Death Penalty News and Developments for December 9 — December 22

NEWS—December 20: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has ruled against Ohio death-row prisoners in their challenge to the state’s lethal injection process. The ruling came in connection with an appeal by Warren Keith Henness of an Ohio district court’s decision denying his request for an injunction and for a stay of execution.


NEWS—December 20: Ohio Governor Mike DeWine has granted a reprieve to has granted a reprieve to Melvin Bonnell, rescheduling Bonnell’s Feb. 12, 2020 execution date to March 18, 2021. The Governor’s office indicated in a statement that he issued the reprieve because of “ongoing problems” in obtaining execution drugs “without endangering other Ohioans.” Pharmaceutical companies have indicated that they will stop selling medicines to the state altogether if Ohio takes drugs that were intended for medical purposes and diverts them to the state prison system for use in executions.


NEWS—December 19: On direct appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit has affirmed the federal death sentence imposed on Charles Michael Hall in the Western District of Missouri. Hall’s lawyers did not appeal any guilt-stage issues in his case. Hall and his co-defendant Wesley Coonce were convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of another prisoner in a federal penitentiary in Missouri. The appeals court upheld Coonce’s conviction and death sentence on July 25, 2019. Both men still have the opportunity to seek federal habeas corpus review of their convictions and death sentences.


NEWS—December 18: A divided U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has denied Arizona’s motion for en banc review of the panel decision overturning the death sentence imposed on George Kayer. A panel of the circuit had previously ruled on May 13, 2019 that Kayer’s trial lawyers, who did virtually no work to prepare for the penalty phase, had provided ineffective assistance by failing to investigate and present available itigating evidence that could have spared Kayer’s life.


NEWS—December 18: The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has voted unanimously to overturn the death sentence imposed on Cesar Fierro in 1979. The court re-opened an appeal Fierro had filed in 2003 in which it denied his claim that the jury instructions provided by the trial court prevented the jury from considering and giving effect to mitigating evidence Fierro had presented as grounds to spare his life. The court acknowledged that subsequent U.S. Supreme Court decisions made clear that its prior decision in the case had been incorrect and it granted Fierro a new sentencing hearing.


NEWS—December 18: The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has denied post-conviction relief to Juan Balderas, upholding his conviction and death sentence. Balderas, who has maintained his innocence, has argued that prosecutors presented false testimony against him and withheld exculpatory evidence from the defense and that the photo array at which a witness identified him was unconstitutionally suggestive.