Archive for the

‘Supreme Court’ Category



Gary Cone, Gaile Owens, EJ Harbison

Gary Cone

The US Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of Cone v. Bell. Gary Cone, the defendant, is currently on Tennessee’s death row for the 1980 murder of an elderly Memphis couple. There is no doubt of Cone’s guilt. However, Cone’s defense has uncovered serious allegations of prosecutorial misconduct, including the withholding of critical evidence for Cone’s defense.

“You’re saying that the lawyer, the trained lawyer for the government, who knew this information and knew the defense — just what? Just overlooked it by accident? Just what?” Breyer demanded.

The evidence in question was whether or not Cone was a drug user. Cone’s initial defense and mitigation in the sentencing phase was predicated on his drug abuse. The prosecution argued that he was not a drug user despite holding evidence, including statements from law enforcement and the FBI that validated his drug abuse. “Cone’s attorney, Thomas C. Goldstein, told the justices that the evidence was key to his client’s insanity defense or could at least be presented as a mitigating circumstance that would keep him from being put to death.”

Personally, I am not at all surprised by the arguments that made justices “exasperated.” Time and time again we learn of significant prosecutorial misconduct in the course of seeking death sentences. Cone’s case came out of Shelby County which accounts for a disproportional 40% of our death row. Even more troubling to me is that appeals courts, which serve as an “audit” of previous rulings, did not weed this out. “When Cone tried to present the evidence in a new round of appeals, Tennessee courts mistakenly said it had been considered and rejected.”

Read more coverage of this case from the Washington Post and NPR.

Gaile Owens

“The first woman ever to be sentenced to death in Tennessee is a step closer to execution Tuesday after the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals denied her habeas petition in a 2-1 decision. Nashville-based Judge Gil Merritt filed the dissenting opinion.”

“Owens argued for relief before the Sixth Circuit on grounds that she received ineffective assistance of counsel when trial counsel failed to adequately investigate her background and failed to overcome the state’s hearsay objection to one of her penalty-phase witnesses; the state violated Brady v. Maryland by failing to turn over letters between her deceased husband and his paramour; and the trial court unconstitutionally prevented her from offering, as mitigating evidence, testimony that she wanted to plead guilty in return for receiving a life sentence.”

The Nashville Scene blog, Pith in the Wind, also laid out the three key issues. “She received jaw-droppingly ineffective assistance of counsel, the state withheld crucial exculpatory evidence, and the trial court unconstitutionally prevented her from offering testimony that she wanted to plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence.”

“Stacy Rector, executive director of the anti-death penalty Tennessee Coalition to Abolish State Killings (TCASK), told The City Paper in response to the ruling that she was not happy with the decision.

“I am very disappointed by the 6th Circuit court’s decision in the case of Gaile Owens,” Rector said adding “the death penalty in this case is grossly disproportionate considering that Ms. Owens was willing to plead guilty and spend the rest of her life in prison for this crime; but, because her co-defendant wouldn’t plead, the case went to trial. Her attorneys spent only two hours of pretrial investigation and no hours — literally zero hours — preparing for her sentencing hearing.”

“Rector also pointed to a Monday recommendation from the Tennessee Committee to Study the Administration of the Death Penalty that the Tennessee General Assembly create an independent commission to oversee capital defense in Tennessee based on the “woefully inadequate defense many capital defendants receive at trial.”

“The case of Gaile Owens is but one more example of this problem,” Rector said.”

Read the rest of this City Paper article by CLICKING HERE. Read the rest of the Nashville Scene blog by CLICKING HERE.

EJ Harbison

Governors nationwide that are for and against the death penalty are backing Tennessee death row inmate, EJ Harbison. Harbison’s case is currently before the US Supreme Court. “Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland is a Democrat who supports the death penalty. Former Gov. Richard Celeste is a Democrat who opposed it. Both have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to rule in favor of a death row inmate from Tennessee seeking a federally funded lawyer to help with his clemency request.

“The issue before the court is relatively narrow: Does an existing federal law that authorizes funding for death row inmates’ lawyers also cover state clemency hearings?”

“The Tennessee public defender’s office said it didn’t have the resources to represent Harbison in a clemency request. So he asked for a federally appointed lawyer. Federal and district appeals court judges said the law doesn’t authorize such funding.”

Read the rest of this article by CLICKING HERE.

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Justice Stevens Renounces Death Penalty

On initial viewing the ruling in Baze v. Rees is simple–7 Justices upholding Kentucky’s lethal injection protocols and 2 Justices dissenting that ruling. Underneath that count is a splintered court that produced a separate concurring opinion by Justice John Paul Stevens.

An article focused on the ruling can be read HERE.
An article focused on Justice Stevens’ opinion can be read HERE.

In the majority controlling opinion Chief Justice John Roberts made the following statements. “A slightly or marginally safer alternative” would not suffice, the chief justice said. He added: “Simply because an execution method may result in pain, either by accident or as an inescapable consequence of death, does not establish the sort of ‘objectively intolerable risk of harm’ that qualifies as cruel and unusual” under the Eighth Amendment.”

It is important to clarify that Baze v. Rees was a case about the method of lethal injection and whether those methods violated the 8th amendment–not lethal injection itself. “The challenge was to the details of the injection’s administration: the chemicals used, the training of the personnel, the adequacy of medical supervision, and the consequences and risk of error.” The justices were asked to rule if the risk imposed by the current lethal injection protocol in the state of Kentucky was in violation of the 8th amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

“In an opinion concurring with the majority’s judgment, Justice Stevens said he felt bound to “respect precedents that remain a part of our law.” But outside the confines of the Kentucky case, he said, the time had come to reconsider “the justification for the death penalty itself.””

“He wrote that court decisions and actions taken by states to justify the death penalty were “the product of habit and inattention rather than an acceptable deliberative process” to weigh the costs and risks of the penalty against its benefits.”

What troubles Justice Stevens is that states are justifying their death penalties as a result of its flaws rather than its successes. If states wanted to improve upon their death penalties they would be facing challenges based on what they can do better, not on what they are already doing, and continue to do wrong.

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Buyer’s Remorse

Kudos to James Staub for his piece in Sunday’s Tennessean. As a murder victim’s family member, James’ voice is of vital importance as the state of Tennessee examines the death penalty, particularly concerning the question of whether or not it serves victims’ families.

James points out that the current lethal injection debate is just one detail as we consider the larger questions involved with the death penalty. He raises issues of wrongful convictions, cost, and the increasing numbers of victims’ families, law enforcement, and district attorneys who believe that the death penalty is a diversion of tax dollars and an ineffective deterrent.

As I read the article and continue to reflect on the death penalty as a public policy, I wonder again and again why we hang on to it? If it is not a deterrent, costs too much, does not serve victims’ families, and is not necessary to protect us, then why? Why?

Fairly, there are numerous aspects you would like to think about medications. All discount medicaments save money, but few online drugstores offer better deals than other online drugstores. There isn’t anything you can’t order online anymore. Remedies like Deltasone ordinarily is used to treat diseases such as eye problems. Glucocorticoids naturally occurring steroids, which are easily absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract. There are varied drugs for every conditions. Cialis is a remedy prescribed to treat many illnesses. What do you already know about long term side effects of cialis? What consumers talk about how long does it take for cialis to take effect? A general sexual complaint among men is the erectile dysfunction. Sexual problems mostly signal deeper problems: low libido or erectile dysfunction can be the symptom a strong health problem such as core trouble. Albeit the erectile dysfunction itself isn’t necessarily dangerous, erectile dysfunction is sometimes one of the early warning symptoms of other underlying health conditions that can be so dangerous. Unfortunately nearly all over-the-counter medicines have sometimes dangerous aftereffects, from muscle aches to death. If you buy any erectile dysfunction medicaments like Cialis, check with a physician that they are sure to take with your other drugs. Do not take unwanted medications. Take Cialis to your local chemist’s shop which will dispose of them for you.

A Rube Goldberg Machine


About 10 minutes ago my sister made me aware of this fantastic article from Time Magazine titled “Death Penalty Walking” written by David Von Drehle. I am embarrassed to say that she found it before me, but, she writes for Time Inc. so she has a slight advantage. You can read the article HERE. The article, spurred by the US Supreme Court case, gives a comprehensive review of the problems plaguing this public policy as well as discussion into lethal injection and the importance of Baze v. Rees.

On the method of executions:

“In a perfect world, perhaps, the government wouldn’t wait 30 years and several hundred executions to determine whether an execution method makes sense. But the world of capital punishment has never been that sort of place. This weighty moral issue, expressive of some of our society’s deeply held values, involves a lot of winging it. In 1990, for instance, a sponge used in the headpiece of Florida’s electric chair wore out. There’s no factory or parts catalog for execution devices, so the prison sent a guy to pick up a sponge at the store. Problem was, he bought a synthetic sponge instead of a genuine sea sponge, and when Jesse Tafero was strapped in, his head caught fire. Florida officials diagnosed the problem afterward by testing a similar sponge in a toaster.”

Does this really surprise anyone? Well, let me rephrase, does this surprise anyone already familiar with how bungled up the death penalty is?

On lethal injection’s inception:

“In comparison, lethal injection sounds more scientific–almost therapeutic–but its history is as improvised as that supermarket sponge. In 1977 an Oklahoma lawmaker sketched the protocol on a notepad with the help of a medical examiner. More research has gone into the proper way to brush your teeth.”

From what I understand, one of the more compelling reasons that a 3 drug cocktail has been administered for so long is that officials felt it would be odd to use the same procedures on animals as on humans. Animals (sick ones) are fortunate enough to receive a one drug dose which kills them in a humane manner while humans (healthy ones) are given a concoction that was chosen because it was simply divergent than the animal practices.

Fix it or end it:

“The debate almost always comes down to the question of whether to fix it or end it. But these alternatives largely miss the reality. Every attempt to fix the death penalty bogs down in the same ambivalence. We add safeguards one day, then shortcut them the next. One government budget contains millions of dollars for prosecutions, while another department spends more millions to defend against them. Indeed, the very essence of ambiguity is our vain search for a bloodless, odorless, motionless, painless, foolproof mode of killing healthy people. No amount of patching changes the nature of a Rube Goldberg machine.”

Reading that above made me think of sitting in on the committee meetings thus far here in Tennessee. Any attempt to fix it is of course a positive act and one that I would welcome, but, it would cost the state millions of dollars and (the article delves into this) open up new venues for death penalty attorneys to appeal their cases. I applaud Tennessee’s efforts to study and fix the administration of the death penalty but as always, I will continue to advocate for abolition.

Uniqueness of Baze v. Rees

“There’s nothing attractive about the specifics of the death chamber. In the arguments on Jan. 7, the Justices may hear descriptions of bloody surgeries, called cutdowns, performed by EMTs and less trained prison officials as they struggle to insert IV lines into the ruined veins of longtime drug abusers. Without a doctor present, it often falls to prison officials–sometimes watching from a separate room–to determine whether an inmate is unconscious or simply paralyzed as the searingly painful heart-stopping agent potassium chloride takes effect.”

I’d like to think we live in a civilized society in the year 2008 but that paragraph conjures up thoughts up methods of torture from the Middle Ages. If we didn’t have the death penalty we would not have to waste our time with this case, amending the methods, the appeals, etc. Also, family members of the victims would not receive false promises of retribution and closure that never comes. Instead, they could rest easy knowing from the very beginning that the murderer will be behind bars in terrible conditions for the rest of their natural life. If the death penalty were never an option in the first place, I believe victims would be better served.

Fairly, there are numerous aspects you would like to think about medications. All discount medicaments save money, but few online drugstores offer better deals than other online drugstores. There isn’t anything you can’t order online anymore. Remedies like Deltasone ordinarily is used to treat diseases such as eye problems. Glucocorticoids naturally occurring steroids, which are easily absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract. There are varied drugs for every conditions. Cialis is a remedy prescribed to treat many illnesses. What do you already know about long term side effects of cialis? What consumers talk about how long does it take for cialis to take effect? A general sexual complaint among men is the erectile disfunction. Sexual problems mostly signal deeper problems: low libido or erectile disfunction can be the symptom a strong health problem such as heart trouble. Albeit the erectile dysfunction itself isn’t necessarily dangerous, erectile dysfunction is sometimes one of the early warning symptoms of other underlying soundness conditions that can be so dangerous. Unfortunately nearly all over-the-counter medicines have sometimes dangerous aftereffects, from muscle aches to death. If you buy any erectile malfunction medicaments like Cialis, check with a physician that they are sure to take with your other drugs. Do not take unwanted medications. Take Cialis to your local chemist’s shop which will dispose of them for you.

Supreme Court Hears Arguments on Lethal Injection


Today, the US Supreme Court will begin hearing arguments on whether or not the current protocols of lethal injection are in violation of the 8th amendment of the Constitution which bans cruel and unusual punishment. The Justices are not being asked to rule on the constitutionality of the death penalty which was determined constitutional three decades ago. A wave of cases revolving around lethal injection across the United States in lower courts has piqued the attention of the highest court in the land. One of the key rulings was here in Tennessee in which Judge Aleta Trauger ruled that the current lethal injection protocols were unconstitutional. However, it was a case in Kentucky, Baez v. Rees, that made its way to Washington D.C. Supporters of the Kentucky petitioners stated that the current method poses an “unnecessary risk of pain and suffering.”

The Knoxville Sentinel has an AP article covering the case and also includes a poll asking readers if they believe in capital punishment. Read the article HERE. If you could take one second and visit the above link and vote NO, you can make your voice heard. The article highlights one of the most confusing aspects of this case and the challenges being posed to capital punishment.

“But when the justices return from their holiday break and hear arguments today in a lethal injection case from Kentucky, their questions are unlikely to focus on whether capital punishment or even the method of lethal injection is right or wrong.

The two death row inmates whose challenge is before the court are not asking to be spared execution or death by injection. Their argument, at its most basic, is that there are ways to get the job done relatively pain-free.”

The last blog post by Stacy highlighted the confusion that many have, including our own state’s legislators. Lethal injection is still a viable method for execution–once the protocols are again deemed constitutional. I believe the hope of the US Supreme Court is to ensure that lethal injection is in fact lethal. I don’t think that is much to ask for as a civilized Western nation in the year 2008.

Fairly, there are numerous aspects you would like to think about medications. All discount medicaments save money, but few online drugstores offer better deals than other online drugstores. There isn’t anything you can’t order online anymore. Remedies like Deltasone ordinarily is used to treat diseases such as eye problems. Glucocorticoids naturally occurring steroids, which are easily absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract. There are varied drugs for every conditions. Cialis is a remedy prescribed to treat many illnesses. What do you already know about long term side effects of cialis? What consumers talk about how long does it take for cialis to take effect? A general sexual appeal among men is the erectile disfunction. Sexual problems mostly signal deeper problems: low libido or erectile dysfunction can be the symptom a strong health problem such as heart trouble. Albeit the erectile disfunction itself isn’t necessarily dangerous, erectile dysfunction is sometimes one of the early warning symptoms of other underlying heartiness conditions that can be so dangerous. Unfortunately nearly all over-the-counter medicines have sometimes dangerous aftereffects, from muscle aches to death. If you buy any erectile dysfunction medicaments like Cialis, check with a physician that they are sure to take with your other drugs. Do not take unwanted medications. Take Cialis to your local chemist’s shop which will dispose of them for you.