Court Orders Review Of Schizophrenic TX Inmate

Scott Panetti is a poster child for advocates who argue against the death penalty for the mentally ill. A diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic, during his trial more than 20 years ago, he waived his right to counsel and attempted to call the pope, John F. Kennedy and Jesus Christ as witnesses.

Scott Panetti is a poster child for advocates who argue against the death penalty for the mentally ill. A diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic, during his trial more than 20 years ago, he waived his right to counsel and attempted to call the pope, John F. Kennedy and Jesus Christ as witnesses . . .

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VA Executes Murderer After Gov Denies Clemency

William Morva, 35, was put to death for murdering an unarmed security guard and a deputy sheriff during an escape. Lawyers argued that the jury did not know of his serious mental illness but Gov. Terry McAuliffe said Morva “did not suffer from any condition that would have prevented him from committing these acts consciously and fully understanding their consequences.”

Virginia executed William Morva last night for the murders of an unarmed security guard and a deputy sheriff during an escape in in 2006, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports. Morva, 35, whose lawyers said suffered from a chronic psychotic disorder, was pronounced dead at 9:15 p.m. In 2006, while in jail awaiting trial on attempted robbery and other charges, Morva was taken to a hospital for treatment of minor injuries. He assaulted a deputy who was escorting him, knocking him unconscious and taking his handgun. Morva encountered Derrick McFarland, 32, a hospital security guard, and shot him in the face. The next day Morva shot Eric Sutphin, 40, a deputy sheriff who was searching for him, in the back of the head.

In a clemency petition to Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Morva’s lawyers argued that the jury did not know of his serious mental illness, diagnosed by a forensic psychiatrist years after his trial. McAuliffe said Morva’s pre-trial diagnoses by experts were valid, and that the jury considered them and nevertheless sentenced Morva to death. “These experts thoroughly evaluated Mr. Morva and testified to the jury that, while he may have personality disorders, he did not suffer from any condition that would have prevented him from committing these acts consciously and fully understanding their consequences,” said the governor. He added, “We also consulted with the Department of Corrections, whose mental health staff have monitored him weekly and assessed him quarterly for the past nine years and have never reported any evidence of delusional disorder or severe mental illness.”


Virginia Woman Seeks Clemency for Father’s Killer

Rachel Sutphin, a daughter of the sheriff’s deputy killed by William Morva, asked Gov. Terry McAuliffe to stop Morva’s scheduled execution tomorrow. Supporters of the clemency campaign say the jury that sentenced Morva to death was not informed of his severe mental illness.

The daughter of a slain sheriff’s deputy urged Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe to stop the execution of William Morva, the man who killed her father and a hospital security guard in 2006, the Washington Post reports. The statement from Rachel Sutphin backing clemency for Morva comes one day before he is scheduled to be executed. Sutphin adds a powerful, personal voice to a growing number of state lawmakers urging McAuliffe to commute Morva’s death sentence.

Morva, 35, was convicted in 2008 for fatally shooting Cpl. Eric Sutphin and hospital guard Derrick McFarland after escaping from custody. His clemency campaign has attracted local and international supporters who say the jury that sentenced Morva to death was not informed of his severe mental illness. The effort comes as lawmakers in eight states have proposed eliminating capital punishment for people with severe mental illnesses. In a statement yesterday, Rachel Sutphin wrote, “I am against the death penalty for religious and moral reasons. I have fought and will continue to fight for clemency for all death row inmates until Virginia declares the death penalty unconstitutional. I have sent my own letter to the governor showing my support for clemency.” Sutphin, a 20-year-old student at Virginia Tech, is one of the sheriff deputy’s two daughters.


FL Death Penalty System in ‘Chaos’ Under High Court Ruling

Florida’s death row will continue to shrink as inmates are resentenced. The U.S. Supreme Court last year ruled that the state wrongly limited jurors to an advisory role.

The impact of a historic U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Florida’s death penalty system is finally emerging as the state’s death row population is smaller than it was more than a decade ago and will keep shrinking for a long time, reports the Miami Herald. Florida has not executed an inmate in 18 months. No inmates haves been sent to death row in more than a year, a sign that prosecutors are not trying as many first-degree murder cases because of uncertainties in the sentencing system. “There is no reason to sign a death warrant if you know it’s going to get delayed,” said State Attorney Bernie McCabe of Pinellas and Pasco counties. “I think judges are reluctant to if they don’t know what the rules are.” The death row population now stands at 362, the lowest number since 2004; only a year ago, the population was 389.

Many more cells are certain to be emptied as the Florida Supreme Court continues to vacate death sentences because they violate a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down the state’s death penalty sentencing system because it limited jurors to an advisory role, a violation of the Sixth Amendment right to a trial by jury. In four new cases, the state’s high court upheld first-degree murder convictions last Thursday but ordered that all four defendants must be resentenced because of the high court decision, a step that could spare any or all of them a trip to the execution chamber. Up to 150 death sentences could be reversed or be sent back to trial courts for resentencing hearings in other cases in which the jury’s recommendation of a death sentence was not unanimous. “I’ll use one word: ‘chaos,’ ” said retired Supreme Court Justice Gerald Kogan. “It’s just a mess.”


Divided Appeals Court Upholds Ohio Execution Method

An 8-6 vote will allow the state’s first execution in three and one-half years. Ronald Phillips is scheduled to be put to death on July 26, unless the Supreme Court blocks it.

An Ohio death row inmate will ask the Supreme Court to block his execution, after a divided appeals court upheld the state’s lethal injection protocol, the Columbus Dispatch reports. By an 8-6 vote, the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit overturned a 2-1 panel decision that had barred the state from using a three-drug protocol. The ruling means the state can proceed with the execution of Ronald Phillips on July 26. Phillips, 43, was sentenced to death for the 1993 beating, rape and murder of Sheila Marie Evans, his girlfriend’s 3-year-old daughter.

Phillips would be the first Ohioan to be put to death in 3 1/2 years. More than two-dozen executions are scheduled in the next three years. In the state’s last execution, Dennis McGuire struggled against his restraints, gasped for air, choked and coughed for 20 minutes before succumbing on Jan. 16, 2014. The state now plans to use a combination of midazolam, rocuronium bromide and potassium chloride. Prisoners argue that the protocol “would cause them to suffer severe pain in violation of the Eighth Amendment,” which prohibits “cruel and unusual punishment” in executions. The appeals court majority said some risk of pain ”‘is inherent in any method of execution — no matter how humane.” The dissent complained that the majority had not allowed a trial on the issue in a lower court.



Will VA Gov. Spare Mentally Ill Death Row Inmate?

William Morva is scheduled to die by lethal injection on July 6. A clemency petition pending with Gov. Terry McAuliffe contends that the jury that convicted him was not presented with full evidence of his mental illness.

Unless Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe intervenes, William Morva will die by lethal injection on July 6. In a clemency petition filed last week, forensic psychiatrist Donna Maddox describes her examination of Morva in 2014, the most thorough evaluation to date of his symptoms and medical history. Maddox diagnosed Morva with delusional disorder, a severe mental illness he had likely suffered from for years, The Intercept reports.

In 2006, Morva, then 24, fatally shot a sheriff’s deputy after an escape from the Montgomery County Jail near Blacksburg, Va. Morva had been awaiting trial on armed robbery charges. A jury sentenced him to death. The jurors never heard how Morva went from a free-spirited teenager to a brooding, paranoid man, trapped in what one friend would later describe as a “fantasy land.” Jurors had no way of understanding his mental illness, his petition for clemency argues. If they had, they would likely have voted to spare his life, says The Intercept. Unlike other states, there are no clemency hearings for people facing execution in Virginia. Nor are there recommendations from the board of pardon and parole. The decision is the governor’s alone.


SC Man Says He Killed Fellow Inmates to Get Death Penalty

South Carolina inmate Denver Simmons tells the Associated Press he and a fellow prisoner strangled and beat four fellow inmates to death so that Simmons could get the death penalty.

One by one, South Carolina inmate Denver Simmons recalled, he and his partner lured inmates into his cell. William Scruggs was promised cookies in exchange for doing some laundry; Jimmy Ham thought he was coming to snort some crushed pills. Over the course of a half-hour, four men accepted Simmons’ hospitality. None of them made it out alive. Calmly, matter-of-factly, Simmons, 35, told the Associated Press how he and Jacob Philip strangled and beat fellow inmates to death and hid their bodies to avoid spooking the next victims. Why did they do it? Convicted in the cold-blooded shootings of a mother and her teenage son, Simmons knew he would never leave prison alive. Tired of life behind bars, a failure at suicide, he hoped the killings would land him on death row.

Officials say Philip and Simmons have confessed to the April 7 slayings. Simmons called the AP three times. He described a twisted compact between two men who had “a whole lot in common” from the moment they met — most important, both despair and a willingness to kill again. South Carolina hasn’t carried out an execution in six years, and court challenges likely will keep capital punishment on hold for the foreseeable future. Simmons believes he’ll do the next 10 years in solitary and probably get another four life sentences tacked onto the two he was already doing. “I did it all, I did it for nothing,” he said. “So that makes it especially bad for me, you know?”


Texan Loses Death Penalty Appeal in 5-4 High Court Vote

Erick Davila claimed ineffective assistance from lawyers in state appeals. The Supreme Court majority said he did not have a constitutional right to counsel in state postconviction proceedings.

A Texas death row inmate could face execution after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against him in a 5-4 decision split among ideological lines, the Texas Tribune reports. Erick Davila was convicted in the 2008 shooting deaths of a 5-year-old girl and her grandmother. The case revolved around claims of ineffective assistance of counsel during state appeals. Appellate courts have ruled differently on the issue, a situation that often prompts the Supreme Court to step in. In an opinion by Justice Clarence Thomas, the court’s majority held that the different types of lawyers should not be treated the same. “Because a prisoner does not have a constitutional right to counsel in state post-conviction proceedings, ineffective assistance in those proceedings does not qualify as cause to excuse a procedural default,” wrote Thomas, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch.

Justice Stephen Breyer dissented, joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. “The fact that, according to Department of Justice statistics, nearly a third of convictions or sentences in capital cases are overturned at some stage of review suggests the practical importance of the appeal right, particularly in a capital case such as this one,” Breyer said. Davila fatally shot a rival gang member’s 5-year-old daughter and mother during a child’s birthday party. Avila, now 30, claims he only meant to kill a rival. If the jury had believed Davila only intended to kill one person, he would have been ineligible for a capital murder verdict.


5 States Make Up U.S. Execution Clique, But Why?

Texas, Florida, Georgia, Missouri and Oklahoma have accounted for 90 percent of the 122 executions carried out in the U.S. over the past three years. One expert says criminal justice processes and incentives make those states capital punishment outliers.

While polls suggest that support for the death penalty has ebbed in the United States, five states have become the driving force behind capital punishment, accounting for 90 percent of the 122 executions carried out in the past three years, reports the Washington Post. Texas alone accounts for more than one-third of executions. Florida, Georgia and Missouri each account for about 1 in 7 executions, and Oklahoma accounts for about 1 in 12. The other 45 states collectively account for only 10 percent of prisoner executions, even though the law in 30 of those states allows capital punishment.

What motivates these outliers? All five are politically conservative states within or bordering the South. Yet a number of states with similar political demographics–Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, North Carolina and Tennessee, for example–have executed no one in recent years. Stanford Law School Professor Robert Weisberg points to state-specific processes and incentives as drivers of the death penalty in a subset of conservative states. He says, “Texas has elected judges. It is also located in the prosecutor-friendly 5th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals. Although the Supreme Court occasionally slaps down the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and its federal accomplice, the Fifth Circuit, for allowing egregiously unfair capital trials, on the whole those lower courts have been happy to give Texas prosecutors a generously wide berth.”


Georgia Seeks Death Penalty for Two Escaped Convicts

Escapees Ricky Dubose and Donnie Russell Rowe were denied bail at arraignment in Georgia on Wednesday following their return from Tennessee, where they were apprehended last week. They are accused of killing two prison officers during their escape.

A Georgia prosecutor said Wednesday he will seek the death penalty against a pair of inmates accused of killing two correctional officers while escaping from a prison transport bus, reports District Attorney Stephen Bradley made the announcement at a Putnam County court appearance for Ricky Dubose and Donnie Russell Rowe. The two were back in Georgia after being apprehended last Thursday night in Tennessee following a three-day manhunt. They had been held in a Rutherford County, Tenn., jail since they surrendered to a 35-year-old Mufreesboro father.

Dubose and Rowe are being charged with two counts of murder and one count each of escape and hijacking a motor vehicle. They were denied bond on Wednesday. In response to a reporter’s shouted question, Rowe said Wednesday he would plead not guilty. He and Dubose were then hustled out of the courtroom. They were wearing waist chains and leg irons. Their court appearance came the day after the funeral for the second of two correctional officers shot dead just before dawn June 13. Sgt. Christopher Monica’s funeral was Tuesday Milledgeville, Ga. The service for Sgt. Curtis Billue was on Saturday in McIntyre, Ga.