NEW RESOURCES: Death Row USA Fall 2012 Report Now Available
The latest edition of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund's Death Row USA showed a decrease of 43 inmates under sentence of death from January 1 to October 1, 2012. Over the last decade, the total population of state and federal death rows has decreased significantly, from 3,703 inmates in 2000 to 3,146 inmates as of October 2012. California continues to have the largest death row population (724), followed by Florida (411), Texas (304), Pennsylvania (204), and Alabama (202). Neither California nor Pennsylvania has carried out an execution in the past seven years. The report also contains information on executions. Nearly 77% of the murder victims in cases resulting in an execution since 1976 were white. However, nationally, about 50% of murder victims are black. The report also contains an overview of recent legal developments related to capital punishment.
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California Chief Justice Says No Executions Likely for Three Years
The Chief Justice of California's Supreme Court, Tani Cantil-Sakauye, said recently that she does not expect executions in California to resume for at least three years because of problems with the lethal injection process. California has already not carried out an execution in seven years. Justice Cantil-Sakauye said major structural changes to the state's death penalty are unlikely, and that a proposal by the former Chief Justice to speed death penalty appeals is "dead." That proposal would have had state appellate courts, rather than the California Supreme Court, handle appeals in capital cases. Such a change would require a constitutional amendment and greater funding for appellate courts. Those proposals have failed in the past. Californians narrowly defeated (52-48%) a ballot initiative to repeal the death penalty and put some of the money saved into solving cold cases. The state is spending an estimated $180 million per year on the death penalty.
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ARBITRARINESS: Arizona Inmate to be Executed Dec. 5, Accomplice Was Released in 2011
Richard Stokley (pictured) is scheduled to be executed in Arizona on December 5 for rape and murder. Stokley's accomplice, Randy Brazeal, was released from prison in 2011, despite DNA testing showing he was likely guilty of the same crime as Stokley. In 1991, Brazeal turned himself in to authorities and claimed that Stokley had held him hostage while committing the crime. However, subsequent DNA testing revealed that Brazeal likely participated in the crime and raped one of the victims. At the time of the crime, DNA testing had only recently become possible, and authorities made a deal with Brazeal to avoid delays that would result from such testing. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison. When the DNA testing was later completed, it revealed Brazeal's DNA inside one of the victims. Rod Rothrock, the detective who led the investigation, said, "It is my opinion that Mr. Brazeal is no less guilty than Mr. Stokley, and I believe that DNA test proves that."
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INTERNATIONAL: U.N. Death Penalty Resolution Backed by Record Number of Countries
On November 19, 110 countries voted for a resolution at the United Nations General Assembly calling for a worldwide moratorium on executions as a step towards the abolition of the death penalty. The vote marked record support for the resolution compared to previous years. Among the countries supporting the resolution were the European Union nations, Australia, Brazil, South Africa and Israel. The United States, Japan, China, Iran, India, North Korea, Syria and Zimbabwe were among 39 countries opposing the non-binding resolution in the Assembly's Third Committee, which addresses human rights issues. Thirty-six countries abstained. Recently, France launched a campaign with other abolitionist states to get the full General Assembly to pass a resolution calling for a death penalty moratorium. Though such a resolution would also be non-binding, diplomats say it would increase moral pressure. Around the world, about 141 are abolitionist in law or in practice, while 57 countries retain the death penalty.
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LETHAL INJECTIONS: Pennsylvania Planning Execution with Drugs from Questionable Source
UPDATE: Execution stayed by federal court on Nov. 8 to allow time for appeal. Pennsylvania is planning to use drugs in an upcoming execution that are not regulated by the federal Food and Drug Administration but rather are made to order by a compounding pharmacy. A compounding pharmacy has been implicated in the deadly meningitis outbreak in the U.S. caused by contaminated drugs. In Missouri, the Pharmacy Board tested claimed drug dosages from compounding pharmacies from 2006 to 2009 and found that the pharmacies failed 1 out 5 times, with dosages ranging from zero to many times of what was prescribed. Compounding pharmacies in Texas failed to deliver drugs of the proper dosage in one-third of tests done there. This is crucial because an improper dosage could subject the inmate to excruciating pain. The state fought hard to keep the source of its drugs out of court, snubbing two federal court orders to divulge the information, finally complying at the last minute after the threat of sanctions. A federal class action suit has been filed challenging Pennsylvania's execution protocol. The suit could affect the execution of Hubert Michael, Jr., scheduled for November 8.
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UPCOMING EXECUTIONS: Mentally Ill Oklahoma Inmate To Die Nov. 6
Garry Allen is scheduled for execution in Oklahoma on November 6, the third date set for him this year. Allen's execution has been stayed repeatedly due to questions about his mental competence. He has been diagnosed with schizophrenia as well as dementia caused by seizures, drug abuse, and a gunshot wound to his head sustained during his arrest. In 2008, the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board recommended that his death sentence be commuted by a 4-1 vote. Governor Mary Fallin granted a stay in order to consider the Board's recommendation, but denied clemency. Allen murdered his wife 26 years ago, after she had left him and taken their two children.
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Family of Man Executed in Texas Seeks Posthumous Pardon
The family of Cameron Todd Willingham announced they will petition the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to grant him a posthumous pardon based on new evidence that has emerged since his execution in 2004. Willingham was sentenced to death for the murder of his three children in a housefire in 1991. At his trial, investigators testified that Willingham had intentionally set the fire, but later developments in the science of fire investigation have led experts to believe the fire was accidental. The other evidence presented at Willingham's trial included the testimony of a jailhouse informant who later recanted his statement that Willingham admitted to the crime. The family's petition states, "[S]ince his trial, scientific advances have shattered every assumption underlying the testimony of the two fire investigators who declared to the jury and the court that Willingham had set the fire that killed his children. In fact, today, no credible arson expert would make such a declaration." In a statement, Willingham's family said, "It was Todd's last wish that we help clear his name. It's time for the state of Texas to own up to its mistake and give Todd the justice he deserves." The Innocence Project in New York has taken the lead in working for Willingham's exoneration.
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MENTAL ILLNESS: At 11th Hour, Supreme Court Upholds Stay of Execution for Florida Inmate
On October 23, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a last-minute federal appeals court stay-of-execution for John Ferguson. Ferguson had been scheduled to be executed earlier that day, but his lawyers filed a series of motions arguing he was mentally incompetent. In September, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed Ferguson’s death warrant for October 16, but allowed time for a mental competency examination. A series of stays and reversals shifted the date to October 18, then to October 23, or later. Mental health professionals have diagnosed Ferguson as paranoid schizophrenic with a long history of mental illness. Earlier, the ABA released a statement: "The American Bar Association is alarmed that Florida is poised to execute John Ferguson, a man diagnosed as severely mentally ill for more than 40 years, before the constitutionality of his execution is fully evaluated." The Court of Appeals will review whether the Florida Supreme made an unreasonable application of the law or determination of the facts in denying Ferguson's state appeal. Briefs must be filed by November 6. The U.S. Supreme Court had repeatedly denied prior requests for a stay.
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BOOKS: "Survivor on Death Row" - Ohio's Failed Attempt to Execute Romell Broom
Survivor on Death Row, a new e-book co-authored by death row inmate Romell Broom and Clare Nonhebel, tells the story of Ohio's botched attempt to execute Broom by lethal injection in 2009. In September of that year, Broom was readied for execution and placed on the gurney, but the procedure was terminated after corrections officials spent over two hours attempting to find a suitable vein for the lethal injection. Broom was removed from the death chamber and has remained on death row ever since. In the book, Broom discusses his troubled childhood and his life of over 25 years on death row, including his repeated requests for new DNA testing and a new legal team. Broom has always maintained his innocence. Jon Snow, a reporter for Channel 4 News in England, called the book "A horrifying story embracing all the evils of the death penalty. Bad forensics, dodgy DNA, awful lawyers, render this a must-read.”
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LETHAL INJECTION: Manufacturer of Proposed Execution Drug Blocks Its Use
The main supplier to the U.S. of a drug proposed for lethal injections has announced it will not allow the drug to be sold for executions. Fresenius Kabi USA, a German-based company with offices in Illinois, issued a statement forbidding the sale of propofol to correctional institutions for death penalty use. Earlier in 2012, Missouri announced it intended to switch to propofol as the sole drug in its lethal injection protocol, becoming the first state to do so. Fresenius Kabi officials reacted with a statement: “Fresenius Kabi objects to the use of its products in any manner that is not in full accordance with the medical indications for which they have been approved by health authorities. Consequently, the company does not accept orders for propofol from any departments of correction in the United States. Nor will it do so." Missouri, like most states with the death penalty, had been using sodium thiopental as the first drug in a three-drug protocol. Supplies of the drug expired or ran out, forcing states to seek alternatives. Some states replaced sodium thiopental with pentobarbital, but supplies of that drug have also dwindled after its manufacturer announced it will restrict the drug's sale for similar reasons. Read full statement from Fresenius Kabi.
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