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The state of the world's human rights

22 October 2010

Arizona must stop execution of man failed by his defence lawyer

Arizona must stop execution of man failed by his defence lawyer

Amnesty International has urged authorities in the US state of Arizona to commute the death sentence of a man who has been denied a hearing into his claims that he was failed by his court-appointed lawyer at his 1990 trial.

Jeffrey Landrigan, a 50-year-old Native American, is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection at Arizona State Prison at 10am on Tuesday 26 October, for the murder of Chester Dyer in Phoenix in December 1989.

Since 2005, 13 federal judges have argued that there should be a hearing into Jeffrey Landrigan's claim that he received inadequate legal representation.

"Too poor to afford his own lawyer, Jeffrey Landrigan was given one who was clearly not up to the job," said Rob Freer, USA researcher for Amnesty International.

"Justice demands that the Governor of Arizona grants clemency and commutes the death sentence in a case where the courts have failed to do the right thing."

The defence lawyer failed to prepare any expert testimony on Jeffrey Landrigan's background to present as mitigating evidence at the sentencing phase of the trial.

Eight years after the trial, a neuropsychologist concluded that a combination of inherited factors; exposure to drugs and alcohol while in the womb, early parental rejection and troubled relationships with his adoptive family had "severely impaired" Jeffrey Landrigan's ability to function in society.

In 2007, the trial judge Cheryl Hendrix, who retired in 2001, said in a sworn statement provided to Jeffrey Landrigan's appeal lawyers that she would not have sentenced him to death if she had heard such mitigating evidence. She said that if she had been presented with the type of expert findings made by the neuropsychologist in 1998, it would have left her "no choice" but to pass a life sentence.

As the execution approaches, serious questions have been raised about the lethal injection process. On Wednesday, the Arizona authorities admitted in court that they did not obtain sodium thiopental, one of the drugs it intends to use in Jeffrey Landrigan's lethal injection, from Hospira, the sole manufacturer of the drug in the USA.

This suggests that the sodium thiopental was obtained from a source outside the country and that it is not approved by the Federal Food and Drug Administration for use on humans.

Despite this, in a ruling issued on Wednesday, the Arizona Supreme Court denied the motion for a stay of execution filed by Jeffrey Landrigan’s lawyers and allowed Arizona to keep secret where it obtained the sodium thiopental.

Like most other US death penalty states, Arizona uses three drugs for executions by lethal injection – sodium thiopental (an anaesthetic), pancuronium bromide (a paralytic agent) and potassium chloride (a heart-attack inducing agent).

There is currently a nationwide shortage of sodium thiopental, which has so far resulted in delays in executions in at least two states, Kentucky and Oklahoma.

Hospira, has said that it will not be able to supply more of the drug until March 2011.

Chester Dyer was found dead in his flat in Phoenix on 15 December 1989. Jeffrey Landrigan was arrested a few days later.

Jeffrey Landrigan could not afford a lawyer to represent him at trial, so the court appointed him one. That lawyer had never worked on a death penalty case before.

Having rejected the prosecution's offer of a 20-year prison term in return for pleading guilty to second-degree murder, Jeffrey Landrigan was convicted of first-degree murder in June 1990.

The lawyer only prepared two witnesses for the sentencing hearing. One was Landrigan's biological mother who abandoned him when he was six months old. The other was his ex-wife. Landrigan refused to allow either to testify.

Judge Hendrix sentenced Jeffery Landrigan to death although she found that he had not acted with premeditation.

"This is one in a long line of cases over the past three decades that puncture any notion that the US death penalty is fair and humane,” said Rob Freer.

"The reality is that this is an inescapably cruel punishment which in the USA is marked by arbitrariness, discrimination and error." 

The USA has carried out 1,231 executions since it resumed judicial killing in 1977, 43 of them this year.

Read More

USA: Arizona set to kill man failed by trial lawyer (Urgent action, 20 October 2010)
USA: A learning curve, towards a 'more perfect world': World Day against the Death Penalty to cast spotlight on USA (Document, 8 October 2010)
Death penalty: the great experiment? (Blog, 23 September 2010)
USA: Death penalty, still a part of the ‘American experiment’, still wrong (Document, 22 September 2010)


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