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Supreme Court Justice Shouldn't Have to Recuse from Death Penalty Cases, Philadelphia Prosecutors Argue

The Philadelphia District Attorney's Office is arguing to the U.S. Supreme Court that a former member of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court did not need to recuse himself from hearing death penalty cases that he signed off on as the city's top prosecutor, The Legal Intelligencer's Lizzy McLellan reports.

In the appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court, former Pennsylvania Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille approved the decision to pursue the death penalty for Terrance Williams, and he heard Williams' appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed a lower court order granting Williams post-conviction sentencing relief.

Supreme Court Rules Florida's Death Penalty Law is Unconstitutional

Florida's death penalty law has been struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court as unconstitutional, The Huffington Post's Cristian Farias reports. The reason? Allowing judges, instead of juries, to impose the death penalty violates the Sixth Amendment. The court ruled 8-1 that only a jury, not a judge, can decide the "aggravating circumstances" that would lead to the decision that execution is the appropriate sentence for a defendant.

 A judge in murderer Timothy Hurst's case independently decided to impose capital punishment. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, writing for the court, opined that the Sixth Amendment requires Florida to base Hurst's sentence on a jury verdict, not judicial factfinding.

Court: No A/C for Death Row Inmates Isn't Cruel and Unusual Punishment

Triple-digit heat indices on Louisiana State Penitentiary's death row do not constitute cruel and unusual punishment, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has ruled. The Times-Picayune's Emily Lane reports that the court did agree that extreme temperatures constituted cruel and unusual punishment for the three plaintiffs who filed the lawsuit. However, the court ruled that air conditioning does not have to be provided to all of death row.

Florida Supreme Court Halts Execution Over Lethal Drug Cocktail

The Florida Supreme Court stopped an execution scheduled this week because of questions over whether the state's lethal drug cocktail constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, Huffington Post's Kim Bellware reports. The execution has been halted pending the outcome in a U.S. Supreme Court case over whether a similar cocktail used in Oklahoma is unconstitutional.

Ohio Changes Drug Cocktail for Executions

The Associated Press reports that Ohio is changing the two-drug cocktail it uses in executions after it was administered to an "inmate who repeatedly gasped and snorted during a troubling 26-minute execution."  The inmate's children are suing the state, arguing their father endured needless pain and suffering.

Instead, the state is going to use thiopental sodium, but that drug is no longer readily available in the United States.

OK Death-Row Inmates Appeal Injection Ruling

After a federal judge upheld the constitutionality of Oklahoma's new lethal injection protocol, a group of inmates slated to be executed next year are planning to appeal the decision, according to the Associated Press. U.S. District Judge Stephen Friot ruled that the 500-milligram dose of the sedative midazolam makes it a "'virtual certainty'" that inmates will be unconscious before drugs are administered to stop their hearts and their respiratory systems.

But the inmates argue the drug poses a substantial risk of unconstitutional pain and suffering. When the state used a 100-milligram dose of midazolam, inmate Clayton Lockett "writhed on the gurney, mumbled and lifted his head during his 43-minute execution," the AP further reports.

Texas Prepares to Execute Mentally Ill Man Today

Several conservatives have joined United Nations human rights lawyers seeking to stop the execution of a severely mentally ill Texas man. Scott Panetti's execution is slated to proceed today at 6 p.m. unless last-minute appeals filed yesterday have any effect, UPI reports.

Kathryn Kase of the Texas Defender Service told the Los Angeles Times, '"He thinks the prison system implanted a listening device in his teeth and knows what he's going to do before he does it. He's all wrapped up in this delusion that the prison system wants to 'rub him out' for trying to convert these heathens and preach the gospel."'

But the Texas Attorney General's Office said in court papers that Panetti knows that he killed his inlaws while his wife and child looked on and that he was sentenced to die for that crime.


Ohio Mulls Law to Protect Doctor's Licenses For Participating in Executions

Ohio is preparing to join the ranks of several other states that have enacted provisions to keep secret their execution procedures, The Marshall Project's Maurice Chammah reports. The American Board of Anesthesiology has warned that it might revoke the certificate of any anesthesiologist who participates in an execution. A proposed Ohio law would protect doctors' licenses if they participate in executions. The law also would protect the identity of compounding pharmacies that mix drugs used in lethal injections. There are similar laws in Missouri, Pennsylvania and Arizona, among other states.

Megan McCracken, Eighth Amendment Resource Counsel at the U.C. Berkeley School of Law's Death Penalty Clinic told Chammah that “'when secrecy statutes prevent the courts from reviewing pertinent information about execution procedures, they effectively prevent a determination of whether the execution procedures are constitutional.”'

ACLU, The Guardian File Suit to Get More Access to Executions

The Guardian, the Oklahoma Observer, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Oklahoma have filed a lawsuit seeking to allow journalists and other witnesses to executions to "see everything that happens from the moment an inmate enters the execution chamber," the Washington Post reports. The lawsuit cites the fact that witnesses were not allowed to see the entirety of the execution of Clayton Lockett, whose botched killing left him writhing and grimacing before he finally died.

After a needle was inserted into Lockett's groin, his vein collapsed and the lethal-injection drugs did not get absorbed into his bloodstream, according to officials. When things went awry, correctional officials lowered the blinds and never lifted them back up, the Post reports. Lockett's final moments were not observed by the public.

How Will Courts Avoid Another Execution Debacle?

msnbc has a report asking how American courts can avoid another capital punishment calamity after Clayton Lockett's botched execution with a three-drug cocktail. He was seen writhing in pain by witnesses and he died 43 minutes after the execution began. Three separate courts have stepped in to stop executions since Lockett's death, according to msnbc.

msnbc also notes that states have turned to compound pharmacies to get the execution drugs and at least 13 states have moved to shield from the public how they are obtaining the drugs.


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