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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…

Death row inmate Pablo Ibar wins marathon fight for vacated sentence, new trial

Pablo Ibar in 2009
Pablo Ibar in 2009
TALLAHASSEE — After 16 years on Florida's death row in connection with a triple murder in Broward County, Pablo Ibar has won a fight to have his sentence vacated and will receive a new trial.

Ibar, 44, a former Hollywood resident, was convicted of killing three people in a home invasion robbery in Miramar in 1994 in what became known as the Casey's Nickelodeon murders. One of the murder victims, Casey Kucharski, operated a bar in Pembroke Park by that name and the killings took place in his home. The other two victims were Sharon Anderson and Marie Rogers.

The Florida Supreme Court ordered Ibar's death sentence vacated in February, but the state asked for a hearing, and the court on Monday sealed Ibar's legal victory by denying that request in a 6-1 decision, with Justice Charles Canady the lone dissenter.

In siding with Ibar's attorney, Benjamin Waxman of Miami, the Supreme Court cited numerous deficiencies by Ibar's attorney and expressed serious doubt about Ibar's guilt.

"In this case, there was a lack of physical evidence connecting Ibar to the triple murders," the court wrote in February. "Ibar's DNA was not found on a blue T-shirt recovered from the crime scene which was allegedly to partially cover the face of the perpetrator whom the state claimed to have been Ibar. Ibar never confessed to the crime as he steadfastly proclaimed his innocence, presented an alibi as to his whereabouts, and has always maintained his innocence."

A surveillance videotape figured prominently in Ibar's case. The court also noted that a key prosecution witness, Raymond Evans, a facial identification expert, testified that based on the video images, it was not possible to say "with certainty" that Ibar and the perpetrator were the same person.

Ibar's first trial ended in a hung jury. His co-defendant, Seth Penalver, was acquitted at a retrial 20 years after the murders took place.

Source: Tampa Bay Times, Steve Bousquet, May 18, 2016

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