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The News Journal
Lawyers arguing today for halt to Friday execution of ax murderer
Attorneys trying to halt the execution of convicted ax murderer Robert W. Jackson III will present arguments today in a series of court hearings across the state.
The first began in Wilmington at 9 a.m. before U.S. District Judge Sue Robinson to raise objections to the new drug Delaware uses as part of its three-drug lethal-injection formula.
Robinson listened to arguments in the nearly hour-long hearing without giving an opinion. She did say she would make her decision "promptly."
A second hearing is slated for this afternoon in Dover, where attorneys will ask the state Supreme Court to delay the Friday execution so the land’s highest court can review the case, said Marc Bookman, one of Jackson’s lawyers and executive director for the Atlantic Center for Capital Representation, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit that gives representation in death penalty trials.
Jackson is scheduled to be executed between midnight and 3 a.m. Friday for the 1992 killing of 47-year-old Elizabeth Girardi during a robbery of her Hockessin home. Court records show Girardi was killed with an ax after encountering Jackson and accomplice Anthony Lachette leaving her home with property they had stolen and planned to pawn to buy drugs.
Two different juries voted for Jackson’s death penalty, which was imposed both times by a judge.
Jackson, however, has claimed that Lachette killed Girardi.
“Jackson’s innocence practically jumps off the page,” Bookman said. “You have to consider both sides of the coin: the evidence against him, and the evidence pointing to his innocence. The evidence against him is shockingly thin – essentially a few criminals trying to save their own necks. Then you consider the evidence of his innocence – four different people heard Lachette confess to the murder. It was Lachette’s idea to commit the burglary that led to the killing, and he was the one who knew the victim.
“This is precisely the sort of evidence that needs to be heard in a courtroom. If one of these courts doesn’t grant a stay of execution, an innocent man may be wrongly executed.”
Bookman asked the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia on Tuesday to stop Jackson’s execution to review claims he is innocent. That court has not set a hearing.
If the state goes ahead with the execution, Jackson will become the 15th person to be put to death in Delaware since 1992 -- that year marked Delaware’s first execution since the state reinstated the death penalty in 1961, according to the DOC. It would be the state’s first execution since Brian D. Steckel was put to death Nov. 4, 2005, for the 1994 murder of Sandra Lee Long.
In that execution, Delaware Department of Correction officials appeared to encounter problems. While lethal injections are supposed to cause nearly instantaneous death, Steckel lingered for 12 minutes and at one point looked up at prison officials and said, “I didn’t think it would take this long.”
That set off a series of filings, including by Jackson, who claimed the chemicals used by the state and the apparent lack of training for those carrying out the execution would make his punishment cruel and unusual.
During today’s first hearing, defense attorneys will appear before U.S. District Court Judge Sue L. Robinson to argue their objections about Delaware using a new drug -- pentobarbital -- as part of its three-drug lethal-injection formula. Delaware, like many other states that use lethal injection, turned to pentobarbital after the U.S. manufacturer of sodium thiopental -- the drug previously used as an anesthetic in the process -- stopped making it.
Robinson signed the initial order delaying Jackson’s death, but last week the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the stay, saying Robinson needed to provide more reasoning for her decision for it to be upheld.
In the afternoon, attorneys will ask the state Supreme Court to stop the execution to give the U.S. Supreme Court time to review the case. His attorneys contend Jackson’s rights to a fair trial were violated because of comments his defense attorney made to the trial judge.
Jackson argued that his death sentence should be overturned because his initial attorney, Joe Hurley, was seeking to withdraw from the case and told Judge Vincent Bifferato that Jackson was guilty and should be executed. Hurley was allowed to withdraw, but Bifferato did not recuse himself from the case and went on to sentence Jackson to death.
“This is really a perfect storm for injustice,” Bookman said. “You take a terrible and high-profile crime and give the accused, who is only 18, a lawyer who thinks his client is not only guilty but also should be executed by the state. Then the lawyer actually tells the judge what he thinks. Any judge would be significantly influenced by such an admission. Later, with competent representation, it turns out there is real evidence that Jackson is innocent.”