The 6 people scheduled to be executed in the next 3 weeks
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Five states plan to execute six individuals over the next month, the most executions to occur in such a short time span since the Trump administration.
April 21: Tennessee is scheduled to put Oscar Smith to death. Texas is scheduled to execute Carl Buntion.
Oscar Smith: Tennessee’s second-oldest death row prisoner (72 years old), convicted of killing his estranged wife and her two sons in 1989. New DNA technology used on one of the murder weapons brought into question Smith’s culpability, but the Davidson County Criminal Court denied his motion to reopen the case.
“DNA evidence shows that an unknown assailant — not Mr. Smith — used the bloody murder weapon (an awl) found at the crime scene to murder Mr. Smith’s family,” said Smith’s federal public defender Amy D. Harwell, who filed the 13-page motion for post conviction relief alongside Assistant Federal Public Defender Katherine Dix.
Smith is also part of a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the state’s lethal injection protocol.
Carl Buntion: Texas’ oldest death row prisoner, convicted of shooting and killing a police officer in 1990. He has been on death row during the 30 intervening years, including the best part of 20 years in solitary confinement. At 78 years old, Bunion suffers from arthritis, vertigo, hepatitis, sciatic nerve pain that makes it difficult to walk, and cirrhosis (chronic liver disease).
The Supreme Court declined to hear his appeal last year. Justice Stephen Breyer wrote that “procedural obstacles” make it difficult to hear the case, but that the “excessive delay” of 30 years from sentencing to punishment both “‘undermines the death penalty’s penological rationale’ and is ‘in and of itself . . . especially cruel because it subjects death row inmates to decades of especially severe, dehumanizing conditions of confinement.’”
The Court has previously recognized that the uncertainty of waiting in prison under the threat of execution, even for a span of just four weeks, is “one of the most horrible feelings to which [a person] can be subjected.” In re Medley, 134 U. S. 160, 172 (1890). On top of that, solitary confinement bears “‘a further terror and peculiar mark of infamy.’” Id., at 170; see also Davis v. Ayala, 576 U. S. 257, 289 (2015) (Kennedy, J., concurring) (“Years on end of near total isolation exact a terrible price”). Buntion has now been subjected to those conditions for decades. His lengthy confinement, and the confinement of others like him, calls into question the constitutionality of the death penalty and reinforces the need for this Court, or other courts, to consider that question in an appropriate case.
April 27: Texas is scheduled to execute Melissa Lucio
Melissa Lucio: The first Hispanic woman to be sentenced to death in Texas. Lucio was convincted of murdering her two year old daughter Mariah in 2007 under questionable circumstances. At the time, she and nine out of her 14 children lived below the poverty line in Texas with her boyfriend. Her daughter was found unresponsive after allegedly falling down the stairs, with what prosecutors described as signs of abuse.
Lucio was arrested and questioned for seven hours by the Texas Rangers without a lawyer present and without receiving any food or water. After telling the interrogator that she never abused her daughter more than 100 times, she stated: “I guess I did it. I’m responsible.”
Cameron County District Attorney Armando Villalobos presented her statement as a “confession” and as the primary evidence of her guilt. Villalobos was running for re-election at the time. He is now in federal prison for bribery and extortion.
Jurors found that Villalobos solicited and accepted over $100,000 in bribes and kickbacks in the form of cash and campaign contributions in return for favorable acts of prosecutorial discretion, including minimizing charging decisions, pretrial diversion agreements, agreements on probationary matters and case dismissals. Furthermore, Villalobos solicited and arranged for private counsel to handle civil and forfeiture matters associated with criminal matters pending in the Office of the District and County Attorney of Cameron County.
Furthermore, Lucio’s defense attorney went on to work for the district attorney’s office shortly after the trial.
And, if that wasn’t enough, many of the jurors who sentenced Lucio to death have spoken out against the outcome.
Galvan had been reluctant to impose a death sentence on Lucio. For a time, he was the lone holdout, but he’d ultimately voted for death. Now he feared that he’d made a grave mistake. “If I would have had the knowledge that I have now, Melissa would be free,” he said…
If Galvan had not been so stressed about finding work, perhaps he would have held out longer against the death penalty. But he felt pressured by his fellow jurors, who were also anxious to go home. One of them pointed to the Gospel of Matthew, which suggested that people who hurt small children should be thrown into the sea with a millstone around their necks. For Galvan, a devout Christian, the Bible passage was enough to persuade him…
In a subsequent declaration, Galvan admitted that no evidence stood out to him that proved Lucio had murdered her daughter. “The fact that you can’t pinpoint what actually caused Mariah’s death means that she shouldn’t be executed,” he said.
A bipartisan collection of Texas lawmakers have pressed the state to halt Lucio’s execution. During a Criminal Justice Reform Committee hearing last week, Cameron County District Attorney Luis Saenz appeared to commit to withdrawing his request for an execution date after hours of urging from the lawmakers. “If defendant Lucio does not get a stay by a certain day,” he said, “then I will do what I have to do and stop it.”
April 29: South Carolina is scheduled to execute Richard Moore
Richard Moore: The first person to be executed by South Carolina in over a decade, and the first person to be executed by firing squad in the US since 2010 (Utah has killed three inmates via firing squad over the past ~50 years).
Moore was convicted of a convenience store robbery in 2019 that resulted in the death of a clerk. He entered the store unarmed, intending to rob the establishment to support his cocaine addiction. The clerk pulled a gun on Moore, the pair fought over the weapon, with Moore ultimately taking control and shooting the other in the head and back.
The jury sentenced Moore to death, despite the state’s lack of evidence that Moore entered the store intending to kill (he did not bring a weapon). However, there was a problem: South Carolina has not been in possession of a usable dose of lethal injection drugs since 2013.
In a court filing Friday, Moore chose to die by firing squad but added in a statement he will not lose hope in two pending court challenges to the constitutionality of the state’s death penalty methods. “I believe this election is forcing me to choose between two unconstitutional methods of execution, and I do not intend to waive any challenges to electrocution or firing squad by making an election,” he said in the statement.
May 3: Missouri is scheduled to execute Carman Deck
Carman Deck: Sentenced to death despite having his sentence overturned three separate times.
Deck was arrested for the 1996 murder of an elderly couple during a home robbery. His first sentence in 1998 was overturned by the Missouri Supreme Court due to ineffective assistance of counsel. Five years later, during the retry of his penalty phase, Deck was forced to wear shackles in court. The defense objected numerous times, saying it could prejudice the jury, but the judge overruled their concerns each time. The jury again sentenced Deck to death.
Deck appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing the shackles infringed on his rights to due process under the 5th and 14th Amendments. In a 7-2 opinion written by Justice Breyer, the Court sided with Deck:
We hold that the Constitution forbids the use of visible shackles during the penalty phase, as it forbids their use during the guilt phase, unless that use is “justified by an essential state interest”—such as the interest in courtroom security—specific to the defendant on trial…the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments prohibit the use of physical restraints visible to the jury absent a trial court determination, in the exercise of its discretion, that they are justified by a state interest specific to a particular trial.
That wasn’t the end of his case, however. Deck was sentenced to death again in 2008. Nearly a decade later, U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry vacated his third sentence, calling the process fundamentally unfair” due to the absence of witnesses (who were either missing or deceased by that point). Then, in 2020, a three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Perry’s ruling and reinstated the death penalty for Deck,
May 11: Arizona is scheduled to execute Clarence Dixon
Clarence Dixon: Native American man (65 years old) once determined to be legally insane
Dixon was sentenced to death for the 1978 murder of a Arizona State University student, after DNA from the case was tested against a national database. 21-year-old Deana Bowdoin had been raped, strangled, and stabbed to death in her Tempe apartment.
The details of Dixon’s case are not publicly in dispute. Instead, his defense lawyers argue that Dixon is mentally incompetent:
Defense attorneys say Dixon has been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia on multiple occasions, has regularly experienced hallucinations over the past 30 years and was found “not guilty by reason of insanity” in a 1977 assault case in which the verdict was delivered by then-Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Sandra Day O’Connor, nearly four years before her appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court. Bowdoin was killed two days after the verdict, according to court records.
Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich is asking the Arizona Supreme Court to cancel a mental competency hearing scheduled for May 3rd. If the state’s highest court sides with the prosecutors, Dixon’s lawyers will likely appeal in federal court.