TN Puts Second Inmate to Death By Electrocution

David Earl Miller, 61, was the longest-serving inmate on Tennessee’s death row. A federal appeals court refused to delay the execution because Miller and other inmates had filed suit challenging the constitutionality of lethal injection and the electric chair.

Tennessee death row inmate David Earl Miller, 61, was electrocuted Thursday evening. He is the third person executed this year and was the longest-serving inmate on Tennessee’s death row, The Tennessean reports. Miller was sentenced to death for the 1981 murder of 23-year-old Lee Standifer of Knoxville, who was mentally disabled. Both the U.S. Supreme Court and Gov. Bill Haslam declined to intervene and stop the scheduled execution. No one from Standifer’s family came to witness the death.

The execution occurred similarly to Edmund Zagorski’s electrocution a month earlier. Media spoke with Standifer’s mother on the phone. She said her daughter lived a life of love, of passion and ultimately her family didn’t want Miller to ever be out on the street again. “In the state of Tennessee, we reserve the ultimate and irrevocable penalty of death only for the most heinous of crimes. Lee Standifer was a special needs woman living a full and productive life,” said Lt. Gov. Randy McNally. Miller was one of four death row inmates to file suit in November, arguing that a firing squad would be more humane than either of the state’s two execution methods. Tennessee law does not allow a firing squad execution. A federal appeals court refused to delay Miller’s execution while he challenged the constitutionality of lethal injection and the electric chair.


Texan Executed After Prison Break-Out, Crime Spree

Joseph Garcia, a member of the “Texas 7” who was involved in a brazen prison break-out nearly two decades ago, was executed after a slew of last-minute appeals.

Nearly two decades after the brazen prison break-out and cross-state crime spree that landed him on America’s Most Wanted and on death row, “Texas 7” prisoner Joseph Garcia was executed Tuesday night, the Houston Chronicle reports. In recent weeks, the 47-year-old who was convicted in the Christmas Eve killing of a North Texas police officer launched a slew of appeals, lawsuits, pleas for reprieve and requests for clemency. His last-minute legal moves raised questions about his initial conviction, the controversial “law of parties” and the source of the state’s lethal injection supplies. On Friday, the parole board rebuffed Garcia’s request for clemency, and lower courts turned down appeal after appeal.

“I am on death row because of the actions and intent of others and because I am one of the Texas Seven, case closed,” he wrote the Chronicle weeks before his scheduled execution. “Is it right that I should be murdered for something that I did not do?” To some friends and family of the slain policeman – Officer Aubrey Hawkins – the answer is clear. Seagoville police Sgt. Karl Bailey, a long-time friend of the Hawkins family, said, “The whole thing was sparked by the escape from prison, the burglaries – it was a crime spree.” At the time of the breakout in December 2000, Garcia was locked up in a prison south of San Antonio, serving a 50-year sentence stemming from a boozy fight that ended with one man dead. Garcia was convicted of murder, but he has long maintained that it was the other man – Miguel Luna – who attacked him, and that the fatal stabbing was only in self-defense. Behind bars, he made friends with a charismatic thief named George Rivas. They bonded over a “poor man’s spread” of prisoner-made food. Then, they plotted an escape.


Secrecy Conceals ‘Incompetence’ in Lethal Injections: Report

States are concealing controversial information regarding the use of illegally imported drugs, questionable drug sources, and unqualified executioners, says a report released by the Death Penalty Information Center.

Secrecy is driving a rise in inhumane executions by lethal injection across the U.S., according to the Death Penalty Information Center

States are repeatedly concealing controversial information regarding the use of illegally imported drugs, questionable drug sources, and unqualified executioners, says a report released by the Center, an advocacy group that lobbies against the death penalty.

“Without transparency, cases of incompetence or misconduct can continue unchecked,” writes Robin Konrad, the principal author of the report.

“Enabled by their secrecy laws, many states have violated state and federal laws, breached contracts, obtained drugs from unfit suppliers, and hired incompetent executioners. Because much of that information remains hidden, the people may never know how often and pervasively this misconduct occurs.”

Though lethal injection was supposed to be a more humane method of execution than hanging, the firing squad, or the electric chair, it hasn’t been as effective as originally stated. Reports continue to emerge of incidents where prisoners were still awake and experiencing suffocation and excruciating pain during executions.

These problems have increased with the use of new drug formulas.

One controversial drug is midazolam. In 2017, midazolam was used in 11 executions. In more than 60 percent of those executions, eyewitnesses reported problems such as labored breathing to gasping, heaving, convulsions, and clenched fists, according to the report.

In 2016, Alabama used midazolam to execute Ronald Smith. The state concealed most of its information surrounding executions—including hiding its protocol from the public, according to the report.

The report notes that Smith’s request for information about the drug had been denied, and without that information, his constitutional challenges to the state’s use of midazolam were rejected by the courts. During his execution, Smith gasped for breath for nearly 15 minutes of the 34-minute-long execution, and a media witness observed Smith heaving and clenching a fist and noticed that one of his eyes appeared to be open.

The report outlines how states have adopted laws and policies to make information about executions inaccessible to the public, to pharmaceutical companies, and to prisoners.

It also explains how government policies that lack transparency and accountability permit states to violate the law and “disregard fundamental principles of a democratic government while carrying out the harshest punishment the law allows.”

A full copy of the report can be found here.

J. Gabriel Ware is a TCR news intern.


Kavanaugh Likely Deciding Vote on Missouri Execution

The justices debated on Tuesday a constitutional way to execute Missourian Russell Bucklew, who has a rare medical condition. New Justice Brett Kavanaugh questioned the state’s attorney sharply.

The Supreme Court spent what the Washington Post calls a “gruesome hour” Tuesday debating a constitutional way to execute a Missouri man with a rare medical condition. The likely decider, Justice Brett Kavanaugh, joined the court’s liberals with tough questions for the state. Modern and ancient execution methods, including a firing squad, electrocution, hanging, lethal gas, and being burned at the stake, all were mentioned during the court’s assessment of ways to kill Russell Bucklew without violating the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Missouri wants to inject a single drug, pentobarbital, to carry out the long-delayed execution. Bucklew suffers from the rare disease cavernous hemangioma. It causes blood-filled tumors to grow in his head, neck and throat, which his attorneys say could rupture during lethal injection and he could choke to death on his own blood.

The high court has considered Bucklew’s fate for years. In March, it voted 5 to 4 to delay his execution and hear his argument that he be killed using gas, something Missouri authorizes but has never done. Missouri’s lawyers say Bucklew cannot prove his condition would cause him an abnormal amount of suffering and that his legal fight is a ploy to delay his punishment. Justice Anthony Kennedy was a member of the majority. He has been replaced by Kavanaugh, who was never called upon to rule on an execution while on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Kavanaugh directed all of his questions to Missouri Solicitor General D. John Sauer. “Are you saying even if the method creates gruesome and brutal pain you can still do it because there’s no alternative?” Kavanaugh asked. Sauer replied that under the court’s previous rulings, Bucklew would have to come up with an alternative manner of execution acceptable to the state.


Four Tennessee Inmates Seek Firing Squad Execution

The death row inmates filed suit after Tennessee carried out an execution by electric chair. Only three other states allow firing squads.

Four Tennessee death row inmates challenging the constitutionality of capital punishment  state are asking a federal judge to allow them to bypass lethal injections or the electric chair in favor of death by firing squad, reports NPR. The request came in a lawsuit filed after last week’s execution of Edmund Zagorski, who died in the electric chair, a method he had requested instead of death by lethal injection. Zagorski’s attorneys had argued that electrocution was quicker and less painful than the three-drug lethal injection protocol used by Tennessee and denounced by some experts as a form of torture. The four inmates include David Earl Miller, who is scheduled to be executed on Dec. 6 for the 1981 rape and murder of a 23-year-old mentally handicapped woman. Miller is Tennessee’s longest-standing death row inmate.

Under Tennessee, death row inmates may choose the method of their execution 30 days before the execution date. The suit says that the state has the firearms, ammunition and trained personnel necessary to carry out a firing squad execution, The Tennessean reports. Trained professionals reduce error rates in firing-squad executions, the suit says. Should there be human error, procedure for military executions have a back-up plan: the ‘coup de grace,’ which consists of holding the muzzle of a handgun ‘just above the ear and one foot from the head’ to complete the execution. Only three other states — Mississippi, Oklahoma and Utah — still allow the use of firing squads, although lethal injection remains their primary method of execution. In California, prison officials reported the deaths of two death row inmates — both multiple murderers — in two apparent suicides:  Andrew Urdiales, 54, and Virendra Govin, 51.


Tennessee Inmate Zagorski Dies in Electric Chair

Edmund Zagorski, who killed two men more than three decades ago, wanted to avoid the fate of Billy Ray Irick, another inmate whose death by lethal injection Zagorski regarded as torture.

Just before Edmund Zagorski was executed in Tennessee on Thursday night, he locked eyes with his attorney Kelley Henry and flashed a grin. She returned the expression. Zagorski, 63, urged those closest to him to keep a light mood as his death approached, The Tennessean reportsHis last words summed up his attitude: “Let’s rock.” Zagorski met his fate 34 years after he was convicted of killing two men. Zagorski’s smile only revived stinging grief for family members of his victims, John Dale Dotson and Jimmy Porter.

After the state of Tennessee strapped Zagorski into the electric chair at Riverbend Maximum Security Institution, 1,750 volts of electricity killed him. Dozens of death row visitors, clergy and capital punishment opponents kept a vigil outside. He wanted to avoid the fate of Billy Ray Irick, a Tennessee death row inmate who was executed by lethal injection in August. Henry, Zagorski’s attorney, argued in court that Irick was tortured to death for nearly 20 minutes. The families of Dotson and Porter have spent decades hearing the gruesome details of their loved ones’ deaths each time the Zagorski case returned to the headlines. Kim Dotson Rochelle was two weeks away from her 13th birthday when she buried her father. Every day since, she’s looked at her own reflection in the mirror and been reminded of the man she lost. Like most of her family, Rochelle waited for years to hear something, anything from her father’s killer. There was never any apology, never any reason why he killed the two men, she said. John Dale Dotson’s widow Marsha and his nephew Richard Hicks also said they’d never heard from the inmate during his 34 years of incarceration.


Execution of a Death Penalty ‘Volunteer’ Despite IQ Evidence

South Dakota has executed a man whose lawyers say was too intellectually disabled to be put to death constitutionally.

South Dakota’s execution Monday night of Rodney Berget capped a two-year legal battle over whether the inmate was too intellectually disabled to be constitutionally put to death. The Sioux Falls Argus Leader reported Berget’s execution was carried out six hours later than expected because of a final legal tussle over arguments explored in this report by The Intercept. Berget, serving life in prison for a rape and kidnapping, pleaded guilty to killing a prison guard during an escape attempt and asked to be sentenced to death. Like many death-penalty “volunteers,” Berget’s mental capacity became an issue during appeals that revealed evidence unexamined by his defense counsel: that as a child he was found to have an IQ of 70 and competed in the Special Olympics, The Intercept reported.

Under the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Atkins v. Virginia, people with intellectual disabilities are ineligible for execution. Dr. Stephen Greenspan, the most cited authority on intellectual disability in capital cases, recently reviewed the records in Berget’s case and called it “one of the most outrageous” cases he’s seen. But the trial court judge and higher courts ultimately favored the state’s expert testimony over Berget’s in ruling that his execution could proceed.



Electric Chair Execution Set in Tennessee for Nov. 1

Edmund Zagorski asked to die by electrocution rather than a controversial lethal injection method that experts said causes several minutes of severe pain. A court ordered the state to comply.

The Tennessee Supreme Court set Nov. 1 for the execution  of Edmund Zagorski after a  delay to accommodate his request for the electric chair, The Tennessean reports. The execution date for Zagorski, 63, seems final. The U.S. Supreme Court already rejected delays based on other remaining legal challenges. Gov. Bill Haslam gave Zagorski a brief reprieve this month to allow the state to prepare to use the electric chair. Zagorski asked to die by electrocution rather than a controversial lethal injection method that experts said causes several minutes of severe pain.

The state initially denied his request, saying he had asked too late, but a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order barring the state from using lethal injection to kill Zagorski. Haslam said he stepped in to give the state extra time to get ready for the electrocution. The Department of Correction protocol calls for additional staff training in the lead up to an execution using the electric chair. Zagorski faces death for the 1983 killings of John Dale Dotson and Jimmy Porter. He was convicted of shooting them, slitting their throats and stealing their money and a truck. The two men had expected to buy 100 pounds of marijuana from Zagorski. Justice Sharon Lee, who has been a vocal critic of the way the high court has scheduled new executions, dissented from the order setting Zagorski’s new date.


Only 49% Say Death Penalty is Applied Fairly

The percentage has dipped below 50 percent for the first time since Gallup began asking the question in 2000. The survey reports 49 percent of Americans say the death penalty is applied fairly, and 45 percent say it is applied unfairly.

The share of Americans who say they believe the death penalty is applied fairly has hit a record-low of 49 percent, says a new Gallup survey, the Hill reports. The percentage has dipped below 50 percent for the first time since Gallup began asking the question in 2000. The survey says 49 percent of Americans say the death penalty is applied fairly, and 45 percent say it is applied unfairly. Among Republicans, 73 percent say the death penalty is applied fairly, more than twice as large as the share of Democrats who say the same – just 31 percent.

Americans are also more likely than ever to say that the death penalty is applied too often, at 29 percent. Some 37 percent said the death penalty is not used often enough, a significant drop from its highest level in 2005, when 53 percent shared that view. The poll was conducted before the Washington state Supreme Court ruled the state’s death penalty is unconstitutional, saying it is imposed “in an arbitrary and racially biased manner.” There are now just 30 states that allow the death penalty.


Washington High Court Strikes Down Death Penalty

The unanimous ruling made Washington the 20th state to abolish capital punishment. The last execution in the state was in 2010.

The Washington state Supreme Court unanimously struck down the death penalty as unconstitutional Thursday, ruling the state’s 37-year-old capital-punishment law “invalid because it is imposed in an arbitrary and racially biased manner.” The ruling in the appeal by murderer Allen Gregory means he and seven other men now on death row for aggravated-murder convictions will have their sentences commuted to life in prison without a chance for parole, the Seattle Times reports. Chief Justice Mary Fairhurst said the court concluded that the death penalty violates Washington’s constitutional prohibition on “cruel punishment” and “lacks fundamental fairness.” The opinion cited an analysis of capital-murder cases by University of Washington sociologists that found significant “county-by-county variations” in death sentences, and that black defendants are about four times more likely to get the death penalty than white offenders.

The last inmate to be executed in Washington was Cal Coburn Brown in 2010. “The death penalty is unequally applied — sometimes by where the crime took place, or the county of residence, or the available budgetary resources at any given point in time, or the race of the defendant,” Fairhurst wrote on behalf of five justices. Four other justices agreed, but emphasized that “additional constitutional factors” also undermine the legality of Washington’s death penalty. Washington becomes the 20th state to overturn or abolish death as a legal punishment. Three previous versions of Washington’s death penalty were invalidated by the Supreme Court, but the state revised the punishment each time. Because Thursday’s ruling was based on Washington’s constitution, it cannot be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, said Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, a death-penalty opponent. Gov. Jay Inslee, who once supported capital punishment but issued a moratorium on executions in 2014, said he expected the ruling to end the debate over capital punishment in the state.