TIME Death Penalty

Georgia Convict First to Be Executed After Botched Oklahoma Lethal Injection

Death row inmate Marcus Wellons is seen in an undated picture from the Georgia Department of Corrections
Death row inmate Marcus Wellons is seen in an undated handout from the Georgia Department of Corrections. Reuters

Convicts in Florida, Georgia and Missouri were set to die within a 24 hour period for the first time since the botched lethal injection in Oklahoma last month

Updated on 06/18/2014 at 12.01 a.m.

(JACKSON, Ga.) — A Georgia inmate became the 1st executed convict in the U.S. since an execution-gone-awry in Oklahoma led to a defacto national moratorium on the practice seven weeks ago. The state used one drug in the execution.

A group of convicts were set to be put to death in three state over the next 24 hours.

With Georgia’s inmate executed, the other convicted killers set to die by lethal injection are from Florida and Missouri.

The states had all refuse to reveal the source of their the drug cocktail to be used in the executions or if those drugs have ben tested. Lawyers for two of the men have challenged the secrecy surrounding the drugs.

States with the death penalty have long grappled with how to continue executing prisoners in a humane way. After the botched execution of Clayton Lockett in late May, human rights activists have upped the urgency of their call to force states to release information about the drugs used to kill prisoners.

In Georgia Tuesday night, Marcus Wellons was scheduled to be executed at 7 p.m. ET for raping and murdering his 15-year-old neighbor in 1989. However, two hours later, the Associated Press reported that “officials were waiting for the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on an appeal.”

Just after midnight CT, John Winfield, who shot three women in the head in 1996 killing two and blinding the third, is scheduled to be executed in Missouri.

Finally, John Ruthell Henry is set to die at 6:00 p.m. ET in Florida on Wednesday. Henry was convicted of stabbing his estranged wife to death just before Christmas, 1985, then murdering her five-year-old son from a previous marriage days later. Testing has shown that Henry has an IQ of 78, the AP reported. The state says that anyone with an IQ over 70 does not qualify as mentally disabled.

[AP]

 

 

TIME justice

Court: Warrantless Cell Location Tracking Is Unconstitutional

A federal appeals court has for the first time said law enforcement can’t snoop on phone location records without a warrant

A federal appeals court has for the first time ruled that law enforcement must have a warrant in order to track a person’s location data from nearby cell phone towers.

“There is a reasonable privacy interest in being near the home of a lover, or a dispensary of medication, or a place of worship, or a house of ill repute,” the three judges of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals wrote in a unanimous opinion Wednesday. “That information obtained by an invasion of privacy may not be entirely precise does not change the calculus as to whether obtaining it was in fact an invasion of privacy.”

The ruling is a landmark victory for privacy activists.

“This opinion puts police on notice that when they want to enlist people’s cell phones as tracking devices, they must get a warrant from a judge based on probable cause,” said American Civil Liberties Union Staff Attorney Nathan Freed Wessler. “The court soundly repudiates the government’s argument that by merely using cell a phone, people somehow surrender their privacy rights.”

The case was originally brought in Miami by Quartavious Davis, who is serving more than 160 years in prison for several violent armed robberies. Davis appealed after phone location data was used as evidence in his case, but a judge declined to vacate his sentence, finding that the police acted in “good faith” in their investigation.

The U.S. Supreme Court has not yet issued a ruling on the question of law enforcement access to suspect cell phone location data. However, in a 2012 opinion — upon which the 11th Circuit judges based their opinion delivered Wednesday — the court found that using a GPS tracking device to follow a suspect’s location does constitute a search and thus Fourth Amendment considerations apply.

TIME Education

This Facebook Post Got 2 Dozen Middle Schoolers Suspended

Georgia students face suspension for commenting on a Facebook post that encouraged breaking the dress code

About two dozen middle school students were suspended over a Facebook post encouraging peers to break their school’s dress code, parents told Atlanta’s WSB-TV 2 News.

A Sunday Facebook suggested that students should violate the dress code by wearing the color red the next day at school. All two dozen students who either shared or commented on the post were suspended, even if they didn’t say they were agreeing to the plan. Some students were given the boot for up to 10 days.

Parents told WSB-TV that “the principal called the students’ actions a terroristic threat.”

School administrators will decide if the suspended students are to be punished further.

[WSB-TV]

TIME georgia

USDA: Georgia Can’t Drug Test Food Stamp Users

Georgia carry law
Georgia Governor Nathan Deal speaks in Ellijay, Ga., on April 23, 2014. John Rawlston—AP

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said in a letter that the Georgia law scheduled to go into effect in early July violates federal policy

The U.S. Department of Agriculture will not allow the state of Georgia to force participants in food stamp programs to pass drug screenings first, authorities said Tuesday.

In March, Governor Nathan Deal signed a law passed by the state legislature that would require drug testing if a state employee believes with “reasonable suspicion” that a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participant is under the influence, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.

The law is scheduled to go into effect on July 1, but Robin D. Bailey, the regional administrator of the USDA Food and Nutrition Service, wrote in a letter posted by Atlanta’s NPR station, WABE, that this would violate Department of Agriculture policy, which “prohibits States from imposing additional standards of eligibility for SNAP participation.”

Georgia’s neighbor to the south, Florida, also tried to pass drug testing requirements for food stamps, but federal courts later declared those to be unconstitutional, the Associated Press reports.

TIME Crime

Elderly Georgia Man Found Beheaded, Wife Still Missing

Russell Dermond's headless body was discovered by worried friends after he and his wife failed to attend a party and answer calls. Authorities worry his wife Shirley, 87, may have been abducted

Federal authorities have joined the investigation of the brutal murder of an elderly Georgia man and the disappearance of his wife, CNN reports.

Russell Dermond, 88, was found decapitated in his suburban Atlanta home on Tuesday by friends concerned about his and his wife’s whereabouts. Shirley Dermond is reportedly missing, while Dermond’s head has not yet been recovered.

The gated community where the couple shared a million-dollar home is typically safe, authorities and residents have told news outlets. But when the Dermonds failed to attend a Kentucky Derby party last weekend, friends and neighbors grew worried.

Investigators, however, do not believe the act was random. Valuables including wallets, a purse, and both of their cellphones were found in the house. Shirley Dermond, 87, is described as a 5-foot-2 gray haired woman who weighs about 148 pounds. Authorities believe she was abducted and have begun searching for her.

“I don’t think it’s a random incident,” Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills said, according to CNN. “I think for whatever reason these people were singled out for this.”

[CNN]

TIME Religion

Georgia’s Sweeping Gun Law Sparks Religious Backlash

Bishop Robert Wright Georgia Gun Bill
Bishop Rev. Robert Christopher Wright participates in a rehearsal for his installation service at the Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel on the campus of Morehouse College in Atlanta on Oct. 12, 2012. Kent D. Johnson—Atlanta Journal-Constitution/AP

Some church leaders are advising parishioners not to bring guns to services, after Gov. Nathan Deal signed what critics call the "guns everywhere" law. Critics include Robert Wright, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta, who sent an open letter to 56,000 members

Robert Wright, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta, sent an open letter last week to the 56,000 members that make up the dozens of Episcopal churches throughout north Georgia with a simple message: Don’t bring guns into the house of God.

The week before, Gov. Nathan Deal signed into law one of the most sweeping gun bills in recent memory. The Safe Carry Protection Act of 2014, which goes into effect July 1, allows Georgia residents with concealed carry permits to bring guns into churches that give express permission, while lowering the fine for bringing a gun into a place of worship to $100. It permits guns in bars, school zones, government buildings and certain areas inside airports. It says the state no longer has to fingerprint law-abiding gun owners to renew their licenses, and that dealers won’t be required to keep sales records for state purposes (federal government record-keeping laws still apply). The NRA has called it “the most comprehensive pro-gun bill in state history.” Opponents have derided it as the “guns everywhere” bill.

But those guns won’t be everywhere. The new law has largely split the state’s Christian denominations between the Georgia Baptist Convention, which supports the bill, and Episcopal and Catholic leaders in the Atlanta area, who have strongly come out against it and expressly told their congregants to leave their guns out of the pews.

“Jesus did not preach a gospel of self-protection, a gospel of live by the sword, die by the sword,” Wright says. “Quite the opposite.”

Wright says that while he understands the need for Second Amendment protections for those wanting firearms for self-defense or for sport he sees the very idea of guns in church as blasphemous.

“Weapons in a place of sanctuary seem to me to be inconsistent with a God of love,” he says. “The prince of peace isn’t spelled P-I-E-C-E. It’s P-E-A-C-E.”

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta issued similar guidelines last week for its parishes, which encompass 69 counties throughout Georgia. “The last thing we need is more firearms in public places, especially in those places frequented by the children and the vulnerable,” Archbishop Wilton Gregory wrote in the May 1 issue of the Georgia Bulletin.

The Georgia Baptist Convention, made up of 3,600 Baptist churches throughout the state, lobbied on behalf of the bill largely because it gives its churches more autonomy, allowing each to determine on their own whether to allow firearms.

“We think it’s important that churches be able to make their own decisions,” says Mike Griffin, a pastor and lobbyist for the Georgia Baptist Convention.

Griffin says that while other denominations often determine policies from the top down, Baptists historically operate from a church-up approach, and the gun bill recognizes that sort of decision-making.

State Rep. Alan Powell, a co-sponsor of Georgia’s gun bill, says the law was written with those churches in mind and has no problems with churches banning guns.

“That’s their business,” Rep. Powell says. “But we had numerous churches testify about wanting to protect themselves from criminal elements. At times, when they’re counting tithes, for example, deacons weren’t allowed to carry a weapon.”

But Bishop Wright says he believes most people of faith in Georgia don’t want guns on church property. And it’s not just Christians. He says he’s heard from Muslim and Jewish leaders as well who oppose it, citing about 200 other religious leaders who have publicly spoken out against the bill.

“I don’t know how you reconcile Jesus who says, ‘Love they neighbor, love thy enemy,’ and at the same time being armed to the teeth,” Wright says.

TIME Bizarre

On-Air Reporter Gives Inspired Newscast of How a Man Robbed a Waffle House with a Pitchfork

Before you ask: Yes, props were used.


Atlanta newscaster Tony Thomas gave an inspired, prop-filled, on-air report last week about how a man robbed a waffle house with none other than a pitchfork. “It wouldn’t be an offensive weapon in your garden, but it was in a Waffle House,” Norcross police Chief Warren Summers told WSB-TV Channel 2. Watch Thomas take the “action” very literally as he reports the news in the way we imagine Ron Burgundy would.

(h/t: Uproxx)

TIME weather

Swarm of Tornadoes Tears Across the South

Constance Lambert embraces her dog after finding it alive when returning to her destroyed home in Tupelo, Miss., April 28, 2014.
Constance Lambert embraces her dog after finding it alive when returning to her destroyed home in Tupelo, Miss., April 28, 2014. Brad Vest—AP

Dozens of twisters across Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee pushed the death toll from this week's storms to at least 35 as the system moves east

Updated 4:58 p.m. ET

At least 16 people were killed Monday as deadly tornadoes ripped through sections of Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee, bringing the death toll for the storm system that hit the Midwest earlier in the week to 35.

The dangerous weather was headed toward Georgia early Tuesday, after having flattened buildings in towns throughout the region, and Governor Nathan Deal has declared a state of emergency.

“For about 30 seconds, it was unbelievable,” said Mississippi state Sen. Giles Ward, whose Louisville home was destroyed in the storm while he huddled in a bathroom with his wife, four kids and dog. “It’s about as awful as anything we’ve gone through.”

The storm system rumbling east across the country has slammed a huge swath of territory with dangerous weather, from Iowa south to Oklahoma and into Arkansas, which alone saw 15 deaths. An estimated 11 tornadoes hit the central U.S. Sunday and 25 ravaged the South Monday, according to a preliminary count from the National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center.

The storm reserved its most severe weather for Mississippi and Alabama. At least 45 injuries and six deaths were reported in Winston County, Miss., on Monday. One was a woman who died in the day care center she operated in Louisville, though it remained unclear if there were children in the center when the storm hit.

In Tupelo, Miss., every building in a two-block area was damaged when a tornado ravaged the town of about 35,000. Limestone County, Ala., suffered severe damage in the storm, which knocked out power to nearly 12,000 and killed two when a twister hit a trailer park in the small community of Coxey.

Power was out for tens of thousands of customers in the region and road crews worked to clear debris from streets Tuesday, the Associated Press reports.

[AP]

 

TIME Courts

Federal Suit Filed to Overturn Georgia’s Gay Marriage Ban

Lambda Legal has filed a lawsuit in federal court to overturn the state's same-sex marriage ban, passed in a constitutional amendment in 2004, which also prohibits the recognition of unions performed in other states

A gay rights group in Georgia filed a lawsuit in federal court Tuesday seeking to overturn the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.

The suit, filed in Atlanta by Lambda Legal, seeks to vacate the voter-approved constitutional amendment passed in 2004 that bans same sex marriage in Georgia. The amendment, which bans same-sex marriage in Georgia and prohibits the state from recognizing such unions performed in other states, won overwhelming support on the ballot that year. The state Supreme Court upheld its constitutionality in 2006.

The Georgia lawsuit leaves only four states with bans on gay marriage that remain unchallenged, according to the Washington Post: Alaska, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota. The suit is filed on behalf of seven individuals and seeks class action status, the Associated Press reports.

[AP]

 

 

TIME weather

At Least Two Dead as Severe Storms Deluge the Southeast

Rusty Murphy
Firefighter Rusty Murphy wades through flood waters in a mobile home park in Pelham, Ala., on Monday, April 7, 2014. Jay Reeves—AP

Heavy rains inundated the American Deep South on Monday, causing widespread flooding throughout the region that killed two people

Severe thunderstorms flooded large swaths of the American southeast for the second straight day and have caused at least two deaths, including that of a nine-year-old girl in Mississippi who was reportedly swept away by floodwaters on Sunday night.

Officials recovered the body of Patrauna Hudson on Monday after she was last seen playing outside near her parent’s home in Mississippi’s Yazoo City northwest of Jackson the previous evening, according to the Associated Press.

The second reported death occurred outside of Atlanta in the suburb of Lilburn when a car swerved off the road and crashed into a local creek on Monday. Local firefighters were only able to recover the driver’s body hours later.

In nearby Augusta, Ga., a practice round ahead of this weekend’s U.S. Masters golf tournament was called off on Monday due to the excessive rain, the first time in an more than a decade such a cancelation had occurred.

Flood warnings remained in place across much of the southeast on Tuesday morning, with more rain forecast to inundate the affected areas for the next 48 hours.

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