Executions

Federal Court Halts Louisiana Execution As State Rushes Out New Execution Process

On February 7, federal District Court Judge James Brady stayed the execution of Christopher Sepulvado in Louisiana because the state failed to provide details about its new execution protocol. "Sepulvado has been trying to determine what the protocol is for years," Judge Brady wrote, "and the State will not provide this information. The intransigence of the State Defendants in failing to produce the protocol requires the Court to issue this order." Sepulvado was scheduled to be executed on Feb. 13, the first non-consensual execution in the state in over 10 years. The judge said, “There is no way that [Sepulvado] could adequately, meaningfully bring an Eighth Amendment challenge if he does not know how the protocol operates.” Louisiana had previously used a 3-drug protocol, but just recently said it planned to use 1 drug, pentobarbital. However, it offered no details about how the drug was purchased, what training was provided to prison staff, or who would carry out the execution. The state later indicated it obtained the drug from Lundbeck, Inc.

UPCOMING EXECUTION: Lawyers Request Reprieve Because of Racial Bias in Dallas County

Lawyers for Kimberly McCarthy, who is to be executed on January 29, have petitioned Texas Governor Rick Perry for a 30-day reprieve because of evidence of racial bias in the county in which she was tried. The District Attorney for Dallas County, Craig Watkins, has already called for passage of a Racial Justice Act to address the bias he has found. Attorneys for McCarthy cited several studies pointing to racial disparity in the application of the death penalty: Dallas County is about 22% black, yet 42% of those executed or awaiting execution from the County are black. Ms. McCarthy is black and her victim was white, like 68% of the victims in the County's cases. Her attorneys wrote, “These statistics and their import are reflected in the case of Kimberly McCarthy, an African-American woman, who was sentenced to death for the murder of an elderly white woman." Evidence also exists of bias in jury selection, both historically and in her case: "Of the thirteen jurors seated [in McCarthy’s case], all were white except one.” Although the governor cannot grant clemency to McCarthy because the Pardons Board voted against her, he can issue a 30-day reprieve for further investigation.  UPDATE: State District Judge Larry Mitchell stayed McCarthy's execution.  Her new execution date is April 3, 2013.

First Inmate to be Executed in 2013 Asked for Death Penalty; Exhibited Severe Mental Illness

Robert Gleason is scheduled to be the first person executed in the U.S. in 2013 on the night of January 16 in Virginia. At his trial, he told the court he wanted the death penalty and has waived all his appeals since his conviction. He has chosen to be executed by electrocution. Gleason's lawyers maintain he is severely mentally ill and his mental capacity has deteriorated during his time on death row. He suffers from extreme paranoia, delusional thinking, severe anxiety and other mental afflictions. Attorney Jon Sheldon stated that Gleason’s "mental illness is causing him to be suicidal, and he is enlisting the government's help to end his life.” His life was described as "profoundly disturbed and traumatic," marked by abuse as a child, with depression and other mental health problems as an adult. Virginia had no executions and no death sentences in 2012.

DPIC'S YEAR END REPORT: What the Media Are Saying

DPIC's recent 2012 Year End Report received extensive media coverage in the U.S. and internationally. Coverage included pieces by the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Associated Press, Reuters, New York Times, CNN, and hundreds of other outlets. National broadcast outlets such as NPR, MSNBC, and CBS Radio also ran pieces. Many papers editorialized about the themes highlighted in the Report, including the continuing decline in the use of the death penalty around the country, the geographic clustering of sentences and executions in just a few states, and reasons why people are changing their minds about capital punishment. An editorial in the Virginian-Pilot said state statistics from the report indicated the death penalty had reached a "turning point" and called for ending it: "Multiple studies have shown the death penalty does not reduce crime. The money could be better spent preventing crime and solving unsolved cases." The Amarillo Globe News  in Texas raised concerns about costs; the Anniston Star in Alabama called the death penalty "barbaric;" and the New York Times said it "should be abolished." An editorial in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram encouraged Texans to reconsider the death penalty, noting, “At a time when much of the nation is rethinking the issue of capital punishment, it's worth Texans considering whether continuing to be first on the death penalty is something to brag about… Debate about the death penalty - its legal, moral, fiscal and practical considerations - should go on, especially considering the flaws that continue to be exposed in the justice system."

NEW RESOURCES: Death Row USA Fall 2012 Report Now Available

The latest edition of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund's Death Row USA showed a decrease of 43 inmates under sentence of death from January 1 to October 1, 2012. Over the last decade, the total population of state and federal death rows has decreased significantly, from 3,703 inmates in 2000 to 3,146 inmates as of October 2012. California continues to have the largest death row population (724), followed by Florida (411), Texas (304), Pennsylvania (204), and Alabama (202). Neither California nor Pennsylvania has carried out an execution in the past seven years. The report also contains information on executions. Nearly 77% of the murder victims in cases resulting in an execution since 1976 were white. However, nationally, about 50% of murder victims are black. The report also contains an overview of recent legal developments related to capital punishment.

California Chief Justice Says No Executions Likely for Three Years

The Chief Justice of California's Supreme Court, Tani Cantil-Sakauye, said recently that she does not expect executions in California to resume for at least three years because of problems with the lethal injection process. California has already not carried out an execution in seven years. Justice Cantil-Sakauye said major structural changes to the state's death penalty are unlikely, and that a proposal by the former Chief Justice to speed death penalty appeals is "dead." That proposal would have had state appellate courts, rather than the California Supreme Court, handle appeals in capital cases.  Such a change would require a constitutional amendment and greater funding for appellate courts. Those proposals have failed in the past. Californians narrowly defeated (52-48%) a ballot initiative to repeal the death penalty and put some of the money saved into solving cold cases. The state is spending an estimated $180 million per year on the death penalty.

ARBITRARINESS: Arizona Inmate to be Executed Dec. 5, Accomplice Was Released in 2011

Richard Stokley (pictured) is scheduled to be executed in Arizona on December 5 for rape and murder. Stokley's accomplice, Randy Brazeal, was released from prison in 2011, despite DNA testing showing he was likely guilty of the same crime as Stokley. In 1991, Brazeal turned himself in to authorities and claimed that Stokley had held him hostage while committing the crime. However, subsequent DNA testing revealed that Brazeal likely participated in the crime and raped one of the victims. At the time of the crime, DNA testing had only recently become possible, and authorities made a deal with Brazeal to avoid delays that would result from such testing. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison. When the DNA testing was later completed, it revealed Brazeal's DNA inside one of the victims. Rod Rothrock, the detective who led the investigation, said, "It is my opinion that Mr. Brazeal is no less guilty than Mr. Stokley, and I believe that DNA test proves that."

INTERNATIONAL: U.N. Death Penalty Resolution Backed by Record Number of Countries

On November 19, 110 countries voted for a resolution at the United Nations General Assembly calling for a worldwide moratorium on executions as a step towards the abolition of the death penalty. The vote marked record support for the resolution compared to previous years. Among the countries supporting the resolution were the European Union nations, Australia, Brazil, South Africa and Israel. The United States, Japan, China, Iran, India, North Korea, Syria and Zimbabwe were among 39 countries opposing the non-binding resolution in the Assembly's Third Committee, which addresses human rights issues. Thirty-six countries abstained. Recently, France launched a campaign with other abolitionist states to get the full General Assembly to pass a resolution calling for a death penalty moratorium. Though such a resolution would also be non-binding, diplomats say it would increase moral pressure. Around the world, about 141 are abolitionist in law or in practice, while 57 countries retain the death penalty.

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