Oklahoma

High court won’t rehear death penalty case


The Supreme Court refused Friday to reconsider the death-row appeals of 3 Oklahoma prisoners whose pending executions by lethal injection were upheld by the justices in June.
Without comment, the court denied a petition filed by the prisoners’ lawyers that would have turned the case into one testing the overall constitutionality of the death penalty.
The justices ruled 5-4 on June 29 that Oklahoma can use the sedative midazolam as part of a 3-drug lethal injection protocol, despite contentions that it may not render prisoners completely unconscious and incapable of feeling pain. The court’s majority said the inmates failed to suggest any better alternative.
But the decision included a sweeping dissent from Justices Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg that questioned whether capital punishment is no longer constitutional. The 2 liberal justices cited scores of death-row exonerations, racial and geographic disparities, decades-long delays between sentencing and executions and a trend away from capital punishment in courts and states.
Breyer, who wrote the dissent, urged the court to hear a case in the near future on whether the death penalty violates the Constitution’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. The court ruled that way in 1972, resulting in a 4-year moratorium on executions, but reversed itself in 1976.
“It would be appropriate for the court to use this case to address the constitutionality of the death penalty, because the outcome will turn not on facts specific to any single litigant, but on circumstances common to the administration of the death penalty,” attorneys for death-row inmates Richard Glossip, John Grant and Benjamin Cole said.
A similar effort was mounted in early July by Missouri prisoner David Zink, but the Supreme Court refused to delay his execution, and he was put to death July 14. Barring a last-minute reprieve, Glossip is scheduled to die Sept. 16, with Grant and Cole to follow later this year.
A more likely candidate for the Supreme Court to consider whether the death penalty is constitutional will come before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit on Monday. In that case, a federal district judge already has declared California’s death penalty unconstitutional because of long delays, inadequate funding for defense lawyers, and the lack of a lethal injection protocol.
The June Supreme Court case concerned the specific drug used by Oklahoma and some other states to sedate prisoners before lethal drugs are administered. While Florida has used midazolam with apparent success, three executions in Arizona, Ohio and Oklahoma resulted in condemned prisoners gasping and writhing on their gurneys.
The high court’s 5-member conservative majority ruled that states may continue to uses midazolam because the defendants could not suggest an alternative – a burden that the court’s 4 liberal members criticized in a dissent written by Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
Source: USA Today, August 28, 201

Oklahoma Governor Says She Can’t Stop Glossip’s Execution


Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin does not have the power to commute the death sentence of Richard Glossip, her office said in response to criticism by activist actress Susan Sarandon.
Glossip is scheduled to die on Sept. 16 for hiring a man to murder his employer, Bary Allan Van Treese, in 1997. Glossip has always maintained his innocence.
Sarandon, who has campaigned against the death penalty for years, called Fallin a “horrible person” for refusing to intervene.
“Richard’s case is so typical. Bad representation, 2 trials that were ridiculous, no physical evidence,” Sarandon told the British news group Sky News on Thursday.
“He’s put there by a snitch who actually did kill the person, and then the snitch has life and this guy is being put to death on the 16th. Once a mistake has been made within a judicial system, people just do not want to admit that mistake has been made and it becomes impossible to readdress them. And the only thing now that is going to give him a chance to survive is public opinion – is public embarrassment.” Sarandon urged people to write Fallin to stop the execution.
She called the Glossip case “a perfect example of what’s wrong with the death penalty, and so of course I’m hoping that some kind of exposure will give him the opportunity to maybe get his sentence at least commuted, because he’s clearly innocent, and on top of that the guy who actually killed the person is in a minimum security prison for the rest of his life.”
Fallin’s spokesman Alex Weintz responded to Sarandon and several media inquiries on Twitter, saying Fallin does not have the ability to grant Glossip clemency.
“The limit of her legal ability to intervene is to grant a 60 day stay,” Weintz tweeted Thursday. “The gov[ernor] can only grant clemency [to] inmates who have been recommended clemency by the Pardon and Parole Board. Glossip’s request was unanimously denied … To say Glossip has had his day in court is an understatement. He has been pursuing the same arguments publicly and in court for 20 years. He was convicted of murder in court twice and sentenced to death twice by 2 juries (24 total jurors unanimous in their verdict).”
Even if Fallin could grant clemency, doing so would “unilaterally overturn” the judgments of jurors and several courts, including the 10th Circuit and U.S. Supreme Court, Weintz said.
“Glossip’s execution is going forward because he is (a) guilty and (b) has exhausted his legal options,” he said. “Final thought: there are multiple victims here, none of them Glossip. A man beaten to death, wife without a husband, 5 kids with no dad.”
Susan Sarandon
Susan Sarandon
Sarandon won an Academy Award for Best Actress in 1995 for her portrayal of anti-death penalty activist Sister Helen Prejean in “Dead Man Walking.” Prejean also has called for Glossip’s exoneration.
Glossip and 3 other death row inmates sued Oklahoma last year, claiming its use of midazolam – the 1st drug in a new 3-drug replacement protocol – fails to render a person insensate to pain, in violation of the Eighth Amendment.
States have been forced to seek replacement execution drugs from compounding pharmacies after anti-death penalty opponents persuaded large drug manufacturers to stop making lethal injection drugs. Oklahoma’s previous protocol required pentobarbital to knock the inmate unconscious, vecuronium to stop breathing and potassium chloride to stop the heart.
Glossip’s lawsuit was filed after the botched execution of murderer Clayton Lockett, 38, in April 2014. He was declared unconscious after being injected with midazolam, but breathed heavily, writhed, clenched his teeth and strained to lift his head off a pillow 3 minutes later. Blinds separating a viewing gallery and the death chamber were lowered and Oklahoma Department of Corrections Director Robert Patton ordered the execution stopped. It took Lockett 43 minutes to die of a heart attack.
In a 5-4 ruling on June 29, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the new execution protocol. Oklahoma quickly rescheduled four executions. The Supreme Court said the inmates failed “to identify a known and available alternative method of execution that entails a lesser risk of pain.”
Source: Courthouse News, August 8, 2015

 

2 Oklahoma death row inmates seek stay for appeal


march 11, 2014

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Lawyers for two Oklahoma death row inmates on Tuesday asked the Oklahoma Supreme Court for a stay of execution while their lawsuit makes its way through state court.

Attorneys for Clayton Lockett and Charles Warner simultaneously filed an appeal and an emergency application for a stay of execution to the state’s highest court, writing the inmates “will suffer irreparable harm” if a stay is not granted. Oklahoma County District Judge Patricia Parrish on Monday denied their request to halt the executions that are scheduled for later this month.

Parrish denied the request on grounds that the case was not under her jurisdiction. Lockett and Warner sued the Oklahoma Department of Corrections last month, challenging a law that bars disclosure of the state’s execution procedures.

“At Monday’s hearing, the State all but admitted it is now using compounded pentobarbital to carry out executions, but it continues to refuse to provide any information about the source of that drug,” Madeline Cohen, an assistant federal public defender said in an email.

Lockett is scheduled to die March 20 and Warner on March 27. They are not challenging their convictions but are asking for a temporary restraining order to prevent their executions until they know more about the lethal injection drugs to be used.

The Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office will respond to the appeal to the Oklahoma Supreme Court by noon on Wednesday, a spokeswoman said.

Oklahoma death row inmates sue over drugs’ secrecy


february 26, 2014

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Two Oklahoma death row inmates scheduled to be executed next month sued state corrections officials Wednesday for details about the drugs that will be used to execute them, including their source.

Under state law, no one may disclose who provides Oklahoma with the three drugs it uses to execute condemned prisoners. Lawyers for Charles Warner and Clayton Lockett fear the men could suffer severe pain if Oklahoma is allowed to maintain a “veil of secrecy.”

“Plaintiffs have no means to determine the purity of the drug which may be used to execute them, and whether that drug is contaminated with either particulate foreign matter or a microbial biohazard that could lead to a severe allergic reaction upon injection,” the lawyers wrote in their state court lawsuit.

Lockett is to be executed March 20 for the 1999 shooting death of a 19-year-old Perry woman. Warner is to be executed on March 27 for the 1997 death of his girlfriend’s 11-month-old daughter. The men seek a restraining order that would halt their executions. A hearing on that will be held Tuesday before District Judge Patricia Parrish in Oklahoma City; clemency hearings set for this week and next week remained on the Parole and Pardon Board’s schedule Wednesday. .

Oklahoma shields its drug suppliers’ identities to protect them from potential reprisal, Department of Corrections spokesman Jerry Massie said Wednesday. He said the agency was aware of the inmates’ lawsuit but declined to comment. Diane Clay, director of communications for Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, said the office had received the petition and is reviewing it.

“We can confirm that Oklahoma is in compliance with the law,” Clay said.

Oklahoma and other states that have the death penalty have been scrambling for substitute drugs for lethal injections after major drugmakers — many based in Europe with longtime opposition to the death penalty — stopped selling to prisons and corrections departments.

Under previous protocol, inmates continuously received a sedative while paralytic drugs actually killed them. As supplies dried up, Oklahoma dropped its requirement that inmates receive a sedative continuously and began to shield what it would disclose.

“Thus, at the same time that defendants are turning to untested and untried execution methods, they are also shielding information about the execution methods from meaningful disclosure or scrutiny,” the lawyers wrote. They also claim the executions should be stopped because the Department of Corrections purportedly changed the protocol without sufficient notice to the public.

Lawyers for the Oklahoma inmates do not challenge the men’s guilt or the use of lethal injection, just the state’s policy of not disclosing how it intends to kill the two.

“If you don’t know what they’re using there’s no way to know if it is cruel and unusual punishment,” Susanna M. Gattoni, one of the lawyers representing Lockett and Warner, said in a telephone interview.

They suggest that a Tulsa compounding pharmacy challenged by lawyers for a Missouri death row inmate who was executed early Wednesday may have supplied Oklahoma with its lethal drugs. The Apothecary Shoppe, in a deal with lawyers for Michael Taylor, agreed not to supply pentobarbital, a sedative, for Taylor’s execution.

They also say a veterinary medicine supplier may have provided the pentobarbital to the state; the drug is also used to euthanize animals.

Warner and Lockett’s lawyers said in their lawsuit that compounding pharmacies are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and that, as a result, there is a risk that the two Oklahoma inmates could suffer as they die.

A spokeswoman for The Apothecary Shoppe didn’t immediately return calls seeking comment.

Compounding pharmacies, which custom-mix prescription drugs for doctors and patients, are generally overseen by state boards, although a law adopted last year allows larger compounding pharmacies to register with the FDA and submit to federal inspections.

Gattoni and her colleagues say substandard pentobarbital could leave inmates fully conscious as drugs to paralyze them and stop their heart are administered.

“There will be at most only a few seconds for them to make any physical or verbal sign of distress before they are paralyzed,” they wrote.

“Plaintiffs will experience extreme pain and suffering when the third drug — potassium chloride — is administered to stop their hearts, but their paralysis by vercuronium bromide will mask their suffering from witnesses.”

The lawyers say they believe Oklahoma used compounded pentobarbital as the first drug in a January execution. Michael Wilson’s final words were, “I feel my whole body burning,” and then he didn’t move.

Missouri: Judge Blocks Sale of Drug for Execution


february 13, 2014

A federal judge late Wednesday temporarily blocked an Oklahoma compounding pharmacy from selling a drug to the Missouri Department of Corrections for use in a Feb. 26 execution.

The temporary restraining order was issued in connection with a lawsuit in United States District Court in Tulsa filed by a Missouri death row inmate, Michael Taylor, whose lawyers say the state contracts with the Apothecary Shoppe in Tulsa for the drug.

The lawsuit argued that recent executions involving the drug, compounded pentobarbital, indicate it will probably cause “severe, unnecessary, lingering and ultimately inhumane pain.”

The state has not revealed the name of the pharmacy, and the Tulsa pharmacy has not said whether it is the supplier. The judge, Terence Kern, set a hearing for Tuesday.

(Source:NYT)

Wrongly imprisoned Tulsa man declared innocent, eligible to seek compensation from state


A man who spent some 16 years behind bars on now-nullified burglary and robbery convictions has made a sufficient showing of “actual innocence” that he can seek to recover financially from the state of Oklahoma, a Tulsa County judge determined Tuesday.

Tulsa County District Judge William Kellough found that Sedrick Courtney “has made a prima facie showing of actual innocence for the purpose of initiating a claim pursuant to the Oklahoma Governmental Tort Claim Act.”

The most Courtney could recover through the state’s compensation process for wrongfully convicted people is $175,000, lawyers say.

Earlier this month, the state Supreme Court ruled that Kellough had erred previously in denying Courtney a “threshold determination of actual innocence” in a post-conviction relief proceeding.


CLEARED
Sedrick Courtney: He served 16 years in prison for crimes he didn’t commit.

Kellough also erred in ruling that Courtney did not present “clear and convincing evidence of his actual innocence in the face of the exonerating scientific evidence that supported the vacation of the criminal conviction,” according to the high court’s order.

Courtney, now 41, had been found guilty in a 1995 case in which two masked intruders robbed a woman at her Tulsa apartment. He was sentenced to 60 years in prison.

The victim identified Courtney – who denied being one of the intruders, denied any involvement and had alibi witnesses.

Results from DNA testing available at the time were inconclusive, but more recent DNA tests of numerous hairs found in ski masks excluded Courtney as a possible donor of the hairs, court filings show.

The Innocence Project, an organization that uses DNA evidence in an effort to get wrongfully convicted people exonerated, took on the case while Courtney was in prison.

Courtney, now 41, was released from prison on parole in 2011.

In July 2012, Kellough granted post-conviction relief based on the newly discovered evidence – the new DNA testing results. The judge vacated Courtney’s convictions for robbery and burglary, with the agreement of District Attorney Tim Harris.

Kellough declined then to make any finding of actual innocence and indicated that Courtney did not establish by “clear and convincing” evidence that he did not commit the crime.

In September, Kellough ordered the dismissal of the robbery-burglary charges.

An appeal challenging Kellough’s ruling on the actual innocence issue was initiated in the state Supreme Court in October.

According to the Supreme Court, a finding of actual innocence is necessary under Oklahoma law for Courtney to recover money damages based on a wrongful conviction.

Individuals who are convicted and imprisoned for crimes they did not commit can apply for as much as $175,000 in compensation from the state under legislation that was signed into law by then-Gov. Brad Henry in 2003.

A year earlier, Arvin McGee was exonerated by DNA evidence in an unrelated Tulsa County kidnapping and rape case.

A Tulsa federal jury awarded McGee $14 million from the city of Tulsa in 2006 – $1 million for each year he served in prison – but a settlement was reached after the verdict for the city to pay a total of $12.5 million.

Courtney’s compensation could be resolved through the state’s risk-management claims process, but it could be taken to trial, one of Courtney’s attorneys, Richard O’Carroll, has said previously.

US – Executions Scheduled for 2013 June 18 – November



Month State Inmate
June
18 OK James DeRosa  – executed
24 FL Marshall Gore    STAYED
25 OK Brian Davis Executed
26 TX Kimberly McCarthy executed
July
10 TX Rigoberto Avila – execution moved to January1, 2014
16 TX John Quintanilla executed
18 TX Vaughn Ross executed
25 AL Andrew Lackey
31 TX Douglas Feldman
August
7 OH Billy Slagle
18-24 CO Nathan Dunlap – Stayed
September
19 TX Robert Garza
25 OH Harry Mitts
26 TX Arturo Diaz
October
9 TX Michael Yowell
November
14 OH Ronald Phillips

OKLAHOMA – Execution date requested for death row inmate GEORGE OCHOA


October 4, 2012 http://mcalesternews.com

McALESTER — Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt filed a request Monday with the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals to set an execution date for George Ochoa, a 38-year-old Oklahoma State Penitentiary death row inmate.

“Ochoa was convicted and sentenced to death for the first-degree murders of Francisco Morales, 38, and wife, Maria Yanez, 35,” Pruitt states in a recent press release. “According to the report, Morales suffered 12 gunshot wounds and Yanez suffered 11 gunshot wounds while in their bedroom the morning of July 12, 1993. … The victim’s children were in the home at the time of the murders.”

According to court records, Morales and Yanez were shot and killed in their bedroom in the early morning hours of July 12, 1993. The sound of gunfire woke Yanez’s 14-year-old daughter, court records state, and she called 911 before looking out her bedroom door. “(She) saw two men,” court records state.

The young girl at first denied knowing the men, but eventually identified them as Ochoa and Osvaldo Torres, court records state. The young girl’s 11-year-old step brother saw one of the men shoot his father, court records state.

Ochoa and Torres were arrested “a short distance from the homicide,” court records state. “A short time before the shootings, Torres and Ochoa parked their car at a friend’s house,” court records state. “A witness observed one of the men take a gun from the trunk of the car and put the gun in his pants.”

Both Torres and Ochoa were tried and sentenced to death for the murders.

“However, in 2004, former Gov. Brad Henry commuted Torres’ sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole,” Pruitt states in a press release.

During his 2004 clemency hearing, Torres admitted that he had planned to burglarize Morales’ and Yanez’s home. “I never killed anyone. And I never knew George was going to kill anyone.”

Ochoa has been in custody at OSP since April 1, 1996, less than two weeks after he was convicted of first degree murder.

OKLAHOMA – Supreme Court won’t hear appeal of double murderer – Raymond Eugene Johnson.


October 2, 2012 http://www.kjrh.c

A Tulsa man sitting on death row for a brutal double murder is one step closer to execution.

The US Supreme Court says it will not hear the appeal of Raymond Eugene Johnson. 

Because he is on Oklahoma’s death row, it will probably take another few years before Johnson exhausts all his appeals and is scheduled to be executed. 

But for those who loved his victims — Brooke and Kya Whitaker — the court’s decision is major step toward justice.

Johnson was convicted in a brutal murder that shocked even the most seasoned homicide detectives. In June of 2007, Brooke Whitaker broke up with Johnson because he attacked her. She filed a protective order against him. 

After two weeks of staying with family because of her fear of Johnson, Brooke returned to her home where he was waiting for her.

Brooke was beaten with a hammer dozens of times. After hours of torturing her, Johnson set Brooke and her 7-month-old daughter on fire. 

Angie Short is Brooke’s aunt and Kya’s great aunt. 

He was just pure evil,Short said of seeing Johnson in court. “He smiled at us in the courtroom during the trial. We had to listen to his 40 minute confession about how he did and why he did. Why she deserved it. He has no remorse.” 

Johnson was sentenced to die for their murders. But that was only the beginning of a lengthy appeals process that all death row inmates are entitled too.

That process took a huge blow on Monday, when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear Johnson’s appeal.

“It’s another step toward justice for Brooke and Kya,” Short said. “Maybe now it will be five years before he’s executed instead of 10 years. But they are still gone.” 

Angie says justice won’t truly be served until Johnson pays with his life. Because right now, Angie says she and everyone who loved Brooke and Kya are serving a life sentence without them. 

“We can’t talk to Brooke and Kya. We can’t see them or write them a letter,” Angie said. “I would love to hear their voices. But we can’t have that. And he can.”     

Short says she and her family members plan to witness Johnson’s execution.

OKLAHOMA – Attorney General seeks execution date for death row inmate – Gary Allen


September 27, 2012 http://www.sfgate.com

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt asked a state appeals court Thursday to set an execution date for a man convicted of fatally shooting his fiancée almost 26 years ago.

Pruitt filed the request with the Court of Criminal Appeals a day after a federal judge rejected Gary Thomas Allen‘s request for a hearing on his claim that he is mentally incompetent and ineligible for the death penalty.

U.S. District Judge David Russell ruled Wednesday that Allen, 56, had not shown that a jury impanelled in 2008 acted unreasonably when it found him sane enough to be executed. Russell also lifted a stay that postponed Allen’s most recent execution date.

Pruitt said Russell’s ruling concludes Allen’s court appeals. “After a thorough review of this case, my office has concluded that the execution should be carried out,” the attorney general said.

Allen’s attorney, Randy Bauman, did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment.

Allen was convicted and sentenced to death for the November 1986 murder of Lawanna Gail Titsworth in the parking lot of an Oklahoma City day care. Titsworth, 24, had moved out of the home she shared with Allen and their two sons four days before her death.

Court documents indicate the two were arguing when Allen shot Titsworth twice in the chest. Titsworth ran with a center employee toward the building, but Allen pushed the worker away, shoved Titsworth down some steps and shot her twice in the back at close range, records show.

A police officer responding to a 911 call tussled with Allen before shooting him in the face, according to court documents. Allen was hospitalized for about two months for treatment of injuries to his face, left eye and brain.

Allen entered a blind plea of guilty to first-degree murder and was sentenced by a judge to die. But Allen’s attorneys have argued he was not competent enough to enter the plea.

A district judge in Pittsburg County stayed Allen’s original May 19, 2005, execution date after a psychological examination at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary indicated Allen had developed mental problems. The U.S. Constitution forbids the execution of inmates who are insane or mentally incompetent.

Three years later, a 12-member jury rejected Allen’s argument that he should not be put to death. Last December, the Oklahoma Appeals court ruled that an appeal of that decision was not authorized by law. The court said there is no procedure in state law to appeal a finding that a person facing execution is sane.

The state Pardon and Parole Board had voted in April 2005 to recommend that Allen’s death sentence be commuted to life without parole. That clemency recommendation wasn’t acted on until this year, when Gov. Mary Fallin denied it.

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