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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…

Colorado bill would allow death sentence without unanimous vote

James E. Holmes (L) was sentenced to serve life in prison + 3318 years for the Aurora mass shooting. "Not enough," Colorado lawmakers say.
James E. Holmes (L) was sentenced to serve life in prison + 3318 years for
the Aurora mass shooting. "Not enough," some Colorado lawmakers say.
Lawmakers are considering legislation that would make Colorado one of just 3 states that do not require unanimous verdicts

Five months after two of Colorado's most notorious mass murderers received life sentences, lawmakers are considering legislation that would toss the requirement that death sentences be unanimous.

The bill would allow a death sentence if at least nine of the 12 jurors vote for it. Removing the requirement would put Colorado in the minority of states — there are only three — that allow for non-unanimous verdicts in capital cases.

A unanimous vote would still be required to convict someone of a crime.

Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, said he is sponsoring the bill because he "wants to save lives" and have a penalty "that will cause the bad guy to think twice before they pull the trigger."

"Colorado has a death penalty sentence on the books. But in reality, I think we have set the bar so high through the process that it's impossible to actually garner a conviction in cases where it is so obviously deserving of the death penalty."

But critics peg the legislation — which could still be amended — as an effort to make it easier to obtain a death sentence.

"We require the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt all criminal charges to a unanimous jury," said Colorado public defender Doug Wilson. "So (under the proposed bill) someone charged with shoplifting would get a unanimous jury, and yet when we decide we want to execute one of our citizens, we would leave it to a jury of less than 12."

Rarely used in Colorado, the death penalty was center stage last summer as prosecutors sought the punishment for two men convicted of two devastating crimes. The trials of James Holmes and Dexter Lewis stretched on for weeks and months but ultimately ended in life sentences for each.

Holmes, who was convicted of killing 12 people and wounding 70 inside an Aurora movie theater in July 2012, was sentenced to life during the final phase of sentencing, in which three jurors did not vote for a death sentence.

Shortly after, during the second phase of Lewis' death penalty hearing, at least one member of a Denver jury found that the details of his life suggested mercy outweighed the details of the crime that suggested death. Lewis, who was convicted of stabbing five people to death in a bar in 2012, also was sentenced to life in prison.


Source: The Denver Post, Jordan Steffen, Feb. 9, 2016

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