News Update 3.20.07

March 20, 2007

North Carolina

The Charlotte Observer on why the death penalty is a waste of money.


In Nebraska, a state senator has proposed a bill every year for 37 years to abolish the death penalty.

In Ohio, appeals court stops execution to allow inmate to continue with suit alleging that lethal injection is cruel and unusual punishment. The death warrant for Kenneth Biros is effective through midnight tonight. It is possible, but believed to be unlikely, that the United States Supreme Court will lift the stay today and allow the execution to proceed.

In Utah, governor signs bill making it a capital offense to kill a child, whether the defendant intended to or not.

In Nigeria, the UN investigates conditions in jails and on death row.

News Update 3.19.07

March 19, 2007

North Carolina

Durham County is presently seeking death for five separate defendants.

NC Policy Watch responds to legislators’ false claims about a moratorium.


Oregon eyes a moratorium.

In Texas, a death row inmate, scheduled for execution next week, is on a hunger strike. The prison is threatening to force-feed Roy Lee Pippin, because it’s important that he be healthy before they kill him. Pippin is protesting the conditions on death row.

News Update 3.16.07

March 16, 2007

North Carolina

In Wilmington, State seeks death penalty against 18-year-old. Unclear why convenience store shooting has been deemed one of “the most egregious cases in the community.”

Sen. Berger keeps pushing the General Assembly, but Gov. Easley’s office says to let the courts handle it. (Scroll down to “Aid Sought for Doctors.”)

The News & Observer tells Republican lawmakers where to stick their fearmongering.

On Friday, March 23rd at 9:30 am, Bryan Stevenson (the executive director of the Alabama death penalty and poverty law firm The Equal Justice Initiative) will be speaking in Room 2003 of Duke Hospital North. The lecture, entitled “Confronting Injustice,” is presented by Duke’s Department of Social Work.


Commentary from Concurring Opinions on the Ninth Circuit’s recent decision upholding a competent defendant’s right to waive further appeals.

In Maryland, bill to repeal death penalty falls one vote short in committee. Moratorium still stands.

In New York, a federal judge speaks out about the Justice Department’s capital crusade.

News Update 3.15.07

March 15, 2007

North Carolina

WRAL’s Amanda Lamb on her meeting with Allen Holman and his place in the death penalty debate.

NC Democrats unveil legislative agenda; plan for death penalty unclear.


In Florida, a question of competency.

In Pennsylvania, the medical examiner thought it was an accident, the evidence disappeared, the witnesses were sketchy…and the sentence was death.

In Indonesia, questions about the constitutionality of capital punishment for drug crimes.

Even Iraq is thinking about abolishing the death penalty. Disturbing fact: over 1200 people have been sentenced to death by the US-sponsored Iraqi High Tribunal (AKA the Iraqi Special Tribunal or the Iraqi High Criminal Court) since its inception in 2003.

News Update 3.14.07

March 14, 2007

A lot to catch up on from the last few days…

North Carolina

One doctor’s view of lethal injection.

Republicans want to get executions started again ASAP. See also.

The possibility of a real moratorium.

The State’s unethical behavior.

The tragic case of Floyd Brown, who is still awaiting trial 13 years after his arrest.

A cartoon.


Texas lawmaker offended by art depicting methods of capital punishment.

Will Morocco become the first Arab nation to abolish the death penalty?

Choosing Death

March 9, 2007

Unlike most of us, Allen Holman knew in advance when he was going to die: Friday, March 9th, 2007, shortly after two o’clock in the morning. Almost ten years ago, Holman shot and killed his wife Linda in the parking lot of a convenience store. Ironically, Linda was a nurse at the prison where Allen Holman was scheduled to be executed, and the question of whether medical professionals should participate in lethal injections is what has put his execution on hold.

Allen Holman is a volunteer – someone who has willingly abandoned his appeals in order to expedite execution. Between 1977 and 2003, ninety-seven other death row inmates volunteered for execution. One study (John Blume, Killing the Willing: Volunteers, Suicide, and Competency, 103 Mich. L. Rev. 939 (2005)) found that 88% of those volunteers suffered from mental illness and/or substance abuse problems which may have contributed to their decision to die. Holman, 47, has a history of mental illness stretching back to his teen years, including at least five suicide attempts. This time, he had hoped to let the State do the job for him.

Suicide is no longer a crime in North Carolina. While there is technically no law prohibiting it, killing someone on their request would likely be prosecuted under the regular homicide statutes. (Dr. Kevorkian, for example, could be prosecuted under either the “murder by poison” or “premediated and deliberate” theories of first-degree murder.) When the State assists a suicide, as when it commits murder (death certificates of the executed list the cause of death as homicide), the legal penalties are not the same for those involved. But what is the moral cost?

How is executing the severely mentally ill or brain-damaged so different from executing the mentally retarded, which was recognized as cruel and unusual punishment by the Supreme Court in 2002? In its decision, the Court noted that the nature of mental retardation is such that the ends of retribution and deterrence are not served by executing the retarded. (For example, because the mentally retarded are less capable of engaging in logical reasoning than the average person, they are less likely be deterred from crime by the execution of others.) Without a valid penological objective, executing the mentally retarded was found to be a “purposeless and needless infliction of pain and suffering.”

Two days ago, a bill was filed in the General Assembly by Representatives Insko (D-Orange) and Harrison (D-Guilford) which would prohibit the execution of the severely mentally disabled. The bill would exempt the severely mentally ill and brain-damaged from the death penalty, but would not relieve them of criminal liability altogether. All other sentences, including life imprisonment, would remain possible.

The bill defines “severe mental disability” as a mental disability which significantly impairs a person’s capacity to do any of the following:

(1) Appreciate the nature, consequences, or wrongfulness of the person’s conduct;
(2) Exercise rational judgment in relation to conduct; or
(3) Conform the person’s conduct to the requirements of the law.

A person who doesn’t know what they’re doing or who is unable to control themselves is clearly less morally culpable than a person who makes a cold and calculated decision to kill. When we choose to kill the mentally ill or brain-damaged, our own moral standing is in serious question.

Consider Ricky Ray Rector. Before his arrest, Rector attempted to commit suicide by shooting himself in the head. A large section of his brain was destroyed, but Rector survived. He was clearly severely disabled – Rector was frequently observed howling, barking, and dancing in his cell – but the law held no exception for someone in his situation. On the night of his execution, the guards asked Rector why he hadn’t eaten the pecan pie from his last meal. He replied that he was saving it for later.

Insko and Harrison’s bill is neither an excuse nor an easy way out. Built into the bill is a provision making clear that, “a mental disability manifested primarily by repeated criminal conduct or attributable solely to the acute effects of alcohol or other drugs does not, standing alone, constitute a severe mental disability.” Furthermore, the defendant bears the burden of proving his or her disability status to the judge or jury by a preponderance of the evidence – the State has no obligation to prove anything.

A bill to prohibit the execution of the severely mentally disabled is not a radical proposition. It doesn’t undermine the death penalty, rather it recognizes the larger goals underlying capital punishment and strives for a system more consistent with those aims. Choosing death for the brain-damaged and mentally ill means doing what we fear most in the accused – killing for the sake of killing.

Learn more here, here, and here, then contact your representative and let them know that you oppose the execution of the brain-damaged and mentally ill.

News Update 3.09.07

March 9, 2007

North Carolina

Allen Holman was not executed this morning, and he is not happy about it.

The Warden’s notice to the court that he could not find an executioner has been posted online here. A copy of the Department of Corrections’ complaint against the Medical Board can be found here.

Elon University law students are teaming up with their counterparts at Duke and UNC to help the N.C. Center on Actual Innocence seek justice for the wrongly convicted.

News Update 3.08.07

March 8, 2007

North Carolina

From The (Raleigh) News & Observer, an editorial supporting the autonomy of the Medical Board.

From The (Winston-Salem) Journal, an article suggesting that imposing a gag order in a cop killing is bad for the police. Needless to say, it could be detrimental to the defendant as well.

From WRAL, an interview with the doctors who first raised the execution issue with the Medical Board.

General reports
* From The Daily Tar Heel. Note one error in the article: the death penalty and life without parole are not the predominant sentences for first-degree murder in North Carolina, they are the only possible sentences.
* From The Associated Press.


In Ohio, judge puts murder case on indefinite hiatus and holds attorney in contempt for complete failure to prepare his case.

In Kyrgyzstan, capital punishment has been abolished, but judges keep handing down death sentences.

Why California has the largest death row in the nation, yet executes fewer people than Delaware.

On the other hand, Texas has executed two people in the last two days and has three more executions scheduled this month.

Twenty years later, a look back at the case in which the Supreme Court decided that racial discrimination in the death penalty is inevitable, and therefore declined to do anything about it.

News Update 3.07.07

March 7, 2007

North Carolina

The North Carolina Court of Appeals said yesterday that letters Governor Easley receives in connection with clemency petitions do not fall under public records laws, hence the media cannot have access to them. What I find interesting is that Gov. Easley, unlike every governor before him, has in the past released information about people who wrote to him in support of clemency. Apparently he is only interested in protecting the identities of people who support death.

The Los Angeles Times has an interesting piece this morning on the State’s efforts to sue the Medical Board. The State is asking the court to rule that lethal injection is not a medical procedure, and that therefore the Medical Board has no authority to sanction the doctors involved. This is the first suit of its kind, and the legal experts quoted do not anticipate success.

More on that issue from The (Raleigh) News & Observer.

In Winston-Salem, District Attorney tells court that defense attorney’s comments to the media in defense of his client (and in response to comments made by the prosecutor) might interfere with the client’s right to a fair trial. Well…that’s a new one.


In Idaho, appeals court says that state must either release inmate or allow him to accept the plea deal he declined on the advice of incompetent counsel.

In the UK, a campaign to save a brain-damaged British national from a Vietnamese firing squad.

This Just In (Holman)

March 6, 2007

This afternoon, a stay of execution was granted for Allen Holman. Also, the Warden of Central Prison, Marvin Polk, reported that he has been unable to find a doctor willing to participate in executions. The State is now suing the Medical Board.


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