In brief: November 2018


In Mississippi, a man who has been on death row for over 20 years, after being tried six times for a quadruple murder in 1996, will get a hearing in the U.S. Supreme Court. APM Reports, which has produced an 11-episode podcast on Flowers’ case, reports that the Court will review whether District Attorney Doug Evans deliberately excluded African-Americans from Flowers’ jury in each of his trials. In four of his trials, Flowers was convicted by an all-white or predominantly white jury. Three convictions were overturned on appeal, and two other trials resulted in hung juries. APM says that in an analysis it conducted of Evan’s jury selection in hundreds of criminal trials, it found that “Evans and his assistant prosecutors have struck black prospective jurors at 4.4 times the rate they struck white prospective jurors.”

In Oklahoma, a DNA test on a bandanna that was evidence in the case of Julius Jones, who is on death row for the 1999 killing of Paul Howell during a carjacking, revealed a mixture of three or more people, excluding Jones’s co-defendant as a major contributor. Federal public defender Dale Baich told the Oklahoman that the testing doesn’t indicate when the DNA was deposited on the bandanna, and that “”We have always known that Mr. Jones’ DNA could be on the bandanna because his DNA was present in his parents’ home where the red bandanna was planted.” The defense maintains that Jones’s co-defendant, Christopher Jordan, matches the eyewitness description of the man who killed Howell. Jordan, who implicated Jones, served 15 years and is now free.

In Tennessee, Edmund Zagorski was executed earlier this month by electric chair. Zagorski had opted to be electrocuted over lethal injection because, his lawyer had said in an emailed statement, “10-18 minutes of drowning, suffocation, and chemical burning is unspeakable.” His request for a stay to the U.S. Supreme Court on the grounds that to force a prisoner to choose his method of execution was unconstitutional was denied. The 63-year-old Zagorski was sentenced to death in 1984 for the murder of John Dotson and Jimmy Porter in April 1983 during a drug deal.

Also in Tennessee, four men on death row have filed a lawsuit in federal court asking for the right to be executed by firing squad instead of lethal injection or electric chair. David Earl Miller, who is scheduled to be executed on Dec. 6, is one of the four, and the lawsuit ask the court to postpone his execution until their lawsuit is heard. The Tennesseean reports that the lawsuit states that, “The firing squad significantly reduces a substantial risk of unnecessary and severe pain when compared” with lethal injection.

In Arkansas, the state supreme court reversed a lower court ruling and said two death row inmates could challenge the state’s process for determining competency. The Arkansas Times reports that the court issued separate rulings for both Bruce Ward and Jack Greene that giving the Department of Corrections director the authority to determine competency denied the two men due process of law.

In South Dakota, Rodney Scott Berget was executed by lethal injection last week for the 2011 killing of prison guard Ronald “R.J.” Johnson during a failed escape attempt. Another prisoner, Eric Robert, who was his partner in the attempted escape and killing, was executed in October 2012. The Argus Leader reports that Berget’s execution was delayed for five hours while the U.S. Supreme Court considered his appeal for a stay. His attorney had argued Berget was intellectually disabled and should not be put to death. South Dakota’s last execution was in 2012.

Two prisoners on California’s death row apparently died by suicide last weekend. The Los Angeles Times reports that 54-year-old Andrew Urdiales, and 51-year-old Virendra Govin died about 48 hours apart, in separate cells at San Quentin State Prison. Urdiales, a former Marine, was sentenced to death one month ago for killing five women in Southern California between 1986 and 1995. He was previously serving a life without parole sentence in Illinois for the murder of three women. Govin was sentenced to death in 2004 for the killing of a business rival and her three relatives. He has a brother on death row for his involvement in those murders.

The majority of Americans no longer believe the death penalty is applied fairly, according to a recent Gallup poll. For the first time since Gallup polled on this issue in 2000, 49 percent believe it is applied fairly. Forty-five percent say it’s applied unfairly. Gallup says the new low “reflects a gradual decline” over the past ten years, while the number who believe it is applied unfairly has been edging higher, “with this year’s four-point gap marking the smallest difference between the two views” in its polling.

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