Tag Archives: Executions

Oklahoma’s Botched Execution

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

An Oklahoma inmate’s execution failed tonight after the delivery of the lethal injection drugs was botched and the inmate suffered a massive heart attack on the gurney.

Clayton Lockett, 38, was slated to be the first of two executions tonight in Oklahoma, in what was going to be the state’s first double execution since 1937 (more background on the crime and lead-up to the executions here). However, as reporters waited for confirmation of a time of death almost an hour after the injection was scheduled to proceed, it became clear that something had gone wrong.

Finally reporters were told that the execution had been halted about 20 minutes after the first drug was injected, when Lockett was still moving and mumbling on the gurney.

According to Associated Press reporter Bailey Elise McBride, whose Twitter feed is a blow-by-blow account of what the media was told following the procedure, “Lockett began breathing heavily, writhing on the gurney, clenching his teeth and straining to lift his head off the pillow.”

“It was extremely difficult to watch,” Lockett’s attorney, David Autry, told the AP

More from McBride’s AP account:

“There was some concern at that time that the drugs were not having that (desired) effect, and the doctor observed the line at that time and determined the line had blown,” Patton said at a news conference afterward, referring to Lockett’s vein rupturing.

After that, an official who was inside the death chamber lowered the blinds, preventing those in the viewing room from seeing what was happening.

Patton then made a series of phone calls before calling a halt to the execution.

KFOR in Oklahoma provided a timeline (which Andrew Cohen tidied up for his take for The Atlantic):

6:23 PM – Prison officials raise the blinds. Execution begins.

6:28 PM – Inmate shivering, sheet shaking.  Breathing deep.

6:29 PM – Inmate blinking and gritting his teeth.  Adjusts his head.

6:30 PM – Prison officials check to see if inmate is unconscious.  Doctor says, “He’s not unconscious.”  Inmate says “I’m not.”  Female prison official says, “Mr. Lockett is not unconscious.”

6:32 PM – Inmate’s breathing is normal, mouth open, eyes shut. For a second time, prison officials check to see if inmate is unconscious.

6:33 PM – Doctor says, “He is unconscious.” Prison official says “Mr. Lockett is unconscious.”

6:34 PM – Inmate’s mouth twitches.  No sign of breathing.

6:35 PM – Mouth movement.

6:36 PM – Inmate’s head moves from side to side, then lifts his head off the bed.

6:37 PM – Inmate lifts his head and feet slightly off the bed.  Inmate tries to say something, mumbles while moving body.

6:38 pm – More movement by the inmate. At this point the inmate is breathing heavily and appears to be struggling.

6:39 PM – Inmate tries to talk. Says “man” and appears to be trying to get up. Doctor checks on inmate. Female prison official says, “We are going to lower the blinds temporarily.” Prison phone rings. Director of Prisons Robert Patton answers the phone and leaves the room—taking three state officials with him.

Minutes later—the director of prisons comes back into the room and tells the eyewitnesses that there has been a vein failure. He says, “The chemical did not make it into the vein of the prisoner. Under my authority, we are issuing a stay of execution.”

Charles Warner, originally set to be the second execution of the night at 8 p.m., has had his execution postponed for 14 days while an investigation is conducted.

This sort of prolonged, failed execution is exactly what attorneys for both men were afraid of when they filed appeals asserting their client’s constitutional right to know the source of the drugs being used to execute them. The claims led to a heated back and forth over the past two weeks, exposing tensions in the state’s leadership.

Warner’s attorney, Madeline Cohen, released a statement following the failed execution:

“After weeks of Oklahoma refusing to disclose basic information about the drugs for tonight’s lethal injection procedures, tonight, Clayton Lockett was tortured to death.

‘Without question, we must get complete answers about what went wrong. There must be an independent investigation conducted by a third-party entity, not the Department of Corrections. We also need an autopsy by an independent pathologist and full transparency about the results of its findings. Additionally, the state must disclose complete information about the drugs, including their purity, efficacy, source and the results of any testing. Until much more is known about tonight’s failed experiment of an execution, no execution can be permitted in Oklahoma.”

Related Reading:

A Breakdown of Tonight’s Double Execution in Oklahoma

Man Dies of Heart Attack After Botched Execution

Oklahoma Postpones Execution After First Is Botched

What Happens to the Death Penalty When Lethal Injection Isn’t Quick and Painless?

How Oklahoma’s Botched Execution Affects the Death-Penalty Debate

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A Breakdown of Tonight’s Double Execution in Oklahoma

This is a developing story. Check back for updates. For the most current updates, see this blog’s Twitter feed.

UPDATE: The execution of Clayton Lockett has been ‘botched’ according to his attorney and the execution of Charles Warner has been stayed. For the latest, see “Oklahoma’s Botched Execution

After weeks of legal wrangling and confusion in the courts, the way has been cleared for the Oklahoma Corrections Department to execute not one, but two men tonight, in what will be the first double execution in 14 years and and the first in Oklahoma since 1937. The last time two inmates were put to death in the same state in the same day was in Texas in 2000.

Thirty-eight-year-old Clayton Lockett was convicted in the shooting death of Stephanie Neiman in 1999. According to the Tulsa World, “Lockett shot Neiman twice with a shotgun before having an accomplice, Shawn Mathis, bury her alive.” Forty-six-year-old Charles Warner “was convicted in the 1997 death of his roommate’s 11-month-old daughter,” according to NBC News.

The state slated Lockett for execution at 6 p.m. central time, followed by Warner two hours later at 8 p.m. Lockett made a last meal request but it was denied because it exceeded the $15 dollar price limit. The warden offered him a steak dinner from Western Sizzlin instead, but Lockett declined.

The unusual double execution, as well as the heated legal scuffling, has provoked concern and criticism both locally and nationwide. Accordingly, a group of protestors rallied outside the Governor’s mansion at the time of the first execution.

protest
Photo by Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

The issue in the legal back and forth was not the inmates’ innocence, but rather over the secrecy surrounding the source of the drugs that would be used to execute them. Lawyers for both men argued that they had a right to know the manufacturer of the chemicals that will be used in their injections.

The drugs used in lethal injections have become the latest front in the fight against executions and the death penalty. Most execution drugs are made in Europe, and many European drug makers don’t like the idea of their products being used in executions. Others have had to face criticism from groups such as Reprieve, which actively seeks out information on who makes the drugs and makes that information public. This has caused many European drug makers to cease producing the drugs and/or refuse to sell them to prisons. So prisons and corrections departments are increasingly searching for new sources for the chemicals, or resort to compounding pharmacies, which according to The Guardian are less well regulated than traditional drug manufacturers. Corrections departments have also begun to create policies to protect the anonymity of the drug makers, presumably so the company won’t face the same public outcry the European companies faced.

(For a breakdown of the specific drugs at issue in Oklahoma, Mother Jones reporter Stephanie Mencimer has an excellent review here.)

These changes have caused concern among defense attorneys, who argue that without knowing the source of the drugs, there is a greater possibility that the chemicals are contaminated or expired, which would cause unnecessary suffering, which is unconstitutional under the eighth amendment.  Charges like this have been filed in other states, such as Texas and Missouri (those claims were all rejected) but in Oklahoma, they provoked a whole new level of controversy, exposing “long-running tension among Oklahoma’s three branches of government,” according to Associated Press reporter Sean Murphy.

Andrew Cohen breaks down why things are so tense the best, so I’ll defer to him:

Things got complicated because there are two high courts in Oklahoma — one that focuses on “criminal” matters and one that focuses on “civil” matters. The criminal court, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, said it had no jurisdiction to look at the injection secrecy matter. The civil court, the Oklahoma Supreme Court, said that the Court of Criminal Appeals did have jurisdiction.

There was open conflict between the courts. The state Supreme Court criticized the Court of Criminal Appeals for not accepting the appeal and for not halting the executions. The criminal appeals court criticized the state Supreme Court for intruding upon what its judges considered the purely “criminal” matter of execution protocols.

The open warfare within the state judiciary — unseemly, in particular, in the context of capital cases — surely contributed to the chaos that came next.

Here’s my attempt at reconstructing a timeline of the back and forth. It gets a little weird, so try to keep up and if you spot any errors, shout them out in the comments.

  • March: Oklahoma County District Judge Patricia Parrish rules that the secrecy of the drug source violates the inmates’ rights under the state constitution.
  • Friday, April 18: The state appeals that ruling to the Oklahoma Supreme Court, saying the ruling is “an ‘overbroad interpretation’ of the right to access,” according to The Guardian.
  • The Oklahoma Supreme Court said they do not have the authority to stay the executions, and transferred the matter to the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals.
  • The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals disagreed, saying THEY don’t have the authority to stay the executions, because the inmates challenged the execution procedures in civil court, not criminal. Their ruling also called out the state supreme court, as detailed by Jurist columnist Adam R. Banner: “As if it were not enough to defy the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s supposed ‘final’ determination of jurisdiction, the Court of Criminal Appeals held that the Supreme Court did ‘not have the power to supersede a statute and manufacture jurisdiction.’ “
  • Monday, April 21: The State Supreme Court decides they now must say something, and after a 5-4 vote, issues a stay for Clayton Lockett, who was originally set for execution on April 22. “The ‘rule of necessity’ now demands that we step forward,” the Court’s opinion says. “We can deny jurisdiction, or we can leave the appellants with no access to the courts for resolution of their ‘grave’ constitutional claims….As uncomfortable as this matter makes us, we refuse to violate our oaths of office and to leave the appellants with no access to the courts, their constitutionally guaranteed measure.” The stay also puts Charles Warner’s execution on hold.
  • Monday, April 21: From Andrew Cohen: “Just hours after the Oklahoma Supreme Court halted the executions, the Republican governor of the state, Mary Fallin, proclaimed that the executive branch would not honor the judicial stay preventing the executions. The Supreme Court’s ‘attempted stay of execution is outside the constitutional authority of that body,’ she declared, so ‘I cannot give effect to the order by that honorable court.’ “
  • Tuesday, April 22: From Andrew Cohen: Republican state lawmaker Rep. Mike Christian, introduced impeachment proceedings against the five state Supreme Court justices who had voted for the stays of execution.
  • Tuesday, April 22: From the Associated Press: “In a development reflecting the rising tension between the executive and judicial branches of state government, Gov. Mary Fallin granted a one-week stay of execution to Lockett on Tuesday afternoon, saying the Oklahoma Supreme Court overstepped its authority when it issued a separate stay. Fallin issued an executive order delaying Lockett’s execution until April 29. Fallin claims in her order that the stay issued by the state’s high court is ‘outside the constitutional authority of that body.’ “
  • Wednesday, April 23: The State Supreme Court reject the lower court’s decision that preventing Lockett and Warner from knowing the source of the drugs used in their lethal injections will violate their constitutional rights, clearing the way for the executions to proceed.

Warner’s attorney, Madeline Cohen, released a statement today in advance of her client’s execution, writing “tonight, in a climate of secrecy and political posturing, Oklahoma intends to kill two death row prisoners using an experimental new drug protocol, including a paralytic, making it impossible to know whether the executions will comport with the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual suffering. Because the issue of secrecy in lethal injection has not been substantively addressed by the courts, Clayton Lockett and Charles Warner will be executed without basic information about the experimental combination of drugs used in their deaths.”

Related Reading: 

3 Letters to the Editor on Tonight’s Double Execution

Tension Grows Among Oklahoma Courts, Legislature

Oklahoma to Proceed With Lethal Injection Amid Confusion Within Courts

Death Row Inmates Won’t Be Told the Source of the Drugs Used to Kill Them

 

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Tonight’s Execution: Robert Hendrix

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Florida carried out its fifth lethal injection of 2014 with tonight’s scheduled execution of 47-year-old Robert Hendrix.

Hendrix was convicted of the 1990 death of his cousin, Elmer Scott, and Elmer’s wife, Susan Michelle Scott. Prosecutors say Hendrix killed Scott to prevent him from testifying against Hendrix in an upcoming burglary case. According to case documents, Hendrix told several friends about his plans, and discussed it with his live-in girlfriend at the time. The day before his court date, Hendrix shot, stabbed and beat Scott with the gun, as well as shooting and slashing the throat of Susan Michelle, prosecutors say.

Hendrix spent his final morning visiting with his parents and a Catholic spiritual adviser, according to Florida Department of Corrections spokeswoman Jessica Cary.

Hendrix’s time of death was 6:21 p.m. and according to Orlando Sentinel reporter Susan Jacobson he made no final statement. His execution is the 16th in Florida since Gov. Rick Scott took office.

According to the Associated Press, Hendrix sought a last-minute stay, “as his lawyer argues that two witnesses for the prosecution were unreliable and that no forensic evidence links him to the crimes.” From the AP:

Brody [Hendrix’s attorney] said the two main witnesses against Hendrix, Turbyville and Roger LaForce, who claimed Hendrix told him details about the murders while they shared a cell in the Lake County Jail, are unreliable. According to Brody, both had a self-interest in testifying for prosecutors.

His attorney also claimed the judge had a conflict of interest, that Hendrix being shackled during the trial gave jurors a biased impression of him and that during sentencing, Hendrix’s attorneys failed to call mitigating witnesses who could have testified to problems with drugs and abuse by his father.

However, the U.S. Supreme Court denied the appeal, allowing the execution to proceed as planned. The execution is the 85th in Florida since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.

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The Last Words of William Van Poyck

Dear Sis, 
If you are reading this, I have gone the way of the earth, my atonement fulfilled.

William Van Poyck‘s sister has posted his final words, by way of two last letters he wrote her prior to his June 12 execution.

Here’s one from June 3rd, only a little more than a week away from his execution:

Dear Sis~

Ten days ’till departure time. You already know that they killed my neighbor, Elmer, 5 days ago. Then they moved me into his cell. After they execute someone they move the rest of us down one cell, working our way to cell#1, the launching pad to the gurney next door.  This is a bad luck cell; very few of us get out of here alive!  In two days I’ll go onto Phase II and they’ll move all  my property from my cell, and post a guard in front of my cell 24/7 to record everything I do.  These will be hectic days, freighted with emotion, all the final letters, all the final phone calls, final visits, final goodbyes.  Things have become even more regimented as “established procedures” increasingly take over.  More cell front visits from high ranking administration and DOC officials asking if everything is O.K., forms to fill out (cremation or burial?).  I declined the offer of a “last meal”.  I’m not interested in participating in that time-worn ritual, to feed some reporter’s breathless post-execution account.  Besides, material gratification will be the last thing on my mind as I prepare to cross over to the non-material planes.  Watching Elmer go through his final days really drove home how ritualized this whole process has become; the ritual aspect perhaps brings some numbing comfort – or sense of purpose – to those not really comfortable with this whole killing people scheme.  This is akin to participating in a play where the participants step to a rote cadence, acting out their parts in the script, with nobody pausing to question the underlying premise.  It’s like a Twilight Zone episode where you want to grab someone, shake them hard, and yell “Hey, wake up! Don’t you know what’s going on here?!!!”

My very accelerated appeal is before the Florida Supreme Court; my brief is due today, (Monday), the state’s brief tomorrow and oral arguments are scheduled for Thursday June 6th (D-Day Anniversary).  I expect an immediate ruling, or perhaps on Friday.  By the time you read this you’ll already know the result and since there’s no higher court to go to on this you’ll know if I live or die on June 12th.  I am not optimistic, Sis.  Although I have some substantial, compelling issues, as you know (e.g., my appointed direct appeal attorney who turned out to be a mentally ill, oft-hospitalized, crack head, convicted of cocaine possession and subsequently disbarred whose incompetence sabotaged my appeal) the law provides the courts with countless ways to deny a prisoner any appellate review of even the most meritorious claims.  I won’t turn this into a discourse on legal procedures; but many years of observation has taught me that once a death warrant is signed it’s near impossible to stop the  momentum of that train.  Issues that would normally offer you some relief, absent a warrant, suddenly become “meritless” under the tension of a looming execution date.  Nobody wants to be the one to stop an execution, it’s almost sacrilegious.

So many people are praying and fighting to save my life that I am loathe to express any pessimism, as if that’s a betrayal of those supporting me.  And, there is some hope, at least for a stay of execution.  But honestly my worst fear is a temporary stay of 20, 30 days.  Unless a stay results in my lawyers digging up some new, previously undiscovered substantial claim that will get me a new sentencing hearing, a stay simply postpones the inevitable.  What I don’t want is to be back here in the same position in 30 days, forcing you and all my loved ones to endure another heart-breaking cycle of final goodbyes.  I cannot ask that of them.  I’d rather just go on June 12th and get this over with.          This may be disappointing to those who are trying so hard to extend my life, even for a few days, but there it is.

Time – that surprisingly subjective, abstract concept – is becoming increasingly compressed for me.  I’m staying rooted in the here and now, not dwelling on the past or anxiously peering into the future, but inhabiting each unfolding moment as it arrives in my consciousness (F.Y.I., I highly recommend The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle, for anyone facing imminent execution!)  I’m still able to see the beauty of this world, and value the kindness of the many beautiful souls who work tirelessly to make this a better place.  I am calm and very much at peace, Sis, so don’t worry about my welfare down here on death watch.  I will endure this without fear, and with as much grace as I can summon.  Whatever happens, it’s all good, it’s just the way it’s supposed to be.
Much Love,
Bill

Bill’s final letter, written on the day of his execution, is much more brief:

Dear Sis,
If you are reading this, I have gone the way of the earth, my atonement fulfilled. When your tears have dried—as they will—and you look up at the sky, allow yourself to smile when you think of me, free at last. Though I have departed my physical vehicle, know that my soul—timeless, boundless and eternal—soars joyfully among the stars.

Despite my many flaws on earth, I was blessed to be loved by so many special souls who saw past my feet of clay and into my heart. Know that in my final hours, it was that love which sustained my spirit and brought me peace. Love, like our souls, is eternal and forever binds us, and in due time it will surely draw us all back together again. Until then, Godspeed to you and all who have loved me!
Light & Love,
Bill

 

Related Reading:

Dispatches From Death Row: William Van Poyck

“I Have 21 Days Left To Live”: Counting Down To An Execution

Florida Executes William Van Poyck

Gov. Scott Signs Death Warrant for Florida Inmate William Van Poyck

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Dispatches From Death Row: William Van Poyck

William Van Poyck
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As part of this ongoing project, I’ve started writing letters to the inmates on Florida’s death row, asking them to answer a series of questions about themselves and their lives. I wrote to William Van Poyck, who goes by Bill, some time ago, after coming across his blog Death Row Diary. He was kind enough to respond and we exchanged a few letters. Here are Bill’s answers to my questions.

What did you want to be when you were a kid? Why?

Like most kids, what I wanted to be when I grew up changed from year to year, but the most consistent career dream was to be an architect. Later that morphed into a city planner, and as I got older I realized that what I really wanted to do was build things, and on a large scale. It was just something that appealed to something deep inside of me.

What time did you wake up this morning and what did you do?

I woke up around 6:30 a.m. this morning when the run-around plopped my breakfast tray down on my tray flap. This is the beginning of each of my mornings. I follow that with some yoga stretches and then begin my day.

What is your daily routine like? 

My daily routine does not change much. I’ll spend the morning either reading (I read a lot) or writing letters, or occasionally watching a little T.V. if there’s something particularly interested on (that’s usually PBS). I eat lunch, then repeat the routine. On yard (outdoor recreation) days I go out and work out. On non-yard days I work out in my cell in the afternoon. In the evenings I watch the news, then watch a few T.V. shows. I read more and write letters, (following mail call, answering the letters I received that night.) However, I do a lot of legal work, (I’ve been a certified paralegal for well over 30 years) so when I have legal deadlines that takes precedence over everything else.

How have you changed since you’ve been here?

I’m a completely different person now than I was when I was arrested for this crime 25 years ago. This is primarily due to a profound, life-changing spiritual experience which occurred in 1987, and which is beyond the scope of this survey.

What do you think happens after you die?

My personal belief is that our natural state is the soul, not the physical body, which is transitory, and that when the body dies, we return to a spiritual plane.

Do you think about your death? Why or why not? And if so, what do you think about, and are you afraid?

I very seldom think about my death, despite the fact that I will almost certainly be executed (I have nothing left in the courts). I’ve never been fearful of death, I’ve lived life recklessly and I’ve cheated death on numerous occasions. I’m not, by nature, a fearful person. Moreover, since I had that spiritual epiphany back in ’87, I’ve been completely at peace with death and dying.

What do you miss most about your life on the outside? Why?

I miss women, female companionship. I love women and I miss them terribly, not just the sex, but women in general. Over and above that I miss freedom,the freedom to choose, to go where I want and to do what I want, the freedom to amount to something, to do good things, to contribute and be constructive.

If you could go anywhere, where would you like to go and why?

India. I love to travel and experience new people and cultures. I’d love to travel through India because of its deep and diverse cultures and history. Also the nature preserves (tigers, elephants, rhinos, etc.)

What’s the worst thing about being here?

Having no control over my situation/circumstances, having no freedom in other words. Until you’ve utterly lost your freedom you have no concept of the depth of that loss.

What do you need to know to survive here and why?

A strong mind. Otherwise, decades locked in a 6’x9′ cell can (will) suck the life and spirit out of your marrow.

What were your first few weeks here like?

My first few weeks were not particularly remarkable because I’d already spent 15 years in prison, about 7 of those years right here at Florida State Prison, so I was already acclimated to prison life. However, because a prison guard was killed in my case I was singled out for very punitive measures. I spent my first three years locked in a special high-security cell on Q-wing, with almost no normal privileges (including no yard for three years).

What would you tell someone just arriving on death row? Why?

Keep your mind occupied doing positive and constructive things (not watching cartoons on T.V.!). Learn law. Learn a new language. Read the classics. Evolve, change and grow—that’s what life is all about and you can do that in a cell as well as you can out on the streets.

What do you dream about? 

I dream about freedom (and women!)

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Florida Death Row Exonerees to Attend Vigil At Tonight’s Execution

Tonight as Florida moves to execute William Van Poyck, two men who faced execution themselves will be protesting outside the prison walls.

Florida exonerees Seth Penalver, who was exonerated just six months ago, and Herman Lindsey, who was exonerated in 2009, will attend a vigil held outside Florida State Prison in Starke, to protest both the execution and the Timely Justice Act, which would increase the rate of executions in Florida.

In a press release about the vigil from Witness to Innocence, Lindsey says, “executing people and speeding up executions when 24 innocent people, so far, have been exonerated, is just plain wrong. How many more innocent people are still on Florida’s death row?”

The two men will join members of Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty in standing across the street from the prison, where they usually hold signs, sing hymns and pray up until the time of execution.

Penalver, who is the most recent death row exoneree in the nation, said in the release, “It’s a sad day in Florida when we are executing people when other states are ending executions and abolishing the death penalty. The Governor refuses to give me five minutes to meet with him after the state of Florida spent 18 years punishing me and sentencing me to death for a crime I did not commit. I want to tell him my story and ask him to veto the Timely Justice Act, which will increase the risk of executing innocent people.”

Related Reading: 

Florida Set to Execute William Van Poyck Tonight

“I Have 21 Days Left To Live”: Counting Down To An Execution

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“I Have 21 Days Left To Live”: Counting Down To An Execution

“Dear Sis~
I’ve got 25 days left to live.  It isn’t normal to be able to write something like that, and that sense of surrealism permeates every hour down here.”

William Van Poyck, scheduled for execution tomorrow night, has maintained a blog for years now, writing letters to his sister which she then posts on his site. His letters cover everything from literature to politics to popular culture, as well as detailing the hidden happenings behind the secretive prison walls. Oftentimes Van Poyck has been the only source detailing inmate deaths and suicides on Florida’s death row, and he regularly provides an insider’s account of executions.

However, it is now the approach of his own execution that Van Poyck is detailing, after Gov. Scott signed his death warrant on May 3.

“Today Governor Scott signed my death warrant and my execution date has been scheduled for June 12th, at 6pm.  I wasn’t really surprised when they showed up at my cell door with the chains and shackles; for the last month or  so I’ve had a strong premonition that my warrant was about to be signed.”

Van Poyck, 58, was convicted in the death of corrections officer Fred Griffis, who was fatally shot in a 1987 escape attempt. Van Poyck and another inmate, Frank Valdez, ambushed two guards in a prison van during transport of another prisoner, James O’Brien. Van Poyck has always maintained that Valdez, who was later stomped to death by prison guards, was the shooter.

Van Poyck’s letters now have a much more personal tone and reveal a first-person look at what it is like to face execution, and the preparations and procedures that go along with it. Below are some samples from the thoughts of a man counting down his final days:

There are now three of us down here on death watch; all our executions are spaced 2 weeks apart.  The guy with senior status (Elmer) is set to die on May 29th, 2 weeks before me….He’s resigned to his fate and I hear him pacing the floor a lot, a pacing that is gradually morphing into a listless shuffling, as if all hope has deflated from his body, like air leaking from a punctured tire.

***

I understand there are usually about two dozen witnesses to these executions and I sometimes wonder about those who will be at mine, unknown, faceless men rooting for me to die, happy to see me breathe my last breath.

***

On Tuesday they came and measured me for my execution/burial suit.  Sometime soon I’ll be given the details on how “the body” will be disposed of following the legally required autopsy (will my cause of death really be a mystery?).  I understand the State will pay for a cremation should I choose this form of disposal (I do) and my ashes will be available at a Gainesville Funeral home; but don’t quote me on that yet.

***

I gotta tell you, Sis, there’s a big difference between contemplating your death in the abstract and seriously considering it when it’s an absolute, undeniable soon-to-occur fact…I got little sleep the first week, perhaps 2 hours a night and then I was up and wide awake at 2:00 a.m., mind racing, thoughts all a-jumble, despite my best breathing and meditation techniques….This still happens a dozen times a day, and more at night.

***

I’ve already thrown or given away 95% of my personal property, the stuff that for years seemed so important.  All those great books I’ll never get to read; reams and reams of legal work I’ve been dragging around, and studying, for 2 decades and which has suddenly lost its relevance.

My magazines and newspapers stack up unread; I have little appetite to waste valuable, irreplaceable hours reading up on current events.  Does it really matter to me now what’s happening in the Middle East, or on Wall Street, or how my Miami Dolphins are looking for the upcoming new season?  What’s the point?

***

The other day I caught myself reaching for my daily vitamin.  Really?, I wondered, as the absurdity hit me.

***

Today my neighbor, Elmer, went on Phase II of death watch, which begins 7 days prior to execution.  They remove all your property from your cell while an officer sits in front of your cell 24/7 recording everything you do.  Staff also performs a “dry run” or “mock execution”, basically duplicating the procedures that will occur 7 days later.

This is when you know you’re making the final turn off the back stretch, you know your death is imminent, easily within reach, you can count it by hours instead of by days.

***

Tomorrow Elmer will be executed and I’ll be next up to bat, with 15 days to live….This may be my last letter to reach you before you begin your journey down south to be by my side for my final days.

***

All is well with me here in the death house.  I’ve been blessed with a strong body and a stout mind and spirit, more than sufficient to see me through this final passage.  The deep love of others, freely given to me by those I’m honored to call my friends, helps ease the journey.

The one thing I am absolutely certain of after 58 years on this rock is that LOVE is the foundation of the cosmos, the very essence of what we call God.  This is the one lesson we all must learn, and will learn in due time, and which gives me my peace.

Related Reading:

Florida Set to Execute William Van Poyck Tonight

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Tonight’s Execution: Elroy Chester, Texas

This is a developing story. Check back for updates. 

Elroy Chester’s is one of two executions scheduled for tonight. There is another scheduled in Florida, which you can read about here.

Update: Elroy Chester has been executed.

Elroy Chester was executed tonight by lethal injection in Huntsville, Texas, but a hearing scheduled for today could derail the state’s plan to carry out the sentence. Update: The Fifth Circuit has ruled against Chester and the motion to stay his execution has been denied. Barring a stay from a higher court, the execution proceeded as planned.

Chester was convicted of the 1998 killing of local firefighter Willie Ryman during a one-man crime spree in which he racked up more than two dozen crimes, including multiple killings. Chester confessed to killing Ryman when he was arrested for the crime, and pled guilty to capital murder. He was sentenced to death in September 1998.

While there is very little doubt about his guilt, the question in Chester’s case is whether he is mentally competent to be executed. His attorneys have argued that he is mentally retarded (I realize this is not the appropriate term for his condition, however it remains the standard term in matters of criminal liability) and thus ineligible for execution under the 2002 Supreme Court ruling deeming execution of the mentally impaired as “cruel and unusual punishment” and thus unconstitutional.

From Jordan Smith’s piece “Smart Enough to Die” for the Austin Chronicle:

Chester repeatedly scored below 70 on IQ tests – the generally accepted upper limit for mental impairment; spent almost his entire childhood in special education classes; never learned to read, to shop or cook, or to live on his own, or even to distinguish among colors, according to court testimony; and was placed in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Mentally Retarded Offenders Program during his previous stays in the pen. Nonetheless, the courts have repeatedly determined that Chester has not proven he is mentally retarded, and is thus eligible for execution.

At issue is the criteria by which Texas defines mental impairment, which I’ve covered before in my posting on last year’s execution of Marvin Wilson. Rather than the standards laid out in the 2002 Supreme Court case Atkins v. Virginia, Texas uses a set of criteria called the Briseño factors. From The Nation‘s Liliana Segura:

“Named after another Texas death row case, these seven non-clinical measures are meant to show whether a given defendant displays a “level and degree of mental retardation at which a consensus of Texas citizens would agree that a person should be exempted from the death penalty.” As an example, the Briseño court cited the fictitious character of Lennie Small, the mentally impaired migrant worker from John Steinbeck’s novel, Of Mice and Men.

Up until now all Chester’s appeals have been denied, and while experts and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals agree he is mentally disabled, the courts have ruled under Briseño that he is not disabled enough to be barred from execution. In 2012 the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the same way, denying another appeal that Chester was mentally disabled.

But now the judge that wrote that ruling came under fire. From Jordan Smith’s piece “Smart Enough to Die” for the Austin Chronicle:

That ruling was penned by the court’s then-Chief Judge Edith Jones about whom a serious complaint of misconduct was filed by a handful of civil rights groups, with the Fifth Circuit’s current Chief Judge Carl Stewart. The complaint alleges that Jones made a number of racist and biased comments during a lecture on the death penalty she gave at the University of Pennsylvania School of Law in February. In addition to claiming that blacks and Hispanics are more violent than are whites, and that claims of racism and innocence made by death row inmates are mere “red herrings,” Jones also opined that the Supreme Court decision that outlawed execution of the intellectually disabled does the disabled a disservice and represents a “slippery slope” in death penalty jurisprudence…

…During the lecture Jones allegedly singled out Chester’s case (among a handful of others) for derision, even though his execution at that time had not yet been carried out, and his case may yet have come back to the Fifth Circuit, and to her, for review….”She said that Chester claimed to be mentally retarded and had been slow in school but he still managed to go on a burglary spree,” reads the affidavit. “In the context of talking about this case and others involving claims of mental retardation, Judge Jones commented that she believes it may do a disservice to the mentally retarded to exempt them from death sentencing.”

In light of Judge Jones’s comments, Chester’s attorney, Susan Orlansky, filed a motion to stay the execution, arguing the injection should be delayed until either a new panel reviews Chester’s case or the complaint against Jones is resolved.

“The Court should not permit Mr. Chester to be executed amid troubling questions about the actual or apparent partiality of the judge who cast the deciding vote [denying his appeal] and [who] authored the opinion in his case,” she wrote.

Yesterday the Fifth Circuit court agreed and assigned a three judge panel to review the previous appeal, but declined to stay the execution, giving the judges just 24 hours to come to a decision.

The new panel denied the motion to stay the execution, writing that they “perceive no injustice, nor any incorrectness, in the affirmance of the district court’s order denying habeas relief, and we correspondingly decline to exercise our discretion to recall mandate.” (Read the court’s full opinion here.)

According to 12 News, media witnesses were called in to view the execution at 6:21 p.m. local time. Chester was pronounced dead at 7:04 p.m. He was the 499th execution in Texas since the death penalty was reinstated.

A reporter for the Associated Press wrote that in his final words, Chester again confessed to the crimes and asked the victims’ family not to have “hate in your heart for me”:

Elroy Chester, 44, said that he didn’t want relatives of his victims to have “hate in your heart for me.”

Chester said he confessed to killing firefighter Willie Ryman III because “you should know who killed your loved one.”

“Don’t hate me. I’m sorry for taking your loved one,” Chester said. “Elroy Chester wasn’t a bad man, I don’t care what anybody says. A lot of people say I didn’t commit those murders. I really did it.”

The next execution in Texas, which will be the 500th, is scheduled for June 26, when Kimberly McCarthy is slated for lethal injection.

Related Reading:

Chief Judge: New Panel Will Be Assigned to Consider Death Row Appeal

Death Watch: Chester to Die June 12

Appeals Panel Rethinks Killer’s Case After Judge’s Comments

Smart Enough to Die

Execution Watch: Elroy Chester to Die June 12

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Execution of Marshall Lee Gore Set to Move Forward As Planned

It appears the execution of Marshall Lee Gore, slated for lethal injection on June 24, will proceed as scheduled, according to the latest court rulings.

Gore, who was given two death sentences for the 1988 killings of Susan Roark and Robyn Novick, at one point received a temporary stay after his attorneys argued that he was insane and should not be executed.

Gov. Rick Scott rescinded that stay on Saturday, June 1, after a three-doctor commission examined Gore and determined him mentally competent to stand execution.

Then on Thursday, June 6, the Florida Supreme Court denied Gore’s motion for a stay, saying there was no “substantive reason for granting a stay.”

Currently no other appeals have been filed and Gore’s execution is scheduled to move forward as planned.

Related Reading:

Killer Ruled Competent; Execution Moves Forward

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John Erroll Ferguson’s Appeal Rejected By Circuit Court

The highly-criticized execution of John Erroll Ferguson could be back on after the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected his appeal.

From the Associated Press:

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today that although Ferguson suffers from mental illness, he has a rational understanding of what he did and why he is scheduled for execution. That was the same conclusion reached earlier by the Florida Supreme Court.

Ferguson’s case made national news when he came within hours of execution last October. Read more at the links below.

The Latest on the Case of John Ferguson

BREAKING: Stay Lifted for John Ferguson, Execution Tonight

BREAKING: Another Stay for John Errol Ferguson

New Execution Date Set for John Errol Ferguson

Update on Upcoming Florida Execution of John Errol Ferguson

Gov. Rick Scott Puts Upcoming FL Execution on Hold

Lawyers Say Florida Death Row Inmate is Likely Insane, Ask Governor to Delay Execution

New Florida Death Warrant

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