Upcoming Executions
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Innocence
The death penalty puts innocent people at risk of execution.
Todd Willingham
Todd Willingham was wrongfully executed under Governor Rick Perry on February 17, 2004.

PageLines- PerryWillinghamLogo.pngIn a development that should not surprise anyone, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, of which every single member was appointed by Governor Rick Perry, has voted not to recommend a posthumous full pardon for Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed a decade ago after being convicted of setting a house fire that killed his three young daughters.

Rick Perry in 2009 thwarted the investigation into the Willingham case when he replaced the chair of the Texas Forensic Science Commission two days before it was to hear from the author of a scathing report in the case of Cameron Todd Willingham. Perry replaced the chair with John Bradley, whose mean-spirited, unethical behavior as chair of the Texas Forensic Science Commission lost him support in the Texas Senate for his confirmation as chair, although by the time he was replaced Bradley had done his job of delaying the investigation into the Willingham case while Perry was preparing to run for president.

More from the Texas Tribune:

“This whole process is, unfortunately, typical of this board, where they don’t demonstrate that they’ve actually considered the substantial evidence that we’ve put before them,” said Barry Scheck, co-founder of the Innocence Project, which has led the charge to clearn Willingham’s name in the case.

PageLines- stx7575.jpgToday’s execution of Tommy Sells has been carried out. He was the first person executed since Texas acquired a new supply of lethal drugs from a secret source. Texas has executed 513 people since resuming executions in 1982 after an 18-year moratorium.

From the Houston Chronicle:

The U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way Thursday for the execution of a Texas murderer who sought to raise concerns that a secretly made drug could deliver a painful death.

Tommy Lynn Sells, who was convicted of a 1999 slaying of a teenage girl in Val Verde County along the U.S.-Mexico border, had asked the court to block his execution because Texas officials have refused to disclose details about the pentobarbital to be pumped into his body.

The bid for the high court’s intervention was a last effort to keep him alive by overturning a 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision to let the execution continue in Huntsville, despite legal concerns over the drug.

txdeathchamber.jpgA U.S. federal judge has temporarily suspended the execution of two inmates planned for this month in Texas, saying the state has hidden information about the supplier of the drugs to be used in the lethal injections, according to Reuters.

More:

The decision is part of a series of recent court rulings that have mandated states to release information about drugs used for lethal injection, saying that keeping the information secret violates due process protections of the U.S. Constitution.

“While the state has provided plaintiffs information about the process by which they will be executed, it has masked information about the product that will kill them,” U.S. District Judge Vanessa Gilmore wrote in Houston in a temporary injunction issued on Wednesday.

Gilmore called on the state to disclose, under seal, information regarding its execution drug.

Several states have struggled to obtain drugs for executions, while many pharmaceutical companies, mostly in Europe, have imposed sales bans because they object to having medications made for other purposes used in lethal injections.

The injunction applies to inmates Tommy Lynn Sells, set to be executed on Thursday for the murder of a 13-year-old girl, and Ramiro Hernandez whose execution was set for April 9 for a rape and murder that took place in 1997.

Texas, which has executed more prisoners than any other state since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, said last month it had obtained a new batch of the sedative pentobarbital, without saying where the drug it uses for executions had come from.

A Texas state judge ordered the department of corrections on March 27 to disclose the name of the supplier of drugs used in executions.

Texas prison officials have so far refused, saying they want the supplier to remain secret to protect it from possible harm. That prompted lawyers for the two inmates to take the case to federal court.

Texas immediately appealed Wednesday’s federal injunction to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, which last week ruled that Louisiana had to reveal to inmates on death row the content and maker of drugs used in lethal injections.

toddFrom the New York Times:

In the 10 years since Texas executed Cameron Todd Willingham after convicting him on charges of setting his house on fire and murdering his three young daughters, family members and death penalty opponents have argued that he was innocent. Now newly discovered evidence suggests that the prosecutor in the case may have concealed a deal with a jailhouse informant whose testimony was a key part of the execution decision.

Investigators for the Innocence Project have discovered a curt handwritten note in Mr. Webb’s file in the district attorney’s office in Corsicana. The current district attorney, R. Lowell Thompson, made the files available to the Innocence Project lawyers, and in late November one of the lawyers, Bryce Benjet, received a box of photocopies.

As he worked through the stack of papers, he saw a note scrawled on the inside of the district attorney’s file folder stating that Mr. Webb’s charges were to be listed as robbery in the second degree, not the heavier first-degree robbery charge he had originally been convicted on, “based on coop in Willingham.”

Mr. Benjet recalled a “rush of excitement,” he said, and thought, “This is what we’ve been looking for.”

The Innocence Project submitted the note, which is not dated or signed, in a new filing to the board asking that it be included as part of its September request for a pardon.

Barry Scheck, co-founder of the Innocence Project, called the note a “smoking pistol” in the case.

txdeathchamber.jpgThe governor of the State of Washington has announced a moratorium on the death penalty in his state, citing concerns about fairness in the administration of capital punishment. He says that a moratorium will allow the people of Washington to join the debate about the death penalty. Here in Texas, the next opportunity to enact a moratorium on the death penalty will be in the Texas legislative session begins in January 2015, when Texas will have a new governor for the first time in almost fifteen years.

According to USA TODAY:

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Tuesday announced a moratorium on the death penalty in the state, saying capital punishment was being used inconsistently and unequally.

The Democrat said his decision came after months of research on current cases and discussions with prosecutors, law enforcement officials and family members of homicide victims. He also said he toured death row and the execution chambers at Walla Walla State Penitentiary.

“Equal justice under the law is the state’s primary responsibility,” Inslee said. “I’m not convinced equal justice is being served.”

He said use of the death penalty sometimes depends on the budget of the county where the crime occurred because “the costs associated with prosecuting a capital case far outweigh the price of locking someone up for life without the possibility of parole.”

The moratorium does not commute the sentences of those on death row or issue any pardons, but Inslee will grant reprieves so no one will be executed.

Since the state’s current capital punishment laws were put in place in 1981, 32 defendants have been sentenced to die. Of those, 18 had their sentences converted to life in prison. One was set free. The state’s last execution was in September 2010, when Cal Brown died by lethal injection for the 1991 murder of a Seattle-area woman.

Nine men are on death row in Walla Walla.

“I want to acknowledge that there are many good protections built into Washington state’s death penalty law,” Inslee said. “But there have been too many doubts raised about capital punishment. There are too many flaws in the system. And when the ultimate decision is death, there is too much at stake to accept an imperfect system.”

Maryland abolished the death penalty in May, the sixth state to do so in seven years.

Inslee said he did not question the guilt of the condemned criminals nor the seriousness of their crimes.

“With my action today, I expect Washington state will join a growing national conversation about capital punishment,” he said. “I welcome that, and I’m confident that our citizens will engage in this very important debate.”

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