2 death penalty case appeals rejected

Appeals of two death penalty cases have been rejected, the Louisiana Supreme Court announced Friday.

An attorney for one of the convicted murderers had argued that a lack of information about the state’s lethal injection formula poses risk of paralyzing, mute and agonizing executions for death row inmates. The same attorney argued for a second inmate that state officials did not follow proper administrative procedures when they adopted lethal injection for executions in Louisiana years ago.

Supreme Court justices did not issue a written opinion in either case.

Gary P. Clements, attorney for condemned killer Christopher Sepulvado, already had filed a motion with U.S. District Judge James J. Brady in Baton Rouge to merge Sepulvado’s complaint over the risk of excruciating pain from lethal injections with that of death row inmate Jessie Hoffman.

Clements said late Friday that Brady had not yet ruled on the request by Sepulvado to join Hoffman’s suit. Sepulvado is scheduled for execution on Feb. 13.

Sepulvado, 68, of DeSoto Parish, was convicted in 1993 for the 1992 murder of his 6-year-old stepson, Wesley Allen Mercer. The trial jury decided that Sepulvado had beaten the boy unconscious with the handle of a screwdriver, then immersed him in scalding bath water.

In rejecting an earlier appeal of Sepulvado’s conviction, members of the Louisiana Supreme Court noted the child had third-degree burns over 58 percent of his body and his “scalp had separated from his skull due to hemorrhaging and bruising.”

Clements, director of the Capital Post Conviction Project of Louisiana, also represents Nathaniel Code, 56, of Shreveport. Code’s appeal was based on an alleged failure by state officials to follow required administrative procedures when they originally approved lethal injection for executions.

Asked whether Code will ask to join Hoffman’s civil suit in Brady’s federal court, Clements said: “I really haven’t made a decision on that yet. We will see what happens.”

Code does not yet have a scheduled execution date, Clements said.

Code was convicted in 1990 for the 1985 bathtub drowning of 34-year-old Vivian Chaney; the stabbing and slashing death of Chaney’s 17-year-old daughter, Carlitha; and the shooting deaths of Chaney’s brother, Jerry Culbert, and her boyfriend, Billy Joe Harris.

The prosecution’s opening statement in Code’s trial is on the website of state District Judge Scott J. Crichton, of Shreveport, who was the lead prosecutor in that case.

Crichton can be heard telling jurors in his statement that Code also was implicated in the 1984 slashing and stabbing death of another Shreveport woman, as well as three other Caddo Parish residents in 1987.

Hoffman, like Code, does not have an execution date set yet. The 34-year-old former New Orleans resident is represented by Houston attorney Michael D. Rubenstein and New Orleans attorney Cecelia Trenticosta Kappel, of The Promise of Justice Initiative.

Rubenstein and Kappel told Brady last month that Louisiana prison officials refuse to divulge whether they have a sufficient supply of sodium thiopental to ensure that death row inmates injected with pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride will not suffer a protracted death that is silent, savage and extremely painful.

Hoffman was convicted in St. Tammany Parish in 1998 for the kidnap, robbery, rape and murder of 28-year-old advertising executive Mary “Molly” Elliot two years earlier.

Clements agreed Friday with Rubenstein and Kappel’s argument as to the possibility that death row inmates may be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment if state officials do not answer questions about the supply of sodium thiopental and the chemical formula that will be used in the death chamber for future executions.

“Nobody can get their hands on it anymore,” Clements said of sodium thiopental. “And we don’t know what they (state prison officials) are doing about that, because they won’t tell us.”