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'Express lane to death': Texas seeks approval to speed up death penalty appeals, execute more quickly

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Texas is seeking to speed up executions with a renewed request to opt-in to a federal law that would shorten the legal process and limit appeals options for death-sentenced prisoners.
Defense attorneys worry it would lead to the execution of innocent people and - if it's applied retroactively, as Texas is requesting - it could potentially end ongoing appeals for a number of death row prisoners and make them eligible for execution dates.
"Opt-in would speed up the death penalty treadmill exponentially," said Kathryn Kase, an longtime defense attorney and former executive director of Texas Defender Services.
But a state attorney general spokeswoman framed the request to the Justice Department as a necessary way to avoid "stressful delays" and cut down on the "excessive costs" of lengthy federal court proceedings.
Robbie Kaplan, co-founder of the #TimesUp movement, says sweeping changes to laws in recent years have dissuaded attorneys from taking on har…

Arkansas has new supply of lethal drug; execution to be set

Arkansas' death chamber
Arkansas' death chamber
LITTLE ROCK -- Arkansas has a new supply of a controversial lethal injection drug months after the state put four men to death over an eight-day period, officials said Thursday, as a spokesman said the governor planned to set an execution date for an inmate.

Attorney General Leslie Rutledge asked Gov. Asa Hutchinson to schedule an execution for Jack Greene, who was convicted in the 1991 killing of Sidney Jethro Burnett after Burnett and his wife accused Greene of arson. Rutledge said Greene has exhausted his appeals and there's no stay of execution in place. Hutchinson's office said he planned to set a date, but did not have a timeline yet.

Arkansas executed four prisoners in April but had intended to put eight men to death. The state scheduled the executions to occur before its supply of midazolam, a sedative used in its three-drug lethal injection process, expired. 

Department of Correction Spokesman Solomon Graves said the state obtained the new supply on Aug. 4 and it expires in January 2019. A state law keeps the source of the state's execution drugs secret.

Documents released by the Department of Correction show the state paid $250 in cash for 40 vials of midazolam.

Greene's attorneys argue that the convicted killer is severely mentally ill, saying he suffers from a fixed delusion that prison officials are conspiring with his attorneys to cover up injuries he believes corrections officers have inflicted on him. The delusions cause Greene to constantly twist his body and stuff his ear and nose with toilet paper to cope with the pain, his attorneys said.

"Capital punishment should not be used on vulnerable people like the severely mentally ill," John C. Williams, an assistant federal defender representing Greene, said in a statement. "We hope Governor Hutchinson will refrain from setting an execution date for Mr. Greene since he is not competent for execution."

The executions in April were Arkansas' first since 2005 and its first using midazolam. Death penalty opponents say the drug is incapable of inducing unconsciousness or preventing serious pain. 

Midazolam
The sedative has been used in several problematic executions. Kenneth Williams, one of the inmates Arkansas executed in April using the drug, lurched and convulsed 20 times during his execution.

Hutchinson rejected calls for an outside probe of the executions after Williams was put to death.

Greene was not among the four inmates who had been set for execution but then spared by court rulings. Three of those inmates have appeals pending, while Hutchinson is still weighing the Arkansas Parole Board's recommendation that he grant clemency to a fourth prisoner, Jason McGehee.

Prosecutors said Greene beat Burnett with a can of hominy before stabbing him and slitting his throat. 

Greene had three trials. Death sentences in his first two were overturned because prosecutors improperly used a separate court case as an aggravating circumstance.

At the sentencing phase in his third trial, the court wouldn't let Greene show jurors a letter he had received from Burnett's widow, forgiving him. The court said it didn't reflect on Greene's character and couldn't count as a mitigating factor.

The state is moving forward with the execution while cases are pending before the state Supreme Court and a lower court over a medical supply company's efforts to prevent another drug from being used to put inmates to death. McKesson Medical-Surgical has argued the state purchased its supply of vecuronium bromide from the company under false pretenses.

Source: The Associated Press, August 18, 2017


Arkansas Paid Cash To Secure New Supply Of Execution Drug, Seeks New Execution Date


Jack Gordon Greene
Jack Gordon Greene
The move comes three and a half months after the state's previous supply of a key execution drug was due to expire, leading the state to carry out four executions in late April.

Arkansas has obtained a new supply of a key execution drug and officials are preparing to use it in the near future.

The state, which tried to carry out eight executions in April before a key execution drug expired, succeeded in carrying out four of those death sentences. Others were halted by state and federal courts.

On Thursday, though, Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge asked the state's governor, Asa Hutchinson, to set an execution date for Jack Gordon Greene.

"We've received the letter from the Attorney General's office," Hutchinson spokesperson JR Davis told BuzzFeed News. "The Governor will set a date, but there is no specific timeline."

Greene is on death row as a result of the 1991 murders of his brother and a retired preacher, whose home he had gone to in the aftermath of the first killing. He received a life sentence for the killing of his brother, but a death sentence for killing the preacher, Sidney Jethro Burnett.

"The ADC acquired a supply of Midazolam on August 4, 2017. Once the Governor issues a warrant, the ADC will be prepared to carry out the sentence," Solomon Graves, a spokesperson for the Arkansas Department of Correction, told BuzzFeed News.

According to documents provided to Greene's lawyer, the director of the Department of Correction, Wendy Kelley, paid $250 cash for the new supply of midazolam at 5:40 p.m. Aug. 4.

A week later, Kelley submitted a "miscellaneous expense reimbursement form" to recoup the expense.


Source: BuzzFeed, Chris Geidner, August 18, 1017. Chris Geidner is the legal editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC. In 2014, Geidner won the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association award for journalist of the year.


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