Will the U.S. Finally End the Death Penalty?

In the past, abolition efforts have faced a backlash—but Gavin Newsom’s moratorium may be different.
The American death penalty is extraordinarily fragile, with death sentences and executions on the decline. Public support for the death penalty has diminished. The practice is increasingly marginalized around the world. California, with its disproportionately large share of American death-row inmates, announces an end to the death penalty. The year? 1972. That’s when the California Supreme Court declared the death penalty inconsistent with the state’s constitutional prohibition of cruel or unusual punishments—only to have the death penalty restored a year later through popular initiative and legislation.
On Wednesday, again, California walked back its commitment to the death penalty. Though not full-fledged abolition, Governor Gavin Newsom declared a moratorium on capital punishment lasting as long as his tenure in office, insisting that the California death penalty has been an “abject…

Tennessee Supreme Court denies stay of execution for Billy Ray Irick, Haslam will not intervene

The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that the scheduled execution of Billy Ray Irick should proceed as planned on Thursday, denying his request for a stay.

Shortly after the Monday evening ruling, Gov. Bill Haslam announced he would not intervene and would allow the execution to go forward.

"I took an oath to uphold the law," Haslam said in a statement. "Capital punishment is the law in Tennessee and was ordered in this case by a jury of Tennesseans and upheld by more than a dozen state and federal courts."

As of January 2017, there were 63 inmates on death row in Tennessee. Executions have been on hold pending a challenge by inmates to the single-dose drug protocol.

The decisions from Haslam and the high court come despite an ongoing legal challenge of the state's lethal injection method. They move the state one step closer to executing its 1st inmate since 2009.

Gene Shiles, Irick's defense attorney, released a statement thanking Haslam for his thoughtful consideration but said the governor's office had misunderstood crucial elements of the case history en route to a decision.

Shiles said Monday that Irick would seek a delay from the federal court system while his civil appeal is pending.

The Supreme Court said it 'must deny Mr. Irick's motion'

In an order issued by a majority of the 5-person court, the court said that, according to existing rules, it "must deny Mr. Irick's motion."

Justice Sharon Lee dissented, saying she would have granted the stay until an ongoing challenge to the state's lethal injection protocol could be heard by an appeals court.

"The harm to Mr. Irick of an unconstitutional execution is irreparable," Lee wrote in a forceful break with the majority. "Yet the harm to the State from briefly delaying the execution until after appellate review is minimal, if any."

Billy Ray Irick was sentenced to death for the rape and murder of Paula Dyer in 1986. Decades of appeals later, he's still on death Paula's family still can't rest.

Irick, 59, was convicted in 1986 of the rape and murder of a 7-year-old girl in Knox County. Although Irick has exhausted appeals on his original case, he asked the court last week to delay his execution so he and 32 other death row offenders could continue their legal challenge of the drugs Tennessee intends to use to kill him.

The death row offenders argued the 3 drugs Tennessee plans to use will torture inmates to death. They also said the state did not do enough to find a drug that would provide a more humane death.

Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle disagreed. After a two-week trial in July, Lyle ruled against the inmates, saying the state did enough to attempt to find other drugs. She did, however, agree experts provided by the inmates gave compelling testimony about the potential for the lethal injection drugs to not work as intended.

She determined while an offender may feel pain, that pain would not rise to the level of torture.

Nonetheless, attorneys for the death row inmates thought her ruling gave ample grounds for appeal.

Federal courts could offer final chance for Irick

In a statement Monday after the order was issued, Nashville attorney and death penalty expert David Raybin said the decision to deny a delay "opens the door to a federal court granting a short stay so the state can resolve the pending litigation."

In the majority's order, the court found Irick had failed to present a legal argument that was likely to win on appeal. A 2015 change to the rules of the Tennessee Supreme Court requires death row inmates to prove an ongoing lawsuit is likely to succeed in order to get a stay of execution.

This is the 1st time the court has applied that new rule. Monday's order essentially acknowledged that a similar request would have been granted before the change was made - but not now.

"Indeed, this Court has granted such stays in the past," the order read. But "to obtain a stay at this time, Mr. Irick must establish a likelihood of success, and he has failed to satisfy this standard."

Kelley Henry, the federal public defender who has led the lethal injection challenge, rejected that finding. In a statement released Monday evening, she said the decision from state's high court, made only a week after the request was submitted, left Irick to face execution "before the courts have had a chance to thoughtfully consider the challenge to the new lethal injection protocol."

"As Justice Lee pointed out in her dissent, Mr. Irick now stands to be executed without the benefit of an appeal," Henry wrote.

At this point, Irick has essentially 1 option: ask for a stay in the federal court system.

Henry said Irick would "likely" ask the U.S. Supreme Court to order a stay, but she said Haslam should take action to postpone Irick's execution.

Haslam declines to act: 'My role is not to be the 13th juror'

Haslam had the power to delay Irick's execution to allow for an appeal or to change his death sentence to a life sentence without the possibility of parole. His attorneys had argued Irick deserved clemency because he was mentally ill and thus could not understand the consequences of his actions.

As noted in the Nashville Scene, the psychologist who originally assessed Irick's mental state and argued against an insanity defense essentially retracted his report years later after reviewing additional evidence.

But in his statement, Haslam defended his decision not to act, noting state and federal courts "have reviewed and upheld the jury's verdict and sentence on 17 different occasions."

Shiles, Irick's criminal defense attorney, pushed back on that point.

"The truth is no facts relating to Billy's state mind at the time of the offenses - including his hallucinations and talking to 'the devil' were ever considered by a single court on the merits," Shiles said in a statement. "These facts, the most important to reasoned decisions as to guilt and punishment, were instead 'defaulted' and never weighed because they were determined to be untimely - raised too long after the trial."

Haslam's statement was resolute, suggesting he was satisfied with the judicial consideration of all the facts.

"My role is not to be the 13th juror or the judge or to impose my personal views, but to carefully review the judicial process to make sure it was full and fair," Haslam said. "Because of the extremely thorough judicial review of all of the evidence and arguments at every stage in this case, clemency is not appropriate."

Source: The Tennessean, Dave Boucher, August 7, 2018

Gov. Haslam declines to intervene in Billy Ray Irick execution

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam announced Monday he will not intervene in the case of Billy Ray Irick, set to be executed later this week for the murder of a 7-year-old girl in Knox County more than 30 years ago.

Haslam said in a statement that even though Irick requested clemency based upon his mental health status at the time the crime was committed, a mental health expert ruled he was competent to stand trial.

Numerous state and federal courts, including the Tennessee Supreme Court and U.S. Supreme Court, have reviewed and upheld the verdict on 17 different occasions, 11 of which were after additional evidence came to light about Irick's behavior in the weeks leading up to the murder.

"I took an oath to uphold the law," wrote Haslam. "Capital punishment is the law in Tennessee and was ordered in this case by a jury of Tennesseans and upheld by more than a dozen state and federal courts. My role is not to be the 13th juror or the judge or to impose my personal views, but to carefully review the judicial process to make sure it was full and fair. Because of the extremely thorough judicial review of all of the evidence and arguments at every stage in this case, clemency is not appropriate."

Earlier on Monday, Tennessee's Supreme Court refused to stay Irick's execution while the state's lethal injection protocol continues to be challenged on appeal.

The court's majority wrote Monday that state Supreme Court rules require proving that the lawsuit challenging the new three-drug cocktail is likely to succeed on appeal, but Irick's attorney has failed to do so.

Irick is scheduled to be executed Thursday in the 1985 rape and murder of 7-year-old Paula Dyer. Irick would be the 1st inmate Tennessee has executed since 2009.

Source: WATE news, August 7, 2018

Death row inmate Billy Ray Irick moved to death watch ahead of Thursday execution date

Tennessee's death chamber
He is scheduled for execution at Riverbend Maximum Security Prison. Irick was convicted of raping and murdering a 7-year-old girl back in 1985.


Here is how the Tennessee Department of Corrections explains it:

Death watch is a three-day period before an execution when strict guidelines are implemented to maintain the security and control of a condemned offender and to maintain safe and orderly operations of the prison. 

The offender is placed in one of four cells adjacent to the execution chamber where he or she is under 24-hour observation by a team of correctional officers who work 12-hour shifts.

The officers supervise the offender's activities and operate the control room for the death watch area and the execution chamber.

The offender is placed in a cell that is approximately 8 feet by 10 feet. The cell has a metal-framed bed with one mattress. There is also a metal desk with a metal stool attached to it, a metal shelf, and a shower, a stainless steel sink and toilet.

It has a small window that provides a limited view of one of the prison's grounds.

Once the offender is placed on death watch, the routine is somewhat different from the normal prison schedule. 

The items an offender can have in the cell are limited, visitation schedule and regulations differ from the rest of the prison, and the media are not allowed to interview the offender during death watch.

The offender is allowed some of the following items in the cell:

  • Hygiene items such as a tube of toothpaste, a toothbrush, a bar of soap and toilet tissue
  • Stationery (12 sheets), 3 stamped envelopes and one pencil that will be in the possession of a correctional officer when not in use
  • One set of clothing and one set of undergarments
  • Religious materials issued by the chaplain
  • Legal documents as requested
  • One television outside the cell
  • Medication prescribed by the facility's physician and issued and used under direct supervision only.
  • Not more than one requested newspaper at a time in the cell

The offender is provided:

  • Regular meals. The offender can request, within reason, a special meal on the final day before the execution
  • Legal materials he or she requests
  • Clean laundry as needed
  • Appropriate clothing for the mortician if clothing is not provided by family
  • Mail privileges, except for packages
  • A telephone outside the cell to make personal or legal calls (warden approves personal calls)

Visitation during death watch:

  • Only those individuals who are on the offender's official visitation list are allowed to visit the offender during death watch.

The warden decides the number of visitors at any one time and the number of visits. All visits are non-contact until the final day before the execution at which time the warden decides if the offender can have a contact visit.

Visits by the offender's spiritual advisor are under the same guidelines, although the warden can grant a visit prior to the execution.

Only the prison chaplain can accompany the offender into the execution chamber at the offender's request. 

The offender's attorney can visit prior to the execution and these are non-contact. 

Visiting hours are from 8:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m., with one two-hour visit in the morning and one two-hour visit in the afternoon.

Source: The Tennessean, August 7, 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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