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Supreme Court clears way for execution of federal prisoner

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. — The Trump administration was moving ahead early Tuesday with the execution of the first federal prison inmate in 17 years after a divided Supreme Court reversed lower courts and ruled federal executions could proceed.

Daniel Lewis Lee had been scheduled to receive a lethal dose of the powerful sedative pentobarbital at 4 p.m. EDT Monday. But a court order preventing Lee’s execution, issued Monday morning by U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, remained in place.

A federal appeals court in Washington refused the administration’s plea to step in, before the Supreme Court acted by a 5-4 vote. Still, Lee’s lawyers said the execution could not go forward after midnight under federal regulations.

With conservatives in the majority, the court said in an unsigned opinion that the prisoners’ “executions may proceed as planned.” The four liberal justices dissented.

Two more executions are scheduled this week, Wesley Ira Purkey on Wednesday and Dustin Lee Honken on Friday.

A fourth man, Keith Dwayne Nelson, is scheduled to be executed in August.

The Bureau of Prisons had continued with preparations for Lee’s execution even as lower courts paused the proceedings.

Lee, of Yukon, Okalhoma, has had access to social visitors, has visited with his spiritual adviser and has been allowed to receive mail, prison officials said. He’s been under constant staff supervision. The witnesses for Lee are expected to include three family members, his lawyers and spiritual adviser.

He was convicted in Arkansas of the 1996 killings of gun dealer William Mueller, his wife, Nancy, and her 8-year-old daughter, Sarah Powell.

“The government has been trying to plow forward with these executions despite many unanswered questions about the legality of its new execution protocol,” said Shawn Nolan, one of the attorneys for the men facing federal execution.

The federal appeals court in Chicago had separately lifted an injunction on Sunday that had been put in place last week after some members of the victims’ family argued they would be put at high risk for the coronavirus if they had to travel to attend. The family on Monday appealed to the Supreme Court, which also denied the family’s claims.

The decision to move forward with the execution — and two others scheduled later in the week — during a global health pandemic that has killed more than 135,000 people in the United States and is ravaging prisons nationwide, drew scrutiny from civil rights groups as well as family of Lee’s victims.

Critics argue that the government is creating an unnecessary and manufactured urgency for political gain. The developments are also likely to add a new front to the national conversation about criminal justice reform in the lead-up to the 2020 elections.

Anti-death penalty protesters began gathering in Terre Haute on Monday. Organizer Abraham Bonowitz drove a van through the city with a sign emblazoned on the side of a trailer that read, ““Stop executions now!”

Because of coronavirus concerns, Bonowitz said his group, Death Penalty Action, wasn’t encouraging others to show up. No more than a few dozen protesters were expected to join him.

“It’s symbolic,” Bonowitz said about the protests. “We are just here to say that this is wrong.”

In an interview with The Associated Press last week, Attorney General William Barr said the Justice Department has a duty to carry out the sentences imposed by the courts, including the death penalty, and to bring a sense of closure to the victims and those in the communities where the killings happened.

But relatives of those killed by Lee strongly oppose that idea. They wanted to be present to counter any contention that it was being done on their behalf.

“For us it is a matter of being there and saying, `This is not being done in our name; we do not want this,’” said relative Monica Veillette.

The federal prison system has struggled in recent months to contain the exploding number of coronavirus cases behind bars. There are currently four confirmed coronavirus cases among inmates at the Terre Haute prison, according to federal statistics, and one inmate there has died.

Barr said he believes the Bureau of Prisons could “carry out these executions without being at risk.” The agency has put a number of additional measures in place, including temperature checks and requiring witnesses to wear masks.

But on Sunday, the Justice Department disclosed that a staff member involved in preparing for the execution had tested positive for the coronavirus, but said he had not been in the execution chamber and had not come into contact with anyone on the specialized team sent to handle the execution.

The three men scheduled to be executed this week had also been given execution dates when Barr announced the federal government would resume executions last year, ending an informal moratorium on federal capital punishment as the issue receded from the public domain.

Executions on the federal level have been rare and the government has put to death only three defendants since restoring the federal death penalty in 1988 — most recently in 2003, when Louis Jones was executed for the 1995 kidnapping, rape and murder of a young female soldier.

In 2014, following a botched state execution in Oklahoma, President Barack Obama directed the Justice Department to conduct a broad review of capital punishment and issues surrounding lethal injection drugs.

The attorney general said last July that the Obama-era review had been completed, clearing the way for executions to resume.

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Associated Press writers Colleen Long and Mark Sherman in Washington, Michael Tarm in Chicago and Andrew DeMillo in Little Rock, Ark., contributed to this report.

Michael Balsamo, The Associated Press

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Canada

Judge grants stay to Quebec English school boards as legal challenge plays out

MONTREAL — Quebec Superior Court has granted a stay to English school boards challenging a provincial government law abolishing them, pending the outcome of a legal challenge on its merits.

The province passed the law — known as Bill 40 — in February, abolishing school boards and replacing them with service centres, eliminating school board elections for French boards in the process.

The province’s nine English school boards were permitted to maintain elections and had been given until November to hold them for an eventual shift to service centres later this year.

The Quebec English School Boards Association was among several groups that filed an injunction in May, challenging the governance plan on the basis it doesn’t respect Section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

That section guarantees minority language educational rights to English-speaking minorities in Quebec.

In a decision Monday, Justice Sylvain Lussier wrote there was a debate to be had on the English-speaking minority’s right to make decisions in matters of education and whether the provincial law takes the concerns of the community into account.

“Abolished by law, English-language school boards, spokespersons for the minority, will suffer irreparable damage if the law comes into force,” Lussier wrote.

“Despite the presumption of the validity of the legislation, in the particular circumstances of this case, the preponderance of disadvantages favours the applicants.”

The Coalition Avenir Quebec had long promised to abolish school boards and replace them with a more decentralized governance structure.

Education Minister Jean-Francois Roberge told a news conference Monday the government intends to discuss the matter with its lawyers.

“We are fully confident that we respect the right of the English community to manage and control their school boards,” Roberge said.

The Quebec Community Groups Network, an advocacy group for English-speaking Quebecers, called the decision great news for the community.

“The ruling means that unwelcome changes to the management of our schools are now on hold while the courts review the constitutionality of Bill 40 — a case that will help clarify the rights of official language minority communities across Canada,” QCGN president Geoffrey Chambers said in a statement.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 10, 2020.

Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press

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‘Horrific:’ Witness says Alberta doctor slain while working in medical clinic

RED DEER, Alta. — A witness to a fatal attack at a central Alberta medical clinic says the victim was her family doctor.

The assault happened at the Village Mall Walk-In Clinic in Red Deer just before noon on Monday.

RCMP said in a release that one man was in custody and officers were not looking for other suspects. 

Anina Mullin said she waiting in the lobby of the clinic with her 13-year-old daughter when they heard a commotion.

“We heard banging and then, ‘Help Me! Help Me! Call 911! Call 911!'” Mullin told rdnewsNOW.

“That was the doctor screaming, yelling. One of the receptionists ran to the door. It was at the far end of the walk-in clinic and she came running back like she had seen a ghost and was like, ‘Can someone help him?'”

Mullin said two larger men nearby sprang into action to assist. They came back quickly, telling everyone to get out.

“I grabbed my teenage daughter’s hand and we just ran as fast as we could out the doors. Once we got outside, we got into the truck and waited. And she’s like, ‘Mom can we go?’ And I said, ‘No, I’m too shaken. I can’t.”

Mullin said the two men who had helped stood at the clinic door and held it shut until police arrived.

“The one police officer went to the door and opened the door and had his gun drawn and he yelled, ‘Put it down, put it down or I will shoot you!'” said Mullin.

“At that time, a hammer flew at the police officer and bashed into the door and then flew outside. It was drenched in blood … like you couldn’t see any metal on it. It was just covered in blood.”

Mullin said the officer then ordered someone to ‘put down the machete’ and went inside. He was quickly joined by other officers, who brought out the suspect in handcuffs.

“He was wearing a hooded sweater with his hood up,” said Mullin.

“He had blood all around the rim of his sleeves and large clothes. From there, the ambulances came and they all rushed in with medical bags and a stretcher … they also brought out the other patients I assume were in the other waiting rooms along with two other doctors and a bunch of nurses.”

After that, Mullin said her doctor was brought out on a stretcher.

RdnewsNOW is not naming the physician. RCMP would not say if the victim was a doctor.

Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro said he was “deeply saddened to hear of this horrific incident.”

“Sending my condolences to the physician’s family and loved ones.” he said Monday on Twitter. “My thoughts and prayers are with all staff and patients who witnessed this tragic attack.”

Dr. Christine Molnar, president of the Alberta Medical Association, also sent condolences to the physician’s family, colleagues and the Red Deer community.

“The AMA will be reaching out to local medical staff to learn how we can best provide support at this time,” said in a statement.

Mullin said her physician was an amazing doctor.

“I’ve never seen anything quite as horrific as that.

“It’s definitely affected my daughter. It’s hard to get out of your mind,” she said. “I don’t know if I could ever go back into that clinic. It’s awful.” (rdnewsNOW)

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 10, 2020

— With files from Bill Graveland in Calgary

Sheldon Spackman and Troy Gillard, rdnewsNOW, The Canadian Press

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General News

Trump abruptly escorted from briefing after shooting near WH

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump was abruptly escorted by a U.S. Secret Service agent out of the White House briefing room as he was beginning a coronavirus briefing Monday afternoon. He returned minutes later, saying there was a “shooting” outside the White House that was “under control.”

“There was an actual shooting and somebody’s been taken to the hospital,” Trump said. The president said the shots were fired by law enforcement, saying he believed the individual who was shot was armed. “It was the suspect who was shot,” Trump said.

Trump said he was escorted to the Oval Office by the agent. The White House was placed on lockdown following the incident.

The shooting took place near 17th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue just blocks from the White House, according to two sources with knowledge of the situation who were not authorized to speak publicly about it. Law enforcement officials were still trying to determine the suspect’s motive.

The suspect was transferred to a local hospital, and the District of Columbia fire department said the man suffered serious or possibly critical injuries. Authorities were investigating whether the individual has a history of mental illness.

Trump praised the work of Secret Service personnel for their work in keeping him safe. Asked if he was shaken by the incident, Trump asked reporters: “I don’t know. Do I seem rattled?”

Colleen Long, Michael Balsamo And Jonathan Lemire, The Associated Press


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