Day: June 7, 2012

NEBRASKA – Unsafe for execution ? The state of Nebraska hopes to execute a man with a drug that has been recalled by its manufacturer

June 7, 2012  Source :

On the farm they called him King. He was the Archangel Michael incarnate, they believed, and he spoke directly to Yahweh. In his name, they stockpiled more than $120,000 worth of stolen ammunition and prepared for the Battle of Armageddon, which their King decreed would be fought in the windswept wheat fields of Rulo, Neb. If anyone left, the King said, he would “hunt down and kill” them, and they would “burn in hell.”

The King was an unemployed truck driver named Michael Ryan — and he wasn’t bluffing. He’s been sitting on death row since 1986 for the murder and ritualistic torture – razor blades and chains, sodomization and forced bestiality – of fellow cult member James Thimm. Save for those ideologically opposed to the death penalty, few would argue he deserves anything else.

And yet Ryan survives in a prison cell today, despite the state of Nebraska’s best efforts to kill him. His execution has been sidelined by the continuing fallout from a shortage in the execution drug sodium thiopental, which began in August 2009 — a shortage that has quietly remodeled the death penalty in the United States. As states run out of sodium thiopental, they’re turning to new and questionable supplies of execution drugs. Prisoners, meanwhile, are fighting these changes at every turn: Their sentences were clear, they argue, and this wasn’t part of them.

“It has nothing to do with whether Michael Ryan or any other death row inmate deserves to die,” says Jerry Soucie, Ryan’s attorney and employee of the Nebraska Commission for Public Advocacy. “The issue is whether those people who decide they want to exercise the power to execute somebody are in compliance with the law. And if they’re not, there’s a problem. You don’t enforce the law by engaging in lawless conduct.”

In Nebraska, the effects of the shortage have been particularly acute. Nebraska has twice purchased sodium thiopental made overseas by non-FDA approved companies. (The shortage began when Hospira, the sole FDA-approved manufacturer of sodium thiopental, ceased production.) The first time, the DEA barred Nebraska from using its new thiopental for importing the drug without a proper license.

Then last November, the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services announced it had purchased another new supply of sodium thiopental from a Swiss company called NAARI AG. Immediately following the announcement, the state attorney general’s office asked the Nebraska Supreme Court to set a new execution date for Michael Ryan. But 15 days later, NAARI CEO Prithi Kochhar sent a letter to the Nebraska Supreme Court asking for the drug’s return. In his letter, Kochhar explained that the NDCS had not purchased the sodium thiopental directly from NAARI. It had, in fact, been purchased from a Calcutta, India-based middleman named Chris Harris who was not authorized to resell the drug to Nebraska.

“I knew of Chris Harris, certainly his reputation for doing business,” says Jerry Soucie, Ryan’s attorney. “No question about it, he had a shady reputation. … I was just kind of shocked the NDCS would be dealing with him.”

According to Kochhar’s letter, NAARI supplied Harris with the drug in order to have it registered in Zambia, where they hoped to extend their coverage. Instead, Harris sold all 489 grams to the NDCS for $5,411, roughly 142 times its worth.

On May 9, after discovering the breach in its supply chain, NAARI issued a voluntary recall of the drug, noting that it was illegally diverted and could therefore be potentially unsafe. Nebraska officials have chosen not to comply with the recall, and Soucie contends they are in possession of stolen goods.

“The fact that NDCS would not honor our company recall…is a little shocking to us,” says Kochhar. “It seems that NDCS is not concerned about the effect of using an unsafe drug in any operation, not least one which might be used to end someone’s life in a potentially painful way.”

And Nebraska isn’t only refusing to comply with NAARI. Last March, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon ruled the Food and Drug Administration was wrong to allow foreign-made sodium thiopental into the country. Furthermore, Leon ordered the FDA to notify all state correctional departments with supplies of the drug to relinquish them to the FDA. Rather than comply with that order, the Nebraska attorney general’s office asked the FDA to appeal Judge Leon’s ruling and is currently still in possession of the drug. Fourteen other states have since called for the same appeal.

“The states that are positioned better are the states looking further down the road for alternatives rather than holding on to something because they don’t want to change,” says Richard Deiter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.

These states have given up on thiopental completely. As recently as May 18, Idaho announced it had switched to a lethal dose of the surgical sedative pentobarbital. Missouri recently became the first state to formally adopt the anesthetic propofol, the same drug that killed Michael Jackson. According to Deiter, Nebraska and other states resisting a change to their lethal injection protocol are only delaying the inevitable. Domestic suppliers of sodium thiopental have run dry and the drugs carry an expiration date.

“States know that as soon as they make a change, the change will be challenged in court,” Deiter says, “but not making a change is also being challenged. I think states are going to have to find a source of drugs within the United States if they’re going to carry out lethal injections in a reliable, predictable manner.”

Yet despite all of this – despite a federal ruling and company recall, despite the fact that Nebraska’s current batch of sodium thiopental was illegally imported, despite the fact that change is the only way forward – State Attorney General Jon Bruning said Ryan’s challenge is merely “a circus sideshow,” according to the Lincoln Journal Star, and Governor Dave Heineman maintains it’s simply the latest tactic employed by death penalty opponents. Both Bruning and Gov. Heineman, who continue to steer the conversation towards Ryan’s execution rather than the efficacy of the drug, declined to be interviewed.

“When the powers that be in Nebraska or wherever decide they’re going to kill someone using either stolen drugs or without the proper licensing, then why do we have a legal system at all?” Soucie says. “Why don’t we take the guy out behind the building and shoot him once in the back of the head with a 9 mm? It would be just as lawless for them to do that as it is for them to violate federal law in carrying out an execution.”

WASHINGTON – State AG wants review of overturned death-row conviction – Darold Stenson

June 6, 2012 Source :

The Washington Attorney General’s Office plans to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review a recent decision by the Washington Supreme Court that overturned the conviction of a man who has spent the past 18 years on death row.

Clallam County Prosecutor Deborah Kelly said this morning that after the May 10 ruling by the state Supreme Court  prosecutors filed a motion to delay the court from issuing a certificate of finality in Darold Stenson’s case. Last month, the state Supreme Court, in an 8-1 ruling, found that Stenson’s rights were violated because prosecutors “wrongfully suppressed” favorable evidence. At the crux of the reversal was possibly tainted gunshot residue found on the jeans Stenson wore on the night in March 1993 when his wife, Denise, and business partner, Frank Hoerner, were killed at the Stensons’ exotic-bird farm, said his attorney Sheryl Gordon McCloud.

The Attorney General’s Office is working on its petition to the U.S. Supreme Court. The petition must be filed no later than Aug. 8, Kelly said.

Stenson, 59, was an exotic-bird dealer living near Sequim when he allegedly shot his wife at their home in what prosecutors called an effort to collect $800,000 in insurance. He allegedly shot and killed Hoerner to get out from a debt he owed the man, and to make it look like Hoerner killed Denise Stenson as part of a love-triangle murder-suicide.

Stenson’s three children were asleep nearby when the slayings occurred.

Stenson and Hoerner had been embroiled in a dispute over the cost of ostriches, which Stenson handled on his 5-acre Dakota Farms, prosecutors claimed.

Hoerner’s widow testified that Stenson persuaded the couple to invest their life savings of $48,000 in ostriches, but the birds never materialized.

NORTH CAROLINA – North Carolina House committee votes to remove TVs for death row inmates

June 7, 2012  Source :

RALEIGH – A divided House committee agreed Wednesday to prohibit North Carolina death-row prisoners from watching television despite the warning by Central Prison’s warden that removing TVs could increase violence among the condemned inmates.

The measure is a direct response to a convicted killer’s letter – printed in a newspaper in January -in which he boasted of being a “gentleman of leisure” on death row, watching color TV and taking frequent naps. He wrote, “Kill me if you can, suckers.”

Republican Rep. Tim Moore, who is shepherding the bill through the House, said Danny Hembree’s letter was galling and caused a ruckus in Gaston County, where Hembree was convicted last year of killing a 17-year-old girl and dumping her body in South Carolina. Moore told the judiciary subcommittee hearing the bill none of the 156 prisoners awaiting execution should receive the TV privilege.

“To think he’s there watching TV, that other murderers are there watching television, having that benefit, that’s just not right,” said Moore, who lives in nearby Cleveland County. “Anything we can do to make death row a less pleasant place, we should.”

Moore said he and other legislators recently visited Central Prison, a maximum-security prison for male offenders where nearly all of the state’s death-row prisoners reside. The four women are at the N.C. Correctional Institution for Women, also in Raleigh.

Hembree is segregated from other death-row prisoners and doesn’t have access to TV, the state Division of Adult Correction said.

Central Prison Warden Kenneth Lassiter told the committee that television is a management tool for prisoners and its privilege is already limited. Lassiter said the bill, if approved, would have “the potential to escalate security issues at the facility.”

“It will create an environment that violence could increase due to the fact that the inmates are idle,” he said. “It’s an isolated situation on death row, so inmates don’t have the normal movement of other inmates inside the facility.”

Death-row inmates at Central Prison share common areas in housing pods where they can watch television.

Prisoners must purchase ear buds and a small radio to listen to the television audio over a certain frequency, division spokeswoman Pamela Walker said. A Central Prison prisoner committee makes recommendations to administrators about which shows they’d like to watch on over-the-air channels. Prison officials decide which shows are appropriate.

“They’re not living the life of luxury,” Lassiter said.

Several Democratic committee members voted against it, apparently in deference to Lassiter’s concerns. Rep. Jennifer Weiss, D-Wake, said she was worried about the effect the lack of television could have on the state workers staffing the prison.

“I hear regularly about the dangers they put themselves in every day to keep all of us safe,” Weiss said, adding she wants “to make sure whatever we do here doesn’t jeopardize their safety.”

The bill’s next stop is the House, where lawmakers are expected to weigh that warning against trying to make a get-tough statement on criminals.

A judge earlier this year declared a mistrial in another murder trial involving Hembree, who was accused of strangling another woman, storing her body in the basement of his mother’s home and later dumping the body and setting it on fire to cover up evidence.

Hembree, 50, mocked in his letter how what he called the very slim chances that he would be executed in the next 20 years.

“Is the public aware that I am a gentleman of leisure, watching color TV in the A.C., reading, taking naps at will, eating three well-balanced meals a day?” Hembree asked.

Hembree’s sister said later that his brother wrote another letter to his family that talks of his despair on death row.

MISSISSIPPI – UPDATE – Mississippi Supreme Court refuses Brawner reprieve

June 12, 2012 Source :

JACKSON — The Mississippi Supreme Court has denied a request to stay today’s execution of a Southaven man convicted of killing his 3-year-old daughter, his former wife and her parents.

The court’s decision on Monday capped a round of legal briefs filed in the case of 34-year-old Jan Michael Brawner, who is scheduled to die by injection at 6 tonight.

Brawner’s lawyer said he would file a petition this morning with the U.S. Supreme Court.

Brawner was sentenced to death for the April 25, 2001, shooting deaths of his daughter, Paige; his former wife, Barbara Craft; and her parents, Carl and Jane Craft. Brawner killed them in their Tate County home, stole about $300 and used his former mother-in-law’s wedding ring to propose to his girlfriend the same day, according to court records.

Brawner admitted to the killings. During the sentencing phase of his trial, he declined to have anyone testify on his behalf with mitigating testimony, which could have been used to sway jurors to spare his life.

“As far as life, I don’t feel that I deserve to live,” Brawner testified at the time.

Subsequent lawyers have argued that Brawner’s trial attorney did a poor job by not calling such mitigating witnesses as his mother and a psychiatrist, who could have testified about things that had happened to him in life.

Brawner’s lawyer, David Calder, had argued earlier Monday in a court filing that his client could be the first person executed in the U.S. on a tie vote of judges. The Mississippi Supreme Court voted 4-4 last week to deny a rehearing in the case. Justice Ann Lamar didn’t vote. She was district attorney in Tate County when the slayings occurred. By the time of the trial in April 2002, she was a Circuit Court judge, though she didn’t preside over the trial.

In court procedures, a tie vote usually means an earlier ruling stands.

Calder asked the justices to suspend court rules that prohibit people from asking a second time for a rehearing and to issue a stay of execution.

The court voted 4-3 against the motion to suspend the rules and against a stay of execution. Lamar and Chief Justice Bill Waller didn’t vote this time. A court spokeswoman said Waller was unable to attend Monday’s conference of justices. Waller voted to deny the rehearing last time.

Brawner went to his former in-laws’ home after learning his former wife planned to stop him from seeing their child. He gave conflicting statements to police and during testimony, saying at times he wanted to borrow money and at other times that he was going to rob his father-in-law.

Court records said he was waiting at the Crafts’ home when his former wife arrived with her mother and the child. After becoming agitated, he went to his car and got a rifle he had stolen from the house earlier in the day. He shot the former mother-in-law first, then his ex-wife. His daughter, Paige, watched the killings, court records said.

“After Brawner determined that Paige would be able to identify him, and in his words, he ‘was just bent on killing,’ he went back into the bedroom and shot his daughter twice, killing her,” court records say. He shot and killed Carl Craft when he got home from work and stole his wallet and the ring.

June 6, 2012 Source :

A death row inmate is asking the Mississippi Supreme Court to stay his execution scheduled for next Tuesday and grant him a new hearing.

The Mississippi Supreme Court ruled in a 4-4 earlier this week not to allow a rehearing on previous arguments in the case of Jan Michael Brawner. Justice Ann Lamar didn’t participate.

In court procedures, a tie vote usually means an earlier ruling stands. However, Brawner’s lawyers argue there’s precedent in Mississippi that says a tie vote in death penalty cases should favor the condemned inmate.

Brawner claims his previous appeals lawyer didn’t do a good job and he wants an oral hearing on the matter.

Brawner, now 34, was convicted of the 2001 killings of his 3-year-old daughter, ex-wife and former father-in-law and mother-in-law Tate County.


June 6, 2012 Source :

JACKSON, Miss.  – The Mississippi Supreme Court won’t reconsider an appeal from an inmate scheduled for execution June 12.

Jan Michael Brawner argued his legal case suffered because of ineffective assistance by Bob Ryan, former head of the state office meant to handle post-conviction appeals for people sentenced to death.

Brawner, now 34, was convicted of the 2001 killings of his 3-year-old daughter, ex-wife and former father-in-law and mother-in-law the Tate County community of Sarah.

According to trial testimony, Brawner went to his former in-laws’ home after learning his former wife planned to stop him from seeing their child; he also had no money and contemplated robbing his former in-laws. Brawner admitted to the killings at trial and told a prosecutor he deserved death.

Justices ruled 4-4 Tuesday not to reconsider Brawner’s appeal.