In brief: September 2017


In Ohio, 45-year-old Gary Otte is scheduled to be executed next Wednesday for two murders in 1992. Otte’s lawyers are challenging both the state’s lethal injection method and the constitutionality of its death penalty scheme in two separate appeals. They argue that Ohio’s use of midazolam is unconstitutional because corrections officials can’t prove that the drug is preventing the inmate from suffering serious pain, and that because Otte was under 21 at the time of the murders, he should be spared.

In Alabama, the state Supreme Court set execution dates for two death row inmates. The attorney general’s office had asked for three, but the court set dates for only two: Jeffery Borden on October 5, and Torrey Twane McNabb on October 19. Doyle Lee Hamm has not had an execution date set. reports that Assistant Federal Defender John Palombi, who represents both McNabb and Borden, said that “it was premature” for the court to set an execution for McNabb as he has a challenge pending in a circuit court, and that Borden is “severely mentally ill” and “the same principles that exempt the intellectually disabled and people who committed crimes before the age of 18 from being executed apply to cases like Mr. Borden’s.” Alabama has already executed two other men this year.

Also in Alabama, a lawsuit filed by death row prisoners challenging the state’s three-drug lethal injection protocol, specifically objecting to the use of midazolam as the first drug, was revived by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. The Washington Examiner reports that the three-judge federal appeals panel “vacated a lower court’s ruling against the inmates, noting the district court did not consider the inmates’ full assertions.”

In Arkansas, Gov. Asa Hutchinson set a November execution date for one inmate, and announced the commutation of another condemned man’s sentence. The announcement came about a week after the state had announced it had found a new supply of midazolam. The state’s previous supply expired at the end of April, after the state executed four inmates, out of a planned eight executions over an 11-day period. NBC News reports that the state obtained the drug by “paying $250 in cash to an undisclosed supplier.” Jack Greene is scheduled to be executed on November 9th for the murder of retired pastor Sidney Burnett in 1991. Jason McGehee’s, whose sentence has been commuted to life without parole, was convicted of killing 15-year-old John Melbourne Jr. in 1996.

In Nevada, corrections officials say they are moving forward with their plans to execute Scott Raymond Dozier on November 14. Dozier has dropped his appeals and has asked the state to kill him. However, the Nevada Appeal reports that the director of the Nevada ACLU is opposing the protocol because of its use of an untested lethal drug cocktail of Diazepam, Fentanyl and Cisatracurium. But Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt argues that if Dozier has said he wants to die, legal challenges are moot. He also suggested that if his legal team is opposed to the three-drug cocktail, it should suggest a “known and available alternative method of execution.”

In Pennsylvania, Terry Williams, who has been on death row for 30 years, was granted a new sentencing hearing because prosecutors withheld exculpatory evidence from the jury and the defense team. Prosecutorial Misconduct and Accountability reports that prosecutor Andrea Foulkes told the jury that Williams’ victim was a “kind” man who simply offered Williams a ride home, and was beaten to death for a small amount of money, when in fact, she was aware that the victim, William Norwood, was in the words of Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Christine Donohue, “neither kind nor innocent, and that he was in a fact a sexual abuser of young adolescents, perhaps including Williams.”


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