death penalty news----ARK., OKLA., S.DAK., CALIF., USA
(too old to reply)
Rick Halperin
2017-04-07 13:31:25 UTC
April 7


The Process For Arkansas Governors As Executions Are Carried Out

What's it like inside the Arkansas Governor's Mansion as executions are carried
out? As the state prepares to resume executions after a 12 year hiatus, with 8
inmates scheduled to die by lethal injection this month, KUAR reached out to
someone who has inside knowledge.

While courts can certainly intervene, before the execution process begins, the
governor is asked by prison officials one final time whether to proceed.

The last time an execution took place in Arkansas was in 2005 when Republican
Gov. Mike Huckbeee was in office. His director of policy and communications was
Rex Nelson, who spoke during All Things Considered about being with the
governor on those nights.

REX NELSON: I was part of the team that was assigned to be with the governor at
the mansion. Our chief legal counsel would usually be our point person that
would go to the prison where the actual executions took place, but our chief of
staff and myself were always with the governor there at the mansion on
execution nights. They were awful nights, but unfortunately part of the job
here in Arkansas for a governor.

MICHAEL HIBBLEN: And the governor is the last say on an execution, I guess
outside of the courts.

NELSON: Absolutely, he is the last say. The way that we would do it in our
administration was that we would have an open phone line down to the execution,
near the death chamber, and when the officials there would get ready to carry
out the execution, actually the head of the state Department of Correction, it
was Larry Norris at that time, would come on the line and say, 'Governor we are
ready to proceed. Is there anything that could stop this?' And so literally,
the governor does have the last word. I mean, there have been so many movies
through the years about a governor on the phone and so forth, but in Arkansas
the reality is a lot like those old movies. You're actually holding an open
phone line down to the prison.

HIBBLEN: What would the governor at that time, Governor Huckabee... were there
any last minute issues that he would actually consider?

NELSON: Actually, we would have all of the files there on that case in case
there was anything needed during that time. Those of us with the governor, and
the governor would usually after dinner just sit very quietly and read those
files and contemplate what was happening, and it was always just a very solemn,
very, very quiet time at the governor's mansion on those nights. And the
governor would say 'go ahead,' but you know, things can happen. We actually had
a federal court stay issued on the night of a scheduled triple execution at one
point, and then that was appealed immediately to the justice on duty for the
Supreme Court, which was Clarence Thomas, I remember on that particular night,
and the execution was actually carried out on that night. But there are
obviously multiple things that can happen so you need legal staff in place; you
need others in place with the governor in case things do happen at the last

HIBBLEN: And many of the executions that Governor Huckabee carried out were
multiple executions and that gets a lot of attention from around the world
because it is so unusual. Any thoughts or recollections about the challenges or
the mindset of carrying out many executions in one evening?

NELSON: I can tell you, whether it's a single, whether it's a double, whether
it's a triple, and we had all 3 during the Huckabee administration, there is
nothing easy about it. And I don't care if you philosophically support the
death penalty, philosophically oppose the death penalty, they are awful nights.
They were absolutely the worst part of my job in the 10 years that I spent in
the governor's office; there's not even a close 2nd. It was part of my job to
be with him (Governor Huckabee), I knew it was hard on the governor also, it
was hard on all of us who were there, but it was again, part of the job that
you had to do, but there was nothing fun about it. Those were nights that you
very much dreaded as a member of the governor's staff if you were on that team
either at the prison or with him at the mansion.

(source: ualrpublicradio.org)


Religion enters the death penalty debate

A Central Arkansas minister said this week that the debate over the death
penalty in Arkansas has weighed heavily on his mind and his heart.

"It's not our responsibility that's up to God not to us," Rev. Britt Skarda Sr.
told Little Rock television station KARK.

Skarda is one of several ministers and pastors to talk about the issue in
recent weeks during their sermons. Skarda told KARK that he recently started
talking about the issue from the pulpit.

"I feel like it is a front to the gospel. The good news of Jesus Christ came to
offer forgiveness," Skarda said.

Skarda, who serves as senior pastor of Pulaski Heights United Methodist Church,
said his church opposes capital punishment and that he believes the time of the
executions during religious season sends a wrong message.

"It's very difficult to understand Christians celebrating one day the
resurrection of Jesus Christ the coming of forgiveness and wholeness and the
next day Christians doing this act of taking lives," Skarda said.

Hindu Raj Gandhi also spoke about the issue.

"For serious crimes, I believe that the committed person should be killed,"
Gandhi said.

Gandhi told KARK that a criminal that kills someone is violating God's will and
that taxpayers should not pay for the housing.

"Alternately they're all a burden to society and I think we should get rid of
them," Gandhi said.

(source: KAIT news)


Bishop Taylor to Gov. Hutchinson: You have responsibility to follow 'higher,
divine law'

Bishop Anthony Taylor has asked Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson to halt the 8
executions planned for a 10-day span later this month.

In the appeal, the Catholic Bishop for the Diocese of Little Rock requests that
Mr. Hutchinson commute the sentences of all 8 men to life in prison.

"Though guilty of heinous crimes," said Bishop Taylor, "these men nevertheless
retain the God-given dignity of any human life, which must be respected and
defended from conception to natural death."

Arkansas has not executed an inmate since 2005, and the pace - which would
involve 4 double-executions over the 10 days--has many concerned that the
Department of Correction will be overwhelmed.

"The pace places undo stress on the guards," said Rita Sklar, the executive
director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas. "This makes it
easier for the DOC to make a mistake and could increase the likelihood of a
botched execution."

As evidence for the increased burden, Ms. Sklar pointed to Clayton Lockett's
recent failed execution.

In 2014, Oklahoma attempted to conduct a double execution with a previously
untested mixture of drugs, which included midazolam - a drug Arkansas also
plans to use. However during the process, the IV became dislodged and the drugs
were not successfully introduced into Lockett's blood stream and were instead
absorbed by his muscles. He later died of a heart attack, and the 2nd execution
scheduled was stayed for 14 days.

Oklahoma has since halted the practice of executing 2 inmates on the same day;
they now require a space of 7 days between executions. Arkansas has scheduled 4
consecutive double executions, even though the state has not attempted one
double execution since Alan Willett and Mark Gardner on September 8, 1999.

However, Mr. Hutchinson has expressed his confidence in the state's ability to
execute nearly 1/4 of Arkansas's death row inmates.

"We're confident that the Department of Correction has the resources and
knowledge to do what they do," said J.R. Davis, the director of communications
at the governor's office.

Ms. Sklar however questioned the process, referring to the compressed schedule
as an "assembly line of death."

Part of the perceived rush stems from the state's stock of midazolam, which is
set to expire on April 30. The state has yet to conduct an execution using the
drug, and no state has ever successfully used the drug in a double execution.

According to Mr. Davis, the governor wants to "complete the process quickly,"
but he wants to insure "he gives each case the appropriate amount of attention"
before he decides whether or not to grant clemency.

Bishop Taylor has requested a meeting with Mr. Hutchison before the executions

"I know as governor you feel responsible for fulfilling the law (the death
penalty) but the law also puts the ultimate responsibility on your shoulders to
follow a higher law, the divine law," said Bishop Taylor. "I appeal to you to
do so - and not only out of concern for these 8 men, but also out of concern
for the damage that the death penalty does to all of us as a society."

(source: KTHV news)


Why Arkansas Is in Such a Hurry to Kill 7 People in 11 Days----They state's
supply of a lethal injection drug is about to expire.

Arkansas is about to take capital punishment to a whole new level. The state,
which hasn't executed anyone in more than a decade, plans to put seven men to
death in 11 days, starting right after Easter. (It had previously intended to
kill eight, but a judge on Thursday blocked one of the executions.) The number
of lethal injections is unprecedented in recent history - no other state has
killed so many people in such a short period since the US Supreme Court's
reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976.

The executions are scheduled in such rapid succession because the state's
supply of a controversial lethal injection drug will expire at the end of the
month. Midazolam, a sedative, is supposed to make inmates go unconscious before
they're put to death, though it's been used in a number of botched killings -
with men writhing in pain for extended periods before finally dying. The
Supreme Court has ruled that using the sedative for lethal injections does not
constitute cruel and unusual punishment, but last year Arizona officials
stopped using the drug after it took Joseph Wood nearly 2 hours to die during
an execution in 2014.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, however, does not appear ready to back down. In a
statement to NPR, he said it was his "duty as Governor" to carry out the
executions, and that to do so he needed to schedule them before the drug's
expiration date.

The 7 death row inmates in Arkansas include 3 white men and 4 black men who
were all convicted of murder from 1989 to 1999. Some of their victims' family
members have welcomed the speedy execution schedule, saying they're ready for
justice. Advocates and civil liberties groups have responded with alarm. "This
is just a ghastly assembly line of death," says Rita Sklar of the state's
American Civil Liberties Union. The seven men have sued, arguing that the
state's push to kill them so quickly is reckless and unconstitutional.

Here's what you need to know about this rush to the death chamber and the
outrage it's sparked:

4 of the men are mentally ill or intellectually impaired, and some were abused
as kids

One of the condemned men is bipolar, and another was diagnosed with paranoid
schizophrenia and "believes he's on a mission from God," according to Harvard's
Fair Punishment Project, a group of lawyers and other criminal justice experts
who reviewed legal documents about their cases. 2 of the men have scored 69 and
70 on IQ tests - putting them within the range of intellectual disability. The
man whose execution was blocked on Thursday is bipolar and has been an
alcoholic since 6th grade; his mom drank while she was pregnant and his dad was
violent, torturing 2 of the family dogs to death. 2 of the men were sexually
abused as children. One of them, Marcel Williams, was "pimped" out by his
mother and gang-raped, according to the FPP.

Some of their lawyers weren't on their best behavior

Consider the case of Ledell Lee, who's being put to death on April 20.
According to the FPP, his trial lawyers did not conduct a thorough
investigation into his background, limiting their ability to come up with
mitigating evidence that might affect his sentence, such as suffering from
abuse as a child. Lee's lawyers also failed to interview many of his siblings
or ask his mother to testify at trial about his life circumstances. After the
trial, his post-conviction attorney had substance abuse problems: During
hearings, the attorney would "ramble incoherently, repeatedly interjecting,
'blah, blah, blah'" into his statements, the FPP found. When Lee received 2 new
lawyers, they weren't much of an improvement - some missed important deadlines,
while others appear not to have taken his calls or answered his letters. "He
just can't catch a break," explains Jessica Brand, the FPP's legal director.
This was not an isolated incident. The FPP said several other condemned men had
lawyers who did not properly investigate their cases or present mitigating
evidence to the court.

When executions are scheduled so close together, there's a greater risk of

In 2014, the state of Oklahoma executed Clayton Lockett, who writhed and
groaned on the gurney for 3 minutes after the drugs were administered. He
finally died 43 minutes after the procedure began. The state decided to
postpone the execution of another man, Charles Warner, that had been scheduled
to occur just a few hours later. After investigating the botched killing of
Lockett, Oklahoma's Department of Public Safety recommended that future
executions be spaced at least 7 days apart to reduce the risk of mistakes.
Planning for a double execution, the department noted, had put "extra stress"
on prison and medical staff members. "We're setting ourselves up for a ghoulish
spectacle with all eyes on Arkansas," the ACLU's Sklar told Mother Jones.

Corrections staffers are raising red flags, too

They're worried that rapidly executing so many people might be traumatic for
executioners. Allen Ault, a former commissioner of corrections departments in
Georgia, Mississippi, and Colorado who oversaw 5 executions during a 2-year
period, now speaks out against capital punishment. "I have known a lot of
people who have been involved," he told NPR. "I have known none who have come
out of it unscathed." Some of his former colleagues, he said, turned to drugs
or committed suicide after overseeing executions. Gov. Hutchinson has said his
state's correction staffers are experienced, and that they've told him they
approve of the quick schedule. But former correctional officers and governors
from other states have written a letter to Hutchinson, urging him to halt the
death march. "They're people all over the world calling on him not to do this
to the inmates, to the staff, and to the American justice system," says Sklar.

Officials are scrambling to recruit enough people to watch these men die The
state of Arkansas requires at least 6 witnesses for each execution to ensure
the capital punishment laws are followed. But finding enough people to watch 7
men die over the course of 10 days is not an easy task. The Department of
Correction's director, Wendy Kelley, even reached out to the Little Rock Rotary
Club for volunteers. The members initially thought it was a joke.

(source: Samantha Michaels is the copy editor at Mother Jones)


Arkansas gallows have troubled past governors

It was a typically overcast December afternoon in 1970, atypical only in that
it was one of the final afternoons in the 4-year tenure of Winthrop

Just days remained before Arkansas's 1st post-Reconstruction Republican
governor would surrender the office to Dale Bumpers, the Democrat who had
unseated him. Bob Shaw of the Associated Press and I were hanging out in
Rockefeller's reception room at the Capitol, passing time. One of Rockefeller's
senior assistants, Les Hollingsworth, who handled penal affairs, strolled
through and stopped to chat. Shaw brought it up, almost casually: Since
Rockefeller, in his 3 gubernatorial campaigns, had made clear his opposition to
the death penalty, might he possibly have an announcement before leaving

Off the record? Hollingsworth smiled. Okay, we said.

Hollingsworth allowed that Rockefeller indeed might have something to say.
Anything more we would have to get from the man himself.

The governor was due at the Capitol in an hour or so. The Democrats for
Rockefeller, led by Little Rock's redoubtable Margaret Kolb, were to present
him a plaque honoring his contributions to a better Arkansas, no matter that
most of his program had been scuttled by the overwhelmingly Democratic General
Assembly. Rockefeller, predictably, was hours late. Finally, in the early
evening, he arrived. Shaw and I sped to Rockefeller's side and put the question
to him. Without a moment's hesitation, he confirmed that he would spare the 15
men on Arkansas's death row, commute their sentences to life imprisonment.
About a week later, in the most emotionally charged ceremony of the age,
Rockefeller put his hand to the necessary documents. No one who was there could
ever forget the resolve in his eye, nor the tremor in his voice:

"What earthly mortal has the omnipotence to say who among us shall live and who
shall die? I do not. Moreover, in that the law grants me authority to set aside
the death penalty, I cannot and will not turn my back on lifelong Christian
teachings and beliefs merely to let history run its course on a fallible and
failing theory of punitive justice."

Thus did Rockefeller excuse his successor from the agony of clemency decisions,
for which Bumpers would repeatedly express gratitude. He could thank the U.S.
Supreme Court as well: As Bumpers was seeking his 2nd term, with Arkansas
prosecutors still pursuing death sentences, the justices outlawed capital
punishment. Or so it was assumed.

4 years later, in 1976, the Court re-opened the door to the execution chamber,
specifying the trial procedures necessary to impose the ultimate sanction.
Arkansas and most other states rushed to comply. Public opinion demanded it.

Rockefeller's compassion would not be duplicated.

Inmate appeals kept life-or-death decisions from David Pryor, who followed
Bumpers to the statehouse, but the tempest bedeviled the next governor.

Bill Clinton annoyed prosecutors and angered many legislators, and not a few
voters, with his reluctance to schedule executions. Regaining the office after
losing it in 1980 to Frank White, who had made capital punishment a cornerstone
of his campaign, Clinton no longer hesitated. On his watch were sent to the
beyond 4 inmates.

The pace accelerated as accumulated appeals were resolved. Gov. Jim Guy
Tucker's 4 years saw seven executions, including the nation's 1st "double,"
followed by a "triple," the latter event, especially, attracting global
attention, none of it complimentary. 16 inmates took the needle during the Mike
Huckabee decade, with its own "double" and "triple," but by then other states,
especially Texas, were imposing capital punishment with such regularity that a
somber banality surrounded each execution. Until - Until bungled executions in
3 states left even hardened prison staff aghast. The failure of the 3-drug
"cocktail," the same as employed in Arkansas, to prevent constitutionally
impermissible pain spawned yet more litigation, all of it thus far futile.

Now another Arkansas governor has signed death warrants - 8, to be effected
over 10 days - and the attendant negative publicity is but a harbinger of what
will follow. Like his predecessors, Asa Hutchinson is uncomfortable with the
issue, would be happy if the courts would intervene in the inmates' behalf,
would relieve him of the "duty" that only Rockefeller interpreted differently,
for certainly the General Assembly will not. The legislature has never shied
from molding the state's death penalty statutes to accommodate legal
imperatives, though Mr. Hutchinson's predecessor, not long before leaving
office, expressed a wish that it would.

Mike Beebe the candidate supported capital punishment. Mike Beebe the (lame
duck) Governor confessed to having "evolved" on the issue. As will be
demonstrated this month, Beebe, like Rockefeller, was ahead of the curve.

(source: The Baxter Bulletin)


Judge to rule on mental competency issue in Moore beheading case

A defense expert testified Wednesday the Muslim convert responsible for a 2014
beheading "suffers from a psychological disorder, most likely schizophrenia."

"To me, the pieces all fit together," Texas psychologist Antoinette McGarrahan

The testimony came on the third day of the competency trial for Alton Alexander
Nolen, 32, of Moore.

Nolen already has pleaded guilty to 1st-degree murder for beheading a co-worker
at a Moore food plant on Sept. 25, 2014. District Judge Lori Walkley is holding
the trial to determine whether he is mentally competent to knowingly enter such
a plea.

She will rule after hearing from two more psychologists Thursday. Both have
concluded Nolen is mentally competent.

Nolen stayed away from court again for a 2nd full day.

Nolen caused a disturbance Monday, standing up abruptly during testimony from
the 1st witness. 3 sheriff's deputies subdued him after he refused to sit back
down. The judge had him removed when he refused to say whether he wanted to

The judge sought both Tuesday and Wednesday to ask Nolen by video if he wanted
to return to court. The judge said she was unable to speak to him Tuesday
morning because he became antsy and would not stay in the jail's video
arraignment room.

Wednesday morning, he would not speak when the judge tried to question him by

Walkley has arranged for Special Judge Michael Tupper to question Nolen on
Thursday morning about coming back to court. The judge turned to a fellow judge
for help because Nolen has shown an unwillingness to even acknowledge women.

The case is unusual both because of the circumstances of the crime and because
Nolen is asking to be executed. In legal circles, his request is known as
volunteering for the death penalty. Nolen last year repeatedly said that the
death penalty is the only appropriate punishment for him because of his
religious beliefs.

(source: The Oklahoman)


Death Penalty to Be Sought Against 2 Slaying Suspect

Prosecutors say they will seek the death penalty against 2 defendants in the
alleged murder for hire of a Rapid City woman 2 years ago, should those
suspects be convicted.

27-year-old Jonathon Klinetobe and 36-year-old Richard Hirth are charged with
multiple felonies including 1st-degree murder in the May 2015 stabbing death of
22-year-old Jessica Rehfeld. Her body was found in a remote grave near
Rockerville last summer.

Rehfeld was the ex-girlfriend of Klinetobe. He and Hirth both have pleaded not

2 other people have pleaded guilty in the case to being accessories, and
25-year-old David Schneider pleaded guilty to 1st-degree murder in January.

(source: Associated Press)


Use of capital punishment worthy of debate

On April 21, it will be 25 years since I watched my friend put to death in our
state';s gas chamber. I stood on a riser in the small room that extrudes from
the walls of San Quentin State Prison???s oldest cell block and witnessed the
people of the California - extinguish the life of a human being. A man. A
friend. We killed him by lethal cyanide gas, and he died slowly, straining to
breathe deeply so as to quicken the end.

I was not alone in the room. There were nearly 50 of us, including family on
both sides of the death-penalty divide, media representatives and state VIPs,
some vying for a front-row spot next to the chamber that was about to resume
its deadly business, a quarter century since it had last been used - the same
period of time that has elapsed since.

This is how Los Angeles Times reporter Dan Morain described it:

"In all, 48 official witnesses, family members and friends watched this macabre
and surreal scene. I was 1 of 18 journalists. I had taken the assignment
because I was convinced that in a state where political careers rise and fall
on the death penalty issue, and where almost everyone has an opinion about it,
newspapers have an obligation to report on it completely. That means this last,
violent, grim step. I still hold fast to that view. That said, I won't view

I have been trying to process the meaning of that private-public event ever
since, wondering what it says about us, the executioners. We have put a dozen
men to death since then, at a financial cost to the state of more than $4
billion. That's billion, with a "b," or nearly $308 million for each of those
13 executions. What might that amount have bought in well-researched crime
prevention practices? How much infrastructure repair would $4 billion buy? What
have we bought instead?

When we are able to look at the data rationally, we can only conclude that the
death penalty provides no greater deterrent than life in prison. We know that
it is not meted out fairly, but is geographically, economically, socially and
racially biased; and, with nearly 150 exonerations from death row, we know,
too, that - like all human constructs - the death penalty is subject to human
error. (How many other innocents cannot be exonerated because they have already
suffered the final solution?)

So, what are we left with? Proponents say it is a matter of justice. But I if
that were true, the only countries providing "justice" would be those like
Iran, North Korea and China. No "justice" would exist in Europe, South America,
and - save for the United States - North America. Indeed, Iowa,Hawaii,
Wisconsin and Maryland - and 15 other states - could not provide justice
either, because none retains this legal relic from a more brutal past.

I am also confused by those who describe themselves as conservatives, arguing
for limited government, but altogether willing to entrust it with the most
awesome and terrible power any government can exercise over an individual - the
power to kill under law.

Since this state brought back capital punishment in 1976, Californians have
committed more than 100,000 murders, according to FBI crime statistics. How did
those 13 we have put to death rise to the top, or sink to the bottom, of this
pool? How can a system be justified that so randomly selects the few among the
qualified to put to death?

My friend committed murder, and for that he was condemned to die. His homicide
was proscribed by law; our homicide was prescribed by law. How can we, as
thinking people, rationalize this moral paradox? How can we square this circle?
And what is it about us that we can ignore such facts in the pursuit of killing

After 25 years - and especially after Californians' recent vote to speed up the
executions of the nearly 749 men and women on our death row, the largest in the
country - I am left with the same question I started with: What is it about us
that, like the killers we kill, we are able to justify this calculated,
premeditated and cold-blooded act of homicide?

The answer, I fear, tells us more about ourselves than we care to know.

(source: Michael A. Kroll is the founder of the Death Penalty Information
Cente----San Francisco Chronicle)


Murder suspect raises unprecedented $35M bail via friends

A California woman accused of killing the father of her 2 children is being
processed for release from jail Thursday after posting an unprecedented $35
million bail raised by friends, family and business associates with ties to

Tiffany Li, 31, is backed by a group that raised $4 million cash and pledged
$62 million in San Francisco Bay Area property. California courts require twice
the bail amount if property is used instead of cash. She must remain on
round-the-clock electronic monitoring.

Li's attorney Geoff Carr says Li and her mother were born in China, where the
mother was financially successful in the construction industry. Carr says Li
and her mother are naturalized U.S. citizens.

Carr said all defendants except those accused of death penalty-eligible crimes
are entitled to "reasonable bail."

The $35 million bail is the highest ever in San Mateo County's history, a
county official said.

Li has pleaded not guilty to charges she directed her boyfriend and another man
to kill Keith Green, 27, and dispose of his body last year. Prosecutors say she
feared losing custody of her young children to Green.

A friend of the murder victim said Thursday that she was disappointed and
shocked that Li was able to pay for her freedom.

"Nothing about this seems right," said Angela Dunn, who said Green stayed at
her house for six months after he and Li split. "It's very difficult for all of
us, especially Keith's mom."

San Mateo District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said he's concerned Li is a flight
risk and is disappointed the judge didn't set the bail even higher. His office
asked for a $100 million bail.

"If convicted she faces the rest of her life in prison," Wagstaffe said.
"That's plenty enough incentive to flee back to her native China."

Carr said he expects Tiffany Li to be freed Thursday pending her murder trial
in September. Li will be required to turn over her passports, wear an
electronic monitor and remain under house arrest.

Green's body was found May 11 in Sonoma County, about 80 miles (128 kilometers)
north of where he was supposed to meet Li.

Li was arrested several days later in the multimillion-dollar home she shared
with her children in Hillsborough, a suburb of mansions and large houses 20
miles (32 kilometers) south of San Francisco. The two men were also arrested in
May and remained jailed without bail. Carr says their lawyers didn't ask for
bail because they don't have the resources to post a multimillion-dollar bail
bond like Li did.

Carr says the people who posted Li's bail believe she is innocent and will not
flee. If she does go on the lam, the court can confiscate the property and

(source: Associated Press)


My son was murdered. His killers must pay their debt to society by being

To the editor: Your editorial says that many parents don't want the death
penalty for their children's killers. This may be true for a small population
of families, but until it's your child that was murdered, you have no
understanding of that loss. It doesn't matter what kind of educational degree
you have; you will never understand the hurt, loss and anger. ("The death
penalty doesn't bring closure so much as it extends trauma," editorial, March

My name is Hank Dandini. I lost my son Garret Dandini and my nephew Tony
Dandini to the hands of gang bangers at a charity event. The assistant district
attorney asked us if we would accept a sentence of life without parole. We said
no, and I'm glad we did.

Death row is at one of the oldest prisons in California. The conditions there
are very bad compared to a newer supermax prison. If we chose life without
parole, these murderers would be living the life of supermax, being able to
move around the prison yards and more.

I relive the moment of my son's death every day. I understand I sound cold-
hearted, but those murderers took the life of good man with a daughter. I am a
Christian and have forgiven them, but they need to pay their debt to society.
State officials need to honor their commitment to Californians, who voted into
law the death penalty.

Hank Dandini, Rancho Cucamonga


To the editor: The word "closure" should be forever struck from the discourse
on human trauma and loss.

Those who proffer closure as justification for the death penalty engage in the
cruelest sort of chicanery. It is snake oil for sale to the vulnerable and the
hurting; it is at best a palliative sold as a cure. Killing the hated will not
bring back the loved.

We take great satisfaction in the closure that authors bring to their fiction,
but our own lives are not subject to editing. Being human, our memory is the
source of all our love and loss.

Films and novels have endings, but memory has no ending but death.

Kevin T. Freeman, Huntington Beach

(source: Letters to the Editor, Los Angeles Times)


"There are no federal or state laws that say prosecutors must seek death
sentences. And the United States Supreme Court has banned all state laws that
make executions mandatory for murders."-- Randolph Bracy on Tuesday, April 4th,
2017 in a New York Times op-ed; Has the U.S. Supreme Court banned all state
laws that make executions mandatory for murders?

Florida Sen. Randolph Bracy argues that Gov. Rick Scott overreached when he
issued an order removing Orlando-area prosecutor Aramis D. Ayala from a
high-profile prosecution of an accused cop killer after she said she would not
pursue the death penalty in murder cases.

Bracy, an Orange County Democrat and chairman of the Florida Senate criminal
justice committee, wrote in a New York Times op-ed that prosecutors have broad
discretionary power.

"Although Ms. Ayala's critics have denounced her actions as dereliction of
duty, they cannot point to a single law or statute that she has violated," he
wrote in the April 4 op-ed. "That's because she hasn't. There are no federal or
state laws that say prosecutors must seek death sentences. And the United
States Supreme Court has banned all state laws that make executions mandatory
for murders."

Legal experts told PolitiFact that Bracy is correct. Key court rulings about
the death penalty forbid laws that force prosecutors to seek the death penalty.

Ayala, a Democrat elected as state attorney state attorney in Orlando and
Osceola counties in 2016, announced in March that she would no longer seek the
death penalty. Her decision came while handling the case of Markeith Loyd, who
is accused of killing Orlando police Lt. Debra Clayton amid a manhunt for Loyd
after he allegedly killed his ex-girlfriend.

Laws about death penalty prosecutions

In 1972 in Furman vs. Georgia, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the death
penalty, finding lack of standards in enforcing the death penalty constituted
"cruel and unusual punishment." In response, many states then changed their
laws. In 1976, the Supreme Court addressed the constitutionality of new death
sentencing laws in five cases from Georgia, Florida, Texas, North Carolina, and

It was in these cases that the court struck down statutes that mandated death
sentences while allowing the statutes to stand that required juries or judges
to weigh aggravating and mitigating circumstances. Still, some states in the
intervening years tried to pass laws that mandated the death penalty.

In 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court found all such laws unconstitutional, the "last
vestiges of the mandatory death penalty in the United States," the New York
Times explained.

In addition to pointing to the U.S. Supreme Court decisions, Bracy's
legislative assistant Travaris McCurdy also pointed to Florida cases including
an argument by Attorney General Pam Bondi in a death penalty appeal case, State
vs. Perry. Bondi argued in a 2016 petition to the court that "The Florida
Supreme Court has recognized that the State has complete discretion in charging
decisions, including the determination to charge and prosecute a capital case."

(Bondi has called Ayala's actions a "blatant neglect of duty and a shameful
failure to follow the law.")

Due to the U.S. Supreme Court decisions, we have a discretionary system in
which prosecutors and juries are supposed to evaluate the use of the death
penalty case by case, said Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal
Justice Legal Foundation, which supports the death penalty.

And Ayala isn't doing that, he said.

"For a prosecutor to make a blanket decision to prosecute all cases as capital
or none of them is not exercising discretion that is supposed to be part of
system," he said. "Prosecutors are supposed to look at each case and decide if
it is one of the exceptionally heinous cases that deserve the death penalty."

Spokespersons for Scott and Bondi made some similar points about how
prosecutors should evaluate the death penalty case by case.

"Gov. Scott has not said that prosecutors must seek death sentences," Scott
spokeswoman Kerri Wyland said. "State Attorney Aramis Ayala was removed from
the cases in the interest of justice following her public announcement to not
consider capital punishment during her time in office, regardless of the
individual facts and circumstances in any case."

On April 3, Scott removed Ayala, a Democrat, from 21 additional 1st-degree
murder cases and reassigned them to Brad King, a Republican Ocala-based state

Our ruling

Bracy wrote, "There are no federal or state laws that say prosecutors must seek
death sentences. And the United States Supreme Court has banned all state laws
that make executions mandatory for murders."

Ayala, the Orlando-area prosecutor, has been criticized by some people for
refusing to pursue the death penalty in any case. But the U.S. Supreme Court
has made it clear for decades that it is unconstitutional to require
prosecutors to seek the death penalty in any case.

We rate this claim True.

(source: politifact.com)


Hearing scheduled on request to move Fell's 2nd death penalty trial

A hearing is scheduled on Friday on defense arguments to move the location of a
2nd death penalty trial of a Vermont man in the abduction and murder of a
Rutland supermarket worker.

The Rutland Herald reports the U.S. attorney's office opposes the request to
shift the proceeding from Rutland to Burlington for 36-year-old Donald Fell.

His lawyers say a number of prospective jurors who were in the process of being
chosen before the trial was delayed until September would have had to travel a
long distance to hear the case in Rutland.

Fell was convicted in 2005 and sentenced to death for the 2000 killing of Terry
King, but his conviction was overturned due to juror misconduct.

The hearing is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Friday in Burlington.

(source: Associated Press)


States Find Other Execution Methods After Difficulties With Lethal Injection

Death penalty laws are on the books in 31 states, but only 5 carried out
executions last year. Now Arkansas is rushing to execute death row inmates at
an unprecedented pace this month, before the state's supply of lethal drugs

Nationwide the number of executions are down, as states struggle to obtain
execution drugs that pass constitutional muster. Pharmacies are refusing to
provide the deadly combinations of paralytics and fast-acting sedatives needed
to put prisoners to death.

"I'll admit, it's more and more difficult to carry out the sentence of the
death penalty," says Republican Andy Gipson, chairman of the Mississippi House
Judiciary B Committee. Mississippi hasn't executed anyone since 2012, but
Gibson says that for the past 6 years lawmakers have had to tweak the state's
death penalty statute to keep it constitutional.

"It's been a huge problem," he says. "We try to see if we can come up with
another suitable formula of injection that will be humane, and then another
lawsuit gets filed to say we can't do that either."

This year Mississippi came up with a back-up plan: Should its lethal injection
protocol not stand, it will turn to a hierarchy of old-school execution methods
- the gas chamber, the electric chair or a firing squad.

"It is the law of the land - and until it's changed, until it's altered, you
have to have a way to carry it out," Gipson says.

Utah also allows for the firing squad, and Alabama, Florida and Tennessee have
brought back the electric chair.

States are coming up with these alternatives to deal with what the Death
Penalty Information Center deems a de facto moratorium on executions. The group
opposes capital punishment and has documented a drop in executions nationwide.

"There's been a precipitous decline in the number of both executions and death
sentences in the last 5 years," says executive director Robert Dunham, adding
that 2/3 of the states either don't have the death penalty or haven't executed
anyone in more than a decade.

"Executions have been concentrated in a small number of southern states," says
Dunham. "The rest of the country is largely not carrying out executions. If
they do, they're doing so rarely."

A total of 20 people were put to death last year - the fewest since 1991 - all
in Georgia, Texas, Alabama, Florida and Missouri.

7 states have abolished the death penalty in the past 15 years, but public
support remains. For instance, after the Nebraska legislature repealed capital
punishment in 2015, voters reinstated it through a referendum last year.

Dunham says courts have allowed for more convictions to be reviewed, and the
result has been fewer death sentences carried out.

"The single most likely outcome of a capital case once somebody is sentenced to
death is not that they will be executed - it's that their conviction or death
sentence will be overturned," he says.

That fact has led some officials to rethink capital punishment. Newly elected
prosecutors in Denver and Orlando, Fla., have said they won't seek death

That decision sparked controversy in Florida, where Republican Gov. Rick Scott
has removed State Attorney Aramis Ayala from handling 22 murder cases because
of her refusal to seek the death penalty.

"It is a response to a broken system," says Ayala, first black prosecutor
elected in Florida.

When she took office, Ayala says, Florida's death penalty law was
unconstitutional, and existing sentences were under judicial review.

"I'm looking at cases from 1970," she says. "I'm looking at cases that existed
when I was 2 years old, and families have been waiting on death sentences since
then. And I had to look at an open case in my office and say, 'am I going to
throw this case into that pile of chaos?' "

Now she faces a backlash as lawmakers are calling for her to be removed from
office and threatening to cut her budget. Ayala is fighting back, and says she
plans to sue the governor for taking away her caseload.

As that plays out in Florida, Arkansas is making preparations to execute 8
inmates in a 10-day stretch later this month before its lethal injection drugs
expire. It's a pace never seen in the United States since the Supreme Court
reinstated the death penalty in the 1970s.

(source: WBGO news)

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

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