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March 01, 2010

Death Penalty in the News

U.S. Supreme Court Rejects Hood Appeal

On April 19, 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to consider an appeal from Charles Dean Hood, a Texas Death Row prisoner convicted of a double murder in 1990.  Mr. Hood claimed that he was denied a fair trial because his trial judge, former District Judge Verla Sue Holland, and prosecutor Thomas O’Connell Jr. had engaged in a secret long-term affair.

In September 2009, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals rejected Mr. Hood’s argument, ruling 6-3 that his lawyers waited too long to raise the issue on appeal despite defense claims that the affair was impossible to confirm until 2008 when a court ordered the now-retired judge and prosecutor to answer questions under oath.  In February 2010, the Texas court threw out Mr. Hood’s death sentence on the basis that the jury had received flawed instructions but upheld his conviction.  Officials said earlier that they were likely to again seek the death penalty during Mr. Hood's new sentencing hearing. 

Mr. Hood petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court, which prompted over 50 law firms, top legal ethicists, former judges, and prosecutors around the country to file briefs urging a new trial on the grounds that the affair undermined public trust in the law, violated the principle that judges must avoid conflicts of interest, and tainted the results of Mr. Hood's legal proceedings.

Texas Death Row Sentences Tossed

On April 28, 2010, two death row prisoners had their sentences thrown out by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.  The two prisoners have been on death row for 20 years.   

The court ruled that jurors who convicted Roy Gene Smith were not allowed to properly consider mitigating evidence of Mr. Smith’s crime-ridden Houston neighborhood and that he was surrounded by poverty and crime throughout his life.   Evidence rules in death penalty cases have changed since he was tried in 1990.   Mr. Smith was convicted for a 1988 slaying.  The case now returns to court for a new sentencing trial.

The court also determined that David Lewis, convicted of killing a woman during a burglary in 1986, should have been able to tell jurors that his eyes were damaged at birth and he began using drugs and alcohol with his abusive mother when he was 13.   Mr. Lewis will receive a new sentencing trial in Angelina County. 

Evidentiary Hearing Set for Troy Davis

On April 27, 2010, Federal District Court Judge William Moore set a date of June 23, 2010, at 10 AM in Savannah, Georgia, for the evidentiary hearing regarding Troy Davis' claim of actual innocence.  Mr. Davis, currently represented by pro bono counsel at Arnold & Porter LLP, filed an original habeas corpus petition with the U.S. Supreme Court in 2009 asserting that new evidence from witnesses who had recanted their trial testimony established his innocence.  He had been denied an evidentiary hearing in the Georgia state and lower federal courts.

On August 17, 2009, the Court directed the District Court in Savannah to hold a hearing to "receive testimony and make findings of fact as to whether evidence that could not have been obtained at the time of trial clearly establishes petitioner's innocence.”  Judge Moore also issued a ruling on various discovery requests made by both parties in the litigation.

In 2001, on Mr. Davis’ behalf, twenty-one exculpatory affidavits were submitted to a federal court in Georgia. These affidavits contained recantations from all but two of the prosecution eyewitnesses, the testimony of another previously undiscovered eyewitness and others with information bearing on the crime - all strong evidence suggesting Davis was not the gunman and is, in fact, innocent of the crimes for which he was sentenced to death.

Anesthesiologists May Be Penalized for Role in Lethal Injections

In April 2010, the American Board of Anesthesiologists announced that it will harshly penalize any health-care worker who assists lethal injections.  Under the new policy, members of the group who participate in an execution by lethal injection may lose their certification and be subject to disciplinary action.  The loss of certification would prevent an anesthesiologist from working in most hospitals.