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America Is Stuck With the Death Penalty for (At Least) a Generation

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With Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement, the national fight to abolish capital punishment will have to go local.
When the Supreme Court revived capital punishment in 1976, just four years after de facto abolishing it, the justices effectively took ownership of the American death penalty and all its outcomes. They have spent the decades since then setting its legal and constitutional parameters, supervising its general implementation, sanctioning its use in specific cases, and brushing aside concerns about its many flaws.
That unusual role in the American legal system is about to change. With Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement from the court this summer, the Supreme Court will lose a heterodox jurist whose willingness to cross ideological divides made him the deciding factor in many legal battles. In cases involving the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, his judgment often meant the difference between life and death for hundreds of death-row pr…

Ohio: He's on death row, but he never killed anybody

Austin Myers
Austin Myers
Should he be put to death? The actual killer got a life sentence

Austin Myers became the youngest inmate on Ohio's death row 2 years ago after a judge sentenced him to the ultimate punishment for the 2014 murder of Warren County U.S. Navy recruit Justin Back.

Now the 21-year-old convicted killer is asking the Ohio Supreme Court to overthrow his murder conviction and death penalty sentence, arguing, among other issues, that he didn't actually kill the victim, yet he received a harsher sentence than his co-defendant, Tim Mosley, who he says carried out the actual murder.

"The imposition of the death penalty was so grossly unfair that it shocks the conscience in that the actual killer Mosley received life without (parole), while the accomplice Myers received the death penalty," says an appeal filed last month by Myers' attorneys, Timothy McKenna and Roger Kirk.

Indeed, legal experts say that executions of people who did not directly kill their victims are incredibly rare. 

The Death Penalty Information Center lists just 10 such cases out of the more than 1,400 executions since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.

The case of a Texas man facing execution for a murder he did not directly take part in attracted national attention this summer. 

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals halted the scheduled execution of Jeff Wood 6 days before he was set to die by lethal injection.

"(Myers' case) is a rare scenario where the actual physical killer cuts a deal and gets out of the death penalty," said Mark Krumbein, a former prosecutor turned defense attorney who's defended more than a dozen clients in capital murder cases. "I don't know how the (appeals) court would react to that."

But prosecutors in the case argue that Myers doesn't fit within that narrow category of convicted killers who face execution under Ohio's felony-murder laws despite not actually killing anyone.

Source: WCPO news, October 17, 2016

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