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'Express lane to death': Texas seeks approval to speed up death penalty appeals, execute more quickly

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Texas is seeking to speed up executions with a renewed request to opt-in to a federal law that would shorten the legal process and limit appeals options for death-sentenced prisoners.
Defense attorneys worry it would lead to the execution of innocent people and - if it's applied retroactively, as Texas is requesting - it could potentially end ongoing appeals for a number of death row prisoners and make them eligible for execution dates.
"Opt-in would speed up the death penalty treadmill exponentially," said Kathryn Kase, an longtime defense attorney and former executive director of Texas Defender Services.
But a state attorney general spokeswoman framed the request to the Justice Department as a necessary way to avoid "stressful delays" and cut down on the "excessive costs" of lengthy federal court proceedings.
Robbie Kaplan, co-founder of the #TimesUp movement, says sweeping changes to laws in recent years have dissuaded attorneys from taking on har…

U.S. judge rejects bid for new trial for Boston Marathon bomber

'Supermax' high-security prison, Florence, Colorado
'Supermax' high-security prison, Florence, Colorado
A U.S. judge rejected on Friday a request for a new trial for convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, saying the issues his attorneys raised had been resolved prior to his trial last year.

Tsarnaev was sentenced last June to death by lethal injection for his role in the 2013 bomb attack, which killed three people and injured more than 260.

The judge also ordered Tsarnaev to pay more than $101 million in restitution to victims.

U.S. District Judge George O'Toole said the court had already resolved some factors Tsarnaev's attorneys raised in seeking a new trial, such as their argument that it was impossible to seat an impartial jury in Boston due to intense publicity surrounding the attack.

"There is no reason to think that if the trial had been moved to another district, the local media in that district would not also have given it attentive coverage," O'Toole wrote in his 37-page ruling.

He also noted that defense attorney Judith Clarke admitted in her opening statements that Tsarnaev, along with his older brother Tamerlan, carried out the attack, saying "It was him."

The defense had focused on trying to spare Tsarnaev the death penalty, rather than prove his innocence.

The judge also rejected defense arguments that a new trial was justified by a Supreme Court decision, reached two days after Tsarnaev's sentencing, that a U.S. law stiffening sentences for crimes committed while in possession of a gun was overly broad.

Tsarnaev, 22, is being held at the "Supermax" high-security prison in Florence, Colorado, while his attorneys appeal his death sentence.

He was last seen in public on June 24, when he said he was "sorry for the lives I have taken."

Legal wrangling over Tsarnaev's fate could play out for years or even decades. Just three of the 74 people sentenced to death in the United States for federal crimes since 1998 have been executed.

Source: Reuters, Scott Malone, January 16, 2016

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