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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Another Execution Set for Tonight: This TIme in Alabama

UPDATE: Prisoner pronounced dead at 6:25 PM. Final words: "Game over."

(Reuters) An Alabama man who has spent just four years on death row for the suffocation and beating death of his infant son is set to die by lethal injection on Thursday. The execution of Christopher Thomas Johnson, 39, is scheduled for 6 p.m. local time at the Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore.

Johnson made the rare move of pleading guilty to capital murder in the 2005 death of his 6-month-old son Elias Ocean Johnson. The inmate requested the death penalty, which was granted in February 2007, and waived all appellate and intervention measures on his behalf. One law professor said Johnson's brief stay on death row is unusual and could possibly be among the shortest on record nationwide.

In a statement issued by Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty, executive director Esther Brown said even though the organization respects Johnson's right to have the death penalty imposed, they questioned his motives.

"We are a prisoner organization and therefore respect a prisoner's wishes. Nevertheless, we question Mr. Johnson's mental stability, which would allow him to make this kind of decision," Brown said.

For full historical context for this, and a probe of current trends, views and actions, see my new e-book, Dead Reckoning (just $2.99).

Monday, October 17, 2011

My 'Conclusive' Interview with 'Christian Science Monitor'

I am quoted today in Christian Science Monitor piece on current trends in death penalty in USA, based on recent interview.  I am even given the concluding word.

"Abolitionists like Greg Mitchell, author of Dead Reckoning, which tracks the history of the death penalty, say it is mistake to assume, based on polling data, that the majority of Americans support the death penalty, because the question does not offer life without parole as an alternative punishment. When asked in other polls, he says, Americans tend to be more evenly divided.

"For example, when Gallup gave the choice between death penalty and life imprisonment without parole, 49 percent choose the former and 46 the latter. (Gallup did not ask the question this year.)  'There are far fewer executions [than] there used to be because of the reluctance of prosecutors, because they know the [legal] roadblocks and they know jurors, when it comes down to it, don't want to convict,' Mr. Mitchell says. 'Public vengeance is satisfied with life without parole.'"

For full historical context for this, and a probe of current trends, see my new e-book, Dead Reckoning (just $2.99).

More on Poll Finding Decline in Support for Death Penalty

I've covered the recent Gallup Poll finding a decline in support for the death penalty in the USA to lowest level in decades -- though still at 61%. As I've done for years, I have highlighted that this drops to 50% or less when life without patrol is added as an option.

Mother Jones
today goes over all of this today, but also adds a historical chart of the ups and downs over the years from Gallup that is worth looking at.    They also point out that a record 1 in 4 now say there are too many executions now.   I was interviewed about all this by the Christian Science Monitor a couple of days ago, along with the cheers at the GOP debate for executions and the Florida legislator wanting to bring back "Old Sparky."

For full historical context for this, and a probe of current trends, see my new e-book, Dead Reckoning (just $2.99).

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Gallup Finds U.S. Backing for Death Penalty at Lowest Point in Decades

But it still is a rather strong 61%.   That, however, is down from most recent 64%, perhaps reflecting reaction to Troy Davis case.  However, as we have noted before -- and Gallup gets around to it at the very end -- polls have shown that half or less of public still backs executions when life without parole is the option.

Results of new poll break down pretty much as one might figure:  higher support expressed by men, by Republicans, by older folks, but people in the South and Midwest, and by whites.

For full historical context for this, and a probe of current trends, see my new e-book, Dead Reckoning (just $2.99).

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Florida Rep Wants Return to "Old Sparky" and Firing Squad

Upset by problems with lethal injections, a Florida legislator has introduced a bill that would again focus attention on the use of the electric chair in the state, and give prisoners new options in choosing a firing squad also.

In the past year, lethal injections have been slowed by botched executions, the need to switch to a new "cocktail," and a drug company's refusal to ship chemicals.  

Rep. Brad Drake said in a release,  “So, I say let’s end the debate.  We still have Old Sparky. And if that doesn’t suit the criminal, then we will provide them a .45 caliber lead cocktail instead.”  Florida has been the scene of some of the more notorious botched electric chair executions in the past.

For full historical context for this, and a probe of current trends, see my new e-book, Dead Reckoning (just $2.99).



Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Supreme Court Rejects Move to Re-Impose Death Sentence on Mumia Abu-Jamal

Philadelphia Inquirer with full story here.   Shorter take:

(AP) The Supreme Court has rejected a request from Philadelphia prosecutors who want to re-impose a death sentence on former Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal, convicted of killing a white Philadelphia police officer 30 years ago.

The justices on Tuesday refused to get involved in the racially charged case. A federal appeals court ordered a new sentencing hearing for Abu-Jamal after finding that the death-penalty instructions given to the jury at Abu-Jamal's 1982 trial were potentially misleading.

Courts have upheld Abu-Jamal's conviction for killing Officer Daniel Faulkner over objections that African-Americans were improperly excluded from the jury.  The federal appeals court in Philadelphia said prosecutors could agree to a life sentence for Abu-Jamal or try again to sentence him to death.

For full historical context for this, and a probe of current trends, see my new e-book, Dead Reckoning (just $2.99).

Monday, October 10, 2011

Top 5 Botched Executions of 2011-- in the USA

Today is annual World Day against the death penalty.  Amnesty International weighs in.   Here is a site that covers it all.     The European Union issues new call for worldwide abolition. For full historical context for this, and a probe of current trends, see my new e-book, Dead Reckoning (just $2.99).

Now here is an excerpt from new article at Reprieve on 5 botched lethal injections this year, right here in America.

1) BRANDON RHODE

September 27, 2010: Brandon Rhode is executed in Georgia, but his eyes remain
wide open. Doubts are raised over the way sodium thiopental was administered.
Dr Mark Heath declares in an affidavit: “If the thiopental was inadequately
effective Mr. Rhode’s death would certainly have been agonizing... There is no
dispute that the asphyxiation caused by pancuronium and the caustic burning
sensation caused by potassium would be agonizing...”

2) JEFFREY LANDRIGAN

October 10, 2010: It takes several minutes for Jeffrey Landrigan to die in
Arizona. He is executed with sodium thiopental sold by fly-by-night British
drug company Dream Pharma. It appeared the anaesthetic may not have worked.
It took over 10 minutes for him to be pronounced dead.

3) EMANUEL HAMMOND

January 27, 2011: Emanuel Hammond is executed. Hammond closes his eyes, and
then re-opens them later. Professor Sheri Johnson, who watched particularly
intently because she knew there were doubts over the British thiopental’s
efficacy, said “he closed his eyes perhaps ten seconds after the drugs started.
But then, some time later, he opened them again”. Professor Johnson added that
this was quite unlike three thiopental executions she had seen before, when the
prisoners closed their eyes very quickly and remained “totally still”,
apparently in a coma. Josh Green, a reporter with the Gwinnett Daily Post,
confirms that Hammond first closed, and then re-opened his eyes some time after
receiving the thiopental, while Jill Rand, a Florida nurse who became Hammond’s
pen friend, said she saw him move his lips.

4) EDDIE DUVAL POWELL

June 15 2011: Eddie Duval Powell is executed by lethal injection in Alabama.
Powell closes his eyes. He then opens them again later. Seemingly confused and
startled, he jerked his head to one side and began breathing heavily, his chest
rose and contracted.

5) ROY BLANKENSHIP

June 23, 2011: Roy Willard Blankenship is put to sleep by sodium thiopental,
but dies with his eyes wide open. In a sworn affidavit, Dr David Waisel,
Associate Professor of Anaesthesia at Harvard Medical School, states: “…I can
say with certainty that Mr. [Roy] Blankenship was inadequately anesthetized
and was conscious for approximately the first 3 minutes of the execution and that
he suffered greatly."

(source: Reprieve)
*

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Rare Execution in Oregon Set for December

(From the Statesman Journal):  A rare Oregon execution, tentatively set to occur on Dec. 6 at the state penitentiary in Salem, is reviving a long-dormant debate about the morality, popularity and costs of state-sanctioned killing here. It also is focusing fresh attention on the condemned killers who occupy Oregon's death row.

Gary Haugen, 49, a twice-convicted murderer, will be put to death by lethal injection, delivered at 7 p.m., inside a seldom-used execution room at the penitentiary. Strapped down on a gurney, he will be killed by three drugs sent coursing through his veins. It will be the 1st Oregon execution in 14 years.

The execution originally was scheduled for Aug. 16. However, it was canceled in June after the state Supreme Court found a Marion County judge did not do a sufficient job of evaluating Haugen's mental competency before authorizing the execution. On Friday, the same judge again deemed Haugen mentally fit to drop his appeals, putting the execution back on track.

Haugen has repeatedly asked to be killed, saying that he is fed up with the justice system and life on death row. He reiterated his desire to die on Friday when Circuit Judge Joseph Guimond asked him to explain why he was waiving his legal appeals. "I can't go on," he said. "Because I'm ready, your honor, because I'm ready." Anti-death penalty activists still hope to persuade Gov. John Kitzhaber to stop the execution by commuting Haugen's death sentence to life in prison without parole.  (For a full picture of executions in America -- past, present and future -- see my new e-book vs. the death penalty, Dead Reckoning, just $2.99 this week.)

Friday, October 7, 2011

Woman Who Was Two Months from Execution Freed in Tennessee

(AP) Gaile Owens, a woman who spent 26 years on death row and came within two months of being executed, was freed Friday from prison.  e Owens, 58, was released Friday and greeted by a small group of supporters outside Tennessee's Prison for Women.

Owens walked out of the Tennessee Prison for Women at 9:30 a.m. Friday after spending years on death row for hiring a stranger to kill her husband in 1985 , reports CBS affiliate WTVF.

But, her death sentence was commuted to life in prison last year and last week she  won parole.  Supporters had claimed Owens was a battered wife who didn't use that defense because she didn't want her young sons to know about the physical and sexual abuse.

See my new e-book Dead Reckoning for full picture of executions in America -- past, present, and future.

New Film Raises Question of Innocent Man Executed in Texas

Acclaimed new documentary, Incendiary, on the Willingham controversy in Rick Perry's Texas, opened today in NYC-- the death penalty case most often cited as having best chance that executed man was innocent.   And, of course, bad news for Perry.  Mother Jones story and interview with directors here, and trailer below. See my new e-book Dead Reckoning -- and recent postings at this blog -- for much more on the death penalty issue.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Today's Death Penalty Song: Dylan and 'Hattie Carroll"

As a longtime music maven (former editor at Crawdaddy etc.) and author of a new e-book probing the death penalty in the USA  (Dead Reckoning),  I thought it would be apt for me to post a video here every day with a song illustrating or commenting on executions in America. So far we've featured  Elvis Costello, Metallica, Springsteen,  Johnny Cash, Led Zep, The Band, Billie Holiday, and more.  And now Mr. Bob Dylan with rare live performance of one of his greatest songs (on unequal justice). 

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Case of Boy, Executed at Age 14, Draws New Attention

Momentum continues to build in efforts to clear the name of a certain prisoner executed in the USA in 1944 who has always had a special position in the death penalty debate.  That would be George Stinney, who was just 14.   He remains the youngest prisoner to be killed in the electric chair and one of the youngest ever executed in the USA.

He was just 5'1" tall and weighed 90 pounds.  This caused problems in the execution, as the electrodes and mask, meant for adults, kept slipping. 

Good roundup here: "Activists have questioned the validity of the sentence for decades, but now South Carolina attorney Steve McKenzie has asked Claredon County Attorney General Ernest Finney to reopen the file.  Mr McKenzie cited no physical evidence linking the boy to the murder of two young girls, a coerced confession and a fundamentally flawed trial. The case is igniting another fierce debate over the use of the death penalty in America....

"Others have noted the racial aspect of the case. George was an African-American boy, while the two victims were young, white girls. A lynch mob had formed outside the police station, into which George had been literally carried for questioning. The crowd demanded that he be handed over to them. The jury was all white and no-one of George's own ethnicity was allowed in the courtroom, except for himself."

For full historical context for this, and a probe of current trends, see my new e-book, Dead Reckoning. It's just $2.99 and also for all phones etc.



Death Penalty Song of the Day: Johnny Cash, Animated

As a longtime music maven (former editor at Crawdaddy etc.) and author of a new e-book probing the death penalty in the USA  (Dead Reckoning),  I thought it would be apt for me to post a video here every day with a song illustrating or commenting on executions in America. So far we've featured  Elvis Costello, Metallica, Springsteen, Led Zep, The Band, Billie Holiday, and more.  And now the first return visitor: It's Johnny Cash, of course, with "25 Minutes to Go" -- recorded live (where else?) at Folsom Prison.

Monday, October 3, 2011

DNA Evidence Frees Man in Rick Perry's Texas -- After 25 Years

Via (AP)  Texas prosecutors agreed Monday to release an Austin man who spent nearly 25 years in prison for beating his wife to death - but always maintained his innocence - after DNA tests showed another man was responsible.  District Judge Sid Harle recommended Michael Morton go free to the state Court of Criminal Appeals, which will make the final determination on overturning his conviction. Morton is set for release Tuesday afternoon or Wednesday morning, following a final hearing before Harle.

The case will likely raise more questions about John Bradley, district attorney for Williamson County north of Austin and once a Gov. Rick Perry appointee to head the Texas Forensic Science Commission. Bradley criticized the commission's investigation of the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed in 2004 after being convicted of arson in the deaths of his three children. Experts have since concluded that case's forensic science was faulty.

The Innocence Project, a New York-based organization that specializes in using DNA testing to overturn wrongful convictions, has accused Bradley of suppressing evidence that would have helped clear Morton, who was convicted on circumstantial evidence and sentenced to life in prison for his wife's August 1986 beating death.

Perry, the leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, appointed Bradley to the forensic science commission in 2009. But the Texas Senate refused to confirm him after he told reporters that Willingham, executed for alleged arson, was a "guilty monster."  (See my new e-book vs. the death penalty, Dead Reckoning.)

Today's Death Penalty Song: 'Let 'Em Dangle"

As a longtime music maven (former editor at Crawdaddy etc.) and author of a new e-book probing the death penalty in the USA (Dead Reckoning), I thought it would be apt for me to post a video here every day with a song illustrating or commenting on executions in America. So far we've featured  J. Cash, Metallica, Springsteen, Led Zep, The Band, Billie Holiday, and more.  Today? Vintage Elvis -- Costello, that is, on infamous Brit case.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Next Execution on Wednesday Called Off

UPDATE 2:   Amazingly, on Tuesday,  judge has just granted a stay to check on and possibly test new DNA evidence, saving Johnson from execution tomorrow.  And the stay lasts until hearing next February.

UPDATE 1:   Johnson had final clemency hearing at 10 am (ET) on Monday.  Part of it was based on shocking finding of a box of new evidence just last week in Albany, Ga. -- material that could be subjected to DNA testing.  Experts testified.  Stay tune for decision. New article here.

Following the execution of Manuel Valle in Florida last week, the next state killing is set for Georgia next Wednesday--just two weeks after that state put down Troy Davis.   Defenders of Marcus Ray Johnson raise issues similar to those surrounding the Davis case -- lack of physical evidence and reliance on unreliable  eyewitness accounts.   His attorney today called for a new trial, pointing out that none of the evidence in the case has been allowed to be tested with modern procedures.  The state Board of Pardons and Paroles will consider clemency on Monday.

Johnson was convicted of malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault, rape and aggravated battery in Dougherty County in 1998 for the 1994 killing of Angela Sizemore (she was stabbed 41 times).   The board, as we learned in the Davis case,  is the sole authority in Georgia for granting clemency to inmates.

Laura Moye, director of Amnesty International's Death Penalty Abolition Campaign, said the similarities between the Johnson and Davis cases are troubling.  "We are concerned that similar issues in the Troy Davis case are present here: unreliable eyewitness testimony and a lack of physical evidence," she said. "We urge the State Board of Pardons and Paroles to prevent this execution from proceeding, and we urge Georgia lawmakers to repeal the death penalty in light of the many shocking problems riddling the death penalty system."

My new e-book on this subject probes executions and the great debate  in USA right up to last week--thanks to the wonders of modern e-publishing.

Death Penalty Song of the Day, from Led Zeppers

As a longtime music maven (former editor at Crawdaddy etc.) and author of a new e-book probing the death penalty in the USA (Dead Reckoning), I thought it would be apt for me to post a video here every day with a song illustrating or commenting on executions in America. This concludes the first week of a daily pick, featuring so far J. Cash, Metallica, Springsteen, The Band, Billie Holiday, and more.  Today?  Led Zep did it first and then Page and Plant did it on tour not long ago: "The Gallows Pole."

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Family of Racist Hate Crime Victim Pleads for No Death Penalty

In a remarkable letter, the family of James Craig Anderson -- victim of an apparent racist hate crime and driven over by a truck to his death on June 26 -- has asked the state of Mississippi and federal officials to take the death penalty off the table in considering the case of the seven white teenagers who allegedly murdered Anderson.

The incident drew national attention partly because a security camera caught the beating and the truck striking the man while he tried to escape. 

A letter written by Anderson’s sister, Barbara Anderson Young (who reportedly speaks for the family) as reported by CNN.com, states: “We ask that you not seek the death penalty for anyone involved in James’ murder...Our opposition to the death penalty is deeply rooted in our religious faith, a faith that was central in James’ life as well."

The letter also explains there is a second reason: “We also oppose the death penalty because it historically has been used in Mississippi and the South primarily against people of color for killing whites. Executing James’ killers will not help to balance the scales. But sparing them may help to spark a dialogue that one day will lead to the elimination of capital punishment.”

Deryl Dedmon, 19, of Brandon, Mississippi, one of seven white teenagers (and the only one presently in jail) pled not guilty at his arraignment on Friday. He is being charged with capital murder and a hate crime. CNN reports the teens beat Anderson repeatedly, yelling racial slurs.  Then Dedmon allegedly drove his Ford F-250 truck over Anderson, leaving him to die. 

For other such incidents, current trends and more see my new e-book vs. the death penalty, Dead Reckoning.

Today's Death Penalty Song: Metallica In the Chair

As a longtime music maven (former editor at Crawdaddy etc.) and author of a new e-book probing the death penalty in the USA (Dead Reckoning), I thought it would be apt for me to post a video here every day with a song illustrating or commenting on executions in America.   Today something completely different:  Metallica's  vintage "Ride the Lightning."     See the first five picks in this series -- from Billie Holiday, Johnny Cash, The Band, Springsteen etc. --  elsewhere on this blog.