Updated: Feb 21, 2022

Capital Case Round Up

The latest developments in capital cases around the U.S. This page includes brief updates about grants of relief, resentencings, and other important case developments.

Federal Court Overturns Death Sentence of Alabama Death-Row Prisoner Whose Abandonment by Counsel Led to Supreme Court Ruling

Feb 14, 2022

A fed­er­al dis­trict court has over­turned the death sen­tence of an Alabama death-row pris­on­er whose aban­don­ment by his state post-con­vic­tion coun­sel led to a U.S. Supreme Court deci­sion on the right of access to fed­er­al habeas cor­pus review. On January 27, 2022, Judge Karon O. Bowdre of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama over­turned Cory Maples’ death sen­tence, hold­ing that his tri­al coun­sel had pro­vid­ed prej­u­di­cial­ly defi­cient rep­re­sen­ta­tion dur­ing the penal­ty phase of his cap­i­tal tri­al in 1997

Bowdre found that Maples’ tri­al lawyers con­duct­ed an unrea­son­ably lim­it­ed mit­i­ga­tion inves­ti­ga­tion, only briefly speak­ing to Maples’ father, step­moth­er, and a men­tal health expert who was not pro­vid­ed vital infor­ma­tion about Maples. Counsel failed to inter­view any oth­er fam­i­ly mem­bers, failed to obtain edu­ca­tion­al records, failed to inves­ti­gate evi­dence of Maples’ sui­ci­dal­i­ty and depres­sion, and as a result failed to pro­vide the jury with crit­i­cal mit­i­gat­ing evi­dence about Maples’ chron­i­cal­ly abu­sive and trau­mat­ic back­ground and the resul­tant men­tal health issues. The court found that, had coun­sel per­formed a rea­son­able inves­ti­ga­tion, there was a rea­son­able prob­a­bil­i­ty that at least one more mem­ber of his jury, which made a non-unan­i­mous 10 – 2 rec­om­men­da­tion for death at tri­al, would have been swayed to vote for life.”

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Capital Case Roundup — Florida Supreme Court Grants New Trials in Two Death Penalty Cases

Jan 24, 2022

On January 13, 2022, the Florida Supreme Court grant­ed new tri­als to two Florida death-row pris­on­ers. The court over­turned Joe Simpsons 2007 con­vic­tion and death sen­tence because of pros­e­cu­to­r­i­al mis­con­duct. It also over­turned Peter Avsenews 2018 con­vic­tion and death sen­tence because of the improp­er pre­sen­ta­tion of remote­ly-record­ed testimony. 

Simpson was sen­tenced to death in 2007 for the mur­ders of Archie Howard Crook, Sr. and his preg­nant girl­friend, Kimberli Kimbler in 1999. In a 5 – 1 deci­sion, the Florida Supreme Court over­turned Simpson’s con­vic­tion and sen­tence because pros­e­cu­tors uncon­sti­tu­tion­al­ly with­held from the defense evi­dence that one of the state’s lead wit­ness­es, Crook’s son Little Archie,” was a con­fi­den­tial infor­mant for the state. 

Another state wit­ness, George Durrance, told police that Simpson con­fessed to the killings to him. The pros­e­cu­tion also did not inform the defense that Crook’s son had been an infor­mant against Durrance in an unre­lat­ed case. The Florida Supreme Court held that this should have been dis­closed to Simpson.

In rul­ing that the sup­pres­sion of this evi­dence was prej­u­di­cial, the major­i­ty wrote that the rela­tion­ship between Simpson, Little Archie, and Durrance was of crit­i­cal impor­tance in this case, and the infor­ma­tion Little Archie pro­vid­ed to law enforce­ment per­tain­ing to Durrance casts a dif­fer­ent light on this rela­tion­ship.” The major­i­ty deter­mined that Little Archie’s tes­ti­mo­ny and cred­i­bil­i­ty were of sig­nif­i­cant con­se­quence when we con­sid­er the lack of evi­dence link­ing Simpson to the scene of the crime.” 

Chief Judge Charles Canady dis­sent­ed, argu­ing that the evi­dence with­held by the pros­e­cu­tion was imma­te­r­i­al to Simpson’s case, writ­ing: The fact that Little Archie had been a source to law enforce­ment in unre­lat­ed mat­ters is of lit­tle, if any, relevance.” 

Avsenew was sen­tenced to death in 2018 for the mur­ders of Steven Adams and Kevin Powell in 2010. At tri­al, because of her health prob­lems, pros­e­cu­tors pre­sent­ed tes­ti­mo­ny from Avsenew’s moth­er via a video record­ing. The Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure per­mit the use of pre-record­ed video tes­ti­mo­ny in cer­tain lim­it­ed cir­cum­stances in which a wit­ness is unavail­able to attend tri­al. The rules man­date that, when this occurs, the court must keep the defen­dant in the pres­ence of the wit­ness.” The tes­ti­mo­ny in the case estab­lished that Ms. Avsenew could not see her son as she was testifying. 

The court unan­i­mous­ly reversed Avsenew’s con­vic­tion. In assess­ing the prej­u­di­cial effect of the rules vio­la­tion, the jus­tices wrote: Without ques­tion, the impact of Ms. Avsenew’s incrim­i­nat­ing tes­ti­mo­ny on the jury would have been even greater because she is Avsenew’s mother.” 

The Florida Supreme Court remand­ed the two cas­es to coun­ty tri­al courts to con­duct new trials. 

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Oklahoma Federal Court Stays Execution of James Coddington

Dec 26, 2021

James Coddington, the last of the sev­en death-row pris­on­ers sched­uled to be put to death in Oklahomas five-month exe­cu­tion spree, has received a stay of execution. 

On December 23, 2021, U.S. District Court Judge Stephen Friot, who is pre­sid­ing over a chal­lenge brought by Oklahoma death-row pris­on­ers to the con­sti­tu­tion­al­i­ty of the state’s lethal-injec­tion pro­to­col, stayed Coddington’s March 10, 2022 exe­cu­tion date until a final judg­ment on Mr. Coddington’s claims in this case has been entered by this Court.” The Oklahoma Attorney General’s office con­sent­ed to the stay.

On August 11, 2021, Judge Friot ordered a tri­al in the prisoner’s law­suit, sched­uled to begin in late February 2022. At the same time, he dis­missed six pris­on­ers — includ­ing Coddington — from the law­suit, say­ing they could not pre­vail on their con­sti­tu­tion­al chal­lenges because they had not des­ig­nat­ed an alter­na­tive method by which they could be exe­cut­ed. Although then-Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter had assured the court the state would not seek exe­cu­tion dates while the law­suit remained unre­solved, his suc­ces­sor, John O’Connor, dis­re­gard­ed that rep­re­sen­ta­tion and sought death war­rants against the six and a sev­enth pris­on­er who was not a par­ty to the lethal-injec­tion challenge.

Later, on October 12, 2021, Friot rein­stat­ed Coddington as a par­ty to the law­suit, find­ing cred­i­ble cor­rob­o­ra­tion from an inde­pen­dent evi­den­tiary source” that Coddington mis­tak­en­ly believed that he had already effec­tive­ly com­mu­ni­cat­ed his choice of a fir­ing squad” as his alter­na­tive method of execution.”

Citing the unique cir­cum­stances of this sit­u­a­tion,” Coddington’s lawyers and the Oklahoma attor­ney general’s office stip­u­lat­ed that Coddington’s exe­cu­tion should be stayed. 

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After Second Non-Unanimous Jury Verdict, Paul Durousseau Re-Sentenced to Life in Prison in Florida

Dec 12, 2021

Florida death-row pris­on­er Paul Durousseau was re-sen­tenced to life in prison with­out pos­si­bil­i­ty of parole December 10, 2021, when a sec­ond cap­i­tal sen­tenc­ing jury reached a non-unan­i­mous sen­tenc­ing verdict.

Durousseau was con­vict­ed and sen­tenced to death in 2007 on charges that he had raped and mur­dered a 24-year-old woman in Jacksonville in 1999. The tri­al court imposed the death penal­ty in that case after the jury split 10 – 2 in favor of death. At the time, Florida was one of three states that per­mit­ted judges to impose death sen­tences based upon non-unan­i­mous jury rec­om­men­da­tions for death.

The Florida Supreme Court over­turned Durousseau’s death sen­tence in January 2017 fol­low­ing a U.S. Supreme Court rul­ing that the state’s sen­tenc­ing pro­ce­dures, which reserved for the tri­al judge the final find­ing of facts nec­es­sary to impose a death sen­tence, vio­lat­ed cap­i­tal defen­dants’ rights to a jury tri­al. Citing the non-unan­i­mous jury sen­tenc­ing rec­om­men­da­tion in that tri­al — also a 10 – 2 vote — the Florida court ruled that the con­sti­tu­tion­al vio­la­tion in Durousseau’s case could not be con­sid­ered harm­less error.

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Second Ohio Prisoner Taken Off Death Row Under New Serious Mental Illness Law

Oct 22, 2021

A sec­ond Ohio death-row pris­on­er has been resen­tenced to life with­out parole under a new state law that makes indi­vid­u­als who were seri­ous­ly men­tal­ly ill at the time of their crime inel­i­gi­ble for the death penalty. 

Donald Ketterer, who was sen­tenced to death in Butler County in February 2004, was trans­ferred from death row in Ohio’s Chillicothe Correctional Institution on October 6, 2021 to a state prison in Warren County after a Butler County Court of Common Pleas rul­ing in September that vacat­ed his death sen­tence. Ketterer suf­fered from bipo­lar dis­or­der on Feb. 24, 2003, when Lawrence Sanders was mur­dered,” vis­it­ing Judge James Brogan wrote, and because of his bipo­lar dis­or­der, lacked sub­stan­tial capac­i­ty to con­form his con­duct to the require­ments of law.”

The Ohio leg­is­la­ture vot­ed in December 2020 to exempt indi­vid­u­als whose seri­ous men­tal ill­ness sig­nif­i­cant­ly impaired the person’s capac­i­ty to exer­cise ratio­nal judg­ment” at the time of the mur­der in either con­form­ing [his] con­duct to the require­ments of law” or appre­ci­at­ing the nature, con­se­quences, or wrong­ful­ness of [his] con­duct.” The pro­pos­al des­ig­nat­ed cer­tain ill­ness as seri­ous men­tal ill­ness­es, includ­ing schiz­o­phre­nia, schizoaf­fec­tive dis­or­der, bipo­lar dis­or­der, and delu­sion­al disorder. 

Governor Mike DeWine signed the bill on January 9, 2021 and it became law on April 12. Ketterer’s lawyers then filed a post-con­vic­tion motion in July seek­ing to over­turn his death sen­tence, detail­ing his long his­to­ry of men­tal ill­ness. On June 23, 2021, David Braden became the first Ohio death-row pris­on­er to have his death sen­tence vacat­ed because of seri­ous men­tal illness.

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