In brief: December 2018

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In Texas, three men were executed in the space of four weeks:

  • 43-year-old Alvin Braziel was executed on Tuesday for the 1993 murder of Douglas White during a robbery. The Houston Chronicle reports that defense attorneys attempted to obtain a stay based on a last-minute admission of prosecutorial misconduct, but both the trial court and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals rejected the appeal, with two justices on the high Court objecting.
  • Last week, 47-year-old Joseph Garcia was executed for the fatal shooting of a police officer in December 2000. The Dallas News reports that police officer Aubrey Hawkins was shot and killed when he interrupted Garcia, and six other men with whom he had recently escaped from prison, as they were robbing a sporting goods store. Garcia was not one of the shooters, but was convicted on Texas’ law of parties, which allows a person to be tried for murder if that person assisted in the commission of a killing.
  • Roberto Moreno Ramos, a Mexican citizen, was executed by lethal injection last month for the 1992 murder of his wife, Leticia, and children, Abigail and Jonathan. USA Today reports that the U.S. Supreme Court denied his appeal based on his claim that he had an incompetent appellate attorney, an argument supported by three retired Texas Court of Criminal Appeals justices. This was the 13th and final execution for Texas this year, more than any other state. There are six executions scheduled for next year.

In Tennessee, David Lee Miller was executed by electric chair last week, a method he chose after his request for a firing squad was denied. The 61-year-old Miller had spent more time on death row than any other living prisoner. The Tennessean reports that Gov. Bill Haslam rejected Miller’s request to commute his sentence to life without parole, an appeal based on the fact that the chronic physical, sexual, and emotional abuse Miller suffered as a child was never offered as mitigating evidence in court. The U.S. Supreme Court also declined to issue a stay. Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented, writing, “Such madness should not continue.” Miller was sentenced to death for the 1981 murder of Lee Standifer. This was Tennessee’s third execution since August. The Tennessee Supreme Court has scheduled four executions in 2019 and two in 2020.

In California, two death row prisoners were found dead in their cells this month. CDCR says both men apparently died of drug overdoses. KQED reports that https://www.kqed.org/news/11710744/san-quentin-deaths-come-amid-increase-in-drug-overdoses-at-prison 53-year-old Herminio Serna, who was sentenced to death for multiple murders in San Jose in 1997, and 47-year-old Joseph Perez, who was sentenced to death for the 1998 murder of a Contra Costa County woman, were both found unresponsive in their cells. Autopsy results are scheduled to be released next month.

In Virginia, the father of the woman killed during a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville in August 2017, told BuzzFeed News he was glad James Alex Fields, Jr., who was found guilty of first-degree murder last week, will not face the death penalty. Mark Heyer, father of 32-year-old Heather Hyer, who was killed when Fields drove his car into a crowd of counter-demonstrators, told BuzzFeed, “He was too stupid and too young to realize what he was about to do would change his whole life.” Fields could still face the death penalty in a federal trial on hate crimes scheduled for next year.

In Mississippi, the state Supreme Court rejected, in a 7-2 ruling, two appeals by two death row prisoners challenging the use of midazolam in state executions. The challenges were filed by Thomas E. Loden Jr. and Richard G. Jordan, who argued that midazolam is not powerful enough to induce unconsciousness, which state law mandates. Death Penalty News reports the justices ruled that neither of the prisoners presented enough scientific evidence to prove their argument.

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