In Brief: August 2016

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In Utah, legislators are planning to introduce a bill that would “fast-track” the death penalty appeals process to compete with a bill calling for repeal of the death penalty. The repeal bill passed the Senate earlier this year but failed to make it to the House floor before the end of its session. KSL reports that state fiscal analysts estimated a capital murder trial costs $1.6 million more than a life without parole case. The last execution in Utah was in 2010 by firing squad.

In Kentucky, a poll found that 72.4 percent of those surveyed support a moratorium on executions until several problems in the state’s death penalty scheme, identified in a 2011 study, are resolved. Pollsters also found that a clear majority — 57.8 percent — support life without parole over the death penalty.

In Texas, attorneys for a man who is scheduled to be executed in two weeks have filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus with a district court requesting a new sentencing hearing. They argue that Jeff Wood’s original sentencing hearing was prejudiced by the false and misleading testimony of psychiatrist Dr. James Grigson, who never personally evaluated Wood, but testified that he would “certainly” be criminally violent in the future. Wood did not kill anyone; he was outside, waiting in a truck when Daniel Reneau killed a convenience store clerk during a robbery. Reneau was executed in 2002. Three years before Wood’s trial, Grigson was expelled from the American Psychiatric Association and the Texas Society of Psychiatric Physicians for ethical violations.

Attorneys for Dylann Roof, accused of killing nine people in a church in Charleston, SC last June, filed a motion last week challenging the constitutionality of the federal death penalty. Among other arguments, the lawyers say the death penalty qualifies as cruel and unusual punishment, and because potential jurors who oppose the death penalty are excluded from capital cases, the defendant is denied a fair and impartial jury. Roof has agreed to plead guilty and forego a trial in exchange for a sentence of life without parole. The trial is scheduled to begin in November.

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