Day: August 13, 2015

Arkansas Buys Lethal Injection Drugs, Aims To End Execution Hiatus

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (Reuters) – Arkansas has bought drugs it plans to use for lethal injections, officials said on Wednesday, as it looks to end a decade-long hiatus on executions that is the longest of any Southern U.S. state.
Arkansas law allows information on the drugs used in executions and the vendors supplying them to remain secret.
Local reports said the drugs included midazolam, a sedative death penalty opponents had challenged as inappropriate for executions, arguing it cannot even achieve the level of unconsciousness required for surgery.
On June 29, the Supreme Court found the drug did not violate the U.S. Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment, a ruling that provoked a caustic debate among the justices about the death penalty.
The Arkansas attorney general, Leslie Rutledge, acknowledged through a spokesman that the chemicals planned for use in Arkansas were on hand but declined further comment. The Arkansas Department of Correction did not return a call seeking comment.
Eight of the 35 men on Arkansas’s death row, 20 of whom are black, have exhausted all their appeals, according to Rutledge.
It is the attorney general’s responsibility to ask the governor to set execution dates, but Judd Deere, Rutledge’s press secretary, said she had “no timetable to offer on that at this time.”
Arkansas has not put to death a condemned inmate in 10 years. Appeals by death row prisoners and legal disputes over the constitutionality of drugs and procedures in capital cases have idled the Arkansas death chamber since 2005, when Eric Nance, 45, was put to death by lethal injection.
Earlier this year, Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson signed into law a measure giving prison officials the option of using a single large dose of barbiturate or a combination of three drugs to cause death.
Source: Reuters, August 13, 2015


Connecticut’s Top Court Overturns Death Penalty in State

Three years after Connecticut abolished the death penalty for any future crimes, the state’s highest court on Thursday spared the lives of all 11 men who were already on death row when the law took effect, saying it would be unconstitutional to execute them.
The ruling comes in an appeal from Eduardo Santiago, whose attorneys had argued that any execution carried out after repeal would constitute cruel and unusual punishment. Santiago faced the possibility of lethal injection for a 2000 murder-for-hire killing in West Hartford.
The Connecticut Supreme Court, in a 4-3 ruling, agreed with his position.
“Upon careful consideration of the defendant’s claims in light of the governing constitutional principles and Connecticut’s unique historical and legal landscape, we are persuaded that, following its prospective abolition, this state’s death penalty no longer comports with contemporary standards of decency and no longer serves any legitimate penological purpose,” Justice Richard Palmer wrote for the majority.
“For these reasons, execution of those offenders who committed capital felonies prior to April 25, 2012, would violate the state constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.”
The ruling means the 11 men on the state’s death row will no longer be subject to execution orders. Those inmates include Joshua Komisarjevsky and Steven Hayes, who were sentenced to die for killing a mother and her two daughters in a 2007 home invasion in Cheshire.
The repeal had eliminated the death penalty while setting life in prison without the possibility of release as the punishment for crimes formerly considered capital offenses.
Santiago was sentenced to lethal injection in 2005 for the murder-for-hire killing of 45-year-old Joseph Niwinski. But the state Supreme Court overturned the death sentence and ordered a new penalty phase in 2012, saying the trial judge wrongly withheld key evidence from the jury regarding the severe abuse Santiago suffered while growing up.
The ruling came just weeks after lawmakers passed the death penalty repeal.
Assistant Public Defender Mark Rademacher argued any new death sentence would violate Santiago’s constitutional rights to equal protection and due process. He said it would be wrong for some people to face the death penalty while others face life in prison for similar murders.
He told the court that Connecticut had declared its opposition to the death penalty and it wouldn’t make sense to execute anybody now.
Senior Assistant State’s Attorney Harry Weller had argued there were no constitutional problems with the new law, and death-row inmates simply face a penalty under the statute that was in effect when they were convicted. He also argued that the court could not repeal just part of the new law.
Connecticut has had just one execution since 1960. Serial killer Michael Ross was put to death 2005 after winning a legal fight to end his appeals.
Source: Associated Press, August 13, 2015

Judge Dismisses Lawsuit By Georgia’s Only Woman on Death Row

Kelly Gissendaner, convicted in the murder of her husband in Gwinnett, was to die March 2, but ‘cloudy’ lethal drug forced postponement.

Judge Dismisses Lawsuit By Georgia's Only Woman on Death Row

A U.S. District Court judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by Georgia death row inmate Kelly Gissendaner, who claimed she was subjected to cruel and unusual punishment on the day of her postponed execution.

The March 2 execution was postponed indefinitely when authorities found a cloudy appearance in the drug to be used for the lethal injection.

According to media reports, the lawsuit was dismissed Monday by U.S. District Judge Thomas Thrash, who said Gissendaner failed to show her Eighth Amendment rights had been violated.

Gissendaner, Georgia’s only woman on death row, was sentenced to die for masterminding the 1997 murder of her husband in Gwinnett County.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported the suit dismissal clears the way for the state to re-schedule Gissendaner’s execution. There was no word on when that might be.


Gissendaner was scheduled to die by lethal injection on March 2, but was postponed at the last minute when authorities decided not to use the drug. The execution was scheduled for 7 p.m.; the postponement wasn’t announced until around 11 p.m.

Gissendaner’s suit claimed she was put through undue “mortal fear” as she waited for officials to make a decision on whether or not to use the drug, and charged the state”botched” the execution by failing to have the proper drugs in place for a humane death. The suit also claimed that secrecy surrounding the drugs used for executions in Georgia prevented Gissendaner from proving the execution method could be unconstitutional.

Thrash wrote in his decision, “If anything, the March 2 incident shows that the State is unlikely to use defective drugs,” according to the Associated Press.

Gissendaner, of Auburn, Ga., was convicted of plotting the murder of her husband, Douglas, near Dacula in 1997. If executed, she would be the first woman put to death in Georgia in 70 years.

She was found guilty of convincing her boyfriend Gregory Owen to murder Douglas Gissendaner on Feb. 7, 1997, then went to lengths to deny her involvement, prosecutors said. Owen, who was sentenced to life in prison, avoided the death penaltyby helping prosecutors in the case against Gissendaner.

Authorities said Douglas Gissendaner, a Desert Storm veteran, was beaten and stabbed to death by Owen in a secluded wooded area off Luke Edwards Road near Dacula. The body was found two weeks later.

The attorney general’s office said Owen was waiting for Douglas Gissendaner to return home from a night with church friends, and then took him by knifepoint to the Luke Edwards location. Owen forced the man to his knees, then beat him with a night stick and stabbed him multiple times in the head and neck. Owen took the man’s ring and watch to make it appear it was a robbery.

The attorney general’s office also said Kelly Gissendaner arrived at the scene as the stabbing occurred, and the two took her husband’s vehicle and set it on fire within a mile of the murder scene.

Gissendaner appeared on local television asking for information on her husband’s whereabouts, but authorities said she “basically continued business as usual, even going back to work” in the days after the murder. She gave conflicting stories during interviews with investigators, saying at first there were no marital problems and later admitting to an extra-marital affair with Owen.

Owen confessed to the crime on Feb. 24 and implicated Gissendaner, who was arrested the next day.

Gissendaner was convicted by jury trial on Nov. 18, 1998.


Photo: Kelly Gissendaner; Georgia Dept. of Corrections