[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----PENN., FLA., CALIF., GA.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Fri Nov 2 02:32:22 CDT 2007
Testimony to conclude in federal death penalty case
Testimony was expected to conclude today in the penalty phase of the
federal case against Jelani Solomon.
He was convicted last week of ordering the shooting death of Frank Helisek
Jr., 53, of New Brighton in January 2004.
The jury must decide if Mr. Solomon, 28, of Beaver Falls, should be
executed, spend the rest of his life in prison, or some other amount of
Mr. Solomon paid Claron Hanner in cocaine and cash to shoot Mr. Helisek to
protect his drug enterprise and retaliate against Mr. Helisek's son,
Shawn Helisek was cooperating with the state attorney general's office in
a drug investigation of Mr. Solomon.
Mr. Hanner, who originally faced the death penalty, instead took a deal
with prosecutors. In exchange for his cooperation and testimony against
Mr. Solomon, he could receive less than 30 years in prison.
(source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
Child killer's stay of execution denied----Florida court says new lethal
injection methods are constitutional
The Florida Supreme Court today denied convicted child killer Mark Dean
Schwab's appeal for a stay of execution.
The Brevard County man is scheduled to die by lethal injection on Nov. 15.
He can still appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The ruling came on the same day the court unanimously decided that the
state's new lethal injection methods, revised after a botched execution in
December, are constitutional.
The decision cleared the path for the scheduled execution of Schwab.
The rulings will send Schwab, and Florida's lethal injection protocols, to
federal courts. The U.S. Supreme Court has issued 3 stays of execution
since September since it agreed to consider a Kentucky case and set
standards on the constitutionality of lethal injection.
Schwab, 38, has been on death row for 15 years for kidnapping, raping,
torturing and murdering 11-year-old Junny Rios-Martinez of Cocoa in April
1991. He was convicted May, 22, 1992 and sentenced to death.
In its decision denying Schwab's appeals, the Florida Supreme Court said
changes the state has made to its lethal injection protocols meet
"Moreover, the protocol has been amended since Diaz's execution so that
the warden will ensure that the inmate is unconscious before the
pancurionium bromide and the potassium chloride are injected," the court
Vickie Rios-Martinez applauded the court's ruling, though she is not sure
the Nov. 15 execution will take place.
"I respect them for following Florida law," she said moments after
learning of the decision. "I'm not a betting person but I'll bet there is
not going to be an execution."
Court: New training, procedures are sufficient
Lawyers for convicted murderer and child rapist Schwab in October argued
that Florida's lethal injection methods are unconstitutional. They made
oral arguments to the court on the same day justices heard Ian Deco
Lightbourne's challenge to the state's procedures.
Calls to lawyers for Schwab and to Attorney General Bill McCollum were not
Schwab's is the first death warrant signed by Gov. Charlie Crist and the
first in the state since a moratorium on executions was lifted following
an inquiry into the December 2006 lethal injection of Angel Diaz. Diaz
took nearly three times as long to die as previous executions. Autopsies
showed that the 3-drug cocktail Florida uses to carry out lethal
injections were injected into tissue rather than directly into his veins.
The Florida Supreme Court Thursday said new training and procedures
established by the Department of Corrections are sufficient.
"This Court's obligation is to ensure that the method used to execute a
person in Florida does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment,"
Thursday's ruling said.
Following Diaz's execution, then-Gov. Jeb Bush established a commission to
study the state's methods, as did the Department of Corrections. Lower
court hearings in Lightbourne's case on those findings and the state's
response found the new procedures constitutional.
"Our precedent makes clear that this Court's role is not to micromanage
the executive branch in fulfilling its own duties relating to executions,"
the Florida Supreme Court's Lightbourne ruling said.
The court concluded that the state had met its constitutional
"After Diaz's execution, the DOC added additional safeguards into the
protocol to ensure the inmate will be unconscious before the execution
proceeds. In light of these additional safeguards and the amount of the
sodium pentothal used, which is a lethal dose in itself, we conclude that
Lightbourne has not shown a substantial, foreseeable or unnecessary risk
of pain in the DOC's procedures for carrying out the death penalty through
lethal injection that would violate the Eighth Amendment protections."
The Lightbourne decision was reflected in Schwab's case and was key to the
court denying his appeals.
(source: Florida Today)
State Court Upholds Fla. Executions
Florida's Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the state's lethal injection
procedures are not cruel and unusual, which could clear the way for an
execution scheduled for this month.
The justices wrote that "we reject the conclusion that lethal injection as
applied in Florida is unconstitutional." The decision was unanimous.
Lethal injection procedures are under review by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The high court has allowed only one execution to be carried out since it
agreed in September to hear a case from Kentucky that raises a similar
The state Supreme Court ruled that Florida's lethal injection procedure
doesn't violate the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment,
particularly since safeguards were put in place a December execution.
In that execution, it took 34 minutes - twice as long as usual - for
convicted killer Angel Diaz to die.
Mark Dean Schwab, 1 of 2 inmates who have sued over the way Florida
administers lethal injections to condemned prisoners, is scheduled to be
executed on Nov. 15. He was convicted in the rape and murder of
11-year-old Junny Rios-Martinez.
Florida's constitution requires the court to hear appeals from final
judgments of trial courts imposing the death penalty.
(source: The Associated Press)
Death-penalty debate shifts to Florida case
The U.S. Supreme Court's move to delay a Mississippi execution -- moments
before the inmate was to die Tuesday -- has cast doubt on whether Florida
will go ahead with its next lethal injection, just weeks away.
Still, Florida prison officials are gearing up for Mark Dean Schwab's
execution Nov. 15. Already, he has been moved to a cell closer to the
death chamber. In seven days, all of his belongings will be taken away.
The high court's ruling is a "strong signal that executions across the
country should be stayed," said Schwab's lawyer, Mark Gruber.
Schwab's fate is in the hands of the Florida Supreme Court justices, who
have remained mum on how they will rule.
"It would be unconscionable for this execution to go forward," said
Elisabeth Semel, director of the death-penalty clinic at the University of
California-Berkeley law school.
If the Florida Supreme Court rules against the 48-year-old Schwab, his
attorneys can appeal to the federal courts. That route has proven
successful in other states, including Alabama and Arkansas.
Tuesday's U.S. Supreme Court decision marks the third stay of execution by
the justices since September, when they accepted a Kentucky case in order
to review the constitutionality of lethal injection.
The question is what standard will be used to determine whether the
three-drug cocktail used by 37 states constitutes cruel-and-unusual
"This is an unprecedented situation," said Deborah Denno, a law professor
at Fordham University and death-penalty expert.
Executions in more than a dozen states have been delayed pending the
outcome in the Kentucky case. Some say that amounts to a temporary
moratorium on the death penalty.
But it has happened gradually, state by state. Florida -- which has the
next scheduled execution -- is in the spotlight now.
"Nothing is certain until the [Florida] court rules," said Wayne Holmes, a
Seminole-Brevard County state attorney chief of operations and prosecutor
on the Schwab case.
Schwab was convicted and sentenced to death for the 1991 kidnap, rape and
strangulation of 11-year-old Junny Rios-Martinez of Cocoa. For the past 15
years, Schwab has lived in a 6-by-9-foot cell at Florida State Prison in
Gov. Charlie Crist signed the killer's death warrant in July.
That marked the end of a 7-month halt of execution since a botched one in
December. Problems arose when prison officials failed to properly insert
intravenous needles into convicted killer Angel Nieves Diaz, who murdered
a Miami club manager. It took 34 minutes for him to die and required a
rare 2nd dose of chemicals. Some witnesses reported Diaz appeared to
grimace in pain as the execution dragged on.
The state responded by requiring more staff training and better monitoring
of proceedings in the death chamber.
Even though the high court's ruling has resulted in a de facto moratorium
on executions in many states, there's no indication it signals the end of
"I don't think it's going to end the death penalty or lethal injections,"
said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information
Center. "It may just change some standards, or it may not."
(source: Orlando Sentinel)
Judge bars new plan for executions----The jurist rules that state broke
the law by not seeking public comment or independent review.
A Marin County judge issued an injunction Wednesday that bars California
from using a new plan to execute condemned inmates by lethal injection.
Earlier this year, the state revised how it would administer lethal
injection after a federal judge stopped executions in California, finding
that they risked inflicting cruel and unusual punishment on death row
Judge Lynn O'Malley Taylor's ruling, issued late Wednesday, held that the
state broke the law by redesigning its execution procedures without
seeking public comment or submitting them to review by an independent
The decision, which finalized a tentative ruling the judge issued Tuesday,
means that it could be many months before another execution occurs in
The last person to be executed in the state was Clarence Allen in January
2006. A month later, a federal judge issued a stay to Michael Morales, who
filed the constitutional challenge to California's lethal injection, and
there has been a de facto moratorium on state executions since then.
Taylor acted a day after the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay of execution
to a death row inmate in Mississippi only 17 minutes before he was to be
put to death.
Legal experts said the stay, and others issued in recent weeks, are a
signal that the high court wants states to hold off further executions
until it rules on a challenge to lethal injection procedures. The case,
called Baze vs. Kentucky, is scheduled to be heard Jan. 7.
Attorneys Brad Phillips and Adam Badawi, of Munger, Tolles & Olson, who
represented the death row inmates, said they were pleased with Taylor's
Phillips said the public process outlined in the decision could take
months, and would allow for input from interested parties and experts,
California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Secretary James E.
Tilton said the state would appeal the ruling.
"These new protocols comply with state laws and are designed to ensure
that the lethal injection process is constitutional and will stand up to
all legal challenges . . . [we] will continue to work to ensure that the
law in California is upheld and that the death penalty is enforced," he
The Marin County case had been pending for more than a year but had drawn
far less attention than the other legal challenge to California's lethal
injection procedure -- a case still pending before U.S. District Judge
Jeremy Fogel in San Jose.
Last December, Fogel ruled that how California used lethal injection
exposed inmates to the risk of excessive pain, in violation of the
Constitution's ban against cruel and unusual punishment.
California, like 3 dozen other states, uses a 3-drug cocktail for
execution. The chemicals are sodium thiopental, an ultra-fast-acting
barbiturate aimed at anesthetizing the inmate; pancuronium bromide, which
paralyzes the inmate, and potassium chloride, which causes cardiac arrest.
Critics contend that the 2nd drug can prevent the inmate from speaking or
otherwise reacting to extreme pain from the heart-stopping drug.
After Fogel's ruling, the state drew up a new lethal injection plan,
largely behind closed doors. Attorneys for Morales said aspects of the new
procedure are even worse than objectionable features in the old one. Fogel
has scheduled a hearing on the new plan for Dec. 10 and 11.
Wednesday evening, San Francisco attorney John Grele, one of Morales'
lawyers, said Taylor's ruling was "an important event in the lethal
injection litigation and one the state needs to think about seriously."
"Any decision that allows for more public scrutiny and public involvement
in the process is important," he said.
Grele said that after Judge Fogel held an extensive proceeding last year,
including a personal visit to the San Quentin death chamber, he found
problems with how the state conducted executions. In his December ruling,
the judge said that executioners had demonstrated a "pervasive lack of
professionalism" that he found "at the very least deeply disturbing."
"This case has shown that when state officials do things outside public
scrutiny, they are not always done correctly," Grele said.
(source: Los Angeles Times)
Uncertainty grows over lethal injection----Legality of revised execution
method on trial in Marin County case
California's stalled death penalty plunged deeper into disarray as a judge
appeared poised to toss out the state's new lethal injection method as
soon as Thursday, a move that would add to the growing uncertainty over
the status of capital punishment here.
Marin County Judge Lynn O'Malley Taylor tentatively ruled on Tuesday to
invalidate the state's new procedure, but she said at a hearing Wednesday
that she wanted to consider how broad of a prohibition to grant.
The judge's tentative ruling came the same day the U.S. Supreme Court
signaled it would continue to halt executions nationwide until it decides
a challenge to Kentucky's lethal injection procedure.
California prison officials in May overhauled their process for injecting
condemned inmates with a deadly three-drug combination after a federal
judge said the previous execution procedure was so badly designed and
carried out that it was likely to cause unconstitutional pain and
Taylor's ruling, if adopted as expected, won't touch on any of the
constitutional issues before the U.S. Supreme Court and federal court
Instead she said prison officials violated an arcane administrative law
that required them to treat the revised lethal injection procedure as a
new regulation that required public comment and approval from the Office
of Administrative Law, among other requirements.
"The means by which we execute people is a very substantial public issue,"
said Brad Phillips, an attorney representing the 2 condemned inmates who
sued the state in Marin County to stop their executions. "The lethal
injection protocol in California is of great statewide prominence."
Phillips said even the previous lethal injection procedures used to carry
out the last several executions should have gone through the
administrative process, which he said would have helped the state avoid
some of the problems it's facing in federal court over the design of its
Deputy Attorney General Michael Quinn argued that the new execution
method, which includes the remodeling of the death chamber to make it more
spacious and better lit, is limited to only San Quentin Prison in Marin
County and therefore not a statewide regulation.
"It applies to a small range of prisoners for a specified time at a single
facility," Quinn argued Wednesday. He said he's unsure what the state
would do if the state judge adopts her ruling.
All state executions take place at San Quentin. There are 667 inmates
currently on death row, including 15 women held at a prison in Madera
County. No executions have been carried out since January 2006. The next
month, prison officials called off the execution of Michael Morales mere
hours before he was to die for the rape and killing of 17-year-old Terri
Winchell in a Lodi vineyard 26 years ago.
Prison officials said they could not comply with U.S. District Court Judge
Jeremy Fogel's order that licensed medical professionals assist with the
Fogel said in December that he would declare the state's lethal injection
process unconstitutional unless prison officials improved the procedure
with better trained staff and an improved conditions in the death chamber.
Fogel was scheduled to tour the prison's remodeled death chamber Nov. 19.
There's also a growing sense that the U.S. Supreme Court has instituted an
unspoken moratorium on lethal injection executions since it agreed in
September to consider a challenge to Kentucky's capital punishment
On Tuesday, the high court halted an execution in Mississippi, less than
an hour before a convicted killer was scheduled to be put to death by
It's the 3rd such high court reprieve since Michael Richard was executed
in Texas on Sept. 25, the same day the court said it would hear a lethal
injection challenge from 2 death row inmates in Kentucky. State and lower
federal courts have halted all other scheduled executions since then.
(source: Associated Press)
Judge easy, but wrong, scapegoat----State raised the bar, bringing on a
costly defense for Nichols
On March 11, 2005, a tragedy unfolded as Brian Nichols took the lives of 4
loved and respected Atlantans Fulton County Superior Court Judge Rowland
Barnes, court reporter Julie Ann Brandau, Fulton County deputy Sgt. Hoyt
Teasley and customs agent David Wilhelm.
Nichols has admitted these horrific acts in his motion indicating he will
present a defense of not guilty by reason of insanity because his acts
were the product of a delusional compulsion. The jury will have to decide
whether Nichols suffered from a delusional compulsion, and whether that
delusion, if true, would have justified what he did. Precious few
delusions justify killing a human being.
If the jury doesn't find Nichols insane, it will go on to decide whether
he suffered from mental illness that contributed significantly to his
conduct. If so, the verdict would be guilty but mentally ill. Whether the
jury verdict is guilty or guilty but mentally ill, the jury will then
decide whether to sentence Nichols to death. Everybody got that? It's not
that hard. So why has the defense alone in this case already cost at least
$1.2 million? Surely it is someone's fault.
We could question why Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard filed a
54-count indictment, and why the state's witness list now tops 400 people.
Or we could second-guess assigning five attorneys to the prosecution team,
or retaining the best experts in the country on matters from forensics to
jury selection. But it's an important case; we expect the district
attorney to go all out.
It's the defense team budget that seems shocking, partly because the
figure is in our face: $1.2 million and counting. But the defense team has
only four attorneys to the prosecution's 5, and 1 of them is unpaid. Too
many hours? It takes a lot of time to deal with a 54-count indictment, 400
plus witnesses, more than 32,000 pages of discovery, and other evidence
amassed by the state. And it takes investigators and experts to match the
impressive team put together by the district attorney.
We need a scapegoat, and the person who is getting kicked around is Judge
Hilton Fuller. After all, he has approved the defense team expenses from
the team of attorneys to the funds for experts. Besides, Fuller is an easy
target; he can't answer back. His lucid, thoughtful orders are his answer,
and no one's bothering to read them.
Maybe the court could have nickel-and-dimed the defense to whittle away at
the costs, but not in a way that wouldn't leave us looking at a shocking
figure. Why are we surprised? High profile, complex death penalty cases
cost a lot. Eric Rudolph's defense cost more than $4 million, and that was
without a trial. He pleaded guilty.
Before we decide whether the defense costs are too high, don't we need to
know what the state is spending? What if it's double the defense budget?
What if it's $3 million? The real bottom line is this: Do we really want
to put anyone on trial for his life without giving him the resources to
defend himself? Surely not, but when the man has a name and a face, and
his acts have outraged us and broken our hearts, it's all too easy to
forget that basic principle. We should all be grateful that Fuller has
(source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
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