SCOTUS REFUSES TO STAY EXECUTIONS EVEN IF MENTAL ILLNESS UNDISPUTED

In case anyone is wondering whether or not capital punishment is alive and well with the Supreme Court of the United States, consider the following:

1. Clinton Lee Young

This week, the Supreme Court of the United States refused to consider the case of Texas Death Row inmate Clinton Young, who was appealing a denial by a lower federal appellate court that he had ineffective assistance of counsel coupled with prosecutorial misconduct in his 2002 trial, where he was convicted and sentenced to death for shooting two men.  Read more about his case here.

2. Adam Ward

Today, Adam Ward is scheduled to be executed by the State of Texas for the killing of a housing code enforcement officer as the officer was photographing Ward's house.

There is no doubt that Adam Ward is mentally ill, and that he suffers from bipolar disorder.

Nevertheless, the Supreme Court of the United States has refused to hear Adam Ward's case, and will not be issuing a stay of execution.  His petition for a writ of habeas corpus was denied by SCOTUS this afternoon.

Simultaneously with filing their original pleading with United States Supreme Court, Adam Ward's attorneys have also sought review of the decision released by the highest Texas criminal court,  which has already denied his request for a stay of execution and which Ward's attorneys are asking they reconsider at this point. 

Adam Ward has been on medication for his mental illness since he was three years old, and this is part of the criminal record.

At the age of four, he spent over two months in a psychiatric unit where he was initially diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Again, this is part of Ward's appellate record.

SCOTUS Message Regarding the Death Penalty?

Absent a miracle, it appears that the State of Texas will be executing a man obviously suffering from mental illness today. What can we take from these two examples?

Currently, the United States Supreme Court is sending a clear message regarding capital punishment in this country.  Even if lifelong mental illness is involved. 

Ohio Second Execution Attempt for Romell Broom: Cruel and Unusual Punishment?

Ohio tried to execute Romell Broom once already -- if you'll recall, that was a physical horror and a procedural fiasco

For more, read our earlier posts on the Broom execution and its appeals through the Ohio state criminal justice system.

Now, the Ohio Supreme Court has ruled that allowing the State of Ohio a "re-do" with the opportunity to execute Mr. Broom a second time is acceptable -- it is not "cruel and unusual punishment' as that is defined by the U.S. Constitution.

Read the Ohio Supreme Court March 2016 Opinion here (slip opinion). 

What happens next for Ohio Death Row Inmate Romell Broom?

Well, the actual execution will not be happening anytime soon.  All of Ohio's executions are on hold until next year (2017) because they cannot find the drugs needed for their lethal injection method of execution.

And, Mr. Broom's lawyers still have some tools to use.  Look for this case to be filed in the federal system, with a goal of having the United States Supreme Court on whether or not the Ohio Supreme Court's take on "cruel and unusual" is correct.

And that brings up another question: what's the stance of the new SCOTUS nominee on capital punishment?  Good question.

New Florida Death Penalty Statute Signed Into Law This Week

On March 7, 2016, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed the new Florida Death Penalty statute into law.  It is effective immediately.

 

The New Florida Death Penalty Law

Now, Florida juries must have unanimous agreement that there is at least ONE "aggravating circumstance" before there can be a sentence of death. 

And now, at least 10 jurors have to vote for death sentence (under the old law, you only needed 7).

Finally, some things stay the same:  the jury still recommends while the judge presiding over the capital trial makes the final decision.  He or she can opt for a life sentence instead of death, but cannot choose capital punishment if the jury (now 10 or more) has not voted for the death penalty.

What about all those cases where people were sentenced to death under the old law that the Supreme Court of the United States held to be unconstitutional? 

Well, that's still subject to debate and not a settled question.

 

Remember the West Memphis Three? Now One is An Artist With New Exhibition Opening

Salon Magazine has a good piece on how a variety of Hollywood movie and television figures have spurred the release of incarcerated individuals from their prison cells.  Read "“Curb Your Enthusiasm” saved a man from death row: 7 real criminal justice cases swayed by TV, film and pop culture," published March 11, 2015.  

Among those listed in the article, the West Memphis Three -- remember them?  We wrote about their case awhile back, go here for details.

Well, this week, Terence Lenamon received a news release notifying him that the alleged "ringleader" of the West Memphis Three, Damien Echols, will be debut his art work in his first gallery opening at the Copro Gallery in Santa Monica on March 19, 2016.   If you're in California and interested in attending, check out the gallery's Facebook page for details and directions.

 
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