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States to try new ways of executing prisoners. Their latest idea? Opioids.

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The synthetic painkiller fentanyl has been the driving force behind the nation’s opioid epidemic, killing tens of thousands of Americans last year in overdoses. Now two states want to use the drug’s powerful properties for a new purpose: to execute prisoners on death row.
As Nevada and Nebraska push for the country’s first fentanyl-assisted executions, doctors and death penalty opponents are fighting those plans. They have warned that such an untested use of fentanyl could lead to painful, botched executions, comparing the use of it and other new drugs proposed for lethal injection to human experimentation.
States are increasingly pressed for ways to carry out the death penalty because of problems obtaining the drugs they long have used, primarily because pharmaceutical companies are refusing to supply their drugs for executions.
The situation has led states such as Florida, Ohio and Oklahoma to turn to novel drug combinations for executions. Mississippi legalized nitrogen gas this s…

Activists Want Texas' Death Penalty Abolished as Executions Decline

Texas death row
Data from the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty shows fewer inmates were executed in 2016 than in 2015 - a trend the group says continues to go down.

"I think it's time to get rid of it," said Brian Stolarz, defense attorney.

Opponents of the death penalty say juries are becoming more aware of the risk of a wrongful conviction.

"We also see juries in cases demanding higher standards of evidence. There have been 157 people nationwide and 13 here in Texas who were wrongfully convicted and released from death row," said Kristin Houle, executive director of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

Defense attorneys say the political climate has changed and so have minds.

"We have a case with no physical evidence, no science at all in the case. Just witness interviews, witness statements and other things, and a man who was innocent was going to die," said Stolarz.

2 bills have been filed at the state capitol; 1 would get rid of the death penalty for people convicted under Texas' law of parties and the other would abolish the death penalty altogether.

Additionally, fewer prosecutors are seeking capital punishment "because they have the option of life in prison without parole and also because many of them don't want to burden their counties with the exorbitant expense of a death penalty trial," said Houle.

Some argue the state ought to practice restorative justice - where those convicted have a chance to repent and rehabilitate.

"Even people who have done bad things cannot be judged on that one bad thing alone. People are greater than the one bad thing they do," said Stolarz.

So far, 18 states plus DC have abolished the death penalty.

Source: twcnews.com, February 19, 2017


Lawmaker wants state funds for death penalty attorneys


The Walls Unit, Huntsville, Texas
The Walls Unit, Huntsville, Texas
A Republican Texas lawmaker is trying to pass a bill that would create and fund a statewide office of appellate attorneys to represent death row inmates.

Last week, Rep. James White, R-Hillister, filed House Bill 1676 to create the Office of Capital Appellate Defender. The state-funded office would represent inmates sentenced to death who can't afford their own lawyer in their direct appeals to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals - the time when convicts can raise issues from their trial. Currently, the convicting court appoints an approved lawyer for this step of the appeals process and the prosecuting county pays the bill.

White, who represents 5 rural counties in East Texas, said the bill is one way to help struggling counties that have had to raise property taxes while dealing with unfunded state mandates, such as paying for indigent defense. And as chairman of the House Corrections Committee and representative of the district that houses most of Texas' death row inmates, he wants to ensure the state is being thorough when handing down the harshest penalty it can impose.

White has estimated the office would cost $500,000 a year, which could put the bill in jeopardy as lawmakers work to tighten the state's budget for the coming biennium.

Source: The Texas Tribune, February 19, 2017


Conference held in Austin to abolish the death penalty


A group of Texans wanting to get rid of the penalty heard a different perspective on the act of executing someone during a conference Saturday in Austin.

The Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty brought together people who think it's unfair - and should go away.

The group invited journalists who have witnessed executions to explain why it's an important issue to discuss.

"Whether you're for it or against it, whether that coverage takes place is extremely important. I think that a lot of people who are advocates either for it or against it don't know the back story as far as what goes into the reporting on the death penalty, how sometimes the stories can be pretty dark, pretty looming, very graphic in a lot of ways," said Ryan Poppe.

Democratic lawmakers have filed bills in the Texas House and Senate to abolish it. However, Poppe says it will likely see the same fate as past bills to do the same.

It likely will not even come up for a vote.

Source: KXAN news, February 19, 2017

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