Feb. 22


Jury selection put on hold in death penalty trial

Jury selection in the trial seeking the death penalty against 1 of 2 men accused of gunning down U.S. Border Patrol Agent Javier Vega has been postponed until March 26.

Gustavo Tijerina-Sandoval is 1 of 2 men accused in the August 2014 shooting death. A pool of more than 400 potential jurors was called into the 197th state District Court on Feb. 12. By Feb. 14, only a handfull of potential jurors had been interviewed.

"We are not even half way there," said Jessica Carrizales, 197th District Court court coordinator.

Wednesday, she confirmed over the phone that Tuesday was the last day of jury selection until March 26. The next round of jury selection will take up to 3 weeks and trial is expected to begin in late April.

Tijerina-Sandoval, of La Villa, and Ismael Hernandez-Vallejo, of Weslaco, are charged with capital murder and attempted capital murder in the shootings of Javier Vega Jr. and his father, Javier Vega Sr., who survived.

Tijerina-Sandoval's trial comes to court after more than 3 years of hearings.

It's been nearly 4 years since Vega was murdered while defending his family during a fishing trip in Willacy County.

According to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection news release, Javier Vega Jr. attempted to draw his weapon when the men approached the family and was shot in the chest.

(source: The Monitor)


Rosendo Rodriguez asks for stay of execution, citing settlement with chief medical examiner

Rosendo Rodriguez, III, sentenced to death for the murder of a pregnant woman and her unborn child, asked for a stay of execution on Tuesday, based on the actions of Lubbock County Chief Medical Examiner Sridhar Natarajan.

Natarajan said he performed the autopsies in the Rodriguez case and testified at his trial.

The motion cites a case filed by Dr. Luisa Florez under the Texas Whistleblower Act back in 2015, claiming that Natarajan delegated critical decisions to a senior forensic nurse, Honey Haney Smith.

The motion claims that Smith would frequently serve as Natarajan's proxy, "making decision that only a duly deputized medical examiner should be making."

The motion cites the claim that Natarajan was not performing his own autopsies, but was instead delegating the "cutting, removal of tissue and organs, and collection of forensic evidence to technicians who were not licensed or trained doctors or forensic pathologists."

The lawsuit also claimed that Dr. Natarajan conspired with Nurse Smith to backdate autopsy reports.

Dr. Natarajan and Lubbock County settled this lawsuit on Nov. 7, 2017, paying Dr. Florez the sum of $230,000.

The motion claims that Lubbock County District Attorney Matt Powell was aware of this lawsuit and failed to disclose it to Rodriguez, resulting in a violation of his due process rights.

The Rodriguez execution was scheduled for March 27, but his legal team is now asking for a stay so they can investigate how the autopsies were conducted in this case, and how that may have affected his conviction.

Rodriguez rejected a plea deal that would have given him life in prison back in October 2006.

(source: KCBD news)

FLORIDA----impending execution

Legal experts ask U.S. Supreme Court to stay Eric Branch's execution

A group that includes former Florida Supreme Court justices and Circuit Court judges has banded together to file a brief in a case before the U.S. Supreme Court, asking the high court to stay Eric Branch's upcoming execution to address what they believe is an unconstitutional application of the law.

Branch is scheduled to be executed Thursday for the 1993 murder of University of West Florida student Susan Morris. He has been on death row for almost 25 years after an Escambia County jury in 1994 recommended the death penalty with a 10-2 vote.

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down Florida's death penalty law in 2016, and state law was then changed to mandate a jury unanimously sentence someone to death. The decision was based on another Escambia County case, that of Timothy Hurst, and has since been referred to as the Hurst ruling.

The Escambia County Circuit Court, and subsequently the Florida Supreme Court, have determined the Hurst ruling does not retroactively apply to Branch's case because too much time has passed since the murder.

Last week, Branch appealed his case on the same grounds to the U.S. Supreme Court after exhausting all appeals on the local and state levels.

Once documents were filed at the federal level, it opened the door for the former justices and judges to file a "friend of the court" brief, which is a way for people not directly involved in cases to offer their opinion on a case.

In their brief filed Thursday, the group wrote that the state had implemented an "unconstitutional retroactivity rule" in Branch's case. It further urged the U.S. Supreme Court to stay the execution until it could determine the constitutionality in denying Branch a retroactive Hurst case.

The Hurst case applies retroactively to cases in which convictions were finalized during or after 2002, which the group of law experts calls an "arbitrary line." It was a decision based on the precedent set in the case Ring v. Arizona, in which the judge, not the jury, decided on certain elements in a murder case.

The group estimates the non-unanimous jury recommendations of 165 death row inmates were not evaluated because their cases were resolved before 2002.

"The Florida Supreme Court???s novel decision to adopt a retroactivity cutoff date that includes only a subset of sentences that became final on direct review before Hurst has exacerbated the injustice beyond tolerable Eighth Amendment limits," the brief reads.

The group is made up of former Florida Supreme Court Justices Rosemary Barkett, Harry Lee Anstead, Gerald Kogan and James E.C. Perry; former Circuit Judges O.H. Eaton and Laura Melvin, who served in the First Circuit; and former state Rep. Talbot "Sandy" D'Alemberte, who is also a former president of Florida State University.

Based on the divided recommendation the jury handed down in Branch's case in the 1990s, the group argues it is likely that if a new jury heard the case today, Branch would not be sentenced to death.

DLA Piper partner Ilana Eisenstein is the counsel for the group. She said the group's decision to weigh in on a capital case days before execution is rare.

"I think it's a significant step and one we hope will get the court's attention ... . In my mind, this isn't just about Mr. Branch but the constitutional questions at stake and the process Florida uses to implement the (death penalty)," she said.

Eisenstein said the appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court is Branch's "last stop" in appealing the constitutionality of his execution. And with the execution scheduled for Thursday, it's hard to tell what kind of impact the group's brief might have on staying the execution.

"I think a lot of times in capital cases the attention is placed on the individual defendant, but there's also an importance of process," she said.

Assistant State Attorney John Molchan has long been the prosecutor in Branch's case at the local level. He said the court's decision to deny the retroactive application of the Hurst ruling is a procedural issue that is consistent with what the state has done in the past.

"When Ring (v. Arizona) came about, it was a procedural change, and they've never been held to be retroactive because if you apply that to everything, you'll potentially have no finality in the justice system," he said.

With how frequently procedures are updated and changed, if there was no retroactive cut-off date, the justice system would never move forward, Molchan said.

Branch's appeal was still pending before the U.S. Supreme Court as of Tuesday evening. His execution is scheduled to take place at 6 p.m. Thursday at Florida State Prison in Raiford.


Eric Branch: From witnesses to the last meal: What happens at an execution

Death row inmate Eric Branch will likely spend his final hours awaiting a U.S. Supreme Court decision as the executioner, wardens and witnesses continue preparations for the convicted killer's scheduled execution Thursday.

The execution is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday at Florida State Prison in Raiford. Branch, who has been on death row since 1994 for the murder of University of West Florida student Susan Morris the year prior, has opted out from speaking to media ahead of the execution.

He has been vocal instead through court documents, having expressed concern and discontent with the execution and judicial process through numerous appeals that last week rose to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Branch has questioned everything from the direction his body will face during the execution to the expiration date of the injection drugs. He claimed in one appeal that his 24 years on death row constituted cruel and unusual punishment, and most recently is appealing to the country???s highest court that a new Florida law requiring a unanimous jury decision on death penalty sentencing should retroactively apply to him.

The latter appeal is still in front of the Supreme Court Justices. A group of seven former Florida Supreme Court Justices, former Circuit Court judges, and one former Florida State University president banded together last week to file a "friends of the court" brief in support of Branch, asking for a stay of execution to review the constitutionality of denying the retroactive law application. Branch's counsel claims Florida's new law that requires juries unanimously recommend a death sentence should be applied to his case, despite the current cut-off date of 2002. Branch's Escambia County jury was split 10-2 in its death recommendation.

As of Wednesday afternoon, there was no decision from the U.S. Supreme Court and the execution was still scheduled for Thursday.

Who attends an execution?

A large team of people including 2 private executioners, a warden, physicians and other prison designates make up the execution team, according to the Florida Department of Corrections' execution protocol.

The Office of the Governor is on an already-established telephone line during the entire execution process in order to tell the team at the prison whether a stay of execution has been granted, and to remain up-to-date on the steps in the execution process.

There are multiple official witnesses present, often made up of family members of the victim, a nurse or medical technician, media representatives, a representative of FDC's public affairs office and any others designated by the warden.

Wendy Morris Hill, Susan Morris' sister, told the News Journal Tuesday she plans to be in attendance as an official witness along with her husband and 1 of her daughters. David Morris, Susan's father, said he and his wife, Marcia, do not plan to attend the execution.

What happens at the execution?

The Florida Department of Corrections will begin the public portion of the execution process at 3:30 p.m. with its 1st media briefing.

The execution itself is scheduled for 6 p.m., pending any last-minute court proceedings or halts from Gov. Rick Scott's office.

According to FDC's lethal injection procedure documents, Branch will be served a last meal, which must cost $40 or less and be available at the institution to be prepared by the food service director.

He will shower and be issued clothing to wear for the execution. The telephone in the execution chamber will be tested, as well as 2-way audio devices and visual monitoring equipment in the area.

Death row inmate Eric Branch will likely spend his final hours awaiting a U.S. Supreme Court decision as the executioner, wardens and witnesses continue preparations for the convicted killer's scheduled execution Thursday.

Someone from the execution team, in the presence of additional observers and an independent observer from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, will prepare the lethal injection chemicals and label each item.

2 executioners will be involved in the lethal injection process, both having been chosen by the warden. Under Florida law, the executioner is a private citizen who is paid $150 and remains anonymous. The 2nd executioner is chosen in case the 1st becomes unable to complete the execution.

Roughly 30 minutes before the execution time, one of the execution team members will establish phone connection with the Office of the Governor and that line remains open throughout the process so the team member can report ongoing activities of the execution.

Branch will be placed in wrist restraints and will be positioned on the execution gurney and be further restrained. He will be hooked to heart monitors and an IV will be inserted.

Branch will be permitted to make an oral statement, after which the execution process will begin. He will be injected first with 2 100 milligram doses of etomidate, then a saline solution. The warden will then determine whether Branch is unconscious and if so, the executioner proceeds with the 2nd drug.

Branch will be injected with 2 500 milligram doses of bromide, followed by saline. The last drug, potassium acetate, will be injected in 2 doses of 120 milliequivalents, 1 after the other.

Once the inmate has died, a physician will officially pronounce Branch dead and read aloud a time of death. Scott will be notified of Branch's death, and the warden will coordinate a hearse to take Branch to the medical examiner's office in Alachua County for an autopsy.

The witnesses will be escorted from the witness room and a 2nd media briefing will be held.

(source for both: Pensacola News Journal)


Florida Catholic bishops urge governor to spare life of death-row inmate

The Catholic bishops of Florida appealed to Gov. Rick Scott to spare the life of death-row inmate Eric Branch by commuting his sentence to a life sentence without parole.

Branch was scheduled to be executed Feb. 22 for his 1994 conviction of murdering Susan Morris, a college student, in 1993 when he was 21.

"It is our concern that the death penalty contributes to a growing disrespect for the sacredness of all human life," Michael Sheedy, executive director of the Florida Conference of Bishops, said in the letter to Scott. "It feeds on an underlying sense of vengeance in our culture and adds to a callousness or coarseness towards one another."

The Catholic conference is the public policy arm of the bishops. Sheedy wrote the letter to Scott on their behalf. The text of the letter, dated Feb. 15, was released Feb. 19.

In the wake of the gun rampage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland that left 17 people dead, Sheedy wrote, "state-sanctioned killing does not deter or end violence, but instead it perpetuates a cycle of violence."

A sentence of life without the possibility of parole is a severe punishment, keeps society safe from the offender and allows for the possibility of redemption, the state Catholic conference said in a news release about the letter to Scott.

According to news accounts and court records from his trial, Branch attacked Morris Jan. 11, 1993, as she walked alone to her car in a parking lot at the University of West Florida in Pensacola. Branch dragged her to a nearby wooded area and beat her, strangled her and sexually battered her. He left her body in a shallow grave covered with dirt and leaves and stole her car to leave the state.

On Feb. 8, Branch appealed to the Florida Supreme Court to stay his execution, but a week later the court denied his appeal. He argued that his brain was not fully developed when he killed Morris, and he also claimed that during his trial for her murder, the jury was given false information about his conviction on other sex crimes.

Branch was convicted of sexual battery and beating a 14-year-old girl in Indiana in 1991. He also was convicted of another sexual battery he carried out 10 days before he killed Morris.

The Florida Catholic Conference of Catholic Bishops said that Catholics and other members of the community planned to hold vigils around the state of Florida to pray for the victims of violent crimes, for those on death row and for an end to the use of the death penalty.

They also planned to offer prayers for Scott that he will commute Branch's death sentence and stop his execution.

(source: catholicphilly.com)

ALABAMA----impending execution

Alabama Likely To Botch The Execution Of An Already Dying Man

When Doyle Lee Hamm was sentenced to death, Alabama was still using a yellow-painted electric chair, morbidly nicknamed "Yellow Mama," to execute its inmates. It was 1987, Ronald Reagan was president, and Hamm had just been convicted of the murder of a motel clerk, who'd been shot in the head during a robbery.

More than 30 years later, Yellow Mama has been retired, and Alabama kills its inmates in other ways. This evening, at 6 p.m., Hamm will be strapped to a gurney. He will be asked if he has any last words. Then, the medical team at Holman Prison will try to locate a vein in which to inject the lethal drugs - in Hamm's legs and feet.

Doyle Lee Hamm has been on death row for 3 decades and will be executed on Thursday - despite the fact he is already dying of cancer. His age and advanced cranial and lymphatic cancer make it likely his execution will result in "severe and unnecessary pain."

Yes, this is unusual; death row inmates typically receive lethal injection in veins in the arms or hands. However, this isn't the only thing that makes Doyle Lee Hamm's case unique. Hamm is set to be executed tonight despite the fact he is already dying of cranial and lymphatic cancer.

In 2014, a large cell lymphoma was found behind Hamm's left eye, and an MRI test confirmed a tumor. Further examination and CT scans showed abnormal lymph nodes in his chest, lungs and abdomen. He received radiation to treat the cancer behind his eye in 2014; but because the abnormal lymph nodes in Hamm's chest and lungs likely weren't serious enough to kill him before he could be executed, medical staff left them untreated; and his condition deteriorated. Surgery to remove a cancerous lesion "eating through Hamm's cheek and bone" was scheduled for last December, but on the day of the procedure, news broke that the Alabama Supreme Court had finally set his execution date. The warden canceled Hamm's surgery and instead read him his death warrant.

The death penalty continues to fail the test of constitutionality and logic.

That an already dying man will soon be executed isn"t the only issue here, however. Hamm's age (he turned 61 on Valentine's Day), his advanced cancer and the various treatments he has undergone to treat it have severely impaired his peripheral veins. Last month, Chief District Judge Karon O. Bowdre of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama issued a stay of execution, writing that the execution of a terminally ill man with difficult-to-locate veins would be "gruesome" and could result in "severe and unnecessary pain."

In other words, when the time comes for the lethal cocktail injection, Hamm's veins likely won't cooperate - and could even rupture.

There's ample evidence this can, and does, happen, and the results are disastrous and disturbing. Last November, Ohio prison officials botched the execution of Alva Campbell, who at 69 years old was unable to walk unassisted and shuffled toward the death chamber with the help of a walker while toting an external colostomy bag. He suffered from emphysema and possibly an undiagnosed return of lung cancer. The state examined Campbell in the days leading up to the execution and made the decision to go forward, despite a nurse finding no suitable veins. During the execution, prison officials labored for the better part of a half hour to find a vein in which to inject the drugs. At one point, Campbell appeared to be crying. The execution was finally called off.

Even on seemingly healthy inmates, lethal injection drugs don't always make it into the vein properly; an estimated 7.12 % of all lethal injections are botched. In 1977, even lethal injection proponents were warning of the potential dangers: Dr. Jay Chapman, a medical examiner who was an early supporter of the practice, said "the major hazard of using lethal drugs in the execution of criminals is missing the vein in establishing an intravenous 'pathway' for the drugs." A Florida execution was botched in 2006 when drugs were accidentally injected into tissue instead of straight into the bloodstream. Angel Diaz's execution lasted 34 minutes, and the process was so gruesome that then-Governor Jeb Bush called for a moratorium on executions. During Oklahoma inmate Clayton Lockett's disastrous 2014 execution, the IV placed in his groin came loose, which meant the drugs were similarly injected into tissue. Lockett violently struggled and lurched, as if trying to free himself. By the time the order came down to halt the procedure, Lockett was dead. An autopsy later revealed blunt-force injuries from fighting the restraints.

Given the severity of Doyle Lee Hamm's medical condition, his longtime attorney asked an anesthesiologist to come to Alabama and examine his veins. According to an article from Alabama Media Group, the doctor was not allowed to bring any medical equipment into the prison, so they improvised by using the attorney's tie as a tourniquet. The doctor found only 1 potentially usable vein on Hamm's entire body - on his right hand - and said even this vein was compromised and susceptible to rupture. He noted that if corrections personnel weren't able to inject the drugs properly, it could "cause Mr. Hamm to become paralyzed and consciously suffocate." However, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered an independent medical examination and concluded Hamm has accessible veins in his legs and feet. Hamm will be killed via lethal injection in one of those veins tomorrow barring any last-minute intervention.

Prisoners are humans, and they have the right - enshrined in the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution - to a life free of cruel and unusual punishment. Furthermore, the Supreme Court has previously protected prisoners' rights to medical treatment; in Estelle v. Gamble, the court ruled ignoring serious medical needs of prisoners is unconstitutional. The system failed Doyle Lee Hamm on both counts. It is the height of irony to give a man just enough medical treatment to keep him alive (though living in extreme pain) until the state is finally ready to kill him (in a manner that will likely cause extreme pain). As Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun famously wrote in 1994, "No combination of procedural rules or substantive regulations ever can save the death penalty from its inherent constitutional deficiencies."

The continued utilization of capital punishment in a civilized society inevitably leads to a host of other logical fallacies, as well. Even if we ignore Hamm's terminal illness, put humanity aside and instead consider the economics, the fact remains death penalty cases are more costly than non-capital cases. Data from states like California and Kansas show the costs of housing a death row inmate are higher than housing general population inmates.

People will continue to debate the morality of capital punishment. Some believe in the value of retribution. In practice, however, the death penalty continues to fail the test of constitutionality and logic. Executing an inmate who A.) has spent more than 30 years on death row, B.) is already dying, and C.) whose illness makes it highly likely his execution will be botched is a travesty. Inmates like Doyle Lee Hamm should have their sentences commuted to life in prison - what little life they have left.

(source: Opinion; Hannah Riley is communications manager at the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta. She previously worked in criminal justice reform at the Innocence Project in New York. No work relationship exists between the Southern Center for Human Rights and Doyle Lee Hamm or his legal team----Huffington Post)


Centene-owned pharmacy won't give Missouri execution drugs

A Missouri health care company on Tuesday said a pharmacy it recently bought won't provide execution drugs to the state, a pledge that came after media reports that the suburban St. Louis business had been the state's secret source of the drugs for years.

Buzzfeed News reported that Foundation Care, based in Earth City, supplied the state Department of Corrections with pentobarbital for 17 executions since 2014 for $135,000. The media outlet cited two sources with knowledge of the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of strict state laws prohibiting disclosure or publishing of the identity of the supplier.

Centene Corp. purchased Foundation Care in October 2017. Since then, Centene spokeswoman Marcela Manjarrez Hawn said Foundation Care "has never supplied, and will never supply any pharmaceutical product to any state for the purpose of effectuating executions."

The Department of Corrections declined to comment on the report from Buzzfeed News and on Centene's promise never to provide execution drugs.

Phone and email messages that The Associated Press left with Foundation Care, which Buzzfeed News reported has also faced scrutiny from federal regulators, were not immediately returned Tuesday. The Food and Drug Administration in 2013 designated Foundation Care as a "high-risk" pharmacy, and inspectors found examples of lax procedures that they said could put patients at risk.

Republican Sen. Paul Wieland, who has sponsored failed legislation to end the state's death penalty, said Tuesday that he still needs to verify what Buzzfeed News reported. However, he said, it would be "deeply concerning" if the state has worked with "unsavory companies or companies that are flying under the radar of state or federal regulation."

"If the accusations are true, then I think it's something that we need to look into further as a state and make sure that we're dealing with reputable people," Wieland said.

Missouri's last execution was in January 2017. Mark Christeson was put to death for killing a woman and her 2 children in 1998 after he and his cousin broke into the family's rural Vichy home.

(source: Missouri Lawyers Weekely)


Condemned Man's Lawyer: 'Serious Concerns' on Execution Drug

The attorney for a man facing execution next month says she has "very serious concerns" about Missouri's lethal injection method following a report claiming the state purchased execution drugs from a troubled compounding pharmacy.

Buzzfeed News reported that Foundation Care pharmacy was the supplier of pentobarbital used in the 17 Missouri executions since 2014, even though the Food and Drug Administraiton deemed it a "high-risk" pharmacy.

Russell Bucklew is scheduled to die March 20 for a 1996 killing. His attorney, Cheryl Pilate, says she's troubled by the Buzzfeed report and is seeking more information before deciding whether to file a new appeal.

The quality of the execution drug is of particular concern because Bucklew suffers from a rare condition that causes weakened and malformed blood vessels and tumors in his head.

(source: Associated Press)


AG's office argues judge should dismiss lawsuit seeking release of information death penalty drugs

Photos taken in October of the packaging of Nebraska's lethal injection drugs constitute attorney work product and should not be released to the public, an attorney for the state's prison system has argued.

In briefs filed in 3 lawsuits, Assistant Nebraska Attorney General Ryan Post said the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services denied public-records requests seeking purchase orders and chemical analysis reports of the drugs because they directly identified an execution team member.

By law, that disclosure isn't allowed.

But Post went further, arguing the judge also shouldn't direct Corrections to release any information that could lead to the drug supplier being identified - including photos taken Oct. 23 of the vials - because it is just "one step removed" from identifying someone on the execution team.

He said the photos qualify as attorney work product because they were taken at the request of legal counsel in anticipation of litigation.

Post said the execution of condemned inmates remains a divisive and emotionally charged topic nationwide. And disclosing any information "reasonably calculated" to lead to the identity of team members creates a risk that they will be deterred from performing their duties.

He said in Arkansas, despite information being redacted before photos of drug vials were released, it still was possible to identify the manufacturer.

And in Oklahoma, a Missouri prisoner sued a drug supplier, which chose to stop selling the drugs to the state rather than be sued, Post said.

"With this history in mind, it is reasonably likely that an execution team member's identity will be disclosed via a 'connecting of the dots' from released information," he wrote.

Post said Nebraska prison officials withheld a communication between a prison employee and a supplier, DEA forms and invoices because it could lead to an execution team member's identity.

"It is not an imaginative leap to think death penalty opponents will take that step," he said.

One of the three lawsuits, which ask a judge to find that the state had violated the state's open-records laws and to force its director, Scott Frakes, to release the records, was filed by the ACLU of Nebraska, an anti-death penalty group.

The other suits, filed by the Lincoln Journal Star and Omaha World-Herald, came after the prison denied public-records requests made by reporters for news purposes.

Lancaster County District Judge Jodi Nelson gave Post a deadline to lay out his argument for why she shouldn't direct the release of the records.

She's expected to move quickly. At a recent hearing, attorneys seeking the information pointed out that 2 inmates - Jose Sandoval and Carey Dean Moore - have been notified of the lethal injection drugs that would be administered to cause their deaths, a step required before the state Attorney General can ask the Nebraska Supreme Court to issue execution warrants.

(source: Lincoln Journal Star)


Plan to Repeal Death Penalty in Utah Passes 1st Vote

A Republican state lawmaker's plan to repeal the death penalty in deep-red Utah has cleared its 1st test.

A legislative committee approved the bill Wednesday despite concerns from some lawmakers that the discussion was rushed and family members of victims weren't given enough time to weigh in.

The proposal now awaits a vote by the full House of Representatives, where it has the backing of Republican Speaker Greg Hughes.

Hughes and bill sponsor Rep. Gage Froerer say that abolishing the death penalty has been seen as a liberal position but conservatives who profess to be "Pro-Life," believe that government is imperfect and should be limited ought to also support the ban.

Republican Rep. Paul Ray opposes the ban and says inmates imprisoned for life are a constant threat to prison staff because they have nothing to lose.

(source: Associated Press)


Gov. Herbert says he might sign legislation to do away with the death penalty in Utah

Utah may well do away with the death penalty for our worst murderers - having life without parole instead.

GOP Gov. Gary Herbert said Wednesday that he might sign a bill that would do away with the death penalty in the state.

In his monthly KUED Channel 7 news conference, Herbert told reporters: "I would take a very hard look at" a bill being sponsored by Rep. Gage Froerer, R-Huntsville, said Herbert.

"It's something I would consider signing," Herbert added.

HB379 now sits on the House calendar, awaiting floor debate and votes. It passed out of a House standing committee 7-4 Wednesday morning.

House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, supports the bill.

He said this week that he believes doing away with the death penalty is a conservative position - because conservatives question government actions and authority, and killing someone is the ultimate government action that should be questioned.

A recent study by state corrections/judicial officials shows that while Utahns have been a strong supporter of the death penalty in the past, those opinions are changing.

Some estimates say it could cost up to $2 million of Utah taxpayer funds to execute a murderer.

In fact, Herbert noted that in the past he, too, has been a strong supporter of the death penalty.

He wanted the most "heinous criminals eradicated" from society.

Utah governors don't have pardon power - he or she can't take a person off of death row.

Herbert said it might take 20 or 25 years for a murderer to be executed in Utah.

And that is not justice for the family of the victim, nor for those being prosecuted and sentenced to death.

Justice delayed is indeed justice denied.

"I'm to the point" where the death penalty is no longer just to Utah taxpayers, either.

However, it must be clear that in Utah life without parole is, in fact, the murderer is locked up for life - and can never be paroled or let out of prison.

The bill still has to pass the House and the Senate before it can get to Herbert's desk. It would allow those now on death row to be executed.

And it would allow prosecutors of murder cases now underway to seek the death penalty until early May of this year - outlawing the sentence after that time.

But if those things happen, Utah, a very red, conservative state, could do away with the death penalty - something not seen likely even just a few years ago.

(source: utahpolicy.com)


Prosecutor: Suspects in Major Sutton murder could face death penalty if convicted

For the 1st time, 2 men and a woman with possible gang ties suspected of 1st-degree murder in the death of 3-year-old Major Sutton appeared in court Wednesday, an occasion Supervising Deputy District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer referred to as "a big day for justice."

Tyrone Deangelo Johnson, 21; David Reagan Palms, 19; and Myeisha Bernice Dale, 29 were arrested Feb. 16 in connection with the shooting and were set to be arraigned Wednesday. They stood in shackles, covering their faces from news cameras with sheets of paper as attorneys postponed that arraignment.

Major was gunned down after police allege the three suspects kicked down the door of his family home before Midnight Nov. 10 and opened fire, killing him and injuring his pregnant mother and 5-year old brother.

Johnson and Palms were the shooters, while Dale drove the getaway vehicle, according to court documents.

The 3 are each facing 1 count of 1st degree murder, plus gang charges, gun charges and 2 special circumstances that qualify them for the death sentence if found guilty, Zimmer said. They've also been charged with 2 counts of attempted murder for the victims who survived the shooting, Zimmer said.

The child's death sparked outrage in a community fed up with gang violence, along with the February 2017 murder of 5-year-old Kason Guyton, who police also suspect died at the hands of gangsters. Kason's case remains unsolved, and a $20,000 reward will be given for information leading to an arrest. Bakersfield Police Department Chief Lyle Martin has called the murders "despicable and cowardly acts," and launched multi-agency investigations of the East and West Side Crips street gangs, vowing to hunt down the killers and restore justice.

"Bakersfield Police Department and the Kern County District Attorney's Office have been working for quite some time to determine who committed these heinous crimes," Zimmer said. "This is a big day for us. This is a big day for justice."

According to Kern County court records, Johnson has had 12 arrests since 2014 and has been convicted in 8 cases. His last court appearance was in January, when he pleaded no contest to obstructing/resisting a peace officer.

Court records show Dale and Palms were each arrested once prior to Friday. Dale pleaded no contest in 2012 for being drunk and disorderly. Palms pleaded no contest for misdemeanor battery and obstructing a peace officer last year.

Johnson, Dale and Palms are schedule to be formally charged Feb. 28. No bail has been set.

(source: bakersfield.com)
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