Roof Loses Attempt to Fire Jewish, Indian Lawyers

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit denies Dylann Roof’s effort to remove the appellate lawyers in his death penalty appeal because the attorneys “are my political and biological enemies.”

A federal court rejected a request by Dylann Roof, the unabashed white supremacist who killed nine black parishioners at a South Carolina church two years ago, to fire his attorneys because they’re Jewish and Indian, the Washington Post reports. Roof, who was sent to death row for the June 2015 massacre at a historically black church in Charleston, requested on Monday that the two public defenders appointed to handle his appeal be removed from his case, saying their ethnicities are “a barrier to effective communication.” He said that, “Because of my political views, which are arguably religious, it will be impossible for me to trust two attorneys that are my political and biological enemies,” The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit. The court denied the request Tuesday.

Rishi Bagga of the South Asian Bar Association of North America, said that requesting an attorney’s removal should be based on legal abilities. He said Roof’s comments highlight a challenge among public defenders, who often have to represent clients who don’t reflect their own views. “It’s really part of a lawyer’s oath to represent someone to the best of their ability regardless of their own beliefs, religion or background or origin,” Bagga said. Roof has been on death row since a jury convicted him of dozens of charges, including federal hate crimes, for the deaths of nine parishioners who had invited him into their Bible study at Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Federal prosecutors said Roof committed the massacre to try to start a race war.


Ohio Executes Murderer 25 Years After the Crime

Gary Otte was put to death by lethal injection. An attorney for Otte said stomach movements and the appearance of tears by his eyes during the execution showed that Otte was in pain after being injected with the sedative midazolam, which is being challenged in Ohio.

Ohio executed Gary Otte on Wednesday morning, more than 25 years after he robbed and murdered two people at an apartment complex, reports. Otte, 45, died by lethal injection. There appeared to be no complications with the execution, which took about 15 minutes. Otte was convicted in 1992 and sentenced to death for robbing and killing Robert Wasikowski, 61, and Sharon Kostura, 45.

An attorney for Otte said stomach movements and the appearance of tears by his eyes during the execution showed that Otte was in pain after being injected with a sedative. The attorney is part of a team challenging the state’s use of the sedative, called midazolam, saying it doesn’t render a patient sufficiently unconscious as to not feel severe pain. Otte was the 55th person the state has executed since it restarted the death penalty in 1999.


FL Prosecutor To Set Up Death Penalty Review Panel

Gov. Rick Scott assigned more than 25 murder cases to another prosecutor after Amaris Ayala in Orlando said she would not seek the death penalty. Ayala, who lost a court battle with Scott, now will assign seven assistants to review each case.

Aramis Ayala, the Orlando prosecutor who had said she would no longer seek the death penalty, lost her legal battle with Florida Gov. Rick Scott. The Florida Supreme Court ruled last week that the governor has the authority to reassign first-degree-murder cases to a different prosecutor. Scott took more than 25 cases from Ayala, and the state legislature cut her budget, NPR reports. Ayala now is setting up a death penalty review panel to evaluate whether to seek the death penalty in specific cases. She argues that this removes the rationale for reassigning her cases.

The panel will be made up of six prosecuting attorneys along with the attorney assigned to prosecute the specific case. If they unanimously determine that it is appropriate to seek the death penalty, they will make the recommendation to Ayala. Ayala, who took office in January, is the first black elected prosecutor in Florida. She says the death penalty is broken and does not achieve justice for victims’ families. The state Supreme Court said “Ayala’s blanket refusal to seek the death penalty in any eligible case … does not reflect an exercise of prosecutorial discretion; it embodies, at best, a misunderstanding of Florida law.” A spokesman for Scott said the governor would “continue to review” Ayala’s actions, saying “the governor must be convinced that the death penalty will be sought as outlined in Florida law, when appropriate.”


FL Executes Killer With New Lethal-Injection Protocol

State says the execution of Mark James Asay proceeded without incident. He was the first white man in Florida executed for killing a black person. Asay shot Robert Booker after using a racial epithet, but denied he was a white supremacist.

After spending nearly three decades on Florida’s death row, murderer Mark James Asay was executed yesterday evening, the state’s first inmate to be put to death in more than 19 months and the first execution under a lethal-injection procedure never used before in any state, reports the News Service of Florida. The execution was the first since a January 2016 U.S. Supreme Court decision that effectively put the state’s death penalty in limbo. He was the first white man executed for killing a black victim in Florida. The lack of complications with the untested lethal-injection procedure execution may have eased concerns about Florida’s new three-drug protocol.

“The execution took place without incident,” said Department of Corrections spokeswoman Michelle Glady. “Our objective with this is a humane and dignified process, which was done this evening.” Asay was convicted in 1988 in the shooting deaths of Robert Booker, who was black, and Robert McDowell. Asay allegedly shot Booker after calling him a racial epithet. He then killed McDowell, who was dressed as a woman, after agreeing to pay him for oral sex. Asay — who had white supremacist and swastika tattoos — later told a friend that McDowell had previously cheated him out of money in a drug deal.  While prosecutors portrayed Asay as a white supremacist, the killer denied that he was a racist in a TV interview a few days before his execution.


CA Executions Will Happen Sooner Under Court Ruling

Lawyers on opposing sides of yesterday’s California Supreme Court ruling on a capital punishment measure approved by voters agreed that the case is likely to lead to executions being carried out sooner and more often in a state that last put a prisoner to death in January 2006.

Lawyers on opposing sides of yesterday’s California Supreme Court ruling on executions agreed that the case was likely to lead to executions being carried out sooner and more often in a state that last put a prisoner to death in January 2006, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.  “Prop. 66 will go into effect very nearly in its entirety,” said Kent Scheidegger of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation in Sacramento, an author of the ballot measure. Although federal courts must still review the state’s lethal-injection procedures, Scheidegger expects executions to resume within a year. Christina Von der Ahe Rayburn, who represented opponents of Prop. 66, agreed that the measure is likely to speed up executions despite the high court’s invalidation of a five-year deadline to resolve cases. She said the ruling wasn’t the last word, because condemned prisoners can still argue that the new rules are invalid in their individual cases.

Voters approved Prop. 66 by a 51 percent majority while rejecting, for the second time in four years, a competing measure to repeal the state’s death penalty law. California has the nation’s largest death row, with nearly 750 inmates, about half of whom have been there for at least 20 years. Appeals of death verdicts now take more than two decades to resolve, on average. Prosecutors and crime-victims’ groups who backed Prop. 66 told voters the measure would cut that period in half by requiring faster court action, limiting some types of appeals, and requiring more lawyers to accept capital cases. Opponents argued that the measure would cause even longer delays, because of court challenges and legal uncertainties about its provisions. They said it would coerce unwilling and unqualified lawyers to handle capital appeals and swamp the state’s high court with death cases.


CA Supreme Court Upholds Executions in State

High court upheld a proposition approved by 51 percent of voters that removed legal hurles that have barred executions. A capital punishment advocate predicted that inmates might be put to death again in a few months after a 10-year hiatus.

The California Supreme Court decided Thursday that a key provision in last year’s ballot measure to speed executions failed to impose strict deadlines for resolving death penalty appeals, the Los Angeles Times reports. Proposition 66, sponsored by prosecutors and passed by 51 percent of voters, was intended to remove various hurdles that have prevented the state from executing an inmate in more than 10 years. The new ruling left most of the initiative intact, leading one of the sponsors to predict that executions would resume in months.

The decision, signed by five of the seven justices, construed the measure’s requirement that death penalty appeals must be decided within five years as “directive,” not mandatory. That deadline is merely “an exhortation to the parties and the courts to handle cases as expeditiously as is consistent with the fair and principled administration of justice,” Justice Carol A. Corrigan wrote for the majority. Because of a huge backlog of appeals, the California Supreme Court would have to spend 90 percent of its time on death penalty cases for at least the next five years to meet the five-year deadlines, legal analysts said. Without a strict timetable, appeals can take decades to resolve.
Michael Rushford, president of a pro-death penalty group that helped sponsored the measure, said 18 inmates on death row who have exhausted their appeals don’t have “much time left.”


FL Execution Due Today With Untested Drug Protocol

A controversial three-drug cocktail will be used to end the life of Mark Asay, 53, a white supremacist who murdered two people in 1987.

A white supremacist who murdered two people in a 1987 shooting in Jacksonville, Fl., is set Thursday to become the first inmate executed in Florida in 19 months, reigniting fierce debate over the death penalty and raising questions about drugs purchased by the state for lethal injections, The Guardian reports.

The controversial three-drug cocktail that will end the life of 53-year-old Mark James Asay at the Florida state prison in Raiford shortly after 6 p.m. is experimental, the ingredients never having been tested together in the U.S.

While death penalty opponents lament the resumption of executions in the state with the nation’s second-highest number of condemned inmates in the country, some medical experts are warning that the convicted double murderer, who bears swastika tattoos from a dalliance with the Aryan Brotherhood in his youth, could die in agony due to the unknown effects of the chemicals.

“There has been no medical testing of any kind into the effects of this kind of dose on the human body and this dosage could result in a host of adverse effects,” Prof. Robert Sneyd, dean of the Plymouth University Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry, wrote in a declaration presented to the Florida Supreme Court by Asay’s attorney about the anaesthetic etomidate, the first of the drugs that will be injected under the state’s new execution protocol adopted in January.

The pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson, the original manufacturer of etomidate, also expressed its disgust that a drug it pioneered half a century ago to “save and enhance lives” was being used for capital punishment.


Special Board to Review Missouri Death Penalty Case

Gov. Eric Greitens halts the execution of Marcellus Williams, says he will appoint a board of inquiry after an “inconclusive” DNA test raised questions about Williams’ guilt.

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens called off an execution so the state could make sure it sentenced a guilty man to death, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.  He granted a stay to Marcellus Williams, who had been facing death by injection yesterday for the 1998 murder of Post-Dispatch reporter Lisha Gayle at her home. Williams’ attorneys say DNA tests could prove their client’s innocence. Greitens said he was appointing a board of inquiry to investigate the case in light of an “inconclusive” DNA test. “A sentence of death is the ultimate, permanent punishment,” he said. “To carry out the death penalty, the people of Missouri must have confidence in the judgment of guilt.”

Williams’ attorneys say DNA found on the murder weapon did not match Williams’ DNA. Greitens said the five-member board would include retired Missouri judges and have the power to subpoena witnesses and evidence. The proceedings will be closed to the public. Williams, 48, was sentenced to death in 2001. Prosecutors said Williams was burglarizing the home when Gayle, who had been taking a shower, surprised him. She fought for her life as she was stabbed repeatedly. Using technology that was not available at the time of the killing, tests showed that DNA found on the knife matched an unknown male. Williams’ DNA was not found on the knife. Despite that finding, the state’s high court denied his petition to stop the execution and either appoint a special master to hear his innocence claim or order his sentence commuted to life in prison.


Janssen Opposes Use of Its Drug in FL Execution

It is the first time that a division of Johnson & Johnson, the world’s largest pharmaceutical manufacturer, has entered the death-penalty debate. Florida is scheduled to execute Mark Asay using the drug on Thursday.

A Johnson & Johnson company opposes Florida’s plans to use one of its drugs in an execution. It is the first time the world’s largest pharmaceutical manufacturer has entered the death-penalty debate, reports the Wall Street Journal. Florida amended its lethal-injection protocol this year to include etomidate, an anesthetic agent that has never been used in executions, after the state exhausted its supply of the sedative midazolam. The protocol is due to be used for the first time Thursday in the execution of Mark Asay, who was sentenced to death for the 1987 killings of two men in Jacksonville.

Scientists at Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen Pharmaceuticals NV created etomidate in the 1960s. The company never distributed the drug in North America and divested the rest of the business in 2016. The company has protested Florida’s plan to use etomidate to render death-row inmates unconscious before injecting them with a paralytic agent and a third drug to stop their hearts. No Johnson & Johnson drugs have been used in executions, says Reprieve, an international-rights group that opposes the death penalty. Companies including Baxter International Inc., McKesson Corp. , Pfizer and Roche Holding AG have publicly opposed the use of their drugs in executions.


Prosecutor Misconduct Spares Mass Murderer from Death

Orange County, Ca., judge won’t impose the death penalty for Scott Dekraai, who killed eight people, because prosecutors and sheriff’s deputies used jailhouse informants improperly and hid evidence.

The worst mass murderer in Orange County, Ca., history will not face execution, the Orange County Register reports. Judge Thomas Goethals took the death penalty off the table for confessed killer Scott Evans Dekraai, 47, citing misconduct by prosecutors and sheriff’s officials. Dekraai pleaded guilty to killing eight people and wounding another in a 2011 shooting spree. “This court finds the prosecution team is unable or unwilling” to provide the evidence to ensure Dekraai would get a fair penalty trial, Goethals said. He added it would have been “unconscionable and perhaps even cowardly” not to sanction local prosecutors and sheriff’s deputies for improperly using jailhouse informants and hiding evidence.

Goethals said local prosecutors and sheriff’s officials had themselves to blame. “If this case had been prosecuted from the outset by the Orange County District Attorney within the most fundamental parameters of prosecutorial propriety, this defendant would likely today be living alongside other convicted killers on California’s Death Row in the state prison at San Quentin,” he said. Goethals is likely to sentence Dekraai to eight consecutive life terms in prison on Sept. 22. The decision is a measure of how Orange County’s justice system has been damaged by accusations that law enforcement has for as many as 30 years secretly and illegally used jailhouse informants to cajole confessions from inmates represented by attorneys. Information about those informants was routinely withheld from the defense.