death penalty news—-TEXAS

June 22


Texas gets off to slow restart on executions—-Despite delays, experts
predict state will lead nation once again

Of the 3 inmates who had dates with death this year, only one was sent
into Texas' death chamber and executed, an uncharacteristic start for a
state that consistently leads the nation in executions.

Controversy swirled around the state's last execution in September and
re-emerged once the death chamber reopened after the lifting of a de facto
moratorium, imposed as the U.S. Supreme Court considered a challenge to
the lethal injection process.

The Court of Criminal Appeals and the Attorney General's Office worked
until almost midnight Tuesday to ensure that Charles Dean Hood's execution
would be carried out. But in the end, after a volley of appeals, state
prison officials had to scrub the execution as the midnight expiration of
the death warrant neared.

On June 10, the state carried out its 12st execution of the year, putting
to death Karl Chamberlain. His attorneys later complained that they were
in the process of filing an appeal when he was executed.

The 1st inmate to face execution this year, Derrick Sonnier, received a
last-minute reprieve June 3. It came about 2 hours before he was set to
enter Texas' death house.

Despite the sluggish start, experts predict Texas likely will remain the
nation's death penalty capital.

"By the end of 2008, Texas will have the most executions of any state, as
it has for many other years," predicted Richard Dieter, director of the
Washington-based Death Penalty Information Center. "It certainly overall
is a leader in executions."

Swift execution pace

To some, the state appears unchastened by last year's firestorm when
attorneys were unable to file appeals before Michael Richard was put to
death in September.

He was the last inmate executed before the hiatus began. In his case,
Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Presiding Judge Sharon Keller refused to
allow the court clerk's office to remain open after hours so attorneys
could file an appeal after experiencing computer problems.

In April, the high court upheld the lethal injection process, and
executions resumed.

Since then, 7 have been carried out across the nation.

Dieter believes Texas will ultimately resume its swift execution pace,
given an aggressive schedule that far outpaces other states'.

Fourteen inmates are set to be put to death through October, according to
the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's Web site.

Last year, Texas accounted for 26 of the 42 executions carried out across
the country.

Hood, whose execution had been scheduled for last week, had argued in his
appeal that the judge and prosecutor in his trial reportedly had a
romantic relationship. The Court of Criminal Appeals rejected the appeal
on procedural grounds. His attorneys, however, persuaded a state district
judge to vacate his death warrant. The state appellate court subsequently
ruled that the judge had no authority to do so and ordered the warrant
reinstated. With the death warrant set to expire, the prison system took
the unprecedented step to stop the execution.

No such late-night legal wrangling occurred before Sonnier was granted a
stay. The following week, however, the Court of Criminal Appeals dismissed
his claims. He now has a July 23 execution date.

Another execution date has to be set for Hood.

"These last two cases or stays are unusual," said Dieter, of the Death
Penalty Information Center. "Generally, when dates are set in Texas, those
executions go forward."

Last-minute appeals

David Dow, an attorney in the Hood and Sonnier cases, said the state, more
than ever, appears to possess a "lust" for executions.

"The Court of Criminal Appeals couldn't have been more transparent in the
way they helped the state try to get an execution," he said, referring to
last week's maneuvering.

The Attorney General's Office, Dow said, has become less patient when it
comes to last-minute appeals. Attorneys typically notify officials when
appeals are in the works. State attorneys previously were willing to await
filings and delay executions.

Now, Dow said, it seems that if appeals have not been filed and none is
pending in any court, prison officials are allowed to begin the execution

That is what happened in Chamberlain's case, Dow said.

The Attorney General's Office insists that no policy change has occurred.

Legal issues

"When the court-ordered execution time arrived," a spokesman for the
Attorney General's Office said, "Chamberlain's attorneys had yet to file
an additional last-minute appeal, nor had they provided any specific
information to the state or the courts about when any further appeals
might be filed."

Jim Marcus, a University of Texas law professor, said the state should
weigh the legal issues and not technicalities in Hood's and Sonnier's

In Sonnier's appeal, his attorneys argued that changes to the state's
death penalty protocol had not been reviewed by a court. Prison officials
said changes were made simply to clarify executioner training and other
issues raised in the Supreme Court case.

The Court of Criminal Appeals dismissed the claim, citing the Supreme
Court's decision that upheld Kentucky's 3-drug protocol, the same used in
Texas and other states. The Texas court determined that the state's
procedure is substantially similar to Kentucky's.

But Marcus believes that a thorough review of the protocol should be

"If the state courts continue to bury their heads in the sand, the federal
courts will probably step up," Marcus said.

(source: Houston Chronicle)