The new year is just 12 days old, but if you've been trying to keep up with the death penalty news, good luck. It's come fast and furious. A few highlights, in no particular order, some of which I'll probably write more about in the days to come.
- Missouri Governor Jay Nixon grants clemency to Richard Clay, commuting his sentence from murder to death in prison (LWOP). Nixon has been a staunch supporter of the death penalty. He gave no explanation. Here from Missourinet, is his entire statement.
- After an exhaustive review, I am convinced of Richard Clay’s involvement in the senseless murder of Randy Martindale and find that the evidence clearly supports the jury’s verdict of murder in the first degree.Having looked at this matter in its entirety and after significant thought and counsel, I have concluded, however, to exercise my constitutional authority and commute Richard Clay’s sentence to life without the possibility of parole. Richard Clay’s involvement in this crime is clear, and he must, and will, serve the remainder of his life behind bars for his role in this heinous act.
- Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen granted clemency to Edward Harbison, commuting his sentence from murder to death in prison. Harbison's was one of a number of cases in which Bredesen granted some sort of relief Tuesday. It was the only one involving a death row inmate. His explanation, per the Tennessean, was a general one.
- "I've looked at these cases for a long time," Bredesen said in a statement. "I believe they represent a responsible and humane exercise of the governor's power and best serve the interests of fairness and justice."
- Colorado Governor Bill Ritter granted a full and posthumous pardon to Joe Arridy for a 1936 murder he didn't commit. Of course, it's too late for Arridy. He was killed in the gas chamber in 1939. But it's a rare acknowledgment of out-and-out innocence in a guy we killed. Here's the press release, including the governor's entire statement.
- Arridy Press Release
- Our own, outgoing, Governor Ted, knowing there would be no political cost to commuting dozens of death sentences, granted relief to dozens of people. None of them on death row.
- BBC reports that the drugs Arizona used to kill Jeffrey Landrigan came from Dream Pharma Ltd in London which shares a storefront with the Elgone Driving Academy. Arizona promptly sent some of them over to California to alleviate a shortage there. AP's Andrew Welsh-Huggins adds the information that the FDA helped Arizona make the connection to Dream Pharma. In the same report, Welsh-Huggins notes that Ohio apparently has enough thiopental on hand to kill Frank Spisak in February but won't say whether it's also got enough to murder Johnny Baston in March.
- Oklahoma, which solved the no-thiopental problem by switching to a different drug, has killed two so far this year (Billy Alverson and Jeffrey Matthews). The rest of the nation: None.
- And then there's Illinois which is now poised to be the third state (after New Jersey and New Mexico) to abolish capital punishment legislatively. Last week, the Illinois House voted for abolition. Yesterday the senate joined. It's now up to the as-yet unindicted (this is Illinois) governor, Pat Quinn. The News (Jersey & Mexico) were small potatoes. They put few people on the row and killed fewer (NJ killed none, NM one). But Illinois, until Ryan called a moratorium and then emptied the row, was a busy place. They killed a dozen. Ryan took off more than 160. Now, in just a few years, they're back up to 15 on the row. Connecticut voted abolition and the governor vetoed. New Hampshire voted abolition and the governor vetoed. Quinn hasn't said what he'll do, according to abc news, he said he "would look at the bill 'very carefully,' calling it an important measure that deserves lots of study." We're watching. Fingers crossed.
But while we await developments in the Land of Lincoln, it's time to head back to the Lone Star State where the Court of Criminal Appeals, to the likely-surprise of nobody, issued its opinion this morning in State ex rel Lykos v. Fine, the John Green case in which Judge Kevin Fine has been trying to hold a hearing to determine whether Texas procedures generate too significant a chance of the conviction, death sentence, and execution of the innocent. Texas, they said, has no interest in discovering whether it's killing off bunches of innocent people.
In fairness, that's really not what the court said. Instead, the court said this.
In the present case, however, Mr. Green is attempting to bring what he calls an "as applied" challenge to Article 37.071§ 2, in a pretrial motion before any evidence in his case has been heard. His amended motion makes reference to "sufficient risk factors inhering in the application of Texas' capital punishment statute that the statute creates a constitutionally unacceptable risk of convicting and sentencing an innocent person to death." He then sets out various subsections of his general discussion.