Monday, April 7, 2014

USA: Federal death row inmate wins stay

Terre Haute, Indiana
A death row inmate once slated to be the 1st person executed by the federal government on President Barack Obama's watch has won an indefinite stay of execution from a federal judge.

Jeffery Paul, 37, obtained the order Thursday from U.S. District Court Judge Richard Roberts after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled in January that he was wrong to refuse Paul's request to join a pending lawsuit in which 3 other death row prisoners have challenged the federal government's lethal injection protocol. Those 3 prisoners are covered by a similar order barring their execution while the litigation proceeds.

An attorney for Paul welcomed the judge's new order.

"We were gratified that the Court of Appeals gave Mr. Paul a chance to vindicate his rights by joining the lawsuit, and it is equally gratifying to learn that his execution will be stayed so that he can pursue the case to its conclusion," Keith Rosen of Chadbourne & Parke said Thursday.

In 2010, the federal Bureau of Prisons revealed plans to move forward with the execution of Paul, who was convicted in 1997 and sentenced to death for the robbery-murder 2 years earlier of 82-year-old retired National Park Service employee Sherman Williams on federal land in Hot Springs, Ark.

However, in 2011, the Justice Department announced that all federal executions were on hold so the Bureau of Prisons could revise execution procedures as a result of a shortage of a drug commonly used for lethal injections: sodium thiopental. The new procedures have still not been published or approved, but government lawyers said in a court filing this week that federal officials "are in the final phases of finalizing the protocol."

The last federal execution took place in March 2003. While no U.S. prisoner has been executed under Obama, 3 executions were carried out in the federal system under President George W. Bush, including that of Oklahoma City federal building bomber Timothy McVeigh. Before McVeigh was put to death in 2001 at the federal death row complex in Terre Haute, Ind., the federal government went almost 4 decades without conducting an execution.

During his 1st presidential campaign, Obama said he supported the death penalty in the case of "heinous" crimes. "I have said repeatedly that I think that the death penalty should be applied in very narrow circumstances, for the most egregious crimes," Obama said when criticizing a 2008 Supreme Court decision that barred death sentences for child rape.

There are presently 59 people on federal death row in the civilian system and 5 in the military, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, an anti-capital punishment group. As of last year, the group tallied 3095 people on death row in the U.S., with the vast majority in state custody.

Source: politico.com, April 6, 2014