The execution of Tennessee Death Row inmate Edmund Zagorski is scheduled to take place today at seven o’clock this evening.  This morning, his defense team filed a petition with the Supreme Court of the United States to try and halt the proceedings.

Follow that SCOTUS docket here.

 

Florida’ Electric Chair: Constructed in oak by Department of Corrections in 1999.

Zagorski Chose Electric Chair Over Lethal Injection as Method of Execution

Tennessee has two legal methods of execution:  the electric chair and lethal injection.  Zagorski chose to avoid lethal injection because of the fear that he would experience 10-18 minutes of “utter terror and agony” as compared to electrocution, which would kill him in less than a minute.

Legally, Tennessee’s condemned to die before January 1, 1999, have the legal right to choose their execution method; Zagorski was sentenced to death in 1984.

After Zagorski chose electrocution, Tennessee proceeded to prepare for its first electric chair execution since 1960, except for the 2007 electric chair execution of Daryl Holton in 2007.

SCOTUS Petition to Halt Electric Chair Execution Today

Today, Edmund Zagorski is petitioning SCOTUS to stop the electric chair execution, arguing that it is unconstitutional.

He argues for a stay based upon several reasons, including the following (emphasis added):

  1. Mr. Zagorski initially attempted to litigate the unconstitutionality of the electric chair in 2015 and was prevented from doing so by the state’s claim that the issue was not ripe. West v. Schofield, 468 S.W.3d 482, 485 fn. 2 (Tenn. 2015).
  2. He brought this challenge immediately when it became ripe. Nelson v. Campell, 541 U.S. 637 (2004)); Gomez v. United States Dist. Court for Northern Dist. of Cal., 503 U.S. 653, 654 (1992) (per curiam)).
  3. Mr. Zagorski has shown a significant possibility of success on the merits. See  Barefoot v. Estelle, 463 U.S. 880, 895–896 (1983). See also Mazurek v. Armstrong, 520 U.S.968, 972 (1997) (per curiam) (preliminary injunction not granted unless the movant, by a clear showing, carries the burden of persuasion).
  4. The threat of irreparable harm weighs heavily in his favor where absent a stay he will be electrocuted – a method that this Court was on the brink of declaring unconstitutional in Bryan before the state of Florida mooted the question. 
  5. The public interest also weighs in favor of a stay as this issue is likely to repeat in light of the growing trend of death row inmates who face death  insurmountable challenges to barbaric methods of execution because of the lower court’s (mis)application of the alternative-method-of-execution pleading requirement of Glossip.
  6. The state’s interest in carrying out this capital sentence against this inmate – who has been a model prisoner for 34 years, who save the life of a prison guard, and who 6 of the original jurors support a sentence of life without parole is — not great….
  7. The state coerced Mr. Zagorski’s election of an unconstitutional method of execution. … Equity demands a stay of execution.

Application for Stay, pp. 14-15. 

Read the complete 17 page application with its briefing here.  

Note:  the Application is presented to Justice Sonia Sotomayor but the SCOTUS docket states that the request for the stay is being heard by Justice Kagan.

Florida Also Has Electric Chair for Electrocution

Along with several other states, like Tennessee, the State of Florida recognizes electrocution as an alternative method for execution other than lethal injection.  For information on Florida’s electric chair, see:

 

 

When considering the contributions of capital defense lawyers like Terry Lenamon to the fight against the death penalty in this country, most people think of their advocacy in a particular case, particularly the more publicized trials.

However, it is the strategies and skills of death penalty defense lawyers that are being recognized as a more systemic contribution to the declining use of capital punishment in this country.

The following efforts by death penalty defense lawyers are discussed as factors in the reduction of capital sentences imposed in the past decade:

  1. dedicating time and energy into the investigation and presentation of mitigating circumstances for the accused, including family history of childhood deprivation and abuse; mental health patterns over the life of the defendant; and other mitigating factors against a capital sentence;
  2. working with prosecutors with zealous plea bargaining strategies to avoid death; and
  3. focus upon jury selection in capital cases.

From the ABA Publication:

“Mitigating is not offering an excuse or justification for the crime, but instead placing the crime in the context of a whole life. This book offer specific steps and strategies that lawyers and others can use in the course of their work.”

For more on how mitigation is vital in a death penalty defense, see:

The Washington Supreme Court has found the death penalty to be unconstitutional because it violates the state constitution, specifically Article 1, Section 14, which states, “[e]xcessive bail shall not be required, excessive fines imposed, nor cruel punishment inflicted.”

State v. Gregory

From the opinion in State v. Gregory, No. 88086-7 (Wash. Oct. 11, 2018):

“The death penalty is invalid because it is imposed in an arbitrary and racially biased manner. While this particular case provides an opportunity to specifically address racial disproportionality, the underlying issues that underpin our holding are rooted in the arbitrary manner in which the death penalty is generally administered.  As noted by appellant, the use of the death penalty is unequally applied—sometimes by where the crime took place, or the county of residence, or the available budgetary resources at any given point in time, or the race of the defendant. The death penalty, as administered in our state, fails to serve any legitimate penological goal; thus, it violates article I, section 14 of our state constitution.”

Before this fuels great excitement regarding abolishing capital punishment in this country, it’s important to note that Gregory starts off with the following caveat:

Washington’s death penalty laws have been declared unconstitutional not once, not twice, but three times. State v. Baker, 81 Wn.2d 281, 501 P.2d 284 (1972)State v. Green, 91 Wn.2d 431, 588 P.2d 1370 (1979)State v. Frampton, 95 Wn.2d 469, 627 P.2d 922 (1981).[1] And today, we do so again. None of these prior decisions held that the death penalty is per se unconstitutional, nor do we. The death penalty is invalid because it is imposed in an arbitrary and racially biased manner. While this particular case provides an opportunity to specifically address racial disproportionality, the underlying issues that underpin our holding are rooted in the arbitrary manner in which the death penalty is generally administered. 

The Washington Supreme Court is not holding the death penalty “per se unconstitutional.”  Instead, it rules based upon how the state’s capital punishment law is carried out, and finds it is being “imposed in an arbitrary and racially biased manner.”

The administration of the state law by the state violates the state constitution, according to the state supreme court.

State Constitutional Holding Independent From Federal Constitution Application

The Washington Court takes great care to make sure that its ruling is clearly based solely upon its state constitution:

At the very least, article I, section 14 cannot provide for less protection than the Eighth Amendment, and in this case, we interpret it independently from the federal counterpart. Let there be no doubt — we adhere to our duty to resolve constitutional questions under our own constitution, and accordingly, we resolve this case on adequate and independent state constitutional principles. See Long, 463 U.S. at 1041-42.

 

State Constitution vs. Federal Constitution

Some may be surprised that a state supreme court can make a ruling that can withstand United State Supreme Court scrutiny.  Well, aside from some procedural arguments there is the overall reality that state governments do exist independently from the federal government.  As long as a state supreme court reads its state constitution to be more protective than the federal counterpart, its ruling will hold.

This is discussed in its cited case of  Michigan v. Long,463 U.S. 1032, 1041-1042, 103 S. Ct. 3469, 77 L. Ed. 2d 1201 (1983), where SCOTUS states:

The principle that we will not review judgments of state courts that rest on adequate and independent state grounds is based, in part, on “the limitations of our own jurisdiction.”  Herb v. Pitcairn, 324 U. S. 117, 125 (1945).

Will Gregory result in more capital punishment challenges being filed before state supreme courts, arguing against their death penalty laws on “adequate and independent state grounds” and not federal constitutional arguments?

Perhaps.  Of some interest, let’s not forget that this month marks the October 2016 anniversary of Hurst and Perry opinions by the Florida Supreme Court insofar as the Florida Death Penalty Law.  Something to ponder.

 

In Fall 2018, SCOTUS will consider two cases that deal with the death penalty:

1. Bucklew v. Precythe

Bucklew v. Precythe, SCOTUS Docket No. 17-8151, asks SCOTUS to consider if the medical condition of a Death Row Inmate can cause the lethal injection method of execution to be “cruel and unusual” punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment.

Issues Presented

  1. Should a court evaluating an as-applied challenge to a state’s method of execution based on an inmate’s rare and severe medical condition assume that medical personnel are competent to manage his condition and that the procedure will go as intended?
  2. Must evidence comparing a state’s proposed method of execution with an alternative proposed by an inmate be offered via a single witness, or should a court at summary judgment look to the record as a whole to determine whether a factfinder could conclude that the two methods significantly differ in the risks they pose to the inmate?
  3. Does the Eighth Amendment require an inmate to prove an adequate alternative method of execution when raising an as-applied challenge to the state’s proposed method of execution based on his rare and severe medical condition?

Read the Petition for Writ of Certiorari.

Read the Amicus Curaie Brief filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Underlying Facts

Russell Bucklew suffers from a congenital medical condition that may well cause him to hemorrhage during any execution involving lethal injection where he would potentially choke on his own blood.

Mr. Bucklew offers the alternative execution method of death by nitrogen hypoxia.

He also requests that to be informed of the medical qualifications of two executioners (members of the Missouri lethal injection team).  Bucklew alleges they may not have the qualifications necessary for the position of lethal injection executioner.

Oral Argument

Bucklew is scheduled for oral argument on November 6, 2018.

 

 

2.  Madison v. Alabama

Madison v. Alabama, SCOTUS Docket No. 17-7505, asks the Supreme Court to consider whether or not it violates the federal constitution to allow an individual to be executed when he or she cannot remember the crime for which they have been sentenced to death.

Issues Presented

  1. Consistent with the Eighth Amendment, and this Court’s decisions in Ford and Panetti, may the State execute a prisoner whose mental disability leaves him without memory of his commission of the capital offense? See Dunn v. Madison, 138 S. Ct. 9, 12 (Nov. 6, 2017) (Ginsburg, J., with Breyer, J., and Sotomayor, J., concurring).
  2. Do evolving standards of decency and the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment bar the execution of a prisoner whose competency has been compromised by vascular dementia and multiple strokes causing severe cognitive dysfunction and a degenerative medical condition which prevents him from remembering the crime for which he was convicted or understanding the circumstances of his scheduled execution?

Underlying Facts

During the 30 years that Vernon Madison has spent on Alabama’s Death Row, he has had several strokes and now suffers from dementia.  Mr. Madison cannot remember his arrest, his trial, much less the underlying crime for which he was convicted.

Read the Petition for Writ of Certiorari.

Read the Amicus Curaie Brief submitted by the American Psychological Association.

Oral Argument

Madison was argued on October 2, 2018.  Read the oral argument transcript here.

The website WildAboutTrial.com promotes itself as providing “the nation’s hottest criminal trial coverage.”   Not only does the site provide background information regarding pending criminal proceedings, it often provides live coverage from the courtroom as things are happening.

Site Shares Live Courtroom Coverage

Today, for instance, they are sharing coverage of the sentencing hearing for Bill Cosby (details provided here).  The hearing is not live but the site is tweeting as things are happening in the Cosby case up in Pennsylvania.

Meanwhile, the site is providing live coverage of the courtroom proceedings in the Illinois trial of Jason Van Dyke.  Watch the live stream.

Markeith Loyd Hearings on WildAboutTrial.com

For those following Terry Lenamon’s defense in the Markeith Loyd trial — including (1) his arguments regarding race and the death penalty and (2) the notice that the defense intends to call former state prosecutor Aramis Ayala as a mitigation witness, if necessary, this site may be of interest.

WildAboutTrial.com has a dedicated web page for the Markeith Loyd proceedings.

While the most recent hearing has yet to be uploaded into their archives, you can watch the June 12, 2018 proceedings.

Read Court Filings in Defense of Markeith Loyd

For more on the Markeith Loyd’s defense, read:

Defense To Call State Attorney Ayala as Mitigation Witness Against Death Penalty in Markeith Loyd Case

 

Florida prosecutor Aramis Ayala took a stand against the death penalty which resulted in Florida Governor Scott removing two dozen cases from her docket. For details, read the media coverage published by the Miami Herald on June 28, 2017, written by Steve Bousquet: “Orlando prosecutor defends stance against death penalty.”

One of the cases in which Ayala served as prosecutor was the homicide case of State of Florida vs. Markeith Loyd.

Lenamon Files Notice: Will Call State Prosecutor Ayala as Defense Mitigation Witness in any Penalty Phase

Now, as part of the defense of Markeith Loyd, Terry Lenamon has filed a motion with the court that announces the intent of the defense to call State Attorney Ayala as a defense witness in the penalty phase so she may testify in the event that Markeith Loyd is convicted of a capital offense. 

State Attorney Ayala, as the elected prosecutor for the Ninth Judicial District, represented the state’s interests from the seeking of the initial grand jury indictments against Markeith Loyd to her determination that the death penalty would not be sought in this case.  (See Motion, page 4).

For details, read:

Full Text of Lenamon’s Motion to Call State Attorney Ayala in Loyd Case

A true and correct copy of the Motion to Call Ayala has been provided as part of the Terence Lenamon Online Library. 

Lenamon Motion Arguing Discrimination Based Upon Race in Florida Death Penalty / Homicide Cases

Another motion of importance was also filed yesterday by Terry Lenamon.  This one, an argument regarding constitutional violations across the State of Florida in death penalty cases based upon racial discrimination.

A true and correct copy of the Motion to Preclude is also available in the Terence Lenamon Online Library.

 

Death Row: The Final Minutes by Michelle Lyons  is a book that you may want to read, no matter your position on the death penalty.  It’s a well-written memoir (consistent 4.5 and 5 star reviews, if that’s important to you).

Lyons Witnessed Hundreds of Executions

Michelle Lyons was an eyewitness to almost 300 executions by lethal injection by the State of Texas.  Part of the time, she did so as a reporter.  For the rest of the deaths, she was there as the media representative (spokesperson) for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

She watched the inmates die, time and time again.  She also grew to know many of these men and women, as well as the staff who had the horrific responsibility of carrying out the execution.  (As did her friend and predecessor Larry Fitzgerald, who figures prominently in the book).

For those interested in capital punishment, reading what Michelle Lyons has to tell us about her knowledge and perspective regarding the death penalty, the lethal injection method of execution, and how it impacts so many people is important.  

 

Book Description From Amazon

First as a reporter and then as a spokesperson for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Michelle was a frequent visitor to Huntsville’s Walls Unit, where she recorded and relayed the final moments of death row inmates’ lives before they were put to death by the state.
Michelle was in the death chamber as some of the United States’ most notorious criminals, including serial killers, child murderers and rapists, spoke their last words on earth, while a cocktail of lethal drugs surged through their veins.
Michelle supported the death penalty, before misgivings began to set in as the executions mounted. During her time in the prison system, and together with her dear friend and colleague, Larry Fitzgerald, she came to know and like some of the condemned men and women she saw die. She began to query the arbitrary nature of the death penalty and ask the question: do executions make victims of all of us?
An incredibly powerful and unique look at the complex story of capital punishment, as told by those whose lives have been shaped by it, Death Row: The Final Minutes is an important take on crime and punishment at a fascinating point in America’s political history.

 

This week, Amnesty International released its findings regarding capital punishment in the State of Florida.

From their press release:

“While several US states have embraced abolition in recent years, Florida remains a diehard proponent of the death penalty and one of a handful of states that account for the bulk of executions in the USA,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.

“Despite its capital sentencing law being found unconstitutional two years ago, Florida still has the second largest death row in the country. Its response to that ruling has been to dig in and defend the indefensible, including the execution of people with mental and intellectual disabilities.”

Amnesty International goes on to explain:

Florida shows few signs of joining the USA’s 19 states that have already abolished the death penalty or the others that are rethinking it. It is ranked fourth in the number of executions carried out in the USA since 1976, when the US Supreme Court approved new capital laws.

Darkness visible in the Sunshine State: The death penalty in Florida examines how many death row inmates have been denied the chance of a review of their death sentences by the state’s response to the Hurst v. Florida ruling in 2016, in which the US Supreme Court overturned the state’s capital sentencing statute because it gave juries only an advisory role in death sentencing.

Click on the image below to read the full 74 page Death Penalty in Florida report in its entirety:

 

Last week, the Pew Research Center released research findings in an article written by John Gramlich, entitled “11 states that have the death penalty haven’t used it in more than a decade.”  It’s an interesting read, considering that two states recently geared up their Execution Calendars again:

Until this month, Nebraska had not executed a Death Row Inmate in 21 years.  Tennessee’s August 2018 execution was its first in almost nine years.

Execution Schedule Versus Death Row Sentence

Once someone is sentenced to death, he resides on Death Row in the jurisdiction of his conviction.  Whether or not the death sentence is carried out is a different matter from being sentenced to die.

For instance, the federal government also allows for capital punishment, but no one has been executed under federal law since 2003.  California’s Death Row is notorious for holding a growing population, while no one has been executed in California since 2006.

Consider this Pew Research Center graphic:  those in the darker brown are jurisdictions with Death Rows but no executions carried out for 15 years or more:

 

Most states have the death penalty, but significantly fewer use it regularly

There are several reasons for these growing Death Row populations; we’ve delved into California before, for instance.

However, there appears to be a growing return to active execution schedules in the United States, in what Justice Sotomayor deems a “rush to execute.”  These two August 2018 deaths involved very controversial lethal injection protocols, and there is a concern that using drugs like fentanyl or midazolam is cruel and unusual punishment.

Untested Drugs in Execution Procedures: The “Rush to Execute”

While Tennessee was allowed to proceed, it was not without warning.  Ponder Justice Sotomayor’s dissent in SCOTUS’s denial of a stay of execution for Billy Ray Irick (emphasis added):

As to the prediction that this Court would deem up to 18 minutes of needless torture anything less than cruel, unusual, and unconstitutional, I fervently hope the state courts were mistaken. At a minimum, their conclusion that the Constitution tolerates what the State plans to do to Irick is not compelled by Glossip, which did not categorically determine whether a lethal injection protocol using midazolam is a constitutional method of execution. See Arthur, 580 U. S., at ___ (opinion of SOTOMAYOR, J.) (slip op., at 12). Glossip’s majority concluded only that, based on the evidence presented in that case, there was no clear error in the District Court’s factual finding that midazolam was highly likely to prevent a person from feeling pain. Ibid. (citing Glossip, 576 U. S., at ___ (slip op., at 16)).

As noted, the trial court here came to a different factual conclusion based on a different factual record, as have others. See McGehee, 581 U. S., at ___ (opinion of SOTOMAYOR, J.) (slip op., at 2) (noting a district court’s “well-supported finding that midazolam creates a substantial risk of severe pain”); Otte v. Morgan, 582 U. S. ___ (2017) (SOTOMAYOR, J., dissenting from denial of application for a stay and denial of certiorari) (similar).

If it turns out upon more sober appellate review that this case presents the question, I would grant certiorari to decide the important question whether the Constitution truly tolerates executions carried out by such quite possibly torturous means. 

In refusing to grant Irick a stay, the Court today turns a blind eye to a proven likelihood that the State of Tennessee is on the verge of inflicting several minutes of torturous pain on an inmate in its custody, while shrouding his suffering behind a veneer of paralysis. I cannot in good conscience join in this “rush to execute” without first seeking every assurance that our precedent permits such a result. No. M1987–00131–SC–DPE–DD (Lee, J., dissenting), at 1.

If the law permits this execution to go forward in spite of the horrific final minutes that Irick may well experience, then we have stopped being a civilized nation and accepted barbarism. I dissent.

Pope Francis has officially changed the Catechism of the Catholic Church this month to condemn capital punishment as “inadmissible” and that the Church will work for “its abolition worldwide.”

The Pope has announced a major change in the position of the Catholic Church to the death penalty.  The Catholic Catechism has been formally amended.  From the August 2, 2018 Vatican Press Release, here is the translation provided from Rome:

Traduzione in lingua inglese

The death penalty

2267. Recourse to the death penalty on the part of legitimate authority, following a fair trial, was long considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good.

Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state. Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption.

Consequently, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person”,[1] and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.

What is the Catechism?

From USCatholic.org, the Catechism of the Catholic Church is explained as a reference for all Catholic doctrine published by Pope John Paul II in 1992 as part of the 30th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council.  Historically, the compilation goes back to 1566 when the first Roman Catechism was published as a result of the Council of Trent.  For details, visit the site as it discusses the history of the Catechism, including various national catechisms (for example, the 2006 United States Catholic Catechism for Adults (USCCA)).

Read the complete text of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, translated into English, at the Vatican’s site. 

This Corresponds to Pope Francis’ Previous Statements Regarding the Death Penalty

The amendment is not a huge surprise.  Pope Francis has been vocal about his position on the death penalty before.  As an example, Sister Helen Prejean shares Pope Francis’ statements before the International Association of Criminal Law, here is the [translated] excerpt dealing with the death penalty:

I. In regard to the primacy of life and the dignity of the human person. Primatus principii pro homine

a) In regard to the Death Penalty

It is impossible to think that today States do not have at their disposal means other than capital punishment to defend the life of other persons from unjust aggression.

Saint John Paul II condemned the death penalty (cf. Encyclical Letter Evangelium Vitae, 56), as does also the Catechism of the Catholic Church (N. 2267).

However, it can be verified that States take life not only with the death penalty and with wars, but also when public officials take refuge in the shadow of State powers to justify their crimes. The so-called extra-judicial or extra-legal executions are deliberate homicides committed by some States and their agents, often making it appear as clashes with delinquents or presented as the undesired consequence of a reasonable, necessary and proportional use of force to have the law applied. In this way, even if among the 60 countries that keep the death penalty, 35 have not applied it in the last [ten] years, the death penalty is applied, illegally and in different degrees, across the whole planet.

The same extra-judicial executions are perpetrated in a systematic way not only by States of the International Community, but also by entities not recognized as such, and they represent genuine crimes.

The arguments opposed to the death penalty are many and well known. The Church stressed some of them opportunely, such as the possibility of the existence of judicial error and the use that totalitarian and dictatorial regimes make of it, which use it as an instrument of suppression of political dissidence or of persecution of religious and cultural minorities, all victims that, for their respective legislations, are “delinquents.”

Therefore, all Christians and men of good will are called today to fight not only for the abolition of the death penalty, whether legal or illegal, and in all its forms, but also in order to improve the prison conditions, in respect of the human dignity of the persons deprived of freedom. And I link this with a life sentence. In the Vatican, since a short time ago, there is no longer a life sentence in the Penal Code. A life sentence is a hidden death sentence.

Catholic Theologians Discuss What This Means to Capital Punishment

From the Catholic News Agency comes an excellent piece written by Ed Condon and entitled “Pope Francis and the death penalty: a change in doctrine or circumstances?”  In the article, Condon delves into the confusion some may have regarding whether or not this announcement is “the development of doctrine”or if it is an outright change in position on the issue of the death penalty.  Several respected theologians debate the issue.

Meanwhile, in the Catholic World Report comes an article by entitled “Why the Church Cannot Reverse Past Teaching on Capital Punishment.”  It delves into the power of Pope Francis “… to change the Catechism of the Catholic Church so that it will “absolutely” forbid capital punishment [because] … Does Catholic doctrine permit a pope to make such a change? It very clearly does not,” pointing to teachings of both the First Vatican Council and the Second Vatican Council.

Finally, there is an op-ed by Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese, columnist for Religion News Service and author of Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church, published on August 7, 2018 by the National Catholic Reporter and entitled “Pope Francis pushes Catholics to actively oppose the death penalty.

Reese looks at the practicalities facing Bishops in the United States now that the Catechism has been officially amended, given that statistics show that the majority of Americans are in favor of the death penalty (emphasis added):

The U.S. bishops will now add opposition to the death penalty to their other lobbying issues. This list already includes controversial positions such as their support for comprehensive immigration reform, universal health care and programs to help the poor and their opposition to the Muslim ban, abortion and gay marriage.

Just as some Catholic politicians have parted from the bishops on these issues, there will certainly be some who oppose the bishops’ call for eliminating the death penalty. One of the things I like about the bishops is that they make both political parties uncomfortable.

As long as the discussion of the death penalty is conducted in the abstract, it can remain rather academic. But once it becomes focused on an individual criminal, passions will flare up. If the criminal is a serial killer, a rapist-murderer or someone who has shot schoolchildren, the bishops’ call for clemency will meet fierce opposition.

In the past, some bishops have opposed the execution of specific criminals in their states and called on governors to commute their sentences to life imprisonment. Now we can expect all the bishops to join in these efforts, and we can also expect vocal opposition. This is a fight the bishops will not win unless their people join them.

 

Will This End Prosecutors Seeking the Death Penalty?  No.

This news from Rome will not stop prosecutors across the United States, as well as the rest of the world, from seeking the death penalty.  For the position of the prosecutor on Pope Francis’ amendment to the Catholic Catechism, read “Prosecutor disagrees with Pope Francis’s death penalty ruling,” where Ohio’s Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters explains the prosecutorial stance.

As for what it will mean for individual jurors, and jury selection, that is a different and difficult issue.  Will prosecutors try and find ways to keep Catholics off their juries?  What do you think?