USA | Biden frustrates death penalty opponents with Supreme Court request

Opponents of capital punishment are expressing frustration with the Biden administration’s request this week that the Supreme Court reinstate the death penalty against Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Critics see the Department of Justice (DOJ) move as inconsistent with President Biden’s calls on the campaign trail to eliminate capital punishment. Outright repeal of the federal death penalty would require legislation, which is unlikely to clear the current Congress given the deep partisan divide. But advocates say Biden could take steps on his own to curtail executions carried out by the federal government and are renewing calls for him to do just that. “This move from the DOJ contravenes the president’s vow to work with Congress to abolish the federal death penalty,” said Kristina Roth, a senior advocate in Amnesty International USA’s criminal justice program. “Regardless of the Supreme Court's decision in this case, President Biden can, and should, commute all federal de

Mississippi: Edwin Hart Turner's execution temporarily halted by federal judge

Edwin Hart Turner
A federal judge on Monday temporarily halted the scheduled execution of a convicted murderer in Mississippi in order to allow attorneys to argue whether the state has improperly kept him from getting a psychiatric evaluation.

Edwin Hart Turner, 38, who was convicted of murdering two people during convenience store robberies in 1995, was set to die by lethal injection on Wednesday.

In an order on Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Carlton W. Reeves postponed Turner's execution until at least February 20.

Last week, Turner's attorney filed a court brief accusing the Mississippi Department of Corrections of improperly preventing a psychiatrist from evaluating Turner.

Attorney James Craig of the Louisiana Capital Assistance Center said in the court filing that important information that related to Turner's mental health wasn't presented during his trial.

Craig said Turner had a "long and extensive" history of mental illness. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that executing mentally retarded people is cruel and unusual punishment. Turner is asking the Supreme Court to extend that ruling to the mentally ill.

Turner was sentenced to death for killing Eddie Brooks and Everett Curry in 2 separate incidents in Carroll County, Mississippi on the same day in 1995.

Before the murders, a suicide attempt had left Turner's face disfigured. Witnesses identified him at 1 of the crime scenes by a towel he wore around his head to hide his disfigurement.

An accomplice, Paul M. Stewart, confessed to the crimes and testified against Turner. Stewart was convicted of 2 counts of capital murder and sentenced to 2 consecutive life terms in prison.

A spokeswoman for Attorney General Jim Hood said he had not yet reviewed the court order postponing the execution and would only comment on the case through court filings.

Source: Reuters, Feb.7, 2012

Mississippi execution is temporarily blocked by judge

A federal judge on Monday temporarily blocked the execution of a Mississippi inmate who killed two men during a robbery spree in 1995. The man's attorneys asked for the order, not arguing guilt or innocence, but that Edwin Hart Turner is mentally ill and should not be executed.

Condemned inmate Edwin Hart Turner has asked a federal judge to halt his scheduled Feb. 8 execution until he can get a mental examination. U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves will conduct a hearing Friday in Jackson on Turner's request.

U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves ordered the Mississippi Department of Corrections to allow Turner to be seen by a psychiatrist of his choosing.

James Craig with the Louisiana Capital Assistance Center argues that a Mississippi Department of Corrections policy prohibited Turner from getting tests that could prove he's mentally ill. Craig said the policy, which dates to the 1990s, violates prisoners' rights to have access to courts and other materials that can help them develop evidence.

The policy requires court orders for medical experts or others to visit and test inmates. Craig said the right tests would show Turner is mentally ill.

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood has said Turner's lawyers are bringing up old arguments that have been rejected by the courts before.

"We argue that his mental health claims have been fully addressed, and that this present action is nothing more than an attempt to re-litigate a claim that has been properly adjudicated at every turn," Hood said in a statement.

Mississippi is 1 of 10 states that permit someone who suffered from serious mental illness at the time of the offense to be executed, according to a petition filed with the U.S. Supreme Court. Turner's lawyers want the Court to prohibit the execution of mentally ill people the way it did inmates considered mentally retarded.

There's little dispute that Turner killed the men then went home and had a meal of shrimp and cinnamon rolls before going to sleep. He's scheduled to die by injection Wednesday.

His attorneys have filed 2 separate petitions that seek to stop the execution, 1 with the U.S. Supreme Court and the other 1 in federal court in Jackson.

Turner's lawyers argue that Turner inherited a serious mental illness. His father is thought to have committed suicide by shooting a gun into a shed filled with dynamite and his grandmother and great-grandmother both spent time in the state mental hospital.

Craig said in a telephone interview Monday that Turner had spent 3 months in the Mississippi State Hospital at Whitfield after slitting his wrists in 1995. He had been out about 6 weeks before the killings occurred.

Turner, 38, was convicted of killing the 2 men while robbing gas stations with his friend, Paul Murrell Stewart, in a spree that netted about $400. Stewart, who was 17 at the time, testified against Turner and was sentenced to life in prison.

Craig said Turner was diagnosed with depression that year and given the antidepressant medication Prozac. Craig believes Turner was misdiagnosed and that Prozac compounded his problems.

"If the folks at Whitfield knew then what we know now, I feel confident they wouldn't have released him with 40 milligrams of Prozac," Craig said.

Source: Associated Press, Feb. 7, 2012

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