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row inmates filed claims under the now-repealed Racial Justice Act, which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
"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
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
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
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
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
The old law that required prosecutors to seek death was unconstitutional, Rose
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
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
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
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
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
"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
"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
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
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
"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
At oral argument, the State conceded there was "no evidence" of any motive in
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
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
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.
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
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
"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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
'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
"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
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
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
"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
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)
A service courtesy of Washburn University School of Law www.washburnlaw.edu
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