Death Penalty News and Developments for January 27 — February 22020

NEWS—January 31: Citing the unavailability of execution drugs, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine has issued reprieves of three more executions scheduled for the first half of 2020. DeWine postponed the March 12 execution of Gregory Lott until May 27, 2021, delayed John Stumpf’s April 16 execution until September 15, 2021, and rescheduled the May 12 execution of Warren “Keith” Henness for January 12, 2022. Six more execution dates are still pending for Ohio death-row prisoners in 2020, but they are not expected to be carried out.

NEWS—January 31: In a bipartisan 28-18 vote, the Washington State Senate has passed a bill that would formalize the state’s abolition of the death penalty by removing capital punishment from the state’s statute books. SB 5339 now advances to the state House of Representatives, where a similar bill died in 2019 when House leaders refused to bring it up for a vote.

NEWS—January 31: The Jacksonville, Arkansas City Council has voted to settle a lawsuit by the sister of executed death-row prisoner Ledell Lee that had sought DNA testing of evidence the family believes will prove Lee’s innocence. The unanimous 6-0 vote directs the Jacksonville Police Department to release physical evidence for DNA testing by a neutral laboratory. Lee was executed in April 2017. The court still must approve the settlement.

NEWS—January 30: The Arkansas Supreme Court has affirmed the trial court’s order denying Karl Roberts’ post-conviction challenge to his conviction and death sentence. Roberts was convicted and sentenced to death for the rape and murder of his 12-year-old niece, the daughter of a state representative. Roberts was found competent to waive his right to direct appeal. He later tried to waive his post-conviction rights, but was found incompetent to do so. A key issue in his post-conviction appeal was whether he was tried while incompetent. Justice Jo Hart dissented, saying that Roberts — who was diagnosed with schizophrenia and lost 15% of his brain when he was run over by a dump truck and left comatose — was incompetent to stand trial.

NEWS—January 30: The California Supreme Court has affirmed Ryan Hoyt’s conviction and death sentence in a direct appeal decided nearly two decades after charges were brought against him. Hoyt was represented at trial by a lawyer with two years experience who had a potential conflict of interest and who resigned from the bar during the trial court proceedings.

NEWS—January 30: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit has denied James Dailey permission to litigate his innocence claim in federal court. The court ruled that Dailey was not entitled to have his cased reviewed based on new evidence because he had previously claimed his actual innocence based on other evidence. “The only difference between this claim and the one [Dailey raised] in 2007 is some of the evidence each claim relies on,” the court wrote.

NEWS—January 29: Georgia executed Donnie Lance for the murder of his ex-wife and her boyfriend. He was the second prisoner executed in 2020 and the first in Georgia. Lance denied having committed the murders and had unsuccessfully sought DNA testing to prove his innocence. His children expressed doubt that he had killed their mother, supported his request for DNA testing, and had asked the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles to grant clemency. With three justices dissenting, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear his claim that his trial lawyer failed to investigate and present mitigating evidence that he had sustained brain damage from repeated head trauma. Shortly before his execution, the courts also refused to review evidence recently uncovered by Lance’s lawyers that prosecutors had illegally stacked the grand jury that had indicted him, selecting friends and allies, rather than randomly empaneling members as required by law.