State's high court rejects death penalty

The Washington state Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously struck down the death penalty there as unconstitutional and “racially biased,” a ruling that makes it the 20th state to abandon capital punishment.

The order will not stop any scheduled executions because Washington state has already frozen its death penalty under a moratorium ordered by Gov. Jay Inslee (D) in 2014. But the court’s order, which declares that death sentences in the state should be converted to life in prison, is a sweeping rejection of capital punishment at a time when it is being used less nationwide and as states are struggling to obtain the drugs needed for lethal injections.

In their opinion, the justices focused on what they said was the unequal use of the death penalty, describing it as a punishment meted out haphazardly depending on little more than geography or timing.

“The death penalty is invalid because it is imposed in an arbitrary and racially biased manner,” the justices wrote.

The ruling came in a case involving a man sentenced to death for a 1996 rape and murder. Allen Eugene Gregory, 46, who was convicted of Geneine Harshfield’s death, is one of eight people on Washington’s death row; five of those people are white and three, like Gregory, are black.

Gregory was first convicted and sentenced in 2001 and then, after his conviction was overturned, convicted and sentenced again in 2012.

— Mark Berman

Judge halts inmate's execution by injection

A federal judge on Thursday ordered the state of Tennessee not to proceed with plans to execute Edmund Zagorski by lethal injection after it refused his request to die in the electric chair.

U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger granted a motion by Zagorski’s attorneys not to execute Zagorski by lethal injection.

Zagorski had asked to be executed by electrocution because he said the three-drug cocktail the state used constituted cruel and unusual punishment and violated his constitutional rights.

However, the state denied that request, arguing Zagorski waited too long to ask for the electric chair. Trauger disagreed with the state, saying “there are serious questions in this case concerning whether the lethal injection protocol with which the state intends to execute the plaintiff is more or less humane than electrocution.”

Tennessee is one of only nine states that allow electrocutions.

Zagorski had been scheduled to be executed 7 p.m. Thursday. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit issued a stay Wednesday over questions of whether Zagorski had adequate representation. In return, the state has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to vacate the decision to allow for Zagorski’s execution to take place.

Zagorski was sentenced in 1984 in the slayings of two men during a drug deal.

— Associated Press

State Supreme Court upholds voter ID law

Arkansas’ highest court on Thursday upheld a voter ID law that is nearly identical to a restriction struck down by the court four years ago.

The 5-to-2 decision from the Arkansas Supreme Court means the law, which requires voters to show photo identification before casting a ballot, will remain in effect in this year’s midterm election. Unlike the measure struck down in 2014, the law approved last year allows voters to cast provisional ballots without a photo ID if they sign a sworn statement confirming their identities.

Opponents of the new measure had argued that it circumvented the 2014 ruling. But justices on Thursday said lawmakers had the power to enact the restriction by labeling it a change to a constitutional amendment related to voter registration requirements and was “therefore constitutional.”

— Associated Press

Cohen re-registers to vote as a Democrat

President Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen has returned to the Democratic Party.

Cohen attorney Lanny Davis said Thursday on Twitter that his client has changed his registration from Republican to Democrat. He says Cohen made the change to distance “himself from the values of the current” administration. The switch came on the eve of Friday’s deadline for New Yorkers to register to vote in the November election.

Cohen pleaded guilty in August to eight federal charges. Cohen says Trump directed him to arrange payments before the 2016 election to buy the silence of women who alleged they had affairs with Trump.

He since has cooperated with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

— Associated Press