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Will the Supreme Court Kill The Death Penalty This Term?

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Will the U.S. Supreme Court add the fate of the death penalty to a term already fraught with hot-button issues like partisan gerrymandering, warrantless surveillance, and a host of contentious First Amendment disputes?
That’s the hope of an ambitious Supreme Court petition seeking to abolish the ultimate punishment. But it runs headlong into the fact that only two justices have squarely called for a reexamination of the death penalty’s constitutionality.
Abel Hidalgo challenges Arizona’s capital punishment system—which sweeps too broadly, he says, because the state’s “aggravating factors” make 99 percent of first-degree murderers death-eligible—as well as the death penalty itself, arguing it’s cruel and unusual punishment.
He’s represented by former acting U.S. Solicitor General Neal Katyal—among the most successful Supreme Court practitioners last term. Hidalgo also has the support of several outside groups who filed amicus briefs on his behalf, notably one from a group including Ari…

Court lifts reprieve for Nicaraguan man on Texas death row

Texas' death house
Texas' death house
HOUSTON (AP) — The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Wednesday lifted a reprieve it gave a Nicaraguan man a day before he was to be executed two years ago for killing a Houston high school teacher during a 1997 robbery.

The state's highest criminal appeals court had halted the scheduled August 2015 lethal injection of Bernardo Tercero after his attorneys contended Harris County prosecutors unknowingly presented false testimony from a witness at his trial in 2000 for the death of 38-year-old Robert Berger. Wednesday's ruling affirms the findings of Tercero's trial court that last year held a hearing on the claim and determined the testimony was proper.

Berger was a customer in a Houston dry cleaners shop in March 1997 and was with his 3-year-old daughter when records show Tercero came in to rob the store. Berger was fatally shot and the store was robbed of about $400. Prosecutors said Tercero was in the U.S. illegally at the time.

Tercero, now 40, argued the shooting was accidental. He testified Berger confronted him and tried to thwart the robbery, and the gun went off as they struggled. He was arrested in Hidalgo County near the Texas-Mexico border more than two years after the slaying. A second man sought in the case never has been found.

Tercero's case has attracted attention in his home country, where a clemency plea from Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega in 2015 was forwarded to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.

In another case, the appeals court Wednesday denied an appeal from Bartholomew Granger, condemned for the slaying of a 79-year-old woman during a 2012 shooting rampage outside the Jefferson County Courthouse.

Attorneys for Granger, 46, raised 10 challenges to his 2013 conviction and death sentence. Five issues focused on claims his trial attorneys were deficient, four raised questions about the constitutionality of the death penalty in Texas and the last contended he was denied his right to an impartial jury.

At his trial, Granger, from Houston, testified under cross-examination that he wanted the death penalty. He was convicted of fatally shooting Minnie Ray Sebolt, a bystander walking outside the courthouse in downtown Beaumont. Granger admitted he opened fire on his daughter outside the courthouse after she testified against him in a sexual assault case. He said he didn't intend to kill Sebolt.

His daughter and her mother were among three people wounded.

In a third case, the appeals court refused an appeal from Charles Raby, 47, who was sent to death row in 1994 for killing a 72-year-old woman, Edna Mae Franklin, at her Houston home. The court said the appeal focusing on DNA testing was improperly filed and did not rule on the merits of the argument. In 2015, the court upheld a lower court finding that results of new DNA tests didn't cast doubt on Raby's conviction for Franklin's 1992 stabbing death.

The appeals court also sent back to a trial court in Bastrop County the lengthy case of Rodney Reed to review claims newly discovered evidence improperly was withheld and to show prosecutors presented false and misleading testimony at Reed's trial where he was convicted and sentenced to death for the 1996 abduction, rape and strangling of 19-year-old Stacy Stites. Her body was found off the side of a road about 35 miles (56.32 kilometers) southeast of Austin.

Last month, the appeals court refused to allow additional DNA testing of evidence in the case, saying the request was meant to "to unreasonably delay the execution of his sentence or the administration of justice."

Source: Houston Chronicle, Michael Craczyk, May 17, 2O17

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