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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…

Connecticut: Law Provides Guidance On How Former Death-Row Inmates Will Be Housed

Maximum-security Northern Correctional Institution in Somers
Maximum-security Northern Correctional Institution in Somers
Everyday life for Maryland's death-row inmates barely changed in 2014 when Gov. Martin O'Malley commuted their sentences to life in prison without the chance of parole.

"They were already housed in general population," Gerard M. Shields, a spokesman for Maryland's Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services said about the four men facing execution in 2013, the year Maryland abolished capital punishment."We didn't have a separate death row and they had the same rights as everybody else, so nothing really changed for them in terms of their housing."

Now that capital punishment is officially in the history books in Connecticut, the question remains about how the lives of 11 formerly condemned prisoners will change.

Corrections officials are working to adjust their prison housing directives to comply with a state law regarding the incarceration of former death-row inmates and those now convicted of the crime of murder with special circumstances.

The law addressing those inmates, put in place when the death penalty was repealed in 2012, will likely keep the former death-row inmates away from the general prison population and locked up in maximum-security facilities.

All 11 former death-row inmates, as of Friday, were still being housed in a special unit at the maximum-security Northern Correctional Institution in Somers.

But now that Cheshire home invasion killer Steven Hayes has been resentenced, corrections officials are conducting a state-mandated "reclassification process" for Hayes that will dictate how he is managed in prison, Karen Martucci, acting director of the external affairs division of the state Department of Correction, said.

Martucci said Hayes, who received six consecutive life sentences during a brief hearing in Superior Court in New Haven on Wednesday, is the only inmate going through the reclassification process. As each former death-row inmate is resentenced, he also will go through reclassification, Martucci said.

Reclassification involves placing an inmate on a "special circumstances high-security status" and assessing whether an inmate could be dangerous to staff and other inmates and belongs in either "administrative segregation," also known as solitary confinement, or protective custody, according to the 2012 state law.

An inmate with a "special circumstances high-security" status will be placed with inmates with the same status in a maximum-security facility, the law states.

The conditions of confinement could include that the inmate's movements must be monitored and that he must be escorted by corrections officers. He could be moved to a new cell at least every 90 days, have his cell searched at least twice a week and not be able to have contact during social visits, according to the law.

Work assignments will be allowed only in the assigned housing unit and the inmate will be allowed no more than 2 hours of recreational activity per day.

The law allows the confinement conditions to be reviewed annually and changed "for compelling correctional management or safety reasons."

Martucci said the corrections department has its own classification system for prisoners but in the case of classification for the former death-row inmates, state law is superseding the department's policies.

"This statute is governing everything," she said.

Connecticut abolished the death penalty in April 2012 but made the law prospective, meaning it applied only to new cases. Attorneys representing those on death row challenged the law, saying it violated the condemned inmates' constitutional rights.

In August 2015, the justices ruled 4-3 to ban capital punishment for all defendants, saying in the majority decision that Connecticut's death penalty no longer fit with societal values and served no valid purpose as punishment, a ruling they echoed in a decision last month that essentially ended prosecutors' fight to keep execution possible for those already on death row.

Susan O. Storey, Connecticut's chief public defender, said attorneys in the capital defense unit representing former-death row clients are poised to move forward with additional resentencings once they are notified about how corrections officials are interpreting the 2012 law.

"We're waiting to get some clarification on how this law will be interpreted and enforced so that each of the lawyers can decide how they are going to proceed," Storey said.

Hayes' accomplice in the 2007 Cheshire home invasion and killings, Joshua Komisarjevsky, is scheduled for resentencing in New Haven Superior Court in New Haven on July 26.

The Supreme Court on Friday ordered the resentencing in state court of Richard Reynolds, convicted of fatally shooting a Waterbury police officer, to life in prison without the possibility of parole, after the justices upheld his murder conviction but overturned his death sentence.

Hearings for Reynolds and the remaining 8 inmates have not yet been scheduled.

In older cases in which a sentencing judge has retired, the criminal presiding judge in that judicial district will assign a judge to hear those cases, Melissa Farley, executive director of external affairs for the state judicial branch, said.

Source: Hartford Courant, June 19, 2016

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