Updated: Jun 11, 2024

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.

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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Ohio Supreme Court Rules Against Death-Row Prisoners in Administrative Challenge to Lethal-Injection Process

Oct 19, 2021

The Ohio Supreme Court has upheld the state’s exe­cu­tion process against a pro­ce­dur­al chal­lenge by two of the state’s death-row pris­on­ers that sought to inval­i­date Ohio’s lethal-injec­tion pro­to­col. A unan­i­mous Ohio Supreme Court ruled on October 19, 2021 that the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC) did not vio­late state law when it adopt­ed a lethal-injec­tion pro­to­col with­out going through the state’s for­mal rule­mak­ing process. 

In their suit, death-row pris­on­ers Cleveland Jackson and James D. O’Neal had argued that ODRC’s fail­ure to com­ply with Ohio’s for­mal pro­ce­dures for admin­is­tra­tive rule­mak­ing, includ­ing pro­vi­sions for pub­lic notice and com­ment and fil­ing the pro­to­col with an appro­pri­ate state enti­ty, inval­i­dat­ed the exe­cu­tion pro­to­col. Without a valid pro­to­col, Ohio would have had no legal means to car­ry out executions.

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Oregon Appellate Court Grants New Trial to Death-Row Prisoner Jesse Johnson, Finding Trial Counsel Failed to Interview Witness Whose Testimony Could Potentially Exonerate Him

Oct 06, 2021

An Oregon appel­late court has grant­ed a new tri­al to death-row pris­on­er Jesse Johnson, find­ing his tri­al coun­sel inef­fec­tive for fail­ing to inter­view a neigh­bor of the homi­cide vic­tim whose eye­wit­ness tes­ti­mo­ny could poten­tial­ly exon­er­ate him of the murder.

On October 6, 2021, a unan­i­mous three-judge pan­el of the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled that Johnson’s tri­al lawyers defi­cient­ly inves­ti­gat­ed the mur­der, fail­ing to speak with Patricia Hubbard, a neigh­bor who lived direct­ly across the street from the vic­tim, Harriet Thompson. Hubbard, the court said, heard and saw events that con­tra­dict­ed the prosecution’s ver­sion of Thompson’s mur­der and exposed racial bias in the Salem police’s inves­ti­ga­tion of the killing. The court also found that tri­al coun­sel had unrea­son­ably failed to speak with anoth­er neigh­bor who had alert­ed police — and lat­er Johnson’s post-con­vic­tion inves­ti­ga­tors — that Hubbard had impor­tant infor­ma­tion about the murder. 

Hubbard, who worked late at night, told Johnson’s appeal lawyers that she had been sit­ting on her porch at 3:45 a.m. on the night of the mur­der. At that time, she said, she saw a white man whom she rec­og­nized as a fre­quent vis­i­tor of the vic­tim park his van in the victim’s dri­ve­way and go inside. Seconds lat­er,” the court wrote, Hubbard heard scream­ing com­ing from [the victim’s] house, a thud and then silence” and then saw the white man exit the back door, leap off the back steps, and run fly­ing” away from the house. About a half-hour lat­er, she saw a Black man, whom she lat­er said did not look like Johnson, walk­ing down the victim’s dri­ve­way. Hubbard was at work when the victim’s body was dis­cov­ered, and her neigh­bor lat­er brought a Salem police detec­tive to Hubbard’s house to assist in the inves­ti­ga­tion. According to Hubbard, the detec­tive refused to take a state­ment from her, telling her, A n***r got mur­dered, and a n***r’s going to pay for it.” 

The court wrote, “[a] rea­son­able inves­ti­ga­tion would like­ly have led to find­ing and inter­view­ing Hubbard, which in turn would have led to evi­dence and tes­ti­mo­ny that could have tend­ed to affect the out­come of the trial.” 

This was a case where there were a series of mis­takes that led to this injus­tice,” Johnson’s post-con­vic­tion lawyer, Ryan O’Connor, told Oregon Public Broadcasting. Systemically, it’s a recog­ni­tion of the way police mis­con­duct and racism cause wrong­ful con­vic­tions and injus­tice.” Marion County pros­e­cu­tors have 35 days to decide whether to appeal the rul­ing to the Oregon Supreme Court. If they do not, they must decide whether to retry Johnson for the murder. 

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