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'Express lane to death': Texas seeks approval to speed up death penalty appeals, execute more quickly

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Texas is seeking to speed up executions with a renewed request to opt-in to a federal law that would shorten the legal process and limit appeals options for death-sentenced prisoners.
Defense attorneys worry it would lead to the execution of innocent people and - if it's applied retroactively, as Texas is requesting - it could potentially end ongoing appeals for a number of death row prisoners and make them eligible for execution dates.
"Opt-in would speed up the death penalty treadmill exponentially," said Kathryn Kase, an longtime defense attorney and former executive director of Texas Defender Services.
But a state attorney general spokeswoman framed the request to the Justice Department as a necessary way to avoid "stressful delays" and cut down on the "excessive costs" of lengthy federal court proceedings.
Robbie Kaplan, co-founder of the #TimesUp movement, says sweeping changes to laws in recent years have dissuaded attorneys from taking on har…

Texas: Execution halted days before Tilon Carter was set to die

Tilon Carter
Tilon Carter
Tilon Carter, 37, received a stay Friday afternoon from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. His execution was set for Tuesday.

For the 2nd time this week, a Texas execution has been stopped days before the man was set to die.

Carter was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death for the 2004 death of 89-year-old James Tomlin in his Fort Worth home. Carter and LaKeitha Allen broke into Tomlin's home, bound him with duct tape and robbed him, according to court records.

Carter has maintained that he never meant for Tomlin to die, that he tied him up and left with the money. But a medical examiner ruled Tomlin died from being smothered, as well as from being tied up and left in a dangerous position.

The stay comes after Carter's attorney filed a late petition requesting a stay of execution on a technicality: the trial court was a day late in notifying the Office of Capital and Forensic Writs that an execution date had been set.

"This is fairly technical thing, but they did technically violate the law," said Robin Norris, Carter's attorney.

According to the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, if the trial court fails to notify the convict's lawyer and the Office of Capital and Forensic Writs that an execution date was set within 2 business days of setting it, the court must reset the execution date. In Carter's case, it took 3 days.

The trial court had rejected Carter's request to reset the execution date, stating that even though it took 1 day more than was required, the execution was still more than 140 days away, longer than the 90 days required between setting an execution date and the actual execution. The Court of Criminal Appeals issued a stay pending its resolution of the issue.

"This is the 1st case I know of that has actually gone to the Court of Criminal Appeals on this question," Norris said. "Most of the convicting courts that have been asked in the past to reset an execution date on the grounds that the Office of Capital and Forensics Writs was not notified in a timely matter have just reset the execution on request. But they didn't do that here."

The Tarrant County District Attorney's Office could not be reached for comment on the case.

The stay was the 2nd in Texas this week. On Tuesday, a federal district court in Corpus Christi stopped the execution of John Ramirez, which was set for Thursday. The state has executed 2 people this year.

Source: The Texas Tribune, Feb. 4, 2017

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