Tennessee will keep lethal injections for death row executions, court rules


Judge rejects claim from 33 death row inmates and says they did not prove the one-drug method led to a painful and lingering death

A judge in Tennessee has upheld the state’s lethal injection process for executing inmates, hours after a federal judge in Mississippi said that state’s process may break the law.

At issue in both cases is the efficacy of the states’ execution drugs. US states have been experimenting with various combinations of lethal injection since a European-led boycott made it difficult to obtain the drugs they require to carry out executions.

Tennessee uses a single drug, pentobarbital, to execute its inmates; Mississippi relies on a three-drug mixture including a pentobarbital or midazolam, sedatives that are followed by a paralysing agent and a drug that stops an inmate’s heart.

In Tennessee, Davidson county chancery judge Claudia Bonnyman said from the bench that the plaintiffs, 33 death row inmates, did not prove that the one-drug method led to a painful and lingering death.

She also said the plaintiffs did not show during a lengthy trial that there had been problems in states where the method was used.

“Plaintiffs were not able to carry their burdens … on any of their claims,” Bonnyman said.

She also said the plaintiffs did not show during a lengthy trial that there had been problems in states where the method was used.

“Plaintiffs were not able to carry their burdens … on any of their claims,” Bonnyman said.

In Mississippi, meanwhile, US district judge Henry T Wingate said Mississippi’s plans did not appear to include a drug meeting the legal requirement for an “ultra short-acting barbiturate” that would render a person unconscious almost immediately.

Three death row prisoners sued, saying they could remain conscious during execution. During the lawsuit, Mississippi changed its procedure to say it would use midazolam as a sedative, after the US supreme court approved the drug’s use in Oklahoma.

Mississippi officials have said they struggle to buy pentobarbital because death penalty opponents had pressured manufacturers to cut off the supply.

Midazolam has been implicated in troubled executions in Arizona, Ohio and Oklahoma that went on longer than expected as inmates gasped and made other sounds.

The US supreme court ruled five to four in June that Oklahoma’s use of midazolam in executions did not violate the eighth amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

Ohio Mom Indicted for Murder of Sons Could Face Death Penalty


August 27, 2015

An Ohio woman accused of killing her 3 sons over a 13-month period out of jealousy at the attention her husband paid them has been indicted on aggravated murder charges and could face the death penalty.

Aggravated murder charges against Brittany Pilkington in Bellefontaine were announced Tuesday by the Logan County prosecutor.

Investigators say the 23-year-old smothered 2 sons, 1 in July 2014 and the other on April 6. Authorities took custody of her 3rd son after he was born 3 months ago, but a judge allowed him to return home because there wasn’t conclusive evidence the older boys had been killed. The 3rd son died Aug. 18.

Pilkington’s mother said Pilkington told her in a jailhouse phone call that she’s innocent.

Pilkington is jailed on $1 million bond.

(source: Associated Press)

Feds Weigh Whether to Seek Death Penalty for Charleston Killer


The federal government’s decision about whether authorities should seek the death penalty against the man accused of killing 9 African-Americans in Charleston is still likely months away, South Carolina U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles said in a recent interview with Free Times.
The federal case against alleged Charleston shooter Dylann Storm Roof got off to a surprising start last month when Roof’s lawyer, David Bruck, indicated to a federal judge in Charleston that Roof wished to plead guilty to the 33 federal hate crime charges levied against him. Prosecutors allege that Roof outlined his hate-filled worldview in a racist online manifesto and that he told others he hoped to incite a “race war” with his actions.
However, Bruck told the judge that he couldn’t advise his client on whether to enter that plea until he knows whether Roof could face a death sentence. A temporary “not guilty” plea was entered on Roof’s behalf.
The 21-year-old also faces murder charges from state prosecutors. Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett A. Wilson has not yet said whether her office plans to pursue the death penalty in the case.
Nettles says once his office decides on its recommendation, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch would weigh it before coming to a final decision. The South Carolina prosecutor, an Obama appointee who has held the post since 2010, called the process and decision “extraordinarily complex,” noting that generally “enormous deference is given to victims.”
In this case, many family members have garnered worldwide admiration for their forgiveness of Roof.
“I have never witnessed such a pronounced expression of hope or grace,” Nettles says. “A lot of the victims have already expressed forgiveness that is unfathomable.”
Along with interviews with family members of victims, Nettles, a former public defender who has worked on capital cases from the other side of the courtroom, says the federal government’s protocol puts in place “layers of review to balance competing interests.”
A Department of Justice spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment. Bruck, Roof’s attorney, also could not be reached.
Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that seeks to provide unbiased information and analysis of the death penalty, says federal prosecutors will weigh several factors in making a decision. (Bruck, Roof’s lawyer, is on the board of the center.)
The wishes of victims’ families, the cost of a capital trial and whether local prosecutors can seek the death penalty themselves are big factors, he says.
Roof’s potential capital charges differ from the ones against Boston terrorist Dzokhar Tsarnaev, Dunham says. State authorities in Massachusetts cannot pursue the death penalty because capital punishment has been ruled unconstitutional there.
Dunham also says that Roof’s indication that he would prefer to plead guilty would save both the federal government and the shooting victims’ families a prolonged trial and hefty costs.
“He’s expressed willingness to plead guilty, and if the death penalty were off the table that would give the family members of the homicide victims an opportunity to give their statements without cross-examination or interruption during sentencing proceeding,” Dunham says. “They could say what they had to say without being subjected to re-traumatization through a trial.”
The federal government also has tools the state does not – the ability to put a permanent muzzle on Roof. As they have done with Tsarnaev, “special administrative measures” could be imposed on Roof, meaning his contact with the outside world would be severely limited, Dunham says. In essence, Roof could be barred from publicly expressing racist views.
“The federal prosecution has the ability to essentially make Dylann Roof disappear from view,” Dunham says. “His ability to become a symbol for white supremacists disappears.”
A trial on Roof’s state murder charges has been set for July 2016. No further hearings have yet been scheduled by federal prosecutors in the case.
Source: free-times.com, August 27, 2015

 

Death Penalty Delays Not Violative of Eighth Amendment, Unanimous California Supreme Court


The lawyer for a death row inmate failed to demonstrate that systematic delays in the resolution of capital cases result in an arbitrary process that violates the Eighth Amendment, the California Supreme Court unanimously ruled yesterday.
The court, which has rejected such arguments in the past, asked the parties for supplemental briefing on the issue after a federal district judge ruled last year that such delays rendered the state’s death penalty unconstitutional.
But while Ropati Seumanu is free to make a more individually focused argument in a habeas corpus petition, Justice Kathryn M. Werdegar wrote, he is not entitled to have his sentence overturned merely because more than 14 years have elapsed since he was sentenced to die for a murder in his hometown of Heyward.
“Our conclusion would be different were the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to ask all capital inmates who have exhausted their appeals to draw straws or roll dice to determine who would be the 1st in line for execution,” the jurist said. “But the record in this case does not demonstrate such arbitrariness,” she continued.
“Unquestionably, some delay occurs while this court locates and appoints qualified appellate counsel, permits those appointed attorneys to prepare detailed briefs, allows the Attorney General to respond, and then carefully evaluates the arguments.”
Those delays safeguard the defendants’ rights, rather than violate them, she said.
Seumanu was 22 when he, his brother and 2 teenagers stole a car one night in May 1996 and confronted Nolan Pamintuan, 25, who had just returned from a pre-wedding dinner with his fiancee, according to testimony.
The robbers took an inscribed Movado watch his fiancee had given him as a wedding gift and $300 that they forced him to withdraw from a bank ATM. After expressing irritation at the fact he had no more money to give them and had reached the ATM’s withdrawal limit, Seumanu killed him with a shotgun blast to the chest, according to the testimony.
His brother, Tautai Seumanu, pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced to 28 years to life in prison, and the two teenagers were given shorter sentences for manslaughter, kidnapping and robbery.
Ropati Seumanu, who served as a deacon in the First Samoan Gospel Church, where his father was pastor, was also described by a witness as the founder of a gang called Sons of Samoa, affiliated with the Crips. Witnesses said he committed numerous assaults in the years before the murder.
In addition to rejecting Seumanu’s Eighth Amendment claim, the justices concluded that he was not entitled to a reversal based on prosecutorial misconduct.
Werdegar was critical of Deputy District Attorney Angela Backers for, among other things, telling the jury that Seumanu’s lawyers were putting on a “sham” defense and didn’t believe their client’s alibi, for asking jurors to view the case through the eyes of the victim, who begged for his life before being shot, and for telling the jury – after the defense lawyers introduced themselves and their client – that the deceased was her “client.”
But none of those remarks affected the verdict, Werdegar said, because the evidence of guilt was strong and the jury was properly instructed not to be swayed by prejudice or sympathy and that the remarks of counsel were not evidence.
The case is People vs. Seumanu, 15 S.O.S. 4375.
Source: Metropolitan News Company, August 26, 2015
  1. The Eighth Amendment (Amendment VIII) to the United States Constitution is the part of the United States Bill of Rights (ratified December 15, 1791) prohibiting the federal government from imposing excessive bail, excessive fines, or cruel and unusual punishments, including torture.

 

Boston Bombing juror says he regrets giving Tsarnaev the death penalty


Kevan Fagan, ‘Juror 83’ in the trial of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, says he probably would not have voted for the death penalty had he been aware that the families of some victims wanted a life sentence.
On Monday, the same day a federal judge ruled to keep the names of all jurors in the trial sealed, Mr. Fagan sat down for an interview with WBUR-FM.
Fagan is the first juror to speak publicly using his name, and to be photographed, according to the station.
Fagan would not discuss deliberations but said he “would probably change” his vote in the penalty phase of the trial if he had been aware that the parents of 8-year-old victim Martin Richard opposed the death penalty.
The week before the jury was set to deliberate on life imprisonment or death for Mr. Tsarnaev, nearly two years to the day of the bombing, Bill and Denise Richard wrote an essay, published in The Boston Globe, that a death sentence would only lead to lengthy appeals and draw out the anguish for their family:

We know that the government has its reasons for seeking the death penalty, but the continued pursuit of that punishment could bring years of appeals and prolong reliving the most painful day of our lives. We hope our two remaining children do not have to grow up with the lingering, painful reminder of what the defendant took from them, which years of appeals would undoubtedly bring.

The jurors were ordered to avoid social media and press throughout the trial.
Source: Business Insider, August 25, 2015

Federal Judge Temporarily Halts Mississippi Executions


Judge Henry Wingate gave the order verbally on Tuesday, following up with a written order Wednesday, in a case that challenges the state’s lethal injection methods as cruel and unusual.

A federal judge has temporarily halted Mississippi from carrying out executions.

U.S. District Court Judge Henry Wingate gave the order verbally on Tuesday in response to a suit brought by death row inmates challenging Mississippi’s lethal injection methods as cruel and unusual.

On Wednesday, Wingate followed up with a written order, finding that the inmates are likely to succeed on their claim that “Mississippi’s failure to use a drug which qualifies as an ‘ultra short-acting barbiturate or other similar drug’ as required” by state law violates both that law and the U.S. Constitution’s due process guarantees.

Under the order, Mississippi is barred from using “pentobarbital, specifically in its compounded form, or midazolam, from executing any death row inmate at this time.” Additionally, the state must inform the court of any other execution procedure it wishes to use before executing any inmate.

Mississippi had hoped to execute inmate Richard Jordan on Thursday for a murder as part of a kidnapping in 1976. The state’s execution protocol calls for three drugs — a sedative, followed by a paralytic and then a drug to cause cardiac arrest. The protocol is similar to the one approved by the U.S. Supreme Court this year, but inmates counter that the state is lacking safeguards that other states have — such as an EKG to verify the inmate is actually unconscious.

The inmates also say Mississippi is further constrained by state law that mandates executions be performed with an “ultra short-acting barbiturate or other similar drug.” In the middle of litigation, the state switched its anesthetic to midazolam, the drug the Supreme Court recently approved. However, it is not a barbiturate.

Mississippi, like many other death penalty states, attempts to keep the supplier of its execution drugs a secret.

Attorney General Jim Hood’s office has filed a notice with Wingate’s court that it is appealing the ruling.

Alabama death row inmate maintains state is wrongly ignoring his claims of innocence


The latest Alabama inmate seeking freedom from death row maintains the state is wrongly ignoring his claims of innocence while his health fails behind bars, one of his attorneys said Monday.
Legal arguments filed by Donnis Musgrove contend the state is arguing about technicalities rather than addressing legitimate concerns about the man’s 1988 conviction and death sentence.
Musgrove’s appeal is currently in federal court, and the defense is asking the judge to rule quickly because the prisoner has lung cancer and was hospitalized last week in grave condition, said Cissy Jackson, one of his lawyers.
“We would love to get him out of prison … so he could have some peace after being wrongfully imprisoned for so many years,” said Jackson.
Out of the hospital and sent back to Donaldson prison near Birmingham, Musgrove will be treated in the prison infirmary for an indefinite period, Jackson said.
The attorney general’s office didn’t immediately return a message seeking comment on Musgrove’s legal arguments or health.
The state has argued that rules prohibit Musgrove from making new claims about being innocent and bar him from questioning evidence used in his trial, but prosecutors haven’t directly addressed his arguments about being wrongfully convicted based on bogus evidence conjured by prosecutors and police.
Musgrove, 67, was sentenced to die for the gunshot killing of Coy Eugene Barron in 1986, but his attorneys maintain the prosecution falsified every piece of evidence against him, including witness statements and a shell casing that was used to link him to the slaying.
Source: The Guardian, August 24, 2015

Veintidós personas de distintas nacionalidades están en el corredor de la muerte en Texas


Junto al nicaragüense Bernardo Tercero, cuya ejecución está programada para el miércoles de esta semana, hay otros 21 extranjeros en el corredor de la muerte en Texas, en su mayoría mexicanos y centroamericanos, aunque también los hay de Sudamérica, Asia y el Caribe.
Si nada lo impide, al nicaragüense lo ejecutarán el miércoles a las seis de la tarde locales en la cárcel de Huntsville, la más antigua de Texas y en la que ya han sido ajusticiados 13 extranjeros desde marzo de 1993, cuando el dominicano Carlos Santana murió a manos de sus verdugos.
Tercero fue condenado por asesinar a otro hombre en 1997 durante un atraco en una lavandería de Houston, crimen por el que ha pasado los últimos 15 años de su vida en el temido corredor de la muerte de Texas, ubicado en la cárcel de Polunsky.
Once mexicanos y tres salvadoreños, entre otros
Además de Tercero, en Texas están condenados a muerte 11 mexicanos, tres salvadoreños, dos hondureños, un argentino, un dominicano, un vietnamita, un bangladesí y una única mujer nacida en la isla caribeña de San Cristóbal y con pasaporte británico.
La mayoría está en la cárcel por un asesinato, aunque hay casos como el del mexicano Abel Ochoa que en 2002 mató a su esposa, a sus dos hijas de 7 años y de 9 meses, a su suegro y a su cuñada, o el del salvadoreño Héctor Medina, que mató a su hijo de tres años y a su hija de ocho meses en 2007.
Otros, como el mexicano Juan Carlos Álvarez está condenado por el asesinato de cuatro miembros de una banda rival en 1998 o el también mexicano Ignacio Gómez que mató en 1996 a tres personas tras una pelea.
Por su parte, el hondureño Edgardo Cubas y el salvadoreño Walter Sorto fueron condenados por el secuestro, violación y asesinato en 2002 de tres mujeres hispanas, una de ellas de 15 años, aunque hay sospechas de que pudieron estar involucrados en más casos parecidos.
Cubas estuvo a punto de ser ejecutado en 2014, pero finalmente suspendieron su cita con los verdugos.
Otros, como el salvadoreño Gilmar Guevara, que en el 2000 mató a dos personas durante un atraco, ya han agotado todos sus recursos legales y podrían recibir una fecha de ejecución en los próximos meses.
Una británica
Entre los casos más conocidos está el de la mujer británica, Linda Carty, condenada por el secuestro y asesinato de su vecina, Joana Rodríguez.
Según los fiscales, Carty estaba tan desesperada por tener un bebé y salvar su matrimonio que decidió raptar al recién nacido de Rodríguez, cuyo cadáver fue hallado un día después de su desaparición en el maletero de un vehículo.
Carty fue condenada con el testimonio de los autores materiales del crimen, pero ella siempre ha defendido que le tendieron una trampa y su caso ha atraído la atención de los medios de comunicación del Reino Unido.
No lejos de la controversia
La ejecución de ciudadanos extranjeros en los últimos años ha estado rodeada de polémica, ya que en 2004 la Corte Internacional de Justicia (CIJ) de La Haya ordenó en el llamado “Fallo Avena” revisar el caso de 51 mexicanos condenados a muerte en Estados Unidos a quienes se les violó el derecho a notificación consular.
La Convención de Viena sobre Relaciones Consulares obliga a los Estados a informar a los consulados respectivos de la detención de ciudadanos extranjeros, así como al detenido de que tiene derecho a solicitar asistencia consular.
Desde la sentencia, Estados Unidos ha seguido ejecutando a ciudadanos extranjeros, cuatro de ellos “en franca violación” del “Fallo Avena”, según sostiene la Cancillería mexicana.
El director del Observatorio Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC), Robert Dunham, dijo a Efe que “Estados Unidos ha violado las leyes internacionales en muchas ocasiones al ejecutar a ciudadanos extranjeros”.
Por su parte, el abogado de Tercero, Mike Charlton, afirmó que “Texas nunca ha respetado los derechos consulares”, por lo que no espera que la violación del derecho a esa notificación tenga ningún efecto en el caso del nicaragüense.
Según datos del DPIC, en Estados Unidos hay 139 extranjeros de 36 nacionalidades condenados a muerte, casi la mitad (61) están en California, mientras que en Texas hay 22 y en Florida 21.
Desde que el Tribunal Supremo de Estados Unidos reinstauró la pena de muerte en 1976, 31 extranjeros han sido ejecutados en todo el país.
Sin embargo, durante casi siete meses de 2015, Texas no ha impuesto la pena de muerte. En algunos casos, los jurados optaron por poner a los convictos tras las rejas de por vida.
Es parte de una tendencia, que indica que la pena de muerte podría estar siendo relegada. Los números muestran, según el exveterano fiscal de distrito Tim Cole, que la aplicación de la pena de muerte ha dejado de ser una herramienta a considerar invariablemente para los fiscales.
“Estamos demostrando como un estado que podemos vivir sin la pena de muerte”, señaló Cole.
Fuente: Univision.com y Agencias, 23/08/2015

Texas Death Row Inmate Bernardo Tercero Wins Reprieve


HUNTSVILLE (August 25, 2015)
The Texas Count of Criminal Appeals Tuesday stopped the scheduled execution of a Nicaraguan man convicted of killing a Houston high school teacher during a robbery more than 18 years ago.
Bernardo Tercero, 39, was scheduled to receive a lethal injection Wednesday evening in Huntsville.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals issued a reprieve Tuesday after attorneys contended in an appeal that a prosecution witness at Tercero’s trial in 2000 gave false testimony.
The appeals court has returned the case to the trial court to review the claim.
Tercero was convicted in the shooting death of Robert Berger, 38, who was in a Houston dry cleaners shop in March 1997 when Tercero came in to rob it.
Prosecutors said Tercero was in the U.S. illegally at the time of the slaying.
Source: Associated Press, August 25, 2015

 

Ohio Planned to Import Death Penalty Drug Illegally


August 19, 2015

A letter from the FDA warned the state that importing the drug would break the law.

The state of Ohio planned to illegally import sodium thiopental, a drug used for executions, according to a Food and Drug Administration letter obtained byBuzzFeed through a Freedom of Information Act request.

The June letter says that Ohio planned to “obtain bulk and finished dosage forms of sodium thiopental.” Since the drug is not available in the US, wrote Domenic Veneziano, director of the FDA’s import operation, “we assume this product would be purchased from an oversees source.”

Veneziano reminded Ohio Director of Rehabilitation and Correction Gary C. Mohr that“there is no FDA approved application for sodium thiopental, and it is illegal to import an unapproved new drug into the United States.”

According to BuzzFeed:

The prison Ohio carries out executions in registered for a DEA license to import the drug last year for a “law enforcement purpose,” but until now it was unknown if the state actually intended to use the license.

Ohio, like many other death penalty states, shrouds its execution drug suppliers in secrecy. States argue the secrecy protects their suppliers from intimidation and embarrassment, while death row inmates and open government advocates argue it removes an important check on state power.

When Nebraska received a similar letter from the FDA last year, it came out that the state paid an Indian dealer named Chris Harris more than $50,000 for enough sodium thiopental to execute hundreds of prisoners. (Nebraska has since abolished the death penalty completely.)

BuzzFeed followed up with Ohio corrections department to find out if Harris was the planned supplier for Ohio as well.

When approached by BuzzFeed News about Harris in June, Ohio DRC spokesperson JoEllen Smith said the department’s legal division would have to handle the matter. After spending weeks on the request, she only would say that Ohio had not communicated with Harris’s company, Harris Pharma, but did not specifically answer the question of if the state had purchased from him directly or indirectly. Smith did not respond to follow up questions.

Ohio’s last execution took place in January 2014, when the state gave inmateDennis McGuire 10 milligrams of midazolam, a controversial sedative whose use for lethal injections the Supreme Court recently upheld. Ohio plans a new series of executions beginning in 2016.

Many reputable drug manufacturers don’t want to be associated with the death penalty, much less the botched executions that have prevailed of late. The FDA-approved manufacturer of sodium thiopental stopped making the drug in 2011 so that it couldn’t be used for this purpose. When Missouri announced plans to use propofol, the drug found in Michael Jackson’s body at the time of his death, for executions, its German manufacturer expressed displeasure and threatened to get the European Union to stop exporting it the US completely. Many states are now struggling to find the drugs they need for executions.

This fact is compounded in Ohio, whose governor, Republican presidential candidate John Kasich, signed a “secret executions” bill this winter that exempts anyone participating in a lethal injection from public records requests. Under the law, medical and nonmedical staff, companies transporting or preparing supplies or equipment used in executions, and providers of the drugs used in lethal injections are all protected from public records requests and do not need to reveal their identity or duties.