Day: July 4, 2013

Georgia has set an execution date of July 15 for Warren Hill (update)

Georgia has set an execution date of July 15 for Warren Hill, despite his pending petition before the U.S. Supreme Court demonstrating that all of the physicians who have examined Hill agree he is intellectually disabled. People suffering from intellectual disability (mental retardation) are constitutionally barred from execution. (Atlanta Journal Constitution, July 3, 2013). This is the exceptional and rare case where there is clear proof an inmate is ineligible for the death penalty and the U.S. Supreme Court is the only avenue for relief.

rrelated articlee  warren hill

Former Illinois governor released from custody

Good luck to George Ryan, who as Illinois governor jump-started modern progress in abolishing the death penalty by first enacting a moratorium on executions and then in one of his last acts of governor, he commuted the sentences of all 167 inmates on Illinois’ death row. Three inmates had their sentences reduced to 40 years in prison, while the remaining 165 received life in prison. The Illinois death penalty was finally abolished in 2011.

(CNN) – Former Illinois Gov. George Ryan has been released from federal custody, according to Bureau of Prisons spokesperson, Chris Burke.

Ryan had been on home confinement for the past five months in Kankakee, Illinois. He will now be on supervised release for the next year.

The former Republican governor was serving a 6 1/2-year sentence on racketeering and fraud convictions.

The disgraced ex-governor was convicted in April 2006 of fraud in a case stemming from bribes paid for various state licenses. The Supreme Court turned down his appeal in 2008.

His wife, Lura Lynn Lowe, passed away in 2011 while he was in custody but he was temporarily released so he could be with her during her final hours.

Ryan served as governor from 1999-2003. In one of his last acts of governor, he commuted the sentences of all 167 inmates on Illinois’ death row. Three inmates had their sentences reduced to 40 years in prison, while the remaining 165 received life in prison.

How hot is death row?

A federal judge Tuesday ordered temperature data be collected for 21 straight days in advance of an Aug. 5 trial of a lawsuit by three condemned killers who claim extreme heat indexes at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola amount to cruel and unusual punishment.

The suit, filed last month, alleges heat indexes on death row at the prison reached 172 degrees Fahrenheit (172 °F is equal to about 77.8 °C) last year and 195 degrees (90.5) in 2011. The suit contends the heat index on all six death-row tiers was above 103 degrees every day last August, and that inmates on one tier endured heat indexes of more than 126 degrees “on 85 days between May and August.”

Chief U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson’s order Tuesday came at the conclusion of a court hearing during which an attorney for the state Department of Public Safety and Corrections and the prison called the inmates’ data “greatly exaggerated,” “faulty” and “generally incompetent.”

A lawyer representing death-row inmates Elzie Ball, James Magee and Nathaniel Code countered that the men, each of whom suffers from hypertension, face the very real possibility of heat-related illness — including heat stroke, paralysis and heart disease — and even death.

The suit asked Jackson to issue an order compelling prison officials to maintain a heat index on death row of no more than 88 degrees.

“The court will not grant the injunction today. That is the fair and appropriate thing to do,” the judge told both sides Tuesday while noting that even death-row inmates are entitled to constitutional protections. He said more evidence on the suit’s claims needs to be gathered.

Jackson ordered the two sides to meet and file a joint plan by July 9 concerning what evidence will be collected and shared. If a plan is submitted, the judge said, he will approve it July 10. Otherwise, Jackson said he will issue his own plan on that date.

The judge specified that he wants temperature data collected for three straight weeks beginning July 15. He scheduled an evidentiary hearing, or trial, for Aug. 5. Jackson also urged the parties to try to settle the case.

Nilay Vora, an attorney for Ball, Magee and Code, argued to the judge that the air temperature at Angola’s death row is “consistently” above 90 degrees, with heat indexes even higher.

Jacqueline Wilson, an attorney for state Department of Public Safety and Corrections and the state penitentiary, noted that the death-row tiers offer industrial-sized fans — one for every two cells, ice in coolers and inmates are allowed to take one shower per day.

“There is moving air,” she said of the cross-ventilation system.

“That can be hot air,” the judge shot back.

Vora argued that blowing hot air can increase the likelihood of heat-related illness. He also alleged that the water temperature of the showers is 106 to 117 degrees, and added that the temperature range for a “cold” shower should be in the 70s.

Each death-row inmates’ cell has running hot and cold water, Wilson added.

Vora noted that 10 heat-related deaths in Texas prisons have been reported over the years.

“How about in Louisiana? How about at Angola?” Jackson asked.

Vora, who did not cite any heat-related prison deaths in the state, said the plaintiffs’ attorneys would be happy to work with the state defendants to come up with a plan to ease the heat issue at the prison’s death row.

“The department takes its job very seriously,” Wilson argued during the hearing, stressing that corrections officials want inmates to serve their sentences “in a humane way.”

Ball, 60, has been on death row since August 1997 for the May 15, 1996, shooting death of beer deliveryman Ben Scorsone during the armed robbery of a lounge in Gretna. Witnesses said Ball knocked Scorsone to the floor before firing three shots.

Magee, 35, was convicted for the April 2007 shotgun murders of his estranged wife, 28-year-old Adrienne Magee, and their 5-year-old son, Zach, on a street in the Tall Timbers subdivision north of Mandeville.

Code, 57, is on death row for the 1985 murders of four people at a house in Shreveport. A jury convicted Code for the bathtub drowning of Vivian Chaney, 34; the stabbing and slashing death of Chaney’s 17-year-old daughter, Carlitha; and the shooting deaths of Chaney’s brother, Jerry Culbert, and Chaney’s boyfriend, Billy Joe Harris.

Medical records for Ball, Magee and Code show none of the men lodged heat-related complaints over the past several years, according to documents filed by the state in response to the suit.

Records filed by the state also indicate there are 82 men on death row at Angola. Those inmates are allowed out of their cells one hour every day and are allowed to go outside for one hour three times a week. (The Advocate)

Missouri AG says state may have to use gas chamber

By JIM SALTER Associated Press
Posted: 07/03/2013 01:31:24 PM PDT

ST. LOUIS—With drugs needed for lethal injection in short supply and courts wrangling over how to execute prisoners without them, Missouri’s attorney general is floating one possible solution: Bring back the gas chamber.

In court filings and interviews this week, Attorney General Chris Koster noted that Missouri statutes allow two options for executions: lethal injection and death by gas. Koster’s comments come amid his growing frustration over the Missouri Supreme Court’s refusal to set execution dates until lethal injection issues are resolved.

“The Missouri death penalty statute has been, in my opinion, unnecessarily entangled in the courts for over a decade,” Koster said Wednesday in an email exchange with The Associated Press.

Asked about concerns by some who say using lethal gas could violate condemned inmates’ constitutional guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment, Koster responded: “The premeditated murder of an innocent Missourian is cruel and unusual punishment. The lawful implementation of the death penalty, following a fair and reasoned jury trial, is not.”

Missouri used gas to execute 38 men and one woman from 1938 to 1965. After a 24-year hiatus, the death penalty resumed in 1989. Since then, 68 men—all convicted murderers—have been executed in the state, all by lethal injection. But as concerns were raised in the courts about the lethal injection process, Missouri has carried out just two executions since 2005.

A return to lethal gas would create an expense because Missouri no longer has a gas chamber. Previous executions by gas took place at the Missouri State Penitentiary in Jefferson City. Prisoners were moved out of that prison a decade ago and it is now a tourist attraction—complete with tours of what used to be the gas chamber.

Like other states with the death penalty, Missouri for years used a three-drug mixture to execute inmates. But those drugs are no longer being made available for executions, leaving states to scramble for solutions.

Last year, Missouri announced plans to use propofol, the anesthetic blamed for pop star Michael Jackson’s 2009 death—even though the drug hasn’t been used to execute prisoners in the U.S. and its potential for lethal injection is under scrutiny by the courts.

A 2012 lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Kansas City on behalf of 21 Missouri death row inmates claimed the use of propofol would be cruel and unusual punishment.

In an interview last week, Missouri Supreme Court Chief Justice Mary Russell said the court is “waiting for resolution” from the U.S. District Court.

Koster on Monday asked the Missouri Supreme Court to set execution dates for two long-serving inmates, arguing that time is running short to use a limited, nearly expired supply of propofol.

Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, said a few other proposals have been made for states to use the gas chamber or the electric chair, but they’ve gone nowhere.

“It’s unlikely that states would go back to these older methods, and if they did I’m not sure they would be upheld” in the courts, he said.

Rita Linhardt, chairwoman of the board for Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, questioned the practicality of the gas chamber.

“The gas chamber has been dismantled in Missouri, so from a practical point of view I don’t know how that could be done,” Linhardt said. “I would think that would be a considerable cost and expense for the state to rebuild the machinery of death.”