supreme court

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.

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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.

 

“I want people to know I didn’t kill this man,” death row inmate Richard Glossip still claims innocence


Richard Glossip, 52, will be the next Oklahoma inmate to be executed under the state lethal injection protocol approved by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Court of Criminal Appeals set Glossip’s execution date for September 15, 2016.
Glossip will be put to death for his role in the brutal murder of Barry Van Treese in 1997.
Late last year, Ali Meyer traveled to McAlester to talk with Glossip about his case, his execution and his claims of innocence.
“I’m prepared for whatever happens, but it’s not easy,” Glossip said behind a wall of thick glass and metal bars. “It’s like you’re in a tomb, just waiting to die so they can finish it off. You hardly get any contact, and the contact you have is with guards. It’s hard; harder than people think it is. People think we’ve got it easy down here. It’s not true.”
Richard Eugene Glossip has been on Oklahoma’s death row for 17 years.
“The dying part doesn’t bother me. Everybody dies, but I want people to know I didn’t kill this man (Barry Van Treese). I didn’t participate or plan or anything to do with this crime. I want people to know that it’s not just for me that I’m speaking out. It’s for other people on death row around this country who are innocent and are going to be executed for something they didn’t do. It’s not right that it’s happening. We’re in a country where that should never happen.”
Richard Glossip was convicted of murder-for-hire in the 1997 death of Barry Van Treese.
“They offered me a life sentence at my 2nd trial. I turned it down because I’m not going to stand there and admit to something that I didn’t do. Even though my attorneys said I was an idiot for turning it down because I could end up back on death row. I prefer death row than to tell somebody I committed a crime I didn’t do.” Glossip said. “I understand people want the death penalty, especially in the state of Oklahoma because of the crimes that are committed. I understand that even though I don’t believe in it. But, one thing you should be absolutely sure about is that you’re not about to kill an innocent man.”
Glossip’s co-worker, Justin Sneed, confessed to the murder of Barry Van Treese. Sneed testified against Glossip in exchange for his life. Sneed is now serving a life sentence.
“I wake up and look at these walls and think, ‘How the hell am I here?’ I think about it, try to figure out what went wrong. I just can’t figure it out. It’s a scary thing.”
The State of Oklahoma will use the controversial execution drug Midazolam to put Richard Glossip to death.
“It just really doesn’t make any sense to me what’s going on. They’re just in such a hurry to kill.”
Last year, the State of Oklahoma spent 5 months revamping the death chamber to carry out executions.
“You’re crammed in this box and every day you think about dying. You know they’re putting these cells up there to stick you in. I think that’s when it got even scarier the day they started construction because then you know they’re going through all this stuff to make sure they kill somebody. That’s a scary thing to think about.”
WHAT HAPPENED IN ROOM 102 — Oklahoma Prepares to Execute Richard Glossip 
On June 29, the very day the United States Supreme Court upheld Oklahoma’s lethal injection protocol in Glossip v. Gross, signaling to the state that it could resume executions, State Attorney General Scott Pruitt wasted no time. His office sent a request to the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals asking that death warrants be signed for the next 3 men in line for the gurney – the same 3 men whose challenge had made it all the way to Washington. “The above inmates have exhausted all regular state and federal appeals,” the attorney general wrote, respectfully urging the Court to schedule their executions. On Wednesday, July 8, the Court complied, setting 3 dates for the fall.
Richard Glossip is 1st in line to die, on September 16. As the lead plaintiff in the case before the Supreme Court, his name became synonymous with the legal fight over midazolam, a drug linked to a number of botched executions, but which the Court decided is constitutional for carrying out lethal injections. Glossip, who spoke to The Intercept hours after the ruling, did not have time to dwell on the decision. Even if the Court had ruled in his favor, he pointed out, Oklahoma remained determined to execute him and has provided itself with a range of options for doing so – most recently, adding nitrogen gas to the mix. With a new execution date looming, “I’m trying to stop them from killing me by any method,” Glossip said, “because of the fact that I’m innocent.”
Glossip has always maintained his innocence, ever since he was arrested in the winter of 1997 for a grisly killing that authorities prosecuted as a murder-for-hire. It is true that he himself did not kill anyone – a 19-year-old man named Justin Sneed confessed to police that he beat the victim to death with a baseball bat – but Glossip was identified as the “mastermind” behind the crime. Sneed, who worked for Glossip, claimed his boss pressured him to carry out the murder, offering him employment opportunities and several thousand dollars in return. There was very little additional evidence to back up his claims, but Sneed nevertheless was able to secure the state’s conviction of Glossip, saving himself from death row. Today, Sneed is serving life without parole at a medium security prison in Lexington, Oklahoma. Meanwhile, Glossip faces execution, while continuing to insist he had nothing to do with the murder. Last January, he came within a day of being executed and was in the process of saying goodbye to family when the Supreme Court granted certiorari to his lethal injection challenge.
Glossip has some outspoken supporters, including family members, the longtime anti-death penalty activist Sister Helen Prejean, as well as his former defense attorney, Wayne Fournerat, who was adamant in a conversation with The Intercept that his former client is innocent. But last October a particularly unlikely figure came forward to plead that Oklahoma spare Glossip’s life: O’Ryan Justine Sneed – Justin Sneed’s grown daughter. In a letter to the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board, she wrote that, based on her many communications with her dad, she “strongly believe[s]” that Richard Glossip is an innocent man. “For a couple of years now, my father has been talking to me about recanting his original testimony,” she wrote. “I feel his conscious [sic] is getting to him.”
Justine Sneed’s letter never reached the board. It arrived in the mail too late for Glossip’s attorneys to submit it for consideration. To date, Sneed himself has not come forward – according to his daughter, he fears what it could mean for his plea deal. Nor has she made any further public statements since her letter was published. (The Intercept made numerous attempts to reach her for an interview.) Her claims do not prove that Sneed lied, of course. But the available records in the 18-year-old case of Richard Glossip are themselves good reason for concern. From the police interrogation of Justin Sneed in 1997 to transcripts from Glossip’s 2 trials, the picture that emerges is one of a flimsy conviction, a case based on the word of a confessed murderer with a very good incentive to lie, and very little else. As Oklahoma gets ready to restart executions using its newly sanctioned lethal injection protocol, time is running out to answer the question: Could the state be preparing to kill an innocent man?
It was sometime after 4 a.m. on January 7, 1997, that 33-year-old Richard Glossip woke up to the sound of pounding on the wall outside his apartment at the Best Budget Inn in Oklahoma City. He lived there with his girlfriend of five years, D-Anna Wood; she later described waking up to “scraping on the wall.” It was “kind of scary loud,” she said.
Glossip had lived at the motel since 1995, when he was hired by the owner, Barry Van Treese, a father of 5 who lived some 90 miles away and owned a second motel in Tulsa. Van Treese happened to be visiting Oklahoma City, but he generally relied on Glossip to run the daily operations, only dropping by a couple times a month to pay his staff and check on the property. For managing the Best Budget Inn, Glossip received a salary of $1,500 a month, as well as room and board in the apartment adjacent to the motel’s office. On Mondays, which were usually slower nights, he and Wood would lock the front door to the motel around 2 a.m. Any guest trying to check in after that hour had to ring a buzzer to get in.

Read more: http://deathpenaltynews.blogspot.com/#ixzz3fnr8JI6T

Florida: Executions Back on Track after High Court Ruling


The US Supreme Court has ruled that the drug midazolam is acceptable for use in lethal injections. 4 Oklahoma convicts had challenged the drugs use, and Florida courts stopped executions here pending the outcome. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, the ruling is now likely to open the door to dozens of executions in Florida.
The High Court ruling is 127 pages long, but its essence can be found in the 1st sentence. “Because Capital punishment is constitutional, there must be a constitutional means of carrying it out” wrote the majority.
The ruling is a set back for anti death penalty advocates in Florida. Sheila Meenan represents Citizens Against the Death Penalty and while disappointed, remains hopeful.
“I do’t think there’s going to be an end to the death penalty anytime soon, but I do believe and am extremely hopeful, and it won’t be too long from now when the US Supreme Court is going to say that the death penalty is against the constitution” says Meehan.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote one of two blistering dissents.
“She really talked about how this drug, midazolam, could even be the equivalent of the chemical of burning at the stake. She used very strong language along those lines and as I say, 3 others concurred with her in that dissent” says Meehan.
Quadruple murderer Jerry Correll’s execution was stopped in February. It could soon be back on. Jerry Correll’s execution would set a record of 22 for one governor in modern times. A list prepared by the Florida Supreme court identified more than 100 inmates who have exhausted their appeals. Meehan says the decision opens the door to multiple warrants.
“Now that this decision is out, there is really nothing to stop Governor Scott from signing lots of death warrants. We’ve got lots of people, more than 400 people on Florida’s death row” says Meehan.
The Florida Department of Corrections did not respond to requests for an interview
This afternoon’s death row count was actually 396. And late this afternoon, Attorney General Pam Bondi asked the Florida Supreme Court to lift the Stay of Execution for Jerry Correll. Once lifted, the door is open for Governor Rick Scott to sign his and other death warrants.

Florida Supreme Court rejects appeal by Jacksonville Death Row inmate Pinkney ‘Chip’ Carter


The Florida Supreme Court has upheld the conviction and death sentence of a Jacksonville man who killed his ex-girlfriend, her new boyfriend and her daughter.

FILE - Pinkney "Chip" Carter is seen in court for his arraignment on the triple murder of his former girlfriend, Elizabeth Smith Reed, 35, Reed's 16-year-old daughter, Courtney Smith, and Reed's new boyfriend, Glenn Carter Pafford, 49, on July 24, 2002.  Times-Union staff

Pinkney “Chip” Carter, now 60, was convicted of three counts of murder in 2005. The jury found he drove to his ex-girlfriend’s Arlington home and shot and killed the victims. Liz Reed, his ex-girlfriend, was 35; her boyfriend, Glenn Pafford, was 49; and her daughter, Courtney Smith, was 16.

The murders occurred in 2002. All were shot with a .22-caliber rifle Carter said he took to the home to get answers from Reed about their break-up. Reed and Pafford died instantly, and Smith died later in a hospital.

The jury voted 9-3 for death for killing Pafford and 8-4 for death for killing Reed. Circuit Judge Lance Day sentenced Carter to two death sentences for those murders and gave him a life sentence for killing Smith.

Attorney Frank Tassone argued that Carter’s trial attorneys didn’t do a good enough job defending him, saying attorneys should’ve brought in mental-health experts to testify that Carter was experiencing a mental or emotional disturbance.

Carter was defended at trial by Bill White, who was then the elected public defender in Jacksonville, and former Assistant Public Defender Alan Chipperfield.

But the Supreme Court unanimously upheld the death sentence, finding that Carter’s trial counsel did investigate his mental health, retain experts and had full psychological evaluations done.

The defense team had previously said it did not call these mental-health experts during Carter’s penalty phase because the conclusion reached by them would not have helped. Attorneys instead attempted to argue that Carter was a good guy who deserved life in prison over death.

Introducing the experts also would have allowed prosecutors to produce more evidence of Carter’s violent past. For example, Carter once held a knife to an ex-wife’s throat and was declared a sexual deviant.

After the murders, Carter fled Jacksonville, traveling through several states before ditching the murder weapon in the Rio Grande and swimming to Mexico, where he was arrested for entering the country illegally. He was released by Mexican authorities after paying a fine and then disappeared.

Carter was finally arrested Jan. 6, 2004, near Paducah, Ky., where he was working as a roofer under the alias of Rodney Vonthun. He had been picked up earlier for being drunk in public and was released the next day. But an alert Kentucky state trooper later recognized his photo on an FBI wanted poster in another police station.

This was Carter’s second appeal, the Florida Supreme Court rejected a previous appeal in 2008.

Lawyers for Carter will likely begin appealing the decision in federal court.

 

The 20 Best Lines From the Supreme Court Dissent Calling to End the Death Penalty


The case before the Supreme Court concerned a specific question: Was a certain sort of capital punishment via lethal injection constitutional? In a decision issued Monday morning, the four conservative justices plus swing vote Justice Anthony Kennedy said yes, and Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote a dissenting opinion for the court’s liberals taking the opposite position. But in a stinging dissent of his own, Justice Stephen Breyer, who was joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, went much further: He called for abolishing the death penalty, contending that capital punishment, as it is currently practiced, violates the Constitution. His opinion was methodically argued and chockfull of research (on exonerations, various disparities in the application of the death sentence, and more). Breyer, who in 2008 sided with the court majority in upholding the use of lethal injections in Kentucky, noted that his own experience overseeing capital punishment cases has led him to a forceful and passionate position: The death penalty must go.

Here are the best passages from his opinion.

In 1976, the Court thought that the constitutional in­firmities in the death penalty could be healed; the Court in effect delegated significant responsibility to the States to develop procedures that would protect against those con­stitutional problems. Almost 40 years of studies, surveys, and experience strongly indicate, however, that this effort has failed. Today’s administration of the death penalty involves three fundamental constitutional defects: (1) serious unreliability, (2) arbitrariness in application, and (3) unconscionably long delays that undermine the death penalty’s penological purpose. Perhaps as a result, (4) most places within the United States have abandoned its use.

I shall describe each of these considerations, emphasiz­ing changes that have occurred during the past four dec­ades. For it is those changes, taken together with my own 20 years of experience on this Court, that lead me to be­lieve that the death penalty, in and of itself, now likely constitutes a legally prohibited “cruel and unusual pun­ishmen[t].” U. S. Const., Amdt. 8.

*   *   *

[R]esearchers have found convincing evidence that, in the past three decades, innocent people have been executed.

*   *   *

[T]he evidence that the death penalty has been wrongly imposed (whether or not it was carried out), is striking. As of 2002, this Court used the word “disturb­ing” to describe the number of instances in which individ­uals had been sentenced to death but later exonerated. At that time, there was evidence of approximately 60 exonerations in capital cases….Since 2002, the number of exonerations in capital cases has risen to 115……Last year, in 2014, six death row inmates were exonerated based on actual innocence. All had been imprisoned for more than 30 years (and one for almost 40 years) at the time of their exonerations.

*   *   *

[T]he crimes at issue in capital cases are typically horren­dous murders, and thus accompanied by intense community pressure on police, prosecutors, and jurors to secure a conviction. This pressure creates a greater likelihood of convicting the wrong person.

*   *   *

[R]esearchers estimate that about 4% of those sentenced to death are actually innocent.

*   *   *

[B]etween 1973 and 1995, courts identified prejudicial errors in 68% of the capital cases before them.

*   *   *

This research and these figures are likely controversial. Full briefing would allow us to scrutinize them with more care. But, at a minimum, they suggest a serious problem of reliability. They suggest that there are too many in­stances in which courts sentence defendants to death without complying with the necessary procedures; and they suggest that, in a significant number of cases, the death sentence is imposed on a person who did not commit the crime….Unlike 40 years ago, we now have plausible evidence of unreliability that (perhaps due to DNA evidence) is stronger than the evidence we had before. In sum, there is significantly more research-based evidence today indicating that courts sentence to death individuals who may well be actually innocent or whose convictions (in the law’s view) do not warrant the death penalty’s application.

*   *   *

Thus, whether one looks at research indicating that irrelevant or improper factors—such as race, gender, local geography, and resources—do significantly determine who receives the death penalty, or whether one looks at re­search indicating that proper factors—such as “egregious­ness”—do not determine who receives the death penalty, the legal conclusion must be the same: The research strongly suggests that the death penalty is imposed arbitrarily.

*   *   *

The studies bear out my own view, reached after consid­ering thousands of death penalty cases and last-minute petitions over the course of more than 20 years. I see discrepancies for which I can find no rational explanations… Why does one defendant who committed a single-victim murder receive the death pen­alty (due to aggravators of a prior felony conviction and an after-the-fact robbery), while another defendant does not, despite having kidnapped, raped, and murdered a young mother while leaving her infant baby to die at the scene of the crime…Why does one defendant who committed a single-victim murder receive the death penalty (due to aggravators of a prior felony conviction and acting recklessly with a gun), while another defendant does not, despite having committed a “triple murder” by killing a young man and his pregnant wife?… For that matter, why does one defendant who participated in a single-victim murder-for-hire scheme (plus an after-the­ fact robbery) receive the death penalty, while another defendant does not, despite having stabbed his wife 60 times and killed his 6-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son while they slept?… In each instance, the sentences compared were imposed in the same State at about the same time.

The question raised by these examples (and the many more I could give but do not), as well as by the research to which I have referred, is the same question Justice Stew­art, Justice Powell, and others raised over the course of several decades: The imposition and implementation of the death penalty seems capricious, random, indeed, arbitrary. From a defendant’s perspective, to receive that sentence, and certainly to find it implemented, is the equivalent of being struck by lightning. How then can we reconcile the death penalty with the demands of a Constitution that first and foremost insists upon a rule of law?

*   *   *

[N]early all death penalty States keep death row inmates in isolation for 22 or more hours per day….This occurs even though the ABA has suggested that death row inmates be housed in conditions similar to the general population, and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture has called for a global ban on solitary confinement longer than 15 days…  And it is well documented that such prolonged solitary confinement produces numerous deleterious harms. See, e.g., Haney, Mental Health Issues in Long-Term Solitary and “Supermax” Confinement, 49 Crime & Delinquency 124, 130 (2003) (cataloging studies finding that solitary confinement can cause prisoners to experience “anxiety, panic, rage, loss of control, paranoia, hallucinations, and self-mutilations,” among many other symptoms)

*   *   *

The dehumanizing effect of solitary confinement is aggravated by uncertainty as to whether a death sentence will in fact be carried out. In 1890, this Court recognized that, “when a prisoner sentenced by a court to death is confined in the penitentiary awaiting the execution of the sentence, one of the most horrible feelings to which he can be subjected during that time is the uncertainty during the whole of it.”… The Court was there describing a delay of a mere four weeks. In the past century and a quarter, little has changed in this respect— except for duration. Today we must describe delays measured, not in weeks, but in decades.

*   *   *

The second constitutional difficulty resulting from lengthy delays is that those delays undermine the death penalty’s penological rationale, perhaps irreparably so. The rationale for capital punishment, as for any punishment, classically rests upon society’s need to secure deter­rence, incapacitation, retribution, or rehabilitation. Capital punishment by definition does not rehabilitate. It does, of course, incapacitate the offender. But the major alternative to capital punishment—namely, life in prison without possibility of parole—also incapacitates.

*   *   *

Recently, the National Research Council (whose members are drawn from the councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine) reviewed 30 years of empirical evidence and concluded that it was insufficient to establish a deterrent effect and thus should “not be used to inform” discussion about the deterrent value of the death penalty.

*   *   *

Sometimes the community believes that an execution could provide closure. Nevertheless, the delays and low probability of execution must play some role in any calculation that leads a community to insist on death as retribution. As I have already suggested, they may well attenuate the community’s interest in retribution to the point where it cannot by itself amount to a significant justification for the death penalty…. In any event, I believe that whatever interest in retribution might be served by the death penalty as currently administered, that interest can be served almost as well by a sentence of life in prison without parole (a sentence that every State now permits.

*   *   *

The upshot is that lengthy delays both aggravate the cruelty of the death penalty and undermine its jurisprudential rationale. And this Court has said that, if the death penalty does not fulfill the goals of deterrence or retribution, “it is nothing more than the purposeless and needless imposition of pain and suffering and hence an unconstitutional punishment.”

*   *   *

And that fact creates a dilemma: A death penalty sys­tem that seeks procedural fairness and reliability brings with it delays that severely aggravate the cruelty of capi­tal punishment and significantly undermine the rationale for imposing a sentence of death in the first place…(one of the primary causes of the delay is the States’ “failure to apply constitutionally sufficient procedures at the time of initial [conviction or] sentenc­ing”). But a death penalty system that minimizes delays would undermine the legal system’s efforts to secure relia­bility and procedural fairness.

In this world, or at least in this Nation, we can have a death penalty that at least arguably serves legitimate penological purposes or we can have a procedural system that at least arguably seeks reliability and fairness in the death penalty’s application. We cannot have both. And that simple fact, demonstrated convincingly over the past 40 years, strongly supports the claim that the death pen­alty violates the Eighth Amendment.

*   *   *
The Eighth Amendment forbids punishments that are cruel and unusual. Last year, in 2014, only seven States carried out an execution. Perhaps more importantly, in the last two decades, the imposition and implementation of the death penalty have increasingly become unusual.

*   *   *

[I]f we look to States, in more than 60% there is effectively no death penalty, in an additional 18% an execution is rare and unusual, and 6%, i.e., three States, account for 80% of all executions. If we look to population, about 66% of the Nation lives in a State that has not carried out an execution in the last three years. And if we look to counties, in 86% there is effectively no death penalty. It seems fair to say that it is now unusual to find capital punishment in the United States, at least when we consider the Nation as a whole.

*   *   *

I recognize a strong counterargument that favors consti­tutionality. We are a court. Why should we not leave the matter up to the people acting democratically through legislatures? The Constitution foresees a country that will make most important decisions democratically. Most nations that have abandoned the death penalty have done so through legislation, not judicial decision. And legisla­tors, unlike judges, are free to take account of matters such as monetary costs, which I do not claim are relevant here….

The answer is that the matters I have discussed, such as lack of reliability, the arbitrary application of a serious and irreversible punishment, individual suffering caused by long delays, and lack of penological purpose are quin­tessentially judicial matters. They concern the infliction— indeed the unfair, cruel, and unusual infliction—of a serious punishment upon an individual.

*   *   *

I believe it highly likely that the death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment. At the very least, the Court should call for full briefing on the basic question.