Real People and Real Families: The Reality of Death Row 

 Recently, the Marshall Project published an article written by Death Row inmate Timothy White entitled, "Why We Can’t Have Nice Things on Death Row."  Mr. White resides on the North Carolina Death Row, located in Raleigh, North Carolina’s Central Prison.  

It’s a good read and a well-written piece.  

Documentary Series on Death Row

However, for those interested in more details about how Death Row works, there is also a series of BBC documentary episodes being provided by National Geographic Channel and Fox

Check out the details here.  

These are collected under the name "Life and Death Row," and they delve into different aspects of the realities of Death Row in this country.

For instance, Season One’s Execution is an episode that deals with two of the youngest men living on Death Row in Texas.

Season Two has an episode where Texas Death Row inmate named Daniel Lopez works to stop any attempts to stay or thwart his execution. (Mr. Lopez was executed in 2015).

Season Three devotes one episode to how the impending execution date impacts not only the inmate but their families.  Will the lethal injection work properly, wonders the sister of Jack Jones.  

There are more.  These are well worth your time if you want to understand how Death Row impacts so many people, in so many horrific ways.  

Here’s an excerpt from "The Day Before:" 

http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/u/kcD4jK5JPSw6U_cXREmbHsMBywAEe1LYdj1Zu5l-s2E7QDckDq1fWmjHzHORbZR8HH5LV7iAWKs/

 Every so often, we recommend a book or movie or film that informs and educates about the complexity of issues involved in capital cases and the death penalty in America today.  

Today, we’re sharing a documentary that is available on Netflix right now.  

 It’s Into the Abyss (2011) directed by Werner Herzog 

 

 

Critics at Rotten Tomatoes rank this film 92% on the Tomatometer and 76% of the reporting audience at Rotten Tomatoes liked it.

What’s it about?  

From Rotten Tomatoes (quoting from the synopsis on the film’s site):

"In his fascinating exploration of a triple homicide case in Conroe, Texas, master filmmaker Werner Herzog probes the human psyche to explore why people kill-and why a state kills. In intimate conversations with those involved, including 28-year-old death row inmate Michael Perry (scheduled to die within eight days of appearing on-screen),

Herzog achieves what he describes as "a gaze into the abyss of the human soul." Herzog’s inquiries also extend to the families of the victims and perpetrators as well as a state executioner and pastor who’ve been with death row prisoners as they’ve taken their final breaths. As he’s so often done before, Herzog’s investigation unveils layers of humanity, making an enlightening trip out of ominous territory. — (C) Official Site"

The Florida Execution Schedule is up and running again.  Governor Rick Scott has signed the Death Warrant for an August execution, the first execution for Florida in 18 months.

Mark James Asay is scheduled to be executed by the State of Florida on August 24, 2017, at six o’clock in the afternoon.  

Death Warrant Signed by Florida Governor Rick Scott

You can review the actual Death Warrant below, and it has been stored in the Terence Lenamon Online Library as well.  

Notice that it includes:

  1. the Governor’s letter;
  2. correspondence from Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi;
  3. the Death Warrant; and 
  4. the Judgment and the Sentence of the Duval County trial court. 

Asay Previously Scheduled for Execution in March 2016

This is not the first time that Mark James Asay has sat on Death Row with an execution date looming before him.  He was previously scheduled for death back in March 2016.  

However, the SCOTUS ruling in Hurst v. Florida intervened and the Florida Supreme Court delayed that 2016 execution.  Last December, the Florida Supreme Court lifted its execution stay for Asay. 

Here is a copy of the Death Warrant itself, signed by Governor Rick Scott and published online by the Florida Supreme Court: 

 

https://www.scribd.com/embeds/354320137/content?start_page=1&view_mode=scroll&access_key=key-dBl96bHUNGG73uIdJwgI&show_recommendations=true

 

Last night, Virginia Death Row inmate William Morva was executed by lethal injection.  Morva was sentenced to death for the 2006 killing of a sheriff’s deputy and a hospital security guard while Morva was unsuccessfully trying to escape from a hospital.  

Morva Suffered Severe Mental Impairment

Earlier on the day of the Morva execution, Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe considered and denied a petition for clemency.  The basis of the petition was Morva’s mental state.

William Morva had been evaluated by psychiatric and psychological experts.  It was their opinion that William Morva suffered serious mental illness and that he was mentally ill at the time of the killings for which he was convicted.  That Morva was delusional at the time, and could not comprehend what he was doing at the time.

In his statement released after the denial, Governor McAuliffe gave two reasons for denying clemency:

(1) the opinions of three mental health experts during the capital trial that Morva could understand right from wrong at the time of the killings; and

(2) the files of those monitoring Morva during his nine years of confinement, where "…mental health staff have monitored him weekly and assessed him quarterly for the past nine years and have never reported any evidence of delusional disorder or severe mental illness."

ABA Letter Asking for Clemency 

Many were fighting against this execution.  Among them, the American Bar Association which sent a letter to the governor of Virginia in a last ditch effort to get clemency and stop the execution. 

Read the ABA Letter here. 

Governor’s Letter Affirms The Importance of Defense in Capital Trial

From the Governor’s letter comes the following explanation – which only serves to affirm how very important the work of capital defense lawyers like Terence Lenamon is when it comes to a capital case.  

Terry focuses upon the sentencing phase of these death penalty trials, where the jury is given arguments from both sides on whether or not to sentence the defendant to death.  

The decision of that capital jury is strong — and while it may be overturned upon appeal, the Morva case reminds us all that the jury’s verdict may also remain … and death can be the result.

From the Governor’s statement:

“At the conclusion of that review, I have determined that Mr. Morva was given a fair trial and that the jury heard substantial evidence about his mental health as they prepared to sentence him in accordance with the law of our Commonwealth. In short, the record before me does not contain sufficient evidence to warrant the extraordinary step of overturning the decision of a lawfully empaneled jury following a properly conducted trial.

“I personally oppose the death penalty; however, I took an oath to uphold the laws of this Commonwealth regardless of my personal views of those laws, as long as they are being fairly and justly applied. Thus, after extensive review and deliberation consistent with the process I have applied to previous requests for commutation, I have declined Mr. Morva’s petition. I have and will continue to pray for the families of the victims of these terrible crimes and for all of the people whose lives have been impacted.”

 

As you may know, the focus of Terence Lenamon’s death penalty practice is upon the second trial in a death penalty case, the sentencing phase, where a man (or woman) has been convicted of a capital crime and now, the question is whether or not the state will succeed in their quest for capital punishment.  (See, e.g., this post which includes one of Terry Lenamon’s opening statements.)

Death Penalty Sentencing Phase:  Mental Illness, Mental Disability

Often, the crux of his defense will turn on things like the mental illness or instability of his client.  Things like schizophrenia come into play.  

In some cases, the critical factor will be mental capacity or intellectual disability.  Things like traumatic brain injuries, chromosomal abnormalities, and introduction of toxins (including extended drug use) may be facts to be presented.

Jeff Wood on Texas Death Row

Terry’s not representing Jeff Wood in Texas, but he knows the fight that is being fought right now.  Attorneys for Mr. Wood are trying to stop his execution, scheduled in a matter of days. 

If they don’t succeed, Jeff Wood will die by lethal injection on August 24, 2016.

And Jeff Wood is argued to suffer both intellectual and emotional disabilities — things that his lawyers argue should make him constitutionally ineligible for that execution.

An even bigger argument?  One that goes back to the guilt or innocence phase of a death penalty trial, more than in the sentencing trial. 

Jeff Wood didn’t kill anyone.  He was sentenced to die under a Texas law that is called the "law of parties," where he is held just as liable for the death of the victim as his accomplice in crime, the person who did do the killing.  (That killer was executed back in 2002.)

So, will Texas execute Jeff Wood? 

 

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, as of January 1, 2016,  there were 55 women on death row. Fifteen women have been executed in the United States since 1976.

Right now, you can watch the documentary Women on Death Row for free if you have access to Netflix or Amazon Prime Video.

From IMBD:

Look into the personal lives of women currently awaiting execution on Death Row. Though each woman is convicted of committing society’s ultimate crime, there is often another side of the story.

 

Women on Death Row (2006)

 

 

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. 

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. 

We’ve discussed this in prior posts, but lots of people forget that there are legal and SCOTUS-approved methods of execution on the books in Florida, Texas, and other states other than lethal injection. 

Old Sparky Stands Ready

In Florida, execution by electrocution using an electric chair nicknamed "Old Sparky" remains a constitutionally acceptable method of capital punishment.  And while Old Sparky hasn’t been used in 16 years, it’s still available to the State of Florida. 

No one has dismantled Old Sparky.

For more on the historical use of the electric chair in U.S. executions, read our earlier post   Electric Chair Executions: Consider This Historical Alternative to Lethal Injection.

Doty’s Request to Circumvent Lethal Injection Method Is Logical

Which means that when Florida Death Row inmate Wayne Doty requested that the electric chair be the execution method used for him, he was pretty savvy.  There’s no legal controversy pending before the Supreme Court of the United States over the electric chair like there is lethal injection methods and procedures. 

Wayne Doty wants to be executed as soon as possible for his "spiritual freedom."  By opting for the electric chair, he has a much higher chance of achieving that goal because he’s circumventing all the constitutional fights over lethal injection as an execution method.

Whether or not Mr. Doty’s request to be executed as soon as it can be arranged will be respected  has yet to be decided.  The court must confirm his mental health status in making this kind of request, for one thing. 

Most Death Row inmates fight to live — having a Death Row inmate fight to die does bring his mental health into question. 

As for what will happen to Wayne Doty’s request to be executed in Old Sparky, it’s too soon to tell.

Today, a Florida judge delayed the decision regarding Florida Death Row Inmate Wayne Doty’s request to January 2015.

 

Remaining Death Penalty Executions Scheduled for 2015

From the Death Penalty Information Center, here are the remaining executions that are scheduled in the United States for 2015:

 

October

14    TX    Licho Escamilla
21    AR    Bruce Earl Ward
21    AR    Don William Davis
29    FL    Jerry Correll

 

November       
 

3    TX    Julius Murphy
3    AR    Terrick Terrell Nooner
3    AR    Stacey Eugene Johnson
3    MO    Ernest Lee Johnson
10    TX    Gilmar Guevara
18    TX    Raphael Holiday

December      
 

14    AR    Marcel Wayne Williams
14    AR    Jack Harold Jones Jr