Will the U.S. Finally End the Death Penalty?

In the past, abolition efforts have faced a backlash—but Gavin Newsom’s moratorium may be different.
The American death penalty is extraordinarily fragile, with death sentences and executions on the decline. Public support for the death penalty has diminished. The practice is increasingly marginalized around the world. California, with its disproportionately large share of American death-row inmates, announces an end to the death penalty. The year? 1972. That’s when the California Supreme Court declared the death penalty inconsistent with the state’s constitutional prohibition of cruel or unusual punishments—only to have the death penalty restored a year later through popular initiative and legislation.
On Wednesday, again, California walked back its commitment to the death penalty. Though not full-fledged abolition, Governor Gavin Newsom declared a moratorium on capital punishment lasting as long as his tenure in office, insisting that the California death penalty has been an “abject…

Texas executes Elroy Chester

Elroy Chester
HUNTSVILLE, Texas (AP) — A man who confessed to killing five people during a six month crime spree in a southeastern Texas port city 15 years ago was executed Wednesday for the fatal shooting of a firefighter.

A last-minute appeal to the United States Supreme Court was not granted and media members were called in to witness the execution at 6:21 p.m. at the Walls unit.  Chester died at 7:04 p.m.

Elroy Chester killed Willie Ryman III in February 1998. Ryman, a decorated Port Arthur firefighter, interrupted Chester as he sexually assaulted Ryman's two teenage nieces during a break-in at their home. Chester, who was on probation at the time, was arrested soon after and subsequently pleaded guilty to killing the 38-year-old firefighter.

DNA evidence tied Chester to the rapes. Ballistics tests matched his gun to the slayings of Ryman and four others; the gun was stolen in one of 25 burglaries in Port Arthur attributed to Chester.

A jury deliberated 12 minutes before deciding Chester should be put to death.

Chester also confessed to killing 78-year-old John Henry Sepeda and Etta Mae Stallings, 87, during burglaries. He told police he stalked Cheryl DeLeon, 40, then fatally beat her with his gun as she arrived home from work. And he admitted to shooting his 35-year-old brother-in-law, Albert Bolden Jr., in the head.

Chester's lawyers appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court Wednesday after federal appeals court earlier in the day refused to halt the punishment, rejecting their appeal that focused on the conduct of a judge who ruled earlier in Chester's case.

Judge Edith Jones was in a 2-1 majority two years ago that determined Chester was not mentally impaired and was therefore eligible for execution. Chester's attorneys argued Jones subsequently displayed bias against Chester when she discussed his case during a February lecture on the death penalty at the University of Pennsylvania law school.

Jones' remarks in February were not recorded, but attorneys for Chester obtained affidavits from several people who attended and backed an account from a lawyer who described Jones' "outrage and incredulity" that Chester and others would raise mental impairment claims in their appeals. Chester's lead appeals lawyer, Susan Orlansky said the comments "infected" Jones' judgment and called her impartiality into question.

Chester's attorneys requested a reprieve to give new judges on the case time to study it and the allegations against Jones. They are not contesting his guilt.

The new judicial panel reviewing the arguments Wednesday said it perceived "no injustice, nor any incorrectness."

Chester became the 7th convicted killer executed this year in Texas and the 499th since the state resumed carrying out capital punishment in 1982 following a nearly 2-decade-long hiatus. Chester becomes the 260th condemned inmate to be put to death in Texas since Rick Perry became governor in 2001.

Chester becomes the 15th condemned inmate to be put to death this year in the USA and the 1335th overall since the nation resumed executions on January 17, 1977. 

A Dallas woman, Kimberly McCarthy, is scheduled June 26 to become the 500th Texas inmate executed in modern times.

Source: The Associated Press, Rick Halperin, June 12, 2013

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