In brief: April 2018

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In Georgia, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit declined to hear an appeal by Keith Tharpe that he was sentenced to death because he is African-American, saying he must first present the issue to state courts. In January, the U.S. Supreme Court directed the appeals court to review his sentence after his lawyers presented a post-verdict interview with one of Tharpe’s jurors in which he referred to Tharpe with a racial epithet, and said he wasn’t sure if “black people even have souls.” Tharpe was convicted of killing his sister-in-law, Jacquelin Freeman, in 1990.

In New Mexico, the Albuquerque Journal reports that the Supreme Court is reviewing whether to allow the state’s only two death row prisoners to be executed. The two men, Robert Fry and Timothy Allen were sentenced to death before the state repealed the death penalty in 2009. The Journal says the debate was “technical, focusing on ‘proportionality’ — whether death for these two inmates would be out of line with the sentences for similar defendants who’d committed similar crimes.”

In Texas, the Houston Chronicle reports that state officials are requesting to “opt-in” to a federal law that would speed up executions. The paper reports that the federal law “would shorten the legal process and limit appeals options for death-sentenced prisoners.” While the Chronicle says “There’s doubt among the defense bar whether Texas actually meets the qualification criteria. . .” if Attorney General Jeff Sessions grants the application “it will be the first opt-in approval in the more than two decades since the law’s inception.”

Also in Texas, the Texas Tribune reports that 38-year-old Rosendo Rodriguez was executed late last month for the 2005 sexual assault and murder of 29-year-old Summer Baldwin. He was also implicated in the 2004 murder of 16-year-old Joanna Rogers. The bodies of both women were discovered in suitcases, earning Rodriguez the nickname, “the suitcase killer.” This was the fourth execution in Texas this year, and the seventh in the United States.

In Arkansas, the Arkansas Times reports that the state Supreme Court affirmed a circuit court ruling that ordered the state to release package inserts and labels for one of the three drugs it uses in lethal injection executions. It was one of two cases filed by attorney Steve Shultz under the Freedom of Information Act. He also filed a case regarding midazolam in a different circuit court. In both cases, the circuit court ruled against the state, and the state appealed to the supreme court. The state argued that a state law providing secrecy to the manufacturers of the drugs protected it from having to release the labels, which could provide clues as to the identity of the manufacturers.

In Connecticut, the New York Times reports that the state Senate rejected, 19-16, the governor’s nominee for chief justice of the Connecticut Supreme Court. According to the Times, much of the opposition to Justice Andrew J. McDonald was because, “As a justice, he was part of the majority that ruled that the state’s law abolishing capital punishment had to be applied to inmates who had been sentenced before the law, passed in 2012, went into effect, sparing 11 inmates from execution.”

The New York Times reports that the head of the Justice Department’s death penalty unit and his deputy were both demoted and re-assigned to other departments after employees complained “at least 12 times” about a “culture of favoritism and sexism” fostered under their leadership. The Times notes that the department is “poised to gain power” now that the Trump Administration is advocating for the execution of drug dealers.

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