In Brief: August 2021

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In California, a 22-year-old man who pleaded guilty to a fatal shooting at a San Diego synagogue in April 2019 will be sentenced to life in prison without parole next month. CBS News reports that John T. Earnest agreed to plead guilty to opening fire at Chabad of Poway during Passover services, killing 60-year-old Lori Gilbert-Kaye, and wounding three others, in exchange for avoiding a possible death sentence. The agreement had the support of the victims’ family members and the synagogue. Earnest is still facing charges in federal court, where prosecutors have not indicated whether they will pursue the death penalty.

Also in California, Michael Gargiulo was sentenced to death for the murders of two women and the attempted murder of a third in Los Angeles in the early 2000s, the LA Times reports. A jury found Gargiulo guilty and recommended a death sentence two years ago, but the sentencing was delayed because of the pandemic and procedural issues. LA District Attorney George Gáscon, who barred prosecutors from seeking the death penalty after his election in 2020, did not ask trial lawyers to request a dismissal of the death penalty verdict, but the LA Times reports that he did order prosecutors to read a statement saying he doesn’t believe the death penalty is an appropriate punishment. He also asked the judge to consider his opposition before sentencing Gargiulo.

In Ohio, the AP reports that the ACLU of Ohio and the Ohio Justice & Policy Center are alleging that since at least 2003 and no later than 2016, the Ohio Parole Board had an unwritten policy of denying parole to prisoners who had been sentenced to death but were eligible for parole. According to AP, the lawsuit maintains that, “Under well-settled principles of Ohio law, individuals who are eligible for parole must receive meaningful consideration for parole release.” The lawsuit was filed on behalf of two prisoners convicted in separate homicides, who have served 45 years each. However, the executive director of the Ohio Justice & Policy Center says 52 other former death row prisoners have also been denied their rights, according to the AP.

In Nevada, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports that the ACLU and the Nevada Press Association have filed a federal lawsuit seeking a court order banning the state prisons chief from preventing witnesses, including the media, from witnessing the execution of Zane Michael Floyd. In a separate lawsuit, the ACLU is asking for a restraining order that would temporarily prevent the state from executing Floyd. A federal judge issued a stay of execution in late June agreeing with Floyd’s lawyers that the lethal injection cocktail proposed by prison officials had never been tested before and the state had failed to formulate a protocol. The ruling means the execution, the first since 2006, cannot take place before the week of October 18, even if the state meets the court’s requirements.

In Washington DC, the New York Times reports that the Justice Department has withdrawn capital punishment requests in seven cases pending in federal courts around the country. The action comes in the wake of an earlier announcement by Attorney General Merrick Garland that DOJ was imposing a moratorium on federal executions while reviewing the federal capital punishment process.

The Times also reports that in Sierra Leone, lawmakers voted unanimously late last month to abolish the death penalty, becoming the 23rd country in Africa to prohibit it. “The vote in Sierra Leone came against the backdrop of a steady march in Africa to discard brutal laws imposed by past colonial masters,” the paper noted.

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