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Will the Supreme Court Kill The Death Penalty This Term?

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Will the U.S. Supreme Court add the fate of the death penalty to a term already fraught with hot-button issues like partisan gerrymandering, warrantless surveillance, and a host of contentious First Amendment disputes?
That’s the hope of an ambitious Supreme Court petition seeking to abolish the ultimate punishment. But it runs headlong into the fact that only two justices have squarely called for a reexamination of the death penalty’s constitutionality.
Abel Hidalgo challenges Arizona’s capital punishment system—which sweeps too broadly, he says, because the state’s “aggravating factors” make 99 percent of first-degree murderers death-eligible—as well as the death penalty itself, arguing it’s cruel and unusual punishment.
He’s represented by former acting U.S. Solicitor General Neal Katyal—among the most successful Supreme Court practitioners last term. Hidalgo also has the support of several outside groups who filed amicus briefs on his behalf, notably one from a group including Ari…

Texas: 'Utterly unqualified' attorney used Wikipedia to defend death penalty inmate

Taichin Preyor
Taichin Preyor
Lawyers for death row inmate file last-minute motions days before scheduled execution

With just days left till the next scheduled execution in the Lone Star state, lawyers for convicted Bexar County killer TaiChin Preyor on Friday filed a flurry of last-minute paperwork seeking to halt the condemned man's death.

The pair of motions - in the Western District of Texas - claim one of Preyor's former attorneys on the case, Brandy Estelle, was "utterly unqualified" and may have even resorted to the popular crowdsourcing site Wikipedia for research in the case.

Preyor, who murdered a woman who sold him drugs more than a decade ago, is scheduled to meet his fate in Huntsville on July 27.

The 46-year-old was convicted in the 2004 slaying when he repeatedly stabbed Jami Tackett before cutting her throat. Neighbors found the dying woman after hearing her screams - and police caught Preyor after he came back to retrieve his car keys, the San Antonio Express-News previously reported.

The San Antonio man has been on death row since 2005 fighting his case. At issue now is the allegedly subpar defense counsel who represented Preyor during parts of the federal appeals process.

"It appears she relied on Wikipedia, of all things, to learn the complex ins and outs of Texas capital-punishment," Preyor's attorneys wrote of their client's former counsel, noting that Estelle's case files included a print-out of the Wikipedia page "Capital punishment in Texas" with a Post-It note labelled "Research."

In addition, court papers contend Estelle was getting help on the case from an attorney disbarred for showing a "gargantuan indifference to the interests of his clients," a federal court wrote in a published decision.

"No doubt fearing repercussions, Estelle never disclosed her disbarred co-counsel's lead role in the case to this Court," claims the convicted man's legal team, which includes Catherine Stetson, Preyor's pro bono attorney and a partner at Hogan Lovells.

The dozens of pages of motions and exhibits filed Friday call Jefferson and Estelle's work "shocking conduct" and "exactly the kind of extraordinary circumstance that warrants this Court's intervention."

The motions for stay of execution and relief from judgment ask the court to halt Preyor's death date and reopen his federal appeal, this time with "licensed and qualified counsel."

Last-minute stays of execution are more the exception than the rule - but they're certainly not unheard of.

In 2011, Harris County death row inmate Duane Edward Buck was granted a last-minute reprieve amid questions of racially tainted expert testimony. He's still on death row as the appeals process continues to play out.

Source: Chronicle, Keri Blakinger, July 17, 2017

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