Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Oklahoma commission unanimously recommends death penalty moratorium 'due to serious flaws'

A bipartisan private commission recommended that a court-ordered stay on executions in Oklahoma remain in effect until “significant reforms” are accomplished, citing concerns about resources available to those facing death sentences and the faulty application of execution procedures, reported the Tulsa World.
The Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission released its findings and nearly four dozen recommendations in a nearly 300-page report on a study of capital cases from initial contact with police to the day defendants are put to death.
Former Gov. Brad Henry, who helped lead the effort, announced that the commission unanimously recommended that the moratorium be extended due to what he said were serious flaws in the way Oklahoma handles death-penalty cases. He said the number of death-row exonerees from Oklahoma — 10, according to the Death Penalty Information Center — was among his biggest worries, along with the discovery of the limitations capital defendants have when presenting legal defenses.
“If you look at the various defense counsel organizations, whether it’s (the Oklahoma Indigent Defense System) or Oklahoma County or Tulsa County public defenders, they are just overwhelmed with felony cases,” Henry said. “They don’t have enough attorneys. They don’t have the funding that they need, especially in death-penalty cases, to hire investigators (or) to hire experts. You have to decide whether you want to pay to do it right, and either you do or you don’t.”
Oklahoma has put more than 100 people to death in the modern era of capital punishment, and according to commission member and trial lawyer Robert Alexander, it’s almost certain that at least one of them was innocent and couldn’t prove it because of financial reasons.
“Our report has found, 41 years (after the death penalty resumed), systemic flaws in our death-penalty system,” Alexander said. “Whenever there’s a systemic flaw in the system, any injustices that system could cause … fall on the people with the fewest resources to navigate that system.”
The commission also noted that two forms of evidence — forensics and witness identification — were determined to be among the most unreliable.
Henry said he came to the conclusion that the process as it stands needs to be “overhauled” by policymakers, and he said there are good reasons for conservatives to be concerned about the practice despite voters’ November decision to protect the death penalty in the state constitution with State Question 776.
“What we all agreed on was that if you’re going to have the death penalty, it ought to be done right,” Henry said of the commission. “It ought to be done in a way that, as best we can, ensures no innocent person is ever put to death by the state of Oklahoma.”
Co-Chairman Andy Lester, a former federal magistrate, said the fact that an execution is permanent makes it paramount that everyone involved be certain that those on death row are in fact guilty and that they’ve received the best possible legal aid.
“Nobody wants to execute an innocent person,” he said. “If one of (the 10 exonerees) slipped through, just think how horrible that would be. It’s bad enough that somebody gets wrongfully convicted. It’s possible to recreate a life after a wrongful conviction, but it is not possible after a wrongful execution.”
Gov. Mary Fallin released a brief statement Tuesday evening after the report was made public indicating that she’s not yet well-versed on its contents.
“My office has not received a copy of the report, but my staff will obtain a copy and review it,” she said.
The Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office requested a moratorium in October 2015 once it learned about issues with a lethal-injection drug used in the January execution of Charles Warner and the scheduled execution of Richard Glossip. Those mistakes occurred after Oklahoma received international attention for the 43-minute execution of Clayton Lockett in April 2014.
A multicounty grand jury issued a highly critical report in May 2016 about the handling of Glossip’s and Warner’s cases by multiple state agencies. The grand jury recommended that the Department of Corrections overhaul its protocol yet again but did not recommend any indictments.
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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Arkansas executes 2 more, 3 of Arkansas Eight dead

The 8th and 9th Executions of 2017
Arkansas put to death two men Monday night in the first back-to-back executions in the United States since 2000, reported CNN. Mattmangino.com has been tracking executions since 2009 and this is the first time that two executions have been listed in the same post.
Jack Harold Jones and Marcel Wayne Williams were among eight inmates set for execution in April before the state's supply of a lethal injection drug expires at the end of the month.The compressed timeline set off a series of last-minute challenges from inmates challenging the state's lethal injection protocol. The Arkansas Supreme Court and the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals denied requests for stays from Jones and Williams earlier Monday, as did the US Supreme Court.
Jones was administered the lethal injection at 7:06 p.m. Monday (8:06 p.m. ET) and pronounced dead 14 minutes later. Williams was administered the injection at 10:16 p.m. (11:16 p.m. ET) and was pronounced dead 17 minutes later.
Before Williams' execution began, a federal district court judge issued a temporary stay based on claims from Williams' lawyers that Jones' death was "torturous and inhumane." Infirmary staff tried unsuccessfully for 45 minutes to place a line in Jones' neck, before placing one elsewhere on his body, the emergency motion read.
The state called the claims "utterly baseless" and a federal judge lifted the temporary stay, clearing the way for Williams' execution to proceed.
These lethal injections were the first back-to-back executions in the United States since Texas carried out the death sentences of Brian Roberson and Oliver Cruz on August 9, 2000, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
Arkansas' last double execution -- of Allen Willett and Mark Gardner -- was on September 8, 1999, according to the Department of Corrections.
Arkansas put to death two men Monday night in the first back-to-back executions in the United States since 2000.
Jack Harold Jones and Marcel Wayne Williams were among eight inmates set for execution in April before the state's supply of a lethal injection drug expires at the end of the month.
The compressed timeline set off a series of last-minute challenges from inmates challenging the state's lethal injection protocol. The Arkansas Supreme Court and the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals denied requests for stays from Jones and Williams earlier Monday, as did the US Supreme Court.
Jones was administered the lethal injection at 7:06 p.m. Monday (8:06 p.m. ET) and pronounced dead 14 minutes later. Williams was administered the injection at 10:16 p.m. (11:16 p.m. ET) and was pronounced dead 17 minutes later.
Before Williams' execution began, a federal district court judge issued a temporary stay based on claims from Williams' lawyers that Jones' death was "torturous and inhumane." Infirmary staff tried unsuccessfully for 45 minutes to place a line in Jones' neck, before placing one elsewhere on his body, the emergency motion read.
The state called the claims "utterly baseless" and a federal judge lifted the temporary stay, clearing the way for Williams' execution to proceed.
These lethal injections were the first back-to-back executions in the United States since Texas carried out the death sentences of Brian Roberson and Oliver Cruz on August 9, 2000, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
Arkansas' last double execution -- of Allen Willett and Mark Gardner -- was on September 8, 1999, according to the Department of Corrections.
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Monday, April 24, 2017

Two of the Arkansas Eight scheduled for execution tonight

The state of Arkansas plans to execute two of the Arkansas Eight tonight, which would make it the first U.S. state in 17 years to put a pair of convicts to death on the same day, reported The Huffington Post.
A flurry of last-minute legal appeals at both the state and federal level are expected, though their likelihood of success may have diminished with the recent appointment of conservative U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.
The high court cleared the way last week for Arkansas to hold its first execution in 12 years and the state carried out the death penalty on convicted murderer Ledell Lee.
Jack Jones, sentenced in 1996 for raping and strangling Mary Phillips and attempting to murder her 11-year-old daughter, is scheduled to be put to death at 7 p.m at the Cummins Unit prison, about 75 miles southeast of the state capital of Little Rock. Jones was also convicted of rape and murder in Florida.
At 8:15 p.m., the state is tentatively scheduled to execute Marcel Williams, who was sentenced to death in 1997 for kidnapping, raping and murdering Stacy Errickson. He also abducted and raped two other women.
Marcel Williams is also scheduled for execution on Monday. He was sentenced to death for t he kidnapping, rape and murder of Stacy Errickson. He also abducted and raped two other women.
The last time a state executed two inmates on the same day was 2000 in Texas.
The condemned pair were among eight inmates that Arkansas had initially planned to execute in the span of 11 days, a compressed schedule prompted by the impending expiration date of supplies of a sedative used as part of the three-drug lethal injection process.
The drug in question, midazolam, was employed in flawed executions in Oklahoma and Arizona, where witnesses said the inmates writhed in apparent pain on the gurney. No problems were reported in Lee’s execution on Thursday.
Four of the planned executions have already been placed on hold by court order.
To read more CLICK HERE

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Here's a prisoner suicide you probably haven't heard about--but should have

Joshua Lee Miles, 36, was found unresponsive in his cell at a South Carolina jail during the early hours of April 13. His death has been ruled a suicide, reported the Charleston Gazette-Mail.
Miles actually wasn’t supposed to still be in jail on April 13, as a Kanawha County magistrate had tried to send an order to the jail for his release the morning of April 12.
Kanawha Magistrate Jack Pauley signed and attempted to fax an order to South Central at 9:40 a.m., April 12. The fax, though, didn’t go through, according to a “communication result report” printed through the fax machine. The report, which was printed at 10:14 a.m., notes that the one-page release order was not sent. The report was placed in Miles’ case file in Kanawha Magistrate Court.
Pauley did not return a call for comment Tuesday afternoon.
Miles had been in jail since Feb. 27, after allegedly violating the terms of the Kanawha Day Report Program. Kanawha Magistrate Julie Yeager set a $5,000 cash-only bail.
Yeager had sentenced Miles to Day Report after he pleaded guilty in September 2016 to violating a domestic violence protective order.
On March 29, Kanawha Circuit Judge Carrie Webster faxed an order for Miles to be released from South Central on a personal recognizance bond. Miles appeared before Webster on a charge of intimidation/retaliation of a witness.
Miles remained in jail, despite Webster’s order, because of the Day Report charge.
To read more CLICK HERE

Saturday, April 22, 2017

GateHouse: Hernandez’s prison suicide, one of many nationwide

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
April 21, 2017
Former NFL star Aaron Hernandez’s death in a Massachusetts prison has been ruled a suicide. Hernandez had been serving a life sentence without parole for a 2013 murder.
A former member of the New England Patriots, Hernandez’s death came five days after a jury acquitted him in two other deaths, which prosecutors alleged were precipitated by a spilled drink.
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker told ESPN.com, “Anytime someone kills themselves in prison, something clearly went wrong,″ adding that he wasn’t drawing any conclusions until the full details of the investigation were released.
Rarely do governors take the time to comment on the death of an inmate. If they did, governors would spend an awful lot of time on the subject. The most recent statistics reported by the Federal Bureau of Justice Statistics found that 4,446 inmates died while in custody in 2013.
Suicide is a problem is jails and prisons across the country. Suicide has been the leading cause of death in jails every year since 2000. In 2013, a third (34 percent) of jail inmate deaths were due to suicide. The suicide rate increased 14 percent, from 40 suicides per 100,000 jail inmates in 2012 to 46 per 100,000 in 2013. A far cry from the 129 suicides per 100,000 inmates in 1983.
Deaths by suicide in prison are far higher than the number of deaths that result from suicide in the general population -- which is only about 1.6 percent. Jeremy Samuel Faust wrote this week in Slate, “It is no exaggeration to say that when a person becomes incarcerated, what the inmate should fear the most is not a skirmish with the leader of some terrifying gang, but what might happen to his own mind.”
There are two primary causes for jail suicide according to the National Institute of Corrections -- first, jail environments are conducive to suicidal behavior and, second, the inmate is facing a crisis situation.
Certain features of the jail environment enhance suicidal behavior -- fear of the unknown, distrust of the authoritarian environment, lack of apparent control over the future, isolation from family and significant others, shame of incarceration, and the dehumanizing aspects of incarceration.
In addition, certain factors often found in inmates could predispose them to suicide -- a history of excessive drinking, drug use and mental illness. These factors become exacerbated during the first 24 hours of incarceration, when the majority of jail suicides occur. In addition, many jail suicide victims are young. Neither of which appear to apply to Hernandez -- he was 27-years-old and had been incarcerated for 4 years.
These issues are compounded by the fact that many inmates have poor coping and problem-solving skills, rendering them unable to deal with difficult emotions. Additionally, according to Corrections.com, many have a history of behaving impulsively -- doing things on the spur of the moment without thinking ahead to the consequences of their actions. Clearly, Hernandez appeared to fall into the categories of poor coping skills and impulsivity.
There are warning signs as well, and Hernandez may have displayed some. The Associated Press described Hernandez during his trial as upbeat, constantly backslapping his lawyers, letting out bellowing laughs and blowing kisses to family members in the courtroom.
An indicator of suicidal plans is often a sudden calmness. Many individuals who are contemplating suicide have a sense of resignation that can result in them acting very calm and even peaceful in the days leading up to their suicide.
Hernandez’s life was a story of tragedy, anguish and pain for so many people. Maybe his death will bring awareness to the toll of prison suicide.
-- Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book The Executioner’s Toll, 2010 was released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at www.mattmangino.com and follow him on Twitter @MatthewTMangino.
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Friday, April 21, 2017

Ledell Lee one of the Arkansas Eight executed minutes before warrant expired

The 7th Execution of 2017
Arkansas carried out its first execution in 12 years following a flurry of court filings, reported the Huffington Post
Ledell Lee, 51, was pronounced dead at 11:56 p.m. CDT, on April 20, 2017 just minutes before his death warrant expired. Lee had no last words, according to the Arkansas Department of Corrections. 
Lee is one of eight men the state originally wanted to execute over 11 days before the supply of one of the drugs in its three-part lethal injection protocol expires at month’s end. Four of the inmates have received individual stays of execution. 
Throughout his more than two decades on death row, Lee maintained his innocence. He was convicted of the 1993 beating death of 26-year-old Debra Reese in her Jacksonville home.
Lee’s execution came after a flurry of last-minute appeals for more time to test DNA evidence that his lawyers hoped could exonerate him. The Innocence Project and the American Civil Liberties Union represented Lee in his final court battles. 
“Ledell Lee proclaimed his innocence from the day of his arrest until the night of his execution twenty-four years later,” the Innocence Project said in a statement following Lee’s execution. “During that time, hundreds of innocent people have been freed from our nation’s prisons and death rows by DNA evidence. It is hard to understand how the same government that uses DNA to prosecute crimes every day could execute Mr. Lee without allowing him a simple DNA test.”
It added: “While reasonable people can disagree on whether death is an appropriate form of punishment, no one should be executed when there is a possibility that person is innocent.”
Lee’s attorneys had raced to court Thursday with a string of filings that raised various issues about Lee’s trials and his representation over the years. Among them, attorneys noted that Lee’s lawyers in his first trial provided inadequate counsel and that the presiding judge didn’t disclose an affair with the assistant prosecutor, whom the judge later married. Lee’s post-conviction counsel showed up in court appearing drunk and slurring his words.
rkansas carried out its first execution in 12 years on Thursday night following a flurry of court filings. 
Ledell Lee, 51, was pronounced dead at 11:56 p.m. CDT, just minutes before his death warrant expired. Lee had no last words, according to the Arkansas Department of Corrections. 
Lee is one of eight men the state originally wanted to execute over 11 days before the supply of one of the drugs in its three-part lethal injection protocol expires at month’s end. Four of the inmates have received individual stays of execution. 
Throughout his more than two decades on death row, Lee maintained his innocence. He was convicted of the 1993 beating death of 26-year-old Debra Reese in her Jacksonville home.
Lee’s execution came after a flurry of last-minute appeals for more time to test DNA evidence that his lawyers hoped could exonerate him. The Innocence Project and the American Civil Liberties Union represented Lee in his final court battles. 
“Ledell Lee proclaimed his innocence from the day of his arrest until the night of his execution twenty-four years later,” the Innocence Project said in a statement following Lee’s execution. “During that time, hundreds of innocent people have been freed from our nation’s prisons and death rows by DNA evidence. It is hard to understand how the same government that uses DNA to prosecute crimes every day could execute Mr. Lee without allowing him a simple DNA test.”
It added: “While reasonable people can disagree on whether death is an appropriate form of punishment, no one should be executed when there is a possibility that person is innocent.”
Lee’s attorneys had raced to court Thursday with a string of filings that raised various issues about Lee’s trials and his representation over the years. Among them, attorneys noted that Lee’s lawyers in his first trial provided inadequate counsel and that the presiding judge didn’t disclose an affair with the assistant prosecutor, whom the judge later married. Lee’s post-conviction counsel showed up in court appearing drunk and slurring his words.
To read more CLICK HERE

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Crime has dropped precipitously in the last quarter-century

The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, utilizing FBI crime statistics and city police records, found:
Crime has dropped precipitously in the last quarter-century, reported the Washington Post. While crime may fall in some years and rise in others, annual variations are not indicative of long-term trends. While murder rates have increased in some cities, this report finds no evidence that the hard-won public safety gains of the last two and a half decades are being reversed.
The national crime rate peaked in 1991 at 5,856 crimes per 100,000 people, and has generally been declining ever since. In 2015, crime fell for the 14th year in a row. Estimates based on preliminary data for 2016 indicate that the overall crime rate will remain stable at 2,857 offenses per 100,000, rising less than 1 percent from 2015. Today’s crime rate is less than half of what it was in 1991.
The general trend for violent crime and for murder is similar. With regard to murder, however, here is the wrinkle:
From 1991 to 2016, the murder rate fell by roughly half, from 9.8 killings per 100,000 to 5.3. The murder rate rose last year by an estimated 7.8 percent. With violence at historic lows, modest increases in the murder rate may appear large in percentage terms. Similarly, murder rates in the 30 largest cities increased by 13.2 percent in 2015 and an estimated 14 percent in 2016. These increases were highly concentrated. More than half of the 2015 urban increase (51.8 percent) was caused by just three cities, Baltimore, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. And Chicago alone was responsible for 43.7 percent of the rise in urban murders in 2016. It is important to remember the relatively small base from which the percentage increases are calculated.
We don’t know with certainty what has caused the 25-year drop in crime, although many researchers, including those at the Brennan Center, say it is related to better — and more — policing, an aging population and decreased alcohol consumption. But rather than paint the entire country and all cities as awash in murder and violence, policymakers and voters should look at several data points.
First, it is important to remember that crime rates can be volatile, bouncing up and down for reasons that are not readily discernible. The overall trend, however, remains the same. For example: “In Las Vegas, the violent crime rate has been especially volatile. The rate surged between 1990 and 1994, then steeply declined until 2000. Yet, from 2000 to 2007 crime followed a largely upward trajectory, reaching another peak in 2007. Then crime fell until 2011, and followed another largely upward trajectory until 2015. Yet, the estimated 2016 rate dropped nearly 13 percent from 2015, and now is roughly at the same rate as in 1998.”
Second, the national murder rate is down — by a lot. “After peaking in 1991 at 9.8 murders per 100,000, the national murder rate remains near the bottom of a 25-year trend. In 2016, the estimated murder rate was 5.3 per 100,000, a decline of 46 percent. The murder rate in the 30 largest cities has fallen faster than the national rate, declining by more than 60 percent since 1991, from 28.8 to 11.4 killings per 100,000 people.”
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