In brief: August 2019

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In Tennessee, the Tennessean reports Stephen West was executed by electric chair last night. He opted for electrocution over lethal injection, a choice available to prisoners sentenced to death for a crime committed before 1999. The 56-year-old West was convicted of the 1986 murder of 61-year-old Wanda Romines and her 15-year-old daughter Sheila Romines. This was Tennessee’s fifth execution, and the third execution by electric chair, in the past year.

In Texas, a federal appeals court halted the execution of Dexter Johnson on Wednesday night, less than 24 hours before he was scheduled to die. The Texas Tribune reports that the 31-year-old Johnson’s execution was stayed to give a district court time to look into “newly raised claims of intellectual disability.” Johnson was sentenced to death for a 2006 double murder he was convicted of committing with four accomplices just days after his 18th birthday. Twenty-three-year-old Maria Aparece and 17-year-old Huy Ngo were killed during a carjacking. Johnson would have been the fourth prisoner executed in the state this year. Twelve more executions are scheduled through the remainder of the year, according to the Tribune.

In Ohio, the Cincinnati Enquirer reports that Rep. Scott Wiggam plans to introduce a bill that would allow the state to execute prisoners with illegal fentanyl that has been seized by law enforcement. “Seized fentanyl . . . is the best solution” to the state’s inability to obtain lethal injection drugs,” the paper quotes Wiggam as saying. AN ACLU lobbyist says the plan will be challenged in court, asking, “How do we know if it’s medical or black-market fentanyl?”

In Oregon, The Oregonian/Oregon Live reports that the state’s new law limiting use of capital punishment to just a few special circumstances may need to be fine tuned. The law, SB 1013, was not supposed to be appplied retroactively, thanks to a companion bill clearly stating that it wouldn’t apply to those already sentenced, but according to an email from Solicitor General Benjamin Gutman to prosecutors obtained by The Oregonian, lawyers for a man sentenced to death for a 1998 murder successfully appealed his sentence under the new law. That means, Gutman wrote, “We at DOJ have concluded that the new, narrower definition of aggravated murder in SB 1013 does apply to pending cases—including cases that have been sent back for new penalty or guilt phases. That means that most of those cases could no longer be prosecuted as capital aggravated-murder cases; they presumably would have to be prosecuted as first-degree murder cases instead.”

In Alabama, reports that the state attorney general is refusing’s request to review a contract his office has entered into with a company in connection with the state’s plan to begin using nitrogen gas in executions. The chair of the senate’s contract review committee told that, “It was his understanding that the contract was to provide expert testimony in case of litigation over the new execution method.”

In California, the Los Angeles Times reports that the California Supreme Court unanimously overturned the death sentence of a San Diego man because prosecutors wrongly focused on the defendant’s racist beliefs, evidenced by his racist tattoos. The crimes weren’t race-related. Jeffrey Scott Young was convicted in 2002 of two first-degree murders, and attempted murder, and a carjacking. Young will either be given a new penalty trial or his sentence will be commuted to life without parole.

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