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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…

Judge: Scalia's Death to be Ruled a Heart Attack

The Cibolo Creek Ranch where Justice Antonin Scalia was found dead
The Cibolo Creek Ranch where Justice Antonin Scalia was found dead.
MARFA, Texas — The Texas death certificate for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia will list myocardial infraction — a heart attack — as the official cause of death, Presidio County Judge Cinderela Guevara told WFAA on Sunday.

She was shopping yesterday afternoon in the neighboring town of Alpine when Presidio County Sheriff Danny Dominguez called her on her mobile phone after lunch.

“He says, 'Judge, I’m at Cibolo Creek Ranch, and a Supreme Court justice has just passed away, and I need someone here immediately. Both justices of the peace are out of town at this time,'” Guevara recounted to WFAA.

Guevara said she immediately recognized Scalia’s name as a U.S. Supreme Court Justice, and pronounced him dead over the phone at 1:52 p.m. on Saturday.

She planned to drive to the ranch — about 30 minutes south of Marfa — but returned when a U.S. Marshal told her by phone: “It’s not necessary for you to come, judge. If you’re asking for an autopsy, that’s what we need to clarify.”

Judge Guevara said she wanted to clarify details of Scalia’s death before deciding whether to order an autopsy.

“As part of my investigation, one of the things I did ask the sheriff and the U.S. Marshal: 'Were there any signs of foul play?' And they said, ‘Absolutely not.’ At that time I still wanted to be careful, and asked them if [Scalia’s] physician would call me.”

The justice’s personal doctor called her at 8 p.m. Saturday night

“When [the physician] explained [Scalia] had just visited on Wednesday and Thursday and [the doctor] had done an MRI, then I felt comfortable what I knew was going on with him physically,” Guevara said.

The judge said Scalia went to his doctor for a shoulder injury last week, but also suffered from several chronic ailments.

Click here to read the full article

Source: The Texas Tribune, Feb. 14, 2016

Ranch Owner Recalls Finding Justice Antonin Scalia’s Body

HOUSTON — Even after Justice Antonin Scalia did not respond to a knock at the door of his suite at the Cibolo Creek Ranch at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday, John B. Poindexter, the property’s owner, thought little of it.

Perhaps the 79-year-old was attending to Supreme Court business, or simply did not wish to be disturbed during his weekend at the remote ranch in West Texas. It was less than two hours later, when Mr. Poindexter tried again, that he found Justice Scalia’s body.

Justice Scalia had no pulse and was clearly dead, Mr. Poindexter recalled in an interview on Sunday.

“His hands were sort of almost folded on top of the sheets,” said Mr. Poindexter, a manufacturing executive from Houston. “The sheets weren’t rumpled up at all.”

He added, “It was just like he was taking a nap. He just went to sleep and didn’t wake up.”

In the day leading up to his death, Justice Scalia was “very congenial, very convivial,” Mr. Poindexter said, as the party roamed the property and some hunted for quail. Justice Scalia did not participate in the hunt, but he did observe.

At 9 p.m., after the conclusion of a cocktail reception and dinner, Justice Scalia, who had flown to Texas early Friday, told Mr. Poindexter he was going to turn in for the night, and went to the property’s presidential suite.

The next morning, Justice Scalia did not appear for breakfast, and Mr. Poindexter went to look for him.

Click here to read the full article

Source: The New York Times, ALAN BLINDER and MANNY FERNANDEZFEB. 14, 2016


Antonin Scalia's death: Chaos, confusion and conflicting reports

The "El Presidente" suite at Cibolo Creek Ranch is where Antonin Scalia’s body was discovered.
The "El Presidente" suite at Cibolo Creek Ranch
where Antonin Scalia’s body was discovered.
MARFA, Tex. — Inside the cloistered chambers of the Supreme Court, Justice Antonin Scalia’s days were highly regulated and predictable. He met with clerks, wrote opinions and appeared for arguments in the august courtroom on a schedule set months in advance.

Yet as details of his sudden death trickled in Sunday, it appeared that the hours afterward were anything but orderly.

It took hours for authorities in remote West Texas to find a justice of the peace, officials said Sunday. 

When they did, she pronounced Scalia dead of natural causes without seeing the body and decided not to order an autopsy. 

A second justice of the peace, who was called but couldn’t get to Scalia’s body in time, said she would have ordered an autopsy.

“If it had been me . . . I would want to know,” Juanita Bishop, a justice of the peace in Presidio, Tex., told The Washington Post in an interview Sunday about the chaotic hours after Scalia’s death at the Cibolo Creek Ranch, a luxury compound less than an hour from the Mexican border and about 40 miles south of Marfa.

Judge Guevara was out of town, but she said she declared Scalia dead based on information provided by officials at the scene, citing Texas laws that allow a justice of the peace to declare someone dead without seeing the body.

Guevara declined to comment further to The Post, but told WFAA that Scalia’s death certificate would list myocardial infarction — a heart attack — as the official cause of death.

Click here to read the full article

Source: The Washington Post, Feb. 14, 2016

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