In brief: January 2023

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In Oklahoma, Scott Eizember was killed last week. Eizember was sentenced to death in 2003 for the murders of A.J and Patsy Cantrell. His execution was almost delayed because of his request to have his spiritual advisor in the execution chamber with him. The Oklahoma State Department of Corrections had denied the request, citing his advisor’s social activism, but reversed its decision after a discussion with the Cantrell family, whom the department said were opposed to delaying the execution, the Oklahoman reported.

In Texas, Robert Fratta, a former suburban Houston police officer, was also executed last week. The 68-year-old Fratta was convicted in 1996 of hiring two men to kill his estranged wife, Farah Fratta in 1994. His first conviction was overturned by a federal judge who ruled that his co-conspirators’ confession shouldn’t have been admitted as evidence in his trial, NBC News reports. He was retried and sentenced to death in 2009. His spiritual advisor was with him in the execution chamber when he was killed. Fratta and two other men scheduled for execution had filed a lawsuit arguing that the state’s supply of pentobarbital, which is the sole drug used in its executions had long expired. A district judge issued a temporary injunction Tuesday morning, saying the state had offered no evidence to counter the inmates’ argument, but the Court of Criminal Appeals overruled the district judge shortly after 

In Kentucky, a bill to abolish the death penalty and replace it with a sentence of life without parole was introduced by Republican Senator Stephen Meredith, WHAS reports. Senate Bill 45 has the support of a bipartisan group of state lawmakers, but Gov. Andy Bashear, a Democrat, was reluctant to take a position on the proposal. Kentucky has had a stay on executions since 2010.

In Indiana, the ACLU of Indiana is suing the U.S. Bureau of Prisons for holding 38 death-sentenced men in solitary confinement at the federal death row in Terre Haute. In a statement, Indiana ACLU Legal Director Ken Falk said, “We must address our overreliance on solitary confinement in this country. Long-term isolation costs too much, exacerbates mental illness, and is fundamentally inhumane.” The statement reveals that all 38. Men “are being held in seclusion,” able to leave their cells for only a few hours every week, in an “involuntary solitude [that] lasts the entirety of their confinement” in the Special Confinement Unit, “which can last decades, until they die.”

In New York, the federal death penalty trial of Sayfullo Saipov, the first capital trial under the Biden administration, began early this month in Manhattan. Saipov, an Uzbek immigrant, is accused of driving a pickup truck onto a West Side bike path, killing eight and injuring more than a dozen people. As the New York Times reports, the decision to seek the death penalty took many by surprise because of President Biden’s public opposition to capital punishment and Attorney General Merrick Garland’s imposition of a moratorium on federal executions in 2021. This case “suggests a nuanced approach, one in which he has been reluctant to withdraw the threat of capital punishment in one type of case in particular: terrorism-related offenses,” the Times reports.

In Nevada, a request by outgoing Gov. Steve Sisolak to the state Pardons Board to commute the death sentences of the 57 individuals on death row to life without parole was blocked by a Nevada judge. He ruled that the proposal didn’t give victims’ families the advance notice the law requires before a commutation can be considered. Sisolak was defeated in the November election by former Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo, a death penalty supporter. Sisolak’s attempt, two weeks before he left office, “was too little, too late,” an editorial in the LA Times stated. There haven’t been any executions in Nevada in more than 16 years, and only one person has been executed against his will in the last 45 years.

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