Month: April 2012

US – Free After 25 Years: A Tale Of Murder And Injustice – Michael Morton

April 30 Source :

The past few years in Texas have seen a parade of DNA exonerations: more than 40 men so far. The first exonerations were big news, but the type has grown smaller as Texans have watched a dismaying march of exonerees, their wasted years haunting the public conscience.

Yet a case in Williamson County, just north of Austin, is raising the ante. Michael Morton had been sentenced to life in prison for murdering his wife. He was released six months ago — 25 years after being convicted — when DNA testing proved he was not the killer.

Instead of merely seeking financial compensation, Morton is working to fix the system. His lawyers, including The Innocence Project, want to hold the man who put him behind bars accountable. They also want new laws to make sure Morton’s story is never repeated.

The Day Of The Murder

On the morning of Aug. 13, 1986, Morton was getting ready for work as head of the pharmacy department at a nearby Safeway in Austin. He closed the door to his home, blissfully unaware that the next time he saw his wife of seven years she would be in a coffin. Morton had nine hours of his normal life left. The clock ran out after work, when he arrived to pick up his son from day care.

“First time I figured something was up was when I locked eyes with the baby sitter,” he says. “She looked at me real weird, like, ‘What are you doing here? Eric’s not here, why are you here?’ ”

Morton was immediately worried and called home. The man who answered was Williamson County Sheriff Jim Boutwell. The sheriff refused to answer Morton’s questions and told him to come home immediately. Morton drove there in a panic.

“There were a lot of cars in the street. There was a big yellow crime-scene ribbon around our house,” he says. “Neighbors were across the street, clustered on the corner … talking to each other, and of course, when my truck comes racing up, they all kind of key on me.”

Boutwell met Morton outside the front door and, in front of everyone, bluntly told him Christine Morton was dead, murdered in their bedroom. Morton reeled.

“You really don’t know how you’re going to react until it happens to you, and with me, I remember it was as if I was … falling inside myself,” he says.

Morton was stunned, nearly mute, which fueled the sheriff’s suspicions and became a major prosecution touchstone at his trial. The fact that Morton didn’t cry out or weep became evidence that he didn’t love his wife and had killed her.

Boutwell took Morton into the living room, his wife’s body still down the hall. For the next four hours, Morton answered every question the sheriff could think of and never once asked for a lawyer.

“In my mind, I knew that, ‘OK, he’s doing his job. You have to eliminate the suspects, so he’s got to tick off these certain questions and get rid of me as a suspect and get on with this thing,’ ” he says.

The ‘Evidence’

Morton was wrong. Boutwell had already decided that Morton was his No. 1 one suspect. The previous day had been Morton’s birthday, and the family had gone out for a nice dinner. After getting home and putting Eric to bed, Morton was hoping for a “happy ending” with his wife. That’s not what happened, though, and Morton’s feelings were hurt. He wrote her something the next morning before he left for work.

Chris, I know you didn’t mean to, but you made me feel really unwanted last night. After a good meal, we came home, you binged on the rest of the cookies, then you farted and fell asleep. I’m not mad. I just wanted you to know how I feel without us getting into a fight about sex. Just think how you’d feel if you were left hanging on your birthday. I love you.”

This note, left on the couple’s bathroom mirror, turned out to be Morton’s doom.

Williamson County District Attorney Ken Anderson used it to weave a sensational tale of unspeakable violence. In Anderson’s version of the crime, Morton used a wooden club to viciously bludgeon his wife’s head because she wouldn’t have sex with him. Then, in triumph over her body, he pleasured himself. The mild-mannered pharmacy manager was transformed into a sexually sick, murderous psychopath.

It was all a prosecutorial fantasy; none of it was true. Yet Anderson pounded his fists into his hands and wept to the jury as he described Morton’s perversity. Compared with this vivid picture of the crime, Morton’s defense didn’t have a lot to offer.

“The defense was that [Morton] didn’t do it, and we don’t know who did it. But whoever did it snuck in and committed a really vicious, vicious murder,” says Bill Anderson, now a criminal law professor at the University of Texas who was Morton’s lawyer in 1986. “And that is very frightening. A jury, by convicting [Morton], makes themselves safe. They’ve solved the case and they can go on about their business.”

What the jury and the defense lawyers didn’t know about was the evidence that had been concealed by Williamson County law enforcement. Only the sheriff’s office and the district attorney knew about it.

Undisclosed Information

For the past eight years, John Raley, of the Houston firm Raley & Bowick, has spent thousands of hours pro bono as Morton’s lawyer. “There were fingerprints on the sliding glass door, and there were fingerprints on the luggage that was piled on Christine Morton’s body,” he says. That’s not all: A neighbor told police that she’d seen a man in a green van casing the Morton home. Repeatedly.

“The neighbors report that they had seen a strange van driving around the neighborhood, stopping around the Morton house. The man in the van would drive around back to the wooded area and walk into the wooded area in back,” Raley says. “The interesting thing is, it’s around that area where the bandanna that contains the DNA was eventually found.”

A bloody bandanna had been found by a deputy behind the Morton home. Incredibly, the sheriff’s office decided to ignore it and left it lying on the ground.

Read full article (pictures, listen the story)  : click here 

OKLAHOMA – Green Country Family Waits Decades For Justice

TULSA, Oklahoma  april 24 source

For the next 20 years, Debbie and her mother drove to the prison twice a year to oppose parole for both men.

Watch the video news: click here 

Clayton’s daughter and her mother




A Green Country family has waited nearly four decades for justice. Michael Selsor was given a death sentence for murdering Clayton Chandler in 1975. Selsor’s execution is next week.

Chandler’s family has been fighting for 37 years for this execution, waiting while Selsor had years of appeals and a second trial. Now that clemency has been denied, they’re finally allowed to tell their story.

On September 15th, 1975, Clayton Chandler was getting ready to close the U-Tote-M convenience store, along with worker Ina Morris, when Michael Selsor and Richard Dodson came in to rob it.

They later told police they agreed ahead of time: leave no witnesses.

“He had a choice,” daughter Debbie Huggins said. “He did not have to kill Dad; he did not have to pull the trigger.”

After getting around $500 from the register, Selsor shot Clayton six times; he died on the floor. Dodson shot Morris in the head, neck and shoulder, but she survived. The two men were later arrested in California.

At the first trial, a jury found Selsor guilty and sentenced him to die. But the next year, the Supreme Court declared the death penalty unconstitutional and seven years after that, Selsor was up for parole.

“We thought our nightmare in hell was losing Dad, little did we know what was in store for us,” Debbie said.

For the next 20 years, Debbie and her mother drove to the prison twice a year to oppose parole for both men.

“Every year you went before the parole board,” Debbie said. “It took you back to the night he died, gut wrenching, the fear, the trauma, the feelings, they all come forward.”

Selsor’s many appeals paid off and he was granted a new trial 20 years after his first, but that jury also found him guilty and sentenced him to death.

More Than 36 years after Clayton Chandler was gunned down, Selsor is scheduled to die.

“No remorse, no I’m sorry, nothing but hate,” Debbie said.

Debbie says she and her mother were not driven to fight all these years out of a sense of revenge, only by the desire to get justice for the man they loved and lost.

“My dad did not have a choice,” Debbie said. “He’s gone. Michael Selsor should pay the same price.”

Both Selsor and Dodson had records when arrested for murdering Clayton. Plus, Selsor told police they’d committed four robberies before the one they weren’t arrested for. In previous robberies, they stabbed the clerk and shot another with a shotgun.

Selsor’s execution is next Tuesday.

OKLAHOMA – Limited drug supply may hinder executions

April 30 source

Michael B. Selsor: His execution is set for Tuesday unless the governor intervenes.

When (and if) Michael Selsor’s death sentence is carried out Tuesday, Oklahoma will only have enough supply of its lethal injection cocktail to execute one more inmate.

The pentobarbital that Oklahoma has used for the first part of its three-step execution process is in short supply nationally, and the Oklahoma Department of Corrections has nearly exhausted its remaining doses with the executions of Gary Welch and Timothy Stemple earlier this year.

“We’re still exploring our options,” DOC spokesman Jerry Massie said.

Pentobarbital became the first step of Oklahoma’s three-part lethal injection formula in 2010, after sodium thiopental supplies ran short and a federal judge blocked states from using foreign-manufactured versions of the drug.

In the second and third steps of Oklahoma’s lethal injection, vecuronium bromide stops respiratory function and potassium chloride stops the heart, Massie said.

According to Board of Corrections reports, as many as seven executions are possible in Oklahoma this year, which would be double the annual average. In 2001, the state executed a record 18 inmates.

Unless the governor intervenes, Selsor is scheduled to die Tuesday at Oklahoma State Penitentiary for his role in the shooting death of a Tulsa convenience store manager during a 1975 robbery spree that left at least three other people injured. He was originally sentenced to death, but that sentence was commuted to life in prison after the state’s death penalty law was found unconstitutional. An appeals court granted him a new trial in 1998, and another jury found him guilty and once again sentenced him to die.

Because execution dates aren’t set until an inmate’s final appeal is denied, and the U.S. Supreme Court takes its recess in June, officials don’t anticipate having to make a decision regarding the lethal injection drugs for several months, Massie said.

Death-row inmate Garry Thomas Allen was scheduled to be executed this month, but a federal judge issued a stay so that questions regarding his mental competency might be examined.

There are other drugs on the market that work similarly to pentobarbital, but switching drugs would likely initiate a court challenge similar to what the state faced when it switched to pentobarbital from sodium thiopental, Massie said. A judge ultimately ruled to allow Oklahoma to use the drug, which is widely used in veterinary medicine.

Over the past few years, several drug manufacturers have refused to sell those drugs to states that intend to use them for executions.


LOUISIANA – Todd Wessinger – Execution May 9 – Stayed

april 25 source :


A federal judge in Baton Rouge has granted a temporary stay of execution for a man convicted in the 1995 slaying of two workers at a now-closed restaurant.
The Advocate reports Todd Wessinger was scheduled to be executed May 9 but U.S. District Judge James Brady granted the stay while he reviews arguments presented Wednesday by his attorneys, who asked for a permanent stay of the death penalty order.
Brady did not say when he would rule on the request.
Wessinger, a former dishwasher at a now-closed Calendar’s restaurant, was found guilty and sentenced to die by lethal injection for fatally shooting 27-year-old Stephanie Guzzardo and 46-year-old David Breakwell on Nov. 19, 1995

CONNECTICUT – Conn. death penalty repeal to stir challenges

april 28 source :

HARTFORD, Conn. (WTW) — The repeal of capital punishment in Connecticut came too late for Richard Roszkowski, whose death penalty trial is set this year for killing three people in Bridgeport.

The case will be closely watched as a possible test of the new law that is supposed to apply only to future crimes.

The repeal measure signed into law Wednesday by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy preserves the death penalty for the 11 inmates on Connecticut’s death row and for pending cases like Roszkowski’s. With challenges expected from defense lawyers in those cases, Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane and Chief Public Defender Susan Storey say state courts likely will decide whether the prospective repeal violates the rights of death row inmates and people with pending capital felony cases.

“There are very strong arguments that certainly will be made that any future executions would be unconstitutional,” Kane said.

A new argument raised by the repeal, legal experts say, is whether it violates the constitutional right to equal protection by differently treating two groups of people — those who committed capital crimes before the repeal and those who committed such crimes afterward.

It’s not clear if Roszkowski’s public defenders will use the repeal law to challenge the state’s attempts to put him on death row. Michael Courtney, supervisor of the public defenders’ capital defense unit, declined to comment on Roszkowski’s case, but said officials in his office will meet soon to discuss the potential effects of the new law.

“Ultimately that issue may well be appropriate to litigate,” Courtney said.

The state has about a dozen pending capital felony cases, although the death penalty is not being sought in all of them. Another case that may challenge the repeal is an appeal by nearly all the state’s death row inmates who allege the death penalty is arbitrary and racially biased. That case is set to go to trial in June.

Roszkowski, 47, a former Trumbull resident, was convicted of capital felony and murder in 2009 and sentenced to lethal injection for gunning down a man, woman and 9-year-old girl on a Bridgeport street on Sept. 7, 2006. But the trial judge later threw out the death sentence because of a mistake in the jury instructions and ordered a new penalty phase, which is set to begin with jury selection in June.

Prosecutors said Roszkowski killed ex-girlfriend Holly Flannery, 39, her daughter Kylie and his former roommate Thomas Gaudet, 38. Witnesses testified at trial that Roszkowski stalked Flannery after she broke off their relationship and falsely believed Gaudet was having an affair with her.

Opinions in the legal community are mixed as to whether the repeal will have any impact on current death row inmates and pending capital felony cases.

In testimony submitted to the legislature’s Judiciary Committee in March, the Quinnipiac University School of Law Civil Justice Clinic said repealing the death penalty for future murders would have no effect on current or past cases. The clinic noted that the state Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the death penalty in November, and that New Mexico’s 2009 death penalty repeal for future crimes was upheld last year by that state’s Supreme Court — which is the only court in the country to have directly addressed the issue.

But Storey, the chief public defender, told the Judiciary Committee in March that a prospective repeal was certain to raise legitimate constitutional issues.

“A prospective appeal would be an important advance, but leaving existing death sentences in place would not fully implement the policy goals of repealing the death penalty,” Storey testified.

Opponents of the repeal law have said they’re worried that death row inmates could successfully argue to have their sentences commuted to life in prison. That was an argument of Dr. William Petit, the only survivor of a 2007 home invasion in which two paroled burglars killed his wife and two daughters. The two killers are now on death row.

William Dunlap, a professor at the Quinnipiac University School of Law, said defense lawyers in death penalty cases will certainly raise issues related to the repeal, but he doesn’t believe they will be successful. He said equal protection violations occur when groups of people are treated differently for no good reason, but the change of the state’s capital felony law provides a good reason.

“When the (pre-repeal) crimes were committed, those people knew or certainly had reason to know that Connecticut had the death penalty,” Dunlap said.

Connecticut is the 17th state to repeal capital punishment, and the fifth in five years. In the past five decades, the state has executed only one person, serial killer Michael Ross in 2005, who pushed for his death sentence to be carried out.

DALLAS – 2 men to be exonerated in Dallas sex assault case

april 27 source :

Two men convicted of raping a woman outside a Dallas bar almost 30 years ago will be declared innocent after DNA testing implicated two other men in the attack, authorities said Friday.

James Curtis Williams and Raymond Jackson received life sentences for the November 1983 assault but were recently released on parole.

They will be formally declared innocent in Dallas County court Monday morning. The two other men,Frederick Anderson and Marion Doll Sayles, will be charged with attempted capital murder, authorities said.

Dallas County has now exonerated 32 people since 2001, most during the tenure of District Attorney Craig Watkins. Almost all of those exonerations have involved faulty eyewitness identifications.

Authorities say the woman was forced into a vehicle at gunpoint and later sexually assaulted by two men. She was then shot and left for dead in a field.

Williams and Jackson had been implicated in another sexual assault case and were placed in a photo lineup for this one, said Russell Wilson, the prosecutor in charge of Dallas County’s conviction integrity unit. The victim picked them out of the lineup.

The Associated Press does not name victims of sexual assault.

DNA collected from the woman’s clothing and a rape kit exam was preserved and later tested. Tests linked the DNA to Anderson and Sayles.

After they were convicted, Williams and Jackson pleaded guilty in the other sexual assault case and received shorter sentences that have since expired, authorities said. The men didn’t challenge their convictions in that case and will still have to register as sex offenders because of that crime, said Julie Doucet, an attorney in the Dallas County public defender’s office.

“They’re extremely happy to finally be cleared of this crime,” she said.

Williams, now 54, will no longer be on parole after Monday. Jackson, 67, will for a robbery committed in 1970, Doucet said.

The charges to be brought against Anderson, 52, and Sayles, 55, are rare. Despite the high number of exonerations in Dallas County, only three people have been prosecuted in cases where someone was wrongfully convicted, said Jamille Bradfield, a spokeswoman for the Dallas County district attorney.

In this case, prosecutors are charging Anderson and Sayles with attempted capital murder because that crime doesn’t carry a statute of limitations, Wilson said.

Anderson is being held in the Dallas County jail, and a bench warrant has been issued for Sayles, Wilson said. Neither man had an attorney listed in online jail records.

MONTANA – Ronald Smith makes his final bid to escape execution

April 27 source


Albertan Ronald Smith is the only Canadian on death row in the U.S. He has finally exhausted his legal appeals to avoid execution for the 1982 murders of two men, but is seeking executive clemency. Ronald  Smith  is the only Canadian on death row in U.S

It happened along the highway that cuts through a picturesque mountain pass in northwest Montana, not far from the Canada-U.S. border south of Lethbridge, Alta., in a roadside stand of trees located almost exactly on the Continental Divide.

The place where 24-year-old Albertan Ronald Smith murdered two young Montana men in August 1982 was, looking back over nearly 30 years, a portentous setting: Smith’s cold-blooded killing of Blackfeet Indian cousins Thomas Running Rabbit, 20, and Harvey Mad Man, 23 — whose fatal mistake was kindly offering a lift to the drunk and drugged-up Canadian hitchhiker and his two friends from Red Deer, Alta. — has underscored North America’s deep continental divide over capital punishment, which is still in use throughout much of the United States but was abolished in Canada in 1976.

Now 54, Smith is the only Canadian on death row in the U.S. He has finally exhausted his legal appeals to avoid execution for his horrific crimes, but is seeking executive clemency — and a new sentence of life imprisonment — at a Montana parole board hearing to be held on Wednesday in Deer Lodge, a city in the Rocky Mountain foothills where the state’s maximum-security prison is situated.

The three-member parole panel — which will make its recommendation to Gov. Brian Schweitzer, who ultimately decides Smith’s fate — will hear arguments from state justice officials, members of the victims’ families and others who believe Smith should, as originally sentenced three decades ago, be put to death by lethal injection in the prison’s execution chamber.

“This is the first time that we get to, as a family, sit in the judicial system to face the guy that murdered our boys,” Gabe Grant, uncle to both Running Rabbit and Mad Man, told Postmedia News this week. “We intend to go down there (to Deer Lodge) and be strong. We intend to be adamantly and unitedly joined in denying his clemency.”

The 62-year-old Grant, a housing administrator with the Blackfeet Nation in Browning, Mont., said he will speak at the clemency hearing to describe how his nephews’ deaths were “devastating” for members of their large extended family and led to the “early deaths” of his two sisters — the mothers of Mad Man and Running Rabbit.

“It drove them to break down. They were seemingly normal people back then. But when this happened, it completely devastated their lives,” he recalled.

“We used to do all kinds of family things — the sisters and brothers. Our mother was the hub of our family, Cecile, and when this happened, it put a screeching halt to family activities because of the impact of what happened. We eventually recovered to a certain point, but never to the fullest extent of the good times that were enjoyed prior to that.”

Montana state attorneys will lean heavily on the family’s anguish in arguing to parole officials that Smith does not deserve clemency.

The Alberta-born killer “remorselessly took the lives” of two cousins, Montana’s justice department states in its written submission to the clemency panel, obtained this week by Postmedia News.

Running Rabbit and Mad Man “were loved by countless family members and friends,” the document states, noting how the victims’ “loved ones have suffered the pain and agony of their deaths for over a quarter of a century, a pain that never ends. They can never be replaced.”

Smith confessed to the gunshot murders of the two men. And he initially asked for the death penalty before changing his mind and launching what became a decades-long legal struggle to avoid execution for a crime he claimed was carried out in a haze of drug- and alcohol-fuelled “foolishness.”

Smith’s legal team — including Montana-based defence attorney Greg Jackson and Texas human rights lawyer Don Vernay — will argue that the Canadian inmate is a model prisoner and a transformed human being, a man so filled with regret and remorse over his murderous actions 30 years ago that the state should give Smith what he so brutally denied Mad Man and Running Rabbit: a chance to keep living.

“We would never, ever question the horrendous nature of the crime and the horrendous impact it had on the community,” Jackson said Friday. But echoing several points made in the 19-page clemency application he filed on Smith’s behalf in January, Jackson highlighted the “tremendous growth and rehabilitation” and “exemplary behaviour” the Canadian inmate has exhibited during his incarceration, as well as “the remorse and repentance” he has shown.

“He’s a changed man,” the lawyer said.

Others will address the hearing, possibly Smith’s daughter and sister — both of whom recently told Postmedia News that they’ve nurtured close relationships with Smith despite his long incarceration — as well as advocates on both sides of what has become a lively death-penalty debate in Montana and the broader United States.

But conspicuously silent during the proceedings will be the Canadian government, which recently — and only reluctantly — sent a letter to Montana officials seeking clemency for Smith.

The letter, signed by Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, stated that while the Canadian government “does not sympathize with violent crime,” it is seeking clemency for Smith “on humanitarian grounds.”

Baird’s letter also noted that the government’s backing of the clemency bid “should not be construed as reflecting a judgment on Mr. Smith’s conduct,” and stipulated that his department was, in fact, “ordered” by the Federal Court of Canada in 2009 “to support Mr. Smith’s case for clemency.”

In effect, the Conservative government has made clear that if its court-forced request to spare Smith’s life is ignored by Montana officials, it won’t be terribly miffed.

“Ultimately, decisions regarding Mr. Smith’s case lie with the relevant U.S. authorities,” a Foreign Affairs spokesperson told Postmedia News earlier this month. “Mr. Smith pleaded guilty and was subsequently convicted of murdering two people. These were admitted crimes.”

Jackson called the Canadian government’s grudging, quasi-backing of Smith “a tremendous disappointment,” adding: “The statement they’ve made (in the letter) is the statement we’re stuck with.”

Opposition critics have condemned the government’s lukewarm efforts in support of Smith’s clemency bid as a “deplorable” indication of the Conservative party’s ambiguous stance on capital punishment and as a “cynical” strategy that could, in fact, “sink” Smith’s petition to avoid execution.

Nevertheless, obtaining even Canada’s nominal endorsement for the clemency initiative was a significant achievement for Smith’s legal team after the Conservative government’s previous decision, in October 2007, to halt diplomatic efforts to prevent Smith’s execution.

That move was prompted by a Postmedia News story that detailed fresh efforts by Canadian diplomats to convince Schweitzer to commute Smith’s sentence and transfer him to a prison in Canada.

At the time, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said his government’s decision to abandon Smith was driven by concerns that lobbying for the killer’s life would “send the wrong signal” to Canadians about violent crime.

“We have no desire to open the debate on capital punishment here in Canada — and likewise, we have no desire to participate in the debate on capital punishment in the United States,” Harper stated at the time. “The reality of this particular case is that were we to intervene, it would very quickly become a question of whether we are prepared to repatriate a double-murderer to Canada. In light of this government’s strong initiatives on tackling violent crime, I think that would sent the wrong signal to the Canadian population.”

But the Federal Court ruling in a lawsuit later launched by Smith’s legal team said the government’s withdrawal of support for clemency was “unlawful.” The decision compelled Canadian officials to restart talks with Montana — and eventually forced Baird’s hand in the December letter that officially, if not insistently, asked the state not to put Smith to death.

Grant acknowledged that critics of capital punishment have a point when they say innocent people are sometimes executed in the United States.

“It’s not that in this case,” he said. “Ronald Smith, right from the get-go, said ‘I did it.’ He boasted about it. He jumped up and down and said, ‘Take me — give me the death penalty.’ So it’s not a case of executing somebody innocent.

“He was not remorseful then. I don’t believe he’s ever been.”

BOOKS : “The Death Penalty Failed Experiment: From Gary Graham to Troy Davis in Context”

A new book published in electronic format, The Death Penalty Failed Experiment: From Gary Graham to Troy Davis in Context by Diann Rust-Tierney, examines the problem of arbitrariness in the death penalty since its reinstatement in 1976. Through an analysis of the cases of Gary Graham and Troy Davis, the author argues that race, wealth and geography play a more significant role in determining who faces capital punishment than the facts of the crime itself. Both defendants had significant claims of innocence; both were black defendants who were ultimately executed in the South; in both cases, the victim in the underlying murder was white.  Graham was executed in Texas in 2000 and Davis was executed in Georgia in 2011.  Rust-Tierney writes, “How do you administer the most severe punishment imaginable in a manner that is accurate, free from bias and demonstrably fair? Until we are all seen and treated as equal, we cannot afford to keep capital punishment.”  Ms. Rust-Tierney is an attorney and Executive Director of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. Download a copy of the ebook here.

(D. Rust-Tierney, “The Death Penalty Failed Experiment: From Gary Graham to Troy Davis in Context,” McKinney & Associates, April 2012).  The Death Penalty Failed Experiment is the second publication in McKinney & Associates’ Voice Matters: An eBook Series on Public Relations with a Conscience.  See Arbitrariness and Race.  Read more Books on the death penalty.  Listen to DPIC’s Podcast on Arbitrariness.

Thomas Kemp Execution sparks Debate Over Single-Drug Lethal Injection

april 26, source :

A Kentucky judge ordered state officials to consider using a single drug to carry out executions instead of a series of three drugs used by many states where the death penalty is legal.

The judge’s ruling on Wednesday was handed down on the same day that a controversy erupted over the execution of a man in Arizona using a single drug.

Thomas Kemp was put to death in Arizona on Wednesday using the single drug pentobarbital. His lawyer Tim Gabrielsen, who witnessed the execution, said after Kemp had been put to death that the inmate began to “shake violently” after the drug was injected.

In an interview with Reuters on Thursday, Gabrielsen said he was concerned that his client might have suffered cruel and unusual pain before he died. A corrections official who also witnessed the execution disputed Gabrielsen’s account.

A handful of the 33 states where capital punishment is legal use a single drug. In addition to Arizona, they are South Dakota, Idaho, Ohio and Washington.

In a ruling issued on Wednesday in Frankfort, Kentucky, Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd gave state officials 90 days to decide whether to adopt rules for carrying out executions with a single drug. Without such action, Shepherd said he would move toward a trial on a lawsuit against the state of Kentucky brought by six inmates on death row.

The judge also gave the state the same period to adopt regulations to guard against executing mentally ill or insane prisoners. The inmates argued that the three-drug execution method violates their Eighth Amendment constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment.

In the three-drug series, pentobarbital or another sedative is administered to put the inmate to sleep before two other drugs are given to paralyze the person and stop the heart.

Death row inmates in several states have challenged this procedure in courts, arguing that if the sedative is not administered properly, the inmate could be subject to cruel and unusual pain before death when the other drugs are injected.

Inmates have argued it would be more humane to inject a massive dose of the sedative to kill the inmate and eliminate the other drugs.

Judge Shepherd said a 2008 U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing the three-drug method was partly based on the fact that no states were then using a single-drug method and there were no studies that showed it would be an equally effective method.

“Thus, the Supreme Court’s affirmation of the three-drug protocol was contingent on the absence of any proven alternative method of lethal injection,” Shepherd wrote in his ruling.

But the judge said since then, the five states have approved using a single barbiturate-only procedure and that at least 18 people have been executed in that manner.

The Kentucky ruling, along with actions by a handful of states to switch to single-drug executions, is “giving momentum to the argument that this is a more humane, safer protocol,” said Richard Dieter, director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington.

Dieter said a consensus could be building toward a one-drug method as opposed to the three-drug protocol.

A spokeswoman for Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway said on Thursday he would not comment on the ruling until it is reviewed by state officials including the Department of Corrections. Governor Steve Beshear also noted the ruling was under review but declined further comment.

Kentucky last carried out an execution in 2008. The state has executed only three people since the death penalty was reinstated in the United States in 1976.

FLORIDA – Advocates keep swinging for Fla. death row inmate – Tommy Zeigler

april 22 source

In 35 years on Florida’s death row, Tommy Zeigler’s cries of innocence have swayed a former newspaper editor, the daughter of a police chief who helped put him behind bars and an assortment of others who have come to believe that he didn’t commit one of the state’s most notorious mass slayings of the 1970s.

A reporter wrote a book about him called “Fatal Flaw,’’ and national TV programs — including “Unsolved Mysteries’’ — turned a skeptical eye on the evidence. His many supporters now range from a former sheriff’s deputy who helped investigate the slayings to celebrity civil rights activist Bianca Jagger. A private investigator believes in the 66-year-old Zeigler’s innocence so strongly that she picked up his case last year and has worked on it almost full time for free.

On April 11, Zeigler’s longtime lawyers tried again to get the appeals courts to re-examine his case. A new motion claims evidence turned up recently by the investigator pokes more holes in the case against Zeigler and creates enough new reasonable doubt to tip the scales in favor of a new trial. The document claims prosecutors lied and withheld information from Zeigler’s lawyers — including the existence of a key witness.

Prosecutors then and now have portrayed Zeigler as a calculating monster who slaughtered his wife, her parents and another man in the family furniture store on Christmas Eve 1975 to collect insurance money.

Of Florida’s 399 condemned prisoners, only 11 have been on death row longer than Zeigler. Having already survived two death warrants, he can’t help but wonder how soon his time will come now that the state’s death chamber is humming again. Four men have been executed in the past seven months under Gov. Rick Scott — the latest on April 12. Two of them had been there three decades or more. Zeigler knew them well; they were as close to friends as anyone gets in “P-Dorm’’ at Union Correctional Institution.

“When I left on July 16, 1976, and came to death row, my lawyers told me not to bother to unpack, they’d have me out in six months,’’ Zeigler said in an interview at the prison recently. “It’s been a long six months.’

From the beginning, it wasn’t just his defense team that doubted William Thomas Zeigler Jr. was capable of committing the awful crimes.

At 30 he had more than a million dollars in assets thanks to his family’s furniture store, and was a well-liked and prominent figure in the small town of Winter Garden, just west of Orlando. He and his wife Eunice lived in a nice house not far from the store, doted on their many Persian cats and seemed to get along just fine. He’d never been arrested.

That’s why it is still so hard for many to believe that he was responsible for the bloody, confusing scene at the W.T. Zeigler Furniture store on Dec. 24, 1975. Prosecutors say it happened like this: Zeigler lured Eunice to the store to kill her, and her parents, Perry and Virginia Edwards, got in the way. A fruit picker Zeigler knew named Charlie Mays was killed, too. Then Zeigler shot himself in the stomach to make it appear as if they’d been the victims of a robbery. He staged it all so he could collect on a $500,000 life insurance policy he took out on his wife just months before. All the victims were shot.

Neither side disputes that Zeigler, at 9:20 that night, called the house of a municipal judge who was hosting a Christmas party with many prominent people in attendance and reported that he’d been shot at the store.

The story Zeigler told that night is the same story he tells today. He says he went to the store to do some last minute Christmas deliveries. Unbeknownst to him, his wife and in-laws, who had come to look at a recliner that was to be her father’s Christmas present, were already dead in various places in the store when he arrived. After finding the lights shut off at the breaker box, he was hit over the head and beaten by two men. He lost his glasses but managed to find and fire one of the guns he kept in the store. He believes Mays — who had cash from the store stuffed in his pocket — was one of the attackers and was killed in the gunfight. Zeigler says that when he came to after being knocked out, he was the only one left alive in the store. Whoever else attacked him had fled.

Zeigler had a reputation in town for sticking up for minorities and migrants who worked picking fruit in the area. He and others believe he was attacked and then framed in a law-enforcement conspiracy because he was about to uncover corruption involving high-ranking local officials, including a loansharking operation that preyed on the migrant workers.

Zeigler was found guilty on July 2, 1976, amid allegations of juror misconduct. One of the jurors, now dead, said in media interviews after the trial that she believed Zeigler was innocent and that she was harassed and coerced into voting guilty by other jurors who wanted to finish up in time for the nation’s Bicentennial celebration two days later. The jury then voted to recommend a life sentence for Zeigler, but the judge — in an exceedingly rare move in Florida — overruled the panel and sentenced him to death.

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