TIME Crime

Colorado Movie Theater Shooter’s Parents Plead for His Life

"He is not a monster. He is a human being gripped by a severe mental illness," James Holmes' parents said

The parents of the man accused of killing 12 people when he opened fire in a Colorado movie theater in 2012 are pleading that their mentally ill son be spared the death penalty.

In a letter published Friday in the Denver Post, Robert and Arlene Holmes argued that their son James has a “serious mental illness” and should be either imprisoned for the rest of his life or placed in an institution for the mentally ill, but not executed. “We have read postings on the Internet that have likened him to a monster,” the couple wrote. “He is not a monster. He is a human being gripped by a severe mental illness.

“We believe that the death penalty is morally wrong, especially when the condemned is mentally ill,” the added.

After multiple delays, jury selection for Holmes’ trial is scheduled in January. Holmes has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

TIME Capital Punishment

U.S. Executions Reach a 20-Year Low

An independent autopsy of death row inmate Clayton Lockett, who was executed in April at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, Okla., ruled that Lockett died as a result from the drugs administered to him by prison officials and not from a heart attack. AP

It has been a tortured year for capital punishment in the U.S., with multiple botched executions, last-minute stays, and exonerations raising questions about the nation's ability to constitutionally met out the punishment

Amidst a nationwide reflection on the future of the death penalty in the U.S., the nation in 2014 reached a 20-year low in carried-out executions, the Death Penalty Information Center said in its annual report.

Seven states executed 35 people this year, the lowest number since 1994, said the think tank, which does not have a position on whether capital punishment should be banned. The number of executed prisoners nationwide has been in decline since 1999, when 98 death sentences were carried out.

Meanwhile, the number of people sentenced to death also dropped to a 40-year low of 72 people, the report found. There are 30 executions scheduled for 2015.

The center said that three botched executions, including the 43-minute ordeal of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma, where all executions are now on hiatus, prompted a national re-examination of the death penalty and led to delays. In each of those bungled executions, the state relied on lethal injection drugs it sourced from providers it refused to name, as well as mixed in untested cocktails, according to the report.

Also at issue in a re-evaluation of capital punishment are inexact or violated protocols for measuring prisoners’ mental competence and eligibility for execution, as well as the threat of executing an innocent person, the center said. Seven death row inmates were exonerated this year, according to the center.

TIME China

China Sets Deadline to Stop Taking Organs From Executed Prisoners

Starting next month, China will end its ethically unsettling reliance on transplant organs culled from its condemned prisoners, state media said

China will no longer harvest transplant organs from executed prisoners from the start of 2015, a decision praised as ethical but which renews questions about where the world’s most populous nation will find much needed organs.

State-run newspaper China Daily says the Chinese government will end the globally criticized practice of taking organs from its condemned population by Jan. 1.

China is the only country to as a rule take organs from executed people, a practice that has led to allegations that prisoners and their families are coerced into signing off on the donations and that demand for more organs could translate into more death sentences.

China carefully guards the number of people it executes as a state secret, but U.S.-based human-rights group Dui Hua estimates that the Chinese state killed about 2,400 people last year, an enormous drop from around 12,000 people in 2002 and marking a continuous decline in executions over the past decade.

Chinese supplies of transplant organs are far short of the nation’s needs, partly because of traditional burial procedures, as well as to public suspicion that organ waiting lists are holding pens for those who cannot pay their way out of them, Huang Jiefu, China’s Vice Minister of Health, was quoted in local press as saying. State officials said in 2011 that condemned prisoners provided about 64% of the nation’s transplant-organ supplies.

Huang told local media that about 300,000 patients are annually wait-listed in China for an organ donation that, ultimately, only about 10,000 of them receive. Just 1,500 organs have been donated so far this year, he said. The paucity of donated organs has fueled a black-market organ trade that has also raised considerable ethical questions.

In the U.S., which has a population about a quarter of China, 9,512 people donated organs in the first half of this year, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Some 120,000 people in the U.S. are still awaiting organs.

TIME Crime

Florida Executes Man Convicted of Killing His Wife and Stepdaughter

Death row inmate Chadwick Banks is seen in an undated picture from the Florida Department of Corrections in Raiford, Florida
Death-row inmate Chadwick Banks is seen in an undated picture from the Florida Department of Corrections in Raiford, Fla. Handout—Reuters

Chadwick Banks had spent half his life in prison

A Florida man who spent more than 20 years in prison for killing his wife and stepdaughter was executed by the state on Thursday.

Chadwick Banks, 43, was administered a lethal injection on Thursday evening at the Florida State Prison, Reuters reports.

Banks was arrested in 1992, four days after he fatally shot his wife Cassandra Banks while she was sleeping. He later confessed to raping and killing his 10-year-old stepdaughter Melody Cooper soon after the shooting.

Banks’ execution is the 89th in Florida since the U.S. reinstated the death penalty in 1976.

[Reuters]

TIME South Korea

South Korean Ferry Captain Sentenced to 36 Years in Prison

SKOREA-ACCIDENT-BOAT-TRIAL
Sewol ferry captain Lee Joon-seok, center, is escorted upon his arrival at the Gwangju District Court in the southwestern South Korean city of Gwangju on June 24, 2014 Wonsuk Choi—AFP/Getty Images

The chief engineer received a 30-year sentence, while the other 13 members of the crew will serve up to 20 years

The South Korean ferry captain in charge of the vessel that capsized in April and killed more than 300 people, most of them high school students, was sentenced to 36 years in prison on Tuesday.

Lee Joon-seok, 68, on trial along with 14 other crew members for their role in the sinking of the Sewol ferry, was convicted of gross negligence, according to the Associated Press. Prosecutors had demanded that Lee be given the death penalty.

The ship’s chief engineer was convicted of murder and handed a 30-year sentence while the rest of the crew were given sentences ranging from five to 20 years, South Korean agency Yonhap News reported.

Earlier in the day, South Korean authorities called off the search for the bodies of remaining victims with nine still unaccounted for.

[AP]

TIME Crime

Texas Executes Woman for Murder of 9-Year-Old

Texas Execution
This undated handout photo provided by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice shows Lisa Coleman AP

She is the 15th woman to be executed in the U.S. since the reinstatement of capital punishment in 1976

A Texas woman convicted of starving and torturing her girlfriend’s 9-year-old son to death was executed on Wednesday evening.

Lisa Coleman, the ninth person executed in Texas this year, was put to death by lethal injection about an hour after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a last-ditch appeal from her legal team.

Coleman, 38, was sentenced to death in 2006 for the murder of Davontae Williams, who in 2004 was found dead in the Arlington, Texas, apartment that Coleman shared with the child’s mother, Marcella Williams.

The emaciated child weighed just 36 lb. — about half the weight of the average 9-year-old — and had been suffering from pneumonia, as well as more than 250 injuries, including burns, the Texas Tribune reports. Records showed that Williams and her son had been the subject of six child-abuse investigations, the Tribune says.

Coleman’s lawyers had contended that the boy’s death was an accident, arguing that the child had mental-health issues and that the two women had exercised poor judgment in trying to handle him, according to the Associated Press.

Murdering a child under 10 years old has been listed as a capital murder offense in Texas since 2011.

Williams, the child’s mother, accepted a plea bargain after Coleman was sentenced to death. She is serving a life sentence.

AP reports that Coleman “mouthed an audible kiss,” as well as “smiled and nodded to several friends and an aunt” in attendance behind glass. She also expressed love for her fellow female prisoners on Texas’ death row and said the women should “keep their heads up.”

“I’m all right,” AP reported her as saying. “Tell them I finished strong … God is good.”

Coleman’s last words were, “Love you all,” AP says, before she closed her eyes, took “a couple of short breaths” and stopped moving. She was pronounced dead at 6:24 p.m. C.T., 12 minutes after officials administered the execution drug, pentobarbital.

The next execution in Texas, home to the U.S.’s busiest death chamber, is scheduled for Oct. 15. The inmate, Larry Hatten, was convicted in 1995 of shooting a 5-year-old child to death and attempting to kill the child’s mother.

TIME justice

California to Fight Ruling Against Death Penalty

California Attorney General Kamala Harris Announces Lawsuit
California Attorney General Kamala Harris speaks during a news conference on October 10, 2013 in San Francisco. Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

State Attorney General Kamala Harris to appeal

California is appealing last month’s federal court ruling that declared the state’s enforcement of the death penalty to be unconstitutional.

State Attorney General Kamala Harris said Thursday that she would appeal the ruling by Judge Cormac Carney of the U.S. Central District of California, who said that the state’s death penalty violated the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Last month, Carney, a Republican-appointed judge in Orange County, vacated the death sentence of Ernest Jones, who was convicted in the 1995 rape and murder of his girlfriend’s mother but is still on death row. In a lengthy decision, Carney ruled that uncertainties and delays over executions in the state violated inmates’ constitutional rights.

“The dysfunctional administration of California’s death penalty system has resulted, and will continue to result, in an inordinate and unpredictable period of delay preceding their actual execution,” Carney wrote. “As for the random few for whom execution does become a reality, they will have languished for so long on Death Row that their execution will serve no retributive or deterrent purpose and will be arbitrary.”

The case will now move to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

“I am appealing the court’s decision because it is not supported by the law, and it undermines important protections that our courts provide to defendants,” Harris said in a statement. “This flawed ruling requires appellate review.”

Only 13 people have been executed in California since the death penalty was reinstated in 1978, and no inmate has been executed since 2006. More than 900 are currently on death row in the state.

TIME Crime

IV Lines Placed Properly in Two Hour Arizona Execution: Doctor

An undated photo of Joseph Rudolph Wood. Wood who was sentenced to death for the killing in 1989 of his ex-girlfriend and her father, was executed by lethal injection in Florence, Arizona on July 23, 2014.
An undated photo of Joseph Rudolph Wood. Wood who was sentenced to death for the killing in 1989 of his ex-girlfriend and her father, was executed by lethal injection in Florence, Arizona on July 23, 2014. Arizona Department of Correction/EPA

The doctor who performed the autopsy on Joseph Wood says the IV lines that delivered the fatal drugs in the prolonged lethal injection were not the problem

A doctor who performed an autopsy on Joseph Wood, the Arizona death row inmate whose July 23 lethal injection lasted almost two hours, says that prison officials properly placed the IV lines that administer the deadly drugs.

The autopsy, performed by Dr. Gregory Hess of the Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office, appears to show that a two-drug combination of hydromorphone and midazolam entered Wood’s veins without incident, according to the Associated Press. The statement appears to foreclose one possible explanation for why Wood’s death took so long. A properly administered lethal injection is supposed to last no more than 15 minutes.

Wood, who was sentenced to die for murdering his ex-girlfriend and her father in 1989, reportedly gasped and snorted during his one hour and 57 minute-long execution. The prolonged episode was the third state-sanctioned killing to go awry this year and has renewed the debate over the legality and morality of lethal injection.

The improper placement of IV lines can lead to drugs leaking into the surrounding tissues rather than going directly into the bloodstream. A preliminary autopsy of Oklahoma death row inmate Clayton Lockett found incorrectly administered IV lines to be the reason his April execution took almost 45 minutes.

 

TIME justice

Execution Gone Awry Prompts Concern Over Dubious Lethal-Injection Drugs

Arizona Execution Drugs
With the state prison in the background, about a dozen death-penalty opponents pray as they await the execution of Joseph Wood in Florence, Ariz., on July 23, 2014 Associated Press

Many states won't disclose how they obtain the chemicals used in lethal injections, bringing into question the constitutionality of recent executions

There are just over 3,000 prisoners on death row in the U.S., and 32 states where their execution remains a legal course of action. The decision to implement capital punishment in these states is generally accepted as constitutional, so long as its procedure is in line with the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel-and-unusual punishment.

The execution of Arizona inmate Joseph R. Wood III on Wednesday took nearly two hours to complete, over much of which Wood “gasped and struggled to breathe,” according to a statement released by his defense team. Of the 26 state-sponsored executions committed in the U.S. so far this year, Wood’s was the third to seemingly go awry due to the use of largely experimental lethal chemicals, prompting outrage from those who cite these incidents as evidence that capital punishment is not constitutionally viable given the apparent suffering of its recipients.

“His two-hour struggle to death goes beyond cruel and unusual. It’s torment. It’s something you’d see in third-world and uncivilized societies,” Arizona state senator Ed Ableser told TIME on Wednesday night. “It’s embarrassing to see that our state once again is in the news for everything that is wrong that happens in our government.”

The execution should have lasted no more than 15 minutes; when it became clear to witnesses that Wood’s death would be prolonged, his attorneys unsuccessfully filed an emergency appeal to end the proceedings, the final of several attempts to save his life. On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court had approved the execution after a lower court ruled that Arizona, in refusing to declare how it had obtained the lethal chemicals to be used in the injection, may have violated Wood’s First Amendment rights.

In Woods’ execution, the state used a combination of the sedative midazolam and the painkiller hydromorphone — the same cocktail used by the state of Ohio in the execution of Dennis McGuire in January, in which the inmate floundered and wheezed on a gurney for nearly half an hour before the state pronounced him dead.

In a statement released after Wood’s death, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer said she was “concerned by the length of time” it took for the injection to kill him, and that she has instructed the state’s Department of Corrections to investigate the matter thoroughly.

It’s still not certain whether Woods indeed suffered pain — state officials have insisted that he was comatose throughout the process — but in any case, his prolonged death draws further attention to the efficacy of the lethal chemicals used for capital punishment in the U.S., one of the world’s last developed nations to still punish its worst criminals with death.

States have been struggling to devise new lethal chemicals to be used in capital punishment since 2011, when U.S. and European pharmaceutical companies ceased to manufacture and sell sodium thiopental, an anesthetic compound that has traditionally been essential to America’s execution cocktails. It has been a process of trial and error, of learning from mistakes. The mistakes are those execution attempts that do not transpire according to plan — typically marked by a death that comes more slowly and viscerally than anticipated.

In recent months, the hesitation of certain states to disclose information about the new chemicals has fueled a public skepticism over the exact physiological effects of these drugs on those to whom they’re administered.

“It’s time for Arizona and the other states still using lethal injection to admit that this experiment with unreliable drugs is a failure,” Cassandra Stubbs, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Capital Punishment Project, said in a statement released after Wood’s death. “Instead of hiding lethal injection under layers of foolish secrecy, these states need to show us where the drugs are coming from. Until they can give assurances that the drugs will work as intended, they must stop future executions.”

Nearly a third of all executions involving the sedative used to kill Wood “have had extremely troubling problems,” according to a report released last month by the Death Penalty Information Center.

“Arizona appears to have joined several other states who have been responsible for an entirely preventable horror — a bungled execution,” defense attorney Dale Baich told the press. “The public should hold its officials responsible and demand to make this process more transparent.”

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: July 21

1. Israel and the world must focus on not ‘going all the way’ in Gaza.

By Charles Ogletree in the Washington Post

3. Two Haitan policymakers debate what’s more important for their country: justice or tourism.

By Samiha Shafy in Spiegel

4. We can address one factor driving America’s border crisis: American guns fueling gang wars in Central America.

By Alex MacGillis in the New Republic

5. In the future, art will be for everyone, and the internet will be the delivery system.

By Lisa Wade in Sociological Images

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

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