Death Penalty News and Developments for the Week of September 30 — October 6, 2019: A Flurry of New Death Sentences and Stays of Execution

NEWS—October 3-4, 2019: In the span of two days, three new death sentences were imposed and three executions were halted across the United States.

On October 3, a federal jury in South Carolina sentenced Brandon Council (pictured) to death for the murders of two white female bank employees during the course of a bank robbery. The same day, an Ohio three-judge panel sentenced George Brinkman to death for the murders of a Stark County couple. Brinkman had waived a jury trial and asked for the death penalty. In December 2018, Brinkman had been sentenced to death in Cuyahoga County, Ohio for an unrelated murder.

One day later, as the Ohio court formally imposed the sentence on Brinkman, a California trial judge in Riverside County accepted the sentencing recommendation of a capital jury and sentenced Rigoberto Villanueva to death. Villanueva had been convicted of murdering his former girlfriend and then killing an elderly cellmate while in county custody for the first murder.

Also on October 3, a Henderson County, Texas, District Court judge halted the October 16 execution of Randall Mays based upon new evidence that he may be mentally incompetent. On October 4, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stayed the October 10 execution of Randy Halprin and directed the trial court to address his claims of judicial bias based on the anti-Semitism of his trial judge. Later that day, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit granted a stay of execution to Lezmond Mitchell to prevent the federal death warrant from interfering with the adjudication of an appeal he had filed before the death warrant had issued.

NEWS—October 2: In a divided ruling with three judges dissenting, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has rejected a Tarrant County trial court’s recommendation that Paul Storey’s death sentence be overturned because Fort Worth prosecutors lied to the jury that the victim’s family wanted Storey to be sentenced to death, saying the claim was procedurally barred. In two separate opinions, three judges dissented, saying the victim, Jonas Cherry’s parents, Judy and Glenn Cherry (pictured) “had long been opposed to the death penalty, and the State’s prosecutors … knew prior to trial that the Cherrys were opposed to the death penalty” and calling the prosecution’s argument to the contrary “patently false.”

With Missouri’s exe­cu­tion of Russell Bucklew on October 1, 2019, six U.S. states have car­ried out 17 exe­cu­tions in 2019. Bucklew was the first pris­on­er exe­cut­ed in Missouri in 2019.

NEWS—October 1, 2019: Missouri executed Russell Bucklew.

NEWS—September 20: The Nevada Supreme Court has upheld a trial court ruling that rejected death-row prisoner Jeremiah Bean’s claim that he is intellectually disabled and therefore not subject to the death penalty. The court ruled that Bean had not shown that he suffered from significantly subaverage intellectual functioning, saying that the trial court’s improper failure to take into consideration the “standard error of measurement” in IQ test scores was a harmless error and approving the lower court’s refusal to consider inflation in test scores caused by using outdated IQ tests.