In New Hampshire, the Senate failed to override Gov. Chris Sununu’s veto of a death penalty repeal bill. The vote was 14-10, just short of the two-thirds majority needed. New Hampshire hasn’t executed anyone since 1939, and has only one person on death row. The bill would not have applied retroactively. New Hampshire is the only state in New England to still have the death penalty.
A South Dakota man whose appeal to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals that he was sentenced to death because his jury was homophobic was rejected late last week. LGBTQ Nation reports that “a divided three-judge panel” of the Eighth Circuit refused to hear the appeal of Charles Rhines, who was sentenced to death in 1993 for the murder of 22-year-old Donnivan Schaeffer during a robbery, in spite of the fact that after his sentencing, several jurors came forward to reveal that other jurors made comments about Rhines’ sexuality. LGBTQ Nation says one juror reported that another juror said,” ‘If he’s gay, we’d be sending him where he wants to go,’ referring to life in prison.” Six civil rights organizations filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the appeal.
In Nebraska late last month, the Lincoln Journal Star reports that the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on whether the state’s death penalty scheme is unconstitutional because it allows judicial override — a three judge panel decides whether a defendant should be sentenced to death, not the jury. The paper reports that a lawyer representing a man sentenced to death in 1993, is arguing that under Hurst v. Florida, “all death sentences issued under Nebraska’s system should be overturned.”
In Louisiana, Fox 8 reports that federal prosecutors will seek the death penalty for three men accused of killing an armored truck guard in New Orleans in 2013. The station quotes former U.S. Attorney Harry Rosenbert as saying that the federal charges are violations of the Hobbs Act, which oversees interstate commerce. “I think a lot of people are going to be looking at that to see if it’s a sign Attorney General Sessions will be seeking the death penalty in many more cases, like this one,” Rosenberg told Fox 8.
In Arkansas, KARK-TV reports that attorneys for two death row prisoners are asking the state Supreme Court to strike down a law that allows the head of the state’s corrections department to decide if they are mentally competent to be executed. “The director cannot be considered a neutral decision maker in this context, when she is both a party and a judge,” lawyer John Williams argued at a hearing last week, according to KARK. Williams and Joseph Perkovich are representing Bruce Ward and Jack Greene. Ward was one of the eight inmates scheduled to be executed in April 2017, and Greene was scheduled for execution last November. Both were delayed for the hearing before the Supreme Court.