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Sister Helen Prejean @helenprejean
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One fact we can take away from 2017: Capital punishment is on the way out in America. The year is about to come to an end, so let's take a look back at some of the major events that occurred in the world of anti-death penalty work over the past 12 months. Thread:
An execution was scheduled for early January 2017 in Washington State. Governor Jay Inslee granted a reprieve and said he would do so in any similar situations in the future. The governor had announced a moratorium on executions in Washington back in 2014.
The new district attorney for Denver, Beth McCann, was sworn into office on January 10, 2017. District Attorney McCann pledged that her office would never seek the death penalty in any case.
Texas executed Christopher Wilkins on January 11, 2017. Christopher's lawyers had serious conflicts of interest and did almost no investigation into his background. The jury never learned that Christopher was exposed to drugs at a very young age and suffered brain damage.
On January 16, 2017, Washington State's governor and attorney general announced a bipartisan bill to abolish the death penalty. The legislation was not passed in 2017.
On January 17, 2017, President Obama commuted the death sentences of one prisoner on federal death row and one prisoner on military death row. Both men are now serving sentences of life without parole.
On January 17, 2017, 18 anti-death penalty activists were arrested for holding a banner that said "STOP EXECUTIONS!" on the steps of the United States Supreme Court.
Virginia executed Ricky Gray on January 18, 2017. The jury was never told that Ricky was raped on a daily basis between the ages of four and eleven. Ricky turned to drugs at 12 years old to deal with the trauma. He expressed deep remorse for his crimes prior to the execution.
Isaiah McCoy became the 157th exonerated death row survivor on January 19, 2017. Isaiah had been sentenced to death in Delaware but received a new trial due to prosecutorial misconduct. Isaiah was acquitted at the re-trial and the original prosecutor's law license was suspended.
On January 19, 2017, the Texas Court of Appeals freed Jerry Hartfield and dismissed all charges against him with prejudice. Jerry was held in prison for 35 years without a valid trial or conviction. Some of those years were spent on death row.
Texas executed Terry Edwards on January 26, 2017. Terry had no history of violence prior to his conviction. A forensic expert who presented key testimony at Terry's trial changed her findings and eventually presented results that the FBI called "scientifically unsupportable."
A federal magistrate judge ruled that Ohio's lethal injection protocol was unconstitutional on January 26, 2017. This decision was appealed and Ohio was eventually allowed to start killing again.
On January 31, 2017, Catholic bishops from Georgia and Florida asked the district attorney in Augusta, GA, not to seek the death penalty for the murder of Father Rene Robert. 20 years earlier, Father Rene specifically requested that the death not be pursued if he were murdered.
A federal court in Texas granted a stay on January 31, 2017, stopping the planned execution of John Ramirez that had been set for February 2. John's original appellate lawyer abandoned him and never filed any legal papers or a clemency petition.
On February 9, 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit declared that it is unconstitutional to keep prisoners in solitary confinement after their death sentences are overturned.
The Florida Supreme Court allowed death penalty prosecutions to resume on February 20, 2017, even though the state had not fixed its unconstitutional capital punishment statute.
The U.S. Supreme Court overturned Duane Buck's death sentence on February 22, 2017. Duane's own lawyer had allowed a psychologist to tell the jury that black people are inherently more dangerous. The Supreme Court ruled that such racially biased evidence is not allowed.
In late February 2017, the American Nurses Association adopted a new position statement, expressing the Association's opposition to capital punishment as a whole. Previous ANA position statements had only opposed the participation of nurses in executions.
On February 27, 2017, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson signed death warrants and announced plans to kill eight death row prisoners - two executions in a row over four nights in April. The reason given was that Arkansas's killing drug supply would expire on April 30.
Texas executed Rolando Ruiz on March 7, 2017. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to intervene. Justice Breyer dissented, writing that he felt that Rolando had a strong claim that 20 years in solitary confinement on death row is cruel and unusual punishment.
Texas executed James Bigby on March 14, 2017. James suffered with several mental illnesses and experienced serious childhood trauma.
The inventor of Midazolam, a sedative involved in many botched executions, gave an interview in March 2017. He told the New York Times that he had never intended the drug to be used to kill people and that he opposed the death penalty.
On March 15, 2017, the 11th Circuit ruled that Alabama death row prisoner Vernon Madison was not mentally competent and could not be executed. Vernon suffered several strokes and is not even aware that he is on death row. This decision was later overturned by the Supreme Court.
Orange-Osceola County, FL, State Attorney Aramis Ayala announced on March 16, 2017, that she would no longer seek the death penalty in any cases. FL Governor Rick Scott immediately removed her from a pending murder case, setting up a legal battle between the elected officials.
The U.S. Supreme Court overturned Texas' standard for determining mental competency in death penalty cases on March 28, 2017. Texas had previously asked courts to compare the defendant to the fictional character Lennie from the novel "Of Mice and Men."
In early April 2017, Alabama ended the practice of judicial override in death penalty cases. Prior to passage of the new law, Alabama judges could override a jury vote for life without parole and impose a death sentence instead.
On April 5, 2017, the Arkansas Parole Board recommended clemency for Jason McGehee, one of the eight prisoners Arkansas planned to execute later that month. The execution was blocked by a federal court. Jason's sentence was commuted to life without parole in August.
On April 6, 2017, a three-judge federal appeals panel blocked Ohio's lethal injection protocol. This decision was later overturned by an en banc decision of the entire Sixth Circuit.
On April 7, 2017, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stayed the execution of Paul Storey that had been planned for April 12. Prosecutors at Paul's trial told the jury that the victim's family wanted the death penalty. That was completely false.
The Arkansas Supreme Court granted a stay of execution to Bruce Ward on April 14, 2017. Arkansas had planned to execute eight men in April but that number was reduced to six by this decision.
On April 17, 2017, the Arkansas Supreme Court granted a stay of execution to Don Davis. The number of executions planned in Arkansas was down to five from the original eight.
On April 17, 2017, two courts entered injunctions preventing Arkansas from carrying out any executions. These injunctions were later overturned and some of the executions went ahead.
Rodricus Crawford became the 158th exonerated death row survivor on April 17, 2017. Rodricus had been convicted of killing his son, but the evidence actually showed that the infant died due to illness.
The Arkansas Supreme Court granted a stay of execution to Stacey Johnson on April 19, 2017, blocking the execution that had been planned for April 20. Stacey is pursuing further DNA testing to prove his innocence.
Arkansas executed Ledell Lee on April 20, 2017. No physical evidence connected Ledell to the killing that landed him on death row. An expert testified that "Negroid head hair" found at the crime scene proved that Ledell was there, but no DNA testing was ever done.
On April 20, 2017, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe commuted Ivan Teleguz' death sentence to life without parole. An execution had been scheduled for April 25. There is a large body of evidence that points to the conclusion that Ivan is innocent.
Arkansas carried out a double execution on April 24, 2017. Jack Jones was wheeled into the death chamber in a restraint chair because he was an amputee. Marcel Williams suffered from diabetes and weighed over 400 pounds. Neither execution went smoothly.
On April 25, 2017, the Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission released its findings. The Commission recommended that the state extend its moratorium on executions "until significant reforms are accomplished."
Arkansas executed Kenneth Williams on April 27, 2017. Kenneth coughed, convulsed, and lurched on the gurney during the execution. Arkansas was able to carry out four of the eight executions it had planned before its killing drug supply expired.
In late April 2017, a federal district court overturned Georgia death row prisoner Lawrence Jefferson's death sentence. Lawrence's trial lawyers never presented evidence of his serious head injury to the jury. A car rolled over Lawrence's head when he was a child.
On May 6, 2017, a white Texas judge received a formal reprimand for writing a Facebook post that suggested that a black murder suspect should be lynched. The judge claimed that his "tree and a rope" comment was not racially tinged.
Ralph Wright became the 159th exonerated death row survivor on May 11, 2017, after the Florida Supreme Court ordered that he be acquitted of all charges.
On May 12, 2017, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals blocked the execution of Tilon Carter that had been scheduled for May 16. Tilon was convicted of intentionally smothering a man, but a review of the evidence suggested that the death might have been an accident.
On May 15, 2017, LUSH Cosmetics launched a nationwide campaign against the death penalty in the United States.
Georgia executed J.W. Ledford on May 17, 2017. J.W. had begun abusing alcohol and drugs when he was eight years old.
On May 22, 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Florida Supreme Court's decision that prevented judges from imposing a death sentence if a jury did not unanimously support the death penalty in the case.
Alabama executed Tommy Arthur on May 26, 2017. Tommy had had seven prior execution dates. There were serious doubts about his guilt.
On May 26, 2017, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey signed the "Fair Justice Act," which imposed severe limits on appeals in death penalty cases.
An Indiana appeals court voided the state's lethal injection protocol on June 1, 2017. The protocol called for a mix of killing drugs that had never been used before.
On June 2, 2017, the 11th Circuit granted a stay of execution to Robert Melson because a hearing on his joint appeal with other prisoners would not be occur until after his execution date. The U.S. Supreme Court vacated this stay on June 6 and Robert was executed on June 8.
Alabama executed Robert Melson on June 8, 2017. Robert's alleged "accomplice" recanted his testimony after the fact. The main physical evidence in the case, a clear shoeprint, was supposedly discovered after several inches of rain had fallen.
On June 12, 2017, Arizona reached a settlement in ongoing litigation over its lethal injection protocol. The state agreed to drop a controversial drug from the protocol and make significant changes in favor of transparency.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Alabama death row prisoner James McWilliams on June 19, 2017. The Court held that capital defendants are entitled to a mental health expert independent from the prosecution.
Ha'im Al Matin Sharif was released from Nevada's death row in June 2017 after serving nearly 30 years. Ha'im Al Matin had been convicted of abusing and killing his girlfriend's daughter, but evidence proved that the child died as a result of infantile scurvy.
In late June 2017, the European Union renewed its call for global abolition of the death penalty.
On June 28, 2017, the Sixth Circuit ruled en banc that Ohio's lethal injection protocol is constitutional. This cleared the way for executions to resume in Ohio.
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