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USA | Parkland Case Challenges Us All to Figure Out What a Mass Murderer Deserves

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The ongoing sentencing trial of Nikolas Cruz, the 23-year-old Florida man who in 2018 murdered fourteen students and three staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentine’s Day, will test whether the seven men and five women on the jury hearing his case can hate the sin but muster the courage to spare the life of the sinner. That is exactly what his defense team is asking them to do as they sit in judgment of the person who perpetrated one of this country’s most brutal mass murders. Like many death penalty defense lawyers before them, Cruz’s lawyers, to their credit, have not downplayed the gravity of the horrors their client inflicted in Parkland, Florida. Instead, during the sentencing trial, or what the journalist Dahlia Lithwick once called a “trial of the heart,” they have focused their attention on who Cruz is and the factors that shaped his life. As the Supreme Court said more than fifty years ago, in capital cases those who impose the sentence must consider “

Texas executes Tommy Lynn Sells

Tommy Lynn Sells
HUNTSVILLE, Texas (AP) — A serial killer has been put to death in Texas after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected his lawyers' demand that the state release information about where it gets its lethal injection drug.

Tommy Lynn Sells was executed Thursday evening. He became the first inmate injected with a dose of newly replenished pentobarbital that Texas prison officials obtained to replace an expired supply of the sedative.

Texas Department of Criminal Justice officials pronounced him dead at 6:27 p.m., about 13 minutes after he was injected with a fatal dose of pentobarbital.

As he waited word on his U.S. Supreme Court appeal Thursday, Sells was kept in a small holding cell just outside the execution chamber in Huntsville, said Jason Clark, spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Sells was quiet, reserved and accompanied by a chaplain. He had access to a phone, Clark said.

His attorneys had hoped the courts would force prison officials to reveal more information about the pharmacy that supplied the drug. They argued the new pentobarbital could lead to unconstitutional pain.

Lawyers for Sells argued, in part, that, “the increasing scarcity of execution drugs — and consequent concerns about the quality and states' desperate efforts to keep the source of drugs secret — have become the central feature of botched executions and Eighth Amendment concerns.”

The state prison agency wants the information kept secret to protect the pharmacy from threats of violence.

A Val Verde County jury sent Sells, 49, to death row in 2000 for the December 1999 stabbing death of 13-year-old Kaylene Harris in her family's trailer home near Del Rio. He confessed after a friend who was sleeping over that night survived having her own throat slit and helped identify him to authorities.

He later pleaded guilty in Bexar County to strangling 9-year-old Mary Beatrice Perez, who was abducted from a Fiesta event at Market Square in 1999. District Attorney Susan Reed agreed to drop her bid for a second death sentence, instead settling on life in prison, in exchange for the plea.

Court records show Sells claimed to have committed as many as 70 killings in states including Alabama, California, Arizona, Kentucky and Arkansas.

The families of both slain children were on a list to witness the execution. Kaylene's witnesses included her father, brother and two grandmothers. Also present were the mother and grandmother of Mary.


Sells becomes the 5th condemned inmate to be put to death this year in Texas and the 513th overall since the state resumed capital punishment on December 7, 1982. Sells becomes the 274th condemned inmate to be put to death in Texas since Rick Perry became governor in 2001.

Sells becomes the 15th condemned inmate to be put to death this year in the USA and the 1374th overall since the nation resumed executions on January 17, 1977. 

Source: AP, Rick Halperin, Agencies, April 3, 2014

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