In Brief: July 2021

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In Virginia, there is no death row anymore. The Virginia Mercury reports that last weekend, prison officials announced the last two prisoners facing death sentences were sentenced to life without parole and moved to different facilities, leaving death row empty. Virginia officially abolished the death penalty in March.

In Ohio, the Death Penalty Information Center reports that David Braden became the first prisoner in the nation taken off death row because of a state law barring capital punishment for those suffering from severe mental illness. Braden, sentenced to death for the murders of his girlfriend and her father in 1999, had his capital conviction vacated and was sentenced to life without parole. Ohio’s new law was enacted in January.

In Pittsburgh, a Jewish congregation at the synagogue where 11 worshippers were killed in 2018 has asked US Attorney General Merrick Garland not to execute the accused gunman, Robert Bowers on religious grounds. The Jewish Post-Gazette reports that Congregation Dor Hadash sent a letter late last month asking the DOJ to negotiate a plea deal.

In Georgia, death row prisoner Keith Tharpe died last month, likely from cancer, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.

The 61-year-old Tharpe was sentenced to death in 1991 for the murder of his sister-in-law Jacquelin Freeman. Tharpe had appealed his sentence seven years after he was convicted when one of his jurors used racist language while talking about the case with Tharpe’s lawyers. The US Supreme Court found in a 6-3 ruling, that it was concerned the juror was racist and voted for death because Tharpe was Black, and sent the case back to a lower court on appeal. But a three-judge panel of the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously against Tharpe and he returned to death row.

In Missouri, the state Supreme Court set an execution date of October 5 for 60-year-old Ernest Lee Johnson, who was convicted of killing three people at a convenience store in 1994, KOMU reports. The station says Johnson has epilepsy caused by a brain tumor and injury. He appealed his execution by lethal injection arguing that pentobarbital would cause “excruciating seizures,” and asked for death by firing squad. The US Supreme Court declined to hear his appeal, with three justices dissenting. Missouri’s last execution was in May 2020.

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