Friday, 18 December 2009

US executions down by half over past decade: report

WASHINGTON — The United States executed one convict a week in 2009, but the rate is down by half compared to a decade ago, according to an annual report from the Death Penalty Information Center.

The 2009 total is up from 37 executions in 2008, but in that year application of the death penalty was suspended for four months while the Supreme Court considered and ultimately upheld the constitutionality of lethal injections.

The number of executions in 2009 fell 47 percent from a decade ago, and the death penalty was used in just 11 of the 35 states that still allow the practice, the report said.

Texas, where an average of 34 people have been executed each year over the past decade, continued to top the list of states with the most executions, putting 24 people to death in 2009.

It was followed by Alabama, with six executions, Ohio with five and Virginia with three.

The number of death sentences handed down also declined in 2009, the DPIC said, falling to 106, the lowest level since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.

In 1994, a record 328 people were sentenced to death across the United States, but that figure has been dropping steadily, with 119 condemned to death in 2007 and 111 in 2008.

"This entire decade has been marked by a declining use of the death penalty," said Richard Dieter, author of the report and DPIC's executive director.

"In the last two years, three states have abolished capital punishment and a growing number of states are asking whether it's worth keeping," Dieter said.

That question has gained increasing significance during the economic downturn in the United States, with many states weighing growing budget deficits against the cost of executing convicts.

This year New Mexico became the 15th state to abolish the death penalty and legislatures in Connecticut, Maryland, Colorado and Montana have all considered doing the same.

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson cited the cost of execution, but also the chance of error in supporting the death penalty ban in his state.

"I do not have confidence in the criminal justice system as it currently operates to be the final arbiter when it comes to who lives and who dies for their crime," he said in a March statement.

"If the state is going to undertake this awesome responsibility, the system to impose this ultimate penalty must be perfect and can never be wrong.

"But the reality is the system is not perfect -- far from it. The system is inherently defective. DNA testing has proven that. Innocent people have been put on death row all across the country."

In 2009, nine men who had been sentenced to death were exonerated and freed, the DPIC said. That was the second highest number since 1976.

But perhaps more than the chance of error, the simple cost of executing a convict may be the most immediate reason for US states to ban the death penalty, DPIC said.

California spends an estimated 137 million dollars a year on its death penalty system, while the death penalty costs Florida approximately 51 million dollars a year, around 24 million dollars per execution.

There are currently 3,279 people on death row in the United States, including 690 in California and 403 in Florida.

Worldwide, some 2,390 people were executed in 2008, with nearly three-quarters of the executions in China.


Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Updated: Bradshaw jury deliberations end for tonight

December 15, 2009

By Jennifer Portman

10 p.m.

Jurors have decided to break for the night. They will be sequestered at a hotel and deliberations will resume at 9 a.m. tomorrow.

9:30 p.m.

Jurors are being told that if they wish, they may break for tonight, stay in a hotel and continue deliberations in at 9 a.m.

The jury in the murder trial of Deneilo Bradshaw has been deliberating for nine hours.
The court is waiting to hear back from the jury.

7:10 p.m.

The jurors have requested dinner.

They have not asked any questions, save for requesting a dry erase board to take notes.

5:30 p.m.

The jury in the murder trail of Deneilo Bradshaw has declined to order dinner, Circuit Judge Mark Walker just said.

"It's like reading tea leaves, " he said.

Hotel rooms - without television sets or telephones - have been secured for jurors in case they are unable to read a verdict tonight.

3:15 p.m.

The jury in the murder trial of Deneilo Bradshaw, one of two men accused of killing police informant Rachel Hoffman, has just asked for a dry erase board or some other large board to write on as it continues to deliberate in the case.

They have been deliberating for about an hour and half.

If Bradshaw is found guilty, the penalty phase will begin tomorrow morning. Jurors would hear from Rachel Hoffman's parents and the parents of Deneilo Bradshaw. After testimony from the families, the jury would deliberate to make a sentencing recommendation.

If found guilty of first-degree murder, Bradshaw faces life in prison without the possibility of parole or death by lethal injection.

12:35 p.m.

After two-and-a-half hours of closing arguments by the state and the defense, the jury in the murder trial of Deneilo Bradshaw, one of two men accused of killing police informant Rachel Hoffman, has just left the courtroom to begin deliberations.

9:20 a.m.

The jury in the murder trial of Deneilo Bradshaw is being read their instructions. Following the jury instructions, closing arguments will begin in the case.

Bradshaw, 24, of Tallahassee, is one of two men accused of killing police informant Rachel Hoffman. His step brother-in-law Andrea Green faces trial in October.

If found guilty of first-degree murder, Bradshaw faces the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole. He is also charged with armed robbery with a firearm.

If they return a guilty verdict, jurors will make a sentencing recommendation in a separate penalty phase this week.

After two witnesses and less than 15 minutes, defense attorneys for Deneilo Bradshaw rested their case Monday, paving the way for closing arguments followed by jury deliberations today in the murder trial of one of the two men accused of killing confidential police informant Rachel Hoffman.

"The defense's case is going to be short and sweet," lead defense attorney Chuck Hobbs told the jury. "That Andrea Green shot and killed Rachel Hoffman and that Andrea Green threatened to kill Deneilo Bradshaw if he did not cooperate."

Green, who is Bradshaw's step brother-in-law, faces trial in October. Two men who spent time with Green as inmates at the Leon County Jail said the 27-year-old Perry native told them he shot Hoffman on dead-end Gardner Road.

One of the inmates, Ira Reynolds Jr., said Green also confided in him that he threatened to kill Bradshaw, 24, of Tallahassee, if he refused to drive Hoffman's car with her body inside.

Each defense witness was on the stand for less than five minutes. There was no cross examination by prosecutors, who called one rebuttal witness, Tallahassee Police Officer Tom Maltese.

In interviews with him, Maltese said, Green denied killing Hoffman and said he never threatened Bradshaw.

Bradshaw did not take the stand. His family was surprised by the brevity of the defense's case.

"God always has a plan. We know they are doing their best," said his mother Judianna Freeman. "The point of that was Deneilo Bradshaw did not kill Rachel Hoffman nor did he harm Rachel Hoffman."

Under state law, Bradshaw could be found guilty of first-degree murder even if he didn't pull the trigger. If found to be a principal player in her death — be it premeditated or as a consequence of a robbery — he faces life in prison without the possibility of parole or death by lethal injection.

Jurors would recommend the sentence. Circuit Judge Mark Walker is to give it great weight, then make the call. If Bradshaw is found guilty, the sentencing phase likely would begin on Thursday.

Closing arguments are set to begin at 9 a.m. The jury is expected to begin deliberations after lunch. The 12 men and women and two remaining alternates will be sequestered until they reach a verdict.

"I need each of you all to pack a bag for yourselves," Walker told jurors before they left for the day. "Please, eat a big breakfast tomorrow."

Members of Bradshaw's family and Hoffman's parents will be in the courtroom as they have been for the entire trial, which saw testimony begin Dec. 7.

Before leaving the courtroom for the day Monday, Freeman, Bradshaw's mother, said: "We must all remember we never know the walk our children must walk so we never come to a judgment. Today it might be my child, tomorrow it might be yours."

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

UN human rights chief calls for universal abolition of the death penalty

15 December 2009 – The top United Nations human rights official today called for the universal abolition of the death penalty, citing a host of reasons ranging from the fundamental right to life to the possibility of judicial errors.

“I am opposed to the death penalty in all cases,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said in a message marking the on 20th anniversary of the Death Penalty Optional Protocol which was added to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in 1989 with the aim of abolishing the punishment.

“I hold this position for a number of reasons: these include the fundamental nature of the right to life; the unacceptable risk of executing innocent people by mistake; the absence of proof that the death penalty serves as a deterrent; and what is, to my mind, the inappropriately vengeful character of the sentence.”

Ms. Pillay noted that 140 States no longer carry out the penalty. The 72 States which have ratified the Protocol are duty-bound not to execute anybody, to take all necessary steps to definitively abolish the death penalty, and not to extradite individuals to a country where they would face the death penalty.

“Ratification of the optional protocol, as well as similar regional instruments in Europe and in the Americas, thus draws a firm line under the use of the death penalty,” she said, noting that the instrument is a key step for states moving towards abolition.

“Abolishing the death penalty is a difficult process for many societies, and ratification of the Optional Protocol can often only come about after a period of national debate. Until they reach that point, I urge those States still employing the death penalty to place a formal moratorium on its use, with the aim of ultimately ratifying the Optional Protocol and abolishing the punishment altogether everywhere.”


Monday, 14 December 2009

D’Alemberte Petitions for Innocence Commission

Former American Bar Association President and prominent Tallahassee lawyer Sandy D’Alemberte filed a petition with the Florida Supreme Court Friday asking it to establish a commission to investigate how wrongful convictions occur.

D’Alemberte, a former Florida State University President who still teaches at the law school, wants the high court to establish have the panel examine cases where people were wrongfully accused and convicted to see what goes wrong in those cases and how the state can improve.

The system, he said, unfortunately fails and sometimes the wrong people get sent to prison.

“They also leave guilty people out on the streets and we destroy families,” he said.

His ideal commission is modeled after one that was established in North Carolina in 2002. The North Carolina commission includes judges, representatives of the Governor’s office, defense attorneys, law enforcement representatives, prosecutors, law professors and victim advocates. It also included a journalism professor and two general interest representatives.

In addition to North Carolina, California, Connecticut, Illinois, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin also have similar commissions.

But even if the court does like the idea, he could run into a money issue. Funding for the court system, provided mostly by the state Legislature, has been low in recent years, meaning layoffs and cuts throughout the system as a whole. Finding money to establish a commission could be tricky.

“I guess my answer is a question,” D’Alemberte said. “Can we afford to neglect the idea that we’re convicting innocent people? Because, it’s a pretty expensive process to go through these wrongful convictions.”

Florida, like other states, has had high profile cases where people were wrongfully convicted of serious crimes.

Juan Melendez, a Puerto Rican immigrant, has been crisscrossing the country since 2002 after he was freed from a Florida prison where he spent 17 years, serving a sentence for a murder he didn’t commit. He was in Tallahassee in September for a forum at Florida State Law School talking up an ABA report suggesting ways to address wrongful convictions – particularly in death penalty cases –- in Florida. One of the suggestions was the establishment of a commission to investigate wrongful convictions.

And in Illinois, there is a moratorium on the death penalty because of the revelation of several wrongful convictions. Former Gov. George Ryan declared the moratorium in 2000 and his successors have not lifted it. Prosecutors can still seek the death penalty, but at the moment, no prisoner in Illinois would actually be put to death.

D’Alemberte said he has already gotten some big name support for the idea. Recently retired Florida Supreme Court Justice Harry Lee Anstead as well as other former Supreme Court Justices Arthur England and Gerald Kogan have all signed on to the idea, he said. He’s also been talking to other members of the Florida legal community about the idea and said the feedback has been good so far.

“I think we ought to be looking at cases where exoneration has already taken place and see what went wrong with these cases,” he said. “What can we do to improve these procedures?”


Saturday, 12 December 2009

NORTH CAROLINA: Many factors point to injustice of the death penalty in NC

The North Carolina Racial Justice Act was a step in the right direction towards redressing the unfairness in our system of capital punishment. It is time we end all-white juries and disparate sentencing of people of color relative to their white counterparts. More than half of North Carolina's 161 death row inmates are African-American.
As the daughter of murder victims and a member of Murder Victims' Family Members for Reconciliation (, I know the statistics regarding racial bias in the system: the odds are three and a half times greater that a person will be sentenced to death if the victim is white than if the victim is African-American.

We must make absolutely certain we don't execute innocent people. Human error, corruption, circumstantial evidence, ineffective attorneys and racial discrimination pose high risks to justice. We have convicted — and executed — many innocent people in this country. In his column, “Gell case shows death penalty math doesn't add up,” Dave Russell cited both exonerations and high cost in his editorial opposition to the ultimate penalty.

Moreover, studies show clearly that the death penalty does not provide deterrence against future crime or restorative justice to victims. It is time we end executions in North Carolina.


Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Addison trial cost state nearly $3m

The taxpayer cost to prosecute, defend and sentence William “Stix” Addison for the October 2007 murder of a Manchester police officer has reached nearly $3 million and will grow by half a million dollars a year while he appeals the verdict.

Meanwhile, state prosecutors spent $2.4 million to convict John Brooks, of Londonderry, for ordering the 2005 murder of a Derry handyman.

The jury turned down the state’s bid to apply the death penalty and instead Brooks is now serving serve life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The Commission to Study the Death Penalty in New Hampshire spent Friday examining the costs to carry out capital punishment.

The state hasn’t executed anyone since 1939 and it’s a rare event that two capital murder cases went all the way to the jury in the past two years.

Retired, Superior Court Chief Justice Walter Murphy said gauging the cost to execute someone versus life in prison without parole is a key charge the Legislature gave this commission.

“We appreciate the cost is not driving anything here, but I think there is a public perception that somehow the prosecution of someone for a non-capital offense is cheaper,” said Murphy who chairs the commission.

The commission learned Friday it will be difficult to come up with all those costs.

Deputy Attorney General Orville “Bud” Fitch said it has cost $1.6 million already for the prosecution in the Addison case. This does not include costs spent by local and state police to investigate and testify in the matter.

Addison is indigent, so the state paid for his defense.

NH Public Defender Executive Director Christopher Keating told commissioners that by next June 30 the state will have spent $1.3 million to defend Addison and appeal his verdict to the state Supreme Court. Keating estimates the defense will spend about $400,000 each year on Addison’s appeal. Fitch said the AG’s office couldn’t give an estimate on what their appeal expenses will be. Judicial Council Executive Director Nina Gardner said added to defense costs are earlier expenses the state incurred defending Addison against other felony crimes that led up to the murder.

By comparison, Gardner estimates her office spends $70,000 to $100,000 in costs to defend someone charged with murder in the first degree, a crime that does not carry death as an ultimate punishment.

Costs on both sides vary greatly with the circumstances of the crime, Fitch stressed.

“We don’t normally track this sort of thing because we don’t think the life of a victim should have a particular number attached to it,” Fitch said.

Attorney General Michael Delaney supports the death penalty law; Gov. John Lynch has vowed in the past to veto any legislation that would repeal it. Senate Republican Leader Peter Bragdon, of Milford, and Mont Vernon Republican State Rep. William O’Brien are working on their own proposals to expand the law in response to the brutal slaying Oct. 4 of Kimberly Cates in her Mont Vernon home.

The state’s death penalty law is narrowly drawn to cover premeditated murders against judges, court officers, members of law enforcement or if it’s part of a murder-for-hire scheme or linked to a felony rape, kidnapping or major drug deal. Murphy said the commission might not be able to answer the cost-comparison issue completely.

Edward Dieter is executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, a Washington, D.C., group that studies capital punishment and issued several reports that conclude capital punishment is not less expensive. “One of the reasons states are moving away from it is it is a frustrating and costly process,” Dieter said.

State and national studies prompt Dieter to conclude government costs on these cases can run as high as $30 million annually in states that charge many offenders with a capital crime. One in three offenders who get convicted at trial receive a death sentence. Then nationally only one in 10 who get sentenced will be executed because many die on death rows before that punishment is carried out.

Last year, the Urban Institute did the most recent state study for a similar death penalty commission in Maryland. It concluded that state spent $186 million over 20 years that resulted in the execution of five offenders. That works out to $37 million per offender.

Kevin Landrigan can be reached at 321-7040 or

“It may be that we will come to the conclusion that we can’t tell,” Murphy said.

Ky. to stick with 3-drug execution protocol

Associated Press Writer

Kentucky plans to keep using a three-drug cocktail on death row inmates and won't use Ohio's novel one-drug overdose method, as officials work through legal hurdles so executions can resume in the state.

Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet spokeswoman Jennifer Brislin told The Associated Press on Monday that the current protocol will be put through public hearings as the state seeks to comply with a Kentucky Supreme Court ruling.

"We're filing to put our existing protocol into place," Brislin said.

The state's high court ruled 4-3 last month that Kentucky didn't properly adopt it's lethal injection protocol and barred any executions until the method was redone. The ruling didn't challenge the technique that has passed U.S. Supreme Court scrutiny and is used by dozens of other states. State officials will not appeal that ruling.

Kentucky injects condemned inmates with sodium thiopental, a fast-acting sedative; pancuronium bromide, which causes paralysis; and potassium chloride, which causes cardiac arrest.

Ohio is expected to become on Tuesday the first state to use an overdose of a single drug to execute an inmate, 51-year-old Kenneth Biros.

Ohio switched to a single-drug procedure after the botched execution of Romell Broom that was halted by Gov. Ted Strickland in September. Executioners tried for two hours to find a usable vein for injection, painfully hitting bone and muscle in as many as 18 needle sticks. Broom, 53, has appealed the state's attempt to try again.

Kentucky's process for approving the lethal injection protocol includes a public hearing as well as a chance for the public to comment by e-mail or letter about different aspects of the protocol.

The Department of Corrections then can respond to those comments. Various legislative committees can review the protocol, though it's ultimately up to Gov. Steve Beshear to re-adopt the procedure.

Courts around the country have split over whether states should have to follow the administrative procedures in adopting a lethal injection protocol. Courts in Maryland, Nebraska and California have found that the administrative procedures requirement applies to lethal injection, while courts in Missouri and Tennessee ruled that it doesn't.

Kentucky's three-drug protocol also is under attack in federal court by five inmates who are challenging the protocol, the practice of giving Valium to inmates before an execution and how the state acquires the drugs used.

Kentucky has 35 death row inmates. The state has executed three men since reinstating the death penalty in 1976, most recently in November 2008.

Ohio to switch execution mode


COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) Condemned killer Kenneth Biros could become the first person in the country put to death with a single dose of an intravenous anesthetic instead of the usual, faster-acting three-drug process if his execution proceeds Tuesday.

The execution could propel other states to eventually consider the switch, which proponents say ends arguments over unnecessary suffering during injection. California and Tennessee previously considered, but then rejected, the one-drug approach.

Though the untested method has never been used on an inmate in the United States, one difference is clear: Biros will likely die more slowly than inmates put to death with the three-drug method, which includes a drug that stops the heart.

Lethal-injection experts on both sides of the debate over injection say thiopental sodium, which kills by putting people so deeply asleep they stop breathing, will take longer.

How much longer is unclear: Mark Dershwitz, an anesthesiologist who advised Ohio on its switch to the single drug, has written that death should occur in less than 15 minutes.

Ohio inmates have typically taken about seven minutes to die after the three-drug IV injection, which combines thiopental sodium with the drugs pancuronium bromide - which paralyzes muscles - and potassium chloride, which causes cardiac arrest. Mr. Dershwitz also said in a court filing last week that a single dose of thiopental sodium would take longer than the three drugs, though he didn't specify a time.

The switch from three drugs to one was ordered last month because of the state's botched attempt on Sept. 15 to execute convicted rapist and killer Romell Broom. His executioners tried unsuccessfully for two hours to find a usable vein for injection, painfully hitting bone and muscle in as many as 18 needle sticks. Gov. Ted Strickland halted the execution.

Broom, 53, has appealed the state's attempt to try again.

Ohio officials contend the single-drug method should end a five-year-old lawsuit against the state that claims injection can cause inmates severe suffering.

Lethal-injection experts and defense attorneys for death-row inmates have said the one-drug method, a single dose of an anesthetic, would not cause pain.

Biros, 51, killed 22-year-old Tami Engstrom near Warren in 1991 after offering to drive her home from a bar, then scattered her body parts in Ohio and Pennsylvania.

All 36 death-penalty states use lethal injection, and 35 rely on the three-drug method. Nebraska, which recently adopted injection over electrocution, has proposed the three-drug method but hasn't finalized the process.

States with active death chambers are keeping an eye on Ohio's switch but have no immediate plans to switch. Florida, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia are among those keeping the three-drug system for now.

Stay Denied on Ohio One-Drug Execution

December 7, 2009 9:09 AM Posted by Kent Scheidegger 1 Comment No TrackBacks
As noted in Friday's Blog Scan, the Sixth Circuit on that day denied rehearing en banc to the challenge to Ohio's since-abandoned three-drug method of execution. That controversy is moot, and the court noted that the new one-drug method was not before it.

The day before, murderer Kenneth Biros had filed in the District Court a curiously titled "Emergency Motion of Intervenor-Plaintiff Kenneth Biros for a Temporary Restraining Order, or, at the very Least, for an Order under the All Writs Act Staying his Execution by Defendants and the State of Ohio." That motion was denied this morning in a grumbling 191-page opinion and order by District Judge Frost.

Biros's attorneys have asked the Sixth Circuit for a stay, Andrew Welsh-Huggins reports for AP. Also, Alan Johnson has this story in the Columbus Dispatch.
"The execution is scheduled to go forward using a totally new and untried procedure," Sweeney said. "We are making an effort to put the brakes on the process so everyone can take a step back and do a more careful, cautious review."

During the Baze controversy I did a radio call-in show, and a veterinarian called and said the whole three-drug controversy was stupid. Just use one drug, she said. We do it all the time with animals. So it is "untested" only on humans, and someone has to be first. How else do we develop a better method of execution? Are we expecting volunteers?

New Execution Method Is Used in Ohio

Saying he was now “paroled to my Father in heaven,” a convicted killer in Ohio on Tuesday became the first person in the United States to be executed with a one-drug intravenous lethal injection.

The new method, which involved a large dose of anesthetic, akin to how animals are euthanized, has been hailed by most experts as painless and an improvement over the three-drug cocktail used in all other states that employ lethal injection, but it is unlikely to settle the debate over the death penalty.

While praising the shift to a single drug, death penalty opponents argue that Ohio’s new method, and specifically its backup plan of using intramuscular injection if the authorities are unable to find a usable vein, has not been properly vetted by legal and medical experts. Since it had never been tried on humans before, they contend it is the equivalent of human experimentation.

But the United States Supreme Court refused to intervene on Tuesday morning, and the procedure went largely as planned.

The inmate, Kenneth Biros, 51, died at 11:47 a.m. Terry J. Collins, director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, said the drug took about 10 minutes to take effect, roughly the same length of time as the three-drug cocktail. It took about 30 minutes for the execution team to find a usable vein, after having inserted the needle several times into each arm.

Ohio adopted the one-drug method last month after a failed execution attempt in September in which the authorities spent more than two hours trying to find a usable vein in Romell Broom, 53, who was convicted of the 1984 abduction, rape and murder of a 14-year-old girl.

Mr. Biros was convicted of sexually assaulting and killing Tami Engstrom, 22, near Warren, in northeastern Ohio, in 1991 after offering to drive her home from a bar, then scattering her body parts in Ohio and Pennsylvania. She had been stabbed more than 90 times. Mr. Biros acknowledged killing her but said it was done during a drunken rage.

Ms. Engstrom’s mother, brother and sister attended the execution, as did one of Mr. Biros’s lawyers, John Parker, and two of Mr. Biros’s friends. Thomas Altiere, the sheriff for Trumbull County, where the murder occurred, also watched the execution.

As Ms. Engstrom’s family members entered the prison on Tuesday, a reporter asked if they were ready. “We’ve been ready for 18 years,” one of the Engstroms said, according to The Columbus Dispatch.

Shortly before the execution, Mr. Biros gave his personal belongings — seven CDs, an address book, a portable CD player, a rosary and a notebook — to his siblings.

“I’m sorry from the bottom of my heart,” he said after thanking his family and friends for their support.

It was the second trip to the holding cell for Mr. Biros, who spent a day and night there in March 2007 as his lawyers scrambled to halt his execution. The Supreme Court intervened that time because of challenges involving the three-drug cocktail.

Opponents of the death penalty have long argued that using a single drug is more humane than the three-drug cocktail, which involves a short-acting barbiturate to render the inmate unconscious, followed by a paralytic and then a chemical to stop the heart.

Still, death penalty opponents criticized the state for not allowing more time for closer scrutiny of the new protocol.

“The key is due process,” said Richard C. Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington. He said that, for example, when New York introduced the electric chair in 1890, the case went to the Supreme Court, which decided that the punishment might be more humane than hanging.

“The court held that death row prisoner received due process because the New York Legislature had considered the punishment method carefully,” Mr. Dieter added. “In this case, however, everyone has taken the Ohio Department of Corrections at their word, without an adversarial debate.”

But Kent Scheidegger, the legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation in Sacramento, which supports the death penalty, said he doubted that the state’s new protocol would merit a Supreme Court review.

Mr. Scheidegger also dismissed the criticism that the new approach was untested on humans. “What kind of test do they expect?” he said. “A controlled study with volunteers? Not likely.”

Deborah W. Denno, a Fordham University law professor who is an expert on the death penalty and lethal injection, said she believed that the constitutionality of the new state protocol could be challenged if it was found not to be “substantially similar” to the three-drug method used by the State of Kentucky, which the court approved last year.

A federal judge in Ohio disagreed, however, and on Monday he denied a request from Mr. Biros to delay his execution until lawyers could conduct a review of the new protocol.

On Monday night, Mr. Biros’s lawyers filed an emergency request with the Supreme Court asking for his execution to be stopped. That was rejected.

Mr. Biros was moved to the holding area for death row inmates about 15 feet from the death chamber at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville on Monday morning, prison officials said.

In the afternoon, he had a snack of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. At night, he was to be served a meal of cheese pizza, onion rings, fried mushrooms, Doritos, French onion dip, blueberry ice cream, cherry pie and Dr Pepper, they said.

On Tuesday, Mr. Biros received communion and seemed calm as he awaited his fate, prison officials said.


Ohio executes inmate with one-drug injection

LUCASVILLE, Ohio — An Ohio killer was put to death in an efficient 10 minutes Tuesday in the first U.S. execution to use a single drug injection instead of the standard three-chemical combination that has come under legal attack because it can cause excruciating pain.

Kenneth Biros, 51, was pronounced dead shortly after one dose of sodium thiopental began flowing into his veins at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility. The U.S. Supreme Court had rejected his final appeal two hours earlier.

Experts had predicted that sodium thiopental — used in many parts of the world to put pets down — would take longer to kill than the old method. But the 10 minutes it took Biros to die was about as long as it has taken other inmates in Ohio and elsewhere to succumb to the three-drug combination.

The mother, sister and brother of Biros' victim, Tami Engstrom, applauded as the warden announced the time of death.

"Rock on," Debi Heiss, Engstrom's sister, said a moment earlier as the curtains were drawn for the coroner to check on Biros. "That was too easy."

Ohio's switch to one drug was born of a botched execution attempt on another inmate in September, but critics of the three-drug method have long argued that it amounts to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the U.S. Constitution because it can subject the condemned to extreme pain while leaving them immobile and unable to cry out.

The three-drug method consists of sodium thiopental, a common anesthetic, along with pancuronium bromide, which paralyzes muscles, and potassium chloride, which stops the heart. The single-drug technique amounts to an overdose of the anesthetic — a method that injection experts and defense attorneys agreed would not cause pain.

Biros' executioners struggled for several minutes to find suitable veins, inserting needles repeatedly in both arms before completing the process on just his left arm. He winced once, and his attorney, John Parker, said he was concerned by all the needle sticks. But prison officials declared nothing amiss.

"There was no problem with anything in us carrying out the law of this state in this particular execution — none whatsoever," Ohio Prisons Director Terry Collins said. "The process worked as we said it would work."

After the chemical started flowing, Biros' chest heaved several times, and he moved his head twice over a span of about two minutes before he lay perfectly still.

In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld lethal injection in a case from Kentucky involving a three-drug method similar to the one used in Ohio and practically every other death penalty state. After a seven-month moratorium on the death penalty while the high court decided the case, executions resumed across the country.

In its ruling, the Supreme Court said states would have to change from the three-drug process if an alternative method lessened the possibility of pain.

Deborah Denno, a law professor at New York's Fordham University and a lethal injection expert, said she is highly skeptical that Ohio's single experience Tuesday will change the landscape around the country. She noted that the Supreme Court questioned the one-drug method, with Chief Justice John Roberts saying it "has problems of its own."

All 36 death penalty states use lethal injection, and 35 rely on the three-drug method. Nebraska, which recently adopted injection over the electric chair, has proposed the three-drug method but hasn't yet adopted it.

Kentucky, Florida, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia are among those that have said they will keep the three-drug method.

Sodium thiopental is a barbiturate often used to anesthetize surgical patients, induce medical comas or help desperately ill people commit suicide. It is also sometimes used to euthanize animals. It kills by suppressing breathing.

Ohio switched to sodium thiopental after a failed attempt to execute Romell Broom in September. Executioners tried for two hours to find a suitable vein, hitting bone and muscle in as many as 18 needle sticks. A hearing begins in federal court Wednesday on Broom's attempt to block the state from trying again.

After the botched attempt, the state consulted with an array of experts, including pharmacologists, pharmacists, coroners and an anesthesiologist, with two goals: to end a 5-year-old lawsuit claiming that Ohio's three-drug system is capable of causing severe pain, and to create a backup procedure if the first one didn't work.

That backup plan — also untested on U.S. inmates — allows a two-drug injection into muscle if a usable vein cannot be found. That did not become necessary in Biros' case.

Biros killed his 22-year-old victim in 1991 after offering to drive her home from a bar, then scattered her body parts in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Before dying Tuesday, he apologized for his crime.

"I'm being paroled to my father in heaven," Biros said. "I will now spend all of my holidays with my Lord and savior, Jesus Christ."


Neb. lethal-injection plan advances

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) -- A proposed lethal-injection protocol in Nebraska has been submitted to Attorney General Jon Bruning for approval.

Last week, the state Department of Correctional Services signed off on the three-drug cocktail and the process of administering it to death-row inmates.

The department devised the proposed protocol and did not make any changes to the proposal after some raised concerns about it, including that it doesn't clearly specify how workers should be trained to administer the drugs.

If Bruning approves the proposal, it will go to Gov. Dave Heineman for final approval.

Nebraska has been without a means of carrying out the death penalty since early last year, when the state Supreme Court deemed the electric chair cruel and unusual punishment.


New execution method unlikely to gain traction in California

The state would face numerous procedural hurdles in carrying out capital punishment as in Ohio, which put a murderer to death with single-drug lethal injection.

An Ohio murderer put to death with the nation's first single-drug lethal injection died swiftly Tuesday, inaugurating an execution method some analysts consider more humane than the three-drug procedure used in California and 33 other states.

But the method used in Ohio is unlikely to gain traction in California, experts say, because of procedural hurdles and persistent concerns about how the drugs -- whatever their number -- are administered to the condemned.

Kenneth Biros, 51, who killed and dismembered a woman in 1991, died nine minutes after being injected with a massive dose of sodium thiopental, a powerful barbiturate that puts its subjects into a sleep so deep they stop breathing. Ohio prisons director Terry Collins described the execution as problem-free.

California and several other states that have the death penalty on hold are reviewing their three-drug procedures to address claims that they might inflict "cruel and unusual punishment" banned by the Constitution. The first drug -- the one used in Biros' execution -- is supposed to render the prisoner unconscious before paralysis is induced by the second drug and cardiac arrest by the third. In some of the 11 lethal injections carried out in California since the 1990s, analysts contend the prisoner was still conscious when the painful fatal dose was injected.

Ohio authorities were able to quickly revise their execution method after a failed Sept. 15 attempt at putting to death another inmate, Romell Broom, 53. The execution team worked for more than two hours trying to find a suitable vein before the governor halted Broom's execution.

California couldn't switch methods so quickly. The state's Administrative Procedures Act requires authorities to seek public comment on any change in official practices.

Capital punishment supporters say opponents abuse the law to delay executions.

"Opponents of the death penalty then intentionally make that process more expensive and time-consuming than necessary by spamming [corrections officials] with a flood of irrelevant comments decrying the death penalty generally," said Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, a Sacramento-based foundation that represents the interests of victims' rights groups and law enforcement.

Deborah Denno, a Fordham University law professor who opposes the death penalty, said Ohio's execution of Biros probably will inspire other states to consider adopting that method. But it has done nothing to address the problem executioners often encounter in finding a vein capable of holding the catheter through which the lethal drug or drugs are delivered, she said.

UC Berkeley law professor and Death Penalty Clinic director Elisabeth Semel noted that the one-drug method has been discussed during the four years that California's three-drug protocol has been under review. But a task force appointed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2007 to revise the execution method apparently never gave it serious consideration, Semel said.

"It's the historic problem with execution procedures, that they have always been conducted in secret," said Semel, whose clinic offers opportunities for students to represent prisoners with capital sentences.

U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel in San Jose ruled California's lethal injection practices unconstitutional in December 2006. The governor's task force revised the procedures to ensure that the prisoner would be fully anesthetized before death, but before the changes could be evaluated by Fogel, attorneys for two death row inmates challenged their legality in state court.

A judge in Marin County, where San Quentin's execution chamber is located, deemed the revised procedures illegal for their lack of public input. A state appeals court upheld the ruling a year ago, prompting the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to call for comment, drawing more than 8,000 letters, e-mails and public statements.

The corrections department "is still going through the thousands of public comments received. No one knows when that will be completed," said spokeswoman Terry Thornton.

Scheidegger disputes that there are procedural faults with California's existing lethal injection practices, attributing the suspension of executions to the work of those morally opposed to capital punishment.

"Those who feign concern over methods when their real target is the death penalty itself will continue to do so regardless of what method is adopted," he said.

Legal rights accorded capital prisoners contribute to an average 25-year period between sentencing and execution. Only six of California's 685 death row inmates have exhausted all appeals and would be subject to execution.


Picked From a Lineup, on a Whiff of Evidence

HOUSTON — A dog’s sniff helped put Curvis Bickham in jail for eight months. Now that the case against him has been dropped, he wants to tell the world that the investigative technique that justified his arrest smells to high heaven.

The police told Mr. Bickham they had tied him to a triple homicide through a dog-scent lineup, in which dogs choose a suspect’s smell out of a group. The dogs are exposed to the scent from items found at crime scene, and are then walked by a series of containers with samples swabbed from a suspect and from others not involved in the crime. If the dog finds a can with a matching scent, it signals — stiffening, barking or giving some other alert its handler recognizes.

Dogs’ noses have long proved useful to track people, and the police rely on them to detect drugs and explosives, and to find the bodies of victims of crime and disaster. A 2004 report by the F.B.I. states that use of scent dogs, properly conducted, “has become a proven tool that can establish a connection to the crime.”

Scent lineups, however, are different. Critics say that the possibilities of cross-contamination of scent are great, and that the procedures are rarely well controlled. Nonetheless, although some courts have rejected evidence from them, the technique has been used in many states, including Alaska, Florida, New York and Texas, said Lawrence J. Myers, an associate professor of animal behavior at the Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine.

In particular, the methods of the dog handler in Mr. Bickham’s case, and in a half-dozen others that are the basis of lawsuits, have come under fierce attack.

The handler, Deputy Keith A. Pikett of the Fort Bend County, Tex., Sheriff’s Department, is “a charlatan,” said Rex Easley, a lawyer in Victoria, Tex., who represents a man falsely accused by the police of murdering a neighbor. Deputy Pikett, the lawyer said, “devised an unreliable dog trick to justify local police agencies’ suspicions” for producing search warrants and arrests.

Deputy Pikett, who declined to be interviewed, works in the town of Richmond, southwest of Houston, but he has served as a busy consultant to law enforcement agencies around the state, using his home-trained bloodhounds — he has given them names that include Columbo, Quincy and Clue — to sniff out crime. A native of Buffalo, N.Y., he has by his own estimate in court testimony performed thousands of scent lineups since the 1990s. His lawyer said the techniques were effective.

Thomas Lintner, the chief of the F.B.I. laboratory’s evidence response team unit, said the agency used scents only to follow a trail to a suspect or to a place associated with him, and not to identify one person out of several. The 2004 F.B.I. report warned that dog scent work “should not be used as primary evidence,” but only to corroborate other evidence.

In several of the cases that were based on Deputy Pikett’s dogs, however, the scent lineups appear to have provided the primary evidence, even when contradictory evidence was readily available. Mr. Bickham spent eight months in jail after being identified in a scent lineup by Deputy Pikett’s dogs, until another man confessed to the killings. In an interview, Mr. Bickham scoffed at the accusation that he had taken part in three murders, noting that he has been hobbled by bone spurs and diabetes and is partially blind.

Ronald Curtis, another Houston man jailed on the basis of Deputy Pikett’s dogs, was released from jail nine months after being accused of a string of burglaries. Store videos showed that the burglar did not resemble him. “Nobody was listening,” Mr. Curtis said.

Both he and Mr. Bickham are filing civil lawsuits over their treatment in federal court on Wednesday.

The first person to file such a suit, in January, was Michael Buchanek, a retired captain with the Victoria County, Tex., Sheriff’s Department and a client of Mr. Easley. After Deputy Pikett’s dogs identified him, Mr. Buchanek said the police “just kept telling me, ‘the dogs don’t lie — we know you did it.’ ” After months of uncertainty, DNA evidence implicated another man who later confessed to the crime.

As Mr. Easley examined the case, he sought the opinion of animal investigation experts who reviewed Deputy Pikett’s work and responded with incredulity. Robert Coote, the head of a British canine police unit, reviewed videos of Deputy Pikett’s scent lineup in the Buchanek case and stated, “If it was not for the fact that this is a serious matter, I could have been watching a comedy.”

Mr. Easley shared his findings with colleagues at the Innocence Project of Texas, a legal defense organization, which released a report last month that excoriated dog scent lineups as a “junk science injustice.” Jeff Blackburn, the chief counsel for the group, said Deputy Pickett merely gave the police the match they had hoped for.

Mr. Myers, the animal behavior expert, suggested that handlers like Deputy Pikett might believe in the dogs and the methods, but might allow samples to become contaminated or inadvertently allow the dogs to pick up on subtle, even unconscious signals from handlers or detectives.

“They just don’t realize they’re doing it wrong,” he said.

Randall Morse, an assistant Fort Bend county attorney who is representing Deputy Pikett, said the dogs provided information, not conclusions of guilt or innocence.

“Pikett doesn’t arrest anybody,” Mr. Morse said. “Our dogs don’t say, You murdered somebody. They don’t even say, You committed a crime. They just say, We picked up your scent.”

Mr. Morse said scent lineups had proved their worth, as in the case of Bart Whitaker, a Texan who hired friends to kill his family in 2003. Deputy Pikett’s dogs helped identify the trigger man from eight suspects. Mr. Whitaker is now on death row, and his accomplices are in prison.

“We believe in this stuff,” Mr. Morse said.

Mr. Blackburn of the Innocence Project noted that the Whitaker case involved a great deal of corroborating evidence beyond the dogs.

“Our estimate right now is we’ve got 15 to 20 people who are in prison right now based on virtually nothing but Pikett’s testimony,” he said. “That’s a big problem.”

Donna Hawkins, a spokeswoman for the Harris County district attorney’s office in Houston, said she could not comment on the dispute over dog scent lineups or on the re-examination of cases that involved them. “Cases will be evaluated on an individual basis, considering all relevant evidence,” Ms. Hawkins said.

As for Mr. Bickham, he said he had lost his home while in jail and had struggled to restart his barbecue stand; he sold his cars to hire his lawyer. These days, he said, he is easily agitated, cries readily and is taking antidepressants.

“I lost everything,” Mr. Bickham said, because of “a nothing case.”


Saturday, 5 December 2009

Ky. to open execution protocol to public hearings

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- Kentucky will not appeal a ruling striking down how it adopted it's lethal injection protocol and will hold public hearings before putting a new execution process in place.

Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet spokeswoman Jennifer Brislin told The Associated Press that a regulation will be filed with the state later this month to start the public hearing process.

The Kentucky Supreme Court ruled in a 4-3 vote last month that the state improperly adopted the method it uses for the lethal three-drug cocktail for condemned inmates. Three death row inmates challenged the procedure, saying the state should have held public hearings about the method because it is an administrative regulation.

Brislin says the decision should shorten the appeals process in court.


Appeals court upholds Ohio killer's execution

By ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS, The Associated Press
Updated 6:36 PM Friday, December 4, 2009

COLUMBUS, Ohio — An appeals court on Friday refused to delay the execution of an Ohio inmate who could become the first person in the United States put to death with a single drug.

The full 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declined to hear the challenge of Kenneth Biros, who is scheduled to die Tuesday for killing and dismembering a woman he met in a bar in 1991.

A three-judge panel of the court ruled last week that the execution could proceed, because the state adopted a new method that Biros had not previously challenged. The full court upheld that decision Friday.

Biros, however, has already filed a different challenge to the new one-drug method.
One of the 6th Circuit judges said Friday that it was unlikely Biros would be successful in that new challenge. Judge Jeff Sutton said the state's decision to move to the one-drug system addresses two of Biros' primary complaints about the old method, which involved three drugs.

Biros had argued the three-drug method could cause severe pain and could lead to problems if a usable vein couldn't be found.

Biros' attorneys have argued in the past that the one-drug method would be painless. And the state's new system allows executioners to inject drugs into a muscle if a usable vein can't be located.

"That development leaves Biros with serious likelihood-of-success problems," Sutton said.

Judge Boyce Martin, an appeals court judge who would have stopped Biros' execution, criticized Sutton for commenting on an issue that wasn't before the court yet.
Biros' attorneys asked U.S. District Court Judge Gregory Frost at a hearing Friday for an emergency order delaying the execution. Lawyer Tim Sweeney said the state was rushing unnecessarily to put Biros to death with a new method and implementing a new procedure should be done in a reasonable, deliberate way.

"That doesn't mean months or years, but more than just a few days," he told Frost.
A state attorney argued Ohio took a hard look at its old system and adopted something that eliminated the risk of pain.

"Somebody has to be first," said Charles Wille, an assistant Attorney General.
"This plan is consistent with a long history of states attempting to take a very difficult social responsibility and make it less difficult," Wille said. "Above all to come up with the most humane way it can be done."
December 04, 2009 11:33 PM EST

Popular Mayor to Run for Governor of Texas

HOUSTON — Bill White, the popular Democratic mayor of Houston, said Friday that he would run for governor of Texas, changing the dynamic in a heated contest and giving Democrats a faint hope for the first time in 15 years that they might be able to take back the governor’s office.

The race has already been drawing national attention because of the pending primary battle between the incumbent, Rick Perry, and a fellow Republican, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison.

Mr. White, 55, who is leaving office in January, had been running for Ms. Hutchison’s Senate seat, but he switched his goals after heavy lobbying from Democratic leaders across the state, who were facing the 2010 election with a sense of futility.

Texas Democrats have seen their party stumble and fall in statewide races again and again since 1994, when the Republican candidate for governor, George W. Bush, defeated the incumbent, Ann Richards.

As conservative Democrats defected to the Republicans, Mr. Bush and his party swept the state four years later and the Republicans have dominated Texas ever since.

Governor Perry, a staunch conservative, took over from Mr. Bush in 2000 and has won twice since then, becoming the longest-serving governor in the state’s history. He is pushing for an unprecedented third four-year term.

The critical moment for Democrats came last week when the strongest of the four Democrats vying for the nomination, Tom Schieffer of Fort Worth, met with Mr. White and said he would throw his support behind the mayor if he chose to run.

In announcing his candidacy, Mr. White, who served as deputy energy secretary under President Bill Clinton, came out swinging against Governor Perry, accusing him of failing to improve the state’s high schools and of turning state commissions into patronage mills for his campaign donors. He also took a swipe at the governor for expressing sympathy with secessionists.

“Shouldn’t we be the state that leads the nation, not that leaves the nation?” Mr. White said.

Mark Miner, a spokesman for the governor, responded, “Governor Perry is focused on running the state and his race, not what the Democrats are doing.”

Until now, Governor Perry’s main competition came from Senator Hutchison, who hopes to wrest the nomination from him in a March primary.

The Democrats, meantime, had fielded a weak lineup of candidates. Among them were the humorist and singer Kinky Friedman and a hair-products magnate, Farouk Shami of Houston, who is a political neophyte.

The strongest candidate was Mr. Schieffer, but he failed to ignite much interest outside of Austin.

Political strategists say Mr. White has a better chance of success but still faces an uphill battle in a state where big-city mayors have failed to win on a statewide level and where Republicans have enjoyed a six- to nine-point advantage in recent elections.

Mr. White has $6.5 million in his campaign fund, including about $1 million of his own money.

His candidacy has generated excitement among Democrats in large part because Mr. Schieffer was gaining so little traction, political scientists said.

“Some of this exuberance is fueled by an overwhelming sense of relief,” said Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas. “Democratic activists and fund-raisers now have the opportunity to change their bet from what was looking like a very poor wager.”

The state’s Republican Party has put out an Internet ad claiming Mr. White is “too liberal for Texas,” and Republicans have criticized him as being too reluctant to crack down on illegal immigrants and too willing to support limits on carbon emissions.

Mr. White has labored as mayor to build a reputation as a nonpartisan executive with a businesslike way of tackling tough problems.

He has cut taxes in Houston and won praise for reducing smog and steering the city through Hurricanes Katrina and Ike. He won re-election twice by large margins and would probably be re-elected were it not for term limits.

“I know I don’t have the polish or the fame of the career politicians,” he said, having had a long career in politics. “But I know how to get things done. I know and you know the difference between rhetoric and results.”

Correction: Dec. 5, 2009

An earlier version of this article said that Bill White, the mayor of Houston, had been energy secretary under President Bill Clinton. He was deputy energy secretary.


Photos paint another picture of the death penalty

Texans may have a popular image of gun-loving death penalty advocates, but private investigator-turned-photographer John Holbrook is a long way from that stereotype. He believes passionately the death penalty should be abolished and is currently touring the world with his collection of photos featuring death row inmates. WRS’s Conor Lennon met with him yesterday and asked where his certainty on the issue comes from. Listen to the interview by klick on the heading.


Friday, 4 December 2009

Congo death sentence for former British soldier Joshua French upheld

Tristan McConnell in Nairobi

An appeal court in the Democratic Republic of Congo upheld a death sentence against Joshua French, a former British soldier.

Mr French, 27, who has dual British and Norwegian nationality, and his friend Tjostolv Moland, a 28-year-old former Norwegian soldier, face death by firing squad after a military tribunal in the town of Kisangani upheld their conviction for murdering their Congolese driver.

Both men deny shooting Abedi Kasongo, who died from a gunshot wound to the head on a remote road 70 miles (110km) outside Kisangani in May.

At the end of a four-month trial, which was criticised by human rights activists, a military court handed the men multiple death sentences in September after finding them guilty of murder, attempted murder, espionage, conspiracy and armed robbery. All death sentences in Congo have been commuted to life imprisonment since 2003.

Lawyers of the pair are expected to appeal to the country’s Supreme Court in the capital, Kinshasa.

Yesterday the appeal court also ordered that Norway pay the Congolese Government damages of about £290 million as the two men were found with Norwegian military identity cards and charged with spying.

The London-based human rights group Reprieve has called on Britain to demand that proceedings be moved to a civilian court and to ensure that the men are given a fair trial.