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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…

Florida: Judge denies Tommy Ziegler's DNA request

A judge on Monday denied a new request by Tommy Zeigler to analyze bloodstains on his crime scene clothing, the longtime death row inmate's latest attempt to exonerate himself in the 1975 Christmas Eve killings of his wife, in-laws and customer at his Winter Garden furniture store.

In the 30-page ruling, Orange-Osceola Circuit Judge Reginald Whitehead held that Zeigler's petition for DNA testing was too similar to others that he's made previously and that the potential discoveries would not be great enough to rule him out as the perpetrator.

"Having carefully listened to the testimony presented at the evidentiary hearing and argument from the parties, the Court finds the authenticity of the DNA is questionable because it may be contaminated based on a lack of protective equipment when it was handled and/or improper storage," the judge wrote.

Eunice Zeigler, her parents Perry and Virginia Edwards and store customer Charles Mays were killed in the Christmas Eve attack. Zeigler was also shot in the stomach and maintains they were held up in a store robbery by Mays and others. Prosecutors have argued that Zeigler concocted the plan, luring Mays to the scene as a scapegoat, to pocket a life insurance policy on his wife.

In a March hearing, attorneys for Zeigler argued that more sensitive and technologically advanced DNA tests could show he did not shoot, beat and bludgeon the victims to death.

The technique, called "Touch DNA" testing, would settle it because it could detect if Zeigler's DNA transferred onto the victims from contact during a physical struggle.

Prosecutors with the Orange-Osceola State Attorney's Office opposed the petition, citing two previous opinions from the Florida Supreme Court, which found such evidence wouldn't be enough to exonerate Zeigler. The last round of DNA testing was done in 2001. It proved that Perry Edward's blood was not present on Zeigler's shirt and pants, as prosecutors argued in the original trial, but was found on May's clothing.

A judge in 2003 ruled that evidence was not compelling enough to prove Zeigler's innocence because there were multiple sources of blood at the crime scene.

In denying the most recent request, Whitehead questioned why Zeigler did not test all the blood stains he wanted to during the 2001 probe.

Attorneys for Zeigler asserted that the desired technology to do so was not available then. They also said they would privately finance the testing.

"We're obviously disappointed that [the judge] didn't see the merit and the application," said one of Zeigler's attorneys, John Houston Pope of New York. "We'll read what he has to say carefully, and see what the next steps are."

Source: Orlando Sentinel, July 20, 2016


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