Cruel and unusual in Oklahoma

Via the Washington Post. The state viciously murdered one of its citizens last night because of those damned secret execution drugs. I told you they were dangerous! Categorical opposition to the death penalty is the only reasonable solution.

In other news, I will be back posting normally in 47 hours. I CANNOT WAIT.

Civil Affairs: Death Penalty

CIVIL AFFAIRS

Texas leads the pack when it comes to capital punishment. Since the start of this year, the Department of Criminal Justice has ended the lives of seven people, with yet an eighth execution scheduled for early next month. In comparison, the other 49 states combined have put to death 12 people in that time. Once again, as is assumed, the status quo of this horrifyingly beloved institution still looks to be popular. Recent polling consistently shows upwards of 60 percent support, including majorities on both sides of the aisle. However, controversy over the source of execution drugs has kept this issue in the limelight of the gubernatorial election.

Gov. Rick Perry, under whose watch almost 300 prisoners have been executed, openly brags about how much “justice” has been accomplished throughout his lengthy administration. However, both parties’ nominees to succeed him as governor, disappointingly, appear to share that sentiment.

“I support capital punishment and I believe that, as it has worked in this state, it’s been one that has provided due process in a way that I think we all would hope would occur,” said Wendy Davis, a state senator and the Democratic candidate for governor.

PLEASE SEE THE REST OF THE COLUMN AT THE DAILY TEXAN!

Secret execution drugs, Part III

As some may recall, I noted last week that a Civil District Judge in Austin blocked the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s recent move to get a secret dose of drugs used for lethal injections, obtained from compounding pharmacies that wished to remain anonymous. The next day, after a summary affirmation by a Court of Appeals, the Texas Supreme Court put forward a writ of mandamus that stayed the ruling. Given that the plaintiff in this case only has a few more days on this planet absent judicial intervention, a stay is tantamount to upholding an arguably especially cruel death sentence.

Accordingly, the next step was to Federal Court. Early today, Judge Vanessa Gilmore, a Federal District Judge based in Houston (Southern District of Texas), ordered the TDCJ to disclose the particulars about both the contents and sources of the execution drugs. Gilmore, a nominee of President Clinton who has served since 1994, is somewhat more progressive on 8th amendment issues than her colleagues. Therefore, unsurprisingly, as the Houston Chronicle reports, the order was quickly overturned by the Federal Appeals Court. The fifth circuit Court of Appeals, as many will remember, is one of the most fiercely conservative courts in the land. Most all of the judges were nominees of Reagan or the second Bush, and Obama’s administration has been largely tepid in its willingness to put new Judges on the bench, despite many vacancies.

Click here to read more, including what to do next!

…Nevermind! Drugs stay secret

Two days ago, I noted that a Civil District Judge in Austin ordered the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to disclose the source of composition of the new execution drugs they planned to use starting next week. As a pertinent Texas Tribune article at the time had noted, the State quickly appealed the case to the Third Court of Appeals and asked them to intervene. Early yesterday, the State Appeals Court simply rejected the request for the Writ of Mandamus in a one-page order. Without flinching, the State then asked the Texas Supreme Corut to intervene in the matter. For the record, this case revolved around a civil –not a criminal– dispute, so the Supreme Court and not the Court of Criminal Appeals ended up hearing the final appeal.

The Texas Supreme Court then, near end of business yesterday, issued yet another one-page order that simply stayed the original Trial Court’s ruling. As best as I could figure out, the Associated Press compiled the best summary of the issues therein.

Click here to read more!

Secret execution drugs

The Texas Tribune reports that a Civil District Judge in Austin (Suzanne Covington) has ruled that the State’s secret supply of execution drugs is illegal. Judge Covington ordered the State to disclose the source of their execution drugs, which was promptly appealed, in turn, by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ). The Attorney General’s office, for what it is worth, was also confused as to why the TDCJ refused to disclose the source and composition of the death drugs to the condemned’s attorneys.

This underlying controversy, of course, revolves around a nationwide shortage of the drugs needed to implement a constitutionally sound death penalty mechanism. Historically, a three-drug cocktail of sodium thiopental, pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride was used to put down the prisoners, though most of these drugs were created nearly exclusively in Europe, which firmly rebuffs the death penalty (even Russia). Accordingly, Texas, alongside many other States, have shifted to a one-drug injection of solely pentobarbital. Still further shortages of these drugs have caused Texas (among others) to seek new supplies from compounding pharmacies. As even these are facing action from the American Pharmacy Association, prompting Texas to try and shield their identities.

Click here to read more, including my take on this issue!

Race-based convictions

I don’t really understand what is being debated here. The Trib reports that a House Panel was considering a bill by Senfronia Thompson, HB 2458, which “prohibits death sentences based on race-related evidence.” I didn’t know that that was legal under current law, and, to be honest, I doubt it ever was.

For the record, I’m not disputing that racism has a lot to do with who is sentenced to death, but the article is confusing as to what this bill actually entails. Here what I could figure out:

The bill would create a special appeal for death row inmates who had exhausted their other options. It would allow inmates to appeal if they believed that “race was a significant factor in the decision to seek or impose the [death] sentence.” In order to make this appeal, the defendant would be required to withdraw any objection they have to the penalty of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

This bill has some unlikely proponents. Mark White, the former Democratic Governor, and former mega-proponent of capital punishment, said that this bill is necessary because of the deep racial discrimination that has permeated Texas courtrooms.

Republicans, however, were tepid to the bill, which will most likely ensure its demise.

Senate passes more stuff

There has been some movement on quite a few different bills recently. First, the Senate Criminal Justice Committee passed what I call the Romeo & Romeo Bill, which equalizes exceptions to the age of consent for close-age relationships in both heterosexual and homosexual couples. Second, the Senate unanimously passed a bill to clarify and expand the ability of defense attorneys to have access to DA’s files on their clients. Finally, just today, the Senate (roll call unavailable at the moment) passed a bill to drug test applicants for unemployment insurance. I’ll talk about each a little bit:

Romeo & Romeo
Statesman reports that the Criminal Justice Committee voted 4-1 to advance the bill, SB 1316, to the whole Senate. The committee, which is inexplicably chaired by a Democrat (Whitmire), was plagued by many absences that day. Out of the eight committee members, only five bothered to show up. Of the five voting for the bill, only one was a Republican. Essentially, the problem the bill attempts to alleviate is that while the age of consent is 17, there are many exceptions  These are called “Romeo & Juliet exceptions,” say that if a 16 year old girl has sex with a 17 year old boy, or any type of scenario like that up to three years difference, no statutory rape would be committed. However, the exception only applies to heterosexual couples. This means one boy on his 17th birthday has sex with his boyfriend, who is 16 years and 10 months old, the 17 year old would be a sex offender. Yeah, it’s THAT screwed up.

Anyways, I am surprised this archaic regulation hasn’t been struck by a federal judge yet. But the bill is receiving from blow-back from the Religious Right. The Statesman article interviews an evangelical woman who was livid at the prospect of any sort of rights or equality for the dreaded homos [sarcasm]. Her two quotes were “can’t believe this is being discussed at our Capitol, where normal Texans are in control” and “The gay liberal agenda is still alive up here, and this bill proves it, we’ll be starting a campaign of prayer and phone calls to stop this one in its tracks” [not sarcasm]. And she’s not alone. Ugh.

Michael Morton
The Dallas Morning News reports that the Senate voted unanimously to clarify the right of defense attorneys to access DA’s files in their clients. The impetus for this act comes from Michael Morton, a Texan convicted of murder and only exonerated recently. His attorneys claim the reason for his wrongful conviction was the DA intentionally burying evidence. This bill has been a pet project of Senator Ellis.

Drug Testing UI too
Just one day after the Senate voted to drug test welfare, they have voted to do the same thing with unemployment insurance. The Trib reports the passage of Tommy Williams’ SB21, although it says nothing about its unanimity, meaning probably at least a few Dems opposed the measure. Wendy Davis successfully got an amendment into the legislation that allows applicants to appeal drug test positives, and Kirk Watson put in an amendment that allows violators to continue receiving benefits if they enroll in a treatment program. Both of those things make it a little better, but I still don’t see the point in doing someone in the name of “fiscal responsibility” when we don’t save any money on it. I’ll update this later to reflect the roll call. Dos Centavos has more.

Higher standard for death penalty

“…nor cruel and unusual punishment inflicted” is still the only legislation about that we need to refer to with regard to the death penalty. Unfortunately, Texas still joins that small club of uncivilized states, like China, Iran and Saudi Arabia, in executing its own citizens. Perhaps this taint on my fine state could be mitigated ever so slightly by a new piece of legislation.

Senator Rodney Ellis has introduced SB1292 which would require DNA testing of all pertinent evidence in death penalty cases. There have been many examples of the wrong man being sentenced to death in Texas, and a few of them actually being executed. However, the case that stands out in my mind the most is Kerry Max Cook. Cook was a guest speaker at my High School during my senior year, and presented a vivid indictment of the justice system and just how perilously he came to death at the hands of my state. Even my more conservative friends agreed afterwards that Texas’s capital punishment should not be practiced. Cook spent 22 years on death row for a rape and murder he did not commit. He was finally exonerated partially as a result of DNA testing.

Ideally, Ellis’s bill would make sure this would never happen again, and it got some pretty high-profile support today from Greg Abbbott. I hope the bill passes, simply for the reason that it could reduce the number of executions.