UPDATE: With the US Supreme Court decision allowing #ChristopherPrice‘s execution, and the AL death warrant for Price running out, the State has to wait at least 30 days for the State Supreme Court to set another execution date & issue another death warrant.
This essentially means that the AL State Supreme Court will be able to set a new execution date for Christopher Price after May 12th, 2019, and then have the execution either later in May or the first half of June. Also, the last-minute appeals process could essentially start over again, at the Southern District of Alabama federal court. In other words, stay tuned, there’s much more to come.
Christopher Price was set to be executed at 6 p.m. Thursday for the 1991 killing of a minister in Fayette County, but the execution was called off about half an hour before Price’s death warrant expired at midnight.
An order from the U.S. Supreme Court that says the execution could go forward was issued shortly before 2 a.m. Friday, but it was too late for the state to carry it out because of the expired death warrant. The state will now have to set a new execution date.
In a 5-4 decision the U.S. Supreme Court denied Price’s request for a review of his appeal and for the stay of execution. Justice Stephen Breyer wrote a dissent, joined by three other justices, objecting to the overruling of decisions by a federal judge and the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to stay the execution.
The order came after several appeals Thursday, beginning with Price’s attorneys filing an emergency motion for a preliminary injunction to a federal judge in Mobile asking her to halt the execution around 1 p.m.
Just before 4 p.m. Thursday U.S. Southern District Court Judge Kristi DuBose stayed the execution for 60 days. She wrote the state had until May 10 to submit evidence in contradiction to Price’s contention that the three-drug execution protocol will cause or is likely to cause him severe pain and that execution by the new method – nitrogen hypoxia – will significantly reduce the substantial risk of severe pain.
The AG’s Office appealed to the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which affirmed DuBose’s ruling and kept the stay in place.
The Attorney General’s Office on Thursday night then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, saying in part that Price had not met a deadline for signing up for the new execution method.
The U.S. Supreme Court agreed with the Alabama Attorney General’s Office in its order issued Friday morning. The majority opinion stated that Price essentially waited too late. “In June 2018, death-row inmates in Alabama whose convictions were final before June 1, 2018, had 30 days to elect to be executed via nitrogen hypoxia … Price, whose conviction became final in 1999, did not do so, even though the record indicates that all death-row inmates were provided a written election form, and 48 other death-row inmates elected nitrogen hypoxia. He then waited until February 2019 to file this action and submitted additional evidence today, a few hours before his scheduled execution time.”
At 11:34 p.m.—when the nation’s highest court had yet to rule—the state called off the execution. A statement from the ADOC said, “As a practical matter, the time remaining before the expiration of the death warrant does not permit sufficient time to accomplish the execution in accordance with established procedures.”
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall released a statement after the announcement was made. “Tonight, in the middle of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, the family of Pastor Bill Lynn was deprived of justice. They were, in effect, re-victimized by a killer trying to evade his just punishment. This 11th-hour stay for death row inmate Christopher Price will do nothing to serve the ends of justice. Indeed, it has inflicted the opposite—injustice, in the form of justice delayed.”
Marshall said Price “has dodged his death sentence for the better part of three decades by employing much the same strategy he has pursued tonight—desperately clinging to legal maneuverings to avoid facing the consequences of his heinous crime. I can promise you this: Alabama will never forget victims. Justice will be had for Pastor Lynn and his family. As for Christopher Price, his day of justice will come.”
Samantha Banks, an ADOC spokesperson, said Price’s last request was to be married to his fiancée. He was married Wednesday in the visitation yard at Holman.
Price was visited by his wife, an aunt, and an uncle on Thursday. Wednesday, he made four phone calls to attorneys, one to his wife, and one to an aunt.
Price refused his breakfast but asked for and received two pints of turtle tracks ice cream for what he believed would be his final meal. Several people from Price’s family planned to witness his execution, including his wife, two aunts, an uncle, and a cousin.
Six witnesses from the victim, Bill Lynn’s, family, also were present to witness. Those witnesses would have been the victim’s wife Bessie Lynn, the couple’s two daughters, two grandsons, and Bill Lynn’s brother.
Price had requested that no spiritual adviser be present in the execution chamber, so the spokesperson said the department’s Christian chaplain was not set be inside the chamber.
The 46-year-old inmate was denied a stay of execution by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday, after appealing a lower court’s ruling that also denied him a stay based on his argument he wanted to be executed by Alabama’s newly approved method of nitrogen hypoxia. He appealed Thursday morning to the U.S. Supreme Court for a stay.
No Alabama inmates have been executed by the new method, and a state protocol for the nitrogen hypoxia executions has not been developed yet.
Price was set to die by lethal injection at Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore. He was convicted in the 1991 robbery and slaying of Lynn and was sentenced to death by a jury’s vote of 10-2. A judge upheld the jury’s recommendation and sent Price to death row.
Price had asked the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama in March for a stay of execution, arguing the Alabama Department of Corrections’ three-drug lethal injection cocktail could cause Price severe pain during his execution. The inmate also claimed the state’s refusal to allow him to elect the nitrogen hypoxia method denies him equal protection under the Constitution.
The Alabama Attorney General’s Office claimed in a response filing Price was given the forms necessary to elect a change of execution method from lethal injection to nitrogen hypoxia last summer, when all other inmates on death row were given the same opportunity. The state says Price neglected to make that election and called the current lawsuit a “meritless delay tactic.”
The state’s response states, “Price had timely notice, Price could have asked counsel if he wanted a legal consultation, and yet Price sat on his hands for seven months until the State moved to set his execution date.”
Early last year, Gov. Kay Ivey signed a bill giving inmates the option to choose execution by nitrogen hypoxia. According to the state, inmates waiting to be executed were allowed to opt in the nitrogen method if they wished, but had to do so within a 30-day period in June 2018. Of the 177 inmates on Alabama’s Death Row, more than 50 inmates have chosen to die by the new method.
ADOC Commissioner Jeff Dunn said the department is working with the AG’s Office to develop a protocol for executions by nitrogen hypoxia, but has no timeline on when that protocol might be finalized and ready to implement.
One of Price’s attorneys argued in a filing the ADOC allowed some inmates to choose nitrogen hypoxia in a manner that was “completely arbitrary” and “created two classes of death row inmates.”
The state said in its response they were rational to set a timeline for the inmates to opt into the new method, because otherwise an inmate “could change his mind as to his method of execution up until the moment he entered the death chamber. In other words, conceivably, the ADOC could prepare for a lethal injection but be blindsided by an eleventh-hour nitrogen election.”
Last week, U.S. District Court Judge Kristi DuBose denied the stay of execution and noted Price did not elect to choose nitrogen hypoxia by the cutoff date and that the gas is not readily available since the state has not yet developed a protocol for those types of executions. She is the same judge who Thursday granted a 60-day stay.
Price’s attorneys appealed that ruling. Wednesday afternoon, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals also denied the stay.
Price also was at the center of a lawsuit in 2014 with similar claims, which sought to block the state from setting his execution date because of what he called “prolonged, excruciating and needless pain” caused by the lethal injection drugs.
Lynn, a minister at Natural Springs Church of Christ, was fatally stabbed with a knife and sword outside his home in the Bazemore community three days before Christmas in 1991. Court records state Lynn was putting together Christmas presents for his grandchildren, when the power went out. He walked outside to check the power box when he was attacked.
Records state Lynn suffered 38 cuts, lacerations, and stab wounds, and one of his arms was almost severed. He died en route to a local hospital. His wife, Bessie Lynn, was wounded in the attack but survived her injuries.
Price, of Winfield, was 19 at the time and was arrested in Tennessee several days after the slaying. He was convicted in 1993.
(Reporting by AL.com)
Here is the order from the U.S. Supreme Court and the dissenting opinion from four justices:
SCOTUS Order by on Scribd
New Hampshire Becomes The Latest US State To Repeal The Death Penalty, Overriding Governor’s Veto
CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — New Hampshire is the latest state to repeal its death penalty, as the state Senate had enough votes to override Gov. Chris Sununu’s veto.
The repeal takes effect immediately.
The 16-8 vote Thursday was the necessary two-thirds majority to override. The House narrowly voted last week to override Sununu’s veto.
New Hampshire’s death penalty applied in only seven scenarios. The state hasn’t executed anyone since 1939, and there is only one inmate on death row. The repeal law does not apply retroactively to Michael Addison, who killed Manchester Police Officer Michael Briggs in 2006, but capital punishment supporters argued that courts might interpret it differently.
Sununu vetoed the bill last month at a community center named in honor of Briggs.
US Supreme Court Will Not Consider Tennessee Death Row Inmate’s Appeal, Execution Will Occur Thursday Evening
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court won’t consider an appeal that could have delayed an upcoming Tennessee execution.
The appeal involves Tennessee’s midazolam-based lethal injection combination. Inmates claim in a lawsuit that the method causes excruciating pain.
The appeal doesn’t challenge lethal injection directly. Instead it challenges Tennessee secrecy laws surrounding the procurement of execution drugs. Inmates argue the laws prevented them from proving a more humane drug is available.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor agrees. In her dissent on Monday, she says the requirement that prisoners challenging one method of execution prove there is a better method available is “fundamentally wrong.” She adds that state secrecy laws compound the injustice.
Don Johnson is scheduled to be executed Thursday for the 1984 murder of his wife, Connie Johnson.
Texas State House OKs Death Penalty Ban For Severely Mentally Ill, Heads To Texas Senate
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The Republican-controlled Texas House has voted to ban the execution of inmates who are severely mentally ill in the nation’s busiest death-penalty state.
No lawmaker spoke in opposition of the bill Thursday. The legislation would amount to a rare weakening of Texas’ tough stance on capital punishment.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled mentally disabled people are ineligible for execution, but that prohibition does not include those who are mentally ill.
Democratic state Rep. Toni Rose’s bill would take the death penalty off the table for people who had a severe mental illness, including schizophrenia or a bipolar disorder, at the time of the crime.
The bill passed 77-66 but could face tougher opposition in the Senate.
Rose urged her Republican colleagues before the vote to “be pro-life from womb to the tomb.”
For the second time in two weeks, the Texas House moved to change death penalty law.
On Wednesday, the chamber tentatively passed a measure that would prohibit handing down a death sentence to someone with a severe mental illness, like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. House Bill 1936 by state Rep. Toni Rose, D-Dallas, would let capital murder defendants present evidence at trial that they were severely mentally ill at the time of the crime. If the jury agrees, the defendant would be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole if found guilty.
“When those offenders are under an active psychosis, that makes them unable to understand or be rational about the offense, so they should not be subjected to the death penalty,” Rose said on the House floor Thursday.
Rose’s bill would allow defendants with mental illness to be ineligible for the death penalty if they had schizophrenia, a schizoaffective disorder, or a bipolar disorder, and, at the time of the crime, had active psychotic symptoms that impaired the defendant’s rationality or understanding of the consequences of their actions. Rose brought a similar bill to the Legislature in 2017, but it never made it to the House floor for debate.
Last Monday, the House moved to create a pretrial process for determining if a capital murder defendant had an intellectual disability and, therefore, would be constitutionally ineligible for execution. Another bill was passed last month to clarify juror instructions in death penalty cases. Neither of those bills have made it out of Senate committees yet.
There is currently no law that restricts issuing a death sentence for mentally ill defendants, but the U.S. Supreme Court has held that inmates must be able to understand that they are about to be put to death — and why — to actually carry out executions.
The most well-known inmate with mental illness is Scott Panetti, a diagnosed schizophrenic who killed his wife’s parents in 1992 and has lived on Texas’ death row for nearly a quarter century. At his trial, Panetti — who represented himself — dressed as a cowboy and tried to call witnesses such as the Pope, John F. Kennedy and Jesus Christ.
(Reporting by Associated Press and Texas Tribune)
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