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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…

"No Need" for Mental Tests: James Bigby will be the 4th Texan executed in 2017

James Bigby
James Bigby
James Bigby, 61, is scheduled to be the 4th Texan executed this year when he goes to the Huntsville gurney on Tuesday, March 14. 

The Fort Worth native has spent the last 25 years on death row after a 2-day killing spree that left 4 people dead.

The murders began on Dec. 23, 1987. Bigby was convinced that several of his acquaintances were conspiring against him when he arrived at his friend Mike Trekell's Fort Worth home for dinner. 

Trekell was cooking when Bigby shot him in the head, then drowned Trekell's 4-month-old son in the kitchen sink. He then moved on to the houses of 2 more friends - Calvin Crane and Frank "Bubba" Johnson - killing both. He was arrested at an Arlington hotel on Dec. 26.

Bigby confessed to the crimes when he was arrested and again later in a written statement. At his trial, during a recess, Bigby grabbed a gun from the bench, broke into chambers, and threatened his trial judge at gunpoint. Though he was disarmed before anything happened, the incident influenced the jury's decision in determining Bigby's future dangerousness; he was convicted of capital murder in March 1991, and sentenced to death.

Prior to his killing spree, Bigby had a history of robberies and sexual assault, which prosecutors focused on during sentencing. 

His defense argued their client suffered from schizophrenia and depression, and that he was a product of a neglectful upbringing. (The defense also addressed Bigby's newfound reverence for religion.) 

Appeals have focused on the trial counsel's failure to address Bigby's family's history - a violation of Bigby's right to assistance of counsel under the Sixth Amendment. 

Court records indicate that Bigby's mother gave away each of his siblings to relatives, which caused him to fear he too would be abandoned. Bigby also detailed his unhealthy relationship with his mother - noting that she breastfed him until he was 7 - as well as her alcoholism, and her attempted suicide. 

None of those hardships have done anything to sway any appeals court. 

Bigby has had no sustainable luck finding relief at the state or federal levels - however, in 2005, the district court wherein he filed his appeal vacated his death sentence after ruling that his trial jury was given inadequate instructions regarding death penalty sentencing, citing the 2001 case Penry v. Johnson. 

In 2006, he attended a 2nd sentencing trial and was handed a 2nd death sentence.

In March 2015, Bigby filed an appeal to the Supreme Court, though the effort was rejected by SCOTUS 2 months later. 

In September 2016, the state filed a motion to issue an execution date, but according to the order written by Tarrant County Judge Robb Catalano, Bigby's counsel requested additional time. 

Bigby "had been uncooperative and uncommunicative with him, such that he was unable to 'rationally evaluate' the Defendant's state of mind or mental ability," wrote Catalano. 

Bigby's attorney filed a report stating "no need" for a mental examination on Oct. 27, 2016 - Bigby "understands the reason for his execution." 

An execution warrant was signed a few days later. 

If all goes the way the state intends, Bigby will be the 2nd Tarrant County resident executed this year and 542nd in Texas since the state reinstated the death penalty in 1976.

Source: Austin Chronicle, March 9, 2017


Texas: Death Sentence Upheld for Man Convicted of Killing Wife


Carnell Petetan
Carnell Petetan
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has upheld the conviction and death sentence of a Port Arthur man convicted of killing his wife in Waco in 2012 a few months after getting out of prison where he met her as a pen pal, exchanging letters.

Carnell Petetan was condemned for fatally shooting his estranged wife, Kimberly. 

He was serving 20 years for assault and she was studying to be a drug abuse counselor when they met. 

The couple met when Kimberly started writing him in prison in 2009 after she had a chance meeting with his brother. 

Kimberly was a recovering drug addict studying to become a drug abuse counselor, and Carnell's brother believed her story could help his brother. 

At the time, Carnell was serving 20 years for shooting two men and attacking another with a chair in separate incidents when he was 16.

Petetan's attorneys raised 30 points of error from his 2014 trial where defense attorneys contended Petetan was mentally impaired and ineligible for the death penalty.

Appeals court Judge Elsa Alcala said Wednesday she would have waited to rule until the Supreme Court decides another case questioning the constitutionality of how Texas determines intellectual disability.

Source: Associated Press, March 0, 2017

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