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Capital Punishment

US Supreme Court Will Not Consider Tennessee Death Row Inmate’s Appeal, Execution Will Occur Thursday Evening

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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.

Capital Punishment

Texas State House OKs Death Penalty Ban For Severely Mentally Ill, Heads To Texas Senate

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Interior of the Texas death chamber. Jenevieve Robbins/Texas Department of Criminal Justice

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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Capital Punishment

State of Arkansas Faces New Fight Over Sedative For Executions

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A federal lawsuit filed by death row inmates is renewing a court fight over a sedative Arkansas uses for lethal injections, two years after the state raced to put eight convicted killers to death before a batch of the drug expired.


The federal trial that begins Tuesday could impact Arkansas’ efforts to restart executions, which had been on hold due to a lack of lethal injection drugs. It’ll also be the latest in a series of legal battles over midazolam, a sedative that other states have moved away from amid claims it doesn’t render inmates fully unconscious during lethal injections.

Arkansas executed four inmates in 2017, after four others were halted by the courts. The trial is expected to revisit two of those executions that inmates’ attorneys say were problematic.

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Capital Punishment

Alabama Seeks New Execution Date For Death Row Inmate Spared By The Clock

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama is seeking a new execution date for an inmate who was spared last week when the clock struck midnight before a divided U.S. Supreme Court said the lethal injection could proceed.


The state on Monday asked the Alabama Supreme Court to schedule an execution for 46-year-old Christopher Lee Price.

A federal judge postponed Price’s lethal injection last week. The high court overturned the stay, but the decision came about two hours after the warrant scheduling his execution automatically expired at midnight.

The state asked the court to set an execution on April 25 or May 2 in the “interests of justice” and set aside a rule requiring 30 days’ notice.

Price was convicted in the 1991 stabbing death of pastor Bill Lynn.

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