In brief: February 2023


The Death Penalty Information Center reports that the first state killing this year occurred on January 3, when Missouri executed Amber McLaughlin. Texas followed one week later with the execution of Robert Fratta, and Oklahoma two days later with the killing of Scott Eizember. Texas killed Wesley Ruiz and John Balentine this month, Missouri executed Leonard Taylor, and Florida killed Donald Dillbeck last week. Four more executions are scheduled for next month, although Ohio’s planned execution of Charles Lorraine is expected to be stayed, with the remaining three all in Texas. That would mean ten people in three months, more than half of the 18 state killings in 2022. (Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty Executive Director Maria DeLiberato wrote an eloquent and powerful piece on Donald Dillbeck’s killing. You can read it here.)

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5 – 4 in favor of a man on Arizona’s death row who argued that he shouldn’t have been stopped from challenging his death sentence in federal court because of a state procedural rule. The Court found that both the trial court and the Arizona Supreme Court erred in finding that he could not because of a state law that superseded federal law. The ruling was a surprise from this Republican-controlled Supreme Court, but as the Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus wrote, “When a prisoner on death row wins a case before this Supreme Court, the logical response is to breathe a sigh of relief. . . . But read the facts of Cruz’s case, and a less cheery, more chilling, reaction seems called for: How can it be that Cruz’s life was spared by only a bare majority?.” Cruz’s case now goes back to the state court for resentencing.

The Department of Justice announced earlier this month that Patrick Wood Crusius, 24, pleaded guilty to killing 23 and injuring 22 at an El Paso, Texas, Walmart in 2019 in exchange for a sentence of 90 consecutive life terms in prison, one for each count in the indictment. 

In Alabama, a state legislator introduced a bill requiring a unanimous jury vote for a death sentence. HB 14, authored by Rep. Chris England (D-Tuscaloosa), would not only require a unanimous vote during the sentencing phase but would also provide an avenue for resentencing “if a judge sentenced him or her to a sentence other than the jury’s advisory sentence and if his or her death sentence was not unanimous.”

In Kansas earlier this month, ACLU attorneys argued the constitutionality of the death penalty. The ACLU brought its challenge in the capital murder case of Kyle Young, who is on trial for killing two people in 2020. According to ACLU attorney Bria Nelson, the question posed to the court in this trial was, “If the death penalty is racially discriminatory, arbitrary, and serves no valid public safety purpose, does it violate the Kansas Constitution?” Kansas hasn’t executed a person since 1965. There are nine people on death row, three of whom are Black.

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