Sept. 18


Executions won't resume in North Carolina any time soon

Dixie Lowry Davis, whose husband was shot to death on Interstate 95 in 1997, has no expectation that Tilmon Golphin will be executed for the murder.

"No, I don't. I really don't," Davis said on Wednesday. She thinks that Golphin - sentenced to die for killing her husband, a state trooper, along with a deputy sheriff - is more likely to die in prison of natural causes.

Criminal justice lawyers share Davis' assessment that it will be a long time before North Carolina carries out an execution again, if it ever happens. North Carolina's last execution was in August 2006 and its unofficial moratorium on the death penalty started in January 2007.

Legal challenges to North Carolina's capital punishment laws pending in state and federal courts have forced executions to grind to a halt. And most death row inmates filed claims under the now-repealed Racial Justice Act, which allowed them to claim discrimination in their sentencing.

These legal actions are keeping the state's 150 condemned inmates away from the death chamber.

"Nobody is going to be executed as long as there is a motion pending in state or federal court that has not been heard," said Robeson County District Attorney Johnson Britt.

"Nobody can tell you how long it's going to be, but I would expect, given all these different levels of litigation, it's probably going to be years before we would have any executions," said retired University of North Carolina law professor Richard Rosen.

Defense lawyer Ken Rose with the North Carolina Center for Death Penalty Litigation is deeply involved in the issues that have stopped executions. There are 3 broad matters that the courts need to address, he said.

First, Rose said, are the continuing legal challenges to North Carolina's execution protocols. These are in North Carolina and federal courts.

The protocol questions triggered North Carolina's execution hiatus in 2007, but the matters had been in court well before then.

The issues in 2007 included the role of a doctor in executions, whether the drugs used in executions by lethal injection were causing intense pain as they killed the inmates and whether North Carolina prison officials illegally modified the execution protocols by not first getting approval from the state's top elected officials.

Over the years, the courts resolved some of the legal questions and North Carolina eliminated the use of the pain-causing drugs that were being challenged. Also, the legislature, upset that executions have been stopped for so long, changed death penalty laws to try to circumvent the legal challenges and resume carrying out death sentences.

The new laws fueled new legal motions by inmates.

"What is the current method of execution in North Carolina? What is the protocol?" asks Rose, who represents death row inmates. "...Where is the drug coming from? What is the drug?"

The Restoring Proper Justice Act of 2015, one of the laws aimed at restarting executions, has a provision to keep the company that produces the lethal drug a secret. Rose sees constitutional problems with that.

"In order to determine whether or not the use of a particular drug is cruel and unusual punishment, does the defendant have a right to know what that drug is? Know the source of the drug?" Rose said.

"You have a right to know enough detail to know if it's going to be unnecessarily torturous," Rose said.

Lethal injection executions in other states have gone wrong. According to media reports, Oklahoma this past week halted all of its executions because an execution in 2014 was badly botched and in 2015 the state was sent the wrong drug for use in lethal injection. Oklahoma now has plans to use nitrogen gas to kill its condemned inmates instead of lethal injection.

In North Carolina, Rose wants to know what North Carolina does to ensure the competency of the drug manufacturer or compounding pharmacy that produces the drug for lethal injection. He wants to know the qualifications of the people carrying out the execution.

"If the execution's botched and the drug doesn't kill the defendant in minutes, or even hours, what (are) the procedures that the state will use to revive the person - to prevent that person from just suffering without killing him?" Rose said. There appear to be no procedures in place for that contingency, he said.

A second factor postponing executions is the North Carolina Racial Justice Act of 2009. Out of the state's 150 death row inmates, approximately 140 have made Racial Justice Act claims.

The law gave death row inmates a chance to have their sentences commuted to life in prison without parole. They had to prove to a judge that racial bias tainted their trials and led to them receiving the death sentence.

The law was repealed in 2013 - and that repeal gave the inmates more legal fodder postpone their execution dates.

The issue is whether the repeal unconstitutionally snatched away a vested right when it repealed the Racial Justice Act, Rose said.

\ Four inmates, all defendants in Cumberland County homicides, had Racial Justice Act hearings. In 2012, their sentences were commuted to life without parole, but the state Supreme Court said a procedural error by the judge tainted their hearings. They have been sent back to death row and new hearings are scheduled.

The rest of the roughly 140 defendants who asked for Racial Justice Act hearings did not get them before the law was repealed.

Lawyers for the state argue that the law that did away with the Racial Justice Act prevents the inmates from pursuing the claims they filed before it was repealed.

The death row defendants may be able to beat that argument, said Rich Rosen, the retired UNC law professor.

"The federal constitution says that once you give a right you can't willy-nilly deprive people of that right," he said.

The 4 Racial Justice Act cases from Cumberland County are scheduled for a hearing Nov. 29 in Charlotte. A judge is to hear arguments that day on the state's motions to dismiss the cases.

Separately, the North Carolina Supreme Court has agreed to consider whether to the rest of the Racial Justice Act defendants can have hearings on their allegations that racism was a factor in their death sentences.

2 of the Cumberland County defendants have additional cases pending in federal courts alleging that the state violated the double jeopardy clause in the U.S. constitution that when it returned the inmates to death row. The double jeopardy clause says that once a defendant is acquitted, he can't be tried again. Their claim attempts to apply the clause to the ruling overturning their death sentences, saying they can't be imposed again once they've been lifted by a judge.

One of these inmates is Tilmon Golphin, who killed state Trooper Ed Lowry and Deputy David Hathcock in 1997. Lowry was Dixie Lowry Davis' husband. The other is Marcus Reymond Robinson, who killed a Fayetteville teenager in a robbery in 1991. Robinson was hours away from execution in January 2007 when North Carolina executions were halted.

The third major factor delaying executions, Rose said, is a new angle of attack that defense lawyers are using to try to overturn death sentences handed down in North Carolina prior to July 1, 2001.

That's when North Carolina implemented a major change to its death penalty laws, one that has drastically reduced the number of death penalty cases in this state.

Prior to July 1, 2001, state law required local prosecutors to seek the death penalty if the facts surrounding the crime were sufficient. If a murder was especially heinous, for example, or committed to obtain something of value.

Requiring that prosecutors seek the death penalty when certain elements were present resulted in dozens more death penalty trial and sentences. Prosecutors had no choice but to seek the maximum penalty.

"North Carolina as a result was one of the top death-sentencing states in the country," Rose said. "And that changed dramatically after July 1, 2001."

The law change in 2001 gave prosecutors discretion - freeing them to accept plea bargains that gave defendants sentences of life in prison without parole.

In the 1990s, North Carolina sometimes sentenced 20 to 30 people to death annually, according to a chart by the Death Penalty Information Center. In the past 10 years, juries have issued 5 or fewer death sentences per year, its chart says.

The old law that required prosecutors to seek death was unconstitutional, Rose argues.

Dixie Lowry Davis, Trooper Ed Lowry's widow, thinks Tilmon Golphin and his brother, Kevin Golphin, should have been executed shortly after they were sentenced in 1998 for Lowry's murder.

Now she worries whether they will be released from prison.

While Tilmon Golphin is on death row, Kevin Golphin, previously sentenced to death, is now serving life in prison and could become eligible for parole. Kevin Golphin was only 17 when he and Tilmon killed Lowry and Hathcock. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that defendants who were under 18 when they committed their crimes can't be sentenced to death and may not be automatically sentenced to life in prison without parole.

"It's been so long, we're just all so frustrated," Davis said of her family. "We would like to see the end to it. But we don't want the end to be that they get out of jail. So we want them to stay right where they are."

(source: Fayetteville Observer)


We track death penalty issues because they matter

North Carolina has 150 men and women on its death row, the 6th most in the country.

It is one of 30 states still executing criminals.

At least in theory, according to a story from staff writer Paul Woolverton on today's front page.

As he points out, it has been more than 10 years since the state has performed an execution, and with a raft of litigation ahead it appears like it will be years more before the next one.

These days, it appears, prosecutors are less interested in seeking death sentences, maybe because they've become more of a symbol than a real possibility.

North Carolina is far from alone in grappling with its death penalty statutes.

Just in the last 10 years, 8 states have abolished executions. Another four states have official moratoriums in place while they study the issue.

The battles over the death penalty have often taken on moral tones, with supporters taking the "eye-for-an-eye" stance and opponents calling it state-sanctioned murder.

But increasingly, states such as North Carolina are grappling with issues of fairness and constitutional questions that make it more and more difficult to put condemned men and women to death.

Is the death penalty being applied in all cases that deserve it, no matter the race or sex of the killer? Is one county's prosecutor more aggressive about pursuing the death penalty than another's, and if so, is that equitable?

Can any execution method stand up to the constitutional requirement to avoid "cruel and unusual" punishment?

The Observer - through the diligent reporting of Woolverton - has tracked these issues closely for years, primarily because one of the central roadblocks to executions is closely tied to four Cumberland County cases.

We also track it because it is an issue that matters to law enforcement, courts, families of victims and the people who are passionate about either side of the debate.

(source: Opinion, Michael D. Adams, Executive Editor, Fayetteville Obsesrver)


Could a new trial happen for a death row inmate?

Oral arguments presented to the Louisiana Supreme Court on behalf of a death row inmate could lead to a new trial when an opinion is rendered in the matter.

The 2013 conviction of Rodricus Crawford, 27, by a Caddo Parish jury and his subsequent death sentence came under fire by Cecelia Kappel, an attorney with the Capital Appeals Project, during her arguments on behalf of Crawford on Sept. 7.

Kappel cited several examples questioning portions of the case presented against Crawford by the Caddo Parish District Attorney's office, including sufficiency of evidence, evidence of innocence and prosecuting attorney Dale Cox's statement that Jesus Christ would impose the death penalty.

In a case that was cited as entirely circumstantial, Crawford was convicted of 1st-degree murder in November 2013 for the death of his 1 year-old son, Roderius Lott. He was sentenced to death.

The case drew attention from national media as being one of several that allegedly highlights the high rates of cases resulting in death penalty sentences in Caddo Parish.

Also at issue in Kappel's arguments before the justices was the idea that the state's forensic expert testified that the death was "more likely than not" due to smothering.

"I wanted to focus on the evidence at trial," said Kappel in a later interview with The Times.

In hearing her arguments, justices also were interested in hearing about new evidence that wasn't previously brought to trial in Crawford's case.

Kappel noted that a large portion of the case against Crawford was almost entirely dependent on testimony from a pathologist that has since been disputed. The justices questioned Kappel on information regarding the original pathology report.

"The thing that's really important is all the new evidence brought before the Supreme Court now - this is the only opportunity they will have to look at this evidence," said Kappel. Her oral arguments also noted that she found prejudicial Cox's statements to the jury that Jesus Christ's verdict would be death.

Crawford told police he had been sleeping with his son beside him and found the boy unresponsive when he woke up on the morning of Feb. 16, 2012. Police asked Crawford about a bruise on his son's lip. Crawford said his son had fallen in the bathroom the previous day. He also denied having accidentally slept on top of the boy.

On the day of the death, Caddo Parish Coroner Dr. Todd Thoma determined the death was "suspicious" and referred the case to pathologist James Traylor, who conducted the autopsy.

Traylor later determined that the bruise indicated smothering and other bruises present on the boy's body were indicative of child abuse.

Traylor's determinations were made before additional test results showed Lott had pneumonia and streptococcus bacteria in his blood.

Based on Traylor's conclusions, Crawford was charged with homicide and Cox asked for the death penalty.

Kappel was assigned to Crawford's case in 2014. At the time, her own youngest son was 6-months-old. For the majority of the time that she worked on behalf of Crawford, Kappel said she watched her son grow into a toddler. She said she also saw him with the routine bumps and bruises that young children often get.

"It's just part of being a little boy," Kappel said. "When I look at the pictures in this case, I see my son. I don't see an abused child."

The validity of the pathologist's findings are one part of the sufficiency of evidence Kappel brought before the Supreme Court during her oral arguments.

Kappel argued that Crawford's jury overlooked evidence that could show Lott may have died from sepsis.

A report presented by defense-hired Daniel Spitz determined Crawford' son died from pneumonia.

In the course of Kappel's arguments and follow-up from assistant Caddo Parish DA Tommy Johnson, Justice Jeannette Theriot Knoll asked how the state came to charge Crawford with 1st-degree murder in a case based on circumstantial evidence.

"With a child that an autopsy had discovered had sepsis and ask that this man be put to death on weak circumstances -- you don't even have a motive," Knoll said.

At oral argument, the State conceded there was "no evidence" of any motive in the case.

The Times reached out to the Caddo Parish DA's office, but they had no comment.

Crawford is 1 of the 2 youngest men on death row at Louisiana State Penitentiary.

An opinion will be rendered by the state supreme court in one of six tentative upcoming dates for this session.

"I feel confidence in the evidence on behalf of Mr. Crawford," Kappel said. "I hope the justices will do the right thing."

Upcoming tentative opinion dates for the 2016-2017 session:

--October 19, 2016

--December 7, 2016

--January 25, 2017

--March 15, 2017

--May 3, 2017

[source: Louisiana Supreme Court]

(source: Shreveport Times)


Nitrogen best for execution

In his Sept. 10 op-ed "Death penalty is in decline, but problems remain," former Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro called it a "terrible suggestion" to adopt the gas chamber to conduct executions.

First, I have never called for a gas chamber. I have suggested that we ought to take a closer look at nitrogen asphyxiation as a method of execution. As I understand it, this can be administered by the use of mask, similar to an oxygen mask.

The use of a chamber might be advisable to avoid accidentally asphyxiating others, but I don't think the process requires a chamber.

Petro also said this method is "offensive to the human experience," whatever that means. But my research indicates that this is by far the most humane method of execution. Perhaps Petro is confusing this with suffocation. But the use of nitrogen involves the administration of pure or nearly pure nitrogen, which supplants the oxygen and nitrogen mixture that we normally breathe, and the lack of oxygen causes death.

The research I have seen indicates this is a painless process. I understand it to be similar to getting nitrous oxide at the dentist's office, except in this case it is pure nitrogen. In fact, there have been a number of accidental deaths from nitrogen gas because the victims did not realize they were breathing pure or nearly pure nitrogen.

This method also appears to be easy to administer and inexpensive.

John Murphy


Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association


(source: Letter to the Editor, Columbus Dispatch)


Ballot question puts death penalty dilemma before votersHistory shows Nebraska unlikely to uphold death penalty repeal

At first glance, Nebraska Legislature's repeal of the death penalty in May seemed to have determined the future of the death penalty in the state, however, supporters acted quickly to campaign to bring the issue before the voters. A look at Nebraska's history shows the issue has often generated controversy in the state.

Society's use of the death penalty goes back for centuries and has been demonstrated to be used throughout the world, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, a research group opposed to the death penalty. In the 18th century B.C.E., capital punishment was codified in the Code of King Hammurabi of Babylon for 25 different crimes. The death penalty was part of the 15th century B.C.E., Hittite Code, the 7th century B.C.E., Draconian Code of Athens, which made death the only punishment for all crimes, and the 5th century B.C.E., Roman Law of the Twelve Tablets. Death sentences were carried out by such means as crucifixion, drowning, beating to death, burning alive and impalement.

On May 27, 2015, Nebraska became the 1st conservative state in more than 40 years to abolish the death penalty. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, North Dakota was the last conservative state to ban capital punishment in 1973. The center defines a conservative state as having voted Republican in the 2 most recent presidential elections and having a majority of its legislative members as being Republican. Since 2007, 6 states have abolished the death penalty: Maryland, Connecticut, Illinois, New Mexico and New Jersey.

The process to abolish the death penalty in Nebraska has not been an easy one.

Sen. Ernie Chambers introduced LB 268, seeking to repeal the death penalty. Each of the 38 years he has served in the Nebraska Legislature, he has pushed bills to abolish the death penalty. During the 2016 session, he was successful with legislators voting 32-15 to support the bill. After Gov. Pete Ricketts vetoed the bill, legislators overrode it by a vote of 30-19.

History shows Nebraska unlikely to uphold death penalty repeal

The bill replaced capital punishment with life imprisonment. Capital punishment was now abolished in the state, but many did not like the way in which it was accomplished.

"I made reference in my speech on the floor that it was so contentious that maybe it should be left to the people," said John Stinner, state senator. "There was some movement in the legislature to put it in front of the people, but it didn???t have much traction."

Ricketts, who supports capital punishment, openly lobbied to keep the death penalty.

"My words cannot express how appalled I am that we have lost a critical tool to protect law enforcement and Nebraska families," Ricketts said in a statement released May 27, 2015. "While the Legislature has lost touch with the citizens of Nebraska, I will continue to stand with Nebraskans and law enforcement on this important issue."

Chambers is not the 1st person in the state's history to be steadfast in his opposition of the death penalty.

According to a NET News report, "History not on the side of death penalty repeal in Nebraska," there have been regular attempts throughout state history to repeal capital punishment. In the 1910s, lawmakers seemed to send double messages - approving the electric chair as a method of execution, but representatives going on record as opposing the death penalty.

Like now, proponents relied on a familiar message to support their case: "The controversial and apparently too frequent use of pardons for criminals by Nebraska's governors gave supporters of capital punishment ammunition against their opponents."

And at times in Nebraska history, commutations by governors did result in unpredictability about whether defendants would serve out a sentence.

"Starting in 1893, the state's governors held the power to parole any prisoner who had at least served the minimum sentence permitted by the court," according to NET News report. "Those committing murder could be sprung from jail after 25 years. With a commutation, a prisoner could be set free if the governor, and the governor alone, felt a sentence had been unfair. Each year governors wielded the authority more and more freely. So loose were sentences that a study completed by the warden of the state penitentiary revealed 'a life sentence has meant only about 7 or 8 years and the longest term served by any man was only 15 years.'"

Efforts were made to reduce the decision-making power of the governor in commutating sentences. The state prison board was formed in 1911 to advise the governor, but it seemed to do little to reduce early prison releases. In 1920, the Board of Pardons, made up of the governor, attorney general and secretary of state was formed, taking exclusive pardon power from the governor.

In the 1920s, legislators once again felt pressure to repeal the death penalty as groups, like the Women's Christian Temperance Union, campaigned and sent out petitions. And, though he opposed the death penalty, Gov. Samuel McKelvie supported a bill that did not allow a death sentence to be altered and signed 3 death warrants during his term.

Bills seeking to repeal the death penalty have continued to be introduced, and fail, over the decades, including one supported by Gov. Frank Morrison in 1965.

A governor was also instrumental in an attempt to repeal the death penalty in 1979. Chambers had proposed a bill replacing the sentence in capital murder cases with a mandatory prison term of 30 years to life. The bill passed, 25-17, but Gov. Charles Thone vetoed it immediately and senators were unable to override his veto.

After the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that the electric chair was unconstitutional, the State of Nebraska chose lethal injection as its method for executions.

That decision came about because of a case involving a local defendant, Raymond Mata, convicted in the 1999 murder of 3-year-old Adam Gomez. In Mata???s case, the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled electrocution constituted "cruel and unusual punishment."

With the ruling, Nebraska was left without a method of execution until a bill was approved, changing the method to lethal injection. The bill was signed into law by Gov. Dave Heineman.

Nebraska statute sets out the guidelines for capital punishment in chapter 29 of the 2014 Nebraska Revised Statutes. After an initial trial to determine guilt of a defendant, a jury must look at the facts of the case, consider aggravating and mitigating factors and make a determination if the defendant is eligible for the death penalty. If they are deemed eligible, a 3-judge panel decides whether the defendant receives the death penalty or life in prison. The panel consists of the presiding judge in the trial and 2 judges appointed by the chief justice of the state supreme court. The decision must be unanimous or the sentence will be life.

The state has not executed a defendant since 1997 and no execution has been carried out in Nebraska using lethal injection.

Nebraska's 3-drug protocol calls for a dose of sodium thiopental to render the inmate unconscious, followed by pancuronium bromide to paralyze him, then potassium chloride to stop the heart.

Sodium thiopental has been the most difficult for the state to acquire. In November 2011, Nebraska purchased samples from HarrisPharma in India. A Swiss manufacturer of sodium thiopental, the provider of the drug to HarrisPharma, requested Nebraska return the drugs because they did not intend for the drugs to be used in executions. Nebraska refused and a legal battle began between the FDA and those companies. The drugs expired in 2013 and were no longer able to be used, so the State had to find another way to purchase the chemicals it needed.

The state again purchased 2 of the drugs needed for executions from HarrisPharma in May 2015, paying more than $54,000 for the drugs. Sodium thiopental was o1 of the drugs, but Nebraska was unable to obtain it because of federal regulations prohibiting it from being imported. HarrisPharma refused to refund Nebraska $26,700 for the drug, saying it was not their responsibility to make sure the drug could be imported into the United States.

Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and several other drug manufacturing companies have prohibited distribution of sodium thiopental by their companies for use in executions, making purchase of the necessary drugs nearly impossible.

Ricketts continues to be openly involved in the effort to retain the death penalty. In 2015, he gave $100,000 to Nebraskans for the Death Penalty twice. His donations are nearly 1/3 of the campaign's funding. There has been controversy over whether a sitting governor should use his own personal funds to make such a purchase.

For his part, Stinner said he does not have any issues with Ricketts' donations to the campaign.

"He is a taxpayer and he has a right to do that," Stinner said.

The Star-Herald attempted to interview Ricketts for its series of articles. Officials from Ricketts' office directed the Star-Herald to an Aug. 1, 2015, article in the Omaha World-Herald where the governor addressed the donation issue. In that article, Frank Daley, director of the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission, said there are no legal barriers to the governor's contributions.

Ricketts told the Omaha World-Herald he thought it was appropriate to give Nebraska voters a chance to decide the issue.

"I think the Legislature was out of touch with how the vast majority of Nebraskans feel about this issue," he said.

Opponents of the death penalty cited Ricketts' donations in challenging the ballot measure, saying he wasn't listed as a sponsor on the referendum. However, the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled on July 8 that the governor's support, financial or otherwise, for the petition did not make him a sponsor of the referendum and there was no obligation to disclose his involvement.

The ruling meant voters would make the decision - deciding whether to uphold the Nebraska Legislature's decision to repeal the death penalty by casting a vote to retain or to repeal. A vote to repeal the legislature's decision will allow the death penalty to continue in Nebraska.

(source: Scottsbluff Star Herald)


Oklahoma will go a calendar year without an execution; future remains cloudy ---- For the 1st time since 1994, Oklahoma will not put to death any inmates this year

A quagmire of incompetency, investigations and court action has resulted in 2016 becoming the first year since 1994 that Oklahoma has not carried out an execution.

4 months after a grand jury released a highly critical report on the execution of Charles Warner and Richard Glossip's near-execution, the public still knows little about what's next for capital punishment in the state.

In a 106-page report released in May on its investigation of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, the multicounty grand jury used terms such as "careless" and "cavalier" to describe the actions of some state officials. The jury said the execution protocol should be revised again and needs to require verification at every step of the process.

Attorney General Scott Pruitt said previously he will not request execution dates until at least 5 months after the DOC's updated lethal injection protocol is finalized, which means Oklahoma's earliest possible execution date will be in 2017.

The DOC has declined to provide information about what it will change about its execution protocol and has not discussed the matter at any subsequent meetings of its governing board. The Attorney General's Office says nothing in its monthly status reports required by the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals - which put an indefinite stay on executions in effect - except to inform the justices there are no updates.

The Governor's Office refused as recently as Friday to comment about the work still needed to resume executions in Oklahoma.

When asked for comment last week, Pruitt's office released a statement indicating he wanted to assure families of victims that the review process "will continue to be both deliberate and empirical."

"I am confident that the Department of Corrections, under the leadership of Director (Joe) Allbaugh, is taking the appropriate time needed to ensure the execution protocols are fully in place and without error in the most efficient way possible," Pruitt said.

The state will have 150 days after the DOC finalizes its protocol to set execution dates for Glossip and other death-row inmates, and the new protocol will likely be litigated at the federal level.

Glossip, whose scheduled execution last September was stayed, and 5 others are listed in ongoing litigation with the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, as they have exhausted their appeals and are eligible to be scheduled for execution.

'Lack of transparency'

Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C., said during an interview Friday that it is "disheartening" that there appears to be "continuing secrecy" in Oklahoma's reform process. The organization does not take an official stance on capital punishment.

"The level of administrative incompetence and reckless disregard for the law that was exhibited during the 3 execution botches (of Clayton Lockett, Warner and Glossip) is unparalleled in the United States," Dunham said. "The grand jury report indicated massive systemic failures and said essentially that there wasn't a single person involved in the process that did their jobs properly."

The report found that officials should have noticed Warner had been executed using potassium acetate, rather than the protocol's requirement of potassium chloride, but did not pay enough attention to execution policies. Records previously provided to the World show the DOC and the Attorney General's Office received a copy of Warner's autopsy as early as March 2015 but did not raise concerns about how he had died until late August 2015 despite it proving there was a drug mix-up.

The fallout from Glossip's Sept. 30, 2015, stay of execution - which Fallin ordered because her office learned the DOC again received an incorrect drug - eventually resulted in the retirement of Oklahoma State Penitentiary Warden Anita Trammell, as well as the resignation of Mullins and then-DOC Director Robert Patton.

"The grand jury report raised hopes that the executive branch would step back and carefully consider what had gone wrong and learn lessons from that," Dunham said. "We don't know what the protocol is ultimately going to be, but lack of transparency thus far does not instill confidence that the state has learned anything from the experience."

Attorney fees add up

State agencies have paid more than $45,000 in legal fees to two attorneys who provided legal services related to a multicounty grand jury's investigation into Oklahoma's use of the death penalty.

The Oklahoma Department of Corrections provided information to the Tulsa World on Friday indicating it paid former Attorney General Drew Edmondson $26,379 to advise DOC employees connected with the inquiry into the agency's handling of the January 2015 execution of Charles Warner and the scheduled September 2015 execution of Glossip.

Edmondson's contract, which a DOC spokesman said Thursday was allowed to expire June 30, indicates that Edmondson would receive $300 per hour beginning Oct. 9, 2015, and that an assistant would receive $150 per hour. Their travel rates were $150 and $75, respectively. The DOC did not say when Edmondson stopped providing outside legal services.

Gov. Mary Fallin paid attorney Robert McCampbell $18,794.50 for legal services and advice about the grand jury in October and November 2015, according to a copy of the final invoice billed to her office by his firm.

Fallin apparently hired McCampbell for those months at a rate of $250 per hour because her then-general counsel, Steve Mullins, was a subject of the jury investigation, and the Attorney General's Office - which she would normally turn to for legal needs - oversees the multicounty grand jury unit.

The Oklahoma Attorney General's Office told the World it would be nearly impossible to easily calculate how many hours were spent on the DOC investigation because the grand jury looked into other unrelated matters simultaneously.

State Question 776

State Question 776, which will be on the Nov. 8 ballot, would add language regarding the death penalty to the Oklahoma Constitution.

It would give the Legislature the power to designate an execution method of its choosing, prohibit a death sentence from being reduced because a method is declared invalid and bar the courts from ruling the death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment.

Sen. Anthony Sykes, R-Moore, and Rep. Mike Christian, R-Oklahoma City, wrote the measure last year, citing "overwhelming support" in Oklahoma for the death penalty. Christian told the World last August that he predicted it would pass with more than 70 % of the vote, while Sykes noted it had large bipartisan support in the Legislature.

But the question has drawn opposition over its constitutionality from people as varied as Rep. Regina Goodwin, D-Tulsa, former Tulsa Police Chief Drew Diamond and Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty.

All 3 were represented at a Wednesday gathering outside the Tulsa County Courthouse urging voters to say no to the measure.

"This measure will not limit the death penalty's brokenness one bit," Marc Hyden, a representative with the conservative group, told reporters. "Instead, it may exacerbate the underlying problems."

Goodwin, in her remarks, asked why the state would ask people to vote for something that she believes will fail legal challenges. She said supporters have characterized the question to voters as being about whether they support the death penalty, and pointed out it will not change existing statute on the matter.

"What this state question will do, though, is allow for it to be very difficult for the judicial branch to do its job," she said.

Dunham said the ballot question appears to want to make the death penalty above legal reproach and told the World it seems "premature" to discuss it before a bipartisan Blue Ribbon Commission headed by former Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry completes its ongoing review of Oklahoma's use of capital punishment.

That report is set to be released next year.

"The ballot question appears to be a reflexive response by death penalty proponents to protect a practice that is increasingly seen as illegitimate and which they increasingly see as under siege," he said.

"With respect particularly to death penalty practices, there's nothing that the ballot question does that the Legislature could not accomplish on its own simply by passing statutes. The only use is to impair judicial review and significantly magnify the risk that unfair, unreliable and unconstitutional death penalties would go uncorrected."

(source: Tulsa World)


Fix the death penalty, don't throw it away

Those in support of abolishing the death penalty point to the possibility of an innocent person being executed. In California this couldn't be further from the truth. Those who commit a capital punishment-related crime will be prosecuted to full extent of the law. The innocent can take solace in knowing that a unanimous jury of 12 citizens must render the death verdict after an exhaustive trial where the accused murderer is represented by 2 highly competent attorneys and overseen by an independent judge who ensures a fair trial.

The death penalty is reserved for the worst of the worst offenders in California. These people have committed unspeakable atrocities against the citizens of California. People like Lonnie Franklin Jr. (AKA the Grim Sleeper), who was just recently sentenced to death in Los Angeles for the killing of 10 young African-American women. Or Tiequon Cox, who was hired by an imprisoned Rolling 60s Crips gang member to kill. Cox entered the wrong home and murdered 4 people including an 8-year-old and a 12-year-old. Then there's Charles Ng, who was convicted of brutally murdering 11 people and most likely murdered 25 more. There's also Lawrence Bittaker, who killed 5 young women after he raped and tortured them. The list goes on and on. To make matters worse, these horrific individuals excluding Franklin Jr. have been sitting on death row for decades, costing California millions of dollars to house, feed, clothe, guard and provide health care to them.

Currently, there are 746 killers sitting on California's death row. These inmates have murdered over 1,000 victims including 226 children and 43 police officers; 294 victims were raped and/or tortured. These killers and their repetitive appeals are the reason why a vote of No on Prop. 62 and Yes on Prop. 66 is recommended.

California's death penalty is a dysfunctional mess that doesn't bring justice to victims' family members. However, by mending, not ending the death penalty, we can change that.

Prop. 66 was written by legal scholars who know the ins and outs of the death penalty system. They have written Prop. 66 so that it speeds up the appeals process by eliminating legal and procedural delaying tactics while assuring due process protections for those sentenced to death. It ensures criminals sentenced to death are assigned a special appeals lawyer immediately by expanding the availability of lawyers to handle these appeals. Prop. 66 limits state appeals to 5 years instead of allowing for these convicted criminals to file appeal after appeal after appeal. However, the initiative does not impose a rigid deadline that must be met in every case as extraordinary cases make take longer. However, 5 years is generally sufficient to get through state appeals, even in the most complex cases.

While many point to the "exorbitant costs" associated with the death penalty they forget how expensive it to giving life without parole to these criminals. It's estimated that it costs at least $50,000 per year to house, feed, guard and provide health care to someone in prison, and that it averages between 20 and 25 years from a jury's sentence of death to an actual execution date. There are 746 inmates currently on death row, with an average age of 27, and average life expectancy of 74. Reducing someone's punishment to life without parole will cost taxpayers $1.8 billion in housing costs alone.

What I along with other district attorneys, law enforcement officials and families of victims want is justice. Justice to impose a lawful sentence recommended by juries and imposed by judges across California. Some deem the death penalty as cruel and unusual punishment, however most Californians disagree and believe that those convicted of these horrible crimes are depraved. In fact, any time we are asked to vote on whether or not to abolish the death penalty, Californians repeatedly vote to keep the death penalty intact. This year seems no different. A recent poll conducted by the Institute of Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley found that 75.7 % of Californians surveyed support Prop. 66.

Voters understand that the criminals on death row have been convicted of the most heinous crimes. Voters also realize that those left behind, grieving families throughout California and their loved ones, don't deserve anything less than justice.

Justice is a reformed, not eliminated death penalty. I urge a NO vote on Proposition 62 and YES on Proposition 66.

(source: Opinion; Michele Hanisee is a deputy district attorney for the County of Los Angeles and is president of the Association of Deputy District Attorneys--Los Angeles----Santa Cruz Sentinel)


Prop. 66 will increase the risk of executing the innocent

Philando Castile. Eric Garner. Alton Sterling. It goes on and on. Terrifying displays of violence against innocent black men and communities of color are fueling national attention on racial inequality across the country. The criminal justice system, in particular, demonstrates these inequalities.

While disparate treatment by police has garnered the most attention, racial inequalities exist at every stage of the criminal justice process - all the way to the ultimate punishment: the imposition of the death penalty. This fall in California, the repercussions of racial disparities in death penalty sentencing could become much worse if voters enact a reckless ballot measure: Proposition 66.

Proposition 66 is a misleading initiative that will change death penalty procedures in several ways that will increase the state's risk of executing innocent people. Prop. 66 would remove important legal protections that currently exist in California law to prevent the ultimate injustice. As with most criminal justice policies, Prop. 66 would disproportionately affect people of color. Black and Latino men, in particular, will be at greater risk of being executed for crimes they didn???t commit. Of the 156 innocent people exonerated from death rows nationwide, 61 % were people of color.

People of color account for more than 1/2 of those awaiting execution, while only representing 1/3 of the general population in the U.S. In California, these disparities are even more stark. Black people account for 57 % of the folks on death row but only 7 % of the general population. In 2015, 86 % of new death sentences were given to people of color. One California study found that individuals who kill a white victim are 3 times more likely to get a death sentence than those who kill a Latino victim, and 4 times more likely to get a death sentence than those who kill an African American victim.

Systemic racial bias in the death penalty is also demonstrated by lack of diversity among prosecutors and juries. A 2015 study found that 95 % of elected prosecutors in states that allow the death penalty are white. Even in a state as diverse as California, 83 % of elected prosecutors are white. Research over the past several decades has demonstrated that people of color are excluded from serving on juries in capital cases at much higher rates.

If passed, Prop. 66 would make California's death penalty laws more similar to Texas' laws, which have resulted in the execution of at least 2 innocent people in recent memory. One of those people was Carlos De Luna. De Luna was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death for murder, even though no blood, DNA or fingerprint evidence linked him to the crime. Due to Texas law, De Luna was unable to adequately present evidence of his innocence and was executed, despite the fact that another man who bared striking resemblance to De Luna admitted to the murder.

Prop. 66 would make it harder for defendants to introduce newly discovered evidence of their innocence. For all the reasons above, people of color would be most at risk of suffering adverse consequences. In this case, Prop. 66 literally could be the difference between life and death for innocent people.

As if increasing the risk of executing innocent people was not reason enough to vote no, Prop. 66 will vastly increase costs to Californians and strain scarce resources. The initiative is confusing, poorly written and lacks understanding of how the death penalty operates in California, which will lead to substantial burdens for taxpayers and government agencies. The state's nonpartisan analysts estimate that Prop. 66 will increase costs to taxpayers by tens of millions of dollars plus even more "unknown" costs. The initiative will add more layers of government bureaucracy by requiring local county courts to adjudicate death penalty appeals (currently, the state Supreme Court handles these), creating the exact opposite of expediency and encumbering already overburdened agencies with life-and-death responsibilities they are not equipped to handle.

It is time to send a message that we will not tolerate racial bias in any aspect of the criminal justice system, including in the administration of the death penalty. We must oppose any and all measures that would increase the chance of executing innocent men and women. We have seen too many innocent people of color killed for no reason other than their skin color. People of color would be disproportionately affected by this reckless and ill-conceived measure. Californians must vote no on Prop. 66.

(source: Opinion; Van Jones is a CNN political contributor, attorney, and has founded and led numerous social enterprises engaged in social and environmental justice----Orance County Register)

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