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Discussions with DPIC (10/21): Law professor and author John Bessler joins DPIC executive director Robert Dunham to discuss "Against the Death Penalty," a book version of Justice Stephen Breyer's historic dissent in Glossip v. Gross in which he questions the constitutionality of the death penalty. Professor Bessler edited the book and wrote an extensive introduction explaining the significance of the opinion, In a wide-ranging conversation, Bessler and Dunham discuss the dissent itself, the national context of the decision, and the possible effects of an 8-member Supreme Court. Listen or Subscribe
WORLD PREMIERE (10/17): A new documentary, The Gathering, about the coming together of U.S. death-row exonerees at the annual three-day convocation of Witness to Innocence will have its world premiere screening on Monday, October 17 at the French Embassy to the United States in Washington, DC. For more details and a link to R.S.V.P. for the event, click here.
NEWS (10/13): The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit has reversed its prior decision and said the identity of the compounding pharmacy that has supplied execution drugs to the state of Missouri could remain secret. Mississippi death row prisoners had sought the identity of the pharmacy as part of their legal challenge to their state's multi-drug execution protocol, in an effort to demonstrate that Mississippi had alternative means of obtaining lethal injection drugs. The case is In re: Missouri Department of Corrections, No. 16-3072.
NEWS (10/12): The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit has overturned the death sentence imposed on Percy Hutton by an Ohio court in 1986. The court granted Hutton a new penalty hearing as a result of the trial court's failure to instruct the jury on the aggravating circumstances the prosecution must prove before a defendant may be sentenced to death. The 3-judge panel split 2-1 on the procedural questions of whether the Ohio Supreme Court had decided the issue on its merits and, if it had not, whether Hutton had provided sufficient grounds for the federal courts to address the issue.
NEWS (10/12): The Missouri Supreme Court has set a January 31, 2017 execution date for Mark Christeson. The U.S. Supreme Court stayed Christeson's execution in 2014 to permit new lawyers to represent him after his prior court-appointed counsel missed the deadline for filing his habeas corpus petition. The federal district court then denied more than 90% of his new lawyers' request for funding to investigate his case. An appeal of the denial of funds is currently pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit.
NEWS (10/11): The United States Supreme Court has unanimously reversed the judgment of the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals upholding the death sentence imposed on Shaun Michael Bosse. In a per curiam decision, the Court granted Bosse's petition for writ of certiorari, ruled that Oklahoma prosecutors had improperly presented testimony from three members of the victims' families asking the jury to sentence Bosse to death, and remanded the case for further proceedings. The Court reiterated that its 1987 decision in Booth v. Maryland, which prohibits presentation of testimony from victims' families offering "opinions about the crime, the defendant, and the appropriate punishment" has never been overruled and "remain[s] binding precedent until we see fit to reconsider [it]." A line of state-court precedent has permitted such testimony in Oklahoma death penalty cases despite the Eighth Amendment prohibition against it.
NEWS (10/5): Texas has executed Barney Fuller. It was the 16th execution in the U.S. this year and the 7th in Texas. Fuller was a "volunteer"—that is, he had waived his right to appeal. He was the 143rd volunteer executed in the U.S. since 1977. See Executions in 2016.
NEWS (10/5): Georgia has issued a death warrant for Gregory Lawler scheduling his execution for October 19. Georgia has executed six death row prisoners so far in 2016. See Upcoming Executions.
NEWS (10/3): The United States Supreme Court has summarily granted certiorari in the case of Russell v. Alabama, No. 15-9918 (U.S. Oct. 3, 2016), vacated the judgment of the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals upholding the death sentence against Ryan Russell, and remanded the case for further consideration in light of Hurst v. Florida. The decision marks the fourth time in 2016 that the Court has reversed the Alabama courts in a death penalty case and directed them to reconsider a decision in light of Hurst.
NEWS (10/3): In its first-Monday-in-October orders list, the United States Supreme Court denied review in more than a dozen capital (or formerly capital) cases in which death row prisoners or state prosecutors had asked the Court to hear their cases. Some of the notable denials of petitions for writ of certiorari are highlighted below.
The Supreme Court denied the State of Arizona's petition to review an en banc decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit overturning the death sentence of James McKinney. The Court's order in Ryan v. McKinney, No. 15-1222, lets stand a ruling of the full Circuit, binding on all panels of that court, which held that Arizona's state courts had been unconstitutionally refusing to consider mitigating evidence that had been offered to spare a capital defendant's life unless that evidence was causally linked to the crime. The decision is expected to affect as many as 25 death sentences imposed in Arizona between 1989 and 2005.
The Supreme Court denied the State of Florida's petition to review the decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit overturning the death sentence of John Gary Hardwick, Jr. The Court's order in Jones v. Hardwick, No. 15-1379, lets stand the decision of a Florida federal district court—affirmed by the 11th Circuit—that Hardwick had been denied the effective assistance of counsel in the penalty phase of his trial.
The Supreme Court denied the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania's petition to review the decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit granting a new trial to former death-row prisoner Tyrone Moore. The Court's order in Wetzel v. Moore, 15-1411, lets stand the decision of a Pennsylvania federal district court—affirmed by the 3rd Circuit—that Moore's trial lawyer had been ineffective in his trial for robbery and murder in failing to impeach a witness with the favorable deal he had with the prosecution and failing to investigate and present the testimony of one of the men involved in the robbery who would have testified that Moore was not involved in the robbery or murder. Pennsylvania's state courts had previously overturned Moore's death sentence because of counsel's ineffectiveness in failing to investigate and present mitigating evidence. After Moore was resentenced to life, he was able to initiate federal habeas corpus proceedings challenging his conviction.
The Supreme Court denied petitions to review the decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit upholding the death sentences imposed on Doyle Lee Hamm, Hamm v. Allen, No. 15-8753 (Alabama); and the decisions of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upholding the death sentences imposed on Ivan Teleguz, Teleguz v. Zook, No. 15-1450 and Ricky Gray, Gray v. Zook, Nos. 15-9473 & 15-9474 (Virginia).
DPIC 2015 Year End Report
DPIC Podcast Series: We have begun a new set of podcasts on the death penalty in each state, each with interesting historical facts. The following are now available: Michigan, Wisconsin, Maine, Minnesota, North Dakota, Alaska, Hawaii, Iowa, Vermont, Massachusetts, District of Columbia, Rhode Island, and New Jersey. Check out our podcasts now! Also listen to DPIC's podcasts on death penalty issues.