4 death row inmates want to block executions

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4 death row inmates want to block executions

Post  Jennie on Tue Jul 15, 2008 12:23 pm

MISSISSIPPI:

4 death row inmates want to block executions


The life of Mississippi death row inmate Dale Leo Bishop, scheduled to die next week, is back in the hands of a federal judge. Bishop is 1 of 4 condemned prisoners who filed a 2007 lawsuit to stop executions in Mississippi. They say the state's method of lethal injection is unconstitutional because it might cause pain.

Now that the U.S. Supreme Court and the Mississippi Supreme Court have rejected Bishop's appeals on a 1998 murder, the federal lawsuit is his next hope for reprieve. He is scheduled to die at 6 p.m. July 23.

In motion a filed Monday and labeled "urgent and necessitous," the 4 inmates' attorneys accused state officials of withholding information about the way executions are carried out. The Mississippi Department of Corrections and the attorney general's office have "historically refused to produce" information about the procedures, according to the motion.

"This court can have no assurance that it has the complete facts on how Mississippi executes prisoners," the inmates claim.

MDOC officials and the attorney general's office declined comment on Monday. However, Attorney General Jim Hood argued last week that the inmates' claims fall outside the statute of limitations and that Mississippi's procedure is constitutional.

Still, the prisoners' attorneys want the court to block the executions and force the state to produce all documents dealing with Mississippi's 3-drug protocol. They also want to conduct "depositions of persons who oversaw or witnessed the 5 previous lethal injection executions in Mississippi."

U.S. District Judge W. Allen Pepper did not immediately rule on the matter.

Bishop would be the second prisoner put to death in Mississippi since April, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that lethal injection is an acceptable method of execution in the United States. That ruling came after 2 death row inmates in Kentucky challenged the procedure.

The Mississippi inmates say Mississippi's method is different from the one used in Kentucky. Hood has described the procedures as "substantially similar."

The argument is that if the first of three drugs used in the procedure doesn't take effect properly, the other 2 drugs will cause pain but the paralyzed prisoner won't be able to express discomfort. The 1st drug administered sedates the prisoner, the second paralyzes and the last kills.

The inmates say Mississippi doesn't use monitors so there's no way of knowing that the lethal drugs won't be administered until after the prisoner is completely under the effects of anesthesia. The insertion of the intravenous needle could also be a painful because the execution staff in Mississippi is not properly trained, the inmates claim.

State officials dismiss the allegations, saying in court papers that the staff "is a highly trained team of paramedics" and that a state pathologist is on hand.

The inmates in the lawsuit are Alan Dale Walker, Paul Everett Woodward, Gerald James Holland and Bishop. Bishop is the only one with a scheduled execution date.

Bishop was sentenced to die in 2000 for his role in the claw hammer beating death of Marcus James Gentry. Bishop admitted participating in the fatal attack, but Bishop's attorneys say an accomplice, Jessie Johnson, killed Gentry. Johnson was tried separately and is serving a life sentence.

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Death row inmate asks court to throw out sentence


A federal appeals court should throw out Paul E. Woodward's death sentence because prosecutors plotted to keep blacks off a Jackson County jury, according to Woodward's attorneys.

On Monday, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals scheduled a hearing on the issue for Sept. 3 in New Orleans. The panel did not rule on any specific claims.

Woodward, now 60, was convicted in 1987 of capital murder and sentenced to death in the killing of Rhonda Crane. Crane was a volunteer worker at the Jackson County Youth Court.

She was driving from Escatawpa on July 23, 1986, to join her parents at Flint Creek Water Park in Wiggins when Woodward used his log truck to force Crane to stop her car on Mississippi Highway 29 south of New Augusta, prosecutors said.

Woodward kidnapped the woman and then forced her to have sex with him before shooting her, prosecutors said. Her body was found the next day in a wooded area.

Woodward also got two consecutive 30-year terms for kidnapping and sexual battery.

The Mississippi Supreme Court upheld Woodward's conviction in 1988.

In 1993, Woodward won a new sentencing hearing because of a faulty jury instruction under what is known as the "Clemons rule." In 1990, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the Mississippi death penalty case against Chandler Clemons that describing a crime to juries as "especially heinous, atrocious or cruel" without further definition was unconstitutionally vague. The decision dealt only with the sentencing phase of a capital murder trial, not convictions.

A Perry County jury in 1995 again sentenced Woodward to death.

Woodward contends that prosecutors kept blacks off the jury during that sentencing hearing. Woodward, who is white, argued prosecutors' action was unconstitutional and left him facing an all-white jury.

Under a 1986 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Batson v. Kentucky, lawyers are not allowed to exclude people from a jury because of their race. Since that ruling, lawyers must provide race-neutral reasons for excluding minority jurors.

Both the Mississippi Supreme Court and a federal district court ruled that prosecutors did not discriminate against black jurors because of their race. But Woodward argued to the 5th Circuit that the lower courts ignored the cumulative effect of striking all the black jurors. He said the exclusion of every black person from the jury panel appeared to be purposeful discrimination.

"I think the 5th Circuit will find there were race-neutral reasons given by the district attorney," Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood said.

Attorneys for Woodward did not return telephone calls from The Associated Press seeking comment on the case.

(source for both: Associated Press)
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