Day: April 19, 2012

DELAWARE – Shannon Jonhson execution Delayed

april 19 source :

WILMINGTON — A federal judge on Wednesday indefinitely delayed Friday’s scheduled execution of convicted killer Shannon M. Johnson, saying he needed more time to “digest” a massive legal filing by the Delaware Federal Public Defender’s Office, which is seeking to stop the lethal injection.

Johnson, 28, waived all his remaining appeals to speed his execution and was declared competent to waive those legal rights by Superior Court Judge M. Jane Brady last month.

However, federal defenders acting on behalf of Johnson’s sister, Lakeisha Ford, argue that Johnson is not competent due to mental illness and substandard intelligence and a state court competency review was flawed.

Johnson was convicted in 2008 of the murder of 25-year-old Cameron Hamlin. Hamlin’s father, Vandrick, was in the courtroom Wednesday and seemed taken aback by the turn of events.

Afterward, he was briefly speechless before saying that he was disappointed by U.S. District Chief Judge Gregory M. Sleet’s ruling to stay Johnson’s execution.

State prosecutors and Johnson’s court-appointed attorney, Jennifer-Kate Aaronson, also seemed stunned by the ruling and objected to the delay. Deputy Attorney General Paul Wallace described the lengthy brief filed by public defenders on Friday — six days before the execution — as a ploy designed “to ensure they get a stay.”

“It is Mr. Johnson’s view that he has been accorded all constitutional due process,” Aaronson told Sleet.

Wallace told Sleet that the state would appeal the issue to the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals.

The appeal seeking to reinstate Johnson’s Friday execution was filed with the Philadelphia-based appeals court several hours later. The 30-page motion to vacate the stay of execution filed with the appeals court mirrors the brief state prosecutors filed with Sleet on Monday, opposing the federal defender’s petition. It concludes that Sleet lacked jurisdiction to issue a stay because the state court’s finding that Johnson is competent was reasonable.

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ALABAMA- Dothan man sentenced to death for third time – Jerry Jerome Smith

april 18, 2012 source :

Randolph Flournoy said he’ll never forgive Jerry Jerome Smith for killing his brother more than 15 years ago.

Jerry Smith

“God already done spoken through the judge,” said Flournoy.

Houston County Circuit Court Judge Michael Conaway sentenced 41-year-old Smith to death Wednesday, affirming a recommendation by a jury returned earlier this year.

It became the third time a Houston County judge has sentenced Smith to death for the same capital murder convictions.

A jury found Smith guilty of killing Willie James Flournoy, 40, of Dothan, Theresa Ann Helms, 26, of Wicksburg and David Lee Bennett, 29, of Midland City. The three people were killed at a Sturgeon Court residence on Oct. 19, 1996, which police had described as a crack house. All three people were shot to death in the home.

Several months ago the state Supreme Court upheld Smith’s conviction, but reversed his sentence.

The judge could have affirmed the jury’s recommendation of the death penalty or overturned it and issued a sentence of life in prison without the opportunity for parole.

“Let’s go ahead and give him his last meal,” Flournoy said. “You can not pat the devil on the head and think he’s going to change.”

Marvin Helms said Smith fatally shot his sister seven times.

“I’m tired of coming here for the same thing,” Helms said. “He shot two men less times than he shot my sister. They don’t need to give him life. They need to go on and kill him. They need to take him down to sparky.”

According to the website, the primary method of execution is lethal injection in Alabama, although inmates convicted before 2002 can choose either electrocution or lethal injection.

In contrast, Bobby Bennett, the brother of David Lee Bennett, said he disagreed with the court’s sentence.

“I think it should’ve been life without parole. Maybe God can use this young man, even in prison,” Bennett said. “I just don’t believe in taking a man’s life. Who are we to judge?”

Bennett recalled his brother as a forgiving person.

“I still believe in chances even though my brother didn’t have any,” Bennett said. “God brings closure. God forgives, and so must we.”

Conaway heard arguments from Smith’s attorney, Aaron Gartlan, and Houston County District Attorney Doug Valeska before making his ruling.

Attorney David Hogg, who also represented Smith, said his client’s first two sentences were reversed. The death sentence was reversed because of comments made by some of the relatives of victims in the murders during the jury selection of the trial.

Valeska referred to Smith as someone who ran a drug trafficking enterprise. Valeska also said Smith has shown the court no remorse.

Smith turned down an opportunity to say anything before the court made its ruling.

“All he wanted was money for his drug enterprise,” Valeska said. “Jerry Jerome Smith is the worst of the worst. In the history of the city of Dothan no one has ever killed three people and tried to kill a fourth. We don’t call for vengeance, we call for justice.

Gartlan asked the court to consider reports he turned in to the court indicating his client was mentally retarded.

“We were not allowed to develop that issue with the jury,” Gartlan said. “They were not allowed to consider the full picture.”

The state Supreme Court upheld the court’s ruling that Smith was not mentally retarded, which in the state of Alabama would have prevented him from facing the death penalty.

The Supreme Court’s opinion said Smith’s actions of “systematically” killing three people and attempting to kill a fourth after his gun jammed were not the actions of a mentally retarded individual.

Gartlan said the Supreme Court’s ruling did not limit him from presenting his client’s mental retardation as mitigating evidence.

Valeska told the Eagle earlier that it was a death penalty case because two or more people were killed at the same time, and that they were killed during a burglary.

SOUTH DAKOTA – Death penalty delay looms

april, 17, source :

A federal judge’s ruling in March that the Food and Drug Administration allowed unapproved tranquilizing drugs into the country might delay an execution in South Dakota. But it is not likely to ultimately imperil the death penalty here or in 33 other states.

South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley acknowledged the planned September execution of Rodney Berget might be postponed as the state and federal government work their way through the ramifications of U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon’s ruling regarding the drug sodium thiopental.

Berget was sentenced to death after he and two other inmates were convicted of killing prison guard Ron Johnson during an escape attempt last year at the South Dakota State Penitentiary.

South Dakota is among the states that administer thiopental as a tranquilizer in a series of lethal drugs that also paralyze the lungs and stop the heart. However, U.S. drug companies stopped making thiopental several years ago, leaving an Italian company as the only source for the drug.

The Italian government this year barred the thiopental made there from being used in executions, so American states that use the drug are forced to rely on their existing stockpiles. Now, though, the FDA, is being forced to go after those state stockpiles.

In a federal lawsuit brought by death penalty opponents, Leon ruled the FDA disregarded its responsibility to ensure the safety of imported drugs when it allowed Italian thiopental to be brought into this country.

In response to that, the FDA sent South Dakota a letter April 6 telling it “to make arrangements for the return to the FDA of any foreign-manufactured thiopental in its possession.”

Jackley has refused. He sent a letter back the following day saying the state’s thiopental already has cleared customs and been independently tested to ensure it was pure and adequately potent. He invited the FDA to work with the state on further testing if it has concerns about the thiopental in South Dakota’s hands.

But Jackley is walking a careful middle ground. While acknowledging the FDA’s authority to oversee drugs, he is not ceding the state’s right to have a death penalty.

“The state’s position is we have a duty to carry out a judge’s sentence and to serve justice on behalf of a victim’s family. We would hope the federal agencies appreciate that position and work with us to ensure that carrying out the courts’ sentences is done in a constitutional manner,” Jackley said.

While Berget’s scheduled execution probably could be postponed while the drug issue plays out, the May 13 planned execution of Eric Robert, Berget’s accomplice, already has been pushed back by a state Supreme Court review of his mandatory appeal.

Other inmates on the state’s death row, Donald Moeller, convicted in 1992 of rape and murder, and Charles Rhines, also convicted of murder in 1992, have appeals ongoing and no execution dates have been set for them, according to Jackley.

In the short term, states probably can get around the thiopental issue by resorting to other drugs.

“Twelve states that I am aware of have switched to pentobarbital,” said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C.

Jackley notes South Dakota’s death penalty statute is written to give the state wide latitude in the drugs it uses to carry out executions. But Dieter and Joan Fisher, a federal defense lawyer in Sacramento, Calif., who founded a pioneering death penalty defense unit in Idaho, suggest the same problem with access in the case of thiopental ultimately could arise with pentobar bital.

Like thiopental, it now is manufactured only overseas.

“This does underscore the fact the U.S. is dependent on overseas for certain drugs. That’s a larger problem,” Dieter said.

“Things are changing so quickly on us it’s hard to keep up with state corrections departments,” Fisher said of the ability of states to use new execution drugs and thereby evade defense attorney arguments that the drugs are not being appropriately regulated by the FDA.

However, while she admits the current furor over thiopental is merely “a speed bump” in blocking executions, she differs with Jackley on the larger issue. Death penalty foes and defense lawyers might find challenges over execution drugs a fertile field for lawsuits, said Fisher.

“I suspect there is the potential for more litigation than the attorney general would like,” she said.

US – Science lacking on death penalty deterrent

april19, 2012 source :

Scientific research to date provides  no useful conclusion on whether the death penalty reduces or boosts the murder rate, said US report. 

Scientific research to date provides no useful conclusion on whether the death penalty reduces or boosts the murder rate, said a report by the US National Academy of Sciences on Wednesday.

A committee of scientists reviewed research done over the past 35 years and found it was “not informative about whether capital punishment decreases, increases, or has no effect on homicide rates,” said the report.

“Consequently, claims that research demonstrates that capital punishment decreases or increases the homicide rate by a specified amount or has no effect on the homicide rate should not influence policy judgments.”

The report was issued by the NAS’s National Research Council, which convened a Committee on Deterrence and the Death Penalty to look at available evidence on how the death penalty may affect murder rates.

A previous report by the NRC in 1978 found that “available studies provide no useful evidence on the deterrent effect of capital punishment.”

In the decades since that report, “a considerable number” of studies have attempted to judge how well it works, or does not, and have reached “widely varying conclusions,” the latest report said.

“Fundamental flaws in the research we reviewed make it of no use in answering the question of whether the death penalty affects homicide rates,” said Daniel Nagin, professor of public policy and statistics at Carnegie Mellon University and chair of the committee that wrote the report.

“We recognise that this conclusion may be controversial to some, but no one is well-served by un supportable claims about the effect of the death penalty, regardless of whether the claim is that the death penalty deters homicides, has no effect on homicide rates or actually increases homicides.”

Until now, a key flaw in the research has been the failure to account for how punishments such as life in prison without the possibility of parole may affect homicide rates.

Also, a number of assumptions have hobbled previous studies, particularly by assuming that potential murderers actually consider the risk of execution and respond accordingly.

Instead, researchers going forward must perform more rigorous studies that assess how potential criminals view the death penalty and its likely effect on their actions, the report said.

Better methods for future research include collecting data that consider both capital and non-capital punishments for murder and doing studies on how potential murderers perceive a range of punishments in homicide cases, it said.

Just 15 percent of people who have received the death sentence since 1976 have been executed, “and a large fraction of death sentences are reversed,” added the report.

The members did not examine the moral arguments for or against capital punishment, or the costs involved.