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In the Bible Belt, Christmas Isn’t Coming to Death Row

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When it comes to the death penalty, guilt or innocence shouldn’t really matter to Christians.  

NASHVILLE — Until August, Tennessee had not put a prisoner to death in nearly a decade. Last Thursday, it performed its third execution in four months.
This was not a surprising turn of events. In each case, recourse to the courts had been exhausted. In each case Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, declined to intervene, though there were many reasons to justify intervening. Billy Ray Irick suffered from psychotic breaks that raised profound doubts about his ability to distinguish right from wrong. Edmund Zagorksi’s behavior in prison was so exemplary that even the warden pleaded for his life. David Earl Miller also suffered from mental illness and was a survivor of child abuse so horrific that he tried to kill himself when he was 6 years old.
Questions about the humanity of Tennessee’s lethal-injection protocol were so pervasive following the execution of Mr. Irick that both Mr. Zagorski and M…

Nebraska Supreme Court agrees to take death-row inmate's appeal

Nebraska
The Nebraska Supreme Court last week accepted the appeal of death row inmate Marco Torres, who was denied a hearing in Hall County District Court where his attorneys had sought to argue the state's death penalty is unconstitutional.

Torres' case is the 1st of the 11 men on death row to reach the state's highest court since a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2016 struck down Florida's sentencing scheme.

Defense attorneys, like Bob Creager of Lincoln, say Hurst v. Florida, which said jurors must make every finding necessary for someone to get the ultimate penalty, put the constitutionality of Nebraska's system in doubt, too.

Creager said he thinks the decision means the court would strike down Nebraska's scheme, too.

That's because here a 3-judge panel weighs mitigating circumstances after a jury finds a case death-eligible.

While attorneys can raise the issue in cases going forward, he said, the big question now is if it could apply to those already on death row.

Torres filed a 38-page motion for post-conviction relief in state court on June 14, with the help of attorneys with Federal Defender Services of Eastern Tennessee, appointed by a U.S. District Judge in his federal case.

A week later, the attorneys filed a 109-page petition in U.S. District Court in Lincoln arguing that Torres' death sentences are unconstitutional.

A week after that, on June 28, retired state District Judge James Livingston denied the motion in state court, saying Torres raised the issue 5 months too late.

He cited a case that sets a one-year limitation period to raise an issue, which in the Hurst case ran up Jan. 12, 2017.

Torres has appealed that decision, and the Nebraska Supreme Court agreed to take his case last week. But the court only would be deciding if he should've gotten a hearing.

So the question of whether Nebraska's death penalty procedures are constitutional won't be answered any time soon. Unless the U.S. Supreme Court takes a case and answers whether the Florida decision should be retroactive.

It's just another step in a slow process of reviews for death penalty cases.

Creager said every time a decision comes down or lawmakers make a change to the death penalty or the protocol, it raises potential issues.

"Death is different, as the court says," he said.

In 2009, a jury convicted Torres of 1st-degree murder for killing roommates Timothy Donohue, 48, and Edward Hall, 60, in Grand Island in 2007. His DNA was at the crime scene and he had used Hall's debit card 2 days before his body was found.

While Torres is the 1st of the state's death row inmates to reach the state's highest court raising the constitutionality issue, 5 others have open cases in state court.

2 others, John Lotter and Jeffrey Hessler, have both state and federal challenges going.

Only Carey Dean Moore, Ray Mata, Jose Sandoval, Erick Vela and Jorge Galindo have no pending appeals.

Source: Lincoln Journal Star, July 31, 2017

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