Federal Judge Won’t Halt Two Arkansas Executions

U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker denied requests to stop the executions of Jack Jones and Marcel Williams, who argued that their poor health could make lethal injections especially painful.

A federal judge will not block the executions of two men on Monday, rejecting their claims that poor health could make the lethal injections especially painful, the Associated Press reports. U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker denied requests to stop the executions for Jack Jones and Marcel Williams, both of which are scheduled for Monday night. Williams argues that his obesity and diabetes could make the lethal injections too painful. Jones argues that his diabetes, high blood pressure and other conditions could cause him to suffer an “extended and painful death.”

Arkansas had scheduled eight executions over an 11-day period before the end of April, when its supply of one lethal injection drug expires. The first three executions were canceled because of court decisions. Legal rulings have put at least one other in doubt. Ledell Lee was executed Thursday in the state’s first execution since 2005.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Arkansas Executes Killer After Week of Legal Chaos

Ledell Lee died of a lethal injection four minutes before his death warrant was due to expire. Three more executions still are set for next week.

Arkansas overcame court challenges that derailed three executions, putting to death an inmate for the first time in nearly a dozen years as part of a plan that would have been the nation’s most ambitious since the death penalty was restored in 1976, the Associated Press reports. Ledell Lee’s lethal injection last night capped a chaotic week of legal wrangling that left the state scrambling to salvage any part of its attempt to execute eight men before one of its drugs expires at the end of April. Lee, 51, was pronounced dead at 11:56 p.m., four minutes before his death warrant was due to expire. He was put on death row for the 1993 death of his neighbor Debra Reese, whom he struck 36 times with a tire tool her husband had given her for protection.

The state originally set four double executions over an 11-day period in April. The eight executions would have been the most by a state in such a compressed period since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. The first three executions were canceled this week by courts. Two more inmates are set to die Monday, and one next Thursday. Another inmate scheduled for execution next week has received a stay. The U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for Lee’s execution less than an hour before his death warrant was set to expire, rejecting a round of last-minute appeals from the condemned inmate’s attorneys. “Arkansas’ decision to rush through the execution of Mr. Lee just because its supply of lethal drugs are expiring at the end of the month denied him the opportunity to conduct DNA testing that could have proven his innocence,” said Nina Morrison of the Innocence Project.

 

from https://thecrimereport.org

Arkansas Cases Reflect U.S. Death Penalty’s Troubles

“The ship has far too many leaks, large and small, to reach its destination reliably,” Eric Freedman, a law professor at Hofstra University, tells the New York Times. “The Arkansas example vividly shows the courts scrambling to patch some of them at the last second.”

The difficulties that have frustrated Arkansas’s plan to execute eight prisoners in 10 days are a vivid example of the troubled state of the death penalty, the New York Times reports. “The ship has far too many leaks, large and small, to reach its destination reliably,” said Eric Freedman, a law professor at Hofstra University. “The Arkansas example vividly shows the courts scrambling to patch some of them at the last second.” One difficulties facing Arkansas and other states is practical: The lethal chemicals used to execute death row inmates are getting harder to find. Another is legal: Courts even in conservative states like Arkansas are receptive to claims from the defense lawyers who make every available argument to spare their clients’ lives, even temporarily.

The biggest obstacle may be cultural: Support for the death penalty, as measured by use, is at its lowest point since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated it in 1976. Courts around the nation imposed 30 death sentences last year, down from 315 in 1996, the highest total in recent decades. Similarly, there were just 20 executions in 2016, a decline from the 98 executions in 1999, the highest in the modern era. In another development, after a nearly two-year standoff between death penalty states and the federal government, the Food and Drug Administration formally blocked shipments of thousands of illegal execution drugs on their way to Texas and Arizona, BuzzFeed News reports. The move sets up a potential legal battle between death penalty states and the Trump administration.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Ninety on California Death Row Are Over 65

If the state starts executing prisoners again under a proposition approved by voters, there is a strong chance it will kill several elderly inmates.

California’s death row houses more senior citizens than most of the state’s nursing homes, the Sacramento Bee reports. Ninety California death-row inmates are at least 65 years old. The number of seniors on death row has grown by nearly 500 percent since early 2006, when the state housed 16 seniors. California has not executed a prisoner since 2006, largely due to legal challenges to its lethal injection protocol. California voters approved Proposition 66 in November, demanding that the state speed up the death penalty process. Its implementation is on hold as the state Supreme Court rules on its constitutionality.

If California starts executing prisoners again, there is a strong chance that it will kill several elderly inmates. Condemned inmates over 65 committed their crimes an average of 31 years ago; a large number of their sentences have been upheld by the California Supreme Court. Executing the elderly rarely happens in the U.S.; just 19 of the 1,448 U.S. executions during the last 40 years have involved a killer over the age of 65, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Arkansas Executions on Hold As State Files Appeals

The state had planned to execute eight inmates in 10 days, but a series of court rulings has halted those plans. Appeals by the state are pending.

All executions are on hold in Arkansas after a judge issued a restraining order against the use of a key lethal injection drug yesterday, CNN reports. The state had planned to execute eight inmates over 10 days starting this past Monday, before its supply of the drug runs out at the end of the month. Court decisions both from the state and U.S. Supreme Courts had granted all eight inmates a temporary reprieve, but some were overturned.

The state Supreme Court granted Stacey Johnson a stay ,last night ruling 4-3 that he has a right to an evidentiary hearing after he requested DNA testing to prove his innocence. Johnson was convicted of murder in 1997, and had been scheduled to be executed today.  A Pulaski County judge granted a restraining order against use of the lethal injection drug vecuronium bromide, which the state had purchased from distributor McKesson Medical-Surgical. That ruling put Ledell Lee’s execution on hold. Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge appealed the rulings to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. Lee and Johnson are the only two inmates among the group of eight to consistently maintain their innocence.

from https://thecrimereport.org

TX Death Penalty Case at High Court Raises Lawyering Issue

The Supreme Court, with Justice Neil Gorsuch on board, will hear the case of Erick Davila, who contends that his ineffective legal help during appeals should make his death penalty invalid.

The now-nine Supreme Court justices will hear arguments Monday in the death penalty case of a Texas  man who killed a 5-year-old and her grandmother during a children’s birthday party, the Texas Tribune reports. The issue in the case of Erick Davila, 30, focuses on a legal distinction between ineffective lawyering in the trial court and during state appeals. New Justice Neil Gorsuch ruled against an argument similar to Davila’s when he sat on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Davila landed on death row eight years ago after the 2008 murders. He drove to the house of a rival gang member, Jerry Stevenson, and opened fire on the porch before speeding off. For a jury to have found Davila guilty of capital murder, they needed to have determined that he intended to kill multiple people. Davila’s main defense in trial was that he intended to kill only Stevenson. Davila’s lawyer, Seth Kretzer, argues that the judge used a misleading jury instruction and that lawyers in two appeals didn’t raise that issue. He says the death penalty should be voided because of ineffective appellate counsel. Texas’ top lawyer, Scott Keller, backed by 30  other state attorneys general, maintains that, “The right to appellate counsel, while surely important, is not foundational and cannot justify the same treatment as the right to trial counsel.”

from https://thecrimereport.org

Two Arkansas Inmates Try To Block Executions Tomorrow

As Arkansas tries to execute eight men in 11 days, two inmates won delays on Monday. Two more are seeking to put off executions scheduled for tomorrow, insisting that they are innocent of murder.

Lawyers for two Arkansas inmates condemned to die tomorrow insist they are innocent, and one of them says advanced DNA techniques could show he didn’t kill a woman in 1993. Their strategy to win stays of execution differs from the first two inmates who faced the death chamber this week. They were spared Monday by arguing they should not be put to death because of mental health issues, the Associated Press reports. Arkansas officials are vowing to press ahead with tomorrow’s executions despite the setback to plans to resume capital punishment after a 12-year hiatus.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson originally set out an aggressive schedule of eight lethal injections in 11 days that would have marked the most inmates put to death by a state in such a short period since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. The state set the compressed schedule because its supply of one lethal injection drug expires at the end of April. One inmates set to die, Stacey Johnson, says advanced DNA techniques could show that he didn’t kill Carol Heath, a 25-year-old mother of two, in 1993. The other inmate scheduled for tomorrow, Ledell Lee, argued unsuccessfully yesterday in a Little Rock courtroom that he be given a chance to test blood and hair evidence that could prove he didn’t beat 26-year-old Debra Reese to death during a 1993 robbery.

 

from https://thecrimereport.org

Arkansas Supreme Court Blocks Two Executions

State court says two men should not be executed, pending the outcome of a U.S. Supreme Court case being argued next Monday. Arkansas still hopes to conduct executions in the next week.

The Arkansas Supreme Court blocked executions of two inmates scheduled for last night, thwarting plans by Gov. Asa Hutchinson to put to death six men before the state’s lethal-injection drugs expire this month, the Wall Street Journal reports. The court postponed the executions of Bruce Ward and Don Davis pending the outcome of a case in the U.S. Supreme Court called McWilliams v. Dunn. The justices are considering whether poor criminal defendants are entitled to independent experts to help them prepare their defense. Arguments are scheduled for next Monday.

Before Ward and Davis received their death sentences, courts denied their requests for funding for independent experts to evaluate their mental health, though both exhibited signs of severe mental illness. Nicholas Bronni, Arkansas deputy solicitor general, said the decision was “based on a misinterpretation of federal law.” He said the state would “seek immediate review.” The U.S. Supreme Court later declined an appeal from the state’s attorney general to lift the stay that would temporarily halt the executions of the two men, the Associated Press reported. The orders don’t affect the state’s plans to carry out the remaining executions scheduled for April 20, 24 and 27. State and federal courts are working through legal challenges filed in response to  Hutchinson’s announcement in February that Arkansas would execute eight men in less than two weeks, an unprecedented schedule that has energized the death-penalty debate nationwide.

 

from https://thecrimereport.org

Delay in Arkansas Executions Seen as Part of Larger Pattern

Experts say a number of factors have prompted a steep decline in executions in the U.S. since the late 1990s, including challenges based on DNA evidence, litigation over the drugs used in executions, and increased use of life without parole as a sentencing option.

An unprecedented series of recent court rulings that halted the execution of eight Arkansas prisoners reflects a decades-long national trend that has sharply curtailed the use of capital punishment, reports USA Today. Death penalty experts say the court decisions are in keeping with a number of factors prompting executions in the U.S. to decline, including challenges based on DNA evidence, litigation over the drugs used in executions, and increased use of life without parole as a sentencing option. Prisoner executions nationwide have plummeted over the past two decades. There were 20 prisoner executions nationwide in 2016, the fewest since 1991.

The growth of life without parole as a sentencing option in many states, as well as the high cost of prosecuting a capital case, has led prosecutors to push for the death penalty in fewer cases. Attention given to wrongful convictions and the use of DNA evidence have led to closer scrutiny of death penalty cases by both the legal system and the general public. Although lethal injection became the nation’s primary method of execution in the 1990s, recent sustained challenges by death row inmates and death penalty opponents have gained traction in the court system, says Deborah Denno, a law professor at Fordham University.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Federal Appeals Court Blocks Ohio Executions

By a 2-1 vote, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit upheld a ruling barring the state from using a three-drug protocol announced last fall. An execution had been scheduled for May 10.

There hasn’t been an execution in Ohio in nearly 39 months, and it looks like the wait might be extended. A 2-1 decision by a panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday blocked Ohio executions, which had been scheduled to resume May 10 with Ronald Phillips, the Columbus Dispatch reports. The panel supported a ruling by U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Michael Merz that barred the state from using a three-drug protocol announced last fall.

The federal court panel said the state cannot use the paralytic drugs cited in the execution protocol released Oct. 6 by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. The ruling confirmed problems with a sedative drug, midazolam, used in the troubled execution of Dennis McGuire in 2014 and in lethal injections in other states. “We are bound by the district court’s actual finding that ‘use of midazolam as the first drug in a three-drug execution protocol will create a substantial risk of serious harm,’” the appellate panel said. The judges chided the state for making “false representations that there was ‘no possibility’ the state would use those drugs ‘going forward.’ ” Allen Bohnert, a federal public defender representing Phillips, said, “Ohio should conduct no more executions until it is able to develop a lethal-injection protocol that will comport with all state and federal laws.”

 

from https://thecrimereport.org