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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…

Tennessee death row inmates die of natural causes

Riverbend Maximum Security Institution, TN
Riverbend Maximum Security Institution, Tennessee
NASHVILLE - Death Row inmate Gary Cone has passed away at the age of 67.

He was pronounced dead at 9:38 AM on Tuesday, April 19, 2016 at a Nashville hospital of natural causes.

Cone was convicted of armed robbery, assault with intent to murder and two counts of first degree murder.

He was sentenced to death in Shelby County in 1982.

After nearly 20 years on death row, William Stevens died Monday at the age of 60.

He was pronounced dead at 1:57 a.m. on April 4, 2016, at a Nashville hospital of natural causes, according to a release from the Tennessee Department of Corrections.

He was an inmate at Riverbend Maximum Security Prison here in Nashville.

Stevens was convicted of especially aggravated robbery and two counts of first degree murder for the 1997 deaths of his wife, 45-year-old Sandra Jean Stevens, and her mother, 75-year-old Myrtle Wilson.

Stevens was found guilty of hiring 18-year-old Corey Milliken to murder the two women and stage a burglary at their home.

He was sentenced to death in 1999. Milliken is serving a life sentence.

In 2002, the Tennessee Supreme Court upheld Stevens' death sentence, although one justice offered a dissenting opinion.

Tennessee has not executed anyone since 2009. The state set execution dates for 10 men in early 2014, but in April 2015 all executions were put on hold.

Sources: TNDOC, Nashville Scene, April 20, 2016

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