In brief: July 2022


In California, three death sentences were overturned by state and federal courts in the past few weeks, the Death Penalty Information Center reports. “Richard Clark, Michael Bramit, and Andrew Lancaster were granted relief on claims related to defense counsel’s inadequate performance or jury-related issues,” according to DPIC. Clark (sentenced in 1987 in Santa Clara) and Bramit (sentenced in 1997 in Riverside) were granted new penalty phase trials, and a Los Angeles County trial court vacated Lancaster’s (sentenced in 1998) death sentence. All three men were on California’s death row.

In Texas, Kosoul Chanthakoummane is scheduled to be executed on August 17, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice execution schedule. But this is another case in which the victim’s family member doesn’t want the man convicted of his daughter’s killing to be killed by the state. Chanthakoummane was convicted of the murder of 40-year-old Sarah Ann Walker in 2006 during a robbery. This is the second time the state has scheduled an execution for the 41-year-old Chanthakoummane. He was scheduled to die in 2017, but the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stayed his execution because of questionable bite mark evidence used to convict him.

In New York, the Buffalo News reports that the man accused of opening fire in a Tops Market in Buffalo pleaded not guilty last week to 27 federal charges, including 14 hate crimes and 13 counts of using a firearm to commit hate crimes. Payton Gendron is accused of targeting Black people in the shooting, killing 10, and injuring three. The paper reports that he also faces 25 additional charges, including domestic terrorism and 14 hate crimes, in a county court. If convicted, Gendron could be sentenced to life in prison on the state charges because New York doesn’t have a death penalty. The Justice Department hasn’t indicated whether it will seek the death penalty on the federal charges.

In Florida, the penalty phase of the death penalty trial for Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz got underway last week, the Washington Post reports. Cruz, who has pleaded guilty, was 19 when he opened fire in the school in 2018, killing 17 people and injuring another 17. The jury of seven men and five women will decide whether to sentence Cruz to death or life in prison.

In Alabama, Joe Nathan James, Jr., was executed Thursday night, even though he had several cases pending in federal court, and the family of the victim asked Gov. Kay Ivey to commute his sentence to life in prison. But Ivey declined to commute hours before he was killed.  James was sentenced to death for the 1994 murder of Faith Hall, his former girlfriend. James was sentenced to death twice, the first time in 1996, but that conviction was overturned. and a second time in 1999,  according to

Also in Alabama, Casey White, who escaped from prison in April with the assistant director of corrections, Vicky White (no relation), is facing a murder charge in the death of Vicky White, even though she reportedly died by suicide as police were closing in on the couple 11 days after their escape, CBS News reports. Alabama law allows a murder charge when a person “causes the death of any person” while committing a felony.

The Department of Justice has appointed Oregon Department of Corrections Director Colette S. Peters to run the federal Bureau of Prisons, the New York Times reports. The paper says Peters was responsible for “instituting changes in the state’s 14-facility system to improve the health and treatment of its 15,000 inmates.” The bureau has a long and troubled history, “plagued by health and safety problems, physical and sexual abuse, corruption and turnover in the top management ranks,” according to the Times.

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