Arkansas Seeks Observers for Eight Executions

Prison director Wendy Kelley asked Rotary Club members for volunteers to see eight executions in 10 days next month.

The state of Arkansas, which plans to execute eight inmates in 10 days next month, is struggling to find enough people to watch them die, reports the New York Times. State law requires that at least six people witness an execution to ensure that the death penalty laws are properly followed. Finding that many volunteer witnesses to cover all of the scheduled executions has proved difficult, prompting correction director Wendy Kelley to seek volunteers personally. She has extended invitations at least to members of the Little Rock Rotary Club after delivering a keynote address on Tuesday.

“You seem to be a group that does not have felony backgrounds and are over 21,” elley told the Rotarians, said the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. “So if you’re interested in serving in that area, in this serious role, just call my office.” Member Bill Booker said some observers laughed at Kelley’s remarks. “It quickly became obvious that she was not kidding,” he said. Gov. Asa Hutchinson scheduled the executions of eight men — four black and four white, and all convicted of murder — from April 17 to 27.

from https://thecrimereport.org

FL Gov’s Backing of Death Penalty Bucks National Trend

Gov. Rick Scott’s move to replace a prosecutor who refused to seek the death penalty for an alleged cop killer seems counter to the national trend. Death penalties imposed around the U.S. fell from a peak of 315 in 1996 to 30 last year.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s move to replace a prosecutor who refused to seek the death penalty for an alleged cop killer has brought into sharp relief a nationwide shift away from capital punishment, the Wall Street Journal reports. Aramis Ayala, newly elected state attorney in Orlando, said she wouldn’t push for executions because of what she says are shortcomings in the criminal-justice system. Scott assigned the case to another prosecutor, prompting Ayala to argue that the governor doesn’t have the authority to remove her. The dispute has attracted attention at a time when the number of death penalties imposed has dwindled from a peak of 315 in 1996 to 30 last year. Ayala is the first African-American elected prosecutor in a Southern, tough-on-crime state with 381 people on death row, second behind California.

“You have a new prosecutor in a county with a history of aggressively using the death penalty saying this doesn’t work as a policy, at the same time the rest of the country is backing off from capital punishment and there is a hardening of support among proponents,” said Robert Dunham of the Death Penalty Information Center, which criticizes the way executions are administered. The 20 executions in five states last year were the fewest nationwide since 1991, amid a dwindling supply of lethal-injection drugs and mounting concerns over the cost of executions and potential racial bias. New Mexico, Illinois, Connecticut and Maryland have all outlawed capital punishment in the past eight years, leaving 31 states with death rows. In Florida, Delaware and Alabama, the death penalty is entangled in legal battles because judges, not juries, have imposed capital punishment. Courts have ruled the Florida and Delaware laws unconstitutional, though the U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider challenges to Alabama’s system.

from http://thecrimereport.org

Orlando Prosecutor Refuses to Pursue Death Penalties

State Attorney Aramis Ayala declares that, “Punishment is most effective when it happens consistently and swiftly. Neither describe the death penalty in this state.” Gov. Rick Scott removes her from the case of Markeith Loyd, charged with killing a police officer.

In a startling denunciation of capital punishment in a state with one of the largest death rows, the new chief prosecutor in Orlando said her office would no longer seek the death penalty, the New York Times reports. The decision by State Attorney Aramis Ayala of the Ninth Judicial Circuit could have widespread repercussions in Florida if other prosecutors follow suit. Nationwide, support for the death penalty has steadily declined, along with the number of executions. In Florida, years of litigation and legislative maneuvering have left the capital punishment system in turmoil. Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi called Ayala’s decision a “blatant neglect of duty,” and Gov. Rick Scott removed her from a case involving an Orlando police officer’s death.

Florida has not carried out any executions since January 2016, and the state has 381 prisoners on death row. Twenty-two of them were convicted in Orange or Osceola Counties, in Ayala’s jurisdiction. Ayala said the death penalty had failed as a deterrent and that it did nothing to protect law enforcement officers. She also cited the length of time between sentencing and execution, which often exceeds a decade, and the costs of capital cases. “Punishment is most effective when it happens consistently and swiftly,” she said. “Neither describe the death penalty in this state.” On Tuesday, Ayala’s spokeswoman said the office was seeking death sentences in six cases. By yesterday, the office had reversed its stand, throwing into question the potential punishment in a high-profile case against Markeith Loyd, who the police said killed his pregnant ex-girlfriend and then gunned down an officer, Lt. Debra Clayton, as she tried to apprehend him.

from http://thecrimereport.org

Texas Executes The Killer of Father, Infant Son

It was the sixth execution in the U.S. this year. At his trial, James Bigby grabbed a loaded gun from a drawer in the courtroom and tried to attack the judge.

Texas executed James Bigby, 61, who was convicted of the killings of a father and his infant son, the Associated Press reports. At his trial, Bigby grabbed a loaded gun from a drawer in the courtroom and tried to attack the judge. He was the fourth inmate in Texas and the sixth nationally to be executed by injection this year. Bigby was convicted of  fatal shooting of Michael Trekell, 26, and the suffocation of Trekell’s 4-month-old son, Jayson, at their home in Arlington on Christmas Eve 1987. Bigby also was accused but not tried for killing two other men, believing they along with Trekell were conspiring against him in a workers’ compensation case he filed against a former employer.

The U.S. Supreme Court in 2015 refused to review Bigby’s case after a lower federal court had rejected appeals. At his 1991 capital murder trial in Fort Worth, Bigby grabbed a loaded gun from behind District Judge Don Leonard’s bench during a court recess and barged into Leonard’s chambers. The judge and a prosecutor wrestled Bigby to the floor and pulled the gun away and the judge continued presiding over the case. Jurors were told about the attack, rejected Bigby’s insanity defense and decided he should die.

from http://thecrimereport.org

Sedative Is At Center of Death Penalty Controversies

“I didn’t make it for the purpose,” said Dr. Armin Walser, whose drug midazolam has been used for sedation during 20 lethal injections nationwide. “I am not a friend of the death penalty or execution.”

When chemist Armin Walser helped invent a sedative more powerful than Valium more than 40 years ago, he thought his team’s concoction was meant to make people’s lives easier, not their deaths. Decades after the drug, known as midazolam, entered the market, a product more often used during colonoscopies and cardiac catheterizations has become central to executions and the debate that surrounds capital punishment, the New York Times reports. “I didn’t make it for the purpose,” said Dr. Walser, whose drug has been used for sedation during 20 lethal injections nationwide. “I am not a friend of the death penalty or execution.” Midazolam’s path from Dr. Walser’s laboratory into at least six execution chambers has been filled with secrecy, political pressure, scientific disputes and court challenges.

The most recent controversy is the plan in Arkansas to execute eight inmates in 10 days next month. The state’s midazolam supply will expire at the end of April, and given the resistance of manufacturers to having the drug used in executions, Arkansas would likely face major hurdles if it tried to restock. Supporters of midazolam’s use, which the U.S. Supreme Court upheld in an Oklahoma case, say it is a safe and effective substitute for execution drugs that have become difficult to purchase. Death penalty critics, citing executions that they say were botched, argue that midazolam puts prisoners at risk of an unconstitutionally painful punishment because the condemned may be insufficiently numbed to the agony caused by the execution drugs. A major legal test is in Ohio, where a federal appeals court heard arguments last week about the drug’s future there.

from http://thecrimereport.org

Texas Conducts Third 2017 Execution As Appeals Fail

Rolando Ruiz dies for a 1992 murder. Dissenting Justice Stephen Breyer would have used Ruiz’s case to explore whether extended periods of time on death row qualify as cruel and unusual punishment.

Last night, Rolando Ruiz sat in a holding cell outside of Texas’ execution chamber for the second time, waiting to see if he would have to enter it. In 2007, a federal court halted his execution the night it was scheduled, and he walked out knowing he would live to see another day. This time, the U.S. Supreme Court denied his final appeals more than four hours after his execution was originally scheduled, with a dissent from Justice Stephen Breyer, the Texas Tribune reports.

He was sent into the chamber, strapped to a gurney and injected with a lethal dose of pentobarbital at 10:37 p.m. Twenty-nine minutes later, Ruiz, 44, was pronounced dead. It was the third execution in Texas this year, the fifth in the U.S.  In 1992, Ruiz shot and killed 29-year-old Theresa Rodriguez in her San Antonio garage. He was a 20-year-old hitman, paid $2,000 by the woman’s husband and brother-in-law, who were out to collect her life insurance money. Breyer would have liked to have used Ruiz’s case to explore whether extended periods of time on death row qualify as cruel and unusual punishment.

from http://thecrimereport.org

Execution Delays: How Long Is Too Long?

Arthur Lee Giles in Alabama has been waiting nearly four decades for a possible execution. His glacial march to the death chamber exposes a conundrum at the heart of U.S. death penalty. Condemned prisoners often spend decades on death row before being executed—if the execution ever happens at all. About 40 percent of the 2,739 people on death row have spent at least 20 years there.

In 1979, Arthur Lee Giles, then 19, was sentenced to death in Blount County, Al. Nearly 40 years later, he is still waiting to be executed. His glacial march to execution exposes a conundrum at the heart of U.S. death penalty, reports Slate. Condemned prisoners often spend decades on death row before being executed—if the execution ever happens at all—a fact that undermines any retributive value capital punishment might provide. About 40 percent of the 2,739 people on death row have spent at least 20 years awaiting execution, and 1 in 3 of these prisoners are older than 50, says the Fair Punishment Project. The Los Angeles Times says two dozen men on California’s death row require walkers and wheelchairs, and one is living out his days in bed wearing diapers. In North Carolina, nine death row prisoners have died of natural causes since 2006, the same year the state last executed someone.

The process that creates those delays cannot be eliminated without a corresponding increase in the risk of wrongful executions. Since 1973, 157 men and women have been exonerated. Decades spent awaiting an uncertain execution inflicts an additional and cruel layer of punishment on the condemned. Most death row inmates are housed alone for years in tiny concrete cells even as a growing body of evidence suggests the psychological burden of solitary confinement is tantamount to torture. In 2015, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy questioned the humanity of confining prisoners “in a windowless cell no larger than a typical parking spot.” With public support for executions at historic lows, death row delays seem likely to increase. Just 20 of the nearly 3,000 prisoners on death row nationwide were executed last year. To combat delays, California voters narrowly passed Proposition 66 last year, which promised to speed up executions by imposing more severe limitations on the death penalty appeals process.

from http://thecrimereport.org

Trump’s New Border Agents Would Cost Billions

The 15,000 new agents sought by the President would cost $1.38 billion to $1.48 billion annually. “What is the evidence that this is going to make the difference that you want to make? (That is what) is missing right now,” says Ryan Alexander of Taxpayers for Common Sense.

President Trump has called for the hiring of 15,000 new immigration and border agents to help carry out his orders to increase immigration enforcement inside the U.S. and along its southern border. Combined, the 15,000 new agents would cost $1.38 billion to $1.48 billion annually, or between $13 billion to nearly $15 billion over 10 years, according to estimates by the Migration Policy Institute, The Arizona Republic reports. Such a massive buildup in staffing would require approval from Congress, could take years to achieve, and could lead to changes in hiring standards aimed at preventing corruption and bribery by drug cartels.

What’s more, Trump’s plan would likely encounter strong resistance from Democrats and from fiscal conservatives in his own party. It comes as the president wants to build a giant southwestern border wall to curtail illegal immigration and is also calling for a sharp increase in military spending that would be paid for by slashing other areas of the federal budget, including education, the environment, and foreign aid. “This is very expensive. It’s clear that President Trump has a desire to shift resources towards Homeland Security, but shift them from where, because this is a lot of money,” asks Ryan Alexander of Taxpayers for Common Sense, an independent watchdog group. The 10,000 new ICE agents and 5,000 new Border Patrol agents appear to be an arbitrary “political number for a political promise,” Alexander said. It is not based on concrete research or analysis to accomplish specific goals or objectives. “What is the evidence that this is going to make the difference that you want to make? (That is what) is missing right now,” she said. Border Patrol apprehensions of Mexicans, however, in recent years have fallen to near historic lows, says the Pew Research Center.

from http://thecrimereport.org

Arkansas Plans To Execute 8 Within 10 April Days

The rush is caused by a looming expiration date of a drug used for lethal injections. Capital punishment has been suspended since 2005 in the state over legal challenges and difficulty in acquiring the drugs. Death penalty and victims’ rights supporters have been frustrated that the cases have dragged on so long.

Arkansas plans to put eight inmates to death over 10 days next month, a pace of executions unequaled in recent U.S. history caused by a looming expiration date for a drug used for lethal injections, the New York Times reports. The eight men facing execution — four black and four white — are among 34 death row inmates in Arkansas, where capital punishment has been suspended since 2005 over legal challenges and difficulty in acquiring the drugs. All eight men were convicted of murders that occurred between 1989 and 1999. Death penalty and victims’ rights supporters have been frustrated that the cases have dragged on so long.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a former federal prosecutor, said, “I would love to have those extended over a period of multiple months and years, but that’s not the circumstances that I find myself in.” He said it was necessary to schedule the executions close together because of doubts about the future availability of one of three drugs the state uses in its lethal-injection procedure. State officials have previously said that the expiration date would pass in April for Arkansas’s supply of midazolam, a drug that has been used in botched and gruesome lethal injections in other states in recent years. Amid the controversy generated by such cases, a number of pharmaceutical companies have restricted their drugs from use for capital punishment. Some states have had difficultly finding midazolam. Hutchinson set four execution dates for the eight inmates between April 17 and 27. Two men would be put to death on each of the four dates.

from http://thecrimereport.org

AL Senate Votes to End Judicial Overrides in Death Cases

Alabama is the only state that allows judges to override sentences imposed by juries, a practice ruled out by the Supreme Court in Florida. Between 1978 and last year, 101 judicial overrides in Alabama changed a sentence from life in prison to death.

The Alabama Senate ovewhelmingly voted to end the practice of allowing judges to overrule jury sentences in death penalty cases, the Montgomery Advertiser reports. The wide margin of approval came as something of a surprise for a bill that needed a tie-breaking vote to get out of committee on Feb. 8. Alabama is the last state where judges can override sentences imposed by juries. Critics say the practice imposes pressure on judges to impose stiff sentences based on election considerations. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor has said that the override procedure “casts a cloud of illegitimacy” on sentencing decisions.

The Montgomery-based Equal Justice Initiative says that 101 judicial overrides in Alabama from 1978 to 2016 changed a defendant’s sentence from life in prison to death. Eleven changed the sentence from death to life. Twelve of 23 overrides between 2005 and 2015 came in election years. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down Florida’s use of judicial override last year, which left Alabama the only state to continue the practice. The House Judiciary Committee approved a version of the bill ending judicial overrides last week.

from http://thecrimereport.org