March 6



PENNSYLVANIA:

Trial begins in Whitehall baseball bat homicide



Prosecutors on Monday described a Montgomery County man accused of killing a romantic rival with a baseball bat in Whitehall Township in 2016 as "cold, calculating and controlling," and said he tried to force others to lie for him in an attempt to manipulate the justice system.

Larry Ray Yaw's defense attorney conceded that the attack occurred, but told jurors that Yaw committed the crime in a blind rage and didn't intend to kill the the victim.

"This is not a whodunnit," attorney Matthew Potts said. "Larry lost control."

Yaw, 34, of Gilbertsville is standing trial for the April 3, 2016, killing of Brian Frank, 44. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

Police say Yaw burst into Frank's apartment in the 900 block of Third Street just before 8 a.m. carrying a handgun and aluminum baseball bat.

Senior Deputy District Attorney Michael Edwards told the jury that Yaw is guilty of 1st-degree murder. He said Yaw kicked down Franks's bedroom door and savagely attacked him with the bat.

"He didn't just take his gun and shoot Mr. Frank. He didn't make it quick. He wanted to make Mr. Frank suffer," Edwards said.

After kicking in a bedroom door that turned out to belong to Frank's roommate, police say Yaw went into Frank's bedroom. The roommate then heard loud noises and Frank screaming in pain, police say.

Yaw allegedly warned the roommate, "If you tell the cops I was here, I will be back for you."

After Yaw fled, police were called to the apartment. Officers found Frank bleeding from the face and the back of his head, convulsing and in obvious pain. Frank was unable to speak and was taken to an area hospital. He died the next day.

"He was moaning and writing in pain," said Whitehall Township police officer Raymond Seiling, the first responder on the scene. "He was flopping around in his bed like a fish."

Yaw has pleaded not guilty. He is charged with homicide, aggravated assault, burglary, kidnapping and a firearms offense. He's being held in the county jail without bail.

Jurors were selected last week. The trial before Lehigh County Judge Maria L. Dantos in Allentown is expected to last several days.

(source: Allentown Morning Call)








NORTH CAROLINA:

NC Supreme Court reviews racial bias in death penalty cases----4 inmates' sentences commuted, then reinstated



The North Carolina Supreme Court will hear cases that will decide whether racial bias is enough to move felons from death row.

Marcus Robinson, Quintel Augustine, Tilmon Golphin and Christina Walters were the first inmates to prove under the North Carolina Racial Justice Act that racial discrimination led to their death sentences, which were reduced to life without parole. Superior Court Judge Gregory Weeks' 2012 decision was overturned, and they were returned to death row. All four defendants are black.

"These Racial Justice Act cases are every bit as important to our state's progress on civil rights issues," said Charlotte civil rights attorney James Ferguson, who represents Augustine.

Weeks said the defendants proved prosecutors removed black people from jury service at double the rate of other potential jurors.

The defendants also argued prosecutors' own notes, training materials, and testimony showed bias. A Cumberland County prosecutor, for example, wrote notes such as "blk wino," "thug," and "black, high drug" to describe prospective African American jurors in a capital case.

"The decision to hear these cases is an encouraging sign that the North Carolina high court will act on the widespread bias tainting capital cases," said Cassandra Stubbs, 1 of Robinson's attorneys and director of the ACLU's Capital Punishment Project. "The state court's action comes on the heels of recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions - Foster v. Chapman and Pena-Rodriquez v. Colorado - that emphasize the constitutional imperative to guard against racial bias. If North Carolina rules in the defendants' favor, it will join a spate of recent state court decisions rejecting discrimination as part of jury selection."

In his ruling, Weeks, an African American, found "a wealth of evidence showing the persistent, pervasive, and distorting role of race in jury selection throughout North Carolina." Under the Racial Justice Act, which prohibited racial discrimination in sentencing in capital cases, Weeks removed Robinson, Augustine, Golphin and Walters from death row in 2012 and sentenced them to life without parole. In 2015, the North Carolina Supreme Court overturned Weeks' decision, saying the hearings should be done over because the state wasn't given enough time to prepare and that 3 of the defendants, who were tried together, should have their own separate hearings. The defendants were sent back to death row.

In January 2017, Superior Court Judge Erwin Spainhour threw out all 4 cases, saying the defendants could no longer use the RJA because it was repealed by the General Assembly in 2013. The Supreme Court will decide whether to uphold or reverse Spainhour's decision. The 4 defendants join death row prisoners Rayford Burke and Andrew Ramseur, who have a related claim. In those cases, the court will decide whether death row inmates who filed RJA claims but have not yet had hearings have the right to present evidence in court.

"All we want is for the courts to look at the facts and make a fair decision," Ferguson said. "When you really look at the evidence, it's clear that race is influencing how we use the death penalty in North Carolina. This is a chance for the state's highest court to declare, definitively, that racial bias in the death penalty is an urgent civil rights issue that cannot be swept under the rug."

(source: The Charlotte Post)








GEORGIA----impending execution

5 things to know: death row and the death penalty in Georgia



As Georgia prepares for the March 2018 execution of Carlton Gary, the "Stocking Strangler" convicted of raping and murdering 3 elderly women in Columbus in the late '70s, we take a look at some facts about Georgia's death row and the death penalty in the state.

1. Death row inmates make up a miniscule portion of the Georgia prison population.

There are currently 55 men awaiting execution on Georgia's death row. In 2017, the Georgia Department of Corrections counted 56,275 persons in all its facilities.* So death row inmates account for 0.097% of the Department of Corrections' overall day-to-day population.

*NOTE: To see the variety of Ga. DCOR facilities, see: http://www.dcor.state.ga.us/sites/all/themes/gdc/pdf/Avg_Daily_Pop_By_Facility_Type_CY2017.pdf

2. Only 3 crimes in Georgia are punishable by death: Treason, aircraft hijacking and murder (with 1 of the aggravating circumstances listed below):

The offender has a prior capital conviction.

The offender was in the process of committing another capital crime, aggravated battery, burglary, or arson.

The offender used or possessed a weapon or device capable of causing significant harm to more than 1 person simultaneously.

The offender committed offense for monetary gain.

The victim was or had been a judicial officer, district attorney, or solicitor general, and was murdered for reasons relating to their employment as such.

The offender hired another to commit the murder or committed it for hire.

The victim was tortured.

The victim was a law enforcement officer or firefighter and was performing his/her official duties.

The offender was in the custody of, or had escaped from, law enforcement or a correctional facility.

The offender was resisting arrest.

The offender had a prior conviction for rape, aggravated sodomy, aggravated child molestation, or aggravated sexual battery.

Everyone currently on Death Row in Georgia has been convicted of murder with aggravating circumstances.

3. Death penalty cases in Georgia have become rare.

Sentences of death must be decided by juries and must be unanimous. If a single juror opposes a death sentence, resulting in a hung jury during the trial's penalty phase, a life sentence is issued. But, as the AJC's Bill Rankin wrote in 2016, "prosecutors almost never seek the death penalty anymore, and juries refuse to impose it when they do."

4. Georgia has executed a total of 70 people since 1976.

Our state has been noted nationally for the number of death row inmates executed in recent years. In 2016, Georgia led the nation with 9 executions, but in 2017 the state carried out only 1 death sentence. The states ahead of Georgia in total executions are Texas (548), Virginia (113), Oklahoma (112), Florida (96) and Missouri (88).

5. Georgia has been the key state involved in both landmark U.S. Supreme Court death penalty decisions.

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down the death penalty nationwide with its 5-4 decision in Furman v. Georgia (1972). The Court held that the death penalty in Furman (joined with 2 other cases, Jackson v. Georgia and Branch v. Texas) constituted cruel and unusual punishment, violating the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. This rendered the existing death penalty in the U.S. as unconstitutional, which put all executions on hold. But in the case that reinstated the death penalty nationally, Gregg v. Georgia (1976), the Court ruled that "capital punishment does not violate the Eighth or Fourteenth amendments of the United States Constitution provided it is set forth in a carefully drafted statute that ensures the sentencing authority has adequate information and guidance in reaching its decision." In other words, states cannot impose the death penalty in an "arbitrary and capricious" manner; specific aggravating factors must be clearly set forth. Georgia did this by specifically revising its death penalty statute to include the aggravating circumstances listed above for murder.


(source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution)








FLORIDA:

Death penalty trial delayed in 2012 West Palm Beach stabbing death



A defendant's trip to the hospital on Monday postponed what was supposed to mark the start of his death penalty trial for the 2012 death of a girlfriend he stabbed while her 9-year-old daughter played outside.

Louis Crawford, 47, of West Palm Beach, was headed to court Monday for the start of jury selection in his 1st-degree murder trial when he suffered a health ailment that caused him to be rushed to the hospital. The hospitalization comes just 4 days after he rejected a plea deal that would allow him to plead guilty to a lesser 2nd-degree murder charge.

Then, Palm Beach County Circuit Judge John Kastrenakes, who was to preside over Crawford's trial, later revealed in court Monday that he had just learned that his baby grandson had suddenly died and he would be traveling to be with relatives.

Kastrenakes set Crawford's case for a calendar call April 25, and Assistant State Attorney Aleathea McRoberts and defense attorney Edward Reagan and Robert Gershman will begin picking jurors the following week.

Crawford is charged with 1st degree murder in the December 2012 death of his 36-year-old ex-girlfriend, Shandreka Wilkerson.

According to arrest reports, Wilkerson at the time of her death had recently moved into an apartment on 20th Street after she moved out of the home she shared with Crawford. She contacted police just 2 days before her death trying to get a restraining order because Crawford was allegedly posting threats against her on Facebook.

Just hours before her Dec. 14 death, Wilkerson called police again and told them she feared Crawford would find her because he had called the leasing office of her apartment complex posing as a worker with the Urban League of Palm Beach County who needed her exact address. Wilkerson told police someone from the office had called to warn her that a secretary in the office had in fact given the caller the address.

Wilkerson's then 9-year-old daughter later told police that her mother warned her that Crawford may have found them and told her to be careful when she went out to play. The girl went to play, and when she returned, found her mother bleeding profusely from her chest.

Investigators say Wilkerson identified Crawford, who she called "Justin" as her killer before she died. Crawford later told police that he and Wilkerson got into an argument in the kitchen of her apartment and said he used a kitchen knife to stab her.

(source: Palm Beach Post)

***************

Florida death penalty: Is it fair, accurate and impartial?



The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday denied Wellington polo club founder John Goodman's appeal concerning blood samples in his DUI manslaughter case. Goodman had already lost a separate appeal over his 2014 retrial conviction and 16-year prison sentence for the 2010 death of Scott Patrick Wilson, 23.

Sometimes profiles in courage and effective leadership go unnoticed. A notable outcome in the Florida Legislature last week didn't necessarily generate much attention given other high-profile matters, including firearm-safety legislation.

By a vote of 11-1, the Senate Rules Committee passed Senate Bill 870, Sen. Randolph Bracy's capital felonies bill, without a House companion. Bracy, a Democrat who represents parts of Orange County, chairs the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, where his bill passed 3-2 last month, demonstrating bipartisan support given the strong Republican majorities on these committees.

The bill addresses what some characterize as a fundamental fairness issue.

The concern arises out of a Florida Supreme Court opinion that determined the extent to which prior death sentences are subject to review after the U.S. Supreme Court's opinion in Hurst v. Florida, holding that Florida's capital-case sentencing process violated "the Sixth Amendment [which] requires a jury, not a judge, to find each fact necessary to impose a sentence of death," in light of its opinion in Ring v. Arizona.

Ring was the 1st U.S. Supreme Court case to decide that all facts enhancing a defendant's sentence must be decided by the jury.

In Hurst v. State, the Florida Supreme Court also rejected a key aspect of the Legislature's 2016 fix that, among other things, increased the minimum requirement for penalty-phase jury recommendations of death from what had been a simple majority (7 of 12) to 10 (of 12), instead requiring the same unanimity necessary for conviction. Bracy stewarded the responsive legislation last year.

As the Senate Rules Committee staff analysis advises, Florida's high court adopted the date Ring vs. Arizona was decided, June 24, 2002, as its bright line for determining Hurst's retroactivity. Therefore, death sentences rendered prior to that date aren't deemed to violate Hurst, but those that became final afterward do.

The fairness, accuracy and impartiality of Florida's death-penalty process should concern both supporters and opponents of capital punishment. -- Raoul Cantero, Roberto Martinez and Mark R. Schlakman

The concept of retroactivity - the application of a newly decided judicial opinion to cases that had already become final - can be complex. Apart from the implications of requiring substantial numbers of new penalty-phase proceedings within a reasonable time - especially those involving inmates who've been on death row for long periods, other practical problems abound. These include the unavailability or unwillingness of witnesses to testify years later, as well as recollection issues.

As a jurisprudential matter, the Florida Supreme Court drew a logical line at the date of Ring, though the fundamental fairness of drawing any line is arguable.

Bracy's bill provides legislative intent that all similarly situated death sentences involving less than a unanimous penalty-phase jury recommendations - not just those that became final after Ring - should be reviewed. The bill's next stop is the Senate floor; if it passes there, the onus shifts to the House.

Hurst retroactivity aside, when Bracy presents his bill on the Senate floor this week, we understand he also may underscore that a range of other issues involving the fairness, accuracy and impartiality of Florida's death-penalty process should concern both supporters and opponents of capital punishment.

For perspective, The Florida Bar Criminal Law Section's Executive Council (comprised of judges, prosecutors and defense counsel) recommended comprehensive review of Florida's entire death-penalty process by all branches of government by a vote of 23-3. This would be a reasonable means to evaluate process concerns, especially given that the legislature abolished the only statutory entity charged with monitoring Florida's death penalty process in 2011 - purportedly as a cost-avoidance measure.

As a former Florida Supreme Court justice appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush who authored the majority opinion in State v. Steele (2005) urging the Legislature to require unanimity for jury recommendations of death in penalty-phase proceedings; a former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida appointed by President George H.W. Bush more recently appointed by the Florida Supreme Court chief justice to the Florida Constitution Revision Commission; and a former special counsel to Gov. Lawton Chiles who initially assisted the governor with review of death-penalty cases and subsequently was invited to serve on the American Bar Association's Florida Death Penalty Assessment Team, we commend Bracy for his leadership.

And we agree that meaningful review of Florida's entire death-penalty process as framed by the Bar's Criminal Law Section is necessary and in the best interests of all Floridians.

(source: Commentary; Raoul Cantero is a former Florida Supreme Court Justice. Roberto Martinez is a former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida. Mark Schlakman is a former special counsel to Gov. Lawton Chiles----Orlando Sentinel)








ALABAMA:

Alabama death row inmate who survived execution date asks judge to halt future attempts



An Alabama death row inmate who survived a lethal injection execution attempt last month is asking a federal judge to block the state from trying a 2nd time to kill him.

Doyle Lee Hamm's attorney stated in federal court documents filed Monday that Hamm was "tortured," citing a doctor's exam of the inmate following the Feb. 22 failed execution. That exam showed 11 puncture marks, according to the doctor's report.

"The defendants (Department of Corrections) acted deliberately in the face of numerous and fair warnings when, after months of litigation that put the defendants on notice about Doyle Hamm's medical conditions, they nonetheless attempted and failed to accomplish intravenous lethal injection, thereby subjecting Doyle Hamm to several torturous and traumatic hours in the execution chamber." Bernard E. Harcourt, professor of law and political science at Columbia University in New York and Hamm's long-time attorney, stated in the complaint.

"To attempt another execution, particularly in light of the torturous circumstances inflicted on Doyle Hamm during the first attempt, would be cruel and unusual, and thus unconstitutional," Harcourt states. To try again also would violate Hamm's rights against double jeopardy, he adds.

Harcourt states that the failed execution didn't happen by accident because they had warned the DOC and court for months that Hamm's veins were too weak for a lethal injection. A federal judge had ruled that the DOC could only use veins in Hamm's lower extremities before the execution attempt - a process the state had never tried.

Hamm, 61, who was convicted of killing Cullman hotel clerk Patrick Cunningham in January 1987, has lymphatic cancer and carcinoma and also has Hepatitis C, a history of seizures and epilepsy, multiple significant head injuries, and severely compromised veins due to years of intravenous drug use, according to court documents filed by Harcourt.

Harcourt stated in an email to AL.com that they are filing a petition to the circuit court of Cullman County based on double jeopardy and will soon file for a rehearing to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The complaints included a report filed by Mark J. S. Heath, a medical doctor with a practice in anesthesiology at the New York-Presbyterian/Columbia Hospital in New York City. Heath examined Hamm on Feb. 25 at the Holman Correctional Facility where most of the state's death row inmates are held.

That exam, according to a report filed with Monday's complaint, found a total of 11 lower extremities and right groin puncture wounds. Sudden bleeding by Hamm that occurred during the procedure while Hamm was strapped to the gurney in the death chamber was consistent with arterial puncture and penetration of a ureter, the bladder, the prostate gland, or the urethra, the report states.

Since the failed execution Hamm has suffered not only physically but also emotionally, according to the federal complaint. "He has had nightmares and flashbacks in which he pictures himself lying on the gurney again, being subjected again to the torturous pain that occurred on February 22, 2018. Doyle Hamm has been traumatized and lives in fear that ADOC will subject him to another painful and botched execution," the complaint states.

The night of the scheduled execution the U.S. Supreme Court had delayed the start of the lethal injection procedure but gave the go ahead about 9 p.m. and the DOC began prepping Hamm. It was after 11:30 p.m. when word came that the execution had been called off. The death warrant expired at midnight and the state would have to ask the Alabama Supreme Court to set another date.

Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn said medical personnel had advised officials that there wasn't enough time to ensure that the execution could be conducted in a humane manner. However, Dunn declined to detail the exact medical factors behind the decision, and said he didn't want to characterize them as a problem.

(source: al.com)

**************

Doyle Lee Hamm wished for death during botched execution, report says



Death-row inmate Doyle Lee Hamm told a doctor that an attempt to execute him last month was so painful that he wished for a quick death, according to a medical report filed on Monday.

Alabama prison officials called off Hamm's lethal injection Feb. 22 because they could not find a viable vein as the clock ticked down to midnight, when the death warrant was set to expire.

Hamm's attorney, Bernard Harcourt, said the procedure amounted to torture, with an intravenous team repeatedly puncturing his legs before another medical worker tried to put a central line in through his groin.

"During this time Mr. Hamm began to hope that the doctor would succeed in obtaining IV access so that Mr. Hamm could 'get it over with' because he preferred to die rather than to continue to experience the ongoing severe pain," Dr. Mark Heath, who was retained by Harcourt to examine Hamm, wrote in his report.

"At one point a large amount of blood began to accumulate in the region of Mr. Hamm's groin. The blood soaked a pad or drape, and another one was applied."

Heath examined and interviewed Hamm after the execution attempt. Photos he took show puncture wounds on the convict's legs and groin, and heavy bruising. Hamm has been on death row for 3 decades for the murder of a motel clerk in 1987.

The report, based on Hamm's account of the execution, describes a frantic scene in the death chamber, which was closed to all but the execution team at the time. It reported the IV team "mashing" needles into his flesh in an effort to connect with a good vein. The veins in Hamm's arms had been compromised by illness and years of drug use.

A man Hamm assumed was a doctor and a woman working an ultrasound machine then arrived to see if the needle could be placed in a larger vein in his groin, but that was also unsuccessful, the report says.

After a man who was monitoring the execution - apparently a prison official - informed the medical workers that the execution had been canceled, the doctor said he wanted to keep trying, according to Hamm's account.

"The doctor then moved to Mr. Hamm's feet and began examining them and palpating them, stating that he had not had an opportunity to attempt access in the feet," the report said. "The man then told the doctor to 'get out.'"

Heath said that because Hamm reported blood in his urine after the botched procedure, his bladder, ureter or prostate may have been punctured. The amount of blood he described suggested his femoral artery could have been penetrated, the report said.

The Alabama Department of Corrections has declined to comment on Harcourt's allegations or release any paperwork related to it, citing ongoing litigation. Immediately after the failed execution, the corrections commissioner said he did not think the delay represented "a problem" and expected to be able to execute Hamm at another time.

Harcourt filed appeals in 2 courts on Monday challenging the legality of trying to execute a man twice. Hamm, meanwhile, told the doctor's he's having nightmares and daytime flashbacks.

"The flashbacks occur when he is alone, and involve imaging himself strapped to the gurney. He can feel his heart racing during the flashbacks," Heath wrote. "He is appreciative of the support of other death row prisoners who are asking what they can do to help him recover."

(source: NBC News)

********************

Attempts to carry out the death penalty have gone from bad to worse



We are barely into the 3rd month of 2018 and already the state of Alabama's attempts to carry out the death penalty have gone from bad to worse.

In late January, 30 minutes before he was supposed to die, the court stayed the execution of Vernon Madison because there were questions as to whether he could understand why he was being killed.

Madison, 67, has been on death row for more than 3 decades after having been found guilty of the murder of Mobile police officer Julius Schulte. His attorneys say multiple strokes have left Madison with dementia and he no longer has a memory of his crime. They also say he is legally blind, cannot walk on his own and has urinary incontinence. Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said the state will continue to pursue Madison's execution.

In late February, Alabama tried to kill Doyle Lee Hamm, 61, in what has been described as a horrifically botched execution. Hamm, who has spent more than 30 years on death row for the murder of Patrick Cunningham, a motel clerk in Cullman, has been diagnosed with lymphatic cancer. While strapped to a gurney for more than 2 1/2 hours, Hamm was repeatedly punctured through his groin as officials attempted to find a vein for the lethal injection. Half an hour before his death warrant was to expire, the state called off the execution. U.S. Chief District Judge Karon Bowdre is expected to begin a review of the execution attempt on Tuesday.

On April 19, Alabama is scheduled to execute Walter Leroy Moody, 83, the oldest inmate on the state's death row. Moody was convicted of killing federal appeals court judge Robert Vance with a pipe bomb he mailed to Vance's home in Mountain Brook in 1989.

30 years is a long time to wait to die, but the state is persistent. Alabama has spent a lot of money and a lot of energy to usher out these old and infirm inmates before nature takes its course. We're sure a lot of readers would agree that Madison, Hamm and Moody are examples of why the death penalty process should be shortened. But there are 6 men in the past 25 years who are glad it wasn't.

Walter McMillian was convicted of murder and sentenced to die in 1988 in Monroeville. On March 2, 1993, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals voted 5-0 to exonerate him and set him free. He sat on death row for 6 years. Larry Randal Padgett was sentenced to death in 1992. 5 1/2 years later, he was exonerated. Gary Drinkard was sentenced to death in 1995. In 2001 he was exonerated. Wesley Quick was sentenced to death in 1997. He was exonerated in 2003. Daniel Wade Moore was sentenced to death in 2002. He was exonerated in 2009.

Anthony Hinton was sentenced to death in 1986. He was exonerated in 2015, after awaiting his execution for 29 years for crimes he did not commit.

(source: Editorial, Tuscaloosa News)








LOUISIANA:

Sonia Sotomayor Faults SCOTUS for Failing to Protect Right to Effective Counsel in Death Row Case----Justice Sotomayor dissents from the denial of certiorari in Wessinger v. Vannoy.



Today the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal of a death row inmate whose state-appointed attorneys failed to discover and present mitigating evidence that might have altered the outcome of his jury trial. Writing in dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor faulted her colleagues for refusing to review this "deeply unjust and unfair" case. The Court's inaction, Sotomayor declared, "belies the 'bedrock principle in our justice system' that a defendant has a right to effective assistance of trial counsel, and undermines the protections this Court has recognized are necessary to protect that right."

The case of Wessinger v. Vannoy originated in 1997 when Todd Wessinger was found guilty of killing 2 people and sentenced to death. Yet as Justice Sotomayor pointed out, "Wessinger was sentenced to death by a jury that was never presented with significant mitigation evidence that may have convinced its members to spare his life," such as the fact that he "suffers from a major neurocognitive disorder that compromises his decision-making abilities" and "has a hole in the area of his brain associated with executive functioning that resulted from some form of cerebrovascular illness."

Wessinger's state-appointed lawyers failed to discover and present such evidence as their client's case wound its way through the Louisiana courts. As one of those lawyers later admitted under oath, his work was "inadequately investigated, rushly put together based on a civil lawyer's understanding of what to do, a 1st-year civil lawyer's understanding of what to do."

Represented by new lawyers at the federal level, Wessinger prevailed in 2015 before the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana, which found that his counsel "at the penalty phase was deficient and fell below the objectively reasonable norms of capital counsel at a penalty phase." Furthermore, the district court said, "there is a reasonable probability that the evidence of [Wessinger's] brain damage and other impairments, as well as his personal and family history would have swayed at least 1 juror to choose a life sentence." The district court then vacated Wessinger's death sentence.

But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit reversed that ruling, leaving Wessinger on death row. It was that 5th Circuit decision that the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review today, prompting Justice Sotomayor to take the rare step of publicly rebuking the other justices for declining to get involved.

"The layers of ineffective assistance of counsel that Wessinger received constitute precisely the type of error that warrants relief under this Court's precedent," Justice Sotomoyor maintained. "Yet, Wessinger will remain on death row without a jury ever considering the significant mitigation evidence that is now apparent. Because that outcome is contrary to precedent and deeply unjust and unfair, I dissent."

Justice Sotomayor's dissent from the denial of certiorari in Wessinger v. Vannoy is available at https://www.supremecourt.gov/orders/courtorders/030518zor_pnk0.pdf

(source: reason.com)

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