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Showing posts from September, 2009

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Trial by Fire - Did Texas execute an innocent man?

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The fire moved quickly through the house, a one-story wood-frame structure in a working-class neighborhood of Corsicana, in northeast Texas. Flames spread along the walls, bursting through doorways, blistering paint and tiles and furniture. Smoke pressed against the ceiling, then banked downward, seeping into each room and through crevices in the windows, staining the morning sky.
Buffie Barbee, who was eleven years old and lived two houses down, was playing in her back yard when she smelled the smoke. She ran inside and told her mother, Diane, and they hurried up the street; that’s when they saw the smoldering house and Cameron Todd Willingham standing on the front porch, wearing only a pair of jeans, his chest blackened with soot, his hair and eyelids singed. He was screaming, “My babies are burning up!” His children—Karmon and Kameron, who were one-year-old twin girls, and two-year-old Amber—were trapped inside.
Willingham told the Barbees to call the Fire Department, and while Dia…

Society has no place for death penalty

THE death penalty has no place in modern society. It is the most abhorrent act available to man - the deliberate taking of a human life in the name of justice.
The absolute truth of these statements came to me on February 3, 1967, the day that Ronald Ryan was executed at Pentridge Prison - the last man to be hanged in Australia.

I was a witness to the execution.

Together with 11 other journalists, I watched as Ryan was led to the gallows in the centre of a catwalk spanning the first level of the D Division cell block.

I watched as the hangman looped the noose around his neck. I watched as the hood was pulled down over his face.

As the hangman leapt for the lever and the gallows crashed open, sending Ryan to his death at the end of the rope, I closed my eyes - it was too much to bear.

It was the most deliberate, callous and barbaric act I have ever witnessed.

The memory haunts me to this day - that I saw a man deliberately killed in the name of the law.

I walked into Pentridge that day…

Dead Man Talking

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Survivor of Ohio's latest botched execution reveals breathtaking incompetence
Romell Broom achieved a macabre notoriety this past month when he became the first man to survive his date with the needle. Not just in Ohio, but anywhere.
The convicted rapist and murderer endured more than two hours of poking and stabbing before his date with death was called off indefinitely. His executioners could not find a vein to plant intravenous shunts, and they prodded him with needles at least 18 times to no avail, says Tim Sweeney, his lawyer.
The eyes of the world are on Ohio now, and many are questioning our death-penalty apparatus.
It was the first time an execution was called off while in progress, but it wasn't the first time our executioners unintentionally prolonged their work. In 2006, inmate Joseph Clark uttered "It don't work" as his handlers bungled an IV attachment and delayed his doom for more than an hour. In 2007, techs took close to two hours to find a vein and p…

Texas Fugitive caught by HPD gets reprieve

A Texas death row inmate won a reprieve Tuesday from a federal appeals court a day before he was scheduled for execution for a triple slaying in Amarillo almost 12 years ago.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a brief one-paragraph order stopping the lethal injection of John Balentine, set for Wednesday evening, "pending further order of this court." Balentine's appeal to the New Orleans-based 5th Circuit said lower courts had not properly resolved his earlier appeals.

The Texas Attorney General's Office was appealing to get the order lifted, spokeswoman Lauri Saathoff said.

Balentine, 40, would have been the 19th prisoner executed this year in the nations most active death penalty state.

Balentine was condemned for the January 1998 shooting deaths of Mark Caylor Jr., 17; Kai Brooke Geyer, 15; and Steven Watson, also 15. Caylor was the brother of Balentine's former girlfriend, and prosecutors said the shootings capped a feud between Caylor and Balentine.

Evi…

Nebraska: 3-drug combo is execution cocktail

Nebraska corrections officials propose to execute condemned prisoners with a 3-drug combination.

The drugs would be the same used in all other states that carry out the death penalty by lethal injection an anesthetic, a paralyzing agent and a drug to stop the prisoner's heart.

Death penalty critics attack the drugs, saying they can cause prisoners to suffer and that veterinarians have rejected using them to euthanize animals.

But the three-drug protocol is outlined in draft rules and regulations for Nebraska executions officials released Monday.

The proposed rules would carry out the state's new lethal injection law. A public hearing is set for Nov. 16 at the State Office Building in Lincoln.

Robert Houston, director of corrections, said staffers who developed the draft protocol did not consider other drugs.

"Those are the most accepted," he said. "We believe that that protocol follows state law and reflects the best procedures from around the country."

But Mike N…

Ohio: Condemned inmate Lawrence Reynolds wants execution delayed

A death row inmate has asked the Ohio Supreme Court to delay his upcoming execution in light of problems with the state's last scheduled lethal injection.

Attorneys for Lawrence Reynolds filed a motion with the state's highest court today, days after a similar filing with a federal appeals court.

Reynolds execution scheduled for Oct. 8 would be the 1st since the state's unsuccessful attempt at putting Romell Broom to death on Sept. 15. The lethal injection procedure was halted by Gov. Ted Strickland after executioners struggled for 2 hours to find a usable vein.

Broom's execution has been delayed until at least Nov. 30.

Reynolds' lawyers argue that Ohios lethal injection system should be investigated before he goes to the death chamber.

Source: Cleveland.com, Sept. 30, 2009

Five people were hanged in north-eastern Iran

Five people were hanged in the prison of Taybad, north-east of Iran reported the official news site of the Iranian police.

Those executed were convicted of drug trafficking and none of them were identified by name. No further details were given in the report.

The executions took place at about 9 pm, September 28, according to the report.

Source: Iran Human Rights, Sept. 30, 2009

Ohio: Freeze on lethal injections sought

The ghosts of problem executions past combined with an aborted attempt two weeks ago are haunting state prison officials as death-penalty foes argue that Ohio's lethal injections should be halted, at least temporarily.

The Ohio public defender, in motions filed yesterday in state and federal courts, contends that the botched attempt to execute Romell Broom on Sept. 15 - coupled with problems in two previous executions - warrants postponing the scheduled lethal injection of Lawrence Reynolds next week.

"Until a thorough and proper review of Ohio's lethal injection protocol is conducted, executions should not be allowed to proceed in the state," Kelly L. Schneider, head of the public defender's death-penalty section, told The Dispatch yesterday. "It seems like the logical thing to do is to take a step back and see what's going on here."

The prison execution team "demonstrated that it is wholly incapable of administering Ohio's lethal injectio…

Changing your mind about the death penalty

A lot of people opposed to the death penalty have stories of conversion, but none could possibly be more powerful than those who have been victimized by the crimes eligible for such a punishment.

The family members of murder victims are often assumed to be of one mind on the death penalty. I know of no study that quantifies what percentage may be opposed, and I doubt we could ever really know, but the group Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights has asked some of its members to walk us through their own conversion stories. It's powerful reading.

Here's part of one mother's story: "It was expected by everyone that I would want the death penalty. Not a single person ever sat down and talked with me about other options..."
Click here to read this feature in full.
Source: The Dallas Morning News, Sept. 29, 2009

All eyes on Lucasville in next execution attempt

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COLUMBUS – Will it fail again? Will there be another last-minute court stay or reprieve ordered by the governor? Or will Ohio move ahead and try to execute Romell Broom for the second time in December?
Whatever happens, the attention of death penalty opponents and supporters nationwide is focused on the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville – home to the Death House and 32 executions by lethal injection since 1999.
The attempted execution of Romell Broom, 53, on Sept. 15 was the first lethal-injection ever stopped due to problems finding a usable vein.
The only other time a U.S. execution failed after the process began was more than 50 years ago when Louisiana tried to electrocute 17-year-old Willie Francis. A 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court ordered a second try in the electric chair on May 9, 1947.
A plan to try a second time was halted Tuesday by a federal judge after Broom’s attorneys sued the state, saying a repeat attempt would be “cruel and unusual punishment” and “double jeopard…

Texas: Death row con gets 10 years in senator threat

Death row killer Richard Lee Tabler, whose cell phone calls to a state senator sparked a statewide shakedown of all state prisons nearly a year ago, pleaded guilty this morning to threatening the lawmaker and possessing contraband.

During a brief courtroom appearance in Livingston, in East Texas, Tabler got 10-year sentence stacked atop his death sentence.

"The message here is that we take these possession of contraband cases seriously especially cell phones on death row and that we will prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law," said Gina DeBottis, chief prosecutor with the Special Prosecutions Unit that handles prison cases.

"(Tabler) got the maximum sentence possible."

Both crimes of which Tabler was charged retaliation and possession of contraband in a state prison were 3rd-degree felonies, punishable by 2-10 years in prison. He could have received 20 years under a special enhancement provision in state law, but because his death sentence is still on appeal …

The high cost of vengeance

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As far as I know, I've made eye contact with only one serial killer, Darrell Keith Rich, in the summer of 1978. I was a 23-year-old reporter, notebook in hand, covering his pretrial proceedings in Shasta County. He was a 23-year-old biker, hands and legs bound in shackles, accused of a two-month rampage of kidnapping, rape and murder. He killed four of the nine females he attacked. His youngest victim, 11 years, old, was abducted, sexually assaulted and thrown off a bridge. She fell 105 feet, hit the rocks and crawled to her death.

A year earlier, the California Legislature had reinstituted the death penalty, five years after it had been invalidated by the state Supreme Court as cruel and unusual punishment. The specter of the death penalty did not deter Darrell Rich in the summer of 1978. His crimes were as horrific as those of any villain in a Dirty Harry movie: He used rocks to crush the skulls of two of his victims; he shot a mother twice in the mouth as she pleaded for her lif…

High Cost of Death Row

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To the many excellent reasons to abolish the death penalty — it’s immoral, does not deter murder and affects minorities disproportionately — we can add one more. It’s an economic drain on governments with already badly depleted budgets.

It is far from a national trend, but some legislators have begun to have second thoughts about the high cost of death row. Others would do well to consider evidence gathered by the Death Penalty Information Center, a research organization that opposes capital punishment.

States waste millions of dollars on winning death penalty verdicts, which require an expensive second trial, new witnesses and long jury selections. Death rows require extra security and maintenance costs.

There is also a 15-to-20-year appeals process, but simply getting rid of it would be undemocratic and would increase the number of innocent people put to death. Besides, the majority of costs are in the pretrial and trial.

According to the organization, keeping inmates on death row in Fl…

Some Examples of Post-Furman Botched Executions

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NOTE: The below is not intended to be a comprehensive catalogue of botched executions, but simply a listing of examples that are well-known. There are 42 examples listed: 2 by asphyxiation, 10 by electrocution, and 30 by lethal injection.

1. August 10, 1982. Virginia. Frank J. Coppola. Electrocution. Although no media representatives witnessed the execution and no details were ever released by the Virginia Department of Corrections, an attorney who was present later stated that it took two 55-second jolts of electricity to kill Coppola. The second jolt produced the odor and sizzling sound of burning flesh, and Coppola's head and leg caught on fire. Smoke filled the death chamber from floor to ceiling with a smoky haze.[1]

2. April 22, 1983. Alabama. John Evans. Electrocution. After the first jolt of electricity, sparks and flames erupted from the electrode attached to Evans's leg. The electrode burst from the strap holding it in place and caught on fire. Smoke and sparks also …

With little oversight in Texas, autopsies often careless

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The man almost took the dirty secret of his death to his grave. The Tarrant County medical examiners office said injuries from a pickup wreck killed him. But after a funeral director hundreds of miles away found a bullet in the mans head, authorities realized a killer was on the loose.
Worse has happened in the autopsy suites of Texas medical examiners.

A child molester faked his own death and almost got away with it after the Travis County medical examiner mistook the burned body of an 81-year-old woman for the 23-year-old man.

A woman was on her way to Death Row in Alabama after a medical examiner now working in Texas said she had suffocated her newborn. The sad truth, other experts said, was that the baby was stillborn.

An Austin baby sitter has spent years on death row for a baby's murder. The medical examiner whose testimony helped put her there now says the baby's death may have been an accident.

The medical examiner is the doctor-detective who is supposed to extract trut…