Editorial: In a civilized society, not even the most vicious crimes justify a death sentence

It is soul-bruising to contemplate the torture that 10-year-old Anthony Avalos endured in his Lancaster home for more than a week before dying last year. Whippings with a looped cord and belt. Repeatedly held upside down then dropped on his head. Getting slammed into pieces of furniture and against the floor. Hot sauce poured on his face and mouth.
The road map of the abuse stretched from head to toe on his small malnourished body — bruises, abrasions, scabs and cuts visible on the outside. Traumatic brain injury and soft tissue damage on the inside. All allegedly perpetrated by his mother, Heather Barron, and her boyfriend, Kareem Leiva.
RELATED | California: Prosecutors seeking death penalty in Anthony Avalos torture case
If ever a set of circumstances called for the death penalty, this would be it. Few were surprised when Los Angeles County prosecutors said Wednesday that if the couple is convicted of the torture-murder, the jury will be asked to recommend a death sentence.
Such ca…

Virginia executes Alfredo Prieto

Alfredo Prieto
Alfredo Prieto
Alfredo Prieto, convicted of 2 1988 Fairfax County murders after a DNA hit found him on California's death row, was executed by injection Thursday night at Greensville Correctional Center.

Prieto was pronounced dead at 9:17 p.m. His execution came after a rush of last-minute appeals, including one that contested the circumstances surrounding Virginia obtaining 1 of the injection drugs from Texas, and the potential quality of the substance.

His lawyers had also argued he was too intellectually disabled to be executed.

Wearing glasses, sandals and blue prison denim, Prieto was led into the execution area at 8:53 p.m. He looked around but displayed no emotion.

Fairfax County Commonwealth's Attorney Raymond F. Morrogh, who prosecuted Prieto, sat directly in front of him in the witness area. Also attending was Brian J. Moran, the state secretary of public safety.

Prieto was quickly strapped down on a gurney, and a curtain was drawn to block the view from the witness area as intravenous lines were inserted into each arm.

At 9:08 p.m., the curtain was opened, and Prieto was asked if he wished to make a last statement. The 1st of the 3 drugs was then administered, and Prieto appeared to take a couple of deep breaths.

After a few minutes, an execution team member removed Prieto's sandals and appeared to pinch his feet, testing to make sure he had been rendered unconscious so the next 2 drugs could be administered. Prieto showed no reaction.

Warden Eddie Pearson announced the death sentence had been carried out at 9:17 p.m.

Prieto's spiritual adviser, the Rev. Richard Mooney, a Catholic priest, entered the execution room with the inmate. "He was very much at peace," Mooney said.

Prieto had these final words: "I would like to say thanks to all my lawyers, all my supporters and all my family members. Get this over with."

A U.S. district judge refused to block the execution earlier in the evening, but lawyers for Prieto filed a late appeal over the drug issue to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The state's response was filed at 8:25 p.m., according to a spokesman for the attorney general's office, who then announced about 9 p.m. that the appeal had been denied.

Earlier, the U.S. Supreme Court and the Virginia Supreme Court also turned down bids from lawyers for Prieto.

"Tonight, the commonwealth executed a man without knowing whether he has intellectual disability or not, using drugs that are far beyond their approved date of use," said Robert Lee of the Virginia Capital Representation Center.

U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson ruled against Prieto in a 13-page opinion after a hearing in which lawyers for the condemned man pressed their case to stop the execution because of concerns over 1 of the lethal injection drugs, pentobarbital, which Virginia had obtained from Texas.

Hudson said the arguments failed to establish that the drug could be faulty or lead to Prieto suffering cruel and unusual punishment. Prieto had been convicted of or linked to a total of 4 murders in Virginia and 5 in California, and Hudson noted the scope of his crimes in his opinion.

"This is not an instance where there are any questions as to innocence or sufficiency of due process of an individual set to be executed," Hudson said. He added that Prieto could have raised questions earlier about the drugs but did not.

"At this point, the state and the victims of crime can expect the moral judgment of the state to be carried out without delay," Hudson's opinion said. "To unsettle these expectations is to inflict a profound injury to the powerful and legitimate interest in punishing the guilty, an interest shared by the state and the victims of the crime alike. These harms are magnified here by the appalling number of people that Prieto has killed, raped or otherwise injured."

In their appeal to the 4th Circuit, Prieto lawyers Lee and Elizabeth Peiffer argued that the Texas drug had been compounded rather than manufactured, and was too old to use safely.

"The risk of harm Prieto stands to suffer from the use of an adulterated or ineffective compounded anesthetic is grave," the lawyers said. "If the pentobarbital does not work, his execution would be undeniably cruel because he would be conscious, albeit paralyzed, while being slowly suffocated and injected with a caustic substance which will ultimately cause cardiac arrest."

The lawyers also said that Prieto only learned Sept. 22 that the compounded drug would be used, so his claim late in the process was legitimate.

The nation's high court turned down Prieto, 49, without comment in its orders.

In the Virginia Supreme Court case, the justices said that Prieto failed in his argument that he should be returned west because his prosecution here had ended.

"By waiving extradition, Prieto also waived any independent right he may have had to force his return to California," Virginia's high court said.

Prieto's lawyers filed their complaint Wednesday in U.S. District Court, asking the execution be blocked until it could be determined if the pentobarbital could properly and adequately render the condemned man unconscious before the 2nd drug, which stops breathing, and the 3rd drug, which stops the heart, are administered.

Because of a national shortage of execution drugs, Virginia in August obtained 3 vials of pentobarbital that was compounded at a pharmacy in April rather than made by a manufacturer. A certificate of analysis from Texas rated its potency at 94.6 percent in April. His lawyers, however, said the drug was beyond an accepted use date of 45 days.

In its response, the attorney general's office said, "Prieto has failed to demonstrate that he is entitled to the extraordinary equitable relief he seeks." The state contended that the drug is good for 6 months past the scheduled date of the execution, and that the "fulcrum of Prieto's claim" was that the compounded drug the state wished to use "might not be good enough."

Hudson held a 2-hour, 10-minute hearing over the pentobarbital complaint. Peiffer told Hudson there was concern the pentobarbital obtained from Texas was not potent enough or otherwise capable of properly sedating Prieto, leading to pain or suffering that could violate his right against cruel and unusual punishment.

"If the 1st drug does not work, the lethal injection procedure in Virginia will be unconstitutional," she argued.

The Virginia Attorney General's Office said Texas has used compounded pentobarbital in 24 executions over the past 2 years. Texas uses only a lethal dose of pentobarbital in its procedure instead of other drugs.

State officials also said that after the pentobarbital is administered, it tests the inmates to make sure they are unconscious before proceeding with the other chemicals.

Margaret Hoel O'Shea of the attorney general's office told Hudson that it has been 27 years since the bodies of Rachael A. Raver and Warren H. Fulton III "were found in that cold field in Fairfax County. ... It's time for this to end."

Prieto was on death row at California's San Quentin State Prison in 2005 for the 1990 rape and murder of a 15-year-old girl when DNA linked him to the Raver and Fulton slayings. Raver was raped, and both victims were shot. Their bodies were found about 100 feet apart in a field south of the Dulles Toll Road on Dec. 6, 1988.

As the time for the scheduled execution drew near, several people were stationed near the correctional center on the rainy evening.

Robert Sweeting of Yorktown Heights, N.Y., was among 3 men who went to the correctional center in support of the families of Raver and Fulton, who both were 22.

Sweeting, who was Raver's friend and had attended the hearing before Hudson, said it's not up to him to judge what would happen to Prieto in the afterlife, but added that it was time for him to face God's judgment.

"Let justice be served," Sweeting said. "Let him cry and whimper for his life like he made all his victims. ... I hope he's crying in his cell right now."

Jonathan Shapiro, who had served as 1 of Prieto's defense attorneys in Fairfax, sat in his car nearby.

"I just felt the need to be here," Shapiro said. "It's hard to explain. Even though I'm not in there with him, I just felt that he needed companionship here. It's, to me, horrendous that the state does this ritualized killing."

Sweeting said of Prieto, "I don't think he ever asked Rachael Raver or his other victims if they were suffering before he killed them."

In a prepared statement, DeDe Raver, a sister of Rachael, wrote: "Today ends a long and painful ordeal for my family that has haunted us for over 26 years. I speak on behalf of my sister, Rachael Angelica, who will have the last word after all.

"Prieto terrorized Rachael and her companion during their last moments on Earth. His selfish and hateful crimes against Rachael and others left a trail of unimaginable destruction and pain to last a lifetime. To this day, Prieto has not shown any regret or remorse for being a serial killer, because Prieto is a sociopath who will continue to harm others for the rest of his life," Raver said.

Raver, who lives in New York and attended the execution along with other members of Rachael Raver's family, said: "As we never gave up hope, as the detectives never quit trying to match DNA evidence and the prosecutors sought justice, we remember and we do not forget."

Prieto becomes the 1st condemned inmate to be put to death this year in Virginia and the 111th overall since the state resumed capital punishment in 1982; only Texas (528) and Oklahoma (112) have executed more inmates since the death penalty was re-legalized on July 2, 1976.

Prieto becomes the 22nd condemned inmate to be put to death this year in the USA and the 1416th overall since the nation resumed executions on January 17, 1977. Last year at this time, there had been 30 executions across the country. There are currently 8 more executions scheduled in the USA this month,, including 3 next week; 5more are set for November and 2 currently set for December.

Sources: Richmond Times-Dispatch & Rick Halperin, October 2, 2015

The execution of Alfredo Prieto: Witnessing a serial killer’s final moments

Missouri death chamber
Missouri death chamber and gurney
[T]he state of Virginia handles the execution of convicted murderers in a precise and professional way. Similarly, serial killer Alfredo R. Prieto lived the final moments of his life with his own version of professionalism, maintaining the same passive look he held through his three long trials in Fairfax, and defiantly refusing to show any remorse or regret as he issued a rehearsed final statement similar to a pro athlete being interviewed after a game. He thanked his “supporters” and then snapped, “Get it over with.”

They did. He entered the death chamber at 8:52 p.m. Thursday, and was dead by 9:17 p.m. A diverse crowd of witnesses watched every moment intently, some in the chamber with him, some victims’ family members and friends in a room peering through one-way glass, and then about 18 more people — lawyers, corrections officials, and four reporters including me — facing him straight on from another room. We watched what appeared to be an utterly painless death for a man who brutally killed nine people and devastated nine families, and here is how it unfolded:

3 p.m.: Six hours before Prieto’s scheduled execution, there is a court order in place postponing it, and no one knows whether the execution will happen. In Richmond, lawyers are arguing about whether the first drug used in Virginia’s lethal injection process will cause undue pain to Prieto. When they are done, U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson doesn’t immediately issue a ruling. The execution remains in limbo.

At Greensville Correctional Center in southern Virginia, visitor logs show that Prieto is visited by his mother, Teodora Alvarado, his sister Yolanda Loucel, his brother Guillermo Prieto, all from Pomona, Calif.; and a Catholic prison chaplain, the Rev. Richard Mooney from Petersburg. It’s not clear whether Prieto’s family stayed for the execution. Mooney would come in and take a seat in the main witness room minutes before the execution started, but would not say whether Prieto asked to be absolved of his sins.

6 p.m.: Judge Hudson lifts the stay on the execution, ruling that Prieto’s lawyers had not shown that the drug pentobarbital would cause him pain. One of the lawyers who argued his case in Richmond, Kimberly Peiffer, also joins us in the witness room, sitting next to Mooney.

Click here to read the full article

Source: The Washington Post, Tom Jackman, October 2, 2015

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