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Death Penalty

Associated Press

A Jewish death row inmate who was part of the "Texas 7" gang of escaped prisoners has filed an appeal claiming the former county judge who oversaw his trial was anti-Semitic and frequently used racial slurs.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice will no longer share the last written words of death row inmates after criticism from a Houston lawmaker.

From Texas Standard:

Texas news outlets often report on death penalty stories, given that the state leads the nation in prisoner executions. But rarely do reports tell the stories of women on death row. Those women are housed in a prison in Gatesville, and as I wait for the guards to bring over inmate Linda Carty, I notice the room is very different from the crammed spaces where I’ve interviewed men on death row. There’s still glass separating us, but this room is spacious and well-lit.

Patrick Murphy was ready to die on March 28, and the State of Texas was ready to kill him. It was the U.S. Supreme Court that stepped in and granted the surprise execution stay. That’s why Murphy is alive today.

When the state of Texas tried to execute Patrick Murphy on March 28, the U.S. Supreme Court stepped in. The high court ruled that the execution was unconstitutional. But it wasn't because of any concerns about due process or the morality of the state taking a life. The issue was religious freedom.

East Texas Town Reflects On James Byrd Jr.'s Dragging Death Ahead Of Last Execution

Apr 23, 2019
Louvon Byrd Harris, 61, and Mylinda Byrd Washington, 66, hold up photographs of their brother James Byrd Jr. in Houston. James Byrd Jr. was the victim of what is considered to be one of the most gruesome hate crimes in recent Texas history.
Associated Press

A technology company was almost ready to bring up to 300 new jobs to Jasper, Texas, but in the final stages of recent negotiations, a potential deal-breaker emerged: the community's history as the place where three white men dragged a black man behind a pickup, killing him.

From Texas Standard:

On Tuesday, a new Texas Department of Criminal Justice policy went into effect, banning any religious adviser from being in the execution chamber with an inmate. The decision came after the U.S. Supreme Court, last week, postponed the execution of Patrick Murphy, a member of the Texas Seven group.

The court said his execution had to wait until Texas decided on its policy about the presence of spiritual advisers during executions. The state had originally denied Murphy’s request to have a Buddhist priest, which Murphy appealed because Texas had allowed advisers from other faiths to be in the execution chamber. In his opinion, Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote that Texas needed to find a way to accommodate all faiths so as not to discriminate, or allow no advisers at all. TDCJ decided on the latter.

Updated 12:59 p.m. ET

A closely divided Supreme Court ruled Monday that a death row inmate with a rare medical condition is not entitled to an alternative method of execution just because the one the state uses could cause him several minutes of great pain and suffering.

Two Supreme Court decisions just hours before a scheduled execution. Two decisions just seven weeks apart. Two decisions on the same issue. Except that in one, a Muslim was put to death without his imam allowed with him in the execution chamber, and in the other, a Buddhist's execution was temporarily halted because his Buddhist minister was denied the same right.

The two apparently conflicting decisions are so puzzling that even the lawyers are scratching their heads and offering explanations that they candidly admit are only speculative.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday blocked the execution of a Buddhist inmate on death row because prison officials wouldn't let his spiritual adviser be present in the execution chamber, even though they provide chaplains for inmates of some other faiths.

Illustration by Miguel Gutierrez Jr. / The Texas Tribune

Hours after his execution was originally scheduled to begin, the U.S Supreme Court stopped the death of one of the infamous "Texas Seven."

The Supreme Court on Wednesday clarified the circumstances in which someone with a mental disability may be put to death.

The government can execute a prisoner even if he doesn't remember committing his crime, the court said. But it can't execute the prisoner if he doesn't understand why he has been "singled out" to die, the high court said in its 5-3 decision. If someone with dementia can't understand the reason for his execution, the court held, killing the prisoner is unconstitutional.

Finding that a Texas court hadn't followed its instructions, the U.S. Supreme Court has declared that a Texas man who killed a store clerk during a botched robbery attempt "is a person with intellectual disability" and therefore cannot be put to death.

U.S. Supreme Court Again Reverses Death Sentence Decision For Texas Inmate

Feb 19, 2019

The U.S. Supreme Court has for the second time struck down the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals' way of determining if a death row inmate is intellectually disabled and eligible for execution.

Death Row inmate Domineque Ray hoped that when he took his final breath, he could find comfort in the presence of his Muslim spiritual adviser. But the Alabama prison where Ray was awaiting execution wouldn't allow it. Prison officials would only allow their own Christian chaplain to offer the prisoner solace from inside the execution chamber. They said it would be a security risk to let someone into the room who wasn't an employee of the state's corrections department.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that executing people with intellectual disabilities is cruel and unusual punishment.
Illustration by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., The Texas Tribune

 

Video: What Does Race Have To Do With The Death Penalty In Texas?

Dec 23, 2018
Screen capture from video by Pearson via Texas Tribune

Studies have shown that Texas prosecutors chose to pursue the death penalty more often when a defendant was black than if a defendant was white. And while black Texans might be overrepresented on death row, past investigations have shown they were often underrepresented in jury pools.

Jolie McCullough / Texas Tribune

Texas again executed far more inmates than any other state in 2018, according to year-end reports released Friday by two groups critical of the death penalty.

Alvin Braziel was sentenced to death for killing Doug White and raping his wife, Lora White, on a Mesquite jogging trail in 1993.
TDCJ

Lora and Douglas White were married for 10 days when the couple decided on Sept. 21, 1993, to take a walk around Eastfield College in Mesquite. It was the last thing the newlyweds would do together. The night tragically ended in a murder and rape that eventually landed Alvin Avon Braziel Jr. on death row.

A San Antonio man is set to die by lethal injection on Tuesday for a murder he didn’t actually commit. As part of the notorious “Texas 7” escape, Joseph Garcia was convicted and sentenced to die under a controversial law some say is unconstitutional.

 


Michael Graczyk / AP

In nearly 46 years of reporting for The Associated Press, Mike Graczyk has seen at least 429 Texans go to their deaths in Huntsville.

That's almost a third of all the inmates executed in the United States since the Supreme Court reaffirmed capital punishment in 1976.

The Catholic Church now formally considers the death penalty "inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person" and is pledging to work for its abolition worldwide.

It's a shift for the church, which used to consider the death penalty a "means of safeguarding the common good" in response to "certain crimes." The update to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the book of official teachings of the church, was announced Thursday.

From Texas Standard.

Texas has been fighting to keep a secret for years now – the name of the pharmacy that supplies its execution drugs. But late last week, after a lengthy court battle, the state Supreme Court refused to grant an appeal of a lower court ruling that the state must reveal where it gets these drugs.

From Texas Standard.

Some people are convinced that hypnosis is real: they’ve seen it done, they’ve experienced being hypnotized. But is it science? Is it so reliable that we should be able to use it to help make life or death decisions? Two death row inmates have had their sentences delayed as they make the case that they were convicted on the basis of evidence obtained through hypnosis. They say – and other states would agree – that amounts to junk science.

Shelby Knowles

Anthony Graves spent 12 years on death row before a conservative federal court tossed out his wrongful capital murder conviction. Texas courts had previously rejected all of his appeals.

“I had to get out of the state of Texas and into the federal court system to get help,” he told The Texas Tribune on Friday. “If it was up to the state itself, I would have been executed.”

From Texas Standard.

Texas is re-upping a request to “opt in” to a federal law that would speed up the execution appeals process in the state, potentially leading to quicker executions.

From Texas Standard.

Thomas Bartlett Whitaker wasn’t supposed to be alive now. He was scheduled to be the fourth person executed in Texas this year, sentenced to death for coordinating the 2003 Sugar Land murders of his mom and brother and the attempted murder of his dad. He wanted the insurance money.

TDCJ/Texas Tribune

More than 10 years had passed and nearly 150 people had been executed since a Texas governor last spared an inmate from a death sentence.

From Texas Standard:

Following the execution of a Dallas man last week, the status of the state's supply of execution drugs is under new scrutiny. In a last-minute appeal to halt the execution, the prisoner's attorneys claimed two other executions this year were botched. The appeal was denied.

Dallas County Court files

Despite a last-ditch effort to stop his execution, John Battaglia was put to death Thursday night after hours of delay.

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