States plan to resume executions
Florida officials on Wednesday started the process of reopening that state's death chamber, shuttered for more than six months as part of a national moratorium on executions.
Hours after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a challenge to lethal injection in a Kentucky case, Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum filed papers asking the high court to lift a stay of execution that spared the life of convicted child killer Mark Dean Schwab.
The U.S. Supreme Court issued the stay late last year while justices considered the Kentucky case. McCollum and officials in other states say the court's validation of lethal injection allows the 36 states that permit capital punishment to begin setting new execution dates.
Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway is reviewing the state's 38 death row cases, including the two that initiated the Supreme Court challenge in Baze v. Rees. "As soon as we've determined that all the remedies are exhausted and it's appropriate to seek the death warrants, we will do so," he says.
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In Alabama, where there are 201 inmates on death row, lethal injections could resume in about a month at the earliest, says Clay Crenshaw, chief of the state's capital litigation division.
"We're pleased," Crenshaw says. "Executions will resume very shortly. … We'll take every step to ensure that will happen."
Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, who imposed an execution moratorium this month pending the Supreme Court's ruling, lifted the ban Wednesday. The state's next execution is set for May 27, pending further appeals. Kevin Green, convicted in a 1998 murder of a store clerk, is scheduled to die by lethal injection.
California officials are mired in a separate legal challenge over how lethal injection is carried out in that state. The Supreme Court's decision could help restart executions that have been stalled since June 2006.
California Department of Corrections spokesman Seth Unger says new execution protocols the state submitted to a federal judge last year meet the standards the Supreme Court outlined in its ruling. A status conference in that case is scheduled in U.S. District Court in June.
The Supreme Court decision "is another step toward us carrying out the will of the people in California," Unger says.
Death penalty opponents expressed disappointment, saying the court did not address the broader issues of fairness and the precision with which the death penalty is carried out.
"Our challenge as a nation is not to make it easier to execute people, or make more people eligible for the death penalty, but to do everything possible to make our criminal justice system more fair and accurate," says Barry Scheck, co-director of The Innocence Project, which seeks to free innocent people from prison.
Contributing: Jessie Halladay and Stephenie Steitzer, The (Louisville) Courier-Journal