death row

Disease, suicide killing Ala inmates faster than execution


August 29, 2015

IRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Disease and suicide are claiming inmates on Alabama’s death row faster than the executioner.

With Alabama’s capital punishment mechanism on hold for more than two years because of legal challenges and a shortage of drugs for lethal injections, five of the state’s death row inmates have died without ever seeing the inside of the execution chamber.

John Milton Hardy, convicted of killing Clarence Nugene Terry during a robbery at a convenience store in Decatur in 1993, was the most recent death row inmate to die. Prison officials say he died of unspecified natural causes on June 15.

Convicted killer Benito Albarran, 41, hanged himself in the infirmary at Donaldson prison about two months earlier. A decade earlier, he was convicted of fatally shooting Huntsville police officer Daniel Golden outside a Mexican restaurant where he worked.

Golden’s brother, David Golden, said family members wanted to witness Albarran’s execution and felt cheated by his death.

“He took the coward’s way out,” Golden told reporters in Huntsville after Albarran killed himself.

Attorney Joseph Flood, who represented Albarran as he challenged his conviction in state court, said the inmate’s mother died a week or two before he took his own life.

“He fell into a deep depression after that,” said Flood.

In March, David Eugene Davis, 56, died of natural causes at Holman prison near Atmore after suffering from liver failure. He was convicted of killing Kenneth Douglas and John Fikes in St. Clair County in 1996.

Two more death row inmates died last year, Ricky Dale Adkins of cancer and Justin T. Hosch, who hanged himself at Holman prison. Hosch was convicted in Autauga County in the 2008 shooting death of Joey Willmore, and Adkins was condemned for killing real estate agent Billie Dean Hamilton in St. Clair County in 1988.

The last inmate put to death in Alabama was Andrew Reid Lackey, who died by lethal injection on July 25, 2013, for killingCharles Newman during a robbery in Limestone County in 2005. At the time, he was the first inmate put to death in the state since October 2011.

With 189 people currently on death row, the state is trying to resume executions, but legal challenges could be a roadblock.

The state is asking a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed by death row inmate Tommy Arthur, who challenged the use of the sedative midazolam as inhumane during lethal injections. The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the use of the drug in an Oklahoma case, but Arthur contends Alabama’s execution protocol is different from the one used there.

The state switched to midazolam after it had to halt executions because it was out of other drugs needed for lethal injections.

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LOUSIANA : No A/C for death row inmates at Angola: decision made final, barring another appeal


August 17, 2015

Death row inmates at Louisiana State Penitentiary who claimed in a federal lawsuit that triple-digit temperatures inside their cells at Angola amounts to cruel and unusual punishment have been denied a rehearing of their case.

The decision by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals not to re-examine the case, which was handed down Friday (Aug. 14), upheld a decision delivered July 8 by a three-judge 5th Circuit panel. The July 8 decision found heat indices reaching up to 108 inside the inmates’ cells did, in fact, violate the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. However, the panel explained in its July 8 decision, the prison should not be required to install air-conditioning on death row to remedy the violation.

U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson had earlier ruled the conditions were unconstitutional and ordered the state to create and implement a plan, which included air conditioning, for cooling off death row.

The state appealed Jackson’s decision, but in the meantime, a plan was drafted. Death row tiers, built in 2008, are only heated and ventilated. The plan would have also provided inmate with chests filled with ice and allowed them daily cold showers. An appeals court intervened on behalf of the state before the prison ever put the plans in place, halting the implementation with an injunction while agreeing to take a look at the case.

The 5th Circuit on July 8 offered a few reasons why installing air conditioning on death row would have gone too far to provide relief for the plaintiffs. Air conditioning would be available year-round, when temperatures were often not extreme; it would cool off inmates who didn’t have medical conditions worsened by heat; and air conditioning “of course is expensive.”

Attorneys for the inmates argued in their request for a rehearing that Jackson’s order for air conditioning was less intrusive — and involved more micromanaging — than the remedies suggested by the panel.

The three inmates who filed suit, Nathaniel Code, 57; Elzie Ball, 60; James Magee, 35, all have medical conditions, such as diabetes and hypertension, that can be exacerbated by high heat. 

It’s unclear, the inmates’ attorney Mercedes Montagnes indicated, whether or not the inmates will appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“We…have not yet decided our next step,” she said in an emailed statement.

TEXAS EXECUTION TODAY – Daniel Lee Lopez at 6 p.m EXECUTED 6:31 PM


HUNTSVILLE, Texas (AP) — Texas inmate Daniel Lee Lopez got his wish Wednesday when he was executed for striking and killing a police lieutenant with an SUV during a chase more than six years ago.

The lethal injection was carried out after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected appeals from his attorneys who disregarded both his desire to die and lower court rulings that Lopez was competent to make that decision.

“I hope this execution helps my family and also the victim’s family,” said Lopez, who spoke quietly and quickly. “This was never meant to be, sure beyond my power. I can only walk the path before me and make the best of it. I’m sorry for putting you all through this. I am sorry. I love you. I am ready. May we all go to heaven.”

As the drugs took effect, he took two deep breaths, then two shallower breaths. Then all movement stopped.

He was pronounced dead at 6:31 p.m. CDT — 15 minutes after the lethal dose began.

Lopez, 27, became the 10th inmate put to death this year in Texas, which carries out capital punishment more than any other state. Nationally, he was the 19th prisoner to be executed.

Lopez’s “obvious and severe mental illness” was responsible for him wanting to use the legal system for suicide, illustrating his “well-documented history of irrational behavior and suicidal tendencies,” attorney David Dow, who represented Lopez, had told the high court. Dow also argued the March 2009 crime was not a capital murder because Lopez didn’t intend to kill Corpus Christi Lt. Stuart Alexander.

The officer’s widow, Vicky Alexander, and three friends who were witnesses with her prayed in the chamber before Lopez was pronounced dead by a doctor. Some people selected by Lopez as witnesses sang “Amazing Grace” from an adjacent witness area.

Alexander, 47, was standing in a grassy area on the side of a highway where he had put spike strips when he was struck by the sport utility vehicle Lopez was fleeing in.

Lopez, who also wrote letters to a federal judge and pleaded for his execution to move forward, said last week from death row that a Supreme Court reprieve would be “disappointing.”

“I’ve accepted my fate,” he said. “I’m just ready to move on.”

Nueces County District Attorney Mark Skurka said Lopez showed “no regard for human life” when he fought with an officer during a traffic stop, then sped away, evading pursuing officers and striking Alexander, who had been on the police force for 20 years. Even when he finally was cornered by police cars, Lopez tried ramming his SUV to escape and didn’t stop until he was shot.

“He had no moral scruples, no nothing. It was always about Daniel Lopez, and it’s still about Daniel Lopez,” Skurka said Tuesday. “He’s a bad, bad guy.”

Lopez was properly examined by a psychologist, testified at a federal court hearing about his desire to drop appeals and was found to have no mental defects, state attorneys said in opposing delays to the punishment.

Deputies found a dozen packets of cocaine and a small scale in a false compartment in the console of the SUV.

Records showed Lopez was on probation at the time after pleading guilty to indecency with a child in Galveston County and was a registered sex offender. He had other arrests for assault.

Testimony at his trial showed he had at least five children by three women, and a sixth was born while he was jailed for Alexander’s death. Court records show Lopez had sex with girls as young as 14 and had a history of assaults and other trouble while in school, where he was a 10th-grade dropout.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press.

 

 

HUNTSVILLE, Texas (AP) — Texas inmate Daniel Lee Lopez has been trying to speed up his execution since being sent to death row five years ago for striking and killing a police lieutenant with an SUV during a chase.

On Wednesday, he’s hoping to get his wish.

The 27-year-old prisoner is set to die in Huntsville after getting court approval to drop his appeals. A second inmate scheduled to be executed this week in Texas, the nation’s most active death penalty state, won a court reprieve Tuesday.

Lopez is facing lethal injection for the 2009 death of Corpus Christi Lt. Stuart Alexander. The 47-year-old officer was standing in a grassy area on the side of a highway where he had put spike strips when he was struck by the sport utility vehicle Lopez was fleeing in.

Last week from death row Lopez said: “It’s a waste of time just sitting here. I just feel I need to get over with it.”

Attorneys representing Lopez refused to accept his intentions, questioning federal court findings that Lopez was mentally competent to volunteer for execution. They appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to halt the punishment, arguing his crime was not a capital murder because he didn’t intend to kill the officer, and that Lopez had mental disabilities and was using the state to carry out long-standing desires to commit suicide.

“It is clear Lopez has been allowed to use the legal system in another attempt to take his own life,” attorney David Dow told the high court.

Lopez, who also wrote letters to a federal judge and pleaded for his execution to move forward, said a Supreme Court reprieve would be “disappointing.”

“It’s crazy they keep appealing, appealing,” he said last week of his lawyers’ efforts. “I’ve explained it to them many times. I guess they want to get paid for appealing.”

Lopez was properly examined by a psychologist, testified at a federal court hearing about his desire to drop appeals and was found to have no mental defects, state attorneys said in opposing delays in the punishment.

Alexander had been a police officer for 20 years. His death came during a chase that began just past midnight on March 11, 2009, after Lopez was pulled over by another officer for running a stop sign in a Corpus Christi neighborhood. Authorities say Lopez was driving around 60 mph.

Lopez struggled with the officer who made the stop and then fled. He rammed several patrol cars, drove at a high speed with his lights off and hit Alexander like “a bullet and a target,” said an officer who testified at Lopez’s 2010 trial.

When finally cornered by patrol cars, Lopez used his SUV as a battering ram trying to escape and wasn’t brought under control until he was shot, officers testified.

“It’s a horrible dream,” Lopez said from death row. “I’ve replayed it in my mind many times.”

Deputies found a dozen packets of cocaine and a small scale in a false compartment in the console of the SUV.

Records show Lopez was on probation at the time after pleading guilty to indecency with a child in Galveston County and was a registered sex offender. He had other arrests for assault.

Lopez would be the 10th inmate executed this year in Texas. Nationally, 18 prisoners have been put to death this year, with Texas accounting for 50 percent of them.

On Tuesday, another death row prisoner, Tracy Beatty, 54, received a reprieve from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. He had been scheduled for lethal injection Thursday. He’s on death row for the 2003 slaying of his 62-year-old mother, Carolyn Click, near Tyler in East Texas.

At least seven other Texas inmates have execution dates in the coming months.

Louisiana inmates ask for rehearing on death row heat case


State corrections officials complained last fall to a federal appellate court that a Baton Rouge federal judge was micromanaging the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola by ordering heat indexes on death row at the Angola prison not top 88 degrees (31° C) from April through October.
Now, the 3 death-row inmates whose 2013 lawsuit against the state prompted Chief U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson’s December order are claiming the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals also is trying to micromanage the prison.
A 3-judge 5th Circuit panel ruled last month that Jackson’s order effectively required the state to air-condition death row. The panel sent the case back to the judge to consider other remedies to correct the state’s violation of the 3 condemned prisoners’ constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment.
Those prisoners have medical conditions, and they claim the sweltering heat on death row exacerbate those ailments.
The appeals court panel said remedies that Jackson could consider include diverting cooler air from the guards’ pod on death row into the death-row tiers; air-conditioning one of the four death-row tiers for the benefit of prisoners susceptible to heat-related illness; giving inmates access to cool showers at least once daily; providing ample supplies of cold drinking water and ice at all times; supplying personal ice containers and individual fans; and installing additional ice machines.
In asking the 5th Circuit panel or the entire appeals court to rehear the case, attorneys for death-row inmates Elzie Ball, Nathaniel Code and James Magee argue Jackson’s order was less intrusive than the remedies suggested by the panel.
“The remedies that the Court suggests – in addition to being insufficient to remedy the constitutional violation – require more micromanaging of the prison’s operation of death row tiers than air conditioning,” the prisoners’ lawyers contend in petitions filed recently at the New Orleans-based 5th Circuit.
Attorneys for the state said 5th Circuit rules do not allow the state to file a response to the petitions unless the court orders a response. The state did not ask for a rehearing.
Jackson approved the state’s court-ordered remediation plan for death row last year, which included adding air conditioning, providing ice chests filled with ice and allowing death-row inmates cold showers once a day. The 5th Circuit halted the plan’s implementation last summer while the case was being appealed.
“The district court did not order air conditioning,” the inmates’ attorneys stress in asking the entire 5th Circuit to vacate the panel’s decision and rehear the case. “The district court made factual findings that a maximum heat index of 88 degrees was necessary to remove unreasonable risks, then gave the prison full latitude in the method of achieving this objective. Defendants chose air conditioning. This distinction is critical.”
The prisoners’ attorneys say the condemned men are confined to their cells for 23 hours a day; have “extremely limited access” to ice, and their drinking water is lukewarm; their lone daily shower is maintained between 100 and 120 degrees (37,7° – 48,8° C); the death-row tiers are equipped with 1 non-oscillating, 30-inch fan for every 2 inmates, and the fans do not provide equal air flow to each cell; and the windows on the tiers are louvers that do not open wide and do not provide the same air flow as traditional windows.
The inmates’ attorneys say Jackson’s establishment of a maximum heat index of 88 degrees must be upheld, and they claim that an increased risk of serious harm from heat-related illness is “widespread” among the 80-plus prisoners on death row.
The state Department of Corrections says it provides constitutionally appropriate accommodations to its inmates. The department also contends that constitutional mandates and established case law do not require air conditioning for death-row prisoners.
Source: The Advocate, August 10, 2015

 

Florida man struggles to build life after death row exoneration


Seth Penalver dropped to the floor and wept into his chair when a Florida jury declared him not guilty in the shooting deaths of three people during a 1994 home invasion.
After 3 trials and 18 years in prison – including 13 on death row – a Broward County jury in 2012 found Penalver not guilty of capital murder in the 1994 slayings of Casmir Sucharski, 48, Marie Rogers, 25, and Sharon Anderson, 25.
Little did he know about the struggles that lay ahead. His release from prison marked a new chapter, one that’s been filled with ups and downs, given his prolonged absence from society. Despite his acquittal, he says he struggles to find work because of his background, which includes 2 prior nonviolent felonies.
“You Google my name and it lights up the screen. I’m 20 years minus a resume, so it’s hard,” he said.
Experts say Penalver’s struggles with reintegration are typical for death row exonerees or people found to be wrongly convicted. On paper, they’re no longer offenders, but they’re not quite free of the stigma or psychological impact of their incarceration. The duration of their incarceration can strain personal relationships, creating a void in support systems after their release. Additionally, they often lack access to the same career or counseling services available to parolees because technically, they’re not on parole.
“The media attention tends to focus on how people got wrongly convicted, what in the system led to these cases, and those are important stories worthy of attention,” said University of North Carolina at Greensboro professor Saundra Westervelt, author of “Life After Death Row: Exonerees’ Search for Community and Identity.”
“But the story doesn’t end there. There’s a slew of practical problems they have to figure out how to manage.”
The state could help improve prospects for exonerees by providing monetary compensation and reintegration services, said Westervelt, a board member of Witness to Innocence, which works to abolish the death penalty and provide support to former death row inmates.
Only 30 states have laws that provide monetary compensation to wrongly convicted people, which can include death row exonerees. And in many states, including Florida, they come with limits. In some states, access to monetary compensation is available only for people exonerated by DNA evidence, who receive an official gubernatorial pardon or who don’t have prior felonies.
A crime unfolds on video
Local media dubbed the triple slayings the “Casey’s Nickelodeon murders” because Sucharski was an owner of Casey’s Nickelodeon, a Miramar nightclub where he met aspiring models Rogers and Anderson. The 3 were shot dead in Sucharski’s home in Miramar, Florida, early in the morning of June 26, 1994.
Penalver and co-defendant Pablo Ibar were charged in the crime after witnesses identified them in grainy home surveillance video showing 2 men breaking into Sucharski’s home. Penalver surrendered to law enforcement in August 1994 after a warrant was issued for his arrest.
Penalver stood trial three times for the murders. His first trial with Ibar in 1997 ended in a mistrial after the jury deadlocked 10-2 in favor of guilt. The cases were severed, and Penalver was tried again in 1999 and sentenced to death on charges of murder, attempted robbery and burglary.
The Florida Supreme Court overturned Penalver’s verdict in 2006 based on a series of evidentiary and constitutional errors related to witness testimony and identification. Given the absence of physical evidence connecting Penalver to the crime and questions about the identification of the men in the surveillance video, “the witnesses’ statements presented at trial were of paramount importance,” the judges wrote in their ruling.
An expert witness who viewed the tape said that he couldn’t identify anyone from it, but that the person in the video had facial characteristics inconsistent with Penalver’s facial structure. Some people who knew Penalver said the video wasn’t him or they couldn’t tell. One said she couldn’t tell from the face, but the subject’s gait was like Penalver’s. Another told the police that it was Penalver, but then testified in court that she couldn’t say whether it was him or not.
With respect to this last witness, the prosecution argued that she changed her testimony after meeting with the defense, improperly suggesting — with no evidence to support it — that the defense had tampered with her, the court found. The court also found that the prosecution improperly admitted hearsay testimony that an alternate suspect was out of state, when there was no evidence that the suspect was out of state. The prosecution also presented evidence implying that Penalver had been suicidal and wrongly used that suggestion to imply consciousness of guilt, the court said.
“In light of the scant evidence connecting Penalver to this murder and the consequent importance of identifying the individual depicted on the videotape in sunglasses and hat, we conclude that the improperly admitted evidence and the State’s suggestion that the defense tampered with or suborned perjury by an identification witness meet the cumulative error requirements outlined above and require reversal,” the court said in its opinion.
The video magnified the uncertainty, making the strength of the remaining evidence all the more important, said Temple University law professor Jules Epstein, who specializes in forensics. Appellate courts assess error based on the magnitude of the mistakes and their cumulative impact.
“The weaker the rest of the evidence, the more significant the mistakes are. Conversely, the stronger the remaining evidence, the impact of mistake goes down,” Epstein said.
Stepping up for the wrongfully convicted
Penalver says he gets by on odd jobs and government assistance in the form of food stamps. He would like to attend school or learn a trade, but living hand to mouth makes it impossible to find time or money for education, he said.
Compensation from the state would help, but under the “clean hands” provision of Florida’s Victims of Wrongful Incarceration Compensation Act, Penalver is ineligible because of his 2 prior nonviolent felonies, which are unrelated to the triple slayings he was accused of.
“Just because I had prior felonies in the past, that shouldn’t mean I can’t be compensated for what was done to me,” he said. “It’s hard getting back on your feet; anything would help.”
Source: Las Vegas Review-Journal, August 1, 2015

Exonerated convict Glenn Ford succumbs to lung cancer at 65


June 29, 2015

Glenn Ford, who spent nearly 30 years on Angola’s death row for a murder that prosecutors eventually conceded he did not commit, died in New Orleans early Monday (June 29), supporters announced. He was 65.

Ford learned he had lung cancer shortly after his release from Angola on March 11, 2014. A news release from Ford’s supporters said he died at 2:11 a.m., having been “surrounded by friends, loved ones and family in recent days.”

Ford, who was born in Shreveport on Oct. 22, 1949, was convicted of the 1983 murder of 56-year-old Isadore Rozeman, a Shreveport jeweler and watchmaker for whom Ford had done occasional yard work. Ford had always denied killing Rozeman, and on March 10, 2014, he was exonerated of the crime when the state vacated his conviction.

State District Judge Ramona Emanuel voided Ford’s conviction and sentence based on new information corroborating his claim that he was not present or involved in Rozeman’s death, Ford’s attorneys said.

Ford was tried and convicted of first-degree murder in 1984 and sentenced to death. He spent 29 years, three months and five days in solitary confinement on Angola’s death row. At the time of his release, Ford was the longest-serving death row inmate in the United States, supporters said.

The final 15 months of Ford’s life were spent outside prison walls but not without challenges.

Attorney General Buddy Caldwell’s office filed a petition to deny Ford state-mandated compensation for his wrongful conviction and imprisonment, arguing  Ford failed to meet the law’s “factually innocent” clause. The provision requires petitioners to have not committed the crime for which they were originally convicted as well as “any crime based upon the same set of facts” used in the original conviction.

First Judicial District Court Judge Katherine Clark Dorroh sided with Caldwell in a ruling three months ago, deciding Ford was aware of the plan to rob Rozeman and failed to stop it, and took and sold items stolen during the robbery. The judge also ruled Ford tried to find buyers for the weapon used in Rozeman’s murder, and that he tried to hinder the police investigation by initially giving a false name for the man he later identified as Rozeman’s killer.

Ford died while awaiting the outcome of separate federal lawsuits aimed at securing compensation for his imprisonment and failing health, which he claimed resulted from insufficient medical treatment while in prison. Supporters said all he had received from the state before his death was $20 for a bus ride home from prison.

Supporters said Ford is survived by “several children” who live in California, and “more than 10 grandchildren.”

A memorial service will be held at the Charbonnet Funeral Home at 1615 St. Philip St., but a date and time had not been immediately determined, supporters said. They asked that in lieu of flowers, donations be made in Ford’s name to Resurrection After Exoneration at www.r-a-e.org.

Freed from death row, woman, 58, finds peace in forgiveness


june 29, 2015

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A woman freed after 16 years on Mississippi’s death row says God helped her come to peace with herself and the fact that until recently, her execution might come any time.

Michelle Byrom tells a local paper that she has forgiven her son and others she feels treated her wrongly. Her son, Edward Byrom Jr., testified against her but later allegedly confessed.

Byrom was convicted of getting her son to hire a hit man to kill her husband. The Mississippi Supreme Court ordered a new trial in March.

She pleaded “no contest” Friday, asserting innocence but acknowledging prosecutors could probably convince a jury otherwise.

Byrom says that after the brief court hearing in Tishomingo County, she and her brother didn’t stop for lunch until they got to Tennessee.

TEXAS – The Moral Indefensibility of Death Row


June 22, 2015

Texas executes more of its citizens than any state in the country, and there’s new evidence that what we call justice is actually a corrupt, inhumane and morally indefensible system.

Alex Hannaford’s cover story this month shows an alarming correlation between trauma that happens to adolescent boys, the biological damage it does to their brains, how that altered physiology leads to violent behavior in their adult lives and their ultimate journeys to death row.

It’s been clear for a long time that poverty, violence, poor education and crime are interconnected. (We executed a 45-year-old man last year whose education ended in fourth grade and a 53-year-old man this year whose education ended in sixth grade.) And 97 percent of the people on death row are men.

We traditionally have used that sociological framework to examine homicidal behavior. Then, we find a personal comfort level with it and our individual moral codes.

But new studies and the data Hannaford collected from Texas death row inmates show the situation is more complex. There also are biological factors at work, and that discovery raises new questions about the morality of the Texas system.

As recently as the 1980s, professionals believed that the human brain was genetically determined by the time of birth. Now, studies by American and British scholars show that trauma actually changes the physiology of the brain and that those altered brains work differently in males and females. (Females tend to process the stress and trauma internally, directing destructive action at themselves; men tend to process it externally, focusing violence on other people.)

Male children who are physically, emotionally and/or sexually traumatized experience physical changes to their brains that make violence a common response to similar experiences later in life.

When that violence leads to a capital crime, the state places the man on death row, where the average inmate spends a full decade in an environment of emotional isolation, physical depravation, authoritarian relationships, and little or no interaction with any type of family or support network.

It’s a classic list designed for an assault on someone’s mental well-being. In fact, the state essentially drives many of those waiting to be executed insane. Then, we stick a needle in the arm of that adult traumatized child and kill him.

It is a shameful, barbaric process that many of us choose to look past, but every person who loves Texas should look directly at it. Texas is better than this.

TEXAS – Faces of Death Row


Here is a look at the 261 inmates currently on Texas’ death row. Texas, which reinstated the death penalty in 1976, has the most active execution chamber in the nation. On average, these inmates have spent 13 years, 6 months on death row. Though 12 percent of the state’s residents are black, 42 percent of death row inmates are.

Click to read