June 27, 2012 Source :
Samuel Lopez, who stabbed a Phoenix woman to death in 1986, was executed today at the Arizona State Prison Complex-Florence, three days before his 50th birthday.
Lopez had no last words.
No members of Lopez’s family were present, witnesses said. Eight members of the family of Estefana Holmes, his victim, spoke with reporters after the execution.
Victor Arguijo, Holmes’s brother, who traveled with other family members from Fort Worth, Texas, said, “We are not here to seek vengeance nor to avenge, but to seek justice for our family. This execution today will not bring our beloved Tefo back, but hopefully will bring closure.”
Lopez’s final meal consisted of one red chili con carne, one green chili con carne, Spanish rice, a jalapeño, an avocado, cottage cheese, French fries, a Coke, vanilla ice cream and pineapple.
The execution procedure began shortly before 10 a.m., as a group of six prison medical team members inserted intravenous catheters into Lopez’s arms. Lopez chatted with them and winced slightly, as government representatives, media, attorneys and Holmes’s family members watched on closed-circuit TV. Then prison officials opened the curtains between the death chamber and the witness area. The execution began at 10:08 a.m. and ended at 10:37 a.m., taking more than twice as long as recent prior executions.
Lopez blinked, yawned, breathed rapidly, then his mouth dropped open, witnesses said.
On Tuesday the U.S. Supreme Court declined without comment his appeal for a stay. One aspect of Lopez’s death marked a departure from prior recent executions in Arizona, including three earlier this year, after extended legal disputes. For the first time, the Department of Corrections allowed witnesses to watch, via close-circuit cameras, as executioners inserted the intravenous catheters that deliver the fatal drug, pentobarbital, into the condemned man.
Previously, the department only allowed the curtain between observers and the inmate to be pulled back after the catheters were in place. Where and how the catheters were inserted in earlier executions led to legal accusations that the department was engaging in cruel and unusual punishment. Corrections officials have said that problems finding suitable veins in the condemned man’s arms or legs have forced them to insert catheters into the groin area.
As in past executions, Lopez was told by officials that his microphone would be cut off if he said anything offensive. In March, as convicted murder Robert Towery was being executed, officials refused his requests to speak with his attorney as medical staff repeatedly stuck him without being able to find a vein, eventually using his groin area. Towery communicated with his attorney by code during his last words.
Defense attorneys in Arizona have repeatedly brought these issues to court; the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that no part of an execution should be shielded from media witnesses.
Lopez was convicted of sexually assaulting and murdering Holmes in her apartment in central Phoenix in 1986. He stabbed the grandmother and seamstress more than 23 times and slashed her throat with her own kitchen knives after a fierce struggle. A few days later, while being interviewed by police investigating an unrelated sexual-assault incident, Lopez mentioned details of Holmes’ murder that hadn’t been released to the public, police said. His attorneys, on appeal of his 1987 conviction and death sentence, argued that those details had been common knowledge in the neighborhood.
Lopez’s attorney, Kelley Henry, an assistant federal public defender, criticized the execution and said Lopez was denied due process. “This broken process began at trial where untrained attorneys failed to raise crucial evidence about Sammy’s horrific and abusive family history. It continued up until this week as the courts refused to hear the merits of Sammy’s claims because of procedural barriers,” she said.
Lopez’s attorneys had sought stays in both state and federal courts. In state court, they argued that he couldn’t get a fair hearing before Arizona’s Board of Executive Clemency, and that a majority of the five members had been improperly appointed as political cronies of Gov. Jan Brewer. In federal court, they argued that state courts hadn’t adequately considered factors that should have mitigated against a death sentence for Lopez, such as his brutal upbringing and a mental impairment caused by his childhood abuse of inhalants and other drugs.
On May 15, Arizona’s Supreme Court stayed his execution, originally set for that day, to allow a lower court to consider the argument that new clemency board members hadn’t received all the training required by state law. But last Friday, the court turned down his attorneys’ request for a second stay of execution, after a lower court ruled that there had been enough time for the training to be completed.
Also last Friday, Arizona’s Board of Executive Clemency denied Lopez’s bid for a commutation to life without parole. More than a dozen members of Holmes’ extended family spoke at the board hearing in favor of his execution.
A small group of protesters braved the heat Wednesday to demonstrate against the death penalty, but were kept away from the prison by state troopers.