Texas: Execution Reprieve Granted
A death row inmate received a reprieve from execution about 90 minutes before he was scheduled to be put to death after lawyers questioned whether the state’s lethal injection procedures were legal. The inmate, Derrick Sonnier, 40, was convicted of killing a suburban Houston woman and her 2-year-old son. He would have been the first prisoner put to death in the state in nearly nine months. Executions had been postponed while the United States Supreme Court considered a similar challenge to injection procedures in a Kentucky case. In October, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which granted the reprieve, halted the execution of Heliberto Chi on the same issues. The Chi case has still not been resolved.
Killer's execution delayed - Texas lethal injection was to resume, but Harris County inmate gets new stay
By ROSANNA RUIZ - HUNTSVILLE — Condemned double-murderer Derrick Juan Sonnier received a reprieve about two hours before he was to walk into Texas' death house Tuesday, the second time he has escaped execution.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted a stay of execution after the Texas Defender Service, a watchdog capital punishment group, filed two last-minute appeals in the 40-year-old man's case.
Sonnier was sentenced to die for the 1991 stabbing deaths of Melody Flowers, 27, and her 2-year-old son Patrick.
Authorities said he had stalked the single mother of five for months before the murders.
After he received word of Tuesday's stay, Sonnier called family members and friends, but he did not issue a public statement, a prison spokesman said.
Sonnier was scheduled to die once before, but Harris County prosecutors set aside the Feb. 27 execution date to await the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in a Kentucky case that challenged the constitutionality of its three-drug lethal injection protocol, the same used in Texas and dozens of other states.
In April, the high court upheld the practice, but the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the state's highest criminal court, has not yet ruled on the issue.
So far, three other states have carried out death sentences.
Sonnier was to be the first inmate put to death in Texas since the Supreme Court ruling. Michael Richard was the last, on Sept. 25.
In its appeals, the Texas Defender Service argued that the state made changes May 30 to its lethal injection protocol that have not been reviewed by any court.
Its second appeal argues that the lethal injection protocol violates Eighth Amendment protections against cruel and unusual punishment, an issue raised in two other cases pending before the state court.
Attorney David Dow, of the defender service, said the Texas court's stay was an appropriate move given that it has not yet ruled on the lethal injection process.
The prison system, he added, must also provide more details about the procedure it follows to carry out capital punishment.
Michelle Lyons, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, said the system's protocol has not changed.
Prison officials, she said, made changes to internal written procedures in light of the Supreme Court's ruling, but the procedure remains the same.
Among the additions made, she said, the prison system spelled out the amount of training executioners receive.
"We clarified in writing what we were already doing," Lyons said. "The protocol remains the same."
The state, however, must prove that Sonnier's executioner has indeed completed the minimum training stipulated in the revised document.
Still, the procedural issues raised in the last-minute filings will unlikely free Sonnier from death row, Dow added.
Two of Melody Flowers' daughters and other family members had planned to witness Tuesday's execution.
Tameka Traylor, one of Flowers' daughters, held up a photo of Sonnier as she described him as "somebody that was able to brutally beat an innocent mother and child."
She also said it's been 17 years since the murders and Sonnier still hasn't paid for his crimes.
History of stalking
On Sept. 16, 1991, police found Melody Flowers, 27, in the partially filled tub of her Humble apartment.
She had been bludgeoned with a claw hammer, raped, strangled and stabbed. The stabbed body of her toddler, Patrick, was on top of her.
Sonnier was dating one of Flowers' close friends and lived nearby. Authorities said Sonnier once slipped into her apartment when she was not home.
After the murders, police searched Sonnier's apartment and found Flowers' bloody blouse and a blood-soaked towel that also belonged to her.
Police later found a grocery bag stashed in a field near the complex that had his bloody socks, shoes, and other items that connected him to the crime.
Sonnier has maintained his innocence.
Georgia executes man who killed 2 in 1990
By Greg Bluestein - JACKSON - A man who claimed his attorney was a racist who put up a flimsy defense was executed Wednesday for murdering two people, Georgia's second execution within a month.
Curtis Osborne, 37, was executed at 9:05 p.m. at the state prison in Jackson.
Osborne did not request a special last meal and refused to eat a cheeseburger. He did not make a final statement.
Osborne's execution was delayed for about two hours because the U.S. Supreme Court was considering his final appeal and then prison officials could not find a vein.
While the lethal cocktail of drugs was administered, Osborne's eyes opened at one point and he took a deep breath. His eyes then closed again.
Osborne, who is black, was sentenced to death for the August 1990 fatal shootings of Linda Lisa Seaborne and Arthur Jones.
The two were found shot to death in a car by the side of a dirt road in Spalding County, which is about 35 miles south of Atlanta.
After he was convicted, Osborne claimed his attorney Johnny Mostiler, who is white, referred to him by a racial slur and refused to tell Osborne that prosecutors offered a life sentence for a plea.
He also claimed Mostiler, who died in 2000, told another client that Osborne deserved the death penalty.
Prosecutors dismissed those allegations. Griffin Judicial Circuit District Attorney Scott Ballard called them "outlandish."
Like the nation's high court, the Georgia Supreme Court also refused Wednesday to halt the execution.
Monday, a Georgia parole board declined Osborne's plea for mercy.
Osborne's case attracted the attention of former President Jimmy Carter and former U.S. Attorney General Griffin Bell, who both urged state officials to commute the death sentence to life without parole.
Norman Fletcher, the ex-chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court, showed up in person Monday to ask for leniency.
It was the first time he had made such an appearance, but he said he was drawn in by the "extraordinary nature" of the case.
The lethal injection took 14 minutes to kill Osborne, which concerned protesters who held a vigil at the prison's entrance.
"That was another signal that proves there is a problem with lethal injections," said Sara Totonchi of the Southern Center for Human Rights, one of about two dozen protesters. "This is yet another reason why we must stop executing people until we know more about lethal injection."
Osborne was the fourth person in the nation executed since the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of lethal injection.
Georgia's execution of William Earl Lynd on May 6 was the first in the nation after a seven-month halt on capital punishment.