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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…

Florida Supreme Court halts Mark James Asay's execution

Mark James Asay
Mark James Asay
The Florida Supreme Court on Wednesday stayed the execution of Mark James Asay, just hours after hearing oral arguments in his case.

Asay, convicted in 1987 of 2 Jacksonville murders, was scheduled to be executed March 17. But a January ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in Hurst vs. Florida threw the state's death penalty into chaos.

Arguing before the state court Wednesday morning, Asay's lawyer, Martin McClain, invoked Hurst, saying that the problems raised by the U.S. Supreme Court in its ruling directly relate to Asay's case.

Asay, like the other residents on Florida's death row in Raiford, Fla., was convicted of his crimes by a unanimous jury but sentenced to death by the judge on the jury's recommendation. The Hurst ruling said that the juries must make the final decision on death sentences.

McClain -- who was also the lawyer for Michael Ray Lambrix and successfully stayed his execution last month -- argued that suggests the jury's verdict should be unanimous. 

In Asay's case, the jury recommendation came on a 9-3 vote.

The Florida Supreme Court's unanimous ruling Wednesday doesn't say anything about the merits of Asay's case. It simply stops the execution, which was ordered by Gov. Rick Scott prior to the Hurst ruling.

Source: Tampa Bay Times, March 2, 2016

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