California: With state executions on hold, death penalty foes rethink ballot strategy

California advocates of abolishing the death penalty got a jolt of momentum in March, when Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that he would not allow any executions to take place while he was in office.
But after trying twice this decade to persuade voters to end capital punishment, they have no plans to go to the ballot again in 2020. Rather than seeking to build on Newsom’s temporary reprieve for Death Row inmates, activists are taking their own pause.
Grappling with the legacy of their two failed initiatives, advocates are reassessing their strategy and retooling their message. Natasha Minsker, a political consultant who has long been involved with abolition efforts, said the governor’s moratorium has given advocates the opportunity to do long-term planning.
“There’s this excitement and energy in our movement that we haven’t had in a long time,” Minsker said.
Newsom’s executive order caught many Californians by surprise. Although he supported the unsuccessful ballot measures to abolish t…

Important Court Victory in Florida

Sunday, July 22, Fifth Circuit Court Judge Carven Angel issued a temporary injunction barring the State of Florida from carrying out the execution of Death Row inmate Ian Lightbourne. The Judge stated that it would be improper for the Governor to consider taking up a Death Warrant at this time.

After hearing sworn testimony in the first courtroom review of the December 13, 2006 botched execution of Angel Diaz and the subsequent proposed changes to Florida's lethal injection protocols, Judge Angel found that the Dept. of Corrections and the State of Florida are unprepared to carry out an execution of Death Row inmate Ian Lightbourne.

Judge Angel said that the Governor must have confidence that Florida's execution process is compatible with evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society and the dignity of man. The judge further stated that executions should be carried out in a manner that does not result in the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain and lingering death.

Testimony was heard in 5th Circuit Court that included a new eyewitness account that Diaz was "tortured to death", that both IV needles were never inserted in his veins and that then-Gov. Bush's office dictated the false official account read to the press following the execution.

The court reporter was ordered to have transcripts prepared by 5PM on Monday.

The Lightbourne appeal is the first courtroom challenge to Florida's lethal injection protocol and procedure since the botched Diaz execution. It has not yet been announced how the judge's final order will affect the Death Warrant signed last week by Gov. Crist, setting a November 15, 2007 date for the execution of inmate Mark Schwab.

Judge Carven Angel is to issue his final order on August 10. The D.O.C. is to submit new protocols on August 17. Hearings will be scheduled in Judge Angel's courtroom 5 weeks from that date. The Florida Supreme Court is scheduled to begin hearing arguments in this case on October 11.

Changes Judge Angel called for include:

- Necessary and minimum qualifications of execution personnel with job descriptions and up-to-date training certification.

- Current certification from the D.O.C. that all necessary equipment, facillities, heart monitors are evaluated and in place.

- Certification that facilities are properly maintained and evaluated for improvements.

- Formalized standards and process for legal and medical review with public input on the protocols including public announcements of the review process.

- D.O.C. must provide a list of qualified medical personnel for Warden to pick from.

- A complete procedural checklist must be submitted to the court.

It is interesting to note that on Wednesday, July 18, D.O.C. officials testified, under oath in the 5th Circuit Court, that Florida's new execution procedures were not yet finalized and construction work on the death chamber was not completed. On that same day, Gov. Crist signed his first Death Warrant and the official D.O.C. Spokesperson announced that "the state's execution team has now been trained under the new procedures. Physical changes to the death chamber at Florida State Prison are also complete, she said. 'We are ready to go.'"
---Gainesville Sun, July 19.

This is the same D.O.C. Spokesperson who made the now-discredited official statements to the press, immediately following the botched Angel Diaz execution, that "nothing happened that was not unanticipated", that they were aware that Diaz had a "liver condition that slowed the absorption of drugs" and accounted for the lengthy execution, that the state expected to use additional drugs to kill Diaz, and that he appeared peaceful and was snoring during the
procedure. These statements are now known to be false.

Secrecy, denial and deception have been "business as usual" for Florida executions. This is representative of the harsh operational realities of our fatally-flawed, expensive and unnecessary Death Penalty system.

Following the American Bar Association's scathing report on Florida's Death Penalty system and Florida's national record for having the greatest number of wrongfully convicted people on Death Row, our new Governor and all Floridians should be alarmed at this new judicial vote of "no confidence."

Mark Elliott
Director, Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, FADP.org

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