Louisiana

Louisiana

Louisiana Inmate Likely to Be Freed After 30 Years on Death Row

UPDATE: Louisiana Judge Ramona Emanuel ordered Glenn Ford to be “unconditionally released from the custody of the Louisiana Department of Corrections.” (KTAL NBC News, Mar. 11, 2014). Glenn Ford, who has spent 30 years on Louisiana's death row is likely to be freed soon, after prosecutors filed motions to vacate his conviction and sentence. Prosecutors said they recently received "credible evidence" that Ford "was neither present at, nor a participant in, the robbery and murder" of which he was convicted in 1984. Ford, who has always maintained his innocence, was tried and sentenced to death by an all-white jury. One of the witnesses against him said at trial that police had helped her make up her story. A state "expert" who testified about the victim's time of death had not even examined the body. Ford's lead trial attorney had never tried a jury case before. A second attorney, two years out of law school, worked at an insurance defense firm. They failed to hire any experts to rebut the prosecution's case because they believed they would have to pay for the experts themselves. The Louisiana Supreme Court earlier said it had "serious questions" about the outcome of the trial, but did not reverse Ford's conviction. Ford may have been involved in trying to pawn jewelry from the victim that he received from one of the original codefendants.

Lethal Injection Questions Prompt Official Reviews in Louisiana, Florida, Ohio

Questions about the appropriateness of new lethal injection methods have recently stayed executions in Louisiana and Ohio and caused the Florida Supreme Court to order a hearing prior to the next execution there. In Louisiana, Christopher Sepulvado received a 90-day stay to allow a federal court to determine whether the state's new protocol violates his constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment. He was scheduled to be executed on February 5. The Florida Supreme Court ordered a similiar hearing to be held before Paul Howell's scheduled execution on February 26 to examine the state's new protocol. In Ohio, Governor John Kasich ordered an 8-month stay of execution for Gregory Lott so the state can complete a review of its new lethal injection procedure, first used to execute Dennis McGuire on January 16, resulting in gasping and choking sounds from the inmate. The common drug in question in all three states is midazolam, a sedative used as the first drug in a 2- or 3-drug protocol. 

Louisiana To Change Lethal Injection Procedure One Week Before Execution

Just one week before the scheduled execution of Christopher Sepulvado, Louisiana announced it has been unable to  find pentobarbital for its lethal injections and instead may apply a new procedure used only once before in the U.S. If the state cannot obtain pentobarbital, it will employ the two-drug procedure used by Ohio on January16 to execute Dennis McGuire, an execution that resulted in gasping sounds and movements by the inmate over an extended period of time. That procedure involved midazolam--a sedative--and hydromorphone--a painkiller. Gary Clements, an attorney for Mr. Sepulvado, said Louisiana is violating its own protocol, which requires that lethal injection drugs be obtained at least 30 days before an execution. "Just days before a scheduled execution, the State has significantly changed its execution protocol without independent oversight or public scrutiny," Clements said. "[This] once again demonstrates that the State is not prepared to move forward with Mr. Sepulvado’s scheduled execution in a manner that comports with state and federal laws, and the U.S. Constitution." Sepulvado's attorneys argue his due process rights are being violated by the lack of information about the manner of his execution, and his right to be spared cruel and unusual punishment would be violated by an execution using faulty drugs.

STUDIES: Human Rights Groups Examine Death Penalty in California and Louisiana

The Center for Constitutional Rights and the International Federation for Human Rights recently released an analysis of the death penalty in California and Louisiana. The report concluded that those states' application of capital punishment "violates U.S. obligations under international human rights law to prevent and prohibit discrimination and torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment." Researchers conducted interviews with many of those involved in the legal system and examined data on charging, sentencing, and executions. They found that racial disparities in the death penalty in both states constituted discrimination. The report was particularly critical of death row conditions, saying, "[E]xtreme temperatures, lack of access to adequate medical and mental health care, overcrowding and extended periods of isolation, do not respect and promote human dignity...Such deplorable circumstances have been condemned by the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture as constituting cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, or, in certain circumstances, torture."

STUDIES: New Study Finds Death Penalty in California and Louisiana "Arbitrary and Discriminatory"

The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) recently released findings on the use of the death penalty in California and Louisiana. The organizations concluded that the use of the death penalty in both states was arbitrary and discriminatory. The study also found that conditions on death row constituted cruel and inhumane treatment. The study recommended that California and Louisiana improve death row conditions by ending solitary confinement and providing visits with family members. The study concluded, “States must also ensure that all persons charged with a death-eligible offense have timely-appointed, competent, and experienced representation at all stages of a capital case, and that appointed counsel have adequate funding to carry out the tasks necessary to provide effective representation.”  Read full text of Executive Summary here.

LETHAL INJECTION: Federal Judge Requires Louisiana Officials to Reveal Details of Lethal Injection Protocol

On June 4, a federal magistrate ruled that the Louisiana Department of Safety and Corrections must reveal the details of the state's lethal injection protocol. The ruling rejected the argument that disclosing the protocol would raise “serious security concerns.” The ruling by Judge Stephen Riedlinger was on a motion related to the lawsuit filed by death row inmates Jessie Hoffman and Christopher Sepulvado, who contended that due process requires they be fully informed about the state’s execution process. Michael Rubenstein, defense attorney for Hoffman and Sepulvado, noted that, “Not only are lethal injection protocols widely available in other states, the courts have rejected the very argument that the Defendants seek to advance.” Texas and Mississippi, for example, have publicly disclosed their lethal injection protocols. In Texas, the protocol includes specific location of the inmate, the timing of the inmate’s transport to the location of the execution, and other information. The Department of Safety and Corrections now has 14 days to provide Hoffman and Sepulvado’s defense attorneys with the lethal injection protocol.

CONDITIONS ON DEATH ROW: Inmates File Lawsuit Over Extreme Death Row Conditions

On June 10, three inmates on death row at the Louisiana State Penitentiary (Angola) filed a lawsuit in federal court against the Department of Public Safety and Corrections for “appalling and extreme conditions… as a result of extreme heat.” The inmates requested that jail officials address the unsafe conditions in the death row facility. According to the lawsuit, the conditions prisoners suffer each summer constitute cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment. The heat index on death row reached 195 degrees Fahrenheit on several occasions during the summer of 2011, and was above 126 degrees on 85 days between May and August. The lawsuit describes cell bars that are hot to the touch and inmates sleeping on concrete floor because it is slightly cooler than beds. During summer months, the showers provide no relief as the water temperature sometimes exceeds 115 degrees. Nilay Vora, a lawyer involved in the case, said, “We don't expect prisons to be comfortable, but anyone who looked at these numbers or heard about the conditions would find them shocking, beyond what's conscionable.”

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.

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