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America Is Stuck With the Death Penalty for (At Least) a Generation

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With Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement, the national fight to abolish capital punishment will have to go local.
When the Supreme Court revived capital punishment in 1976, just four years after de facto abolishing it, the justices effectively took ownership of the American death penalty and all its outcomes. They have spent the decades since then setting its legal and constitutional parameters, supervising its general implementation, sanctioning its use in specific cases, and brushing aside concerns about its many flaws.
That unusual role in the American legal system is about to change. With Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement from the court this summer, the Supreme Court will lose a heterodox jurist whose willingness to cross ideological divides made him the deciding factor in many legal battles. In cases involving the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, his judgment often meant the difference between life and death for hundreds of death-row pr…

Panel to hold clemency hearing for Georgia death row inmate Kenneth Fults

Kenneth Fults
Kenneth Fults
A Georgia death row inmate scheduled to die this week was neglected and mistreated as a child and has substantial intellectual impairments that have affected his ability to act appropriately, his lawyers wrote in a clemency petition.

Kenneth Fults, 47, is set to be put to death Tuesday by injection of the barbiturate pentobarbital at the state prison in Jackson. His lawyers and supporters planned to ask the State Board of Pardons and Paroles to spare his life during a clemency hearing Monday. The parole board is the only entity that can commute a death sentence in Georgia.

Fults pleaded guilty to killing 19-year-old Cathy Bounds in January 1996, and a jury sentenced him to die.

In a clemency petition submitted to the parole board, Fults' lawyers detail a childhood characterized by neglect and abuse at the hands of heavy drinking family members and his mother's string of violent boyfriends.

"Throughout his life, Kenneth Fults was abandoned and rejected by those who were supposed to care for him, ridiculed and dismissed by those who could have helped him, and beaten up and down by family members and strangers alike," his lawyers wrote.

Fults has an intellectual disability that means he "functions in the lowest one percent of the population," meaning he has insufficient reasoning abilities, lacks impulse control and fails to learn from experience, the clemency petition says.

He is extremely remorseful, having told Bounds' mother at trial that he would trade places with Bounds if he could, and took responsibility for his actions by entering a guilty plea, his lawyers wrote.

Fults' trial lawyer failed to tell the jury during sentencing that Fults is intellectually disabled and didn't go into the details of his rough childhood, his lawyers wrote. Jurors quoted in the clemency petition say the trial lawyer slept through parts of the sentencing and didn't seem prepared or interested in protecting the best interests of his client.

His death sentence is unfair because 1 of the jurors who sentenced him to die was motivated by racial prejudice, Fults' lawyers wrote.

During jury selection, Thomas Buffington told the judge and lawyers on both sides he felt no racial prejudice. He was selected for the jury that sentenced Fults to death.

An investigator who was part of Fults' legal team reached out to Buffington 8 years later to ask about his experience on the jury.

"Once he pled guilty, I knew I would vote for the death penalty because that's what that (N-word) deserved," Buffington said, according to an affidavit signed April 12, 2005.

Buffington died in 2014.

Though many of these arguments have already been rejected by various courts, Fults' lawyers say the parole board isn't bound by the same rigid rules and ask the board to commute his sentence to life without parole.

Prosecutors have said Fults killed Bounds during a weeklong crime spree that started when he stole two guns during burglaries. After trying unsuccessfully to kill his former girlfriend's new boyfriend with 1 of the stolen guns, Fults broke into the trailer next to his, where Bounds lived with her boyfriend.

Bounds, who was home alone, pleaded for her life, but Fults forced her into the bedroom, wrapped electrical tape around her head, put her face-down on the bed, put a pillow over her head and shot her 5 times in the back of the head, prosecutors said.

Fults would be the 4th man executed in Georgia this year. Another man, Daniel Lucas, is scheduled to die April 27.

Source: Associated Press, April 11, 2016

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