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Why Texas’ ‘death penalty capital of the world’ stopped executing people

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Since the Supreme Court legalized capital punishment in 1976, Harris County, Texas, has executed 126 people. That's more executions than every individual state in the union, barring Texas itself.
Harris County's executions account for 23 percent of the 545 people Texas has executed. On the national level, the state alone is responsible for more than a third of the 1,465 people put to death in the United States since 1976.
In 2017, however, the county known as the "death penalty capital of the world" and the "buckle of the American death belt" executed and sentenced to death a remarkable number of people: zero.
This is the first time since 1985 that Harris County did not execute any of its death row inmates, and the third year in a row it did not sentence anyone to capital punishment either.
The remarkable statistic reflects a shift the nation is seeing as a whole.
“The practices that the Harris County District Attorney’s Office is following are also signifi…

U.S. Supreme Court rejects appeal from Virginia death row inmate who shut down Virginia Tech's campus in 2006

The nation's highest court on Tuesday refused to hear the appeal of a Virginia death row inmate who killed a hospital security guard and sheriff's deputy during an escape that sparked a massive manhunt that shut down Virginia Tech's campus in 2006.

William Morva argued that he should have been allowed to present evidence that he wouldn't pose a threat to prison guards or others if he was sentenced to life in prison. But the U.S. Supreme Court left in place a ruling from the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejecting Morva's claims.

Morva's attorneys didn't immediately respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.

Morva had been in jail for about a year awaiting trial on attempted robbery charges when he was taken to a Blacksburg hospital for treatment of an injury in August 2006. 

After arriving at the hospital, he overpowered a Montgomery County sheriff's deputy and used the deputy's pistol to shoot an unarmed security guard, 32-year-old Derrick McFarland, while fleeing.

Morva's escape set off a police manhunt that forced Virginia Tech to cancel classes on the first day of the academic year and warn students to stay inside.

A day after McFarland's killing, Morva fatally shot Montgomery County Sheriff's Deputy Eric Sutphin, who had been searching for the inmate on a walking trail near the Blacksburg campus. Later that day, police found Morva lying in a ditch with the sheriff's deputy's gun on the ground nearby.

Attorneys for Morva, now 35, told the Supreme Court that he was unfairly prevented from presenting evidence at trial to refute prosecutors' argument that Morva would threaten the lives of prison guards and others if allowed to live. 

Morva's trial lawyers had said a forensic psychologist would have shown jurors that Morva wasn't dangerous in prison, but they were blocked from presenting that testimony.

"With that testimony excluded, the prosecution argued freely to the jury - without fear of any meaningful rebuttal - that Mr. Morva would endanger the lives of prison guards unless sentenced to death," his attorneys told the Supreme Court.

Morva is 1 of 6 inmates on Virginia's death row. A circuit court will hold a hearing on Friday to set an execution date for another inmate, Ivan Teleguz, who was convicted in 2006 of hiring another man to kill his ex-girlfriend.

Source: Associated Press, February 22, 2017


Justices reject appeal from South Carolina death row inmate


The Supreme Court has turned away an appeal from a South Carolina death row inmate who pleaded guilty to killing an off-duty police officer during a multistate crime spree in 2004.

The justices on Tuesday left in place a lower court ruling that rejected Mikal Dean Mahdi's claims that his lawyer didn't do enough to present evidence of his troubled childhood.

Mahdi said his lawyer relied on a single expert witness instead of calling family members and others to offer more details about Mahdi's years growing up with an abusive father.

Prosecutors said that during his crime spree Mahdi killed a North Carolina convenience store clerk, carjacked a sport-utility vehicle in South Carolina and later killed Orangeburg Public Safety Capt. James Myers on Myers' farm.

Source: therepublic.com, February 22, 2017

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