In brief: January 2018

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In California, the Los Angeles Times reports that Los Angeles County officials “mistakenly destroyed the evidence” that Scott Pinholster says would prove him innocent of the double murder that sent him to death row in 1984. The Times says Pinholster’s attorney has requested a hearing on how this happened, and will also ask for a new trial. According to state law, evidence in a death penalty case cannot be destroyed until after a condemned prisoner has been executed or died.

In Pennsylvania, a man sentenced to death for the killing of a 10-month-old baby and her 61-year-old grandmother in a bungled kidnaping attempt, was given an execution date of February 23, even though Gov. Tom Wolf imposed a moratorium on executions in 2015. The Time Herald News reports that Raghunandan Yandamuri “will likely get a reprieve” because state officials are waiting for the findings of a task force studying the state’s death penalty system before resuming executions.

In Virginia, Gov. Terry McAuliffe commuted the death sentence of William Burns to a sentence of life without parole late last month. Burns was convicted of the rape and murder of his mother-in-law, Tersey Elizabeth Cooley, in 1998. Newsplex.com reports that Burns’ sentence was commuted because of intellectual disability. In McAuliffe’s commutation order he stated that “I have concluded that continued pursuit of the execution of Mr. Burns, both as a matter of constitutional principle and legal practicality, cannot be justified,” according to Newsplex.

In Idaho, the Idaho Mountain Express reports that Blaine County commissioners are withdrawing from the state’s Capital Crimes Defense Fund to discourage prosecutors from pursuing the death penalty in their county. “Withdrawing gives a county government the rare opportunity to weigh in on a state issue,” the paper says.

In Arizona, KTAR News reports that for the first time in 20 years, the majority of prisoners on death row are no longer housed in solitary confinement. The new policy was in response to a lawsuit filed by the Arizona Capital Representation Project last March alleging that the conditions on death row constituted cruel and unusual punishment and violated prisoners’ rights to due process.

In Texas, the Dallas Morning News reports that only four people were sent to death row in 2017, and for the first time in 30 years, no one from Harris County – which has executed more prisoners than any other county in U.S. history — was executed. The state still leads the nation in executions, having put seven people to death last year.

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