian Sandoval has not said whether he would sign or veto the death
penalty repeal but during his campaign back in 2010, he supported the death
penalty for the worst crimes.
No executions are scheduled in Nevada at this time, according to the Death
Penalty Information Center.
(source: The Nevada Sagebrush)
How Easter challenges the horrifying injustice of America's death penalty
Holy Week witnessed new levels of protest against America's culture of
violence, specifically the State of Arkansas' line-up of 8 people to execute in
10 days. The Easter killing spree was designed to make the most of the state's
remaining supplies of midazolam, 1 of 3 drugs in a lethal execution cocktail,
before its use-by date of April 30.
On Good Friday, hundreds of protesters gathered on the steps of the Arkansas
Capitol and a petition of over 157,000 signatures was delivered to Republican
governor Asa Hutchinson.
The grounds for protesting Arkansas' schedule are many.
Firstly, the risk of executing an innocent person was affirmed by one of
Friday's protesters, Damien Echols, released in 2011 after 18 years on death
row. 157 death row inmates have been exonerated to date and some have been
executed then later proved innocent.
Secondly, the lethal drugs used in executions have come under recent legal
challenges in several states for the suffering caused by ghastly botched
executions in recent years.
On Maundy Thursday, 2 of the many pharmaceutical companies that have refused to
supply drugs for execution filed a court brief claiming the drugs they supplied
to Arkansas were obtained under false pretences, supposedly for medical
Other states have found ways to circumvent the reputable drug companies' ban.
Ohio, which witnessed the lengthy, suffocating death of Dennis McGuire in 2014
and the 2-hour torturous attempt to inject Romell Broom in 2009, passed a law
last year guaranteeing secrecy for any supplier or compounding pharmacy
supplying killer drugs.
Thirdly, objections to the death penalty have been raised on behalf of the
executioners. On Wednesday, 23 former corrections officials from different
States wrote to Arkansas Governor Hutchinson urging him to halt the killings,
on the grounds that committing serial executions causes considerable mental
The State had even resorted to asking for volunteers from the Rotary Club to
initiate some of the executions, to take the strain off prison staff. They had
no volunteers, even from professed death penalty supporters.
By Easter Monday, Arkansas' hit list had gone down from eight to five. A parole
board recommended clemency for Jason McGehee, who had spent 19 years on death
row for a violent crime at age 19, following a severely abused childhood. The
Governor does not have to accept the board's recommendation but it at least
delays the issue until after the lethal drugs run out at the end of the month.
A stay of execution was granted for Bruce Ward based on his mental disability.
Then Don Davis - who had already been given his final meal in the execution
unit - was granted a last minute appeal by the US Supreme Court due to his
'organic brain damage, intellectual disability, head injuries, fetal alcohol
syndrome and other severe mental health conditions'.
The mental health issue was further grounds for the Good Friday protests.
Arkansas, which executed a man with schizophrenia in 2004, is 1 of 7 states
facing the introduction of a new bill to prohibit the death penalty for people
suffering serious mental illness at the time of their crime.
In theory, it is already unconstitutional to execute someone with mental
illness but many are not diagnosed until they are in prison, and according to 1
death row inmate, usually the State 'medicates them, says they're OK now, then
It is already illegal (following the 2002 Atkins ruling) to execute someone
with intellectual disability but states define disability in their own way.
Texas has just been ordered by the US Supreme Court to relinquish outdated
methods of assessing intellectual disability based on IQ tests and ignoring
other data, a practice mirrored by other States.
There are also ongoing protests from forensic scientists regarding the use or
misuse of forensic evidence to convict people, and the new Attorney General's
proposal to remove review of forensic procedures from the scientific community
is causing dismay.
Innocence Projects and attorneys for a number of death row inmates claim that
their clients' convictions were based on uncorroborated forensic claims, junk
science or improperly analysed DNA results.
And lastly, but significantly, protesters are challenging the myth that
executing the perpetrator of violent crime constitutes justice, 'closure' or
rightful revenge for victims' families.
Among the growing army of Americans joining the protests against
state-sanctioned violence are family members of victims, who do not want the
last memorial of their loved ones to be another gruesome death.
Easter is a reminder, if Christians ever need one, that redemption does not
preclude even the gravest offenders and that ??? surely ??? one crucifixion is
(source: Clare Nonhebel, Christian Today)
A service courtesy of Washburn University School of Law www.washburnlaw.edu
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