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Arkansas Judge Protests Death Penalty, Accuses State’s Supreme Court Of Racism

Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen calls capital punishment "premeditated murder."

An Arkansas judge refuses to be silenced for speaking out against capital punishment. Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen participated in a vigil and demonstration outside of the Governor's Mansion on Tuesday (April 17) marking the one-year anniversary of the state carrying out eight executions over a two-week period, in a decision marred with controversy as many of the inmates executed reportedly suffered from mental illnesses including bipolar disorder and paranoid schizophrenia.

Due to his feelings against executions, Griffen has been barred from presiding over death penalty cases. During Tuesday’s demonstration, he lay tied to a cot, as dozens of protestors gathered nearby.

According to Arkansas Online, Griffen rose from the cot just after 7 p.m., and when asked why he participated in the demonstration he replied, “We are still killing,” before walking away.

Griffen, who doubles as a Baptist minister, “took part in a peaceful and reverent Good Friday prayer vigil,” at the same location last year to express a “moral and religious opposition to capital punishment,” he wrote in a blog post.

In 2017, Griffen issued a restraining order temporarily blocking the Arkansas Department of Corrections from using the drug vecuronium bromide for lethal injections, and subsequently delayed the string of planned executions.

The order came after the medical supplier filed a lawsuit accusing the state’s DOC of lying about their purpose for purchasing the drug. According to the complaint, which names the state’s governor and Arkansas DOC director Kelly Wendell, officials claimed that the drug would be used for medical purposes, not executions.

As a vocal opponent of the death penalty, Griffen was criticized for ruling over the case. The state filed to appeal the order, which was eventually approved allowing the executions to continue.

Griffen's opinions have also made him a target of state Sen. Trent Garner, who has repeatedly called for his impeachment. On Tuesday, Garner tweeted that Griffen's participation in the recent protest “disgraced the office that he holds” and accused him of using a “desperate, attention seeking move to further bring shame on himself.”

But Griffen appears to be unshaken by detractors and has already filed a civil rights lawsuit against the state’s Supreme Court justices for barring him from presiding over death penalty cases. “In that lawsuit, I challenged the permanent ban issued by the justices of the Arkansas Supreme Court as a violation of my First Amendment rights to freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, and freedom to exercise my religion, and my Fourteenth Amendment right to due process of law (because I was not given notice nor a hearing before it was imposed),” he explained in his blog. “I also challenged the permanent ban as a violation of my Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection under the law (because it is more severe than punishment imposed to white judges who committed notorious and illegal conduct such as accepting a bribe, drunken and reckless driving, and demanding and accepting sexual favors from defendants in exchange for issuing lenient sentences).  And I challenged the permanent ban because it resulted from conspiracy by the justices of the Arkansas Supreme Court and others to deprive me of the powers of my elected office based on animosity against me because I am African-American.”

Last week, a federal court ruled that Griffen’s lawsuit “asserts factually plausible claims against the justices,” and that his civil rights were violated, he wrote. Furthermore, Griffen said that his lawyers are working to “uncover and expose the facts that bear out my legal claims” which he says justices “and others are desperate to hide.”

Though obligated to follow the law, Griffen noted that his ability to do his job doesn’t compel him to “agree with every law,” and that the First Amendment protects his “freedom to hold and express moral and religious opposition to the death penalty, including freedom to peacefully and lawfully question the morality of state-sanctioned premeditated and deliberate killing of people who have been convicted for the premeditated and deliberate killing of other persons.”

“If a person who has been convicted of premeditated murder is deliberately and premeditatedly killed, we should condemn that killing as murder,” he continued. “Murder is wrong, even when the state hires people to do it.  Anger and bloodlust are not excuses for the state to commit premeditated murder of people who have committed premeditated murder for an understandable reason.  Two wrongs don’t make anything right.”

See video of the protest below.

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WNBA Player Maya Moore Marries Wrongfully Convicted Man She Helped Get Out Of Prison

When WNBA star Maya Moore first met her now husband, Jonathan Irons, their relationship was strictly platonic. Things changed after she helped to get his wrongful conviction overturned, and the happy couple recently tied the knot.

“We wanted to announce today that we are super excited to continue the work that we are doing together, but doing it as a married couple,” Moore told Good Morning America on Wednesday (Sept. 16). “We got married a couple months ago and we're excited to just continue this new chapter of life together.”

Catch us tomorrow on @GMA with @RobinRoberts! #winwithjustice pic.twitter.com/0z1B1RRS2b

— Maya Moore (@MooreMaya) July 2, 2020

Irons was 16 years old when he was tried as an adult and falsely convicted by an all white jury and sentenced to 50 years for a burglary and shooting. He maintained his innocence throughout, but he would have never been convicted had the case been handled properly. Aside from being wrongfully identified in a lineup, fingerprint evidence that could have proved his innocence was withheld from his lawyers. After serving 23 years for a crime he did not commit, Irons' conviction was overturned in March.

Moore, 31, has known Irons, 40, since she was 18 years old. The two met through a prison ministry program and their relationship slowly transitioned from a friendship to romance. Irons confessed his love for Moore while incarcerated at Missouri's Jefferson City Correctional Center. “I wanted to marry her but at the same time protect her because being in a relationship with a man in prison, it's extremely difficult and painful. And I didn't want her to feel trapped and I wanted her to feel open and have the ability any time if this is too much for you, go and find somebody. Live your life. Because this is hard.”

He popped the question in their hotel room following his prison release. “It was just me and her in the room and I got down on my knees and I looked up at her and she kind of knew what was going on and I said, ‘will you marry me,’ she said, ‘yes.’”

Moore, a small forward for the Minnesota Lynx, is taking a break from basketball and has been working alongside her husband to encourage people to vote. The newlyweds also plant to advocate for others who have been wrongfully convicted.

See more on their love story in the video below.

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Louisville Reaches $12 Million Settlement With Family Of Breonna Taylor

It’s been six months since Breonna Taylor was killed by Louisville police officers while sleeping in her own home. The officers involved in her death, Jonathon Mattingly, Brett Hankison and Myles Cosgrove, have yet to be arrested, but a monetary agreement has been reached to settle a civil lawsuit filed by Taylor’s family.

The city will pay Taylor’s family $12 million in addition to implementing policy reform measures, Mayor Greg Fischer announced on Tuesday (Sept. 15).

“I cannot begin to imagine Ms. Palmer’s pain,” Fischer said of Taylor’s mother, Tameka Palmer. “And I am deeply, deeply sorry for Breonna’s death. Although these steps, including policy changes, do not change the past, I hope this brings some measure of peace.”

Fischer noted that Taylor’s death “ignited” a local and national movement “for racial justice sending thousands into our streets and in cities all across the country and the world — all crying for justice for Breonna.” Taylor’s death has “triggered a renewed commitment to addressing structural and systematic racism” in Louisville and around the country, said Fischer.

“Justice for Breonna means that we will continue to save lives in her honor,” said Taylor’s mother, Tameka Palmer. “No amount of money accomplishes that, but the police reform measures that we were able to get passed as a part of this settlement mean so much more to my family, our community, and to Breonna’s legacy. We know that there is much work still to be done and we look forward to continuing to work with community leaders, the mayor’s office, and other elected leaders to implement long-term sustainable change to fight systemic racism that is plaguing our communities.”

The multi-million dollar settlement is the latest step that Louisville has taken in wake of Taylor being killed by police. In June, the Louisville city council passed “Breonna’s Law” banning no-knock warrants, like the one used to violently raid Taylor’s home on March 13. Police claim that the raid stemmed from a drug investigation that reportedly involved Taylor’s ex-boyfriend who did not live at the residence and had already been arrested.

Benjamin Crump, an attorney representing Taylor’s family, called the $12 million settlement a step in the right direction. “This will bring progress and reform out of this tragedy to protect other Black lives,” he tweeted.

Today, we got some #JusticeForBreonnaTaylor! Along with a $12 million civil settlement, we secured comprehensive police reform in Louisville. This will bring progress and reform out of this tragedy to protect other Black lives. pic.twitter.com/DyilAkmWag

— Ben Crump (@AttorneyCrump) September 15, 2020

As part of the settlement, Louisville Metro Government agreed to a list of changes including community related policy programs, search warrant reforms, and police accountability reforms.

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Jacob Blake Handcuffed To Hospital Bed While Paralyzed, Father Says

Jacob Blake, who was left paralyzed from the waist down after being shot in the back by a Wisconsin police officer, is handcuffed to his hospital bed while recovering from shooting injuries.

“I hate it that he was laying in that bed with the handcuff onto the bed,” his father, Jacob Blake Sr., told the Chicago-Sun Times on Thursday (Aug. 27). “He can’t go anywhere. Why do you have him cuffed to the bed? What was he arrested for?”

The Kenosha Police Department has yet to reveal why they handcuffed Blake to his hospital bed. The 29-year-old father of three was shot at close range by Kanoga police officer, Rusten Sheskey, last week. Blake has been celebrating his son's birthday and was “breaking up a fight between two women” when police confronted him, attorney Benjamin Crump said.

The Wisconsin Department of Justice claims that officers were  responding to a call from a woman who reported that her boyfriend “was present and was not supposed to be on the premises.”

Officers attempted to arrest Blake during the incident. “Law enforcement deployed a taser to attempt to stop Mr. Blake, however the taser was not successful in stopping Mr. Blake,” the Wisconsin DOJ said in an updated statement. “Mr. Blake walked around his vehicle, opened the driver’s side door, and leaned forward. While holding onto Mr. Blake’s shirt, Officer Rusten Sheskey fired his service weapon 7 times. Officer Sheskey fired the weapon into Mr. Blake’s back. No other officer fired their weapon. Kenosha Police Department does not have body cameras therefore the officers were not wearing body cameras.”

Blake’s children were in the car as Sheskey continued to shoot him. Although police didn't have body cameras, a witness captured the shooting on cell phone video.

Protests have continued throughout Kenosha in response to the shooting.

Kenosha County has since declared a state of emerged and announced a mandatory curfew.

⚠️CIVIL UNREST ADVISORY⚠️

Kenosha County has declared a State of Emergency curfew for 7PM tonight, August 26th. Citizens need to be off the streets for their safety. Curfew will be enforced.

— Kenosha Police Dept. (@KenoshaPolice) August 26, 2020

Two people were shot to death, and another injured, at a protest on Tuesday (Aug. 25). The shooter, 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, was arrested and charged with felony counts of first-degree reckless endangerment, first degree intentional homicide, first-degree reckless homicide, and first-degree attempted homicide.

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