September 26, 2007
News Update 09.26.07
A Wake County woman avoided the death penalty today by pleading guilty to murder and accepting a sentence of life without parole. Monique Berkley faced death for her part in the 2005 murder of her husband, Paul Berkley.
In Raleigh, inmates facing execution have asked the Council of State to accept the recommendations issued by an Administrative Law Judge, and to reject the Department of Correction’s proposed lethal injection protocol. The State says that the Council’s only job is to sign off on what the DOC has proposed.
Statewide, newspapers are asking that executions remain on hold until the problems with lethal injection can be sorted out.
- In Asheville, the Citizen-Times is calling for “a moratorium on executions and  a full-scale inquiry into whether North Carolina’s practices and procedures lead to the death penalty being administered fairly and only in cases of incontrovertible guilt.”
- In Charlotte, the Observer says, “the state continues resisting what it really needs: a careful examination of whether our justice system consistently can meet constitutional muster in its executions of convicted murderers.”
- In Durham, the Herald-Sun takes particular note of the questions raised by the recent decision that the Medical Board cannot sanction doctors who participate in executions: “If the Medical Board can’t get involved in the most fundamental issues of life, death and a physician’s ethical expectations, then what good is it?”
- In Raleigh, the News & Observer is urging the Medical Board to appeal the ruling against it. The N&O also urges the legislature to take a close look at “the wisdom of the state putting people to death, and of the procedures now used.”
The Innocence Project has raised questions about an upcoming Alabama execution. Governor Bob Riley is denying access to DNA testing that could prove the innocence of Thomas Arthur, who is scheduled to die on Thursday. (c/o Abolish!)
Georgia‘s Atlanta Journal-Constitution has been running a series on death penalty issues in that state. The fourth installment looks at an issue readers of this blog may be familiar with in the North Carolina context – the failure of the state supreme court to conduct adequate proportionality review. (c/o StandDown and DPIC)
Despite the United States Supreme Court’s decision yesterday morning to consider the constitutionality of a lethal injection cocktail, the Court allowed Texas to execute Michael Richards last night using that same cocktail. CDW notes the irony. StandDown notes that more Texecutions are pending.
On a related note, while Tennessee is considering putting capital punishment on hold until after the Supreme Court rules, Arizona has scheduled another execution.
Everybody has something to say about the cert grant in Baze. News roundups from CDW and StandDown Texas pretty much cover it. There’s also analysis from SCOTUSblog and general info from Sentencing Law and Policy.
September 25, 2007
The United States Supreme Court has granted certiorari in the Kentucky case known as Baze v. Rees. Ralph Baze and Thomas C. Bowling, inmates on Kentucky’s death row, are asking the Court to consider – for the first time in over 100 years – whether a particular method of execution violates the 8th Amendment‘s protections against cruel and unusual punishment.
Baze has asked the Court to decide:
- Does the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibit means for carrying out a method of execution that create an unnecessary risk of pain and suffering as opposed to only a substantial risk of the wanton infliction of pain?
- Do the means for carrying out an execution cause an unnecessary risk of pain and suffering in violation of the Eighth Amendment upon a showing that readily available alternatives that pose less risk of pain and suffering could be used?
- Does the continued use of sodium thiopental, pancuronium bromide, and potassium chloride, individually or together, violate the cruel and unusual punishment clause of the Eighth Amendment because lethal injections can be carried out by using other chemicals that pose less risk of pain and suffering?
- When it is known that the effects of the chemicals could be reversed if the proper actions are taken, does substantive due process require a state to be prepared to maintain life in case a stay of execution is granted after the lethal injection chemicals are injected?
You can read the Petition for a Writ of Certiorari here. Check SCOTUSblog for further developments.
September 24, 2007
News Update 09.24.07
A judge ruled last week that the North Carolina Medical Board cannot discipline doctors who participate in executions. Reporting here, here, here, and here. You can read the judge’s decision here. In essence, Judge Donald Stephens found that medical ethics, however noble, don’t override the mandate of the legislature. No word yet on how this ruling affects separate litigation that has brought a pause in executions since 2006.
In Wilson County, trial is set to begin today for James Johnson. Johnson has been in jail for three years awaiting trial for the kidnapping/rape/murder of Brittany Willis. The problem? There is no physical evidence connecting Johnson to the crime, and a man already convicted of the murder says he acted alone. Many are calling for the charges to be dropped.
“As part of the American Bar Association’s ongoing state-by-state study of death penalty systems in the U.S., the ABA’s Ohio Death Penalty Assessment Report was released today, finding numerous serious flaws in the implementation of Ohio’s system of capital punishment.” The report examines everything from DNA testing availability to quality of representation to issues of mental health. Read the Executive Summary here. (c/o ODPI)
For those keeping an eye on the Supreme Court, SCOTUSblog predicts that cert will be granted in Chester v. Texas (standard for mental retardation) and Ozmint v. Ard (ineffective assistance of counsel), among others.
A bit of (sick and twisted) comic relief recommended by a friend.
September 21, 2007
News Update 09.21.07
In Watauga County, Kyle Quentin Triplett pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and other charges yesterday for the 2005 death of Stephen William Harrington. Jury selection was already underway in Triplett’s first-degree murder trial, which could have resulted in a death sentence. More here and here.
Some wonder whether a recent Tennessee decision finding lethal injection unconstitutional might affect similar litigation in North Carolina. North Carolina uses a chemical cocktail identical to the one in Tennessee, but it’s worth noting that the Tennessee protocol actually provides more safeguards in terms of inmate monitoring during the execution.
The African nation of Gabon has announced that it will formally abolish the death penalty. No one has been executed in Gabon in 20 years. (c/o Abolish!)
September 19, 2007
News Update 09.19.07
A tentative June 1, 2008 trial date has been set for Timothy Hennis. Hennis will stand trial in a Ft. Bragg military court for a 1985 triple murder of which he was acquitted in civilian court. There will be a motions hearing in January, at which time the judge might decide to push the trial back if necessary.
Meanwhile, attorneys for Sgt. William J. Kreutzer, Jr. were in court today at Ft. Bragg. Kreutzer was convicted and sentenced to death in 1996 for a shooting during a training run that killed one paratrooper and injured 18 others. His conviction was reversed in 2005 due to ineffective assistance of counsel and bad rulings by the judge. Kreutzer will be retried in April 2008.
Doctors at Dorothea Dix Hospital in Raleigh say that Michael Charles Hayes is no longer mentally ill, and no longer a danger to others. Hayes has been kept at Dix since 1989, when he was found not guilty by reason of insanity after killing four people and wounding five others. The Forsyth County man believed he was shooting at demons. Hayes’ attorney is concerned that he may still be too ill to be released.
The planned execution of Jerome Harbison has been delayed after a federal judge ruled that Tennessee‘s lethal injection protocol violates the 8th Amendment by posing a “substantial risk of unnecessary pain.” The judge also criticized a corrections official for ignoring the recommendations of a committee organized by the Governor to review such procedures. More here. You can read the order here.
The fine folks at the University of California at Berkeley’s Boalt School of Law have put together a resource page for those interested in learning more about lethal injection and/or the related litigation going on in various states.
September 17, 2007
News Update 09.17.07
Back in August, the Council of State was ordered to reconsider its decision to approve the new lethal injection protocol. Last week, the Council announced that it will take this under advisement – and render a final decision – at its October 2nd meeting. The Council is not allowing live testimony, but will permit the parties to submit their arguments in writing. The Council is not bound to accept the judge’s findings of fact or conclusions of law, which included that the proposed protocol is insufficient to guard against undue suffering during an execution.
John Holdridge and Christopher Hill of the NC-based ACLU Capital Punishment Project weigh in on the capital defense crisis in the “Death Belt”.
In California, the federal judge overseeing that state’s lethal injection challenge has moved a hearing back two months to allow him time to visit California’s shiny new execution chamber. At the December hearing, the Court will determine whether California has remedied the flaws that halted executions in 2006, including poor training for execution team members and problems with the administration of the lethal drugs.
Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen has commuted Michael Joe Boyd (AKA Mika’eel Abdullah Abdus-Samad)’s death sentence to life without parole. The Governor was concerned that Boyd received ineffective assistance of counsel both at trial and on appeal. It is believed to be the first commutation since Tennessee resumed executions in the 1970s.
Capital Defense Weekly notes “four stays in four days.” Joseph Lave (TX), Terrell Nooner (AR), Ralph Baze (KY), and Rommell Broom (OH) were all granted stays of execution last week.
From NYU Law School’s alumni magazine, a profile of the godfather of capital punishment litigation, Anthony Amsterdam. For forty years, Tony has been fighting the death penalty and inspiring others to do the same. The magazine also profiles Bryan Stevenson, the director of Alabama’s Equal Justice Initiative and a man deeply dedicated to justice.
September 13, 2007
News Update 09.13.07
Erwin Chemerinsky, Duke Law School’s own god of constitutional law, signed a contract on September 4th to become the first dean of the new law school at UC-Irvine. Yesterday, the school rescinded their offer, apparently upset over Chemerinsky’s criticism of the DOJ’s plan to give the Attorney General more control over capital cases. Pretty much everyone thinks this was a bad move on UCI’s part. Samples: one and two. Your loss, California.
Since the Supreme Court decided Coker v. Georgia in 1977, no one has been executed in the United States for the crime of rape. But the Court’s decision applied only to the rape of an adult woman. A Louisiana man, facing death for the rape of an 8-year-old girl, is asking the court to consider whether his death sentence is constitutional. You can read Patrick Kennedy’s entire petition here. Kennedy is the only person on death row in the United States for a non-homicide crime.
C/o Abolish, an op-ed from Tennessee that raises interesting questions about how we use the death penalty to purge society of those we consider responsible for our breakdown. (The inmate discussed in the piece, Daryl Holton, has since been executed.)
A Texas inmate has asked the Supreme Court to reconsider its 1949 decision allowing the state to use hearsay evidence (inadmissible in any other criminal proceeding) to obtain a sentence of death. Sherman Lamont Fields argues that the Confrontation Clause should entitle him to directly question all of the witnesses against him.
Also from Texas, an interview with a 23-year-old woman on death row. Chelsea Richardson says, “Jail is hell. Prison is hell. Death Row is terrifying. You are told, ‘They are going to kill you’…there is no moment when you don’t know you are under a death sentence. There is no moment of freedom unless you are asleep….And even then, sometimes it seeps in.” (C/o StandDown)
From MVFHR, more thoughtful writing from those touched by of terrorism. Here, a survivor and widow of the 1998 embassy bombings reflects on speaking to a potentially hostile audience at Ole Miss. Here, a look at the relationship formed between the parents of a man killed on 9/11 and the mother of one of the men responsible for the attacks.
September 11, 2007
News Update 09.11.07
Twelve years after being sentenced to die, Charles Walker is off of death row. Walker was hours away from execution in 2004. In 2006, a judge found that the State withheld vital evidence from Walker’s defense team and that one of Walker’s co-defendants lied on the stand. Instead of retrying the case, prosecutors allowed Walker to enter an Alford plea to conspiracy to commit murder and accessory to murder. Said Walker’s attorney, “If there is a larger lesson here, it’s that you can’t expect a system made up of human beings to be successful when they decide to play God.” More here.
In New York, a court is considering the fate of the only person on the state’s death row. New York, which has not executed anyone since 1963, reinstated the death penalty in 1995. That law was held unconstitutional in 2004. For John B. Taylor, the question is whether special jury instructions given by the judge at his trial were enough to cure the defect in the statute under which he was convicted.
Given the choice between electrocution and lethal injection, Tennessee‘s Daryl Holton chose the former. (Article available only to New York Times Select subscribers.) Holton chose the chair simply because that was the sole method the state used when he was convicted. The law was changed in 1999, but Holton wants to die in the manner to which he was sentenced. To that end, Tennessee officials tested the state’s chair yesterday by running electric currents through a test load designed to simulate a human body. Tennessee’s electric chair has been out of use since 1960.
In Texas, a judge has blocked the state from destroying evidence that could prove whether Claude Jones actually committed the crime for which he was executed. Jones was convicted of a liquor store robbery-murder in 1990. The only piece of physical evidence in the case was a single hair found on the store’s counter. Jones was convicted based on testimony that the hair was “consistent” with his own, which could mean little more than that it was the right color and came from a person of the same race. The Innocence Project has arranged for DNA testing. (c/o Amnesty International)
On this tragic anniversary, MVFHR checks in with the families of some of those killed. Anthony Aversano was one of the 15 family members to testify at the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui, asking the jury not to sentence him to death. “I testified not for the sake of that one man, but to share some of my story and clearly speak that it is possible to rise above tragedy. I spoke loud and clear that if I responded to that act of terror by giving my life to the anger, hatred, and vengeance that terror breeds, my life might as well be another name on that list of casualties. I testified to the world that day that I had reclaimed the power of my choice in life and, in the face of all the pain we endured as family members, I chose to live my life in peace.”
September 6, 2007
News Update 09.06.07
Two Forsyth County men entered life-saving guilty pleas yesterday. Kohumna Hoyle, 34, was sentenced to life without parole in the death of his son, Raynell. Hoyle’s bipolar illness may have contributed to the child’s death. Daniel Learmond Hayes, 21, will spend the rest of his life in prison for the murder of a cab driver. Hayes’s life was saved in large part by his victim’s children, who told prosecutors to be merciful because they didn’t want Hayes’s family to have to endure the pain of his execution.
Alabama plans to pay a Massachusetts doctor $400 an hour to analyze the combination of drugs the state uses to kill people. OK, but don’t complain about the cost of the defense’s expert.
Mississippi plans to retry Kennedy Brewer for rape and murder, even though the DNA shows he didn’t do it. Brewer was sentenced to death and incarcerated for 15 years before DNA proved his innocence. Meanwhile, the state has not attempted to find the real killer. The district attorney claims that he did not run the DNA through the state database because no such registry exists, but the assistant director of the crime lab says that the database has been in operation for years.
In Ohio, Romell Broom has been granted a stay of execution. Broom joins several other inmates whose executions are on hold while courts determine the constitutionality of the state’s lethal injection protocol.
You can fight multiple sclerosis and help spread the word about the poor medical care given to an MS-sufferer on Tennessee‘s death row at the same time. Click here to sponsor a rider who is raising money in the name of Paul House.
Tonight on HDNet, Dan Rather will examine the cases of Ruben Cantu and Carlos de Luna, asking whether Texas executed innocent men. For folks who get the channel, the show will air at 8 and 11 PM EST. (c/o Abolish)
The Death Penalty Information Center has added pages to its website:
- Death Penalty in Flux (info on states where executions are on hold)
- Death Penalty for Offenses Other than Murder (including aggravated assault and drug trafficking)
- Time on Death Row (what it’s like, how long people are there)
Death penalty news from Iran and Iraq. Ah, the company we keep.
September 4, 2007
News Update 09.04.07
The Greensboro News-Record wades into the “death penalty briar patch.”
James Thomas was supposed to be dead seven months ago. The News and Observer takes a look at Thomas and five other men whose lives have been extended by the current pause in executions. Some say it’s justice delayed. Thomas is just happy to have more time to spend mentoring younger inmates.
In Georgia, the head of the Capital Defender’s Office has stepped down to protest the dearth of funding for capital cases and the refusal of the Public Defender Standards Council to acknowledge the problem and call for a halt to capital prosecutions.
The high court in Nebraska is considering whether the electric chair – the state’s sole means of execution – is a cruel and unusual punishment. If the court rules for Raymond Mata, Jr., the question will then become whether lethal injection is a constitutional alternative.
Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights has started a blog to help spread the word about their organization and to reach out to people whose lives have been affected by lethal violence.