June 12, 2008
Killer put to death in Texas' 1st execution in 9 months
A remorseful convicted killer was executed Wednesday night for the rape and slaying of a woman in Dallas 17 years ago, the first Texas prisoner in nearly nine months put to death in the nation's most active capital punishment state. Karl Eugene Chamberlain, with a big smile on his face, addressed relatives of his victim, staring directly at the son, parents and brother of Felecia Prechtl as they stood just a few feet away, looking through a glass window.
Chamberlain said he understood if his victim's relatives would like to hurt him, but he wanted them to know it was his memories of her and her life that contributed to his remorse.
"I love you. God have mercy on us all," he said as the drugs began taking effect. Still grinning, he blurted out: "Please do not hate anybody because ... "
He was unable to finish as he slipped into unconsciousness. Nine minutes later at 6:30 p.m. CDT, he was pronounced dead.
"One question I ask myself every day. Why does it take so long for justice to be served?" Prechtl's mother, Ina, said after watching Chamberlain die.
Chamberlain lived upstairs in the same apartment complex as his victim but denied any knowledge of the crime when questioned by police the day of the 1991 slaying. He was arrested five years later after his fingerprint was matched to a print on a roll of duct tape used to bind Prechtl. Chamberlain's prints had been entered into a database after he went on probation for an attempted robbery and abduction in Houston.
When he was arrested in Euless in suburban Dallas, he confessed.
"It was just total terrible bad luck," Chamberlain said, describing the slaying in a recent interview on death row. "Not that my actions were luck, but bad luck that I didn't get interrupted and stop." [Mark Godsey]
June 11, 2008
Ohio lethal injection executions unconstitutional, Lorain County Common Pleas Judge James Burge rules
Ohio's lethal injection process is unconstitutional because it could cause pain and the state mandates that an inmate's death be painless, Lorain County Common Pleas Judge James Burge ruled Tuesday. He ordered the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction to stop using the drugs that paralyze muscles and stop the heart and simply administer a lethal dose of an anesthetic.
It's not known if the state will follow the ruling, which includes removing the phrase "or combination of drugs" from state law. Burge ruled in the cases of Ruben Rivera and Ronald McCloud, who are charged with aggravated murder. It was the first time in the U.S. that the lethal injection issue was reviewed before a trial. Their attorney, Jeffrey Gamso, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, hopes the ruling has a wide-ranging effect. "We had hoped he would have taken death off the table for these guys, and that is disappointing," Gamso said. But Gamso was pleased Burge ruled against the combination of drugs currently used to execute people in Ohio and elsewhere. "We have been fighting from one end of the U.S. to the other about this set of drugs," he said. The Ohio attorney general's office, the department of corrections and the Lorain County prosecutor's office are reviewing the decision to determine the ramifications of Burge's order and how to respond, officials said. This is a very fact specific determination and quite frankly not anything anyone has seen," said Prosecutor Dennis Will. [Mark Godsey]
Ohio Court Rules Lethal Injection Protocol Violates State Statute
"Then, in what legal experts said was a first, the judge instead ordered the state to start using a single large dose of barbiturate, common in animal euthanasia." Read the rest of the article here. [Mike Mannheimer]
June 03, 2008
Death Penalty Under Review
The United States is fifth in the world when it comes to executing inmates — slightly above Iraq and right below Pakistan. Since the death penalty was reinstated in the mid 1970s, all death row inmates have been put to death for killing another person. But now, a surprising array of crimes can land you on death row.
For a broader look at capital punishment, Farai Chideya speaks with Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.
For a broader look at capital punishment, Farai Chideya speaks with Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. [Mark Godsey]
Does Child Rape Warrant the Death Penalty?
Patrick Kennedy is on death row at Louisiana's Angola Prison, awaiting capital punishment for brutally raping his 8-year-old step daughter. But does executing someone for child rape violate the 8th Amendment, which bars cruel and unusual punishment?
For insight, Farai Chideya speaks with Ted Cruz, the former Solicitor General of Texas, who also participated in Kennedy's Supreme Court appeal. We also hear from Judy Benitez, the executive director of the Louisiana Foundation Against Sexual Assault. [Mark Godsey]
May 24, 2008
Some Thoughts on Baze v. Rees
I know it's been a few weeks since Baze v. Rees, but I thought I would post some overdue comments regarding my impressions of the case -- overdue because of a horrendously busy April, some emergency home repairs, a dying (now dead) home computer, and the persistent responsibility of caring for a two-year old. But enough about me . . . .
I must admit to the guilty pleasure of typically turning to the separate opinion by Justices Scalia or Thomas (or, in this case, both) when a case like Baze comes out. In Baze, I was most intrigued by Justice Thomas' concurrence in the judgment, joined by Justice Scalia, arguing that "a method of execution violates the Eighth Amendment only if it is deliberately designed to inflict pain." I think this conclusion is deeply flawed.
Justice Thomas supports this view by noting that some methods of execution extant in 1791 had as "[t]heir defining characteristic . . . that they were purposely designed to inflict pain and suffering beyond that necessary to cause death." He concludes from this that "there is good reason to believe that the Framers viewed such enhancements to the death penalty as falling within the prohibition of the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause."
Indeed. But it is one thing to say that methods of execution deliberately designed to inflict pain "fall within the prohibition of the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause." It is quite another to say that only those methods of execution deliberately designed to inflict pain are included within that prohibition. Justice Thomas never takes that final step and offers any proof that the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause is concerned exclusively with methods of execution deliberately designed to inflict pain. It is as if one observed that the framers and ratifiers of the Fourteenth Amendment viewed the old Slave Codes "as falling within the prohibition of the [Equal Protection] Clause," and concluding that that is all with which the Equal Protection Clause is concerned, a position Justice Thomas has steadfastly rejected.
Justice Thomas also cites Wilkerson v. Utah, In re Kemmler, and Louisiana ex rel. Francis v. Resweber as support for the conclusion that only those methods of execution deliberately designed to inflict pain violate the Eighth Amendment. Yet the very language he quotes from the latter two cases suggests he is wrong. He quotes the Kemmler Court as writing: "Punishments are cruel when they involve torture or a lingering death . . . . It implies something inhuman and barbarous . . . ." Even if one interprets "inhuman" or "barbarous" as implying some requirement that the punishment be designed to cause pain -– a questionable interpretation for reasons that I will elaborate upon in a subsequent post –- Kemmler quite clearly opined that a method of execution can be cruel when it "involve[s] torture or a lingering death." These words imply no scienter requirement at all on the part of the executioner or the State. When one condemned to hang slowly asphyxiates because the executioner has negligently used a rope that is too short, one could hardly say that the execution does not "involve . . . a lingering death." And one might imagine many deaths occurring without any human cause –- say, being eaten alive by wild animals or falling into a volcano –- that we might describe as "involv[ing] torture."
The snippet from Resweber provides even less support for Justice Thomas’ position. In that case, the condemned claimed that a second attempt at electrocution would violate the Eighth Amendment after a failed first attempt. The Court rejected that argument, commenting: "There is no purpose to inflict unnecessary pain nor any unnecessary pain involved in the proposed execution." Again, far from requiring that pain be purposeful for a violation of the Eighth Amendment to occur, the Court is suggesting that it is enough that "unnecessary pain [be] involved," without any intent requirement. Moreover, Justice Thomas also quoted the Resweber Court as observing: "The fact that an unforeseeable accident prevented the prompt consummation of the sentence cannot . . . add an element of cruelty to a subsequent execution." Now this passage might mean what Justice Thomas supposes it means: that unless the botched execution is within the deliberate design of the State, the Eighth Amendment is not violated. However, it might also support the notion that a foreseeable accident during a first attempt might render a second attempt unconstitutional. Yet Justice Thomas blithely ignores this possibility and abruptly ends his discussion of the precedents.
His very next sentence, opening up a new section, begins: "In light of this consistent understanding of the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause as forbidding purposely torturous punishments . . . ." Come again? Justice Thomas has failed to show that this has been the "consistent understanding" at all. Instead, he has simply ignored the language in the opinions that he himself has quoted that does not support his thesis. He has, in short, swept his opponent's chess pieces off the table. [Mike Mannheimer]
May 23, 2008
Georgia Man's Death Sentence Commuted Hours Before Scheduled Execution
From The Atlanta Journal-Constitution online: "In just the third time out of 24 requests since 1995, the Georgia Pardons and Parole Board on Thursday commuted a death sentence, just hours before the convicted killer was to be executed by lethal injection.
"The five-member board commuted admitted murderer Samuel David Crowe's death sentence to life without parole less than 2 1/2 hours before he was scheduled to die Thursday evening for a crime 20 years ago." Read the rest of the article here. [Mike Mannheimer]
May 19, 2008
Study Examines Death Penalty and Race
Adam Liptak in the New York Times examines the results of a new study on the death penalty and crime. There are two key findings.The first one is not a surprise: The death penalty is imposed more often when the victim is white.The second is potentially ground-breaking.
It found that the race of the defendant by itself plays a major role in explaining who is sentenced to death.
It has never been conclusively proven that, all else being equal, blacks are more likely to be sentenced to death than whites in the three decades since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. Many experts, including some opposed to the death penalty, have said that evidence of that sort of direct discrimination is spotty and equivocal. [Mark Godsey]
Why Not One Drug for Lethal Injections?
The New York Times reports that states are rescheduling executions now that the Supreme Court has ruled in Baze v. Rees that the three drug cocktail used by states does not violate the 8th Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.
The Fourth Circuit has a new challenge on its hands.In Emmett v. Johnson, Emmett is arguing that the way in which Virginia administers the drugs is unconstitutional because unlike Kentucky and other states, it doesn't allow enough time for the first drug, which anesthetizes and renders the inmate unconscious, to take effect before administering the other two drugs which cause pain. To make it worse, when there seems to be a problem with the first drug, rather than giving more of the drug, Virginia increases the doses of the pain-causing second and third drugs, but not the first.
In its brief (available here pdf) Emmett's lawyers make the argument that there is a painless way to kill someone with just one drug: [More...]
the best and most feasible alternative procedure to eliminate this risk is to move to a protocol that uses only a single, massive dose of thiopental, pentobarbital, or some other barbiturate to cause death.
While the issue was raised in Baze, the Supreme Court refused to consider it because it hadn't been raised or considered by the lower courts in Kentucky.
As to the three drugs,
Under the three-drug method, the first drug is designed to anesthetize the inmate, the second to paralyze him, and the final drug to stop the heart and bring on death. That is the general approach used by all but one of the states that still have the death penalty. [Mark Godsey]
April 28, 2008
Amnesty International Reports Worldwide Drop in Executions Last Year
Story here. [Mark Godsey]
April 21, 2008
The Scalia vs. Stevens Opinion Concerning the Death Penalty
From npr.com: U.S. Supreme Court Justices John Paul Stevens and Antonin Scalia both voted last week that lethal injections in death penalty cases are constitutional. But that was where the agreements ended. In Stevens' opinion, he reversed the stance he held in the 1970s. Scalia criticized Stevens' reversal.
Stevens, who has served on the court for 33 years and turns 88 today, said that after seeing thousands of death penalty cases and systems over the years, he has now concluded that the death penalty is unconstitutional. But, he added, he is bound by the court's precedents upholding the capital punishment, and will adhere to them, including in the lethal injection case.
Ironically, Stevens was partly responsible for one of those key precedents. In 1976 he wrote part of the opinion ending a moratorium on the death penalty and allowing it to be used again, if special procedures were used to ensure that only criminals guilty of the most heinous crimes were executed.
In his recent last analysis, Stevens, I have relied on my own experience in reaching the conclusion that the imposition of the death penalty represents the pointless and needless extinction of life with only marginal contributions to any discernible social or public purpose. A penalty with such negligible returns to the state is patently excessive and violates the Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
Justice Scalia responded with a rhetorical skewer. Hardest to take, he said , is Justice Stevens' "bemoaning of the enormous costs of the death penalty," since as Scalia put it, those costs are largely the creation of Justice Stevens and other justices who have encumbered capital punishment with unwarranted restrictions found nowhere in the Constitution.
And as to Stevens' new conclusion about the death penalty based on more than three decades of experience, Scalia had this to say: "Purer expression cannot be found of the principle of rule by judicial fiat. In the face of Justice Stevens experience, the experience of all others, in state legislature or Congress, is, it appears of little consequence." Listen. . . [Mark Godsey]
April 10, 2008
Nebraska Supreme Court Refuses to Reconsider Electrocution as Cruel and Unusual
From journalstar.com: The Nebraska Supreme Court on Wednesday refused to reconsider its decision that electrocution is unconstitutional.
The decision was handed down by the court in response to Attorney General Jon Bruning’s request for another hearing in the case. The court did not explain its decision.
It didn’t come as a surprise — Bruning had said he didn’t expect judges who made the landmark decision to change their minds.
“Nebraskans overwhelmingly support the death penalty. We’ll do everything possible to ensure the sentences of the state’s worst murderers are carried out,” he said Wednesday.
His office plans to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
March 24, 2008
Missouri Governor Writes a Brief Supporting the Death Penalty for Child Rapists
From kansascity.com: Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt has filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court supporting the death penalty for child rapists.
The “friends of the court” brief supports the state of Louisiana, which is defending a law authorizing the death penalty for offenders who rape children younger than 12.
Blunt proposed a similar law for Missouri in December and encouraged lawmakers in his State of the State address in January to pass such legislation.
State lawmakers have introduced bills in the Senate and the House this year that would allow the death penalty in forcible rape and forcible sodomy cases involving children. Neither bill has made much progress.
Opponents have said such legislation could do more harm than good by encouraging rapists to kill their victims, since the penalties would be the same.
Blunt argues in the brief, filed Thursday, that the court “should not foreclose a national debate on appropriate punishment for child rape,” and that discussion at the state level is the best way to determine a national consensus. Rest of Article. . .[Mark Godsey]
SCOTUS Reversed Death Penalty in Case Work on by Pierce Law Students
Franklin Pierce Law Center's Frederick Millett, a third-year
student from Grand Haven, MI, is celebrating this week after learning that the death penalty
case he worked on as an extern this past fall at the Southern Center
for Human Rights in Atlanta, GA was reversed by the United States
Supreme Court. On Wednesday, March 19, the Court issued an opinion,
authored by Alito, reversing, the conviction in the case of Snyder v.
Louisiana. Millett worked with Attorney Stephen Bright, president and
founder of the SCHR, to prepare the reply brief.
According to Millett, “In 1996, as in 1939, Allen Snyder, an African-American, was convicted by an all-white jury and sentenced to death, this time in Jefferson Parish, LA. The prosecutor in his case struck all five potential black jurors using nearly half of his peremptory challenges to get an all-white jury.
The prosecutor then, both in the media and to the jury during the sentencing phase, compared Snyder's case to the O.J. Simpson case, decided just a year earlier, and urged the all-white jury to not let Snyder ‘get away with it’ like O.J. did. The jury sentenced Snyder to death and his conviction was upheld twice by the Louisiana Supreme Court. Snyder appealed to the United States Supreme Court, arguing that since the prosecutor peremptorily struck African-American jurors because of their race, his conviction and death sentence were unconstitutional based on the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. For this reason, the Supreme Court of the United States agreed to hear the case and granted certiorari.”
February 18, 2008
Cali Death Penalty Panel to Discuss Reasons for Reversals
From mercurynews.com: The California Supreme
Court last year overturned convicted killer James Hardy's 1984 death
sentence because a defense lawyer's "meager" effort representing him
undermined the chance of a fair trial. And just a few weeks ago, a
federal appeals court gave a reprieve to Earl Lloyd Jackson, one of the
state's longest-serving death row inmates, because of a prosecutor's
blunders during his 1979 trial.
The appellate rulings provide an all-too-common snapshot of
California's death penalty system. Shoddy representation and
prosecutorial miscues are two of the most common reasons that death row
inmates have had a better chance of getting their death sentences
reversed than of being executed.
A state commission examining California's death penalty system on
Wednesday will focus on those issues in the second round of hearings on
the subject. The California Commission on the Fair Administration of
Justice will hear from more than a dozen witnesses at the hearings,
which are being held in Los Angeles.
The commission hearing last month focused on broad concerns about the
state's death penalty, particularly the prolonged delays in state and
This week's hearing will zero in on problems with capital trials, which
have left more than 660 inmates on the state's death row. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
From mercurynews.com: The California Supreme Court last year overturned convicted killer James Hardy's 1984 death sentence because a defense lawyer's "meager" effort representing him undermined the chance of a fair trial. And just a few weeks ago, a federal appeals court gave a reprieve to Earl Lloyd Jackson, one of the state's longest-serving death row inmates, because of a prosecutor's blunders during his 1979 trial.
The appellate rulings provide an all-too-common snapshot of California's death penalty system. Shoddy representation and prosecutorial miscues are two of the most common reasons that death row inmates have had a better chance of getting their death sentences reversed than of being executed.
A state commission examining California's death penalty system on Wednesday will focus on those issues in the second round of hearings on the subject. The California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice will hear from more than a dozen witnesses at the hearings, which are being held in Los Angeles.
The commission hearing last month focused on broad concerns about the state's death penalty, particularly the prolonged delays in state and federal appeals.
This week's hearing will zero in on problems with capital trials, which have left more than 660 inmates on the state's death row. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
February 11, 2008
Nebraska Supreme Court Declares Death by Electrocution Unconstitutional
From nytimes.com: The electric chair is cruel and unusual punishment, the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled Friday, effectively suspending executions in the only state that made sole use of the practice, once the dominant form of execution in the United States. The court, in a 6-to-1 decision, ruled that electrocution, the only method of execution used in the state, violates the state constitution. “The evidence shows that electrocution inflicts intense pain and agonizing suffering,” Justice William Connolly wrote for the majority. Rest of Article [Mike Mannheimer]
January 30, 2008
11th Circuit Lifts Stay of Execution
From ap.com: A federal appeals court has lifted a stay of execution for James Harvey Callahan, who is scheduled to be executed Thursday, but it could be delayed again by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court on Jan. 7 heard oral arguments in a Kentucky challenge to lethal injection, a case that has delayed executions nationwide. A ruling is unlikely before spring. Alabama uses lethal injection in its executions.
In a 2-1 decision, the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday lifted the stay granted by U.S. District Judge Keith Watkins in Montgomery on Dec. 14.
The court said Callahan waited too late to challenge the method of execution.
Callahan, who is now scheduled to die at 6 p.m. Thursday at Holman prison near Atmore, was sentenced to death for the kidnapping, rape and murder of Jacksonville State University student Rebecca Suzanne Howell on Feb. 4, 1982.
Authorities said she was abducted from a coin laundry in Jacksonville and raped before being strangled and dumped in Tallasseehatchee Creek.
In lifting the stay, the 11th Circuit ruling said it did not make any finding on "the relative merits of Callahan's constitutional claim because we conclude the claim is barred by the statue of limitations."
Judges Gerald Tjoflat and Susan Black, forming the majority, said the two-year time deadline began on July 31, 2002, when Callahan selected lethal injection as the method by which he would be put to death. They said he waited more than two years after the deadline expired to challenge lethal injection.
January 02, 2008
Questioning Jury about Opposing the Death Peanlty is not Required on Constitutional Grounds
From ap.org: A judge's failure to question jurors who indicated they opposed the death penalty is not reason enough to overturn the convictions of two men in the killing of a police informant, a federal appeals court says.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals encouraged judges to question potential jurors orally about their opposition to the death penalty, but it said such questioning is not required on constitutional grounds.
The U.S. Supreme Court has held that prospective jurors may be excluded from jury service in capital cases if they indicate that they will automatically vote for or against the death penalty in every case.
In a decision dated Friday, the three-judge appeals panel from the 2nd Circuit upheld the convictions of Alan Quinones and Diego Rodriguez, rejecting defense arguments that their convictions should be reversed because the trial judge did not orally question jurors who indicated on questionnaires that they were opposed to the death penalty.
The men were convicted in 2004 of racketeering, drug trafficking and the 1999 murder of Eddie Santiago, an informant for the New York Police Department. During the penalty phase, jurors unanimously decided not to impose death.
The appeals panel noted that other trial judges in Manhattan have routinely questioned jurors who wrote in questionnaires that they oppose the death penalty.
"The practice is commendable," the panel said. "The bluntness or hesitancy, confidence or discomfort, displayed by prospective jurors as they respond to questions about the possibility of returning a capital verdict often reveals as much about bias as the actual answers given." Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
December 26, 2007
Lethal Injection Resource Kit Provided by U.C. Berkeley Death Penalty Clinic
Lethalinjection.org is a project of the Death Penalty Clinic at U.C. Berkeley School of Law. The mission of lethalinjection.org is to create a web-based clearinghouse for information about lethal injection and challenges to lethal injection as a method of execution. The members of the Death Penalty Clinic continually working on the development of this website. They frequently post new features, updated design, and up-to-date information about lethal injection challenges, including the Baze v. Rees case currently pending in the United States Supreme Court. Check it out. . .[Mark Godsey]
December 02, 2007
Spotlight on a Texas Capital Crimes Defense Attorney
From observer.guardian.co.uk: The Observer recently published an article showcasing the life of a death penalty defense attorney in Texas. Here is an excerpt:
Texas sentences more people to death than any other state in America, and the emotional toll on its defence lawyers is so great that many only ever work on a handful of cases. Not so Jerry Guerinot. He's defended 39 men and women. The bad news: 20 have been sentenced to death.
A few miles west of downtown Houston, in his office on a scruffy
industrial estate, Jerry Guerinot, probably America's most dangerous
defence lawyer, reflects on his career. For a conscientious attorney,
death penalty murder trials create 'absolutely the most pressure you
can have', he says emphatically. 'You never want anybody to be
sentenced to death on your watch. I'm never happy to see anybody get
sentenced to death. I don't think anybody could ever be happy.'
Guerinot, a big man with a booming voice and thinning, silvery hair, says that at the age of 62 he's finally had enough of the legal death business in which he's toiled for more than 25 years. '[If] the state tries you for the death penalty in Harris County [the jurisdiction in which Houston sits], the chances of you getting it are huge. And the chances of you having it carried out against you are even bigger.' Guerinot is right - as of July this year, 98 Harris County men and two women have been dispatched since the US Supreme Court restored the death penalty in 1976. Houston has 1.3 per cent of America's population but carries out 10 per cent of its executions.
But however great the trauma of losing a client, Guerinot, who earlier acted as a prosecutor in six cases in which the defendant received the death penalty, says he can't recall how many of those he defended have been sentenced to die in Texas's well-used lethal injection chambers: 'I want to say maybe 10 to 15, somewhere in there.' But he cannot, he admits, remember them all: 'There's just so many.'
According to Guerinot, 'significantly more did not get death than got death'. In fact, no fewer than 20 of the men and women Guerinot has represented since he turned to defence work have been sentenced to death. Two had their sentences commuted when the Supreme Court ruled in 2005 against capital punishment for juveniles, because they were under 18 when they committed their crimes. Thirteen are still on death row. Five have already been executed, the most recent last year. Rest of Article. . .