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Death-row inmate’s case before AZ clemency board

This undated photo provided by the Arizona Department of Corrections shows death-row inmate Samuel Villegas Lopez. Lopez's attorneys are fighting his upcoming execution, arguing in one filing Tuesday, May 1, 2012 that three newly appointed clemency board members are unprepared to consider his arguments for mercy and in another that the state Department of Corrections is violating his constitutional rights. (AP Photo/Arizona Department of Corrections)

Arizona’s largely new clemency board on Monday is expected to consider the case of a death-row inmate set for execution next week.

But Samuel Villegas Lopez’s attorney has asked the five-member board, which has three new members, to delay the execution and a decision in the matter. She argues the new board should have additional training before considering Lopez’s request for mercy.

Gov. Jan Brewer overhauled the board last month, replacing two voting members and longtime Chairman Duane Belcher with three new people in what some defense attorneys and anti-death-penalty advocates said was a political move.

Lopez is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection next week at the state prison in Florence in what would be the fourth execution in Arizona this year.

The clemency board often is a death-row inmate’s last chance to argue he doesn’t deserve to be executed.

In a filing with the board last week, Lopez’s attorney, Kelley Henry, cited an Arizona law that says each new board member must undergo a four-week course before beginning their new duties.

“This board should not sit in judgment on Sammy Lopez’s very life without proper training and preparation,” according to the filing.

New board Chairman Jesse Hernandez has not returned repeated calls from The Associated Press for comment.

If the board decides not to delay considering Lopez’s case Monday, Henry plans to ask it to recommend that Lopez’s death sentence be overturned. She argues Lopez had a difficult childhood during which he “grew up in constant terror,” hunger and poverty, and began inhaling paint and glue at a young age.

Henry also argues Lopez’s attorneys never informed the trial judge of those so-called “mitigating factors.” She says if the judge had known about them, Lopez never would have gotten the death penalty.

The board is expected to consider Henry’s request at its Phoenix office. Lopez has declined to attend.

In a separate filing in federal court last week, Lopez’s attorneys ask that his execution be put on hold because the Arizona Department of Corrections has continuously violated and changed its own written protocol for executing death-row inmates.

Attorneys argue a new execution protocol released in January loosened requirements for those who inject inmates with lethal drugs and gives far too much discretion to corrections Director Charles Ryan to make last-minute changes.

Similar arguments on behalf of two other Arizona inmates failed to stop executions in February and March, but they did cause a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco to issue a strong warning to the department.

The judges wrote on Feb. 28 that Arizona forced the court “to engage in serious constitutional questions and complicated factual issues in the waning hours before executions.”

“This approach cannot continue,” the panel wrote. “We are mindful of the admonition requiring us to refrain from micromanaging each individual execution, but the admonition has a breaking point.”


  1. Seeking the Truth

    Plain and simple, the new members of the Clemency Board lack the experience to determine who lives and who gets executed — \murder by the state\. Ray Krone was an innocent man on Death Row and exonerated 10 years ago. The Arizona courts cannot handle the case loads given them to properly give someone a fair trial, so thousands end up in Arizona’s prisons and even death row. This Clemency Board is NOT qualified to make any of these decisions. This execution should be stopped.

  2. Concerned Citizen

    There is a “non-hearing”. There should be a lawsuit filed on how the firing and rehiring was being done. This is now a non-functioning Clemency Board.

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