In New Hampshire on Thursday, by a veto-proof vote of 279-88, the House repealed the state’s death penalty and replaced it with a sentence of life without parole. The Concord Monitor reports that the “bill is identical in wording to the bill that passed last year,” which was vetoed by Gov. Chris Sununu. The paper reports the bill will now go to the Senate, where it is expected to pass by a veto-proof margin as well.
In Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine delayed three more executions on Thursday to give the corrections department more time to develop a new lethal injection protocol. The Dayton Daily News reports that the delays were ordered because DeWine feels “It is ‘highly unlikely’ that a new protocol can be developed and litigated by the originally scheduled execution dates.” In January, DeWine postponed the execution of Warren Henness and ordered the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation & Correction to “to assess Ohio’s current options for execution drugs and examine possible alternative drugs” after a federal judge said the state’s current three-drug lethal injection protocol constituted cruel and unusual punishment.
There were three significant events in Texas in the past few weeks:
- For the second time in two years, the U.S. Supreme Court late last month overturned a Texas Court of Criminal Appeals decision that would have allowed the state to execute Bobby James Moore, an intellectually disabled man. The Court found that the CCA’s opinion, “When taken as a whole and when read in the light both of our prior opinion and the trial court record, rests upon analysis too much of which too closely resembles what we previously found improper.” As the Houston Chronicle reports, in 2017, the Court reversed CCA’s ruling allowing Moore’s execution to go forward, finding, in a 6-3 ruling, that the state was using non-scientific methods to determine intellectual disability, and sending the case back to the lower court.
- The Texas Tribune reports that a special prosecutor issued a report last Friday finding that former death row prisoner Alfred Dewayne Brown was innocent and that “No reasonable juror would now find Brown guilty in a case tainted by withheld evidence and abuses by a prosecutor and a grand jury.” Brown was sentenced to death in 2005 for the murders of Houston police officer Charles Clark and Alfredia Jones, an employee of a check-cashing company, during a botched robbery. His case was overturned by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, but he was never declared “legally innocent” until last week. The finding means Brown, who spent 10 years on death row, is now eligible for compensation from the state.
- Billy Wayne Coble was executed last week. He was convicted of killing his brother-in-law, Waco police sergeant Bobby Vicha, and VIcha’s parents, Robert and Zelda Vicha, in 1989. Coble, 70, was the oldest prisoner executed by lethal injection in Texas history. This was the second execution in Texas this year.
In California, NBC News reports that Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer is considering seeking the death penalty for a man arrested late last month for a murder committed 46 years ago, even though the state didn’t have a death penalty at the time of the crime. James Allen Neal was charged in the slaying of 11-year-old Linda O’Keefe in Newport Beach in July 1973. California Lawyers Association Vice Chair Leif Dautch told NBC that, “Under settled law from the California Supreme Court, District Attorney Spitzer is barred from seeking the death penalty for a crime that was committed at a time when California did not have a valid death penalty.” But NBC says Spitzer insisted at a news conference, “I will make a decision about whether death is appropriate in this case.” California abolished its death penalty in 1972, but voters brought it back in 1978.
Also in California, the Long Beach Post reports that the state Supreme Court reversed the death sentence of Jamelle Edward Armstrong for the 1998 rape and murder of 43-year-old Penny Sigler. In a 4-3 decision, the court affirmed Armstrong’s 2004 conviction but reversed his death sentence because at least four jurors were improperly excluded by the trial court.
In Arizona, the Capitol Times reports that a Republican-sponsored bill, which would eliminate three aggravating circumstances and combine two others in the state’s death penalty law, has unanimous support in the legislature, and the backing of the district attorney’s office. The state has 14 aggravating factors to justify the death penalty, so many that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in a 2017 opinion that “Virtually every defendant convicted of first-degree murder is eligible for death,” a violation of the Eighth Amendment.
In Kansas, a bill which would have replaced the state’s death penalty with a sentence of life without parole was defeated by one vote in a House committee. The Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee voted 7-6 against HB 2167, which would have re-sentenced those on death row to life without parole, and barred anyone who committed a crime after July 1, 2017, from being sentenced to death.