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Ohio Inmate Kills Himself Days Before Execution

Billy Slagle has been on death row since his murder conviction in 1988. He was 18 at the time of the crime. His execution date was set for Tuesday. This morning, he was found hanged in his cell. He was in solitary confinement.

Cuyahoga County prosecutors joined Slagle's family in asking for a reprieve, urging [Gov. John]Kasich to commute his sentence to life in prison without parole -- a sentence the prosecutor's office said had not been available at the time.

Gov. Kasich denied the request on July 24.

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Somali Pirates Get Life, Holdout Jurors Reject Death

A federal jury in Virginia has rejected the Government's request for the death penalty in the case of the three remaining Somali pirates charged with killing Americans on their sailboat 40 miles off the coast of Somalia.

Under federal law, a sentence to death must be unanimous. In this case, one juror held out for life on one defendant, while two jurors felt life was appropriate for the other two.

Originally, there were 19 pirates on board when the shootings occurred. [More...]

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Federal Jury in NY Returns Death Verdict

(Note: Links added and blockquoting fixed.)

A federal jury in Brooklyn has sentenced Ronell Wilson to death for killing two undercover cops a decade ago. Wilson was previously convicted and sentenced to death, but the Second Circuit reversed the death sentence due to prosecutorial misconduct during closing arguments.

That sentence was overturned in 2010, when an appeals court ruled that prosecutors had unfairly tried to influence the jury in the case.

The court specifically faulted prosecutors for arguing that Wilson's claims of remorse should be discredited because he declined to plead guilty and refused to testify in his trial.


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Gov. Hickenlooper Grants "Reprieve" from Death Penalty to Nathan Dunlap

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper today granted a reprieve from the death penalty to Nathan Dunlap, who is scheduled to be executed in August for killings 15 years ago at a Chuck E. Cheese pizza parlor.

The reprieve is not clemency. A future governor could lift it. But it means Dunlap's execution date is canceled and Hickenlooper says he is unlikely to revisit the decision.

"It is a legitimate question whether we as a state should be taking lives," the order says. "Because the question is about the use of the death penalty itself, and not about Offender No. 89148, I have opted to grant a reprieve and not clemency in this case."

The Governor's press release is here. The Executive Order granting the reprieve is here. [More...]

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The Cost of James Holmes Death Penalty Prosecution

Interesting segment last night on Fox News 31 (Denver) on the cost to taxpayers of prosecuting Aurora Theater Shooting defendant James Holmes as a death penalty case. It explains the cost is likely to be in the tens of millions of dollars. It brings up the Nathan Dunlap case, brought by the same office. Dunlap was recently scheduled for execution in August and a petition for clemency is pending. The cost of his case so far: $18 million.

It also points out that the D.A. turned down Holmes' offer to plead guilty and accept life without parole. I kept waiting for some former DA to come on and attempt to justify the decision to seek the death penalty. It didn't happen. Maybe they couldn't find anyone to take the other side.

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Maryland Bans the Death Penalty, Colorado Could be Next

Maryland has become the 18th state to ban the death penalty since 1976.

What happens to the five inmates on Maryland's death row?? The Guardian explains it's an unknown as yet.

Other states repealing the death penalty in the recent years: Connecticut, Illinois, New Jersey, New Mexico and New York.

Colorado legislators will be debating a bill to repeal the death penalty very soon. [More...]

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Execution, Indonesian Style: Tied to a Wooden Cross and Shot

This is how Indonesia carries out its death penalty:

The death penalty is carried out in Indonesia by firing squad, normally in the middle of the night in a remote place, illuminated by flood lights. The public are not allowed to witness executions.

Members of the police force’s elite Brimob paramilitary brigade make up firing squads. They consist of 12 armed soldiers however only three of them actually have live rounds in their weapons – the rest have blanks. Nobody knows who has the live rounds and who has the blanks. This is to ease the conscience of the firing squad and so that no-one knows who fired the killer shot.

The condemned person is tied to a wooden cross or post and the spot of their heart is illuminated on a vest they wear to guide the firing squad. The prisoner can elect to wear a hood or not and can have a religious person present until the last moments.

113 people were sentenced to death in Indonesia in 2012. (This study says 114 are on death row.)At least 8 will be executed in 2013. 40 of those on death row are foreigners. 5 foreigners have been executed for drugs.). Some inmates have taken 7 minutes to die after being shot. They lay there screaming in pain, according to witnesses. [More..]

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Singapore's Death Penalty Change: Life Plus Caning

Al Jazeera has an article today about the "debate" over Singapore's change two weeks ago in its mandatory death penalty law for drugs and murder. The South China Post reports on Asia's shift against the death penalty.

First, Singapore's change in drug cases is de minimus. It applies only to couriers who agree to become snitches and those who with mental abnormalities.

Couriers who rat out bigger fish can apply for a "certificate of cooperation" from the prosecution. Since most couriers don't know anything about the larger organization, this is just a license to make things up. If the authorities suspect person X of being a big trafficker, and ask a courier to confirm their suspicion, what courier is going to admit "I don't know" when that answer means the gallows.

The mental exemption applies only to those "suffering from such an abnormality of mind that it substantially impaired his mental responsibility for committing the offence".

Second, it's not just life in prison if they avoid the death penalty, but life plus caning -- up to 15 lashes. According to Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Teo Chee Hean: [More..]

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PA Execution Halted Due to Prosecutorial Misconduct

Terrance Williams has been on death row in Pennsylvania for 28 years. He was scheduled to be executed next week. Today a judge stopped the planned execution and overturned his death sentence because the prosecutor in his case, suppressed evidence and engaged in gamesmanship to get the death sentence. While the conviction stands, the judge ordered a new sentencing hearing.

A Philadelphia judge halted next week's scheduled execution of a teenage killer after finding the trial prosecutor suppressed evidence the victim was molesting boys, “sanitized” witness statements before giving them to the defense and lied about a secret deal she'd struck with the accomplice.

...Common Pleas Judge M. Teresa Sarmina accused trial prosecutor Andrea Gelman Foulkes of “gamesmanship” in order to win the 1986 death-penalty case. “She did at times play games and take unfair measures to win,” Sarmina said Friday, reading aloud her lengthy ruling. “She wanted to win.”

Gelman Foukes is now an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Philadelphia. She testified at a hearing in Willimas case last week and the judge said her testimony was "not credible." [More...]

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Texas Executes Inmate With Mental State of a Child

Update: RIP Marvin Wilson. The Texecution proceeded, and Mr. Wilson was pronounced dead 14 minutes after it began.

Bump and Update: The Supreme Court has refused to intervene.

Barring intervention by the Supreme court, Marvin Lee Wilson, age 54, will be executed in Texas at 6:00 pm tonight. What's wrong with Texas?

At 54, Marvin Wilson can't use a telephone book. He reads and writes on a first- or second-grade level. Those who know the Southeast Texas man say he can't match socks, he doesn't understand what a bank account is for, he's been known to fasten his belt to the point of nearly cutting off his circulation. The day his son was born, one sister recalled, he reverted to the familiar habit of sucking his thumb. His IQ, according to the most valid indicator of human intelligence, is 61, below the first percentile.


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Life Without Parole vs. Death

Here's one the reasons Mark Geragos argued to the jury in the Scott Peterson death penalty trial that it should return a verdict of life without parole instead of death. The full transcript is here.

Prison is an awful, awful place. Scott Peterson, if you vote to spare his life, will be placed into a cell that is roughly the size of a king size bed. Roughly encompasses you four jurors right here. That's the size of his cell. And he would be in that cell roughly the size of a king size bed for the rest of his life. He will die in that cell.

Scott Peterson in that cell will have a bed to lay on, and he will have a cold metal toilet, and he will share that cell with a friend. That friend will be his cellmate. That may change.


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NC Trial Addresses Racism in Application of Death Penalty

In 2009, North Carolina enacted the Racial Justice Act which requires a judge to convert a death sentence to life in prison without parole if it is later shown that race played a significant role in the conviction or sentence. To make the showing, the Act permits the introduction of statistical evidence.

The defendant doesn't have to prove race caused the verdict, only that it played a significant role, meaning:

...that race weighed heavily in prosecutors' and jurors' decisions concerning the death penalty "in the county, the prosecutorial district, the judicial division, or the State at the time the death sentence was sought or imposed."

Closing arguments concluded yesterday in the first hearing under the Act, which has taken 2 1/2 weeks. The case involves Marcus Reymond Robinson, an African American, who was sentenced to death for killing a 17 year old white man. He is challenging his conviction and sentence, arguing there was racial bias in jury selection and in the criminal justice system.[More...]

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Pew Poll Finds Majority Continue to Support Death Penalty

The Pew Research Center has released a new poll on the death penalty.

62% favor the death penalty for people convicted of murder while 31% are opposed. That is generally in line with polling on the death penalty over the past several years.

Of those who responded they oppose the death penalty, 27% said it's wrong or immoral and 27% said they were concerned about wrongful convictions. In the poll 20 years ago, 41% of those opposed based their objections on moral grounds and 11% of them objected due to the potential injustice of a wrongful conviction.

The reasons for those supporting the death penalty haven't changed in 20 years: [More...]

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California Judge Invalidates Execution Protocol

Marin County Superior Court Judge Faye D'Opal has invalidated California's new execution protocol for multiple failures to comply with the Administrative Procedures Act, including a consideration of the alternative one drug method used elsewhere (and proposed in public comments to the changes.) Six years ago, a federal court in California invalidated the three drug protocol, finding it could constitute cruel and unusual punishment. The state decided to come up with new protocols, for which it had to comply with the Administrative Procedures Act.

D'Opal said...that the state's failure to consider replacing the former execution practice with a single-injection method violated state law and ignored the courts' and public criticism of the previous protocols.

The case is Mitchell Sims vs California Department of Corrections Rehabilitation, et al, case number CIV 1004019. I've uploaded the ruling here. [More...]

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Report: U.S. Death Sentences Decline in 2011

The Death Penalty Information Center has released its year-end report. In 2011, less than 100 fewer death sentences were imposed, the lowest number since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976.

The number of new death sentences imposed in 2011 stands at 78, a decline of about 75% since 1996, when 315 inmates were sentenced to death. This is the lowest number of death sentences in any year since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. Texas, which had 48 new death sentences in 1999, had only 8 this year.

The number of U.S. executions also declined. "There were 43 executions in 13 states, a 56% decline since 1999, when there were 98."

34 states still authorize the death penalty. According to the 2011 Gallup Poll, only 61% of Americans now support the death penalty, compared to 80% in 1994.

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