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Innocent on Death Row? New Evidence Casts Doubt on Convictions

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Rodney Reed’s death sentence was suspended. But researchers say other current cases raise similar doubt about the guilt of the accused.
The number of executions in the United States remains close to nearly a three-decade low. And yet the decline has not prevented what those who closely track the death penalty see as a disturbing trend: a significant number of cases in which prisoners are being put to death, or whose execution dates are near, despite questions about their guilt.
Rodney Reed, who came within days of execution in Texas before an appeals court suspended his death sentence on Friday, has been the most high-profile recent example, receiving support from Texas lawmakers of both parties and celebrities like Rihanna and Kim Kardashian West, who urged a new examination of the evidence.
Mr. Reed has long maintained that he did not commit the 1996 murder for which he was convicted. And in recent months, new witnesses came forward pointing toward another possible suspect: the dead…

Report finds falsified log of prison checks on Ohio death row inmate who killed himself

Ohio Death Chamber
1 and possibly 2 prison guards apparently falsified an electronic log documenting checks on a death row inmate who committed suicide just days before his execution was to go forward, according to an Ohio prison report released Monday.

Video evidence shows prison rounds started later than indicated by the log and came in 1-hour increments instead of every half hour as ordered for that unit, the report says.

The report also says all 6 officers on death row units that night were relief officers without training specific to death row, and one of the two officers was still on probationary status.

The 9-page review does not say whether the guards, if they had followed the rules, could have prevented the Aug. 4 death row suicide of condemned killer Billy Slagle. Slagle was just minutes away from being placed on close observation that is mandatory in the 72 hours before an execution.

His Aug. 7 execution appeared on track despite the plea for mercy from the prosecutor in Cuyahoga County, home to Cleveland, who argued that Slagle should never have received a death sentence.

Prosecutor Tim McGinty cited Slagle's age - he was just 18 when he fatally stabbed his neighbor Mari Anne Pope - and a long history of drug and alcohol addiction. McGinty said under his office's current policy he would not have pursued a death penalty charge.

The report comes at a time of heightened awareness of prison suicides in Ohio. An inmate at Lebanon Correctional Facility in southwest Ohio committed suicide last week, just days after convicted Cleveland kidnapper and rapist Ariel Castro hanged himself in his cell with a bedsheet on Sept. 3.

Slagle, 44, also died not knowing that his attorneys planned a last-minute appeal, based on evidence provided by McGinty that Slagle had been offered a plea deal before his 1988 trial but his original attorneys never informed him.

The two corrections officers named in the review have been placed on paid administrative leave as the prisons agency investigates. Someone "did falsify the electronic log book for rounds," the report said.

Messages were left with the union representing prison guards about the allegations. Slagle's attorneys said they weren't aware of the report until provided a copy by The Associated Press. They did not immediately comment on its contents.

The report also singles out lighting in death row cells, saying the cells are too dark and inmates continue to block windows with paper and other material.

Based on recommendations in the report, the prisons agency will begin relying on mental health experts to determine if the pre-execution 72-hour watch period should be lengthened for individual inmates.

Source: Associated Press, September 17, 2013

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