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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…

SCOTUS Overturns Louisiana Death Row Conviction

Prosecutors failed to disclose evidence that could have helped his defense.

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court on Monday reversed the 2002 murder conviction of a Louisiana death row inmate after ruling that prosecutors failed to disclose evidence that could have helped his defense.

The ruling came in the case of Michael Wearry, who was convicted in the 1998 death of a 16-year-old pizza delivery driver near Baton Rouge.

The justices said in an unsigned opinion that prosecutors should have turned over evidence casting doubt on the credibility of a prison informant and another witness who testified against Wearry. 

The court also said the state failed to disclose medical records raising questions about a witness' description of the crime.

Lower courts had rejected Wearry's post-conviction appeals.

Wearry was implicated in the case nearly two years after the victim, Eric Walber, was found lying face down on the side of a gravel road in a rural area of Hammond, Louisiana. Officials said Walber was beaten to death. Wearry claimed that he was at a wedding reception 40 miles away at the time of the murder.

The high court said the state's trial evidence "resembles a house of cards" built on the questionable testimony of a prison informant who other inmates said was seeking revenge against Wearry. It sent the case back for a new trial.

"Beyond doubt, the newly revealed evidence suffices to undermine confidence in Wearry's conviction," the court said.

Justices Samuel Alito filed a dissent joined by Justice Clarence Thomas. Alito said the jury might have convicted Wearry even with the additional evidence. He said the high court should have taken up the case on the merits to give the state "the opportunity to make its full case."

Source: The Associated Press, March 8, 2016

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