Death Penalty Focus, Trump plans to execute all 42 people on death row if reelected, SCOTUS denies immunity appeal from San Quentin, Larry Roberts, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Arizona

Trump’s Vow to Ramp Up Federal Executions Sparks Controversy and Alarm. In a startling revelation, Donald Trump’s reelection campaign has unveiled a chilling plan to execute all 42 individuals currently on federal death row if he secures another term in office. The ominous declaration is buried within an extensive 877-page document titled “Project 2025,” outlining the administration’s agenda should Trump prevail in November. Nestled on page 554, a paragraph pledges to pursue “finality” for the 42 prisoners awaiting execution, sending shockwaves through the political landscape.

This announcement comes on the heels of a harrowing spree of federal executions orchestrated by Trump and his Attorney General, William Barr, in 2021. In a span of just six months, 12 men and one woman met their fate on the federal death row—a stark departure from the 17-year hiatus preceding Trump’s tenure. Prior to this resurgence, federal executions had been a rare occurrence, with only three individuals put to death since 1963.

Of particular concern is Trump’s intention to expand the scope of the death penalty to encompass crimes beyond capital murder. The manifesto within “Project 2025” advocates for the inclusion of offenses involving violence and sexual abuse of children—a move that contradicts a landmark ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in Kennedy v. Louisiana (2008). In that case, the Court unequivocally deemed the death penalty unconstitutional for non-homicidal crimes, particularly in instances of child rape where the victim did not perish.

The disproportionate impact of federal executions on communities of color further amplifies the controversy surrounding Trump’s plans. Statistics reveal that 38% of the individuals currently awaiting execution on federal death row are Black—a stark contrast to the 14% representation of Black individuals in the overall U.S. population. Moreover, of the 13 people executed by the federal government in 2021, seven were people of color, underscoring broader concerns about racial disparities within the criminal justice system.

Trump’s proposal to escalate federal executions has ignited widespread condemnation from human rights advocates, legal experts, and lawmakers alike. Critics argue that such a move would not only undermine fundamental principles of justice and human rights but also perpetuate systemic inequalities within the criminal justice system.

As the nation grapples with the implications of Trump’s reelection bid, the specter of expanded federal executions looms large, prompting urgent calls for vigilance, advocacy, and renewed efforts to uphold the sanctity of life and the principles of fairness and equity within the legal system.

Next, the SCOTUS Rejects Immunity Appeal: Families of San Quentin COVID Victims Can Proceed with Lawsuits. In a landmark decision with far-reaching implications, the U.S. Supreme Court has declined an appeal from San Quentin prison officials seeking immunity from lawsuits arising from a devastating COVID-19 outbreak in May 2020. The outbreak, which claimed the lives of 26 incarcerated individuals and one corrections officer, sent shockwaves through the California prison system and drew national attention to the urgent need for pandemic mitigation measures in correctional facilities.

According to a report by the LA Times, the outbreak at San Quentin unfolded following the transfer of 122 individuals from the California Institution for Men in Chino—a facility grappling with its own COVID-19 crisis—to San Quentin, which was reportedly COVID-free at the time. However, within days of the transfer, cases began to emerge at San Quentin, rapidly escalating into a full-blown outbreak. Within weeks, the number of cases soared to 499, eventually infecting over 2,000 incarcerated individuals and 270 staff members by early September.

The Supreme Court’s denial of immunity for prison officials signifies a significant victory for the families of those who lost their lives to COVID-19 at San Quentin, as well as for staff and incarcerated individuals who contracted the virus but survived. The decision paves the way for the continuation of “four major lawsuits” seeking accountability and restitution for the tragic consequences of the outbreak.

This ruling underscores the principle that government officials, including those overseeing correctional facilities, are not immune from legal scrutiny and accountability for their actions—particularly in cases where negligence or misconduct may have contributed to loss of life and harm to individuals under their care.

The denial of immunity also highlights broader concerns about the treatment of incarcerated populations during public health crises and the need for robust measures to protect vulnerable communities within prison walls. The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare longstanding issues of overcrowding, inadequate healthcare, and unsanitary conditions in prisons, underscoring the urgency of addressing systemic flaws within the criminal justice system.

As the lawsuits stemming from the San Quentin outbreak proceed, they serve as a poignant reminder of the human toll exacted by the intersection of public health emergencies and institutional negligence. In seeking justice for the victims and accountability for those responsible, these legal battles carry profound significance not only for the affected families but for society as a whole.

Developments in the Legal Landscape: Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Arizona. In a recent ruling that marks a significant shift in execution protocols, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) has granted the state’s request to extend the intervals between executions to every 90 days. As reported by ABC 7, this decision comes as a modification from the previously established 60-day pauses, which were set by the court in 2023. The court’s decision also includes a mandate that the state can no longer schedule multiple execution dates simultaneously. Instead, executions are to be scheduled individually on Thursdays, at 90-day intervals, with prior notice sent to the corrections department 35 days before the scheduled execution.

This latest adjustment is not the first time the CCA has intervened in the execution scheduling process. In 2022, the court ordered that 25 individuals be executed every 30 days over a five-month period, indicating a precedent for the court’s involvement in determining execution intervals.

Meanwhile, in a separate legal development in Oklahoma, a Pittsburg County judge recently ruled Wade Lay incompetent to be executed. Lay, accused of a fatal shooting during an attempted robbery in 2004, was scheduled for execution on June 6. However, a state psychologist’s assessment concluded that Lay lacked a rational understanding of the reasons behind the state’s decision to execute him, leading to the judge’s determination of his incompetence.

In Pennsylvania, a groundbreaking jury decision resulted in a $16 million wrongful conviction payout to James Dennis, as reported by the Defender Services Office Training Division. Dennis, who spent 25 years on death row for a crime he did not commit, received $1 million from the City of Philadelphia and $3 million each from two detectives involved in his wrongful conviction. This marks the largest wrongful conviction payout in Philadelphia’s history and serves as a stark reminder of the flaws in the criminal justice system.

Turning to Arizona, where executions have been on hold since January 2023, Attorney General Kris Mayes has indicated that executions may resume by early 2025. Following a review of execution protocols initiated by Governor Katie Hobbs, Mayes stated that her office may begin seeking execution warrants next year if the corrections department can ensure lawful executions. This announcement follows a hiatus in executions prompted by concerns over botched executions and administrative changes within the corrections system.

These legal developments underscore the complex and evolving nature of the criminal justice system, where issues of execution protocols, competency evaluations, and wrongful convictions continue to shape the legal landscape. As states navigate these challenges, questions surrounding the ethical and procedural aspects of capital punishment remain at the forefront of public discourse.

Last, Larry Roberts’ decades-long legal saga has taken a remarkable turn as the state of California recently agreed to a judgment that grants him a new trial and relinquishes any intention to retry him. This decision marks the culmination of a protracted legal battle that began in 1980 when Roberts, then 27 years old and serving a life sentence at the California Medical Center in Vacaville, found himself implicated in a series of tragic events.

The incident in question occurred when another individual within the prison was stabbed, subsequently wielding the knife to fatally injure a guard. Despite no direct witnesses to the stabbing, Roberts faced prosecution for both killings, ultimately receiving a death sentence in 1983. However, the California Supreme Court later overturned his conviction for the death of the guard, although his death sentence remained intact.

Now, after years of legal maneuvering and advocacy, the state’s Attorney General’s office has consented to a judgment accepting U.S. District Judge Dale A. Drozd’s ruling, granting Roberts a new trial and effectively closing the chapter on his decades-long ordeal. At 71 years old, Roberts no longer lives under the specter of a death sentence, signaling a profound shift in his legal status and offering a glimmer of hope for a future unburdened by the shadow of past accusations.

This development raises broader questions about the intricacies of the criminal justice system, including the reliability of witness testimony, the challenges of securing a fair trial, and the potential for wrongful convictions. Roberts’ case serves as a poignant reminder of the complexities and fallibilities inherent in the legal process, underscoring the importance of vigilant advocacy and the pursuit of justice.

As Larry Roberts steps into a new chapter of his life, free from the looming threat of capital punishment, his story serves as a testament to resilience, perseverance, and the enduring quest for truth and fairness within the criminal justice system.

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