In brief: September 2021

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In California, the Los Angeles Daily News reports that Stanley Bernard Davis, sentenced to death in 1989 for the murder of Los Angeles college students Michelle Ann Boyd and Brian Harris in 1985, was resentenced last week to life without parole. Los Angeles prosecutors stipulated that Davis’s claim of intellectual disability was legitimate, making him ineligible for the death penalty.

Also, in California, the Supreme Court reversed the conviction of death row prisoner Edward Wycoff. In a unanimous opinion, the Court held that Wycoff’s 2006 trial for the murder of his sister and brother-in-law in Contra Costa County was unconstitutionally tainted. Contra Costa County Superior Court Judge John Kennedy allowed Wycoff to waive counsel and represent himself despite a mental health professional’s finding that he was too mentally ill to stand trial. The Court returned the case to the county to determine whether Wycoff is mentally competent to stand retrial. If so, and he again wants to represent himself, Court advised that “the trial court has discretion, depending on the medical evidence, to deny self-representation.”

In Mississippi last week, the Mississippi Center for Justice and the nonprofit Hogan Lovells law firm filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Curtis Flowers, who spent 23 years in prison for a quadruple murder he didn’t commit. He was tried six times for capital murder before being released in 2019. MCJ said in a press release that the lawsuit, filed against District Attorney Doug Evans and three investigators, addresses a variety of misconduct, including pressuring witnesses and ignoring more likely suspects.

In Virginia, seven Black men, known as the Martinsville 7, who were found guilty by all-white juries and executed in 1951 for the rape of 32-year-old Ruby Stroud, a white woman, in 1949, were posthumously pardoned by Gov. Ralph Northam last week. “These men were tried without adequate due process and received a racially biased death sentence not similarly applied to white defendants,” Northam’s office said, according to CNN. Rape was a capital offense at the time.

In Georgia, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis is seeking the death penalty for 22-year-old Robert Aaron Long, Reuters reports. Long is accused of killing eight people, nearly all of them of Asian descent, in a series of attacks on three spas in or near Atlanta on a single day in March. He is scheduled to be arraigned later this month. He has already pleaded guilty in four of the slayings in Cherokee County and been sentenced to life in prison. Willis pledged in her campaign for DA last year not to seek the death penalty. “I cannot foresee a case (in which) I would seek death, as I believe that life without parole is an appropriate remedy,” she said during a candidates forum last year, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

In Oklahoma, the Catholic Mobilizing Network reports that the state’s two Catholic bishops issued a statement opposing state Attorney General John O’Connor’s recent request of the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals to set seven execution dates in the next six months. “We have other means to exact justice and protect our communities without the use of capital punishment. We know from DNA evidence that many people have been sentenced to death who are later exonerated. Historically there have been biases and arbitrariness in the application of the death penalty,” they wrote.

In Minnesota, the Star Tribune reports that state “lawmakers and advocates from across the political spectrum now hope legislation passed earlier this year can wipe out cases where unreliable jailhouse witness testimony helps wrongfully convict people.” The paper says the new regulations “are part of an ongoing push to remedy wrongful convictions that includes a new statewide conviction review unit led by Attorney General [Keith Ellison].”

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