Arizona

Arizona

Leading Medical Experts Contradict Arizona's Description of Execution

Although Arizona officials have claimed that Joseph Wood was "brain dead" during his two-hour execution on July 23, prominent medical experts from around the country strongly disagreed. David Waisel, associate professor of anaesthesia at Harvard medical school, said a person who is brain dead will stop breathing unless kept alive on a ventilator. “There is no way anyone could ever look at someone and make that kind of diagnosis. He was still breathing, so he was not brain dead. This is an example where they threw out a term that has a precise medical definition, but they didn't know what it means.” Dr. Chitra Venkat, clinical associate professor of neurology and neurological sciences at Stanford University, said, “If you are taking breaths, you are not brain dead. Period. That is not compatible with brain death, at all. In fact, it is not compatible with any form of death.” And Dr. Robert D. Stevens (pictured), associate professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, noted, “Any type of breathing, gasping, whatever it is, immediately indicates that the patient is not brain dead.” Columbia University anesthesiologist Mark Heath called the use of midazolam (part of Arizona's lethal injection regimen) "a failed experiment."

Arizona Botches Execution of Joseph Wood

The execution of Joseph Wood III in Arizona on July 23 took nearly two hours, with witnesses reporting that Wood gasped and snorted over 600 times during the procedure. Wood was executed using midazolam and hyrdromorphone, the same drug protocol used in January's botched execution of Dennis McGuire. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit had stayed Wood's execution and ordered the state to release information about the source of the lethal injection drugs and the training of those who would carry out the execution, but the stay was lifted by the U.S. Supreme Court on July 22, allowing the state to maintain secrecy. Attorneys for Wood tried to file an emergency request to halt the execution because Wood was still awake an hour into the procedure. Dale Baich, one of Wood's attorneys, said, “I’ve witnessed a number of executions before and I’ve never seen anything like this. Nor has an execution that I observed taken this long.” Arizona Governor Jan Brewer ordered a review of the execution, saying she was “concerned by the length of time” that it took. The director of the Department of Corrections said they will conduct a full review and are waiting on results of a toxicology study and autopsy. 

Rare Execution of a Woman Approaching in Texas

On February 5, Texas is scheduled to execute Suzanne Basso. Basso would become the 14th woman executed in the United States since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. Basso is confined to a wheel chair and has a history of mental illness. Basso was convicted of murdering a mentally disabled man, ostensibly for insurance money. Others convicted in the offense did not receive the death penalty. A recent article in the Arizona Republic noted an unusually high number of captial prosecutions in that state. There are 2 women on Arizona's death row and 3 more are facing capital trials or re-trials. Elizabeth Rapaport, a law professor at the University of New Mexico, explained the low number of women on death row nationally: “The death penalty is mostly about crimes against strangers. That really frightens people,” she said. Those crimes often include rapes and robberies, “and women just don’t do those kind of crimes.”

Counties with Large Death Rows Often Correlates With Prosecutorial Misconduct

Radley Balko, writing in the Huffington Post, has examined more closely some of the counties identified in DPIC's recent report, The 2% Death Penalty, as using the death penalty the most. Balko found that many of those high-use counties have a pattern of prosecutorial misconduct and other problems. For example, Philadelphia County has sent more inmates to death row than any other county in Pennsylvania. However, a study of criminal cases overturned in the state because of prosecutorial misconduct found over 60% of the cases came from Philadelphia. Duval County, Florida, has the largest per capita death row in the nation, but recently elected a head public defender who ran on a platform of cutting funding to public defense and billing indigent defendants who are acquitted. In the California counties of Santa Clara and Riverside, courts had to review thousands of cases due to prosecutors' failure to disclose exculpatory evidence, including fraud by a crime lab technician. In some instances, this misconduct hid the actual innocence of the defendant, such as that of Ray Krone in Maricopa County, Arizona, who was sentenced to death after prosecutors withheld crucial evidence.

STUDIES: Prosecutorial Misconduct in Death Penalty Cases

In a four-part series on the conduct of prosecutors in capital cases, The Arizona Republic examined allegations by appellate attorneys that prosecutorial misconduct occurred in nearly half of the state’s capital cases since 2002. The study found that nearly half of the allegations were validated by the Arizona Supreme Court, though only two death sentences were vacated. The paper found there were seldom consequences to prosecutors for misconduct. Of all the allegations, only two resulted in prosecutors being punished: one was disbarred, the other suspended from legal practice. According to the Republic’s examination, six different prosecutors who were named "Prosecutor of the Year" since 1990 were later found to have engaged in misconduct or inappropriate behavior during capital trials. Misconduct played a key role in a death sentence and conviction that were recently overturned by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Debra Milke, who had spent nearly 24 years in custody, was recently freed because the state failed to turn over important records to the defense. She may face a re-trial. The court underscored the important role of prosecutors in ensuring a fair trial: “(T)he Constitution requires a fair trial, and one essential element of fairness is the prosecution's obligation to turn over exculpatory evidence.” In another instance of prosecutorial misconduct, Ray Krone's conviction in Arizona was overturned in 1995 and he was eventually exonerated in 2002. (pictured l., receiving an award in 2013 from Kirk Bloodsworth of Witness to Innocence).

Supreme Court Ruling Expands Opportunities for Federal Review of Ineffective Assistance Claims

On May 28, 2013, the Court ruled (5-4) in Trevino v. Thaler that death row inmates in Texas can raise claims of ineffectiveness of counsel for the first time in federal court if they did not have a meaningful chance to raise the claim in state appeals. The Court held that its ruling in Martinez v. Ryan (2012), which provided such a right in an Arizona case where state law forbids raising the claim in one's direct appeal, applies in Texas because the “state procedural framework, by reason of its design and operation, makes it highly unlikely in a typical case that a defendant will have a meaningful opportunity to raise a claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel on direct appeal.” In Martinez v. Ryan, the Supreme Court ruled that “procedural default will not bar a federal habeas court from hearing a substantial claim of ineffective assistance at trial if, in the initial-review collateral proceeding, there was no counsel or counsel in that proceeding was ineffective.”

SENTENCING: Foreman in Arias Trial Says Death Sentencing Deliberations are Unfair to Jurors

William Zervakos, jury foreman for the Jodi Arias trial, recently shared the challenges of being a part of a capital jury. Zervakos described jury deliberations in Arias's case as a “brutal no-win situation” that was “unfair.” He said that the deliberations were full of tears as each juror considered whether they should sentence Jodi Arias to death or life in prison. He said, “We're not lawyers. We can't interpret the law. We're mere mortals. And I will tell you I've never felt more mere as a mortal than I felt for the last five months.” On May 8, the jury convicted Arias of first-degree murder but they could not reach a decision on her sentence after 13 hours of deliberations. The judge was forced to declare a mistrial of the penalty phase and dismissed the jury. If the prosecutors decide to seek the death penalty again, jury selection could take several months given the difficulty of finding jurors who would be impartial in a case that has garnered significant media attention. A retrial date has been tentatively set for July 18.

ARBITRARINESS: Death Penalty Does Not Fall on Worst Offenders

In cases with multiple defendants, the "worst" offender does not always receive the worst punishment. For example, in Arizona, Patrick Bearup (pictured) was the only one among four co-defendants to receive the death penalty, even though he was not directly involved in killing the victim. The other three defendants, one of whom instigated the offense, another of whom beat the victim with a baseball bat, and a third who shot the victim, were able to secure plea bargains, avoiding trial. Two of them are likely to be released within 15 years. According to Dale Baich of the federal public defender's office in Arizona, of the six inmates executed there in 2012, four were equally or less culpable than their co-defendants, and 3 of those 4 co-defendants have already been released. A judge who reveiwed Bearup's case, criticized the prosecutor for pursuing the death penalty against a man who “even under the state’s theory, did not cause the physical death” of the  victim. The judge nevertheless upheld the death sentence. In another Arizona county, the prosecutor announced the county could only afford one death penalty case at a time, thereby ending a capital prosecution in an egregious murder, while pursuing it in a comparable case. Christopher Dupont, a lawyer in Arizona said, “Do people who commit equally heinous crimes get the same results? The answer is unquestionably no. It’s a total mystery who is going to face the death penalty and who is not.”

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