TIME Courts

Texas Executes Man After Supreme Court Rejects Impairment Argument

Robert Ladd
Robert Ladd Texas Department of Criminal Justice/AP

Robert Ladd was convicted of killing a woman nearly two decades ago while on parole for a triple slaying

(HUNTSVILLE, Texas) — A Texas man convicted of killing a 38-year-old woman nearly two decades ago while he was on parole for a triple slaying years earlier was executed Thursday evening.

Robert Ladd, 57, received lethal injection after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected arguments he was mentally impaired and ineligible for the death penalty. The court also rejected an appeal in which Ladd’s attorney challenged whether the pentobarbital Texas uses in executions is potent enough to not cause unconstitutional pain and suffering.

Ladd was executed for the 1996 slaying of 38-year-old Vicki Ann Garner, of Tyler, who was strangled and beaten with a hammer. Her arms and legs were bound, bedding was placed between her legs, and she was set on fire in her apartment.

Ladd came within hours of lethal injection in 2003 before a federal court agreed to hear evidence about juvenile records that suggested he was mentally impaired. That appeal was denied and the Supreme Court last year turned down a review of Ladd’s case. His attorneys renewed similar arguments as his new execution date approached.

“Ladd’s deficits are well documented, debilitating and significant,” Brian Stull, a senior staff lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union Capital Punishment Project, told the high court.

Kelli Weaver, a Texas attorney general, reminded the justices in a filing that “each court that has reviewed Ladd’s claim has determined that Ladd is not intellectually disabled.”

Ladd’s lawyers cited a psychiatrist’s determination in 1970 that Ladd, then a 13-year-old in custody of the Texas Youth Commission, had an IQ of 67. Courts have embraced scientific studies that consider an IQ of 70 a threshold for impairment. The inmate’s attorneys also contended he long has had difficulties with social skills and functioning on his own.

Ladd also was a plaintiff in a lawsuit questioning the “quality and viability” of Texas’ supply of its execution drug, pentobarbital. The Texas Attorney General’s Office called the challenge “nothing more than rank speculation.”

When he was arrested for Garner’s slaying, Ladd had been on parole for about four years after serving about a third of a 40-year prison term for the slayings of a Dallas woman and her two children. He pleaded guilty to those crimes.

TIME Courts

Supreme Court Delays Executions for 3 Oklahoma Inmates

The Supreme Court
James P. Blair—Getty Images

State is temporarily barred from using controversial sedative

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday delayed the execution of three Oklahoma death row inmates who are part of a case that could decide the future of lethal injections nationwide.

The court’s order prevents Oklahoma from using the sedative midazolam to execute Richard Glossip, John Grant and Benjamin Cole, who are challenging the state’s current lethal injection protocol. The trio claims that the use of midazolam, which has been criticized by some anesthesiologists as not properly inducing unconsciousness, violates the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Glossip, who was convicted of having his boss murdered, was set to be executed Thursday. Grant, who was convicted of stabbing a co-worker to death, was scheduled to be executed in February. And Cole, handed a death sentence for killing his 9-month-old daughter, was initially set to be executed in March.

MORE: Justices Will Review Use of Midazolam as Execution Drug

Because the Supreme Court’s order specifically prevents Oklahoma from executing the men with midazolam, it’s possible but unlikely that the state will try to use a different drug to carry out their death sentence before the court rules in their case.

The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case last week, making it the first time the court will consider whether a specific method of capital punishment violates the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment since Baze v. Rees in 2008. That decision upheld Kentucky’s three-drug lethal injection protocol. Since then, drug shortages have forced states to use different drugs, including midazolam.

All eyes have been on Oklahoma’s execution protocol since last April, when the lethal injection of a convicted killer went awry. The Supreme Court is expected to make a decision by the end of June.

Read more: Ohio Abandons Controversial Drug Execution Cocktail

TIME Courts

Supreme Court Refuses to Halt Execution of Georgia Man

Warren Lee Hill
Warren Lee Hill Georgia Department of Corrections/AP

His lawyers argued he is ineligible because he is intellectually disabled

(ATLANTA) — Georgia on Tuesday executed a man who killed a fellow inmate despite arguments from his lawyers that his execution was prohibited by the Constitution because he was intellectually disabled.

Warren Lee Hill was put to death by an injection of pentobarbital at the state prison in Jackson. The 54-year-old was pronounced dead at 7:55 p.m. He declined to make a final statement but did accept an offer to have a prayer read over him by a clergy member.

After reading the execution order, the warden left the room at 7:42 p.m. Records from previous executions show that the drug generally begins to flow within a minute or two of the warden leaving the room. Hill kept his head raised, looking out at the witnesses, for a couple of minutes and then laid back and took a few deep breaths before becoming still.

“Today, the Court has unconscionably allowed a grotesque miscarriage of justice to occur in Georgia,” Brian Kammer, a lawyer for Hill, said in an emailed statement. “Georgia has been allowed to execute an unquestionably intellectually disabled man, Warren Hill, in direct contravention of the Court’s clear precedent prohibiting such cruelty.”

Hill was sentenced to serve life in prison for the 1986 killing of his 18-year-old girlfriend, who was shot 11 times. While serving that sentence, he beat a fellow inmate, Joseph Handspike, to death using a nail-studded board. A jury in 1991 convicted Hill of murder and sentenced him to death.

Hill was previously set to die in July 2012, February 2013 and July 2013, but courts stepped in at the last minute with temporary stays so they would have time to consider challenges filed by Hill’s lawyers. State and federal courts rejected his lawyers’ filings this time around, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined his request for a stay of execution at about 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Lawyers for Hill have long argued he is intellectually disabled and, therefore, shouldn’t be executed. State law and a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court decision both prohibit the execution of the intellectually disabled.

But Georgia has the toughest-in-the nation standard for proving intellectual disability. It requires capital defendants to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they are intellectually disabled in order to avoid execution on those grounds. The state has consistently said Hill’s lawyers failed to meet that burden of proof.

Hill’s lawyers have argued that Georgia’s standard is unconstitutional because mental diagnoses are subject to a degree of uncertainty that is virtually impossible to overcome. But the standard has repeatedly been upheld by state and federal courts.

Hill’s lawyers had asked the U.S. Supreme Court to consider Hill’s case in light of a ruling it issued in May that knocked down a Florida law. The high court said in that ruling that defendants should have a fair opportunity to show the Constitution prohibits their execution. Hill’s lawyers argued that ruling should also invalidate Georgia’s tough burden of proof.

Days before Hill was to be executed in February 2013, his lawyers submitted new statements from the three doctors who had examined Hill in 2000 and testified at his trial that he was not intellectually disabled. In their new statements, the doctors wrote that they had been rushed at the time of Hill’s trial, and new scientific developments had surfaced since then. All three reviewed facts and documents in the case and wrote that they believed Hill is intellectually disabled.

The State Board of Pardons and Paroles, the only entity authorized to commute a death sentence to life in prison, on Tuesday rejected Hill’s clemency petition.

TIME Courts

Texas Judge Refuses to Toss Rick Perry’s Abuse-of-Power Case

Gov. Rick Perry addresses a joint session of the Texas Legislature, in Austin, Texas on Jan. 15, 2015.
Gov. Rick Perry addresses a joint session of the Texas Legislature, in Austin, Texas on Jan. 15, 2015. Eric Gay—AP

Despite calls from his pricy defense team

(AUSTIN, Texas) — A Texas judge on Tuesday refused to dismiss a felony abuse-of-power case against former Gov. Rick Perry on constitutional grounds, ruling that criminal charges against the possible 2016 presidential candidate should stand.

In 44 pages of decisions and orders, District Judge Bert Richardson, who like Perry is a Republican, rejected calls from Perry’s pricy defense team to toss the case because its client was acting within his rights as chief executive of America’s second-most populous state when he publicly threatened, then carried out, a 2013 veto of state funding for public corruption prosecutors.

Richardson wrote that, “Texas law clearly precludes a trial court from making a pretrial determination regarding the constitutionality of a state penal or criminal procedural statute as the statue applies to a particular defendant.”

Perry was the longest-serving governor in Texas history but chose not to seek re-election last year and left office Jan. 20. He is seriously considering a second run for president after his 2012 White House bid flamed out in a series of public gaffes, however, and says he may announce a final decision as soon as May.

Perry has spent more than $1.1 million of his campaign funds on his defense — and Richard’s ruling means it will likely continue for several more months at least.

David Botsford, one of Perry’s defense attorneys, said the legal team had filed a notice of appeal. Another attorney, Tony Buzbee, issued a statement saying that the former governor “acted lawfully and properly exercised his power under the law” and that his continued prosecution “is an outrage and sets a dangerous precedent in our Democracy.”

Perry was indicted in August on charges of abuse of official power and coercion of a public servant. He is accused of publicly threatening — then making good on — the veto of $7.5 million in state funding for a public corruption division within the office of Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg. That came after Lehmberg, a Democrat whose county includes Austin, rebuffed Perry’s calls to resign following a conviction and jail time for drunken driving.

Texans for Public Justice, a left-leaning watchdog group based in Austin, raised concerns that gave rise to the criminal case. The group’s executive director, Craig McDonald, released a statement Tuesday saying, “The prosecutor and a grand jury have said there’s compelling evidence against Perry. That evidence should be presented in court for all to see. The chances of that happening improved today.”

In a 60-page motion filed in August, Perry’s attorneys had said the law being used to prosecute him is unconstitutionally vague and decried “attempts to convert inescapably political disputes into criminal complaints.”

Richardson did rule Tuesday that one of the charges against Perry was vague, but he gave the state time to correct it.

A grand jury in Austin — a liberal enclave in otherwise largely conservative Texas — indicted Perry. If convicted, the former governor faces a maximum 109 years in prison. Perry calls the matter a political witch hunt and says he would issue the veto again if given the chance. When he was booked and fingerprinted, Perry smirked in his mug shot — then tweeted about going for ice cream.

Top national Republicans initially lined up to praise Perry and decry the criminal charges against him — but they’ve been less vocal about their support as the case drags on.

An exception was fellow Texan and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, who’s also mulling a presidential run. The tea party favorite on Tuesday night called Perry “a good man, a man of integrity, and a friend.”

“The district court’s decision to allow this case to proceed is both unfortunate and wrong, and it profoundly undermines the rule of law,” Cruz said in a statement.

Richardson had previously refused to toss the case on a series of technicalities Perry’s lawyers raised, including questioning whether the special prosecutor assigned to the case, San Antonio attorney Michael McCrum, was properly sworn in.

McCrum has said from the start that the case is stronger than it may outwardly appear, and that it should be heard by a jury.

TIME Courts

Hunt for Impartial Jurors Delays Boston Bombing Trial

FBI Release Images Of Boston Marathon Bombing Suspects
In this image released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on April 19, 2013, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19-years-old, a suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing is seen. Handout—Getty Images

“Make sure he gets what he deserves," wrote a prospective juror

Finding impartial jurors in the case of alleged bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is proving harder than expected, a federal court in Boston announced Thursday, and the trial that was set to begin next week will be delayed.

Judge George A. O’Toole, Jr. had scheduled opening statements to start on Monday but decided that date was now “unrealistic” given how many jurors had to be dismissed since the voir dire process began Jan. 15, the Los Angeles Times reports. Some said they were already convinced Tsarnaev was guilty, while others stated they could never agree with the death penalty.

Tsarnaev’s lawyers have argued that it will be impossible to find a fair jury in the Boston area, which was reeling after the deadly attack at the Boston Marathon finish line in April 2013. On Thursday, they requested for a third time that the judge move the trial, as 68% of the 1,373,-member jury pool admitted to already thinking of Tsarnaev as guilty.

“I am set in my ways and this kid is GUILTY,” the defense team said one person wrote on the secretive questionnaires. “Quit wasting everybody’s time with a jury and string him up,” said another. And a third wrote: “Make sure he gets what he deserves.”

Last week, the lawyers also asked for a trial delay until the publicity surrounding the recent terrorist attacks in Paris calmed down. O’Toole has repeatedly denied requests that the trial be delayed and moved out of Boston.

[Los Angeles Times]

TIME Supreme Court

‘A Stunning Approval for Abortion': Roe v. Wade Reactions

Anti-Abortion Rally 1973
An anti-abortion rally in New York City on July 10, 1973, Gamma-Keystone / Getty Images

The Supreme Court case was decided on this day in 1973

What happened to Jane Roe was, at the time, nothing special.

She wanted an abortion and couldn’t get one. So, like many others, she had a child and gave him up for adoption. But then she did something that was unusual: she sued. The case that bears her name, Roe v. Wade, was decided on this day, Jan. 22, in 1973. As TIME reported in the Feb. 5 issue of that year, under the headline “A Stunning Approval for Abortion”:

Soon after her illegitimate son was born two years ago, “Jane Roe,” a divorced Dallas bar waitress, put him up for adoption. At almost the same time, “Mary Doe,” an Atlanta housewife, bore a child who was also promptly adopted. Both women had asked for abortions and, like thousands of others, they had been turned down. Unlike most of the others, though, Roe and Doe went to court to attack the state statutes that frustrated them. The resulting legal fights took too long for either woman to get any practical benefit. But last week they had the satisfaction of hearing the Supreme Court read their pseudonyms into the annals of constitutional law. By a surprising majority of 7 to 2, the court ruled that Roe and Doe had won one of the nation’s most fiercely fought legal battles. Thanks to the Texas waitress and the poverty-stricken Georgia housewife, every woman in the U.S. now has the same right to an abortion during the first six months of pregnancy as she has to any other minor surgery.

The ruling, the story continued, was “bold and uncompromising.” Even states that already had few restrictions on abortion would have to make their laws more lax (by, for example, eliminating residency requirements). From that point, abortion during the first trimester would be off-limits to government intervention; after that, the state could make certain regulations but, until the fetus became viable, could not prevent the procedure from happening.

The reasoning, as described in an opinion by Justice Harry Blackmun, was traced to the right of privacy, which he held had become part of the liberty protected by the 14th Amendment. A fetus, Blackmun continued, was not a person and thus has no rights that can run counter to the right to privacy. Further, he took into consideration that many of the U.S. statutes restricting abortion had been written when the procedure was much more dangerous to undertake. The opinion was careful to say that states and doctors were under no obligation to perform abortions, but rather that they not make it illegal for those who would otherwise perform the procedures to do so.

But, even from the first, it was clear that Blackmun’s surety was not echoed nationwide.

Not only did two of his fellow justices disagree, but anti-abortion advocates nationwide also spoke up with their unhappiness about the decision. Protests and angry statements were quick to come, and one group even urged excommunication of Justice Brennan, the court’s resident Catholic. Others lobbied for a constitutional amendment that would force the decision into obsolescence. “No one can predict how successful such an effort would be, but obviously the abortion decision, like those on school prayer, desegregation and criminal rights, has once again brought the court under heated criticism,” TIME commented, noting that a poll taken right before the decision revealed that eliminating first-trimester restrictions was favored among Americans by only a single percentage point more than the opposition. “Such a close division of sentiment can only ensure that while the matter has been settled legally,” the piece continued, “it remains a lightning rod for intense national debate.”

Read the full 1973 story here in the TIME Vault: A Stunning Approval for Abortion

TIME LGBT

12 Key Moments That Led to the Supreme Court’s Same-sex Marriage Case

U.S. Supreme Court Issues Gay Marriage
Gay rights supporter Vin Testa waves a rainbow flag outside the U.S. Supreme Court building on June 26, 2013 in Washington. Win McNamee—Getty Images

The 42-year backdrop for the Supreme Court’s upcoming ruling on gay marriage

1. “The appeal is dismissed for want of a substantial federal question.”

–Unsigned one-sentence ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court, October 10, 1972, Baker v. Nelson.

With these 11 words, the Court dismissed, without oral arguments, the appeal of two Minneapolis men, Richard John Baker and James Michael McConnell, who argued that a clerk’s refusal to issue them a marriage license violated their federal constitutional rights. (Source:Courting Justice, Gay Men and Lesbians v. The Supreme Court, by Joyce Murdoch and Deb Price.)

2. “I don’t believe I ever met a homosexual.”

–Justice Lewis Powell, Jr., in early 1986.

In preparing for Bowers v. Hardwick, a landmark case challenging the constitutionality of a Georgia law criminalizing homosexual sodomy, Powell, then 78, made this observation to one of his law clerks, Carter Cabell Chinnis, Jr. Chinnis didn’t tell Powell that Chinnis was himself gay, as he knew many of Powell’s previous clerks had been, but wondered if Powell suspected it. Powell looked for a compromise position in the case, but couldn’t find one, and voted in the end to uphold the felony statute. [Sources: Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr., by John Calvin Jeffries, Jr., and Courting Justice (above).]

3. “[T]o claim that a right to engage in [homosexual] conduct is ‘deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition’ or ‘implicit in the concept of ordered liberty’ is, at best, facetious.”

–Justice Byron White, Bowers v Hardwick, June 30, 1986.

White wrote this opinion for the Court’s 5-4 majority, upholding Georgia’s law criminalizing homosexual sodomy, evidently finding it difficult to take the plaintiffs’ arguments seriously.

4. “Condemnation of [homosexual] practices is firmly rooted in Judeao-Christian moral and ethical standards.”

–Chief Justice Warren Burger, concurring in Bowers, June 30, 1986.

In joining the majority opinion, upholding Georgia’s law criminalizing homosexual sodomy, Chief Justice Burger’s added: “Decisions of individuals relating to homosexual conduct have been subject to state intervention throughout the history of Western civilization. Homosexual sodomy was a capital crime under Roman law. … [Eighteenth century English jurist Sir William] Blackstone described ‘the infamous crime against nature’ as an offense of ‘deeper malignity’ than rape, a heinous act ‘the very mention of which is a disgrace to human nature,’ and ‘a crime not fit to be named.’”

5. “[A] bare … desire to harm a politically unpopular group cannot constitute a legitimate governmental interest.”

–Justice Anthony Kennedy, Romer v Evans, May 20, 1996.

Justice Kennedy wrote the opinion of the Court for a 6-3 majority. After several cities and villages in Colorado had passed ordinances banning discrimination based on sexual orientation, Colorado voters passed, by referendum, a state constitutional amendment banning and invalidating those ordinances. In Romer, the Court struck down that referendum, marking its first important turn toward protecting gay rights.

6. “The court has mistaken a Kulturkampf for a fit of spite.”

–Justice Antonin Scalia, dissenting in Romer v. Evans, May 20, 1996.

Scalia’s argument continued: “Of course it is our moral heritage that one should not hate any human being or class of human beings. But I had thought that one could consider certain conduct reprehensible–murder, for example, or polygamy, or cruelty to animals–and could exhibit even ‘animus’ toward such conduct. Surely that is the only sort of ‘animus’ at issue here: moral disapproval of homosexual conduct, the same sort of moral disapproval that produced the centuries-old criminal laws that we held constitutional in Bowers.”

7. “The petitioners are entitled to respect for their private lives. The State cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime.”

–Justice Anthony Kennedy, Lawrence v. Texas, June 26, 2003.

In this landmark ruling, the Court, 6-3, overruled Bowers v. Hardwick, and struck down the Texas law criminalizing homosexual sodomy. Kennedy continued: “[A]dults may choose to enter upon this relationship in the confines of their homes and their own private lives and still retain their dignity as free persons. When sexuality finds overt expression in intimate conduct with another person, the conduct can be but one element in a personal bond that is more enduring. The liberty protected by the Constitution allows homosexual persons the right to make this choice.”

8. “Today’s opinion dismantles the structure of constitutional law that has permitted a distinction to be made between heterosexual and homosexual unions, insofar as formal recognition in marriage is concerned.”

–Justice Antonin Scalia, dissenting in Lawrence v. Texas, June 26, 2003.

Though Scalia obviously sought to chide the majority for what he regarded as poor reasoning, many lower-court judges later cited his dissent as proof that the logic ofLawrence now required according constitutional protection to same-sex marriage. Scalia had also written: “If moral disapprobation of homosexual conduct is ‘no legitimate state interest’ . . . what justification could there possibly be for denying the benefits of marriage to homosexual couples exercising ‘[t]he liberty protected by the Constitution’?”

9. “DOMA writes inequality into the entire United States Code.”

–Justice Anthony Kennedy, United States v. Windsor, June 26, 2013.

Justice Kennedy wrote this opinion for the 5-4 majority, striking down a key provision of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which had forbidden same-sex couples, even when lawfully married under state law, from being treated as “spouses” under federal law.

“DOMA’s principal effect is to identify a subset of state-sanctioned marriages and make them unequal,” Kennedy wrote. “The differentiation demeans the couple, whose moral and sexual choices the Constitution protects … and whose relationship the State has sought to dignify. And it humiliates tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples.”

10. “By formally declaring anyone opposed to same-sex marriage an enemy of human decency, the majority arms well every challenger to a state law restricting marriage to its traditional definition.”

–Justice Scalia, dissenting in United States v. Windsor, June 26, 2013.

In his apoplectic dissent, Justice Scalia once again seemed to unwittingly play into the hands of those who favored a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. “The real rationale of today’s opinion,” Scalia wrote, “whatever disappearing trail of its legalistic argle-bargle one chooses to follow, is that DOMA is motivated by ‘bare … desire to harm’ couples in same-sex marriages. … How easy it is, indeed how inevitable, to reach the same conclusion with regard to state laws denying same-sex couples marital status.”

11. “Only the Supreme Court may overrule its own precedents, and we remain bound even by its summary decisions.”

–Circuit Judge Jeffrey Sutton, Obergefell v. Hodges; Tanco v Haslam; DeBoer v. Snyder; Bourke v. Beshear., Nov 6, 2014.

Two months ago, writing for a 2-1 majority, Judge Sutton, of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, upheldsame-sex marriage bans in four cases arising from Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee and Kentucky. He said his hands were tied by the Supreme Court’s one-line 1972 dismissal in Baker v. Nelson (see point 1, above). Since four other U.S. Courts of Appeals had by then ruled that there was a constitutional right to same-sex marriage—and 36 states by this point permitted such marriages—Judge Sutton’s ruling created a “circuit split,” which frequently triggers U.S. Supreme Court review.

In dissent, circuit judge Martha Craig Daughtrey wrote: “If ever there was a legal ‘dead letter’ emanating from the Supreme Court, Baker v. Nelson … is a prime candidate. It lacks only a stake through its heart.”

12. “The petitions … are granted [for] the following questions: 1) Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex? . . .”

–unsigned order of the U.S. Supreme Court, January 16, 2015, Obergefell v. Hodges; Tanco v Haslam; DeBoer v. Snyder; Bourke v. Beshear.

Using standard, understated, formulaic language, the Court agreed on Friday to decide the issue Jack Baker and Mike McConnell tried to bring before it in 1972: Do same-sex couples have a constitutional right to get married. The issue will be argued in late April, and the historic answer handed down in late June.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

TIME Crime

No Plea Deal Likely in Boston Bomber Case

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, George O'Toole Jr.
Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is depicted beside U.S. District Judge George O'Toole Jr. as O'Toole addresses a pool of potential jurors in a jury assembly room at the federal courthouse, in Boston Jane Flavell Collins—AP

There may be little incentive for prosecutors who believe they have incontrovertible evidence to negotiate away their ability to seek the maximum penalty possible

(WASHINGTON) — The focus of the Boston Marathon bombing trial figures to be as much on what punishment Dzhokhar Tsarnaev could face as on his responsibility for the attack.

With testimony expected to start later this month, the Justice Department has given no indication it is open to any proposal from the defense to spare Tsarnaev’s life, pushing instead toward a trial that could result in a death sentence for the 21-year-old defendant.

In a deadly terror case that killed three people, including a child, and jolted the city, there may be little incentive for prosecutors who believe they have incontrovertible evidence to negotiate away their ability to seek the maximum penalty possible.

“There would be now, in my judgment, no reason for the government to reverse course and not let 12 citizens decide if the death penalty is appropriate,” said Larry Mackey, a former Justice Department prosecutor involved in the case of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, who was executed in 2001.

The prospect of a death sentence, a rare punishment in the federal system, raises the stakes of a trial that will revisit in gory detail the 2013 attack that also injured more than 260. Should the jury find Tsarnaev guilty, it would then decide in a separate penalty phase whether he should be sentenced to death. Jury selection is underway and the judge has said he hopes to begin testimony on Jan. 26.

Only three federal inmates, including McVeigh, have been put to death since 2001. Recent botched executions at the state level have placed the practice under scrutiny, with President Barack Obama directing the Justice Department last year to investigate how the death penalty is applied across the nation.

Despite his own personal reservations about the death penalty, Attorney General Eric Holder says the government is committed to seeking that punishment for Tsarnaev. Prosecutors have cited factors including a “lack of remorse,” the evident premeditation involved in the attack and allegations that Tsarnaev also killed an MIT police officer after the bombing that left an 8-year-old boy dead.

“The nature of the conduct at issue and the resultant harm compel this decision,” Holder said in a statement last January.

There has been no indication the government has wavered in that decision, even though one of Tsarnaev’s lawyers, Judy Clarke, has gotten prosecutors to spare the lives of multiple high-profile killers, including Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, Olympic Park bomber Eric Rudolph and Jared Loughner, who killed six people and wounded former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

But there’s also no predicting how a trial will play out, including whether a conviction would result in a death sentence — particularly in liberal Massachusetts, which abolished its state death penalty in 1984. In a bid to save his life, defense lawyers may hope to cast Tsarnaev as an impressionable young man pressured into participating in the attack by his older brother, Tamerlan, who died after a firefight with police days after the bombing.

Gerald Zerkin, a Virginia defense lawyer who represented Sept. 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui, who is now serving a life sentence, said there are obvious benefits for the government to accept a plea in death penalty cases, including to reduce the uncertainty of a trial and to spare victims and their loved ones from reliving the horrific facts of a case.

“You can get a resolution that is life without parole, and you could do it for a lot less money, a lot less time, a lot fewer resources” and without “re-traumatizing victims,” Zerkin said.

Rob Owen, a professor who runs a death penalty case clinic at Northwestern University, said a death sentence will result in years of legal appeals whereas a guilty plea would presumably help the case fade faster from public attention.

But with the trial’s opening arguments projected for later this month, any window for a deal to spare Tsarnaev’s life has likely closed and there’s little reason for the government to entertain the possibility, Mackey said.

“The calculus was done, I’m sure in this case, the day after the bombing, when people were faced full-front with the ugly scenario left on the streets of Boston,” he said.

TIME Courts

Arizona Passes Law Requiring High School Students to Pass Civics Test

(PHOENIX) — Arizona on Thursday became the first state in the nation to pass legislation requiring high school students to pass the U.S. citizenship test on civics before they can graduate — part of a growing nationwide effort to boost civics education.

The swift action by the Arizona Legislature comes as states around the country take up similar measures. The proposal requires high school students to correctly answer 60 of 100 questions on the civics portion of the test new citizens must pass.

Critics question whether the test, which relies on memorization, is the best way to engage students in civics education.

The test is being pushed nationally by the Arizona-based Joe Foss Institute, which has set a goal of having all 50 states adopt it by 2017, the 230th anniversary of the U.S. Constitution. The institute says legislatures in 15 states are expected to consider it this year.

The Foss Institute, whose motto is “Patriotism Matters,” created a civics institute to promote the test to state legislatures as a way to increase knowledge of basic government by students.

“It’s genesis is basically an extension of our original mission in trying to ensure the delivery the very basics civics education that every high school graduate should have,” said institute president Frank Riggs, a former California congressman who ran for Arizona governor as a Republican last year.

Joe Foss is a former South Dakota governor and won the Medal of Honor during World War II. He died in 2003.

Both the Arizona House and Senate quickly passed the bill on just the fourth day of the legislative session, and the newly elected Republican governor, Doug Ducey, is expected to sign it Thursday evening.

The North Dakota House of Representatives overwhelming approved the same measure Thursday, but Arizona’s proposal was the first to pass a full Legislature.

The Arizona bill requires students to correctly answer 60 of 100 questions on the test. Passage would be required to earn a high school or GED diploma starting in the 2016-2017 school year.

Ducey called on the Legislature to make the civics test the first bill to hit his desk as governor. He said studies show that students don’t know enough about basic government to grow into effective citizens.

“These are our children, and not long from now, it will be for them to vote on who sits in your chairs and who stands at this podium,” Ducey said in his State of the State address Monday. “How can we expect them to protect the principles on which this country was founded, if we are not preparing them for that task right now?”

Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, an Arizona native, has supported the initiative. She’s made civics education a prime focus in recent years.

“We’re failing to impart the basic knowledge young people need to know to be effective citizens,” O’Connor said at an event in New Hampshire in September. “In too many schools, the subject of civics is considered an elective or peripheral subject.”

Republican Arizona Senate Majority Leader Steve Yarbrough, sponsoring the bill in his chamber, called the test a needed measure.

“Requiring that students pass this test is not by any means a silver bullet, but I think is a step, a small step forward,” he said. “And I think we need to encourage the people of America to become more aware of the values of America.”

A Democratic senator who opposed the bill, David Bradley, said passing the test would do nothing to make good citizens.

“Don’t be fooled into thinking that this does it, that this solves some bigger problem, because it doesn’t,” Bradley said on the Senate floor. “My point now is tests don’t make citizens, citizens are tested by their actions.”

Bradley also said that “this is not the end-all be-all to citizenship and it doesn’t get us any further down the road.”

A high school government teacher, Joe Thomas of Mesa, said he was concerned that having students take a 100-question test would take up an entire class period and is not an effective way of getting students engaged in civics. He said the test is will require rote memorization rather than something that promotes critical thinking.

“The interest is promoting civics and we want to see students engaged,” Thomas said. “I don’t know if a test engages students.”

TIME Courts

Parents File $100 Million Lawsuit in Son’s Gym-Mat Death

Jacqueline Johnson (left) and her husband Kenneth (right) participate in a rally on behalf of their dead son Kendrick Johnson at the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta on Dec. 11, 2013.
Jacqueline Johnson (left) and her husband Kenneth (right) participate in a rally on behalf of their dead son Kendrick Johnson at the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta on Dec. 11, 2013. Erik S. Lesser—epa/Corbis

Kendrick Johnson was found lifeless in a rolled up mat two years ago

The parents of Kendrick Johnson, the Georgia teenager whose lifeless body was mysteriously found rolled up in a wrestling mat at his high school two years ago, have filed a $100 million lawsuit against 38 people —including local, state and federal law enforcement officials and three classmates.

Kendrick, 17, a member of the wrestling team at Lowndes High School in Valdosta, in southern Georgia, was found upside down in the rolled-up mat on Jan. 11, 2013, when other students climbed on a 6-foot-tall stack of the stored mats.

In a civil suit filed Monday in Superior Court in DeKalb County, in metro Atlanta…

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