Capital punishment

EXECUTED – ‘Tourniquet Killer’ set to be executed in Texas – Anthony Shore 6:28 p.m


 

JAN. 18, 2018

In his final statement, Shore, 55, was apologetic and his voice cracked with emotion.

“No amount of words or apology could ever undo what I’ve done,” Shore said. “I wish I could undo the past, but it is what it is.”

He was pronounced dead at 6:28 p.m. CST.

Texas’ “Tourniquet Killer” is set for execution Thursday. It would be the first execution under Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg, a Democrat who oversaw the first year without an execution in the county for more than 30 years.

Death row inmate Anthony Shore.

 

The first execution of 2018 in Texas and the nation is expected to take place Thursday evening for Houston’s “Tourniquet Killer.”

Anthony Shore, 55, is a confessed serial rapist and strangler whose murders went unsolved in the 1980s and 1990s for more than a decade. With no pending appeals, his execution is expected to be the first under Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg, a Democrat who took office last January and has said she doesn’t see the death penalty as a deterrent to crime.

Still, she has said the punishment is appropriate for Shore, deeming him “the worst of the worst.”

“Anytime a person is subject to government’s greatest sanction, it merits thoughtful review,” Ogg said through a spokesman Wednesday. “We have proceeded as the law directs and satisfied all doubts.”

Shore wasn’t arrested in the murders until 2003, when his DNA was matched to the 1992 murder of 21-year-old Maria Del Carmen Estrada, according to court documents. His DNA had been on file since 1998, when he pleaded no-contest to charges of sexually molesting his two daughters. After his arrest, he confessed to the murders of four young women and girls, including Estrada.

Between 1986 and 1995, Shore sexually assaulted and killed 14-year-old Laurie Tremblay, Estrada, 9-year-old Diana Rebollar and 16-year-old Dana Sanchez, the court documents said. He also admitted to the rape of another 14-year-old girl, but she managed to escape after he began choking her. The murder victims’ bodies were all found in various states of undress behind buildings or in a field with rope or cord tied around their necks like tourniquets.

Though he doesn’t argue that his client is innocent or undeserving of punishment, Shore’s lawyer, Knox Nunnally, said Wednesday that he was surprised Ogg continued to pursue the death penalty for Shore based on her previous statements on capital punishment. Ogg’s first year in office also coincided with the first year Harris County didn’t carry out an execution in more than 30 years.

“Many people in the death penalty community were expecting other things from her,” Nunnally said.

Though she has said the death penalty is “pure retribution,” Ogg told the Texas Observer last year that she still believes in it. But in two major death penalty cases that made their way to the U.S. Supreme Court, Ogg opted for reduced punishments.

After the high court ruled death row inmate Duane Buck should receive a new trial because an expert witness claimed he was more likely to be a future danger to society because he was black, Ogg offered a plea agreement in October to a sentence of life in prison rather than holding a new death penalty trial. The next month, Ogg asked the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to reduce the death sentence of Bobby Moore, whose case had earlier prompted the Supreme Court to invalidate Texas’ outdated method of determining intellectual disability in death-sentenced inmates.

But for a “true serial killer” such as Shore, Ogg said in a July statement that he was “a person deserving of the ultimate punishment.”

Shore’s execution was originally set for October, but Ogg postponed it after Montgomery County District Attorney Brett Ligon requested a delay from her and Gov. Greg Abbott. Ligon was concerned that Shore might falsely confess to the Montgomery County murder of Melissa Trotter, potentially disrupting the existing death sentence for the man already convicted in Trotter’s murder.

“We knew that was not true, but, that said, we knew that if we didn’t investigate it, it would look like we ignored potential evidence,” Ligon said.

Ligon said that after Shore talked to Texas Rangers and his office, investigators were convinced that Shore was not responsible for Trotter’s death or any other open murder cases. Nunnally said Shore never confessed to Trotter’s murder.

Now, Nunnally says he thinks he’s done everything he can for Shore. He had hoped to ask for a delay if the U.S. Supreme Court elected to hear a case out of Arizona that questions the constitutionality of the death penalty as a whole, but the justices have yet to make a decision and don’t meet again until Friday — the day after his scheduled execution.

Shore’s execution will the be the first in 2018, following a years-long trend of fewer executions in Texas and across the country. Four other executions are scheduled in Texas through March.

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Florida Death Row Inmate Gets New Sentencing Hearing


December 21, 2017

TALLAHASSEE, Fla.  — The Florida Supreme Court is ordering a new sentence for a man involved in the deadly kidnapping of a young couple from South Beach.

The court on Thursday upheld the conviction of Joel Lebron, but tossed out his death sentence. The 39-year-old man is getting a new hearing because a jury recommended the death penalty by a 9 to 3 vote.

Authorities say 17-year-old Nelson Portobanco and 18-year-old Ana Maria Angel were walking back to their car after a date in 2002 when they were forced into a pickup by Lebron and four other men.

Authorities say Lebron stabbed Portobanco and left him for dead, but the teen survived. Angel was repeatedly raped and taken to a retaining wall beside Interstate 95 where Lebron killed her with a single gunshot.

Howland woman condemned to death row asking for another appeal


 

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Lawyers for Ohio’s only condemned female killer have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to accept her appeal.

Death row inmate Donna Roberts was convicted of planning her ex-husband’s 2001 killing with a boyfriend in hopes of collecting insurance money.

Roberts’ death sentence was struck down in the past after the state Supreme Court said a prosecutor improperly helped prepare a sentencing motion in her case.

The court also said a judge hadn’t fully considered factors that could argue against a death sentence.

Earlier this year, the Ohio Supreme Court once again upheld the death sentence for the 73-year-old Roberts.

She was sentenced to death for the third time in 2014 but appealed that decision.

Watch: Testimony from Roberts’ appeal

Roberts was accused of planning her ex-husband’s murder with her boyfriend Nathaniel Jackson. The killing happened in the couple’s home in Howland.

Jackson was also sentenced to death.

In the past, the court said a prosecutor improperly helped prepare a sentencing motion in Roberts’ case and that a judge hadn’t fully considered factors that could argue against a death sentence.

Justice Terrence O’Donnell, writing for the majority, rejected arguments that allowing a new judge to sentence Roberts after the original judge died was unconstitutional.

Justice O’Donnell explained that Roberts helped Jackson plan Fingerhut’s murder in a series of letters and phone calls while Jackson was in prison on an unrelated charge. She actively participated with Jackson in the killing by purchasing a mask and gloves for him and allowing him into the home, evidencing prior calculation and design, O’Donnell said.

The court ruled 6-1.

The Court also pointed out that although Roberts expressed sadness for Fingerhut’s murder, she never accepted responsibility for it and denied her scheme to kill Fingerhut, “notwithstanding overwhelming evidence to the contrary.”

The Court concluded the death penalty was appropriate and proportionate to the death sentence imposed on Jackson.

The state is expected to oppose Roberts’ latest request.

 

Mississippi Man Back on Death Row, Mental Evaluation Ordered


JACKSON, Miss. — The Mississippi Supreme Court on Thursday reinstated the death sentence of an inmate convicted of killing a prison guard.

Justices also ordered a state circuit court judge to hold another hearing on the mental capacity of Willie C. Russell , who came within hours of being executed more than two decades ago.

Russell, now 57, was convicted in the 1989 killing of Argentra Cotton, a guard at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman, where Russell was imprisoned for armed robbery, escape and kidnapping convictions in Hinds County.

A federal appeals court blocked the execution in January 1997 after Russell claimed he didn’t have a lawyer to appeal his death sentence. Russell later claimed he was intellectually disabled and could not be executed.

Sunflower County Circuit Judge Betty W. Sanders agreed and overturned the death sentence, and Russell remained in prison. On Thursday, justices said Sanders should have heard more testimony.

A majority of justices wrote that Russell underwent psychological testing in 2006 in an aggravated assault case, but he never underwent an assessment of intellectual disability.

In 2014, Sanders denied the state’s request for Russell to be evaluated for intellectual disability, saying the previous testing was sufficient. Five of the nine justices said Thursday that the judge conducted a “one-sided” hearing about Russell’s mental capacity before she overturned his death sentence.

However, four justices wrote a dissent, saying Russell had undergone enough psychological testing in 2006, and results of those tests could be used to determine whether he has an intellectual disability.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that it is unconstitutional to execute a person who has intellectual disabilities.

Sanders is retired from the bench. A majority of justices said Thursday that an expert chosen by the state must be allowed to evaluate Russell before a circuit judge holds new hearing about his mental capacity.

 

Officials urging mercy for death row inmate convicted under ‘law of parties’ now include prosecutor


December 14.2017

There is no dispute over whether Jeffery Lee Wood ever killed anyone.

He did not. He didn’t pull a trigger, didn’t wield a knife, didn’t take any direct action that caused another person’s death.

But twice now, Wood, 44, has come within only a few days of being executed by the state of Texas. He was convicted under Texas’ felony murder statute, informally called the “law of parties,” after he waited outside in a truck while an accomplice robbed a Kerrville convenience store in 1996 — and ended up killing a clerk named Kriss Keeran.

A growing bipartisan chorus agrees that, while Wood was complicit in a crime, he does not belong on death row.

One of those voices belongs to the prosecutor who put him there. Last week, The Texas Tribune reported that Kerr County District Attorney Lucy Wilkehas joined a long list of Texas officials who want to see Wood’s death sentence reduced to life in prison.

In a letter co-signed by the Kerrville police chief and the district judge overseeing Wood’s appeal, Wilke — a young, relatively inexperienced prosecutor at the time of Wood’s 1998 trial — says life imprisonment is the appropriate punishment in this case.

Wilke’s change of heart is not based solely on misgivings over the law of parties used in Texas murder trials. She has also expressed concern over testimony supplied by forensic psychiatrist James Grigson — “Dr. Death” — whose methods and credentials were later called into question.

But her letter urging the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to recommend that Gov. Greg Abbott reduce Wood’s sentence to life in prison specifies that “the offender was not actually the person who shot the victim” as a factor in her request.Wilke’s letter reflects a fair and candid evolution of thought about appropriate use of the death penalty in Texas, an evolution she shares with many others.

Honest disagreement remains over capital punishment in this state. This editorial board has urged its discontinuance; many others believe just as strongly that it should be preserved.

But all thoughtful people can agree that the death penalty, if used, should be applied carefully, sparingly, and reserved for the “worst of the worst” offenders — a standard that Wood, while culpable, does not meet.

“At the time of the jury trial in this case, I was a newly licensed attorney with 13 months of experience … the decision to seek the death penalty was mine,” Wilke wrote. “Again, I now respectfully request that this offender’s death sentence be commuted to a capital murder life sentence.”

Unfortunately, in spite of strong bipartisan efforts, state lawmakers passedon an opportunity to reform the Texas statute regarding the law of parties’ use in capital cases during their most recent session. It’s an issue that must be revisited.

In the meantime, a growing number of voices that bridge the political spectrum is calling on Abbott to intervene in this case.

Abbott, sensitive to protecting his red-state bona fides, has not reduced a capital sentence to life since he took office in 2015. But the case of Jeff Wood would be a sensible and honorable place to start.

ACLU files lawsuit on behalf of death row inmates against Ricketts, Corrections Department


December 5, 2017

Sandoval

ACLU of Nebraska filed a lawsuit Monday on behalf of death row inmates that claims the ballot initiative that stopped the state Legislature’s 2015 repeal was illegal.

The complaint is an attempt to stop any executions, or even steps toward an execution, of the men on Nebraska’s death row.

Death row inmate Jose Sandoval said last week he intends to fight the execution. At that time, he had no ongoing legal actions or appeals in federal or state courts.

“My reaction to the notice (of lethal injection drugs) was not a surprise. I’ve been expecting it for a year now,” Sandoval said. “I intend to fight with the help of my attorneys — Amy Miller and company.”

The ACLU confirmed Sunday that Miller, its legal director, has been in contact with Sandoval, who was notified Nov. 9 of the state’s intention to execute him with four specified lethal injection drugs. The organization is preparing to announce the scope of its representation of Sandoval early this week, it said.

The four drugs in combination that would be used in Sandoval’s execution, if it takes place, have never been used to execute a person.

The complaint charged the ballot initiative violated the Nebraska Constitution’s separation of powers. It said Gov. Pete Ricketts was the driving force behind the 2016 referendum, exploiting government staff, resources and his own elected position to raise money for the ballot initiative and to persuade voters to support it.

“In Nebraska, our state Constitution … establishes a strong tradition with a clear separation of powers,” ACLU Executive Director Danielle Conrad said Sunday. “The governor can’t have it both ways and serve both as a member of the executive and legislative branches.”

The petition drive got underway in 2015 and the sponsoring group, Nebraskans for the Death Penalty, gathered 167,000 signatures, enough to stop the repeal from being in effect until a vote in November 2016.

The Legislature had voted to repeal Nebraska’s death penalty with a bill (LB268) that passed on a 32-15 vote. Ricketts vetoed the bill and then the Legislature voted to override the veto on a 30-19 vote that cut across party lines.

Shortly after that, Nebraskans for the Death Penalty was formed and raised just over $913,000, a third of it contributed by Ricketts and his father, Joe Ricketts.

The governor’s actions pose important legal questions with grave consequences, Conrad said.

She said the end result of those actions was the restoration of a “broken” death penalty that is racially biased, risks execution of innocent people and raises constitutional concerns about the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments.

Ricketts’ office responded in a statement issued Sunday evening.

“The Governor’s Office holds itself to a high standard and follows state law regarding the use of taxpayer resources,” said Taylor Gage, the governor’s spokesman. “This liberal advocacy group has repeatedly worked to overturn the clear voice of the Nebraska people on the issue of capital punishment and waste taxpayer dollars with frivolous litigation. The administration remains committed to protecting public safety and creating a safe environment for our Corrections officers.”

The ACLU lawsuit — filed on behalf of death row inmates against Ricketts, Treasurer Don Stenberg, founders of Nebraskans for the Death Penalty, Attorney General Doug Peterson, the Department of Correctional Services and Director Scott Frakes — asked the court to immediately stop all preparations for executing Sandoval and the other 10 men on death row.

Peterson plans to ask the Nebraska Supreme Court for a death warrant after 60 days following the notification of drugs that would be used.

That ACLU complaint said that as the governor, Ricketts’ power over the repeal bill ended when the Legislature overrode his veto.

It claimed the subsequent ballot initiative should not stand, as it was the result of repeated, extensive and illegal abuses of the governor’s power. The state’s constitution reserves ballot initiatives as a legislative power for the people to use as a check on the legislature, and it further prohibits anyone in one branch of government from exercising powers over another branch, the ACLU said.

Ricketts encouraged or ordered members of the executive branch and his allies in the Legislature and local governments to work for the referendum campaign or to express public support for it, the complaint said.

For example, Stenberg was simultaneously a leader of the campaign in the first few months, serving as co-chairman with Sen. Beau McCoy, the ACLU charged. In the middle of the campaign, Ricketts rewarded Jessica Flanagain, the campaign manager and coordinator, with a publicly paid position in the government as special adviser to the governor for external affairs, with a salary of $130,000, the complaint alleges.

The lawsuit also noted that Nebraskans for the Death Penalty made an error that invalidated the referendum by failing to submit sworn statements from its sponsors, as required by law to assure the sponsors’ names aren’t fraudulent and assure transparency in the working of ballot campaigns.

Previous litigation more narrowly alleged the referendum petition was not legally sufficient because a list of sponsors filed with the petition did not include the name of Ricketts, who it claimed engaged in activities that established that he was a sponsor of the referendum. The district court dismissed the complaint. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding Ricketts’ alleged financial or other support of the referendum did not make him a person “sponsoring the petition.”

Death Sentence Commuted to Life For William Gregory, Double-Murderer of Flagler Beach


December 4, 2017

The murders happened on August 21, 2007, at a house on John Anderson Highway in Flagler Beach. William Gregory, 24 at the time, walked in on his ex-girlfriend Skyler Dawn Meekings, 17, and her boyfriend of two months, Daniel Arthur Dyer, 22, as they slept together, and shot them both at close range with a shotgun. A 1-year-old child Gregory had with Meekins was sleeping in a bedroom nearby.

He was tried, found guilty, and in 2011, sentenced to death in the culmination of a case that had drawn such notoriety locally that it was moved to Volusia County. It eas tried before Circuit Judge William A. Parsons.

But the jury’s recommendation for death in 2011 was by the slimmest possible margin of 7-5, back when Florida was one of just two states that still allowed death sentences to be imposed after less than a unanimous jury verdict. That changed less than two years ago, when U.S. Supreme Court and Florida Supreme Court decisions found Florida’s method of sentencing defendants to death unconstitutional.

Recommendations must now be unanimous. In Gregory’s case, the Supreme Court in August threw out his death sentence and returned the case to circuit court in Flagler County for a new sentencing phase.

That would have meant an elaborate process, similar to a trial, involving pre-trial hearings, the impaneling of a jury, the questioning of witnesses at a sentencing hearing
and jury deliberations. In other words it would have meant bringing back Meekins’s family to relive those events again.

It would have also raised other procedural issues Gregory’s attorney raised in 2016, claiming there would have been grounds for a mistrial in the original case.

William Gregory at his latest booking at the Flagler County Jail in November.

William Gregory at his latest booking at the Flagler County Jail in November.

Monday morning, Circuit Court Judge Dennis Craig commuted Gregory’s death sentence to life in prison without parole on both counts.

“We looked at the case and and consulted with the family,” Assistant State Attorney Jason lewis said. “They did not want to go through the process again.” So the prosecution agreed to a commutation in what amounted to a hearing lasting all of five minutes. Gregory had been brought in from his death row cell at the state prison near Raiford.

“We’d have to basically do a whole new penalty phase,” Lewis said, “and we take the family’s wishes very seriously. That’s what they wanted.”

The families’ positions were no mystery, as Daniel Dyer’s big sister had expressed it in her statement to the court before the 2011 sentencing: “The worst thing about Dan’s death,” she wrote, “is the way he died. He didn’t die in an accident or a health condition. He was murdered by a cowardly little twit. He was such a coward that instead of confronting Dan, like a real man, he crept in the dark into Skyler’s room, and shot them both in the head while they were asleep. The wounds were so horrible that we couldn’t even have an open casket for Dan so we could see him one last time.”

She had asked for the death penalty. “He had the right to a judge and jury,” she’d written, “but what about Dan and Skyler’s rights? They had no judge, no jury, only a 12-gauge shotgun to the head while they slept.” Using Gregory’s nickname, she went on: “And what has Billy done this entire time? He shows no remorse, no sorrow, he just sits there, so arrogant, that somehow he thought he ws smart enough to get away with it, that he had the right to play God and kill 2 innocent people. Foe what? The simple fact that Skyler had left him for a real man.”

The families of the victims were not in court this morning. But Skyler’s aunt Deborah Meekins had written the court six years ago that while she had never been much for the death penalty, “what I do know–Billy is all for it. Billy sentenced Skyler and Dan to the death penalty, right there, that night, as they slept together alone for the first time.”

Skyler’s father, Hap Meekins, had written of his daughter in 2011: “Skyler was very talented. A straight-A student with ambition. But the thing that I remember the most was her dedication toward anything she did. Being the youngest of three girls did not matter. Like the summer she spent fishing on the Pier. The three girls would spend hours fishing for King Fish. She caught a 30-lb. King Fish which didn’t go over well with her sisters. She never minded getting her hands dirty whether it was fishing, playing soccer, or helping me with the garden. She was very unselfish; she would help me [with] anything I asked.” And he’d concluded: “My memories will keep me going for the rest of my life. I love you Skyler always and forever. No one can take that away.”

Ohio Supreme Court to hear local man’s death penalty appeal


December  4,  2017

 

 

 

COLUMBUS, Ohio — On Tuesday, the Ohio Supreme Court is to preside over a legal debate over whether the death penalty should be executed on a young Clayton man – the second youngest on Ohio’s Death Row – for the murder of an even younger Warren County man at his home outside Waynesville in January 2014, according to the Journal-News.

Warren County Prosecutor David Fornshell will personally argue for the state to continue forward toward the execution of Austin Myers, now 22, of Clayton, although another Clayton man, Timothy Mosley – like Myers 19 years old at the time – actually stabbed to death Justin Back, 18, a 2013 Waynesville High School graduate about to enter the U.S. Navy.

“Austin Myers killed Justin. Tim was his weapon of choice,” Fornshell said last week, quoting Back’s stepfather, Mark Cates, a local prison guard.

It will be Fornshell’s first appearance before the high court on behalf of Warren County.

Lawyers appointed to appeal Myers’ death sentence have identified 18 violations of law they claim should convince the state’s high court to set aside his death sentence, including his age and the lesser sentence – life in prison without paroleMosley received in exchange for his testimony.

Three years later, Myers is still the second youngest of 140 Ohio prisoners facing the death penalty. Damantae Graham, 20, convicted of killing a Kent State University student, is the only one younger.

Myers’ lawyers also claim errors or misconduct by the judge, prosecutors and defense lawyers in the case, decided more than three years ago in Warren County Common Pleas Court, should convince the high court, including appointed Judge Cynthia Westcott Rice of Ohio’s 11th District Court of Appeals, to spare his life.

“Mr. Myers’s rights under the Constitution of the United States and the Ohio Constitution were violated and he was denied a fair trial and sentencing proceeding. Accordingly, this Court should reverse and discharge the defendant or grant a new trial. In the alternative, this Court should vacate the death sentence, remand for a resentencing hearing, and order the life sentence imposed,” lawyer Timothy McKenna said in his brief to the high court.

The appeal, pending since Oct. 27, 2014, was set for oral arguments on Oct. 20, after a second Ohio Death Row inmate was executed. These came after the postponement of scheduled executions starting in January 2014 following problems during the execution of Dennis McGuire, a Preble County man.

Rice was appointed to the high court on Nov. 6, replacing Justice Bill O’Neill, who recused himself after announcing he was running for governor.

The case

Myers and Mosley were arrested in July 2014 after Back’s mutilated body was found in Preble County, in a wooded area outside Versailles known as Crybaby Bridge. They both gave statements during interrogation at the Clayton Police Department used by investigators in reconstructing the crime, according to police and court records.

According to their statements, Mosely’s testimony and other evidence, after a day of preparation and planning, Myers and Mosley went to Back’s home in a small neighborhood along the Little Miami River, east of Waynesvile. With a garrote – fashioned by a friend who was not charged – Mosley came up behind Back and began choking him, while Myers restrained Back. When the garrote caught on Back’s chin, Mosley pulled out a knife and stabbed Back to death.

After cleaning the home and stealing Back’s iPod and wallet, as well as a gun and safe belonging to Cates, Mosley and Myers removed Back’s body, dumping it in Preble County after dousing it with chemicals to quicken decomposition. Before leaving the body, Myers shot it twice with Cates’ gun.

At trial, prosecutors convinced the jury that Myers was the mastermind of the crime and he was sentenced to die. Mosley, in exchange for his testimony, was sentenced in a plea bargain to life without parole.

The issues

Mosley was represented by Dennis Lieberman, a lawyer hired by Mosley’s family. Myers was represented by Greg Howard and John Kaspar, appointed by the court.

But Fornshell said Mosley got the deal because – unlike Myers- he offered to cooperate. Prosecutors needed one or the other to “put in the back story,” Fornshell said.

In addition, Fornshell said Mosley accepted responsibility and Myers was “exponentially more dangerous,” pointing to evidence indicating Myers handled the bulk of the planning and wanted to go back and kill Cates.

He’s a serial killer who got caught the first time,” Fornshell added.“There is absolutely no doubt in my mind.”

McKenna and co-counsel Roger Kirk did not respond to requests for interviews.

But their 110-page brief indicates they will emphasize Myers “was a 19 year-old immature adolescent with behavioral issues” who should be spared the death penalty, in part because Mosley’s sentence spared his life, although he wielded the murder weapon.

In addition, they claim prosecutors rendered Myers’ lawyers “admittedly ineffective” by withholding evidence until “on the Friday eve before the Monday trial,”as well as the fact that Mosley was to be a witness.

The appeal

The appeal is to be the first of a series of cases heard on Tuesday and Wednesday.

All arguments are streamed live online at sc.ohio.gov and broadcast live and archived on the Ohio Channel, according a release from the high court.

The court typically issues opinions within six months, but it was unclear when a decision would be issued in this case.

SCOTUS rejects case of Alabama Death Row inmate who claims racial discrimination in jury picks


December 4, 2017

Christopher Floyd

The U.S. Supreme Court, in a ruling issued today, refused to hear the appeal of Alabama Death Row inmate Christopher Anthony Floyd, who says prosecutors struck 10 of 11 blacks from the jury pool at his trial.

Floyd appealed earlier this year to the U.S. Supreme Court after a ruling by the Alabama Supreme Court last year.

The Alabama Supreme Court’s decision came despite a previous U.S. Supreme Court order that told the Alabama court to take another look at Floyd’s case in light of a similar case in Georgia – Foster v. Chatman. In the 2016 appeal of that case, SCOTUS reversed a conviction for discriminatory jury selection involving prosecutors’ striking blacks from the jury pool.

However, the Alabama Supreme Court in November 2016 concluded that the Foster case did not require a change in the outcome of Floyd’s case, and again affirmed Floyd’s conviction. Floyd then turned again to SCOTUS.

In 2005, Floyd was convicted in Houston County for the murder and robbery of Waylon Crawford. Floyd was sentenced to death.

In selecting the jury for Floyd’s case, the prosecutor and Floyd’s lawyers exercised a total of 36 peremptory challenges, according to the state supreme court order. Prosecutors used its 18 challenges to remove 10 of 11 African-American venire members and 12 of 18 female venire members. Floyd’s lawyers removed one African-American and seven female venire members. The final jury consisted of six white male jurors, six white female jurors, two alternate white male jurors and one alternate African-American female juror.

Floyd, who is white, did not object to the jury based on Batson v. Kentucky– a previous U.S. Supreme Court ruling prohibiting racial discrimination in jury selection, court records show.

In Monday’s rejection of Floyd’s appeal, SCOTUS did not render an opinion. Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, with which Associate Justice Stephen Breyer concurs, issued a statement.

“Although the unique context of Floyd’s case counsels against review by this Court, I find the underlying facts sufficiently troubling to note that in the ordinary course, facts like these likely would warrant a court’s intervention,” Sotomayor wrote. “During voir dire, the Houston County District Attorney’s Office exercised peremptory challenges against 10 out of 11 qualified African-American venire members, and used 12 of its 18 strikes against women. The prosecutor also marked the letter “‘B,’ as in black,” next to the name of each potential African-American juror.”

“That we have not granted certiorari should not be construed as complacence or an affirmance of all of the reasoning of the courts below,” Sotomayor wrote. “The unusual posture in which Floyd raised his Batson and J. E. B. claims warrants caution in the exercise of the Court’s review here. Yet, courts reviewing claims in circumstances like these must be steadfast in identifying, investigating, and correcting for improper bias in the jury selection process. Such discrimination “‘casts doubt on the integrity of the judicial process,’ and places the fairness of a criminal proceeding in doubt.”

Op-ed: Abolishing the death penalty is not a ‘defense’ of society’s worst criminals


November  1, 2017

A Nov. 16 op-ed addressed an October panel discussion centered around the various issues with the death penalty (“Addressing false assumptions about the death penalty”). The author claims the panel “defended the indefensible” — rapists and murderers. The panel’s purpose was not to “defend” anybody, but to address a broken system and discuss better alternatives. What is indefensible is the perpetuation of a failed policy that doesn’t keep the public safer, risks executing innocent people and costs taxpayers millions of dollars in the process.

The author claims that the death penalty acts as a deterrent and saves lives — that more executions means a lower overall murder rate. The problem with that argument, though, is that it’s false on its face. He cites that in 1960 there were 56 executions and 9,140 murders. Four years later there were 15 executions and 9,250 murders. Therefore, because there were 41 fewer executions in 1964 versus 1960, and an increase of 110 murders, the death penalty must be an effective deterrent. What he fails to factor in is the population increase in the United States from 1960 to 1964. This means the homicide rate was lower in the year with fewer executions — 5.1 murders per 100,000 in 1960 and 4.9 in 1964.

When comparing death penalty states against non-death penalty states, the lack of deterrent effect is apparent. In the last decade, death penalty states have seen an average increase in their homicide rates of 2.25 percent, from 5.31 per 100,000 people in 2007 to 5.43 in 2016. Non-death penalty states have actually seen their homicide rates decrease by 7.9 percent, from 5.28 in 2007 to 4.86 in 2016.

Additionally, of the 10 states with the lowest murder rates in 2016, eight of them were states with no death penalty. Finally, since the argument is that more executions means an overall lower murder rate, when you take the top 10 states with the highest execution numbers since the death penalty was reinstated, they have an average homicide rate of 5.78 over the last decade, roughly 17 percent higher than the national average of 4.94 during the same time.

Dozens of studies far more exhaustive than an op-ed allows have shown there is no deterrent benefit to the death penalty. The most comprehensive analysis was conducted by the renowned National Research Council, which examined over three decades of studies and concluded there is no deterrent effect by having the death penalty. The conclusion of these scientists and academics is shared by experts on the front lines of keeping our communities safe. In two separate national surveys of police chiefs, the death penalty was ranked the least effective tool to prevent violent crime.

Beyond not being an effective deterrent to crime, the death penalty is flawed in other profound ways. Since 1976, at least 160 people have been released from death rows due to evidence of their innocence (an average of one person every three months) — some within hours of their scheduled executions. Additionally, the costs are outrageous. According to Utah’s Legislative Fiscal Analysis Office, the death penalty costs us $1.6 million more than life without parole per inmate. Unavoidable mandates from the U.S. Supreme Court mean capital cases take decades from trial to conclusion (which in most cases is a legal reversal of some sort, not an execution). This lengthy process is also a nightmare for the victims’ families who are promised a punishment and then forced to wait through year after year, appeal after appeal, while the condemned becomes a celebrity.

Those of us who spoke on the panel last month did so with a desire to expose the ugly truth that our death penalty system isn’t serving our state. We are eager to cultivate a robust and honest dialogue about a punishment that has cost our state millions of dollars, provides false promises to victims, risks executing innocent people and — as experts continually attest — doesn’t make us any safer.