States to try new ways of executing prisoners. Their latest idea? Opioids.

The synthetic painkiller fentanyl has been the driving force behind the nation’s opioid epidemic, killing tens of thousands of Americans last year in overdoses. Now two states want to use the drug’s powerful properties for a new purpose: to execute prisoners on death row.
As Nevada and Nebraska push for the country’s first fentanyl-assisted executions, doctors and death penalty opponents are fighting those plans. They have warned that such an untested use of fentanyl could lead to painful, botched executions, comparing the use of it and other new drugs proposed for lethal injection to human experimentation.
States are increasingly pressed for ways to carry out the death penalty because of problems obtaining the drugs they long have used, primarily because pharmaceutical companies are refusing to supply their drugs for executions.
The situation has led states such as Florida, Ohio and Oklahoma to turn to novel drug combinations for executions. Mississippi legalized nitrogen gas this s…

Delaware Supreme Court overturns past death penalty convictions

The 12 men on Delaware’s death row will not be executed. 
Instead, they’ll get life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The Delaware Supreme Court unanimously ruled Thursday that the state cannot go through with executing those on death row after they previously struck down the state’s capital punishment system.
Justices came to that decision in August after the U.S. Supreme Court said any death sentence must be fully in the hands of the jury.
Delaware’s system gave the final say to the presiding judge who weighed any mitigating or aggravating factors in the case after a jury’s vote.
The opinion came just over a week after justices heard the case in Dover, with some openly questioning the state’s argument to move ahead with these executions during the hearing.
Some state lawmakers are vowing to reinstate the death penalty during the next General Assembly, but it’s not clear if they have enough support to push such a measure through.
Governor-elect John Carney said he would “p…

Trump calls for death penalty for anyone who kills a police officer

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is calling for the death penalty for anyone convicted of killing a police officer.
Trump, while speaking at the FBI National Academy in Virginia on Friday, pledged to support law enforcement officers and condemned those who attack them.
During the presidential campaign, Trump pledged to sign an executive order as president that would demand capital punishment for cop killers.
He has yet to do so.
The president was warmly received by the crowd of local law enforcement officers who cheered his calls for a crackdown on gangs and an end to chain migration.
The president painted a dark picture of a nation under siege by crime, at one moment wondering aloud “What the hell is going on in Chicago?”
The crowd laughed.
In an April speech to law enforcement officials, Trump was dismissive of officers who sought to protect suspects’ heads while putting them in police squad cars.
“You can take the hand off,” the president said to cheers.
Critics, including some…

Lawmaker pushes to abolish death penalty in Ohio

COLUMBUS (WCMH) — For the fourth time in a row, State Rep. Nickie Antonio, from Cuyahoga County, has introduced legislation at the Statehouse that would abolish the death penalty.
Her three previous attempts have been relatively fruitless in starting a debate about the issue at the Statehouse.
This time, Antonio is hoping for a deeper dialog with members of the House Criminal Justice Committee, to whom the bill has been assigned.
As was the case last year, at least one Republican has already agreed to be a co-sponsor on the bill, but unlike abortion, capital punishment is not necessarily a partisan issue.
House Bill 389 was given its first hearing this week, and Antonio hopes it will receive at least two more; one for supporters of the measure, and one for opponents.
Antonio says now is the perfect time for both sides to take another look at capital punishment, how it has been handled in recent years and the trends being seen nationally, given recent events connected to the topic.

Arkansas Parole Board releases former death row inmate Timothy Howard

An Ashdown, Arkansas man is freed from death row after two decades of maintaining his innocence in the murder of a Little River County couple and attempted murder of their child.
Timothy Howard was released from prison 20 years to the day that Brian and Shannon Day were discovered at separate crime scenes.
Brian was shot and dumped inside a U-haul truck.
His wife, Shannon, was found strangled inside their home.
The couple's baby was found inside a duffle bag with a cord around his neck, injured but alive.
Howard was sentenced to two death sentences in 1999.
His convictions were thrown out in 2013.
Then in 2015, a new trial for Howard was ordered after the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled that the lab compromised DNA samples.
Prosecuting attorney Bryan Chesshir represented the case 18-years later, and says there shouldn't have been questions regarding DNA.
He says the evidence was irrefutable.
"The person who testified for the DNA testified that the only way it couldn't h…

Law of Parties: Prosecutor who put Jeff Wood on Texas’ death row asks for clemency

Twenty years ago, Lucy Wilke was the prosecutor who sent Jeff Wood to Texas’ death row, even though he never killed anyone. 
Now, according to the Texas Tribune, Wilke, along with several other state officials, is asking the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to recommend that Wood’s death sentence be reduced to life in prison. 
“The penalty now appears to be excessive,” the Tribune says Wilke wrote in a letter to the board urging it to recommend that Gov. Greg Abbott grant clemency to Wood.
The paper reports that the letter was also signed by the district judge who is handling Wood’s appeal, as well as the Kerrville police chief, among others.
"Even though Wood was not even in the store when the killing occurred, he was sentenced to death under Texas’ so-called “law of parties,” which says an accomplice in a crime that results in murder is just as liable as the actual killer. "
In January 1996, Wood sat in a truck outside a gas station in Kerrville, while a friend went ins…

DPIC’s annual report looks at the death penalty’s declining support

Public support for the death penalty dropped to its lowest level in 45 years in 2017, and the number of death sentences and executions is the second-lowest in a generation, succeeded only by last year’s record lows.
That’s according to the Death Penalty Information Center, which released its annual report this week, highlighting the continuation of the long-term decline of the death penalty in the United States.
Eight states carried out 23 executions, half the number of seven years ago, and the second lowest total since 1991, DPIC reports. Only the 20 executions in 2016 were lower. Fourteen states and the federal government are projected to impose 39 new death sentences in 2017, the second lowest annual total since the U.S. Supreme Court declared the death penalty unconstitutional in 1972.
It was the seventh year in a row that fewer than 100 death sentences were imposed nationwide.
Of the 23 prisoners killed, 90 percent presented significant evidence of mental illness, intellectual d…

California: Riverside County leads U.S. in death penalty sentences, but hasn’t executed anyone in 39 years

For the second time in the last three years, Riverside County has produced more new death row inmates than any other county in the United States.
California accounted for 28 percent of all the new death penalty sentences across the country in 2017, according to a new report by the Death Penalty Information Center, a Washington D.C. nonprofit which researches capital punishment. Riverside County accounted for five of the state’s death row sentences, the most of any county in the U.S., despite a statewide moratorium on executions. 
A Riverside County inmate has not been executed since at least 1978. No California inmate has been put to death since 2006.
A researcher with DPIC said the high rate could be an indicator of larger issues within Riverside County's criminal justice system, a notion the county's district attorney dismissed as "nonsense."
Robert Dunham, author of the report and DPIC executive director, said research showed death penalty sentences were an “accid…

Tanzania President Magufuli releases 61 death-row inmates, a day after pardoning a total of 8,157 prisoners

PRESIDENT John Magufuli yesterday signed documents for the release of the 61 inmates who were on death row, a day after pardoning a total of 8,157 prisoners during the Uhuru fete in Dodoma on Saturday.
Among pardoned prisoners sentenced to life in jail were musicians Nguza Viking alias Babu Seya, and his son Johnson Nguza, alias Papii Kocha. 
According to a State House press statement, President Magufuli had put ink on paper at Chamwino State House in Dodoma and congratulated the Prison Department for its role in facilitating positive behavioural changes amongst prisoners who had committed different offences.
However, Dr Magufuli stressed that, whereas he had pardoned the prisoners in question, the judiciary system should continue to discharge its core function of administering justice in compliance with the law.
Meanwhile, the Head of State called on the Prison Department to engage inmates in production activities, including agriculture and public works. “I preferred to use Article …

North Carolina death row becoming frail, aging

No new death sentences in 2017
DURHAM — North Carolina juries rejected the death penalty in 2017, refusing to impose death sentences at any of the four trials where prosecutors sought them and making this year the third since 2012 with no new death sentences.
Juries in Wake, Granville and Guilford counties all chose life without parole instead of death this year. At a fourth capital trial in Robeson County, the jury said the defendant was guilty only of second-degree murder and he was sentenced to a term of years.
Only a single person has been sent to N.C. death row in the past three and one-half years, and most of the state’s district attorneys are no longer seeking the death penalty. North Carolina has not executed an inmate since 2006 because of ongoing litigation over the state’s lethal injection procedures and racial bias in capital trials.
“There are some elected officials in North Carolina who still like to talk about the death penalty for political purposes, but that’s about t…

California defense attorney files rare death penalty motion

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- For the first time in Fresno County Superior Court history, a defense attorney has filed a rare motion, arguing a death penalty qualification on a jury panel for an African American defendant will deprive them of equal protection.
Attorney David Mugridge's client, Leroy Johnson spent almost nine years in jail on murder charges.
Mugridge says studies show most African Americans are against the death penalty and he is worried those jurors will be disqualified based on their predisposition toward life rather than death.
He argues his client will not receive the right to a fair and equal sampling of all races.
"Theoretically as a defense attorney I'd love to have everybody on the jury be opposed to the death penalty, the people have the right to a fair and balanced jury just as much as the defendant does and I just want to make sure it ends up being fair and trial for both sides," said Mugridge.
Johnson's trial was supposed to start in Janua…