SATURDAY, MAY 19, 2012
A Texas judge who reviewed the controversial 2004 execution of Cameron Todd Willingham planned to posthumously exonerate the father who was put to death for killing his three daughters in a house fire.
Scientific experts who debunked the arson evidence used against Willingham at his 1992 trial and a jailhouse witness who recanted his shaky testimony convinced District Court Judge Charlie Baird in 2010 that "Texas wrongfully convicted" him. But Baird's order clearing Willingham's name never became official, because a higher court halted the posthumous inquiry while it considered whether the judge had authority to examine the capital case.
While waiting for permission to finish the case from the Third Court of Appeals, Baird put together the document that "orders the exoneration of Cameron Todd Willingham for murdering his three daughters," because of "overwhelming, credible and reliable evidence" presented during a one-day hearing in Austin in October 2010.
"You can't do anything for Willingham except clear his name," Baird told The Huffington Post.
Source: Huffington Post, May 19, 2012
Alternative anesthetic lets Missouri develop new protocol for lethal injections, the 1st of its kind.
The state of Missouri is back in the execution business with a drug that’s never been used to put prisoners to death in the United States.
Stymied by a chemical shortage affecting every death-penalty state, the Missouri Department of Corrections said this week that it now will carry out death sentences with propofol, a widely used surgical anesthetic that also was a factor in singer Michael Jackson’s death.
Attorneys representing some of the state’s death row inmates learned of the plan Thursday after corrections officials met with some inmates and informed them of the new protocol.
Defense attorneys said it’s too early to say what, if any, legal challenges might be mounted in regard to the new 1-drug execution protocol that replaces Missouri’s previous 3-drug cocktail.
“It’s something we will have to look at very carefully,” said Joseph Luby, an attorney with the Death Penalty Litigation Clinic in Kansas City.
“Propofol has no track record in executions.”
Missouri is the first state to formally adopt the use of propofol, also known by the brand name Diprivan, for use in lethal injections, said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C.
“No one has used it yet,” Dieter said. “Other states may have considered it.”
Deborah Denno, a law professor at Fordham University in New York and nationally known expert on lethal injection issues, called it a “pretty extraordinary development” that raises many questions.
“I would anticipate legal challenges,” she said.
Missouri’s last execution took place in February 2011. Since shortly after that, the state has been unable to obtain the anesthetic that puts inmates to sleep before they are injected with two other chemicals that stop the lungs and heart. Officials also had been unable to obtain an alternative drug that some states had adopted to take its place.
With news that the corrections department had obtained a different drug, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster on Thursday asked the state Supreme Court to set execution dates for 19 inmates.
Koster said in his motion that there are no legal impediments or stays now in place to stop the executions.
“Unless this court sets an execution date after a capital murder defendant’s legal process is exhausted, the people of Missouri are without legal remedy,” Koster said in his motion.
According to Supreme Court procedures, lawyers for the inmates must be given the opportunity to file responses before the Supreme Court sets execution dates.
“There is no timetable as far as when the court would rule (on dates),” said spokeswoman Beth Riggert. “The court rules when it deems it appropriate.”
Missouri and every other state using lethal injection once used the same 3-drug mixture that employed sodium thiopental to anesthetize prisoners. The drug has been employed in all 68 executions Missouri has carried out since 1989.
Inmates in Missouri and across the country had filed numerous legal challenges to the method, alleging that it created the risk of inflicting cruel and unusual punishment if not administered properly. However, the U.S. Supreme ruled in 2008 that the method was not unconstitutional.
In early 2010, shortages of sodium thiopental began cropping up, and in early 2011 the only domestic supplier announced it would no longer manufacture the drug.
States also had difficulty obtaining it from foreign sources, and on March 27, a federal court in Washington, D.C., banned any importation of sodium thiopental and ordered the Food and Drug Administration to contact every state that it believed had any foreign-manufactured thiopental and instruct them to surrender it to the FDA. It also permanently prohibited importation of the drug.
With thiopental in short supply, some states began to substitute another anesthetic, pentobarbital, for use in the 3-drug method.
In February 2011, Ohio began using pentobarbital by itself to execute prisoners. Earlier this year, Arizona became the 2nd state to switch to 1-drug executions using pentobarbital.
Dieter, with the death penalty information center, said pentobarbital has been used, either by itself or in combination with other drugs, in the last 45 executions in the United States.
But last July, its Danish manufacturer announced that it was imposing restrictions on how pentobarbital was distributed to prevent its use in executions.
Since its on-hand supply of thiopental expired in March 2011, Missouri had been unsuccessful in finding it or pentobarbital.
In announcing its new protocol this week, Missouri Department of Corrections officials did not comment on when they obtained the new drug or where it was obtained.
According to Missouri’s new written protocol, inmates will be injected with 2 grams of propofol. An area anesthesiologist said that amount is 10 times the dosage that would be used in a surgical setting for a 220-pound patient.
According to Missouri’s new protocol, the chemical will be prepared by a doctor, nurse or pharmacist. An intravenous line will be inserted and monitored by a doctor, nurse or emergency medical technician. Department employees will inject the chemicals.
Doctors say the drug is used widely in medical settings and does not have some of the side effects, like post-operative nausea and vomiting, of previously used anesthetics. It was developed in England in the late 1970s.
Currently, only 1 execution date is pending in Missouri. Michael Tisius, convicted of killing 2 jailers in Randolph County, is scheduled to be put to death Aug. 3.
An attorney representing Tisius could not be reached for comment Friday.
Source: Kansas City Star, May 19, 2012
After prodding from Texas AG, prison system says it has enough drugs to execute 23 inmates
Texas prison officials disclosed Friday they have enough lethal drugs to execute as many as 23 people.
In response to this week's opinion from the state attorney general's office that said the Texas Department of Criminal Justice could not withhold information about the drug supply, the department said it currently has 46 2.5-gram vials of pentobarbital. A 5-gram dose — about 3.4 ounces — is the 1st lethal drug used during each execution in Huntsville, according to Texas execution procedures.
The prison agency said it had similar supplies of 2 other drugs also administered to condemned inmates. It did not, though, identify suppliers of the lethal drugs, which the opinion also had addressed.
Executions also involve 100 milligrams of pancuronium bromide and 140 milliequivalents of potassium chloride. Texas has 290 10-milligram vials of the pancuronium bromide — 10 are required per execution — and 737 20-milliequivalent vials of potassium chloride — 7 per punishment.
The department's written procedures call for a matching set of drugs and syringes "in case unforeseen events make their use necessary." But in a brief statement emailed to reporters late Friday, the agency said a backup set of lethal drugs for executions "is not actually prepared, but an additional dose is available if needed."
The attorney general's opinion, dated Monday, was an answer to public information requests filed earlier this year by the Austin American-Statesman and British newspaper The Guardian.
Prison officials had argued that releasing the information could be harmful to employees and provide death penalty opponents a way to harass the drug suppliers with the hope firms would refuse to do business with the state.
"We find your arguments as to how disclosure of the requested drug quantities would result in the disruption of the execution process or otherwise interfere with law enforcement to be too speculative," Sean Opperman, an assistant attorney general, wrote in the opinion.
The prison agency had 30 days to comply with the opinion or to challenge it in court. The status of the supplier question was not immediately clear.
Opperman said that, while the attorney general's office "acknowledge(s) the department's concerns," the corrections department didn't show how disclosure of the information "would create a substantial threat of physical harm to any individual."
Department officials previously had indicated they had a sufficient supply to handle upcoming executions. At least five are scheduled for this summer, including one early next month.
Last year, one of the drugs Texas had used in the process, sodium thiopental, became unavailable when its European supplier bowed to pressure from death penalty opponents and stopped making it. No other vendor could be found, so the drug was replaced by pentobarbital.
The physical effects of pentobarbital on condemned inmates have not been noticeable during the executions, but the financial cost to the state has risen considerably. Prison officials put the cost of the previous mixture at $83.35. It's now $1286.86, with the higher cost primarily due to pentobarbital.
Source: Associated Press, May 19, 2012
Death penalty opponent to lean on Dallas DA; SMU professor acting after report suggests innocent man died
The Columbia Human rights Law Review opened up a new can of worms on the death penalty in Texas this week with its book-length examination of the 1989 execution of Carlos DeLuna.
The bottom line, according to the report, is that the state executed the wrong man for the stabbing death of 24-year-old Wand Lopez in a Corpus Christi convenience store. Researchers say prosecutors bypassed another person who bragged of killing Lopez.
On the heels of that report, death penalty abolitionist Rick Halperin, a professor at Southern Methodist University, told the website Dallas South News he would be on the courthouse steps in Dallas on Friday to lean on Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins to stop seeking lethal injection in capital cases.
Asked Thursday whether Watkins had read the Columbia report and, if so, would altter his stance on the death penalty, spokeswoman Jamille Bradfield released this terse statement: "We are declining comment."
"This report highlights only the tip of the iceberg," Halperin says. "The DeLuna case is not a singular aberration of a person who has been wrongfully convicted and executed in Texas. In fact, there have been and remain numerous innocent people who have been sent to death row and executed, or people currenly on death row waiting to be executed."
Halperin notes that the community need only consider the Dallas County Jail, where 32 men have been released after being wrongfully convicted. Others such as Ben Spencer remain.
Spencer has been in jail 22 years, and "despite the judge who sentenced him now admitting he believes Ben is innocent, Watkins won't re-open the case, which defies his own commments that the main job of a DA is to do justice," Halperin says. "But seeking death and leaving innocent people in jail is not justice. It's morally unacceptable and violative of people's rights and dignity."
Dallas County leads the U.S. in the number of people exonerated after being wrongfully convicted, Halperin says. "These are not death row cases but they're symptomatic of continued mistakes within the criminal justice system. Craig Watkins keeps saying that he is morally opposed to the death penalty, yet he continues to go into the courtroom to seek death. Either he is or isn't for the death penalty. This is an opportunity for him to deliver consistency and stop being hypocritical about what he says and how he acts."
As the Dallas Morning News has reported many times, Watkins' view on capital punishment swings like a pendulum. When first taking office in 2007, Watkins declared that he personally opposed the death penalty on moral and religious grounds.
Recently, he reveled that his own great-grandfather had been executed by the state and said the state needed to look into reforms.
TIMELINE: Craig Watkins' evolving position:
January 2007----The newly elected DA told The News' editorial board that he would not shy away from employing the death penalty to seek a new trial for Thomas Miller-El, whose 1986 death penalty conviction had been overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court over concerns that prosecutors had intentionally excluded minorities from his jury. "He [Miller-El] needs to be on death row. He should have been dead a long time ago," Watkins said. The following year, Watkins' office agreed to a plea deal that took the death penalty off the table but sent Miller-El to prison for life.
November 2007----Newsweek reported that Watkins was not sure how he felt about the death penalty and that "it depends on which day you ask me."
September 2008----Troubled that innocent people had ben imprisoned by faulty prosecutions, Watkins announced that his office would re-examine nearly 40 death penalty convictions and would seek to halt executions, if necessary, to give the reviews time to proceed. "It's not saying I'm putting a moratoium on the death penalty," he said. "It's saying that mayabe we should withdraw those dates and look at those cases from a new perspective to make sure that those individuals that are on death row need to be there and they need to be executed."
August 2009----Watkins said a particularly cold-blooded Dallas county double killing had made him rethink hsi position. While still conflicted, he said, "I'm starting to change a little bit....You know this guy didn't have any remorse whatsoever. And maybe it's true that there are just people out there that need to be dealt with in this way."
August 2010----Watkins, while mired in a rough re-election race, said he had changed his mind about capital punishemt. "I came in with a certain philosophical view. I don't have that anymore." he told the News. "From a religious standpoint, I think it's an archaic way of doing justice. But in this job, I've seen people who cannot be rehabilitated." Watkins said he still had concerns that prosecutors somewhere might send the wrong person to death row. But he said that even when he was opposed to the death penalty, he still allowed his office to seek it when warranted. "I cannot argue against it morally, but I car argue against it broadly," Watkins said. "Given the DNA exonerations, there's a chance we've executed someone in Texas who did not commit crime."
February 2012----Watkins made this extraordinary revelation in passing at a news conference: His great-grandfather was executed byt he state of Texas. He balked at explaining his reason for the disclosure to the newspaper but later told The Associated Press that he was calling on state legislators to review death penalty procedures to ensure that they were fairly administered. "I don't know if I'm the voice to that," he told the AP. "I just know, here I am, and I have there experiences." He later told The News that the spark for such a debate "is going to come from someone in a district attorney's seat."
Sources: Dallas Morning News & Dallas South News, May 18, 2012
Feb 23, 2012
Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins, whose office's conviction integrity unit has helped to free more than 20 wrongfully convicted inmates, attended the hearing. Watkins thanked Miles for continuing to fight for his .
Feb 24, 2012
Craig Watkins' tenure as Dallas County's top prosecutor has earned him a national reputation. Now, as Watkins publicly acknowledges that his great-grandfather was executed in Texas almost 80 years ago, he called on state...