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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…

Wyoming to remain 1 of 5 states without hate crimes law; House votes down proposal to abolish death penalty

Wyoming will remain 1 of 5 states in the nation without a hate crimes law.

The state's House of Representatives handily voted down a bill Thursday that would have created extra penalties for violent crimes committed because of the victim's race, religion, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or national origin.

Rep. Charles Pelkey, D-Laramie, sponsored the proposal that would have increased prison time for the bias-motivated offenses by 25 %.

He said there should be stronger punishments for these types of crimes because they are more "egregious" than typical violent felonies.

"They are, in essence, an assault against the entire community," he said.

The proposal needed a 2/3 majority vote for it to be introduced. But it was defeated with only 10 of the 60 members supporting it.

Rep. Bob Nicholas, R-Cheyenne, was among those who opposed the measure.

He said the extra punishments are not needed. And he said proving that a crime has a bias component would be a difficult task for judges or juries.

"I would submit to you that a murder is a murder," he said. "And if you kill someone or maim them, the penalties are severe enough."

Death penalty abolishment fails

The proposal was one of several bills that the House rejected Thursday - the 2nd-to-last day for the introduction of new bills.

The House also voted down a proposal to abolish the death penalty in the state.

Bill sponsor Rep. Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie, said this would save the state money on costly trials and appeals and prevent a scenario where an innocent person is executed.

"The vast majority of countries have abolished the death penalty," she said. "So whether it's for moral or religious reasons or financial reasons to the state or counties, let's eliminate the death penalty."

But Rep. Bill Pownall, R-Gillette, said the death penalty can be meaningful for the victims or their families.

"Don't forget the victims in all these cases," he said. "That is one thing I think we are lacking."

Source: Tribune Eagle, Feb. 11, 2016

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