Texas gets off to slow restart on executions

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Texas gets off to slow restart on executions

Post  NEADP on Mon Jun 23, 2008 5:44 pm

Texas gets off to slow restart on executions----Despite delays, experts predict state will lead nation once again

Of the 3 inmates who had dates with death this year, only one was sent into Texas' death chamber and executed, an uncharacteristic start for a state that consistently leads the nation in executions.

Controversy swirled around the state's last execution in September and re-emerged once the death chamber reopened after the lifting of a de facto moratorium, imposed as the U.S. Supreme Court considered a challenge to the lethal injection process.

The Court of Criminal Appeals and the Attorney General's Office worked until almost midnight Tuesday to ensure that Charles Dean Hood's execution would be carried out. But in the end, after a volley of appeals, state prison officials had to scrub the execution as the midnight expiration of the death warrant neared.

On June 10, the state carried out its 12st execution of the year, putting to death Karl Chamberlain. His attorneys later complained that they were in the process of filing an appeal when he was executed.

The 1st inmate to face execution this year, Derrick Sonnier, received a last-minute reprieve June 3. It came about 2 hours before he was set to enter Texas' death house.

Despite the sluggish start, experts predict Texas likely will remain the nation's death penalty capital.

"By the end of 2008, Texas will have the most executions of any state, as it has for many other years," predicted Richard Dieter, director of the Washington-based Death Penalty Information Center. "It certainly overall is a leader in executions."

Swift execution pace

To some, the state appears unchastened by last year's firestorm when attorneys were unable to file appeals before Michael Richard was put to death in September.

He was the last inmate executed before the hiatus began. In his case, Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Presiding Judge Sharon Keller refused to allow the court clerk's office to remain open after hours so attorneys could file an appeal after experiencing computer problems.

In April, the high court upheld the lethal injection process, and executions resumed.

Since then, 7 have been carried out across the nation.

Dieter believes Texas will ultimately resume its swift execution pace, given an aggressive schedule that far outpaces other states'.

Fourteen inmates are set to be put to death through October, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's Web site.

Last year, Texas accounted for 26 of the 42 executions carried out across the country.

Hood, whose execution had been scheduled for last week, had argued in his appeal that the judge and prosecutor in his trial reportedly had a romantic relationship. The Court of Criminal Appeals rejected the appeal on procedural grounds. His attorneys, however, persuaded a state district judge to vacate his death warrant. The state appellate court subsequently ruled that the judge had no authority to do so and ordered the warrant reinstated. With the death warrant set to expire, the prison system took the unprecedented step to stop the execution.

No such late-night legal wrangling occurred before Sonnier was granted a stay. The following week, however, the Court of Criminal Appeals dismissed his claims. He now has a July 23 execution date.

Another execution date has to be set for Hood.

"These last two cases or stays are unusual," said Dieter, of the Death Penalty Information Center. "Generally, when dates are set in Texas, those executions go forward."

Last-minute appeals

David Dow, an attorney in the Hood and Sonnier cases, said the state, more than ever, appears to possess a "lust" for executions.

"The Court of Criminal Appeals couldn't have been more transparent in the way they helped the state try to get an execution," he said, referring to last week's maneuvering.

The Attorney General's Office, Dow said, has become less patient when it comes to last-minute appeals. Attorneys typically notify officials when appeals are in the works. State attorneys previously were willing to await filings and delay executions.

Now, Dow said, it seems that if appeals have not been filed and none is pending in any court, prison officials are allowed to begin the execution process.

That is what happened in Chamberlain's case, Dow said.

The Attorney General's Office insists that no policy change has occurred.

Legal issues

"When the court-ordered execution time arrived," a spokesman for the Attorney General's Office said, "Chamberlain's attorneys had yet to file an additional last-minute appeal, nor had they provided any specific information to the state or the courts about when any further appeals might be filed."

Jim Marcus, a University of Texas law professor, said the state should weigh the legal issues and not technicalities in Hood's and Sonnier's cases.

In Sonnier's appeal, his attorneys argued that changes to the state's death penalty protocol had not been reviewed by a court. Prison officials said changes were made simply to clarify executioner training and other issues raised in the Supreme Court case.

The Court of Criminal Appeals dismissed the claim, citing the Supreme Court's decision that upheld Kentucky's 3-drug protocol, the same used in Texas and other states. The Texas court determined that the state's procedure is substantially similar to Kentucky's.

But Marcus believes that a thorough review of the protocol should be conducted.

"If the state courts continue to bury their heads in the sand, the federal courts will probably step up," Marcus said.

(source: Houston Chronicle)


Father might face death penalty

Prosecutors will seek the death penalty for a man accused of killing his infant daughter and are considering charges against the baby's mother.

Kevin Mitchell Jr., 21, of Lebanon, is accused of abusing 6-month-old Zariyah Mitchell before she died last month. He has been charged with homicide.

Lebanon County District Attorney Dave Arnold said his office is drawing up a list of "aggravated circumstances," such as the age of the victim, necessary to justify seeking the death penalty.

Arnold said he has not decided whether to charge Zariyah's mother, Miriam Nebot. Nebot lived with Mitchell and Zariyah, but did not take the baby to the doctor because of Mitchell's abuse and threats, according to police.

Mitchell was bound over for trial after a hearing Friday before District Judge Maria Dissinger.

During the hearing, Lebanon County Detective Michael DiPalo, the only witness, recited a list of injuries Zariyah allegedly suffered, including internal bleeding, bites, bruises and burns caused by scalding. He said an autopsy determined the baby died of head trauma.

DiPalo said Mitchell told him he bit Zariyah several times about 1:30 a.m. May 21 when she wouldn't stop crying. About the same time, Mitchell and Nebot engaged in a tug of war with the baby, DiPalo said.

Mitchell said Zariyah "didn't seem right" after that, DiPalo testified.

Mitchell told authorities neither he nor anyone else took Zariyah to receive medical treatment because Mitchell had been told his daughter would be taken away if he took her to a doctor, DiPalo testified.

On May 23, Mitchell and Nebot took the baby to Good Samaritan Hospital, where she died, after which police were notified.

(source: The Patriot-News)


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