federal appeals court

Florida – Court Upholds Death Row Inmate’s Sentence


Jul 01, 2015

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A federal appeals court has rejected a Virginia death row inmate’s claim that he can’t be executed because he is intellectually disabled.

A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday unanimously upheld Alfredo Prieto’s death sentence for the 2005 slayings of two George Washington University students.

At issue in Prieto’s appeal was last year’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a Florida case that a rigid cutoff on IQ test scores cannot be used to determine whether someone is intellectually disabled and therefore ineligible for execution. Virginia’s law on determining whether a defendant is intellectually disabled was virtually identical to Florida’s.

The appeals court said it could not conclude that no reasonable juror would find Prieto eligible for the death penalty.

Appeals court: Texas execution back on – Ramiro Hernandez-Llanas


April 8, 2014

Execution of a Texas death row inmate was back on schedule Monday after a federal appeals court ruled that the state doesn’t have to reveal where it gets its lethal injection drug.

HOUSTON — The execution of a Texas death row inmate was back on schedule Monday after a federal appeals court ruled that the state doesn’t have to reveal where it gets its lethal injection drug.

The ruling from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals means Ramiro Hernandez-Llanas, 44, is set for execution Wednesday.

Attorneys for Hernandez-Llanas and another inmate, Tommy Lynn Sells, had filed a lawsuit last week saying they needed the name of the drug supplier in order to verify the drug’s potency. They said they feared the prisoners could suffer unconstitutional pain and suffering if the drug weren’t tested.

The state argued it was protecting the company from threats of violence.

A lower court initially sided with the inmates, but the 5th Circuit reversed that ruling last week for Sells, who was executed Thursday after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the appeals court decision. The appeals court had said it would rule later on Hernandez-Llanas’ case.

The state attorney general’s office had urged the 5th Circuit to lift the lower court order, arguing that the new supply of pentobarbital came from a licensed compounding pharmacy. The state also noted that the drug had been used “painlessly and successfully” on Sells, and that there was “no pharmacy, no drug and no assurance of quality that Hernandez would find satisfactory.”

Attorneys have decided not to appeal Monday’s ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court because the high court turned down the same request from Sells last week, according to Maurie Levin, among the lawyers who filed the drug secrecy lawsuit.

Instead, his lawyers have turned to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, arguing that his sentence should be commuted to life in prison or his execution at least delayed because of what they say was faulty testimony from psychologists at his trial. The psychologists told jurors that Hernandez-Llanas was not mentally impaired and would remain a future danger, which his lawyers dispute.

Texas execution to go ahead after court reverses judge’s order within hours – Tommy Sell


april 3, 2014

A federal appeals court on Wednesday threw out a ruling requiring the Texas prison system to disclose more information about where it gets lethal-injection drugs, reversing a judge who had halted an upcoming execution.

Only hours before the appellate decision, a lower-court judge issued a temporary injunction halting the execution of Tommy Lynn Sells, a convicted serial killer who was set to die Thursday.

The case originally included Ramiro Hernandez-Llanas, another inmate scheduled to be put to death next week. But the appellate ruling affected only Sells. The appeals court said it would take up Hernandez-Llanas’ case at a later date.

The case now is likely headed to the US supreme court.

District judge Vanessa Gilmore had issued a temporary injunction on Wednesday ordering Texas to provide the lawyers representing Sells and Hernandez-Llanas with information about the supplier and quality of a new batch of pentobarbital, a barbiturate that is to be used in the lethal injections.

Sells was scheduled to die in the Texas state penitentiary on Thursday, and Hernandez-Llanas six days later. Texas’s previous supply of compounded pentobarbital expired on 1 April, and the state has repeatedly refused to reveal the source of its new drugs, claiming that secrecy is needed in order to protect suppliers from threats of violence and intimidation.

Lawyers for the pair argue that Texas’s attorney general had previously ruled on several occasions that such information must be made public, and also said that failing to provide details about the origin, purity and efficiency of the drugs harmed the inmates’ ability to mount a legal challenge over the possibility that they could experience an excessively painful death in violation of their constitutional right not to suffer a “cruel and unusual” punishment.

In her ruling, Gilmore agreed, and instructed Texas not to execute the men until it has disclosed to the lawyers “all information regarding the procurement of the drugs defendants intend to use to carry out plaintiffs’ executions, including information about the supplier or suppliers, any testing that has been conducted, what kind, by whom, and the unredacted results of such testing.”

In recent years an EU-led boycott has made it harder for states to source their execution drugs of choice, resulting in some states turning to experimental drugs and procedures to replace the sequence of three substances that was commonly used before the boycott. In its executions, Texas now employs only pentobarbital, which is often used to euthanize animals. Last year, it bought a supply of the drug from a compounding pharmacy in suburban Houston.

Death penalty opponents argue that, because compounding pharmacies are not subject to federal oversight, there is a risk of impurities and inconsistencies that could make their products unreliable and cause undue, unconstitutional, of suffering.

Texas officials argued that prior executions using pentobarbital have taken place apparently without the inmates enduring obvious pain and cited a report which says that their latest supply has been “tested by an independent laboratory and found to be 108% potent and free from contaminants”.

Court to rehear appeal for Ariz. death row inmate – James Erin McKinney


March 14, 2014
PHOENIX (AP) — A federal appeals court is reconsidering an appeal filed on behalf of an Arizona Death Row inmate convicted of two killings during burglaries.

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last September upheld a trial judge’s denial of James Erin McKinney’s challenges to his murder convictions and death sentences.

However, the San Francisco-based appellate court now says a larger panel of its judges will consider McKinney’s appeal.

The three-judge panel’s ruling said it didn’t matter much that McKinney was seated so he faced the jury while on trial with a co-defendant before separate juries. And it rejected his other challenges in the appeal.

McKinney was convicted in the 1991 killings of Christene Mertens and Jim McClain during separate burglaries in Maricopa County.

FLORIDA – Opening statements begin in death penalty case resentencing – Richard Michael Cooper


february 26, 2014 (tampabay)

LARGO — A jury has been selected and opening statements are scheduled to start at 2 p.m. Wednesday in the resentencing of Richard Michael Cooper, who has been on death row for 30 years after being convicted in a triple murder.

A federal appeals court threw out Cooper’s death sentence in 2011 after finding that a jury should have heard evidence of abuse Cooper suffered as a child during the sentencing phase of his trial.

It took a day and a half to seat a jury to hear the evidence on what sentence Cooper should receive for his role in the 1982 deaths of Steven Fridella, Bobby Martindale and Gary Petersen — remembered since as the “High Point murders.”

Cooper’s guilt is not in dispute. On the morning of June 18, 1982, Cooper and three others — Jason Dirk Walton, Terry Van Royal and Jeffrey Hartwell McCoy — drove to Fridella’s Largo residence looking for cocaine or money.

They parked a distance away and, wearing ski masks, crept toward the home at 6351 143rd Ave. Among them they carried a .357 Magnum revolver, a .22 rifle and a 12-gauge shotgun, according to court records.

They had originally planned to rob the men inside while they slept. But someone recognized one of the intruders, and the plan changed.

Fridella, Martindale and Petersen were bound with duct tape and forced to lie on the floor. Cooper, then 18, confessed to shooting Fridella twice with the shotgun. Cooper’s attorneys called no witnesses in his defense, arguing that he was under the spell of Walton, whom Cooper had described as “a Charles Manson-type figure.”

Cooper’s conviction and sentence were upheld on appeal. In 2011, the federal 11th Circuit again affirmed the conviction but tossed out the death sentence because of evidence the first jury never heard. That included frequent beatings at the hands of his hard-drinking father, Phillip “Socky” Cooper, who earned his nickname as a Golden Gloves boxing champion.

The elder Cooper beat his children with “boards, switches, belts and horse whips,” leaving welts all over their bodies, sometimes for offenses as small as not knowing their multiplication tables.

The abuse was so constant, a school principal, fearing he was making things worse, “stopped calling their father when Cooper would get in trouble because Cooper would show up at school beaten and with bruises all over him,” the court said.

Cooper’s stepbrother and sister also said no one had contacted them to testify at the first trial.