Day: August 18, 2015

STUDIES: Racial Bias in Jury Selection


A new study of trials in Caddo Parish, Louisiana, revealed that potential jurors who were black were much more likely to be struck from juries than non-blacks. The results were consistent with findings from Alabama, North Carolina, and other parts of Louisiana, highlighting an issue that will be reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court this fall. In Caddo Parish, an area known for its many death sentences, prosecutors used peremptory strikes against 46% of black jurors, but only 15% of other jurors, according to the study by Reprieve Australia. The racial composition of the juries appeared to make a difference in the ultimate outcome of the cases. The study found that no defendants were acquitted by juries with 2 or fewer black jurors, but 19% were acquitted when 5 or more jurors were black. In an Alabama study, prosecutors used peremptory strikes to remove 82% of eligible black potential jurors from trials in which the death penalty was imposed. A study of death penalty cases in North Carolina found that prosecutors struck 53% of black potential jurors but only 26% of others.

 

In the death penalty case from Georgia that will be heard by the Supreme Court, Foster v. Chatman, all black prospective jurors were excluded from the jury. Prosecutors marked the names of black prospective jurors with a B and highlighted those names in green. Whenever such potential jurors had noted their race on questionnaires, prosecutors circled the word “black.”

 

Exclusion of Blacks From Juries Raises Renewed Scrutiny,” New York Times, August 16, 2015; U. Noye, “Blackstrikes: A Study of the Racially Disparate Use of Peremptory Challenges by the Caddo Parish District Attorney’s office,” Reprieve Australia, August, 2015)

Colorado lawmakers bump into death-row inmate Nathan Dunlap


August 17, 2015

In June, four Colorado legislators got face-to-face with death row inmate Nathan Dunlap, the Chuck E. Cheese killer whose execution was postponed last October by Gov. John Hickenlooper to the dismay of many pro-death-penalty Coloradans.

Like they do most summers, these members of the Capital Development Committee were touring state colleges, universities and other facilities to find out how taxpayers’ dollars are being spent and to consider future funding requests.

The June 8-10 tour took the committee to northeastern Colorado, to tour the Sterling Correctional Facility, which houses the state’s three death row inmates.

Legislators on the Sterling visit were Reps. Ed Vigil, D-Fort Garland and J. Paul Brown, R-Ignacio; and Sens. Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulphur Springs and Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling.

According to the legislators, the accidental encounter was uneventful and Dunlap was “very polite.”

Baumgardner said Dunlap came out of an elevator with a guard and had to walk through the group of mostly pro-death-penalty lawmakers because the space was so tight.

The inmate was held by the arm by the guard and was in full chains and shackles, according to Vigil.

“We were surprised,” Baumgardner said, and he believed Dunlap was as well.

Vigil described the situation as “surreal. It took me a second to recognize him,” he said.

“It’s a pretty nice facility,” Baumgardner said of the prison. There are things that need to be looked at, but that’s true for all of the state’s prisons, he added.

As to how meeting Dunlap impacted their opinions about the death penalty, the encounter didn’t change any minds, according to the legislators.

 

LOUSIANA : No A/C for death row inmates at Angola: decision made final, barring another appeal


August 17, 2015

Death row inmates at Louisiana State Penitentiary who claimed in a federal lawsuit that triple-digit temperatures inside their cells at Angola amounts to cruel and unusual punishment have been denied a rehearing of their case.

The decision by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals not to re-examine the case, which was handed down Friday (Aug. 14), upheld a decision delivered July 8 by a three-judge 5th Circuit panel. The July 8 decision found heat indices reaching up to 108 inside the inmates’ cells did, in fact, violate the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. However, the panel explained in its July 8 decision, the prison should not be required to install air-conditioning on death row to remedy the violation.

U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson had earlier ruled the conditions were unconstitutional and ordered the state to create and implement a plan, which included air conditioning, for cooling off death row.

The state appealed Jackson’s decision, but in the meantime, a plan was drafted. Death row tiers, built in 2008, are only heated and ventilated. The plan would have also provided inmate with chests filled with ice and allowed them daily cold showers. An appeals court intervened on behalf of the state before the prison ever put the plans in place, halting the implementation with an injunction while agreeing to take a look at the case.

The 5th Circuit on July 8 offered a few reasons why installing air conditioning on death row would have gone too far to provide relief for the plaintiffs. Air conditioning would be available year-round, when temperatures were often not extreme; it would cool off inmates who didn’t have medical conditions worsened by heat; and air conditioning “of course is expensive.”

Attorneys for the inmates argued in their request for a rehearing that Jackson’s order for air conditioning was less intrusive — and involved more micromanaging — than the remedies suggested by the panel.

The three inmates who filed suit, Nathaniel Code, 57; Elzie Ball, 60; James Magee, 35, all have medical conditions, such as diabetes and hypertension, that can be exacerbated by high heat. 

It’s unclear, the inmates’ attorney Mercedes Montagnes indicated, whether or not the inmates will appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“We…have not yet decided our next step,” she said in an emailed statement.

Death row inmate seeks medical evaluation


August 17, 2015

A medical examination done Friday on a death row inmate convicted in a 1994 Columbia triple murder is expected to determine whether a benign brain tumor will cause complications with the state’s lethal injection protocol, according to federal court documents.

Ernest Lee Johnson has been in prison since June 1995, and a noncancerous tumor was discovered in his brain years later. Doctors removed part of the tumor in 2008, and the last scan of Johnson’s brain, in 2011, showed the remaining tumor wasn’t growing, according to a motion filed in June by one of his attorneys, Kansas City-based Jeremy Weis. The motion requested funding to hire physician Joel Zivot, assistant professor of anesthesiology and surgery at Emory University’s School of Medicine and the medical director of the cardio-thoracic intensive care unit at Emory University Hospital, to examine and evaluate Johnson.

Chief Judge Greg Kays of the Western District of Missouri in late June approved $7,200 for Zivot to review Johnson’s medical records and perform another scan of the condemned man’s brain, as well as to pay for travel time, consultation with attorneys and help in drafting an affidavit. Zivot will “render an expert medical opinion as to how Mr. Johnson will respond to the lethal injection drugs and whether he will respond differently than other Missouri inmates due to his unique medical condition,” Weis wrote.

Weis and Johnson’s other attorney, William Gaddy, did not respond to messages seeking comment. Michael Spillane, a Missouri assistant attorney general, is representing Troy Steele, the warden of Potosi Correctional Center, where Johnson is being held, who is named as the defendant in the case. Nanci Gonder, spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, said the examination was conducted on Friday and that Spillane is waiting to obtain a copy of Zivot’s findings. Johnson’s next court date has not been set.

The most recent federal litigation continues a flurry of post-conviction proceedings for Johnson. Johnson was convicted in 1995 of the Feb. 12, 1994, murders of Fred Jones, 58, Mary Bratcher, 46, and Mable Scruggs, 57. His death sentence was twice overturned, in 1999 and 2003. The Missouri Supreme Court in 2008 affirmed a 2006 Pettis County jury’s decision to put Johnson back on death row, despite arguments from his attorneys that his IQ was in the 60s, far below the average of 100. Attorneys had previously gotten the sentence reversed because of Johnson’s mental retardation. The state’s highest court in 2008 had ruled his representation hadn’t successfully proven Johnson’s mental handicap.

As Jones, Bratcher and Scruggs closed a Casey’s General Store on Ballenger Lane, Johnson came in armed with a handgun and robbed the cash register before bludgeoning the victims to death with a hammer and flat-head screwdriver.

Johnson’s case went to the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in early 2013. A three-judge panel in December that year denied his application for appeal, and the U.S. Supreme Court in October 2014 denied a petition to hear the case. Nothing has been filed in the pending U.S. District Court case since Kays approved Zivot’s examination on June 22.

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