Day: April 27, 2012

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.

full article : click here 

US – Death Penalty Support Is Declining

April, 25  source

The campaign to abolish the death penalty has been freshly invigorated this month in a series of actions that supporters say represents increasing evidence that America may be losing its taste for capital punishment.

As early as this week, Gov. Dannel Malloy, a Democrat, is poised to sign a bill repealing the death penalty in Connecticut. A separate proposal has qualified for the November ballot in California that would shut down the largest death row in the country and convert inmates’ sentences to life without parole.

Academics, too, have recently taken indirect aim: The National Research Council concluded last week that there have been no reliable studies to show that capital punishment is a deterrent to homicide.

That study, which does not take a position on capital punishment, follows a Gallup Poll last fall that found support for the death penalty had slipped to 61 percent nationally, the lowest level in 39 years.

Even in Texas, which has long projected the harshest face of the U.S. criminal justice system, there has been a marked shift. Last year, the state’s 13 executions marked the lowest number in 15 years. And this year, the state — the perennial national leader in executions — is scheduled to carry out just 10.

Capital punishment proponents say the general decline in death sentences and executions in recent years is merely a reflection of the sustained drop in violent crime, but some lawmakers and legal analysts say the numbers underscore a growing wariness of wrongful convictions.

In Texas, Dallas County alone has uncovered 30 wrongful convictions since 2001, the most of any county in the country. Former Texas Gov. Mark White, a Democrat, said he continues to support the death penalty “only in a select number of cases,” yet he says he believes that a “national reassessment” is now warranted given the stream of recent exonerations.

“I have been a proponent of the death penalty, but convicting people who didn’t commit the crime has to stop,” White said.

There is an inherent unfairness in the system,” said former Los Angeles County district attorney Gil Garcetti, a Democrat. He added that he was “especially troubled” by mounting numbers of wrongful convictions.

A recent convert to the California anti-death-penalty campaign, Garcetti said the current system has become “obscenely expensive” and forces victims to often wait years for death row appeals to run their course. In the past 34 years in California, just 13 people have been executed as part of a system that costs $184 million per year to maintain.

“Replacing capital punishment will give victims legal finality,” Garcetti said.

Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes capital punishment, said California’s referendum marks a potentially “historic” moment in the anti-death-penalty movement in a state that houses 22 percent of the nation’s death row prisoners.

“Repeal in California would be a huge development,” Dieter said. “Just getting it on the ballot is big.”

Nationally, Dieter said, fading arguments for capital punishment as a deterrent to homicide and mounting numbers of wrongful convictions are “turning a corner” in the debate.

Democratic state Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, a sponsor of the bill to repeal Connecticut’s death penalty, said capital punishment’s “promise to victims and taxpayers is hollow.” In Connecticut, only one person has been executed in the past 52 years.

Scott Burns, executive director of the National District Attorneys Association, said the country’s system of capital punishment is in need of change, but not elimination. He said there is “strong motivation,” though, to fix a system that can take 20 years for offenders to reach the death chamber following conviction.

The vast majority of states (33, not counting Connecticut) still have the possibility of the death penalty,” Burns said.

“I don’t see a blowing wind that will dramatically change that,” he added.