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Maryland legislators considering the future of capital punishment have been meeting with an unlikely lobbyist for abolition: the mother of a murder victim. Vickie Schieber, who lost a daughter to rape and murder, has spent a decade visiting Annapolis lawmakers to argue against the death penalty.  This year, the political tide may be turning in her favor; an abolition bill is being pushed by Gov. Martin O’Malley and it has received new support in a state Senate that has a history of blocking similar legislation.

Schieber’s daughter was killed in Philadelphia just before a planned trip home to Maryland for summer vacation. Her killer was caught and convicted, but Schieber and her husband argued for life imprisonment rather than death.  “Vengeance can destroy you,” she told The Washington Post. “It doesn’t hurt my daughter’s killer at all.”

Shieber has been meeting with legislators individually, and is scheduled to testify before two committees considering O’Malley’s bill.  Prospects are good, but time is short — Maryland’s legislator meets for only 90 days.  “I’m both hopeful and scared,” she said.

More details at http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/md-politics/murder-victims-mother-continues-her-push-for-repeal-of-marylands-death-penalty/2013/02/13/b990b57e-75c8-11e2-aa12-e6cf1d31106b_story.html

 

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Chris-Sepulvado

Christopher Sepulvado will live through the day tomorrow, avoiding his scheduled walk from a cell on Louisiana’s death row to Angola’s execution chamber.  A federal judge in Baton Rouge ruled last week that Sepulvado has the right to know what chemicals the state intends to use to put him to death.

Louisiana, like all capital-punishment states, is making changes in its procedures because the key drug used in lethal executions, sodium thiopental, is no longer manufactured in the U.S.  The drug is an anesthetic, and the first in a three-part chemical regime that also calls for an agent to paralyze the condemned prisoner and another drug to stop the heart.  Several states have switched to a single dose of a powerful barbituate.

Louisiana, which last put a prisoner to death with the three-drug cocktail in 2010, intends to use a single dose of pentobarbital to execute Sepulvado, but the state has not published details of the new plan.  That’s the issue that got the attention of U.S. District Court Judge James J. Brady: Sepulvado, he ruled, has a right to know how the state will kill him.

If he doesn’t know the details, the judge said, he can’t argue “cruel and unusual punishment” on appeal.  “There is no way that [Sepulvado] could adequately, meaningfully bring an Eighth Amendment challenge if he does not know how the protocol operates,” the judge said.

Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell plans to take the issue to the U.S. Fifth Circuit, saying, “We are confident we will win this case on appeal.”  Sepulvado was convicted in the murder of his six-year-old stepson in 1992.

 

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Feb
11

Executioner Against Execution

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Jerry Givens, who put 62 people to death as chief executioner for the Commonwealth of Virginia, is speaking out against the death penalty.  In a revealing interview with Justin Jouvenal of the Washington Post, Givens talks about his grisly work and change of heart.

Givens was proficient in two execution modes, electrocution and lethal injection.  He threw the switch on the state’s electric chair 37 times, and presided over 25 chemical executions. The close call of inmate Earl Washington, Jr., condemned for murder in 1984, was a wake-up call for Givens, who was slated to be Washington’s executioner.  DNA evidence cleared Washington while he waited for his date with Givens on death row.

“If I execute an innocent person, I’m no better than the people on death row,” Givens told the Post.  He has testified against the death penalty in legislative hearings.  “The people who pass these bills, they don’t have to do it,” Givens said. “The people who do the executions, they’re the ones who suffer through it.”

Jouvenal’s takeout is worth a read: http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/ex-virginia-executioner-becomes-opponent-of-death-penalty/2013/02/10/9e741124-5e89-11e2-9940-6fc488f3fecd_story_2.html

 

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Jan
17

Virginia Electrocutes Willing Killer

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Robert Gleason died as he chose to die Wednesday night, in Virginia’s seldom-used electric chair.  Gleason, 42, had the option under state law to select either electrocution or lethal injection as the mode of his execution.  And he essentially forced the state to seek his execution by killing two fellow inmates in prison, and threatening to continue to kill.

“Someone needs to stop it. The only way to stop me is put me on death row,” Gleason told AP in 2009; he repeated his threats in court on numerous occasions.

“This is a bizarre case where the death penalty is actually the sole motivator for the killing,” attorney John Shelton told the Washington Post. Shelton had previously represented Gleason, and continued to fight the execution after being dismissed by his client. He petitioned  unsuccessfully for federal courts to determine whether Gleason was competent to waive his rights to further appeals.  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit denied Shelton’s request earlier Wednesday; the U.S, Supreme Court also declined to block the execution.

Gleason was strapped into Virginia’s electric chair at the Greensville Correctional Center in Jarrett as victims’ survivors looked on; he was pronounced dead at 9:08 p.m.  He was the 110th prisoner put to death in Virginia since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.

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Jan
09

Maryland On The Brink

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Maryland, where executions have been on hold since 2005, is closer than the Free State has ever been to total repeal of the death penalty.  As the state legislature convenes for its annual session today, Governor Martin O’Malley appears within a hair’s breadth of enough support to accomplish his goal of abolition.

But nothing is ever simple about death-penalty politics, and the situation in Maryland’s state house proves that point.  Repeal has been tied up in a legislative committee for years, but Senate leaders have promised to bring it to the floor if the Governor can demonstrate that he has the 24 votes needed to pass it.  A Washington Post headcount this morning shows that O’Malley could be within one vote of that total. (http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/md-politics/omalleys-push-to-repeal-maryland-death-penalty-could-be-within-one-vote/2013/01/08/29ecdfa2-59a7-11e2-beee-6e38f5215402_story.html)

For his part, O’Malley is playing his cards close to his political chest.  He has not publicly committed himself to backing a new repeal bill, but he may simply be waiting to lock up the full vote tally.  Look for more on this over the next 90 days that Maryland’s legislators are in session.  Watching most closely will be the five inmates now on the state’s death row.

LATE NEWS: At a rally of repeal advocates in Annapolis on Jan. 15th, O’Malley vowed to send the legislature a new repeal bill that, if passed, would make Maryland the 18th state to outlaw capital punishment.

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Sep
27

Texas Executes 9th in 9 Months

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Cleve FosterCourtesy Texas Department of Criminal Justice

Cleve Foster
Courtesy Texas Department of Criminal Justice

48-year-old Cleve Foster was pronounced dead at 6:43 pm on Tuesday, becoming the ninth inmate this year to be executed by lethal injection in Texas.  Foster was convicted of murder in 2002, and had received three stays of execution from the United States Supreme Court.  His attempt at a fourth stay was rejected by the high court, 6 to 3.

Before the lethal chemicals flowed into his body, Foster was allowed to make a final statement to the witnesses, including relatives of his victim.   “When I close my eyes, I’ll be with the father,” he said.  “God is everything. He’s my life. Tonight I’ll be with him.”

Texas, like most jurisdictions with the death penalty, has a tradition of allowing the condemned to address a final statement to those gathered to watch him die.  Colleen Curry has gathered some of the more colorful Last Words from Texas executions in an interesting post at abcnews.com.  My favorite is from Robert Wayne Harris, who was put to death last week after crying out, “God Bless the Texas Rangers.”  Presumably he was talking about the football team, not the law enforcement agency.

Colleen’s piece can be found at http://abcnews.go.com/US/words-texas-death-row-inmates-9th-prisoner-set/story?id=17310565#1

Texas is scheduled to pick up the pace next month:  the Department of Criminal Justice has scheduled four executions in October.

 

 

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Sep
24

Too Big To Die?

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Ronald Post is 480 pounds, and he’s arguing that his weight is a legal barrier to his execution. Post, convicted of the 1985 murder of a motel clerk in Elyria, Ohio, has petitioned a federal judge to halt his scheduled Jan. 16th appointment to be put to death by lethal injection. His weight and poor veins “have a substantial liklihood of causing severe complications with attempts at an intravenous execution,” his attorneys told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. The lawyers, Joseph Wilhelm and Rachel Troutman, say an attempt to execute Post would amount to cruel and unusual punishment, a violation of the Eighth Amendment.

“Given his unique physical and medical condition there is substantial risk that any attempt to execute him will result in serious physical and psychological pain to him, as well as an execution involving a torturous and lingering death,” the attorneys said. There is a local precedent for their argument: another Ohio inmate, Romell Broom, survived a 2009 execution attempt after technicians failed in 18 attempts over a two=hour period to find a suitable vein for the fatal chemicals. Broom’s lawyers have so far been able to fend off attempts to schedule another execution.

The son of Post’s victim, Helen Vantz, has no sympathy for the condemned man. “I don’t care if they have to wheel him in on a tractor-trailer,” William Vantz told the Plain Dealer. “This is just an excuse to get out of the execution,” he said.

More at the Plain Dealer site: http://www.cleveland.com/metro/index.ssf/2012/09/convicted_killer_seeks_to_avoi.html

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Sep
06

The Death Clerk

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The Supreme Court watches execution schedules carefully. Every Monday, the Justices receive an update on all executions scheduled nationwide for the next six or seven weeks. It is compiled by Danny Bickell, whose formal title is Emergency Applications Clerk. The capital defense bar calls him, “The Death Clerk.” Bickell described his role to a conference of lawyers in Washington recently, and was profiled in a revealing Adam Liptak piece this week in the New York Times:    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/04/us/in-capital-punishment-cases-weeks-go-into-deciding-last-minute-reprieves-sidebar.html

Bickell outlines the Court’s carefully-designed procedures for dealing with last-minute appeals. He stays in close touch with defense lawyers as an execution approaches so that he is prepared to bring the Justices up to speed. Rarely will a Justice act alone to halt an execution, he says; most requests will be referred to the full Court. Liptak’s takeout is a really good read.

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Aug
23

Mom Wants Front-Row Seat

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Tina Curl has waited more than 22 years to see Donald Moeller die.  Moeller is scheduled to be executed in South Dakota sometime during the week of October 28th for the murder of Curl’s daughter in 1990.  Curl is trying to raise money to travel from her New York home to witness the execution.

Becky O'Connell(Courtesy www.prodeathpenalty.com)

Becky O’Connell
(Courtesy www.prodeathpenalty.com)

The daughter, Becky O’Connell, nine years old, disappeared on her way to buy candy at a convenience store in Sioux Falls, SD, where the family then lived.  She died of a cut to her jugular vein; an autopsy found that she had been raped both vaginally and anally.  Moeller was convicted of the crime in 1997.

Curl, who lives in upstate Lake Luzerne, NY, is living on disability payments and her husband is unemployed.  Local donations total $721 of the estimated $3,000 to $4,000 dollars the couple says they need to make the trip.

“I have waited 22 long years for this,” Curl told ABCNews.com. “He watched her die and I am going to watch him die.”

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Aug
22

32 States – For Now

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The Arkansas Supreme Court has taken that state out of the execution business — at least temporarily.  Before the court acted on June 22nd, 33 states had active capital punishment statutes on the books.

The Court ruled on state constitutional grounds, not the kind of weighty issues that reach the U.S. Supreme Court — fairness, proportionality, “cruel and unusual punishment” and the like.  The state flaw cited by Arkansas’ top justices was that legislators had delegated too much responsibility to the Department of Corrections.

Ten death-row inmates brought the case to the court, arguing that the state’s separation of powers had been violated by letting the prison system set execution policy.  That job, the court ruled by 5-2, belonged to the legislature.

The ruling does not throw out Arkansas’ death penalty, but it stops executions until new legislation is passed.  40 prisoners await execution on Arkansas’ death row.  The last execution in the state was in 2005.

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