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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…

Texas assures court it can carry out aging death row inmate's execution

The Walls Unit, Huntsville, where executions are carried out in Texas.
The Lone Star State is confident it can kill Danny Bible.

Earlier this month, the aging Houston serial killer filed a last-minute lawsuit arguing that his veins are so bad and his health problems so severe that he can't be put to death - or it'll turn into a painfully botched procedure.

But the state of Texas begged to differ, touting its long history of successful executions.

"Texas is the most prolific death-penalty state in the nation," the state wrote in a Friday afternoon court filing. "Bible provides no example of a Texas execution, performed under the current protocol, gone horribly awry because of vein failure."

Officials say that a Florida killer's screams of "murderers!" during his execution were not caused by the drugs used for the lethal injection.

The 66-year-old 4-time killer, who is set for execution on June 27, pointed to bloody botched procedures in other states. In February, a lethal injection team in Alabama spent hours poking Doyle Hamm before calling off his execution. The year before that, Ohio found itself in a similar place with condemned killer Alva Campbell.

But that hasn't happened here, the state pointed out in its response.

"Texas is not Ohio or Alabama, and the court should give little consideration to isolated examples of problematic executions in other states when it has numerous uneventful Texas executions upon which to base its opinions," state attorneys wrote. "Bible has not managed to present even a single instance of defendants failing to successfully access a vein during an execution."

The state raised a number of other points, alleging that the condemned killer should have raised the issue sooner and pointing out that prison medical staffers have managed to draw blood for medical testing over the past year.

But Bible's lawyers fired back in a Monday court filing, calling out the state's "inflammatory rhetoric" they deemed "devoid of any viable argument."

"Defendants' response is most notable for the things absent from it," attorneys Jeremy Schepers, Nadia Wood and Margaret Schmucker wrote, noting that the state doesn't dispute Bible's host of medical conditions ranging from edema to obesity to Parkinson's disease.

The state also "attempts to obfuscate" the "real issue" as to whether its execution procedures represent a substantial risk of harm to a man in Bible's medical condition. That particular claim, defense lawyers argue, the state didn't really refute.

This isn't the first time a Texas death row prisoner has fought his sentence by questioning the lethal injection process. But other recent cases focused on the possibility that the drugs themselves would cause suffering, a claim that could more generally apply to any death row prisoner. Bible's argument focuses more narrowly on the possibility that he, specifically, is unfit to execute.

Instead, his lawyers have suggested alternative methods such as a firing squad or nitrogen gas in order to decrease the risk of suffering.

Bible was initially sent to death row in 2003, more than 2 decades after the crime that landed him there.

A former drifter, Bible's lengthy string of violence dates back to at least 1979. That May, a passerby found the bloodied, half-naked body of Inez Deaton along the slope of a Houston bayou. She'd been stabbed 11 times with an ice pick before her killer posed her corpse by the water.

For nearly 2 decades, Deaton's slaying went unsolved - but Bible's violent streak continued.

Danny Bible
In the years that followed, Bible terrorized women in the Midwest, once setting his girlfriend's car on fire because he didn't like her haircut.

After he returned to Texas and settled west of Fort Worth, he murdered his sister-in-law Tracy Powers and her infant son Justin. Then, he killed Powers' roommate, Pam Hudgins, and left her body hanging from a roadside fence.

Following those killings, he fled to Montana, where he kidnapped a woman and raped an 11-year-old girl, according to court records.

Eventually, he was caught and in 1984 he pleaded guilty to Hudgins' murder. He was sentenced to 25 years for the killing and 20 years for a Harris County robbery.

He was released on parole 8 years later, under a since-repealed mandatory supervision law.

While still on parole, he raped and molested multiple young relatives, including a 5-year-old. Then in 1998, he raped Tera Robinson in a Louisiana motel room before stuffing her into a duffel bag when he became enraged that he couldn't maintain an erection.

The woman broke free and called for help.

Bible was eventually caught in Florida, and freely admitted to his crimes under questioning.

Weeks after he was sentenced, Bible narrowly escaped death during a head-on-collision on the way to death row. The officer behind the wheel of the prison transport vehicle, 40-year-old John Bennett, died in the wreck, while Bible ended up in a wheelchair.

In past appeals, Bible's attorneys have used his deteriorating medical condition to argue against his execution, saying he can't be a danger in his current state.

Texas has already executed 6 men this year, including another Houston serial killer, Anthony Shore. Aside from Bible's, there are 7 other death dates on the calendar in Texas.

Source: Houston Chronicle, Keri Blakinger, June 19, 2018


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"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed,
but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." -- Oscar Wilde

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