Report: 5 Prosecutors total 440 Death Penalty Sentences

A new report has been published by Harvard Law School, and it should give anyone concerned about capital punishment in this country some food for thought.

As part of its "Fair Punishment Project," Harvard Law studied all those prosecutors in offices all across the country who prosecute capital crimes and have the power to seek the death penalty in these cases. 

It's only when a Notice of Intent to Seek the Death Penalty is filed that capital punishment and killing the accused for his alleged crime becomes an issue.  If the prosecutor doesn't decide to ask for death, then it's not on the table.

Harvard Report: Five Deadliest Prosecutors

The results of the Harvard study?  They found that FIVE people tally up putting 440 individuals on Death Row.  That's right.  Just 5 state attorneys -- and they are spotlighted in this new report, "America's Top Five Deadliest Prosecutors."

Read the report online here. 

Four Men and One Woman and 440 Death Sentences

In case you're wondering, none are from Florida; one is from Texas.  The five are:

  1. Joe Freeman Britt -- Robeson County, North Carolina (Lumberton);
  2. Donnie Myers -- Lexington County, South Carolina (Lexington);
  3. Bob Macy -- Oklahoma County, Oklahoma (Oklahoma City);
  4. Lynne Abraham of Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania (Philadelphia); and
  5. Johnny Holmes of Harris County, Texas (Houston).

Three More Prosecutors With High Death Penalty Conviction Rates

The report also offers the names of three more prosecutors who "... if they continue on their current trajectories, may soon join the ranks of the deadliest prosecutors in America."  They are:

  1. Bernie De La Rionda -- Duval County, Florida (Jacksonville);
  2. Jeannette Gallagher - Maricopa County, Arizona (Phoenix);
  3. Paul Ebert, Prince William County, Virginia (Manassas).

 

 



 

Death Penalty Statute Remains in Flux as Florida Supreme Court Goes on Vacation

In Florida, things remain in limbo regarding the current (and revised) Florida death penalty statute because the Florida Supreme Court ended its 2016 term without deciding on the pending death penalty challenge.

Florida Death Penalty Statute: Is It Unconstitutional?

Which means that for now, and for months to come, Florida prosecutors as well as Florida capital defense lawyers will have to deal with pending and past cases as best they can, since things are unclear. 

No one knows how the Florida Supreme Court will rule -- and until it does, there is a lower court ruling in place that has legally found the current capital punishment scheme in the Florida death penalty statute to be unconstitutional. 

Twist here: three of the justices on the Florida Supreme Court may or may not remain, it will depend upon the November 2016 elections. 

For more, read the Miami Herald article, "Florida’s death penalty, gambling laws frozen for summer."

Death Row Stories - Redford CNN Documentary Online for Free

 

There are now two seasons of CNN’s documentary series Death Row Stories, where each episode focuses upon a single case and Death Row Inmate.   It's produced by Robert Redford and Susan Sarandon is the narrator.

CNN's "Death Row Stories" Documentary Available Online

You can watch all twelve episodes for free online at CNN's website. 

It's also available for streaming via Netflix.

Each Episode Focuses Upon One Death Row Case

The series does not focus on a single state, or upon states that favor capital punishment like Florida or Texas.  For instance, you'll find episodes on Colorado's Nathan Dunlap, Louisiana's John Thompson, and California's Kevin Cooper.

The series admits to focusing upon unfair and unjust situations involving capital punishment prosecutions -- and it's worth your time to catch an episode or two. 

Time Magazine's Death Penalty Issue: a Year Later

It's been about a year since Time Magazine put the Death Penalty on its cover, with an analysis of capital punishment in this country and the reasons why the Death Penalty is dying here.

 

 

Let's Read It Again and Consider What's Happened.

It's a good read.  Now, here's the question -- does it hold up a year later, given that we're seeing lots of things happening regarding the death penalty in this country.  Things like:

  • Arizona and Ohio not able to execute with lethal injection because they can't find the drugs to do it? 
  • And Arkansas has just seen its high court rule that executions may proceed there? 
  • And Florida's death penalty scheme is once again being challenged as unconstitutional?

The five reasons listed by Time Magazine's David Von Drehle:

  1. Not getting better at execution.
  2. Crime rate plunged.
  3. Dwindling justifications.
  4. Governments are going broke.
  5. SCOTUS

Read it again.  See what you think.

 

 

How Long Is Too Long to Sit on Death Row? SCOTUS Agrees to Hear Cruel and Unusual Argument

Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it would hear a case coming out of Texas, where a man was sentenced to die over 36 years ago.

Bobby James Moore faced a jury and a death penalty sentence back in 1980 for the killing of a store employee during an armed robbery of a grocery store in Houston, Texas.

Bobby James Moore has faced execution every day since then.  That's been 36 years of facing death.

How Long is Too Long to Wait To Execute Someone on Death Row?

Now, Mr. Moore's lawyers are arguing that being in this position for three and a half DECADES is cruel and unusual punishment.  

His constitutional rights have been violated because the Eighth Amendment protects him, and all citizens against cruel and unusual punishment. 

Is 15 Years in Solitary Confinement Awaiting Death Against the Constitution?

Important fact here:  since 2001, Mr. Moore has lived in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day.  Alone, in a cell, every day 365 days a year, for the past 15 years.

(Moore also has a second issue before SCOTUS.  He's also arguing that the Eighth Amendment has been violated in his case because of the use of antiquated medical testing on his intellectual abilities in order to allow him to be executed at all.)

Read Moore's Petition as provided by SCOTUS blog here.

 

Annual Fast and Vigil Begins on June 29 in Washington DC

 

Each year, people who are opposed to the death penalty in this country come to the nation's capital to make their position known to the Powers that Be.

Fast and Vigil Begins on June 29

This year, beginning on June 29, 2016, and continuing through to July 2, 2016, they will be gathered at the steps of the United States Supreme Court in what's known as the annual Fast and Vigil. 

People come from all over the globe to the Fast and Vigil.  This will be its 23rd year, and you may need to register in order to attend some of the bigger events (there's speakers and lectures, all sorts of stuff). 

If you're interested in learning more about it, check out the details on the website,  as well as the resources provided by the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (NCADP). 

Louisiana Executions on Hold for Now

The problem with lethal injection executions these days is that demand exceeds supply.  In a big, big way. 

Louisiana Death Penalty On Hold Because of Drug Supply for Lethal Injections

So much so that the State of Louisiana has put all its scheduled executions on hold while federal proceedings move forward that challenge the state's execution method. 

The Louisiana Department of Corrections has run out of drugs needed for executions and the Tulsa compounding pharmacy that was to be its new source of supply has run into big trouble over in Oklahoma.  Seems its facing thousands of allegations that it has violated state pharmacy regulations as it sold execution drugs to other states, like Missouri.

For details on the story, check out this article from the Death Penalty Information Center. 

And read our earlier posts about compounding pharmacies, too, like this one out of Georgia.

 

SCOTUS - Latest Death Penalty Opinions

Last week, the Supreme Court of the United States issued two opinions that deal with capital punishment in this country. 

May 31 SCOTUS Death Penalty Opinions: Tucker and Lynch

Read them here:

The first one, coming out of Louisiana, upheld the death penalty sentence.  The second one, coming from Arizona, went against the death penalty in that case.

So, what can we learn from these two cases?  Well, reading and comparing them gives us a pretty clear picture of where the Justices stand on the issue.

In the Arizona case, Justices Thomas and Alito dissent.  They would have kept the man, Shawn Patrick Lynch, on Death Row based in part on the "sheer depravity" of the underlying homicide. (The majority ruled based upon the failure of the jury to be instructed that the sole option to a death sentence was life without parole.)

In the Louisiana case, Justices Breyer and Ginsberg dissent.  They looked to the geographical origins of the conviction, Caddo Parish, where almost "half the death sentences in Louisiana" arise even though "only 5% of that State's population" comes from there.

Death Row petitioner Lamondre Tucker might not have received the death penalty if he had been tried in another part of the state, and accordingly the dissenters would have granted his petition.

Importantly, Breyer and Ginsberg come right out and suggest that the High Court needs to re-consider its position on the death penalty, and if capital punishment is cruel and unusual punishment and therefore, unconstitutional. 

The big deal?  The empty seat. 

Why Should We Care About These Two Cases?

What will happen to the death penalty when someone finally puts on those black robes and starts to work in the place left by the recent death of Justice Scalia?  We read these opinions for clues, and ponder the future. 

What does the New York Times think? That these cases support the current position of SCOTUS;  they won't declare the death penalty unconstitutional, but they will work to find ways to limit its usage.  Do you agree?

Death Penalty Book List: Read More About Capital Punishment

Over on Goodreads, there is a list of books on the death penalty, putting together both fiction and non-fiction together in order of popularity.

Death Penalty Book List from Goodreads

For those who like to read about death penalty issues and capital punishment, here are the top ten on this Goodreads list -- how many have you read?


1. The Confession by John Grisham 

2. The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town by John Grisham
 
3. Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult 

4. Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson

5. Dead Man Walking: The Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty That Sparked a National Debate by Helen Prejean

6. The Chamber by John Grisham
 
7.  The Autobiography of an Execution by David R. Dow
 
8. The Green Mile by Stephen King
 
9. I'd Know You Anywhere by Laura Lippman
 
10. Life After Death by Damien Echols 

Happy Birthday Terence Lenamon!

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Pfizer Bans Use of Its Products in U.S. Executions

This week, Pfizer banned the use of its drug products in U.S. executions -- or anywhere else for that matter.  Pfizer isn't setting precedent here, as much as getting in line behind almost two dozen other drug manufacturers that have already announced a company ban on the capital punishment market.

Pfizer Bans Use of Seven Pfizer Products in Lethal Injection Executions

From Pfizer's news release (emphasis added):

Pfizer’s Position on Use of Our Products in Lethal Injections for Capital Punishment

Pfizer’s mission is to apply science and our global resources to improve health and well-being at every stage of life. We strive to set the standard for quality, safety and value in the discovery, development and manufacturing of medicines.

Pfizer makes its products to enhance and save the lives of the patients we serve. Consistent with these values, Pfizer strongly objects to the use of its products as lethal injections for capital punishment.

Pfizer’s obligation is to ensure the availability of our products to patients who rely on them for medically necessary purposes. At the same time, we are enforcing a distribution restriction for specific products that have been part of, or considered by some states for their lethal injection protocols.

These products include pancuronium bromide, potassium chloride, propofol, midazolam, hydromorphone, rocuronium bromide and vecuronium bromide.

Pfizer’s distribution restriction limits the sale of these seven products to a select group of wholesalers, distributors, and direct purchasers under the condition that they will not resell these products to correctional institutions for use in lethal injections. Government purchasing entities must certify that products they purchase or otherwise acquire are used only for medically prescribed patient care and not for any penal purposes.

Pfizer further requires that these Government purchasers certify that the product is for “own use” and will not resell or otherwise provide the restricted products to any other party.

Pfizer will consistently monitor the distribution of these seven products, act upon findings that reveal noncompliance, and modify policies when necessary to remain consistent with our stated position against the improper use of our products in lethal injections. Importantly, this distribution system is also designed to ensure that these critical medications will remain immediately available to those patients who rely on them every day.

ABOUT THESE PRODUCTS: Propofol, pancuronium bromide, midazolam, hydromorphone, rocuronium bromide, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride are FDA-approved, medically necessary drugs administered by licensed medical professionals, thousands of times a day, in efforts to treat illness or save the lives of patients around the world. They are well established within the medical community and continue to serve important needs in surgical procedures and other treatments.

Pfizer offers these products because they save or improve lives, and markets them solely for use as indicated in the product labeling.

 

New Florida Death Penalty Law Also Unconstitutional Per Miami Judge

Last fall, SCOTUS ruled that the Florida death penalty law was unconstitutional.  Florida legislators immediately got to work revising the state's capital punishment statute and a new death penalty law went into effect not too long ago.

Now, Florida Circuit Court Judge Milton Hirsch has turned things on their heads regarding this revised statute by ruling it to be unconstitutional, as well. 

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Hirsch Finds New Florida Death Penalty Law Unconstitutional

Why?  Judge Hirsch finds that it is unconstitutional not to have a capital jury vote unanimously for the death penalty.  The new Florida law does not require all the jurors to vote for death in order for the defendant to be sentenced to death. 

What does this mean? 

1. New and Pending Matters

Prosecutors dealing with new and pending capital cases will face making trial decisions in the face of this new law being ruled unconstitutional by Judge Hirsch.

Criminal defense lawyers will have to deal with new and pending cases in the aftermath of this decision, too.

For more on this story, read the Miami Herald coverage today.

2. Convictions and Death Row

Meanwhile, for all those Death Row inmates who've already had a trial, they still await word on Hurst v. Florida, where the Florida Supreme Court will be ruling on whether or not they get new sentencing hearings, etc. 

For more on that case (including reading the amicus brief filed by Terence Lenamon / Florida Capital Resource Center) read last week's post.

Read Hirsch Opinion in Terence Lenamon Online Library

Also, the Hirsch Opinion in Florida v. Gaiter has been stored in the Terence Lenamon Online Library: 

Florida v Gaiter Order by Miami Circuit Judge Hirsch

 

 



 

Hurst Returns to the Florida Supreme Court: Read Amicus Brief

Today, oral argument was presented before the Florida Supreme Court on behalf of Death Row Inmate Timothy Hurst.

Hurst v. Florida Oral Argument Today

This is same Timothy Hurst whose arguments before the United States Supreme Court resulted in the High Court ruling that Florida's death penalty statute was unconstitutional.

Now, the Florida Supreme Court will decide if the SCOTUS decision opens the way for Timothy Hurst to have another sentencing hearing; or it changes his sentence from death to life without parole; or if there's a third result.

396 Florida Death Row Inmates Await the Result

It's a big case: around 400 other Death Row inmates in Florida will watch this case to learn their future in the aftermath of the SCOTUS ruling last fall.

Terence Lenamon / Florida Capital Resource Center Join on Amicus Brief

Terence Lenamon (co-founder) and the Florida Capital Resource Center have joined in this fight via an amicus brief as "friends of the court".

Appearing on the amicus: 

  • Justice Harry Lee Anstead,
  • Judge Rosemary Barkett,
  • Martha Barnett,
  • Talbot D’Alemberte,
  • Hank Coxe,
  • Justice Gerald Kogan,
  • the Florida Association Of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and
  • the Florida Center For Capital Representation.

Complete copies of the Amicus Brief, Appendix, and Motion for Leave to File have been uploaded for public review here today. 

You can read them in the Terence Lenamon Online Library, and see the brief below:

Amended Amicus Brief on Behalf of Appellants in Hurst

 

Petition for Writ of Certiorari in Woods v. Florida with Appendix

Right now, Terence Lenamon is working at the appellate level, addressing an important Discovery Issue that has serious implications in capital cases throughout the State of Florida.

The issue: 

Does the Sixth Amendment preclude compelled disclosure of test findings and reports from non-testifying expert witnesses?

It's an "uphill battle," according to Terry. With his permission, we're sharing his briefing in the matter below, in case you are interested in reading more about it.  These two documents are also stored online in the Terence Lenamon Online Library.

1.  Petition for Writ of Certiorari in Woods v. State of Florida

2.  Appendix to Petition for Writ in Woods v. Florida

 

Terence Lenamon's Position on Capital Punishment

Recently, Terence Lenamon received a request from a blogger interested in his take on capital punishment. With Terry's permission, here's what he wrote -- something than anyone reading our blog or knowing Terry (or of him) might like to read.

Terence Lenamon's View on the Death Penalty

From Death Penalty Lawyer Terence Lenamon:

"You cannot make the death penalty more ethical. Look at the data.

"Not only is it disproportionate to minorities, innocent people have been sentenced to death and executed.

"I won’t even touch on my moral opposition to the death penalty, although I will say it’s based in the New Testament. (Surprising how many religious zealots support killing another human being.)

"Bad lawyers, overzealous prosecutors, mistaken witnesses, flawed forensic testing. Anger, hate ……..The list goes on and on in what fuels an imperfect “punishment.”

"If your goal is to find ways to correct flaws within the death penalty you may want to change your paradigm to something like:

1. Finding ways to protect our children from being abused and growing up exposed to violence.

2. Finding ways to successfully treat mental illness before violence occurs.

3. Finding ways to educate our children and protect them from the violence and exposure to drugs in our community

4. Finding ways to help parents raise their children in a safe and loving environment.

"The list can go on and on .... I can’t change your belief system but I certainly hope you take a look your goal and redefine in a way that changes things for the better. "

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