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In the crosshairs of conscience: John Kitzhaber's death penalty reckoning

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To cope with his dread, John Kitzhaber opened his leather-bound journal and began to write.
It was a little past 9 on the morning of Nov. 22, 2011. Gary Haugen had dropped his appeals. A Marion County judge had signed the murderer's death warrant, leaving Kitzhaber, a former emergency room doctor, to decide Haugen's fate. The 49-year-old would soon die by lethal injection if the governor didn't intervene.
Kitzhaber was exhausted, having been unable to sleep the night before, but he needed to call the families of Haugen's victims.
"I know my decision will delay the closure they need and deserve," he wrote.
The son of University of Oregon English professors, Kitzhaber began writing each day in his journal in the early 1970s. The practice helped him organize his thoughts and, on that particular morning, gather his courage.
Kitzhaber first dialed the widow of David Polin, an inmate Haugen beat and stabbed to death in 2003 while already serving a life sentence fo…

U.S. Supreme Court Reverses Another Alabama Death Penalty Case

For the 4th time in 2 months, the United States Supreme Court today overturned an Alabama death penalty case in which EJI challenged the conviction and sentence affirmed by state courts. This time, the Court reversed because of concerns about racial bias in jury selection.

Christopher Floyd was tried by an all-white jury in Houston County, Alabama, where African Americans comprise 27 % of the population. The prosecutor, Doug Valeska, has a documented history of racial discrimination in jury selection. The prosecution marked African American potential jurors with a "B" on its list of jurors to remove, then removed 10 of 11 qualified black prospective jurors.

1 of the black jurors barred from jury service provided answers to all of the prosecution's questions during jury selection, but the prosecutor said that she did not respond to any questions and so he could not provide a race-neutral reason for removing her. EJI argued on appeal that because the prosecutor's assertion was not true, relief was required. The state courts nonetheless refused to grant relief.

The Supreme Court today granted Mr. Floyd's request for review, reversed the state court decision, and ordered the state court to re-examine the case. The Court referred to its recent decision in Foster v. Chatman, in which it held that Georgia prosecutors illegally barred African Americans from serving on Mr. Foster's jury because of their race.

Racial bias has been a longstanding problem in Alabama, where more than 2 dozen cases have been reversed after courts found that prosecutors engaged in intentional racial discrimination during jury selection. 

The Equal Justice Initiative has long argued that racial bias in jury selection is a serious problem in Alabama, particularly in capital trials, where too few prosecutors have ended the practice of unfairly excluding African Americans.

Source: Equal Justice Initiative, June 21, 2016


SCOTUS demands new look at race of jurors of death penalty conviction in Alabama

The U.S. Supreme Court says lower courts in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi must re-examine 3 death penalty convictions for evidence of racial prejudice in jury selection.

The court ruled Monday in the cases of Christopher Floyd of Alabama, Jabari Williams of Louisiana and Curtis Giovanni Flowers of Mississippi.

The brief decisions followed the court's May decision to overturn the conviction and death sentence of a Georgia man because of evidence that prosecutors intentionally excluded black people from the jury.

The May decision broke no new ground in efforts to fight racial discrimination in jury selection, but underscored a 30-year-old high court ruling that took aim at the exclusion of minorities from juries.

Flowers was convicted after 5 previous trials over the slaying of 4 people in a furniture store.

Source: Associated Press, June 21, 2016


US Supreme Court orders Curtis Flowers Hearing

The US Supreme Court orders Mississippi to re-examine Curtis Flowers death penalty conviction for evidence of racial prejudice in jury selection.

Curtis Flowers has been on death row in the 1996 killing of Winona furniture store owner Bertha Tardy and 3 of her employees. The US Supreme Court threw out today the Mississippi high court's 2014 decision affirming Flowers conviction and death sentence and told the court to look again at Flowers' claim that African American jurors were excluded from his last trial in 2010 for racial reasons.

The decision didn't throw out Flowers conviction and death sentence but ordered the State Supreme Court to re-examine whether African American jurors were purposely excluded from serving on Flowers trial which could win Flowers a new trial.

Source: Delta News, June 21, 2016

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