In brief: September 2022


“Cole is a man who is so debilitated by paranoid schizophrenia and brain damage that he barely speaks or moves, crawls on his cell floor or drags himself into and out of a wheelchair, and cannot care for his most basic hygiene. It should shock our collective conscience” that Oklahoma plans to kill Benjamin Cole on October 20, Catholic Conference of Oklahoma executive director/state coordinator for Oklahoma Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty Brett Farley writes in the Oklahoman. In their clemency petition, Cole’s lawyers described him as “a frail, 57-year-old man with a damaged and deteriorating brain, suffering from progressive and severe mental illness who poses no threat to anyone in any way.” The 59-year-old Cole was sentenced to death in 2002 for killing his 9-month-old daughter. But Cole’s mental illness notwithstanding, the Pardon and Parole board voted 4-1 Tuesday to not recommend clemency, reports.

In Texas, the Court of Criminal Appeals denied a motion to postpone next month’s execution of John Henry Ramirez in the wake of Nueces County DA Mark Gonzalez’s motion to withdraw his request for a death warrant because of his “firm belief that the death penalty is unethical,” the New York Times reports. Ramirez is scheduled to be killed on October 5. In March, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8-1 that Texas could not execute Ramirez unless it allowed his spiritual advisor to touch him and pray with him in the execution chamber. 

In Alabama, Toforest Johnson, who has been on death row since 1998 for a crime he very likely didn’t commit, is asking the state Supreme Court for a new trial. His lawyers asked the Court to review a lower court decision denying Johnson a new trial in a filing earlier this month, the Washington Post reports. Johnson was sentenced to death for killing Birmingham deputy sheriff William G. Hardy, who was working as an off-duty security guard at a hotel, in 1995. But despite substantial new evidence that Johnson is innocent and that the district attorney and the lead prosecutor in his case support a new trial, state officials have defended his conviction, and Johnson is still on death row. Others who support a new trial include the former chief justice of the state Supreme Court, the district attorney in the county where Johnson was convicted, former Alabama Attorney General Bill Baxley, and several former judges and prosecutors, according to the Post.

In Washington, DC, the Department of Justice will continue to seek the death penalty against Sayfullo Saipov, who is accused of using a truck to kill eight people on a bike path in 2017, according to Reuters. The decision is surprising in light of AG Merrick Garland’s 2021 announcement that he was imposing a moratorium on federal executions while his department reviewed its death penalty policy

Equatorial Guinea abolished its death penalty this month. Voice of Nigeria reports President Teodoro Mbasaogo signed the new law last week. It was approved by parliament in advance and will take effect 90 days after its publication in the official state journal. The country joins other African abolitionist countries, including the Central African Republic, Chad, and Sierra Leone. Equatorial Guinea’s last execution was in 2014.

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