Day: July 11, 2013

UPDATE Dustin McDaniel calls for state discussion on “broken” death penalty process


Attorney General Dustin McDaniel spoke to the state’s sheriffs in Fort Smith this morning and dipped his toe into a potentially huge and emotional topic — the death penalty.

Exhale. McDaniel is not calling for abolition of the death penalty.

But McDaniel told the sheriffs that our execution process is “completely broken.”

Challenges to lethal injection have become a whole new federal court legal industry. There’s no real prospect of executing anyone by injection in Arkansas for probably years to come.

The approved drugs aren’t available. Other suitable drugs haven’t been found and cleared. Or else they must be administered by physicians. Physicians won’t perform executions.

So the process languishes. McDaniel has staff members working on death cases who’ll retire before anyone is executed. No one should be angered at the governor for refusing to set executions that won’t be carried out. Nor should they blame the attorney general for failing to put more men (and they are currently all men) down more quickly.

McDaniel will release a statement on all this shortly. He wants a conversation by the legislature and the people.

Given problems with lethal injection, do they want an alternative, more brutal method — electric chair, gas chamber, firing squad? Probably not, but if so, let them say so by referendum. Is it worth talking about an end to the death penalty, which is extravagantly more expensive than simply locking someone up for life (and, some might argue, death is more merciful than a lifetime in a maximum security isolation cell.)

The Arkansas Times favors abolition of the death penalty. 1) It doesn’t deter capital crime. 2) It is impossible to rectify execution of innocent people. 3) It is discriminatory, with black people more likely to be executed. It is particularly discriminatory against poor people, who can’t afford adequate counsel. 4) It prolongs the anguish of victims’ families. 5) Allowing the state to kill people on a somewhat random basis (widely different approaches depending on prosecutorial district) is troubling for any number of reasons. Many states and many western countries have opted to opt out.

McDaniel didn’t offer solutions today. But he did suggest new discussions. I fear that the eve of an election season will only encourage the reflexive reaction from Republican and Democratic candidates alike, but particularly Republicans. But perhaps there are some thoughtful people among them who’ll acknowledge that our system is broken and that the usual bloodthirsty commentary — though popular on a surface level — isn’t particularly insightful or constructive.

UPDATE: Here are McDaniel’s prepared remarks. He outlines possibilities — from alternative execution to abolition to a court ruling that the death penalty was unconstitutional. He throws it open for debate.

His closing follows:

I believe that the majority of Arkansans, if polled, would say they support the death penalty. However, I would be surprised if the majority of Arkansans would support the death penalty if they knew the only methods of carrying it out are a firing squad, the gas chamber or an electric chair.

I think that most people would find those methods to be too barbaric for a civilized society.

I think that it is high time for a new debate on what to do about the death penalty.

18 states have abolished the death penalty. The voters of Arkansas can certainly choose that route. The legislature may choose to abolish the death penalty. The voters or legislature may decide to change methods of execution, recognizing that lethal injection sounds acceptable but is a legal fallacy.

If the Arkansas Supreme Court decides to abolish the death penalty by declaring it unconstitutional, I’d acknowledge that that would be an acceptable use of their power.

But none of these things are happening and without pressure from the people, none of them will. Rather, we have our current situation, which I strongly oppose.

I am opposed to the courts and drug manufacturers continuing to neutralize our death penalty through the imposition of practical hurdles that cannot be overcome.

You are key leaders in our law enforcement community. We must be frank about this situation, and, if we don’t like what we hear, we need to go about the business of trying to change it.

Missouri Gov. on Capital Punishment Plan: ‘We Don’t Have A Gas Chamber’


ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – Less than a week after Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster suggested the state may need to reinstate the gas chamber as a form of capital punishment, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon is hesitant to lend his support to the plan.

During a press conference in St. Louis Tuesday, Nixon was asked about Koster’s suggestion.

“We don’t have a gas chamber,” he said. “I don’t want to get into it. Once again, most of those issues involving it are part and parcel of what is going on in the courts about the various methods and I think it’s best handled by…we’ll just let the judicial branch deal with that.”

Missouri Director of Corrections George Lombardi also refused to weigh in Tuesday.

“I have no comment,” he said. “Period.”

Koster says that Missouri statutes allow two options for executions: lethal injection and death by gas. Koster’s comments come amid his growing frustration over the Missouri Supreme Court’s refusal to set execution dates until lethal injection issues are resolved.

“The Missouri death penalty statute has been, in my opinion, unnecessarily entangled in the courts for over a decade,” Koster told The Associated Press Wednesday. (AP, July 10, 2013)

California death penalty: State abandons defense of three-drug executions


California has abandoned the legal defense of its delay-ridden lethal injection procedures, moving ahead to adopt a single-drug option that has been embraced by other states trying to enforce their death penalty laws.

The Brown administration has decided against appealing a May ruling that invalidated the state’s three-drug execution method, which has been mired in years of state and federal court legal tangles.

Faced with a Wednesday deadline, the state chose not to seek a California Supreme Court review of the decision striking down the three-drug procedure because state officials failed to follow administrative rules when adopting them several years ago.

A prison system spokeswoman said the governor and other state officials will proceed with working out a method of executing condemned inmates with a single fatal dose of a sedative, which other states — such as Ohio, Arizona and Washington — have adopted to short-circuit legal challenges to their lethal injection procedures. (Mercury News)

ARIZONA – Debra Milke to be retried in killing of 4-year-old son


PHOENIX – Prosecutors formally told a court Monday that they plan to retry an Arizona death row inmate whose conviction was overturned by a federal appeals court four months ago.

The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office hasn’t filed a notice on whether they intend to seek the death penalty in the case of Debra Milke.

Milke, 49, was convicted in 1990 and sentenced to death for sending her 4-year-old son off to visit a mall Santa Claus with two men who shot the boy execution-style in the desert in 1989.

She is one of three women on death row in the state.

A panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out Milke’s conviction on March 14, concluding that prosecutors hadn’t turned over evidence of the history of misconduct by a detective who testified at her 1990 trial that she had confessed to him in a closed interrogation room.

Milke has always maintained her innocence, saying she had nothing to do with her son Christopher’s death.

Since Milke’s conviction was overturned, prosecutors have said they were planning to retry her.

Still, they officially declared they were seeking a retrial after a ruling Monday by U.S. District Judge Robert Broomfield. The judge ordered Milke to be released from custody unless prosecutors say within 30 days that they were going to retry her.

“Today’s filing is consistent with what the county attorney has said for some time, namely that our office is preparing to retry this case,” said Jerry Cobb, a spokesman for the Maricopa County Attorney’s office, which is handling the retrial.

Michael Kimmerer, an attorney for Milke, told The Arizona Republic that he will try to secure bond for Milke after she’s transferred from state prison to the county jail.

Prosecutors claimed Milke had her son killed to collect on a $5,000 insurance policy.

The two men convicted in the case — Roger Scott and former Milke roommate James Styers — also are on Arizona’s death row.

Scott confessed during a police interrogation and led detectives to the boy’s body. Neither Scott nor Styers testified against Milke. (AP)

Florida: Execution of Marshal Lee Gore halted again


For the second time in less than three weeks, a court has stayed the execution of Miami killer Marshall Lee Gore, who was set to die by lethal injection Wednesday.

Gore was convicted and set to Death Row for the 1988 slaying of Lauderhill’s Robyn Novick, whose body was found stabbed and beaten in a trash heap near Homestead.

On Tuesday, a Bradford County circuit judge agreed with Gore’s defense lawyers and found “reasonable grounds” that the Death Row inmate was too insane to be executed. Circuit Judge Ysleta McDonald ordered more hearings.

The U.S. Supreme Court has said that executing insane inmates is cruel and unusual punishment.

Gov. Rick Scott originally scheduled Gore to be executed on June 24 at the Florida State Prison in Starke. However, one hour before the execution, the Atlanta-based U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeal stayed the execution, giving Gore a chance to flesh out the issue. Three days later, the court lifted the stay, saying Gore had not met the criteria for delaying the execution. (Source: Miami Herald)