NC Supreme Court Hears Lethal Injection Arguments

March 14, 2011

The  North Carolina Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments this morning in a case involving five death row inmates and the Council of State.  This is the next step in ongoing litigation between the five inmates – Jerry Conner, James Campbell, J.T. Thomas, Marcus Robinson, and Archie Billings – and the Council of State, the group charged with approving North Carolina’s lethal injection protocol.  Briefs for the parties are here and here.  The central question before the Court today is whether the Wake County Superior Court was wrong to find that the inmates cannot challenge the Council’s decision to change the procedure by which they would be executed.

Update: Video of the argument is currently available online here.


Next Step in NC Lethal Injection Litigation

April 1, 2008

News Update 04.01.08

North Carolina

The latest filing in the ongoing Council of State litigation is available here. The inmates – Archie Billings, James Campbell, Jerry Conner, Marcus Robinson, and James Thomas – have asked the Superior Court to reject the State’s Motion to Dismiss and review the Council of State’s November decision to ignore the findings of an Administrative Law Judge and approve the Department of Correction’s proposed execution protocol. You can read past posts on the topic here, here, here, and here. The Council of State litigation affects only North Carolina cases, as opposed to Baze v. Rees, which affects death row inmates nationwide.

Through this weekend, you can catch the play “Still…Life” at UNC-Chapel Hill. From the web page: “Still…Life examines the Death Penalty in North Carolina using interviews with people from across the state that have been impacted by the Death Penalty. This process began in June, 2005. Interviewees included Death Row inmates, their families, victims, chaplains, attorneys, a warden, prison guards, and others.”

On April 14, Michael Radelet will be speaking at UNC-Greensboro as part of the Department of Sociology’s Colloquium Series. Radelet’s topic: The Changing Nature of Death Penalty Debates. Radelet’s work on wrongful capital convictions dates back to the 1980s, and he was a key figure in the Illinois study that led Governor Ryan to commute the sentences of everyone on death row. Call (336) 334-5295 for more information.

Elsewhere

The ACLU of Northern California has released two reports on capital punishment in that state. The Hidden Death Tax details the true cost of the death penalty in California (e.g. executing everyone now on death row would cost $4 billion more than letting them die in prison), while Death by Geography shows how the death penalty is disproportionately administered across the state (e.g. if a murder is committed in Alameda County, the defendant is eight times more likely to be sentenced to death than had the same crime occurred in nearby Santa Clara). See also this report that California judges, prosecutors, and other law enforcement officials are calling for significant reforms in capital punishment.

Hopefully folks in Pennsylvania have been checking out the Voices of Hope, Agents of Change Tour, which wraps up this Thursday in Lancaster. Events feature talks from persons who have lost loved ones to murder as well as persons who have lost years of their lives to wrongful convictions. More here.

In the wake of its decision in Medellin, the Supreme Court has rejected the final appeals of seven Mexican nationals on Texas’ death row. (c/o CDW)


Court Asked to Reverse Council of State

December 4, 2007

News Update 12.04.07

North Carolina

Attorneys for five inmates on North Carolina’s death row have asked the Wake County Superior Court to review the Council of State’s February decision to approve a new lethal injection protocol. The complaint raises several issues: that the agency’s final decision was issued after the statutory deadline to do so had expired, that a member of the Attorney General’s Office engaged in ex parte communications with one or more members of the Council, that the Council ignored the valid opinion of the Administrative Law Judge, and that the Council failed to consider any of the evidence presented by the inmates. You can read the complaint here.

Elsewhere

Kentucky has filed its brief in Baze v. Rees. The argument section of the brief begins, “Petitioners have been sentenced to death. Kentucky seeks to execute them in a relatively humane manner, and has worked hard to adopt such a procedure.” I was unaware that the constitutional standard is whether you did a decent job and tried real hard. For the record, at the end of its brief, Kentucky completely mischaracterizes the factual situation surrounding the BIS monitor in North Carolina. The federal court did not force DOC to use a BIS monitor, DOC bought one of their own volition and lied to the court about how it would be used. But I digress.

The US Supreme Court heard arguments in Snyder v. Louisiana this morning. The case revolves around racial discrimination in jury selection, but is more widely known due to the prosecutor’s comparison of the defendant to OJ Simpson, whom the prosecutor said had gotten away with murder. Snyder, a black man, was tried by an all-white jury after the prosecutor removed all eligible people of color from the jury pool.

Jerry Guerinot has had more clients sentenced to death than have been executed by Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Kentucky, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, and Wyoming combined. The Guardian takes a look at his representation of Linda Carty, a British citizen on death row in Texas. The article notes that while Houston accounts for 1.3% of the US population overall, the city has produced 10% of our nation’s executions. (c/o CDW and Grits)

Texas recently marked the 25th anniversary of its first lethal injection.


Living on Borrowed Time

September 4, 2007

News Update 09.04.07

North Carolina

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.

Elsewhere

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.


Lethal Injection Debate Continues

May 21, 2007

Representatives of five death row inmates got a rare opportunity today. Administrative Law Judge Fred Morrison heard evidence from both sides of the debate about whether lethal injection causes unbearable pain, and if so, what should be done about it. When the Council of State considered the issue months ago, the Council refused to hear testimony or argument from the inmates’ side, and got information only from the Department of Corrections before approving the lethal injection protocol. Morrison’s job is to determine whether the Council should have listened to both sides, and whether the additional information would have made any difference.

There are early reports here, here, and here.

Highlights:
* An anesthesiology professor at UNC noted several flaws in the procedure
* A veterinarian said that he wouldn’t use this protocol to put animals to sleep
* A doctor present at recent executions said that he didn’t, and couldn’t, monitor inmates in the way the Department of Corrections told a federal court that he did

For its part, the Council of State said that it didn’t think its meeting was the “proper place” for these concerns to be heard.


SCOTUS Takes On Texas – Again

May 1, 2007

News Update 5.01.07

North Carolina

As reported yesterday, Senior Administrative Law Judge Fred Morrisson denied the Council of State’s motion to dismiss a suit brought by five death row inmates. The judge found that the inmates are “aggrieved parties” entitled to a hearing on whether the Council of State properly approved the execution protocol at its meeting in February. At the next hearing, tentatively set for May 21st, counsel for the inmates must show that their clients have been “substantially prejudiced” by the Council’s failure to comply with procedural rules.

A Cumberland County jury is deciding whether Eugene Johnny Williams should live or die. His attorneys say he shouldn’t even be eligible for the death penalty.

Elsewhere

In Ohio, State Supreme Court to confront difficult question – if both the defendant’s doctors and the State’s doctors say the defendant is retarded, does that mean he’s retarded? Live video of the arguments is available through the link.

The US Supreme Court has taken the case of Jose Ernesto Medellin, which involves fascinating issues about the collision of power between states, the President, and international law. Mr. Medellin was convicted and sentenced to death in 1993 for the rape and murder of two teenage girls. As a Mexican national, he should have been advised of his right to contact the Mexican consulate for assistance in his defense. Mexico brought charges against the United States in the World Court (the International Court of Justice) for failure to comply with this international treaty in dozens of similar cases. In 2004, the Court ruled that the United States was bound to reopen and reconsider death sentences obtained without consular access. The President ignored this ruling until the US Supreme Court took Medellin’s case in early 2005. President Bush then ordered the State of Texas to reconsider convictions and death sentences obtained in violation of international law. The Texas Court of Appeals refused. Now it’s up to our nine robe-clad friends in Washington to sort it all out. The buzz is that things don’t look good for the Lone Star State.


Breaking News – Council of State

April 30, 2007

The Council of State’s motion to dismiss a suit brought by five inmates facing execution has been denied. See this post for more information about the suit.


200th DNA Exoneration Expected Today

April 23, 2007

News Update 4.23.07

North Carolina

Victims’ families say inmate pain irrelevant, it’s time for executions.

Elsewhere

In California, legislature puts brakes on governor’s secret death chamber. The true cost of the project would have been nearly double what lawmakers were originally told.

In Colorado, legislators would rather spend millions of dollars trying to kill people than use the money to solve cold cases. There are more capital prosecutors in Colorado than there are people on death row.

In Illinois, court is expected to grant relief today to the 200th person exonerated based on DNA evidence. Jerry Miller spent 25 years in prison based on faulty eyewitness identifications.

In Ohio, innocent man freed after serving 16 1/2 years for a crime he did not commit. Randy Resh and his lawyers burst into tears of joy upon hearing the verdict: not guilty on all counts.

In Tennessee, American Bar Association calls on state to extend moratorium and fix problems with poor representation and disparity on death row. An execution has been scheduled for May 9th.

In Texas, district attorney asks county to pick up the tab for DNA and case reviews that freed 13 innocent men. Squabbling over who should pay could mean innocent people spend more time in prison.


Lethal Injection Update

April 17, 2007

Click here to view a brief filed on behalf of five North Carolina death row inmates (Jerry Conner, James Campbell, Archie Billings, Marcus Robinson, and James Thomas).

A little background. You may recall that the whole execution train got derailed back in January when it was determined that the State’s lethal injection protocol was never properly approved by the Council of State. The Council of State quickly OK’d said protocol. The problem? Administrative agencies like the Council are required by law to follow certain procedures, including holding public hearings about proposed rule changes, with which the Council failed to comply. Since then, the attorneys for a number of death row inmates have filed suit in the Office of Administrative Hearings to demand that the Council do things right. The Council responded by filing a motion to dismiss the suit, saying that they don’t have to follow the procedures. Above is the response of the inmates to that motion. Included are several appendices related to attempts made by the attorneys to gain access to the Council of State and prior litigation regarding the lethal injection protocol.

I will grant you that administrative law is not the most exciting thing in the world. Here is why this matters – the hearing that the Council of State should have held would have been the only opportunity for public comment on and revision of the flawed lethal injection protocol. The Council refused to hear from anyone other than the State’s attorneys and ignored evidence that the protocol puts inmates at an unconstitutional and unconscionable risk of dying an agonizing death. The people of North Carolina have been denied any input into this ultimate punishment to be carried out on their behalf.

The Department of Corrections is immune from administrative law regulations. Up until recently, they’ve been pretty much free to make up the execution protocol as they go along. For a while, the DOC was administering half of the barbiturate after the drugs that paralyze the muscles and stop the heart – when the inmate was already dead, and long after the anesthetic could have served its intended purpose. Jonas Salk they’re not. There are aspects of the current lethal injection protocol that are similarly nonsensical. Someone with a hand in designing the protocol ought to have some idea what they’re doing. Quite simply, the Council of State needs to be fully informed before it makes its decision.

Given that not following the rules is what got them into this mess in the first place, you would think the State would be a little more careful. It’s clear that the State just wants these men dead, by any means necessary. Having a lethal injection protocol that doesn’t inflict unnecessary torture on the condemned is not about giving undue dignity to cold-blooded killers. It’s about maintaining our own dignity, lest we become cold-blooded killers ourselves.


News Update 3.02.07

March 2, 2007

North Carolina

State and Medical Board at impasse over executions. More from The Winston-Salem Journal. The (Raleigh) News & Observer doesn’t expect a resolution until after Archie Billings’s and Allen Holman’s execution dates have passed. The issue is expected to go back to the courts.

The (Durham) Herald-Sun on why the State Bar is under almost as much scrutiny as Mike Nifong.

Elsewhere

In lieu of the usual out-of-state news, a few reading suggestions:

The Death Penalty: An American History by Stuart Banner – A neutral and highly detailed synopsis of four centuries of capital punishment in America. Learn about changes in crimes punishable by death, methods of execution, public reaction, arguments for and against the death penalty, and more.

The Death Penalty in America: Current Controversies by Hugo Adam Bedau – While the book is a bit out of date (published in 1998) and quite slanted towards abolition, it provides information from a variety of sources (practitioners, academics, statues, court decisions, government studies) on most of the major debates pertaining to capital punishment.


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