FEATURED POST

Capital Punishment in the United States Explained

Image
In our Explainer series, Fair Punishment Project lawyers help unpackage some of the most complicated issues in the criminal justice system. We break down the problems behind the headlines - like bail, civil asset forfeiture, or the Brady doctrine - so that everyone can understand them. Wherever possible, we try to utilize the stories of those affected by the criminal justice system to show how these laws and principles should work, and how they often fail. We will update our Explainers monthly to keep them current. Read our updated explainer here.
To beat the clock on the expiration of its lethal injection drug supply, this past April, Arkansas tried to execute 8 men over 1 days. The stories told in frantic legal filings and clemency petitions revealed a deeply disturbing picture. Ledell Lee may have had an intellectual disability that rendered him constitutionally ineligible for the death penalty, but he had a spate of bad lawyers who failed to timely present evidence of this claim -…

Manipulating a witness? Montana DOJ used controversial medical expert to defend lethal injection protocol

The ACLU says Attorney General Tim Fox has some explaining to do.

Confronted with a challenge to the state's lethal injection cocktail, the Department of Justice leaned on a controversial medical expert last year to argue the sedative it planned to use to kill 2 death row inmates would work as quickly as Montana law requires. But Auburn School of Pharmacy Dean Lee Evans didn't say what state attorneys needed him to - at least not initially.

Evans' evolving testimony became a central issue at trial, ultimately backfiring when a Helena judge struck down the drug protocol in October 2015 and effectively put a moratorium on the death penalty in Montana. Now the parties who won the case think they know why Evans seemed to change his professional opinion: because Fox's attorneys told him to.

That's what evidence uncovered after trial suggests, they allege in March filings. 6 months later, they're still awaiting a judge's order so they can try to prove it.

"This is a death penalty matter," says ACLU Montana Legal Director Jim Taylor. "If in fact somebody manipulated a witness, that's something everybody needs to know."

The case, Smith v. Batista, hinged on whether a drug known as pentobarbital and commonly used to euthanize pets works in the "ultra-fast acting" manner required by state law. In his 1st expert witness disclosure before trial, Evans did not address the "ultra-fast acting" definition, instead calling pentobarbital a "short acting" drug. A month later, he filed a second, shorter disclosure stating pentobarbital "could be" considered ultra-fast acting.

Lewis and Clark County District Judge Jeffrey Sherlock questioned the reliability of Evans' testimony in issuing his decision in the case, noting discrepancies in his statements about the drug's speed and classification.

Sherlock wasn't the 1st person puzzled by Evans. One of the only medical professionals still willing to testify on behalf of states defending their lethal injection protocols, Evans has been criticized by his peers and U.S. Supreme Court justices for relying on consumer website Drugs.com for parts of his testimony. The Montana DOJ contracted with Evans in 2015 after its previous expert witness quit consulting on death penalty litigation.

After the trial, attorneys for the plaintiffs discovered deposition statements Evans made in a separate case in Tennessee in which he acknowledges that he doesn't classify pentobarbital as "ultra-fast acting." The inmates' attorneys raised the issue with Fox's office, which "discussed the concerns at the executive team level" and took "appropriate actions" with the lawyers who represented the state on the case, according to a DOJ email included in court documents. The state has refused to say more.

The plaintiffs are awaiting a judge's ruling that could force the department to hand over records of its communication with Evans as well as its internal investigation. Taylor says if someone in Fox's office did improperly instruct Evans to change his testimony, the state would be liable for attorneys' fees and the case never would have gone to trial.

In a statement, DOJ spokeswoman Anastasia Burton describes the claims as "unsupported" and calls the plaintiffs' motion "an inappropriate attempt to extend this litigation, in the context of increasing their attorney fees."

Evans was paid $14,350 for his expert witness testimony last year, Burton says. The state has severed ties with him.

Source: The Missoula Independent, September 29, 2016

⚑ | Report an error, an omission; suggest a story or a new angle to an existing story; send a submission; recommend a resource; contact the webmaster, contact us: deathpenaltynews@gmail.com.


Opposed to Capital Punishment? Help us keep this blog up and running! DONATE!

Most Viewed (Last 30 Days)

Harris County leads Texas in life without parole sentences as death penalty recedes

Idaho County commissioners take stand against death penalty

Texas: Reginald Blanton executed

30-year-old Chinese inmate bids farewell to daughter, wife and mother before execution

USA: Executions, Death Sentences Up Slightly in 2017

Indonesian death penalty laws to be softened to allow reformed prisoners to avoid execution

Death penalty cases of 2017 featured botched executions, claims of innocence, 'flawed' evidence

Virginia Governor commutes death sentence of killer found mentally incompetent to be executed

5 worrying things we’ve learned from new Saudi execution numbers

Texas man with scheduled execution uses letters from fellow death row inmates to argue for reprieve