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Arkansas Judge Blocks State’s Plan To Execute Eight Inmates Over An 11-Day Period

A lethal injection drug is at the center of the capital punishment debate. 

A federal judge in Arkansas blocked the execution of eight inmates expected to be killed over a period of 11 days. The state is racing against the clock to beat the expiration date of a lethal injection drug, and planned to begin executions Monday (April 17), reports NBC News.

But U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker issued an injunction Saturday (April 15), amid arguments that the lethal injection cocktail may not work, and could therefore amount to “cruel and unusual punishment.”

“The state of Arkansas does not intend to torture plaintiffs to death," Baker wrote in her 101-page decision. "However, the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment is not limited to inherently barbaric punishments. A condemned prisoner can successfully challenge the method of his or her execution by showing that the state’s method 'creates a demonstrated risk of severe pain' and 'the risk is substantial when compared to the known and available alternatives.'"

READ: Why The Prison Health Care System Is Also A Danger To The Public

The inmates are challenging the planned execution method, and claim that the scheduling of back-to-back executions widen the probability of potential mistakes.

The anesthetic midazolam — which is used to render inmates unconscious before they are injected with vercuronium bromide to suppress breathing, and finally potassium chloride to stop the heart — has botched executions before, defense lawyers pointed out.

The state’s drug supply is set to expire at the end of April. "The unnecessarily compressed execution schedule using the risky drug midazolam denies prisoners their right to be free from the risk of torture," said lawyer John C. Williams. ”We are calling on state officials to accept the federal court's decision, cancel the frantic execution schedule, and propose a legal and humane method to carry out its executions."

According to The Guardian, the condemned inmates have all been convicted of murder, with some suffering from intellectual disabilities, bipolar disorder and paranoid schizophrenia.

READ: Why The Prison Health Care System Is Also A Danger To The Public

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge is planning to appeal Baker’s decision. “It is unfortunate that a U.S. district judge has chosen to side with the convicted prisoners in one of their many last-minute attempts to delay justice," Judd Deere, a spokesman for Rutledge said in a statement. "This decision is significantly out of step with precedent from the Eighth Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court."

Baker’s ruling added to a list of roadblocks for the state, following a stay of execution of another inmate, 24 hours earlier. Additionally, Judge Wendell Griffen of the Pulaski County Circuit Court issued a restraining order on forthcoming executions, after a drug supplier filed a complaint accusing the Arkansas Department of Corrections of failing to disclose the “intended purpose” upon purchasing 10 boxes of the drug, vecuronium bromide. The complaint was later dropped with the company noting that the restraining order was no longer needed after Baker’s order.

While the state hasn’t carried out an execution since 2005, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said in a statement that he was “fully aware” that scheduling the eight executions would “trigger both the individual clemency hearings and separate court reviews on varying claims by the death row inmates.”

"I understand how difficult this is on the victims' families, and my heart goes out to them as they once again deal with the continued court review,” the Republican governor explained. “However, the last minute court reviews are all part of the difficult process of death penalty cases."

 

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Court Rules Cyntoia Brown Must Spend 51 Years In Prison To Be Eligible For Parole

Cyntoia Brown must spend at least five decades in prison before she will be eligible for parole, a Tennessee Supreme Court Supreme Court ruled Thursday (Dec. 6). Brown, 30, has been behind bars for more than a decade for the 2004 murder of real-estate agent Johnny Allen.

Lawyers for Brown say that her life sentence amounts to cruel and unusual punishment because she was a minor at the time of her arrest, despite being tried as an adult. Brown’s petition for post-conviction relief argues that her mandatory minimum sentence is unconstitutional, citing the Supreme Court’s 2012 ruling in Miller v. Alabama.

In an eight page decision, the state Supreme Court of judges unanimously concluded that a "defendant so convicted and sentenced to life in prison under Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-13-202(c)(3)" on or after July 1, 1995, must serve “at least 51 years of imprisonment” prior to parole eligibility.

“The District Court denied relief, reasoning that Miller prohibits a mandatory sentence of life without the possibility of parole for juvenile offenders, and Ms. Brown received a life sentence, not a sentence of life without the possibility of parole,” the decision reads.

The state’s Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals heard Brown’s legal argument over the summer but turned the decision over to the higher court.

Brown was convicted in 2006 of first-degree murder, felony murder and aggravated robbery. Prosecutors claimed that the then 16-year-old Brown shot and killed Allen, who drove her back to his home and paid her for sex, during a murder robbery. Brown maintains that she shot Allen in self-defense. The trial court merged Brown's convictions, handing down  a mandatory life sentence.

A survivor of child sex-trafficking, rape, and physical and mental abuse, Brown became widely known after the 2011 documentary, Me Facing Life: The Cyntoia Brown Story. The Memphis native is currently serving time at the Tennessee Prison for Women.

READ MORE: Cyntoia Brown's Life Sentence Sparks Outrage Over America's Justice System

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Charlottesville Killer Found Guilty Of First-Degree Murder, Hit And Run

James Alex Fields Jr. was found guilty Friday (Dec. 7) in the murder of Heather Heyer, during the Charlottesville riots last year. Jurors in Virginia deliberated for less than eight hours before returning a first-degree murder conviction, the Associated Press reports.

Fields claimed self-defense drove him to ram his Dodge Charger into a crowd during last summer’s "Unite the Right" rally, a notion which the jury ultimately rejected. Prosecutors argued the that 21-year-old Nazi sympathizer deliberately sped his vehicle through a crowd of counter-protesters striking “numerous individuals,” one of which was Heyer, a 32-year-old legal assistant marching against the white nationalist riot.

In addition to murder, for which he faces 20 years to life in prison, Fields was  convicted on nine charges including hit and run, and five counts of aggravated malicious wounding.  A sentencing hearing is scheduled to begin Dec. 9.

Fields could be in line for the death penalty, if convicted on 30 federal hate crime charges. No trial date has been set in the case.

READ MORE: Man Attacked By Nazis At Charlottesville Riots Recalls Harrowing Incident

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Woman Fatally Stabbed In Baltimore After Giving Money To Panhandler

A woman was stabbed to death in Baltimore after attempting to help a panhandler who appeared to be cradling an infant and holding a sign reading, “Please help me feed my baby.”

According to the Baltimore Sun-Times, Jacquelyn Smith and her husband, Keith Smith, were on their way back from taking his daughter out for her 28th birthday Friday (Nov. 30) night, when they came upon a young woman standing in the rain.

“We stopped here on this corner,” the victim’s husband recalled from the scene of the crime. “A girl was out here with what looked like a baby in her hand and it was raining.” Though he admitted to being “reluctant” to open the window because it was so late at night, the 52-year-old minister said that his wife felt compelled to help the woman.

Seconds after Jacqueline Smith pulled gave the woman $10, a man walked up to the car and asked Mr. Smith if he could thank his wife. “As he did that he commenced to stabbing my wife, ” Keith Smith continued. “He snatched her neckless before I knew it and the girl snatched her pocketbook on the seat, and they both ran.”

The unidentified female suspect told the victim, “God bless you” before fleeing the scene. Keith Smith initially hopped out the car to chase after the duo, but turned back to help his dying wife. He called 911 and rushed her to Johns Hopkins Hospital where the 54-year-old electrical engineer was pronounced dead two hours later.

Both suspects remain at large. The Baltimore Police Department have yet to find any leads in the murder.

In a subsequent interview, Keith Smith revealed that he's riddled with the guilt. "I don't want to beat myself up, but I feel somewhat responsible for letting that person get that close to my wife," he told ABC News. "It's just a lot right now going through my mind. That's why it's hard for me to sleep because now I'm trying to see how I could have did things differently, how I could have took another street. I'm just thinking of all kind of ways that my wife would still be here."

With the holiday season in full effect, people may be more compelled to help strangers, but advocates for the homeless fear that the incident could add to negative stigmas surrounding helping those in need. Fellow Good Samaritan, Oprah Winfrey, even tweeted that she'll "think twice" before opening her wallet. "This story struck my heart," Winfrey wrote. "I’ve done this a [1,ooo] times. But will think twice before ever doing [it] again. To J.S. family I hope her death gets people 'woke' to change!"

BPD interim police Commissioner Gary Tuggle cautioned residents “not to engage” with panhandlers, as not all of them have “honest intent.”

A public memorial for Jacquelyn Smith will be held on Dec. 7 at the Maryland church where her husband is a preacher, followed by a private service in her hometown of Providence, R.I.

See more on the tragedy below.

54 y/o Jacquelyn Smith was murdered in East #Baltimore this wknd after she rolled down her window to give some money to a woman trying to feed her baby. Smith’s husband Keith tells @WMAR2News - his wife just wanted to help and in a second, she was stabbed in the chest. pic.twitter.com/UcyEZSWz0c

— Brian Kuebler (@BrianKuebler_) December 3, 2018

READ MORE: Seven Baltimore Police Officers Under Fire For Alleged Robbery, Claiming False Overtime

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