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Court to hear challenge to speed up California executions
Attorneys News | 2017/06/07 01:07
The California Supreme Court will hear arguments Tuesday over a ballot initiative designed to speed up executions that could fundamentally change the way the court handles death penalty appeals.

Death penalty opponents are challenging a ballot measure passed by a slim majority of voters in November that aimed to reform a dysfunctional system that hasn't executed a condemned killer in more than a decade.

Foes of capital punishment argue that Proposition 66 was unconstitutional because it would take power away from the state's high court to decide how it handles cases and it would disrupt the court system, cost the state more money and undermine the appeals process.

If allowed to take effect, the measure would require more lawyers to take death penalty appellate cases, some trial court judges would be assigned appeals and all state appeals would have to be completed in five years, which is about a third of the time it typically takes.

With a backlog of 380 death penalty appeals, there's concern judges would be overwhelmed trying to speed through appeals, said Elisabeth Semel, a law professor at University of California, Berkeley, who consulted for death penalty opponents on the case.

"There's an enormous ripple effect to that," said Semel, who directs the school's death penalty clinic. "The attention the justices can pay to each individual case is significantly diminished. When you're talking about life and death, that's important."

The ballot initiative supported by 51 percent of voters was designed to "mend not end" capital punishment in California, where nearly 750 inmates are on Death Row and only 13 have been executed since 1978.

A competing measure to repeal capital punishment lost by a slightly wider margin. Both sides acknowledged the current system is broken.

4th Arkansas inmate executed in 8 days lurches on gurney
Attorneys News | 2017/05/02 13:35
Arkansas executed its fourth inmate in eight days Thursday night, wrapping up an accelerated schedule with a lethal injection that left the prisoner lurching and convulsing 20 times before he died.

Kenneth Williams, 38, was pronounced dead at 11:05 p.m., 13 minutes after the execution began at the Cummins Unit prison at Varner.

Arkansas had scheduled eight executions over an 11-day period before one of its lethal injection drugs expires on Sunday. That would have been the most in such a compressed period since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, but courts issued stays for four of the inmates.

The four lethal injections that were carried out included Monday's first double execution in the United States since 2000.

"I extend my sincerest of apologies to the families I have senselessly wronged and deprived of their loved ones," Williams said in a final statement he read from the death chamber. "... I was more than wrong. The crimes I perpetrated against you all was senseless, extremely hurtful and inexcusable."

Williams also spoke in tongues, the unintelligible but language-like speech used in some religions. But his prayer faded off as the sedative midazolam took effect. His final words were, "The words that I speak will forever be, will forever ..." before he fell silent.

The inmate breathed heavily through his nose until just after three minutes into his execution, when his chest leaped forward in a series of what seemed like involuntary movements. His right hand never clenched and his face remained what one media witness called "serene."

After the jerking, Williams breathed through his mouth and moaned or groaned once — during a consciousness check — until falling still seven minutes into the lethal injection.

Williams was sentenced to death for killing a former deputy warden, Cecil Boren, after he escaped from prison in 1999. At the time of his escape in a 500-gallon barrel of hog slop, Williams was less than three weeks into a life term for the death of a college cheerleader.

Court: Florida Docs Allowed to Ask Patients About Guns
Attorneys News | 2017/02/21 02:16
A federal appeals court has cleared the way for Florida doctors to talk with patients about whether they own guns.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that key provisions of a 2011 law that restricted such speech violate the First Amendment.

Three-judge panels of the same court had issued conflicting rulings in a long-running challenge to the law brought by 11,000 medical providers and others. The case has become known as Docs vs. Glocks.

Backed by Gov. Rick Scott, the law prohibited doctors from asking patients about gun ownership unless it was medically necessary. Doctors say asking about guns is a safety issue and could save lives.

While ruling that much of the law violates free-speech rights, the court said some parts could remain in place.

Man accused of terrorism charge with fiancee pleads guilty
Attorneys News | 2016/03/16 23:22
In fresh details provided as a young Mississippi man pleaded guilty to a terrorism-related charge, federal prosecutors said his fiancee led him toward a plan to travel to Syria to join the Islamic State.

Muhammad Dakhlalla, 23, pleaded guilty Friday in Aberdeen to providing material support to terrorism and faces up to 20 years in prison, $250,000 fines and lifetime probation. U.S. District Judge Sharion Aycock hasn't set his sentencing date yet.

His fiancee, Jaelyn Delshaun Young, is set for trial June 6 before Aycock. Plea agreements typically require cooperation with federal prosecutors, so Dakhlalla's plea makes it likely that he would testify against Young if a trial proceeds.

Both remain jailed without bail in Oxford.

A five-page statement of facts added new details about Young's conversion to Islam and her influence on Dakhlalla, who had been raised as a Muslim. The pair at one point planned to claim they were going on their honeymoon while traveling to Syria.

Young, a sophomore chemistry major at Mississippi State University at the time of her arrest, is the daughter of a school administrator and a police officer who served in the Navy reserve. She was a former honor student, cheerleader and homecoming maid at Vicksburg's Warren Central High School.

NY court agrees to rehear Ex-Goldman board member's appeal
Attorneys News | 2016/02/07 22:56
A federal appeals court in New York has agreed to rehear the appeal of the insider-trading conviction of a former board member for Goldman Sachs and Proctor & Gamble.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday issued an order saying it will rehear the claims of Rajat Gupta. His lawyers say his 2012 conviction on conspiracy and securities fraud charges should be tossed because he was innocent and the jury was improperly instructed.

His attorney Gary Naftalis says he is pleased with the court's ruling and believes there are meritorious issues to present on appeal.

The 57-year-old Gupta is confined to his Westport, Connecticut, home. He won't be formally finished serving a two-year prison sentence until next month.

Oldest death row inmate in Georgia, age 72, is executed
Attorneys News | 2016/02/04 22:56
Georgia executed a 72-year-old man, its oldest death row inmate, early Wednesday for the killing of a convenience store manager during a robbery decades ago.

The state Department of Corrections says Brandon Astor Jones was pronounced dead at 12:46 a.m. Wednesday after a lethal injection at the state prison in Jackson. He was convicted in the shooting death of suburban Atlanta store manager Roger Tackett.

The punishment was delayed for several hours while the U.S. Supreme Court considered late appeals from Jones' attorneys. They asked the justices to block the execution for either of two reasons: because Jones was challenging Georgia's lethal injection secrecy law or because he said his death sentence was disproportionate to his crime.

Around 11 p.m. Tuesday, the court denied the requests for a stay.

According to evidence at his trial, Jones and another man, Van Roosevelt Solomon, were arrested at a Cobb County store by a policeman who had driven a stranded motorist there to use a pay phone about 1:45 a.m. on June 17, 1979. The officer knew the store usually closed at midnight and was suspicious when he saw a car out front with the driver's door open and lights still on in the store.

The officer saw Jones inside the store, prosecutors have said. He entered and drew his weapon after hearing four shots. He found Jones and Solomon just inside a storeroom door and took them into custody. Tackett's body was found inside the storeroom.

Woman charged in slayings of Connecticut couple due in court
Attorneys News | 2015/11/02 17:49
A Connecticut woman accused of conspiring with her boyfriend to kill his parents when they were considering cutting him out of their will is scheduled to make her first court appearance.

Jennifer Valiante of Westport is expected to be arraigned Monday in Bridgeport Superior Court on charges including conspiracy to commit murder and hindering prosecution. It's not clear if she has a lawyer.

Her boyfriend, 27-year-old Kyle Navin of Bridgeport, is facing murder charges in the slayings of his parents, Jeanette and Jeffrey Navin of Easton. His arraignment hasn't been set. His lawyer declined to comment.

The Navins disappeared Aug. 4 and their bodies were found Thursday in Weston.

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