2017-04-30 20:45:13 UTC
In Pa., many death cases overturned
Convicted cop killer Eric Matthew Frein was sentenced to death row, but if
history is any indication, prosecutors will face a challenge keeping him there.
Pennsylvania is among numerous states nationwide that have seen dozens of
defendants removed from death row after successfully appealing their
convictions and/or sentences, according to a 2013 report by the Bureau of
Justice Statistics, the latest data available.
From 1973 to 2013, there were 8,466 people sentenced to death in state and
federal courts nationwide. Of those, 3,194 defendants, or 37.7 %, are no longer
on death row because their convictions and/or death sentences were overturned
on appeal. In Pennsylvania, 417 defendants were sentenced to death, with 188,
or 45 %, of the convictions/death sentences being overturned, according to the
As of the date of the report, 190 people were on Pennsylvania's death row. That
number dropped drastically within the past 2 years.
In February 2015, when Gov. Tom Wolf imposed a moratorium on executions, there
were 186 people on Pennsylvania's death row. As of April 3, the state's death
row population is 171. Of the 15 inmates removed from the list, 14 got off
because their convictions or sentences were overturned, including Michael
Bardo, who was convicted in 1993 in Luzerne County of murdering his niece,
according to the DOC. Pennsylvania has not executed anyone since 1999,when Gary
Heidnik, who gave up his appeals, was put to death for torturing and murdering
several women in Philadelphia.
The fact the sentences or convictions were overturned does not mean all those
defendants were innocent or wrongly convicted, several legal experts said in
recent interviews. Rather, it is an indication of the enormous complexity of
capital cases and the exhaustive review they undergo on appeal.
"Death penalty cases are the brain surgery of criminal law," said Jules
Epstein, a law professor at Temple University in Philadelphia. "Not every
lawyer on the prosecution, as well as the defense side, is up on all the
nuances and requirements of the law."
The slightest misstep by either the defense or prosecution can lead to the case
being overturned, attorneys said.
"In death penalty cases, we don't just have due process. We have super due
process," said Joshua Marquis,district attorney in Clatsop County, Oregon, and
member of the National District Attorneys Association. "Death penalty cases are
subjected to a level of scrutiny like no other case."
A Chester County jury convicted Frein, 33, of Canadensis, on April 19 of 2
counts of 1st-degree murder and 10 other charges in Pike County Court for the
Sept. 12, 2014, sniper attack at the Blooming Grove state police barracks that
killed Cpl. Bryon K. Dickson II, 38, of Dunmore, and severely wounded Trooper
Alex T. Douglass, 34, of Olyphant. The jury sentenced Frein to death Wednesday.
Epstein and other death penalty experts said many factors lead to reversals.
Among the most common reasons are faulty jury instructions and the failure of
defense counsel to investigate fully the background of a defendant in
developing mitigating circumstances, which lessen a defendant's culpability.
In Pennsylvania, jurors weigh mitigators against aggravating circumstances,
which make a crime more heinous, in deciding whether to sentence a defendant to
death or life in prison.
"Time and time again, cases get reversed because the jury was never given the
full background and therefore the full picture of the defendant," Epstein said.
Robert Dunhan, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said
part of the issue is counties are reluctant to pay for the experts and
investigators the defense seeks.
"The failure to provide meaningful resources to the defense led to more than
100 capital cases being overturned (nationwide)," Dunhan said.
In Frein???s case, Pike County Judge Gregory Chelak appointed a taxpayer-funded
mitigation expert, Louise Luck,to his defense team early in the case and also
authorized payment for a neuropsychologist, Carol Armstrong, to examine him.
The defense ended up not presenting Armstrong's findings. Jurors did not find a
single mitigating circumstance.
Frein remained incarcerated in the Pike County Correctional Facility as of
Friday. He will be transferred to the State Correctional Institution at
Rockview for processing, then to either SCI Graterford or SCI Greene, the two
state prisons that house death row inmates.
Like all death penalty cases, the state Supreme Court automatically will review
his conviction and death sentence. If the court upholds the verdicts, Frein has
several appeals he can file in state and federal court systems. It could be up
to a decade or longer before the case is resolved.
While the lengthy legal process can be frustrating, it is necessary to ensure
the state gets it right, Marquis said.
"The deck has always been stacked in favor of the defendant," Marquis said.
"There is supposed to be an imbalance. The state is trying to kill someone, so
the burden should be on the state."
Frein sentence, sadly, won't bring closure
Killer Eric Frein's sentence of death by lethal injection is the punishment he
deserves. Actually, a death sentence by any means would be appropriate.
Frein killed 1 Pennsylvania state trooper and left another permanently disabled
during a nighttime ambush Sept. 12, 2014, at the Blooming Grove barracks in
A jury convicted him of capital murder on April 19.
Unfortunately, it will be years, if not decades, before his sentence actually
is meted out. There's also the real question of whether it ever will be.
As an article in Friday's Mirror reported, Pennsylvania hasn't carried out an
execution since 1999, and there only have been 3 since the U.S. Supreme Court
restored the death penalty in 1976.
Moreover, Gov. Tom Wolf has imposed a moratorium on executions while a state
Senate task force reviews the commonwealth's death penalty.
When that review will be completed - and a decision handed down - is anyone's
State residents deserve a report on how far the review has proceeded, or about
whether the review process is in limbo for whatever reason.
Regardless, during what is certain to be the lengthy appeals process to which
Frein is entitled, there can at least be satisfaction that this man, who has
been described as a monster, isn't going to be treated to a country club
As a "resident" of Pennsylvania's death row, his future means being locked in a
cell, in solitary confinement, for 23 hours a day.
He'll have plenty of time to ponder the stupidity of his notion that his ambush
on the police barracks would spark an uprising against the government.
He also should use some of the time to reflect on his cowardice in allowing his
defense, in an attempt to spare him from a death sentence, to blame his action
on his father and a dysfunctional family.
In fact, he should have been man enough to plead guilty and accept the
consequences. He left behind plenty of evidence of his identity and guilt in
relatively close proximity to the barracks.
Frein is another example of someone "brave" in taking someone else's life but
anything but brave when his own life is at stake.
What also must be acknowledged is the possibility that Frein still might be
eluding law enforcement if he had planned a better getaway.
But fortunately, early on, police knew who they were seeking and had evidence
indicating that he was on foot, not in a vehicle.
Frein's formal sentencing brought closure to the court proceedings dealing with
his fate, but the death sentence didn't bring closure to the sorrow and pain
that he inflicted.
It didn't bring closure to the fact that Cpl. Bryon Dickson's 2 young sons
never again will have their father with them. It didn't bring closure to the
physical challenges with which Trooper Alex Douglass will be forced to deal for
the rest of his life.
It didn't bring closure to the anguish that will continue to live with his
For now, Eric Frein is where he should be, but the "system" he so much abhorred
continues to be much more generous toward him than is warranted.
That fact is a tragedy in itself.
(source: Editorial, Altoona Mirror)
Will Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey grant clemency to death row inmates?
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey has been in office less than three weeks and she will
soon face a life and death decision.
As governor, Ivey has the power to commute the death sentence of an inmate to
life or grant a reprieve to delay an execution. The next one is the execution
of Tommy Arthur, which is set for May 25. 14 days later the state also plans to
execute Robert Melson, the man convicted in the 1994 slayings of three Popeye's
restaurant employees in Gadsden.
What will Ivey do?
"The Governor is aware of the scheduled execution," Ivey's press secretary,
Eileen Jones, stated in an email to AL.com regarding Arthur's execution. "She
realized the serious responsibility she has as Governor regarding an execution.
She plans to meet with the appropriate authorities to thoroughly review before
making a final decision," she stated.
Only once since executions were reinstated in Alabama in the early 1980s, after
a nationwide pause over the constitutionality of the death penalty, has an
Alabama governor commuted the sentence of a death row inmate. Former Gov. Fob
James did it with Judith Ann Neelley.
Governors almost never stop executions
"Have they weighed on me? "Yes they have. Very much so. And they should. We are
talking about a human life in each case." Gov. Robert Bentley on the decision
to commute or allow a state execution to take place
Former Gov. Bob Riley in 2007 stayed 1 of Arthur's executions for 45 days so
the state could put in place a new lethal injection protocol. Arthur also had
stays of executions 6 other times by courts. Next month's execution is the 8th
On Wednesday Ivey, after consulting with her legal counsel, denied a request by
Arthur's attorney to have DNA testing performed on a wig that prosecutors say
was worn by the person who killed Troy Wicker, the man Arthur was convicted of
shooting to death in a 1982 murder for hire plot.
A forensic expert had testified at a hearing in 2009 that he couldn't find any
genetic material to test for DNA comparison. Arthur has been convicted by 3
Denial of the DNA testing wasn't the 1st time Ivey has faced a decision about
Alabama's death penalty in the short time she has had in office.
In one of her 1st acts Ivey also signed a bill into law that does away with
judicial override - the process that had allowed judges to ignore jury
recommendations for life without parole sentences and instead impose death.
Alabama had been the only state that still allowed judicial override after
Florida and Delaware did away with it last year.
Alabama appeals court affirms conviction of man in slayings of 3 relatives
The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals on Friday affirmed the conviction of a
Birmingham man sentenced to death for the 2010 stabbing deaths of his great
aunt and 2 cousins.
But the court ordered the trial judge to further expand in writing the reasons
for the death sentence.
Dontae Callen was sentenced Aug. 20, 2013 for his capital murder conviction in
the Oct. 29, 2010 stabbing deaths of his great aunt, Bernice Kelly, 59, and his
cousins Quortes Kelly, 33, and Aaliyah Budgess, 12, and setting fires in the
apartment after the slayings.
Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Laura Petro sentenced Callen after a jury
voted 11-1 to recommend he be sentenced to death.
Dr. Gary Simmons, a forensic pathologist with the Jefferson County Coroner's
Office, testified that Bernice Kelly had been stabbed 18 times in her upper
body; Quortes Kelly had been stabbed 33 times in his upper body; and Aaliyah
Budgess had been stabbed 25 times to her neck and head.
The appeals court stated in its order Friday that the trial judge should have
expanded on her written findings of fact concerning 2 of the 3 aggravating
The appeals court stated that "by remanding this case to the circuit court, we
do not wish to be understood as implying that [the murders were] not especially
heinous, atrocious, or cruel when compared to other capital murders."
Defense attorneys Ron Thrasher and Don Colee had argued for the judge to
override the jury's recommendation for the death penalty at the sentencing.
Among their arguments were that Callen hadn't been in trouble before, that he
has a low IQ, he was only 6 weeks past his 18th birthday when the slayings
happened, and that he didn't have a stable home life, bouncing around among
family as a child and teen - including awhile with Bernice Kelly.
(source for both: al.com)
Ohio's death penalty
Once again, the state of Ohio is dragging its feet in implementing the death
penalty. In a recent 2-1 decision, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in
Cincinnati found the use of the drug Midazolam "unconstitutional." Kevin
Werner, executive director of Ohioans To Stop Executions says, "The death
penalty system in Ohio is collapsing in nearly every measurable way." According
to him, Ohioans are choosing life sentences over the death penalty for these
heinous crimes. I disagree and would like to know who the people are that are
saying this. It's a given that they are not asking any of the victims'
In my opinion, the sentences handed down by the courts today cater more to the
perpetrator than to the victims, thanks to our legal system.
It's apparent that lady justice should remove her blindfold to see how grossly
unbalanced her scales really are. I wonder how Kevin Werner might feel if it
had been his family who had been killed and the house set on fire to destroy
ROBERT B. JOHNSON
(source: Letter to the Editor, Tribune Chronicle)
Latest use of sedative keeps death penalty debate alive
Is unorthodox the same as cruel and unusual punishment?
It's the central question of the current U.S. death penalty debate, highlighted
by the latest execution involving a disputed sedative that appeared to involve
discomfort to the inmate.
States struggling to find lethal drugs believe they've got the answer in
midazolam, a sedative that's taking the place of barbiturates and anesthetics
no longer available because drug manufacturers don't want them used in
States that have the drug won't say where they've obtained it, but in recent
months have secured enough supplies to carry out or plan executions.
But once again, the effectiveness of midazolam has been questioned following
executions in Ohio, Arizona and, just this week, Arkansas. That's where
condemned inmate Kenneth Williams lurched and convulsed 20 times during a
lethal injection execution Thursday that began with midazolam.
"There is so much evidence that this drug leads to problematic and likely
torturous executions, and the 2 courts that have heard the most evidence - Ohio
and Arkansas - ruled against the drug," said Jen Moreno, a staff attorney with
the Berkeley Law Death Penalty Clinic.
In June, the full 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals plans to hear a challenge
by Ohio death row inmates of the state's new 3-drug method, which inmates say
could lead to a substantial risk of harm. The method begins with midazolam.
Attorneys leading that challenge didn't immediately respond to requests by The
Associated Press for any plans to use what happened in Arkansas in their case.
But it's almost guaranteed to be among their leading arguments before the
court, judging by past filings.
Ohio plans to use a massive dose of 500 milligrams of midazolam, which
attorneys for the state say is more than enough to render inmates unconscious.
The state also notes the Supreme Court has drawn a distinction between pain
that amounts to cruel and unusual punishment, and pain that is a consequence of
Attorneys fighting Ohio's procedure have presented evidence from expert
witnesses who say that midazolam is subject to a "ceiling effect" that limits
its effectiveness, regardless of how much is administered.
At the state's request, the full appeals court agreed to review the case after
a three-judge panel rejected the method as unconstitutional. Such full-court
hearings, instead of by a smaller panel, are relatively rare.
The appeals court is the middle step between initial rulings by federal judges
and reviews by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Attorneys for Williams and the American Civil Liberties Union called for a full
investigation after he became the 4th convicted killer executed in Arkansas in
8 days. The state sought to carry out as many lethal injections as possible
before one of its drugs expired Sunday, meaning its effectiveness date passes
without new supplies to replace it.
The Arkansas governor says he sees no reason for anything beyond a routine
review of procedures.
Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson also noted that the use of midazolam, which was
a component of Williams' injection, has been upheld by higher-level courts. He
said he does not think Arkansas needs to change its execution protocol.
Questions about midazolam come as use of the death penalty slowly declines in
the U.S. following its reintroduction in 1976, 4 years after the Supreme Court
declared it unconstitutional.
Only 30 people were sentenced to death in the United States last year, the
lowest number since the early 1970s. Just 20 people were executed in 2016, the
fewest since 1991, and a far cry from 1999, when there were 98 executions.
Beginning in 2011, drugmakers, many based in Europe, came under new pressure
from anti-death penalty activists and began to put drugs previously used in
executions off limits.
The result is an ongoing scramble for states to find alternatives, including
compounded versions of drugs that can be made by individual pharmacies, and
versions of the drugs manufactured by overseas companies not regulated by the
U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
But several death penalty states aren't ready to give up. Some, including
Arkansas, Georgia and Ohio, have passed laws shielding the source of drugs.
Others are proposing similar laws.
The Arkansas inmates, including Williams, died within 20 minutes from the start
of their executions, a contrast from troubled midazolam-related executions in
other states that took anywhere from 26 minutes to 2 hours.
Nevertheless, opponents of midazolam are now focusing on the 6th Circuit,
especially after the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals allowed the Arkansas
executions to go forward. Lower court judges in Ohio and Arkansas have rejected
the use of the drug.
In a case from Oklahoma, the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015 upheld the use of
midazolam. Death penalty opponents say the case in Ohio has been argued more
fully and should reach the high court again.
Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the pro-death penalty Criminal Justice
Legal Foundation, said he believes the Arkansas case will have only minor
influence on whether the U.S. Supreme Court again considers the use of
A spokesman for the Arkansas governor called the movements seen in Thursday's
execution "an involuntary muscular reaction" that were common side effects of
midazolam. Scheidegger agreed.
"There isn't any legitimate reason why involuntary muscle movements during this
execution should affect others," he said.
(source: Associated Press)
Arkansas will face challenges replenishing execution supply
Arkansas will have a more difficult time obtaining additional lethal injection
drugs after an unprecedented court challenge by a drug distributor and possible
complications during at least one of the four executions the state carried out
this month, experts said.
The state launched an ambitious plan to execute eight death row inmates over 11
days to beat the expiration date on one of the three drugs needed under the
state's lethal injection protocol, but four of the executions were halted by
courts. Arkansas' remaining supply of midazolam expires Sunday, and it's not
known where the state will be able to get more of the sedative or its dwindling
supply of the other 2 drugs.
All of the major manufacturers of injectable midazolam have said they do not
want their drugs used in executions and most of them have created control
systems, including contracts with third-party drug distributors prohibiting the
sale of their drugs for use in lethal injections. Some of those companies have
even asked wholesalers who sell drug components to compounding pharmacies to
sign contracts that they will not sell the manufacturers' ingredients to
compounders that plan to make lethal injection drugs.
"This is a new chapter in this story, and every time we have a new chapter it
makes it more and more difficult to obtain drugs and the states' options get
more and more constrained," said Deborah Denno, a professor at Fordham
University School of Law and an expert on the death penalty.
Denno said the drug companies have been "incredibly disruptive" in the past.
She cited a Missouri lawsuit in 2013 in which intervention by the drugmaker
Fresenius Kabi USA was able to stop the state from using propofol, a drug
that's never been used in an execution.
American drugmakers that refused to make sodium thiopental sparked drug
shortages at execution chambers nationwide in 2011, forcing many states to look
for alternatives. Texas has found a steady stream of pentobarbital from an
unnamed compounding pharmacy.
Arkansas is facing a lawsuit from drug distributor McKesson Corp., which wants
the state to return its remaining supply of vecuronium bromide. It's the second
drug in Arkansas' execution protocol.
McKesson argued that a representative of the state misled the company when
purchasing the drug last July by using a physician's license number that
implied the drug would be used only for medically approved purposes. Company
representatives have said they have contracts with manufacturers saying they
cannot sell the drugs for executions.
The Arkansas Supreme Court lifted an order that had blocked the state from
using McKesson's drugs but the underlying court case remains.
A McKesson spokeswoman declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.
With its midazolam set to expire Sunday, Arkansas has no more executions
scheduled. The state requires 2 full doses of each of the 3 drugs including a
backup dose of each in case there is an issue during an execution. It's not
clear how many doses of the other 2 drugs Arkansas uses to execute prisoners
remain in the state's stash.
Arkansas' execution protocol requires prison officials to dispose of any drugs
that were prepared for an execution, but not used.
An Arkansas Department of Correction spokesman confirmed the state destroyed
the unused backup doses prepared for the recent executions, but it was not
clear if the prison readied drugs for any of the four inmates whose scheduled
executions were blocked by courts.
Denno said the perceived issues in Thursday's execution of Kenneth Williams,
who lurched and convulsed 20 times during the lethal injection, will also
signal to drug companies that there might be issues in the state's protocol.
USING THE SECRECY LAW
The drugmakers and suppliers that don't want Arkansas to use their drugs said
the Department of Correction has hidden behind the state's execution secrecy
law. The law passed in 2015 required the state to keep any information that
might identify the makers and sellers of execution drugs a secret.
But the companies said the state has used the law to keep the purchases a
secret from the makers themselves. The makers allege Arkansas won't confirm it
has their drugs and promised a 3rd-party distributor in June 2015 that the
manufacturers would never know it had violated contracts that prevent the sale
of their drugs for use in executions.
McKesson alleges Arkansas used deceitful tactics to buy a replacement batch
when one of the drugs expired.
And Correction Department Director Wendy Kelley has testified that she drove to
an undisclosed location to obtain the state's newest batch of potassium
chloride from a person who chose to donate the drug rather than create a record
of a sale.
State officials have testified all 3 drug suppliers previously used will not
sell or give any more lethal drugs to Arkansas.
"The companies don't want to be publicly shamed, not for such a small market.
You could see even for a small compounding pharmacy, they don't want to be
known as the pharmacy that makes the drugs that kill people," said Dr. Peter
Rice, a professor of clinical pharmacy at the University of Colorado School of
But 2 of the companies involved in the sale or possible making of the drugs -
McKesson and Fresenius- identified themselves in court filings, signaling they
care more that the state doesn't use their drugs than remaining anonymous.
The Banal Horror of Arkansas's Executions----With the state's supply of the
sedative midazolam due to expire, the proposed schedule came to resemble a
lethal clearance sale.
By the opaque reasoning of capital punishment, the state of Arkansas grew some
unknowable fraction safer last Monday evening, when Jack Jones, a 52-year-old,
overweight, hypertensive, diabetic amputee, was strapped to a gurney in the
Cummins Unit prison and administered drugs to successively sedate him, impair
his breathing, stop his heart, and kill him. According to the state's timeline,
the process was a model of efficiency, taking only 14 minutes to complete -
less time than one might spend registering a vehicle at the Little Rock D.M.V.
This was significant, as the night's work was just getting started. Arkansas
was staging the 1st double execution in the United States since 2000. 3 hours
later, Marcel Williams, a 46-year-old man who also suffered from diabetes,
obesity, and hypertension, was strapped to the same gurney, injected with the
same cocktail of drugs, and declared dead within 17 minutes.
Jones's and Williams's executions were the second and 3rd in a 4-day period; at
the same facility, on the preceding Thursday, Ledell Lee, aged 51, became the
1st prisoner to be put to death in Arkansas since 2005. A 4th man, Kenneth
Williams, aged 38, who had been on death row since 2000, was executed at
Cummins on Thursday, shortly before midnight, when his warrant was set to run
out. These 4 were among 8 men whom Arkansas sought to execute in 11 days. With
the state's supply of the sedative midazolam due to expire at the end of the
month, the proposed schedule came to resemble a lethal clearance sale. To
socioeconomics and race - the known and inescapably arbitrary factors in the
application of the death penalty - we may now add a novel dynamic: the shelf
life of benzodiazepine compounds. There is a banal horror in the bureaucratic
diligence that noted the drug's expiration date, calculated how many people
might be killed before it passed, and generated the warrants that Asa
Hutchinson, the state's Republican governor, signed.
McKesson Medical-Surgical, Inc., which distributes vecuronium bromide - a drug
that is commonly used during surgery but that can also be used to stop a
person's breathing - filed suit against Arkansas, claiming that it had been
duped into providing an ingredient of the cocktail. 4 of the executions were
blocked by court order. The Eighth Amendment prohibition against "cruel and
unusual" punishment served as a measure of the elastic morality that
facilitates the death penalty: does it constitute cruelty to infuse the
condemned with a sedative, rather than a stronger anesthetic, particularly if,
as attorneys for Jones and Williams argued, the circulatory conditions of the
men might impair its effectiveness?
The rush of executions is notable not only for its barbarism but also for its
contrast to prevailing thinking about capital punishment. Support for the death
penalty peaked in 1994, with 80 % of Americans in favor. Last year, a Pew study
found that the number had fallen to 49 % - the 1st time since 1971 that less
than 1/2 of the public supported it. The declining crime rate accounts for part
of the drop: in the mid-90s, murders were twice as common as they are now. At
the same time, the idea that death serves as a deterrent to other criminals has
been consistently unsupported by evidence. Data from the Death Penalty
Information Center show that, in the past 40 years, there have been 1184
executions in the South, compared with 4 in the Northeast, yet homicide figures
in 2015 were nearly 70 % higher in Southern states than in Northeastern ones.
The death penalty is about retribution for past offenses, not prevention of
There is also a growing awareness that it is perhaps impossible to create a
justice system that both executes criminals and avoids killing innocents. The
sclerotic appeals process insures that years, if not decades, will pass before
the condemned meet their state-authored fate. But streamlining the process only
increases the likelihood that innocent people will die. Since 1973, 158 inmates
on death row have been exonerated of the crimes for which they were sent there.
A prisoner in Ohio named Ricky Jackson spent 39 years on death row before a key
witness admitted to lying in the testimony that led to his conviction. Jackson
is alive solely because of the inefficiency of the system that sought to kill
That complexity has been reflected in the politics of death-penalty
prosecutions. In January, Bob Ferguson, the Washington State attorney general,
proposed a bill that would eliminate the death penalty in his state. The same
month, Beth McCann, the Denver district attorney, announced that her city was
done with it. In March, Aramis Ayala, the state attorney for the Ninth Circuit,
in Florida, announced that her office would not pursue capital punishment in
any cases. Her office was in the midst of prosecuting Markeith Loyd, who is
accused of murdering his pregnant girlfriend and a policewoman. Ayala said,
"I've been unable to find any credible evidence that the death penalty
increases safety for law-enforcement officers." She added that the expense of
death-penalty appeals drains resources from other prosecutions. In response,
Governor Rick Scott removed the Loyd case, along with 22 others, from Ayala's
jurisdiction - an action she is challenging in court.
Last year, the Presidential election was won by a man who had demanded the
death penalty for five young black and Latino men who were convicted of a
brutal rape in Central Park that they did not commit. He appointed an Attorney
General who had successfully fought to vitiate federal prohibitions on the
execution of the mentally ill. He chose a Supreme Court Justice who, in his
first major vote on the Court, cast the decisive one, in a 5-4 decision, to
allow an execution to proceed - that of Ledell Lee, who died minutes later.
These are the actions of powerful men in service of outmoded ideas. We in this
country are unaccustomed to mass executions carried out under government
auspices. We would prefer to believe that such things happen in less evolved
locales. Yet that is precisely what the state of Arkansas set out to achieve.
The condemned men perpetrated a litany of horrors, but the rationales for
putting them to death-a decades-delayed catharsis for the victims' families, a
lottery-slim chance that some future violence will be deterred-are as close to
their expiration as Arkansas's supply of midazolam.
(source: Jelani Cobb. The New Yorker)
Arkansas inmate convulses 15 times during deadline-beating execution
Arkansas wrapped up an accelerated executions schedule with a lethal injection
that left the condemned inmate lurching and convulsing before he died,
prompting calls for investigations and renewed scrutiny of the state's efforts
to put multiple inmates to death on a compressed timeline.
Kenneth Williams on Thursday became the 4th convicted killer executed in
Arkansas in 8 days as the state sought to carry out as many lethal injections
as possible before 1 of its drugs expires Sunday.
An Associated Press reporter who witnessed the execution said that about 3
minutes in, Williams' body jerked 15 times in quick succession - lurching
violently against the leather restraint across his chest - then the rate slowed
for a final 5 movements.
J.R. Davis, a spokesman for Gov. Asa Hutchinson who did not witness the
execution, called the movements "an involuntary muscular reaction" that he said
was a widely known effect of the surgical sedative midazolam, the 1st of 3
Williams' attorneys released a statement calling witness accounts "horrifying"
and demanding an investigation into what they called the "problematic
The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas backed up that call for a
review, saying the state may have violated the Eighth Amendment's prohibition
of cruel and unusual punishment. In a statement Friday, the organization's
executive director Rita Sklar said the governor had "ignored the dangers ...
all to beat the expiration date on a failed drug."
Davis said he was sure Hutchinson would follow up "as he does with every
execution," but that the governor was confident the Department of Correction
"did what it was supposed to do."
Arkansas had scheduled eight executions over an 11-day period before one of its
lethal injection drugs expires April 30. That would have been the most in such
a short time since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976,
but courts issued stays for 4 of the inmates. The 4 lethal injections that were
carried out included Monday's 1st double execution in the United States since
Williams read a prepared final statement before the execution, apologizing to
the families he "senselessly wronged and deprived of their loved ones." He also
spoke in tongues, the unintelligible but language-like speech used in some
religions. But his prayer faded off as the midazolam took effect. He said, "The
words that I speak will forever be, will forever ..." before he fell silent.
The inmate breathed heavily through his nose until just after three minutes
into his execution, when his chest leaped forward in a series of what seemed
like involuntary movements. His right hand never clenched and his face remained
what one media witness called "serene."
After the jerking, Williams breathed through his mouth and moaned or groaned
once - during a consciousness check - until falling still seven minutes after
the lethal injection.
A Friday morning tweet from the account of a Republican state Sen. Trent
Garner, who witnessed the execution, said Williams did not "seem in pain. ...
It was not cruel, unusual, botched or torture."
Williams was sentenced to death for killing a former deputy warden, Cecil
Boren, after he escaped from prison in 1999. At the time of his escape in a
500-gallon barrel of hog slop, Williams was less than three weeks into a life
term for the death of a college cheerleader.
"Any amount of movement he might have had was far less than any of his
victims," said Jodie Efird, one of Boren's daughters, who witnessed the
State officials have called Arkansas' string of executions a success, declaring
justice served and "closure" for victims' families. Some concerns had been
raised about Monday's execution of Jack Jones, whose mouth moved after
attorneys said he should have been unconscious, though a federal judge
determined it did not appear to be "torturous and inhumane."
All of the Arkansas inmates - including Williams - have died within 20 minutes
of their executions beginning, a contrast from troubled midazolam-related
executions in other states that took anywhere from 43 minutes to 2 hours.
Witnesses to those lengthier executions also described hearing inmates breathe
heavily, snore or snort or seeing them struggle against their restraints.
"The long path of justice ended tonight and Arkansans can reflect on the last 2
weeks with confidence that our system of laws in this state has worked,"
Hutchinson said in a statement issued after Williams' execution.
Davis stood by his previous description of the state's executions as
Dale Baich, an assistant federal public defender who witnessed a flawed 2014
Arizona execution that took 2 hours, said in an email early Friday that after
reading media reports, "It appears from witness accounts that Mr. Williams was
not fully sedated when the paralytic was administered.
"At a minimum, this was a deviation from the protocol."
Williams' lawyers had said he had sickle cell trait, lupus and brain damage,
and argued the combined maladies could subject him to an exceptionally painful
execution in violation of the U.S. Constitution. They argued that Arkansas'
"one size fits all" execution protocol could have left him in pain after a
paralytic agent rendered him unable to move. State and federal courts rejected
Williams was sentenced to death for killing Boren after escaping from the
Cummins Unit prison in a barrel holding a mishmash of kitchen scraps. He left
the prison - where the execution chamber is located in another part of the
facility - less than 3 weeks into a life prison term for killing University of
Arkansas at Pine Bluff cheerleader Dominique Hurd in 1998. At the conclusion of
that trial, he had taunted the young woman's family by turning to them after
the sentence was announced and saying "You thought I was going to die, didn't
After jumping from the barrel, he sneaked along a tree line until reaching
Boren's house. He killed Boren, stole guns and Boren's truck and then drove
away to Missouri. There, he crashed into a water-delivery truck, killing the
driver. While in prison, he confessed to killing another person in 1998.
(source: KABC news)
A service courtesy of Washburn University School of Law www.washburnlaw.edu
DeathPenalty mailing list