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Capital Punishment

Death-Row Prisoners Ask Supreme Court to Review Georgia, Oklahoma Verdicts Involving Racist Jurors

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Georgia death-row prisoner Keith Tharpe (pictured, above left) and Oklahoma death-row prisoner Julius Jones (pictured, above right) are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to grant them new trials after evidence showed that white jurors who described the defendants with racist slurs participated in deciding their cases. The involvement of the racist jurors, the prisoners say, violated their Sixth Amendment rights to impartial juries. A juror in Tharpe’s trial gave a sworn affidavit years after voting to convict Tharpe, in which he wondered “if black people even have souls,” and said, “there are two types of black people: 1. Black folks and 2. N***rs.” Tharpe, he wrote, “wasn’t in the ‘good’ black folks category in my book, should get the electric chair for what he did.” In Jones’s case, a juror told Jones’s legal team that another juror had said the trial was “a waste of time” and “they should just take the n***r out and shoot him behind the jail.”

Tharpe and Jones argue that two 2017 Supreme Court decisions, Peña-Rodriguez v. Colorado and Buck v. Davis, require the Court to reconsider their cases. In Buck, Chief Justice John Roberts declared for the Court that “the law punishes people for what they do, not who they are,” and overturned a death sentence imposed after a psychologist testified that Buck posed a greater risk of future dangerousness because he is black. The Chief Justice wrote that “discrimination on the basis of race, odious in all aspects, is especially pernicious in the administration of justice,” calling racism a “toxin[ that] can be deadly in small doses.” In Peña-Rodriguez, now-retired Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for a five-justice majority of the Court that courts may consider a juror’s statement showing he had relied on racial stereotypes to convict a defendant as evidence of a Sixth Amendment violation.

In January 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a federal appeals court’s refusal to consider Tharpe’s racial discrimination claim.  Less than three months later, that court again refused to consider the issue, saying Tharpe had not previously presented it to the state courts. Jones has also repeatedly sought review of claims that racial discrimination has infected his case. He previously asked the Court to overturn his death sentence based on the findings of a 2017 study that showed significant racial disparities in Oklahoma’s death sentencing practices. On January 22, 2019, after having rescheduled consideration of Jones’s appeal 25 times, the Court declined to review the case. Samuel Spital, who was co-counsel in Buck’s case and is lead counsel on the brief of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund’s friend-of-the-court brief supporting Tharpe, said of Tharpe and Jones, “We know that these two men are facing execution at least in part because they’re black. Under those circumstances, the state just doesn’t have an interest in enforcing a death sentence, and for that reason, the procedural obstacles that you would have with respect to certain other claims should not be part of the analysis.” The cases are considered a bellwether of the post-Kennedy Court’s commitment to racial justice. [Death Penalty Information Center]

This post will be updated when new information is available. Due to executions and the appeals process surrounding them, information can rapidly change.

Capital Punishment

Alabama Executes America’s Second Death Row Inmate of 2019

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Alabama has executed Domineque Hakim Marcelle Ray for the 1995 slaying of a 15-year-old Selma girl, after the U.S. Supreme Court lifted a federal appeals court stay based on the inmate’s request to have his Muslim spiritual adviser at his side when he dies.

Ray’s execution by lethal injection was set for 6 p.m. CT at Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore, AL. The U.S. Supreme Court lifted the stay about 8 p.m. CT, and the execution began at 9:44 p.m. CT.

The curtains to the viewing room closed at 10:05 p.m. CT.

His death sentence comes 20 years after being put on death row, and also while he’s also serving time for the killings of two teenage boys who were slain the year before Tiffany Harville was fatally stabbed. For those killings, he was sentenced to life in prison.

Ray’s final words were in Arabic. He made a hand signal consisting of a closed fist with his index finger pointed and looked towards the viewing room where his attorneys and spiritual adviser were sitting, along with members of the media.

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Capital Punishment

US Supreme Court Clears Way For Alabama To Execute Death Row Inmate

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WHERE WE ARE NOW: The US Supreme Court has cleared the way for Alabama to proceed with Domineque Ray’s execution. This list summarizes the latest developments.

  • #Alabama has asked #SCOTUS to review the 11th Circuit stay, then filed a revised version of its appeal.
  • The state says it has changed its execution protocol to eliminate any religious presence in the execution chamber.
  • The #Alabama Department of Corrections is now reportedly refusing to let #DominequeRay have a Qur’an (Koran) in his pre-execution holding cell.
  • #DominequeRay has also sought a separate stay of execution from #SCOTUS based on #Alabama prosecutors’ suppression of evidence that the sole witness to implicate Ray had schizophrenia, was hallucinating in custody before his testimony, and was on psych meds at trial.
  • #SCOTUS is considering the state’s application to vacate the stay imposed by the 11th Circuit. If the application is granted, Alabama could carry out the execution of #DominequeRay tonight. Alabama’s execution warrant on Ray runs out at midnight tonight, if the Supreme Court rules against the State of Alabama.
  • The state of Alabama says a Muslim inmate has access to a Qur’an as he waits to see whether the U.S. Supreme Court will allow his lethal injection.
  • A court document says a copy of the Islamic holy book is available to 42-year-old Dominique Ray. It says Ray also was allowed to take a prayer mat into a holding cell.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court has cleared the way for Alabama to proceed with the execution.
  • Justices on Thursday evening vacated a lower court’s stay with a 5-4 decision.
  • The Alabama Department of Corrections plans to carry out the execution of Dominique Ray on Thursday night.

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has issued a stay in the Thursday execution of Alabama death row inmate Domineque Ray, who sued the Alabama Department of Corrections to have his imam present during his execution.

Alabama is accused of violating the religious rights of a Muslim inmate set for execution by refusing to allow an imam at his death, a federal court said Wednesday in blocking the lethal injection.

The 11th U.S Circuit Court of Appeals granted an indefinite stay for Dominique Ray, 42, a day before he was scheduled to die for the slaying of a teenager more than two decades ago.

A three-judge panel of judges wrote that it was “exceedingly loath to substitute our judgment on prison procedures.” But, they added that it “looks substantially likely to us that Alabama has run afoul of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.”

Read the full 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling below:

UPDATE: The State of Alabama has refiled an emergency motion to vacate the stay. Read the amended motion below.

UPDATE: Domineque Ray’s lawyers have filed an amended motion to respond to Alabama’s motion to vacate.

UPDATE: The state has responded to Ray’s opposition to vacate the execution stay.

UPDATE: State of Alabama has written opposition to Ray requesting writ of certiorari to SCOTUS.

UPDATE: Ray’s lawyers have filed a reply to the State of Alabama’s opposition to writ of certiorari.

UPDATE: The US Supreme Court denies certiorari in Domineque Ray’s case. The execution will proceed in Alabama tonight. Justices Kagan, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor dissented.

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