THIS MONTH FROM DEATH ROW: FEBRUARY 2021

A lot happened this month considering no one was executed anywhere. Below is a rundown of what happened.

THE IMPORTANT MOMENTS

02/01: After the federal execution spree under the Trump administration ended, some of the media witnesses to the executions reported to have contracted COVID-19. Some of the inmates executed by the federal system filed appeals asking to halt their executions due to concerns over the virus. However, all were denied by SCOTUS.

02/03: The Virginia State Senate voted in favor of S.B. 1165, a.k.a. the death penalty repeal bill, in a split 21–17 decision, passing it on to the House of Delegates. Virginia has long been the country’s biggest killer, executing over 1,000 people since 1608. Ending its death penalty would be an immense accomplishment considering this.

The senate roll-call of the 21–17 decision to pass S.B. 1165 in Virginia. Image courtesy of the Senate of Virginia.

02/03: The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stayed this month’s execution of Edward Lee Busby just a week before his scheduled execution. The stay was granted so that they could hear Busby’s mental incompetency appeal. A new date for Busby’s execution has not been set.

02/05: The Virginia State House of Delegates voted 57–41 in favor of passing the death penalty repeal bill, passing it on to lawmakers for approval before sending it to Governor Ralph Northam’s desk.

02/10–02/11: The 11th circuit issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting the state of Alabama from executing Willie B. Smith, III on the 11th. Multiple appeals for a stay of execution were denied leading up to Smith’s execution date. On the day the execution was scheduled for, just minutes before midnight, SCOTUS lifted a stay that was put in place but voted to keep the preliminary injunction in effect. Smith was not executed and a new date hasn’t been set for his execution.

Willie B. Smith, III. Photo courtesy of the Alabama Department of Corrections

02/18: A bipartisan group of Ohio lawmakers is introducing legislation to end the death penalty in Ohio. This has happened in years past and has turned out negative. However, it is predicted that it might actually pass this year. Ohio hasn’t executed someone since 2018 when they executed Robert Van Hook. Since then, all scheduled Ohio executions were stayed. There is also a predicament on the method of execution in Ohio. In early December, Governor Mike DeWine stated that there will be no executions in Ohio until lawmakers can decide on a different method of execution. Considering this is not on top-priority legislation, it’s likely that it won’t happen anytime soon.

02/22: In the morning, SCOTUS decided on several appeals of Certiorari. Here was the result:

The following death row prisoners exhausted their appeals on the 22nd:

  • Lance Hundley (OH)
  • David Renteria (TX)
  • Eduardo Vargas (CA)
  • Blaine Milam (TX)
  • Ronnie Fuston (OK)
  • Vincent McFadden (MO)
  • Dean Carter (CA)
  • Terrance Valentine (FL)
  • Robin Archer (FL)
  • Rodney Berryman (CA)
  • Stacey Johnson (AR)
  • Joe Johnson (CA)

The following death row prisoners had their conference and decision date rescheduled:

  • Ernest Johnson (MO)
  • Charles Thompson (TX)
  • Frederick Whatley (GA)

Anthony Hines from Tennessee had no update on the order list or any indication of rescheduling.

02/23: The bipartisan bill to end the death penalty in Ohio was launched. Will Ohio become the 24th state to abolish its death penalty? We may soon find out.

02/23: The Montana death penalty repeal bill was tabled by a Republican state house delegate before there could be much debate between delegates. Montana has only executed 3 people since 1976 with the last being in 2006. The state hasn’t been able to carry out an execution since 2015 after a federal district court blocked the use of 1 drug in their lethal injection protocol for executions. Another bill was recently introduced to change the protocol. The status of that, I’m not sure of.

02/23: A house committee in South Carolina voted 14–7 in favor of replacing the default method of execution from lethal injection to electrocution. South Carolina hasn’t carried out an execution since 2009 and hasn’t carried out an electrocution execution since 2008. The state tried to execute 2 inmates in 3 months, spanning from December of 2020 to this month, but both had been granted a stay. This was because the state did not have the drugs used in their lethal injection protocol after both inmates refused to choose their method of execution, which defaulted to lethal injection.

02/24: The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stayed Ramiro Rubi Ibarra’s execution just 1 week before it was scheduled to be carried out. This was granted so that courts could take time to consider his claims of intellectual disability and junk science. This means no executions will be carried out next month either.

02/25: Because Alabama was prohibited from executing Willie B. Smith, III on the 11th because of religious freedom concerns, the state’s AG has agreed to amend the state’s execution protocol to permit a spiritual advisor in the execution chamber with an inmate. The state will not have to hassle with this problem if the execution protocol is amended before the next time they execute an inmate. There are currently no scheduled executions in Alabama as of this month.

The execution chamber in Atmore, Alabama where Alabama death row inmates are executed. Photo courtesy of Bill Starling from Al.com

FEBRUARY EXECUTION SCHEDULE

February 4th: Smith, Oscar F.

  • State: Tennessee
  • Result: STAYED (Granted by the Tennessee Supreme Court on January 6th, 2021 due to COVID-19 concerns)

February 10th: Busby, Edward L.

  • State: Texas
  • Result: STAYED (Granted by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on February 4th, 2021 due to claims of Busby being intellectually disabled)

February 11th: Smith, Willie B, III

  • State: Alabama
  • Result: PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION GRANTED (Granted by SCOTUS. The injunction was put in place over the issue of religious freedom)

February 12th: Sigmon, Brad

  • State: South Carolina
  • Result: STAYED (Granted by the South Carolina Supreme Court on February 5th, 2021 due to the state not having the required drugs in their lethal injection protocol)

February 18th: O’Neal, James

  • State: Ohio
  • Result: REPRIEVED (No further information given)

MARCH EXECUTION SCHEDULE

Below is the execution schedule for March of this year as of February 25th. Results that are not in bold are subject to change. Bold results are finalized.

March 4th: Ibarra, Ramiro R.

  • State: Texas
  • Result: STAYED (Granted by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on February 24th, 2021 due to courts needing more time to consider his intellectual disability and “junk science” claim)

March 18th: Bonnel, Melvin

  • State: Ohio
  • Result: REPRIEVED (No further information given)

March 24th: Cepec, Steven E.

  • State: Ohio
  • Result: DATE REMOVED (No further information given)

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