In brief: January 2022

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In Texas, the oldest person imprisoned on death row is scheduled to be executed on April 21. Carl Wayne Buntion, who is 77, has been on death row since 1991 when he was convicted of the 1990 killing of Houston police officer James Irby during a traffic stop. Buntion has spent 20 of his 30 years on death row in solitary confinement. The U.S. Supreme Court denied Buntion’s appeal in October, with Justice Stephen Breyer noting that this case illustrates the problems of the death penalty and is “especially cruel because it subjects death row inmates to decades of especially severe, dehumanizing conditions of confinement.”

In Georgia, a challenge to a law requiring defendants to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they have an intellectual disability and therefore are ineligible for the death penalty may be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. The New York Times reports that Georgia is the only death penalty state with such a requirement, and even more egregious, that it was mistakenly included in the law when drafted in 1988. “It was sloppy draftsmanship, pure and simple,” a lawyer who helped draft the law in 1988 admitted in a 2013 state judiciary committee hearing.

In Oklahoma, a federal judge ordered a temporary stay of execution for 49-year-old James Allen Coddington, the Oklahoman reports. Coddington had been scheduled to be executed on March 22. But after he was reinstated in a lawsuit challenging the state’s lethal injection protocol, the stay was issued until that lawsuit is resolved.

In Pennsylvania, a crime victims’ rights law passed by voters in 2019 was struck down by the state supreme court in a 6-1 ruling late last month. According to Ballotpedia, the court found that the “manner in which” the multi-part Marsy’s Law “was presented to the voters denied them their right to consider and vote on each change separately.” Twelve states have adopted Marsy’s Law, an initiative founded in 2009.

In its amicus brief in Ramirez v. Collier, which concerns whether a spiritual advisor should be permitted in the execution chamber to pray and touch the person about to be executed, the Freedom From Religion Foundation argues that, “If the Court chooses to allow state-sponsored killings to continue, it must ensure that end-of-life accommodations are made equally available to those of all religions and those with no religion at all.” The brief noted that the FFRF’s “interest in this case arises from its position that capital punishment is an unconstitutional, inhumane imposition of a religiously-based punishment.” The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument on the case in November.

In Japan, three men were executed on December 21 in the first executions in that country since 2019. The Washington Post reports that 65-year-old Yasutaka Fujishiro, convicted of murdering seven of his relatives and neighbors in 2004, 54-year-old Tomoaki Takanezawa, and 44-year-old Mitsunori Onogawa, who were convicted of killing two employees of an arcade parlor in 2003, were all hanged. The executions surprised and disappointed human rights advocates who believed Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who took office in early October, was more moderate than his predecessors.

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