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“River of Fire”: In New Memoir, Sister Helen Prejean Reflects on Decades of Fighting Executions

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The Trump administration is moving ahead with plans to resume the death penalty after a more than 15-year moratorium. This week Attorney General William Barr proposed fast-tracking executions in mass murder cases, and last month ordered the execution of five death row prisoners beginning in December. The federal government has executed just three people since 1963 — the last being in 2003. The death penalty is widely condemned by national governments, international bodies and human rights groups across the world. Experts say capital punishment does not help deter homicides and that errors and racism in the criminal justice system extend to those sentenced to death. We speak with Sister Helen Prejean, a well-known anti-death-penalty activist who began her prison ministry over 30 years ago. She is the author of the best-selling book “Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty,” which was turned into an Academy Award-winning film starring Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn. …

Texas executes Yokamon Hearn

Yokamon Hearn
HUNTSVILLE, Texas A 33-year-old man convicted of carjacking and fatally shooting a suburban Dallas stockbroker headed to the Texas death chamber Wednesday, becoming the first person in the state executed with a single lethal drug.

Texas Department of Criminal Justice officials announced last week they were modifying a three-drug execution procedure used since 1982 because the state's supply of one of the drugs - the muscle relaxant pancuronium bromide - has expired. Yokamon Hearn was executed using a single dose of the sedative pentobarbital.

Ohio, Arizona, Idaho and Washington have already adopted a single-drug procedure, and this week Georgia said it would do so, too.

Hearn was sentenced to death in the March 1998 slaying of Frank Meziere, 23. About 3 1/2 hours before Hearn's execution, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected appeals to halt it. None of the appeals addressed the change in the state's execution drug policy.

In one previous appeal, Hearn's lawyers argued that his mother drank alcohol when she was pregnant, stunting his neurological development and leaving him with mental impairments that disqualify him from execution under earlier Supreme Court rulings. Testing showed Hearn's IQ was too high for him to be considered mentally impaired.

In another, his appeals lawyers claimed the trial attorneys who handled his initial appeals failed to investigate his background and uncover evidence of his alleged mental impairment and troubled childhood.

In 2004, he avoided the death chamber when a federal court agreed his mental impairment claims should be reviewed and halted his execution less than an hour before its scheduled time.

Hearn showed no apparent unusual reaction to the drug as his execution began. He was pronounced dead at 6:37 p.m.

Asked by the warden if he wanted to make a final statement, he said: "I'd like to tell my family, I love you and I wish you all well. I'm ready."

Hearn becomes the 6th condemned inmate to be put to death in Texas this year and the 483rd overall since the state resumed capital punishment on December 7, 1982. At least 8 other Texas prisoners have execution dates in the coming months, including 3 in August. 

Hearn becomes the 24th condemned inmate to be put to death this year in the USA and the 1301st overall since the nation resumed executions on January 17, 1977. Condemned inmates are scheduled to be put to death in Georgia, Arizona, Oklahoma and Louisiana between July 23 and August 15. 

Sources: AP, Rick Halperin, July 18, 2012

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