supreme court

Salvadoran Man on Texas Death Row Loses Supreme Court Appeal


December 11, 2017

The U.S. Supreme has refused to review an appeal from a 48-year-old Salvadoran man on Texas death row for the slayings of two Houston store clerks during an attempted robbery more than 17 years ago.

The U.S. Supreme has refused to review an appeal from a 48-year-old Salvadoran man on Texas death row for the slayings of two Houston store clerks during an attempted robbery more than 17 years ago.

The high court had no comment in its decision Monday in the case of Gilmar Guevara.

Attorneys for Guevara asked the justices to reverse lower courts’ rulings rejecting arguments that he’s mentally impaired and ineligible for the death penalty.

Guevara was convicted and sentenced to death for the fatal shootings of 48-year-old Tae Youk and 21-year-old Gerardo Yaxon. Youk was from South Korea and Yaxon from Guatemala.

Guevara, identified as the shooter, and two accomplices fled the scene in southwest Houston in June 2000 without any money.

He does not yet have an execution date.

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Convicted killer Bessman Okafor to get new sentencing next year


December 6, 2017

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – A convicted killer sentenced to death row went before a judge Wednesday as he begins the process to get a new sentence

Bessman Okafor killed Alex Zaldivar, 19, and wounded two others in 2012.

He has to be re-sentenced because the state Supreme Court ordered all death sentence decisions must be unanimous.

Read: Florida Supreme Court overturns death sentence for Bessman Okafor

Rafael Zaldivar, the victim’s father, said reopening this case is painful.

“Everybody has to relive this all over again. It’s like we never moved on. It’s a never-ending story,” he said.

The judge scheduled Okafor’s new sentencing phase for November of next year.

The sentencing should take two weeks, with the first for jury selection and the other for witness testimony.

Photos: Orange County inmates on death row

Okafor will go before an Orange County judge to get an attorney and schedule a new sentencing phase.

“It’s opening up old wounds. It’s terrible for our family,” Rafael Zaldivar aid.

Okafor was sentenced to death in November 2015 for killing Alex Zaldivar and wounding two others during an Ocoee home invasion in 2012.

The three were set to testify against Okafor in a separate home invasion before the killing.

Rafael Zaldivar said he thinks about his son every day.

“He was a good and loving son. Unfortunately, he barely passed his 18th birthday,” he said.

State law has changed since the previous jury voted 11-1 to send Okafor to death row.

Jurors must now all agree on the death penalty.

Rafael Zaldivar believes that will happen.

“I’m very confident they’re going to do it again,” he said.

Months after the Supreme Court ruling, Orange and Osceola County State Attorney Aramis Ayala announced she would not seek the death penalty during her tenure.

Read: Florida Supreme Court rules against Ayala on Scott’s reassigning of death penalty cases

Gov. Rick Scott then gave Okafor’s case, along with dozens of others, to State Attorney Brad King in Ocala.

“Out of the blue, we had to deal with Aramis Ayala, about her not applying the death penalty to our son’s case. So, it’s been difficult for us and we did not need that with everything going on,” Rafael Zaldivar said. “Thank God Gov. Rick Scott executed that order.”

Death row inmate Lotter’s attorneys ask U.S. Supreme Court to hear case


December 1,  2017

A Nebraska death row inmate has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take his case and review decisions by a federal district court and appellate court to deny his latest challenge to his sentence.

John Lotter, who was convicted in the killing that inspired the 1999 movie “Boys Don’t Cry,” specifically is seeking review of an 8th Circuit Court of Appeals order July 31 denying him permission to go forward with an appeal in U.S. District Court in Nebraska.

Rebecca Woodman and Jessica Sutton, of the Death Penalty Litigation Clinic in Kansas City, Missouri, had sought to challenge Nebraska’s sentencing method, which relies on judges and not juries to determine if someone gets the ultimate punishment.

They started the challenge in U.S. District Court in Lincoln.

But in February, Senior U.S. District Judge Richard Kopf refused and denied Lotter’s habeas corpus petition, in part because the attorneys hadn’t gotten permission from the 8th Circuit Court to file it.

He likened the filing to a Hail Mary pass.

Lotter, who is raising the same challenge in state court based on a U.S. Supreme Court decision in a Florida case last year, appealed.

In a one-page judgment July 31, a three-judge 8th Circuit panel said after carefully reviewing the district court file it was denying Lotter’s application for a certificate of appealability.

The court’s permission is required for him to go forward in federal court because he has had at least one prior habeas corpus petition.

Lotter also is appealing a Richardson County District judge’s decision to deny him an evidentiary hearing.

Lotter was sentenced to death for his role in the 1993 killings of Brandon Teena and two witnesses, Lisa Lambert and Philip DeVine, at a rural Humboldt farmhouse.

TEXAS – Prosecutor asks for current medical standards in death penalty evaluations


When determining whether someone with a death sentence has a mental disability, Texas has long used outdated standards partially created by elected judges. Now that those standards have been ruled unconstitutional, one district attorney wants the state to use a markedly different measuring stick: current medical science.

Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg sent a brief to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Wednesday afternoon in the case of Bobby Moore, a man convicted in the 1980 shooting death of a Houston supermarket clerk. Ogg now says Moore is intellectually disabled, but the questions surrounding the prisoner’s mental capacity led to a March Supreme Court ruling that invalidated Texas’ method of determining intellectual disability for death row inmates.Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in the court’s opinion that the state’s test created an “unacceptable risk” of executing intellectually disabled people, a practice deemed unconstitutional.

But while the ruling tossed out Texas’ old way of determining disability, it didn’t create a new one. Instead, cases of death-sentenced inmates who were deemed competent for execution under the old test were suddenly ripe for new litigation, and at least two men who had been on death row for decades had their sentences changed to life in prison — all while awaiting a final ruling on Moore’s intellectual capacity.

Ogg asked for Moore’s sentence to be reduced to life in prison, and her brief also asked Texas to create a new way of determining intellectual disability — one that sticks to the medical books.

“‘Unacceptable risk’ necessitates that the States should strictly adhere to the definitions of intellectual disability as contained within the most current versions of the clinical manuals,” said the brief.

She implored Texas to conform to the standards set by the American Psychiatric Association, similar to how Louisiana and Mississippi determine intellectual disability. If the Texas court accepts Ogg’s suggestion, death penalty experts say it will put Texas in line with the Supreme Court’s ruling and will put fewer Texas death penalty cases in front of the high court in the future.

“You don’t have the same systemic problems in states that are using medical definitions,” said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, a national organization critical of current death penalty practices. “We see persistent problems in states [that] have adopted standards that are clearly inconsistent with the contemporary medical standards or have created procedures that make it virtually impossible to prove intellectual disability.”

Dunham said in general that states have sought to conform to previous Supreme Court rulings, but others — Texas, Georgia, Missouri, Arkansas and Florida — have created hurdles for proving the disability. He said the best way for Texas to avoid future problems is to use existing medical standards.

The Texas Attorney General’s Office, which represents the state in federal death penalty appeals, and several district attorneys in counties where intellectual disability cases are in play did not return phone calls Thursday.

In 2002, the Supreme Court ruled that executing people with intellectual disabilities is unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment, but it left it up to the states to determine how to qualify the condition. The legal definition of intellectual disability doesn’t have to fully match a medical definition, but it does have to be informed by the current medical frameworks, according to the court.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals created its own method two years later. Death penalty critic Judge Elsa Alcala wrote in a 2015 opinion that the test was only meant to be a temporary solution “in the absence of any legislative guidance.” The method found inmates facing execution intellectually disabled if their IQ was 70 or below. If an IQ was above 70 but close enough to be within a margin of error (the state put Moore at 74), the court would look at how well the person functioned in daily life by referencing 1992 medical guidelines and a controversial set of questions called the “Briseno factors.”

The factors included questioning if a neighbor or family member would consider the person disabled, the person’s ability to lie and the planning involved in the murder. In its March ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court said the Briseno factors strayed too far from medical-based frameworks.

“The [Court of Criminal Appeals] overemphasized Moore’s perceived adaptive strengths — living on the streets, mowing lawns, and playing pool for money — when the medical community focuses the adaptive-functioning inquiry on adaptive deficits,” Ginsburg wrote.

Chief Justice John Roberts agreed with the incorrect usage of the Briseno factors but wrote in a dissenting opinion that the court’s majority tossed the Texas court’s ruling without considering societal standards.

“The Court instead crafts a constitutional holding based solely on what it deems to be medical consensus about intellectual disability,” Roberts wrote. “But clinicians, not judges, should determine clinical standards; and judges, not clinicians, should determine the content of the Eighth Amendment.”

It’s unknown when the Texas court will make a decision in Moore’s sentence or a new way to determine intellectual disability. In the meantime, the death penalty’s intersection with intellectual disability is up in the air.

California Death Penalty, Struck Down Over Delays, Faces Next Test


August 29,2015 (NYT)

Whether California’s application of the death penalty is so drawn out and arbitrary that it amounts to cruel and unusual punishment will be argued on Monday before a federal appeals court in Pasadena.

If the lawyers for a condemned man are victorious, the case could bring a reprieve to more than 740 prisoners now on death row at San Quentin State Prison and send legal ripples across the country. Either way, legal experts say, it raises issues about the administration of capital punishment that are likely to reach the Supreme Court over time.

In Monday’s hearing before a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, California officials will seek to overturn a surprise ruling last year by a lower federal court, which declared the state’s “death penalty system” to be unconstitutional

Hailed by death penalty opponents as a breakthrough and attacked by others as unwise and legally out of line, the decision was issued on July 16, 2014, by Judge Cormac J. Carney of Federal District Court in Santa Ana. It focused not on disparities in the meting out of death sentences in the first place — the more familiar charge — but on the decades of tangled and prolonged reviews that follow and the rarity of actual executions.

In a scathing account of what he called a dysfunctional system, Judge Carney noted that of the more than 900 people who had been sentenced to death in California since 1978, when the current legal structure was established, only 13 had been executed.

Citing growing delays in a judicial review process that can take 25 years or more, far above the national norm, Judge Carney said death sentences had been transformed, in effect, into “life in prison, with the remote possibility of death.”

The “random few” who are put to death, he said, “will have languished for so long on death row that their execution will serve no retributive or deterrent purpose and will be arbitrary.”

Judge Carney ruled on the appeal of Ernest Dewayne Jones, who was condemned to die in 1995 for a murder and rape and made a last-ditch plea to a federal court after his appeals to the California Supreme Court had been denied. The judge vacated Mr. Jones’s death sentence as he declared California’s capital-punishment process to be generally unconstitutional.

The decision was a stunning one, and California officials have sharply challenged it on both procedure and substance. They say it was illegitimate because Mr. Jones’s arguments about the arbitrariness of the review system — issues going beyond the long delays alone — had not first been considered in the California courts, as required.

Beyond that, according to the brief from the state’s attorney general, Kamala D. Harris, a Democrat, the delays and rarity of executions do not reflect random quirks. Rather, it says, they are a product of California’s effort to be scrupulously fair, ensuring that condemned prisoners have high-quality lawyers and every opportunity to question the legality of their sentences.

California legislators have required such exhaustive reviews and procedures as “an important safeguard against arbitrariness and caprice,” the state holds, quoting from a 1976 Supreme Court decision.

In a plebiscite in 2012, California voters affirmed the death penalty by a narrow margin, with 52 percent voting to keep it and 48 percent voting to replace it with life in prison without parole.

California inmates normally wait three to five years just for the appointment of a qualified defense lawyer, a delay that may be repeated as convicts pursue two successive state appeals and then a federal one. Beyond the prolonged process of reviewing death sentences, California has had a de facto moratorium on executions since 2006 because of disputes over the method of lethal injection.

The questions of arbitrariness and extreme delay that are raised by the Jones case are important and may well gain purchase in the courts, said Eric M. Freedman, a professor of constitutional law and death penalty expert at Hofstra University.

“But that does not necessarily mean that this particular litigation will be the vehicle by which the courts resolve these issues,” he added, noting that procedural or other questions could lead the appeals panel to overrule the Jones decision.

The arguments made by Mr. Jones’s lawyers — and echoed by Judge Carney — are similar in part to those made in June by Justice Stephen G. Breyer of the Supreme Court. In a sweeping dissent, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Justice Breyer went beyond the lethal-injection issue at hand to ask whether the death penalty was so marred by unreliable decisions, arbitrary application and delays that it should be abolished.

But conservative justices responded that death penalty opponents, in their zeal to erect obstacles to executions, were responsible for inordinate delays and unpredictability.

If the Ninth Circuit and even the Supreme Court should uphold Judge Carney’s ruling, this would not necessarily cause the death penalty to unravel nationwide, said Douglas A. Berman, an expert on criminal law at the Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.

Judge Carney’s decision turned on details specific to California, and with its high number of condemned prisoners and very low pace of executions, the state is in a class by itself, Mr. Berman said. Still, he added, a similar critique might succeed in a few other states, including Pennsylvania and Florida.

Given the deep divisions within California over the death penalty, Mr. Berman added, the state may, in an odd way that has nothing to do with constitutional principles, be well served by the status quo.

“Voters, and perhaps the executive branch, too, are not that troubled with a system that has lots of death sentences and few executions,” Mr. Berman said.

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

STUDIES: Racial Bias in Jury Selection


A new study of trials in Caddo Parish, Louisiana, revealed that potential jurors who were black were much more likely to be struck from juries than non-blacks. The results were consistent with findings from Alabama, North Carolina, and other parts of Louisiana, highlighting an issue that will be reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court this fall. In Caddo Parish, an area known for its many death sentences, prosecutors used peremptory strikes against 46% of black jurors, but only 15% of other jurors, according to the study by Reprieve Australia. The racial composition of the juries appeared to make a difference in the ultimate outcome of the cases. The study found that no defendants were acquitted by juries with 2 or fewer black jurors, but 19% were acquitted when 5 or more jurors were black. In an Alabama study, prosecutors used peremptory strikes to remove 82% of eligible black potential jurors from trials in which the death penalty was imposed. A study of death penalty cases in North Carolina found that prosecutors struck 53% of black potential jurors but only 26% of others.

 

In the death penalty case from Georgia that will be heard by the Supreme Court, Foster v. Chatman, all black prospective jurors were excluded from the jury. Prosecutors marked the names of black prospective jurors with a B and highlighted those names in green. Whenever such potential jurors had noted their race on questionnaires, prosecutors circled the word “black.”

 

Exclusion of Blacks From Juries Raises Renewed Scrutiny,” New York Times, August 16, 2015; U. Noye, “Blackstrikes: A Study of the Racially Disparate Use of Peremptory Challenges by the Caddo Parish District Attorney’s office,” Reprieve Australia, August, 2015)

Arkansas Buys Lethal Injection Drugs, Aims To End Execution Hiatus


LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (Reuters) – Arkansas has bought drugs it plans to use for lethal injections, officials said on Wednesday, as it looks to end a decade-long hiatus on executions that is the longest of any Southern U.S. state.
Arkansas law allows information on the drugs used in executions and the vendors supplying them to remain secret.
Local reports said the drugs included midazolam, a sedative death penalty opponents had challenged as inappropriate for executions, arguing it cannot even achieve the level of unconsciousness required for surgery.
On June 29, the Supreme Court found the drug did not violate the U.S. Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment, a ruling that provoked a caustic debate among the justices about the death penalty.
The Arkansas attorney general, Leslie Rutledge, acknowledged through a spokesman that the chemicals planned for use in Arkansas were on hand but declined further comment. The Arkansas Department of Correction did not return a call seeking comment.
Eight of the 35 men on Arkansas’s death row, 20 of whom are black, have exhausted all their appeals, according to Rutledge.
It is the attorney general’s responsibility to ask the governor to set execution dates, but Judd Deere, Rutledge’s press secretary, said she had “no timetable to offer on that at this time.”
Arkansas has not put to death a condemned inmate in 10 years. Appeals by death row prisoners and legal disputes over the constitutionality of drugs and procedures in capital cases have idled the Arkansas death chamber since 2005, when Eric Nance, 45, was put to death by lethal injection.
Earlier this year, Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson signed into law a measure giving prison officials the option of using a single large dose of barbiturate or a combination of three drugs to cause death.
Source: Reuters, August 13, 2015

 

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.

Nevada pursues death chamber, controversial drug


Monday, July 13, 2015

Nevada has no executions on the immediate horizon but is pushing ahead to build a new death chamber at Ely State Prison and would use a drug at the heart of a recent U.S. Supreme Court case to carry out lethal injections.
Brian Connett, deputy director at the Nevada Department of Corrections, said department lawyers were reviewing the June 29 decision over the use of midazolam in Oklahoma executions “to determine what, if any, impact it may have on Nevada.”
“Nevada would use the drugs midazolam and hydromorphone to administer a lethal injection and has an adequate supply of these drugs to carry out an execution if ordered,” he said in an email.
But death penalty watchdogs said use of the drug almost assuredly would spawn lawsuits after highly publicized incidents of botched executions.
Three Oklahoma death row inmates sued after that state first used midazolam last year in the execution of Clayton Lockett. Witnesses reported Lockett writhed, gasped and moaned. Prison officials tried to halt the execution process, but Lockett died after 43 minutes.
Midazolam, an anti-anxiety drug, is intended to put inmates in a comalike state before other drugs to bring about death are administered. Critics argue it does not guarantee unconsciousness to avoid pain from the subsequent drugs.
Similar prolonged executions using midazolam occurred in Ohio and Arizona in 2014.
LETHAL DRUG RULING
In its 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court said the use of midazolam does not violate Eighth Amendment protections against cruel and unusual punishment. The majority also noted that midazolam had been used in other executions about a dozen times without complications.
About 10 days later, Oklahoma set new execution dates in September and October for the 3 inmates who challenged the use of the drug.
A 2-drug injection of midazolam and the painkiller hydromorphone, the same combination planned for use by Nevada, was 1st used for lethal injection by Ohio in January 2014. Witnesses said that it took about 25 minutes for condemned killer Dennis McGuire to die and that during the process he made loud snorting or choking noises while his midsection convulsed.
Rob Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, a Washington-based nonprofit group, said the court’s decision doesn’t settle the question over midazolam’s use.
“That doesn’t mean that there will not be challenges to midazolam elsewhere,” he said.
Dunham said that while justices found the Oklahoma inmates didn’t meet their burden of proof to halt the use of the drug, “it doesn’t mean that midazolam is constitutional.”
He said a state “that is concerned about the execution process would have serious doubts about using midazolam.”
The last execution in Nevada was April 26, 2006, at the now-shuttered Nevada State Prison in Carson City. Daryl Mack was executed for the 1988 rape and murder of Betty Jane May in Reno.
Starting at least 11 years ago and up through Mack’s execution, Nevada used a combination of pentobarbital, pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride in its execution protocol. But Nevada and other states have been pressed to find alternatives after death penalty opponents pressured manufacturers not to sell them for executions.
Nevada has executed 12 inmates since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976. About 80 men are on Nevada’s death row.
NEW DEATH CHAMBER
Besides the issue of lethal drugs, Nevada is building a new death chamber at Ely State Prison after Nevada State Prison, where executions were conducted, closed in 2012.
Less than a week after Gov. Brian Sandoval signed a capital improvement bill on June 15 that included $860,000 to remodel a prison administrative building into a new death chamber, the state Public Works Board published a notice seeking statements of qualifications from architectural and engineering firms to perform the work.
The deadline for submitting those statements was Thursday, and it is unclear how many were submitted. The prison project was one of dozens of maintenance projects approved by state lawmakers for the next 2 years.
State lawmakers, who rejected funding for a new execution chamber in 2013, approved the expenditure this year despite reservations about the cost and lingering uncertainty over the death penalty.
San Quentin's brand new, costly - and still unused - death chamber
San Quentin’s brand new, costly – and still unused – death chamber
Critics have called the new execution chamber “an outrageous boondoggle.”
“This proposed new facility may sit unused forever, or it could require further remodeling if lethal injection is rejected in court,” Nancy Hart, president of the Nevada Coalition Against the Death Penalty, and Tod Story, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, wrote in a May 27 opinion piece.
“Even if lethal injection is upheld, there are serious doubts about the availability of the lethal drugs needed for an execution,” they wrote.
Plans call for remodeling 1,900 square feet of visitation and courtroom areas of an administrative building at the Ely Prison to accommodate an execution chamber.
During legislative hearings, Chris Chimits, deputy administrator with the state Public Works Board, said the chamber would be modeled after California’s San Quentin State Prison execution facility, the construction of which was overseen by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Mary Woods, spokeswoman for the Nevada Department of Administration, said a design contract could be presented to the Board of Examiners for approval in November.
After that, the design, permitting and construction process is expected to take about a year.