NEWS (5/26): Alabama Governor Kay Ivey signed into law a bill that shortens the state death penalty appeals process by requiring direct and post-conviction appeals to proceed simultaneously. The new law provides capital appellants 1 yr from the date the defendant's initial brief on direct appeal is filed to investigate and present post-conviction claims.
NEWS (5/26): In an execution that began at 11:45 p.m. Central Time on 5/25, Alabama executed Thomas Arthur, age 75. He was pronounced dead at 12:15 a.m. on 5/26. Arthur is the 12th prisoner executed in the United States in 2017 and the 1st in Alabama. He was first convicted and sentenced to death in 1983, but his conviction was overturned twice for separate constitutional violations. He had been the subject of 8 death warrants.
NEWS (5/25): The Florida Supreme Court has upheld the death sentences of two prisoners sentenced to death in violation of Hurst v. Florida and Hurst v. State, declining to enforce the constitutional rule announced in Hurst to cases that completed direct appeal prior to June 2002. The trial court had imposed 3 death sentences on Edward Zakrzewski, two involving 7-5 jury recommendations for death and overriding a jury recommendation of life on the third count. The verdict slip did not indicate the precise jury vote in the case of Sonny Boy Oats, only that a "majority" had recommended death. An appeals court subsequently vacated three of the aggravating circumstances the trial court had relied upon in imposing the death penalty.
Following the U.S. Supreme Court's denial of the state attorney general's petition to review the Florida Supreme Court's ruling in Hurst v. State, prosecutors voluntarily dismissed appeals of trial court decisions to vacate the death sentences imposed in nine other cases.
NEWS (5/24): The Ohio Supreme Court has adopted a new procedural rule permitting death-sentenced prisoners to appeal directly to the state supreme court when a trial-level state post-conviction court has rejected an application for DNA testing.
NEWS (5/22): The U.S. Supreme Court has denied Florida prosecutors' petition for writ of certiorari in Florida v. Hurst, declining to review a Florida Supreme Court decision that had declared unconsitutional death sentences that had been based on less than unanimous jury recommendation for death. The ruling lets stand the grant of a new sentencing hearing for Timothy Hurst, but the state court decision is also expected to overturn more than 200 other Florida death sentences.
NEWS (5/22): The U.S. Supreme Court has denied a petition for writ of certiorari filed by Indiana prosecutors in Neal v. Kubsch, letting stand a ruling by the en banc U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit granting a new trial to Wayne Kubsch. The 7th Circuit had overturned Kubsch's convictions and death sentences for a triple murder, ruling that the trial court had violated Kubsch's due process right to present a defense by preventing him from presenting evidence that one of the victims had been seen alive at a time after the prosecution had claimed the murders occurred. Kubsch has consistently asserted an innocence defense.
NEWS (5/20): A death penalty jury in Boone County, Missouri, has sentenced former death-row prisoner Mark Gill to life in prison without the possibility of probation or parole in connection with the 2002 murder of Ralph Lape Jr. Gill was sentenced to death for the murder in 2004, but the Missouri Supreme Court overturned the death sentence because Gill's lawyer had failed to provide him adequate representation in the penalty phase of that trial. Gill's co-defendant, who was separately tried, had previously received a life sentence.
NEWS (5/18): The Florida Supreme Court has reversed two more death sentences that were imposed after non-unanimous jury sentencing recommendations. The trial court had Matthew Lee Caylor to death despite the votes of four jurors to spare his life. Guerry Wayne Hertz had been sentenced to death for two counts of murder despite two jurors having voted to recommend a life sentence on both counts.
NEWS (5/17): The Louisiana House Committee on the Administration of Criminal Justice voted 9-8 to defeat House Bill 101, which would have prospectively abolished the state's death penalty. An identical bill had previously passed the State Senate Judiciary Committee by a vote of 6-1.
NEWS (5/17): Georgia has executed J.W. Ledford, Jr. He is the 11th person executed in the United States in 2017 and the first in Georgia.
NEWS (5/13): James Dennis has been released from prison in Pennsylvania nearly 26 years after his wrongful capital conviction. Dennis, who was sentenced to death in Philadelphia in 1992, has steadfastly maintained his innocence. The U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in August 2016 that he was entitled to a new trial because prosecutors had suppressed multiple pieces of evidence supporting his alibi and suggesting that another suspect—who attended high school with the victim—was the shooter. Dennis pleaded no contest to lesser charges in December and was sentenced to time served. His release was delayed until May because he had to obtain parole on unrelated charges.
NEWS (5/12): The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has granted a stay of execution to Tilon Lashon Carter to consider his claim that new evidence establishes that his conviction was a product of false and scientifically erroneous forensic testimony that the victim's death was caused by strangulation. Carter was scheduled to be executed on May 16.
NEWS (5/11): A unanimous Florida Supreme Court has vacated the convictions and death sentences imposed on Ralph Daniel Wright, Jr. for two counts of murder, finding that the evidence was insufficient to convict. A majority separately wrote that no reasonable jury could have concluded beyond a reasonable doubt that he committed the killings. Wright is the 159th person exonerated from death row in the U.S. since the 1970s and the 27th in Florida.
NEWS (5/11): The Florida Supreme Court has issued opinions in seven more cases raising issues under Hurst v. Florida or Hurst v. State, overturning five death sentences and upholding two. The court overturned death sentences imposed on Nelson Serrano, David Snelgrove, Michael Hernandez, Khalid Ali Pasha, and Barry Davis after non-unanimous jury recommendations for death in those cases. It upheld death sentence imposed Steven Cozzie and Jesse Guardado, both of whose juries had unanimously recommended that a death sentence be imposed.
NEWS (5/11): The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has authorized Texas death-row prisoner Eric Dewayne Cathey to file a successive habeas petition challenging his eligibility for the death penalty on grounds of Intellectual Disability. Cathey's lawyers had argued that an Intellectual Disability claim was not previously availble to him because he was unaware of undisclosed testing by the Texas prisons in which his IQ was measured at 73 and Texas courts did not recognize the "Flynn Effect," which adjusts for IQ scores inflated by outdated test norms, and would have rejected any Intellectual Disability claim that was based upon the 77 IQ score on the outdated test his lawyers were aware of.
NEWS (5/11): A Navarro County, Texas jury has voted 11-1 to acquit prosecutor John Jackson of disciplinary charges that he had committed misconduct by presenting false testimony from, and failing to disclose favorable treatment for, a prison informant who claimed Cameron Todd Willingham had confessed to him. Willingham was convicted, sentenced to death, and executed based upon discredited forensic testimony that the fire in which his children died was caused by arson.
NEWS (5/9): By a vote of 24-16, the Delaware House of Representatives approved a bill that would reinstate the state's death penalty, requiring a unanimous jury vote to impose the death penalty. The legislation follows a 2016 ruling by the Delaware Supreme Court declaring the state's capital sentencing procedures, which permitted a judge to impose the death penalty after a non-unanimous jury recommendation for death, unconstiutional.
DPIC 2016 Year End Report
DPIC Podcast Series: We have begun a new set of podcasts on the death penalty in each state, each with interesting historical facts. The following are now available: Michigan, Wisconsin, Maine, Minnesota, North Dakota, Alaska, Hawaii, Iowa, Vermont, Massachusetts, District of Columbia, Rhode Island, and New Jersey. Check out our podcasts now! Also listen to DPIC's podcasts on death penalty issues.