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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…

Oklahoma House advances measure ending electric chair executions

The Oklahoma House approved legislation Thursday to eliminate the electric chair as a method of execution, although it's been more than 50 years since the state's last electrocution.

The bill lists which execution methods are allowed, including lethal injection, nitrogen hypoxia - which causes death by depleting oxygen in the blood - firing squad and any other form not prohibited by the U.S. Constitution.

Electrocution has not been used to execute an Oklahoma death row inmate since 1966, and a firing squad has never been used in the state.

The measure also would give the Department of Corrections' director the choice of which method to use.

House members voted 74-22 for the bill and sent it to the Senate for a vote.

Oklahoma has executed 112 people since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, the highest per-capita rate in the nation and second overall tally only to Texas, where 537 inmates have been put to death over the last 40 years, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

But executions have been on hold in Oklahoma since a botched execution in 2014 and drug mix-ups during the last 2 scheduled lethal injections in 2015.

Oklahoma was the 1st state to authorize lethal injection as a method of execution, and capital punishment has strong, bipartisan support in the Oklahoma Legislature.

Lawmakers approved the use of nitrogen gas as an alternative method of execution after an inmate writhed on the gurney during a 2014 lethal injection that prison officials tried unsuccessfully to halt.

Last year, voters overwhelmingly approved a statewide referendum that enshrined the death penalty in the state constitution, making it more difficult for future legislators or the courts to end it.

Source: Associated Press, February 17, 2017

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